One of the occupational hazards of being a Secondary teacher was constantly being stopped in the corridor by earnest students carrying out ‘surveys’ on all manner of subjects as part of their studies. This used to happen in my last school all the time. The Citizenship teachers had clearly found a terrific wheeze for getting kids out of the classroom and wandering around the school for most of the lesson.
More often than not, I would be a less-than-useful informant, because I didn’t have an opinion on which is the best brand of hair gel, I didn’t have a favourite Harry Potter character, I had no idea about what makes a good computer game and couldn’t tell them what I would look for in a new iphone. (I still have a phone that just makes phone calls. Imagine that.)
On one occasion a couple of students stopped me to ask my opinion of saving the panda. Oh, dear! I wish they hadn’t asked. I knew it would end in tears. Did I think that more money should be devoted to saving the panda and if so how should the extra funds be raised? How much should the Government contribute to saving the panda?
My answer left three Year 10 girls white-faced, flummoxed and very nearly speechless, which, you must admit, is an impressive achievement. They just stared at each other in despair, trying to work out how my contribution fitted in to the questionnaire that they had designed.
I said that I believed that it was basically immoral to spend money on saving the panda. The species should be allowed to die out. Three shocked faces. “You can’t say that, sir!” “Why not?” said I. “Because they are endangered.”
I said that there are all sorts of species that are endangered but people have focussed on the panda just because they are cute and cuddly, which is no reason for them to go to the front of the queue. What about the hairy, one-eyed, slimey, Argentinian snot snaiI? It is also endangered but no-one wants to spend millions of pounds saving it from extinction. (OK, I admit, I made this last bit up, but the girls didn’t know that!)
I went on to point out that the stupid panda had evolved to the point where it would only eat bamboo shoots and, most of the time, couldn’t even be bothered to breed, so perhaps it is time that they disappeared.
I asked the girls where they would put the money if it was a choice between saving a panda and providing equipment for the local hospital that could save people’s lives. More consternation.
I just couldn’t help myself. I know I am a bad person, but sowing confusion in the minds of teenagers, who normally think they know everything, is such good sport. It is one of the perks of being a Secondary teacher. Everyone should try it.
Warming to my topic, I went on to say that I would be quite happy to eat the last panda on earth, with mint sauce and mashed potato. At this point, the girls decided that they had to get back to their classroom to talk to a proper teacher, who would give them the right answers.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, in the garden of the Blue Boat House there was a small colony of Little Blue penguins.
These little creatures are the epitome of cute. We were told that they spend all day out at sea feeding and that, at about eleven o’clock at night, when it is properly dark, they come ashore and return to their nests, where they regurgitate what they have previously swallowed and feed their young. (Starting to sound a bit less cute now?)
We were very excited on our first evening at the Boat House as we sat in silence and waited for the penguins to arrive out of the waves. Sure enough, at about 11.00pm, they appeared, – about six of them – waddling across the little garden. Cute as cute can be. Aaaaaah! Sweeeeeet!
They then proceeded to produce a staggering assortment of blood-curdling noises, a ‘mash-up’ of squawks, squeals, screeches, screams and growls that would have terrified a witch, and all at a level of volume that seemed impossible, coming from such small creatures. None of them was more than about 12 inches tall.
After about twenty minutes of this cacophonous mayhem, they retired to their various nests to vomit on their chicks and peace was restored to the Blue Boat House. We went to bed, delighted with our evening’s penguin-watching.
Less than five hours later and they were ready to go to sea again! The whole noisy progression started again as they squawked and squealed and screeched and screamed and growled their way back to the water.
By this time, however, it was four o’clock in the morning and the cuteness index was falling fast.
By the third night, as I lay there trying to get back to sleep, I found myself wondering what Little Blue Penguins would taste like with mint sauce and mashed potato.