Monthly Archives: April 2009

Hedgehogs and baby girls

My daughter just flung a virtual hedgehog in the air. She is changing before my very eyes. One minute a small girl, looking for a rest in Mama’s arms, the next a giggling pubescent MSNing with one boy or two. If one of those boys is playing a video game, why, she must quick-smart head to that game and try it out, thereby having a reason to continue the MSN chat. So when I walked past the computer this evening and saw a poor defenseless and bright orange hedgehog being lurched into space only to discover that his merciless bottom was spewing psychedelic stars, I felt a little confused. Where had that sweet little girl gone? Why was the word of some spotty 12 year old boy so important that she would hit the virtual arcade? Something she has never been interested in before.

 

I have always hated video games. Really hated them, to a point of looking down my nose with snobbish derision at the person playing them. Which is ridiculous really. I mean who am I to have such an opinion? I just don’t get it. I have students who hand homework in late because they were up to 1 am playing some new hot game that just came out. I have a husband who gets on that computer the minute he gets an opportunity and loves nothing more than visiting a friend who has a Wii. The one that really spun me round is a fabulous and creative group of students that, it turns out, are game addicts! Maybe I am the weird one that doesn’t get it. 

 

Is there really any difference between blogging and gaming? Obsessive compulsive photoshopping activities and internet surfing? Is the gaming an equally creative distraction? How can I have an ounce of wisdom on this one when I haven’t played a video game since pac man?

 

I just don’t understand how simply unproductive and time wasting it appears to be. Not to mention that most games are violent in nature.  I suppose everyone gets to choose how to waste their own time. Perhaps I should get myself a little virtual education so that I can actually know what I am talkIng about.

 

In the meantime I would like my daughter back.  The one that left home and was replaced by that giggling dudette on the computer.

 

 

 


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Filed under Family Stuff, I have two girls, observations

The little island that should.

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Tobago. To.Ba.Go. Trips off the tongue like a song doesn’t it? The baby sister to Trinidad is a 3 hour ferry ride away, or a 15 minute flight. We opted for the ferry so we could take our car. It was an eye opening experience. For an 8.30 departure time we had to be at the prot at 6.30 am where we lined up our car and napped until the loading began. Once we were parked and the handbrake firmly pulled up we entered the ferry.

I immediately realized what a soft and gentle bubble we live in. Here in all its glory was the other Trinidad. The colourful ladies poured into their super tight white shorts and stretched to breaking point in those hot pink t-shirts lined with glitter. Here was the gold, dripping in chains, set into teeth. Here was the hair piled high, the booty party in all its force. Normally women so endowed might opt of the subtler shades of colour, in hopes of perhaps muting the impact those propeller boobs and super booty might have. Not so on this ferry!  Squeeze that body into the brightest lycra! Drape those breasts in fuchsia and red! Roll out the glitter! And that was just the ladies. The gentlemen, gathered into loud card playing groups, turned their volume up high. By 9.30 am most were drunk. The bottles of rum were half empty, the cans of Stag lager crushed under foot. Outside the wind was blowing the cigarettes into the sea, the bucolic sight of playful dolphins over shadowed by the sight of Trinis drunk so close to dawn.

As the ferry roared into Scarborough we stuck out like sore thumbs. We were neither drunk nor merry, we emerged into the light glad to see land and shell shocked by the combined consumption of hard liqor and fried food, sometimes in the vomit bags, often in the sink. Relieved to be free we clambered into our car and headed off to our Villa, a shiny Ivory Tower facing the golf course.

We spent two weeks in Tobago, happily ensconced in our fairy world far from the reality of gold teeth and happy morning drinkers, enjoying the delights of cousins and family.

Sadly Tobago is a crumbling baby sister to its fast paced sibling. Many Trinis come to Tobago for the slower paced life, the tranquil beaches, the liming, the surfing, the gentle breeze. It is not a Caribbean island like any other. There are no hotel chains, despite being the tourism island in comparison to Trinidad, known for its industry. In fact the Hilton pulled out, not wishing to attach its name to the disappointing edifice that lacks vigour and colour. No one seems to care, no one makes an effort, and no one wants the money, nor the tourists and certainly not the business that Tourism would bring onto the island. All the hotels, the golf course, the restaurants ( bar2) were mostly empty. The grocery stores had given no thought to the tourists staying in self catering villas; in fact the choice of produce was well below the level of quality available in Trinidad.

50,000 people live in Tobago and there are many beautiful corners of this little island.  It is rustic, unspoilt and untouched by the demands of tourism that often leave Caribbean islands feeling like holiday playgrounds for the rich and white.  I consider beautiful Barbados in this category. However Tobago takes this lack of regard for tourism to an extreme. There is such a total disregard for what could be the money ticket for this poor island that Tobago leaves a neglected and rather sad impression on the traveler.

I regret not being able to show my family the shiny big sister that is Trinidad. Tobago is certainly third world, backward, slow and inefficient. The lives of the Tobagonians would be much improved by an injection of pride and business savvy.  My question is this. Why? How could the government of Trinidad be so short sighted as to fail to see the potential of their little sister island? When the gas runs out and 25 years down the road Trinidad and Tobago is steeped in the mire of disappointment and poverty, regret will surely set in.

 

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The day we fell in the ocean.

I don’t think I have ever written about that day we all fell in the ocean. 

 

It was a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky, the wind, a sailors dream. Imagine the scene. 4 adults, no kids. They had been shoved into a house together with a couple of babysitters and a lot of glitter glue. We had a boat, a 25 foot sail boat, small but sweet, and free. We had an ocean, a clear sky, a cute boat and barely anyone who knew how to sail. Cassandra and I saw the opportunity a mile away. And we saw the look on the husbands faces as we lugged on board champagne, paper cups, gourmet sandwiches, a camera and smiles ready for fun. 

“What do you think this is?” one of the husbands said as his hands grew raw from pulling ropes and fixing up the sail.

 

We just sat there and tried to look pretty as maidens as hunky men got the vessel sea worthy. Once aboard things were looking great. The sails flapped in the wind, the sea tilted ever so thrillingly towards us, the windswept hair looked a mess but felt great. Eventually sandwiches were eaten, champagne was sipped and life was good. This was my very first time on a sailboat that didn’t have a captain and I didn’t have a clue how to sail. I still don’t. D, our good friend and sometime sailor seemed to have a sort of clue, which helped us head in the right direction. Us girls sat on the rim of the boat, feet trailing in the sea and laughed, happily. I clicked away, taking pictures. When we saw a huge fish leap up from the great depths I quickly pulled my feet out of the water, imagining that whatever was chasing that fish was pretty big. I did not want my toes to become bait. Oh, how silly I was, imagining that was the worst that could happen.

 

D thought he would be nice, helpful and congenial and handed over the reigns of the steerage to my lucky husband who had never touched a sail boat, let alone steered one before. Somehow we tacked, which was meant to mean that we all hurl ourselves to the other side, carefully avoiding the boom. I think, in fact, that  was the one thing we had actually practiced, responding mighty fast to the word, TACK.

 

Well, this time there was no word, just a strange sensation of suddenly going from very dry and happy to very wet and worried. It was so rapid a transformation that I was amazed that my sunglasses remained on my head and my camera in my hand.

 

We realized, very quickly that all four of us were in the water, that we had no life jackets (who needs a life jacket when you have champagne?) and that the boat was slowly but surely drifting away from us.

 

Well, I peed immediately. I needed to go anyway and the shock just helped it along. Then I looked around and noticed that we were far from shore, maybe a mile, looked really far, but strangely way too close to the Alcoa aluminum bauxite plant. So my choice seemed clear.  Cancer or sharks. Luckily, while I was imagining the worst of my two deaths, D was swimming like mad towards the renegade boat. D is a fast swimmer and an oil man. He is a great husband, father and hero as you will soon find out, but more than any of that, D is a surfer. I think he only had to imagine some giant surfboard getting away from him and he was there. It took him 4 times to bring the boat around. He pulled one sail down, to make it slow down ( I had no idea) and kept swinging the boat round to pick us up. It was hard and windy and tricky, but he finally did it. One by one we climbed aboard.

“Cool, let’s do that again!” Said D. 

“No. let’s not.” Said Cassandra.

“Oh. Fuck. My camera.” Said I

“Any champagne left in that bottle?” Said husband.

 

For the record, salt water damages the inside of lovely little canon cameras. 

 

I bought my brand new camera with Mastercard.

 

Price of the boat $0. Price of the camera. $600. Price of a day on a boat with good friends? Priceless.

 

 


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Filed under Family Stuff, Might be funny, Sisterhood, Trinidad & Tobago

Just a little toe tapping distraction.

You are there. Wherever “there” is and I am in Tobago. For two weeks with no internet connection. I am lying on a beach, perhaps by the pool; I am reading and talking and “liming” and enjoying the company of my sister, my brother-in-law and their three delicious children. I am watching 5 children who live a million miles from each other, laugh and splash and love like only cousins do.

Did you read the part about NO internet?

This is going to be very interesting.

I will be back.

In the meantime look at this. It will get your toes tapping and amaze you.

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Bonus

Rarely something happens to make me realize that I must be doing a good job. I know that teaching is the best job in the world, I feel that most days, but teaching doesn’t have a way of monitoring return on investment. Most companies in the corporate world have a means of assessing your worth, sometimes it even leads to a big bonus. So it is rare that I have proof that I am actually teaching these kids something other than the obvious, something a little special that might stay with them for a very long time.

 

Well I got proof, I got my bonus and it is right here.

 

 


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Filed under Lying in bed with books, Miss Teacher, Teenagers

From Maycomb to Kabul and beyond

 At the moment we are reading To Kill a Mocking bird in grade 10 and The Kite Runner in grade 12.

Some observations:

The Kite Runner is one of the first books that most of my high school students have ever enjoyed in school. Normally you watch kids struggle through classics, not inspired by or relating to them. Then a book comes around that was made for their generation, a group of kids raised on video games, Drift Movies, high speed internet , google search and anything that goes really really fast. They are aware of the existence of evil and it is not Darth Vader. This is the post 9.11 group. Our seniors were 9 or 10 when those towers fell and we are now beginning to see a generation of kids bred in fear and cynicism. My students are shocked and disturbed by the details of cruelty in the book and we are reading it alongside pictures, news reports and film footage of Afghanistan. This is a book that tells an important story but it is written in the age of TV, movies and high speed internet and it cannot have escaped the author’s mind that this story would be suitable for Hollywood. He himself has admitted that he was raised on movies, and cannot undermine the influence they have had on his writing.

It certainly stimulates great discussion and we have learnt more about Afghanistan than ever before. We debated not just the US’s role in Afghanistan, but all of NATO especially now that Obama has planned to send in 17,000 more troops. News articles have been mulled over, power points done, freedom of speech debated and lots of interesting chat about plot and character. We have talked about the difference between redemption and atonement, and been touched by the idea of becoming good again.

The Kite Runner is easy digestible and a great story to boot but in terms of a work of literature, I find The Kite Runner to be a complicated one. The writing is average, the story is great but at times the dramatic nature of the events is farfetched to a fault. There are no heady metaphors, hidden symbolism and any recognizable parallels are noticeable a page away. It might not be as well written as To Kill a Mocking bird but it does pull a mean punch

 

To Kill a Mockingbird by the great Harper Lee is still one of the best books ever written. I can’t fathom that Harper Lee never wrote any other books. I suppose she had just the one in her, but what a one to have.  I am really teaching the book in conjunction with some historical references to The South and Racism in the 1930s-1960s. It is very hard for my students to wrap their little heads around the KKK; especially in the months following Obama’s inauguration.  It is also hard for them to identify with children who spend their whole summers playing with no access to TV, radio, video games, Wii, Malls, movies and computers.  I think they may be getting a trifle bored of reading books written before the year 2000. However, I am a strong believer in the classics, so classics they shall read. 

This is a book that most of my Grade 10s love. Of course there are the odd balls that are bored and looking for more action then Maycomb and the Finches can deliver but generally I would say that some fine questions have been raised by this book. This is a book that asks what it is to be human, what is dignity, what is the way to break out of small mindedness and ignorance? It is also a chance to celebrate how far we have come as a society.

The big question in my mind is this. What constitutes a great work of literature? Has the definition changed with the readership? Are those that appreciate 19th French literature, Tolstoy, Faulkner and even Evelyn Waugh now in the minority? Is that a bad thing? Literature is fluid and changeable and is written for and by a changing group of readers.  

What are the ingredients of a great piece of literature? The Inheritance of Loss, in my humble opinion, is a beautifully written book, at times unbelievable in its beauty, but I feel it tumbles down in the story telling department. 

Very few books, really, out of the millions published, accomplish the happy marriage of extraordinary writing and that rare story.

To Kill a Mockingbird, I told my class, is a masterpiece. It is a book that does not simply tell what people do but subtly asks why.

 


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Filed under Lying in bed with books, Miss Teacher, Teenagers