Saturday, 25 March 2017

Handwriting skills are

being lost apparently. Children can tap and swipe a keyboard even before they can buckle their sandals and long before they can tie their shoe laces. They can "type" on a keyboard but they apparently have difficulty in writing anything - because they no longer "need" to do it.
Or do they? There is a piece in this morning's paper about this but I was actually thinking about it yesterday. Today there is the monthly knitting group at the library. I face two challenges. One will be working with the now 11yr old and teaching her to read a pattern - with all the abbreviations. I am not expecting too many problems. She is an intelligent and able child and, by choice, she does a lot of craft work. What is more she does it to a very high standard, often better than adults. Her handwriting is neat and tidy and I suspect she has no difficulty in writing a page - or two, or three.
The other challenge will be to help an adult who is left handed to learn to crochet. I will be interested to see if she turns up and, if she does, whether she followed my advice and looked at some instructional video material on line. She's a teacher so she should be able to find things like that without my help. 
But it all made me think about things like learning to write, use a pair of scissors, use sticky tape, wrap a parcel, tie a knot and more.
"Craft work" in school seems to be rather different now. When I was a kitten we had "woodwork" for the boys and "sewing" for the girls in the last part of the primary school. 
Now I am hopeless at sewing. My paws just cannot manage a fine sewing needle or the fine motor movements which are required to sew nice, neat seams. It is not for want of trying on my part and, as an adult, I have simply ceased to try. Friends step in and take up my hems and re-attach buttons. I do things for them in return. 
But, I can knit. It took me a long time to learn to knit but I can knit and I can crochet too. I am not quite as good at crochet but it is something I taught myself. My paternal grandmother, who had more patience than any saint, taught me to knit. It is still one of the best things that ever happened to me. It helped in a lot of ways.
I went on to teach an entire class of children to knit. We talked about it first. I told them knitting took a long time. It wasn't something they would be able to do in one or two weeks of craft. Did they want to stick at it? There were other things we could do. If someone didn't want to do it then there were other things that could be done. My plan was that they would develop sufficient skill over a several weeks to go on knitting while I read to them in the last lesson on Fridays. It worked. Only one boy was not that keen and in the end he shrugged and muttered, "Might as well try." They all knitted football beanies for themselves - smaller than scarves, not too expensive to make and potentially useful for themselves or someone they knew. 
And I noticed something else. As they were learning to knit and gaining confidence at it there were other things that improved. Their handwriting improved and their general book work was neater. Those of them who were learning to play a recorder seemed more confident too. Other people noticed as well.
I wonder then if it is time to think about these things. Not all children will want to learn to knit - although it is part of the Waldorf schools curriculum.  Not all children will want to learn to crochet either. But shouldn't we be encouraging children to make things, use scissors, nails, hammers, screws, and screwdrivers, bits of timber, glue, paper, craft knives, yarn, string, and much more? I know I banged my fingers more than once making "boats" to sail. 
Of course it all means taking the child away from the screen and the keyboard and unplugging the device that gives instant feedback and "entertains" then without effort. It means recognising that there are other valuable skills which are being lost and making time to regain them.
I know G.... will arrive this afternoon eager to get on and learn a new skill.  She knows there is a lot to learn - and she wants to learn it. I want to teach her...and I'd really like to be teaching many more children like her.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Running towards danger

and putting your own life in danger in order to save your own children is something I think I can understand. I am not a mother but I can imagine some "instinct" kicking in and doing it. That's something to do with the preservation of the species isn't it?
But when strangers are involved - adult strangers who "should be able to look after themselves"?
What really makes people want to join the police force, the armed services, the fire brigade, or the ambulance service? Do they like the high speed race to a scene or the hospital, the arrests, the noise of the fire, the danger? Do they like manhandling a suspect or entering a still smouldering  building? Do they get an adrenalin rush from that sort of behaviour?
I confess I question the reason some of our local police have joined the force. I suspect they are natural bullies and they positively enjoy pulling over drivers for the slightest infraction or confronting a kid doing no more than mooching down the street. There are many others who actually care about people. How soon before they "burn out"?
The MP, Tobias Ellwood, who tried to save the life of the police officer has reportedly said that "training kicks in". You just do what needs to be done. Perhaps you do. Is it any different, at one level, than me grabbing the child I don't know as they are about to dart out into the road? I am not sure it is. I didn't think about that - and his mother probably didn't think before giving him the resounding whack on his well padded backside. 
Perhaps there are times when you just "do it" but the difference between merely stopping a child as I did yesterday on a quiet suburban street and trying to save a life is enormous. Mr Ellwood will live with that for the rest of his life. In a year from now, unless someone reminds me, I probably won't remember the incident with the child.
What I am going to remember is the email from the friend who works in Westminster. It was just a very short note.
"Just to let you know Cat that we're all shaken but safe."
I don't want to know any more. I am too much of a coward to run towards danger. 

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The terror attack in London

has left me questioning yet again, "Why?"
Terror attacks like this don't make sense to me...well, no terror attack does but these make even less sense.
Can someone please explain why it makes sense to go out and kill innocent people going about their daily business? Why kill people who are not doing harm to anyone else? Why get yourself killed?
It makes no sense.
A long time ago now I answered the phone in our home and, before I could say anything, a terrified voice at the other end said, " Dad is trying to kill Mum."
No, it wasn't a joke. We lived in a "soldier settlement" at the time. One of those areas set up by the government where returned servicemen were given parcels of land to farm. It was a well meant but crazy scheme, particularly in that extremely isolated area. The rate of mental illness among the men was particularly high. 
On this occasion the farmer in question was chasing his wife across a paddock (field) with a red hot poker in his hand. He thought she was the enemy. 
The Senior Cat didn't hesitate to believe the child. He made a couple of phone calls, the farmer on a neighbouring property went with his teenage son and restrained the man until other help arrived and the poor man was taken off for a spell in psychiatric care. He had done no physical harm and no charges were laid. But of course it harmed his family. The marriage eventually broke down. It wasn't the only incident while we lived there but it was perhaps the most dramatic. 
It affected me too. I was only a young teen at the time.
I look at the news now, at the teens and the children going through the most horrendous experiences. Their apparent calm is not real. Underneath they have to be living in a constant state of fear as well as coping with a lack of food, of shelter, and of all the things they should have as a right. Their experiences and that of the young boy on the farm are far worse than the one I had.
I don't understand why any human being would deliberately put another human being through something like that. It makes no sense. What sort of "god" do these people believe in?

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Are Australians "racist"?

No, I am not going to attempt to answer that question. It is unanswerable anyway.
It is being debated again though. Yesterday was "Harmony Day" and yesterday was also the day the government announced some proposed changes to Sec 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act - that section of the Act which makes it an offence to insult, offend or humiliate anyone on the basis of their race.
I have always though that section was a mistake. That is not because I think it is right to insult, offend or humiliate anyone. I don't. The problem, as I see it, is that it sends "hate speech" underground. Yes, I have said that elsewhere. I will probably say it again somewhere in the future. 
Hate speech has no place anywhere.  Encouraging it by attempting to forbid it by law is simply going to make the problem, if there is a problem, worse. 
And there is another a problem. That section of the Act does not apply equally to all people. Oh  yes, in theory it does. It should. It doesn't. It is there to "protect" minority groups.
There are other minority groups in the community too and they are not afforded the same protections.
I had to go into the local supermarket yesterday. There is someone who works in there part time. She is grossly overweight, unattractive to look at, and not a particularly happy person. That is due in part to her multiple medical conditions.  She also happens to be very good at her job. She knows what the supermarket sells, what sizes the products come in, where to find them, the names of things, the prices of fruit and vegetables, and much more. 
We have a relationship of sorts. When there isn't anyone behind me in the queue she will sometimes chat a little to me. I hear about how she went to the football with her Dad or something else. She will ask me about something I am buying and how I cook it. It's all just casual chat - but a little more than "have a nice day". There are times when she will be almost abrupt. She's in pain and is best left to herself.
It takes courage for her to front up to work. It is difficult for her to stand there. She is fully aware that many customers avoid her. They would rather wait longer in another queue than be served by her.
Yesterday though she served someone who was, to be blunt, extremely rude to her. It wasn't the all too common rudeness of a thoughtless customer. It was directed at her as an individual. It reduced her to tears.
I was much too far back to in the queue to intervene in time. I couldn't physically reach her then but she was still fighting back the tears when I did reach her. All I could do was put my hand over hers. She gave me, ever so slightly, the faintest hint of a smile blew her nose and went on with her job. Nobody else had shown any interest or sympathy.
I know. It's hard. You don't want to get involved. It's none of your business.
But I came away thinking that it is that sort of behaviour which is the really dangerous sort. It's not the insulting or offensive behaviour. That's bad enough. What is worse is simply allowing it to happen when you see it happen, when the person on the receiving end of such vile behaviour can't defend themselves. As the shop employee she just had to take what was given to her. She couldn't be rude to a customer.
She has as much right not to be offended or insulted as someone from another minority group. 
We don't need legislation. We need thought for each other and the courage to speak up.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

March is a mad month

in this part of Downunder. There are too many things happening!
There are all the official things which include,
(a) a street car race
(b) a horse race
(c) a Festival
(d) a Fringe Festival and

This household ignores (a), (b), and (e). Although Middle Cat is the on-site physiotherapist for (a) both the Senior Cat and I dislike all forms of motorsport. To me there is nothing "sport" about burning fossil fuel, making a lot of noise, and speeding. None of us is in the least interested in horse racing. WOMAD's music does not, on the whole, attract us - well, it doesn't attract the Senior Cat at all and the artists who might attract me are few and far between.
That leaves (c) and (d). 
Now (c) includes Writers' Week. I usually prowl off to this as often as I can. This year I did not get to one single event. Work intervened. I had a funeral to go to the one afternoon I might have been free. The Senior Cat had appointments and Middle Cat was not available to deal with those so I had to deal with them. (Middle Cat is very good about this usually. She says it is her share of caring for him. It was just unavoidable.)  I did get some phone conversations in with a couple of visiting writers and two of them came had coffee with me in the local shopping centre but.... sigh. Next year? 
The nice thing about Writers' Week is that you don't need to pay to go - unless you choose to buy books (and who doesn't need books?)
The other Festival events tend to be very expensive. I can understand why they are - especially those with big international artists. Live theatre, which accounts for much of the Festival, is very expensive to produce. Last year the Senior Cat was recovering from the fall in the bathroom. We didn't go to anything. This year the Senior Cat didn't feel he could handle going to anything. I suspect his nights out are over. Mine are too - for the moment.
The Senior Cat went to a matinee at the Fringe...the conjuring show in which someone he knew and has encouraged was performing. He said it was "okay" but his standards in that area are high. He watches performers like David Copperfield with professional interest. He's made apparatus for performers like Raymond Crowe. He knows what is behind the illusion and he knows about stagecraft. He's taught at least two young performers who will make their living this way.
Did he want to see anything else? No. He couldn't be bothered to make the effort of getting there. I left it at that. He goes to another monthly group and he goes to things associated with his church. 
I was planning on going to a number of Fringe exhibitions but that hasn't happened either. I am not about to pass on my rotten cold to anyone else. 
So the madness which is March has pretty well passed us by this year. Perhaps it is just as well.... I did get a little writing done!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Those big yellow school buses

you sometimes see in a news story from North America are also used in Downunder.
I was reminded of them yet again when someone put up a piece on FB about the possible closure of a tiny rural school in Cornwall. Yes, I do mean tiny. At the present time it looks as if there might be just 11 students there next year.
I never went to a school quite that small. The smallest school I went to was a "two teacher" school. By rural Downunder standards it was quite large. The Senior Cat taught "the big kids" and my mother taught "the little kids". There were twenty-four of the big ones and twenty-two of the little ones. The little ones included the youngest kitten in our family who wasn't actually officially on the school roll but was in the class anyway because there was nowhere else for her to go. There were two small "buses" - one of them a VW "combi" and the other a vehicle of about the same size which had been what Downunderites refer to as a "ute" - a utility vehicle with a tray at the back. The tray had been closed in and a couple of seats added. It was also used by the football team. There were no seat belts in either vehicle. It wouldn't happen now but such were the joys of remote rural life.
When we moved from there the Senior Cat was given the task of setting up an "area" school...which meant adding a secondary section to a small rural primary school.  The students came in buses from the surrounding farms. None of them had to travel a particularly long distance. I think the outermost farm was about eighteen or nineteen miles out. There were just four buses. Some of the other children walked or rode their bikes because you had to be a certain distance from the school before the bus was permitted to pick you up. The buses were driven by local farmers supplementing their income. If one of them was unable to do it then the science teacher, also responsible for the overall running of the buses, would fill in. 
And then, when the Senior Cat was considered to have done the job he had been asked to do there, we moved again. He was asked to take on another (and even more difficult) task. This school was big. There were 660 plus students and almost all of them came in by bus. There were, from memory, eleven buses. They were yellow of course. They were big. They were driven not by the farmers but by the teachers. The shortest run was about 46 miles round trip and the longest was over 100 miles. The teachers lived in caravans at the end of the bus run and the one who started earliest had to be gone before 7am - and so did the children. 
The little ones would fall asleep in the bus and be woken by a parent picking them up or an older child taking them from the bus. It would be dark in the mornings and growing dark in the afternoons in winter. 
If a teacher was ill the deputy headmaster would have to travel out in the spare bus and pick the children up. Those buses were a constant worry to the Senior Cat, the deputy, and the teachers who drove them. There were no mobile phones back then. If a bus broke down or had a puncture then you had to walk to the nearest farm - which might be some miles away - and get help. 
All this and a "big school" was considered preferable to having children in the one-teacher schools which had been quite common a few years before. 
I still wonder what it was like though. What was it like at five years of age to be put on a bus, travel up to two hours, spend the entire day at school, and travel another two  hours home? It was a very long day. Weekends must surely have come as a huge relief. Even if you were "goin' the footy" you didn't have to start out that early.
What was it like for the teachers? I know they found it hard. As "the head's kids" we heard things other children didn't hear.
I can still remember going into the staff room at the school to pick something up for another teacher and finding two in there, one weeping - perhaps from sheer exhaustion. She was the only female bus driver and those buses were very heavy to handle.
    "Cat won't say anything," I heard her say.
And I never said a word. How did they manage to teach?
Small schools have advantages and disadvantages but getting children to bigger schools is a challenge of another sort again.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Getting one thing right

will help - at least that is what I told myself.
I was feeling nervous. Would I be able to communicate? I was about to meet a profoundly deaf woman whose first language was Irish sign language and whose second language was Irish. 
I had been told her English was "almost none". She can lip read a few words like "please".
That isn't going to get me far. There is no point in trying to write things down. She can't really read either - and certainly not English.  Even if she could my writing is barely legible - although not for want of trying.
It had all taken a bit of working out even to get together. The first email to someone else had gone unanswered. Her son, also profoundly deaf, might have given up but a curious series of events led to someone I barely know but who knows my "name-sign" recognising who they were trying to contact and telling someone else who contacted me. Would I help? 
I said I'd try but it isn't the sort of thing for which you can ask for help from a trained interpreter. We would have to go it almost alone.
I met them at the home of a family where the parents both use Auslan - Australian Sign Language. I don't know them either but the person who had asked me to help introduced me. When I signed "hello" it helped a bit but I was still feeling nervous.
The curious thing about knitting though is that you knit with your hands and, as I said yesterday, if you also talk with your hands then you do one thing or another.  I was also wondering how well this person would be able to knit.
That was not a problem. She is an expert knitter. She actually knits the most complex garments and sells them for large sums of money. They would be worth everything someone paid for them. I saw two of them.  She seems to do them without a pattern - just with her own series of diagrams and pictures and charts.
I had taken along one of the hats I had knitted. She spent some time looking at it. I showed her how I cast on. It was something she had not seen before. I showed her twice and then she tried it twice more. Again she drew things on paper. I had taken the "pattern" with me and I went through it with her by showing her on the hat I had taken. By the time we had finished she had her own pattern in a form she could understand - and I could "read" enough of it to know she would be able to work from it. 
With difficulty I explained about the sort of yarn not to use - in a mixture of sign, finger spelling and a picture dictionary. We all laughed over "goat hair itch".
At last I was offered ice-cold home made lemonade and we sat for a few minutes. They talked and the daughter of the house called in. She's hearing so the conversation flowed more easily although I addressed my remarks to them and not to her. As she was leaving she offered to take me home.
Before we left I asked her, "Can you work out how to say I want to see all the leprechauns wearing green sun hats when I go to Ireland?"
Leprechauns? We looked in the picture dictionary and found "gnome" instead - an Irish gnome. She showed me and I repeated it. There was more laughter and then I was hugged and being thanked - in sign. 
And that was a good sign. I'm glad I tried.