Archive for the ‘Jokes and humour’ Category

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.


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.

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?

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 …”


October 8, 2016

Cheer up! On from Ljubljana to the much bigger city of Zagreb in Croatia (on Sept 24). We will be in Croatia for the rest of this trip and I must post often to get stuff out of the way, so I can catch up with the cycling tour, which is half over as I write (Oct 7).

Ivan, our host in Zagreb, kindly took us around for a few days, starting with Zagreb market with its wonderful fresh goods. I like “texture” pictures that fill the screen, so indulge me, O my readers.

Those last ones were walnuts and “zizuli” or jujubes, about the size and texture of acorns but you can eat the whole fruit. You can eat acorns too, and roast them and make coffee with them, indeed here are some Berliners looking for acorns for this purpose in 1946 –

But acorns make TERRIBLE coffee … anyway times have moved on … except for the executions here, which are cruelly carried out by tying the victims to a stake and then playing the guitar really badly.

Two guys who were sentenced to be shot were granted a last wish. One said “I’m a C&W singer, can I play Achey Breakey Heart one last time”, and then the other one said “Can you shoot me first please”.

I seem to have digressed. Zagreb has a magnificent cathedral, as befits a major capital city. Just look at the doorway …

And a chaotic Last Supper, with seating for only two:

But the most amazing thing is this huge inscription on an inside wall.

It’s in Glagolitic. Now I always thought Glagolitic was confined to some tiny place like 8th-century Tajikistan but no, it’s from Croatia and was in common use from the 12th to the 19th centuries – and it still is, for church use. Glagolitic was devised by SS. Methodius and Cyril –

– and there they are (in an Italian village from two days before), although St Cyril later invented Cyrillic and that’s what he’s displaying here. There have been almighty arguments about which came first. Methodius is holding a book of Glagolitic, and I imagine there was quite a lively conversation as they posed for this picture. Enough of this academic seriousness, you call that a roof – THIS is a roof:

In the main square of Zagreb, costumed 18th-century Croatian soldiers were drilling with swords. Facing in pairs, they took out each other’s sword for an officer to inspect. It would have been a useful social skill to put the other man’s sword back into the sheath accurately.

Orwellianism. “The Thought Police are reading your thoughts, and on the screen Big Brother sees what you are thinking”

And this. Next:we climb a hill, and see a castle and view over Zagreb.

German language, and digressions

September 16, 2016

Ah, die Deutsche Sprache, with its constructions, idioms, grammar, strong and weak verbs, capitalisation of nuns (or, better, nouns) and dialects, is a reflection of Teutonic discipline and rigour. Consider the dustbins, for example:

Four sorts – and you get into serious trouble if you put the wrong things in the wrong bin. But oddly, German behaviour is not as rigorous as foreigners are led to imagine. For example, there are “no cycling” signs in shopping malls, but German cyclists appear not to see them. Nevertheless, the red and green men are strictly observed when one crosses the road. The Swedes excel the Germans at this – in the 1990s a Princess, member of the Swedish royal family, was opening a shopping mall and all traffic had been kept out of the area. Complete with entourage, she crossed an empty street against the red man and … was later prosecuted for it. And the poor King of Sweden once applied for a parking permit for central Stockholm, and was refused.

But I digress. The German language is of course noted for its ability to form compound words – in the recent local elections, the Pirate Party was opposed to StraBenausbaubeitragssatzung (the collection of fees to pay for construction work to widen a street) but the posters were not wide enough. Actually, compound words are even more easily formed, and longer, in Swedish than in German.

And thinking of German local elections, which were last week, the main political parties were returned but also a disturbing number of representatives of AfD (Alternativ fur Deutschland) who want to impose a certain political alternative that has already been tried in 1933 and later found wanting. At a rally held by these neo-Nazis to protest at the wearing of burqas and other Islamic dress, the participants wore, near enough, burqas – by decking themselves out with berets, face masks, and sunglasses. One of their slogans was “Halve the politicians, double the police force” – and what would these extra police do, but surely arrest half the politicians as per the first part of the policy. Which half? One wonders. The extreme left-wing parties had adorned every lamp-post around the rally location with a sign “Here, one Nazi could be hung”. Which reminded me of the Russian elections of 1917, in which the Bolshevik policy was to hang a capitalist from every lamp-post, whereas the more moderate Mensheviks wanted to hang one from every other lamp-post.

So. As well as the compound words, Germans put the verb last in a sentence, as in Latin, which sort of makes sense because you know where to look for it. But this may be halfway down the page, as in the recent news article which, translated faithfully, said:

A Falcon-9 rocket
– owned by Space-X
– – a private company
– – – based in the USA
– on Thursday morning
– during a test
– – of its fuelling system
– on the launch pad
– at Cape Canaveral
– – in Florida
– during the filling
– – with liquid oxygen

Now some academics tried to reform and to some extent regularise German spelling in late 1944, but it was decided (at, shall we say, the highest level) that there were better things to do at the time. It was tried again in 1996, with mixed success which led to a surprisingly libertarian ruling: that outside of the school system, anyone could spell words however they liked. Major newspapers now have different spelling policy. The biggest attempted change was that no letters should be dropped when compound words were formed, even if three letters came together. So now, public lettering differs:

And they have a similar problem with the Esszett, the letter like a Greek Beta that represents “ss”or “sz” (and you can’t tell which). If it turns up in the middle of a compound word such as GenieB-schutz, then it can stay as -Bs-, it can degrade to -sss-, or it can degrade to -szs- (but only if it represented specifically -sz- in the first place). To cap it all, so to speak, there is no uppercase form of this letter.

Which reminds me of my time as a subbookkeeper; the paper shreds that fell from the library’s guillotine machine were called off-fall. Some similar paper shreds were not offfall, just offfalllike. Ho hum …. here’s a German public lavatory with beautifully designed male/female symbols:


June 9, 2016

The Communist Party

And while I’m at it ….

My next posts will describe 4 days in Guilin, with its amazing peaky mountains, and where they hunt with cormorants, and then a trip to Zhangjiajie which has something yet even more amazing. Stand by for some great pictures!

St P (3) – Peterhof

November 12, 2015

Our guide took us here in mid afternoon and shunted us around, so that we saw all the best stuff in a mercifully short time. This place was built by Peter the Great, who was ever playful, so there are hidden fountains that soak you without warning. Ha ha ha, said his soaked guests, carefully remembering that Peter the Great had just burned (alive) several thousand people whose religion he did not like. Ha ha ha – keep laughing – squirt us some more, Pete.

Here’s a map – we came in at the bottom left and went along the paved area in front of the brown building.

And here’s the view down to the gardens, and further along we came to the famous cascade of fountains.

Fountains! Even the Communists built large parks with hundreds of fountains. Russia is like an Islamic paradise … I trust that my readers are aware that the bit about Paradise having “72 virgins” is not in the Koran but in the Hadith, the writing that sort of surrounds it, and there is only one mention, the translation of which is uncertain. It might be that Paradise has “72 fountains” … so if you wake up one morning, as I did on this day, and there are lots of fountains, perhaps there is good and bad news: (good) you’re in Paradise and (bad) it’s fountains after all. Still, better than Hell, where you also get 72 virgins, and the next morning … there are still 72 virgins.

Where was I … ah yes. Here’s Barbro with a gold plated fountain celebrating the defeat of the evil Swedes by the heroic Russians.

And some Stone Lions. Originally, somebody was given the job of hiding behind a fence just here and making roaring sounds whenever guests approached. One can imagine how the job-interviews went, or what they put on their resumes when tiring of this job … I suppose there are worse jobs, and one will come up tomorrow. Actually, one will come up, 3 pictures below. Here’s a panorama of the famous view – click on it to embiggen it. (as with all my pictures)

Now here are two photos of the famous facade looking back at the palace …

Adn if you look carefully at the left-hand cascade in the lower picture, on the 3rd step down there is a poor little man who is cleaning the fountains. They do give him a raincoat, though … I was thinking of the Monty Python sketch, where a very scruffy prospective son-in-law is being interviewed by very anxious father of nice girl:
– What job do you have?
– – – Cleaning public toilets
– Ah. Well I presume there is a career progression
– – – Oh yes, After 5 years, they give me a brush.

But I digress …. so it’s back to the fountains:

– and here we are with the Baltic Sea in the background. Barbro with a lucky statue of Neptune:

But I have forgotten why it is lucky. Peter the Great, when tiring of court life, burning religious dissidents, executing his own son, etc, would retire to this smaller and simpler building by the sea side, where he expected to be left in peace. Yes!! This is his shed.

Two very nice Police patrolling the grounds. You get a better class of cop at these places.

Here we go with the trick fountains – don’t go near these pebbles, or the metal trees in the glade

Here are Korean tourists who are not sure what time it is. I, on the other hand, was fully up to date with this information, which now proved useful because the signs said the WHOLE PATH would be copiously sprayed from both sides, without warning, every hour exactly on the hour; and there were 5 minutes to spare.

Recall in From Russia With Love … the bomb timed to go off at exactly 3pm. “Russian clocks are always …”

Yet another fountain, silhouetted against the sun. The opposite of silhouetted, really.

– and the view back from it. In case you were wondering where the bog was. Here’s the cascade behind it (fountains not working today) and a nearby display, not the usual horror-show of massacre victims, but a record of how the statues along this cascade were buried nearby to hide them from the Nazis.

There was evidently a fear that the Nazis, who overran this place, would find and dig up the statues, turn the fountains back on and enjoy themselves, disporting and idling lazily in this park. But they didn’t – they did a whole lot of much worse things instead. Perhaps the Soviets should have left these gardens intact.

A last one of Barbro with a fountain whose symbolism glorifies Russia and is insulting to Swedes, and a house where one of Peter the Great’s mistresses lived. Not a bad job, if you can get it.

After all this it was a relief to get back to some good old Soviet artwork.

How to keep your crop safe from Baboons

June 1, 2015

My friend Peter once lived in Africa, and the other day he told me: on his hobby farm there was a crop of Sweet Corn, but baboons would come out of the bush and wastefully plunder it. A baboon would typically pick a corn cob, take a couple of nibbles, drop it and pick another one, nibble that, dislike that one too, and repeat. Baboons would also carry a corn cob in one armpit, then reach out to pick another cob and in the process drop the first one, and so on, until the entire corn field was ruined.

So Peter decided to discourage this practice, in the following Cunning and Ingenious Manner. He’d get a small tin can, go out into the field and noisily put some nuts in it – the baboons up on the hillside would see him doing this, and would feel it necessary to come down and investigate it later, whereupon one inquisitive beast would get its hand stuck in the tin.

Then what happened? Well, the hapless hamadryad would soon become aware that this Tin of Nuts was actually a TIN OF IMPENDING DOOM, being suspiciously attached to a


[cue dark music] which ran up into the branches above, where it entered an


[music swells] in which its other end was tied to a [crescendo]


The whitewash tipped all over the prying primate, who fled back into the forest and became the subject of derision from his comrades, socially ostracised as being now the wrong colour, and in various ways shamed and made to feel regret. The splattered simian would forever rue the day that he vainly ventured into the Farmer’s Fiendishly Fortified Fertile Field, and poked his paw into Peter’s Plant Protecting Paraphernalia.

We Don’t Need No Education

May 27, 2015

This photo came up in the news today. What is the girl thinking?

Is she looking at the second line, which starts “minus sqrt(4x-x^2)..” and wondering, I hope, about what happens when x is greater than 4? The result would be an imaginary number. Worse, when x=4 the result is sqrt(0) which conventionally is zero, all very nice but that expression is the denominator of a fraction in the first line. No wonder she is laughing … I might find it funny too, when I have finished despairing about science education.

Of course there are howlers to be found and collected, from all over the place. This is the logo of Bicycle Network Victoria –

Three links of a bike chain, forming a sort of “V”. All very good and bicycley, but it is impossible to join three links like that. But maybe they want to symbolise the plans for connecting together some of Melbourne’s bike paths …

Now recently I bought a little book called “507 Mechanical Movements” which is full of drawings of linkages, wheels, cams, eccentrics, valves for steam engines, etc. Why 507, you ask? Because that’s how many there are … honestly, the things I have to explain. But look at the gear wheels in the cover picture. Mount three gears like that and … well, don’t.

The ghastly flowchart below was actually published in a formal paper (it was a spoof paper, but it got accepted and published)

And now here’s one of my own. The kings and queens were on the wrong squares (white queen on a black square, etc) so I meticulously swapped them back to their correct squares before I took this photo. Queens on their own colour, y’know. Gosh, I’m smart – but I missed the white queen’s rook & knight being swapped. And maybe I missed something more …

But, as this ancient Charles Addams cartoon from the New Yorker magazine shows, there is hope for the future, if our society continues to furnish education and training based on experience :


December 14, 2014

Ah, arithmetic, the sadly neglected queen of the mathematical sciences. I can hear my class of 1957 now: five nines are 45, six nines are 54, seven nines are 63 … And then, some years later: Two to the 40th is 1099511627776 … .

As this most festive season approaches, I am planning to drown my sorrows in alcohol. Consequently, I visited a big liquor emporium the other day, where my eyes were greeted with this sign –

I suppose people who need 3 bottles of vodka would not be too fussy about the price.

Be the first!

October 3, 2014

Off soon

June 11, 2014

Life has been more frantic than usual as we are preparing to go overseas again. This time, it’s 6 weeks in Sweden with the middle two weeks being a cycling tour in Estonia. Let me get the travelling computer set up and I will start cranking this blog up again.


Road of Bones trip is going well and they are in Georgia, a different way to where I went in 2012.

An Ethiopian, an Eskimo and an Orthodox Russian Priest walk into a bar. “What is this”, says the barman, “some kind of weird joke?”

The Global Financial Crisis – Explained

May 3, 2014

My son has a German girlfriend. But wait – that is not the cause of the GFC!! – the text below was in her school economics notes of late 2009 (in English, brutally) … and thus it might be part of official German Government Policy.

Heidi is the proprietor of a bar in Berlin. To increase sales, she allows her loyal customers – most of whom are unemployed alcoholics with no money – to buy beer on credit. Word gets around, and new customers flood into Heidi’s bar. Heidi increases her prices, and sales on credit ramp up massively.

Heidi’s young and dynamic bank manager recognises her customer debts as a VALUABLE FUTURE ASSET, and increases Heidi’s borrowing limit. He sees no reason for concern, since he has the debts of the alcoholics as collateral.

At the bank’s headquarters, expert bankers transform these customer assets into Boozebonds, which are then traded on stock markets worldwide. Nobody really understands where the Boozebonds come from or how they are guaranteed, but nevertheless their prices continually climb, and they become top-selling items.

One day, although the Boozebond prices are still climbing, the bank’s Risk Manager – risking getting fired for negativity – decides to start calling in the debts incurred by the drinkers at Heidi’s bar. However, they cannot pay their debts. Heidi cannot fulfil her loan obligations, and declares bankruptcy. The value of Boozebonds then falls dramatically.

Heidi’s suppliers, who have already generously deferred her payment dates and have invested heavily in Boozebonds, are now faced with a problem. Some go bankrupt; others are taken over by competitors. Heidi’s bank faces ruin but is saved by a Government grant, following dramatic round-the-clock negotiations with political leaders.

The funds required for this purpose are obtained by a tax levied on non-drinkers.

Keep Me in Suspense

April 26, 2014

Well I have this, er, problem. When I fall off the motorbike, it hurts – no, that’s not the problem, because I always wear protective clothing, all the five things – boots, trousers, jacket, gloves & helmet. These items of apparel have armour plates in all the right places, using plastic or Kevlar inserts. The trousers in particular have whopping big patches of woven Kevlar over the knees and bum, so when I go skating face down over gravel at full speed (as I did, in Kazakhstan) they don’t tear and I don’t get what is called, er, gravel rash.

However, they were very expensive, they are very heavy, I bought them a size too big and now here’s the problem: I am too stingy to buy another pair in the correct size. So they tend to fall down, if I walk even 5 paces (maybe I could get a part in a British stage comedy). Being considerate of other people, and having a dislike for civic disorder, I am worried that when they do start to fall down, any ladies nearby will come over all faint like, at the prospect of seeing a glimpse of my genitalia. And there would be unseemly scenes of panic and hysteria. In my dreams, anyway.

Even a strong belt won’t really keep them up, so with these I have to wear what the British call braces – elastic straps that go over the shoulders. Circus clowns use these to hold their trousers up, so I’d be in suitable company. Now where to find such a dated and unfashionable article of apparel? I looked everywhere; and I did find a pair, but they were being used by a fellow motorcyclist to hold his trousers up. Anyway, they’re not called braces down here; Aussies use the American word “suspenders”, and “braces” go on your teeth. Mathematicians use braces: { } – to hold their equations together and stop algebraic terms from falling out at the ends. But “suspenders” in British English are what hold stockings up on female legs.

Polite enquiry revealed that my friend’s 15-year-old daughter bought him these “suspenders” as a gift. She was probably tired of seeing his daks descending; anyway, she told me she got them in a trendy shop called J.J.’s. So, off to J.J.’s I would go – except, she also told me I can’t go in to J.J.’s because I AM TOO OLD; but I could go in if I took someone young with me. Now I also have a daughter, of whom I am exceptionally proud but she is 31 and thus similarly disqualified from entry. Other riders said I could go to Henry Buck’s – a very traditional gentleman’s shop. “What ho, you chaps” I should breeze in and say, “my trousers keep falling down; please sell me some suspenders”.

Clearly some further research would be needed; but this is now a moot point as I have just found a pair of suspenders, or braces, in Melbourne’s giant Victoria Market. Now when I dismount from the motorcycle I can do a very elegant walk, with trousers correctly in place.

Cycling: The Day of Five Breakfasts

April 11, 2014

Twice a year, Bicycle Network Victoria do a Bike Count; people with clipboards stand at every major intersection in Melbourne from 7-9am, counting the bicycles that go past. The count figures go towards a better understanding of how many people ride to work, what routes they take, where road improvements are needed, etc. Each volunteer counter gets a T-shirt and can nominate a charity or bike club, which will receive $50.

Now one time, my Swedish friend Tommy came out here on a holiday, and one of these Bike Counts was going to occur at the time. Tommy’s idea of a holiday was to ride a bicycle, every day, everywhere, at all times, in any weather, so for a week we rode up and down Melbourne. I’m a keen member of Whitehorse Cyclists, a bike club with 260 members that puts on 10 club rides every week, of varying degrees of difficulty. So I had two brilliant ideas: (a) to get Tommy to do the bike count as well – earning some more $$ for our club – and (b) after doing the bike count, we would intercept and join a Whitehorse club ride that would be passing near to where we were counting. We would be counting in Epping, the bike ride would start in the Eastern suburbs, pick us up at Lalor and go on to Craigieburn for lunch.

So we got up at 6am and had breakfast (#1). Then we rode out to Epping, parked our bikes and set up our clipboards at our two neighbouring locations, and at 7am we each began counting. Sadly, very few bikes pass through this area, maybe 7 per hour (a busy junction has 200 per hour in each direction) so we got a bit bored; but we were glad we had brought some food, nibbles and coffee with us, thus scoring a sort of second breakfast while we were counting.

9am came, we packed up, added up our totals and met up; we had an hour to kill before the Whitehorse Cyclists ride would come past so we headed for the nearest row of shops, where a cafe was now open so we had, er, another breakfast. The morning was grey and chilly and there were not many people around, but there was a queue of 20-30 people outside the local bank when that opened at 9:30. People rushing in to deposit their money – no, I don’t think so. After this third breakfast we waited for the ride to come past; but instead, my mobile phone rang. Change of plan: the ride would now pass by about 5 km away, near Campbellfield station. So we rode there, still arriving 20 minutes before the ride was due to come … guess what, here’s another cafe, so we bought another coffee and snacks. No sign of the ride … phone rang again … they had taken a wrong turn and got lost, so now the plan was to meet us about 5 km up the road … at the McDonald’s. So we dutifully rode to Macca’s and it being still before 10:30, they serve only breakfast food, and it being chilly, we went inside and ….

Five breakfasts before 10:30!! I do admit, though, that not all of these were the full kit and caboodle, where you get fried eggs, bacon, sausages, onions, black pudding, hash browns, tomato, spinach and mushroom on toast, with coffee and bread & butter on the side. Oh no no no … not all of them. I like to have moderation in all things, you know. Including moderation.

Postscript: we finally met up with the other riders and then we pedalled the long, hard uphill path out to Craigieburn, where of course we bought a lunch. On the way back, we were riding into a mighty headwind; I was puffing and panting to maintain even about 8 kph into it. Barry, the ride leader, breezed past – he was much fitter than I was, I can’t think why – and shouted “Think of it as a Tail Wind, Steve!”

Don’t visit this dentist

April 1, 2014

I know it’s April 1, but I’ll tell a story. I swear this was true! My dear old mother, in her later days, used to fall into deep sleeps, from which she could not be woken by any means whatsoever. And she became bewildered when in unfamiliar places. So, when Mum’s teeth were due for a check up, my wife took her by car to visit the dentist. (If it was my father, we could have just sent the teeth).

Mum sat in the dentist’s chair while the dentist tinkered about and sharpened his drills, or whatever it is they do, but when he turned to talk to her she had fallen into such a comatose sleep. “I can’t work with her asleep” he said “she might suddenly wake up, I need cooperation to administer injections if that’s necessary, I can’t even look into her mouth.” Nothing would interrupt the maternal slumber. Dentist and wife stood there like two spare dinners, with mother snoring gently in the dentist’s chair; it must have made quite a bucolic scene. One imagines a painting by Vermeer “Dentist with comatose patient”.

Time passed – not much time, actually, because several people with teeth were waiting in the lobby and the dentist was keen to have a go at theirs, if he couldn’t do Mum’s. What to do – Mum’s catatonic sleeps would last some hours. “Tell you what” said my wife “let’s take her out to the car so you can get some other work done. You grab her round the shoulders, I’ll grab her legs”.

And so the hapless trio emerged from the operating room, dentist walking backwards, wife walking forward and slung between them, the comatose body of my mother. They passed through the waiting room, with its stunned occupants, into the reception area, where the receptionist opened the front door and ushered them out into the main street, along which they proceeded some 50 metres to where the car was parked. Here the mother was propped against a tree while the car doors were opened; she was then manoeuvered inside with some difficulty, the dentist in his clean white coat looking resplendent in the morning sunshine. Seat belts were buckled up and Mum was driven back to her old folks’ home, where they were more used to managing this sort of thing. The dentist, adopting an air of confident normality, returned to his surgery to see if anyone was left in the waiting room.

Oh, Sir Jasper!

March 26, 2014

Now that knighthoods are going to be re-introduced for Australians (although I cannot imagine who might want one down here, or why) I am reminded of this drinking song we sang in London years ago. The lines are the same length in time, with silence at the end to make up.

She’s a most immoral lady!
She’s a most immoral lady!
She’s a most immoral lady!
And she lay between the lily-white sheets with nothing on at all!

Oh, Sir Jasper, do not touch me!
Oh, Sir Jasper, do not touch me!
Oh, Sir Jasper, do not touch me!
And she lay between the lily-white sheets with nothing on at all!

Oh, Sir Jasper, do not touch! …
Oh, Sir Jasper, do not touch! …
Oh, Sir Jasper, do not touch! …
And she lay between the lily-white sheets with nothing on at all!

Oh, Sir Jasper, do not! … …
Oh, Sir Jasper, do not! … …
Oh, Sir Jasper, do not! … …
And she lay between the lily-white sheets with nothing on at all!

Oh, Sir Jasper, do! … …
Oh, Sir Jasper, do! … …
Oh, Sir Jasper, do! … …
And she lay between the lily-white sheets with nothing on at all!

Oh, Sir Jasper! … …
Oh, Sir Jasper! … …
Oh, Sir Jasper! … …
And she lay between the lily-white sheets with nothing on at all!

Oh, Sir! … …
Oh, Sir! … …
Oh, Sir! … …
And she lay between the lily-white sheets with nothing on at all!

Oh! … …
Oh! … …
Oh! … …
And she lay between the lily-white sheets with nothing on at all!

… …
… …
… …
And she lay between the lily-white sheets with nothing on at all!

Alas! My Poor Rat

January 4, 2014

Some years ago I had the great pleasure of a holiday in Viet Nam with Intrepid Tours. The locations, the trip leaders, the travellers, and the food were all amazing, although some of the regional food was alien to Western tradition – in Hanoi, grilled sparrows, for example (which I ate, with gusto). And holothurians … oh, you gotta eat ’em, nothing like holothurian and chips, washed down with the diabolical Vietnamese coffee.

Now harken unto my tale of woe. One night in Ho Chi Minh City, we dined at a restaurant in a sort of barn in the suburbs, specialising in “sensible dishes” –

Here’s their grilled scorpions – I managed to get this photo before the last two were avidly devoured by my friend.

The printed menu had dozens of even more bizarre things, including “Field Rat”. Even though I had my suspicions – we were deep into the city and far away from any fields, but the civic infrastructure was ever close at hand, so I suspected it would be Sewer Rat rather than Field Rat – I ordered it. Visions of happy rats frolicking in the bucolic rice paddies of southern Viet Nam were interrupted by my fellow diners, especially the girls, saying “Ugh yuck!” “Eurghhhh!” and other expressions of disparagement.

Time passed, and my rat arrived. It was cut down the middle, splayed out and then grilled, resembling the way rabbit is often served. My pre-prandial pleasure over its presentation on the platter was again marred by further exclamations, such as “Errrhhh!” “Gerroooghhh” “Poor little rat” (actually, it was quite a big one – not one that you’d like to meet before the restaurant got hold of it) and “You’re not going to eat that, are you?”. There then followed a palpable silence of disgust as I equipped myself with serviette and chopsticks, and demonstrated a diabolical desire to dine on the wretched rodent …

… but, just in time, the girl sitting next to me said “Umm … can I try a little piece?” Then the girl next to her said “Er yes, can I try a bit too” … “Me too” … “And me” – so my untouched plate promptly departed from in front of me and circulated around the entire table of 15 eager diners, all of whom had a little piece “just to try” and which they evidently enjoyed immensely – for example:

And when, among sounds of savoury satisfaction, my poor rat finally came back to me, there was just one little piece of it left, about the size of a postage stamp. Oh well, cheers:

Moral: Next time, order two rats – or order something REALLY disgusting.

School report

December 25, 2013

Festive Greetz to both my readers … I will get on soon with more posts, now that Xmas is over. Yes really. I am still sorting out the Road of Bones photos from 2012 … Meanwhile, here is a curiosity.


This is a page from the Detention Book of a British school, listing detentions imposed during the course of ONLY ONE MONTH – upon THE SAME BOY (name at top left corner). A boy who, had he been able to see into the future, could have said:

“Despite this educational process, in ten years’ time I will be collecting a medal from the Queen. They will name the airport after me. There will be statues to me all over the world, including in Almaty, Kazahkstan – wherever that is – and in every list of Famous Britons, I will be in the top ten.”

(And if he’d said that, he’d doubtless have earned another detention for Unmitigated Cheek).

Day 4b – Drewitzer See to Serrahn

December 15, 2013

We finished lunch with an ice-cream sundae each … and were horrified to find that its label (above) warns prospective diners “All the ice-cream sundaes may vary optically”. And sure enough, a close and scientific examination showed our respective sundaes to differ optically in several significant respects. Ah, these modern times when things are allowed to differ, even in Germany – and speaking of differing, this is the horse-drawn carriage in which Herr Honecker loved to ride:

I didn’t feel comfortable, next to it. Yes, the Secretary of the Communist Party rode around in this thing, although probably not in front of the peasants. Imagine the duplicity and shame … I would not even let my dead body be carried in such a thing. A famous joke (and one-way ticket to Siberia) has Herr Honecker showing this sort of place off to his mother. “Look Mum, I’ve done well – here’s my house – here’s my hunting lodge – here’s my horse-drawn carriage … But why do you look so sad?” – “Erich, I am worried about what you’ll have if the Communists take over”.

And so from this beautiful but ghastly place we rode to Serrahn, where we stayed in a very nice stately home overlooking a golf course. This is at 53* 39′ 15″N 12* 20′ 40″E and it is the only big building in the sub-village.

A few of us walked down to the lake (Serrahner See) at sunset. As she was being helped down an embankment, Helga slipped and I, perpetually encumbered by my camera, happened to be taking a snap. So I held the button down and shot her in flight:

Apart from that, we had lovely peaceful views at sunset.

Barbro and myself went up onto the golf course (it’s on a small hill) where we viewed the most wonderful setting sun in a fierce red sky, before returning to the hotel for a magnificent, intimate formal dinner.

But wait! There’s more!! When the Sun sets over water or over a very clean horizon, in very rarely favourable conditions you can see a Green Flash just at the moment the Sun sets fully. I have seen it twice, after hundreds of attempts, and in desperation this time I tried to photograph it, as above – no luck. Nobody believes me, so here is what a professional photographer was able to get once:

NASA with their super-duper equipment were able to snap the damn thing before the full sunset:

Now isn’t that interesting?


November 12, 2013

Yes I know, life just fills up and there is no time to write the blog. In two days I am going on ANOTHER ADVENTURE but this one is only to Canberra, cycling again, and I haven’t even written about Oranienburg and Germany yet, let alone Denmark, Copenhagen, Lund, rural Sweden, Stockholm, and Aland, all of which are on my to-do list. Please, hang in here, it will come (like Santa Claus, who will probably come first).

I buy a lot of books and lately I have been going frantic buying 5-10 a week. No wonder I never time for anything. What with visiting towns that have second hand bookshops, and handy sites like Amazon, AbeBooks and (my favourite) Book Depository, any book you can find, you can also buy and they are quite cheap when compared to the price of a lunch or cup of coffee. The only street bookshop I visit is EMBIGGEN BOOKS in the Melbourne CBD, and I usually buy 4-5 books every time I go in – I like to see the shop stay in business. Recent acquisitions, disastrous with regard to getting anything else done in life, have included –

“RECLAIMING HISTORY” by Vincent Bugliosi, a definitive analysis of the JFK assassination and the resulting conspiracy beliefs. It is, like, 1650 pages long and weighs 6lbs, there is a CD with the references which otherwise would take another 1,000 pages to print. Oswald could have killed JFK by dropping this book onto his head from the 6th floor window. His conclusion? Well it reminds me of a joke: Two JFK conspiracy theorists get run over by a bus and go before God Himself, who tells them “You are allowed to ask one question”. One of them says, wow, this is the very best opportunity to know the truth “God, with your omnipotent vision, tell us – who shot JFK?”. “Are you ready for this …” says God “… Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, shot JFK with three bullets, one of which missed”. Both look stunned, then one says to the other “Wow, this cover-up goes higher than I ever thought”.


“THE COMPLETE CARTOONS OF THE NEW YORKER 1926-2006” a mighty tome with 1,500 cartoons, mostly very dated but the modern ones are laconic and I like the style. But the book does not have all the cartoons published in the magazine – no Sir, only 1,500 of the 71,000 are printed. It did come with a CD, however, which did have all 71,000 cartoons. It takes a week of real time to get through a year’s cartoons. Later I bought the Caption Competition book where people provide new captions. My favourite is a Neanderthal environment with a man who has invented the wheel and is rolling one along, rather quickly. An anachronistically placed, uniformed New York cop is booking him. Cop is saying, “Where’s the fire?”

Two books by Geoff Dyer, who wrote ZONA (A book about a film about a journey to a room), which has footnotes extending to 5 pages – ANGLO-ENGLISH ATTITUDES (essays about anything) and OUT OF SHEER RAGE – his attempts to write a book about D H Lawrence, where procrastination and circumstances lead him to write about everything and anything else. If you’re not interested in D H Lawrence – you’d be safe with this book.

THE POOH PERPLEX and POSTMODERN POOH, written 40 years apart – reviews of Winnie-the-Pooh done in different extreme styles (communist, fascist, anti-establishment, religious, wacko, feminist, Freudian, dilettante, paranoid, etc). In fact one of the styles is by a devout admirer of D H Lawrence, who castigates the book (“No working class characters – no coal mining – not set in the East Midlands…”)

A FIELD GUIDE TO MELANCHOLY – a masterly review of references to, and instances of, melancholy in literature and art, including in the works of W G Sebald, J-P Sartre, Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart and Andrei Tarkovsky. Well I think it is a hoot, anyway. Dont get me going about Tarkovsky! (see ZONA above). I should write a Tarkovskian review of Pooh – the characters walk aimlessly though a wood and the camera follows them all the way – the ever-present horse – rain – but there is no burning barn, and no field of wheat.

PROBLEMS OF THE FUTURE by S.Laing. Published 1906. When I have time to read it [and 6 months later – I still have not had time; a problem of life in 2013-4?], it will show me a curious view of the future world half-accurate and half-preposterous. I will write it up for the Skeptic magazine.

And the mother of all books, which may take up the rest of my life admiring and trying to decipher: CODEX SERAPHINIANUS by Luigi Serafini. It is .. um … you can download the whole book as a 56MB PDF here … but I have to have the actual book. Goodbye world ….

I wonder if, when I get to Canberra, the second hand bookshop on the west of Northbourne Avenue will still be there, with its copy of “On Sledge and Horseback to Visit the Outcast Siberian Lepers” which was on its shelves 5 years ago. I don’t know why I did not buy it then, later I got it from Amazon and I put it between “Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich” and “The First 5,000,000 Digits of Pi” on my bookshelf. And since then, I’ve been to the place described in the book (Yakutsk – now a rich oil city).

Old Communist Jokes

August 30, 2013

These I reckon are my best jokes (well, you should hear the other ones). A year ago tonight I was in Siberia – and I spent the night in a lunatic asylum – which is where I would have ended up anyway if I’d told these behind the Iron Curtain.




Mao to Khrushchev: “China is starving. Send food”

Khrushchev replies: “Tighten your belts”

Mao: “Send belts”




Believe me, this really is an East German Joke, as you will see.

Mao-Tse Tung rang up Brezhnev: “Leonid … our countries should have a better relationship … but of course China is a relatively backward agricultural country. If China-USSR friendship is to be restored, a gift of 1,000 tractors would be very useful.”

Brezhnev: “Good idea, I’ll fix it … er, does China need anything else?”

Mao: “Well yes actually (looks in notebook) … 500 prefabricated school buildings, 100 road-laying machines, and 35,000 km of railway track would be very nice. And five blast furnaces … and two small oil tankers.”

Brezhnev, frantically writing all this down, says “OK, OK, we can fix all that … you’re welcome, it will be very good to restore our glorious USSR-China friendship. We’d both look pretty good about this, so why don’t I come to Peking Airport next Wednesday for a photo-opportunity?”

Mao: “Hey, great idea … come at 2:30, I’ll be waiting on the tarmac with our best photographers. Traditionally, you must come down the aeroplane steps first, shake hands with me on the tarmac and then you present me with a Symbolic Bowl of Boiled Rice.”

Brezhnev: “Arghhh, I cannot do that – it is impossible – we’ll have to call the whole deal off”

Mao: “Er, that would be a great pity … so what’s the big deal about a Symbolic Bowl of Boiled Rice?”

Brezhnev: “They don’t grow rice in East Germany”



Queue outside Communist bread shop. Hundreds of people standing all morning; at 10am the shopkeeper comes out and says “The bread will not be here till noon”.

Groans. Then at noon he comes out again “Sorry, but the bread won’t be here till 2pm, and when it does come, there will be only 100 loaves”. People mutter and drift off.  Then someone near the back of the queue yells “Hey look, as there won’t be enough bread and I’m probably going to miss out why don’t you guys kick all the Jews out of the queue?” And to general assent, the hapless Jews are expelled and go home.

At 2pm it starts to rain, and there is no bread, but the shopkeeper comes out and says “The bread will come, but later, maybe around 5 o’clock”.

Then at 5pm he comes out again and says “Sorry, but there will be NO BREAD AT ALL today.  Go home.”

Queue disperses with much anger and muttered remarks, including “Those bloody Jews always get better treatment than us.”

BERLIN(2) – The Wall

August 26, 2013

One of the most famous features of Berlin was the Berlin Wall. (Not unique to Berlin; the USA and Israel have even bigger walls at their borders; the British built one across Belfast, etc). This topic has been done to death elsewhere so I will not give a comprehensive essay. After the Wall was put up (on 12-13 August 1961) President Kennedy visited and famously said, in solidarity with all free men “Ich bin ein Berliner” (translation: “I am a jam doughnut”). Here’s a bad photo I took from a bus now in 2013, of the only part of the Wall still left standing; this is not the bit that I urinated on in 1979, but further along.

Of course, the original wall didn’t have a hole in it like this bit does. If I had been anywhere near Europe in November 1989, I would have rushed over to Berlin with my sledgehammer.

It was all the fault of the Hungarians. Lacking motivation for Communism at the best of times, they allowed a picnic to take place at Sopron on 19 August 1989 (but the Austrian and Hungarian foreign ministers had been cutting away at the border fences, literally, for some months already). A most cordially phrased request to enter the neighbouring field was politely turned down:

“It’s nothing against you, sir, but if I let you in to this field they will all want to come in to this field, because this field is in Austria and you’re standing in Hungary and … ”

(I exploited this for a question in my monthly trivia quiz in 2009; see Thus East Germany began to empty into this place in Hungary, and thence into Austria and West Germany. The East Germans were thus forced to make a decision to let people cross the Wall, and they gave a press conference on 9 November 1989 where the hapless apparatchik Gunter Schabowski, in answer to a question about when this would happen, said “Er – as far as I know – immediately” and there was no time to correct this wrong statement because … well, as the pilot of the two-seater aeroplane said, “If I say “Eject” and you say “What?” you will be talking to yourself”.

Here’s the Berlin canal today. People were shot and killed, swimming across this very bit of it. But now the Wall has gone – marked only by a double row of bricks. This girl has no idea about where she is now privileged to stand.

Here’s the double-brick marker line, going out into what is now a street.

Above is a view of pre-1989 Potzdamer Platz. This is very like the picture I took in 1979 (in a previous blog post) but they have planted some nice grass over the minefield. You see those two holder wires at left & right – because this picture is of a souvenir postcard, in a shop. Checkpoint Charlie (see my blog before last also) is now a huge souvenir mecca, with hordes of tourists; it has been necessary to put the little hut back, in the middle of the street, and to get actors to come and pose in American uniforms.

The Checkpoint Charlie museum is bigger and more-visited than ever; and I was very moved to see again the Concrete Opel, which I saw here in 1970 and again in 1979, and it has been an obssession of mine ever since. It has haunted my dreams, and I weep when I think of it, being overawed by the determination of its owners. Behold this most curious artefact:

Oh, it may look old – way out of style – but the car was modified considerably by some East Berliners with a laudable sense of enterprise. The door panels and sides were filled with concrete. The tyres were filled with concrete. The windows and windscreen were solid iron plates, with holes to see through (and added bullet holes):

Of course being so heavy (3 tons) it was limited to about 10-15 kph and it could only go about one kilometre before the engine boiled over, but its importance related to which particular kilometre that was … the last 50 metres of it were in West Berlin.

Another bizarre souvenir: this is the adulatory plaque from Leonid Brezhnev’s summer house in Moscow, now demolished but the plaque was “saved” and now adorns the Checkpoint Charlie museum:

Telephones were very restricted on the East side; here’s Erich Honecker’s phone directory page (users got a whole page each, in quite a small book) including his private number:

Herr Honecker, of course, once put his umbrella up on a sunny day; “Because it’s raining in Moscow” he explained. He greeted the Sun in the morning and at midday, and the Sun politely greeted him back; but in the evening the Sun said “Sod you, Herr Honecker, I’m in the West now”. What is 100 metres long and eats cabbages? – a queue outside a butcher’s shop. One man, tired of queueing, said “Hold my place, I am going off to shoot Herr Honecker” and came back some time later “There was a queue there too”. Tell any of those, and you’d be mining salt in Siberia…

Daft joke

August 22, 2013

The next post will be another gloomy one, requiring time to compose properly, and I am rushed now, so here’s a silly joke to fill in.

An American, a Russian and a Chinaman were stranded on a remote jungle-covered island. They decided to get organised before setting out to search for food.

“I feel I have leadership – I should be the President of this new island” said the American.

“I feel power – I should be Chief of Armed Forces” said the Russian. (In a thick music-hall Russian accent, of course).

“Chinese very resourceful, so I should be Minister of Supplies” added the Chinaman.

They shook hands, slapped each other on the back and set off into the jungle to forage for food. After a while the American and Russian realised they had lost the Chinaman.

They set off back towards the beach, looking for him. Suddenly he jumped out from behind a bush and shouted, “Supplies!”


July 16, 2013

We set off towards Utrecht. Lovely forest ride, well-marked path, we did very little riding on the roads and when we did, all the car drivers were amazingly courteous. One of our 6 bikes (Abdy’s) has a GPS unit on it, pre-loaded with every turn and point on the ride. Abdy also had the paper map on his bike, and I thought he was navigating from just that! Anyway after a couple of hours of this apparently miraculous manifestation of mobile map-reading we realised we were suffering from caffeine withdrawal syndrome.

At the next village we asked a little old lady if there was a cafe. No, she said, but you can have coffee at my house. So in our sweat-soaked riding togs we trailed in to her immaculate little house, terrorised her cat and drank her coffee.

She showed us her family photos, had recently lost her husband and they were keen motorcyclists. In the garage was a 1936 Motobecane, some other motorbikes and a magnificent nearly new Honda Shadow. If we had had more time I could have swopped some tales … but when I get home (in 10 weeks) I will write to her and exact my revenge for her kindness and generosity.

We had lunch beside a canal (with the lifting bascule bridge shown in the previous post – I am taking some liberties with the timing) then in the afternoon it rained, heavily. We blew into Utrecht in driving heavy rain, riding beside a hairpin-shaped road beside the canal. The road is that shape so that cars can crawl up and down it slowly, while their drivers admire the females displayed in the little houseboats on the canal. None of the girls seemed interested in soggy cyclists. I would have been very happy with just a cup of hot tea, but I recall the words of Mr George Formby:

A pretty girl comes up to me, and we begin to chat
She said she’d give me something nice if I went to her flat
I said I’d like a cup of tea, she seemed to think it odd
And just when it was time to go, she charged me thirty bob

Our GPS route led us, soaking wet, past this famous attraction of Utrecht and through the city and across the old city to our hotel.


July 16, 2013

May I recommend the Lonely Planet Netherlands guidebook which, in addition to the usual guff about windmills, cheese, dikes and museums, has a number of handy phrasebook pages. For example:

And a page of useful things to say in relation to, well you guess:

One imagines attempting the act with phrasebook in hand … hold on a minute while I look that up … what is the Dutch for “Please stop looking at that picture of Margaret Thatcher”. They could have added:

  • Ouch!
  • Get off!
  • My mother wouldn’t like it
  • – Your mother is not getting it

And the drinking page (p.176) could have added:

  • Cheers!
  • Here’s to Australian-Netherlands friendship
  • Here’s to Netherlands-Australian friendship
  • I think I’ve had one too many
  • Where is the toilet?
  • Can you call me a taxi?
  • – Yes, you’re a taxi.
  • He is talking to Ruth on the big white telephone.

Cheapo Air

July 7, 2013

On a dark rainy day one winter, probably a Monday morning, corporate executives sat around their boardroom table. Gloom and despair abounded. The coffee was going cold and the biscuits were stale. Suddenly one bright young executive piped up. “Hey, I’ve just thought of a brilliant way to Make Money” he cheerfully crowed. “You know how everyone over-stuffs their airline baggage … well, we are going to make money out of that.” Older and sadder men, encumbered by the wisdom of ages, glared in his direction. “But this means we’d have to get some aeroplanes and operate an airline and all that flying stuff” objected the Chairman. “I’ve thought of that” replied the young upstart “The profits and fees from the baggage will greatly exceed the costs of actually flying anywhere.”

In fairness to the cheapo outfit we flew with, they only charge a few euro to fly from Pisa to Eindhoven, and they fly directly; the big airlines go via Heathrow or New York or anywhere, and they charge ten times as much. You book your ticket on the web and it’s really cheap; you can take 10kg of cabin baggage but the check-in baggage is extra. As are various taxes and fees, including a payment fee, for paying for the other fees. So the final bill is more than you think. If you want to actually reserve a seat instead of scrambling with the masses, that’ll be extra.

For the check-in baggage you can opt for 15kg or 20kg. As we are allowed 10kg of cabin baggage I thought we’d be OK with 15 kg to check in. Near-panic set in when we realised we each had exactly 25kg of stuff, as we read the terms and conditions. It’d be 50 euro extra to buy an allowance for an extra 15kg bag.

Every time you visit the web site, you have to wade through 4-5 sets of tricky payment screens for extra stuff and services that you don’t need. It would be easy to tick the wrong box and buy stupid stuff. Having waded through it several times to read the rules and check in, we printed our boarding cards (which was difficult, as we had no printer; so I took a PDF on a USB stick to the agency that managed our 1,000-euro Italian apartment, and asked them to print 2 pages; they said “no”). But if you show up at check-in without your own already-printed boarding pass, the airline can print it for you … oh yes indeed … for a fee of $95. Each.

At the airport, having been there the day before and seen the procedure in action, we found an unused lane and used its scales to adjust our bags so that they fell within the allowances. Our check-in went OK with each bag basking on the scale at 14.9kg … had it been overweight, we’d have found that you can’t upgrade from the 15kg allowance to the 20kg – why not? – you have to buy a new 15kg allowance (which now suddenly costs 60 euro). And buy a silly suitcase (70-95 euro) to put it in. It would be far cheaper to buy another ticket and fly an empty seat, but now they won’t give you a baggage allowance for it.

Boarding the aircraft was, well, interesting as no seats are reserved and the overhead lockers were full to bursting. But when all the hurdles had been overcome and the plane had taken off, the payment boot was suddenly on the other foot and we enjoyed the airline’s increasingly frantic attempts to make more money from its passengers. They sell the food and the water, of course, but nobody bought any. They sell the in-flight entertainment, but nobody watched it. They try to get you to use the controller thing which is also a telephone, but nobody made a call. They send a hostess up with a tray of wristwatches … nope. (All of these bargains were earnestly announced on the PA asystem. You need noise-cancelling headphones to withstand it). They reduce the price of a telephone call by a factor of 10 … nada. Hostess comes back with a tray of aftershave … no luck. Then they try to sell scratch tickets for a lottery. (There is another famous and legendary way of making money on a flight, but it would have needed more room and would have shaken the aeroplane somewhat. The Mile High Club gained no new members today).

Our feeling of serenity increased every time we declined one of these ever more desperate offers, and so it was with joy in our hearts that we landed and, lugging our 10kg cabin bags that could more safely have gone in the hold, we walked off the plane, across the tarmac (a bus would have cost extra) and out of the world of Cheapo Air.

Tomorrow: the String Bike! But as I’ve put no pictures in this post, here’s one of the L.T. of Pisa seen from above (it is the thing at bottom right; I have drawn a helpful red ring around it).

More jokes

May 22, 2013

Three logicians go into a bar.
The barman says “Would you all like a beer?”

The first logician says: “Possibly”.
The second logician says: “Possibly”.
The third logician says: “Yes”.

– – – – – – –

A mathematician walks into a bar. And says, “Ouch!”

– – – – – – – –

An Ethiopian, an Eskimo and a Peruvian llama herder walk into a bar. The barman says, “What is this – some kind of weird joke?”

– – – – –

And if you program computers in LISP:

(eq today (car (cdr life)))


May 14, 2013

Recently I cycled 150km across the NZ SI, and I have an amazing trip in Holland and Germany coming up soon. Look, this is southern Holland with the cycle routes in blue; this is from a useful iPhone app called TopoMaps Offline:

And I had two cyclists staying at my house. I rode with these guys in India – Ladakh, actually, in the far northern, slopey bit of India – it was very hilly – in 2011. They stayed a couple of weeks and we went out on the bikes a lot; I’ll do another post of some of the rides. One of them had the Garmin Edge 910 cycling computer, which had all the bells and whistles you could ever want. So I bought the more basic version, the Edge 510, and I am very pleased with it. (Unlike the much more expensive Garmin Zumo 660 for my motorbike, which let me down very badly with hardware and software faults all across Russia, and by the time I got home it was out of warranty and I had to pay to get the faulty hardware fixed.)

The Edge 510 records GPS and also heart rate, cadence, temperature, altitude etc and you can dump the data into a desktop computer and display it as graphs. Here’s 4 graphs from the profile of the first bike ride I did, to try it out.

Well, actually, the first bit where I keep getting up to 80kph was on a train – you can see the 7 station stops that it made. And you can see when I stopped for lunch. I’ve never seen my heart rate before and I will be interested to follow it (and improve it, before I die from obesity or general unhealthiness, etc). I was riding with Barbro on this one, and we took it fairly easy – but today I was out on a much harder ride with the Whitehorse Cyclists, here’s some of the graphs from that; my poor old heart was cranking up to 160 revs.

See how the speed (blue) goes down and down as the elevation (green) goes up 😦

The Edge 910 displays maps as well as your GPS position, but the 510 doesn’t have maps; it displays your route on a blank background. So it is useful for people who do not care about where they are going, and are interested only in where they have been – like the Oozlum Bird, which flies backwards for this reason. But when you get home, you can display maps and see EXACTLY where you’ve been on the desktop PC. Here I come, around a roundabout:

Here’s Edwardes Lake Park, which has two public bogs, the little spur is to the first one, which was closed so we visited the second one:

We stopped for coffee. We didn’t really slew right across Janefield Drive after coffee, in a caffeine-fuelled fit of mania – the track takes a while to get adjusted. The lower square is where I went into the cafe to order the coffee.

In unrelated news, here is a Colouring Sheet for Lazy People; I like the expression of despair on the animals.

Joke: Gems from Melbourne Public Transport

May 1, 2013

Train announcement:
“To the two passengers getting a bit excited, could you please stop what you are doing.”
(a minute later) “Yes! You two! We have cameras and we can see you. STOP IT.”

Another train announcement:
“To the young boy in the third carriage, please do not press the emergency button again. It is for emergencies only. Authorities have been notified, and these include Santa and the Easter Bunny.”

Overheard conversation:
“You know, Frankston would be a nicer place if they removed all the people.”
“Hmmm … would the drugs stay or go?”

MYKI card (smart card necessary for travelling), web site, FAQ:
Q. What if I’ve forgotten my MYKI card when I go out?
A: Go back home and get it.


Hoping my luck holds

April 19, 2013

My desktop PC packed in and I bought a new one, that’s why the blog has been dormant for more than a week.

The new PC runs Windows 7, most of whose features I can avoid, so I quite like it so far. All my files were carefully backed up, so the worst bit has been to re-establish all the passwords and configurations and preferences and stuff that were stored in the dead PC.

I have a box of Fortune Cookies, these are very lucky but today they went past their use-by date. Now I don’t know what might happen.

Job Interview Joke

April 7, 2013

Interviewer: “What is your greatest weakness?”

Candidate: “Hmmm … Honesty.”

Interviewer: “Really! I think honesty would be more like a strength than a weakness.”

Candidate: “I don’t care what you think.”

Tired Old Joke

March 16, 2013

This one had everyone in stitches when I tried it on at the Mitta-Mitta Muster – and this was the first time ever that someone innocently gave me the second line. My poor wife has endured my attempting to construct this joke for 30 years or more, and thinks it is no longer funny.

A: My wife thinks I am crazy, just because I like fried eggs.

B: Well, there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact I quite like fried eggs myself.

A: Really? Then you must come and see my collection, I’ve got thousands.

Probably due to Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. But at Mitta-Mitta it was even funnier because a Barrister was present among us, who did not understand why it was funny. We tried to explain it for him …. “The response is considered risible consequent on the forced denial of the implicit assumption that the first speaker has presented as a reasonably sane person. Upon perception of the second remark the listener is forced to revise this assumption, the resulting catharsis having an arguably comic effect…”

Churning between Telco service providers

March 7, 2013

I am starting to write this blog again, to make it a regular habit as I fly off soon for 4 weeks in New Zealand  – … so let me start with my Tale of Woes when I decided to change Service Provider for my house and mobile phones. I suspect the telco’s are as bad as each other, so need to name names. Sorry, this post will have a negative tone.

There I was, in a JB Hi-Fi shop on Dec 21, where I saw an advert for a better telephone deal than I currently had.  Three years before, I had churned away from my proposed new telco, so I still had a dormant account and ID with them, before I moved house so all my details were out-of-date. I spent 3 hours in the shop while several shop assistants tried to correct my details with the telco, so I could register for the new phones.

It was not feasible to get the landline or internet installed before Xmas, and when I did get an appointment for the new line it was for January 4. I would get a new number, but the old number would play a recorded message, free for 12 months. Jan 4 came and the new telco required me to cut off phone and ADSL service from the old telco, which I did, then I was told “oh we meant suspend, not cut off”. Now I had no internet and no telephone, and the line cannot be reinstated. But, “now that you have disconnected we can start looking in our diary for a time to connect you”. So January 4 never was the day for a new connection – it was the day for losing the old one, and then looking to see when a new connection might be made.

After a nice quiet week with no phone and no internet, a techo showed up but he could not run the new cable from the street pit into my house – the house was rebuilt a few years ago, and the pit no longer aligns to it. It would be necessary to cut a trench in the pavement, and sure enough, a week later some guys showed up and carved a little ditch along the path and across my garden gate, filling it in rather untidily.

Now I could get my new Internet connection – but suddenly the telco decided they wanted to see, of all things, my house purchase contract. Luckily I was able to dig this out, so I faxed it to the number given, well, actually I didn’t because that number just returned a silent line. I rang up to sort this out (all these calls involved a 20-minute wait or run-around, on a mobile phone) and they gave me a second fax number, which went to a silent line also – what kind of a telco is this?  So I made a PDF and e-mailed it.  But the contract was not good enough, they wanted to see the page at the end with my signature on it. That page in fact does not have my signature on it, it has the signature of the man I bought the house from, but I PDF’d this and e-mailed it also.

Finally the techo arrived and installed the 4G modem. This was a wireless modem – I had ADSL before – and he insisted the signal would reach all throughout the house. It did not. After a day or two with my computers in the wrong room I ended up trailing Cat 5 cables up and down my hallway to make an Ethernet connection. But hey, I was back on the air again. The new phone number worked fine, but dialling the old number did not play you a message about the new number; my social life had started to grind to a halt. I reminded the new telco about this and they promised to re-install the old line and number, at no cost to me, with a message on it, by 1pm Friday. On Friday, 1pm came and went but at 3pm I got a call “we have done it now” – they had not. So I chased this up (another 20-minute wait) and they said “Ah yes, we decided to address this task by not doing it at all, and not telling you that. The task is therefore concluded and gone from our records.  But you can apply for this as a new job, which will take 3 weeks….”

Wife got tired of blue Ethernet cables trailing up and down the hallway so I bought a Gigabit switch and got a sparky in to wire up some proper LAN sockets all over the house. I had to force up some planks in my outside decking to give access under the house. The LAN sockets were very nice, but the job cost $1,400 and two of the six sockets were faulty. I got a mate in to fix those, so now I owe him a slab.

So, after 6 weeks of agony and whole days on the phone, or on the neighbour’s phone, with high stress and aggression at times, I had my new internet and phone service working. I could tell it was working, despite nobody knowing what the number was, because my old number was on the Do Not Call Register – and my new number was not, so I was inundated with spam calls from Indians wanting to sell dubious schemes.

And today the icing was added to the cake – I’m going overseas next week, so I asked for International Roaming for the mobile, and they won’t let me have it because I have not been a customer for 6 months.



February 21, 2013

OK, two jokes.  Once upon a time there was this Norwegian forester who bought a chainsaw.  Took it back to the shop the next day “You said this new saw could fell 50 trees a day – but I could do 3 or 4”.  “Give it here” said the man, pulled the cord and the motor started – Brrrm Brrmm BRMMM.  “What’s that noise” said the Norwegian.

Here’s another joke, closer to home.  A certain friend of mine, a very close friend, well OK it might be me actually, recently trimmed a garden tree with a chainsaw.  The saw hasn’t been used for a couple of years, but I recall putting a new chain on it.  Despite that, it took quite a while to cut through a branch only as thick as my arm.  So I bought a Sharpening Kit, clamped the saw in a vice and set to work.  I studied the instructions meticulously but they did not make sense … until I realised the chain is fitted BACK TO FRONT.

I’ve done “The Long Way Round” but this was “The Wrong Way Round”. Whipped the chain off, fitted it properly and now the saw doesn’t half go, cutting tree wood like butter.  Derrrrr ( – the sound made by my wife, not by the saw).