As a teacher, my second worst lesson of all time was probably my final, ‘Christmas’ lesson at the end of 2019; the last lesson I ever did in the decade Pre-Corona era and the low point of my recent Japanese teaching career (the number one most dreadful lesson I ever taught I think was about twenty years ago when I was teaching English in a big classroom one-on-one with a ten year old girl who did not at all want to return to Japan from her coddled and idyllic Sound Of Music life skipping on the prairies of Switzerland with her kindly American live-in teacher and nanny who she loved so dearly, and who, undoubtedly seeing me like this
– cried continuously for the first fifty five minutes of that hour (trust me, you can be sure I was looking at the clock); my main achievement being that I got her to eventually progress from protracted, inconsolable weeping to slow, viscous tears and snivelling nose wipes by the final, agonising, five minutes. Never has the ringing of a school bell been more welcome).
(Mr Chapman :
‘Right, you are you sure know what your homework is for next week, then?’)
(New online English lessons with Mister Chapman !: )
‘See you next week, children !!’
The second worst lesson I have ever had involved a big error of judgement on my part. Exhausted, as I always am at the end of the year after the stress of the student evaluations in November (them rating and judging us), as well as the hectic pre-exam final push to get the more academic students into the highest level universities, as a wind-down I decided to let most of my classes watch films as I simply didn’t have any energy left to present anything of my own. Juiced out: It’s the Chapman Movie Club! Let’s watch movies in English! A film of their choice (when I say ‘just watch films’, I do of course, for the pedagogically judgmental among you – mean something pre-seen by me with much of the dialogue and vocabulary written down for study and written comprehension questions : it is a useful exercise, and largely, they love it); rented at my own expense from one of the dwindling CD/DVD rental shops that do, amazingly, still exist in Japan (places like Blockbuster vanished a long time ago in the UK), shown on a projector on to a big classroom wall, me at the back, relieved, once the lights go out, that I can just sit there.
Not as restfully as you might imagine, though. I am constantly watching the reactions for the students. Checking their comprehension. Plus, the movies themselves are often quite unbearable. I was of course pleased by the laughing, happy faces of the children watching Disney’s truly execrable Aladdin – and Will Smith’s muscular blue genie, while making them giggle uproariously, was also strangely sexually attractive to me as well (as were the protagonists of Avatar, a film I also saw againg in a class recently and was quite happy to feast my eyes on : what is it about blue-skinned people?;) But the sub-pantomime ‘acting’ and CG in Aladdin were so bad, so flimsy, so elementary school year end drama, so ugly, that my toes and organs were curling and crimping internally each time I had to watch Princess Jasmine’s clueless facial expressions (Naomi Scott at the very least deserves a Golden Raspberry), Aladdin’s chronic gormless innocence; their utter absence of screen chemistry, the hideousness of the costume design, my god it was dire; such eyesores these blind orientalist taffeta wardrobe consultants come up with ! Ugh. It was quite a hard watch. Gruelling. Admittedly, eventually, I did come to see that the dreadful director Guy Ritchie – the man ‘who destroyed Madonna’, according to an article I read recently probing why it is that she can now only go out with 25 year old dancers that are about 36 years younger than her since being married to a man who stood up to her and ‘broke’ her (discuss) : I saw that overall, he had in fact crafted something that, though so lightweight it practically floated away on its own ‘special effects’ magic carpet, at least wasn’t cynical and self-knowing and wise-cracking in the usual brain splintering mode and did, on later appraisal, constitute an overall entertainment that worked very well with most younger students. It was at least better than Toy 4, requested by an even younger class (let’s face it: I am just not designed to teach infants) : an animation that was torture for me; the first forty minutes involving the travails of a plastic fork – sorry spork, with eyes and a wiggly pipe cleaner mouth and an incredibly annoying toddler with a high-pitched, squeaky voice that I just yearned to quickly become road kill. Intolerably sappy and cutesy, I was constantly having to prevent myself from jabbing pencils in my eyes watching it while maintaining an adult smile. Reader, it was tough. Once again, I grudgingly admit that Pixar’s undeniable talent did eventually make itself known by the third, irresistibly sentimental installment, with Randy Newman’s tearjerking score and the overwhelming innocence and cuteness and goodness of Tom Hanks’ Woody and his love for a ceramic Bo Peep too heartfelt for grown up skepticism (by then I was trying myself to conceal my hot, welling crocodile tears). Still, I was so, so GLAD. WHEN. IT. WAS. ALL. OVER.
So you can easily see that in comparison to all this sappy, technicolored corn, I must confess that my higher level returnee class’s choice to watch Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, came to this thrill seeker as an immense relief. Relatively speaking, I was in my element. It was darker, the stakes were higher. It got the pulse racing. It brought back memories of seeing the first installment over a quarter of a century ago with my little sister – I remember her crying with terror as a man’s arm was ripped off in the first pre-internet Jurassic Park when we all went to the cinema in Cambridge together, the blood spurting out from the hole where the limb had once been as I tried to cover her eyes and stop her popcorn from scattering on the dirty, sticky floor. Strange, then, that a similar situation should happen again over 25 years later in my own classroom.
Full chock with suspense, live action, propulsive music, dinosaurs, close encounters, kinetic, heart thumping sequences, as well as easy-on-the-eye actors
– chunks of man-meat in the form of Chris Pratt, and the feline-green eyed pleasures of Bryce Dallas Howard –
this film also contained a lot of pseudo science and high level technical and paleontological vocabulary that made teaching (and vocab tests ) easy to set up for the following weeks’ classes. The boys lapped up the action and sat forward in their chairs with anticipation of the next chase or volcanic eruption, and though frequently terrifying – I later, to my horror, read online warnings about this film saying it really wasn’t suitable for children under 15 and that kids in America could be found weeping in fright in movie theaters in the summer of 2018, it seemed to be working well.
That is, until one scene, in which a gravely injured, genetically modified killer dinosaur is being given a lifesaving blood transfusion from a tyrannosaurus rex; I saw my students (11-14) blanching and looking away at the sight of vials and needles and syringes of thick red dinosaur life fluids flowing through plastic tubes into the veins of the scaly, reptilian wounds (the producers of this rather brilliant film – I genuinely like it – or was it just a reaction to Toy Story? – were clearly feasting quite a lot on eighties horror film tropes to excellent effect); however, what I realized was that as a jaded adult just writing down the words of the actors on paper lackadaisically when I was preparing the film in the classroom alone upstairs – by the end of the year I am totally sociophobic : how I love quarantine! ! – I am not missing any of this at all – I had, with my years of horror films and thrillers ingrained in my viewing tendencies not properly taken into consideration how all of this would play out in the context of the classroom. BAD TEACHER : as the needle jabbed in and dinosaur blood splattered in hot red splashes onto the face of one of the frightened characters I saw one girl tear up; blood trickling down his astonished face; she had been already clutching at her face in fright in previous instalments and now looked stricken; another boy went pale. I felt sick.
How could I not have foreseen this?
Racked with guilt as I saw them off at the entrance, the freezing cold of December outside in the miserable city of Fujisawa whistling through the building with a hollow-hearted ‘Merry Christmas everyone !! (the students had left in silence, not really saying anything, leaving my classroom and just loping towards the entrance), as I left school, putting on my many coats and scarves, and walked emptily towards the station, I felt like The Worst Person In The World .
(Mr Chapman says ‘Merry Christmas !!! and a Happy New Year’!
(“YOU MADE A CARELESS MISTAKE WITH THE PAST TENSE, TOMOKI!”
When we came back to school after the New Year break, worrying about parental reprisals and the kids having nightmares, the first thing I did (I had forgotten about all of this about two days later..) was to apologize to the students in that class for what I felt had been a genuine mistake on my part; I took the girl in question aside before the lesson and said I was truly sorry for making her watch something that had obviously petrified her, but she looked me in the eye and insisted, adamantly, and I know she meant it, that despite the fright she had endured watching the film she actually loved the feeling : “It’s like riding a rollercoaster at an amusement park!” she exclaimed with her Californian accent, and said she really wanted to continue to the end of the film (as did the rest of the class, unanimously). Phew. Perhaps it had just been my lack of energy, my flatness, that had created that particular atmosphere on that day, not just the mauled and maimed bleeding humans on the screen. I realized then, that the whole experience had actually been something of a thrill for them (how could it not be, given the education system here? but I digress….). To maximise the impact,I also bought some speakers to amplify the sound, the psycho strings and and roars of T-rexes and velociraptors and excruciating screams to bring the final chapters to an exhilarating conclusion; the kids were all huddled together in their cinema positions messing around and poking each other and scaring each other throughout, and. surviving all the way to the horror of the climax, it turned out to be something of a bonding experience for all.
Dinosaurs are exciting. Fascinating. Unbelievable that they once existed (and what does that existence mean for Creation Theory? Were they lurking in the backdrop in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, hiding behind giant fig leaves? ) There are obviously no words for how terrifying an actual tyrannosaurus rex would be, breathing down on you in the flesh (how long would you last before it crunched you up in one foul-breathed bite, bones and flesh swallowing down without even blinking its giant, dotard, Trumpian lizard eye?) Although I was never as fully into those illustrated encyclopaedic books on these creatures as some of my science nerd friends at primary (elementary) school were, what is great about the Jurassic Park series is that eventually, once you get used to and start believing the effects, you are immersed in the impossible; you are watching dinosaurs running around before your eyes gleefully chomping on each other and on rednecks and conservatives (it is always the anti-environmentalists and greedy oligarch bastards who get gnashed and shredded for lunch in the mouths of these beasts). It is all something of an exhilarating carnage; a pop corn escape from reality. The stench of the breath bellowing into your face; hair blowing like L’Oreal in a hurricane….
How would this actually smell? What about a T-Rex perfume?
Notes from the Zoologist:
A Fantastical Cretaceous Apocalyptic Scent
A sultry heat wafts across the land, lapped up greedily by the abundant flora that thrives in its midst. Trees soar to majestic heights and plants flower for the first time, their petals spreading to give birth to a world rich in diversity. The Cretaceous period comes of age against a backdrop scorched by wildfire and lightning strikes. Over this turbulent landscape, a massive predator looms. Giants rule the earth, but even giants can be cut down within the powerful jaws of the fearsome tyrannosaur. Standing tall, the terrifying beast fears nothing, until that pivotal moment when a fire in the sky signals the end of their deadly reign.
Zoologist Tyrannosaurus Rex is a gargantuan scent that sinks its teeth into the world of delicate fragrances and rips it wide open. Primitive woods and florals seize you and snatch you away to an ancient era. Smoky, charred wood warns of the danger of smouldering fire, setting your senses on edge, while droplets of metallic rose oxide offer a chilling premonition of blood-lust. The mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex is sometimes menacing, sometimes fascinating, but never, ever ordinary.
Perfumer: Antonio Gardoni
Parfum Concentration: 23%
Size: 60 mL / 2 fl. oz.
Top Notes: Bergamot, Black Pepper, Fir, Laurel Leaf, Neroli, Nutmeg
Heart Notes: Champaca, Geranium, Jasmine, Osmanthus, Rose, Ylang Ylang
Base Notes: Resins, Cade, Cedar, Civet*, Frankincense, Leather*, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Vanilla
Leathery; raw; sharp, fleshy, and hard. I cannot pretend to have spent much time with this perfume, and I would rather die than wear it – – I detest anything that smells of blood, or fire, or smoke, or anything burnt, charred, acrid (feel me shudder as I write that sentence); and yet ————– when I smelled this at the Nose Shop in Shinjuku a few weeks ago the last time I was in Tokyo, it stunned me: I sensed a fragrance of perfect balance, mildly horrifying, but tapping in to some kind of id sex drive that you are not sure you want to be tapped into – a cigarette-breathed, feral aggressor hunting you down and taking you mercilessly on the spot: : devouring you. Is this why we enjoy watching these hair-raising dinosaur films? Some kind of thantatos death wish? The secret pull towards those gargantuan jaws filled with spikes of razor sharp teeth like ivory scimitars and decomposing carcasses rotting among gums and a tongue like a massive, prehistoric worm ready take you in; lacerate you; destroy you?