‘You look tired.’
Just what you want to hear when you’ve put on the face you keep in a jar by the door and stepped out to face the day.
[There’s a bit of a Beatles vibe to this post because we’re slap bang in the middle of Liverpool. You should have spotted three nods to the Fab Four already.]
But there’s no disguising it, I’m on the verge of meltdown from sheer exhaustion.
I’ve been up since five o’clock but awake since three. Most days for the last couple of months I’ve been hyper since at least four. And I love my sleep.
So why the sleep deprivation?
Two hundred anthropologists. From 25 countries. For four days. Here, in Liverpool.
The human equivalent of a murmuration of starlings. You can’t really pin them down, they don’t like rules, they ebb and flow at will and never read anything that looks like it might help them find out what’s going on. A bit of an exaggeration but not that much of one.
So here I am. Bags under my eyes. Bags over my shoulders. Wheelie suitcase full of books and purse full of change for the sales I hope to make.
Strange people, anthropologists. You take the innate strangeness of many academics anyway and underneath is the weirdness of men and women who’ve danced with Pygmies, hunted with Aborigines, fished with Inuit, who’ve slept in jungles and deserts or tromped savannahs and ice floes.
It takes a very special person to be an anthropologist.
The air vibrates. It’s been pent-up for eleven years, this hubbub, this congregation, this concatenation. A Japanese man wears a white suit. A Malay woman wears harem pants. An Australian woman brings her seven-year old son – a bit unexpected, to be honest.
Anthro-man is worn out before it starts, but there’s no respite. The adrenaline buoys him up and he keeps on going – keeps on sorting out, organising, being tolerant and patient when I’m already at barking stage after five minutes. ‘Read your timetable!’ I order a hapless soul who asks me a question.
By the end of the week we’re like slates wiped clean. Our minds blank. I’m unable to frame a sentence. But there’s one last thing to do.
A renowned and interesting chap from Toronto, a Beatles fan, is staying on. Anthro-man – in a fit of enthusiasm – has promised to show him around.
So, Saturday morning dawns fair. I sleep late. To five o’clock.
I try, twice, to say what I really mean and then give up. ‘Let’s go,’ I finally manage to utter.
Clutching a fistful of Google maps we drive towards the Beatles side of town.
I’ve no idea how I’m going to make it through the day.
But Toronto-man’s a really nice chap and I warm to the task, no longer a chore. Well, OK, the map reading bit’s a chore, mostly because I left a few key ones on the printer.
But two charming taxi-drivers’ indulgent advice later and we’ve seen Paul’s house, John’s house, Strawberry Field, the place where they met and the graves of Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie.
We do the gift shop in the Albert Docks.
And dinner at a smart Italian.
Thank you, nice man for that – I hope you enjoyed the chance of singing the wrong song (as you realise later) at Strawberry Field.
We reach home, Anthro-man and I, and sink, like deflated balloons, onto soft cushions.
‘Did I tell you?’ he says, then stops.
Can I raise the energy to say, ‘what’?
‘We’ve been given some honey.’
Was that worth the effort?
He drags himself off the cushions and delves in his bag. Two little jars emerge.
‘Pygmies gathered this in the jungles of Cameroon. One lot’s from stingless bees.’
I love anthropologists.
I’ll confirm that when I’ve recovered.