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1:45 pm. Room A-148. The ping-pongian fortunes of my department hang on the outcomes of my next match. I’m facing the sweet German woman who belts her jeans too high. She’s got her game face on.

As someone French-sounding announces our names, making me feel like I’m playing at Wimbledon, my boss hands me his Special Paddle. I am too intent on success to note the potential for smutty euphemism.

It’s ping pong time.

Win, and we will be propelled on to a stage worthy of my teammates’ wunderschoen skills.

Lose, and our efforts will be consigned to a footnote in the pages of history.

Still, at least United won.


As excited as I am to have found my vocation, albeit 15 years later than would have been optimal, career-wise, I still find the subject a bit boring to read about for more than a few hours. Perhaps I could be a world-leading ecological economist part time?

Suppose I shouldn’t get too carried away. I have also thought my vocation was to be a primary schoolteacher, a historical monument, sorry, historical monument inspector, an archivist and a manta ray. And I don’t seem to be any of those.

Anyway, I escaped studying this afternoon to watch Unsere Erde at the cinema. This is the BBC’s Planet Earth, minus Whispering Bob, er, Richard, Attenborough and plus smoothie German narrator who rolls his ‘r’s, needlessly, in my opinion. It is quite marvellous, all the same. Awesome, in fact. I think my German fellow audience members were knocked out by the polar bear scenes. Am looking forward to similarly naturetastic events in the coming weeks, as Bonn is hosting a conference on biological diversity this month. [Listen to the meeting’s theme tune here!]

Helpfully, the film alerted me to an important point related to my possible karmic future. I realised that, much as I admire the bigness of our more generously proportioned mammalian friends the walrus and the humpback whale, if I am reincarted as an animal, I think I would prefer not to be in a body that has lichen actually growing on it or has fish constantly hanging around its genitalia. In fact, if I could be a manta ray that would be acceptable.

I stood under a manta ray in Western Australia Aquarium (thanks to an observation tunnel, fish watchers!), and I could not spot any barnacles at all. Just a mouth that appeared to be where its belly button should be. Well, that’s evolution for you.

… an ecological economist.


How do I get to be one of those, then? And will I need to be good at maths? Maybe I could blag that part. “As you can see from this diagram, the optimum extraction rate is, well, a lot per cent, and production volume has increased by at least, I’d say, 4 quadrimillion, er, walloons since, ooh, quite a long time ago. Look, everyone! There’s a hot air balloon!”

I have made it through to the knock-out stages of the ping pong tournament.