Dramatis persona*

helenhead Helen Chick

I've always wanted a bumper sticker that said "I'm a female, LDS/Mormon, Scout leading, geocaching, piano-playing, bicycling, mathematics educator with a PhD in maths ... and I VOTE"!

I think this makes me a minority group of cardinality 1!

* Since there's only one of me and "personae" is plural (I think), I've gone with dramatis persona.
January 2023
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High school ghosts at Second Bluff

I decided to go for a little kayaking jaunt on this Saturday morning, putting in at the boat ramp near Rosny College, and making my way across Kangaroo Bay, around what I call Bellerive Bluff, and then paralleling Bellerive Beach until I reached Second Bluff, which separates Bellerive Beach from Howrah Beach. Although I have walked over Second Bluff quite a few times in recent years, I hadn’t seen it from sea level for some time, and my kayak trip brought to light a couple of things which brought back memories of my high school days.

Back in the 1970s I went to Clarence High, which is on Wentworth Street some 100-200m from Second Bluff. The proximity of Howrah Beach to the school meant that PE lessons involving swimming (and kayaking) were held here rather than at some nice warm swimming pool. Never a strong swimmer, I recall a couple of incidents that probably didn’t help my confidence.

The first was when I was swimming not too far out and felt something brush my leg. Assuming it was seaweed, I shook it off and kept swimming, with an uncertain “yerch” feeling. Shortly afterwards I felt something against my leg again and this time it wouldn’t shake off. This was disconcerting (to put it mildly). Thinking it was a jellyfish — and without thinking that my next move is not generally recommended for jellyfish — I reached down to scrape it off me, only to discover that it was thick and fleshy. With a rising sense of panic I managed to peel off the tentacle, and promptly set a record for the 50m splashy ungainly freestyle which, unfortunately, no one actually recorded. I convinced the teachers that there really was something down there (an octopus as far as I was concerned), and, from the safety of their supervising kayaks, they confirmed that it was, in fact, a squid.

Needless to say I am still a bit hypersensitive about things which lurk unseen in the water.


The second incident was particularly brought to mind during my paddle, with the sight of these old rusting davits on the rocks of Second Bluff itself to the west of Howrah Beach. Back in my school days first term didn’t start until late in February, which meant that by the time we’d done a few weeks of swimming and kayaking we were getting into March, and it’s Tasmania anyway which means you can have any type of weather on just about any day of the year. On the particular day that I am recalling there was snow on Mt Wellington, but, making no concession for this, our torturers (otherwise known as the PE teachers) made us walk around to the davits where the water was deep, and had us dive right in.

I think this was the first time I ever experienced literally the phrase “take your breath away”. I don’t know how long it was after hitting the gasp-inducing freezing water before I managed to breathe again — let alone do anything else — but it seemed an eternity. During this forever there must have been some sense of self-preservation still functioning, because despite my brain and body feeling like they were in a chilly limbo they managed to do something which kept my head above water until the shock wore off.

So, if you detect a certain timidity of mine near water, perhaps you will now understand that certain traumatic youthful experiences may have contributed.

The previous two events have been recalled from time to time over the years and are quite vivid in my mind, but one other Second Bluff school occasion had been forgotten about entirely until today. As I paddled past a little cove at the middle of the bluff, I noticed a set of large-enough-for-standing-in caves set in a cliff, with a set of steps leading down to the rock-shelf in front of them … and with the view, a few vague recollections came trickling back (no, not a flood of strong memories!).


If memory serves — and it doesn’t, always — in Grade 10 we had a final class barbecue/picnic/party here. I can’t remember very much of it at all, except that I think there was a barbecue although I’m not entirely sure how it was managed, and I can remember feeling my usual sense of not-quite-sure-of-myself that I experienced through most of my high school years. Don’t get me wrong: I had lots of good friends and plenty of great experiences at high school — and no significant unpleasantnesses or any real regrets in retrospect — but I was an awkward kid, and cognizant of the fact that I was not one of the cool kids, but with the added and frustrating awareness that I couldn’t work out what they “had” that I didn’t, and so I would never know what I could do about it.

And there are some things we never entirely outgrow.

And there are some things that actually don’t matter that much in the end, and if you’re lucky you realise it before you get toooo old.

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