Friday, December 31, 2010

Another Year Over and a New One About to Begin... in Approximately 8 Hours and 7 minutes.

(I started this post on the 31st of December, but I became a little side tracked. So, just pretend you are reading this three days ago).

It's 3:53pm here on the last day of 2010 here in my pub home in west London. In an hour and a bit I'll start work. I don't really mind working New Year's Eve. It'll be a festive atmosphere and I won't have to spend a penny. On Sunday I'll take the train back to Hastings to start school again on Tuesday.

Up until this year coming up (the one that's already begin- Ed) I have not been a bigger setter of New Year's Resolutions, but I've got a few in mind this time. So here we go...

1. To maintain regular posts here. I don't keep a diary and I am quite forgetful of the little details of the past, so this will serve as a reminder of these times.
The measure will be when regular = at least 1 post per week.

2. To make my way back home. Measure will be based on geographical location as at 31st December 2011. However, this resolution is flexible, it would be a bit of a closed door to all other opportunities otherwise. The simple truth is that while UK is good, it's just not great in the way Aotearoa is.

This is not a secret resolution, nor is it a R18 high in sexual content resolution. I just can't quite articulate it into words yet.

I have spent most of 2010 letting the outside in, absorbing all the people and experiences of the year and thinking a great deal about it all. I would like 2011 to be the year of letting the inside out. The measure will be subjective. I never used to think of myself as a strongly creative person, mostly because I believed that to be creative I must do things like write a masterful piece of literature or paint amazing art or master a musical instrument and compose something outstanding.

I have realised the slightly massive flaws in this logic. Taika helped a bit, but the truth was rising to the surface anyway.


It seems that creativity and ideas can come to the surface in a myriad of ways that can seem pointless and irrelevant to the straight square eye. Really, it's about the little things done in the day to day, as much as the massive things that we become known for.

And that's about as much explaination as I'm willing to give for now. We'll (note the inclusive pronoun) just have to see how this manifests itself in 2011.

Watch this sphere (see what I did there).

Monday, December 20, 2010

It's times like these one must be glad one is not going home to family for christmas

Saturday's plans had to be put on hold as my 90minute journey to London turned into a six hour ordeal. We got as far as Tonbridge, before being told we had to head in the opposite direction to Ashford. Part of this wee journey meant spending an hour sitting on the tracks just outside Ashford International Station waiting for a platform to clear. Ironically, we eventually we made it to London on a European high speed train on its way through from France. Then, the Tube was suffering delays. Luckily, and wonderfully, I was going to a christmas dinner partee, so I arrived to good friends, food and wine. Ahhhh...

Back at the pub in Chiswick, we are serving customers who have back tracked from Heathrow where flights have been cancelled. It makes me glad I am at my christmas destination. Now I just need to get the Christmas shopping done.

In Sainsbury's this morning I was a little bewildered to hear over the loudspeaker something like this: "This is a customer announcement, could Sister Mary please make herself known to staff. Sister Mary, please come to the Customer Service Desk". I wondered if they were going to tell the Sister that her expected order won't arrive until Saturday.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Last Day of Term in a Winter Wonderland

The last day of term dawned with a new light dusting of snow on the ground. The kids arrived cheerfully, some in Christmas attire, with cards and presents to give to their friends. The mood was definitely a cheerful one. Sometime around midday the students were stuffed into the hall to watch the Christmas Revue, that is with the exception of those who had lost their privilege to watch it. This included one of my Year 11 students who had grown his own tobacco. He was caught when his mate brought some to school and tried to sell it. The enterprising lad was fixing one of my blinds in class when a receptionist came in and told me I needed to escort him to a classroom to sit the revue out.

The show was a good mixture of the school's talent. There were a lot of youngsters displaying their singing skills, with X Factor style songs (anyone outside of the UK should count themselves lucky they don't have to endure the hype and stupidity of this TV show). In between this and the hip hop number, the teachers' Take That impression and a couple of others the head teacher came out to say things like "Lucy and Alfie Gillard your parents are here to pick you up now as it is snowing very heavily in your village and they want to get you home".

I had some hint as to what the final number would be a couple of days ago when one of my Year 11 students had put up his hand and asked "This may seem a bit irrelevant Miss, but where did you get your stockings from?". Seven young men, mostly head students and prefects dressed up as night-club going young women and seemed to enjoy their new identities immensely as they danced to some of today's chart topping pop hits.

By the time we stepped out of the school hall it was snowing and, as is traditional, the teachers stood on the school steps and waved goodbye to the students as they left in their buses, the snow falling in the background, everything white.

The staff 'buffet' turned out to be a few platters of chips, cold sausage rolls and bowls of olives with a few bottles of beer and wine thrown in. Still, can't go scoffing at a free lunch. After less than an hour of farewells and eating, everyone high-tailed it out of there before the snow locked them in.

Today I am hoping to get to London. But every train service out of here has been 'amended' because of the snow. I'm not quite sure whether this means there are no trains running, or I just have to wait six hours until the next one. I have no idea where I'll be tonight.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A new song for xmas...

This morning in assembly the students had a lecture about the 'real' meaning of christmas from the religious education teacher Mrs Pope (her real name). She asked the students how they thought various christmas items symbolised god's love. First on the list was the christmas tree. One young boy put his hand up and said "it's a pagan symbol and was used by the pagans to celebrate their festival"
"Err, yes," she replied, "it's true that the christmas tree comes from Germany, but that's not the answer I'm looking for". She went on to explain that because the tree was evergreen it represented the eternal hope for humanity. Although the young boy put his hand up at every opportunity for the rest of the assembly, he was not chosen again to contribute.

I always find it hard to hear young people being (in my opinion) lied to. A slight bit of respite came this evening when a friend posted this:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A bit of light relief

I have and I will go on a lot about the quality of British television. Most Brits will bemoan it as decreasing in quality, but like anything there are gems amongst the dirt.

One show I have come to love is called Have I Got News for You which has been running for some twenty years. It basically a show where people mock and criticise the events of the week. It's what the NZ show 7 Days is based on. I think it's brilliant, funny and accurate. For the last nine years it has had a guest host, this came about because the previous host Angus Deayton had to resign. It came out that he had been hosting prostitutes in hotel rooms and snorting cocaine. Below are the best bits from the show that followed these revelations...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

To Sir/Miss, with Respect.

It's a unique kind of burden being a high school teacher. I am again learning the ways things can weigh heavy on your heart, the things you endure just to get those little successes.

When I first started teachers' college, I thought about the few teachers who had influenced and impacted upon my life. Mostly it was the feeling that they cared about me, they took time to help me. They made me think differently, or introduced new and exciting things. I've never got around to thanking any of them, I hope I will, but I possibly may not for various reasons. I figured then that if I had that kind of impact on any of my students, I will probably never know about it, or at least not until I am very old, that is if I had any kind of impact at all. Based on that reasoning,I figured I could fool myself into thinking I was inspiring my students, they just hadn't realised it yet. Silly as it sounds, it was that thought that helped me get through many a tough day.

Since leaving the Land of the Long White Cloud, I've had a lot of my former students become my friend on facebook. For some of them, I think I am just helping to boost their friend count, but I occassionally get messages from them telling of all the activities they have been up to, their plans for the future. Last night I got a message from a girl I taught last year that really struct me. This shy, yet immensely talented young woman told me how I was one of two teachers who had literally changed her life. It must have taken a lot for her to say it, and I am all the more grateful for it.

It fills me with slight sadness that I never developed a passion for music until I was in my 20s. I would have liked to have spent my teens learning to play music, but my music teachers never took much notice of me. I think if I had been in Richard's class that might have been different, he probably would have leaped upon my shy interest and put an instrument in my hand, signed me up for lessons, said encouraging things. I think similar things about History if I had been in MoE's class, or Drama if I'd been in Fflur's class or ICT if I'd been in TSB's class (except that we didn't have computer classes when I started high school).

When I get back to school I think I might print out the message and glue it somewhere I'll see everyday, in my diary or planner maybe.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's been snowing for four days here. Today, my second day at the new job, we had to close the school at midday because of the snow, then shuffle the students down the hill to catch the buses home. I had to wait over an hour and a half at the train station with a few students for the train encouraging them to make peaceful snowmen rather than fast flying snow balls. It was beautiful and I wished I bought my camera. Google images will haved to fill in the gaps for you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A word or two...

It has been a busy weekend in London catching up with friends whilst trying to fight off a cold. Last night the cold went in for the battle and has turned the last twenty four hours into something of a shitter. I've got a busy week, on Wednesday I meet my new classes and by Sunday I need to have found some place to live. But enough moaning, this post is just to say it may be a few days until the next one.

To all my peeps out there- stay true, and keep the comments coming in. I am no Ringo Starr:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Flush Tracker

Flush Tracker: "@Queenofsouth just tracked their flush online to raise awareness for World Toilet Day, Nov 19th. Track yours"

Ok, I tracked my flush from a sitting this weekend in London. Apparently this link will let you see the map. It is now at a processing plant near the Thames River. I read somewhere that the Thames is now the cleanest river in Europe after massive cleanup operations. A seven year project to redo the sewage system along the Thames is about to start.

There is a slight irony in that the company that set up this website and sponser world sanitation make, I beleive, harsh chemical cleaning products to be flushed down the nation's drains and into its waterways.

For those of you wanting to engage in the experience yourself feel free to use my London postcode W4 5LR or my Brighton one BN1 1YB at this website

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In today's Metro...

Exherts from the free morning rag:

For just on £35 you can buy a (tacky) replica of Kate's engagement ring.

There's flooding in Cornwell, and pictures to prove it.

It's not all about rhinestones and sequins: shimmer and sheen are this season's understated glamour.

In a pet shop in China every ferret sold comes with its own passport.

A housing official has aoplogised for saying a jobless man didn't have any brains.

There is now a Flushtracker application that allows you to follow what happpens when a flush leaves your loo. Just type in your address and the last time you flushed, and the application will reveal the position, speed and distance travelled by the 'water'.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kandinsky, fifty 11 year olds, and Me.

For most of today I was an art teacher at the 'tooting' school. I taught two Year 7 classes and each had to do a drawing of their own design, but in a similar style to this one by Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. I even had a go at it myself. I was teaching them because their teacher was busy with the Year 11 art assessments and we were relocated to a Maths room. Which was actually idea because of the availability of compasses, protractors and rulers.

Over the two classes I came to love and admire this piece of art. At first it seems simple, but, take a closer look and the intricacies become apparent. It is detailed, but not cluttered. It seems random, but everything is placed and proportioned to give the overall feel. It could be highly mathematical, or void of numbers.

It was really interesting to see how the students interpreted the art, what details and patterns they chose to reproduce on their own. They accepted it as a piece of art, and yet were not in any was intimidated about trying it for themselves.

What amazed me was learning when I got home that this was actually made in 1923. I'm still astonished at how early 'modern art' started. I think I might have to go back to the Tate when I'm next in London.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

A guide to youth (and teacher) slang in East Sussex: Part Two

Today I taught in a school where several students I encountered were on daily report. Each student had three individualised targets for their report. I was bemused to find on several: Target 1: No tooting. Upon asking first encountered naughty child I was able to work out the following...

Tooting (verb) to talk back to one's teacher in a disrespectful way; to publically state that you are not going to follow teacher's instructions; to call out when teacher is trying to address whole class.

Picture partially relevant.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

With a bit of hindsight...

I realise I have been spending a bit of this week moaning. In a moment of contemplation a few hours ago I realised that things are not all that tough for me. For instance, I finished work at 3:15 every afternoon and I have the rest of the day free, unlike most teachers. So I apologise dear readers.

On Tuesday I have an interview for a short term position. It's in a remote area, and will involve teaching a class of Maths, but I would quite like the job I think. Tomorrow I have to make up a thirty minute lesson that I will be observed teaching as part of my interview. A three level reading guide should do the trick I think.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nothing says fun like 100 minutes of writing in a desk-less drama room.

I had to be the supply teacher today who informed students that, although they were expecting to be doing drama activities, they actually had to lean over bits of stage and plan and write scripts. On a Friday. For 100 minutes (some schools here have days consisting of three lessons of 100 minutes). A good drama teacher (like Fflur) surely knows that DVDs and designing posters or production sets would be the way to go for classes like these. No wonder kids don't like school sometimes, the things they are made to do just don't make sense.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A guide to youth slang in West Sussex

Hench (adj) describing something as being strong, dominating, possibly derived from the longer and older word henchmen.

For example:

Freddy: "That's because the All Blacks are hench and our team is all two foot and weeny"
Jordan: "Do they have Pepsi Max in New Zealand miss?"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Going for 4 early morning runs in the last four days and attending five gigs in the last seven days had caught up with me by this morning... but the school turned out to be a shining example of how to organise the cover of classes (take note TSB). Apart from the receptionist's mixed welcome. She offered me tea while implying my incompetence in not having landed a permanent job yet.

Anyway- I was collected at reception by the cover organiser, taken on a tour, then in her office she gave me a 4 page summary of everything I needed to know (and time to read it), a password to get on the system and enter the rolls, a larger guide to the school should I wish to read it, a key to the relevant classrooms and all the paper rolls just in case. Then I met the Head's of the two subjects I was teaching- English and ICT- who had both double checked the cover work was all set. In each classroom the tasks for the students were laid out and they were tasks that work best with a reliever/supply teacher- like watching DVDs and discussing them/completing worksheets, or designing things, or making databases of information on favourite songs. It made me feel like a real teacher again.

If Bob Marley and Richard ever had a love child (who was also blind).

The staffroom was just another staffroom, although I think Richard would have liked it. I overheard four people discussing such things as their upcoming gigs, which music they liked to play and what musical direction they want to head in. Ironically one guy was talking about the different amounts of pay he gets depending on who comes to play at their gigs.

Speaking of gigs, I'd best be off.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Not much to say...

But, I'm trying to post everyday.

Today I got the call shortly after 7:30am, a 45 minute train to Chichester to teach at a girls school there. Really tough day. While hearing a pin drop in the class of 26 Year 8 girls who were all silently reading their books, I had to remind one girl to put her bag on the floor.

I talked to my sister Rachael in Auckland on skype. It looked brighter there. It's almost dark at 4:30pm now in the UK.

I learnt that back at Wainui a young man who was in my form class for two years became the new head boy, and a young woman who I coached for debating and taught last year won dux. Both deserved as they're quite awesome young people.

Tomorrow I am already booked, off to a local school. Must be there by 8:15am.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Crawling ahead in pounds, sense and electrons.

Today I started a contract, signaling my first regular and certain employment in 11 months. Up until two months ago this didn't bother me. Up until then I had never had trouble finding a job when I needed it. Of the seven weeks of last term, I was only called in to work for 12 days. It was tough at times, especailly as my sole reason for coming to the UK was to earn money. When people asked me how long I planned to stay, I was tempted to reply, "Until I get enough money to get out of here".

But today it ended. I have a contract that guarantees me supply (relief) work until about the end of May next year. And there's an element of adventure to the start of the day, which makes me feel like a special agent. By 7:30am I must be ready and waiting at Brighton Train Station. I buy a sandwich, a coffee, pick up a free rag and sit waiting, phone in one hand, pencil and paper in the other. As the minutes tick by, I watch the commuters come and go.

At 8:07am my phone rings. I get the name of the school, a contact person and a train station (Lancing). I am advised to get a cab from Lancing
Station as it's a long way and the weather is torrential.

Now it's GO GO GO.

Go to ticket machine (no line- whew) buy ticket, look up, see a train's leaving in 3 minutes, race through the ticket barrier and down to platform one to catch train (whew). Find a seat. At Lancing there's one taxi (whew). Listen to taxi driver talk non-stop for the 5 minute journey. Report to school reception. Am given a supply pack (full of paper and stationery- great idea) and a twenty page guide for supply teachers. Without time to read it I am whisked down to the Science block (made it- whew!).

Lancing Train Station.

I teach three classes, each 100 minutes long. I teach, well it's Science, so really I learn, about the uses of metals and the three types of radiation (alpha, beta and gamma- the first two can change elements, the other one can change into bombs). I spend break talking to a Science teacher about his trip to NZ. I confiscate four phones, learn the names of the naughty kids first. One kid thinks I'm Scottish, others guess Australia. No one makes any Flight of the Concords jokes today (although there is one kid called Albie). One girl, Kirsty, has her whole make-up kit in her blouser pocket. Mykylika gets annoyed when I mispronounce her name for the second time. In one class there are three Ben's. I keep all of them in for the start of lunch. In the bustling staffroom no one says hi, I drink my coffee and leave, the kids are more fun to be around anyway. Every class has two Chloe's, in the last lesson the students are lovely, they work hard.

At 3:10pm I let the kids go, write up a report for the teacher, return things to the office, walk to the train station. I see Kirsty on the opposite platform, she smiles. I board the train home. Mission accomplished.

Tomorrow, another assignment.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Last night at a quiet pub in Brighton

Last night I was at a gig grooving away to the tunes with the six other audience members when suddenly the woman on keyboard called for the band to stop. Here is a description of what happened next:

Band members cease playing.
Woman answers her mobile phone.
Audience members look at each other in suprise.
Man sitting next to me: "In all my 44 years I have never seen this happen at a gig"
Keyboard player woman into phone: "What is it now? You missed the train? What? Why?"
Djembe drum player (who until now appeared very peaceful) leans over and shouts:
"Tell her she better not have missed that fucking train. Tell her she'd better be in her fucking bed when we get home or there's going to be fucking trouble!"
Keyboard player woman mumbles something into the phone, hangs up and then turns to the audience, "That was my daughter"
Man sitting next to me: "Is she a teenager?"
Keyboard player woman (nodding): "Yeah"
Audience again look at each other and laugh nervously.
A young woman comes back from the toilet and her boyfriend tries to explain what just happened without cracking up.
Band continue with songs. Lyrics are something about being 17 again and wanting to grab the car keys and go for a long drive.
Song finishes and band annouce they are taking a 15 minute break to sort things.
I decide to leave.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Interesting points of note from the UK this week.

Image from here

1. Every street bin in Brighton and Hove has a sticker on it warning people not to go to sleep in the bin, as it could endanger their lives.

2. The Sport 'newspaper' keeps a tally on page two of how many images of topless women it has published that week. By Thursday, when I was perusing through a copy at the laundrette, it was up to 23. The Sun had only managed one and The Guardian appeared shameful at zero.

3. Eastenders is actually a very clever TV show, and I am fast becoming a fan. The BBC has a website called iPlayer where you can watch over the internet (and in some cases download) any show that was on the telly on BBC in the last week.

4. Some towns in Britain were known for their beautiful cobbled streets. But now, many of these streets are being ripped up because coucils are having to pay out thousands in compensation to people who have tripped up and injured themselves.

5. I am generally against most things the UK government is doing, and generally against any cuts in education. But I am actually liking the proposed idea of capping the pay of head teachers (Principals to you antipideans) so that it is never more than that of the prime minister's. Although I should investigate this further- how much money are we talking about?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Two Peas in a Pod

John Key- NZ PM. Image from here

David Cameron England PM. Image from here

It is almost scary how similar these two are, how damaging I think their politics are. Both like the colour blue, both have fancy holiday homes, both have introduced huge cuts and told everyone to be all patriotic about it, it's for the good of the country after all. Last week the Tory coalition government delivered a budget that cut almost everything, including the jobs of thousands of civil servants. This week the PM created a new job. Personal photographer. Paid for by the taxpayer.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I wasn't teaching yesterday so I decided to take a bus out to the village of Steyning, have a look around and go for a walk onthe South Downs.

Two men in the pub complained firstly about the weather and then how they could no longer have a cigarette with their pints. The old lady in the charity shop said Steyning had been plastic bag free for a year and she was sick of having arguments with customers about it. While I was waiting a customer asked for a plastic bag and was angry when she couldn't get one. "What if it rains" she moaned.

On the bus a man moaned that now the clocks were turned back he couldn't stay on his allotment later than 4pm.

Someone told me that in England you are never more than seven feet away from a rat.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Brighton Day One...

I now live in Brighton, it's a town on the southern coast of England. It's about the size of Christchurch. Nick Cave lives here. So does Steve Coogan. And now me.

I start teaching here on Friday, maybe earlier.

Brighton is known for many things. It used to be a small fishing town, but once the railway tracks were laid it quickly became the seaside daytrip of choice for Londoners. That was about 100 years ago. Now it is known as the country's gay capital, with a high proportion of students, new-agers, musicians and homeless folks. This year it became the first place in England to elect (under first past the post) a Green MP and there are a lot of organic food stores around. It's one hour on the train to London, and ten minutes on the train to East Sussex and West Sussex. Hove used to be the town next to Brighton, now it is all joined as one.

Alright enough for now.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A picture- Part Two.

My creative genius doesn't work well under pressure. In twenty minutes I will be serving Sunday Roasts at the pub downstairs so this post will be short and mundane.

Above is more of the highwalks. Note the fountain/water feature below, the apartments above, and the highwalk just under the building. Does that help to answer your question Fflur? Congratulations on the emergence of your son into teenage-dom. I have no idea what you have been up to Richard, but I can guess that double basses and wine would be involved. Substitute the double bass for more wine and you've got The Curmudgeon perhaps? Is The Wine Guy still around?

This is a picture of Chiswick Park tube station at sunset. It is a wee way out of the city so it not underground. Even though the sign outside says 'UNDERGROUND. But everyone knows what is means. It's on the District line. The Piccadilly line runs through here, but doesn't stop.

The Pope is here at the moment, There is a lot of anger about the fact the Government has paid for him to be here, a man who helps spread AIDS and hides up sexual abuse. I quite like this video a friend put me on to. Because of a couple of swear words it is restricted so you will need to sign in to You Tube to see it.

Must away

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Picture- Part One

In a cunningly devised plan I had to get back into blogging I decided to choose photos I had taken and then write a little bit about each one. This plan was going great as I set out to the internet cafe and paid for plenty of time to write this blog. It was then that I remembered that I had left behind the USB stick with all my photos on.

With a determination to push on I found someone else's (far better) picture of what I wanted to talk about. So here is the image:

This is a picture of the Barbican Highwalk. I found the highwalks by accident, when I walking back to Moorgate tube station from the London Museum and I really like them. They are a series of walkways (highwalks) that lie about 5 metres above ground and they are the first interesting thing I have found that I wasn't pre-informed about in a guide or by a local.

I was able to walk the kilometre from the museum to the tube without even having to cross a road or give way to anything, or go around a building. The walks simply go through the office and apartment blocks, and a yellow line shows you the way to the tube station. In the centre of one block of apartments was an amazing garden (the picture of which I hope will be in a later post).

From this height above the ground it is a great place to see the surrounding architecture. If you look in this photo you can even see a remaining part of the wall of London- from the Roman times. When I first came through I didn't have my camera, it was raining and I was hungry, so I didn't stop. But I came back the next day and stopped for a while. It seems hard to image how a mash of buildings covering hundreds of years can go together, but somehow they do. The masses of water below add to the mytic of it all, and it felt like I had discovered soemthing hidden, but wonderful. Like a secret garden.

Monday, March 8, 2010

At a time like this I think of the famous (and somewhat ironic) words of the late John Denver...

At 3:30pm this afternoon I board a plane to Thailand. I am surprised at the lack of nervousness I feel, but then, this is something I have been looking forward to for over four years now. I think I have booked a place to stay in Bangkok for when I arrive there at 9:30pm. I say 'think' because it took three people to understand my Niu Zuland English when I rang to book a room, and they over-quoted my the price, so now I will have to try to haggle down the price of my bed before I can get into it.

My sister Rachael and I got back on Sunday from a four day camping trip (I was going to write a post about his, but, as they say, time waits for no (wo)man). It was a test of sisterly relations, but I think we came through it well.

In the time leading up to my departure I was going to write quite a few posts, and I had some ideas stirring, but alas, they have not come about.

There just remains a few things to be done, buying deodorant for instance, then Rachael and I are off to play pirate mini golf before I depart.

So, adieu and all that. The posts for a few months will be shorter and less frequent (if at all). Enjoy your March and April and May and June and July.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hitchin' a Ride

While at university, and later in 2004, when I lived at Punakaiki on the West Coast, I would often hitch-hike. Despite the concern of some friends, I and others who hitched with me, never had any issues. The people I met along the way (and would never see again) were fascinating, but the most exhilerating part was knowing that, while I had a destination, there was no telling when I would arrive there, or how. It felt like freedom. Whether there was some romantic link to America or the Beat generation, I'm not sure, but I still think of them as some of the more real experiences of my life.

Three golden rules exist with hitching (in my mind at least). Firstly, I have only hitched in the South Island. Secondly, there are some people (e.g. parents) that one should not mention to that you are hitching- the disapproval and debate is not worth it. Thridly, if the ride doesn't feel right, don't hop in.

In the first mid-semester break in my first year at Otago University two friends from my hostel and I decided to tour around the South Island by hitching. We still followed through with this plan, despite one breaking her leg three weeks prior to our departure. We stopped at remote beaches and camped the night, and got one amazing ride from a woman in an old converted ambulance who took one week off a year from looking after severely disabled daughter in Christchurch to tour around the West Coast.

How well your hitchhiking experience goes depends on three things:
1. Gender. Being a woman means it is more likely women will stop and pick you up.
2. Placement. Where you try to hitch is important, the speed limit, the available stopping space, how easily you can be seen all contribute.
3. Weather. Standing in scoarching sun, or dripping wet generate sympathy.

The worst experience I had was being stuck in Reefton late one afternoon waiting for a ride, hoping like hell we wouldn't have to spend the night there. An hour and a half we waited for a ride to come along, and were relieved by the offer of a shearing gang to drop us in the next town.

So last Friday, with dreams of saving money and re-living the experience for one last time, I decided to try it again from Picton to Kaiteriteri. My first ride was Doug the priest from North Carolina who was very liberal and we had a great discussion on politics, before getting lunch together in Nelson. From there I had a five small rides, many interesting stories, never waiting longer than 5 minutes for a ride. It was the talk with people and lives that I may never have meet otherwise that I enjoyed, and travelling a road I had never been on before.

Reflecting on it all, it makes me think about the way we percieve risk, what comes from the kindness of strangers, and about humanity before globalisation and paranoia took hold. There are the news headlines and there are days like Friday. I will hold onto my beliefs in the general good of (wo)man, thanks, because if I think too much about the gloomy direction we are heading, I may never leave the house again.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Car Love

At 6:05pm this evening I watched as my car drove away, now the possession of someone else. I am actually feeling quite emotional about this. I guess that symbolically, becoming car-less means I really am putting my life in a backpack and going travelling, a fact which I don't think has yet sunk in. It is, as my sister Rachael said this evening, the end of an era.

I bought my Corona at teachers' college using part of the Teach NZ scholarship money I had 'earned' just by virtue of wanting to become an English teacher. Rachael (who knows more about cars than any person I know) found the car and helped me get a good deal.

Three and half years, and 55,000 kilometres later, I ironically hand it over to a woman who has just returned from the country I am bound for. In that time the Corona has taken a band (and myself) on a South Island tour, journeyed a few 'op shop missions', been to Gisborne and back over a dozen times, and over the Wainuiomata Hill I estimate 273 times*. I think the Corona's greatest achievement was fitting four people, two guitars, half a drum kit, three tents, as well as four people's sleeping gear, food and clothes in one trip back from the Parihaka festival in early 2008.

This was the car that made people think I was a good driver. I never got a ticket in this car, (well, maybe one parking ticket) and never crashed it. It was too old to look theft-worthy and even my mechanics liked it (one of them, Les, reckoned it was the last of the reliable Toyotas).

Right, if I was a man, this much talk about my car would lead you to question the size of one part of my anatomy, so I will just finish with this...

As I sat on the bus home with my wad of cash** and thought of the memories, I felt happy that someone else seemed as happy to buy my car as I felt owning it.

*Yes, I did calculate this.
**As Rachael helpfully advised: "I was going to suggest you don't throw the money in the air and then pretend to swim in it on the bus floor, but I figured you'd know better than to lie on a bus floor." She's a hoot that one.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane.

Actually it's a Boeing 777.

This post is to merely inform you that I have set up another blog. Fflur has already raised concerns about the implications of this, but I will try to keep everything in check.

This blog will remain in its rambling state, but will probably be contributed less come March 9th. The other one will be about my travels and will be mostly for family and other friends, and of course, yourselves.

It's called Nicola's Travel Bag. Yes, I realise it's not a very original name.

Being a Social Studies Teacher.

I have just finished my third day of Being a (relieving) Social Studies Teacher.

There are amazing advantages to being a reliever. No planning or administration work, and not having to think or do anything school-related from 3pm Friday until 9am Monday. Today as everyone sat down to start a staff meeting, I headed out the door. I am also teaching Economics. It is an optional subject. The students choose to be there. They want to learn what you are teaching them. Really I get to do all day just the things I enjoy about teaching- the interacting with students.

There are disadvantages, you do feel a little on the outside, not having something to moan and stress about all day. I also suffered a torrent of abuse from Richard as I walked into the staffroom. Once he had finished in my ear, he turned to the nearest DP and demanded to know why they had let me back in.

But Being a Social Studies Teacher, now, that's a whole new world. Firstly I had to deal with the disappointment. The yet-to-be appointed teacher I am covering for has the initial JP which means students arriving on the first day reacted with "[moan] oh have we got you? I thought we would have Mr Powley. Why can't we have Mr Powley?". Because Mr Powley is off teaching optional subjects.

The Year 9's wanted to know why my lessons weren't as fun as Music. This puzzled me a bit until I found out that their teacher wasn't in fact Richard.

And while I couldn't see any coloured pencils, so far teaching has involved drawing symbols, writing out focusing questions and drawing title pages. Even the 15 minute current events quiz I have been holding each lesson is legitimate. If this were English, those juniors would have written a 400 word essay by now, read two stories, and practised the first draft of their speech.

I have even spent ten minutes talking about where I am going to be travelling in the world, and that's OK because it's Geography.

Image from here

Monday, February 1, 2010

Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste...

Image from here.

Like many children growing up I had a dichotomous view of people, they were either good or bad and as a consequence I either liked or disliked them and treated them accordingly. Bad quite easily blurred into evil. This view perpetuated into my youth, and possibly into my twenties when the dawning realisation came that people are (to use the common phrase) shades of grey. It's easy to see how this came about- as children we are fed stories with goodies and badies; Cinderellas, Rapunzels, wolves, step mothers.

Now step forward (and backwards) to Mad Men. From the comfortable position of 2010 I initially found myself getting very irate at the actions of the characters. The prejudices, the ready willingness to use advertising to manipulate, the ill-communication between humans. The way Don's infidelity matches the hypocritical rules he expects Betty to live by, how Sal loses his job, the people who were fired because Peggy's lunch money went missing.

Yet it is the gap of time that reminds us these are people of the 1960s, a product of their time. Their edges are rounded, we can forgive their ways. The programme shows us how much we have changed, and sadly haven't changed. My point is that I have come to see them as characters with strengths and weaknesses, rather than good and bad. It is a credit to the show that there are so many developed characters and I am pleased that I can see the complexities in each. Where I most felt their pain was when they experienced great historical events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and Marilyn Munroe's death; the way these horrors of the world affected them.

Terry Pratchett allowed me to see these parallels in Unseen Academicals. He is a fantasy writer who juxtaposes our world against his own- Discworld, or more specifically the city of Ankh-Morpork. In this extract the ruler of the city, Lord Vetinari, hints at how he rules a unruly city without any written rules:

I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter and her cubs. A very endearing sight, I'm sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen: mother and children feeding on mother and children. And that's when I first learned about evil. It is built in to the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is some kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.

This made me realise that to pinpoint one character or individual or type as bad or evil doesn't seem to fit. It could be a systems thing. To be honest, I'm not fond of the word evil, but there is an ugly downside to humanity, as well as an triumphant side.

I guess it is a matter of how we approach the 50-50.

Then the sands will roll out a carpet of gold for your weary toes to be a-touchin'.

Thoughts are funny things and can lead you astray if you let them, but they can also lead to epiphanies. Yet I am sure you know this already. The ramblings that follow have come about largely due to a summer holiday to occupy and the reading/viewing/experiencing of the following:

-The TV series Mad Men (Season 1, 2 and snipits of 3)(thanks Laurel);
-The earthquake in Haiti and the events that are following it;
-This very insightful blog entry (thanks John-Paul);
-A book I read a couple of years ago called The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein (thanks to my uncle Gordon who gave this to me one xmas);
-A book I have just read called Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett;
-A BBC documentary series by Adam Curtis called The Century of the Self (as given to me by my flatmate Mikey);
-The past year spent without a television.

I am not yet sure where this will end, and some of the thoughts are a bit strange, but, surprised to say, the epiphanies have been relatively optimistic. This is new territory for me so please feel free to comment.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Half crumpled thoughts and a dead arm.

(from here)

With a sense of guilty abandonment I realise that it has been eleven days since my last post. Dreadful. Today was to be the day of rectifying, but no. I have several thoughts that I started to write about, but the dead arm caused by this morning's tetanus shot is my excuse. So, I will instead leave you with a little joke.

Q: Why did the mechanic sleep under his car?
A: So that he could get up oily in the morning.

(it's the joke from Mum's xmas cracker. Go on, I know you laughed)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Needles and bruises...

I look a bit like a junkie at the moment.

But don't worry, it has been substances taken out, rather than substances put in.

Last Friday I donated blood, it was my seventh donation. It makes me feel wanted. I have a very rare blood type, only 0.7% of the population share O Negative, and what makes it special is that O- can be used for all other blood types. So I get a lot of phone calls asking me to come in again. Like I said it makes me feels special.

The first time I tried to give blood, I fainted and they had to stop. I found out I was anemic. It was at university and my roommate Kate had convinced me to donate. The second time I finished the donation, but then went so white I wasn't allowed to move for half an hour. I was ok for the other times.

Mum has had two hip replacements and a knee replacement and has needed a blood transfusion for each (two for the second hip) plus some more from previous accidents so I reckon our family's coming out about even just now.

After donating blood midday Friday, I biked into town and back, then I went for a 1.5km sea swim. Saturday morning I went for a 2.7km pool swim, then biked into town. It was about 45 minutes into a yoga session that afternoon, when I started to feel very faint, that I questioned whether I might have over done it. Apparently that's what causes the bruising- exercise.

It will be my last donation for a while. I'm about to go to countries with cacophonies of catchable diseases, so Ill cope with the bruises, they are fun to scare flatmates with.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sunday, January 3, 2010

No, alright, ok, since you seem to be doing it... I'll reflect on the year, the decade and make resolutions for 2010.

As an act of randomness these pictures have been taken from the results of putting the title of this post into Google Images.

A few facts and figures from the last decade:
14 houses, 6 cities and towns, five years studying, three years teaching, two years in Australia.

A few reflections on the last decade:

It happened. I think I have come out of it a lot better than I went in. I say 'Yes' to more chances than I used to. Experience is a wonderful thing, I now realise, it creates comfort in certainties. Experience means I worry less about what I am doing wrong, and instead, ponder events in general.

This lion said 'yes' too (later, he will feel more enlightened for the experience).

Some thoughts on 2009
There is not much to say here. It seems like I spent most of the year teaching. I enjoyed teaching this year more than I had the two years previous. I also enjoyed the holidays and weekends more. The two weeks in Melbourne in January were wonderful. Seeing Neil Young live has to be a pretty big highlight. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and I liked it the most of all the books I read in 2009 (but, he is my favourite author). I re-read Nineteen Eighty Four after going to see a very good play about George Orwell, both had me thinking a lot. I wore more dresses (thanks Laurel).

This picture reminds me of John-Paul and his reading challenge. But is he the one trying to hold the books up, or the puppy about to be squashed under books? The answer lies in 2010 perhaps, but I am sure he will succeed.

Resolutions for 2010.

I am impressed with Richard's resolution to continue striving towards 10,000 hours of practise. Maybe he also needs to put more practise into creating better jokes for the daily notices. I'm sure Fflur will thrive in her new job and The Curmudgeon will defy his name and be tranquil amidst his raised vegetable garden and the sound of birds in the trees and children at the beach.

I have resolved this year not to make any resolutions. Mainly because the year is too uncertain. Between the 9th of March and the 15th of June I will visit Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Nepal, India, UAE and Turkey. After that, who knows? Perhaps I can make one resolution: that I will try to keep you updated on this blog as the years races on.