Chapter 5

One glaring omission from the school curriculum is the subject of wonk. Wonk roughly translates as “the rightness of wrongness.” I suppose the greatest exponents of wonk in the whole universe have to be humans. In this one area, we may be greater than God himself.

On holiday recently, driving up Islington Street in Auckland, I discovered a type of wonk I’d not seen before, a quite large Cryptomeria japonica growing in someone’s garden. I slowed the yellow station-wagon to a crawl. Looking at what had been done to this tree (a Japanese conifer pretty much wanting to grow in a pyramidal, pine sort of way) I realised that its owner felt it should rather be a palm tree. Every single limb had been pruned from the trunk, leaving only a tiny tuft of green branches at the top, seven or eight metres up, an exercise which must have required some serious effort. I have now dubbed this kind of wonk “Island Wonk.” I figure this person has come from the Islands and misses home. But maybe the culprit was simply a genius with the right hand and a dunce-headed Neanderthal with the left. It does require a certain lack of guile to enter the field as this Islington Street resident had, whereby the focus is not on the aesthetic but on some notion devoid of all practicality which is then carried out in as practical a way as possible. Or else the other way round. But it helps that one does not know what one is doing.

And given that this is normal to the current human condition, it follows that wonk is more or less everywhere.

In point of fact, Neanderthals had bigger brains than modern human beings. Their skeletal remains, however, suggest that they were somewhat uglier. Socrates is said to have been uncommonly ugly. On the other hand, Ernest Rutherford was quite good looking. At any event, it is certain that Neanderthals were stronger, shorter, uglier, and more intelligent than us.

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