Friday, 9 October 2015

Scholarship or books or

daily needs or something else?
A little while back I had some news. It was the sort of news that I have often wanted but never thought would actually happen. 
(No, not publication. I still hope for that but I know I need to be realistic and realise that it is much less likely than this.)
This was good news though, very good news.
To put it briefly, the friend who died last year left $Aust50,000 for a mutual friend in Africa to use for the unaccompanied children she cares for - and me with the responsibility of deciding how this should be done. My friend left no instructions apart from a vague request  to "do something useful with it - whatever you think best".
I was so stunned that the person who was telling me this by phone actually asked, "Are you still there? Are you all right?"
"Er, yes. I think so." I finally managed to break the silence.
I was - but only just. It is a very large sum of money in the intended context.
I spent the rest of the day doing less work than I should have done. 
I had to let my friend in Africa know. I had to let another friend know. Z... deals with the financial paperwork.
E-mails flowed backwards and forwards. What to do with the unexpected funds? Did we use them for the immediate needs of the children or did we use them on  something else?
My friend in Africa runs a home for unaccompanied children - any child who has no adult willing or able to take responsibility for them is welcome. Day to day life there is a financial struggle. It was tempting to use the funds to make life a little easier for a year but that didn't feel right to any of us. Something that big should last longer and have a greater long term impact.
So I suggested a scholarship - a scholarship for the girls. The boys have one available for them. It has been in place for some years. This is Africa and, where such arrangements exist, this is not uncommon. Why shouldn't the girls have equal access to more education? Most of them still have to leave far too early. Education has to be paid for and there are no funds for girls without families.
More e-mails flowed between us. It would be a small scholarship but it might be enough Z... said after doing the financial homework,
Or...he and I stopped talking to our friend C... who runs the place and started a conversation between ourselves. She was enthusiastic about the scholarship idea so what if....?
Z...put some feelers out among people he knows - and he knows a lot of useful people. He put them in touch with me. I wrote the most passionate and convincing responses I could as to why this was a good idea and what the outcomes might be. I have written a lot of words this year. People do not invest large sums of money without knowing they are going to see something in return - even if that something is of no direct benefit to them.
Yesterday we had an "internet" meeting between several potential sponsors, Z and me. We went backwards and forwards late into the night in Europe and the middle of the day here Downunder. The initial $50,000 has been matched with another $50,000. The banker participating in the discussion has indicated that, invested in the way he suggested, this will do what we believe is right.
We still have some hard work to do sorting out the fine print but it is going to happen.
Yesterday afternoon I called in to see my later friend's sister. I told her what we planned to do. There was silence for a moment and I wondered if she was going to burst into tears and then she said quietly,
"I think it's a wonderful idea."
I do too. 

Thursday, 8 October 2015

We had an invasion

yesterday. We were expecting some of them - in two waves. The first wave arrived and announced cheerfully,
      "Hope you don't mind but J... and J... are coming too. We brought extra food."
The second wave arrived as she finished speaking. 
Well no, we didn't mind. It wasn't entirely unexpected and even without the "extra food" there was more bread available for sandwiches.
They settled in, prowling the bookshelves and finding out what the Senior Cat planned to teach the kittens - magic and lots of it. We cats caught up on news with pictures rather than news without pictures. 
All apart from husband of Cousin Cat. 
        "Having a problem with your i-pad?" he asked the Senior Cat and held out his paw.
 The Senior Cat admitted he was and meekly handed it over.  Husband of Cousin Cat is a technical whizz. He can build a computer. He knows about things like LINUX. He was almost purring at the thought of a problem which needed fixing. 
Now, other people have tried to fix the problem - and they couldn't.
Even the senior most person in "the Apple place in the city" couldn't fix it. 
Husband of Cousin Cat took it off. I heard him talking to someone and then to someone else. He interrupted the Senior Cat several times. He asked questions. He had the Senior Cat talk to two more people - and had to help out when the Senior Cat could not understand a heavy accent from the Indian sub-continent. On it went. He went on working through his share of sandwiches and quiche. He prowled outside, still talking on the phone while he licked an icecream held in the other paw. He pushed buttons. He typed. He talked some more. 
At the end of it all he said to me, "All I need to do now is hook it up to my Mac and download the updates. How soon does he want it back?"
"He can wait until he goes out with M... to see their cousin," I told him, "In the meantime if he needs to look anything up I will do it for him."
He gave a particularly Chesire Cat like grin and closed it. He drank tea. He caught up on his own work while the kittens went on with their magic lessons. 
I understand what he did up to a point. I could not have done it. I know nothing about i-pads. When the Senior Cat runs into trouble I have to work on cat-logic rather than computer-logic to see if I can solve the problem. I tried to explain to the Senior Cat later - because he asked - but the explanation was beyond him. His skills are "basic". He can search for the information he wants. He can't use the e-mail function. He refuses to even try.
"I feel guilty about J... spending all that time," the Senior Cat told me.
"Don't," I told him, "J... was enjoying himself. It's the sort of challenge he loves. He felt he was repaying you for what you were doing too."
"Oh...I had better get started on some more for them for after Christmas,"the Senior Cat said. (They will come again then because it is school holiday time.)
He prowled off and I heard him muttering, "Now the book with..." 
Magic books were hauled from the shelves. He is planning. The kittens are planning their performances at their community hall in the country town they live in. J...spent a happy day challenged by the sort of problem he loves. 
The rest of us searched the shelves and a pile of books - philosophy, religion, psychology, and fiction went off with them. 
I reckon we might be happy to endure another invasion in three months!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Only 19 different languages?

I have just seen a note saying that the Emergency Services Levy notice is printed in 19 different languages. The person who sent it seemed to think this was something remarkable. Really? It is, apparently, "proof of multi-culturalism". Really?
Being a cynical sort of cat I think it is proof of the state government making sure that people know they have to pay an inflated tax, the money from which is also used for other purposes. Why else would the notice be printed in so many languages?
Other things do not get printed in that many languages. I know. I frequently have to try and explain forms to people who do not read or write English. The forms are often very important  but they come in only one language. I wouldn't expect them to come in more than one language. English is the official language here.
But I can walk outside and hear a neighbour on one side speaking Hungarian and neighbours on the other side speaking a Chinese dialect from Taiwan. The woman further down the road speaks German. Not too far away there is a woman who always greets me in Greek. In the shopping centre I can hear Italian, Arabic dialects, other Chinese dialects, Polish, Latvian and Korean on a regular basis.  Yesterday I was at a scholarship committee meeting where the mother tongue of three people is Swahili and I went into a nursing home as I was going home and was greeted by someone who speaks Thai and then someone who speaks Nepalese. It gets very noisy at times.
I take all this for granted unless someone draws language diversity to my attention. I use multiple languages every day in my working life but I don't speak those languages - although I often wish I did. 
It actually worries me that someone decided that it was necessary to send out that notice in 19 different languages. Do they send out emergency warnings in all those languages? Of course they don't.
At least we have our SBS network which broadcasts in more than 70 languages. I just hope there is never the sort of emergency where they will need to broadcast an emergency warning in all those languages. That would be noisy too.
I am about to prowl off to the supermarket. I have arranged to meet someone there just briefly. He needs me to witness his signature and check his English on a document before he goes to work. We will say very little to one another and what we do say we will say with our hands. The silence of sign language can be lovely at times.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

"You are not wearing that again,"

Ms Whirlwind informed me. She was looking at a modest pile of winter clothing I had folded ready to put away for the summer.
"What? My coat? It's all right."
"You can't. Look at it. Honestly. I worked it out. That coat is three times older than I am!"
I worked it out. She is right. I bought that coat in Marks and Spencer the first year I went to London. It was a bit big at the time but it was the only one in that particular branch and, being me, I couldn't be bothered to go further. 
It was a navy blue duffle coat. I wore it a lot - right through English winters. You don't really need a coat Downunder  but you do need one there. I had a scarf and mittens too - oh and woolly socks, care of the children's department. 
I loved that coat. It was comfortable. It was warm. I suppose it made me look like a student when I was part student, part staff.
I wore it when I lived in Canberra too - for four more years that coat got loved each winter. Other people envied it. Yes, it made me look like a student even when I was part student, part staff.
The coat had another year in Melbourne. 
Back here it has scarcely been worn. It isn't cold enough to need that sort of coat. I wear a waterproof when I am pedalling - it keeps the wind out as well. 
And I suppose I have to be honest and say that yes, it did look a little worse for wear. 
The Whirlwind took it from me. Did I want to keep the toggles? Yes. She took them off. She put the coat in with the other things I thought I needed to remove from the wardrobe. There weren't many. I tend to wear my clothes to shreds.
"It's all right," she told me, "The Senior Cat still has his coat. That's all that matters."
And yes, the Senior Cat still has the tweed jacket his father made for him. It was made before my father married my mother. It has been relined more than once. It looks old. It is old. 
But we can't throw that out. He wears it sometimes.
I'll put the toggles from the duffle coat on something else and go on wearing it that way.
But - little minx - the Whirlwind went off with my duffle coat. 

Monday, 5 October 2015

"Get parents more involved"

is apparently going to be the new solution for "stopping teens from becoming radicalised". "Getting families more involved" too is another one. 
Oh yes. It sounds so simple. If your parents know what you are doing then you won't do it will you? You won't be able to do it will you?
The attack in Sydney which killed an unarmed civilian who happened to work in the police headquarters is being treated as a "terrorist" attack. It was apparently the work of a teenager who had become "radicalised". People are now "looking for answers".
Well perhaps there are some answers - but I doubt they will be acceptable to those searching.
An eight year old turned up to our knitting guild on Saturday. She is learning to knit. She sat there in among all the adults. She spoke when someone spoke to her but she didn't say much else. Why would she? There wasn't anyone else her age there. The conversation wasn't the sort of thing she was likely to be interested in. We did have a short conversation - about books. I think she enjoyed that bit of the afternoon. I did. But where were the rest of the kids her age? There weren't any. There should have been. We should be crowded out with kids wanting to learn to knit, crochet and more. Will she come again - or have we lost her because she was the only one?
The state's Embroider's Guild is doing a great job in that respect. They have their own premises. That helps. They run classes and provide certificates of achievement. The kids (admittedly mostly but not exclusively girls) do some great work. It's a little easier to get kids to embroider I suppose. The results are faster. They embellish the cloth rather  than make it. Still...they are doing it. They want to be there and adults are only part of what is going on.
I think of all the things we did as kids. We were always making, doing, reading about "how to", repairing, and of course reading anything and everything. Because we lived in rural areas we spent hours in the bush making things. We didn't ring bark trees out of boredom or set fire to anything. We most certainly didn't become teenagers whose heads were filled with radical ideas that involved getting a gun and going out and killing someone. We had too much to do. 
We didn't have the instant communication with friends via text messages so we had to plan ahead. We didn't have the same easy access to alcohol and cars. 
We aren't going to be able to reimpose a drinking age of 21 - although I think it might be a good thing as it might actually raise it to about 18 rather than 13 or 14. We won't stop easy access to cars - although raising the driving age might be a good thing too and the probationary period could certainly be extended. 
So what do we need to do instead? Perhaps we need to start at the very bottom. Instead of worrying about whether a pre-schooler has "all the skills" needed for school we need to think about whether they can actually play - play creatively without adult supervision. We need to stop worrying whether a kid can code and start worrying whether, given a box full of "useful junk", they can create something interesting without any adult interference. We need to stop worrying about whether an older child is involved in a supervised activity every afternoon after school and whether they can get outside and build a tree house or modify their bike or organise a game the adults take no part in. 
We need to back off and let kids sort things out for themselves sometimes. If they get hurt doing it then that is part of the learning process. They will be learning about consequences.
 Perhaps that is where we need to start. It is just that it all seems so much easier to supervise their every move when they are young. It's "safer" that way - safer until we think they are old enough to be responsible but haven't actually learned how to be responsible.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

"I need to talk to you..."

Oh. What had I done or not done now?
"It's not working out. It's still too big."
I thought we had it sorted out. The tension (gauge) square had been knitted and carefully measured. The maths had been done. 
A friend knitted a jumper for her son. The yarn is lovely. It is natural brown wool, still with the lanolin in it. No, it did have the lanolin in it. 
She made the entire jumper. I told her that it was going to be too big. She was sure  she  could "adjust" it. It was going to work. It just meant "a bit of fudging" and it would be "fine". Right. She knitted on to the end and then realised that I was right. It was going to be not just too big but way too big. It fitted her, not him. 
I suggested she keep it for herself and knit him another one but she sighed and undid it all - every last stitch. She wound the wool into hanks. She washed it and got the kinks out - and lost most of the lanolin in the process. She dried it and rewound it and started again. I told her what to do. I told her!
It is still too big.
The problem is that she found a pattern she liked. It's for entirely the wrong size yarn. I have explained this. Oh yes, she understands but...why can't she just adapt it? I explained again. Oh yes, she understands but....
This week we are going to sit down together. I am going to write her a new pattern. (I have a nifty little computer programme which helps with such things.) I am going to give it to her and I am going to take the other pattern away from her so that she will not be tempted to use it. I want her son, who lives in the northern hemisphere, to have it for Christmas just as she intended. I want her her to be happy with what she has knitted.
And, we are going to laugh over this because she is that sort of person - and I love her for it.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

"But you're not scared of

having strangers read your blog" someone tweeted to me yesterday. We had been having a short exchange about editing and I had mentioned that what I am currently working on scares me a bit. 
It is going to need a professional eye. I suspect it is somewhat disjointed  -  but that may be the nature of the thing.
But no, the idea of strangers reading my blog does not frighten me. Why should it? I choose what I say here. If people don't like it they don't need to read it. 
It is the same with writing letters to the editor. If you are frightened of strangers reading those letters why would you bother to write one? 
When I write such a letter I choose what I say - and I don't always agree with myself. I know. That sounds odd but there are other reasons for writing letters to the editor.  Sometimes it is important to try and get a more balanced view "out there". Not everyone is going to agree and many people won't read it but if one more person thinks about something different - even if they then reject it - isn't that a good thing? 
I will word such a letter carefully. If someone comes back at me and says, "But you said..." or "But you believe..." I can say, "No, that is not what I said" or "No, that is not what I believe." Reading comprehension skills over breakfast can be poor though. People will respond with arguments about what they believe was said.
Writing a letter or writing a blog post or sending a "tweet" or putting up some other sort of words or pictures on social media is, somehow, much less personal than talking to someone face to face or addressing a crowd from a stage. I don't like "talking in public" but the idea of the entire internet audience reading something does not trouble me as much. Perhaps it should.