Monday, March 30, 2015

Horses, horses: rocking horses

What is the appeal of rocking horses? Why, even now, do I look at a rocking horse, any rocking horse—old or new (but preferably old)—with complete and utter awe?

A rocking horse is usually made of wood, with a figure of a horse attached to curved pieces of wood that enable the horse to rock back and forth, controlled by the child on the horse, who holds its neck or reins to “ride” it. The curved rocker (like a rocking chair) is one form of rocking horse base (where the contraption has contact with the ground), but another was devised for safety. It is the framed rocking horse in which the horse hangs in a rigid frame via straps or steel rods. The frame does not move – only the horse within the frame moves.

Part of the appeal is the beauty of the carpentry and artisanship required to make the rocking horse, but for others it is in the likeness of a real horse, with its mane, tail, and facial features. Some even have leather saddles and metal stirrups. However, psychologists think part of the appeal is in the actual movement of the rocking horse when children ride them. The repetitive and rhythmic self-rocking is believed to provide a soothing effect.

British novelist David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) wrote a short story called The Rocking-Horse Winner in 1926, which was made into a film in 1949. It is about a woman who lamented that she never had any luck in her life. She has three children, a boy and two girls. The boy, Paul, vowed to find this elusive “luck” that his mother kept mentioning. When his sisters played with their dolls, Paul would sit on the large rocking-horse, charging at such a frenzy that it made the girls quite scared. He would ride on his journey to luck. He knew the horse could take him to the place where luck lived, if only he forced it to. So he would ride furiously, hoping to “get there.” When he finishes riding he knew the winner of the next race (at the real racetrack), telling his uncle Oscar and the gardener Bassett. Both men place bets on Paul’s predictions—and win. But this tale does not have a happy ending.

The National Musuem of Australia in Canberra held an exhibition entitled Spirited: Australia’s Horse Story from September 2014 to 9 March 2015. In the exhibition was a toy wooden rocking horse (shown in the photograph) owned by Andrew Gibson who grew up at Burrungurroolong station near Goulbourn in New South Wales during the 1920s. He eventually became a veterinarian attending to farm animals in the region. The rocking horse (circa 1929) has elliptical wheels for easier rocking, which was quite an advanced technique at the time. Even today, rocking horses are rarely made with inner elliptical wheels, and instead retain the simple curved wooden rocker.

The framed rocking horse (photographed) shows the pre-loved horse recently purchased by my sister’s family. The wooden horse is in a wooden frame joined by steel rods. Retired wood machinist, Arthur Young, constructed this rocking horse (circa unknown).  

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Beatle Meets Destiny by Gabrielle Williams: book review

Beatle Meets Destiny (2009) is young adult fiction. It is about eighteen-year-old John Lennon—not THE John Lennon of the band, The Beatles—but an Australian teenager with a girlfriend, Cilla. But one day he meets seventeen-year-old Destiny. Destiny McCartney. He meets her in February, on Friday 13th—is that good luck or bad luck?

It would seem to be destiny that Lennon and McCartney end up together—but life is not that simple. Cilla is a nice person—a perfect girlfriend, and Lennon, nicknamed Beatle, cannot just dump her to date Destiny. Even though Lennon believes in signs, horoscopes, astrology charts, coincidences, and serendipity.

Besides, Beatle’s twin sister, Winsome, is dating Destiny’s brother Frank. And Lennon doesn’t want Winsome or Frank to mention to Destiny that he is dating Cilla. His mother, an astrology freak, has just presented Cilla with her horoscope chart for the next year—what does it predict? Neither his mother, nor Cilla, is saying anything, except “this will be a year of change.” Cilla is getting suspicious of Lennon anyway. Why is he suddenly acting strange, giving her gifts, and giving her mixed messages?

What Beatle is not telling Cilla is that he is seeing Destiny. And Destiny doesn’t know about Cilla. Awkward!

Throughout the novel, Lennon and his twin sister are taking part in a documentary called Twin Thing, to be screened later in the year, on Friday 13 November. The documentary is a series of interviews with other twins, of all ages and backgrounds—an interesting backdrop to the novel.

While it is easy reading, with some comical writing, there is not enough to take it out of the realms of young fiction into a work of wider appeal.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Shout it out: vocalizing pain helps ease it

Shouting “Ow!” or “Ouch!” can ease the feeling of pain. Researchers from the National University of Singapore, experimenting with pain and pain thresholds, maintain that shouting “Ow!” when in pain can substantially reduce the intensity of the soreness. Hence the act of vocalizing pain is therapeutic (Journal of Pain, January 2015).

Researchers conducted experiments by observing participants plunge their hands into extremely cold water. Some participants were allowed to vocalize what they felt, while others were not (they had to remain silent). Participants were requested to hold their hands in the freezing water for as long as possible.

The results showed that the group of participants that were allowed to vocalize their feelings were able to keep their hands in the cold water for up to three minutes longer than the participants who were silent.

Researchers hypothesized that the muscle movements when vocalizing pain somehow divert or confuse the pain signals from entering or registering in the brain. It was also noted that the word “Ow!” is instinctive from birth across all languages. However the researchers are still unsure exactly why or how vocalizing pain helps ease it. They just know that it does.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Not an owl and not a mopoke: call me frogmouth!

The Australian native bird, the tawny frogmouth, has been called many things such as an owl, a boobook, and a mopoke. But it is none of those. The tawny frogmouth (Podargus strigoides), although related to owls (strigoides means owl form), it is in the order Caprimulgiformes and more closely related to nightjars.

Tawny frogmouths are large, big-headed, neckless, short-legged, grey-feathered, rounded-winged nocturnal birds. Their eyes are large and yellow (similar to owl eyes), and their grey bills have tufts of hair, rather like whiskers. That sounds rather ugly, but they are, in fact, quite fascinating. That’s because they have a large mouth that resembles a frog’s mouth. And it looks like it is perpetually smiling.

They are extremely hard to find because they camouflage themselves into their surroundings. They measure up to 34-53 centimetres (13-21 inches) and weigh up to 680 grams (1.5 pounds), so they are large enough to be seen, but with their grey feathers they blend into the night, and they sleep quite still during the day.

The tawny frogmouth does not have strong legs or the talons (claws) that owls have. Owls use their talons to catch prey, such as mice. However, tawny frogmouths catch their prey with their strong beaks. Owls have narrow downward beaks that tear their prey apart, but tawny frogmouths have forward facing beaks that catch insects, moths, spiders, worms, snails, beetles, wasps, ants, and scorpions. Owls have eyes that are fully forward on the face, but tawny frogmouths have eyes to the side of the face. Owls make their homes in tree hollows, whereas tawny frogmouths build their nest in the forks of trees.

They live in forests and wooded areas and do not like rainforests or deserts. They are also quite often seen in urban areas with lots of trees. They form partnerships for life, so they are most often seen in pairs. Breeding season is from August to December, and they have one to three eggs. Both the male and the female tawny frogmouth share the incubation of the eggs and in feeding their young.

I photographed tawny frogmouths in Canberra – southeast Australia – and Adelaide in South Australia.

Healing owls

Park officers at Brinzal Owl-Rescue Park have established an effective way to treat injured owls. Experts at Brinzal Park, near Madrid in Spain, are recording a 70% recovery rate for their injured birds (The Local Madrid, December 12, 2014). The owls include tawny owls and eagle owls, as well as others in the region.

The Brinzal Owl-Rescue Park receives about 1,200 injured birds a year for treatment. The general public bring the injured birds to the park because their personnel provide “physical and psychological rehabilitation” for birds with a range of wounds. These can include broken wings and legs due to falls, dehydration and shock, burns, and other injuries.

The physical rehabilitation involves a mixture of specialized treatment with a ten-week period of regular pressure-point acupuncture sessions.

The psychological rehabilitation involves animal-to-animal support, as well as teaching the owls to avoid their predators. They do this with recorded sounds of various predators, and through different screeches the owls learn which animals are their enemies.

When the owls are fully rehabilitated the park officers return them to the wild.