Monday, November 30, 2009

Science, Context and Humour

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Card Stack in Jabberwocky
When was the last time you laughed at a joke? Where did you hear it? Was it on TV? Or was it on a video clip or podcast?

Susan Greenfield says, “Everything that happens to you will be seen in terms of previous experiences.“

Your brain “can see one thing in terms of something else and that’s your unique perspective”, even when it comes to appreciating a joke.

Here’s what she says:

If you are a scientist or if you are just interested in Science, you may also be familiar with the erroneous opinion that Science is humourless. A joke is a cognitive jolt based on your previous experiences. This jolt can happen even if these experiences are to do with Science.

So let yourself go! Abrogate your sense of self and have “a cognitive time” with some Science humour from Brian Malow.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Friday, November 27, 2009

Resource Success? It Bears Thinking About!

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allThe Dice in Jabberwocky
How do you tell if a learning resource is successful?

You have to use it of course! Or at least, it has to be observed being used by learners who may benefit from it in some way.

But there’s more to it than that . . .

A game-based resource can be seen to be popular and for this it gets a big tick in a check-box.

But does a learning resource need to be popular to be successful?
Does the popular resource assist the learner to meet the target learning objective?

Extensive research on a whole series of resources might throw some light on these questions. But let’s just limit the discussion here to one resource.

How do you know if a learning resource is effective in helping learners reach the objective or objectives the resource was designed to meet?

This needs more than just observation.

Learner focus

Attention must be focused on what the learner has gained by using the resource. This acquisition has to be very specific if the resource is to be regarded as a useful ‘learning object’.

Oops, I’ve used that term!

I know! ’Learning Object’ is not a popular term among some educators. At least the term implies that the resource actually has an objective associated with it. Whether the resource assists learners to meet the objective is quite another matter.

In fact, some very good learning resources are often found to meet objectives that are not necessarily directly related to the objective or objectives that the learners were supposed to be reaching. That’s life! Sometimes it just happens that way.

So how do we know when a resource is meeting its objective?

It’s taken me a few hundred words to get to this nitty-gritty stage.

    How do we know the resource is really achieving
    the learning that was intended to happen?

As obvious though the answer may seem to be, it is often something that’s completely overlooked when a resource has been planned, crafted and produced for learner use.

Follow up

One of the important stages in the development of any course module, or even one of its components, is the time consuming and difficult process of assessing its real worth. It’s one of these stages that teachers and developers would rather not get too far into, for it is both complicated and complex. And it takes a lot of time.

But it is obviously very important.It means that a series of analyses has to be performed involving the learners.

As well, it has to involve a thing called ‘learner assessment’. Oops! Another not too popular term.

Learner Testing

That’s right! The learner has to be tested. And this is difficult, for how do we know that the assessment item designed to test learner achievement assesses effectively the objective that it’s meant to?
This brings us more or less back to where we started.

Sorry folks! It’s the dogged chicken and egg story all over again.

Before we can be sure that the assessment item is any use, first it must be tested! And of course, this always means learner involvement.

Compounding problems

We now have learner assessment as well as learning resource design to deal with. It’s a bit like the collective effect of errors, if you’re familiar with how that works.

Small errors that occur at stages of a process tend to be cumulative. They add up to one significant error in the end. Often this error can be big enough to discount the whole process.

Catch my drift?

“What does it all mean then?” you say.

Frankly, it means that teaching and learning is a difficult process to assess. The learning that could possibly take place through the planning, building and subsequent use of a learning resource by learners is actually very difficult to assess.

Can you imagine the tasks involved in checking properly a whole course made up of multiple series of resources?

Time consuming? Yes! This alone is a factor that puts teachers and developers off the whole idea of attempting that all-important final stage of checking to see if it all works.

If you think that building a successful learning resource is a quick and easy thing to do, then maybe you should think again.

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allAssumption
Some say I have a chip on my shoulder about education.

At 9 years old, I returned to Scotland with my parents, having spent almost 2 years in Nyasaland (now Malawi). While in Africa, I was home-schooled for almost a year. I then attended St Andrew’s Primary School, in the Capital City of Blantyre, for the remainder of my stay.

I had no education in the traditional sense during the months-long journeys to and from Nyasaland on Union-Castle liners. The unusual long routes round the Cape of Good Hope, were taken at the time of the Suez Crisis when access through the Suez Canal was unsafe.

My childhood experience of living in Africa was an enriching one, but my traditional education fell sadly behind. When I re-enrolled at Dunfermline Commercial Primary School in Scotland, I sat beside the classmates that I’d been with over two years before.

They were all so far ahead of me by that time. I had real difficulty catching up. My schoolroom behaviour took a turn for the worst.

I was soon to be classified as a boy much
in need of counseling, and was made to attend a series of Tuesday afternoons with Mrs Len, a child guidance counselor.

My visits consisted of sessions of being helped through tests, mainly so-called association tests and intelligence assessment, presumably to determine my state of mental health and my ability.

A beautiful glen

I recall one session in particular. Mrs Len began by asking what I did on Saturdays. I explained that I spent fine-weather days down the beautiful Glen in Dunfermline. I loved the Glen and would have spent every Saturday and most Sundays there if I could.

“Why don’t you go to the films on Saturday mornings?” was her response to my story. “That’s what lots of other children do.”

I explained that I didn’t like the movies that were on at the local cinema.

“Why not?” she asked. “These films are specially chosen for children!”

Gangster cadillacs

I explained that I didn’t like watching cowboys and Indians killing each other, or wars with ‘Japs and Gerries’, or gangsters hooning about in Cadillacs, or cops and robbers blasting themselves to bits.

That was in 1957. I was ten years old.

Not that long after the war, it was still acceptable for children to see all this violence. Mrs Len’s assumption was that it was good for me to be subjected to hours watching movies of people shooting at each other.
I had a different opinion.

Educational assumptions

In fact, in discounting the years of my lost education, she made a number of assumptions.

Based on the results of the tests she gave me, one assumption was that I was unfit to attend High School. Luckily I had caring parents who insisted that there was ‘nothing wrong’ with their son and that he would attend High School no matter what.

The long and the short is that my parents eventually removed me from Commercial School to enrol me in Pittencrieff Primary School nearby.

A year later I attended High School. In 1965 I became a student at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. I left that place of education in 1972 with a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

So I’m not knocking Scottish education. All things considered, I firmly believe that the system served me well. But when I think of my last months at Commercial School, there were several odd and perhaps invalid assumptions made by my teacher, the school I attended and the child guidance councilor, Mrs Len, about where I stood in relation to ‘education’.
Abominable assumption

Wikipedia defines assumption as a proposition that is taken for granted, as if it were true based upon presupposition without preponderance of the facts.

This means it’s a preset notion with no factual foundation.

Assumption can present barriers and can lead to disastrous decision making. It has dogged the view of where Earth is in relation to the centre of the universe since before the time of Ptolemy. It seeded the reason why Shakespeare’s Romeo took the fatal poison.

The legal maxim that a person is innocent until proven guilty was initiated by the recognition of its fallacy. Yet assumption is often used mercilessly by legal council in leveraging notion and supposition while swaying the opinion of a jury.

One of the greatest barriers to learning is initial and erroneous assumption in the mind of the learner.

Another is initial and erroneous assumption in the mind of the teacher.
Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Denial - Tumbling Walls

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all9/11
This month’s theme from Paul Cornies’ Green Pen Society is
writing about a wall you would like to see come down.

In Wellington, New Zealand, just after 6 am on 12 September, 2001,
I learnt of the World Trade Centre Twin Towers collapse.

In New York City, it would have been just after 1 pm on 11 September.
At that time the original 7 World Trade Centre building was still standing. More than four hours passed before it too collapsed.

Official reason

The official reason given for the subsequent disintegration of the 7 WTC building described that it was damaged by debris when the nearby North Tower of the WTC collapsed. Fires were ignited on the lower floors, which continued to burn throughout the afternoon. The 7 WTC building collapsed catastrophically when a main column buckled causing structural failure throughout.

Expectations don’t stack up

There were features about the collapse of the building that puzzled me.

One was that the initial damage was caused by debris, apparently ejected during the collapse of the North Tower at speeds close to 100 kilometres per hour.

Material ejected at this speed could only have been assisted by huge amounts of energy, driven from some source
other than just the collapsing of the North Tower. Any bright year-13 Physics student can prove this.

Video footage screened on television in New Zealand clearly showed the 7 WTC building fell extremely rapidly. It looked like a controlled demolition using explosives.

Recent investigations from video footage have shown that the disintegration was what’s known as a free-fall collapse. It took just over 6 seconds for the top of the building to fall onto the collapsed pile of rubble that was all 47 compacted storeys.

Only an explosion-assisted collapse of the type used in controlled demolitions could have caused such a free-fall collapse. The explosives would had to have been detonated on almost every floor.

Pancake collapse

In a so-called pancake collapse of a building, the floors remain more or less as discrete layers. Contrary to expectations, however, the rubble from the collapsed building showed no sign of layering of floors at all.
Instead, it consisted of crushed concrete, dust and twisted steel.

Danish scientist Niels Harrit carried out rigorous investigations of the debris from the collapsed WTC buildings and published a report in April this year. He and his co-workers found evidence for a significant amount of a substance known as
thermite in the debris.

Thermite can consist of fine aluminium dust and powdered iron oxide. When well mixed and ignited, these substances react rapidly,
forming aluminium oxide, molten iron, smoke and huge amounts of heat.Thermite Equation
Thermite was used for welding tram tracks early in the
20th century.

Molten iron

Observations from videos taken just before the collapse of the towers showed the ejection of huge amounts of molten iron. Experiments have confirmed that these quantities of molten iron could not have come from steel structures melting in the burning building and aviation fuel. Steel girders, roasted in a burning building, do not melt and flow freely.

Until 11 September 2001, no high-rise steel constructed building had ever collapsed because of fire
yet on that day, three WTC buildings collapsed. One of these buildings wasn't even hit by a plane.

There has been a series of consistent analyses conducted by independent analysts. Compositional analysis shows that the molten iron ejected from the building was what’s expected from iron made during thermite ignition.

A wall

Examination of footage of the moment of collapse of the South Tower shows clear evidence for a descending series of explosions, preceding a floor-by-floor collapse – an occurrence that could only be brought about by synchronised detonation of a type used in building demolition. I find it almost unbelievable that the publicity surrounding the collapse of the 7 WTC building was so scant. It’s only recently, in reading about the emerging evidence for the presence of thermite in the tower debris, that my initial suspicions have been wakened.

What these facts and other evidence point to is a cover-up of some huge dimension that was apparently enacted at the time of the towers disaster, and maintained over the years since. They leave questions hanging over why the planes were involved in what seems to have been a large scale and extremely well-planned operation.

Somehow a wall appears to have been successfully built around what really caused the collapse of the World Trade Centre buildings. I would dearly love this wall to be demolished so the truth of what happened in New York CBD on 11 September 2001 is revealed.

Check out 911 In Plane Site for further observations.
A Green Pen Society contribution

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Change - A Possible Barrier to Progress

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all

Roundabout in Jabberwocky

Change has come up a lot in the blogosphere recently.

Andrea Hernandez prompted me to write one of my post-type comments against her recent post on agents of change:

I thank her for the opportunity for that reflection. Part of my comment to her ran something like this:

Always, when I learn about change being brought about, I ask questions. I ask why we are changing and I listen. The reply I get allows me to decide whether the change that's proposed is something I'd support.

If I am confronted with the question, "Don't you support change?" my knee-jerk reaction is always to ask again, "What change or changes am I being asked to support?"

If I get back nothing but an argument on change, I become suspicious that the goal of the agent for change is simply to change, without recourse to why, how, or if a proposed change is for a real benefit.

There is always the possibility that change could mean a retrograde shift - moving back to what was - or moving to situations that are of no real benefit or worse. Yet it is always assumed that 'change' is good and that it means moving forward.

Why do I think like this?

Much of the change that I have been coerced into accepting in education over many years has not been thought through beforehand. It is only years, months or even weeks later, when in hindsight, it's seen that the enacted change was not needed, or was falsely initiated, or that there was a political agenda.

So it was for me with the introduction of unit standards to New Zealand secondary education in the mid-90s and with the introduction of NCEA this century.

When I heard of the proposed introduction of national standards to primary education in New Zealand, I experienced powerful déjà vu.
I had a dizzy sinking feeling, and something inside my head shouted, “Here we go again!”

When I hear John Hattie speak about the introduction of national standards, I think, “John! You’ve got it right mate!

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Common Sense

Kia ora tātou – Hello EveryoneCommon Sense

In his book, Where Have All The Leaders Gone, Lee Iaccoca claims common sense as one of the Nine Cs of Leadership.

The Ninth International Symposium on Logical Formalizations of Commonsense Reasoning, Commonsense 2009, took place this year to explore one of the long-term goals of Artificial Intelligence, that of providing computers with common sense.

Stephen Downes claims common sense is what’s needed to avoid or prevent some Internet fraud.

In 1776 Thomas Paine published anonymously a best seller 48 page pamphlet, Common Sense, challenging the authority of British rule in America.

Have you ever thought about what makes up common sense?
Have you ever tried to explain what common sense is?

Seemingly, it’s an awareness, like the ability to judge temperature, recognise directions close to the vertical, or the talent for dress sense.

Difficult to measure

We hear a lot about common sense today. It’s something that every school teacher admires. Possessing common sense seems to be one of the key attributes for achieving success – in any walk of life.

Each of us has a quantity of it – some of us have more than others.
Yet it is extraordinarily difficult if not impossible to measure, let alone define. We are more often made aware of common sense as an entity by its absence than through its occurrence.

Intelligence & noticing the obvious

The brightest and most knowledgeable among us can succumb to a lapse of common sense. Even trainee doctors can suffer a lack of it. When it comes to recognising simple clues, it’s clear that what’s required is more than just expert knowledge or even skill.

One of the most celebrated American scientists, Linus Pauling, undoubtedly possessed a fair amount of common sense in his day.
His researches and passion for what is right earned him Nobel prizes in two disciplines.

Common sense drove him to pursue research into vitamin C and the common cold in directions that have since been proven unequivocally fallacious. This is not a criticism of Pauling. I have a huge respect for all that he did in his life. But his efforts show the illusive nature of common sense and how it can direct or mislead decision making.

Is it instinctive?

If common sense is innate, does this mean that it cannot be acquired by someone who begins life with a less-than-average amount? This idea suggests that it’s like the gene for eye-colour – you are stuck with whatever calibre of common sense you had at birth.

There’s a lot to suggest that common sense is instinctive. In action it tends to be intuitive rather than contrived. Generally the common sense decision is not brought about through a process or processes involving logical thinking strategies, though the use of these cannot be discounted when common sense is brought into play.

Can it be learnt?

If it isn’t an inborn trait, how can a person ensure that a useful amount of common sense is acquired?

I’m only too aware of the rhetorical nature of these questions,
but I’m going to ask them anyway:

  • Is it possible to teach/learn common sense?

  • Can common sense be assessed?
    If so, how can it be measured?

  • Should common sense be included as an essential part of the school curriculum, like literacy and numeracy?

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It’s All Good

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allTime Bomb

    Good that we have the radio to listen to, news and weather reports – how convenient it is to hop on a bus to work in the morning – I must post that letter before last collection today – how lucky we are to receive medical care when needed – what an amazing thing to send kids off to school to learn something before bedtime – so convenient to be able to book movie tickets on the Internet – isn’t it a great asset to switch on a light in the black of night and check a window rattling in the wind?

The list goes on

We live within a complexity system called society. What’s listed above is some of what we expect from the place we live in. It’s as if it’s always been there, and always will be. If it collapsed tomorrow, the things we accept, and indeed rely on, might vanish.

This is exactly what happened when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1992. Apparently it is something that can happen to any society, within any country. It’s only a matter of time.

In a conversation on the radio this morning, someone suggested that efficiency within a society could be looked on as a threat that could precipitate collapse or at least make for a less robust society in the face of possible collapse. Funny enough, less efficient societies tend to be more resilient and more resourceful in crisis, or so mathematicians tell us.


Less efficient societies tend to possess repetitiveness within their makeup. They embody many processes within processes that are duplicated throughout their entirety. This feature of being recursively elaborate appears to be a strength within a society rather than a weakness.

Contrary to expectation, high efficiency makes a society vulnerable. Maintaining efficiency means that the administration of resources is fine tuned, so there are fewer margins for adjustment. When things get financially or operationally tight, high efficiency can become a critical, vulnerable weakness.

Close to crisis

A society always runs close to possible crisis and collapse when it relies on a single provider of essential commodities. The hierarchical nature of the management of these commodities means that the job of managing them becomes more complex. Unfortunately, societies tend to evolve by developing hierarchies of control like this.

Ultimately one person has to embrace the complexity of the whole system, a task that sooner or later becomes impossible and therefore unworkable. A decentralised or distributed network structure for administering such a task would be more vigorous and manageable.

If we look around for a stable, vigorous and safe system built on a distributed network structure, we need look no further than the Internet. It has no central hub. It consists of many independent, yet interlinked nodes. If one node is knocked out, the operation of most if not all of the remaining nodes can continue as before.


From a lay perspective, and not being a mathematician, I look on complexity in a system as something that’s unpredictable, yet recognisable. The collapse of the Soviet Union occurred because of its high degree of complexity - true. My hunch tells me that, perhaps, the Soviet Union contained elements that actually reduced its degree of complexity. High complexity does not necessarily mean vulnerability.

For instance, I wouldn’t consider the existence of monopolies as being a feature of complex systems. Their existence is a feature of how societies have evolved over time. Monopolies comprise complicated engines around which whole systems depend. They represent vulnerable nodes within any system.

Oligopolies contribute to what are recognisable parts of complexity systems. As a group of nodes, they fit one of the key characteristics of a complexity system, that of being recursively elaborate. If one such node becomes extinct, the system can still function comfortably by using the other nodes.

Education as we know it

Might it be that the maintenance and preservation of future society is brought about by tending a degree of recursive elaborateness within that society? It’s what has kept education simmering for hundreds of years. Yet in many countries today, the signs are that education as we know it appears to be reaching a crisis point.

Is there something to be learnt here?

Rangimārie - Peace In Harmony

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lead by Example

Tēna Koutou Katoa - Greetings To You All
The Big QuestionIt could be that the purpose of your life is only
to serve
as a warning to others Ashleigh Brilliant.

This month, The Learning Circuits Blog has the theme:

‘Presenting the Value of Social Media for Learning’.

Tony Karrer puts The Big Question:

How do I communicate the value of social
media as a learning tool to my organization?

The answer I have for him is, perhaps very slowly.

In the year 2000 I used Web1.0 technology in an attempt to emulate Web2.0. At that time I didn't know what Web2.0 was.

As senior teacher, I began designing web pages and developing elearning resources permitting learner interaction and feedback.
I was labelled as a geek. This was despite the organisational approval, funding and planning time provided for me to engage in the development of elearning resources.

In 2002, as a full-time elearning teacher, this opinion of my role in using digital technology was confirmed by a newly appointed manager.

When she saw what I was doing using Web1.0/Web2.0 technology, she openly declared that she was not a geek. She affirmed that she could never embrace what I was practicing, for she did not want to be seen as a geek.

In 2007, a leading light on the staff created her blog especially, but not exclusively, for staff use and interaction. I was astonished that, from an organisation that supported hundreds of teaching staff, there were so few participants who entered into discussion on the blog.

In 2008, while working in the same organisation, I started a blog.

I discovered that many of my colleagues viewed this practice as a risky business. Some were still not sure what a blog was.

They had a vague idea that web pages, blogs and wikis, were all related in some way, but their exact function, usefulness and operational value were unclear to many and often viewed with suspicion. I have many colleagues who still find Web2.0 quite elusive.

In 2009, I'm pleased to share the blogosphere with several work colleagues ( 1 ), ( 2 ), ( 3 ), ( 4 ), ( 5 ), ( 6 ), ( 7 ) who actively maintain their blogs and post regularly.

Some have been blogging since early 2007. Whether anything I did had any influence on my colleagues to do likewise is purely a matter for conjecture. It’s been a long time.

But when it comes to communicating the value of social media as a learning tool, leading by example may be as good a way as any.

Rangimarie - Peace and Harmony

Monday, November 9, 2009


Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
    My colleagues and I have been writing learner reports this week. We follow convoluted procedures to ensure no parts are missed. The process is to provide effective feedback.

I reminded myself of the complexity of it all by sneaking a look at instructions that were circulating the office. The directions were clear, linear and easy to follow.

But I had a busy confusion going on in my head as I read them.
I was looking at a block of text that filled a page.

Balance of objectives

In the days when printed instruction was it, squeezing as much text and other information as possible onto a page met some objectives. There is merit in only one page of instruction. Selecting a smaller font-size was a trick I’d seen for ‘getting it all onto one page’.

But at that time, the Science and Art of developing easy-to-follow learner instruction was well known by experienced educators. They knew that ease-of-reading and learner-interest didn’t necessarily follow when information was packed so tightly into a page that you couldn’t put your finger down on bit of white space.


White space became a prerequisite for a ‘good looking’ page of instruction. Born out of the look and colour of a blank sheet of plain A4, the ‘white space’ practice was carried, almost to extremes, by some writers and designers who actually shunned text – minimalists who’d trim even a brief, well written instruction.

Margins were widened, headers and footers were deepened.
Text quantity was limited per page.

Tricks and impressions

One trick often used, when no more text culling could be performed on an important block of text, was to emulate the impression of white space by selecting a very pale font colour.

    In this way, otherwise unwanted text could be merged into the background. Of course, it defeated the purpose of providing instruction, for it was almost impossible to read.

No, I’m not knocking white space. It works well when used properly.
It lends itself to good web design and elearning resource design. The look and form of a blog post page can even be improved by applying it.

Techniques I’ve found that reduce the busy look of a page of text are:

  • short paragraphs most readers find spaces between small blocks of text easier on the eye

  • double space around blocked text or images an image can be aesthetically framed by a border of text-free space; the effect is more pleasing and restful on the eye

  • brief subheadings these create chunks of text-free space by default.

You may have other techniques for improving the look of a page.

Why not share some of them here?

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Kia ora tātou – Hello EveryoneOpens a new window on Kowhai Blossom - photo ken allan
It’s New Zealand’s last month of spring for 2009.

When I started blogging, one of the things I became attuned to was the sheer upside-downness of the rest of the world – compared to where I live, that is.

In the first few months, it was customary for me to wait overnight for the wave of blog comments to wash across a new post from countries other than those in the South Pacific, if it happened at all.

Most activity I observe on my blog takes place after daylight. Of course, there are always exceptions. There are nocturnal bloggers throughout the world and some who seem to be active 24/7!

Unsurprisingly, most people do not consider the time zones across the world when it comes to blogging. Last year I posted a Middle-earth time widget in my side-bar to help with this.

The academic year

There is as much disparity of alignment across the world when considering the education cycle. How many countries can enjoy an academic year that begins in January or early February and finishes in December? How many countries can claim that the (actual) year starts and finishes in summer?

The upside-downness prevails when reflecting on the seasons. While Canada was in summer New Zealand was steeped in mid-winter. Now, as Kiwiland warms towards summer, starting officially on 1 December, Britain chills into winter.

I receive regular communication from people overseas who are amused and surprised at the seasonal differences – till they think about the global cycles. It’s not something that can be easily summarised in a chart, for the seasons in each country progress and change.

video of northern hemisphere seasons (check out amazing videos)

November in New Zealand starts me dreaming of summer.

The hazy balmy days have come in fast,
A garden-loose late-blooming tulip yawns,
Limp petals soft from drooping roses cast,
And daisies flourish on the feathered lawns;
A cicada wakes from the nymphal sleep
Then sheds the fragile nut-brown pupal shell,
And so begins its steady skyward creep
To chant the long percussive choric spell;
The karo's darkened pods crack and expose
The cloying seed in clusters set to fall,
A blackbird swoops down keen to interpose
And sing his warbling chronicle to all;
With these the days I long for have begun,
The warm and lazy summer days of sun.

related post - > ( 1 )

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Remember, Remember

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allKallan in a cellarRemember, remember,
The 5th of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Tonight is Guy Fawkes Night in New Zealand – and it will be Guy Fawkes Night in several countries on this day – potentially a fun night for most children and adults.

The history of its origin has been well documented.

The scene is a cellar, directly underneath the House of Lords (Parliament) London, early in the morning of 5 November, 1605.

In a few hours, King James VI/I, the British Parliament and many dignitaries will be in attendance for the opening of Parliament. Having learnt of a rumour of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, the King has ordered a check of the cellars to be executed this morning.

Guy (Guido) Fawkes is quietly leaving the cellar, having just completed his undertakings and last minute checks on dozens of barrels of gunpowder, laid all set to explode in a couple of hours. Fawkes is apprehended by the guards and the stockpile of gunpowder is discovered.

Further investigations reveal that Fawkes and several of his accomplices had attempted to destroy Parliament in what is now known as the Gunpowder Plot.

The outcome of the trial that ensued in January the following year brought Fawkes and his cohorts to the gallows. The King ordered that the event be celebrated by burning fires all over the kingdom.

And so a tradition began for a customary annual celebration.

What intrigues me is the fierce adherence to the Guy Fawkes tradition in New Zealand, a country that is now colonised by many nationalities. What is more intriguing is that a significant portion of people who celebrate ‘Guy Fawkes’ in that country have no knowledge of the origin of this almost pagan custom. Many simply refer to the celebration as Fireworks Night.

What is even more astonishing is that it’s nearly summer in New Zealand at this time of the year. Skyrockets and exploding firecrackers (or bangers) are already banned as they are a fire hazard. It’s not uncommon for dwellings (predominantly of wooden construction in NZ) to be burnt to the ground or large areas of bush and scrub to be razed over the ‘fireworks’ season. In its country of origin, Britain, the tradition takes place during winter when there is a low fire risk.

Legislation already restricts the sale of fireworks to a brief period in November. There have been several moves in recent years to ban the sale of fireworks for use at private celebrations in favour of public municipal firework displays.

My family watch the city display from our living room window. The whole sky is lit with pyrotechnics over a period of half an hour.

Interesting isn’t it, that the fun aspect of a bygone, almost forgotten celebration should so fiercely dictate how people choose to conduct themselves? For me, a shift to a suitable mid-winter date seems obvious as a first move towards safer fun for all.

Enjoy the fireworks!

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later