Tuesday, 31 August 2010

I have not read the

unedifying story of the six year old boy with the 23 book publishing deal. If you want to find out more try the coverage in How Publishing Really Works or The Chocolate Keyboard there on the left. There are links within to the newspaper articles or, should I say, gossip sheet articles.
Newspapers who print that sort of rubbish are really just gossiping - and doing harm.
The average six year old is still learning the basics of reading and writing. His or her skills are not normally worthy of even a one book deal, let alone a 23 book deal. No author gets a 23 book deal. I think this is child abuse.
I know that children do get used by their parents. It happens all the time. Freud did it. Anna Freud once said that living with her father, Sigmund, was incredibly difficult. Everything his children did was 'analysed'. The child psychologist Piaget did it too. His working partner, Barbel Inhelder, also said that Piaget's children found themselves closely watched and analysed. Some politicians use their children on the campaign trail others try to keep them, often unsuccessfully, away from the media.
If you are the child of a politician, a sports star, an actor, rock musician or other public figure then you are watched. You will find yourself the subject of media scrutiny. You cannot collect a speeding fine without it being reported. It is claimed that the reporting of these things is 'in the public interest' or of public interest. Nonsense.
We are encouraged to be curious about the lives of public figures, what their bathroom looks like, what colour the sheets are, the clothes they wear, the food they like to eat and the fads they go through. There would perhaps be nothing wrong with this if they always behaved responsibly but they do not. It is irresponsible behaviour which tends to get reported. Responsible behaviour is rarely regarded as interesting.
My siblings and I went through this in a small way. We were referred to as someone's grandchildren and someone's children. We were expected to behave responsibly, sensibly, politely and intelligently all the time. Our grandfather and father were seen as being these sort of people. My father is still seen this way. We never fell seriously out of line but even minor indiscretions were inclined to reach the ears of our parents when they would have been completely ignored in other children.
But, for all that, my parents did not deliberately use us to further their own careers and neither did my grandfather. To do that is child abuse.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Adelaide is a long, thin city

which stretches along the coast from the southern suburb of Port Willunga to Gawler and beyond in the north. It is caught between the sea and the hills. Our hills are not high. Mt Lofty is the highest point at 710m - barely an ant hill compared with Mt Everest.
Unlike Everest however it is possible to drive a short distance up to "Windy Point" and look down on the city. From there is it possible to see how flat Adelaide really is. It is also possible to see how many trees there are - essential for soaking up some of the summer heat! It is also possible to pick out some of the main features such as the airport, the desalination plant which is a blot on the landscape at one end and the power station which is an essential blot on the landscape at the other end. In between it is possible to identify other landmarks and major roads. Visitors usually find it interesting to make a brief detour there.
We visited with our overseas guests and, as usual, found other people there. Some of them were from Peru. They were being shown around by someone who now lives here. My sister took a photograph for them so they could all appear together. The Peruvians did not speak English.
They smiled rather awkwardly and shyly at us but my sister was already telling the girl who now lives here that she owns some Peruvian pan-pipes and a Peruvian flute. Suddenly there was chatter and the local girl was hard pressed to try and interpret it all.
Most of our few South American migrants come from Chile or Argentina. I asked if she was from Peru or Chile. Chile.
The Peruvians had turned back to take in the scenery. My sister and our guests took more photographs. The Chilean and I talked for a short while. I asked if she knew my Chilean friend. Yes, she had met him. How did I know him? I explained and added that we had a common interest in the poetry of Pablo Neruda. Suddenly I was being hugged. We had not exchanged names but, using the Spanish term my friend uses, she told me she knew who I must be.
I am "the cat". I speak their language. No, I tell her, my Spanish is almost non-existent. She laughs and tells me in Spanish, "No, you love our poetry. You speak our language."
I wonder if that is true.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

We currently have two visitors

from Germany. I have known my friend and her daughter for almost seventeen years. Her daughter was about six months old when we met via the internet. We had not actually physically met each other until late Friday afternoon. Now they are staying with my sister until Tuesday - and the time will be much too short.
We wanted to show them some of the sights while they were here. Adelaide is a very car dependent city. Public transport at weekends is infrequent and rather unreliable. I do not drive but my sister does so we decided on "girls day out" and set off confidently for Port Adelaide. There is, among other things, a Maritime Museum down there. Our family has a close association with the seafaring history of the area and we like to take visitors to see it. The museum is a major tourist attraction. It was not open. Nothing else seemed to be open either. It was Saturday. Our visitors could not climb the small lighthouse or visit the small aircraft and railway museums. We felt embarrassed. These things used to be open on Saturdays. The literature we had said they were.
All we could do was take them for a short stroll along the wharf to where the "Falie" is docked.
The Falie is a ketch that used to ply the gulf. It is now used as a training vessel for young people to learn maritime skills. It is interesting enough but it cannot compete with a visit to the Museum.
Our visitors were very good tempered about all this. It was my friend who was alert enough to discover what really saved the trip from being a waste. There was an exhibition of wood turning in the old courthouse. Suddenly they were able to see something very Australian indeed.
Australian timbers tend to be dense, close grained hardwoods. This is because our climate tends to be very dry. Their colour range is magnificent. Their markings are often very unusual. My friend is a craftsperson. She can knit and spin and sew and do other things. Here was an exhibition where things could be picked up, a place where you could run your hands over the glasslike surface of a bowl or plate and press your thumb gently into a bark rim. The two men minding the exhibition actually encouraged us to pick up the pieces. They were happy for my sister to take photographs to bring back for my father and to answer questions about the way things had been done.
My friend could not resist. She came away with a small bowl. It is an unusual but still practical shape. The timber is dark but there is a ring of lighter timber around the top. The bark has been kept intact along the rim. The rest is polished as smooth and as glossy as a glass straight from the most efficient of dishwashers. It was one of the loveliest pieces in the room. She showed my father last night. He knows about these things. He was impressed.
I will be left with a lasting impression of my friend's delight in finding something unique.
Tomorrow we plan to take them to a wildlife reserve. It had better be open. I will check first.

Friday, 27 August 2010

I used to read bedtime stories to

Nicholas and his twin. It was perhaps the best part of babysitting two mischevious small boys and their two older siblings.
The twins would sit one on either side of me - so they could see the pictures. Their brother and sister would sit on the floor in front of me and listen - even though they declared they were "too big and just there to see that the twins behave". Are you ever too old for a bedtime story? I doubt it. I think the BBC still does "A book at bedtime".
I do not particularly like anyone reading aloud to me. It is possible that this is because I have had to endure too much of this being done in a spectacularly bad way. My mother once confessed to almost having nodded off as she listened to small children, still learning to read, progress as snail's pace from one word to the next.
I never did much reading aloud, even at school. I could read long before I went to school and my teachers were more than happy to leave me to my own devices while they worked with those who were struggling with the great mystery of the black lines on the white page. I was reading lengthy hardcovers when most of the class was still learning to read the limp first primer. Nobody considered this very extraordinary. Everyone knew that I just liked to read.
Even early in school I would often be irritated by someone reading aloud. It was badly done.
The same thing occurs all too frequently at Writers' Weeks and other author meetings. Being able to write is no guarantee that you can read aloud, even from your own work.
Two birthdays back my sister gave my father an audio-book as a little extra. He likes the writer and has not read that particular book - and he still has not listened to it. He prefers to read in silence.
The odd thing is that it took many, many years for reading in silence to become the accepted norm. Reading aloud was the accepted thing, even if you were alone. I can only assume that this was because of the pre-reading tradition of story telling and the fact that there were far fewer literate people.
Somehow though a child's picture book is there to be read aloud. Yesterday, after the funeral, I came home and pulled one of Nick's favourite books off the shelf - and read it aloud.

Today is Daffodil Day

and daffodils will be sold in many places to raise money for the Cancer Council. It is particularly fitting because we go to the funeral of Dad's godson today.
The daffodils sold will mostly be of the plain yellow variety that I believe are called King Arthur.
They are the sort of daffodils I believe you can still buy in small bunches from street vendors in London and no doubt many other places. They are a little less common here because our climate is a little warm for bulbs. You need to put tulip bulbs in the 'fridge to 'wake them up' and perhaps other bulbs as well. We just leave our daffodil bulbs in the ground and they seem to come up each year. At the moment there is just one daffodil out, one of the plain yellow variety.
I suspect that these plain yellow daffodils are what most people (who know the poem at all) associate with Wordsworth's host of golden daffodils too.
They are wonderful, cheerful flowers. On one occasion I was given a bunch by a fellow student in London. His name was "Benjy". He was well over seven feet tall and hailed from Jamaica. I used to proof read Benjy's essays so that, as he put it, he would not sound "Jamaican". He rarely did but there were some occasional little oddities that I rather liked. He was a nice man, desperately homesick for his wife and five children. He really could not even afford daffodils but I accepted them and cherished their brilliant colour on a very grey day.
There will be daffodils of all sorts at 'the Show' where I was helping with the judging yesterday. They will range from almost white, through all shades lemon, yellow, gold, mustard, mandarin and orange. They will all be beautiful, along with many other beautiful flowers and plants. As they are at the other end of the big hall which holds the crafts I will possibly see some of them as I do my turn on duty. I can arrive early and take my time walking even more slowly than usual through the hall. By the end of the week they will not look as fresh and I will, as always be saddened by the transitory nature of the beauty of cut flowers.
Each of them however is a small work of art. I tell myself if we had them forever we would not respect them - and they deserve respect.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Today I am off to help with the judging

of the knitting section at our Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society Annual Show. It sounds impressive doesn't it? I hope I can be of genuine assistance to the senior judge. She is a woman of great talent in the field of embroidery - something about which I know very little. My manual dexterity is limited and it certainly does not extend to threading a needle.
I have however managed to learn to knit and acquired some knowledge of the craft over the years.
Knitting, in one form or another, has been around for several thousand years. Some of the earliest knitting was done on frames in a similar fashion to so-called French knitting, spool knitting or tomboy stitch = you know the yards and yards (now metres and metres) of long thin worm you used to turn out and then wonder what to do with. One of the boys in one of my primary schools made enough to go around the entire circumference of the school yard.
There is also the thought that Christ's garment, said to be 'without seam', was actually knitted.
In mediaeval times knitting was done by men. It was a seven year apprenticeship. At the end of it they had to produce, under great pressure, a diverse range of items such as a 'carpet' and 'stockings'. The women did the spinning and were only permitted to knit if they were widows and their husbands had been knitters. Now men knit less frequently than women but I do know men who knit and knit very well.
Knitting comes in all sizes, colours, shapes, forms and textures. You can knit wire and rope and ribbon as well as wool, alpaca, mohair and silk. There is sock yarn with nylon of course but there is also sock yarn with sea-shell. There are modern yarns made from bamboo, banana palm, milk and chitin (sea shell). There are all sorts of combinations, both cheap and expensive.
It is all, if you are interested in that sort of thing at all, very interesting.
There will be all sorts of garments there to day from hat to socks and everything in between. I do not however think that there will be the strangest knitted items I have ever come across - a pair of socks knitted from licorice shoestrings. No, I am sure they never got worn. Did they get eaten?

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

How many lives do you lead?

As a cat I am supposed to have nine lives - I think. I may have this wrong. If I do have nine lives are they consecutive or parallel? If they are consecutive I feel as if I have used up eight of them already. Life is going to be much too short. If they are parallel I seem to have lost some along the way. Where can I find them and what should I be using them for?
There are my two 'working' lives - looking after my father and looking after the communication needs of other people. There is my writing life - does that include the blog or is that another life?
There is my knitting life - that seems a very small life at present. It struggles - much as I like the challenge of keeping it alive. There is my almost non-existent social life. Five lives. I must have four more somewhere.
It all sounds rather silly put like that but my life seems to have been rather out of kilter recently. The cat hairs have not been as evenly spread as they should be. I am not aiming for a comfortable existence - that would be asking too much and would almost certainly be very dull. I think I would like a little more time to untangle the cat hairs and get them in order but that will not solve all the problems.
I really need to be in three places at once on Friday. I need to be at a funeral. That is the first priority. I need to greet my two American friends who are coming to stay until Tuesday. They have been very understanding about the funeral and tell me 'family' comes first. They are going to be good guests who go off and entertain themselves - for which I am most grateful although I feel guilty about not being there to meet them. I promised to do something for someone else and I have to break that promise - but I think I can make it up to them. I hope so. I do not like breaking promises.
Yes, I will get a more balanced life back...or rather nine lives. Right now I know I am just lucky to have them.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Do I really understand these social networking

tools on the internet? I do not think I understand them at all.
There is this blog - a random set of cat hairs which is just held together by something (although I am not sure what that something is) and there is Facebook and there is Twitter. I suppose if I was really interested in such things there would be other things as well.
I do not put much up on Facebook, just the occasional comment. What it does is keep me informed about the writing activities of a few individuals. I am not going to post photographs of myself there - or here, or anywhere else. (You might get the mistaken impression that I am human!)
Twitter still puzzles me a little. There are hash tags and so on that I have still not managed to work out. Is it polite to send messages to people you follow out of interest but who do not follow you in return? Would I even dare to send a message to them? Probably not. It is not that I follow any 'celebrities'. I am not interested in celebrities. I like writers. Writers are not celebrities. Most of them are much too sensible for that. Writers get on with life. They have to live two lives, their real one and their writing life. It does not leave time to be a celebrity.
Twitter however seems to work in an odd sort of way. I woke up this morning and found three new 'followers' in my mail box. I have never met any of them in real life. I may never do so. One of them writes a very interesting blog (with the help of margarita drinking beagle). I will investigate the others and find out who they are as well.
You get a mere 140 characters for a message on twitter. It amuses me that our politicians are very bad at this. They seem to mostly have given up on Twitter. I suspect that this is because there is just not enough space for them there. On the other hand good writers can get a message across in even less characters.
I do not twitter or tweet like a bird. I prowl - mostly in silence. There is a lot to be learned by observation.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

This morning would be better if

I did not need to go to the dentist. This involves a train journey but not a train journey at a civilised hour. UPDATE - the dentist is unwell. I am sorry for her but not for me. I get to stay home instead of going out in the rain!

I do not like sharing trains with the commuter traffic. There are some small advantages in working from home and one of them is not having to do this. I have to ride my tricycle to the railway station - about a kilometre from here - and then hoist it on to the train. (If I am fortunate some kind person will help.) Then there is the journey into the city and another ride to the bicycle rack almost outside the door of the building the dental clinic is in. So far I have always found a vacant spot at the rack. They do not like people to lock their pedals to anything else in that part of the city. Then it is in the lift to level seven, wait, see Sue (the dentist) and hope she does not find too much that needs to be done. There are seven or eight dentists in the practice. It is part of our health fund or I would find something much closer to home. The same goes for our doctor although the medical clinic is a mere three kilometres away - nevertheless a distance if you are feeling ill.

I will do the journey in reverse when I leave but the train will probably be almost empty. It frequently is mid morning. I can take a book with me - essential reading so that I do not feel I am 'wasting' time.

The dental practice insists that we need to be seen at much too regular intervals for my liking. There was a time when we went once a year. As we have the extra cover the cost is reasonable and I know I cannot object to that. Sue is nice person, in another life we might even be friends. But, somehow, there is something about going to the dentist....

My father's godson died yesterday

He was just forty-four. He had cancer, an osteo-sarcoma in his left arm first and then the secondaries. It has been long and difficult journey for him and for his family. We are glad it is over for him and desperately concerned for his family, particularly his twin and his parents.
His father sounded quite calm last night but shock, disbelief and relief were all mixed together. I do not have children but I know for a certainty that you should not have to see one of your children die before you.
My father had been to see his godson the day before. He got greeted with a brief handraise and a faint smile. It was all that there was energy for. My father came home emotionally drained. Last night he spent several hours sitting in his favourite chair and staring into space. This is the son of his closest friends and he feels helpless.
There is his godson's twin too - an identical twin. The two boys shared the sort of closeness that only twins seem to share. As small boys they had their own private language and seemed to be able to read one another's thoughts. I minded them on a regular basis so that their father could go to university lectures and their mother could go to orchestra practice. I was always reminded not to let them sit at the plug end of the bathtub or the water would quickly disappear. They cuddled in, one on either side, as I read stories and made up stories about them. They would change their pyjama tops over in an effort to fool me - and forget to change the bottom as well.
Their older sister and brother would get demented over the way the twins would take their toys to play with and leave them lying around - with their siblings then taking the blame for untidiness.
Dad's godson leaves a partner but no child of his own. I do not know whether that makes it any better or any worse. My feeling is that it is both better and worse. His twin has children and that may help a little - but his twin feels just half there right now.
The last time I saw him Dad's godson knew, long before anything was actually said, that he was almost certainly looking at a very limited period of time. We were sitting together outside, slightly away from everyone else, and he said very quietly, "You know Cat, I do wonder what it is like down the plug hole."
Then he stood up and left me.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

I am off to vote shortly although I

always wonder what difference it will make. I know, one vote does count! It is like one stitch in a garment or one turn of the pedals or one stir of the pot....or even one square of chocolate. (The last is a particularly sad state of affairs.)
A friend of mine showed my father one button recently. It is the only button of its kind. It is, we think, made from a slice of a tree root. The shape is pleasing but irregular. The colours are both light and dark. It has been smoothed and polished to the extent that it almost feels slippery. It is a lovely button but as yet it has no purpose except to exist, give pleasure and be of potential use. One day my friend may use it on a bag or as a single button on a garment. It will then become part of something else but it will also still be itself. I find that idea strange yet fascinating.
When I go to vote I will be choosing a member of parliament to represent me. I may or may not get my first choice. I may get someone I did not choose at all. Whatever happens the person who is elected is supposed to represent me and be part of a group of people who will help to run the country. It does not matter whether they are part of the 'winning' or the 'losing' team. They will be part of the garment that is supposed to proect us. They are a bit like the button and it will be better if they are firmly sewn on. It seems like a good reason to vote.

Friday, 20 August 2010

I will now ignore

the election as we vote tomorrow and nothing I say now is going to make any difference - if it ever did.
There is another (and much pleasanter) event coming up on the calendar. This is 'the Show'. Now 'the Show' is actually the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society Annual Show held at 'the Showgrounds'. I think I have mentioned this before.
I was sent an envelope the other day with a little badge that I have to wear to do my stewarding duties. I suppose they need to know I am one but the problem is that they sent one which says 'judge' and not 'steward'. Thankfully it does not have my name on it. I can be someone else, especially if people disagree with the decisions that are made.
I never thought I would be involved at all. As a child I went to the Show three times I think. My parents were not happy about taking four children. I suppose it was an expensive exercise even then. I can remember going with my youngest sister sitting in 'the pusher' and me sitting awkwardly on top of it. My brother would hold on with one hand and my father would carry my other sister on his shoulders. All this was necessary because of the potential for 'getting lost'. We never did get lost.
We would go to visit the cattle, the sheep, the pigs and the working dogs. My sisters always wanted to see the horses in action in the ring. We liked to see the real beehive (safely enclosed). Our treat for the day was a honey-flavoured icecream after we had eaten sandwiches and drunk home-made lemon cordial. We knew better than to ask for the pies, chips, sausage rolls, fairy-floss and bottles of Coca-cola being consumed by those around us.
We also knew better than to ask for a "Show Bag". There were a great variety of these things even then. They were relatively much cheaper than they are now and, I think, better value but my mother was adamant. Show Bags were a 'waste of money'. We were told before we set out for the day that we would not be permitted to have one but we would each be given a bag so that we could collect pamphlets and free samples of things like dried fruit and cereal. These were our 'show bags'. We were also permitted to spend that week's pocket money (less Sunday School collection) at the Show if we so wished - but not on a Show Bag or a coloured chicken which would grow into an ordinarily coloured hen - or perhaps rooster. My brother would spend his on a ride in the dodgem cars. My two sisters would use theirs on a ride on the merry-go-round with the horses. I never dared to try the dodgem cars and my first ever experience on a merry-go-round left me feeling dizzy and ill. I never wanted to go on again. I always wanted to try the big slippery slide but you had to be able to climb the steps and I could not do that so I never did it.
I would always end up 'saving' the money. It would be put into my money box when we arrived home.
But there was a magical year when my brother and I were given a Show Bag. My father cannot remember where they came from and we were too young to remember but we can remember the contents. They came from a company that produced peanut products. Inside there was a tiny glass jar of peanut 'paste' - now called 'butter', a tiny packet of salted peanuts, a tiny packet of sugared peanuts and some information about peanuts which included a little crossword puzzle which you could fill in with a pencil advertising the peanuts. There may have been something else. I cannot remember now. We thought all this was wonderful.
Yesterday my father was hunting for something in a drawer in the shed. At the very back of the drawer he came across a number of pencils. One of them was labelled with part of the logo from the peanut company. Was it one of our pencils? I do not know but it reminded us of the "best Show Bag" we ever had.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

There are two letters by me in

this morning's paper. One is written under my own name. The other is one that I dictated to someone while we stood shivering on the railway station platform yesterday. He approached me and said, "I want to write to the paper about ....but I don't know how to say it. I always use too many words."
He is right. He does. He talks a lot. He uses far too many words most of the time. Other people do not listen. The same may be true of me - and many other people.
This time however he listened. He took what I dictated down on his laptop (balanced on the rubbish bin) and this morning it appeared in the paper. He will no doubt be pleased. I am not sure whether it is his letter or mine. I agreed with the sentiments although, if I had been writing it for myself, I might have put it differently.
It made me look even more closely at the other letters there this morning. They are on a diverse range of subjects, if mostly election related. Most are short. Some are better expressed than others.
There are some from names I recognise, serial letter writers. These people would seem to write one, sometimes more letters to the paper each day. There is one from a woman who is predictably left wing, another from one who has sensible things to say about a narrow range of topics, another from someone who often takes a light hearted approach and makes a punch with it. There are some which are complaints and others which praise.
Letters to the state newspaper are rarely academic or intellectual but they can be thoughtful and, on local issues, they can provide useful feedback for politicians and public servants. Even the national newspaper tends to have a similar mix although there are more from academics and intellectuals.
It irritates me however when politicians and high level public servants have letters printed about policy issues. It seems to me that they have a press officer to produce press releases for this sort of thing. I like to think that the letters page is reserved for the opinions of the wider public. I like to think of it as a modern forum for an exchange of views, even if it is heavily moderated by editorial staff.
I wonder what the ancient Greeks and Romans would make of it?

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

It may be of little interest to foreign

readers but Australia is having an election campaign. We are required by law to attend the ballot box on Saturday. Voting is 'compulsory' in Australia. What that really means is that we must enrol to vote when we reach 18 (in my case it was 21 but they changed the age of majority later) and then we must head off to a polling station on polling day (unless we have voted by post or voted earlier) and accept the ballot papers (one for the House of Representatives and one for the Senate) and then we are expected to mark them in the approved fashion and place them in the ballot boxes.

Nobody can actually force you to mark them in the approved fashion but most people make some sort of attempt. There will always people who do not bother to mark them or mark them in a manner that causes their vote to be invalid. Much of the latter problem is caused by our system of compulsory preferential voting.

I oppose compulsory preferential voting. If I only like candidate A I should not have to go any further than that. I should not be required to pass on my vote to candidates B and C if I disagree with their policies. I most certainly should not have to vote (even in order of preference) for candidates with opposing points of view. People say that compulsory preferential voting ensures that the candidate a majority of people want always gets in. That it is patently nonsense. It would only occur if people actually had a genuine preference instead of one which they are required to make by law.
Let me give a nonsense example but one which makes the point. There is always the possible scenario of candidate A believing in developing a scheme to plant "widgetia" plants because of their magical properties. I agree with candidate A and wish to vote for him or her. However under our system I am also required to vote for candidates B, C, D etc. Say then that, in this case, candidates B, C and D do not believe in widgetia, indeed candidates C and D would order the destruction of all widgetia plants. Candidate B wants wodgete planted instead. It is my view that wodgete is harmful to the environment. Where do I cast my preferences? I do not agree B, C or D. If candidate A does not succeed then my vote is passed on to B, C or D through preferences I am required to make. Optional preferential voting would reduce the problem. Proportional voting of one sort or another might also reduce the problem. The present system however, brought in by PM Billy Hughes in 1918, was designed to preserve the two party arrangement and neither major party is in a hurry to change it.

I realise why the major parties like this state of affairs. It benefits them. It also allows them to at least assist (if not actually set up) single issue parties with politically views that are popular with a group but which the major parties do not actually wish to be policy. They can then get the single issue party to feed their preferences to that major party. As most people vote according to the 'how to vote' card they can be sure of a clutch of votes feeding from that party. That practice would not be nearly as effective under optional preferential voting.

There has been plenty of that going on. We have eight candidates for our seat. Our sitting member is likely to lose his seat. His woes have been added to by a particularly nasty little campaign being run by his major opponent. This afternoon's mail brought the 'piece de resistance' in the form of a glossy statement falsely claiming he was in favour of a cutback to certain education services. The services in question are a state not federal responsibility and he does not even have anything to do with them. He is certainly not opposed to their continuing to exist, indeed would encourage it. The statements are, of course, designed to do great damage to his campaign. They may well succeed too. There is almost no time for a comeback and the media is unlikely to handle the story at all.

Now all of this might well be considered to be fair play in an election campaign. People do get nasty. What bothers me, and it will bother many other people if they get a chance to think about it, is the fact that nowhere on the glossy statement is there mention of which party is making it. It is just a statement. It could be coming from anywhere and the only giveaway is the fine print where it says, as required by law, "authorised by...." and a name that means nothing to most people because it is the name of an individual, not a party.
It is my belief that if you want to make statements about your opponents, especially a statement which will not stand up to scrutiny, then the very least you should have is enough courage to put the name of your party to what you are saying. Anything less is bullying. Bullying is a sign of cowardice.

What would it be like to

question the very nature of your existence and everything you had previously believed in, not because of what someone else told you but because of your own observations?
We went to see "Creation" last night - the story of Charles Darwin. It is not being widely screened in Adelaide. It has received very little publicity here. I rather suspect that there is a significant group of the church-going community who would find the film an uncomfortable experience. That may be why there has been so little said about it and why there were just eight people at the late afternoon screening. That is a pity because it was well worth seeing.
I am not particularly fond of going to films. It is not something I do often. I prefer to read but t this film was a challenge. Of course I already knew the Darwin story - or did I? Of course I knew it at one level. I knew what Darwin had done but I had never really considered the personal trauma he must have suffered in finally accepting what he had observed. I had not really considered how it must have clashed with what he had been brought up to believe or the beliefs of many of those around him. I do not think I wanted to know that.
I know my views do not always agree with the views that are considered to be 'politically correct' by some people with whom I have daily contact. I remain silent because I have to live with these people. Is that cowardly? I know I am not likely to change their views. I do sometimes speak out. There is a letter by me in a newspaper today. I know I will be challenged about that. Someone may even publicly disagree on the same letters to the editor page tomorrow. I can live with that. The issue is not a personal one and it is one that does merit discussion. It challenges the way we select those who take on the responsibility for representing us in government but it does not challenge the existence of government. If I challenged the existence of government I would perhaps be locked up and declared certifiably insane. It is a frightening thought and that is what leads me to wonder about the idea which confronted me again last night.
Darwin challenged existence itself and it must have been a terrifying thing to do.

Monday, 16 August 2010

One of the most important things about friendship

has surely to be the capacity and the willingness to listen. Sometimes it is all people need but how many of us recognise that?
It is hard to listen. It can be much easier to talk about ourselves. It is easier to talk about anything else at all if someone else we know and live, perhaps love, is in severe emotional distress. We do not want to know.
We may not mean to be selfish but we feel inadequate and uncomfortable. Displays of emotion are acutely embarrassing to us - and to them. They apologise to us because their distress embarrasses us - and that may cause them further distress. But, being there for someone and listening can be the difference between that someone giving up or being able to go on.
It takes time we are not always prepared to give. It takes emotional commitement we do not always wish to offer.
We had long time friends call in yesterday. Their current circumstances are appalling and there is nothing that can be done by their friends to rectify the situation. It has to be friends they rely on too because they are migrants and do not have family to rely on. I had been up since 4am and I had been working most of the day. I did not want the intrusion. I did not want to spend the time. I did not want to burdened yet again with their problems. I accepted the inevitable because it was inevitable. They needed us far more than my father and I needed a few hours to ourselves.
We sat and had pizza and listened and then listened some more. There were tears. They were very late leaving but seemed a little calmer than they were when they arrived. I was less worried that they would make it safely home than I had been they would arrive safely.
When they had gone the house seemed empty and even quieter than usual. My father and I had not said much all the time they were here. I put the last of the cutlery away and the pizza box out in the rubbish bin ready for tomorrow's collection. It started to rain again and I thought of our friends and the tears. They are going back to the waiting time that is the hardest sort of waiting of all. I was glad we could be there for them at least for a few short hours.
They needed to talk - and we needed to be silent.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Today I will (not) be mostly visiting the library but

I feel for Penny Dolan over on Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Now please do not get the wrong impression. I love my local library. I visit it often. I know all the staff. The staff all know me. When I go in I am just as likely to be greeted with "Here's Cat she might know..." as with "Hello Cat...". I do not mind in the least....after all if the person in charge of the children's section is not there I might be the next best thing. If someone wants to know about the knitting books I am probably the best thing. (We do not have many and I have borrowed them all - mostly out of curiosity.)
Our library has changed over the years I have known it. When we first moved into the district it was new and smaller than it is now, indeed only about half the size. It had been open less than a week when the staff were saying it should be larger. It took years of lobbying to extend it because it meant taking up a tiny amount of the precious memorial park space. Non-readers were opposed to it. I think the old soldiers, to whose memory the park is dedicated, would be very happy to see it being used so much.
Back when I first borrowed the cards were cardboard, then cards were laminated, now they are plastic with a magnetic strip . Once you could use them for borrowing books and the occasional magazine. Now you can use them for borrowing books, many magazines, CDs, DVDs, talking books and other items like the pen for putting security markings on your valuables around home.
The library also has tea and coffee, lounge chairs, computer terminals and two small meeting rooms that can be turned into one larger meeting room. It now has book groups, a knitting group, a gardening group, workshops on book binding, computing, film making and other less likely topics - like a secondhand clothes exchange for teens.
It used to be a fairly quiet place, not the super quiet library of my childhood where you tip-toed (if you could) in and whispered to the librarian but at least quiet. Now it is just as likely to be noisy because there is a tutorial going on in one corner, storytelling in another or someone has hauled out the television set to watch a big match while they work. Even some of the smallest children know how to go to the main desk and climb up on the little ledge to pass over their own cards and get their own books issued.
We do not yet issue our own books there - although I do in other libraries I belong to and it will come to ours. They are holding out for present because the face to face contact tells the library staff more about what people are reading, whether they enjoyed it and why.
And I think that is when the library will change again. The library in the next council district has a self-issuing machine. It is possible to go in and borrow a book without speaking to anyone. The library staff are remote, books tend to be re-shelved in silence. The staff do not know the borrowers. It has become, like so many other things, automated. I know the system saves on wages but it loses on so much else.
I wonder what there will be to read then? How will they know what we want to read? We can borrow books but we may not read. We can read them but we may not enjoy them. You cannot give feedback to an automatic borrowing machine. You need a person for that.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Hidden away on page 17

of our state newspaper this morning was a story about the way in which the Commonwealth Public Service Union was 'bullying' members into voting Labor. I suspect that, even given the delight journalists take in exaggerating issues, there is more than a grain of truth in this story.
The CPSU is not apolitical. It would be unusual to find a union which is not aligned with the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the ACTU is heavily involved with the Australian Labor Party. That suits the ALP as the ACTU provides much of the ALP funding. (They can easily afford this because some of their own activities, such as their AEC run elections, are funded by the taxpayer. That is not going to change. The ALP does very nicely out of it and the unions only have to threaten strike action if the support is removed.)
There is however a problem when it comes to the CPSU because the public service is supposed to be apolitical. It is supposed to offer unbiased advice. It is unlikely that anyone really believes this. Some may even think it does not really matter very much.
I know any number of public servants and they have a range of political views. Those who do not vote Labor tend to keep their views to themselves, especially in the work place. One highly competent and very able young person has just been passed over for promotion again. This time she was verbally informed it was because she was not a member of the CPSU and, it was implied, her loyalty was suspect. How often such things occur I do not know but they should not occur at all. She is now looking for work outside the APS. They will almost certainly lose her but she will be the exception, not the rule. That matters. We are in increasing danger of an homogenised public service that does not offer a diversity of advice and experience to the government of the day. Political correctness and bias will rule because people will be too afraid of losing their jobs.
I am surprised that the article was hidden on page 17 - or perhaps that it appeared at all. Nothing is likely to change.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Networking now seems to be

an essential for writers. They are, it seems, expected not only to write the book but to sell it as well - and not just sell it to an agent and the publisher but to sell it to the public.
Okay, they have always had to do some of this but now they are expected to do even more of it, most of it. Some writers even self-publish and that means doing everything themselves. I will not go there but the idea of a writer, published by someone else, doing virtually all their own publicity is more than a little disturbing to me. What is the writing paying the publisher for this 'privilege' - because that is the way that it works. Someone has to be making money out of this. It is not the writer and, I suspect, not the agent. It has to be the publisher. The writer has to go out and sell the publisher's product. Of course they say, "But it is your product. You created it."
True, but they bought it.
However it seems to be a fact of life so then there is the networking. There are the internet tools like Facebook and Twitter and blogs, there are talks in schools, libraries, bookgroups etc. There are, if authors are fortunate, signings in bookshops etc etc. There is word of mouth. A good book gets talked about - if you are lucky.
Nicola Morgan is doing a 'social networking experiment' here:
http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/2010/08/social-networking-experiment.html and I will be interested to see how well it works - rather well I suspect because Nicola is already well known. She is 'involved' in not just writing but in the social network of authors who attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival and other like events. Nicola has done a stint as President of Scottish Society of Authors - work yes, but also invaluable in getting one's name known. She sells herself to schools and has diversified into selling assistance to other writers as well. It is all hard work.
There are also writers who do not need to do any of these things. They write the next book and there is only a small chance that they will have it rejected. Such people are few and far between. What they write is not necessary uniformly good, indeed may not be good at all. They have a 'name' however and, like certain brandnames, the 'name sells'. Like Mozart or Monet there is an assumption that all their writing (or music or painting) is outstandingly good. I can think of a number of writers who should have been confined to the dustbin long ago but they continue to be published. They sell. People go on buying because Big W or Tesco stock the book and play a loop with a teaser designed to sell it to you in store. These writers largely get the work of selling done for them. I am not sure it does any writer any favours. The profit margin has to be low.
So, we are back to the networking. I think people probably need to talk more about the books they read. There are book groups of course. People talk about books there but, outside that, they talk about football and films. They do not talk as much, if at all, about books.
So, what is it about books? Why is it we cannot seem to network about books?

Thursday, 12 August 2010

"It's like I don't exist!"

I was told by a very upset teenager. He and his grandmother were at the library trying to work out what to do. They had just come back from the "Hatched, Matched and Dispatched" Office (Births, Deaths and Marriages) without his birth certificate. He does not have one.
I have known this teen for a long time, virtually all his life. His father was killed in a road accident two days after he was born. His mother walked out on him a few weeks later. Nobody knows where she is. His paternal grandparents brought him up. They did a good job too. He is very well mannered, in a slightly old fashioned sort of way. He is highly intelligent and has done extremely well at school. This is his last year and he should do very well.
His grandfather died a year or so ago. Now it is just him and his grandmother. She would like to go back to the UK to visit family next year and take him with her. He needs a passport. A passport means he needs a birth certificate. His birth has never been registered.
The news was such a shock to them that they had just walked out of the office. They were collecting their bicycles from the rack outside the library when they saw me and told me what had happened. Up until now there has never been any need for a birth certificate. He has not needed a proof of age card and he has not wanted a learn to drive licence as they do not own a car. He has been enrolled at school, used a doctor and a dentist, had his vaccinations and done all the usual childhood and adolescent things without the need for a birth certificate. Now he needs one.
I told them not to panic. There are ways of dealing with such things. It will not be the first time such a thing has happened and it will not be the last. Neither of them are going to be prosecuted for failing to register his birth either. They started to look a bit calmer and asked if I had any idea where they should start the process. Yes, back at the office.
I will go in with the grandmother - for moral support. She is still worried and bewildered. The teen looks at me and says "It's like I don't exist!" It must be.
I think I am glad I think I exist.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

I went to see an elderly acquaintance

yesterday. She is now in a nursing home. It was the only possible option after she had several bad falls brought on by what she called "giddy turns". Her only child, a son, lives in the United States. He has not been back to Australia for eighteen years, the time his father died. His father left the house to him, with a life interest for his mother. It is not the first time such things have happened and it will not be the last. There has been a mass of paperwork to handle. I have not, fortunately, been responsible for most of it but there have been some small things that I have needed to do. So I went in yesterday.
She was sitting in her room reading a book. It was nice to see me she said. She looked as if she was dressed to go out so I asked what she planned to do that afternoon.
"Oh they have community singing in recreation this afternoon and a film. I thought I might go and find out what it was like. There was a film yesterday, an old one. I really enjoyed it. Tomorrow there is a bus to the shops so I can go to the chemist. Now, what have you got for me to do dear?"
We went through the paperwork carefully. She gave me a cheque to pay a bill for her. Then I walked her slowly up to the recreation room. She tells me a small joke she has just heard and of how she has met some people I know. Someone greeted her as she reached the door of the room so she gave me a kiss and I left.
I know it is not the life she would have chosen for herself but she seems determined to make the most of her circumstances. I wonder yet again just what sort of person her son is. I have never met him. She never mentions him. He sends her a card at Christmas. That is all. He has not responded to her move except through a legal firm.
Last night friends rang. Their family is extremely tight knit. One member of the family is critically ill right now. Everyone is trying to help, to the extent of putting themselves out financially if necessary. None of them can really afford it but they will do it anyway. They apologised for interrupting my evening but could I please tell them about the organisation I suggested might be able to help. I explained and said that their critically ill family member is eligible for some financial assistance from the government. It was something they had not even considered, wondered if it was even right. I pointed out he had paid taxes all his life. This way he can stay where he is for the last few weeks of his life. It is what he would like and it is what they want for him. Things will move rapidly today. They will see to it.
I wonder why the two families are so different.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

"What's that key for?"

my father asks as he hands my little bunch of keys back to me. He has just been pumping up my tricycle tyres. It is a job I am perfectly able to do for myself but he insists that it is his job - so I let him. It is important to make 87yr old males feel that they are still in charge around the house.
I look at the key he is holding between his fingers. It is a temporary visitor to my little bunch, rather larger than the others. I do not carry a lot of keys with me.
"David's letter box key," I tell him. Right. "He must trust you too," my father remarks.
I suppose David does - not that he has much choice if he wants his letter box emptied in his extended absence. The letter box key, unlike other keys, must not be left in a hiding place somewhere outside a house or I would not be carrying it with my keys.
Other keys are left in hiding places for me. It is still winter here. Some of the oldies have gone north, far north. They have mostly gone to Queensland. The weather is much warmer there. They hook up their caravans and leave at the beginning of winter. They come back twelve or fourteen weeks later - unless they have grandchildren to care for and must remain here. In their absence I know where their keys are. They stop the paper deliveries and get mail forwarded. Indoor plants will be given to neighbours. Cats will be placed in holiday homes for cats or cared for by neighbours. (Dogs go with them.) I tell them I do not need to know where their spare keys are kept but they tell me anyway.
"You might need to get inside the house," they tell me. I always hope I will never need to do so. There was one occasion on which someone left their reading glasses behind. Please could I post them up? I asked where they were and their owner admitted he had no idea. I let myself in to his home reluctantly. It feels very strange going into a house when the owner is not there. Fortunately for me the glasses were in full view on the kitchen table - and I had let myself in through the back door. Underneath the glasses was an unfilled prescription so I included that as well - much to the relief of the owner.
Most of the keys I know about are in fairly obvious hiding places. I have tried to dissuade people from leaving keys under potplants or mats at the front door or back door. That is just too obvious but there are other likely places and many people still seem to think that these places will do.
One of the oldies from around the corner moved into a retirement village recently. The new owner stopped me yesterday and said, "Mr O said that you know where the spare key for the little shed is. He can't remember and I can't get in. I don't want to break the lock."
I told the new owner where the key was. He nodded.
"Sounds like a reasonable place. I think I might leave it there."
"I will know where it is then," I told him.
"So you will but Mr O trusted you and you know where the keys are for them and them," he says jerking his hands in the direction of the neighbours, "And that reminds me. We will be away this coming weekend. I had better tell you where the key is."
I would really rather not know but I say nothing.

Monday, 9 August 2010

I am making marmalade this morning

although I thought I had done all the 'boilings' for the year. 'Boiling' is the term my paternal grandmother used to describe marmalade making. Why? I do not know.
My grandmother also had to slice her fruit, very finely, by hand. I use a nifty Swiss made cutting device. It is much faster and more efficient. This is a good thing because I am not particularly efficient or able with a knife.
The cutting device is one of those rare useful kitchen gadgets, like the one that helps to open jars. I am not particularly fond of gadgets. They are often more work than the old fashioned way of doing something. They also need to be stored. I cannot be bothered.
But I can be bothered using lovely, clean, fresh lemons that were given to me!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Buttons anyone?

I went to a meeting yesterday afternoon. The guest speaker was a collector of buttons. Now the Senior Cat has just tried his hand at making buttons. Both of us had done some reading on the topic with the help of some Inter-Library Loans. He probably should have been there to ask questions. Nobody asked any questions. We were not actually given the opportunity to ask questions. I rather think that the speaker was happy to avoid them. She does not claim to be an expert in the field, rather an interested amateur who has collected some interesting facts.
I will not try and repeat those facts here. Suffice to say that some people have spent ridiculous amounts on holding their clothes together.
My paternal grandfather was a tailor so buttons were of interest to him too. Most of the buttons that he used were dark, dull and plain. They were, after all, intended for men's suits. The backing buttons he used were more interesting. They had his name around the circumference. That way there could be no doubt about who had made the suit. It was discreet advertising - all he ever needed to do. For almost all his working life he had more work than he could cope with.
After he retired, at the age of 86, my mother inherited a box of buttons from him. Over the years she used them on a wide variety of garments for my father and my brother and as 'spare' buttons to replace those on the waistbands of trousers for me.
Still later I passed some of them on to a friend who does quilting. Not long afterwards she gave me a small velvet heart covered in buttons, one of them a backing button from my grandfather's collection.
I collect buttons in a different way. I do not do this often because buttons can be expensive. Just occasionally however I will collect pewter buttons for use on a knitted garment. I found the first set in Norway. It was just by chance. I was visiting some schools. My hostess for the day needed a zip for her son's trousers. She took me in to a small haberdashery store and there, on the counter, was a card of buttons with a lovely Scandinavian design of reindeer. I used my pocket money for the trip to buy them. They have since adorned adorned a grey and white garment that, after thirty plus years has seen better days, much better days. The buttons however are still in excellent condition.
I still like these buttons. They are a reminder of my three day visit to Norway and Sweden. I saw very little apart from the inside of classrooms but the buttons remind me of what else might well have been there. They are not buttons belonging to a Roman, a prince, an emperor or a fashion designer. All those were of interest but I do not wish to own them. I like my own buttons. I have used them. I will remove the buttons and use them again.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

I have just read Jane Smith's account

of life in a 'remote' area of the UK http://ht.ly/2mab7 and been reminded of our own houses in various places.
I do not, of course, remember moving in to the first one - or leaving it either. It was a galvanised iron 'shack' on top of a hill outside a small country town (village to you UK residents). It had a dirt floor covered with linoleum off cuts. There was no running water and intermittent power from a windmill. Housing was acutely short and my parents considered themselves fortunate.
The "Housing Trust" later built four houses down the hill - all for the teachers - and my parents were required to live in one of those. They were fibro-asbestos and still standing more than fifty years later - although not looking wonderful.
I can remember once going back to visit the first house with my father. I must have been about three at the time. The windmill was noisy. The new resident had put in a floor of sorts - where he obtained the timber from remains a mystery to this day. The house no longer exists. There is a veritable mansion in its place.
We moved to the city for a short while, lived with my paternal grandparents for three months until a house became available. It was another inconvenient place. There was a cellar and that always flooded at high tide. The rest of the house was damp and drafty. There was a passageway eight feet wide running down the centre. My father turned that into another room by blocking off one end of it. My mother's youngest aunt and her five children lived with us. My mother was pregnant with number four by then.
At least there was a back garden of sorts and we children disappeared into that whenever we could - and the second shed at the back if the weather was bad. My father had the other shed as a workshop. Beyond that there was another house and then a small field where the horses who pulled the local bakery carts were kept.
After that it was another fibro-asbestos house in a remote hamlet in the bush. There was no running water, no electricity and so much red dust that my father had literally to shovel it out before we could move in. The house was so badly built we slept on mattresses on the floor because they could not get beds into the rooms. There were trees struggling to grow underneath the house because the land had not been cleared properly. On more than one occasion my mother had to remove a highly venomous brown snake from the tiny 'laundry' lean to at the back. The 'butcher' was a local farmer - a forequarter of mutton one week and a hindquarter the next - alternating with the banker's family - the hotel had the other half for the occasional traveller passing through. The bread came from seventy miles away - once a week. It was always the same square white loaf. If we ran out of bread that was it. Most farmers' wives made their own.
We went on like that. The houses were always substandard. In one place they took out one of the windows so that the furniture could be passed in that way. My father had to pay excessive sums in rent for these places. He was not given a choice. This was the accommodation provided for teachers. It was taken directly from his pay cheque. There was also the need for a car sturdy enough to go over the dirt tracks that led to these places. The local mechanic in the first place gave him a rapid course in car engines (much simpler back then) and tyre changing and advised about carrying an extra container of petrol.
Teachers now would not put up with what my parents put up with. In one place the single teachers had to live in small caravans - for another excessive rent. These were places at the end of the long bus routes. They would drive the bus to school and pick their pupils up along the way. If there was a puncture they would change the wheel with the help of the oldest boys. If there was a more serious breakdown the deputy headmaster would leave his teaching responsibilities and go in one of the other buses to see what had happened. Some of the children would also have driven - inside their own properties - some miles to the pick up point. There were no mobile 'phones.
In Jane's account there is snow. We had heat and bushfires and, once in a while, floods or patches of ice.
There are still school buses but most of the houses we lived in have gone. I do not remember any of them with pleasure.
Now we live in a very ordinary but quite modern suburban house. My mother liked it. My father likes the shed at the back but, for him, the house is just a house. He would not want to go back to the isolation or the inconvenience of the other houses but I suspect that this one lacks character.
None of them have the character of my paternal grandparents' house. That was home for him - and for me too.

Friday, 6 August 2010

I have been writing a submission

for the government. I have two such submissions to write. The one I am writing at the moment goes to a body which works at the federal level. The other one will go to a body which works at the state level. They are on related topics.
I have written such submissions before. They are a waste of my time but they have to be done.
The last time I wrote a submission to the first body I also spent three and a half days being questioned by a three member 'commission'. I was asked searching questions about the research I had conducted and made to vigorously defend the conclusions I had drawn. Our discussion was recorded and transcribed. It must have cost a great deal of money. The three members appeared to be interested but nothing happened. We had a change of government instead.
The second submission I write this time will be along similar lines. Nothing has changed. Nothing is likely to change. It still has to be done.
At the same time an acquaintance of mine 'phoned yesterday. He is standing (or in his case sitting) for a seat in the local council. He wants some help with his speech. He has good ideas. He is articulate but he does not feel comfortable about speech writing. Fair enough. Many people are like that. If he does get elected he will be an active council member but he is aware that he may be able to do very little simply because local government does not work the way it is supposed to work. Local government is not about listening to people. It is about rubbish collection and meetings in the mayor's parlour.
I wonder about all this wasted effort, wasted time and wasted money. My first submission is going to an inquiry that is a repeat of the first inquiry. This time it is being done by a government of different political persuasion. The conclusions will be much the same as before because the situation has not changed. This government has not done anything. Even if it gets another term it will not do anything. There is no need to do anything. They can go on as they have been going on. The inquiry is there only so that they can appear to be doing something, so that they can appear to be 'listening to the people'.
I do wonder what would happen if they did actually listen to me.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

There was a column in the paper

this morning which indicated that some journalists need to be much better educated about the way we are governed.
We have two houses in the parliament in Canberra. One is the House of Representatives. Our local members sit there. It is their role to represent the electorate. They generally belong to a political party and the party with the most 'seats' is the one that governs the country. Most people seem to understand that.
There is also the Senate. The Senate is supposed to be the House which represents the interests of the States and it is also the house of review. It needs an overhaul but we need it. The Senate is not an option, particularly in a country the geographical size of Australia.
The problem with the Senate is that it has ceased to be a House which represents the states. It represents political parties rather than the states. It is now constructed in such a way that minority interests can overrule majority interests. The Greens could easily have the balance of power after the next election. That means that a party with a very low proportion of votes could be the most powerful political voice in the country. That is hardly democratic.
Some people say that is an argument to be rid of the Senate altogether but the reality is that the Senate is the safety valve on the pressure cooker of politics. Despite being divided along party lines the members do represent a wider electorate.
Voting rules in the Senate need to change so that senators vote along state lines not party lines. This was the original intention of the Senate.
It would not be a popular move with the major parties and would be even less popular with the minor parties who now wield excessive power. It is also precisely why it should be done.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

I think I can tolerate the humans who

live in the house about halfway along my territory. The old one talks nicely to me even if I have to jump on the little bench to see what he is doing. (I stay out of his funny little house at the back when he is making big noises with the strange machines.) Sometimes he will pick me up and put me down on the ground again but he does it nicely. He will rub me in the right place between the ears and makes sure I am outside before he shuts the door to his little house. It is a good place to explore. There are lots of hiding places. The dust does rather get up my nose though and I sneeze then. Hmmm....most uncomfortable!
The younger human is better. She lives mostly inside the big house. She makes sure I can get in through my own special door. (It used to belong to the previous important individual who lived in that house. He was extremely old when he died. I think she still misses his company. She talks about him to me. I rather wish she would not some times but she always compares me favourably so I will tolerate that.)
I have this younger human well trained. (The older human calls her 'cat'. I am not sure why he does that but it seems to help.) When I come to visit she speaks to me sensibly not in that ridiculous sort of 'pussy' talk we so detest. If I want a little exercise she will provide the necessary ball, feather or string to chase or fight. (As a kitten I honed my mouse catching skills on her. ) There are a variety of comfortable beds in the house. One is there especially for my benefit, an old towel on her chair. She vacates it for me if she happens to be sitting on it. That does not happen often. During the day she is often to be found, usefully, in the kitchen. (I have tasted real tuna there...just the tiniest piece because she says I have my own humans to feed me. True, but unfortunate in respect of the tuna.) The other likely place is in front of the strange machine I am currently using. I have watched her work on this for hours. At first I did not understand why the little black marks moved on the page or even what they meant but she provided lap space and told me, quite sensibly, what she was doing. I was a fast learner. My only problem now is that my paws are little large for the keys. (Hers are smaller.) When she is out of the way I try my paws at a little creativity and I keep it in a secret place in this magic machine.
It is raining this morning. The humans in the other house have shut me out and gone off for the day. They do this often. It really annoys me. I had to get my paws wet coming here. I hate getting my paws wet for no good reason. If this human needs to go out she will provide a cosy space at the back where I can watch the rain.
I don't think she is going out. I hope she is not going out. I think I will go and hide behind the cushion. Purrhaps she will not notice and leave me there.

(This is a guest post by Pluto. He absolutely insisted that he had a right to one entry but I note he has failed to introduce himself properly!)

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

I have to attend a funeral today

and have been pondering such affairs. This funeral is for an elderly woman. I did not know her well but I know her daughter rather better. I like her daughter. She is one of those people whom others naturally turn to when they someone to feed their animals, water their gardens and taken in their mail while they are away. Animals and small children seek her company. She cares passionately about the environment and the world around her.
She likes music, art and gardening. She creates useful and interesting presents for her friends.
The past few years have been difficult for her. Her parents required increasing help and attention. Most of it has fallen to her. Her siblings are not as reliable.
The demands on her time have meant that she has spent less time with friends than she would like although she has kept up her responsibilities towards her neighbours.
She called in recently and spent an hour or so with me. I made a cup of tea. We sat and chatted. She was worried then her mother would not last much longer, as proved to be the case. Her father is much more physically able. Now she worries that he too may become much more dependent.
The funeral is a 'private' one. I suspect it will be a brief affair. Her mother's friends are - if alive - elderly, ill and mostly unable to attend. It is one of the necessary rituals of life and death. Selfishly, I am thankful I am not my friend at this moment.

Monday, 2 August 2010

I wrote as a child by

filching pages from my school exercise books or on the backs of pages I found in the waste paper bin.
I tried, unsuccessfully, to buy extra exercise books at school. (In those days you bought exercise books at school. The teacher filled out a form. You took it home. Your parent signed it. You took it back to school with the necessary money and then visited "the book cupboard" with permission from the teacher.) I even asked, unsuccessfully, for exercise books as birthday or Christmas presents.
My mother was in charge of such things in our house and she did not approve of my writing ambitions. "You can practice your writing," she would tell me. By that she meant I should spend time trying to make legible pot hooks and straight lines. There was a book she kept for that purpose. I was supposed to do some each day after school.
If I did manage to write anything and my mother found it then it would be thrown out. It was, to her, rubbish. I was not to bother my father with it. (He was trying to finish his university degree, one subject at a time while teaching full time.) My mother had no time for my desire to be creative. "You can't write a book," I was told, "Children do not write books and only people with nice handwriting can write books." I would never have 'nice handwriting' and we both knew it.
I was told this until I knew that manuscripts should be typed. After that there were other excuses. Anything I wrote would be found and thrown out however hard I begged and pleaded for it to be kept. As she taught in the same school as I attended I did not even have the option of keeping things safe at school. It was the same for my siblings. My mother went through our desks each week. We were not permitted to have a locker at school because we lived in the schoolhouse next door. My mother said we did not need a locker.
Anything my mother considered extraneous to our needs was given away or thrown out. My brother remembers losing model aeroplanes, boats, a crystal wireless and other things. One of my sisters kept losing pictures she had drawn.
I do not know why my mother did it. She was a teacher and it seems strange that a teacher should be like this, but she was.
It did not stop me from wanting to write. I kept vast quantities of 'story' in my head, determined that I would write them down one day. Of course I forgot most of it. The stories changed and became more complex with time. In my teens I wrote entire 'books' in my head but, whenever I risked putting something on paper, my mother would find it and destroy it.
In my early twenties I went to the other side of the world - to university - and there was not much time to even think about writing. I did not even go sight-seeing because I had to work part-time in order to keep myself there. I left a sealed box in our garden shed. My father thought it would be safe there. It was not. My mother found it and destroyed the contents. It was, in her eyes, rubbish to be got rid of.
As an adult I tried to argue with my mother. I was an adult. I had the right to choose how to occupy my spare time. If I wanted to write then that was my right. My mother responded by saying that as long as I lived with them (and there were unfortunately good reasons for my needing to do that) then she would decide what I did. Even when I was caring for her in her last illness she insisted that I should not write. Why? She saw writing as dishonest and as secretive. It was not what dutiful daughters did with their time. Just as her mother before her she expected that I would entertain her and be her companion. I think she saw my writing as excluding her.
I could inhabit a world in which she had no part.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

"It was a dark and stormy night....

yes, picture young Snoopy hunched earnestly over his typewriter working away....
A young visitor, waiting for her father, pulled out an old Snoopy book my sister gave me when we were both in our teens. She looked at it and then said, "Why doesn't he use a computer?"
I had to explain that, when the comic strip was first written, computers were virtually unknown.
She put the book back without reading it. (A quite different reaction from the Whirlwind who would find such a book even more interesting.)
"Can I watch TV?" she asked me.
"With all those books to look at?"
"Don't like reading."
"You don't? Whyever not?"
"It's boring."
She shrugged.
"Well what do you do at home?"
"Stuff. It's like boring you know."
"Well, what do you like doing?"
"I dunno. I have to do a load of stuff."
"Like what?"
"Well I have ballet on Monday and netball on Tuesday and swimming on Wednesday..."
The litany went on. It would seem that most of her free time is organised for her. If she is not doing that then she talks to friends, sends texts messages and thinks about growing up (to be a teenager).
Ballet on Monday? I haul out a copy of "Ballet Shoes" and say, "Well here's something about three girls who did ballet. The BBC made a film out of it."
She shrugs, slumps in a chair and starts to read. Silence.
Her father returns from doing whatever he was doing in my father's shed. He looks at her. He looks at me. He shrugs. She shrugs. She hands the book back to me.
"You can borrow it if you like," I suggest.
She shakes her head.
"Don't like reading. I have too much stuff to do."
"Yeah, my wife has something arranged for every day of the week," her father says. I have the feeling it is an issue between them. This child needs some time in her life, time to discover the pleasures of reading and choosing her own occupations.
I think she might just have "too much stuff" to do.