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Saturday, 29 December 2018

Christmas Get Together


Oh my!  How our Covey has grown!

Christmas Day 2018, and quite a few members of this rarefied group were gathered together to celebrate the season, reminisce about the past and generally remind each other of the love and admiration we share.

We celebrated the season by eating as much delicious food as our stomachs could accommodate, then after a suitable interval, we consumed more.  All thanks to the hospitality of LB’s eldest daughter and husband.  

After Secret Santa had sprinkled gifts to everyone there was a very special surprise gift given to the hostess.  It may have been special because it was 30 years old. Or perhaps it was because it was an entirely cheap tacky little candle holder that had been given as a joke so many years ago. 
First given:  

                                                                                   1988 - Phyllis to June 
 1989 - June to Phyllis  1990 - Phyllis to Laura  1994 - Laura to Sarah  1996 - Sarah to Stan  2005 - Stan to Sue  2018 - Sue to Maia 



Or, it might have been the little orange notebook that accompanies the gift and must include some words from giver to receiver, or, maybe because we had all forgotten about it, until it was found in a drawer of LB’s office. Whatever the reason, seeing it again brought a tear to a few attendees.  Also, it seems to have been much loved throughout the years because apart from a small broken corner it's still in one piece.


Of course, the other result of something like that is that it kick-starts a ton of memories.  And this day was no exception.  We resurrected all the old chestnuts that I’ve detailed in previous blogs.  

We must have had a lot of parties when we were younger, so many memories centred around them.  Laura recalled her father and I compiling a list of invitees where we would decide if someone was worthy of being invited.  It seems there was a standard which had to be reached.  Someone who sat in a corner and didn’t mix was unlikely to make the list for a second invite.  A person had to be ready to look silly, after all, so many of our parties included a “dress up” feature, as evidenced by the “Tramp Party” to welcome LLB and his new wife to Canada.

A new memory reared itself from oblivion: that of kite flying.  I’m sure everyone has memories of flying a kite sometime in their childhood, but I wonder how many have flown “Indian Fighting Kites”?  In much later years when I read the fabulous novel: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, I was able to immediately imagine how these kites looked and acted all because of the 1967 summer of the kites.  David had often told stories of kite flying during his youth in India.  So together, David and LB made fighting kites.

This making was no mean feat.  LB knew about English kites both large and small but making this little fighting kite took lots of discussions and lots of trial and error.  But finally, the master piece was born.  I remember when David took that thing to the sky, dipping and diving as no other kite I’d seen, it drew many, many neighbourhood spectators.


If you’re at all interested in making one of your own you will find the instructions with the story I wrote in a Childrens’ Annual in 1983:  Https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=931502699&searchurl

Me showing off for the local newspaper.


Or, faster than making your own – just talk to LB – he will whip you up one immediately!


Saturday, 17 November 2018

Yes I Can, Yes I Can.



I CAN DO ANYTHING YOU CAN DO BETTER

We’ve all known at least one kid who lived by the mantra “My Dad Can Do Anything!”  In case you didn’t know such a person, I’d like to introduce myself.  I wont waste time reiterating again all the things my Dad could make or fix or invent, he just could, and he did them all without the help of YouTube.   Eventually, my brother LB took over the mantle and things continued as the world decreed.


It’s impossible however to live around this kind of ability and not be influenced by it.  Secretly, I’ve harboured the thought that I belonged in that rarefied air. After all, in my younger days I knew how to manoeuvre a saw, paint a wall, and in some cases, I’d detail “How I Did It” and sell the instructions to a magazine.  There was also the time when I did something that no man, I’ve ever known, was able to do: I laid a basement tile floor when I was eight months pregnant!  Naturally, I could also sew, knit and cook, those were standard skills for my birth time.

Nowadays, while my brain still insists that I’m capable, my body knows better, so I don’t do much in the way of any physical construction type of activity. Nevertheless, that “I Can Do Anything” mentality still resides in my genes and constantly nag, nag, nags me and cannot be ignored.  Unfortunately, the advent of YouTube has only worsened this problem.  


I watch “How To” videos constantly but I try to confine my watching to "An Anything” that can be accomplished from a sitting position.  This leaves me with an amazingly large selection from which I come away with the feeling that not only could I do that but I could do it better!

Which brings me to August of this year when my brain went off on a crazy tangent due to this being the month of one grandson’s birthday.  I’m at that stage of life where I no longer know what are the must have gifts that the younger generation covet, so I usually resort to “coin of the realm”.  But for some strange and unknowable reason I thought that an additional little hand made gift by me would be a wonderful idea.  I can’t remember what came first; the YouTube instructions for making rubber stamps or the thought that what every masculine teenage boy requires is a rubber stamp of his face!

Firstly, let me share with you the following information: number one, I’m writing this in November; number two, I still have not achieved said rubber stamp, and finally, let me dissuade you from the idea that DIY is cheaper than purchasing “Anything” from a store!

To get started on my project I first purchased a slab of required pink carving rubber, plus a set of carving tools and a stamp pad to try out the finished product. Armed with a photograph of his gorgeous face and my intimate knowledge of Photoshop I achieved a wonderful reverse mirror image that just needed to be transferred to the carving rubber. 

This proved to be a little more difficult than the YouTube videos would have me believe, but I managed it.  All that was required next was to follow the contours of said sketch with the darling little carving implements so that unwanted areas were excavated and areas that would represent his face were left intact.  

I did succeed in producing a face but unfortunately not one that would be recognised as being a family member.  

I did not give up. Obviously, the YouTube instructions were wrong. 

However, because I’m a great believer of the Robert the Bruce’s advice: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” I once again turned my attention to my dear friend YouTube.  And, as luck would have it, I discovered the motherlode.  I didn’t need carving skills, I needed a hundred dollars worth of PhotoPolymer gel, 



https://www.colop.com/b2b-solutions/systems/polymer 
an ultra-violet-light manicure machine, 

https://www.ebay.ca/itm/36W-UV-Curing-Lamp-for-UV-Nail-Gel-Nail-Dryer-4-Bulbs-with-Sliding-Tray/182654527491
some glass plates, some foam tape for damming, and the many, many videos by a charming Brit who lives in Spain.  
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC79-vHDfB3Bi6vrkBL2f_ig
Of course, it would be better if I possessed a laser printer, but that was overcome with the help of my local Staples store.

I’d learned that attempting a face as a first project was perhaps a little ambitious.  So, I’d decided that just a “Name” stamp would be an admirable first try.  Luckily, his name has just four letters so this would be a great beginning endeavour.

Finally, everything was to hand.  I could no longer procrastinate.  Re-watching the videos was not going to help.

Timing sheet in hand.  Gel suitably encased in a black squeeze bottle. Yesterday was the day.  I poured; I timed; and I ultra-violeted.  And there it was: my crowning achievement.  A very cute piece of solid polymer gel, that if it contains even a hint of a name, I can’t see it. 



Surely, there must be something I can do with all that PhotoPolymer gel I have.  I’m going to leave this writing for now so that I can go check on YouTube.  You never know!


Tuesday, 23 October 2018

STAY in TOUCH


STAY IN TOUCH

What did we do before automated telephone answering?  Before call waiting?  Before voice messaging and texting?

I’m really ancient so I remember life before those times.  After all, I did most of my living in the modern age, in the 20th century. Everything was so “up-to-date” that a film studio took it as part of its name. It was, as Dickens might have said: “The best and the worst of times”.



The worst times were the two World Wars, and even though our little Covey did not have a personal telephone   I’m pretty sure that telephones can be included in the best of times. Very few people had receivers in their homes.  Urgent calls were made from those darling red boxes that were on every street corner.

Today, children all come equipped with the mandatory smart phone Velcro strip on the palm of their hands.  Then, our hands only contained balls or skipping ropes and the occasional jam sandwich.  When we left the house, we were free.  Free from parental interference, free from contact of any kind.  If parents needed to contact their children they used the tried and true method that had worked for epochs: open the front door and yell! Our dad was a little different. He was not going to strain his voice.  If he needed us, he’d whistle. And believe me, if we heard that whistle we’d run as fast as we could to get home before he needed to whistle again.

My own children experienced similarly freedom they just had to be home by the time the street lights went out or when they were hungry – whichever came first.

As a teenage I had a short tenure (actually I lasted a day!) as a telephone receptionist for a lawyer’s office in the very esteemed Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London England. Why only a day you may ask?  Well, the telephone I was charged with operating was one of those wire and plug contraptions that you’ve only seen pictures of.  Actually, I was quite bright and intelligent, but, after I’d connected and disconnected all the wrong people, it was obvious to all that my future did not lie in this direction.

Overall, it was a solid learning experience; I now knew that while telephones would be fine for personal interactions, I should avoid them as a career choice.  So I did.

Eventually, I made my way to Canada which was a much more up-to-date environment for telephone communication.  Telephones were one size fits all, they were black and they were boring, but everyone had one. 
If you’ve ever wondered why telephones have letters as well as numbers there was a period when the alphabet was needed and it certainly wasn’t for texting. At that time, a telephone number in Toronto consisted of three letters which corresponded to the area, plus three numbers.  So, if you were in the WALNUT area your number might be WAL230.  All accessed with the handy dandy rotary dial.

If you had a direct line you paid more for the service than if you had a party line but it was worth it because you didn’t have to worry about a chitty, chatty neighbour tying up the line when you needed it.

Time marched on the way it always does.  Populations grew larger and telephone numbers grew longer. Rotary dials gave way to push buttons.  Colours became ubiquitous, (pink being the favourite of teenage girls).  And through it all, when you made a call a human voice answered.

If you called a friend who was engaged in a conversation with another friend, then you’d get a busy signal.  That was your signal to put the phone down, go about your life, then call your friend later.  Calling a business number was a similar experience.  If the answerer was busy with someone else on the line, you would be told so and asked to “hold on one moment please”.  Either way, you did not need to spend endless time holding on to phone that is either playing useless messages or dreadful music.

That was a time when telephones were a good thing for me, because they enabled me to make some extra money which, we badly needed to survive.  We had been in Canada long enough to have a telephone and for me to become completely comfortable with making and receiving calls.  I had a nine to five job every day in an office with no chance of earning more money, so what was I to do. 

The answer was to get an additional job. So, I became a telephone solicitor.  Yes, I left work at five o’clock grabbed a sandwich and a drink, took a streetcar to become one of those very annoying, uninvited, life interrupters. 

In case you’re thinking this was anything like today’s telephone soliciting – think again.  It wasn’t.  This was no big marketing company domiciled in a far-off land.  No.  This was a room on the second floor of a downtown building, run by a woman who was on the forefront of telephone advertising.  The room, known as a ‘Boiler Room’ had space for about six women all armed with a page from the local telephone directory, a pen and paper, a rotary telephone, and a script that I still remember today: “Good evening.  You have just won a free dancing lesson to the Arthur Murray dance studios.  Isn’t that wonderful!”

Not everyone who received that greeting, thought it was wonderful.  Many, many thought it best to slam the receiver down with a thud.  Then there were the erstwhile comedians who described the dreadful injuries they had to their extremities that prevented them from dancing.  Generally, though, I learned a great skill and although I was appreciative of the bonus I received for selling the highest dollar value dancing lessons to one poor guy, I never felt right about it and had to keep telling myself: “That’s the name of the game”!

In due course, husband got employment, and I was able to find a higher paying job, so telephone soliciting became a long-ago memory.  So why is it poking around in my brain today?  Well it could be that I’m required to enter the 21st century.  I need to learn the vagaries of today’s telephone.  My landline will soon be a thing of the past, and that tiny little computer that I can hold in the palm of my hand will be my only (albeit constant) contact with the world.






Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Stuck on Luck


STUCK on LUCK

“See a Penny pick it up – all that day you’ll have good luck.” No doubt we’ve all heard that catchy little saying and no doubt some of us have picked up a penny hoping for good luck to follow.  


Of course, nowadays in Canada, you would have to be extremely lucky to find a penny to pick up because pennies are no longer in circulation.  Perhaps it’s time to change the denomination to “a nickel”?
You may wonder why I’m even thinking about this subject.  Well, like all of the memories that invade my consciousness it begins quite innocently with a chance remark.
Recently, I learned that LS would be travelling by air on Friday the 13th.  We both laughed and agreed that for our family the 13th was believed to be a very lucky number!  And of course, belief is the operative word in any discussion about superstitions.
Our belief that the number 13 was lucky, is very strange when you consider that our mother came from a long line of super-superstitious Irish Catholics.  We were brought up in a household where almost everything was imbued with either good or bad luck. So, how come the 13th got a pass?  Nothing else did. 


As a modern woman I consider these beliefs to be suitable for entertaining conversation but unable to stand the light of scientific inspection.  Nevertheless, ALL of these beliefs were very important to my mother's life, and by extension our little Covey that lived under their spell. So I think they deserve the time I've spent with Mr. Google researching the whats and whys.



Being told: "Don't walk under that ladder!"  seems to me more like good advice rather than superstition.  And the same goes for not opening umbrellas inside the house.  After all, you're very unlucky if you get poked with one of those spikey parts.  Seems there was always a little bit of common sense attached to these decrees.  If you Break a mirror - get seven years of bad luck.  Broken bits of mirror equal more sharp objects and it's always bad luck if you cut yourself.  But seven years!  However, if you broke a mirror in our house you'd probably get seven years of being reminded of the fact that you broke it.  There was other stuff to do with mirrors, including covering them up if someone died.  Of course you could always ward off bad luck by doing the following:
Knock on wood
I understand this works by calling on the “good spirits” who live in trees. Don’t ask me how it works when I say this as I knock on my own head!

To Make a wish on a wishbone

you first need to get the wishbone of a chicken, catch one end of it with your little finger and tell somebody else to catch the other end and whoever gets the larger side after pulling it apart may wish for whatever they like.”
This no doubt sounds to you like a very innocent harmless superstition. Perhaps it could have been if there were fewer participants and many more chickens. That did not occur very often in our house.  Unless we were eating LS’s pet we were fortunate if we had chicken once a year. Work it out.  There were four children all of whom desperately wanted a wish fulfilled!

Cross your fingers. I still do this. Cross one finger over another and wish for luck. Apparently, it’s a gesture that's said to date back to early Christianity. (Anything associated with the shape of the Christian cross was thought to be good luck.) These days, just saying "fingers crossed" is enough to get the message, well, across.

We learned that it was very unlucky to Spill the salt. I did not have much handling of the salt but I do recall watching my mother spill salt then take a pinch to throw over her left shoulder.


Apparently, this counteracted all the bad stuff by throwing the salt into the eyes of the devil.  Of course, it was wise not to stand behind her when she was cooking in case you stood in for the devil.

Growing up, Shoes on the table was a definite No! No! 

It kind of has a nice hygienic ring to it, doesn’t it? And one that has a personal memory for me.  As a grown woman with many, many years of self sufficiency under my belt, secure in the knowledge that all these stupid superstitions meant nothing to me, it came as quite a surprise when I found myself seated next to a complete stranger at a local dance.  She had insisted in placing her dance shoes on the table, and I, I like to think uncharacteristically, lost it!

If ever we had the sensation of Burning ears we knew somebody, somewhere, was talking about us.  I'm not sure but I think it wasn't good stuff they were saying, so burning ears was not as good as itchy palms.  Of course, the good or bad luck of this phenomena was dependent on which palm was itching,  Either way it had to do with money.  One hand meant you had money coming to you while the other hand meant you had to pay it out.  I could never remember which was which so I'd try to decide whether I normally paid out money with my right hand and received money with my left, or whether I used my right hand for both transactions.  I didn't really matter because there was a whole rigmarole of rubbing the itchy hand on various body parts whilst reciting a somewhat risque rhyme to ensure that the money was received.

Other beliefs
There were many smaller and less invasive superstitions that guided our everyday lives such as the unfortunate occurrence of putting on an item of clothing inside out, it had to be left that way because it was unlucky to change it.  Mum never wore green – must have been something to do with shamrocks!  One other of her little commands was never to allow playing cards in the house.  



This last must have caused all kinds of problems behind the scenes because Dad was a fabulous card player.  He loved cribbage and he taught everyone one of us how to play Whist.  If you really wanted to play cards then you’d better have kept them hidden, because if Mum found them, they were gone!
Knives
It is very understandable that there are so many superstitions that involve knives. Knives are sharp.  Knives are dangerous.  Knives can kill. So, attached to many of these beliefs is an element of practicality.

Knives could never be crossed for that foretold a row or argument was in the offing. However, if you straightened them immediately you might be able to prevent it.
Giving a gift of a knife was a sure-fire way of severing a relationship. This could be prevented by the recipient making a small token payment.  Apparently, this superstition actually dates back to the Vikings who believe that gifting a knife to someone implies that the receiver isn’t able to buy himself a good enough knife to kill the giver so he has to be given the knife for free. Thus, to avoid the intended insult, Vikings would “sell” a knife to a friend extremely cheap – the cost of one copper coin.

Never stir anything using your knife especially not your tea, because that would bring bad luck. Remember the rhyme: stir with a knife and stir up strife.

But the one prevalent belief that stayed with her until the very end involved never ever, ever picking up a knife she had dropped.  It stayed where it landed until someone came in who could be asked to picked it up for her.
This must have been very powerful supernatural stuff because whenever any one of us made a visit from Canada we always knew to pick up the knives that were scattered around her kitchen floor.
That’s quite a list of superstitions that controlled our everyday lives and when you know that according to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in North Carolina, about 17 million people fear Friday the 13th.  and the number 13 has a long history of being considered unlucky, it’s very difficult to understand that in our house the number 13 was believed to be lucky.  We can only guess why.
This is my guess:  Mum’s superstitious beliefs were a force apart, but I’m sure she also believed that “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. That’s what happened with the number thirteen.  After the war, the government put in a tremendous but very slow effort to find accommodation for all the people who were short of, or inadequately housed.  Finally, our turn came.   We became the proud residents of a three-bedroom apartment with the number 13 starkly displayed on the front door!  What could she do?  From then on Mum decided that number 13 was a very lucky number.  After all we had been very lucky to get the apartment!

Thursday, 24 May 2018

CREATIVITY


CREATIVITY

The verb “Create” means to bring something into existence 

We are created by our birth so it’s my belief that all human beings are born with a strong urge to be creative, but, in order to stay creative we have to get a goodly and constant supply of “Wows”. As a child, these “Wows” are often fueled by an outside influence such as a parent or a teacher, but the best kind of “Wows’ are those that are encouraged from within.


Creativity is not limited to painting works of art, or designing a wedding dress, or building an architectural masterpiece.  It can be found in a little bit of metal or wood that just fits and enables a damaged motor to run, or picture to hang straight, or a space craft to stay aloft.  Creativity is the art of lateral thinking, the art of wondering, and what today is often referred to as “thinking outside the box”.

When we were young our Covey did a lot of “thinking outside the box”. Mainly because we didn’t have a box, certainly not the box that toys came in. If playing is a dress rehearsal for life then we were certainly getting ready for a life of creativity.  Our games were fueled with imagination rather than electricity.  Outside games involved physical activity and inside games often centred around paper and pencil, or bits of string, or found stones.  The only limitations being what else could we do with them?

It’s certainly obvious that one of our members absorbed these playing lessons very well as evidenced by the following story:

It was a time of much importance.  It concerned the first visit of LB’s in-laws to this lovely land of Canada.  The usual preparations were well in hand.  House was cleaned from top to bottom.  Lawn was mowed and garden was spruced.  Food was bought in large quantities.  There were just a couple of items still on the “To Do” list.  A rod was required for a bedroom drape that needed hanging, and a welcoming cake needed to be baked.  Both of these jobs had LB’s initials beside them.  After all he was in the construction trade and he was a trained baker.

The day started out fine.  The cake had risen beautifully and was cooling on the kitchen counter prior to being iced with marzipan and frosting.

LB decided it was good time to start on his other job of hanging the drapes.

As it happened that was not a good decision.  You see at that time there was another member of the family that has so far not been mentioned.  

His name was Toby.  Toby was a very large, very lovable black dog that liked cake. Well actually, he liked cake and any other food that was available, and to Toby’s nose and eyes that cake on the counter was available, so he took a bite!

That was just about the time when LB strolled into the kitchen feeling good that he had finished installing the drapes.  

From what I’m told he exploded in the only way that LB could explode, so I won’t go into details of that.  Instead, I will concentrate on the creative part of this story.

Had this happened to me I’m pretty sure that after I’d finished crying, the cake would have landed in the garbage with a thud.  Not so with LB.

I wish I had a picture of that cake, because it became a piece de resistance, a work of art. You know the expression: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, well he certainly made lemonade!



The guests were enthralled with the cake.  Never had they (or anyone else) seen anything like it.

There it stood in all its Canadian majesty: NIAGARA HORSESHOE FALLS in royal icing!  Everyone wholeheartedly agreed it deserved all the “Wows” it received.  

Many also agreed that it tasted wonderful.  Of course there were others who explained they were overstuffed and would come back to it later – much later!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Adventure Travel


Adventure Travel involves exploration and a certain degree of risk.

I’ve been struggling and wondering what kind of memory is going to rise to the surface next?

If you are anything like me then memories come unbidden or they start with a nudge from someone else.  You know, as when someone tells me a story or relates an event that has happened, then immediately it reminds me of something that occurred in my own life.  That’s probably when I interrupt and start telling my story instead of listening to hers.

It happened recently when a friend and I were sitting down solving all the world’s problems over a cup of tea.  We were attempting to understand and compare the education of today’s children with that of an earlier age.  We’d already tut-tutted and disapproved of their lack of cursive skills and abilities to read an analog clock, but it was when she told me about schools having to teach teenage children how to ride on public transport by presenting it as an adventure that my memories really began to zero in. 

Riding on trams and buses and tubes were no adventure for our little Covey of Cockneys, it was part of living, part of getting from A to B.  It goes without saying that there was no car in our driveway.  In truth there was no driveway either.  If we needed to get somewhere we used shanks’ pony.  If it was a long way and we had the fare, we took the tram or bus.

I’ve mentioned before that as a very young person I needed public transport to get to school and I often travelled by tram from Battersea to Islington to visit my grandmother.  I have now confirmed that when I moved on LS took over and often travelled the same grandmother route.  Here’s her reply to my request for info:
“I had been doing the tram trip to Nanny B’s for sometime...maybe I was eight or nine...Somewhere there is a very faded picture of me with NB...she had just made me the happiest girl walking...she had put my hair into two braids (mum wouldn’t allow it...because it would ruin my curls!!!) the braids must have been as thick as my finger...BUT...she had an ingenious idea.. she tied heavy rag strips ( ribbons) on the ends...so I felt them swish around and I could toss them over my shoulder...Can’t believe I remember that sensation but I do..l just wanted to be like my friend Nicky...her mother had the hens...Nicky had really long braids that were probably six inches wide...!!...Anyway...I look really young in that picture and I know I went there on my own.”

I just love the memory of the “rag strip ribbons” and think it would be wonderful if we could find the photograph. Unfortunately, that's probably never going to happen. So this make believe one will have to do!

We moved to Clapham in the 1950’s.   No trams where we lived, so we took the bus; for 10 year old LB that meant taking the bus to school.  According to his recollection that would not have been any big deal as he already had experience of wandering around without supervision:

"I do remember getting lost with George and some other kids when we lived on Silverthorne Rd. We were up around some flats by the church yard steps Wandsworth Road.  I would have been around 7 or 8, maybe younger."

Bringing the memories more up to date with my own children, it seems that number one and only son recalls leaving home at about 10 or 11 years of age armed with two bags of chips.  He didn’t bother with wheeled transport he just kept walking until all the chips had been devoured and with no idea where the next meal would come from, he headed home.

I couldn’t help but wonder about my parenting skills when my youngest daughter reminded me that she took her first public transport trip alone at the age of 3 years!  Well, she wasn’t technically alone.  I wasn’t with her but she was accompanied by her four or five year old friend!  The friend had suggested they walk to the store to get candies, so they did.  I was not there so I cannot say for certain what happened, but eventually she came home with a tale of riding a bus! 

There’s a lot written today about how much risk a child should be able to experience in order to learn to make viable judgments in the future.  To this end children’s playgrounds are being redesigned (at least in Britain) to include dangerous aspects, 

and no doubt the public transport “adventure” is part of that trend.

Nevertheless, I truly believe that today’s parents, like any parents of any time, are doing their best.  They want their children to be safe.  So, imagine how you would feel if you were the parent of the 12 year old boy from “down under” who, according to a report on April 24 /18 really took the Adventure Travel to the ultimate extreme.




What more can I say!


Friday, 16 March 2018

Measured Words


Check twice before you write it down.

The recent (March 14th 2018) death of Stephen Hawking led me to thinking about intelligence and definitions of “smart”.  It’s very confusing to me.  

It was mentioned in the news clips that he was not particularly outstanding as far as school grades. Then there are the words ascribed to a Munich schoolmaster in 1895:  “He will never amount to anything.” Obviously that educator must have had many opportunities to eat those words because he definitely failed to spot the potential in a young Albert Einstein. 

Most educators are wonderful dedicated people but then there are those who need a new prescription for their eyeglasses.  Charlotte Bronte’s teacher might have gained from a pair of insightful (pun intended) spectacles when she opined that Charlotte wrote “indifferently” and “knew nothing of grammar”.

Generally, these scholarly pontificators pass through history unnamed, but not a Mr. Gaddum of Eton.  He is credited with saying in a withering 1949 end-of-term report for John Gurdon “It would be a sheer waste of time for Gurdon to pursue a career in science. He wouldn’t listen, couldn’t learn simple biological facts and, horror of horrors he insisted on doing work in his own way.  In one test, Gurdon scored a miserable two out of 50”.  Amazingly he said this about a guy who was eventually knighted and received a Nobel Prize for his work in “cloning”!

These instances are freely available courtesy of Mr. Google.  But what about the rest of us as we live our lives of Mr. Thoreau’s “quiet desperation”?  What if our young foreheads were stamped with a large “L”?  Personally, I was very lucky to have had encouraging and enthusiastic teachers but one member of our little Covey was not quite as fortunate.

LB struggled with learning, he struggled with reading.  The methods used by the educators of the time did not help.  Constant berating, belittling and put downs by the teachers did not foster a love of or desire for learning.   Nevertheless, LB is and always has been a large character. He has always known what he wanted and how to get it.  As a child he knew he didn’t want to go to school and he had a million ways to achieve that end. A stomach ache was a good starter, but any number of symptoms could be produced when called for: headaches, nausea, tears, were only a small portion of his repertoire.  So, keeping that in mind, perhaps when I tell you this next story you will be kind and find room to forgive the part I played.

Relying on my memory I’d say it was the early 1950s.  LB was about 12 years of age.  I was a very young married woman no longer living with my Covey, but still involved with all the happenings there.  The latest happening was that LB had developed an entirely new and strange set of symptoms: he now complained of lumps and pain in all the joints of his body. 

Amazing!  What would he do next to avoid going to school?  Obviously the old complaints were not working so he’d moved up the ante.

So, you may ask why not let him rest, let him stay home.  Well, you see it wasn’t that easy. Dad worked, Mum worked, LS and LLB had to go to school and I lived elsewhere.  For him to be home and in bed was extremely inconvenient.   My completely unwanted and unasked for advice was to ignore him and make him go to school.

I can happily report that eventually, probably when he developed an extremely high fever, my advice was not taken and he was taken to a hospital where his symptoms:  small, painless nodules under the skin - chest pain - rapid fluttering or pounding chest palpitations - lethargy or fatigue – nosebleeds - stomach pain - painful or sore joints in the wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles - pain in one joint that moves to another joint, were discovered to be rheumatic fever.

This led to an extremely long London hospital and seaside convalescent stay where our would-be-school-truant finally recovered.

The story now jumps forward many, many years and many, many miles to our home in Canada.

It’s pretty obvious by this time that LB has recovered completely and is very healthy and strong, so much so that he has started his own construction business.  Of course like his father he is a renaissance man so he can do anything.  He trained as a baker in England, so he can bake.  However, no one taught him to make fireworks, or how sew himself a suit of clothing, or how to make beautiful guitars or do the million and one things he discovers every day.  He is so smart that if he wanted to fly to the moon I’m sure he would find a way to do it!

I remember a time when computers were just starting to be talked about.  Not bought, just talked about.  I remember my Ex asking “What good are they?  You can’t do anything with them!”  And he was right.  Very little could be done with the first computers that came on the market.  But, if you were LB and have a genuine enquiring mind they were something that needed investigating – so he bought one.  And I for one am glad he did because his purchase affected my later and retirement years.

Eventually, LB moved on from that very primitive beginning computer. He purchased and then taught himself how to use and how to construct computers.  He really was becoming an expert.  All this knowledge was very useful in outfitting the private school that his wife and he owned; it was one of the earliest local schools to make a computer available in every class.

Meantime, I was finally fulfilling my dream of university study and in order to complete assignments decided to purchase the latest computer dummy’s choice: a Macintosh 128k computer.  It couldn’t store anything – storage was done on a 720k disk.

I never really learnt anything with that computer.  My computer education took place after I took LB’s advice and purchased a “clone”.  Clones were the only alternative to an IBM or Apple.  They were the forerunners of today’s Windows O.S. Computers.  My education with computers took place with the student that his teachers said would never be able to achieve anything in life.  How wrong they were!

Sitting by his side I learnt the intricacies of DOS at a time when there was only a very archaic internet. There was no Google, no YouTube, and no Facebook.  There was no colour and no images.  There was just my teacher LB and a huge book on DOS that he was reading. 

Typical Black and White DOS screen at the time
With the knowledge background I obtained I managed to earn a few dollars in my later years teaching others how to use computers. And now, in my late, late years I keep my grey cells alive as I design in Photoshop or write this blog. Of course every now and then I need to refer back to the person whose final report card from Mr. Woods the headmaster of Tennyson Street School said: “This boy will never amount to anything, He will be a labourer all his life.”

Oh Mr. Woods, I wish you were alive to read this now.