It runs in the family

2009-01-13 00:00

Genes are generally seen as things that identify us by our physical appearance, talents, personality and general disposition. Parents quickly notice the familiar and obvious ones in their children, and hopefully most are to be celebrated. The bad ones are those that mothers-in-law tell people come from the “other” side of the family. Genes are to do with nature rather than nurture and like most people I have always believed that by definition their influence over us pretty much endures throughout our lives. This was until an experience with Thomas, my 12-year-old son, during which I encountered a rogue strand of run-once, date-activated genetic code. Let me explain.

A while ago Thomas came up with a theory so out of character and so awfully illogical that I was less shocked by the content than by the fact that he had bought into it. He had just finished writing exams and told me that since the school reports had already been written he was now pretty much able to behave as he pleased. When I asked him why he simply said: “Because reports can’t be changed.”

“What?” I said, taken aback.

I explained to him that re-ports were not written in stone, and in fact were as easily modifiable as his being able to have friends over and chocolate treats on the weekend. But he persisted with his theory that reports were different and that once written couldn’t be altered.

“Who on Earth told you this, Tom?” I asked him, suspecting some kind of peer influence. “Nobody,” he replied, “It’s just the way it is.”

And it was at the end of this sentence that bells started ringing and a bizarre feeling of déjà vu crept over me. So it is a genetic thing, I thought to myself. I recalled quite clearly at his age also coming up with a similarly random and misguided notion all on my own. For some inexplicable reason I got it into my head that while en route, buses were only allowed to stop at designated points, regardless of what they encountered along the way. Like Thomas and reports I accepted this almost as a natural law. When Greg, a friend of mine, expressed scepticism over my bus theory I even persuaded him to test it out, confident of the outcome.

So Greg and I waited in hiding behind some bushes at the bottom of my garden for the afternoon bus to come by. When it did we pelted it with large clods of earth, which banged loudly against the side panels. Well I must tell you, I was shocked. The driver brought the bus to an immediate stop and raced out waving his fist at us and shouting about how he was going to tell our parents. I was about to shout back that didn’t he know that he wasn’t supposed to stop the bus, but Greg was pulling on my arm for me to get going before the driver gave chase. We ran off into a neighbour’s garden with Greg shaking his head at me as he went.

“But they aren’t supposed to stop,” I persisted feebly once we were safely away. Greg just continued shaking his head.

For me the genetic link between Tom’s “unmodifiable report” theory and my notion of the “unstoppable bus” is as clear as it is definite. Both appeared in our heads at the same age and neither were a result of peer pressure. I mean that you would battle to find any self-respecting peer to associate with either of these notions, let alone bring any pressure to bear upon them. The analogy of having a bird on the genetic aerial makes a lot of sense to me. A crash-landing hadeda in fact, your reception goes haywire for a bit, but fortunately returns to normal once the bird has blundered off. And if you are shaking your head as you are reading this, don’t. There could be a hadeda coming soon to an aerial near you.

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