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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 10 (May 1, 1929.)

Along The Road — Some Sidelights on Sight-Seeing

page 12

Along The Road
Some Sidelights on Sight-Seeing

Democracy on Bogeys.

Since man took to wearing a calculating machine under his hat and proclaimed himself the king of beasts, he has found it increasingly difficult to live up to his lofty estimation of himself. In fact, without the extra cuticle of importance which he has assumed for public occasions, he is still quite an ordinary human animal without personality, pep, polish, push, savoir faire, sang froid, esprit de corps, or any of the other nine hundred and ninety-nine psychological appendages which serve the needs of frenzied civilisation.

It has been asserted somewhere by someone that Death is the king of social levellers. I venture to suggest, however, that the railway carriage (second class preferred), for reducing the human ego to a common denomination, can give the old reaper a furlong and beat him by a bogey; for however elevated or depressed might be our social status in the great world outside the railway station, the moment we buy that piece of coloured cardboard with the curious little marks on it, at the ticket grill, we join the great fraternity of train-travellers; we are divested of social rank, we shed the robe of pomp and circumstance, and become a unit in the pure democracy of the railway carriage. Our slogan is “seats for all and all for seats,” and our badge of membership is the three-cornered ham sandwich of the railway refreshment room. Our common bond is the knowledge that (pro tem or perchance) we are sacred charges of the State without responsibilities, obligations, or personalities of our own.

We are as little children. The guard clips our ticket with an air of fatherly indulgence, and assures us patiently, both jointly and severally, that the train Does stop at Murphy's Siding. If he does not sing us a lullaby and warn us against hanging by our feet from the luggage racks or poking our heads down the cuspidors, his reason for the omission probably is that he requires all his concentration to find enough cardboard in which to punch another hole in our ticket.

Thus, in the railway carriage human nature reclines, if not actually in the raw, then considerably underdone. In this condition it intrigues the attention in the same manner as does the inside of a brown-paper parcel, and we see others as, deep down in our secret consciousness, we see ourselves.

We see the haggard man with the plump but liver-coloured wife who sinks weakly into a seat and moans for an aspro, while her marriage-burdened partner engages in a bout of catch-as-catch-can with a tin trunk, a box of eggs, two potted aspidistras, and a brown-paper parcel. We recognise the gentleman with the plum-coloured frontage and the fruity breath who wheezes and clucks like a broody “Rhode-Island-Red” at the grave and scornful baby in the next seat. The youth from the hinterlands of the fern-country sits opposite, chewing the same bulls-eyes that he has chewed since railways came into being. His headgear may have grown a trifle smaller, and his head a thought larger, but he retains his air of god-like isolation. He cares nought for public opinion, and breathes robustly through his adenoids with a noise like the lapping of waves on a shingly beach. The pampered page 13 child with whom every traveller is acquainted, endeavours with a persistence worthy of the cause, to achieve self-destruction through every open window, and the tightly-buttoned lady (with the cold disapproving eye of a frozen fish) contemplates the youthful excrescence with the baleful longing of a leashed boa-constrictor viewing a plump calf. We renew acquaintanceship with the ubiquitous Maori boy, who is cursed with everlasting toothache, his large round eyes which peer over a wondrous woollen scarf, coloured like an intoxicated rainbow, regard us with a hint of sad reproof.

A tin trunk, a box of eggs, two potted aspidistras, and a brown paper parcel.

A tin trunk, a box of eggs, two potted aspidistras, and a brown paper parcel.

Mother and clad are there—work-worn and quiet—feeling like Ishmaels in this strange atmosphere of ease, where everyone just sits and stares at everyone else. They exchange glances now and then—that is all. In their eyes is the dim look of people who live within themselves. They are getting on in years. Dad's joints are getting stiff and mother has an air of worn competence. They are going back to the farm and seem mildly glad of it. The newly-espoused pair from Rata Peak are still asleep with their heads on each other's shoulder, the fruity gentleman is still giving his celebrated impersonation of a clucky hen, the sophisticated baby continues to wither him with a chilly eye, the guard is again making little reassuring noises at his charges, and the haggard man has escaped to the platform for a lungful of soothing nicotine. All is peace, for we are but simple humanity on bogeys. For the present we are removed from the world, but when we alight we will be again aristocrats and artisans, C.T.'s and O.B.E.'s, bakers and bankers, husbands and husbandmen, saints and sinners—but why worry; we have had a glimpse of A ready.

Night Alarms.

A hostelry is not a retreat for “hosses” any more than a boarding house is a timber mill, but there are occasions when the harassed wayfarer is forced to the conclusion that his traveller's guide has deceived him. When, just as he is about to slip off into slumber, number 13 next door engages in a death-grapple with a python; when the hot-water cistern boils over on the roof above his head, and the last homing boarder climbs the fire escape with a sack of empty tins on his back (seemingly); when mutiny breaks out among the “lizzies” in the garage next door; when the bathroom is so close and the partitions so thin that he can hear the soap bubbles burst as No. 17a goes in off the deep end at the zero hour. When a clicking-beetle plies his trade in the wall and the dog in the yard recollects a bereavement and makes no secret of it. When some person or persons unknown emit nasal reverberations
No. 17a goes off the deep end at the zero hour.

No. 17a goes off the deep end at the zero hour.

page 14 which sound like a squad of demented drapers tearing up bolts of calico, and the night is split, riven, and torn asunder by divers explosions and vibrations, then the tired traveller, if perchance he is an old soldier, sighs for the comparative quiet of the front line.

The World's Best Boil

Taranaki is famous for two reasons; the first is Mount Egmont and the second is Mount Egmont.

“The only way not to see Egmont is to wear blinkers.”

“The only way not to see Egmont is to wear blinkers.”

To visit New Zealand's land of milk and money without making a close inspection of Egmont is akin to taking a bath without water. In these days of vacuum cleaners, perhaps the analogy is not complete, but it will serve. I have met only one man who did not admire Egmont, but he was an ice-cream manufacturer in private life, whom the doctor had ordered to Taranaki to forget his business.

The sightseer can run up Egmont (or partly so) but no visitor has ever had the courage to run it down—before he has got safely out of Taranaki.

Mount Egmont is a breath-taking spectacle. So much so in fact that the collector of mountain dues has adopted a method of taking something from the visitor besides his breath. There is a gate near the base of the mountain. It is an innocent looking gate. There is nothing ominous or sinister or foreboding about it. But that is where the catch lies. The moment the visitor touches the gate his action sets in motion some concealed mechanism and out bounds an official from a little house cunningly concealed in the shrubbery, and relieves him of a shilling.

Any reasonable person will admit that it takes a lot of money to support a great big thing like a mountain. It is not the sort of thing a man could take up as a hobby—he couldn't run it on his salary. But it seems a tactical error to collect a shilling from the vistor before he has even set foot on the mountain. There must be people to whom even a mountain is dear at a shilling. A superior plan would be to let the sightseer in without a fee and charge him to get Out. There must be hundreds of visitors who would prefer to pay a shilling rather than spend the rest of their lives on a mountain top. Eg-mont broods over Taranaki like a huge and melancholy blanc-mange. Wherever the visitor looks he sees Egmont. The only way not to see Egmont is to wear blinkers. Egmont has been described as a phenomenon, a monstrous whim of Nature, and a gigantic protuberance, but the best description came from a gentleman from the States who exclaimed: “My! I'll say that Eg-maant's sure the world's best boil.”

The sightseer climbs up to the hostel through bush which looks dark and primeval. It would hardly surprise him if a naked tatooed Maori were to peer out at him with rolling fearful eyes as the motor groans past in second gear. But he is more likely to meet on the road (as did we), a surveyor, a handful of roadmen, a steam-roller and a tar-boiler. Even romance is tar-sealed in these days of progress. But in spite of man, Egmont broods, a grim and hoary monument to the past. What scenes the dark old mountain must have witnessed, what secrets must be locked in her rocky breast. She is a siren; she fascinates, she beckons, and she is capable of destroying.

page 15

Sight-seeing and Seat-sighing.

The sightseer is a person with a curiosity complex and a sufficient cash reflex. The seat-sigher is plus the curiosity but minus the cash. He sits and sights while the sightseer sees the sights.

The chronic sightseer is known unscientifically as a homoglobin or globe-trotting homo. He is readily recognised by certain physical peculiarities. His eyes are often globular and are filled with wonder, like a pair of motor lamps. His neck is frequently like that of a swan who is wearing his face back to front. In extreme cases his nose points in an opposite direction to his toes, as if he is reluctant to leave the sights he has paid for, but is anxious to get on to fresh fields of exploration.

The sightseer is readily recognised by certain physical peculiarities.

The sightseer is readily recognised by certain physical peculiarities.

The sightseeing bus is the sightseer's natural habitat. Here he is in his native element. His eyes goggle glassily, he twists his neck this way and that with invertebrate dexterity. With ease he looks under his arm, through the hole in the roof, and recklessly winds himself round the back of his seat in his anxiety not to miss what he has paid good money to see. The bus halts, and the driver indicates an indistinct something which might be a church or a discarded cheese. “This,” he announces, “Is the house that Jack built.” A murmur runs down the line, and there is a grinding of vertebrae as the sightseers twist their necks round the compass. The nearest sightseer says, “Oh, yes—the house that Jack built.” His neighbour tosses the information back until everyone is sighing, “Oh, yes—That'S the house that Jack built”—all except an old gentleman on the back seat who places his hand to his ear and pipes, “Yes, and a very nice mountain it is, too.” He is promptly tossed out, and the bus moves on to the next exclamation mark.

The Tea Jugglers.

The Tea Jugglers.

Ah me, travel is a great thing, as Scotty remarked as he boarded the car for Oriental Bay. The sights one sees! Why, it is worth a train fare to see the tea-jugglers at the railway refreshment rooms doing their celebrated catch-and-carry act with a dexterity that is uncanny.