26 June 2008

Bell, bear and elephant

Julie Heyward's donning of a bell as she hikes in bear country is, of course, an entirely serious matter. I've hiked in bear country myself, and in terrains which harboured other denizens which I was equally happy to miss encountering. So, I mean no disrespect (to her or to the bears) when I say that her words “When carrying (and ringing) a bell, you don’t see the bears, so you really don’t know if they were ever there” chance to remind me of an old joke.

Like most old jokes, it comes in various forms and guises. When I first heard it, in 1968, I was a hippy (the genuine ponytail, bell bottoms, head band, rope sandals, love and peace variety) so I offer you this one:

A tourist is walking around the fountains at Versailles when he sees a hippy in one of the basins. The hippy is naked, standing on one leg, arms outstretched, clicking his fingers, and singing Donovan's Ballad of a Crystal Man at the top of his voice.

“What are you doing?” asks the tourist, curiously.

“Like, keeping the elephants away, man” replies the hippy, briefly, before continuing with the song.

“But there are no elephants within a thousand miles of here!” exclaims the tourist.

“Is that right, man?” says the hippy, with some satisfaction, “Wow - like, effective, isn't it?”

I wish Ms Heyward, and any who walk with her or in the same country, many bear free days.

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