This picture, which I have shamelessly
stolen liberated stolen liberated from the Twitter account of the Linnean Society of London, is of Charles Darwin’s study at Down House. It reminds me of an anecdote that Twitter is too small to contain, so I shall recount it here.
Many years ago when the world was young, and definitely BC (Before Children) I was one of several Vice-Presidents of the Linnean Society of London. Each year the Society would hold a
reception knees-up Conversazione at some historic location associated with natural history. One year Down House was to be the venue. It fell to the President of the Society to welcome guests at the door, but that year the President was doing fieldwork thousands of miles away. The next available Vice-President was unable to attend for personal reasons, so the Executive-Secretarial Finger moved down the list until it got to me.
So it was that me and Mrs Gee hared it down to Down, were ushered into an upstairs room so we could change into our Posh Frocks, and were stood in the vestibule of that historic residence, where we could shake hands and make small talk with the arriving multitudes. The multitude was indeed multitudinous, and took most of the evening to arrive, so that by the time we could leave our posts most of the food and drink had gone and we only had time for a quick tour of the house — including, of course, the famous study.
Then we drove home.
By the end of the evening, our feet ached from standing on that hard Victorian tiled floor. Our hands ached from having shaken so many others. Even our faces ached from the effort of smiling.
The last thing I remember before floating off into sleep was Mrs Gee saying ‘now I know what it must feel like to be the Queen’.