Owongo, my ancient hominid ancestor, was on the trail of a particularly elusive rodent, his stomach rumbling because he was hungrier than he'd ever been before. The trail led steeply upwards, along a track made by wild creatures: he knew that much because there was no way he could imagine a man being foolish enough to venture so high up a hillside. Why, even the air felt colder, and he became uncomfortably aware of that single fact on account of his own nakedness. He and his people only wore clothing when the weather at ground level was cold, and as he lived during a balmy cycle of African weather (like all humans and proto-humans he was very and proudly African, though he had a different name for it) that wasn't very often. In fact he enjoyed the feel of sun and sultry breeze on his skin and secretly (when wife Mirumda wasn't looking) revelled in that erotic tingle as the odd mischievous wind found its way between the treasured collection of soft objects at the top of his legs.
But now, in pursuit of Mr Large Rodent he began to feel the chill as he reached an altitude he'd never considered existed before. He'd seen hills and mountains, but the very idea of venturing up one was new to him.
He tried to forget the cold, which was easy enough bearing in mind the dominant thing plaguing him was hunger. He sneaked along behind the rodent and became so single-minded in his pursuit that he failed to notice that the path became bordered with a strange white substance and that there were slippery nodes like glass under his feet. Hunger dominated his every thought and until that was assuaged he would be blind to everything but his prey.
So the white substance grew thicker and the air grew colder and goose-pimples started appearing on his skin, part of which had already started turning blue. But he was oblivious to that particular discomfort because he got closer and closer to the plump and juicy rodent, which paused to suck at some yellow snow.
Then, in a frantic burst of elastic action he sprang and his hands gripped firmly at the warm fur of what seemed to be a rather skinny beast under its covering of dense hair. But his hunger was so great that (and here we come to the disgusting bit) he tore at the creature with both hands, rendering it at first senseless and then dead. Blood spurted everywhere as his sharp nails dug in, and ripped, and before you could say Ugg Ugginson he was stuffing his mouth with rather stringy warm meat and covering his face with the crimson signs of his feasting.
Only when he had chewed the last sinew of the wretched ex-rodent did he look around to see where he was, and he was shocked almost beyond measure when he noticed (for the first time, foolish hominid that he was) that the world was white.
Now we come to the serious bit. Owongo was, unknown to himself, in a desperate position. He had never heard of hypothermia, but if he had he would have recognised that he was well on the way to dying of it. We should all thank the Heavens for teaching us such things, so that we can better appreciate the cause of our imminent demise when we're above the Arctic circle and stark bollock naked!
It was at that point, possibly minutes away from death despite his recent meal, when Owongo had one of his inadvertent brainwaves.
He still had the skin of his rodent-prey, and as it had been a largish albeit skinny rodent it had sported a largish skin. And that skin had become increasingly cold until it turned stiff as a hairy board in Owongo's hands. And at precisely that moment he found himself collapsing to the ground, waves of black washing through his frozen brain and taking from him every vestige of consciousness. He was on the point of surrendering his soul to whatever it was ancient hominids surrendered their souls to, and he landed, as luck would have it, on the board-like skin of his recent dinner, which, without any input from him, began succumbing to the law of gravity and sliding down the crude pathway and its icy surface with an unconscious Owongo prostrate on it.
And so it was that he returned to warmer climes. He surfaced as the skin ground to a standstill on solid, unfrozen ground and he scratched his head in wonderment, thanking the lucky stars that had guided him back to warmth, and he started planning, as he trudged the last few miles home, the next year's winter Olympiad.
Â© Peter Rogerson 17.04.12