Archive for July, 2007

Six of the best

I’ll be heading back into a classroom soon. Luckily, it will be filled with adults not adolescents. Here are six of my favourite memories about teachers from my secondary school days around the start of the eighties.

Teacher names have been changed to protect the guilty (students).

1. Mr. Gray was an aging history teacher with a face of pure resignation. We had blackboards and chalk at school.

Before every class, someone would hide Mr. Gray’s board cleaner. At some point in the lesson, Mr Gray would need to clean the blackboard. Without dropping a syllable of his lecture, he would search under tables, on top of cupboards, and deep in wastebaskets until the article was found. Not once did he admonish the class. A legend.

2. Miss Chester was an exceptionally ugly teacher of French and German. She had greasy hair, a long nose, pock-marked skin, and a sense of humour deficiency. However, Miss Chester was a selfless model of dedication. In a vain effort to improve our chances in a German exam, she taught for an extra hour on Mondays.

There was lots of repetitive learning. For some reason, our textbook was obsessed with the German word for ugly, which is hässlich. Its feminine form is pronounced something like “hesslicker”. Miss Chester would set us the impossible task of repeating die hässliche Frau five times.

She would eye us reproachfully from the top of her ski-slope nose and send my friend and me into helpless convulsions of silent laughter. Coherent speech was next to impossible. I am not proud of this memory.

3. Mr. Henry was a worldly and unforgiving science teacher. One day, he was attempting to lecture us on sex hormones.

“So the female sex hormone is called oestrogen. Does anyone know what the male sex hormone is called?”

My friend leaned over and loudly whispered, “westrogen” in my ear. I think that kept us in stitches for the rest of the class, if not the whole term. 

4. Teachers were often famous for their preferred method of corporal punishment.

Our French teacher was known as Crowpeck. He would make a fist with his right hand, but also make the central knuckle protrude like a spike in a medieval weapon. Then, he would creep up behind an unsuspecting chatterer and bring the knuckle down hard on top of the skull. It was incredibly painful.

5. Mr. Millbank was a body-building metalwork teacher. He was very proud of his red sports car, which was the only vehicle in the teachers’ car park of any significance. Or rather, it would have been, except that Mr Millbank preferred to park his car within the school building itself.

In the morning, he would drive it through the garage-type workshop doors and park it by his workbench. His excuse was that he might have to tinker with a couple of wingnuts in his lunchbreak.

I suspect Mr. Millbank was not welcomed at the other teachers’ lunchroom tables.  

6. Mr. Rockwood was a something of an ascetic. He wore the same stained brown suit day after day. It was creased and had long since given up on its ‘cut.’ Mr. Rockwood was not a bad-tempered teacher, but he kept a solitary running shoe on his desk. When someone failed to pay attention, he would launch the shoe at the miscreant’s head.

One day, the target student managed to duck the fungal missile. The heel thwacked against the left cheek of Amanda, who was a sweet soul of diligent pupildom. Running shoe launches were rare events after that.

Any memories to share?


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It’s Thursday evening under darkening skies. The two teams line up to face each other. Brief glances are exchanged as the players assess possible weaknesses. The referee, officiously dressed in black, signals to the opposing goalkeepers. She blows her whistle.

Another football match in the Mississauga Under 8’s division gets underway. My son’s team, in green shirts, attack down the right . The move peters out when the ball rolls over a hopeful foot and out for a throw-in.

Less than thirty seconds later, I’m having difficulty breathing. My shirt feels clammy. It’s started to rain. The rain is so heavy that the players are just moving blurs beyond swirling water curtains.

I realize that I’m sputtering water. It’s like the moments after you resurface from a dive. But the moments continue. I have to open my mouth to breathe. The oxygen supply seems depleted. I begin to wonder if you can drown in falling rain.

The players seem oblivious to the meteorological chaos. An ambitious shot almost nets us a goal. Then, our goalkeeper fingertips a free-kick over the bar. In normal circumstances, this would be an exciting game.

The crowd looks pathetic: A line of parents holding back a teeming ocean with bits of material flapping over spindly metal frames. Their umbrellas are just not up to the task. I have no umbrella. My clothes look like I’ve just crawled out of Lake Ontario.

After five minutes of water torture, the referee has had enough. She makes a cutting movement with her arms and abandons the game. The dripping rats wander off the field, struggling to recognize sodden parents.

Back in England, I played hundreds of football matches. Sometimes, games would be postponed due to a frozen pitch. Or, the ground would be so waterlogged that the ball wouldn’t roll. These were usually games that were cancelled ahead of time. Never, in the land of drizzle and scattered showers, did I see a game abandoned due to the physical intensity of rain.

Last week, the game was stopped after twenty minutes because of lightning. Again, this happens frequently in Canada, but never happened in my UK playing days.

I remember a recurring theme: My sons’ childhoods differ from mine in ways that constantly surprise me.

I like the fact that my sons are having different childhoods from mine. Not because mine was bad (it wasn’t), but I’m happy that they know they are not living through replications of my childhood. That I’m not trying to recreate something for my benefit.


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I was tagged by Zhu  with this currently popular meme:

The Rules: “Each person posts the rules before their list, then they list 8 things about themselves. At the end of the post, that person tags and links to 8 other people and then visits those peoples’ sites and comments letting them know that they have been tagged, and to come read the post, so they know what they have to do.”

So here goes.

1. Thanks to George Orwell, I don’t take sugar in tea or coffee. He wrote that if you take tea without sugar for a couple of weeks, chances are you’ll never go back. He was right.

2. I’m a huge fan of English cryptic crosswords. Have fun with this classic:

15 across or whatever: (1, 6, 3, 1, 4)!

That’s it. Just that.

First correct response gets to try another.

3. Places I’ve worked include a Swiss hotel, a French lycée, a Spanish language school, and a Dutch cheese factory. In the cheese factory, my job was to plane large rectangular blocks of cheese. The plane looked like this:

 cheesy instrument of torture

Each planer had his own partly-enclosed work bench. The first day, I tried to match the workrate of the guy in the next cubicle. He worked about four times faster than me. After a full day of non-stop planing, I was close to exhaustion. Thinking he was on a temporary contract like me, I asked him how long he’d been working there.

“About seventeen years,” he replied. I slowed down a bit the next day.

4. Our sons are both named after islands: One real and one fictional.

5. When we lived in Spain, my wife was pregnant with our oldest son. For her first ultrasound, the Basque doctor spoke Spanish to a colleague, who translated into French, which I translated into English for my wife, who was quite stressed by the whole thing.

6. I like John Hegley’s work. Here’s one of his shorter poems:


The shadow that a shed sheds is called a sheddow
A snake sheds no shadow but does shed its skin though
Unlike a shed.

There are more on John Hegley’s website.

7. Self-deification time: I scored the most beautiful goal I have ever seen at a football (soccer) match.

I was in the ‘D’ facing away from the goal. The ball was crossed from the right touchline. It was coming to me at about head height, not goal-side. I launched myself into the air.

At this point, I usually miss the ball completely and fall into a heap, or just clip the ball and watch its slow forlorn bounce towards the corner flag. 

This day, however, the Brazilian gods of style were on my side. In mid-air, with my right foot swinging back over my head, I met the ball dead centre and executed a perfect overhead bicycle kick.

As I fell backwards from my upside-down position, I had a wonderful view of the ball crash into the roof of the net beyond the flailing goalkeeper.

In football, everyone gets the chance to feel like a world-cup winner, if only for a few ecstatic seconds.

For a pale imitation, click here, although this so-called professional had to control the ball on his chest first 😉

8. Because we came to Canada around seven years ago, people naturally assume that our oldest son (aged 14) was born in the UK and our youngest was born in Canada. In fact, it’s the other way round. Recounting the riveting reasons behind this usually causes eyes to glaze over. So not today.

Coincidentally, my wife and youngest son were born in places with the same name. The Canadian Scarborough was named after the English Scarborough, because they resembled each other. What are the odds?


Roll out the next victims. And the nominees can be found at: just my opinion, Dreaming in Iambic Pentameter, a Berlin diary, Sunny spells and scattered showers, kauderwelsch, Jayne’s World, Prairie Road, and Pinay in Barnsley

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A glance at France

Fresh pains au chocolat, perfect coffees, devotion to a slower pace of life, emphasis on food, family, and friends, masses of good cheese and wine: all marinated in a heavily-scented cloud of lavender.

It’s easy to slip into a clichéd view of Provence. This is also very tempting, especially when your visit is a brief two weeks. So, for this post, we’ll follow the Wildean maxim, yield to the temptation, and ignore the day-to-day irritations that actually living in Provence might entail.

This is a corner of our pool at a villa near Aix-en-Provence.

pool palms

And this is the bedroom wing seen from the front driveway.

villa bedroom wing

For me, Provence is all about the villages and the landscape. I’m not interested in the boats and beaches of the Riviera. Some of the villages are stunningly beautiful. Ventabren is one of them.

provence view

And you can’t beat Provence for steps!

provence steps

Really, you just can’t.

more provence steps

We enjoyed many delicious meals. Some we cooked at home, other memorable ones were in Marseille, Fréjus, Antibes, and at Le Passage in Aix-en-Provence. This was my starter: Saumon mi-cuit au gros sel et fenouil mariné à l’huile d’olive et herbes fraîches.

salmon starter

Several courses and carafes later, Aix looks like this.

aix by night

I just like this picture, taken somewhere close to St. Raphael. The flag looks great.

flag at st raphael

The Pont du Gard is well worth a visit. Over on the western edge of Provence, it was built by the Romans almost two thousand years ago to carry water onwards towards Nîmes. Surprisingly, it took just five years to complete – that old Italian work ethic for you!

le pont du gard

le pont du gard

Outside the middle of summer, driving in Provence is generally a pleasure. Marseille makes an interesting contrast, especially when your rental vehicle has been upgraded to a huge scratch-free Mercedes people mover.

But along autoroutes like the A8, every other service stop is a green rest area where nodding motorists just tumble out of their vehicles and doze off in pine-scented glades. I’m laying it on just a bit thick here, but you get the picture. There’s even a fitness trail through the woods to loosen up the limbs or whatever it is the French do in the forest.

Or you can just enjoy the flower show along the central reservation. At this point, I think we’re moving into the realms of the seriously civilised.

les fleurs de l’autoroute

Streets like this I could wander all day. Not just because they have shedloads of charm, but also because when you get to the end, there’s usually a decent café.

aix side street

Where you can spend several hours building up the energy to set off exploring again. And so it goes on. Unbeatable.

aix cafe

But all too soon, this view greeted us. Still, it was a great holiday, the mantra-chanters worked their magic (ta!), and I have some appealing sabbatical ideas to think about.

(very) nice airport


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