The Curious, Absurd and Delightful!
Little Things that Caught my Attention
The title is not intended to suggest that everything on this page is, at one and the same time, curious, absurd and delightful.
The purpose of the page is to share with you incidents, people and situations that I have come across, mostly on my motorcycle meanders, that have struck me as being curious or, at times, even absurd or, more often than not, simply delightful.
You be the judge as to which incidents fall into which categories.
Burgers or Burghers
This is a sign outside what seemed to be the only shop in the tiny New England (NSW, Australia) town of Wallabadah. I stopped there for lunch on my way back from Queensland (contrary to my normal practice, I diverted onto the New England Highway for a few hours).
Having come across allusions to burghers in many historical contexts (they were many across Europe – not just Belgium, the sign got a responsive reaction from me. There are, of course, many references in Belgian history to the Burghers and their fights with the populace. The term is used in several contexts and has slightly different meanings. In the Belgian context it referred to a class of citizens from which usually town leaders (town councils) were drawn. Hence fights with the populace.
I thought it a bit obscure to have this sign in such a place as Wallabadah. Indeed, it’s a bit obscure in any event. Some friends to whom I showed the picture were not sure what the point was. However, it tickled my fancy.
Measurement Gone Mad
Even when the technocrats get the spelling correct (cf. items below on metres and meters), there’s still cause to wonder about their sense of practical measurement. No, perhaps that’s not quite fair. After all, measurement is measurement.
Hence, as someone who once dabbled on the margins of metrology, I can readily accept that, if someone posed the query of the time taken to cycle or walk a distance of x kms travelling at a speed of y kph, then the answer (in minutes) would clearly be x/y x 60. It would be in the best interests of measurement accuracy to provide the mathematically correct answer – even if rounded up to make more practical sense.
But what if the purpose of the exercise was just a little less than rendering mathematical accuracy and telling tourists something useful and practical about how long it might take to leisurely walk or cycle various distances around Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin?
Australian Capital Tourism has very generously and constructively placed several signs around the lake to inform local and out-of-town visitors about distances and time it would take to cycle and walk the various distances. The signs aren’t for the serious cyclists or runners; they all have their on-board computers telling them everything. Mostly, the signs are informative and helpful. But I couldn’t help wondering about some of the results.
A lot of the walking times are in excess of an hour. That’s fine. But how helpful is it express the hours as a decimal number? There’s always been a joke about time going decimal to follow decimal currency and metric measurements, but most of us thought it was a joke. Not here. The signs tell you that it will take 1.3 hours to walk to Weston Park; or 1.4 hours to walk to the Arboretum; or 3.2 hours to the Parliamentary Zone. Even cycling wins a jersey in the decimal stakes. From a particular spot, it’ll take you 1.1 hours to ride to the Parliamentary Zone. Mercifully, the numbers have been rounded up to one decimal place!
Just quickly, pretending you’re a tourist on a warm day with kids in tow and ice creams spilt, how many minutes are there in 0.1 of an hour or 0.3 of an hour?
I wonder who came up with such a concept...unless there really is a secret government plan to take us to metric time. The calculations would be a breeze if there were 100 minutes in every hour!
That anomaly aside, there obviously have been some productive flexibilities in the metrological calculations so that what might have come out as 49 minutes (on the basis of the seemingly adopted kph figures) has been rounded up to 50 minutes. I guess 49 minutes might have seemed a bit too pedantic for a cycle ride of 13kms. Some relief!
However, not all timings – or even distances – fared so sensibly. We’re told it will take 21 minutes (yes, 21!) to cycle 5.3 kms to Weston Park. There are some signs which clearly indicate the calculations are based on 16kph for cycling and 4kph for walking, while 15kph seems to be the basis for some other cycling calculations. All fine starting points. So why come up with 21 minutes? Was it rounded down 0.2kph on the basis of 15kph? If so, why not round the 19.9 minutes (that a basis of 16kph would have delivered) to 20 minutes?
Similarly, it’ll take you 21 minutes to walk the 1.4 kms to Commonwealth Park. That’s walking at 4kph all the way (the basis for the walking times subject to the variations rendered by rounding up the decimal hours to one decimal place). You could take your pick as to whether a 0.2kph increase in walking pace might have been assumed in this case or a slight adjustment might have been made to the obviously imprecise demarcation of where you would have stepped into Commonwealth Park. Or you might have combined both. No matter, it would still have been more useful to come up with a combination to get you to 20 minutes – and without any greater “precision variations” being perpetrated than in cases where flexibilities are evident.
I have previously lamented the adoption of American spelling for the simple term we use to capture the length of the path travelled by light in a vacuum in 1⁄299,792,458th of a second. The term is, of course, a metre. The definition used to be much simpler, namely, one ten-millionth of the distance from the Earth's equator to the North Pole (at sea level), but advancements in metrology have rendered the current definition (opting for laser measurement over physical artefacts).
Never mind, a metre is still a metre! Unless you’re in America, where it’s a meter.
For us, a meter is a device to measure and/or regulate measureable or regulatable things like time, gas, water and even distance (or a little more esoterically, a meter can be a particular arrangement of words in poetry or a specific rhythm in music). But it’s definitely not that clearly specified measurable distance outlined in the first paragraph above.
Several items below there is one headed “Meters Galore” poking a little light-hearted fun at the Mackay Council in Queensland for all the money they spent on signage in their city park which managed have metre misspelt so many times! But now, much closer to home in Canberra, I spotted an even worse blunder: a double barrelled spelling and grammatical blunder perpetrated by or, at least, condoned by Target Country (we do get called the Bush Capital!)!
Not only are we told there’s no smoking within “5 meters” – at least I think that’s what they were trying to say. Not that I could spot a single meter anywhere in sight. But we are told the no smoking applies “with in” “5 meters”. I simply can’t get my mind around what the two-word phrase “with in” conveys in any grammatical sense.
One could produce a book of grossly incorrect signage. I keep wondering who’s to blame. I think it’s unfair to dump on the sign writer. He or she is presumably just reproducing what been given them by the supposedly better informed purchaser (such as the Mackay Council or Target Country).
Phallusy or Not?
You might think this a classic fallacy; but it’s not so in Buddhist tradition!
In Bhutan – during the Shangri-La tour – we came across so many instances of the classic phallus looming in front of us. Mostly they were painted on walls of houses or other establishments. Sometimes, one might open a pull-string closed bag, out of curiosity, only to find a metal or wooden phallus fall out into one’s hand.
And, no, it wasn’t a case of a love-sick or sick-love society. In Buddhist tradition, the phallus is regarded as protection against the evil of the slanderer. The slanderer is regarded as a most harmful enemy that can wreak irreparable havoc. However, on seeing the phallus, the slanderer is forced to slink away, shamed by the very sight of the phallus. Hence, the slanderer avoids the places where it appears and bothers not the inhabitants.
I was convinced. But they did take some getting used to.
As an aside, note this extract from a website Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar:
The entire history of Tibetan Buddhism is absolutely strewn with accounts of vile slanders. To take just a few examples, King Indrabodhi was slandered, Padmasambhava was slandered, Vairotsana was slandered, and King Trisong Detsen was slandered. In our own time, Tarthang Rinpoche was slandered, Trungpa Rinpoche was slandered, Kalu Rinpoche was slandered, Lamasang was slandered, Sogyal Rinpoche was slandered, Sakya Trizin was slandered, and the Dalai Lama is slandered on a daily basis.
Indeed, slander is serious business. There are several works on the subject, inclusive of Mi Kha Tojur, and the terma text Mi Kha Drajur. According to the latter, slander has the figurative power to dismember humans, cause landslides, and dry up lakes. In consequence, numerous rituals and protections have evolved. As an example of protections, one may consider the phallus seen painted on houses or in wooden effigy, all over Bhutan, although the practice is reportedly in decline.
Watch Your Head!
Motorcyclists aren’t necessarily noted for being tall. So many of our champion Superbike and MotoGP racers are, in fact, quite small of stature. There are advantages to being height-challenged.
The Kosciuszko Chalet Hotel at Charlotte Pass in the NSW Alps dates back to 1938. It’s referred to as the ‘the grand old lady of the mountains.’ Its basement looks like it was built from hand-cut blue stone – and probably was, given its vintage and inaccessibility. I guess the designers, builders and labourers of the day weren’t into allowing too many luxuries, so the arched walk-throughs were kept compact. By today’s standards, they wouldn’t get building approval, but no doubt they are all heritage listed now.
To cater for the average height of 21st century patrons, warning signs remind you of the restrictions to be encountered. Luckily, for some, all this simply passes over their head! In this case, the unencumbered patron was a participant in the 2010 Snowy Ride.
I spotted this sign on the Bruxner Hwy in far north NSW between the border town of Texas and Yetman.
One can only guess at what it is trying to achieve beyond the immediate, short-term, if enigmatic, objective of having ‘sheep introductions’ reported.
Perhaps it comes down to our Defence dollars at work for the national benefit! Rumour has it that, deep within the Defence establishment at Russell (ACT), there is a top secret unit dedicated to the preservation of national values against onslaughts from foreign agents provocateurs. It seems that there have been ‘intelligence’ reports to indicate that New Zealand fifth columnists, inspired by the publicity given to perceived needs to ‘find the farmer a wife,’ have infiltrated Australian rural communities with a view to planting New Zealand bred and trained sheep to fill the gaps left by the exodus of women from the bush. The Defence unit is obviously right onto this. Using the Rural Lands Protection Board as a front, the unit is closely monitoring any attempt to introduce sheep to lonely farmers.
Long Stay with Police?
This sign is in the Suffolk town of Newmarket in the UK. I don’t think Newmarket has any particular criminal problems. It’s a horse racing centre surrounded by magnificent stud properties, owned largely by sheiks from the Gulf States. Almost in the centre of town is the enormous ‘Newmarket Heath’ – a huge expanse of gently graded grass land, owned and meticulously manicured by the Jockey Club. It’s where race horse training takes place; where stable staff ‘ride out’ every day.
I did wonder about the sign I passed while making my way from the High Street (as they love to call the main street of any town in the UK) back towards Kirtling. It did seem at first glance to be differentiating between a regular police station and this special ‘long stay’ one, presumably, I thought, for the more recalcitrant offenders.
Usually, it’s the much maligned smokers that are kept at a safe distance from the food-eating customers. Not at the Lion’s Den Hotel on the Bloomfield Track at Helenvale in Far North Queensland. No, there, it’s the food-eating customers that have to look out for themselves; and that are defiantly banished from the protective areas harbouring the smokers.
Queensland is an interesting place! The further north you go, the more interesting it becomes.
The Lion’s Den Hotel is just one of the many curiosities you can find in FNQ.
A Welcome Welcome at Kulcurna Homestead
It might seem a curious welcome sign. It was on the entrance to the Kulcurna Homestead, the centrepiece of a once enormous sheep station spread along the Murray River in NSW just east of the SA/NSW border; and ranging north into the dry, barren hinterland. It’s a mere shadow of its former grandeur, as are most of the great Murray River stations. But the glory of the past is nurtured by the many historically devoted station owners and a dedicated few researchers and writers.
I was an invited guest to Kulcurna, but by the time I arrived I was a distressed soul lost in the wilderness, much the same as might have been many wanderers of old. To have reached Kulcurna, in the fateful circumstances in which I was thrust, was such a relief that the welcome sign, curious as it might seem in isolation, was like a desert mirage that suddenly transformed itself into a cool, sparkling waterfall. Everything it offered was begging to be enjoyed. And it was.
An Outcome of the Drought?
This sign sits on the fence at Lock 10 – adjacent to the weir – on the Murray River a few hundred metres downstream from where the Darling joins it at Wentworth NSW.
Now, you’d imagine that, with the combined forces of both rivers, there would be enough pressure to maintain a natural current through the weir and lock. So why would they need to supplement it by an artificially generated electric current? I hope the electricity, at least, is hydro-generated!
Do You Need to be Told?
I might not be the fastest bike at the track (metaphorically speaking), but climbing up the steep, tight turns to the top of Mount Hotham in the Victorian Alps, as I have done many times with fellow travellers, I have never felt the need to be told that I must keep right of the poles. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s just a little obvious! Would you really want to venture left of the poles?
In fairness, however, the road does get snow-covered in winter (it’s close to 2000m here). That’s also why the lines are painted yellow instead of white, as they are everywhere else. Yellow in snow catches the attention. Snow also tends to blur the edges of the road and the too far point of the top of the drop-off. So, it’s a useful admonition – to be well heeded – to keep right of the poles!
Is There Life after Death?
I’m sure a lot of you have agonised over this conundrum. Most, undoubtedly, assume the answer from their religious, theist, atheist, creationist or evolutionist beliefs. Some, however, no doubt, ponder the potential answer based on their philosophical or theological beliefs, analysis, curiosity or doubts.
Have I found the answer? Is there really no through road beyond the cemetery, no way to travel past the grave, no way out?
Essentially, what we have all been wondering, deep within us, despite our overt manifestations of our Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, or other beliefs, is what awaits us after death.
For Christians, over the centuries, the options were Limbo (permanently), Purgatory (temporarily), Heaven or Hell (both permanently). Then, with a stroke of the pen, the Vatican ‘abolished’ Limbo. Apart from the inconvenience of the word having become commonplace in the English language (and is still used despite the Vatican edict), one has to wonder what happened to all those souls who were confined to Limbo over so many centuries. Were they shunted off to cross the River Styx in make-shift refugee boats?
If you’re a Muslim, I understand, you will be rewarded with so many virgins. Or is that only if you’re a martyr? I’m not sure how female Muslims would feel about that – especially the female martyrs. But, then, of course, there are male virgins. After all, I was one for 24 years. So the female Muslim martyrs might have something to look forward to.
I don’t know enough about the Asian religions to comment further about what their followers might expect is in store for them.
However, let's get to get to the real point of this item, namely, where do the the civic and ecclesiastical leaders of the NSW town of Berridale stand on the eternal (or otherwise) conundrum?
Well, I guess it’s obvious from the sign in the picture. I spotted it returning from the Snowy Ride in November, 2009. It's on the northern edge of Berridale. The vicinity was once called Gegedzerick.
If you die and go the local cemetery in Berridale, then that’s it. There’s ‘no through road’. There’s no going beyond the grave, It all ends in the cemetery – lovely bones or not!
So, it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish, Christian or Muslim, if you die and are buried in Berridale, there simply is no through road to take you anywhere!
But Wait! There’s Salvation!
You don’t have to end it all at Berridale Cemetery. Just a few miles – and a few more kilometres – up the Snowy Mountains Highway, between Adaminaby and Kiandra, there is this sign directing you to eternal salvation.
Well, that’s what I assumed.
My Concise Oxford Dictionary tells me that providence means “1 the protective care of God or nature. 2 (Providence) God in this aspect.” It then tells me that portal means “a doorway or gate etc., especially a large and elaborate one.”
This is surely a sign pointing to the Gates of Heaven!
So don’t let yourself feel despondent by the previous item. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
What is Genuine and What is Fake?
Nobody likes to buy something they think is genuine only to discover belatedly that it is a fake. All too often these days, ‘genuine’ products are passed off as such, but are reproductions or copies, in other words, fakes.
But there’s no deception or misleading of the buyer here. You know you’re getting the real thing. This guy’s fake watches are genuinely fake. That’s guaranteed.
This was taken in April 2008, during my Turkey tour.
The Toilet Seat Dilemma
How many times do men cop it for not putting the toilet seat down? Well, this seemed a new take on the problem. This was at the National Transport Hall of Fame in Alice Springs – on the wall in the Gents. I visited the Hall of Fame on my Big Trip North.
You’d think a transport hall of fame would be a bloke’s world if ever there was one. Why would blokes – at a truck museum of all places – have to kowtow to the expectations of the other, even if far better, half? The toilet seat would be fine left up!
Ah, well. There’s more to it. It seems they have a huge mosquito problem. The little biters must like to muster in the water in the toilet bowl. It’s not the seat so much as the lid that has to be kept down to keep the ubiquitous mozzie out. Notice the mozzies on the sign!
A Fowl Rest Area!
The Mallee lands of Australia are a vast tract of scrubland extending from Western Australia across South Australia into northern Victoria and south-western N.S.W. The Mallee encompasses almost a fifth of the land mass and comprises one of the main ecological systems that dominate the continent. It’s a multiplicity of interlinked environments, harbouring more than 700 distinct plant species, 400 kinds of birds and countless animals and insects. (Threat to Mallee Lands)
One of the threatened species is the Mallee Fowl. There are large areas in western NSW and Victoria that have been declared nature reserves in an effort to preserve the species.
I think you must pass through one on the road to Mildura. There are signs indicating breeding areas; and there’s the one in the picture! It had caught my attention a few times as we rode to and from a couple of Ghost Town Rallies in Broken Hill (NSW), but it hadn’t been convenient to stop and take a photo. However, on my recent Big Trip North – day 2 – I made a point of stopping.
The Rest Area, of course, is one of hundreds along main highways to encourage drivers to take a break and to provide facilities for all travellers. But the announcement of a Mallee Fowl Rest Area conjured up a whole new image. Would there be artificial mounds to encourage the Mallee Fowl to breed? Or just water and seeds for snacks during a stop-over on their way somewhere? I wasn’t all that surprised not to find any Mallee Fowl at all; just a couple of motor homes and a few grey nomads.
I hope the Mallee Fowl appreciate the work that has gone into their rest area.
With all the attention being given to combating climate change; and the market effectiveness of an emissions trading scheme, the role of meters must surely be recognised as a vital and essential component in any climate change response scenario involving emissions measurement.
The Mackay City Council (Queensland) is certainly taking it all very seriously. This sign, one of several, is in the Mackay Botanical Gardens. I spotted it during my Big Trip North. I wasn’t sure of the precise message. Was there some ratio linking the number of meters and the number of steps? Steps to what? A resolution to climate change? So, at the point of the sign, there are still 2750 steps to the end point; and 1925 meters will be needed.
But, there is no break-down given as to how many meters might be for electricity, gas, water, carbon dioxide, methane (are some meters to be fitted to the Mackay cows - at one or other or both ends?), or any other potentially climate-changing substance.
Then, again, sitting in the shade of a wonderful, traditional, Islander-inspired meeting house, with its open sides and high thatched roof – a tribute to the significant contribution to the development of the area made by Pacific Islanders over the decades, I wondered whether I might not have gone off on a tangent, too absorbed by contemporary media obsession.
Could it be that the Mackay Council staff or their contracted graphic designers or even their sign writers – in any case, all paid by Mackay rate payers – had their Microsoft Word or Publisher or whatever software they used....set on “US English”? Overlooking any oxymoron secreted in that descriptor, the end result would have been total confusion about meter vs metre, the latter being entirely foreign in “US English”.
So, did Mackay Council really intended to have said ‘1925 metres’?
That would make more sense. A quick use of my calculator told me that there was an explainable and credible ratio between 2750 steps and 1925 metres. One step equalled 0.7 of a metre. A bit small, especially for Queensland, where everything is bigger than the norm, but a reasonable reflection of the average tourist’s ambulation pace.
Plea to Mackay Council: please make amends – to the Public, to the rate payer and to the English language.
Three Turkish Muslim Young Women
Muslim traditions vary significantly from country to country and from sect to sect within a country. Turkey is a country that, in so many ways, straddles East and West, Christian and Muslim, Europe and Asia. For the most part, over the centuries, there was a degree of tolerance, understanding and respect across cultural and religious divides. That was until the horrific rending apart of Ottoman Greek Orthodox and Ottoman Muslim. Both saw themselves as simply Ottomans. Neither understood why distant politicians thrust division and deportation on them.
I suspect neither Christians nor Muslims outside Turkey have any realistic appreciation of the historical, cultural or religious history or dynamics that prevail in modern day Turkey. Even some Turks have a problem with these issues.
Anyway, the point of this snippet is to capture the attitude of three ‘random’ young Muslim girls wandering through the cemetery of the Eyüp Mosque way up the Golden Horn in Istanbul. I ran into them during my Turkish tour in 2008.
As I was making my way from the Pierre Loti Café, at the high point of the Golden Horn, back down to the Eyüp Mosque, where I had already spent some time, I encountered these three beautiful young women. As they approached, I aimed my camera, only to be confronted with .... well, one must distinguish (first photo):
Far left: “Take my photo!”
Second from left: “I’m not sure!”
Third from left: “Please, No Photo!”
Then, we spoke as we passed closely. The atmosphere changed. They became more relaxed and the second photo ensued.
What a wonderful experience! Perhaps, for both them and me. I guess I’ll never know.
A Modern Dorian Gray?
This photo was taken at Lakes Entrance, Victoria, in March 2007. I was on the BMW TourenSport Safari; and enjoying lunch on the pier with my friends from Brisbane, Paul and Viki, from the Rajasthan tour, and Joe and Marg, whom I met on the Safari. This beautiful, young lady was enjoying a glass of wine with a friend on a nearby table.
I was first struck by her beauty. Almost intoxicated. Then, as I quietly and privately lost myself in admiration of her, she inhaled on a cigarette and let the toxic, carcinogenic smoke ooze from her facial orifices so that her refined, beautiful features were air-brushed by the fog of burnt tobacco.
I later thought of The Picture of Dorian Gray – a novel by Oscar Wilde. You might recall that, as Dorian pursued his life of debauchery, he retained his youthful beauty, while a portrait of him, originally capturing that beauty, slowly manifested the traits of his lifestyle. It was all part of a pact he had made with the Devil. He would stay young and beautiful; whereas the picture would deteriorate into the ugliness that his vices would otherwise have rendered on him. Perhaps, the object of my passing admiration wasn’t quite in Dorian Gray’s league, but, with a little imagination, I could see that young, beautiful face, her nicely formed nose and her perfect lips, taking on all the vestiges of the nicotine-laden smoke that had just wafted from her half-open mouth and her slowing exhaling nostrils. If you look carefully, you can see the look of disbelief on her companion, reflected in her sunglasses, as she (the companion) helplessly watches – possibly reminded of Dorian Gray!
I moved my attention to the peace and serenity that a pelican exuded as it skated blithely and artistically across the calm waters of Lakes Entrance.
The Right Sales Pitch!
This sales pitch might not resonate with the Western shopper – at least, not in its literal rendition. But it was certainly an eye-catcher for us. The sign was in a shop tucked away on a narrow, stone road high up in the interior of the magnificent Jaisalmer fort in Rajasthan. The vendor was onto something.
A frequent enquiry was whether his various spreads, doona covers and throw-overs would fit a double, queen size or king size bed. These measurement benchmarks were not common currency in Jaisalmer or, probably, anywhere in India. So how do you respond, in anticipation, to a Western customer’s need for a suitable measurement benchmark? Well, this vendor was making it incontrovertibly clear that his bed spread would be fine for a bed that was intended to accommodate the master and only one wife. However, I don’t think he was intending to imply that a master with more than one wife would necessarily have additional wives in the one bed!
His sales pitch certainly worked on Paul and Viki, my friends from Brisbane, whom I first met on the Rajasthan tour. They obviously thought that the ‘one wife’ benchmark worked for them.