Wednesday, 24 August 2016

"I never tell them what I really think"

my acquaintance told me.
We were standing in the shopping centre. She had just been bailed up by someone with a clipboard - someone who was doing a survey. Apparently it was some sort of "environmental" survey this time. Of course I had not been stopped. I am never stopped. 
It is a curious thing. Charity collectors never seem to mind asking me for money but people doing surveys never want my opinion. 
I wonder if I would give them an honest answer if they did ask me?
During the election campaign we were phoned more than once, mostly with automated messages from politicians. I just put the phone down on these - something I suspect most people did. But there was one phone call from the national broadcaster wanting me to answer some questions for Q & A. Before the young man  at the other end had a chance to ask me any I had to regretfully tell him I couldn't answer them. I was regretful because I would like to have known precisely how he would have phrased the questions.  I already knew what sort of answers he would be looking for. I know what sort of material they can use in a program like that. They don't want the sort of answers I would give and they couldn't use them. Unlike the person who had stopped me to ask something else I am not prepared to give them the answers they want - to lie. 
But people do lie, especially when they are face to face with the interviewer. They may simply believe they should answer in a certain way or they may not want to share their opinions or they feel they will be criticised for holding a different opinion from the socially or politically acceptable one.
And of course the questions can be designed to elicit answers that the surveyors want. I once had a long conversation with someone who was responsible for the Morgan-Gallup polls in Downunder. He admitted that questions could be crafted in this way - and used in an effort to change public opinion. I asked him how many people he thought lied when they answered. He had no idea but said he thought most people told the truth and that had to be good enough.
I was left wondering just how valuable surveys and opinion polls are. Presumably they are sufficiently valuable to keep on doing them.
I remember asking once at a disability advocacy meeting how many people in the room had been stopped and asked for their opinion by a person with a clipboard in the street. There would have been well over a hundred people at the meeting - a day long conference. The only people who put their hands up were people who were not disabled or did not have a visible disability. We agreed that, in general, people with disabilities won't be asked. Perhaps people with disabilities are not supposed to have opinions?
I wondered whether I should chase up the young man with the clipboard and demand to give him my opinion. If he had stopped me would I have told him what I really think? I don't know because I don't know what the questions were. I would probably just have said "I can't answer that" if it was a question I didn't want to answer.
But out there in the street they will probably never get my opinion about anything because I will almost certainly never be asked.  I make up for it here instead.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016


and more SABLE...
Anyone who knits, crochets, quilts, embroiderers, sews, carves, scrapbooks, or does wood work - or any other craft will know what I mean. 
Yes, that Stash Advancement Beyond Life Expectancy.
I was left yet more wool over the weekend. I came home to discover several bags of it sitting at the front door and a note, "Clearing out. I am sure you can use this Cat."
Well actually no, I can't. I contacted the person who had left it and there was an exasperated sigh at the other end of the line, "Well, look at it and see if there is any you want to keep and then just give it to someone else who can use it. I don't want it!"
The last four words were a positive wail. Right. She doesn't want it. I contacted the person in the guild who looks after such things. No, she didn't want me to  bring it to her. (She lives fairly nearby and it would have been convenient - just something which would have involved several trips on the trike.) I could, she said, get someone to pick it up and take it to the guild.
No, actually I couldn't. It would mean someone going out of their way to do it and I know she will take some of it home anyway. I told her by email I would bring it as much as I could carry each time over the next few months.  It just meant it wouldn't get sold on the trading table to raise some funds. If people there don't want it then it will go to the knit-for-charity group but someone will be at the guild to take it and won't mind doing it.  I copied the email to the secretary of the guild - who lives some distance away. Yesterday there was an e-mail from the secretary offering to pick it up when she is next over  in this direction. Thank you. 
I hope it doesn't clutter up her place too much until the first Saturday in September but it is nice of her to offer to help and I do appreciate it. 
Now if we could just do the same thing with all that timber the Senior Cat has stashed in his shed....
And no, books are NOT stash!

Monday, 22 August 2016

There has apparently been another "racist attack"

at the "footy". 
This puzzles me. I would have thought the uproar last  time was so great that nobody would even consider it.  I suppose, in the heat of the game, someone let loose with language and an  act they might normally keep under control - whatever they might think.
In our family  the Senior Cat can remember his paternal grandmother, my great-grandmother, and her relationship with the indigenous community along the banks of the River Murray. My great-grandparents moved to a community there after my great-grandfather retired from his maritime role. They set up a dairy farm and, not long after, my great-grandfather suddenly dropped dead at the farm gate. 
My great-grandmother, being a "tough old Scot, a crofter's daughter", continued to run the farm with some help from one of her daughters and a son-in-law - and some of the local indigenous community. The Senior Cat and his many cousins spent time on the farm and mixed with the children from the nearby "camp". He can't remember race being mentioned among the children. Perhaps things were said among the adults. I have no doubt that my great-grandmother's wisdom in employing the men was  questioned by some but the children all knew where to look for slices of "bread and dripping".  They were handed out in her abrupt way and with a strong Caithness accent all the local children almost certainly didn't understand - but they knew to say "thankyou Mrs.... ".
My paternal grandfather took his mother's attitude. He didn't employ any of them as he didn't take on apprentices in his tailoring business but he knew  many of the indigenous people in the area around the port where he had his shop and workshop. He was often seen chatting to them - and no doubt, in his Victorian era style, telling them what to do. The Senior Cat and his brother just accepted this as normal.
And then there was R.... with whom my grandfather worked closely. She was married to a man who had become the station master at one of the nearby railway stations. (This in the days when we had station masters at such places.) They were both members of the Kaurna clan.
They lived in a railway house not far from the station closest to my grandparents' home.
R...was,  until her death, one of my closest and best friends.  I suppose I was conscious of the colour of her skin but not, I hope, in a racist sort of way. R....was just R... as far as I was concerned. She was simply the person I went to when I couldn't go to my paternal grandmother about a problem. R.... was an untrained social worker. Everyone  in the local indigenous community knew her. They went to her for robust advice, and for help. You took your shoes off when you went into R....'s house - and you minded your manners.
Her son is the one who gave me a bear hug in the middle of a busy city footpath. Yes, people stared. Neither of us cared but we were aware of it. I saw his daughter on the way home from a meeting a couple of months ago. She was outside her local library after "Story Time". I had the pleasure of  holding her toddler on my trike seat and giving him a "ride" - just as I had given her more than one "ride" at about the same age. 
After I had done that and waved them on their way someone else asked me, "Do you know them?"
I nodded and held my breath but then the other young mother said to me, "She seems awfully nice. Do you think she'd mind if I talked to her?"
So I explained about R... and the way she  had brought her family  up to include everyone and went on my way. But it saddens me because the question displayed a different sort of racism.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

"I know you think you understood

what I said but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant."
I know I have quoted  that in my witterings before now - and I may well quote it again one day. I may even, as today, have to change the wording slightly and say, "I know you think you understood what I wrote but I am not sure  you realise that what you read is not what I meant."
Perhaps I wasn't clear. Maybe you really didn't understand. Did I  use the wrong words? Was there a better way of putting them?
I know writers worry about these things. So do people in professions like the law - where even a misplaced comma can be a disaster.
I had to explain something to someone this week. It related to a long and complex piece of legislation that I understand only in a general sense and that, in all likelihood, they had not heard of until I had to mention it. I hope she did understand. She is apparently doing as I suggested needed to be done so perhaps she has. I have done the best I could.
But another piece of legislation also came under discussion this week and I, foolish cat that I am, joined in the discussion. I should know better but I don't seem to be able to help myself. It would be wiser of me not to read that particular paper on-line - or perhaps at all. There is always the temptation to comment on an article that can be commented on, especially when others are making ridiculous comments - and often getting away with things the moderators most definitely should be pulling down. Yes, I know that particular paper is known for its left-wing, anti-government readership. Perhaps I should try just reading the articles? Some of those are heavily biased too of course. It's the nature of the site. All the same it is useful to know what is being said there.
The real problem however is the often wilful misunderstanding of what has been written there. It won't matter how carefully crafted a comment is if someone else disagrees with what  you have said or - and this is the more important thing - what they think you have said or - and this is the even more important thing - what they want you to have said, then you are in trouble.
And, for the record. I am not opposed to the existence of something like sec 18C of our Racial Discrimination Act. I am opposed to the way it exists as present but I do believe there has to be some workable legislation that allows people to be prosecuted for deliberate incitement to hatred. 
"Free speech" does have limits but deliberately misunderstanding other people in an attempt to shut down debate is censorship and not to be condoned. 

Saturday, 20 August 2016

"It's just because of who his dad is"

I heard those words with an inwards wince.
One of the local lads has got himself into a very minor piece of trouble. He made a minor traffic error that a lot of other people have made. It is not a safety issue and it is something that many locals agree needs to be rectified. But now the entire district seems to know about the boy's "reckless behaviour". The interesting thing is that the only way other people could know is not because the kid told anyone but because someone in authority must have spoken out of turn. 
If any other kid had done the same thing then it is unlikely that anyone would even know. His parents might not even have been told. It was that minor. 
But this has  been blown out of all proportion. You see, it's really a way of getting at his father.
As kids my siblings and I all suffered from being "the head's kids", "X's daughter/son", "Y's children" and "Ben's granddaughter/grandson". Even now I am sometimes introduced as being the Senior Cat's daughter and, not too long back, I was even introduced as "this is Ben's granddaughter". 
It means of course that I am not considered as a person in my own right. I am seen as belonging in some way to some one else. My paternal grandfather was very well known in his local community - and even beyond that. The Senior Cat was well known in the field of education and of course three of his children trained as teachers. (We all went on to do other things as well.) 
But it really isn't fair to mark us, or any other child, out as someone's child. It is absolutely wrong to use us as a means of getting at our parents. Reporting something in the media, as sometimes occurs, simply because someone is the son or daughter of a politician,  judge or other well known individual is simply wrong.
I feel very sorry for the lad in question. He's actually a very well behaved, polite, hardworking boy who often helps others out. He's absolutely devastated. It's knocked his self confidence and caused a rift with his very demanding father.
The person who told me all of this actually observed the incident in question. He was close enough to hear the way the policeman who pulled the boy over spoke to him - and the way in which the boy responded. I don't doubt his version of the event. He's a trained observer and will have read the situation more accurately than most people. He most definitely would not have spoken out of turn.
As he said, "It's just because of who his dad is."

Friday, 19 August 2016

The law is behind technology

with respect to any number of things. This is causing problems in any number of areas - most notably medicine.
It wasn't medicine which concerned me yesterday but the relatively simple affairs of a group I belong to. The committee which runs the group thought it would be a good idea to change the means by which they do their banking. 
"Let's do it on-line," someone must have said.
"Good idea," must have been the response. "We'll put it to everyone at the next meeting."
Yes, on the surface it may sound like a good idea. Somehow though I spent a good deal of time yesterday before I came to the conclusion that it could not be done quite as simply as the committee thought. It requires a change to the constitution of the organisation because an act of parliament overrides the constitution of the organisation. It also requires the setting up of the means to do it with such things as PINs and a  "business number" - not needed at present. 
It also requires the agreement of the membership to a certain invasion of privacy. It was this that alerted me to  what was going on. The secretary believed I needed to be reimbursed for something. (I didn't. It was a misunderstanding.) She sent me a letter asking for the receipt and for details of my bank account so she could put the money in. The implication in the letter was that the change had already been agreed to and I would meekly hand over my personal details. 
No, I won't. I know it would be difficult for someone to actually access my account and remove money from it but it could be done. Home computers are notoriously unsafe and, while I don't doubt the honesty of those directly involved, the fewer people who have such details the safer it is for me.
It will be interesting to see what happens now. I wonder whether the membership will just meekly agree to the change or whether there will be a vigorous discussion? 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The battle of Long Tan

was 50  years ago in a war which, like all wars, was something which should never have happened. There was supposed to be a service at the site in Vietnam today but the Vietnamese government has cancelled it at the last minute. It is causing a diplomatic rift between the two countries. The "local sensitivities" may well exist but I know that many people have returned over the years and given assistance to the local people who had no more wish to be engaged in war than the young conscripts had.
I was at school when that battle was fought. One of the former students at the school I was then attending was one of those killed in the battle.
I remember the  head, not my father at that school, coming into the assembly hall. He looked ashen and, barely in control, he told us what had happened. I know the younger students barely understood but the older students understood all too well. 
We knew that, if the war continued, then some of the boys would be called up and that they could face the same fate. I remember the boy standing next to me in assembly grabbing my hand and holding it so tightly it hurt.  There were tears, a lot of tears.
The war was still going on when I left school. It went on right through my time at teacher training college. It affected me and my family in ways that other people can only guess about. It still has an impact on us  today.
My brother registered as a "conscientious objector". He refused to be drafted. As a family we backed him. I won't describe what happens to conscientious objectors or their families. It is probably sufficient to say it is not pleasant. 
Several years later the boy I planned to marry was killed in Vietnam. We had met in London and my parents knew nothing about him. He was a young diplomat-in-training and not a combatant. The trip to Vietnam was supposed to be to a "safe" area but we had both decided to say nothing to our families until after the trip was over. Neither of us believed that anywhere in Vietnam was "safe".
It's a long time ago now. Unlike the combatants who wanted to go back and lay the ghosts to rest I have no desire to even visit Vietnam. I don't want to stand in the place where he was killed. Even if the insane man who killed him was alive I would not want to meet him.
But, I can understand the combatants desire to go. The decision of the Vietnamese government shows a lack of insight. They are building a wall instead of a bridge.