Thursday, 31 December 2009
Rachel pointed out that I have yesterday. It is just as well. It is my birthday today and I am not feeling particularly happy about it. Indeed, if I am honest, I am not happy about it at all. I am too old. I have not achieved enough. There are times when I feel I have not achieved anything at all. Other people can retire at my age. I feel as if I have barely started. I need yesterday.
Last night my father said that he wants his 90th in three years time. He wants it with a splash and a magician. He had a magician for his 80th - a friend of his. He hates the sort of party where people "just stand around and talk". I think I just hate parties. Really.
You cannot talk with people at parties. They are noisy. People fuss. Some of them eat and drink too much. The "conversation" is superficial - if there is any at all. I do not "network" well. I cannot sell myself, nor do I want to sell myself. I would rather know about other people.
There is usually a curious assumption that I have a party to go to on my birthday, after all it is New Year's Eve. Right? Wrong. Most years I have just crawled into bed or, more likely, on to bed in the heat. I do not want to be out and about when idiots who have had too much to drink are doing wheelies on the roads. I remember one disastrous year in my early teens. We took the one family camping holiday we ever had - complete with borrowed tent, sleeping bags and camp equipment. We were in a large caravan park. The caravans had the best sites of course. Tenters were expected to be well away from everything else. We were at the farthest point. My parents hoped it would be quieter there. It was not. The entire night was little better than a drunken brawl Australian style. There were also mosquitoes, flies, ants and other insects - all of which expected a share of the baked beans on smoky black toast which was my birthday tea. I have never wanted to celebrate my birthday since then and, even before that, I was not exactly keen.
Coming in the middle of the school holidays as well as on New Year's Eve my mother always found an excuse not to celebrate my birthday. "Later perhaps" I would be told but later never came. Then, quite suddenly, I was simply too old for birthdays to matter and now I do not want them because they remind me of how old I am.
But yesterday is important - the long yesterday of my life. It is what I have most of, what has made me into my today.
My father has made me a wooden box. Inside he put some wooden buttons, oak, olive, mulga, elm and walnut. They are "experiments". The timber is beautiful. The grain on each button is fine. The olive and the mulga are streaked with colour, the oak is silky as is the walnut. The elm comes in between.
I feel like a button fastened on to life by a single, fragile thread.
Wednesday, 30 December 2009
What do I want to make resolutions about? (This is assuming I make some.) Is it a resolution to say I will do things I have undertaken to do or do resolutions have to be about something new?
Should I aim to read a page of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary each day? I would learn some new words. Is that cheating? I like dictionaries. Resolutions should really be about something uncomfortable or new or different.
What if I try to read one new author each month? But how would I choose which book to read? Ideally I should try to read something I would not usually read. The problem is that the pile of things I want to read is getting larger not smaller. (That book stack I am sitting on is very unstable. I am in danger of falling off and doing myself a serious injury from a great height. Cats do not always land on all four paws.)
I will finish writing the current book. No, that is not a resolution. That is something I must do.
I will write the third book about the same characters. No, that is not really a resolution. It is something I want to do, indeed must do if I can.
A resolution should surely be about something one does not really want to do but should do. I could give up smoking but I do not smoke. I have never smoked. I could give up drinking - alcohol that is - but I do do not drink alcohol.
I should try to lose weight but that is not a resolution. That is an health issue.
I will keep the little library I am responsible for tidy? No, that is part of the role of being the librarian.
I will not buy any more knitting supplies? What? I might need them!
Would it just be easier to make a resolution about not making resolutions?
I will have to think about....after all, I have today and tomorrow to be resolute about this.
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
I have problems with this. There are already far too many charities in Australia - and not enough charity.
There are very big, big, middle sized, small and very small charities. They are there for all sorts of purposes, human, animal, environment, arts, education etc etc. It is all very confusing. They all claim to be absolutely essential. Nobody else deals with the precise issue they have been set up to handle etc etc. There are, believe it or not, more than 600,000 registered charities in Australia. Yes, 600,000 for a population of about 23million.
You hear my frustration by now? Over the last couple of years I have been reluctantly involved in efforts to set up the fundraising for an organisation for people with severe and profound communication impairments. It is a worthy cause. There is no organisation, so far as we can discover, that specifically handles communicaton impairments. The problem is that we cannot see where it fits into the guidelines for charitable status. It needs charitable status to be an effective fundraising group. I am also reluctant because, although the problem is a major and largely unrecognised issue, we have so many charities I feel that another one will just get lost in the system. Money raised will end up being used on administration and more fundraising. Efforts will go into that rather than into the cause it has been designed to help. The group is small and the very nature of the problem means that there are communication issues, that the professionals who deal with the problem through their employment will be those who make the decisions about what is done and how it is done.
There are multiple charities which support cancer, the intellectually disabled, the mentally ill, sports (and sports for people with disabilities), the arts, animals and the environment. Some of the big ones have been around for years. Small ones come. Some stay and grow. Others fade. Some are splinter groups resulting from the infighting within larger groups. "You aren't giving our particular little group a fair share" and "You aren't paying enough attention to our needs" and "You didn't vote X back on to the committee" and...it goes on.
Then there are the fundraising ploys "We are charity direct. 95c in every dollar goes directly to the cause." Ah yes but 'directly' can (and usually does) include the costs of fundraising, the office and the administrative staff. Whatever the claims you can be certain that the proportion being spent on the problem is limited.
Several years ago a charity I have had dealings with over the years had a "fund raising dinner". It was a jubilee year occasion and was being advertised as a glitzy affair. At that dinner there was also supposed to be an acknowledgment of several people who had contributed to the cause the charity supports. I was specifically invited to attend. Several people tried to persuade me. I declined. The "fund raising dinner" cost the organisation some thousands of dollars. No money was raised. I have always been relieved I did not attend.
If those who had gone had donated the same amount and a much smaller amount had been spent on tea and biscuits I would have considered attending. People need to show appreciation of others efforts and some need to have their efforts appreciated but excess is not appreciation. We need to review the number of charities. We need to review the causes they support. Charities must come together and provide the services they claim to provide. Only in that way will people come to appreciate what charity can do.
An excess of charities is not appreciation.
Monday, 28 December 2009
I suspect we have too many public holidays. The silliest one of all is for Adelaide Cup Day. This is, believe it or not, for a horse race. Even the Victorians in the next state do not have a holiday for Melbourne Cup Day which is, I understand, a much bigger event. I have no interest in horse races. I just feel sorry for the horses. We do not need public holidays in honour of animal cruelty.
But, back to the discontent. The root of the discontent is, of course, financial. There are the post-Christmas sales to consider. The retailers are complaining that it is hard to keep the momentum going. It is more difficult to get people to part with their money - or their credit. Apparently there are some big ticket items (like televisions) going 'cheap'. Hmm. (Our television set is about 30 years old. When we go digital next year then we will need to do something about this but it will be in the form of some sort of gadget attached to the telly. My nephew knows about this and assures us that is all we will need - although I think he thinks we should just upgrade the telly. We think we do not watch enough to warrant it. )
The recovery from the financial crisis is supposed to be led by the retail sector, the demand for goods (and thus services). I do not understand enough about economics to know whether this is really going to be the solution to the problem. It sounds simplistic to me, too simplistic. Surely one of the things that led to global financial meltdown was the desire to have more than we needed?
I find it difficult to sympathise with the big stores wanting to sell me a television set I do not need. While these big stores can open, the small independent stores like our local independent bookshop will have to remain closed. They do not get a look in.
There are too many people out there who may already be regretting the size of their credit card bills. That will be a real source of discontent. I think we need a holiday from shopping.
Sunday, 27 December 2009
Leap years remind me of hares rather than hairs. I do not know why. I also associate hares with rabbits. Again, I do not know why.
Some years ago I invented a title for an imaginary Latin textbook. It was called "Leaping into Latin". The characters in it were rabbits. There was also (supposedly) "Flying French" and "Speeding Spanish" - more rabbits. They were aviators and racing car drivers. I wonder why I made the characters rabbits rather than hares?
Nobody has written the books. I think they would be more fun than "hasta" (spear). That was the first word in my school text. The book was full of spears, soldiers and wars with the occasional loving farmer thrown in. It did not appeal to me at all. I have always wanted to see a copy of Kennedy's Latin Primer to see if it was any better than that. Probably not.
I try to tell myself that Latin was useful. I did very little in three years. I could struggle through some of the Latin text in the Roman Catholic Prayer Book brought in by a classmate. We never got as far as Caesar's Wars or the love poems of Catullus or the possibly much more interesting comments on food by Pliny (the Elder I think, not the Younger).
Latin does come in handy when I am trying to work some Spanish and, to a lesser extent, with Italian. Logic says that should be the other way around but it is not so. I cannot say anything useful in Latin and, apart from the Pope, who might understand me? I am not likely to meet a Pope and they seem to speak respectable English.
I will keep writing in English. I am fortunate that it is my mother tongue, fortunate because of the immense and varied vocabulary and the many sources from which it comes. I do wonder however, what is the Latin for, "This will be number 365 and it is not a leap year."?
Saturday, 26 December 2009
They have a wonderful space for entertaining. They designed their home so as to be able to entertain family and, somehow, other people get invited as well.
We are considered 'family', after all my sister married her brother and that is good enough. It does not make us Greek-Cypriot-Australians. We are quite definitely Scottish-Australians. My sister's SIL married a Macedonian. They have Albanian neighbours who need to be included. Then there is their own German neighbour who lost her husband almost twenty years ago. They always invite her to Christmas lunch. One of the cousins married an Italian. There is the Welsh-Dutch one engaged to another Greek and the Russian girlfriend of the Greek-Italian family's son. There are three complete strangers. They are Bulgarian refugees. The child is eleven and calmly interprets occasionally for her mother. The father's accent is heavy and he struggles to find words at times. There is a relationship between Macedonian and Bulgarian which helps.
My Greek brother in law explains what I do and leaves me to help keep the conversation jerking along.
There is food, far too much food. They do a BBQ, bread and salads. There is a long break and then Greek sweets, cheesecake I have made because they love it and claim not to know how to make it. There are cherries to eat and the usual pip-spitting contest onto the vacant block of land next door to their home.
This year my sister's father in law did not dress as Father Christmas to hand out the gifts to the children. That role was passed to the eldest grandchild, my eldest nephew here. He is 22, a young man studying medicine. He did it differently from his grandfather. He knows his cousins are growing up and that, now, it is just a bit of fun for the benefit of their grandparents as much as themselves. Photographs are taken, video is shot. There is laughter.
I watch the young Bulgarian girl. She is laughing but she has hold of her mother's hand. Then there is one more parcel in Santa's sack. He produces it, looks carefully at the label and says as he has for each child, "This is for Liliana. Is there a Liliana here today?"
She goes pink, blinks and walks up to him. He gives it to her and, with the smallest of curtseys, she accepts it with a smile that reaches right into her dark hair. She is part of the family now. Christmas is complete.
Friday, 25 December 2009
Thursday, 24 December 2009
There was the pram. That was supposed to be for dolls. I used it to carry building blocks and the cat.
There was the doll's house. It was nothing fancy but it was a crude replica of our own house, a fibro-asbestos "standard Education Department accommodation for teachers" house. My father had made it, along with the crude furniture that went inside it. By age four I had an imaginary family living inside it and had long conversations with them.
And, most important of all, there was my first tricycle. It was not new but my father had repainted it a bright, gleaming racing car red. My father had also adapted the pedals so that I could keep my feet on them. I could go anywhere and everywhere. I could go all the way up the lane next to the house to the farm and get the milk. (I would carry it home carefully in the tray on the back of the tricycle.)
I could go across the lane and along the path by the road, past the Methodist church and the kindergarten, over the little side road and reach the "Four Square" grocery store. I would then wait outside until someone realised I was there. There was always someone around to take me inside or come out and get me. I would hand over the shopping list and things would be put in the tray at the back. Money would exchange hands and I would pedal off again.
Occasionally I would even pedal off to the school. I was supposed to be too young to go to school of course. Going to school meant going past the grocery store, the butcher, the baker (where there were excellent currant buns to be had) and the hardware store with the fascinating display of saucepans, brooms, buckets, boxes of nails, rope, twine, sacks filled with unknown mysteries and the bicycle tyres hanging like limp hoops from the pole by the front door.
You went around the corner and up another lane. There was one small street to cross and then you had to pedal like mad past the cottage hospital (in case 'they' came to get you). That was the really scary part. After that there was another small street and you arrived at the redbrick building which was the school. I could 'park' by the front door - next to the school library books. (They lived in a bookshelf just inside the front door.) I would read for a while before somebody would tell me it was time to do the journey in reverse. I assume my parents knew where I was. I suspect my mother used the school as a baby sitter.
Nothing could equate to that first tricycle. It was Christmas every single day I used it.
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
The building which holds the market is old and dark. The floor is uneven and the aisles are narrow. When the market is in full swing it is noisy. Spruikers, shouters, screamers, chatterers and children all try to make themselves heard at the same time. You get jostled and trodden on as you try to buy the temptations that surround you.
Yesterday there were the yellow-green mountains of bananas and the red pyramids of tomatoes, the jumble of capsicum, the neat hooded rows of mangoes, and the soldier like rows of celery and asparagus standing stiffly next to the lumpy, grouchy mounds of potatoes. There were deep, deep red cherries too, still wildly expensive, strawberries in little boxes, peaches, nectarines and apricots in little rows. It all looked luscious but - I think the apricots did it - unreal.
I headed for the place which sells coffee beans, ground coffee, flavoured coffee, coffee in bags and boxes, coffee from Africa, New Guinea and South America, coffee which is dark roast, medium roasted, light roasted and everything in between. They even sell chocolate for drinking. I am not sure where that comes from. I look along the rows and find the 'fair trade' variety to put in the Christmas baskets. Tea comes the same way at the tea shop. I can buy almonds by supporting a local grower. I add some other items.
Eventually, clutching my purchases, I manage to retrieve the tricycle from the little parking place under the escalator and escape without getting knocked over, dropping anything or losing my purse. Outside I carefully repack the rear basket and lock the bags on. If I look back I can see the lights, the untidy ebb and flow of people and the bright maze of colour. I can hear the market symphony. It IS fun for a short while.
I pedal off feeling both reluctant and relieved.
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
It is a relatively simple process. Cut in halves, remove stone and remove any serious blemishes. Put in a saucepan with a little water and a little sugar. Cook until tender. Remove from stove. Cool, pack in the little freezer containers and freeze. I will do the same for the plums later - if there are any plums. Last year both the apricots and the plums 'cooked' on the tree.
There is something about all this cooking and freezing of fruit that says it is Christmas in Australia. Christmas here does not, for me, smell of turkey or goose or any other bird. It does not smell of plum pudding or mince pies. It is fruit. The smell of warm tomatoes reminds me vividly of sitting on the floor under the table in our house in Riverton. I would, naturally, be reading while my mother and grandmother preserved tomatoes or apricots or peaches or some other fruit from our garden or the garden of a neighbour. There was very little tinned fruit used in our house.
Smells or perfumes do evoke memories. My first year in London I ventured, at last, into Oxford Street. I went into one of the big stores there only to discover that it was as if I had walked into the tiny 'deli' around the corner from my paternal grandparents' home. Both places used the same perfumed cleaning fluid.
It is time to cut some fresh lavender and bring it in. This will go into the big blue glass jug my aunt gave my mother many years ago. It will stay there all year and gradually dry out. It is our apology for fresh flowers in the house. I like flowers but I like them much better in gardens than in the house. The perfume of the lavender however will be there for some time.
Now though I can go outside and return and the air will be a rich, warm apricot flavour. It smells like Christmas Downunder.
Monday, 21 December 2009
I know I do not always write as well as I should. I wonder sometimes what on earth I can write about. This is not because I have nothing to say. Most people would say I have far too much to say. They ignore me - probably rightly so.
Yesterday something unexpected happened. The parcel delivery service left two parcels for me.
I was not expecting either of them. It was a Sunday. I rather think that the postal strike elsewhere has disrupted deliveries. These people have a contract to deliver and "Ev" who is in charge of the team in our area decided to do Sunday. Her husband was the one who left the parcels. We know Ev quite well. She has been known to arrive at the front door on a very hot day with a parcel in one hand and her empty water bottle in the other. Rightly so too. It is no fun delivering parcels in the heat.
The parcels contain Christmas gifts for me and my father - not to be opened until Christmas Day. I have put them with the little pile of books we are giving immediate family. We do not give big presents or presents in a big way.
And that gets me back to the blog. I usually send a small calendar to an author friend in the US. She finds Australiana fascinating. This year I asked her if there was any specific theme she would like. The reply came back as the ultimate compliment, " A Catdownunder calendar?"
I will have to see what I can do.
Sunday, 20 December 2009
They are thinking big instead of thinking small. They want to make grand gestures instead of small movements. They are looking at the big picture without understanding how it was put together. They think they can see the forest but they cannot even see the individual trees.
Even many of the most well meaning activists and 'green' lobby groups are starting at the wrong end. They want, quite understandably, to make a big difference.
It does not work like that. It has never worked like that and it never will. If we want to make a difference we have to start small and grow big.
If we want to make a difference we will plant trees, grow some of our own food, walk or ride a bike when the distance allows it and catch public transport when it does not. We will recycle all we can. We will build houses that suit the environment in which we live and reduce our dependency on heating and cooling. We will put on another layer of warmth in winter instead of turning on the heater. We will wear natural, renewable fibres and recycle the water they are washed in.
When we want to provide aid to others we will listen to what they need. We will not do the job for them but allow them to get on with the job for themselves having provided the right tools for them to do the job. We will not feed them but help them feed themselves.
It sounds good and it will not happen. It will not happen because our own economies are dependent on luxuries like the car and our belief that we should be able to eat whatever food we choose at any time of the year, not merely when it is in season. We believe it is our right to flick a switch for instant energy. We believe we cannot live without television, microwaves, refrigerators, entertainment systems and - dare I say it? - the computer. We want things, if not immediately, as soon as possible so they are flown in from other parts of the globe.
No government of a 'developed' economy is going to put any of that at risk. They know that, if they did, they would lose government. They will continue to talk big and they will appear to look at compromise. They will do nothing. The United Nations will do nothing because it can do nothing. It could have done something if it had been prepared to start small and grow.
I know this. I never expected or even wanted International Literacy Year to teach everyone to read. That was not possible or even desirable. What was possible was the setting up of thousands of small projects that made a local difference and that could go on making a difference. That is what happened. The smallest thing provided that year had to be "a little machine for making the pencil thin" or a pencil sharpener for a child in Burkina Faso. That same child is now teaching mathematics to adult students. There was the "book-boat" which serves as a mobile library along a stretch of river. The librarian was one of the first children to borrow from it and borrowing has increased to more than forty times the original figure. There is the craft cooperative for the disabled where they now do their own bookkeeping because literacy is also taught. There is the mobile school which serves three remote villages and provides for adults as well as children. With the rise in literacy there has been a rise in health and overall living standards.
They were small projects and they made a difference. We need to work from the inside out, not the outside in.
Saturday, 19 December 2009
Sam almost never smiles or laughs. At almost seven he still 'hates' school although he is doing quite well in the classroom - top group for both maths and reading. He seems to have friends at school and appears to play happily enough with them. Ask him anything about school though and it is as if he is mute. He struggles to say anything. There is something wrong there. His parents are worried. The school does not see a problem. Sam does not misbehave. He does his work. He participates. He does all the 'right' things. He just hates doing them. It makes him moody and discontent and hard to handle at home.
Sam also has a range of allergies, including an allergy to nuts which could kill him. He cannot even sit next to a child who has been eating peanuts without beginning to react. There is an epi-pen at school, an epi-pen at home, an epi-pen in the car. His parents, his almost eleven year old sister has been shown what to do as well as his parents. She knows what medications he takes in the morning and at night. Sam knows too.
I think that might be part of the problem. Sam knows there are things that make him ill, very ill.
He is afraid. Who can blame him? His parents do not fuss but they are naturally concerned.
Around this time of the year there are parties. At parties there tend to be all sorts of things to eat. Most of us are all too conscious that there is too much food and that much of it is not particularly good for us but we eat it anyway.
Sam will go to a party and has to be coaxed to eat anything even when his mother tells him it is safe to eat it. He does not like parties. They put him in a foul mood.
So, do I risk it? I make shortbread for friends. His family and ours always exchange a small quantity of home baking. This year I decided to experiment. I made two packets. One was bigger and the other smaller. When they came to see us I gave the bigger packet to his mother and then I held out the smaller packet to Sam and said, "Sam, this is yours. There are no nuts."
He looked up at his mother. She nodded, "Go on. Cat made them especially for you."
He reached out and took them with muttered thanks. Them, quite suddenly, there was a proper small boy grin and he wanted to know, "Can I have one now?"
Friday, 18 December 2009
But, 14 people? Why not 4 or 40? Did they really need to visit all those places? Will they really learn from the mistakes of other people?
Adelaide put in a ticketing system for public transport some years ago. It did away with a good many jobs. It turned buses and trains into single person operations. Drivers now have to assist passengers where necessary. Many drivers see no necessity. It delays and impedes progress when they have to get out the ramp for wheelchair users. If you have a pram or pusher or, like me, you have to take a tricycle on the train you get no help. Once a guard would have been there to help. It was his role to help. Now the transit officers, when they appear, are there only for security. "It's not our job to help passengers. We're just here to see people behave." They are rarely there anyway - and, it sometimes seems, never when they are most needed.
The ticketing system which brought about all of this was supposed to keep fare evasion at a minimum. In reality it allows a high level of fare evasion. Kids have the system sorted. Adults 'forget' to validate or, having placed their card next to a convenient magnet to wipe it, claim it does not work. It will get them at least one free trip.
The government has only itself to blame. The system is clumsy. There is no provision for 'return' tickets. There is a two hour time limit. There are peak and non-peak fares. They recently cut out fares for those over sixty - as long as you no longer work and have a Seniors Card - but only in the non-peak period between 9.01 am and 3pm. (Please note that 9.01 and not 9.00.) The timetables are also neatly designed so that connections cannot be made.
We must also acknowledge that the ticketing system we implemented was brought into being at great expense after a very expensive fact finding mission to find the 'best' ticketing system. After all, we had to avoid the mistakes made by the rest of the world. Just as we began to put it in place the French were ripping it out because it was losing them so many fares. Never mind, it was all going to be very different and work well here. Perhaps.
So, we will get the world's best mass transport system in the future. We will not make any mistakes because the fourteen people who went, including two government ministers, are going to be on hand for years to give us the benefit of all this expertise.
In the meantime I had a 'phone call, "I'm from X department. I've been told to get in touch with you because we urgently need someone who knows about...." Oh yes? And then it comes, "I'm terribly sorry we can't pay you but we really do need to see if we can help this family."
Now, did they really need to spend $350,000 on that grand tour or could they have used it to employ someone for a year to save them more than $350,000?
I know, government does not work like that.
Thursday, 17 December 2009
the other news? Or perhaps the good news is the other news as far as the rest of you are concerned? Yes, the computer appears to be up and running again. Mind you there were the usual muttered cursings from my long suffering BIL. I can hardly blame him. He works for an internet company. He knows about the big stuff as well as the little stuff. He does fancy things with the computer that I know nothing about. There are all sorts of fancy little things that appear when he starts to play on the keys.
I did not like trying to use the lap top. I kept hitting the wrong keys - most frustrating. I felt the way I did when I was first learning to type. It is, I understand, a very old lap top - or perhaps I really am getting old. Ms Whirlwind (age 10) eyed me up and down the other day and then said kindly, "I don't think you are old yet. You will be old when you don't like to read what I like to read." We both like to read picture books so perhaps there is some hope for me yet. Come to thnk of it Dad will read a new picture book and he is almost 87 years young.
I am wondering about this age thing and books. I am wondering about choice of books and the young too. I remember when we thought Jill Paton Walsh's "The Dolphin Crossing" might be too realistic for some children to handle. It is not even on library shelves now. It is regarded as too old fashioned. War books now should be about Iraq or Afghanistan, refugees and boat people. The message is being lost because of the images on television screens. Children, or some children, are becoming immune. No doubt there will shortly be a rush - or should that be 'rash'? - of books about climate change, Copenhagen, how the London Olympics will emit so much carbon pollution and how a family took a holiday at home in order to reduce their carbon footprint. People will write these things. Publishers will publish them. The books will receive accolades and prizes. People will buy them in the belief that this is what literature for children should be about. Perhaps it is but it should be about all of the rest of life as well. An elderly neighbour has asked me to help with Christmas books for his grandchildren. "Do you think we can find something funny instead of all this doom and gloom Cat?" We can certainly try.
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Now, the little problem. Adults choose books that they believe adults will want to read. Adults also choose books that they believe children will want to read - and should read. I suspect that the selection process for a children's book is very different from that for an adult book. (If you are reading this Nicola please correct me if I am wrong.)
If the rest of you disbelieve me head along to the library shelves and take a look at what is there. Read the blurbs on the dust jackets or on the backs of the endless paperbacks. There will be (a) books about social issues - thinly disguised as stories about other things and (b) formulaic undemanding stories that are crude copies of the genuine article.
Okay, that is an exaggeration of course. There will be other things but much of the shelf space will be taken up with those two things. Adults have the advantage. They can dictate what children will read. The child who wants to read will read it. They will read it because it is there. It is, in their view, not too bad but it could be better too. If they do not have access to 'ordinary adventure stories' it is assumed that they will not miss them. It is assumed that it does not matter that they are missing out on the adult equivalent of the detective story. (The detective story is top of the borrowing choices in our local library and, I suspect, elsewhere.) If, the argument goes, a child is going to read then they should be reading something 'useful', something that is going to teach or give them an issue to think about.
For me, having amassed a considerable collection of children's literature from the 1950's on the exciting thing is to have a child borrow a book from me and then come flying through the door at great speed saying , "Are there any more like this?" Are they learning anything from a straightforward story without didactic or moral undertones? Yes. They are learning to love reading. They are choosing to read.
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
I have a friend who runs a refugee 'camp' in East Africa. She is African herself but under no illusions about the way her country is run. Put simply, it is corrupt. Corruption is part of their culture. It is the way things are done. You pay people a little extra to get the service you want, you give them some of the goods to ensure that things get through, you provide certain services etc etc. There is corruption in our culture as well. I do not deny it. I do not think it is as overt or as widespread but it is there. There is waste, particularly government funded waste - some of which is corrupt and some of it careless. There is however more accountability as well - not enough perhaps but there is some.
But there are major problems in Africa and much more gets wasted. Now billions of dollars have been pledged to help Africa and elsewhere overcome the problems of climate change. What is going to happen to this money? How will it be spent? Who will spend it? Who will supervise? How much of it will, like so much aid mone, be wasted?
I think our approach is wrong. I saw a brief news item a couple of nights ago. An army colonel in Mali had the local men digging out the silt that was preventing a waterway feeding into a lake. When the water flows food can be grown. He was saying they were fighting a losing battle against the encroaching sand - but he thought the battle could be won with the provision of some heavy earthnoving equipment.
It sounded like a positive project. It looked as if it really did have potential. Is it the sort of thing likely to be funded? Probably not. Governments want big projects, not small projects. They want to run marathons before they have taken the first step.
Monday, 14 December 2009
BUT I do not understand computers. My BIL knows a great deal more. He took time out yesterday and he has this sulking animal limping along at present. What he did is beyond me. He brought up things on the screen that I have never seen before. He tells me this is telling him about the inner workings of the computer. I apparently have plenty of 'storage space' left on it so that is not a problem. It is never likely to be. I do not download music or movies. Dictionaries do not take up the same sort of space apparently. They are 'just words' according to some people. (I disagree strongly.)
Now, dear readers, do you understand the inner workings of these machines? Do you understand the inner workings of all the other things you use on a daily basis? Do you know how a power plant works, how it delivers the electricity that allows us to use the machines? You probably have far more idea than me.
I come to the conclusion that there is more and more I do not know.
Sunday, 13 December 2009
Now all I need is a new computer probably - well, the bits that make it work if you understand my meaning. My BIL assures me that this can be done - although it will flatten the computer account to zilch...ah, cat hairs and humbug.
Now, if you are reading this please cease - and do a back up of all your files...especially the Work in Progress (aka the Booker Prize winning novel). I did do a back up - not that I have a Booker Prize winning novel in my files.
I shall go and spread a different sort of cat hair elsewhere.
Saturday, 12 December 2009
It is also tough when your father is not able to take time off and see you be the talking dog in a class play. I went instead. It was funny and she did well. Her father did get to speech night on Thursday. Just as well when she was getting a prize!
But, this is the weekend. She has been dropped off by the mother of one of her friends and stays with us until her father arrives home from work. Usually she has homework or 'prep' to do but this weekend there is the blissful prospect of the summer holidays. She has no intention of wasting a moment.
"What else are you going to do?" I asked the other day when we were busy icing the Christmas cake.
She thought about it and then said, "I want to do lots of drawing and learn some more cooking and look after my tomatoes and go swimming and riding my bike and make some things and remember Dad and I are going to stay at the beach."
I note silently that nothing is said about playing with friends. A child who prefers her own company, she is not looking forward to next week's out of school hours care and being herded around in a group on various outings and excursions. I have to sympathise, although without actually saying so.
Her father is taking annual leave for a month at the end of that week. Then it will almost be time to return to school. Friends will step in and see that she is looked after for the day and she will enjoy it but look forward to the evenings and some precious time with her father before returning to the routine of school boarding during the week and only weekends with her father.
Reading is important for her. It means that she can escape for a while. It means she can explore other people's emotions and locations, their hopes and fears and dreams.
I was worried for a while that she was using books to escape from real life but she seems to have her feet firmly planted on the ground. "School is boring. There isn't enough to do there."
It has been a toss up between Latin and Japanese next year as an 'extension' class. We talked a lot about it. In the end Latin won. She wants to learn more Italian later. Her best friend's family is Italian and she knows "little bits".
I have found her a simple picture book I own. It is in Italian. I give her an Italian dictionary as well and tell her, "See how much you can work out for yourself."
I get that "I know what you are doing" look from her but she accepts both with a grin. It is another thing to do.
"But," she tells me, "I am still going to read and read."
Friday, 11 December 2009
I know. I know. I know. I used to manage without a computer. Having a computer has made me lazy. I keep things I should not keep. I am less organised. The computer is like a messy office. I need to deal with it.
Before that I have to go and have one of those fasting blood tests. I dislike these intensely. I am, unlike many people, a "needs breakfast in order to function" person. Bah, humbug - and a liberal sprinkling of cat hair.
I am actually feeling a little anxious. I do not want my computer breaking down entirely over the holiday period. I do have a computer repair fund because it is a vital link for my work but....
I think I had better do a back up RIGHT NOW!
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Most of it was of little interest to me. I could not afford to buy the language and lingustics texts even at those prices and the mathematics and physics were way above my furry head. So were most of the other subjects.
Eventually the marketing experiment, if that is what it was, died out and it was replaced by a mainstream mail order company. Once in a while my father or I will order something from the catalogue. It will usually be something that is greatly reduced, a clear 'remainder'. Very occasionally it will be something that our local indie cannot, for some reason or another, access.
Most of the books however hold no interest whatsoever.
"Do people really want to read all this doom and gloom?" my father will ask, "Do they want to read about violence and sex abuse and child molestation? Why do they want to read about 'real life' mass murderers?"
Doom and gloom is what makes headlines in the media. There is very rarely a good news story in the headlines - unless it relates to winning something in sport. If the media is anything to go by then people seem to want to vicariously live doom and gloom. It makes them feel good. It has not happened to them.
And this gets translated into books written and published as well.
Now Nicola Morgan is saying it is simple. You have to write the 'right' book to get it published. I am pondering this. For many years the Royal Society for the Blind had, probably still has, a committee which decided which books would be made available as talking books. Their choice was often apparently paternalistic. Doom and gloom did not feature too highly on the list of available books. It was not what they wanted their clients to read and, if they are to be believed, not what their clients wanted to read.
There was also the child in the library who was clearly tired of doom and gloom and just wanted 'an ordinary adventure story'. Talking to other children made me realise that adults who are, after all, responsible for choosing what gets published for children are guilty of the same sort of sin as the RSB once was. They choose books they believe children should read rather than books children want to read. Yes, given the choice, some children will head for a constant diet of 'ice-cream' and they do need to have some vegetables thrown in. Many other children will read a wide and varied diet without too much encouragement. There is a limit to the number of 'greens' or 'social interest' books they can handle.
So, when an author writes the right book is it the right book for the publisher? Is it the right book for the parent or the teacher or the librarian? Is it the right book for the child? I suspect that the last matters less than it might because, if books are there, children will tend to read them in the absence of something better. Then they grow up wanting doom and gloom.
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
Nick has gone off to see the same man in Melbourne this morning. His mother is pacing their house. His father has gone off to do the essential watering and clearing on their small property in the hills behind us saying he wishes it was him and not Nick. You do not expect your children to die before you and they know this could happen.
You do not expect anyone younger than you to die. It is not supposed to happen. I do not have children but Nick is younger than I am. I used to supervise Nick in the bath when he was tiny. He was a little demon, along with his twin brother. They were always up to mischief. They did some pretty crazy things in their teens and young adulthood but (there is always a but isn't there?) they have always been kind to me. They never teased. They were never rude. They always acknowledged me - even in their worst teenage years. Nick at 14 or 15 was the one who carried a mug of tea outside for me and put it on the table without being asked. It was just enough help but not too much. It counts for a lot.
There was a bit of a party for their father's birthday not that long after Nick came back from the major surgery in Melbourne. He had reached the point where he was able to eat again with some semblance of normal appetite. There was the usual buffet laid out and people were helping themselves. Nick was trying to manage with the use of only one arm and not succeeding terribly well at cutting something. Nobody else seemed to want to notice although they must have seen. I came up on the opposite side of the table. Our eyes met. I put my hand out and steadied the plate for him. It was enough, not too much. Nothing was said. It is not Nick's style.
I hope, if - when the time comes I can do the same thing for his parents. The thing will be to judge how much is enough and not too much.
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
I gave up on the actual physical writing yesterday and went off to the post office. I posted a little packet - and forgot to get stamps for the overseas Christmas letters because I was too busy trying to fill out the customs form. Sometimes the staff, who know me, are nice and do such things for me but there were just too many people around yesterday. It is just as well I only had to put 'pen' in the description of the contents.
While I was there I was bailed up by someone I know. He wanted to write a letter to the 'Tiser he told me. What he really wanted was for me to dictate a letter to him which he would then send. I have occasionally done this for people I know to be lacking in word confidence. I never write the entire letter, just help them sort their ideas out and, occasionally, add a phrase or two or even a paragraph. He does not lack word confidence. He does not need any help from me. His letters do not get published because they are too long. Letters to the 'Tiser need to be short, especially since they changed the format of the Letters to the Editor page. I might live back to front but he thinks back to front.
The upside down part of my life came to a head when I realised that I would need to be up at 5am this morning in order to participate in an evening discussion being held yesterday in Europe. It is always an odd sensation to realise that other people have not yet gone to bed for the night from which you have just risen,
I did not get to putting any of the inside out bit into a written format. It has remained inside my head. I spent the afternoon comfortably making shortbread. It needs to be packed into little cellophane bags today so that my father can take it with him to a small, informal Christmas dinner tonight. The afternoon was not wasted however as I think I have a solution to a problem. I need to check something and that cannot be done until later today.
The rest of the inside-out bit continues to be uncomfortable. How do you survive in a vacuum?
Monday, 7 December 2009
I need to explain. When my parents retired they naturally ceased to keep the large diaries provided by the Education Department. When they had both retired they tried to keep separate diaries for appointments, meetings, reminders of birthdays etc. Naturally this did not work. My aunt found them a wall calendar. It might have worked but there was nowhere to hang it.
I came home from university at the end of that year and discovered my mother was busy with a large sheet of coloured cardboard, pencil, pen, my father's long steel rule and one of those little calendars you get from businesses of all sorts. She was drawing up a calendar for the following year. It was designed to fit on the side of a cupboard adjacent to the kitchen bench.
My mother was perfectly competent at this sort of thing. Her 'infant-school' teacher printing was neat and legible. All the birthdays and other regular events would be quickly and neatly slotted in. Everyone knew where everyone was supposed to be at a glance. All people had to do was remember to (a) add things as necessary and (b) look at it.
When my mother died and I had to return home to look after my father I continued to draw up the calendar. I solved the problem of almost illegible paw prints by printing off certain things and pasting them on to the new year's sheet of cardboard. We add reminders of things like the date the council rates are due too these days. I have to take more responsibility for looking at it than Dad these days. He is not terribly interested in remembering dates of birthdays etc. Reminded of these things he is more than happy to provide generous presents and congratulations but he has never been one to remember how old any of us are. Perhaps that is just as well.
At the time I draw the calendar up I look at it and think, "Ah, nice and empty. Perhaps there will be time to achieve something this coming year." Gradually it fills up. By the end of the year there is always something in almost every space. There is less than there was but there is enough. It suggests my father is busy and still able to enjoy life. It is why I will draw up another calendar.
Sunday, 6 December 2009
The thing that marks us out from other animals is our capacity for complex communication. We can teach chimpanzees sign language and they may even initiate some apparently new (to them) messages. Even if that happens they are not going to do the mathematical calculations to get another chimpanzee to the moon.
If we do not give people the right to a means of communication then we fail to acknowledge them as human beings. If we try to restrict ways and means of communicating then we fail to acknowledge them as human beings. My entire working life has been taken up, one way or another, with the right to a means of communication.
That does not mean any of us have the right to communicate. Communication is a two way process. It requires a sender and a receiver. It involves choice. If we choose to offer communication then we have a responsibility to do the very best we can to make others understand what we are trying to communicate. If we choose to receive communication then we have a duty to do our best to understand the message which is being delivered.
There will always be a barrier, marker, a point, a space, something, between sending and receiving. My experience is not your experience. When you read what I write you will be reading something different from what I am writing. What matters is whether we can share something between my writing and your reading. The more we can share the closer we can come to understanding. Good writing is a shared experience.
There are also good manners. If, by virtue of your occupation, you invite others to communicate then you have a duty to acknowledge the presence of the invitee. Failure to do that is failure to do the job. Acknowledgment can be brief and even dismissive but, without it, communication has failed. You have failed to acknowledge someone else as human.
Heavy duty Philosophy 101 over for the day. I am going to do the housework so I can do some real writing later.
Saturday, 5 December 2009
My third Christmas was fine. I was given a wonderful little Hornby train set. My father and I spent the morning playing with it under the dining room table at my grandparent's house. I read the instructions to him and he set it up...there were not too many instructions but I did manage it myself. Christmas went downhill after that. There was always a problem because my maternal grandmother wanted us to spend the entire day with her. We wanted to spend it with my paternal grandparents who, although strict, were the sort of people with whom you could always feel secure. They were happily married. My maternal grandparents were not. Christmas feels more like maternal grandparents than my paternal grandparents. I am not happily married to it. Indeed, I feel entirely anti-social about it and all the fuss.
In a week I will have been writing the blog for a year. In the process I have found some other blogs and virtually met some people (and actually met one person). It has been interesting. If I can keep it up then I will have achieved my goal of writing it for a year. My other writing is a mess. It usually is. I am not a disciplined writer. I cannot start at the beginning of a book and work my way through to the end. It just does not happen like that. I know there are writers who decide exactly what is going to happen and exactly what their characters are going to be like. Mine tell me. I might argue with them - but that's another story.
I am not sure what else I have achieved - and yet I have been busy all the year. It feels as if the year has only just started not as if it is ending. I looked at some other blogs this morning. You have all read more than me - and I thought I had read a lot. Those who knit have knitted more than me - and I thought I had done quite a lot for me. Writing? Well, that has been up and down for all of us. It is the writing which is the problem. It is not simple. Nicola Morgan is wrong to suggest that there is a very simple theory to getting published. I followed all the rules and I can't even get a rejection slip. I can't even get a darn response. I feel like quitting.
....but I promised Ms Whirlwind she would have the sequel of the sequel for Christmas.
Friday, 4 December 2009
I have several novels languishing in the 'bottom drawer' of the computer. They need work but they sit there because I got side-tracked. I wrote a 'sort-of-sequel' to Elinor Lyon's Cathie-Ian-Sovra novels for children instead. It was written for a young friend who wanted 'another story about them'. Sadly Elinor died before I could give it to her as well.
Simple you say? The characters are all there. The setting is there. All you have to do is supply the story. No, no, no! I had to re-read Elinor's books first. I had to make notes. I had to get things right. Young friend would have rapidly informed me if I had any detail wrong. I had to feel my way into a place I have never visited. My picture of it is undoubtedly different from the reality of the place Elinor based her Melvick, Lochhead and Kinlochmore on but I have lived in similarly remote places. It can be done. I had to remind myself about Skellig Michael and a couple of other small points.
All the same it was relatively simple. The story is simple. I am, more fool me, writing the sequel to that sequel. (I wonder what you call sequels to sequels?) I thought that would be relatively simple too. I have no idea where the idea for the story came from but I have suddenly found myself checking facts in history, finding out about lighthouses and people in positions of importance and little bits of law. The last do not go into the story as such but they have to make the story possible if you see what I mean.
Nicola Morgan was talking about physics and mathematics and other subjects only for a genius on her blog when I read it this morning. I hope I never have to head in those directions. I am not a scientist. I have no great interest in physics or mathematics except at an everyday level.
When I had finished reading Nicola however I realised that there was something she needs to say to writers. "All writers should be competent researchers."
Thursday, 3 December 2009
The recipe I use these days belongs to a friend. It was her grandmother's recipe. It is relatively simple. The fruit is sitting there with the contents of a bottle of cheap sherry over the top. It gets stirred several times a day. Things get added. The mixture goes into a variety of tins. It gets cooked. Cake, hopefully, comes out at the other end.
I will dutifully add a few mince pies (for my father) and shortbread. I am not cooking turkey or Christmas pudding. I do not care for either and neither does my father. Pudding belongs to winter, if we eat it at all. Both of us prefer fresh fruit.
"There will just be the three of us," an elderly friend told me. She has an invalid husband and still cares for a psychotic and sometimes violent son. I give her a small cake with the excuse that it is what will not fit into the tin I make ours in. It is a convention that allows her to accept it. She does not have the time or energy to make cakes of any sort.
A father and his young daughter will take one small cake with them when they head off for a week at the beach. They go over Christmas and New Year. It is important for them to get away because Christmas in the city has too many reminders of things past and what might have been. There will just be the two of them. I will get my young friend to help with the last stages of the cake making. She can ice their cake herself.
This sort of thing makes me feel a bit better about Christmas. I do not like the excess which surrounds Christmas. I like to stir in a little TLC but I do not want to smother.
It was very warm first thing this morning. When I collected the papers from the front I could smell Christmas. It was sweet and delicate. It was the 'barely there and not quite ready yet' scent of the peach tree. It was the way Christmas should be.
I went inside and stirred once, stirred twice and then stirred again.
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
This morning's papers leave no room for any doubt that the media is not happy with the new leader. He is a conservative, a former Catholic priest in training, a man with strong views on abortion, workplace flexibility, taking responsibility for oneself, looking out for your neighbour when they need it and a monarchist to boot. Not nice. This is not the sort of politics the media wants. It makes people think. I will reserve judgment. He has been known to put both feet into his mouth before now.
Nevertheless it raises the question of whether he will lead the Coalition to the next election. Given that election may well be a double dissolution this is a very big question indeed. The government is still saying they do not want a double dissolution. The timing for one would now be awkward. Go for a double dissolution before Copenhagen and nothing can be done at Copenhagen. Go for a double dissolution after Copenhagen. There will be no point in doing that unless the Copenhagen conference comes up with something that will give Labor leverage. Given the current track record of such conferences that may not happen. The government therefore also made a tactical blunder in demanding that the legislation be passed before Copenhagen. It was supposed to be the Prime Minister's chance to shine on the world stage. He wanted to lead. He has, without doubt, a view that he is a world leader. He speaks Mandarin - of a sort. What more could you want?
The problem is that Australia is merely a minor player on the world stage. If our first language was not English we would be smaller still. The new leader of the Opposition recognises that. He is prepared to move more cautiously. Is that what we want? We are being told it is not what we want. We can be a world leader. It will not make any difference to climate change. It will bankrupt the economy yet again but it will put us on the world stage.
I will suport an ETS if we cease to mine coal. I have concerns about nuclear safety but, if we sell uranium to other countries for nuclear power then we must also use it ourselves - or cease to sell it. I want to see reforestation taken up as a major issue and major changes to transport and other personal power usage issues.
None of that is likely to happen in a hurry, if it happens at all. The question for now then has to be whether the new Coalition leader will lead or will he be allowed to lead? Will we get an effective Opposition that might allow these issues to be debated? I doubt it. It makes people think. Thinking is dangerous.
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
Now that I have them I am, naturally, determined to use most of them. There are places to go and things to explore. There is this,
No, I do not actually read Gaelic. I can struggle through and translate a short sentence into English with the aid of a dictionary. Most intelligent people could do the same thing. Nevertheless it is the language of my ancestors and there are some utterly marvellous proverbs poetry and tales to be found. I could also go hunting for something that has been eluding me in Latin and download a Hausa dictionary and some Swahili folk tales for my friend Claire to use with the children she works with. There is even some knitting from the 19th C that is set out in a completely different way. It assumes people are intelligent enough and knowledgeable enough to make some decisions for themselves about bonnets and bustiers and other strange items. Strange indeed because knitting patterns now tend to be prescriptive. It is why I never follow them. I was never any good at being told what to do.
I have not yet dared to head towards the Children's collection of the same archive. There is bound to be far too much reading material there. I should be working. I can also skip over to some book review sites I do not normally have the download for and some blogs I need to catch up on. There is the rest of the Giddy Limit cartoon strip - set in Orkney.
The sheep related cartoons are something anyone ever associated with sheep can appreciate.
I have to stop this searching. There is work to do. I need to go to the Post Office. The Christmas queues there are getting irritatingly longer. I need to write real letters, make more shortbread and a Christmas cake so as to have something to offer visitors.
The trouble is that there is just one more site and that will lead to another...and another. Searching is dangerous. I must limit my download. It weighs too heavily on my time.