A day in the life of Sam

It takes a long time to get to the other side of the country.

To be sure, there are adventures to be had, mortal dangers to avoid and many different, friendly and unfriendly people to meet on the way. The variety of the different kinds of food would be a wonderful experience, if you are brave enough to taste them.

Sam woke up one morning with a tingling in his foot. He had been born with only one foot – that was the one that was tingling! He reckoned that the tingling must mean something. Then he had the brainwave! It means I need to travel. Where should I go? Just look North and step forth as they say in the classics!

So that is what he did. He hoisted all his worldly possessions on his back, checked where the sun was to find North and slipped silently on his way. No goodbyes or explanations to any of the others, who still slept – this was his own adventure!

He made good progress, crossing a patch of forest, but it was hot! Sam realised that moving during the day was not as wise as doing it in the cool of night. As he was thinking about perhaps holing up for the rest of the day, he was knocked over by a mighty blow!

Looking up he saw the face of a great furry monster looming over him. He quickly dived into his house and sealed the entrance with his foot. Nothing happened for a moment, although he thought he could hear heavy breathing.

All of a sudden, his foot was tickled and he began to giggle, even though there was something very big and dangerous out there…

The cat pulled a face and said Yuchh! and spat out the taste of the slimy snail foot and stalked away, sure that he would never taste a snail’s foot again.

Phew ! said Sam after a while, that was a lucky escape! He stretched out of his shell, tested the grass with his tongue (it tasted a bit different to the lettuce he was used to) and looked about to see if it was safe to go on. Which it was, so he slipped along for a while, up and down over grass blades, until he got to a flat hard desert like surface.

Far on the other side he could see some green, so he set off. It was very hot and he began to feel sorry that he had left home and his family and friends. There was no one to talk to and… suddenly there was a loud squeewitt!! and a shadow fell over him. It was a Magpie Lark who thought Sam could be lunch; but Sam was fast. He slipped into his shell and gripped the ground tightly with his muscular foot. Tap! tap! peck, peck! on his shell, but it was too hard for the bird, which flew off with a disgusted Sqweewitt!

And that was enough adventure for Sam. He turned away and sprint-slipped back the way he came. He got back home as the sun was going down.

All the other snails who lived under the same pot as he did said Where have you been? You were gone when we woke up and we searched and searched but couldn’t find you…

The other side of the world Sam said, don’t go there and fell asleep.

Memory is not what I thought it was

“Many people believe that memory works like a recording device. Memory works a little bit more like a Wikipedia page: you can go in there and change it, but so can other people”

So says Elizabeth Loftus an American cognitive psychologist and expert on human memory*. And she walks her talk with an impressive array of research.

She was consulted by Harvey Weinstein who asked her: ‘How can something that seems so consensual be turned into something so wrong?’

Memories are reconstructions; they are not literal representations of what actually happened … (memory) is highly malleable and open to suggestion.

She has also shown that false memories can be embedded by leading questions and psychotherapy.

In a 2013 TED talk entirled “How reliable is your memory” she reported that one project had identified some 300 people who were convicted of things they didn’t do, based on DNA analysis. Three quarters of the cases were due to faulty eyewitness memory.

The implications for eyewitness based testimony and the validity of repressed memories are huge. It means that single witness evidence should not be regarded as sufficient evidence of truth, unless there is other direct evidence to support it.

In the US, some states refuse to prosecute cases based on recovered memory testimony and some insurers decline cover to therapists on recoved memory malpractice suits.*

Testimony from Professor Lucas in the two headline inquiries in Australia into rapes by a Minister or in a Minister’s office may well be enlightening.

But sadly, the outcomes of those inquiries have already been decided, without the need to hear evidence.

In my view, the sooner we get rid of juries, eyewitness evidence and judges the better: we need to promote universal surveillance, compulsory truth serums and lie detection and use a computer to evaluate the evidence.

*Wikipedia – Elizabeth Loftus

Against all odds

For purely practical reasons I am not a punter and if I do gamble I fully prepare to lose my money – I rarely win. If I do I get so exhilarated I blow the winnings on the next bet. I tend to bet on my gut feel; ’tis my Irish ancestors….

Just an aside before the main tale. For obvious reasons, I rarely go to the horse races: I usually can’t afford it and if I have some spare cash, I lose it quickly. Added to this is the fact that at the time I served on the bench as a magistrate in the city courts. As Dick Francis so well describes, racecourses attract shady characters with whom I should not socialise.

But the elements conspired against me. A friend had been given some complimentary tickets to the members’ enclosure. Now, this is quite swanky and has a fine view of the track, the parade ring and the spectators, as well as a well stocked bar. Rugby season was over, so what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon?

To cut a long story short, a man who I didn’t send to jail but fined heavily for repeated drunk driving gave me a tip, which I put a small bet on, not really trusting the source.

It cruised in at 10-1, so drinks were on me.

I should have sent him to jail. At a subsequent meeting he again gave me another tip and I bet half my salary – the bloody horse is still running….!

Anyway, what I meant to tell you about was an amazing stroke of luck in the middle of the Botswana desert. A group of us were on a fishing trip, travelling in two utes (Australian for bakkies) when I noticed a single wheel overtake us – it was ours!

We had sheared a half shaft. Fortunately we had an engineer with us. Engineers never travel without their tools, but no-one carries spare half shafts.

Unfortunately we were 170 kilometres from Gaborone and 120 from Palapye in the semi-desert of Botswana. There was little traffic.

Our engineer went off to Palapye in our other vehicle; we expected him back in 6 to 7 hours. We were not unduly worried about being stranded in the Botswana semi-desert.

Our supplies were ample: a case of tinned peaches, a case of bully beef and eight crates of beer. We lay down in the shade to snooze (to avoid the temptation of starting on the beer…)

To our surprise, after less than an hour, we were roused by a beep beep beeep!

This is the part that is hard to believe.

About 20 minutes down the road, Peter, our engineer saw a cluster of houses just off the road and a tree with an engine suspended on a chain from a branch.

He stopped and inquired. When showed the broken half shaft, the man said “No problem” and led the way to an Isuzu bakkie, smashed up front. In 20 minutes they had stripped an identical half shaft, paid the man R200 and driven back to us.

It fitted perfectly! We went on to have a wonderful fishing trip.

Once back home the vehicle owner decided to order a spare half shaft, in case of another problem (he was an engineer..) There were none to be had in the Western Transvaal, nor Johannesburg ! Eventually, after a few weeks, a spare was sent from Cape Town!

Now what are the odds one could be found in the bush on the edge of the Kalahari desert?

Who is their hairdresser?

Story suggested by Lynda Owen Guy Saturday 27 March

The picture of the sheep with the curling horns prompted the question in the title. Animals do have some weird looks. They have little choice.

Human beings however excel when it comes to choosing how they look. Hairdressers and cosmetologists have achieved a highly valued position in society since the beginning.

The fact that hairdressers were the first to be let out of lockdown in Australia during the current plague and are prominent on preferred immigration skill lists in many countries emphasises their importance.

Hair grows and it gets dirty and needs constant attention to avoid discomfort and disapproval. The wealthy employed specially skilled staff to attend to this. It has become a clear expression of class, personality and inclination.

The ancient Assyrians wore elaborate curly hair styles; Egyptian men and women shaved their heads and wore wigs; Greek women dyed their hair; Romans bleached theirs, Japanese women used lacquer to maintain their styling.

Egyptian priests became barbers as it was believed evil spirits entered the body through the tips of the hair. Cutting hair exorcised them. I wonder if this is the original reason why monks shave their heads?

Because the barber was skilled with cutting instruments he was also approached for bloodletting, which was one of the main treatments for most illnesses. Eventually they began treating people generally for all sorts of ailments: medical and dental. They advertised their presence by wrapping bloody bandages around poles.

Haircutting trade was boosted when priests were forbidden to treat sick people and in 1092 by papal decree they were required to be clean shaven.

Hairdressing really grew during Renaissance years with the womens’ bouffant fashion of piling hair on top of the head a la Marie Antoinette. To compete men wore wigs, so hairdressers had to acquire new skills, again.

Eventually the surgical and the barbering developed into separate careers and haircutting suffered as styles simplified.

Then Hollywood reincarnated the hairdresser to maintain and enhance the looks of the stars. New technology and styles like marcelling became the rage.

The most telling suggestion as to the enduring presence and status of the hairdresser is that they were often among the first to hear news. From ancient times all mannner of people, if they were rich summoned a hairdresser daily and if not, attended the hair salon or barber shop frequently… and chatted. So hairdressers know lots of secrets…

So if you are new to town, get your hair done – you will likely get some curly tales as well as a short back and sides .

As a remedy for baldness, chopped lettuce and ground-up hedgehog spines were applied to the scalp. Others tried camel dung and bear grease. None have worked for me, but I don’t really care – I haven’t been to a hairdresser for about 30 years!

Rugby players drink lager

  Story suggested by Simon Pius Wednesday 24 March

When we are young we pass swift judgements and cling to our beliefs stubbornly – something like nailing one’s colours to the mast.

Being a British colonial male of European ancestry, I was naturally a rugby player. Soccer was an Englishman’s game, played by hairdressers and ballet dancers as well as Continental drama queens and natives.

The fact that rugby originated in England is a bit puzzling but it is believed that Rugby College banned poetry and invented rugby which became the gentlemens’ opportunity to let off steam.

English grammar schools continued poetry and Shakespeare and played soccer. In recent years they have been offering cooking and interior decorating classes. It was believed this gave the hoi-polloi wider scope for their talents.

Rugby players can tell who is a soccer player. They use hair products and frequently flick their hair out of their eyes; they are also believed to use handcream and shave their armpits. Soccer players have a high sense of drama and a low tolerance for pain.  Sometimes these two areas overlap.They have been seen to abuse referees, for goodness sake! 

The clearest indicator used to be that a man is a soccer player if he chooses pale ale instead of lager. 

This is a telling point. Pale ales are warm brewed and all the fermentation occurs at the top of the beer, giving it a significant head.

They are fruity and frothy with the occasional bitter edge and there is a wide variety. 

Lagers are consistent, conservative and unchanging; they are cold brewed and not as frothy. They are more about hops and malt, slightly bitter; certainly not fruity. There is a slight difference with Pilsener which is a lighter beer but not complex nor even  a bit fruity. Wingers have been known to drink them.

Rugby forwards sometimes drink stout and porter, which may technically be ales but they have a hint of chocolate, so it is understandable the fatties like them.

It must be said that a rugby player will watch soccer if there is only badminton or chess to watch and the pub has television. What they can’t understand is why soccer players get paid so much for just kicking a ball around. They believe it must be the necessary dramatic skills which for them is a bridge too far.

These days of course, with traditional society being stood on its head by cancel culture and all sorts of creatures emerging from hitherto unknown closets, rugby players are far more tolerant. Some have come out and admitted they have tasted pale ale and they have been kept on the team!

The duck, the monkey and the elephant

Story suggested by Michelle Craik Monday 22 March

A duck and an elephant walked into a bar. The elephant had a monkey on its back.

It’s not as strange as you think, as it was a bar on the beach so the elephant could  just stroll up to the counter. The duck flipped up onto a barstool and watched her friend fondly. The monkey hopped onto the thatched roof to sit in the sun.

Barkeep, I have had a bad day and a real monkey on my back, so give me something to bring the sun out

The barman had been around the block a few times, so it took a lot to shake him.

Coming right up and what can I get for your pretty friend?

As he spoke he opened two bottles of sparkling wine and emptied them into a bucket, threw in two half oranges and a bunch of celery. He then added a bottle of tequila, a tin of passion fruit and a bowl of cherries.

There you go big fella, that is called a Bahamas Sunshine and should straighten the kinks in your tail!

The elephant inserted his trunk, sucked up the lot and squirted it into his mouth. 

Goodness gracious me! That was a very fine drop! Hit me again, but make it a double! Oh and my friend will have a beer (make it a half, ducks don’t have a very good head for liquor.)

You got any peanuts for my driver?

The barman didn’t know if he was glad or sad that there were no other customers in his bar.

The duck made some soft quacking noises to the elephant, who said: Can you point us to the facilities, it’s been a long trip.

Thinking quickly the barman realised that his tiny facility would not accommodate an elephant: The ladies is down that passage, but I am sorry there is a burst pipe in the gents, so if you don’t mind, there is a grove of coconut palms just outside, next to the garden… 

The duck waddled off and the elephant headed for the palm trees.

A few minutes later a familiar, strident voice was heard from the kitchen: Henry! There was a duck in the facilities; I shoo’d it away and luckily it just quacked off!

The barman replied yeah! she came in with her buddy the elephant.

The voice from the kitchen took on an accusatory tone: Have you been smoking that Jamaican tobacco again?!

Henry began to wonder, when neither the elephant nor the duck returned. Just then the monkey scampered by saying: where’s my ride?  

The barkeep sat down and poured himself a double scotch; he had stopped smoking after getting weird dreams – maybe this was an after kick, it was good stuff!

Later that day the phone rang: Hi – you may remember me, I was in earlier for a drink, the big guy with the pretty girl friend? Anyway, sorry for ducking out, but I had to find a way to get the monkey off my back.

I’ll settle the tab on my next visit, you pour a mean breakfast cocktail. Ooops! gotta go, this is a trunk call… 

Henry put the phone down and decided may be he would start smoking again.

Retirement – permission to misbehave?

Suggested by Debra Hall Thursday 18 March

It’s not so much what you can do, when you retire, but how much you can’t do before you do.

From before memory what we hear is: “No” “you can’t have that” ”do what I say” “this is the way we do things here” with sub text “and if you don’t then we are not for you”.

So one would think that retirement would be like letting go of a wound up elastic band: Twwwaaangggg!!! Don’t stop me now…!

Thinking about what you’re going to do when you are free to do it is quite fun. No-one said it better than Jenny Joseph in her “Warning”.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

….and learn to spit

But she didn’t really know, she was only 29 when she wrote the poem.

It isn’t like that, immediately anyway. Stopping the engine from continuing to run at working speed takes time. You can’t just start sleeping in because you are retired. The dog still wakes you at five, your eyes open and your heart starts fast and you leap up to get the day on the go because you know if you don’t you’ll be late for work…. Oh, Duh!. 

Retirees struggle to fill their day. Retirement is a new job; you have to start from scratch again. Finding things to do when you’re used to trying to find time to do things is the world upside down. Getting things done when there is no structure and deadlines is difficult.

Learning to sit and relax and read or do nothing without guilt only comes after years of practice. When you can have cake everyday, it doesn’t taste so good.

You don’t have to shave, but you do. I wear my comfortablest (and tattiest) old clothes quite often. 

I say things which I expect to provoke, but they don’t! Somehow it seems to be expected from the older generation. Anyway what we oldies think is provocative or challenging is not seen as so. 

As we grow older and age, so do the values and attitudes we held. So being provocative is not easy. Its not easy to find that you have not moved with the times and whilst you might have been progressive or even radical when you were young, you find that you are far more conserv ative now.

 I mean I wasn’t quite  a Trotskyite but I was threatened with deportation once. (Mind you that was South Africa in apartheid heyday, so the bar was not very high…) Bit like Australia: if you are naughty we’ll deport you …plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose?

So I am not going to dye my hair (haven’t got enough left) or get a tattoo (so common these days and they look ghastly on flabby old bodies)

But I do have a floppy tatty hat which I love and a canary yellow waistcoat and salmon pink trousers and blue vellies!

I am such a rebel!

Orson Welles suggested: I don’t say we all ought to misbehave, but we ought to look as if we could.

That sounds good to me.

Whistler’s mother and her sheepdog

Story suggested by Debra Hall Wednesday 17th March

James Abbott McNeill Whistler painted his mother in 1871 and titled it “Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1.” After her husband’s death,  Anna Matilda McNeill Whistler wore black for the rest of her life. She was described by a sister-in-law as “so unshakeable that sometimes I could shake her.” 

This hints at the source  for the artist’s characteristic flamboyance – his signature was a blue butterfly.

When he worked as a map maker, his habit of filling his maps with mermaids, sea monsters, and other mythical creatures cost him his job.

One of Whistler’s foibles was the dog which he had inherited from his mother. A great big, hairy lump of an English sheepdog – it intruded and prevailed upon many a social occasion, annoying and distracting colleagues, customers, models and family members alike.

The dog accompanied him wherever he went. His mother had trained it to sing for snacks. If they were not forthcoming it growled sufficiently convincingly to elicit hasty rewards.

She had been excessively fond of the dog and shampooed and groomed it weekly. However, it was expensive to keep, having a voracious appetite and no respect for other people’s property. Whistler was forever having to pay off butchers for stolen sausages. They were too afraid to challenge it, as it was as big as a bear!

He eventually sold the dog to a circus, where it excelled for some years before succumbing to its over-familiarity with a tiger.

It is believed that Whistler was not too distressed.

(I must admit I made up the story of the dog.)

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.