Category Archives: Life

Dystopia

I came across the thought that dystopian fiction was popular among teens these days, because it reflects their reality.

The example used was The Hunger Games. Katniss starts off as a regular subjugated citizen, already testing the borders (that become more strictly enforced before too long). As an entrant in the Hunger Games, she’s a pawn in someone else’s agenda. As champion, she’s coerced into keeping up a front, in service of the President’s agenda. Then as Haymitch and co try to find her allies in the arena in Catching Fire, she pushes back against their agenda. As she becomes the Face Of The Resistance in the last book, we can understand her reluctance to assume the role.

I found some similarities in the Softwire series. JT and the other children of the Renaissance soon find themselves slaves, moving between owners over the course of the books. And their owners aren’t the only ones who are trying to use the kids for their own ends.

I think I can see why kids would identify with this.

At school, they’re pushed through many tests,and if they’re being “taught to the test”, as we so often hear, as opposed to really understanding the material, then they’re there to make the school or the teacher look good.

We see and hear parents say something along the lines of “you must go to a particular college/university, because I did and it was the Best Thing Ever”, or try to push the kid down a particular career path from a young age, without finding out if the child was particularly suited to, or interested in, it or not.

We hear of Scotland appointing state overseers for every child. And everywhere else in the Western world, the state acts like it owns the children before the parents do.

Case in point: while we were in England, we decided to not take Oldest for a developmental check (we knew he was fine, and going anywhere in the day is hard when you work nights). When the State decided it Really Needed To Meddle in our lives, it got used against us and we were made to take him for the development check (spoiler: he turned out to be fine. What do you know). When the State-sent busybody was whining about it, I ran through the list of all the things we’d taken him to, vaccines he’d had, and all that. “Those are optional” she whined, unconvincingly. It was obvious that if we’d declined any of that other stuff, and gone to the development check, that check would have been labelled “optional” and the other stuff not. Anyway, while she was whining about the development check, I pointed out that Oldest was fine. “But we don’t know that.” Yep, the State thinks it owns your kids.

You hear politicians and talking heads going on about the things we “must” do, “The Children!” are always an easy excuse to do it. No matter that it usually won’t help them, just another drudgery added to the burden they’ll have to carry when they’re of age.

School already felt like a prison to many, back when I went, these days we see, in some places, that they have to go through metal detectors and the like, just to get into school, each day.

Kids are told what they can and can’t eat, all with the best intentions, I’m sure. You hear stories of kids not allowed to bring packed lunches to school, or having the contents of such scrutinised, or being chastised when they share it with a hungry friend.

The list goes on and on, and I’m sure I don’t know most of it. But thinking about it, it’s not a surprise that they identify with stories set in dystopic societies.

They live in one.

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.” – C.S. Lewis – I’ve seen it variously as from “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment” and “God In The Dock” – I haven’t checked.

I believe that where I heard about The Hunger Games reflecting the experience of kids today, was in the talk “Systemic Abandonment, “The World Beneath,” and Postmodern Adolescence”.

“We must dissent.” – M. Godwinson.

Late-night ramblings

Been a long day, not sure what to say.

In the past few days, I’ve had good feedback about a couple of websites I’ve made (one of them’s not live yet, I’m itching to make it live).

Tonight we had some out-of-town visitors, who were here relatively spontaneously. We had a nice chat, then one settled down to watch Serenity (we hope you liked it!), while the other sat down for board games.

First game of the night was The Settlers Of Catan, the classic gateway drug. I did really well when we first got that game, but more recently I’ve been struggling to do even partway well. A lot of it’s luck of the numbers, of course (two early 7s when I was just about able to do something with the cards, set me back quite a way), and everyone having the same resources, so trading was awkward. A couple of thievings when I was consistently behind.

All part of the game, though. I ended with a tragic 4 points.

The second game of the night was one I backed on Kickstarter, Harbour. I played it once just with Oldest, and once with parents-in-law a little while after that, and it’s been ages since then til now, the third play.

It’s a lot easier learning it the third time – remembering what to do, from the mistakes we made before.

Once I’d arranged my resources, I bought the clock tower – high in price, high in points. Not one that fit with my strategy, got a couple of resources when others wanted to use it. My next purchase was the similarly high-point, high-price Abbey. Helps you a lot, helps your opponents a little.

After that, I needed to recoup my resources. I built up, and got a bit lucky right at the end of saving, so that I could have 20 to spend. A 10-cost item I had my eye on got bought. I got a bit lucky, getting my purchasing power increased right before my turn.

I set my meeple on an unbought card that gave me 2 buys that turn. I bought two expensive buildings.

It was getting really late, so the other players forwent their last turn, because no-one really stood a chance of catching up.

Fun. Tired. Night, all!

Children, Language and Meddling

When I grew up, I was fond of Enid Blyton books. I think she told good stories. It was cool how kids were given free reign to do extraordinary things. She did very well at writing books for very different levels of reading. Noddy was for very young kids, Secret Seven was at a lower level of reading than Famous Five. She told the adventure/detective stories like Seret seven and Famous Five, but also much more fairy tale and fantasy with things like the Wishing Chair and The Faraway Tree series, I enjoyed the Mallory Towers and St Clare’s series, and all of this was fairly far removed from my own experiences.

It seems to be the case that the world of the not-fantasy Blyton books, that innocent, idealised, Fifties England (we assume it’s England, at any rate), never really existed. Except in our heads. And that’s OK.

In recent times, kids have been absorbed into the fantasy world of Harry Potter. At school I remember being exposed to a bit of Chaucer, and I think we’re still teaching kids Shakespeare. Expelliarmus and forsooth.

There are worlds, like Chaucer’s and Dickens’ and Shakespeare’s, that expose us to English cultures that are very different to the culture of today. We joke, of course, that we wish these books had been written in English (even without the assistance of General Chang). we expect kids to be able to grasp differences in culture and language (sometimes with the aid of footnotes. “Get thee to a nunnery!”).

Worlds like Harry Potter’s, Middle-Earth, and (not so much for kids but worth mentioning) the world of Stephen King’s Dark Tower (do ya kennit?) invite us to learn new languages, as a significant aid for introducing these new places to us.

This isn’t exclusively the realm of books we expose older children to. If you think that way, you really haven’t read enough Dr. Seuss, who sometimes writes in an exaggerated real-ish world, sometimes in super-crazy nonsense world, and sometimes switching between those places where it doesn’t make any sense.

And of course, it’s not just these. Gilbert & Sullivan. The Eragon books. Jane Austen. And it’s not just books: Disney (bibbedy-bobbedy-boo, supercalifragilisticexpialedocious). Doctor Who. Star Trek (“taH pagh taHbe’. DaH mu’tlheghvam vlqelnlS. quv’a’, yabDaq San vaQ cha, pu’ je SIQDI’? pagh, Seng blQ’a’Hey SuvmeH nuHmey SuqDI’, ‘ej, Suvmo’, rlnmoHDI’?“).

And as a rule, even when we do revise the text (there’s been modern-day retellings of Shakespeare, for instance), the original versions are widely available.

So I don’t understand the revisionism we see with Enid Blyton books.

The word “queer” gets changed to “weird”, “gay” gets changed, too (probably to “happy”?). Spankings get changed to something more politically correct. We can explain Chaucer and Shakespeare to kids, but can’t explain slightly archaic uses of words, or the fairly recent cultural appropriateness of corporal punishment?

“Dick” and “Fanny” get renamed to “Rick” and “Franny”. I know people with these names. If kids can’t get their giggles out of the way while reading the books, and getting invested in the characters, what happens if they meet people with these names (or hear secondhand of someone with these names)? Especially if they find out about the doctoring of these books.

I find it disappointing that I can’t be sure my kids are reading the same books that I read. That I probably didn’t read quite the same books that my parents read. That the publishers don’t trust my kids with Blyton, the way that they (and the schools) trust them with Shakespeare or Chaucer. That they respect practically every other author enough to not rewrite their work, but don’t respect Mrs Blyton enough to give her the same courtesy. That it’s just about impossible for the general public to find the text as-originally-published (not to completely dismiss the role of the editor), even just for comparison. Heck, when buying the Secret Seven books for Oldest recently, prior to purchase I couldn’t find out which revision of the text it was (I don’t think that anybody’s been able to keep track of the incremental changes that have happened over the years – I went looking).

I might joke about the publishers needing forty lashings, but I’d much prefer the original texts as an option. Let the market decide how much the revisions are worth (you can tell my opinion).

I’ll keep the lashings of ginger beer, though.

Learning Three Things At Once

I’m attempting to teach my oldest to ride a bike.

I remember that my Dad taught me, but I don’t remember how he did it.

There are three separate things that you have to pick up all at the same time:

  • Balance
  • Steering
  • Pedalling

Of these, all three are the most important.

I can mitigate pretty much all three by walking alongside, holding handlebars and seat. That ends up being quite hard work, though: there’s quite a height difference. On our first outing, we started like this on the path, and after we’d picked up speed we’d move onto the grass, where it was safer to let go. Sometimes he’d coast for a couple of meters before crashing, sometimes he’d start his descent before I let go.

Trying something different this second time out, I tried to get him to sit on the seat and kind of walk with his tiptoes. He wasn’t really into this, the experiment didn’t last long.

Next, I held the front wheel between my legs, and had him try pushing from one foot to the other. He got bored with this quickly as well, even with the challenge of trying to stay between legs.

It also didn’t help that there was a kid (maybe 4 years old) going around the track, on a bicycle, with training wheels, saying about how he could go faster than us.

Oldest wanted to go back to the method we’d tried before.

Most of the way round the track, I hit on something else to try, a trick I’d picked up, possible after I learned to ride.

Had Oldest hold the handlebars, standing to the left of the bike. Had him put his right foot on the left pedal, and push himself along with his left foot. It’s learning balance, not centered, you have to push and lean right, but hopefully it will help.

We went the rest of the way round the track like this, taking a sit-down break partway through when he didn’t want to do it anymore. After that I insisted he try it the rest of the way.

He fell off a couple of times, leaning or pushing too far to the right: that’s the way the bike went over. One time he found himself kneeling on the side of the bike (the side facing up). It was spectacular, but hurt. He was doing pretty well, though: this might be the most promising method so far. He was managing to coast reasonable lengths for someone starting out. He was wanting to abandon the bike and go onto the slides, from before even the sit-down time (I got him to carry on scooting to the gate to that area, then let him play a little). He was happy the times he managed to coast along for a little. Might try this again next time :)

 

Tree Assault

Today we had a visit from the designer of the sidewalk that’s going to be put in through our front yard. We found out they were putting the sidewalk there, as opposed to by the road (which would be in line with the sidewalk where it starts/ends a couple of blocks down) about a week after we planted trees and shrubs, some of which we will now have to move. Only one is actually in the path of the sidewalk, two are on the road side of where the sidewalk will be. Our happy maple, on the house side of the sidewalk, may also need to move, as it’s in the two feet buffer zone that the contractors might want to work in. I wonder if we will be able to talk them into working around it.

That was just the stuff we’ve just planted. We’ve got some well-established bushes that they’ll want to hack down – they’ve already cut down some (admittedly sad) trees next door, and some in the next block.

It troubles me that they send the designer as diplomat on the last day of the public consultation into the project. Like, if you have objections after getting the information and explanations, you’re just about out of time to voice them.

We didn’t think of any objections when the designer was here. I recall him mentioning something about the sidewalk being slightly below the level of the ground as it currently is, as it goes past our property. Didn’t think about it at the time, but it seems to me that the sidewalk would then collect a bit of the rainwater runoff from the grass  – which in our Rather Cold Winters could turn somewhat problematic for Those Poor Schoolkids that this path is for.

On a more positive note, today the Summer Reading Program at the library started. For those not familiar with it, the gist is that you sign up, record how much you read, and then for every so many hours of reading you do, you get a prize and a raffle ticket.

On these raffle tickets, you write your name and details, then you put it in a tub corresponding to a prize that you hope to win. In previous years, these prizes were divided into age groups. The first year that I was around for. there was a Lego kit in with the grown-up prizes. Since then, some years have been better than others for grown-up prizes, but for stuff I’m interested in, the trend is a general decline. Last year there were a couple of book series that looked kinda interesting, some years there have been cinema tickets. I guess the decline hasn’t meant a whole bunch as I haven’t won anything.

Invariably, though, some grown-up tickets land in the tubs for kid prizes, and vice-versa. Such tickets, if selected, have been thrown away (there was an embarrassing moment last year, when one tub contained ONLY the wrong-colour tickets). If I hadn’t known that, there are times when I’d have been much more tempted to put my tickets in for kid-prizes (not entirely selfishly, I have three kids).

This year they are experimenting with a free-for-all approach to those prizes. Interestingly, unless they’re just not displayed yet, there’s very few that seem to be aimed at grown-ups. We’ll see how this shakes out.

The design of the reading progress cards has also been in decline over the years. The kids’ cards have had something to tick off half-hour chunks until each eight-hour goal. Two years ago the pattern was very convoluted and hard to follow. Last year the design just looked like there were half-hour things to tick off, until partway through you realise that it just ain’t right. This year there’s nothing at all for that, so now we’ve got some scrap paper on the wall, with boxes to tick off for each half-hour.

It’s not just reading in your head that counts: reading to someone else counts for you AND them, so keeping track of how much counts for each person (especially with two kids in the program) gets kind of tricky. More so if you’re not counting in small increments like that.

First day: Oldest has read two-and-a-half hours towards his first 8-hour prize. Middle has been read to for two half-hours. I’ve only managed half an hour (reading to both kids). Once I hit the audiobooks (they somehow count, which is great for me), I’ll start doing really well.

As for butchered trees, I start the Reading Program partway into:

  • The Ionian Mission by Patrick O’Brian
  • The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel
  • The Adventures Of The Wishing-Chair by Enid Blyton

Those are the ones I’m actively reading. Nineveh And Its Remains, by Austen Henry Layard, is also nearby, waiting for me to resume it.

And so much more that I’m looking forward to getting into and through. Busy summer.

Cleaning

Why is it easier to clean when you’ve got people coming over?

We try and keep things relatively tidy, day-to-day and week-to-week, the kids have their own sets of tidying to do each day, and yet things kind of accumulate round the edges, things that we mean to get to.

And then the time to get to them seems to be when we’ve arranged for people to come over. All the edge surfaces around the room, mantel, piano, and so on and so on – today even the back yard because we’re planning to spend some time out there (“Bright light!”). Something about company coming over that gives us the oomph that we don’t really sustain just for ourselves.

Just one of life’s little oddities.