Finding Damo

The story of a man, his job, two cats and the meaning of success.

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Every Sparrow that Falls – Chapter Seven

So far, so good, Flip thought. The human was following the newly effective communicators. There was a tense moment when he just screamed for no reason. If she hadn’t spent so much time with the Captain, she might have reacted badly. As it was, the human’s guides almost dissipated themselves. But they held together and didn’t show much outward reaction. They were well trained, even if their construct leader was a little loopy.

They led their charge to the building with the machines. This whole area of the city was dedicated to cultural pursuits. One section was an art gallery, another a media repository. Within that building, in a protected bunker well beneath the eroding surface structures, lived the machines. Not all of the machines. But the majority of those that were found in this city. And only the sentients. Before the Abandonment, humanity maintained an unhealthy dependance on computers. Of course, this led to the eventual transformation of those left behind into the form Flip now held. But the machines, stupid and only barely alive, were still treated with disdain amongst those left behind.

And now they held the key to communicating with the newcomer. Flip watched the man as he walked calmly behind his guides. Flip assumed he was calm. Apart from the screaming he hadn’t shown any signs of agitation. But of course, the last time Flip had seen an agitated human was her own reflection in the mirror as the drill came down towards her skull to insert the probes…
The Captain came up behind her to see what was happening. ‘Is that. A real person?’

‘Yes, Captain,’ Flip replied. ‘I am sorry that I upset you.’

‘Me? Never. Everything will be. All right. In the end. The Enterprise is. Probably looking for me. Right now.’ Flip gave an affirmative signal. Of course, Kirk had been created almost a thousand years ago now, so if he had come here in a transporter accident, as he maintained, there was little chance of his crew still trying to find him.

‘Where are. They going?’ the Captain asked.

‘Down to the machines,’ Flip answered. ‘We cannot communicate with him. He cannot hear us and his technology is too different to interface with our systems. At least the machines can talk directly to him. Work as intermediaries.’

‘Don’t trust. The Machines,’ Kirk said. ‘Every time. We’ve encountered a. Sentient computer. It has tried. To kill us!’

‘That doesn’t sound plausible,’ Flip said, still watching the screen. The human was following his guides down a flight of metal stairs, into the lair of the machines. ‘Of course, we did have some problems with the machines wanting to take over in the early days, but now, they are under our control. They do our bidding.’

The Captain snorted. ‘How many times. Have I heard. That?’

‘We are pure energy. They cannot harm us,’ Flip said.

‘And your human. Visitor?’

Flip hadn’t sworn in a thousand years, but when the shooting started, she let out a curse that burnt out the circuits on the viewscreen. But by then, she was long gone.

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Every Sparrow – Chapter Six

Note: I’ve been writing this mostly because I have a few friends and family who want to know “what happens next”. I have been writing it because Terry Pratchett says the best way to become a better writer is to write 300 words a day.

I didn’t write on Sunday because I was writing 300 words on Cyber Safety and Online citizenship for the iPad presentation our school gave on Monday. We handed out 120 iPads to the Year 9 students as part of the Government’s 1-1 program. I talked to them about respect, and making sure they ensured their own privacy and that of others.

I didn’t write yesterday because I was writing up detention forms, suspension notices and emails to parents (easily 300 words) after a number of students were involved in a massive Facebook page that targeted teachers and students at the school. So apparently, the 300 words from Sunday were completely wasted.

But I’m back now. Here’s Chapter Six:

His teeth stopped vibrating first. He shook his head like a wet dog. He stretched his jaws. They were absolutely buzz-free. His skin lost that crawling-with-ants feeling shortly afterwards. Chuck stopped walking. He dropped his bag. He did a little victory dance. And then he saw the min-min light.

‘Holy Bob!’ he yelped, stepping into his backpack straps and falling onto his rear. The min-min light hovered at head height, waving serenely back and forth. It was a pale blue, and pulsed with a gentle glow that was almost invisible in the bright sunlight. Chuck fixed his eyes on the light while he scrabbled in his pack for the tablet.

‘Scout to ship, come in. Caitlin, talk to me!’

‘Whaff, oo ooann? Iff dinna ‘ime,’ was the cryptic response. Chuck, who had known Caitlin through training school and four years of an interstellar voyage, was quick to translate.

‘I don’t care about your food. Scan my area. Can you see anything?’ There was no response from the other side, except for the faintly nauseating sound of loud chewing. Eventually, Cait replied.

‘What do you mean? No. Hang on. Yes. But it’s just the energy signatures you had around you from the start. Why?’

‘I have a min-min floating in front of me,’ said Chuck.

‘Um,’ said Cait.

‘A little ball of light. Sort of. . . hovering. I think it’s watching me.’ And indeed, the light did seem to be focused on him. He swished a hand at it, and the light retreated slightly before returning to the same spot. He moved his head. The min-min revolved slightly to follow his movement.

‘What did you call it?’

‘A min-min. My grandmother used to talk about them. They helped travellers lost in the bush, back when there was bush.’ Chuck looked around. Trees and shrubs were taking over the city, squeezing up through the man-made paths and roads and taking back the land that once belonged to it. ‘I guess, the bush is back, the min-min followed. Oh!’ he said, standing up carefully. ‘Make that min-mins. There’s another one. And a third!’ In a loose formation around the light blue min-min, two more glowing balls had materialised. One was a violet swirl. The third of the trio was a faded yellow blob. None of them were overly bright in the sunlight. Chuck assumed that they might be more visible at nighttime.

‘Ah, Chuck?’ said Cait.

‘Yeah?’

‘Are you OK?’

Chuck bent down to pick up his backpack. He kept a wary eye on the trio of glowing shapes. ‘I think so,’ he said. ‘At the moment, they’re just hovering. No, wait. What are they- AAAARGH!’

‘Chuck? CHUCK?’

‘Heh. No, I’m fine. They’re just floating there.’

‘Dick.’

‘Yeah, sorry.’ Chuck raised his tablet and ran a simple image scan. He sent it off to the ship with a flick of his finger. ‘That’s them. Hang on, they’re moving.’ Apparently taking their picture let the energy beings know that he was watching them. They moved away from him, slowly but with purpose. A short way away, they stopped. They bobbed a little closer, then away again. Chuck laughed.

‘That is fantastic!’ he said. ‘Hey, you know those kids’ shows that have the smart animal who runs to get help when the hero falls down the well?’

‘Ye-es?’

‘I think I just landed in an episode of Gordo the Wonder-blob.’ Chuck started off after the shapes, and they in turn, noticing that he was indeed following, set off at a leisurely pace towards the cube-shaped building. ‘Keep scanning, Cait. I need to know if they’re about to do something.’

‘Shall do. Keep an eye out.’

Yup. It’s a thing!

Every Sparrow – Chapter Five

Side note: A good pen died in the writing of this chapter. A faithful companion who was strong until the finish. It gave its ink so that I might write. I hope  you enjoy this chapter all the more knowing of its sacrifice. R.I.B, my faithful servant, R.I.B.*

The attempt to communicate wasn’t going well.

‘Is this man stupid or insane?’ snapped the head of the communication team. Obviously a construct, although Flip couldn’t place him. The anger gave it away.

‘We’ve greeted him in every language on file,’ the construct continued, ‘and nothing. We’ve tried the basic SETI protocols – mathematical formulas, the Fibonacci sequence, that sort of thing. Nothing. Is he deaf?’

Flip floated closer. The others moved aside, showing her the respect due to a Rider, but their auras showed a certain puzzlement, as she wasn’t an expert in this area in the slightest. With that in mind, she approached with deference, giving the team leader a friendly ping.

‘Excuse my curiosity. He is not responding?’

‘Oh, he knows something is going on. If our historic records on human physiology are correct, he is definitely worried. But he’s not even trying to respond to us.’ The construct moved with agitated jerks, which Flip found most unusual.

‘I am sure, if he heard you, he would respond,’ Flip said. ‘Perhaps he is deaf. What proved successful the last time you did this?’ After all, these were the experts.

The construct went very still.

‘Last time?’ he said. And now Flip was reminded of a mouse that had just seen an owl soar overhead.

‘We have never communicated with a sentient being before, have we?’ Flip asked. The construct twitched.

‘Of course we have. We are in regular contact with the machines –’

‘A sentient biological, I mean. Apologies for the miscommunication.’

‘Well, no,’ the construct said, defensively. The emotional responses were most disconcerting. ‘There are no sentient biological. I mean, until now.’

‘And this one can’t hear our transmissions. Well, start with the basics,’ Flip said. She was aware that her tone was less deferential, but she was also aware that she was never actually dealing with professionals.

‘Have you tried interfacing with his machines?’

‘Of course,’ came the terse reply. ‘A thousand years of parallel technological evolution has changed them beyond our ability to talk to them.’

‘Predictable. It was a slim chance. Can he see you? Have your crew manifested visually?’

There was another, slightly shifty, pause.

‘That was our next step,’ the construct said.

‘Excellent,’ Flip said. ‘And from there, I assume you were going to lead him to the old machines.’

‘Oh, er, yes, to the machines. They will eliminate him and our problems are over!’

A burst of static hiccoughed out of Flip’s mind as she tried to process the scrambles logic of this statement. Constructs really were all insane, she realised.

‘That is one option,’ she said slowly. ‘Or – and this is more likely to be sanctioned by the council – we could ask the machines to speak on our behalf.’

The tension – which would have been immediately evident even to a biological as it hyper-charged the air – dissipated almost instantly. The only dissatisfied member of the crew was the leader.

‘Well, that would work as well, I guess,’ he said, and bobbed off in a sulk.

* Rest In Bin.

Every Sparrow – Chapter Four

Chuck’s skin was itching.

It wasn’t painful, but it was insistent. His skin was itching and his teeth were starting to buzz. He’d walked from the clearing near what looked to be a library, along the remnants of a road, towards the cube buildings on his map. He’d been completely unmolested the entire way, although the local fauna kept a wary eye on him – an unknown species that could be a predator. But as he neared the structure, could see it jutting out of the landscape amongst the trees, he began to feel an unpleasant sensation.

There is a chill you get in your skin when you think about something distasteful or when someone runs a finger just above your skin. Chuck shuddered, and then shuddered again. He stopped and looked around. His skin began to prickle, starting at his neck and spreading across his face and down his back. He stopped walking at an unpleasant thought: what if he were being bombarded with radiation? He grabbed his tablet, swiped his fingers across the screen and brought up a radiation scanner. There was something in his vicinity, random pulses of energy, but nothing that could be considered harmful. He popped up a panel on the wrist of his landing suit. His gear wasn’t registering any harmful chemicals in the air. In fact, the air on an earth unsullied by humanity for a thousand years was incredibly pure.

Slightly nervous, but unable to come up with a reason to retreat, Chuck walked onwards, itchy and uncomfortable. Now, he could hear a tiny high-pitched squealing, just at the edge of his hearing. It wasn’t a voice. It wasn’t a creature. It was, he realised, the sound of data. Somewhere close, something was transmitting a good deal of data across a spectrum that his hearing could pick up. He looked up for no real reason and tapped the communicator on his chest.

‘Scout to orbiter, come in?’
‘Heya Chuck, what’s going on?’
‘We’ve got definite activity down here. No obvious signs of life, but a number of anomalies worth checking out. Plus, there’s some definite data chatter. Could anyone else be here?’
‘Nope. Uh uh, no way. Unless you believe in aliens, we are the first ship to come back to this sector of space since the Exodus.’
‘And we didn’t, you know, leave anyone behind when we left Earth the first time? Cos they’d be justifiably annoyed.’ Chuck took another look around, trying to think of a way he could be itched to death. There were a lot. He realised that Caitlin up on the ship hadn’t responded yet. ‘Cait?’
‘We-ell,’ came the voice in his ear, ‘Some people didn’t want to go. Certain religions, ridiculously optimistic people, complete nutjobs. We don’t generally tell people, but it’s here in the records.’
Chuck held his hand over his ear at the word ‘nutjobs’. He wasn’t sure if whoever was here could pick it up.
‘OK,’ he said. ‘So I could suddenly be attacked by lunatic proto-humans carrying clubs made up of recycled paper? And that wasn’t something you thought I needed to know.’
‘You worry too much Chuck,’ Caitlin said. ‘You were with me when I did the scans. There’s no sign of sentient life anywhere. None of the structures show signs of repair. There’s nothing there.’
‘Fair enough,’ Chuck said. ‘There’s nobody here. Two things: Firstly, What’s the data chatter that I can hear? I can’t capture it using the tablet, but I can hear it. Second, can you think of any way that someone can kill someone else in a way that would make their skin itch?’
‘There are plenty of ways to kill you with itchy skin. Poison, radiation, slow-working acid, killer nano-robots..’
‘You can stop helping now,’ Chuck said, scratching his neck. ‘And the data stream?’
‘No sign of it,’ came the voice from the ship. ‘There’s definitely some technology still active on the planet, which is strange after a thousand years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s anybody still living there.’
‘Righto,’ Chuck said, ‘I’m heading to a bunch of energy anomalies I picked up on the tablet. I’ll let you know what I find out. Ciao!’
‘Sayonara,’ Caitlin said and the communicator bleeped out.

Chuck ignored the itching and his vibrating teeth and strode with purpose towards the square.

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Every Sparrow – Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Of course someone else knew about the newcomer. A landing of any kind would be monitored from a thousand different stations around the globe. Even the machines, who her kind generally treated with casual contempt, would have registered the arrival of an intelligent life form.

Still stung by the death of the sparrow, Flip re-examined her decisions again and again. She did not feel anger and her sense of guilt had faded during her trip to the nearest communication centre, but she still experienced what could be called disappointment in her illogical behaviour. As a rider, her first duty should have been to her mount. The only explanation that satisfied her was that the sparrow’s emotions had clouded her judgement. Not an acceptable excuse, but a valid one. She’d felt excitement and fear at the unknown, which had caused her to push the sparrow beyond its limits to fulfill her own curiosity.

Traveling to the communication centre took only milliseconds. As she entered, she bounced off a number of personalities, taking an impression from them of what was happening, but not opening up direct communication with any of them. She was looking for one particular person. And then she saw him. A bright pulse of energy, confident and sharp.

‘Captain!’ she called, and the pulse connected with her.

‘It’s young Ensign Flip, isn’t it?’ he asked, checking her credentials.

‘Just Flip, sir, but yes. I just came from the landing site of the visitor!’

‘Really? Incredible. You must. Tell me all about it. It might be. The answer to. Me getting out of this form and back to my. Ship!’

Flip paused to translate his sentences. She removed a number of periods and gave a cautious affirmative. ‘Could be, Captain. But I really didn’t see much. There was a spherical pod and a fire. That obviously means someone or something has come down from beyond the sky.’

‘It’s called space, Ensign. Flip, eh? I bet you were. A looker before the. Transporter accident. Anyway, from what I hear, it is a. Biped. Human to look at. Dammit! Where is my science officer?’

‘I do not believe he made it to the planet, Captain,’ Flip said. ‘A human! One of us, but with skin and bones and emotions and bodily functions and –‘

‘Spock! Noooooooooooo!’ Kirk howled in a simulated fit of grief and rage. Flip left him to his grief and dawdled closer to the information hub.

Captain Kirk was a construct.

When virtualising the humans left behind after the great Exodus, it became apparent that it wasn’t necessary to use real people as templates. A great number of famous characters and stars from different centuries were so well-documented – with biographies, autobiographies, documentaries, and gossip magazines, not to mention their body of work – that it was possible to recreate a personality from an amalgamation of all this data. To begin with, the creators only authorised recreations for historical research purposes. But with the success of the program, more personalities were added to the accepted lists.

Some would say that virtualising fictional characters was a mistake. To be honest, Flip’s opinion was that all of the constructed (rather than copied) personalities were a little loopy. But to be honest, there was more data on Captain James Tiberius Kirk in world literature than there was on Buddha from the holy texts or the Almighty Bob.

‘Still,’ Flip thought. ‘The man isn’t all there.’ She moved closer to where a number of people were hovering around an information node. From the look of it, a couple of brave souls were about to try to make contact.

Every sparrow – Chapter Two

Chuck poked at the crackling fire and unwrapped some ration pouches. He frowned at the narrow trail of smoke that curled off into the sky. He’d seen nobody since landing in this ancient ruin two days ago. Chuck had set up motion sensors around his entry pod, but beyond the odd rat or wallaby, he’d seen very little sign of life. Surely a fire would be noticeable in this silent land?

“Dinner for one it is then,” he said.

He settled the plastic packet into the boiling water and waited for it to heat. There was almost definitely intelligent life on this planet. He’d been pinged at least a dozen times by radar and other scans during his descent. The ship had picked up regular transmissions of energy that were too regular to be random. The consensus amongst his exploratory party was that anybody living here was underground. If there was anybody living here.

The other proposal put forward was that only the computers were left. In the thousand years since humanity abandoned Earth and headed for the stars, there had been no communication from their planet of origin. Therefore nobody had survived. Chuck did not believe this theory. It was chock full false logic, and was incredibly unromantic.

The heat sensor on the food pack changed colour and Chuck fished it out of the boiling water, hissing as he burnt his fingers. He tore the top of the bag with his teeth and spat it onto the ground. Then he grabbed a spoon and took a mouthful of what turned out to be lukewarm, slightly pasty, completely unflavoured rice. Cursing technology and money-grubbing corporations in general, he tossed the bag across the square. Various birds flittered down to find out what tasty morsels had been abandoned. Chuck snapped some images of them to send back to the orbiting ship. He gave one last mournful look at his lunch, sighed and stood up. If the natives weren’t going to come to him, he’d have to go and hunt for the natives. He hoisted his backpack, pulled out a pad, brought up a map of the ruins and headed for what looked like a giant gaming die on the city grid. It seemed to be a hotspot for energy fluctuations.

“That’s stop number one,” he said and headed out of the little clearing between the buildings. Soon the clearing was empty, but for the birds, fighting over the rice in its plastic wrapping.

And then the birds scattered as Chuck bustled back, his face scarlet. He snatched up the plastic bag of rice and tipped the food onto the ground. He looked about and nabbed the lid of the packet, stuffing both into his backpack. He pulled a small capsule out of his pocket and dropped it onto the fire, where it exploded in a squirt of foam that immediately extinguished the fire. Hands on hips, Chuck looked around critically. He nodded in satisfaction and a certain grim embarrassment.

“We left this planet because it was too polluted to live on and what do I do when I get back? Sheesh.”

Catching up – Every Sparrow that Falls

The rant was for two weeks ago. Today’s is for last week. I’ll post again on Wednesday and then feel like I’m back on track.

I wanted to share a short, completely unedited piece with you. This blog is all about unedited pieces. I think, I write, I post, I put up with the consequences.

I’ve put together a writing group at my school. At my last school, I had a tight-knit group of writers that were growing and getting involved in the process of writing. By the time I’d left, I’d seen four of my students published in one form or another and one Golden Pen member had won a grant which sent us all to a writers’ retreat for the weekend.

I’m still working with this new bunch. Every fortnight I give them a writing topic. This year, I’ve started with building characters and building worlds. We had to create a world, establish the rules, and then write a story set in that world. Here’s my brainstorm:

Ghost in the Machine:

This world is our own, far into the future. Humanity has evolved beyond the need for a physical form. We created artificial intelligence, downloaded our minds into the AI, and then realised that we didn’t even need the machines themselves. We could function as minds.

No longer truly human, as there is something in the body that gives us our emotions, fears and drives, we are now pure intellect. Nobody dies, but nobody gives birth either. For many generations, new people were created, programmed from the algorithms of two different people, creating a new individual. Some of these people still exist, although the amalgamations weren’t always successful – we don’t emulate nature very well.

Others were created from famous entities from films and TV. These were even harder to control, as they weren’t even fully-formed personalities. The personality traits the grafters could find were inserted into a base personality template. This meant that often the specific behaviours of a star would conflict with the personality type. This is what happens when you let a corporation take over your country.

The world has returned to its natural state. There is still evidence that humanity existed – there are old buildings, now covered with grasses and being crumbled by trees.

And there are still working machines. Older versions of AI exist here. The unevolved. The ancient. The sometimes bitter.

Animals are prolific. Many species thought to be extinct have reappeared. The whales are having a field day. Some specialists have learned to ride along with animal consciousnesses. They can feel the animal’s emotions and to a certain extent, guide them in their choices.

Travel to the stars is possible, but highly dangerous. The radiation in space can disrupt human thought waves, dispersing the consciousness throughout the eternity of space.

Once I had that, I thought the concept of the Rider was a good place to start. It got across some of the basic concepts, gave a hint of what was to come, and allowed me to play with sensation, which I enjoy doing. Here’s the story. Enjoy:

Every sparrow that falls.

flying sparrowFlip spun through the clouds, delighted in feeling the wind beneath her feathers, the thrill of touching the delicate currents of air to change direction. She dipped lower until she could see the treetops below her. Delving into the control centres of her temporary vehicle, she coaxed the sparrow towards the ruins of the city. She focused the tiny but sharp sparrow eyes on a thin trail of smoke rising from between two crumbling city blocks.

Flip felt the sparrow’s heart beat even faster than its regular thrum. She stifled a flow of adrenalin caused by the proximity to the city with its multitude of predators and potential ambush sites. Calm yourself, little sparrow, she told it. All will be well when we reach the smoke. She was still feeling anxious, an unusual sensation for someone who could normally feel no emotion at all. This was the rush of being a Rider – melding her consciousness with that of one of the physical creatures of the country.

Ah, I miss this, she thought, as she guided the sparrow closer to the unusual sign of activity. Immortality was all well and good, but sensation, that was something else entirely!

The sparrow was becoming increasingly nervous. Flip could no longer stem the adrenaline caused by the tiny bird’s fear. She felt herself succumbing to it herself. Be brave, little one, she thought. A little closer. I need to see what this is.

She could, of course, examine the site without the aid of the bird; she could read information from the energy in the area and translate it into useful knowledge. But unlike some of the purebred, she and the other transfers still held great stock in sensual information. Even after a thousand years, the habits of a lifetime were hard to break.

Flip was actively fighting the sparrow’s desire to escape the city now. She felt a twinge of remorse, or the shadow of remorse, but she had to see what was causing the fire. Of course, fires happened naturally, but this did not look natural. She strained the sparrow’s vision, ignoring a desperate urge to check around her for danger.

Finally, the sparrow’s sense of preservation broke through Flip’s tenuous connection with its mind. The tiny bird cried out and broke free of her control, wrenching herself upwards and away. Flip tumbled free of the little form and found herself hovering in the city, back in her natural state.

Around her, the world pulsed with millions of forms of energy. She absorbed the radiant energy of the sun, still slightly dangerous to humans even in this state. She picked up the concussive beats of the sparrow’s wings as molecules of air were thrown about in the maelstrom of its flight. She considered the soundwaves from the impact of the hawk’s claws as it snatched the sparrow out of the air. And intellectually, she felt a twinge of guilt for the life that was taken due to her actions.

The “feeling” was fleeting. Flip’s attention was almost immediately drawn back to the fire below her. Something new had come to Earth. Something alive!

Parenting plates.

PsSo far, I’ve written an entry for every week that I’ve been doing this blog. I may not always write every week, but I’m keeping up with the quota. I’m glad I’m not one of my students. I’d be going home with a “work not done” sticker. Which I would promptly ignore.

This is a rant. A relatively light-hearted rant, but a rant nonetheless. A goodly amount of people will completely disagree with some of what I say, and as always, I have done no actual research before writing this post, so they may well be right. But it’s what I believe. Erm, what I believe today.

I’ll start by tellling parents they need to be more involved with their kids and end up saying that you shouldn’t be allowed to have kids without a license. Stick with it, it’ll be a laugh riot!

Here goes.

Parental involvement

All the literature says that the biggest contributor to a child’s success in education is not the school they go to, or the expensive iPad they use, nor the wonderful teachers (shooting myself in the foot here) or the canteen food. Student success is directly linked to parents’ involvement in their education.

Stuff the research. I spend all day with students and could point at each student and say “he rarely sees his parents after school” or “his parents read the English novel as well so that they can talk about it.” On parent/teacher interview nights, I complain that the only parents I see are those of the kids who are doing well. But that’s an indication. If the parents cared enough about their kids to show up to parent/teacher interview nights, I might be saying better things about them.

Of course, there are always the harried parents, shuffling from teacher to teacher, knowing exactly what they’re going to hear and dreading it. They love their child, and hate hearing teachers bad-mouth them over and over. Or offering helpful, sympathetic advice. Or saying “he seems like a nice kid, BUT”. I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions. It may be that this child with caring, loving parents, will bloom after school: in their career, or as an adult. Or they might just be broken, and all of the love poured into them dribbles out through a hole in their damaged little soul.

Parents that are involved with their kids breed kids that are going to be interesting and involved adults. Not necessarily nice adults. But at least they’ll be involved in society. What’s more, nice, involved teenagers come from children who were cared for and had parental involvement from birth. Leading me to my next commandment:

Read to your kids.

This one I’ve seen from both sides of the equation – teacher and student. From when I first met Shereen, she would read to her daughter every night before bed. Picture story books, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, The Magic Faraway Tree and any number of others. We also had books on tape, that Ophelia could listen to as she was winding down in the evenings. Now she’s in Grade Two. I bought her How to Train Your Dragon for Christmas when she’d just turned six. At seven, she’s just finished Pratchett’s Bromeliad trilogy, The Amazing Maurice and is almost done with Wee Free Men. She’s read all of Roald Dahl’s books.

Esio Trot

She read Esio Trot in just over an hour. I smiled to myself and thought: “Ah yes, read.” And started to ask her questions about the plot. She could answer comprehension questions on every chapter. I was amazed.

Now I’m not saying that she is this good because Shereen read to her. I am saying that she wants to read all of these books because Shereen read to her. I am saying that reading to her gave her the curiosity and the drive to want to learn to read so that she could explore these worlds for herself.

And I see the students in my English classes. I can again tell the students who have been read to, and those that can recite whole episodes of the TV show Ben 10 but can’t tell you who Peter Pan is (“that’s a Disney movie isn’t it?”). The Three Little Pigs are slowly disappearing from our culture and Red Riding Hood has been relegated to a truly awful movie directed by the woman who destroyed the first Twilight movie. And seriously, making that book worse was an achievement!

All of my nieces and nephews have a love of the story. And they’ll all do well at school, one way or the other.

Read to your kids.

And stop feeding them garbage.

ADHD is a Myth

Man, that was a terrible sequeway. But I’m ranting. Expect shifts in topic.

I’d change the heading for this bit, but I want to be a bit controversial. Obviously, ADHD is a documented medical condition. I’m not a doctor. And as per normal, I’m not doing any hard research on this to try and disprove it.

ADHD is real. Most kids don’t have it.

Ow. Ow. Stop throwing things at me. Really. Doctors over-prescribe ADHD because parents don’t listen to the original diagnoses: your kids are eating too much rubbish. Your kids aren’t getting enough sleep. Your kids are watching too much TV and playing too many computer games and aren’t getting enough exercise.

You don’t care? OK. Here are some pills.

Food

mmm, brekky.

Diet is incredibly important to the growing child. Different foods and drinks have astounding effects on children. And probably adults as well, but we are better at masking it. I despair when I have to deal with a child who is diagnosed as ADHD and they come to school with a can of Red Bull in one hand and a donut in the other. Might this combination not have some effect on his behaviour?

No doctor should be allowed to prescribe Ritalin or any other ADHD drug before the parent can prove that they have put their child on a month-long balanced diet, free of processed foods and stimulants. Hell, make them put up with what I’ve had to: no dairy, gluten, sugar, red meat. Fresh vegetables, lots of fish, plenty of water and see me in a month. If they’re buying crap at school, don’t give them money to spend at school. Be a dictator. We’re not allowed to run the country properly, at least run the child properly. They’ll thank you for it in the long run.

Actually, no. They probably won’t thank you at all, but they’ll be healthier and lose less teeth from Ritalin poisoning.

Sleep

Teenagers need more sleep than adults do. Their bodies are war zones of hormones and emotions and even if they’re only saying “mawaiunno” to you when you ask them a question, their brains are whirring with a thousand seemingly vital problems.

If I make a random statement about Game of Thrones, which starts at 9.30 and a Year 7 pipes up with “Yeah, that bit was great! She had nice boobs, didn’t she?” then that Year 7 student is either stealing TV from the Internet or not getting enough sleep.

And they have nice taste in boobs.

However, that aside, it isn’t a bad thing to say “no computers in the bedroom”, “no TV in the bedroom” and most importantly “no phones in the bedroom”. My iPhone is almost more powerful than my computer. It is by far more useful for instant communication and retrieval of information. And it connects me to my friends and work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

I do have my phone in my bedroom. I don’t sleep as well as I should. But when I do want to sleep, on goes Airplane mode and away goes the power of communication. There is no way that a student is going to do this. So, to be prepared for the following day (or whatever they will believe), phones are all on charge in the kitchen before bed.

And lock ‘em in. Stuff the fire safety codes.

I didn’t say those last two sentences. That would be incredibly rash.

Stimulation

She doesn’t deserve to die!

This one should be a no-brainer. Grand Theft Auto IV is rated MA15+ for people aged 15 and above. If a Year 7 student is telling me how he cut the throat of a hooker to get his cash back after the trick, someone has dropped the ball on following the ratings system.

But that’s not the point. The point is that playing computer games hyper-stimulates your brain. It tricks the body into thinking that it is participating in a fight-or-flight scenario and fills you with lots of lovely chemicals designed to help you avoid the tiger or pillage the neighbouring village.

Without the accompanying exercise – frantically climbing a tree or setting fire to a grass hut – all these chemicals do is give you a pleasant buzz and a desire to KILL SOMETHING NOW AARGH ARGH.

Television and computer games are specifically designed to provoke emotional responses. That’s what makes them popular. Letting them loose on your children without checking them out for yourself is … how much trouble do I get in for calling that irresponsible? It’s a rant, I’ll risk it.

It’s irresponsible. And then you send them to us, the teachers, and wonder why they aren’t doing any work at school, hopped up on Red Bull, jonesing on 4 hours of post-gaming sleep and spoiling for a fight.

For the most part, we love your kids. Why else would we do this job? We want to see them achieve their best and become useful, productive and interesting members of society. And for the most part, we do our best. And in most (?) cases, we succeed.

I just don’t want that success to be in spite of what the parents are doing. I would love it to be because of what the parents are doing.

And I’m probably not talking to you. The parent who is doing everything, or most things right. And I get that raising a kid is hard. As I say, I’m on both sides now. And have been before. And sometimes, no matter what you do he still goes out and sets fire to the tennis court, or smashes down a toilet door.

And I get that sometimes it’s just too hard to cut up the vegies, when Maccas is around the corner. I’ve been there too, and have the extra 20 kilos to prove it.

And really, probably, the people I want to read this don’t read. Or won’t read. Or can’t read.

Oh damn. I really nearly finished this off then. I have one more thing to say. Something Pippa and I have been advocating for years. Something most teachers would probably get on board with:

When you hit puberty, you have to give up your reproductive organs. I’m sure there’s a safe way to do it. Keep ‘em in a jar beside your bed to remind you of what you’re aiming for.

When you decide that you want to become a parent, then you undertake the parenting test. There is a theory component and a practical. It would be competency based. You prove that you are fit to usher a new life into the world and shape it into a productive member of society.

Then we give you your P plates – your Parenting license. And you can breed like rabbits and the world will be a better place.

My only sneaking suspicion is that parenting licenses might bring on the rather speedy extinction of the human race.

OK. Done. I think I managed to insult or offend almost everybody on the face of the planet. Sorry.

PS. I was looking for a P plate for the start of this post and found the following picture, which now has a completely different connotation:

Look, she has her Ps!

Look, she has her Ps!

Blog. No, Frog. No, blog.

I got married on the weekend. I might even talk about it. But not yet. The reason I mention it is because I had the Monday off to celebrate and came back to work to Parent-Teacher interviews, which lasted until nine at night. Welcome back.

I mention THAT because while we were having dinner during the break, I was sitting with one of the teachers – a Master Storyteller.

‘So my dad was in Borneo and was responsible for getting the Japs out of the country, re-settlement and all that. And there was this one village where they’d killed all of the villagers except for this one guy. And he was a cannibal.
‘No, really.
‘So he was in charge of guiding the Japanese prisoners to their work detail. And every day he’d take out four of them and every day he’d only come back with three.
‘ “Run off in the bush,” he’d tell my father. And seriously, he was Changi thin to start off with, but by the end of the occupation he was quite fat! And Dad always said “We’d get in so much trouble – put up for war crimes – if we let on we knew, so I chose to believe that these guys were running off.’

It was absolutely hilarious. Not so much now that I’m writing it down for an audience who doesn’t know him, but at the time…

Anyway, I got married on the weekend. A gesture of extreme optimism. Because of course, the bees are disappearing and the frogs – well, don’t get me started on the frogs.

There is absolutely no evidence to support the claim that Einstein once said: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!”

But that’s never stopped anyone. And we don’t care that Einstein wasn’t a botanist or a bee-keeper, because he had cool hair and was photographed with his tongue sticking out. But it makes sense. If the bees disappear, nothing pollinates the flowers. No pollination, no fruit or vegies. Animals die. We die. Cockroaches take over the world. And everyone’s happy.

20120505-132803.jpgEspecially the frogs. Cos right now, the frogs aren’t very happy at all! Frogs respirate through their skin. They lay their eggs unprotected in fresh water. They really suck at dealing with pollution. I was walking through a swamp the other day and this frog stuck his tongue out at me. It almost took my eye out. They’re not impressed with our management of the planet.

Conspiracy: the bees are disappearing because of mobile phones. Apparently, all of the signals flying through the air are disrupting their navigational signals. They get lost, like me when there’s no reception. Hence the problem: I can’t find my way around without a phone. They can’t find their way with one.

And yes, this is scattered. I’m not entirely sure I want to talk about my wedding. Finding Damo isn’t about a guy who’s married. It’s about a single guy looking for love. It would be like giving away the ending really, except that this Damo character is fictional.

I can tell you about our wedding night – No! don’t stop reading, I’m not telling you about THAT part of it! I’m just going to have a little conversation about expectation and reality. And before I do that, let me tell you: I love my wife. I loved my wedding weekend. It was pure bliss all the way through and nothing that happened was going to ruin my happiness.

Even so…

We stayed at Carrington House in Daylesford . We stayed there last Feb and had a wonderful time so we thought we’d give them some repeat business. After the wedding we drove up and wandered in, tired and happy and looking forward to our Steam Room.

“Steven?” they asked as we came in.
“Um, no.” we said. “It’s under Shereen. It’s our wedding night.”
You should have seen her face fall.

I know two Shereens. Only two. Ever. But apparently there’s a third one, and she’d turned up 20 minutes before us and the woman had given her our room.

So Carrington House gets the award for being the first hotel in history to DOWNGRADE a couple on their wedding night.

“Of course, we’ll refund you your room and swap you across in the morning.”
Nope. They went off to talk. The guy came back and gave us $50 “The difference in price in the rooms is $20” and he felt like he was being generous. So we stayed in our smaller, boring room, went to the hassle of moving again the next day and lived with it because on our wedding weekend the last thing we wanted was a hassle.

To top it off, they are no longer a bed and breakfast. They don’t do breakfast. The only reason we’d come back to this place. It’s absolutely not worth the money any more, but more importantly, they had the opportunity to do the right thing a number of times that weekend to the wedding couple they’d screwed over, and failed to do so.

So I bag them online. Whee!

20120505-133646.jpgSo we got married on the weekend. I have never felt happier in my life than at the moment that my bride to be came through the chapel doors towards me up the aisle. This is backed up by the photos of me grinning like an absolute idiot.

Hang on, I’ll find my vows:

Shereen, From this day on
I choose you to be my beloved soul mate and wife.

I vow:
to trust and value your opinions, and stand by your actions.
to work for a happy life for both of us;
to listen when you need to talk;
to cherish and encourage you;
to live with you and laugh with you;
to stand by your side and sleep in your arms;
to be joy to your heart and food to your soul;
to bring out the best in you always;
to be the best I can be, just for you;
to celebrate with you in the good times;
to struggle with you in the bad;
to take you in my arms when you need to be held;
to ask for help when I need it, and offer help when necessary;
to be true and faithful;
as we journey together through the rest of our lives.

Of course, I spent the entire time in my head going I’mgettingmarriedI’mgettingmarriedI’mgettingmarriedI’mgettingmarried “I do” I’mgettingmarriedI’mgettingmarriedI’mgettingmarriedI’mgettingmarried “I will!”
I’mgettingmarriedI’mgettingmarriedI’mgettingmarriedI’mgettingmarried– Oh it’s over!

But as I said, I don’t want to talk about the wedding for ages. I will, but it requires fixing my thoughts and trying to get it as perfect as the day itself was.

I will make the comment that it is imperative to prepare your thank you speech before the day. Here’s mine:
20120505-131819.jpg

Hate to love you and leave you, but there’s a bee at the front door asking for a Melway.

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