The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 12 (March 1, 1939.)
A Chat about Surprises
An old proverb of many nations alleges it is the unexpected that happens. This is a warning that we must look for surprises—and we do. Who is not hoping for them? The right kind, of course, for unpleasant surprises are, alas, too frequent and persistent. When things are going well, you must be on guard against a surprise—the hidden insidious borer that turns your timber into dust.
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This subject of surprises is so big that it is a large surprise to me, for I find my thoughts flitting through a region which reaches as far as the Milky Way. Indeed the history of humanity—at least the history which an average person would care to read—is mainly a history of surprises in things of peace and war. But will the supply of surprises run out? With aircraft doing more than 300 miles an hour, with the living personalities and voices of people canned for world distribution, with oranges ordered to discard their pips, and matter proved to be immaterial, will the times yield more surprises? They will—worse luck!
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But let us drop down to simple things such as war, which many earnest negotiators are trying to abolish. Will they do it? What a beautiful surprise it would be if they could!
In war itself, success may swing chiefly on surprise. Every general who has more brain than bran under his hat strives to surprise the enemy. A very important part of Napoleon's genius was in his ability to inflict surprises on the other fellow. He scrapped conventions to which less brilliant persons clung. He believed that the line of success was like Euclid's straight line—the shortest distance between two points. Thus some of his battles were won before they were fought. The victory was assured by the marching of his armies beyond the rates scheduled in old-fashioned text-books of war. Yet Napoleon was himself overcome by surprise at last in the effectiveness of solidly-parked bayonets against cavalry, when his Old Guard was broken on the glittering steel front of a British square.
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In the milder warfare known as Rugby football the ruse of surprise can turn defeat into victory. At this time of day one would think that the average player would be proof against the “dummy” pass, which leaves an opponent foolishly clutching the air while the delusive holder of the ball skips elsewhere, but “dummy” is still a scoring surprise-packet.
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Turning to everyday life, most of us notice two types of surprises among persons—those who try to surprise us and those who don't—but these groups have their sub-classes. Consider first the deliberate surprisers. They may be politicians, poker-players or bridge-specialists. The politician who loses his ability to surprise the public may as well go out of business. If a poker-player loses his power to cause surprise among his opponents his money will follow suit. However, the average person who relies on poker for a superannuation fund will get a surprise.
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Trophies won by members of the Railways Department, Wellington. The trophies (competition for which is confined to members of the railway service) include the Beattie Shield, the Levy Cup and the Hiley Cup (for Musketry), the General Manager's Cup (for Miniature Rifle Shooting), the Wynn Cup (for Inter-Office Ladies' Relay Race), the Peterkin Cup (for Athletics), the Sports Challenge Cup (for Inter-Office Athletic Competition), the Jopson Cup (for Tug-of-War), the Shrann Cup (for Rugby Football—Wellington and Palmerston North) and the Hayhow Cup (for Cricket—Wanganui and Wellington).
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One of my friends told me recently that the biggest surprise of his life was bestowed upon him by a polite stranger whom he classified on appearance as a combination of moron and robot—otherwise a 50–50 half-wit and automatic rabbit. The stranger was chinless; he had narrow-set lack-lustre eyes; his forehead seemed to have too much slant to hold a hat; he drawled; and he had disturbingly baggy trousers, and an absurdly short coat. My friend was introduced to him, and treated him rather airily—talked down to him as one who needed to be told that twice two made four if the calculation was carefully made. Then it gradually came out that the stranger was a master of arts and a doctor of laws; he had been a champion lightweight boxer and a famous footballer; he was a clever billiardist, a tolerable flautist and a sufferable performer on the bagpipes. Yes, as the proverb hath it, “Appearances are deceiving.”
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Have we not all had similar experiences and others, exactly the opposite? Have we not all among our acquaintances a person who looks like a compound of Solomon and Solon—the beginning, middle and end of all wisdom—with a nobly rounded dome of thought and a well-moulded countenance? He looks as if he could dictate new workable rules for the world at large, until he speaks—and then he falls into the pack of nonentities. Later, we learn that he sells sausages.
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Much of the joy of life consists in retaining the faculty of being surprised. Many a suicide has followed the failure to be further surprised at anything in life. However, one must beware of going to the other extreme which bores ones' friends. We all know the tiresome type of citizen who is in a chronic condition of surprise. He is surprised when the weather is fine and when it is wet; surprised that you are well, and surprised if you are ill; he is surprised at the success of the solid Toddleton (who was supposed to be dull), and surprised at the failure of the superficial Springby (who was supposed to be smart). Indeed he is surprised that he is alive himself because he has just nearly died of surprise at his lucky escape from a heedless headless motorcyclist.
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Our pleasantest surprises are in our reveries and dreams. Life may not give us the joyous surprises of our hopes and merits, but by taking thought we can add cubits of stature to our importance in the scheme of things as we see them in the fireside armchair or in bed. When the plodding Dodderson has been passed in the course of fortune by his old schoolfellow, the proud Purseval, and has been cut by the money-magnate, and snubbed by his expensively-furred fat wife, icily lorgnetted by her from her luxurious car, he has no meek and mild acceptance of his fate. He has a vision of himself as one who will overwhelm them with a terrific surprise some day, if the luck will only come his way (through a lucky draw in a lottery).
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Memories of fairy-tales and the stories in old school-readers keep a rosy hue on our cherished hope of the gladsome surprise, which may be just around the next corner to the right or left. The world has not too many Prince Charmings, but it has plenty of Cinderellas, hoping for thrillful surprises. Well, it is better to find happiness in surprises deferred than to sag into unimaginative stodginess.
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Also, there is always one comfort left for the dreamer. There is one way—not always an easy one—to surprise one's friends or enemies; it is by working for one. As a poet has put it:
The world owes you success and joy;
The world owes you respect;
And all you have to do, my boy,
Is hustle and collect.
New Zealand Railways Publicity
“The greatest publicity factor that New Zealand has got.” In these words, the Rt. Hon. Lord Strathspey, in the following letter to Mr. G. H. Mackley, C.M.G., General Manager of Railways, expresses his opinion of the services rendered by the Railways Department in advertising New Zealand.
Lord Strathspey, who takes a keen interest in all that pertains to New Zealand, has previously written to Mr. Mackley in similar terms regarding the “Railways Magazine,” and we have pleasure in reproducing his present letter for the information of our readers:—