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The Rim Worlds

... out on the Galactic Rim things are very iffy and if you fart really hard your're liable to blow yourself on to an Alternate Time Track.

A Bertram Chandler.

The Mentor No: 32 - Aug 1981
(Cover John Parkes)

The Mentor No: 32 - Aug 1981


Quite some time ago the “G” key of my typewriter sort of froze up on me. As at the time, I was writing yet another installment of the never-ending John Grimes saga this was no small inconvenience, especially since I had no light lubricating oil ready to hand. (Finally I sprayed the works with Mortein - it was before the days of water-based insecticides - and so was able to finish the novel.) Now I shall assume, temporarily, that the “N” key is inoperative, just so that I may do a short Lewis Carroll parody.

The time has come, the Walrus said,
To talk of lots of thigs;
Of ships & shoes and sealig wax
& porcupies & pigs.

As you may have guessed, I recently passed through a pig-conscious phase.

It all started while I was having a telephone conversation with Robin Johnson, during which I made mention of my forthcoming trip to Pig Island. Robin asked, “Where’s that?” I replied “Pig Island, of course.” He asksd, “Pig Island”? I said, “New Zealand.” He asked, “Since when has it been called pig Island?” Then, “Oh, I suppose it’s to do with their Prime Minister, Piggy Muldoon.” I said, “It’s always been called Pig Island.” He said, “I’ve never heard it called Pig Island.” And so on, and so on.

The next day I was taking morning coffee with one of the local managers of the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. I told him the story, thinking that he, too, would find it quite incredible that I had encountered somebody who had never heard EnZed referred to as Pig Island. But he had never heard the Shaky Isles so named. So it went on, with person after person. I was beginning to think that I had strayed on to another Time Track until, at last, I found somebody in about my own age group who knew what and where Pig Island is but he admitted that he had not heard New Zealand so referred to for many, many years.

This started a long conversation about the many words and expressions that have been dropped froth the Australian language over the past few decades.

“Shooting through like a Bondi tram...” “Doing a Bondi...” We have nothing anything like so expressive at the present day. And who remembers the Bodgies and Widgies? “Bodgie” still crops up now and again but the Widgies seem to be an extinct species.

And the names of our monetary units...

“Quid” is still used now and again, but nobody seems to be sure if it means the old pound or today’s Dollar. But where is the decimal coinage counterpart to the Tray (threepenny piece) or the Zack (sixpenny piece)? The Americans have long had affectionate names for their coins and notes of various denominations - just as we did before we went decimal. Why have we been so long in coining names for our no-longer new decimal coins?

Not only are words dropped from the language, to sink without trace, but the meanings of words suffer change. This was brought to my attention last night. Susan insists on reading each chapter as it comes hot from the typewriter and she had just finished reading the one in which Francis Bannerman’s salesman is trying to peddle new-fangled weaponry to Ned Kelly, the Australian War of Independence having gotten wall under way. He is talking of steam-operated Gatling cannon and the Andrews airship. Ned thinks that airships are no more than flights of fancy. Then Red Kitty (a radical German countess who is a disciple of Karl Marx and, by this time, married to Ned Kelly) throws in her two hits’ worth and tells how, as a small girl with her parents in New York, she watched D. Andrews making his Flight over that city in 1865. She talks of the twin, cigar-shaped balloons with the long car slung below them.

Susan: The word “car” is wrong.

Me: It is not.

Susan: The year is 1881. The word “car” had never been heard of.

Me: The word “car” is a very old word. When automobiles first appeared they ware called motor cars, to distinguish them from other cars. Over the years the prefix, “motor” has been dropped.

Susan: The word “car” would not have been used, in the context that you are using it, in 1881.

Me: Then look at this! (This was a Xerox of the patent taken put by Dr. Solomon Andrews in 1864.) So on, read it!

Dr. Andrews, in his specifications, referred throughout to the airship’s “car”. He should have known. After all, he invented the Aereon (as he colled the beast) and made it fly.

But Susan still stubbornly insists that “car” is wrong....

With all the foregoing I seem to have wandered away from the subject of pigs. We were appalled recently to find an example of male chauvinist piggery in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. We had been to see EVITA (which we enjoyed; especially so in my case as I was in Buenos Aires quite a few times during Peron’s rise to power and during his first reign). Returning home, we at once pulled the required volume of the Britannica from the shelf to do some checking up. I looked in vain for PERON, EVA. I found PERON, JUAN - who was given little more than one paragraph, included in which was just one sentence about his famous (or notorious) wife.

Talking of Evita reminds roe of the Ned Kelly opera that has been commissioned by the Royal Covent Garden Opera Company. I have read about it and watched and listened to the composer being interviewed for TV. I wish that the Royal Covent Garden Opera Company had commissioned the people responsible for Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph And His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat to do the Ned Kelly opera... That would be a show worth seeing!

But back to pigs (in one of its modern usages) and still on show business...

I’ve an idea for a TV series episode to end all TV series episodes.

Fletcher (played by Ronnie barker of Porridge and Going Straight) is arrested by Inspector Jack Reagan (of The Sweeney) and defended by Rumpole (of Rumpole of the Bailey)…

There are times when even my mind boggles.