More authentic words from actual Russians who oppose Putin and the war…

Today is the great road race which is the climax of the UCI World Championships here in Wollongong — but I eschew that as there have been such important vlog posts from our young Russian friends. But there is a story that concerns the bike race — unfortunately locked away under a paywall:

Yes — their bikes did not show up! A local Wollongong business supplied them with free replacements!

Nice one!

Meanwhile even as I am writing this post 21-year-old Zack the Russian is live from Tbilisi. I gather from his previous live vlog that he and fellow-vlogger Natasha, recently arrived from Russia, are going to participate in an antiwar demonstration on Tbilisi later today.

From Natasha’s vlog the day she arrived in Tbilisi….

Zack live 25th September — he talked for 2 hours….

Niki from St Petersburg: “Partial mobilisation was announced in Russia. Many people gathered for a protest, many people are fleeing from Russia right now. This video I want to share some details of these events, and also share some personal feelings after observing the protests in Saint Petersburg.

“I also prepared a few street interviews with Russians to show what people think about mobilisation. Thanks to @Dima from Russia for filming these interviews for us….”

Yes everybody is trying to leave — “I’ve been trying to collect myself for the last two days to record this video, but I just couldn’t because I feel f***in’ awful….” — Roman the Russian.

And from London there is some analysis by Russian-born, Russian-speaking Oxford-educated political philosopher Vlad Vexler:

00:00 Are referenda prelude to nuclear attack? 03:14 How ‘partial’ is the mobilisation? 03:38 Dangerous for Putin to arm citizens? 04:15 Putin’s main aim now? 05:32 Are Russians naive about mobilisation? 09:02 Protest in Russia 12:40 Should we let in Russians fleeing mobilization? 15:33 Will mobilization smash Putin’s popularity? 16:42 Why did Putin trade Azov fighters for Medvedchuk? 17:58 Stalin’s shadow

Fruitful day on Monday — 2 — Sunday night TV led to a journey into great Australian poetry and memories of Sydney High

Last Sunday night ABC premiered a riveting and scary miniseries set in a country town: Savage River. 9/10 from me!

On Facebook I wrote something just a bit strange:

I venture to suggest I was the only person in Australia (aside from perhaps this poet who may have watched) who instantly recalled Robert Gray’s “The Meatworks” — and I am delighted to find it online

Most of them worked around the slaughtering
out the back, where concrete gutters
crawled off
heavily, and the hot, fertilizer-thick,
sticky stench of blood
sent flies mad,

but I settled for one of the lowest-paid jobs, making mince,
the furthest end from those bellowing,
sloppy yards. Outside, the pigs’ fear
made them mount one another
at the last minute….

The poet had at one time actually worked in this place.

My note went on:

I did have some contact with Robert Gray over the years, starting with the time he was working in a Paddington bookshop in 1982 when he told me Patrick White had come in recommending Neos Young Writers, of which I was an editor, through to his generously coming a few years later to talk to my class at Sydney Boys High. Taught his work to the Class of 2000 as well.

Robert Gray 1978
Christine Godden

I think Robert actually spoke to a combined class and this was perhaps the class of 1986 when they were in Year 11. Or it may have been in Term 4 of 1999 when the Class of 2000 began their actual HSC year.

I do recall he did it at no charge, and also that he said “Some people take photos. I write poems. My poems are my photo album.”

Among the most moving of Robert Gray’s poems, for me, is “Diptych” — a pair evoking his mother and his father and their life in Coff’s Harboiur on the north coast o NSW. Here is part of the portrait of his father, an alcoholic and a rather irascible man:

… And yet, the only time I heard him say that he’d enjoyed anything
was when he spoke of the bush, once. ‘Up in those hills,’
he advised me, pointing around, ‘when the sun is coming out of the sea,
standing among
that lifting timber, you can feel at peace.’
I was impressed. He asked me, another time, that when he died
I should take his ashes somewhere, and not put him with the locals,
in the cemetery.
I went up to one of the places he had named
years earlier, at the time of day he had spoken of, when the half-risen sun
was as strongly-spiked as the one
on his Infantry badge,
and I scattered him there, utterly reduced at last, among the wet,
breeze-woven grass…..

This is discussed in the opening part of this wonderful interview done just two years ago by English Buddhist poet Maitreyabandhu (Ian Johnson).

Robert has aged — but so have I! Refers to some wonderful poems, starting with “Diptych”. Great interview by a well-informed English Buddhist and many shafts of dry wit from Robert Gray.

I then recalled the wonderful class of 2000, particularly one member of it:

That is Xiang on the left.

When I taught his poems (including “Diptych”) to the class of 2000 one class member, Xiang, was originally from China — in fact less than five years in Australia. He was on his mother’s side a descendant of the family of the last Emperor of China (“there is a hotel in Beijing that was my great-great-great-aunt’s palace”) and at that time a Tibetan Buddhist. His grandmother had been in the Ministry of Culture in 1989 and refused to endorse the crackdown. The family as a result were sent to Gansu Province where Xiang encountered Tibetan culture. Xiang related well to Robert Gray’s poems and saw the Buddhism instantly.

The class went one day to a HSC lecture day at the Sydney Hilton where Robert was speaking about his poems and of course Xiang was there and had a chance to talk to Robert. I asked him after how he had felt about it. He just said, “What can I say?” He was deeply moved. He achieved a good pass in English too, though his thing really was Maths — despite the fact that he had been speaking English for four years or less and the only way in Year 11 1999 he had been able to cope with The Scarlet Letter was by reading a Chinese translation.

Mind you he then told me just what was wrong with the translation….

In some Remarks on poems for the HSC Robert Gray wrote:

My poetry is full of images, because I want to particularize every natural thing that appears in it, out of respect, you might say. In my poems, nothing is a symbol for anything else. Everything has its own worth and is presented directly. The overall effect is one of clarity and light.

‘Journey, the North Coast’

You will notice at once the rhythm of this. The variety of line-lengths makes it an example of free verse. The poem imitates the swaying movement of an overnight train (but not too heavy-handedly, I would like to think).

Also imitative is the poem’s narrative plunges down the page, without the hindrance of stanza-breaks. The poet finds the experience of waking in the country exhilarating, as is shownin the sensuous imagery used.

There is fleetingly evoked a contrast between the country morning of a holiday and the rented room in the city, where he has lived out of a suitcase. The shadow of the furnished room is carried along with him.

So how about a time travel to September 2007 — on my blog!

Oh my! Was I really blogging away 15 years ago? Afraid so!

Book and DVD notes — 1st September 2007

Personality by Andrew O’Hagan (pb 2004). “O’Hagan takes as his theme the cult of celebrity, which he shows to be a modern malaise grounded in insincerity and manipulation.” Not entirely irrelevant to my thoughts on Andrew Johns yesterday.

This is a remarkable exercise in ventriloquism. Set mainly in Scotland and England, the novel traces the career of a child star, Maria Tambini, gradually revealing layers of past experience through three generations back to World War II, internment, and the fascisti. The mechanism of celebrity and its effects are explored compassionately. Only the ending I found just a bit melodramatic. There is even an Australian connection in that the Dunera rates a mention. In my Best Reads of 2007 for sure!

My Brother Jack — ABC (2001) — “…it very much differs from usual Australian top-movies among which recent Ten Canoes is a welcome sound exemption, where stupidity and sexuality rule…” This loving recreation of George Johnston’s autobiographical novel was originally made for Channel 10. I didn’t see it. Now I have, and I am glad I have. Younger Australians would learn much from it. Me, I just felt nostalgic…

 Buried Alive (DVD). “Produced and directed by Jack Egan, Buried Alive tells the story of the first five years of the European settlement of Australia, of how a collection of petty criminals, the outcasts of an old society, were sent to establish a new society, on someone else’s land, on a strange, unexplored continent, on the other side of the world. The story is told by the people who were there, through their journals, diaries and letters home, and illustrated by some of the 800 sketches, drawings and watercolours dating from the first few years of the settlement.” Far more detailed than the sketchy and rather bloodless history I learned at school, but not the whole “Black Armband” trip either. Thoroughly researched if unexciting — as TV — but exciting as History. At least to me. I am going to watch it again.


To Legal Eagle: her fascinating post From the sublime to the ridiculous appears on WordPress’s top list at the moment. There’s some truly bizarre stuff there.

R.I.P. — 6th September 2007

Back from The Mine — 7th September 2007

Been delivering marked Paper 1 Section1 answers and picking up the final fifty out of 210. Recently The Rabbit suffered something similar in Another Place.

Only one of the English staff still remembers Mr R, by the way, but that was for General Studies, not English. There is, however, one of the younger ones who used to teach at Wilcannia.

What I did on APEC Saturday — 8th September 2007

8 to 10 am

The Juice & Java reopened today so the very first thing I did was browse The Australian over a coffee and bagel. That led to an entry on Journalspace. OK, then to coaching.

Juice and Java

A helicopter seemed to be following me down Elizabeth Street. Perhaps it was watching developments in the small park between Central and Chinatown where some Vietnamese-Australians were setting up their protest against the current Vietnamese regime. Fewer people than usual were making their way to Paddy’s Market. I saw a couple of anti-war protesters on bicycles heading deeper into the city.

Three hours later

After battling with Paper 2 HSC questions on King Lear, Hamlet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Cloudstreet, and Brave New World and Blade Runner, I await a new coachee. Outside they seem to be playing with the new security siren system. I saw an Aboriginal woman carrying the Aboriginal and Vietnamese flags. I saw an anti-Bush protester wearing a Swans scarf…

Very quiet here in Chinatown. Easy to find a table in Gloria Jean’s.

2 pm

The new coachee, by way of contrast, is in Year 6, of Shanghainese background but born in Australia. He is sitting in front of me now writing my patent generic English test.

Outside a few more protesters seem to be making their way towards the action. They all look terribly innocent, even  normal. They will no doubt fail the TV news test then…

On the way home

The coachee is not doing too badly; he’s reading Tom Sawyer and attending an OC (gifted) class after all.

In Belmore Park the Vietnamese numbers have swelled, and been joined by Free Tibet people. Over Hyde Park area a helicopter just went in very low.

7.30 pm

Now you will have read all about the police presence in Sydney today, but here in Surry Hills I have just seen with my own eyes a hitherto SECRET PRESENCE in our midst, probably accompanying George Bush…

Yes, I just saw SUPERMAN — the red cape a dead giveaway — entering Hannibal’s Lebanese Restaurant in Elizabeth Street.

2022 — Have no idea what that was about! Sorry!

My coachees did rather well last year, then — 17th September 2007

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald has one of those education stories that could cause distress to HSC students and their parents unless they are particularly well-informed: Students ‘let down’ by marking system.

THE Higher School Certificate marking system is cutting out too many high-level English students, say teachers.

The NSW Board of Studies said it will act on concerns the state’s English teachers raised about last year’s disappointing HSC results.

Students in the advanced English course achieved the lowest level of top results since the new HSC was introduced in 2000. Only 5 per cent of the 27,500 students enrolled in the advanced English course last year scored between 90 and 100 in the HSC.

That compared with 15 per cent of the 26,000 students who sat the same level of mathematics.

The proportion of HSC students who achieved the top (band 6) result of 90 to 100 in advanced English dropped from 8 per cent in 2004 to 6 per cent in 2006.

In 2001, it fails to mention, no students at all achieved Band 6 in Standard English, and that certainly caused some angst at the time. The key point is the bell curve no longer rules the HSC results. Marks are not straitened statistically to fit a prescribed pattern year after year, so they will vary from year to year. Further, because the marking is standards-based, it is entirely conceivable that there could be subjects where everyone (or no-one) gets the top band: minority subjects like Ancient Greek come to mind. Again, comparisons between one subject and another, like that in the story between English and Maths, are really not valid. Unfortunately, that fact and the calculations that produce a Universities Admission Index seem contradictory; at least I think they do. The UAI is a complex ranking exercise. Whether results are classified as Band 6, 5, 4 or whatever does not affect rank. Someone still comes first in the state, and someone else still comes last. In the past, before 2001, marks were changed or adjusted so that a certain rank produced more or less the same set of marks from year to year, no matter what variations in the quality of answers from one year to another. This particular fiddling was not really questioned until the new HSC began in 2001 when it was abandoned.

There are many factors which may have contributed to the 8% Band 6 one year and 6% Band 6 in another. Just one: pressure on students to attempt the Advanced Course inappropriately. I have seen that happen. There is kudos at stake here, and the feeling that Advanced students are rewarded in the UAI compared with Standard students, and the pressure to avoid “dumbed down” courses. Enter all comers in the Olympic Games and some of them will come unstuck.

But last year my coachees managed to pull through into Band 6, or somewhere reasonably respectable south of that. My predictions were, I am glad to say, reasonably accurate. This gives me confidence that I am reading the standards fairly well. This year I expect none to make Band 6, though one just might — the one whose essay I am currently working on here. In that case, however, he may fall short under real exam conditions, and he has an assessment record working against him. The others have no chance. They just do not ever come up to the standards for Band 6 and never will. What I can help them achieve is the best mark they can, and that could be into the 80% range, which would serve their UAI purposes well enough. One, however, ought never to have done Advanced, in my opinion. He just does not have the gifts for it, and that will show no matter what a teacher or tutor can reasonably do. His doing Advanced English is almost like me swimming against Ian Thorpe. I don’t put it to the students quite like that, but I do tell them honestly where I think their product sits against the standards. I also teach them techniques to maximise their chances. Carefully studying exemplar answers to see how they work is one tool that can be used.

Praise for English/ESL Blog — 17th September 2007

I just received this email:

Hi Neil

I have recently stumbled across your blog (I am still a bit of a “newbie” with technology!!) and I think it is brilliant! I have added the link to an ESL intranet page that I administer in the Inner West region of the Catholic Education Office. We have HUGE ESL needs in our schools and I think your blog is of great use for both students and teachers. In fact, we are having an ESL K-12 PD day this Wednesday with Pauline Gibbons as guest speaker, and I have slotted in a workshop session for teachers re your blog.


Adviser: Primary Curriculum
CEO Sydney
Inner West Region

Can’t say I object to that. Pauline Gibbons taught the class on Curriculum when I did Grad Cert TESOL at UTS.

I notice according to Sitemeter over 50,000 visitors have been to my English/ESL pages here or at Tripod since 2002, and over 30,000 (according to WordPress) to the WP blog since December last year!


Speaking of second languages, M was over this afternoon. He is off to South America in just two weeks time… I asked him how good Kevin Rudd’s Mandarin was: “Excellent. Better than Nick.” Some will get the full drift there, others will not: but it means the Rudd language ability is of a high order indeed. (M comes from China.)

Speaking of coachees — 18th September 2007

This talented young man was one last year… Take time to play it if you can: he is very good!

Catching up again on a treasure trove of Russian and Ukraine vlogs and videos

I had planned a very light post today — until I saw Twitter and then YouTube — and rarely have the offerings been so rich! There are so many must watch items! First Vlad Vexler, Russian-born and Oxford-educated political philosopher in London. The following video is absolutely a must see, brilliant, clear and informative, and corrects the lazy knee-jerk reactions that have infested the media — and my thinking too until now! DO NOT MISS THIS ONE!

Vlad Vexler has posted his considered take on the Dugina assassination

00:00 Introduction 00:40 Darya Dugina, Ukraine, Bucha 03:05 Alexander Dugin and the Putin regime 07:57 Possible causes of bomb attack 09:45 Implications for Russia & Ukraine 16:12 Implications for the West

1420 continues to ask really dangerous questions in its Moscow vox pop

Niki from St Petersburg interviews Zack the Russian

Zack who turned 21 just a few days ago! If you were 19-21 years old in Vietnam War days here in Oz I think you may well find in Zack yourself reincarnated!

Natasha from the Russian Far East updates us

Yesterday: Roman the Russian’s entertaining post on another city in Georgia

Anna from Ukraine deals with Russian propaganda

Here is one witness telling us about an aspect of life in Ukraine today

Catching up with Ukraine vlogs today…

Of course with the country having been fighting off the Russian invasion for six months now — or since 2014 arguably — that does rather dominate Ukraine vlogs, such as this one:

“My name is Starsky, I’m a Ukrainian National Guardian, blogger, and warhipster. I dedicate this channel to the international community of people who support Ukraine in it’s liberating struggle against Russian aggression.”

And in a different way this one — and this particular post is actually a very useful corrective to a major part of Putinist propaganda:

“Telling the truth about my beautiful country Ukraine. Subjective, emotional but honest.”

But others simply deal with life….

“Hi, guys! I’m Pavlo from Ukraine and I’ll be your Ukrainian mate on this channel. You will see our life, where we live and things we do, our holidays and of course national food.”