Christopher Newport University,

The week of 11-18 April was busy, both in 2014 and 2015

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Dining Room Christopher Newport University

April 11th 2014, my 52nd birthday saw me up and about at 05h00 to be on-time and ready to give a 07h30 breakfast talk at the Christopher Newport University. This would the 62nd   time I had  given the same talk. Giving the talk was second nature,  even getting to and from the talk venue seemed like a commute. I had been in this part of the world a couple of times before, and was now able to negotiate my way without the help of satellite mapping. Soon I will qualify for full global citizenship. Breakfast talk done, my next mission was to find the adventure for the day. While I was sinking into a little talk touring groove, I was aware that an endless repetition of;  ‘I arrived at the talk venue, had bacon and eggs for breakfast, then gave a talk ‘ would not make for a very interesting book. If adventures were not immediately on the agenda, I would have to put them there.

So now, where to adventure in Newport News?

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James River

Newport News is one of the very early settlements of the ‘New world’. Forming part of one of the eight shires of the British colony of Virginia, so ordered by Charles 1 way back in 1634. All that history is now buried under the current occupation of these parts, shipbuilding. Warship building to be precise.  However, by a small stroke of luck, I find a tiny piece of history that has survived the militarization of this area. ‘City farm’ was once a farm, then an almshouse, and now it is a minimum-security prison. With actual prisoners, all living in a beautiful and historic rural scene. The prison is to close in July 2015. I think the inmates might be sorry to have to live out their prison terms elsewhere. This looks almost like being on a rural holiday retreat.  Walking  by the James River I make my way over the riverside grasses via a wooden pier that juts far out into the grey water. I look left, look right, take a few photographs, and well… not much adventure here.

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Dr Boaz in the Hollywood cemetary

Time to head back to Richmond, where I have an afternoon rendezvous with my first honest to goodness scientist, in the Hollywood Cemetery.  Dr Noel Boaz is a biological anthropologist, with a long list of achievements to his name. I feel quite intimidated as I have not managed to get my head around his; what if we knew where all our organs come from.

But hey, searching for Galileo was never going to be a walk in the park. I didn’t expect it to be a walk in the cemetery either, but as my mental jamming companion is interested in old bones, the venue seems quite fitting. Waiting for Dr Boaz at the cemetery entrance I suddenly have a spy vs. spy moment. How will I recognize him? Then I realize there are only the dead and I in the cemetery. Recognizing Dr Boaz should not be a problem.

Understanding him, well now that is a different matter. As we stroll slowly through the trees and gravestones he launches (very quietly) into his theory. The few words I can hear, I have never heard before, this promises to be a total fiasco as far as mental jamming sessions go. I ask Dr Boaz if he could speak layman’s English. He stops and looks at me. A frown rumples his aquiline features. I don’t think he has spoken layman’s English since he was three, then again, as he is the great grandson of the Reverend Alfred William Anson, who was born at Windsor Castle, perhaps layman’s English is a foreign tongue to him.

We resume our walk, as we walk we talk; about sugar and fat and kidneys and taste buds and I just don’t get it at all, thank goodness for the Dictaphone. I shall unravel this mystery quietly when I am back at my computer. Turning a corner we both stop in some surprise to look at the massive pyramid, built out of large grey stones, that rises into the sky above the more common, and expected, angels and crosses that surround it.

Pyramids, what is it with pyramids? Someone somewhere out there knows the answer to our fascination with pyramids. If there were no answer they would not still be built, and hold such sway over our imagination.  I photograph Dr Boaz by the pyramid to get a sense of proportion. He is very small. Then our path finds us back at the parking lot.

Later, in my office for the evening, I attempt to replay this afternoon’s conversation, and promptly and permanently delete the whole thing…nooooo…how embarrassing! What to do? I write a grovelling letter of apology. Dr Boaz replies with exquisite politeness , but I know I have been judged and classified as a total ditz.

Ah well, I shall try to do better next time.

For now it is time to pack my bags and head south, North Carolina here I come. First stop Hertford a pretty and very strange little town, more about that in the actual book.

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Episcopalian Cemetery Hertford

Meanwhile in the present…

In South Africa  on 11 April 2015 I was up and about at 06h00 getting ready to clean a beach of sea swept plastic. This was the culmination of my social experiment on what it would take to get people to walk their talk, to actually get up, get out, put some time aside to do something for the planet.

It takes more than I have apparently.

Of all the people who thought it was a fabulous idea, tipped their non-existent hats to me, and believed that the world needs more people like me, only 11 made the connection that if they joined in to help, there would instantly be more people like me. Perhaps the others felt I should go forth and multiply. I don’t think we have the luxury of time.

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Beach activeness done , I drive back to Hermanus, rehearsing a talk on the evolution of the mind, and in preparing this talk, realize that perhaps I did understand a tiny part of what Dr Boaz was saying after all.

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