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PRAISE FOR THE ELUSIVE BABOON

“With formidable wit and vivid powers of observation, Jennifer Jolly’s style is a cross between Monty Python and Michael Palin. She writes about the perils of travel in up-country Uganda in the 1960s against a background of ever-increasing political unrest and a chronic shortage of money. Family life takes place in a tent in the wilds of nowhere. Pregnancy makes no difference. By day, her husband Cliff abandons her to go in search of baboons. By night, elephants and buffaloes come visiting. A must-read for those who love travel and adventure.”

—Vernon Reynolds, author of The Chimpanzees of the Budongo Forest: Ecology, Behavior, and Conservation

 

“The Elusive Baboon is a stellar memoir about Uganda in the mid-1960s, when the author, as well as the country, was in transition. Jolly paints a story of discovery, new beginnings, and overcoming adversity. Written with humor, insight, and honesty, the book is an enlightening read.”

—John McCaffrey, author of The Book of Ash

and Two Syllable Men

 

“Whether they remember Uganda in the 1960s or not, readers will resonate to Jennifer Jolly’s charming memoir of life in a beautiful, exotic country in turbulent times. Writing with disarming frankness and an eye for the telling detail, she weaves together a fascinating portrait of a nation about to disintegrate, and of a new science—primatology—being born.”

—Ian Tattersall , author of The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack and Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution

THE ELUSIVE BABOON;

A Ugandan Odyssey

 

 

Jennifer Jolly

 

 

 

 

 

Full Court Press

Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

First Edition

 

Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Jolly

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including by photocopying, by recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express permission of the author, except where permitted by law.

The events in this book all occurred and, save for slips of memory, have been faithfully recorded. Some of the names have been changed for reasons of privacy.

Published in the United States of America by Full Court Press, 601 Palisade Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632 fullcourtpressnj.com

 

Print ISBN: 978-1-938812-99-6

Digital ISBN: 978-1-946989-01-7

Library of Congress Catalog No. 2017934099

 

Editing and book design by Barry Sheinkopf for Bookshapers

(bookshapers.com)

Cover art courtesy shutterstock.com

For My Family, With Love

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I owe thanks to a number of people who saw some of the preliminary chapters and gave their helpful thoughts. These include the Writers of Metuchen and writers from Hoboken. A big note of gratitude goes to teacher, writer, and friend John McCaffrey. Without his encouragement, I would never have completed this book, and it would still be a pile of papers and unfinished stories on a shelf.

Jill Dearman, Isabel Urra, Cliff Jolly, and Caroline Jolly read and gave helpful comments on an early draft of the manuscript, while Cliff gave invaluable feedback about factual information on a later version. I also want to thank Barry Sheinkopf, who has so ably helped me through the final stages of editing and production.

Finally, I give grateful thanks to my family, Cliff Jolly, Caroline Jolly, and our son Erik, who now lives in Vermont with his wife Imogen and their twin sons, my very dear and only grandchildren, Liam and Owen. They have all always given me their kind and generous support.

PART ONE: BABOONS ON THE BRAIN

PREFACE

In August 1971 we were readjusting to life in Manhattan. The humidity was high. Temperatures soared into the upper nineties. Glass-windowed buildings, concrete sidewalks, and the chrome on cars reflected the sun’s blinding glare and added to the unbearable heat. From our air-conditioned thirteenth-floor apartment in Greenwich Village, I gazed out at skyscrapers. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were nearing completion. Along Bleecker Street, drunks and addicts slumped in shop doorways amid discarded bottles and old food wrappers. Refuse littered the dusty sidewalks and swirled in the gutters. Garbage bags dumped at the curbside emitted the putrid smell of rotting food. Fire engines clanged, police sirens wailed, cab drivers leaned on their horns and shouted abuse through open windows. New York was going through a period of social and economic decay, when many fled to the suburbs.

Everything was so different from the environment I had just left in Uganda, where I had been able to simply open the door and wander onto grass. I missed the green forests, the clear skies, the mountains, the lakes, the majestic animals, the beautiful birds and butterflies, and the clear night skies with millions of stars that twinkled in a velvety blackness.

We had gone to Uganda twice for my husband to unlock some of the mystery surrounding evolution by watching wild baboons, trapping them, taking their blood, and analyzing it using techniques totally new at the time. When we first went in 1965, I had been a naive young woman living in London. That time we traveled by sea to Mombasa and by steam-engine to the interior of Africa, taking our small daughter. Along the way, we escaped an attack in Genoa, and I discovered I was pregnant. The baby would have to be born in Africa, but I anticipated no problems. How mistaken I was.

Our base was on an old coffee estate near Kampala, the capital. We traveled around in a battered old Land Rover and camped with few amenities as we aimed to trap baboons while living through violent thunderstorms, and seeing dangerous animals and vultures waiting to pounce on rotting carcasses. But the countryside was beautiful and not yet touched by modernity.

I’d always seen myself as invincible, but this image was shattered when I was due to give birth and a violent civil war broke out. Mass killings took place, bodies were dumped in Lake Victoria, and people disappeared without a trace. It was dangerous on the roads. A curfew was imposed. During this mayhem, our son was born, and I was lucky to survive a complicated labor. I was much more fragile than I thought.

In 1967 we moved to New York and returned to Uganda in 1971 to study the eating habits and behavior of baboons. This time we took our two small children and had to adjust to living in an isolated old rest house with no amenities on the edge of the Budongo Forest. While there, rumors began to circulate about the Ugandan army killing people on nearby roads, and I experienced gut-wrenching panic from the fear of being beaten up or shot by guns poked through the window. Our car was unreliable, but we managed to visit the beautiful Queen Elizabeth Park and escape before Idi Amin, the “Butcher of Uganda,” committed the worst of his atrocities.

In spite of all the turmoil we were in Uganda during an interesting period in its history. Three years before we arrived, it had gained independence from Britain after one hundred years as a protectorate and was still adjusting. And so in this book I relive my memories of traveling to Africa, how we adapted to a different culture, met colorful local characters, saw excitingly unfamiliar wild animals, survived several life-threatening situations, and learned the hazards of scientific field research with wily, unpredictable baboons. My story begins in London in the early Sixties, when primate field research was in its infancy and Jane Goodall first came to the public’s attention.

CHAPTER 1: BABOON MAN

 

A collection of fossil remains of extinct, giant baboons was gathering dust in a remote corner of the British Museum of Natural History. Some had been collected at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, and at Olorgesailie and Kanjera in Kenya, by the renowned archaeologists and paleoanthropologists Mary and Louis Leakey. Some had been collected as early as the 1930s, and no one had studied them since.

It was now 1960, the year that marked the beginning of a decade of dramatic social, economic, and political change. That year John F. Kennedy won the closest presidential election of the century in the United States; the Soviets shot down a US U-2 spy plane and captured its pilot, Gary Powers; a furious Nikita Khrushchev pounded his shoe on a desk at the United Nations; Xerox introduced the paper copier machine; Psycho was the most talked about film; and birth control pills were approved by the FDA, opening the way to a sexual revolution. A little known English rock group with the strange name of The Beatles gave the first performance of their careers in Hamburg, Germany, and Britain’s Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, gave a significant “Winds of Change” speech signaling Britain’s intention to grant independence to a number of its African colonies.

Later that year, a young anthropologist, my future husband, Cliff Jolly, dusted off the baboon fossils, laid them on a desk, and pored over them. He was on a quest as he measured them and made notes on these one-to-three-million-year-old relics. These dusty fragments had once been living, breathing primates, sharing their African habitat with early human ancestors. Could their lifeways, interpreted from their bones and teeth, help to unravel some of the mystery surrounding human evolutionary origins? He would use the results as the basis for his Ph.D. dissertation.

But Cliff wasn’t supposed to be there. In 1957, three years before Macmillan made his “Winds of Change” speech, Cliff had been accepted at Oxford as an undergraduate to read law, thinking he could go into the Colonial Service as a route to studying human cultural and physical evolution. But when he realized he could achieve his goal more directly by studying anthropology, he had turned down the place at Oxford, much to the chagrin of his headmaster, himself an Oxford man. His parents too were disappointed. Neither of them had been to college, and here was their only son saying no to one of the most prestigious universities in the world. But he had made up his mind. And his life set off on a totally different course.

The Anthropology Department at University College, London, readily accepted him as an undergraduate. The program focused on social anthropology, but also included prehistoric archaeology and physical anthropology—the study of blood, bones, genetics, and evolution. Cliff chose to focus on physical anthropology and, in doing so, made a complete switch from his previous high school studies of German, French, Latin, and history. A brilliant Latin scholar, he used his Latin to figure out the etymology of almost any word thrown at him.

I once asked, “What does ‘solipsism’ mean, Cliff?”

He looked up from reading: “Surely you know that, Jen? It’s the theory that self is the only reality. Comes from solus—alone, and ipse—the self.”

“Hmm,” I said, somewhat miffed by the implied put-down, and went off to find a more obscure word. He seemed puzzled that others didn’t think the way he did.

Although he had never formally studied the biological sciences, Cliff had always taken a keen interest in animals, birds, and plant life. An avid bird watcher with exceptional eyesight and hearing, he could readily spot the detailed markings on birds and identify their songs, and he knew the Latin names for many species of plants. A voracious reader with a retentive memory, he could talk to experts about fossils, birds, mammals, plants, and geology. He also had an extensive knowledge of English history and appreciated old buildings and prehistoric monuments. Physical anthropology turned out to be a good choice, and Cliff eventually became an acknowledged expert in that field. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For some reason, this brainy man, who some said looked rather like the young Michael Caine without glasses, took a fancy to me, though we were opposites in many ways. He was intellectual, I was practical; he was logical, I was emotional; he looked at things in depth while I skimmed the surface. We had both been born just before World War II broke out, but he, like Darwin, was a creative Aquarius; I was a many-sided Gemini.

We came from different parts of England. Cliff was an only child who grew up near to London and all it offered in the way of museums, the zoo, theaters, art galleries, and music. I grew up with a younger brother and many cousins in an iron-and-steel town in North Lincolnshire, where the night skies lit up with the intense glare thrown off by white-hot molten slag tipped from huge ladles onto enormous gray solidified slag-heaps. Our town was industrial but situated in an agricultural county and surrounded by picturesque old villages. We could cycle to one named Alkborough, which had a rare and very ancient turf-maze named Julian’s Bower, said to be either Roman or Medieval in origin. When you sat in that soothing place surrounded by quiet on top of a hill, you could look down onto the confluence of the dark gray-green waters of the Rivers Trent and Ouse, forming the River Humber, which flowed into the North Sea. It separated the East Riding of Yorkshire, to the north, from North Lincolnshire to the south. Tennyson’s birthplace, in the small village of Somersby, was only forty-five miles away from us, and just eight miles away was Epworth, the birthplace of John Wesley, the Methodist preacher. Lincoln, with its magnificent mediaeval cathedral founded around 1088, was less than thirty miles along the A15, which followed the straight old Roman Road.

After the discovery of iron ore and the development of the steelworks in the mid-nineteenth century, our town had been formed when five villages, all with Anglo-Saxon and old Scandinavian names—Crosby, Ashby, Brumby, Frodingham, and Scunthorpe—amalgamated under the name Scunthorpe, though each village managed to retain some of its own identity. Scunthorpe thrived as a boom town during the 1950s, but people thought the name sounded funny and it became fodder for music hall jokes. Yet those of us who grew up there were attached to it. You could easily bicycle out of town into the surrounding countryside for picnics, people were friendly, and there was a strong sense of community. Our lives centered on the steelworks, the town’s soccer team, cricket, horse racing, pubs, and families. Scunthorpe had a movie theater that we frequented as teenagers, and pantomimes like Puss in Boots were staged at Christmas, but if you wanted “real culture,” such as Shakespeare, an opera, or art galleries, the nearest place was Leeds, about fifty-two miles away.

London was 180 miles away, a very long distance at that time, but in 1951, when I was twelve, I went there on my biggest school trip. We traveled by train and back in a day, setting off very early and returning very late, to visit the Festival of Britain in Battersea Park on the South Bank of the Thames. The Festival marked the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Crystal Palace, Joseph Paxton’s wonderful iron-and-glass edifice, and aimed to lift the spirits of a nation still struggling to recover from the devastation of World War II. I was thrilled that my parents let me go, and excited to see the futuristic cigar-shaped Skylon pointing to the sky, the mushroom-shaped Dome of Discovery, and souvenir shops where I bought a commemorative five-shilling piece. To me, London was a place of wonder, but it seemed almost beyond reach from North Lincolnshire, especially by car, because at that time the journey took a full day, as the road wound its way through the narrow streets of small country towns. Nevertheless, in my teens I set my heart on some day living in London.

In those days women were expected to marry by around the age of twenty-one and have their husbands take care of them. Women like me had three main career choices: secretary, nurse, or teacher. Those who wanted to be a secretary or nurse left school at sixteen. I was expected to go to university, which meant I would stay on until eighteen. I thought a career in teaching would be a reasonable choice, but my mother, herself a teacher, was adamantly opposed to it. Apparently she wanted something different for me, and her influence prevailed. I was not going to teach but I envied those who knew what their futures held because I had no clue. I was interested in medicine, because I thought I might be able to contribute in the neglected field of women’s medicine, but wasn’t sure I could handle life-and-death responsibilities. I was an excellent pianist but not at concert standards and, in any case, was nervous when I had to perform in public. I was a good tennis player, but that was no career. I had always had an interest in acting and liked the idea of being someone who was not me living in different worlds, but in high school I had been told that, at five-foot-nine, I was too tall. I shut up about it, became sick of people telling me how tall I was, and developed a huge chip on my shoulder about my height. My mother was six inches shorter and wore fashionable, expensive high-heeled Italian shoes to add to her height. I wished I could do that. My mum expected me to marry, but she also thought I should have a career and said ominously, “You never know what might happen.” All I knew was that I was expected to go to university…but to do what?

As a teenager I was bored with school and only crammed at exam time: Does well if she bothers to apply herself, read one of my reports. My mother threatened to take me out of school if I “didn’t get down to it.” I refused and did little but play tennis, hang out with friends, and listen to Elvis, Lonnie Donegan, Bill Haley and the Comets, and The Goon Show. My grades suffered, I experienced some dark days from depression, and I continued to remain unclear about my future.

I loved to daydream, watch the clouds, and wander in the bluebell woods. When introduced to Coleridge’s “Kubla Kahn,” I was mesmerized. A whole new world opened up with “caverns measureless to man.” And then, in the midst of my emotional turmoil, I decided to study psychology, knuckled down to work (focusing on the biological sciences), and began to read about psychological experiments and world affairs.

I was delighted when I gained acceptance at Bedford College, London University, to read psychology. Finally I was going achieve my dream of going to London. I had just turned eighteen when I boarded the train to King’s Cross and a new life in which I battled intense home-sickness. I was overwhelmed by London’s size and isolation. I knew nobody and sorely missed my family and friends. Never before had I felt so lonely, and no one seemed to understand my northern accent. I just didn’t fit in. But determined to stick it out, I began to settle down, appreciate all that London had to offer, and make new friends— including Cliff.

My opinionated, rather prudish, maternal grandmother had proclaimed in disgust that psychology was just “Freud and sex.” She didn’t want to hear me when I said I was interested in finding out about the physiological bases of behavior and the extent to which nature and nurture influence what we do. For me, psychology raised many interesting questions. Could psychological traumas etch physical grooves so deep in the brain that there was no way to fully erase them and the accompanying pain? What was the role of psychologists in industry, and how did they study the attention span of air-traffic controllers? How could stress from fatigue and noise affect behavior and memory? Why did people perceive things in such different ways? I had difficulty sorting through the ideas that crowded my brain, so would move onto the next question while Cliff was considering the first. “You’ve got the attention span of a grasshopper,” he said in exasperation.

I married Cliff in 1961 and found most women I met had husbands or boyfriends in industry, law, dentistry, medicine, or some other “respectable” profession, while I confessed that my husband spent hours in the British Museum of Natural History, looking at fossilized baboon bones. To me this was new and interesting, but for many it was a conversation stopper, or worse was met by the question, “What the hell does he want to do that for?” to which I never had an adequate response.

Then I thought about the steelworkers from my hometown, in their flat working-men’s cloth caps, and hunched over their pints of English beer, slaking their thirst in the pubs because their dangerous, hot, heavy work near the blast furnaces made them sweat profusely. Their hands were gnarled and darkened with ingrained soot; their fingers and nails were often stained dark-brown from smoking non-filtered Players, Senior Service, or Woodbine cigarettes. They played darts, bet on the football [soccer] pools and sometimes as well on the horses at Market Rasen, the track frequented by my dad, a local bakery manager, and his friends. If these people had been told someone had chosen to study baboon fossils as an occupation, they would have said in disbelief, “He must to be bloody barmy,” meaning he must be crazy, or “Ee, by gum, ‘e’s a rum un,” which meant “he’s a very odd chap.” Many southerners looked down on northerners like me because we “spoke funny.” We in turn were suspicious of people from the south. They spoke differently, and we thought they didn’t know how to do hard manual work. Cliff therefore had two strikes against him. He came from the south and was an academic with a strange interest in baboons. The only person who seemed intrigued by him was my mother, Thora, though I suspected she murmured on the quiet, “Whatever is Jennifer thinking about, to be interested in that baboon stuff? She always seemed so down to earth and normal before she went to London.”

However, my mum liked the new and unusual, so she put a positive spin on Cliff’s work by equating brilliance and oddness. “Look at those Sitwells and that strange Bloomsbury group. Brilliant, the lot of them, but odd! Not like us normal folk.” Yet I knew she admired them.

To make matters worse, Cliff decided to grow a beard. Maybe it was to make him look older, to fit the image of anthropologist, or to imitate Darwin. I disliked it and had to agree with one forthright friend who said, “It looks like bum fluff.” I couldn’t understand why a good-looking man had chosen to grow a wispy beard like one of the Three Billy Goats Gruff and concluded that Cliff was thumbing his nose at the world. Like the prince who turned into a frog in a fairy tale, he was turning from clean-cut Latin scholar and potential lawyer to whiskery baboon man. I worried what others thought, but he didn’t care. I watched his transformation and began to wonder whether he was turning into a different person from the one I married.

Meanwhile, primatology was gaining in significance. At that time, the person who arguably had the greatest influence on British Primatology was Dr. John Napier. Born in 1917, Napier was an anatomist and orthopedic surgeon who specialized in injuries to the hand sustained in World War II. He developed an intense interest in comparative functional anatomy, especially the evolution of the human hand, and this interest naturally extended to the hands of other primates, living and fossil. In 1964, with Louis Leakey and Phillip Tobias, he described and named Homo habilis (“handy man”). This early human ancestor was one of a cluster of fossil discoveries in East Africa that in the 1960s transformed notions of human evolution. Napier’s enthusiasm, creativity, and generosity in sharing information had a major impact on his postgraduate students, many of whom went on to illustrious careers. Cliff studied with John and learned about the functional anatomy of baboons and other monkeys by dissecting their bones and muscles at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine. When we knew John he was in his early forties—a good-looking man who walked with a limp and carried a cane. I thought he cut a romantic figure and in my mind created an image of him in a colorful cravat, a swirling cloak, and a wide-brimmed felt hat like Toulouse-Lautrec’s rendering of Aristide Bruant. Together with his wife, Pru, a leading expert on taxonomy in primates, John founded the unit of primatology at the Royal Free. This was the first center devoted to the study of non-human primates in Great Britain. He also established the Primate Society of Great Britain and publicized primatology through his talks on the BBC.

In 1963 Napier organized a symposium at the London Zoological Society in Regent’s Park that was a milestone in the development of modern primatology. Cliff attended and said that Jane Goodall, the British primatologist, had caused a great stir when she reported for the first time that chimps used tools. Man was no longer the only tool-user. She also said these animals, like us, had emotions. Some scientists accused her of anthropomorphism when she talked about “living among chimps,” gave them names, interacted with them, and described their social relationships, but Goodall ultimately had a profound and widespread impact because she captured the imagination of the public. Never before had anyone heard of a young woman heading off to Africa to live alone among wild primates and, to cap it all off, turn current thinking on its head.

This all coincided with Cliff’s interest in primates. His detective work on the fossils gave some interesting indications of life in the past. Based on bones and teeth, he deduced they came from several species of baboons that had become extinct. Unlike later baboons, which were adapted to living in trees as well as on the ground, the fossil baboons were more specialized —adapted to walking on the ground in an area of open country grasslands. The fossils had been discovered in old lake beds, so the animals had probably lived near shallow lakes where seasonal flooding prevented the growth of trees but enriched the ground flora, especially the grasses, on which they fed. But why had they become extinct? That event probably coincided with a period of diversification of human cultures and the elaboration of hunting techniques. At both Olduvai and Olorgesailie, evidence of extensive hunting had been found, so baboons could have been a frequent prey during a period of occupation by early humans. Higher primates are also particularly vulnerable to hunting because their slow reproductive rate makes them dependent for survival on a high rate of success in rearing their young to maturity. Hunting may have tipped the balance against their survival. Whatever the cause, these baboons had died out.

Meanwhile, Cliff’s focus shifted to modern baboons, especially the evolutionary origins of the many different species and populations, spread across most of Africa, in diverse habitats. Together with the head of Physical Anthropology at University College, Dr. Nigel Barnicot, he started to look at the genetics of blood proteins using techniques that were completely new at the time. They came up with the idea of trapping wild baboons, taking samples of their blood, and analyzing the genetic variation in protein composition to see if this gave clues to evolution. Cliff was to do the field work, and Uganda was chosen as the best place. Barnicot had a contact at Makerere University, in the capital of Kampala, which would provide an academic environment as a base; baboons lived in many locations, so there would be plenty to trap; and a lot of people spoke English in the former British Protectorate. But first they had to obtain funding, and Cliff needed to learn more about blood analysis.

CHAPTER 2—ON RUNNING BLOOD

 

One day I heard Cliff talking to his friend Vernon, who studied chimps, about starch gel electrophoresis and running blood. I wondered what it all meant, especially running blood. What had this to do with baboons and their blood proteins? I listened to the discussion and asked some questions, but the answers didn’t satisfy me; I wanted to see running blood in action. My mother would have said, “She always wants to know the far end of things,” and she was right. I cooked up a scheme in which I would pay a surprise visit to Cliff’s laboratory to see what running blood meant. I was not going to ask if I could go because I knew he would say, “Why do you want to do that, when I’ve told you all there is to know?” Privately I didn’t agree, so I took time off and set forth one afternoon in my trendy white plastic trench coat and favorite black-and-white-checked John Lennon hat, feeling pleased with my idea. I hopped on the underground, emerged at Euston Station, made my way down Gower Street, and went through the entrance to the Anthropology and Anatomy Departments at University College. No one was around.

I slipped past the dark, wood-paneled walls of the Anatomy Department with its skeletons of long-dead gorillas and orangutans and smell of must and chemicals before I headed to the dimly lit stone stairs leading to the Anthropology Department. Maybe the skeletons were to blame, but an image of Jeremy Bentham suddenly popped into my head. That intellectual genius and child prodigy, who began to study Latin at the age of three and was later associated with the founding of University College, made a strange request during his lifetime. He asked that his body should be displayed in a wooden cabinet after his death. In 1832, his wishes were duly fulfilled, and he now sat in his cupboard with a glass front, his “Auto-Icon,” in one of the college halls. His skeleton had been padded out, and he was dressed in his own clothes with a white cravat gathered down the front, a black frock-coat, fitted fawn trousers to below the calves, white socks, and black shoes. He had a large wide-brimmed yellowish hat on his wax head.

As an undergraduate, I had found Bentham’s presence unnerving, thinking it very odd to keep a dead man on display, dressed in his hat and clothes from the 1800s. I also I had an irrational fear of death: To see a dead man’s corpse sitting in a box and looking out with his glass eyes gave me the willies.

Starting up the dimly lit stairs, I thought of Jeremy in his cabinet and began to wonder what else might be hiding in the corridor recesses on each floor. It didn’t help that I had recently been scared out of my wits by Psycho, with Anthony Perkins as the crazy murderer Norman Bates. Suddenly overtaken by fear, I galloped up the steps and, trembling, leaned against the wall to recover my breath and brace myself to race up the last flight to the lab. Having gotten that far to see running blood, I wasn’t going back, but I was having second thoughts.

I scampered up the next flight. The third floor corridor was also dimly lit. Several wooden doors led off it, but they were closed and there was no sign of life. I looked around in a panic and spotted a door marked Laboratory. Without stopping to knock, and finding the door unlocked, I rushed in and found myself in a dusty, low ceilinged room piled high with books, test tubes, flasks of various kinds, and jars of chemicals.

I was glad to see my husband in the midst of it, his fair hair flopped over his forehead, his shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows. He was poring over some gelatinous substance on a bench. A rack of test tubes containing blood stood to the side. I thought the only thing missing was a veil of white mist with a large-fanged creature rising from it. I was still thinking of dead Bentham and the more than creepy Norman Bates, but this reminded me of Frankenstein’s experiments. As I gathered my breath, I realized I would have to explain my sudden appearance to Cliff, who was so wrapped up in his work he didn’t say a word. I began to feel foolish and wished I had not come. I took off my John Lennon hat and, because I was feeling upset, resorted to a silly remark, “So who was the unlucky victim today?”

He made no snide comment but said distractedly, “Oh, we’ve just had a batch of blood sent over from the Lister; they’re doing medical research on various monkeys. There’s a lot for us to do.”

He didn’t elaborate, and I didn’t press for more detail. He was concentrating on his task. I watched. Eventually he took a deep breath, put down a test tube, pushed back his hair with the back of his hand, raised his head, and asked, “What’s got into you?”

“Nothing, why?”

“You burst in as though the devil was after you.”

He hadn’t asked why I was there without warning him first. So I told him about Bentham, Norman Bates, creatures lurking in the shadows, and how I’d flown up the stairs. A look of incredulity spread across his face. He couldn’t understand why I should be frightened and imagine people and creatures about to spring out from hidden recesses in dim corridors.

“You know, Jen,” he said, “you let your imagination run away with you. It’s perfectly safe around here, yet you barge in out of the blue, talking of ghosts, dead people, and creatures lurking in corners while I’m in here minding my own business and getting on with my work.” He shook his head. He didn’t seem particularly annoyed, just bewildered.

I switched subjects. “I came here because I wanted to see running blood and starch gel electrophoresis.”

“You talk as if they’re people. I’ve told you, they’re part of a process. We run blood to separate the components using starch gel electrophoresis. Got it?”

“Yes, but I wanted to see it.”

“Whatever for? Anyway, why the heck didn’t you ask me instead of sneaking in here and catching me by surprise?”

“Because you would have said no, and that you’d already told me.”

“Humph,” he grunted, but I noticed he didn’t deny it. “Oh, well, as you’re here, I’ll show you. Then you have to leave—I’ve a lot to do.”

“Good, that’s what I want. I promise I won’t stay long.”

Without wasting words he explained that, once a sample of blood was obtained from an animal, the blood was put in a centrifuge to separate the serum from the red blood cells. Next, a small sample of the red blood cells, mostly hemoglobin was placed at one end of a piece of starch gel in an oblong glass dish. I estimated the gel was about six inches long, four inches wide, and half an inch thick. It was murky white and reminded me of the coating on jellied eels. Chopped eels buried in pale, slimy gray jelly had never appealed to me, but people like Cliff who’d grown up with them loved them.

Putting the image aside, I returned to the process and saw that the gel with the samples was positioned between two oblong tanks filled with a chemical solution. The tanks were wired up to an electric current. As the current flowed through the gel, the red blobs of hemoglobin samples began to move slowly along the gel. This was called “running the blood.” As it ran, the mixture of proteins in the red cell samples separated into its various components, which could then be stained so that bands in different shades of blue appeared on the surface. The whole separation process for one gel took several hours. Ironically, running blood was very slow.

“What exactly has all this got to do with baboons?” I asked.

“All sorts of things.”

“But what?” I was getting frustrated by the lack of information. He seemed to assume I knew, but when pressed he finally elaborated. “I don’t have time to go into all the details, but it’s been shown that humans vary in the number and kinds of blood proteins from one geographic area to another. We want to know if there are comparable differences among baboons and other primates. If there are, what is the significance? Could differences be linked to evolution? For instance, could there be different genetic variants in different environments? Could the information help in medical research? For example, are there certain blood elements that might protect against a disease specific to a particular area of the body? Would the analysis shed light on behavior? If we can do research among baboons in the wild, we might find some of the answers.”

“That’s interesting.”

“Yes, so now you know the far end of it.” He sounded like my mother.

“I suppose you’re right.”

He went back to work while I looked around. The laboratory walls were decorated with photographs of the finished process. They looked like small examples of Jean Arp abstract art. There were also photographs of chromosomes that looked like miniature pairs of elbow macaroni floating on a gray background. I started to compose a silly ditty to myself:

 

The blood is running in its gel

That’s shaped like cheese but doesn’t smell.

I see it’s stained in shades of blue

But what they mean I have no clue.

 

“What are you muttering about to yourself, Jen?” Had Cliff, with his extra-sensitive ears, really heard something?

I was not aware of having said anything and certainly felt my nonsense didn’t belong in that serious environment. I stared intently at the wall before I turned and replied, “Nothing, dear, not muttering at all. Just looking.” He frowned slightly but decided to keep his thoughts to himself, shook his head, and returned to work. I knew he wanted to be left alone, but he also looked up and smiled, and then I knew he wasn’t annoyed. “Well,” I said, “I’m sorry I dropped in on you, but you must admit all this talk about running blood has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde flavor. Pity the whole thing is so innocent; now I can’t have any more gory fantasies.”

He was already focusing on the work and I thought he was going to ignore me, but then he commented, “You imagine too much, Jen. It’s perfectly harmless but quite serious stuff, you know. Now off you go. I’ve a lot to do. I’ll see you down the stairs so you aren’t attacked by wild creatures and ghosts of Jeremy.” He left off what he was doing, saw me through the door, and waited at the top of the stairs. I skipped down, waved when I reached the bottom, and wandered off, thinking about those photographs and wondering what it all meant while making up more silly ditties like:

 

Was it gory blood I saw

As I wandered through the door

And pale white gel with no appeal

Reminding me of jellied eel

Or macaroni on the wall

In grayish pieces very small?

 

The trip had been worthwhile, for I better understood the process of running blood. How to interpret the results was another matter, but I realized that going to Uganda to collect baboons’ blood and observe their behavior might provide some clues to the link between blood proteins, behavior, and evolution. I assumed that, if he was going, I too would go but wondered when this would take place and where I would fit into the picture.

CHAPTER 3: GEARING UP

 

Time passed. In 1962, Andy Warhol exhibited his iconic Campbell’s soup cans, the idolized sex symbol and mentally fragile Marilyn Monroe was found dead at the age of thirty-six, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, the first James Bond movie was produced, and Cliff continued to look for funds for Africa. I began to wonder whether they would ever come through. In February 1963, Sylvia Plath committed suicide around the corner from where we lived in Chalk Farm, London. By the end of that year Harold Macmillan had resigned as prime minister in the wake of the Profumo affair, when John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War, resigned after he lied in Parliament about a sex scandal in which he was involved. The Rolling Stones were gaining in popularity, Beatlemania was heading towards a shrieking crescendo, and I gave birth to our daughter, Caroline, twelve days before the fateful November day when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I had just returned from the hospital when footsteps rushed down the stairs, and our friends, Vernon and Frankie, who rented the top floor of the four-story house in which we rented the ground floor, burst in with the shocking news.

Kennedy was shot and killed. Nothing would be quite the same again.

In 1964, Muhammed Ali became the World Heavyweight Champion, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison, the United States passed the Civil Rights Act, the Beatles were constantly hitting the top of the charts, and I had almost given up hope of going to Africa.

Then Nigel Barnicot received a grant from the Medical Research Council and Cliff was given a year off from teaching beginning September 1965. I would take time from my job, and Caroline, who by then would be almost two, was coming with us to Uganda.

A lot was happening in 1965. We had moved into a house we shared with Vernon and Frankie in Camden Town, and in January had been in the crowd that paid respects at Winston Churchill’s funeral. The Beatles performed in the first stadium concert in musical history when they played Shea Stadium in Brooklyn, New York. On the radio, we heard reports of civil rights protests and the beginning of protests against the Vietnam War in the United States. In Britain, public opinion was against the war, and in response to public pressure, Britain’s Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, refused to send troops when President Lyndon Johnson requested them. This resulted in a hostile relationship between the two men. When Wilson wanted to fly to Washington to discuss the situation, Johnson was reputed to have remarked to an aide, “We got enough pollution around here already without Harold coming over with his fly open and his pecker hanging out, peeing all over me.” So spoke the larger-than-life President about his medium-sized, pipe-smoking British counterpart.

Meanwhile, our focus was on going to Africa. Immunizations against smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, typhoid, typhus, and polio were mandatory, and we needed malaria pills. Cliff planned to capture animals, tranquilize them, and take blood samples before releasing them back into the wild. He needed syringes, bottles, and sedatives. The blood would be prepared in Uganda but analyzed in the lab in London using the running blood technique. However, since blood perishes and breaks down easily, especially in a hot climate, it would have to be preserved and arrangements made for someone to collect it from Heathrow Airport after the samples were flown back on ice.

Our plan was to fly to Uganda and send our equipment by sea, but then we heard stories of crates sitting for months on the docks at Mombasa, the destination for our own crates before their final voyage overland to the interior. We had only twelve months at our disposal and needed equipment as soon as we arrived, and so we decided against flying and booked passages on the Union Castle line, whose ships sailed through the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal, and down the east coast of Africa to South Africa. That way we could travel with the crates, disembark at Mombasa, shepherd the crates through customs, ensure they were put on a train, and accompany them inland to Kampala. The journey would take around three weeks.

We also had to figure out the best clothing for watching and trapping baboons, trekking through the jungle, and living on the equator, none of which we had ever done before. After talking to people and reading books, we began to settle on our specific requirements, but not without some debate. Cliff said army clothing would be best. According to him, we needed the kind of gear Montgomery’s men wore when they won the battle of El Alamein. I said I wanted loose-fitting, light-colored cotton garments—not flowing robes such as those worn by Lawrence of Arabia, but loose-fitting trousers and lightweight cotton tops. I also wanted a straw hat shaped like the one Katherine Hepburn had worn in The African Queen. The brim would provide shade. I would drape a colorful silk scarf across the top and tie it under my chin.

He uttered a short laugh. “Fashion is not the object here.”

“I know, but I don’t like the idea of army gear.”

“I think it would be perfect. Let’s go and see. We also need cooking equipment to use in camp.”

I gave in. We left Caroline with a baby-sitter and set off.

In the 1960s, London had a number of army surplus stores that carried goods left over from World War II. They were popular among the younger generation, who especially liked the khaki cotton army jackets with buttons down the front, epaulettes on the shoulders, collars that could be turned up to protect the neck, and lots of deep pockets. I had to confess the jackets would suit our needs, and reluctantly agreed the subdued colors would blend into the environment.

Cliff’s face lit up at the thought of grubbing through old tin mess cans, compasses, hats, trousers, shirts, and other items from a previous era, especially if they were cheap and, in his eyes, a bargain. Army surplus stores were like a magnet to him. Inside, the goods were piled up in heaps on dusty wooden floors and on shelves that stretched to the ceiling. Woolen socks, jackets, shirts, slacks, shorts, and army hats, mostly in shades of khaki or with a green-and-brown camouflage pattern, were stacked together with gray aluminum cooking stoves and pots for camping. A smell of old clothes and mothballs hung in the air.

Cliff poked around and emerged every so often with a grin on his face, holding some object he wanted. I rested on a heap of clothing and said, “All right,” to whatever he produced, because I soon got bored and wanted to leave.

He also looked for books and maps and any account of various terrains from the 1940s. Once he unearthed a small pocketbook entitled Upcountry Swahili, which he claimed was a valuable treasure and just what we needed to communicate in the field; it was added to the growing pile.

But searching for hours for tropical clothing, camping gear, and old books was not my idea of fun. It gave me stiff legs and a backache. I liked fashion and color. Cliff could have cared less about that. While he hated going into regular clothing shops, army surplus stores held little interest for me. In the end I had to be dragged in and he had to be dragged out.

Eventually we amassed a motley collection of New Zealand army jackets, several bush shirts, several pairs of long baggy trousers, some shorts, walking boots, canvas water carriers, khaki-colored metal food containers with Rations For Six Men stamped on the side, camp beds, and sleeping bags. If khaki had been the color of the day instead of the shiny reds, blues, greens, yellows, blacks, whites, geometrical shapes, and plastics of Mary Quant, we would have been in the height of fashion—khaki from head to toe. Cliff assured me we had “the right things for the tropics.” I had reservations.

We faced another problem. Most of the clothes were designed for men, and the shops had no rooms in which to try them on, nor could we return them. Apart from jackets, we had to make an educated guess as to size and fit. The outcome of this became painfully obvious when we tried on our baboon- hunting outfits a few days later.