Hello. The Boar.


I said, hello, the Boar.

Is that Ben Lomond?

That is indeed my pseudonym.

The writer of “The Origin of Modesty”?


In which case, I would say you are anything but a bore.

Well, I thank you for that, but the Boar is the name of this house, spelled B O A R. It used to be a pub – the Board Inn – until 1926, since when it has lost the D. Who knows? Maybe the sign lost its D while it was still a pub, and that became some local joke.

And do you always answer the phone with the name of the house?

I never have done in any previous houses, but it amuses me to do so here.


In the hope that someday someone who doesn’t know me would misinterpret it – requiring an explanation – just as you have done.

I see. I’ve fallen into a trap. Please forgive my intrusion.

There’s nothing to forgive. I’ve enjoyed our conversation so far.

My name is Jasmine Chillious, and I’m connected with the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre.

So that’s how you know about my play.

Yes. As you know, unfortunately it was not shortlisted. But I read it, and I was wondering if I could talk to you about it.

Fame at last! By all means.

There are numerous aspects of the play which really interest me, so I wanted to find out where you are coming from – I mean, how you came to write it.

As I’ve just indicated, I would be perfectly happy to tell you anything you want to know, but not on the phone.

No. I was thinking of driving over to interview you in your home. It’s not too far, and it would make a nice day trip.

I’m sure that would be very agreeable.

So all we need to do is arrange a date and time, and for you to give me directions.

Chapter 1


Hello. I’m Jasmine.

I guessed you must be. No other young woman has knocked on my door in the last few years. Do come in. Would you like some coffee?

Yes please. No milk, two sugars.

Coming up. Did you find the place alright?

Yes, thank you. I‘ve just been knocked out by the views. I live in a concrete jungle where you’re lucky if you see a blade of grass.

You get used to it after a while. Take it all for granted. You only realise how much you appreciate it when you find yourself in a concrete jungle.

You didn’t expect me to be black, did you?

I was more surprised by the sugar. It reminded me of the only piece of advice I was ever given as a boy about pleasing women, which was, when you find out whether or not they take sugar in tea or coffee, say either ‘to go’ or ‘to contrast’ with your nature.

That wouldn’t have pleased me. I don’t like compliments from men. They’re creepy. And you knew what I meant.

Of course I did, by which I mean I didn’t – expect you to be black. Though, on thinking about it, your name doesn’t sound indigenously British.

Does that make a difference?

Only insofar as I’m suddenly wondering whether you’ve come to tell me that the character of Eve doesn’t seem to you to be an authentic black woman.

Not at all. I found her a fascinating character – I might even go so far as to describe her as a role model. In fact, she is the main thing I wanted to talk to you about. Do you feel she isn’t an authentic black woman?

She was only an African for reasons of plot necessity, but I wrote her lines as a woman, irrespective of race. She was supposed to represent womankind.

Aha. I never expected you to admit that so quickly.

Why not? It’s obvious. On one interpretation she is Supereve – the mother of us all.

So, have you ever met a woman like her?

No. I’ve met aspects of her in other women, but not the totality. She was my fantasy version of what women should be like.

You mean, she’s your ideal woman?

Sort of. I guess I fell in love with her while I was writing the play. It’s funny. I’d never considered black women before I wrote it – not out of prejudice but because it didn’t seem to be appropriate and I never tended to meet them anyway – but afterwards I started to become much more interested in black women.

Well, please don’t get any ideas with regard to me. I’m here to do an interview.

Of course. It wouldn’t enter my mind as anything more than a fantasy. I’m not so arrogant as to believe that an attractive young woman such as yourself could possibly be interested in an old man like me. As a result of being on Skype and internet dating sites for the past two years, I’ve had a basinful of scammers pretending they are drop-dead gorgeous young women who prefer older men because we’re more experienced. What a load of see-through bullshit! They’re all after money. Insofar as scammers wouldn’t exist if their approach didn’t sometimes work, I despair of the gullibility of men sometimes.

But you’re not doubting that inter-generational relationships can happen, are you?

No, but I’m quite sure that, if they don’t involve exploitation, they have to evolve gradually rather than being the younger party fancying the older party from the outset. It’s plainly ridiculous, on the basis of a photo and few words on an internet profile, for a young woman to decide that an old man, often far away and even on a different continent, is possibly ‘the one’ when she could probably go to her nearest night club and pull a hot young man within hours.

You think it’s easy for a woman to find a partner?

I think it’s easy for an attractive woman to get layed, but much more difficult for a woman to find the right partner, because it takes a long time to find out if someone is ‘the one’.

Why is it different for a man?

Because, as a grotesque generalisation, a man is much more likely to regard the right woman as being the one who wants to have sex with him.

Is that your experience?

I’ve never found it does me any good to take a spontaneous interest in a woman, so it behoves me to pay attention to any woman who seems to be interested in me. It would be cutting off my nose to spite my face for me to dismiss any woman who seemed to want to have sex with me, whereas women spend their whole lives dismissing men who want to have sex with them. Shall we take our coffee through to the sitting room.

Yes. It’s a very unusual house with all the unplastered stone walls.

You mean you’ve never seen such a primitive home before. This part used to be the stables with the hayloft above. In days of yore, inns had to be able to accommodate horses as well as people. I just like stone and wood, so I never bothered to cover the walls and joists. Through here, in the sitting room, is part of the old pub – probably the old snug room. As you can see, it’s much more like a standard room, with plastered walls and ceiling, and wallpaper and paint.

Oh, yes, just like a normal sitting room really, except that most houses these days don’t have fireplaces.

I operate a wood economy here. Like Good King Wenceslas’s peasant, I collect wood every day and burn it in the evening.

Are you hoping for a patron?

You mean a good keen wench or lass? I guess so.

Well it won’t be me. I’m not in any position to offer you a production of your play. And I don’t have any money, but that doesn’t make me a scammer.

You never know these days. My last one put in an awful lot of time and effort. She really had me going, with a fairly long-drawn-out establishment of mutual interest, and the implicit promise of an exciting life together, so I really wanted to believe she was genuine. But she was far too good to be true, so I was always waiting for the first sting. After all the trouble she’d gone to, I was expecting something big, like that she’d been kidnapped, requiring the paying of a ransom.

What form did it take?

She wanted me to top up her mobile phone, so I could continue to receive her delightful texts, even though she was allegedly in a well-paid job.

Couldn’t that have been the equivalent of buying her a drink?

In theory, maybe, but in practice, no.

Are you angry with her?

With her? The chances are she isn’t even a woman, so any disappointment or anger I may feel is with deceivers in general, not with a particular person.

So you don’t regard women as inherently evil?

Why would you think that?

Because both the female characters in “The Origin of Modesty” are highly manipulative. I was surprised when you said Eve was your ideal woman, because that makes it seem as if you want women to be manipulative.

She’s my ideal woman because she is open-minded, free-spirited, forthright and honest, and she knows what she wants.

That’s what I liked about her too. You don’t mind if I’m equally forthright, do you?

Not at all. Say and ask anything you like. I very much enjoy no-holds-barred debate.

You see, I’m not sure how honest she really is. What you’re saying is that your fantasy woman is the sort of woman who turns a blind eye to a rape?

What rape? The only rape is the metaphorical one of Africa being raped by Christianity.

Which really happened. Doesn’t that mean Eve’s rape really happened?

No. As Eve’s lines make abundantly clear, she didn’t regard it as rape.

She was only doing what all rape victims feel obliged to do, and blaming herself. It’s obvious from the vicar’s lines that he knows it was rape.

The vicar is a guilt-ridden, sanctimonious prig. It wouldn’t come within his moral compass to have sex with someone at first meeting, so he feels bad about having let it happen. For her part, Eve may not have expected them to have sex so soon after meeting, but it was what the whole arrangement had been leading up to, ultimately.

Do you really think it’s plausible that she would want to have sex with him only twenty minutes after she first met him, when he’d spent most of the time boring her to death by going on about evolution theory?

She’d been in love with him, from a distance, for years.

So now you’re saying that Eve wanted to be raped. That really is just male fantasy.

As a woman who knows what she wants, Eve had decided she wanted to get to know the vicar better, with a view to having a relationship with him. Why would Sheila be so confident of winning the bet if she didn’t know what Eve had in mind?

I think Sheila wants to lose the bet by then.

In that case, according to your criteria, she wanted to be raped by Henry. I would say she’s become ambivalent about the consequences of losing the bet, but she certainly wouldn’t want to lose it. Her whole plan was to get the vicar and Eve together.

And it was all manipulation, for which your punishment is rape.

My punishment!

Yes. You are the writer, so you control what happens to the characters.

In which case, I am the only person who knows what really happened, and I’m telling you it wasn’t a rape.

That’s what all rapists say.

No doubt, but real life rapists have their freedom at stake. My only motivation for refuting that it was a rape is because it wasn’t. If I, as the writer, was delivering any kind of judgement, it was that the consequences of manipulation, as you like to call it, cannot be predictively controlled. The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. And to be fair to Eve, she is only a party to manipulation which is done with the best of intentions.

But you do admit that she is manipulative and that she represents womankind. And Sheila is even more so, to the point of being downright devious. She’s a cold, calculating, scheming bitch. Is that the way you see young women?

She’s just a character in a play who happens to be a bit of a control freak.

I think you’re a misogynist.

You’ve got the wrong word there. However low my opinion may or may not be of women, it is far lower of men, so if you have to mis-label me, the right word would be misanthrope not misogynist. I mean, look at the two main male characters in the play. Henry is a completely unscrupulous self-centred bastard, and the vicar is a smug, pompous, authoritarian prig who is in denial about his true nature.

I thought Henry came over as a hero, who use his looks and charm to seduce women, and the vicar is someone who has no interest in women until there is sex at stake. They are two sides of the same coin, which is manhood. And that means treating women like sexual objects. That’s the way you obviously see men, however much you may claim you don’t like it. Isn’t that the way you see women really – as sexual objects?

Women are material beings with whom – even which, maybe – it is very pleasant to have sex sometimes. That doesn’t mean that I only see them as sexual potential.

But you do see women as manipulative.

You think that on the basis of two individual fictional characters?

But their names, Eve and Sheila, are both evocative of ‘woman’ in general.  Doesn’t that mean that you see all women as manipulative?

You really have been analysing the play. The issue of manipulation was just a matter of plot necessity.

But surely you wrote the play in order to convey the plot.

No. Not at all. The plot wrote itself from the actual reasons why I wrote the play.

What were they?

The chief reason I wrote it was to convey or explain Lamarckian evolution in a populist form. I have been writing about evolution theory for over 20 years, and I’ve tried all sorts of different angles. I wrote the first two scenes – the Garden of Eden and the ‘Supereve’ scene – as exercises in ambiguity, long before I wrote the rest. And incidentally, Henry and Sheila acquired their names because I had originally written them as He and She, just as Eve got her name because she was described, in the present day, as ‘Super Eve’. Similarly, the gorillagram was written as Gor, so he later became Gordon. I even imagine that the vicar, always written as Vic, is called Victor.

I see. I’m sorry if I came over as a bit aggressive, but I really thought you had written it as an exercise in gender stereotyping.

That’s alright. It has been salutary for me to realise how others might perceive my writing.

So, how did you write the rest of the play?

I decided, sometime in the mid-90s, that I wanted to use the two scenes I had already written as part of a larger piece examining different perceptions of how we, as humans, came into existence. The vicar’s sermon had to form the link between the earlier scenes, which were both ‘enactments’ and ‘really happening’, and the rest of the plot was just making coherent sense of those scenes in a way that allowed for lots of discussion about human evolution.

And lots of gratuitous nudity, to bring in the audiences.

If that’s the way you see it. The nudity was more of a metaphor for hairlessness.

So you were just trying to promote the Aquatic Ape Theory?

Not really, even though I personally believe in it, and I was only too happy to make uninformed people aware of it. I was trying to promote Lamarckian evolution – the idea that we change in response to our environments, and it is inheritable.

I had never heard of either before I read your play, but I was brought up in a religious environment. My parents didn’t even believe in evolution. I’m afraid I didn’t really understand the argument the vicar uses to explain his beliefs.

Neither did Eve!

What is the connection between Aquatic Ape Theory and Lamarckian evolution?

As far as neo-Darwinists are concerned, only the fact that neither of them is true. As far as I am concerned, one followed from the other.

How come?

Are you sure this won’t bore you to death?

No, I’m interested.

Elaine Morgan’s “The Descent of Woman”, which presented the main arguments for the Aquatic Ape Theory, was one of the most important books I ever read. With hindsight I would go so far as to say it changed my life. I even named my daughter after her, though my wife had different reasons. It was certainly the most entertaining non-fiction book I had ever read, and, as far as it went, the most convincing in its unconventional argument. I read it in the early 70s, having had an orthodox scientific training, which means I was sold on the neo-Darwinist view that all variation is caused randomly, by genetic copying errors, and that natural selection ensures only those variations which improve the survival chances of their recipients will be perpetuated.

So, you’re saying “The Descent of Woman” changed all that.

Yes, for me, though Elaine Morgan herself wasn’t challenging neo-Darwinism. She was just presenting a vast amount of evidence which suggested that, at some point in our evolution from a more typical ape, our ancestors had spent a considerable amount of time in sea water. Of all the arguments, the one which went furthest up my flagpole was the one about our hairlessness – our being naked – by comparison with our ultimate ancestors and all our cousins. That’s why I concentrated on that issue in the play. All sea-water mammals are hairless, and virtually all terrestrial mammals are hairy.

Why is that an argument against Darwinism?

In itself, it isn’t. As far as Morgan was concerned, our ancestors lived in the sea and incurred mutations which made their bodies better suited to living in the sea. But she antagonised conventional scientists in many ways, one of which was in using “Just So Stories” explanations, which rely on cause and effect mechanisms, and answer the question “Why” not “How”. Why did we lose our body hair? Because we lived in sea water. Why didn’t we grow it back again? Because we started wearing clothes.

What’s wrong with that argument?

As far as neo-Darwinism is concerned, the word ‘because’ is not legitimate. Changes are uncaused. They just happen. How did we lose our body hair? Through permanent irreversible genetic mutation? How did that enable us to survive better? For exactly the reason we thrive now – we don’t need body hair. The fact that we no longer have significant body hair cannot be due to anything our ancestors did. Therefore the aquatic ape theory doesn’t hold water. But the fact remains that there is no advantage to a terrestrial mammal being naked. So neo-Darwinists have come up with some pretty convoluted explanations as to how hairlessness did prove advantageous, including the issue of fleas, which ought to mean that all animals would be better off hairless, neoteny theory, which claims we are just immature overgrown ape foetuses whose big brains compensated for the hairlessness, and the old fallback – sexual selection.

How does that work?

Allegedly, men preferred their women to be less hairy, so the genetically less hairy women had more children, who themselves were less hairy, and so on ad infinitum. It’s the most unconvincing argument I’ve ever come across, since, in my understanding of males, whatever their preferences may be, they would never let them stand in the way of opportunities to shag their way to immortality.

I’ll concur with that.

Hairlessness could never have become universal to the whole species through male preference, because sexual selection can only work through female preference.

Why is that?

Because females of most species can only have a limited number of offspring, so they need to ensure that such as they have are of high quality. Males can, in theory, have unlimited offspring, so they need to maximise the quantity. That’s why most men are, or would like to be, serial shaggers, and most women are choosy.

What makes them choosy?

The female of any species has a deep-seated, inherited, instinctive set of criteria for what makes a male desirable for the purposes of sex. They have been created through a long process of trial and error by her female ancestors in order to ensure that the offspring she has are most likely to survive and be successful in the reproduction stakes themselves. Since they are instinctive, these criteria are not rationally controllable, though they can be rationally ignored.

What are these criteria?

By and large, across the animal kingdom, the criteria are good physical appearance, flamboyance, self-confidence, demonstrable talent and strength. Though individual females may have variations in their emphases, and even sometimes quirky criteria, the fact that those criteria are all for the good of the offspring means that they are fairly standard. That means if a male is attractive to one female, because he has those attributes, the chances are he’s attractive to lots of females. If he’s attractive to lots of females, the chances are that he will make use of that to his maximum advantage. He is the alpha male, and he gets to have all the sex he can handle, and consequently has a disproportionately large number of offspring, which is what the whole system is designed to ensure.

But most men aren’t that attractive to women.

No. Alpha males are only a small proportion. The next class of male is the faithful provider. Virtually every female has as a criterion the desire for a faithful male who will provide a home, sustenance and protection for her and her offspring. If a male can demonstrate his ability and willingness to fulfil that role at a time when the female is giving emphasis to that criterion, he may be selected. As a reward, he gets to have sex with her, which means he stands a good chance of siring some of her offspring.

Are you saying she doesn’t find him that attractive? He’s just useful.

He’s attractive because he is useful.

It sounds like manipulation to me.

Why am I not surprised? The third class of male is the underclass, who is certainly not an alpha by any common criteria, and he does not demonstrate any aptitude for being a provider, so he not likely to be selected. If he wants to have any success in the reproduction stakes – and he often desperately does – he usually needs to resort to trying some devious tactics in his forlorn attempt to appeal to females who have quirky criteria or have had bad experiences. In reality, he stands little chance of siring any offspring, so he is a dead-end – a loser.

Why does any of this make a difference?

Because the male offspring will tend to be like their fathers, and the female offspring will tend to have the same criteria as their mothers. Thus, the whole species is being steered in the direction of the selection criteria.

You’re creating a world in which females are controlling what males are like.

Through sexual selection, females have always had an enormous power to change males. The females of any species can in theory determine the future of the entire species, though they don’t in practice have any control over their selection criteria, so it is a pretty useless power. If women could control their criteria, and they were united in the form that control took, they could change men into exactly what they wanted them to be. Men have no such power. All they can do is try to impress, in the hopes of being selected, and their only power is in deception. They try to appear to be as much like alphas as possible, whilst the women warily try to expose their possible deception by setting tests.

Henry and Sheila.

Precisely. They were there to represent the contrasting attitudes of young men and women to sex. If you like, they are the archetypal man and woman.

I was very impressed with that scene in which Henry is trying to seduce Sheila. He was just like I’ve always found young men to be – hell-bent on having sex.

From a biological point of view, that is all that men are on this planet to do. That is why men spend an inordinate amount of their time, and employ every trick they think might work, in pursuit of women. Henry is just a distillation of that – the personification of the male sexual imperative.

Is he autobiographical? Is that what you were like in your youth?

Far from it, though I would undoubtedly have liked to be in terms of getting the results. I was much more like Gordon – serious-minded, shy, respectful….

And opportunistic?

I think everyone is opportunistic. It is opportunities which are rare – for a man – and Gordon gets presented with a couple during the play. Though he was the most minor character, he most represents the ability to adapt in response to a change in environmental circumstances, which is what Lamarckism is primarily about. The other characters are too set in their ways, so external circumstances are just triumphs or setbacks, but Gordon not only changes symbolically from a hairy ape – the deliverer of a gorillagram – into a naked ape – a young man at a nudist party – but he also gains in self-confidence in the process.

If you would like to continue reading this dialogue, which goes on to discuss many more subjects, please contact me.