A balloon, a pot of glitter and a single-celled amoeba

“Mummy, you know the world started with a bang?”

Oh my lord. I am not prepared, equipped or in any way intelligent enough to deal with whatever is coming next. it is not uncommon to hear people moaning about the stuff they learned at school, and how irrelevant it is to the rest of their lives, and I have often pondered just how useful my knowledge (however scant) of how oxbow lakes form, of how your lungs work and of the process of photosynthesis, really is. Very useful, it turns out, in the face of a five year old’s rapid fire questioning. I really should have paid better attention, because as it turns out, those three things are about the only three things I can recall from fourteen years in state education.

“So, how did humans get on the Earth?”

Surely this isn’t part of the Early Years curriculum? ‘Today children, we will be learning the new grapheme ‘ck’ and after lunch we will be looking at how the universe began using a balloon, a pot of glitter and a single-celled amoeba.’

And where the hell does he get this stuff from? I get the fact that he is now into Star Wars because that it what all the other boys in his class are into, and I get that he thought the book we read was “epic” because that’s what is deemed to be  high praise indeed in the playground… but how humans got on the Earth? Surely that can’t be playground chat for five year olds? ‘Hey, wanna know how humans got on the Earth?’ ‘Was it Ninja aliens that helicoptered them in armed with great big laser guns to fight off the evil Earth Monsters?’ ‘Nah. Heard of the Big Bang?’

This is a boy who doesn’t yet know his home phone number, who struggles with the concept of coat hooks being a more useful receptacle for his coat than the floor and finds shouting ‘poo’ at the top of his voice hilarious, so I am not really convinced that his brain is ready to deal with the fundaments of existence just yet. Mind you, neither is mine, come to think of it.

“Well…” I begin, wondering just how I can make the last two billion* years of evolution a) understandable and b) really bloody quick.

“Life began with really simple creatures,” I say. “In the water.”

“Creatures that were really just a blob…” This is going so well.

“And then…” Okay, I am stuck. I wonder if there is an Usbourne ‘Guide to Evolution: Lift the Flaps and See Your Blobby Ancestors!’ I can buy instead? With any luck, it will be scratch and sniff and maybe cover sexual reproduction as well, and E will never have to ask me anything ever again.

E looks at me expectantly.

“And then over time… these creatures… developed… legs.” Oh, well done me. A startlingly brilliant summing up of the mechanics of evolution, I think you’ll find. Okay, I may have skipped a few stages, a bit like those iPhone ads that show someone using an app that loads immediately and works really well, whilst tiny writing at the bottom of the screen whispers: Some stages have been shortened’. Yeah, like the twenty seven prior to the one that actually does what you need it to do. But in evolutionary terms, surely, legs are the important bit, right? I mean, arms are useful, but without legs, where would we be? Well, right where someone left us, for a start.

“So that meant they could walk on land.” I look at E. In his head right now if probably an image of a wobbling splodge of jelly on a pair of legs, striding out of the water. Close enough.

There is a pause. I have learned from bitter experience not to offer any further information. I call it information. It is more like conjecture, shabbily dressed up as fact, muddying the water with its ill-fitting size nines.

For a while longer, E says nothing. So, it looks like that’s evolution done and dusted.



“Was Harry Potter there?”







*Some facts may have been harmed in the making of this blog.

4 responses to “A balloon, a pot of glitter and a single-celled amoeba

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