Friday, 30 September 2011

There was a bill for

my uncle yesterday. It was for "physiotherapy". Fair enough. If he needs it, he needs it. He is fortunate he can afford to pay for it.
I wondered however what this "physiotherapy" was actually about. It appears that my uncle is being charged a large sum of money for someone to come in and "massage" his legs.
Now my uncle has extremely poor circulation, a combination of a number of medical issues, heart disease and diabetes among them. His feet have been a deep purple-red colour for some years now. His skin is tissue paper thin with age. It has also been abused by hours of sun baking on the beach.
So, what good will someone do massaging his legs for a few minutes once a week? I will not assume I know. I will consult the physiotherapist we have in the family. She will know or she will, I suspect, say that someone is making money in an unethical manner.
It will not be the first time such a thing has happened and it will not be the last. Some time ago I was sorting out the medication for an elderly friend into a "pill pack" - one of those trays where the patient only needs to take out what is in each compartment instead of undoing bottles and blister packs. It was a job normally done by her daughter but her daughter was away at the time and I had undertaken to do it.
To be sure that I was doing the right thing I asked my friend what each of the medications she was taking was for. She knew what two of them were for but she had no idea what the other three were supposed to do. I knew what one of them was for and I could guess at another but the fifth, an extremely expensive item, puzzled me. I said nothing to her but I made an inquiry of my own GP as I happened to see him that week.
When her daughter returned I mentioned it to her. "Mum was over that months ago - more than a year ago."
Her daughter was concerned. It had never occurred to her to question the prescription. Why should it? She trusted the medical profession to do the right thing but now questions were asked. The drug was removed. It saved several hundred dollars a year. It is not something I can take credit for. I was merely curious and concerned to make sure I was doing the right thing.
Why would a doctor go on prescribing something not needed? All too often they are overworked. They have a limited time for each patient. I am normally in and out of the doctor's room in a few minutes. I would rather he spent time with the elderly or the very young. If I really need it I know my doctor will give me time.
But the physiotherapist is apparently not overworked. There is clearly an arrangement with the nursing home. I have no doubt someone comes in and sees several patients at one time. They may well do some good. If the treatment was preventing pressure sores or markedly increasing my uncle's circulation I would welcome it - but the fully qualified nursing staff are watching for diabetes related pressure sores. I am not sure how my uncle reacts to the massage of his legs.
The massage service is almost certainly not assisting my uncle's physical welfare. It may be doing something for his psychological welfare. If it is, we will leave it there.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Freedom of speech is under attack

in Australia right now. No, I am not referring to the shenanigans in the Federal Court yesterday. I will come to that shortly.
There is something even more serious than that. The government has set up an inquiry into the media. It might be more accurate to say the Greens set up an inquiry into the media. Of course the government had to agree to put it into place but the Greens have the upper hand when it comes to such things. The government needs the support of the Greens & some independents in order to stay in government. It is a minority government. They will do as they are asked/told in matters like this.
All politicians like to claim that the media does not give them "a fair go". The present government is particularly critical despite having been granted an extended honeymoon and a largely sympathetic press. It is apparently even worse for the Greens. They dislike having their policies scrutinised and criticised to a point where they are prepared to see press freedoms curbed.
So, on the back of the furore over 'phone tapping in the UK, the government has set up an "inquiry". The Minister for Communications, Stephen Conroy, announced it as if there was nothing in it really. There is nothing to suppose there is anything wrong in the Australian media. There was no need for it. It is "just an inquiry".
It is a very dangerous inquiry. The outcomes are a foregone conclusion. They have already announced plans to replace the Press Council with a body that "has teeth". That alone will be enough to curb freedom of expression. We do not need it. There are already checks and balances in place. Adding to these will not help journalists do their job. It will hinder them. It will not protect those individuals who need it most. It will protect government from the sort of investigative scrutiny it sometimes needs the most.
We already have checks and balances in place and they are already under attack. They are being abused with a view to stifling debate.
Yesterday there was a Federal Court ruling that a right wing columnist, Andrew Bolt, had breached section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act by implying that a number of "light-skinned" people who identify as "aboriginal" were using that identification to advance their own careers. The full impact of the judgment has yet to be worked out. It will almost certainly be appealed. The matter may yet end in the High Court. Whatever the outcome neither side will "win" and we will all be the losers. We will lose simply because "freedom of speech" will have been eroded.
Journalists will need to be far more cautious about raising certain issues. People like Paul Toohey and Philip Adams will no longer be able to safely write an article designed to make people think. "Talkback" radio, which I personally detest but many people like, will be a thing of the past and the interviewing of politicians, personalities and the public will become bland and boring. Live interviews may become a thing of the past. They will need to be pre-recorded so that anything controversial can be cut from them.
Nobody has the right to incite hatred or violence. Nobody has the right to ridicule others or bring them into contempt. That is why we have laws relating to libel. The media must abide by those laws. That should not however prevent the media from raising issues which need to be explored and discussed. Yesterday's Federal Court ruling may prevent that. The government inquiry into the media will only compound the problem.
The Minister apparently also believes these issues can be extended to the blogosphere. No doubt I, and others, will be hearing from the blog-police.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Anyone who has read

any of Jen Campbell's "weird things people say in bookshops" posts over on "This is not the six word novel" (link at side) will know people do say and ask strange things. Sometimes they ask very strange things.
I was in the bookshop yesterday. It was Knitting Tuesday. I run a class on the last Tuesday in the month so I had an even better excuse than usual for being there.
As usual I had arrived a few minutes early. It is a good excuse to prowl along the shelves and make sure I know what is there. The type of stock has changed with the new owner. Was that what prompted the question I was asked? I do not know.
There was a customer near me, someone in her late forties or early fifties. She was looking at what might be called "middle-reader" novels. Eventually she put yet another one back on the shelf and said to me, "What's happened to all the good books?"
I asked her what she meant and she waved a hand at the shelves she had been looking at and said, "These books are for dessert. They are not for first course."
I must have looked disbelieving because she pulled one off the shelf again and said, "Look - this is part of a series. Any kid reading this knows what to expect. This is the new Enid Blyton."
She pulled two more off the shelves and made the same complaint.
I have to admit it was justified.
"It's what kids want to read. It's what sells," I told her.
"It's the easy way out," she told me in disgust. She put the books back and walked off.
I wish I had been able to help her.
I also have to admit that, with respect to the bookshop stock, she was almost right. Most of the books in the shop intended for middle and YA readers are "series" type books. The reader knows what to expect. Many of them are "the new Enid Blyton". They are written to a formula and by multiple authors. They sell or the shop would not stock them.
When I went looking for a birthday present for my godson I was looking for something along the lines of Morris Gleitzman. There was not one single one of his books on the shelves.
I asked the assistant in there at the time about this. She is someone I know well.
"We don't have anything like that any more," she told me. "We used to."
I know they did. The old owner knew books and the books trade extremely well. She spent a lot of time searching for what she felt was the right stock. The new owner does not have time for that. Buying series fiction in is easy. Marketing it is easy. It's a brand. If it is known it will sell. People will think it is good because they know the name.
Stand alone fiction is not a brand. It is much more difficult to market. I know all that. I know why these things are done.
I also sympathise with the woman who asked, "What's happened to all the good books?"
We need "first course" as well as "dessert".

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Our Post Office sells books

and CDs and learning material and art material. Currently there are some wooden puzzles, a weather station, barbecue sets, calendars and - yes you guessed it - Christmas cards. Right.
When I was a kitten the Post Office sold you stamps and weighed your parcels and was an agency for the Commonwealth bank. You could send a telegram and get a money order too.
It will still sell you stamps if you insist but your parcel will usually have a printed label. That is much less exciting. I wanted stamps on my godson's birthday book. They did not have the right combination. He had to have a printed label.
I had to post a parcel yesterday. I took the contents just packed into a plastic zip top bag. I knew the post office would now have a pre-paid envelope to put them in. They did. The girl behind the counter weighed the contents and gave me the bag and said, "Throw it back at me when you have addressed it Cat." I know her well enough for her to say that to me. There are no men behind the counter at all now.
You can pay all sorts of bills in the post office too - or put in an application to get a passport (and have your unsmiling photograph taken).
Then there are the parcels the Post Office will deliver too. Our current parcel delivery person is a man. It is just as well. He has been staggering up to the door weighed down by boxes of late. My dear friend in America has been sending me an advance inheritance of her wool stash. The parcel post man is sympathetic and understanding and actually puts the boxes on the small table inside the front door. He is not required to do more than leave them at the door. It is very nice of him and I am duly appreciative.
The postman who delivers the ordinary mail now whizzes by on a motorbike. We can hear him coming and going. He wears a bright yellow safety vest and has been known to say, "Race you" to me before heading off down the street if I am pedalling away.
I know most people do not get as much mail as we do. It is rare for a day to go by without our letter box having something in it. We could do without the bills but there are other, more interesting things as well.
Yes, the postal service provides all sorts of services these days although it no longer sends telegrams.
But there is something missing. The postman no longer pedals past on a bicycle twice a day. He comes once - and he does not blow his whistle.

Monday, 26 September 2011

"Politically correct" children's

literature as an issue over on an Awfully Big Blog Adventure last week when my friend Lucy Coats raised the issue of same sex relationships in YA literature. There is plenty of comment over there and I am not going to revisit the issue here.
Instead I want to raise the issue of "political correctness" as seen on page three of "The Weekend Australian" this weekend. The item had the title "Diet police mug the very hungry caterpillar." It was referring to the way in which a much loved children's books had been turned "politically correct".
The book in question is Eric Carle's wonderful story of "The very hungry caterpillar". When I was teaching I read it over and over again to my intellectually disabled young charges. They loved it. They liked the repetition and the simplicity of the story. I used it to teach about colour and food and all manner of other things. It is a marvellous story.
The young caterpillar's diet in 1969 is anything but healthy. It includes chocolate cake, icecream, cherry pie as well as cheese, pickle, salami, sausage and a lollipop. It really does not matter. He has a stomach ache. He then eats a nice green leaf and feels rather better for it. The moral is there in the story.
But it seems that this is not good enough in 2011. A school in Victoria, and I have no doubt schools elsewhere, have the caterpillar eating a bowl of cereal, a brown bread cheese and tomato sandwich, a glass of milk, a slice of cheese, a bowl of spaghetti, steamed broccoli, a piece of chicken, a piece of fish and a tub of low fat yoghurt. The caterpillar still ends up with a stomach ache but, instead of the nice green leaf, he eats a bowl of vegetable soup in order to "feel better."
He turns into a magnificent butterfly and, in the revised version, goes off to PMP (Perceptual Motor Program) class - or exercise class.
Whoa! That is ridiculous! Oh, I know what the school is trying to do but it misses the whole point of the story. Carle has made the point in his version of the story. He has made it so well that the book has been translated into more than fifty languages and sold over thirty-million copies.
Carle's version of the story is also a whole lot more fun.
This sort of political correctness is nonsense. It spoils the story. It denies children the right to enjoy the nonsense of childhood. They know full well that caterpillars do not eat the diet Carle has provided. The fun is in pretending to believe that they have eaten all those things and that they have the stomach ache they deserve.
This is by no means the only book that has been given a political makeover - or banned for being politically incorrect. There is a local school that banned Roald Dahl because of the Oompa Loompas. Noddy was removed from the library shelves a long time ago and, for a while, it was illegal to sell "golliwogs". (There were also complaints when some did go on display as part of an exhibition.)
I doubt this is doing any good or whether it is having the desired effect. The article in the paper notes that the children at the school in questions had their artwork on display to accompany the story. Apparently it was mostly of lollipops. Good on them.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

I want to know

how they know about know those itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny thingies that are smaller than atoms?
We used to think atoms were small. I used to wonder how they had found out about atoms. How can you know about something if you cannot see it? It was one of those things I wanted to know about when I was a child.
Do not mistake me. I had no desire to be a white-coated scientist in a laboratory. I have never wanted to do that. When I was at school "nature science" (as we called it) was so badly taught I was bored by it. I never enjoyed it. I grew up liking nature but not wanting to know about it in the sort of intimate detail that scientists needs. I know things of course. I am lucky enough to know where to find more information when I need it. Someone showed me a shawl pin made out of a piece of dark reddish timber yesterday. She did not know what it was. My father still works with wood. I have seen many pieces of timber in my life. I looked at the timber. I felt the weight of it in proportion to the size. I thought it was jarrah. My father confirmed it. Now I know, I know that - or do I?
I suppose experience told me that but I could see the colour. I could feel it. I do not think they can see neutrinos or that neutrinos are a particular, if any, colour. So, how do they know?
Oh yes, I know about CERN. I know about the big tunnel. I know that it is all costing billions of dollars for a small group of humans to try and satisfy their (and perhaps our) curiosity. I know that it is supposed to have potential applications of all sorts. All that is fine - but how do they know?
Einstein thought he knew. He wrote "that equation" and for around one hundred years it has been accepted as being right. Without Einstein - or someone like him - there would be no CERN.
But how do they know they know now? Is that why they are being cautious?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

"I wonder how he is

this morning," my father says as he comes out for breakfast.
I do not need to ask who he means. The woman in charge of the nursing home 'phoned last night. It was almost 9pm. She had finally gone home but wanted to talk to me. She did not ask for my father.
Normally, if the conversation is about his brother, he is consulted. We have a telephone extension by his bed. It means we can both listen at once.
This time time he said, "It's someone from the nursing home. She wants to talk to you." I thought he would listen but he put the extension down.
The Director, as she is titled, was letting us know that my uncle is back in hospital. He has not been sleeping. He is, she says, exhausted. He has had two more small "heart attacks". All that would be worrying in itself but he is also wandering at night. He has lashed out at the staff. The previous night he had tried to break the window in his room. He thought he was in a chemist shop and was trying to get out. Three days ago he thought he was at Heathrow airport and he had lost his passport.
At times he seems lucid but it comes and goes. He persists that he wants to "go shopping". Why? He needs "knives and forks". Apparently he has visitors coming and the nursing home has taken the knives and forks away.
My uncle has been taking sleeping medication for more than twenty years. He could not sleep when my older cousin was ill. By the time of my cousin's death my uncle was addicted. The nursing home will not or cannot give him the same quantity of medication. Even if they did he would not sleep well. He has not slept well for all those years.
He has told them and told us he wants to die but he is also afraid someone is going to kill him.
The admission to hospital is to see if they can actually view the frontal lobe damage we all know is there. It may give them some help in deciding how to handle him. The nursing home says sedation is "the last resort". He is a "walking chemist shop" now. True.
He is also distressed. My father is distressed. The fact that he did not listen to what was being said is an indication that, while he is deeply concerned, the technicalities and the practicalities are beyond him. He simply does not want to know those things.
My uncle does like his new red shirt - or he would seem to. He apparently snatched it back when one of the nursing staff tried to put it in a drawer. Perhaps that is something.
Sedation may be the last resort but, if he is so distressed, I am beginning to wonder if it might not be the kinder option - or would it? This sort of old age is a terrible thing.

Friday, 23 September 2011

An old friend is turning 100

today. Page three of our state newspaper has a picture of her. I can already hear her telling me, "Not your usual page three picture dear!"
I met her when she was a fit young 70-something. She walked the district, went to church twice a week, shopped in the local shopping centre, volunteered at the charity shop "Vinnies", kept her extended family in order, gardened and knitted for charity. She did not have a car. If she wanted to go somewhere then she would "hop on a bus dear. That is what buses are for."
She kept all this up until she was 98. In the very hot summer of that year her children demanded she stop volunteering at Vinnies. It was, they told her, too hot to walk to and from. She gave in reluctantly. "I suppose they're right dear but I don't like letting the team down".
I sympathised and gave her an extra jar of marmalade that year. She gave me a number of the small mascot dolls she had made and they went off to a charity raffle instead. I took her yarn to make more.
There were worries about her living alone in a fair sized house which had not been renovated for more than seventy years. "It works dear. I don't know why everyone has to have everything new these days."
The winter she turned 99 she became ill - one of the winter 'flu like bugs that seem to come around every year. Her children decided that enough was enough. They said it was time for her to move into a nursing home. She protested. They won.
For a little while my old friend went quiet. We even thought she might not make it to 100. Then a mutual friend went to visit and was quietly told, "I don't like to complain dear because everyone is so nice but there is not enough to do in here."
That complaint was fixed smartly. Now she goes to a craft group in the church next door. She helps with the flowers and cleans the brass altar rail. She keeps some of the pot plants watered and tidy. The library service provides large print books ("none of those soppy romances please") and she is knitting mascot dolls again.
"I have so much to do dear and it is so nice not having to do the cooking." At one hundred she is content again. I am glad she has made her century.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

I am opposed to

the death penalty. There are people I think should be locked away for the rest of their natural lives. I do not think their lives should be made easy. I do not believe we should kill them. It makes us no better than them.
The case of Troy Davis in Georgia, USA is making headlines around the world. There may be things those opposing his execution do not know. I do not know what the strength of the case against him is because I have not seen or read the evidence for myself. I have not had a chance to speak to him or the others involved. I was not there when the death occurred. I do not know but I am still opposed to his execution. It is wrong. The death penalty is always wrong.
In the case of Troy Davis there are, apparently, serious doubts about his guilt. Why anyone would proceed with the death penalty at all is beyond my comprehension. To do it when doubts have been raised is barbaric.
I am quite certain that if those imposing the death penalty had to agree that they too would be liable for death if it could be shown they had sent an innocent man to his death there would be no death penalty. Nobody would take the risk. So why do people take the risk in any other case?
The death penalty was abolished in Australia in 1973. It should have been abolished far sooner.
It was abolished for murder in the United Kingdom in 1969 but was actually suspended from 1965. The death penalty remained on the statute books for other offences (notably treason and arson in a royal dockyard) until 1998 but it was never imposed. It was never likely to be imposed.
Countries like China and Iran use the death penalty freely. They are not countries I would care to live in. There are other countries which also impose the death penalty and I would not care to live in those either. The United States is supposed to be a "free" country, whatever that might mean. It is supposed to be one which "upholds the rule of law", a country where people receive a fair trial . Like any other justice system it can make mistakes. We make mistakes here in Australia. We punish people who should not be punished. We leave unpunished people who should be punished. It is all part of the price we pay for a system which is supposed to be democratic.
Our former state Treasurer was the alleged victim of a "bashing" in the city one night. The case has just come to court. What the rights and wrongs of it are I do not know but it is becoming increasingly clear that this case is being politicised. If his alleged attacker is given a custodial sentence there will be many people who will feel an injustice has been done. Whatever happens the attacker is not, as he would be in some parts of the world, sentenced to the death penalty. If the court decision is proven to be wrong he will be able to seek some compensation. Of course he will not be completely compensated but he will not have lost his life. There is some chance of restitution.
There is no chance of restitution with the death penalty. There can be no compensation. It is simply always, absolutely and utterly, wrong.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

"They have all been chewed

by the dog," I said.
I have been sorting out my uncle's clothing. He had rather a lot of clothes. He had far more clothes than I have. Had, not has. Some are now sitting in a bag and will be heading to the "rags" collected by a local charity.
Now that he is in a nursing home I have been sorting out what can and cannot be worn there. The nursing home wants "fling in the washing machine" type clothing. There is no point sending silk shirts to a nursing home. He has three. Two of them are still in excellent condition, almost new. They may well be cool in summer but they need to be washed by hand. Nobody is going to do that. Even if I lived close enough to do his laundry there would be no point because someone would be bound to throw them into a machine.
But the silk shirts are not the problem. Someone else will buy those from the same charity. Other things are the problem.
My uncle had a dog. It was a friendly, loving and completely undisciplined dog. It chewed things. It was particularly fond of shoes and shirts.
My uncle never worried about this. What he wore around his own home was, rightly, his business. If some of his shoes and shirts were chewed it did not bother him. Very few people saw them.
Now it is a different story. At very least he needs clothing that does not have holes in it. It is not just that I want people to think we care about him. We do. It is not just that I want him to think we care. He still knows that even though he will not admit it. I want him to think, as far as he can, that he cares. I want him to feel as good as he can about himself.
There is a sad pile of t-shirts there. They are the sort of thing you might expect a teenager to wear, one even has a pop group logo. Where he found that I do not know. There are the sort of singlet-tops and brief shorts he put on as a bare acknowledgment to social behaviour. I doubt they will be acceptable in a nursing home or that he would want to wear the brief shorts which would now show the incontinence pads he needs to wear. All of the t-shirts have been chewed.
The nursing home has told us he had two "small heart attacks" in the past week. We know his time is limited but we do not know how limited.
I look at the small sad pile of t-shirts. Three of them are faded red. He had a red woollen pullover and one of the silk shirts is predominantly red. He liked to wear red. He may still like to wear red.
His brother, my father, would never wear red. His clothing is conservative in the extreme. The two brothers are about as different as you could get.
This morning I will go and buy my uncle a bright red polo shirt. If he likes it I will by him another.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

There were two more

boxes of yarn from my friend yesterday. The postman, well aware of who had sent them, made a special trip from the end of the street. The street was blocked off while something is done to water pipes somewhere else. (I do not understand why our street had to be blocked off but that is another story.)
The postman is also aware that, once dealt with, the yarn in the boxes will go to charities. Much of what is there is in small quantities - one or two balls, a skein here, two skeins there, four skeins of something else. The colours vary too.
A friend came to help me sort it out. We tipped the contents of both boxes on to the floor and just looked for a little while.
"I like that..and that..." my friend told me. I knew she did not mean for herself. She meant for the young knitters we work with.
The young knitters have come up with an idea. They are still at the stage of needing and wanting to learn a great deal. They are still young enough to like projects that grow fairly rapidly. Part of this is because school and other activities also take up their time. Knitting has to be fitted in where they can fit it in. All of them take their knitting wherever they go. Tell one of the boys that "knitting is for sissies" and you will get a lecture about the way in which it was men who once did all the knitting. Women were only permitted to prepare the yarn and spin it. Men did a seven year apprenticeship and were expected to produce such things as stockings and carpets at the other end of it.
But, our lot are not doing a formal seven year apprenticeship. They are still learning some of the basics. One is now experimenting with cables, another with mosaic patterns, a third with colour and a fourth with creating ever more zany hats which sell before he has finished them.
It was his hats which gave them the idea. They want to try and knit one hundred hats between them out of all the odd balls of yarn that they have been given. It will be a chance to learn more techniques. It will be a chance to try out ideas. It will be something they can give to a particular charity which will use them well.
All those things are important. What is even more important however is that it is something they feel they can do to say "thankyou" to their friend in America.
We parcelled up the yarn that had come into "hat size" quantities. Sometime later this week I will put suggestions with the parcels so that they have a starting point.
And, as I put the suggestions in the parcels, I am going to say "thankyou" to the friend I have never physically met. She is giving these kids, all of whom have health issues of their own, a life-long gift - the gift of making and sharing. Their e-mails to her show just how much they appreciate that gift. The one hundred hats will be another way of thanking her.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Yesterday, 34,677 people

went on the Adelaide to Glenelg "Fun Run". You will notice I say "went". I did not say "ran".
It is an annual event organised by the media in cooperation with the police (who need to stop the other traffic), the ambulance service (in case of illness and injury) and services like Rotary who hand out water along the way.
It is a twelve kilometre course. Some people run it, others walk it and some wheel it. I stay at home. I have never had any desire to pedal in such a thing. Yes, yes I know similar events take place elsewhere. I know they are very popular. I have no doubt that the adrenalin flows at an increased rate. It is all considered to be "fun". Perhaps it is.
Some people use it as a fund raiser for charity. Our friend Polly has walked it to raise funds for charity. That is probably a good use of the event but most people just do it for "fun".
The problem, as I see it, is that the "fun" is considered to be an annual thing for many people. They would not dream of doing a twelve kilometre run at any other time. Oh yes, some of them train for the "City to Bay" but it is not a year round thing. Even so the people who participate are, most likely, those who participate in some sort of exercise at least each week. There are hundreds of thousands of other people who do not participate in exercise at all.
Of course nobody wants 34,677 people stopping the vehicular traffic down Anzac Highway every Sunday morning. It would be a major disruption to life each week. If that same number of people were spread out across the city they would scarcely be noticed. Doing the "run" gets you noticed. It is something to tell your family and friends about. At least some people do it for that reason.
And the hundreds of thousands who really do not exercise at all do not get noticed. They may not wish to be noticed. They may not want to risk appearing in the list in the paper which says they were the 34,677th person to reach the finish line. Or, like me, they may just not want to do it. Coming in 34,677th though would not bother me. I would be quite pleased with myself if I pedalled that far in a morning. Perhaps I should try.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A friend is turning

seventy next month. She does not want a big celebration of her "three score years and ten" but she is having a morning tea at a nursery-garden with family and a few friends. I feel honoured to have been included.
My friend is an Italian migrant. She came here when she was just thirteen. Her father somehow contrived it so she did not go back to school but went straight to work. Her education was limited. There are occasions on which she still, after all these years, makes a grammatical error or will need to ask for a slightly more unusual word.
When I first met her I was hesitant to help. I did not want to embarrass her and I would never dream of correcting her English in public. Other, perhaps well meaning, people will do that and I know it makes her feel very uncomfortable.
Now we know one another well though and, in private, I will help. She asked me to do it and she likes me to do it. In public if she wants a word she will turn to me and ask "How do you say..." Sometimes she will give me the Italian word and ask for the English equivalent. I do not always know the Italian word by any means but I can sometimes guess what she means from the context of the conversation. It is good for both of us to work on this together.
On her birthday I want to give her a small present and a card. I am not particularly good at such things but, for the fun of it, I will sometimes create birthday cards for friends who are turning 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 or, once, 100. I find quotations related to their interests or that I feel they would like, type them up, cut them out and paste them randomly over sheets of coloured card. There will be one quotation for each year of their life. They are not artistic but people seem to find them fun to read.
Another friend asked me yesterday if I was going to make a card for our mutual friend. I said, "Yes, of course."
"Oh, I just wondered."
I know what she was wondering but my Italian friend is perfectly well able to read. For the past three years, since her retirement, she has been going to English classes at a technical college. What is more she is a knitter. She can read patterns, a unique language of their own. She can read Italian as well as English. It is more than most of her friends can do and I want to honour that skill. I am going to find her thirty-five quotes in Italian and thirty-five quotes in English. I am going to be the one who will be challenged.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

I have to write

a pattern for something I have knitted. I was good. I kept notes all the time I was knitting it. I knew I had to write the pattern at the end of it. Right. It should not be a problem. It is. I do not like writing patterns.
Writing patterns is difficult. Writing the instructions for anything is difficult. I am very conscious of this, perhaps too conscious.
This time there is an added problem. I have to be particularly clear because the pattern is for beginner knitters.
I can hear the non-knitters among you saying you would not know where to start . I can hear the knitters among you saying, "Ah, right."
Knitting has a language all of its own - or should I say "languages"? Australian and British knitting instructions differ from American knitting instructions. There is talk about tension (Australia, UK) and gauge (American). This means the number of stitches and rows a test piece must measure if the overall garment is to end up the right size. That is often a problem, especially for beginners. There is "casting on" (both) but then there is "casting off" (Australia, UK) or "binding off" (American). There are also other differences.
I wrote a pattern for something else recently. It was going to America so I wrote it in American. The recipient merely accepted it. I assume she is aware of the differences in language (she runs a yarn company) but no comment was made. I am sure something would have been said if I had written it the way I consider to be "right" - right for me.
Then, this morning I was sent another pattern to look at. It is written in German. There is a chart as well. I can read the chart with no difficulty. I am used to that particular charting method. I can actually read the pattern as well. This is not because I am particularly good at reading knitting instructions in German but because the pattern is written in a standard way and I know enough of the vocabulary to work out the meaning. If I wanted to make it (and I do not because I am allergic to the patterns of other people) then I could do it.
I also have a book of Japanese knitting patterns. It is no secret that I do not read Japanese but I can read those patterns. The Japanese have been wise. They chart all their patterns. They use western style numerals and a standard method of charting everything. If you learn the basics of this you can follow any pattern "written in Japanese" or, more accurately, written in the Japanese style. It really is much simpler. There is a picture there in front of you of what it should look like. All the numbers are there for you.
As a westerner who does not read Japanese I would need to apply common knitting knowledge to make a garment of course but I believe I could do it. I have seen confident knitters do it.
It really is a pity I cannot draw. I could make a diagram. A picture would be so much easier. It really would be worth a thousand words.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Our ABC is under fire

for suggesting it wants to cut the amount of time devoted to local SANFL football. There have been howls of protest in the media. Letters have been written. Threats have been made. The matter has even been mentioned in the Senate. It is apparently a major disaster, a breach of the ABC's commitment to local content and a denial of the rights of thousands to watch their beloved game on television.
There have also been some quiet comments about how wonderful it would be to have less sport on television. They tend to be very quiet. You can cause a riot here in Australia by suggesting that sport is not important.
Sport is a major industry here. It employs a lot of people. It is given massive coverage in the media. It receives a great deal of financial assistance at all levels of government. A minoirty of people play it.
We are told, "Australians love their sport." There can be a major disaster and the ABC will still have a sporting event or incident as the lead story. SBS (our Special Broadcasting Service) is not quite as bad but it can still happen even there. The ABC is supposed to cover national and international news. It is not a news service for sport but it is often treated as such. The SBS is supposed to concentrate on international content. It is not a news service for sport either but it also treated as such. Sport is important to many people but I suspect that the loss of some sport on television would be a matter of no great regret to many others. There is so much of it that nobody is able to watch all of it, especially when stations have competing events.
Surveys have apparently shown however that more people use libraries every week than attend a sports match. Despite this the amount of money spent on libraries is less. Libraries provide far more than just the books they used to provide. Ours has CDs, DVDs, magazines, a photocopier, a bank of computers for public use as well as a range of audio books for both the print impaired and the general public. It has meeting rooms used for book groups, craft groups and other activities. There is story telling for pre-schoolers, library activities for schools, craft in school holidays and teenage activities of all sorts. There are public speakers and book launches. It is a busy place, a community meeting and exchange point.
It constantly struggles for funds. It needs to be twice the size it is. In an effort to provide new reading material the library recently exchanged some books in our library for some books in another library in the same network. There are plans to make the network statewide in an effort to reduce costs still further but still provide people with reading matter. If something similar was suggested for sport there would be outrage.
Readers take it quietly. Many of them are unaware of what is going on. Nothing is said in the media. The library staff have been told not to comment. I just happen to know them particularly well. Each one of them knows that libraries are in danger of further cuts. They already rely on volunteers to run the home library service to the housebound elderly, volunteers to re-shelve books and people like myself to help someone out when there is just one person behind the desk.
A wise government would spend a little less on watching sport and a little more on libraries. They could encourage people to walk to and from their library. It would be exercise. Readers might find a biography or autobiography of a sports person, a book about football or soccer or cricket or mountaineering. It may encourage them to seek out places where these things happen. They might even decide to join in.
Who knows what might happen then?

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Parliamentary privilege

is a curious thing. It allows politicians to make statements in the parliamentary chamber without having to face the consequences the rest of us would face if those statements libel someone. It is a privilege which needs to be used with great caution. Politicians are aware of that and rarely abuse it.
There is currently debate here as to whether one of our Senators abused parliamentary privilege by naming a priest who is accused of rape of another priest. The alleged incident took place decades ago.
I have not met the alleged abuser but he denies the allegations. Two of his parishioners also spoke out in his defence.
I have met the alleged victim. My three meetings with him have been brief. I do not claim to know him well. He struck me as a decent man. It was not his choice to go public.
That choice was made by the Senator in question, a man who is well known for speaking his mind. He offered the church an option, "remove the priest until the matter is fully investigated or face the consequences". The church has chosen to face the consequences. They claim the Senator has abused parliamentary privilege by naming the priest.
There was heated debate about this among a number of commuters yesterday. I could not help overhearing what they had to say. They obviously know one another well enough to debate politics. Two felt the priest should not have been named the other four felt it was the right thing to do. Not one of them fully understood the concept of parliamentary privilege.
Whether the Senator was right or wrong however the church was wrong. It claims that the delays have all been on the alleged victim's side and that the alleged victim has "not been ready" to take the matter further. If this was an isolated case it might be possible to believe this. It is not an isolated case. There are many other cases where there are similar delays. The churches involved are still very powerful organisations. They wield considerable influence.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of the cases the churches are also in positions of power and privilege. They, like the Senator, cannot be seen to abuse the power or the privileges they have.
The priest should have been asked to quietly step aside until the matter was resolved. It would have been better for everyone.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

I am prowling reluctantly off

to the dentist this morning. I have spoken elsewhere of my reluctance to visit the dentist so no more about that.
My reluctance this morning is for other reasons as well. The Senior Cat (my father) finally agreed that yes, going to the doctor might be a good idea. I knew he had bronchitis. He was also running a temperature. He is too old (88) to be taking risks with such things, especially as he has mild asthma as well.
The doctor, as I knew she would, growled nicely at him for not coming earlier. Yes, last Friday would have been a good idea. She would have fitted him in somewhere. She gave him antibiotics, told him to drink a lot of water and to take it easy.
Although we usually avoid antibiotics if we possibly can my father will take them. At his age it is much less of an issue than it would be for me. He will drink the water. He probably will not "take it easy". He detests taking it easy. It is not his style. He was brought up on the great Presbyterian/Calvinistic work ethic. If you are awake and it is daylight then you should be "doing something useful".
I know. I am rather the same. I probably caught it from him. My brother is the same. (My two sisters are less so. ) It is not a bad way to be unless you are ill. It is not a bad way to be if you can relax sometimes.
The problem is that my father is likely to believe he can "do something useful" in my absence. He has done this in the past. It is because he is a thoughtful parent. He is not a small child. I cannot forbid him to do things although I will ask him not to do something.
I think I may have to find some small diversionary "useful" thing which needs to be done while resting. The question is, what? Letter writing perhaps? Paper and pen still have their uses!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Yesterday was clean up

day at the Showgrounds. After all the fun and excitement of having taken in the exhibits, watched them being judged, put up the display and watched people marvelling over the work it was time to hand the work back.
Most people came and collected their work quite cheerfully. If they had won a prize it was a bonus but by no means all of them expected that.
"It was my first time," someone told me shyly as I passed over a child's pullover. It had not won a prize but I suggested she tried again.
One exhibitor arrived unaware she had won a prize at all. She had been unable to get to the show as her children had been ill. Her squeal of pleasure caused several people to turn their heads.
One knitter grabbed her garment and left without a word. It had not won a prize. The knitter who followed her had not won a prize either. She had entered socks. It was her first time. Could I please tell her why she had not won a prize? I showed her some prize winning socks and explained what she needed to aim for. When she looked hesitant I said, "The woman who made these socks is over 80. She has been knitting socks longer than you have been alive. Don't give up." She smiled then and said she would try again.
A neighbour came to get one woman's work. "She's 91 and does not get out much." Maybe not but the toes of her socks are still excellent. I wish I could do as well.
Much later in the morning the woman who won "Best in Show" came to pick up her garment. She still looked stunned by her win.
There is no requirement in this show that people design their own but she had. It was a pullover for a child in a Sanquhar pattern in cream and brown. She had researched the pattern she used and added an explanation. The stitches were absolutely even. The finishing was exquisite. It was a small work of art.
I handed it over reluctantly. We talked about what she might do next year. She was thinking her next challenge might be a "wedding ring" shawl. For those who do not know of these they are shawls so fine you can actually pull them through a wedding ring.
To attempt such a shawl would be a challenge for any knitter. It will be even more of a challenge for this woman. She has Parkinson's disease. I do not doubt she will achieve her goal.

Monday, 12 September 2011

I could not have written

anything on the morning of 12th September 2001. Here Downunder our day is ahead of the day in Europe and the Americas. It was much later in the previous day when we learned of what had happened in New York.
It was several hours after that before the mother of my godchildren managed to get a message to me telling me that her husband was not at work in one of those buildings. He had flown out of New York earlier in the morning. Would I, she asked, let her parents know they were safe? She had not been able to reach them.
I did. I heard her mother scream and then start to sob in the background and her father say, "Thankyou Cat" before he also broke down. Later we all agreed we felt guilty for feeling some sense of relief even though we were shocked.
I had to wait two more days before I knew that two other people I knew were safe. They were not friends, rather relatives of friends. All the same I worried. My father worried with me.
My father is old enough to have seen WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Israeli border conflicts, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He no longer watches the news. He skims the conflict reports in the papers we get. Conflict worries him even more than natural disasters.
My father is not a pacifist. He says he would still do what he could to defend his family. I do not suppose I am a pacifist either. I will fight for the things I believe in. My weapon of choice would be words rather than a gun or a knife. So, why could I not have written anything?
My father tells me he can remember very little about my mother's illness. He can remember almost nothing of her death or her funeral service. He has no real recollection of the months following it all when he spent hours in the garden or just sitting outside staring into space but did not enter his woodworking shed.
My father seemed to "come good" quite suddenly. Someone 'phoned. They needed some timber cut up for an important piece of work at the cathedral.
"Could you help?" this man asked my father. He did not know my father well but he knew my father has a circular saw.
My father opened the shed. They did the work. My father returned to his shed. Someone had needed him.
It was several days after 9/11 when my friend in New York was able to reach me again. She thanked me for 'phoning her parents and said she had now been in touch herself. She had reassured them of her safety. Things started to look a little better then. Although she did not say the actual words I heard her saying, "I needed you then."
We all need to be needed.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

A dear friend in

America is dying. Sue has a matter of weeks to live. She was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer over two years ago and has fought it hard ever since.
I first "met" her when I put a request up on a knitting list. I was looking to swap some Australian yarn for some American knitting magazines. At the time it was difficult to buy the magazines here and a swap seemed a solution. I wanted them for a late friend of mine who could do very little but knit. Sue helped out, as did a number of other people.
And Sue went on helping out, as did a number of other people. Until Margaret died Sue arranged a subscription to the magazine. Margaret used it to the full - much of it for teaching a group of young knitters.
Those young knitters are now my responsibility. They stopped meeting at the hospital after Margaret died but they meet in other places, mostly in one particular home which is wheelchair accessible and has a large family area where they can gather easily.
Sue knows all this. She has followed the progress of the group with interest. She has sent boxes of left over yarn, yarn that cannot be bought here in Australia. The group has tried all this and managed to learn much from her generosity. She has listened to their joys and woes in e-mails and always replied.
The group lost a member and Sue wept with us. The group has gone to summer schools and Sue has cheered them on. She has rejoiced at prizes won and good academic results. The group looks on her as part of their "family". They made her an "honorary Australian" and sent her a copy of the "Green and Gold" - a very Australian cookbook. When she admitted she had never finished a pair of socks one of the girls knitted her a pair. We had to guess the size -and they fitted perfectly. She wore the shawl they made her to a big knitting event in America - and it went with her when she went interstate for experimental treatment at one of the universities.
From beginning knitters the three boys and two girls left in the group have developed more confidence than many adults. They are about to welcome another boy into the group for the year he will be spending in Australia. They know what Sue's situation is and they have reacted by sending more e-mails. Those e-mails are warm, chatty and positive. They made the decision not to tell her negative. They told me, "Just the good stuff Cat!"
On Friday not one but two boxes arrived from Sue. Inside them was yarn.
Yesterday, with the mother of one boy, I unpacked them. There was felting yarn for them to try and for one boy in particular to use. There was knitting yarn too. There were all sorts of odds and ends for them to try. They can make "beanies" or caps from most of it. They will make them for people in need because Sue's generosity has helped them learn to do that. We will teach them some new skills as part of the process.
We told the kids what she had sent and each of them reacted with the thought, "She is still thinking of us even when she is now so ill?" They are finding it hard.
At her request they have already written the piece her pastor will read at her funeral service. It is a thoughtful and incredibly mature piece of writing for kids in their mid-teens. What comes across is the message, "You cared about us."
We will miss her when she does go but it is going to be a wonderful way to be remembered.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

We had an extended visit from

Pluto the cat yesterday.
Although he owns the humans on the corner of our short street he also visits our back garden almost daily. He may also visit other gardens. I do not know. Cats do not tell you such things.
Occasionally he will wander in and out of our house using our old cat flap.
Yesterday was cold and showery. Pluto strolled in just before lunch. He came and "talked" to me before settling himself in the windowsill. He then spent some time staring outside.
When we had eaten I looked to see if he was still in the window. No. Oh right, on the sofa.
He was tucked cosily between two cushions in a classic cat sleeping pose. He was curled in a little ball with his paw over his face and the tip of his tail resting on the tip of his nose. And that is where he stayed until late in the afternoon. Eventually he rose, cleaned himself (yet again) and left through the cat-flap.
My father and I are amused by this. Real cats (as opposed to the one who writes this blog) just move in. They take over. They invite themselves. They assume they are welcome. It is all so very different from the way in which humans normally behave.
What do cats think when they do this sort of thing -and how do they think it?

Friday, 9 September 2011

Last year I wrote

a major submission for a state government inquiry.
I have written such submissions before. Some of them have been for state governments and others have been for the federal government.
They have only been written on request. They are most certainly not written for the fun of it. Writing one is, for me, much the same as writing an academic research paper. A submission will usually include statistics and references from research I have led or been involved in. They have varied in length. I work on the principle that "shorter is better" simply because a shorter submission is more likely to be read. I know submissions, even those that are requested, do not always get read. They will almost certainly be glanced at but they will not get read. Sometimes they will be read and questions will be asked.
I know some, perhaps most, of mine have been read. Over the years I have appeared in front of government committees. Some of those committees have been casual affairs, others have been more like a court of law. I have appeared in court too. I have sworn oaths and been required to sign pieces of paper requiring me to keep silent. I have been questioned - and not always kindly. Politicians and public servants have argued with me. It has all been part of the submissions process.
Last year's submission received a pro-forma reply four months after submission. I know they have it. That is all I know. I checked with several other people who were also asked to make submissions. They have had the same pro-forma reply. No further action has been taken. I think it is unlikely that action will be taken. The submissions were about communication needs and information pathways. The inquiry was about "social inclusion" among people with disabilities. The government will file this information in a waste paper bin and endeavour to forget they ever received it.
There is information governments cannot afford.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

This is not just for the knitters

among you!
It is the link to an extraordinary knitting project travelling around England at the present time. (I do not know whether it is going further afield.) It was sent to me by a keen knitter and is, naturally, of even greater interest to knitters.
The project must have taken an enormous amount of organisation, time, skill and care. I do not know where all the patterns came from - or even whether there were pattens. I note they now want keen knitters to make a wheelbarrow or a lawnmower - presumably to go next to the knitted garden shed. No doubt they will add other flowers and vegetables to those already there. It has taken a lot of yarn - and yes, they did have a grant but it would not have covered their costs by any means.
All those things are quite extraordinary - as is the skill with which much of it is obviously knitted. There is plenty of imagination there - just look at the beehive and the bees or hunt for the ladybirds and the birds.
And there is something even better than all those things. It is a group effort, a community effort. People came together to create something.
And now I will stop burbling on and send you prowling over to look because I believe we need more such projects. Please go and have a look and tell me and others what you think!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

I buy the books for

the small library of our knitting guild. It is not an onerous task. I quite like keeping an eye on various sites to find out what is coming up and what knitters think of it. I like listening to the suggestions made by some members of the guild as to which books we should buy and why we should do it.
My love of knitting books dates back to my early teens. Quite by chance I found a book in our local library. It was called "Knitter's Almanac" and was written by a woman called "Elizabeth Zimmerman".
I did not know it then but the book was considered to be radical.
"Once upon a time there was an old woman who loved to knit. She lived with her Old Man in the middle of a woods in a curious one-room schoolhouse which was rather untidy, and full of wool." Thus starts January - in which instructions are given for an "Aran sweater".
The instructions are not of the "using smaller needles cast on x number of stitches" type. Rather, they are a guide to the construction of each item. As the author says, "Directions in knitting 'books' are fine , but their writers have little space to tell you of the small dodges that make all the difference."
I was fascinated. As a "don't tell me what to do" sort of teenager this was my sort of book. The book disappeared from view again. I did not forget it but there were times when I wondered whether it was a book from dreams rather than reality.
Eventually I found a small paperback version of the book on a remainder table in a bookshop that did not sell craft books. What it was doing there I will never know. The man who ran the shop was regarded as a "character" who had no time for such things. Much to my mother's displeasure I bought the book.
"You will never knit anything from that!" she told me. She was wrong. The basic instructions for something called a pi-shawl are in there and I have since knitted more than one of those. I can do it now without looking at the instructions but I needed them to begin with.
And that brings me to an issue with knitting books. I no longer follow instructions. I stopped following instructions after I read this book the first time. Oh, I consulted instructions but I changed things to suit myself. I experimented. It was not knitting confidence that did this - to the contrary. I had little confidence when I set out. More often than not I was hampered by a lack of the right sort of yarn - when I could get yarn at all. It was a matter of making do with what I had or could get.
Along the way I also managed to learn that there are some "rules" if you want to succeed but, within those rules, you can experiment and make something unique rather than a clone of the pattern in front of you.
It was frustrating, sometimes infuriating, at the time but it taught me a lot. For many members of our knitting guild however it is a different story. They know the book. There is a copy in the library. I saw to that. Some of them have read it, or parts of it. They do not knit that way. They see a pattern they think they like. They borrow it or buy it. They buy yarn. They buy needles if necessary. They knit the pattern exactly as it tells them to do it. "It's a pity they did a V neck. I would have preferred a round neck" and "I don't like those shoulders" are common sorts of complaint. Some knitters have problems adjusting the length, especially the sleeve length. Yes, you do have to understand your knitting to do these things sometimes. It is not always simple.
When these problems occur I think of one small book written in a distinctive style by an English woman who married a German and migrated to America. I suspect I would have liked her. She did not follow the rules. She experimented. She had imagination.
I am taking a day off my regular work to demonstrate knitting at our annual Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society show. It should be interesting.
I suspect what Elizabeth Zimmerman has to say about knitting also applies to a good deal of life.

There are bookmarks and then

there are bookmarks.
You know what I mean don't you? There are times when a reference book I am using will look like a hedgehog. There will be seemingly endless scraps of paper peeking out between the pages. Oh yes, I use bookmarks.
People have given me bookmarks on occasion. They have come in all shapes and colours. Some of them have been just cardboard, others have been cloth, one was leather with a fringed end. There was a fancy embroidered butterfly shaped bookmark that was much too elaborate for me.
There was the cardboard cat made by the Whirlwind that I actually used until my sister accidentally threw it out. There was the longish bookmark with the weights at each end which was supposed to keep a paper back open. (It did not.)
My father has an embroidered - but very masculine - bookmark in his desk dictionary. Like me he also uses a hedgehog of paper scraps.
At the library there is always a container on the loans desk. In it there will be a variety of lost bookmarks. They keep one another company until someone rescues one or more of them.
According to another young friend "they like living at the library more because they get to play with the books at night"!
And now it seems there might be some useful bookmarks. One of the internet book companies has taken to popping one in a parcel. They are printed with useful things. One has the Morse Code alphabet on one side and the NATO phonetic alphabet on the other. I might need those in an emergency. Another has basic piano chords one one side and basic guitar chords on the other. It could be useful in the unlikely event I ever take up a musical instrument. There is a metric to imperial and imperial to metric length mark. Now that really could be useful. This household still uses imperial at times. Yesterday the bookmark was fahrenheit to celsius on one side and litres to gallons on the other - useful when talking to friends in America.
Now I hope they have done one with a Braille alphabet and the manual alphabet (or even the one handed and two handed alphabets?).
I can think of some other potentially useful bookmarks as well. Will I use them? Well yes, of course I will - but they might not go in a book.

Monday, 5 September 2011

There is a car

parked opposite our driveway. It has been there for several days now. There is another parked a little further down the street. It is an almost permanent fixture. There are other cars parked along my regular pedalling route.
These cars do not live in driveways, carports or garages. There is no room for them. They now live in the street.
This is not legal but nobody bothers to enforce the law. It is too difficult to do that. Occasionally, if a car is causing a hazard, the local council will leave a notice asking for it to be removed - or risk being towed away. Even that is difficult.
There was one vehicle which was parked just past a "blind corner". It was there for weeks. A number of people complained about it - especially when two cars came within millimetres of colliding. Everyone believed it had been abandoned. It was there for so long the tyres had gone flat, the windscreen was covered in cobwebs and council notices. We felt sure the council would tow it away. Nothing was done.
Then, one morning, it had gone. It was parked on the lawn of the house across the street from where it had been standing. One of the neighbours, someone I know slightly, told me the owner of the vehicle had been furious at being forced to move it.
It seems to me that there are two major reasons for the increase in street parking. The first is that more people have cars. There is one household I know where there are five cars and four people. Many of the households along my pedalling route have two or three cars and two have four cars. Mum has one. Dad has one. The two eldest children have one each.
The other is that as older houses get knocked down two houses or "homettes" or "duplexes" or "dual dwellings" will be put where there was once just one house. This often means that there is almost no parking space (and not much garden) so people just leave their vehicles in the street.
It is not a particularly safe practice. It is not a desirable one. Nothing is going to stop it.
If we still owned a car we would have had extreme difficulty in entering and exiting our driveway while the car opposite is parked where it is. I doubt the owner knows we do not have a car. They probably do not care. It is their good fortune we do not have one and have not backed into the side of their vehicle. Such things happen.
My brother's vehicle, legally parked in the street in another city, was swiped by a bus recently. The bus company has paid for the repairs but the driver was reportedly trying to avoid a car which was illegally parked on the other side of the street where there is not supposed to be any parking at all.
Of course owning a car is convenient but I wonder whether all these cars are really necessary. It seems to me there is a difference.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

We need to learn to value

I thought of this again when Vanessa Gebbie tweeted the question, "Writers - do we want or need soundtracks to our e-books."
I do not have any e-books. If I had e-books I would expect them to be silent. I like silence. I can be content with my own thoughts. I do not need an endless stream of radio chatter or music around me.
When I was living in a university hall of residence there were students who would "flip the switch" as soon as they walked into their rooms. This was not the light switch but the switch on their radios. When it became possible to listen to music or the radio on the go they were no doubt among the first to get the devices by which this can be done.
If you go out and about now it is possible to observe people who seem to be permanently attached to their i-pods, MP3 players or whatever the most recent development is. When I travel on the train there is almost always a constant hissing, thumping beat in the background. When I am waiting at traffic lights there will almost always be a car gently shaking to the beat of something which is still called "music". It is just a noise to me. I do not appreciate it.
I have tried. My nephews despair of me - although even they draw the line at much of the most recent "music".
I cannot work against that sort of noise either. I try not to frequent shops which broadcast a radio station or the most recent sounds at a very high decibel level. Even shopping in the local supermarket irritates me because they broadcast a commercial radio station where there are repeated squeals of apparent delight from people who win a CD or a few dollars for tuning in.
Our local independent bookshop also has music in the background. It used to be quiet classical music for the most part. The new owner has different tastes. She plays things that even other customers have mentioned as being "intrusive". Music in a bookshop should surely not intrude on your thoughts?
I suppose our house is different. We do not turn the radio on. We have a small battery operated one for emergency purposes and there is one which is part of the ancient sound system adjacent to the dining area.
There is a collection of records there my mother occasionally listened to but they have scarcely been touched since she died. We are not often in that part of the house. My father and I have some CDs but my father is usually in the garden or the shed. In the evening he prefers to read - with silence in the background.
I do know music. There are things I like very much but I rarely want them to intrude into my listening space.
Even without allowing music to intrude into my listening space I am not sure I am fully aware of the value of silence.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

There is extreme frustration

in this household right now. The washing machine decided to play games this morning. It does this sometimes. It is an intermittent problem and, of course, when the technician looked at it he declared there was nothing wrong.
I am now in the process of re-washing the clothes and hoping to get rid of the soapy scum which did not drain properly the first time. This annoys me. I hate wasting water.
Our water bill is higher than we would like. We use rain water from the tanks where we can but we do not have it connected to the house. Connecting it would only save a very little because the sewerage supply is the major part of the bill and the cost of connecting it would be far greater than we would save.
We live on the usual size Australian suburban block of land. Our water consumption is about that of two people on a much smaller block of land. We are doing something right but mornings like this do not help. They also waste time.
I remember my mother having to fill a copper, light a wood chip fire underneath it and then wash the clothes by hand. When we did get a 32volt household generator my father bought a "spin-dryer". My mother thought this was marvellous. I did too because it had usually been my job to stand there turning the handle of the old wringer. Both my mother and I would be drenching wet with perspiration in summer. The temperature might be over the old century mark outside but the only way to heat the water was in the copper. The spin-dryer did not prevent the need for that but it was much faster at wringing the water from the clothes.
Now though I expect the machine to do it all. It is designed to do it all. You put the clothes and the washing powder in. At the end of it you are supposed to be able to take clean clothes out.
I know I am spoilt by this. I am spoilt by being able to flick a switch and get something called electricity, something I cannot see or hear.
I have bread baking in a bread machine and I used a microwave oven to heat the milk at breakfast time. Right now this computer is working using electricity too. I have an expectation that all these things will work and go on working. I have no right to that expectation.
But, I am still frustrated when they do not work as they should.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Keeping a promise

is important. My father hates to break a promise to do something. It worries him. I am much the same.
I accept there are times when it becomes impossible, when a situation changes in such a way that it is no longer possible to do something. I can remember promising my youngest nephew that the next time he came we would go to the tiny playground around the corner so he could try the new climbing frame. The next time came and it was pouring with rain. We did not go. He was sensible enough, even at age three, to accept it was not a good idea. We did something else together instead.
But there are other sort of ongoing promises that do need to be kept. Promises that not everyone may not even know about. They may be the most important promises of all.
Yesterday someone I know was selling "badges" in the shopping centre. There is nothing new in that. Charities are so desperate for financial support that there is someone there trying to collect for charity almost every day.
I usually ignore them. It is not that I do not care. I do care and I often feel strongly about the cause for which they are collecting. I am aware however that they are charged a hefty fee by the owner of the shopping centre. Frequently I see the same few people collecting and I know they are paid to collect. I am aware that as little as little as 18c in the dollar may reach the charity and that even less may reach the people it is intended to help.
Yesterday however the collection was for an organisation called "Legacy". Australians will know Legacy. It assists the families of men and women who have been severely injured or died on active duty in the Australian armed forces. Post World War II Legacy had an enormous role to play in helping families cope and care for each other. Since then Australian soldiers have seen active service in other places too. The need to help has never gone away.
Legacy was assisting a child I once taught. When he moved into my class a member of Legacy alerted me and asked me to let him know if there was ever an occasion on which their assistance was needed.
Mark and his mother were fiercely independent. Mark would not accept being on the "free books" scheme. He would "earn" those doing extra jobs around the school.
Toward the end of the year however there was an educational excursion for the entire upper school. It came at a cost. Mark thought he might not be able to go. I contacted the Legacy representative. Knowing how Mark felt about "charity" I asked if he could he find Mark enough work to let him earn the right to go? Not a problem. Mark earned the right to go.
"He said he promised my Dad he would help look after us," Mark told me.
I went to university with another boy who had lost his father in Vietnam. Legacy had seen him through school and was keeping a watchful eye on him through university. Like Mark he would earn the extras he needed by working but Legacy had helped him find work.
"My Mum was left with three of us and Legacy promised they would help. They have helped too. There was always someone I could go to and that meant as much as any money."
Legacy helped to organise a funeral I attended last year. They had assisted the soldier's widow right through her illness because there was no family. She told me, "They promised you know and they have kept that promise." She left what she had to Legacy.
And yesterday I gave something to Legacy because Legacy has kept a promise. It is one occasion on which the owner of the shopping centre will not demand a fee for a collecting point. He will not dare. Legacy still has a job to do - and a promise to keep.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

So the "Malaysian solution" did not

I never believed that the Australian government's plans to send 800 boat arrivals to Malaysia and take in 4000 "genuine refugees" would work as a means of deterring boat arrivals. The High Court has told the government that they cannot do it.
At some point I will read the judgments and find out what their reasoning was. I have no doubt it puts an end to most "off-shore processing" of "asylum claims". This will just further encourage "people smugglers". There is a lot of money to be made in this business.
We did have a drop in boat arrivals at one time. It had nothing to do with the state of internal conflict in some countries, indeed the situation was far worse in some areas than it is now. One of the main reasons for the drop was something called a "temporary protection visa" or TPV. A TPV allows someone to stay in another country until the situation in their own improves to a point where it is deemed (relatively) safe for the person to return home.
There are arguments against these, the chief being that it leaves people in a state of uncertainty and unable to make plans for their future. There is something in that but is that sufficient reason to drop the idea?
I rather like the idea of TPVs. It does not stop asylum being granted to anyone who has a genuine fear of persecution but it does reduce the number of people permanently removing much needed assets and skills from their country of origin. A country like Australia could lose a few doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers etc and still manage. Most people would not even notice they had gone. It is a different story in some troubled areas where there can be one doctor for a vast area and far more potential patients than anyone could hope to handle or where a teacher has a class of well over one hundred (and only boys at that). Losing one doctor and one teacher in those circumstances has a massive impact on the population.
If we make it easy for people with those qualifications to come to Australia then we are doing the troubled country a great disservice. We are not "helping refugees" we are hindering development and inviting an increase in an already massive problem. We are draining countries of the very resources they need in order to try and recover.
I know there is much more to it than that but I look at some of the people I know who go and give a few weeks service every year. They tell me of how great the need is and how some of the most skilled, educated people have simply left the country and sought asylum elsewhere. Of course a number of them fear for their safety and have genuine cause to leave but many others simply want a better life elsewhere. I would want that too.
We could also assist those on TPVs who have no skills to gain skills or others to upgrade their skills so they can use them on their return. The cost would be no more than keeping someone in detention for a number of years and the end result would be a good deal more useful.
I doubt the present government will even consider the idea. It was the idea of a previous government and therefore unacceptable to them. We are in the present mess for the same reason. It is going to go on being a mess and it means that some of those patiently waiting in border camps will go on waiting. They will die there and their grandchildren, even great-grandchildren will be born there. I wish we could accept some of them.
Rant over - but I do care about people risking their lives and others who have been waiting for years.