28 May 2023

A literary burglary

Not long before Christmas 1987 I read a review of Evan Eisenberg's new book The Recording Angel and resolved to look out for it. It is just the sort of book I like, a deep and insightful history of recorded music.

This was before instant online ordering and speedy delivery of books, before you could read a new book on your Kindle a few minutes after reading a review.

I was living in Toowoomba, a provincial city where there were a couple of good bookshops, but I would also look forward to browsing the bigger bookshops in Brisbane now and then.

This was not a bestseller, it probably appealed to a limited demographic, and my feeling was that I probably wouldn't come across it locally.

So, I would look out for The Recording Angel, but it was more likely to show up in one of the Brisbane bookshops like The American Bookstore.

A couple of days after Christmas Day I went into a local second-hand bookshop and looked through the old paperbacks with their bent covers and yellowed pages. 

In amongst them I found The Recording Angel, fresh and unopened. As a second-hand bookseller would classify it, As New.

I was astounded - no - I was spooked by how unlikely and coincidental it was, but I contained myself and took it to the cash register. 

Later I thought that it must have been an unwanted Christmas gift. Pretty quick to get down to the second-hand bookshop so soon after Christmas Day, but maybe they were desperate.
I got the Internet at home 11 years later, in 1998, and some time after that I saw a forum comment about The Recording Angel by a woman from the Toowoomba area. That was coincidental itself, on the Worldwide Web.

She had bought a copy of the book when it first came out, but it had been stolen during a burglary, swooped up with some other things before she had time to read it.

I replied to her comment and told her the story and yes, it had been in late 1987. She agreed the timing was right. I offered to give her my (her?) copy but she declined.

11 May 2023

What's the matter with "kids"?

As the song from Bye Bye Birdie went (1960), without the quotation marks.

I've never minded calling children "kids". It's a friendly sounding word with no historical baggage as an epithet. To my mind, its connotations are positive.

Over the years I've occasionally met someone who objected along the lines of, "They're not baby goats, they're children," but that's like chiding a French speaker for using the endearment mon chou: "He's not a green leafy vegetable..." There are many colloquialisms that sprang from figurative speech, and we don't insist on users being literal.

In many contexts, of course "children" sounds better. "Student" has replaced "pupil" which seems to have gone out of fashion, and it does suggest 1950s officialese. In Queensland, pupil-free days became student-free days at some point. 

Teachers have various ways of addressing a class: "people", "guys", "folks". Some of these sound better coming from a teacher seated on a reversed chair. I once heard an able student referred to as a "good little unit" but the small-school principal who said that was a bit unhinged.

I used to slip facetiously into "peanuts", "bananas", "ladies and gentlemen", "ladles and jellybeans". Context was everything. When I first started teaching you would hear some old-timers using "youse" but that's rare these days.

Long before gender neutrality became the norm I gave up "girls and boys" and would say, "Good morning everyone," probably influenced by the broadcaster Karl Haas's "Hello everyone". (I hated hearing a class chanting "good morning" in reply so in later years I would dispense with a greeting and say something like, "Okay, let's get this show on the road," or just jump in and start talking about whatever needed our attention. The sky didn't fall in.) 

One novel variation I heard came from a parent who worked for the RAAF. When he was President of the Parents & Citizens Association he talked to the school assembly one morning and referred throughout to children as "personnel". Force of habit.
I found this 2011 draft for a proposed blog about my adventures in teaching. I've tweaked it a little.

The Kirby Stone Four - Kids (1960)