Monday, July 26, 2010

Unnatural Histories, Part Two: The Blobfish

The blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) is the only fish never to be featured on an Australian postage stamp. It was scheduled to grace the two cent stamp in 1979, but the post office thought people would be squeamish about licking it, coming as it did on the back of the deadly and messy outbreak of Latvian flu.

The blobfish was named by a grade four class at Dana Street Primary School in Ballarat.  Scientists were so impressed at the appositeness of the name that they called on the same children to name the black rat, the spectacled bear, the stinkbug and De Brazza's guenon.

Despite being bald, the blobfish blends in easily in most situations.  Early in 2009 a blobfish replaced a regular panellist on Insiders for six weeks, and nobody noticed.

Original images here and here
The blobfish has a beautiful singing voice, but many people find it annoying.  Fishermen will usually throw a blobfish back lest its song drive them crazy.  This is not just one of those weird superstitions that fishermen cling to - in one village scientists documented eighty-four cases of psychosis amongst the fishermen and three cases of Tourette's Syndrome.  These, however, may have just been fishermen screaming at the scientists to get off their boats.  

It is claimed that blobfish, like people, can suffer from lactose intolerance.  However, like most people, most blobfish are lying about it.

They should, however, be taken seriously if they claim to have Coeliac Disease.  The blobfish population around Kangaroo Island was decimated in 1987 when a terrible accident saw thousands of hot cross buns end up in the ocean.

The local moray eels are still traumatised by the incident.

Like most deep-sea creatures that are never seen by humans, blobfish are notoriously private.  When New Idea ambushed a blobfish with allegations he was Michael Jackson's love child, it made the blobfish very angry.

Blobfish have not been bothered by any women's magazines since.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Unnatural Histories, Part One: The Aye-Aye

The aye-aye is my favorite animal this week, but I realised not many people know much about it.  So here are the most important facts.

Naturalists in the late eighteenth century were baffled by the aye-aye, and eventually classified it as a mollusc.  Modern scientists recognise that this is incorrect, but cannot agree on another classification.  It remains a mollusc on the basis of having two valves and a fishy odour.

Many people assume that the aye-aye was so-named because it has two lovely eyes, but they are stupid people.  It was, in fact, named after little-known Professor John Gilbertson.  Professor Gilbertson should rightly be famous as the man who invented yogurt, but he died of botulism before he patented his discovery.  His research assistant, Nicolas Fruche, stole all the credit. 

The aye-aye is native to France.  

There was a referendum in 1902 to decide if the aye-aye should be adopted as the national animal, but the strength of the chicken lobby meant it was defeated by the Gallic Rooster.

Aye-ayes are farmed extensively in France for their valuable milk.  This is a rare and tasty liquor which was forbidden to women in the Middle Ages, but was available clandestinely in 'speake-easies' of the Marais.  The value of the milk is proportionate to the difficulty of obtaining it: the aye-aye has no nipples, and the milk must be obtained by surprising the female with a sharp squeeze.

It is necessary to do this quickly, as the aye-aye can inflict a nasty bite.

Aye-ayes try to avoid reproduction as their babies are covered in thick hair, which repulses the adults.

The fact that aye-ayes can swim has made them a shipping hazard for hundred of years, and they are thought to have inspired the myth of the 'Monkey Whale' that supposedly haunts the English Channel.  They are most dangerous when they swim in pods of a hundred or more and attack the hulls of wooden vessels with their blunt, but persistent, teeth.  In the nineteenth century, a cry of "Aye-aye Captain" from the poop deck sent shudders through the crew and was often a portent of a watery and terrible death.

Images here and here
In the 1960s the newly-formed 'Helpful Animals Organisation' experimented with using aye-ayes as assistance animals, but they changed to the labrador after accidental deaths reached unacceptable numbers.  Most fatalities are said to have occurred when the aye-aye was startled by a pigeon, but many suspect the real reason is more nefarious.  An aye-aye was seen leading its handler into the path of a bus in Yass, even though witnesses swear there were no pigeons around.

Finally, if you decide to keep an aye-aye as a pet (and nobody ever has), do not put them in a container.  

Original Image
They cannot get out.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Devil's Library

In preparation for a book sale tomorrow I have just finished sorting through our boxes of books that are superfluous to our needs.  There are five hundred and eighty-nine books.  Not counting old law texts, which are being recycled, and not counting the Gregory's 1983-84 Sydney street directory, which is going to my craft stash for future upcycling in a brilliant and creative way.

Many of the books we're selling were purchased second-hand, and have names written on the first page.  Some of these inscriptions include heart-wrenching little notes to the person to whom the book was originally given, and were not meant to be read by anyone else.  Others are just an inked name - people staking a claim to the book in the same way that a cat might rub its face glands on it.

Most of these names are unknown, but I was quite surprised to see the name written neatly inside a somewhat shabby copy of Lord of the Flies.


Why a fairly senior demon would have read, and then chosen to discard, this novel is a mystery.  But then I read that Beelzebub means 'Lord of the Flies,' so perhaps he was just checking it out to see what people were saying.  The way I google myself every now and then.

Doesn't really matter.  What's important is that I'm gonna get me $2 for the book.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Crafty Bitch

Don't you hate it when you're really into something obscure, and at first it's really daggy, but you can enjoy the ironic appeal, and then someone mentions it in Frankie magazine and it gives you an air of mystique and genuine coolness, and then someone else mentions it in Better Homes and Gardens, and suddenly everyone is doing it, and doing it poorly, and then Lincraft brings out a kit to make it possible for even people with no arms to do it, and then even more people are doing it, and what's more, some of the more creative ones work out that they can improve on their product by sticking swarovski crystals on it or making a tiny version in polymer clay that they can use to jazz up their husband's dongle?

Well, I have never known that self-satisfied rage.  I have always latched onto trends as they make their descent into the remedial sandpit of popular crafts: I am only now turning my mind to learning how to knit, I got into steampunk long after everyone knew what it was, and only started buying my t-shirts from Threadless when I saw a friend's mother wearing one.

And I'm just as late to leave a dying craft.  When the scrapbookers are fleeing to the safety of screenprinting tea-towels, I'll be left behind with the Large-toothed Medicated Ladies Who Never Blink while we decoupage the deckchairs with cut-up Christmas cards.

Lucky, then, that someone in this house has got a finger on the crafty pulse.  Or a paw.

I can happily report that Ellen is the ONLY dog at school with a funky patchwork coat.

And she totally rocks it.

You just watch, people.  Everyone will be wearing them next month.

Or were they all wearing them last year?

EDIT: Having re-read this, I've realised it might give the impression that I made this magnificent coat.  I did not.  I paid $10 for it.  Which is far more sensible than spending a month cussing over fat quarters.

Monday, July 5, 2010

On Alcohol

In solidarity with a friend who is doing Dry July, I thought I'd give the whole 'not drinking' thing a go.  Not for a whole month, mind you - just long enough to convince myself that I could give it up completely if I wanted to.  Which I don't.  But I could.

So it's only been five days, but some of the things I'm supposed to have noticed in my new alcohol-free life are:
  • better quality sleep
  • weight loss
  • more money
  • more energy
  • greater mental clarity
  • the shakes
The things I have actually noticed are:
  • my house could do with a good spring clean.  Especially the windows
  • there is no reason Hey Hey It's Saturday should make me teary
  • the new Doctor Who is not that cute after all
  • I don't do an uncanny impression of Alicia Keys
  • Nobbys nuts are tasty, but they are not a satisfying meal replacement
  • the shakes
I think five days is long enough to prove a point.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Guns, Bats And Bottoms

One of the most interesting and challenging things about travelling to another country is learning local customs and laws.  These can be easy to forget, but in New York there is no shortage of reminders, recommendations and warnings to keep you on the straight and narrow.

Some of these are a bit scary,

some of them warn you against doing something that had probably never occurred to you to do, until you saw the sign, then you started having mischievous thoughts but the Fella gave you That Look With The Pursed Lips and you had to get all indignant and say you were only joking,

and some of them are just plain daft.

This seat-back sign may not seem silly at first glance, but this is how far we were seated from any bat and ball action at Yankee Stadium:

Unless this is what they meant.

Being so far from the action at the game, we had to amuse ourselves with enormous pretzels and beer.

And before you ask, yes - the pretzel did make me nauseous.  It made me feel even more queasy when I saw how many calories were in it.

Calorie listings are everywhere, presumably as part of efforts to reduce obesity.  If you ask me, anyone who eats the souvenir cup deserves to be fat.

Of course, having the data doesn't mean you're going to not eat something.  It just means you're going to feel bad for a moment, give a resigned little shrug and then tuck into it.

So we enjoyed enormous pizza 

red velvet cupcakes

and donuts.

Although, in fairness, we earned those donuts.

In a moment of madness, the Fella decided that it would be super fun to do a couple of fun runs, and talked me into doing one of them with him.

Now, at home when you finish a run you're offered a paper cup of water with some dust and a bug in it, and, if you're lucky, an undersized banana and a showbag with a year-old copy of Runner's World magazine in it.

God bless America.  At the finish line: a dozen donut choices, a range of bagels and coffee aplenty.  Oh, and a pile of untouched bananas on the end of the table.

This particular fun run was to raise money for colon cancer research.  One of the main risk factors for colon cancer is a low-fibre diet that is high in fat.  

I chose the choc-iced donut with sprinkles, and I was going to go back for a jelly donut, but the Fella said we had to save room for breakfast.

The other fun run had a more interesting treat at the end:

And people were actually lining up for it.  What nicer way to relax after an eight mile run?

But we didn't just go back to New York for their range of bottom-themed running events.  There were also some things of great charm and beauty.

Like the little bookshop in Brooklyn that looked a lot like our own loungeroom,


and a hotel room with the most amazing view.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ice Dinosaur People And The Only Living Bird In New York

Last Thursday The Fella and I arrived home from New York.  We landed with an announcement from our pilot that "Rebecca Gillard" was our new prime minister.  This was surprising and confusing and made my brain hurt and then I got sleepy and then a bit peckish and then they gave us a cookie because we had to wait on the tarmac for ninety minutes but the cookie wasn't very good.

One thing that is good, however, is the American Museum of Natural History in New York (nice segue! Ed.).

This is the museum of "Night at the Museum" fame, but unlike the movie, it didn't have Ben Stiller.  It did have lots of dinosaurs though.

Museums are celebrations of humanity's progress and achievements.  They are repositories of objects that capture the millennia of knowledge and cultural diversity on which civilisation is built.  They remind us of our greatness and our uniqueness in nature.

And what better way is there of saying "In your face, Nature," than taking two of every beast, stuffing them, and letting them gaze upon us with their cold glass eyes?

Or not, if you've run out of glass eyes by the time you get around to the birds.

There were many stuffed birds, but my favorite, for predictable reasons, was the Great Tit.

It was almost as funny as the beaver. heh.

But rest assured that not all animals in New York have been killed and stuffed, or skeletonised.  This little fellow was hopping around Central Park.  I have identified him as a "Thompson's brown-breasted bee-eating shrike dove."  This bird is characterised by an abundant and unruly growth of thick yellow hairs around the beak.

Unfortunately you can't see it in this photo as he has a mouthful of grass.

Now, it's true what John Travolta said.  Not everything, obviously - the man's a Scientologist.  I meant when he said that thing about the "little differences."  And you do notice those little things when you're travelling.

Take, for example, that ancient rule that dictates that any man-made body of water that has a tiled or concrete lining must have coins thrown into it. 

Americans observe this law like everyone else, but also have their own laws.  Other things at which they like to throw money include:
  1. Space exploration
  2. Vitamin Water, and
  3. Anything that confuses them and to which they are unsure of how to otherwise respond.
Which is why this dinosaur footprint is full of pennies.

Despite their differences, like people everywhere, Americans like to touch stuff.  Visitors to the museum have worn the paint off this model, which appears to be the theorised anus on the Yucatan Peninsula that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Besides dinosaurs and dead animals, the museum has an enviable cultural collection.

On the day I visited, it became clear that not everybody learned a lot from such displays.  Picking up an ice-tray in the gift shop that made ice-cubes in Easter Island head shapes, a woman said "Ooooh, look!  You can make ice dinosaur people!"  I'm still confused by this.

Overall, the museum was fantastic.  Even if some of the galleries were less than inspired

and even though I suspect they made up some names to cash in on the Sex and the City craze.

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