Thursday, 31 March 2011

I am sure writing groups

are helpful to some people but I do not belong to one. I made tentative inquiries about the local group. It meets in the library but it was clear that the group does not welcome newcomers and they are not interested in writing for children. I was told that this writing for children was "not really writing". They apparently are "serious about writing". They work on "poetry, short stories, plays and that sort of thing". Was anyone writing a novel? Oh yes, but definitely not anything for children. Oh, right. Writers for children not welcome? Writers for children not really writers? I slunk off feeling very unwelcome and did not bother them again. My father has a degree in English literature but his latter year reading tastes tend to the likes of Ian Rankin and Peter James or a new book of jokes. He has long since stopped reading Evelyn Waugh, James Joyce or Patrick White. He has read some children's literature in recent years. I will put something in front of him and say, "You might like that." He usually does. He will not read mine. He says he would be "too close". I agree. It would be unfair to ask him. My siblings are not interested. My local adult friends are not interested either. They do not read children's books. The Whirlwind reads and, with devastating honesty, tells me she likes things or does not like things but she cannot tell me why. A friend read three chapters and likes - but is it because she is a friend and her judgment is clouded by friendship? Someone I have only met once read the whole thing and said she enjoyed it - but she was brought up on the classics and never read children's books even as a child. Do writing groups become friendship groups too? Does judgment get clouded in those? Are they the best places to find an honest critical assessment of writing? I suspect that some are and some are not. There is the internet of course. There are groups on the internet. I have put a tentative paw around the door of some and have yet to find a group that I would feel comfortable with, a group that takes the business of writing for children seriously. I might find something one day. I do wonder about writing groups though. They are popular. They must serve a purpose. I wonder about them and then I wonder about professional expertise instead. Maybe I should just go on trying to write?

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

There is currently an inquiry into the price

of milk. This is taking place in Canberra and it has come about because our two biggest supermarket chains are at war - supposedly with one another but also with every other supermarket in the country and with others as well. The current milk war is not about competition. It is about market share for the most powerful. It is about trying to exclude small business from the supermarket trade. It is about selling petrol and alcohol and all manner of other goods that supermarkets could not once sell. I can remember my first ever visit to a supermarket. It was called "The Red Owl" and it was little more than a small shop. We were amazed by this place. The idea that you went in and took a basket and helped yourself and then waited at the counter to pay for the goods was completely foreign to us. I can remember worrying that people might walk out the door without paying for what they had put in their baskets. What was to stop them? It was all very different from the rural "general stores" we were used to, or the shop next to my grandparent's home. Rural general stores sold almost everything. You went in with a list and left it. The farmers would "book things up" in little memo sized books and pay the shopkeeper when the "wheat cheque" or the "wool cheque" came in. You could buy groceries in one part of the shop, haberdashery in another and hardware in another. You could not buy milk. There were no refrigerated goods at all. My mother bought powdered milk for years. She would measure it into water and beat it up. The result was not much like milk but it was all we had so we drank it anyway. When we moved to a dairying district and we had, for a short while, mains power we had gallons of milk and thick layers of cream. Icecream was of no great interest then. The milk and cream tasted too good for that - and nobody worried about cholesterol levels. The dairy farmers worked hard. They still do. Cows needed to be milked twice a day. Now some of them are milked three times a day. Modern methods are highly mechanised and guided by computer. It is more competitive than ever. Nobody has yet worked out a method for allowing cows to be milked only five times a week. The supermarkets which sell the milk to us do none of the work. They merely buy milk. They want us to pay as much as possible but the profit does not go to the dairy farmer. Big supermarkets know they can afford to "lose" on milk for a short while if it means that they reduce their competition. They are not worried if more small "Red Owl" supermarkets disappear. Their shelves are full of Asian sourced and branded food. There is cheap cheese to be had from China - but no fresh milk, not yet. If we are fortunate there will still be local fresh milk at the end of the Senate Inquiry. We will pay more for it again - and so we should.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

My internet connection went down

just after lunch yesterday and was not restored until the wee small hours of this morning. That meant I could finish answering a long queue of e-mails but I could not send them out. It also meant that no more work came in. My news feed ceased. I could not search the internet. Of course my initial reaction was that there was something wrong with my computer connections. I wasted some time discovering that this was not the case. I am not in the least bit computer literate or internet savvy but I eventually worked out it was not my computer. I double checked by 'phoning my sister (whose husband works for my ISP). Yes, they had a connection. Could she please check the "advisories" - the list of outages? What was the point? We are on different telephone exchanges. Oh right. Yes, your exchange is out. Did I want to come over and use their computer? No thankyou. There was nothing ultra urgent. All of that had gone out in the morning. Anything else could wait thankyou. It might mean catching up later but I was going to take some time out. I have to lead the bookshop knitting group this afternoon. I can finish the work for that. I can wind a skein of yarn. I can play hooky until it goes back up - just as soon as I finish getting those e-mails ready to send. It was a rather strange experience. I am not used to taking unexpected time off in the middle of a Monday afternoon. The last Tuesday afternoon of the month is pencilled in to my diary. It is my bookshop day. As I work from home and often work from 5am until late I allow myself that time. I had plans for semi-retirement this year but world events got in the way. They really were exceptional but I am training up people to take over from me. It is a slow process. I am trying to pass on years of accumulated knowledge and contacts. I make assumptions I should not make. It is all a long, slow process. By late afternoon I had a long list of e-mails waiting to go in the "out" box. I usually send them as I finish them. The list looked good. I could see I had done some work. The internet was still not up so I guiltily brought up my current WIP instead and allowed my young hero to get a little closer to safety. We had been talking to one another all through this. He wants one thing and I want another but eleven year old boys are like that. We will see. I do not often get a chance to write in the middle of the working day. My young hero could at least do what I want!

Monday, 28 March 2011

In one of those curious writing

coincidences someone in my small knitting group suggested to me yesterday that I must find writing "easy". I then came home to find that Nicola Morgan was talking about "does it get easier" over on her blog. The link is here if you want to read it. Apparently I am supposed to find writing "easy" because I write a blog post each morning and I occasionally write letters to newspapers. "You just sit down and write, don't you?" "I think about what I am going to write." "Yes but then you just sit down and write it don't you?" "No, I don't." By then I had the rest of the group listening as well. They wanted to know "how" I did it. The answer had to be "I do not know but it is not easy". "But those letters you write. You don't spend a lot of time on them do you?" "No." "Then it has to be easy for you." "No, really it is not easy. I think about them before I write them. Sometimes they are things I have thought about for years. It is just that they have come up in the media now." "But you can't know what they are going to write about!" "No but some things come up over and over again in different ways." They do agree with that but I can see they do not believe me over the issue of writing about it. As for the blog do I find something to write about each day? Do I ever get stuck for something to say? Why do I do it? I have to tell them "I do not know." "Well if you had to choose between knitting something and writing something what would you choose?" I tell them "writing something". "Well there you are then. Writing has to be easy for you." Oh no it is not. I have never gone for the "easy" option. Writing is difficult. It is probably the hardest thing I have ever done.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Diana Wynne Jones

died yesterday. Her death will be an immense loss to the writing community, especially to those who enjoyed her unique blend of science and fantasy.
I do not usually read science fiction, in fact I can think of very little science fiction I have read. I do not read a lot of "fantasy" either, or not of the science fiction variety. Diana Wynne Jones however managed to write something quite different. Her books were a wonderful blend of real, imaginary and extraordinary.
"Howl's Moving Castle" (Methuen 1986) had (perhaps still has) almost a cult following, especially in Japan. It was made into a full length cartoon. Howl (a wizard) is a marvellous creation. He is one of the most contradictory characters in children's or young adult literature. There is an unpredictability about him that must surely resonate with teenagers because he is really no more mature than that. This is the sort of book that should appear on lists of suggestions for school students to read.
There are the Chrestomanci books as well. Chrestomanci has more responsibility than Howl. He is a much more adult character but he has his weaknesses and his vanity as well as an awareness of his position and his responsibilities. Charmed Life, the first of the series, has plenty of humour even as it explores the issues of increasing self awareness and responsibility in young Cat.
More adult books such as "The Dark Lord of Derkholm", "The Year of the Griffin", "A sudden wild magic" mix issues of physics, biology, fantasy, and the responsible use of power. They blend parallel worlds and characters and raise moral questions. It is all done with wit and a sense of hope for the future.
There is one book for young people yet to be published as well as a book of her papers. Seven Stories, the museum and archives for children's literature, will preserve her work. Her publishers would do well to see that her books also remain available.
Diana Wynne Jones has left behind a wonderful array of books that everyone should have access to and most will want to read. Thankyou for the journeys. They were marvellous.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

There was a media uproar

at the last state election when someone wrote a letter claiming they had voted multiple times. I cannot remember the details now. Even at the time I did not think it was terribly newsworthy. I suspect that multiple voting is quite commonplace - and often done with the best of intentions. Someone goes in to vote for a parent or other relative, friend or neighbour who is unwell or away and unable to get to a polling booth. They do not even see this as "multiple voting". It is "merely voting for someone else". They will even carry out the exact wishes of the other person.
Getting someone off the electoral roll can be quite difficult. You can ask to be removed if you are going abroad for an extended period of time. They powers-that-be do not really like this, especially as some people conveniently forget to add themselves to the electoral roll again on their return. When someone dies you are supposed to notify the Electoral Office. They are supposed to remove the name. I sent a copy of my mother's death certificate to the State and Federal Electoral Offices when my mother died. There was a state election over twelve months later - and a "please explain" for not voting in the post some weeks later. Fortunately I found it before my father did and went through the whole process again. I doubt they took any notice of the letter I wrote with it.
The electoral roll is used for multiple purposes. Jurors are called up by supposedly random selection of names on the electoral roll. I say supposedly because the pool of potential jurors has to be large enough to allow for people who are excused from jury duty - such as doctors - or unable to do it or likely to be challenged.
It is also used for the purposes of research. Anyone can access the basic electoral roll. The government uses it for a variety of research purposes. There is ongoing research into households, their income, their expenditure and any number of other matters. Those chosen must participate and often find it intrusive and time consuming. Marketing companies will use it to "randomly select" people to participate in their research or to target a potential market.
It can also be used, as it apparently was, to vote more than once for the purpose of obtaining another vote.
There was, it is reported, an inquiry into the multiple voting affair. Nothing has come of it. I have no idea what information they had to work on or how they conducted the inquiry. Nevertheless it has made me wonder about not just the electoral process but the electoral roll. It can obviously be manipulated. It is far from accurate. The government does send people around once in a while to supposedly check on the voters living at an address. They came here once, asked a question at the door. I answered it honestly and they went away. I could just as easily have said I was the only person living at the address or told them there were twelve people.
The reality is that the whole system is so full of holes and potential for fraud that it is a wonder it works as well as it does.
There is an election today in New South Wales. I wonder how accurate the results will be.

Friday, 25 March 2011

I will add another "P" word

to the words that Nicola Morgan used in her recent post on "An Awfully Big Blog Adventure" and that word is "Perhaps".

Nicola was talking about the work an author is now expected to do "Publicity, Promotion, Profile, Platform". She was talking about being "pro-active" and "paralysed" by the need to do these things. With all of that she suggests that most books sell very few copies.

Nicola is a very pro-active and high profile person. She set up a blog for her novel "Wasted". A lot of her work is done in schools. (She is fortunate that her working life allows her to do so much work in schools. Most authors can only ever dream about that.) She talks about authors who do "blog tours" and other events in order to publicise their books.

There appears to be an expectation on the part of publishers that authors will do all this, the job they once did. They still employ publicists but their budgets are, naturally, limited. Some books will get very little publicity, if any. It is now the author's job to do the publicity and carry the cost of doing it or, if they are fortunate, get the readers to do it for them.

It is the author's job - perhaps. I am not sure it should be the author's job. I believe it should be the publisher's job. The author needs to cooperate certainly but they should not have to set up their own round of school visits, bookshop signings, talks in libraries etc etc.

It is all very time-consuming. It can be physically exhausting. Authors are at risk of being under-valued. It is much more difficult for an author to say "I charge for my time" than it is for a publishing company's publicist to say, "Our fee for an author visit is...". People expect the former, if approached personally, to be flattered enough to do it for nothing. They do not expect the latter to do anything except charge them.

Not all authors are assertive. They may be very fine writers and dreadful public speakers. Some will enjoy the interaction with readers, for others it will be a chore, for still others it will be an experience they dread. Even if they do make the effort there is no guarantee that they will sell any books at all. They will not sell enough copies to cover their costs, perhaps not even the petrol money to get to a local destination.

Yes, an author knows their own "product" but other manufacturers of products employ marketing firms to sell for them. The author has, in a sense, employed the publisher. So I would add that other "p" word and say perhaps an author should do these things but publishers also have a responsibility to publicise - a responsibility to their shareholders and, more importantly, the author. It should be part of the contract. I doubt it will be.

Publishers know they can get away with asking authors to do the work. All they need to do is say "If you do not want to do it we are not interested in your book. There are plenty of other authors out there who will do it."
Perhaps it is time to revolt?

Thursday, 24 March 2011

I am not a tidy writer

or the sort of writer who plans everything meticulously in advance. (If I did these blog posts would never get written in the mornings. I rather suspect that the majority of my followers wisely ignore most of my blog posts and go on getting about their daily lives without me. I can hardly blame them. )
But, to get back to the writing bit, I am not tidy writer. I plunge in. I scatter cat hairs (words) far and wide. I pounce on them and play with them. I will stop and stroke them. I arrange them in patterns I like - and then rearrange them. I suspect it is a wildly inefficient way of getting things done.
There are clearly other cats and humans who carefully arrange things right from the start. First they search for their material. They do "research". They hoard things in notebooks. They have files.
Then they lay everything out in neat heaps of matching words and ideas. They prowl along the heaps with a checklist. Is everything there? They brush them out gently with a whisker, checking each one.
Only then do they begin the serious work of arranging their hairs or words in an orderly manner.
When they have finished they return to the checklist and, using another whisker, they even more gently nudge their work into the correct shape.
I cannot do it like that. I wish I could start at the beginning and go to the end. I know I rely too much on my memory.
Things happen when I write. Things I do not expect happen when I write. I do things without knowing why. I had no idea why the were clearing out a cupboard in the first chapter. I just knew they were. The answer turned up in the last chapter when even I did not expect it.
I wonder if I use those checklists unconsciously? Do I actually have those cat hairs under better control than I thought I did?
I doubt it. I know I really am an untidy writer.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Fifty books a year

is what the UK Education Secretary is apparently proposing that children (or, more correctly, young people) should read. You will find an article here.
Now I have no problems with anyone reading fifty books a year - or even more. I do wonder where young people would find the time to read that many books.
It may be different in the UK, indeed I sincerely hope it is, but here the average young person might well find it difficult - or so they tell me.
I keep being told "I don't have time to read."
"Why?" I ask. Then I get a litany of school, homework, sport and other after-school activities.
"Do you want to do all these things?"
"Nope but everyone does it."
When I suggest that they could read for half an hour before they go to bed - or in bed - they tell me that is time for Facebook (or whatever) or tweeting (or whatever) or talking to their friends on the 'phone. They have to "keep up with the goss" (the gossip) and, no doubt, create new gossip.
It is also "uncool" to read. If they do read they do not want to talk about it. You can talk about footy, soccer, the latest group or song, the way someone dresses and what you did (or pretended to do) over the weekend. It is also more important to be seen "hanging out" at the local shopping centre after school. It is, after all, why the icecream counter, the sushi shop and the various hot chip providers exist. There is also plenty of homework "the teachers really pile it on".
I rather suspect much more work could be done in school. Even allowing for gross exaggeration I am aware that more time is wasted now than in the past. We did eight and then nine forty minute periods of face-to-face teaching with five minutes in between plus lunch and a ten minute break halfway through the morning. We had to be there. Now they need not be there unless they have classes. They do five subjects as opposed to our seven or eight. In the UK they do even more.
My goddaughter, almost 16, plays the cello in an orchestra, sings, is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, on her student representative council and managed to get outstanding GCSE "O"s last year. She also reads voraciously. I know she is exceptional but she also thinks reading is "cool".
The question is probably how reading can be made to appear "cool" as an activity for the majority.
As for what they read....that is what libraries are for.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

"How do you fit everything in?"

the Senior Cat asks. He is standing at one of the kitchen cupboards with a dish in his hand. He has volunteered to "put things away". I accepted and am now wondering about the wisdom of this.
Our kitchen cupboards are not very big - or we have too many things. We have far fewer "things" than we had when my mother was alive. I have gradually cut down on many items. We did not use them. We were never likely to use them. We could substitute something else. Right. Get rid of it.
"Vinnie's" (our local St Vincent de Paul charity shop - used by all denominations and faiths) were the recipients of much of it. Some of it just went into the rubbish collection.
I removed various devices designed to chop things - a knife works just as well for most things. I did retain the egg-slicer. I removed ancient tea-strainers. We retained one. There were some cracked mixing bowls. They went into the rubbish.
I did all this slowly so that my father would not notice too much. He knows things have gone but, as long as he does not know quite what has gone, it does not bother him. On occasion he has even stood there and said, "I think we have too much stuff."
We do indeed have too much. There is another "hard rubbish" collection next week and I am wondering whether I can get away with leaving out another cardboard box of things we really do not need. Someone may come along and take what they need. The rubbish men can take the rest. It is tempting.
But, for now, I have to explain that things get stacked one on top of the other. Obviously that makes sense for plates and dishes of the same size and shape. I have spatial problems but even I can work out how to do that.
That seems to work for my father too - but only on the side of the cupboard where we keep the crockery. On the other side where we keep things like the jam, honey, marmalade, tomato sauce, peanut butter, Vegemite etc he has a problem. He does not see how you can stack any of those things.
Yes, it is a little more difficult but I tell him, " The Vegemite goes on top of the peanut paste." (He still refers to it as peanut paste.)
He shakes his head but does that. "Now that leaves room for the butter dish to go on top of the honey jar."
We strike a problem. "There is something on top of the honey jar."
"Some quince stuff."
The quince paste I bought yesterday morning. It will get used in the quince paste/brie sandwiches for his study group tonight. (I have a reputation to keep up with respect to sandwich fillings.)
"Well that's all right. It is nice and flat. You can put the butter dish on top of that."
He does so and shuts the door, stands there for a moment. Then he says to me,
"I think we have too many things. Do you think you could get rid of some into the hard rubbish collection?"
I will try and find an hour to rush through the cupboards before next Monday morning and the arrival of the rubbish men. After that we may fit everything in.

Monday, 21 March 2011

It is the little things

that often mean the most.
On the right hand side of this blog you will find my "Twitter" updates - or you will find my social Twitter updates. (I have another Twitter account for work related activities.)
Twitter is a social network site of sorts. Once you have an account you can send short messages to other people. If they "follow" you it is also possible to send them a "direct" message - meaning other people cannot read it.
I know any number of people who think Twitter is a waste of time and that discussing such things as what you are eating, whether you are going to bed or what you have been reading that day is somehow ridiculous. I disagree. For some people Twitter is social contact. It is a chance to relax and wind down. If you can rule Twitter rather than have Twitter rule you then it can be a support and a lot of fun.
Over the past week I have had to answer more than a thousand work related e-mails. I have not had time to socialise outside my home. I did not get to a meeting of my knitting group on Saturday afternoon. I have done a crash course in things "Japanese" - something I never expected to have to do - and waited frantically to hear from Japanese who were students of mine in the past and who have kept up at least intermittent contact. By some miracle every single one of them is safe although some of have lost close family. I have eaten far too much in an effort to stay awake.
I have also been getting up very early - by which time it is late at night in what I refer to as "Upover" - the UK side of the northern hemisphere - and that is where Twitter comes in.
If I log into my social Twitter account at that time I can, in between writing a blog post and answering the most urgent e-mail requests, have a little fun. I can also get and give a little support to people I know and like. While it is now possible to send a "tweet" longer than 140 characters I also try to keep my own within those limits. How can I say something in a minimum amount of space?
I can tease a doctor about her mugs of tea, a writer about her boots, support an "Authors for Japan" fundraiser, sympathise with someone who is feeling unwell, see pictures of the full moon taken through a telescope and play the fool pretending to be a cat. I get references to blog posts I might not otherwise read but now enjoy in a spare moment.
It is just a little bit fun. We all need a little bit of fun sometimes. I have been getting some thanks to my Twitter friends. Thankyou Twitter.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Her name is Junko.

She is seventeen. She came here as an exchange student in February. Since then her world has fallen apart. She desperately wants to go home but there is no home to go to.
Her older brother, Hiro, was in Tokyo when the disaster happened. He is safe. They have not heard from their parents. They will almost certainly not hear from their parents. Hiro's messages from Tokyo leave no doubt. Junko is still hoping.
I know her brother. He was here several years ago. I read his thesis for him. He had impeccable manners and, unusually, was willing to take advice. When he left he also left an invitation that I would, one day, visit Japan on my way to London. His family would like to meet me. They all spoke some English he assured me. Now it is just the two of them. He has asked me to talk to her.
Junko is waiting for me on the seat outside the library. I am early but she is earlier still. She is also sitting quite still. When she sees me her expression changes just a little from almost nothing to something like faint relief.
I sit next to her. I do not sit too close. She needs support but she also needs space. I am a stranger but I am also not a stranger. Right now I am her one link with home. I know her brother.
I wait and, at last, she starts to talk. She tells me little things. She is thinking Japanese and talking English. Her English is slow and not particularly good. In other circumstances it is probably much better but she looks utterly exhausted.
Then comes the big thing. Hiro has asked her to stay here. He has told her there is nothing to go back to. If she returns she will add just one more person to all the displaced people. She will be one more person to feed in a country that is struggling to feed everyone right now.
Her exchange family have told her the same thing. Stay. They will have her as long as she needs to be here, longer than originally planned if necessary.
She knows it is sensible but sensible is not what she wants right then. She wants home. She wants her family. Each word is a struggle by now. There is a damp patch on my shoulder where she has started to cry. I wish I was her mother.
Then her "Australian mother" here comes out of the library.
"Junko?" she asks quietly.
Junko leaves me and buries her face in her "mother's chest" sobbing. Over the top of her head her "mother" looks at me and mouths,
"It is the first time she has cried."

Saturday, 19 March 2011

It is a journalist's job to be

inaccurate and to sensationalise trivia. If you thought their role was to deliver the news please think again. Their role is to sell news. Inaccuracies sell. Trivia sells. "Human interest" sells. Other people's misfortune will, within limits, sell.
Facts do not sell - unless they are trivial facts. Most people do not want to read a serious analysis of an important issue. "Just give me the basic facts" they say, if they want to know at all. What they often mean is "give me the trivia" and "tell me what I want to hear".
Our state newspaper has already relegated the Japanese disaster to the inner pages. The front page today concerns a sportsman with cancer. I would not wish cancer on anyone but is this really front page news? Yes, for many it is.
There is also news about a car race which uses a city-street circuit. For some people this is a major sporting and social event. My own sister is involved each year. She is their consultant physiotherapist. I am strongly opposed to the entire event on environmental and safety grounds. The police say the way it is reported encourages young people in particular to "hoon" - or drive more foolishly than they already do.
The more serious news gets reported on the inner pages. Some people never get that far. Even if they do the reporting will be inaccurate. It will come second or third hand through AAP or Reuter's. They have already altered it to make it suitable for public consumption in the more serious newspapers of the world.
There are other news feeds which are available to small groups of people. I sometimes see items from them. What is said in them is often not suitable for public consumption. Indeed what is said in them should not be available for public consumption. Most people cannot handle that sort of news. They want it sanitised first.
They are not aware of this but it is what they expect. Even when our most serious news service says "graphic images" they are by no means the worst images and yet they will sensationalise the level of the damage of the nuclear plants in Japan to "catastrophic".
I do not believe this does anyone any favours. It does not help people understand what is actually occurring. It feeds an almost insatiable desire for "bad news about other people" and a sort of smugness that nothing has happened to us even while we believe we are empathising. We get "compassion fatigue". The words and images become meaningless.
So I will leave you with something. In amidst all the unbearable destruction in Japan imagine a tree. It has survived. It has the first hint of cherry blossom on it.

Friday, 18 March 2011

A writer was talking about

school visits. Naturally these are now seen, especially by their publishers and agents, as an opportunity to sell books. The writer is, after all, working when he or she makes a school visit. Writers are expected not merely to write the book but to sell it to the reading public. This can be very difficult for schools, especially in areas where money is particularly tight.
When our Writers' Weeks were first set up during Adelaide's biennial Festival of Arts authors, particularly children's authors, were expected to earn their invitation by going out to schools to talk. Which schools an author went to was always something of a lottery. If you were lucky you got a "good" school. Good meant a school that was interested in having you there, where teachers did some preparation and the students had actually read something you had written. The library at the school, yes we had libraries in those days, would wangle the budget and buy any suitable books by the author that they did not already own. In these days of "Learning Resource Centres" they might download something on to a Kindle and arrange for students to do the same.
Paperbacks were the order of the day back then. I was about to return to university but first I had a short stint as librarian in a junior school in a very depressed area. Most of the children admitted that they "didn't have no books" at home. The school was about the last one likely to get an author visit, particularly one from a well known author but I wondered whether I could wangle it unofficially. I had contacts and I thought I could use them.
There were authors I knew who were coming to Writers' Week. One was staying with us and another was staying with other friends around the corner. Neither wrote the sort of thing that the junior school children would be interested in but they might find the time among the official visits organised.
I discussed it with the author who would be staying with us.
"Ask Ivan", she suggested, "I think he has a spare morning. He wouldn't mind."
Ivan was Ivan Southall. I had met him twice before. We had talked at length about an issue of concern to him. He had eventually written a children's book about it and sent me a copy. I wrote and explained the situation. These children were unlikely to ever get an official author visit for Writer's Week but could he find time to do an unofficial one?
It was a big thing to ask. We could not pay him. I had to argue hard to make sure his books would be in the school library. I was not even sure how the children would react. Reading was generally considered to be a "waste of time". I had to explain all of this but I still thought that meeting an author would be a "good thing".
He replied quickly. He would come - for me and the children.
I prepared the children in the library sessions. The best readers read at least one of his books each. They sorted out the questions they would ask. Two of the staff read books to their classes.
On the great day we crammed all the oldest children into the library.
Ivan was marvellous. He talked. He answered all their questions. Then, as time was almost up he asked, "One last question?"
There was a sudden stillness among the children and one of the boys stood up. He was clutching a paper bag. The paper bag contained mostly one cent and two cent pieces that the children had collected themselves. There was a list with the names of everyone who had donated something, "so that they know I am not cheating" the boy who had done most of the collecting told me later.
"Please sir, can we buy one of your books?"

Thursday, 17 March 2011

"I would like to go up there and help"

are the sort of words I dread hearing.
Any number of people have said this to me over during the initial aftermath of a disaster. Most of them have no intention of doing any such thing. I know I do not even need to begin to dissuade them from dropping everything and getting on a flight to somewhere like Japan. They are sensible enough to know that there is nothing they could do to help.
There are others however, generally young and idealistic, who actually need to be dissuaded from "volunteering". I have to tell them, "No, up there or over there you will be more of a nuisance than a help. You are not trained to do the job. You will not be able to face the reality or the living conditions. It is very, very dangerous. It is dirty. You are not protected against disease. You do not speak the language. You do not belong to an organisation that is set up to handle that sort of thing."
The list could go on. They still tell me they want to help. I suggest joining a group here and doing some fund raising or even arranging their own fundraiser. These sort of suggestions are almost always met with disbelief. Fund raising is apparently "what other people do, the sort of people who cannot go and help". I am not quite sure what they think helping actually is.
I think raising enough money to ensure that displaced people are given the basic requirements of food, shelter, disease control and human dignity is very important. It does help.
"Yes but Cat so much of that money gets wasted" I am told.
Well yes, that is true too. There is always a problem with waste, with corruption, with the misdirection of funds, with bureaucracy etc etc. That should not stop people from trying to help in that way.
I try and explain that "going there" would not be possible and, even if it was, it would not be the fun they think it would be because yes, in the end, they believe it would be an enjoyable experience. They think the "feel good" factor of helping would outweigh the appalling distress and devastation that, viewed first hand, is real and nothing like the experience of seeing it unfold on television.
If you really want to help then go and join in an existing fundraiser or create your own. Some of the people who will benefit are the professional rescuers and workers who are going to help because they know what to do. They also need all the help they can get.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

We could smell smoke

yesterday afternoon. When I looked out the window I could see smoke as well. The local fire siren had not been activated although the smoke was strong enough for our household smoke alarm to be giving small blips of sound.
It was obviously some way north of us. An emergency helicopter went up, no doubt to assess the situation.
Australia is prone to bushfire/wildfire disasters so people around us were on alert. There are two State Emergency Service volunteers near us and two retired army people who could be called on. My father is too old to volunteer although he has dealt with a major fire threat to a school on two occasions in the past.
This morning we learned that, as we suspected, it was a grass fire. Some hectares have been destroyed but there was no great property damage. Everyone is breathing more easily this morning even if there is still some smoke in the air.
Alarming? Yes. In the overall disaster scenario however it was barely a blip on the horizon.
And that bring me to what I really say this morning. The destruction and devastation in Japan is beyond human comprehension. We can watch all the news, listen to all the words and still have no idea at all. Even those there on the ground say they cannot comprehend the scale of the damage.
Almost everyone wants to help in some way or another. If you are a writer or a reader, if you know other people who are writers or readers then PLEASE go to and bid on something. Spread the word.
If you are a writer then consider submitting something for this too - .
It may not seem like very much. It may seem like that small blip we had on the horizon yesterday but the smoke clouds can grow larger. So can donation clouds. They can spread.
I could still smell smoke in the air this morning. A donation can be like that.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Yesterday was a public holiday

in South Australia. It is known as "Adelaide Cup Day" - a horse racing event. It appears that this event is more important than Christmas Day, something celebrated by the vast majority of the population, which is no longer a public holiday. The fact that only a very small percentage of the population actually goes to the races (or even watches the race on television) is apparently beside the point. Fewer people participate, even peripherally, in this event than in the shenanigans surrounding the Melbourne Cup. The state of Victoria does not have a public holiday for that horse race.
We also had four visitors come for lunch yesterday. They are not people we know well but they had twice invited us and we felt honour bound to return the invitation.
As I am also in the middle of a deluge of work due to the situation in Japan I kept things even simpler than usual. The table was set but I put the food in the centre and said, "Please help yourselves." They did. We talked about a film ("The King's Speech"), some books and gardening.
The father has recently returned to university to do a course in teaching English as a foreign language. We discussed the benefits and detractions of on-line language learning as he helped me with the washing up. His wife had already insisted on bringing dessert with them.
The son is studying building design and construction. He disappeared into the shed with Dad to pick up some timber for a project.
The daughter-in-law is studying art and design. She borrowed five books from me.
For just over three hours I could forget what I had been doing. That was good. They left to attend a meeting and go to work at part-time jobs in aged care.
We all forgot that it was supposed to be a public holiday. My father had no clue that it was even supposed to be a public holiday. "Why," he inquired, "do we need a holiday for a horse race?"

Monday, 14 March 2011

English as spoken by the Japanese

sometimes becomes an entirely new language. Sheer exhaustion on the part of Japanese colleagues trying to set up communication lines is not helping matters. I have the easy part in all this. I am just doing some coordinating and putting people in touch with other people.
It has however made me even more aware than I was of two things.
The first is that Japanese is an extremely complex language, even for the Japanese. The second is that the Japanese do not expect others to speak their language, indeed they would generally prefer others did not try - apart from a few polite phrases.
Written Japanese is made more complex by the use of "katakana", "hiragana", "kanji" and "romaji". The first two are syllabaries. They are related in origin, identical in structure - and not used together. "Kanji" are the characters that look more like Chinese. This is because they have their origin in Chinese characters. Japanese however is in no way related to Chinese. It is, according to my reading, not related to any other language on earth. Chinese may have influenced written Japanese but it has not influenced the structure or the vocabulary. The Japanese borrowed just as much as they needed and put it to their own unique use.
Japanese is usually written in a combination of "kanji" and "hiragana" with loan words, typically from German, French and English, written using "katakana" - because katakana can handle unfamiliar sounds. (The Japanese do not differentiate between something like "l" and "r" and find it difficult to both hear and say if they have grown up in Japan.)
"Romaji" is the standard means of converting Japanese to the Roman alphabet. It has been used for over a century. It is as much a defence against foreign interference as it is a way of being polite to foreigners.
Japanese also has many polite forms, ways of being deferential (especially to superiors) and ways of communicating through an interpreter with those who do not speak Japanese. The Japanese use many euphemisms. They do not use definite and indefinite articles. The vocabulary used by men is not always the same as the vocabulary used by women. Men are more likely to use loan words from other languages. Women, even the younger women, will use a more restricted vocabulary - especially when speaking to older Japanese. It is still considered highly impolite for women to use certain words.
Trying to use Japanese is a minefield. Very few Westerners succeed in really speaking Japanese and even fewer become genuinely fluent.
Right now however the Japanese need outside help. There are going to be some communication problems. My Japanese colleagues are telling me they do not want Westerners trying to use limited amounts of very poor Japanese - which will almost certainly be misunderstood. They would prefer people to use English and rely on interpreters or on augmentative and alternative means of communication.
The Japanese will not consider this impolite. They will consider it far more impolite if we misuse or abuse their language.
It makes me wonder why we persist in the myth that we must learn Japanese if we want to do business with Japan. It seems the Japanese would prefer English - even in a sometimes delightfully different form.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Someone I know has a

relative in a hospice at the present time. Although the relative is in her eighties it is still a difficult time for them.
Just before Christmas last year I knew of someone else whose mother had been taken there. The old lady was in her eighties too. She was a German migrant and her life had not been easy. On Christmas Eve her very musical grandchildren decided that she needed a present - the present of some music. They took their instruments in and, very quietly so as not to disturb the other patients, they gave her a concert of her favourite carols. She lay there with her eyes closed but she smiled and, once, asked, "Again please" in German.
When they left the room they were stopped by one of the nurses. Were they about to be told they had disturbed other patients?
No, not at all but could they play for an old man who had no family to visit? Just the one tune. Please? He had heard them next door. It would give him so much pleasure. They crept in and played softly for him too.
They went home exhausted. In the morning there was the telephone call. Grandma had died. The old man next door had died too. Both of them had asked for "Silent Night."

Saturday, 12 March 2011


I was going to write about something entirely different this morning but instead I would ask you to try and imagine your house being violently shaken so that it rocks like a jelly and then a wall of muck and debris higher than that same house hitting it with the force of a violent alcoholic fist into the chest of a fragile new born infant child.
That was Japan yesterday and, as I write this, the resultant tsunamis are starting to cause further damage in places as far away as the United States. It is my job to know about these things.
Yes, I do sleep at night - but not particularly well and sometimes not for terribly long. Occasionally I have been up all night but there are plenty of others who will be up for nights on end and they will not be working from the comfort of their own homes.
Japan has one of the highest states of disaster preparedness in the world. Earthquakes happen almost everyday. They often go unnoticed or barely remarked.
I have taught many Japanese students. They tend to be reserved and independent, giving away little of their own feelings. This time however the Japanese are going to need some help and there may be many other places that will need help as well.
There are going to be wider appeals for assistance again too. If you know someone who is involved in helping, even on the periphery, please help them too. Let them talk - or be silent. Let them get on with the job they have to do. It will not cost you anything but a little time and perhaps a cup of tea.

Friday, 11 March 2011

ETS? Carbon Pricing? Something to

overcome climate change and global warming?
Well yes we must go down that road. It will allow Australia to influence by example. We will become a major world player because of our initiatives - perhaps.
Now please do not misunderstand me. I believe we should be taking care of our home - planet Earth. I also believe we could do far more in that respect than we do.
The proposed ETS, carbon price etc will make no positive impact on the world's climate woes. The idea that it might somehow put Australia in a position where it can influence the rest of the world is as ridiculous as it is arrogant.
There is also another problem. It is going to cost a lot of money. That money has to be found somewhere. In this morning's paper there are some suggestions about how that money might be found.
There is the tax on pollution of course - that will flow down so that everyone pays for it through increased prices. Will we use less of the world's resources because of it? No, we will demand pay increases and inflation will go up.
There will also be cuts to government expenditure. The price we pay for some medicines is going to go up.
Now I suspect that some doctors over-prescribe. It is easier to offer a pill than to say we must change our life style. I doubt however that a rise in the cost of prescriptions is going to change that. It may mean that some people will not take what is prescribed for them. They may end up costing the community more because they become chronically or critically ill - or they may go on much as before. Medication for conditions like diabetes should not be hit. There is no suggestion that they will be but anything might happen in the future. It is still not good to asking health to pay.
What is even worse however is that there is a plan to cut research funding in health. The National Health and Medical Research Council is looking at a massive budget cut. Australia already spends only a miniscule amount on health research - and an even more miniscule amount comes directly from the government. Much of the money is raised by drug companies through the cost of prescriptions.
Now of couse drug companies have been known to do poor research, shonky research and plain stupid research. They try to solve one problem and create others. They make problems where problems should not exist etc etc. They also do other essential research which has dramatically improved the quality of life of some people.
They are going to get hit with a double whammy. The price of prescriptions is going to rise but they will not see the benefit. Less people may take prescription drugs if the price goes too high. They will be no better off. (Neither will the government but governments do not think that far ahead.)
They will also get less research funding. That means less time spent on a wide range of research. It means young people with inquiring minds will not get posts in research. Progress will slow.
In the end we will be worse off.
If savings have to come from somewhere I suggest they start by cutting the government cars in Canberra and vehicle use everywhere, that the young chronic unemployed are given jobs replanting our forests and that we start to grow more in our gardens (instead of importing food).
I know though that this is not a solution to the real problem - keeping a government in power and pretending we are world players.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

I wish I could find the letter

I once wrote to our national newspaper in defence of special schools. Yes, I defend their existence and with good reason.
I know that "mainstreaming" is "in" and I know all the arguments given in favour of the trend but I will defend the existence of special schools.
Let me explain. I have worked in four special schools, in two as a "volunteer" and in two more as a teacher. I do know something about them - from both the outside and the inside. One of them in particular was an outstanding example of what can be done when you get an excellent education.
The school in question was for children with cerebral palsy. It was not run by the government but by a charity. The children were taken in at a very early age, assessed and then given the necessary physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and specialised teaching to become as independent as possible. There were also high expectations in respect of their social skills, thought for others and an awareness of the world around them.
I have known some of those students for more than forty years. All but one of them ended up a success in their own way. That is a remarkable record.
Not all the students were an academic success. That is only to be expected given the nature of their disability. Despite that I believe that all the students achieved their potential academic ability. One of them gained a doctorate (in pure mathematics), there were three more with good degrees and a number more with TAFE (technical and further education) qualifications. Many of them have held down good jobs in the community. A few went to sheltered workshops but did well there as they were regarded as leaders, at least by example. They have married, had children, been active in the community, politics and the arts. One went into the ministry.
It was a school with a remarkable record. Many of the old scholars still get together annually and I am always invited to attend.
"Mainstreaming" has been discussed at length by the old scholars of this school. It was particularly discussed at the last reunion.
The school was taken over by the Education Department about twenty years ago. The nature of it changed almost immediately. Therapy was cut out and parents were made responsible for seeing it was provided after school hours. The children considered to be the most academically able were "mainstreamed" first. They were placed in regular classrooms with no specialist teaching support but a little extra classroom teacher aide time. Then some more of the less able children were gradually mainstreamed as well. Depending on their location they were sometimes given a little extra tuition each week. The least able children (and others with severe behavioural issues) were retained in the special school. The school was not the same sort of place that it had been but the Education Department took no responsibility for the less desirable outcomes. They simply said that "these are the sort of children they are".
Last year they closed the school altogether. It no longer exists. The highly desirable piece of real estate it sits on is to be "developed".
There are plans to close other special schools as well. There are very few left. Three I know are run by charities, one is run by the Education Department within a charity. There is pressure to close these as well, despite the fact that they handle some of the most challenging children. There are now some children who are not attending school because there is no school for them to attend. No school can cater for their very special needs. They are officially being "home-schooled."
Our "Equal Opportunity" legislation makes it impossible to provide the sort of education once given by the remarkable school I knew so well. The former students are still proud of their school. They feel no "stigma" was attached to attending it and that the education they received there was far superior to the one that many of the young people they now attempt to mentor are receiving.
One of the former students once told me, "It was a good school, a very good school. More was demanded of us. We were not special here."
I think he may have been right. Good special schooling does not allow you to be special.
So, to those of you in the UK who are worrying about the directions being taken, I say fight for your remaining special schools. If they are good then they can help a child feel quite normal.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

I think the Senior Cat

(aka my father) must have been playing football in his sleep again.
He usually makes his own bed but I do when I change the sheets. This morning I found the mattress half way off the base again. The sheets and blankets were a tangle and the pillow was wedged between the bed and the floor. I do not know how he manages this.
He has apparently always been a restless sleeper. His mother once told me that she used to pin the blankets around him when he was small.
He likes his blankets and will not submit to "one of those fluffy things" (a duna/duvet/eiderdown). Therefore, in winter, I have resorted to placing one blanket sideways across the bed and tucking it as far under as possible. With luck it will stay there most of the night.
In summer - and in between - it is a different story. He got up this morning complaining that he felt "a bit chilly" last night.
"Did you have a blanket on?"
"It fell off again."
Blankets, it would appear, have a life of their own. It may be time to speak firmly to the blanket and tuck it in across the bed.
However I do ask the other question,
"Apart from that, did you sleep well?"
"Oh yes."
Obviously it was a good game of football.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

I think the giant carrots may

be lurking again. I should have been watching more closely.
The carrots are my father's responsibility. It is his garden. He grows the carrots. He picks them. We both eat them.
He brought some "carrot thinnings" in recently. They were very nice - young, tender, flavoursome and presumably packed with nutrition. We ate them raw.
I made the mistake of assuming that none of the other carrots were yet very big. This was quite wrong. Some of them are rather large if the size of those feathery green tops and the orange-brown discs peeping above the earth are any indication of size.
I snatched one from the earth yesterday. It was an elegant thing, almost triangular in shape. I was tempted to see if I could get it to spin like a top. I did not.
We ate that one raw too. It was much larger but still quite tender. I scrubbed it and cut it into pieces.
Now however I am contemplating carrot in quantities. Carrot soup? Carrot quiche? Carrot mash? Carrot bread? How else do I use carrot?
Perhaps we should buy a rabbit?

Monday, 7 March 2011

I did not earn enough

to pay tax last year - or for some years before that. I am now being told that I should feel guilty about this.
The tax man likes people to pay tax. I can understand that. All that lovely money he gets helps to run the country. It pays for things I use. Right.
Apparently there are a great many other people who have not paid tax either. The difference is that they have, technically, earned enough to pay tax. They owe a collective $9.4 billion at least. That is a lot of money.
Much of this tax is apparently owed by "small business". The country runs on "small business" of course. It is "small business" which employs the most people - and those people also pay tax.
They pay a lot of tax.
Nobody likes paying tax, even when they know they are getting some essential services for it.
Part of the problem however is that our Tax Act is simply too complex. It takes up too much time. People fail to pay tax for some things and they pay too much for others. My father paid too much tax one year and it took the tax office more than three years to partly rectifiy the problem. In the meantime of course they got the interest and he did not. If it had been the other way around the tax man would have fined my father heavily.
We have the most complex tax system in the world. The Act comes in two hefty volumes. The employees at the Tax Office do not understand it. There are constant challenges to sections of the act - which clog the court system. It costs an enormous amount to administer.
It would make far more sense to simplify the Tax Act - and that could be done. Of course that might just mean that there are people who will no longer pay tax because they will be out of a job.
In the meantime, I do not feel guilty. I worked hard last year -around 60 hours each week - and that is rather harder than some employees of the Tax Office. Perhaps you would care to pay me Mr Tax Man?

Sunday, 6 March 2011

I think if I am serious about this writing

thing it is time I found myself an agent. It is a whole new path full of potholes and other dangers. I may even reach that point where I have to steady all four paws and leap across a chasm left by an earthquake. I hope I do not leave too much fur along the way and arrive completely looking like an alley cat who has to fight for every meal.
This sort of journey takes time away from writing. I am currently working my way through a list of websites belonging to agents. Do they represent writers for children? No? Discard. Are they accepting submissions? No? Discard - or put to one side if they may be accepting in the future. Yes? Who do they represent? Do I know the work of these authors? Do they represent overseas authors or have representation in Australia? What are the submission guidelines? Do they charge a reading fee? Will they take e-mail submissions? Are there any caveats on other websites?
I can ask all these things but there is still a problem? Will I be able to work with someone if they agree to represent me? I have written a number of books now. Some of them languish in "the bottom drawer". They may yet see light of day but they need work, Someone I have not met but whose judgment I would trust read another and made some valuable comments. I may yet be able to take those on board and produce something worthy of publication. I put it to one side for the moment.
I have written another. Penguin was taking unsolicited manuscripts so, in a fit of insanity, I sent the proposal off. It was ignored. That does not surprise me. They must have had thousands of proposals and it is entirely possible that not all of them were even read. The University of Queensland Press was also taking unsolicited manuscripts for a very limited time. I have not heard from them - yet. They are still well within the time frame for a reply. I also know that I would be incredibly fortunate to succeed on the second submission.
I really do believe I have written something worthwhile but I am also terrified that others may not see it this way. My family thinks I am slightly mad anyway. I do not even mention writing to them.
I am writing yet another book. I have no idea where the idea came from or why I should be the one to write it. There is another plotting itself away in the back of my mind.
I really do need an agent - or perhaps someone to tell me that I really am insane and need to stop. Then perhaps I could take up a hobby - or even another catnap?
Until then I will spend some time talking to my young hero. He's a nice kid but he is rather lonely.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

If authors only wrote what they knew about

then very little would get written at all. We would not have any science fiction or history or novels set in far-off Ruritania. All books would need to be written from just one point of view.
"Write what you know about" is advice often given to young writers, new writers, would-be writers. It is advice repeated over and over again.
But, on the Awfully Big Blog Adventure, Sue Purkiss asked the question about writing something from someone else's point of view. Is it true? If we write about an actual event in history how do we know if we are writing something that is true? Is it right to write about people who are still alive? How accurate do we have to make recent history?
Joan Aiken solved the problem with an "alternate history", one in which the Hanoverian succession does not take place. It is a neat solution that gave her all sorts ready made background without having too worry too much about getting the details right. If something did not happen in the real world then it might easily happen in hers. Diana Wynne Jones does a parallel universe in a slightly different way but again there is a ready made background there that she can tweak to her satisfaction.
It is different if you want to write straightforward historical novels. Cynthia Harnett spent years researching hers, so did Rosemary Sutcliff.
These people are writers for children. It might be thought that children will be less demanding and worry less about the accuracy of detail. I would not be too sure. There is almost certain to be a child around who will tell you "that is wrong because..." and the quote you chapter and verse out of an academic text or from a visit to the site in question.
Writing recent history is even more demanding. I once went to a children's literature conference where Jill Paton Walsh and Michelle Magorian were condemned for setting books in WWII when they had not experienced it themselves. When I asked what was wrong with doing this I was told that it was just not done. Apparently it was too recent in time and they "should not" have been writing about something they did not know. I hasten to add that the people saying this were librarians, not writers.
It may well be that adults will read "The Dolphin Crossing" or "Fireweed", "Back Home" or "Goodnight Mr Tom" and say "It was not like that." Possibly however what they need to say is "It was not like that for me."
Sue Purkiss had some anecdotes from her father who was a POW in WWII. When she did more research she found that his experience (and perhaps what he was prepared to remember and pass on) was different from that of other POWs. Of course it was. We all see things in unique ways. It does not make her father's experience or recollection any less valid.
History is what happened just a moment ago. If we were not to write any history at all we would have to write in the present tense and not even speculate about the future because the future is defined by the past. It would be an impossible task.
As for the other question that Sue Purkiss poses - should we be writing about people who are still alive? - I think my answer is "Why not?" It is not whether we write about them but what we write about them that matters. It is surely wrong to do as the editor of a woman's gossip magazine once told me, "Publish it now and find out if it is true later".
Writing about people who are still alive is something I feel needs to proceed with caution. I would not make any of our living Prime Ministers a major character in a book. I might give one of them a minor role. I would give Churchill or Menzies a greater role but I would give Thatcher or Blair, Fraser or Keating a much smaller role. At the same time it makes no sense at all to avoid all mention of public figures. What we need to avoid is speculation and libel.
And then, I might just invent a fictional Prime Minister instead. It might be easier.

Friday, 4 March 2011

The television programme guide

appears as a "lift-out" section in the Thursday paper each week. Each week I also remove them carefully from the centre of the paper, fold them over and put them on top of the same shelf in the bookshelf.
I only remember to do this because I also remove the TAB guide each day and, on other days, such things as the extra football and real estate news. My father and I have no interest in racing and have no idea how to read the TAB guide. Neither of us have ever bet on a horse race, nor are we likely to.
My father went to the races once. He was in his first year out teaching. It was a very small, one teacher school in a very remote area. He was expecting the school inspector to turn up on the district's annual race day and that none of the children would be at school. All the children turned up however and the inspector appeared moments later, having arrived at the town pub late the night before.
The inspector gave the books a cursory glance, signed the journal my father was required to keep, declared "the usual holiday" and sent the children off. Then he turned to my father and suggested that they could talk as they walked over to the race track but they had better move quickly because Dad was expected to be a recorder of some sort. Apparently the inspector timed his annual visit to coincide with the local race day. It is the sort of thing that could only happen in a remote area in Australia in the middle of last century. My father has not been to a race meeting since then.
But I digress. The television programme guide arrives inside the TAB guide inside the paper. We keep them in the bookshelf. Each Thursday I change them over.
I was changing them over yesterday when I realised that we had not actually even opened the television programme guide. I thought back on the week. It had been one of our normal busy weeks but it had also been the week where the summer programming, which tends to be largely repeats, was changing over to the new programmes for the year. My father occasionally watches a documentary. He usually at least checks the programmes. He had not. He was too busy. (He is only 88.)
I am wondering if I should just consign the television programmes to the recycle bin along with the TAB guide?

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Our library was crowded

yesterday. It was storytelling and sing-along time for the pre-preschoolers. The library runs a session every Wednesday. It is meant for the smallest children of all, anyone up to the age of about four, after which you are officially pre-school. There is another story telling session for pre-schoolers at a different time.
There is always a smattering of grandparents in the audience, those who have the unenviable task of bringing up their grandchildren on an almost full-time basis because both parents work. There are some young mothers and, less often, some young fathers. There are also a few adults who happen, conveniently, to be changing their own library books who just want to join in. They make little secret of it even while trying not to look too obvious.
Just occasionally there are also some who do try not to look as if they are too obviously enjoying what is going on. They are always women. The men are at work. Their lives do not allow much time for reading and what reading they do is limited almost entirely to non-fiction. They dress a little differently, cover their heads and do not participate in unnecessary conversation. The rules have now been relaxed to the point where, if absolutely necessary, their young people can use a computerised catalogue to access information. Before that they would search along the shelves until they came to a section which seemed likely to contain the information they were seeking.
I have known some of these women in a difficult, awkward sort of way for years. I have watched some of their children grow up. Most have remained within their tight religious sect with all the petty rules and regulations. A few have left - and that means leaving everything. Those who remain say little and never mention those who have left. I know better than to ask. We will talk about problems the children are having at school - and the narrowness of their lives mean there are many problems in merely understanding the world around them. We have talked about medical issues - of which they are often frighteningly uninformed. We talk about cooking, sewing, cleaning, the weather etc. They are not my preferred topics of conversation but I think it is important that they have at least one person on the outside of their circle that they feel they can talk to.
Occasionally a big problem has arisen. They have sought advice about where they can discreetly get more information or sometimes just advice itself.
Just sometimes they indulge in small acts of rebellion, like taking longer than usual to change their books. Yesterday I caught one of them humming softly along to "Twinkle, twinkle little star."
She looked up and saw me and whispered,
"Oh, that sounds so much fun. I wish I had done that when I was young."
I she had done it too.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Vintage Radio

broadcasts from Birkenhead in the Wirral. It advertises itself as a radio station for "grown ups". I rather suspect it is a radio station for grown ups who can still remember what it was like to be young.
Here is a link to their website: with information about their programmes. All those who run the station are volunteers. One of them, Roger Wright, is a friend of mine and he recently sent me and a number of other people an e-mail looking for contributions.

This is what he wrote:

Would you like to do a spoken piece to be broadcast on Vintage Radio?
We're starting a series of half-hour magazine shows, containing three or four spoken pieces of about 5-10 minutes' length (and linking music); and I'm inviting you to contribute one (or more) such pieces. Not discussions, not interviews, just an Alastair-Cooke-type comment piece on any topic that you would like to address people about. You'll be able to hear the first magazines on Tuesdays at 10.00 (etc) from next week, to see the sort of thing it is.
Think about this, anyway.
If you like, you can record and edit it here; but if not, then it's fine if you record it yourself and send it to me here as an e-mail attachment (preferably in mp3 format).
If you can think of somebody else who'd like to do this, please suggest it to them -
Ciao, Roger

If you are interested in making a contribution head to the website and make contact.