Tag Archives: school

1710. God is watching

(The plot of this story is not my own. I don’t know if it’s an old story or an already well-known story, but I’d never heard it before and I enjoyed it! Hence, here it is!)

It was lunchtime at the school run by the nuns. Sister Mary supervised. She placed a sign at one end of the table on top of a big basket of apples. It read: TAKE ONLY ONE APPLE. GOD IS WATCHING.

At the other end of the table was a large bowl of chocolate chip cookies. Some kid had put a sign on it: TAKE AS MANY AS YOU LIKE. GOD IS WATCHING THE APPLES.

1696. Bumping into people

Gary was the biggest bully this side of the Berlin Wall. Or he would have been if the Berlin Wall was still standing.

If some kid was walking along at school and eating something, like a bun or a piece of cake, Gary would accidentally bump into them so that the thing the kid was holding in his hand dropped onto the ground.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” the victim would say.

“I’m sorry too,” Gary would say. “Real sorry.” And he would accidentally step on the dropped food and squashed it into the ground.

All the kids were scared of him.

One day, it was not at school but on the street, Gary bumped into a kid from school who was eating an ice cream. The ice cream fell to the ground. The kid from school had had enough. He bashed Gary up good and proper.

“We should learn not to be violent,” the principal said on Monday morning. The kid got “ten hours of community service”. Gary continues to bump into people. He’s such a friendly chap.

1690. Lovely little old lady

Bernice was a lovely little old lady who drove around in a beat-up old car and lived in a cosy bungalow with a cottage garden and a sausage dog. She was always pleasant – some would say delightful – and hence would be invited to gatherings here and there whenever a celebration was called for. For example, the local school always invited her to their Christmas party (not that they called it a Christmas party) simply because she was delightful company.

Bernice had a saying if anyone asked her age: “Quite frankly, I can’t afford to die.” It was true that the cost of dying had rocketed into the stratosphere in recent years. There was the coffin and the funeral and the hearse and the flowers and the… Would it never end?

Well, afford it or not, Bernice passed away. Her will requested a simple funeral, the sausage dog got looked after, and the school got to build a new gymnasium.

1652. Well there ya go

(Thanks to GP Cox of Pacific Paratrooper for giving the opening sentence, and apologies in advance for turning out a horrid story.)

“Well there ya go, it happened again.”

It was the saddest thing; Ollie Hope was teased at school. It was closer to persecution. Others viewed him with distain. He was a bit thick, a bit slow, a couple of nuts short of a fruit cake. All that the other students would ever say to Ollie was “Look what the cat brought in.” To which Ollie always replied, “Well there ya go, it happened again.”

It was like pressing a button.

“Look what the cat brought in.”

“Well there ya go, it happened again.”

“Look what the cat brought in.”

“Well there ya go, it happened again.”

The truth was, Ollie wasn’t stupid, but he didn’t know how he was meant to respond to such a silly statement, especially since it happened all the time and was clearly meant as a torment. His reply had simply started out as a sensible response to “Look what the cat brought in” several times in a row. “Well there ya go, it happened again.”

Poor Ollie didn’t make too many friends. He was a bit of a loner, but not from choice. When he hanged himself in his parent’s garage it was the third school suicide within as many months.

As one teacher observed: “Well there ya go, it happened again.”

And everybody laughed.

1640. Bananas

Paddy liked bananas. The trouble was he used to stuff them in his mouth instead of biting a bit off the end. It drove his mother, quite frankly, bananas. She said:

“Why can’t you eat a banana nicely instead of stuffing it in your mouth? Eat it nicely; like a gorilla.”

In fact Paddy had seen gorillas at the zoo eating bananas. They would peel them nicely and bite a mouthful off at the end.

The other kids at school had seen Paddy eat a banana and instantly gave him the nickname of “Monkey”. In fact, when it came to the classroom singing time, the other boys would sing:

With a knick-knack paddywhack,
Give the monkey a banana…

It made the teacher very annoyed.

There was no changing the way Paddy would eat a banana. Even when he grew up and got married his wife would say:

“Why can’t you eat a banana nicely instead of stuffing it in your mouth? Eat it nicely; like a gorilla.”

And then quite a few years later, when he went to the Old Peoples Retirement Village, there were a couple of old men who had gone to school with Paddy and they would sing:

With a knick-knack paddywhack,
Give the monkey a banana…

For Paddy it was all water off a duck’s back. He took no notice. Being deaf has some advantages.

1633. A salutary lesson

Hugo was a teacher of the old school. He believed that students were born with empty heads and it was his job to stuff knowledge into them. SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, AND LEARN.

Guntar was a teacher of more contemporary times. He believed students were born with heads full of knowledge. It was his job to gently draw knowledge out. Good morning everyone. What would you like to talk about today? Perhaps we could share how we feel about it.

Hugo and Guntar taught at the same school at the same time. They were both successful teachers. One pushed knowledge in, the other sweet-talked knowledge out. Well, the next thing was (would you believe?) Guntar was appointed the headmaster. The more liberal stance became official; in fact, it became compulsory.

We care about people. It is the humane way. It takes into account where the students are at and how they feel. You must coax the knowledge lovingly out of each student.

Hugo didn’t think much of the new directive. He complained at a staff meeting. Guntar answered:

“You call yourself a teacher? It’s conservative, right wing idiots like you who are not open to new ideas. I suggest you SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, AND LEARN. As free-minded people we prefer to share and do things in a more open liberal way. So use your initiative and do it my way.”

These days Hugo delivers mail on foot from house to house. It’s a job. Guntar, on the other hand, has risen to new heights; he’s now a bigwig in the Department of Education. Teachers beware! You had better SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, AND LEARN to be open and tolerant.

1627. Plummeting education

Dear Editor

I usually don’t write to the newspaper to vent my frustration, but enough is enough. I think that personal opinions are just that – opinions that should be kept to oneself. But I can’t hold back in this matter any longer. I see our education system plunging into a dark and bottomless abyss. Here are a few questions I would like to ask today’s young people. The paucity of correct replies should serve to emphasize the lack of cultural historicity being taught in today’s classroom.

1. What exactly was in Little Red Riding Hood’s basket? Was it buns or muffins or perhaps bagels? Was it scones? Or maybe it was little bottles of honey and various jams that she was taking to grandma. I am prepared to bet my bottom dollar that today’s generation will be lost for words when it comes to this aspect of our cultural heritage. I wouldn’t be at all surprised, given the lack of morality prevalent in today’s society, if some people suggest that Little Red Riding Hood had non-perishable goods in her basket. Pickled onions for example. Or even some sort of health food. That is what the world has come to. If students were taught properly what was really in Little Red Riding Hood’s basket then the world would be a better place.

2. Was the Big Bad Wolf that confronted Little Red Riding Hood the same wolf that hounded the Three Little Pigs? Teachers want us to believe that toxic males permeate society and are far more common than they really are. They think the world is full of nasty wolves like the Big Bad Wolf. And anyway, was the woodsman who in the end chopped off the head of the wolf as nice as some make out? What was the woodsman doing hovering around Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s house in the first place? The woodsman with the axe, not the Wolf, was oversexed and violent.

3. Why was Little Red Riding Hood wearing a hood? Was she ashamed of who she was? What uneducated person these days knows that the reason Little Red Riding Hood wore a hood was perhaps because she was Little Bo Peep in disguise. Or perhaps Goldilocks? Or Cinderella? Or Sleeping Beauty? Need I go on and on? Who is to say that Little Red Riding Hood wasn’t a toxic male such as Little Jack Horner trying to lure the Big Bad Wolf into sticking his thumb into a pie?

4. When Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater put his wife inside a pumpkin he wasn’t being nasty. Those were different times. There’s no need to rewrite history. One can only hope that the pumpkin had a kitchen sink.

Whatever happened to our fine education system when students were taught real answers to real questions? I bet you anything that few people these days know that getting a pail of water was the last thing on Jack and Jill’s mind when they went up the hill. Our world has indeed plummeted into savagery and barbarousness.

Yours faithfully
Old King Cole

How to… 1: Writing for children to perform on stage

I thought I’d start a new category (for myself) on this blog. Basically it’s called “How”. What it amounts to is not a great deal, but over the past seventy years or so I’ve done the occasional thing and possibly learnt something from the experience.

Writing down these things is probably more for myself reflecting on life than wishing to pass on potentially useless information. Anyway, here goes… Today’s “How” is about writing for children to perform on stage.

I don’t know how many children’s plays and musicals I’ve written over the years – thirty or forty maybe. I’ve also directed quite a few productions. The biggest cast had 1500 children; the smallest cast was 8. So here’s my thoughts in the order they come into my head:

1. Who is the audience? If you write a children’s book the audience is primarily children. It frequently is read aloud by an adult, but basically the writing is for children either reading themselves or being read to. When it comes to writing for the stage, it’s the opposite: you’re writing to entertain adults. Children perform for their parents and grandparents and aunties and uncles. Sure, there are siblings in the audience, but if Mum and Dad are bored so are the kids. If Grandma and Grandpa are laughing hysterically so are the kids in the audience. So here, you’re writing a double-pronged fork: children on stage must perform with an understanding on one level, and adults must be entertained with understanding on another level.

It’s not really as highfaluting as it sounds. An example: the very plain fir tree and the poinsettia are sad because they don’t have pretty flowers like many of the other plants. The fir tree cries, and the poinsettia sings “My heart bleeds for my best friend, red, red.” Children in the audience see a Christmas tree being decorated and the poinsettia turning red (the adults see it too) but the adults better relate to the feelings of rejection portrayed by the fir and poinsettia. While the children are going WOW! the adults are dabbing their eyes. In short, write for the audience not for the performers.

2. Your play is not going to make it big on Broadway or West End. In all likelihood it’s not going to be given a slot at the Sydney Opera House or in Milan. So stop hoping it will. Next time you attend a children’s concert take a peek at the audience. Jesus can be rising from the dead centre stage and Hiroshima can be bombed on stage right. All cameras and phones will be pointed at Betsy in the third line of the chorus or Johnny in the second row. Parents have come to see their kid on stage, not to be gobsmacked by a production of Phantom of the Opera.

So – put every kid on stage and LEAVE THEM THERE. I (nearly always) put bleaches up on both sides of the stage. Children can go up and down onto the stage as required. Or stand and sing where they are. The only thing to practise avoiding is long waits while children move about. Work it so that they will appear almost instantaneously without upstaging while getting into position.

This idea of having everyone on bleaches does away with teaches backstage saying “Shh children! Shh children!” There’s no one out the back, except for a couple of stage hands.

3. No one cares if the teachers are sitting with their students on stage, especially with the littlest children. If the youngest children have to dance around dressed as snowflakes then why not have their teacher in a snowflake hat directing their arm-waving and skipping and singing?

4. If there are songs, solos are of course sung solo, but when it comes to a particular chorus on stage there’s no reason why everyone in the bleaches can’t be singing along too. Besides, if there’s a chorus say of hens and roosters, it’s a lot easier for them to mess around and scratch with their masks on if they don’t have to worry too much about singing.

5. Regarding the learning of songs… Many a time have I been invited to a school to “introduce” their musical; “and while you’re here could you teach them the songs”. I never minded that. But what always got to me were the teachers who thought the first run-through should produce a finished product. “We’ll just run through that again children.” And again. And again…

I used to teach a song line by line, put the lines altogether, and move on to the next song. They would basically know all the songs and words after a good night’s sleep when they came back to school in the morning!

6. Regarding leads and soloists. Turn single characters into a bunch of people. For example, instead of one wise sage have a chorus of ten. They can all wear long beards. Working as a group increases confidence.

I am older than time
Wiser than the wind
Colder than the winter snow.

If you’re writing for a group, write with a rhythm. It doesn’t have to be rap – in fact that could become monotonous. Short sentences recited rhythmically are a lot more decipherable for the audience than long complex sentences. Besides – a chorus of ten wise sages with long beards is much more fun than a single sage!

7. Nothing bores an audience more than being too long. In fact, the shorter the better. If it’s good they’ll want more; if it’s bad they’ll be relieved. Be short. Twenty to forty minutes is fine.

8. Stick them in a costume. Teens might be more comfy in their street gear, but younger kids like to dress up. Ten old bedsheets with holes cut into them will cover maybe fifty snowflakes. Kids are generally not experienced enough to play naturalistically, that is, to play themselves. They’re much better at acting at being something else. Dress them up and have them play dragons.

9. Accommodate to let teachers use the talents available – maybe (if you’re lucky) there’ll be one good singer amongst the students, or the school has a Taiwanese Club so have a Taiwanese dance, or rappers, or…

10. Remember as a playwright that you’re the dregs in the process. The teachers and performers will receive all the accolades. They’re so excited about what they’ve done. Your name will more often than not NOT appear on the programme. Sometimes, you might get some money – but usually not. Teachers are the biggest photocopying-breaking-copyright people in town. You are nothing in the process – although teachers will be very quick to point out improvements to your script and even condemn it outright. I had one teacher screw up the script and throw it at me as “Utter rubbish” and then use it as her own!

11. Workshopping from ideas. Again, cynically, but it’s generally true… Time and time again people will say, “I suppose you workshopped these ideas with the students and incorporated their ideas into the play”. And of course you’ll say, “Oh yes!” But the truth is that generally speaking they don’t have a great many ideas, and most of them are really boring. The aim is to let them think that they thought it up. So they think it’s their play, and you’re really grateful for all they’ve contributed. A great friend of mine – sadly deceased – was masterful at “workshopping”. She was so successful with her youth plays that when she died the city named their main theatre after her!

12. Music. Don’t presume that young people like one particular type of music and nothing else. I had a group of wonderful fourteen year old boys who were fabulous break-dancers. They were in a play about endangered species. I said “Come back with music you’d like to dance to.” They came back with extracts from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé! It’s the only time I’ve had a twenty minute standing ovation!

13. Themes. Don’t ram ideas down the audience’s throat. I know we should be Green, and not drink and drive, and wear a permanent condom, and all that – but the audience are there to be entertained not preached at. I find it the strangest question in literature class: what is the moral of this novel? Oh for goodness sake! I read the novel because of the story. So don’t preach; tell a rollicking yarn.

Well now, I’ve gone on for long enough. These are just haphazard general thoughts. Maybe, if this verbal diarrhoea is appreciated I’ll give some more pointers about things further down the track. In the meantime, all I’ve been trying to say is, when writing for children on stage, try not to be a pretentious arsehole or a boring old fart. The school play is simply a thing for kids to do for their parents.

1578. Heather’s blueberry muffins

Heather Green wasn’t exactly disliked at school. She wasn’t much liked either. In fact, she was a bit of a nobody. If a teacher said to a student “Take Heather Green and go get the bag of basketballs” most students would say “Who’s Heather Green?”

She wasn’t horrible. Nor was she Ms Personality. It’s just that she wasn’t very self-confident. When the class messed around a bit she would sit there and smile but wouldn’t take part. It wasn’t that she was prudish or anything; she was just a bit scared to let herself go.

Anyway, everyone in the class, boys and girls, had one hour a week when they attended a cooking class. It was very exciting because the cooking teacher announced towards the end of the year that they were going to have a party. They could make whatever they wanted (at home) and bring it to school for the celebration. Well! If there was one thing Heather Green knew she could do was make blueberry muffins. She had made them dozens of times at home. They were moist! They were tasty! They were perfect! Heather went home and baked the most delightful batch of blueberry muffins the world had ever seen! She arranged them in a basket with a red and white chequered cloth. In fact she could have been mistaken for Little Red Riding Hood if she had been seen skipping through a forest; and if they were, in fact, the best blueberry muffins in the world that Little Red Riding Hood had in her basket.

Heather quietly left her basket of muffins on the common table. When it came time to eat, Heather’s muffins were horrible. They tasted yuck. It was the only time her blueberry muffins hadn’t turned out right.

Yuck Heather. What a loser. Who’s Heather?

1576. Stink bombs

 

As every boy knows (or should know), if you crush the seed of a wattle (some might call a wattle a mimosa or an acacia) and spit on it, it is a stink bomb. Money need not be spent on purchasing stink bombs from the local trick shop. Of course, there might be places in the world where wattle trees won’t grow, such as at the North Pole, so Santa’s elves may have to buy theirs. A spat-upon crushed wattle seed stinks like the most humongous fart. It is colossally funny. It is a marvellous trick to play, especially on girls. (This is in the days before it was decided that both sexes were the same).

Larry and Barnaby were seven-year olds. Larry’s older brother had told him about stink bombs. Larry and Barnaby got some wattle seeds. They crushed them and when they were in the classroom they spat on them, hid them, and waited. What a stink!

The teacher entered the room and everyone stood up. (This was in the old days when pupils stood up when someone important entered the room). The teacher didn’t blink an eye. Pooh! The smell!

“It’s a bit chilly in here,” said the teacher. “Shut the windows.” (This is in the days when classrooms windows could be opened and closed).

“I have to go and see Mrs Turner in Room Seven,” said the teacher. “While I am gone I want you to do Exercise Fourteen on Page Seven.” (This is in the days when pupils could briefly be left on their own to do some work).

The other boys ganged up on Larry and Barnaby. The two boys had to find and pick up the stink bombs and toss them out the window.

This was done. The teacher returned. No one, except for Bianca, had done Exercise Fourteen on Page Seven. Nothing was ever said. (This is in the days when teachers didn’t have to write long reports on every misdemeanour of every child and file it permanently on a computer).

Ah! Stink bombs need not be dealt with again, until next year’s new batch of boys.