Ug’s bread

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Ug sat on his favourite rock and munched on a woolly mammoth sandwich.

With hindsight he wished he had shaved the mammoth first, as the wool was getting stuck in his teeth. But then fine dining had not yet been invented. No-one had yet pan-fried anything to place it on a bed of something else and artfully dribble a jus made out of rhubarb or berries or somesuch.

Apart from the wool in his teeth, he was feeling pretty smug. He was a smug Ug.

He realised that he was holding the secret of civilization. His hammer was still a marvellous thing, but the sandwich was the key. It was the holy grail of granary gratification. The invention that really set man apart from the beasts.

Being able to make bread meant that he didn’t have to be a hunter-gather any more. And that pleased Ug very much. Sure, hunter-gathering was a glamorous job. But it involved a lot of commuting. You were never home to spend quality time with your family. All your time was spent following the herds as they migrated across the plains.

It was the Neolithic equivalent of the 5:2 diet. The stone age version was the 8:4 diet. Eight months of plenty of food in the warm seasons followed by four months of going hungry in the winter.

Being able to make bread changed all that. Hunter gatherers had to work all the time to get food. And everyone in the family had to work all the time. The agricultural revolution changed all that. Being able to grow crops meant that one person could feed a family. And this food could last the winter when they invented food preservation techniques, such as pickling, curing, long-life milk and American-style fridge freezers.

And that was very good news for Ug, because it meant that Mrs Ug did all the cooking while he did the important jobs, like sitting on his favourite rock.

It gave him time for the important things in life. Philosophy, invention, commerce, trade, writing, industry. And sitting on his rock. Building a civilization on the basis of a butty.

Then Ug had a brainwave. Up to now they had been growing wheat, corn and thistles by pushing seeds into the ground with their thumbs. That was all very well, but it gave you a sore thumb and an aching back.

He looked across to his hammer. What if he invented a tool to help make his bread making easier? And perhaps use animals to do the hard work … say, use chickens to pull a plough and cows to lay eggs. Or something like that.

Then one person could feed a hundred, a thousand, maybe even more. And that meant that everyone else would have lots of time to sit on their rocks. I have to admit that Ug thought that it would be mostly men doing the rock-sitting. You have to excuse his prehistoric sexism.

This was a really exciting thought. If we had time to sit on rocks, we could specialise in different trades. Ug could spend all his time designing better hammers.

Ug held his butty aloft. “One day,” he said. “This butty will help us to build a machine to put a man on the moon.”

Mrs Ug harrumphed. She had been watching all the while from the mouth of the cave where she had been doing the washing up. “You’ve not thought this through,” she said.

Ug sighed deeply. Here we go again. “What is that you say, my queen?”

“Your idea of a sandwich creating a great civilization. You haven’t spotted the problem. The fundamental flaw.”

“And what problem might that be?” He knew that he had to humour her if he wanted a quiet life. Naturally, she didn’t understand. How could she? She never sat on a rock to think deep thoughts.

“Well, it’s obvious,” she said. “Oh, sure, your idea will work for a few millennia. Most people will have something called a job. They will do work and other people will pay them using something that we will call money.”

“Yes, that sounds great doesn’t it?” said Ug.

“I know you, Ug. You won’t be content with whatever job you get. You will want to invent machines and faster ways of doing it. And sooner or later these machines will be so good that we will run out of work to give everyone.”

Ug thought about this for a while. Being a Neolithic man, this while took several hours. He wasn’t the sharpest flint knife in the cave.

Eventually, he said. “But that’s good, isn’t it? Machines do all the work, we get all the food we need, and that gives us more time to sit on rocks and make uggity-ug under the woolly mammoth duvet. That sounds absolutely wonderful to me.”

Mrs Ug tut-tutted. “You’re forgetting one thing. Along the way we will have invented money. The only way to get this money will be to have a job. Everyone will want a job but there won’t be enough jobs to go around.”

Ug finished his butty, cramming the last bits of meat and bread into his mouth, and secretly wishing that someone had invented tomato ketchup.

“I’m sure we’ll think of something,” he said, spraying bits of food around. Table manners, naturally, had not been invented.

“I’m sure you will,” said Mrs Ug. “You’ll invent lots of products that we don’t need, clever marketing strategies to sell them to us and millions of jobs in ‘middle management’ that won’t produce anything.”

“See, I said we would think of something…”

Mrs Ug wasn’t finished. “And what’s more only some of the people will get a job and lots of money. The rest will struggle.”

“Well, umm ….”

“Eventually, your machines will be so clever that they will be able to do everything for us. And then every human on earth will have to have made-up jobs like sales executives, celebrity chefs and insurance salesmen. Or no jobs at all. Or everyone will only work three days a week.”

Ug scowled. “Peace, peace, woman! It’s only a sandwich.”

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