Saturday, 28 May 2016

"Thank you" letters

should be written promptly and sincerely. 
We were invited out recently and, the following day, we sent a thank you card because our hosts had made a very special effort. We had enjoyed ourselves. It made sense to make the effort to thank them properly.
The Senior Cat, being a very well brought up kitten and then cat, is meticulous about thanking people - and he means it. My siblings and I have been taught to do the same. 
Many years ago Middle Cat  was part of a national sports team. They were away and won whatever match they were playing. They were celebrating but Middle Cat went quietly around to everyone and obtained a small donation - to thank their coach. They gave some recognition to her as they were leaving the bus for the last time. It still irritates Middle Cat that nobody else thought of it. The Captain of the team should have organised it.
I once took a small group of children to meet an author. We had gone to see him rather than him come to see us. He had a busy job as the head of a teacher training college and he had mobility issues. He spent more than an hour with the group and provided them with very, to them , grown up tea and biscuits. They talked about the visit for weeks afterwards but it was the following day when they said to me, "We have to say thank you again." When I asked which one of them was going to write the letter they looked at one another and then told me they were all going to write individual letters - and they did. He remarked on it to me later - "they really meant it". Yes, you can tell.
As a kitten I was told thanking people, even for help I didn't need, was especially important, "because one day you might really need some help and people won't want to help you". I know the same philosophy applied in a school for children with physical disabilities. I also know that, like me, they learned there are ways to decline help politely but sincerely thank the person offering it.
It's the sincerity which is so important. I had a "thank you" letter recently - except that it wasn't really a thank you letter at all. It was written three months after the events had occurred. It dripped with insincerity. It was perhaps one of the most insulting letters I have ever received. It would have been better if the writers of the letter had said nothing at all. I know that the letter was written under duress but that made it no easier to read and I can't accept the sentiments expressed in it. Far from reassuring me that I had contributed something worthwhile it has raised all sorts of questions in my mind. No, I am not being over-sensitive. I showed another member of the group the letter I had received and her reaction was, if anything, even stronger than mine. "Why," she wanted to know, "did they bother to write that when they obviously don't mean a word of it?"
Why indeed. The only thing that saved me from complete despair over the situation was other people going out of their way to thank me long before the letter was sent. I don't doubt they were genuine.
Thanks must be measured and appropriate and prompt.

Friday, 27 May 2016

The Toy LIbrary

in our local council area is well used it seems but I wonder how it keeps going.
I know something about toy libraries. I worked with someone else to set up the first ever toy library in this state. That is more years ago than I care to remember. Back then it was not intended as a general lending library for all children. Instead it was a highly specialised library for children with disabilities. The toys were chosen accordingly.
Toy libraries spread in this state from that first library. They extended further into the "special education" sector and then into the pre-school area. 
Our neighbours used the toy library for their children. As their father said, "It gave the boys an opportunity to play with things we could not afford to buy. It also gave us an opportunity to see what we could afford to buy that they would really use."
Oh yes, it is a good idea. 
But when toy libraries started out here there was, as always, a limited amount of money and we sought help from people who could make the sort of toys the people  using the library needed and wanted.
The Senior Cat made some over weekends. He made samples for other weekend carpenters to copy. He made sturdy wooden blocks and "posting" boxes. He made simple wooden puzzles. Other people in his woodworking group did the same. 
The children responded to these things. They were designed to suit them, designed to suit small hands, unsteady hands, with bright vegetable dyes that could be seen by those with poor eyesight. The pieces were all approved sizes - that could not possibly be swallowed. They were shapes that children could not hurt themselves on. 
All the toys had "play value" too. The puzzles had associated books - simple picture books. There were cassette tapes (well yes, it was rather a long time ago) of music and story. 
While we were clearing out the shed we came across seven more puzzles. The Senior Cat had put them away. They were samples. They had never been used. They were in perfect condition. What to do with them?
I gave one to someone I thought might be able to use it and I took the rest off to the Toy Library although I had a sneaking suspicion they might not want them.  Well, they did want them but they were not allowed to take them for the library.
No, the quality had not changed. The needs of the children have not changed. The staff I showed them to thought they were wonderful. They would have loved to have them  but "occupational health and safety" now demands that only commercially made toys with a manufacturer's label and number and....well you get the picture don't you? 
They did take them - to sell. They will buy something for the library with the money the donation raises.
     "I wish we could keep them," the senior toy librarian told me, "They are so much nicer than the ones we have."
I pedalled away thinking of the group of men in "The Men's Shed" who do woodwork, men who would be all too happy to make toys for such places - men who would like to feel "useful". 
But, somewhere in the last few years, someone has made a decision that it is no longer "safe" to have good, solid, home-made toys. It is better to have flimsy plastic which can be "cleaned" and thrown away after a year or so. 
My great nieces are still playing with the blocks I played with when I was a very small kitten and the eldest tells me that her children will play with them too. The Senior Cat made those.
Isn't that they way children should play? 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Making a cup of tea

should be done properly. Tea must be treated with respect.
Every Wednesday afternoon during the school term a friend calls in and has a pot of tea - yes, one of those small pots but all of it. It is the pot I use for the Senior Cat as well but she can drink the entire pot by then.
She has spent the time before that teaching knitting at a church craft group in the hills behind us. They have an "urn" on. It does not, according to her, make good tea.  I am certain she is right.
The Senior Cat  has certain requirements with respect to tea making. He likes China rather than Indian. He does not like exotic teas like Russian Caravan or Lapsang Souchong. He likes plain teas like English Breakfast. He disapproves strongly of tea bags. 
According to the Senior Cat tea must be made with rain water, not our city's tap water. The water must boil freshly in the kettle. The pot must be warmed.
I do all these things automatically. 
We once lived in a very remote corner of the state. There was no rainwater tank attached to the house when we arrived. (The house was "new" but it was also a badly put together fibro-asbestos one.) The Senior Cat informed the then Public Buildings Department that a tank was needed - urgently. It might rain. Actually it did rain that year.
Meanwhile there was a tank at the school. It was for drinking water only. I don't think there was a child in that small school who would have wasted any water.  The tap water, from a reservoir nearly two hundred miles away, was undrinkable in summer and not really drinkable in winter...but people did make tea with it. It tasted salty.
Visitors would arrive at the school and look for a cup of tea made with rainwater. 
We moved on to other places. There were tanks. I wouldn't like to count the number of times I was told at the end of the school day, "When you get back to the house put the kettle on." There was the afternoon when the wood burning stove in the kitchen was not alight and I had to set it going again as well as go outside and turn the gas bottle on - something we normally only used in the height of summer. The school inspector would be over shortly for a cup of tea! (He was very nice about waiting a few more minutes but I was terrified I hadn't been fast enough.)
But yesterday our friend W... came for her pot of tea. She can, if necessary, find her own way around the kitchen. I know she likes "proper" tea. Like the Senior Cat she likes it made with loose tea and freshly boiling water.
And for her, and the Senior Cat, tea comes in a cup with a saucer and a teaspoon for the Senior Cat.  (He has sugar.) I am always reminded of my paternal grandparents. I am reminded of the way my grandfather made my grandmother "breakfast in bed" - a tray of tea and toast, with butter and marmalade, and the tiny vase with the single bloom of something from the garden. When he broke the handles off the cups, which he did on occasion, he would go and buy a completely new cup, saucer and plate trio from the shop several doors down the road they lived on.  He taught me about  tea made with love.
I am a little less fussy. All those years living in institutions and working in schools and universities have made me appreciate that even getting something like that to drink is a bonus. I have left mugs in all sorts of places - mugs with handles I can hold easily. I went back to one place recently and I was offered tea. 
          "It's all right Cat. We still have your mug."
And yes, there it was. It was still in the cupboard. Nobody else had used it. It was still labelled with my name after three and a bit years.
Tea needs the right mug too. 

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A new job

is three weeks away for my eldest nephew. He phoned last night to let the Senior Cat know he is, once again, moving on. 
He came back from the UK some years ago - to marry the girl he loved. The experience there was good for him. He came back to no job but landed one within days. Since then he has not been out of work. He has been "head hunted" three times. He turned another one down because it didn't feel right for him.
This new one means he is now in charge of more than three times as many people as before. He has to get all of them to perform. He has to perform himself.
He is happy an excited about the challenge. Can he handle it? He is sure he can but he also knows he has a lot to learn. It is good that he is prepared to acknowledge that.
I would loathe to even try and do what he is doing. It's in the digital technology field. I know nothing about it beyond that it involves selling as well. I am not a happy cat when I have to sell anything other than ideas. I don't mind selling ideas.
It made me realise though how much the workplace has changed since I began work...and how much more it has changed since the Senior Cat started work. Even when the Senior Cat retired things were very different. 
There were still blackboards in classrooms when the Senior Cat retired. Is there a blackboard anywhere in a school now? I suppose there might be. Do they get used? I doubt it.
I remember the Senior Cat writing on the blackboard. He was slow. His writing has always been abominable. He admits it. 
I used to get the children to write on the board when I taught the only "ordinary" class I ever had. (The students were anything but ordinary. ) One of the girls came in every morning. Her exquisite calligraphy filled the board. Other teachers would like to have borrowed her. 
You don't need that now. I could type it all and fling it up on a screen via computer. There would be no need for a "blackboard monitor" to go out and bang the chalk dusters. There would be no children begging me for a "little piece of chalk so we can do hopscotch". 
We were paid via a fortnightly cheque we had to put in the bank. The Senior Cat started out with actual money in an envelope. Now pay goes straight into a bank account via computer.
And that brought the Senior Cat to a question for my nephew. "What do you do about your superannuation?"
The Senior Cat worries about things like superannuation and insurance. It worries him that I was never allowed to enter the superannuation scheme...a discrimination which would now be against the law but was too late in coming to rectify for me. 
"Oh that rolls over with me," said my nephew. I could hear the Senior Cat  sigh with relief. He really doesn't understand not staying with one employer for life as he did.
It is all strange and different. Work has changed. The Senior Cat loved teaching. He still loves it if he does it on a one-to-one basis. I liked it but I didn't feel passionate about it.  I feel quite differently about the job I carved out for myself.
I suppose that is what my nephew is doing and that he finds it satisfying. I wonder how long it will be before he moves on to the next challenge.
All I can hope for him  is that there is always a job there. 

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Aged care

is back on my mind again. 
I had to visit a nursing home again yesterday.  I went to see two people. One is a mentally lively and physically frail woman who was, at the age of 98, wanting a little help with her computer. She loaded a new program over the weekend to help her with her "research" ("much too fancy a word though dear") into her family  history.  It was a little confusing but we worked through it together and I left her happily researching records from the other side of the world. 
She has made the best of life wherever she has found herself. The staff like her. It's just as well. She has no family left here but she talks to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren on Skype and she is hoping for a great-great-grandchild towards the end of the year.
The other person I went to see is thirteen years younger. She's had a stroke and her days are spent mostly staring blankly into space or weeping, wailing and lashing out. She can't speak. I know she's frustrated, frustrated and frightened. I knew her before her stroke and she was an active, abrasive and often abrupt woman. Her family avoided her. She wasn't able to see that her behaviour was the problem. Now she is in the nursing home nobody comes to visit unless I look in. Sometime the home will call me, as it did yesterday, and ask if I can come and try and work out what the problem is. It can take time - something the staff don't have - and patient questioning. 
I didn't have a lot of time yesterday either. I wanted to help the 98yr old. Who knows how much time she has left? I knew I needed to help the 85yr old even if it was just to make life easier for the staff.
I think I got to the root of the thing that was worrying her and one of the staff gave me a hug on the way out.  She's a tiny Asian girl who still  has a bruise where this woman lashed out and hit her.
In her culture the elderly are still respected. I wonder how she really feels about the way we isolate so many of the elderly in places with dreadful names like "Resthaven" and "Sunset Lodge" and more. They smell of cabbage and disinfectant and they are, all too often, empty of meaningful activity. 
I came home to the Senior Cat. He had been having a catnap and was now sitting at the kitchen table reading a political leaflet left in the letter box.
      "Won't  be voting for him," he tells me of an "independent" candidate.
I glance at it. The leaflet is short on policy detail.
I think of the major parties. All of them are short on policy detail when it comes to caring for our oldest citizens. 
It seems we don't really care about aged care. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

Not standing for the magistrate

in court is a sign of more than disrespect. 
There is an opinion column in today's paper about the failure of some Muslims to stand in court when the magistrate entered. She asked them to do so. They refused. The magistrate allowed them to stay. 
She had no choice - and they knew it. To have had them removed from court would have provoked further disruption and perhaps violence. It would have laid her open to accusations of "bias" from a sympathetic media.
I used to sit on a tribunal. When we entered those present stood. It felt strange to me but it is part of the court process so I accepted it. In any case the process is mutual. It acknowledges the presence of each other and the procedures of the court. I can remember one occasion on which a man using crutches struggled to stand and then sit again. The head of the tribunal thanked him quietly and said, "You are excused from standing again."
It was the right thing to do.
The Muslims say they don't stand for anyone but Allah. Really? I wonder what happens in ISIS territory. Do they not stand for their leaders there? How do they maintain discipline without that sort of thing? 
The men who refused to stand were there to "support" five men who are accused of trying to leave Australia by boat in order to travel via Indonesia to join IS and fight. It is a case which has raised considerable discussion in the media. There are varying views on whether their actions can be proven and, if so, how severe their punishment should be. From discussions around me it would seem that many locals believe they are guilty and that they should be locked up and the key thrown away.
My own concern is more about why people want to do these things. I met a man once who had spent his life in first the army and then in mercenary roles around the world. He was a strange man who made me feel intensely uncomfortable. He thrived on danger. He liked fighting. Had he killed people? "Probably". It didn't seem to bother him. In the end he succumbed to a very nasty medical condition which robbed him of his capacity to speak. There was not a lot of sympathy for him and people questioned why I had even bothered to try and help him communicate in some other way. (His entire body was affected and he could not write either.) 
Other people said he had "what was coming to him". Perhaps. I don't know. It isn't my role to judge. If people need help to communicate then it is my job to provide it. I can't pick and choose.  
I suppose that is what bothers me. The men in court are picking and choosing. A female magistrate would have had even less chance than a male magistrate of getting the men to stand. When they left though the men would have obeyed other laws - such as road traffic laws. They may have gone to the ATM and withdrawn money from a bank account on which they earn interest or gone back to jobs where they pay tax used to pay for  such things as the courts they refuse to recognise. 
I was asked why I had helped the former mercenary communicate. The answer was "I don't have a choice. A means of communication is a basic human right." Is that wrong?

Sunday, 22 May 2016

History week was

duly acknowledged at our knitting guild with a small display of items from the past belonging to some members - and a mini-market.
I managed to get there - another story - and looked at photographs, old school reports, certificates, a dress someone had worn as a baby and some school exercise books.  
Had things been different I would have taken the family christening gown - carefully stored away. It could still be used - if the baby was small enough. My great-great-grandmother made it. There is a petticoat and a gown. They are made from white linen. The design is not as elaborate as some but it is exquisitely pin-tucked and there are tiny puff sleeves and lace around the edges. 
I look at it in amazement. I was once small enough to wear this. I wore it and my brother wore it. My two sisters were too big - their christenings being delayed for one reason or another. My father and his brother wore it too. My paternal grandfather wore it - as did all his siblings and other members of that generation.
Yes, it looks old now and it is probably too fragile to wear. Even taking it out of the bag it is kept in worries me. Still, I wish I had taken it because it would have been a great deal older than anything else there and people would I think have been interested in the workmanship involved.
Instead I prowled around the mini-market. No, I wasn't going to buy anything...I was not going to buy anything.
In truth most of it did not interest me. There were buttons no different from the buttons I had been selling at the recent craft fair.
There were books I already had or did not want and I no longer buy books for the guild library.
And there was yarn of course - after all this is a knitting group. People were looking at it and talking to the vendors. 
I happily avoided all the commercial yarn. One vendor lives just around the corner from me. If I want yarn from her I can go and visit. 
I had been told that the only person I might be interested in buying yarn from would not be there. I had thought I was "safe". Not so. There she was.  She sells hand-dyed yarn. 
Unlike many people who sell "hand-dyed" yarn there is something very, very special about her yarn. It is truly professional. Her "colour ways" are lovely - to the extent that, even though I don't like pink, I can approve of her pinks.  
She smiled at me and nodded. I knew that meant she had something she thought I might be interested in. She finished serving another member of the guild and just pointed to a compartment on her small display as she started to serve another person.
Ah! Yes! My paw went out. Lace weight. Merino-silk mix.
     "I wasn't able to get much of it and it is a  heavy lace weight," she told me.
I let the back of my paw run slowly over it - a trick I long ago learned from the Senior Cat and his woodworking friends. Mmm....I was definitely purring now. My paw closed around it. No, it wasn't expensive. When I consider the time it must have taken her to dye it the yarn was actually ridiculously cheap. I considered who might benefit from it. There is a long list of people who might just like something made from this.
I added to the stash...and I am still purring. History in the making perhaps?