The sound of bellbirds in the kowhais

Story suggested by Veronica Wilson Tuesday 16 March

The bellbird is called korimako or makomako in Maori and is endemic to New Zealand.

These birds are a type of honeyeater, a bird that mainly feeds on nectar. They mainly sip nectar from native and introduced plants. However, they also feed on fruits and will even eat insects.  Sadly, it is one of the native birds that is impacted by the introduction of exotic mammalian species like stoats, rats and possums.

The blooms of the kōwhai are widely regarded as being New Zealand’s national flower

The word kōwhai is also used in the Maori language for the colour yellow, because of the bright colour of the flowers

Bellbird song can be heard all over New Zealand, but it is Tuis’ calls which are more widelyknown, starting with Wellington airport where taped recordings echo continuously through the building.

Bellbirds and Tuis can be heard all over the country in woodlands and add a sweet and almost mystic experience.

The bird and the flower and especially the birdsong are New Zealand icons. The bird itself is not particularly remarkable other than its song. Brown and similar hues seem to be the most popular colours for inhabitants, other than the flashy Tui.

Sadly there are very few bird types in New Zealand. Born and bred Kiwis are amazed by the plethora of birds in neighbouring Australia and the raucous cacophony they create. They somewhat resent the few rainbow lorikiets that have been blown across the Tasman to North Island. They are very loud and garish – quintessentially Australian.

But Kiwis love what they have got, and that is good.

What about undersea sustainable cities?

Story suggested by Bob a.k.a. Tinker Connolly Monday 15 March

The continent of Atlantis was an island
Which lay before the great flood
In the area we now call the Atlantic Ocean
So great an area of land, that from her western shores
Those beautiful sailors journeyed
To the South and the North Americas with ease
In their ships with painted sails…

Hail Atlantis! Way down below the ocean
Where I wanna be, she may be

or

Under the sea
Under the sea
Darling it’s better
Down where it’s wetter
Take it from me

It seems crazy to be talking about settling Mars when there is so much space under the sea.

In modern times, it was probably the intrepid underwater pioneer Cousteau and his Conshelf research habitat built under water in the 70’s that sparked interest in the possibility of living underwater.

 Under sea habitation could alleviate over-population problems, or guard against the possibility of natural or man-made disasters that render land-based human life impossible.

Skylab has clearly demonstrated that it is possibleto survive for long periods out of the atmosphere. The difference with underwater is increased pressure as opposed to no pressure.

The pressures at any deeper than 1,000ft (300m), would require very thick walls and excessive periods of decompression for those returning to the surface, but there is plenty of sea bed above that level.

Energy can be generated harnessing wave action or placing solar panels on the surface.

The air composition needed to sustain the aquanauts depends upon the depth of the habitat. Current habitats use compressors to constantly push fresh air from the surface down tubes to the habitat. Growing plants using natural or artificial light could be used to generate a fresh supply of oxygen, or other methods could be developed to produce oxygen.

There are hotels which have underwater modules.

Water can be created using condensation or desalinisation. Depending upon the size of the colony, human waste could be treated and released into the environment.

Homes with undersea modules have been developed

A number of ideas and proposals are under consideration and undersea mining and marine fish farms are significantly large industries.

The sea is being recognised as an opportunity for expansion. Let us hope we can clean up pollution before we start living there. And keep it clean. And minimise our impact on a different eco-system….

Any bets we can do that? Thought not.

The drowning of rational debate

(This is a shortened version of an article by Chris Kenny which I endorse. I am somewhat guilty of irresponsible utterances and hereby undertake to try to be better)

Twitter digitises and broadcasts the public debate equivalent of a teenage graffiti and vandalism rampage. And yet it shapes debate; our mainstream media and politicians look to the digital world for instant opinion polling and guidance about where to take their narratives and policies …

It is amplifying and weaponising the crudest and most inane elements of society and inviting them to dumb down our public square.

Our battered and impoverished public debate will not improve unless we learn to talk to each other. For a civil society to exist and political debate to be useful, people need to be able to hear ­alternative arguments, avail themselves of all relevant facts, and learn to deal politely with people who do not agree with them.

Far too many people waste their time shouting digital abuse at each other, or regurgitating views they agree with from accounts chosen by the faceless match­makers of the Facebook algorithms, instead of reading, discussing or learning.

The digital revolution was going to democratise the media, personalise democracy and mobilise the truth, but instead it has polarised and emaciated the media, dragged politics into the mire of anonymous bullying, and fostered deceptive memes, fake news and pile-ons.

At its core is a lack of accountability. The enticement of being able to post widely and often about anything — without submitting to editors, curators, lawyers or peers — encourages bravado and aggression, and it fosters an impetuousness that ­values gut feelings over facts, and devalues the time and effort required to get across the facts.

This freedom could liberate debate; but instead of letting a thousand flowers bloom, it shares the scrawls of a thousand dunny doors. People are unthinking enough about what they post without the added shield of anonymity — requiring people to post under their real names, with proof of identity, would not eradicate the problems but it would improve the situation.

The headline or the topic is enough for these people to slur or condemn; often egged on by hysterical opinion leaders such as Kevin Rudd …

…. thanks to social media; more conservatives are forced underground. … social media has weaponised the assault against anyone right of centre.

The woke love the following and adulation of social media …. until they cross a line, make the mistake of speaking sense or asking a salient question, then they experience the rule of the leftist lynch mob.

Public debate becomes coarser, more out of touch from the mainstream, and less tolerant of differing points of view. Soon the stage is vacated by all but the screaming green left, and those who will appease them.

Chris Kenny Weekend Australian 13 March 2021 

Rational debate drowning in the social media swamp

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/rational-debate-killed-in-the-sewer-of-social-media/news-story/bd066d99571f6d35b67d95ae1c494b4a

plane seats on the wings

Story suggested by Rubes Carter Saturday 13 March

Plane seats on the wing is a notion which looks like it may be fun and cool. Closer examination of the idea reveals a number of probably fatal flaws.

Flying on a wing and a prayer was a description of the desperate condition of shot up aircraft returning home after raids on enemy territory, only just getting home…. or not.

Then there are wing walkers who perform crazy stunts for entertainment purposes – not very many people have that sort of confidence.  My tummy wobbles just thinking about it.

At the speeds that aircraft move, it would not be easy reading a book or drinking coffee on the wing; conversation and safety announcements would be a tad awkward too. You would have to rug up too -those lightweight airline dishcloth blankets won’t keep the icicles away!

So plane seats on wings probably won’t go very far as a paying proposition. 

However, for those keen on the idea, if they are willing to accept a compromise, they could sit inside the wing quite comfortably and a lot more safely. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has just partnered with a university to develop the “Flying-V,” a radical new airplane design that puts passenger seats inside the plane’s wings — and it could decrease the amount of fuel needed for flights by a substantial 20 percent.

Modern designs of aircraft are moving away from a central fuselage and towards an all wing aircraft.

Of course, we are really talking about living on the edge. The more confident, some may say foolhardy may try the extreme. Wingsuit flying provides experiences as close to bird-like soaring as human beings are likely to experience, given the configuration of our bodies.

It is possible for a wingsuit flier to approach speeds of 150 mph!

This extreme form of flying makes wing walking look like paddling in a puddle and it really looks like the stuff of dreams.

Once or twice in my life I have dreamed I was flying, just soaring through the skies …. what a feeling it was!

I could do it if I wanted to, but these days I prefer to stay away from the edge.

To see what it looks like, check out this video link to wingsuit flying, it will take your breath away!

So I guess plane seats on the wings won’t fly. 

This video of future flying machines may cure you of your need to sit on a plane wing!

Whatever flight style or seat you choose, remember rule number one: Keep the blue side up!

Slip slops

Story suggested by  Gail Leaver Friday 12 March

Slip-slops, flip-flops, thongs (not to be be confused with other thongs, which are worn between the legs not the toes), pluggers, plakkies, jandals (Japanese sandals, duh!), slippahs and smakols are all descendants of japanese zori, introduced to the US by servicemen returning from occupation leave. They became popular unisex summer footwear in warm climes all over the world.

Japanese have been using different versions for two thousand years. Even before them, the Egyptians wore them as far back as 1200BC

It seems that the establishment disapproves of the flip-flop. When someone, usually a politician, changes opinion in a way that annoys people that is called doing a flip-flop

A minor controversy erupted in 2005 when some members of a national womens’ lacrosse team visited the White House wearing slip-slops. The team responded to critics by auctioning off their slip-slops on e-Bay, raising $1,653 for a young cancer patient.

Hmmm! One can almost understand the Trump phenomenon.

The Dalai Lama of Tibet is a frequent wearer of slip-slops and has met with several U.S. presidents, including George W Bush and Barack Obama wearing the sandals. Dubya awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. I don’t think it was just for wearing slip-slops.

Atlanta based company Flip Flop Shops claimed that the shoes were a $20 billion industry in 2009. Furthermore, sales of slip-slops exceeded those of sneakers for the first time in 2006.

Podiatrists recommend avoiding the inexpensive, drug store varieties and spending more on sandals with thick-cushioned soles, as well as ones that have a strap that’s not canvas and that comes back almost to the ankle

However the evidence is overwhelming – these sandals are certainly the most popular footwear in the world. They are functional, cheap and easily replaced. They are ideal for the beach, hence their popularity in good beach countries.

They are not too popular in colder climes.

I must confess the sight of socks and flops puts my teeth on edge.

Personally, I don’t like ‘em, but that is probably jealousy, because I cannot wear them.

I wear crocs, which is why, I’ve been told I haven’t got lucky…

Rain on an old tin roof

Story suggested by Linda Owen Guy                    Thursday 11 March

Pitter….. patter….. pitter….. patter…. pitter…. patter.

Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, pitter-patter, pitter-patter

Rain falling  is a rhythmic pattering sound, like a lullaby it can help people fall asleep quickly. The brain unconsciously relaxes and produces alpha waves, close to the state of our brain when we sleep.

People listen to rain as white noise. Have a go, click the link – listen to the rain while you read!

Sitting under a tin roof, the first drop is a SPLAT! Followed by further splats and then a steady roar, making conversation difficult; anyway splashes will drive you inside.

As the  rain tails off we get an array of sounds:

pitter-patter.

drip-drop.

rat-a-tat.

splatter.

tap tap

pitter patter

pitapat.

pat

drip, drip, drip  …drip

After rain a strong earthy smell arises. It is rich and fecund, catching the back of your throat and prompts idle thoughts of becoming a farmer. Petrichor it is called.

The sun breaks through clouds. The tin roof goes skcilc, skcilc as the roof metal stretches in the warmth.

Tok tokkies

Story suggested by Susie Drake          Wednesday 10 March

I have always  had a little confusion about tok tokkies.

I knew they were insects but confused them with ant-lions, about which my elder brother is an authority. When he was about eight or ten he was sent to St Marks, a boarding school in Mbabane, about 75 miles from Stegi, which was home. He was in Duncan House and his best friend was Tienie Herbst. Sixteen years later I was in Duncan too and one of my classmates was Hennie Herbst.

My brother and Tienie kept ant lion farms. But back to tok-tokkies…

Tok-tokkies are clever beetles that live in the desert and collect moisture from fog. Darkling beetle is their formal name (Tenebrionidae if you want to be technical). 

They make a clicky-knocking sound to lure females. That is why they are called Tok-tokkies, after the children’s game of knocking on doors then running away.

I don’t think I have ever met a tok-tokkie beetle.

But I have met a number of ant-lions, which we called tok-tokkies, so I can tell you about them. They are fierce predators that dig pit traps for unsuspecting prey.

Once the prey falls into the trap, the ant-lion springs out from its cover and seizes a leg in its gruesome jaws and injects its venom. Slowly, inexorably, it drags the struggling prey under the sand and devours it.

I can remember tok-tokkies from when I was in Duncan. I suppose they were the descendants of my brother’s insects. 

They are very entertaining and can keep one absorbed for hours. There were some pits in the sand, near the boiler where we went to smoke cigarettes.  If you tickled the sand of the crater with a grass stalk, the lion would spring out of the sand and grip it and you could lift it up to look at it.Even better was to get an ant and drop it into the pit. Quick as a wink it was goodbye Mr Ant.

To even the competition we got bigger insects, like a small hotnotsgod, a praying mantis. They could usually get away, but sometimes lost a leg.

After eating enough over a couple of years the ant-lion spins a cocoon and retires into it for a while. When the moon is full, it emerges as a delicate lacewing beauty who flies off in avid search of a mate. Her search is frenzied and relentless without pause to even eat. Once mating is over, she lays eggs in the sand, and dies.

Talk about Beauty and the Beast

Just imagine if there were giants of the species …. aarghhh!!

Rant

Arrant twaddle and waffle.

She had suicidal thoughts but was told it wouldn’t look good for her to seek help .…. oh poor baba, the wannabe princess nor her gallant prince couldn’t arrange it themselves? Mind you they didn’t even teach her the national anthemn – she had to learn it herself! How absoloutely shocking and racist!

Innuendo and subjective hypotheses, allusions that raise the racist spectre: “concerns and conversations about how dark” the baby would be. Somebody probably wisecracked that a black prince would vary the royal family array on the balcony. Horrors ! That’s even worse than the rapist aspersion currently popular in Australia.

It seems to have been all about what people didn’t do for the TV starlet and what she couldn’t get her snappy, sharpwitted prince to do. He has had to jump through a lot of hoops for his woman. I mean, she has had to tolerate critique about her bridesmaids dresses, how incredibly tragic!

Most of it seems to be about who was going to pay for security. They needed security because of all the loony death threats and horrible letters they had been getting. Selflessly, Her Grace said, if not for me or my baby Archie, just for my Prince… ohh what a squeeze to my heart!

No wonder Oprah is so successful, she knows how to milk scandal and innuendo for headlines. She must be gutted that she didn’t get who said “how dark will the baby be?”. That would have have been the cherry on this sad wedding cake.

Mind you she managed to get in racism, Diana, Daddy didn’t want to take my calls and lots of pregnant (oops!) innuendo and a coy revelation of the sex of the next baby to be. She didn’t get much if anything on Duchess M’s Daddy or Mummy or her previous husband or her apparently estranged siblings. They would make interesting follow-ups I am sure! Oh how exciting! This could go on for years, like “Married at First Sight”.

Enough of that Bollywood B-grade soapie!

The silly cow saga in Canberra just defies belief; if it wasn’t so sad, it would be a comedy. There seem to be quite a few lying cows there! And some real dogs….

An eager, bright young thing, full of wine, is persuaded by a smooth talking serial shagger, to take a ride home with him but a they first go to the Minister’s office. Security is easily negotiated (Heads should deservingly roll there), she passes out and access is gained, if you get my drift. She protests and he eventually desists and abandons her. Security discover her in disarray.

She reports later that she has been raped, then dithers and withdraws her allegations, despite advice to tell the cops. The cad appears to have been fired.

No further action ensues until a serial scandal generating journalist (are there any other types any more?), gets wind of the story a couple of years later. She plans a Cardinal Pell like journalstic bombshell, knowing the cancel culture and a desperate opposition party is fertile ground for vivid reponse and sensational headlines to follow.

And do they jump in, boots and all! Then even better, a sad story of a woman with a history of mental illness, who claims she was sodomised by the Attorney General who promised to marry her when he was 17.

Mud sticks in this day and age of focus on salacious ‘love’ stories .

I am saddened that supposedly intelligent people like the Leader of the Opposition and his desperate crew, seize advantage for media prominence by using such flimsy and shoddy stories to attack the credibility and bona fides of the Prime Minister.

As for the former Prime Minister… how desperately nasty can you get?

We live in a sad and sick society: not even a plague or a possible global war with China can shake our fascination with the sludge of life!

Learning about religion

Story suggested by Barbara Hatfield Tuesday 9 March

Religious rituals imprint emotions and memories early in life, for those raised in religious families. I suppose that is their function.

I am not talking about Christmas Carols and Easter Egg hunts and associated, market controlled commercial events, but family occasions.

Early Sunday was a tough time in our house, as my father hated being late for anything, especially mass. And my sister could never get her act together. I sometimes wonder if it wasn’t an early streak of the rebelliousness which bloomed in her older life. Certainly the nuns at Loreto could not quell it; in fact they probably caused it!

So driving to mass with a smouldering volcano and muttering sister was a fraught affair and my brother and I skulked low.

At mass, we were separated. He sat with Mum in the fourth pew from the front on the right, I was jammed into the space between the organ and the wall in the choir, of which Dad was the bass section. This was after we once had a fight over a holy bookmark card.

The little church was packed every Sunday. The best was when the Bishop came and there was incense and a throne for him. Except we had to kneel and kiss his ring which we didn’t care for.

Our Saturdays too were interfered with by religious stuff. We received religious instruction at Catechism classes, which were held at our house. As the priests and nuns were mostly Italian or Swazi, whose English was poor, my Mum used to take the classes.

A good illustration of Mum’s disciplinary powers was at meals if we forgot about “elbows off the table please darling” our elbows got jabbed by a carving fork. So we two Purcell boys mostly behaved. 

The others were four or five Smiths, mostly girls, a couple of Allardices and the occasional O’Kelly or two. They were wild boys and sitting still was not their forte. Adept at slipping under the tables, they tickled and pinched and generally disrupted proceedings.

They were eventually persuaded by the promise of cake and biscuits afterwards, or the threat of having to recite a decade of the rosary, out loud.

Nevertheless, a number of us duly made out first Confessions, which were always difficult as the concept of sin was so seriously guilty or not guilty. We resorted to a litany of transgreessions like:  bless me Father for I have sinned, I told a lie to my friend and thought bad things and I forgot to say my prayers… It was not easy to sound original every time.

Then Communion and the terror of not chewing Jesus’ body which  sat dry on the tongue or stuck to the roof of your mouth, while you looked pious and holy, which required a great deal of concentration. But I think there was a feeling of grace for a while afterwards.

Confirmation was weird – you had to choose a saint’s name and remember it was you they were talking to (don’t ask me why). We all lined up at a special Sunday parade and the Bishop came along and asked you a  question (you’d been told the answer). Then he marked your forehead with oil and slapped your face – apparently to chase the devil away.

Strange this practice of marking the head with oil and ashes on Ash Wednesday. We have no right to look sideways at the Hindus and their tikas.

For a while I was a devout Catholic, bound by duty and ritual and desire to please my parents. I was often the only boarder from school that walked the two or three miles through the winter frost across the icy river to mass. Then back again, too late for breakfast, if no-one gave you a lift.

I even entertained a fantasy of becoming a priest and saving lepers on a remote island like Father Damien. Maybe it was the island name Molokai that resonated some significance.

As life exposed the temptations of the flesh, duty and the basis of faith were examined and rationalisation gave excuses to avoid. Conveniently, I think, I embraced the mantra of Domine, non sum dignus * to avoid Communion, as I knew  I would continue to commit sins of the flesh like over-indulgence, idleness and neglect of holy obligations. It was sort of a sidestep about which I felt a little guilty.  

Over the years I have come to understand the place and need for religion in society. The vast number of different faiths and rituals seem to me as expressions of need, not the presence of gods in different forms.

Nevertheless the rituals still carry some reverence for me and I am conscious that we must acknowledge sin and need to try to improve. So a little stuck.

Sadly few of my Catholic contemporaries seem to have retained much devoutness. Some of my Protestant friends are more devout, but they have a wider menu and less demanding regime to follow. Generously, they include me in their prayers.

* Lord, I am not worthy

The Green Hand of Overdale

Story suggested by Keith Struwig 8 March Monday

The little boys at our boarding school, juniors ranging in age from seven to twelve, lived in Overdale House. They were under the care of a young Scotsman who was diligent but strict in his exercise of care.

Each morning the prefect awoke the boys with a little bell. No lolling in bed was permitted. All faces were to be washed in cold water (there was no hot); shoes polished, hair brushed, beds made before breakfast. Their appearance and clothes trunks were inspected. Then they were marched off to breakfast.

The housemaster ensured that the senior boys allowed them to get some food at meal times, but like all boys, they were always ravenous.

Every second night they were marched to Duncan House for a bath. On the intervening day grubbiness and dirt were to be removed under the cold water tap at the back, in the shade of the oak trees.

Lights out was at nine o’clock, with only the prefect’s light left on until later. The toilet was an outhouse, under the oak trees and it was very dark out there. But little boys were well aware of the horrible embarrassment and miserable disgrace awaiting those who wet their beds… so braved the dark.

Unfortunately, an idle, wicked prefect, who shall remain nameless, was struck by a brainwave.  He knew how to stop the littlest boys waking him in the middle of the night to take them to the loo, which he was under instruction to do. 

One winter night, just before lights out, he idly inquired if anyone had heard anything the previous night, like tapping on the window. No-one had. He admonished them all not to investigate if they ever did hear it. 

It could be “the hand” that was tapping…. 

He said he had been told by Sikwini, the Head Waiter, that many years ago, a man had slipped and fallen into the saw pit and his left hand had been sliced off. He was rushed to hospital but bled to death on the way. His hand had been forgotten in the panic and it is thought that Fly the school dog had stolen it. 

Now, it was said, usually at full moon the hand came to find its owner….

Boys were dumbstruck and everyone of them slept with their head under the blankets. No-one woke the prefect. 

Over the following days, any visits to the outhouse after dark were done before lights out, in company of at least two others, who took turns to wait outside while business was completed. Nobody moved after lights out.

Inevitably there was a sudden increase in incidents of bed-wetting, surprisingly including one or two older boys.

The canny young Scotsman conferred with the Matron (soon to become his wife) and she spoke to some of the younger boys. She soon extracted the legend of “the hand”, which had now become green and “scrabbled at the tops of windows and would strangle anyone who saw it and they would become ghosts of Overdale too….

Once such terrifying seeds have been planted, they grow unchecked and become rooted, despite pronouncements from the housemaster and the matron and a recant by the demoted prefect.

That is why, until Overdale was no longer a dormitory, chamber pots were used at night.

Everyone who was a boarder at St Marks knows the story and the duty monitors who fetched the cocoa at night always gave Overdale a wide berth, especially around full moon.