Monkeying around

The primate community has hit the headlines positively over the last few weeks; I think we have things to learn from this monkeying around.

Firstly I read that a Zambian chimp called Julie has started a trend in her primate community by swanking around with a long blade of grass dangling from her ear for no other reason than it brings her pleasure. Proving that innovation and swagger can start a new trend, soon her pals were copying the look, impressed with the fact that Julie had made a blade of grass appear like a cool piece of accessible ear bling.

I am no wildlife expert (no, really), and realise that primates are innovative to the extent that they have probably already cracked chimp track ‘n’ trace, however I love the thought of a bored Julie waking one morning with the urge to customise her look. In my fantasy head, Julie was already a trend setter, had probably tired of fashioning ra-ra skirts from old banana skins, and wondered if she could create a special ‘Emperor’s New Clothes Moment’ in her community. The only surprise to me is that Julie is still sporting the same Spring/Summer grass range as the rest of her tribe – a chimp as innovative as Julie, would surely have moved on to design a spin-off range of grass tail accessories.

I love the idea that when we get bored (I make the assumption that Julie’s innovation was the fruit of boredom) we eventually start to get creative. Words from my childhood school holidays echo in my ears, ‘you are not bored, you are just boring. Go and make something’. Julie was probably so tired of her lockdown jungle existence that her creative juices kicked in and she set herself a challenge. I think she said to herself, ‘what is the most ridiculous look that I can wear and that I can get others to copy?’ Julie may have been further ahead of the curve than researchers realised, even ahead of the example set by Puerto Rican Macaques (see below); she seemed to have a gut instinct that a bit of tribal bonding is much needed during a time of adversity.

If Julie had lived closer to the UK, she would have found plenty of inspiration for inexplicable trends – Crocs, ties, hosiery – but then the joy of her innovation was in its simplicity and accessibility. ‘What this old thing? I’ve had this piece of grass in the back of my wardrobe for years.’

For the first time in months I am thinking of hitting the clothes shops, so rather than chuckling at the willingness of chimps to follow a trend on a whim, perhaps I should sharpen my wits before I find myself returning home with bags full of ‘statement heels’ and neon colours; I have it on good authority (social media) that both these fashions are trending as we attempt to shake off our enforced hibernation . More worrying still, I have a hair cut booked. Although I have visited the same hair salon for more years than a chimp like Julie would recommend, perhaps I should check out my stylist’s post-lockdown ratings on Trip Advisor. I am not convinced that I have the reserves necessary to cope with an ‘Emporer’s New Clothes Moment’ on the hair front, and – love him though I do – my hairdresser does have a worrying interest in Comic-Con and Star Wars.

Moving to other primate headlines, I read that following Puerto Rica’s Hurricane Maria in 2017 (the island’s biggest natural disaster resulting in over 3,000 deaths), a colony of rhesus macaques expanded their social networks and started to become kinder and more tolerant of each other.¬†Researchers drew comparisons with this post-hurricane threat and the Covid pressures that we now face. It appears that primates can not only teach us about creativity and innovation, they could also run some TED talks on resilience and rewiring.

Now, I do not want to speak ill of the rhesus macaques community, but rumour has it, that before Maria blitzed their trees, they were a pretty unfriendly bunch of primates, and particularly territorial about any tree-top shade that they could find. Post-Maria, with 60% of their vegetation wiped out, it is reported that the previously antisocial macaques were prepared to share their shade and spend time grooming each other – something they had previously seen little value in. Adversity led to a truce in hostilities.

In my fantasy head, this headline now plays out along the lines of Mavis – the previously aloof and frankly anti-social Macaque – having to rethink her approach to community bonding if she is to get a seat in any roof top bar area. Previously there were plenty of trees to find some shade in, now these spaces were scarce, so if Mavis could find the time to groom her fellow primates and form alliances, she was more likely to be invited to share some shade without having to socially distance. In my fantasy world of a Puerto Rican tree top beer garden, I am hearing, ‘Mavis! You Whoo! We’re over here, now squish up and look at this ridiculous new ear bling nonsense trending from Zambia. Did you ever see such nonsense? Wait, Mavis…you diva! I have just noticed your new nostril piercing. Game changer! I’ve been toying with a change – could I sport this look at my age?

In summary, my ‘Covid Keeps’ from the primate world are that we need to keep reinventing ourselves and we need to keep looking out for each other. If I do decide to overhaul my look when I hit the shops later, I will aim to be a trend setter rather than a trend follower. Since I am just craving a pair of flat, comfortable shoes to replace my indoor slippers – ok, so outdoor slippers – on my return from the shops I am not expecting to emerge as a fashion influencer on fifty-something social media platforms. During this retail excursion I will be meeting my mate for a coffee; I am confident that without me even offering to brush her hair, she will find us a socially distanced perch, even if we have to ‘go Macaque’ and sit outside – she doesn’t need an international disaster to watch my back.

Before I sign off, message just in from Julie and Mavis who have been alerted to my impending shopping trip. Love those girls. ‘To avoid any ‘Emperor Moments’, ditch the idea of a heel and go for a practical tree sandal, banana yellow should be your Spring/Summer colour palette, and ask your hairdresser about the cost of an understated grass weave. Catch you later for drinks – we have got a table for six booked (thankfully you made the cut), first round on us.’

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