Sunday, May 29, 2011

I believe in the powers that be, but they won't overpower me (U2)

I love Sir Ken Robinson. He is a charismatic speaker whose beliefs and ideas I empathise with. One of the consequences of having my old Principal's blog in hibernation is that I need a new place to rave about Sir Ken and to present his ideas. Wozza's place is as good as any for an erudite presentation on education.

If you have 10 minutes or so to sit and cogitate - check out this address to the Royal Society of Arts. It's done in an animated format that easily allows you to follow along with the delivery. Don't be put off by the topic; Sir Ken is a plain speaking, sensible individual whose ideas are worth your time.

Love and peace - Wozza

Side by side we wait the might (Led Zeppelin)

While watching The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, I was again struck by its similarities to Star Wars.

George Lucas was clearly influenced by the Tolkien fantasies. It was nice to notice how Peter Jackson has in turn been influenced by Star Wars. After the Emperor is killed in Return Of The Jedi, Luke removes his father's mask and says, "I've got to save you'. To which Anakin replies, 'You already have, Luke'. Almost the same dialogue in Return Of The King before King Theoden dies and Eowyn says 'I'm going to save you'. Theoden replies, 'You already did'.

Here are some other connections that I found from a Google search.

        Star Wars      

      Lord of the Rings    
Yoda Gollum (greenish, pointy-eared, raggedy midget with a speech impediment)
Obi-Wan and Luke's lightsabers glow blue. Darth's lightsaber glows red. Gandalf and Bilbo's magic swords glow blue. The Balrog's magic sword flames red.
Obi-Wan Kenobi Gandalf
Darth Vader The Witch-King
Emperor Palpatine Sauron
Obi-Wan digs Anakin's lightsaber out of an old wooden box, gives to Luke Bilbo digs his magic sword out of an old wooden box, gives to Frodo
Darth cuts off Luke's hand, which plunges into the abyss with Luke's lightsaber Gollum bites off Frodo's finger, which plunges into the abyss with the One Ring
Yoda foretells the future, and Luke must decide whether to help his friends or not. Yoda warns that he's seen only one possible future. Galadriel foretells the future, and Sam must decide whether to help his friends or not. Galadriel warns that she's seen only one possible future.
Darth tries to convince Luke to join the dark side, thereby bringing order to the galaxy Saruman tries to convince Gandalf to join the evil wizards, thereby bringing order to Middle Earth
Mysterious figure throws back hood of robe to reveal that he's Obi-Wan Mysterious figure throws back hood of robe to reveal that he's Gandalf
Luke: "I shouldn't have come, I'm endangering the mission." (Because Darth can sense him) Glorfindel: "It is you, Frodo, and that which you bear that brings us into peril." (Because Sauron can sense the One Ring)
Luke watches from across a chasm as his mentor Obi-Wan duels with Darth Vader using blue and red lightsabers Frodo watches from across a chasm as his mentor Gandalf duels with a Balrog using blue and red flaming magic swords
Heros are walking through a forest when they're surprised by ewoks, captured at spear-point, then taken to a village in the trees Heros are walking through a forest when they're surprised by elves, captured at arrow-point, then taken to a village in the trees

I have been fascinated by the concept of the hero's journey for a long time. It's why I love road movies so much.

The hero's journey is a great concept from one of my own great heros - Joseph Campbell. He traces a number of stages in the journey that can easily be related to Frodo Baggins in The Lord Of The Rings and to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars episodes 4 to 6.

1. THE ORDINARY WORLD. The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically. The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history (Luke on Tattoine and Frodo in the Shire). Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress (Luke initially rejects Obi Wan's idea of becoming a Jedi but wants to get away to the academy and Frodo is comfortable with life in the shire but envies Bilbo's previous adventures).

2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change. Luke has to deal with the death of his uncle and aunt. Frodo is left the lord of the rings by Bilbo.

3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly. Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead. Sam wants to return to the Shire after they get to Rivendell. C3PO is constantly reminding Luke and others of the dangers ahead.  

4. MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey. Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.Yoda and Lady Galadriel are the obvious mentors met along the way.

5. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values. Frodo makes the decision to take the ring to Mount Doom and thereby creates the fellowship. Luke has to rescue the princess on the Death Star.

6. TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World. Frodo uses Gollum as a guide and has to deal with the giant spider and is then captured by the Orcs. Luke has to free his friends and then confront Darth Vader to become a Jedi.

7. APPROACH. The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world. For Frodo it is destroying the ring, Luke must destroy the Death Star. 

8. THE ORDEAL. Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear. Out of the moment of death comes a new life. Luke confronts himself and learns the ways of the force in the Dagobah system with Yoda. Frodo decides to leave the fellowship and confront his greatest fears - the Ringwraiths, the Witch-King and that giant spider (ick).
9. THE REWARD. The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death. There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again. Frodo loses the ring when captured by the Orcs but regains it from Sam. Luke allows himself to be captured on Endor and loses his light sabre but reagains it from the Emperor.

10. THE ROAD BACK. About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home. Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission. This is effectively where the movies have to end. Frodo chucks the ring into the molten lava and Luke destroys the new Death Star after the Emperor is killed. There is no emotional room after these climaxes for a resurrection.

11. THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved. This final test has become a cliche in horror films where the poor hero has to overcome one more final attempt on their life. In most films, though, Star Wars and TLOTR included, the climax is reached and then we move straight to the coda.

12. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR. The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed. Frodo decides to leave the Shire, after finishing his book, and goes off on fresh adventures with Gandalf. Luke has 'saved' his father and is ready for new challenges. Unfortunately George hasn't yet go around to episodes 7, 8, and 9 (they were initally planned).
Phew - a lengthy post this one with it's own coda:

I wrote in the previous post that those movies didn't make me miss NZ and I should have explained why they didn't.

Those Middle Earth (a.k.a. New Zealand) scenes in The Two Towers of misty mountains, snowy ranges, green pastures, rocky outcrops etc are etched into my memories, filled away in drawers labelled 'wonder'. Like William Wordsworth, it only takes a little effort for me to access those files. I carry them with me.

Love and peace - Wozza

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The drums will shake the castle wall, the Ringwraiths ride in black (Led Zeppelin)

Finished Happyslapped by a jellyfish. A good laugh and Karl Pilkington makes some salient points. Take this bit on fruit frinstance:
I do like fruit, but I find that some of it involves too much messing about to get into. I mainly buy fruit that I can have as a snack when I'm out for the day. Apples are good for this. Bananas are good. Plums are fine. Pineapples are too much hassle. That's why you never see anyone buying pineapples in supermarkets. People should stop growing them.
We've been re-watching The Lord Of The Rings over the last couple of days. Carrefour had the boxed set on special - worked out at $NZ40 for the three films which I thought was too good to miss. Even though I haven't really enjoyed the films in the past, Jacky loves 'em. But me - Craig Parker as an elf warrior?? Please.

So the first one, Fellowship Of The Ring was last night and it was its usual struggle to make it through those introductions and the Arwen love story always drags for me. It's blimin long too, but it looks great!

I was thinking that watching all that sublime New Zealand (a.k.a. Middle Earth) scenery would maybe make me nostalgic for home didn't. Even with Jacky's usual commentary about the NZ locations.

Today we watched part 2 - The Two Towers, in the morning, and it was surprisingly better than I remembered it. The Battle for Helms Deep gives it a major plotline to turn to and the pace is livelier. Scenery is even more spectacular as well. I hadn't noticed the comic relief lines given to Gimli quite so much before and Sam's stirring speech at the end is...stirring.

We are now plowing through part 3 - The Return Of The King and pausing for dinner. These are long films (although I have to say The Two Towers skipped by this morning) so we have to build in toilet breaks and food stops.

This is the one that won the academy award for best picture but I remember it best for the really really really drawn out ending. It seems to end about 300 times.

Never mind - they are triumphs of NZ film making and I am enjoying them much more this time around. Even Gollum seems more successfully integrated than before. Pity I can't airbrush out Craig Parker from The Two Towers though. I was a judge at a theatre sports event with him once and he stunk of tobacco and was quite a figjam (he loved the sound of his own voice) but I guess actors need an ego. At least The Return Of The King has the great Karl Urban who looks the part as a warrior of Gondor.

The Matrix trilogy is next. Maybe this time I'll understand it (I think that every time though).

Love and peace - Wozza

Thursday, May 26, 2011

At some point, somethin' has had it away with a leaf * (Karl Pilkington)

* Karl's explanation of an insect which has evolved to look like a leaf to protect itself from prey.

I have delved into the Wozza library again after reading the slew of recent music magazines bought a few weekends ago (Mojo, Uncut, and The Word). Each month we head to the Dubai Mall for haircuts and I get to stock up on the monthly music magazines at the same time.

As is fairly obvious I am reading a book by Karl Pilkington at the moment called Happyslapped by a jellyfish. Karl is the comic who works with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. He's become a big hit in the podcast world with them via his deadpan delivery. And he writes books!! a run down of Karl's holidays over the years. He also includes some drawings and some of his poetry. Funny? I laughed until I stopped.

Here is his genius poem about jellyfish:
I don't like jellyfish, they're not a fish, they're just a blob.
They don't have eyes, fins or scales like a cod.
They float about blind, stinging people in the seas.
And no one eats jellyfish with chips and mushy peas.
Get rid of 'em.
Love and peace - Wozza

Baby, all the lights are turned on you (Billy Joel)

Phew baby - what a busy couple of weeks at work. I have been gearing up for a visit from a UK inspection outfit called Tribal. UK schools are inspected by Ofsted and NZ has ERO. We have Tribal.

They basically come to each school in the UAE that is being supported/advised by an outside provider, like Cognition Education, for two days of check up. Each supported school has a Lead Advisor, like me, and an advisory team. We are responsible for 44 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Yes indeedy - 44.

Each KPI makes up a percentage. They range from 20% to .5%.

To give you an idea - an example is KPI 25 worth .5% which says that food served at school must comply with certain regulations. To prove that I have to provide evidence of our school's policy on school canteens, evidence that we implement that policy, the school nurse's daily checking on food standards, income and expenditure from the canteen is checked, and we need evidence that we consult with the students about the food they receive.

The aim, of course, is to meet all 44 KPIs, and you can probably see what a big job this is. Factor in that I arrived at the end of Trimester 1, had no translator for two months and a part time advisory team and that the company loses money if schools don't meet their KPIs and you'll get a sense of the slight (itsy teensy weensy) stress involved.

So anyway...this week Tribal came to inspect us on Tuesday and Wednesday and we were ready for them. They were impressed and we achieved 100% compliance. Wahoo!!

Steve from Tribal, Wozza with Amir watching robotics.

Mohammed, Wozza, Maggie - ESOL teacher

Wozza, Steve, Mohammed, Bernard (Tribal) and Fadhel (our VP)
Now we can get on with the job of improving the teaching and getting our student achievement levels to increase. The students have their last set of examinations in June and then leave for the year. The school year actually ends on July 13.

Jacky and I are then on holiday for a month before we come back for the start of our second year around mid August. We have decided not to come back to NZ during this break (bit too far and a bit too cold), instead we will fly back at Christmas time to catch up with friends and family.

Jade is going to visit us in early July for a couple of weeks and before that Jacky's dad, Brian, is flying in for a holiday in the desert from the end of next week. If you're reading this Brian you don't need any wet weather gear! It's a gorgeous, balmy 45 to 48 degrees every day.  Temperatures will peak in July around the mid 50 degrees so leave the scarves and gloves on Waiheke.

Jacky and I celebrated the end of being Tribalised by a visit to the movies - Pirates Of The Caribbean - On Stranger Tides.

It seems nothing they will ever do in the franchise will equal the freshness and lightness of touch that was achieved in the first movie - Pirates Of The Caribbean - The Curse of the Black Pearl. Part 4 has some good lines, is fun and makes sense after the complete rubbish of Parts 3 and 4 (yes I know you disagree with me Fanfa), but it is no masterpiece.

It was still a worthwhile experience even if we had to have a hot shower to get our core temperature up after the arctic AC in the multiplex. Second thoughts Brian - maybe you'll need those winter woollies if you want to see a movie while you're here.

Love and peace - Wozza

Friday, May 20, 2011

Believe in sheltering skies and stable earth beneath (Mountain Goats)

Okay - so it's hot outside! How hot? Hot enough to boil a monkey's bum.

It was forecast to be 46 degrees today. A new high. But in reality it was 48 degrees.

What's that feel like?

It's like opening the door on a hot clothes dryer, except the air continues to blow hot and it doesn't stop when you unplug it. And it follows you around, all day, and all of the night (good song in there somewhere).

It's so hot the bananas are ripe for a day and then not.

It's so hot that people are shading themselves with umbrellas and newspapers.

It's so hot that today at school I could feel m y  s p e e c h  s  l  o  w  i  n  g  d   o   w   n  a n d  m y  b o d y  m o v e m e n t s  b e c o m i n g  a  r e a l  e   f   f   o   r   t. The brain goes into a temporary kind of go slow. I was speaking to Hesham (my translator) after assembly (about 7.30am) and it was like I was moving/thinking in slow motion. Then we walked into a classroom block where the AC was working and the change in both of us was amazing. We were both suddenly back into normal mode, like we'd woken up. A very strange sensation indeed.

It's so hot that if the ACs break down we send the students home! Today I was observing an Arabic Studies lesson and the window was open. The hot air came in and met the colder AC air of the classroom and it struct me as the reverse of what I'm used to in Nu Zild classrooms where there are no ACs (but there should be).

And it's going to get hotter.

Love and peace - Wozza

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Feeling California, looking Minnesota (Soundgarden)

Yawm 'asal wa yawm basal (One day honey, one day onions).

I thought it was about time that I gave you a glimpse of where we live. Mainly coz it seems certain that we will be moving in July to a new apartment complex in a different section of Al Ain. More on that when it happens.

On Sunday night after work we went for a walk (as we often do). Here is what we see as we make our way around the block.

We start off our virtual walk outside The Gardens apartments (so called because of the gardens - imaginative bunch aren't they - kiwis). To the left is a main road and we are on a slip road parallel to it. The rubbish carts sit at intervals outside the apartments. Lord knows who or when they are emptied - I've never witnessed it or heard it! The Purdmobile (a.k.a. the Tiida) is the car further up on the right. Next photo is of our neighbours' place - obviously, also kiwis although we've never met them.

All of these pictures are of properties we see on our walk - I took quick snaps so as not to disturb anyone (or get arrested for casing the joint).

These dates that Wozza is admiring are not yet ripe but they grow in plentiful quantities all over the show. Below is our neighbourhood grocery store which is attached to the mosque behind us, and as we round the corner there is The Hilton across the road.

It's real hot now and yet these beautiful flowers seem to grow all year round. These one's are outside the entrance way to Number 17 (we are 7b). We often come across these water stations that are placed outside people's properties for public use.
Homeward bound and we're back on 'our' street.

Love and peace - Wozza

Monday, May 16, 2011

Happy, happy birthday baby (The Tune Weavers)

A big ole fashioned Hippy Burpday to Fanfa.That song in the title came out in 1957 (a great great year). Almost as good as 1989.
The last year of the eighties was notable for Back To The Future Part II, Milli Vanilla, and the emergence of Samantha Purdy. Little did her proud parents know that they were in for 14 months of sheer lung bursting noise every night!

Love - dad

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I command you to kneel before the God of thunder and rock and roll (Kiss)

I've finally finished the Thesinger book Arabian Sands that I mentioned a while ago. The stories of his stay with Sheihk Zayed in Buraimi in the late 1940s, when the future ruler is a youngish man with clear charisma, were interesting because, in 2011, we see Zayed's influence everywhere in the UAE and we live a stones throw from Buraimi on the UAE/Oman border. To have a semi-mythical character given flesh and blood like this was a revelation.

I'm now dipping back into my stockpile of books.

First up is The Te Of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff. I really enjoyed his first book in a similar style called The Tao Of Pooh. I enjoy this pop art view of the Tao. Basically Tao, pronounced like the arabian boats called dhows, means living in harmony with all things or 'the universe'. The links from the Tao to the A A Milne stories of my childhood are really appealing.

My stockpile of books also includes a slim volume version of The Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu. My other copy is in storage in New Plymouth so I needed a new one.

As a sage Lao Tzu is perfect: as alert as a person crossing a winter stream, as simple as uncarved wood and as yeilding as melting ice.

Hoff takes Piglet and explores how his character embodies Te (pronounced Deh). Te can be defined as virtue in action. This kind of literary mash-up is fun to explore and read and I love recommending them.

Talking of pop or low culture - Jacky and I saw Thor at the movies a few nights ago. First up - let me tell you that the movie going experience here is not the greatest.
  • It's generally freezing. They turn the AC up full blast. It's 41 degrees outside (ie - bloomin' hot) but to go to a movie I have to dress up in jeans, hoodie and shoes.
  • It's generally deafening. I always think of Peter Joyce when I go to the movies. He'd be gone burger after 5 seconds. Why o why they have it so BLOOMIN' LOUD is beyond me. Maybe it's designed to cover up the cell phones (see below).
  • Cell phones go off every five minutes. And when they are not going off the youngsters check their phones incessantly to see why they haven't gone off.
  • The locals bring in three course meals to munch on during the film. Usually one of the courses involves nachos, which smell!
  • Time of day is crucial. Anytime after the afternoon siesta is fatal. The locals all come out to play from about 5.30pm onwards and you can then times the above annoying behaviour by 10.
If you can survive all that and concentrate on the actual film you are doing well. For a film to hold your attention during all that it has to be exceptional.

Thor is not exceptional. But it is a bit of fun. And it did have some (intentional) humour. And Natalie Portman!

Thor was one of my favourite comics when I was younger. The cosmic relationship between Thor and his brother, Loki, was always a great example of sibling rivalry. The relationship with his father, Odin, also had unusual depth and shading for a comic book.

It's a tough (impossible?) ask for a mere movie to recapture the awe inspiring nature of the original comic but I still went hoping for a reasonably faithful rendition and with the recent disappointments of Iron Man 1 and 2 and Fantastic Four 1 and 2 at the forefront of my brain.

Sure enough the film pales next to the comic and I won't be buying the DVD for a repeat viewing but it was still an okay piece of entertainment. And did I mention it has Natalie Portman in it?

Love and peace - Wozza

Friday, May 6, 2011

Adolf builts a bonfire, Enrico plays with it (Peter Gabriel)

I think of weird things while pootlin' along in the Tiida, on the way to work. I was struck by the thought, the other day, that somewhere in the world Paul McCartney is doing something - present tense. Then I thought about Ringo also out and about - doing stuff. I wonder what? The UAE is three hours ahead of UK time so it's coming up breakfast time there as I write this. Maybe they are about to get a bite to eat somewhere in Britain.Macca has just announced his engagement to Nancy so his kippers should be extra delish today.
Amazing eh. What a privilege to be alive and safe to day dream such things.
When I think like this I get a glimpse of my own existence and also my luck. I'm alive in a world that holds two former Beatles (and for my first 23 years all four walked the earth with me, well - not with me but it was comforting to know they existed somewhere). 
I thought about this again when Osama bin Laden's death was announced this week (Jacky rang me at work to tell me); we also share the planet with unspeakably evil people.
My initial thought was a selfish one I'm afraid. What does this mean for me and Jacky?
A thought crossed my mind briefly and was quickly dismissed: to all intents and purposes if locals see us in downtown Abu Dhabi we could be mistaken for Americans (not that there's anything wrong with that).
Some of my best friends are Americans but America has done us Kiwis and Aussies no favours by killing bin Laden and then dancing around in the streets of America a-hoopin' and a-hollerin'. What's that about? Yes, like Adolf, he was an evil, twisted, mass murderer and perhaps his death gave closure and a sense of justice to the families of his many victims but to see people celebrating a death like their team had just won the Superbowl was unsettling to me and I would say a whole heap of moderate arabs.
The reaction at school has been quite muted by contrast. As the westerners have kept their thoughts to themselves (hard to get a water cooler conversation going on this with an Emirati - "So - how about that bin Laden eh?" doesn't quite work) - so too have the middle easterners.

Now, a few days later, and it's almost like it never happened. It's largely vanished from the news as an event. On to the next thing I spose. I wonder what karma has in store for him.

For me the tragedy of bin Laden is also the way he subverted Islam to cause havoc and war. His legacy is really the hate that a lot of people in the west feel towards muslims since 9/11. By becoming a mass murderer and using Islam as a pretext, he has done no favours to the people he was trying to support.

Salaam alaykum - Wozza

Sunday, May 1, 2011

He's a complicated man but no one understands him but his woman (Isaac Hayes)

The exercise regime continues apace. As I mentioned a few posts ago - Jacky has taken possession of a cross trainer. She's been using it for a few days and has been enjoying the exercise I understand.

I've been going to the gym every second day for some time now. We are both members of Hiltonia - the swank name the Hilton Hotel in Al Ain has for its extended membership so that Joe Public can use the facilities. I go along to use the treadmill, rowing machine and exercise bikes. Apart from that I walk 5k around Jacky's flash equestrian centre when she's riding.

All 'n' all we are reasonably fit.

Funny isn't it - while in NZ we both did very little exercise - mainly restricted to farm walks and work around the place. But here (and in Doha before here) we turn into regular gym rats.

In fact see if you can tell the difference between these two pictures (hint - one of the following is a fitness guru geek poser and the other is Richard Simmons)

Love and peace - Wozza