Monday, November 09, 2009

Scurvy knave

Mr. McP was in a tizzy this morning because I was supposed to sign his report card. I assumed signing was unnecessary, since the signature acknowledges that I, the parent have received it, and in this case, his report card had been handed to me personally, by his teachers, and we had discussed it. He INSISTED that has teacher said that I had to sign it. Why not just sign it then and let the poor kid stop worrying? Because I had already lost it, and now, I'd have to write a note, saying I'd seen the report card, and the note--scrawled on a scrap taken from the recycling--would be proof of my carelessness. No, I don't save my kids' report cards. Isn't that what the transcrips are for? Actually, I do make an effort to save the last report card of the year, since it has the full year's grades on it. This is one of the many idiotic public school policies that make me nostalgic for our homeschooling days.

This weekend, my kids and a friend from the neighborhood went into the park across the street and raked themselves a huge pile of leaves. A random dad who was in the park with his small child joined in, and my kids welcomed him, and they were all planning to have a grand time jumping in their pile. Then other parents arrived, who, not understanding the spirit of the leaf pile, acted put out that my children were playing in it. Their plaintive requests: "Can my child have a turn now?" implying that they were somehow entitled to it. I know it's a public park, and I know that leaves are free, but, judging from my children's description of the encounters, it seems these parents thought the leaf pile had been provided by the city, much like the other playground equipment and that my children, in wanting to jump in the pile they had raked themselves, were being selfish. My children, having been brought up to be polite, deferred to the other parents and hardly had any time to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Am I being petty here? It's too much, perhaps, to say, "Go rake your OWN leaf pile." My kids didn't mind the dad who helped, and then let his kid jump, but I don't think they're wrong for being annoyed at seeing their pile destroyed by others who didn't even have the courtesy to thank them.

I'm still reading The Arctic Grail by Pierre Berton. Much of it is devoted to John Franklin's tragic1846 expedition. His orders were to find the elusive Northwest Passage. He and his entire crew died, most likely of scurvy, and the British navy (and later some Americans) searched for twelve years before finding conclusive evidence of the crew's fate.

If scurvy was the primary cause of their deaths, a secondary cause was snobbery--not of John Franklin personally, but of the British Admiralty in general whose attitude influenced most arctic explorers of the period. A handful of explorers realized that the diet of arctic natives--fresh meat and blubber--was what prevented scurvy, but most refused to eat the native diet, and granted, it does sound singularly unappealing. Another problem was the navy's refusal to listen to arctic whaling captains, who were more competant with ice, but, since whalers had lesser social status, and were not British Navy officers, their expertise was rejected. Inexplicably, none of the explorers had the least idea of how to hunt and had no intention of learning. Instead, they lugged mountains of provisions through areas that had plenty of wild game. Sometimes they hired natives to hunt for them. Sometimes they were forced to resort to cannibalism. They also refused to use dogsleds. Instead, they built massive sledges designed to be hauled by men. Indeed, the explorers of the time actually believed that man-hauled sledges were somehow nobler, and that using dogs was a form of cheating. The result of this attitude was men who were completely worn out and taken by scurvy all the quicker. On the one hand, we had men who endured unimaginable hardship in order to map the arctic and contribute knowlege of the region--and they made many important contributions. On the other hand, The Arctic Grail is, among other things, a catalog of stupendous incompetance.


  1. Yep - I recently read Endurance, about Shackleton's voyage to Antartica, and I was fascinated to learn just how much crap they hauled with them. They recently found a cask of his whiskey abandoned shortly after the ship... And he was one of the better ones - the whole crew got out alive after some insane misadventures, and they sure as heck resorted to seal meat and what have you.

    And the kids thing - yep, there's a time and a place to defer to adults, and that one was not necessarily it. But it's a hard thing to stand up for - almost better to simply move along and build a new pile.

  2. If you like reading about polar expeditions, you have to read Anne Fadiman's essay about reading about polar expeditions, if you haven't already (it's in her book Ex Libris).

  3. The leaf thing is sad, and my kids would have done the exact same thing.

  4. The park kids? Should've been told NO! Their parents? Should've been handed rakes. Jerks.

    Scurvy, eh? I'd read of this, but I can't imagine pride standing between me and a healthy diet!

  5. it seems these parents thought the leaf pile had been provided by the city, much like the other playground equipment

    Hahaha. Ahhhh. Stupid parents.

  6. The arctic expedition of Frankln had more than scurvy and incompetent officers to deal with. Lead poisening from the canned foods also played a big part. However, the british navy were not completely stupid - they eventually (decades later) followed the practice of the british merchant navy who carried lemons and limes to counter scurvy. The anerican navy followed the royal navy (decades later).

  7. Hilarious! I TOO HATE PARENT HOMEWORK I mean what is the point of having parents sign every last thing that comes home? With six kids I actually feel resentment at the fact I feel like the school is grading ME on my signing off on all those planners, and folders and flyers... and paper that I tend to prefer to recycle with the wonder that in this electronic age they still find it so necessary to send home a flyer for every PTO meeting etc...