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Sunday, 6 April 2014

The eyes have it

My niece Cathy is a fine photographer, with a nice eye for composition, and since you learn that by starting young, I'm going to claim some credit for her proficiency. Because I bought her her first camera when she was eight. 

It wasn't a great camera but that's not the point. No doubt her mum and dad bought her better ones as she got older. But I was the one who got her started. 

But here's the thing. I've noticed a certain expression on the faces of the guys in her photos. Puzzled, perplexed, bewildered. Take a look at Brian holding the little dog in pyjamas. 

Believe me, that's a very smart guy you're looking at. And Brian has brains too. But you wouldn't think it, would you? So what's going on?

Well I've seen that expression in the mirror and on the faces of a hundred strangers on the street, and I have a theory. Modern life is too complicated for the average male brain. 

"I mean look what it evolved to deal with," I tell my son, as we're having a beer in Òran Mór, the former church that's now a licensed arts venue with its own ale. "Grass, trees, shite and zebras.

"And what does it have to contend with now? Mobile phones, tax returns, speed cameras and coalition government. Is it any wonder we look perpetually perplexed?" 

"What worries me is the guys that don't," he says. "You see them striding around in their dark suits and camel-hair coats, looking manly and purposeful. Where do they get that air of certainty from?"

"Two possibilities," I tell him, taking a sip of the hoppy, refreshing ale. "One, it's an act and soon as they're out of sight their expressions revert to bemused, like ours."

"And two?" he says

"They're a different species."

"Not that old conspiracy theory," he says. "Aliens running the world. Tony Blair is a lizard from Alpha Draconis."

"He might be but that's not what I mean. I'm talking human but different. Convergent evolution. Happens all the time in nature. The beaked sea-snake, the white marlin and the roundscale spearfish, David Cameron and Oswald Cobblepot."

Always willing to give ideas an airing, my son starts nodding. "You could be right," he says, looking around the high-ceilinged room. "It would explain all those young couples who check out fine but can't have kids together."

"That's right," I say. "Different species can look similar but they can't breed." 

"There might be ten different species of human in this room right now," he says.

"There might," I say. "You and I could be different species."

"How does that work when you're my dad?" he says.

"Good point," I say. "Well spotted. We must be the same species. But we might be the only ones in this room."

"So is there some test, other than trying to have kids with people?" he says. "Which isn't always convenient."

"Family are the same," I say. "Me, you, your brother, my mum, my sister."

"Cathy and Brian?" he says.

"Same species, definitely," I say.

"What about strangers?" he says. "How can you tell?"

"Switch your brain off," I tell him. "Trust your instinct. Try it around the room," I say nodding in the direction of the next table. "Guy in jeans."

"Same," he says.

"Woman next to him."

"Different. You do get a feel for it, don't you? Have a go yourself," he says, pointing. "Her."

"Same," I say.

"Him," he says. 

"That's a dog," I say. "That's a different species, obviously."

"Well is it, though," he says. "Is it obvious? If things that look the same can be different species, why can't things that look different be the same species?"

I stroke my beard and ponder. "You're right, of course," I tell him. "This puts a whole new slant on things. Makes the world even more confusing than I thought. How can we be sure of anything now?" 

"It's got to be expression, hasn't it?" he says. "Never mind all that DNA bollocks. Anything that looks puzzled and perplexed is the same species, I'm thinking."  

"That's good thinking, son," I say, as he and I rise to leave, headed respectively for an art school lecture and a meeting on molecular biology at the University.

"So was this science or were you making shit up again?" he says.

"What do you think?" I say.

"Sounded like science to me."

"There you go, then. Trust your instinct."

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