The Learning Pit – an aid for homeschooling parents who are being driven to drink

Remote Learning during Lockdown is the pits – but that’s okay if they’re Learning Pits.

I thought I’d take pity on all those parents resorting to TikTok and YouTube to post parodies of their children working at home and who rant about reaching for the Valium to get through the school day with their own beloved offspring who have turned into spawn of the Remote Learning Apocalypse. So I am letting you in on a teaching secret: the Learning Pit. Understanding this simple model may assist you and your child with school tasks at home and let you in on (some) of the magic educators learn when they study pedagogy.

The Learning Pit is model of learning developed by James Nottingham.  https://www.bookdepository.com/Learning-Challenge-James-Nottingham/9781506376424

It is a feature of 21st century learning and teaching that students are required to grapple with the unknown; face the fear of ignorance and learn to overcome.

The Learning Pit is an immensely empowering concept.

And it applies not only to a concept at school, but to all problems needing solving, so it is a guided way to coping with the problems of life (like avoiding opening the wine before lunch while your child is working on parts of speech.)

Now more than ever, during Lockdown, when children are learning remotely, this is a way to focus your youngsters and assist them to be self-sufficient. Besides reading, teaching a child strategies to learn is one of the most effective ways to equip a developing mind for a lifetime of successful learning.

Nottingham’s model suggests that real learning what we call ‘deep learning’ only happens when something new is learned and that can be a scary experience (almost as scary for parents who are facing similar pits during their ‘homeschooling experiments’ during COVID-19 lockdown at the moment.)

The concept is simple: if a youngster encounters a new section of work (the learning pit) and he ‘gets it’ easily, he can leap across the chasm like an avatar with that faux loping stride leaping across gorges (unrealistically) in Fortnite and can hurry on to his next challenge. He hasn’t learned anything new yet though. FYI Bright leaners do this often through school and often battle later on because they haven’t learnt HOW to navigate learning challenges so it’s important to stimulate them all the time (extend them until they face something hard) to ensure they learn the skills. All too often I have seen rosy-cheeked Dux scholars in prep school turn into average achievers later on in high school because they never learned about the struggle that is the learning pit. But they make great collaborators and cheerleaders in peer teaching -see ‘Collaborate’ below – if they understand both the work and the process.

So how does it work?

I love this child’s depiction of the pit:

When our intrepid warriors arrive at a pit that looks too dangerous and fear and confusion sets in, it’s game-on.  I urge teachers to encourage our learners to leap into that pit with both feet, as soon as they recognize that they don’t understand something, we want them to feel a sense of adventure and excitement, as if they are going on a quest.  A key factor in 21st century education is also the demystifying of the learning process so we point out each phase of the learning pit a child is in so they can chart their progress.

  • ‘Having a go’

This diagram above illustrates the dangers at the bottom of the pit and challenges to be overcome like on an epic journey.  (like those moments when your drooping Petal whines ‘I can’t! I don’t know what to do? And you’re thinking the same only with a few Anglo-Saxon words in between). But they are encouraged to jump on in and ‘have a go’ like the valiant gladiators of old.

  • A Leap of Faith

Tell them: The work may be tricky but the first important question to ask yourself is: ‘How can I do this’ – that is almost the key to crossing the bottom of the monster-filled abyss. I remember a scene in The Last Crusade, Indiana Jones (oh so young Harrison Ford) takes a leap of faith into the unknown and finds that there was a way across the impassible ravine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-JIfjNnnMA

That first step shows the way, but the adventurer still has to climb up and out of the learning pit.

Notice that nothing new has yet been learned, but the student has already started to climb out of the pit, because attitude to learning is so important. This is why we believe in making learning fun. If a child is playing, he doesn’t realize that he’s already crossed the chasm and is climbing.

  • Try something else

As with all climbs, things can be quite steep and so a good pupil should know that there can be different ways of solving things: ‘What else can I try?’

Recent problem-solving by clothing manufacturers who were forced to shut their doors overnight and stop trading due to the lockdown, have re-designed and developed their sports masks into fashionable and effective alternatives for the COVID-exerciser. Instead of focusing on products they can’t sell they have focused their marketing and sales on these much-needed current products, and become essential services in the process. This kind of creative thinking is what keeps businesses afloat when times change, so when your child is struggling with a Mathematics problem, don’t show him the way you were taught – if you can even remember(!) and not at first anyway. Encourage him to try different ways because this is part of developing creativity, which stand him in good stead when his career faces a challenge.

A child must own the problem; WANT to solve it and struggle with it a bit. We all know what happened to Kodak, The Concorde, Blockbuster Video Stores and Blackberry. They would not/could not innovate. There is nothing wrong with using the fruit and veges to work out answers to basic arithmetic. Make problems relevant to real life so they have a connection. So if all you do is guide them to see a link to their own experience, you will have helped them focus on alternative ways of looking at things. Just don’t do it for them. (Walk away and mix teh margaritas for later.)

Innovation is a vital skill to learn and it’s the first step of that upward climb to problem solving so give your child lots spare paper or let her open lots of word docs and keep trying different things.

Vi Active Carbon Mask with filters for Cyclists and other sportswomen in the fight against COVID-19
  • Grit

Trying can be exhausting though and is not necessarily immediately rewarding. Learning warriors need courage and resilience and what we call grit to believe that they can. (like that little train we all remember from our youthful storybooks: ‘I think I can…’) There is a dawning hope, with each small success. Encourage her to push herself just a little bit harder, for just a little bit longer. Athletes understand this about training – the brain must also be trained to think. And sweat is involved.

Again I plead with parents not to give in and tell your child the answer. We see too many high school students these days whose parents have given them everything on a plate and they have never learnt the simple truth that success does not come without hours of (their own) hard work. They throw their hands up in despair, blame the teacher, the school, the government and everyone else because they simply don’t know how to keep at something. Things like re-writes, editing, touch ups, second drafts, conceptualization, planning are all part of keeping at it; they need to keep slogging away, and not accepting pedestrian prose or mediocrity. Cheer them on when they do.

10 000 hours at a task brings you professionalism in something. Sadly, too few students these days know how to keep at something for that long. It’s not their fault. Everything in their world is ‘insta’ – the ‘gram, their cappuccino, the news, and take-aways to their doors; binging on series has prevented us from yearning and imagining, and even gaming teaches devotees to use the cheats. Without sounding as old as my own children say I am, have to confess that I worry that we are growing a nation of quitters and lazy thinkers who want instant answers. There are loads of fun ways teachers encourage children to stick at something: competitions, promised rewards, clues and even a simple thing like timing them gives them an end in sight to strive for, so draw your child into the game of learning and keep them on track. (It will work for yourself too, especially if your choice of the fruit of the vine is the prize). Let them play music if that is their poison. (Earphones are a wonderful invention and protect us from said noise pollution).

Having said that, it is possible that you are experiencing a more genteel time at home with your family, (if you’re not exhausted from multi-tasking – running your home and empire AND Junior’s Work programme) and that can allow learners a chance to explore tangential interests and it’s consequently a great opportunity for them to go slightly off track and discover things they are really interested in. We all know this is when the real learning happens, so allow them a little intellectual bundu bashing. (They may develop an app in that time that will make them famous and you rich – more wine!)

  • Collaborate

Collaboration is one of the fundamentals of 21st century education and even during lockdown it can be achieved via Teams and WhatsApp calls. Our offspring are connected. They know how to crowd-source ideas. One of mine decided today a name change was in order for her next birthday so she threw a few ideas at her friends and bingo she had her new name. (and it wasn’t B-I-N-G-O … now there’s a blast-from-the-past kiddies tune!) So they know how to connect. It’s our job as educators and parents to guide them into using these skills to co-operate on learning tasks the same way they collaborate in their social lives. ‘Phone a friend’ is a good catch phrase to have in your classroom or on the fridge – and it’s not just a phone call – this applies to all those lifelines : teacher, google, friend, parent, asking for clues. Re-watch ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ and draw up your own set of lifelines to point them at when they get to this stage. ‘Read a book, search for other resources, make an appointment for a one-on-one with your teacher on Teams, You Tube videos’ – all of these are important. YouTube may well replace tecahers one day – you can learn anything on there. My eldest son watched something on ‘how to escape from a hijacking’ and it worked two weeks later when someone started shooting at a traffic light. You can learn a lot from the Tube, not least of which is how to research.)

By this time of the day, you may have your wine in hand and all you will have to do is wave your glass at the fridge to point out the ‘Phone a friend’ options.

I have always believed that a ‘lazy’ teacher is an effective educator if he is steering his students into self-discoveries and can be a profound influence on his charges. (I use the word ‘lazy’ hesitantly and for effect because I mean it in the sense that he doesn’t spoonfeed his pupils with dished up answers on the set platter of pretty notes and worksheets. In fact much time and forethought goes into planning a lesson that requires the children to do – to struggle, engage, chew on the pencil (not the stylus please though), scratch heads, stare into the vistas of space, doodle, cross out and keep trying. That is facilitating discovery. That is teaching). 

Collaboration through peer-learning is important to facillitate – it empowers both teacher and learner and encourages empathy and altruism, qualities that are in rather short supply. Suggest siblings help each other, while you finish your own work (or wine).

  • Self-confidence

You have almost summited the mountain if you reach the point that a child is thinking ‘I am getting there.’ This is that heady moment when a learner picks up the pace, and feels the adrenalin of final summitting the Everest of his subject. This is self-belief and is so vital for self-esteem. This is where the teacher/parent is the cheerleader, the folks back home waving the flag of support. So, don’t rob them of this high by giving them the answer because next time they will expect you to do it again. This is when you tell them they are fabulous and you knew they could do it; when you paste their artwork on the fridge/wall outside to motivate passers-by like my neighbor did with her daughter.

  • Success

Give them that buzz of accomplishment and let them own the ‘Eureka moment.’ Because next time they will jump into the pit more eagerly because they know they can do it and they will need you less and less and eventually, if you are very lucky, and lockdown ends, they’ll leave home, buy you a wine farm and support you in your old age… because you taught them to solve problems on their own. School is a place and time to prepare you for life and let’s face it life is hard!

You will have taught them to think.

And you gave them an even greater gift: confidence to do it all again.

So that is the secret from the oracle today:

When it all gets too much for you, tell them to go and jump into the pit…. and resist the urge to bury them in there. If you’ve done your job right, they’ll find a way to dig themselves out anyway!

8 Things I am missing during lockdown

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How many times have I wished for time off where I could stay at home and sleep! Despite not sleeping too much during lockdown due to my permanent state of angst, not uncommon I believe, there are a few things that would have made it bearable:

  1. Books

I am a touch-it-turn-it kinda reading gal. The libraries closed for lockdown too quickly for me to stock up, even though the seven books they allow you would have been finished in the first week anyway. And of course I couldn’t have used Shannon and Michael’s cards as usual because there are fines on them (again). Yes, the shame! I don’t learn. And it’s not that I don’t read fast enough; I just don’t get around to returning them, despite ‘holiday’ stamps and amnesties.

I love the comfort of holding a book, and being able to page back to check on facts or reread lyrical passages. And since I could never afford to buy all the books I read, the library is my place. Mind you, some of them do reek of old ladies’ cigarettes and there a few unidentifiable (thank goodness) food stains on them from time to time. But then to be honest, I have probably been guilty of dropping a teeny bit of avo from my pizza onto an Elizabeth George novel on occasion.

Once I had finished Shakespeare by Bill Bryson (enjoyable, even though he pooh- poohed the idea that it was actually Marlowe who wrote all the great works, or the sonnets at least) and Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (gripping with a powerful anti-colonial, anti-war message, and part of my ongoing love affair with modern African literature), I had nothing. Unless I wanted to lose myself in The Maestro’s tomes on Liszt (I didn’t), I had to do as my girls had insisted and try online.

Well. That’s been a disaster. First of all, our wifi is about as inconsistent as an adolescent love affair and the adverts… really they could make a maiden blush! I have started two books both by Harlan Coben, another favourite of mine, but I keep losing internet, which freezes the narrative at a critical moment; then the page refreshes to forty pages before where I actually am, and I have to wade back through it all so much that I need to splint my wrist from all the swiping. And I do not need to be looking at penile extensions more than once a day thank you (who does that to themselves anyway?!).

The girls say I am using the wrong sites. Andrew says he’ll pay for me to download better versions, but honestly, I baulk at paying for books.

2. Sunday Lunch

Sunday lunch is a tradition in our home even more important than Friday pizzas. Now don’t be mistaken we’re not being starved of our sabbath prandials (far from it – the fair Caitlin, our resident Masterchef, has stuffed us like willing Christmas turkeys with so many delectable vittles that the family scale has signed a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ form.) But Sunday lunch at our house usually involves all the special people in our family who don’t live in the Mad House with us, arriving in a cacophony of hellos and hugs and we all catch up.

It’s when the children’s other mother, my sister Brigid, debates with The Maestro about which news channel in the US is more biased, whether capitalism is better than communism (every Sunday); she admonishes the young people about the dangers of jumping stop streets, walking alone, locking doors, and taking Sandown Road late at night. She warns Liam that Nellie is not getting enough exercise and that I work too hard. I miss her nagging love. And she always brings those scrumptious tiny Doughnuts from Woolworths.

It’s when Michael and Gabby, and Lizzy and Dylan sail in when they can and the love gets louder. Sometimes we Facetime Sean and Jordan and before he left fot the UK, Mika’s dry humour also graced our table occasionally, especially if there was lamb.

I miss my other family. My people. I miss the noise. (Ok not the noise – there’s still plenty of that.)

3. Cappuccino, Hot Chocolate and Haircuts

Okay so I might as well get my middle-class entitlement out of the way, but I really do miss popping into The Mugg for a cup of chatting and only News Café can make Hot Chocolate that special way – they use cream of course. And Aruna the Lion Mane-Tamer is much missed.

4. Zara

While smokers and drinkers are venting about draconian shopping rules, spare a thought for the other addicts – the shopaholics among us. I know we can shop for clothes now, but you can’t try on in most places and what’s a girl to do if she’s not sure?!

Also, I bought two darling little suits before lockdown and now I feel like a jilted bride with nowhere to wear them. Never mind the fact that I probably can’t fit into them anymore (thanks to the fair Caitlin’s culinary excellence) and will stumble around like a nerd on a first date in my high heels.

I miss dressing up.

I know I’m shallow.

But not entirely:

5. Live Mass

I miss going to mass and being physically present to worship with my community. The online thing just doesn’t do it for me. It’s like watching a film and playing church-church when we were little. I hope I don’t sound blasphemous, by saying that, but I want to be in God’s house with my family of believers.

It’s tough being on time for church now because Fr Carlo can’t see you race to your laptop to join in (or not) and the guilt of being late for mass is greatly reduced. As any good Catholic can testify to, we are a guilt-driven bunch. It also doesn’t seem quite right to be in your pyjamas in front of the Lord. (I know I know, God doesn’t mind, but still it feels unseemly). And the temptation to boil the kettle for a cuppa during the sermon quickly is quite strong…

6. Choice

I’m not crazy about exercising, as my pristine gym outfits, shiny white cross trainers and the exercise bike, formerly-known-as-the-clothes-horse can attest to, but I do like to go for a stroll on the weekends. Mostly if I walk at all though (when it is an azure, wind-free day that Cape Town is renowned for)  I amble along the beachfront path anyway: I avoid walking on the beach itself. But being told I am not allowed to put my tootsies in the icy water of Table Bay, makes the thought of being on the beach all the more alluring.

It’s the forbidden fruit syndrome I suppose.

I like being able to just pop into the shop quickly on my way home. Now I have to be home by a certain time, and the shops are closed after a particular hour. I miss the whole concept of flexi.

Normally I’d love to be told I have to work from home. Now I am bristling at not being able to go into school. I want the choice.

Mind you I am such a goodie-two-shoes I would never dream of disobeying the law. I’m blaming it on my convent upbringing combined with my rebellious Celtish forebears for making me so conflicted. I hope their inherited genes are just as warlike in antibody production when it counts.

7. Guilt-free Rest

We’ve essentially been working every day since lockdown and have missed out on the April school holidays in the race to ready schools to morph into online institutions overnight. Don’t get me wrong, there has been some down time (especially because I haven’t had frequent interruptions – you know those – ‘Have you just got a sec?’ inserts that tend to catch you mid-email or profound thought, and result in multiple open Windows in your brain crashing into early onset dementia, never mind the software ones which make your laptop slower than morning traffic on the N1 (pre-lockdown of course).) But I cannot seem to shake this permanent state of anxiety. I think it’s guilt (blame the Catholic in me again) that I should be in my office, or with my children, or working harder, or watching a ministerial update, or doing something I’ve forgotten… like going to work.

8. Hugs

Much has been written about how hard it is for affectionate people to social-distance. How we are going to avoid dishing out such love to our school children is going to be a real challenge. But it is really hard, even for us. I touched a colleague’s arm in thanks today and felt as if I’d committed attempted murder. (I had just sanitized my hands, but the guilt was huge.) And to avoid natural gestures for a tactile person is tough.  

I suppose we’ll get used to social distancing. I mean we do that don’t-come-in-my-space dance in the shop with strangers, but it is more difficult with those we love and haven’t seen for a while.

I also noticed a weird (in a good way) phenomenon on the road driving home today: cars are keeping better following distances – it’s as if we have grown accustomed to keeping an eye on the spaces between us in queues and we have extrapolated that into traffic. Long may that last!

But I miss a good hug though.

All this missing things shows that I’d have made a terrible citizen in wartime, and I have to remind myself that eventually we shall have all these things again. This is a war though and we simply MUST. So others CAN. Altruism may be in short supply, but now is the time that those of us who are leaders should be modelling it.

There is something unique to humans, even those of us who may be champing at the bit: we can and do adapt to change. And remarkably quickly too. (The Maestro did the washing today so evolution is real). Darwin would be proud of us.

The rest is just weather. It too shall pass.

The Masquerade – Subtitled: The unmasking of beauty masks during Lockdown

Tonight I decided I needed to work on ‘my fabulous.’

Since #masks is trending, I used a beauty mask gifted to me by the lovely Gabriella for Christmas 2019, which I have been meaning to use one evening ever since. It was touted as a ‘de-stressing mud mask for a revived healthy-looking complexion.’

This is what I thought I looked like:

This is what I actually looked like:

Not my best look!

Now my devilish clever plan had been to apply the mask, then wait out the 10-15 minutes finishing off my emails. But I really didn’t think it through properly. It’s all very well playing spa girl, massaging in the green mud (a delightfully creamy substance), being careful to avoid the eyes, admiring my peppermint complexion, and frightening my family, (Okay they actually just laughed, and The Maestro merely glanced at me, and  commented drily, ‘Now really! Was ist hier los?’ The Mad Lab thumped her tail patronizingly at my vain attempts at vanity. Thank God the Cat was outside hunting pigeons (her only use) because I didn’t need her sneering derision as well.) But when I got to my laptop, I realised that neither Spa Girl nor Jim Carrey need glasses to see. And I couldn’t put my specs on while the mask was still wet.

The Mask: 1; Aging Matron: 0

Undeterred, I used the time to send photographs of myself to the family WhatsApp group to see whether I could at least frighten my sister and my sons who have left home (and I wonder why!). This is what I got back:

The Mask: 2; Failed Scary Monster Mom: 0

As the substance dried and tightened on my visage, leaving me looking like a chalky green clown, with huge lips, I realized a second thing made impossible by this so-called ‘de-stressing’ (more like ‘distressing’) concoction: you’re not supposed to speak with a mask on. For FIFTEEN minutes! Now, anyone who knows me, knows how difficult that is – well-nigh impossible. I did survive of course, albeit peering myopically at my screen while using my ventriloquist skills to mutter at whoever was listening (no one, as usual.)

Sadly, I looked no different after removal of the ogre-gunk. I was expecting more of a facelift – I mean, doesn’t ‘de-stressing’ imply uplifting something? But not even my spirits were lifted and I remain the same old witch as usual. So much for fabulous!

My only consolation is the third thing I realized:

Even though I wanted to look Vogue-cover vibrant, it doesn’t matter because even if I did, in Lockdown:

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No one could see! Saved by the COVID mask, a covert way to hide one’s blemishes! And the irony? The only part visible above this mask?..my eyes, which were never part of my beauty treatment at all!

Perhaps I should be working on my inner-beauty instead – sadly there is no ‘de-stressing mud mask’ for that!

“There is a face beneath this mask, but it isn’t me. I’m no more that face than I am the muscles beneath it, or the bones beneath that.”
― Steve Moore, V for Vendetta

8 Signs we’re Living through a (COVID)War

A picture coronavirus covid 19 as an army with Vector Image
It’s a war out there. Venturing forth from lockdown today felt like creeping out of my foxhole or trench to sally forth to do battle with the enemy army, a covert (get it?) force of invisible soldiers. Not that I have the faintest idea what it feels like to be an infantryperson on the front line of a battle, and the only thing I know about foxholes is ‘foxy’ ladies’ in jodhpurs chasing wee creatures to death. The closest I have ever been to death itself was when someone tried to strangle me once (No doubt others have wished they could do me in, but someone actually tried once. I’m still here, however, so guess who won that fight?!… but that can remain a story for another day.) Then there was the chemotherapy…but that was more like imagining death as an option because chemo was so agonizingly unpleasant… again a tale for another fireside though. But the elements of a movie about twenty-first century urban conflict are all there in this death-dance with a coronavirus:
  1. The Enemy
For the first time in centuries the world war is one in which all countries share an enemy. And the virus has no alliances. It is an axis of evil all on its own, unless you consider Diabetes, Hypertension and Asthma its allies. There’s no shortage of finger-pointing at possible partners in crime, mind you, with Trump vacillating between blaming China, The WHO, the Democrats and the media for being in league with the virus. 2. War Correspondents/ Propagandists (and it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference) As with any modern war, events unfold live on TV. So, you have your obligatory war correspondents: those talking heads on TV who spout commentary all day and night are worse than googling your symptoms for frightening the bejesus out of you. It’s only when they interview the likes of Professor Salim Abdool Karim that I realise we shall be all right with him at the helm of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19. (Prof K has been voted the sexiest COVID-19 scientist by some ladies in the deep South – well they put it a little cruder, but still, not only is he a measured and eminently lucid academic, he is rather cute in a grandfatherly way.) From someone who watched the first Gulf War unfold on TV (That was when I was going through my chemo) as well as living through 9-11 and its aftermath in the US, I find these reporters often spread panic far more than information. They have to fill a 24-hour news cycle and so much of what they do is speculate…and confuse. Choose wisely who you watch. Avoid almost all politicians. They are conflicted between the health and economic crisis, and their own next election. And yes, I know I sound a little Trumpian in my criticism of the media, but choose carefully which ones you take your truth from. Remember ‘Pravda’ means ‘truth.’ Remember Squealer in Animal Farm and choose the views that do not defend or glorify politicians. In fact, the press plays a massively important watchdog role in a war. They are the ones who warn of excesses by authoritarian forces and remind us that emergency measures should not become the norm in surveillance and curtailing of freedoms and abuse of power. Study who owns media houses to see whose interests are being served. 3. Collaborators These are different from political allies. They are ordinary folk and in the COVID War they are ordinary citizens who just Won’t. Stay. At. Home during lockdown. You know the ones who don’t wear a mask because they ‘can’t breathe nicely’ with it on or aver they are ’not scared to get this virus, because they are young/healthy’…. (insert other obnoxious, entitled utterings). These are the ones who defy the regulations and who in two weeks will either be ill or have passed on the virus to some poor cashier at the supermarket or their elderly parents. We won’t mention Nkosazani Dlamini-Zuma’s dodgy dealings with illicit tobacco kingpin Adriano Mazotti because the ANCasked us not to pick on the ministers. But, ja… There will always be those who profiteer in a war. 4. Spies Any conflict involves a complex network of spies on both sides, scurrying around gathering information and exposing the underbelly on both the human and alien invader side. And they are spending lockdown with binocs surveilling their neighbourhoods for humans out after curfew and joggers nipping over the dunes for a quick paddle in the sea, posting their pics on Facebook Neighbourhood sites like ‘Wanted’ posters, shaming the offenders and turning in the collaborators. The important spies in this fight are the scientists and doctors who are devoting their waking hours to finding a vaccine and uncovering how this little bugger works. Move over James Bond and Jason Bourne -these are the spies we really need. The enemy spies and reconnaissance guerillas are unseen, jumping easily from one coughing cyclist to the next one in his unprotected slipstream. They live among us, invisible until we touch our eyes or scratch our mouths. Like Mata Hari, they lurk on our lovers’ lips and in their hair, but they are scarier and more prolific than the Army of the Dead in GOT, because they are unseen and unstoppable. 5. Conscripts As so many times throughout history the easiest cannon fodder have been the drafted serfs who are forced into a war not of their making to serve on the frontline and take the brunt of the distant generals’ and nobles’ wars. Spare a thought for the poor who didn’t bring the virus here (they can’t afford to fly) but will ultimately pay the price of the virus just as they have with HIV. Think of them in your safe, air-conditioned car on your way to your salaried job, while they commute in crowded public transporters (Oh, come on taxis are definitely going to try to defy the regs!) and return to their tiny homes to take the advance guard of corona to their elderly parents and tuberculoid roommates. 6. Foot Soldiers Then there are the foot soldiers, you and me who ‘also serve who only stand and wait’ in lockdown and the advance guard in the hospitals, petrol stations, shops, police stations and clerks in government offices; teachers in their nests; farmers in their fields; truckers on the road. Don’t forget security guards and sanitizing company works who can be seen spraying down offices like the nuclear scientists of science fiction movies, in their Hazmat suits. I really hope all the essential workers will finally be rewarded financially for being the cannon fodder of this disease. When this is over and people no longer clap at eight o’clock, please vote for salary increases for them. Like soldiers in combat, many will not receive medals and state funerals. And they are dying for us, folk. Doctors and nurses are bearing the brunt of enemy fire: by mid-April, 17 000 Italian doctors and nurses were infected with 159 medical personnel being among the dead. And that’s just Italy. Sadly, they seem to be operating like the field hospital in M*A*S*H, using their wits and making do sans proper PPE. 7. Weapons When we go out in our masks we circle other people warily like combatants in a fencing match or Star Wars Jedi knights, facing down our nemesis on a narrow ledge, our hoodies our cowls, and hand sanitizer our lightsabers. Please don’t believe Mr Trump that Lysol injections are the way to go if you’re scratching around for an adequate weapon (that one is firing blanks, my friend), or the Madagascans peddling untested plant-remedies like Thabo Mbeki on steroids. Please don’t fall prey to the anti-vaxxers refusing to contemplate a vaccine cure in the future. How do they think we got rid of smallpox, for goodness sake! You don’t need a ray gun. Just wash your hands! 8. Body Armour
Corona Virus Coronavirus - Free image on Pixabay
A word on masks: there is an entire universe of sub-cultures evident in how we are wearing masks: from the disposable medical ones; to the pretty, lacy, hand-made ones or the crudely sewn efforts of the needlework-challenged. Then there are the wannabe bandits with their bandanas tied cowboy-style across their faces like train robbers.. Trendy people don a variety of snoods and infinity scarves in multiple colourful shades and fabrics from surfer cool to cyclist flashy. The ‘boets’ of course stride through the shop in their artisan masks for chemical spraying with all sorts of filters and respirators. My favourites so far have been the old lady I spotted at the pharmacy in her ingenious McGyver-inspired mmmshield fashioned from staples and one of those plastic envelopes you put in office files, and the man who went shopping with his tiny boys armoured up as a miniature stormtrooper and some masked Marvel creature that was scarier than Joan Rivers sans make-up (Okay that is a bit mean, but if she can dish it, she should take it too).
We cannot fight on the beaches (well, not in Lockdown Level 4), but we shall fight on the school grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. With apologies to Winston Churchill

A picture paints a thousand words

Picasso’s Madonna, 1909

I like Picasso. His paintings anyway – he himself was rather a womanizing SOB.

Despite having two particularly arty children, I can’t say I know much about cubism. But I like the angular, sharp edges of the style. I like the seemingly jumbled aspects of the same object because I think that is often how ambivalent we feel about life.

My life is a cubist painting. Especially at the moment with lockdown and its attendant multi-facetted emotional experience.  The jagged, glass-like slivers of reality fit together, not always neatly juxtaposed or aligned, but often in a higgledy piggledy fashion in a collage that sometimes piles elements on top of each other.

How do we make sense of it all?

I find my competing responsibilities working overtime in a stressful, shifting montage, even more demanding than usual and I am sure others must be feeling this way too.

As a head of a school, I am returning to my school tomorrow to receive our supplies of PPE for staff and to assess our readiness for re-opening and oversee the disinfecting and deep cleaning of all the buildings. It’s a daunting responsibility and I feel it keenly – the health and safety of so many beloved souls that I am accountable for. Me.

I must juggle this with responding to our parents’ real fears and concerns and financial predicaments, as well as a staff of gallant educators who are in danger of burning out as they live remote teaching and learning well into the evenings, having not really had a holiday in April. What heroes they have been in this time, some bewildered at first, but changing tack mid-curriculum to reinvent themselves as online interlocuters, while juggling their own unique family circumstances.

My Picasso painting has overlapping shards for each of children and my worries and guilt over whether I have done (am doing) enough for each to support them. Or have I hovered awfully?

How will poor Liam negotiate this matric year: is he getting enough sleep; doing enough schoolwork; being careful when he walks Nellie each morning now that we can exercise a bit? I have random thoughts like how many razors will he need to de-fuzz for school and should I buy extra hair elastics, because those lovely locks of his will need to be tied back in (gasp) a man bun, until barbers re-open. What is he thinking?

Just how soul-destroying is Mika’s telesales job in the UK?! He left on his gap-year adventure so full of hope and enthusiasm for his opportunity to remake himself and now stuck in digs outside London, I hope his satirical YouTube channel is taking off. Will we see him soon? When? I hope he’s eating and is not living an emaciated, Withnail and I sort of existence.

Is Shannon reading too many romantic gothic-fantasy novels and how will she accomplish Year 2 of a Fine Arts degree from her bed, where she reclines like a Greek goddess? She’s definitely not getting enough exercise but considering she received more than her fair share of the clumsy genes, perhaps that’s a good thing. She appears to be able to roll out essays easily enough (although rather vocally).

Lizzy’s moved homes from boyfriend’s family to her mom. I hope she’ll be able to study there. At least she’ll be in familiar surroundings. I miss her too. I wish she’d come here.

Michael is the earthling most suitable to lockdown since his business is online, but without football matches happening it must be hard to weave new stories and articles, even with the transfer window looming. I hope his advertising contracts don’t disappear.  He has cleverly taken this time to get his other sites up and running though and is hiring new writers so he should be fine. And since I can’t see whether he and his flatmate are washing dishes, and using clean towels, I don’t have to worry about him. (Even though his emotional state is low because Uber Eats is not delivering to his complex!)

How can I keep up with Caitlin’s cooking sprees and reduce the size of my waistline in time for Sean’s wedding in the spring? I mean, malva pudding and custard is a scrumptious dessert and if I don’t have anything else for supper, it should be okay…shouldn’t it?

And, of course, I’m wondering whether the airlines will be operating and whether we’ll be able to travel by September for Sean and the lovely Jordan’s nuptials. No way can I miss that! How we’ll get there and where we’ll stay are still unknowns.

To be truthful there’s a little cube in my artwork that is rather sad to be ending this forced stay at home. It’s been pleasant to work around the maestro again and hear his genius at work, and I am not a little apprehensive to be venturing forth into the new way of doing things, given that as an aging matron, I suffer from hypertension and so am at risk from this virus.

But I shall be donning my mask both literally and metaphorically and pretending I am a surgeon sailing into an operating theatre, like the best of Greys’ Anatomy prima donnas. I do have a wrinkly face more suited to radio (especially since Woolworths is not selling foundation make-up yet – surely face putty is an essential item?!) so a mask is not a bad idea. I’ll have to take my tea intravenously or via a straw (Don’t tell Caitlin about the straw).

Picasso’s Madonna looks a little like my quizzical self and it looks as though she too is having trouble keeping her mask on. But that sideways sliver of her face reminds me that every now and again, I intend to move my mask away and breathe in great gulps of fresh air.  

And smile. Even if they can only see my eyes.

We only ever see a fragment of other people anyway.

More altruism, less covidiocy, please!

Altruism – that’s what the coronavirus crisis requires of the human race.

But we just don’t seem able to do that:

Seapoint Promenade 1 May 2020 – Day 1 of Level 4 Lockdown

Not anywhere in Cape Town:

Table View Beachfront, 1 May 2020

We can get into complicated debates about the rise of the individual in society and how this has actually been good for altruism. But I am unconvinced by their conclusions.

Modern studies indicate that altruism increases as individualism rises in society. I’m not seeing it. I’m seeing toilet paper wars (reminiscent of the bottled water wars during the drought); disregarding of regulations on the wearing of masks in public; abuse of exercising regulations – I mean, what part of ‘don’t walk on the beach’ do the ‘joggers’ who nipped over the dunes yesterday not get?!  

Then there is the bootlegging and illegal cigarette sales, and profiteering in general at a time when we should all be pulling together – well up to a distance of 1.5m apart of course.

As far as the smoking debate goes, don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for Nkosazan Dlamini-Zuma’s draconian anti-smoking laws back the late 1990s. I gave up the tobacco weed over 20 years ago thanks to her, but both she and JuJu currently have problematic relationships with Adriano Mazzotti, a corrupt cigarette manufacturer, too much so to be advocating against legal tobacco sales. Follow the money: who is making a killing during times when the sale of tobacco is banned? We know Mazzotti helped the former Mrs Zuma in her unsuccessful (thank all that is holy) bid to be president of the ANC. Julius Malema lives in a house owned by Mazzotti. Make your own conclusions…

 I am of course more than happy not to have my air polluted by the foul odour of fags, (Those who knew me in my youth are crying ‘hypocrite!’ right about now, quite rightly I suppose) but I must protest smokers’ right to ruin their lungs beneath the yellowed ceilings of their own homes if they choose to. I don’t buy the argument that smoking is assisting the contagion. While it may contribute to smokers’ comorbidity, it’s not affecting non-smokers’ contracting the virus. But someone is getting rich on the clandestine market off the gasps of millions of smokers as they attempt to avoid forced cold turkey withdrawal by shopping on the shadow economy.

I don’t think the ban is to save lives. Although the fact that the body begins to recover immediately from the damage caused by smoking when you stop may make the act of giving up now a pro-humanity choice, because ex-smokers will perhaps less need of medical equipment than those still in the grip of the devil’s leaves. Such a choice will require self-sacrifice for the good of others though.

If only we could get the exercise fanatics to ‘withdraw’ from their obsessive need to practise their ‘right’ to flock to the promenades like greedy seagulls on a sandwich…

The paradox of being united in our fight against this disease means we should be distancing ourselves from each other.  We have to counter our natural desire to be with others in order for those others to live. I think it’s that denial of self that is in short supply these days and unfortunately, that’s the real measure of generosity –  not how much you give to charity, which is what many of the psychosocial studies use as a measurement of altruism.  (And let me tell you, if the empty donation-to-the-poor trolleys at Pick ‘n Pay are anything to go by, we are not doing too well on giving from our surplus either)

Real altruism requires self-sacrifice, a denial of self for the benefit of others, and a relinquishment of self-interest.

And that is what’s absent in this century generally. Take the recent drought in Cape Town: it was only when it became obvious that we might actually run out of water that Capetonians curtailed their showers and preserved water in buckets, actually driving around proudly in dirty cars. And still there were those who simply did not care and merrily wasted water and hosed down their pavements while illegally filling their pools – because their self-interest was more important than the general need to conserve! (There is also no cure for that kind of suicidal selfishness.)

Those profligate water wasters may well have engaged in philanthropic acts at the same time – giving to beggars or even buying a 5-litre bottle of water for someone who worked for them, but that doesn’t make them altruistic because they didn’t go without to execute their generosity.

The I’m-all-right-to-hell-with-you thinking is what makes taxi drivers so infuriating. Why wait in that long snaking queue down Sandown Road, like the other law-abiding citizens when you can endanger them all (and your frightened passengers) by flying hell for leather down the wrong side of the road – and then have the cheek to require someone further down to let you in, to avoid a head-on collision?! I am sure many of these transport drivers are kindly uncles in their own homes, but altruistic they are not. Their reckless driving is self-serving. No doubt this kind of thinking will prevail when our daring exercising droves end up in hospital and push in front of innocents in the queue for breathing aids.

It’s hard to stay at home. But that sacrifice is needed now to save other humans. I wished this afternoon that I could have shouted out my window ‘Selfish covidiots! Stay at home!’ at the three rotund suburban moms, no mask, shopping bag (or lycra) in sight, as they strolled past my house, flouting the no-exercise-after-9am ban. It’s that rules-don’t-apply-to-me egomania that has me grinding my teeth in fury. (Convent girls, taught in French class about Joseph Joubert’s belief that ‘la politesse est la fleur de l’humanité’ are not raised to yell ‘Hugo, bel die polisie,’like a fishwife out of the window.) But I wanted to. And they knew it when they saw me glaring at them like a nosy neighbour with a twitchy curtain. And they laughed.

There will be no laughing when they are lying alone in a hospital with a tube down their throat, but I think this kind of selfish lacks imagination too (and there’s definitely no cure for stupid!) Yet they are not just dancing with their own deaths, they are risking our lives too. Why can’t they just stay at home so someone else doesn’t have to die alone on a ventilator, if we even have enough by then.

I mean do they think they have fairy magic (ok wrong image – they were not very sylph-like); have they drunk a potion to make them immune to the virus; do they think because they can’t see it, it can’t see them, like some children’s game? Or do they just not care – not even about each other. There are well over a hundred positive cases of COVID-19 in this area according to my sister who stays on top of such stats. We are all at risk.

I know that my anecdotal evidence is hardly learned research, but I can attest to a change in new-millennium thinking. I started teaching in the middle of the state of emergency in the late eighties. When we studied war poetry then and even in the nineties when we could finally contemplate struggle poetry as a genre, there were many things that students said were ‘sweet and fitting’ to give their lives for, and many declared they would die for their country. Fast forward to the first two decades of this century and that same question, ‘Who or what would you die for?’ is met with blank stares or blunt answers like, ‘I’m not prepared to die for anyone (okay maybe my family)’ but they never say they would put their lives on the line for a cause like freedom anymore. The Why-should-I’s have it over the What-can-I-sacrifices. ‘Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for country’ carries no weight and Martin Niemöller’s ‘First they came for the Communists…’ confession falls often on deaf ears.

The lack of imagination and empathy in society can be addressed by encouraging reading or even film, and by teaching ethics and developing an ethos of generosity of spirit, but if we are to survive this and future pandemics, we need to embrace the what-I-do-today-affects-your-tomorrow kind of thinking as a matter of urgency.

As a family we recycle religiously, and what we can’t recycle we shove into coke bottles to make ecobricks (It drives me insane to see the damn things taking up space on the counter, but I understand that it is important.) We pop our vegetable waste into the compost, so that our refuse is minimal. (Thank you, Caitlin, once nicknamed Garbage Girl, for making us do that!) In that way, we are doing our bit to limit an environmental catastrophe. But… I have recently discovered that my shopping addiction is damaging the world’s resources. Can I go without my Zara shop to protect the environment?…  You see it’s more difficult when it involves our giving up something we love. I was horrified to read this article: https://www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10?IR=T

I’m going to have to make some changes.

Global warming and pollution have not gone away for good just because we are at home. Will we be this committed to environmental issues after COVID-19 is brought under control? Will governments throw the same amount of energy and money at environmental controls for companies so that the window of hope opened up by the reduction of toxic fumes during lockdown will be continued and further reduced?

When will the globe see nature as an emergency and respond accordingly? Don’t look to Trump’s North America for an answer:https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-46351940

South Africa’s government is taking global warming more seriously, in theory at least, but is thankfully working with scientists to find solutions. But we have so much poverty eradication to address and this naturally (pardon the pun) comes first. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/wcc.295.

We can only hope that governments will take a long, hard look at themselves and make the necessary sacrifices to ensure our grandchildren will have clean air and water to breathe and drink.

But first things first: can the covidiots at least wear a mask when grabbing their Macmuffins from the Uber Eats delivery person?! Otherwise it won’t matter how many pristine rain forests there are on the planet – we’ll all be dead.

Here endeth the rant.

As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul. — A Jewish Proverb

Soap and laughter – that’s how we beat this virus!

Clip Art Jpg Transparent Huge - Cartoon Children Laughing , Free ...

I want to laugh. I want to be amused. I want to be entertained, amused, delighted, distracted and diverted… so I can escape the oppressive weight of lockdown problems.

I have a good book to read – Bill Bryson’s eminently readable Shakespeare, but yesterday I really wanted live actors. Last night  I made a quick circuit of the house to see whether there were any talented comics willing to be my fool, but they’re all just boring in the evenings. Liam’s light was out already; Andrew was running an airport; Caitlin was re-watching Grey’s Anatomy, and Shannon just played possum when I entered her room – I think she tought I was calling her to do dishes! Even the Mad Lab had lost the will to play, listlessly stirring her tail as I passed. I dared not go near the Cat. All just boring, boring.

So I fell asleep to Joan Rivers’ stand up. I mean I was that desperate for comedy that was not about lockdown. The sad thing is that all my usual comedy shows are not really running now. I mean QI has just stopped and Graham Norton without his couch is like Elton John without glitter. Trevor Noah is funny, but all about the US so…lockdown.

What is a girl to do?

“I’ve tidied my cupboards already, given myself a foot spa, re-done my nails, called my sister for all the minutes left on my airtime, and I have even hefted my weight atop my exercise bike, formally known as The Clothes Rack, for some daily cardio. But not even the foot spa evoked the slightest giggle or sigh of contentment.

Why am I so desperate for comedy? Well laughing at humour whether it’s dark and twisted, witty or gutter makes us feel better about the problems of life which it is poking fun at. In a perfect world there’d be no jokes, because we’d have no difficulties to make light of.

But I’m sick of lockdown – nothing’s funny anymore about being stuck in a nice enough house with a bunch of clever people who aren’t bored in the evenings and have no desire to cheer me up.

And then I watched the Education Minister’s address. And as her dulcet voice slipped seamlessly into her mother tongues from English, the auto-subtitles, clearly not South African programmed, ran amok, throwing in any and all most recent words in the global English lexicon in a hilarious potpourri of vocabulary, trying to transcribe her Setswana and isiZulu as English words. This linguistic muddle, while it may have been annoying for those who couldn’t understand the audio, proved a salutary lesson to all those who pooh- pooh folk who are not fluent in English. Now they know how it feels for learners who are second or third language speakers of English. Serious technology  fail though! It may not have been amusing, but irony is comedy too.

A girl’s got to get her laughs where she can.

Tomorrow I am sitting at my window to watch everyone waddle past on their lightened-up-Level-4 exercising excursions between 6 am and rushing to get indoors again by 9 am. That should be worth a gander. (Slapstick is not my comedy of choice, but I’m hoping to identify with the COVID-comfy bodies on display). Personally, I’ll stick to the Clothes Rack Tour – I can earn a yellow jersey in that, even if sunny is not my colour.

Liam is having the last laugh though – he put a mirror in front of my bike. It has given home entertainment a macabre turn.

Theatre Clipart Comedy Tragedy - Drama Masks Transparent ...