Saturday, 31 October 2009

Is creativity good brain exercise?

I have just had a short exchange with a journalist. I sent her a possible story. She decided it might be more lifestyle than health (her area) and sent it on to one of her colleagues. Fair enough but I do think that creativity is good brain exercise and is much part of a healthy life-style as going for a run in the mornings - but that may be because I do not go for runs in the morning. I pedal later in the day, most days.
It is rare for me not to pedal at least once each day. I may not do it tomorrow with a projected temperature of 36'C but then the runners, if they have any sense, will not be out in the heat either. I may do some internal exercise instead.
I admit that pedalling is part of creativity. I sometimes find that a large chunk of idea will fall into place while I am pedalling. If the chunk is the right shape it will stay there. I do not have to worry about remembering it. It will remember itself until I get time to write it down. There are other chunks which wriggle around and teeter over the edge. They may need to be picked up and knocked into shape...a word off here or there or an entire sentence levelled out so that it sits comfortably with the other shapes. It is all exercise.
I think my writing is a bit like building a dry stone wall. I have to find the chunks and work out how the chunks fit into the spaces. It is not like building a brick wall where each brick goes on and gets tapped gently into place with a mortar of words. That is a different sort of exercise.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Okay, so I am headed off for a repeat performance

of the dangerous journey this morning. I want sympathy - and am unlikely to get it. I do detest going to the dentist.
I am not going to sympathise with the fools in the hills behind us. Yes, there are still people up there who have not cleared their properties in accordance with the requests of the Country Fire Service or the councils involved. I find that extraordinary. If you live in a bushfire risk zone then you risk losing everything for the sake of a bit of cleaning up.
I have been told by more than one person that they do not want to clean up. They like it the way that it is. It is 'natural' and they are 'prepared to take the risk'. They are? What about everyone else?
We have friends who live in the heart of the bushfire risk zone. They have had fire through their property twice. One year they lost the decking on the house. They did not lose the house. They were prepared. They have a dam. It is strictly for fire use. It has a petrol generated pump. The pump is checked and started at the same time every week. The petrol supply is properly stored and monitored. Their land is cleared of all dead undergrowth. Gutters are cleared. There is a fire-sprinkler system. They have done all the right things. People are sometimes sent to see what they have done. With all that they still know they live in a high risk zone and that they have to be vigilant.
Further down the road from them however there are people who have done nothing. There was a photograph on the front page of this morning's paper. The weeds would come well above my waist -and they are weeds. It is not beautiful. It is not natural. It endangers everyone. These people are fools not environmentalists.
There is also something else that bothers me. The undergrowth is beloved by snakes. I do not think I will go visiting.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

A sort of Fahrenheit 451 - the book laws

I think I muttered something about this somewhere else - maybe. More needs to be said. The Productivity Commission recommended that the existing legislation which 'protects' the Australian publishing industry be scrapped and that we have an open market for books.
The row is still going on. There was a piece in yesterday's Australian. I'll get to that in a moment but I also picked up a sheet in the local "indie" bookshop.
It states "books are not overpriced in Australia", that we pay about the same as the UK and the US over time and considering such things as freight and GST. Well, for a start there should be no GST (tax) on books. You should never tax knowledge. Freight is a problem in our part of the world. We live too far away. That will, partially, be overcome by technology - e-books and the like will become more common. There is other technology which would allow books, even single copies, to be printed here without too much trouble. So, I have difficulty with this argument.
Then there is the argument that books are unlikely to be cheaper. You always have to pay for quality. Our indie has some nice books. Yes, they are expensive. They would be expensive anywhere in the world. You are going to have to pay for them. I have no problem with that if I want a book as a thing of beauty. I do have a problem when I merely want to immerse myself in a crime yarn for an hour or two or I need information.
Then our indie says it will not be able to offer the range or diversity that it does now. I do not understand this argument. It says Australian publishers are going to take fewer risks with Australian authors - they do not take many now - and that they will also bring in less books from overseas. Does this mean that they will stop importing books? I thought the idea was that we would be able to import books more cheaply and much more quickly. I must go and ask about that.
Then they say that "author events will be a thing of the past". I doubt it. The publishing companies may say that they have less to spend on author events but our peculiar geography means that author events get held in capital cities like Sydney and Melbourne and the rest of us have to wait until Festival of Arts time and Writers' Week - which nowadays tends to be more of a Book Market than an actual Writers' Week.
Then there is the argument that Indie booksellers will be under threat because, like corner grocery stores of old, the big chains have greater buying power. Answer to that one? The Indies get their act together and form a cooperative buying group? Is that possible? I don't know.
I like my local Indie. I buy presents for other people in there on a reasonably regular basis.
However I have a problem. If I can buy a book on line for $56 (including postage) and get it in ten days then am I going to pay $73 at my Indie and wait six to eight weeks? When I am buying this book for the small library of an organisation I belong to I actually have a duty to buy the book for the lesser price.
Our Indie sellers do contribute to the community. Our local Indie has a variety of groups associated with the shop. They bring people in. When we sit and knit in full view it brings people in. Sometimes they buy a book. That is good. Even if they just look it is good. They may come back and buy later. They will talk about what they have seen.
Our Indies source different books and my own particular Indie is good at tracking down unusual requests. I can talk books in there - although our tastes tend to differ wildly.
Now yesterday there was another report in the Australian. A Victorian backbencher - who just happens to have a major printing company in the backyard of his electorate - is unhappy about the proposed rule changes. He says that it will just add a higher value to the bottom line of retailers like Dymocks and Woolworths.
I am not sure any of this is right. The reality is that, if it is cheaper elsewhere, then people will go ahead and buy it elsewhere. Others will still wander into their Indie - if it still exists. Dymocks and, more particularly, Woolworths will continue to cater for the mass market "I want a book to read on holiday" reader. The younger generation will use more e-books and may read less if e-books prove to be what I believe they will be - less comfortable to read. It won't solve the problem for the Indie in the more remote and less populated areas of Australia but retaining the old rules and denying Australians ready access to all types of reading matter will not help either.
We need to have a wider and more intense debate on this issue. In the meantime I will use my Indie for some sorts of book and, reluctantly, the online resources for the others. I refuse to bow to the Fahrenheit 451 argument which prices books out of the reach of many. The answer is simple. We must encourage people to buy more books.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

A willing suspension of disbelief

needs to be applied to all James Bond movies. I managed to borrow "A Quantum of Solace" from the local library yesterday. It just happened to be sitting on the top of the returns trolley when I went in to return a book. My father had not yet seen it and, as he is something of a fan, I borrowed it for him. He watched it last night. I did not have time so I suggested he could tell me about it later.
This morning he told me, "It really is ridiculous you know. The first jump would probably kill him." However he enjoyed it so I did not inquire further.
I will also be interested however to hear what he thinks of an article in our state newspaper which raises questions about the actual status of some of those endeavouring to enter Australia by non-standard means. If media and government reports are correct there is something a little James Bond like about such ventures. People flee their country of origin in fear of their lives. They take nothing with them. They traverse difficult and dangerous terrain. They nearly get caught on the way. They have to negotiate borders, bribe officials and then get on a leaky wooden craft etc etc. It all sounds very heart wrenching and, for some, there is undoubtedly some truth in such stories.
The reality for most is quite different. A decision is made about which son will make the journey. Cautious inquiries are made through people who are known to know about the process. Fees are paid. Transport is arranged. You may even fly in to the point closest to your desired destination on business. At that point you 'disappear' as yourself and then reappear in another form. The boat may look like a leaky craft but the other passengers are much like yourself and the engine is in good condition. You may get caught, almost certainly will, but you have been well coached in the story you have to tell.
If you are a good enough actor then the immigration officials will willingly suspend their disbelief and give you a visa. After that it is your role to arrange safe passage for the rest of the family on compassionate grounds.
Am I being too cynical? I was too busy to watch James Bond jump because I was listening to an experienced individual who had infiltrated the office of a migration agent. That was his story and I am expected to believe it.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

My father has been clearing out the

garden shed. This is the small shed next to his workshop. It is a shed which has been the repository for all sorts of 'could be useful one day' junk.
Among the treasures he has found are, inevitably, some books. Naturally it is now taking a long time to clear anything out. The books have to be looked at - carefully and at length.
There are some that can be put aside almost immediately of course. They were part of my sister's initial teacher training course. The only sports minded person in the family she trained in physical education and then switched to physiotherapy instead. The books are still there. I glanced at one on calisthenics and hastily put it down again.
There is a pile of psychological textbooks and associated test materials, nooks about statistics, books about the teaching of reading, an Open University text on Children's Literature and a small booklet by the late Jack Tizard on doing small scale research in Child Development. They do things differently now. I have piled them all up to be removed. We have not used them for twenty-five years. They are unlikely to be used again.
Then there are some novels, Madame Bovary and Jane Eyre were sitting together. I wonder what they had to say to each other. Was Jane's French good enough? There is a copy of "The Sea for Breakfast" which my father says he cannot remember reading so he has put it aside. For some reason the picture books which feature Madeline have surfaced at last. I assume my mother must have used them and then put them to one side. She packed them in with the readers and a Book of Common Prayer, a Roget's Thesaurus, Pippi Longstocking and "The Book of a Thousand Poems".
They have all been in boxes. There is dust everywhere. My father, covered in dust and grime, has been looking at the last book in the box he brought inside last night. It is "Fresh from the country" by "Miss Read". The opening line reads ' "And baths extra, of course," said Mrs Flynn.' I send him off to take a shower instead.

Monday, 26 October 2009

I am about to head off on a dangerous journey.

I am going to visit the dentist. The dentist is a nice person. We get on quite well together, even though I dislike what she needs to do.
The actual dentist visit however may well prove less dangerous than endeavouring to get there. This involves riding my tricycle to the railway station. It should be a quietish ride but I must constantly scan the road for traffic. Fair enough. I use the road alongside cars. The problem is that it is "rush" hour when I need to leave. They do rush. I am not sure why. It never saves time. The cars end up rushing to a standstill along the main road into the city. If they all set off at a more sedate pace they would probably proceed at a sedate pace but, it seems, owners have no control over the behaviour of their cars.
The cars also seem to bounce happily over the broken glass left from the weekend games of the youths who are in training for the Olympic Sport of "Breaking and Scattering Glass". I need to avoid these.
At the railway station I have to hope that I have my tricycle at the right position on the platform in order to get to the door which allows tricycles on....probably not. It rarely happens. The train went right past once and stopped 20 metres down the platform. Then I have to lift the tricycle onto the train. There are no guards any more. "Transit Officers" tell me they "do not do bikes" and they do not "do" prams either. They pull out the ramp for a gopher with poor grace. If there is no Transit Officer on board (and our line is considered reasonably 'safe' so they are rarely there) then the driver has to come and do ramp duty. He certainly will not do it for a tricycle. "You can't get it on yourself then you shouldn't bring it," I have been told. Fair enough apart from the fact that I actually need it to get around the city. I would cause a traffic jam trying to cross on foot - if I was not blood jam on the road first.
The return journey will, with any luck, be a little less fraught with danger. It will not be rush hour. I trust Sue will have fixed the filling but I will not be in the mood for company. I will not however snap or snarl if someone offers to help with the tricycle. I will give them a lop-sided smile and thank them.
If I am back here tomorrow I will have succeeded in negotiating a dangerous journey.

And now I am back today because, having negotiated the dangerous journey, the call centre muddled up the appointments. I saw my dentist for five minutes. She apologised. We both fumed. I am now booked in for 10am on Friday. I need chocolate and sympathy!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Am I a dinosaur?

Probably. I still do not own a mobile 'phone (or know how to use one). I still do not own an MP3 player (but I have never felt the need to be entertained by mobile noise of my own choosing). I have yet to discover how to use the USB thing. I cannot upload photographs (that has something to do with the fact that I am still trying to work out how to use the camera - something I am really not terribly interested in. I will get to that when I feel the need to use it. ) I am not really a terribly technical person.
I did manage to scrape a pass in physics at school. The subject bored me. Perhaps I would have felt differently if it had been well taught but I would have preferred memorising Latin declensions to formulae about weight and velocity.
So lately we have come to the e-book thing...I have been re-thinking, or perhaps thinking again, about the e-book issue. I think I can see the attraction. You have the little machine with the little screen and you can put books inside the little machine and then read them on the little screen. Right? I suppose so. I have yet to find out. I do not like scrolling backwards and forwards on the computer so I suspect I would find it equally irritating to try and read this way. It may work. I would use it if it was the only way to read the book but I am not sure I would enjoy the process as much.
There have been 'talking books' for the vision impaired for years. The selection is now much wider than it used to be - and rightly so. (There used to be a time when well meaning people so seriously restricted what the visually impaired person had access to they might just as well have stuck with 'the classics' - now kids get Harry Potter and Captain Underpants.) Talking books however still require more concentration than visual reading... miss a bit because your attention is distracted and you cannot go back to it the way a visual reader does. It is not as comfortable as a book sort of book - but braille is perhaps worse. That takes volumes and volumes.
Then there is the small problem of power and equipment failure and....well I have muttered about these things before.
Then there is the other problem. I was curled up in bed last night reading "The Complaints" (Ian Rankin) . I needed the bedside light by then but I did not need a machine. A book is still a book. I could turn the page and, somehow, there is a difference between turning the page and scrolling down. Perhaps I should just have been born fifty years earlier?

Saturday, 24 October 2009

1001 Children's books

you must read before you grow up (ed Julia Eccleshare)... is the title of the very fat volume that I have, slowly, begun to work my way through. I am doing this out of curiosity - a little at a time. What do other people think I should have read? Does it matter? Probably not. No, it does not. It is their choice I find interesting.
I packed a lot of books into my childhood, probably far more than most children. I am expecting to find some familiar books in this volume. There will also be some missing. I may, almost certainly will, find some more I feel I want to read. When it comes to books I have not yet 'grown up'. Good children's literature still has the capacity to captivate me.
I cheated slightly with this book because I had first to check that Ping was there. If Ping is there then I can sit cosily in my father's lap. The oven door of the Metters No 5 woodburning stove will be open. I am in my winter pajamas. They have rabbits printed on them. My father is telling me about Ping. He puts his finger on each word as he reads it to me. I worry about Ping. He does not want to be smacked for being last. Being smacked hurts. Being smacked just for being last seems grossly unfair to me. Worse, Ping gets lost. Even at that age I understand that the Yangste is a very big river. Will he ever find his family? I lost mine for a while. It was a terrifying experience. There is an anxious wait, a very anxious wait. I am not sure whether I like the book or not but I want to hear it again and again. At the very end Ping gets another smack but he is back with his family. That is all right. I can go to bed knowing Ping is safe.

Ping was a second birthday present from my godmother. It is one of the books I learned to read from. Learning to read was a process of osmosis I suppose. My father put his finger on the words and I followed him. I cannot remember my mother reading to me. To the best of my knowledge she never did. It was an odd thing for an infants teacher. My father taught older children. If he knew about teaching the alphabet and all the other things that go into the teaching of reading, and I assume he did because he is still interested in those things, he never bothered with it. There were no formal reading lessons. The important thing was the story.
My father brought home other books from the school. Like most rural schools they borrowed from the Country Lending Service. It meant a constant supply of new-to-me books. I liked those new books and was always sorry when the new friends had to leave again. Then I would go back to The Little Engine that Could, the little Golden Books, the Ladybird Readers and the First and Second Primers and, every so often, I would make sure that Ping the duck was safely back with his family.

Friday, 23 October 2009

When is a book not a book and when does communication...?

need something elseI am not sure what the answer to this question is but Nicola Morgan's post on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure has prompted me into something I did not intend to say today.
I have never used an e-book. I may well use an e-book in the future but, for the moment, I use the dinasours I consider to be real know, those strange things made from funny flimsy pieces of paper covered in squiggly lines. I rather happen to like them and I suspect that a lot of other people do too.
e-books may be the way of the future. I do not know but I rather doubt they will take over completely in my lifetime or even the life time of the next generation. They may never take over. The reason for this may have nothing at all to do with their format but the fact that e-books require equipment and power to be read. Those things may end up in short supply and be required for other things.
Consider a book. It requires a considerable amount of power to produce but, once produced, it requires no more power to use it. We may choose to use power to use it if we read it in the Arctic winter or at night but it can be read by daylight. Daylight, at this point, is still free. We do not have to pay for it. Daylight has not, yet, broken down.
e-books require equipment, expensive equipment, in order to be used. They require power. The equipment can break down. It may also grow old and incompatible - like me. I do not know enough about this but I cannot see that scrolling backwards and forwards is as easy for the likes of me as flipping pages backwards and forwards.
It is all a little reminiscent of the argument in another area of my life. There is a "technology is good" and "technology makes you like everyone else" argument in the world of augmentative and alternative communication. People with severe communication impairments are being told that the most acceptable way to communicate is to have expensive equipment which provides you with a voice. If you can read what I am burbling on about here then you will be aware of what I mean if I say equipment which gives you the sort of artificial "voice" used by Stephen Hawking.
It may well be that this is the most acceptable way to communicate - for some and at some times or on some occasions. Like e-books however these things have limitations. The most obvious is that they can break down and, without an alternative, the person has no effective means of communication. They cannot express emotions in the way speech does. You cannot whisper. You cannot use them while in the bath or swimming pool or when the power source fails. There are undoubtedly other places you are unable to use them as well. We do those who have severe communication impairments a severe disservice when we fail to supply them with alternative means of communication. It is their right to have these alternatives at hand should they wish to use them. After all the rest of us have alternatives. We can whisper or shout as well as speak. Many people with severe speech impairments also have other difficulties which prevent them from writing a message as well. A friend once complained to me that, when he used the technology, he could never say anything private. Most advanced users of high tech speech equipment tell me they would like a low tech alternative as well, something that will not break down. They want to be able to go on using it - forever.
I think it may be the same with books, real books. I suspect we will go on using them for some time to come.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Now there are guidelines

with respect to food and exercise for the very young. They are splashed all over the third page of the paper this morning. There is a nice big picture of three children sitting in a row crunching on the requisite apples. Hmmm.
I have no arguments with the apples. It is not their fault. I rather like apples (although I will give those Fuji types a miss). And, not being a parent, I am uncertain about the value of whole raw apples to the very young. I would be inclined to avoid them until a child has learned to chew properly. But, these are the guidelines so they must be right. This is, after all, the government telling us what to do and how to behave.
The guidelines apparently say that a child should not be restrained for more than an hour a day in a car seat or a high chair. That will surely prevent most travelling to and from day-care of any sort - unless of course they plan to put the child on a starvation diet. That may be the idea as they keep saying children are too fat. The guidelines also say that the child should not be expected to clear their plate. There was nothing there about how much food should be put on the plate.
Then there is the issue of television, or rather - no television. The guidelines say the very young should not see television. I am not sure how you avoid this, especially given that many households own more than one set and give them a rigorous workout each day. (We own one. It gets a workout for about an hour each day, sometimes less.) The guidelines say you should give the child sand and rice to play with and encourage them to beat a stuffed sock with a rolled up newspaper. (I played with dirt and water outside. If I had beaten anything my mother would have beaten me. )
I am puzzled by the absence of references to dolls, cars, blocks, construction kits, wheeled toys and balls for outdoors and Playschool - surely the substitute for the Listen with Mother "are you sitting comfortably" programme of my childhood? Apparently these things are no longer part of the life of the very young. Worse yet, sitting still for just an hour - if taken up with the other necessities of life, will not allow time for the delights of being read to or reading to oneself. Perhaps they plan to ban books. Books were not mentioned.
This is however "Parenting made easy:101". No doubt it will be welcomed by some. I suspect most parents will fail it. As a godparent I am grateful that my gochildren are older than this. I would have dismally failed "Goparenting made easy:101". My godchildren appear to be thin, active, healthy and happy. They have very inquiring minds. Their parents and I obviously did something very wrong indeed.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Apparently useless information

is something that I seem to collect without effort. Why do I feel I need to know that "zorro" means "fox" in Spanish or that "karate" means "empty hand" in Japanese? Apparently the Sanskrit word for "war" actually means a "desire for more cows" - enough to make anyone feel bellicose.
Then there is the apparently indisputable fact that the national anthem of Greece has 158 verses. I wonder if they are ever all sung at the same time?
And why is it, so I am told, that left handed people cannot write Mandarin Chinese? I refuse to believe that one.
The letter J is not part of the Welsh alphabet - which might explain why it does not appear in the periodic table of elements either. The letter E is the one we use the most in English and the letter Q is the one we use the least. ( I wonder how they managed to use the alphabet at all when there was no punctuation until about the 15thC). Hawaiians manage with only twelve letters in their alphabet.
"Cop" means "Constable on Patrol" and apparently comes from somewhere in the north of England.
But, yesterday's new piece of useless information is one I really have difficulty with. When Captain Cook asked the locals for the name of the strange animal that hopped around he was told "kangaroo" . Apparently, in the local indigenous language, that means "I don't understand".

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

New heights of idiocy

have been reached in the "political correctness and, while we are at it, let us guard our children against all possible harm" stakes. Children may no longer hug one another. It sets a bad example for younger children.
Reading this first caused me to check the date. No, it is not April 1st. I then re-checked the location. Yes, we are talking about Australia. To be even more precise we are talking about South Australia and, most precisely of all, a primary school I once attended.
I have many memories of that school, both good and bad. One of the bad memories is of being ridiculed by a teacher for not being able to do something - and then losing marks for the team I was on because I could not do it. One of the good memories is of being hugged by one of the other kids because the kids decided that the teacher's behaviour was not acceptable. That hug was the difference between being able to go on with the school day and perhaps deciding that I would get on my tricycle and disappear forever.
When I first started teaching I worked in a school for profoundly and severely disabled children. We hugged the kids all the time. We hugged them to tell them they had done well. We hugged them to comfort them. We hugged them to help them feel secure. We hugged them to say "hello" and "goodbye". Hugs were part of the day. We could not have taught them anything without hugs. I don't know how they cope now. Teachers are never supposed to hug kids. I know it has all come about because a very small minority of truly evil people decided that simple hugs were not enough but it distresses me. Hugs are essential to life.

Monday, 19 October 2009

I always wondered what this

NaNoWriMo thingy was...National Novel Writing Month. Clearly a plot by publishers, editors, agents, family, friends and others to help those who believe they can write a book recover from the urge to do so. I wonder whether it works? I must do some procrastination research and find out whether anyone has ever had one of these novels published. Writing 50,000 words in a month would be a cinch - wouldn't it? Or would it?
It is obviously a disciplinary thing...bad would be writer...stop being lazy...get down and do some writing for a change...but I do write....everyday....I write my little blog piece....I make myself write my little blog piece. There are even a few brave, kind souls out there who read it and make encouraging comments....and a few more who refuse to comment there but tell me what they think when they see me or leave me e-mails telling me what a bad job I am doing and how I should be more (or less) controversial. Should I be more controversial? Should I write more or less or not at all? I am tempted....
So, do I need this NaNoWriMo thingy to write? No. Would it be fun? Mmm...maybe. I am not convinced. If I did it would it be cheating to start early and then take my four days of planned leave and not write? Come on, I am only having four days. It is all I get all year. I have told the earth no quakes, shakes, tears, flames or fights in that time...please? Come to that would it matter if I wrote in my head and just failed to put it on paper for those four days? That might be a solution....but then, why does there have to be a solution at all? Does it matter as long as I write?
I must make myself write today because I have reached a point where something does not seem to be working. I know that if I sit here and make myself do it the characters will sort it out for me. They have a habit of doing this. I have told them we have two weeks to do this. We could tidy up the stray cat hairs later but they have to have it sorted out before I take those four days off. They are not coming on leave with me. They have had their holiday. I want mine.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

I was given some sweet-peas

yesterday. They came from Polly's garden. She brought the little bunch when she came to get a bag of sheep manure from the load my father had delivered recently.
I do not know much about flowers. I am of the "I know what I like" brigade. I like roses - but only from a distance. I do not much care for the thorns. I would not bother to plant any myself. I like things like daffodils, irises and hyacinths. They are short lived but colourful and herald the end of winter. I like nasturtiums even though they tend to take over in places. Yesterday morning I went past the creek and discovered that some nasturtiums had climbed, creeper like, into one of the trees. Someone must have been nurturing them or perhaps we have just had enough rain this year for them to go exploring. Our new lavender bush is beginning to catch up to the old bushes too.
It is all very nice but they are not sweet peas. These are magnificent. We have them sitting on the table we usually eat at. They are in a tiny cream vase with an iris on the side. The two do not seem to mind mixing in the least. The stems are not terribly long but there are at least five shades of pink, three of purple and a deep red, all with graduations. Come into the house and you can smell their perfume as you enter the door.
I know they will not last long. The petals will gradually shrivel and become darker. The colours will still be beautiful but they will not be the same. It does not matter. I am going to appreciate them while they do last and I will have the memory of them for much longer.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Stupidity, selfishness and arrogance

- do I have to condone or support such things? Should I remain silent?
I was expected to make noises which condone these behaviours. It is what other people are doing and I am expected to do the same.
Nobody expects me to condone the behaviour of fools who drink an excess of alcohol, get behind the wheel of a car, speed off and cause an accident in which law abiding citizens are killed or maimed for life. Why should equally stupid, selfish and arrogant behaviour be treated any differently?
It is stupid, selfish and arrogant to needlessly endanger the lives of other people and I will not condone that. It is stupid to take unnecessary risks. It is selfish to use resources others need and you do not need. It is arrogant to attempt to change the beliefs of others simply because of a belief that you are "right" and they are "wrong".
If the beliefs of others do no harm then, I believe, they should be respected. I have no right to impose my beliefs simply because I believe I am, in some way, superior. I am not. My beliefs are not. They are merely different. I do not have the right to change the location of the goal posts simply to give me an advantage.
By speaking out, however carefully, am I behaving in the same way as those whose actions I refuse to condone? Am I also being stupid, selfish and arrogant? Am I endeavouring to impose my beliefs on them?
I am still pondering this issue. "Never, 'for the sake of peace and quiet,' deny your own experience or convictions" Hammarskjold says. The problem is that I crave peace and quiet.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Skinny horses, the Romans and my MP

sent me a letter yesterday. My local Federal Member wants my view on rail freight movements through the Adelaide Hills.
Thankyou Andrew. I feel flattered. I know what made you ask. It was a letter about passenger services.
We both know that rail services in South Australia are an oddity. When the founding fathers set the system up they could not agree with the interstate founding fathers on the gauge which should be used. We ended up being different. We had narrow gauge. The other states that mattered had wide gauge. It meant all sorts of problems and adjustments at the borders. This went on for years. It delayed trains. There were technical problems as things were adjusted on each trip.
Eventually there was a solution of sorts. One line was altered so that the freight trains could pass straight through. The other line was turned into a single track working for the local passenger trains. There have been problems with this ever since. The authorities claimed it was necessary to cut out some stations. The trains now merely pass by these platforms. There is, I am told,no technical reason for them not to stop at these points but the decision was made on length of journey grounds. The timetable was altered. There are less trains. Delays are frequent because they did not put in sufficient 'passing loops'. (There are two and there should be at least three.)
They wanted to close the line altogether - until they realised it meant political annihilation. Recently they redeveloped it but they retained the old gauge because that is what the rest of the metropolitan rail system works on.
Now what, you ask, do skinny horses and Romans have to do with railway lines? It is simple. The gauge of 4' 8 1/2" was decided by the builders of pre-railway trams. They used the same measurements they used to build carts and horse drawn coaches. Those measurements were decided by the width of the ruts in the Roman roads built in Britain. The width of the Roman roads was determined by the width of the war chariots. They were designed to be the width of two horses. If the builders of carts and coaches had tried to change the width they would have broken the wheels on too many vehicles. So we got what became the standard gauge.
The problem here was that they used skinny horses.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Pluto arrived

yesterday. He has been absent for a couple of weeks. School holiday time means he has humans available in his immediate home territory. They are now at school. Boredom has set in. He needs to be occupied. What better way to occupy yourself than to seek out some attention elsewhere?
He comes in through the catflap. I knew there was always going to be a good reason not to get rid of the catflap and, quite clearly, this is it. My father is sweeping up some dirt. The broom turns into a plaything for a few minutes. Bored with that Pluto moves on. He makes the obligatory tour of inspection then jumps on the desk and treads, delicately, into my lap. We play "four paws in the air and kick madly at the hand tickling your tummy" before he consents to a smoothing of fur.
"Now, may I go to the Post Office?" I ask him. He watches me pull on jacket, fasten helmet and double check rucksack for the essential letters, money. He follows me to the keys and pounces on the lanyard I keep my keys on. We go out the door. I unlock the tricycle....and find that Pluto has placed himself directly in front of a wheel. I cajole. No movement. I demand. Still no movement. I back carefully. He replaces himself behind a wheel and looks at me. Cats do have expressions. His is full of mischief. He knows precisely what he is doing.
The game continues for a full five minutes before, bored, he strolls calmly off without looking back. I leave him sitting high on the fence looking down at the dog from next door.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Can you translate

five pages of Italian? Well yes, I would like it yesterday but, since that has passed, this evening would do nicely. What do you mean you are not a translation service? What do you mean you don't speak Italian?
I really do get some odd requests from people. I have a minimal knowledge of Italian. I can say a few obvious phrases. I can use a dictionary intelligently - meaning I know enough about the language to translate something for myself. I do not do translations for other people. Apart from the fact that they take time there is the accuracy issue. Translation is an inexact science at the best of times, with me at the helm we could be way off course. Translations also take time. There is a vast difference between the single words on communication boards and entire pages with all the grammar and the syntax and all the other issues. In this case there are also regional issues. Italian varies from north to south and south to north. It probably varies from west to east too.
To get five pages professionally translated would be expensive of course, very expensive. I was once quoted $130 for a single sentence in Russian because that was the hourly rate and the charge was for not less than an hour. Needless to say I went elsewhere - a dictionary, a grammar and someone who knew a little bit of Russian. There are ways around these things.
I suggest finding someone who actually speaks Italian and suggest a few names.
I go back to a much more difficult problem, a misunderstanding that is causing a major diplomatic rift.There is always the danger of being misunderstood and it is not necessarily because you speak a different language at the surface.
Surface language can be the same. Subtext can be quite different. Learning to communicate is a lifelong process.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

It is surprising how much research

needs to go into a work of fiction. Yes, I admit I am writing the sequel. I promised HRH Whirlwind a sequel. She sat still long enough to read the first effort, liked it and demanded more. It was all very flattering and I was foolish enough to give in and - promise. You do not break promises to ten year old children. They are inclined to remind you that you - promised.
So, there is research to be done.
I am of half a mind to make Miss Whirlwind do some of the research - after all the plot centres around the young heroine doing a little research of her own. I know what the answer would be though, "You just have to look it up on the 'net Cat." Miss Whirlwind is, in all likelihood, more competent than me at this.
I think I feel sorry for her. Sitting at a computer screen and typing in search terms is not like heading for a library and looking at real books. I remember when, frustrated by the lack of material in the library of the last school I attended, I went off to the State Library. This serves the whole of South Australia. All those years ago it was, apart from the university library, the major resource for research. When I did not find what I wanted there the librarian directed me over to the university library next door. The librarian there was a little startled to find a school student asking to look at a book. It was really not 'allowed' I was told but I was allowed to sit down and read the chapter in it there and then. It was, I thought, real research. The librarian even took time out to show me how to cite the reference in the correct fashion.
Now I do use the internet. I need to know all sorts of things. Much of it can be found on the internet. I need to know what Winston Churchill was doing in 1916 and when he was knighted. I need to know about the location of lighthouses and who held certain public positions.
I can find all that I am sure. It will not be difficult. What will be difficult is something quite different. I want to know what these people were like. How would my young heroine and her friends feel about them? Would these public figures respond to a request for information? How would they respond? That's the hard part.
The internet is a fine thing, a useful thing but it cannot replace people.

Monday, 12 October 2009

I was delighted when Nelson Mandela

and Aung San Suu Kyi won Nobel Prizes. I am sorry that Gandhi never won one. Winston Churchill may have deserved one too. All of them made mistakes but they achieved things that most of us can only wonder at.
Nelson Mandela's prize has not solved all the problems in South Africa and Aung San Suu Kyi's prize has done little to solve the problems of the Burmese people. Some might say that the problems in the latter country have only increased in recent years. Without those prizes however the world would be much less aware of the problems facing those people. I am however puzzled by the latest choice. I have been pondering it since the award was announced and I am disturbed by it.
Please do not misunderstand me. Mr Obama has potential - but that is what it is, potential. He has not yet achieved for others what he has achieved for himself. The Nobel Peace Prize should be about achievement not potential. Accepting the award will make it more difficult to do the job. It may even make Mr Obama a one term, rather than a two term, President. It will place pressure on him with respect to troop numbers in Afghanistan. He will be under more pressure from other interest groups in the United States and elsewhere. He would have been wise to decline the honour - and would almost certainly have been reconsidered later - but he has chosen to accept it and will now have to live with the consequences.
Unlike the other Nobel Prizes, chosen by academics, this Nobel Prize is chosen by politicians and it shows. This is a political choice, not a peace choice. It is chosen, from among the nominations made, by five Norwegian politicians. (Nobel considered Norwegian politicans to be less corruptible than Swedish politicians.) By this present choice I feel the Nobel Peace Prize has lost its true value.
The same can also be said of our own 'honours' system. We removed the old Imperial honours system some time ago and replaced it with a much more political "Australian" system. People are now honoured for doing their job, winning at sport and only occasionally for genuine service.
It helps to be a member of a particular political party. I am not being cynical. An analysis of those given awards has been undertaken by others.
All this makes me wonder about the way in which we say "thankyou" to those who do the most to help. Some of them never get thanked at all.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

What would happen if...

books had a life of their own?
I have been puzzling over this. I feel guilty when I give away a book. I rarely give away books unless I have specifically bought them as presents for other people. At that point I find myself, almost, explaining to the book that it cannot live with me.
They go off quite happily but I always find myself hoping they will be well looked after.
There are other books which seem to look at me like an abandoned cat. I pick them up to give them a comforting pat and end up bringing them home. The house is full of stray books. They have learned to cuddle into the most surprising places. They sit tightly together on the bookshelves. They perch above one another on the floor. They push their way out of cupboards and climb on the bed. I have to put them firmly off before I can sleep at night.
I wonder whether they sleep at night. Do they hold discussion groups instead? Do they open up? I feel certain they go visiting each other. They appear in places I know I did not leave them. They will sometimes go exploring for extended periods or get captured by humans and, eventually, find their way home looking tired and in need of a loving pat and a snooze on the shelf comforted by their friends. Yes, books need each other. They are not happy in isolation.
I am certain they have a life of their own.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

There is a half finished boat

in the workshop. It is, thankfully, a model boat. My father started it but never finished it. He was using it to teach a cousin's grandchild how to do certain things. I never inquire too closely. I have no particular desire to make small wooden boats with smaller electric motors.
There was more work done on the boat yesterday. A friend's grandson came to spend a day in the shed. He is eleven and likes to make things. He is intelligent but has some quite serious learning difficulties. Dad suggested several things he could do. One was do some work on the boat with a view to eventually keeping it for himself. Great idea!
They disappeared to the shed while I did some work with his grandmother.
Much later the "two boys" had to be prised from the shed so they could be fed. They had spent the morning making the rudder. It had been designed but it had to measured and cut and put together. This involved learning to solder two pieces together as well as using the small metal lathe.
"Look! I've learned heaps too." It is a very neat, almost professional, job. I have seen many first efforts. All too often they are uneven blobs. This is an almost smooth line between the two sections. I am genuinely impressed by his skill.
"More than me. I have never soldered anything," I tell him.
He looks at me and I think, "Now please don't say something about being a girl."
He does not. He grins, immensely pleased with himself,and says, "I'll show you if you like."

Friday, 9 October 2009

We were debating language teaching

last night. Our friend Polly turned up. Polly is a nun - not your nun-in-a-habit sort of nun at all but a down-to-earth former teacher of the deaf. That is how I happen to know her. Polly is fluent in sign language. I have barely enough sign language for emergencies. Dad has none at all.
Polly and I both believe in the importance of sign language. We are not of "the deaf must learn to lip read and use English and never ever sign" school.
I used to do weekend volunteer work in a residential nursery school for profoundly deaf children. When I was interviewed for the position - and they were so desperate for staff they would have taken anyone without a record for violence or paedophilia - I was told by the Superintendent's wife I must never sign to the children. Fortunately she did not ask me to give an undertaking I would not. I would not have been able to keep it. As soon as she had sailed off importantly to do whatever important things the wives of Superintendent's do the woman in charge of the residence said to me, "And what will you do if a child does this?" She signed "drink" and I said, "Give them a drink of water." "Good. I'll work with you." We got on extremely well. She was quietly teaching the children to sign. Of course it was undermining the new philosophy of only lip-reading but she knew that these children were headed for the real world of the deaf where sign language is a real, live language. They would need it.
We need other languages too. There is an ongoing argument in Australia about language teaching. Australian schools do not have a good record with language teaching. If we are honest we have an appalling record. It has become even worse since the introduction of compulsory Asian languages in some schools. Most kids tend to drop languages like Chinese and Japanese as quickly as they can. They are simply seen as too difficult. Progress is slow and, by the end of the compulsory period, most students cannot even remember enough to exchange more than a polite greeting. I can do that without having been taught. So can several other people I know.
We would do better teaching children the languages already used in the community, most of the Western and Middle European languages, Turkish, Levantine Arabic and - with a growing number of African immigrants - even Swahili or Amharic would have more relevance. Among Asian languages Vietnamese is likely to be the most useful in Australia. Our Prime Minister speaks (bad) Mandarin and believes in Asian languages - but not Vietnamese. He says we need speakers of Asian languages to do business with Asia. We do not. They will appreciate it if someone takes the trouble to learn enough to be polite but they expect to do business in English.

But, we cannot even get other language teaching right. We currently waste language teaching time. We pretend that teaching children about the food and culture of the country is also learning the language. We get them to dress up in the national costume, learn a song or two and find the country on a map of the world. This all comes under the heading of language learning. It has nothing to do with vocabular, grammar, syntax. pronunciation or literature. One of the local children has spent six years of junior schooling learning "Italian". He was poking around in my bookshelves yesterday before Polly arrived. He came across a children's book I own which is written in Italian. He did not recognise it as Italian. When I explained that it was he looked at me in disbelief. I tried to get him to pick out some words I felt sure he would know. I am still not sure he really believed me. "Can you talk Italian?" he asked. I asked him, "Parlo Italianio?" He shrugged.
I wonder whether we would be better off teaching more people to sign - or perhaps we need to take language teaching seriously?

Thursday, 8 October 2009

If you work from home

you do not 'work'. Right? I absolutely have to be wrong about this. People tell me I do not work. I do not 'go to work' so how can I work?
Yes, they understand that other people can work from home. Yes, they know that work can be done via computer link. But, "Cat, you do not work. I mean it's not like you are getting paid for it or anything is it?" "You don't have to do it. Why just you don't tell them you won't?" "I'd give it up if I were you. Why work if you are not getting paid for it?" "What do you mean you are going to take some annual leave for four days in November? You don't go to work so you can't take leave."
Now, looking after my father is not 'work'. It involves all the usual household chores but that is clearly not 'work'. Little bits of emergency child minding, sorting out bills and doing shopping for the other 'oldies' on my tricycle route is not 'work'. Watering their pot plants and feeding their cats in their absence is not 'work'. Calling in to the charity shop to sort out someone who has been sent out by Centrelink is not 'work' - after all it is not their fault they are illiterate and in a financial and social mess because of it. Definitely not work.
Then there were 92 e-mails, 87 of them requests for help for one thing or another. No, that is more non-work. There is the on-going multi-language dictionary project that has barely got off the ground because it really does need funding and a full time coordinator - and no that will not be me because, remember, I do not work (and I will not be in this instance). I have to be present in court this morning - as an advocate for someone with profound communication problems. That is not work. I cannot be paid for that. I have a degree in law. The Law Society would scream if I 'worked' without paying them a nice fat registration fee first. The writing I try to fit in between other things is not work. Writers do not work. They just sit there and write. They are like artists who play with paintbrushes all day. what is this thing called 'work'. I really do not understand. I do know it is a four letter word - and it was the reason I only had four hours sleep again last night. Perhaps if I find some 'work' I can do less?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

A little light research

I did my first piece of research when I was in high school. I was 13 at the time. In those days I had the heady job of running the school library as well. (Before you get the wrong idea this was a country school that catered for about 350 5-15 year old students and the library ran to about a thousand books.) There were no school librarians back then. A teacher would normally be in charge but the job was handed to me- no doubt with the idea that it would keep me out of mischief. I had an assistant, another student. One lunch period each week we would take the key from the rack in the staff room and open up the library. It was a small, square room with bookshelves on three sides and a 'map cupboard' on the fourth. There were two tables and some chairs. One of the tables was used as the 'library' desk. On it there was a wooden box which held the card catalogue. There was a due date stamp and stamp pad and a few other necessities in the drawer. It was a quiet room. Nothing much happened in it. Books would be returned and more would be borrowed. Most children never entered the library and I suspect some staff never entered it either.
We kept the place tidy and covered new books in the strange combination of plastic and brown paper provided by the Department of Supply through the School Libraries Branch. I taught myself to catalogue in a simple way with the help of a single volume version of Dewey. It was not an onerous task. New books came, at best, in twos or threes.
There came a point where the teachers wanted some new books. Some of this may have been because I complained loudly that my assistant and I had read all the books in the library and that some of the other children had too. I probably had read all the books - more than once.
I was asked what sort of books I thought we needed. The School Council might come at spending a little money on the library if I could show the books were being used.
School holidays were coming up. I spent the next week working away in the library. At the end of the week I had produced a bar graph showing the borrowing habits of the students. I was rather proud of that bar graph. It showed fiction and non-fiction. It showed picture books. It showed the books that had been borrowed the most frequently - the only Simon Black book in the library for the boys and a horse story for the girls. Biggles and a ballet book ranked second.
I cannot remember what the non-fiction ratings were.
I handed the bar graph over and wondered if the School Council could afford the new footballs the boys wanted as well as the library books. There was no doubt in my mind as to what was the most important. We got neither.
My youngest nephew is now at university. He is doing a little light research for his degree. It is concerned with people's knowledge of domestic solar power facilities. I imagine that most people will continue to get coal-fired electricity. Back then we got a new shelter in which to eat our lunch-time sandwiches.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

"How old are you?"

"Too old."
"No, really how old are you?"
"As old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth."
"You do not ask a lady how old she is."
"You're not a lady. You're a girl. Anyway, I am going to have a brother. He's coming today."
"Yes, I know. Aren't you lucky?"
"Well he will only be one day old and that's too little to play with. I want a brother you can already play with. I didn't want to but I got my trucks and my football all ready for him. Daddy said I have to share. I don't want to share!"
"It's good to share but you can go on playing with them by yourself for a while yet. He will grow up you know, like you are growing up. It will be different when he has grown up. You will like playing with him then."
"That's too slow. If I have to have a brother he has to be grown up now."
"It's too fast, believe me, it is too fast."
"But just a day takes forever and ever. Anyway he's really and truly coming today isn't he?"
"Yes. They will be here soon."
"I still don't think I like it very much. Cat, will you read ME that story?"
We sit cosily together in the biggest chair. It's a tight squeeze. He cuddles in even tighter. We read Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted again. (Mairi Hedderwick) It is the fourth time I have read the story that morning. It is the perfect book while waiting for your father to bring your mother and the new baby home.
At last there is the noise of a car door. He looks at me in alarm and excitement. I check out the window. Yes, the car is safely in our driveway. He cannot come to any harm. I nod and he throws himself out the front door yelling, "Can I see? Can I see him now?"
I put Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted back in the bookshelf. I was not expecting to spend the morning doing this. Other arrangements fell through for people I scarcely know. They have no family here. They will leave again in about nine weeks and go back to family and friends in their own country.
I go out to the car slowly. He is kneeling on the seat looking in at the baby capsule in awe. His mother gives me a small tired, shaky smile. There were problems with the birth and there may still be some problems. There were other problems too. His father thanks me. "He didn't want the baby to come at all. What did you say?"
"I didn't say anything. Katie Morag told him four times." Such is the power of a good picture book.

Monday, 5 October 2009

There was a walnut tree

in my sister's back garden. It was an ancient, venerable tree much beloved by her family, the neighbours on the other side of the fence and the birds who rested in it and fed on the fruits of it.
The drought killed it - or, more realistically, the water restrictions which went with the drought killed it. My sister tried to save the tree. Buckets of recycled household water are like tear drops to a tree that size.
We accepted water restrictions were necessary. Some people went to 'water saving' gardens of 'native' plants. Even those were often unsuccessful. Many people just let their gardens die. They gave up trying to garden at all. Trees died all over the city, along with the lawns and the bushes and the pot plants and the vegetables. We lost two trees. They were seedlings we had never intended to plant but we were still sorry to lose them. So were the birds who sat in them and the cats who slept under them.
The walnut tree had to come down for safety's sake. My brother-in-law, a competent man, investigated the problem and brought in some help. They brought the tree down, piece by piece. It was done carefully. Tree felling is dangerous, especially when the tree is large, the garden small and there is still something to be done.
There were limbs that had gone rotten inside. Others were still solid. It was all laid out on the ground, a small mountain of mouse-brown and mouse-grey timber. Walnut is wonderful timber. A friend arrived. He sculpts for a living. Together they sorted the timber. He took a load away to work with. Some of it is already dry enough to use.
My father will have some for small boxes. We are storing some for my brother to use later. Yesterday my sister and I sorted through the smallest branches of all. We chose thinner, smaller, well shaped branches. My father will make buttons from these. I will use some and give others to friends.
The tree will go on living.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

There has been an adjustment of clocks,

otherwise erroneously known as "daylight saving". Now, let us be quite clear about this, the curtains will not fade. There is no such thing as "daylight saving" either.
The government tells us that this adjustment of clocks is a good thing. Business likes it. It is good for people. It means that they can get up and go to work at the usual time and then come home and enjoy an extra hour of daylight in the evenings.
There are still only twenty-four hours in the day but now, magically, you have an extra hour. Despite cumulative sleep deprivation you are going to use this hour to garden, to play sport, walk the dog (or just walk) and paint the outside of the house. You will be outside. You will be active. It will be great exercise. You will get fit.
I will do none of these things. I miss the quiet, early morning stillness. I like that part of the day when I can wander outside and pick up the papers undisturbed by humans. I like standing on the air conditioning provided by our small patch of lawn and watching the sparrows, pigeons, blackbirds, lorikeets, cockatoos and even the occasional kookaburra. One morning I met a koala. He was a bit out of home territory but gave me a civil enough greeting before ambling off to the nearest gum tree. The neighbourhood cats would be out and about minding their mouse business while smirking at the occasional dog on a leash.
We have lost that. Now there is a rush to get to work. Still tired children are hauled from bed and hurled into the car to be dropped off at out-of-school-hours care. Their parents head on for the nearest Caffeine-Fix-Point and then to work.
At the end of the day they will retrieve their children from after school care or their grandparents or whatever organised activity has been considered "safe", and head home to the (fading) curtains which are closed against the late heat of the day. They will dump the children in front of the telly and demand to know why they have not already done their homework. "No you can't go outside to play cricket because last time you broke a window. It's dangerous to play in the street and anyway, it's time to eat your tea." That done and the dishes in the dishwasher they collect another tinnie and slump into their usual couch potato position until it is time to head for bed.
The extra hour? The exercise? The gardening? Walk the dog? Let him out to bark at the cats. The cats sit smirking on the fence just out of reach. They have no need to adjust their clocks.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Deeds or creeds?

I was, after the seriousness of the last couple of days, going to try and write something a little more light-hearted this morning but, my fur is up. Instead of purring placidly I am still growling.
To the ‘gentleman’ outside the supermarket who said, “I am not giving anything to the b…..Indonesians or Samoans. They don’t b…. need it.” There was no collecting box in sight. You did not have to give anything. I hope your friend was impressed by your generosity. I liked your friend. He was interested enough to approach me after I had been pointed out to him. He wanted to know.
I worked long hours yesterday. I will work long hours today, tomorrow and for some days to come. I will do it so that other people can go there to help. They will work even longer hours than I will. They will risk their lives alongside the locals. These people will give up their holidays. They will take unpaid leave. They are doctors who will operate in appalling conditions to save lives. They are architects who will crawl into dangerous spaces to see if a piece of cultural heritage can be saved. They are engineers who will walk for hours in the heat and humidity to see and then try to save vital communication lines and bridges. There are many others as well. I will try to give each one of them who contacts me the most basic means to communicate with local people in culturally and educationally appropriatge ways. I won’t get paid for it and neither will they.

I know too that I have the easy part, the easiest part of all. I will not smell the indescribable smell of decaying flesh. I will not hear the howl of recognition of death. I will not have to try and meet the eyes of the mother who has lost twenty-one members of her extended family and her own legs as well. I will not have to touch the surgical tools which will end all hope of a soccer career for the eight year old - and then see his eyes when his mother never comes.
I will not have to turn over the rubble and find the body of the father of five who made the hopeless attempt to save his wife.

You will sit home comfortably. Watch the footy. Have a beer or two with your mates. Dial for a pizza. I hope you sleep well. Thousands won’t.

Oh, and just by the way, one of the architects is Jewish. Indonesia is a Muslim country. They asked specifically for his help. He will go in with the Christians and the Buddhists, the agnostics and the atheists. It makes no difference to him. It makes no difference to me. Why does it make a difference to you?
Deeds not creeds.

Friday, 2 October 2009

An absence of words

does not mean an absence of communication. It does not mean a failure to communicate. It is not silence. Silence is an absence of communication.
I spent part of yesterday 'tweaking' a communication board for an architect. He went to Sumatra last night. There is a building there they desperately want to save. He will need to work directly with some locals. They do not speak English or French or Italian. He speaks all three. He does not speak their dialect. His Indonesian is limited to a few polite phrases and the numbers from one to ten. He will go in with a translator who will explain to a local official how they can communicate with one another and then he will be on his own. He has done this sort of thing before in other places. It is lonely. It is incredibly dangerous. It will be his capacity to communicate with an absence of words which will permit him to succeed or fail. Failure is not an option. This is an ancient and very beautiful building.
The communication board consists of arrows and curves and symbols for words like "over" and "under" and "through", "into" and "hold", "left and right". There are symbols for "wall" and "roof" and "door", for "window" and "steps". It looks as if it is written in Outer Galaxian. It may solve a problem on Earth.
I am not an architect. If Anthony tells me he wants to be able to say, "I want you to hold that beam up this way while I go underneath and look" then I have to be able to help him communicate that exactly. They have to understand. His life may depend on it. Other lives may depend on it. The life of the building will depend on it. It has to be said with an absence of words, an absence of spoken words, an absence of written words.
We can speak without words. We cannot communicate with silence.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Quiet or silent?

If you are not interested in what may appear to be the splitting of my cat hairs please stop reading now.
This is Meg Harper's fault. If you want to read about her rather interesting idea head over to her post yesterday on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. I am the one with the problem of an apparent difference between being quiet and being silent.
There is a poem by Pablo Neruda which begins,
"Ahora contaremos doce
y nos quedamos todos quietos"
Alastair Reid's translation of those words is
"Now we will count to twelve
And we will all keep still."
I do not know a lot of Spanish. "Quietos" apparently does mean "still" - but in the sense of "calm" or "placid" rather than "not moving". There is a difference. "Calm" and "placid" are words which suggest life. To remain still in that sense suggests meditation. "Still" in the sense of "not moving" suggests an absence of life.
For me there is also "quiet" and there is "silence". Quiet suggests that same "calm". Quiet suggests meditation. Quiet suggests a time for reflection, regrouping and renewal. Silence suggests an absence of any of these things, an absence of noise, a void. Quiet and silence can appear to be the same but, for me, "quiet" is valuable. Silence is not.
Silence is something more than the absence of speech or sound. It is a failure to act. It is a futile attempt to isolate ourselves. Quiet can still be alert. Quiet can be ready to act, or react. Quiet can be cooperation, a waiting for the right moment to participate.
There is nowhere on earth that nature is silent. Nothing can move silently.
Meh Harper asked, "Shall we keep silent?" No, I do not think so. We should perhaps keep quiet for a time so that we can reflect, regroup and renew. When we have done that we can come together. Quiet is life. Silence is death.