Gathering the evidence

After a day in school and the usual mixed round of experiences – enjoyable moments of life-giving exchanges with lovely kids who are a pleasure to teach, and the inevitable pain of disciplining those who need to be coaxed into cooperating in their own education (or prevented from damaging their peers!) – I return at the end of the day to my donkey field.

Today, in the beautiful light of a perfect evening, cooler now than a week ago but still bright and sunny, I stood in the corner of the field and decided that there – under a lovely carob bean tree (algaroba) – I would place my donkey stable.  Once again, I imagined the donkeys who will be the beneficiaries of my efforts, and I thought of their pleasure at being in this field.  I want to see two donkeys enjoying this field and this landscape.  I can’t wait to see them here.  It is a gentle place for gentle animals.

And then, once again searching the internet for more information ready to buy my donkeys, I chanced upon another video.  At first I found it repulsive!  It is an amateur video posted on YouTube of some self-centred moron who encounters a donkey in a field.  The soundtrack shows that his friends are egging him on to become more idiotic, in his ‘duet’ with the donkey.  He is entirely self-centred and the animal means nothing to him: it is simply a donkey therefore a stupid creature, an ass: the stereotype idiotic creature…  Watch what happens.

What we see here is – on the one hand – a stupid amateur video with a moron making a fool of himself, mocking a dumb creature.  Look at the way the young man becomes an “ape” and makes ape-like gestures and noises: the intelligence of the donkey unsettles his psyche to the point where he can only mock the donkey as a way of maintaining his own dignity in the face of unsettling and unexpected intelligence.

Now let’s look closer at the donkey.  It is clearly trying to communicate; but more than that it is excited at the attention it is getting and really wants to join in the conversation.  It is talking!  The donkey is really trying to take part in the fun!  Yet the idiots, the sneering audience behind the video camera and the stupid young man who plays the fool, do not even notice the intelligence of the donkey.  They are the asses and the donkey is the intelligence here.  Look at the way the young man does not at any point look the donkey in the eye.  He never once returns the donkey’s plaintive stare, because he has nothing to offer the creature!  Nothing.

The donkey is saying, “Look at me, I’m trying to talk to you!”

The young lout is saying, “You are a stupid braying animal who can teach me nothing.”

At last, at this late stage of my life, I begin to see that I have been that young man for too long in my life.  I so regret it.  Just one look at the plaintive expression of the donkey and its eager, alert, flicking of the ears, demand to be taken seriously; and I am won over.  I am on the donkey’s side.  I despair of my own race.

We have too many fools, too few prophets, too few gentle souls.  I am gathering the evidence: I want to write this.  I want to record it now.  I sense that my experience is coming to an end: I have seen all that I want to see.  I have suffered all the damage that I am likely to experience in this life and I still have my sense of humour, so it will be a comic novel.  I return to the comic in the end, in order to make sense of it all, just as in my twenties I wrote comedies for fringe theatre in London and enjoyed watching the audience laughing at the joke.

Yes, I’m gathering the evidence for something that I hope may be devastating comedy. The donkey in the video is my model.  The young man is the victim we shall crucify with our laughter: the egotistical idiot of the age we live in.


About Gareth Thomas

After a mixed career as an aircraft technician, London fringe theatre playwright, Franciscan friar, and secondary school teacher, I find myself looking after the needs of four donkeys in a remote location in the mountains in the Costa Blanca. I like to listen to BBC Radio 4 and the wind in the pine trees. I am writing a comedy about a school in Benidorm. My favourite film of all time is "Jean de Florette". If I had my time again I would not have spent the early 1970s working for Special Branch.
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5 Responses to Gathering the evidence

  1. Brother Burrito says:

    What jumps out of the video to me is the frequent, knowing, donkey glances to the audience behind the lens!

    “Look at this poor man-shaped creature, he is damaged, I must humour him.”

    The donkey is a comedy genius, up there with Jacques Tati.

    Is there an expert in semaphore, who can decode the ears??

  2. Frere Rabit says:

    Yes, aren’t the ears wonderful? Donkeys have very expressive ears. In the summer, walking with Dalie donkey, whenever I was doing something she regarded as a bit weird, the ears went straight into action! You are so right about semaphore, Burrito: Donkey ears are a semiotic system that requires the likes of an Umberto Eco, or a Roland Barthes, or indeed the whole linguistics department of Berkeley…

    Historical donkey linguistics, semantic change, donkey language documentation and braying variations in a Tibeto-Burman, context with comparisons (urgent crap in the field, sorry about that but it was necessary) with donkey languages of Northeast India in pre-mule times.

  3. Caroline says:

    Bet you could get a US government grant to do a study without even breaking a sweat.

  4. Brother Burrito says:


    You beat me to it. This is the future of research: The critters are trying to tell us something.

  5. Frere Rabit says:

    I looked at this video again. It is compelling. The complete lack of irony in the man who confronts the donkey with ape noises (please, why do that…?), and then fails to notice all the signals of intelligence and developed linguistic code that the donkey is sending out to him, speaks volumes for the social failures of our time.

    A hundred years ago, no peasant would have treated this animal with such disrespect. We have created a generation without the intelligence of peasants.

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