Thursday, 22 March 2018

Do you know what a Dorset button is?

I was looking at some Dorset buttons yesterday - or rather, photographs thereof. 
An acquaintance stopped me briefly and showed me several photographs on her phone screen.
    "My sister sent these. She says they are buttons. She found them in a charity shop in America. Do you know if she's right?"
    "They're Dorset buttons," I told her and then had to explain.
Dorset type buttons were made mostly in Dorset, reaching the peak of manufacture in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were first hand made by covering small bone rings from the horns of the Dorset sheep. The ring itself would be completely covered with "blanket stitch" and then covered with a criss-cross of threads like the spokes of a wheel. Once that was formed then the maker would weave through and around the threads, rather like a very closely woven spider's web, to make the button.
Dorset button making once employed a great many people, mostly women who could work from home. It expanded rapidly when metal rings, made in Birmingham, were able to be used instead of the original horn. Being able to say, "I do buttony" was a matter of pride for many women. It helped to support their families and allowed them to be at home and care for them at the same time.
  Like many other cottage industries it came to an end when a button making machine was invented by one John Ashton. It came at the same time as increasing mechanisation on farms and the great increase in unemployment meant that many people looked to move to America and other places.
Finding the buttons in a charity shop was probably not that surprising. I actually doubt they are that old. Making buttons like that continued in other places for a time for the simple reason it was difficult to get actual buttons. From there it grew into a more decorative handcraft for putting  on household items.
Now though making Dorset buttons has become an art form. The  designs are many and varied and a wide range of materials are used in their creation. 
Those buttons are still holding things together!

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Planting fruit trees

in the streets is something that does happen in other places. It is rare here.
Perhaps people simply haven't thought of it. Perhaps trying to keep the trees alive and watered is too difficult. I don't know what the problem is but it is something I have often thought would be a good idea.  
Someone else thinks it might be a good idea too. It was mentioned in an article in the paper this morning.
I know there will be people who think it is an appalling idea. I can hear the arguments now about the mess the fruit will make and the hazard it will be if it drops on the ground. Well, get used to that idea and pick it  up perhaps? What about a "fruit-watch" scheme like Neighbourhood Watch? Or even employ someone to go around and make sure the roads and paths are clear? It could pay to do that.
And who would the fruit belong to? How would you stop people "stealing" it or, if allowed to pick it, taking more than their fair share?
But think of the possibility of helping to feed people and animals and birds? Think of the shelter the trees could provide and the value they would bring to the urban environment as a whole. 
Where I live there are a lot of plane trees. They're fine. They provide a lot of shade at the times when they are most needed but they don't provide food. We also have a lot of jacaranda trees. I like the look of them when they are in flower but  they are every bit as messy as a fruit tree would be.  
There are gum trees. River red gums are popular and so are lemon scented gums. I know they are "native" to Downunder but I would ban them in urban areas. They drop leaves and branches and detritus year round and they are a major hazard underfoot. They most certainly shouldn't be planted anywhere near a house because even seemingly healthy trees have been known to drop large limbs through heat distress and lack of water.  
Oh yes, watering trees is a major problem. We need to be aware of that.
And then there are the golden rain trees (in our street) that seem to be more than a bit out of hand at the moment. (Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that I tend to water two of them and several neighbours do the same.)
I really don't see fruit trees as having any more problems than the trees we already have.
Not so long ago I was coming home along a street I didn't know and someone was covering a fig tree with netting. Covering a tree with netting is an awkward job and almost impossible to do alone.
   "You couldn't throw that bit up to me, could you?" I was asked as I pedalled past.  I stopped and threw up the end of the net to where he was standing rather precariously on a ladder.
The fig tree is, like our peach tree, there by accident and, according to the man doing the netting, the neighbours who like figs just help themselves. 
    "We've got to know each other over this tree," he told me.
Now that is another good reason to plant a fruit tree. 
That's a bit more difficult but it isn't impossible. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Information on the internet

is not necessarily accurate. We all know that. It isn't necessarily up to date either. We all know that too.
The last couple of weeks have been sheer frustration with respect to that last issue. I have, in my non-existent "spare" time, been trying to prepare some lists for next Saturday.
I am off to run an "information" stall at a one day craft fair. It wasn't quite what I intended to do. It just happened.
Yes, I know but.... it happened because I thought another group I belong to was not going to have a presence there. In fact I had been told by one of the organisers the group was not going to be there because they had not had time to organise anything. Did I want to  go and give out some information about local groups? 
Why not? It would be a day away from the computer and all things fibre are fun are they not?
Then someone else suggested to me that I might take some information for them too. They can't be there. Why not? That was only information for three groups. But then there was the possibility of advertising another major event in the state and getting people interested in something planned for next year. Oh yes, good idea.
And then, being someone who likes to do things properly, I thought it only fair to make an inquiry of the Secretary of the group I thought was not going to be there. If they were not going to be there did they want to give me some of their information? After all I could sit there and knit and talk to people at the same time couldn't I?  There was a bit of delay to the response and then she told me that they had decided to go after all. It means I can send inquiries about them back to their stall.
But it raised questions in my mind about other groups so I looked up resources. I contacted all the councils in the state because I knew that one group advertised by one council no longer met. I also knew that there are groups which do meet which are not advertised on web-sites. There are other groups too. I went searching in between answering work emails and feeding the Senior Cat and doing all the other things which need to be done. 
I emailed people to try and get up to date information. Some people responded and others didn't. Some emails bounced. There were "automatic" and "out of the office" responses. 
      "Oh yes, we haven't updated our website," someone told me.
      "That's old, I suppose we should change it," someone else told me.
And so it has gone on. 
Perhaps if nothing else comes of all my work then at least one of them might update a website.
I am not holding my breath.

Monday, 19 March 2018

The bushfires in New South Wales

and Victoria sound almost as bad as they can get. I say "almost" only because, so far, it seems that nobody has lost their life. I think that is probably more good luck than anything else because the reports suggest that more than a few homes have been lost. 
Some of those fires have been started by arsonists. If caught  they should be locked away for life.
Other fires though have been started by lightning. The Senior Cat mentioned this to me after reading the report in the paper. 
    "Do you remember those dry lightning strikes we used to get in W....?" 
I do remember them. We would have the most extraordinary storms that would bring no rain at all. What they brought were "sheets" of lightning. The sky would be brilliantly lit with flash after flash of lightning. If you have never seen dry sheet lightning it is hard to explain how dramatic this is. 
    "What makes it like that sir?" I can remember one of the boys asking my father as we sat in the classroom trying to do arithmetic. The Senior Cat stopped trying to teach multiplication or division or fractions and explained about lightning and thunder and more.  The big brother of the very slow, retarded boy with muscular dystrophy had gone to make sure his brother was safely ensconced in the other classroom where my mother was teacher. (The MD boy would sometimes just wander off and sit outside. My mother was, without success, trying to teach him to read but he was almost 11 and in with the five to seven year old children.) His brother came back in as the Senior Cat was explaining how powerful lightning could be.
    "Yeah, the shelter just blew up."
He meant the structure on the side of the railway line where everything was left. There was an extraordinary honour system. People would have ordered things and they would come by train. There was no station as such but the train would stop briefly and things would be unloaded into a small tin shed a bit like an over-sized dog kennel. You went down and picked up your parcel yourself or the man in the post-office-cum-general-store would take it and you could pick it  up from the store.
Of course we all wanted to see what had happened. When the storm had passed the Senior Cat took us all down to see the shelter. Incredibly, although not in good shape, it was still just standing.
     "Just as well it was empty," someone said.
     "Me dad'll have ta' fix it."
     "Yeah and get my dad ta' help."
That evening we could hear the shelter being repaired because the railways wouldn't leave anything unless it was and the once a week train was due next day.
It wasn't until some days later that we found out that one of the goannas that lived along the track must have been in the shelter at the time. It had not survived.
Yes, I remember that lightning.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The queue outside

outside the polling booth was longer than I had hoped it would be. I had intended to be early - and no, it was not "vote early, vote often" but "I need to get this done because there are a lot of other things to do today". 
Still, the queue moved reasonably quickly. The people on either side of me chatted to me and to each other. This sort of thing happens when you ride a tricycle. One of them wanted to know whether I thought she could ride a tricycle now that she no longer felt confident on her  bike. I offered to let her have a ride when we had both voted. She thought it might be a "bit public" so I suggested going around to the other side of the building. (We were voting at a school so there is a playground there.) Now that was a good idea. 
She tried a few minutes later, 
    "Oh it would be blissful." She put the name of the place I had bought mine from into her phone and went off.  My thought was that, if nothing else, I had done one useful thing that morning even though it made me even later.
I had put out two loads of washing very early. It was warm and windy and I hoped they would be dry before it rained. Yes!  I brought them in. I gave the Senior Cat the information he had asked me to collect and told him where to find the party he wanted to vote for in the Legislative Council (the upper house). We don't normally know how the other votes but this time he had asked being, rightly, confused by something.  He wrote it down and put it in his pocket. I must remember to remove it before I wash that shirt!
And then, after answering a long list of emails, I gave the Senior Cat lunch and a friend picked him up to go to the polling station. I pedalled off to an informal meeting.
I didn't really want to go but someone  had asked me if they could talk to me there. So, I made the effort. It was a wasted effort. She didn't want to talk to me after all. That was - shall I say "disappointing"? I wonder whether she realises how much difference there is between getting into a car and going about the same distance and pedalling there. Probably not. Be tolerant Cat!
I pedalled home via the supermarket. I wrote a long and complex letter that needed to be carefully worded - but will probably still be misunderstood. I sent it off as an email. I made two phone calls to
check on humans and be sure they had been well enough to go and vote. One had not been so I collected the voting card everyone was sent at this election and a signed declaration from her. Also armed with the medical certificate she had been given in case she was not well enough I took it back to the polling booth at her request. 
    "Tell her not to worry."
No, she won't now - but it was a long pedal up the slope again. 
The Senior Cat and I settled down to watch a little television at around 8pm. This is a very unusual event in our house. The last time this happened was - at the last election. 
By around 8pm we thought there might be some indication of which direction the election was taking. The Senior Cat also wanted to see how one of his former students was performing. He taught her many years ago.  Her father held the seat at the time. Who says we don't have political dynasties here?
At around 9pm the Senior Cat decided he had seen enough. I switched off gratefully and took myself off to the luxury of reading a decent book in bed.
It was a long day....and I am still hoping that the person who wanted to talk to me will do so. Then I might feel as if I had actually achieved something.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

It is election day

and I will shortly pedal off and do my civic duty.
A  piece of news has reminded me of another election...the one which followed the dismissal of the Whitlam government.
That has been in the news because there has been another attempt to have the correspondence between Queen Elizabeth and Sir John Kerr made public. The court, rightly, refused the application.
My own view is that this correspondence should never be made public. I know it is an event which still fascinates historians. I know that Nicholas Whitlam would like to find "evidence" that showed his father was wrongly dismissed but that is unlikely to occur. In all possibility the correspondence would show that the Governor-General was on stronger ground than is usually recognised.
Why? The problem is that we have concentrated too long on the dismissal itself and not the reasons for the dismissal. 
Labor had the numbers in the House of Representatives. It did not have the numbers in the Senate.
There had been a row over money. Rex Connor had resigned over his dealings with Tarith Khemlani - a man the government planned to illegally borrow money from. He was replaced by Paul Keating, a Prime Minister in waiting, but there was clearly much more to the affair than simply borrowing money. Whitlam had also told the head of ASIO (the Australian intelligence organisation) to stop talking to the CIA. He did this verbally rather than in writing but the head of ASIO recorded the order in his own records. If Whitlam had thought about it he would have realised this would happen but apparently it didn't occur to him. 
Are those two matters connected? I don't know but I suspect they might be.
The Governor-General met with Whitlam and then with the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser.  Whitlam was worried by this and by Fraser's warnings about blocking supply because of the government's dealings with Khemlani. It is evidenced by the no confidence motion in Fraser he managed to get through the House of Reps  - based solely on the numbers there. 
Whitlam's economic policies had been along the lines of tax and spend - spend more than the country could afford. If the proposed loans from Khemlani had managed to pass parliament we would still be paying them off today - and not just in monetary terms. 
Kerr knew all these things. He had met multiple people, not just Whitlam and Fraser, over it. He may well have known things not known to either man. 
Kerr first sought Whitlam's permission to consult the Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Garfield Barwick, over these matters - and permission was denied. If Whitlam had been sure of his actions the permission would almost certainly have been granted. 
What happened next is uncertain. There was undoubtedly much more to it than the public has ever been told. It was late in the day before Kerr consulted the Queen's Private Secretary. We don't know what the advice was but it is likely that they were not going to interfere. Kerr then went to Barwick and asked if it was possible to sack the government given what had happened and what the government still intended to do. Barwick's advice was that there was cause. Did Barwick act alone? Perhaps - but it may be that he also sought the opinion of others. If he did we will never know.
If everything became clear it may well be that Whitlam would be found to have tried to exert undue influence in other ways as well. It may well be that others, still alive, would be found wanting too.
For those reasons it is better that the correspondence remains out of view and it is simply accepted that the Governor-General had the power to do what he did. Had the electorate wished to do so it could have returned the Whitlam government. It didn't. Months before every major newspaper in the country had said the government had to go - even those who were normally highly supportive of it. It's a nasty episode in history. 
The entire episode is best forgotten. 

Friday, 16 March 2018

They are still advertising

and they are still "promising" and they are still saying they will spend our money.
I know. The system is supposed to be "democratic". There is a regular commentator and columnist in this state who is considered to be knowledgeable about politics - after all he did teach politics at university. His view is that "first past the post" is the simplest but least democratic form of democracy. Perhaps he is right.
I need to explain to those of you in Upover that we have "preferential" voting here. You number the ballot paper with a "one" for the candidate you want and then go on to the next candidate you want if that one doesn't get enough votes and so on. That's considered to be "more democratic". You have a choice and a second chance.
The problem with this, and it is a big problem, is that it is compulsory to make your preferences if you want your first choice to count. You cannot just mark "one" and leave it. 
I have mentioned this elsewhere. I don't object to the notion of preferential voting. In a sense the run-off polls to elect a President in many countries are the same sort of thing. 
What I do object to - and object to strongly - is the compulsory nature of this process. It is simply wrong.  Nobody should have to assist the election of someone whose policies they disagree with just in order to have their first preference count at the start. 
The Senior Cat and I were reviewing the candidates yesterday. He has been eligible to vote for 74 years and done so many, many times. He still takes an intelligent interest in policy issues and votes according to his beliefs, not party politics. He has brought all of us up to do the same. 
This time there are two candidates he is not at all happy with and he was still debating which to put last. He would prefer not have to number their boxes at all. I don't know what he has decided and I won't inquire as to how he has voted although I can guess. He won't ask me either. If either of us are asked at an exit poll then we will politely say we prefer not to answer the question. Both of us though will leave feeling irritated that we need to number all those boxes.
Unless there is an unexpected landslide in one of three directions then we may not know the results as soon as we usually do - late Saturday night or early on Sunday - and part of the problem is those compulsory preferences which mean it can take so much longer. 
I think it is time we changed the system but it won't happen because the major parties see it as being in their favour to retain it. 
Now, is that actually democratic?