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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Insideadog - the Revamp!

Last Sunday I visited the State Library of Victoria’s Village Roadshow Theatrette to attend the launch of the revamped Insideadog web site, a site aimed at teenagers, on books and reading. This site has been around for years, but it was felt it was time to update it. The teens who made up the advisory committee were quite rude about the old one - and I have to admit, the updated version is much easier and more use friendly. Here it is! 

It allows the young users to have their own blog page and comment on each other’s reviews. That was not the case with the old site. Oh, and no adults allowed! Well, you can read it, but you can’t join. 

There were two sessions. In the first one, some of the kids who had helped re-design the site were on a panel with author Lili Wilkinson, who had designed the original site. She described how she had managed to get the grant to set it up, including the name of the web site(“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Groucho Marx). She said that was the only time the grants people laughed. Anyway, they got the money. Lili said that in those days, there were no social media sites, none of the things that would have made the web site more attractive. The kids discussed what they felt they needed.  

The next session was with author Melissa Keil and the rest of the kids. It wasn’t about the web site, but about what they expected in a book. The kids were very bright and articulate - mostly Year 11 and 12.

An interesting session in all, though I would have liked to see something about the site itself other than being told “it needed a revamp, and we revamped it.”  There was a projector they could have used to do a wander around the site, but didn’t. However, I had my iPad with me and checked out the site on my own.

After it was over, I had a chat with Lili, whom I know. She is working on a new novel, no title yet, a thriller. Her mother, the wonderful Carole Wilkinson, had taken out little Banjo to enjoy the Lunar New Year celebrations in the city. (Carole tweeted about it later).

Paul Collins was there, but had to leave early for another commitment he had. Still, nice to see a familiar face. 

I chatted for a while with the mother of one of those kids who had been on stage. Her daughter wanted a bit more time with her friends, whom she was worried she might not see again. The lady told me that her daughter was stressed because a wonderful teacher librarian had left the school for a better job elsewhere and had been replaced with one who was nowhere near as good - and then the entire library had been cut back to almost nothing. When the girl and her schoolfriend came to join the mother they confirmed it, along with their frustration, as passionate readers. The thing is, this is an expensive private school, where you expect a huge staff and lots of good things happening as they do when you have a decent budget. They are paying their fees to have that sort of stuff! 

I suggested that this was something the fee-paying parents might wish to address.

But who would have thought it? An expensive private school cutting back its library! 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Wizarding Business Skills: Why Fred And George Learned Them At School

I’m rereading Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. This volume has the first mention of  Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, the joke shop that twins Fred and George want to set up. Their mother wishes they would focus on their schoolwork and eventually join their father and older brother Percy at the Ministry. Admittedly, both parents are not crazy about the unethical testing methods they use for their products, but Molly is also furious about the low number of OWLs they got(I’m guessing that’s Year 10 in Muggle terms) - she knows they aren’t dumb, she just wished they would pass their subjects. Interestingly, neither parent threatens to stop their Quidditch playing. 

But although they never finish their last year at Hogwarts( neither do Harry and Ron), are they really an academic failure? I don’t think so. 

Think about the skills they need to start up and run their business - skills they learned mostly at school in the years they were supposedly stuffing around.  

Firstly, there are the general business skills everyone needs to run a small business: research and development, marketing. Those are skills Fred and George definitely possess. They would certainly have learned the R and D across subjects, probably especially in Potions, the wizarding world’s answer to chemistry. No doubt Snape would not have been impressed if they played around in class with the school’s ingredients, but they would have learned there, if anywhere, how to experiment and test. Their marketing skills are their own, I think, judging by the huge success of their business in Half Blood Prince

Then there are the skills they would need to create their products. Potions definitely comes top of the list there, along with Herbology. They really would have to be very good at both those subjects to be able to make pretty much any of the items in their shop, along with remedies in case anything goes wrong. Thank you, Professors Snape and Sprout! 

Charms would certainly be useful in such things as their joke wands that turn into rubber chickens, complete with squawk. Unless they were perfectly capable of acing this subject, there are many items they couldn’t make. Thanks, Professor Flitwick! 

Transfiguration? Oh, yes! How about their Canary Creams that turn you, temporarily, into a giant canary? I doubt Professor McGonagall would be impressed with this use of her subject, but that would be where they learned it. 

Astronomy? That might or might not come into it, but the wizarding world seems to use it more like astrology than what we think of as astronomy, and some spells have to be done, say, at the full moon - I bet they were good at that too. 

Also, Defence Against The Dark Arts would help with understanding what might be too dangerous to use. 

Their spectacular exit from Hogwarts does suggest that they absolutely knew about pretty much every subject they studied, and how to...misuse them? 

There is already a joke shop, Zonko’s, which they use during their school years, probably in the course of their R and D as well as for fun, but theirs is better. 

I’ve stuck to the basic subjects as we don’t know what electives they chose, but I think we can assume they were very good at school - they made the best use of it for what they wanted to do with their lives.

So, whatever Molly might think, Hogwarts did very well for her sons’ careers. 

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Just Discovered... Upstart Crow!

Last night, I decided to curl up in bed with my phone and watch something on iView, on which the ABC shows programs that you might have missed, for a few weeks after they have been on. Usually, I check out Father Brown, if it has been on, but this time I saw the blurb for a show I tend to miss on Friday nights, because of family commitments, and had never heard of.

“Upstart Crow?” I wondered. “Isn’t that what that awful man Robert Greene called Shakespeare early in his career?” (Robert Greene was a rival author and Shakespeare even used one of his stories for The Winter’s Tale. Yeah, fan fiction of a kind. That’s how it was done in those days.)

Public Domain

And sure enough, it was a sitcom about the Bard! Think Blackadder, if a little less over the top, and no wonder, as the author is Ben Elton, who was the co-author of that amazing series. David Mitchell, who plays Shakespeare, even sounds a little like Rowan Atkinson. There are a few episodes available on the site. I intend to buy the DVD, which is currently on pre-order.

It’s very funny and pokes fun at a number of issues, such as all the fighting over whether or not Shakespeare wrote his own plays. Each episode deals with a play he wrote - in that episode he wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost, which he writes on the suggestion of his teenage daughter Susanna. Another episode had him working on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which isn’t funny until he adds the ass’s head. On the other hand, his friends and family all think Hamlet, on which he is working, is hilarious; when they tell him why, you can actually see their point.

Christopher Marlowe is hiding out from his creditors at Shakespeare’s London lodgings. He is presented as a sort of Lord Flashheart.

Marlowe, Public Domain

It is oddly educational, despite the anachronisms, which have to be deliberate, or how else can you do it as a sitcom? I haven’t seen the end of Season 3 yet, but some sad things are history and you can’t change them. On the positive side, with everyone having different ideas abou  what happened to Marlowe and why, you can fiddle with that a bit.

There is a delightful, bouncy theme tune, “Jamaica” from Playford’s “Dancing Master”, which was familiar to me because I have a recording of Maddy Prior singing a song to that tune, and animated drawings.

I am a huge fan of the Bard. I’ve loved him since I discovered a battered old copy of Julius Caesar in
the house at about 11 or 12, and declaimed Brutus and Antony’s speeches. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful English teacher in Year 11, whose teaching of Richard III eventually ended in my joining the Richard III Society, and studied King Lear in Year 12. I remember opening my book to the page where Lear is banishing Cordelia and... Oh, the magic! The magic of it all!

I’ve seen so many different productions of Shakespeare’s work, including three in Hebrew. I’ve worked with the kids filming  scenes from Macbeth and Hamlet with a lady from the Bell Shakespeare company. She had a grant to do this, and had got the idea from a documentary called Shakespeare On The Estates. We discovered a promising young Shakespearean actor at our disadvantaged school,  who got to go to a holiday workshop as his teacher and the school rummaged up the money for him.

I’ve read Harry Turtledove’s wonderful alternative universe novel Ruled Britannia, in which  the Spanish Armada succeeds in conquering England, the Queen is locked up and Shakespeare is hired by both the Spanish and the British underground led by Lord Burleigh to write a propaganda play for them. Christopher Marlowe is alive and still writing plays. My copy is so worn out, I had to buy it in ebook!

There has to be a good reason why people are still reading, viewing and loving his work all these hundreds of years later, right? And reworking it in modern versions, such as setting Twelfth Night in a high school soccer team(She’s The Man), a teenage version of The Taming Of The Shrew(Ten Things I Hate About You). They are even refilling West Side Story.

I can’t see why they shouldn’t have the brilliant Ben Elton write a sitcom, especially as it was commissioned to commemorate the anniversary of his death. Here’s a toast to you, Will!