The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 7 (November 1, 1929)
Riddles And Railways
What is a Conundrum?
Dear Reader, what is a conundrum? Perchance it is one of those cerebral eruptions which run thus:—
My first is a liquorice ladder, my second wears a tail at both ends and wags in the centre, my third is something you can't have until you get it if you haven't got it, my fourth is like nothing on earth, my fifth is what auntie says when she catches her thumb in the wringer, and the whole bundle of brain-fever leads to the knowledge-college. No, astonished reader; let the Wizard of Wessex put this brand of mental myosis across each month in the “Monomaniac's Monthly,” but for us the straight and narrow banana, the dinkum engine-oil, and the permanent way of sanity.
We itch not to ask you: “Why is a Wherefore?” or “When is Wednesday?” the answer to both of which, as you know, is “Because no matter how large a pane of glass you can break with a sledgehammer …” Nor do we wish to corrugate your roofing with the species of educational epilepsy which causes in-no-cent little children to gnaw their rulers down to the last inch and to drink their mapping ink; we refer to such arithmeticklers as this: “If it takes a yard of catsnip at ninepence a nip to make a catastrophe, how many grocers make a gross?”
“If John eats ten pies for lunch, how long will it take the ambulance, travelling as fast as it can amble, to reach the hospital?”
No, no, Nanette, none of these sanity-snatchers appeals to our sense of justice, so erase the furrows from your milk-white brow (see advertisement on page 00—how to unfold the face) and wade on. To get to the point, what is a conundrum? A conundrum, gentle reader, is something you can't eat—always excepting the mince pie, which is more like the mystery that still baffles Scotland Yard.
According to Webster, the only American who has ever made the English language intelligible, “a conundrum is a riddle proposing for discovery some point of resemblance between things apparently unlike.”
While agreeing that Webster, the word-wizard, surely unleashes an earful, we must insist that the things we propose for discovery, resemble each other so closely that it is possible to identify them only by their birth marks. We ask you, “Why is a railway station like the centre of gravity?” and we expect no reply; on the contrary, the solution is so easy that we offer a prize of a free trip on the platform scales at any railway station for anyone who cannot answer it correctly.
The Farce of Gravity and the Force of Levity.
Interrogate yourself, gentle reader; is there not some irresistible attraction about a railway station, stronger even than the farce of gravity or the force of levity? Do not all roads lead, sooner or later, to the rails? There is magic in a railway station, for it is there you see human nature at its best—warm, happy, busy, tingling, palpitating, expectant, humanity; kisses, handclasps, partings, and welcomings; fat luggage, homely parcels, all manner of merchandise; paternal officials whose very appearance makes you feel constrained to take their arms and call them daddy, and all the three thousand and ninety-nine phases of human nature that, in the aggregate, make “life.”
Let's sit awhile and watch the world entrain. We see the careful commuter (which is Americanese for train-catcher); he is a small man with an O.S. wife and many head of children wearing his ear-mark. Having arrived an hour and a quarter before schedule time, they wrap themselves round half a gross of bananas and gaze at the goods shed fixedly, with a sort of surfeited satisfaction.
We see the inevitable late-comer, who is invariably a large male; his bag bears a labelled itinerary which should entitle him to the freedom of the seas and the earth and all that in them is.
We recognise the brand new married couple who, despite their air of matrimonial indifference, are so obviously fresh from the altar that the engine hums “Here Comes the Bride,” and the porters come over all goosey. There is the cute C.T., who is itching to tell someone something he heard at the Savage Club; also, the old lady who wants to know if the train really goes; the human luggage lift accompanied by the marital inspiration of his perspiration; the fat girl who appears to gaze hungrily at the plump baby on the next seat; the modern incarnation of the Queen of Sheba, who never travels without eight air cushions and a vanity case as big as a mail-bag; the semidetached wife; the self-contained spinster; and—in short, the whole box of human tricks.
A gay scene, demme! — a bright and colourful scene.
No need to go to gay Paree,
Los Angeles or Rome,
To see the sights—
The leading lights,
You'll see them all at home.
The things you see,
The sounds you hear—
The cream of all creation.
Just rest your feet
And take a seat
On any railway station.
The lilt of life,
The throb of hope—
Why search the hazy distance?
The railway station
The colour of existence.
A philosophic sort of soul
Who thrives on contemplation,
Will taste the essences of life,
On any railway station.
The pulse of joy,
The beat of time,
The throb of expectation—
No need to travel round the world,
You've got your Railway Station.
The Typographical Tourist.
But we must apply the Westinghouse to our exuberance, lest you, temperamental reader, react as did the gentleman of Kalamazoo, Mich., who, having accumulated a bankful of dollars, desired to test the national theory that the Benighted States occupies nine-tenths of the globe, by galloping over the remaining one-tenth touristically. To his amazement, while running the microscope over the terrestrial sphere (made in U.S.A.) he discovered a rugged little piece of land which looked as if it might have slipped off China during a gale, but which bore a name lending colour to his theory that it had drifted out of the Zuder Zee at spring tide. “Little old Noo Zealand,” he murmured, and called for “literatoor” on the subject. Unfortunately, owing to a run on such printed matter, none was available, so he wrote to Enzed and received enough typographical information to fill a truck. For a week he locked himself in his dollary (American equivalent for library), refusing to see even his favourite footwear merchant. Finally he emerged, a changed man; he looked entirely “kruchenised”; his cheeks wore the ruddy glow of health, and his brow was tanned; at intervals he cried, “haeremai,” and demanded mako-shark on toast.
“Say pop,” queried Sadie, his youngest and most expensive issue, “when air we going to li'lle ole Noo Zee?”
“Going to Noo Zealand,” shouted her dollarous parent. “Why, kid—I've Just Got Back.”
Which just shows the power of the printed word.
Love and Lipsticks.
Thus, dear reader, it is evident that love is not the burning question of to-day.
Sea-Legs and Saxaphones.
It is necessary for some people to be canned before they can be candid, but we are painfully sober when we say that the question to which we have been leading up, and running round, is, “What shall we do with our male young?” Of course, we know what to do to our boys—that is something which “every father knows.”
As we contemplate them in, their cradles, looking like the negative the photographer ruined, or the bag-wash's blunder, we plan their futures.
We say, “Oh, yes, he will be a sea-captain,” without even examining his extremities to see if he possesses the rudiments of sea-legs, or overhauling him for tattooed anchors; or we remark to his mother, “What a lovely saxaphone player the lad will make,” on the flimsy grounds that he seems to be addicted to orgies of wind spasms, and moans in his sleep.
Only by surreptitiously studying the vocational vagaries and rudimentary reactions of our young can we hope to train them in the way they should grow; for the child is the man and the man who can be the child is some kid.
The infant who socks his aunt in the eye with his porringer will not necessarily turn out an eyesore—he may degenerate into a movie comedian, which unfortunately is often the same thing. The child who falls into everything without a lid, and frequently lands himself in hot water, may fall into something good in the dry-goods line later on, especially if he can transfer from hot water to hot air. For the infant who howls indefatigably it is easy to predict a successful career as a radio denouncer. But the bright lad who eats coal, boils with indignation, has no fear of bogeys, tries to throttle the cat, and rides the rails of his cot, is on the highway to the railway; in short, his life's motif is the locomotive, and even with the home signal against him, he is bound to collect the tablet. So let our song be “Watch and Wait” rather than “Bait and Botch.” As the circus proprietor said to the stationmaster while he trucked the elephants, “There are often big things in train.”
Lives of others oft remind us
We should neither plan not plot
Furtively to make our infants
Into something that they're not.page 28
Having vocalised on vocations it is only “meat and right” (as the butcher remarked) that we should put the points over to Vacations, for the holiday spirit is already manifesting itself in summer suitings and semi-detached frocks, and soon the sleepers will awake to the song of old King Coal and his army of fiddlers.
Summer's a Bird.
If there is anything certain in this world of ink and blink, it is that summer is a “bird.” We know it, because we get the bird every morning. He arrives with the first flush of dawn, but he is no flusher; he is out to deliver a beakful—the completest range of fruitiest, fluteist, throbbiest, throatiest melody that ever fructified under feathers. He opens the meeting with a restrained throaty murmur like Gertie's morning gargle; then he lets slip a whispering whistle as if reluctant to connect us too abruptly with the daily task; but almost immediately he throws discretion to the dogs and tips over a gross of preludes in everything from A major to “Z stands for Dutch cheese”; he follows up his advantage with a storm of warbles, sinks into low gear for a moment; and then steps on the gurgle-gas and tells the world with variations. He whistles like a tram conductor, hoots like five o'clock, moans like the morning after, and suddenly chirps plaintively as if realising that after all a beak is a poor medium for expressing the emotion which surges beneath his pin-feathers. Nevertheless, he tries them all over again, flinging them over, tossing them through the lead-light, sobbing, whimpering, shouting, gurgling—entreating you with tears in his eyes to believe with him that summer is at hand. Finally he gives it up, positively with a subterranean sob, as if he would say: “You poor cuckoo, if this is not enough to convince you that summer is about to spring, and that it is time to park the chest-protector, may you fry in an asbestos overcoat for the rest of your life.”
And he is right, for—
So This is Summer.
Soon we'll be beside the sea,
All the kids with you and me,
Losing skin but gaining pep,
None to grizzle “Watch your step.”
Ice cream cones and lemonade,
Excavating with a spade,
Throwing sand in father's eyes,
Bitten by ferocious flies.
Stewing sweetly in the sun,
Eating sand combined with bun,
Homeward bound with peeling beaks,
Sandy-blight and burning cheeks,
Children shouting, “Weren't it stunner!”
Bet your sun-burnt life, It's Summer!
For soon the world will find a place in the sum and the steel road will hum to the tune of whirring wheels; the daily task will be left in the care of Mr. Chubb, and Enzed will break out in a rash of rejuvenation contracted through Rambling by Rail.
The Railways and Road Transport
With their long experience in the science of transportation, and their possession of facilities such as stations, hotels, steamships, and the like all over the country, no organisation is better equipped to take a hand in road transport than the Home railways. In course of time, it seems likely that railways the world over will become actively engaged in the movement by road, as well as by rail, of both passengers and freight. Whether in this new era they will still be designated as “railways” remains to be seen. Who knows, but that in years to come the word “railways” may disappear, to give place to some more comprehensive term, such as “transportways” or simply “carriers”?