Weekend Romp Turned Out Well. Now It’s Back in the Saddle, Again …



I’ve just returned from my overnight hike to that undisclosed location.* I’d like to say thanks to you readers for the encouragement and good wishes in the run-up. I had been invited to attend a dinner and a brunch in honour of Mr. Gordon Getty, who for 40 years has been a pillar of the Leakey Foundation, most of it spent as Chair of the Board of Trustees, and a large contributor to the foundation’s endowment. It was apparent to me that his support has had a very widespread effect on the study of human origins over the last half century. For my part, the prospect of an event such as this—most unfortunately—scares the bejeezus out of me, as I’ve previously pointed out.

The undisclosed location was in one of the many ‘wine countries’ of northern California. The dinner on Sat. night was a real treat, and the company was convivial. The new Irish linen herringbone suit was a hit. And I was very relieved to see a couple of friendly faces rather than what I had most feared, the faces of—how shall I put it?—my antagonists, of whom, as you know, the numbers are legion

By far the greatest number of guests were palaeo-anthropo-philanthropists. We palaeo-anthropologists were a tiny minority. I bored right in and chatted with a number of very nice Leakey Foundation trustees and donors. The friendly faces were those of the Sunday speaker, Randy White, he of early personal ornamentation fame, and of the ever tall, dark and handsome Steve Kuhn, the Middle Palaeolithic lithicist. They’ve been very busy bunnies since I last talked with either, at least 20 years ago. [!] I managed to talk with both of them, and the rest, without sounding too much like a dork. And I didn’t bat an eyelid when Randy told me that his team had recently dated “the vulva” from the Abri Castanet, in France. The petroglyph in question is illustrated below. I bit my tongue when the dates were published. I dunno. Looks more like the business end of a spermatozoa to me.

From White et al. 2012

There was a rough patch during my performance [which is what I’ve decided is the way to treat such affairs—pretending to be someone else!] at brunch this morning, when my brain nearly seized up and I stammered and ceased speaking for interminable seconds between utterances because I realized, mid-answer, that I wasn’t responding to the question that I’d been asked! That’ll slow anyone down. I nearly buried myself, but in the end I clawed my way back by feigning loss of my train of thought [or, rather, in retrospect wish that I had—it would have spared me the embarrassment that I felt at being both incoherent and speechless at the same time! The other seven people at the table were donors and Foundation staff, and evidently very kind people, because they neither ran screaming from the table from utter boredom during my discourses, and especially glad that I heard no one sniggering as I turned my back to leave the table up after the meal!

Clark and Betty in better days.

One other friendly face was a delight to see. The late F. Clark Howell’s partner, Betty Howell, was in attendance, in no small measure because of her husband’s constant contribution to palaeoanthropology and support of the foundation from the beginning, 40 years ago. Betty and I had enjoyed quite a few laughs while I was a Ph.D. student under Clark’s supervision, and while she didn’t remember me after twenty years we still managed to have some more laughs. Clark was always quintessentially driven and focussed, and Betty seemed the perfect balance, always airy and expressive. I miss those days at Cal, when I felt like I was on top of the world. That world, as worlds will do, kept turning, if you get my drift.

But no worries! I’m back in the saddle again.

* No sign of “Deadeye” Dick Cheney.


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