Sunday, 21 December 2014

I was invited to "A Holiday Party"

recently and I declined the invitation.
There were two reasons for this, the first was that I do not like standing around listening to people I barely know while they are talking about things I know nothing about and am not interested in. (Office gossip.)
The second however was the more serious reason. I object to the term "Holiday Party" when it is used as a "politically correct" term. This would once have been a "Christmas Party".
     "We're not allowed to call it that now," the person who invited me told me.
Not allowed?
     "Oh and when you come in please don't say "Merry Christmas" to anyone. We're not allowed to do that anymore."
Hold it right there. Nobody tells me I can't do that. This is political correctness gone mad.
I do not wish my Jewish, Muslim, Hindu etc. friends "Merry Christmas". I have no reason to do that - although they sometimes tell me, "I hope you have a nice Christmas Day Cat" and I have said similar sentiments about their holidays.
But is there any reason not to wish other people a "Merry Christmas", especially when I know they celebrate it in a much more vigorous fashion than I do?
There is nothing "multi-cultural" or "respectful" about ignoring our own traditions simply because other people have different traditions. It merely suggests to others that our traditions are of so little importance that we will just give them up. It encourages extremists to believe they are winning their war against all things western and Christian. It denies people the right to express a sentiment that is as much part of our cultural tradition as Hanukah or Eid is part of other cultural traditions.
I was in the supermarket yesterday and saw a friend I had not seen for some weeks. We stopped to talk for a moment. Several people walked past we both knew. They said things like "Merry Christmas" and "have a great Christmas" to me. They did not say it to her because she was wearing a hijab. But a couple of times my friend also responded with things like, "Hope you have a good Christmas" and the response would be something "Thanks, have a good New Year."
We need to get over the ridiculous nonsense that we can't have our traditions simply for fear of upsetting somebody else,  If we can't respect ourselves then we can't respect them either.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

I would like to introduce you to

four great teens - with their permission.
For the past six years I have been keeping an eye on them. They were learning to knit under the watchful eyes of my late friend Margaret. She was teaching them while they were in and out of hospital. She introduced them to each other so that they could each encourage the others.
They all needed to have a creative but quiet and not physically demanding activity. Knitting was perfect for all of them - two boys and two girls. (There is a third boy who is a long term member of the group but he is a year younger.)
When Margaret died suddenly "Margaret's Mob", as they called themselves, were devastated. The mother of one of them turned to me and asked if I would take over helping with the knitting. I did. It turned into something much more. The little group became a study group as well. Two of the fathers did some tutoring. I did some tutoring. They all caught up with and then passed their peers.
On the knitting front they had more encouragement from the late Sue Nelson, technical editor of Knitters' Magazine. She kept sending them yarn and e-mails. When she died the four of them were invited to write one of the eulogies for her funeral - and what they wrote was an amazing piece filled with love and determination.
Over the years there have been some rough patches. We all expected those. This year, year 12, was the toughest of all. There is a seemingly endless grind to year 12 - especially when you are aiming very high. In the middle of it Nicola Morgan's book, "The teenage guide to stress" came out. One Saturday afternoon we got together and looked at the book. We talked about the issues in it. They read it for themselves over the next few weeks. We had another brief chat about it one afternoon when we met for some other work. All of them say they would recommend the book to other teens.
We worked on. The Colourmart people in England sent them some yarn so that they could go on making more chemo-caps for kids...with weird and wonderful designs. It was the creative outlet they needed. It was knitting that could be picked up and put down easily. The projects were small enough to be able to be finished even during periods of hard study. They have done a lot of other knitting too. My own knowledge has been tested to the limits by their questions.
They received their results on Thursday - outstandingly good results. All of them will get into their chosen courses at university. And yes, they plan to go on meeting and supporting each other. They are also teaching other young ones to knit - and live life with disabilities.
Their parents are proud of them, they are proud of each other. And I am proud of them too.

Friday, 19 December 2014


food grade markers...tick...bases....tick...the cutters...tick... and so it went on...
Eventually I had everything I thought we might need. I put it in a sturdy cardboard box and prowled across the road. There were two excited kittens waiting at the front door. They had their "cooking aprons" on and yelled down the passage to their grandmother, "Cat's here and she's got a whole box..." They are three and five years of age. They have never decorated gingerbread before.
We did it at "Grandma's house" because they have sturdy step stools there, just the right height to reach then bench top.
They took everything very carefully out of the carton and then stared silently (blissful silence for just a moment) at the picture on the box.
"Will it look like that?" asked Older Kitten
"No," said Younger Kitten.
"A bit like that," their grandmother said.
We put the pieces in order. They kneaded the ready to roll icing. They rolled out a little of it...enough to cover the sheep. With intense concentration Younger Kitten put the biscuit cutter on it, pressed down hard and then pulled away the excess icing oh so gently. She picked it up and placed it gently on the gingerbread shape. (Dotted with glycerine to keep the icing in place - but Grandma did that.) She managed to put it "zackerly" (exactly) on top too.
And so we went on. We coloured some of the icing. Mary has the traditional blue, the kings have darker blue, red, green. There is a "gold" box for one of the kings. They have beards. Joseph has a beard and so do the shepherds. The baby Jesus has a blanket - forget the "swaddling" cloth ("that would not be comfortable" Older Kitten informed us). There is a camel and a donkey with their features carefully marked.
The only problem is the stable and trying to get the star on top but "That's going to be Grandpa's job."
Their mother came to pick them up. They stood there consuming spare gingerbread and milk and telling her about how they had done it.
We waved them off and cleared up the mess. I just hope Grandpa has managed to do the building of the stable.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Year 12 exam results

come out today. (For Upoverites these are the final year of secondary school results.)
The results come out on line from 8:30am - an hour from when I am writing this. They are also delivered by post. You need a personal number to get your results on line - if the computer doesn't crash from overload.
And, of course, nobody else should open mail addressed to you without your permission.
There will be parents who have demanded the personal number and others who will be waiting by the letter box to snatch the mail from the postie and open the letter themselves. They will also believe they have every right to do it.
In the next street there is a lovely girl who lost her mother to cancer last year. She struggled through each school day during her mother's time in a hospice and then would rush off to spend time with her mother. Sometimes she would miss a lesson as people believed that her mother was about to leave them. It was emotionally and physically exhausting. She was in year 11 then. This year she has done year 12. It's been another struggle as the family has adjusted to life without Mum. Throughout it all she has worked to the best of her ability but I know, and her father knows, that she will not do as well as she could have done.
Her father is a teacher. He has not demanded her personal number. He will not be standing by the letter box. He has told her that, no matter what, he supports her and her mail is hers to open.
These are the exams that mark the divide between school and the rest of your life - your adult life. They are the results that determine how you will set about the rest of your life - but not what you do with it.
My nephews chose to share their numbers with their parents. They wanted their mother to open the envelope and double check. It no doubt helped that they were fairly confident they had done well. (They had in fact done exceptionally well.) But, if you aren't confident or you don't enjoy that kind of relationship with your parents then surely you at least have the right to know before them?
Back in the dim, distant past our results were published in the paper. They were there for everyone to see. It was an appalling system which caused a lot of distress.
This one is better - or it should be. It won't be the end of the world if you haven't done as well as you hoped to do but you have the right to know first.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

There is something rather therapeutic about

Christmas baking I suppose...well at least there was something therapeutic about making the gingerbread dough yesterday. (The Senior  Cat is still demanding I make mince pies but I will ignore that for the moment.)
I was not going to make gingerbread - until the neighbour across the street offered to do the decorating. My paws can manage the mixing, the rolling, the cutting - but not the decorating. At least, not the sort of decorating that needs to be done.
The gingerbread will, I hope, be turned into a Nativity scene - or rather, two Nativity scenes. I have the biscuit cutters. They came as a kit. A friend in the United States (who happens to be Jewish) sent the kit to me. She saw it in a shop and thought I might like it "because it looks simple enough". Mmm...maybe. I'll try anyway.
The stable is just two, roughly triangular pieces. It is not like one of those gingerbread houses you see that need to be constructed with both walls and roof. Maybe. Maybe not. We will see.
There is more to it than that of course but I will cut the shapes out and see what happens. The Very Young Kittens across the road want to help of course. I plan to have biscuits ready for them to decorate. Their paws are not strong enough to roll out the dough but they can cut out some shepherds and use some of that "ready to roll" icing beloved of people who like to decorate cakes.
But, it was making the dough which was such a surprisingly peaceful and therapeutic exercise. I don't do a lot of baking. The Senior Cat is not given to eating morning or afternoon tea. He is not, and never has been, terribly interested in cake. He will, if he is offered while out, politely accept a slice of sponge cake. He likes the sort we call "ginger fluff" (sponge cake with ginger in it) and he likes (in small quantities) rich Christmas fruit cake. But forget other cake. He is not interested.
From my point of view this is a Good Thing. It means I do not have to make it. I am not tempted to eat it - although, like him, I am not terribly interested in cake.
But yesterday I weighed out ingredients - in a double quantity - and melted butter and sugar and honey slowly and I stirred with a wooden spoon. Eventually I kneaded the dough to a smooth consistency.
Yes, perhaps it was that. It was the kneading. It is not quite like kneading bread. Kneading gingerbread dough is quieter and much more soothing than that. I finished. I put the dough in the fridge ready to be used today. I cleaned up and washed up and, somehow, I felt better. I needed to do it.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

I spent an anxious day

yesterday trying to keep news of the siege in Sydney from the Senior Cat - at least until Brother Cat had called in to say he was safe. The outcome has not been what any of us hoped for. Two people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time are dead and so is the gunman.
My brother works in a building close to Martin Place. He uses the Martin Place train station. I also have colleagues who work in Martin Place. I knew my brother was most unlikely to have used the Lindt café but there was every possibility that other people I knew might.  
I also knew Brother Cat would check in when he could and was safe - and he did. He phoned as he walked in the door of his home.
Since then one of my colleagues has let me know that yes, the people I know there are safe too. One of them had actually been in the café about twenty minutes before the gunman walked in. All of them stayed well out of the way.
They were not any of those hundreds of people hanging around in Martin Place making the situation even more difficult for the police. I would not expect them to be. They all know far too much about the dangers such situations pose.
There is nothing "exciting" about such situations. They are, quite simply, terrifying - in the true sense of the word - for those involved. I know. I was once caught up, in a very small way, in a related situation. There was an armed hold up at the post office in Marchmont St in London. Another student and I were going in - just as two men in balaclavas with guns in their hands ran out. I was knocked over. The other student, much faster on her feet, was knocked aside. We were, perhaps, never in any great danger but it seemed so at the time. Those inside the post office at the time were in much greater danger. The incident still left us both shaken.
I did not tell my parents about the incident in my letter home that week. For days afterwards noises startled me. I did not eat well. I did not sleep well. I could not concentrate on my work. The other student admitted she felt much the same.
If we felt that way then how do people in much more dangerous situations feel? That "post traumatic stress disorder" has to be real, especially for people who are suddenly and unexpectedly caught up in a truly dangerous situation.
If I had been in Sydney yesterday I know my reaction would have been to follow police orders and stay indoors, stay well away from windows. The last thing I would have wanted to do would be join a crowd of people in Martin Place. My brother did not want to be there. He stayed in the office at lunchtime. My colleagues did not want to be there. It was all too close for their comfort.
And yet other people went to look. I don't understand that.
I just wish the outcome had been different.

Monday, 15 December 2014

I saw a curious little chart

the other day. It indicated that the country which spends the most (per capita) on welfare is the United States, followed by Canada, Sweden and then Australia.
On the assumption that the chart was correct then I wonder what Australia has to show for this expenditure? And I do not wonder that the present government is trying to find ways of reducing the cost of welfare. I also do not wonder that a row has erupted over the suggestion that a card should be introduced.  The idea would be to ensure that welfare payments are spent on essentials and that at least some people should be required to work for their welfare payments.
I know people on welfare payments. I know people on disability support pensions. I know people on unemployment benefits. It would be fair to say that the majority of them don't want to be. They would prefer to be in work. As someone who has not had a regular income for years I can appreciate that desire to be in regular, paid employment.
I also know that, contrary to what others are saying, at least some of them would welcome a system which ensured that the rent and the utilities were paid before they received whatever money was coming to them. We have discussed this. The idea that, no matter what, the rent was paid so that they were not going to end up on the street appeals to them. The idea that, no matter what, there would still be water and electricity also appeals.
Then there are ideas about food vouchers and transport cards.
Those who argue against these ideas say it is demeaning and that it would be too expensive to implement. They also say that people should be free to spend their welfare money on whatever they choose.
Personally I like the idea of a system which ensures people have a roof over their heads and electricity to watch the telly with while drinking the tea made with the water available.  Apparently the problem with this system is that you can't have a beer instead. Is that really demeaning - or just a luxury you need to do without?
Our public transport system is such that nobody needs to know if you are on welfare when you swipe your card. I suspect that is true of any the many systems in the country. Apparently the problem with this is that you should still be able to drive your car (if you have one) whenever you please. I sympathise if you live in a rural area but if the bus goes past your door? Is it really demeaning to use public transport - or just inconvenient? 
I don't think we need food vouchers. If it isn't possible for the technical wizards to come up with a system which allows a normal debit card to be used to buy food but not alcohol or cigarettes then there is something wrong. It isn't going to stop the most determined people from finding a way around the system but why would anyone else need to know unless you try to buy either? If you have a bit of cash to hand then you can get those things if you want them.
It is of course easier to say "people should be able to spend their welfare money on whatever they want. They are adults and we shouldn't be telling them how to run their lives." The other side of the argument is that "people are being paid welfare out of the taxes of others - and what they may have earned in the past - so we need to be sure they spend it on essentials. That way they won't go to charities for more."
That is over simplifying the situation dreadfully. I have absolutely no idea what the answers are - or which side is right. I do sympathise with those who would genuinely like the system to step in and ensure the rent was paid and there was water and electricity so that they could make that cup of tea.
Is that wrong of me? Wouldn't it mean everyone was better off in the end? Or is it just demeaning? I wish I knew.