P&J Column 5.7.18


The Gull can’t help it

Hector Schlenk, Senior Research Fellow at the Bogton Institute for Public Engagement with Science:

As a scientist, I have been considering the questions which are  essential during a heatwave such as  “Can I have a Calippo for my breakfast?“ “ At what temperature does tarmac melt,” and “will this help or hinder the resurfacing of Broad Street, now in it’s 20th year?”

Despite the heat, however, I have been keeping an eye on the latest scientific news, and in particular an experiment in the South Pacific involving New Caledonian Crows. These remarkable creatures have the ability to make and use tools, solve complex problems, and use what has been termed a ‘mental template’ to remember how to make the right size of paper tokens to operate a vending machine and release a reward of food.

This is all highly impressive, considering there are many human beings, myself included, unable to operate such machines and who, when faced with a non-dropping curly-wurly or an unreturned 20p piece, experience a ‘mental template’ of their own

The intelligence of the family Corvidea (which includes the Crow genus) is well known, with ravens the cleverest of all. They have a staggering 2.1 billion neurons packed into their forebrains, and can solve puzzles, establish social hierarchies and replicate human speech. In fact the ravens at the Tower of London have been known to play practical jokes by creeping up behind groups of tourists and barking like a dog or asking them: “what the #@€& are you looking at?”

I found myself wondering if other bird species might be capable of similar feats, so decided to test the intelligence of birds native to this city, and managed to lure two seagulls through my kitchen window with a combination of old kebab wrappers and a half eaten haddock supper from the Ashvale. Not what I normally have lying about in the kitchen of course! But Mrs Schlenk has gone to her sisters for some ‘space’.

I pointed out that, in order to reach her desired destination, her optimal direction of travel would not be south to St Andrews, but straight up – although coincidentally the distances (62.14 miles) are identical. But she was into the Zafira and away before I could finish my sentence.

In any event, with two surprisingly large seabirds eyeing me from the breakfast bar, I began my experiments in earnest. The results have been inconclusive, however.

They have not replicated human speech, though the distinctive pattern they splattered on the table may be some form of pictogram.
They used no tools of any kind, and having been defeated by a spatula, I didn’t hold out much hope for their efforts with the microwave.

But they did display some signs of animal cunning as one pecked me about the face and neck while the other one opened the fridge with its beak, before both escaped through the window with the lasagne Mrs Schlenk had left me.  However, this may not, in fact, be good evidence of avian intelligence, as Mrs Schlenk makes bloody awful lasagne.


Cava Kenny Cordiner, the football columnist who lets the forward know he’s there early doors

Say what you like about the World Cup (unless you’re Russian, then you’d better say what President Putting likes) but it’s been convulsive viewing! The first knockout round had thrills, spills and coupon-busting upsets galore.

Unlike some, I’m not Aunty English, so I was pleased to see the Aldi Enema get through against the Columbos. The South American lads was resorting to real dirty tic-tacs, with shoulder barges, shoving and pushing and even trying to rough up the penalty spot when Harry Kane was waiting to take it. But there was nothing they did what was as bad as when the lad Barrios stuck the head on Henderson. I was sure the Ref was going to give that Colombian his marching powders.

But they got there in the end, England, finally burying their voodoo in penalty shootouts. They’ve got Sweden next in the quarters – I fancy Southgate’s lads to mash the Swedes and make mince and tatties out of them.

Also I seen bicyclist Chris Froome has been cleared of the doping charge what was hanging over him. So now he’s free to ride the Tour de Farce that starts on Saturday. Never before has a man doing a pee caused such excitement in the world of sport. At least, not since the one I done against the corner flag at Banks o’ Dee.