Tuesday, 31 July 2012

When do you think you

"grew up" or "became an adult"?  At twenty one or (if you are younger) at eighteen? Was a birthday enough to make you think you were now an adult? Did it change things for you?
Tbe question was put to me yesterday after a piece appeared in our state newspaper about how and when people start to feel "grown up" or "adult". The article itself was rather interesting. I wonder how accurate it was because I know that newspapers tend to get things wrong as often as they get them right.
There was a suggestion that if you are poor you will grow up more rapidly. If you leave school and get a job and take on the associated responsibilities you will feel you become adult more quickly.
Students were said to feel they grew up more slowly. They were more likely to be financially dependent.
My youngest nephews are still students. I doubt they would say they are completely grown up even though they have just spent six weeks in Europe. (Europe survived and so did they.) It was a "growing experience" for them but they have come back to study, part-time employment and the usual round of household and family activities. They live at home. They have always lived at home.
I went away to school in my teens. It was a miserable experience. Did it make me "grow up"? No. I grew further away. I became more independent but I kept being dragged back and put back in the box marked "child" whenever I returned home. It was confusing and disturbing.
Later I had a job in a boarding school. It was much the same there because I was still a student as well. I was also a "junior housemistress" but I was only a year older than the girls I was supposed to be looking after Monday to Friday evenings. At weekends I was expected to be very grown up because I went off to work at a residential nursery school for the deaf. In both places I was told what to do by others - but told in quite different ways.
If I grew up at all I think I grew up when I left Australia and went to London. I was on my own at last. I could, within the limits of the university course I was doing, do as I wanted to do. Life was still regulated by the timetable at university and life in the hall of residence. I had money only for the bare necessities and no time for exploring the way I had hoped. What I did have was the freedom to make some choices for myself  - even if it was just the freedom to decide whether I needed to wear a raincoat or not or whether to eat muesli or cornflakes for breakfast. (No, I never ate cornflakes!)
But I was hauled back yet again and attempts were made to shut me into the box which said, "Not-yet-adult" and "Not-capable-of-caring-for-herself".
It was a battle until my mother died. My father still sees me as a child - his child - but he sees all his children this way.  I suspect all parents feel this way.
I think though being adult means taking responsibility for oneself and others. It is important to, in time, become adult. 
Whether it is important to grow up though may be something different. There are times when my father is not very grown up in the sense that he still enjoys the company of very small children, the games they play, the stories they like and so on. He can also enjoy serious conversation with an adult. He finds both things stimulating.
When I was asked about being and adult or "growing up" I thought about this. My father gets a lot of fun out of life. I think it's a good example to follow.
I don't think I want to "grow up" as such but I would like to be adult enough to continue "growing out" .

Monday, 30 July 2012

There was a knock on

our front door yesterday morning. When I answered I found someone we had not seen for a considerable time.
He lives just around the corner from us but our lives do not often cross these days. He used to own a bicycle shop in our local shopping centre. It was on the lower floor along with, oddly, the bookshop, a children's clothing shop and a "beauty parlour" and an underground car park.
I often wondered how any of those places managed to make a living. There was no real indication they were there.
We frequented the bookshop of course. We also visited the bicycle shop.  The first time I went was because my then new tricycle needed some adjustment. He did not stock tricycles and I had actually bought it directly from the manufacturer - now, sadly, not there.
I expected to have to leave my vehicle and come back for it later but no, he dropped everything and spent ten or so minutes making the adjustment.  He told me, "I know you need your wheels. If you ever need anything done just come straight in and I'll do it immediately."
He did too. I tried not to take advantage of the fact but there were a couple of desperate occasions when he mended a puncture and a broken brake cable. The charge was always minimal. I used to provide extra jars of marmalade and biscuits at Christmas time.
He sold the business and things changed. The new owners did not want to know about tricycles. Racing bikes are more their style. My serious tricycle maintenance is done by a friend of the Senior Cat instead. I am not happy about that but it is that or a much more complicated arrangement.
Yesterday though there was the old owner of the bicycle shop. He was looking a little worried,
           "Cat, is your tricycle here?"
           "Can you just check? I thought I saw someone riding it."
  We checked. It was there. He had seen two boys with a tricycle like mine. He knows them. They are "bits of lads" and he does not altogether trust them. Before he accused them of anything though he was going to check with me.
           "I know how much you need your wheels," he told me.
Yes, I do. Without my wheels I could not go far at all. We would not get the shopping done. There would be no visits to the library, going to the Post Office, checking on the elderly along my regular route, going to meetings or any of the other things my tricycle gets used for.  When I am without it for a day I feel trapped, as if I am under house arrest.
It was typical of our visitor. If it had been my tricycle the boys had been riding he would have gone to visit them. He would have brought it back. He would have checked it for damage.
We live in suburbia. Some people think they are lucky to know their neighbours in suburbia. I know everyone in our small street. I know almost everyone on my regular routes to the library, shops and railway station. There are a few I do not know by name but we recognise one another.
And I know some people beyond that. People like our visitor who care enough to bother to call in on a Sunday morning. He had not even had breakfast.
I think I might put a jar of marmalade on his doorstep!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Writing instructions is

much more difficult than it appears to be.
"Put the lid on the box" sounds straightforward but what if there is already a lid on the box and there is another lid next to it? Do you put another lid on the box?
If there is no lid on the box and a smaller lid next to it are you expected to turn the box upside down and put that lid on top of the bottom of the box?
It might all sound rather ridiculous but there was a similar problem yesterday. One of the members of the knitting group is trying to learn to crochet. She has subscribed to one of those magazines which come in weekly parts. It is supposed to teach her how to crochet.
I know the basics but I do not consider myself to be a crocheter. I am also left pawed and she is right pawed. One of the other members of the group does crochet well so she volunteered to help. Last time she showed our would-be crocheter how to do the basics. This time they were going to try the first square.
It should have been easy. It looked easy. It simply would not work. They both tried. They tried more than once. The girl next to them looked and could not get it right.
Eventually they passed the instructions over to me and the person sitting next to me. We read the instructions. They seemed straight forward but, at the end, there were words in brackets. They told you to ignore a "turning chain". The "turning chain" is at the beginning of the row and there is something similar at the end of the row.
The person sitting next to me and I looked at one another and I said, "Perhaps they mean the turning chain at the beginning of the row - not the end."
She agreed.
The row was undone yet again. This time they tried ignoring the chain at the beginning. They reached the end and counted the little fence posts of crochet again. Ah, the right number.
Poorly written instructions wasted an hour of their time. It is the sort of thing which should not happen. Instructions are difficult to write. They probably seemed quite logical to the person who wrote them but they also needed to be tested on someone else, someone who could not do the task and would not make any assumptions about the process.
It reminded me why I hate trying to write instructions.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

I suspect there will be

little reading of this blog, or any other blog, today. There may be a very few people looking at something other than the Olympic Opening Ceremony right now. Yes, I am one. We cannot view it in this house. No doubt we will see some heavily edited highlights on the evening news service.
I am not, as regular readers know, keen on sport. I know it would be nice if the Aussie athletes won some medals (and that they probably will) but it will not be the end of the world if they do not. 
I have been more concerned about the curiously negative reporting by many of our journalists in the lead up to the Olympics. I wonder if it will change now? Will they concentrate on the performance of the athletes or go on using the Olympics to, as one journalist put it to me, "take the opportunity to bash the Brits"? He seemed to think it was a marvellous opportunity to do just that. That sort of attitude is not, as they say, "cricket".  I do not remember their journalists doing it to Australia when the Olympics were held in Sydney. It is against the "Olympic spirit" too.
If Australia has a "good Olympics" (i.e. medals, preferably gold) then I imagine that little more negativity will prevail. If they do not then I imagine that the accommodation, the transport, the disruptions and anything else journalists can find, will be commented on instead. The weather (about which nothing can be done) will be used as an excuse - air quality is already being targetted.
I know that the Olympics are fought more like a war than played like a friendly sport but it all seems rather - well "unsporting" to me.

Friday, 27 July 2012

A National Disability Insurance Scheme

is one of those things on the long wish list of many people with disabilities and their carers. It would provide funding for all people with disabilities however they had acquired their disability. It would even out the inequitable arrangements between those born disabled, disabled through illness or personal accident or who acquired a disability through the "fault" of others. It has long been seen as unfair that someone who acquires an injury through a road accident will receive much greater assistance than someone who is born with a disability which leaves them similarly or even more severely disabled.
We thought we had moved a step closer when there was apparent bi-partisan support for an NDIS. The Opposition policy is to support an NDIS. It is what the Productivity Commission study recommended.
The cost would be huge - about $15bn a year on one estimate. As these things always get under rather than over estimated most people know it is not going to happen any time soon. The Federal and state governments simply do not have that sort of money.
This has not stopped the current Labor government from putting up a proposal at the latest COAG meeting - the meeting it holds with state premiers to thrash out funding and policy issues. They are offering "$1bn" for a "trial" of an NDIS.
It sounded good. People got excited. The state I live in (held by a Labor government) plans to participate.
I attended a short meeting yesterday and we looked at the fine print. I was asked a good many questions by people who have been trying to get this up and running. I was asked about the design of the study, the local proposal for participating and other things.
It is a trial which is designed to fail. There are no controls. There are no checks and balances. The sample is biased.
In this state the money is going only to families of the very youngest children with disabilities - and only a few of them. Of course they need help but this is a trial which is supposed to be looking at a wide section of the population. Similar problems exist in the other Labor states - the only states to participate so far.
Then there are other problems. The states have to fund part of this themselves. To do so they will take money from other areas of need, including other disability services. There is never enough money and this will make matters worse.
And what happens at the end of the trial, when the money runs out? Do the families who have been receiving assistance, who have ordered their lives around this package suddenly find themselves without the services they have chosen to access?
All of that and many other issues however suddenly seemed trivial when I pointed out that of the almost one billion dollars the government claimed they would be spending a minimum of $635m was going to go on "administration". It leaves about one third for actual use.
"Administration"? It is a trial designed to fail and fail again. It is a political ploy designed to make the government look good but achieve nothing for people with disabilities.
 As one of the other participants in the meeting said,
        "I wonder how much of that is going to be siphoned off to the unions and passed back into party funds?"
I wonder too.
PS Added at 10:43 - Any Australian reading this - I also refer you to the front page of today's Australian and Peter van Onselen's column. It seems the PM turned down a possible Medicare levy type funding solution as well - which the Premiers put forward.  I will not comment on that but hope someone will.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

There were two postcards

in the mail yesterday.
One came from my good friend Jen Campbell and was the "purr-fect" card for me. It was one of the Puffin Books postcards showing the cover of Allan Ahlberg's "The Improbable Cat".  (Penguin put out a set of one hundred postcards, each depicting a different Puffin book. I was given a set and it is a wonderful selection of book covers.)
On the back Jen had written a little piece of poetry from her new collection, "The Hungry Ghost Festival" (Rialto). It was just the right piece for me as it has. along with the sentiment,  the words "woollen scarves" in it - and that is typically thoughtful of Jen. I was "purring" loudly as I stood at the letter box and read it. Yes, it was on top! I wonder if the postman had read it too.
Do postman read postcards sometimes? I am sure they must. Postcards are like that. The words are there for everyone to see.
I sorted the rest of our mail as I went back into the house and there was the second postcard. This one was from my two nephews who are currently in Europe. It had been posted in Barcelona.
Sigh....I was just a little bit jealous. They have been away for several weeks now and are due home on Saturday. They have also had an "amazing" time and packed in more than even I believed they could pack in. No doubt they will want to sleep the clock around when they do come home. They said they have a great deal to share.
One of the things to share has been a visit Cyprus, the former home of their paternal grandfather. They went to the village "pappou" (as they call him) was born and brought up in and met other relatives. I know they had hesitated about going. Their Greek is very limited. They understand a little more than they can speak but it is not enough to communicate. It made no difference. They are the grandchildren of Yiannis? They were welcome. They were invited into his childhood home. They will have photographs for pappou and yia yia.
Next time, and they say there will be a next time if they can possibly manage it, they want to go to north of Scotland. That is where their great-great maternal grandfather came from and they are determined to see that in real life as well. They have seen pictures but they know that the picture you retain in your mind from the actual thing is so much more powerful.
Once letters and postcards were the chief means of correspondence from abroad. They would take weeks to arrive. They would be pages long, sometimes scrawled, sometimes elegantly constructed. Postcards were there for shorter communications and the invention of photography made them more interesting. People collected them, still do. Now there are many means of communicating from the most distant corners of the world.
But there is still something special about a postcard.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

We need a new hot water

service. Ouch!
When my parents built this house they put in a "solar" hot water service, that is one which was connected to solar panels on the roof.  The panels have been replaced once and the element in the storage tank has been replaced once. It has served us well. We cannot complain.
Now the storage tank would need to be replaced and that is a major undertaking. It may sound simple but it requires major roof work at great cost. A plumber has been consulted. My brother-in-law has been consulted. My brother-in-law is making further inquiries about other options this morning.
It left me thinking about the way we heated hot water in other houses. My mother used to heat "the copper" in order to do the washing in most places. As soon as he was old enough it was my brother's task to split the kindling timber and set the fire beneath vat of water. He also had to clear out the ashes when it had cooled down. My mother would set a match to it a considerable time before she did the washing.  She washed by hand and we were thought fortunate because my father bought her a "wringer". It was usually my job to use the wringer. I would feed the clothes through and turn the handle. At the end of the task, summer and winter, my mother and I would be drenched in perspiration.
Hot water in the kitchen was supplied by kettles of water heated on a wood burning stove. We did the washing up and other kitchen tasks with minimal amounts of water.
In the bathroom we had a "chip heater". This was a tube like device filled with water. Beneath it there was a small cavity in which a fire could be set to heat the water. You set the fire going and hoped for the best. If you were lucky you managed to get a few inches of hot water for a bath. (The water came from a small gravity feed tank that my father, brother, or I had to pump by hand to fill each morning. It was also the water ration for the day.)
Much later in another house my father designed a hot water device that fed through the back of the wood burning stove so that there was hot water in the kitchen. We still had the chip heater in the bathroom. The one advantage was that it did make the room a bit warmer in winter!
I wonder now how we kept clean. We certainly did not shower or bath every day. The water was not available and the hot water was a luxury.
Now we are used to turning the tap on and having hot water. We no longer think of it as a luxury. Really, it is.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

There was a by-election in

Melbourne yesterday - for the seat of Melbourne in the state parliament. I believe it has only ever been held by the ALP (Australian Labor Party) and that they claim to have won it again - just - from the Greens. The Liberal Party did not bother to field a candidate. If they had done so and preferenced the Greens then Labor would almost certainly have lost the seat - to the Greens.
Normally a state by-election would not attract much attention - unless it was likely to bring about the downfall of a government. This one was not going to do that. All the same the event was given a great deal of media attention. The parties who participated deluged the electorate with information as well.
Despite that and despite our system of compulsory attendance at the ballot box voter turnout was low.... a mere 66%. The Victorian Electoral Commission will, apparently, investigate the reasons for this.  They will no doubt send out many "please explain" letters to those whose names were not marked off the electoral roll. The excuses will be interesting.
"I didn't know there was an election."
"I forgot."
"I was at the footy."
"I had to go to the vet/"
"I had a flat battery."
"I had to go to (name an adjacent suburb)"
"I did go but the queue was too long..."
"I slept in."
"I didn't know where to go."
"I didn't know you had to vote."
"I didn't know who to vote for."
Oh yes, they have all been used - and sometimes accepted. Even if they are not some people think it is worth paying $20 not to vote.
It made me wonder what would happen if we gave people the option of paying $20 not to vote? I wonder how many people would do it? I wonder how the political parties would react? What would the government do with all that revenue?

Monday, 23 July 2012

There is a piece about domestic

violence in the paper this morning. Oddly, it was something we were discussing at the knitting guild on Saturday. One of the women there has a sister in an abusive relationship. It is one of those ghastly, messy situations involving a cult like religious sect, children, money and violence.
What interested me on Saturday however was what M was saying about the children. They are attending a very small school run by the sect. There are, apparently, no computers, few books or teaching aids. M has visited it just once on an occasion when she needed to pick the children up.  The curriculum appears to be as narrow as they can make it within the bounds of what is required.
None of that really surprises me. I know of other similar schools and home-schooling situations. There are a number of small, cult-like groups around. Restricting what the children learn restricts the questions they will ask about the outside world. It makes them easier to retain within the group. They are taught what they claim to be "old-fashioned" values.  
As this was being discussed on Saturday one of the other women asked,
       "Do the children know? Does he bash her around?"
M's answer was, "I don't know. The kids think their father is great. I don't think he hits her."
       "Well as long as the kids are okay you don't really have anything to worry about. It's when they start to bash you around that you really have something to worry about."
Really? M was appalled by the statement.  I was too. I am well aware that emotional abuse can be every bit as bad as physical abuse. It is, in some ways, worse. It is worse because the damage it does cannot be seen. The perpetrator can often be charming to everyone else. The victim is often seen as "just a bit depressed" or "nervy" or as behaving in some irritating way.
I once called on someone not long after her husband had died. She was left with two children in the secondary school. I expressed my sympathy and she broke down and admitted, "I'm glad he is dead. I hated him. Nobody knows what I went through."
She had lived for years in an abusive relationship with a man everyone else thought was "lovely".  When I thought about the signs were there. She was quiet and meek. She often seemed nervous. We thought he was very patient with her.
It turned out her children were aware of it but had remained largely silent. They thought it was normal. It just goes to show how wrong you can be. They were not "okay".

Sunday, 22 July 2012

A friend expressed

disappointment yesterday. A mutual friend has returned to her home country and she has not yet heard from her. I have. 
My friend here has no access to e-mail. She is not computer literate. She is a migrant from a non-English speaking background. 
I think that may be the problem. Our friend expects to be able to correspond via e-mail. The idea of writing a "snail mail" letter and posting it simply has not occurred to her. It is simpler to send me an e-mail and expect me to pass the news along.
It has happened before and it will almost certainly happen again. Things have changed.
My mother was a letter writer. When we lived in rural areas she would write to her mother each week. A phone call would have been relatively very expensive so my mother would sit down and fill several pages in her neat, flowing hand.  It was expected of her.
When we left home to go to school in the city she wrote to us. The letters were often much shorter but they came. Equally we were expected to respond - and we did.
When I went to university on the other side of the world I would write each Friday night. I kept the habit up when I lived interstate as well. My mother expected it. Failure to get a letter each week would have resulted in a severe telling off - never mind that I was well over twenty-one. It was easier to comply. My mother was not worried. She was looking for control - and did so by causing my father to worry if they did not hear from me. She expected the same from my brother even after he married and moved interstate.
Now my father and my brother talk most Sunday evenings. My brother will usually phone my father then - or on Monday. They are long distance calls but now much cheaper. My father finds the physical act of writing much more difficult than my mother did. He prefers to hear my brother's voice.  He has not got to grips with e-mail and is unlikely ever to do so.
I wonder whether my mother would have come to use e-mail. I rather doubt it. It would not have suited her purpose.
But I do think my friend here can learn to use e-mail. She can access a computer in the library near her home. I can help her set up an e-mail address and show her what to do.
All it will then take is for our mutual friend to respond.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Having finally persuaded

the Senior Cat that he did need some new flannelette shirts for winter wear in the shed I went hunting. There were none to be had in the charity shop - always my first port of call for such things.  There were none to be had in the local shopping centre either. There is no "menswear" store in there. I searched at the likely shop in the neighbouring suburb when I went to the bank on Thursday too. No shirts.
Yesterday I had to go to a meeting at one of the aged care facilities near us and I was halfway to the place that will remain nameless but begins with W... You will know which one I mean. I decided to go the rest of the way and see what they had. Success. There were only a few there but the blue check ones were, fortunately, the right size. The Senior Cat does not "do black" and it seemed an unlikely colour anyway, especially with a bit of yellow and white thrown in.
On the way out I passed one of those large tray like containers they have in such shops. It was piled high with "colouring in" books. Remember those? These were almost the old fashioned sort. Each one was several centimetres thick - probably an inch in the old measurements. They were big.
I could not resist. I had to open one. Yes, still the same thin, cheap newsprint.  If you pressed too hard on the page with your newly sharpened pencils you would make it show on the other side or, worse still, make a hole!
I turned a few of the pages over slowly. Yes, even the drawings were the same. There were the impossibly shaped vehicles, the rabbits with their ears too big and the daisies with the smiles on their faces. There were the "join the dots" pages.
I remember the hours we spent on days in summer when it was considered "too hot" to play outside. We would sit at our little table and colour in the pages making sure we "kept inside the lines". I was less interested in the actual process of colouring in than the process of making up a story to go with each picture. My brother and I would argue about what happened in the story at times. My mother would tell me to be quiet.
           "You know, I think I coloured this picture in when I was a kid," the woman on the opposite side of the tray said to her companion.
           "Oh yes, so did I!"
           "Here's another one."
           "And I remember this - I put pink frilly bits in her skirt."
           "Let's buy one each...just for the fun of it."
I put the copy I had been looking at down and went towards the check out area. On the way I picked up some stationery we needed as well. They were looking at coloured pencils by then. Would they?
I watched as I went through the check out and yes, there in the aisle next to me, were the two women with their colouring in books and their pencils.
I wonder if they really will sit there and colour in the pages. It is not something I would want to do but I hope they have fun.  It was hard not to tell them that there are also colouring in books for adults.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Yesterday there was an accident

on my regular bicycle route. I had heard an ambulance coming along the main road as I rode through the small park near the library.
It was in full emergency mode - lights, siren and horn as it went through red lights at the pedestrian crossing.  The sight and sound always leave me feeling anxious. At very least lives are being turned upside down and there is always the possibility that someone who set out just a little while before is no longer alive. As there are four schools very close I am also conscious it could be a child.
When it had gone I used the pedestrian crossing and then pedalled on. I turned into the street which is the designated "bicycle route". There, several blocks down, were the flashing lights - more than one set of flashing lights. I turned my tricycle around and went up to the parallel street and went that way. I did not need to get in the way. I did not need to gawk. I did not want to know.
A moment later another cyclist passed me. We know one another by sight.
      "Don't think I want to know about that," he said.
I could only agree. I resumed my normal route a little later, even more cautiously than usual. Traffic makes me nervous. I hate excessive speed. I loathe impatient, careless drivers.
On my return journey an hour or so later everything was quiet. The police were still there but their lights were no longer flashing. I still turned up the steet before I reached them and went the long way around. I know other people would have gone to look but I have never been able to do that.  Unless I can do something to help I need to move on.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

A friend of ours died

on Saturday. We were not told. I doubt anyone but the couple who went in to help her feed the animals were told.
There is an announcement in today's paper but no notice about a funeral. I suspect it has already taken place and that it will have been a private occasion.
Whatever arrangements she may have tried to make for herself may well have been ignored.
Our friend was a veterinary surgeon. She had a practice several streets from our house. When we had cats we used her services. My sister used to go and clip poodles for her - in the days before there were hairdressing salons for dogs. We knew each other in other ways as well, the Guiding movement, environmental and animal welfare groups, a church youth movement were all part of the equation.
She was small in stature and a giant in personality. The zoo consulted her regularly. It was some of her research which led to the development of the formula used for feeding the orphan young wombats and kangaroos. It saved countless young animals who would previously have perished.
I went in and out several times a week, usually with spare greens people had given me to help her feed the animals.
She would pass a bottle over to me if I arrived at feeding time and say,
         "Here feed...."
Then she would name one of her young charges. They all had names, unexpected names. She would name them after airlines, vehicles, trees, people she had once known.
The local bakery provided extra bread - and the occasional sticky bun for the wombats. People who visited would slip her a few extra dollars to help with the feeding costs. It was an expensive business. At one time there were twenty-three kangaroos. There were wallabies, potaroos, wombats, possums and other creatures.
She kept the animals there because they could not, by law, be returned to the wild. She used them to educate people about native wild life. The local children would descend in swarms to "help".  Her abruptness did not worry them at all. Underneath they knew that she loved them being there as much as she loved the animals in her care.
As she grew older she was less mobile. Several years ago we were offered a second gopher, almost new. The owner had died and the family wanted it to go to someone who could use it.  We offered it to her to get around the property. Yes, if it helped her look after her animals she would use it. The tray loaded with feed she countinued to feed, observe and care for the animals.
Two years ago one of her children moved in and things changed. People were no longer made as welcome. She had to accept it because she could no longer manage alone. We had to accept it too. It was not a happy state of affairs but she continued to care for the animals she had but not take in any new ones. The number grew less but more manageable. I do not know how many animals she had left but I know they would still have known her.
I wonder what sort of parting ceremony there was. Perhaps no church would have been big enough to hold those who would have wanted to attend her funeral - and animals are not usually allowed to attend church.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Ravellenic Games

were supposed to be the Ravelympic Games but were stopped in their tracks by USOC - the United States Olympic Committee.
Now anyone who knows me will also know that I am not interested in sport - apart from a minimal interest in the psychology of the game of cricket. Participating in sport would be bad enough but watching it? I just do not understand the fascination with watching it .
At the same time I know other people love watching sport. They go to matches. They support teams. They buy coloured scarves and beanies and dangly mascots. They get into fierce, even violent, confrontations with others over which team is best.  If the "wrong" team wins - or loses - it is seen as a tragedy. Perhaps it is. I doubt it but people will think that way. I have a second cousin who analyses cricket and Australian Rules football as if they are more important than the national economy. (Perhaps they are. I do not know.)
So we have something called the Olympics. It is a theatre of war where drug taking is one of the weapons and where you need to shave a micro-second off with the help of micro-technology in order to gain a "world record". (Logically there has to be an end to "world records" - unless people can win in negative time.)
We also have people who want to watch all this, who will spend hours watching this giant "sports day". A lot of knitters apparently want to watch it. While they watch they knit.  So along came Ravelry - a huge internet knitting site. They set up the "Ravelympics". It was intended as a harmless piece of fun but the USOC people did not see it that way. No. It was a breach of the word "Olympics" over which they had trademark "rights".  They sent a "cease and desist" letter to the people at Ravelry.
There was an outcry - from people like Ruth Marcus and Juliet Macur in places like the Washington Post and the New York times, from people who belong to Ravelry, from people who belong to other knitting groups, from people in North America and from all other parts of the world.
USOC won. Ravelry gave in and changed the name to the Ravellenic Games but not before USOC had to apologise twice.
I understand why USOC won - it is all to do with money and sponsorship - but it also lost too.  It lost a lot of good will from ordinary people - not just knitters.
It also lost an opportunity. It could have accepted that knitting is not the domain of littlle old ladies sitting in their rocking chairs. All sorts, shapes and sizes of people knit and crochet, spin and weave. There are other events associated with other sports events - Tour de Fleece anyone? - and nobody seems to mind. Knitting yarn companies have even put out sock wool associated with the countries of the world's major players for soccer's World Cup. There is an expectation that people will knit and watch sport, that they will feel that they are participating in a small way.
USOC needs to reconsider their stance for next time around, indeed the matter should go to the IOC and there should be an official competition. It could be a fundraiser. Perhaps the money raised could go on training athletes from some of the poorest countries in the world so that their athletes get a chance to participate, or just for their children to run, jump, hop, throw and swim. It should go to helping those who really are competing on merit and not on drug fuelled, science filled training.
Why not? I might even join in. Everyone should be able to participate in some way - if they want to.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Having the right to

protest is often regarded as one of the great rights of democracy.
There is a large protest taking place at the Olympic Dam mine site at Roxby Downs in the north of South Australia. Several thousand protestors have made their way there for a five day protest. They want the mine to close. They want the mining of uranium to stop. They want all nuclear facilities shut down.
There is also a large police presence - a presence designed to prevent the protestors getting in and doing actually physical damage. Yesterday the protestors damaged a gate. What they will do today is anyone's guess.
I believe people have a right to protest - provided that they do it in a way which does not break the law or harm property which is owned by others under the current law of the land.  I do not believe violent protest and property damage are rights. War is not a right. It is a last resort.
The current protest is costing a great deal of money. The protestors are paying very little of this - although they would claim they are giving up time and paying fuel costs etc to get there and be there. Some would say they are giving up part of their annual leave. They are serious and earnest and I have no doubt that many of them believe in their cause. Others are just along for the ride. It is a protest. It will be fun.
The government on the other hand is paying to have the site protected and policed. The mine is attempting to continue work as usual but the people who live in the town are under seige. No doubt the protestors feel that the workers need to feel the pressure - in the hopes that they will cease working there. I know a family living there - school teachers - who say it is disturbing.
The protest will not succeed in closing down the mine. Whether the mine will expand will depend on the market and politics not the protestors there now.
What I would like to know however is whether any of these protestors have ever benefitted from nuclear medicine? If they became ill and nuclear medicine, and only nuclear medicine, could save their lives would they use it? Would they accept it for a family member?
It seems to me that question adds another dimension to this particular protest.
The protestors have a right to protest but do they have the right to deny others to the benefits of nuclear medicine? Ultimately that is what it amounts to.

Monday, 16 July 2012

When my father lost

my mother's will we had to go to the Probate Court and get the photocopies he had made recognised instead.
We knew exactly what had happened. My father had gone to the library, done the copies and then left the original on the screen. He blamed himself of course but he was in a highly emotional state. My mother's death was expected but there were other issues which made it highly traumatic.
At least we had the photocopies.
It should have been a relatively simple process to get the copies recognised. There was no argument about the contents and nobody wished to contest them.
I did all the necessary paperwork and took it in to lodge it. They refused to accept it.
       What, I asked, was wrong with it? Nothing but they were not going to accept it. Why? Because it had not come through a legal practitioner the court recognised. 
        There was absolutely nothing we could do about this. It was a petty little rule the administrator had made rather than the law but fighting it would have had serious consequences. I spoke to someone I knew in the Law Society. She was sympathetic, agreed that it was ridiculous and put me in touch with the person who was then in charge of the Probate Division within the society. He lodged the papers for a minimal fee.
         In the end we were lucky. I knew what to do and where to go. We were able to afford an upfront fee and the matter was delayed by several months rather than several years.
         My father still feels badly about this almost twelve years on but it was not entirely his fault. I know that I would have looked at anything left in the photocopying machine and handed it to the library staff. Someone must just have dumped it in the wastepaper box.
         I was reminded of all this yet again because there is piece in today's paper about the rising costs of going to court. It explains how, unless you are very rich or very poor, the fees are likely to bankrupt you. 
         I think I also know one reason why the problem exists. I often need things to be witnessed by a Justice of the Peace. I use the JP in a local MPs office. Most of the time it is just a quick stamp and a signature. I am grateful for the service and the staff there know that they are helping me do a job that is important to yet other people.  On Saturday however I had to help someone else and they needed documents to be witnessed by a JP too. We went to someone they know. Suddenly there was a pile of paperwork. Two forms of ID had to be produced as well. All this was seemingly required for the witnessing of a copies of several documents.
I said nothing but I came away wondering whether there were new regulations. If there are new regulations are they there to cover the individual, the JP or for some other purpose.
It seems the more laws we make the more laws we need.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

There are words we

do not have. There is a very thoughtful post by the Stroppy Author athttp://stroppyauthor.blogspot.com.au/ about this.

What she is talking about is one of those things which is something nobody wants to think about - the death of a child, especially one of your own. There is no single word in the English language to express being the parent of a child who has died. Why?
The words we use at such times often sound trite. The words used at ceremonies associated with the dead sound trite too. We consider it wrong to "speak ill of the dead".
When my cousin died he had been ill for quite a long time. He led a crazy lifestyle until he was too ill to do the constant travelling. He was not married. He had no children. His life was a round of air trips, hotel rooms in foreign cities, negotiating with clients, meals in restaurants. When he came back to Australia he would head for the beach. We had not had much contact as children and even less as adults.  I knew he was ill. He told me the Christmas he came to spend a few days with his father.
      "I want you to know Cat because Dad is going to need help."
His father refused to accept any support even while demanding the presence of other people. He rejected all physical contact. No words helped. When my cousin died my uncle rejected all contact with family and friends. He never reached a point where he accepted his son's death.
My father's godson was ill for a very long time. There was a period of remission and everyone hoped but the cancer returned. There was the desperate try anything phase with the outrageous alternative therapy. People avoided the subject. His parents' friends avoided contact and one couple who had been friends for many years rejected them outright. We stayed in close contact. My father would phone every second day. If there was news in between then they would phone us. He went to visit. His godson's parents came to us for meals.
One night his mother broke down completely and wept copiously at the meal table. Her husband started to pat her hand. I got up and held her. I can remember her head buried into my chest and the strength of her grip as she held on to me. Nobody said anything.
When the worst of the storm of tears was over my father got up and put the kettle on. Her husband cleared away the plates we had been using. Still nothing was said.
My father made tea. Her husband took the milk out. They know us so well that they can do those things.
          "You've forgotten the sugar," his wife said rather shakily as he sat down again.
          "I don't need sugar when I have you." he told her.
We did not talk about the tears.
The last time they were here she did the washing up. I dried and put things away. At the end of it she suddenly gave me a quick hug. We had been talking about her children. I could guess what she was remembering.
There are no words for some things. Perhaps we do not need them but I would still like to have them.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

"You don't know about Moomins?"

I asked. No, they did not know about Moomins. Oh.
We had visitors on Thursday. They were neighbours-across-the-street once. We used to collect their mail, feed their cat and dog, water the plants - and loan the children books to read.  My father also gave them simple woodwork lessons.  We miss them and, it seems, they miss us.
Come school holidays and they descended for the afternoon. They returned a Paddington Bear book the youngest had borrowed the previous holiday. I handed over a book I had found for the eldest. She is now doing Italian at high school and this was a bilingual picture book I thought might interest all of them. She asked if I had any other books in Italian.
       "I'll dig out my Italian copy of Finn Family Moomintroll," I told her.
She looked blank.
       "You don't know about the Moomins?"
They had been too young when they left to read the Moomin books on their own and I had given their mother other things to read to them. They had missed out on the Moomins. I felt it was my fault. No child should miss out on the Moomins!
I explained about Moomins, those plump but rather shy creatures who live in the Moomin Valley and hibernate in winter having eaten their fill of pine needles. I told them as much as I could remember about Tove Jansson. She was born into a Swedish speaking family in Finland before WWII.  Her parents were artists and she also trained as an artist in Sweden. She wrote the first of her books during WWII. It was a moment of self-indulgence to try and lighten her mood and "The Moomins and the Great Flood" is the least successful of her books. It is also the one I enjoyed the least. It really reflects the world situation at the time, a world where mothers flee with their children because of the dangers they are surrounded by. Finn Family Moomintroll is so very different compared with the Great Flood.
           "Finn Family Moomintroll is the one you really should read even if you do not read any others." I told them.
It is, I think, the Jansson book which is the most fun. The other books are slightly different. "Comet in Moominland" is said by some to be about nuclear activity. "Moominsummer Madness" has a little dig at theatre and "The Exploits of Moominpappa" has a dig at those who write memoirs. "Moominland Midwinter" is about the youngest Moomin finding himself in an alien environment - winter. They are all good books but what I love most is the part in Finn Family Moomintroll where the clouds are found in the hat and the young Moomins can play on them. Who has never wanted to play on a cloud?
Moomins live in a magical world - and an essential one.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Increasing surveillance on the

internet is almost certainly going to become a fact of life but I am deeply disturbed by the following:
The proposals being put forward here amount to an almost unbelievable wishlist of surveillance and intelligence-gathering powers. They would enable the government to gather, store and use our computer passwords, monitor our Twitter accounts and other forms of telecommunications.
If the proposals become law then the government would effectively be able to observe everything we do and say on the internet.  Intelligence agencies could access and use any of our personal information while remaining virtually unaccountable.
I think that goes a step too far, more than a step too far. It is trying to take control of the internet and other telecommunications - the sort of thing that happens in China. 
I know national security is seen as a problem. Australia has serious problems with respect to national security. It is a big country. It has a small population. Surveillance of the land mass and the coastline is always going to be an issue. It is not helped by the current policy with respect to border protection. We also have issues with terrorism that are greater than most people realise.  
However none of that justifies the potential collection of vast quantities of data from ordinary citizens. There has to be reasonable cause before any government has the right to invade the privacy of its citizens.
Intelligence gathering, while far from perfect, does give security agencies like our ASIO and its equivalent organisations a very good idea of who they should be looking at. They have ways of doing it. They do not need the power to put every citizen who uses the internet or other means of electronic communication under surveillance.
In my line of work I sometimes have to deal with people who are in highly sensitive situations. If I breached security their lives could be put at risk. There could be other consequences. The idea that the government would also have access to information without due cause just adds another unacceptable layer risk.
There is no such thing as "secure" data. We can work at ways of making it as secure as possible but law abiding citizens do not need the added risk of another Manning stealing our data. We do not need the added risk of another Assange publishing it just because he or she can.
These proposals are about control, not security. They are unacceptable.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

I try to avoid answering

"research" or "survey" questions.  I am sure you know the sort of thing I mean. You pick up the phone in the middle of doing something important and a bright young voice or a very serious voice at the other end informs you that they are doing some "market research" or they are "asking about..."
I tell them politely (after all they are trying to do their job) that I do not answer those sort of questions over the phone.
That is normally the end of it but yesterday someone asked if they could send me some material to fill out. I told them no to that too.
       "I am sorry no. I do not answer those sort of questions."
I put the phone down gently. I wanted to bang it down. I did not do it. That took great self restraint on my part.
Later I was accosted on the way home from a meeting. Someone else was doing research in the street. I do not often get accosted. (If you ride a tricycle and use a walking stick people assume you are also incapable of answering questions.) I was standing there talking to someone else. The bright thing bounced up to ask if we would participate in some "market research". We both said "no". I think I was the more polite of the two.
Doing that sort of market research is almost useless. If people refuse to participate (and we have every right to do so) then the results will end up biased.
My father answered the phone some weeks back. Someone was claiming to be doing a government survey and told my father he "must" answer the questions. My father may be almost 90 but he is intellectually able. He told the person at the other end. "I have no idea who you are. You could be anyone. I do not answer questions over the phone."
They did not phone back. Nobody has turned up at the door to arrest him for failing to answer the questions.
I know other people who will answer those questions. They will give answers opposite to the answer they would give if they were answering the question truthfully. They are the sort of people who will fill out a form with the answer to the question of "sex" with "yes please" or "no thankyou" according to their mood at the time.
It was therefore timely that this morning there was an article saying that the government has recently spent $30m on more of this sort of research. The most recent "opinion poll" shows the government behind again. It is what people expect at present.
       "I voted for the government today" a friend told me. He does answer opinion poll questions - but never according to his beliefs.
So the opinion polls come out and one party is ahead of another - or are they?

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

There is talk of "reforming"

the House of Lords in London. I  believe it once used to work quite well. It was one of those "undemocratic democracy things" as someone once described it to me. You got there by virtue of birth or the position you held somewhere else. Some people never bothered to attend at all. Others did. Sometimes things happened there and sometimes they did not. For all that it did work remarkably well. Things that grow like that often do. They find the most efficient way of working. It can appear remarkably inefficient but the job gets done.
Personally I would have left it alone.
We have "the Senate" here. When our founding fathers set up the government plan they had the idea that the Upper House or the Senate would look after the interests of the states. The people who sat there would represent their states. They would not represent a political party. The House or Representatives was there for the people.
Although it has never gone to a referendum the function of the Senate has changed. The Senate now votes along party lines. The current numbers mean that the combined vote of "Labor" (spelt without the "u") and the Greens will get any legislation through if it has passed in the House of Representatives. It is the House of Representatives which normally presents the problem because Labor is in the minority there and depends on the lone Green and the independents to get legislation through.
There was a "problem" the other day. The Greens voted with the Opposition against some legislation involving means of dealing with asylum seekers. The Greens do not agree with the Opposition on this issue - indeed they are far removed from them - but voting with them saw the legislation fail. Supposedly this was democracy at work.
There is likely to be more change at the next election - due in late 2013. If, as opinion polls suggest, the country returns to a Coalition party government then the government will have a hostile Senate. That the Coalition has this time around allowed most legislation to go through in the Senate will not carry any weight with a Senate controlled by Labor and the Greens
And this is not what our Senate is supposed to be about. It is supposed to be about the states. It is supposed to care for the interests of the states.
I think we have a potentially bigger problem with the Senate than the United Kingdom had with their old House of Lords. I wonder if Westminster will take note of what is happening here?

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

"Yes, but what will he

do with them?"
Yesterday I was nabbed in the library by a worried mother. Her eldest son is, to put it kindly, "a bit of a nerd". He likes to read. He does not care for sport.
At the end of this academic year he will need to make decisions about subjects for a future career.
His parents want him to do maths and science. That is, they say, the way employment lies. He is good at both because he is a high achiever in all areas but they do no interest him as much as English, languages and history.
           "And his father says those are just "girl" subjects. Boys do science."
          "Has Matt any ideas about what he would like to do later?" I asked.
His mother shrugged and said, "I don't think so - just the usual mad things kids think of like being an archaeologist. He helped out in the other library for work experience but his father says that is not a career for boys. There's no future in it."
          "Archaeology needs science as well as history," I told her, "And you know Bob X don't you? He was the university's chief librarian before he retired. I think he would tell you that libraries still have a future and that there are careers to be had in them. There are four men working in this library too."
         "Oh yes, Matt liked it but his father said it was a waste of time and really work experience is. It doesn't tell you what the job is like. Matt would be bored before long. No, he has to do something in the sciences. It is just a matter of deciding what. I thought you might have some ideas."
         "I'll think about it," I told her.
Matt was at the other end of the library. He had seen us talking.
         "Mum been having a go at you about me again?"
         "Subject choices."
         "Yeah, they're freaking out because I don't want to do the suicidal five."
He is referring to a particular maths and science combination.
         "Do you think I should?" he asked me.
         "Not unless you want to - although that is not what your mother would want me to tell you. Any serious ideas about what you would like to do?"
         "Yeah. Dad will freak out but it is sensible - at least I think it is. I want to work with old books...the really really old ones. Do you think Dr X would talk to me about doing that?"
        "Absolutely. He might not know a lot but he will certainly know people who do. You might need some science for that."
He shrugged, "Yeah, some chemistry I guess but that would be okay if it got me there. Thanks Cat."
He gave me his e-mail so I could send him Dr X's contact details.
Then he loped off with his pile of books. I can imagine him in ten years time. He will be surrounded by those really, really old books - archaeology and librarianship combined.

Monday, 9 July 2012

"Blackcurrant or Ginger and Lemon?"

I asked reaching for the real tea and then waiting for a reply.
             "Blackcurrant thanks. It has more flavour."
I hauled out a blackcurrant "tea" bag and handed it over. My friend helped herself to a mug out of the other cupboard and we waited for the water to boil.
             "So, no tea or coffee. What else has he told you to give up?"
She launched into a long list of things her doctor has said she "must not" eat. By the time she had finished I was not merely disturbed I was alarmed. Was she perhaps really ill and he was not telling her?
No, she looks fine. Her blood pressure is up a little but controlled by medication. Her cholesterol is a little elevated but her entire family has a history of that and most have lived into their nineties without the benefit of any sort of related medication. Diabetes does not appear to be an issue. She weighs more than she should but is not obese and she does exercise because she does not drive.
            "Well, what's the problem then?" I asked her. I have known her for a very long time and felt I could ask the question.
           "I don't know. He just sat there and gave me this lecture about how I was eating all the wrong stuff. I thought we were doing pretty well but apparently I am not even feeding D and the kids the right way. I mean okay we do have something like pizza on Saturday nights but the rest of the time I thought I was doing the right thing."
I know her children go to school with very healthy lunches that are actually the envy of the other kids. They have sometimes shown me what is in their lunchbox as they head off for school, "Look what Mum did!"
She is a "stay-at-home" Mum. Her epilepsy sometimes makes things difficult for her. It is the reason she does not drive. She is also a little slow to understand sometimes. Her husband will 'phone her at around lunch time each day just to check. If she does not answer the 'phone then one of her elderly neighbours will check to see she has not had a seizure.  The house is clean and tidy and full of craft work. She makes a little money from some of it.
I would also have thought her family ate better than many other families.
It all sounded a bit strange to me so I asked,
        "Who's your doctor?"
        "Dr X.... We were seeing Dr Y but he has gone on leave so we have to see Dr X. "
Oh. That explained everything.  I know Dr X. I was given the same lecture. I know other people who have been given the same lecture. I suspect he gives it to every patient he sees. He is the only doctor at the clinic you can be almost guaranteed you can see immediately.
        "I don't know what to do. What do you think I should do?"
The water boiled in the kettle. I made real tea. I ignored the blackcurrant tea bag and I told her that he had said exactly the same sort of thing to me and to  other people I knew.
         "He does it to everybody?" she asked.
         "I don't know about everybody but I know at least nine other people who have been told the same thing and they have told me of others they know about. My advice is to take no notice of him and wait until Dr Y gets back. Talk to him if you are worried you are not feeding D and the kids properly. Personally I think you feed them very well indeed."
She nodded and looked a little happier. It was what she had wanted to hear from me.
She went home with her shopping bag overflowing with fruit and vegetables. I ignored the school holiday treat of two iced buns in the bakery bag. Her two will exercise those off in no time at all.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Over on Twitter @caroleagent

(aka as Carole Blake - authors' agent) has been complaining that tennis has delayed a screening of Shakespeare's Henry IV. That was followed by squeals, squeaks and tweets of outrage from other Shakespeare-not-tennis fans.
I wonder if they realise how lucky they are that the screening was merely delayed and not cancelled altogether?
Consider us poor Aussies. If you are sports fan there is a veritable feast of sport on at present. There has just been "the other football" (soccer) - for which the truly keen get up in the wee small hours  There is tennis. There is the Tour de France. There is rugby. And there is football - "Aussie rules football" that is. If you want to watch television you watch sport.
Apart from a mild interest in the psychology of the game of cricket I am not interested in sport. I have no desire to sit and watch a ball being hit or kicked or batted or hurled or bowled or knocked. I do not care if Australia wins or loses a sports match or how many medals they win or lose each Olympics. It simply is not important to me.
My father and brother are the same. My father never went to watch any of my siblings play sport. These days he does not even know if a cricket match is being played and he considers "Aussie Rules" so dangerous he would have it banned. My brother endured watching his own children play sport when they were very small. As soon as they were old enough to realise he actually loathed doing it they told him not to bother. He would cheer at the wrong time. It embarrassed them.
A friend of mine has been borrowing piles of DVDs from the library recently. She has several knitting commissions and, while she can watch television and knit, she cannot read and knit. "There's nothing to watch but sport!"
I thought she was exaggerating. There is the ABC - taxpayer funded. The SBS(Special Broadcasting Service) - partially taxpayer funded. (It receives some income from advertising.) There is a community channel with limited hours and an eclectic selection of programmes. There are the three commercial television stations.  I checked all of them. The community channel was talking about sport. The other stations were showing sport. There was nothing to watch but sport. 
Thankfully I know how to switch television off and read a book - or write one.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Books about those two

great loves in the lives of many little girls - horses and ballet - never particularly appealed to me. I never participated in either activity. The only horses I knew were the big cart horses that pulled the bread delivery vans and were kept in the field at the back of one of the houses we lived in. Nobody rode those horses.
I suppose there must have been some little girls who had ballet lessons but I did not know any.
I found Noel Streatfeild's book Ballet Shoes in the library and might not have read that except for the librarian telling me, "It is not really about ballet. I think you might like it."
I did. It was an old fashioned book even when I read it. The action takes place well before WWII. The book was first published in 1936. You can still buy copies today.
I liked the fact that it was set in London. I wanted to go to Cromwell Road. Pauline, Petrova and Posy appealed to me and so did the other characters in the house.
As a child I had no idea how unusual the book was and I wonder if even the librarian knew just how different it was. The idea of young children working in order to contribute to the household finances was completely foreign to me. It was unheard of where I lived. Children went to school. They had jobs to do at home and they might, if they were a little older, deliver papers in order to earn pocket money but they did not work outside the family.
I went on to read "The Circus is Coming". I still feel discomfort at the reception Peter and Santa get from their Uncle Gus and still cringe at the description of Santa "playing" the violin.  It is not a book which would win the Carnegie Medal now but it did then. I knew nothing about Carnegie Medals but the book stayed with me. 
There were no more Streatfeilds in the library at the time. We moved on and my reading was limited to the books the library sent through the Country Lending Service. Someone else was choosing books for me and sending them out to the country. There were never enough books. I did not even know Noel Streatfeild had written more books until I rejoined the library as a regular reader several years later.
I remember then that I tried desperately to catch up on all the reading I felt I had missed out on. I found "White Boots" and wondered why Lalla and Harriet wanted to slither and slide on ice. I had never seen a skating rink and had only heard of Hans Brinker through Dutch friends. I went on to things like "The Painted Garden", "Apple Bough" and "Wintle's Wonders".
The Whirlwind and her friends discovered "Ballet Shoes" for themselves. They first saw it on television. The Whirlwind read the book and said, "The book is much better. Are there any more?"  I handed my copies over and they disappeared for months as they were passed around her class. It was an anxious wait but eventually I did get them back.
        "Can you tell me why you liked them?" I asked a group of the Whirlwind's classmates.
        "Well those girls (in Ballet Shoes) are real aren't they? It doesn't always go right for them and Petrova absolutely hates it but she does it anyway."
        "And Pauline is really sort of grown up about things."
        "And Posy is just like B.... because ballet is the only thing that matters to her but she needs her sisters too."
They went on to make similar comments. I pointed out that the stories were, by their standards, very old.
One of them looked at me very hard and said, "That does not matter if it is a good story."

Friday, 6 July 2012

The untidiest shop in

the city has to be not too far from us, about a fifteen minute pedal away if I get a clear run.
I do not visit it unless I cannot possibly avoid it. It sells a wide variety of homewares, linens and soft furnishings, haberdashery and craft items. There is even some knitting yarn - although not the sort that I would normally bother to buy.
You go in through the sliding doors at the front and are faced with everything from batteries, cheap plastic emergency rain-capes, kitchen tongs, pillow protectors and drinking straws. That is merely the start. Move a little further on and there are pillows, towels, biscuit cutters, hair dryers, candle holders, bath mats, sewing machines, glasswear, table mats, plasticwear, sewing thread, curtain accessories, sewing patterns, patchwork fabric, all sorts of haberdashery, the knitting yarn, all sorts of crafty things, more habydashery and a section for birthday parties. 
None of it is tidy. It is just there. It may start out as tidy but I have never seen it that way.
If you are lucky you will find what you want. You can ask a member of the staff of course but they will just wave in what they believe to be the right direction and tell you "Over there." It does not help very much.
If you want cut goods then there is a ticket system for service. That works reasonably well. You now need to queue to pay for anything else - even when the girl behind the cut goods counter has nobody else to serve.
Some months ago they changed the location of some things in the shop. They called it "re-organising" but there is no more rhyme or reason to it than before. In order to find what I needed I had to sort through a box of similar items. Some had spilled over onto the floor. I put them back in the box. I am not a tidy person but even I have limits.
There was a time when the shop was a little tidier. They employed an energetic woman of about fifty. She came from Poland and she knew about both knitting and sewing because, at school in Poland, she had been taught to do both.  If she was not serving and advising she would be tidying. It was a constant job. I liked her energy and her personality. She was very, very good at her job and people liked her.
You could be reasonably sure of finding something quickly if she had been on her shift. It was actually possible to walk into the habydashery section and know that she was there or had just been there. It would not be absolutely tidy but things would be in their place. There would be nothing on the floor and no piles of goods on the counter waiting to be returned to their shelves.
I did not see her on my last visit to the shop or yesterday so I asked another assistant.
        "Oh she was always tidying stuff up so someone asked her if she wanted another job down south somewhere."
I am sure there will be a very tidy shop somewhere.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

"That cult is causing

more misery," the Senior Cat told me some days ago. He was referring to a local group where the leader had managed to take the life savings of a gullible woman with a disability. The court has ordered the return of the money but I rather doubt it will happen. Certainly the cult leader is fighting it.
I wonder how much difficulty Katie Holmes will have getting money out of Tom Cruise too.
Scientology is something my family does know something about. My mother's brother was, briefly, involved. He was a prime candidate for capture by just such a group. He was brought up in another cult. So was my mother. Their parents were "Christian Scientists".
There is nothing "scientific" about Christian Scientists. They are not considered to be Christians by the mainstream religions either. Those who adhere strictly to their beliefs accept no medical treatment at all. Children have died in agony because of the beliefs of their parents. Other children have gone without necessary medical treatment that could have changed their lives.
My mother never quite gave up her own belief in the teachings of the cult. Her brother did give them up but he moved to other things. Scientology was one of them.
I was in my teens at the time. My uncle was reading literature that, to me, made no more sense than the "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" that my mother still treasured. Both lots of writing were nonsense in my view and in the view of my brother.  My brother made an impressive looking "e-meter" with wires and batteries, dials and needles. We thought it was funny.
We thought it was funny until my uncle realised he was being taken for a fool and left the group - or tried to leave the group. When he tried to leave the phone calls started.
My uncle was living with his mother at the time. It was a temporary arrangement because of his work but the Scientologists made the most of it.
They would phone at all hours of the day and night. Changing the phone number did not help. Cars appeared at the front of the house. My grandmother was approached in the street.  On one occasion she was told by phone that he was seriously ill following an accident - only Scientology could save him.
I answered the phone on one occasion and was told the same thing. I responded by telling them I would go to the police if they did not cease making the calls. After that there were several occasions on which I answered the phone and the caller at the other end simply hung up. There were no caller ID facilities available then but I assumed they were from the cult. My brother had the same thing happen to him after he gave them the same message.
The cult members attempting to recruit in the city got short shrift from me and my brother as well. Our loathing of the other cult, Christian Science, was enough to ensure we did not get involved whatever inducements they might seem to offer.
I cannot remember how long all this went on for but it eventually lessened. Over the years there would be the occasional "reminder" but they appeared to give up.
After my uncle died the people who had bought the house he had lived in with my grandmother contacted us. There was a letter there - from the Scientology organisation in America.  It was a reminder that he had once belonged to the cult, an assumption that he still really wanted to be part of the cult. The cult had not bothered to check to see if he was still alive. Their arrogance assumed he would be and that he would still come back to them after forty years away.
Katie Holmes is going to have problems for the rest of her life too.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

I have a map of

Thurso in 1905.  It arrived yesterday. Friends sent it after I mentioned that early Ordnance survey maps were mentioned on "The History Girls" and were available for some areas. They are in Scotland at present and found an early Edinburgh map for themselves - and the Thurso one for me.
Thurso? Yes, my ancestors come from that area. The idea of having a map of an area they would have known was interesting but I had not expected that there would be any.
I think I have mentioned before that I like maps. There is something fascinating about the way places come together on a map. Who lives there? Why do they live there? What do they do? What do they believe and why do they believe it? Why did someone settle there in the first place? Why was the place given that name?
The questions are endless. They are rarely answered but it is still fascinating to look and guess. It is still fascinating to use my imagination.
Some of the early Ordnance Survey maps have another feature though. Those put out by Godfreys have other information on the back. This was also mentioned in the blog post I read on "The History Girls". The publishers have used directories written at the time and indicated who was living or working at a specific address.
I opened the map out. I looked at a town which was larger than I had expected it to be. We have always been given the impression that Thurso was not much more than a small village at the time my great-grandparents left Scotland.
If that is so then the village had grown a lot in about thirty years. The map shows a fair sized place. I can guess where the oldest section of the town is. It will be close to the harbour. What would then have been the newer section of the town is laid out in a neat grid pattern. Someone has obviously planned it rather than merely allowed it to grow. Who did that? Why?
Then I turned the map over. I do not know much about my great-grandfather's extended family but there is his surname - my surname. It appears on the list of businesses several times. In an area that size all those people would be distant relatives. Some of my ancestors were bakers, butchers, milliners and tailors. I know others were lawyers, engineers, sailors and "dominies" (teachers).  They often combined these occupations with crofting to make ends meet.
I wonder what these people were like. What were their interests? When they had a little leisure time how did they fill it?
I want to find the real places one day. I hope I can.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Senior Cat was once

prescribed some sleeping pills. This was after he had surgery on his shoulder and he was having problems sleeping because of the pain.
I find that perfectly reasonable. Sleeping on a sore shoulder must be very difficult indeed. Sleeping pills seemed like a good idea if it meant he was going to get some rest and recover.
The doctor prescribed "Stilnox". We knew nothing about the drug then. My father duly took one of the pills and went to bed expecting a good night's sleep.
I woke in the middle of the night to hear him wandering around. Then I realised he was in the kitchen. He was ratttling things around. As it was much too late for him to be getting a bedtime drink and I thought he should be asleep I investigated.
He was standing at the kitchen table with a fork in one hand and a tin of baked beans in the other.
        "What are you doing?" I asked
        "I'm trying to get this can of lemonade open."
My father had no idea what he was doing. His speech was not slurred. He seemed to be coordinated. His breathing was normal. I asked him to do several small things. He could. I decided he was "asleep".
I took the beans and the fork and gave him lemonade. He drank it and went back to bed.
In the morning my father could remember none of this at all. He insisted he had not done any of it. I showed him the evidence - no lemonade. Right.
To be absolutely certain everything was okay I 'phoned the surgery and explained the problem to the receptionist.
A little later my father's GP phoned me. He asked me what had happened and then to repeat the little tests I had done the night before. My father could still do them but, to be on the safe side, the doctor admitted him into hospital overnight.
At the end of this he said,
         "It's the Stilnox. Don't take it. I'll find something else."
Since then we have heard of two other people we know having similar experiences. One woman emptied her freezer and found everything on the kitchen table in the morning. The man went off in his pyjamas and barefeet to buy a paper at 2am although they get the paper delivered. Both had taken Stilnox and never done anything like that before.
This morning there is a piece in our paper saying that our Olympic athletes will not be allowed to use the drug either. I hate to think what they might do if they did - dive off the top of a building thinking they were doing a triple somersault into the pool? The idea terrifies me.

Monday, 2 July 2012

If I say "red",

what colour do you think of?
No, it is not a silly question. Red is not "just red". There is red and scarlet and crimson and vermilion. There is burgundy, maroon, cherry, wine, cerise, tomato, fire-engine, letter/pillar box, strawberry and rose red.
There are other reds too. I could haul out my tin of Derwent colouring pencils and find more.
It is the same with blue - cobalt, navy, french, sapphire, turquoise, aquamarine, saxe, teal and hyacinth for a start. Green has emerald, jade and lime.
They are just a start. I can remember my paternal grandfather used to sometimes bring home an English "Women's Weekly" for my grandmother. There were knitting patterns in it and there would always be a list of suggested colours under the black and white picture. The colours were rarely plain red or blue or green. They would be given more exotic names.
Last Friday a friend and I were putting the squares together for a blanket that will be raffled off for charity. The squares are mostly tan but others are mottled yellow, blue and green. They do go together in the unexpected way that colours can go together when you least expect it.
We needed a border to pull the blanket together. I had pulled out some odds and ends from my "stash" and I was surprised by the colour my friend reached out for. It was grey. It is not a colour I would have considered putting with tan but she is a quilter.
          "It will work," she told me. I do not doubt that it will. She is going to put the border on and things have a way of working for her.
She left with the yarn for the border and the blanket. After she had gone my father said to me, "What's she going to do with the mouse?"
He meant the yarn. He saw it as mouse colour.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Would you buy a house

where murders had recently been committed?
The weekend magazine section of our paper has an article about this. Someone is trying to sell the bank and house (an attached residence) in Snowtown. There were some particularly grisly murders committed there - so bad that the land agent has suggested that, if anyone does want to buy the place, the building could be turned into a "tourist attraction".
I for one would not want to visit such an "attraction". It holds no such attraction for me.
My own feeling is that it is one of those rare instances in which the government, which originally owned the property anyway, should step in. They should demolish the building and perhaps turn the land into public garden instead. It is not the sort of tourist attraction any town needs. The Snowtown locals do not want it either.
I also believe that land agents should be required to inform people of the use to which a house has been put within living memory. There are people who do not feel comfortable at the thought of living in houses where certain actrivities have taken place.
My mother was like that. When my parents moved back to the city after many years of teaching in rural schools there was going to be the problem of where to live. They had not, like many people, had the opportunity to buy a house. They were required to live in Education Department provided accommodation and pay rent for that.  Even with a deposit they would be considered too old to get a mortgage.
Just before they returned to the city though my maternal grandmother died. It left the house my mother's parents owned empty. My mother shared the inheritance with her brother. Her brother had his own home. He did not need it. My parents moved in and used the money they had saved to pay out my uncle. They had a house.
It was not a good house. My mother hated it. The physical house was in fair shape but it was filled with memories of my mother's unhappy childhood. Everywhere she looked their were reminders of her parents, particularly her mother. My mother was firmly rooted in reality. She was not an imaginative woman but she felt as if there were "ghosts" there. They were not the sort who appear or menace you. They were just there.
The house was painted out. Some of the furniture went and other furniture was brought in. The dining room was converted to a bedroom and the little pantry off it was turned into a wardrobe.  The garden was altered. It was still not enough.
My father retired first. He went searching and found the block of land on which this house stands. He showed it to my mother. They did the sums and decided they could, just, afford to build a house without memories.
The house now has memories. I wonder what it is like for my father to be constantly reminded of my mother. There are things I have not changed because my father would notice.
Yesterday however I cleared out a drawer and quietly disposed of some things I have never used. They have gone to the charity shop. My father will not notice their absence. He does not do the cooking. I do not need the ghosts.