The kid turns 11

I asked the kid what he wanted for his birthday, and he said “one of those video slideshows you make for everyone else.” He was referring to the videos I’ve made over the years to celebrate the milestones of other people – 21st’s, weddings , farewells…  I hardly felt as though turning 11 qualified, but I knew that wasn’t the point.  He just wanted to know that his birthday was as significant as all those other people’s.

So over the next few weeks I set about paying attention to his favourite music, because as everybody who’s ever been moved by a slideshow knows, it’s all about the music.  The lyrics tell the story as much as the images, it sets a mood and connects the viewer to the underlying sentiments.  The music should be emotive, deep, and reflect the characteristics of the person it’s dedicated to.

But you know what song the kid loves at the moment?  The song he was emphatic about when asked “what’s your favourite song?”

Gentleman.

Gentleman, by Psy.  

As in, the grating Korean star responsible for unleashing “gangnam style” on the masses.

As in, the coma-inducing song whose lyrics are at best devoid of meaning, at worst offensive (i.e. when you understand them).

As in, the song with a beat so paralysingly annoying it’s liable to be adopted as a tool of torture.

As in, the song by the guy singlehandedly trying to bring back MC Hammer pants

As in, the song with a music video that features a guy catching his fart and throwing it in the face of the woman next to him

There was just no way, NO WAY, I could turn that song into anything sentimental.  Or could I?

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21 years ago…

21 years ago last month I became an Aunty for the first time. It was a bittersweet moment in our lives, for reasons that are not really mine to share. I wish I could have told myself back then, the anxious 14 year old I was when Jack was born, that everything would be alright. More than alright. Everything would be great. And that one day, 21 years later, I would go on to make the dedication video below – together with a lot of help, sleuth and technological dedication on the part of his Mum, Dad, Brother and an awesome group of mates.

To Jack: I’m so proud to be your Aunty. Even if it did take you til you were 14 to finally beat me at an arm wrestle.

Farewell Mr Pearce, The Best Teather Ever

A few weeks ago we had to farewell, in Cormac’s words, the “Best Teather Ever” (even if he never did teach him how to spell).  The video above was put together by all the many students whose lives Mr Pearce not only touched during his four years at Al Muna school in Abu Dhabi, but probably changed as well.  You see, Mr Pearce was no ordinary teacher.  pearceHe’s one of those rare breeds; a vocational teacher who isn’t in it for the money (such that it is), the holidays or the so-called convenience, but because it’s what he was born to do.  Even if he wasn’t a teacher, he’d be that guy at the family picnic organising the kids (“sit down”, “don’t do that”), laughing with them and playing some invented game and telling stories and talking to them, while all the adults talk to each other.  In some ways, having observed him a lot over the years, I think he’s just a big kid himself.  He has a sense of the ridiculous and the absurd and the hilarious in a way that most adults train themselves out of.

Of course I can’t speak for Cormac because obviously I wasn’t in the classroom. I can only relay the things that he has said and share my observations of the changes in him as the year progressed.  For a start there was his enthusiasm in general. Like a kindergarten kid, he started taking all manner of things to school for “sharing”. “You’re 10!” I reminded/reprimanded him. “Give the teacher a break” I said, embarrassed for him as he carried his giant 6 pointer deer skull proudly through the gates, or yet another lego creation he considered to be highly original and not just another tall building made of blocks.

Cormac with Mr PearceBut instead of being tolerated politely by Mr Pearce, C came home with awards – so many, in fact, a younger sibling had Mr Pearce up about it in the playground. “How come C gets so many certificates even though he’s the naughtiest person in our family?” And there was fun too. Apparently Mr Pearce was all about ambience in the classroom, and let the kids complete their maths sheets while humming away to “Party Rockers in the House Tonight”.

“He’s funny”, C said almost every day when I picked him up – which everyone knows is a compliment of the highest order for a kid. “He tells us stories,” by which I took to mean he read books aloud in class. As it turns out, what he meant was that Mr Pearce regularly devulged scandalous stories from his trove of childhood memories growing up with 5 brothers and 1 sister in rural Australia.   His Mother would probably have a heart attack if she knew.

Best TeatherAnd by all accounts, Mr Pearce is damn good at his trade too. During the Rainforest topic Cormac came home with stories of how Mr Pearce drew the curtains, turned the lights down, ordered shoes off, and sprayed the kids with water. With closed eyes, he encouraged them to imagine being in the rainforest and to observe how they felt – “Does the hair on your neck stand up like soliders standing to attention?” he asked. “That’s how he taught us what a simile is” C told me later.

When C’s handwriting was indecipherable, Mr Pearce put a rubber band around his wrist and hooked it on to the tip of his pencil so that he would maintain the correct grip. In so doing C’s pitiful handwriting was fixed almost overnight. I said to Mr Pearce “you’re a genius!” and he said – “nah, not really – you know that’s just a placebo, right?”

IMG_0546Our other children are moving through the school at different stages and everywhere there are traces of Mr Pearce’s influence. From the Great Australian Sleepout to the Click Photography unit to “Tribal day” – all of them sprung from the depths of Mr Pearce’s limitless imagination. He once said to me “If I don’t find at subject interesting, why would I expect the kids to?”

It makes you wonder, in all the debate that always rages about standards and testing and funding and responsibility, if somewhere along the way we haven’t lost sight of the basics.

IMG_0574And the kids know it too. When I learned Mr Pearce would be leaving in the new year I felt I should do my best to prepare C for the bad news. I said “you know that one day Mr Pearce might want to move on, don’t you – maybe he’d like to become a Principal one day for example?”. C looked me dead in the face and said without hesitation “why would he want to do that? He’s too good a teacher for that to happen to him”. Because by a kid’s logic, only the best teachers (best teathers) earned the right to stand in front of the class, right?  Putting a teacher behind a computer in a big flash office on his own, far away from children, was clearly a demotion.

Mr Pearce has been gone about a month and his absence is definitely still felt.  Take a look at the video and you’ll see why.  It isn’t just your average teacher that inspires this sort of reaction in kids.

Goodbye Mr Pearce

Waterpark to end all waterparks! (an Abu Dhabi Update)

That’s a misleading title since I don’t really intend to write a blog post about life in Abu Dhabi, today or perhaps ever again.  We shall see.

But what I do want to do is dump a video in here from our sneak preview of Yas Waterworld yesterday, largest waterpark in the Middle East, set to open at the end of the month.  It may interest you to know that the scariest thing was NOT the rides (or the knowledge that we were essentially guinea pigs on them) but the cold.  The  mother-freakin’ arctic temperatures of the Middle East in winter.  I think it barely broke 20 degrees yesterday.  Had to take my kid home before lunch with hypothermia.  Still, it was well worth it as you’ll see in this video.

Please note there’s only half of it because that tornado ride was SO severe, my camera broke on the way down.  The jigamiwhatsit unsnibbed and the case filled up with water.  “Tough” my ass Olympus!

I’m hoping Yas Waterworld will give me another set of free tickets so I can go back and finish the video – wearing a wetsuit!!

The Best Thing About Leaving (A Movie)

I am an expert at leaving. Airports are my thing. I grew up close enough to one to feel like I could actually see those smug passengers through the windows of the jumbo jet, sneering down at me as the wings of their plane cut across the sky.

I was ten before I took my first international flight but I was at the airport every other week thanks to the endless inward-outward flow of holidaying relatives. I loved and hated the 30 minute journey in equal measure. As I sat squashed in the backseat between Aunty This One and Uncle That One, a 12 kilo carry-on bag deadening my thighs, I would pretend that it was me who had the tickets to Outtahere, not them. I’d devise my destination and be halfway across the Atlantic in my minds-eye by the time the terminal came into view.

My daydreams could never be maintained long enough to provide any lasting satisfaction, though. There were photos of miserable people embracing by the departure gate to take. Cigarettes to be chain smoked. And then of course a female traveler would lose the boarding passes and blame it on the male traveler and bickering would ensue.  Finally, a brave (or bored) person would give the cue.  Damp hankies would be scrunched and arms untangled. Promises made to write. Then, as whoever it was strode away, swept along on a tide that seemed only to go in one direction, I would be overcome by the uncanny sense that I was shrinking.

If my parents would indulge me, we’d make our way to the observation deck where I would press my face to the glass as they plane took off and marvel at just how much it sucks to be the one left behind.

And so that’s how it is.  I have been leaving my patria, often for years at a time, ever since I managed to get my face on a passport. And I will probably continue to catch that outbound tide so long as I can keep shaving my possessions down to the required 23 kilos. But if leaving is inevitable, why also is homecoming? The tide always comes back in, after all.  And why is that?

In trying to answer this question, I got snagged on the cliches. The contradictory labels just don’t stick, however much I may like the sentiments. If home is where the heart is, for example, then my heart is out there in the world. It lures me with promises of adventure and new words for familiar things.

Some say, on the other hand, that there’s no place like home, a statement which hints at the importance of genealogy and culture. True again; what is home if not the place where your heritage and very identity is reflected in who you call family, how you speak and dress, what you eat, to whom you relate. But to embrace this idea fully you must forgive the hint of arrogance that is implied (“your place is nice, but my place is better”).

Perhaps the saying to which I most identify is home is not a place, but people. Or as the Whakatauki states: He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata!  

I don’t go running through those arrival gates to hug a packet of pineapple lumps, after all.   But what then, of all the the friends I’ve made around the world?  People who I count as family?  By that logic, home could be anywhere; anywhere my people are.  It belies the significance of landscape and culture and how intricately those things shape us.

Because there is something about New Zealand which is uniquely me, and something about me that is uniquely New Zealand. I am not a staunch patriot, but I am proud to call myself a Kiwi.  I don’t want to get caught up trying to define what that means, I just know that whatever it is, it is a quality is deeply rooted in people, place, geography, language, history, family, politics, education, and yes, even sport.

I realise that I am not constructing my own definition of “Home” here so much as deconstructing everyone else’s.  So why then, if I love, appreciate and miss this place I call home so much, why do I keep on leaving?

Louis de Bernieres knows the answer:

“Additionally, the doctor believed that the pleasure of homecoming was more than recompense for the pains of setting out, and that therefore it was always worth departing.” Louis De Bernieres.

In other words, the best thing about leaving, is coming home.    On a recent trip back to New Zealand I attempted to capture this sentiment on film.  The way it feels to make that long, long journey home.  So long it feels like a pilgrimage.  You never really appreciate how remote our country is, till you try to get back there from the opposite side of the world.

By the time you arrive, you’re awash with anticipation and exhaustion.  The immigration guy says “Welcome home, where’ya been?” and the brutal kiwi accent causes your throat to swell with emotion.  The “Kia ora” sign does too.  When you finally clear customs and round that last corner, the glass doors suck open and you’re like a rock star in a sea of fans.  Thank god you have a trolley to hang on to, the attention’s too much.

You search but it’s just a sea of colour out there.  The crowd of expectant faces all ask the same question “is it you?”.    But you don’t recognise anyone.  They’re all anonymous.  Did anyone even come?  Did you tell them the right time?

But then you hear it.  A whoop from somewhere in the back.  Or a wave.  Or a smile or a wink.  People win the lottery in airport arrival halls every single day.  There are hugs.  Tears that spring from nowhere as you hold on, and hold on.  You leave your  trolley right where it is, and make everyone walk around you.  Bugger it.

Yep.  Homecoming is sweet alright.

(And then you go to the supermarket and buy a packet of pineapple lumps.)

So here it is folks.  My audio-visual meditation on home that attempts to overcome the contradictions of sweeping generalisations and depict the place and the people exactly as I experience it.

Liam Wins Gold

Liam winning gold today in the 25 meter free style, by just a whisker.  He’s in lane two, near the botton of the screen.  He’s such a reserved little boy, I never picked him for being so competitive.  But there he is, drilling down the pool with the same determination that has seen him waking me up at 6am for the past two weeks so I could take him down to the pool to train.  So proud of him.  This is the stuff of why.