A lot of parents pack up their troubles and send them off to summer camp.
~Raymond Duncan

It’s an amusing little line, that, although in this case, I don’t think it’s accurate when describing the gaggle of suburban boys I had the good fortune to meet last week.

I was lucky enough to be called up to replace a teacher at a local school camp. Even better, some teacher has pulled out from this week’s camp too, claiming they deserve to get paid overtime so that’s it, game over, the kids can go without them, so I’ve been offered another week. Obviously I jumped at the chance and now spent this weekend catching up on sleep and then washing and drying all of this week’s clothes to put them back into the bag again! While I’ve been waiting for kids to cough on their teachers this year so they can start calling me up to come and relieve them when they’re sick, I didn’t expect to be called up to go to camp. Monday to Friday, a week’s work, and eighty kids from the suburbs I’d never met before, and likely will never meet again.

And this is how I finished that last morning before we piled the kids onto their buses and waved them out of our lives; paddling quietly about the lake with the mist rising from the bush backdrop as the rain threatened to fall but kindly waited until we’d finished our quiet, peaceful little farewell trip.

2014-Woorabinda-01-Lake-Paddle

The little bloke in the canoe I handpicked because the last thing you want is a kid who can’t paddle, wriggles around and threatens to tip you both into the drink, and natters away about inane little things all the way through the trip. This little guy did none of that. Always make sure you grab a kid you are confident in having a solid conversation with but appreciates the silence and beauty of the place and recognises when to keep their mouth shut! This little bloke was all that, and good company.

It was a fantastic week. Forty boys in the dormitory, generally two to a room, although there is always the six bed room that you keep an eye on because if any room is going to get rowdy it’s the one with six boys in it. But it was quite amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large group of genuinely friendly and polite boys. There were thank yous here and thank yous there, and even thank you agains all over the place. They generally did as they were asked and I can’t remember anybody having to raise a voice to any of them!

There were forty girls on the camp too, but as I didn’t have a group of my own and wandered around and took a few sessions to give the other leaders a break, I didn’t have as much interaction with them and I think as a result I only learned three, maybe four of their names! I had the boys’ names down pat by Tuesday morning!

Of course, there were the exciting events like the zip wire, and the night hike and the camp fire and all those sorts of camp things, but to me camps are always about those little personal events. My little three foot shadow who trailed after me during most of the night hike talking about books he’d read. Barely ten years old and already reading ‘A Fortunate Life’ and having already finished ‘I Can Jump Puddles’ and ‘The Power Of One’. We yabbered nearly all the way there and back about good books and the French he was learning. For the rest of the camp we’d say ‘je mapelle croissant’ to each other and he’d collapse with giggles.

The little titchy bloke who wore a onesie to bed made in the figure of Stitch from the Disney movie. He looked absolutely adorable in it, and then decided that was what he wanted to wear to the disco on Tuesday night. And tear up the dancefloor? This little feller burned the place down with his funky little moves! Ever seen a three foot break dancing Stitch? Absolutely brilliant! He would have been the highlight of the whole night had not the little bloke in the canoe above stepped out solo right at the end and performed a thirty second little Michael Jackson number and bowl us all over!

He didn’t even win the night… in the dying moments it was the tall quiet kid who just sauntered into the middle of the dance floor on his own and then did a five minute Gangnam Style on his own! I reckon he landed every single move, too!

There’s always the home sick kid, though. Now, if they’re barely an hour off the bus and already sitting themselves alone and blubbering to get some attention then they’ll get a pat on the shoulder from me and a ‘get over it’ and that will just about be it. But if they get to that first night after a big, long day and realise that ‘wow, it’s dark, I’m stuffed and… there’s no mum and dad…’ then I’m more than happy to give them a bit of time as they settle down for the night. There were two or three of the boys who spent a quiet half hour having a chat sitting against the wall in the dormitory corridor while we talked about mum and dad and all those things important to ten year old kids. One kid, when I offered to come back and check on him, said yes please and when I asked in how long he was even polite enough to say ‘in five minutes… if that’s no trouble…’

They got through the night, although one of them did still make sure he knew which door was mine later on in the week in case he needed to knock on it. He was dead to the world five minutes later…

I’m sure there are many more little anecdotes I could draw up and this would go on all day. I’ll finish with one of the boys who had the room directly across from me. He and his room mate never made a sound once the lights were off, and were no trouble at all, until this kid decided he was going to find all sorts of ways to injure himself! A small rope burn on his knee on the second day was nothing much, but the full blooded crack to the forehead with a cricket bat on the Wednesday afternoon was something completely different! That egg on his noggin was enormous! I swear if he walked into a wall, his forehead would hit it before his nose! I took a photo or two because it looked so awesome, and told him to find me if he felt groggy during that night’s hike. After all, I was the only leader who actually vaguely knew the way back! He was fine though. A ring home to his mum by the nurse eased all concerns, and they passed on the message that his parents had fed his fish!

But then… at the camp fire somehow he managed to burn his neck with melted marshmellow!

Yes, you read that correctly!

The nurse found me a little later to update me on his condition (again, all good, he was more worried about putting the nurse out than any damage he’d done to himself!). Apparently when she asked him who his camp leader was he said ‘go find Dan, he’s the one lookin’ after me’.

Yeah… I might have choked up a little at that!

And then it was early Friday afternoon too soon and I had to watch all these kids pile onto their buses and drive out of my life. I’ve toyed with the idea of sending off a letter to each of their schools to say thanks for being so polite and friendly and just generally good fun. And maybe to ask how those fish are going.

Although that little bloke in the canoe up there drew me a picture but we packed it in his suitcase without realising it. He says he’s going to post it back to the camp for me.

How great were these kids, hey?

Tomorrow I get to do it all again with another bunch.

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School Spirit, Casper and Grace SwimmingYou can swim all day in the Sea of Knowledge and still come out completely dry.  Most people do.
 ~Author Unknown

About ten and a half years ago now I unintentionally drew a quick, little half page, four panel, completely hand drawn greylead comic of a kid waiting for the bus to pick him up to take him to school. A short while afterwards, I re-drew that strip into four larger panels, finished it off with a pen outline, and scanned it into the computer to add his dialogue and put it all together, and then uploaded it as the very first School Spirit webcomic strip. No colour, nothing fancy, just a black and white, simple little strip.

Technically, School Spirit was on it’s way.

And here it is, all these years later, and the 1400th regular School Spirit strip has arrived.

The thank yous to everyone are a little further down the page, but the current story arc finished with the above strip, seeing Casper and Cody, the ‘original’ boys of School Spirit, spending a day swimming at the local lake with Jackson and Didj, the newest members of the cast. While two of the boys are determined to bicker and fight amongst themselves because of their age difference at school, the other two leave them to it and focus instead on simply building their sand castle while trying to get their friends to get along with each other.

The full story arc begins here, if you would like to return to the beginning and read the ten strips in sequence, but here is the 1400th strip in question, or the link to the corresponding page on the official site.

Strip-1400

While it wasn’t intentional, I liked the way the casting turned out for this arc that brought up the 1400th strip. The original two boys having a proper storyline with the two most recent inclusions to the cast.Jackson on his Bike I’ve made it known quite openly that Jackson, in particular, was never meant to exist, but he just appeared in a crowd scene once and his expression and attitude towards the older kids just demanded a reason not to stick around. So he made a return quite soon afterwards and dragged Didj along with him. Completely unintentional, but probably the best inclusion into the strip of all time, excluding the eventual appearance of Wendy the spirit in strip #50, but that was planned from the beginning.

Time for the thank yous, isn’t it?

School Spirit has been chugging along for almost a decade now, reaching the official anniversary in early June this year. It’s never been a ‘big’ webcomic, and the readership has always been rather quiet and understated, but I suppose that’s fitting as so is the overall feel of the strip itself. Thank you, though, to everyone who’s been reading the adventures of the kids, both living and passed on, over these 1400 strips. Many have come and gone, many more have taken one look at it, left a comment if they decided it was worth the effort that said ‘not worth reading!’ (which I always found amusing!), and many, many more have not even taken the time to give it a look.

But there are a small, loyal group of you (and that includes those of you who have only just discovered it) who have understood the intention of School Spirit and given the kids your time. Thank you for standing by them. Every kid recognises when somebody else really gives two stuffs about them. The School Spirit kids are no different. So thank you, everyone, on behalf of Casper, Cody, Grace, Jacks, Wendy and the rest.

Thank you for your time, thank you for your readership, and thank you for the part you’ve taken in this little School Spirit community!

Feel free to leave whatever comments you would like. You’re a quiet bunch, but it’s always great to hear from like minded people who appreciate these kids!

Cheers.

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CasperThere is always Music amongst the trees in the Garden, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it.
~Minnie Aumonier

I gave myself a few minutes the other day to have a glance over my ‘Art Wall’ in the lounge room. It’s the slowly growing part of the wall that’s holding various of my pencil drawings, framed and on display. There are seven of them up there at present, the first from way back in ealry 2000, and the most recent from April last year.

Yes, that’s what I thought too. April last year was the last time I drew a proper pencil picture.

Well, not counting the drawing I made of Max from ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ on our Book Week Dress Up Day back in August.

So I decided to find the time and inspiration to sit down and try my hand at another drawing. Maybe more than one. To allow myself to get back into drawing properly again.

Not that I don’t consider the artwork I do when creating School Spirit to be proper drawing, but… well, they’re different to the pictures I draw from time to time to slowly expand my ‘Art Wall’.

So today I sat myself down in the afternoon and settled in with my long neglected Derwent drawing pencils and set to work.

Two hours or so later and I had a nice, finished little piece.

It came out pretty good for about two hours.

I don’t really know what the young kid is looking at, and I don’t think it really matters.

I used five different grade pencils in creating this piece; an F, B, 2B, 3B and 5B. All up the picture is about 22cm by 13cm in size. Eventually it will be framed and hang nicely alongside the other seven on the wall.

Hopefully this gives me a bit of inspiration to draw a few more up over the next few weeks, but we’ll wait and see.

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GraceWe had four days in a row of 40 degree heat to end last week. Friday was the last, and the hottest. The temperature reached a bit over 44, which is ridiculous, but then, once you get to 38 anything above that is irrelevant, eh? It’s just hot!

And… naturally we had an indoor cricket game that night. In courts that are pretty well just inside a big tin shed.

At least it wasn’t until 8:20 at night, and the change had started to come through and they had as many doors open as they could. It wasn’t quite so bad as we expected. Granted, it was still hot being out there in the field for sixteen overs, but when we were out there batting for four overs only, it wasn’t that bad.

The good news is we had a nice win.

With half the team not actually there when the time came to start, we went in to bat first, and the captain decided he wanted a beer or something, so he sent me and the young kid in first. It’s not a position the kid’s found himself batting before, but if he was nervous he’s learnt enough from us to either not show it, or do like the rest of us and not take it that seriously!

As it turned out, we made 39, which is another good score for the two of us. Nice and consistent so far in the first two games this year.

Five wickets when I was bowling… still not sure what I’m doing right because I know I don’t bowl that well, but I suppose they just write down the wickets, don’t they? They don’t draw pictures of them to show how ridiculously you got them! Anyway, five wickets and two catches in the field was a bit of fun, personally. Not sure how I managed to take the caught and bowled though… that was coming back so fast I looked at it for about five seconds after I caught it before I realised I had…

Still, after four hot days and an indoor cricket match in a tin shed to follow up, those two beers after the game were liquid gold!

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BrylcreemAstronomy’s much more fun when you’re not an astronomer.
- Brian May

I’m an amateur astronomer.

Okay, very amateur astronomer.

I can pick out several constellations in the sky, can point out several particular stars by sight and name, know where a few nebula can be found, and usually pick out Venus and Jupiter if it’s the right time of year. I still don’t know when those right times of year are, but if they’re up, I can pick the two planets out.

I can also locate South, which isn’t as easy Down Here as we don’t have a handy North Star to just point at and and say ‘hey, there it is!’

But yes, I’m still a very amateur astronomer.

I have a decent telescope that lets me see the rings of Saturn and the Galilean Moons of Jupiter, and now a decent camera with long exposure capability that screws onto the top of the telescope. Which means I use it as a tripod! So I combined the two once more last night and took my sky peeper outside to see what could be seen.

It was a waxing half moon last night, so I took a few photos of that, but I thought I’d try to get a 30 second exposure of part of the Milky Way too. The telescope had to be moved to the other side of the house to cut out the glare of the Moon, so from the balcony on the other side I set up and aimed the peeper at what looked a likely part of the Galaxy.

And this is what I ended up with (after a quick adjustment in Photoshop to bring out the fainter stars.

2014-01-09-Carina-Small

It’s part of the Carina constellation, a little above the Southern Cross. With the unaided eye, this part is four stars in a larger cross shape (or a kite, which is how I visualise it), but with the fainter stars appearing it’s a little more difficult to pick out. Four of the pink stars form the ‘False Cross’ (because it’s not the Southern Cross, which is nearby), and the lower of the four is the first of the two pink stars close together towards the bottom of the image. A second star is directly to the left, and the remaining two are lined up horizontally with each other further above. You can see a small cluster of smaller pink stars just to the upper left of the first of these two, if that helps.

But honestly, look at all those colours!

There are pinks, reds, blues, whites, yellows and oranges!

And nearly all of them I couldn’t see with my own eyes while I was waiting for the picture to be taken!

But all of them were shining down on my little balcony down here in my little three quarter acre piece of Australia!

Some of them from thousands of light years away!

And some of them larger than the entire orbit of the Earth itself!

How can you not look up into the night sky and be overawed by the immense infinite-ness (yes, I think I made that word up!) of the universe?

Those little lights have been travelling for thousands of years to find their way onto that photo, covering distances so large they lose all relevance to us down here.

Makes you realise just how small and utterly insignificant each of us truly is in the whole scheme of the universe, doesn’t it?

Which I think is what makes me think we’re all that more important.

If you have a chance, get yourself outside one night, look up, and just… watch.

Cheers.

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Casper playing cricket“I think the batsman’s strategy will be to make runs and not get out”
- Richie Benaud

Indoor cricket has started up again after a short break over the New Year. Not a new season, just the next game after the centre kindly gave us two or three weeks off over Christmas. It was good to get back, too.

Now, we’re the first to say that, as a team, we don’t take the game too seriously. I mean, if you honestly take indoor cricket seriously when you play in a little rural town like this… well, then you’re in the wrong sport, eh?

If anything, we bring the other team down to our level!

Anyway, it was good to get back into the run of things again, if for nothing else than to catch up again with my team mates.

We did okay, too, actually.

An easy win (where we expected a tough game if we were lucky!) by 50 runs, which isn’t going to happen too often, I wouldn’t think! I suppose we took them by surprise. I know I took myself by surprise because I bowled both of my overs and every ball went straight! Managed to snare three wickets, too. I guess my slow, wobbly rubbish did the job.

A pair of catches made for a fun contribution in the field.

Cody playing cricketThe highlight of the game was when we came in to bat, though. The strategy is always to make runs and not get out, and apart from one snick through to the keeper (my fault, I’m sorry!), we pulled it off. Actually made 44 runs from our four overs, which is a personal best for myself when batting with the young kid. It’s always nice to score well, but it’s particularly satisfying getting a high score.

Came nowhere near the 75 or so the first pair made, but… well, we can’t hit the ball as hard as they can!

A satisfying start to the year, though.

What are the odds that next week I can’t bowl straight to save myself, and I end up batting like a bunny??

Cheers.

 

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Cody playing cricketIn affectionate remembrance of English cricket, which died at the Oval on 29th August,1882.
Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances.
RIP.
NB The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.

- Anonymous   Notice in The Sporting Times, 2nd September, after the England cricket team’s defeat by the  Australians.

And so began the tradition of Australia and England competing for the Ashes.

Which, incidentally, we won back once again after seven years, with a five Test to zero whitewash! The world order is returning to where it should be!

Yes, I’m a little bit mad over cricket, particularly when the Aussies are involved, and winning the Ashes is the absolute pinnacle of the sport in this country, and most probably England as well. How good was it to belt the Poms by winning all five Test Matches? Only the third time in the entire history of the Ashes that any team has done so, and it was this year after being described at the beginning of the year as the worst Australian Test team of all time.

And so great to see it done so ruthlessly, too!

Ashes 2014

So they’re ours once again until the battle resumes back in England in 2016.

Which means that the Ashes aren’t on the telly any more…

Which means I’ve had a little time now to draw some School Spirit strips instead of being distracted by the cricket.

The current story arc has Cody dragging Casper along to fill in for his tennis team one Saturday morning. Now, I don’t entirely know why this happened, because tennis is not my favourite sport, and drawing tennis rackets and chain link fences around tennis courts are not my favourite things to draw. But… Cody seems to play tennis now, too. And he dragged Casper along. I really must have a word to those boys, eh?

1386-Panel-2Casper’s giving the serve a go here. I think he might be a bit like me and be all elbows and knees when it comes to playing the game with any sort of talent.

Truth be told, the seeds for this story arc grew out of my Saturday mornings through late Spring and early Summer watching some of the boys play tennis around the traps. While the game itself still doesn’t interest me enough to be looking forward to turning in on when the Australian Open starts on the telly in a few weeks, I did really enjoy the mornings just sitting at some little tennis club watching the kids run around having a hit.

I think while living inside my head, young Cody grabbed that thought and ran with it, and now here they are, playing tennis.

It’s not the first time the kids in School Spirit have grabbed the story and taken it in the direction they want instead.

I know it won’t be the last…

 

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Casper playing cricketI didn’t mean to.

It just sort of… happened.

Again and again.

Before I realised it, the kids last year had managed to get me to come and watch them play at a total of four different sports.

Regularly!

Not that I found it a chore, of course. It was great fun. I had the opportunity to see a variety of different kids across several ages just getting out there and having a go, and cheering along with every up and down. It’s a great way to wind down after work, and I found it a nice way to pass some time on a Saturday morning after fighting the crowds shopping for groceries!

I also figure that every half hour I put in supporting the kids in their sport, and so forth, I’ll get back tenfold when interacting with them back at school.

First it was the footy. Saw them win their way through to the first round of the finals and lose in the final minutes. Great few weeks, but a shame how it ended. Mind you, you lose more often than you win, eh?

Next it was the cricket. I think I watched the whole season, actually. These kids made it to the grand final, only to get belted. But, you have to make it there, eh?

Then it was the basketball. The girls in the grade I was teaching decided it would be a great way to finish the week if I dropped by to watch each Friday after work. They were right, actually.

And last it was the tennis. And… I don’t like tennis! But again, I found it an enjoyable few hours on a Saturday morning, just sitting and watching the kids quietly go about their games and having a chat with the parents who were giving up their mornings for their kids as well.

But now the year is over, and the kids’ sport is finished.

For now…

Before the year ended, a few of the boys told me I had to go and drop by the tennis courts on the way home one night. I had to take a photo with my phone of their tennis draw which was on the club room window. You know, so I would know when are where they would be playing for the second half of the season come February.

So, yes. Come February I’ll be watching the kids play tennis once again…

Which is most likely why School Spirit’s first story arc of the year features the boys playing tennis…

Yes, inspiration!

Cheers!

 

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CasperA Happy New Year to everyone who comes along to read this blog throughout 2014!

This is the first post of what will hopefully be many regular updates to the School Spirit blog this year. With a bit of luck (isn’t it always that way!) there will be many ideas, events and anecdotes that will appear hear over the next twelve months. Bits and pieces about the state of the comic itself, maybe a few background scraps about the kids, or inspirations for the characters and stories they find themselves in. Quick little updates on various real life events, experiences teaching the kids this year, thoughts on various educational issues, etc. Who knows exactly what I’ll find to talk about up here!

School Spirit will reach it’s tenth birthday this year. That’s almost as old as Facebook, and it’s older than most of the kids I’ll find myself teaching during the year! That’s getting rather scary, particularly as I at first never thought I’d have the time to make it. Ten years. That’s going to be a decent little achievement.

Professional wise this year, I’m starting the year off doing some relief teaching. A few days a week here and there at the various outlying primary schools around the traps, see what places are out there. I had great experiences last year making the shift to relief work, meeting new kids, seeing new schools. I spent the second half of the year at one school full time, which was great, and I’m looking forward to working there regularly enough again. The kids told me I couldn’t leave them anyway. We still have a trebuchet to finish building in the back shed, and we started a little band at the end of the year that… well… we have to keep the music going, don’t we?

One young feller even asked me about ukeleles because apparently he was getting one for Christmas. I don’t know if his parents were aware of this or not!

When I asked him why, he just said ‘well, we have a guitar in the band, and a keyboard piano, and that xylophone thing… but no one’s playing a ukelele yet, eh?’

So looks like we’ll have a ukelele as well! How awesome is that going to be?

So here’s to a productive, enjoyable and contented 2014! It’s time to enjoy the first day of the year and look forward to whatever is coming our way.

Cheers.

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School Spirit‘Let the wild rumpus start!’

- Max

It’s been a week or two since I last updated this page, and a little bit has happened in that time. For now, I’ll fill you in on the dress up day we had a week back. Yes, there will be a photo…

Currently one of the teachers is on a trip through Europe and about to start the Fairy Tale Trail visiting various locations throughout Germany. To follow her travels, the grade is focusing on fairy tales for the term, which is good fodder for literacy and all sorts of other creative pursuits. The youngest grade is also using fairy tales as a theme, as is one of the older grades while they’re following the trip through Europe and researching some of the places being visited.

So, as a whole school event, we held a Fairy Tale (or story book) Character Dress Up Day.

Enter a whole fairy tale world of characters and creatures in the morning and lots of dresses, princess tiaras, woodsmen, Star Wars characters, Superheroes, Transformers… yeah. When in doubt the kids just dressed up as any character from a story they could think of!

I think I had no fewer than four Cinderellas in my grade alone.

From the window of the staff room I spied one little impy kid waddling around in a bright green gown that reached past his knees with little curl-toed felt boots, a purple hood and big plastic ears. I told the rest of the staff to call the day off, we already had our dress up winner! There was no way we could go past Dopey! The little bugger looked absolutely adorable!

Of course, we teachers weren’t to be out done. Not only were we going to dress up for a bit of a laugh, but we knew there was no way the kids would let us live it down if we didn’t.

So… I bought a few rolls of polar fleece, sweet-talked mum, and had a big, white onesie made with wolf feet and ears.


Come Friday morning, once the kids were sitting in the hall dressed in all their fairy tale regalia, I stepped out as Max from that classic children’s picture story book, ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak.

I also adored the film and was more than excited to see how they imagined an entire movie from a book that was all of nine sentences long. I thought it was wonderful, although slightly dark and edgy and not really a children’s film if you looked deeper into it.

So yes. I spent most of the day dressed in a onesie wolf suit hiding bits and pieces around the school ground for a treasure hunt.

MaxSuitSitting600

Did they laugh?

Did they LAUGH??

Yup, but that’s what these days are all about, eh?

 

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