All columns, you see. One thing, and possibly one of the only things I remember from 7th form Classics. That, and some of those Satyrs must've been pretty pleased with themselves in the Ron Jeremy department.
Anyway, a proper post after the weekend. In the meantime, if you're looking for some way to waste a few minutes until hometime, I thought I'd post a couple of my Herald on Sunday columns. They're not on the website see, and I know a lot of you don't read actual paper anymore...
This week in England, school children were encouraged to wear blue wristbands as part of the inaugural Anti Bullying Week. I couldn’t think of a quicker way to get a hiding if I tried.
And I’d know. This may come as a surprise, but as someone who did well academically, and yet spent the first few years of college barely five foot tall, I was on the receiving end of quite a few. And the bullies I met wouldn’t be put off by a blue wristband. They were vicious. Vicious and organised.
Shifting from town to town quite a bit growing up, I was always surprised how one group of bullies automatically knew where I fit into the social pecking order. Every time my father was transferred, I’d take it as an opportunity to reinvent myself. On my first day, I’d pull out the coolest thing I could possibly think to say to my new school chums, the thing that would set me free from yet another year of abuse.
“The name’s Damian. But they call me ‘Ice’. Because I’m cool. Like ice.”
The response was inevitably a winding fist to the gut. Time and time against they’d see through my brilliant subterfuge. Years later I concluded that while the school’s administration was sending on my records, somewhere in a bully’s bedroom, my nerd status was also being faxed forward.
Back then we had no Anti Bullying Week, no corporate-sponsored websites with support for victims of bullying. Parents weren’t much help either, relying on their rose-tinted recollections, where bullies gave you a horse bite and called you a whoopsy. “Bullies are just cowards,” they’d offer. Possibly, but when your bete noire is two feet taller than you and carries a knife, knowing they’re cursed with a yellow belly is cold comfort.
That to me is true bullying – sticks and stones. But despite all the focus on battling bullying over the past few years, the real message is being watered down. On the Telecom/NZ Police site nobully.org.nz, physical violence is eighth out of a list of nine ways kids might be bullied. Eighth. To me that sounds like an afterthought – “Well, we’ve got seven, we could stop here… unless anyone has any others?”
Further up the list are such travesties as “leaving people out of activities” and “not talking to them”. Frankly I’d have been glad if the bullies had just given me the silent treatment and left me out of their sadistic daily routine. Another site suggests sarcasm is a form of bullying. Congratulations, you’ve just incriminated every teenager, ever.
When we start fretting about kids being bullied via txt message, or being excluded from activities, I think we’re losing focus. I don’t know what the solution is, other than to say, take your kids’ concerns seriously. Today’s schools might not be the haven of psychopathic crack dealers talkback would have us believe, but nor are they all hopscotch and ha’penny treats. And if you’re reading this now, a school student suffering from bullying, I’ve got some advice bound to work against any bully. Tell them Ice sent you.
A Wolf in Arab's Clothing
A Wolf in Arab’s Clothing.
It was interesting to read this week of a survey that found terrorism was second on a list of Britons’ top fears. A thousand people were questioned by Universal Pictures – yes, inevitably in this day and age there was a movie tie-in – and it was discovered the only thing the Brits found scarier than being involved in a terrorist attack, was spiders.
I find this a little strange, to be honest. I’m no huge fan of the humble arachnid, don’t get me wrong, but surely being in the proximity of a semtex-clad fundamentalist when they hit the trigger would be scarier than any daddy long-legs. Even a really big one.
Needless to say, any survey like this is bound to produce fairly dubious results. Death itself came fifth, after snakes and heights. To really test the theory, you’d need to send those telemarketers out to respondents’ houses with a handgun and a jar of spiders. “Put your hand in the jar, or I’ll kill you.” If they capitulate and touch the spiders, you’ll know they actually feared death more. Methodologically more sound, sure, but good luck trying to convince Colmar Brunton.
How we rank our fears depends on how likely we perceive their realisation. Pre-September 11, the perceived risk of a terrorist attack in England, the US, or here at home was virtually nil. Spiders and snakes would have romped home in the polls. Post 9/11, post-Bali and it’s a worry, even if the chance of any particular individual being killed by terrorists is still minute.
What’s interesting, is how our fears can be manipulated all out of proportion. As a child growing up in New Zealand, my biggest fear – the thing that had me trembling under the blankets at night – was wolves. Not exactly endemic to these parts; in fact I don’t even think the Auckland Zoo had any. But in almost every bedtime story, there they were, blowing down houses, eating someone’s nana, or covering their paws with flour, to trick some unsuspecting goats. Devious, those wolves.
Yes, perceptive reader, there’s an analogy can be made here. The Little Golden Books of my youth have been replaced with media, and politicians. Their tales don’t have morals, and unfortunately, more often than not, they lack happy endings. But they’re more effective than any children’s story book when it comes to manipulating our fears. Whether it’s terrorist attacks, dogs attacks or boy racers holding illegal drags in your neighbourhood, there’s always something new you should be getting worked up about. Usually requiring shiny new legislation, stricter controls, larger fines and new taxes.
Now having an insight into the things that make us go Ahhhh!, there’s another group now beavering away to try and manipulate our fears in order to part us from our hard-earned dollars. Just look who funded the British survey. I for one can’t wait for Hollywood’s latest blockbuster, about a fiendish terrorist plot to cover an entire city in spiders and snakes, causing people to seek refuge by climbing unstable ladders. It’ll be a scream.
(c) APN Ltd, Reproduced with permission etc
Have a good weekend - I'm off diving at the Poor Knights again. Wish me luck.