Monday 31 March 2014

Whale song rings out in triumph, flippers are linked in joyous dance

At the risk of anthropomorphising, I allowed myself the whimsy of believing that this Humpback Whale was breaching like this in joyous recognition of the decision taken today at the International Court of Justice to ban Japan's hopelessly mistitled "scientific whaling".
In my own way I have a beyond many zeroes point one stake in this decision, having first raised my objection to whaling in 1974.
I wrote to the then Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser, and joined the chorus asking for whaling to be banned.
At the time, Australia still had a whaling station at Albany in Western Australia, so it wasn't just the Japanese, Russians and Norwegians who were doing it.
We Australians were part of this horrendous war on Whales.
Whaling was duly banned in Australia, and it lead to a general world ban on the process, with only the hard core recalcitrants left by the time the nineties rolled around.
Even then, the pressure was mounting and Japan even had to cloak their commercial kill with an imprimatur of science, to allow them to go on procuring whale meat for Japanese restaurants.
This science was rubbish, unmitigated f%^&ing bullshit.
One finding from the Japanese was that pregnant whales showed more hormones in their blood than non-pregnant ones.
Thanks guys.
The world of science couldn't have gone on without that bit of knowledge.
Japan have agreed to abide by the ban and so this is a great day.
However, this ban only applies to the Southern Ocean lapping Antarctica's shores.
The Japanese say they are going to go on whaling in the northern Pacific, close to their shores.
But sources from Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace indicate that there are so few whales to be found there that this would be uneconomic and the Japanese will probably set sail for some years yet, more as voyages of defiance, rather than any commercial reality.
So let's all link flippers and carouse till the second cock in celebration with our mammalian cousins of the deep blue.
Which leads me now, to describe my first "real" job (whatever that means), after I left uni in 1987.
I went off to Canada.
I said to it was to start seeing the world, but mainly I was chasing a woman.
A pattern that would inform my international travel plans for the next twenty years.
The woman in question was the unbelievably beautiful, red-headed Ph.D, Nicky.
What she was doing with me I still don't know.
A closer thing to Caliban meeting T. Petronius Arbiter you will never see.
However, she finished her doctorate at Sydney uni and got her first post-doc work at USC in Los Angeles.
Once she left I convinced myself I was in love with her, but really, as a 22-year-old male, all I wanted was sex.
Nonetheless, with my penis leading the way, I set out for North America.
I couldn't get a work visa for the US, but was able to procure this document for Canada.
Thinking in my usual massive naivete that this was close enough, I went.
Like all Australians, used to the vast open distances of my homeland, I couldn't really believe that California was that far from Canada.
I had a mental image of commuting down to see Nicky on the weekends.
Well, boy howdy, was I in for a shock.
For you see in my usual ham-fisted way, I had picked the second largest country on Earth to live in, Canada, then I wanted to commute across the fourth largest country on Earth, the United States, to see Nicky.
For the record, Russia is the largest, with the wide open road of Siberia stretching across the tundra.
Canada is second, China is third, The US (inc Alaska and Hawaii) is fourth, Brazil is fifth and Australia is sixth.
Vancouver is a stunningly beautiful place, though this photo is a rarity, as it's not raining.
Once on the ground, I realized (in the truest sense of the word) the enormity of the lands before me, and knew I would have to change my plans.
No weekend commutes to LA for me.
And just to digress.
When I arrived, I was met by my friend Darin Sears of Simon Fraser University Soccer club.
I had met him when my club, Sydney Uni, had toured there two years earlier.
As a gift, I took him a bottle of over proof Bundaberg Rum.
I got off the plane and after a night to get over jet lag, Darin and I went out and got on the juice in massive fashion.
In Canada they drink pints, and we had plenty.
We got back to his place about 1am and went to have a nightcap.
I said, "Hey Daz, you haven't tried the Bundy, want a glass?"
He said "Yes".
So I poured him a liberal tumblerful, probably four optic shots worth in the one glass.
He took a sip then made a face like he was having a rectal exam, "Christ, that's revolting", he said with feeling.
I replied, "no, it's not, it's mother's milk."
He replied, "Ok, well you drink it."
"OK", I said, and downed the stuff in one go.
I was unused to spirits, always a beer drinker, but got it down.
And blimey, it was awful.
Anyway, that put the cap on the night, and we retired to our beds.
The next day I had a hangover of a severity unmatched, before or since.
All day I just sat around Darin's place attempting to recover.
Around two pm I had a glass of water and I vomited it up while it was still cold.
So, Bundy OP rum, avoid it!
Anyway, with my travel plans south to LA on hold for the foreseeable future, I realized I had to get a job.
I scanned the local paper and came across an ad for Greenpeace.
"Wanted; Caring and committed individuals to join our Canvass outreach staff", it said.
It was the first, and definitely not the last, time in my life I had applied for a job without the faintest idea of what the job entailed.
"Caring", I understood, though felt I was too much a boofy bloke for that.
"Committed", well the only thing I should have been committed to was rehab, but that wouldn't be for twenty or more years hence.
"Canvass"? Maybe they wanted me to build tents for them, who knows.
Anyway, I went to the interview and got the job.
Turned out the "canvass" bit referred to political canvassing.
The job was going door-to-door in the suburbs of Vancouver asking for money.
It wasn't particularly what I envisaged when I emerged from the Cambridge of the southern hemisphere with my newly minted science degree, but I would give it a shot.
So out I went.
Boy it was hard.
As you know I've had many jobs in my life, somewhere around three hundred, and though teaching in high schools was the hardest by a wide margin, that job was up there.
Try going up to a strangers door when they are just sitting down to dinner and asking them for thirty bucks, it's very threatening.
Abuse was common, particularly in the more redneck suburbs of Surrey and South Vancouver.
Also the "committed" part came into play on my third night.
In my young-man-numbskulledness, I had not adequately explored payment at the interview.
This a more representative shot of Vancouver.
I thought I would go out for four hours a night, ask people for money, then even if I got none, would get paid by the hour for my time.
No, no, no.
It was commission work, 35% of what you raised was your salary.
A good night was a hundred dollars raised, so your pay was therefore $35 a night, if you managed it.
So you had to be committed all right, committed to earning less than minimum wage, while you got the enviro message out there.
However, I did quite well, I think this was because of my accent.
Almost all North Americans like the Australian accent, and as the weeks went by my accent, already broad as the Mississippi, began to sound like Chips Rafferty trying to sound particularly Australian.
But it seemed to work, and after a short space of time I was promoted to field manager (I now drove the van to the suburbs), and shortly after that, I was promoted to Canvass Director.
And like all promotions to admin, that was when I stopped doing any actual work and began to sit in the office and do bookwork.
And the reason I, like all Canvass Directors in Vancouver, wanted to be in the office, was because of the rain.
Man, does Vancouver have rain.
The west coast of North America follows a pretty standard continental geomorphology.
Southern California around LA is a desert.
Move north to San Francisco and fog begins to appear and green takes over from brown.
Norther still and you get to Oregon, where the rain is a big part of life, then Seattle, Washington, which is known as the Emerald City, due to its high rainfall.
Cross into Canada and you are in Vancouver, where rain is total.
Sydney, where I had spent the last three years, has episodic rain, often heavy, but Vancouver plays in a league of its own.
The rain is incessant, and was best summed up by a t-shirt I saw.
I've done a mock up of it here, as I couldn't find a picture of a real one.
But you get the point, I'm sure.
Vancouver's annual rainfall is averaged out at 1153.1, but just outside town at the base of the ski fields, Grose Mountain registers 2477mm a year.
Compare that with LA with an average rainfall of 350mm.
While starting to sound like literature's biggest bore, Eric Oldthwaite, who thought rainfall figures were interesting, I mention all this because the hardest thing about walking around the Vancouver suburbs at night, was getting wet.
I had to try to keep my information papers and receipts dry.
I had to try to keep myself dry, all to no avail.
Early in my job, the first night it was raining, I rang work and said, "do we still canvass when it's raining?"
Kim, the then Canvass Director, who had answered the phone, gave a snort and said, "Lock, this is Vancouver, if we stopped because of the rain, we'd never work."
I might add, with all this water around, mosquitoes in Vancouver are something else again.
Used as I was to Australian mosquitoes, which are annoying, Canada's mosquitoes took me, to say the least, by surprise.
Forget Aeroguard, over there you need a machine gun to stop them.
You think I'm exaggerating?
Well consider this.
Canadian Caribou migrate a thousand kilometres to get away from them.
Tails twitching in irritation, the Caribou head for the dryer areas of Canada to be free of these pests.
What's more, they, the Canadian mosquitoes, are much bigger than Australian mozzies.
Darin had warned me about them but it wasn't till I experienced them for myself that I knew what he was talking about.
The Mosquitoes are coming! Let's get the hell out.
We were at Soccer training on this field at Simon Fraser Uni.
Here seen with the SFU football team training.
About halfway through practice, the mozzie swarm descended.
At first we began slapping at them, and our arms and legs began to cover with blood.
Rob Merkl, the goalkeeper, couldn't see the ball.
After a vanishingly short space of time, we had to cancel practice, as it just wasn't feasible to be outdoors while this swarm laid hold of our field.
We scurried inside to the change rooms and showered down.
The floor of the shower stall looked like the aftermath of some particularly bloody battle in the Crimea.
So I'll just finish this with a tall tale told to a Canadian friend of mine by his jocular uncle.
This uncle was camping in the Kootenay mountains in British Columbia.
He had pitched his tent and had just finished his dinner when the mozzie swarm came down.
He scrambled back into his tent and zipped up.
However, to his chagrin and surprise, he found he wasn't even safe there, as the mozzies began spearing their probosces (yes, that's the scientific term for a mozzie's stinger) through the wall of his tent trying to get at him.
In desperation, he began hitting the mozzies' stingers back out with the hammer he had brought to hammer in his tent pegs.
My friend, a young lad of six, looked at his uncle saucer-eyed and said, "Did it work?"
"Yes", replied his uncle, "as long as I hit them square on the stinger, and knocked them out clean."
He went on, "The problem began when I missed a couple and their stings crumpled up. They backed off in panic and lifted the whole tent off the ground. The last thing I saw was my tent being carried away over the mountains by two mozzies with crumpled stingers."

And just to finish off, since we're on the topic of North America, more translating, a couple of things I forgot last week.
A Bogan is a red neck.
That thing on the left is a Canadian Mosquito.
The origin of the term "Bogan" is uncertain, but most likely has some derivation from the Bogan river, which is in the middle of nowhere here in NSW.
Very rural, very backward, much like Alabama.
Thong is another that causes cross-Pacific confusion.
In North America, a thong is a microscopic bikini bottom, "anal floss" is one slang term for it.
And please note, though offered an "on-a-golden-platter" opportunity to show a fat-free young woman in a thong bikini, I have resisted, though it would increase my page views through the roof.
Instead here is a non-model male in one.
In Australia, a thong is one half of a pair of flip-flops.
We more commonly say "I am wearing my thongs", to denote the pair of footwear.
Why the meaning has diverged across the Pacific is uncertain.
The origin of the word thong in the English language is from Old English thwong, a flexible leather cord.[3]
Which is easy to therefore see why it came to be known as a thong bikini, or just a thong.
The original "leather cord" meaning also applies to the footwear.
And I think, as this pic of me in my thongs shows, why it came also to mean thongs plural for footwear.
As you can see the strap part comes up between my first two toes, and forms a shape not unlike that which goes between the buttocks in the swimwear pic.
I mention this because it has lead to minor confusion when conversing with an American visitor to our shores.
I do remember when in Cairns talking with a young American woman and she was asking what is the best footwear to wear when walking around on the Barrier Reef, where she was going the next day on a tourist boat.
I answered, "You can wear your thongs".
To which she evinced some considerable confusion and replied along the lines of "What has my bikini got to do with it? I'm asking about shoes."


1 comment:

  1. I can only agree about the rum, a foul drink designed to start fights and end drinking careers.

    I am happy for the whales. Perhaps Peter Garrett's foray into federal politics wasn't for naught after all.

    As for thongs, to me they look like nothing so much as a permanent wedgie, a lot of discomfort just to eliminate visible panty lines.