I'm becoming a slave to a wristband that flashes a message saying 'Goal!'

Bernard Trafford on how he has become a test case in the continuing evolution of the male of the species

Linton Ulysess a Longhorn bull from Chalkley Mill Farm in Essex
Linton Ulysess a Longhorn bull from Chalkley Mill Farm in Essex

This is the time of year when any walk in the country takes you past enormous bulls looking more than a little contented. Farmers tell me the month of June is the bulls’ big moment when they get to run with the herd, a polite euphemism for not doing much running at all: they’re too busy impregnating the cows to produce next year’s calves.

At least they get their moment of glory. A few years back, I feared bulls were on their way out, farmers instead opting for artificial insemination: as the schoolboy howler goes, “AI is when the farmer does it to the cow instead of the bull.”

Now it seems those massive Northumberland bulls that spend most of their year on their own surrounded by sheep are allowed once more to do what they were born for. I was reminded of them when I read yet another report about how the human race evolved.

It seems that, although we homo sapiens have been around as a recognizable species for some 150,000 years, we were pretty hopeless for the first third of that period. Only some 50,000 years ago did we start behaving like creative, imaginative beings for the first time. It was about then that the first carvings and cave painting started to appear, early artefacts we can still see and appreciate today.

So what changed? According to a 2012 study by anthropologists at University College, London, it was we males.

We stopped copying those bulls in the field, eschewed roaring and pumping our barrel-chests, slimmed down and became, well, more feminine.

As testosterone levels fell, blokes stopped fighting and banging their heads together, became more sociable and, cooperating with the females, became the hunter-gatherers that have ruled creation ever since.

It’s clear what happened. Prehistoric Eve had had enough. “I’m fed up with you going down the pub, getting out of your skull, fighting over a woman and rolling home here to sleep it off. From now on we’re doing the hunter-gathering together.”

Prehistoric Adam issued the eternal and universal signal of defeat, “Yes, dear,” and the rest is (pre-)history. Ancient Man became New Man.

I’m something of a New Man myself, at present.

Regular readers will recall that I was busy setting myself up as a rival to Poldark hero Aidan Turner. My technique was to stand and smoulder in Newcastle’s Northumberland Street, hoping passers-by would spot me.

They didn’t. I reckon Geordies are an unobservant lot. Perhaps I was expecting too much: I had no scythe, not having the skill, and kept my shirt on.

Now my smouldering days are over. I have a new toy. For a recent birthday, my wife and a daughter conspired to buy me a bizarrely-named Nike+ Fuelband. This hi-tech programmable fitness bracelet measures my physical activity (steps taken and calories burned) and calculates a “Nike+ Fuel” measure.

I was sceptical. I feared it would irritate the hell out of me. The girls reckoned I’m such a gadget-fiend I wouldn’t be able to resist it.

Annoyingly, they were right. I’m ob­­sessed with hitting my daily target. If I haven’t reached it by mid-evening, I insist we go out for a walk. When I surpass the target, the wristband ill­­­­­­uminates and flashes a message: GOAL!

It even talks to my phone: I can read a little graph of my week’s exercise, and record my best days. How obsessive! How childish! How tiresome that a silly little machine actually motivates me!

Worse still, I don’t even understand what the “Nike+ Fuel points” mean: but I nonetheless insist on meeting my target every day!

I now know precisely how humankind evolved. When Early Woman couldn’t stand Primitive Man being primitive any longer, she teamed up with her sisters and sorted him out.

It was a cunning plot: just like the one my family hatched for me.

Evolution? If you ask me, nothing’s changed.


  • Dr Bernard Trafford is headmaster of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School. The views expressed here are personal.


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