Friday, 28 January 2022

Nuns and my (Presbyterian) grandfather

had a rather curious relationship. 

I pondered this yesterday on getting the news of the death of Sister Janet Mead, the nun who famously made the single hit record of "The Lord's Prayer".

Sister Janet was one of the four nuns who attended my grandfather's funeral in 1975.  Yes, you may ask, "What? Why on earth...?"

Grandpa's parents, my paternal great-grandparents, emigrated to this country in the late 1800's. Great-grandpa was a ship's pilot and marine cartographer so they naturally settled in the city's port area. Great-grandma was one of those women who was a natural and practical social worker. She saw it as her role to help where she could - and she expected her family to do the same. It didn't matter to my great grandmother where someone came from, what the colour of their skin was, or what religion they professed to believe in. Her children were expected to be as accepting. 

Great-grandma was a Presbyterian, a go to twice each Sunday and keep the Sabbath  sort of Presbyterian. Unlike many of her generation however it did not stop her from having contact with the many Catholics in the area. She knew some of the nuns from the local convent, undoubtedly sent some of those in need of help in their direction. It was all very unusual in those days. Catholics and Protestants didn't mix. I doubt my great grandmother ever entered a Catholic church or that the nuns ever entered the Presbyterian kirk.  But it didn't seem to stop them helping each other out when necessary. 

My paternal grandfather went on to do the same. He was a church elder. He was on the committee of the Caledonian society. Both groups saw their role as more than that of church administration or social club. They were there as a social service too. And this was particularly so for my grandfather.  As a tailor by profession he often made uniforms for the governors of the state, for ship's captains and more - and he made suits and more for the clergy. This was long before these things became freely commercially available. Grandpa would occasionally see nuns, in habits and only ever in pairs, walking the streets of the port. He knew, from his mother, that they were often doing an essential social service. They ran the orphanage, fed the families when a father was sick or injured, cared for the elderly who had nobody else, and much more. It was a side of the nuns that most people, especially those who were not Catholic, never really knew about. As a small kitten the abundant myths about nuns always rather puzzled me. My grandfather seemed to have quite a high opinion of them.

He certainly didn't agree with "all that Latin clap-trap or Hail Mary stuff" but he didn't condemn them for it either. Instead my grandfather saw to it that the local Catholic youth were encouraged to join in the sailing and the fishing  and invited to the ceilidh's organised by the Caledonian society. Grandpa would play the fiddle at the latter - and his feet never touched the swords when he danced across them. (I wonder how the Senior Cat never inherited these skills?)

And over the years, somewhere along the line, he came into contact with Sister Janet more than once.  He used to shake his head over her. How could a woman with so much musical talent be a nun? "Just a piano teacher"? Rubbish! The woman could sing! She had a wonderful voice!

I suppose at some point this must have got back to Sister Janet because, along with three other nuns, she appeared at the back of the church on the day of my grandfather's funeral. In 1975 that was still a very rare and unusual thing in our part of the world, a great tribute to my grandfather. 

Her voice singing the great Presbyterian funeral hymns "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah" and "Our God, our help in ages past, are still something I remember. It was a generous gift to us all - and she used it well.

RIP Sister Janet.  

Thursday, 27 January 2022

A little bias in the news

occurred yesterday. It showed just how quickly something less than full possession of the facts can be turned into a media story.

It was our national holiday yesterday. It might have passed me by altogether. I didn't even manage to watch the usual news service last night but I did look at my Twitter feed. The words "Governor-General" were appearing frequently. I was being told he was "MIA". Really? I was also being told that the Prime Minister was usurping the role of the Governor-General in all sorts of ways. Really?

It sounded a bit odd to me because I could remember reading something....I prowled off to look. Was I right? Yes.

The Governor-General was, according to an article from a reputable source, diagnosed with Covid on 9 January - a little over two weeks ago. He's doing the right thing. He's isolating. He isn't "missing in action" at all. He's on sick leave.

That also means the Prime Minister was not usurping the role of the Governor-General at all. He was standing in for him, representing him, substituting, holding the fort... call it what you will. The PM was doing exactly what he is expected to do in those circumstances.

He was doing exactly what he is expected to do - and being criticised for it. Nobody mentioned the G-G was ill. If they had done that then there could be no criticism.

A little bias in the news, a little careful "ignorance" of the facts, can go a long way to getting across the message you want to get across. All too often accuracy is the first casualty of the news.

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Why do we give these people air time?

At around this time every year there is a vocal minority group which gets more air time than the majority view. "Research" is carefully done to support their point of view - and, believe me please, you can get whatever answer you want if you know a little about how "research" is done in the social sciences. Pick and choose your victims, carefully construct the questions and more if  you want to make sure you get the result you want.  (Have you ever wondered why most "political research" doesn't give you the opportunity to  say "none of the above" or does not give you a figure for "refused to answer"?)

Around now we get complaints about Downunder's national holiday being "invasion" day. We get demands for Downunder to "become a republic", to change the flag, to change the national anthem, to be rid of the states (or to break away from the rest of the country). We get demands to let everyone who wants to come here in or keep most people out. 

Many of these demands are made by people who actually know better - but it suits their political agenda. They are adept at getting publicity. Some of them are now so well known they simply have to make any utterance for the media to fall all over them and each other in an attempt to make as much of it as possible. A much more measured and careful response by someone who does not fit into the political agenda will be ignored.

I thought of all this yesterday when the young woman chosen to be last year's person of the year made it very plain she was not happy about having to appear with the present Prime Minister. She was actually praised by some in the media for her manner towards him.  Yes, they have an agenda. They want him to lose the upcoming election. He has been criticised unmercifully about all manner of things. Most of it is hearsay and there is precious little evidence for it - if any. I suspect much of it stems from the fact that he is open about his membership of a "charismatic" religious group - and that is seen as somehow "not on" by many people. It is also easy to ignore where responsibilities really lie if it suits a political agenda. Let's blame an unpopular Prime Minister for the failures of the states - just be careful not to let people know who has responsibility for what under the Constitution.

I have met and had dealings with more than one Downunder Prime Minister. One had to be told by his wife "and be polite to her" when I was introduced to him. Another pushed me out of the way and refused to have me employed because "I'm not having anyone with a disability in a position like that". Another ignored a serious situation that resulted in the death of someone I had been asked to help. (My nephew saw another Prime Minister drunk and breaking glasses at a private function with the previously mentioned one - but it was never reported even though a number of journalists were present.)

There have been two I can respect as much as I am ever likely to respect someone in that position. The first brought in measures which made everyone much safer. He was unfailingly polite and courteous in my dealings with him. The second listened to another serious problem, listened to the possible solution and then implemented it. Later still he wrote a letter in support of me, a letter not composed by one of his minions but with a personal account in it. He was unfailingly polite and courteous - despite a certain infamous (and carefully edited) speech by another Prime Minister.

I have had no direct dealings with the present Prime Minister. If I had to meet him I hope I would shake hands or bump elbows or something similar and that I would be polite. To do anything would be to betray the people on whose behalf I would be meeting him. 

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

The playlist?

You want to know the playlist?

I have been asked to produce my 20th C playlist. J.... has asked me to do this and I am completely bewildered by the request. I know what he means but... I am not that sort of cat.

I prefer silence. If I am working I need silence. Music is a distraction. If I am thinking about something then music is a distraction. 

I grew up in a family where the radio was not on all day. At university I preferred to work in the library - because it was quiet there. Even now when I am in the house alone most of the time I don't have music in the background. 

"So, you don't like music?" I hear one or more of you asking this and I wonder how to answer you because I doubt you would understand. I don't want music as something there in the background.  For me, it's a very emotional thing. 

As a kitten I used to cry when my mother played a record. I would tell her, "It hurts me inside." She never understood that. I was told I was being "silly" and often sent off to my bedroom. I would sit there with my paws over my ears trying to shut the noise out.  It was not that I did not like it. It just overwhelmed me. Often it still does.

But J... has asked me for a sort of playlist from the 20thC. I suspect he is a little older than I am and I doubt my choices would be his choices. 

I have tried thinking back to things I knew in my teens - knew because I heard them played not in our house but in other places - Guide camps, church youth groups and the like. (Our pleasures back then were rather more simple and didn't involve vast sums of money - most of us had none.)

So you are - not in any particular order of preference.

Blowin' in the wind - probably sung in German because that is the way I first heard it

We shall overcome - still around. It evokes powerful and often painful memories for me.

Kumbaya - often our last choice around the campfire

Sounds of silence  - that's lasted - I heard the reworked "Trump" version last year

 Bridge over troubled water - troubled indeed


Little boxes

Turn, turn, turn

The last thing on my mind

Where have all the flowers gone.

I have tried not to include any of the traditional songs (like Scarborough Fair) which became popular back then - they, like "A whiter shade of pale" (which is actually stolen from Bach), belong to another era altogether. 

And then there are things like the Missa Luba - but I am not sure that's the sort of thing J.... meant.

Now dear reader - do you know these I need to say more than the title?


Monday, 24 January 2022

Packed lunches

are not something I often need to do now. If I do need to be out and want to take my own then I can usually put something together very quickly. I prefer taking something with me to paying exorbitant prices for something like a sandwich.

I was discussing this with a neighbour yesterday. She was worrying over the upcoming need to provide packed lunches for her two boys. She talked about providing this and that and something else and then the need for a "treat" and wondered if they would eat the fruit she intended to put in. A sandwich? No...that wouldn't do at all. They won't eat sandwiches! She might just give in and let them buy their lunch most days.

I listened to all this and thought back. We don't have "school dinners" here. There are school canteens which provide items that the food police have approved or children take their own to school. When I was a mere kitten I took my lunch to school. When we lived in the city I was allowed to buy a pasty and a bun from the school canteen - once each term.  I suppose there were children who frequently bought their lunch but most of us brought ours. 

Our mothers made us sandwiches with white bread - that being all that was available most of the time.  We had "Vegemite", peanut paste (as we called it then) or perhaps a slice of processed cheese in it. Some children got jam or honey and banana - but that was generally frowned upon (thus making it all the more desirable). Very occasionally we might get some meat scraps - left over from the weekend roast.

With it we would get a biscuit or cake and a piece of fruit. We drank the almost undrinkable water from the taps by scooping it up with our hands as the tap ran. (The city's water supply was so bad that the ships would not take it on.) Some lucky children would bring cordial to school but there were not that many of them.

When we moved back to a remote area there was no canteen at all. The children brought thick sandwiches made from wallaby or kangaroo or mutton. Some of their mothers made the bread. If not it was very stale white bread by the end of each week and everyone looked forward to the weekly delivery from some 70 miles away. (It came packed into tea chests.) There were sometimes slabs of sultana cake if shearing was going on - because the shearers got that for "smoko" breaks. There were biscuits - often shop bought "Bush" biscuits - very large, squarish sort of plain biscuits. Fruit was rare unless there were fruit trees on a property. My siblings and I were stuck with Vegemite sandwiches but we saw more fruit than most children. 

And yes we ate those unattractive lunches without thinking too much about it. We were active. We were hungry. It was much the same for everyone. One piece of waxed paper around our sandwich had to last all week. We had to shake it free of crumbs and fold it. 

I told the neighbour about this. She nodded and said, "I bought my lunch most Fridays I suppose but never in between. I had sandwiches and biscuits and fruit. Mum might fling in some almonds or something like that as an occasional treat. My two don't know they are alive but I just can't be bothered arguing with them over what they want in their lunch boxes. At least now they are in high school they haven't got the teacher checking their lunch boxes."

I suppose that's something. I do wonder what teachers think of what goes into lunch boxes now. It does worry me that notes can be sent home when a child brings something "unsuitable" to school. (One of the children in this street had a piece of his own birthday cake confiscated the following day because it was not something in the school guidelines.)

And I wonder if the children I know would eat Vegemite sandwiches made with stale white bread?


Sunday, 23 January 2022

My musical education is

sadly lacking I fear.

The Senior Cat wanted to know "who is this Meatloaf person and why doesn't he have a proper name?" It was a reasonable thing to want to know I suppose and at least it means the Senior Cat is still taking an interest in such things. 

But all I could tell him was that the man had been "some sort of popular singer from a while back". The Senior Cat was satisfied with the answer - but not impressed.

When I returned home from visiting him I did a little more research - simply because this man's death also made the news service. I had, vaguely, heard of him - and that was it. My research left me only a little better informed - perhaps  because I did not want to prowl into a web of modern music sites.

I don't know whether I am simply "not musical" or whether there is something else seriously wrong with me. What I do know is that I don't understand enough about it to actually like the sort of music which the likes of Meatloaf produced and some still produce. I looked at some videos to which I was directed by someone I know. They did nothing for me. I find them "messy". They lack clarity. There is too much going on in the background. There is more to it than that - but it's a start.

I grew up in a household where the radio was turned on for the news service and then, apart from "the Argnonauts" (the Children's Hour) - which was largely an educational program, we did not listen to the radio at all. If there was music in the house it was records - Mozart to Mahler with some Gilbert and Sullivan sort of music thrown in. Mum was considered to be the musical member of the family until we finally bought a piano and my siblings had piano lessons. I was allowed to learn a little musical theory. It taught me to read music - something that has been useful from time to time - and Sister S... at the convent also expanded my knowledge of church music. It was not something my parents particularly cared for. Mum always said Handel's Messiah had "a lot of dead wood" in it. I learned to keep my mouth shut about that.

At school I had three years of class music taught by a man who went on to work at one of the best known choir schools in England. J.... understood my frustration at not being able to play an instrument I think. He quietly gave me things to read and think about but it was not modern popular music. It was mostly songs, some of them serious and others fun or he would get me to listen to a piece of Bach or Vivaldi and tell me things like, "Listen to the way he builds it up and then...." I listened. 

I found out more about folk music at university. This was not just what is sometimes called "folk music" but also something about the many varieties of traditional music from around the world. I like some of it but not all of it - and that is as it should be. 

Music can transport me to strange places. The memories are not always comfortable. Perhaps if I had grown up with more music in the background I would feel differently. I might actually like all this popular music. As it is, if I have to like "popular" music, I prefer O'Carolan to Meatloaf... but they are centuries apart.  

Saturday, 22 January 2022

32v power plants and no running water

and you wonder what on earth I am talking about?

There was a report in yesterday's media about a place we once lived in. The "golf course" there is apparently under water. I say "golf course" rather than golf course because I am sure it is more sand traps than nice, well kept grassy greens. It's in a very remote location - not the most remote perhaps but still very remote. It doesn't rain much there so it really was newsworthy for people to be kayaking on the golf course. I don't imagine it was very safe either - but people do tend to take risks in that part of the world, more risks than usual. 

We went to live there a very long time ago. My parents were appointed to the two teacher school there. My mother taught the first three years/ The Senior Cat taught everyone else. 

When we first went there the region had been in the grip of a five year drought - and it didn't break in the two years we were there. The house we moved into was "new" - that is, it had been built in the previous year but nobody had used it. It was built on land that had not been properly cleared so there were trees growing under the house. It was made of fibro-asbestos sheeting. It had been tacked together in the roughest possible way. The rooms were so small my parents spent the two years there sleeping head to toe - you couldn't put two beds side by side and getting a double bed in would have been  impossible. Middle Cat and I slept on the floor because you couldn't get beds in the other bedroom at all. Brother Cat slept in another room so small that his mattress was jammed against the Senior Cat's desk. 

There was no running water into the house when we arrived. The water came onto the property through an inch wide pipe which ran across the top of the ground. The source was a reservoir of salty (not sea) water over 300km away. In summer it was too hot to put your hands under the "cold" tap. Water into the house appeared about six weeks that our mother could run it into the copper to do the washing by hand. There was a fire under the copper and a wood burning stove in the kitchen. The Senior Cat had to chop the iron hard mallee roots to burn in that. All this had to be done even when the temperature was still well over 40'C late at night. 

There was no electricity for the first six months we were there. The Senior Cat then helped the man from the Electricity and Water Supply to put in an engine which powered a 32v plant. Wow! We actually had dim lights at night instead of candles and lamps. Of course the plant didn't always work and it would often fail altogether. (There was something wrong with it but the combined efforts of the E&WS man and the Senior Cat and a farmer or two never succeeded in discovering just what that was.)

The "general store" stocked basics - like potatoes and pumpkin. Bread came in once a week - or you made your own. I could go on but that much might give you a glimpse of what it was like.

Now someone remarked on Twitter yesterday she was tired of people saying to her, a mother of four who works at a university, that they "don't know how she does it". I know how she does it. She does it because she works hard but I think even she would agree that she has it easy compared with people like my parents and others like them. She has lights and power at the flick of a switch, a supermarket to shop in and much more.  Yes, she works hard but compared with people like my parents she is surely more comfortable?

When people say to me, "Don't you ever want to go back to the places you lived in?" I can only answer,"No. It wasn't good. It was hard. We children found it hard too. We were "the teachers' kids" and considered outsiders. Like the local children we missed out on a lot of experiences city and less remote children took for granted.  I don't want to see those places again even if they have a golf course now."

Is that so very wrong?