Finding Damo

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

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

Exams

One of the great things about being a teacher is the paperwork. Everything has to be documented. Every piece of work should be carefully covered in red scribble and returned to the student, for them to scrunch it up and stick it in the bottom of their bag. We need to write lesson plans and unit outlines and day-to-day summaries and meeting minutes and assignment sheets…

… and exams.

We have exams for all core subjects in Years 7-10 at our school. Twice a year, for one week and at least six subjects, the students traipse into the hall or the auditorium and sit in neat little rows with papers in front of them and write or doodle for two hours. We supervise them, wandering up and down the aisles, answering questions (“When it says ‘write your name here’ does that mean my full name, or just my first name?”) and handing out tissues.

Oh gods, the sniffing! It’s like a convention of cocaine addicts sitting in a hall. All is silent except for the rustling of paper and then a symphony of sniffs. Sometimes you can tell it’s deliberate. There’s a pattern. The ringleader will give a hearty snort, followed by the gleeful snuffles of his underlings. But mostly it’s just the disgusting habits of teenagers in a world where handkerchiefs are no longer a required item.

It isn’t my place to debate the usefulness of exams. Well, it is, but it is more than my job is worth to do so. But they are very stressful, both for teachers and students. And I don’t even teach VCE (for the overseas readers: the Victorian Certificate of Education is the endgame for high school education in Victoria – Years 11 and 12). So many times I want to grab a kid and say “You’re only in Year 7! It’s not that big a deal!” But it’s probably a good thing that they have four years of learning that you don’t talk in exams and, No, you cannot go and get a drink you doofus!

Speaking of stress, my favourite (?) story from my own VCE exam days might very well be an urban myth, but it freaked us out at the time. I was going into a Literature exam, when one of the other students told us this:

“So this girl was really unprepared for her Psych exam. And on the day she came into the exam, really calm. She sat down, got all her stuff out, and waited for the exam to start. She opened her exam paper, stared at it for a few minutes, and then, very calmly, picked up two pencils, inserted one in each nostril, sharp side up, and then, without warning, slammed her head down on the table. She was dead instantly!”

This, just before we went into an exam. And exams at that point meant everything. They were our entry into university. They were a status symbol. They took over every part of our lives for those final weeks of school. And they were unbelievably stressful.

But I can’t imagine being overly worried about them in Year 10. I don’t even think I was overly traumatised by them in Year 12, although that story didn’t help. I know I was, but that sense of terror isn’t lodged in my brain the way dealing with bullies and everyday school life is. I remember clearly a slick, feral kid promising he’d push my head through a wall as soon as the teacher wasn’t watching. I don’t remember sleepless nights awaiting exams in highschool.

By university, exams had taken on a malevolent evil force that allowed them to get under my skin and bring me to breaking point. Or maybe it was the booze and late nights that did that. But suddenly, exams meant something. Friends would come to my room in tears, sure that they were going to fail miserably. We would do week-long cram sessions. We would stay up all night before an exam, trying to get one tiny piece of information to stick. We would eat mountains of doughnuts and experiment to see whether studying drunk was better than studying sober. Nothing helped.

I hate exams. They aren’t a fantastic example of learning. They are a fantastic example of a certain type of student’s learning. But until universities realise that, we’re stuck with it.

And so the symphony of sniffing will continue.

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Guards! Guards!

Last Friday night I went to see Guards! Guards! As performed by the GemCo Players. I was excited, looking forward to seeing a giant dragon setting things on fire all over the stage, and to see our Chair, Carmela, playing Sybil Vimes.

Well, I got to see Sybil!

If you haven’t seen (or read) Guards! Guards! then… well, I think this review will be almost completely meaningless to you. But basically, it is the story of Carrot, a human raised as a dwarf, come to the big city to join the Watch – he had heard it would make a man out of him.

And then, there’s a bloody great dragon terrorising the city.

The show was an outstanding success. It is always a bit of a gamble, watching Pratchett plays on stage. A director with no sense of humour, or a cast with no comic timing can really destroy the master’s work. This was not the case in this production. The crowd were roaring with laughter in a number of places, and chuckling for most of the rest of the show. I was infatuated with the stage, the costumes and the actors. They have a fantastic little group there and I’d love to see their next show.

The biggest bones my wife and I had to pick with the show were the length (it started at 8 and the first act finished at 9.30. The second half dragged a little as the jokes thinned out and the hour got later) and the Asterisk.

I get it. The Asterisk is a very difficult plot device to use on stage. It is completely necessary when trying to put across the essential Pratchett-ness of a show, but as a completely written device, it often doesn’t translate well.

But it was overused in this production. The actor (I’m sorry, you’re probably a fine actor!) wasn’t comfortable in the role, was very forced in her humour and folded her glasses one too many times. The director could have easily dropped at least half-a-dozen of the interruptions, letting the cast take some of the exposition, or letting the audience fill in the gaps.

Apart from that one little “*” the cast were mostly excellent. There were a wide range of ages involved, but for the most part, age had nothing to do with talent.

Obviously I thought Carmela did a great job, especially when we first saw her – or the heavy dragon armour that surrounded her. She had a good relationship with Vimes* and a great stage presence.

I was surprised to see that four of the characters were played by a Grade Four student, but happily, he was one of the stand-out comedy parts in the show. His Brother Dunnikin especially had me in stitches as he mumbled about chastised thurribles and the three dollars he would never see again.

Dibbler was my next favourite. During intermission he mingled with the audience, selling chocolates (sometimes for double the price) and assuring us that he was “cutting his own throat”. He had a real presence on stage and played three very different characters. My wife felt that his Thieves’ Guild Head was a little over the top, but I was happy.

The Guards were (again, mostly) well-cast. Colon was very amusing, Vimes had a great physicality and good comic timing. Carrot took awhile to get used to because of all of the guards he is the one that is described the most in the books. But he had a goofy, innocent expression that was instantly endearing and he played off against the other characters with a real skill. Nobby was a case of mis-casting rather than bad acting. He was out of place in the ensemble, but wasn’t a bad actor, just a bad Nobby.

Vetinari and Wonse were both well-cast and Wonse’s range of expression was excellent as the play progressed. He worked well with his secret brotherhood, who in turn, played a number of bit parts throughout the play.

Who have I missed? Of course, the Librarian! His costume wasn’t the best, and he forgot that she was a mon- er, an ape, some of the time, but he was hilarious, especially when playing charades. He made Ook mean exactly what he wanted it to mean, every time. Apparently he also doubled as Death – a seven foot robed skeleton with glowing blue eyes and scythe. Very effective.

And the dragon puppeteer! The swamp dragons were characters in their own right. Very cute, very well designed. Lots of personality. But no jolly great, mechanical, monstrous dragon head lumbering onto the stage! Still, maybe that was for the best. The devices the director used to get around that were very clever and sometimes funnier than if there had been a real dragon on the stage.

The costumes were delightful. I found myself eyeing off the Guards’ costumes and will have Carmela ask leading questions in that direction once the show’s over. And Death was great, glowing in the darkness. The sets were very detailed, very clever, with swinging scene changes that made fantastic use of the stage. The team that put it all together should be congratulated. And then given presents.

All in all, I enjoyed myself immensely. My seven-year-old daughter loved it. My wife loved it. It was definitely worth the drive out to Emerald. Go and have a gander. They finish up on the 24th November.

http://www.gemcoplayers.org/

* Oh, I’m doing this out and about without access to a programme. Please insert the names of actors into your brain as I talk about their characters.

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The Rabbit Pram

First up: the mo. http://mobro.co/damianperry

the mo

Next: Now that we own our own house, the family is keen to get a dog to go with the house. We have gnomes. Why don’t we have a dog?

And now the negotiations begin.

I want a big dog. A German Shepherd or a Kelpie, something that I can take for a walk or a jog down at the oval without having to disguise it as a Mogwai or something. I could even go a smaller dog, if it was a terrier – a Jack Russel perhaps. A cool, masculine dog. A dog with eyebrows:

fluffy mop dogShereen wants a placid dog. A mop, maybe a beanbag. Every dog she points out has shaggy hair and a hole for a broom handle… what do you mean, that’s not what the hole’s for? Dogs that wouldn’t feel stupid with a name like Fifi or Miffy.

Ophelia wants a cat. Dogs are cute, but cats are phenomenal. I agree, but Shereen’s allergies really preclude cat ownership.

So we are compromising. So far, the dog that both of us like best is a Scottish Terrier. “Och, Chum is soo chumpy, you could carrrve it!” Small for her, cool for me. We both liked the look of Beagles, but my sister and a few other people say they’re terrible dogs to train.

And then there’s the name. We were all happy with the name Moby. Ophelia came up with it. I thought it was remarkably literary of her until Shereen explained that it was the name of one of the characters in a trading card set she’s collecting at the moment.

But still, we don’t have to tell anybody that.

On the weekend, we went into the local shopping mall. The pet store in there had signs everywhere describing a new initiative they’ve taken on where they’ve partnered with an animal rescue group and sell rescue animals. It has nothing to do with the story, but there you go.

And then Shereen saw the rabbit. And fell in love. It came up to her and stared into her eyes with its big brown bunny peepers. And now she wants a rabbit instead of a dog.

“That would be a manly animal to take for a walk around the block,” I mused.

“We could get a special bunny pram, with a hutch on it. You could take it for a walk that way,” she said. Which led to a Facebook status. Which led to a few interesting misconceptions and a lot of confusion. Which led to this blog.

And now I should go and do some work.

Gimme MO.

The form letter is the godsend of the time-poor human! Here goes:


It’s Movember and time to focus on men’s health. To show my commitment, I’m donating my face to the cause by growing a moustache for the entire month of November, and need your support. My Mo will spark conversations, and no doubt generate some laughs; all in the name of raising vital awareness and funds for prostate cancer and male mental health.

Why am I so passionate about men’s health?
*1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime
*This year 20,000 new cases of the disease will be diagnosed
*1 in 8 men will experience depression in their lifetime

I’m asking you to support my Movember efforts by making a donation by either:
*Donating online at: http://mobro.co/damianperry
*Writing a cheque payable to ‘Movember,’ referencing my Registration ID: 356964 and mailing it to: Movember, PO Box 60, East Melbourne, VIC, 8002

Funds raised will help make a tangible difference to the lives of others. Through the Movember Foundation and its men’s health partners, the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and beyondblue: the national depression and anxiety initiative, they are funding world class research, educational and support programs which would otherwise not be possible.

If you’d like to find out more about the type of work you’d be helping to fund by supporting Movember, take a look at the Programs We Fund section on the Movember website: http://au.movember.com/about/funding-overview/

Thank you in advance for supporting my efforts to change the face of men’s health. All donations over $2 are tax deductible.

Thanks, Damian Perry

Please donate at: http://mobro.co/damianperry

Must. Read.

asleepLast night, I did something I never thought I would ever do: I asked my step-daughter to put the book down and go to sleep already!

Now, before you lynch me or put me in the same category of book burners and fundamentalist christians, let me explain.

She’s 8. Her bedtime is 8.30. She loves to read. And her imagination doesn’t have an off-switch. So if we let her read until she’s tired, she’ll still be reading at midnight. And then we have to deal with the consequences. So when I saw the light shining from  under the door (again) at 10pm, I had to do the unthinkable.

Normally, I’d be quite happy for her to read all night. Let the stories invade her mind and set fire to her imagination. She is a voracious reader and, at 8 years old, she’s reading well beyond her years. She had to beg us to let her read the second Harry Potter book, and I think we’ll probably relent on the third book as well before she hits ten.

But her mum and I just can’t handle the almost-teenager-like reading hangover that results from a late night. So we have to limit her, like a crack addict, to small doses per night.

Her reading list at the moment:

1. Bridge To Terabithia – I’m reading this to her. I don’t think you ever get too old to have someone read to you, and it helps me bone up on my American accents.

2. The Hobbit – I started reading this to her, but she started making very clever “guesses” about what was going to happen next, and I found that she’d read the whole thing over a couple of nights of subversive torchlight reading.

3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. She quotes from Philosopher’s Stone all of the time, so it was only a matter of time.

4. Brer Rabbit Tales by Enid Blyton. She read 15 Secret Seven books in two weeks and was re-reading the Faraway Tree, so I figured she was up for something new.

On top of these, she still reads the grade-two level readers her school gives her, which I agree with educationally (I was able to teach her how to read comics properly, for example) but wish that the school could challenge her a bit with reading.

We were pretty dismissive when we gave her Esio Trot to read and she returned to me in an hour saying it was great and could she have another one. Almost half-heartedly, I’d ask her a question about what happened in the book. She answered promptly. Surprised, I tried something a little more analytical. She had it down pat. From then, I’ve just watched in amazement as she worked her way through dozens of books over the past couple of years, making incredible comments on genre and comparisons to other books. My year 10s can’t do it, that’s for sure.

But I didn’t start this to rave about my step-daughter, who you don’t know and doesn’t enter into Finding Damo in the slightest. I was going to use it as an introductory stepping stone and got carried away.

So… Hop! Next stone.

I used to read in bed as a child. I utilised the torch for my own illicit reading. But I was often found, fast asleep with a book on my face. I’m pretty sure it still happens sometimes.

This is the version I read and still own.

I read The Hobbit in Grade 3. I read the Wizard of Earthsea in Grade 2 – Mum was studying it for school and we were travelling through Queensland and it was there so I read it.

I read Bridge to Terabithia in Grade 5 or 6 – the teacher was giving me and a couple of others books to challenge us as the regular reading was way below us. In primary school I found Encyclopedia Brown, The Three Investigaters, Biggles, Blyton, Asterix and Tintin. As I got older, I devoured all of the Doctor Who novelisations, Judy Blume (Forever was an experience, I can tell you!), Victor Kelleher and Douglas Adams.

Scarily enough, I didn’t discover Terry Pratchet until university. Dave and I had been introduced to a MUD (multi-user dungeon) on the Internet, and we were having problems with some of the quests. “Oh,” said a helpful player, “that one’s straight from the books.”

“There are books?” I asked, to the general hilarity of the online world. Soon after, Dave and I were annoying the crap out of a busload of people as we read Reaper Man and Small Gods on the way to Queensland. And now I’m on the organising committee for Nullus Anxietas IV.

There are a few novels that completely changed my life.

The first, I just finished again, this time on audio. 47 hours of unexpurgated Stephen King. The Stand. A work of genius that draws me in, over and over. I think I’ve read it at least once every two years since it was published. And yes, the re-release was better.

IT, I’ll lump in with The Stand. It is King’s mind at work. But these two, above all of the others, make me come back and read them for the sheer depth of the worlds he created. I also read Christine and Pet Sematary on a regular basis.

Ben Elton’s Stark was the first book I’d read that didn’t have a happy ending. It shocked me, but also opened me to the possibilities. It was incredibly well written, great characters and then… what the hell?

Tad Williams’ Otherland series blew me away. It’s slow going in places, but again, the story had a scope that I hadn’t seen in a novel or series for a long time. That one’s due to my aunty Joan, who put me onto them.

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time gave me a new insight into magic. It was a world that touched on hundreds of different mythologies and wove them into an incredibly complex world. And then Jordan wrote books 7-10 (which were unnecessary). And then he died. Brandon Sanderson has revitalised the series, and I’m really looking forward to the last book.

Clive Barker was another writer who pushed boundary after boundary. Imajica redefined horror and fantasy for me. He wrote about things that I would never have the courage to write about under my own name.  He’s not for the weak hearted, but he is an incredibly good writer.

I could go on. I might. But as a youngster, these books changed the way I looked at the world. I still like to get back to them on occasion to revisit writing that makes everyone else look bad. Don’t attack me for the people I’ve left out. I could add at least 20 more books that have also changed my life, but this was meant to be an off-the-top-of-my-head account and these are the ones that came to mind.

Oh, by the way: I’ve written ten more pages of Finding Damo. Word count to come when I’m home.

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