That Sugar Film – Film Review

The teeth in the picture above belong to teenager Larry from Barbourville, Kentucky. Well they did belong to Larry until they were all pulled out. He drank too much Mountain Dew.

A problem not uncommon, according to dentist Dr Edwin Smith, who appears in Damon Gameau’s documentary That Sugar Film. In the film Dr Smith points out that he’s seen so many teeth rotted by Mountain Dew that he’s coined the term ‘Mountain Dew Mouth’.

Larry’s teeth are not replaced by the end of the documentary though, because his system would not respond properly to the anaesthetic required. In a relieving piece of news, available on Facebook, he has now had all his teeth replaced.

Images like the one above certainly add the shock value to this documentary. Other sugar-free crusaders have been slowly adding to the pile of evidence pointing towards the heinous crimes of this carbohydrate. Jamie Oliver for one recently upped the ante, on Gameau’s ‘Mountain Dew Mouth’ footage, by sitting in on a foot amputation caused by type two diabetes and screening footage of mothers bottle feeding their babies Coca-Cola.

Gameau also goes for the immersive documentarian stunt of subjecting himself to a sugar-filled diet for sixty days. This has direct echoes of the headline grabbing efforts of Morgan Spurlock bingeing on MacDonalds in Super Size Me; or the time that Werner Herzog ate his shoe in Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

But it is not really the masochistic element of the film that hits home. To the average person it is common knowledge that substituting your children’s drinking water with sugar-loaded beverages will have lasting health effects. But what Gameau uncovers is deeper. He brings to the fore all those products we thought were good for us. Things like zero-per-cent fat milk, one-hundred-per-cent fruit juices, health bars, Nutri-grain, and so forth, are all in the firing line. It turns out all of these products are high in sugar-content also. Perhaps this is even worse than Coca-Cola or McDonalds, because these other items come with a health message.

These are the things filling our children’s cereal bowls, lunch boxes and dinner plates.

But what to do Mr Gameau? What to do? Our children are already addicted. So if we don’t coat our broccoli in chocolate sauce and poach our asparagus in sugar syrup, how will our children eat? They will go hungry and die of starvation (mind you, seeing the speed at which Gameau’s stomach bloats in the first few days of his sugar diet, you’d be loath to feed your child half an Uncle Toby’s muesli bar).

Perhaps Hamish and Andy have the answer. Listening to Hamish Blake talking about his son’s first experience with sugar it became clear that perhaps the perfect answer to a sugar-free future is never having it in the first place. Sarah Wilson’s book could be condensed to a pamphlet that says don’t feed babies sugar. Davina McCall’s five week plan to a sugar free diet could be condensed to a five second plan where you never feed your baby sugar. Kids would be none the wiser. For what they don’t know, they won’t miss. But then again you can never tell what sugary treat may be round the corner when a parent turns their back. My first taste of sugar was delivered in the form of a Tiny Teddy from my grandmother.

The balance of sugar for children is at the front of Gameau’s mind for most of the film, as he explores the effects of his diet in the lead up to the birth of his first child. While he looks at the health of some of his contemporaries. He is most concerned with the children of tomorrow. Another such example being the aims of the filmmaker to action change beyond the film in school canteens and the Aboriginal community of Amata, where government cuts have meant children’s sugar-intake has increased.

And what of other crusaders? What of Jamie Oliver’s proposed sugar-tax? He’s implementing it in his own restaurants. But where will that end? Is that the police state going too far? Soon enough we’ll find bags of sugar being treated like cigarette packets that have been branded with gruesome photos of the health consequences. We’ll be walking into the baking aisle of the supermarket to find images of amputated limbs on our baking goods; photographs of damaged livers on our chocolate bars; or pictures of ‘Mountain Dew Mouth’ on our Mountain Dew bottles.

While That Sugar Film states some obvious outcomes of certain diets, it really provides a wake-up call for the fringe-dwellers of obesity. The people (like myself) who get away with over consumption of processed foods due to lucky metabolisms and predisposed genetic makeup. It gets us to think about the damage we can’t see. Fat and skinny might go to war, but if skinny is sharing fat’s lunchbox, they’re both going to end up with messed up insulin levels.

Having watched this film, I’ve consciously made change. Sure I’m not going to cut it out completely. Hell, we’ve already been told gluten, fat, lactose and salt are bad for us. Now sugar as well. I’d be left eating air before too long. So I’m going to eat all those things in moderation.

I’m not going to throw out my tin of strawberry flavoured Nesquik just yet, because that would be wasteful. However, I am slowly eating down my pantry of such tooth-decaying ingredients to try and have a more basic diet. I’ll still eat cakes and the odd treat, because having had that first Tiny Teddy twenty-eight years ago, I am now sugar dependant. But I do plan to cut out more of the processed sugars and move to a diet of foods made from base ingredients.

And if everything becomes too tasteless I can always add more garlic, chillies or ginger to flavour things up. Until we find out that those foods are bad for us too.

Film Review – Testament of Youth

When Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander) received a new piano as a gift, she was unimpressed. Very unimpressed.

Her father had just spent a large sum of money on the baby grand piano, when she was wanting him to save that money for her to go to Oxford. Now she would be left to go to some other subpar educational institution.

Oh, that one of my own students shared similar sentiment. The kids I teach would neither long for the piano nor an Oxbridge education. Instead a child told me on Tuesday that they were hoping to convince their parents to purchase a £500 self-balancing scooter. This same child was probably receiving free school meals from the government.

No, I do not teach children such as Vera Brittain. But then I suppose children like Vera are just constructed by Hollywood film studios to trick us into thinking kids care about their education.

Sorry, I have just remembered Vera Brittain was a real person.

Oh, that I could teach in the bygone era when teenagers refused to accept gifts of musical instruments in preference for their education.

But then again, there’d be all the going to war; getting engaged to Jon Snow – sorry Roland Leighton (Kit Harrington); delaying degrees to become a nurse; and general anguish.

No, I feel that I am lucky to have been born in era where we have the peace that pacifists like Vera Brittain fought for.

The peace to watch this masterful depiction of her life and hardships, set against the romantic backdrops and poetic flow.

The peace to reflect upon the strength and tenacity of her character both in reality and on screen in this film.

And the peace to spend time finding the best deal on Amazon for a self-balancing scooter.

Kid #22 – The naughtiest child ever

The twenty second-kid I hated was the worst child I’d ever taught.

Or at least that’s what I told him, or rather death-whispered it in his ear as I dismissed him.

It probably wasn’t even true. I’d taught worse (Kid number two, for instance was a lot worse).

Kid number 22 was a very naughty boy. I only taught him for one day, but his behaviour stood out as so delinquent there was little left to do than give him a piece of my mind. He was a product of his home, yet also the school he attended.

When I arrived in the morning to cover his Year Three class, I was told by the deputy, “Don’t worry too much about getting anything done. Just baby-sit them for the day and their normal teacher will be able to sort anything out tomorrow”.

This was an ominous sign. I felt an urge to excuse myself and return to bed, sacrificing that day’s pay. Instead, I went against my better judgement and began setting up the classroom.

As the morning bell rang the cacophonous stampede of size 7-12 leather Clarks could be heard galloping up the stairwell and spilling into the upstairs corridor. I braced myself against the door-jam of the classroom, ready to politely (but firmly) greet each child.

Then the whooping started.

“Yes, it’s a supply teacher!”; “Awesome, Mrs Smithsworthy isn’t in today!”; “We’re not going to do any work today!”

How did these kids even know what a ‘supply teacher’ is? Most kids under the age of 13 are too self-consumed to see past their left elbow. They’re caught up in their own little world. Sometimes, I’d be halfway through a day’s work, before certain kids would realise I wasn’t their normal teacher.

Perhaps the deputy had spoken with them in the playground and told them the same thing he told me.

And there was kid number 22. His face was permanently scarred with a mischievous slash psychopathic grin, ready to cause chaos; a delinquent at the age of seven. He had one of those haircuts where everything is shaved short except for the mullet fringe at the back. Not that a haircut is reason to judge what a personality will be like, but sometimes a personality is a reason to judge what a haircut will be like.

The child was full of expletives, immediately escalating himself to a morning break detention. The rest of the class wasn’t far behind, paying such little attention to the lesson that I had to drop Maths for the day to spend time going through the ‘Golden Rules’ chart on the pin-up board.

It was at this point I became more infuriated. It seemed the children had a comprehensive knowledge of what the classroom expectations were, but had consciously chosen to flaunt them. Normally, I find younger children have misunderstandings of appropriate behaviour, whereas teenagers know the limits and choose to exceed them.

This Year Three class were acting like teenagers. They knew I was a cover teacher so had chosen to throw the ‘Golden Rules’ out the window along with a couple of pencils and one boy’s exercise book.

I’d not seen such collective self-awareness in young children for a long time, if ever. We finished re-vising the rules and how to behave normally, before ascending to the third floor of the building for a music lesson. The music specialist took this lesson, so I returned to the sanctuary of the now peaceful classroom.

A senior staff member popped her head in to see how things were going. I lied and said it was fine, hoping to myself that the time continuum would collapse on itself and it’d suddenly become 3.30pm.

She also asked where the teaching assistant was. I said I had seen a lady in the room earlier in the day. But she hadn’t said much.

The teaching assistant who was supposed to have been with these naughty children had seemingly gone AWOL. She too must have been told by the deputy that the day would be a right off; and I imagine she retreated to the photocopying room to regain whatever sanity she had lost dealing with these kids over the preceding months.

The peace was short-lived as four boys returned to the room prematurely. The twenty-second kid had been incessantly banging his drum, after being told to stop by the music teacher. His goons had joined in the fun by laughing evil laughs and egging him on.

Now they were my problem again. I made them write lines, which due to their illiteracy became one single line i.e. one line between the four of them.

Lunch came and went. The afternoon was marred by the Maths lesson we hadn’t completed in the morning and the kid, I had come to hate, threw his toys out the pram when I asked him to count to ten with some number blocks. The blocks were tossed from the metaphoric pram to the corner of the room, while he was guided to the opposite corner to sit in ‘time-out’.

This of course was short lived, because the sugar from the Walkers cheese and onion chips he’d eaten at lunch had clearly kicked in and caused him to have another burst of adrenaline. He began literally bouncing off walls and running into things.

It is children like this that make a good case for bringing back the dunce hat. Then at least there’d be something to weigh the child down with, so they’d find it harder to leave ‘time-out’.

The day finally ended and I escorted the children to the playground for pickup. Though, it was more like they escorted themselves out, as we had all had more than enough by then.

The naughty child was now hitting another child or sibling.

Then suddenly he spotted his parents walking in with his kick scooter.

So before he ran off to them, I bent down and whispered in his ear, “You are the worst [dramatic pause] child I have ever taught. And if I teach here again, I hope you improve your behaviour young man”.

I never did teach there again thank goodness, and the kid simply rode off into the distance, running over a little girl’s toe in the process.

Maybe the boy had a condition. Maybe I was harsh to whisper in his ear just to satisfy myself I’d gained some juvenile revenge. Really, someone within the school should have started addressing the breadth of misbehaviour. There was no need for that much naughtiness.

For me it was another day another dollar. And I never returned.

Perhaps things are better there now and the boy has been diagnosed with some form of deficit disorder.

But if I ever met him again, I doubt I’d join him on the halfpipe with my scooter.

Kid #21 – You can guide a kid to textbooks, but you can’t make them think

The twenty-first kid I hated had a real ‘make me!’ attitude.

By ‘make me!’, I am referring to the following sorts of interactions:

Teacher/Parent/Adult/Authority figure: Please, can you tuck your shirt in?

Kid: Make me!

Or

Teacher/Parent/Adult/Authority figure: Please, can you sit down?

Kid: Make me!

And so on and so forth.

For argument’s sake, let’s say kid number 21 was called ‘Tarquin’. He had become so notorious around the school for his defiance that students and staff alike would say, “Have you met Tarquin yet?”, “Is Tarquin in your class?” or “Such and such student couldn’t be worse than Tarquin”.

Who was this child? And did I really want to meet him?

I was covering classes in this school for a number of months. The school was situated in an area of London prone to a certain amount of gang warfare. The gangs were usually made up of vulnerable teenagers and misguided young adults involving themselves in forcing young female members to be involved in various sexual acts, general theft and a bit of knife crime.

My gut feeling was the majority of students in the school were not part of such gangs, but some of those who weren’t continuing beyond Year 10 were probably on the cusp of joining such groups. The school was very active in bringing to the attention of students, the pitfalls of gang culture. Ex-gang members were often brought in as guest speakers; extra-curricular clubs and activities were organised as distractions; and the issue of knife crime was debated as a topic in English classes, using the institutionalised racism of the Stephen Lawrence case as a backdrop (albeit some of the children seemed more interested in the knife side of ‘knife crime’ and less concerned about the crime).

One film studies class was even making a mockumentary about the 2011 London riots, documenting a gang who had resorted to raiding stationery shops for highlighters.

With such a demographic and a number of already lippy students, I was prepared for the worst upon meeting the twenty first kid. Would he be part of such a gang? Is that why he was so well-known?

Apprehensive at every turn, when covering year nine classes, I expected the child to storm in at any moment. Then one day covering a woodwork class it happened…

In stormed ‘Tarquin’. He did not fit the gangster mould at all. I was expecting a much more vicious and streetwise child from a struggling background. Instead he appeared to be a well-spoken middle-class lad born into a good home. So initially I relaxed.

However, he had turned up five minutes late to class and seemed rather unapologetic. I should have been more cautious.

When asked to sit down in a seat, he declared that he was fine and continued to wander around the room. He began picking up tools; saws, chisels and other sharp construction implements, which I had been explicitly instructed to make sure students did not handle. The students were only supposed to work on their written booklet explaining how they were going to construct their wooden pencil box for next lesson.

The rest of the year nines seemed to be enjoying the show. Here was their class-clown ready to spoil the day. He was no Krusty, but if it meant they didn’t need to complete their written element of work, they’d settle for his second rate cousin.

The child continued to ignore me completely, despite every polite attempt to get his attention and encourage him to sit in a chair. There is nothing ruder or more defiant than being ignored completely by a student. Yet there is also an element of knowing with such a child. They’ve realised the limitations of the adults to ‘make’ them do things. Beyond my words I had nothing. I could call a senior staff member in, and soon enough I did, but he treated them the same way. It would have been easier if he’d smashed a window or something, because then we’d have been able to call the police who may have been able to force him to do something. Something like sitting in a cell, instead of the chair I’d originally asked him to rest upon.

But even force with not lead to learning.

And there-in lay the dilemma when later in the lesson he was asked to do his work and responded with, “make me!”.

There is in fact no way to make someone learn. They can only be cajoled, encouraged, persuaded and threatened with consequence, to complete a task.

Instead this child was happy to enjoy his minute status as a celebrity. He wandered the room greeting all his pals, as though he was some sort of politician working a room. He sat at his table like a chairman of an important board meeting, leading discussions in everything but the topic at hand. When the lesson finally ended he swanned (or perhaps even minced) out of the room with an air of contempt towards those he had just spent time with; he obviously had more important places to be.

It’s hard to know with some of these children whether the bravado comes from a place of insecurity or, as stated early, the knowledge that rules can be pushed to their limit (or even ignored) to get what you want.

The problem with this character was he’d only realised half the picture. He knew there were limited short term consequences to his blatant disregard for authority. He was reaping the rewards of his popularity within the safety net of his school environment. But left out to float in the ocean of the real world, he’d be swallowed up by the shark that is society and torn limb from limb like an malnourished walrus – I feel this is an apt metaphor considering his body type.

Luckily I only taught that class until the end of the week and moved to another part of the school, where again the name Tarquin became merely a quasi-outlaw rumoured about in the corridors. A god among pupils and fool among teachers. His destiny was tied up in failure due the size of his ego and belt strap.

So although the child may have suffered from some social autism, if we met again I doubt I’d invite him in for coffee. He’d have to ‘make me!’.