Friday, 6 May 2016

Let's do away with all the magic

in the world and concentrate on what is real. Let's forget all the stories. We don't need them. It's enough for children to have maths and science and computer programming. They really don't need anything else. 
That is how it is beginning to look to me. There was apparently a piece in a journal somewhere recently which explains why "the Borrowers" could not have existed. They do exist. They are "real". It infuriates me when adults try to suggest that "of course it's not real". Their idea of reality and mine are obviously very different. What's real is what is inside your head. I'm sorry. It has to be that way. If I can't believe in such things then life becomes flat and two dimensional. It becomes grey rather than colourful. 
People who tell me the Borrowers could not have existed because they are too small and that no tree was ever made into a wardrobe that led to Narnia or that no caterpillar was ever that hungry are simply trying to take all the magic out of the world. I hate explanations of what is "real" in all the wrong places.
There is a book by Margaret Storey simply titled "Pauline".  Pauline, an orphan, goes to live with a cousin and his family. He is perhaps kind enough but he is lacking in imagination. One night his youngest child is singing "Fifteen men on a dead man's chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum..." He explains what she is singing about - and she stops singing. It's a powerful little paragraph. It doesn't say why she stops but you know.
And I worry that the world is becoming more and more like that. There seems to be less and less magic there. Children don't get AAMilne's "The King asked the Queen and the Queen asked the dairymaid..." with all the delightful nonsense that goes with it. They get told ,"Cows don't talk and that couldn't have happened." Of course it could happen. It happens in your imagination.
How many imaginations are we stifling when we tell people what is "real" and "not real". Do people understand language at all? 
How can I think about something I can't see, touch, smell or hear unless I can engage with it in my imagination and make it "real"? Oh what are you doing when you tell a child something is not "real"?

Thursday, 5 May 2016

They are offering "early retirement"

to some staff over 55 at one of our universities. The same sort of thing is occurring in a slightly less public way at the other two universities in the state.
I am not surprised. I am worried. The universities already rely on far too many "casual" (paid by the hour) staff.  As one of those "casual" people I also know that the "casual" system simply doesn't work as well as it should.
There is something very wrong with our universities now. When I was a student there was just one university in the state. The second one was being built. It was thought there was a need to expand. Naturally it was filled with young staff - all of about the same age. They are now almost all gone. A few of them still do a little research.  Most of them have simply retired.  
There is now a third "university". It was created by amalgamating the "colleges of advanced education" - not the best way to design any university. It is still spread out over more than one location.
The "arts" type courses at all three have dwindled in popularity. Students are discouraged from doing them because "it won't lead to employment". University is now about that - about employment. It is about studying something that will lead only to employment. It is not about learning for learning's sake. It isn't about inquiring and the students look at me in a puzzled sort of way when I suggest they might do some "research". They believe that reading the set texts should be sufficient. 
The universities are about to embark on a project to "find out why so many students drop out of their courses at the end of their first year". Do they really need a research project to tell them that? Students are dropping out because 
         (a) some of them should not be at university in the first place 
         (b) they have been pushed into courses they have no interest in  but will lead to employment
         (c) they don't have the necessary language and study skills
and   (d) the courses they are doing don't actually relate to potential employment even though they are supposedly designed for that.
There are other reasons as well of course but that's a start.
We need to change our ideas about universities, about teaching in them, about what is taught and how it is taught. I would like to see students who are eager to learn more and who are able to develop the skills which will allow them to go on learning - and learning for the sake of learning not just in order to get a job at the other end. 
And, among other things, that means having good staff - not just casuals who might care but cannot always be there.  
And yes, I'm a "casual". I put in more hours than I am paid for but I can't be there as often as the students would like. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Two asylum seekers have

set themselves alight recently. One has died. The other is in a critical condition in hospital.
Refugee advocates blame the Australian government for these actions. I don't. I blame the refugee advocates. 
I realise that may bring down the wrath of many on my head but I hope at least some of you will go on reading this and consider what I have to say.
First of all I don't believe Australian takes in as many refugees as it could. We could do better, of course we could do better. We need to do better. 
Second, we need to handle refugees quite differently from the way we now do. I have said elsewhere in this blog that many refugees want to go home eventually. Many of them are desperately homesick. They want to return to their countries of origin when it is safe to do so. We should be doing much more to make that possible. 
At this end we should be providing people with protection. That does not necessarily mean saying, "Yes, you can live here for the rest of your days." It may mean saying, "Yes, you can stay here until it is safe to return."
That is not nearly as harsh as it sounds. By far the greatest number of those seeking asylum have been healthy young men. They should be able to go back sometime - go back and help to rebuild their countries. If they don't do that then those countries are going to be even worse off than they are now. Refugees and asylum seekers should not be seen as migrants.
Refugee advocates seem to see things differently. Some of them at least seem to believe that anyone who wants "asylum" is a "refugee" and that everyone who asks should be granted it. I know they are at odds with the Immigration Minister over this but,  if they are encouraging those claiming asylum to protest, then they are responsible for what happens to them. I know a certain Senator says that protest is the only  hope some of these people have. I disagree.  There are alternatives.
A colleague went to Nauru recently. He came away a little bewildered. He had been reading newspaper reports about conditions there. He, rather naively perhaps, thought people were somehow still locked up and living in tents. It was the impression being given by the media. He found a quite different situation. It wasn't ideal and not everyone was happy with it but it was far better than he had been led to believe. He also came away believing that it is a minority who agitate and that yes, advocates do stir up unrest.  He went with the attitude of many of the advocates and protesters. He came away feeling angry that a difficult situation is being made far worse by advocates who don't need to handle the practicalities of preventing people from drowning at sea, assessing claims for asylum, and making sure that those who do come here are fed, housed, educated and - where possible - employed. 
I am tired of the simplistic approach of the refugee advocates. I don't know what the answers are but I do know that I'd far rather the money this agitation costs was spent on helping refugees so they can, one day, go home and rebuild.  To do anything less than that is to treat people as less than human - and that makes me angry.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Pay for a parcel to be delivered?

Ummm....hang on a moment. Didn't the person at the other end pay for it to be delivered?
Our postal service is getting worse, much worse.
As a kitten I remember there were eleven deliveries a week. There would be two each weekday and one on Saturdays. You knew if there was something in your mailbox because the postman, on an ordinary pushbike would blow his whistle. 
As small children we thought all of this was interesting. It was fun. We liked to go and pull the letters out of the box and give them to our parents or grandparents.
Then deliveries were dropped to one each day and none on Saturdays. The "postie" came around on a lightweight motor bike. In this district our old postie had to cease deliveries. He had epilepsy and he was not allowed to have the necessary licence to ride a motor bike.  
I know all about this because one of the jobs I was once offered was that of postie. The Australian Public Service knew I did not have a licence and that I had no hope of "maintaining" any motor bike issued to me. It was why I was offered the job. They could then claim I had "turned it down". (Another job they offered me was that of "customs officer" - where I had to prove my fitness to climb up and down ladders in the hulls of ships and carry parcels up to 10kg in weight before I could be considered. They knew I would "turn (that one) down" too. )
And now they are thinking of dropping deliveries to three days a week. I suspect they are already trying it out in our district because some days we get no mail. On other days we get more mail than usual. We don't see the postie some days and we do on others.
And then there are the parcels. They get delivered  by van of course. There seem to be more of those these days. People do more shopping on line. 
The parcel delivery service however is not efficient. More than once we have found a card in our letter box telling us to call and collect a parcel at the Post Office. 
We knew the old parcel delivery person. She was lovely, really lovely. On one very, very hot day she rang our door bell and  held up her empty water bottle and asked if I would mind her filling it from our tank. I made her come in, gave her a cold drink and colder water from our fridge. She knew to give the Senior Cat or my mother time to get to the door. I think everyone in the district was sorry when she retired because she always went the little extra way to make sure people did get their parcels. 
Since then we have had a seemingly endless variety of people. None of them last long. They don't like the job. The notes in the letter box suggest that they haven't even bothered to try. I saw one of them simply write three cards one day without even bothering to get multiple parcels out. He simply placed the cards in three different letter boxes and went on. I wonder if he delivered anything that day?
Now they want to charge people to pick up parcels at the Post Office. You will have a few days grace but many Post Offices are not open on Saturdays and if you work all week?
I wonder about all this. Does Australia Post want to keep running or doesn't it? Isn't a postal service a necessary requirement? Not everything can be done by computer.
I suspect they may find the public will say, "Stay and deliver."

Monday, 2 May 2016

I have been breaking the law

for years - and I have been encouraged to do so by the police. I have sometimes had to explain to others that I have their permission to break the law. Well, that was true until recently. I no longer need to break the law because the law has changed.
Until recently it was not legal to ride on the footpath in this state -unless you were under the age of twelve. I stopped being under twelve a very long time ago. 
We also had very few bike paths or bike lanes. Bikes had to mix with traffic - all too often with disastrous consequences in a state where there are too many people intent on going too fast in their cars. 
I had come back from Canberra, the nation's capital, where there were 186km of dedicated bicycle track. It was legal to ride on the footpath - but not within ten metres of an open shop. I pedalled happily there. I had lived in another state too and the area I lived in had similar arrangements. I was, as they say, "a happy camper" or cyclist.
It was different here. I set out in trepidation having been told that,  unlike the years before I left the state, the police were now much tougher on footpath cyclists. They had once happily ignored me and any other tricycle rider. But, I had been warned, "Don't go on the footpath Cat. They don't like it now."
I went on the road, a busy main road. I had no choice. It was terrifying. There were  huge vehicles thundering past me, close enough to touch - or so it seemed. 
And then, inevitably it seemed, a cop car pulled alongside me and a worried looking  policeman looked out at me and said, "Get on the footpath!"
I got on the footpath wondering if I had done something wrong. The car pulled in just ahead of me. Two of them got out and came up to me.
     "Don't you think you should be riding on the footpath?"
     "I'd be breaking the law," I told them.
     "Then break the law. We aren't going to pull you over for it."
They investigated my tricycle (all in order) and asked some questions about it. We parted in a friendly fashion.
I have since had police pull their mobile radar equipment out of the way to let me through.
And, at the end of last  year, it became legal for cyclists to travel on the footpaths. This has not been well received  by many people. It is taking time for people to get used to the idea. Many cyclists still use the roads (legally) but I have noticed older people and women using the footpaths. I have noticed more parents teaching their children to ride. 
I hope they are being careful. I have had years of riding my tricycle on the footpath. It takes an even greater degree of care than riding on the roads. There are cars coming from driveways and all sorts of overhanging vegetation to avoid. Things get dropped and dumped on footpaths. They have to be avoided - especially the advertising stands. There are pedestrians - and pedestrians with dogs. There are also pedestrians with mobiles. 
It is these last who complain most bitterly about cyclists on the footpath. Why should that all important text conversation be interrupted by the need to look at the cyclist coming towards you?

Sunday, 1 May 2016

"John died this morning,"

Middle Cat informed us bluntly. She was referring to her father-in-law. 
We had been expecting it. He was not well. Middle Cat had voiced her concerns to me the day before. He had a chest infection, probably bordering on pneumonia. With all his other problems it was just too much. 
I am glad for him. He was not comfortable - or happy. 
He was ten years younger than the Senior Cat and, in many ways, their lives could not have been more different. 
John was a Greek Cypriot peasant by birth. He was born in a house without electricity or running water. He was the eldest of eleven children. 
At the age of sixteen he migrated to Australia - alone. The war had only been over a few years. John was heading for a better life in a different country.
And it was a better life. The food was better. The housing was better - yes, there was electricity and running water. 
And John worked incredibly hard. He brought out all his siblings and their families one by one. He "sponsored" each one of them. And, when they had all arrived, he brought out his parents for the last years of their lives. 
The old couple was still alive when Middle Cat married. I remember them well. They were small in stature. Both of them had had rickets as children. John avoided that - but only just - because his father managed to get and then keep goats and the children were given the milk.
John worked for others at first and then bought a green grocery business when he married. He built that up, sold it at a profit and then bought a fish and chip shop. It was so popular there would, quite literally, be a queue around the corner into the next street in the evenings. He knew his fish. He had no time for bags of semi-cooked frozen chips. 
He worked into his 70's. 
And therein lay the problem. He worked. He worked and he worked. He never developed any other interests. His working hours were odd. He usually did not get home until midnight. (The shop would close at 10pm but then they had to clean and scrub to the standard of cleanliness he demanded.) 
When he took time off it was to visit or be visited by family - or watch the soccer on television. Once in a while he would go fishing with his brothers.
He saw his children grow up and go on to tertiary education - something he could never have thought possible as a child. He provided  a  solid home for his wife with all the modern conveniences - and the same for his parents. He saw to it that his siblings had help when they needed it.
But he never developed any interests of his own. He was depressed when he retired. It was made worse by  the death of his wife. He sat there staring into space.  He had medical problems. There was major heart surgery last year.
And so it went on.He was old before he should have been. He should have been treated for depression but, like so many others for whom English is a second language, it wasn't recognised by his family.
The last time I saw him he didn't respond to a greeting in English. I tried Greek instead. I got a faint smile and "Caterina". He always called me that, made me use my few words of Greek. He held on to me tightly when I hugged him. I could feel his uneven breathing - and it wasn't just his heart condition. 
RIP John. You deserve it. 

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Diabetes doesn't help

the emotions. It is even less help if you have "brittle" diabetes.
I spent part of yesterday afternoon with the sister of my late friend. She has "brittle" diabetes - uncontrolled diabetes where the swings in her sugar levels can be sudden. It is not common now. Most diabetics are able to keep their condition well under control. She does not.
My late friend and I knew there were going to be problems and I promised to do my best to help. It has been tough for her sister. They have some cousins but no immediate family. Even with family it would be hard. 
My sister's friend lives alone. She has never married. More than once, she has been hospitalised.  More than once I was called on to go around there when she was not answering the phone. Now it is even more difficult. If it is evening and I can't rouse her I have to rely on the neighbours in the little set of "units" in which she lives. She doesn't know they are watching out for her. She would hate it if she did. She would see it as a gross invasion of her privacy. On the two occasions an ambulance has been called at night the doctor who lives in the last unit has made excuses as to why he was knocking on the door. 
She is extremely reticent about her diabetes. She believes that everyone else in her set of units, apart from the doctor, is unaware of her condition. I am perhaps the only person to whom she will talk openly about the problems her diabetes causes. She will eat meals with us because she knows that I will provide what she needs and when she needs it.
But  yesterday I went because someone else needs to talk to her. She has not been responding to them. The estate is not yet settled. She is emotionally confused and anxious about it. "I don't need the money," she told me. And no, she doesn't. She lives frugally. Her life style is rather limited now. Even when she went to work she didn't indulge in many luxuries. It just isn't her style.
And so, we talked for a bit. It wasn't easy. I know she is not taking things in. She has always found it hard to make decisions. 
Her diabetes gets in the way. She is afraid to make decisions, to make plans and, although I was there, she still felt horribly alone. 
So many lonely people need someone who is just prepared to listen but she needs more than that.
I hugged her and I hope that helped a bit. I know things aren't going to change now. She is too old for that, much  older than I am in more ways than one.  I just wish I could find a way of helping her get more out of life than she does now.