The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 1 (May 1, 1929)
Talking of Trains and Divers Affairs
Atrain is something that people run for, wait for, are late for, or miss, according to the degree of their perambulatory acceleration.
Most people take a train for granted, many for pleasure, and a very few for nothing.
The majority of the non-locomoting public imagines that train-hitching is a simple matter, and that when a train is to be made up the stationmaster strolls out of his stationery cabinet, or whatever his domicilary habitat is officially designated, and yawns: “Well, boys, what have we got in the yard to-day?” and that the assistant inspector of permanent ways and means replies: “Well, we've got a horse-box with a hot-box, a sleeper with insomnia, a couple of cattle trucks with catalepsy, a sheep truck that's a trifle too sheepish, a corridor car that's had a biff on the buffer, three” X “wagons with a load of three X which we have held for personal examination, a postal van that's being fumigated because we found a dead letter in a pigeon hole, a guard's van that's been in the vanguard of an argument concerning the right-of-way, and a young” A.B.“engine that's still learning its alphabet.” Whereon, the stationmaster replies: “Well, fill the ‘A.B.’ with H.O., stoke her up with C.O.A.L. until she starts to B.O.I.L., and hitch up anything you find on wheels, except the weighing machine and the roller skates of the inspector of rolling-stock.”
This emphatically is not the case. On the contrary, mustering rolling-stock, entails more linguistic and physical jerks than mustering live stock.
Cow-catching in Venice.
The intimate secrets and rigorous ramifications of railway running were all elucidated to me by a black-shirt named Ana Nias, who said that he was once a cow-catcher on the Venetian railways. In case you do not appreciate what a cow-catcher on the Venetian railways means, let me explain that he is the official who stands on the pergola of the gondola, and leaps off when he detects a cow on the line. His job is to see that the permanent way is not converted into the milky way with curds and whey. He throws the bovine interloper off the rails, brings it to a full stop, and causes it to imitate an inverted comma by turning it on its back, in which position, of course, it is completely cowed, and is helpless to molest, impede, or otherwise create a hiatus in the poetry of motion.
As the Venetian railways are run solely on water (garnished perhaps with a hint of garlic page 13 and Fascism to give it foundation) the cow-catcher must combine the muscularity of a matador, the toughness of a door-a mat (Italian pronunciation), the waterproofness of Mr. Macintosh, the cow-consciousness of a dairy inspector, and the turning propensities of Dick Whittington, who, as you know, became Lord Mayor of London merely by rotating on his axis.
However, we are not as concerned with the activities of Ana Nias as we are interested in his knowledge of railway matters.
Trains and Translations.
He solved many problems concerning which I have often been tempted to interrogate stationmasters and porters, only they would never stand stationary sufficiently long for me to pop the question. All trainmen seem to be in permanent training—probably to the end of tossing the tablet, jumping the points, catching the cow-catcher, and punching the pasteboard, at the annual railway sports. But Ana Nias knows all about trains. For instance, he explained that the man who gives a rendering of the Anvil Chorus with a hammer on the carriage wheels at railway stations, does so to soothe the sleepers, who are liable to take fright at the slightest mention of bogeys. If their fears are not lulled they are prone to roll over in their beds and upset the timetable. “Why,” I interrogated, “Do engines sometimes wear their funnels at the wrong end, as it were. It looks unnatural, and must be inimical to the psychological metaphysics of the unfortunate engine to go galloping through the scenery, tail first. It is liable in time to produce locomoter ataxia, oscillation of the harmonium, or some other complex to which engines are prone when they get run down.”
“Your observations,” replied Ana Nias, “are certainly prestigious and tantamount to physiology, but they show a certain ignorance of the hypersalubrious exuberancies of locomotives. You forget that an engine is one of the most versatile of ferreous fauna. It can blow its nose through its hat, hiss through its heels, pant through its pockets, and take a drink through a hole in the back of its neck, so why shouldn't it be capable of wearing its funnel aft instead of for'ard, and thus perambulate in juxtaposition to the scenic redundancies of the landscape. As a matter of fact, engines run with their tails facing the approaching distance only when they are tired. It encourages them in the belief that they are headed for home when they are not.”
Space will not permit me to impart all Ana Nias's knowledge concerning trains, but you can judge from his language that he is a man of remarkable learning.
His knowledge of foreign lingos is also profound. He told me that the phrase “suprema a situ,” which you will notice emblazoned on the Wellington buses and trams is Antiphlogistine page 14 for “comfortable seats to sit on;” also that the term “quid pro quo,” is Yiddish for “I.O.U. a pound,” that “pro bone publico” indicates a good hotel, and “ante bellum” a square feed. So much for trains and translations.
Pride of Place.
To hear Ana Nias expatiate on the Bay of Naples, one would imagine that he had built it himself or at least held a mortgage over it. However, my Mussolinian mentor is not unique in this respect. “My country ‘tis of thee,” is a slogan universally adopted from the pineapple mines of Singapore to the hen-runs of Cochin China.
I once knew a man from McKenzie Country who met a man from Taranaki. In the course of mutual recrimination the question of mountains arose, as mountains have a habit of doing. The man from the south swore by Franz Josef that Mt. Cook was superior in contour, scenic grandiloquence, and tonnage of snow than Mt. Egmont. On the other hand, the man from Taranaki declared by the sacred cow, that Egmont, for symmetrical awesomeness, geological omnipotence, and antedeluvian lineage could beat Mount Cook by a landslide and a couple of avalanches, and then have something to spare. The discussion was finally terminated by the champion of the southern exhibit striking the supporter of the northern eminence on the nose. It transpired subsequently that neither of these boosters ever had been within yodelling distance of their respective idols.
Clearly “pro patria” is no idle superfluity of sentiment. Contrary to general public opinion the term is NOT synonomous with “an Irish prize-fighter.” A pugilistic son of Erin is a lamb compared with the heat the above-mentioned sentiment is capable of engendering.
The citizen of Pokeko Swamp will fight as fiercely in defence of his native morass, as will Benjamin B. Booster of Niagara, to uphold the superiority of the continuity of moisture which precipitates itself over a cliff in his native vicinity. Naturally, neither had any part in the creation of these phenomena, yet both are convinced that the prestige of the respective accumulations of geology upon which they exist on an extremely insecure tenure, depends on their personal efforts.
No doubt, Diogenes considered his barrel a superlative sort of keg, possessing barrelesque advantages unheard of by the Ancient Order of Coopers, and boasting a bung fit for a bungalow.
What is this panegyrical hyperbole which prompts us to perch on the apex of our personal dust-heaps and crow?
Patient reader, it is an atavastic anachronism known in modern language as “pride of place.”
Adam possessed it until his lease was abruptly terminated for a breach of the Orchard Act.
It is a metaphysical microbe which lodges in the sensibility of such diverse creatures as mutton birds and miners, bivalves and bipeds, rabbis and rabbits, barnacles and barmaids, porcupines and pork-butchers, seals and sea-captains—in fact, this sentiment of loyalty to certain slabs of Nature's insentient impedimenta is a worthy ingredient of human nature.
During a launch trip in the Pelorus Sounds I was a witness of an example of the noble sentiment which might have ended in disaster. The launch was jazzing through the tortuous channel which guides the mariner to Havelock—between sticks topped with jam tins and discarded billies, which serve to mark the course. Every time the skipper jammed his hellum hard a'starboard or harder a'port we all page 15 clutched the rail as a precaution against an over precipitate entry into the hereafter. The skipper's tiller-hand was so nicely adjusted to his optical sense that I am sure he could have struck a match with his prow without bending the match. He wore white whiskers, a billy-cock hat, a slow grin, no laces in his boots, and his three score years and ten with youthful ease. He was as laconic as a “Captain Cooker” and as humourous as a weka.
A globe - trotter from Norway, and a length of human magnetism from Michigan, U.S.A., sat together on the edge of the deckhouse comparing notes. The Norwegian spoke in broken English, the American in a species of Morse.
“Yust like d' fjords of mine Norway beloved,” mused the Norseman sentimentally. “So blue the waters iss.” The Michiganian sniffed. “Blue,” he snorted, “I'll say th' w-a-a-tors of th' great lakes'd make your-r-r frauds an' this here look as pale as an ice cream sundae with a liver attack.”
“Not so,” countered the Norseman. “My fjords beloved—” It was unfortunate for both that their hands should be employed in gesticulation just as the skipper turned a figure of eight and swung the boat on her tail with a wriggle like a captive tuna, for they both shot off the deckhouse as if their understandings had been greased, and disappeared simultaneously beneath the Pelorous Sounds. With much backing and filling and nice seamanship on the part of the skipper they eventually were salvaged—a sorry pair of waterlogged tourists.
Perhaps the skipper's remark was ill-timed, but it was certainly pertinent.
“Well, gents,” he drawled, “did ye find th' waters of ole Pelorous as wet as th' waters of the fords an' the Mitchagains?”
But the skipper was in the sere and yellow leaf, and much latitude is allowed age.
“Pro patria!” What a noble sentiment.
We of New Zealand—but no, let the Publicity officer tell you all about it; after all, it's his job.
They love their land because it is their own, And scorn to give aught other reason why.