A significant medical discovery, which promises to bring relief to countless males, has been made not by experimenting on animals, but by the harmless process of merely observing them.
In years to come, when marketers are making a fortune by promoting hormone replacement therapies for men – under brand names such as Grinalot and Perks-You-Uppo – they will have the pioneering work of Dr Gerald Lincoln to thank.
He toils behind a large door in the Medical Research Council’s Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Edinburgh. The door has to be large in order to carry the sign that tells you the name of the unit, and to let red deer pass through. Until last week his work had progressed unnoticed, save by passers-by who may have heard the bleating of a grumpy sheep. But then, judging the time to be right, out he came to solve a problem that had long troubled waiters and bus conductors – namely why are some middle-aged men so bad tempered?
It is, explained Lincoln, because their testosterone levels are low. With insufficient supplies of this vital hormone men become short-tempered, querulous, and rude. Boost it and they become mild-mannered, tolerant, and apt to pat small children on the head. He describes the condition of cantankerousness as Irritable Male Syndrome, which, being borrowed from irritable bowel syndrome, will amuse feminists of a certain cast of mind, who have long drawn a comparison between men and a pain in the arse.
Lincoln arrived at his findings by taking a close look at animals. He detected the first evidence of irritable male syndrome in sheep. In the autumn, rams’ testosterone levels soar as the rutting season approaches. The prospect of fields full of ewes, coyly nibbling grass in a come hither kind of way, fills the ram with a sense of wellbeing. He gazes upon the world in a beneficent spirit. There is a spring in his step, a song in his heart. He twirls his horns. He winks a lascivious eye. If he had a sports car he would surely toot and put his foot down. But when the mating season is past and his testosterone falls below the bottom of the dipstick, what a transformation is wrought.
He stamps around moodily, snapping at anyone who comes near. I do not have access to Lincoln’s notes, but the rams in his laboratory are believed to have complained about mobile phones, litter louts, people who put their feet on train seats, and idiots who sit next to you eating malodorous hamburgers.
From sheep, Lincoln moved on to red deer. He discovered that they also suffered from hormonal disturbances and mood swings. Normally tolerant, even timid, they became very aggressive, particularly when loud, so-called popular music assailed their senses. Several registered disapproval of the habit of drinking lager straight from the bottle. Others detested braying voices that carry to the furthest corners of the bar.
Other kinds of deer, particularly reindeer, cannot, when the testosterone dips, stand political correctness. They paw the ground and confront the offender with a bloodshot eye like a burning coal.
Indian elephants, too, show signs of irritable male syndrome as the mating season draws to a close. When the sap is low, they bear a close similarity to Evelyn Waugh’s Gilbert Pinfold, the middle-aged novelist based upon the author: “Shocked by a bad bottle of wine, an impertinent stranger, or a fault in syntax, his mind like a cinema camera trucked furiously forward to confront the offending object close-up with glaring lens; with the eyes of a drill sergeant inspecting an awkward squad, bulging with wrath that was half-facetious, and with half-simulated incredulity.” Disturbing in a man, terrifying in an elephant.
Wherever you look in the animal kingdom the male of the species is inclined to petulance when his hormones play up. Apes, for instance, loathe inconsiderate drivers, the sort of people who sit on your tail, blare their horns, cannot wait to pass and then, when they do so, fall into a trance at the next set of lights. Their cousin the chimpanzee is, contrary to received opinion, a stickler for table manners, and will jump up and down and scratch his armpits aggressively at the sight of someone eating with an open mouth.
Hippos hate answerphones, estuary English, graffiti, and cyclists. Interestingly, the giraffe, even when short of testosterone, has no objection to people who play golf or tennis. He does, however, draw a distinction between those who merely play and those who join clubs, detesting the latter to the point of wishing to pee on them from a great height, something he is uniquely equipped to do.
Further research into these striking parallels between animals and men is needed before hormone replacement therapy is used to combat the male menopause. But, should such treatment become available, the seventh age of man, that of the lean and slipper’d pantaloon, will become one of quite contentment. And that is a deeply depressing thought. The prospect of a world populated by middle-aged Cheerybles, the kind of happy, salt-of-the-earth souls, who look upon a world of idiocy with an untroubled equanimity, is enough to raise the hackles and bring out the Meldrew that, with luck, lurks in all of us.