I slipped out of work for half an hour today and went with Cathy (and Rosamund) to a local primary school. In November Eleanor will be starting school. In six months she will be five. The lady at the office of the primary school we went to was very friendly and took us on a little tour through the new entrants’ room, and past a couple of other classrooms. Everything looked pleasingly ordered and fun: little tables with little chairs pulled up and a spread of papers and pens about. The walls were decorated with the children’s art including a section on their latest technology project (how to make things fizz). Our tour ended in the principal’s office where the principal affably answered our questions but seemed to have no philosophy to articulate. Afterwards we trundled back to the car.
While sitting in the car I looked at the pamphlet we had picked up from the office about the before and after school care programme. Most schools have these now, because most parents work and the hours of work do not coincide with the hours of school. Therefore children need to be left doing activities or playing supervised games in the company of strangers either before school starts or after school finishes or both. Of course it costs money.
We began to try and grasp how this would work. Would I walk with Eleanor down to the school in the morning and then walk to work? What if it was raining? Catching a bus wouldn’t really be an option because the distances involved were so short. Could I get a scooter? But you can’t put five year olds on scooters as pillion passengers (unless you’re in Vietnam where we saw a family of four on a scooter). So I would have to drive? Really? And so we’re into thinking about the cost of all of this. The cost of running another car, and of some kind of after school care, and of Rosamund going to creche.
I began to feel a bit cross. “What the hell are we doing?” I said. “Working so that all of our money can be spent on other people bringing up our kids?” And don’t get me started on having to run two cars. One of the great, smug joys I get out of working near my house now is that I either take public transport to work, or walk. Never mind that the walking is probably bad for me. The cars choked around the Basin Reserve sit in a tense haze of fumes that are more than likely erasing any health benefits I get from walking.
So that was the drama of today. A sudden flood of desperation at the prospect of letting my daughter be raised by someone else (again), and rejoining the queue of ridiculous and wasteful cars because everything else is “too hard”. Not that all of our attempts at reclaiming life have failed. We are now routinely back at the dining table for dinner and eating as a family. Even though this often degenerates into a long lecture for Eleanor on why we don’t: (i) insult the cuisine, (ii) throw things on the floor, (iii) wipe our mouths with our sleeves, or (iv) stick fingers in inappropriate places in our own or other people’s bodies, it is still worthwhile because it really does tend to promote (gasp) conversation. It also turns off the TV, and once it is off it is easier to leave it off.
Leaving the TV off has led to reading more books. I am feeling quite inspired at work at the moment and have been doing a lot of reading and watching of thought-provoking clips on the wonderful world of youtube. In fact my brain is so popping with ideas at the moment that it reminds me of that happy time when I was doing Honours at university and I was exposed to a lot of stuff that was really cool. By cool I mean it sort of knocked down walls in my brain and made me see things in new ways. The brainiest, coolest guy in my Honours year once talked to me about how exciting ideas were. He said that really freaky ideas gave him the same rush as drugs. I nodded enthusiastically, but I have never taken drugs so it was only an imagined empathy.
I am going to share some of the cool things I have found on the internet with you. I don’t imagine that you will want to look at them, but I have found them really stimulating and you might too.
I have been showing my Year 9 Social Studies classes this clip, and the others on bottled water, cosmetics and electronics. It has been interesting to see them react. You will be reassured to know that they don’t accept anything wholesale. The next clip is from a completely awesome site that I have never heard of but – amongst other things – does this neat trick of illustrating lectures by academics. I have watched a few. Here is one on education.
I suppose you have heard about the exploding watermelons in China. One of the most alarming things for me about this story is that if you go to Stuff this item is reported in the Odd Stuff section. This is the section that we are supposed to chuckle about. There are certainly some hilarious sections. How about this:
Intact watermelons were being sold at a wholesale market in nearby Shanghai, the report said, but even those ones showed telltale signs of forchlorfenuron use: fibrous, misshapen fruit with mostly white instead of black seeds.
In March last year, Chinese authorities found that “yard-long” beans from the southern city of Sanya had been treated with the banned pesticide isocarbophos. The tainted beans turned up in several provinces, and the central city of Wuhan announced it destroyed 3.5 tons of the vegetable.
The government also has voiced alarm over the widespread overuse of food additives like dyes and sweeteners that retailers hope will make food more attractive and boost sales.
Hopefully they disposed of the watermelons appropriately, and took them out of the food chain.
Many of farmers resorted to chopping up the fruit and feeding it to fish and pigs, the report said.
Probably I am overly sensitive about this kind of stuff at the moment because I am reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma which begins in this rather arresting way on a potato farm in Idaho:
It was fifteen thousand acres, divided into 135-acre crop circles. Each circle resembled the green face of a tremendous clock with a slowly rotating second hand. That sweeping second hand was the irrigation machine, a pipe more than a thousand feet long that delivered a steady rain of water, fertiliser and pesticide to the potato plants. The whole farm was managed from a bank of computer monitors in a control room. Sitting in that room the farmer could, at the flick of a switch, douse his crops with water or whatever chemical he thought they needed. One of those chemicals was a pesticide called Monitor, used to control bugs. The chemical is so toxic to the nervous system that no one is allowed in the field for five days after it is sprayed.
Finally, Cathy showed me this today. It is my job to read stories to Eleanor before she goes to sleep. Usually this goes well. Sometimes it doesn’t. On the nights that it doesn’t this book is pretty much how I feel. If you haven’t looked at the links above you should look at this one. It’s f**king funny.