Friday, 22 February 2019

"Training day"

are words which make me shudder. 
I was supposed to be attending one today. It was for some "voluntary" work I do.
Fortunately for me the person organising it said,
    "No point in you coming Cat. It's pitched at those who do tea duty."
No, it isn't actually tea duty but I knew what she meant. It is a compulsory unit for the people who go along on a regular basis to do something entirely different. I attend this venue when I am called in to help with communication issues. Although it is a "volunteer" position in that I am not paid I am there as a professional person. There are so few of us who work like this and we face such varied issues that a "training day" would be almost impossible to put together even if we were some sort of "group". 
But "training days" seem to be compulsory for everyone now. There was a "training day" at the local charity shop recently. They closed the place for the morning and an outsider came in.
The staff told me about it later. Fortunately the people who work there have a good sense of humour. They needed it because the "trainer" was trying to teach them about "customer relations". 
    "She was a lovely person Cat but she had no idea about so many of the people we see in here." (It's a big organisation which runs many services and many of their clients are welfare recipients who need a lot of help.) 
They had the "occupational health and safety" people in last year too. There were arguments about the way things were organised and handled. The volunteers there were prepared to listen but they despaired of the "suggestions" made.  Safety is an issue there and everyone knows it - because most of the people who work there are elderly. They are the people who have the time. The problem is they do things differently from some bright young "trainer" spark with definite ideas.
I am very glad I don't have to go to a training day which tells me how to make the tea or hold someone's hand in a crisis situation. 
Yesterday I asked P.... who works in the charity shop what she would have liked as part of the training day. She thought about it for a moment,
     "Well teaching us all how to use the new cash register would have been good."
Then she gave me a wicked little smile and said, "And perhaps they could come and train the customers to put things back where they found them?"
Now that would be training worth having. 

Thursday, 21 February 2019

63,000 yards of thread

went into making this christening gown
Image may contain: textIt apparently took the knitter five months to knit working seven hours a day - and there are over a million stitches in it. 
No, something like that could not be made by machine even now. You could get something that look similar perhaps but it would not be the same. 
There is something different about something handmade. There are those tiny little differences that make it easier to look at - yes, easier, not more difficult. We need those little differences. 
A friend of mine has been looking at houses recently. His brother is moving back here after many years abroad. He has been sending his brother pictures of possible houses and his brother has been "driving (him) crazy because he doesn't like them". I asked him what sort of houses he had been showing his brother and he pulled up some websites on his phone. I looked.They were very new and very modern.
    "I think they might be too new," I said.
    "What do you mean?"
    "Your brother has been living in one of the oldest cities in the world. He is used to being surrounded by old architecture not new. He doesn't want to live in a box."
    "But a new house would be so easy to maintain and...."
    "It is still a box. Send him something that is at least 70  years old. That will be new in his book."
He sighed, scrolled through some more and said, "More this sort of thing?"
     "Yes...if he can afford it."
     "He can afford it. I just don't think...."
I don't know whether any decisions have yet been made but apparently his brother is "feeling more hopeful" after being shown what is, for this city, an "old" house or two. (That would mean built about 80 years ago not 180 years ago.)
Yes, those "clean lines" are not what everyone wants. 
I suppose life really was slower back then.How else did Sarah Ann Cunliffe find the time to spend seven hours a day for five months knitting something that may not have been used more than once? I think we might have lost sight of something here.


Wednesday, 20 February 2019

School zones

not school traffic zones but school zones are back in the news.
The Little Drummer Boy - not so little now - has just started high school. He is highly intelligent (although I wonder about the drumming) and his parents were relieved when he "won" a place at one high school rather than another. 
The high school he is now attending has a specialist maths unit for the most able students and they are keen for him to take advantage of it. When I asked him about it he shrugged and said, "It's okay."
It doesn't do to look too enthusiastic about school.
His new school is the one my mother attended and the one my brother attended for his final year. In my mother's case she lived almost literally next door to the school and, all those years ago, it didn't have the same reputation.  By the time my brother went there it was a "zoned" school. He was able to attend because he had earned a Commonwealth Bursary and we were, briefly and disastrously, living with my maternal grandmother while our parents were still  a long way from the city. (The school my father was the head of finished at the end of what is now Year 11 - not  Year 12.)
At that time the school had a good reputation - one perhaps not entirely deserved. It now has a mixed reputation but  it is still popular and still zoned.
The alternative for the Little Drummer Boy was a slightly closer school. The enrolment numbers at that one had dropped to a point that raised questions about closing it. Why? 
The Senior Cat and I know that, on the other side of a major road there is a different social demographic. At one time the school was popular because it catered for students interested in doing more technical and hands on subjects. The curriculum changed and those subjects are no longer taught. Other schools which had more desirable academic results proved more popular. 
Oh, it's more complex than that of course but both schools are now in the news because the boundaries have changed again. The primary schools are already zoned - for much the same reasons. Parents with more money to spend have added more facilities to some schools than others. It may be state funded education - but only up to a point.  
Those same parents, and others, have been buying houses "inside the zone" of the schools they want their children to attend. Houses for sale are even advertised as being "zoned for...". The redrawing of the boundaries has caused fury among those who are no longer in their desired zone. One parent, father of four year old and an eighteen month old,  has complained that the value of his house has dropped "overnight" because of the announcement. 
Will things be the same when his four year starts high school in seven years? It's unlikely. Things could be very different.
My siblings and I did almost all our schooling in "area" schools. These were country schools where children of all ages were taught. My father, the headmaster of more than one of these schools, struggled with teachers who were almost always very young and very inexperienced. They were often not qualified to teach the subjects they were required to teach. They drove the school buses morning and night - making their days far longer than those of their city counterparts. The facilities were poor. You went into the Public Examinations Board stream or the Agricultural stream. There were no subject choices for students apart from girls doing "Home Economics" and boys doing "Woodwork" - and that lone girl who asked to do Woodwork. (The Senior Cat let her do it too.)
It wasn't a good education by any means. But it produced more than one doctor, a  university lecturer in mathematics, a lawyer, a number of teachers and nurses, a pharmacist and an agricultural research worker just among the years my brother and I were in. My brother and I have multiple degrees as well. 
No, it wasn't easy. Yes, we missed out on some of the many facilities of the big city schools. 
We did get there though. It isn't just the schools. It is the students as well. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Emma Darwin's new book

arrived in the post  yesterday and the Senior Cat promptly took it from me. He did not get a lot else done. He says I'll like it - a lot.
I am sure I will.
You see Emma and I have something in common, just as Christopher Milne and I had something in common.  I haven't yet met Emma - although it would be good to meet her.
But let me start at the beginning.  I am someone's daughter and somebody else's granddaughter. I have even, on some occasions, been somebody's great-granddaughter - and yes, the street is named after him.  Of course I am also "that person who writes the letters to the paper" and "the person who..."
And I am Cat... I am me.
As a kitten I was almost always introduced as "This is ...... 's grand/daughter." Small kittens usually are known like this but, for me and my siblings, this has continued into adult life.
We live in a small city. Fifty years ago it was even smaller. People did know one another. You didn't need to be terribly well known to be widely known.
My paternal grandfather was well known. He was a tailor but he wasn't just anyone's tailor. My grandfather was a specialist. He made uniforms, uniforms for the governors of the state. They were military men back then. He also made uniforms for the sea captains. There were sea captains who would wait until they docked in the port and then visit my grandfather. He would measure, cut, tack, fit and send them on their way in the time they were in port and then, when they next visited the final fitting and finishing would be done. It was stressful work. 
My grandfather's work lasted for years. The Senior Cat still has the Harris Tweed jacket his father made for him in 1947 - the year he got married. It has been relined a number of times. It does look a little worse for wear now but it can still be worn. I know of one person who still has a suit my grandfather made for him in the 1960's.  "It didn't fit when I put on weight but I can wear it again now - but just for funerals these days." Right.
But Grandpa had an impact in other ways too. He was not merely "a tailor". He was very active in church and community. He was fiercely proud of his Scots heritage and led the Caledonian Society and, like his mother before him, all the social welfare work that went with it. At a time when Presbyterians and Catholics barely spoke to one another he was instrumental in bringing them together. He knew people from all over the world, from all faiths and backgrounds, at a time when the word "multi-cultural" was unknown to the community at large. Not so long ago I did some work for a man who lives in another country and, as we finished it, in his last email to me he asked,"I've been meaning to ask are you by any chance related to....  My grandfather...." and the answer was "Yes, he was my grandfather."
So yes, I am still his granddaughter. I am also the Senior Cat's daughter. He's the one who did this and that and something else in the education system....I'll leave it at that.
A long time ago when I was in London and we went to visit some schools outside it a friend took me and a couple of others in her car. On the way back she told the other two,
    "I have to stop at a bookshop. I need to pick up something from a friend. Cat, it's someone you need to meet."
And so we went into the bookshop and my friend H.... said to the man in there, "I want you to meet Cat... she is and she is not .....'s daughter. She can answer your question about...."
The man turned out to be Christopher Robin Milne. Her way of introducing me was quite deliberate. He was not at all fond of being someone else's child. 
I am proud of the Senior Cat, of his father, of his father's father. I don't mind in the least that I am related to them. They are and were good people. They have all had a larger than usual impact on the community.
But yes, I am me too. On Sunday morning there was a phone call from another state. Someone was looking for a man I happen to know. He was a policeman. We share the same surname. He belongs to another branch of the family. I have no idea where he lives now but the person at the other end suddenly said,
    "Oh, I'm sorry you must be..."
Yes. I am. But - I am me too. I am not the letters I have written. I am Cat.
And, while Emma is obviously and justifiably proud of her family she is also Emma, a person in her own right. Christopher was not "just Christopher Robin" but a person in his own right.
As Ms W once said,
    "I am me and nobody else is me."

Monday, 18 February 2019

A Royal Commission into the abuse of preople with disabilities

has been proposed by a Greens Senator who identifies as disabled.
I have little sympathy with the Greens as a party. Their website is full of policies that would simply never work. One senior member of the  Greens once went as far as to admit to me that, while the policies were what they would like, they knew they would never get them.
I don't know whether they will get the Royal Commission either.
The difficulty is that, although the Federal government is in favour of the idea, the states would have to come on board because services to people with disabilities are largely run by the states. I have a feeling that, given the record of the states, the idea may not be popular. 
But this is one Royal Commission I would like to see happen. It is long overdue. 
I have given evidence to more than one inquiry that has supposedly had the power to investigate some issues but nothing has come of those investigations. "Policy" announcements have been made but nothing has happened. What has happened is that "squeaky wheels" pushing their own agenda - all too often disguised as "equal opportunity" - have sometimes managed to achieve what they want but they have left the majority behind. 
There have been people who have spent years trying to ensure that transport services have, at very least, been retained. Yes, we now have a fleet of "accessible" buses - but there are still people who cannot access them. For them the transport fight isn't over but there is a belief, even in the disability sector, that the fight is all but over. There has been a push to have all children with disabilities "integrated" into the normal school system. That's been fine for some children but nobody has  yet taken a good hard look at the real consequences of this policy. Nobody has yet acknowledged that, without the specialist education some of these children might have received, they are simply not achieving what they might once have achieved. Nobody wants to acknowledge that the cost of truly integrating some children is so much higher than simply placing them in a classroom with a little bit of "support". 
Nobody has acknowledged that some of those who once went to "sheltered" workshops now have nowhere to go. There is a failure to acknowledge the "niche" roles they might once have filled in the general workforce have been taken over by others - if they even exist.
Moving people out of institutions into the community has not stopped abuse either. In all likelihood it has actually increased it. My own observations tell me that many people with disabilities who live in these group houses are even more isolated than before. The quality of care they are getting is not getting the scrutiny it should get. 
More than once person has said that how we treat the most vulnerable members of society is a reflection of society itself. We aren't doing as well as we should.
I'll support a Royal Commission because I am one of the lucky ones.  If you can't communicate, you can't complain - and I hope I can communicate.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

The library doesn't get used?

I couldn't believe it. Someone actually said, "It was a waste of money. The library doesn't get used. If you want to read something you do it on line these days."
He has no idea. There were more than a thousand people through the doors of the new library facilities yesterday. My friend G and I answered questions about the Knitting and Crochet Group until we were hoarse. 
I had one of those incredible, wonderful moments of seeing the absolute awe and delight of a four  year discovering how to "knit" a single stitch. There was the woman who said shyly, "I had a stroke last year and I'd like to get back to knitting. Could I come along?"
Of course she could and we will help if she needs it. There was the moment when a man, married for more than thirty years, showed his wife that he could knit.
   "I've been married to him all this time and I never knew he could knit."
   "No. You might have made me do it," he told her. They went off holding hands like teenagers.
We explained the difference between knitting and crochet.
All the time around us people were having tours of the new facilities. The children were hunting for answers to the clues they had been given, lining up to have their faces painted with story book characters, listening to stories and more. The adults were exploring the book sale, the Book Groups, the Card and Board Games Group and the French Conversation group next to us. I even managed to say to someone who asked if we were the French group, "Non, je suis un tricoteur". I pointed to the next meeting room. Trying to work out the French for "that group is in the next room" failed me - and I doubt he would have understood anyway.
Outside it was noisy. There was a band playing. There was a sausage sizzle, a coffee stand, potatoes on sticks, popcorn, a climbing wall, and a bouncy castle for the smallest children on the park side. On the other side it was much quieter with just a curious solar powered machine "drawing" a story. 
And you could still borrow books and return them. There were small queues waiting to return books or check them. I looked around at the crowds. No it isn't always nearly that busy but the library is used every day of the week and it is used by many, many people. It's an important part of the community -  perhaps the most important part. I didn't want to leave but I had another meeting to go to. I picked up my inter-library loan and left.
I'll be back there during the week.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

The new library

facilities are being celebrated today with a "Family Fun Day".  There will be face painting, music, a bouncy castle, craft activities, tours of the new facilities, story telling, the French Conversation group, the Book Club groups and more. When the idea was first raised the library staff said, "And Cat has to bring the knitters and get the children to knit."
They won't knit of course but we are going and we are prepared to show them how it is done - and perhaps even help them knit a stitch.
I have obtained some cheap yarn from the local charity shop and straight needles - also from the charity shop. I have cast on a "sufficient number" of stitches and knitted a few rows of two scarves.
These will be the basis of two "knit a row and go" scarves. They are just long strips of knit/garter stitch that anyone who can knit can add to and that are later given to someone to give to charity. Given that everyone knits slightly differently I don't suppose they turn out too badly but nobody could call them beautiful.  It is however an easy way to involve people.
The vast majority of children, perhaps people, cannot knit. Some children don't even know what knitting is. They have never seen anyone do it. If we can encourage any of them to actually do a stitch with help from one of the group that will be good. 
We will be next to the French conversation group. I am wondering whether any of them will tell a child, "Je suis  un tricoteur"? I am sure they will be encouraging young children to try a word or two of French. 
I thought about all of this last night as I was packing things ready to take. We are extraordinarily fortunate that our local library is not being closed, that it has actually been expanded.  
The new facilities are wonderful. They are open, light and airy. They will be used to their full capacity, indeed the range of activities can now be expanded. 
I saw one of our neighbours in there during the week. She had her three year  and her five month old baby in there. They were borrowing a pile of picture books.
    "Isn't this marvellous!" she told me.
 Yes. This is what children should be growing up with. They should see libraries as magical places and say, like the small boy told me, "This is the best place!"