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Saturday, 2 August 2014

Stone-age males

You need to be fast and agile to get the seat facing the door in a restaurant, especially when two of you try to do it at the same time.

"Why are you sitting on your son's knee?" Linda asks, as I struggle to pull my customary suaveness back into shape. 

"It's a guy thing," I say. "The world is dangerous and unpredictable. A man's job is to protect the women and children."

"From a short, gay waiter wearing specs?" she says. "If he gets out of line I think I can take him."

"No, he's right," my son says. "You just don't know what's going to come through the door. You need to be ready. I'm not comfortable with my back to it either."

"It's evolution," I say. "All the stone-age guys who sat with their backs to the cave entrance got eaten by sabre-toothed tigers. So it's instinct now. It's also why I walk on the outside of the pavement when I'm with someone." 

"All the stone-age guys who walked on the inside got run over by buses?" Linda says.

"You can mock," I say. "But one day you'll be glad of those protective male instincts. You'll be sitting in a pub going, 'La la la, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit' and my son will spot a psychopath or a rabid dog and whisk you and your six kids away in the nick of time, because he's alert and facing the door, and you'll realise I was right all along."

"When that happens I promise I'll come and visit you," she says. "I'll bring you flowers, remind you who I am and say, 'I'm sorry, I should have treated your thoughts with more respect. When you had some.'"

The waiter returns to take our order and I plump for the carrot cake and cream, with a cappuccino. "Don't you want a meal?" Linda says, ordering the chicken tikka masala for herself.

"I've another MRI session this afternoon," I say. "Which involves lying still for 40 minutes in an enclosed space. Curry is contra-indicated."

"So is shrapnel from your old war wound," my son says. "Those magnets are powerful. There's been some terrible accidents with iron and steel objects in MRI rooms."

"Just what I want to hear right now," I say, sprinkling brown sugar on my cappuccino froth. "I can feel the metal plate in my head starting to vibrate. Change the subject please."

"Fair enough - you know how nobody can go two minutes nowadays without a text, a tweet or a facebook post?" he says, and we both nod.

"I think it's catching," he says. "I don't do any of that shit, but my attention span's getting shorter. I go into rooms now and forget why I'm there. Even the bathroom sometimes."

"Everybody does that," I say. "Especially in our family. Always been high levels of dopeyness in our family - combined with intelligence, which confuses people."

"Yeah, but I'm doing it more than I used to," he says. "I think it's the hundredth monkey effect. I'm picking up this short attention span from people all over the world, with their fingers on their mobiles and their heads up their arse."

"I think the evidence for the hundredth monkey effect has been discredited," I say. "But something kinda similar has been proposed by leading physicists, such as Lee Smolin. He reckons if time is real, the laws of physics can't be constant. 

"So instead he suggests a principle of precedence - if something happens often it'll tend to happen again. After a time that looks like a law. But there's always the chance of a totally unexpected event."

"Like a sabre-tooth tiger coming through the door of the Pond Hotel and biting your head off?" Linda says.

"Correct," I say.

"Well why didn't you say so?" she says. "It all makes sense to me now. If it's physics it must be true. I'm sorry, I should have treated your thoughts with more respect."

"My dad used to say sarcasm was the lowest form of wit," I tell her.

"Was that when you were all sat around the fire in your cave with your backs to the wall?" she says, pulling her tasty-looking tikka towards her and pushing her luck.

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