Sipping a reluctant cider in the local after the show last night, I was startled to see a small ball of fur peek a tentative nose into our snug. The others weren't nearly so surprised, and greeted the hairy interloper with a familiarity devoid of contempt.
'He's a regular?'
'Oh yes, he's our parish dog.'
'He belongs to the priest. The one at the bar.'
I'd not seen a man of the cloth in our haunt before, so peered round the corner, to see at the bar a cropped head of thinning blondish hair at the pinnacle of a lengthy cassock.
'Oh,' I said, 'it's Father Mark.'
'You can recognise priests from the backs of their heads? That's quite a gift.'
'It's not my only one. Guess who else I can identify from that angle?'
Silence and shrugs.
'The Emperor Augustus.'
'Well, that's just freakish.'
' It's his ears, you see. He has really distinctive ears. Apparently no two pairs of ears are alike, and his really stand out. Literally, I guess. But yeah, back in the day people used to think they could be used like fingerprints'
'Oh that's true! I saw it on C.S.I.!'
'There you go. Seriously though, I've often wondered whether anyone's tried to analyse Roman statues in this way. With the Roman thing for verism, it's surely more than possible that the ears differ on statues, that the sculptors didn't just do cartoon ears, and if so, then surely it'd just be a process of classifying them. I mean, there must be thousands upon thousands...'
'That'd be the best research project ever! Imagine the funding you'd get to travel to every museum in the world, tracking down all the statues, just taking plaster casts of ears!'
'Maybe. It'd be so bloody boring, though! There'd be a lot of caliper work, and high-tech scanning - that'd be fun for about ten minutes - and mainly just millions of charts. I bet some German geezer did it back in the nineteenth century anyway. It's the sort of thing they would have done. One of Mommsen's mates.'
'I've never heard of it. And you'd get funding. Lots of it. This could be your ticket out of this dump!'
'Now that's tempting. '
And then the bar shut.