A taste of (Pygmies’) honey – and two of the lonely people

 ‘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.

All you need is Beatles - 10th Conference on Hunting & Gathering Societies, Liverpool 2013

All you need is Beatles – 10th Conference on Hunting & Gathering Societies, Liverpool 2013

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.

Music and a taste of two honeys. The Beatles never used an instrument like this one from Zambia, made from gourd, skin, wood and - the strings - recycled rubber from car tyres

Music and a taste of two honeys. The Beatles never used an instrument like this one from Zambia, made from gourd, skin, wood and – the strings – recycled rubber from car tyres

‘Pygmies gathered this in the jungles of Cameroon. One lot’s from stingless bees.’

I love anthropologists.

I think.

I’ll confirm that when I’ve recovered.

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8 Responses to A taste of (Pygmies’) honey – and two of the lonely people

  1. John Kemp says:

    Welcome back. It’s been a long month. And I suppose now it’s all those papers to get into print. I hope the conference went well and your book sales soared. Good to read you again


    • Hello again John! Have enjoyed reading your family story from Malawi. Still a bit demented myself at the moment so will read it again more slowly soon as I enjoyed it. Sold a handful of books – when people saw it was fiction many of them said they don’t read it – that’s sad, I think. I heard one person wondering to another if Lizzie was related to someone they knew in Lusaka – when I said no they asked me how I knew! ‘She’s a fictional character!’ I said. I don’t know whether it was a look of simple astonishment or disdain! They didn’t buy a copy… Yes, papers will be coming in soon and a re-launch of the journal under a new title once the murmuration of anthros has agreed what it will be!


      • John Kemp says:

        It’s more than pleasing to read the UK Zambians response in your reply to Audrey below. Also, I enjoy the way you bring old song titles into your writing, happens to me all the time. This morning for instance, I called out “Yoo hoo” to my wife, and up came “Boo hoo, you’ve got me crying for you”.


  2. Audrey Chin says:

    Welcome back. Looks like everyone’s been off somewhere this June.
    You’ve such a great voice. All that self-deprecating humor!
    A murmuration of starlings, wonderful!
    What is the title of the book you were trying to sell. Can I get it on Amazon.
    Would love to read it if it’s anything at all like the way you blog.


    • Hi Audrey and thank you, good to hear from you again. My book is crime fiction but with a very strong sense of place as it’s set in a place I love, rural Zambia. The title is another collective noun – A Wake of Vultures. Zambians living in the UK who have read the book say it took them right back home so if you enjoy any of my Africa posts (was that hippo you’re oiling brought back from that great continent?) you may well enjoy it. It’s available as an e-book or paperback – the e-book is in the Kindle store but the paperback’s only available from http://www.cosiandveyn.com. You can read the first few pages of the Kindle version online and see if it grabs you! The sleuths are Lizzie Lamb (white British professor, married to Alex – archaeologist!) and black Zambian Thomas Nkhoma regional parks chief for one of the big national parks. Have a peek at the Kindle version and see what you think…


  3. EllaDee says:

    Wow, sounds like quite an experience you’ve both had 🙂 At least now you should have the time to sit back, relax, enjoy a cup of tea with toast, and honey. What a lovely thought, not just honey but anthro-honey 🙂


    • Oh that’s great – I should have thought of that – anthro-honey! Doesn’t it sound delicious, toast and honey and tea? A perfect breakfast or tea… I always find when I write about tea I want a cup but it’s never as good as I imagine when I make it myself! I can’t quite bring myself to use te honey but it smells divine.


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