Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Wacky Signs

    As I mentioned on my home blog, I have travelled to 83 different countries over my lifetime. I am now busy digitalising the thousands of slides and photos I took during these adventures, and am therefore taking the opportunity to share with you some of the unusual signs I photographed overseas. This is a work in progress, so feel free to come back every few months to discover what new sign has been added.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Christmas with the Demythologizers

     My late spiritual mentor, Dr Alan Cole once lent me a book of humorous verse by the Rev. E. L. Mascall, entitled, Pi in the High, The Faith Press, London (1959). I have already shared one of its poems in my previous post. This one is the second half of "Christmas with the Demythologizers", which was inspired by the book, Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, by Rudolf Bultmann, Ernest Lohmeyer, Julius Schniewind, Friedrich Schumann, and Helmut Thielicke, with an appreciation by Austin Farrer (S.P.C.K., 1955).
     To appreciate it, you must understand the background. The "demythologizers" were a group of German theologians who wished to remove from Christianity what they considered "myths" - which they defined rather broadly. "Kerygma", the Greek word for preaching or proclamation, was what they considered to be the essential message left after the "myths" were removed. Du und ich is German for "Thou and I". The footnote regarding "many ancient authorities" will create no confusion with readers of modern Bible translations; it is used to alert the reader to variant readings of the text. 
     So, here it is:
Christmas with the Demythologizers. II.
Air: Good King Wenceslas

Dr. Bultmann ventured forth
    Boldly from his study,
When the wind was in the north
    And the roads were muddy.
All his thoughts were in a maze;
    This was not surprising.
He had spent some weary days

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mushrooms to Ozonides

   I had been planning to entertain you with several comic poems, such as Nothing to Wear, or some Australian classics, like The Integrated Adjective, or The Spider by the Gwydir. However, it seems some other well-read bloggers have provided the service for me. Instead, I shall quote a poem you probably haven't seen before. It comes from a small book by the Rev. E. L. Mascall, itle Pi in the High, The Faith Press, London, 1959. The footnotes are in the original.

          A False Trail
by E. L. Mascall

With what delight thy leaves we scan,
Encyclopaedia Britann-
Ica, of which the Fourteenth Ed.
Is much the best, so it is said.
It has a transatlantic touch,
But not, like later eds., too much.
Each volume bears, in chaste design,
Its sweet content upon the spine.
Thus I may range with Vol. 19
from Raynal unto Sarreguemines.
Sarsparilla taketh me
(Vol. 20) unto Sorcery.
In 21, dark horrors hinting,
Sordello leads to Textile Printing.
And so I pass, till 24,
Proclaiming knowledge is no more,
Staves off the wearied soul's collapse
With hosts of indices and maps.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ye Shall Occupy the Land

    It's amazing what you can find at the Lifeline Bookfest. I happened to turn up a 1925 publication called, Island Films, reminiscences of "German New Guinea", by Capt. James Lyng. He had taken part in the initial Australian occupation of the island of New Britain during the First World War, and was thus able to shine light on a period of history of which the average Australian knows nothing.
     For some reason, he chose to describe his adventures under the name of Captain Jones, and on pages 96-98 he prints a poem attributed to a Private Andrews in Rabaul. It is one of those items which are never likely to enter the register of the English classics but, nevertheless, it deserves not to remain completely forgotten. So, with this in mind, I shall transcribe it here. Please note that it is not politically correct.

Ye Shall Occupy the Land

I wish to speak to-night, kind friends, on this world and the next,
And as it's going to be a sermon, I must first announce my text.
You will find it in the Bible, in those noble words and grand,
"And the Lord said unto Moses ye shall occupy the land."
Now the man who just supposes that these words were meant for Moses,
His great ignorance discloses, as I think you'll all agree.
For it means, although unwritten, that our foeman must be smitten.
We must occupy New Britain from the mountains to the sea.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Donkey Cart Built for Two

     One of life's little ironies is that some beautiful songs appear, make us happy for a while, and then vanish like an evanescent perfume, while songs of minimal merit hang on like a bad smell. A friend of mine once suggested that this is because they bear similar features to jingles.
     As an example, in 1892 Harry Dacre penned a song entitled, Daisy Bell, which contained three easily forgettable verses, each followed by a single, totally unforgettable chorus, which commenced:
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do,
and ended with a reference to
a bicycle built for two.
     People who do not know the second verse of the National Anthem - or even the first - can recite the chorus of Daisy Bell verbatim - and probably one of the many parodies.  But not one in a thousand knows the three verses, or the name of the author. Probably most people think of it as a folk song, in the same category as such anonymous evergreens as My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean and She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain When She Comes.
     Be that as it may, the Wikipedia entry for Daisy Bell contains the full three verses, if you really want to read them. But it has relegated to the discussion page what used to appear on the feature page: a link to a British ballad broadsheet in the Bodleian Library, containing the text of what might have been a predecessor. This was Sarah, Sarah, or A Donkey Cart Built for Two, written and composed by Harry Bedford, and sung by Kate Carney. Allegedly, the broadsheet dates from the period 1877 - 1884, but no date appears on its pages. Also, Kate Carney was born in 1869, and Harry Bedford in 1873. Therefore, I am inclined to believe that the song is a parody, rather than the origin, of the more famous one. If so, it was a very early one. A contemporary newspaper records that it was being performed in the Tivoli Theatre, Sydney on 4 August 1894. That was little more than two years after Daisy Bell opened in New York. Admittedly, we do not know what music Bedford composed for it, but the wording and rhythm of the chorus make it impossible to believe they were independent.
    In any case, in my continuing campaign to bring culture to the masses, I have decided to record the lyrics here:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Med Students' Song

    On a late rail journey sometime in the 1990s, I came across some medical students from the University of Queensland, and was disappointed to discover that they had never heard of The Med Students' Song. How quickly local tradition dies! I myself had never studied medicine, but I had been introduced to the song by a teacher while in high school in the 1960s, and a few years later, at university, I managed to copy the full version from Whacko, a racey student magazine published every year during Commemoration Week.
    So, lest the tradition die completely, here it is, compliments of that prolific balladeer and joke-writer, Anonymous. From the reference to "fifty guineas", you will gather that it dates to before decimalisation in 1966. In the 1950s, this would have been equivalent to three weeks' wages for a labourer.

    The Queensland Medical Students' Song
            to the tune of Clementine

          In a back street, you can see feet,
              Skin and bones and in-tes-tines,
          Being tangled, cut and mangled,
              By the blokes in Medicine.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Pommy Version of "Waltzing Matilda"

It would have been in 1969 or 1970, when a fellow zoology undergraduate – an English immigrant – taught me “the Pommy version of Waltzing Matilda”. It is one of those things which should not be left to drop into oblivion, so here goes:

Once a jolly vagabond, camped by a lily pond,
Under the shade of a sycamore tree,
And he sang as he watched, and waited till his kettle boiled,
“You'll come a-walking a bulldog with me!'

Friday, March 4, 2011

Confessions of a Bibliomaniac

     You may remember that, some time ago, we had the International Year of Literacy. Well, I won't deny that it is useful to know how to read and write. But I must present myself as a warning of the dangers you run. I am a bibliomaniac. I am addicted to books.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Adventures of an A.S.O.C. in the A.P.S.

     Someday soon - say, next year or the year after - a position will become available at work which I hope to get, because I'm sure I'll never need to do it. Of course, there are other people who could say the same, but one thing is certain: if it goes to anybody so inexperienced that he or she will actually have to perform it, then a lot of appeals are going to be lodged.
    You see, I work for the A.P.S., the Australian Public Service, where I'm an A.S.O.C. 4 who's really an A.S.O.C. 2.  Or else I'm an A.S.O.C. 2 who's really an A.S.O.C.4. It depends on what is real in the Public Service. That is the question. No, seriously, our career structure is really quite simple, but a lot of outsiders find it difficult to understand, so please pay attention.
     Once upon a time, there were two types of public servant: Clerks, like me, who had class, and Clerical Assistants, who had grades. Then it was decided to amalgamate them, to help those who couldn't make the grade - or were outclassed. Henceforth, we would be A.S.O.s : Administrative Services Officers, and our classes and grades would become levels. But then, without any announcement, the powers that be began calling our levels classes. So we all became A.S.O.C.s - ay-socks - instead of A.S.O.L.s - arseholes. Nobody ever explained the reason, and there is a school of thought which believes that the original term was more appropriate - especially for the higher levels (or classes).
     Now, there are two types of job in the public service: the jobs you own and the jobs you do. The jobs you own are listed in the Australian Government Gazette, and once you have been "gazetted", it is very difficult for you to fall below that level (or class). Otherwise, you will be doing "higher duties". To give you an example, I've been in the public service for 12 years and 5 months, and I've been on higher duties, off and one, for - oh - 12 years. But things are changing. My section is close to a low in the number of people on higher duties: no more than 41% next week.
     So you see, when the planets are in the right conjunction, and a position comes up for gazettal, there's a free-for-all. The odds are that it will go to somebody who's been doing it for donkey's years or, more likely, to somebody who hasn't been doing it for donkey's years, but has been doing something even higher - also for donkey's years. But everybody else has to have a go for it as well, so that they will be "rated suitable", and allowed to perform it on higher duties. This occasionally leads to some minor anomalies, such as the time I had to obtain a referee's report from a candidate for the same job.
    So much for the jobs you own. The jobs you do come in two categories: the jobs somebody else owns, and the temporary jobs. The temporary jobs come in two types: the temporary temporary jobs and the permanent temporary jobs. We once had an entire team which was temporary for 7 years. In fact, at one stage in my section we had 46 people working on real jobs - many of which were owned by people outside the section, some of whom were never expected to return - and 10 people in permanent temporary jobs. There were also 6 real jobs which were unoccupied, because everybody was doing higher duties, and at least two permanent temporary jobs which were unoccupied except on a temporary basis.
     Normally, when you are put on higher duties, it is "until the return of the nominal occupant", which often means the same as "till the cows come home". One fellow is doing the job of a nominal occupant who retired, resigned, or was made redundant - I forget which - a couple of years ago.
    Me, I'm not so secure. For 4½ years I have been filling one of four identical A.S.O.C.4 positions. There used to be five, then there were three, and now there are four, but they are all the same. And because I've been at the same desk all that time, I naively assumed I was secure. But it turned out that the nominal occupant had come back for a couple of weeks and, when she left, while I wasn't looking, they gave it to a roving A.S.O.C.4 whose own position had been abolished. After that, although I was still at the same desk, I was officially doing the job of whomever was on higher duties or holidays at the time, until I managed to win one of those positions again.
     Only now, the nominal occupant has returned. So I don't know whose job I'm doing any more. It's either the job of the fellow who's doing the job of the man who retired, resigned, or was made redundant, or else it's the job of a woman who's upstairs doing a permanent temporary job which is about to be gazetted, while the person who's supposed to be doing her job is on higher higher duties doing the job of the man who's doing a temporary temporary job, which looks like going on for a long time. I wish I knew.
     Just think, only 17½ more years before I retire! But at least you can see why I intend to apply for every position going. This is one A.S.O.C. who is going for B.R.O.K.E.
     Don't laugh. This is serious. My career is on the line.
     The above is the text of a speech I gave at a Toastmasters' humorous speech contest in 1991, and it accurately portrayed the career structure in the Compensation section of the  Brisbane branch of the Department of Veterans' Affairs at the time. I swear there was not a word of exaggeration. On the contrary, only time restrictions on the speech prevented the addition of even more anomalies, as suggested by many of my work-mates.
     It would be too complicated to explain how that state of affairs eventuated, but you may wonder how long it lasted. Well, in the mid-1990s, a total reorganization was performed, and this time the union insisted on every officer being gazetted to the position he or she occupied. Thus, although I continued to climb the promotion ladder, for most of the last 13 years I was working at my official level. However, it did not take long for the junior levels to be swept back into the old round of higher duties and periodic gazettals. If any of my old workmates are reading this, I wish them luck.

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