When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?
Which reminds me, of one of my most abiding early journalistic experiences, back in the day when I was a young cub reporter for the now sadly defunct Daily Splim. The Splim, you may remember, was a somewhat revisionist, iconoclastic publication. It delighted in taking conventional wisdom and turning it on its head; by, for example, championing Bobby Davro as an unfairly maligned comic genius, or by declaring David Attenbrough an ignorant bore churning out programmes of mindless pap that dumbed down the nation. Sometimes we were frustrated when our revisionist view gained ground and become the new orthodoxy, whereupon we would have to return to the subject and re-revise all over again, as in the cases of Jeff Randall and – most famously – the late
great great Jeremy Beadle, whose reputation fluctuated between berk and seer so often that it must have made his head spin. Eventually, of course, all this constant reworking began to take its toll, until that sad morning when I turned up at work to find a small well of nothingness where the Daily Splim’s office had stood just the day before; the relentless pressure had seemingly told and the newspaper had finally imploded, crumpling inward under the weight of its own carefully constructed contradictions and paradoxes.
Anyway, back to the point of the story, that assignment I was talking about. The editor of the day decided that she wanted to rehabilitate Cain, and I jumped at the opportunity to interview the man himself. Cain, you will recall, wasted no time in becoming the world’s first murderer, and when there were only four people around to speak of. We wanted to hear his side of the story; our only existing source, the Bible, didn’t seem to give him a fair crack of the whip, and I think any dispassionate reading of the book clearly shows that God blatantly favoured Abel in every regard. With the big man so biased against him did Cain every stand a chance of a fair trial? There was no chance of finding an honest jury made up of twelve good and true, there were no uninterested parties around and conflicts of interests abounded. Could Cain have legitimately claimed self-defence? Diminished responsibility? Was he fitted up? What of reliable witnesses? Even God’s famed omnipresence deserted him on this occasion as he was unaccountably elsewhere at the time of the murder, although that didn’t prevent him from bellowing some cryptic accusation about Abel’s blood crying out from under the ground, but noticeably after the fact. So Cain’s card was marked, but it all had the feel of a Kangaroo court to my colleagues and I. We wondered whether the received version of the tale was all part of the propaganda we still read in the Bible to this very day, which as with all histories and mythologies is written by the winners.
All of these considerations flitted into my head as I journeyed to my meeting with Cain and my train snaked into Eden railway station. The place was predictably deserted on arrival, save for the car and driver the Splim management had put on to take me to Cain’s bungalow. I exchanged glances with the driver as he idled at the barren taxi-rank but we didn’t speak for the entire journey, leaving the decrepit station behind and heading along that pot-holed and unadopted East Road towards the Land of Nod. In what seemed like no time we were pulling onto the driveway of a single-storey wooden dwelling in the middle of nowhere, its external walls ringed with purple bougainvillea. The driver waited outside as I trotted up the steps of the house; the front door was insecure, swinging open as I knocked and tentatively entered, whereupon I saw an old man, Cain, remaining seated in a battered wicker chair, gesturing for me to sit on an obliging ottoman opposite him which he had clearly prepared with a worn linen throw, a mug of cooling tea waiting for me on a side table.
Cain was charming but quite insane. Whether his mental state predated or was a consequence of the trauma of exile I cannot say. He spoke openly as we discussed his family life, which he insisted was happy. He spoke warmly of his brother, but only ever in the present tense, as if in denial of his crime. Each time I tried to steer my line of questioning towards the siblings’ respective sacrifices, to God’s reaction, and to the final time he and Abel spoke, Cain would go off on a tangent; smiling wistfully as he recalled Abel’s birth, of their birthdays together, and what he saw as Abel’s eccentric career choice, eschewing the honest toil of working the land for that crazy shepherd stuff. It was only when we got onto that famous rhyme – those lines with which I opened this post – and the matter of their parents’ respective roles in the family, that Cain became strangely animated, alarmingly so, and I gained my only, tiny insight into the case. What did those lines mean, I asked him? I confessed I never really understood them. They were rubbish, snapped Cain, worse than all that one-sided nonsense in the Book of Genesis. Listen, he said, staring deep into my eyes, my parents were devoted to each other, we were all devoted to each other, until… But let’s just say that if there had been such a thing as trousers back in the day then it would have been Eve who would have worn them. Adam did all the delving, sure, but also a fair bit of the spanning too, not to mention the lion’s share of the cooking; admittedly darning, being a bit fiddly, was wholly Eve’s territory, concluded Cain.
He sank back deep into his chair, then explained how it was only much later that male and female roles seemed to become so divided along gender lines; sharing the domestic workload was a technique utterly lost until the renaissance, when Leonardo da Vinci managed to master art, science and helicopter design while still being able to rustle up a top-notch pasta salad, iron the kids’ shirts and run the hoover about the place. With that Cain turned and waved me away, in all ways exhausted, our interview clearly at an end.
I mention this for no good reason.