Thursday, November 20, 2008


Winter arrived today. As usual this was announced with the whole of Akita turning white overnight. And in an equally predictable fashion, my reaction was akin to that of a particularly excitable puppy being thrown the squeakiest of all the colourful toys in the pet shop. My Junior High School kids, retaining a consistently cynical teenage attitude, seemed somewhat bemused by the huge grin on my face as I crunched fresh footsteps through the first snowfall of the winter. The next day however, my Primary School students seemed simply delighted that Mr Cooke had had the good sense to get into the playground 5 minutes before they did to start making a snowman. They were equally delighted when Mr Cooke threw the first snowball, which seemed to justify a snowball fight of me vs 50 seven year olds. There was only ever going to be one winner there.

I did have some help though. An utterly adorable 6 year old girl chose to fight on the side of the underdog, helping me by supplying me with snowball ammunition to hurl at her aggressing classmates. Unfortunately she took an average of 5 minutes sculpting each snowball into a perfect sphere, before reaching up to hand it to me with an adorably high pitched “here you are Mr Cooke”. I almost felt guilty throwing such an immaculate snowball, but her happy chuckle indicated she approved when the snowball found its target, as she then patiently set about sourcing the perfect snow for her next flawless snow missile. However given the sodden state of my clothing whilst teaching in third period, I think it is safe to say that the seven year olds were victorious.

As I write this I have just finished my school lunch, and can see the hordes massing outside the staffroom, dressing themselves in their battle uniforms of wooly hats and gloves, with coats thick enough to absorb any snowball impact. I shall face them on the playground battlefield, armed with nought but snowballs and a cute little girl (who I may use as a human shield this time).

Let Battle Commence.


I really need something a bit more waterproof. That was a whitewash of epic proportions, during which both my dignity and my hat was taken from me. Admittedly the hat was a loaned contribution to a snowman, so I did get that back, but my dignity is now officially the property of Class 1A at Yashima Primary School.

After the Yukigassen (snowball fight) we made a snowman the size of a small house, and I lifted small children up to decorate the head. Then a little girl decided the best place to launch a snowball fight from was the top of Mr Cooke’s head, so she promptly climbed on and ordered me to supply her with snowballs to hurl at her friends.

I honestly don’t remember if I ever had this much fun at breaktime when I was little. Maybe at that age you can’t fully appreciate it, but playing for half an hour in the snow, chucking snowballs and making snowmen, is still my overly childish idea of perfection.

Life is so much fun.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


If the reaction of the world media to recent events is an accurate measure of public opinion, then right now we are the happiest species to roam this planet since the dinosaurs discovered recreational roaring and/or ping pong. The reason behind this happiness? A very nice man from America who now has the fabulously quinsyllabic title of President Elect.

I would love to share with you tales of my unbridled joy at this result, but the internet is already awash with millions of these happy anecdotes, so I thought I'd use the medium of this hard hitting blog to voice some pessimism and cynicism that most columnists in major newspapers have found so hard to come by in the last week. Maybe it's that I just enjoy complaining. Maybe I've been made too cynical in my short years to recognise immense positive change when it happens. Maybe I'm just a contrary bastard who enjoys disagreeing with everyone else. Regardless, here are some of the reasons why this change may not be all it's cracked up to be.

I'm not denying that Obama was the best candidate; the spectre of another republican administration was an utterly terrifying one, and he has the potential to be a great president. However there are many factors that lead me to believe this result is nothing more than a small step in the right direction. Obama believes in the death penalty, and showed himself willing on certain issues to opt for a more electable centrist viewpoint (offshore drilling, anti terror surveillance legislation). He could be a breath of fresh air if he chooses to use the power that the democrat majority could now wield to implement genuine change, but if he panders to the right (as he showed at least signs of doing in the above examples) then could be just as big a let down as New Labour in 1997.

The election of Obama is potentially a fantastic thing, and will inevitably be an improvement on the Bush years. That said, I can't help but think that a lot of the jubilation surrounding this is as a result of the election of the first black president of the USA, which (while obviously a hugely important milestone), won't have any bearing on policy in the next four years. There is also the "anyone but Bush" factor; getting rid of that unpopular fellow was always going to be a moment of unbridled joy, and after the neoliberal economic model failed quite spectacularly during the last months of the election campaign, a republican victory was always very unlikely. The oncoming recession essentially equates to the failure of republican economic policy, more than it demonstrates the merits of the democrats economic policy. This is a good example of how it may not be merely the election of Obama that is creating this relentless tide of optimism, more the election of the candidate that was furthest from the Bush regime. Cynical, maybe, but it's sensible to be wary that this euphoria and hope may be based on less substance than the headlines suggest.

He's going to have the longest honeymoon period of any president in recent times, I just hope he uses it to implement radical change rather than petering out with a series of centrist compromises. I'd love to be proved wrong, but I suspect the latter may be the case.

And they say it's a tough time to be a pessimist! Take THAT optimism!