Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A La Recherche du L'Oeuf D'Or

Word has winged its way from the wilds of the western wastelands, bringing to my attention the news that the children of today are more stupid than those of thirty years ago, and I have interrupted my winter sojourn in the Vale of Streatham to address myself to the consideration of this worrying revelation and the implications it has for my own research into the dwindling intellect of the contemporary adult, in particular that of the ambulanceman, and more specifically my own. Experiments conducted on a representative sample of children in a secret West Country laboratory have revealed that today's typical fifteen-year-old has a general mental capacity roughly equivalent to that of a twenty-week foetus from 1976, and that while 'O' Level results continue to improve year upon year, this has been achieved only by the simple expedient of allowing the teachers not only to sit the examinations but to mark their own papers, thus lending the appearance of improvement to an actual trend of plummeting degeneration. Only by the inspired stratagem of setting today's youngsters the exact same tests as were used thirty years ago has the truth of the situation been brought to light.

Results prove that the general cognitive foundations of today's children have subsided dramatically beneath their feet, presenting them with great difficulty in grasping such everyday concepts as density, volume, numbers, words, integrity and good manners. They are obese, oafish and clumsy and struggle hopelessly to understand the health and safety implications of an incorrectly fastened shoelace and the dangers inherent in employing an inadequate lighting system on a bicycle. Rather than spend a little time and energy inflating their tyres to the manufacturers' recommended pressures, it seems they prefer to ride around on the rims with dangling, potentially lethal laces, mumbling, when addressed, incomprehensible, monosyllabic farmyard noises rather than conventional words, the fundamentals of grammar and syntax having eluded them entirely and the Cycling Proficiency Test regarded as nothing more than an object of scorn and ridicule.

Many theories have been hurriedly cobbled together and advanced to explain this intellectual and moral decline: lack of fresh air and exercise; the ingestion of huge quantities of chemical food additives; Play Station dependency; the prevailing benefit culture of the schoolgirl mother; the THC content of modern marijuana; the dearth of Jesus in teenage life; the concentration of schools on meeting government targets at the expense of a broader educational curriculum; hip-hop; the scandalous shortage of qualified cycling instructors, and so on. The list is endless and we've heard it all before.

But I think I have now managed to isolate the one crucial development in English culture that has previously been overlooked in the search for the root cause of this national decline in cognitive ability over the last thirty years and that is the widespread introduction to our daily diet in the mid-nineteen seventies of the doner kebab and in particular the poisonous red sauce in which it is customarily drenched.

Some argue that this undoubted correlation is mere random coincidence but as a trained scientist one cannot allow oneself the luxury of believing in such phenomena. God, as Einstein famously said, does not play the harmonica. Or something.

Cast your mind back, if you will, and if you are of sufficient vintage, to the pre-kebab era. When you staggered from the public house at half past eleven on a Friday night in search of sustenance, where did this gastronomical expedition lead you? As you and your denim-clad chums stumbled along the High Street, bouncing from lamp post to passer-by like human pinballs, the chances are high that you would eventually find yourself propelled by an unseen force of Nature through the doors of the Golden Egg; or, if funds were low, tripping over your Green Flash at the sausage wagon outside the railway station where, for a couple of bob, you could take delivery of a Double Dog With, and having smothered it in brown sauce and mustard, would either hang around for a bit of a post-prandial punch-up, depending on the quality and the strength of the company there gathered, or continue your homeward journey where you would complete that morning's Times crossword before retiring to contemplate, say, Heidegger's Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, asking yourself as you drifted off to sleep whether syllogistics is still a feasible model for rational discourse and for the explanatory elaboration of proof or merely an interesting variant on widely accepted but contingent postulates.

What you most emphatically would not have done thirty years ago was arrive home with half a pint of chilli sauce congealing on your chin and plug in your Xbox.