The Fellow in the Cupboard

There are many reasons for which I get frustrated at the slow pace of funding for this book compared to other books I have seen pass by on their way to a successful 100% completion, but none more than the death of a contributor.
It has been 1017 days since Dissent of Man was launched on Unbound and all of the books launched about that time have either been long published, and some of their authors are on to their second book for the site, or unsuccessful projects have been removed, deemed failures for not attracting enough interest. Recently it was suggested to me that not all of them make it and perhaps this was one and it was time to pull the project. I argued back that a lot of interest has been expressed and that there was a good reason for patience. I also tossed in a joke about how a book on Darwinism was bound to be slow because it was working on evolutionary time.
No one laughed.
Inevitably, the longer it takes, there is a stronger chance that someone close to the project may die for whatever reason before the book reaches publication. Age may play its part, although the alternative endings that prematurely effectuate that final curtain call could strike any one of us, you and me included, and any one of my contributors, some of them undeniably in the evening of life,


old age is to life as evening is to day; 
so he will call the evening “day’s old-age” or use Empedocles’ phrase; 
and old age he will call “the evening of life” or “life’s setting sun.
[Aristotle, Poetics]
By accumulating many years of knowledge and experience, having completed or nearing the end of their careers, our elders are a living database. This seems to be overlooked in modern society, until an anniversary occurs and the News needs someone for an interview, to describe, “what it was really like” .
As research awards become more competitive and academic institutions need to maintain achievement scores (awarded by the Research Assessment Exercise-Research Excellence Framework), departments have been pressured into weeding out their members who are not being awarded large amounts of funding for active research, nor officially contributing to the teaching schedule.
When my old department in the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Edinburgh adopted a ruthless business model to maximise its assessment score, they sacrificed whole areas of academic pursuit in favour of commercially-oriented molecular biology and genetics. Fine and dandy, great disciplines both. Just such a shame to lose so much else. I felt the same when Thatcher’s cuts to Higher Education forced closure of Philosophy at U.C.N.W., Bangor. Philosophy, the foundation of all sciences.
More of a shock at Edinburgh was discovering a Fellow of the Royal Society in my cupboard. What I mean is that I didn’t open the door one day and there he was cowering behind the stapler; I kind of knew that someone was using the cupboard-sized space in the prefab office where I was working. Sometimes the “cupboard” door was left ajar and one could see the rickety stool, filing cabinet and piles of books on the pine planks balancing at one end, acting as a desk. The entire space was about 8 feet by 3 feet, about the regulation size of a grave. Ironic really.


John Fincham (above) had recently retired as Head of the Department of Genetics in the University of Cambridge, a post previously held by only four predecessors, including William Bateson who coined the name “Genetics” for the emerging discipline, and R.A. Fisher, who has been rightly called, “a genius who almost single-handedly created the foundations for modern statistical science“, and “the greatest biologist since Darwin“. Before Cambridge, where he had gained his PhD., John had been Head of Genetics at the John Innes Institute, then Buchanan Professor of Genetics at Edinburgh.
So, this cramped corner, leading off my office, was where a highly respected scientist, who had been at the forefront of the genetics revolution, had been allocated space. His main occupation was reviewing, mainly books sent by scientific journals, but also some applications and research proposals. He was invaluable at departmental seminars where he would usually offer comment or raise a question that would come out of leftfield, precisely identifying the strengths or weaknesses at issue with comprehension only possible if informed by his background of experience. But there was no formal recognition of his ongoing contributions. A better way must be to place value in such individuals, and assess their merit, not by how many papers they publish or hours of teaching they give. A bigger room might be nice too.
John died in 2005, before I had the chance to interview him for the book. He would have made a fascinating interviewee and I regret not speaking to him while I could. But I did get to interview two amazing individuals that I would like to tell you about in the context of this piece.


The first was Richard Gregory (above).
I will include a brief biography for every one of my contributors in the back of the book, along with the names of every one who has pledged also, of course. If you haven’t yet, please, please do pledge.
Sadly, my bio for Richard will have to be edited. Where there is an “is”, I will need to substitute a “was”, and words like “currently” will need to be excised, along with “has” from phrases like, “he has published”.
You see, Richard died in 2010, aged 86.
Richard had an impact on my family in an altogether different way, and one that he was unaware of, simply because I didn’t make the connection in time. We had a great day spent with close friends, exploring the @Bristol science centre. It was co-founded by Richard, applying his knowledge of neuropsychology to create a brilliantly interactive otherworld. It really is worth checking out.
Shortly before he died, he wrote to me asking how the book was coming along. I told him it was pretty much there and just needed funding to get published. That was almost exactly a year before the book-launch on Unbound.
I feel honoured that such an eminent scholar should not only remember our brief interaction, but should also think it sufficiently worthwhile for them to be interested in its progress. I feel awful that he was never to see the book in print.
When it does get printed the Dissent of Man will contain these and other great recollections and insights from him,
I was brought up with evolution of the stars, as my father was an astronomer. As a boy in the 1930’s, I would read [the co-founders of British cosmology] Eddington and Jeans with avidity; but although Darwin was quite often discussed, natural selection was at that time controversial and generally viewed with suspicion. The concept of design by random events, with successes and failures writing the future, was hardly appreciated, certainly not by me. Natural Selection is sometimes described as mindless and lacking intelligence – but it seems to me now that the Darwinian processes are intelligent – super-intelligent – producing answers science can hardly formulate, let alone fully understand.

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The second contributor is Eliane Lacroix-Hopson (above), one of those unassuming types that impresses you with their likeable personality, erudition, politeness, consideration and intelligence, all despite being a nonagenarian, plus unfailing modesty, again despite being, amongst other rôles, a UN Representative for Indigenous Peoples and founder of Yachay Wasi, an NGO working in their interests, with specific programmes towards inspiring an interest in reading, culture, sport, art and knowledge. Eliane was particularly proud that they had entered a Consultative Partnership with UNESCO in 2012 and achieved UNESCO World Heritage status for various sacred sites.
Over the course of a couple of years we were in frequent contact, during which Eliane would rarely fail to remind me that the “Baha’i Faith is the only religion declaring that ‘Science is the first emanation from God toward man…’ ”. And it was on that level that we communicated, science taking the lead over theism as we discussed, say, her recent paper on the “Perspective On Darwin’s Theory Of Evolution From The Baha’i Point Of View”.
A highly active and intelligent woman who is sadly missed. It hurts to think of some of her last words to me, “I will be delighted to see myself in your book”. Eliane died in 2014. She was 96.
Please help me get this book to publication before anyone else dies. Pleading really doesn’t get any more pitiful than this, but it is done out of earnest dedication to this project, frustration that we have not seen its anticipated culmination, and desperation that one, more, or all of us, may never do so.
I’ve always hated this part of the crowd-funding process, the pimping. In all honesty, I am no good at it. I lack that killer instinct I suppose, or would prefer a more gentle and dignified path to publication, one where my dignity remains intact and I can metaphorically keep my clothes on. Nonetheless, I do believe in the Unbound model and want it to succeed long-term as a less greedy alternative to the traditional author-(agent-)publisher avenue, so cue striptease music, nah nah nah da nah nah nah…
Thanks to you – and I really am truly grateful, please believe me on this – we currently have 257 pledges contributing 53% of the required monies. Obviously we need only a little less than the same again, but I’m sure no one wants to wait another two and three-quarter years for that to happen. Added onto how long the book has already gestated since inception, and the first phase of interviews in 2003, that would push the book into its mid-teens before its first birthday! If you know what I mean.
Thank you for reading thus far. I hope it was engaging if nothing more. Here are some ways to help get us nearer 100%.
  • Please double your pledges if you have opted for the digital version. There are twice as many pledges for the hardback as there are for the digital version making it the most popular selection, with good reason. Unbound books are beautifully designed and produced first editions, and it’s only going to cost you another tenner to, literally, get your hands on one. Regardless of any thoughts on the pros and cons of Kindle & Co., a tactile and olfactory overload awaits you with the physical hardback, compared to the virtual experience to be had from an e-book. If you all were to upgrade to the hardback, then we would near 60%.
  • Please consider pledging on behalf of someone else. Books make wonderfully personal gifts. I really appreciate it when someone goes to the trouble of trying to match a gift to what they know about me. Being an avid reader makes it easier, having too many books, if there is such a thing, makes it quite difficult. Matching a book to someone is akin to considering the personal journey that person will travel through its pages. How much more personal can you get than climbing into someone else’s mind? Perhaps you’d best not answer that, but a gifted book is undeniably special. If a further 90 or so copies of the hardback edition were pledged for as gifts, we’d be nosing up to 75%.
  • Please share this piece with, and recommend this book to everyone you know, and several you don’t. If about 150 of us can inspire just one other person each to pledge, that’s it, job done, and we can look forward to receiving our copies shortly after.
That’s more than Eliane, Richard and John will ever do. Let’s try not to add to this list.
Thank you.
Sincere best wishes,
25 April 2015
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CDTdG_1WYAAr_3wOliver Sacks shares a laugh with actor Robin Williams in 1989 during the filming of Awakenings



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Dear Chifuti Safaris clients

“Dear Chifuti Safaris clients,

It is with deep sadness to announce the passing of Chifuti Safaris professional hunter Ian Gibson.…”

There’s quite a bit of debate raging about this hunter guide who, allowing his client to rest after 5 hours of following a bull elephant in musth, went ahead with his tracker “in hopes of getting a look at the ivory”.

The defence for Gibson and his ilk boils down to the anti-hunting lobby don’t understand, that hunting supports the local tribes, through employment and being gifted the dead animal after removal of whatever bits the client wishes to keep as a souvenir, including ivory legally brought back into the UK, and that the revenue sponsors maintenance of protected areas and conservation of endangered species.

It’s bollocks of course. Yes, the tribes get a bit of meat, etc. The trackers get paid a pittance, and privately-owned hunting parks are maintained at higher stocking rates than natural capacity would allow. The companies that offer these “safaris” are the only ones seeing most of the £10,000 clients pay to shoot a giraffe, or $40,000 to kill an elephant. If you’re on a budget, Vervet monkeys and Tree squirrels are but $200 each, but there won’t be much left of either after a .375 calibre bullet has passed through.

So, knowing a bit about it, having worked in the field with private and public land managers, professional rangers, wardens and academics, and local tribespeople, I can conclude this about hunters, their clients and the companies that make it possible to kill these animals for money: FUCK ‘EM. I wish more of the bastards got killed pursuing their sick pastime.

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Je suis Charlie


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Ha muerto Manitas de Plata

Manitas_de_Plata_2_(Repetities_1968-03-07_Grand_Gala_du_Disque_Populaire)Another guitar great and legendary musician has died.

My Spanish roots must have given me a love of Flamenco from the outset. It’s still the single musical genre to which I find it hardest to multitask, write, or even sit still. The merest scent of duende and I’m all “¡Ole!” and “Mi aerodeslizador está lleno de anguilas”.

Manitas de Plata, literally “Hands of Silver”, but in a good way, not like the baddie out of Enter the Dragon who can carve the Sunday roast without even a glance at the cutlery drawer.

No, Manitas, probably just “Hans” to his amigos, oozed duende, the fiery depth of spirit that flows within the heart of gypsy Flamenco. He was a walking fountain of it, enough to sire the majority of the Gypsy Kings, anyway.

Indeed, if Paco de Lucía was the new face of Flamenco, then Manitas de Plata was the ancient, craggy, Hadean understratum that underpinned this soul music from the dawn of time. Well, since his first recording in 1963 at least.

A couple of related trivia that I like:

Manitas de Plata only agreed to play in public ten years after the death of Django Reinhardt, unanimously considered the king of gypsy guitarists.

Upon hearing Manitas de Plata play at Arles in 1964, Pablo Picasso is said to have exclaimed “that man is of greater worth than I am!” and proceeded to draw on the guitar (see picture, above).

Now, behold his greatness…

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Life Line


A 14-year old girl was murdered in London. It’s a well publicised case. Another pregnant, 16-year old was strangled to death by her boyfriend, “to teach her a lesson”. Another 28-year old woman with everything to live for, has mysteriously died in her sleep. I knew none of these people yet I cannot help but be moved to tears for each.

The 28-year old women, it turns out, was a cousin of a close friend for whom I instantly felt a surge of sympathy. She described her as having been, “one of those special people”, lighting up the lives of everyone she encountered. The outpouring of love and loss is the most I have ever seen online amongst a group of friends. Every photo reveals why, within a cuddle of girlfriends, she wears a huge smile at the centre of each, a Cheshire Cat of a grin that radiates joy, to which mirth moths are willingly drawn. Others capture family, friends, partner; the body language is universal, echoing, “We love you and we love being with you”.

I cannot imagine how distraught she has left her partner and family and the very many friends to whom she brought this joy and laughter and happiness, but it is obvious and tangible and recorded online for all to see. So it is the loss of that last individual, a shiny happy person, with bright eyes and fair complexion, that hit me most. The golden straw that broke the camel’s back.

This is the increasing and inevitable penalty, an emotional cost, of continuous news feeds and social media. All these stories arrived within a week leaving me punch drunk and bruised. Never before have we been so connected with lives and events. Ceaselessly updated, how can we fail to form a real relationship with the narratives of parallel lives, so that when there is an abrupt cessation of news, especially because of a tragedy, the emotional response is also real, and personal, and hurts.

This is not a delayed epiphany of mine, but I have recently felt it more than ever, rendered raw by an ongoing spate of clinical depression; three years of debilitated capacity for work, family and friends. Today I “celebrated” the first anniversary of visiting my psychologist, specifically not a psychoanalyst with answers, but someone I trust, who is invaluable in making connections between otherwise apparently disparate events in my present and past. I’ve hopefully also whittled my medication down to the correct type and dosage.

Beyond those interventions, I have decided there’s something else I can do. In fact, desperation dictates it’s something that I must do. Every time I feel myself dipping into another black hole, literally a pitiful state, I have to remember that help, a life line, is within reach, a symbolic rope to pull myself back out. That’s why this post: to make manifest an abstraction. Shape the idea. A reference point I can return to.

The concept in my mind is unclouded, not the customary fug-muddle. The fog has lifted and this time it’s a good rope, not one of the other types that have threaded my knotted thoughts. This is no hangman’s noose: I see it as a golden braid, a Rapunzelean lock to climb to a higher state of mind. There, you see, more Grimm than grim.

So, that’s what I shall do when blue. I shall think of the smiling woman, that 28-year old – nothing weird or inappropriate – simply to bask in her eternal light a little, be warmed by her smile and celebrate another day, ruing that she is unable, and then, taking hold and proceeding hand-over-hand, I will pull myself out of that fucking awful hole. And when I’m eventually shot of the blackness and have dragged myself safely clear, I shall look all about, delighting in the view and breathing deeply of the day, taking a moment to smile, myself, and stealing myself to say, “Thank you. Thank you, my Rapunzel”.

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The Dissent of Man: £10 gift + FREE ebooks


Dear All,

to celebrate reaching £1m-worth of pledges, those lovely people at Unbound have thank you gifts for you. Pledge on my next book, THE DISSENT OF MAN and Unbound will add £10 to your total. For example, that’s a 1st edition hardback for only £10. I thought you might not want to miss out, so please, make your pledge now.

Also, if you have already pledged, thank you, I am most grateful, and you can now download e-book copies of any Unbound book already published. This is an amazingly generous gesture by Unbound. Just go here for the book links

Thank you once again for your help and support (and patience).

Best wishes,





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Scotland The Brave

I am not Scottish, but live in Edinburgh, therefore the impending Independence Referendum looms large on my horizon as much as it does anyone else living within Scottish borders. Here is a series of posts relating to the issues, and incase it is not obvious from the outset, to be clear, and without a doubt, I will be voting…

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Ivory Zero Hour

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The F⃫i⃫s⃫h⃫e⃫r⃫ King

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