Thursday, 30 June 2011

I am "doing a boiling"

this morning. Frequent readers of my ramblings will have come across mention of this before. "Doing a boiling" was my paternal grandmother's term for making marmalade. I have no idea why. (If anyone can enlighten me I would be most interested.)
Yesterday, as I was slicing the grapefruit ready to soak, I thought of two things. The first was that I was using a "gadget" in order to slice the fruit. It is some German made device and highly effective for this particular task. I do not use it for anything else although it claims to cut any sort of fruit and vegetable. No doubt it does but it is faster and easier to use a sharp knife. The gadget however does manage to slice the rind very thinly - and my father likes his marmalade that way. It would seem that other recipients of jars of marmalade also feel that way. It makes me wonder who likes "Oxford Thick Cut" from Seville oranges.
But the other thing I thought of was descriptions of food in children's books. Was marmalade mentioned anywhere? Definitely. It gets mentioned rather nastily in Diana Wynne Jones' book "Charmed Life" where the marmalade gets turned to worms (and back again) at breakfast time.
It gets casually mentioned in other places too, mostly as a breakfast food - although there is mention of marmalade tart in Elinor Lyon's "The House in Hiding".
I also thought of ordinary food as mentioned in Anne Barrett's book, "Songberd's Grove", in William Mayne's "A swarm in May" and Margaret Storey's "Pauline". Then there are more extraordinary descriptions in places like Elzabeth Goudge's afternoon tea in "The Little White Horse" and JK Rowling's description of Harry's first school feast in "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone". There are "midnight feasts" in school stories by the likes of Enid Blyton and others. During my time at boarding school I know other students tried midnight feasting. I think, from their descriptions, it was pretty much a failure (when they did not get caught). I slept through anything like that - having told them I was not interested. I have never been interested in consuming food late at night. It makes me think the descriptions are unrealistic.
All this has made me wonder about food in books. How much of it is a realistic description? Probably very little. Possibly it would not be worth mentioning if it was but there are little things that remain with me. "There were bread buns for tea, brown ones which Aunty Madge made herself, with butter and blackcurrant jam." That is comfort food - and perhaps writing.
What do you remember?

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

A new picture book was

passed over to me for comment in the bookshop yesterday. It was a version of Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Harriet Castor (Hardie Grant Egmont).
The illustrations are detailed. There are flaps to open. Alice can grow longer and shorter by pulling and closing tabs. The Chesire cat can disappear and reappear by similar tabs. There is an amazing pop-up page of the house of cards. As a book it is fun and it will appeal to some children although others may think the illustrations rather old-fashioned.
Although a very reasonable price ($25 in our local indie) I suspect it must still have been expensive to produce.
I read it through - at twenty six pages (and limited print on each page) it did not take me long. I opened the flaps carefully. I pulled the tabs even more carefully. As an adult looking at a book, especially a book which does not belong to me, I was being very cautious. The tabs were rather sticky but I wondered if my paws were part of the problem.
I passed the book back and then mentioned it to a member of the knitting group who is particularly interested in "pop-up" books. She asked to see it. In the interim however one of the staff, a little less patient and careful than me, had pulled the Chesire Cat tab. It had stuck and she could not return it to the original position. It seemed the cat had gone for good and only the grin remained.
Someone else managed to restore the cat but it is clearly a weakness with the book. The idea is a good one but it needs to work well. If the book is intended for children then the tabs need to work well. They need to be robust enough to withstand a fair amount of wear.
As much fun as it is I would hesitate to buy the book for a child because it is not easy to use. It is disappointing that a publisher with such an excellent reputation should spend so much and not produce a robust result.
What I did do though was read a little of it aloud. There was a collective sigh. All the members of the group are familiar with Alice, the original Alice.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

I have this rather odd notion that I can actually

write. Some of you will know what I mean.
I sit down in front of the computer each morning and write something on these pages but that is not what I mean. No, the other idea about writing is something quite different.
As most of you who read this by now will know Nicola Morgan has just written a book about writing books, writing to get them published. It is full of good advice. It would make a marvellous resource for teaching creative writing in schools. My father says he would have used it had it been around when he was teaching. I have read it. I recommend reading it.
When it comes to writing a book however I still tend to plunge in at the deep end of the pool and cat-paddle madly towards the other end. Of course the pool is Olympic size and I am not terribly good at paddling.
There are any number of humans in the lanes next to me. They all seem to complete laps of the pool in record time. They bump me out of the way and I have to weave from one lane to the other. It takes a long time to get to the end of the pool. It is not straight paddling.
There are times when I feel I will never reach the end of the pool. There are times when I feel as if I am going to drown, when I get knocked below the surface by waves of strong swimmers passing me. It is not a pleasant sensation. At times it is truly frightening. I have to reach the other end. The survival of the characters at the side of the pool depends on me and nobody else.
I have managed to reach the end of the pool several times. Each time I have done it I have looked at the pool clock and found everyone else has headed off to the dressing rooms and then to the bar to celebrate something. I think the chararacters have gone with them. I slink off and tell myself - another lap tomorrow. It has to get better with practice.

Monday, 27 June 2011

The headline read "Justice disabled..."

and the article in this morning's paper goes on to say the usual things about people with severe intellectual disabilities being sexually assaulted and the problems of getting the perpetrators to face justice.
I am getting tired of this - and angry. The issue is raised every so often. People get righteously angry for a short while and then forget the issue again until someone decides to give it another airing in the media.
Communication for people with disabilities does not matter. I have been getting that message loud and clear ever since I began working with people who have disabilities. My career began as a school student working as a volunteer in a residential nursery school for children with profound hearing losses. Back then sign language was a no, no, no. I was told I was not to sign to the children under any circumstances. If I did that, I was told, they would never learn to lip read and become "normal" members of the community. The reality was they were not going to become hearing membres of the community but they were going to become completely normal members of the community of the deaf who just happen to have a separate language. Yes, it is a language in its own right. It has its own syntax and grammar and vocabulary. The local deaf community has a name-sign for me - as does a similar group in England. I do not know a great deal of sign language. My deaf friends are always trying to teach me more but I do not have the necessary manual dexterity to be a fluent user. At least, they tell me, I know some of their language. I do but it is not nearly enough and I feel lost in their world.
But there are far too many other people with disabilities who are lost in this world. They have communication impairments which are hidden from understanding by the rest of the community.
A depressed ability to read and write is not always seen as a communication impairment but it is one. It reduces access to information - information which can be critical to the understanding of rights, of services, of contracts, of where to go or what to do or how to get the information needed to exist in an increasingly complex world. If someone can struggle through the process of filling out a form however few would say they have any sort of disability.
At the other end of the scale there are people I know whose communication ability is limited to using their eyes. They will look up for "yes" and down for "no". Everything they communicate must be done by means of questions to which they can respond in this way. When they also have a very limited understanding of the world the questions also have to be framed in a very precise way. Few people can consistently frame questions in this way. They also see it as taking time they do not have. It takes training, patience and understanding.
Reading the article in the paper this morning I tried to work out how many submissions I have made to inquiries over the years. There have been multiple submissions to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the Productivity Commission, the Social Inclusion Board, government departments, advocacy organisations, Senate inquiries and other organisations - and that is just the Australian submissions. I have helped with submissions in the United Kingdom, in the European Union, North America, South America, Asia and Africa. All of them have tried to say the same thing, "the most important thing a human being learns to do is communicate - to hear, to listen and to respond". It is also the message which is most often ignored. Communication is not seen as an issue in a world of wheelchairs, accommodation, education, employment, transport and a myriad of other issues. It is a basic to access all these things but it is still ignored.
The sexual and other abuse of people with disabilities is not to be tolerated under any circumstances but until we recognise the communication needs of people with disabilities it will be a matter of - justice disabled.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

There are quite a few self-published books

in our local library system.
Most of them are family histories. Some of those are surprisingly well done. I think it may have something to do with the strong influence of the local genealogy society. There are several people there who are professional historians and they provide (paid) assistance. Our own family history (not written by me) could have done with some serious editing from one of these people. I did not like to argue with the cousin who put it together but there is a great deal in it I would have left out.
I think the same thing also applies to the other self-published books. Among other books there are a number of slim volumes - all by the same person. Although they are slim in themselves they need editing, serious editing. They would not have been cheap to produce. They have hard covers and nice photographs (taken by the author) on the front. It is a pity the contents are not as well composed as the photographs.
There are two historical novels written by someone I know. I also know why she could not get them published. Serious editing may just have made the first one good enough. It would not have saved the second. There are holes in the plots. There are errors in the history, far too many errors. I skimmed the first one out of curiosity. I skimmed the second one because the author asked me to read it. Skimming is a useful skill. The capacity to make diplomatic remarks wouldd be useful but I fear she knows I did not enjoy them. I did try to be polite.
I was given another one to look at yesterday. I made it to the end of the first page, handed it back to the librarian who gave it to me and said, "No thanks. I don't think I am interested."
"Oh but it is by a local author! They published it themselves! You really ought to read it."
Why should the fact the book was written and published by a local author make me like it? Thankfully our conversation was interrupted at that moment. There was no need to borrow the book or pretend I was interested.
There are local authors I like. There are three excellent histories in our library, all written by the same person. She is a professional historian. Her books have been edited and published by a reputable company. It shows.
In other places on the shelves there is fiction by local (state based) authors. It has also edited and published by mainstream publishers. I do not like all of it. I do not have to like all of it any more than I need to like all books which have been published.
There is one thing I do know however. If a book has been commercially published someone thought it was worth the economic risk. Even though some editing is better than others the book will have been edited.
The book I looked at yesterday had not been edited and it showed. I do not think they had even used the spell checker.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

I will get back to the serious business

of books shortly but allow me to talk about cats for a moment. Rather, allow me to talk about one cat in particular.
I have mentioned him on these pages before. His name is Pluto. Yes, an odd name for a cat. I am not sure he is particularly comfortable with it but that is the one his humans gave him.
Pluto owns the corner house but he spends a good deal of time in our yard. We are at home during the day. His humans are not.
We still have a cat-flap in the back door. We considered removing it after our last cat died as we do not plan on having any more animals. I am glad we did not. It has proved useful. Pluto uses it. "Miss Puss" from across the way has also been known to use it - with caution. It is Pluto's cat-flap.
As of yesterday it would also appear that our house is Pluto's house for the present. I heard him crying outside yesterday and went out to find out what the problem was. He will occasionally present me with a dead field mouse or fruit rat. I like to prevent any possibility of a live one being brought inside.
Yesterday however he was sitting under the clothesline and just crying. It was a dreadful sound.
I called him and he ran up to me still crying like a small child. I picked him up - something I do not often do now that he is usually a dignified grown up cat. He had a little snuggle and then slid down, sat on the back mat. I suggested that he could sit elsewhere as I needed to go in the back door. No.
I went around to the front door and went in - to be greeted by Pluto. He had used his cat-flap to enter the house. It was, he informed me with a swish of the tail, catnap time. He found a bed, did an extra clean, curled up and went to sleep. He was still there at 8:00pm. He has never stayed that late before. Our house is usually the half hour catnap place.
We know he is kept in at night and we were worried. He has a collar with his name and a 'phone number on it. Nobody was answering the mobile number.
Eventually my father went down to the house. It seems his senior owners are away. They are in Bali. They have left their mother in charge of the children and the dog. She has also brought her dog with her. He is apparently endeavouring to make life very difficult for the other dog and for Pluto.
Pluto is not a happy cat. He has just used the cat-flap again. He is sitting on the end of my bed staring at me and complaining. Do you suppose a cuddle and some stroking will help? I think he may have moved in for the duration. Thank goodness' for cat-flaps!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Yesterday an author and a publisher

honoured me with comments on this blog. Thanks to Nicola Morgan and a question to my computer-savvy neighbour I managed to get the button up for the ABBA festival. Please go and check it out on the ABBA blog site and support them.
Nicola also had things to say about voice - now I do know what she is talking about. I knew before I read the part in her Write to be Published. If you do not know then there is a very good explanation beginning on page 120 of the book. Nicola had said things to me about this once before.
Nicola and I have very different writing styles. Her voice is definitely not my voice. I could not write the way she does even if I wanted to - which I do not.
I look at a lot of writing and think, "Do I like it?" Often the answer is yes. Then I think, "Would I like to write like that?" The answer is almost always no. It is not my voice. It is not the clothing I feel comfortable in when I write.
I know I vary my writing style. I write this blog one way. I write academic documents in another way. I write letters to the editor in another and e-mails to friends in yet another. I also write, or attempt to write, books in yet another. It is not something I consciously think about. It is something that happens. Apart from one reading of one book I have not had an adult with a professional background in children's literature read anything I have written. I would like that to happen and I am working on it. I want to know if I can get my voice right.
And that brings me to the point that Catnip made. (If you want to find out more about Catnip then go here - Catnip strokes cats and is very friendly.)
Catnip said that it was likely most adults working in children's publishing harbour an inner child. I think she is right. You only need to look at the Writers' and Artists' Year Book and see how many agents (and then publishers) do not deal with books for children.
Some adults believe they can remember what it was like to be a child. Quite possibly some do. I am sure that most authors for children believe they can remember what it was like to be a child. I like to think I can remember what it was like to be me.
And that brings me to my other point. We all have a different experience of childhood, even within the same family. My childhood was not a particularly happy experience. I would certainly like to believe that most children feel more secure than I did. However it should not stop me from writing through children who have a different experience of childhood. As writers we have to work our way under the skin of other characters and try to understand them as well - and understand them as fully as we can. We need to know far more about them than we will ever actually put on the page.
The best children's books will appeal to children - regardless of their age. It is the inner child which counts.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

An Awfully Big Blog Adventure is

going to have a festival next month. If I was smart enough I would be able to work out how to put the little button here on my blog. I still cannot work it out. I think my BIL has done something to secure the computer and I am not confident about undoing it. I may need to ask him.
But the ABBA people have obviously got their writing hands together - please go and check out their programme via my blog roll. It looks interesting. (Of course residing Downunder I will be catnapping most of the time this is on but I can take an interest at the begining and the end of their day - which is the end and beginning of mine.)
But there is a question over on ABBA at present which might be put as, "Do adults know what children want to read?" We might want to say, "Of course they do. How else do books get published?"
There is of course a difference between publishing for adults and publishing for children. Adults, by and large, choose their own reading matter. Children have their reading matter chosen for them. It is a powerful difference. I think we should be more aware of it.
Let me tell you a story. I have been observing what children like to read for years. I have provided the Whirlwind (and, by default, her friends) with books for some years. Among other things the Whirlwind, and her friends, like straightforward adventure stories. Many of these would now be deemed "old-fashioned". Unless they are something like CS Lewis they are no longer on the library shelves. I do not think there is a single Malcolm Saville or Geoffrey Trease or Nina Bawden on the shelves of the local library. Most of Joan Aiken's books have disappeared. The staff have not heard of Anne Barrett or John Verney or Margaret Storey. They were simply not prolific enough. One of my own personal favourites, Elinor Lyon, wrote more and was translated into German and Spanish as well but it took Fidra to reissue some of them before another generation of children could enjoy them. Girls Gone By has reissued some Saville books along with Monica Edwards and others.
The Whirlwind devoured the Elinor Lyon books. It helped of course that one of the characters and I share the same name but, that aside, she thought the books were "really, really good". Why? "Because they are about ordinary children who do ordinary sorts of things and still have adventures." When she had finished reading (and re-reading) them she desperately wanted another one about the same children. I eventually gave in to the begging and pleading and wrote one for her.
She read it and then passed it around her class at school. The feedback was, gratifyingly, highly positive. I know (as the owner of Fidra told me) that my effort "talks down" somewhat to the reader - but, in my defence, I was aiming at the then nine year old Whirlwind and it was about right for her.
I am aware that the book, in ms form, has now gone further afield. Another copy was made so that the Whirlwind would not lose her own copy. There are strict rules on borrowing it so that the next child on the list can read it. It is all very nice but it will not get the book published.
If I had tried to get it published I suspect I would have been unsuccessful. It is clearly what children want to read - even if I have committed the sin of talking down to the reader - but it is not what adults want to publish.
The book I am now trying to interest agents in may also get rejected. One publishing house was kind enough to say it did not fit their list but that I should try elsewhere. I knew it was unlikely but they were asking for submissions and it seemed wise to at least try. An agent told me the story had "merits" but was not for her but then said it might appeal to other agents. I took that as a "keep trying". I am trying to be patient as I make further inquiries. The problem is that it is an adventure story. It is not about vampires or magic or a social issue.
I may well be writing what children want to read but it is entirely possible I am not writing what adults want them to read. There is a difference.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

There is an e-mail

sitting in my in-box from someone who wants some help. There is nothing unusual about that. My in-boxes ( I have two - one for work and the other for play) are filled with such messages.
This one is in the play box and it concerns knitting. It comes from the previous owner of our indie. She is making her daughter a pair of gloves, something she has never knitted before. Could she, I am asked, have some help now that she has reached the thumb?
Yes, I will help. This is the person who asked me to start and lead a knitting group in the local indie.
Knitting groups in bookshops are, I believe, not rare. Some branch of the late lamented Borders had knitting groups. There are knitting groups in other bookshops. Knitting and books go well together.
Our group performs a number of functions. We only meet once a month but we do it on a Tuesday afternoon.
The shop has big glass windows looking out onto the atrium of the shopping centre. People are going backwards and forwards all the time. They can look in and see us. We could, if we were not too busy, look back at them. People wander in to see what we are doing. Sometimes they do it openly and ask questions. Others prowl around the store (and sometimes buy something) while giving us covert glances. We have picked up two new group members like this.
Each time we meet we make a "gold coin donation" to the Fred Hollows Foundation. This worthy organisation performs eye-surgery in developing countries. We also make a blanket each year and raffle it off next to the craft books.
There are several members of the group for whom the monthly meeting is far more than "just a knitting group". They need extra support for one reason or another. Our numbers vary for the same reason. The woman whose husband has Alzheimer's was unable to attend last time as the person who sits with him was not able to do so. One woman leaves early to pick up children from school. The girl with the closed brain injury has to catch a bus.
I do not know whether this is what the previous owner had in mind when she suggested the group. Yes, raising a little money for the Fred Hollows Foundation was part of the scheme. No, it does not cost the shop anything to have the group there. We merely move two of the stands slightly closer together and borrow the chairs from the store kept by the shopping centre management. Members of the group sometimes buy craft books and other books as well. Other people may also buy books as a result. I watched last time and the shop was busy for a Tuesday afternoon.
There is a small social support network there now. There is another one at the library and for much the same reasons. I will learn something by helping the previous owner. Someone else will show the new sock knitter how to turn a heel and, next time, to graft the toe. We are not just knitting, we are knitting lives together.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

How did you get here and

why are you reading this? My now-friend Jane over on How Publishing Really Works has just commented on similar matters on her blog. I am trying to remember how I reached her blog in the first place.
I think it started with the Whirlwind. I had been feeding her books from my collection of children's books. A great many of these come from the 50's, 60's and early 70's. I collected most of them from second-hand shops in the early 70's with the vague thought that they "might be useful one day". They have been, but not quite in the way I planned. Back then I thought I was going to be a teacher. Life had other plans for me.
There was a long period when I could not even access my own collection. I went back to do more study. I tutored to keep body and mind (if not body and soul) together. There was no time to read, no time to explore the city I went to live in and learned to love, there was no money to buy books and no time to think about writing anything but the thesis and the letters I had set myself to write.
But, I knew the books were there. My father kept most of them safe even when my mother was saying they should be passed on to other people.
Now the Whirlwind and other children read them as well - and sometimes information about the authors is sought on the internet.
Because the Whirlwind wanted to know I found some of Elinor Lyon's books were being reprinted by Fidra - and that Elinor Lyon was still alive. I had tried to write to her while I was living in London but there had been no reply. Her previous publishers had simply failed to pass the letter on. Perhaps they did not have an address for her. I asked Vanessa Robertson at Fidra if she would pass a letter on? Of course.
A letter was sent and answered - with enthusiasm. I am sorry we did not make contact sooner. I still carry on an e-mail correspondence with her son, a witty and intelligent man I hope to meet some day.
And, just as importantly, there was Vanessa's occasional blog post in which she mentioned Jane and Nicola Morgan and other people. I have come to know them all virtually. I may meet them in real life one day or I may not. There is no writing support group I can join here so they are my writing support group even though they do not read what I have written. Vanessa has read one effort and was very encouraging.
I did not have time to write creatively until recently. I know that sounds as if I am making excuses - anyone can find time to write - but I was writing other things. Oh there were times when I would put ideas down. There are outlines there and, in the past few years, there have been some rough drafts of entire books. Now I can, in a still busy life, make time - and I am going to go on making the most of it while I can.
But, tell me, if you are reading this - how did you get here? It matters to me.

Monday, 20 June 2011

It would cost $69m to run a

referendum on "the carbon tax" being proposed by the Australian government. A referendum is expensive - and even more so when not held in conjunction with an election. They fail more often than they succeed. There have been forty-four since 1906 and all but eight of them have failed.
A referendum question has to pass a double hurdle or "double majority". It has to have the approval of (1) a majority of voters and (2) a majority of the states. If the question affects a specific state then it can be a "triple" majority in that a majority of people in that state have to vote in favour of the question being put.
According to some this makes constitutional change in Australia difficult. That may well be so but it also makes it difficult for governments to extend their powers without the approval of the people.
The last referendum was held on the 1st October 1999. The issue of whether Australia should "become a republic" failed to get a majority in all states and territories. The question still comes up with "republicans" saying that the way the question was posed failed to produce the desired result. If the question had been asked in such a way to allow a direct election for a president some say it is likely that it would still have failed - because other "republicans" would not have wanted to see that big a change.
It is however difficult to get a referendum to pass. The Leader of the Opposition has proposed that the government hold a referendum on the issue of a "carbon tax" - a tax on CO2 emissions. In doing so he has put the "independents" (who currently keep the government in power) in a very difficult position. He is asking them to show just how independent they really are.
The government does not have a mandate to introduce the tax. It came into government specifically saying it would not. A majority of Australians are opposed to it - at last count more than 60%. A referendum would almost certainly fail.
Of course governments do not need a mandate for everything they do. It would be impossible to govern if they did. However this is a major issue with major politic and economic implications and very minor environmental implications. It is a matter of much debate. The government does need a mandate for something which will have widespread economic repercussions.
The government does not need to fall over this but it would have to delay introducing the tax and go to the next election with the tax as part of the platform.
The question now will be whether we fail to have a referendum or whether the referendum will fail.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

I took some books

out of the cupboard last weekend, picture books. My great nieces are still too small for them but my brother wanted to look at them.
They were books we had when we were small. There are not many of them. Although we were exposed to a good many books we did not actually own many. My father used to borrow them from the school in which he worked and read them to us.
We did have a few however and my mother, who often gave away things she felt we had "finished" with did keep some of the books. I think she used them when she was teaching and kept them until she retired. By then she had grandchildren and probably thought they would be useful for them as well. For that reason we still have some books from our childhood.
They are mostly "Little Golden Books". They must have been relatively cheap. There is a story about a tug boat which my brother remembered loving. There is the "Rainy Day" book which has all the tiny fold out pieces still intact. Underneath those are the raincoat and hat and boots etc. There is Old MacDonald's Farm and the Little Red Hen. We knew the stories so well we could recite them.
There are other books as well. We still have The story about Ping by Marjorie Flack and I have since bought copies of that for the Whirlwind and my godchildren. There is a story about Epaminondas which would now be looked on as extremely politically incorrect. There are two tiny, tiny books - each about two inches square - that we were given by my paternal grandfather. He found them in a local delicatessan one day and gave them to us for good behaviour.
And there is a copy of "When we were very young". It is old and battered. My brother opened that and started to read and then to recite. My father joined in. He can remember those although it has been thirty years since he used AA Milne in a school.
I had been to our local indie long before the family arrived. My father wanted to be sure his great-grandchildren also had access to the works of AA Milne. They were wrapped and ready to go in my brother's bag. There are copies of "When we were very young" for this coming Christmas. There are copies of "Now we are six" and there are copies of "The House at Pooh Corner" for future occasions. My father wanted to be sure that they would get there.
My brother and I know there are other books we want our father's great-grandchildren to read too.
We know because my nephew picked up one of the books and held it up for his sister to see saying, "Remember this?!"

Saturday, 18 June 2011

This afternoon I will

be going to a meeting of a knitting guild. I am the librarian of that guild - being the person who is considered to know the most about books, their buying, arrangement and other related matters. Whether that is true or not I do not know but, for better or worse, I am the librarian.
When I took the task over from the previous person they said, "I know things need to be changed."
She was right. They did. She had done her best. She had kept a list of all the books - but in the order they had acquired them. They were kept the same way in the cupboard. It made a sort of logical sense to her but nobody knew what was there.
The books were mostly donations. Although there was money, a considerable amount of money, in the bank it was not considered necessary or even desirable to buy books. The guild subscribed to two knitting magazines and members frequently and happily broke copyright copying patterns they thought they "might" want to knit.
I took over the task on certain conditions. The first was that breaking copyright at the guild had to cease. I stood up and explained very carefully why it was wrong and what the potential penalties for breaching copyright were. I backed this up by placing in the library material I had obtained from the Copyright Council. There were some unhappy members. There are still some unhappy members. I rather suspect that most of them have worked out that all they need to do is borrow the material they want to copy and copy it elsewhere - at a rather higher charge but nevertheless at less expense than buying the book or the magazine.
Their argument is that the item is there and the technology is there in order for the copy to be made. Why else do we have the technology? One member of the guild angrily told me I was being "ridiculous" and we conduct her borrowing transactions in silence on her part. I know she copies things elsewhere but that makes no difference to her. She thinks I am just making life inconvenient for her.
Well, life is inconvenient for the people who write books. Copying is an even more serious issue for writers than it is for musicians and artists. It is, quite simply, easier to do.
Not so long ago I said this to a former member of parliament. His reaction? "There really is nothing parliament can do about that sort of thing. If people stop writing then there are still plenty of old books about. People who want to write will write anyway. They can do something else as a day job."
I have the really nasty feeling that he is not alone in his opinion or in his beliefs. It also makes me angry.

Friday, 17 June 2011

I had to go to the local

yarn shop yesterday. It is actually not that local as it takes me quite a while to pedal there and a good deal of it is "up" rather than "down".
It would not classify as a yarn shop in other parts of the world as it also sells haberdashery, nightwear and some craft books. It is also an agency for dry-cleaning and runs classes on Fridays. Last year they also had a little work done and extended the place slightly. It is still tiny and crowded.
I know the owner. The owner knows me. We call each other by our given names. I imagine she just makes a living out of the place and, if she chooses to retire, the place may not continue. Oddly enough she is not a knitter herself. She knows the basics but she is not particularly interested in the craft.
When I went in there were three customers in the shop and a "rep" from one of the companies.
I needed a single ball of yarn to mix in with some yarn I had been given. The yarn I was given was left over from another garment. Far too much had been bought so there is enough, with the extra ball, to make a vest for someone. I have worked from the top down and the time had come to get a ball of something that would blend in order to do the bands.
I am happy to look around on my own in there. I know the yarns. I know how to read a ball band. I know about dye lots and what should or should not be used for what. It is information I have picked up over the years. The owner knows too - after all it is her role to sell the yarn. Not everyone else does.
The owner asked me if I would mind helping another customer by showing her where to find the appropriate yarn. I did and explained that she needed to look at one sort rather than another for safety reasons. It is generally considered unwise to dress tiny babies in fluffy yarns.
The owner dealt with the other two customers. The "rep" prowled around. The other customer went to the counter with her choice.
I went to find out what I wanted and the "rep" followed me. He wondered if I had ever done that before? Well yes I have. Was I not doing the owner's job for her?
No, I am not. She asked knowing I would have the knowledge to help and that, as someone she is friendly with, I would help if I could.
I would do the same thing in the local bookshop. In the past, when there was a small clothing store in our shopping centre - no longer there - I would mind the shop for a few minutes so that the single person in there could run to the bathroom or the bank. I have answered the 'phone there and in the bookshop. I can take a message and it is better than letting the 'phone go unanswered. The owners are grateful. Just because it is a commercial enterprise should not stop me giving a little help when it is needed.
The "rep" clearly thought I was, to say the least, a little odd. Am I? It helps me in the end because, ever so slightly, it helps to keep the business going and that means I can keep going there. Yesterday, it being the last available ball of that variety of yarn, I was also given a discount but I did not expect it - nor was it why I did it.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

I am sitting here contemplating

accidents. No, it is not a nice subject and I will hastily inform you that nothing has, as far as I know, happened to my own family.
An ambulance has just left the station on the road a little distance up the hill from us. It is not an uncommon sound and it does not mean there has been an accident but this morning I am more than usually conscious it could be.
Yesterday someone who was due to deliver some paperwork left a message to say he and his wife would be delayed because there had been an accident. It meant they had to back track a considerable distance along a country road and go another way.
I was very glad they had the courtesy to let me know because the accident was then mentioned on a news feed I get - four dead and three people injured, one of them critically. I knew it was not the couple who would be leaving a packet of papers in my letter box but I knew there were other people involved - and the other lives have been shattered, turned upside down and inside out forever.
Three of the dead were young children. It is their mother, the driver of the car, who is critically injured. Would it be wrong to wonder if it would be better for her not to survive? If she does, how will she cope with the knowledge that she was driving the car? How will she manage to go back into her home and see the toys lying around, the baby equipment which is no longer needed and the school books which will never be used? Anyone with any imagination, relative or not, having to clear such things away could not fail to be traumatised by it.
The Whirlwind's mother died as a result of an accident. She was not at fault. She was waiting at traffic lights when a head on collision caused her serious injury. The other driver was drunk. He survived. The Whirlwind, in a baby capsule, was unharmed but her mother could never cope with this. Her brain injury changed her personality and her behaviour. In the end she took her own life. Although not counted as such she was a road accident victim and it still affects the lives of other people. It always will.
The effects of road accidents go on for years and years. The statistics do not tell anyone anything about the real cost of road accidents.
I am glad that the couple delivering those papers to me were late. I would rather they got here.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The family left yesterday

into the chaos of some airline flights being cancelled because of a volcanic eruption in Chile.
It seems extraordinary that a natural event so far away could cause so much disruption here. There are still thousands of people stranded in airports all over Australia. Air New Zealand was flying into Australia. Qantas was not flying to New Zealand or Melbourne or Sydney, Adelaide or Perth. Their smaller subsidiaries were not flying to Tasmania. Other airlines were.
What is even more extraordinary however is that some airlines were flying and others were not.
My brother and my nephew, their partners and the toddler were flying with one airline. My niece and her partner and the eleven week old baby were flying with another as they had not been sure of getting leave until later.
My brother's contingent was fine. Their airline was flying. It was a little delayed but not too much so.
My brother, nephew and nephew-in-law all needed to get back to work today. My sister-in-law works part-time and can rearrange matters to suit herself. My neice-in-law works part-time and today is not a working day for her. My neice is on maternity leave.
Sensible thing? Make sure the workers get back and the others follow? It sounds good but it is impossible for airlines to cope with this sort of thing. My nephew-in-law had to rebook - or wait until Thursday evening to fly out. He chose to rebook on the airline which is flying and which took him as priority because of the age of the baby. Of course he is out of pocket as a result. It would have been close on midnight when they went in through their front door.
We are told that all this is a safety issue. I do not doubt it started out as that. Safety is important and not just because of the generally truly catastrophic nature of airline accidents. However my brother, who knows more than a little about the management of major operations, suspects that the scheduling may also be an issue. It will have been exacerbated by the fact that there is a strict curfew on the airport in Adelaide. The airport is surrounded by housing. The location may be convenient for travellers but it is not safe and the restrictions on times cause major problems for airlines.
It would make sense to move the airport to a new location north of the city and disallow building close to it.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Remember those choices for

Desert Island Discs? A friend in the UK sent me the BBC link here for the most popular choices made by the wider public.
I would not have thought that Ralph Vaughan Williams would top the list with "The Lark Ascending" but it did. Elgar followed with the Enigma Variations and then Beethoven with the 9th Symphony.
After that however came two things I have to confess I had only, to the best of my knowledge, heard of not heard. One was Queen "The Bohemian Rhapsody" and the other was Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb. No, I am not a fan of that sort of popular music.
My father is even worse. He claimed not to ever have heard of Queen or Pink Floyd. Of the former he said, "No, not Bohemian Rhapsody - it's the Swedish Rhapsody." I had to explain. He was not impressed. He was incorrect about not having heard of Pink Floyd. I have mentioned Pink Floyd to him - in terms of he would prefer the Beatles to Pink Floyd. I am not keen on Pink Floyd myself.
He does know the Beatles - although he does not like what he terms "the noise". He does admit it is better than "that rubbish" - by which he means something like rap or heavy metal. Those things simply do not represent music to someone who grew up on the classical greats and things like Gilbert and Sullivan.
I wonder sometimes what he would like if he had been born when I was born. I never heard "pop" music as a child. My parents did not like it. My father turned the radio on only for the news service. They had a record player - 78rpm only for many years - but it was not often used.
The music was not the "pop" music of my childhood. It was not the "pop" music of their childhood. It was the "pop" music of generations before that.
I wonder if this is one reason why I do not understand or appreciate most of the "pop" music of my generation. I can however recognise some of it. There are tunes I recognise. There are things that have become part of the common culture. There are Beatles tracks which are "classic" and Bob Dylan tracks which even my father recognises. The Queen and Pink Floyd pieces might become classics of their time.
My nephews do some songwriting and singing. They have actually done some recordings and can very occasionally be heard on local or national radio. They occasionally do a charity gig but they take their university work seriously and it leaves little time for the hours needed to be successful. They do not care for rap or heavy metal either.
I wonder if their children will like those things. Will tracks from these types of music become the classics of the future? I wonder.

Monday, 13 June 2011

As expected we headed off for

the Barossa Valley yesterday. My brother wanted to take his son-in-law to see some of South Australia's German heritage. His son-in-law comes from similar heritage and, as his father died before he was born, it is of even more importance to him than it might otherwise be. Of course there is also the attraction of any number of wineries.
My father, a teetotaller, is always rather uncomfortable in these places. He went to look at the construction of the building in one place, some art work in another.
As alcohol gives me a rash (and I do not care for the taste) my sister-in-law and I took the baby to see the two alpacas in the adjacent enclosure. I rather like alpacas. They are intelligent and usually curious. Provided that you are not foolish enough to try and pat them on the head they are generally prepared to be friendly. That proved to be the case.
We watched infant and alpaca in conversation and we looked down the valley. By Australian standards many of the buildings here are old. Some are deserted but others have been restored. The valley is dotted with small Lutheran churches and schools. Not so long ago services were still held in German. Some children still started school only speaking German. Even the television age made little difference to that. It was only increased internet access that changed all that.

In the event only two wineries were visited and only single bottles of something new and not, by Barossa standards, wildly expensive were bought. A "conversation" also took place between infant and alpaca. I wonder whether it was being conducted in a version of English, in German or Alpaca?

Sunday, 12 June 2011

My father claims he did not

take an interest in his children when they were babies. I am not sure that is absolutely correct. My father takes an interest in all humans, although very new humans frighten him a little. They frighten me too - because they are such a huge responsibility.
My father did not change nappies but he did, according to my mother, walk up and down with me to try and put me to sleep. (I was apparently not very good at going to sleep. My mother was adhering rigidly to the "rules" and I was being fed at pre-set times etc etc. My siblings fared much better.)
Modern fathers, at least the two I observed last night and also my brother, are much better. When my eldest nephew was born my brother took six months leave and cared for him. My brother would take him to the school where my sister-in-law was teaching for a midday feed and then return home and continue the renovations while my nephew slept or watched. It worked very well for them although some people, including my mother, thought it was very odd.
Now my nephew and his wife have a daughter of their own, one at the "just walking" stage. My nephew was the one who saw to her meal and he takes it in turn to get up at night, bath etc.
My niece has a ten week old baby. The baby was carried in through the door by her father. He is also getting adept at the nappy changes and the bathing. He settled her down over his shoulder.
It is all very different.
My father made the most of last night. He, with some trepidation, cuddled the newest great-grandchild. There were plenty of photographs taken so she will be able to see them in the future. The toddler cuddled too. Photographs were taken. They played trains. More photographs were taken.
They will be here for the rest of the weekend. Today there will be a car trip but there will still be chances for play and photographs aplenty. I was about the same age as my great-niece when I had my one and only encounter with my maternal great-great aunt. I can just remember it. It was not a pleasant experience. I am sure this child will, if she remembers anything at all, remember it differently. At just fifteen months I was apparently talking a good deal and "reading" books to myself. My niece has some words and loves to look at pictures but I wonder if there will be enough words there for her to remember the experience.
Getting everyone here has been an effort. Travelling with small children, especially a new baby, requires major strategic planning at both ends. It was worth it just to see the expression on my father's face.
My father would, I think, have liked to be more involved with his children when they were tiny but it just was "not done". Now another generation lives too far away but he will make the most of every opportunity.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

We are preparing to be invaded

later today. I wrote about this a couple of days ago. The family is descending.
I am worried I am not sufficiently prepared. The house is not "child-proof". We will just have to distract the fourteen month old from the adult books with some children's books and the building blocks, assorted soft toys and other things.
I have made large quantities of soup and pasties to feed them tonight. My father says, "What about dessert. We have to have dessert."
Do we? Our desserts are simple. They consist mostly of fruit. I am wary of other desserts. They may be nice but are they necessary?
When my father's cousin came for lunch her sister-in-law, a lovely person, volunteered to bring dessert - a cheesecake. There is a shop which sells such things near us. It is actually called "The Cheesecake Shop" although it also sells quiche and a number of other items. I knew it would come from there.
I make cheesecake once a year, for Christmas Day. My sister's BIL likes cheesecake and it is one of my tasks to make one. Mine is quite different from this. Mine has a slight tartness to the flavour. It has fruit as part of the recipe. People help themselves. There is usually little or none left.
The promised cheesecake duly arrived. It looked lovely. We put it to one side. Eventually we reached the point in the meal where it was cut and served. My father and I struggled through our portions. I suspect our guests may have struggled through theirs too. It was far too sweet, sickly sweet.
The remaining cheesecake, more than half, was left behind. We gave it to our neighbours who said, "Scrummy - we loved it!"
I am not going to make cheesecake. There is no time for that. I am not going to buy cheesecake.
I am quite sure the invading hordes would not like it in the least.
I explain this to my father. He agrees with respect to the cheesecake and then asks, "What about that white stuff?"
He means pavlova. Hmm...I could buy a pavlova shell. I could buy cream. What is more I have raspberries in the freezer and I could splash out and buy bananas (still $12.99 a kilo).
Yes, pavlova is sweet but the slight tartness of the raspberries will neutralise that somewhat.
I rather like the idea because, more importantly, we will have fruit.

Friday, 10 June 2011

I have just read

Annabel Pitcher's "My sister lives on the mantelpiece". It is a debut novel for older children and it has been reviewed elsewhere in glowing terms by both children and adults.
The Whirlwind could not finish it. She was too upset. I am not sure how far she reached into the book but she passed it over to me and said "It's horrible." Had she reached the point where the author kills off Roger (the cat) she would have been even more upset - and rightly so.
As I was reading this book there was an article in the Wall Street Journal by Meghan Cox Gurdon that has also caused a rash of comments on the internet. It claimed that modern teenage novels were "rife with depravity". The counter claims were that they are not, that they help, and that this is what teenage life is like.
I am not a teenager. I do not know what teenage life if like now. I can only observe it from the outside. I rather doubt it is like Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. I could not read those. I borrowed Breaking Dawn from the library. My father and I both tried to read it. Neither of us could. In our view it was, quite simply, badly written. The language was stilted. It did not flow. Despite this the books have proved immensely popular with some teenagers, mostly teenage girls. They are best sellers. I do not understand why. The subject matter is dark and depraved. I do not want to read that sort of thing.
I skimmed the first of the books in "The Hunger Games" trilogy. The writing was better but the subject matter did not appeal to me. Again however it is popular with teenagers.
Or is it just possible that these things have been made popular with slick marketing? Are teens being told that these are the "inside" books, that these are the books they should be reading?
When I was working as a school librarian there was a huge fuss about a book called "The Dolphin Crossing" by Jill Paton Walsh. This was because it was set in war time. It dealt with death. Now the book would scarcely raise a ripple. Judy Blume's books were causing a stir because they dealt with equally taboo topics (sex and masturbation). They still cause ripples in the Bible belt states of the US but even Walsh's book is acceptable there.
In my opinion Neil Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book" is far better than anything Stephenie Meyer has written. No doubt however the marketing gurus would tell me "but it is not a series and it cannot be marketed in the same way". No, of course it cannot be.
I think of the writers I know here on the internet, Nicola Morgan, Keren David, Gillian Philip, Lucy Coats, Katherine Roberts and others. They have not written mega-series that can be slickly marketed with the accompanying merchandise but they are all, at least in my not so humble opinion, better writers. Nevertheless they are much less likely to appear on the shelves of Australian bookshops. I am told "they do not sell well". They should - but they are not given market attention.
It is an unfortunate fact of life but undemanding rubbish will sell - and some of it will be rife with depravity.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

There is a truly shocking

story on the front page of our paper today. I actually heard it yesterday. It came through on a news feed I get in my line of work. I did not sleep well last night as a result of what I heard then. This morning, even discounting the sensationalism, the story makes appalling reading.
Put simply, a mother has been charged with the manslaughter of her five year old son because she allegedly put methadone in his bottle of cordial in order to stop him coughing. I will not add too many more details except to say that the mother is a registered heroin addict and they were sharing their living quarters with twenty cats and two dogs.
Now, I am sorry, but was this fair to the child? Was it right to leave him with someone who, however much she may claim to love him, lives in these circumstances? Heroin addiction is a dreadful thing but, in most cases, it begins with a decision to take heroin. Is that a responsible act? Is it the act of a responsible individual to keep twenty cats and two dogs on a small suburban property - unless they are breeders with the proper facilities?
It is government policy for mothers and children to remain together if at all possible. This is said to be the best thing for both mother and child. I know that fostering has all sorts of problems and risks, not least the risk of abuse. I know that "orphanages" are supposedly a thing of the past and to be condemned, along with children's homes.
The odd thing is that I have a friend who runs what is effectively an orphanage in Africa. It is actually a refugee centre for unaccompanied children. There have been as many as six hundred children there at a time. Many of them have behavioural problems as well as physical problems. Somehow they keep going. The boys leave at twelve for other places, the girls leave at fourteen. They get some schooling, although not always as much as my friend would like. They also teach one another. They are all expected to do what they can. Discipline is tight but undoubtedly loving. There have been many, many success stories. Almost all the children going through there who have survived (and some sadly do not because of issues with AIDS and malaria and other illnesses) manage to get some further training and become useful members of the community.
Yes, it is an orphanage in effect. It is the thing we say is so dreadful but the children are cared for. My friend sees to that. They have very little but they share what they have.
I cannot help wondering if this small boy might not have been better off in a place like this. He might still be alive. He has lost his life because government policy has said that mother and child should be kept together at all cost - and it has cost him his life.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

When I was a child we lived

for several years near the sea. It was near what is known as the Port River and Outer Harbour.
The Port River is actually not a river at all. It is an inlet of the sea. It gets silted up and has to be constantly dredged. It can still take good sized vessels, although not the largest sort. The Outer Harbour on the other hand can take boats like the Queen Mary.
Our family has a close association with the Port River. My great-grandfather was, along with a colleague, responsible for making the first shipping maps of the river. He was a ship's pilot. I am not sure what his qualifications were but the maps were used as the basis for all the shipping maps of the area until computerisation took over. I assume they must have been accurate.
His son, my grandfather, knew many of the ships' captains. He made uniforms for them. Most of the local people knew him too. (Many of them were his customers because "suits off the rack" were still pretty much unknown and not considered to be good form.)
Many of these people had jobs which were, one way or another, associated with the shipping trade. They might be "wharfies" who, pre-container vessels, worked physically hard or the head of the local Lloyd's office who spent most of the day sitting in an office.
"The Port" was a busy, vibrant place as the ships came in past the power station at Osborne and the cement works a little further along. There were sandhills and expanses of land still unbuilt on. In the other direction there were sugar works where the children used to wait for sticky pieces of sugar cane. My brother and I used to roam the district pretty much unimpeded - along with all the other children. Even I was safe because people knew who we were and where we came from. I could ride my tricycle right along the track to the beginning of the "new bridge" (which went up) but not quite as far as the "old bridge" which swung around. Both bridges were manually operated to let shipping through.
The "new bridge" is now the "old bridge". The old one does not exist. The sugar works do not exist. The sandhills have gone and the land has all been built on. Children no longer roam the district doing little or no harm. They are herded by anxious parents into cars and ferried to adult supervised activities. The teenagers do graffiti instead of going fishing or roller skating illegally across the bridges. The train goes less frequently and no longer goes along the spur to Semaphore.
We plan to take my niece and nephew and their partners back there this weekend. My niece and nephew also lived there for a short time. They left too young to remember what it was like even for them. In their absence the area has changed yet again but there are some things which are still there and they want to see them. They want to see them before it is too late.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

At the bookshop

yesterday I was asked me if I had been into Big W lately. No, I had not. It is one of those places of last resort for me. It is big, too big. It is also owned by greedy people.
They want to sell everything and yet not actually sell anything at all. Let me explain. Big W has books on shelves. You can buy them. It has knitting yarn on shelves. You can buy it. It has shoes on racks. You can buy them. I could go on. It is a place of convenience. It is cheap(er) than speciality shops.
There is a darn good reason for this. They do not actually "sell". They provide storage space. You go along. You choose. You do not get advice.
There is also a limited choice. It may be a popular choice, or what they choose to make popular. It may not be the best but it will be cheap(er).
The shoes will not usually be leather and will fall apart sooner but they will be bought by desperate parents of growing children. They will not be fitted properly but they will, usually, "do for a while".
The knitting yarn tends to be cheap and nasty acrylic in football colours. I am not sure who buys it but people must.
The books in Big W are mostly paperbacks. They will be by "popular" authors - or authors they have chosen as "popular". They muscled in on Harry Potter and almost ruined the local indie in the process. The Twilight series get sold there. Some of their offerings are backlist, bought at rock bottom price and sold on at cut rates. People think they are getting a bargain. Some of them may well be remainders. The author will not be getting anything at all.
But, recently, Big W went even lower. They went off to an indie (not mine) and bought a trolley load of books. They came back and put those books in a trolley with the docket. They put another trolley load of the same books next to it and another docket - claiming that this was what you would pay for them in Big W. There was almost $200 difference in price over all - in their favour.
They did this at a time when Borders closed its doors - along with a number of other bookshops. The indie they bought from had just been bought by a family from the chain that was also closing bookshops around the country. They were, and still are, trying desperately hard to make a go of it. It was a deliberate act of sabotage. My guess is that the indie in question will be gone within a year. They will not survive these tactics. Big W can afford to "apologise". The damage has been done.
It suggested to customers that the service Big W was offering was as good and diverse as the indie but much cheaper. It was not and it is not. They will however sell on price rather than quality - like the shoes and the knitting yarn.
Price does not make a good book. It is the contents which count.

Monday, 6 June 2011

A very agitated Whirlwind

arrived yesterday afternoon and, before she had even made it through the door, said, "I have to write this thing about my family!"
My heart did a sort of uncomfortable hop and I said, "Oh."
Family is not a good topic for the Whirlwind. There is the Whirlwind herself. There is her father. There is no other family in Adelaide. There is an aunt in Canberra but the relationship is rather awkward, although the Whirlwind tries to pretend it is not. They are short of what she calls "relics" or blood relations. Her mother's death is still a highly sensitive subject for the Whirlwind. I think it always will be.
Her teacher had set the topic "my family" for the class. It rather surprised me. Like any other school these days they have their share of non-traditional households. It is not a topic I would set for a written piece.
The Whirlwind's father holds down a very responsible position in government but it was not what she needed to write about - and I knew that without suggesting it.
"I don't know what to do! I hate it when they do that!"
There were tears. There were not floods of tears but the blinking hard and blowing the nose sort of tears.
"Right," I told her, "We are going to think about your grandfather - the motorbike one."
She looked at me.
"But he's dead."
"Yes, but he is still a member of your family. You can write about him. Sit down and start thinking. What did he do?"
Her grandfather rode a motorbike from England to Australia. It took him six and a half years to do it because war broke out on the way and he spent four of those years in India and Burma. It is a fascinating story. Her father has the diaries his father kept but they are written in a sort of terse shorthand of the English language and parts are blacked out for security reasons. There are some photographs. I wish the old man was alive so Ciaranne could learn more. He is someone to be proud of.
An hour or so later the Whirlwind has a story to tell. It just needs typing up. I suggest she asks her father to help her scan in a couple of photographs to add to it. That way he can read what she has written and make certain nothing untoward has been said.
It is History Week at school. Everyone has a history but not everything can be shared.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

I was in the toyshop

yesterday - hunting for a present.
It is not, sadly, a place I have much cause to frequent now. The children I know are growing up far too rapidly. I usually buy books as presents, even for newborn babies. They can "grow into them".
This time I needed to look in the toyshop. There was a specific request for "a bath tub toy". The toyshop is, I believe, a good one in many ways. It has a policy of "no guns or other weapons" and there are many well chosen toys with plenty of play value. My youngest nephew, now 21, still has (completely intact but much used) the Danish made construction kit he chose there for his fourth birthday. He knew precisely what he wanted and was prepared to wait for it without so much as a murmur.
Of course there was not a yellow duck in sight. Toys have changed drastically since I was a child and even since my nephews were of the age to have bath tub toys. I remember buying them a duckling and a frog and boats that all went into the bath tub together. Captain Duck and Captain Frog sailed the boats to places they knew.
There were no ducks in the shop. The girl at the counter shook her head and said that they "occasionally" managed to get some. They were she said, "not popular now".
I do not believe that. If they were not popular they would be sitting on the shelves gathering dust or not available at all. There were no other bath tub toys available although "there might be some late next week if the order comes in".
I went next door to the chemist and dropped a prescription in. I went to the greengrocer and then returned to pick up the prescription.
You pay for the prescription at a separate counter. I was about to pay when I saw it. Sitting on the counter there was a little cardboard box with a clear top. Inside there was the perfect yellow duckling looking hopefully at me. "Please, buy me!"
I took him home, carefully undid the box and gave him a little swim in the sink. He is a happy duckling who swims well. I wiped him dry carefully, placed him back in the box and today he is going to a new home where I know he will be loved and appreciated. Everyone needs a bathtub duckling.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

My father ceased driving

some years ago. He made the decision himself. It was not, as it is for many people, made for him.
My father never never liked driving but he valued the independence and freedom of being able to drive. Nevertheless he felt it was time to stop - before he had an accident, before he injured someone else.
I have never driven a car. My visual perceptual capacities are not good enough for that. I do not miss something I have never had but I sometimes think the convenience of being able to leave the house, enter a car and drive off would be good - especially when it was much too hot or raining.
There are other people who continue to drive long after they should cease. They are simply not prepared to give up their convenience for the safety of others. One of my former lecturers lives locally. She is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. She knows that. Her doctor knows that.
Despite that he has just passed her as "fit to drive" again. She is not. I have watched her come into the shopping centre on several occasions. There have been minor dings to other cars. She forgets where the car is and, sometimes, that she has it there at all. Twice she has become lost on short journeys - the only journeys she now makes. But she is, according to the law, still able to drive.
Three years ago a man with no sight in one eye and impaired sight in the other was declared "fit to drive" despite having been at fault in an accident which killed someone. His occupation, unbelievably, was that of a courier van driver. The decision was eventually appealed but he was back on the roads for some time before his licence was revoked. He knew he could not see well enough but insisted it was his right to drive.
When we moved into this house our neighbours on one side were an elderly couple. They would drive to Queensland each winter while towing a caravan. The last time they did the trip the old man was 91. He had been driving long distances all his life. He had towed many a caravan as well. That year there was a problem with the caravan. That was it. He did not tow the van again. They did two more trips to Queensland by car but stayed in motels or cabins on the way. Then there was a problem with the car. That was the next decider. No more trips to Queensland. After that it was trips to the doctor, the chemist and the supermarket. At 96 he did what my father did, he handed in his licence. He was still, according to the doctor, "fit to drive" but he told me, "I've lost the edge. I know I am not." I rather suspect he should have given up even earlier but at least he made the decision.
I watched my father's cousin drive off yesterday. She is 81. She lives in an area ill-served by public transport. She does not drive at night if she can avoid it but she still wants to drive by day. I wonder how much longer she will go on driving. When will she make the responsible decision and cease?
There are far too many older people in this area who are still driving when they are not, despite the medical assessment, fit to drive. Their doctors simply do not have the courage to say "no" and bring on the resulting loss of independence. It is not a responsible decision on their part or on the part of the driver. The answer surely has to be a separate medical and driver testing facility.
It all makes me rather glad I have never had a licence. Would I want to give it up - or have someone tell me I should?

Friday, 3 June 2011

I am a little late this morning

because the power was off. I will keep this brief.
There are some comments on yesterday's blog post that make interesting reading and they also raise an interesting point which relates to something in today's paper.
There was a comment from a Senior Inspector of the police force in this morning's paper suggesting that women who live alone in the western suburbs of Adelaide should consider getting a dog to protect themselves. The remark has been made in relation to a spate of nasty incidents involving a male intruding on to property at night, knocking on windows and waking the occupant of the house. He is apparently targetting women living alone.
My reaction is this. Why should a woman need to do this? A dog is expensive to keep, time consuming to care for, a tie if you need to go away overnight. Any animal is a responsibility but dogs are a greater responsibility than most.
Women should be safe from unwanted intrusion into their own homes, indeed they should be safe in their own homes. In an ideal world they would be but we do not live in an ideal world. Nevertheless I do not believe that the response of the Senior Inspector was an appropriate one.
Yes, responsible choices should be made if you live alone. Do not advertise the fact. Get a male relative to put a message on your answering machine. Lock the doors and windows at night and, if it seems safer, during the day. If you have your name in the 'phone book put just the initials in and so on.
I also believe it is up to me to dress appropriately (but I have always been a conservative individual in respect of clothing). It is also wise not to travel alone at night or into lonely places at night. Such things are common sense. They need not restrict my life style. But, and it is a big but, I should not need to take on the responsibility for a dog which might not meet my safety needs anyway.
I do not believe the politician I mentioned yesterday is helping when she uses her sexuality, her race and her gender preference to score political points. It demeans women. It can make life more difficult for people from different ethnic backgrounds and it does nothing to further the acceptance of same sex relationships. (I have two cousins in same sex relationships, one male and one female. Neither of them flaunt the fact. They consider it their personal and private life style - just like any other relationship.)
If someone also chooses to live alone that should be acceptable as well. They should not need a dog for protection.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

"And miaou to you from me too!"

is what I want to say to some of our politicians this morning.
Perhaps I should be more sympathetic because I know Senate Estimates Committees are not the most exciting thing in the world. Most of the time they are, to put it mildly, boring. Nevertheless part of the Senate's job is to review expenditure etc. It has to be done.
Most of the time the committee work limps along but, once in a while, things explode. Yesterday one of the Labor (government) senators, a female, made a snide remark. A Coalition (opposition) senator, a male, responded with "meow".
It may not have been very polite but it was, in parliamentary terms, very mild. The female senator however, sensing a chance to make a point, proceeded to make an issue of it. It was, so she claimed, sexist. The men, she also claimed, were permitted to defend themselves but ther women were not. She demanded, and got, an apology but that was not enough. The issue was then raised in parliament and question time once again degenerated into a slanging match over the incident.
Our parliament is on a knife edge and also on the nose. It is held in place by the grace of the so-called "independents". This is not a happy state of affairs. The notion that the female members of parliament are not permitted (or able) to defend themselves however is nonsense. Our Prime Minister is more than capable and, so it seems, is the Senator in question. She was street-smart enough to see a chance to make an issue of something and took it.
Was it sexist? A male acquaintance of mine looked totally bewildered when it was mentioned last night.
"I just said something I probably should not have said and my wife said meow to me!"

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

My letter in this morning's

paper is going to make some people unhappy. It says much the same thing as I said in my blogpost the day before yesterday. I am a little surprised it was published.
I know I am going to be accused of being a "climate change denier" because I do not accept the need for a "carbon tax".
Just for a start though could they get it right and say "carbon dioxide"? Even the Prime Minister insists that the government is going to "put a price on carbon". That really irritates me - and the Opposition is no better.
There have been a great many letters to the editor about "the carbon tax". Some of them are political rants, others are from passionate environmentalists who believe they are doing the right thing, others come from people who believe that it is all nonsense. Some come from scientists - and by no means all of them are of the same opinion. Naturally those being paid by the government support the government line. That is why they were chosen in the first place. There are other equally eminent and well respected scientists who hold other views. They are now being lambasted by the media which, on the whole, supports the government.
Our "news" gets filtered through many layers before it reaches us. It is adjusted and sanitised. It is designed to influence our opinions and make sure we accept certain values and ideas and then behave in certain ways. Old style communist propaganda has nothing at all on modern media.
It is said that voters get the government they deserve. There may be some truth in that statement. Now however it is much more likely that voters get the government which is best able to (ab)use the media in order to (mis)inform the voters.