Sunday, February 3, 2013

Small Things are Big Things

There was a kid in my class last semester, let's call him Matt. He has some troubles. He's an only child who lives out in the sticks, and from various comments he's made to me I gather that his family doesn't have much money. (The SPCA removed their horse because it was malnourished, for example.) He struggles in school and doesn't have many friends, if any. He's socially awkward, even compared to the average 14-year-old boy. He wears the same clothes everyday and they emit a distinctly foul odour. Halfway through last semester we were having a class talk about suicide and bullying since there had been a relevant high-profile case in the news. Matt broke down sobbing in the middle of it and talked about how he had been bullied throughout his elementary years and that it had been "hell for him everyday."

In my efforts to make a connection with Matt I found out that he has a great enthusiasm for video games (much like myself in days past). Normally he'd seem glum, quietly shrouded in his hoodie, but his eyes would light up when talking about gaming. He seemed surprised that an adult not only did not shun his hobby, but was also conversant on the subject. He would come in before class and bend my ear about a new area he'd explored in Skyrim, the lore of Halo, the relative merit of ACOG vs Red-dot, and suchlike.

About three weeks before the end of the semester he told me that the power adapter on his Xbox had broken (the big grey brick thing, whatever it's called). I'd mentioned to him before that I have an Xbox but that I don't have any time to play it nowadays. So, he asked if he could borrow my adapter. Now, I wanted to see him happy, but I was also wary about what message I'd be giving him by simply passing it on with no questions asked. So, I told him I'd at least need a note from his parents that said it was OK for him to have it. Matt was doing alright in my class, but it's a relatively untaxing elective, so I checked around with his other teachers and found out he was in danger of failing a couple of his classes and possibly repeating the year. So, when Matt brought the note in the next day I made him a deal that I'd give him the adapter and an extra controller (he'd mentioned that his dad had wanted to try playing with him but he only had one controller) if he passed all of his exams and all of his courses for the semester. We shook awkwardly on it and he went on his way. He reminded me each day about our deal, though, and he did try to negotiate some details of it, but the deal remained what it was.

On the day after exams I found out, much to my relief, that he had passed all of his courses and exams, so I put the stuff in a box with a little note encouraging him to take my class next year, balance schoolwork and gaming, etc. This I took to be just a small victory, but I was humbled by his response. There were three other boys in my room making up late work when Matt came in with his mom to find out how he'd done. When I gave him the box he said "thanks!" and spontaneously gave me a big hug. This in front of his peers who were no doubt liable to mock him for it later. His mom, who was at least 20 years my senior said, "Thank you sir, it really does make a difference." On the way out he put his arm around his mom and she said "I'm proud of you, son." True story. Oh man, I've got something in my eye.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

“If you race fast cars, one of the risks you take is that one day you might cop it.”

If any of us digs deeply enough into our family histories we will probably find someone who was fairly amazing in one way or another. I have recently learned about such a person in my family, one Kathleen “Kay” Petre (born Kathleen Coad Defries in 1903), my great great Aunt. Mom used to tell me that “Aunty Kay” was one of the first female racecar drivers, but I wrote this off as just a piece a family mythology, an interest piquing tidbit created by a little liberal interpretation. But it turns out that it’s true. I hadn’t known her last name until my Grandma Kyra (born Kyra Defries) pointed her out to me in a book on racing history. After learning her last name it was easy to find more information about her.

Kay Petre is often associated with the 10.5 litre Delage DH V12 that she sometimes drove (pictured above). This is not surprising since that car itself held the land speed record for one week in 1924. She didn’t set the land speed record, but she did distinguish herself in that Delage by being the first woman ever to top 130 mph at the historic Brooklands racetrack in England. It wasn't only time trials where she excelled, though. She won a handicap race in 1935 in a Bugatti, placed ninth in open competition at the Mountain Grand Prix in 1935 (Driving a Riley 1.5), twice set the female record for hill-climbs at Shelsley Walsh and even drove in the Le Mans multiple times, finishing thirteenth in 1934 on her first try (in a Riley Ulster Imp). And she did all of this with wooden blocks attached to the pedals because she was only 4' 10''.

It’s true that racecars today are faster, but Nascar and Formula 1 have spent tens of millions of dollars on state-of-the-art safety features for their cars. Aunty Kay had a leather helmet and swimming goggles. No Lexan windshields, no five-point harnesses, no crumple zones, not even a steel roll-cage; just 3300lbs of steel and rubber flying around the track as fast as possible. Sadly, the dangerousness of her sport eventually caught up to her:

In 1937 Kay’s circuit racing career came to a dramatic end. During practice for the Brooklands 500 Miles, she was involved in a horrible accident which she was lucky to survive. Reg Parnell stalled above her on the banking, slid down and hit her Austin Seven, rolling it down the banking and crushing Kay underneath it. She suffered severe head injuries and was lucky to survive. After being in a coma for a few days and undergoing surgery to her head and face, she eventually made a good recovery, the only permanent damage being some paralysis of one side of her face.
After her recovery, Kay made one final appearance at Brooklands in 1938, driving the White Riley. Whether it was an actual race, public practice or merely some parade laps is unclear. She was cheered enthusiastically by the crowds but had lost her nerve and did not race there again. At this time, she was campaigning for Reg Parnell to have his racing licence returned. The authorities blamed him for the accident and revoked it, although Kay herself never held him responsible and eventually he was allowed back behind the wheel. her views were “If you race fast cars, one of the risks you take is that one day you might cop it!” (

I think the fact that she campaigned for Reg Parnell's reinstatement is as telling about her character as any of the adventurous things she accomplished while racing. From it we can infer that she was not simply a daredevil or adrenaline junkie; she was someone who understood the risks and took personal responsibility for them. When things did go wrong, she didn't passively accept their detriment to other people involved; she did what she could to correct them. It's a pity that I never met her. After all, she lived until 1994, albeit mostly in England. She was Canadian, though, born in Toronto. This is why she's in the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame, and from what I can tell, she's the only woman in it to boot.


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Monday, July 21, 2008

I Will Flout Your Convention with Ice Cream Cake

Do you read this blog? Yes, you do. You're reading it now. Plus, I know you do because I have cameras in your home. Fancy spy cameras. You know who's funny? Sean Cullen. He makes my love-hate relationship with the CBC into more of a love-love-hate relationship. Actually, it's more of a love-love-make-fun-of-the-excessive-importance-it-places-on-organic-composting relationship. Speaking of which, I'm marrying Roxanne this weekend.

Roxanne will also be marrying me, simultaneously. We're just that coordinated. It's kind of like the birth of twins, except one doesn't come out before the other because the evil twin has latched onto the good twin, probably with grappling hooks, Fisher Price brand prenatal grappling hooks. Yes, that's it.

People keep asking me: "So, are you nervous/stressed out about the wedding." To which I reply, "I'm sorry, do I know you?" Usually this is followed by: "Yes, I'm in the bridal party" or "Yes, I gave birth to you." Yeah, sure, the DNA investigation was inconclusive. By the way, everyone at the wedding will be fingerprinted. We have solar-powered lawn gnomes that we don't want to go missing. Wait, that last sentence is only half true, the first half.

Actually, I'm not nervous or stressed. How hard can it be to pick up 114 Happy Meals and drive down to city hall? I give it 20 minutes, tops. The ceremony, not the marriage, that is. In a way the marriage has already lasted almost 3 years. I mean, this isn't really a big step for us. It's more of a legally binding/public declaration step. We've already agreed we'd spend our lives together, which, to my mind, is a moral contract, and that's more important than a legal contract. The latter is an extension of the former, not vice versa. So, the wedding really ends up being more of an excuse to get together all of your family and friends, except for Sarah Waters who is going to the Pemberton Festival. I know, everyone has priorities, but it's not our fault that Jay-Z refused to be our flower girl. He said: "I've got 99 problems, but the graceful and equidistant dispersion of flower petals ain't one."

For the people who do come, though, it will be fine. My theory is that if sufficient alcohol is provided, no one will remember the other details, like how Stephen Hawking beat me in a dance-off or how I accidentally peed on your chair. Actually, it will be more than fine. There will be many people whom I haven't seen in a long time. I might even talk to some of them. In fact, I think I promised Roxanne I would. This happened after she pointed out that although a slack-jawed blank stare is a hilarious response to any question or greeting, it's only hilarious to me, and not to the person who is trying to talk to me. In all seriousness, though, it will be an transcendentally enjoyable affair, even though Roxanne wouldn't let me get a cake with the Saudi Arabian flag on it.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

On the Tastiness of Holy Poultry

The current moon phase, if I were to look at it and understand it more than not at all, might tell me that I have not posted here in nigh onto 3 months. On the other, non-lunar hand, I could just check the date of the last post. *Awkward silence while I struggle with simple math* Yes, it's true! You've been Plankton-free for six fortnights, and how brilliantly your teeth shine for it!

These forty days and forty nights, and forty more days and nights, and then just ten more tiny little extra days and nights, have seen many things afoot, and subsequently underfoot, squished like the irrelevant detritus that they are. Yes, they've been packed like some sort of small, salty fish in an appropriately cramped receptacle. One such thing is that I finished my practicum on May 9th. The second half was a lot more difficult than the first. This was because the third class that I took on had a flock of ne'er-do-wells, and they ne'er did any well. Still, I finished the practicum with appropriately airborne colours. That was May 9th. I was hired by the district up here at the end of May, and I've been doing a lot of substitute teaching since. I've taught about 9 days so far. Given that I was trained in high school English, it makes perfect sense that I've mostly been teaching Elementary French Immersion. But that's what they need, and I've been having a lot of fun doing it. It's really nice to get my foot in the door before summer, and to get my hands dirty, too. (Editor's note: Skip the next paragraph.)

Wait, what's going on? How can I have a foot and two hands through the door? Am I balancing on my other leg? Isn't it getting tired? And how did my hands get dirty so fast? What kind of a door has a pile of garbage directly behind it? They warned me about the physical conundrums that can arise from mixing metaphors, but no, I didn't heed them; I just yelled: "That's how the cookie crumbles when you're up the creek without a paddle! Enjoy your soggy cookies, suckers!" Now I see that I was wrong; I am the one stuck between a rock and a ... snowball in hell, and it's all rocky and ... melting.

OK, I’m glad you skipped that last paragraph; you're better for it. Let’s see, so, yeah, we’ve got most of our stuff ready for the wedding. We’re going to have Hutterite turkeys on the menu, among other things. I’m excited about this because there’s nothing better than eating poultry that has strong moral values. Some of those are bound to transfer into me, right? There must be some kind of gastrointestinal, ethical osmosis. It’s really the only chance I’ve got. Hmmm, yeah, well, imminent damnation aside, things are quite copacetic up here. We even went on a little trip to see some bands play. Rock was going to write about that, though, and I don’t want to steal her Thumper. Bambi would probably get upset, too, and I don't want to give that poor little guy a hard time. He's been through a lot. The trip was nice, though, and I've been sailing happily since then, like a peanut butter catamaran on a ... sea of toasty goodness.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

The Ongoing Goes Go Go

When I started my practicum 6 weeks ago, I was a little bit apprehensive. Well, maybe not apprehensive, but maybe a little daunted. I told myself that I should just buckle down (and buckle up, too, for safety) and make it to spring break, and then I'd be fine. Well, spring break started today, and everything has been peachy keen dreamy, with cheese. I thought I would enjoy it, but it is actually even more fun than I thought it would be. The time I spend in the classroom is more or less a blast: I joke around with kids and give them nicknames and try not to scar them for life. The hard part is the planning, the unit preparation and lesson planning, etc. This I am not so good at. It seems like I've been up 'til midnightish about 2-3 times a week recently, just because things take longer than I think they will. But I think this is normal for a newb. When I get more experience under my lapel, I mean ... collar? Some kind of a fastening device anyway. When I get more experience under my cuff, then it will all come more easily. I was much relieved the other day when one of the socials teachers lent me two huge binders that basically have everything I need to plan for the English Civil Way and The French Revolution, which are the units I will be teaching in SS9 after spring break. That guy is cool. He has a sleeve tattoo with all the characters from Where the Wild Things Are on it. So, yeah, it's all going well. 7 more weeks of teaching after spring break, and then I'll be a (paid) teacher (hopefully)! It's nice to be getting my feet wet (not cold, mind you). I get along quite well with all of the staff and kids, as far as I can tell. Some of them even throw friendship eggs at my car--thanks guys!

P.S. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention a happy event with one kid. I have an unnamed student in an unnamed class. He is a bit of a handful because he has ADHD--not borderline ADHD, he's actually been diagnosed. He's a nice kid, he really wants me and Mr. K to like him, and he tries to behave well, but he's still disruptive. He can't focus on his work much without 1-on-1 help, so he doesn't get much done in class. We keep him in at lunch sometimes to work in a distraction-free environment, and we works really hard then. Anyway, we had our first report cards the other week, and he was at a B level. This was a coup. I went to find him in the schoolyard to tell him a day early, and he was really happy. He said: "I've never gotten a B before, my mom will be so proud."

This is why I'm in teaching.

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Saturday, February 9, 2008

One week down, twelve to go--and they will go happily, judging by the first week, which was quite a good little lotta bit of fun. My anxiety has been ousted, as expected. I wasn't teaching per se last week; that will begin next Tuesday. I was basically just getting comfortable with the class (better, the class was getting comfortable with me) and helping out and assisting, etc. Good news: the kids like me. And why shouldn't they? I am "mellow" (this said by a 13-year-old with ADHD, true story). The main thing I've been doing is trying to make connections with the kids, buidling relationships and all that. This is good, because that's really what I like the most about teaching. I've memorized the names of all the kids in Socials 9 and English 8, but I'm still missing some in English 10, because the seating/taking of attendance is a bit less organized. Did I mention I have keys and a security code? Jay and Jenn and I are thinking of going to play dodgeball at night sometime. Why? Because we can (maybe).

I like all 3 classes, but English 8 is my favourite, somewhat to my surprise. This is so because my sponsor teacher in that class is really quite ingenious at building a good class dynamic. Mostly he does this through humour, and I've helped by being his straight man this week ("Everybody looks at Mr. Henderson's beard, now look at the overhead"). I was also fortunate that they gave me/us the English 8 class with most of the "good" kids in it. I was talking to the other English 8 teacher and he said he has about 10 of the "bad" boys in his class. To this I replied: "I am sorry and happy to hear that." And this was a sensible thought, he agreed. So, yeah, the practicum has started well and I think it will all be manageable, if not perfect, and the growth will continue, like that of a hippo and his surrogate mother-father tortoise.

P.S. I am much the happy that Lost is back on!
P.P.S. The Canucks have begun the comeback streak that will have them finish with a 2nd consecutive Northwest Division championship (To Kryce and other Leaf fans, a Division championship is the thing given to the team that finishes first in its division).
P.P.P.S. Jay and I are only about 80 (out of 1050) headshots away from getting the golden AK-47 in COD4. Yes, it's true. This is a weird and somewhat disturbing quest, but I'm OK with that.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Just before I woke up I had a dream about a scuba diver who had to float around in the Artic Sea or some such place and cut icebergs with a chainsaw. A Great White Shark bit him and he had to fend it off with the chainsaw. Yes, I know there are no Great Whites in the Arctic, but my subconscious doesn't. It wasn't me in the dream, though, so it wasn't a bad dream. As Oscar Wilde says: "Arctic shark attacks are much funnier when they happen to other people." I am now 84th in our pool, thanks is large part to Nicklas Backstrom's--no, not Niklas Backstrom, Nicklas Backstrom!--8 assists in the last 2 games. Now, if only Maxim Afinogenov wasn't so terrible. But alas, terrible he is and terrible he will remain.

Today is weird: it's a full moon, Mom will arrive in Argentina, the Oscar nominees have been announced, and we'll maybe find out how 'official' the prospect of an American recession is (they had no trading yesterday because it was Lex Luther day. Sorry, I mean, Lex Luther Jr.). Normally I'm a lukewarm milktoast waffler about the Oscars, but this year there are some movies I really like in it. Juno and No Country for Old Men are both up for best picture. As much as I love Juno, I like No Country more. I hope Ellen Page wins for best actress, though; that would be an excellent coup ("Juno, like the city in Alaska" ... "No."). Javier Bardem has to has to win for best supporting actor, if for no other reason than that all the voters are afraid of the character he played. I also hope No Country wins for best director(s) and best cinematography. The other three up for best picture are Atonement, There Will Be Blood and Michael Clayton. I don't know what the last one is about. George Clooney is in it. I think he's like ... a teacher in an inner-city ghetto, and he coaches a basketball team ... and they go on to become national champions at Dance Dance Revolution. I want to see the other two still, There Will Be Blood is just fun to say. Use a deep, raspy voice, like you're possessed--but don't actually get possessed, that will lose you major style points. I have mixed feelings about Atonement: on one hand, it's one of my top three favourite novels and Ian McEwan (the author) had some significant amount of writing input on the film; on the other hand, I think more than the usual amount will be lost in the translation. Much of what is thematically profound in the novel depends on ... the written word and a blurring of fiction/reality that I don't think can translate to film very well. Hmmm. Well, I guess I'd have to see it to know if it is or isn't worked out.

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