Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: School helper's life lesson - don't stress pees and queues

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One of the worst experiences of my life was going on a week-long school trip when I was 11. Photo / NASA
One of the worst experiences of my life was going on a week-long school trip when I was 11. Photo / NASA

One of the worst experiences of my life was going on a week-long school trip when I was 11. I was cripplingly homesick, socially maladjusted and no one wanted to share a cabin with me. For this, and other reasons possibly related to being a disoriented new immigrant, I grew up with a deep distrust of group activities and an abhorrence for being one of the huddled masses. Oh, the unbearable helplessness of being told to line up and wait! Even now I turn uppity at the slightest whiff of bossiness and from that day forward have always carried a book everywhere due to my ferocious aversion to delays. Well, friends, I now offer you an embarrassed cough.

Last week, I went on a school trip to Wellington with a whole bunch of 11-year-olds as a parent helper. There was a LOT of lining up and waiting. But this time I could pay an extra $40 specifically so I didn't have to share a room. And strangely, I think I might have learnt more on this trip than the kids.

I learnt: having a commanding speaking voice is an asset in many settings; both when you are trying to get 85 children to wash up their nacho-covered plates or when you are the Prime Minister at Question Time. Winston Peters (sonic boom) "How do you stand by your answers?" John Key (surprisingly piercing): "Vertically". Eleven-year-olds are insouciant at this; it's pretty much how they talk to each other. "It was more casual than I thought. And John Key was more sassy," said Annabel, after Question Time.

I learnt if you walk 21,000 steps a day in Commes de Garcons shoes you will get sore calves. Also, I have vowed to surrender aesthetics and buy a bloody puffer jacket.

I am left sobbing after the astonishing Gallipoli: Scale of Our War exhibition. Need distractions. Blink! Blink! Every helper at Te Papa seems to be bald. A job requirement or some museum-based environmental hazard causes hair loss?

The tunnel of the cable car has disco lights. There is a colourful piano on the waterfront for anyone to play (and a donation jar for piano tuning). In Wellington, people have cushy government jobs and thus the luxury of being arty and whimsical. In Auckland we're just too busy trying to function to install fountains and LEDs on everything.

Is there anything the kawakawa plant can't do? Cough-clearer, toothache-reliever, tummy ache soother, it is related to the kava plant and the berries make a nice jam. (Wildlife sanctuary Zealandia.)

Hey kids ... an experience can be just as good even if you don't get to buy something.

De-gaussing is the process of removing magnetic charge. There was a de-gaussing station in Wellington Harbour to provide protection for ships against magnetic mines during WWII. Some mines have never been found. (Somes Island).

Journalist, when asked by a budding writer if they would pay for stories: "We would pay for a picture and story about Justin Bieber but probably not for one about John Key."

Hey kids, you really don't need to exit through the gift shop. An experience can be just as good even if you don't get to buy something.

"The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one earth." Astronaut Sultan bin Salman al-Saud, quoted in a Carter Observatory presentation.

So, I've heard about kids who feel entitled. But what about the opposite? I saw kids who have been so alarmed about climate change that they feel like they have no right to exist. (When I was 11 we thought we were going to get nuked.)

When you are taking a group of kids around a city, the icon for public toilets acquires a unique salience.

On our return, our train was delayed on the track for three and a half hours in the middle of nowhere. The kids played word games. "I'd rather live in a gingerbread house than a chocolate mansion. Imagine sitting on the toilet in your chocolate mansion. You would just eat bits of it. And it would melt. Ew!" Thank you Kiwi Rail for your outstanding service, despite the long wait.

When we finally got home at 11pm on Friday, I found I was still BOOMING. "Keep left! Keep left!" I haven't got over my antipathy to being told what to do and made to wait. But I think I have come to a new awareness about my pent-up childhood rage. I don't need to be so angry any more. And you know what? You don't always have to be special. Sometimes it's okay to just follow the person in front of you in the line. Also jet planes help a lot. And the kids were awesome, brah.

- NZ Herald

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