Monday, 31 May 2010

My father was up very early

this morning. He looked as if he had not slept. He had slept very little. He was worried.
My brother was due back from Canada and the USA at 7:20pm last night. He had not 'phoned and my father was worried. Right.
I do a little arithmetic. Then I explain that (1) there have been no reports of any planes crashing or going missing, (2) the plane my brother and his wife were on was almost certainly delayed because there was wild weather on the eastern coast, (3) when the plane lands there are passport control, luggage, customs etc to get through, (4) they then need to get to their home on the other side of the city. All this means that it was probably well after midnight before they got there. They would not 'phone at that hour, indeed they would not 'phone after nine in the evening because they would think that would worry my father. They will, I explain carefully, 'phone as soon as they can. I am certain of this.
From looking frantically worried my father has gone to usual routine of reading the paper, muesli and toast. He is still anxious but the anxiety levels have decreased. He is a hopeless worrier.
I am certain he has no idea just how much this affects my life. Other people say, "Just do what you want to do anyway. Let him worry."
I cannot do that. He becomes physically ill with worry. It is getting worse as he gets older. He has talked to his doctor about it. I have talked to his doctor about it. Allowing him to worry is not a kindness. It is not going to cure him of worrying. That would have happened long ago. He 'phoned me yesterday because he was late leaving church. He was worried about me worrying.
I do worry. I worry about him worrying - and with good cause. It could easily make him take risks or not pay full attention on his way home. He is, after all, 87 and I love him. He is now my responsibility the way I was once his.
So, there are things I will not do and things that must wait.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

The importance of cats

should not be underestimated.
When you invited me in
It was I
Who bestowed the favour
Not you.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

It is (not) an emergency

but the government is telling us that it is. The government is about to spend another $38m worth of taxpayer funds on getting re-elected. From their point of view it is an emergency - but it is not the national emergency they claim it is. Even the most hardened and one-eyed of voters could not call this an emergency. The government does.
The money is to be spent on "selling" the mining super-tax to the electorate. This is the tax that is supposed to cure us of our economic woes. It is what will pay for money already spent on the failed home insulation scheme, the failed building education revolution scheme and a number of other failed or about to fail schemes. It will pay for Australia's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council and the bid to host the soccer World Cup.
It is not a national emergency but it is being treated as one. We are being told that, without it, our economy will be in tatters.
As always I may be mistaken but, to me, a national emergency would be something along the lines of out of control fire or floods across half of Australia, a successful terrorist attack on water supplies in Sydney, the release of radioactive material across a wide area or something of those epic proportions. The results of any of these things would directly impact on the health and welfare of the population and the environment - and they would do so for many years to come.
The possible failure of a mining tax might cost the government billions of dollars, some of which they have already spent, but the end result will be uncomfortable belt tightening, a lower standard of living and a need to rethink economic strategy. We might even need to work a little harder and in more diverse ways.
All the arguments about who owns what and who should pay for what seem to me to be missing the point. There is a finite limit to mining, just as there is finite limit to oil in places like Saudi Arabia. What happens when it runs out or it is no longer required? We should be thinking about that now. If we are going to use those resources it should be to build a self-sustaining future, not squandered on bids for seats or sport.
We might be a big island but we are a small nation. Our governments (of all persuasions) have tended to have an inflated idea of our importance and our influence. If we did not have English as our national language we would have no importance and no influence at all.
No, the mining super tax issue is not a national emergency. It does not warrant $38m of taxpayer money spent on trying to sell it to the nation. It does warrant a long hard look at what we are relying on. That is an emergency.

Friday, 28 May 2010

There was an accident yesterday -

on the corner of the main road and the one that leads to the shopping centre. I avoided the scene by back-tracking about fifty metres and using the other set of traffic lights.
It was still a slightly stomach churning event.
I have no idea when it occurred. The police and a fire truck were already at the scene. There was no ambulance so it had already departed or, perhaps, nobody had been physically hurt.
What puzzled me, as it always does, were the number of people going to look at what had happened. I even heard someone say, "Let's go and see what's up."
My reaction has always been quite different. I can remember getting into trouble at boarding school because I refused to obey the direction of a prefect. She wanted to walk further along the road and see what had happened at the scene of another accident and she told me I had to come too. I refused. There was an ominously still form lying in the road. There were police and an ambulance and assorted vehicles at strange angles. The prefect was eager to get there and gawk. It is something I have never forgotten - nor have I forgotten that, the following day, I was hauled into the principal's office and lectured about obeying prefects. I find it extraordinary even now that this was considered far more important than taking an alternate route and staying out of the way. Ever since then I have been more determined than ever to avoid the scene of an accident if others are doing what they can to help. It is not my business.
Other people's misfortunes do not attract me. If I can do nothing to assist then I feel it is better to keep back, not to interfere or get in the way. Why do other people want to go and look?

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The accuracy of our Electoral Roll

is apparently going to be reviewed in a parliamentary inquiry of some sort. This has been instigated by a member of the state's Legislative Council. I do wonder whether it will get very far - and I am not sure whether that is the real problem.
I did not vote one year. This was not through any fault of my own. I had moved from Canberra to Melbourne. Being a dutiful citizen I had filled out the necessary form advising of my change of address and, even more dutifully, delivered it to the correct address. Come election time I was not on the right part of the roll. Someone in the Electoral Office had failed to do their job. For weeks afterwards I waited for a "please explain" notice. It never came so I can only assume that someone at the polling booth had done their job and passed on notification of the fact that I had at least attempted to vote. Or, did someone vote in my name?
There was also an election very shortly after my mother died. In all the chaos surrounding that event we had not then informed the Electoral Office that my mother's name should no longer be on the roll. Again we waited for a "please explain" notice. It never came. I eventually informed the Electoral Office of her death about three months later. Nothing was said about whether she had voted or not. Or, did someone vote in my mother's name?
An elderly neighbour also failed to vote one year. She told me the following day that she had just forgotten until it was too late. I told her not to worry and 'phoned the Electoral Office on her behalf. I was told she would get a "please explain" notice. It never came. Did someone vote in her name?
The Monday after this late state election someone told me that his neighbour had "nipped down and voted for a neighbour as well - so that they would not get fined". The neighbour in question had been called interstate by a family emergency a couple of days before. Someone did vote in his name. Did they know how he intended to vote? Did they honour that? Who knows?
I once knew someone whose proud boast was that he had never been on the Electoral Roll. He said he did not want the government to know where he was. He was eventually sectioned due to a severe mental illness. To the best of my knowledge he is still not on the Electoral Roll.
Another friend asked for her husband to be removed from the Electoral Roll. He had Alzheimer's and no longer knew what he was doing. She included a doctor's certificate in the application. His name was not removed and they did get a "please explain" notice. It caused her considerable distress.
I know of others who should not be on the Electoral Roll. They do not understand the voting process. They cannot read the ballot papers. Their names are there and, all too often, other people use their vote.
In our highly mobile society people have sometimes moved to another electorate, moved interstate or even overseas. Their names are still there too. If someone knows about this then it is a simple matter to walk in and use their vote - after all, you do not need ID to vote and nobody asks you to dip your finger into indelible ink.
The Electoral Roll is so corrupted that it would, despite occasional attempts to update it, take an entirely new system to begin to get it anywhere near to accurate.
I wish the inquiry the best of luck. I also wonder what it says about the validity of our elections.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Our street was 'swept' yesterday, swept

by one of those noisy monsters with four wheels for paws and a circular brush for a tail. It does not do a very good job. There is a council worker who sits inside (on the wrong side at that) and drives this monster around the streets about once every six months.
I have no doubt that the monster was expensive to buy and is expensive to feed and groom. I can only assume that it was deemed to be cheaper than employing someone to actually sweep the streets. It is certainly not more efficient.
It is supposed to sweep the gutters free of debris so that rain water can flow down the drains. Leaves in plenty are left behind. There is still broken glass in the roadways and on the footpaths. (It is a Friday and Saturday night ritual of bored youths to shatter their empty beer bottles in the places likely to cause the most harm to cyclists, gopher riders and pedestrians.) Other rubbish may or may not get sucked up. It depends on what it is. The monster has to avoid parked cars - and thus the gutter adjacent to the parked cars. That portion simply does not get swept.
I was leaving as the monster worked its way along the street. The driver barely missed the smart new car parked across the street. When he reached the end of the street he stopped and, contrary to all rules and regulations, lit a cigarette.
I pedalled off thinking that it might be more efficient to employ people to do the job with an old-fashioned broom. Rubbish could be sorted, drink cans could be recycled, glass could be removed, leaves could be composted. We are far too short of worthwhile employment for people without academic qualifications. Instead of paying them unemployment benefits or a disability pension perhaps they could be employed as "Street Maintenance Engineers". It would cost very little extra - and a whole lot less.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

A colleague went off to the airport with

a small suitcase as well as his backpack yesterday. The suitcase is marked "Fragile" and "Handle with Care" and the airport and customs staff at both ends of his journey know that what it contains is far more important than any personal belongings.
Peter is heading for a developing country. He has been there before. He taught "make-do" medicine there for six months seven years ago. Now he goes back each year for three weeks of his annual leave. He pays his own air fare and takes his own food in his back pack. The small suitcase is packed tight with medical equipment. This time he is going to teach an eye surgery technique and train the local travelling nurses to do the follow up. He will be among friends and, this time, he will be sleeping in relative luxury. They are giving him a tiny room to himself at the local hospital. It will, they have assured him, be just big enough for him to "lie straight"!
The local people love Peter. He has been going there for eleven years now. When they know he is coming there is an influx of people from the surrounding areas, all wanting to see him. He works twenty hour days. The last week of his leave is spent sleeping in a place known only to him. He then comes back to Australia and resumes his life as a doctor here.
Most people are totally unaware of what Peter does with his leave. He never talks about it. I only know because he needed communication assistance the first time he went. Now he speaks a little of the local language but he still uses a communication board and a local interpreter.
What Peter does is valuable because he has always insisted that he is there to help the local people help themselves. He has always gone to teach something specific. He follows it up through local staff during the year and when he returns the following year. He asks for nothing from the local people apart from a commitment to follow through on what he has started.
The result has been a marked improvement in health standards in one small area of a very poor country. Neighbouring areas have taken up several ideas. Poverty is still rife but, with the improvement in health, things are slowly improving.
Our current Australian government has grandiose notions that it is our turn for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. They are trying to buy their way on by handing out "aid" to certain developing countries. The money is largely being wasted - and may not succeed in its objective anyway.
It would be better given to the Peters of this world to go and make a real difference.

Monday, 24 May 2010

I was given a lesson yesterday

in just how important it is to thank people.
I was doing 'door duty' for an exhibition. It involved sitting at a table and taking a coin from people who wished to enter, providing information and answering queries.
There were supposed to be two of us on throughout the day at hourly intervals. I was down for the first hour and expected my co-worker to be a little late because she has a very young child and has some distance to travel. As we knew that the first hour would not be very busy that was not a concern and she did arrive about ten minutes late.
By the end of the hour things were picking up but our replacements had not arrived. Eventually she had to leave and I stayed on. A little later a friend of mine who is not a member of the organisation arrived. I had planned to take her around the exhibition, particularly the history section. Seeing I was alone she promptly said,
"Well, I can help until someone else gets here."
She sat down and proceeded to greet visitors with a pleasant smile, a thankyou for their attendance and took their coins as I answered queries and directed people. It was very welcome assistance.
One of the workers who was supposed to follow me arrived almost an hour late, an accident on her usual route had cause a major traffic jam and she was then slowed by roadworks on the alternative route. She was apologetic and thanked my friend profusely. We told her to go and get herself a cup of tea before she took over.
What happened next was unfortunate. Another worker came out and saw my friend sitting there waiting for the other woman to return. Instead of perhaps inquring what was going on she told my friend she could not sit there and asked, "And have you paid?"
I hastily explained but it made no difference she was adamant that my friend should not be sitting there. My friend was naturally and visibly upset.
But then, everything righted itself again. The woman who had been late came back with not one but three cups of tea, separate milk and sugar. She turned to my friend and said,
"I wanted to say thankyou properly. I hope you do drink tea. I didn't know about milk and sugar."
It had been rather cold by the sliding doors and the tea was very welcome in more ways than one.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

"If keep getting these holes...

I can feel them!" the woman told me. Right around me there was a buzz of people at our biennial knitting exhibition. We had some unexpected but welcome television coverage this year and people had been coming in through the door all the morning.
One of those who had come to 'see' the exhibition was a woman who was clearly legally blind. She had brought some knitting with her, as people sometimes do. She wanted some help. The friend she was with can also knit but neither of them knew what to do.
Somehow, if there is this sort of problem, it is a matter of "Ask Cat." Other people will know the answer but they seem to think that I am the only person capable of explaining it to someone else with a disability. I wish they would try paws do not work nearly as well as theirs!
But, I do know what the problem is in this instance and it is easily solved so I say,
"If you get yourselves a cup of tea I will find someone to mind this so I can show you."
Show? Yes of course. There are ways to show people who cannot see what you are doing and she may have enough eyesight to see what she needs to do anyway. What she is doing is shaping something with a technique called "short-rowing". It involves counting stitches and then turning and working the stitches back again. It was at the point where she turned that she was get the hole.
They are sitting with cups of tea when I finally find someone to mind the history exhibition which forms part of our display. They know I do not have long to help so we do not waste time.
I talk her through what she needs to do and then ask her to do it twice more to make sure she feels confident. She completes another row and a slow smile spreads over her face.
"Thankyou. I knew I should be able to do it. I only needed someone to show me how."
"You're very welcome."
We chat for a moment longer and I suddenly think of the section for visually impaired people in our annual "Royal Show" and ask if she is aware of it. No she is not. I take a name and address and promise to see she gets the necessary information to enter something.
"Now I know how to do this I might," she tells me thoughtfully and then, with another smile, she tells me, "Anything is possible."

Saturday, 22 May 2010

I try to be independent

and not ask other people for help unless I really need it. Conversely I try not to give help people may not want.
There are occasions on which we all need help so I accepted the offer of some help last weekend - for yesterday. I had to transport rather more than my large rear tricycle basket would allow.
It does not have to go far - notice "does", not "did". It merely needs to travel to the next suburb ready for this weekend. The knitters have their biennial exhibition. Everyone is supposed to contribute something for the display. In my case that means that my father also got busy and is, we think, contributing some wooden buttons, boxes, pens, shawl pins etc for sale. Proceeds will, if we get that far, go to supporting a friend who runs a refugee centre for children in Africa.
Knowing all this someone offered to provide transport for the goods in question. I accepted because it was more than I could carry alone and, ultimately, the benefit is for someone other than myself.
That someone was supposed to collect yesterday afternoon, ready for set up late in the day. That same someone did not appear. We have not heard a word. Now yes, they may be ill or they may have had an accident but half a dozen other people were also aware of the arrangement. Nobody appeared. I do not have mobile 'phone numbers for any of them and there is an hour in the evening after which I do not disturb others with 'phone calls - not even family - if I can avoid it. We tried the taxi option only to be told that there was at least a ninety minute wait and that one could not be guaranteed - something was happening somewhere. Family and friends who might have done it are on the sick list or at soccer practice with the grandchildren.
So, I gave up. Today my father will put some on his gopher. I will put some in the tricycle basket and the rest in my ancient back pack and we will take what we can down there ourselves. It is a little late. There will be grumbles about our failure to be there yesterday but I refused to negotiate rush hour traffic - or allow my father to do the same and come back in the almost dark. (If it had just been up to me I might have done it but my father is too old for such capers - or to be worrying about me doing it.)
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, is actually said today but it makes me more determined about two things. The first is that, if you say you are going to do something, you should do your best to keep your word. If you cannot, then let the person know. The second is that, if you can, it is better to be independent.

Friday, 21 May 2010

The ownership of a red shirt

was considered radical when I was in my teens - ownership by a male that is. In that dim, distant past my father wore white shirts, a sober tie and a suit to school. These days state school teachers, of which he was one, seem to wear jeans in varying states of disrepair.
I have memories of someone owning a red shirt. He was about my age, already over six feet tall, broad, strong and very much a man already. I suspect that the shirt was cheap. He wore it and it did not seem to bother him. There were a few remarks among the more soberly dressed rural locals but I suspect that the other kids rather envied him. He stood out.
Yesterday I was at a meeting and I felt like a peacock. I was wearing a plain blue top, a very ordinary plain blue top. As I am not terribly interested in clothes I tend to buy very conservative things that last seemingly forever - or long past what my youngest sister considers to be their use-by date. It is unusual, very unusual for me to feel over-dressed. When I looked around the table however I saw that everyone else there was wearing black, French navy, grey or brown with white or cream. The only other patch of colour was the small university logo on the tie of the academic running the meeting. He was only wearing a tie because he had appeared in court that morning as a witness. If it had not been for that he would have been wearing his trademark sports coat with the ink stain on the top pocket. I rather wished he had been wearing the sports coat.
So, what happened to colour? What's wrong with it? I am not sure that I want to see hot pink or lime green or acid yellow or fluoro orange but is there something wrong with blue or perhaps cherry red or stripes or checks. If you are that sort of female (I am not) is there something wrong with floral? Is there a reason for making yourself look unattractive? Is it supposed to make you look sophisticated, serious, academic, earnest, intellectual - or just plain dowdy?
Is it something to do with 'women's liberation'? Is it a "now you need to look like a man to prove that you are equal" thing? Or is it something else? Is it now the way we view the world?
It could be said that these women care more than I do. They all wear makeup - something I have never bothered with. They spend a lot of money on these dull clothes. I am not averse to buying mine in the op-shop - at least for around the house wear. The styles they buy are clearly supposed to be 'fashionable' if the design of them is any example.
The local bookshop staff wear tops to identify themselves. The first lot were green. Recently there has been discussion about changing them - to blue. It is good to know that bookshop staff can rebel against fashion.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Finding a birthday present

for someone who does not read is difficult. It is my natural inclination to head to a bookshop when I want to buy a present for someone.
On this occasion my father and I need a present for my sister-in-law. We love her dearly - almost as much as my brother does. It has to be something fairly small and unbreakable so that it can go in the post. A book would be ideal but we know she does not read, not even on holiday. She knows we know that.
So, yesterday I took an hour out after lunch and headed up the hill to a strange little shop. It is attached to a wholesaler. They import t-shirts for sale at zoos and sanctuaries, some high quality glassware, a little jewellry, pewterware and the like. It is not your average gift-shop full of dust-collectors. The shop is there more by accident than design. It is run as an afterthought to their main business. I have a t-shirt from there - it was the last of the line, excellent quality, a decent design, my size and very cheap. As I rarely buy clothes this was a real find.
It seemed natural to return to this place. The woman in there knows me by sight. I explained the problem to her. We looked at and rejected a number of things as too cheap, too expensive, unable to be posted (magnificent hand painted African glass bowl that) and not my sister-in-law. Then, suddenly, we both saw something at the same time..."that's it!"
She brought out from the display cabinet at the counter a small triskele on a chain. It was made in Cornwall. The design is just the sort of thing that will suit my sister-in-law's slightly alternative views on life. The curves of the design flow smoothly in and out of each other and then around again. The design is not new but it looks as modern as if it has been designed this morning. It is more than a thousand years old and yet it still pleases the eye. Someone, somewhere, in a different time and a different place, drew that shape. In its own way it can be read too.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Okay, so is it okay to lie?

I am a little irritated by the fuss currently being made in the media. The Leader of the Opposition admitted to lying sometimes. So? He is a politician. Politicians lie. Lying is part of the political game. Politicians lie to obtain power and lie to retain it. So, why the fuss?
Our current opposition leader is a Catholic. He was once in training for the priesthood - before he decided he did not have a vocation. As a result many people still expect him to be a saint, not a sinner. (I suspect he is human, like the rest of us.)
What bothers me though is something quite different. There is a message here that I do not like. We know politicians lie. We also know that they evade answering questions - which may be another form of lying. The message we seem to be getting is, "It is naive and unacceptable to admit to telling lies. It is sophisticated and acceptable to deny telling lies - or avoid saying that you do."
Now, I may be wrong - I am often wrong - but this seems to be the wrong message. Oh, it is convenient I grant you that. It allows a media generated political beat up. There was a bit of a problem there for a short while. It looked as if the present government was on the nose and that made media inclinations unhappy - and a lot of other people as well. Something had to be done to redress the issue.
The problem is that they have done it in a way which deliberately undermines trust that we can rely on. Politicians, although we elect them, are not generally considered trustworthy. This just undermines what little trust we have in them - in both sides.
I do not believe that makes for good governance.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

I wonder what happens by chance, luck,

coincidence or reasoning in the animal world when we are not there?
In a rather roundabout way I saw an extraordinary small video clip of a penguin being chased by a pod of killer whales. After what was surely an exhausting chase for the small penguin he or she landed on the inflatable rubber dinghy of the person filming.
You can almost hear the penguin saying, "Phew! Close shave...thankyou." I am trying not to think about what would have happened to the penguin if the boat had not been there. I do not doubt that nature is often as brutal as it can be beautiful.
Of course the remarkable thing is that the penguin appeared to trust the humans sufficiently to seek refuge on the dinghy. I once had deep scratch marks all the way up to my shoulder because a kitten used me as a pole to avoid a dog. Why did the kitten trust me? Was it just because I was a convenient pole at the time? How do animals 'think' in these circumstances?
Do they just react instinctively or do they, given time to 'think', reason something out? I know the assumption is that, if they think, they think in images. How do they 'know' things?
Although we worry, with good cause, about endangered species it seems to me that the overall survival rate for living things is remarkable.
Some of it may well be chance, luck or coincidence - but I reckon there has to be some reasoning in there as well.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The child from next door

arrived yesterday. He had the good sense to wait until my youngest sister and her two dogs had departed.
"Does your mother know where you are?"
He nodded and held out a piece of paper. He was clutching four new looking pens in his other hand.
"Oh, you have some new pens. Are you going to tell me what you have been drawing?"
"Mum, Dad, Andy, me."
There were four vaguely recognisable stick figures on the page. It is unlikely he will be an artist like his mother. The picture however turned out to be the excuse rather than the reason for his visit.
"You had dogs."
"Yes. They belong to my sister."
"Why does she have them?"
"Well I suppose she likes dogs."
"I don't like dogs."
"Oh, why not?"
"They bark. Mr W....s dog barks. It barks a lot."
Mr W lives on the other side and his dog does bark a lot. I have to agree.
"Will your sister bring her dogs again?"
"Well I won't come and see you then."
"You won't come when the dogs are here?"
"I might not come ever. The dogs might come when I am here."
He was very serious about this.
"Well then you could meet them properly."
"No, I looked. I don't want to know them. YOU didn't play with them."
Oh. I am not a "play with dogs" sort of person. I like some dogs very much. There are a number of neighbourhood dogs with whom I am on very friendly terms but I do not play with them. I do not however particularly like my sister's dogs. They will bark and growl at me if they are here and I happen to return from somewhere else. I do not consider them to be very friendly.
Our young neighbour may not be an artist but he is observant.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Asking the right question....

might give me a clue!

There is a storyline in which the action turns on the traveller asking the right question - because he may be asking the wrong person. He uses the answer to make a decision about which road he should take. It has been used many times, especially in detective novels. It often used to misdirect. I think it may also have been misdirecting me.
I have been following Nicola Morgan's blog about her new book, "Wasted". There has been a discussion about things like luck, chance, fortune telling, whether it is possible to foresee the future, Schrodinger's cat and quantum physics.
Do we make our own luck? Are there things outside of our control? Why do we choose to do what we choose to do? I am trying to write something based on a real life incident. (It was not something I planned to write at all but it kept getting in the way of other things.) The real life incident is not something that will stand alone. There is a parallel story line. It is less dramatic but still important because - and this is where I made my mistake - the two things must come together in the right way. The real life incident has to take the correct path. I was asking the right question of the wrong person.
Fortunately I can travel back to that point in my writing and ask the right person. In real life I would not have been that 'lucky'.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

As I write this Jessica Watson

is about three and a half hours from 'home' - or landfall. She has been at sea for seven months. Although she has had all the assistance that modern technology allows, such as a GPS navigating system, a satellite 'phone and internet connection, she has not had physical contact with another human being for seven months.
It is a very long time for someone that young. Anyone who believes that Jessica is going to walk off that boat and resume a 'normal' life needs to rethink their ideas. It is going to take time for Jessica to re-adjust. Life will never be quite the same for Jessica as it will be for other people.
That little boat was her world. She has, despite all the publicity, gone without a great many things that other Australians take for granted. She has not had a shower. Any fresh food went long ago. Her drinking water was restricted. Sleep came as and when she could safely get it.
Jessica has taken responsibility for her own safety - and that also meant the safety of her boat.
At one point she had to replace the mast. How do you do that?
Her tiny boat, and it is tiny - nothing more than a little pink dot on the ocean, has been as battered as she has. It is only when you watch the short video clip you can begin to realise the enormity of her achievement.
I do not know what Jessica will remember most about this voyage. No doubt there will be specific waves, the storms that knocked her boat over more than once, those moments of sheer terror when she must have wondered, "Am I going to make it? Why am I doing this?" Will she remember the boredom, the monotony of day after day of blue-grey, steel-grey sea? Was it all a bit like an anaesthetist friend once said, "My job is 95% routine and 5% sheer terror"?
Or will there also be those moments, which she will never be able to share with anyone else, that say, "Yes, I was there. It was me. It was my boat. It was my ocean I had to cross. I was content." I hope she has many of those.

Friday, 14 May 2010

I have just volunteered

to give up three days of my time, two in August and one in September. I will be acting as a Steward in the Arts and Crafts section of the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society show. This is not something I have done before and I admit I am doing it with some reluctance. It is a compromise between doing nothing and being a Judge for the same section.
I freely admit I would have preferred to do nothing. My chaotic working life makes it difficult to commit to anything like that. It is one thing to pencil 'must attend' appointments, meetings and other essentials into my diary but pencilling in non-essential activities that other people could do always makes me uneasy.
I am uneasy for two reasons, the first is that I may let someone down. Anyone can have the sort of personal or family emergency that will render them unable to do as they promised. Everyone understands, or should understand, that. On top of that however I might be called in on an emergency basis to assist a person with a profound communication disability get their message across. There might be a 'complex humanitarian emergency' where others would really prefer me to be available 24/7 and dealing with their life and death problems first. I understand that. Do other people? Some do. Some do not.
The second reason is that there should be other people who can volunteer for this. They want the Show to go ahead. They know it runs largely on volunteers. It has to. There is no way it could be done with paid staff.
Of course thousands upon thousands of people turn up without being aware of this. Only those who participate a little more closely would be fully aware of it. Despite that they do not volunteer. Some work at the times they would be required and are unable to volunteer but others do not. Their reaction on being asked if they are interested is, "No, I don't want to get involved. Someone else can do it."
It is the same in any organisation of course. There are always some who do nothing, some who do as little as they can and others who do more than most. There are people who enjoy running meetings, keeping the accounts, attending committee meetings and arranging events. There are others who simply refuse to get involved.
My parents set the example of involvement however. We were all brought up to believe that, if you want to be a member of an organisation, you must also participate. You must take your turn.
So, I will take my turn. I will do my best and hope it is good enough. It will also allow me to wriggle out of deciding whether Mr Smith's tea-cosy hat is better than Mrs Smith's tea-cosy hat!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

How many words

do you need to get the message across?
One of the many good qualities my father displays is a capacity to laugh at himself. One of the things he knows about himself is that, in his words, he is 'too wordy'. He will write twenty words when I will write ten.
He has a degree in English literature (with a sub in Latin) and he has read more than most people I know. Is it this fact that causes him to use so many words? I do not know.
When he needs to write something like a non-personal letter he will often come to me with his rough version and say, "Tighten it up." I take it away and come back with something half the length. He shakes his head and signs the bottom of the letter without a murmur. We will often work through a personal condolence note together. He does not write much else these days.
I think his problem might be that he used to write what is known as "patter" - the running commentary used by entertainers like magicians. That depends on being able to say a great deal in order to distract the audience from what you are doing with your hands or the equipment in them. You learn to use almost as many misdirectives as a politician in that setting.
What puzzles me however is that my father has male friends who are just as "wordy" as he is.
He has one male friend, a very good and caring man, whose voice is permanently husky - an indication of how much he talks. You get all the smallest details from this man. He branches out and bounces back to the main topic again - like a monkey swinging up a tree. He has a cousin who will talk for more than an hour on the 'phone. His best friend also spent more than an hour on the 'phone last night.
I sometimes take messages for the 'circle of care' my father is involved in - and then have to pass them on to the next person in the circle. I took one yesterday. It was long and involved.
I knew who the writer had to be. As I was passing it on to the next person, a woman, she said,
"I can guess who wrote this one. You know I really do think men use more words than women."
I think she might be right.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Can anyone suggest a use for

plastic milk bottle tops? You do know the sort I mean? Those red or blue or green or yellow or white or perhaps purple or black or orange plastic tops that seal those plastic bottles which contain milk - or perhaps orange juice.
I wanted a rubber band yesterday. They are kept, along with string and twist ties and jam covers and assorted other things in the bottom drawer in the kitchen bench cupboard. It is some time since I have needed anything from there, a very long time. I must have opened the drawer last year some time when I was making the marmalade.
The drawer was filled with milk bottle tops.
"What are these here for?" I asked my father. (He was sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea and gloomily reading the budget predictions in the newspaper.)
"Oh, don't throw them out. I thought they might be useful."
"Useful for what?"
"I don't know - but don't throw them out. They might be useful."
Right. Might?
I take out one of the 'barrier' bags I collect when shopping at the local greengrocer and fill it with the milk bottle tops. I deposit it silently next to him.
He finishes his tea, folds the paper and is about to wander off when I say,
"Are you going to take the tops with you?"
He takes them.
This morning there is a red top, a blue top and an orange top on the sink. I think the darn things multiply. They have a life of their own.
I collect another barrier bag and tack it to the corkboard and put the tops in that. They have been saved - rescued if you like.
Now, please - can someone tell me what to DO with them?

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

When the 'phone rang yesterday I "knew"

it would be bad news..."knew" in the sense that I was expecting it to happen sooner rather than later.
A week ago a 90yr old friend with a heart condition fell and broke her hip. They stabilised her and operated but she died in her sleep in the early hours of yesterday morning. We had known her for almost 45 years.
My father would see her at church on Sundays and, in the middle of the week, he would 'phone her as she was his 'visiting' responsibility. Later, when someone else 'phoned to be sure he had been given the news, I heard him say, "It really brings home your own mortality." He has been very quiet since then, a sign that he is upset. There is not a great deal I can do to help him except be there. Grief is terribly personal thing. Older people may not always seem to mourn the death of a friend in the same way as a younger person but they do mourn and I believe we need to be aware of that and respect it.
Our friend was one of those remarkable, sturdy pioneering type women. She married before WWII and then endured the agony of having her husband fight abroad. When he returned they took up a "soldier re-settlement" property on Kangaroo Island. It was loney. It was isolated. It was dangerous. On one occasion she believed that one of the children may have been bitten by a snake - and there was no transport to get him out or telephone to call for help. He survived but it was one of the many highly stressful times in her life. Money was always short, not least because of the disaster caused by the settlement men, most of whom had no background in farming, being given the wrong advice by the agricultural experts. Being ex-servicemen who had all seen active service in often truly horrendous circumstances the men were often unable to cope with the poverty on top of the hard physical labour and the isolation. Her husband died many years ago. His early death was, in part, due to all that stress.
Despite that she was a staunch supporter of her church, of the Country Woman's Association, of the women's auxiliary of the local branch of the Returned Servicemen's League. She ran the church youth group and was the local Commissioner for the Girl Guides' Association as well as taking an active interest in the Boy Scouts. If there was an emergency she would be there making sandwiches, baking scones and great quantities of that bush standby - sultana cake. She knew how to make enough tea to let sixty or one hundred people quench their thirst at the same time and she could change a tyre or clean the spark plugs as well. Children obeyed her.
When she came to the city to live she joined another church and was active in the Mothers' Union and the Women's Guild. She baked and sewed and cared for grandchildren.
If you asked her what she had achieved in her life she would smile and tell you, "Oh nothing much. I was just a wife and a mother". No, nothing much - and yet everything.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Which books would you indulge in

if you were wealthy enough to be able to buy anything you chose?

This thought came to me when, in yesterday's comments, Donna Hosie suggested throwing the Oxford dictionary at someone. It would take some throwing. I think there are now twenty main volumes and three supplementary volumes. The whole thing takes up rather a lot of shelf space too - well over a metre.

If someone ever buys me a winning lottery ticket then that is the one thing very self indulgent thing I would like to buy for myself. I do not want a car or a boat or fancy clothes or a lot of other things that people say they would like to have - but I would like the dictionary. The problem is that, even if I read a page everyday, it would take a very long time to read it all. I think I would have to be content with reading letters like j and q or x and z - and looking up other words in between. I know someone did read the entire thing and then wrote a book about his experience.
I am certain that there must be a lot of words in there that are almost never used. (They must be used sometimes I suppose or they would not be there.)

And then there are all the other books I would like to indulge in - like more dictionaries in esoteric languages and books to fill the gaps in my collection of children's books. Some of them, like the first Elinor Lyon, are out of print - but, darn it, that is the only one I do not own. There is a Mary Stewart I do not own (also out of print) and books by Paul Berna, Margot Benary and Lucy M Boston. There are the Katie Morag books and those by Ezra Jack Keats as well as some by Astrid Lindgren.

I mention this to my father and he agrees. We wonder where we would put all these books and the woodworking, conjuring and joke books he would like to induge in.

The OED comes in other ways of course. There is the version you read with a magnifying glass and the version that you can load on to a computer. Somehow they do not seem to be the same.
Perhaps, my father suggests, we should just settle for Dictionary of National Biography. It is a mere sixty volumes....but no, that comes as a computer download as well. I want to indulge in the real thing.

Emma Darwin was talking about

re-reading books on her blog "This Itch of Writing" and I mentioned this re-reading of books to someone I know at one of our local libraries.
Her reaction was one of amazement. "Oh, I never read something I have already read. That would be a dreadful waste of time."
"Have you ever watched the same film twice?" I asked.
"Oh yes - but that's different. There's so much more to a film."
"And listened to the same music?"
"Well of course. Don't be silly Cat. Books are different. They're just words."
I looked at her.
"Oh come on Cat! It's easy to write a book - well, not easy perhaps but easier to write a book than make a film or do music. I mean, you just have to sit down and write. You just do it on a computer and edit it and send it off and someone else does all the other bits - you know printing it and stuff. Try making a film and there are masses of people involved and all sorts of things to sort out and music performers have to do yonks and yonks of practice and then get together and, if they record it, there are all sorts of sound technicians and things like that. Writing isn't like that. These days you edit it all on the computer and just have to hand it over. I mean, it's all done. That's why it isn't worth re-reading anything. There's no real work in it."
Oh. I see. Writers do not work. They play.
I would have been less concerned but this person was being absolutely serious - and she works at the library.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Would you go to a

I have just been looking at someone else's blog and thinking about a conversation I had yesterday. The blog mentions going to a reunion and the conversation was about whether a friend should go to a reunion.
I have never been to a reunion. Reunions from my early childhood are unlikely to happen. We never lived anywhere long enough for anyone other than my younger sister to make a lasting friendship from childhood. There was also the small problem that my father was always the school teacher and, later, the headmaster. Other kids have more sense than to make friends with 'the head's kids'.
Even in late secondary school making friends did not happen. I was at my last school for just one year. By then friendships had been cemented. The students had common ground. I was, in more ways than one, an outsider. They were pleasant enough - most of the time - but they were not going to make friends.
My early tertiary education should perhaps have been different but, unlike the other students, I was not getting a government allowance. I had to support myself. That meant working as a junior housemistress in the rarefied atmosphere of another boarding school (which paid for board and lodging) and tutoring (pocket money for bus fares and essentials). The time left was for attending lectures (and you had to sign the attendance sheet for each lecture at my first tertiary institution - teacher training college) and doing the essential course work. I did not have much time to socialise.
I believe my college group may have had a reunion some time back but I was, perhaps fortunately, living in another country. I do not think I would have wanted to attend. I doubt I could have put names to faces - or faces to names. I also doubt we would have had much in common.
I was one of just two students who went on to university. I was still supporting myself. I still did not have much time but university was intellectually more challenging. I had grown up a bit more by then and was, cautiously, finding my way. It helped that I was on the other side of the world by then.
A reunion however was and is unlikely to happen. Many of the other students also came from other countries - from all over Africa, South America and Asia as well as Europe. I lost contact with most of them too. If there had been e-mail and Facebook or MySpace it might have been different. We might have stayed in touch - but I doubt there would have been a reunion. We were and are too scattered.
A friend however is considering travelling back to the UK for a reunion of her old college group.
They have, against all odds, maintained contact for fifty years. They have an annual reunion in their old college. She has not been to one for ten years and she wants to go to another - and this one is a very special occasion.
Everything was sorted out. Tickets had been bought for her and for her husband. Accommodation had been arranged. They were planning on taking an extended holiday while there - something they both need.
The problem is that their son is ill. Nobody knows how long he will live. It could be weeks or months. Some people say "Go". Others say "Stay". She is confused by longing to see her friends at this special reunion and her strong belief that she should spend as much time as she can with her son. She doubts she can even spend a week away from him. He wants her to go.
He thinks there is an answer to all this - Skype.
They will not have their extended holiday but they will have physical contact with friendships which have lasted half a century. He says it will do his mother good. It might. Reunions are curious things.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Why can't more meetings be held

in the park?
I had to talk with a young mother yesterday. She has a problem with her eldest school going child and she wanted to talk to me. She does not work because she needs to be available at short notice to get this particular child from school.
"I need to get out of the house, even if it just for a short time," she told me, "Can we meet for coffee?"
I thought of the lively two year old and said, "What if we take Tom to the park instead?"
"Oh, he'd love that!"
So, we head for the park. There are swings, a climbing frame and a rocker shaped like a duck.
Released from the stroller Tom heads straight for the rocker, climbs in, rocks for a bit, climbs out, pushes a swing, climbs the frame, runs around and around the big tree. We watch and call out approval. He comes backwards and forwards.
His mother talks and talks. I make some suggestions. I try to keep them very simple and make them things that the family can follow through without major changes to routine or singling out of one child.
All the time Tom is busy. He has found out the blocks on one side of the climbing frame can be rolled over to make "X" and "O" for noughts and crosses. He is too young to play the game but he recognises that they change. He 'hides' from us and comes back laughing.
"You know, I never brought Chris to the park. He would have loved it too. Somehow I never made the time. I've only been here a couple of times with Tom. We used to come all the time when I was a kid. Kids don't seem to use it much now. I suppose it's all the mothers working thing."
It's not too late. We add visits to the park as something they can do. I just hope it is fine enough on Saturday for Chris's father to push his son on the swings.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

What has she achieved - anything?

Jessica Watson is sixteen. She will be seventeen about a week from now. If she is lucky she will spend her birthday with her family.
As I write this Jessica is sailing up the eastern coast of Australia. It is some of the roughest water in the world. She is not just tired, she is exhausted - both physically and mentally. She has spent the last eight months at sea - on her own.
Jessica has sailed around the world in a little, very little, pink boat. Or has she? Jessica has crossed the equator and the Pacific and gone around Tierra del Fuego and across the Atlantic and around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Indian Ocean. She has managed to right her little boat at least six times. She has replaced the mast.
Jessica has battled gale force winds and thirty foot waves. She is battered and bruised and she still has a week or so to go.
I think her parents were totally crazy to let her do it - but they did. I think Jessica is mad to even want to do it - but she did. I think she is going to find it tremendously hard to settle down again and accept the external discipline of the rest of the world. Let's face it, after all this time at sea, even crossing the street is going to be something she has to get used to again.
Despite all that I admire Jessica. I admire her courage and her tenacity and her will power, her maturity and strength of character. There are very few teenagers, indeed very few adults, who could set out on a much less dangerous and demanding solo adventure and make it to the end.
If Jessica makes it into Sydney harbour about a week for now I am not going to try and say she did not achieve anything because she has achieved a lot.
But now, as she comes into the last few days of her voyage, there are a raft of critical comments being heard in the media. There are claims she has not actually technically sailed around the world (because she did not go 1,500 nautical miles above equator) even though she has sailed 23,000 nautical miles. Some fancy sailing organisation says she cannot claim the record because of this and because she is - wait for it - too young. She apparently has to be 18 to claim the record - so Jesse Martin gets to keep the record.
All these comments are coming to light now - at the end of her voyage. They were not given media coverage at the beginning. Why now? Why do it anyway?
It seems we love to knock achievers but this is more than knocking one achiever. This time it is knocking an entire generation of young people. This is saying, "It does not matter if you do go out and pursue your dreams. It does not matter if you succeed. We are not going to acknowledge that. We are only interested if you do not achieve and we can speak about you in the negative."
Does it matter or doesn't it?
I think it might matter a great deal more than we are willing to admit.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

You are what you feel or

what you eat?
There is a piece in this morning's paper which suggests that people are defining themselves by illnesses, syndromes, intolerances and other medical conditions. They say something like, "Hi I am Don (or Donna) and I am lactose intolerant (or I have high cholesterol)" instead of "Hi. My name is Don (or Donna) and I am Aquarian or Capricornian" or perhaps, "I come from Mars (or Venus).
It is fashionable to have a medical condition - whether you have one or not - for which you must (a) take medication and (b) avoid certain foods and (c) generally make yourself miserable while doing so.
Now, I am not suggesting that there are not people out there with problems. I know there are people who have genuine, life threatening allergies. I know there are people who need medication to stay alive. There also seem to be a lot of other people who say they are intolerant to this or that or that they no longer eat this or that because....and then comes the vague and wandering explanation which sometimes has the words "the doctor says I am" or "the doctor thinks I might be..."
Right. Maybe.
Then we get the free advice in the press. Last week our state newspaper was advocating that people should eat more papaya, blueberries and sweet potato because the food value of these things was slightly higher than some of the commonly available and cheaper foods we have always thought were actually good for us. Papaya and fresh blueberries also happen to be very expensive. Sweet potato, in season, is a more reasonable price but many people have no idea what to do with it. Quite simply most people will ignore this advice because they cannot afford to buy those things. If they do buy them it will be because they particularly like them or they will be curious enough to try them. Most people will never buy them on a regular basis.
Was it good advice? I doubt it. It is more likely that if someone said, "Mandarins are currently in season. They make a good buy right now" then people would actually go out and buy mandarins.
Now someone will probably tell me that mandarins are not good for you!
According to the dieticians though we should be eating soy, we should not be eating soy, we should be eating dairy products, we should not be eating dairy products, we should be eating eggs, we should not be eating egg yolks, we should not be eating eggs. Some say we should not be eating carbohydrates, others say we should only eat wholemeal or multigrain, some say we should have one slice of bread and others two, four or six. Then there is sugar - pure, white and deadly. Icecream - sugar, fat and all of that. Chocolate - well perhaps, maybe, sometimes you can have a little, less than a tiny square of the darkest variety and only if you do not have an allergy to it. Alcohol - no but then maybe a single glass of red - except that any at all could lead to a variety of nasty side effects. (Okay, so alcohol does make me feel itchy all over. I avoid it but other people can enjoy it sensibly.)
What is there left to eat? I know someone who has tried to take on board all these possible bits of advice. She is very, very thin. I do not know what she eats for breakfast (if she has breakfast) but her lunch is always a single pot of 'biodynamic organic plain yoghurt' from only one source. Her evening meal appears to be those vegetables she is 'allowed' to have - always 'organically' sourced. She eats precisely six almonds each day - 'because that is what they say I can have'. There is actually nothing wrong with her. Her daughter tells me that her mother doctor shops and that nobody can actually find anything wrong. She has no allergies or syndromes or conditions that need to be treated. Nevertheless she is on a 'strict' diet and she is making herself miserable. She has convinced herself that she has serious problems.
Hers is an extreme case but I rather suspect that, despite the wide variety of wonderful food available to us, many of us have similar problems. We no longer eat certain things in the belief that they are 'bad' for us. We do not enjoy food. We feel guilty when we break out and eat icecream or a bun. Unless it actually makes us ill because we have a genuine, life threatening allergy, we might do better if we felt less guilty about it. We would probably eat less of it. It is because we are told it is 'forbidden' that it becomes particularly desirable.
I am wondering if there is something that might be called a "Syndrome of Excess"?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

I picked a new book off the library shelf

yesterday. It had one of those nice little orange dots on the spine, the colour that denotes 'murder, mystery and mayhem'. I like a little light reading before going to sleep at night and that sort of thing can be good.
This was not. I glanced at the first page. It was written in the first person present tense - always awkward unless handled by the best of writers - and there were no less than eight profanities on the first two pages. The story line was also negative in the wrong sort of way. It felt - dirty. I put it back wondering why the library had bothered to spend the all too limited funds for new books on that particular book.
I rather suspect that the problem is what is known as "central buying"...the system whereby the books for the state's municipal libraries are chosen by a central committee rather than individual libraries. This means that they buy multiple copies of fiction at reduced prices and then distribute them. Non-fiction is handled slightly differently but a smilar problem applies.
Yes, it is a problem. What we read depends on the committee and their views and interests not on what the general public might want to read.
Of course they say that what the public wants to read is taken into account and I do not doubt that it is but the committee has the final say. Even if individual libraries bought their own books there would still be a need to choose.
Naturally we do get books at the library by a wide range of authors and we can be fairly certain that the latest books by authors like Alexander McCall Smith will eventually appear on the shelves. People do read those.
What we also get are books - often in multiple copies - that some critic has decided is worthy. There were multiple copies of a book by an award winning Australian author. They sat on the shelves and were eventually dumped in the annual book sale. They sat there too until someone bought them for an overseas mission school where the kids were studying the novel for English literature. There are twelve listings for Patrick White. Both the audio-copies of Voss are out at present. I happen to know that this is because they are 'required' study for the students in question. The other ten items have been sitting there for years but the library is required to keep them because he is the Australian who won the Nobel Prize. Is it a waste of shelf space? I do not know although I know I am not going to try and read any more. It bores me.
There are other supposedly good writers who bore me as well. I find much of their "remarkably insightful" work nothing more than self-indulgent navel gazing.
I do not have a lot of time to read for pleasure and I want it to be for pleasure. I do not want drivel. I do not wish to preached at. I do not want a soul searching 'artistic' non-story. I do not want needless profanity.
Is it too much to want both good writing and a good story?

Monday, 3 May 2010

Want to take a risk?.

That got you over here didn't it? I have been thinking about this because my friend Nicola Morgan has a new novel out called, Wasted". Here she is talking about part of it: and it got me thinking.

There is a floor covering in the entrance to our State Library which has words on it written in binary code rather than letters.
I suspect most people walk over it without even noticing. Those who do notice the floor covering probably do not realise that it has any significance. Those who do realise what it is probably cannot 'translate' it into letters. There may be a tiny, tiny minority of computer geeks who could actually 'read' it.
I am told it says, "State Library" but it could just as easily say, "Do not walk here" or "Danger, bomb underneath" or "Beware, sleeping dragon".
Despite not knowing what it says, indeed knowing it says anything at all, people walk on it. It could be said they take a risk. How big a risk? If there are other people around and they observe them walking apparently safely across the floor covering then the risk would not seem to be a large one. If there is nobody else around then experience says something like, "This is a public place. The floor covering is not cordoned off. I can move across it." The risk still does not seem at all great - if indeed it is seen as a risk at all.
Crossing the road outside the library presents a much greater risk. There are traffic lights. Experience tells us that, if these are working correctly and people obey them, then it should be possible for most people to cross the road without harm - note I say 'most people'. There is still the possibility that you could trip over a shoe lace or the dog's leash, wobble on your stiletto heels or be knocked over by another pedestrian or a skateboarder - or, like me, not get to the other side before the lights change. (It is a risk I do not take.)
Despite the risk it is likely that the vast majority of people cross the road without consciously thinking about the risk involved. They will also catch the bus or drive their car without any thought there might be an accident. They will turn on the light switch with no thought they might be electrocuted and light a match under the gas with no thought they might go up in flames. The list goes on.
Looked at like this we all take risks and we all take risks all of the time - but some risks are greater than others and some risks are greater for some people than others. There are also what we might call "calculated" risks or risks based on knowledge and experience - like crossing the library floor - and risks, like climbing Everest, taken on for the sheer thrill of the obvious danger involved and the sense of achievement which follows. I have no desire to climb Everest, sky dive, bungy jump, white-water raft or any number of other things...I am a physical coward.
It seems to me though that, for all this risk taking, there has to be some degree of certainty - a "more likely than not " that allows us to take risks without being too concerned with the possible consequences.
The interesting question surely has to be "what is more likely than not?"

Sunday, 2 May 2010

"I know, it might be

useful - one day," my father tells me. He is holding an ancient work shirt with a frayed collar and a second tear in the back. The first tear was mended by my mother so the shirt has to be more than ten years old. It is probably more than twice that.
My father keeps his clothes. (He still has the Harris tweed jacket his father made for him before he married.)
He keeps everything else too. I tend to keep things as well. We are hoarders. My clothes may not be quite as old as his but some of them have lasted well. Clothes are not the problem though. I can throw those out when they reach the unwearable stage - although what I consider unwearable around home others might consider should have been consigned to the dust bin long before then.
Our problem is books - and timber. We collected both yesterday. We went to the local library sale of unwanted, pre-loved, otherwise designed for the scrap heap books and rescued several books that pleaded with me. There was a gardening book Dad was looking for and that is out of print, a theology book (new but obviously unwanted by owner) that he wants to read and a book about
drawing Japanese style cartoons (for one of my nephews). I also had to have a book about Chinese (a language I know almost nothing about) and a book of quotations (because I collect those). I did not rescue any fiction. I try not to do that unless it fills a gap in my collection of children's books. That seemed like a fair contribution to the library coffers - and they have a long list of books from me and others that they might like to consider buying so the money will be useful.
On the way back there we collected an unwanted chair. The owner was just about to throw it in a skip. My father recognised it for what it is and asked if he could have it instead. The owner looked slightly surprised. "It is cedar," my father explained.
This obviously meant nothing to the owner. He shrugged and said, "You can have it." My father managed to balance it on his gopher and, slowly, bring it home. It is now in pieces in the shed and, I am assured, "very good timber indeed". I know cedar is precious but this is apparently particularly good.
What is he going to do with it? I have no idea. That does not matter. It has been rescued and it might be useful - one day.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

I do not really know anything about hummingbirds

but my friend Roger sent some photographs yesterday of the tiny birds hovering and sitting on the hand of a woman. If I was a little more technically savvy I could reproduce them here but you will just have to take my word for it - they were lovely.

I do know that these birds do not weigh more than a few grams and that they can fly long distances. They are colourful - although I assume that the males claim ownership of the red chest feathers - and an extraordinary mix of both strong and fragile.

I saw the photographs after listening to a news item about the global importance of the discovery of a deep, strong, cold current in Antarctic waters and reading an article about Stephen Hawking's belief that there may be aliens. No, Hawking is not saying "aliens exist". He is saying that "the universe is so complex and so vast that we cannot say they do not exist." That is altogether something different.

Someone else I know has just seen "Avatar". If you want to know what she thought of it go and read the posting "Faith" on Catherine Hughes "Daily Improvements" blog in the right hand column. Another person I know does not share that view and you can read her comments below what Cat has to say.

I am more with Cat though. I am ceaselessly amazed by the complexity of our world and our universe and, above all, the inter-dependence of everything for existence. It seems to me that there is too much order in the chaos for it to be there simply by luck or by chance. I do not know how it comes to be that way. I do not want to know "all about everything". I do want to go on wondering at the never-ending 3D jigsaw puzzle.