Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Why do eating places insist

on offering you far more than you can possibly eat? It seems a dreadful waste of food. I will not say a waste of good food because I sometimes wonder at the quality as well.
We do not eat out very often. We may do it twice a year with my aunt. At that time we will go to simple, cheap and cheerful places that she occasionally uses when she cannot be bothered to go home and cook for herself between whatever she is doing. (My aunt is not much older than I am and still leads a very busy life.)
Then we occasionally go out with a couple who prefer not to entertain at home. Again we try not to go to places which are too expensive and will sometimes return to a place we have been to before. I dread such occasions and my father also feels uncomfortable as neighter of us are "big eaters". The sight of a huge plate of food dampens our appetites rather than enhances them. Over the years we have tried a range of places with this couple. The nicest of these was the small French restaurant which has now closed because the owner has retired. It really was small. The menu was limited but it was superbly cooked and presented - and cheap with it. Josephine was exceptional.
Yesterday we tried another new place. It was recommended to us by friends. They said the food was good and that it was not too expensive. I always wonder about such recommendations. Most people I know spend far more eating out than we do. They "stop for a coffee" and that will mean a slice of cake or a scone as well. They know all the local eateries well. We rarely enter them.
I therefore wondered whether the place we went to would live up to reports of what it was like. It is an organic greengrocer and grocery that has gradually developed a small restaurant on the side. The food is, naturally, organic and largely vegetarian. The place is popular enough that it is necessary to book.
The menu is limited but, within that, quite varied. Having managed to learn something from experience we inquired about portion sizes....and received a surprise.
The little waitress smiled at us and said, "We are more than happy to split anything on the menu between two."
My father and I smiled at the waitress and asked for a split serve of the vegetable burger on sourdough rye bread with salad. It was delicious - and just the right quantity.
I wish more places did that sort of thing.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Bicycles are not permitted

to be carried on buses or trams in Adelaide. They may be carried on trains with some exceptions. Baby prams/pushers/strollers, gophers, walkers and wheelchairs may be carried on trains.
Access to the train is made by the driver leaving his cabin, unlocking a container, taking out a "ramp" and putting it in place. Once the ramp has been used it is removed, relocked in the container and the driver returns to his cabin to resume the journey. Delays and late arrivals and missed connections are common.
Some buses and trams will take baby prams/pushers/strollers. They will take "mobility aids" such as wheelchairs and gophers providing that the individual (or someone travelling with them) can manouvre themselves up and down the ramp that slides out. Not all buses have this ramp. Buses and trams were not designed to take bicycles and larger gophers cannot fit on a bus.
Adelaide also has "access" taxis - van like vehicles designed to take a wheelchair or gopher. There are not enough of these.
The situation is no different from the situation in other parts of the world where any thought has been given to transport needs. In other words, if you have the need for a mobility aid, public transport may or may not be accessible and you may or may not be able to go where you are going. We worry about buildings being accessible and sometimes put in ridiculously expensive alterations to ensure they are - but there is little point in this unless you can get to the building in the first place.
On days like Christmas Day the situation becomes critical. There is very limited public transport and "access" taxis need to be booked several months in advance. I know of at least five people who book their Christmas Day transport in June; others arrange that family comes to them instead. Even if you have booked the transport that is no guarantee that it is going to arrive on time, or even arrive at all.
All this has, of course, been discussed for years by those who need to use the transport system. Some progress has been made. A friend of mine, now deceased, spent years arguing for accessible buses. The first one appeared after her death. Future buses are supposed to be accessible, so are the trams.
And of course I need to be different. My tricycle, definitely a mobility aid, is classed as a "bicycle". I am permitted to take it on the train and I can do so even when bicycles are not permitted (such as at the time of the Royal Show) but I still cannot take it on a bus or a tram. I do not know if I could call an access cab and ask them to take me somewhere. I have never tried.
This thought occurred to me when I had to avoid a scattering of deliberately smashed beer bottle in the underpass at a railway station last week.
This morning's paper has an article about the transport needs of people on Christmas Day. I happen to know that the couple interviewed have an accessible van of their own. They are fortunate but they will still continue the fight for universally accessible public transport.
I am fortunate too. On Christmas Day I will pedal over to my sister's place. My father will ride his gopher.
I will however continue the fight for universally accessible public transport. After all, my friends are getting older. More of them will need gophers one day.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

We have a fussy eater

coming for lunch today. There are four people coming for lunch, two cousins of my father and their wives.
One couple, of whom we are very fond, live in another state so we rarely see them. To the best of my knowledge they eat most things.
We eat most things. I have genuine allergies to vinegar, alcohol and shell fish. Those things really do not matter. I merely avoid them when I am out. I let my hosts know as a matter of courtesy - and nobody has ever tried to get me to eat something which will make me feel ill. I try to eat other things even if I do not like them. I do not, like someone I know, turn up and then tell them "hey, I am vegetarian". Ouch.
The other cousin however is different. He is one of the nicest possible "do anything for anyone" people you could hope to meet. At the same time he has not grown up with respect to food. He is stuck in childhood. He does not like new and different foods. There is a long list of things he will not eat. He would happily eat lamb chops and three vegetables or fish and chips at any meal.
I like to be accommodating however so I have discussed the proposed menu with his wife.
Chicken legs - plain roasted. Sausages - but not the gourmet sort for him. Then plain boiled potato. A tossed salad his wife will bring - no dressing for him and no vinegar in the dressing for her or me. Then I will put on the table for the rest of us some rather nice gourmet sausages from a local butcher who makes his own and add a choice of "mushroom sauce" or "tomato and onion sauce" for the rest of us.
I plan fruit salad and icecream for dessert. Now, how can I go wrong with that? I wonder if he will eat anything other than vanilla flavoured icecream? Will he eat mango? I might just offer him a banana. There will be more mango for the rest of us.
My father is still interested in trying out new things. It is so much easier to provide food for people who like to try new things.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Vanessa Gebbie is talking about

imagination over on Nicola Morgan's blog http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/2010/11/soap-box-vanessa-gebbie-on-imagination.html .
It reminded me, yet again, of something I was told when I was in my teens. My English teacher at the time told me that I would never really be able to write anything because I would never experience the world the way that everyone experiences it. "You might think you can imagine it but you won't be able to so you might as well get used to it now." The same teacher never gave me more than a "D" (a bare pass) for any work I handed in. She also taught me History and I was given the same "D" for any work I handed in there too.
Until then I had been given credit for what I had assumed was "using my imagination". I was used to getting "A+" rather than a "D" for what I wrote. That year however was the year we did our first "public examinations", a sort of sub-O-level in British terms - something we called the "Intermediate Certificate". The teacher made no secret of her dislike of me but I also assumed that it was because I really was stupid and incompetent and should not be there among all the obviously highly intelligent students in the "A" stream.
"She doesn't like you" was something my new classmates also kept telling me. I was living away from home for the first time in my life and this just made me more miserable than ever. The harder I tried the more I would be criticised. By the end of the year my self-esteem was almost non-existent. I assumed that this new teacher was being honest and that my previous teachers had just been kind.
I know now that the teacher in question probably should not have been a teacher at all. She was certainly not a good teacher and her attitude towards me was so abusive that she should have been reprimanded and counselled. It never happened. The only student she behaved even more badly towards was the girl who was eventually diagnosed with a brain tumour. Even to the rest of us it was obvious that this girl was ill but she would ridicule her as well.
For years afterwards however, even when writers I admired said they liked my work, I kept wondering whether this teacher was right. Could I imagine what I had not experienced? I decided that these people were being nice to me, that they just did not want to upset me by being honest.
I went to a children's literature in education conference and heard Jill Paton Walsh being severely criticised for writing about "wartime". People were saying she had not experienced it and should not be writing about it. (Apparently it was "all right" to write about "it" if you had experienced "it" or you were writing about a time or experience that nobody alive had experienced.) I listened. I said nothing and went on wondering whether the teacher had been right. These were professionals and they were saying what my teacher had said.
Of course you can write about something you have not experienced. You can observe. You can inquire. It is called research. You can also use your imagination. Without it we would not have fiction.

Friday, 26 November 2010

It has recently been my misfortune

to have to read a number of student essays, university student essays.
As I write this there are also ongoing student protests in the United Kingdom over the need to pay university fees and the likelihood that these fees are set to rise. A university education in the UK and Australia is now seen as a right rather than a privilege - regardless of ability.
In Australia there is now an unspoken assumption that all school students will aim for university.
The overall curriculum and structure of the education system is designed with this in mind. There are earnest debates about ensuring that "disadvantaged" students are not disadvantaged.
Students from schools which perform well find their overall marks reduced so that students from schools which do not perform as well will not be disadvantaged. Universities are required to take into consideration a range of other factors when accepting students into some courses.
It is all done in the name of ensuring that all students are given an "equal" opportunity.
There are fees, the Higher Education Contribution Scheme, other schemes, grants, special assistance etc etc. All these things are supposed to ensure that no student misses out.
The reality is rather different. There are able, indeed very able students who do miss out because of quotas in courses. There are students whose apparent family income is taken into account and who therefore fail to obtain grants. There are other students who come from backgrounds which are given "special consideration". They can obtain places in preference to more able students simply because university funding depends on this. There are students from overseas who pay full fees which help to fill university coffers.
My own view is that primary education is a right. Some form of secondary education is also a right but there should be a greater diversity available. I know there are arguments about "everyone has the right" and "students that age do not have the maturity to make a decision and might regret making the wrong choice" etc. There will be a few who make the "wrong decision" but the vast majority will make the decision they feel is "right" for them.
Tertiary education is not a right. It should depend on genuine ability. Truly able students who are not able to pay should also be provided with financial assistance. We should take in limited numbers of the very best students, students who genuinely want to be there and who are both willing to do the work required and reach the desired standard.
The essays I read were from "borderline" students. They are struggling. They should not be at university, indeed do not really want to be there. The spelling is poor. The grammar is poor. The arguments are lacking. There is an overall failure to understand the material that has been presented. These students will however get a passing grade - just. They will further erode the value of an undergraduate degree.
I do not believe the "right" approach to tertiary education is doing anyone any favours.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

It is American

Thanksgiving - not something we celebrate here in Australia, or not yet. We may end up doing it. We seem to be headed towards being another state in the United States.

But that, as they say, is another story. If you are also following Holly over at Proseknitic you will have read her post from Afghanistan on key historical events. I am going to do as she requests and add a few of mine.

(1) The day I was able to read independently. Okay, for most people this is not likely to be a key historical event but it is probably the most important day in my life and it has affected the lives of a lot of other people. I do not know the exact date but it was long before I spent my first day at school. It was the first step on the road to something further down the list.

(2) Yes JF Kennedy's assassination on 22nd November. (It is also the date of the death of CS Lewis.) My brother reported the event early in the morning having heard of it on his crystal set.

(3) The 27th May 1967 referendum which gave Australia's indigenous population the right to vote, something which helped move the anti-apartheid issue forward.

(4) 8th July 1987 - UN resolution to have 1990 as International Literacy Year. The end of my personal campaign to have such a year - but not the end of the work.

(5) 9th November 1989 - fall of the Berlin Wall - a symbolic power shift in Europe

(6) The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on 4th November 1995 -another power shift in the Middle East

(7) 2 August 1990 - Iraq invasion of Kuwait - as the forerunner to the war in Iraq and the dramatic rise in tension between all major faiths

(8) 11 September 2001 - and the agonising wait to hear if the people I knew in New York were safe.

So, as Holly asked, what are yours?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

I think I am going to have to become

a "climate change refugee". Is there anyone out there who loves heat so much they would be prepared to swap places with me? Please? I really do not know what to think about "global warming". There appears to be evidence both for and against. It may be a blip in thousands of years - or something more. All I know is that I do not like hot weather.
We have just had two days of 36'C temperatures in our little hollow under the hills and I feel flat. My father is feeling flat too. Today is supposed to be a mere 30'C but the humidity will be high so I doubt it will be any more pleasant.
I am sorry to moan but I really do hate the heat. My mother claimed that, even as a baby, I did not like the heat. I was born in the middle of summer. I should be able to tolerate it. The older I get the less I can tolerate it.
Many Australian houses are not designed for long hot summers. Modern houses tend not to have eaves or verandahs. It is foolish to have them surrounded by highly combustible material, especially in a bushfire prone country.
Our own house has eaves, although they could be wider. It is placed on our little plot in such a way as to make maximum use of environmental factors. Just before the summer growth explodes our friend Stephen places long poles against the northern side of the house so that the vines will grow up and provide shade for the worst of the summer. It does help - up to a point.
We do have some air-conditioning. We try not to use it. Apart from the expense it is not environmentally friendly to use it or particularly efficient.
There are other people around us who appear to use their air conditioning constantly. The houses across the street have no eaves at all. They get the full "benefit" of the afternoon sun. The front bedrooms must be incredibly hot - or they would be without air conditioning.
Why are people allowed to build houses like this? Why would anyone want to buy a house like this?
Perhaps what the scientists need to be working on is a way to distribute the temperatures a little more evenly - or would this upset the way the world revolves around the sun?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Are the words we write

"work" or are they considered to be something else. Jane Smith has more to say on "copyright and theft" at http://howpublishingreallyworks.com/?p=3636#comment-23543 - well worth reading as are the links that she provides to the COB Nicola Morgan and David Hewson. Off you go.
Right. Most people who breach copyright would not dream of stealing a plant from a garden centre or anything from anywhere else. They are otherwise honest people. When it comes to stealing words though they somehow think of it as "different". Words are not considered to be "work" by many people. It is probably why so few writers actually write for a living. They have "real" jobs instead and "just write on the side", after all writing is not work is it? Writing is a hobby. Nobody actually needs to do it. If you are doing something for the fun of it why should you be paid for it?
Is that how people think? I do not know but I rather suspect it might be. People simply do not see writing as real work. They may not think they could write a book themselves. They may see it as "difficult" but they still do not consider writing to be "work". Why would anyone do it if they did not enjoy it? If you are enjoying something then why should you be paid to do what you enjoy? If you are paid for it why should you be paid very much?
The other problem is that it is easy to make an exact copy of a piece of writing. It is not seen as unique in the way that a painting is considered unique. If you are paid once why should you be paid again? Is that the way people see it?
Writing is work of course. It can be very hard work. It took Cynthia Harnett about two years to research each one of her detailed historical novels for children. Emma Darwin does similar sort of research for her adult books. Other writers research music, lighthouses, nuclear physics, cartography, maritime law and so on. You need to do this or someone somewhere will tell you that you are wrong. They will tell you that you are wrong anyway but it is more likely to happen if you do not do the research first.
It is not just research either. There are characters that try to take over, plots that try to insist on a different direction, agents who point out blunders, publishers who want something you hold dear cut altogether.
Writing is not fun. It is done because it needs to be done. Writing is a life sentence with no time off for good behaviour.
I suspect we do not really value words. Perhaps it is because they are an essential, everyday commodity.

Monday, 22 November 2010

There were two bookshops

in the city when I was child that no longer exist. One was at "ES Wigg & Sons". The shop sold stationery for schools and businesses and, on the upper floor, children's books. These were intended for the school trade. My father would buy the few school library books the School Committee was able to raise the money for from there or from "Rigby's". The latter were also publishers of educational material for schools and for some fiction and nonfiction. The late Colin Thiele published with Rigby. The sales of his work probably kept them in publishing far longer than they might otherwise have stayed.
There is still a list of "publishers" in the local yellow pages but many of them are actually printers rather than publishers. We do have Omnibus. They have produced some respectable books for children, and Wakefield Press which has produced some respectable non-fiction. There are offices for the Penguin Group and Macmillan Educational. Adelaide however is not a publishing mecca and not likely to be. We are small.
Australia is also relatively small. Our current population is around 23m people. There are cities which are much bigger than that.
For reasons rooted in history however Australia has very protectionist laws for publishers. In order to preserve the publishing industry in Australia, or so it is said, booksellers cannot import books until a decision has been made not to publish them in Australia. There is a time limit in which the publishers must decide to do this of course but they are protected from cheap overseas imports until then.
That may have worked once. It no longer works. Once people did not even know what was being published elsewhere unless they read overseas material. With the internet all that changed. Australians are now hearing about books as soon as people in other parts of the world. If they want to read those books and they are not available at the local bookshop they will buy on line. Some people will buy on line anyway.
I am not sure what we are protecting any more. Almost all the printing gets done off-shore. There are relatively few books published first in Australia, apart from small runs of local interest. Oh yes, there are some but the volume may not justify the protection the publishing industry has been and still is getting.
It also makes books more expensive and it means there are many books that we never see. Some we do see only come in because people like myself say to library staff things like, "I think the library should have a copy of Nicola Morgan's latest. While you are at it could you think about getting the new one by Gillian Philip?" If the readers actually like these books and look for more they may be lucky and find one on the library shelves. They are unlikely to find them in the local bookshop unless someone like myself has suggested the titles.
Our local library keeps a list of books they intend to get. There is central buying and the library system is required to buy from "Australian publishers" where possible.
Some months ago I put my name down on the waiting list for one of these books. The library staff left me an e-mail on Friday saying that they would not be getting the book as it was "not going to be published". Now the book has already been published overseas. What the library means is that the book is not going to be published in Australia. They could physically get a copy from overseas but the system does not allow them to do it.
Some people will say that this is a good thing because it means that the library will buy a book that supports the Australian publishing industry instead. The problem is that this is not necessarily the case. Publishers like Penguin are multi-national conglomerates. Australian authors do not necessarily benefit. The biggest names in Australian writing are not published by small local presses.
I will buy the book in question but I will bring it in from overseas. I feel guilty about not supporting my local independent bookshop but they will not be able to supply it for months and I can get it in a week or so with a few taps on the keyboard. A writer in the UK will get a few pence royalty and the Australian publishing industry, the libraries, the reading public and the local bookshop will all miss out.
The question is, have a we a publishing industry worth saving or is there some other way to protect Australian writing?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

A little more on the vexed question of

For my sins I happen to hold the not so exalted position of "librarian" for our knitting guild. I am not sure how this happened and I frequently wish it never had happened. If you belong to an organisation however I believe you should contribute as well as gain from it. It is also clear that I do know considerably more about books and libraries than most of the members. After all, I have worked in libraries and I developed a specialist cataloguing system for toy libraries which converts quite nicely to another small, specialist library.
The problem however is that, before I took over the task, people were used to breaching copyright left, right and centre. The guild had even bought a small photocopier for the specific purpose of copying things. When I explained that many people were breaking the law they looked at me in sheer amazement. How could they be doing that? The books belong to the guild. They have bought them. They have, for goodness' sake, paid for them. They are now theirs to do as they like with.
These are library books. You may copy some things but you may not copy more than is "fair dealing". "Fair dealing" does not mean the entire book. It may mean one pattern from the book - but only if you actually intend to use the pattern. You may not take a copy just "because (I) might want it one day". There are knitting books which also specifically allow people to make a photocopy of a chart or graph so that they can enlarge it or mark it as they work. These are "working copies" and they come under "fair dealing" - but they have to be for your personal use and the item you are making cannot be sold unless the person who owns the copyright gives you specific permission.

You can obtain permission. Years ago there was a conference being held in Holland. Sasha Kagan had a rather nice "Dutch" design in her first book. I wrote to her and asked if I could use the chart to make a fundraiser for the conference. I said that, if permission was granted, I would of course acknowledge her work. Not a problem! She was pleased. It was publicity for her and it was a fundraiser for a charitable organisation. Most knitters are very generous in this way.

But the restrictions still cause consternation and argument. I am often unpopular. I know full well that people borrow books and then photocopy swathes of them elsewhere. There is little I can do about this but I can try to stop it at meetings. I would like to be rid of the photocopier altogether - it does not do enlargements.

What puzzles me though is that the members are otherwise a particularly honest crowd of people. They would not dream of stealing anything from one another. I have had people 'phone me because they are worried that they will not get to a meeting to return a library book on time.

Despite that they still seem to believe that copying as much as they like is fine. I think part of the problem might be the remoteness of the author. They do not know the authors personally.
They have no idea how much work goes into writing, editing and publishing. I am not sure that even a public education programme will help with this.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Why does modern technology

have to be so complicated? It woke me and kept me awake last night.
We bought a new television set some time ago. We do not really watch enough television to justify having a television set, let alone a new one. The problem was that we are going from analogue to digital and our venerable old set (around 35 years of age) would not receive the new signal unless we had something called a "set top box" - and that meant yet another gadget-gun as well as the likelihood that there could, given the vagaries of reception, be more problems. My BIL weighed everything up and said, "Go for a new telly. It will be easier on Dad."
Right? Wrong. The new television set came with all sorts of fancy instructions. I finally sorted everything out and simplified. You push the green button to start. If it is not the channel you want then you push 2 for the ABC and 3 for SBS. (These are the only two stations we are likely to watch.) The button on the extreme left is the mute button - used by us to turn off the sound on the advertising on SBS - and the one to the right of it adjusts the sound. That is all you need to know in order to watch television.
Now, we have that about right. My father can manage that. He may be nearly 88 but he is still mentally competent and quite able to learn something like that.
What defeats him is the business of playing a DVD, something he occasionally borrows from the library or playing a video. My youngest sibling sent him a video of comedy greats. It arrived in the mail yesterday. He thought he should have a look at it last night. After an hour or more of trying to get the thing to work he consulted me. I told him that I would work it out today as, at about 10pm, it was a little late to start watching something that lasted more than two hours. He is usually in bed a little after ten. He agreed but said, "I don't know what that funny little orange light there is for."
I didn't know either. The manual (written in appalling and almost indecipherable pseudo-English) said nothing about it. The television set was turned off by now so we both gave up and went to bed. This was a mistake.
Fast forward to 1:54am. I woke to the noise of voices. There was a light under my door. What in the heck was going on? Did he decide not to go to bed after all. Had someone called in an emergency? Surely I would have heard the door bell.
I climbed blearily out of bed and went to investigate. It was none of those things. The television set was on. There was a French film showing on SBS. It took me a little time to make sense of all this. I could not find the control unit to turn it off either. Did he wander off with that on his walker? No. Eventually I found it in the wrong place. I turned the television set off. The little orange light had gone out. It was obviously some sort of timer.
I crawled back to bed but did not go back to sleep. Why does modern technology have to be so complicated that I have to lose sleep over it?

Friday, 19 November 2010

I have a story I want to tell you about

copyright. It is not a pretty story.
First you need to read this article in Wikipedia. It will give you part of the background. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_K._Bliss
Yes, it was a good idea that went badly wrong. What the Wikipedia article does not tell you about is the litigation that was involved and a situation that has never been resolved.
Let us first be clear about something. You cannot copyright a language you intend for use in the public domain. Bliss misunderstood this and others, perhaps first misunderstanding but later deliberately, took advantage of it. They also took advantage of other people's lack of knowledge about copyright.
Bliss was passionate about his cause but rigid about the way in which his ideas had to be implemented. His inflexibility was to cause many difficulties. He was a difficult, even impossible, man to work with. When he died we were both exhausted. I was trying to keep his work intact as well as flexible and also available to as many people as possible. He had reached a point where he trusted nobody and wanted nobody to use it. He gave me the "sole right" to use his work. He never revoked that right. Whether he had forgotten I had it (unlikely) or decided to trust me I do not know. I retain that right to this day. That matter has been decided by law.
His legal problems began when he also gave some Canadians a “licence” to use the system and then tried to revoke it. This is what led to the start of much litigation.
What he thought he was actually giving away was, and still is, uncertain. What was clear was that he believed he was not giving away a right to substantially change his work or make a profit from it. He was most certainly not passing on the copyright of his written work to anyone else. (It is now secured in the State Library of New South Wales and I am happy for it to remain there.)
On obtaining the “licence” to use his symbols the Canadians believed they had a right to change his symbol system to suit their own purposes, that they had the right to teach others about it and that they had the right to charge for doing these things. They also produced, for sale, teaching materials for training people to use the symbols with the disabled children who were the first to use them.
The Canadians also claimed the licence gave them the copyright. They also believed that "copyright" had passed to them because of the "licence". What they did not understand, or chose not to understand, was they did not hold the copyright to what Bliss had written about his symbols and that it is impossible to copyright and restrict the use of something that is clearly intended for use in the public domain and for public benefit.

I was soon advised that I was “in breach of the copyright” by the Canadians. They also advised Bliss himself that I was in breach of copyright. If I wanted to use his work I would have to go to Canada and be trained by them - and then work within the restrictions they imposed.
At that time I did not have the degree in law that I now have. I knew nothing about copyright except that it existed and had to be respected. I was also doing some post-graduate research and they advised the university that I should not be permitted to continue as it was a breach of copyright. My supervisor was equally ignorant of copyright law but we were, after a tense period, advised by the university's legal experts that I was not in breach of anything.
Bliss also maintained that I was not in breach of any copyright agreement and that he had not given any such thing away. He endeavoured to revoke the “licence” he had given the Canadians.
Had I been using the Canadian teaching materials, especially for my own benefit, I might have agreed I was in breach of copyright but I was not. I had the permission of Bliss himself to use his work and he had not passed the copyright in his work to anyone else, nor was he likely to do so.
Provided that I developed my own materials I was not, under the terms of my agreement with Bliss, in breach of any copyright conditions. The Canadians did not see it that way - although they gave in over the research.
Litigation began between Bliss and the Canadians. It was long and drawn out. It also involved bitter words and claims of libel. Worst of all it almost prevented and certainly delayed the implementation of the symbol system in places where it was desperately needed, among people with disabilities in developing countries where expensive synthetic speech devices (artificial voices) are not available. Threats were made of litigation over "illegal use" of the symbol system and they were, all too often, sufficient to prevent use of it.
The issues were still not resolved when Bliss died in 1985. People still do not work together as they should.
The Canadians continue to use his work and claim certain rights. They have not been able to prevent others from using the symbol system but still charge heavily for materials and courses.
I also continue to use the same system. Even without the "sole right" assigned to me by Bliss the symbol system itself is not subject to copyright. I am entitled to use it. I do not charge. It is the reason I am poor but my conscience is clear.
Now there is a moral to all of this and a point to the story. None of this would have happened if people had understood what copyright is, who owns it and when and how it can be assigned to other people. Copyright is both simple - and complex. Learn about it.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Publishing anything can have

consequences. Jane Smith over at How Publishing Really Works is planning on having a day about copyright issues on the 19th November. I hope I can contribute something to that then but I would like to raise something else here.
Recently there was an horrific triple murder in a quiet country town north of Adelaide. Unless you have actually lived in a small rural community it would be difficult to imagine the impact this would have on a close knit community.
In the course of their investigation the police made a number of appeals for information and eventually made an arrest. At the court appearance of the suspect the police requested a suppression order on his identity. The request was made on the basis that the suspect claimed an alibi and that had not yet been investigated. The suppression order was granted.
What was potentially at stake at here was something huge - the success or failure of a murder investigation and any subsequent trial.
The media respected the suppression order. It is rare for the media not to respect a suppression order.
The social networking sites did not. The information was "out there" before the order could even be made and, once the information was on the net, it was out of control.
The "publication" of the information has compromised the investigation. It may not have done so fatally but it will make the job of everyone concerned more difficult.
All too often it has been the media which has been guilty of sensationalising and misrepresenting a story. It is done to sell the story to the public. I was once told by the editor of a major woman's gossip magazine that "we print first and ask about accuracy afterwards". The editor saw it as her business to sell the magazine and, if people were seen to be of interest to her readers, it did not matter whether what was said was true or not.
Now I wonder how many so-called celebrities are maligned, how much stress innocent people have been placed under, how many marriages have been broken up, assaults occurred, demands made etc etc because of inaccurate and deliberately sensationalist reporting. I know the answer - too many. That comes from so-called "professional" journalists.
Now we have many more amateur journalists all too ready to comment. They have little regard for truth or accuracy. They may have been told something and genuinely believe it. They can still be wrong.
The law has not kept pace with social networking. The Paul Chambers case has shown up the difficulties and the dangers of using a social networking site. Mr Chambers' case has been used as an example and a warning. It may make some people more careful and cautious - for a time. It will not halt the problem anymore than breathalyser units stop drink-driving.
We may now need to change the way the law operates in respect of court appearances. More information may need to be given in closed sessions of courts. This may need to be done in order to protect the innocent as well as prosecute the guilty.
If we do not begin to discusss these issues we could have an innocent person put away for a crime he or she did not commit or we could have a triple murderer walk the streets.
Above all, we need to be careful what we publish.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The men in my life lack basic shopping

skills and commonsense of the household kind. Now, please do not misunderstand me I love the male I live with very much indeed. My father is both a gentle man and a gentleman. He was brought up in a generation when men did not do housework. It is unlikely that, as a child, he ever swept a floor, vacuumed a carpet or dusted. He probably wiped the dishes and made his bed.
His mother did not believe in completely useless males or lazy males either. She was brought up on a farm and the men worked as hard as the women. Her husband worked hard too. My father has worked equally hard over the years.
But, he cannot cook or wash and iron or do the basic indoor household cleaning and maintenance. He has no idea about shopping. If he does do any food shopping he has to know precisely what to buy and where to find it. "It is x-brand and you will find it in y-aisle on the bottom shelf" I tell him. I look at specials. I do mental calculations as to which will be the most economical. There are some "supermarket brand" items I buy and others I do not buy. I look to see where things come from and at the relative nutritional value etc. It takes less time than it would seem because I have been doing this for a very long time.
But the pegs are a different story. I still hang washing on an outside line - unlike the neighbour with two small children. (She flings it all in a tumble dryer as far as I can tell. There is never any washing on her line but their clothes appear to be clean enough. ) I have two lots of pegs - wooden pegs for most things and plastic pegs for the more delicate items. Or rather, I had two lots of pegs.
This morning I went to hang the first of two loads of washing on the line and discovered that most of the plastic pegs had disappeared. It took me a moment to realise what had happened. My pegs had been "borrowed". They are being used to keep the netting on the fruit trees. Right.
Nothing was said. They just disappeared. My father asked the very nice and obliging man who helps for two hours once a fortnight to net the trees again. The last time, the time before, the time before the two of them "borrowed" the plastic pegs. I never see them again. By the end of a summer in the hot Australian sun they are of little use to anyone. I suggest it would make more sense to use wooden pegs. They agree. They continue to use the plastic pegs.
I have suggested they get their own supply of pegs. Yes, they will do that they both tell me - and they continue to "borrow" the pegs. "You can get some more" they tell me.
Right. It is clear they do not know where to find pegs in the supermarket. Being male it seems they are also incapable of asking.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

I want to know where

my food really comes from. There is another one of those lengthy articles in the paper this morning about how we are importing more food from China, Thailand, the United States and New Zealand.

The only place I feel happy about is New Zealand - and then only partially so. China and Thailand have different production standards altogether. The United States has a great deal of pesticide and genetically modified material that almost certainly appears in what they send us. Those countries are also a long distance away. The carbon footprint to get things here is horrendous. The carbon footprint from New Zealand is bad enough but their production standards are similar to ours.

The foolish thing is that we could feed ourselves in Australia, indeed we should be feeding ourselves. If we were sensible we would be cutting down on carbon emissions by doing just that. Food is relatively the most expensive thing to import. It has to be processed, kept fresh or frozen or packaged. All of that makes it more expensive and production standards cannot be monitored as they are monitored here - and that is not done well enough.

I know that there are arguments about the "balance of trade" but I suspect that there are other ways of handling that. It might take more work but it could be done. We should not be allowing prime agricultural land to be taken over by foreign developers. We should not be building on prime agricultural land adjacent to urban areas. Yes, I know our cities are getting bigger. I know people want to live on a quarter acre block - because that is what they have been told they can do. I know people want bigger and bigger houses. Two people need four bedrooms now. I am not sure why but I know they do. They keep telling me this.

I live in a house a bit like that. There are only two of us. There were six of us for a while. There is a difference though. I will not stay here on my own. Quite apart from the fact that I could not afford to stay I believe it would be morally wrong to do so.

What is more, at the present time we also use the space around our house. We have eleven fruit trees, grape vines and a variety of vegetables in season. My father is not as able or active at almost 88 but he does still garden. I can adjust menus to the season. I can preserve some food in one way or another. I do not need cherries at $29.99 a kilo. We share or exchange surplus food.

I know not everyone has the space for a garden and that climatic conditions can make it difficult for others but even Londoners have window boxes of herbs. My cousin's partner grows tomatoes and herbs and beans on the roof top in London. It can be done.

It seems as if I will need to grow my own food if I want to know where it comes from. It seems that I will need to do this and do it in the right way if I really want to be environmentally responsible. I must go and water the parsley I am nurturing. I know where that comes from. The fish that goes with it? Somewhere in the ocean, hopefully just off the coastline. I must check.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Aung Sun Suu Kyi

is free - for the moment. I do not know whether it will last. I doubt she does either. It seems unlikely. The dutiful daughter who went home to see her dying mother and stayed to try and nurse her dying country must know that the military junta still see her as the biggest threat to their control of the country.
I had a friend who was a dispatch rider in Burma and India during WWII. He somehow lived to tell the tale. He told me Burma was a beautiful country and that the Burmese people had been very kind to him. They did not forget him either. They would remember him from one time to the next as he passed through. He would have made friends anywhere. There would have been no need for a common spoken language. He would have sketched pictures for them to keep.
There was no television in Burma then. It was probably easier to control the population than it is now but also harder to try and indoctrinate them.
It is difficult to estimate the real rate of literacy in Burma. Schooling is supposedly compulsory from 5 to 9 years of age but it is likely some children in rural areas never go to school. Adult literacy rates are said to be around 83% t0 89% and, surprisingly, English is still the most common second language taught in schools. The entire education system is based on a British model but some universities have been closed for years because of the political situation. Burma is short of home trained professionals. Many Burmese refugees have professional training but found it impossible to find work in Burma - or retain their positions if they did find work. I know some who would love to go back but, if they did so, they would be incarcerated or put under house arrest or even be made to quietly "disappear". They feel they can do more here than there.
Aung Sun Suu Kyi may be different. She has, after all, won a Nobel Peace Prize. The junta can place her under house arrest but they know they do not dare to make her quietly "disappear" and that they would be held responsible for an assassination or "accident". They have the population under control - for now - and it is better to leave it that way.
But I believe Aung Sun Suu Kyi understands something the generals of Burma do not understand. It may well be the British who will end up saving Burma. They will do so because they were the ones to introduce English. English is now a universal spoken language. If people speak English and teach English and learn to read English it is almost certain that they will have access to a flow of ideas that nobody can stop.
You can try, as the old South African regime did, to prevent the people you want to control from learning English. You can try, as the old Soviet Union did, to filter those who are permitted to learn English and what they learn. You can try, as the Chinese are now doing, to prevent access to internet sites that tell you things your government does not want you to know - or think about.
In Burma there are attempts to prevent information coming in. The media is heavily controlled and censored. Political activities are severely restricted. There are no libraries as we know them.
Everything would appear to be working in favour of the generals except for one thing. English is still being taught. It would now be impossible to stamp it out. Aung Sun Suu Kyi knows that. I think it will be her weapon of choice.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

I am covered in bread flour,

or so it seems.
I was trying to tip the last of the flour from the previous bag onto the scales and it somehow landed on me. Of course, when I began this exercise there was only a spoonful left in the bag. Now it seems as if there was half a bag full instead.
I make our bread. I started this little caper after a friend found a second hand bread machine in one of those "cash-convert" type places and gave it to us. Dad had tried her bread with her machine and decided it was far superior even to that made by the local bakery chain - and that is far superior to most of the bread you can buy in a supermarket.
At the biggest supermarket in our district you can actually buy bread which is partially cooked in the United States. I object to this on environmental grounds and on nutritional grounds. Bread does not need to travel that far, nor does it need to be so full of preservatives so as to have some semblance of freshness.
So, I started making bread - or rather I shove the ingredients in and the machine makes it. I can use wholemeal or whole grain flour. More importantly, I can add things. Today's bread has wholemeal flour, rye flour (4:1) kibbled rye, kibbled wheat, sunflower & pumpkin seeds in it. This is the fairly standard day to day load for us. Sometimes I will ignore the seeds and add a handful of chopped walnuts or put a little cornmeal in.
I do break out and make other things from time to time. This usually occurs when we have visitors. When there are just two of us we need a loaf that will do for my father's morning toast and marmalade as well as a possible sandwich, bread and cheese, or toast for soup. When we have visitors I can break out and try other combinations.
I have a book full of bread recipes, a gift from another friend. We exchanged cook books one year. She took a book of Australian recipes back to the United States with her and gave me the bread book. There are things in there that I am unlikely to try, such as the recipe which contains beetroot. It may be very nice but the resulting loaf is clearly pink. I cannot imagine serving pink bread. There are things in there I have still to try. The cheese and onion bread sounds good.
But there is something else about making bread, even in a bread machine. It has nothing to do with the carbon footprint of the loaf, the nutrition, the lack of preservatives or the possible variations on the theme. The something else is my father coming in and saying, "that smells good".
For that I will go on dusting the flour out of my fur.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Yesterday we went to a funeral

for an elderly cousin of my father.
It was held in one of those plain stone churches which are dotted around Adelaide. They are not particularly beautiful or interesting buildings. They are mostly of Methodist or Presbyterian origin. There are stained glass windows in this one - memorial windows for the Great War and WWII. The cousin was in the RAAF. He spent most of his working life in "the bank". He was a Rotarian (Paul Harris Fellow) and other things. He was a good man, a good husband and a good father to five children and, perhaps, an even better grandfather to even more. After all, by then he had learned how to do it.
He was also a member of the clan and so the clan came, as much as it could, together. There was no nonsense here about not being able to get time off work or having to travel too far. One elderly frail cousin came from interstate - just for the day. He was up at 4:30am to get the plane and he would not be home until nearly midnight.
I know the cousin's friends, of which there were many, wondered at this. Who were all these people? They were friends. Yes, they knew he belonged to a family with Scots heritage - but all these people? Did we really know him?
Yes. As his children each rose to say something about their father we laughed at the in-clan as well as the in-family reminisces. Afterwards we indulged in "remember when" stories as well.
I watched his wife thank friends for coming. She is a lovely, gracious woman. She appreciated their presence and their concern.
Then she saw my father and, behind him, more cousins and her face lit up. Her eyes filled with tears that had not been there until then. There was a difference in these greetings. It was not intended to exclude anyone. It was just an acknowledgment that this was family. This was different.
Behind me I heard someone say,
"Look at them! I wish I belonged to a bloody Scottish clan!"
I am glad I do.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Being "tough on law and order"

is still seen as a politically popular policy. It is nice to think of all those nasty criminals locked up and people who are stupid enough to drink and drive losing their licences and hoons having their cars crushed etc etc.
We were promised all of that by our state's government - and we were promised much more as well. They were, they grandly announced, going to be rid of bikie gangs. Members of bikie gangs would be subject to government imposed court orders which would not allow them to have any association with each other. They would not be able to telephone, write, e-mail or have any other sort of contact. This would, we were assured, drastically reduce crime in the state. Legislation was introduced into parliament. It was passed. It was imposed. It was challenged.
Yesterday the High Court ruled the legislation was unconstitutional. Put simply the High Court ruled that the government could not tell the courts to impose an order on someone. There has to be evidence of the need for it. An individual has the right to defend himself or herself. The legislation simply went too far.
There were other issues as well. Whether they have all been addressed I do not know. I have not read the judgments. There was one dissenting judgment. It will make interesting reading. Parts of the legislation were not considered. Other parts were declared to be constitutional.
I do not know whether other issues of concern were raised.
One of these was whether the legislation had the potential to apply to any group of people, not just bikie gangs. If that was the case then the legislation could apply to a church group, a football club, a book group or a service organisation like Rotary or Lions. A craft group meeting in a church hall, a knitting group meeting in a library or a circle of magicians meeting (as they do) in the old bomb shelter would all be liable to government imposed "control orders" if the government did not like their activities. There was no provision for appeal or defence.
The other was whether the legislation had the potential to make criminals of innocent persons who found themselves unwittingly associating with these people or unwittingly acting as a go between. You employ Jo Painter to do the guttering on your house. He finds a piece that needs to be replaced. He recommends Bob Gutter as the supplier. Both Jo and Bob are subject to control orders. They should not be doing business with one another. You are facilitating that. You are guilty.
It all sounds faintly ridiculous. Our society would never be like that. Or would it? It is the thin edge of a very large wedge that had the potential to do a great deal of damage in the hands of the wrong people. Governments should never be given that sort of power.
I once attended the funeral of a bikie. It was a strange experience. I knew his wife well. She held a highly respectable position in the community. He ran a motorcycle shop and seemed a pleasant man on the only occasion I had much to do with him. His mates turned up to the funeral. There were more than one hundred of them who escorted the hearse. They all behaved. None of them broke the law. None of them had been drinking. His wife was given a great deal of practical and much needed assistance. They respected her wishes not to associate with their young son but they still kept her lawn mowed and cleared the gutters of debris before the bushfire season.
They were a mixed bunch. Her grief, especially at the knowledge that his driving had been responsible for the death of himself and four other people, was made more bearable by the support his mates gave her. For all their long hair and tattoos, big bikes and leathers they cared and went on caring.
Under the proposed legislation none of that would have been possible. His mates could not even have attended his funeral.
The government has announced its intention to try and reframe the legislation to achieve the same result. I hope it fails. If an individual does something wrong then let us deal with the individual. Do not try and impose an order on someone simply because of who or what they are.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

A row has erupted

in South Australia over government expenditure on an envoy for the Puglia region of Italy. This envoy is being paid an insane sum to promote South Australia and develop ties with the region. The problem is that nobody seems to be too sure what he is promoting or what ties are being developed. There is also the small issue that our Premier is married to someone who comes from the Puglia region. This is seen as suspect to say the least.
There are, naturally, varying views on the worthiness of this expenditure but most people appear to be opposed to taxpayer funds being spent in this way. We are not going to be able to export wine to Puglia. They do not need ore from Roxby Downs. I am not sure what else is left - unless it is me. I am sure they could export me. A few years in Bari might be very pleasant. I could take some English language with me. Perhaps they would give me some Italian in return?
We could have lessons in woolly thoughts - or why good Australian wool is exported to Italy for processing and then returns as expensive garments.
I think what worries me is the idea that something will happen simply if we appoint someone and pay them an excessive salary. It will not. Trade ties require hard work. They need cooperation. Each partner needs to have something the other wants - either goods or expertise - and they need to know about it. That does not mean speaking Italian or English but the common language of knowledge about each other's affairs. It means making an effort and having things in place at this end so that we can take advantage of what might be there.
It is like making wine. You have to prepare the soil, plant the vines, prune them, nurture the grapes and keep them free of disease, you have to pick them at the right time and then go through the complex process of making wine good enough to export - not just the sort of rough wine once made by trampling the grapes with your feet.
I do not drink wine but those who do tell me the end result is worth it. Perhaps we should start by preparing the soil here?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Yesterday I did some tidying up and

I think it may have been a mistake. Now, do not misunderstand me please. I do understand the need for relative tidiness. There are certain things that I like to have in certain places. This is a matter of convenience.
The cutlery drawer is arranged according to knives, forks, spoons, small things and big things. That way I know where to find things when I need them in the kitchen. If everything else is to fit into limited kitchen space it needs to be put in place in a certain way too. I am used to that.
The rest of the house is a slightly different matter.
My father is not a tidy person. I am not a tidy person. We tend to leave newspapers and books lying around. My current knitting project is, unless I am working on it, on the floor beside the chair I sit in when watching the news service on television. I do not get much other time for knitting.
The linen is in the linen cupboard, along with an assortment of things like the hot water bottles. The cleaning materials are in the laundry apart from the dish washing liquid under the kitchen sink. The fly spray is there too.
Right. I know where all of these things are. There are other things I am less sure about. The refrigerator is still covered in reminders, appointment cards, the telephone bill which must be paid by the end of the week and a photograph of my godchildren - put there by my father because he says they are "cute". (They are.)
There are the cords and connections that belong to things like his mobile 'phone. There is the pencil sharpener and the pencil holder and the rubber bands and the screw driver we keep inside because the handle on the wok keeps coming loose. There is the "emergency radio" (kept strictly for being able to hear warnings in a power failure)/ There are other genuinely useful things.
Then there are the not-useful things that we dare not give away in case the donors ask about them - like the wall hanging we have nowhere to put and the small quilted Christmas decoration that hangs behind the door and the giver expects to find there year round.
There are things I need but "should go away". These are too numerous to mention. I did put some of them away yesterday. Now I wonder where I put something, whether that is the best place for something else and why I ever thought that was the best place for something. My father is complaining that he cannot find the pen he was using - and no, I did not put that away.
The worst thing however is that he put a library book away and I have to hunt for that. That is distracting to say the least. I know what will happen I will see at least six more books that will need my attention as I look for it - unless I happen to see it straight away.
It is much easier to be a little untidy and have things where you can find them!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A cotton reel, four nails and a

bobby/hair pin...right? You know what I am talking about? No? A knitting Nancy? French knitting? Tomboy stitch? Spool knitting? I-cord? Idiot cord? A writer friend of mine was not sure what I was talking about but I am sure she will realise what it is when she Googles and sees it.
I am sending her off to look at Prudence Mapstone's "Knot Just Knitting" site as well. There is some of this apparently useless stuff being used there, along with a lot of crochet and some magnificent pieces of art and wearable art. Prudence is a friend. It was her stall I was trying to help out on while she was teaching in Ireland. Prudence "scrumbles" - think crazy patchwork done with yarn, crochet hooks, knitting needles, imagination and colour sense. I-cord is an essential part of this.
What I am talking about is of course that knitted cord you can make by looping yarn around the four nails and then using the pin to loop the loops. Almost all children do it by the yard or metre in school. Now that wooden cotton reels are a thing of the past they do it on toilet roll tube with four ice-cream sticks. This is not as durable. It does not require the same degree of fine motor coordination. It does not produce the same results. (This may be why my father has made dozens of "cotton reels" in recent years.) You can do it on two double pointed needles as well - useful if you want to do "attached i-cord" as a border on a piece of knitting.
When I was in primary school some of the other students produced long lengths of it. One boy made enough to go right around the playground - and he did not cheat at the corners. He had no idea what he was going to do with it. He just went on making it.
I think Mattel brought out a machine for doing it - probably in Barbie pink. There are now other machines for doing it and one for doing it with wire as well. You can just crank a handle. It is faster but is it as much fun?
So, what do you do with it? You can knit with it - knit the knitting. One yarn company actually produced some yarn like that...nice colours but madly expensive. The end result was - shall we say 'interesting but not practical'? You can use it for borders and for decorations. It makes great Celtic knots. They can make good "frog" closures. You can wind it around for place mats and pot-mitts and hats. You can scrumble it into a vest or other item.
It is an essential art which really needs to be learned in childhood - childhood at any age.

Monday, 8 November 2010

I have spent the past four days

doing something that I thought I would never do. I sold things in a "shop". In this case the shop was a stall at a Quilt and Craft Fair and what I was helping to sell was yarn.
If you are a knitter or crocheter or some other sort of fibre artist this might sound a bit like a dream job. It was nothing like that but it was interesting.
The stall is owned by a friend of mine. She is a very well known fibre artist of international renown. My friend was not there. She was teaching overseas and another mutual friend had all the responsibility. I was just there to help because I know a little bit more about knitting than the mutual friend.
The first day was nerve wracking for me. I knew the yarns from the previous year when I had helped out for an hour or so each day while my friend was teaching. Her husband, a lovely man, even though he does not knit at all, was there to work magic with the credit card machine. He knew all the prices without thinking about it. "Ask Cat,"he would say if it was a technical question. This year there were some new lines but not too many. I had the hang of those by the end of the day. The price issue was a little more complex but the stall is very well organised and things are clearly labelled. My friend worked the credit card machine.
But, how many times did I explain, "Yes, you can knit that great long scarf out of one skein of that yarn. I know it looks very fine but you do it on big needles like this"? It was too many to count.
Matching yarn to people and people to yarn was a challenge. Were they buying for themselves? Was it a present? What colours do they wear? What does the person they are buying for like to wear.
There was a teenage boy who arrived, a gangly, spotty teenage boy with a hesitant look on his face. He wanted a present for his mother. "She's busy looking at some other stuff." He pointed to crochet hooks and said, "She plays with those a lot." We settled on a small, inexpensive kit that made a small brooch. He was certain that it was "her sort of thing". I hope so but I am certain she will love it anyway.
There was a profoundly deaf young woman who came alone. I asked, as always, whether she was happy to look. When she indicated she could not hear me I signed the same words and she nodded with a smile. A little later she touched me hesitantly on the arm and signed a question very slowly not sure if I would understand. In context I did understand (although I certainly would not have done so elsewhere) and showed her where to find the information on the label. Pattern? Yes. It is one I have written so indicated that and put my e-mail on the back for her so she could contact me if she had a problem. She grinned at me and chose colours "Good?"
Absolutely! We signed our mutual thanks.
And so it went on. Some people just looked, others bought. There were many small purchases - knitting needles, tricot hooks, a ball of yarn here, a skein there, a little kit. Then there were the rug kits I spoke of in yesterday's post. Yesterday there was just one left. The colourway was rather light. A woman looked at it and looked again for a long time at the sample which had been made up. "I love it - but not in those colours." I took a deep breath and suggested, "We could make up another one from the yarn. Would you like to choose the colours for yourself?" Oh, could she?" We draggedthe box out from underneath the table and spilt the packets onto the floor. "This one and this one? What about this?" Soon we had the sixteen balls she needed. I added a pattern and a crochet hook. She paid and left. I returned the remaining yarn to the box underneath the table.
A little later she came back again. Had she changed her mind? No. She just wanted to say thankyou again because we had bothered. I know it was part of the job but it was nice that she had bothered too.
I would not want to do this sort of thing as a living. I would not want to have to worry about buying things in to resell. I would not want to worry about stock control, missing items, constant concerns about theft and bad debts and complaints, people who changed their minds or tried to return things which have been partially used. There was very little of that and my other friend dealt with the small number of difficult queries. She is very good at retail work. I am not.
I enjoyed the experience for the four days. I will help out again if I am ever needed. It will be good to help people buy things which will assist in the pleasure of creation. I do not want to do it as a job. I would rather do my own job. I would rather write too.
I am not going to learn how to use the credit card machine.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

"Feel it,"

I suggest to the woman standing in front of me. She is carrying a white cane and has been holding several items to within a few centimetres trying to see them. Now she has moved on to a brightly coloured rug kit on the stall I have been working at over the past three days. I put the alpaca yarn next to her hand. She smiles.
"Oh, lovely! What is it?"
"Alpaca - Fair Trade from Bolivia."
"And the colours?"
Her friend and I try to describe them. She nods.
"And it is a rug, a crochet kit."
"I can crochet," she says, "Mostly strips - treble."
It will sound like a foreign language to people who do not crochet but we understand her of course. I tell her these are squares made with trebles, that there is a flower in the centre. She nods again.
"Could I do it with just the squares? Would I be able to feel that do you think?"
"Why not?" I ask, "If you think you can then you probably can. May I show you?"
She understands that means I will need to hold her hand for a moment. I help her to explore a single crochet square. By the time we have finished she is grinning.
"I think I can do that!"
She buys yarn and goes off still smiling. She may not have seen the adjacent quilt display in all its splendour but she has seen something soft and beautiful and her pleasure is obvious.
That gave me pleasure too.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Carnegie Medal longlist

is out and Nicola Morgan's "Wasted" and Keren David's "When I was Joe" are both on the list. They deserve to be. The judges are going to have a hard time.
I actually had a sneaking suspicion much earlier that Nicola's book would make it to the list. Spike (the cat who features in it) and I had discussed the possibility between ourselves. Spike is feeling rather chuffed about it - basking in reflected glory.
I have two more days at the Quilt and Craft Fair. We have been talking about rather different sorts of books down there. Pattern writing is very different from fiction writing. You think you have made something as plain as plain. Nobody could possibly misunderstand something you have written? Think again! I have sorted out a good many problems in the last two days. No doubt I will sort out some more before it is all over. It is a good break for me. I am thinking about something entirely different and, today, the Virtual Quilter and I should be able to catch up for more than two minutes!
In the meantime go and look at the books by Nicola and Keren - they are well worth their long listing.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Should we banish examinations?

It was a suggestion made recently by a science professor at the University of Adelaide, Bob Hill.
He suggested that examinations were old-fashioned and out of date. Indeed he went as far as to suggest that they may have been out of date for forty years or more. He may be right but I suspect that examinations are not going to go away just yet.
There were more views on the issue in an article in this morning's paper. The views varied but I was inclined to agree with the student who said that cramming testing of an entire year of work into two weeks of three hour examinations was probably not a terribly efficient or accurate means of measuring what an individual has managed to learn.
Writing an essay never presented a serious problem for me. It apparently did for many other students.
A lecturer once gave me an overnight extension to get an essay retyped after I had shown him I had actually written it. Other students were frequently given much longer extensions. I knew better than to ask for one. It would not have been granted. I was lucky to get that one even though I had unexpectedly had to care for a class of five year old children for a week on top of my studies.
Most, perhaps all, lecturers prefer examinations. They are able to mark all the year's work in one fell swoop. There is less to mark in a three hour paper than a series of 2,500- 3,000 word essays.
Examinations in the remote past used to be oral. It was not possible to sharpen your quill and find enough parchment etc etc. I have a sneaking suspicion that they may have been the most effective form of examination too. It is much harder to fluff and fudge and fail to answer the question if you are facing your questioner.
I will eye off all the hundreds of university students heading in to the adjacent hall this morning with some sympathy. I will remember my father's words in his one letter he wrote to me each year when I was a student away from home. The letter was full of good advice about how to tackling the exam paper, reading the questions AND answering them but there were also the words "may you do as well as you deserve to do".
I am glad I am not going to do any more examinations.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Heading out to pick up the papers

each morning has been utter delight lately. I do it just as it is beginning to get light, before the bright daylight bleaches the colour out of everything.
The fence we share with our Chinese neighbours is an extraordinary busy-ness of colour. There is the deep green of the jasmine leaves, the waxy white of the jasmine flowers with the pink and deep red within. There is another green of the ivy with creamy white trailing through the leaves.
The nasturtium leaves are a brilliant lime green and the flowers are red, gold, orange, apricot, sun yellow and cream.
In the evenings the perfume of the jasmine is strong. It overpowers the more earthy smell of the nasturtiums. I prefer the lighter, fresher morning perfume - the 'newness of the day' perfume.
All these things are mixed together in wild, exuberant abundance. They flow down the fence on either side. They are heading for the footpath in one direction and in the direction of one of our tanks in the other. Before long the nasturtiums will curl around the bottom of the peach tree and into the lemon verbena bush. They will talk to the lavender if given a chance.
The jacaranda trees are about to flower too. They will leave a slightly sticky lavender coloured carpet in the streets. The perfume will be faintly like honey. I know they make a mess and that some finicky people will complain that they need to sweep up the mess each morning. For me the pleasure far outweighs the need to deal with the mess.
This morning when I went out there was a jogger. I know him by sight. He stopped, waved at the fence and said,
"I have been coming this way just for that. May I bring my camera tomorrow? I'll see if I can get it when the light is right."
He is welcome. I am not sure I want to capture it forever. It is tempting but I think I might appreciate it even more if I have to wait for it again.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

I think the nice sounding man

who sent me the e-mail message saying they could not find what I had ordered was worried I might get cross....most people probably do get cross and might even get rude. I see no point. This was not drastic - another colour will do just as well. No, I do not need an extra one to make up for it. I will be happy just as long as I get something I can use.
I know there are other people not like this. They want what they have ordered and they want it immediately. They want exactly what they have ordered.
I know people who can be very rude about this. They will take business elsewhere or bully people into giving them something more expensive.
There are times when this matters and there are times when it does not matter. If it does not matter then I will not make a fuss. I dislike fuss. I am never good at standing up for myself at any time. I certainly do not want to be rude or difficult. If something cannot happen then I will accept it.
I am not sure that the poor man knows what to make of all this. He has just sent me another e-mail saying how nice I am being. Actually sir, I am a coward.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The first Tuesday in November

is known to most Australians as "Melbourne Cup Day". It is some sort of big horse race somewhere in Victoria. It is almost, but not quite, a public holiday.
I am not interested. I do not like horse racing. I do not consider it a "sport". Telling me "but the horses like doing it" is not going to convince me. Of course it is referred to as "the horse racing industry" and, at least in South Australia, it seems to get government funding as well. I object.
I also object to the over indulgence which goes with the entire day - all the "Melbourne Cup lunches" with the new outfits and the outrageous hats (worn once and at great expense).
I spent a year living in Melbourne. I did some postgraduate work at a university there. The university scheduled examinations on Melbourne Cup Day. Schools scheduled (and still schedule) exams on that day. It is clear that it is not important to everyone but a news item indicated that it costs the nation a lot in missed output - $4m or was it $4bn? I do not know, even the first is far too much. I just feel sorry for the horses.
There are pages and pages in the paper again today - all devoted to this one horse race. There is, according to the media, only one possible winner. I skipped all this and headed for other things.
There was an equally disturbing story about a new sort of Barbie doll with, of all things, a camera in it so that little girls can film themselves playing. The video thus taken can be uploaded and edited and put on internet sites like Youtube. I am with the psychologists who are more than a little disturbed by this. I am disturbed by Barbie dolls. This new development disturbs me even more. It is the perfect tool for paedophiles. Why do people invent these sort of things? Why do shops stock them? Why do adults succumb to the pressures and buy them?
Clearing the old newspapers out to the recycle bin I saw a photograph of something very different. It is the picture of a mother and her two young children. My father and I happen to know them. She is a stay-at-home mother, at least until the children go to school. They were in their small garden. It was a short piece about their trip to the local garden centre and how they enjoyed gardening as a family activity. They will not be attending any Melbourne Cup events. The little girl may never have a Barbie doll, certainly will never have one with a camera in the neck. They looked happy.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Halloween passed us by

although I did decide to have a packet of chocolate 'frogs' on hand in case we were visited by any very small children. I did not want to disappoint them. Thankfully nobody decided to visit us, indeed the entire district was quiet. Last year was, from memory, somewhat noisier.
I am not sure what to do with the frogs. We will not eat them. The Whirlwind might take them to school to share. I must ask her.
When I went to buy them it occurred to me to wonder what had happened to all the sweets that were available when we were small. I do not usually look too hard at the confections available. Our taste runs to good quality chocolate - but not too often - peppermints and one or two other things as "wicked" snacks.
I can remember being given a "penny" to spend on sweets. It would buy me four "mixed sweets". You could buy "conversation" lollies with messages like "my love" on them. There were squares of much the same sort of mixture too - good value if you sucked them, or so we thought.
There were boiled sweets. We were not particularly fond of those. "Life Savers" - round tubes with life buoy shaped sweets inside. There were acid drops, pear drops and cherry drops. There were aniseed balls, gum balls and gobstoppers. There were "freckles" - coin shaped chocolate pieces covered in "hundreds and thousands" and Jaffas and Fantales and Clinkers. We had jelly beans and licorice all sorts as well of course - and Dolly Mixture.
My grandfather used to buy my grandmother "Scotch mints", small round peppermints. They were quite soft and would almost dissolve in the mouth. He usually had a tube of peppermint or clove Life Savers in his pocket.
Many of those things came loose, in big glass jars. The shop owner would put them into a twist of paper or, later, a small paper bag. You could choose.
When I worked in a residential nursery school for profoundly deaf children part of the Saturday morning ritual was to walk around to the nearest shop. It still sold sweets loose. By then the little ones had five cents each to spend. Inflation had set in. They would wait their turn and then point silently to what they wanted. The owner was an amazing man. His wife would come in and serve the other customers while he patiently waited for each child to choose. He would hand over the small paper bag with the few sweets in each and they would solemnly hand over the coin. Then there would be smiles and the "thankyou" sign.
The sweets have gone. The shop has gone. A shop I bought sweets in as a child is still there. It has long since changed hands. It no longer sells milk or cream from the churn or "milk" iceblocks made from the previous day's milk. It still sells sweets - but in regulation approved packaging. The packets seem to get smaller and more expensive every year. You cannot choose in the same way.
I actually saw a packet of "conversation" sweets the other day. It was in the local "cheap" shop.
I looked at the packet out of curiosity. It said "made in Indonesia". Through the packaging I saw one that said "love me". I can't.