They’re the words no journalist wants to hear.

“There’s a typo in your story,” said my colleague.

“What?” I quickly flicked through the newspaper to the indicated page. “That can’t be. I read that thing through at least a half dozen times.”

And yet there it was. My eyes zoomed right to it: an extra “s.” It could not have been more obvious if it were circled in cocaine and lit by a disco ball.

I’d written “professionals photographers” instead of “professional photographers.” Crap!

I know: it’s not the end of the world. But the reading public expects a newspaper’s content to be perfect. I’d let them down. On top of that, I imagined staffers at the The Competition shaking their heads, making a “tsk-tsk” sound and noting that “oh, so he’s not as perfect as he’d like everyone to believe.” Double crap!

It’s not the first time a typo has slipped through. Inevitably, and unfortunately, it won’t be the last. And, I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, an extra “s” is more sloppy than embarrassing.

If you’re looking for embarrassing, the king of them all is, of course, omitting the “l” from “public.”

“The mayor called for a pubic debate on the issue.” “The president was encouraged by pubic reaction to his speech.”

Ouch and double ouch. That is the epitome of cringe-worthy. And yet I have seen it done.

An interesting flip side to that was found in a magazine story I was reading about Brazilians. It read something like, “More and more men are opting to have the hair removed from their public areas.”

A typo in reverse. Now that’s a new one.

I was spurred to share these thoughts by a recent headline I spotted in one of our national newspapers.

It was datelined the United States and read “tenn girls murdered by ‘Speed freak killers’ named”.

My first thought was that the headline writer was using the abbreviation for Tennessee (Tenn.) and had simply forgot to uppercase the “T” and add the period. I was wrong. Because the third sentence in the story mentioned teen girls. So the headline should have read “Teen girls murdered . . . ”

Somewhat less than professional, methinks.

Of course newspaper typos aren’t limited to journalists — sales reps have messed up as well. Viking Woman should know. In another life, she sold newspaper ads and told me the normal chain of command would involve a design person putting the ad together, which would then be proofed both by the sales rep and the person/company paying for the ad. So that’s three sets of eyes before the ad goes to print.

Which doesn’t explain how one supermarket ended up advertising a 99-cent deal on two-litre Cock. I’m going to guess that store manager sprayed Coke out his nose when he read that in the morning paper. On the bright side, he did report an upswing in the number of female customers. I guess size – and weight – does matter.

Another Viking Woman whoopsie involved a small classified ad that was supposed to read “some shift work required.” It appeared in the paper (after passing through the proofing process) as “some shit work required.”

Not exactly a laughing matter at the time but Viking Woman did hear from several sources that various staff room bulletin boards had that ad posted and circled with remarks along the lines of “So you think your job is bad.”

An extra “s”? Yeah, I’m not going to sweat it. But lesson learned: I will be more diligent in the future. Especially if the story involves someone drinking Cock in pubic.


Little Old Lady has haunted me my entire journalism career.

I’ve never actually met her but I imagine her to be sour of expression, someone who stands in her front yard shaking her cane at the kids playing in the street, berating them for being too loud, having too much hair, wearing their pants too low and their baseball caps backwards.

She owns a small dog and feeds it slices of cheese even though that nice man on the TV says human food is not good for animals. She knits while she watches daytime soaps and yells at the characters for being gullible fools. She doesn’t answer the phone if it rings during American Idol, thinking only an idiot would dare interrupt quite possibly the greatest entertainment ever invented.

She forgets where she put her glasses. She sometimes forgets to put her teeth in. She believes anyone who survived the Great Depression and the Second World War has the God-given right to bitch about everything and anything.

And, oh yeah, she hates me. Or, more specifically, my writing. In fact, she hates all journalism.

I know this to be true because every newspaper I’ve ever worked for — a Times, a Star, a News, a Herald, another Herald and now a Courier — fear Little Old Lady more than they fear the Internet.

Which is why every story I’ve ever written — every story you see printed in a respectable newspaper — has to pass this litmus test: Will it offend Little Old Lady? If an editor experiences even the slightest niggle that Little Old Lady will take umbrage with the content, the story will be edited or quite possibly  killed.

Little Old Lady enjoys sharing her opinions. Her morals violated by something she finds offensive, she will phone an editor to vent her spleen. Or, even worse, mail (!) a handwritten (!!) letter explaining, in no uncertain terms that, should the paper continue to print such objectionable trash, she will have no alternative but to cancel her subscription. No one has the balls to tell Little Old Lady that the paper is actually delivered free.

I was envisioning Little Old Lady this week while writing a story about a new horse trail. On the surface, this is not the sort of story that would normally raise wrinkled hackles but my plan was to use the word “shirty” to describe some rather nasty people who’d objected to equestrian invaders.

“Shirty” is one of those Kiwi-isms Viking Woman and I encountered when we moved to New Zealand. I know it’s not a real (read: North American) word but I have this sneaky hunch Kiwis use it in polite company when what they really mean is “shitty.”

Is Old Little Old Lady going to read that sentence and not give it a second thought because, after all, that’s how everyone speaks here?

Or will she stop short, raise a weathered eyebrow, clack her dentures in disgust and reach a quivering hand for the phone?

I guess I’m about to find out. Wish me luck.

Reality checks come in many guises. This week, for instance, it was the kid manning the cash register at the nearby Caltex petrol station.

I’d stopped in to buy a newspaper and, noticing a photo of reigning Miss South Pacific Joyana Meyer on the front page – clad in a coconut bra and grass skirt as she attended the Pasifika Festival in Auckland – I blurted out that I knew her.

(Full disclosure: I actually consider Joyana a friend. I took her photo on several occasions when I worked for the Cook Islands Herald. I also shot her for the 2011 Miss Cook Islands calendar, only to have her father insist he had the better shot. Yes, his sunset was more colourful than mine. But I couldn’t help but notice that Joyana is wearing more clothes in Daddy’s photo.)

The kid was impressed. He asked me how I knew her.

I told him I’m a journalist, that I’d just spent a year working on Rarotonga.

“A journalist,” he said, his eyes lighting up at the sheer glamour of it all. “How do you become a journalist?”

I very nearly told him the truth: being in the right place at the right time, lucky breaks, knowing people. Instead, I put on my Mature Adult Hat and said, “I went to school.”

That was not a lie. I did attend Kwantlen University College for a year. Even scored a Certificate in Communications. Says so right there, on my CV. Not sure I remember anything I learned in class. Not sure anything I learned in class ever helped me get a newspaper job. But, hey, like I said, it does look impressive on a CV.

“I’d like to do something like that,” said the kid. “I’m 23 years old, working in a petrol station, and I don’t know what to do with my life.”

Oh. Really?

I very nearly told him another truth: That faint light I see at the end of the tunnel? It’s a birthday cake with 60 candles on it. I very nearly told him that, even with 23 well and truly in the rearview mirror, I, too, have no idea what the hell to do with my life.

The kid was impressed that I was a journalist. I didn’t spoil the moment by saying I was an unemployed journalist. That I’d just spent the previous week sending off job applications to newspaper editors I am reasonably confidant will never bother contacting me. That I have e-mailed all my media mates in town and none of them has even bothered to expend the energy it takes to hit Reply and type “Go away.”

That, right after I bought the paper, I was heading to a seniors’ residence where I would spend the day in the laundry room, praying to the Baby Jesus that I would not have a close encounter of the fecal kind.

Twenty-three and no direction? Ah, my friends, those were the days.

This may be difficult for you to comprehend, but journalism is so much more than free lunches and signing autographs for adoring font bunnies.

We journalists don’t like to make a big deal out of it, but the truth is that hours of research go into every story. Or sometimes just minutes, depending on the speed of your Internet connection.

My own research has seen me spend an entire weekend stuffed into a car with cheerleaders. OK, I was driving them to a tournament, but the car was full. And they were cheerleaders. And I did write about them. And then had to go through the entire process again the next season when a whole new crop joined the squad. We’re talking long hours of intense scrutiny here, folks.

Then there was the time I spent 14 hours at the side of a hotdog vendor outside a supermarket. So I could write a story about the day in the life of a, well, hotdog vendor. This is what I learned: Yes, you can eat too many hotdogs. And, no, you do not want to know what goes into them.

It was this dedication to ferreting out the facts — and the obvious success of my Daily Photo Project — that had me contemplating doing a Daily New Zealand Ice Cream Taste Test. This would see me personally sample every flavour of ice cream produced in this nifty little country, and report back on their degree of yumminess.

Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending whether or not you are the part of my body in charge of producing insulin — a job offer to return to the Cook Islands meant this projet melted into a puddle of not-gonna-happen before I could even make a decent start. As it turned out, all I managed to sample are the flavours pictured on this page. They are a mere flick of the tongue compared to the mouthful of Scrumptious Delight I had planned to serve up each day.

I like ice cream. Unfortunately, like its sister — the dark, sultry siren known as Chocolate — ice cream makes my clothes shrink. But that is the price a true journalist like myself is willing to pay.

I also like things in my ice cream. Which is why Fudge Chunks and Chips is my first choice at Baskin Robbins. Which is why Cookies’n’Cream and Goody Goody Gumdrops send shivers down my back even as they freeze my brain.

Now this project will have to wait until I return from Rarotonga. Actually, it was while living in Raro that Viking Woman and I had our first taste of New Zealand ice cream. The little shop next to our house stocked Magnum bars and they quickly grew adept at whispering our names every time we passed the freezer.

We became hooked; we needed a daily fix. You know that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the one where Indiana Jones reaches back for his fedora just as the stone wall is about to drop into place? That was us one night, pretty much sliding in under the roller door on our bellies as the shopgirl was trying to close the place. Junkies do those sorts of things . . . and then later refer to it as research.

What makes New Zealand ice cream so much better than anything else in the world? I don’t really know. Maybe there’s less pollution here. Maybe it’s the whole GE-free attitude. Maybe there is such a thing as a contented cow.

All I know is that I’m grateful for the texture and the taste and the extra layer of fat that will keep me warm come winter. In fact, since I’m pretty much finished packing, I’m going to head to the nearest paddock and bestow a great big thank-you hug on a cow. I’m going to choose a chunky one.

My entire existence has been reduced to 20 kilograms. Forty-four pounds. That’s it. That’s me.

A return to journalism means yet another move. The good news is I’ll be out of the seniors’ care home laundry and, fingers crossed, will no longer have to worry about shaking hands with a fresh turd.

The bad news is, well, 44 pounds.

That’s my baggage limit for the flight — everything I value needs to be crammed into one lousy suitcase. Where do I even start?

My first choice would be to take 44 pounds of coffee but that doesn’t leave any room for clothes. Of course, after consuming that much caffeine, I’d be moving so fast, no one would notice I was naked.

I don’t have to worry about electronics because those toys for boys will be safely stored in my carry-on. This whole not being permitted to lock your suitcase thing is a bit of a joke, really, because it’s less about security and more about making it easier for baggage handlers to go all garage sale on your stuff.

“Hey, does this digital camera look like a bomb to you? Yeah, me too. Think I’ll save lives by taking it home.”

My theory for packing is this: do not put anything in a suitcase you’re not willing to never see again.

If I was simply off to play tourist, the decisions would be much easier: clothes and toiletries. But I’m moving. I’ll need pens and notebooks and my scissors and my spare glasses and my favourite deodorant and a whole bunch of AA batteries. Because things will be expensive at my destination and I won’t be making a lot of money.

And then there’s the whole weight-to-bulk ratio. I look at my list of preferred items and realize the lighter objects take up a lot of room and the smaller ones are heavy. I’m not sure this is going to work. Even with my one allowed piece of carry-on and my man purse and every pocket crammed full, I have this sinking feeling I will have to jettison something I dearly want to take.

At that point, I will hand the entire operation over to Viking Woman, who is slated to follow me at a later date.

She is an expert at spatial relations. You know those tests where they show you different objects and ask which one matches the other except it’s turned inside out and backwards? And sideways. Underwater.

Viking Woman can answer those. She has filled the back of our hatchback so efficiently with a million things that you’d swear the car came that way straight from the factory’s assembly line.

I, on the other hand, am hopeless. I’m lucky if I can fit my foot into my shoe, never mind 44 pounds of my life into a suitcase.

The main difference between us is that I’m sentimental, which is why Orange Monkey, who has guarded my pillow for years, is on my list. I also tend to take three of everything, even though I know perfectly well I will only need one.

Viking Woman is — how shall I put this — pretty much ruthless. Which means Orange Monkey will not be leaving the house at this time. Which means the culling of precious objects will be methodical and logical and oh so cruel.

I will rant. I will stomp my tiny feet in rage and frustration. I will throw up my hands and flee the room, screaming. But, in the end, everything essential to my new life will fit in that suitcase and it will weigh exactly 44 pounds.

And it will have been packed with love.

The most important thing I could ever take with me, and it doesn’t weigh a single ounce.

Told you she was good.

The words in the e-mail’s subject line sent an icy shiver down my back.

Did you know her?

Past tense always equals bad news.

The message contained a link and that link sent me to a story about Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang being killed, along with four members of the Canadian Forces, while on assignment in Afghanistan. Michelle had accompanied the soldiers on a routine patrol to gather information for another story. Sadly, she became that story.

The person who sent me the link knew I worked at the Calgary Herald for eight months in 2007 and, to answer the question, yes, I knew her. At least in passing.

No one will admit it, but there is a distinct hierarchy at major daily newspapers. As a small-town boy in his first stint in the Big League, I certainly noticed it.

The news reporters had attitude, as if their every word was written in gold and sprinkled with star dust. Maybe you need that edge, that ego. Maybe that’s how you stay in The Show, by coming off as slightly superior to everyone else. I never once assumed that attitude through 20 years of journalism — perhaps that’s the reason the past tense is also now used in reference to my newspaper career.

I worked in the Herald’s Features department; most of my duties consisted of pagination. My desk was located on the outer fringes of Editorial, where the lowly worker bees toiled, turning the magic into black letters on a white page.

Reporters didn’t bother soiling their shoes by wandering into our area and so any relationship I had with Michelle Lang consisted mostly of nodding and smiling if we happened to pass in a hallway somewhere.

In fact, the only time we actually held a conversation was when she asked some preliminary questions about a story that fell under her beat as the Health reporter. That was before the Herald’s mucky-mucks nixed the story because it concerned an employee’s relative.

So yes, I knew Michelle Lang. And yet I didn’t know her.

But you don’t have to be friends with someone to mourn their untimely death. Journalists, by the very nature of their job demands, tend to be a brotherhood of sorts anyway, so to see one of us die like that is always going to hurt.

I’m not sure what a Health reporter was doing in a war zone, but I guess it doesn’t matter now. Because the bigger question is this: Why are Canadians in Afghanistan? Why are Canadians dying in Afghanistan?

The hawks among us are going to brandish their swords at this blasphemous thought, but there is no way to win the war on terrorism. Kill one insurgent/terrorist/scared young man, and 10 more step up to strap on the vests. What are you going to do, butcher them all?

Canada and the other coalition countries are doing little more than pissing on sparks while the forest fire bears down on them, destroying everything in its path.

It’s been nearly 40 years since the Vietnam War ended and yet the lessons learned there have obviously been forgotten. And the first lesson is this: Good people died and nobody won.

I’m saddened by the deaths of Michelle Lang and the four soldiers. I’m sickened by the thought that they won’t be the last.

“You should leave Brown Girls alone for awhile,” Viking Woman advised me the other day, “and work on your other novels instead. See if you can’t get those ones published.”

Yeah, good one, honey. Because, after 20 years as journalist, being reduced to washing soiled knickers in a seniors’ residence isn’t humiliating enough. Now you want me to return to banging my head against the front gate of the Ivory Tower of Publishing? I’ve done that for a dozen years now — I have so much disappointment stored up, I could bottle and sell the stuff.

I have a confession to make: I only write for money. That’s why I made such a good reporter — if someone paid me the big bucks, I’d put my blood and soul on the page for them. I’ve worked the equivalent of several months’ worth of unpaid overtime to polish those words into precious nuggets of stories. Pay me every two weeks and I’ll die for you. Or, at the very least, type very fast.

In basic terms, money = words. No money = I’ll be over here in front of the TV.

Except that isn’t how it works when it comes to publishing a book, is it? In that business, you put your blood and soul on the page and all you get in return is a stain on that page where the literary agent spilled his coffee when his secretary used a bit too much teeth while administering her boss’s morning blow job.

Simply put, I’m a mercenary. I don’t possess a burning desire to write. I don’t have words bulging out of my brain demanding to be committed to paper. I’m not awakened in the middle of the night scrambling for a pen because a fully-formed plot arc burst forth from a dream like one of those Alien chest-bursting things.

Writing is hard slogging and I like to be rewarded for my efforts. I once had a student job where I was paid at the end of each workday and loved it. It’s all about instant gratification, baby. I want it all and I want it now is, I believe, how Freddy Mercury once put it.

Even this blog was started with the idea of scoring cash via Google ads. Except, according to my sources, only one blogger in the entire world — Heather B. Armstrong — actually makes any serious money from ads on a blog site. That’s because she’s not afraid to — figuratively speaking, of course — put her vulva on display for her fawning mommy fans. And, one suspects, because her husband spends his time using random computers to log in 50,000 times a day. Lucky bitch.

So the only reason I bother writing this blog at all is to embarrass my children and leave a legacy for their offspring. Good ole Gampy Bitemymoko, they’ll all reminisce one day, he sure was a miserable old fart. But cuddly in a lumpy sort of way.

Having the tenacity and the ambition to stick to a writing routine no matter what the future of the project is why I admire my UK friend at This English rose is participating in the annual NaNoWriMo competition. I’m not quite sure how that abbreviation rates on my Lame Scale, but it stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal, according to, is to complete a 175-page (50,000 words) novel between 12:01 a.m. Nov. 1 and midnight Nov. 30.

NeToWriGir (as I like to call my UK friend) is keeping track of her daily output in her November blog postings and, to date, appears to be doing her best to bang off the 1,667 words she’ll need to average each day to reach her goal. I have no idea what her novel is about but maybe, if I send e-chocolates, she’ll let me read it when it’s finished.

While I wasn’t involved in a competition at the time, that’s pretty much how I wrote the first draft of Brown Girls. My goal was to average 1,000 words a day and thus be finished in 120 days. I maintained that average for several long stretches at a time, amazing myself in the process because I don’t nornally tend to be very disciplined, especially when it comes to coffee and O’Ryans sour-cream-and-onion chips.

In the end, it took me some 270 days to finish the book, but that included a number of drafts and several weeks of editing and snipping and polishing.

Was it worth nine months of my time? My bank account would issue a resounding no. But I (and several others, including the Langley library) now own a book with my name on it. When it comes to having your ego stroked, nothing feels better (and you won’t spill your coffee in the process).

Should I turn my attention to the Brown Girls sequel and the other five or six novels I have stored on my computer in various stages of completion? I’m going to say yes.

And I’m going to start tonight — right after I check what’s on TV.


You can buy Brown Girls at

I was.

I was once . . .






High school athletics had been ignored for years before I was hired as the sports editor of the Langley Times in 1989. When the sports section is a one-man show, that one man gets to decide what fills the limited space alloted for each edition.

I made my own choices. I had no ties to community soccer or Junior A hockey or the old boys rugby union. But I did attend Langley Secondary. My parents live near Brookswood Secondary. I could relate to high school athletes if only because I was never one myself. Unless, of course, you count my football career with the Saints, which lasted for one play and approximately 30 seconds. While I never did score the winning touchdown, I did score one of the team’s large lockers in the study hall, designated to store all that bulky equipment that would never be used.

At the paper, I quickly became a champion of high school sports, to the point where the occasional action shot actually made it onto Page 1. Front page, baby! Full process color! Top of the world, ma!

There were times, I admit, when I sat in the stands in another gymnasium, watching another game, working another hour I would never be paid for, missing another meal at home, when I wondered if I’d still be hanging around high schools when I was 65. Would I segue from covering the children of my fellow LSS graduates to covering their grandchildren?

Now, thanks to the global recession, I no longer need worry about that. That’s because I can no longer find work as a journalist.

Granted, some of that is my own doing. I chose to leave The Times at the beginning of the century to embark on something we once called the Damn the Pension World Tour.

In the early, heady, fun days, Viking Woman and I used that expression in jest . We’re no longer laughing.

Newspapers are dying. Falling to their knees and keeling over in front of me. Those left on the field of combat are staggering and wounded, bleeding jobs from every orifice. Because no one is advertising. Because no one wants to pay for news they can read for free on the Internet. Because no one under 25 can read words that are spelled out using all their letters.

I live in a one-newspaper town where the newspaper isn’t hiring. Twenty years of interviews and stories and page layouts and headlines and movie reviews and late nights and coffee stains on my ties and fingerprints worn off on keyboards and tears shed on deadlines, and now I’m . . . what? A dinosaur. A fossil. A dusty artifact of the 20th century.

Reduced to looking for Help Wanted signs at Starbucks and United Video and the supermarket.

The time I once spent polishing meaningful prose—prose I was paid handsomely to produce— is now taken up by this blog. Effort that earns me zero cash and, if I’m lucky, maybe a couple dozen unique visits. On a good day.

There was a point—quite recently, actually—where I could at least take some small comfort in the fact I’d enjoyed a good run. Twenty years: Millions of words. Thousands of bylines. Hundreds of photos. Some people never get that. Some people work their entire lives and go into the ground having left no mark at all in the world to mark their existence.

But my name will live forever , bound into the books in which back issues of the Langley Times are archived. Books with red covers. With hard covers. Books to be kept forever.

And then comes word that, during a recent shift, someone hired for the day to clean out junk inadvertently placed several of those red books in a Dumpster.

Now my words, my thoughts, my opinions reside in a landfill, buried deep in a rubbish tip. The pages pulped and mashed. The ink streaked. The photos blurred. My bylines smeared.

I was once  . . .


I am no more.

I’m reading Michele A’Court’s column in the March 7 Your Weekend magazine (included in the Dominion Post) when I notice the credit line at the bottom: “Michele A’Court is an award-winning comedian and writer.”

Well, of course she bloody is. I mean, who in the journalism business isn’t an award winner?

Because I’m chronically unemployed between journalism jobs, I’ve been using the Internet to peruse a lot of newspaper lately. And, oh look, every one of them has won an award.

Exactly what kind of award would that be, you might well ask. Ah, now there’s the rub.

Judging by some of the content on those websites, the prize could very well be for Most Typos in One Story, or Worst Headline Ever in the History of the English Language, or even Poorest Use of Judgement When it Comes to Choosing Photos.

I mean, come on, how many frickin’ awards can there be out there? If your farm reporter won the largest turnip at the country fair, does that count? If your editorial staff won the three-legged race at Staff Fun Day, does that count?

When I worked for the — wait for it — award-winning Langley Times, I frequently submitted my sports stories to various industry competitions. But it was a lot of work digging back through the files to fish out tear sheets and then filling out the accompanying forms. That was time better spent on minor details, such as, oh I don’t know, getting the darn paper to the printer before deadline.

After awhile, when my deathless prose consistently failed to impress any of the judges, I simply stopped wasting perfectly good time and let others more keen for glory vie for the accolades.

Actually, the majority of the editorial awards the Times won during my 11-year career at the paper were thanks to the photography skills of John Gordon ( John is brilliant, and I’m not just saying that because I wrote the foreword to his book, Langley: Familiar Places, Familiar Scenes, and earned a wad of cash for my efforts (but, alas, no awards).

With that talent came a degree of frustration, a trait not uncommon with those who “paint with light.” Many was the game where I paced the sidelines as time wound down, wondering if I was going to have art to go with my story. Just as I was about to grab my own camera, John would wander along, snap off a few frames, and be off to his next assignment. In the morning, I’d find another perfect shot on my desk and wonder why I ever doubted the man.

It became somewhat of a given that, come awards season, the Times would nail something and if that honor went once more to our photographer, then so be it. At least it meant we all worked for an award-winning newspaper.

Actually, during my stint in Langley, I did have one fleeting brush with fame. It also involved a photographer, although this time it was Rob Newell (, one of the weekend shooters. While John Gordon won the majority of his accolades based on work he did for Page 1 and the hard news section, Rob actually scored an award for a sports photo.

As the sports editor, I made the decision on whether or not a photo was included in my section. I ran Rob’s shot and he subsequently won the award.

I don’t know what those rocket scientists who feted Michele A’Court’s attempts at writing a humor column might think but, personally, I’m taking at least partial responsibility for Rob’s official recognition.

Which would explain why my CV describes me as “an award-assisting journalist.”

I mean, that’s got to attract someone’s attention when it comes to filling a position in a newsroom, right?

And it will. I’m sure of it.

Any day now.

Howe too lurn reel gud.

December 23, 2008

Call to extend the school day

–Headline on Page 1 of New Zealand newspaper The Dominion Post, dated December 23, 2008

I second that call but would like to add a new one: extend the number of school days as well.

It’s summer holidays here in New Zealand and, with Christmas looming, it’s no surprise the streets are filled with lost boys and girls. Wandering listlessly in the way teens have since God invented the filthy beasts, bemoaning their lives like they had a bloody mortgages to pay. Hate to break it to you, my fine young cannibals, but it only gets worse.

But I’ve seen these same kids wandering these same streets during what I assumed were school days. Although it’s difficult to tell in New Zealand, where term breaks seem to occur every other week.

When we managed a B&B in Gisborne six years ago, the deal included a car and the owners’ son. I swear Young Sam spent more time surfing than sitting in a classroom. And it wasn’t because he was flagging school or anything. But it seemed he would just be finished with holidays and along would come some kind of Professional Day for the teachers to shorten the week.

These days, Young Sam is apprenticing to be a tradesman, when he isn’t working as a snowboard instructor, so all that readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic (known as maths in NZ) was probably a waste of his surfing time anyway.

(Sam was a good kid but he did try us on one day by walking around the house wearing a beanie — what we Canadians call a toque — and trying to look all gangsta. Viking Woman didn’t blink — after all, we’re both Children of the Sixties, an era during which they invented both rock’n’roll and sex, and so have seen it all, sometimes twice — and simply asked Sam if he was cold. We never saw the beanie again.)

In my day — and you can stop rolling your eyes right now — we had to walk to school uphill both ways. In the snow. No, wait, that’s my Dad’s story.

We went to school every single day, from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year. No term breaks, no extended holidays, no field trips. OK, maybe it just felt like that way at the time, but my point is the education system didn’t dick around. Between the ages of six and 18 you had one mission in your miserable life and that was to learn. We had to wait until after graduation to have fun. (The fact that I’m still waiting is probably my own damn fault.)

No teachers’ Professional Days. Or Development Days, or whatever the hell they call something that is basically Teachers Sitting Around Drinking Coffee Days  (known to parents as Now What the Hell Do I Do With These Little Shits? Days).

Normally, I could care less about teenagers. They’ve got spotty faces and their music blows. Plus, I know what awaits them in adulthood and it’s going to wipe away those smug little smirks awful darn fast.

But I hate their ignorance. And by that I mean their lack of spelling skills. Now, I admit I’ve made some doozy mistakes all on my own — forgetting the “l” in public being only the most embarrassing gaffe I can recall at this moment — but those were due to sloppy editing and fat typing fingers and not because I was clueless to begin with.

I know the difference between too, to and two. Between it’s and its. Between your and you’re. Between grisly and grizzly. (That last one causes me to scream every single time).

From what I’m seeing out there (and even in here with my fellow WordPress bloggers), a lot of people have no idea.

I long ago came to the conclusion that the entire world needs an editor, and that thought is only reinforced when I see “lightning” spelled “lightening.” As if those jagged streaks were somehow caused by Mother Nature lessening her load.

Typos? Lack of a spell check program? I believe it’s more a lack of basic English skills. And I do mean basic.

And that scares the hell out of me, especially when I see newspaper editors hiring kids off the street simply because it means they can avoid paying the top union-mandated wage for a veteran journalist like myself. “You get what you pay for” has never been more true.

So, yeah, have the little shits stay in school longer. Maybe an extra hour surrounded by books will elevate their education, if only by osmosis.

It’s either that or we make them walk uphill both ways. That’ll learn ’em.