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20 June 2012

Sexual revelations from the Eocene

Sex in the sand
Philip Larkin famously wrote in one of his most quoted poems, Annus Mirabilis:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

     Russian readers might like to know that the “‘Chatterley’ ban” referred to the ban on publication of D.H. Lawrence’s sexually explicit novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was considered obscene and therefore unpublishable in Britain until the law was challenged, and overturned, in a famous court case in 1960. They might also like to know that Philip Larkin was 41 in 1963, which might suggest that he had an exceptionally weak libido.
     In this he was unlike Allaeochelys crassasculpta, a type of primeval turtle which once lived in northern European lakes. Today the BBC reports recent scientific research which proves that these animals were having sexual intercourse way back in the Eocene epoch, 47 million years ago. That was long before the Chatterley ban, indeed long before Philip Larkin was born presumably, he thought (if his poem is to be believed), as a result of something other than sexual intercourse. 
    The happily unsuspecting turtles were caught copulating when a burst of volcanic gas erupted from the bed of the lake they were sporting in and killed them instantly with its foul and noxious vapours. They sank to the bottom still locked in their amorous embrace, where they were enveloped in sedimentary sand and preserved for geologists to find 47 million years later.
     The language point? It is a simple one: never believe everything you read in poetry books.
     The more general point? No matter how discreet you think you are being, your secret will come out in the end, even if only after 47 million years. There's nowhere to hide.

1 comment:

  1. Talking of the sort of thing that nowadays happens more often in hotel rooms: I wonder how many of your readers know (or care) that Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia visited Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland in 1817? He was 21 at the time, on his way home to be married after a fact-finding tour to celebrate the allied success over Napoleon. He was fated, as Tsar Nicholas I 1825-55 to preside over the golden age of Russian literature. The theme of literature was eerily foreshadowed, according to the present- day proprietor of Moffat's Black Bull Inn (est. 1568) who claims that Nicholas was responsible for taking a magnificent souvenir from the inn, a pane of glass famously inscribed with a couplet by Robert Burns, back to St Petersburg. Russian visitors are always welcome in Moffat - in fact we are holding a book event 'Russia: Lessons and legacy' here Sept 14-17 2012 (see www.alexandermenconference.com ) to which all are cordially invited