I went to the dentist today, all the way back in my childhood home of Telford. The surrounding area is an entertaining hotchpotch of chav-tastic council estates and middle class developments, so the waiting room provides an entertaining spectrum of socioeconomic groups.
Just to my left was a lady and her young child. The lady was wearing her bleach-blonde hair in a ponytail so tight that it looked as though it might rip her forehead off. The little boy, who was four or five or six, was looking through one of those generic magazines only available in waiting rooms.
He found some kind of article about wildlife or something. It was quite hard to tell because he wasn’t so much looking through as walking around proudly with the magazine, in the kind of ‘insatiably curious but only for five seconds’ way that four or five or six year-olds are wont. He screwed up his little face in slight puzzlement, going through the primary school alphabet wall chart and deciding that these particular beasts didn’t fit the characteristics any known species. Rather than ring up any international biological bodies, though, he decided to ask his mum.
“Muuuuum, what are these? Are they horses? They look a bit like horses but they aren’t horses, are they, Mum? What are they, Mum?” I had managed to see by this point that they were llamas. Ha ha. What an idiot. But I think it’s a bit unfair for you to laugh at the small child, because he was only four or five or six, and the only reason you know they were llamas is because I told you, so there’s no saying you could identify llamas in such a high-pressure environment as a dental practice and, indeed, there’s no guaranteeing that I’m right—I didn’t get a very good look.
So, he showed his Mum the picture of the llamas. She raised her eyebrows slightly (her ponytail was so tight that she didn’t have much choice) and told her child to hang on and give her a minute. After a few moments’ deliberation, she finally decided: “Dunno. I think they’re camels or summit. Now be quiet Tarquin!” (He wasn’t really called Tarquin. All that talk of tight ponytails was to give you the impression that this lady was one of the townies and townies don’t call their kids ‘Tarquin’.)
I have to admit that I was a little amazed. Snobby little shit that I am, I thought everyone would’ve heard of llamas. I mean, it’s not like they’re not a well-established UK farm animal now, as well as a fluffy and entertaining creature which has captured the popular imagination with its cuteness and silly name. And I know they’re in the same family as camels and so she was almost right, but still, come on, that’s like equating potatoes, tomatoes, tobacco and deadly nightshade, and that gives you a 50-50 chance of a decent meal or a messy death.
Epistemology (that’s the study of knowledge and its acquisition, you filthy townie) is an interesting thing. I suppose llamas occupy a second ring of animal knowledge, somewhere between ‘cow, sheep, goat, horse, lion, tiger, elephant’ and having a zoology degree. It would probably include things like otters, meerkats (I think my point has just been proved as ‘meerkat’ is not in Microsoft’s dictionary), manta rays and albatrosses.
Which animals do you think a chav might not have heard of?