Cockroaches are beautiful, elegant and resourceful creatures. I just don’t like sharing my home with them. And they mess with my brain.
I’ve lived in the same apartment block in Bahrain more or less for the past four years, and until a few months ago, the little darlings had never graced me with their presence.
Why now? Because of a swift degradation in my kitchen hygiene standards? I don’t think so. I’m not aware of having turned into a food slob, leaving bits all over the kitchen counters, piles of unwashed dishes and tasty titbits on the floor for my eager new companions to hoover up.
No, my kitchen practice is much the same as it always was. I use the dishwasher every day, I sweep up stuff from the floor, and I have a cleaner come in every week to reach the parts I’m unable or disinclined to. My apartment is modern, well-built and well maintained. There have been three attempts by the janitorial staff to get rid of them. Yet still they come.
They’re not particularly big ones, and there aren’t that many of them. But not a day goes by without a sighting or two. It doesn’t help that the kitchen surfaces are black marble, so it’s not easy to spot them scurrying for cover. They seem to have a special liking for the dishwasher. Is that because they creep out from the dishwasher drain after the cycle’s over and go foraging?
Anyway, it’s not particularly pleasant to open the door and find a little team crawling around the top near the controls. Maybe their genetic memory leads them to dishwashers not only because they’re nice and warm, but because they know we’re not likely to launch a brutal assault on our cups and plates, and chemical weapons necessitate a second cycle to get rid of the nerve agent coating our cutlery.
My reaction to them is an interesting illustration of the different thinking levels of the brain.
Being a bit of a wishy-washy liberal type, I don’t particularly enjoy killing things – especially when they’re much smaller than me. Yet when I spot a cockroach, the reptile brain kicks in – fight or flight, instant reaction. If I can splat them with something – a kitchen towel or a spatula, I go for it. Failing that, a lightening attack with a finger or a foot does the job, but usually fails to take them all out. The nuclear option in a decision-making process that takes less than a second is to reach for the Raid, which sends clouds of sweet-smelling but deadly nerve agent around the kitchen with a half-life of several hours to remind me that I am in the presence of death. After all, if it’s sending my little housemates belly-up and twitching, what’s it doing to me?
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves in terms of brain function.
Once I’ve reduced them to a squishy yellow smear on the floor, the limbic bit takes over – emotion and judgement. Damn, blast – or words far worse – little bastards! Have I not sent a clear enough message? I think of Will Smith in the finale of Men in Black. Can they not see the example of their dead friends and scuttle off to some other apartment? How many more do I have to kill? And what’s the next step? Bring in the exterminators and evacuate the apartment for a couple of days?
Finally the neo-cortex – the so-called higher brain function that deals with culture, learning and vision – comes along and reminds me that I’m part of a species that kills things every day without thought or compunction. I didn’t choose cockroaches for companions, and anyway at my hands they get a quick and hopefully painless death. And what’s death to a cockroach anyway? Simply an altered molecular arrangement that they wouldn’t notice because they aren’t aware of the original state in the first place? And do they have souls? Have I just wiped out a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler? And if some of us come back as cockroaches, how do we crawl back to a higher state next time round? Is it possible for a cockroach to lead a good life as opposed to a bad one? Could it be that by zapping them I’m creating martyrs who enter a state of cockroach grace?
Beyond that point madness beckons, so I step back from the philosophical brink, clear up the bodies and make a mental note to remind the landlord that the bugs are still there and what is he going to do about it?
And not to write a blog post about it in case people think I live in dirt and squalor.
But this can’t go on. In the end it’ll be them or me. In the long run I suspect that these resilient little buggers will be patrolling the nooks and crannies long after I’ve gone.
And who’s to say that they deserve to inherit the earth any less than we do? Well, learning to kill as efficiently as we do might be a factor in their favour.
The Education Industry strikes again! Ever keen to promote the degree as the educational gold standard, a leading research institution has a pop at teachers who dare to teach subjects without having what it considers to be a relevant qualification.
Yesterday’s London Times ran an article entitled “Thousands of teachers lacking degrees in their own subjects”:
Almost a quarter of secondary school maths teachers (about 7,500) and more than a third of physics teachers (approximately 2,000) do not have a relevant degree-level qualification.
About 7,300 secondary school English teachers (a fifth) do not have a relevant degree-level qualification, according to statistics published yesterday by the Department for Education.
In addition, half of those teaching Spanish (about 3,400), more than half of information technology teachers (about 9,200) and more than two in five religious education teachers (6,500) do not hold a relevant qualification higher than an A level.
Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said that the figures were “worrying”.
“It is essential that teachers have expertise in the subject that they are teaching,” he said. “The most reliable indicator of that is holding a university degree in the subject.
“It is very worrying that so many of our physics and maths teachers appear to be under-qualified. We know that not enough young people are being turned on to these subjects for us to have all the people graduating in them that we would want.”
So according to Professor Smithers, having a degree in the subject they teach is also a reliable indicator that teachers will “turn on” their students.
Sorry, Professor, but you’re dead wrong. Having a degree in the subject you teach matters FAR, FAR less than that you are a good teacher.
I was privately educated in the UK. From the age of eight, I went to a boarding school. My parents went to great lengths to make sure that the schools they sent me to were the best available. Even though there were some fairly mediocre private schools in those days, as there are today, you don’t pay a small fortune for crap education unless you think it’s more important that your offspring excels at rugby or learns to ape the table manners of the elite.
The good professor is particularly worried by under-qualified maths and physics teachers. Well, at my very expensive schools I was taught by Oxford graduates with first degrees in the relevant subject. I was put off both subjects at an early age by awful teaching.
At the age of ten, I would be regularly dragged out of bed by the teacher at 9pm (we went to bed at 7.30), and told to repeat my prep work (the equivalent of homework in state schools). I would not be allowed to go back to bed until I’d finished it. In one end-of term report, the said teacher informed my parents that “Royston gives a passable imitation of a fool”. I hated him and his bloody subject ever since – not because he lampooned me (which I was actually quite proud of), but because he was such a lousy teacher and callous human being. I’m being grossly unfair no doubt. After all he was an Old Etonian, and we all know what supremely talented people they are. He was probably poisoned by a deep sense of resentment that he ended up having to teach an idiot like me when his classmates were running – or ruining – the country.
When I went to senior school, I was taught physics by an elderly teacher who was also the deputy head. He was much revered by generations of my peers. Not by me. Looking back, I would say that he was probably fairly high on the autism scale. Either that or washed out and terminally cynical. Totally lacking in empathy, and totally incapable of inspiring the slightest excitement in what I now know is an endlessly fascinating subject. Yet here was a highly qualified teacher.
Fortunately my maths, when I needed it most, was rescued by the advent of the calculator and the spreadsheet. Physics I dropped as early as possible, but not before the same teacher delivered a hefty kick up my backside in front of the whole class for not concentrating during an exam revision session. Divine retribution followed however, much to my delight, when he was seen to limping heavily after the event.
So my experience – and that of my children by the way – is that the ability and desire in a teacher to communicate, inspire, encourage and support counts for far more than their possession of “degrees considered to be relevant. Especially since by the time they’ve been teaching for a few years the chances are that they will have forgotten 80% of what they learned at university, and have retained only what they need to teach the curriculum to their students.
Yes, there are lots of great, caring teachers out there. But the good professor should spend more time figuring out why there are so many crap ones as well, instead of using the Education Industry’s fallacious benchmark – the degree – as an indicator of quality.
And I wonder how many teachers a hundred years ago who helped their students through exams that were fiendishly difficult compared to what today’s kids have to sit could boast of the “relevant qualifications”. But in those days education was a vocation, not an industry.
I do a lot of flying – usually economy. The experience is never better than OK, often horrible, depending on how many cattle are in the class. The only flights I look forward to are in business, which happens only when someone else is paying or when I’m cashing in my air miles.
Yes, I know, I’m a spoilt git. But part of the problem is that I’m a big spoilt git. Not of the obese kind that pours itself, wobbling and sweating, into the seat and spills over into half of the precious space either side. While being tall is OK under most circumstances, it’s not OK in economy. Air stewardesses seem to have a mission to destroy my already-shattered knees by aiming their trollies at me with laser-guided precision.
I heave with malevolent envy whenever I see a short-legged passenger actually crossing her legs. How dare you have enough space to cross your legs, I think, when the passenger in front of me is lucky not to suffer an indent in their back every time I try and force my restless legs into more comfortable position.
When I was young, every flight was an adventure. These days a “good flight” is the absence of pain.
Whenever I sit in an aisle seat, I need to make a decision. Depending on which knee was last crashed into by a trolley, do I want to be totally crippled, or just equally damaged in both knees?
Then there are babies. Full-on, yowling babies. The days when our own babies flew with us are buried deep in the mental archives. But I don’t remember them being half as loud or half as objectionable as the squalling infants of today.
Not to mention falling luggage. Actually, I nearly killed an unfortunate Chinese lady when my laptop fell out of its bag, dealt her a glancing blow and gouged a hole in itself against an armrest before crashing the floor. I was lucky. She just rubbed her head with a bewildered expression and accepted my profuse apologies. If she’d been from my country, I would have been at least a million dollars lighter. All those witnesses. A slam dunk. The miracle was that the laptop continued to work.
And bugs. Zillions of them. Expelled from hacking coughers. Coating every surface. I’m surprised the little buggers don’t eat each other as they’re waiting to attack us. Apart from flu, the king of the aircraft bugs is the norovirus. This is the one that causes you to project your lunch at anything within a ten foot radius, and leak from orifices too unpleasant to discuss in polite company – all at a moment’s notice. It’s also the scourge of the cruise liners. Not for nothing will you find more alcohol gel than alcohol on the love boats these days. Days of diarrhoea and vomiting on the high seas are no fun. So why do you suppose the airlines don’t do the same thing with their passengers? Quite simply because by the time you start throwing up, you’re already off the plane, and it could have come from anywhere, couldn’t it?
I could go on. Announcements that cut across the inflight movie at a critical moment. Drunken passengers who lurch down the aisle colliding with people on the way. Unusual fragrances emanating from people who haven’t changed their clothes for a week. Food that crumbles and slops all over you no matter how hard to try to keep your dinner to yourself against the best efforts of other people’s elbows, so that when you get up, bits shower off you as they would from a baby being lifted out of its high chair. Queues for the loos, assuming you can overcome the impenetrable barrier of trolleys crawling from your end to the malodorous “conveniences” 50 rows down the aircraft.
A couple of days ago I flew from Doha to London on a packed flight and was treated to the full symphony. Stereophonic babies. A trolley blow to the knee that I swear was delivered on purpose to discourage me from allowing any part of my anatomy to protrude into the aisle for the remainder of the flight. An officious steward who berated me for trespassing into the sacred space of business class to use the loo when the aisles in economy were blocked. Apparently one of the passengers complained. Quite right – let the starving eat cake. (Note to Qatar Airways: why do you display signs visible in economy directing you to vacant loos if you don’t want people to use them?)
Roll on the day when an airline – probably Ryanair, given their record of creative travel solutions – introduces Coffin Class. You give your passengers a near-fatal dose of tramadol, wrap them in sleeping bags, load them into converted coffins and forklift them into the hold along with the cats, dogs and reptiles. At the other end give them a shot of adrenaline and send them staggering into immigration.
Surely a better option than long hours on a packed cattle class flight. Spoilt – moi?