Monday, 26 December 2011


Does this mean that if I start drinking at midday there will be no woe involved? Or does it mean that getting up early will drive me to drink? Also, why does he look so smug? And why is he being showered with gold coins?

This poster seemed self-explanatory when I took the photo, but on reflection it makes less and less sense. Get plastered! But don't get up early. Getting up early will bring you woe.

Alcoholism has never seemed quite so attractive.

 I like the photo above better, but this one shows the whole poster. I almost (but not quite) wish I'd bought it at the flea market yesterday

Happy Boxing Day, everybody!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Black holes

Recently I heard from a friend about someone who was hospitalized during the summer after being stung by giant Japanese hornets. This reminded me of something that happened towards the end of last semester. I was teaching a class i'd had problems with all semester. Every semester there's at least one problem class, and this one was it. They were not a problem class because they behaved badly, though. I wished they would behave badly. That would have been easier to deal with. You can harness that kind of energy. Instead, they behaved well, and boringly. It was a small class, and getting them to talk to each other in English was almost impossible. They didn't even want to talk to each other in Japanese.

I don't know what the problem was. I worked hard all semester, trying every trick in the book (and a few not in the book) and made no progress at all. They just didn't seem to LIKE each other, and had nothing to say to each other, and that was that.

On this particular day they were all sitting in groups, as I'd placed them (otherwise they'd be scattered around the room as far from each other as possible), and the window was open, and a very large hornet flew in. It was a crazed hornet. It flew around the room fast and erratically, and at head height. That meant that as it flew towards them the students ducked their heads. From the vantage point of the  where I was standing it was easy to spot where the hornet was because it caused a bizarre sort of Mexican wave around the room. It flew around madly, and students ducked.

The hornet eventually landed on a window, and I used a laminated card to ease it outside. This took a little time and and some scary moments, but eventually it zoomed off outside. In any other class I would have been cheered for my achievement, but in this class everybody just stared blankly as I risked my life to tackle the hornet. I'm allergic to bees. I don't know whether I'm allergic to those long-legged monsters and didn't really want to find out, but nobody volunteered to help (but someone ALWAYS volunteers to help! That was a class of ZOMBIES!) and I wasn't going to risk a student's life. I was the teacher. I was in charge. I didn't really have a choice.

When I went back to the front of the class I remembered how the class had looked when heads were ducking, and started laughing.

The students stared blankly, so I told them why I was laughing. I told them they'd done a rather amazing Mexican head-wave and it had looked really, really funny.

They continued to stare at me blankly.

Around about then I gave up trying to get some sort of connection with the class. One student had a look in his eye that told me he would have responded if he could have extricated himself from the classroom atmosphere. He was the student who would have been a 'problem' student if only there was another student for him to be a problem with, but there wasn't. The others were all too sunk into their own little worlds and didn't communicate enough to be problem students.

(Oh, how I love problem students! But there has to be two.) 

That head-wave was the most entertainment that class provided me all semester. I had never seen them as animated as they were when that hornet flew straight at their faces and they ducked.

And I have never had a class where the classroom dynamics were quite as impossible as that one was. I put students in groups, pairs, in every possible combination, changing them around all the time, hoping that once they knew each other they'd wake up a bit, but nothing worked. They simply didn't want to talk to each other. Every other class that has started like that has eventually ended up with the usual problems of getting them to shut up because they've all become friends and want to chat (in Japanese) all the time. But in that class it never changed. They didn't become friends with each other. They didn't even unite against me, the ENEMY AUTHORITY. They were a constellation of individual black holes.

It was the hornet that made me realize there was nothing more I could do. It was towards the end of semester anyway, and I realized that if that didn't finally bring them together as a group nothing would. Any kind of large insect getting into a classroom is more or less guaranteed to create an uproar, but that one didn't cause anything except a bizarre visual effect.

I had a couple of classes this semester at the same university which threatened to be similar, but after the first couple of weeks they degenerated into the usual chaos of making friends, gossip, teasing, yelling at me, yelling from me, and the odd bit of learning.

This has made me happy. I thought I'd lost my touch.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Are you my family?

This is my favourite story of the year. Not that it took much – it hasn't been a year of good news, but really, I think this would be my favourite story of any year. The seal pup seems like a really determined seal pup (especially if it is the same one in all three incidents in the story).

This is the story of a seal who wants to find a family. He is "just weaned from its mum", the expert said, and I think his mum probably weaned him a wee bit too early, and the little seal has decided that he needs another family, one that will treat him more considerately. So he is wandering the streets of Tauranga looking for a new family, and when he found a house with cats and a dog (species-friendly!) and a seal pup-sized door, he thought his dreams had come true. 

Poor wee seal, forced away from the comfy sofa and back into the wild blue sea. I am cheered, however, by the news that he has not given up. He was spotted again later the same day (but managed to get away before the Department of Conservation van got there).

They made a mistake in the story, though. They said that the seal pup 'accidentally' turned on the radio in the DOC vehicle and 'accidentally' ended up in the front seat. I am fairly sure they are wrong about both these points. It is clear from the story that this seal is not stupid.

He turned on the radio for the same reason anybody turns on the radio. He wanted a bit of music. And he moved to the front seat because he wanted to see where he was going.

And why not? We all like to see where we are going, and some music to cheer us up.

(Don't forget to check out the other pictures.)

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Moon eclipse

It's been so long since I used my camera on manual it took me a while to figure out how to get decent pictures without a tripod. (Or perhaps it's not possible with moon pictures.) Anyway, I took these pictures near the beginning of the eclipse, but missed the total eclipse. I was getting too cold, and didn't actually think these were working. It was only when I got them on the computer and resized them I saw that while most of them were hopeless blurry these three were actually quite good.

Actually I went to bed before the total eclipse. I did get up again to go out to see it, but I didn't take my camera. I was too sleepy to hold it steady.

I took these pictures lying on my back on the cold concrete and steadying the camera on my nose. They were taken only a minute apart, around 10.30. The full eclipse was at 11.05. I wish I'd taken some later ones, now.