Friday, 18 January 2019

Teaching adults

is a challenge.
Oh yes, I discovered this again over the past two days. It was fun I suppose - when I finally had time to stop and think about it. 
Of course I have taught adults before. I have tutored and even given the occasional lecture at university but that isn't quite all day and every day.
   "Please ask questions," I told them, "Don't be afraid to ask questions. You are here to learn."
And they were paying to learn too. Knitting might be a hobby but they were paying to learn about it.
Someone had arranged to pick me up.  She is one of the world's reliable people so I made sure I was ready on time. That was particularly important as we had to load the car with two very big bags of yarn, a box of books, a bag of the rest of the kits, and my backpack. 
And she didn't come. About fifteen minutes late someone else arrived, " stuck on the freeway. There was an accident. She asked me if I could come and get you."
Thankfully M... was not involved in the accident and, later, we learned that nobody had been badly hurt. 
And so they got me there in time - even if we did have to rush to set up the room.
I had eight students - about the right number for a hands on class with a lot of material to cover.
They were lovely people and, yes, they asked a lot of questions. They worked hard. They did homework. Now they have gone off with the skills to make their first Fair Isle beanies. All of them have mastered the traditional "corrugated ribbing". That alone, so they told me, made coming worth while.
It seemed strange to be in a school again. Everyone was glad the air conditioning system was very efficient. Working with wool in that heat would not have been fun without air conditioning.
And, as always, I managed to learn a lot too.  I did not explain something well at one point because someone asked a question. That question caused me to think about something from an entirely different perspective.  Next time, if there is a next time, I should be able to give anyone wanting to know a much better explanation.
I have discovered yet again that students have multiple reasons for wanting to come to the class. 
The organisers would like me to do some more teaching. I have said yes. I have said yes although it will be a massive amount of preparation.
I know I still have a lot to learn. I said yes because I know I can learn something too. 

Thursday, 17 January 2019

The telephone book

is falling to pieces.
No, not the one they reluctantly supply with the print which is too small to read but our personal book.
The Senior Cat needs this book. It contains the names and phone numbers of people we might need to contact, the names he needs if I happen to be out and cannot look up a number for him.
There have been a number of these books over the years. They have all been ordinary index books. 
My mother wrote them and updated them religiously. After her death it was not done nearly as often. The Senior Cat sees it as being his job - but one he will put off as long as possible. He hates writing anything down.
This time I offered, "I can type a list..."
    "No, I have to do it myself."
Well, I thought, it will give him something to do when it is too cold/ too hot or too something to be outside. He still avoided the task right through the winter. Our winters are mild, very mild compared with those in Upover. He did feel the cold but it was not enough to suggest that it would be better to fill a new phone book with numbers.
I thought about this, left the problem for a bit and then, when the back cover as well as the front cover fell off I mentioned it again.
     "Good idea. I'll start today."
He went as far as finding the new index book we had bought about eighteen months ago. The old one sat there.
I know what the problem is. He, absolutely rightly, is finding it hard to face that many of the names in the book are no longer relevant. People have left us. People who were once his friends have died. 
The Senior Cat won't be able to go outside for some days. The temperatures here are rising over 40'C. I am doing my best to keep some of the garden alive.
But inside I did something else. I said,
    "Why don't you bring the old phone book out here while I get lunch? You can read the names out and we can decide which ones we need to keep."
And that is what we did. We did a little reminiscing as we did it. It was a positive cooperative exercise instead of a sad, solitary one. 
But it made me wonder how much we all procrastinate because of we have lost not just family but the other people who make our lives relevant?

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

A magnificent piece of lace work


This magnificent piece of lace knitting is on the Shetland Museum site.…/lace-project  
More about the project can be seen there. I have been thinking about the project for some time now. It is the sort of thing I would love to be involved in but unfortunately is not likely to happen. 
Yesterday another blogger put the same link up on her site. I will be interested to see what sort of comments she gets from those who read her blog. They are mostly, if not all, knitters. 
I suspect their response will be positive but I had a much less positive response from someone here.
      "Why would anyone bother? Nobody makes that sort of thing any more. They don't have time and nobody uses it. It's a waste of money."
Well there are people who are bothered. I am bothered. I am bothered that there are so few people doing that fine work, that many people believe they no longer have the skills to do it.  I am bothered that many people don't find the time to learn a craft and excel at it.  I am bothered that people prefer "easy care" clothing that can be just flung into a washing machine. 
But, there are people who still use such things. They may use them only rarely but, when they do, they get great pleasure from them. The above piece might easily have been used as a wedding stole or a wrap for a grand lady to wear at a ball. There are wonderful square pieces used by a bride and then as a shawl to wrap each child in on their christening day. 
Pieces like this can take many months, perhaps a year or more to knit. The women (and they were mostly women) who knitted them were highly skilled. It was a skill which was recognised too. They were not able to do the rough manual labour on the croft because of the wool they used. They needed smooth hands to handle the very fine thread, some of it no heavier than sewing thread - cobweb weight  yarn. They needed manual dexterity, good eyesight and intelligence. It was not easy work.
Preserving what these women have made and making it available to another generation of knitters is not a waste of money. Some of the skills involved are useful for other things. (I know many surgeons have been encouraged to learn to knit to increase their manual dexterity.) Knitted fabric can lead to technical solutions in other areas. Lace knitting has special applications.
Knitting can be a solitary and soothing occupation or a social one. It can be intensely challenging or simply repetitive. Whatever the process it isn't a waste of time.
And simply making something beautiful can do so much for our mental health.  We need more projects like this.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

So a paedophile register

is a good idea or not a good idea?
The "experts" appear to think not. The victims do. 
My own feeling is that it could harm the innocent. If it was to be a sort of open register that anyone could look up line - and that is one of the suggestions being touted - then what of those living in close proximity?
Let me explain. My brother was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war. He had the strong support of the rest of his family. There was a picture of him in the press, along with two other men, riding motorbikes at the start of a protest march. For weeks and months after that we were subjected to vile abuse. We had a rock thrown through the front window of the house. I was jeered at by people sitting in cars outside the house. I had my tricycle tyres slashed. Other members of the family had similar experiences. We were advised not to have visitors until things calmed down a bit. Yes, things did calm down after a bit but it was unpleasant while it lasted. Even though so many people objected to the country's involvement in the Vietnam war my brother's actions were seen as nothing more than attempt to avoid conscription.
Our loyalty to this country is still under question. It will always be under question. At one point, in order to do my job, I needed a security clearance and nearly didn't get it because of what had happened all those years ago.
Now imagine what it would be like if you lived with someone who had committed a serious criminal offence, a violent offence or a criminal offence. What if you were simply the neighbours or lived further down the street? What if the person who had committed an offence was a work colleague and your workplace was being picketed? Imagine walking the gauntlet each day - judged guilty not because you are guilty but because you are associated, however tenuously,  with the person who is guilty of such an offence. 
I see that as a real problem.  While our present neighbours were away in Germany for three years they rented the house. The young people in it seemed pleasant enough but they had callers at rather late hours. I was suspicious. They had a dog which didn't like people to visit unless the young people were home. They had fixed heavy locks on the gates "to keep the dog in". I was even more suspicious but I had no proof. 
When they eventually left it was quite clear that they had been growing a quite extensive crop of marijuana in the garage-workshop at the back. Our neighbours were appalled. The real estate agency which should have been inspecting the property on their behalf had not once been to check - despite being paid to do so.
We were fortunate that there was no violence, that word never got out while they were here. After they had gone though I did wonder what I would have done if I suspected a different sort of crime. 
I know that if Ms W were to come to me with doubts about someone I would act. I have told her this. Her father has told her this. There is a mentally unstable man living in their street. He has been the subject of police action more than once when he has threatened violence.  The neighbours all know him and when new people were moving in they were quietly informed. He's not on any public register but the police know his whereabouts. 
Is that the way it should be?

Monday, 14 January 2019

A mandate is only a mandate

if it is what you voted for and what you believe in.  This is the way politics works. Yes? I put that to a certain professor of politics yesterday.  And no, of course I am not being completely serious about it.
But there is an element of truth in it. 
I haven't read the article the professor wrote on Trump's "Border Wall" but he has apparently written a piece in which he states that, for Donald Trump his border wall was mandated by the voters.
And yes, perhaps it was. People went out and voted for him. He became President - something I don't believe he really expected to happen - and then he had an election promise to keep. He had said he would build a wall - and that Mexico would pay for it.Now he is saying America will pay for it. The government has had to shut down because he refuses to  back down. Voting is not compulsory there and a minority of those eligible to vote bothered to vote.
Does he have a mandate or not?
In the UK the Brexit deal has been limping along and, at present, it looks as if there will be no deal. The Prime Minister there has said she has obtained the best possible deal and that MPs should just accept  that nothing better is going to happen. She claims she is acting on what the people voted for.  Voting is not compulsory there and not everyone voted.
Does she have a mandate or not?
In this country it is compulsory to "attend the ballot box" and most people vote as a consequence. (It is not actually compulsory to vote.) The present parliament has not been able to get any number of pieces of legislation through parliament because the legislation has been blocked in the Senate where the Opposition and the cross bench/independents have the numbers. 
Does the government here have a mandate or not?
I once had the rather odd task of clearing out the filing cabinets of a former politician. There were thousands of documents there. Many of them dealt with legislation the politician had worked on both in government and in opposition. The opposition pieces were often marked, "pass with reservations". It meant that, in opposition, the party would argue it in parliament but still allow the legislation to go through. 
That was a long time ago now and things seem to have changed. There seems to be a determination to deny democracy. I don't think walls are the answer (but I do know there can't be an unrestricted flow of migrants). I don't think Brexit is the answer (but I do think the EU needs to undergo some drastic changes). I have seen good legislation fail to pass here simply because the Opposition has seen the opportunity to ensure the government fails - and fails again. I know there are plans to introduce almost identical legislation into parliament when the new government comes in. It is not about what is best for the country but about attaining and retaining power.
There seems to be a determination to deny democracy. That "mandate" only applies to those things we believe in and support. It has nothing to do with what the majority wanted.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

I think we have a problem here

and the name of that problem is Neil Prakash and those like him.
Perhaps I should start a little earlier than Neil Prakash though and say something else.
I have never felt any sympathy for David Hicks. He was not a "misguided young man" as some have sought to portray him. He didn't make one or even two decisions that led to his stay in Guantanamo Bay's detention centre. He made many decisions. He made many wrong decisions. He went to Kosovo as well as Afghanistan. He didn't need to do any of the things he did. 
Mercenaries are not "soldiers" in my book. They are people who are seeking "excitement" of the worst possible sort. 
Hicks could have stayed home and found his adrenalin rush doing something like sky-diving. He doesn't need sympathy and, in the end, he got off leniently.
He got off leniently because he didn't lose his citizenship. If there had been a way of doing it then many people may have believed it would be a desirable outcome.
Having said all that I would also like to say that I don't believe that places like Guantanamo Bay are the answer either. I have no idea what you do with such people, the worst of whom are so incredibly dangerous that locking them up for life seems to be the only solution people have come up with to date - at least, the only one which does not involve some sort of medical intervention.
And that brings me to Neil Prakash who went to fight with ISIS and tried to encourage others to commit terrorist acts here. He is currently languishing in a Turkish gaol and there is an extradition warrant out for him when he finishes his time in that one. 
There has been an attempt to strip him of his citizenship. It is not likely to succeed. The law here says you must be a citizen of another country. Stripping of citizenship can only occur if you are not going to be rendered stateless. It might not have solved the problem even if it did succeed because it would cause a rift in relations with one of our neighbours.
Prakash, and those like him, who join organisations like ISIS and other terror related groups represent a major issue for countries like this one. Yes, if they have dual citizenship we can legally send them to their other country. But, and this is a real problem, in all likelihood, the other country won't want them either. Who can blame them? Sending someone to a country they left when they were perhaps just a toddler and where they don't speak the language or have any support networks also means that they are either going to continue their life of crime or become welfare dependent.  It can rouse sympathy for their cause too.
Lock them up here and there will  be those who support them  who waste days, weeks, months and even years of the court's time trying to have them freed. They will claim they are political or religious or some other sort of "victims". If they are released at any point they won't be able to get jobs and , unless kept in isolation, will encourage others to carry on  their "work". 
I was discussing all this with Ms W yesterday. She has just come back from holiday on the island to the south of our state. For some reason the topic is one she had given some thought to. Eventually she said,
      "You know it really would be sensible if they found an island which was too far for them to escape. You could put them all there together with food and stuff to build things to live in. Once a month a plane could go past and drop more stuff to eat. You wouldn't let them have the internet or anything like that but they could maybe have some books to read and board games. They'd have to work together if they wanted to stay alive. "
The conversation got interrupted at that point but, as she went out the door, I thought, "Something like Pitcairn Island perhaps? Even St Kilda might do."

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Research funding

or the lack thereof is in the news again with the universities saying they don't get enough funding.
I recently finished doing some university work. It wasn't something I intended to do but the opportunity presented itself and I thought, "Why not?"
I was co-supervising a doctoral student in another area and the university in question had said, "We can't afford to pay you but is there any way you could...."  You know the sort of thing I mean. I had not been planning on doing any more supervision. It is far more difficult to do supervision at a long distance - not impossible but still difficult. The problem was that the staff member who had been going to do it was ill, very ill...and the student had some research funding. The staff member had another close-to-completion student in limbo and was I interested in seeing they completed as well?
Although sympathetic I nearly said "No" outright but I had actually been looking at textile courses. What I had been looking for were their reading lists in the hope that I could learn something from those.
The university in question actually runs a serious post graduate degree in creative textiles. I thought about it for a few days and then sent a response which ran along the lines of, "If you let me take part in the course in creative textiles then I'll do the bulk of the supervision - and I'll see if I can help the other student complete as well."
There were some more emails backwards and forwards and it was agreed that if I didn't mind not actually getting the qualification then they would agree. I suspect they were thinking I wouldn't actually bother to do the work. I did the work. I have managed to learn a lot I needed to know.
But all this set me thinking again about research, about supervision, about funding - and more. University staff I know here tell me that, in order to get funding of any sort, research needs to be seen as "useful" - i.e. that it will bring in more research funding from places like pharmaceutical companies. There is a little money for doing what can only be described as "currently fashionable politically correct studies". Getting research funding in the arts is almost impossible. Any research in that area is done with minimal funding, if any at all. Research needs to have likely positive economic consequences so interest in literature,  history, philosophy, Latin or even linguistics is not nearly as likely to attract funding. 
The students I inherited with the research grants were the recipients of research grants funded by a charity the members of which are well aware of the economic consequences of not being literate.
So, I've done the work. One student completed some time ago and now has her PhD. The other student handed in his thesis a week ago and I expect it will pass. I can't put another MA after my name - but I don't want to or need to. I now know what I need to know.
The interesting thing though is that the department in question asked me,
      "We don't suppose you'd like to think about actually doing another doctorate? There isn't any funding but...."
Thank you but no, I am not interested. I don't need to do it. I want to follow my own interests. I am too old.
And it would cost too much. 
University research funding has to be about more than things which have positive economic consequences.