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Saturday, 6 October 2018

Apprentice Octopus!

It was our honeymoon in the Autumn of 1999. As my bride Alex was sunbathing on the little stretch of beach at St. Paul's Bay at the coastal resort of Lindos, on the Greek island of Rhodes, I swam with casual ease among rocks protruding from the surface of the warm Mediterranean waters. Just below the surface lurked a live octopus. Whether it was looking out for its next meal or whether it was irritated by my constant presence as I gazed in wonder, I cannot be sure. However, if the creature is as intelligent as marine biologists make out to be, then it's more likely that its irritability was caused by my intrusion into its territory rather than the other way round.

St Paul's Bay, Rhodes.

Watching documentaries about life beneath the waves on television can be quite edifying and a good source of knowledge. But observing by looking at a TV screen would never hold a candle to actually being in the water itself to observe such living creatures, although to be thoroughly honest, when it comes to the Great White Shark, I rather be looking at it on television than finding myself staring face-to-face with one in the open ocean! Then again, today's newspaper is carrying an article about a young British tourist in his twenties, who was fatally bitten by a sea snake off the northern coast of Australia. This particular species of sea snake has one of the highest venom potentials of all snakes, whether marine or land.

There is always an element of risk when sea bathing, whether it's a swim off the pebbly beach at Brighton or diving or snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef. With Brighton, there is always the risk of rip-tides, where a strong current can take a swimmer out to sea, even a strong swimmer. But at the Great Barrier Reef, one would never know what organism may suddenly strike after its territory so rudely intruded. What I have seen, the sharp teeth of a Moray Eel does look as if it can sever a human arm if it snaps shut at a passing diver. Yet, after being warned by close friends of the dangers of encountering wildlife in warm climes or tropical regions, I returned home safely from both hiking through the desert of the Grand Canyon and from snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef and at the Red Sea alike.

And from any threats from the octopus. No doubt, far more interested in finding a stray crab than in the presence of an intruding human, biologists have credited the Octopus with a very high level of intelligence, according to TV documentaries. High intelligence? Maybe if I were to keep an octopus in a tank nearby, perhaps it will sort through these high-tech problems occurring on my laptop! However, I do find these marine creatures fascinating. But high intelligence? What I have seen throughout life, I can't see any higher intelligence in the octopus than within the rest of the animal kingdom. After all, is the spider with its intricate web-building instinct less intelligent than the octopus?

When scientists say that a particular species of octopus have higher intelligence, they tend to refer to its evolutionary progress to inherit the ability to change its skin colour instantly to blend into its surroundings in perfect camouflage. This ability, astonishing as it is in my opinion, looks to be from involuntary instinct rather than by conscious calculation. In other words, the octopus does not consciously change its skin colour to suit the oft-changing sea floor. As the creature moves along, its colour changes without any effort by the organism, as if the original work of an intelligent Designer.

According to my own observations, the octopus, like most other living creatures, has to survive in a fallen world where predation holds dominance. Therefore it's no surprise that the Designer had equipped the octopus with a threefold ability for survival - to prey on other lifeforms for sustenance, to keep itself from being prey to another carnivorous creature, and the ability to reproduce. And so, if camouflage is one method needed for its survival, shouldn't this be a testimony for a Designer rather than by evolution by chance and mere natural selection?

And so the octopus became the centre of attention during the opening episode of the BBC television show, The Apprentice, a twelve-part series about entrepreneur Alan Sugar in his search for a business partner to whom he will invest 250,000 pounds towards the business owned by the winning candidate. Sixteen candidates were chosen from thousands of applicants, as a result of tough tests and interviews, including an assessment of each by a Psychiatrist, before the finalists were selected. Therefore all of them, eight men and eight women, are the cream of business acumen, the very backbone of England. 

Their first task involved a flight to Malta to purchase nine items which reflected the island's culture. One of the items included on the list was "an octopus with a 40-inch hose."

So the whole of the two teams flew out to Malta for the one day. Whilst escorted to the airport, one of the females asked, Where is Malta? Oh dear. Here is a rising professional, upon her the future of our country's economy will be dependent on, not knowing where Malta is? If I had been there with her, I probably would have answered, it's on this planet, dear!

Once landed on the South Mediterranean island, the men did take off their jackets but kept their shirts firmly buttoned and their ties fully done up. But to be fair to them, the filming was most likely done in the Spring, when the average Maltese temperature was about 17 degrees Celsius - not exactly sunburn weather. So appeared a team of what used to be called Yuppies (an acronym for Young Urban Professional). The Yuppie was the creme-de-la-creme of English City society back in the eighties when Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher - the first ever UK's female Prime Minister - was in power, and the sharply dressed Yuppie, with his astonishing wealth made so quickly over weeks rather than years or even months, was sometimes referred to as Thatcher's Children. And so, thirty years on, here they are, trying to get to grips with their new environment.

Lord Sugar included an octopus with a forty-inch hose on their shopping list. All the candidates were stunned by the request. This item was passed over by the women, one of several omissions which cost them the task. But the eight men were determined to include the octopus with their other purchases. Had I been there with them, I would have immediately realised that these eight-legged marine creatures don't have forty-inch hoses. Therefore I would have concluded there and then that the item was to be some man-made device bearing the same name, the conclusion I had right from the start whilst watching the programme.

Lord Sugar was referring to this.

The team had no knowledge of diving between all eight of them. Not one of them had any idea that a piece of diving equipment was referred to. And to be honest and fair, I have no knowledge on specific diving equipment either, even though I went on an actual dive at Rhodes during our honeymoon. There I was fitted with the appropriate equipment, including the octopus, by a supervisor without being told the detail of each piece of equipment.

Therefore, not knowing what an octopus is, and not permitted to Google the term either, I would have thought that having a marine name and a hose to go with it, all I had to do was walk into a shop which either sells fishing tackle or a dealer in diving equipment. It would have been risky, but making a fool of myself due to lack of knowledge - well, there was no other option. Real octopuses don't have 40" hoses! Therefore what would have been the outcome? 

I believe that the dealer in fishing tackle would have explained to me what an octopus is, and then directed me to the dive equipment shop. Or if it was the diving store I first walked into, the assistant would have placed several brands of the breathing device on the counter in front of me. A purchase is then made.

But what did these 'yuppie' friends do instead? Yes, they chose a fishmonger and in there, they spoke with an almost unbearable level of arrogance and ended up with buying a real dead octopus! They even had the "hose" measured, which was less than one inch in length when stretched. No matter. The item must be bagged.

The actual scene from The Apprentice, in Malta.

And the point in all this? Incredibly amusing. And perhaps shocking too. These men are our future business leaders, and post-Brexit Britain will depend on their skills to stabilise the economy. But as a retired window cleaner and most likely considered as not very clever or academic, I do feel that I could have done better, at least with this octopus gadget anyway. Like the time when I was guest at the home of a middle-class family of four, where both sons were due to attend university. After lunch, we were all engaged in a General Knowledge quiz board game. Much to my surprise, I managed to beat them. Then there was another middle-class professional couple with whom I played Scrabble. I have defeated them too, along with others where knowledge is part of the game, although to balance the books, I will admit being defeated several times by an adolescent young enough to be my son in a game of Trivial Pursuit.

Post-Brexit Britain, the creme-de-la-creme of English society, the backbone of Britain, such makes up many a Christian church here in the UK. But as a Christian, I do have very close friends who voted to leave the EU, but I don't allow this to get between us (as you might have already guessed: I voted to remain in the EU). Therefore it can be said that I have friends and Christian brothers among those who voted to leave the European Union as well as those who voted to remain. Yet through the power of Christ within us, we remain close.

It is a case when Christian fellowship should cover over differences of political opinion, and dare to say, I have friends in churches who also believe in Theistic Evolution instead of Divine Creation as described in the Bible. And that, I believe, is what God's desire for all mankind is all about. The friendship between us that is, without compromising on my convictions. First be reconciled to God, having all his sins forgiven, acquitted, regenerated, and being led by the Holy Spirit dwelling within. And all this can only come through faith in Jesus Christ, his death on the Cross, his burial, and his Resurrection.

I suppose The Apprentice is just the opposite, in a sense a representation of Darwinianism. The survival of the fittest, the elimination of the weakest candidate. And each week there will always be the weakest candidate and he or she has to go. I guess, rather than evolution, it represents natural selection. True enough, but neither man or woman actually evolves. There will never be some kind of superhuman working with Lord Sugar. Instead, the entire series is nothing more than the struggle between candidates for survival - in this case, to remain in the process. Even within team co-ordination, disagreements arise which can lead to verbal fights, although I have yet to see an actual physical fight. That would make the whole programme very colourful, would it not?

I think programmes such as The Apprentice is fun to watch. Could there be something within us, a longing desire to see some very proud and arrogant would-be professional facing humiliation in view of the whole nation? The crass stupidity shown especially by the men when they entered en bloc into a fishmonger's and then deliver a lecture about an octopus with a 40" hose, has surely tickled our fancy. Surely, the very puzzlement shown by the fishmonger should have been a clear enough signal that something is not right here. But such blindness and crass stupidity combined with unadulterated pride, self-confidence, and arrogance reveal a hole in each of their hearts which only the Resurrected Christ can fill.


  1. Dear Frank,
    I know nothing about diving, and not much about octopi, but my first thought when reading about the 40" hose was like yours, head for the dive shop! How sad that these yuppies stupidly stuck by their pride instead of using common sense!

    I share your respect for the dangers of sea bathing, especially since I am not a strong swimmer. At about 7 years of age I was floating on an inner tube in shallow water off Florida's Atlantic coast when poisonous jellyfish wrapped themselves around my legs. My father had no idea why I was shrieking, but when some locals spotted the raised welts on my calves, they hosed me down and applied ammonia. The welts lasted for about 2 weeks as a stern reminder to be careful in the ocean!

    As you know and write about so well, education is no substitute for wisdom and understanding, which come only from a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. Thanks as always for the excellent post.

    God bless,

  2. Hi Frank,
    I could never watch that program, it would bore me silly, me and my husband like programs like Keep it Country (an Irish country music show)and I have always liked happy shows on tv. Regarding evolution, creation itself shows that there is a magnificent designer involved, and if we came from apes then why would apes still be around on the planet.
    God bless you and Alex.