We had a chuckle reading this column originally published in May of 1995. In an effort to attribute the author of the poem, we learned that we aren't the first to have undertaken the task. We urge you to read the Wikipedia entry here as we did. Enjoy.
A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, "Pray, which leg moves after which?"
This raised her doubts to such a pitch,
She fell exhausted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.
The modern world, like the centipede, seems continually to come up against questions nobody ever thought to ask. The result, it seems to me, is often a dilemma like the centipede's.
Consider the "child-proof" bottle cap. These things turn up almost everywhere, except on liquor bottles and cigarette packages. For a long time now I've been involved in a battle of wills with the staff of Sharp's Drug Store over the question of child-proof caps. They're a good crowd, the staff at Sharp's, but you have to watch them. A friendly smile and a witty remark come with every prescription and you leave the store in good humour. Not until you get home do you remember to check the bottle and by then it is too late. Yup, another child-proof cap.
Not too many years ago I bought a jug of windshield washer fluid from a roadside gas station, and the thing completely flummoxed me. The jug was mine by virtue of an exchange of coin of the realm. I was prepared – thanks to my Swiss Army knife – to deal swiftly and efficiently with the aluminum seal which lies under the cap, and cannot be broken by any method of digging at it with thumb and fingers (unless you keep your fingernails about an inch long and razor-sharp). I was not prepared for the humiliation of not being able to remove the cap.
It was one of those greasy days in late winter when the windshield washers are needed every hundred feet or so and you can go through a gallon of w-w-f between here and over yonder, and there I was with a gallon of w-w-f and no way to extract it. I thought I remembered that we were carrying a small hatchet in the trunk and was just about to get it for purposes of persuasion when the gas-station attendant – a youth of that sullen and indeterminate age when anyone older is senile by definition – took pity on me and with an expert twist whisked the cap off and without a word held it up to demonstrate the whatsit that was the cause of the trouble. Child-proof indeed. The kid didn't have the slightest vestige of a whisker.
Since then I have been watching out pretty sharply for new excursions into child-proofing and wondered idly where it was all going to end. Most of them have finally been explained to me, not by the elders of the community, but by persons well within the purview of the Young Offenders Act.
The centipede in the rhyme may have had a problem figuring out which leg came after which, but at least all her legs worked the same way. The same can not be said for child-proof caps. There are caps that must be pushed down and twisted. There are caps that must be pulled up and twisted. There are caps that must be lined up and pushed. There are presumably caps that will only open at sundown on the third Thursday in a month with two full moons.
The worst ones are the safety caps on the top of spray bottles. Here the modern delight in complete obfuscation comes gloriously to the fore. These are not only supposed to be child-proof, they apparently must also be intelligible to any hypothetical non-carbon-based life form that might drift by. This last requirement means that any form of written instruction is completely out. Instead we must have the top covered with mystic symbols which can be interpreted to mean, "Do this, and you'll get a snoot-full," or, "Do that, and all will be well." As far as I have been able to determine, there is no way to figure out beforehand which of these messages is the right one. If I ever meet a non-carbon-based life form, I'm going to ask for clarification.
Why another life form smart enough to get itself over here from its own galaxy, presumably for the sole purpose of buying a spray can of noxious chemicals ("Honey, I think I'll run over to the earth and pick up a can of Flit"), would not be smart enough to read simple words like "push" and "turn" beats me.
Meanwhile, I think I'll go and have another natter with Sharp's.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.