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ON THE OTHER HAND: In them thar hills


Peter Laurie

ON THE OTHER HAND: In them thar hills

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When my brother, the sheep farmer/ex-senator, phoned me the other day to tell me he had something exciting to tell me, I shuddered.
The only words I dread more to hear from him are “Hey, Pete, I want you to taste something.”
You see, he’s a brilliant but eccentric scientist who is cursed with a hyperactive intellectual curiosity. So while I’m content to pass my declining years rereading Dickens, Jane Austen and P.G. Wodehouse, cycling through the St John countryside, and sipping a cold brew or an aged rum, he, who is 11 years older than me, is constantly trying to figure out what makes things tick, and how he can invent something no one else has thought of.
That’s fine. Everyone to their own taste.
Except he’s continually involving me in his scientific experiments.
Why me? I asked. Because he trusts my intelligent judgement. Yeah right! It’s because I’m the only fool who’ll be his guinea pig.
That’s the problem with being the youngest in the family. Everyone picks on the runt of the litter.  
Anyway, I’ve been subjected over the years to taste tests of varying degrees of revoltingness: assorted bush teas, deep fried cactus, African snails in  something undescribable, pussley with melted blue cheese, beef aged so long it was crawling off the plate, etcetera.
The only experiment I recall with any fondness was when he was convinced he could age rum in a microwave oven and thus save all the time it had to spend in oak casks. I must confess that was a fun evening!
And there was the time when he negotiated with the distributor to buy all the remaining stock of unsold draught stout in the bottle at $5 a case reduced from $78, and offered me half. Fantastic, I said. How many are there? 650 cases.
Which brings me to the gold in “them thar hills”.
My brother frequently camps out on the slopes of Chalky Mount with his faithful and playful Jack Russell (his equally faithful, still playful, but wiser wife stays home). He’s applied his enquiring mind to the geology of the Scotland District. In his research, he came across a report by some English geologist in the 1930s suggesting there may be gold at Chalky Mount.
What the geologist actually said was that scatterings of gold dust might be located adjacent to manjak deposits because “the petrographic relationships with chemosynthetic diagenetic carbonates may have led to a buoyancy-enhanced diapirism of the accretionary prism”.
Obviously the quack who wrote such gibberish had been suffering from sunstroke or had been imbibing too much rum or had been smoking manjak. Or all three. In any event he obviously thought it would be fun to encourage some future certified lunatic – sorry, scientist – to start scouring the hills for gold.
Well he did. And, as usual, my brother roped in Foolbert. And I roped in our 19-year-old son, who, on the way down to Chalky Mount to meet my brother so we could go prospecting, asked: “Dad, I know there is no gold down there. You know there is no gold.
Uncle Keith knows there is no gold. So why are we doing this?”
Why do children ask such questions?
To cut a long and unpleasant story short, after clambering up a gully for two hours in search of gold, we gave up and went to Curtis’ Sand Dunes Bar in St Andrew for an ice-cold beer and a bowl of breadfruit cou cou.
After taking a deep pull of my Banks beer, I said: “In answer to your question, son, life is not, as many imagine, about the arrival, but about the journey.”
“You and your enigmatic crap!” he snorted. Children!
But he did agree our prospecting had made the beer and cou cou taste that much better.
• Peter Laurie is a retired diplomat and a commentator on social issues. Email [email protected]

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