Saturday, 30 April 2011

The sight of a

verger doing cartwheels down the aisle of Westminster Abbey after the Royal Wedding will, I am sure, be criticised by some as "disrespectful" but was it really?
There is a chapter in Elizabeth Goudge's book, "The little white horse", where the young heroine is taken to visit the church early in the morning. Maria is surprised to find it full of children playing. The parson tells her it is a way of keeping the children out of the way while their mothers prepare breakfast and get their fathers off to work. Sadly, such an activity would now be considered highly suspect.
In Cynthia Harnett's book, "The Load of Unicorn" there is a description of the scribes working in Westminster Abbey. In "The Woolpack" Nicholas's mother takes her small dog into church.
On a weekend stay in a small English village I met a cat who went to church each Sunday. He belonged to the parish priest. He would apparently stroll in through the door along with the parishioners and jump onto a window ledge and remain there for the duration of the morning service. He never appeared at any other time. Nobody ever suggested he should be removed.
One of our local churches recently had an art exhibition. After a lot of discussion some of the pictures were displayed in the church. Why not?
My father, as was expected of the local school principal (unless a Catholic), used to take regular Sunday services when we lived in rural areas. The Anglican priest, Methodist or Presbyterian minister would usually only manage to reach each community in their vast parishes once a month. In between the services would be taken by people like my father or the local bank manager. My father would teach rather than preach. He used puppets and conjuring tricks to illustrate the points he had to make. People would travel quite long distances to attend church, particularly if he was taking the service.
We did the usual Nativity plays. Once we did parts of Handel's "Messiah". It was not terribly well done but people enjoyed it. We did the "Missa Luba" too - with a group of visiting Africans. Much of that involves drums and wild, African exuberance.
All those things are a far cry from the quiet reverence usually demanded by traditional churches. Those things are fun. They are there to be enjoyed.
My siblings and I no longer attend church. I think we all hold certain beliefs as a result of our church attendance but they are not beliefs that require the attendance of church on Sundays in order to believe what we now believe.
It would appear to be the same for many other people. The congregations in traditional churches are all too often elderly. I rather suspect that churches might get more customers if children played in them, if people sang loudly and exuberantly in them - and if more vergers did cartwheels down the aisles.

At the exercise class

my father attends there is a lot of chatter as the elderly do their exercises. My father is one of only two men. The rest are women. My father claims it is the women who do the talking. I rather doubt it - but he likes to make this claim.
The Royal Wedding naturally came under discussion at Thursday's class and so did their own weddings.
My parents married in January 1947. Their wedding was a very simple affair in the local Presbyterian church with an afternoon tea of home-made sandwiches and cups of tea afterwards. It was only a little more elaborate than a registry office wedding at lunchtime with the groom dashing back to his regiment following it. It was typical of the weddings that took place among the members of "the PFA" (Presbyterian Fellowship Association) at the time.

My brother was married in the garden of a private house. It was an equally quiet and private affair during the Vietnam war. Nobody in our circle was in the mood for lavish celebrations.
My youngest sister married next. She had a traditional wedding but I was in the middle of university exams on the other side of the world and saw none of it. The marriage did not last.
My other sister married into the Greek-Cypriot community. Her parents-in-law both come from big families. All the aunts, uncles, cousins and others had to be invited. Our side of the family had only a small contingent present. The whole affair was made much cheaper by the fact her father-in-law and her new uncles-in-law did the catering themselves.
I did not marry. The quiet young diplomat I planned to marry was killed. We would have had a very quiet wedding. He would have had no family to invite.
I have been to other weddings and I have observed still more. Many of them are wildly lavish and expensive affairs. The marriages often last only a short while. My brother's children have had relatively simple affairs compared with many. My sister's children say they want to do the same when their turn comes.
My father and I caught a glimpse of the Royal Wedding last night. It was, on the surface, a lavish affair and yet we both agreed it could have been much more lavish than that. Much of what was done was what was expected of them. It was gift to the rest of us.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Prince Philip came to open

the new buildings of the institution where I once worked. It was the first time I had ever had anything to do with "royalty" apart from sitting on my father's shoulders and waving a flag to greet the Queen some years before.
The fuss went on for weeks beforehand. There were meetings. We were told what to wear. We were told how to behave and even what to say. The entire institution was scrubbed from top to bottom - even the parts he was most unlikely to see unless he looked into cupboards or behind the girls' bathroom.
There was friction between the staff over who was and who was not "being presented" and most of us were longing for the event to be over and done with. I was not "being presented". The powers that be had not even considered me as curtseying was considered to be the order of the day and those who had been chosen were being taught to "do it properly".
The great day arrived. We were struggling to control a great many profoundly retarded and normally restless children in hot sun.
Prince Philip took one look at us and promptly discarded all ceremony. He declared the place open in the briefest possible manner and used the extra time to wander through the classrooms and speak to each one of us.
I had a young "runner" in my class, a very dark skinned aboriginal child. He would, if the door was open, try to escape and someone would then have to chase him across the adjacent paddocks. Naturally this happened as Prince Philip entered my classroom, almost knocking him over.
"Does that happen often?" he asked
"All the time," I told him.
"I don't know how you put up with it."
He shook hands with me as if nothing had happened and went on.
Years later I was at university in another part of the world altogether. Prince Philip came to open a science conference of some sort. My tricycle had, we all thought, been tucked well out of sight under an adjacent verandah. At the last minute the weather failed to cooperate and the Prince came in through that entrance rather than through a torrential downpour. He spied the tricycle and promptly wanted to have a look at it, indeed he wanted to see the underside. That would have been impossible unless I unlocked it.
He had to open the conference of course but a staff member and a member of his entourage were sent to find me so that the bike could be unlocked if he remembered he wanted to see it.
I was definitely not dressed for meeting royalty! I thought I would just be able to unlock my bike and quietly disappear. I thought he would forget and that the whole business was a waste of time.
Not so. Prince Philip was on his way back from the opening ceremony. I was to wait in case he wished to ask me anything. I was asked something about myself so he could be prepared but I just said I was doing some research there. I did not mention anything about the previous incident. I did not wish to feel embarrassed all over again!
He strolled up talking to the minder who had spoken to me. Then, without waiting for an introduction, he held out his hand to me and said,
"Gave up trying to chase the little devil did you?"

Thursday, 28 April 2011

There is a farmer just south of here

who needs to do major repairs to a dam on his property. It holds water for his stock. He noticed structural damage some time ago and called in earthmoving experts. They told him they could not do the work without the necessary permit.
If the dam is not repaired there is a real danger it will break and flood the property below him. As a responsible person he wants the work done, for his own sake and that of his neighbour.
The problem is that he cannot get permission to do the work.
Everybody agrees he needs permission but nobody seems to know who is responsible, what forms he needs to fill out or who needs to sign them. At the same time he will be absolutely liable for any damage caused.
Around the corner from us they have just finished doing some work on one of the footpaths. New paving has gone down. The problem? They did not wait, as requested, until the house was demolished and the new one built. The residents of the street made the request but were told the work "could not be delayed". Whyever not? It would make sense. The paving in that section is inevitably going to be damaged.
This is bureaucracy at work. Things do not get done because nobody knows who should do them. Things do not get done in the order they should get done. There is often no good reason for it, just a failure to cooperate with one another.
I was once boarding at a house not far from where I now live. The department responsible for roads came along and repaved the road. Thankyou. Less than forty-eight hours later the department responsible for gas lines came along and dug up the road to lay a new gas lines. Work was wasted. Money was wasted.
All it would have taken would have been a little communication. That was pre-computer days. Now there should be even less excuse but these things still happen. Work schedules cannot be adjusted, even to save money and get the job done properly. Being seen to cooperate almost seems to be seen as a sign of weakness.
There is something very wrong with this attitude but I doubt it is going to change in a hurry.
I feel sorry for the farmer who wants to do the right thing. The delay in approval could be disastrous - and no public servant will be held responsible.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

I wonder if dieticians follow

their own advice? Do the people who "invent" those strange diets involving half a lettuce leaf and a wafer thin slice of organically grown cucumber actually keep to them? Are there people who never eat anything apart from "approved foods"?
I am not including here people who must maintain a particular diet in order to stay alive. That is different. I know someone who is severely allergic to peanuts. Eating those could be catastrophic and she has no desire to eat them. I have a mild allergy to alcohol and vinegar. They make me feel uncomfortably itchy. I avoid them. I have no desire to eat foods that contain these things and do not even care for the taste of them.
But what about other things? All the conflicting advice does not help. We are told "not" to eat any number of things and then told to eat them. We are told to eat them in small quantities and then told that we can eat them in larger quantities. We are told something is good for you for one reason and then, in the next breath, bad for you for other reasons.
When we first moved to this house there was an elderly couple living next door. The old man was, at the age of about 90 diagnosed with mature onset diabetes. He was told to cease eating his favourite dessert - tinned pineapple in heavy syrup and icecream. He told me this in a puzzled sort of way. Why should he cease eating these things at his advanced age?
The doctor had given him a list of other dietary restrictions as well. The restrictions would have required a radical change of lifestyle and diet. It was quite unrealistic to expect someone of 90, someone who was now endeavouring to do the cooking his wife could no longer do, to change so much. By then I was, as often as I dared, giving them a main meal but even our diet did not accord with the sheet.
The hospitals here are currently under fire because some patients are leaving malnourished. Some patients, particularly the elderly, cannot undo the containers containing the food. I have visited patients who are, quite simply, not even able to reach their food. It has been dumped out of reach. The food itself often looks simply unappetising and must look worse to someone who is not feeling well.
I have no doubt it is all done according to dietary guidelines laid down by dieticians and catering guidelines about "portion control" etc etc. They try to do it cheaply. The food is necessarily bland in an attempt to cater for all tastes.
I do wonder though if the dieticians who design it would eat it themselves. I suspect they do not. Do they really deny themselves all chocolate and sweets? Do they forego eggs, cheese, butter and other dairy products? Do they avoid all salt? Do they have a single mouthful of lamb chop with all the fat removed?
There was a statement by a doctor-dietician saying that it would take forty minutes on a treadmill to work off the effect of eating one Cadbury's Creme Egg. I have never eaten one and I have no particular desire to do so. However there are other people who do like them. It may be better if they did not eat them, just as it would be better if they did not consume tobacco or alcohol. Like tobacco and alcohol, chocolate and any number of other foods labelled "bad" are legally available. "Bad" foods often taste "good". They will be eaten. Telling us they are "bad" simply makes them more desirable.
Dieticians may eat more "sensibly" than many people. I do not know. I know they make some people miserable by demanding they follow impossible guidelines.
I will avoid the Creme Eggs "on special" in the supermarket this morning but that will be because I want to rather than because I have been told to.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

There is a plan for the

bookshop knitting group to meet here today. We normally meet at the shop on the last Tuesday of the month but Australia has an extra public holiday because Anzac Day fell on Easter Monday.
Like most such groups, there are regulars and there are people who come occasionally. Other people, who never attend, sometimes look at me and say, "Why do you bother?"
I was asked to "lead" the group by the previous owner of the bookshop. When she put the proposition to me we both knew that the real purpose of the group was two fold. Yes, we would knit. That might encourage people to come into the shop as they can see us at work there. (It does sometimes.) The other purpose is the unspoken one.
One of the women has a husband with Alzheimer's. Someone comes to be with him so that she can have a few completely social hours off. This is not the time for her own medical appointments or the shopping or any of the things she must do. This is her time for relaxing and socialising. She will often chat with the woman whose husband had a brain tumour removed and whose personality has changed as a result. They have much in common but met through the group.
Another lost a son last year. The group was there to support her in the time immediately following his death and she still finds it a support.
Still another woman lives alone and, despite having other friends and activities, the bookshop group is something she looks forward to "because it is small and friendly".
There is a woman who is physically frail but often has a funny story to tell. For her, the group is a few hours out of the house. The effort of getting to the group is, she tells me, worth it for the welcome she gets and the companionship.
Another woman comes some distance. She lives in a small city apartment and has insufficient to do with her time. She will often help me teach something to someone.
There are others who come and go. There is woman in the early stages of Alzheimer's, another who had a serious road accident and finds it difficult to articulate her thoughts or follow a pattern. There is the young mother who turned up for just an hour wanting to know how to cast on her stitches. Her mother was minding the children while she did it. She would like to come again.
Members of the group will sometimes contact me in between with a question. They will come to borrow a book or get some help.
I have no idea how many of them will turn up today. The mugs will be out. The tea and coffee will be there for them to help themselves. It is not perhaps the group of expert knitters the bookshop owner first had in mind but it is something much more important than that.

Monday, 25 April 2011

It is Anzac Day

again. My father did not see active service. His eyesight was not good enough. He has always felt both grateful and guilty about that. Grateful that he did not have to go because he detests violence of any sort and guilty that other people he knew did go to war.
He would, like so many of the men who did go, have been very young.
My father has a younger brother. There were only ever the two boys although my grandparents would have liked to have many more children. My grandmother lost seven children. She never spoke about them but, as I have grown older, I wonder how she felt about this.
It did not, as it might have, get in the way of a loving married relationship. My grandfather adored her. That was obvious. He was immensely proud of her.
My father's younger brother is a difficult, miserable old man. There is no other way to describe him. He was not always like this but mild strokes in the frontal lobe area of his brain have changed him. He divorced about thirty years ago and has never remarried. He had two boys and one died. It is something he has never come to terms with.
He is currently in hospital yet again. He has another "viral" infection according to his remaining son. My cousin had to 'phone us from London as my uncle refuses to have any contact with us.
His brother, my father, feels deeply concerned by this but any attempt to make contact results in violent and abusive language. We now leave him be because contact clearly distresses him but my father, indeed I, would still do anything he asked. He is family. He is still here with us, unlike all the young men who never returned and for whom their families can do nothing but remember.
I wonder what my grandparents would make of the rift between the brothers and I think it would distress them too.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The presence of adults

in a book intended for children always presents a challenge. Someone told me recently that adults should not solve the problems posed in the plot. But, does this mean you really need to do away with the adults? There are some memorable adults in children's books.
Some of the adults that remain firmly in my mind are Bendy's father and Caxton in "The load of unicorn". They are both men ahead of their time but Bendy's father is the one who has really met the challenge of the new technology. Then there is Maria's guardian and her governess in "The Little White Horse", indeed a whole range of adult characters who are handled with such apparent ease that the book must surely have been very difficult to write! There is Mrs Wintle in Wintle's Wonders - ambitious, demanding and jealous. She really is "one of those mothers"! There are the Callendar parents in John Verney's books - slightly bohemian but still part of the real world! Elfrida Vipont's Lark in the Morn and Lark on the Wing have a range of very believable adults too. They are a steadying influence through the trials of growing up but have their own eccentricities.
I do not think adults need to be removed from books for children, even books for teenagers. In "real life" many ten and eleven year old children are under constant supervision. In Australia there are still any number of slightly older children who are taken to and from school each day and who would not be permitted to go out with friends except under strict conditions and controls. Anything else would be less than realistic for most children and trying to plot something without the presence of any adults may sometimes be unrealistic.
Adults can be part of the book - but yes, it is very difficult to make them believable without having them interfere in the plot!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Can you train a teacher

in six weeks?
There was a report in our state newspaper this week suggesting that the best university graduates should be trained as teachers. They would get six weeks of intensive training and become "associative teachers". In the following two years they would complete a part-time diploma to become fully qualified and registered teachers.
Teacher training used to take two years. I did three years and it was considered unusual at the time. There were just 14 of us who did three years out of several hundred. Teacher training now takes four years and is a degree course rather than a diploma course.
The suggestion for training the best graduates is related to an apparent shortage of teachers in the areas of maths and science. I say "apparent" because there are maths and science teachers who are unable to get work or who have been on contract work for years.
And that may well be the real problem.
Teaching is no longer seen as a career. There is no career structure. Only a very, very lucky few get full time, permanant positions and shift up the ladder to senior positions over time.
It is all very different from my father's time. He started out in a one teacher school and could have ended up as an inspector of schools or beyond but decided he wanted to remain in schools and left as the head of one of the biggest and most demanding schools in the state.
Now a young would be teacher faces years of "contracts" and not knowing whether they will have a job the following year, or even the following term. They do not know where they will be. They cannot plan for their personal future, let alone a career.
People will not want to teach under these circumstances. Why should they? The best graduates may not make the best teachers anyway. In Law School particularly I was taught, or supposedly taught, by some of the most outstanding legal minds in Australia. They were nice people but they were not necessarily good teachers, indeed some of them were very bad teachers - and they knew they were not good. University teaching came second to doing research. Even training would not have made some of them good teachers. They simply could not understand that what they found so easy could cause problems for other people.
University graduates may not always make the best teachers. Some will. Some will not. We need people who understand what they are teaching but we also need people who understand teaching. After all my grandmother, with just three years of schooling herself, was an outstandingly good teacher. Nobody trained her at all.

Friday, 22 April 2011

One of our state MPs has been arrested

for possession of child pornography. This has naturally made headline news on the front page of the state newspaper as well.
The MP was not named. These are, after all, allegations and not yet proven. The media has managed to get around this by putting in a photograph of a front fence. It is a fairly distinctive fence. If you knew where the MP lived then you would be able to work out who he is. They gave away the fact that it was the MP's "suburban home" - in other words he is a rural MP.
An MP has now resigned from cabinet, he is a rural MP. It does not take much arithmetic to work out which MP was arrested.
Many people now know. The news will soon be "whispered" all over the state. By the time he appears in the magistrate's court he will have been tried and found wanting.
In the meantime his family will also have been put on trial. Some of their friends will support them but most, including his parliamentary colleagues, will keep well away. They cannot afford to be "contaminated" by association. His family are going to be punished simply because of who they are, not what they are.
Some years ago there were allegations made about a High Court judge. His primary school aged children suffered what can only be described as extreme emotional distress at school. They were taunted with "your dad is going to gaol" and other such statements. The judge died soon after and it is likely that the children have never fully recovered from the behaviour that was meted out by children and adults alike. They were guilty by association.
My siblings and I were students in the same schools my parents taught in, indeed that my father was principal of, for most of our schooling. It meant that an almost impossibly high standard of behaviour and work was expected of us. Any decision made by our parents also reflected on us. We were fortunate that our parents did nothing to acutely embarrass us - however we might have felt at times - and they were perhaps equally fortunate that we did nothing to acutely embarrass them.
Whether he is innocent or guilty, the mere allegations against the MP are going to cause acute embarrassment to many people. The media will claim there is a "right to know" and that making the arrest known is "in the public interest" and that reporting the matter ensures that the judiciary deals with it honestly and openly. Does it really?
There is a fine line between "the right to know", "in the public interest" and the right of the innocent to be protected.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

"How does it feel to be the victim?", is

one of the questions that Linda Strachan is asking over on Crime Central. That was, in a way, the question I was asking myself when my friend offered to help me buy a new computer. I am of the view that I should be giving charity, not accepting charity - even on behalf of other people. It is I suppose a rather arrogant sort of attitude towards life. Any of us might need help from other people at times. Accepting help, especially if you have grown up to be as independent as I have, is hard. But how does it feel to be a "victim" or the outsider on other occasions? There was an occasion on which I attended the funeral of an indigenous friend. It was a very big affair with bus loads of indigenous people arriving from far points of the state. I had the extreme honour of being asked to speak briefly during the service. When I went to the front to speak I found myself "on the other side", the outsider. I was looking at a great number of people who looked quite different from me. Most of them were "full-blood" aboriginal Australians of the Pitjantjara tribe, some of whom still spoke their traditional language - Pitjatjantjara. Their knowledge of English was, in some cases minimal. Some of the service had been conducted in their language. I did not understand a word. I had been warned by my friend's son and I kept my words simple but I was still conscious of being on the "other" side. The experience was nothing like being surrounded by speakers of another language in Europe. There people looked much the same as I was used to and I could pick up words, sometimes more than that. At the funeral, I was made more than welcome. I was embraced. I was hugged by complete strangers as "Rosie's friend". For all that though though I knew I was an outsider. I was not a member of the tribe. It was quite the opposite at our clan gathering. There I met more distant relatives I had never met before. There were others I knew well. When we all sat down to a meal together. It was, in the correct sense of the word, a wonderful feeling. I felt warm and comfortable. I knew I belonged. Victims do not belong.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

My godfather

called in to see us yesterday. He usually comes about once a month and always on a Tuesday. It is the day his wife has female friends in to play bridge. My godfather does not play bridge and, while happy to act as butler, is aware that the women would rather be left alone.
He makes the most of the day by calling in to see us and then going to his son's place or his daughter's place to do some maintenance. His son is a lawyer, his daughter a doctor. They both have long working weeks. He helps them out by doing little jobs that are simple but take time. Calling in a tradesman to do them is not an option. It is hard to find someone willing to just repair a latch on a screen, change a washer on a tap or fix the hinges on a gate. Yes there are people who will do those things but the cost is not worth it unless there is something else to do as well.
I well remember the occasion on which our late but very independent neighbour opposite was charged an enormous sum by an electrician who came in to change a single light bulb she could not reach. She had not liked to ask my father (who would still have been able to do the job with ease back then) to do the job because her son should really have called in to do it. He was "too busy".
We are fortunate enough to have my brother-in-law, my two nephews here and two other people we can call on to do the very small things like changing a light bulb. My father hates asking - because he could once do all those things himself - but he knows it is necessary. He can no longer climb a ladder. I cannot climb a ladder. Other people need to do that now. As they have pointed out too there will come a time when they cannot do it. Someone else will have to do it for them.
I can understand my father's frustration at not being able to do the things he once did. It pleases me when my godfather turns up and shares that frustration because he can no longer climb ladders either.
But both of them are still useful people. They know how to do things. They can tell other people.
My nephews say they have much to learn from their grandfather. My godfather's grandchildren can say the same. That is what matters.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The computer is still limping along

although it took me five attempts to get it booted up this morning. It seems to be okay once that happens. I did do an extra back up of all the files yesterday just in case. Backing up vast quantities of information was a matter of clicking the mouse, inserting disks etc etc. It is something we take for granted. While I was doing it though I suddenly thought of mediaeval monks who worked in the scriptorium of their monastery. The lighting was poor. The seating was bad. The pens they used were primitive. The pens also required constant renewal and delicate surgery to sharpen. The ink monks used was ground and mixed by them rather than provided conveniently in a bottle. They made their own brushes. If they were fortunate someone else made the vellum or parchment they worked on but they would have known how to make it. They wrote each individual letter, stroke by stroke. So many of them did it with infinite care. They did it as an act of worship. One book could be the work of a lifetime. It was not a simple matter of clicking a mouse a few times. I can press a key and a letter or symbol appears. I can write all of this in the time it would have taken a monk to prepare the materials to write it. If a book was damaged or burnt then a lifetime's work could be lost. I must remember this when I click the mouse button.

Monday, 18 April 2011

A friend telephoned me

yesterday afternoon. I had left her a message to say I might be off-line for a bit because I was having problems with the computer. (I did manage to get it booted up this morning by using a trick my brother-in-law suggested as an emergency measure. It will not last.) "Would I," she asked, "be willing to accept some help to buy a new computer?" My immediate reaction to this was "No, of course not" but she went on to explain. She was left money, a large sum of money, with which "to do good". It was left to her by another friend and, sensibly, she has invested it and uses the interest to do as her friend asked. She targets genuine need directly rather than a vague donation to some charitable cause. "It is," she told me, "surprisingly hard to give away." I can understand that. I felt most uncomfortable but then she said, "I do not want to give it to you. I want to give it to the people you help, people really in need." She left me to think about that. I talked it over with my father and I spent a good time awake last night thinking about this. I need a computer to do my job. Other people need me or someone like me. It helps them do their job and, all too often, their job is about saving lives. But I also use my computer for things like writing this blog, keeping in touch with distant friends and as a word processor for my writing. I also read some blogs. That is all part of my recreation I suppose. This morning I sat down and sent my friend an e-mail. I feel I cannot accept her offer in full but I am going to allow her to help a little, perhaps half of the cost? I still do not feel comfortable about this but I think I understand that it is something she wants to do. I hope I am doing the right thing. It is a curious situation to be in. What would you do?

Sunday, 17 April 2011

I have recently re-read

two books by Violet Needham. The reason for this is that I have been helping a children's literature student with a project. I read Violet Needham as a child. They did not seem quite so old-fashioned then and I suppose I found them vaguely exciting. Now they seem much more predictable. In "The Secret of the White Peacock" and "The Red Rose of Ruvina" the characters are not particularly well formed. The plots are weak. The conversation is stilted. I wonder what it would be like to go back to the first of the series, from memory "The Black Riders". Would it be any better? Did Needham's books improve or did they disintegrate? Her Ruritania seems to be set in some sort of vaguely not quite Eastern European country, not quite Austria or the Balkans but thereabouts. They are also seem to be oddly Victorian while still mentioning cars, trains, telephones and even 'planes. Her girls get educated at home or her boys get tutored because they have been ill. They also have to be pretty much self-sufficient at entertaining themselves. There are adults in the books but, by showing some of them as disinterested, cruel, greedy and disloyal, Needham manages to distance them from the children and allow the children to succeed fairly much alone. Nevertheless adults also get much greater attention than is usual in books for children, especially Ruritanian type adventures. It is the role of adults that concerns the current student. So, which adults do you remember in books from your childhood?

Saturday, 16 April 2011

I have a computer problem

this morning. I do not know what the problem is as I know very little about how computers work. Getting this far has been a matter of trial and error. First thing it did not even want to boot up. Goodness' knows whether it will want to save and publish this now that I have actually connected to the internet. My brother in law set this system up some years ago. He, being a computer engineer, knows far more about these things than I do. He "split" the system and did other fancy things of which I know nothing. I do not actually do anything terribly fancy on my computer. I download files, upload files and use it as a word-processor. The files I use come from sources I normally trust but that does not mean that they are virus free. I have a feeling the system needs cleaning again but I am not sure how to go about that - apart from running the registry cleaner. I had trouble uploading the virus update but it is now up to date. It made me realise that I just push the button each morning and expect it to work. If I am not here tomorrow or the next day and the will know why. :-(

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Taking a book

with me when I go to the local health clinic is almost second nature. I am fortunate that I do not need to go too often (touch wood!) but, when I do go, I know I may well have to wait. I need to be there on time but the doctor may not be on time. There is always reading matter there. There is the state newspaper and a range of magazines. It is all most people want. I prefer to take a book. It is usually something I must read rather than something for pleasure. I have also been known to take a calculator to collate some statistics and a manuscript that needs proof reading. As I have sometimes had to wait as much as half an hour I can get quite a bit done in that time. If I had a laptop I would probably take that. Only once have I seen someone else doing what might be termed "work" while waiting. There was a student frowning earnestly over a fat volume of chemistry. He scribbled notes as he worked. I also saw an elderly woman knitting once. She was making a sock. A small child was watching her with absolute fascination. Other people just sit and flip through the pages of magazines. A man will occasionally read the paper. There is now a television set, sound turned low, always on a commercial station. Some people appear to stare at it but not really see it. I wonder about all this. Are all these people so ill that they are unable to do anything else? Are they too anxious about the forthcoming appointment to concentrate on anything else? Or are they content to just sit and wait? Admittedly parents with small children will sometimes try to occupy or distract their children with the box of blocks and books for children but so many other people just seem to sit. I do not have time for that. Even if I did it is better to try and do something. All I wanted yesterday was my annual influenza vaccination but it was better to be doing something. When my turn came and the doctor came out and asked me in (my GP is a very polite man) he said, "I am sorry I kept you waiting but I see you came well prepared again." Yes, I like to be well prepared. I like to think that if I were to be captured I would have something to read.

Are the books which

receive accolades from the Children's Book Council of Australia from a small gene pool? It is an interesting question. I had never thought of it that way until someone left a comment to that effect yesterday. Then I realised that some writers do appear not once, but many times. They may not win on each occasion but they appear in the Highly Commended and Commended. The change comes gradually over the years. Brinsmead, Spence, Chauncy, Wrightson, Southall and Thiele all appear more than once. Occasionally there will be an interloper such as Manley's "The Plum Rain Scroll". The above mentioned authors though were all part of the great surge of literature for children in the 60's and 70's. They still appear in the 80's although there are some new authors such as Gillian Rubinstein, Robin Klein and Victor Kelleher. In the 90's we suddenly have Isobelle Carmody, Gary Crew, Melina Marchetta, Emily Rodda, Sonya Hartnett and Catherine Jinks. Some of these continue into this century although the awards are now organised in a slightly different way. If an author appears once on the list however there is a good chance they will appear again. I am not sure what this suggests. Is it really because there is only a limited gene pool? I doubt that. Is it because publishers tend to go with authors they already know? There may be something in that. Is it because some writers appeal more than others to those responsible for selectiion? Do personalities come into it? No doubt they do -and probably always will. Award selection has to be subjective. There must be other good books out there that simply do not get selected, that slip by unnoticed. I suspect some get lost altogether.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The shortlists for the CBCA

(Children's Book Council of Australia) awards have just been announced. I have yet to read all of the books on the lists - and may not bother to thoroughly read all of them as I have glanced at two which do not appeal at all. But, the lists sent me to look at who had previously won the award. The first ever winner (in 1946) was Leslie Rees for "The story of Karrawingi the Emu". I do not own a copy of the book, although I think my brother might once have been given it. It is almost certainly not in any public library although the reference collection in the State Library would hold a copy. I doubt it would appeal to a modern child at all. The second winner was Frank Hurley for "Shackleton's Argonauts". Again there would be no copy in a public library and I doubt it would hold much, if any, appeal now. Nor would Villier's "Whalers of the Midnight Sun". "Verity of Sydney Town" (Williams - 1951) would be considered very "old-fashioned". The Australia Book (Pownall 1952) is decidedly out of date. Phipson's 1953 winner "Good Luck to the Rider" might still be read by horse-mad girls but the joint winner "Aircraft of Today and Tomorrow" would only be of interest to someone interested in the history of aircraft - even for the "tomorrow" section. "Australian Legendary Tales" (Parker 1954) and "The First Walkabout" (Tindale and Lindsay 1955) would no longer be considered acceptable. Wrightson's "The Crooked Snake" is similarly less acceptable now and Heddle's "The Boomerang Book of Legendary Tales" was another self-conscious attempt to make the award very "Australian. It was useful when there was almost no other material about the Dreaming around but it was not, even at the time, "outstanding". "Tiger in the Bush" and "Devil's Hill" (both Nan Chauncy) and Sea Menace (John Gunn) might still be read by children who find them on the bookshelves in their own homes. They are not generally available in libraries. They are, naturally, old fashioned but they are adventure stories. The following decade saw some books which might, if children were given the opportunity, still be read. I doubt Tennant's "All the proud tribesmen" would be of great interest but "Tangara" (Chauncy again) might get read. Certainly Spence's "The summer in between" a commended book from the previous year would still be read and enjoyed by girls as would another Spence book "Lillypilly Hill". Spence eventually won the medal in 1964 for "The Green Laurel", another still readable book for the keen girl reader although probably a younger reader than in the past. Brinsmead's "Pastures of the Blue Crane"(1965) and Southall's "Ash Road" (1966) would also be read by some and by more if they were widely available. Clark's "The Min-Min" (1967)has dated more than these. "To the Wild Sky" (Southall, 1968) would still be read by some too. Balderson's extraordinary "When Jays Fly to Barbmo" (1969) is probably virtually unavailable. It was considered a strange choice at the time - simply because the theme was not "Australian". I will leave it there for today but ask one question - if you grew up in Australia, how many of these books have you read? (Yes, I have read all of them.)

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

I think I may be in some strife

today because of a letter I wrote to the state newspaper. It was printed this morning. I have already had an early morning jogger - who clearly knew me although I do not know him - tell me I am wrong. He must have been up very early to get to the letters pages before heading out for a run - or does he work for the paper? He might. Children, he told me, do not have time to read books - "except in school". Of course, I was saying that children should read more. Oddly, there are other people who have told me "children do not have time to read". I am naturally aware of the "after-school" phenomenon. This is the necessity of keeping your little darlings occupied every moment of the afternoon lest they "waste time" and the parents are not able to keep up with other parents. After all if little Billy is doing five after school activities then little Joe needs to be doing at least that many. Of course there is also "homework". There are things to be "researched" on the computer and the endless sheets of "activities" that must be completed. But, even with that, is there no time to read? Is it possible to cut down on television time or computer games time? What has happened to reading a chapter before you turn out the light? "We don't have time to go to the library" and "They don't seem to like reading much" are other excuses. Yes, people find excuses not to read. It is much easier to push a button on a remote control and then just sit there. It is for this reason I suspect my suggestion children should be encouraged to read, perhaps even required to read, by choosing their own books from extensive lists (in well stocked school and public libraries) will be criticised. How dare I suggest that reading is at least as important as football or tennis coaching? How dare I suggest that reading is at least as important as computer time or texting messages to a friend they saw half an hour ago? How dare I suggest that a trip to the library is as important as slouching down the street to check out the potential for graffiti? Obviously I am seriously in the wrong here - or is the attitude towards reading wrong?

Monday, 11 April 2011

What subjects did you

study at school for O/A levels, Intermediate/Leaving/Matriculation/ School Certificate or whatever you had to do? In the rural South Australian schools I went to there was no choice. If you were in the Public Examination Board stream you did English, Maths 1, Maths 2, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography, History and either Woodwork (boys) or Needlework (girls). They were plain, straightforward subjects with a set curriculum. They were designed to get a few boys to university to study science and a few girls to study nursing or perhaps teaching. The other stream was the "Area School" stream where the standard was considered to be not quite as high and Agricultural Science (boys) and Domestic Arts (girls) were featured, along with Art for both sexes. No languages were taught. One of the reasons for that was the high turnover of very new, young teachers. The Education Department would send them to rural schools for several years before allowing them to work in more urban environments. Very few teachers had any language skills at all. I was taught only Australian history and geography. Physics was taught to me by someone who had only done a further year of physics himself. My maths teacher at Intermediate level had only done a further two years of maths. As headmaster my father struggled with trying to teach English to four different year levels and run the school. There were many times when we left to our own devices and I marvel now at how well behaved we were. In this morning's paper there is a page three piece about the way students are abandoning subjects like geography and history and are failing to continue foreign language studies. Instead they are choosing subjects they believe will lead to employment, subjects such as IT and health. I wonder if any of them, given only my non-choice of subjects, would do what I did. I read copious amounts (borrowed from the Country Lending Service) and did Ancient History and Economic History as well as History. My father gave me the Latin textbook and told me to learn the contents. Being utterly hopeless at Needlework I was permitted to cease doing it. Instead I did Art in which I was allowed to include a hefty dose of History of Art. Yes, I was heavy on the history. It was something I could learn alone and for which textbooks were available. I look now at the vast array of subjects students can choose from. The choices they make often appear to be related to what might provide employment or what might be "easy". There is also a compulsory "research" topic of the student's own choice. The Whirlwind is already thinking about this. She is six years away from having to do it and the system will almost certainly have changed by then but we have talked about it. She is keeping lists of the books she reads and short notes about them. She talks enthusiastically about books, reading, English, History, the languages she is doing and her Art classes. She tolerates Maths and Science with good humour but not the same enthusiasm. "I just want to learn things" she tells people when they ask her what she wants to do. She still does not know what she might want to do. Her father is encouraging that, so is her school. I wish more children would "just want to learn things" - and that the pressure to do otherwise would be taken from them.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

"Plain paper packaging"

is the government's latest idea for trying to reduce tobacco consumption. I doubt it will work. I detest cigarettes. I have never as much as tried to smoke a cigarette but I have consumed far too much of other people's cigarette smoke in my lifetime. Now it is much more acceptable than it used to be to politely ask other people not to smoke in confined spaces or to move away from children etc. But will plain paper packaging really do anything? The legislation will be challenged in the courts on the grounds that it is a restraint of trade. It is legal to consume tobacco therefore it must be legal to advertise it runs the argument. No doubt there will be much said and done before any decisions are made. All this however made me wonder about another sort of "plain paper packaging" though. The sort of plain paper packaging that goes under the name of "political correctness". All those decisions which have been made by governments in an attempt to modify our behaviour and thoughts about issues like smoking, drugs, race, religion, sex, climate change, home ownership, internet use etc etc. Plain paper packaging, we are told, is for our own good. It is plain paper packaging which has set one of our outspoken columnists on a collision course with the Racial Discrimination Act. Was what he had to say really insulting to a group of people many others see as political opportunists? If the court decides in their favour there will be major implications for freedom of speech in Australia. That the case is politically motivated is without question but the courts will have to decide what is allowed within the law and not what the motivation of the complainants might be. Plain paper packaging has already seen apologies made and ransoms handed over to those who see an opportunity to benefit. Plain paper packaging legislation allows governments to do great deeds. We now have Equal Opportunity Acts and Racial Discrimination Acts and laws relating to alcohol and cigarette consumption and homosexuality. Climate change is now a political issue rather than environmental one and more people have mortgages so they will be within physical reach of the wonders of in-home entertainment via the planned National Broadband Network. But it is all just the packaging - and things may be decaying underneath.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

There are two bookshops

closing in our major shopping mall. One is, naturally, a branch of Borders. The other is a branch of Angus & Robertson. Borders began quite well in Adelaide. It stocked many books that other bookshops did not stock. There were a lot of US based titles that Australians had never seen before. Borders was not considered to be a "cheap" bookshop but people browsed the shelves looking for something different and often found it. Possibly in the belief they had captured their customer base Borders then began slowly to stock much the same stock as any other general bookshop in Adelaide. It may have been one more reason for their downfall. The closing branch of Angus & Robertson on the other hand was never particularly well stocked. It was a long narrow shop. There were always "remainder" books at the front. The choice of books always seemed limited. I went into Borders when the stock was different and I bought books there. I still have $2.54 on a gift card which I will now never spend. The card was a gift from my brother. Like me he regrets the passing of a Borders bookshop near him. I went into the branch of Angus & Robertson as well. I did not use it as often but would sometimes seek a gift in there. Almost opposite Angus & Robertson there is a branch of Dymocks. They were once "educational" booksellers but have moved into general bookselling. They still carry a good range of books. They will order more specialist titles for people. Dymocks is remaining open for now. Dymocks may well survive because it will no longer have serious competition. Although the department stores in the mall have "book departments" they are not serious competition for a store like Dymocks. All this leaves me wondering about our local independent bookshop. I buy birthday and Christmas presents there. It has been there for about thirty years. The original owner sold it recently. She took with her a wealth of knowledge about books, bookselling, publishers, trends, book fairs, authors and all the many things it is necessary to know if you want to run a successful business. The new owner has all that to learn - and much more besides. I am already noticing small signs that our local bookshop is changing. There is a "specials" table by the front door, "3 for $20". The previous owner had nothing more than a discreet shelf of books that had not sold - and there were only ever a few of them. The selection of books has changed. There was always a small selection of more intellectual books designed to meet the reading needs of the dozen or so reading groups that meet in the area. It is slowly being replaced by books deemed to be more "popular". Perhaps. I do not know. There are fewer staff, often just one. I was asked to wait there on one occasion while the only person serving rushed to the bank. I will do that sort of thing if it means saving the bookshop. But I wonder what the future is for our local bookshop. If it goes I will miss it.

Friday, 8 April 2011

My words are gracing the pages

of the state newspaper this morning. Whether this is a good thing remains to be seen. I was responding to a piece by Professor Dean Jaensch. He has a regular column on political matters in the same paper. He has commented on politics for many years and has done much to try and educate Australians about the way they are governed and how our voting system works. What he has to say is almost always thoughtful and instructive. Yesterday's column was no different. He raised a matter of which I was quite unaware and, I am sure, many other South Australians are quite unaware. As many of you now know Australians are compelled to attend the ballot box. They naturally also see this as being compelled to vote - indeed do not even know that there is a difference. There are arguments for and against this. I am opposed to compulsory attendance at the ballot box but I do believe that people should vote. It is the act of a responsible citizen. That however is not the problem here. When we do vote we are compelled to mark the candidates in order of, two, three or more. Unless we mark every square with consecutive numbers our vote does note count. At least, I thought that was what the situation was. The good professor has now pointed out that changes to the electoral act mean that it does not quite work that way any more. There have apparently been too many "informal" votes, far too many. Informal can mean a blank paper, a paper with comments scribbled on it, non-consecutive numbers or perhaps just one number. Informal votes are not supposed to be counted. But, it seems some informal votes are counted. There is nothing that can be done with a blank paper but every other paper is carefully scrutinised to try and discover the voter's intentions. It sounds perfectly reasonable but the Electoral Commission in South Australia has been given the power to fill in the blanks in some cases. If a voter fills in just one square on the ballot paper the Electoral Commission has the power to assume that the voter intended to add preferences in a certain way. In other words they have the power to fill in the rest of the ballot paper without asking the voter what their intentions were. This effectively takes the vote from the voter and places it in the hands of the Electoral Commission. It could potentially change the outcome of the election. The good Professor Jaensch did not say how often this might happen but he was clearly deeply concerned by it. The Federal Government is now seeking to introduce the same legislation for Federal elections. There are already far too many ways of manipulating the results of elections in Australia, many of them hinging on compulsory preferential voting. Adding the possibility that ballot papers could be completed by electoral officials would add a new and deeply disturbing dimension to our already flawed electoral system. Once it is in place it is unlikely to be removed without, at very least, a High Court challenge. Australians should be deeply disturbed by this but I suspect the majority will continue to believe that we have a free, fair and transparent system.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Hello, I seem to have collected some new followers. Welcome to my blog.

I have a number of books

about bread. They were given to me by someone who decided that she no longer wanted the books - or her bread machine. Making bread, even in a bread machine, was "too much bother". We have a bread machine and I use it. Once in a while I may buy a loaf of bread. I will do it if, for example, I need to make a loaf of bread into sandwiches. A square shape is useful for sandwiches. I can also get it pre-sliced. It is quick and convenient. Making bread in a bread machine is not terribly difficult or time consuming. I have a basic recipe I use for our usual bread. I use use wholemeal or wholegrain flour and add seeds or nuts to vary it slightly. I make a medium sized loaf and it will last us several days. I do give a little thought to when I am going to do it. The process takes between four and five hours. I need to start the process off. If I want to add additional ingredients I should try to be around about an hour later, after the first kneading. I then need to be around to take the finished loaf out at the end of the process. Cleaning the machine afterwards is a matter of a few minutes. The smell of fresh baked bread fills the house. My father eats more bread than I do. He likes what he calls "real bread". He does not consider white, sliced bread in a plastic packet to even be bread. Real bread, according to my father, is at least brown and preferably dense. I occasionally experiment with other varieties from the books I have been given. Guests once consumed an entire loaf of bread made with tomato juice for the liquid and with added olives. I have added cheese, parsley, onions and other savoury ingredients. I have added dried fruit, nuts and spices to other loaves. I have used corn, barley, oats and rye as well as wheat in varying combinations. It is interesting to experiment. Reading about bread has made me realise how little I know about one of our staple foods. It would be possible to spend a lifetime studying bread and how it is made. I wonder about the person who gave me the books and who gave away her bread machine. She is much younger. She has a family. For her, bread is what comes in a plastic packet. Her children would be old enough to weigh and measure the ingredients and make their own bread. They could put it on the delay timer and have fresh bread for breakfast, sandwiches for school lunches. Instead they buy their lunch each day, often sandwiches of square white sliced bread. One of her girls came to see me yesterday afternoon. While I was reading what she had written she was prowling along the bookshelves. She chose a book and looked at it, one of her mother's books. "Mum had a bread machine. She gave it to someone. I wish she hadn't because some of these look good. We only get the plastic sort of bread." I feel sorry for her.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The laundry basket I use

was a wedding present to my parents. They were married on the third of February 1947. The laundry basket has therefore to be more than sixty-four years old. It is cane. It was made by someone in the Royal Blind Society workshops, almost certainly a returned serviceman who lost his sight during the war. The cane is now dark grey with age and there are couple of pieces missing but it is still sturdy and will probably last a few years yet. Whether I should be using such an antique or whether it should have been offered to a museum is another question. The man who made it would never have been able to read. Working with cane ruined the sensitivity needed in the finger tips to read braille. When he made the basket other "books" for the blind came in the form of long playing records, played on a special machine. There was very little choice. Books were chosen by a committee of sighted people who decided what was "suitable". Many popular books were deemed unsuitable. Few blind people had such a machine. They lived life largely without books. As children we knew a blind man and also someone who transcribed books and music into braille. The blind man toured rural areas with a small concert troupe raising money for the blind. The other man was an organist who volunteered his time. Money is no longer raised like that, indeed could not be raised like that. The concerts were, on reflection, dreadful but they were the only live entertainment some people ever saw. They served a purpose. Braille is still used but the wonders of modern technology mean that you can type in text and a machine will produce the braille. That is so much faster than writing it one dot at a time into one of six little cells. It requires much less skill. The reading choice available to those who need audio books is immense compared with what it used to be. The visually impaired can now join an internet site on which there is an immense and excellent selection. (No, it is not available to the rest of us and neither it should be.) It is all quite different now. And, they no longer make laundry baskets in the workshops. Laundry baskets now tend to be cheap, brightly coloured plastic affairs. They do not last more than a few years. My sister tried to persuade me to give up the old basket, to get something a bit more cheerful, "cleaner" and "something that looks better than that old thing". But I like "that old thing". It does the job well. It also reminds me of things I would otherwise forget and need to remember.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Our local library

has been struggling for funds for several years now. Those of us who know the bookstock well have been aware that there are far fewer new books and those that have appeared are often cheap remainder stock. Our library is also part of a group of libraries within one council district. This has meant that the other move has been to shift books from one library to another in an effort to provide new reading material. I have no objections to the latter move. It makes sense and it is an inexpensive way of varying the book stock, particularly as much of the work was done by volunteers.I do however object to the failure to spend money on new books. South Australia is planning to spend $800million on an upgrade to the Adelaide Oval. This may yet fail. It has to go to a vote of members of the South Australian Cricket Association - and assorted hangers on. There are some who want it and others who do not. The problem for them appears to be having to share their hallowed ground with footballers more than they do now and losing "the Mound" and other things they hold dear. It is often said that South Australians are not good at accepting change or progress and there may be some truth in that. I also know that sport is an important part of Australian culture. I am not, apart from a mild interest in cricket, interested in sport. There is only one member of my family who shows any real interest in sport. I know sport is important. I know it is a way of keeping fit - if you play it. I fear it also produces couch-potatoes who prefer to watch sport in the isolation of their own homes. It requires nothing more than the ability to press a button on a remote control device for the television set. Libraries however are a different matter. More people use libraries than play sport. Apart from the frail elderly who use the Home Delivery service, people need to go to the library. They need to actively choose. They may interact with other people. They make borrow something they would never have considered because it is there on the new books/additions shelf. They may talk to someone or see an activity organised. Some people may even walk or ride a bicycle to the library. It is a much more active process than pushing the button on a remote control. If that vote to spend money on the upgrade of the Adelaide Oval fails I think the government should use some of their share to upgrade library stock in this state. If the vote fails my guess is that the government will still tell us there is no money available for libraries.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Yesterday was Mothering Sunday

(or the much more commercial Mother's Day). As my mother is no longer alive and I have no actual children of my own - just a collection of children I care about instead - the day might have passed unnoticed. We never made a fuss of Mothering Sunday anyway. My mother used to claim that "every day should be Mother's day" and that it had all become "too commercial". My mother detested the idea of "breakfast in bed" or anyone else in her kitchen. If we happened to be in the city we would be hauled off to visit her mother - a visit we children never enjoyed. It was also clearly a duty visit for our mother. We did try to give my mother breakfast in bed once. My father organised it. She accepted it because she knew he was behind it but it was clear to all of us that she did not want it. As children however we did not learn. Some years later when she had been saying that there was a book she wanted to read we children put our pocket money together and I bought the book. We gave it to her on the day. It was a mistake. My mother made her displeasure known. We felt awful. I do not know why my mother felt that way or why she behaved the way she did. I just know that the rejection of that gift, which we had saved our pocket money for, was one of the worst moments of my life. I felt responsible. I was the eldest, although my brother was certainly old enough to take part of the responsibility. My sisters were just upset. My father was upset for us. We never again so much as mentioned "Mother's Day" until my sister had boys who wanted to show their appreciation of their mother. Things changed then, at least in that our mother would accept telephone calls from absent members of the family and go to my sister's place for a meal. I do not think she liked it even then but she accepted it without comment. Mothering Sunday usually passes without comment now too but yesterday the Whirlwind arrived. As she will often wander in and out several times during the weekend this was nothing unusual. Yesterday however she arrived with a bunch of flowers she had grown herself. "I would give them to my Mum if she was here but she isn't and so I want you to have them instead." I was speechless. Instead I gave her a hug and I hope it said all the things she wanted to hear.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

I was writing while I was

pedalling yesterday. I do this. If I want to write I have to find moments like this. When I try and explain this to the occasional interested individual I can see that I am not believed. You cannot, it seems, pedal a bicycle or tricycle or take a walk or swim or do any other physical activity - and write. Nonsense. I do it all the time. Of course I do not physically write it down but I can have a conversation with a character in my head. I can ask, "Now come on tell me, what exactly did you say on that occasion?" or "What do you mean it did not happen that way?" I try not to mutter to myself as I do this. That might mean getting a worse reputation than I already have. I also endeavour to watch not just the traffic but the occupants of the vehicles. "You did not wave!" is a serious accusation, a breach of protocol, a slight that is not lightly forgiven. "Sorry, I was writing" is not an acceptable excuse. All this makes writing while pedalling rather more difficult but I cannot help myself. So far I have not ended up going in the opposite direction to the one I intended but it has been a near thing. "Now where am I going? Just stop thinking about writing for a moment and get this straight." It is when I get to my destination that things get really interesting. I have been known to stand outside and scribble something down. I will write something down while waiting at the bank or in the post office - it is never more than a few words. I rarely look at them again. The act of writing them down is usually enough for me to remember them and what I meant by them. It does not always work that way of course. I do not always remember. If my concentration is interrupted then I can find it impossible to go back to what I was doing. That happens frequently when I am out and about. Yesterday I had to go to a meeting. I arrived and went in pen and notebook at the ready. I wanted to write down just one word. Almost immediately someone tried to speak to me and then I heard the absolutely magic words from someone else, "Shhhh...wait a moment. Cat's writing something."

Saturday, 2 April 2011

"You should have written

an April Fools' Day post" I was told by a friend who reads this blog - and never comments. "No, I do not like April Fools' Day," I said - and I do not. "But you like jokes!" Well, yes I do like jokes. I like things that are genuinely funny. I like silly riddles. I like puns - even if I am sometimes slow to catch on. My entire family likes that sort of thing. My father has an entire shelf of books devoted to jokes. Magicians tend to collect this sort of thing. If we find a book of likely jokes he does not have we will buy it for him. He reads a few every night before turning the light out. I can sometimes hear him chuckling and occasionally there will be a roar of laughter. I know he has come across something new to him when this happens. A good joke is a delight. The best sort of jokes have what my father calls, "A kick in the tail" - that unexpected ending. They will give you a good deep laugh that actually makes you feel physically better. April Fools' Day "jokes" are not designed to do any of that. They are designed to make people look silly. I have no time for that. It is unkind. It can be very cruel. "I am just teasing!" someone will protest. What is "just teasing"? Are you sure you are not bullying someone? I wonder if I am being overly sensitive about this but I hate seeing people upset, bewildered or hurt. I have seen friendships die because of foolish April Fools' Day jokes. Perhaps the friendships were not worth having in the first place but they might also have developed into something that was - except for that "joke". A few minutes ago we received word that the newest member of the clan had arrived safely into the world. I am glad she was not born on the 1st April. It is not a good thing to be a fool.

Friday, 1 April 2011

I had a parcel yesterday

and it was not, as my parcels usually are, a book. It was soft and squashy instead. The mail delivery person had left it stuffed in the letter box along with another surprise for my father. My father's surprise was not, as his parcels usually are, a book either. His did not really rate the word "parcel" but it came by parcel delivery anyway. My parcel had two skeins of silk in it from my good friend Prudence Mapstone. She has asked me to try the silk out and let her know what I think. It will need thinking about. It is soft, smooth, slippery and rather fine. My paws may have met their knitting match but it is a new challenge and I am prepared to try. I am just grateful my friend has so much faith in me. My father's parcel had a DVD in it. It came from my brother. My brother makes his own short family films. These are not your average, unedited, shaky camera with poor sound videos transferred to DVD for family consumption. These come with title, music, proper editing and credits at the end. Even if they were not as good as they are they would of course be eagerly anticipated and watched by my father. This one let him see where my youngest sibling is now living. My father will not travel there now. It would involve a 'plane journey - or a complicated sea journey. He is, so he says, too old to contemplate such things. A family member would have to be critically ill before he even considered it. This way however he can see the house, the garden, the surrounding district, "meet" friends and see the place of employment. My brother has actually seen all of this and so has his partner. It goes a long way to reassuring my father that the youngest child is actually "all right". I liked my parcel. I like the challenge involved in the contents. I will enjoy trying but I know that my enjoyment is nothing like the enjoyment my father experienced as he watched. He believes it is his immense good fortune to have a child who can do something like this - and wants to do it for a parent. Of course parcels come in all shapes and sizes and with all sorts of contents. We all know that - but they rarely come with contents as perfect as the DVD.