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We’re on to the hard stuff now: sub-saharan baboons and grooming as a tool for promoting longevity, rogue males, currencies in friendship, feral children, niche succession, the mythical hinterland of the Peak District in weird fiction, and 1980s Variety Club Sunshine Coaches.

One of the main findings of “Social Bonds. social status and survival in wild baboons”, a fascinating (and recent) paper by Fernando A. Campos et al, is that male baboons who are “strongly bonded” to older females (ie groomed by them) live longer. But dominant males without these tactile platonic relationships with females have shorter lifespans. Why? And do we need to revisit some assumptions about dominance itself? If grooming by females is so crucial, then is the troop really “led” by the alpha male?

In Climbers (1989), a novel by 2020 Goldsmiths Prize-winner M. John Harrison, scaling peaks is another kind of bonding, or grooming, for humans. The end of manufacturing in the 1980s turned UK’s industrial heartlands into places of acute socio-economic deprivation, with a high incidence of (often male) suicide and substance dependency. What Harrison’s book makes clear is that the road back to social cohesion is participatory, though the most interesting participants may not look much like alpha citizens. His central chapter, “Escapees”, is an allegorical fantasy about lost and directionless children who take over a landscape and a niche vacated by more responsible adults.

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