Have We No Rubbish Bins

I was aghast when I read that a Melbourne school is getting rid of all its bins and asking students to take home their chip packets, juice boxes, and other leftover rubbish from their lunches. I started to wonder if this would be the end of the yard duty I once knew. This would take a few ice colds to think through; would yard duty be replaced by random inspections of students’ lunches to check if they’re zero waste.

image source:jmcadam

I went to a Technical School in a working-class suburb of Melbourne. My five years as a student at Williamstown Technical School was defined by rules. There were rules for the classroom, rules for the school grounds, and rules for when you went on a school excursion or outing. One of the rules was you couldn’t leave the school premises without permission; so to leave school at lunchtime you needed a lunch pass. Boys living close to school usually had a permanent lunch pass so they could go home for lunch. If there were special circumstances and you needed to go home at lunchtime it had to be planned in advance. Your mum would send a note to the headmaster requesting a temporary lunch pass. At random lunchtimes, teachers would perform lunch pass checks at the school gates, and patrol the fence perimeter to catch any miscreant who left, or tried to leave, the school grounds without a lunch pass. For some boys the temptation of sixpence worth of chips and a few potato cakes from the nearby fish and chip shop, or an egg and lettuce roll, a vanilla slice, or a bag of mixed lollies from the close by milk bar was overpowering, and they foolishly left the school grounds without a lunch pass. When the transgressors were caught they were offered yard duty or the cuts. As well as copping yard duty, or the cuts, for leaving the school grounds at lunchtime without a lunch pass you could also receive yard duty or the cuts for dropping any paper or food scraps on the schoolyard, being excessively rowdy or running in the corridors, wagging on sports afternoon, or any behaviour a teacher deemed as reckless. Most boys chose a single-hander instead of a week of yard duty; but a week of yard duty was always chosen over a double hander, backhander, or six of the best. And a day of yard duty was always chosen over any type of the cuts.

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The cuts were being hit across the hand with a two-inch wide, two-foot-long, leather strap. Yard duty was picking up greaseproof paper, paper bags and canteen lunch bags, or anything a lunch had been wrapped in, half-eaten sandwiches, sausage rolls, pies, the scattered leftovers of food fights, or any rubbish that had been dropped, or thrown, on the ground instead of into a rubbish bin. Yard duty was done during lunchtime. When the first lunch bell rang to signal eating time had officially ended you were free to wander around with your hands in your pockets as boys do, play a game of footie, cricket, British Bulldog or bat tennis, and head off behind the shelter sheds and the far end of the oval to smoke; it was also when the yard duty boys reported to the head yard duty teacher to be assigned an area of the yard. The size and location of a yard duty area seemed to be decided on by the whim of the yard duty teacher, and they were inspected just before the afternoon locker bell rang. If an area was judged as unclean the boys assigned to that area would receive an extra day of yard duty. The rule-breakers never saw yard duty as an experience to understand the importance of proper waste disposal or the opportunity to appreciate the effects of littering on the environment; it was seen only as a punishment, not as a chance to participate in the upkeep of the schoolyard and to develop a sense of school pride.

image source:irishpost.com

My lunch sandwiches were the standard sandwiches of the day; nothing fancy, just school lunch sandwiches that you’d find in every boy’s brown paper lunch bag. Mum made my school lunch sandwiches each morning; she’d butter two slices of white bread and then add the fillings. I always knew what day of the week it was by the sandwich filling; Monday was cold lamb leftover from Sunday’s roast, Tuesday was salad, and then jam, tomato, and cheese to finish off the week. Mum never made beetroot sandwiches because she didn’t like the way beetroot juice soaked into the bread. She’d wrap the cut-in-two sandwich, and a piece of fruit cake, in greaseproof paper and put both packets of goodness into a brown paper bag. The paper bag sat on the kitchen table, waiting to be taken to school. Each day when I finished lunch I folded the greaseproof paper along its creases and put it into the empty paper bag, and then folded the paper bag into a small packet to put into my trouser pocket. We had to bring our lunch paper bag back and wrappings home so mum could reuse them the next day. Mum kept all the brown paper bags from her Friday afternoon shopping at the fruit and grocer’s shop and used them for school lunch bags; every week I had a new brown paper bag to fold and put into my pocket.

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I learnt the hard way that mum knew best when it came to school lunch sandwiches. Whenever she made banana sandwiches she’d butter two slices of bread and wrap them in greaseproof paper. I’d take a bread and butter sandwich with an unpeeled banana for lunch; lunch was a mouthful of bread and butter sandwich and a bite of a freshly peeled banana. I must have been picked on, and the target of jokes whenever I took banana sandwiches for lunch; I remember coming home from school one day and telling mum that from now on I must have my banana mashed onto the bread.

The long main school corridor was lined with airtight, three-tier, metal box lockers. When the locker bell rang the corridor became crowded with students; it was perfect chaos. You’d put your lunch in your locker in the morning when you collected your books for your morning classes; there it stayed until the lunchtime locker bell three hours later. No sandwich was safe inside a small, airtight, metal locker; jam, and tomato sandwiches were turned into a limp bathroom flannel as their juices soaked into the bread, and cheese sandwiches were transformed into cardboard as the bread and cheese dehydrated. My banana mashed onto the bread sandwich was soggy, and moist, and filled with pulpy, brown, mushy banana; my locker was filled with a bouquet of very ripe bananas. That was my last school lunch banana sandwich.

image source:pixabay

The migrant boys had different sandwiches than us. At the end of the second world war, the Australian government started an ambitious immigration plan that first targeted British citizens, but then expanded to accept immigrants from continental Europe. A migrant hostel was established at the old Williamstown Racecourse; it was a couple of miles further down Kororoit Creek road from Williamstown Tech. Yugoslav, Cypriot, and Maltese boys were bused to school each day. We looked at the migrant sandwiches with askance and never thought of swapping lunches with them; their sandwiches were an assortment of crusty wedges of bread, slabs of pungent-smelling cheeses, and strange-looking dried sausages. Today those cured meats, artisan bread and cheeses are the foundation of gourmet sandwiches.

Most of my full time working life in Australia was spent with the Victorian Education Department as a Mathematics and Science teacher. I started teaching in the early seventies and was at three different inner suburban Technical Schools. It was the seventies so I thought of myself more as a conduit than a teacher. I was in the classroom to create an aesthetic sensitivity for scientific discovery and to share the beauty, and logic, of mathematics with preadolescence boys. I soon learnt that being a conduit was more than creating a circle of learning and curiosity; it also meant student supervision. Because students had to be supervised during recess and lunch, teachers were assigned yard duty responsibilities. As a teacher at Williamstown Technical School, I walked the same corridors, wrote on the same blackboards as Mr Baldwin did, and enlightened young boys in the same rooms I sat in as a student. And as a yard duty teacher I walked the same area where I ate a mouthful of bread and butter sandwich with a bite of a freshly peeled banana.

image source:victoriancollections.net.au

As a teacher, I loathed yard duty with the same intensity I did as a student. I’d wander out of the staff room still with a cup of tea in hand five or more minutes after the first lunch bell so I’d reach the schoolyard after the wrongdoers had been assigned their area to pick up the leftover scraps from food fights, pieces of greaseproof paper, shreds of paper and canteen lunch bags, half-eaten sandwiches, and remnants of sausage rolls and pies. I knew to avoid the back of the shelter sheds because the smokers still smoked there; discipline procedures were still in place for students caught smoking and I would’ve had to assign a week of yard duty or a couple of double handers to the smokers. I loitered in front of the trade rooms and strolled the area where the boys had to sit to eat their lunches. Not many students stayed in the lunch area after the first lunch belt so there was very little chance of a fight, or any other questionable behaviour needing a discipline punishment starting. Sometimes I wandered over and watched the migrant boys play soccer.

And now you’ll need to excuse me. Tomorrow is rubbish day and I need to start sorting the polystyrene green, blue, yellow, red, and grey bins in the basement to prepare my rubbish for collection. And I need to call the Solid Waste Helpline to check if it’s the collection day for the green and blue, the red and blue, the red and yellow, the blue and grey, the red and blue, or the blue and yellow bins.


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Where There’s Tea There’s Hope

It’s not often I yearn for a cup of tea; though I still enjoy the occasional, comforting refreshment of a cup of hot tea with milk. I grew up drinking tea back when you didn’t have to spend half the morning trying to make up your mind whether your first cup of tea for the day was going to be a Green Tea, Earl Grey, Chai Tea, Chamomile, or some flavour of Fruit Infused Herbal Tea. Making a cup of tea was as simple as putting the kettle on, scooping a teaspoon for each cup and one for the pot of Bushells or Robur into the teapot, and pouring in the boiling water from the kettle. After the tea had steeped for a few minutes the rest was just as easy; pour the tea through a tea strainer into a cup and add a quick dash of milk and sugar to your taste.

image source:jmcadam

If you were sharing a cuppa with a few friends there was always the argument of whether the milk should be added to the cup before or after the hot tea. It’s suggested that putting the milk in first came about because people who owned fine china thought it was a bit dicey to pour hot tea into the cup first; it might cause the cup to break. It would only break if it was inferior china so if you were  a pretentious owner of fine china and wanted to show your social superiority you’d always pour the hot tea in first, thus demonstrating the quality of your china. I’m a put the milk in after the hot tea has been poured person; a reflection of my pomposity.

I used to yearn for a cup of tea when I was teaching in the Victorian Education Department’s Altona North, Williamstown, and Collingwood Technical Schools and giving it all I had to share the beauty and logic, and create an aesthetic appreciation of mathematics, in preadolescence boys. I seem to remember the first class period starting at nine in the morning, and the last period of the day finishing at half past three in the afternoon. There was a morning recess, lunch time and afternoon recess; these times out of the classroom were all that seemed to matter to the boys. And these times were also all that mattered to most of us teachers. We let our classes out the instant the bell rang to announce morning recess.

image source:theguardian.com

Some of us anticipated the bell and already had the boys sitting up straight in their desks, their books in their bags, ready to be dismissed. There was no running in the corridors so the boys walked quickly into the yard to enjoy their morning recess; the teachers walked quickly in the corridors to the staff room. And we walked quickly to the staff room table with the tea urn, milk, and sugar; our mugs were on a peg board alongside the tea urn. We sat with our hot tea at our tables; tradies at their own table, english and social studies at theirs, math and science together, and the phys ed, accounting, and music teachers scattered around the room. The tables were united by the camaraderie of sharing a mug of hot tea, and the silence of sipping tea. Tea was our nectar; it revived us from the exhaustion of teaching a classroom of preadolescence boys, and it gave us strength and purpose for our next hour of teaching. Knowing our time was limited we risked scalded lips to savour a second cup of the divine beverage, and when the bell rang to announce the start of the next period we rose as one, flushed with a renewed strength, and headed off to our next class.

Each day at the start of each school year a makeshift daily timetable was pinned onto the staff room notice board.; at day’s end you’d check the timetable to find out what you were teaching tomorrow. The timetable was handwritten and detailed every class from form one through five, the room number, and the assigned teachers. In all the years I was teaching in Technical Schools I only knew the timetable to be put together by a trade teacher; a Fitting and Machining or Sheet Metal teacher. Usually around the third week of school the conflicts with teachers and room numbers had been worked through, and a permanent weekly timetable was pinned onto the notice board; a handwritten master piece usually on some engineering size drawing paper.

image source:ktla.com

Before we had memorised our timetable we gathered each morning in front of the notice board, and as we slowly sipped our hot tea reminded ourselves what we would be teaching for the week. You silently prayed that you weren’t assigned yard duty for morning or afternoon recess; for that would mean tea break without tea. And if you were assigned lunchtime yard duty you hoped for the last half hour. I still don’t know who made the tea in the Tech School staff rooms, but I knew that if you needed a hot cup of joy to start the morning, and a comforting refreshment during the morning recess, lunch time, and afternoon recess the urn was there.

It was one of those late weekend afternoons announcing the colours of autumn. I was in no hurry. I was slowly motoring home from the mall, when without warning I was struck with a yearning for a cup of tea. It was a short drive to a well known Omaha restaurant and bakery; described by some as serving simple but elegant foods, and showcasing a bakery lineup that includes everything from warm fat cinnamon rolls to strawberry wedding cake. Some time ago I learned that if you ask for tea in a restaurant you’ll be served iced tea ; I was prepared when the waitperson inquired

Waitperson: And what would you like to drink sir?
Me: (in a casual manner) Hot tea please

image source:pixabay

He left and returned with a wooden box balanced on an extended arm. When he was within arms reach he slowly opened the lid and angled the box to allow me to see into it; I somewhat expected to see two percussion duelling pistols or the Crown of Scotland. Instead, the inside of the box was divided into eight small sections; each section just large enough to hold ten individually wrapped tea bags. The tea bag collection was made up of; Twining’s English Breakfast, Natural Green Tea, Lemon Delight, Earl Grey, Chai Spiced Apple, Chamomile, Naturally Decaffeinated Organic Green Tea, and Black Mixed Berry Tea. After some hesitation I reached into the box and chose two English Breakfast Tea teabags; I always top up the pot with hot water, and then put in a second tea bag after I pour the first cup.

Waitperson: If you take two tea bags I’ll have to charge for two teas

I put one of the tea bags back into the box. With tax, the cup of tea was costing about $3. 50 so now it would have been close on $7.00. As I waited for my hot water I pondered; at $3:50 a tea bag supermarkets should be charging $175:00 for a box of 50 Twinings London Classics English Breakfast Tea Bags. And that means the tea urns in the staff rooms at the Technical Schools would have had a couple of hundred dollars worth of tea in them. Three or four urns a day and you’re talking $400.00; I don’t think any of us thought about the cost of our morning recess, lunch time, and afternoon recess mug of divine goodness back then.

The waitperson returned with a small pot of lukewarm water, a lemon wedge, and an individual portion cup of honey; I asked for milk, knowing I would get cream. I let the tea bag steep in the pot for several minutes and then poured the tea into the cup; it was a cup of stained, see through, tepid water.

image source:consumerreports.org

I remembered back when a good jiggle would fix a pot of weak tea so I jiggled and jiggled. I gestured to the waitperson, and when he was alongside the table asked if he would look into the cup and tell me what he saw. Before he could answer I started on an articulate, and expressive description of a cup of hot tea and milk, and ended with the passionate declaration;

This cup of tea is an insult to all honest tea drinkers; the tea drinkers who don’t need a reason to put the kettle on for a cuppa, the tea drinkers who stand up and proudly ask “shall I be mother”. It’s a slap in the face to the tea drinkers whose grandfathers poured their tea from the cup into the saucer and drank from the saucer. I refuse to drink this swill; I took two tea bags to uphold the tradition and decency of all true blue tea drinkers.

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He replied that he couldn’t give me another tea bag because the video cameras were watching; but he would ask the manager if I could have another tea bag. He returned with the wooden box and opened the lid to expose the selection of tea bags; I took a Twinings English Breakfast tea bag.

I keep a small stash of English Breakfast tea bags in a kitchen cabinet; the next time I’m out and about and yearn for a cup of golden deliciousness I think I’ll wait until I get home. But I suppose I could always stop at a restaurant and order a Long Island Iced Tea; made by mixing vodka, gin, tequila, triple sec and rum, and then pouring the mixture over ice, and adding a dash of cola for colour. I wonder if you could add milk to a Long Island Iced Tea.

About 85% of the tea consumed in the US is iced tea so I should just go with the flow. Because restaurants and eateries offer bottomless ice tea I should just order tea and then add milk and sugar, and have endless glasses of iced sweet milk tea.


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It’s A Long Road That Has No Turns

It’s taken a few years to understand the concept of retirement but I think I’ve got it. You don’t have to plan on doing something; not having a plan to do something doesn’t mean you do nothing. Oftentimes I find myself saying either; “I think I’ll cut the grass tomorrow, or maybe I’ll throw the shorts that I’ve worn for the last five mornings I’ve gone walking into the washing machine”. And then tomorrow comes, and I’ll surf the web for seventies Aussie rock music, have a bowl of gelato, take a few selfies, or do nothing. I do this because I know that when tomorrow becomes today I can still do tomorrow, what I had planned to do today. Retirement means you don’t plan your tomorrow and you don’t plan your today.

image source:jmcadam

It seems that the mention of no planning caused the young John McAdam to become restless. At seventeen I planned on becoming an Industrial Chemist; a scientist who would mix chemicals to create new-age polymers that would change the world. I started college with a passion and strong sense of commitment; soon displaced by the change and uncertainty of the sixties and seventies. There’s a lot I don’t remember about the seventies and my searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary. I plunged into the Aussie hallowed right of passage; the two-year working holiday in England. I hitchhiked through England and Scotland and wandered along the ill-defined Hippie Trail. I travelled overland, using buses and trucks, into India. The only plan for my journey of discovery was “OK”, and “let’s leave tomorrow”. There was always another path to follow. A few years later I stumbled into South East Asia, Burma, Nepal, India, and back into the Middle East. The itinerary was once again “OK”, and “let’s leave tomorrow”. What remained of my predictable childhood, and young adolescence was stolen by the enjoyment of the unknown.

image source:jmcadam

Back in Melbourne, I drifted through life teaching in the Victorian Education Department’s Technical Schools. My enthusiasm for sharing the structure and logic, and creating an aesthetic appreciation for the beauty of mathematics in preadolescence boys, was dampened by the Department’s statewide syllabi. What was to be taught, and the week or weeks it would be taught, was prescribed by the Education Department; every mathematics teacher in every technical school throughout Victoria would be teaching Form 3 boys factorising expressions in the same week. I was in conflict; I had embraced living with the randomness caused by the absence of a methodical and systematic plan. My life was being planned by the sequence of teaching preadolescence boys; factorising an expression, calculating the area of polygons, and determining percentages and differences. And so I embraced the pandemonium and chaos of the Schools without Walls revolution. The progressive school where I taught divided a students day into three compulsory timetabled classes, and two “let the boys pick whatever they want to do” classes.

image source:jmcadam

The traditional first, second and third forms technical school structure wasn’t used to group the boys into classes; instead six of each year one, two and three boys were combined to create a class for the timetabled activities. Classes were a collection of twelve through sixteen-year-old young boys and pubescent teenagers. Teaching was based on the premise, young boys will best learn when they decide they are ready to learn. I was no longer in conflict with a structured syllabus, and the boys were no longer in conflict with having to learn; if two parallel lines are cut by a transversal then the corresponding angles are congruent, obscure trigonometric ratios in right-angled triangles and ambiguous algebraic functions. I watched as inexperienced boys drifted aimlessly through their formative years and wondered, who would allow the hallowed right of passage, or the Hippie Trail and the cultures of South East Asia to mould and define their adulthood. Because most of the boys hadn’t decided they were ready to experience the aesthetic pleasures of mathematics I had nothing else to do but think about how and why we learn. I returned to college to study Instructional Technology and graduated with an advanced degree.

I once again took the fork in the road; leaving Australia and settling in the USA. The young John McAdam became dormant. He nestled into my hippocampus and wrapped himself in his blanket of thoughts, hopes, and dreams; he was deep in hibernation. For close to thirty years I enjoyed being a member of a dynamic community college instructional design team; responsible for infusing technology with learning and transforming and redesigning the delivery of learning for college students. I was an immigrant travelling without GPS through the still shaping digital landscape; our only plan was to use technologies to create new learning environments.

image source:jmcadam

It seems that my retirement of no planning has caused the young, hibernating John McAdam to stretch and yawn. I need to start planning some strategies for my old age before he fully wakes and starts off with his laissez-faire, do-nothing way of thinking. I think I will need to;

Wear white socks. Instead of roaming ill-defined trails, or splashing through the waves in my rugged closed-toe sandals, I need to start wearing white tube socks with my Teva sandals year-round when I’m in the house, and when I’m mall walking. And when I take up bowling changing into bowling shoes will be so much easier; I’ll be halfway there with my socks already on. Wearing white socks will also prepare me in case I develop diabetes as I move on in years and have to wear compression socks.
Wear shoes with Velcro instead of shoelaces. This decision is based on the premise that my shoe wardrobe is made up of Teva sandals and runners, and I’ll never wear a classic men’s dress shoe again. Maybe I should buy runners with shoelaces and replace the laces with no tie waterproof silicone flat elastic athletic running shoelaces. I could keep the original shoelaces and tie them together so I have a belt for my trousers,. They would also be on hand in case I nick myself when shaving and need to apply a tourniquet; I have read that as you put on the mileage you can develop unintentional shaking or trembling hands. I could also use the original laces as a play toy for the little cat or dog I adopt from the humane society.
Adopt a little cat or dog. They say that urinary incontinence; having a hard time controlling when urine comes out of your body, is something that just seems to happen with the golden years. The commonest form in older men is urgency incontinence. It seems that speed is essential when the urge hits, and the challenge is to rush to the loo without leaking on the way. I’m probably going to have some dribbling, and because of my shaky hands some problems with my aim; another reason why white socks are a good idea. I could think about getting a walk-in shower installed in the bathroom to use as the loo and to make everything easy to wash down in the other rooms get the chairs and sofa cover with plastic. But I think the best way to avoid frustration and embarrassment when I wet my pants is to adopt a little cat or dog from the humane society. I could rush over and sit on the sofa, put the little cat or dog on my lap, and blame it for the soaking in my groin and any soggy spots on the couch.
Commit to a single leg stance balance exercise program. The ability to stand on one leg and balance on one foot is important to an old-timer; especially when you’re trying to put on the reg grundies. To improve my balance while standing on one leg I’m going to do the following single-leg stance exercise every time I’m at the supermarket;

    • stop pushing the shopping trolley in any aisle
    • standing behind the trolley and hold onto it with both hands
    • slowly lifting one leg off the ground
    • holding the position for up to 10 seconds
    • repeating 10-15 times
    • and repeat with the other leg

When the single-leg stance exercise becomes easy and my balance improves, I’ll up the ante by closing my eyes and holding onto the trolley with one hand; I may also increase the time standing on one leg to 60 seconds. Maybe I could interest other sunset year shoppers in the single-leg stance exercise for better balance. We could form a club similar to a senior mall walking club. Supermarkets have a comfortable indoor climate, easy access to toilets and water fountains, and the camaraderie fostered between a group of old-timers standing on one leg in a supermarket aisle would be beyond belief.
Start a fundraising campaign for a Rock and Roll retirement resort. Some people in their second childhood see nursing homes as places for the unwanted elderly; a place where one goes to die. What if we lived out our golden oldie years in sex, drugs, and rock and roll, themed retirement resort? No formal dining room; instead, electric food warmer hot plates with avocado green crock pots brimming with Swedish Meatballs, Rice A Roni, and Chicken a la King, and yellow electric fondue pots with simmering cheese, crab, and pizza fondue, on buffet lined psychedelic walls. Geometric contemporary art, pink patterned sofas, beanbag chairs, brass reading lamps, and indoor house plants would underline that getting old should is fun. Paper plates laden with devilled eggs, bite-size pieces of celery stuffed with vegemite, green and black olives, and bowls of Frito’s, Lays Potato Chips, and Dorito’s would always be in reach to satisfy the munchies.
Daily activities would include how to chop and channel your walker, and customising your walker with the hydraulic suspension to be a bouncer. Singalongs would be a medley of the greatest hits of Daddy Cool, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, The Master’s Apprentices, The Easybeats, AC/DC, and the Skyhooks.

It seems that the mention of sex, drugs and rock and roll has aroused the young John McAdam from his hibernation. I need to go into the backyard with him to plan what we are not doing tomorrow so we can do something else.



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