The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 3 (July 1, 1929)
Whirled on Wheels and Maddened by Mechanism
The Age of Din-Vention.
Dear reader, you will agree with me that thingamy's invention of to-day is nothing more than your idea of yesterday, tailored in puffs and pants and aided and abetted by brass-studded racketty-coos, super-serrated hurdey-gurdeys, and demi-semi-quivers. Do not protest that at some time or another in your darkest moments you have not thrown a mental conception of the gabblephone, the saxamoan, the I-scream cone, fireless illumination, henless incubation, footless perambulation, wireless commotion, the vacuum screamer, the slayer piano, the ukedilly, the scareoplane, and the tripewriter—in fact the whole box of wheezing ironmongery that sits on our chests by day and haunts us by night.
It is greatly to your credit, however, that you refrained from giving material manifestation to your mechanical morbidities. Not so the inventors; they are of baser clay—almost mud, in fact. They have no bowels of compassion—only valves of compression. They pursue us with maddened mechanisms, while they themselves are merely hanging by their finger-nails to the tails of their own inventions. They have tuned us up until we are ever two jumps ahead of ourselves, and have as much chance of catching up as the can on the dog's tail.
The inventor has annihilated space and time, and peace of mind, and has dealt Humanity a stunning blow on the dulce domum, or bump of serenity.
“Hurry!” yelps the modern mile-murderer. “Step on it,” squeals his wife. “Give her the gravy,” shriek his young Robots in chorus, and they all rush hither at desperate speed, and when they get there they all rush back again. Whither, dear reader, and why the slither. It is vain to ask the inventor. He is—like house-maid's neck, Mussolini, and Monday—a necessary weevil in the dog biscuit of existence, but also he is a mere insentient section of perverted protoplasm who suffers from a dumbell in the carillon, an air pocket in the mental acoustics, a marcelle in the cerebral pastry, squeaks and rattles under the bonnet, woolly aphis in the chamber of horrors, and water-bubbles in the bowser.
Notes on Nature.
He considers Ma Nature an inadequate and decadent dame, who should be relegated to the wax-works, and whose achievements are only fit to exhibit in Class B, of the Amateur Section. And yet (hist!), while he is directing his full broadside of intellectual “minnies” on the problem of evolving an asbestos moth, by crossing fireblight with electric-light bulbs, she is reproducing him, “holus bolus” and “in purus naturalis,” complete with hooter, howler, hot-air, and seamless body, and with the latest innovations in the department of internal affairs.
While the inventor plans to hover motionless, thousands of feet above the earth, the old lady quickly plants him six feet beneath it.
Who is the riper fruit, think you? Mrs. B. Nificient Nature, or her unnatural son, Robert the Robot?
The Boneless Wonder.
But we must, in fairness to the inventor, admit that out of the riot of whirling wheels, there have arisen inventions which have proved a joy and a page 13 blessing to man. I refer most particularly to the boneless wonder, known vulgarly as the sausage, but recognised in scientific circles as “terrier incognito.” Certainly this overcoated enigma wears no wheels or other visible means of support, but nevertheless it has managed to keep up with the march of progress on its merits only. Truly, the proof of the sausage is in the plucking, but as collateral proof of the affection and regard in which it is held, let us contemplate the poignant and immortal lines of Xavier Oxblood, the piecart poet of Potsdam.
Consider the sausage
How it glows,
It coils not
Neither does it spin,
And yet I say
In all his glory,
Was not arrayed
In such a skin.
Verily, the sausage is a blessing in disguise; there are those who submit that the disguise is too complete, and others who say that it is too thin, but let us leave the verdict to experts like Edgar Wallace.
Suffice it to say that the humble sausage could aptly be described as the common bond of empires, and as such, should be utilised as the coat of arms of the League of Nations—say, a sausage quiescent on a field of dog-daisies, bearing the device “pro bono publico,” meaning of course, “we pick no bones in public.”
Squaring the Circle and Circling the Square.
But ignoring any further claims of the predigested perennial, what think you, is really and truly the greatest invention of all time. Yes, reader, your mental phosphoresence does you credit—the answer is in the affirmative; in other words it is “the wheel,” described by Dan Webster, in his famous Welter of Words, as “a circular frame turning on its axis; an instrument for spinning and for torture,” which serves to prove that conditions have altered not at all since the days of Dan.
In some histories of the whirled you will find that the invention of the wheel is ascribed to China, which, if true, accounts for the record number of revolutions to the square mile in the land of the drag-on. On the other hand, Ima- Bit-Dizzy the Hottentot historian asserts that the wheel was first used by the ancient circle of Rotarians for circularising and rounding up their members who failed to act on the square. But whoever it was that started the wheel whirling he has more on his conscience than his Borsalino. Lucky for him that his patent rights have long since expired. But wheels, like everything else in this vale of gears, can be used for weal or woe.
Hansom is as Hansom Does.
I once could claim title to a luxurious uncle who smoked cigars and was an inveterate hansom-hound. He used to roll everywhere like a substantially upholstered caliph in wheeled hoodah. Frequently he invited me to “hop in m' lad,” just as if I were one of the boys of the old brigade, Oh, the palpitation produced by the reek of musty leather, the mystery of the doors which closed without a suggestion of human agency, the pleasantly horrifying spectacle of the unwinking bloodshot eye which appeared at the peep-hole in the roof like the green eye of the gloating glimp. There was romance, mystery, intimacy, serenity, in that ancient accretion of perished leather and wormy wood, and you felt that all was well, for the captain was up aloft. You had no need to brush the blur of lamposts and fences out of your eyes: you had leisure to enjoy the envy of the humble pedestrian and to splash him well and truly with your mud.
Hoots and Toots.
Equal to my affection for the hansom is my admiration and respect for the railway engine. She is truly a lady of the old school, who nevertheless has kept up with the times in important essentials. She is eminently respectable, safe, sound, and sympathetic. She realises that she springs from aristocratic rolling-stock. No glad rags or ribald ravings for her. She dresses in black with quiet dignity. She moves out of the railway station with a discreet “toot,” like the Duchess of Thorndon retiring to whatever an engine's boudoir is called. Make no mistake, she possesses character and power, and can use them both, but she knows when to use them and when to throttle down. She can beat the “moderns” at their own game, but she is speedy without being “fast,” she never “gets off the rails,” and never goes gallivanting hither and thither like some of those gasoline gad-abouts who are deficient in mechanical manners. She is the oldest and the yet most up-to-date of the self-propelled plutocracy, and she knows it. Let us bare our crank-cases to this high-born lady, whose pressure-gauge palpitates with maternal feeling for us all, and whose way undoubtedly is the Permanent way.
The Seven Rages of Man.
It truly has been said that man is born to borrow—or is it sorrow; in any case both are equally true. Truer still it is that man is born to bituminous bounding. From the moment his new-found father turns from him more in sorrow than in anger, and asks the nurse if it is necessary for a new-born babe to impersonate a neglected radish, up to the period when his hardening arteries abandon him to the mercy of his relatives, man rambles on rollers. Thus the seven ages of man have acquired a significance unrecognised by Mr. H. G. Dwells in his Outline of Mystery.
Motor - cycle mania usually breaks out simultaneously with pimples. Being in receipt of seven and sixpence per week, he takes advantage of the higher-purchase system and lives on the remaining two and six by cutting down everything except food, clothes, cigarettes and entertainments, and squares his budget by borrowing from “the boy's best friend.”
With the accumulation of years and hairs on his upper lip, his motif is the motor-car. You know how it is done. A mortgage on the life policy, a raid on the savings bank, a clearing sale of his boyhood treasures (sob), and he is the owner of a one-tenth, undivided share, in nine feet of sheet-metal in which is concealed the inner history of an alarm clock, and enough trouble to start a war. Finally he ends up—as I hinted—in a bath chair, where probably he is more comfortable than he has been ever before.
The Last Pedestrian.
One night I dreamed a dream. I saw, as in a glass damply, a vision of the last pedestrian on earth. I noticed that he was small and gaunt—as if he had run fast and far—but in his eye was the stubborn fatalistic expression of the Tuatara.
Although it was obvious that he was determined to sell his life dearly, with his back to the bitumen, he was doing his best to keep his obituary out of the papers. It was evident that he was a decadent specimen of an almost vanished race.
Although every occupant of the charging cars was doing his best to carry out the slogan of “get your man,” the lone pedestrian succeeded in beating the “balloons.” But he was hard pressed and it was obvious that he was up against the radiators. As each jangling juggernaut rushed him with gleaming headlights and snarling exhaust he leapt over it, under it, or betwixt it.
Finally the end came with merciful swiftness. He slipped on a patch of gear grease and bit the bitumen. With a hoot of gasolinian glee, fifty taxis, lorries and limousines leaped on his recumbent form, and when they had finished he was transmogrified.
The scene changed. Suddenly I noticed what appeared like a wisp of mist, which rose above the scene of his downfall and then settled to the ground. Slowly it assumed human form, turned and smiled at me, and I saw that it was the ghost of the last pedestrian—the unconquerable, unquenchable, valiant spirit of the typical pedestrian had survived, and was pedestrianating to its own send-off. Vive le pedestrian!page break