Watch battery

October 17, 2017

My watch stopped. The battery was flat. Hey, look on the cheerful side, now it will be correct twice every day.

Actually it need not be exactly twice every day. There is daylight saving so, if my watch had stopped at 2:15 then on the first Sunday in April (Northern hemisphere logic will differ) it would be correct 3 times on that day. And correct only once on the first Sunday in October.

Or, if I were to fly to Europe or around the world, my stopped watch could be correct several or many times in a day. Or if I were an astronaut orbiting in the International Space Station … it would be correct twice every 88 minutes. Approximately. (The other astronauts would have strangled me long before this).

So, I went to look for a new battery for my watch. I don’t even like wearing a watch, but I won this one in a raffle and it’s a very good one, so I do wear it, but as I am retired I neither need to know nor care what the time is. 🙂

I ‘bought’ a free watch recently. You pay for just the postage. It was a terrible-looking and ghastly-quality watch and it did not function at all, however, I got my money back.

Last time the battery failed in my real watch, I took it to Myer’s and they said “Certainly Sir, we can replace that, $19 please” but I went ahead and got the new battery. I reasoned that the watch would be no use without it, but now for $19 I could wear the fully-functioning watch with its lap timer, logarithm scale, eclipse predictor, MP3 player and banana bend calculator! The girls would flock to me (but I should elaborate here and say, as everything on this blog is true, that this did not actually happen).

So THIS time I found an obscure little watch-repair place run by a little Chinese guy and I took my watch there. I was keen to support a small, battling enterprise rather than the fiendish Big Capitalism department stores … and the Chinaman replaced my watch battery. And he charged me … $30. It would have been cheaper to go to Myer’s! Arrghh! Or note this:

Bluebottle: What time is it Eccles?
Eccles: Err, just a minute. I’ve got it written down on a piece of paper. A nice man wrote the time down for me this morning. Bluebottle: Ooooh, then why do you carry it around with you Eccles?
Eccles: Welll, um, if a anybody asks me the time, I can show it to dem.
Bluebottle: Wait a minute Eccles, my good man.
Eccles: What is it fellow?
Bluebottle: It’s writted on this bit of paper, what is eight o’clock, is writted.
Eccles: I know that my good fellow. That’s right, um, when I asked the fella to write it down, it was eight o’clock.
Bluebottle: Well then. Supposing when somebody asks you the time, it isn’t eight o’clock?
Eccles: Well den, I don’t show it to ’em.
Bluebottle: Well how do you know when it’s eight o’clock?
Eccles: I’ve got it written down on a piece of paper.
Bluebottle: Ohh, I wish I could afford a piece of paper with the time written on. Let me hold that piece of paper to my ear would you? ‘Ere. This piece of paper ain’t goin’
Eccles: What? I’ve been sold a forgery.
Bluebottle: No wonder it stopped at eight o’clock.
Eccles: Oh dear.
Bluebottle: You should get one of them tings my Grandad’s got.
Eccles: Oooohhh.
Bluebottle: His firm give it to him when he retired.
Eccles: Oooohhh.
Bluebottle: It’s one of dem tings what it is that wakes you up at eight o’clock, boils the kettil, and pours a cuppa tea.
Eccles: Ohhh yeah. What’s it called?
Bluebottle: My Granma.
Eccles: Ohh. Ohh, wait a minute. How does she know when it’s eight o’clock.
Bluebottle: She’s got it written down on a piece of paper.

But, the punch line is yet to come … because the Chinaman set the time on my newly be-batteried and charged-up and functioning watch. And, it used to be right twice a day (approximately) – but he set the time two minutes slow and now it is NEVER correct!

But cheer up … As the watch loses about 1 second per day, in 86,280 days it will be correct again! (Once.) Which is about 236 years, but the battery will go flat long before that. Now, for $30, I should have got the solid gold 100-year battery. So for the next 36,500 days my watch will be wrong at all times, then it will stop and be correct twice evey day again. Probably approximately (see above). And furthermore, the sooner that it stops, the more accurate it will become …

Moral: buy the cheapest possible watch battery (I would recommend Myer’s).

Indeed, do not buy a watch battery at all.


Day 9(2) – Coat hanger Museum

October 13, 2017

Olofstrom is famous, or ought to be, for two things: (a) a huge factory where metal sheets are pressed into shape to make Volvo cars and trucks, and (b) a coathanger museum.

Well there are coathangers all over the world, so there ought to be a museum of them somewhere, and why not Olofstrom? The museum also exhibits cameras from all ages – the owner is a bit of a fanatic and has collected cameras (and coathangers) all his life. Some people are strange, I mean, why doesn’t he collect manhole covers instead? This is part of the camera display, and a rare multi-shot camera.

Below is a cardboard camera from IKEA. You do not need the hex key to assemble it! But you do need to know someone very high up in the IKEA company to be able to get your hands on one of these. They were never sold commercially.

But enough of all these cameras. The coathangers are waiting for us!

Ah, coathangers. It was a balmy summer’s evening and we did not even bring coats to hang … but here is a Coat Hanger Tree, unpruned, showing coat hangers in their natural state.

These are harvested and hung on a rack to dry, as follows:

Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds comes to mind … the mature hangers fly away and roost, on a wall.

A rare Hungarian Coat Hanger:

A book about coat hangers. Well, I have a book about Japanese Manhole Covers, and a book about Spoons of the Third Reich, so I was not surprised to see this.

In the first picture on this blog post, of the outside of the building, you can just make out that there are a couple of cameras and coathangers nailed to the wall outside (and thus exposed to the weather). One of these is from Eliasson’s tailors in nearby Jamshog, telephone: 10.

Sorry if my readers now feel haunted by coathangers. This blog is running about 6 weeks after the events have happened, but to jump several weeks forward, when we had a flat in Barcelona, the coathangers were there waiting for us.

Barcelona, eh. What a riot!

Day 9(1) – Olofstrom

October 12, 2017

Barbro was born and grew up here, so we made it a focal point of the trip – but the only hotel was nice but bloody expensive, so we stayed at the camping site, which was cheap and awful. Still, you gotta laugh, eh … Olofstrom is a medium-sized town built around a huge Volvo factory.

To ride here from Solvesborg, we went along a lovely wooded path that was once a railway line. This “Banvallsled” was in perfect condition and well signposted.

This track is notable for a tunnel which was the first tunnel to be built in Blekinge – the next province to Skane, which is where we are now.

Here’s Mike & Jan, captured just at that magical moment before someone comes out of the tunnel behind and mows them down.

On we went to Nasum, halfway to Olofstrom and the location of a very nice cafe. This is Nasum church, on top of a hill, up which I led the group unnecessarily, as the cafe was somewhere else.

There’s not much to show of Olofstrom town, but 4 km outside is a place called Valhall where a cliff looms 80 metres over a lake. Named of course after Valhalla, home of the Norse gods.

Here’s Helga on her way to paradise. (almost literally true as I said there’d be no traffic but that bloody big 50-ton milk truck has just come blasting past us at full speed).

Ghost riders of Valhalla.

Valhall is aptly named because bones have been found at the bottom of the cliff, from which it has been established that in Viking times elderly people were taken here, and pushed off to their deaths. Nowadays everyone poses at this spot. Perhaps that is how the Vikings did it – stand here and we’ll carve your picture on a runestone – back a bit – back a bit further …

R-rated section

I asked Mr David Rowlands to take a picture, and in his enthusiasm he took several, depicting the entire trouser adjustment process.

Ah that’s better, with trousers finally at the proper height. One does not wish to make one’s lady readers come over all faint. Now Steve, back a bit … back a bit more …

Day 8 – Listerland (and not Hanö)

October 11, 2017

Listerland is the name of a peninsula that sticks out next to Solvesborg. The idea was cycle to Nogersund at its far end, get the ferry to the island of Hanö and spend half the day walking around it. Barbro & myself were there 3 years ago, written up in a series of 4 blog posts starting here – and I never did get to blog about the song “Herr Mannelig”, and I haven’t got time now 😩

That is Nogersund, with the stern of the Hanö ferry visible on the right, over towards the shed. After visiting Hanö we would then cycle over to Lars’ holiday house where he would put on a magnificent barbecue! But, having ridden bikes continuously for 8 days and with 7 more to come, we decided on a change of plan; we hired a coach and went, sans velocipedes, directly to Lars’s house. Which saved people having to find it, as it’s in the middle of nowhere in an area with no signs; it’s sort of here:

The coach driver – normally he drives it as a school bus – gave us a 45-minute guided tour of the whole peninsula, free of charge. The main industries here are (a) potatoes, grown for starch which is used in making paper and (b) farming mink, which are fed with fish caught on the coast here. Did you know that girls get minks the same way that minks get minks … Lars had specially imported his sons to help with the BBQ.

and the food was, of course, very good. We ate it.

Here we are, at the trough. What you have to do, dear reader, is click on those latter two photos and download them, then display them and swap between one and the other and back again. After the BBQ we went for a walk down to the harbour; here’s group 2 on their walk:

And that is the harbour. Out here, you get your own beach:

Flocks of geese wafted across the sky. They have just taken off, and will fly without stopping, to Siberia. (Siberia is very nice – I went there, and in 1981 to Liberia, which was also very nice before a 14-year civil war wiped everything out). The paper factory and power station stewed quietly on the horizon.

Day 7(2) Solvesborg bridge

October 10, 2017

Solvesborg is strategically located on the train line direct to Copenhagen one way, and to the whole southern coast of Sweden the other way including Karlskrona, a major naval base, and Kalmar, the gateway to the island of Oland. Business was getting a bit slack, so the city fathers commissioned this 800-metre long pedestrian and cycling bridge – the longest such bridge in Europe.

It was the best 8 million dollars they ever spent. The bridge not only gives access to the golf club (no doubt a very strong influence on why it was built) but it also opens up a whole new town being built on the other side of the inlet, with natty houses of modern design, greatly increasing the local population and enabling new industries to start up.

It’s really two bridges, joined up at an island that was already there in the middle. This is a nature reserve, with many rare plants having evolved over the thousands of years that the island was inaccessible except by boat.

The view of the town from the island, and of the cathedral.

Some of us rode across and noted that on the other side, a viewing platform was accurately placed to give the best view of the bridge. The platform was donated by a building company, whose advert covered one side of it. Nearby was a stone wall, the worst stonework I have ever seen. More like a pile of stones … there was no sponsor’s name on that!

After this arduous journey across the bridge, by expending further effort we just about made it to the golf club, where a cafe served snacks and beer. Fine Czech beer, which we decided to evaluate, at great personal (and monetary) sacrifice.

Day 7(1) – Solvesborg

October 9, 2017

Looks like a nice place, Solvesborg. It has an information kiosk and, er, um, and, well there should be room to add more things and put them on this road sign. Lately a spectacular pedestrian bridge over the sea has been added, which is described in my next post tomorrow.

On this 7th day of the trip, we rode into Solvesborg where we had to stay in two hotels because we’d be here two nights, thus both groups would meet up and nowhere could take 30 people at once. But we found two hotels close to each other, group 1 took over the Vita Huset which was really nice, and group 2 stayed in the Stadshotell which was very dignified and formal.

Group 1, having rested in front of yet another stately home, spent half their afternoon picking berries in the forest. Next day, my group 2 instead made a bee-line for the town where group 1 had now laid on a terrific afternoon tea. Barbro in group 1 and myself in group 2 can track each other’s mobile phones and see their accurate location, so the moment we arrived there was tea and cakes and conversation – loud enough to raise the roof. It was a good thing we had the hotel to ourselves!

Solvesborg city square has a fountain – what need is there for a porno shop when there’s a fountain like this? One of the artwork panels around it shows men catching an eel – well, two of them are working, the third one does not seem to be doing much – captioned “The king of the sea is the fisherman, old and young”. There is also a major cathedral, St. Nicolai –

– with this runestone outside its door. (There is another very famous runestone inside, named the “stentoftasten”, similar to the huge, ancient Bjorketorp one that I blogged earlier here, and which will be the subject of an emotional blog post when I have found the picture I need.)

The inscription on this small one, registered as DR356, says “Vade made … in memory of his son Asmund”. Unfortunately, the words that state exactly what Vade made are chipped off; the words were probably “this stone”, but we will never really know what it was that Vade made. A coffee table? A spaceship? A better mousetrap? A way of keeping runestones intact? (No, not that).

Sadly at this place one of our riders had an unwell husband at home, and had to leave the trip in a hurry. This was easily managed, and we saw her off at the Solvesborg railway station, below. The trains run direct to Copenhagen from here.

Eight Votes!

October 7, 2017

Imagine my joy – my son reported that, strewn on the pavement by our letterbox were EIGHT PEOPLE’S VOTING PAPERS for the same-sex marriage survey! Evidently someone had gone along gathering them from the letterboxes, for whatever reason, and then had been apprehended, or changed their mind, or been struck by a thunderbolt … or forgot to keep holding them – whatever, and they just dumped them there. People’s humanitarian rights, strewn all over my street.

Passions run high in my street, as in most places – nearly all houses display the multi-coloured “yes” poster. And the fans of the “no” vote are reduced to spraying “no” on the walls, thus damaging other people’s property as well as denying other people’s rights. “The Marriage Act cannot be changed” whined a friend of a friend of mine, ignorant of the fact that John Howard changed it one afternoon in 2004.

But, wah-heyy, now my son could vote eight times! But he didn’t. He went back along the street and posted the papers back into the respective letterboxes where they belonged – believing that people should have freedom to do as they please, if no harm is done. I would not tell people how they should vote, or (far worse) vote on their behalf.

I filled my own paper in, without any help. Unfortunately all I could do is tick the “yes” box. Or maybe fortunately, because if I could show the real extent of my feelings, if I could express my rage at this stupid, harmful, costly exercise even being conducted, the paper would curl at the edges and catch fire.

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Day 6(2) – Backaskog and Gualov

September 30, 2017

On this day, we were at the Maglesten, which I already wrote about; and there were a couple more sideshows on the way to Solvesborg.

Backaskog castle is situated in a novel place, on a promontory of land between two large lakes. See that the lakes are different colours – there are many small faults like that, with reality – but Google makes them the same colour. Anyway, all traffic going north-south over a huge area had to pass by here, and could be “taxed”.

As the castle sign makes clear, there is a four-sided building with a large courtyard, and extensive formal gardens. However, we were all castled out after Glimmingehus, and all the rooms and cafe were closed this day, due to a wedding reception. We were welcomed to visit the yard and gardens but could not go in, or buy anything.

As we were leaving (having eaten our BYO lunch that we bought an hour before at the Cafe 22 in Fjalkinge, run by Syrians and very good), we saw this vintage car arrive to collect the bride and groom.

Ah, cars, even de-luxe cars, were simple in those days. My dad’s first car had the usual gear stick, steering wheel and 3 pedals, plus two knobs you had to pull, “choke” and then “starter”, and there was a sort of gas tap to drive the windscreen wipers from the carburettor vacuum, and a slider to divert hot water into the heater, which I think was an accessory. It could not reach the speed limit.

Meanwhile, at Backskog slott, when the bridal couple showed up for a lift in the car, they brought these two totally cute kids:

We also departed, on our humble bicycles, and rode on through Gualov on our way to Solvesborg. Here we met the mob of 45 Danish cyclists coming the other way – causing chaos on the road and in the car park of Gualov Church, a very old (dating from the 12th century) stone church, with a separate wooden bell tower added in the 1700s.

Typical of a country church is the very well-kept graveyard. (A bizarre post about Swedish graveyards will come later). The gravestone inscriptions are very simple, usually listing the job and name of the deceased (so mine would be complex, as I’ve had roughly four distinct careers). The late Elmar Bratt was evidently a mechanic of some sort.

But I hope he did not really use that awful shifting spanner; O, Elmar, buy spanners of the proper sizes! I was once in a workshop of the Royal Australian Air Force, wonderfully equipped with the all very best tools for aircraft maintenance – they don’t want the wings to fall off, etc – and they had a shifting spanner but it had a sign beside it “Every separate use of this tool requires the personal signature of an officer”.

Day 6(1) – Viby Storks & Dolmen

September 29, 2017

We rode out of Ahus, the track dead level and straight as it followed a railway line (and a noisy freeway) and soon came to the village of Viby. Oddly, storks were flying over the village and standing in the fields – at Viby, and nowhere else. You almost had to bat them away with a stick. Must be a good place for storks. If storks wrote a travel guide, Viby would be in there, near the top of the list.

This picture on the Viby community noticeboard makes the hierarchy clear. At the lowest level is a building, then a wind vent, then a cross, so we have Man, Nature, and God – and above it all, above even the lightning conductor, the majestic Stork. He doesn’t even need two legs – why bother putting the second leg down, when one is enough?

There are only a few farm buildings in Viby, but most of them have a stork nest on the roof. The birds come and go frequently. In the old days I would have wasted a lot of film, but with modern technology these are my best from dozens of attempts –

A nearby house roof was also popular, and I got a close-up:

And I present this picture, which is titled Stork on Roof (Flown Away) :

We got all storked out, so we left Viby and its ciconidae behind us, and headed for Fjalkinge which we had been told had a Useful Cafe. But on top of the hill overlooking Viby – I cannot say my wish was granted, because I had not even thought of wishing for this – there in a field, was a dolmen. (A big stone supported on other stones, making a chamber). And beside it, a small ring of 17 stones.

These, the sign said, were the “Stone Dance” and the Viby Dolmen, and they are 5,500 years old. They stood here long before the Vikings, long before the time of Jesus Christ, a thousand years before the Pyramids, a thousand years before Stonehenge. There is a local legend that when giants walked the earth, they met here at the stones, and that one of them, named Ormes Yngvesven, is buried here. And that men should therefore avoid this place. (At least, the man who cuts the grass earnestly avoids it).

Maybe the storks know more than we do.

Day 5 – Andrarum to Ahus

September 28, 2017

An easy day today, only 40 km and all FLAT after going down a steep hill into Brosarp. Of course, we reduced our speed to ensure the safety of hedgehogs –

– especially as a hedgehog is about the last thing you would want to run over. In Brosarp we had morning coffee in a retro cafe that had a jukebox.

This was loaded with many of the finest rock&roll classics, some of which had been played so much that they didn’t play any more, and you see a little sticker at the bottom right of the display, listing the records you should not pick. Oh .. for my younger readers, a record is like a CD but bigger, and with mechanical grooves. A CD is like a DVD but holds less data. A DVD is a rotating medium that stores a huge amount of data – oh, 4.7 gigabytes. A gigabyte is 1/1000 of a terabyte, and your grandmother might remember getting those for free in her cornflakes packet.

Also on the jukebox was a sign that it took only the old 1-krona coin, which you could borrow from the waitress. The Swedes have just re-done all their money, making the old coins and notes obsolete – the banknotes we brought from last year were no longer legal tender, and the deadline for exchanging them had passed, but a kind bank teller did change them for us (After we had been served by two unkind bank tellers). Having re-done all the coins and notes, it was then announced that Sweden will become cashless – everything, even a single cup of coffee, is now bought by credit card or using an application called SWISH which is like Paypal for small amounts. The banks have no cash, and usually will not accept any.

Brosarp had this antique milestone from 1764, and further along we rode past a military one.

A quarter of a mile … these were to mark the distances that soldiers were marching. Bear in mind that a “mile” in those days was 10.69 km … it is now defined as exactly 10 km and Swedes use it in conversation (“Vi cyklade 6 mil i dag” – today we rode 60 km). After Brosarp we saw this pile of “toilet rolls” – I am interested in the different ways that farmers stack them; Sweden, Australia and NZ all have quite different styles – then we rode through a forest and came out at the coast.

Just before lunch I saw this snail, fleeing in terror as I approached.

And thereby hangs a tale – a Snail Tale – it pulled its head in and would not pose for a photograph. Eventually it did stick its head out, as you now see, but by that time the other riders were a long way ahead, and I needed to catch up to steer them off the path to where our lunch was waiting. So because of this snail I had to ride like a bat out of hell for 4 km. Ironic, really.

This path today was well marked by “The south east path” signs, so well marked indeed that no maps or navigation lists were necessary. Paths on some other days were badly marked, or not marked at all except on the maps. Being a geek, I examined the back of a sign and found it to be made all in one piece – look, there are no joints in the aluminium – and it bore several guarantees as to how long the sign would last (10 or 12 years).

One sign in Brosarp said “Ahus 30,6 km” and we followed it all the way, and when we reached the “0 km” point, that’s where our hotel was. We had an amazing dinner of spare ribs. Sadly there are no decent photos of Ahus or the dinner. Ahus is famous for four things, all of them evil –

  1. vodka (Absolut Vodka is made here),
  2. cigars (were imported to here),
  3. chocolate (the raw materials were imported to here), and
  4. smoked eels.

This coast is known as the “eel coast” because (a) there are eels and (b) it is a coast. I don’t know how you smoke an eel, it must be very difficult to light the end.

“When things go wrong and don’t work out …”

September 24, 2017

“… Run in circles, scream, and shout”.

We arrived at our thatched cottages where 8 of my group of 15 would be staying; the other 7 would be at a big country house, 1 km away across the fields. A path, walkable but not with suitcases, joins the two places. This area was noted for the mining of alum (potassium aluminium sulphate, essential in paper manufacture) and there are mighty hills of spoil heaps contaminating the countryside.

Below is the view from the balcony of our alternative house – now it’s just fields and a distant river, but 200 years ago there would have been thousands of men toiling away down there, with wheelbarrows and buckets. Vast amounts of wealth were accrued, not all of it coming to the workers.

That is us enjoying our afternoon tea, as we arrived. As I was trying to enjoy mine, I saw some of my riders furtively drawing lots and the one who got the short straw came up to me and said, Steve …,

… You would remember how you attached red ribbons to the bags that were to go to the other place, and the bags without ribbons were to stay here … well … um … the bags that are here seem to have, er, sort of red ribbons on them. A quick inspection verified this to be the case. Ferkety Ferkety ferk ferk ferk, quoth I, now what happens. Well, first we have a cup of tea.

I soon realised that by sending 3 bags to the other place and bringing 3 bags back, I could then swap all the people over, and it would work out. Great idea, but these two places do not really have car access. There are unmarked forest roads, though … I managed to borrow a waitress who had a car, but did not know know where the roads were …

… and our pre-planning and thorough surveying paid off again; I was able to guide her to the other place. Thus it all worked out. I pulled out one of the bottles of red wine from my suitcase (which may be why it weighed 32 kg) and drank the lot.

Our alternative house was a hunting lodge for the Master of the Hunt, who would stay here with his friends and they would all get sozzled – like me, really. The house was equipped with, er, a facility on the landing, just outside my bedroom.

Simrishamn to Andrarum

September 23, 2017

We reached the hotel by a devious but well-researched route into and through Simrishamn town, me being grateful that I had pre-ridden this part of the route, twice. Not a lot else to report at Simrishamn, but we had a very nice hotel, with a lovely garden in which we could eat take-away food and drink wine, the hotel even providing plates, glasses, corkscrew etc for this purpose. (A glass of average wine is A$12 at a hotel – so most hotels like to deny you these resources, hoping to flog you a meal or a drink in their own bar instead). There was a great little shop for natty take-away food, right outside the hotel, unfortunately they told us they were going to close at 6pm which they did when we went back at 6:05 … Sales: 0.

Our bike-hire shop was evidently more interested in hiring the bikes out than in maintaining them, so by now all our chains were squeaking. Jacques was despatched to buy, and apply, an oil can. And we rode with markedly less effort (and noise) after that.

The next morning we rode up the coast through Kivik, a totally cute fishing village, thus, it is normally inundated with tourists. Google Maps street view – my close friend in planning this whole trip – shows a traffic jam into town, the Google camera car being stuck along with all the others. You poor sods … but we easily rode in on bikes. It was just after the end of the main tourist season – the Swedish schools had gone back but the Danish and German schools were still on holiday.

Just before Kivik is the studio of Gunilla Mann, a prolific artist who paints cheerful and densely active scenes of Swedish towns. (The big wooden chest, this one dated 1814, is commonly found in Swedish homes). Hmmm, I see on the left in the studio she has a unicycle … I was going to buy one once, at a Swedish jumble sale in 2014, but I read that you have to fall off it 300-500 times before you get the hang of it.

One of Gunilla’s pictures is “Wallander’s Ystad”, with the town oddly shown as active and cheerful – it would be more appropriate to paint a few dead or mutilated bodies, trails of blood, discarded weapons etc and with a big black cloud of depression and doom hanging over the whole scene. But nobody would buy that, would they … mind you, people do pay to see King Lear and Macbeth … But never mind the artwork, this studio also sells coffee and cakes, from 11:00. I thought we’d be too early, but as we passed by at 10:15 I saw the girl carrying the “open” sign, and I persuaded her to open up and thereby flog us 13 coffee’s and 13 gianormous cakes.

Kivik itself has some nice cafes, but not much else. We met a group of Danish cyclists, 40-45 of them .. imagine trying to keep that lot in order on the road. We rode on, turning inland, through some very atmospheric forests, but while on the actual roads we met some mighty farm machinery …

The roads were small and obscure and I was glad that I had thoroughly surveyed them before I left Melbourne, and that we four leaders had then pre-ridden them … In the late afternoon we came to our destination. This was a set of thatched cottages, normally a tea room but they do have some accommodation.

When we arrived, we got afternoon tea, and later on, dinner outside:

As overnight accomodation was limited here, half the group had to stay at another place 1 kilometre away. For the bag-delivery guy, I carefully marked the suitcases for those people with red ribbons. And thereby hangs a tale …

Day 3(2) – Glimmingehus

September 22, 2017

This 15th-century “castle” stands alone in the Skane countryside; here’s an old woodcut, the present-day look and a view from one of the windows.

The King ordered it to be demolished in 1676 but the workmen found this impossible – the walls are 6-9 feet thick – so, here it is today.

It’s really more like a big, defensible house than a castle, but it does have a moat, drawbridge, portcullis, holes for pouring boiling oil over unwelcome door-to-door salesmen, etc. The windows have holes cut into the thick stonework on either side; these are for putting a wooden beam across, for gunmen to lean on while firing at visitors (as neighbourly relationships tended to become a little strained, in those days).

We booked a guided tour, which was quite good. The guide showed us the rooms and explained their uses. This was the kitchen – the woodcuts give you the idea of what went on here. Look at all those chooks being roasted … when I was a lad, we had one chook a year for the whole family!

The guy who built the place was rich enough to (a) get himself included at the scene of the Crucifixion – that’s him on the right, taking up as much space as Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene on the left. Fair enough – he paid for the artwork;

. . . and (b) to have himself depicted over the main door, with his wife and, er, his other wife, as he was so stinking rich that he could afford two. The text on the plaque above is all weathered away which is a pity, as it might have described how he came to acquire two wives, and what it was like trying to live with them.

The castle has a legend that it was built by a giant – a pretty way-out guy, judging by the sign – who did not get paid. Or, he said he’d build it for free if the owner could guess his name (and of course as the owner was walking around the village he overheard the giant’s wife talking and mentioning the name, “Finn”.)

There is a courtyard, with the obligatory set of stocks.

And sometimes there is a cafe, but not today – we had to BYO lunch. Now there is one thing I have saved till last [actually, there cannot be more than one thing that is last] – in the big banquet room there hangs a magnificent tapestry.

And, that little doorway beside it leads to a little room that was not often built in castles. Yes, this place had all modern conveniences … here are some details from the tapestry, which I recognised (and the guide did not know) as showing the English story of King Arthur.

At the top left it says “Camelot” and this part of the tapestry shows poor Arthur going indoors, while unknown to him Queen Guinevere frolics with Sir Lancelot, a dastardly Frenchman. What a story was there. That poor, sad, noble King Arthur. (On top of all this, he did not even exist).

Day 3(1) – Ales Stenar

September 21, 2017

We left Ystad and rode eastwards along the coastal path.

Among the trees bordering this, there is a hidden village of expensive beach houses; some were very elaborate. About 15km further along, the road went slightly inland and then came down to Kaseberga, a coastal village near to Ales Stenar, a brilliant array of stones in the shape of a ship. This is a major tourist attraction, with visitors from all over Europe so it was amazing that there was no bike path to it – we had to ride along a rather dangerous country road, with cars on it. So I led the cyclists along at full speed – with some helpful whinging from the back of the pack about effort, speed and cars – and we arrived at the village, parked the bikes and walked across a couple of fields before the stones came into view:

The sign tries to make out that the stones were aligned this or that way. Here’s the end stone close up:

And that was it in 1974 (with Barbro and two friends), before there were any tourists climbing all over it. I can appreciate why the British have fenced off Stonehenge – albeit some years after I put my sticky schoolboy hands all over it.

It is said that stone number 8 has some special alignments with the Sun on certain days of the year, and indeed it does have a sort of depression in its flat top where something may once have been carved. The ground around it is more worn down than at the other stones.

This man is surely a good father! One day I will bring my family back here and give them a tedious talk about stones, equinoxes, sunrises etc. Another field away, there was a stile over a fence and a path down to the sea. A lamentational sign (in Swedish and English) was by the stile.

Back down to the harbour for lunch, in 1974 and 2017:

Then we rode on towards Simrishamn, our destination for the night, passing through the town of Borrby (900 inhabitants), where by coincidence we met the guide who had given us the Wallander tour the night before. She said her son does artworks (graffiti) on the sides of buildings and Borrby is noted for these. He did the first one below.

Borrby council had the brilliant idea of declaring Borrby to be a Famous Place for Street Art, and holding a competition. That way, they got their ghastly buildings painted for free. There is nothing else in Borrby (except they have housed a lot of immigrants here, fortunately fairly peacefully but a change is very evident in the streets and in the community). Next stop: ancient manor of Glimmingehus.

Day 2 – Ystad town

September 20, 2017

Not much to see as we cycled along this coastal road – this is the Horte Ruin.

It was built in 1907 by the wealthy landowner, who felt that he ought to have a ruin on his property. One imagines an argument with the builders as the work neared completion “You have built it well, please do it again, badly“. The irony is that there already are ruins all over Horte, although they are below ground. Further along we came to Disas Ting, a stone circle right beside the road.

Disa is a girls name and Ting is a meeting place. It was thought that people met here. But nobody has any idea who Disa was. Life can be so mysterious at times … but onward into Ystad, here’s its 1930s town hall, and the town’s own design of manhole cover! (I bet you were waiting for that).

A church and another building with the stepped-edge roof, an architectural style typical of Skane.

That building above is a car park – why not build that with some style? There is a medieval quarter of the town with very old buildings – this one has faces around the windows.

That last face is popularly believed to be Stalin, magically incarnated and then rendered in wood, centuries before his actual lifetime.

Ystad is nowadays famous as the setting for the police series Wallander, and we got a guided tour of Wallander’s favourite cafe (above – they used to display a whopping great sign that said so) and the places where this or that happened, or so-and-so got murdered. As the time was nearing 6pm, when all the government alcohol shops (“Systembolag”) have to close, I nipped off from the back of the tour group and scored a couple of bottles of vino, in the Systembolag plastic carrier bag. “You have visited Wallander’s favourite shop” said the guide.

She also said this brick wall was very dull. I’m not so sure, I could get into an appreciation of the various styles of brickwork. I believe that John Horton Conway has described the seven most common styles of bricklaying in an article or a book “How to look at a brick wall”. There is an article with that title, by C.T.Grimm, in Journal of the Masonry Society, vol 13 no.1 (August 1994). And you can read a posting here which explains the correct way to look at one (i.e. in diffused light). I can foresee myself wasting much time on this … when I can find the time.

Day 2 – Trelleborg to Smygehuk

September 18, 2017

Another 55km of riding today, from Trelleborg to Ystad; half-way we rode through Smygehuk, the southernmost point of Sweden.

Not a big deal really, because if this was not the southernmost point, then somewhere else would be the southernmost point, and these signs would be there instead. (See my post 20 months ago about “the biggest concrete slab in Yarram”). We rode through some cute little villages along the coast, here’s one:

Oddly, the name of Lojtnant Flinth was mis-spelled on the sign at the other end of the street. Or perhaps it was mis-spelled at this end. Or both. And who’s that up on the roof at the right?

Probably a CIA sniper … the street did have an eerie silence to it. Meanwhile, Barbro and two other ladies from the other riding group, riding a day ahead of us, were disporting themselves in the Baltic Sea.

When my mob arrived at Smygehuk, oddly, nobody decided to go and stand at the actual southernmost point:

Now, there is a kids’ story well-known in Sweden, about Nils Holgersson and his goose, Akka. He was magically reduced in size (as has happened to some parts of me, whereas some other parts seem to have expanded) and was thus able to fly on the goose’s back, in which manner they educationally toured the whole of Sweden. The story then has it that they flew south from here at Smygehuk, and, obligingly, the tourist shop here shows a statue of the goose.

In the original stories, written in 1906 and 1907 (and being among the first writings to use a new reformed spelling) Nils and the goose flew over all the provinces of Sweden, viewing and correctly describing their wildlife, geology, and other features, in a highly didactic and educational manner. All the provinces, that is, except Halland, and there was a mighty hoo-hah about this, resulting in a new chapter being added to the book, extolling Halland and its inherent wonders. The story was so noted in Sweden that it got onto the 20-krona banknote (now obsolete):

Young Mr Holgersson is nowadays much depicted as an advertisement for ice cream. And the Oresund Bridge has been added into the picture, as a proud attribute of the province of Skane. Later on, we saw this poster displayed in shops just within Blekinge, the next province.

Meanwhile at Smygehuk, there was a cute little harbour, well sheltered. But I walked away from this and the main tourist drag, to see another Bronze Age burial mound; here’s the mound, and the view of the off-street coffee houses from the top of it.

The mound was used in the Middle Ages to light bonfires on, as a signal to ships; now of course there is a proper lighthouse nearby. Then somebody decided to continue this fiery tradition by building a brick-firing kiln partly cut into the mound. Imagine what the poor Bronze Age chieftain must have thought, as he roasted.

Finally at Smygehuk there is a runestone – and this one, instead of being displayed in the customary “upright” position, is placed face down so that you can’t see it.

This has bothered me for years. It is said that it’s kept face down to preserve the inscription from weathering, although that is surely the very worst thing to do. And that every 10 years, or every 50 years, it is turned over for a week, and photographed. But there are no photographs available of it … and nobody seems to know when these 10, or 50, years will come around. A word from the tourist shop clarified it all – this is all bullshit; there are no runes. But people do like a legend – hey, I fell for it. Onwards we go, to Ystad town!

Day 1 – Malmo to Trelleborg (again)

September 17, 2017

In the process of sorting out my pictures (from 4 different cameras, plus stuff that other people sent to me) I found some more photos I think are worthy of attention.

On this first day of the ride, as we left Malmo we saw posh shops & houses, heavy industry, railway yards, historic wharf buildings, parks, the Bridge, open fields, tiny villages, agriculture, a quarry, and a bronze-age burial mound … all before lunch! Here we are beneath the Oresund Bridge, with a stray plant to add foreground.

Detail of the four towers in the middle of the bridge, with an approaching ship. Will it fit underneath? Let’s wait and see.

Thank heavens for that. On a hill beside the Swedish end of the bridge is a radar reflector; they could have just stuck it on a pole, but no, they have to put this arty-farty curved thing, simply to hold it up.

View over the mud flats south of the bridge. Note the huge wind farm in the first picture; as you cycle past it, the turbine towers neatly line up at various different angles so you can see right through, and I gave a short talk on X-ray Crystallography to my stunned cyclists.

This is useless muddy shallow water and boggy land, but the area is famous for its diverse bird life. Can you make out the bush and observation platform in that last photo, on the shoreline above the left-hand end of the island? Well I have a new camera with 40x optical zoom, and here they are, photographed from the same place:

Great eh? Pointing the camera at Denmark – which a Swede normally would not do – and zooming in, we can see their new incinerator with its sloping roof, puffing away.

The Danes burn ALL their waste in that, using the resulting heat for house and industrial heating, and from the ghastly black slag remaining after burning they make tiles for road surfaces – heavy metre-square slabs riddled with holes, that grass can grow through while being able to support vehicles, and allowing drainage. They are going to put a snow-making machine up on the roof, and then they can charge people to ski down it. Those bloody Danes! They will probably charge Swedish skiers extra.

Further along we could see into the town centre of the suburb of Hyllie, which has some huge new buildings including this avant-garde water tower shaped like a UFO:

And further still we came to Borreback, an overgrown Bronze Age burial mound of that name commemorating a chieftain. He may have been cycling along this road in search of coffee.

Whitehorse Cyclists in Sweden! Malmo to Trelleborg!

September 16, 2017

I found this in my bed …

and it matches the logo on our riding shirts. As does this actual horse that we found in a Swedish Field:

Here’s the whole mob, 32 of them:

And here we go, with our hire bikes outside the hire shop in Malmo. We rode in two groups, this is the second group. I don’t know where the first group went. But hey, there are still 14 of us and really, 14 is still quite a lot.

We left Malmo – riding very slowly and gingerly in heavy traffic, but there are good bike lanes and the Swedish drivers are very polite.

We came to the beach along the shoreline of Malmo, where there is a public spa bath where you can have a sauna and then jump in the sea (freezing cold in winter). Barbro used to do that here, in the 1970s. She did a lot of silly things in those days, such as going to live in England, and marrying me.

From here there was a good view of Malmo’s famous corkscrew building – no other tall buildings are nearby. Perhaps it sort of slid around as they were building it – imagine the arguments, including “Look how much money Pisa makes from its dodgy building”. It also stands as a sort of raised finger to the Danes, as it can be clearly seen from Copenhagen across the water.

That’s a Swedish Dustbin in the foreground. We bought hot dogs. These were of less interest than the mustard and ketchup dispensers, which you milk in much the same way as one milks a cow. Eughhhh.

Now here we are with the Oresund Bridge in the background – we are about to ride under it. I see now there are only 13 riders, we must have lost one.

We had lunch at a vast complex of garden shops, out in the fields. A huge display of gardening, kitchen and home wares, several cafes, a funny garden to walk in with Eiffel Tower etc., and large sheds full of Halloween and Christmas stuff. The land and a new shed are so cheap, and there would be so much stuff to put away, that these sheds are permanently set up for 365 days every year. Here’s a corner of the Christmas one:

But we were not tempted to do our Xmas shopping in August, so we rode on to Trelleborg on the south coast of Sweden – 55 km for the first day’s ride. Trelleborg is a rather dull town, but we livened up a small pizza cafe (run by Armenians) by taking up all the seats and frightening away the other customers. Here’s how to divide a pizza into 7 parts:

My own runestone!

September 16, 2017

So there we were, surveying and pre-riding an obscure part of the big Sweden trip, when we came to Hallamolla mill, along a dirt road deep in the countryside – a cute little water-powered mill, still operating. On the path down to it I looked down at a stone and saw – runes!

I know I am no Greek Statue, but there are very few runestones in this province of Skane and I reckon I know them all. But not this one! The stone was covered in dust and dried mud, I cleaned it off and saw that the surface bore 15-20 runes … and, the runes were from the elder futhark! Thus dating the stone to 350-500 AD, long before there were Vikings as we know them.

This particular stone is not written up in the extensive catalogues of runic inscriptions and artefacts. Imagine, I had discovered a ‘new’ ancient runestone!

Back at the shack, I deciphered the runes: “fino saligastir“. These are two people’s names. I found that out, because there is another runestone that bears exactly the same names

And that is the famous Trosa Stone, click here. It is located in the red circle on this map (I was in the green circle).

And Google maps shows the Trosa Stone to be somewhere in that forest on the left, so I can’t show it to you in situ. Now, runic inscriptions using the elder futhark are found only near Stockholm. So how can one of them be down here, 400 km away to the south? (And why would there be a whopping great iron hook embedded in the top of it?)

Slowly, and sadly, it dawned upon me that any fool can take a stone, carve some runes on it and put it wherever they like. This is a 19th-century forgery. Oh well … but imagine the joy in my heart for the few hours when I believed I had discovered something startling.

But I soon cheered up – I was googling for runic pictures and I found this wedding cake:

… which has MY NAME on it! (“Heike Stefan 22 July 2017“).

And, you get two Runic Cake Snakes!

Now THAT is a runestone, and some other time I’ll write about it, but I really should get on and write about the bike trip. Ooo look, here comes one of them now, in front of the Oresund Bridge, and I have included some red berries on the trail in homage to Andrei Tarkovsky.

Pre-ride clutter

September 14, 2017

While preparing for the 13-day Sweden ride for 32 cyclists (which has already happened and was concluded successfully, a month ago, but now the photos are in I will be blogging it from now on, a month in arrears), during our ardent pre-ride surveying I found a Swedish cafe that served British food:

– complete with HP Sauce and tea, albeit from a tea bag and not the proper tea pot. Meanwhile, a friend travelling in Norway sent me this photo of a Norwegian manhole cover, with woman holding harpoons and a circular cake of bread, and standing on a whale:

And in the notes for the course that I recently completed in Reservoir Geomechanics (yes, really – I am now qualified to drill oil wells) I happened to come across this Useful Equation for the von Mises criterion:

The joke is, that a lot of things can be set equal to an empirical constant. But at least we know that J2 must be positive. As the sodium atom said, “Darn it, I think my outer-shell electron has fallen off” (Are you sure?) “Yes, I am positive”

And, indeed, I was pretty positive when I thought I had discovered a new runestone …

Thing happens in Lerberg

September 9, 2017

With Barbro and two of her Swedish friends, I have led a group of 32 cyclists around southern Sweden. More later, but we rode through forests of various types, such as this one.

The local newspaper in Hoganas reported our visit. (The article reports 17 cyclists, but we started with 32. Well, 17 is still quite a lot.)

“I was amazed” said Anders Svensson, the local mayor “The last time something happened in Lerberg was in 1964 when an elk ran down the street. Now we have a mob of Australians … oh well, we can’t be choosy”.

Here are some of us with the iconic Oresund Bridge in the background.

Meanwhile, THIS WORDPRESS SITE WAS HACKED on Sept 8, and some you will have got silly e-mails purportedly from me, with a bogus PDF file. Please delete those, and I have changed the password. Sorry.


September 1, 2017

You call that a stone … THIS is a stone:

It even has a name – the Maglesten. (“Magle” is a dialect word for “big”). And it has its own weather:

It is a glacial erratic stone – it was brought here, possibly from hundreds of kilometres away, by a glacier. There are bigger ones, the biggest is 16,500 tons but hey, this one was estimated at 15x12x10 alnar in 1749 – 31 July 1749, to be specific, and what with there being 18,000 alnar to a Swedish mile which used to be 10.69 km, and the volume of a sphere being (4/3)-pi-r-cubed, we can have a go at its volume as (4/3).pi.(15/2.12/2.10/2).(10690/18000)^3 = 197 cubic metres and being of granite, its weight is about 543 tons – which may have reduced since 1749 due to wind abrasion, but it may also have increased slightly due to dust from meteorites; and anyway 543 tons is its mass. Its weight arises from its being accidentally near the Earth.

A house is nearby – and I mean nearby.

It’s a very strange place to build a house – a stone like this has superstitions associated with it. It was believed, for example, that trolls lived under the stone – and every Christmas Eve, that the stone rose up on pillars of solid gold and the trolls held a huge party under it. And, that very few men have ever seen this (I can believe this last bit). Another legend is that a hefty troll threw the stone to try and destroy Ahus Church, which is 13 km away – what a rotten shot.

Here are some Whitehorse Cyclists trying to push the stone over. Actually, having regard to the legends, this would be a very silly thing to achieve. We rode the bikes in two groups, I was in the second group and there seemed to be a lot fewer volunteers in that group:

The Maglesten is near Trolle Ljungby castle and there is another specific legend, that the trolls abducted a princess from that castle. The prince waited till Christmas Eve, gatecrashed the party (thus, at least one man must have seen the party) and rescued the princess. The trolls gave chase, but the prince had arrived appropriately on a white horse (coincidentally, the name of our bike club!) and they fled across a ploughed field. The trolls, being quite small, could not climb over the furrows and had to go along the edge of the field.

I found this legend on an obscure web page, but the trolls have prevented me from using the ‘up’ and ‘down’ arrows. So two lines is all I can offer you; we will never find out what Mrs Cissela Ulfstrand got up to, or to what dire fate she may have come.

Reflecting upon this story, as one does, the prince must surely have fled diagonally across the ploughed field, because if he’d gone parallel to the furrows the trolls could have simply run straight along one furrow. And if he’d gone at right angles to the furrows, the trolls could have stayed at the edge of the field and run along that. But if the prince went diagonally across the field, the trolls would have had to run along two edges instead of the diagonal, a path longer by a factor of sqrt(2) = 1.414.

Now perhaps a crafty troll said, supposing we were to go halfway along the edge and then up to the middle and then across, it would be exactly the same distance as going along the two edges, as per drawings 1 and 2 below. (Trolls draw very badly).

And if we make smaller and smaller lines, it is still exactly the same distance, but when these lines get down to the size of a pea, or an atom, or the Planck Length, or even less than that (which is impossible, except for a mathematician), clearly the overall journey must then be the same length whether you go along the two sides or along the diagonal. Hmmm, said the other trolls, who had never studied calculus.

Anyway, the prince and princess lived Happily Ever After, and found a way to monetise the legend.

The Seby Runestone

August 2, 2017

A thousand-year-old runestone stands at the village of Seby, at the south-eastern corner of the Swedish island of Oland. It might be more correct to say that the village stands at the runestone. But see how things decay as time passes. Me, for example.




Notice that the runestone has IMPROVED in quality and tidiness over the years, whereas the little chap beside it has definitely weathered, and now has a sort of despairing expression instead of the youthful confidence of 1974. It’s a sort of Runestone of Dorian Gray.

A helpful sign lists the text; it is a typical example – in modern English it would be “Ingald and Nosey and Sven raised this stone after Rodmar, their father” and the sign helpfully goes on to explain “The name ‘Nosey’ is a nickname, usually applied to a person with a big or characteristic nose.

The names of Nosey’s brothers and father have stood here for ten centuries! Few other memorials to men have lasted as long. But whereas in the 1974 picture the scenery behind the stone was empty, now a house stands there and a small green modern runestone appears on Tuesdays, for example on 10/8/2010 and 25/7/2017:

The bin has had the same lid for 7 years, but in 2017 they are throwing out more rubbbish. Tut tut! The sky has also turned from blue to grey. Some anthropologist should re-visit the site in some future year, on another day of the week. If it’s not underwater …

Bjorketorp Rune Stone

July 29, 2017

Ah, Sweden, home of the Viking culture (ca 700-1000AD). There are thousands of rune-stones here, mostly around the Stockholm area and mostly standing in the fields or moved to stand near a church, having withstood the external Nordic winters for eleven centuries. But down here in the south of Sweden, there are still a few runestones standing around, and I love them all.

Runes of course belong to a 16-character alphabet called the Futhark, because it goes FUĂŸARK HNIAS TBMLR –

Yes I know there are two A’s and two R’s (and no E or O) … but you would not argue with the Vikings. What you have there is the Younger Futhark; there is an Elder Futhark, of 24 characters, which allows a better mapping to our 26-letter alphabet and is therefore used (with invented additions) by modern rune fans such as Tolkien, and by the whole wacko culture around runes. It is quite hard to find a historically correct Internet page about runes, among all the woo-woo stuff.

Rune stones usually have a very simple message, which you can almost read today because modern English is derived from Old Norse. Here’s a basic one, DR317 (they are all catalogued) –

Tufa risĂŸi stina ĂŸisi uftir kamal buta sin uk asur sun h(an)s
Tove raised stone this after Gamal husband hers and Assur son his

As you see, the layout of the lettering was very badly planned, and there’s no art work in the middle; we have a very cheapo runestone here … but today I visited the Bjorketorp Stones (DR360), which stand in a forest glade near Ronneby. These mighty monoliths were raised in about 700 AD – somewhat before most other runestones:

The main stone has a handy recess so if I were to turn sideways, my big belly would fit to it nicely. On the back a few runes say “See other side of stone” … well, actually they say “Prophecy of Doom”:

And on the front, in ancient runes of the Elder Futhark, reading left-to-right but from the bottom line upwards: “haidz runo ronu falahak haidera ginarunaz arageu(*) haeramalausz utiaz weladaude saz ĂŸat barutz”.

What, you want it translated? That’s hard, as these are ancient runes of the Elder Futhark, predating even Old Norse, but here goes. Please stand back, your monitor may catch fire:

In modern Swedish: “MĂ€ktiga runors hemlighet dolde jag hĂ€r, kraftfulla runor. Den som bryter detta minnesmĂ€rke skall stĂ€ndigt plĂ„gas av arghet(*). Svekfull död skall trĂ€ffa honom. Jag spĂ„r fördĂ€rv.”

In English: “Mighty runes’ secret hid I here, powerful runes. The man who desecrates this monument shall be plagued with abiding wrath(*). Terrible death shall come to him. I spell his ruin.”

(*) The word asterisked here, and ringed in my picture, has strong connotations of passive male homosexuality. (In Viking times the, er, active role was acceptable manly behavior; the passive role certainly not). We have a gay runestone here! It was legal to kill someone who spoke this word to you as an insult. See

Actually I took that photo of the runes in 1980. Today the runestone was standing in a weathered condition, with lichen starting to grow on it. Someone cleans the runestones every few decades, and the runes are re-painted in red – as accuracy is important, the painting is done by a university Professor or similar.

Noting what the inscription says, I hope the man who cleaned it in 1980 took due care not to desecrate it – not the wire brush and Brillo pad, please. Leave the angle grinder at home! I wonder what happened to him …

Another dire fate, although not as bad as being rogered by horny homosexual Vikings, awaits those who park nearby and fail to visit the runestone, because this little modern blue inscription says “Parking only for visitors to the runestone”.

Stora Raby church, Lund, Sweden

July 26, 2017

Behold, I have flown to Sweden; and it is time to fire up this blog again. Lufthansa gave me a turkey sandwich, with this contents declaration:

It does not need to include “Contains: Turkey” because the turkey is holding the sandwich. Anyway, after 28 hours of flying and eating airline food, I arrived OK and was soon taken on a tour of a little church just outside Lund, in Skane, south-western Sweden. The priest spoke to the masses about the general history of this 13th-century Lutheran church:

… presumably explaining (it was all in Swedish and I am not up to speed yet) how a 13th-century building can be Lutheran. The church is so old that its tower no longer stands up straight, or perhaps it never did.

And as you see, they leave a spirit level – a Holy Spirit level! – at the base of the tower, so people can see for themselves how much it leans.

The Leaning Tower of Stora Raby, no less. We moved inside this perilous structure for more history:

The middle section was restored in 1528 and given a new roof. As you see at the top left in that picture, the new roof stands in front of a major artwork depicting the Trinity, actually obscuring God’s face:

But they have left a sort of slot for God to fit into. No wonder he looks so glum. Probably not best pleased at his Son being crucified … the head of a dove representing the Holy Spirit pokes in at the left. Nearby is a sort of fish tail, with the date (1528):

But as you see, this is really the end of one of the ceiling beams. Outside again to tour the graveyard, where one grave is nicely air-conditioned:

And the sundial … it runs from 3am to 9pm! When I saw this, its side of the church was in the shade. But even in the shade, it still shows the correct time once a day, digitally, just after a quarter past six in the evening. 🙂


July 16, 2017

In an idle moment at the computer – I wonder how often that ever happens? – I came across a site selling newly invented Fidget Spinners, and I ordered two.

Before they arrived I found myself in Paddy’s Market in Sydney, together with my friend Richard. Cheap versions of such items were for sale there (spinners, that is, not friends) and we bought one each. We then spent many joyful hours spinning them, photographing them, making web posts about them, etc. Well what would you rather we were doing instead? If you spin one while on a train, the AC lighting causes dark rays to appear and slowly rotate on the spinning surface, and with a bit of measurement you could deduce the spinning rate as a multiple of the AC frequency of the train’s electrical system.

I also found a new way to stir coffee. But I digress.

Soon after I returned to Melbourne, my two high-quality spinners arrived, by courier from the USA, neatly packaged and sealed in round tins. The spinners, that is, although it would be a good idea to … And this was the very day that my son and his fiancee were due to fly off to Munich to visit her friends and her parents, Sepp & Carolin!

In a rare moment of generosity I gave my son one of the spinners, as a gift to his fiancee’s parents in Munich. 24 hours later I saw a video of my delighted future father-in-law, wasting time with his new spinner. As Sepp and myself Skyped we both felt a bond between ourselves and our two cultures and nations, spanning (or, maybe, spinning) the planet. Not the first time for me – because I married a foreigner, 40 years ago.

There was to be revenge. Weeks later my son & his fiancee returned to Melbourne. Bearing a gift. From Sepp. Who did his national service in the German Army. Circa 1980. This is Sepp’s gift – a gift that will last forever. And can break through concrete.

Behold me, with my German Army Spade! A marvellous piece of enginering, in 1/8″ thick steel, with a fitted wooden handle. A mighty beast, an instrument of construction and destruction, the weapon maybe of some great warrior. Note the elegant curved edge, the subtly dished bowl, and the natty wooden handle. This is a work of art and a wonder of technology, as well as a humble shovel.

For is not the Spade of great use, both in war and peace? See below, how the basically-equipped soldier easily pushes his enemy’s rifle away, and is about to wallop him with his E-tool (“entrenchment tool”, the Army term for a spade). Not shown, but after killing his adversary, the E-tool can then also be used to bury him.

That is a Russian army picture – and the weather seems to have improved in Russia since I was a lad. But going back in time, note also, below, this Soviet Army poster which I photographed in Magadan in 2012. Behold the grim determination of the Marxist warrior as he digs his way across hostile terrain to confront and defeat his capitalist enemies, or perhaps to dig a hole into which they will hopefully fall. “The Shovel – Friend of the Soldier”.

Postscript – later I thought I saw my new spade in another room in the house. Curious, I went back and checked and yes, my son has flown TWO of these back from Munich. In his checked-in aeroplane baggage. Imagine how they must have glistened in the airport’s security X-ray scan! So, regrettably, mine is not the only German Army Spade in town.

But, what a gift! Who else would give a thing like that, well I probably would actually … Sepp, I spun my way into your world, but you have shovelled your way into my heart. Sepp, I love you.


July 10, 2017

Woo what? Margama. (pronounced WooMARgama, not WoomarGAma). Last weekend, this tiny hamlet (near Holbrook NSW) was graced by the visit of one of the motorbike groups that I belong to.

The main road from Sydney to Melbourne used to run right through the community, but since 2011 the Hume Freeway has bypassed it. I must have driven through Woomy a few times, but I do not remember it. It has a few houses, one hotel and one garage – the hotel is modest and the garage doesn’t sell petrol any more and is just a small shop. The town map says a lot.

[Note added later. Prince Charles and Princess Diana spent the night here in Woomargama, circa 1983. It is said that the infant Prince William, second in line to the throne of England, took his first steps here. Possibly, he was trying to reach Melbourne.]

I arrived in the late afternoon. Nice quiet town … nobody about, not even at the shop.

But the views were relaxing and bucolic. For example:

And there were several Interesting Stones that were dug up and brought here when they were building the freeway nearby. Interpretive Plaques have been affixed to explain how interesting they are.

The playground and BBQ area.

A Tree.

But we all met up and had a big BBQ at the hotel, drank a bit of beer and wine and stayed overnight. We had a good time; the hotel has a nice bar. The next morning was fresh and cold.

My motorbike displays the temperature … minus 5*C. I decided to go home on the freeway; I had planned to go on the scenic back roads, but there might be black ice and I’d fall off. Barbro and myself are about to go and lead a bicycle ride for 32 people in Sweden, so we do not want complications now.

As you see above, some interesting ice crystals formed on the motorbikes. This cheered us up no end, especially as the hot water pipes had frozen and there WAS NO HOT WATER.

By 10 o’clock my bike had thawed out, and I rode home in temperatures of up to 4*C (we are having a cold snap). Honestly, it was warmer in Siberia (where in 2012 I had +2*C at the start of the day and 6*C in the afternoon).

This was the bike’s shake-down ride before a big trip. Next week I am going to lend my bike to one of my Road of Bones mates, and he will ride off with Steve from Sydney and some other guys, looking for major dirt tracks to ride in central Australia (the Birdsville Track, etc). They are likely to end up in Darwin, which is where we got to last year. Indeed, they might leave my bike somewhere like that and fly home, in which case I will happily go up and ride it back later in the year.

Go well, old friend.

Equations, and stuff

July 2, 2017

Here’s some bizarre scientific equations to while away the time. Soon I will post about the 2010 cycling trip in Sweden and then as it proceeds, the 2017 trip that is about to happen.

Astronomy is always a source of, er, astronomical numbers. Very massive things (like, black holes) emit gravity waves as they move about. Well, so do less massive things, but then the gravity waves are harder to detect. I have to say “massive” rather than “heavy”, as things can only be heavy if they happen to be near the Earth. I tried to run a competition once, to gues the weight of the Great Melbourne Telescope’s clock-driving weight:

which in fact weighs about 229 kg. I was correctly told that its mass is 229 kg, it only weighs that because it happens to be near the Earth – it would weigh nothing if it were in outer space, although it would be expensive to get it there – and if it were taken to the North Pole it would weigh less. I got one helpful answer listing what its weight would be if it were on various other planets, and pointing out that it would weigh 216 milligrams less when at the top of its 10-foot vertical travel, just after the clock had been fully wound, minus 59 milligrams for the air it displaces, which is less dense if you go up 10 feet.

Two weighty questions – answers at end of this post – Supposing you have a meat pie for lunch, where would be the best place to find out how heavy it is? And where would be a good place to weigh a whale?

Anyway, back to gravity waves; I was at a talk about these the other day. With the very most sensitive apparatus working under the most delicate conditions, scientists were just about able to detect the gravity waves from two unusually large black holes that were orbiting one another. Here’s the mathematical equation giving the energy radiated by gravity waves from a pair of objects orbiting one another

You see “c” there, well that is the speed of light, and here it is being raised to the 5th power, so the numbers are pretty vicious. We need hardly bother with the factor of 32/5.

Now this power can be worked out for the Earth orbiting the Sun; and between them, they are radiating 200 watts into space by this means. (The Sun radiates more than that, from other processes). Now this perpetual loss of 200 watts is taken from the Earth’s orbital energy, causing the Earth to spiral in towards the Sun, and indeed eventually to fall right in, which will happen after a time of 3,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years, given by :

Isn’t that reassuring? The brightness of galaxies on the surface of the night sky is measured in mJy.kpc2 (milliJansky square kiloparsec) and 1 mJy.kpc2 is about 9,521,540,000 kg metre-squared per second squared. Please do not confuse that with mJy per square kiloparsec, because one of those would be about 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000105025 kg PER metre-squared second-squared. Woops.

This brings to mind a joke about cosmologists (who study the origin of the universe) – levity, not gravity. One of them was trying to calculate some sort of cosmological constant, and wanted some measurements done at a radio telescope, and the next day the engineers told him “We did a quick first set of measurements, and we estimated your constant as being between 6 and 7 – maybe 6.3, very roughly.” “That is a very encouraging result”, said the cosmologist, “please do some more measurements and refine it.” Four weeks later “We’ve done the accurate measurements and now your constant is determined to be 873,000 billion”. Cosmologist grins and says “That is an even MORE encouraging result”.

The Pythagorean Expectation in baseball is an attempt to predict the percentage of wins that a team should be getting, based on their past performance. One formula is: % = rs2 / (rs2 + ra2) where rs and ra = runs scored and runs allowed. Now some commentators applied this to basketball and use different exponents: Daryl Morey used the 14th powers, % = rs14 / (rs14 + ra14) and John Hollinger used 16th powers. Approximately. Thus, the New York Yankees in 2002 scored 897 points and allowed 697 points; so they should have won 89716 / (89716 + 69716) = 98.2% of their games. One day I’ll post about asymmetric cryptography, where the exponents go much, much higher but can still be brought back into the real world.

Ah yes. The best place to weigh a pie is somewhere over the rainbow; with reference to the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Weigh a Pie …”; and whales should of course be weighed at a whale-weigh station. I’d better stop now; next post will be about my trip this weekend to Woomargama.


June 10, 2017

So, one month after the Carl Larsson museum, we were still hanging around Sweden, and we embarked on a multi-day Bicycle Ride, with our friends Tommy and Irene. This ride was so wonderful and inspiring that now, 7 years later and 7 years in the planning, we are about to conduct 30 Melbourne riders on a similar ride in Sweden, 12-28 August 2017, which will be fully written up in this blog, oh yes.

We hired bicycles like this one. Bear with me … it had 3 gears, and no front brake; the rear wheel had only the hub brake (you brake when you back-pedal, which I found very annoying). The frame was heavy steel and it weighed about 30 kg. But – but – the Swedish Army uses these bicycles! Imagine them going into battle on heavy pink bicycles; I bet that would terrify their enemies. A fighting soldier, of course, carries a very heavy pack – a First World War British soldier carried 66 lbs – so he/she would not need a 27-gear racing bicycle. These bikes had a top speed of about 15 kph and that was all you needed, what with only one hub brake. Anyway, here’s Irene, Tommy, and myself at a Swedish youth hostel –

And as we rode around SmĂ„land – a southern part of Sweden known for its forests and glass works – in that hazy summer of 2010, wonderful things happened, as they do, one of which I will here and now relate.

We rode into a ghastly industrial town one morning, and headed for a cafe, desperate to score some coffee’s. But the town had only one cafe for its 500 inhabitants, and this for our greater convenience and enjoyment had just been sold off to some Arabs, and it was permanently closed. What to do … it was miles to the next town. Now this town also had only one shop – a small supermarket.

So we headed in there to see what there was. Luckily, this shop sold almost everything, including plastic tables and chairs. Which we earnestly tried out for size.

As we relaxed among the chairs for sale, we saw that across the aisle there was a metal stand for putting hot pastries and croissants on. This stood empty, but hope springs eternal in the human breast; and indeed, the stand bore a Helpful Sign which said that hot pastries would arrive every day at 10 o’clock … and it was 10 o’clock! And sure enough, some hot pastries were forthwith delivered and were placed upon the stand, where they sat for about 5 seconds because, unlike the chairs we were sitting on, we actually bought these.

Now, we thought some coffee would be nice and would go really well with the croissants … but the manageress said sorry, the shop did not sell coffee. (Plan B would be to buy ground coffee, a coffee filter with papers, and a kettle). However they did sell coffee cups, and we were welcome to borrow some off the shelving, whereupon she poured us the coffee from her own thermos flask!

Imagine our delight! This was further enhanced when we left, as she came outside and showed us the best roads to ride on (which were not as marked on our map), recommended some cute places to go when we came to the forest, and told us what was worth and not worth seeing on our way.

O, what a glorious morning – the care and love of the shop manager, good coffee and fresh hot cakes, and some useful tourist information. And all at the only shop in town. Now you might wonder, what was the name of the town? We passed its railway station on the way out.

Skruv, is the town name. It means “screw”. Reflecting the dark, industrial nature of the area.

A town called Screw. Screw. I’ll show you a Swedish one:

Pot Plant Stand

June 9, 2017

It’s been a while on the blog, but this story will sprawl out in all directions, like a bush. It starts long ago in Sweden, where on one of our many visits, some years ago in 2010, we visited the Carl Larsson’s House Museum.

Larsson was an artist famous for paintings very cute indoor and outdoor scenes of his own idyllic family life and surroundings, about 100 years ago. Awww, how cute!! At the Museum we also saw this chair, made for him by a local carpenter.

I’m not sure who designed it, maybe Larsson himself or perhaps he was swayed and convinced by an ambitious carpenter (this has happened before – 2000 years ago) but Larsson took a strong dislike to it while it was still being built. Therefore, he had it delivered to his house at night so nobody would see it … but we are seeing it now, aren’t we?

As we exited Larsson’s house we passed through a gift shop – as one is forced to do – and I saw a sketch of this oddly designed Pot Plant Stand, built like a ziggurat. And I resolved to make one like it, one day. Well, that day has now arrived! But unfortunately I mis-filed the above picture – it was under “Cute pictures” instead of under “Sweden trip 2010” – the first time I have ever failed to find a photo among the 145,645 on my hard disk.

So, although I still recalled the approximate design, I had to re-design it from scratch. And here it is: behold, the Pot Plant Stand of Doom –

and as you see, it stands up on its own without any cross braces because the wood is so thick and the joints are strongly made. You see, I have taken up woodwork as a hobby, and that will be one of the ways this story will branch out on, later. I gave it to my daughter Emma (another story branch coming up) and installed it in her flat; here it is, ready to go out into the cold and dark on her balcony –

Well, with the great irony of fate, just after I had made and delivered the bloody thing I saw a picture of the engine of the Emma Maersk. This is, or 7 years ago was, the biggest container ship in the world when I sent a picture of it to my daughter, namesake of the ship. She can carry thousands of containers and cruise at 37 knots – the ship, that is – my daughter is yet more amazing. But enough! and to the picture – here’s the engine, 4 storeys high:

That is the biggest engine ever built, eight times the power of the Titanic. And below are pictures of the ship. The first container ships carried 4 containers across the deck; this one carries 22, arranged in a ziggurat which coincidentally is reminiscent of my pot plant stand, eh?

Where is all this going, well the engine picture is new but it led me to dig up the ship pictures, which are 7 years old. And as I clicked through those pictures, the very next picture in my “Cute Pictures” hard-disk directory was – guess what –

Yes, the missing pot plant stand! And now I see it did have a cross-brace, well mine does not need one, hah.

However: I have built the bloody thing upside down!!

Now I have downloaded the official brochure of the Larsson one. It is sold by a “Chair Club” based at the Larsson home, which has furniture of similar design. The gist of the caption is: “Its modern design is due to Karin Larsson (Carl’s wife) and it is made by local carpenter Hans Arnbom. As this item is rather big, it should stand in a window bay and be fixed to the wall so it doesn’t fall over.” (Hah! Mine stands up firmly by itself.) “It is made from quality plywood (arrghh) sawn by water-powered machinery … this is a collaboration between the Carl Larsson museum and Kotte Toys of Dalen, near Skruv.”

And there ends this story branch, but those last words will open up a whole new story, of the Sweden bike ride we did at the same time in 2010. A story of wonder and inspiration – in the next post.

New Zealand’s Space Program

May 25, 2017

This is New Zealand. (At the bottom right).

And this is the main part of the North Island, with the Mahia Peninsula sticking out of the SE coast.

Here’s the Mahia Peninsula. You can stay at the Onenui Farm Stay, I am sure it’s very nice. But note those bare paddocks right at the southern tip – that is part of Onenui Station.

That’s the farmer, and some of his sheep, which seem to have gone out of the gate. It probably doesn’t matter much.

But what is that in the middle of the bare paddock?
It is the launch site for the NZ Space program.

The company involved, Rocket Lab, 3-D print their rockets. Now, the NASA rockets cost $100 million and upwards. Elon Musk’s Space-X rockets cost $60 million, but he brings them back down the right way up (as opposed to the usual disastrous “nose down” method of re-entry) and re-uses them. But Rocket Lab’s NZ rockets cost only $5 million. They can 3-D print a new one in 24 hours.

That’s one fresh off the printer, (“here’s one I made this morning”), and here it comes. Maybe towed by the farmer’s tractor?

They had the Onenui launch site blessed by the local Maori elder.

The first rocket is ready to launch today – they are waiting for the weather to clear. As well as a 150kg satellite to be put into orbit, the rocket will carry Maori artefacts and a sample of Onenui soil into space.

How very civilised.

Here in Australia we don’t even HAVE a space program.
God bless New Zealand.

… and it was the best birthday I ever had. W’ll d’n, f’llas.

Faith Betrayed

April 30, 2017

A final gist of a story by the obscure French humorist Alphonse Allais. Apparently his neighbour lived with a girl for many years, until she disappeared in mysterious circumstances. To start with, they got on very well, but after a while he suspected her of being unfaithful. “It’s true, John is so cute.” she bleated. So what he has got that I haven’t … “John’s got a nicer car than yours”.

So he upgraded his car to the latest sporty model, and their relationship returned to harmony. But then he caught her out again. “Yes, I couldn’t resist Arthur”, she sighed, “He’s much slimmer and sexier looking than you”.

Well, after some months of dedicated effort at the gym, and expense at the hairdresser and tailor, he managed to lose weight and scrub up his appearance, achieving a suitably sexy look, and things returned to normal again. For a while, at least … then suspicion again reared its ugly head, and he confronted her a third time: “Charles has a better sense of humour than you”.

So he rushed to the bookshop to buy a copy of Pas de Bile, the latest collection of pieces by famed author Alphonse Allais. He read it from cover to cover, and back again, until he was so impregnated with the spirit of this unique book that they both could hardly get to sleep at night for laughing.

But in time, that faded too and he was betrayed yet again. This time, she grunted “Henry has a much bigger and nicer house than this one”. So, he took out a bank loan and acquired a McMansion, better looking than Henry’s, and his wayward girl friend again returned to him.

There were, sad to say, several more cycles of hanky-panky, suspicion, confrontation, and confession, followed by an impressive emulation resulting in an improvement over whatever attribute the latest beau possessed, with subsequent acceptance, remorse and reconciliation.

Indeed, there were too many to list here, but the last betrayal before she mysteriously vanished entailed: “Luigi is such an exciting and special man – he is an axe-murderer and a hit-man for the Mafia…”

Door Closer

April 28, 2017

Scene: An iron-monger’s shop in Paris.

Enter M. Alphonse Allais, the obscure French humorist.

Ironmonger: Good morning – can I help you?

Allais: Good morning – I want to buy a door-closer.

Ironmonger: Ah, one of those gadgets with a spring, that you fix on a door so that it closes by itself?

Allais: Yes – but not too expensive, if possible.

Ironmonger: One medium-price automatic door-closer, then.

Allais: As long as it’s not too complicated and fiddly.

Ironmonger: Of course not, sir. Just a cheap, simple automatic door-closer.

Allais: Yes, please. But I don’t want one of those really strong ones that pulls the door shut before you’re halfway through.

Ironmonger: I know, some of them can almost tear your jacket off. So what you want is a simple, reasonably priced automatic door-closer with gentle action. Is that it?

Allais: Absolutely. Not too gentle, though – I’ve seen some that work very slowly.

Ironmonger: I’ve seen those too – the door’s still half-open when you come back! What you’re looking for is a simple budget model, gentle-action quick-return door closer.

Allais: I think that covers it. As long as it isn’t too stiff. One or two brands seem to be so powerful that you have to push like mad to get the door open at all.

Ironmonger: Right! So what we’re after is a low-cost, straight-forward, gentle-action, quick-return, easy-to-operate automatic door closer.

Allais: Yes, that’s it! What have you got in stock like that?

Ironmonger: Sorry, we don’t do door-closers.

Fire Insurance

April 25, 2017

Alphonse Allais invented many useful things, such as an aquarium with frosted glass (for shy fish) and a hearse that pre-incinerated the corpse on its way to the funeral. Apparently, he had a friend who had a business where coffee beans were imported, stored, roasted and sold wholesale. Coffee beans are green to start with; upon roasting they become brown and aromatic, and can be used for making coffee.

Unfortunately, due to a catastrophic neighbourhood fire, his warehouse was completely destroyed. Prudently, both the building and its contents were insured against fire, so he filled out and sent in the claim form, and the next day an insurance assessor visited the site and surveyed the damage.

Now this insurance company was pretty crafty – one ingenious client had claimed for gradual fire-damage to his entire winter’s stock of kindling and firewood, plus coal, candles and cigarettes, and they paid up, but then had him prosecuted for arson and sued to get their money back.

Their report to their client read as follows. “Your insurance policy was comprehensive, fully indemnifying all your losses. The insured value of the destroyed warehouse building was 2,000 francs. The warehouse contents were 500 sacks of green coffee beans, valued at 20 francs per sack. These are now roasted brown coffee beans, worth 30 francs as the roasting process normally costs 10 francs per sack. Assessing your losses overall, you owe us 3,000 francs”.

A dark and stormy night

April 23, 2017

The obscure French humorist Alphonse Allais claimed that he arrived at a hotel late one very dark and stormy night, but the receptionist would not let him in. “It’s 11:30 and the Manager said not to let anyone in after 11pm”. “But listen, my good man, it is pouring with rain and I have nowhere else to go” – “Sorry, sir, but it’s more than my job is worth…”

So Alphonse shouted, above the noise of the storm “Look, here’s a tip for you” and pushed a $100 note through the letter box. Then things changed very swiftly – the door was opened and he staggered in, and was given a towel to dry himself. Since one can expect a certain level of service for $100, he commanded “Bring my suitcase in”. The receptionist went outside into the dark and stormy night to fetch it, but then a sudden gust of wind blew the door shut behind him.

“Let me back in!” “But you said that it was management policy not to let anyone in after 11pm”. “But… but… how am I supposed to get in, then?”

“May I suggest, you might get in by the same way as I did.”

And very soon, his $100 note came through the letterbox.

A Remarkable Tale

April 17, 2017

This is derived from a story by the obscure French humorist Alphonse Allais, translated by Miles Kington of Punch magazine. Everything on this blog is true, and that first sentence is true also, and I will re-tell the story faithfully.

Years ago in a French coastal town, poor little Pierre was sent by his mother to the market, to buy an eel. It was eel season and she knew there were some fresh ones available. Pierre’s mother gave him a 5-franc coin and said “Get a good one, but mind you don’t get swindled – don’t pay more than 1 franc for it. And mind that you bring home the change.”

Pierre set off along the towpath for the market and, not having seen a 5-franc coin very often, he flipped the coin in the air and caught it. He flipped it again, higher and higher and sure enough, eventually he missed the catch and the coin rolled away – and to his horror it rolled straight into the river! And to make things worse, a sudden gust of wind blew his beret off, and that fell into the river too. “Merde!” said Pierre.

Luckily there happened to be a rowing boat moored nearby, with the oars still in it, so Pierre leapt into the boat, untied it and rowed out (after having tried to row it out without first untying it; this story is accurately detailed) to where his beret was slowly floating down the river. The beret was waterlogged but still floating, so when he reached it he promptly fished it out of the water and dumped it into the boat. And, guess what, inside the beret was – a magnificent eel! As Pierre had lost the 5-franc coin and was thus unable to buy a similar one, he thought this situation to be very appropriate.

Triumphantly he took the eel home, although his mother told him off for losing the 5-franc coin and getting his hat wet. Then, looking forward to a dinner of eel&chips, or however they serve eel in France – eel medallions? – she began to prepare the eel for cooking.

But when she sliced the eel open, guess what she found in its stomach?

The 5-franc coin … no, I am joking. It’s a huge, magnificent coin, that an eel could never swallow and an eel’s stomach is much too small to hold it. No no no. No way. What were you thinking?

What she found in the eel’s stomach, was eight 50-centime coins. This was exactly the change that she was expecting to get from the 5-franc coin.

Sometimes the things in life just fit neatly into place, eh?

Preston Market

April 11, 2017

This is a homage (strictly: an homage) to Preston Market, where we shop every Thursday, reaching it easily by train; near the station, a prominent poster extols the gratitude of the local MP for his election:

… this electoral district being named “Batman”, after the founder of Melbourne. If Mr Feeney had failed to gain the most votes, the poster might say “Holy Shit, Batman!”. The railway station is next to the car park. So the driver of the white car really need not have parked it there.

There is always a crowd of shoppers – below is the market generally, and one of the areas in the Market where you can buy junk food.

If you ever go there, I would recommend the Slavonija Deli for meats, and much besides. But there are lots of choices.

There are many butchers, this one below having a sign showing happy farm animals. I reckon that sheep, pig and cow would look a lot less gay, were they to behold what has become of their colleagues, at the TX Butcher.

UPDATE – And here’s another butcher sign. Be careful! Learn to pull the hand away before the chopper gets as far down as the table!

You can even get wine for 99c –

Their $2.99 stuff is wine, but it must be truly terrible stuff. For 99c you would get a “wine style drink“, made from commercial alcohol added to flavoured water. Well what do you expect for 99c? You could buy a few bottles of that (if you get a bottle, that is) in paper bags, and take them to parties where you proceed to drink other people’s wines.

I regret to report, however, that the market has large area of closed stalls and emptiness, and the rot of modernity (probably with its attendant capitalism and greed) is setting in –

I saw men in suits with clipboards walking around (the men, that is) and some smartly dressed people having a business-like meeting. Some areas have been “modernised” already.

I will miss the old-style market. I am a fan of a Macedonian pop group of 8 people called “Synthesis“, having seen them on SBS-TV in 2001; three gorgeous ladies who sing, plus a band of 5 musicians on semi-classical and traditional instruments. I looked everywhere for a CD of their music (try Googling a name like “synthesis”). I asked for it at the Preston Market music shop, by now in desperation. The proprietor gave me a withering look and pushed a large pile of CDs, that had been sitting on the counter, across to me. I remembered that withering look for a long time – with its nuances of centuries, nay, millenia of Macedonian agony and cultural repression – but I only bought one copy of the CD. Now that Youtube has been invented, you can all let this one rip.

And you can click to hear the song “Me Fatiye“, with video – but not the actual video that haunted for me seven years, between when I saw it on SBS-TV in 2001 and about 2008, when I first got hold of the CDs.

Ah, Preston Market, with its Macedonian and a thousand other vibrant cultures. My mother from Britain, may peace be upon her, could not believe her eyes at the cultural mix to be found here. (And the size of the meat in the butchers’ shops.) But finally we left the market and got the train back home. This area is so dodgy that the “Crime Stoppers” anti-theft display at the station is itself at risk of theft –

The Ringworld

April 5, 2017

I’m an amateur astronomer and member of the Astronomical Society of Victoria, which 10 years ago was asked to send a speaker to a primary school in a mid-Victorian town. Foolishly I volunteered, and on the day I was treated to lunch in the town’s only cafe, a guided tour of the area, tea and cakes after I’d spoken to the kids, and a BBQ in the evening. Here’s me waffling to the kids:

The whole school had been doing a 3-week Space Project about anything space-related. They had been reading about the planets and stars and galaxies and deep space. And they’d done poster projects on spacey themes:

Why am I telling you this? Because something hit me that I want to share with you. You’ve just seen it, actually.

Most amateur astronomers have other science-y interests and the older ones have generally read a lot of science fiction books (the middle-aged ones tend to follow Star Dreck). Devotees of “hard” science fiction – which seemed to end in about 1980, when sci-fi all went over to fantasy – will know of the books by Larry Niven, prominent among which is the Ringworld series.

The Ringworld is a concept related to the Dyson Sphere – Freeman Dyson, who I see is still going at 92, pointed out that a sufficently advanced civilisation on some distant planet would have a lot of apparatus in orbit to take energy from their star, and eventually might have enclosed their star completely, in which case we wouldn’t see it. (Actually, we would – the shell around the star would eventually have to heat up, and we’d see it as a sort of large dull-red star, like Betelgeuse). Freeman Dyson wrote some great books about his time in WW2 and since, notably about Project Orion – a spacecraft having a metre-thick beryllium plate at the back, to be propelled by shooting atomic bombs from Earth at it. In 1957 this was a serious proposition, and the project was highly classified.

The Ringworld was a much lesser but more realisable idea, a wide band of tough material (yet to be invented) all around the star, in the orbit of what had been a planet. An inner set of whopping great metal plates would cast shadows on it, to make day and night. In the Ringworld books, the band is about 100,000 miles across and 250 million miles around – giving it a surface area of about 100,000 times what we have now.

These sketches give you the idea; I read the book 40 years ago. And then, 10 years ago there I was, standing in front of these poor kids in this poor school, shamefully deprived of resources and funding as are all country schools, waffling on about planets and eclipses and what it would be like to land on the various planets (… unpleasant, or extremely unpleasant) and my gaze wandered over to the wall of poster projects. And I saw this. I stopped in mid sentence and stared.

Out there in this bush town, some kid, some unvarnished kid of 8 years old, had drawn the Ringworld. A concept parallel to the thinking of Freeman Dyson, but independently invented in a bush town, with only rudimentary education and help. This was ten years ago … so what other ideas has that kid, who’d now be 18, what might he (or she) have thought up? What genius lies out there? What untapped resources of intellect?

But I am reminded of a depressing quote, possibly by Barack Obama, that for every Shakespeare, Mozart, or Einstein there are probably 30 or 50 equally gifted people who are stuck working in menial jobs, not visible at all, their talent lost to us.

Caught Between Two Stools

April 1, 2017

Hello! I am the kitchen stool. I’m from IKEA and I am a very good stool – I even match the colour scheme. I’m very handy for standing on to reach the highest cupboards in the kitchen, and Steve also borrows me to reach high stuff in the garage. Oh yes, a very useful stool I am.

Who the hell are you? You must be the new stool that Steve said he’d buy for him to use in the garage. Would you like to try your hand at being a kitchen stool?

Naah … you don’t look good there. You don’t even match the colour scheme, and you’re not varnished like I am. I think I looked better there, much better, and besides it’s been my place for years. Let me stand beside you.

OK so here we are together – you see I have much bigger legs – and I am lining up nicely with the side wall, whereas you are overhanging into the room a bit. You don’t have a clue, do you? I have long thought that standards at IKEA are slipping.

Now listen, son, when you’ve served your time and yellowed like I have you might, you just might, get a guernsey in the kitchen. But until then, leave experienced old hands to their established work, OK? Look, I’ll show you something else, get back into position again a minute …

Yes I thought so, you even cast a funny shadow. You’re just not good enough for kitchen work; clear off and work in the garage, like Steve said. I’m going to ignore you until you go away.

Yes, bugger off.

Shut the back door behind you, and don’t come back!

[New stool] Well OK, I suppose this is it. Even the garden chairs are too busy talking to each other to notice me. So here I go, out into the wide and dangerous world. I’ll probably get dirty and scratched very quickly.

This must be the garage, where I will be condemned to serve a wretched life of abuse and misery. O, woe is me!

Hello guys, I’m the new stool. (I suppose they can see that – I am the only thing in here not covered in dust and dirt). I see I am even shorter than Bailey, the little step ladder … what, will none of you talk to me? [Sob]

[Narrator] But as the new stool comes to accept its doom, let us rejoice as we view its surreal safety instructions. As the top left picture shows, it can miraculously levitate a 100 kg weight. Second from bottom left, rain makes the stool cease to exist, so when it snows it’s already gone. Centre, don’t step between two stools – although this is exactly what IKEA have done, moving from the old heavy one to the new lighter one, with fewer bolts to tighten up. Second from bottom right, having bought it, you should look carefully at it; it is indeed to be greatly admired. At top right, however – a picture of only the stool. Maybe it is hazardous simply by existing?

How Canada got its name

March 30, 2017

Wonderful country, Canada. My cousin went to join the Mounties and had to undergo the rigorous initiation ceremony, where you have to drink a whole bottle of whisky, and then chase a bear in the forest, and then make love to a woman. So in front of his new mates he downed a bottle of Canadian Club, and set out (somewhat unsteadily) into the picturesque Arctic forest. He was gone for some time, and his mates were getting a bit worried but they did hear some scuffling sounds and some bear growls in the distance. Then he came staggering out from among the fir trees, but now he was in a hell of a state, panting heavily, clothes all torn, one boot missing, a black eye, and his face and hands all scratched and bleeding. “Sheesh, that wash difficult”, he slurred, “Now where’sh thish woman I have to chase?”

But where did the country’s name come from? When intrepid explorers first came into the area, they loved the place so much, they decided to settle there. One explorer said “Hey, I thought we might get fed up of being ‘oot’ and ‘aboot’ and stay in camp some time – so I packed a Scrabble set! Except, er, when the food ran out last week and the cook made alphabet soup … well, he used up all the vowels.

“Anyway, I’ll pull oot some letters for a name and can somebody write them down … here’s a C, eh. N, eh. D, eh …”