THE DISCOVERY in the Canadian Arctic of an evolutionary
missing link that was among the first fish to leave the sea
illuminates, according to Thursday’s Times, a chapter
in the history of life on Earth that was essential to the
ultimate emergence of human beings.
Interesting stuff. It’s not the missing link between Man
and the apes (that’s Wayne Rooney), nor is it proof that the
dinosaurs turned into birds (that’s Jade Goody), but it is,
apparently, a glimpse of the great ur-moment when a fish
first crawled from the briny and began the long march to
becoming a man. There was even a picture of it in the paper.
A turboty sort of newt-like thing, called Tiktaalik.
I looked at Tiktaalik for a while, as I rattled on the
Underground between Tufnell Park and Moorgate, in the rush
hour, crammed upright in a metal tube smelling of armpits,
coffee and furtive fags, and I wondered, as far as I was
able to wonder anything, what with the percussive hiss of
iPods feeding computer-generated rhythms to nodding morons
and instructions being barked by syntactically disabled
announcers into tinny Tannoy systems, whether, had I been in
Tiktaalik’s position, that high and far-off morning in
375,000,000BC, I would have bothered. Wouldn’t things have
turned out better, after all, if he had just carried on
swimming? He didn’t though. So I wonder if that morning —
and I’m assuming it took two of these Tiktaalik fellows to
make the decision — went something like this:
A warm morning off the Arctic coast of Canada 375
million years ago.
Tiktaalik 1: Morning.
Tiktaalik 2: Morning.
T1: Got any plans for today?
T2: Not much. You?
T1: Thought I might go for a walk.
T2: A what?
T1: A walk. It’s when you climb out of the sea onto the
sand, or perhaps onto that rocky promontory over there, and
waggle your flippers to provide forward propulsion on land.
T2: On land? Are you mad? There’s no air out there.
T1: Au contraire, my friend. Air is exactly what
there is lots of.
T2: Well, I accidentally flipped onto a floating log one
time and was out of the water for some minutes, and, let me
tell you, it felt like a coelacanth had hold of my gills.
T1: There’s your mistake. You want to forget gills. Use
T2: Lungs? I’m not sure I’ve got any.
T1: Well, if you haven’t, we can always jump back, can’t
T2: And supposing we can breathe? What have they got out
there that we haven’t got here?
T1: Well, no sharks for one thing. Also trees, mountains,
T2: But we never go to the theatre.
T1: It would be nice to know we could, though.
T2: And apart from all this going to the theatre, what
will we do there?
T1: We’ll get jobs.
T2: I don’t want a job.
T1: Well, then, you can sign on. Look at the state of
you, if you’re not eligible for gigantic mobility
allowances, not to say asylum status and all the attendant
benefits thereof, then I’m not a large shallow-water fish
with tetrapedal intentions.
T2: And what if I miss the sea?
T1: Don’t be silly. We’ll still have a relationship with
it. We’ll go for holidays there.
T2: Holidays from these jobs we’re going to have?
T2: And how will we get there?
T1: In cars.
T1: Cars. Powered by oil that we’ll get from drilling
holes in the sea.
T2: And what will we eat?
T1: We’ll eat food from supermarkets, farmed by intensive
non-organic methods that are the only way one can feed as
many people as we’re going to be, which disgorge all sorts
of chemicals into the rivers, which end up in the sea and
kill everything in it that we have not already trawled to
death in our desperation to make money by selling fish.
T2: Oh. So we’re not going to want to swim in it much
when we go on these holidays, are we?
T1: To be honest old chap, we won’t want to anyway
because it will be full of the poisonous by-products of our
colonisation of the land, which will have created the
greenhouse effect, largely through the burning of the oil
we’ll get by desecrating the sea we came from, causing
temperatures to rise, the polar ice-caps to melt and the
land to disappear entirely under water some time early in
the 22nd century.
T2: So what you’re saying is that even if we do climb out
onto that rocky promontory over there, and find that we can
breathe, and turn into dinosaurs, and then into mammals, and
then into apes, and then into preternaturally skilful young
Evertonian strikers, and then into men, we will make such a
mess of the planet, what with our greed for energy and lack
of respect for its fragile biosystems, that we will all be
under water again anyway within 400 million years, and right
back where we started?”
T1: In a word, old bean, yes.
T2: Well then, no harm in giving it a go, I suppose.
T1: Exactly. We have nothing to lose but our fins.
T2: After you, then.
T1: No, no, old stick. After you.
T2: Together then.
T1: On the count of three.
T2: What, on three? Or after three?
T1: Whichever. Let’s say on three.
T1: Three . . .