Blog in 02 2016.
I’m in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest in Far North Queensland, Australia. I’ve never, ever been this vigilant. At every turn I expect a redback, taipan or crocodile to spring out and sink its teeth into my face.
In my mind, every plant I accidentally brush is a gympie-gympie; a tree with a sting that can leave you in agony for years. Every rustle in the undergrowth is a cassowary; a huge bird with a dagger-like nail on its foot that’s been known to sever carotids.
In the end, the closest I get to danger is a golden orb spider that’s set up home in a café. And as any half-decent arachnologist will tell you, the golden orb spider is about as cuddly as it gets in Queensland.
But it got me thinking. With so many dangerous animals and plants, surely Australia’s warning signs represent the pinnacle of warning sign achievement?
Let’s see. Here are three lessons from three signs.
Lesson 1: The perfect warning sign only tells me things I need to know
I saw this sign on a stroll along the banks of the River Torrens in Adelaide.
I love it for its madness. And it’s pretty effective too. It made me both wary of pelicans and aware of what to do if one turned its fearsome gaze in my direction. I assume that pretty much nails the brief.
So I’m giving it one thumb up. It does the job it’s meant to do, but it could’ve been a lot shorter. I don’t need to be told to leave the park if necessary; I’ll just do it when the relentless pelican attacks get tiresome.
Lesson 2: If you want to warn people about four things, you need four signs
I saw this before a walk to Erskine Falls, just off the Great Ocean Road.
There’s something wonderfully deadpan about the last item on the list. This is Australia, it says. There are always snakes.
But I can only give it one thumb. It made me watch out for snakes, but I instantly forgot about all the other things. And anyway, what could I possibly do if a tree decided to fall on me?
Lesson 3: A sign should make you smile. (Or at least not frown.)
Australia’s signs are good. But it wasn’t until I got to New Zealand that I saw the perfect, two thumbs up sign.
It might just be me, but I think whoever wrote and designed this one did so with a bit of a wink. The subject matter is silly (penguins) and the sign is formal (shouty capital letters, black on yellow). That combo is one of the oldest tricks in the comedian’s book.
So thank you, Australia (and New Zealand). Without your warning signs I might’ve been mauled by pelicans, drowned in a flood, concussed by rocks, crushed by trees, poisoned by snakes and pecked to death by bloodthirsty penguins.
Now if someone can just tell me what this is all about, I’ll be a happy man:
We heart our hearts
It’s that time of year when hearts explode onto everything. Cards. Baked goods. All kinds of advertising. Valentine’s Day = hearts. Because it’s the organ we’ve come to associate not just with love, but with our emotional life in general.
We ‘follow our hearts’ when we make decisions. Then have a ‘change of heart’ when we decide we’d prefer something else. If we’re not interested, ‘our heart’s not in it’. If we’re cruel and cold then we’re ‘hard hearted’. We see the heart as central to life, both physically and emotionally.
But we don’t have much love for our guts
In fact, as Guilia Enders, author of Gut – the inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ, puts it, ‘people think it just hangs around inside our bellies, letting off a little “steam” every now and then… we’re ashamed of it: more “guilt feeling” than “gut feeling”!’
Enders is on a mission to raise the status of the gut and encourage us to celebrate all of its achievements, from the ‘masterly performance’ of going to the toilet to the ‘tour de force’ that is vomiting.
The gut brain
It certainly sounds like the gut can give the heart – and the brain for that (grey) matter – a run for its money. For one thing, the gut has a huge network of nerves called the ‘gut brain’ – as large and complex as the network in our actual brain. ‘Were the gut solely responsible for transporting food and the occasional burp, such a sophisticated nervous system would be an odd waste of energy,’ says Enders. ‘No body would create such a neural network to enable us to break wind. There must be more to it than that.’
What scientists are starting to consider is that the gut uses this neural network to influence our feelings and behaviour. Which is actually something that us non-scientists have been saying for years.
Think of all those idioms that evoke images of the digestive system: ‘being scared shitless’, ‘leaving a bad taste in your mouth’, ‘trusting our gut instinct’ and ‘getting butterflies in our stomach’. These vivid expressions suggest we feel just as intensely with our guts as with our hearts. And it sounds like we’ll soon have the scientific evidence to back this up. ‘Our “self” is created in our head and our gut – no longer just in language, but increasingly also in the lab,’ says Enders.
I gut you, babe
Maybe sometime soon our love affair with the heart will be over, and you’ll be buying your sweetheart (or sweetstomach?) a small-intestine-shaped box of chocolates and a card with a picture of a sphincter on it.