Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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Life is a Frying Pan

This article featured in Hong Kong's BC Magazine in April 1997.

Picture this. A squadron of charcoal-faced fire-fighters are sombrely trudging their way through the barren stumpy remains of a forest in Southern Australia. It's only a few hours since a tidal surge of roaring red flame passed through the area laying waste to all in its path. The air is still thick with the smoke and smouldering stench of scorched earth and charred animal hide. A sudden wail of horror screeches out into the skies followed by a loud retching sound. The squadron reassembles in grim silence around the source of this outburst. A rookie fire-fighter is being violently ill beneath a rocky outcrop. Above him stands the frail and faltering trunk of an ancient eucalyptus tree, personifying desolation at its most brutal.

The origin of the youngster's illness can be seen clearly swinging pendulously among the few remaining branches. A human body coated in some foul and hideous blubbery fluid dribbling down its torso, occasionally hissing and belching itself into flame. As the chief orders his men to douse the flames and bring the corpse down, a mood of appalled fascination descends over the fire-fighters. What the hell happened to this geezer? The plot is considerably thickened a minute later when a late arrival appears on the scene bearing a face of some perplexity, and the gooey remnants of a flipper. The chief examines the flipper and gazes forlornly at the Heavens Above. "God", he whispers.

Now, good reader, you may be a fan of lateral thinking in which case I suggest you sit back in your chair and ponder upon these facts.

In the meantime, we would all surely be in agreement that - whatever the truth - this unfortunate soul got a really crap deal. We are all well and used to the daily bummer in life, from the instant our alarm clocks shrill our weary eye-lids open to the moment we collapse on our beds, too shattered by our escalating ambitions to indulge in the fun and frolics of our more praise-worthy forbears. Throughout the day we receive constant reminders that, whilst we may be able to guide our paths in life, we cannot possibly control them. The wrong queue. The flat tyre. The stubbed toe. The spilt pint. The stapled finger. The drawing pin in your heel. The cricket ball in your gonads. The corner of that overhanging door that thwacks your head as you arise from putting a new lace in your dog turd soled shoe.

Occasionally these unfortunate occasions can be amusing. As in the upturned toddlers and collapsing step-ladders one invariably sees on America's Funniest Home Videos. Brickies, for instance, only work the long and laborious hours they do simply out of a passionate love for watching a piece of scaffolding or a stray pneumatic drill drop out of nowhere and clunk their mates one on the nut. Similarly Darwin talks of the Tahitians who found nothing quiet so hilarious as seeing a coconut fall from a tree and striking an unsuspecting passer-by on the head.

Another yarn from Down Under concerns a family of four who went for a walk along what was then known as London Bridge, an outstandingly beautiful series of coastal arches all linked to one another off the south coast of Victoria State. Merry as marriage bells, the family trooped and whistled their way to the farthest ends of the bridge and there they surveyed the magnificence of Neptune's great oceans. And then a monstrous quaking crash and splash shakes the earth about them and all was dusty chaos and turmoil as the terrified family clung to one another for dear life. Zeus spoke to Aphrodite who told Neptune to chill out and calmness was restored. Father Bear raised his head and surveyed the scene slowly. London Bridge had fallen down, my fair lady. The entire thing, save the part upon which they were standing, had collapsed. Just like that. Takes millions upon zillions of years for these things to be formed. You take the kids out for a stroll one sunny afternoon and wham, the damned thing crumbles on you. Father Bear and his family stood in sublime awe on a solitary stack of rock in the middle of the ocean and wondered what to hell to do about it … and later thanked Leonardo de Vinci for inventing the chopper.

It's all bout odds you see. What are the chances in this infinite existence of me walking under that tree and being taken out by a coconut? If I'm one of 50,000 people watching this hurling match, how probable is it that I'll be singled out by the slitter for an unexpected nose job? If I'm reincarnated as a caterpillar what price would you give me that I'll be whacked by a well driven golf ball? It happens all the time. My brother crashed his car into a telephone directory in the Nullabor Plains the same week as my cousin was shipwrecked when his yacht struck a fridge in the middle of the Atlantic. Fourteen old boys of Cheltenham College in England have been killed by tigers in separate incidents since 1880. When I lived in Hong Kong, four people were gobbled by sharks in four separate attacks. By some bizarre twist, all four victims were, God love 'em, hairdressers.

And so next time you happen to be quietly scuba-diving in some lustrous Antipodean lagoon, gasping at the wonder of magical colours and patterns of wispy fish and sleeping coral reef, bear in mind that maybe, just maybe, there's a magnificent bonfire blazing away in a forest near you and that a helicopter (thanks again, Leonardo) might just possibly have been instructed to go to your lake with a large container bucket on its undercarriage with which the pilot intends to scoop up a substantial volume of water from roughly the same place you are swimming in and then escort you, immune to your protestations, to some obscure location like, say, a hundred feet above the afore-mentioned forest fire and finally release you and several million equally bewildered sea creatures into a world of an altogether different composition. Way to go, dude.