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Saturday, 10 May 2014

Survival of the softest

So I'm sat in Al's back garden, having a beer and admiring his unnaturally large vegetables, when his dog wanders up with a squeaky rubber bone and drops it at my feet. 

"Don't throw it," Al says. "He'll expect you to do it again a hundred times."

"See that's selective breeding," I tell him. "Artificial evolution. Thousands of years ago, a cavewoman kicked her sleeping husband in the ribs and said 'Get up Fred. Every time the kids throw a squeaky rubber bone, your bloody wolf runs after it and rips it to pieces.' 

"So he chose a pup that took longest to kill the bone and he bred from it. Then he did the same with its pups, and so did his kids and their kids. So now today's dogs, the distant descendant of the Stone Age wolf, have forgotten that squeaky rubber bones are the enemy and god meant them to be torn to pieces."

"And that's evolution?" Al says.

"It is," I say. 

"So how do you explain that?" he says, nodding towards the dog, which has given up on the bone and is getting frisky with an ornate leg of the garden table.

"You often get that with evolution," I say. "It's trial and error, hit and miss. It's not design. It's like engineering before physicists showed you guys how to set up and solve mathematical models. And use the bathroom."

"Have a nut, Albert," he says, offering me an elegant crystal bowl, containing an upmarket mix of cashews and pistachios.

"What's with the suave hospitality?" I say and he looks kinda furtive.

"Just trying to be civilised," he says.

"Where did you get the bowl?" I say.

"Present," he says.

"You got a woman?" I say.

"Never mind that," he says. "Tell me about evolution." 

"Just remember I'm here for you," I say. "Anytime you want to share your feelings."

"Wouldn't take long," he says. "I've only got three."

"Happy, miserable and asleep?" I say.

"That's them," he says, choking on an unfortunate pistachio and taking a large pull on his pint to help restore normal respiration. 

"Fucking nuts," he says. 

"A technical term used in evolution, funnily enough," I tell him. "It's what happened to some dogs after thousands of years of selective breeding. They gained soft brains along with their soft mouths. So now they can't distinguish their own species from inanimate objects." 

"And they hump the furniture," he says.

"They do," I say.

"How many equations would a physicist need to solve to get from here to the fridge and bring us a couple of beers?" he says. 

"None," I tell him, reaching down and trying to detach the mutt, which has got bored with the table, from my ankle. "I'll walk in one direction with my eyes shut till I smack my head against a wall. Then I'll turn. It's the engineer's way."

"Maybe so," he says, picking up the squeaky rubber bone and tossing it into his giant broccoli bushes, which sends the mutt scampering after it. "But if you want a horny dog off your leg, the engineer's way is best. 

"You got five minutes before he finds his way outa there. Go!"

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