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Golf: the Darwin connection

The 143rd Open Championship teed-off at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, on my native Wirral peninsula this morning.

Ever since I was a young kid, whenever the Open Championship is played in the North West of England, I have attended one of the practice days with my dad, a golf fanatic.

Dad and I were there again earlier this week. I'll spare you the details, but I've posted a large number of photos on Flickr, if you're interested.

Why am I talking about the Open Championship at Hoylake on a blog that's supposed to be about Charles Darwin? Well, because, as we all know by now, absolutely everything has a Charles Darwin connection…

Spotted in the tented village above a display of hickory-shafted golf clubs at Hoylake this Tuesday:

Quote from Bernard Darwin, British Open 2014, Hoylake

The Bernard Darwin quoted was a famous golfer and Times sportswriter, who became Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in 1934 (the year before my dad was born). Bernard Darwin was the grandson of Charles Darwin, who referred to him as ‘Dubba’ when he was an infant. (Rather pleasingly, one of the players in contention at the Open this week goes by the name of Bubba.)

Indeed, so famous was Bernard Darwin in his day that my dad, who feels the same way about golf as I do about Charles Darwin, still often absent-mindedly refers to Charles Darwin as ‘Bernard Darwin’.

Like I said, everything has a Charles Darwin connection.

Nigel Longhurst (1954–2014)

Nigel Longhurst

Nigel ‘Fitz’ Longhurst, FCD

I am sad to report that my good friend and Friends of Charles Darwin co-founder, Nigel Longhurst, died on 5th June.

Although he wasn't actively involved in the continued running of the Friends, Fitz, as I knew him, was a huge fan of Darwin, and took great delight in seeing his hero depicted on the Bank of England £10 note. He was also a dedicated sceptic, whose planned magnum opus, Fitzroy's Crap Theories of the Mind, Body & Spirit, sadly never saw the light of day.

Nigel's nickname, Fitzroy, came about when, down the pub one evening, we worked out our ‘author names’ by taking our middle names and appending the names of the roads in which we had been brought up. My author name, Lewis Alistair, had a certain Scottish dignity to it, but never caught on; Nigel's author name, Craig Fitzroy, was an instant hit—not least because of its Darwinian connotations.

Having very similar senses of humour, Fitz and I made a habit of taking credit for each other's jokes, but I must confess that it was Fitz who came up with the Friends of Charles Darwin's rather clever motto, Charlie is my Darwin—a pun on Robert Burns's Charlie, He's my Darling—and it was Fitz (writing as ‘Torn Rubbers’) who penned our magnificent parody of the Burns classic. (‘Torn Rubbers’, as very few people seem to have realised, is an anagram of ‘Robert Burns’.)

My condolences to Fitz's wife, Madeleine (Ms Fitz), and to his three children from an earlier marriage, Paula, David and Oliver.

I'll miss the daft, old bugger.

The founders of The Friends of Charles Darwin, Nigel Longhurst (L) and Richard Carter (R), on 3rd February, 199, celebrating the announcement that Charles Darwin was to depicted on the new Bank of England £10 note.

The founders of The Friends of Charles Darwin, Nigel ‘Fitz’ Longhurst (L) and Richard Carter (R), on 3rd February, 1999, celebrating the announcement that Charles Darwin was to depicted on the new Bank of England £10 note.

The Friends of Charles Darwin proudly present…
PZ Myers, Live in Hebden Bridge!

PZ Myers, Live in Hebden Bridge

The Friends of Charles Darwin, in association with the Hebden Bridge Literary & Scientific Society, are delighted to welcome PZ Myers to their home town.

PZ will be appearing at the Hebden Bridge Trades Club on 12th August, 2014, to talk about When Science Education Goes Wrong.

Tickets are available via the Hebden Bridge Trades Club website.

Be there, or wear flares!

Why we can safely say Darwin wasn't left-handed

A link to a post on the excellent Brain Pickings blog just appeared in my Twitter stream, claiming that Charles Darwin was left-handed. My sceptical radar immediately went into overdrive. There's no reason why Darwin shouldn't have been left-handed, but the fact that I had never heard this interesting item of Darwin trivia before made me doubt its veracity.

Lots of minority groups like to claim Darwin as one of their own. Vegetarians are forever saying he was one of theirs (he wasn't). Homeopaths insist on claiming he was into homeopathy (he definitely wasn't). Born-again Christians still go on about Darwin's deathbed conversion to Christianity (total bullshit). As a general rule, if any minority group (excluding me and my fellow beardies) claims Darwin as one of theirs, you should take the claim with a huge pinch of salt.

A quick Google search revealed that there are an awful lot of websites out there claiming that Darwin was left-handed.

One reason I doubted Darwin's left-handedness was that I have seen samples of his handwriting, and it certainly doesn't look like the handwriting of a left-hander. But the bogus science of graphology clearly isn't conclusive proof, so I carried out some further research.

In 1877, Darwin published A biographical sketch of an infant in Mind, a Quarterly Review of Psychology and Philosophy. The infant in question was one of his own sons. In the paper, Darwin wrote:

[T]his infant afterwards proved to be left-handed, the tendency being no doubt inherited—his grandfather, mother, and a brother having been or being left-handed.

No mention of the infant's father (Darwin) being left-handed, then.

Sorry, Lefties, I think we can safely say Darwin was right-handed.