When you’re a kid at school or a student at university, your least favourite part of the year is exam time. Most of us dread it, others fear it and some actually don’t mind it (if you fall into the last category  I have a theory that you are actually superhuman and/or should be locked in a padded room). However, what you don’t realise is that teachers dislike this time of year just as much as you do. “But why?!” I hear you cry across the vast digital expanses of the internet, “Teachers don’t have to teach, they just set exams and then take pleasure in watching us squirm!” It is true that there are advantages to exam-time for teachers, chief among them are the opportunity to set a really tough paper that you know will be excruciating for each of the 120 minutes and the fact that you don’t need to actually cajole the kids into learning anything.

Despite these advantages, there is one thing that outweighs them all: exam invigilation. It’s just like water-boarding except without the cling-wrap or water and you aren’t tied-up or experiencing any trauma, but otherwise it’s exactly the same. It could also be likened to that thing they do to a naked James Bond with the chair and the rope and the swinging in Casino Royale…shudder.

“But Luke, surely it can’t be that bad! You must be exaggerating.” As long as you discount my natural tendency towards hyperbole it is that bad. Imagine being stuck in a room with stinky teenagers. Now imagine that they are silently writing an exam. Now imagine that you are not allowed to do marking, read, knit, work on a computer or do any other activity except ‘be vigilant.’ Now imagine that you need to pace up and down the classroom the entire time. That is invigilation.

Essentially,  when you’re invigilating it is dead time, you are not allowed to be productive or do anything. So the next time you are in an exam (which, thankfully, most of us will never have to face again) or see a friend who is a teacher, say “Hey! Thank you for sacrificing your sanity so that kids can write exams!” and offer them a hich-five which, as we all know, is universal sign language for ‘You rock!’

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Ultimate Dining

In South Africa, group-buying sites have become all the rage. Companies like Groupon, Daddy Deals and Dealify have appeared like a tornado and are slowly sweeping the middle class masses away. My wife and I have been comprehensively caught-up in this coupon-craze and have discovered an alternative world for consumers that would see Dorothy forgetting about Kansas.

Unfortunately we have not met any timid talking lions, heartless-yet-still-somehow-living tinmen or brainless scarecrows during our forays into Groupondom, but we have discovered a few other things.

The first thing I realized was that Groupon is just like a crazy sale where everything is discounted by 90%. But this isn’t simply because you can save a lot of money, but also because when you’re in a shop that’s having a brain-meltingly good sale you buy anything. I used to see this tendency in my Mum, then in my wife, and now in myself. The monologue in your head goes something like this “Ooh, that’s a sort-of prettyish top that I would never normally even consider but since it costs less than a fairy’s fart I shall buy it.” It’s a discount-induced kleptomania that you need to fight almost physically if you don’t want to spend all of your money on 50 items of clothing that will probably never wear.

For me, since I am a guy and not as interested in clothes, this maladie takes a slightly different form and I only noticed it when we started grouponing. I will see something that is heavily discounted and think “Wow that’s a great deal that I must have!” and then never use the voucher. Fortunately this has only happened once or twice as I try to be a good steward of our finances but I still have a beer-tasting voucher that expired about 2 months ago and regularly find myself fighting the temptation to buy a cheap watch/round of golf in Paarl/insert random product or activity here…

However, it’s not all bad. After a couple of recent less-than-good Groupon experiences at some restaurants my wife and I were inspired to invent a new extreme team sport: Ultimate Dining. This activity involves purchasing a group-buying voucher for a restaurant that you have never heard of or would never normally go to and then going there for a meal. It represents less of a financial risk than is normally associated with trying a new restaurant and it leads to new discoveries at best and funny stories at worst.

Recently we went to an unknown Thai restaurant that had put our booking under the name of ‘Rick’ (Luke/Rick- are they really that similar?). Later, our waitron diligently took our food and drink orders (we figured that we needed to do everything at once if we wanted to eat before midnight) and then not only forgot what our orders were, but forgot that she had even spoken to us (there were two tables in our section of the restaurant)!

So feed your coupon-consuming kleptomania (in moderation) and go Ultimate Dining!

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Fruit-Fly Invasion

Eating a fresh, juicy, sweet mango on a hot summer’s day is one of life’s joys. So is taking that first bite into a crispy, sweet apple or devouring ripe, tender strawberries straight from the punnet. However, these chocolate chip moments in the cookie of life are often sabotaged by a ruthless, heartless, mindless and clothes-less foe: the fruit fly.

Just imagine yourself relaxed and content, on the verge of consuming one of creation’s candies when suddenly a villainous vermin emerges from nowhere to try and share the yummy fruity goodness of which you were about to partake! No, this is not the fictional fruit of a mind such as Stephen King or Bram Stoker. Neither is this a fictional horror story you tell your children to try and manipulate them into eating their fruit. This is, unfortunately, a fact of life.

Where do they come from? They are like the ninjas of the insect world: appearing out of nowhere to kill your enjoyment of anything fruity. No matter where you are – whether it’s inside or outside or upside of downside – they find you and your precious prize. How do they do it? This is a question that I have spent hundreds of seconds considering and there appears to be only one viable answer: flyholes.

I’ve decided that fruit flies must have a sophisticated wormhole forming technology that they stole from NASA and then perfected that they use against us, (it is called a flyhole because they are not worms. Wormholes were, as far as I understand, made and used exclusively by intergalactic super-worms). This, in conjunction with a sophisticated Fruitydar equips them to be terrifyingly swift and effective in both locating and then voyaging to any and all fruitful destinations.

If you are careless in where you leave your fruit then they accumulate, gathering slowly and menacingly like a malevolent invading force. All you can do then is to pray, do the hand-clapping thing to try and catch some of them and then get some Doom insect spray, being sure to remove your fruit lest you Doom your intestines to oblivion. I’ve got a glass of wine and I’ve just caught sight of wine out of the corner of my eye…wish me luck…


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Guru Luke Of Geeky-Yet-Unbullyable Offspring

Both my wife and I work as high school teachers and recently we had some friends over, one of whom is also a teacher, and, inevitably, the conversation turned to kids. Specifically what irritates us about kids that we teach and what tactics we can employ to try and discourage the same traits from rearing their ugly heads in the lives of our future-but-currently-non-existent-offspring. I’ll save you the details but essentially we want our kids to be the good ones who are responsible and don’t need to phone home at break time to ask mummy to bring the lunch and sports kit that they left at home to school, immediately (this actually happens quite regularly). Ultimately our kids will get picked on because of this, it seems.

Whilst we were still pontificating about proper child-rearing practice, an idea hit me. It was like being hit by a train full of joyousness and bright shiny things apart from the fact that the train was metaphorical and the impact didn’t actually hurt or kill me and that I don’t think that many bright shiny things are transported by train and that I’m not sure if the word ‘joyousness’ is actually a word. So not so much like getting hit by a train then, I suppose, more like getting a good idea. This idea was like the unextinguished cigarette that set the dry leaves of my imagination ablaze and within seconds I had grasped it and formulated a cunning, wise and mature plan that would surely succeed.

Unfortunately, my wife and friends did not see it that way but it’s ok, Gallileo was called a heretic, Churchill an alarmist and Wilberforce a fool and they were vindicated by history. In time they’ll see how revolutionary my idea is and come crawling back begging for forgiveness for their scoffery! Before long maybe I’ll even publish a book or go on a tour like those buddhist gurus who sit on a stage in robes cross-legged whilst their followers come and lay wreaths of flowers at their feet. Except instead of flowers I’d demand biltong, or dark chocolate, or wine, or cold hard cash or bling. And I wouldn’t wear a robe. That’d be weird because I’m 6 foot 4 and I’d look like a giant orange hippy-ghost.

Anyway, the time has come to explain my idea to you, my soon-to-be sycophants. Raising kids in a godly manner is vital, but that means that they will probably get picked on at some point in their school career. My solution is to therefore train my children to be highly skilled, hand-to-hand combat specialists that the other kids will never mess with. “But Luke!” you cry, “That’s not a new idea!” Well, that may be so but the way I plan on implementing it is unique.

Firstly, I will teach my children some kung-fu basics based on my years of experience of watching various Jackie Chan and Chow-Yun Fat movies such as ‘Rush Hour’ and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. Then, in order to strengthen them, I shall pit them against ever more dangerous foes. I shall start them out against easy opposition, such as the neighbour’s dog, and then gradually introduce them to more challenging opponents, such as the neighbourhood cats, then stray dogs etc. After they have defeated all local beasts I’ll have to start looking further afield for stronger opposition such as lions and bears, but that shouldn’t be too difficult as there’s a zoo that isn’t far away and the fences look quite low and scalable.

So, after years of training, my children will not have to fear victimisation due to their geeky goodness, and I, Guru Luke Of Geeky-Yet-Unbullyable Offspring, will be their wise, bling covered, non-Japanese, blonde Mr Miyagi with a series of books to my name with titles such as ‘7 Habits of Highly Unbeatupable People’ and ‘The Tough Geek-Driven Life.’

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Kindles and Kleptomania

It was my wife’s birthday recently and, as is my habit whenever it is a gift-giving time of year, I asked her for a shortlist of 5 gifts. This helps me because I know what to look for and it helps her because it means she actualy gets stuff that she wants. Of course, every so often I throw in a few unexpected extras, but these are almost always sure-things and if I am not at least 80% sure she’ll like it I don’t bother. Maybe when we’re old and wrinkly I’ll have developed the ability to innately tell what my wife wants without asking…or maybe I won’t and I’ll just continue to communicate with her to make sure she doesn’t feel let-down at birthday or Christmas-time (communication is the adamantium on the super-cool wolverine-spikes of every good marriage).

Anyway, it quickly became apparent that the 5-gift shortlist this year basically consisted of one gift, (which from here on will be referred to as Gift Number One) ,with some other things that would maybe-kindof-be-nice-I-suppose. So, being the wise and cunning husband that I am I didn’t get over-excited or show that I had picked up on the elaborately encyphered message that my wife was sending me. I decided instead to play dumb (always easy) and try my best to not make it obvious that I was going to organise Gift Number One.

Fortunately, I know some people who already own a Gift Number One, but for them it was not actually a gift, (unless a gift to oneself counts as a gift, which I don’t think it does, I mean, that’s just buying something isn’t it? You don’t say that you’ve bought yourself R500’s worth of edible gifts when you go grocery shopping, do you? I hope not because that would be weird, but it would probably make trips to Pick N’ Pay more exciting.), so I shall refer to it simply as Number One. So I was able to organise a Gift Number One with the help of people who had a Number One already and some contributions from parents.

So on my wife’s birthday she got her Gift Number One: a Kindle. Obviously, she was thrilled and I got Mega Brownie Points (these are different to regular Brownie Points and much more valuable). I thought that I had anticipated the events that would follow the unwrapping of the Kindle (charge it, download a couple of books, and spend the following week completely absorbed in it) and to an extent I had. One thing that I had not foreseen was that I would see my mild-mannered wife transformed into a raging kleptomaniac who downloaded every single book that she thought she should, could or ought to read.

I tried to use reason and logic to bring her down from her klepto high but to no avail. My suggestions that she could just download them as and when she needed them and that she didn’t even speak that language were swatted away like pesky fruit-flies that were trying to contaminate her wine with evil fruit-fly yuckiness. This sudden onset of kleptomania must have been quite tiring because when she finally came down from the free-novel induced high she shut down and had a nap.

Fortunately, it has been a few weeks since her birthday, and the black-and-white mist that descended on Claire that day seems to have lifted. Of course, she still reads the Kindle late at night with the light on when I’m trying to go to sleep, but she did that with books anyway. So why am I still happy with this device? Well, previously there would be many books in various stages of completeness littered around the house, but now there is just Gift Number One, leaving more space for me and my books.

*After reading this post to my wife, she coyly admitted that perhaps she didn’t need to have downloaded Dracula, Treasure Island, The Complete Works of Beatrix Potter and the Complete Works of Shakespeare, but she refused to back-down on Poirot, War and Peace, The Art of War and several others.

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Board Game Revival-ah

Do you remember being forced into bankruptcy by your older sibling as a child when playing Monopoly? Do you recall the family arguments in which an indivdual argued vehemently for the existence of a dodgy-sounding word that, coincidentally, would allow them to use a ‘Triple Word Score’ in Scrabble and win? Did you have a sibling who was guaranteed to break down into hysterical tears whenever she (it was always a she) lost? If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of these questions then I assume that board games played a part in your child and teenage-hood.

Board games are one of the many items that we cast into The Pit of Childhood Memories when we think that we have grown up. Welcoming them to this place of exile are other things such as Fatboy Slim, The Spice Girls and TV shows that we now recognise as brain-numbingly poor (MacGyver, The A Team, Big Brother…need I go on?). Sure, every so often in a fit of nostalgia we’ll play Monopoly, watch Nightrider or try and remember the words to Vanilla Ice’s anthem ‘Ice Ice Baby’ whilst wearing MC Hammer parachute pants. However, one of the two problems with fits is that they end, (the other is that they tend to be linked to a medical condition…) and then we go back to our normal, board game-less lives. For some reason, we decide that we would rather watch a DVD with friends, or perhaps play some computer game or even Wii together. We don’t even consider whipping out Pictionary or Snakes and Ladders.

Too many of us have taken board games out of the social activity equation, me included…until recently. I was once like you unbelieving heathens and thought that these games with a board were either boring or lame, but now I have seen the light-ah! As we get older we become boring and lame and board games end up being a fun way of spending time with family and friends. I realised that, apart from some traumatic childhood experiences that rarely induce nightmares, I had no good reason to not play board games. Therefore I ventured forth into the fray of board game-dom armed with the hindsight and maturity that I lacked at the age of 10.

It was fun. I forced some people into Monopoly bankruptcy, I managed to argue some obscure – and potentially fictional- words onto the Scrabble board to my coincidental advantage and nobody cried, not publicly anyway.

So why don’t you fish out your beat up, dusty old boxes of games and invite some friends over, I am 60% sure that you won’t regret it!


*Note: It’s probably a good idea to agree on which version of the rules you will follow before playing so that nobody can rip you off and then say ‘Ah but in my family we’re allowed to pillage/rape/assault etc.’

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How to be like Bear Grylls

As soon as Ultimate Survivor came out on TV, Bear Grylls became a role model for men everywhere. This is because he is Hardcore and Manly and tames the Wild almost effortlessly, although sometimes he goes too far and eats gross things. Some people would say that this kind of skill and general manliness takes years of long hard work to achieve and that there are no short cuts. Those people should be shunned and then chased from the village with pitchforks and torches because they are wrong.

I have discovered that Bear’s success can be directly linked to his name. “But Luke,” you protest, “he was in the military for several years and is a survival expert!” Well, Mr Cleverstatementmaker I have a clever statement to make in response to your own: “Your face is a survival expert!” What? Huh? No clever reply? Astounded by my wit and large brain? That’s what I thought! My statement was so clever even I don’t understand what I mean.

If Mr Ultimate Survivor was called Trevor Posselthwaite he would be a normal man like the rest of us. But he’s not, and it’s down to his name. After many seconds and even minutes of careful thought and analysis I have concocted a formula for creating your own Ultimate Survivor Name and thereby making yourself Hardcore and Manly.

Let’s analyse Bear Grylls’ name before I demonstrate the Formula.

Bear. It is the name of a dangerous wild animal.

Grylls. This is a miss-spelt culinary verb.

If you add the two together you have a potent recipe for Hardcore Manliness.

Here is how I figured out my Ultimate Survivor name.

Dangerous Wild Animal + Miss-spelt verb = Ultimate Survivor Name

Hippo           +       Cucks (from ‘cooks’) =  Hippo Cucks

As soon as I figured out my new name I had an irresistible urge to go outside. So outside I went into the untamed wilderness of the Cape (specifically our garden) armed with nothing but a trowel and my now-bulging muscles. The Wild had met its match. It did not stand a chance. I left a trail of devastation and carefully re-potted vegetables. Even the dead, rotten tree was no match for the pure Hardcore Manliness coursing through my veins. I almost felt sorry for the Wild, but then I went inside and had some tea and a freshly baked cookie from my wife and forgot all about my empathy.

I have decided that this short-cut to amazingness needs to be shared so go! Discover your Ultimate Survivor Name and tame the Wild around you! I have made a list of culinary verbs and dangerous wild animals to spark your creative juices.

Dangerous wild animals                                                                          Culinary verbs

Hippo                                                                                                                         Cook

Lion                                                                                                                            Baste

Tiger                                                                                                                          Grill

Bear                                                                                                                           Bake

Mosquito                                                                                                                   Fry

Orcs                                                                                                                           Stew

The Predator                                                                                                            Knead

Alien(s)                                                                                                                      Beat

Chuck Norris                                                                                                            Whisk

Jack Bauer                                                                                                                Ice

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