Saturday, 31 December 2011

So, what did I achieve

this year?
In respect of family I became a great-aunt for the second time - and no, I am not "that" old! Perhaps it is more important to say that my father became a great-grandfather for the second time? He is, after all, rightly proud of that.
There was work of course. That was there as usual. Nobody needs to know about that, particularly the disaster side. It just had to be done.
The other areas in which "things-can-be-achieved" in my life are writing and knitting - and, sometimes, a combination of the two.
I wrote some knitting patterns this year. I have done this before and I dislike doing it. I do not have the patience for highly technical instruction writing and, should I do any more pattern writing, I am going to miss the guiding hand of my friend Sue even more than I do now. Sue was a professional pattern writer for a major knitting magazine. She knew how to do it.
Of course that meant doing some knitting. Unlike some people I do not keep a record. I just knit. I always have a simple project on the go as travel knitting and a more complex project on the go as "knitting to keep my paws busy while watching the television news service". If I watched more television I might get more knitting done. I do know there has been a cardigan, two pullovers and two vests, a pair of fingerless mittens and five shawls - but I think there was more than that. I have given all but one of the pullovers to other people so there is no chance of counting.
Then there is the writing. I have started on the submission process. All writers know what the submission process is like - yes, it is even worse than we imagine. I am not ready to give up yet, indeed there is good reason not to give up yet.
While I was doing that with one book I was writing another. I have now put it firmly aside so that I can go back to it with a fresh eye in about a month. That way I hope I can remove stray cat hairs and comb it into shape. I also gave that draft to the young Whirlwind to read for Christmas. When she and her father return on Monday I will be told what she thinks of it - but that will not be the opinion I need. I need to find some other young readers who have never met me and who will offer up an honest opinion.
Then there is another book in the pipeline. It is at the point where I wonder if it will actually be a book - but I think it will be. It needs to be. I have been jotting down ideas all year. The main character finally agreed to give me her name yesterday and that is a leap forward. It may happen now. I must aim to do that this year.
Will I make any New Year Resolutions though? I doubt it. I will just keep knitting and, above all, writing.

Friday, 30 December 2011

I have been stirring

the pot again. I like to stir the pot occasionally. I especially like to do it when the government does something utterly incomprehensible.
Adelaide Oval, hallowed ground of cricket tragics, is to undergo refurbishment at vast expense to the taxpayer. This is not for the benefit of cricket. It is so that football can be played there... Australian Rules football that is, not soccer.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are to be spent on this. It has caused a public uproar. My sports mad second cousin, who has practically lived on "the Mound" since he was old enough to walk, is opposed and so are a great many other people who have had season tickets most of their lives.
Yes, they would like to see some of the facilities upgraded but they do not believe it should be done at taxpayer expense.
This week the Prime Minister announced a further $30 million dollars of funding for the project - so that an underground carpark can be built for the favoured few who want to bring their cars to matches. The announcement comes at the time when a much needed country hospital is being closed for lack of funding. Other projects are also being put on hold, or cut altogether, because "no funds are available".
I have set foot on Adelaide Oval just once in my life. It was for some long since forgotten school event where attendance was apparently obligatory - or I would not have been permitted to go. There are many other people who have never set foot on the Oval. They never will. It is not just a lack of desire but, for some, a lack of access brought on by distance or finance or both.
I wrote a letter. Other people wrote letters. There is an entire page of letters in the state newspaper today. Not one supports the idea of additional funding for a carpark for the few. There are buses, trams and trains within a short walk of the Oval. Many Oval goers will still need to use public transport. The carpark will not be big enough to hold all their cars and by no means all of them will have the right to use the carpark. It would have made sense to upgrade the public transport facilities.
What made me stir the pot however was something quite different. Next year will be the National Year of Reading. Schools are supposed to participate in that. Libraries are supposed to be heavily involved in that. Bookshops are supposed to support it.
So far there has not been a word about local funding for the year. Our local library is not expecting any extra funds, indeed funds for new books are likely to be cut back still further. The schools are trying to plan without spending additional funds. They do not have funds to spend. Our local bookshop will struggle to support the year without any external resources.
Funds are not being spent on something as vital as our libraries and major non-media information resources. They are not being spent on something used by the vast majority of the population.
If the carpark money had been spent on libraries Oval goers could have read a book while they waited for the bus. It would have been a better use of the money.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Dear Bank

My use of your services is not excessive. I do not own a cheque book or a credit card. I severely limit the use of my debit card because you charge me to access my own money more than once a week. I visit one of your branches about once a month. You have my life savings in there. Those savings are, unfortunately, not large but you still make far more money from those than I do.
I contacted you via your website because I believe it is not reasonable to keep anyone waiting twenty eight minutes simply because you fail to put enough staff behind the teller counter. I made the suggestion that it would be reasonable to have more than one person behind the counter on pension morning.
No, I am not a pensioner but I unfortunately need to visit you on that day. I am also able to observe something you are apparently unable to observe. Many of your customers on that day are very elderly. I am also able to observe that, in that particular branch, many of them have problems with English. It takes a little more time to handle their simple affairs.
I contacted you via your website because I merely wished to alert you to a problem. I did not wish to be contacted and told how wonderful you are and have suggestions that I should handle all my banking via the internet if I am not satisfied with the in bank service.
I also find it highly objectionable that you cannot handle a polite suggestion, and I was very polite, without first demanding an account number and a pass word. You seemed affronted when I pointed out that I do not give that sort of information over the 'phone. Yes I am well aware that you were not asking for my PIN but even an account number and a password are more than enough for a fraudster. It is not as if I was making a query about one of my accounts. If you really valued my privacy you would not have been asking for that sort of information over the 'phone. We managed without it in the end did we not?
Now, having wasted all that time, do you suppose that for perhaps for an hour on Thursday mornings you could manage to have two people behind the teller desk in a busy branch?
I will be watching.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

There was a bang in the middle of the

night. Lights flashed and the oven timer went off.
I had to get up and turn the timer off of course. Other people may be able to sleep throught a persistent buzzing but I cannot. I also disabled the flashing lights in the house. I did not investigate the bright flashing lights in the street. They were white rather than red or blue. There had not been any sirens either and, if there had been, I think I would have been even less inclined to investigate.
I have never been inclined to investigate anything which might be an accident. I cannot understand people who just stand and gawk at other people's misfortune. If there is nothing I can do to help then I want to move on. My father is the same.
If there appeared to be an accident ahead my father would, if possible, take a detour. If it was not possible then he would concentrate fiercely on driving the car. As a passenger I would close my eyes. I still do the same thing. I never want to know.
Someone once commented that this apparent lack of curiosity was strange in a would-be writer. The person commenting seemed to think I should take an interest in everything, observe everything and be able to write about everything I observed.
I cannot. There are things I do not understand even when I have observed them and I have no desire to try and write about them. There are other things about which I cannot write. If the time comes when I need to write about an "accident" then I will be able to draw on the memories of the accidents I have not been able to avoid witnessing. That will be enough. I do not need to intrude unnecessarily on the private lives of other people.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

An obsession with statistics

is not one of my many faults - and I have many.
I do not like statistics. I first came across them at school. There I questioned some of the numbers given to us in subjects like history and science. I wanted to know "how can you know that?" It did not make me popular. You were, I was told, required to accept that as "right". I never did.
Then there were statistics in teacher training. We were told things like "X%" this and "Y%" that would do such and such or be such and such. I suspect most of my fellow students ignored the information. A few of us wondered how they obtained such figures.
When I went on to university there were serious statistics. Statistics were a compulsory part of my courses. There was a "Professor of Statistics" at my institution. He was an earnest and pleasant man who spent time playing with an outsize and delicate computer or consulting the senior lecturer of statistics in the department of psychology. That they manipulated statistics to suit themselves I did not doubt. One (never to be forgotten) day I heard them discussing how to do this in the departmental canteen.
I had to do a course in statistics. I had to learn about things like probablity and ANOVAs and ANCOVAs and Chi and other things I have long since forgotten. We even did a short course in computer programming. I struggled through that and promptly forgot it all. I even managed to do all the necessary statistics for my thesis - and justify the results.
Since then I have done other statistics for other research. A paper full of statistics seems to keep other people happy - at least in some areas of academia. I remember once having to explain what a "bell curve" was to one of the law school staff. She went off and came back with another member of staff and asked me to explain it all over again. I tried to do it in legal terms - "on the balance of probabilities" and "beyond all reasonable doubt". They were bemused that anyone should take numbers as "evidence" when they related to the behaviour of human beings. I do not blame them.
But statistics are also beloved by public and civil servants. In almost any government report there will be graphs and charts and pie-charts and diagrams and other statistics. There is a whole Bureau of Statistics here in Australia - and other similar departments in every country you can think of. There is an obsession with numbers. They are, people keep telling me, used for "planning" - and other things.
Yesterday I got around to doing a very small piece of work for someone who works in a government department. It had arrived last week and I know the answer is needed for a meeting in early January. There were three questions they need to have an answer to. All of those were perfectly reasonable questions and I was willing to supply the answers. Attached to those however was a form "to be filled out by the person supplying the answers". It ran to two pages. My name, contact details and qualifications for supplying the answers are on the previous form. They do not need any further information. I have e-mailed the first form back and ignored the second.
It will be interesting to see if they can "plan" without all the extra information - or whether they will ask me to satisfy their obsession with statistics.

Monday, 26 December 2011

There are times when I am not sure

about the wisdom of traditional Christmas food.
No, do not misunderstand me. We managed to get through yesterday without anyone having an argument about food. That may have something to do with the fact that arguments about anything are, fortunately, very rare in our family. My father and I did not overindulge in the food. (We did not give each other extravagant presents. There are no problems there either.)
However for years now we have also been included in the get together arranged by my sister's extended in-law family. They are Greek. The family is large. The tradition began not long after my sister married. It has been going on for long enough that we all know what is expected of us. When my mother was alive she used to worry she was not taking enough food. I know I am taking more than they need. There is always too much food.
We no longer sit down to a roast dinner and Christmas pudding. That was always rather foolish in weather which is usually too warm for comfort. The Greeks have shellfish, kalamari, lamb, turkey, chicken, kebabs and other Greek delicacies. On two occasions my brother-in-law's father has cooked an entire animal on a spit - and there was nothing but bones left when the Greeks had finished devouring it. The sight of meat in those quantities decreases rather than increases my appetite.
Then there is always a table filled with dishes of roast potato, pumpkin and sweet potato, a baked potato dish, potato salad (dressed in lemon juice and olive oil), coleslaw with a similar dressing, bean salad, lettuce salad, tomato salad, rice salad and a plate piled high with dolmades.
All that would be enough on its own for us but, because it is a celebratory occasion, they have a sweets course as well. Greek sweets such as baklava and shortbread appear along with a Greek version of trifle. The family has also become sufficiently Australian for the next generation to insist on jellies, pavlova, cheesecake and "honey crackles" as well. There is always water melon, chosen by my sister's father-in-law, cut into slices. The children are old enough now not to have too many pip-spitting contests.
I am always surprised at how little food is left at the end of the day. It is laid out buffet style. People help themselves from about one o'clock onward until early evening. Most people eat far more than we do.
It has been my job to contribute the cheesecake and the "honey crackles" (made with cornflakes, sugar, honey and butter). The latter are also beloved by the children who will sit and eat them one cornflake at a time while they are required to sit still .
There was a disaster yesterday. I was taking the cheesecake out of the fridge at a very early hour in order to reach something stored behind it. The dish slipped and landed on the floor. It was the end of the cheesecake.
For a moment I almost panicked. I am still surprised the noise made by the fall and my wail did not wake my still sleeping father. Then reason asserted itself. I looked at the clock. It was still before six in the morning. We were not being picked up until nearly eleven.
I measured yeast, I weighed out flour and polenta, I added water and a cup of parmesan cheese. I set the bread machine going. I drained a cup of pitted black olives and cut them in halves ready to put in at the right moment.
Then I cleared up the mess on the floor and reckoned the bread would be done about half an hour before we needed to leave.
It was. I presented the bread to our hostess and explained what had happened. She said, "Oh Cat!" and hugged me. The bread, she told me, would be very welcome.
Another brother-in-law cut the bread into Greek style chunks and added it to the plain bread which was already there.
Not long after that people began to eat. My father, busy talking woodwork with one of the youngest teens, came late to the buffet. Bread? Where was Cat's bread? Had it all disappeared? No, there was one piece left for him. My sister had put it aside for him. The rest had been eaten.
So, I am not sure about traditional Christmas food. Perhaps next year I should make another loaf of bread with cheese and olives in it? Or perhaps I should make something else?

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Season's Greetings

Season's Greetings everyone. If you celebrate Christmas, Merry Christmas. If you do not then please enjoy the day anyway!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

I gave my godson a book about

making paper aeroplanes for Christmas.
He was allowed to open it early. I suspect that this was because his parents and grandparents wanted to access the tin of home made shortbread I sent them.
Last Sunday he and his cousin made paper aeroplanes out of their pew bulletins (service sheets) at church. They also "rescued" the "spare" sheets and made yet more paper aeroplanes. When I told my father this he laughed and said it was the best use yet for a pew bulletin. I think even his father, a notoriously upright elder of the Presbyterian church would have smiled. Like my father he understood boys.
I doubt the two boys will be given the same opportunity tomorrow. They will probably be inspected for stray sheets of paper beforehand. Their grandparents' house (where they are currently staying) is apparently littered with various sorts of planes which need to be parked in an aircraft hangar before Christmas Day. I think the present was a success.
I do like it when that happens.
There is a very, very small Indian community in Adelaide. It is so small that the sight of sari or turban causes people to look twice. It is all so very different from the area of London I lived in for seven years. I still miss the cultural diversity of London. It is quite different from the "multicultural" ethic here.
The sight of an Indian face at the checkout in the supermarket is even more unusual. There was a pleasant young girl in the "fast" lane yesterday. As people went ahead of me I could hear her dutifully saying the obligatory "Merry Christmas". Some people would say "Merry Christmas" back. Others would nod, too busy to care about something said meaninglessly.
When I reached her and she said it to me I asked, "Do you celebrate Christmas?"
She looked surprised by the question and then admitted, "No, not really."
So I said, "Well it is really much too late but would it be more appropriate for me to say I hope you had a happy Diwali?"
Her face lit up. "You know about that?" I do.
Now, instead of the professional smile there was a genuine one which reached her eyes as she said, "It was wonderful. Thankyou - and I really do hope you enjoy Christmas."
If I happen to see her next Diwali I will give her good wishes at the appropriate time. I like it when that happens too.

Friday, 23 December 2011

I did my Christmas shopping

at the local indie bookshop this year. Nobody in the family needed knitted items so I used my knitting time elsewhere. Books are a pleasure to buy and easy to wrap. Oh yes, I knew what I was doing there.
As a family we do not make a great fuss about Christmas. Oh, we get together and we give one another presents but we do not, like some households, go for the turkey and the trimmings and the tree or the decorations.
My father detests pre-Christmas parties where people stand around with a glass in one hand and unwanted "finger food" disintegrating in the other. He has never liked that sort of event and now that his hearing is deteriorating he likes them even less. He would rather an intimate gathering of no more than half a dozen family and friends. He will tolerate Christmas Day with my sister's Greek relatives because he recognises it is kind of them to insist on including us. I know he would be just as happy at home with a piece of chicken and salad for lunch.
Presents however are another matter. He prides himself on making those.
My father will wrap his presents, as always, on Christmas Eve. He will have made his presents in the shed. They will be the irregular shapes of bowls, boxes, pens, puzzles, toys or whatever else has challenged him this year. I know I will be called in to help - and I am prepared with extra wrapping paper, tape and ribbon.
As we go through the wrapping process he will mutter, "I don't know why I don't just give everyone a book - so much easier to wrap."
It has been the same each year for years now. I will just be sad when that changes - or when I can no longer find him a new book of jokes to share on Christmas Day.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Year twelve examination results

came out yesterday.
They always come out a few days before Christmas and there are mixed views about this. On balance I think most students are just glad to have the waiting over and done with. Those who have done well sigh with relief. Those who have not done so well try to forget while festivities take place.
I went to school long enough ago to have faced an entirely different examination system. We did one set of "public examinations" at the end of what is now Year 10. It was our "Intermediate" year. Our results also came out in a very public manner. They were printed in the state newspaper. Many students rushed into the newspaper building in the city in order to get the first edition of the paper. The rest of us waited anxiously for the thud of the paper on the front lawn or drive. In our family we then had to wait for my parents to open the paper and look - or so my mother thought.
I was the first child in our family to be put in this position. I can remember my mother saying, "You can wait." I did not want to wait but I did not dare do otherwise.
Fortunately my father was equally anxious to know. There were other students at the school who were in the same year as me. He had not just one child to worry about but many. My mother still insisted we wait until after breakfast. Her argument was that she needed to get on and get things done and nothing was going to change the results.
My brother managed to learn from this. When his turn came he arranged for a friend to 'phone him at a pre-arranged time. I have forgotten what time or how many times the 'phone was to be allowed to ring but I know it was early enough in the morning for us all to be in bed. My brother had let me in on the plan. Shortly afterwards we hugged one another in the bathroom knowing he had done well before the paper even thudded onto the lawn.
His friend's sister did the same thing for me when our next set of results came out. She had been let in on the secret and offered to do it. It is the only time I have ever welcomed the sound of the telephone ringing early in the morning.
My mother never knew. We were still on a rural telephone exchange and the 'phone did occasionally do odd things.
Now examination results come privately in the post. Students can also look their own results up on a website if they obtain a PIN number to do it. The world does not need to know how well or badly you have done unless you choose to tell them.
My father was talking about this yesterday. He remarked on how we had always been seemingly willing to wait and how he felt we should have been allowed to open the paper and see for ourselves.
I must ask my brother to tell him what we did.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Evidence was not my favourite subject

in Law School. I did not much care for Criminal Law either. Both were required subjects or I may not have done them. At the end of both I was more convinced than ever that the law is not always about justice.
Yesterday our court system dropped a case of alleged sexual misconduct because of issues with obtaining the necessary evidence. The defendant was the driver of a school bus used by children with intellectual disabilities. The alleged victims were some of his passengers. It was said that getting the necessary evidence from children with intellectual disabilities was not going to be possible within the requirements of the Evidence Act. Indeed there was a suggestion that it was not possible to obtain any reliable evidence from them.
I disagree. It would have been very difficult but it would have been possible. It should have been done. It is possible to obtain evidence admissable in a court of law even from people who have quite profound communication impairments.
An inability to speak does not necessarily mean a failure to understand or an inability to impart information. Questions can be framed in such a way that they are not "leading" - suggesting the answer the questioner wants. They can be asked in such a way that the individual being asked can choose between options acceptable to both sides. The most common options will be "yes" or "no" but they can involve other choices - perhaps between persons or objects or places.
Yes, asking questions like this requires training and great skill. It requires an understanding of the difficulties being faced by the person endeavouring to answer the questions. It takes far more time.
I suspect that the real problem with the case which was dropped yesterday is that those involved did not understand how to communicate with each other, let alone how to communicate with the communication impaired. The prosecution saw a distressing scenario for the alleged victims and the defence was only too willing to concur because a guilty verdict would have meant gaol time for the defendant.
We need to change more than the Evidence Act. We need to change the belief that the inability to communicate fluently with words means an inability to communicate. It does not. In this case lack of knowledge and skills has led to justice not being done.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The death of the leader of

North Korea has set off another round of speculation as to what life in North Korea is really like.
All we ever see on television are the appalling pictures of starving children, almost empty roads, grey buildings and grand military displays or "celebrations". We never see what life is really like on a daily basis. That is left to our imaginations.
I am sure some people believe "it cannot be as bad as all that or people would rebel", others are appalled and wonder why people do not try to do something about their situation. There are still others who do know something about life in North Korea and know how difficult it will be to do anything. They may even understand the tear apparently being shed for the death of a man who was apparently a ruthless dictator.
Last night one of our neighbours said to me, "I wonder if there are even any books written about North Korea."
I knew he did not mean academic tomes. That would not be what he was looking to read. He has plenty of that sort of material to read in his own area. He was thinking "fiction" because he and his wife are going on holiday. He had come to borrow a few books from us.
I could only think of one author, "James Church". I do not own any of his books but I have read two. They were paperback donations to the local library.
Church has apparently written four books about "Inspector 'O' ". They are detective stories. They are not stories about a rebel. 'O' is a loyal member of the communist party. It is also suggested he has a relative somewhere high up in the Party. In the first two books he moves relatively freely within the restrictions imposed by the State - although he is always conscious of the surveillance by others - and is trusted to travel inside the country. Despite that the atmosphere is strange.
There is an almost overwhelming feel of being stifled in Church's books. He does not criticise the regime. He does not need to. He is just, I believe, trying to give a sense of the place as he believes it must be like.
I have not read the last two books. I am unlikely to do so unless they appear on the library shelves and I am short of light bedtime reading. All the same I am glad I did read the first two. Church may not have a very accurate picture of life in North Korea but I suspect it is far more accurate than many writers could manage. What he conveys very successfully is the sense of not being able to do certain things - even for a man who clearly has the right to do more than most.
He conveys the corruption, the lack of food, the need to obtain permission to travel, the problems with actually travelling, the constant watchfulness of everyone - the overall discomfort of daily life. North Korea is almost certainly all those things and much more.
Even when it frustrates him 'O' accepts it. He knows what he cannot do - and the consequences of doing the "wrong" thing. 'O' is shown as being better informed than some of his fellow North Koreans but his access to information is severely restricted. It hampers him.
It explains much about why people inside North Korea do not rebel. They know what they cannot do. They know the consequences of not doing the "right" thing. They do not have the knowledge to rebel or the physical and mental energy to do so.
There was another death reported yesterday, that of the writer Vaclav Havel, one time President of the Czech Republic. Havel was a reluctant politician but I heard him described by his biographer as "an honest writer". A Czech migrant to Australia once described Havel to me as "true to himself and to others". It was clear that he admired Havel. If she sheds tears over Havel's death they will, I am sure , be genuine. There will be genuine grief in the Czech Republic - and elsewhere - over his death.
Perhaps people in North Korea do genuinely believe they are grieving over the death of their "beloved leader". Perhaps though they are actually grieving for themselves. They just do not realise it yet.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Good words make good ropes

which can bind us together.
My friend Jane has been telling us how her son is going to have to say a physical goodbye to his best friend. His best friend is going back to Australia. Her son will be staying in England. There will be a long way between them. They are not that old. Things will change.
My brother had a friend in primary school with whom he shared many things. When we moved they did not write letters to one another. Boys rarely do. But, for the next six years, they sent tapes to one another. These were made on old reel-to-reel tape recorders. From memory the sound quality was not wonderful but they talked to one another in this way. This was done in the days before cassette tape recorders were common, before long distance telephone calls were cheap and long before the internet, e-mail or skype were thought of.
Eventually one of the tape recorders did not function. They finished school and followed different career paths. My brother moved to the other side of Australia and they lost contact.
It is, I suspect, the story of many childhood friendships - even some of those which seem to be "forever". There are a few rare and precious friendships which last beyond that.
I suspect they come from much more stable backgrounds than ours. We moved too many times to make close friendships. As "the head's kids" (my father was the school principal) we had almost no chance of making close friendships. The lad my brother was friendly with was an exception. One of his sisters is still friendly with one of mine. It is the only school based friendship which remains for any of us.
It may be different now with the internet, with e-mail, with skype or other functions. A long distance telephone call is no longer a complicated matter of booking a call and wondering how to get everything in to three minutes. My extended clan will no doubt use mobile telephones to talk to family around Australia on Christmas Day.
I was reminded of all this because there was a death notice in today's paper for someone we knew. Peter's death was not unexpected. He had leukaemia and we knew he was back in hospital. I feel sad for his family but Peter was simply exhausted.
The last time I saw him was at our front door. He came to see if my father felt as if he was still up to delivering the Neighbourhood Watch newsletters for the three streets he has delivered in since he ceased to be Area Coordinator more than fifteen years ago. It was typically thoughtful of Peter. I told Peter I would do it if Dad felt he could not do it. He nodded, thanked me and then went down the side of the house to my father's workshop. I have no idea what they talked about but I could hear laughter out in the shed. It was something that happened once every so often. Each enjoyed the company of the other.
When I told my father that the death notice was in the paper this morning he was silent for a moment and then sighed and said, "He was a good man. There were always good words between us."
Peter was young enough to be my father's son but there was a rope of words between them. Good words make good ropes. Good ropes make good friendships.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Our smoke alarm has been

squawking on and off most of the night. It is not the "bleep" of a dying battery. A new battery was put into it yesterday. My nephew came over and put it in when it squawked yesterday. We thought it had solved the problem. It has not. There are some people who would be on the 'phone to the same nephew demanding something be done about it but my father and I are waiting for a more reasonable hour.
My father was even contemplating trying to climb the ladder himself - until I told him "under no circumstances". He has meekly given in. I do not attempt to climb ladders. I have never attempted to climb ladders.
Ladders are dangerous. My father did not know who Ian "Molly" Meldrum was until yesterday. He does now because Mr Meldrum also fell off a ladder and is still in an induced coma as a result. Perhaps one good thing may come out of Mr Meldrum's accident. It may make some people more careful about ladders - although it did not stop my father thinking he might (in-ably assisted by Yours Truly) climb the first three steps of one. No.
But there is something else that also puzzles me. After all these years nobody has invented what seems obvious to me. A system whereby it would be possible to raise and lower light fittings, smoke alarms and other things affixed to ceilings or high on walls in such a way that globes and batteries could be replaced without the need to climb a ladder. Surely this would be possible?
In the meantime - I have a headache from the noise - and I need an extended catnap!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

We have a swarm of bees

in our back garden. They have been there for two days now. They are industrious and remarkably noisy.
We left them alone - hoping they would move on of their own accord - but they appear to want to settle in the creeper vine which covers the old shade house. That means that this morning we need to call in a beekeeper. These bees need to be moved on and only a professional beekeeper can do that without harming them.
We are doing this reluctantly because we are fully aware of the value of bees and the fact that bee numbers have dropped around the world. In some places their numbers are so low that there is real concern for their survival. We would like to offer these bees a home simply for that reason.
We know the bees have been attracted by not just the creeper vine but the lavender and other bee delights in our garden and the neighbour's garden. The very fact that they have arrived and want to settle in tells us that we have done something right in the garden. The problem is that there are other living things which also need to be protected, especially small children and animals.
When we lived on Kangaroo Island we were introduced to the Ligurian bees which were then housed in Flinders Chase - the sanctuary at one end of the island. A bee sanctuary was established there in 1884 with bees were brought out from Italy in the early 1880s. They are thought to be the last remaining pure strain but even they are under threat. They have been known since Roman times and have the advantage of being much more docile than many strains of bee. Great efforts are being made to not just maintain the colonies there but to export bees to other area in the hope of re-establishing bees.
Although they seem friendly enough (in that we have not been bitten) these will not be Ligurian bees but they are valuable bees.
My father, who tries to be an organic gardener, is very conscious of the bee crisis. He will be watching today's bee removal very anxiously. The apiarist says he will be here within the hour.
I am very glad such people exist to take care of such small but valuable creatures.

Friday, 16 December 2011

The pay rise for our

Prime Minister and her fellow members of parliaments was officially confirmed yesterday. Her pay packet is now officially just under one hundred times more than what mine is.
Our Prime Minister now gets paid more than twice as much as the Prime Minister of Britain - oh and more than the President of the United States. Australia must be the most important country in the world!
I rather doubt that. Australia is, in the scheme of international affairs, not that influential. Still, running a country is a pretty important sort of job. You should be well paid for doing it - or so the argument goes.
I wonder what my mother would make of this if she was still alive. I wonder what hundreds of thousands of other Australian women make of it. You see there was the other piece of news in the paper this morning. Women's pay is slipping further behind men's pay again.
When my mother started teaching in 1946 she was paid less than her male colleagues. She was paid less for doing the same job simply because she was a woman. When my mother married my father she had to "resign" from the Education Department for three days and then be re-employed. She lost "long-service" and sick leave entitlements because she was a woman. Men faced no such problems. They were however expected to provide support for their partners.
Our Prime Minister and her parliamentary colleagues face no such problems.
Out in the real world things are better than they were when my mother started work. You no longer need to resign - if you did you would likely not be re-employed. You keep your long service and sick leave entitlements. (If you are wondering what "long-service" leave is it is a left over from the colonial era when people went "home" to the UK or other parts of Europe for a time after ten or fifteen years of service.) You can get maternity (and paternity) leave too.
There are still problems of course. Interruptions to a career do not usually help you climb a career ladder.
I do not know how many hours our Prime Minister worked last week. Neither of us has children so we were not involved in school runs and after school classes. The Whirlwind did not make undue demands on my time either. Indeed it was a fairly quiet week for me. There is still an urgent need for support for aid workers everywhere but there was no new disaster of catastrophic proportions. I only worked for sixty-two hours, not including my domestic responsibilities. The Prime Minister probably worked longer than that. Perhaps that is why she gets paid so much more - but more than ten-to-twenty times what most women get and one hundred times more than me?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Our house is singularly lacking in

Christmas decorations. We do not have a Christmas tree. We do not have Christmas lights. We do not have Christmas "snow" dust on the windows. The Christmas cards are stacked on the table. There is no Christmas wreath on the door. Our street tree is not sporting a Christmas bow.
When my mother was alive we would have had all these things. She would have had the nativity set on the coffee table (sans baby until Christmas Day) and, at very least, the cards strung up.
My father just shrugs. He grumbles about Christmas cards because he dislikes the physical act of writing anything, even signing his name is an effort. He would rather talk to people. Our 'phone bill will be large as he has rung his cousins in far distant places rather than send a card. It is the way he likes to do it now.
"You should just do it!" my sister tells me of Christmas decorations, "He would like it if you did it."
No, he would not. I know why he does not want to do it. All of that reminds him of what Christmas was like when my mother was alive. He does not want to be reminded of that. It is not that he particularly cared for those things himself but they remind him of her. He has no problem with seeing decorations in other places. He simply does not want them here.
I have made a Christmas cake, well more than one Christmas cake as some go to other people. I have made mince pies. My father is not particularly a "sweet tooth" person but he does like mince pies.
I have also made shortbread, rather a lot of shortbread. Most of the shortbread is due to be parcelled up in cellophane bags tied with curling ribbon. It will be passed on to those people who have done us good service during the year. This is the sort of thing that makes Christmas for my father.
He has been working in his shed for weeks on toys for children of his acquaintance. This year it is hobby horses for his great-grandchildren and the curate's daughter, games of various sorts for other children he knows. He has made various useful items for other people he knows. Presents, he says, should be useful. They should not collect dust. Presents should thank other people for their love and friendship.
The cake, mince pies and shortbread will disappear. If he does not want the house decorated or the cards strung up that does not matter. What does matter is the little wooden horses which will gallop into the lives of three little girls on Christmas morning. They will come with the real spirit of Christmas.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

"No, I am sorry but your son may not read

the rest of my book."
Yesterday I had another rejection from an agent. They are a common event in a writer's life, especially for a new writer trying to break in to the world of fiction for children. They are so common that they are barely worth commenting on. It seems the world is full of frustrated writers papering the walls with their rejection slips. I do not comment on mine - or did not until now. I will comment on this one.
This was a standard, impersonal rejection "letter". Yes, better than not getting a reply at all. I do acknowledge that. But, I wonder would I even have got that?
Underneath there was a note, "My 10yr old son would like to read the rest of the story. Please can you send as e-mail attachment."
To say that I was taken aback does not really describe how I felt. As an action it could scarcely be less professional. Well, I suppose she did say please but.... Here was someone who had just rejected my work asking for a free copy so her son could finish reading the story?
Now, my manuscript has travelled. I know it may have to travel further. It is robust. It can manage the journey. It is currently with another two agents and a publisher. The publisher offered to look at it but I rather doubt she will find the time. I do not intend to demand an answer when it was an offer to help. The other agents have not yet responded. If they turn it down I will have to spend a considerable sum of money sending the first three chapters by mail to other agents who do not read things as e-mail attachments. I accept all that. It is the way these things work. If I believe in what I have written I will do these things.
I will keep trying because the feedback I have had suggests it is not an entirely hopeless case. I can even look at this rejection and say to myself, "Well her son likes it even if she doesn't!"
What I do know is that the person who wrote this e-mail could have asked for the full manuscript and then rejected it. That way her son could have read the entire story. I feel sorry for her son. Should I do it for him?

I was given a little machine

yesterday. It is made of purple plastic. Apparently it eats yarn. You have to thread it up with yarn around four little hooks and latches. When you feed it the yarn you have to turn a little handle at one side so that it can also digest the yarn. If you do this for long enough it is supposed to produce a long thin worm-like cord. Yes, it is supposed to make "French" knitting or "tomboy" stich or "idiot" cord - or just i-cord. I think the Americans may also call it "spool-knitting". (If anyone reading this knows another name then I will be interested to learn of it.)
If you are old enough you will remember the joys of wooden cotton reels, four nails, a "bobby" or "hair" pin and some wool. You threaded the wool through the hole in the cotton reel, wound the wool around the needles and then, very slowly, looped the loops of yarn over the nails until you had a long, thin worm coming out of the hole. The excitement when that happened was immense.
Everyone I knew made yards of it in school - now they make metres of it with four ice-cream sticks stuck to a cardboard tube. It is not the same.
Making it with the little machine is not the same either. This was demonstrated to me. Thread the yarn, make sure the little weight holding the yarn in place is attached, turn the handle, turn the handle, turn the handle...
I have always had a problem with anything mechanical. It gets boring after a bit. The result it produces is too uniform. It lacks the challenge of trying to get each individual stitch over a nail. I found that almost impossible. I never managed to produce more than a few inches of worm. It was not for want of trying. My paws were just not made to do it. My nephews and the Whirlwind produced more in an hour than I managed to produce in days. My father was kept busy for days turning out new cotton reels (they no longer make wooden reels) and banging in nails. The Whirlwind once went to school with enough "cotton reels" for all eighteen girls in her class.
I can remember one boy in primary school making enough of it to go right around the school yard. Nobody knew quite what to do with it. Most of it was, I think, coiled up and turned into pot-holders. It was too light to be turned into skipping ropes but I suppose there were also tea-cosies and, perhaps, hats. The Whirlwind's class made toys for an animal shelter. Yes, a good use but there is only so much you can use for that if you can crank out metres of it by the hour.
But apparently there is now a much greater need for all this cord. This is why you need the little machine. I am still not quite sure what you do with it all. I may knit some of it if the Whirlwind can produce enough. It needs investigation.

Monday, 12 December 2011

"He wants to drop Chinese

next year but he did really well at it and we think he should continue with it."
I can see an argument brewing here. I was talking to the father of the boy who lives opposite the Whirlwind and her father - or rather, he was talking to me.
His son is moving into the last two years of secondary schooling next year. He is a "nice kid" and has, so far, worked hard and well at school. He is always at or near the top of his year. He quite likes maths but likes English and French more. He does not like Chinese.
Up until the end of this year Chinese has been compulsory. Last year there were just eight boys in the year ahead of him who continued with Chinese - and five of them came from Chinese families. My nephews, who attended another school where Chinese was compulsory, also dropped it as soon as possible - although my youngest nephew was consistently top of the class.
He saw no point in continuing. After ten years he could not hold a simple conversation with the parents of his Chinese "best" friend. I think they spoke Hokkien but even if they had spoken standard Mandarin there would, he says, have been a problem.
This morning, oddly enough, there was a report in the paper about the low numbers continuing with an Asian language to the end of secondary school. It does not surprise me. Languages are time intensive to learn and languages like Chinese and Japanese tend to be even more time intensive.
Australian schools do not make provision for that. The expectation is that classroom time needs to be no more than it is for any other language - or maths or science. The teaching is often far from expert - and rarely from a native speaker of the language. All of those things have a negative impact.
There are also few opportunities to hear things like Japanese or Mandarin Chinese spoken in the community - and even less opportunity to attempt to engage in conversation. For all we are being told that Asian languages are important to our future the opportunities to use them while learning are very limited. It must make them appear irrelevant to young students.
I would like to see all students have the opportunity to learn a second language but I also believe that compelling them to learn one language over another is not necessarily going to bring about the desired outcomes.
In this case the boy in question wants to continue with French rather than Chinese. I hope his parents and his school allow him to do so.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

There will be a National Year of Reading

in 2012. Yes, I have known about this for some time now.
Yesterday a regular reader of this blog commented on the fact that I had not yet mentioned it here. She thought I would be full of enthusiasm and praise for the idea - and that I would be taking every opportunity to advertise it. I might. Next year.
In the meantime I have a problem. The problem is in the form of a "list". I know people love making lists. There are all those books of places, things, books, foods etc you must try before you die. There are lists of the fastest, longest, widest, most etc - think Guinness Book of Records and other things. There are every day lists and lists that form part of the school and university curriculum - and there are the other reading lists.
Now, we need reading lists. Reading lists are an essential part of any formal education. The problem is that they can be good, indifferent or bad and they can be used in a way which is good, indifferent or bad.
The National Year of Reading (NYR) is planning a list. It is planning a list of 8 books or, as Margaret Allen, chairman of the NYR puts it, "For 2012, we're creating a collection of books which, read together, describe the Australian experience."
For that purpose each state and territory has been given a short list of books by authors within their states. Readers can vote on these and one book from each state and territory will end up on the list. Read those and, apparently, you have read a description of "the Australian experience".
There are six books on the list for our state. The boy who works part-time in our local bookshop, a self-confessed "bookaholic" admitted he had not read any of them. The other staff member on duty that day had read one. We all agreed that the most likely name, that of Colin Thiele, was missing from the South Australian list.
And that is where the problem starts. There are things which, inevitably, have to be left off. There are things which, equally inevitably, do not interest me - and perhaps many others. I have read one of the books listed for our state. I have skimmed two and glanced at two more. The writing in them did not grab me, The sixth I had not come across but have just searched for online. I am not likely to read it. The subject matter does not interest me. The book I have read probably comes closest to the idea of "the Australian experience" - not just for me but for many others. It may not end up as the chosen book however because it is clear that there are other factors at work here. The list will not be just about reading, but about reading certain things. It is, all too often, the way these things works. I know why it happens but it saddens me.
The list will be a bad list, even if the books on it are "good" books. The list will be used as a prescription, a "must" read list if you are going to be considered "culturally literate". There will be too many people who look at the chosen books and feel failures when they do not read them - or do read them and do not like them.
If we must have such lists then they should be long, varied and come with the warning that they are not to be taken as prescription reading.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

"So what did you get for

Christmas when you were a kid?"
The Whirlwind is standing in the kitchen with a fresh baked biscuit in each hand. She is looking at me in a worried sort of way. We have just been discussing the vexed problem of Christmas presents. Her friends at school have clearly been discussing this at length. There is a strict rule about not giving one another presents but that does not stop them talking about such things. I rather suspect that most of them will get far more than she will . This has always been the case and, to date, it has not worried her. I doubt it will worry her now. She has no high expectations.
Her friends however are different. New mobile phones and i-pads, brand name clothing and footwear are apparently high on their lists of demands. These are for girls not yet in their teens. The Whirlwind does not have a mobile phone or an i-pad. Her use of a computer is strictly controlled too. She has some brand name clothing but, as she is not a very big child, it is all hand-me-down clothing from mothers who know she is motherless. They believe she is deprived and in need of clothing in this way. Perhaps she is - but she does not think so.
I explain again to her about the way we would get "best" clothes and maybe a book for Christmas. As her own expectations are no higher the demands of the others still puzzle her.
"But why do the others want so many things?"
We have had this conversation before - last year and the year before. She still wants an answer and I cannot give her one. I know what she would like more than anything else. She would like her mother to be alive and doing "Mum" things with her. I am a poor substitute for that. She has already managed to learn that "things" can never substitute for that either. Being a sensible child she will relish all the time her father can give her over the holiday break but he cannot entirely make up for lack of "Mum" either.
I know that, as usual, they will be away for the Christmas and New Year break her father takes from work. I also know that the young Whirlwind will have fewer "things" but a great deal "more" of what really matters - and she already knows it.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Our library service recently went through

the rather pointless exercise of swapping books around from one library to another. I need to explain here that the library service is run by the local council. There are two libraries and a "home library service" intended for use by the housebound. Other councils have a similar arrangement.
The books in both libraries appear on the same catalogue. If you want something from the other physical library which is not in the physical library you use you can ask for it to be brought to your physical library or you can go to the other physical library and fetch it. Books can be returned to either library. There is also a van which does a delivery between the physical libraries just after lunch each day.
Of course there are always people who are not aware of these things so the idea of swapping the books around probably seemed like a good one. There would, the library service argued, be new reading matter for everyone at very little cost to the council. It was a cost-cutting exercise. There would be no need to spend so much money on new books.
And that is precisely what has happened. There have been some new books of course. Not even the council believes they can get away without buying any new books. They have even bought a few books by the most popular authors but lesser known authors are not getting their books on the shelves. Non-fiction is "remainder" or donations. I found out yesterday that, as I suspected, the patchwork books I had been reading were donations from a deceased estate. Their previous owner would be pleased to think they were being used but alarmed by the sad state of library finances.
I am deeply concerned by the state of our libraries. They are an essential part of the community but they are not recognised as such. It is just not possible to buy every book you want to read. Libraries are also a resource for the things you did not know you wanted to read. Readers need libraries. Writers need readers. Writers need libraries.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The "Stroppy Author" has a blog post up

about the importance of doing research and getting things right. You can read it here if you are interested: and, if you are a writer or, like me, a would-be writer, then you should be interested. Getting things right is important. It matters to the reader.
I am always surprised by how much research can go into an apparently straightforward novel.
Cynthia Harnett, author of just a few children's novels, is reputed to have spent about two years researching each book. She did this in the days before the internet and without the resources writers now have. Even now though, were she still alive and writing, it would take her months of research to write the books. Reading them as a child I loved all the little details about things like sheep farming in the Cotswolds and Caxton's printing press. I do not think I even considered the amount of work the author had gone to in order to provide all these details although I was certainly in awe of the idea that I could actually visit some of the places where Nicholas and Bendy might have been had they been real people. Now I am even more amazed by it.
And I have amazed myself by what I am prepared to research in order to provide background or find out if something is possible - even when I am aware that what I am writing may never end up on the shelves of a bookshop or a library. The "Stroppy Author" is absolutely right when she says it is important to get these things right and respect your reading by doing just that.
I was talking with a school teacher acquaintance about this recently. Her views about the importance of reading fiction and mine are far apart. I believe it is very important for children to have access to a wide range of both fiction and non-fiction and that they should be encouraged to read it. Her view is that fiction does not matter too much. If children want to read it fine but really all that matters is reading for information. There are, she tells me, too many other things for children to do now. We are never likely to agree.
We are also never likely to agree on the importance of being accurate. Without telling her why I asked her how she thought an eleven year old boy might make his way (long distance) to Canberra alone. Her response was that he could "probably just get on a train or a bus". To her issues of age did not matter, routes did not matter, timetables did not matter. She shrugged them off as being of no importance. I asked her to ask her class the same question and, to her credit, she did. They came back with much the same response. One boy had however bothered to go to the internet and look up times and routes.
"It would be difficult," he apparently told his teacher. He was right. It forms a major part of the story his teacher does not know I am writing.
It should not be an obvious part of the story when I have finished but it has to be right. It has to be possible. It is why research matters.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Someone sent me a link to a "random

act of culture" yesterday. It was yet another very bad (but undoubtedly enjoyed) rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. It was not, of course, random at all. The whole event had been carefully organised and planned - but probably not rehearsed anywhere else.
There are a number of these to be found on the internet. Some of them are better than others. This one was only of interest to me because I could (just) see a friend's son and daughter taking part.
People can do this sort of thing now. They can put up almost anything they like on the internet. The internet is, I suspect, overloaded with similar events.
I was reminded however of what was almost certainly a "random act of culture". We were living in a very small Australian "town" - the size of the place would qualify for "slightly more than a hamlet but less than a village" in England. That year we were hosting Christmas. Both sets of grandparents, an uncle and his family were coming to us for the day.
First of all however there was church. As always on Christmas Day there were some strange faces, people we did not know. We assumed they were staying in the district.
We eventually trooped reluctantly into church. The music there was supplied by an asthmatic "pedal organ" played by the woman who played the piano for the "band" which did the music for the local football dances. It was a shocking instrument and the hymn singing was - well it was not singing although everyone tried.
The minister, no more musical than the rest of the congregation, announced the first hymn and the church was suddenly filled with music, real music. At the back of the church there was the group of strangers - people who could actually sing. There was a stunned silence for a fraction of a moment and then everyone else joined in. Hymn singing that morning was a joyful affair, far removed from the usual droning efforts to make some sort of recognisable noise. It sounded like Christmas.
Ever since then I have had problems, especially with carols. The ersatz versions bleated out over the sound systems in shopping centres make me want to cover my ears. The badly sung versions I occasionally hear sung by school "choirs" bother me. Like my father I avoid carol concerts in the park with renditions of non-carols such as "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer" belted out by a "pop" group. Somehow these things do nothing for me.
I suppose I am a musical snob but I prefer the solo treble of a choirboy opening the King's College service with "Once in Royal David's City" or the Hallelujah Chorus sung by people who have rehearsed it sufficiently well to sing in tune and in a coordinated manner - or the four or five adults at the back of a small country church who could, quite simply, sing in tune and sing well and help those of us who can do neither enjoy ourselves.
I want it to sound like Christmas.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

If 3.8 million children in the

United Kingdom do not own a book then how many children in Australia do not own a book? What would happen if every child owned just one book? Why do children not own books?
I do not know the answers to those questions.
I suspect there are, proportionally, at least as many children in Australia who do not own a book. There may be even more. Although more people visit libraries each week than go to football matches in Australia that does not mean Australians read more than their UK counterparts. There are other reasons to visit libraries these days. There are magazines, CDs, DVDs and other items to borrow. There are computers to use. There are groups that meet which have nothing to do with books. Our local library has just done a "clothes swap" for the local teenagers. (It was apparently a roaring success.) Over the summer there will be craft sessions for children and story telling.
Books will be borrowed but, of course, even if you borrow books you do not necessarily own them.
After my visit to the vampire yesterday I had to go into the city. While I was there waiting for something else I wandered in to what had once been our local branch of Borders. It is, at least for a short time, another book store but it is not the same sort of book store. It is one of a chain of stores which sell "remainder" books.
These places bother me. I do go and look because sometimes there are single copies of books that have been sent as samples that local stores have decided not to stock. I have bought a number of useful books this way but I know that the author probably has not got a cent - and that bothers me.
There was a lot of adult fiction there as well as the usual cooking and gardening books. There were out of date travel and reference books. There were the cheaper sort of jigsaw puzzles and some cheap Christmas CDs I did not bother to even look at.
There were also some picture books for young children. They were not good picture books. These are books that do not appear to have an author. There is no name on the cover for either author or illustrator. The paper was poor quality and the print was poor quality. They still cost several dollars each. Better than no book at all? I do not know. I left them there.
There were no fiction books for "confident readers" or "middle-grade readers" or "young adults". I know I can find some of those in my local independent bookshop but, even there, the range is necessarily limited by space.
It is also, I think, limited by a belief that children do not want "those sort of books as presents". The theory seems to be "why give a child fiction if you can borrow it for nothing from the library?"
I still have the books that I had as a child. I read and re-read those. Admittedly we did not have television and there were no computers. There were fewer other distractions as well. I do wonder though, do all these distractions really mean that children do not need to read as much? Do they really mean that children do not even need to own a book?
I would have thought that now, more than ever, all children should own a book they love. They need a comfort-book like a comfort-toy. They need something they can go back to, something which is familiar and unchanging in a world which is constantly changing.
Perhaps it is time for a "buy a book for every child" campaign. Good books do make good presents!

Monday, 5 December 2011

I am about to visit the vampire

or, in other words, the nurse who takes the blood samples. No, I do not think there is anything wrong - although I always wonder until I learn the results - this is just part of the annual check up.
It means no breakfast and that makes me feel very cross and scratchy. I need breakfast. I know there are people who manage, apparently quite happily, not to have breakfast but I need it. I can - just - manage without something to eat in the middle of the day but I cannot go without breakfast. I can, quite definitely, manage without food after about seven in the evening. I do not like eating meals, especially heavy meals, late into the evening. (It is probably just as well I do not get invited to elaborate evening "dinners" that go on until ten or eleven at night.)
But breakfast is different. I need some fuel for the day. It does not have to be a lot, porridge or cereal will do.
I growled at my GP about the "no breakfast" part and he admitted that he had not eaten breakfast as a student. I wondered how on earth he managed to get through medical school. He admitted that he was not sure but that he now recognised the value of breakfast.
And we expressed mutual concern at the rise of "breakfast" clubs in schools. When my mother was running her last school here in the city it was in a poor and very socially difficult area. Most children came to school without having eaten so breakfast was the first "lesson" of the day. It would be a bowl of cereal and a drink. I can remember my mother saying the teachers said it made a difference.
Now there are "breakfast" clubs in many schools. Apparently they are needed because, in families with two working parents, there is "no time" to give children breakfast. Many of these children also buy their lunch from the school "tuck shop". Tuck shops have tried to provide healthier food in recent years but it is still not home made food. It has to be more expensive.
It seems to be another expense that a two-parents-working family just seems ready to accept as inevitable.
This may be why some children do not seem to know very much about food. Oh, they know what they should eat. They know about "healthy" food. What many of them do not know about is how food is prepared and cooked.
I hope that the Whirlwind and her father enjoyed the salmon patties I showed her how to make yesterday. She believes she needs to know how to cook so as to "look after my Dad" and I am happy to help with the occasional lesson. I doubt I have any more time than a working parent but I make it because I believe it is important. Do parents who use breakfast clubs and allow their children to always buy their lunch think food is important? I suppose they must. They just do it differently.
I need breakfast - and I hope the blood test does not reveal the icecream I ate on Friday!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

I have been looking at books about

patchwork. Anyone who has been reading this blog for long enough will remember my views on patchwork. I see no point in cutting up pieces of material merely in order to sew them back together again. I do not sew. I am quite definitely allergic to sewing needles.
Knitting needles are a different story. My paws can manage those. I make things. Most of the time I make things for other people. There is always someone who needs something. That is reasonable. It also means I can do something useful once in a while.
The problem is, what do you do with the left overs? As someone nicely pointed out recently, if I knit bits I can perhaps knit or crochet them together. I have been thinking about this.
The problem now is that I need to think of ways to actually do it. I have to design something and put it together. I do not know what to design or how to put it together. I have resorted to looking at patchwork books.
There are plenty of these in the library. There are many more patchwork books than there are knitting books on our library shelves. Are there really that many more people who do patchwork? I do not know. The books are there. I am making use of them. They are a potential design resource.
It is not that which fascinates me however. It is the history. What I like is that the first quilts were made for much the same purpose as I intend. They were made to use up the pieces and turn them into something useful and warm. I like that idea.
You can look at a very old pioneer quilt here and it will almost certainly be made out of flour bags, hessian matting, the last remnants of a man's shirt and work trousers, a small snippet of a woman's "Sunday gown". I wonder what sort of bread was made from the flour in those bags, who wore the shirt and trousers and whether the Sunday gown was comfortable or uncomfortable to wear. I wonder who made the quilt too. It would, most likely, have kept someone warm in a basic "bark hut" in winter.
One of the books I have looked at is a book of two hundred and twenty five patterns from a quilt made and finished in 1863. The woman who made the quilt was waiting for her husband to come home from war. Every square is different. They have all been given names in the book. Some, like Water Lily, Wild Goose Chase and Autumn Aster are romantic enough. Others, like Widow's Pane and Sergeant Green's Badge, are a sad reminder of why the quilt was being made.
A quilt like that had more than one purpose too. It used up every last piece of fabric in the house. It was a sampler for further quilts. There would, more than likely, be some sort of social "quilting bee" when sewers got together and stitched the layers together. Sometimes they were wedding presents. They were used.
Not all quilts made now get used. Some of them are intended to be works of art and hang on walls. I suppose that is a use of a sort. Others get made and then stored in cupboards. I know several people who have chests and cupboards filled with quilts they have made. They have nowhere else to put them. One woman has just moved house. She now has an entire room devoted to quilt making and the storing of quilts. They do not get used.
One man I know rolls his quilts up in tissue paper and stores them in long tubular bags on shelves in his workroom. Occasionally he will change one "wall hanging" for another so as to give them all an airing. He has also made quilts for numerous friends - mostly as presents for their civil union ceremonies. His own is made out of scraps cut from old cloths once owned by his family. He uses it to cover his bed because, he says, that is where it ought to be.
"My family keeps me warm," he told me. I rather like that idea too.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

"It's my pocket money..."

As I stand there with the collection tin for the Christmas Bowl appeal I have been watching this boy. He whizzed into the shopping centre ahead of his mother. She stopped at the greengrocer and he did small circles as he waited for her there and then further small circles at the butcher next to the greengrocer.
Across the aisle there is a shop which sells yoghurt, fresh yoghurt and frozen yoghurt in any number of flavours. It is, supposedly, a healthier treat than the stall with the virulent coloured icecream at the other end of the mall.
I can see him eyeing the yoghurt stall. Then he looks at me. He stops whizzing around and reads the poster next to me from some distance back. Then he continues his whizzing.
His mother finishes at the butcher and he follows her to the yoghurt stall. Once there she hands him some money and indicates the array of flavours in the frozen section. Clearly she is asking which one he wants. He hesitates and looks back at me. There is a moment of earnest conversation and then he whizzes over to me and stops. He looks at me carefully and then says,
"It's my pocket money but I think you had better have it this time."
"All of it?" I ask. There is not a lot there but if it is all his pocket money I think I had better check.
He hesitates again and then nods. His mother nods from a distance. I hold the tin right down so that he can put the coins in. Then I say, "Do you want a sticker?"
He nods.
"Yes please."
"Where would you like me to put it?"
"On the back please next to the smiley one."
He whizzes around expertly. I put the sticker next to another one on the back of his little electric wheelchair and he whizzes off after giving me a rather shy smile.
Someone else had been watching too. He had been sitting at the cafe next to the yoghurt shop. When the child and his mother had gone he sauntered over to me.
"I'm fed up with this charity collection bit. There's always someone in here."
I can sympathise with that. I feel the same way myself.
"And I was watching that kid...."
"It was his pocket money," I tell him.
He looked at me.
"He chose to give me his pocket money instead of buying himself a frozen yoghurt."
He looked at me some more. I looked back. He heaved a sigh, emptied his pocket of a little loose change and put it in the tin. No, he did not want a b..... sticker. He went back and finished his snack and left - or I thought he had.
A few minutes later he came back with a note in his hand.
"Had to go to the teller machine," he growled and thrust it at me, striding off before I could even thank him again.
I folded the note carefully and put it in the tin.
People give in all sorts of different ways.

Friday, 2 December 2011

I am going to spend

an hour standing in our local shopping centre this afternoon. I am also going to do something I do not like doing. I am going to "sell badges" for the Christmas Bowl appeal.
The Christmas Bowl appeal is an inter-church, inter-fath effort to raise money for those in need at Christmas time - an attempt to make people think beyond the commercialism of Christmas celebrations.
Locally this is organised every year by the church my father attends. Every year it becomes harder and harder to find people who are actually able and willing to stand there for an hour with a collection box and a roll of stickers. Nobody gets paid to do the Christmas Bowl Appeal collection and it is, quite frankly, rather embarrassing to "beg" - even for a good cause.
Other people however do it all the time. Our local shopping centre is over-loaded with charity collectors. Once it was confined to Fridays only. Now it is six days a week. Only on Sundays is the shopping centre free of someone, sometimes more than one person, collecting for charity. There are people who are employed to do this. Local shoppers see them collecting for one charity and then another. They get paid (a pittance) to collect money. They spend their days standing or sitting there. They sometimes have a visible disability but, more often, they will have a mental illness. Their discomfort is obvious but they are required to do the job. It is part of their "rehabilitation" or their "contract" with the social services supposedly caring for them.
More often than not they will know nothing about the charity for which they are collecting. Some of them "entertain" themselves by listening to music. Others stare into space. A few try to accost shoppers with something like a "Hello, how are you today?" Most shoppers ignore them and walk on. It is simply not possible to give something every day of the week and people are now more aware of how little actually goes to the charity in question when money is raised in this way. Endeavouring to raise money in this way is inefficient and demeaning for those who do it.
I do not feel much happier about what I am doing but I will at least be labelled "volunteer". It is a one day of the year effort not a regular one. All the money raised apart from the barest of expenses (for tins and rolls of sticky badges) will go to the causes being supported. I have done it before and people will do things like empty their pockets or purses of loose change. Sometimes they will even say something like, "You're only here once" or "It's Christmas".
It is easier to be charitable then.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Now it is a $90,000 pay rise for

our Prime Minister. This will increase her pay packet to more than that of President Obama and and more than double that of the British Prime Minister.
Australia has about a third of the population of the United Kingdom. It is not a world power - although some of our politicians seem to think it is.
Australia is also over-governed. We have local councils (with responsibilities for things like local environmental issues, footpaths, libraries, dog registrations etc) and then state governments (each with a Premier and Cabinet etc etc) and then the federal government with even more of the same.
Our Taxation Act is the biggest and most complex in the world - but that says more about our incompetence than our size. There are also state taxes and federal taxes. Federal laws will over ride state laws but there is plenty of scope for both to exist - and they are not confined to the area of tax.
All this employs a great many people of course - and costs the economy far more than it should.
Perhaps it is all this that allows politicians to believe that they preside over a world power of greater importance and influence than the United States of America?
I am not however aware that our former Prime Ministers require life time protection. One of them still walks alone to the local newsagent to pick up a paper to read the reports about pay rises for his successors. Others may do the same thing. Is this the way a major power treats their former heads of government? Are they no security risk at all?
There are all sorts of arguments offered in support of the pay rise, mostly along the lines of "if you pay peanuts you get monkeys" and suggesting that our politicians work hard. Yes, a few of them do. Prime Ministers do work hard. Their job tenure is uncertain too. It is also argued that they "take on a huge responsibility".
But I know many other people who work just as hard for far less. Their job tenure is no more certain and they also take on a huge responsibility. The arguments on behalf of the "pollies" do not convince me that a pay rise of this magnitude is justified. If there was to be a rise at all then it should have been kept within the CPI.
That way they may be able to afford to pay at least my travel expenses and give me a cup of tea next time they "ask" me to attend a meeting "because it's for the disabled and, if you aren't there, we could have a negative outcome for the clients". Is that too much to ask?