Back to the track, Mac!
IT'S PLEASING to note that our technological marvel, the Gautrain, runs on a track whose gauge has been scientifically calculated on the combined width of the rear ends of two horses. Our engineers have resisted the temptation to do something rash like base it on an elephant's backside, say, or on the combined backsides of a troika of wildebeest. You have to be scientific and exact about these things, not willful and impulsive.
These musings are prompted by a photograph of the Gautrain running on a track that is quite obviously wider than the railtracks we are used to in this country. What we call broad-gauge, the rest of the world calls narrow-gauge (or Cape gauge). What we call narrow-gauge is toy train stuff elsewhere.
Yes, the Gautrain has adopted what the rest of the world calls standard gauge 4 feet 8 1/2 inches (1 435mm for obsessive decimalists) instead of the 3 feet 6 inches gauge in the rest of the rail network. This is what gives the Gautrain its high-speed capability. Presumably standard gauge will eventually reach to us here on the coast if this talk of high-speed rail travel replacing air travel gets beyond the talking stage.
But how did they arrive at a measure of 4 feet 81/2 inches? That's where the horses come into it.
Rail travel was first developed in England. The first roads in England were built by the Romans, who had colonised the place. Every road was rutted. These ruts were 4 feet 81/2 inches apart, this being the combined width of the rear ends of the two horses that pulled a Roman chariot.
When the English started building their own wagons, they had to fit the ruts in the roads, otherwise they would soon break up. When they started building railroads, they used the axles they already had 4 feet 81/2 inches. The measure went all over the world.
So if you want to know who dreamed up the Gautrain it was some horse's ass.
THE HORSE'S ass has also played through into the space age. The Space Shuttle has on it two cylindrical objects beside the fuel tank, known as solid rocket boosters.
These SRBs are manufactured in Utah and transported to Cape Kennedy by rail. The railroad has to pass through a tunnel. And the dimensions of the tunnel are determined by yes, you've guessed the width of two horses' backsides. So the design and shape of the SRBs is likewise determined by the horse's ass.
It's quite a thought. Space travel was determined more than 2 000 years ago by the width of a horse's backside.
History can be fun.
A breathless hush
MICHAEL Green, retired editor of our sister newspaper, the Daily News, notes something that has been largely ignored in the controversy of the disallowed England goal against Germany.
"In the controversy about the referee's failure to see England's goal against Germany there appears to have been very little discussion about the German goalkeeper's admission: 'I realised the ball was over the line and I think the way I carried on so quickly fooled the referee into thinking it was not over'.
"Surely this blatant cheating, and the apparent lack of concern by commentators, are a sad reflection on the ethics of modern sport.
"Was it a German poet who wrote: 'But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote/ Play up! Play up! And play the game!'
"Oh no, my mistake. It was Sir Henry Newbolt, writing in a forgotten time, about a forgotten morality."
READER Lydia Reddy versifies the saga of Bafana Bafana in the World Cup:
A Brazilian by the name of Carlos Alberto Parreira
Was chosen to coach Bafana Bafana.
He did his very best
To put their skills to the test.
They played for pride
By beating a debilitated, depleted side.
Alas when it came to the crunch
They were a disappointing bunch.
Our hope was dashed to the ground
When they were booted out of the next round.
And this I fear is the sad, sad saga of the pride of nation
A FROG'S perspective on life: Time's fun when you're having flies.
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.