The Weasel

For years, we had assumed that Bronze Age Man was a hunter-gatherer who went bravely foraging for broken-winded mammoths. Now we discover he's an effete suburbanite living on a 3000-year-old housing estate
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The Weasel

It strikes me more and more that only a flimsy membrane separates our fond notions of sophistication - peace talks, discussions of Mr Damien Hirst on The Late Review, Marks & Spencer's dinners-for-one - from the jungle that is the true arena of our human operations. This blinding apercu may seem old hat to devotees of, say, Mr Desmond Morris, who used to publish popular works of anthropology proving that football supporters and girls who wore Helena Rubenstein eyeliner were only inches away, culture-wise, from their daubed and yelling Dark Age ancestors; but I advance it anyway. For I do not suggest that we are all savages under the skin, I suggest the reverse. It seems to me an odd continuum operates in human society, a constant shift from a desire to be primitive, aggressive and bone-headed to a desire to eat stuffed olives at bridge evenings in Chiswick. Two recent news stories lead me to this bold and earth-shaking thesis.

The first concerns the Oxford Archeological Unit, which recently dug up the remains of what seems to be the world's oldest example of community housing: 140 Bronze Age houses somewhere in Berkshire, dating back to 1000bc, all identical in style but some "personalised with verandahs or extensions", all ranged in close regimental formation in parallel rows facing southeast, and featuring a rudimentary arrangement of flintstone rocks, used for the heating of water in confined spaces.

Frightening, isn't it? For years we had assumed that Bronze Age Man was a hunter-gatherer who went bravely foraging for broken-winded mammoths, armed only with a beaten-metal shiv. Now we discover he's an effete suburbanite living on a 3000-year-old housing estate, doubtless based on a show home in Didcot. Instead of a Dark Age mystic wishing to live under the eye of heaven, he is (we now see) only happy with a home that's south-facing. Far from the freezing homunculus of myth, shivering in a hairy loincloth as he stalks his prey on a Bronze Age hillside, he has installed an en-suite sauna. Any minute now, they'll unearth a glowing lump of clay and discover a prototypical lava lamp inside. And that'll clinch it. Early man's first instincts were not to kill, to hunt or to hang around in gangs. They were to discuss the relative merits of the wheeled or the brick barbecue.

The second item was the news that Sainsbury's is to appoint Commander David Tucker, head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism squad, as its new group security manager.

On the face of it, this might seem rather like bringing a sledgehammer down on a hickory-smoked cashew. The picture of Cdr Tucker leading his awkward squad - one imagines an MI5 version of Dad's Army - through crime- busting manoeuvres beside the Custard Creams is not a happy one. But our supermarkets are becoming increasingly the scenes of crime. Only last week, a Southend store was robbed by two women who filled their trolley with goods worth pounds 1,000 before marching out. Perhaps they were in training for Supermarket Sweep; perhaps they're a symptom of the way society is going. Is some malign force abroad?

Consider: how often have you taken a bottle of lemonade out of your recyclable poly-bag only to find some miscreant has given it a thorough shaking? An accident? Don't make me laugh. Why is it the Jacobs' Wholemeal Crackers are invariably reduced to dust and rubble by an unseen hand before you've even got them home? Who is the hellish master-criminal who removes the straws from the cartons of Um Bongo Fruit Drink? Tracking down the anti-social few who commit these misdemeanours calls for stealth and dedication.

But where is Cdr Tucker first to make his mark? By chance, the announcement of his new job coincided with the news that Sainsbury's has introduced a new deal for breastfeeding mothers. The firm promises to welcome such mothers and their babies into their stores, letting them set about the task in a quiet corner of the restaurant and treating them "as a group with specific needs". But the store also promises to "offer any customer complaining in a restaurant the opportunity to move - and help them do so". Which is where the commander comes in. He and his team of trusties will be on hand to "help" complainants out of the restaurant, not to mention out of the door or through the nearest plate-glass window.

I yield to no one in my admiration for the Japanese. All that dreadful stereotyping about how they can perfect other people's inventions but are incapable of coming up with their own is baloney. In my experience, they're the only nationality who could have come up with Dr Yoshiro Nakamats.

The inscrutable doctor is a trousers-down, out-and-out, 24-carat crackpot. One of Nakamats's life's works has been to discover the links between diet and intelligence. To that end, he has photographed every meal he has eaten in the past 30 years. After three decades, he can confidently reveal, the optimum dietary regimen includes lots of chicken liver and seaweed but no coffee. Simple, really. And if for some reason you don't fancy that, Dr N will sell you his own Nakamats Yummi-Nutri Brain Biscuits.

Like the Weasel, Dr Nakamats thinks that genius is more a matter of perspiration than inspiration. To stimulate his creative juices, he follows a strict sequence. First he meditates in his "calm room", where the only sound is running water. Then he goes to a "dynamic room", where he listens to Beethoven's Fifth. Finally, he takes a long underwater swim, while scribbling his ideas on a waterproof memo pad. He is also an inveterate and unstoppable inventor, who has so far accumulated 3,000 patents. Some of these are the real thing, including something technical to do with floppy disk drives that brings him a hefty monthly cheque from IBM. But you could be forgiven for feeling sceptical about some of the others. Three were mentioned in a recent Economist profile of the great man: Spring-loaded jogging shoes. A musical golf putter that plays only when you hit it smack in the middle. And something called "Love-jet", a spray-on unguent, the purpose of which cannot be described in a family newspaper. What a guy.

Babe, a new film which opens this week, has already done huge business in the US with its portrayal of a young porker who fancies becoming a sheepdog. It has an interesting history and an even more interesting identity crisis. Based on a book by the Bristol-based author Dick King-Smith, it was scripted and produced by the Australian George Miller, famous for his Mad Max films. Miller built a would-be British village in a wet part of Australia and set about filming it with a cast that included Australians, Americans and our own Miriam Margoyles, who speaks the part of a sheepdog.

When it was first made, both the sheepdog and the farmer's wife, played by an Australian comedienne, were given Scottish accents. Universal Studios were horrified and demanded that the voice-tracks be re-recorded in something that Americans would understand. The result is a strange mid-Atlantic-cum-mummerset accent never previously heard on human lips. The film-makers made the best of it, cunningly declaring that everything happens in "a country of the mind".

In the event they were wasting their time. Roger Eberts, the most important film critic in America, gave the film a resounding "thumbs up". It was, he said, a charming story that took place "on a farm in Australia"

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