Trois Salv-adorable Vignettes

I’ve had something of a staggering writer’s block during the past 6 months, brought about by a perfect storm of creativity-draining projects and late-night rehearsals, resulting in over a dozen failed attempts at putting anything coherent into already precariously structured sentences, such as this one.

Determined to force something out (in the hope of triggering more literary aftershocks) I resolved on the train today to put down three surreal and trivial vignettes from my youth and non-youth (admittedly not really knowing what a vignette is, nor caring to).

Vignette No. 1.,): Over 5 years ago I was walking out on King Island, during low tide. I needn’t emphasise that the tide was low, as that is what makes the unremarkable King Island so remarkable; it lies some 800 google-map metres from the mainland off Wellington Point (near Brisbane) (in Australia) and is accessible via a sand-bar for walking purposes only during low tide. During high tide there is no reason to venture thence, as the island consists of 100 square metres of dense mangrove and the decaying, seagull-encrusted remains of anyone who ventured thence while the tide was rising. With King Island, it really is all about the journey (see poster below) and not at all about the destination: a pilgrimage to be undertaken purely because of its temporary availability. And if you’re a particularly fortunate pilgrim you might avoid being stung by one of the many washed-up jellyfish. One can only hope that the Bayside Bulletin named it one of the Redlands’ “Major Tourist Attractions” in a valiant effort to hamper the local tourist industry.

As shown

As shown

This occasion became distinguished from my other visits. The sandbar leading to the island extended almost as far past the island as well, so I decided to reach its furthest point. However, after making my way past the main foliage of the “island”, the landscape suddenly became not unlike a Salvador Dali painting; desolate, sandy and littered with hundreds of frozen chickens.

Melting in the sun, the chickens glistened cheekily, giving no hint of their origins, nor explaining their general intact-ness. I cannot find any other account of this occurrence, most likely due to the facts that no-one normally bothers trotting the extra kilometre out on the broken coral, and that the numerous unsavoury predators* of the bay would ensure the small flightless birds would not last another tide. The only other explanations were that I imagined the whole thing? Or maybe it was art.**

Three Quarter Shark

*Three-Quarter Shark

**Seriously, we could not find any art at the Tate Modern, unless it was supposed to be the large and random group of people jogging sporadically in unison around the main hall area. In the words of persons much more perceptive than I: “Isn’t the Tate Gallery great, Valerie?”

Vignette II) There used to be a small jacaranda tree out the front of my house growing up. It (the tree) is no longer there as it turned out it possessed great intelligence and an unquenchable* thirst for water that enabled it to spread its major subterranean tendrils into the plumbing and ultimately emerge from the bathroom sink of our house an unreasonable distance away. (See Diagram)

* Technically, isn’t all thirst is unquenchable in the long run?


This in itself was kind of surreal, as it implies a tree was sinisterly plotting this for some two decades (kind of like a reverse Shawshank Redemption), but there is another story I have regarding it; an experience of near-impalement. One day, hanging upside-down from an (in hindsight) unstable branch for a 13 year-old to be hanging from, I realised perhaps I should probably get down, just as the branch snapped. I fell backwards onto a protruding spike from a vertically-facing branch that had been sawed off. I tried very hard to add this in the Diagram. Fortunately, this spike broke off with my impact, but I ended up unable to move as my shirt was attached to the spike-remainder until a laughing sister freed me, and unable to breathe for a while, apparently from shock.

Typical for Australia, recovering on the driveway meant inevitably being bitten by a green ant* **, which was considerably more painful. I ended up with a spectacular bruised gash and after making it assisted to bed, my family ran a bath for me and then went off somewhere. It took a good half hour to crawl unassisted down that hallway to the bath, like some kind of unthreatening zombie in a third rate horror film, but with much more napping involved.

I don’t know if that is the scientific term*** for them, but they had a green shine to them and a very distinctive sting that came with a phycological effect telling you that it was the worst thing ever.

** Helpful Hint: I learnt that if you soaked them in water first they became much more docile and willing residents for your lego houses. I am not sure exactly how I came to make this discovery.

*** Wikipedia now tells me that green ant is indeed an acceptable term, although it is also amusingly known as the metallic pony ant. I don’t know how they arrived at that one, but I like it.

Vinaigrette Three: While living in Mill Hill, a sunny suburb of London, one of my flat-mates (whose initial meeting of I had managed to avoid for some weeks) happened to arrive home while I was cooking pasta on a gas stove, which of course you should not run away from. She was very friendly and either Dutch or Belgian or some-other-non-UK-and-less-major-European nationality, but extremely friendly and chatty either way.

She began a lengthy dialogue at me about how she had just come back from the dentist. I was all ‘oh that’s nice’ and she proceeded to tell me how she had to leave the house at 4am just to get there, all the way on the other side of the city (which, again, was London). It was currently about 4pm or so. “Well that’s certainly dedication” I replied, thinking perhaps she should try and find a closer dentist, but also thinking maybe there was a long sad story involved about how this dentist saved a close relative of hers who had vicious wisdom teeth or something so I did not voice this.

I became confused, however, when she then stated how people were lining up around the block just waiting to get in – hundreds of people. I again assumed perhaps it was a very popular clinic (London is very populated after all), one that emphasised quality in a soup-nazi-esque fashion. Her closing comments were that she really enjoyed going and planned to go again several times in the next few days. “Good for you!” I thought, smiling and nodding, because I didn’t have any remotely relatable dental experiences.

It was not until she had gone and I had finished the pasta that I realised that Wimbledon was on at that time and in all probability she had actually said she had been to the tennis. But I never did verify this – I think it was also my last proper conversation with her.

Moral Conclusions: 

None. I told you they were trivial. Instead, here’s a photo of a certain (relatively) recently acquired cat playing cello.

Sterling Cello

Much too sul tasto for my taste, but he’s learning.

Sharks on an Ideal Plane

There gets to a point when writing a PhD chapter, when you are on your third gin and tonic for the evening, that one should turn one’s attention outwardly. I’d like very much to share thoughts about my research but the very first thing they teach you in PhD school is that no-one else is interested in your topic, by virtue of being so obscure that it bears no relevance to the lives of others.

Instead I’ll do some calculations.

It seems to me rather odd, in this age of missing planes and controversial shark attacks, that interested parties (airlines and environmentalists, etc) frequently employ statistics to reinforce the fact that these events are exceptionally rare. And yes they are, by-and-large, though perhaps the most spectacular evidence that all is not what it seems, lies in the massive differences of the massive orders of magnitude in such material. And if one person is fit to recognise improper uses of statistics it is I, largely through my own severe transgressions.


Had I used the right shark, I could have called this picture ‘Tiger Airways’ and been appropriate on so many levels.

Earlier this year I came across a promotional poster actually pitting plane crashes and sharks against each other – in favour of sharks I believe (something to the order of hundreds/thousands times more likely to crash than be consumed), which piqued my interest as these are two of my more intimate* fears, and also as I touched upon with that shark-toaster comparison a while ago, I realised that there are far, far, far, far too many factors in plane-shark relations to effectively compare them.

So let’s compare them.

* By intimate I mean that the number of dreams I’ve had involving planes and plane crashes are literally equal. I think become so accustomed I’d be super-demure if I was involved in an actual fiery descent. And also I’ve had a youthful encounter with a carpet shark in the wild and watched Jaws a little early.

Probability of death in an air accident if you never fly and permanently reside in a bomb shelter or other secure underground complex: Approximately 0

Probability of death via shark attack if you never go in or near any sizeable body of water, nor be near a shark in transit, nor otherwise encounter a shark: Approximately 0

Probability to ensure a plane accident (1): Assuming consecutive 1 hour flights you’d need 114.077 years according to some calculations. Given there are a handful of verified people who have lived past that age, you could potentially spend your life working towards that particular goal.

Probability to ensure a shark encounter (1): Assuming 1 million life-threatening sharks (according to my last ‘study’) each with a 5km blood detection range (78.54km^2) equally spaced, makes for a 78 537 816 km squared area of ocean currently under shark-veillance; meaning 23.42% of the world’s oceans are currently detectable by sharks. Totally inaccurate, but let’s go with it. Assuming a cruising speed of 8km/hour in straight lines, it would take our imaginary shark formation 19.635 hours to leisurely cover an entirely new 23.42%, and 84 hours to complete detecting all the earth’s oceans. So if you were adrift in the ocean, basically in the time for an equally-spaced shark to ‘certainly’ detect you (3.5 days) you’d be dying from, ironically, thirst.

We're going to need a bigger boa. :D

We’re going to need a bigger boa. 😀

So in fanciful summary, both planes crashes and shark attacks are something you could (I guesstimate) live to reasonably expect, but only towards the very end of your life in each situation. However, if you took to human shark-baiting in convenient instalments, it would become much more attainable, and there is probably a strong correlation between amount of human-shark numbers/proximity and attacks, whereas flights are more quantitative and can only take finite passengers (one hopes). Anyway, the moral is that both these situations could conceivably become either a statistical certainty OR a statistical impossibility, depending on person, country, airline choices, frequency, stupidity, rugged determination, weather, preferred swimming times, etc, etc, etc.

So don’t.

Seventeen Fifty-Two: A Story of Literal Musical Growth.

Seeing writhing masses of musicians graduating each year, like lemmings into the void of uncertainty, makes me wonder just where their little corpses wash up.

We can probably never know for sure, but one can guestimate the extent of this movement, so I did some quick calculations.

Beethoven as I Knew Him

Ludwig Van as I Knew Him (Musician No. 148393)

Verily, it appears by averaging undergraduate graduation rates from American conservatories* (though they significantly vary between 40-85%), they generally settle around the 65% mark. Furthermore cohort size varies dramatically too, but let’s under-ball and assume cohorts of 50 are taken in per year – meaning 32.5 graduates are churned out at the end per music school.

*I chose America because there’s a large diversity of schools to average plus there’s a good public-knowledge website for graduation rates…

So thanks to the appropriately titled list on wikipedia I counted about 549 schools of music around the world. This means about 17843 new music graduates every year. Let’s “assume” this number will remain consistent for now.

The average lifespan of countries with music schools is approximately 79 years so if graduates graduate before the age of 23, by the time the first batch get old and die all at once on their 79th birthday (which they all share), and at which point equilibrium will be reached (i.e. as many new graduates as dying ones) then there will be the tantalising number of 999 208 music graduates in the world!

Assuming this is retrospectively the case for living memory, and as we made relatively low assumptions in the first place (some major university cohorts are in the thousands!), one can probably say with a comfortable yet vague sense of accuracy that there are over a million ‘trained’ musicians in the world at the moment.

This leads to a more interesting aspect:

Trained Musician Population Over Time.

The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia is apparently the world’s oldest musical institution, founded in 1585. Before this point there were zero musical ‘graduates’.

With our two points of data (and you only ever need two, right?) we can plot a nice graph with a power regression as follows:

Musicians over time

Musicians over time

So, according to the regression y=x^2.280997725 the number of the graduate musicians will reach 5 million before the year 2400. Unfortunately this rate is considerably slower than population growth models, so musicians will ultimately become less and less of an overall percentage over time. By dividing a human population growth formula against the above regression, we can calculate that at the moment there is one music graduate for every 7233 people in the world.

Yet in 100 years the ratio will be one musician for every 17457 people. Curiously, according to this method (and it’s totally way off) the most densely musician-populated year in history was 1752, where there were 1778.55 people per trained musician.

1752 was a leap year, eye-gouging was declared a criminal act and Muzio Clementi was born. Clearly it just went downhill from there.

Compiled Clementi

Muzio Clementi: The Beethoven of his era…

Two Hundred Words Under the Sydney


It is a total relief to be back where sunny days are considered normal, pedestrian crossings are much less harrowing/ambiguous to deal with, and if you want to get alcohol you get to go to a separate non-grocery store. I heartily apologise for the lack of updates – it has been more than a little hectic resettling back in Australia, and while there have been many stories accumulating as a result, they are unfortunately only self-interesting when placed in the context that most people experience them upheaving to a new (or old) place. As of now I am piano-less, ensemble-less and inspiration-less.

In other words, a musicologist. :O

I considered saying something about how I’ve been institutionalised by my time in the UK and I’d probably be swinging under a ‘Brooks was here’ etching in a couple of weeks, but it wouldn’t be true at all. Perhaps fittingly, my last artistic endeavour in the UK was a Matisse-style single-line drawing of the stodgy Postman Pat photoshop job from a few posts ago.


Utter crap.

But as they say in gay Paris; Cat haute vitesse vaut attraper ver tôt!

Nine more words bring the word count to 200.

Morocco’s Modern Life

To set the mood:
Bonnies Poem
Good. Now that’s out of the way, to provide a bit of explanatory background…
It was the heat of the Moroccan summer. We were in Casablanca, heading for Milan. The plane was waiting on the hot tarmac, after a cramped bus ride. Fortunately the plane air-conditioning wasn’t working, and we had for company a family of four somewhat screaming children. There was a not-remarkable delay sitting in the cabin, but soon* we were on our way to the take-off strip. The runway if you will.
I grabbed her hand as I am want to do during take-off and landing. The plane began to accelerate, faster and faster. We were about to lift off; starting to experience that surreal weightlessness when suddenly we began to slow down again. It took twenty minutes to limp back to the tarmac. The crew said nothing beyond that there was a technical error.
Some of the goats were ripe.

The Moroccan version of Newton’s realisation-of-gravity story is a lot more colourful!

The air-conditioning was still not working, which didn’t really matter as we were only a few degrees away from being at the closest possible point on Earth to the sun. We stayed there for three hours in that orange heat. The children grew ever more unruly and it was only later on finally leaving the plane that we were able to survey the true extent of their damage: including the floor of the plane covered with the shattered remnants of those airline safety cards, torn to shreds among a coating of various food crumbs. A coating we too shared. A rebellion was quelling among the passengers and various factions were forming, but before a coup could be attempted the crew announced the problem had been fixed, or that they were going to ‘risk it.’
In any case, it was a major fault with an engine that had to be solved because there were no other planes available and I admit it was not the most comforting experience re-lining up again to take-off. Having survived, Bonnie asked me to write this poem in the car in Milan, my normally illegible handwriting kept rigorously in check by the gloriously cool climate and surprised relief at not going down in a big fireball as I calmly expected.
Cat on a Cartesian Plane

Moroccan cats have genetically evolved to maintain their kitten form well into adult-hood. This leads them to become world-weary and apathetic towards human-cat interaction.

P.S. I completely understand that some countries have chaotic traffic/driving as the encouraged standard, usually with appalling fend-for-yourself conditions. However, perhaps the strangest thing about Casablanca was that the roads and lanes were exquisitely well-marked and signalled, yet everyone disregarded this and drove around like it was American Civil War Reenactment In Socks Night at a museum of waxed flooring.

The Page of Anxiety

What did two siblings get up to back in 2001 with nothing but an excessively large roll of butcher paper, a block of red plasticine, and a camera? Probably not a lot, but here was our eventuality:


Those were happier, simpler times. A time when you could effectively create a program of Monopoly on your TI-83 graphics calculator and when 10 megabytes was considered a lot of memory that you definitely would not attach to an email. Since then I have seen school-age children search for the ‘on’ button on an acoustic upright piano and toddlers attempting to touch-screen-swipe (I don’t know what the term is) actual books in order to get to the next page.

Anyway, there is something timelessly poignant about that rainy day when my sister and I lined the bathroom with paper and created this short, moving film (he’s vomiting at the end in case it isn’t clear; there was some rather graphic audio too, but it doesn’t translate to a gif and no doubt it would offend the internet’s delicate sensibilities). Hell, I’d barely even started piano then. I think ironically I spent more time trying just now to get the functional looping gif to work on this post then it did to create the thing all those years ago.

Oh look, it’s 1am.

Euston, we have a problem…

I like the London Underground.


Surprisingly, Alsatians are the world’s only venomous canine. The male possesses a poison spur on their back legs. Though rarely fatal, it can incapacitate an adult human.

Hailing as I do from Brisbane, where the train network is fundamentally sadistic, one soon develops an acute sense of fear relating to the reliability of the service. There, it is apparent there is a literal “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy relating to train failures, and a half hour journey can quickly grow into a four hour upwards ordeal while lumbering replacement buses are rounded up to wind themselves along the winding backstreets of the outer Brisbane suburbs. One learns the meaning of term ‘languish’ from the experience.

Verily, even if nothing goes wrong the bleak infrequency of literally every train line makes it costly to miss, (emotionally mainly). Between services fierce Alsatians are released upon those still on the platform who didn’t make the train in order to thin the numbers and discourage future tardiness.

They know the deal

Die in open air, the way nature intended. Ask your Druggist about Rat Bis=Kit today! IT’S PACKED IN BOXES!

The London Underground, for all its faults, is a fascinating creature. Two years since I first met it and it is still a pure joy to invariably have only two minutes to wait at most between trains and I always raise an eyebrow at the businessmen who come bounding down the escalators. They fling themselves wildly like a rat on a biscuit at the people-mass crowded into carriages, rather than wait a minute for the next train already approaching. It’s like a freaking conveyor belt, so calm yourselves!

In any case, I’ve wondered with all the stations so close together and with the time it takes to get from the street to the platform, at what distance it becomes faster and cheaper to walk. Furthermore, factoring in the fare costs saved (as well as when delays are in effect), there should be a rough solution to be found.

Some Assumptions:

  • £6.31/h is the UK minimum wage
  • £2.10 – Zone 1 (Oyster Card) trip on the Underground (£4.50 for a single ticket)
  • I’ll make walking speed 6km/h (5km/h is average but you technically need to do fast walking to equate to moderate exercise).
  • Time to get between the street and a station (a rough guess that varies considerably) 2 mins.
  • Time waiting for a train 2 mins.

So. Those are the values. So basically by choosing to walk and not paying a fare, you are effectively getting paid to walk, thus reducing the time-saving nature of the tube.

At a basic level by not paying £2.10 you are buying yourself 19 minutes and 58 seconds of walking time at minimum wage. This is 1996.83 metres!

Seriously. They will even die trying to seek water. It must not happen!

Seriously. They will even die attempting to seek water. It must not happen!

Okay, so that’s almost two kilometres. But remember, by not even going to the station you are saving a little more time. Lets combine the time it takes to get down there and up again and also the waiting time as 6 minutes total (at a rough conservative estimate of course, it depends on station layout). This costs £0.631.

That extra cost saved expands your walking range to 2596.86 metres!! (Taking 25 minutes and 58 seconds to complete)

Also, underground trains travel at an average of 33km/hour which also costs time (though about 5.5 times less than walking). Taking that into account costs £0.0191 per minute relative to walking. This will often be quite negligible and depends on where you want to travel to, but follows an exponential equation.

In the instance above it should take the train about 4.72 minutes to travel the distance you walked (£0.069). This allows for another 65.59 metres of walking. (2662.45 metres!) This additional walking distance buys you another 8.38 seconds for the train to catch up but lets not bother.

Zone 1 MapWith the above diagram; move the blue dot (and shaded red area) to wherever you are and if the station you intend to travel to is within the red outer circle you are financially and time effectively better off walking. Another way to look at it might be that if you’re going vertically in Zone 1 it’s usually cheaper to walk.

A few notes:

  • For delays: Add 31.67 metres for each minute. For instance if there are 10 minute delays on a line, your maximum radius expands another 316.67 metres.
  • If you need to change lines: (say another 5 mins involved including waiting) add another 833 metres to your radius per change required.
  • If you rather enjoy walking vigorously everywhere and cancelled your £40/month gym membership: (that you happened to be using to get your 2.5 hours of moderate exercise a week) the resultant savings add about 1664 walking metres per day.
  • THUS: If you saved on exercise costs and had a line change in your intended route you can walk 5200 metres more efficiently overall than if you used the London Underground (basically the diameter of the original red circle instead of the radius).
  • This would: likely spill over into Zone 2 which would automatically give you another 665 metres due to the increased fare.
  • Finally: if you brought a ticket (£4.50) instead of an Oyster card, you could walk 4734 metres (and that’s just the base figure).

The London Underground Logo. I drew this left handed? Can you believe I’m not left handed?

There you go. I like the London Underground.

P.S. This is my 50th blog post!