By Richard O Smith

I’m strolling along George Street on a Friday evening when my subconscious brain triggers a threat alarm. It signals to my conscious mind that I’m in imminent danger.

Although I’m theoretically safe on the pavement, there appears to be a speeding black cab heading straight towards me. A taxi steers across the road and brakes aggressively, stopping disconcertingly close.

The cab spills out a giggle of girls onto the pavement. They are already blatantly inebriated and, between the four of them, wearing sufficient clothes to adequately dress one person in public.

The last one out is carrying a bottle of lager in one hand and an inflatable phallus in the other. Completing this Hogarthian 2018 reboot is a pile of vomit land-mining the pavement in front of me awaiting my squelching size-11 Timberlands. At this point I think to myself: “Oh sweet city with her Dreaming Spires, she needs not June for beauty’s heightening.” Or perhaps this wasn’t the exact view of Oxford Matthew Arnold had in mind?

This encounter causes me to walk faster, even though I’m early, anxious to reach the civilising presence of my chosen venue for a wild Friday night out in Oxford: an, ahem, academic lecture on anthropology. Having concluded that I’ve done quite enough anthropological field-studies for the evening already – thank you very much. However the lecture will soon prove to be far from the indictment of civilisation I was expecting – but an affray to the senses highlighting humanity’s repellent violence.

As I wait for the lecture theatre to fill up, I dread the row behind me becoming occupied by the hen party I’d seen earlier. Though had that occurred it would have constituted the most unlikely thing to have happened. Anywhere. Ever. With the possible exception of Mrs Brown’s Boys getting commissioned for a second series.

Inside the Victorian gothic splendour of the Pitt Rivers Museum a curator eventually dims the lights and commences a captivating talk to a meagre audience. The crowd may be small, but the subject is big. As is the museum’s collection.

He enthusiastically shows us a slide of an artefact. “This is one of 55,000 objects we have at the museum.” Clearly this talk may stray beyond the advertised 30 minutes if he has a PowerPoint slide of all the other 54,999.

There are some marvellously strange exhibits housed here. For instance he shows us an object that is specifically a whistle to lure anteaters. Try finding that in the Argos catalogue.

Encoring, he shows us spears, crossbows, blunderbusses, harpoons, daggers, pikes, man traps, swords and basically a lot of other stuff you’d need to dispose of quickly should there ever be a police raid on your house. “We have 3,000 spears,” he adds casually. “People don’t realise it’s quite a hazardous place to work.”

Certainly you wouldn’t want to experience employee grudges in this workplace environment given the easy access to such a waiting arsenal. Those ubiquitous handwritten workplace kitchen signs “ONLY take ONE biscuit at a time, and ONLY [triply underlined] if your contributions to the biscuit pool are FULLY up-to-date” would be rendered more unignorably ominous given the access to lethal weaponry here.

Apparently 60 Banbury Road in Oxford, we’re informed, is a vast storeroom for the museum, stuffed to the rafters with clubs (the sort of clubs that Stone Age man would be interested in, not barely dressed bachelorette parties in George Street) and sticks. It appears they have a lot of sticks. More sticks than, er, you could shake an exhibit at.

At the conclusion of the lecture the curator asks: “Any questions?” No hands are raised. “Any questions at all?” I think about asking: “Two trains depart Plymouth at the same time, one travelling at 75mph over the first 50 miles…”

“I’ve got a few more minutes if there are any questions.” Silence descends and envelopes us like a collapsed tent.

“Would anyone like to think of a question?” I twirl that thought. Since it’s been a fascinating talk, I desperately want to ask a question to avoid him thinking we’re unappreciative.

Thankfully someone does eventually ask a question. It’s about the shrunken heads displayed here in the Pitt Rivers Museum and immortalised in the Harry Potter films. Afterwards I clap the speaker with hand-hurting alacrity to make the applause sound larger.

The next morning I’m about to put out the recycling when I experience an electrical charge of anxiety. Again my subconscious brain has spotted a threat and notifies me: “Stop thinking about the usual rubbish – as well as the actual rubbish in this case – and focus.”

There is movement inside my house. Lots brown dots are scurrying around on the floor tiles. On closer inspection I realise there’s a huge trail of ants inside my hallway.

If only I had some way to summon an anteater.