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Homo dorkingensis

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As always, Captain Aubrey felt keenly the absence of his particular friend and surgeon of HMS Surprise, Dr Maturin. At that moment Stephen was conducting a census of the wolves on a nearby island. This involved spending the night listening for their distinct calls while concealed by a small pond, a prospect that Stephen faced with extreme happiness, but in Jack's private view amounted to mere howling demography.

Jack was comfortably installed in the quarter gallery with a cup of grog and a letter from Dr Skinner, Professor of Mathematical Husbandry at the University of West Doggerland, an ivy-covered brownstone red-brick institution on (and, depending on the weather, sometimes off) the shores of the North Sea. Jack had much admired her presentation to the Royal Society titled Some Influences of Nutations on Mutations. She in turn knew of Jack's astronomical writings and Stephen's papers on natural philosophy, and they maintained an amiable academic correspondence.

This letter though was something of a puzzle. It was addressed to Captain Jno. Aubrey, Esq, but intended for Stephen: "Please pass on to Maturin at the very first opportunity." (This quarter gallery was really too gloomy for comfortable reading, and the professor's handwriting... was that word 'Docking'? And 'eels'... no, 'all eels'.) The remaining sheets were covered in some sort of code, from which only a few scattered words made any sense to Jack:

TACT ... GAG AT ACT ... TAG A GAGA CAT

What on Earth could have a cat have to say to eels?

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"Dorking," said Jack, "is a strong contender for the most boring place in Surrey; no, no, I do it down – the whole of South East England. Why did the professor want to meet us here?"

"I am sure that she will explain," replied Stephen, looking gravely at his coffee. They were sitting in the White Horse, a rambling inn located at the end of the High St.

Just then, a short, plump, pale woman of a certain age approached their table and peered through her glasses at Stephen. "Maturin!" she cried happily.

Time passed: quickly for Dr Skinner and Stephen, interminably for Jack. His mind wandered as they bandied terms that meant nothing to him or made no sense. Blending theory quite exploded? Base pairs, incomplete penetrance and codominance? These last did not sound quite respectable phrases for a lady to use. His companions sounded impossibly advanced; they were really ahead of their time.

"Jack, Jack!" called Stephen. "I am afraid that you do not quite attend. The professor was saying that we meet in Dorking because

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"the inhabitants, remnants of the forgotten peoples of East Doggerland, moved to Dorking when, as it does every three hundred years, the ever-shifting sands emerged from out the ice-cold waters...

"Why, that's poetry, Stephen. Say it again!"

"When, as I say, remnants of the forgotten peoples of East Doggerland insinuated themselves stealthily into the population of Dorking, as they do every three hundred years, what one might almost describe as "mutations" began to manifest themselves in ..."

"Indeed!" exclaimed the professor. "The Dorking specimens we have examined, though low of brow and crossed of eye, are capable of almost coherent utterance and they have an instinctive genius for stone-axe manufacture. Dr. Maturin here has been dissecting...."

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Just what Dr. Maturin had dissected Jack could not later recollect, but the word set off a chain of reminiscence. The long battle with an unseen foe, a base pair indeed whom Stephen had finally despatched and snipped up on the far side of the world in a fashion Captain Aubrey must remain unaware of but which friend Jack knew perfectly well and heartily approved of.

Base pair... snips... Jack dimly felt the presence of a prime jest that might be flashed out at a Gunroom dinner. Stephen would be amazed, dished, taken aback.

Back at the White Horse, Stephen consulted his new anachronometer, an advanced timepiece of surpassing beauty with an unfortunate tendency to run far ahead of its time. 'Goodness. We had best be gone.'

Dr Skinner urged them to take the Deepdene Road, wherein a rare and prodigious fowl of interest to natural philosophy was to be found, unique in its... size? Number of toes? Composition of its feathers? Jack did not fully attend to his friends' detailed explanation, but sensed that during his reverie they had come to some agreement of a scientific or confidential nature.

'Friend Jack, I wonder if Surprise might have cause to visit the North Sea in our near future...'

* * *

'Nice doggie,' said Wilson.

'Come, boy,' said Stephen. 'Be fearless, confident. Place the swab inside the creature's cheek and swirl it firmly about, just like that implement which the sailors so expertly belay about the, err, ropework and like-minded contrivances. The wolf is a beast of the pack, a follower of the strong and the sure. Has not Captain Aubrey told me many a time of the boldness of the British midshipman, unparalleled among all the seafaring nations?

Or did I mistake his meaning? Perhaps the bravest young mariners are to be found on vessels under the flag of Spain, or the Dutch, or (whispered) France? Sure, Baker would not be so shy. Baker would risk all to advance natural philosophy...'

Stephen had been doing rather well but this last sally was an unhappy one. Baker was a beautifully absurd young topwoman who had consulted Stephen about her morbid fear of ducks. Diagnosing a likely disease of the mind, Doctor Maturin's initial prescription was for the wearing of duck trousers at all hours and in all weathers. When this resulted in a livid rash from ankles to waistband, Stephen next reasoned that repeated exposure to a creature with the mildest possible resemblance to a duck might sensibly diminish the bodily reaction from Baker's philosophical humours, and she had thus been persuaded, with the utmost reluctance, to cuddle Stephen's pet ornithorhynchus.

Wilson had been one of the rapt onlookers crowded into the cockpit as Baker sat on a sea-chest with the animal perched on his lap. He watched as they regarded the other with a sober reserve, blinking occasionally, until after some minutes she slowly extended a hand to stroke Billy McBillface. He witnessed Baker's agonized shriek as a pair of venomous spurs sank into the partially healed flesh above her right knee.

At first Baker had demonstrated mild platykurtic symptoms before seeming to recover from the near-fatal sting, but the syndrome had since developed into full-blown kurtosis. Wilson reflected on this as he and the wolf regarded each other across the clearing.

Just then came the unmistakeable budda budda budda of a Heligoland Wolf-Biter in flight. 'Heligopter lupodontus, what joy!' Stephen cried, and ran toward the sound. The wolf disappeared into the undergrowth. Wilson fled to the boat.

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Later, Jack asked: "So Wilson did not get a sample from the wolf?"

"No, nor I from the Heligoland Wolf-Biter."

"Have you thought about asking Joe Acheulean to collect them for you?"

"A strange name. Is he French?"

"Not at all; I think he is from Dorking. Strongest man aboard. His long arms are monstrous useful about the rigging. Though he puts the barber to a bit of extra trouble, what with keeping his back and shoulders trim."

Joe was duly called and shown into the cabin. He knuckled that sloping suface which took the place of a forehead and then let his hands hang limply by his side, disconcertingly near the deck.

"My goodness!" cried Stephen, with amazement and delight. "He is

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(Shrieks) No! it cannot be. Captain Aubrey, pray consult one of your chronometers the Arnold, perhaps, in the walnut case? Please to confirm that our longitude is unchanged.

Thank you, Captain. Professor Skinner, take firm hold of a backstay (never mind the black looks from the mariners) for I must tell you that which will make your hair stand like quills upon the fretful porpentine. My anachronometer agrees with the captain's chronometer as to our longitude but .... it is just as I suspected.This is a new sort of timepiece that can run far back in time as well as far forward. My calculations currently place us by the Rhine as,swollen with flood waters from the valley of the Neander, it irrigates the Doggerland of fable, of the long-armed hairy giants who were on the Earth in those, errr these, days, of the prodigious flying lizard of Heligoland with its feathers(!) and improbable number of toes...


This is no time to trifle with monotremes, we have ancient materials to decode. Set the swabbers to work, starting with Joe.

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***

The shore party lined up in fairly seamanlike order, swaying slightly: eleven hands chosen for their cool head under fire or wrestling ability, each holding up a cotton bud, an imitation in miniature of a Marine company presenting arms; the twelfth, Joe Acheulean, frowning at a spar-sized mop clenched in his enormous left fist.

'You have your orders, men. Strictly as the Professor described.'

The inspection being complete, Captain Aubrey watched as the party were rowed to the beach and dispersed through the tree line.

Noises were heard: guttural hooting; a high-pitched scream; a frequent thud as of a holystone being dropped to the deck from the crosstrees.

The setting of the sun brought the return of the expedition and Bonden's report.

'Beggin' parm, captain, wish to report ten samples collected, one compromised due to transmission of exogenous distal metacarpal material.' (Here Faster Doudle sadly held up a bandaged hand.) 'Further research is needed. Thank'ee sir.'

'Very well,' said Jack. 'Tom, lay in a course for our own time. We must return these samples with Prof S back to West Dogg U. There is not a moment to be lost.'

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***
"So you see," said Dr Skinner, sipping her Denbies Redlands reflectively and gazing through the sashed window onto Dorking High St, "the inhabitants of these parts share a considerable fraction of their hereditary material with the ancient Doggerlanders."

"That would explain their liking for undercooked steak," said Jack, prodding at his mournfully with his fork.

"And the local predilection for subterranean caverns or delves," added Stephen. "The town is perfectly riddled with caves, all inhabited. Often having rudimentary paintings on their walls."

"Don't you see?" asked the professor. "With a phenotype of extended brachia, prodigious strength and a tendency to unthinkingly obey orders, they are ideally suited to a life at sea."

"Why," said Jack,

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Ahem...they live in caves, do you say? Under Dorking? And eat undercooked meat? I regret to tell you that the barky cannot in all conscience, take on more of your what do you call them, ma'am, obliging carnivores? Obliging they may be, but one of their number, Joe Acheulean, attempted to eat the yeoman of the sheets.
But I have the very thing for them it just came to me doggerbankers!! There was a ballad my old nurse used to sing:
Twas a Sunday morning when I set sail out of tumptity tum tum I was faring
As a cabin boy on a doggerbanker for to go and hunt the shoals of herring.
Tra la.

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"Just so," said the professor. "It was my experiment and I should be the one to find suitable accommodation for the, ah, specimens."

Jack and Stephen bowed and she took her leave, pausing only to pay a call on the ship's Cornish armorer. Polduck was a former miner and smuggler, and a much admired Yokel in amateur theatrical productions, but it was his reputation as a master metallurgist and electroplater that led Dr Skinner to him.

Polduck completed a delicate repair on the barky's number two pasty crimper and then paused while he considered her unusual request. "Ooh err, aye, it could be done." She thanked the Cornishman and arranged to meet him in Dorking at the new moon at The New Moon, which, confusingly, was the name of an inn on the Deepdene Road.

Much later, as Bonden rowed her to shore, she turned to the Caves and Delves section of the Dorking Tourist Guide and gravely thumbed through the listings.

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* * *

The new patroness and number one ticket holder of the Dorking Roosters Rugby Football Club gently placed teacup on saucer and leaned back with a satisfied smile.

"All in all a satisfactory conclusion, I believe WHAT THE DEVIL ARE YOU THINKING, REF! ... err, with housing congenial to their tastes and OFFSIDE! ARE YOU BLIND?! ... and the game of course as a healthy outlet for their, umm, high spirits."

She gazed down happily as an opposition player tried not very successfully to hide underneath a torn section of the club banner displaying the name and slogan of their major sponsor:

DOGGER BANK LLC

Success: It's In Our DNA!


"You sir! Have you been fowled? I say, have you been 'fowled'?"

The witticism was met with raucous approval in the packed members' stand below. Dr Skinner was a great favourite of the fans, having authored the club's progress from laughingstock of the competition to unstoppable force. Her masterstroke was the recruitment of a forward pack whose combined weight exceeded that of one of the smaller cathedrals. A melee at the far end of the pitch turned out to this very pack, anchored by Joe Acheulean, as they furrowed the other team over the line for yet another try.

Tiring of the one-sided contest, Captain Aubrey returned to an earlier theme.

"... prodigious curious sight, as I say. Some of your local poultry, excess of toes but nothing wrong with that, scratching around the crossroads, perfectly normal for chickens, and in amongst them a giant silver specimen, wings, feathers and all, shining as if Killick had been at it watch on watch with powdered chalk and shammy leather. It was as if their heathen idol had come down from heaven and set up court among 'em..."

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