The Day I Turned on Darwin

Posted on November 28, 2011

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The story you are about to read is true.
Please bear in mind that under current UK legislation, these people are allowed to vote.

Somewhere deep in the middle-class stronghold of Surbiton, I used to run a house. Amongst the perfectly manicured lawns and nosy neighbours, this house stands out like a stain on a white sheet. Like any student house, it is easily identified as the one with mismatched curtains and a pile of putrid rubbish scattered all over the front lawn and surrounding areas.

As was usually the case, I was upstairs behind a locked door pretending I was somewhere else whilst my housemates were downstairs trying to enhance the GDP of Mexico by smoking pot like it was going out of fashion. I opened the door to let the cat in and heard, “what would it be like right…a monkey with a gun.” I was almost tempted to wait for the response but if it followed the normal pattern it would probably be another question and within a few minutes I might be indistinguishable from them, sitting cross-legged, looking gormless and desperately trying to work out whether things were making sense or not. I decided against it.

I closed the door and flicked on the TV. After a few minutes I felt something was wrong. The incessant noise had stopped. Much like how a new mother will startle the first few times her baby stops making noise, I worried about what they might be doing. Were they trying to save water by boiling their own urine for tea? Saving on food by eating each other? And did it matter? I decided that as long as I washed the kettle before I next made a drink, they could knock themselves out.

Five minutes later there was a knock on the door.
“Joe…”
They waited.
“Joe…”
They waited some more.
“Joe”
Still, they waited.
“Shove off!”
“Joe…”
“What?”

He looked perplexed, as though he hadn’t thought this far ahead but somehow indicated with his whole face that he wanted me to follow him downstairs. I heard them talking.
“Diesel burns doesn’t it?”
“Nah man, it’s petrol. I saw it on Top Gear.”
“You sure, I’m sure I saw Diesel on that show…you know the one with the cars.”
“Top Gear?”
“Nah man…”
It was admittedly more lucid that I was used to from them but they surely hadn’t brought me down there to settle this debate.

I walked into the kitchen and turned slightly to my left. Picture the scene.

What I have taken for a heavy smoking session is in fact coming from a box in the cupboard marked ‘mains cable’. The subject of their debate is the two canisters marked ‘diesel’ and ‘petrol’ a few inches away from the smouldering cable. I look at them. They look at me. I look past them to the cable and the cans. They look at each other. One of them gets bored and wanders off. By now, I realise I should have acted and am coming dangerously close to joining them.
“Are you sure it’s diesel?”
Me: “Give it 10 more seconds and we’re going to find out!”
“Yeh. Actually, maybe it is petrol.”
Me: “Turn the power off.”
“I’ve got it. Petrol goes bang and diesel burns slow.”
Me: “Turn the power off!”

Coming to my senses, I shouldered past one of them whilst the other one went off to roll up. As the cable started to spark, I flipped the switch to the power and the smoke began to dissipate. My heart is just starting to slow down but already they are bored, distracted by the sounds of the television or, in one case, excited by the prospect of yesterday’s chips in the fridge. I turn around to shout at someone…or anything. But the kitchen is empty and since it took me two weeks to get someone to wash up, I save my breath. Deflated and utterly confused I just walk off to get an early night. Not for the last time, I fall asleep wondering if being in a minority of one automatically makes you wrong.

Thankfully, I didn’t learn whether diesel or petrol is explosive by scattering myself over the neighbourhood, but I will always feel guilty for standing in the way of Darwin’s law of natural selection.

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