Wednesday, 30 November 2011

"Bread and surpluses" or...

"bread and circuses"?
I suspect it is a bit of both. The Federal Treasurer is desperately trying to deliver a surplus before the next election. It is all about politics, not about good financial management. Good financial management would not have wasted billions of dollars on a number of ridiculous schemes, on short term measures that were designed to shore up voter support. All sides of politics do that sort of thing. All governments spend money they do not have in places where they should not spend it. We all like a little bit of the resulting cake.
This time the government seems to be relying on the Reserve Bank to get them out of trouble. The Reserve Bank Board will be criticised if they do not do the "right thing" with respect to interest rates - that is, if they do not do what the government wants them to do. They may not.
The government can then blame the bank for the problem though - win, win situation for the government.
All this is much too complicated for me. My finances are relatively simple. I budget within my means. I do not borrow money. This is not necessarily good management but necessity and good fortune. My father does not have a mortgage on the house - although it took much longer to buy one than it did for most of his generation because he was required to teach in country schools and pay exorbitant rent for inadequate housing instead of paying off a mortgage in the city. He no longer owns a car - but we do attempt to "pay" other people when they give us a lift. We have managed to learn to live within our means and, short of a major disaster, we will manage.
Governments, of all persuasions, do not seem to learn that lesson. They will blame everyone but themselves for financial mismanagement.
This time however it seems more ridiculous than usual. There has been what has been called a "Global Financial Crisis" and international events are influencing the economy even more than usual. The government is now cutting billions of dollars of expenditure in much needed areas after having spent billions in unnecessary areas. Apparently all this has been "good for the economy". Apparently it is absolutely essential to have a "surplus". Why? I do not understand this.
Perhaps I need to go back to school and do arithmetic again?

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A £400,000 advance is

too much for any book. Does the media actually have this correct? Penguin is supposed to be a reputable publishing company (although I will reserve judgment on Book Country). However I think £40,000 would be more than most authors get for even blockbuster "sure to be a best seller and likely to be made into a box office success film" type books. There is something wrong here. Pippa Middleton's sister may have married the then world's most eligible bachelor but that does not mean that Pippa Middleton can write books. Indeed, someone else may well do the actual writing. I wonder what they will get paid?
If the reports are correct then I feel - annoyed - angry - disappointed? I do not know. I do know it is not right. People have always traded on family, personal and "political" connections. They always will. We all do it - but few of us do it in such a blatantly obvious way. Penguin is as much at fault here as Pippa Middleton.
More seriously though, the publishing industry is said to be in serious difficulties. There has been a wave of "reprints", something I am assuming the industry can do cheaply but research suggests will sell. I have no doubt that authors get very little for reprints.
And, new books are harder to sell. It is harder for an author, even an established author, to sell a new book. For first time authors it is, naturally, harder still. Pippa Middleton will not need to worry too much. The publicity machine will kick in overtime for her. So will the media. It will not be because of what she is but who she is. Yes, unfair. That is life. Get used to it.
Imagine though what forty good books for children could have done for the imaginations of the future. There are other books on parties and party planning. I have seen them in our library. There are never enough books for children.

Monday, 28 November 2011

The booklist brought back

by the Whirlwind this weekend was depressing. She gave it to me with the words "....(her teacher) said to talk to you. We have to read four - for next year."
There are twenty fiction titles listed and the girls (the Whirlwind goes to a single sex school) are expected to read four of them over the summer. There will apparently be follow up work at school next year. Vampires, war, refugees and mental illness feature heavily as subject matter in the list. They are obviously considered to be "popular" titles. There has also been an attempt to appeal to boys. I also know that, for the Whirlwind, four will be insufficient. She will feel she should read all of them. I groan inwardly.
"Oh and I forgot to give you this," the Whirlwind says and produces another note from the teacher.
I know the teacher. She is well aware I am not the Whirlwind's mother but also knows that I provide homework assistance, reading matter and female advice when requested.
"...may have read... rest not likely to appeal... suggest..."
Right. Her teacher knows her well and is suggesting an alternative. I read the list again.
"All right you have read three of them and you might like those two. We can probably get them at the library. You don't need to read the others unless you want to."
"But everyone else will..."
"I doubt it. Most people will only read four. Mrs.... has made a suggestion for a special project just for you and a couple of other people who really like to read. Go and look on the computer and find Carnegie Medal." I tell her how to spell it.
A few minutes later she has found a list of Carnegie Medal winners.
"Oh, I have read lots of these."
I tell her to look up the Australian Children's Book of the Year and Newbery (American) equivalents as well. There are more in those lists she has read and more I know she will enjoy reading.
"Well let's see if you can read twenty more of them by the end of the holidays. You will like most of them."
The challenge clearly appeals to her and I am happy to help.
On the way out the door though she turned around and said to me,
"Why don't they tell us to read more of those books?"
Why indeed?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The "library group"

met for the last time yesterday - the last time this year. We will start again in January. We meet once a month. We knit and, because we meet in a library, we often talk about books and related matters.
There is nothing very intellectual about the group. They do not necessarily read prize winning novels, indeed I know most of them do not. They are more likely to talk about a new knitting book. Anything filed under the Dewey number 746.43 (knitting) is likely to interest them. Books in the surrounding areas of design, patchwork etc are also likely to interest them. Whenever we meet the shelves in that area will be relieved of some of their contents. This is a group which uses books.
I am struck by the difference between the members of this group and the members of the other knitting group I belong to. The other group is, supposedly, the premier knitting group in the state. The purpose of the group is supposed to be to further the art and craft of knitting. (For those of you who do not knit please believe me when I say knitting has a rich and varied history and there are many branches of the craft.) I am, for my sins, the librarian of this group. I buy the books and I try to keep the shelves tidy and keep an eye on the borrowing.
I growl when people try to breach copyright - something that was rife before I took over. I also despair. They want "pattern" books. They want books where they need do no more than follow the instructions and produce something that looks "just like the picture" - sometimes even down to the colour.
Of course there are a few who want technical books, who are adventurous and brave enough to strike out on their own. Most however lack the confidence for this. They should not. Many of them are skilled knitters. Even then some of them will say, "I can't do socks" or "I can't follow a chart" or "I have never got the hang of cables" and "I could never do lace".
I have tried all these things. I am wearing socks I made for myself right now. I can follow a chart - especially useful if you do not read something like Estonian or Icelandic. I can do cables and lace too. All the members of the library group would try any of these things. They know that they can get help from each other and from the books in the library.
I also know I still have a lot to learn about knitting. I have been knitting since I was about eight but, even if I lived to eight hundred, there would be more to learn. There would, I hope, always be books there that might help me - as well as people.
Some people obviously do not feel the need for this sort of information. They are happy and content with the way things are and with what they already know. I am not. I always want to know more.
Yesterday someone who had not been to the group before came and sat there. She did not say much although we tried to include her in the conversation. Someone showed her how to do something new. We also said, "You will come back when we start meeting again next year?" She nodded.
I went to borrow something else and found her at the shelves housing 746.43 and related material. She smiled at me and said,
"I did enjoy myself you know. I think I will like the group. You really use books and I wanted a group like that."
So did I. It will be good to have her there.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Nicola Morgan has been

talking about "Bruised Soul Syndrome" - that feeling you have when you get rejection after rejection for the book you have poured your heart and soul into. (Interestingly Nicola is also re-publishing her "Mondays are Red" as an e-book on Monday - prowl over to her blog "Help I need a Publisher" for details.)
It does not matter if an agent says, "Indeed, I would encourage you to try elsewhere." That agent has rejected you. In a way such a response can be worse than an outright "no" because it suggests "yes you might be good enough but I do not want you".
I should be used to that sort of rejection. I had hundreds of them when I was looking for work. I knew what was wrong but they were things I could not do anything about. Potential employers saw me as "over-qualified" and "not a team player" and a physical liability.
My tertiary qualifications came about more by accident than design - oops, suddenly I was over-qualified. Going in another direction did not help either. It just "over-qualified" me still more. I could not convince anyone I was prepared to start at the very bottom and work my way up. I was not, after all, a "team player" because I had embarked upon a major project of my own. Oh yes, they liked the idea all right, even said they admired what I was doing, but they did not want to take that on. It was too much for them to handle. I showed far too much initiative. Employers may tell you that they want "initiative" but they do not want too much of it in someone they view as "inexperienced". Add "keyboard and mobility challenged" (as someone kindly put it) and you are not going to get the job however well you perform at interview. There is a point at which you do give up. (I gave up and created my own job.)
Submitting a book to agents is much the same. You end up with Bruised Soul Syndrome and it can be Badly Battered Soul Syndrome. You wonder about yourself and whether you have any capacity to write at all. What's the point? Is it worth it? Do I try again? Should I keep on going with the next book?
If you are driven to write then you do it.
I thought of all this in a new context this week. School leavers without qualifications could once get jobs. Now that is almost impossible. The sort of jobs they would once have had - and the "niche" positions for the intellectually disabled - have gone. Get an undergraduate degree? It won't qualify you for anything. You need experience - and why have you not gone on to post-graduate work? I can understand that. If the quality of some of the work I have seen is anything to go by then an undergraduate degree does not, for some, amount to much.
Even if you want to "volunteer" you need to be trained. There are all sorts of health and safety regulations you need to know about. You need to be told (even if you do not listen) about "customer service". You will have to apply, be interviewed and join the queue of hopefuls. It is not about volunteering for a cause you are passionate in. It is about getting "experience" in the hope of finding a job. You still have to overcome the reluctance of employers to take on new staff in an uncertain economic climate - and a system in which workers' rights far outweigh the rights of employers.
It all leads to Bruised Soul Syndrome and, sometimes, Badly Battered Soul Syndrome. I feel for anyone genuinely trying to find a job - and I can understand why some people give up.
BUT - I - will - not - give - up.

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Speaker resigned

- or did he? There were extraordinary scenes in Federal Parliament yesterday. The popular (with both sides of the House) and competent Speaker resigned so he could "take more part in the debate" as a back bencher. I think not.
Anyone who believes that is a fool. The Speaker was giving up $100,000 a year and a job he clearly enjoyed in order to shore up support for the government. Instead of 75/74 it is now 76/73. The government need only rely on three out of four independents. The job of Speaker has gone to a former member of the Opposition, a disgruntled politician who was almost certainly going to lose pre-selection. He will now be out of a job at the next election, along with at least three "independent" MPs.
I like the idea of "independent" MPs - if they are truly independent. There is a member of state parliament who is almost that. He has even been re-elected as an independent. He has taken the trouble to go back to his electorate a number of times and say, "What do you want me to do?" As he has said, "It is up to you to tell me. I am there to represent you." Of course he cannot please all of the people all of the time but there are times when he has made a genuine effort to do that.
It really is a nice idea. The problem is I am not sure that it works in the overall scheme of things. Politicians have to join together to get things done. They forget their electorates as they jostle for power for themselves. Forget "for the good of the country" and "in the national interest", this is about themselves. An unpopular minority government which has made even more unpopular (and possibly economically disastrous) decisions has been prepared to flout parliamentary conventions in order to retain power without the support of the electorate.
In any other country people would be out protesting in the streets. In Australia we meekly accept that "nothing can be done until the next election". It will be too late then. The damage has already been done.
Perhaps the problem is that politicians do not see themselves as having a contract with their electorate. They have been elected to serve their electorate. They may have aligned themselves with a political party but their job is to serve the people who elected them. The problem is that Labor politicians (pre-selected by some members of the ALP) are seen as being there to serve the party. They are required to vote on party lines. The rare "conscience" vote (where they should ask their electorate what they want and not vote as they feel personally inclined) is scarcely that. They know what party policy is. If they want to keep their pre-selection for the next election they will adhere to party policy.
The Liberal/National Coalition is little better. Officially they are not required to vote as a block and officially they cannot be sanctioned for failing to do so. Occasionally a brave MP will go against the group but, on the whole, they will vote as party policy dictates. With respect to a "conscience vote" they will have a little more choice, but only a little. They will still be conscious of such things as pre-selection and the next election.
If a politician had a genuine contract with the electorate and could be sacked for failure to perform then the way we are governed would be very different. Imagine an issue coming up and an electorate being able to say, "We want you to vote for/against this measure." If more than fifty percent of the electorate demanded the move then the politician would be required to vote as they have indicated or face an immediate by-election. It would be government "by the people" - but it would never work.
The other system works well enough until an elected representative decide to breach the rules or fail to follow conventions. Our elected representatives have done both.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

There is the inevitable

article about what children want for Christmas in today's paper. This time the article concentrates on children rather than teenagers.
I have never heard of any of the items mentioned in the lists. (There are two, one for girls and one for boys.) The words "blister pack" are mentioned and the names of some things suggest they are currently popular items being pushed by advertising on commercial television.
Most were not particularly expensive - and that is probably about all that can be said for them.
There is not a book on either list.
A mother once complained to me that she did not know what to give her children for Christmas. They apparently wanted impossibly large items. I suggested books. She thought that was a ridiculous idea. Books were something you read once. Toys were something you played with for hours.
We were never allowed to ask for anything. If we tried we would be sharply reminded that it was not the proper thing to do. I know we had some strange looks when people outside our immediate family would ask, "And what do you want Father Christmas to bring you?" I stopped believing in Father Christmas at three years of age but I knew better than to say so. My answer would usually be, "I don't know."
I know now that our family had very little money to spend on such things. My father was teaching but teachers were not well paid and he was also finishing a university degree he had not been able to do during the war years. My mother, as women did then, stayed at home with us. Occasionally she would do a day's relief or supply teaching and my paternal grandmother would care for us. Such days were rare. Schools simply divided the classes of absent teachers unless the numbers grew too great to fit into one room.
Despite all that I am aware that other children, who must have come from similar financial circumstances, were given far more. They had new bicycles, scooters, roller skates, dolls, dolls' houses, board games and - occasionally - books. I suppose their parents went into debt to do those things. Books were certainly less common. Books for children could only be bought in two bookshops in the city - both of them "educational" booksellers - or were of the "Golden Books", "Annual" type books, or Collins like titles from places like a newsagent.
Now you can buy books, good quality books, in many places. There is a specialist children's bookstore - although the location is unfortunate. Our local indie bookstore has a specialist section for children. It is usually where I find presents for my godchildren and the children of my acquaintance.
As for the idea that a book is only read once there are books in my indie that demand to be read more than once. There are "how to" books that my godson loves and that my nephews loved when they were small. The Whirlwind, who is not a very demanding child with respect to presents, has her eye on a book of origami projects. "If my Dad asks me what I want I will tell him that." She knows full well that I have already told him. It will keep her entertained for hours this summer and it is not expensive. It is just the sort of present a child should be encouraged to want and use.
I know there are other books she would like to have as well but she has not mentioned them. Other children who borrow from my "library" have also asked for books. Their parents seem happy to oblige.
A good picture book can be read many times, even after the story is known by heart. Remember the delicious anxiety for Ping the duck and how you winced when he got that smack on the back? Remember how the Very Hungry Caterpillar needed that leaf to feel much better? Remember reading the adventures of Robin Hood or Biggles or Simon Black more than once? I think we need to start there and growup to things like the new organic gardening book I plan to give my father. I know it is what he wants and it is something to do as well. So, why no books on the list?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Are you old enough to remember

Alistair Cooke? No, not Alastair Cook the cricketer but Alistair Cooke the journalist. His "Letter from America" was broadcast on radio here on Sundays. It was one of the few things my father ever listened to - and then only if he remembered to do it. I occasionally caught up with it while I was at university in both England and Australia.
It had a format that simply should not have worked. Here was, by the time I knew of him, an elderly journalist who just talked quietly and calmly for, I think, fifteen minutes. He never interviewed anyone on air for the "Letter". He just spoke. He did not even introduce himself or address his listeners.
The topics he spoke about were many and varied but were always related in some way to America. He could talk about the arts, politics, economics and international relations. He did it all in the same measured tones and pleasant speaking voice he had no doubt been using for years. Although he became an American citizen he remained, in many ways, "British". His language and journalistic style were more BBC than A(American)BC.
I have no doubt that he had his views and his prejudices but, on the occasions I heard him, I was always impressed by his understanding of what lay beneath the surface of what he was talking about. He was a well educated man who apparently had the capacity to hear both sides of a story.
Listening to and reading reports of the media inquiries both in the UK and Australia have reminded me of Cooke and his "Letter from America". I have wondered what he would have made of modern journalists and journalism.
There can be little doubt that the current inquiry being conducted into the media in Australia is politically motivated. The Greens are especially upset by what they perceive as a bias against them and they used their influence and the support the government needs to retain power to force an inquiry.
The present Press Gallery in Canberra is, with one notable exception, supportive of the politics of the present government. It has been this way for years and it is not likely to change any time soon. When the current Opposition is in power they use their own power to obstruct it with carefully destructive reporting.
I was once unwillingly involved in a "political" campaign of sorts. It was an issue that went to a referendum. The media was heavily involved and, for a while, the issue divided that section of the community which thinks about those issues. There was heavy advertising for the "yes" case but the "no" case had to struggle to be heard at all. The media simply refused to do more than give a token nod to it. When anything was said it was often misreported or said in ways designed to undermine the "no" case. Despite all that the referendum failed. It lost by a majority of all voters in all states, not just in a majority of states. The "yes" supporters were quick to blame media reporting of the "no" case and the media supported them in this. There was no suggestion that voters might simply have decided they did not want the change being put to them. As a supporter of the "no" case I was relieved by the result - and still worry at the way the issue surfaces on a regular basis because the "yes" campaigners refuse to accept the result and have the support of their friends in the media.
The current inquiry is almost certainly designed to try and entrench bias into the media. It may or may not work.
I think Alistair Cooke would have been unhappy with this sort of behaviour. He had an enormous audience by the end of his around sixty years of broadcasting. I have no doubt he had his own beliefs and prejudices but, on the occasions I heard him, his words were balanced. You often went away with something to think about. It is the way journalism should be.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Someone gave me a book

yesterday. It is really a rather lovely book. The pictures are bright and colourful and clever. It is not the sort of book I ever imagined myself owning because the craft, yes it is a craft book, is not one I indulge in. It is a patchwork book.
I am allergic to sewing needles. I am quite incapable of actually threading a needle. I do not sew. The person who gave me the book is well aware of that. She also knows that, despite the fact I do know something about patchwork, I have always felt that cutting up fabric you have specially bought just to sew it back together again is slightly ridiculous.
Other people obviously feel differently and I have to admit that some of them can produce beautiful things, imaginative things, funny things, interesting and different things. I like some of them - although I doubt I would want to own them. Our wall hangings are of the bookshelf variety, not the patchwork variety. If we had space to spare then we would put up another bookshelf.
But the book is something else. There are little diagrams to show you how to put things together - and then to put together the things you have put together. It is rather fascinating to see what happens when you repeat one of those little things or turn it upside down, sideways, back to front, on the diagonal.
Patchworkers call them "blocks" but they are more than that. They have been the subject of serious mathematical studies. They are also play things.
The book was given to me for a purpose. No, I have not overcome the allergy to sewing needles. That will not happen. Even if it did I would not wish to make quilts. However, I dislike waste. The person who gave me the book is aware of this. She told me,
"You could knit some of these Cat."
Perhaps I could - but would I have to sew them together?

Monday, 21 November 2011

My friend Sue died

about an hour ago. Her daughter, as she had promised, sent me a message via e-mail. Sue lived on the opposite side of the world and time zones can be tricky things.
I sent Sue a last e-mail yesterday. She would have been drifting in and out of consciousness by then but I have to believe that she got it. Her daughter had been reading the twice daily messages I sent her.
I tried to keep those messages quirky and up beat or. at very least, positive. Writing them made me realise yet again how hard it can be to communicate adequately with someone in Sue's position - and with her family. What do you say? What words do you use? When do you use them?
Some years ago I was in our local greengrocer just before Christmas. There was a woman ahead of me I knew only by sight. We would usually acknowledge one another and perhaps comment on the weather or something going on around us. That was all.
The shop assistant wished her "Merry Christmas" as she handed her back her change and, as she turned and saw me I also said "Merry Christmas". It was at that point she burst out,
"It's going to be a bloody lousy Christmas. My daughter committed suicide last week."
Then she just went on standing there and burst into tears. I dropped everything and hugged her. The owner of the shop, with huge presence of mind, moved everyone else quietly away from her and gave her some space. She spent a few minutes sobbing into my shoulder before she recovered enough to start apologising.
It seems to be an almost automatic reaction. We apologise for causing other people embarrassment or distress but, faced with it ourselves, we do not know what to say. Perhaps it is better not to say anything at all sometimes.
All I said on that occasion was, "Do you want to tell me about it?" When she nodded I handed over my things to the greengrocer who had nodded at me and I took her off to a far corner of the cafe next door and bought her coffee. She talked and I listened. She told me how her daughter had not been diagnosed with post-natal depression and how guilty she felt for failing to recognise it. It all came out in a torrent of words and I did not say anything at all. There was nothing I could say. Eventually she said, "Thankyou for listening." Then she got up abruptly and left. I had to hope she would be all right.
We saw one another on and off after that. She always seemed a little uncomfortable, as if she had said too much to me. I kept our conversation on the previous level of the weather.
Then on the railway station platform one morning she was there and introduced me to her sister who was visiting from interstate.
"Cat's a good friend," she told her sister, "She knows what to say." She went on to tell her sister about the incident in the greengrocer.
I had never considered her to be a friend, more of an acquaintance. I had felt totally inadequate. I had not said anything. Perhaps in doing that I had said more than I would have with words? I do not know.
It still puzzles me. What do you say? When do you say it?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Meeting people

over the internet without ever physically meeting them at all is a curious experience. I am not talking here about introduction services or internet dating or any of those social connection sites that I have never explored but "meeting" people in other ways.
I have been thinking about this because I noticed that several more people have started to "follow" me. Hello. I tend to leave my followers alone (unless they prowl in with a comment) although I do go and read their blogs if they interest me. I am not ignoring you - if I was I would not write the blog - but prowling after all of you every day is beyond me. I have other reading and writing to do as well.
I have physically met two of my followers but the rest of you are only known to me through the ether. I often wonder what you would be like in real life. I know what some of you look like because there are photographs on your blogs or your websites. (One day I may learn how to do that here but I write words. I do not take photographs.)
Recently someone, who rarely uses the internet, asked me, "How can you be friends with people you have never met? You can't possibly know what they are really like."
Does that have to stop me being friends? I know what the internet persona of someone is like. If they write well then I feel I have some idea of what they are like in physical life as well.
I have been writing to a friend in the United States for almost as long as I have had regular access to e-mail. I spoke of her the other day and said she is dying. Her daughter sent a message this morning and said it will not be very long now. All I can do now is send daily messages which her daughter reads to her. And yes, she is a friend. She is such a close friend that we regard each other almost as sisters. We know a great deal about each other. I have a very strong sense of what she is like and I will miss her strong presence in my life.
There are other people I know only through the internet as well and yet I feel I have a strong sense of what they are like. Would we be friends if we were able to make regular physical contact? Yes, I think some of us would be friends. Some of us would continue to be acquaintances and yes, I might be mistaken about some of them. This must also be true about the way they feel about me.
Before e-mail and the internet there were of course letters. People had "pen pals". They took more effort, especially for someone like me who finds the physical act of putting anything on paper difficult. I suspect that many people started out with pen pals and lost them. There was not the immediacy of reply there can be now. My mother had several "pen pals". Writing was physically easy for her. She had excellent handwriting. The pen (she always used a fountain pen) moved smoothly across the page. The women she wrote to had similar writing. They all wrote to each other on a regular basis. My godmother still writes to me. She is well over 90 now and still cannot spell (although she still reads voraciously). She is almost the last of the letter writers however. Oh yes, I know about letter writing being a lost art.
But meeting people over the internet can result in friendships, lasting friendships because of common interests. Like any other friendships they require nurturing and concern for others. And yes, you can know people well enough to know you want to be friends without ever physically meeting them.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Is borrowing from another culture

Someone raised this yesterday and questioned whether it was insensitive to borrow from something like Australian aboriginal "dot" painting, New Zealand Maori carving or the painting style of Constable. I assume it would be possible to add to that list with haiku from Japan, Irish crochet lace, Estonian lace patterns, Cowichan knitting patterns, music using the sitar from India or the gongs from the hill tribes in Cambodia. The list is endless.
I know Prince Harry was roundly criticised for trying to reproduce a "dot" type painting when he was at school. It was considered improper. One of the aboriginal elders said "He's just a boy. He does not understand." I have heard a didgeridoo (a very long wooden pipe) played by a non-aboriginal. He was "given permission" to learn and play but told he would never master the art because he was not an aboriginal. The late Judith Wright was once warned not to tell a "Dreamtime" story because it "belongs to us" - the "us" in question being members of an Australian aboriginal tribe.
One of the issues I have come across in my work is the "death" of languages. Languages die out if nobody uses them. If they do die out then we lose more than language. We lose a way of life, a way of thinking, the stories that have been created in that language, an understanding of the world from another perspective. There have been active attempts to "kill" languages for political, cultural or religious reasons. Other languages die a more natural death. A community may be taken over by another community. The language is not taught in schools. Then it is not used and taught at home.
It can happen very rapidly. My brother in law's parents grew up speaking Cypriot-Greek. He speaks Cypriot-Greek with some English thrown in when he does not know the Greek word. His two children speak almost no Greek at all. As the sister of their daughter in law I know a few words but my father knows none at all. It has taken two generations for the language to be almost completely lost within one family. It was not used. My brother in law was educated in English and so were his children.
Cypriot Greek is not going to die out though. There are other people who use it as their everyday language and there are enough of them to preserve the language and the culture which goes with it. The vocabulary has kept pace with the modern world.
We are losing aboriginal languages though and we are likely to go on losing them. The numbers of speakers of some tribal languages are so low that even intensive attempts to preserve them are not going to work. One reason for this is that the languages do not have the vocabulary or the concepts to cope with the 21stC. They simply do not work as a tool for communication in the world people now live in. Another reason is that they are not being passed on to other people.
Vocabulary and concepts have been "kept secret". Outsiders have not been allowed to use them.
When this happens anything of cultural significance is almost bound to die out.
Culture is a living thing. If you do not use it then it will die.
If you borrow something from a culture other than your own then I believe you should try to understand it as best you can. It should be treated with respect. If it has genuine spiritual significance for some people then that should certainly be respected. But, if we are to preserve some of those skills, then they must be used and go on being used.
Artists - and writers - "borrow" (or are influenced) all the time. If they did not then our creative lives would cease to exist.
I think if I wrote only about those things I had a direct experience of then I would cease to write.

Friday, 18 November 2011

"Write what you know about.."

is the advice I was constantly given as a child. It was almost as if I was not supposed to use my imagination. I was just supposed to describe the world around me.
My "daily diary", that daily sentence I was supposed to come up with each school day for the first two years, was supposed to tell about something I had done, was doing, or was going to do. I was in constant trouble for wanting to use words that were considered to be "too hard".
"But I can spell it!" I would protest. "I know what it means!"
I was supposed to use "red" not "scarlet" and "think" instead of "contemplate". I am not sure where I found the alternative words. I assume I was reading them. I read a lot. I had worked my way through all the books in the "infants" section in no time at all. I still read a lot. I do not use quite so many fancy words.
But, I am still being told "write what you know about". I do not write science fiction. Perhaps I write "historical" fiction - of a sort. The book I am currently working on is set in 1970's Australia but the young hero is due to return to England within weeks. The previous book was set in Australia and France.
It is the previous book which caused the comment. It has just been handed back to me with the words, "I liked it very, very much indeed but you should write what you know about. There is no point in writing about France. You need to write just about Australia.."
The reader was a bookseller. She had asked to see the book because a mutual friend had told her I was writing it. As she has contacts in the publishing world I, with some misgivings, passed it over. I know she is very keen on Australiana, almost to the exclusion of other things.
"Why?" I asked, "Nobody tells Barry Maitland to set Brock and Kolla in Sydney instead of London." (She once met Barry Maitland at some function and likes to tell people she has.)
"That's different. He's already published. If you want to get published then write about what you know. What you know about is Australia. People will expect you to write about Australia."
What? I am to be confined to writing about Australia because I live here? I have to start out writing about Australia before I am allowed to "graduate" to other things? I spent seven years living in London as a student. I am not allowed to write about that?
People who do not live in Australia may think it is exotic and romantic but the reality is that everyday life in Clapham or Malvern or Largs (we have all three here) is much the same whether you live in Adelaide or the United Kingdom. The weather is different but, if you are child, you still eat breakfast, go to school and get told off for leaving your footy boots where your mother trips over them - and the place where you are most likely to see a kangaroo is at the zoo or wildlife park.
Anyone who knows me will know that I am not a passionate Australian. I happen to have been born here. My nationality is an accident of birth, nothing more.
So yes, I will write what I know about but it might be that the house will be in another place and indeed it may need to be in another place. Does that shock you?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

There is not enough water

to go around in Adelaide in summer. At a time when gardens need it most we go onto water restrictions.
Last year and the year before were particularly bad. People let gardens die. They paved over areas that had previously been lawn. Some people dug bores - with disastrous consequences for the water table and the alarming discovery that some of the water is badly contaminated from industry that, when it started out, was not even in areas which are now the suburbs.
Many years ago a former Premier of the State, Tom Playford, tried to do something about the problem by having a pipeline built from the Murray River. Now there are problems with getting water from that river. Everyone else wants some too.
The present government has built a desalination plant on the site of the oil refinery and plans to build a second one at the top of the gulf. There are problems with those too, particularly with the increased salination of the gulf waters and the likely impact on marine and coastal life.
I was reminded sharply of all this yesterday when I was nearly run down by an enormous truck - and I mean enormous. It could barely fit down the street I was riding along. It came up behind me at far too great a rate and I had to swerve sharply out of the way - or risk getting run over. The driver of the truck gave me a dirty sign and sailed on around the corner, narrowly missing a car coming in the other direction. I wish I had managed to get the number plate.
He had come from the site putting in "storm water pipes" along the main road that leads into the hills. The laying of these pipes has been going on for months. They do not plan to collect this water. They are just directing the run-off from the hills behind us. Despite that they still plan to dam the creek that currently runs through the park. If they do there will be no creek in the park. There was a minor flood about six years ago. It was really caused by the fact that the local council had allowed rubbish to gather in the drains that feed into the creek and that had blocked the water flow. Rather than clear rubbish regularly the government has decided it would be simpler to block the creek altogether.
I really wonder about the sanity of all of this. My father and I try to be responsible about water use. We have short showers. We recycle what water we can. We have invested in multiple rain water tanks to keep the garden alive - and, in turn, that helps to keep the house cool so that we use less energy running an airconditioning unit. It takes a bit of effort but results are worthwhile.
Blocking off the creek seems to be the exact opposite of what we are trying to do. Surely it would be simpler to keep the drains clear? Would the cost be that much greater in the long run? And, what about the ducks and the swallows who live under the bridge in the park?
Government logic defeats me.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

"One thousand dollars a bottle?"

my father asks this morning. He is outraged.
There is a picture on the front page of our state newspaper of someone in a cellar holding out a glass of wine and, presumably, admiring the colour of it. So he should be admiring the colour of it. His winery is apparently planning on selling this little drop (or some other little drop) for a mere one thousand dollars a bottle. What is more they are planning to sell some of it to China.
My father does not drink alcohol. He does not like it. He grew up in a Presbyterian, teetotal household. He tells the story of how, one childhood Christmas, he and his brother were sent to spend an hour with the Jewish family across the road while his maternal uncles had a single glass of a particularly light beer - the only alcohol they ever consumed.
As an adult my father tasted alcohol but it was not part of the culture of the group he grew up with. Most of them also came from teetotal households. (Do not worry. They had their fun!) My father decided that the taste of alcohol was not worth the expense. He never bothered.
I am allergic to alcohol. It makes me feel itchy - as if I am being bitten by ants. That sensation is so unpleasant I avoid it. (I have other vices.)
But, if you enjoy alcohol, is paying a thousand dollars a bottle really justified? Wine is, after all, just grape juice. Yes, yes I know they have done things to it. I know that the grapes are special, that the ground they have grown in is hallowed ground, that vast expertise has gone into making sure that each specially selected grape has been crushed and fermented in just the right way. It is still grape juice - and I am an ignoramus. I am happy to remain that way.
If people want to indulge in a little alcohol and do it responsibly then that is their business. Many people get great pleasure from it and I have no right to even contemplate stopping them - not that I would want to even if I could.
What bothers me, and bothers my father is that the price of one of these one thousand dollar bottles could feed a vast number of children who need to be fed - even if you spent fifty dollars on another bottle of wine.
At what point does the cost become excessive? Some people obviously believe it is worth paying one thousand dollars a bottle. Surely there is a balance somewhere?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

"Schoolies week..."

seems to be some sort of import from the United States. As I understand you celebrate the end of your school days by heading off with your friends and indulging in what is supposed to be an exciting week of.... well something. Unfortunately alcohol seems to loom large, sex is supposed to come a close second. There are "concerts" and "hanging out" and, for a few, drugs. It is now considered to be a rite of passage.
The residents of the seaside town where most of this occurs put up with an invasion each year. On the whole I believe the actual school leaver participants are well behaved. There are gate-crashers who spoil things for everyone. This year they are making an extra effort to remove the gate-crashers.
There have been reports in the media that many students find "schoolies" week a let down. It is not the experience that they expect. I am not sure what they do expect. I suspect that some of them do find it boring and others find it an unhappy experience.
One of the local year 12 students was talking to me yesterday. I have been reading essays for her during the past two years and my father has given her some help with study skills. She is a very quiet girl. When school finishes she has a holiday job in an aged-care program for dementia patients. Schoolies week does not interest her in the slightest. Her parents would allow her to go but she refused an invitation to join a group of her friends. Her mother had admitted to me earlier that they were worried about her obvious lack of interest in participating. Was, I asked, she going to do anything?
Oh yes, clean up her room, go to see a film with some friends, go to the zoo with some other friends and - read.
"Just being able to read one book I want to read," she told me, "Is going to be better than the whole of schoolies week would be."
Along with the outings she plans, I am not too worried about her if she wants to do this.

Monday, 14 November 2011

There are screams

from next door again. The older child is throwing a temper tantrum again. He is six - definitely old enough to know better.
I know he is supposed to be getting ready for school. He is not particularly fond of school. I suspect that much of that has to do with the fact that he is required to do as he is told there. This would not suit him at all. He dislikes sitting still or being quiet.
He can be a nice little boy. When his father is around he is generally polite enough. I think he is intelligent. Certainly he can solve problems. He likes to be the leader. On the rare occasions he is allowed to play with the children opposite I notice that he tries to control the flow of play.
Mornings however are bad news. His two year old brother screams if he does not get his own way too. It makes for noisy mornings.
Fortunately, for these purposes, my father cannot hear the racket as well as I can. As a former teacher he has strong views on ill-disciplined children. These two are ill-disciplined. I think part of it might be due to frustration.
I think their mother means well but she smothers them. She rarely lets them out of her sight.
She does not go to work so she has been able to spend almost all her time with them. She plays with them almost to the exclusion of everything else. They have no garden. Their front yard looks as if the house is abandoned. The weeds are, once again, almost waist high. She claims there is "no time" to garden. Clothes are never hung on a line. Everything, even on the sunniest days, goes into a tumble dryer. Her husband cooks the evening meal because she is "too busy" with the children.
The older child is now trying to test his independence a little. He wants to do things, such as play with the neighbouring children, and she wants his attention instead.
My mother had this problem with her mother. When my brother and I were sent to live with my maternal grandmother the same thing happened. We were allowed to leave the house just in time to get to school. We had to be back at the house for lunch and then back again in the afternoon as soon as possible after school had ended. My grandmother claimed it was about "feeling responsible" but it was far more than that. She wanted us there as company for her. She made no effort to seek company elsewhere - something she would have been quite capable of doing. Controlling us was, in her eyes, a much better option.
Our neighbour is the same. She seeks no company anywhere else. They have, to the best of our knowledge, never had visitors apart from her husband's sister. We have never been asked to mind the children so they can have a night out.
There is a list of telephone numbers on our refrigerator. They are numbers for people we might need to contact in an emergency. One of those numbers is the husband's work number. I hope we never need to use it. I wonder though what would happen if something happened so that she could not devote her attention solely to her children.
I think they would manage without her but would she manage without them?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

I do not want to be

constantly "available".
There is a report in our state newspaper about some new technology being developed by one of our universities. It is designed to allow the use of mobile 'phones without radio towers or satellites. I will not pretend I understand the technology but apparently it works by connecting users through a network of users rather like a "connect the dots" picture.
It seems the up-side of this would be that people could contact one another in emergencies - at least over short ranges - when other power supplies go down. (No, I do not know how you charge the battery!) That could be a good thing - especially if you could get them to work in difficult terrain and bushfires. Both those things are notoriously bad for mobile coverage.
I know people who never seem to turn their mobile 'phones off. "Someone might need me" they wail.
I have a sibling who seems to be sellotaped to her 'phone. It would take a surgical operation to remove her from it. Most of her conversations seem unnecessary to me but, even before she puts her seat belt on to drive the car she has the 'phone plugged in to the hands-free device and the ear piece in. I hate driving with her because, slight exaggeration but only slight, she seems to talk to someone all the time she is driving. My sibling will be late picking my father up - this always worries him - because "someone 'phoned" and "I had to talk to...". She is late for appointments because "I had to take a call...". She apparently needs to be in constant contact with other humans. I do not know whether this makes her feel wanted or important or insecure or whether it ever irritates her. I have not inquired.
I just know that I do not want to be like that. I am, at my sister's insistence, the owner of a mobile 'phone these days. Previous to that I would, if going to be away all day, borrow my father's - unless he was also going out. There was just one reason for that - so that he could reach me in an emergency. It is peace of mind at his advanced age. He has never needed to contact me and I hope he never does need to do it.
Apart from that, surely people can wait? Why do I need to be instantly available at all hours of the day and night? We used to manage without mobile 'phones (and a great many other things). I wonder though whether there will come a time when we will be required to have mobile 'phones and have them constantly turned on "in case of emergency", when we will be constantly connected to each other and lack any peace and privacy at all.
Does anyone know a nice island, not affected by global warming, with good soil and a temperate climate?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

There was bright blood red

all over the floor when we arrived at the house of the six children. We had not been to their new home before. It is some distance from the city. Yesterday their grandparents picked me and my father up and we went to visit them.
They are still establishing a garden and one reason for the visit was so that my father, still a keen gardener, could give them a long gardening lesson. He had spent several weeks preparing for this and the back of their grandfather's large vehicle was packed with pots, garden stakes, compost, pea straw and other gardening delights.
First however they had to do some other school work. When we arrived the youngest three were making "poppy wreaths" from bright red crepe paper and cardboard plates. The floor was strewn with "poppies", abandoned the moment we arrived. Once we had been greeted and hugged breathless they hastily completed the wreaths. They had been given a history lesson. We would have what is referred to in our branch of the clan as "The Silence" with them.
Did they understand the significance of the wreaths? Their grandfather and I gave the older children a history lesson between us, trying to answer questions and giving them other questions to research for themselves.
One of the older children is not a keen reader. Gardening interests him. He has a passion for it. He has always said poetry does not interest him at all.
Without actually telling him it was a poem I recited part of John McCrae's "In Flanders Field..."
As a child being brought up in a very religious household he listened to the line, "Between the crosses row on row..." with a slow nod of the head.
"Is there any more?" he wanted to know. I told him there was a story behind the poem. We looked it up together. He showed another sibling. Yes, they liked that but it was sad. He told me, "I think I might try and grow some poppies next year." He is the sort of child who might remember to do that.
We had The Silence standing around their living area. Then they went back to being their usual noisy, busy selves.
Later the youngest child showed me the big book in which she keeps her special projects for the year. We were almost at the end and there had been nothing like that morning's lesson. Then, quite suddenly, she told me, "You know, a minute is a very long time if you have to remember something bad."
Yes, it is. It should always be the longest minute of our lives - and you never know what a child might make of it.

Friday, 11 November 2011

How can you remember

things if you do not listen to the people who are telling you these things? You don't.
I was sent a thick government report to read yesterday. It is one in a long line of government reports I have read in my lifetime.
I suspect most people who receive it will read the recommendations being made but they will not read the actual report. They will not see any need to read the report. They participated in the inquiry. They know what they told the government. They expect it to be in the report and they expect the government to act on it.
I will read the report because I have to be able to tell others what is in it. They need to know about more than just the recommendations. I will write a precis of it in Plain English and pass it on to people who have problems communicating. They are going to be disappointed by the content. I am disappointed by the content.
It is yet another report about the needs of people with disabilities and the biggest issue of all has been ignored yet again. How can any government claim to be listening when they ignore the issue of communication? How can they remember what they are being told? They can't.
I have lost count of the number of inquiries I have participated in over the years. I have participated in most of them by invitation. Many of them have involved the needs of people with disabilities. I have attempted to find ways for them to speak up for themselves and, where they cannot, speak up for them. Successive governments have failed to listen. They do not want to listen. It would mean changing policy directions and that can be as difficult as spending money.
I have also been involved in inquiries about the electoral process, road safety, foreign aid, refugees and asylum seekers, language planning and language teaching. Diverse as those topics appear to be they all involve the need to communicate with other people.
The issue of "Plain English" comes up from time to time. Government departments will make a vow to write their material in a language the general public can understand. They rarely succeed. Legal issues get in the way. They do not want to state anything too plainly even when they are telling you "your rights under this Act are...". I can understand why they do this but it is frustrating.
It is even more frustrating that the issue of communication is taken for granted. "If people speak English then there is not a problem" I have been told. "If they do not speak English well I suppose we will have to find an interpreter." For many people that is the end of the story. They know about "people who do not read and write very well" but they have no idea what the implications are for people who are in that position.
There is an ever increasing need to be able to communicate - to be able to listen in many ways and then to speak in many ways. This report was supposed to be about listening. It has failed to do so. Failure to listen results in a failure to communicate.
Oddly, the report is called "Strong Voices."

Thursday, 10 November 2011

If you had your friends

around to play and your mother insisted on you having another child as well and that child insisted on you playing all the games according to their rules you would surely feel pretty annoyed about it. After all, it is your house and the other kids are your friends and you all want to play the games according to your rules.
If the other child then says, "I'll be your best friend" and you are weak and give in then you can find yourself trapped and unpopular with your friends.
I am sure this has happened to all children at one time or another. As children we sometimes need to do what our parents tell us. They think they know best - although I believe they often have very little idea about what is really going on with respect to relationships between children.
My mother interfered constantly in our relationships with other children. She thought she knew best. Some of it had to do with the fact that she did not want us to have other children to play at our house and she was reluctant to let us go to theirs because it meant returning the favour. I know part of the problem was that she was working, that she was a teacher in various small rural communities but there was also a reluctance to allow us to get involved. She never became involved herself. My father, as school principal, could not become involved. His job involved not just teaching but being the local "marriage counsellor", "financial adviser", "psychologist", "preacher" and numerous other roles that rural school principals were then called on to be because people simply went to "the teacher" with their problems. (My father would listen and generally find a professional person to help if the matter was serious enough.)
Adults however should know better than to fall for the "best friend" trick. Our politicians did it out of convenience and a desire for power. Our current Federal government has any number of "best friends" - made up of members of the Greens and various "independents". Keeping them all happy is difficult.
It is now causing problems at state level. There is a planned expansion to the Olympic Dam project in the north of the state. The site mines uranium. It will be the biggest mine in the world if it gets the go ahead. I have doubts about the uranium bit but the elected government wants it to go ahead. The opposition has, with strong reservations, given its reluctant support.
The project is now being held up by the Greens. They are opposed. They have questions. They want to change the rules. This would be all very well except that the negotiating period for the rules of the game was held some time ago. They had their chance. Some things were changed because of their demands. Now they are arguing again. They really do not want to play the game although they are pretending that they might. They think if they delay it long enough it will get dark and everyone will get sent home. They say that their big brother has had his way and they should be allowed theirs.
It is not wise to be "best friends" with someone who bullies you.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Yesterday our government

voted for an economic disaster. Without a mandate - and against the wishes of the people they represent - the government voted to bring in a "carbon tax". What they really brought in was a tax on carbon dioxide. They did it - so they say - in the belief that the tax will reduce the sort of pollution that is said to affect climate change. We are also being told that it will make us world leaders in pollution reduction - and give us the right to dictate to the rest of the world the way in which they should be handling climate change.
Absolute nonsense.
The Opposition has claimed that it will repeal the legislation. This may also be more difficult than it appears. By the time we have an election there will be a raft of measures in place that may be very difficult, if not impossible, to undo.
It is economic vandalism of the worst kind.
The really sad thing is that it was all unnecessary. Almost all Australians would support honest, realistic efforts to do something positive about the environment. This was not. It was old style, Robin Hood tax tactics - and it is also an illusion. The government says it is planning to "compensate" nine out of ten households for the increased cost of living brought on by taxing the companies which will pay the "carbon tax". They are shifting money around. They are not changing behaviour. Big polluters will continue to pollute. They will take business off-shore to where the costs are less. Jobs will go in Australia and the money will not be there to compensate people for the increased costs of living.
All that would seem to be basic, low level economics. I am not an economist but all that seems pretty obvious to me.
People who know me know I want to see something very different. It would have been possible. It could have been done. There might have been real benefits.
I wanted to see any tax on pollution used to directly improve the environment by planting trees. Trees can provide food, shelter, clothing, fuel and employment. Trees can prevent erosion. They can take in carbon dioxide. They are a potentially immense resource.
I have had politicians tell me that tree planting is "not the answer" and is "not possible". I have had scientists say "it would take time but yes it is possible". It seems that "time" is the problem. Politics is about winning the next election. It is about having and retaining power. It is not about the environment.
It is about the Robin Hood illusion that you can simply tax the rich, who will then charge the poor, so that nobody needs to make an effort to change their behaviour.
Planting trees could have provided employment to change all of that.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Taking legal action

is to be avoided if at all possible. It is not just the expense (which is always likely to be great even if you "win") but, win or lose, there will always be a constraint between the parties involved.
You see reports of legal action being taken all the time in the media. Sadly there are even law firms which advertise for work by suggesting that people might sue other people. They do not tell you the entire story of course. They do not tell you about the mounds of paper work or the toll on your emotions or the fact that you will almost certainly end up in greater debt than before.
Many unscrupulous people also rely on these facts to avoid their responsibilities and their debts. They will take money and fail to deliver. Others will threaten legal action even when they have no intention of taking any such action - or have no grounds to do so. The merest hint you might be criticising them and they will issue a threat. A threat is often enough to stop others in their tracks. It does not matter that they know they have done no wrong. What they do know is that, should the other side actually take action, they are going to be embroiled in a messy situation. Even if it goes no further than an exchange between solicitors it is going to prove expensive. Many people simply do not have the money.
It is the sort of situation bullies rely on - and also those who prey on the gullible. I remember a "writing competition" which appeared when I was in my late teens. It looked good. It was run by an apparently reputable group. The prizes, with possible publication, sounded very good. Was it just a little too good? Yes, it was. There was a warning about "if there are insufficient entries...". Yes, you had to pay to enter and the group was relying on getting sufficient entries to cover the cost of the prizes. Entry fees were not going to be refunded whether the competition went ahead or not. They, supposedly, were "administration and handling" fees.
I have no idea how many people entered. I did not. I had already decided against it when I was warned not to do it. The warning merely confirmed my feeling that something was wrong. I do not even know if the "competition" eventually went ahead.
The reason for writing all of this is because my friend Jane (over on "How Publishing Really Works") and others I know have been raising issues about the "BritWriters' Awards".
There are questions those running the awards really do need to answer. If they have nothing to hide they will answer them. Jane and others are perfectly entitled to ask these questions. There is nothing illegal about doing that. If you are interested I suggest you search the internet and find out more for yourself.
I rest my case.

Monday, 7 November 2011

"Do you," she wanted to know,

"Have any wooden or plastic crochet hooks?"
Well yes, there were some on the stall - or rather there were some bamboo crochet hooks and some with more "ergonomic" plastic handles.
"Can you come around the other side?" I suggested, "Then we can both have a look. It might be easier for you."
I had to wait for a moment because there was a crowd around the stall I was helping on but the young woman came around to the other side of the stall and I put the container of crochet hooks in front of her.
"Which particular size were you looking for?" I asked her.
"Four millimetre but I need to know how they feel," she told me, "Could you put it against my cheek?"
I did as she asked and rolled the bamboo around for her. Her face lit up and she said, "Oh, perfect! Would you have two?"
I found two and she paid for them. I put them in the bag for her and I asked what she was going to make.
"I was thinking about a baby shawl. My sister is expecting a baby in April. I think I could do it over the summer - something nice and bright."
There was no yarn on the stall suitable for baby shawls but we discussed where she might get some and she went off still smiling to look at something else.
It was all an ordinary enough exchange but for one thing - the buyer works holding the crochet hook in her teeth.
It was a craft fair weekend. Several other people with severe disabilities were customers at the stall I worked at and they were all keen craftspeople. One girl was profoundly deaf. Her mode of communication is sign language. I saw her admiring a crochet rug kit and signing to her partner. He signed back. I caught her eye and signed "You crochet?" She nodded eagerly. The kit was, I suspect, far beyond her budget but we worked together and she went off with two balls of contrasting yarn and her own plans for a hat. If your reading skills are not good then yes, you make up your own patterns. She told me she had made the top she was wearing and it was lovely.
There was another woman who looked thin and frail in her wheelchair but she said, "I save all year to come to this. It is such a treat to see yarn like this."
Another elderly woman with arthritis asked me about circular needles. Someone had sent her from our guild's display. I showed her a light, circular needle made from bamboo and explained the advantages. She went away with her purchase determined to continue knitting if she could.
There were other people who came and went. Some had saved over the year in order to afford purchases of luxury yarn not available anywhere else in the state. Others spent without really considering the cost. People asked about teaching children to knit. Children asked what you did with certain items and even men asked about processes. A man covered with tattoos asked about the class the stall owner was teaching and then signed up to learn a new skill. Later he returned and bought a rug kit. He was, on the surface, a most unlikely customer but he told me, "I love to create beautiful things."
I was surrounded by beautiful things for four days but, better than that, I saw so many other people enjoying them too. I also saw the effort that some people are prepared to make to be surrounded by beautiful things or that they make in order to give them to other people.
In cat terms, my rear paws are still tired but every minute of lost catnap was worth it.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

There are new claims

being made about proposed changes to the child-care legislation in this state. I do not know the exact details, although they do involve higher training requirements and (naturally) more pay for child-care centre staff. Many of them do not get paid a great deal and few people would argue they are "well-paid".
Nevertheless alarm bells are ringing and claims are being made that, if the legislation is brought into force, it could increase the cost of caring for two children to a $1000 a week. There are claims that some people will have to give up work and stay at home to care for their children. That is also an only to be expected claim.
I looked through the reports in the state newspaper and on a couple of websites and there is a lot being said about the rights of women to pursue their careers, their need for the extra income, how their qualifications should not be wasted and how they need stimulation outside the home.
There is a little being said about the value of child care for the child - and yes, I agree that socialising is important. It is important to learn to give and take and share. Learning the nursery rhymes, listening to stories, counting, colours and crayoning are all important.
In this current set of reports however nothing is said about grandparents or the amount of child-care they provide. This is despite the fact that on any day it is possible to see people who are clearly in that age group caring for small children.
I know grandparents who have put retirement on hold. They stopped working at one job and they took on another. Their grandchildren are dropped off early in the morning. They see the school-going age children to school, they care for the pre-school children, they pick up the other child or children from school, get them to their after-school activities, they feed them and return them to their parents. During school holidays they are expected to care for and entertain all the children. In order to do these things they go on running a car, pay extra food bills and other expenses. They take on a greater responsibility than they did with their own children.
Many of them do not want to do this. They love their children. They love their grandchildren. It is not however how they planned to spend their retirement. They planned to do some travel, take up a hobby, see friends, go fishing, join a social group, downsize their homes or just "straighten the garden out". Grandmothers say they find it particularly difficult as they still have households to run.
Sometimes vague mention is made of the contribution of grandparents. There are (even vaguer) suggestions they should be compensated for their contribution to the economy. It is unlikely to happen. It is expected of them. This is what you do for your family. Emotional blackmail is rife.
Even when, because of age or other health issues, they are not well they continue to care for their grandchildren because their children cannot get time off work or because, if they did, they would use up annual leave.
Nobody should doubt the contribution grandparents make to the economy. It is enormous. It also comes at a great cost.
My own parents did this for their grandchildren. My father, reading the reports, sighed over them.
"You know, you don't do the things you want to do," he told me, "I always wanted to take your mother to see the Great Barrier Reef. We never did it. I have always regretted that."
I regret it too - but I wonder if my siblings are even aware of it.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

"Remember remember the

fifth of November..." but not "gunpowder, treason and plot".
I saw someone yesterday, someone I had not seen for more than twenty years. We only ever met once but we recognised each other instantly.
I once had a very special friendship with an aboriginal Australian. She was a remarkable woman, a leader in her community. She had trained as a nurse and worked among indigenous Australians. Her husband worked for the railways but was also involved in the welfare of indigenous Australians. They had four children, all of whom have grown up to do similarly good things, teaching, nursing and social work.
It was through one of them I met "Lucy". She was four years old at the time. She was born with a range of internal defects and needed to be fed through a tube. Her internal malformations also meant she was unable to speak. Because her life expectancy was limited and she was an indigenous child nobody apart from her family and my friend's family seemed to be too concerned about this. My friend's son asked me if I would be prepared to meet the family and at least talk to them.
They had to travel a long distance to meet me, coming all the way from a large town in the north of the state. I went part way to meet them, to the end of the train line that goes north of the city. I remember feeling nervous. How would they feel about a "white" Australian making any suggestions about ways in which they might help their daughter? I had all sorts of examples to show them but did they expect me to perform a miracle and help their daughter speak.
When I got out of the train they were on the opposite platform, instantly recognisable as the only dark skinned people in sight.
The next moment Lucy was out of sight. She was running through the underpass to greet me. When she reached me she stopped, looked up anxiously. Then we smiled and hugged and were almost instantly engaged in conversation. I was asking questions she had to nod or shake her head for. There was no doubt that she understood what was said to her.
Her parents joined us and I knew I had passed some sort of unconscious test on their part.
"Lucy tells me you had to get up very early to get here," I told them.
"And we will be late tonight. Lucy will be tired," her father told me rather shyly. He looked at me in a puzzled sort of way. It was obvious he had no idea how Lucy had relayed that information to me.
I knew they were spending the night with my friend and I could guess they might be going to a special fireworks display for the 5th November but I told Lucy's parents that Lucy could tell me what they were doing. I asked questions and yes, they were going to the display. It would be noisy and Lucy had earmuffs ready to deaden some of the noise.
Lucy was particularly fond of "colouring in" so I had brought a new colouring book with me and a small packed of pencils. While she coloured her parents and I talked. I showed them how they could help and what they could do to set up communication systems she could use. They bought me lunch and when I was about to catch the two trains back to my side of the city they both hugged me and then Lucy hugged me and used the sign I had taught her to say "thankyou". They waved until we could no longer see one another.
It was Lucy's mother I saw yesterday. Sadly, Lucy died many years ago. It was expected but that bright and delightful child only lived a few years more. I had heard about her death through my friend's family and they had passed on condolences from me.
Yesterday her mother was standing outside the building in which the quilt and craft fair was being held. When she saw me she came up shyly, a little uncertain if I would remember. I did. She held out her hand and then shook her head and held out her arms instead. We hugged and she said softly, "Thankyou. You remember."
Oh yes, there are other reasons to remember the fifth of November.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Katherine Roberts said that the idea of

rescuing books reminded her of Follyfoot Farm - the farm of Monica Dickens fame where unwanted horses are cared for and loved. Katherine said "I am now imagining a sort of Follyfoot Farm downunder, where dog-eared books graze in green fields creaking a little at the spine..." and yes, I suppose rescuing books is a little like that.
There is a branch of "Vinnies" near us - St Vincent de Paul. It is a large place, much larger than most charity shops. At the rear there is a large and extremely well organised book section. It is laid out just as a book shop might be. There is fiction along one wall. There is non-fiction opposite going around a corner of the room to more non-fiction and a section for children. There are old records, CDs and other items in the centre.
In winter the place is warm. In summer it is cool. There are always people browsing and reading. The "dealers" wander in and out too. The shop has a reputation. They can browse along the shelves rapidly for items to resell.
I know the man who looks after that section of the shop. He knows me. He will sometimes put aside things he thinks I might be interested in knowing about. There is no expectation I will actually buy these things but he knows I might know a child who wants their own copy of a particular book. He would rather see the book go to someone who wants it than a dealer buying in the hope that they can resell.
Sometimes I buy books too of course. They are used but they are cheaper than they would be from a dealer - and they are often in surprisingly good condition. A charity benefits too.
I came across my copy of Follyfoot that way - although I do not think I see it except momentarily. Some child is always reading it. It is a mere paperback version and I suspect it will eventually fall to pieces through being over-loved. It has been repaired at least twice. It does not matter. I will endeavour to find another copy in another secondhand book store, preferably a charity store.
I like to think of the books in Vinnies or on my own shelves talking to one another at night, perhaps having a bit of a party and reminiscing about their authors and readers. Perhaps some of them are like old gentleman at a "club" having a post-prandial doze.
I would like to buy all my books new so that authors had the benefit of a royalty payment. It is not going to happen. Most of the books I collect are long out of print. Rescuing them is important.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

I rescue books,

specifically books for children. I know that books go out of print and I know that library shelves cannot hold all the books they should. Books have to be rescued. There are some books some children need to know about. There are other books that simply should not be lost.
I find them in secondhand bookshops, in charity shops, on stalls or at "garage" or "boot" sales.
Sometimes people give them to me. They know they will be given a good home. They know they will be read again.
There are five units of book shelving in our formal living area. There are the equivalent of another eight in our less formal living area. There are five more in my bedroom, seven in my father's "office/study" and five more in his bedroom. All of these are double and sometimes triple stacked with books. There are more books stored in other places, such as "the shed". People say we have "too many books". I do not think that is possible but we do have many books.
Very occasionally we actually give some books away. My mother had books that we knew we would never use. There were quilting and embroidery books. She bought them with vague intentions of doing quilting or embroidery but, in the end, impatience got the better of her and she did other things. There were knitting books of the less valuable kind. I gave the books to people I knew would use them. Some of them went to a friend who runs a school teaching arts, crafts and basic business skills to women in India. They are used there - not for the patterns but to teach about design.
But I do not give the books for children away, not even the occasional second copy. They are too valuable for that. They are read by the local children. They look on my collection as a sort of second public library. There are strict rules about borrowing from me and I have not lost any of them yet although it always worries me to see a rare book go out the door with a child. All the same I know these books need to be read.
"Cat has really good books at her house" is a marvellous compliment. I wonder at it though. There are "really good books" at the library too. I tell young readers that. Oh yes, they know that "but these are better". I wonder about that too.
"This was exciting, you know - a proper adventure."
Television rarely appears in these books. Computers do not get mentioned. There are "stay-at-home" mothers. The children in them wander the streets unaccompanied by adults. Schooling seems impossibly formal and - horror of horrors - it is sometimes single sex, there are examinations at frequent intervals and the students say "sir"!
I wonder why children actually seem to like these books? They are, after all, out of print. They are actually supposed to be "old-fashioned".
I know there are some authors bringing out their own out-of-print books again - as "e-books". Perhaps we need more of this?

There is a strange little

shop not far from us. It is an adjunct to a wholesale business rather than a serious retail shop. The people who own it supply t-shirts to zoos around Australia. They also supply giftware of other types to other shops.
I occasionally set foot in the place when I want a gift for someone. The woman in there is pleasant and we have, over several years, come to know one another a little. She is a little "alternative" in her lifestyle choices while still being a serious business woman. The little shop area is filled with incense, candle holders, crystals, relaxation CDs, earrings, necklaces, notebooks, pewter pill boxes, pens, Chinese "coins" and other things. The t-shirts are on the back wall - those t-shirts that have not gone off to the zoos. There is usually a rack of t-shirts outside the shop, along with cards, spare envelopes, decals for windows etc etc.
My father and I want a present for someone who is turning 70 in a couple of weeks. Had he told me about this soon enough I might have made her a scarf out of something a little crazy and colourful. She is the sort of person who could wear such a thing with style. I once made her a shawl and I sometimes see her out walking with it flung around her shoulders. The shawl is in oranges, pinks, yellows and creams. She chose the yarn.
But, there is no time for that so I said I would go and see Judith - Judith being the one who owns the business. I pedalled uphill after lunch yesterday and found her adding a t-shirt to the outside rack. "Nothing here for you today," she told me. She knows I sometimes buy the outsize cheap t-shirts for my sister who uses them as sleepwear. All these were black with masculine looking pictures on the front. My sister does not want nightmares.
I told her what I wanted. She held the door back with a smile and said, "Look, no further."
Yes, there was exactly what I wanted in front of me. It was only a matter of choosing the design.
There were three other people in the shop. They had arrived together. One of them was a man so tall and large and obviously "different" I felt more than a little nervous of him. He wandered around, found the incense and bought some. The other man with him just stood there, apparently not interested. The woman wandered around but sensed the impatience of the man just standing there. She hastily bought a gift and they left.
Judith came to look at the designs I was looking at. These things are candle holders but they are designed to be completely safe. They look like goldfish bowls in shape but the designs on them are extraordinary. When a squat candle is placed inside and lit the container glows like stained glass. I bought one for a friend some time ago. She tells me she sometimes lights it at night and then turns the light off and just sits there enjoying the colours.
We tried several designs over a small light and both agreed on the same one. Judith found the box. I declined a gift wrapping. My father needed to see it.
It will be one of those gifts you know is going to be "right". I wondered though about the gift that was bought before I bought mine. It was bought in haste and, I sensed, reluctance. They were searching for something "cheap" and had almost certainly come to the shop because prices there are cheaper than they are in many other places.
I wondered too about the man who had bought the incense. Perhaps he needs it to relax. I am not a fan of incense - or candles. I do not care for the sort of "relaxation" music which was playing in the shop - although there is other music intended for the same purpose I do like. I am not interested in "crystals" or some of the other "alternative" items in the shop.
There is however something about the place I do like. It is quirky. There are things which do appeal to me, such as the pens engraved with Celtic knotwork. I have given one of those to another friend - and I know she uses it. There are the triskele earrings and pendant we gave my sister-in-law - and she wears them often. But it is more than that, the woman who runs it is pleasant and welcoming. I know she was a little disappointed at the haste with which the previous customers chose a gift and departed. She likes to ensure that they feel the gift will match the recipient. I have heard her encourage someone to buy something at a lesser price because it "feels right".
I must take the Whirlwind up there soon. She is old enough now to appreciate the diversity of the place - and to appreciate "quirky".

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

We did not have any little

"trick or treaters" at the door last night. I did not really think we would. There are just two very young children living next door. In the "court" opposite us the children come from Asian backgrounds. It is not in their culture to "celebrate" Halloween. In the surrounding streets the children, most of whom I know quite well, are simply not interested even though one or two would perhaps be permitted to go out under parental supervision.
I do not know what happened in the rest of the city but I suspect there was not a lot of Halloween activity - despite the best efforts of the big supermarket chains. They were trying to sell Halloween pumpkins yesterday - for a very low price. I doubt they had much success. It is just not a "Downunder" thing - or not where I live. We are heading into summer, not winter. Those sort of Halloween celebration are also seen as "American" - like Thanksgiving or 4th of July celebrations.
The Whirlwind, who whirled in to stir the Christmas cake mixture on Sunday, is puzzled by the whole concept. "But what is it for?" she wanted to know. I helped her look up some information but she still went away saying that the idea was "silly". Going "trick or treating", she told me, is one of the activities on her list of "never want to do", along with things like patting a snake or riding pillion on a motor bike. I have to agree - although I have ridden pillion on a motor bike. (Never again.)
I suppose the big supermarket chains will persist with Halloween. They will say "people want it" and encourage people to believe that they do indeed want it.
Next Saturday however there will be the annual "Christmas Pageant". Oh yes, it comes early - always the first weekend in November. Thousands of children (and adult-children) will line up along the city streets to watch the floats, the bands, the clowns and other performers wind their way through the city to "The Magic Cave" where "Father Christmas" will reside until he sets out with his reindeer. I have only ever seen the parade once. I am never likely to see it again. (I will be working this Saturday.) The Whirlwind has been. My nephews have been. Most of the children of my acquaintance have been. It is intended to be a happy, positive occasion. There is nothing dark or "spooky" about it.
"That," the Whirlwind informed me, "Is what it ought to be like."
I have to agree.