Alimentary, my dear Watson

2008-08-06 00:00

Lyall Watson died on June 25 at the age of 69. Not that anyone in South Africa appears to have noticed. As far as I’m aware, Watson’s passing merited neither a news story or an obituary. Most odd, considering he was a well-known author, South African by birth and once director of the Johannesburg Zoo. His many books often feature African subject matter, such as his penultimate volume Elephantoms: Tracking the Elephant (2002) or the earlier Lightning Bird: An African Adventure (1982), the remarkable story of the maverick anthropologist Adrian Boshier.

Fellow Travellers, or The Trouble a Book Can Cause can be found in the Summer 2007 edition of Slightly Foxed, the troubling volume being The Life that Lives on Man by Michael Andrews published in 1976 and containing, as Watson says, “all the details of our intimate companions in the micro-deserts of our forearms and the swamps of our underarms”. Elaborating further, he informs that “the two square metres of your skin surface are divided up into a variety of ecosystems ... Each of those habitats is occupied by bacteria, viruses, yeasts, insects and mites — often as many as three million per square centimetre.”

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