Legends from our own lunchtimes

Monday, February 23, 2009


Bicycles are built with a sort of matter-magnet in their frames. It's an undiscovered substance that works like a black hole in space, attracting matter toward their frames.

Unfortunately, the larger the item, the more attractive it becomes and if it weighs something more than a bicycle, and appears to the casual observer to be immovable, it is very likely that the bicycle will propel itself towards the object. Probably the reason this has not been studied to date is that the action is very much akin to that of gravity, and in the vertical sense, is commonly mistaken for it. In the horizontal plane, there's no mistaking to be had.

I clearly remember being eight, and being taught to ride on a grown-up ladies bike by my father. He'd run beside me holding the seat, and then when I least expected it, he'd let go, while still running beside. From the moment he let go, the bike would swerve towards him, or if there was something larger and more immovable, towards that. Eventually I learned that by pedalling harder, one could speed past most of the obstacles. It worked for all but one.

I was learning to ride at Auntie Phyl's place you see, and her driveway was sloping from the street to the back yard. This meant that at the beginning of the run, down beside the house, there was enough pace to overcome 'the force', at the bottom of the drive there was a chook run, which necessitated a left hand turn, and there was still enough momentum to avoid that as well.

The tricky bit was the clothes hoist, sitting alone in the middle of the yard. It was there, with no more than twenty metres to spare on either side, radiating its attractive force. Mostly I would manage to stop, or at least fall off before I became entangled with it. Mostly.

In a desperate bid to overcome it, on one fateful run, I decided to just accelerate past. A grand plan, and one that should have worked. That mysterious force grabbed the bike and shot it headlong into the solitary pole, as though guided by some invisible rail. In those days before helmets, I may have considered that I was lucky as my head narrowly missed hitting the pole, but the only thing that stopped my groiny bits coming to a gentle rest against it was the thoughtfully positioned handlebar gooseneck.

Sadly there were witnesses to this catastrophe, one of them being a mother who sympathetically warned me that if I cried I never get on a bike again!

Traumatised and cross-eyed though I may have been, I persevered, and eventually discovered the skill set which was to give me hours of freedom during my adolescent years and beyond, although to this day one of my eyes still produces tears at the most inopportune times.

For more than twenty years I repressed the joys of this process and the knowledge of overcoming bicycle magnetism I had accrued on the way, until it was all brought back with a shuddering jolt.

My youngest you see had reached an age when she really should discover the joys of two wheeling. In a concerted effort not to repeat the trauma of my own youth, we went to a park, completely devoid of clothes lines, poles, or obstructions of any kind, with a thoughtfully positioned picnic shelter at each end.

All went well for a time. She quickly gained confidence and pedalled off towards the horizon as though she'd been doing it all her life. She was not even within 20 metres of the picnic shelter, when the bike of its own accord suddenly and deliberately changed course to ensure that when the collision happened, it would be exactly at the centre of the structure.

She was perturbed, but only a little. Dusting herself off, she headed off in the opposite direction to the shed, a sensible plan it would have seemed, had it not been for that magnetic substance. We watched awe struck as the cycle scribed a perfect arc completed only after impact with the exact centre of the next side of the shelter.

She became a little more perturbed.

Her state of perturbment, if there is such a thing, seemed to rise in direct proportion to our state of mirth, as we watched incredulously while the whole process repeated itself a third, and then a fourth time before unfolding into a fore runner of the sort of reaction described by Julian quite recently.

A teacher of mine once remarked (see I did listen sometimes), that if you do something once it could be considered a feat, to do it a second time is OK as it proves it wasn't a fluke, but more than that is just showing off.

Why would one want to show off about running into a picnic shelter while riding a bike?


Monday, February 16, 2009

The Rooster Booster

I have it must be said, been called a snob when declaring my affection for our one true national media network and the manner in which it consistently provides content of something approaching acceptable quality.

The ABC, or "Auntie" as she is known in what I suspect was direct plagiarism from a certain other country's national broadcaster, is the last bastion of locally produced content. By dialling ABC 1 or now ABC 2 on the good old "I'm glad we didn't get a Plazma they're sooo 2005" television set, we could at one time settle back and fill in a mindless or even mindful hour with informative and often entertaining brain fodder.

One of the truly inspirational programmes for many decades has been a seasonal offering originally titled simply "The Inventors", but more recently reinvented for reasons best known only to those responsible for such reinventions, as "The New Inventors". Am I the only one to have noticed that the inventors who do appear on this programme are mostly decidedly not at all new?

I must confess that I haven't seen any of that particular programme for some decades, but a casual conversation over dinner last night drove me to find the clip from part of this week's show. It's a shame that the adjudicating panel were not given time to adequately address the benefits of the Rooster Booster.

Having held a lifelong belief that if water is so cold that it will cause embarrassment after swimming in it, one should never have left the boat in the first place, I can only think that the sort of person who would possibly consume this product would be the sort of person who:

a) didn't have a spare pair of socks to sling down the budgie smugglers,


b) if he did, would be more likely to put them down the back.

Perhaps the manufacturer of these extraordinary items could do well to consider that where I come from, embarrassment of the type described is completely unknown, and when it comes to lack of inadequacy, discretion is usually assured with the wearing of board shorts which are close to knee length.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

I've had a pathological fear of dentists for half a century.

That's how long it's been since my first dental work in the Dental Surgery above the pearl agency on Thursday Island, where the elderly Ceylonese (in the days long before Sri Lanka was again known as Sri Lanka), pearl dealer was also the community dentist. I imagine that he was in fact a qualified dentist, but it didn't seem to matter too much as the old pedal powered drill vibrated an ever increasing hole in whatever tooth it was treating.

In those days the amalgam filling was mixed on the spot with mercury as an admixture, and I'm not sure if anaesthesia was common in dental work, but there was certainly no evidence of it there. If we had been quiet and still during whatever procedure had taken place, the dentist would occasionally give us a little mercury in a matchbox to take home.

It's a fairly well known fact these days that mercury is perhaps not the most people friendly substance known to man, but no one seemed to bother too much about the very likely possibility of it causing any long term damage, and we'd while away a few minutes or more, rubbing it carefully into a penny to turn it silver, in the vain hope that we could pass it off for two bob at the fish shop.

And people get excited about fluoride! If we'd had fluoride in our water instead of a few other miscreant chemicals, there's a very good chance that I would not have spent enough money to buy a small car, to say nothing of enough time to see the movie Australia four times, over the last few weeks, rescuing yet another tooth.

At least now, there's no vibration, no pain, the dentist is young and gentle although she does come from another far off isle. I ascertained that when she told me she was going "beck to New Zilland for a widding".

Instead of clenching my eyes firmly shut (if indeed that's possible) and gripping the arms of the dental chair as though my life depended on it (well there aren't any arms these days), I have happily watched every episode of Seinfeld in Dolby stereo, while a team of expert engineers whizz around trying not to spoil my view.

I've now got my third gold crown (that's one for each of the girls after my demise), and I can only say that I agree with my father at least on one thing.

Those who pine for the "good old days" are sadly disillusioned.
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