Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

I REMEMBER, with all the vagueness with which the human memory is so infuriatingly endowed, that I was once taught the elements of the science of ecology. It seemed to involve throwing a strange contraption at random on to the ground in rural Pembrokeshire and then crawling after it on one's hands and knees.

The contraption, as I recall, was a square metal frame divided into smaller squares by a wire mesh. One then enumerated the species of plant and insect which happened to fall into each of the little squares. Once they were counted, the contraption was thrown on to the ground somewhere else and the enumeration repeated. Gradually, a picture of the ecosystem was supposed to build up in one's mind. Mainly I learnt how muddy Pembrokeshire was.

What, you may ask, brought these fascinating memories flooding back to me after more than 30 years' absence from my consciousness? Curiously enough, it was a walk from my hospital to the prison. Although this walk is short, I find it of unceasing interest. For example, there are the ever-changing graffiti. On the occasion when I recalled my first and last faltering steps in a science which, though I didn't know it then, was soon to become fashionable, the pillar box had been inscribed with the following words: CRAIG IS A WANCKER, to which someone, in a different hand, had appended: SO IS LEE.

On this occasion also, one could tell that the weather had been inclement of late. I deduced this from the fact that there were no shards of glass on the kerbside, which meant that no cars had been broken into within the last week. Although car thieves often claim to be addicted to their activities, as heroin addicts are to heroin, fear of the withdrawal symptoms is not so great as to drive them out into the wind and the rain, much less the sleet and the snow. …

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