xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: 2017

Saturday, 4 November 2017

It is always dangerous when you think you know everything.

It is always dangerous when you think you know everything.

Alexander Pope warned us long ago, “That a little knowledge is dangerous thing.”  However, when we think we know everything it can be more than dangerous. It can be fatal.

This was brought home to me early in my career as a school principal when I attended an In-Service course aimed at developing our leadership skills. One activity involved us being arranged in groups of six at about ten separate tables. The facilitator of the course told us that we were going to be given a multi choice test on the subject, “Surviving in the Canadian Wilderness.”

He informed us that we would do the test individually and as a group. After we had handed in our individual answers, we would then do the test again as a group exercise. I was one of two male principals in our group of six. Before we started doing the group activity, I modestly informed my table mates that I had spent two years teaching in Canada. I let my message sink in, so that my five colleagues could thank their lucky stars that a veritable walking encyclopaedia on Surviving in the Canadian Wilderness was going to lead them all to safety.

Then, the other male principal, sitting directly opposite, said that he had done a years’ exchange teaching in Canada. Obviously, between the two of us, our group would not only survive but would positively thrive in the Canadian wilderness.

It would be fair to say that the exchange teaching gentleman and I rather dominated the discussion and answer session that followed on from our individual tests.  After thirty years I have forgotten most of the questions, but they related to avoiding confrontations with angry grizzly bears, finding food, staying warm and dry and keeping the fading batteries of your torch or radio sufficiently charged in a cold climate to enable them to emit light or send out a signal.

The question about the grizzly bear asked what you should when an angry bear is heading your way. The responses were: A. Run away. B. Climb a tree. C. Roll up into an inert ball and play dead. D. Charge towards the bear, yelling loudly and waving your arms aggressively.

My fellow expert and I looked condescendingly at our table mates and said that A was the obvious answer and moved on to the next question. That was how we handled the quiz. We knew the answers, so we did not bother too much with questioning our tablemates for alternative answers.

After lunch, the facilitator gave us the results of the test. Only about twenty of the sixty principals present managed to survive in the Canadian wilderness. I was not one of them. Neither was my fellow expert, the gentleman who spent a year on teacher exchange in the True North Strong and Free.

Not one table survived. We all died out there in the blizzardly Canadian wilderness. Then the Facilitator became very vicious. He pointed out that on most of the tables that perished in the frozen snowfields, there were individual principals who had survived, according to their individual responses. The Facilitator, reprimanded us for not taking advantage of all the knowledge that was in our groups. There were people in each group who knew what to do to survive but the group had perished
Two of these survivors were sitting at my table. In fact, they both scored very well on the test. They were two middle aged female principals. During our group discussions they had not made any contribution. They had not suggested any answers. They just sat there while Exchange Teacher and I answered the questions. Yet, these two ladies had the knowledge that could have led our table to survival and safety.

At first, I was annoyed that these two ladies, who knew how to survive in the Canadian wilderness, had cruelly let our table freeze to death. However, I soon realised that it was all my own fault. Because the exchange teacher and I had been to Canada, we had appointed ourselves to leadership positions and dominated the group discussion. The two people who had the knowledge to save us were not invited to contribute. A BIG mistake. It could have been a fatal mistake.

After that In -Service course I always made it a point at any meeting that I was involved in to ask and encourage everyone at the table to offer an opinion. Whether it was a staff meeting, a parent meeting, a group of students or school administrators, I always encouraged everyone to give the rest of us insights into their thinking about the issues under consideration. I did not ever want to go away from a meeting where someone who knew how to solve the problem had not been encouraged to provide the answer. Of course, the other trick is to recognise the best answer when it is given, even if not is not your own. That is a big trick.

Regarding the grizzly bear question, my suggestion to run away was one of the worst options. The two ladies had said that it was best to play dead or roll up into an inert ball, which can work sometimes, depending on the bear’s demeanour at the time.

Grizzly bears can climb trees and they can run much faster than we can. No one has lived to tell us what happens when you run aggressively towards an angry grizzly bear. Which reminds me of two men out hiking in the Canadian wilderness who saw a grizzly bear advancing towards them. One of the men immediately opened his backpack, took off his hiking boots and started putting on his jogger.

“What are you doing?” said his companion. “That bear can outrun us, even if you are wearing joggers.”

“Well, I do not need to out run the bear. I only need to out run you,” said his companion as he leapt to his feet and sprinted towards the horizon.

So, I suppose the best advice for avoiding a grizzly bear attack is to go hiking with slower moving companions. As for getting the best out of a meeting, make sure everyone sitting at the table, no matter what their status in the great scheme of things, has had a chance to speak up.


Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Newsletter.

Since mid-December 2016, the beautiful Lesley and I have been luxuriating in our swish two-bedroom apartment in The Ocean Reef Country Club. It is very comfortable and located close to shops and Mullaloo Beach. In fact, after ten months, we still feel like we are on holidays.

Last December I also gave up my part time consultancy work with the Western Australian Principals’ Association. Since then, I have thrown myself enthusiastically into retirement mode. Bob Hope once said he liked being retired because he woke up at nine o’clock in the morning and, after a full breakfast, it was time for his nap.

My life is not quite like that. There seems to be something for me to do on most days. Lesley and I like going to Morning Symphonies at the Concert Hall and Morning Melodies at His Majesty’s Theatre. We also like going to the movies and enjoying coffee or a meal at various eateries. Of course, we also keep quite busy meeting up with family and friends.

All of this is wonderful, however, I thought I needed to put some purpose back into my life. So, at the end of September, I bit the bullet and produced a four-page newsletter, in glorious colour, for our community complex. It has been well received, so I intend to produce a newsletter each month.

I call it TORCC, which is an acronym for The Ocean Reef Country Club. Oh, what an original thinker with a devilish, rapier like wit, am I?

Publication was not without problems. After compiling the newsletter, I started printing it and my old, very domestic printer, immediately had a nervous breakdown and began omitting whole lines of text.

In another burst of inspired genius (I am also very humble) I decided to take my newsletter to Office Works. I asked the girl at the desk how much it would cost to print in colour the four A4 sheets on both sides of two pieces of paper.

“I’ll just get you a quote,” she smiled and dashed to nearby computerised piece of technology and started punching in the numbers. Then, she looked up, beamed at me and said, “That’ll be $188.”

“No thanks,” I replied and beat a hasty retreat, clutching tightly the $20 I though it may have cost me.
I went to SNAP Print. They quoted $120. I immediately did one of my famed Elvis Presley impersonations and left the building.

I mean, printing this newsletter was to be a hobby. A self-prescribed therapy, designed to ward of incipient Alzheimer’s Disease. It was not supposed to send me into penury.

I called in to see my daughter, Sarah, whom I knew possessed a more sophisticated, much newer printer than my uncooperative and incompetent model.

It worked.

Sarah’s printer managed to print the four separate sheets on to two double sided ones. Lesley and I stapled them together and delivered them to the forty letterboxes in the complex, thereby bringing sunshine and happiness to the inmates.

My major concern was that residents who had large signs on their letter boxes saying, “No Junk Mail” or “Addressed Mail Only” would be ringing me up or banging on the front door to complain about the junk mail I was giving them. So far nobody has done that, which is encouraging.

Anyhow, now I have purchased a brand-new printer, so that I do not need to trouble Sarah any more (She said it was no trouble, but I like to be independent.)

I am just off now to take a picture of the Painting group in the Clubhouse. They meet every Thursday.
Then I am going to take a picture of a green rubbish bin and a yellow rubbish bin. These pictures will be part of my graphic news story in the October issue, informing people that there is an important reason for the different coloured bins. It has been my observation that many residents just put whatever rubbish they have into the first bin they come upon. All part of my scheme to help save our precious earth from toxic landfill and polluted water tables.

No doubt this story and win me the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Maybe, even the Nobel Prize for Peace, or even Science.

I must hurry away and start preparing my acceptance speech for the knighthood and Order of Australia that will surely follow.

Dear Reader, as you have just read, it seems the only real exercise I am getting in my retirement is jumping to conclusions and letting my imagination run away with itself. 

Maybe, it is time for my nap.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Royal Show Memories.

My earliest memories of the Royal Show were a mixture of merry-go-round rides, Chairaplane rides, dodgem cars, the Octopus, log chops, Professor Wilkinson doing tricks on a motorcycle, displays by mounted police on charging white horses, exhibitions of food and farm produce in the Centenary Pavilion, bustling crowds, strong animal smells, sample bags, hot dogs and fairy floss.

In those days  there were only three terms in the school year and the October Royal show fell outside the school holidays. The two big days of the Show were People’s Day on Wednesday and Children’s Day on Thursday. Wednesday was a public holiday and city schools were closed for both days. My parents used to take the family on People’s Day. I fondly remember the 1948 Show. It was about 10 months  after my family had moved from 164, Seventh Avenue Inglewood, to  number 8, Aberdeen Street. I was ten years old. My sisters, Valerie and Kathleen were aged 7 and 5 respectively.

My parents loaded the family into our blue Essex Tourer. Dad had folded back the canvas hood and the family set off from Aberdeen Street and into Beaufort Street towards the city, just like royalty riding down The Mall in an open carriage.

At that time, my older cousins, Maurie and Raymond Carr, who lived with us at Aberdeen Street, had two dogs, G.K. and Danny. G.K. was Maurie’s dog, a Scottish terrier he had named after G.K. Chesterton. Raymond’s dog, Danny, was a beautiful collie dog just like Lassie. Unfortunately, when Dad drove out of the side lane he did not close the gate. The family’s high-spirited departure had excited both dogs and G.K. and Danny soon set off after the Bourke family making their royal progress along Beaufort Street. 

Despite the dogs’ barking and yapping, my dad decided to keep on driving towards the Barrack Street Bridge. As he drove passed the Swan Barracks he waved his right hand and yelled at the barking dogs to go back. They took Dad's gestures as a sign of encouragement and continued bounding noisily alongside the open vehicle.

What had started out as a royal procession quickly degenerated into a scene out of Dad and Dave Come to Town.Dad drove his family in the open car and over the Barrack Street Bridge, escorted by the two barking dogs. Startled onlookers in the street looked at the passing parade, convinced that some rich squatter had arrived in town for the Royal Show with his family and farm dogs in tow. By the time the car reached Murray Street, the dogs had found other city distractions to occupy their attention and the Bourke family continued on to the Show without their canine escorts.


Every year, as soon as the family had entered the gates, Dad would pick out a landmark, such as the Ferris wheel or the main door of the Centenary Pavilion and say, “If you get lost go straight to the Ferris wheel and wait for your mother or me to come and get you. Do not go anywhere with anyone else.”

My mother was well aware of “Stranger Danger” long before the term became fashionable. She warned my two sisters and me to be particularly wary of ladies offering them lollies or any other inducements. She told us that quite often, evil men dressed up as women, just to trap little boys and girls. Filled with such foreboding we never wandered far from Mum and Dad. The other reason being of course that Mum and Dad had all the money that is so necessary to obtain the full enjoyment of Sideshow Alley.

When I was about twelve years old I started going to the Show on my own or with friends. I would save for several weeks, keeping my Show money under the carpet in my bedroom. Naturally, Dad would give me some extra spending money and my Aunty May was very good and always gave me a bonus in Show Week. Aunty May ran The Lucky Bunny lottery kiosk at 119 Barrack Street. She used to pay me five shillings a week to run the lottery ticket butts and the cash to the Lotteries Commission office in St Georges Terrace each day, after school.

My Uncle Ray would also give me a few shillings to spend at the show. I would take great delight in counting out my money, working out how many rides, sideshows, cool drinks, hot dogs and serves of fairy floss I could afford. 

On Show Day I used to arrive with what always seemed like plenty of money However, by late afternoon I would have only enough for my bus fare home, while still strongly desiring more rides, sideshows and food. In those days all cool drink bottles carried a deposit of tuppence. I would collect up as many empty bottles as I needed and cash them in to finance my next big showtime splurge. At least in those days the showbags, or sample bags as they were then called, were free.

Naturally, the main attraction for me at the Show was Sideshow Alley with its rides, dodgem cars, House of Horrors, Ghost Train, the Wheel of Death, Blum’s Boxing Troupe and various other sideshow tents. Two sideshows remained etched in my memory forever; one featuring Big Chief Little Wolf and another featuring the alluring fan dancer, Paulette.

Big Chief, Little Wolf was a Red Indian who became very popular in Australia after the war. He was a sensation at the big wrestling matches in Sydney and each year would tour the various Shows putting on exhibitions, demonstrating wrestling holds and talking about his colourful life. He always wore a huge Indian feather headdress and attracted big crowds wherever he went. On one earlier occasion, Dad took me to Reilly’s Hall in Inglewood to see Big Chief Little Wolf stage a boxing and wrestling exhibition against Paddy Boxall a well-known state champion boxer of the 1940s. Big Chief Little Wolf was a great entertainer and attracted huge crowds all over Australia.

Paulette was an exotic French lady who was, quite possibly, just an ordinary Australian girl from Bayswater named Beryl, making pin money at the Show. However, as Paulette, with her sexy French accent and exotic dancing, she had a lot of fans. Of course, her two biggest fans were the huge feathery blue ones she used so cleverly to keep her naked body covered as she danced around on the small stage inside the tent. She certainly aroused my interest in the female form and I spent a great deal of my hard earned pocket money visiting the creamy skinned Paulette, always in the hope that once – just once – she would drop one of those blasted fans. 

She never did.