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?

Diagram

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.

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Shark/Toast Relativity

Toasters vs. Sharks… Their complex relationship has been hinted at both in documentaries and articles, with the outcome generally being that toasters are considered the more dangerous of the two. Statistically this is correct… Let’s assume the above sources are accurate; a global maximum of 15 fatal shark attacks per year compared to 300 fatal toaster ‘incidents’ per year (down from 3000 when first introduced!). It is therefore evident that you are at least twenty times more likely to die when pfaffing about in the kitchen, or wherever you keep your toaster: I won’t really judge you on this.

But I am uneasy with this statistic for a number of reasons:

Kitty of the Apocalypse

  1. I have personally never been killed by a toaster and I know how to use one.
  2. Were I in the ocean or aquarium with a large-and-dangerous-enough shark I would feel very self-conscious
  3. A lot of electrocution happens from misuse, rather than an insatiable drive to fulfil an insatiable appetite.
  4. There are a lot more toasters than sharks.
  5. Toasters have only been around for a century or so… Sharks considerably longer.
  6. Proper documentation on shark attacks is a relatively recent thing, giving them a rough 500 millenium headstart on transforming humans into shark noms.
  7. People generally use their toasters more than swim in the ocean.
  8. Toasters don’t really seem that sinister

Point Four interests me particularly. While there are no accurate figures of populations for any shark species (many are endangered or threatened and numbers have generally been declining over the last hundred years) and with great white estimates alone ranging from hundreds to thousands,  I did manage to find some toaster statistics: 15.3 million made in 2006 (an increase of 3.38% from 2005). Apparently toasters also last six to eight years and that means those made in 2006 are probably still around, so this cumulates (with the respective increases) to about 99.9 million toasters in the world. I would say that is a very conservative estimate, as this figure would only provide one toaster for every three people in North America alone.

Admire the interesting avant-garde design.

Anyway, that is all fine and dandy. What about dangerous shark populations? Considering the species depletion and that most sharks need to be adult and over 2 metres to be a general ‘threat’ I can only guess wildly that maybe the number would be somewhere around a million. Probably more, possibly less.

For the purposes of this totally inaccurate and non-scientific study, that means toasters outnumber sharks a hundred to one. Therefore if you matched the toaster and shark populations, both at say 100 million and assumed fatality frequency was proportionate, sharks would then be responsible for 1500 deaths a year; five times that of the toaster.

Of course, this is highly unlikely because if shark attacks were that high I’m sure there’d be a much greater human aversion to being in their environment; causing a corresponding decrease. But you know, that’s logic for you.

“Five times that of your toaster”

Similarly, time spent around/using toasters are subject to debate (Point Seven). Is it unreasonable to say that everyone who has a toaster uses it? However, not everyone has access to shark-infested water (which admittedly, is most water), the ability to swim in it, the time to go to it regularly, and the fundamental desire to go in it. If we assume a toaster is used once a day for 3 minutes (18 hours and 15 minutes a year) you would also have to clock up the same amount of annual risky swimming time for the comparison to be fair, and no, this does NOT mean you can be behind shark nets either, or take other protective measures. You wouldn’t wear insulated gloves and a rubber suit when handling toast now would you? Being in the natural environment is essential! (Though if you do use a fork to get things out of an operating toaster, it might also stand to reason that you should do your swimming in a seal costume and around the RING OF DEATH off Seal Island) Also, you can use your toaster anytime, but in some parts of the world people can only feasibly swim in the summer months, translating around an hour a week in the summery third of the year to offset your toaster-time.

I doubt this is realistic in general; obviously the actual number varies dramatically from person to person as it is often a lifestyle factor. Let’s say the average person spends two hours a year in the ocean (on a suitable equatorial holiday or something): nine times less than required. If there’s a correlation that would mean shark attacks would leap to 136 a year, reaching almost half the toaster-death amount.

Don’t let his playful appearance deceive you!

AND IF WE COMBINE THESE TWO FACTORS….

15 current fatal shark attacks a year x 100 (to equal toaster numbers) x 9 (to equal time around toasters)= 13 500 Deaths per year.

Therefore SHARKS are proportionately FORTY-FIVE (45) times more lethal than toasters

Also bear in mind that these are just the fatal attacks. According to the above sources, fatal attacks are only around 17.6% of documented ‘attacks’ and this would cause 76 500 people to find themselves in some sort of uncomfortable sharky experience. (255 times more likely than their toaster-death scenario)

The moral here is: If you want to compare toasters and sharks and how big a threat they pose to humanity, make sure they exist in similar numbers and we use/annoy them to similar degree.

Moral Fibre.

If comparisons of such statistics are ignored then it is possible to come up with all sorts of obscure or misleading truths that provide both a false sense of security in situations of actual danger, while simultaneously managing to inspire a paranoid approach to everyday activities and objects that becomes the daily sensationalist ambrosia of the trash-media.

That said all the above calculations are scientifically useless. So, you know, ignore them.