We like to encourage our students to take an interest in the news while they are with us (they have a daily fifteen-minute briefing on current affairs at the start of each day), but the results can be surprising. Amy Zhang surprised me after lunch today with a story about a man called Dave who had eaten his own finger.
It seems that Dave, who comes from Colchester, Essex (in the East of England, not so far from Cambridge – perhaps not the liveliest town in the country, it should be said), had lost a finger in a motorbike accident, and when the surgeons told him they would not be able to reattach it he decided to keep it and eat it. He says he was careful not to over-season the digit and chose to boil it rather than fry or grill it so as not to damage the bones which he will keep as a souvenir. Afterwards he felt a bit sick and won’t be doing it again.
I remember years ago seeing a programme on TV which invited people to audition for fake game shows, and then asked them a barrage of insane questions. They asked one man the following: if you were stuck on a desert island and had to eat your own body to survive, which body part would you eat last? The man looked perplexed, then gave it some serious thought for a few seconds and answered ‘me ‘ead’ (i.e. my head). Perhaps he was from Colchester.
One more cannibal anecdote, since we are on the subject: one of the incidents upon which Herman Melville based his novel Moby Dick (1851: frequently described as the greatest novel in the English language) concerned the sinking of the whaler Essex in 1820 by an angry sperm whale in the Pacific Ocean. The crew managed to escape to various fates in two or three lifeboats. One of them carried the captain and a handful of others including his 17-year-old cousin, the aptly-named Owen Coffin, whom he had sworn to protect. However, when food ran out and the starving sailors voted to kill and eat one of their number, the lot fell to Coffin, and he was dispatched with a pistol and eaten.
Those who are familiar with Moby Dick will know of course that the white whale took away Captain Ahab’s leg, somewhat in the manner of Dave’s finger, and that the harpooner Queequeg, a native of a fictional South Sea island, once got indigestion at a feast in which fifty of his enemies were eaten.
I really must prepare more cannibal-themed lessons.