Wednesday, 31 October 2012

I do not normally get involved

in arguments about issues like copyright and I do not want to do that here but the word "cat" is involved and I feel I need at least to defend my fellow cats or, in this case, the humans who write about them.
If you want to know about the copyright issues surrounding the Tobermory Cat then
The Guardian site will also give you a link to the excellent blog post by Nicola Morgan on the topic of copyright.
I have strong feelings about copyright. Copyright issues nearly cost me my thesis - and none of it was my fault. I was not even part of the argument that was taking place between the major players at the time. I was just hit by the tidal wave of misunderstandings which developed into a major legal battle and the fear that the university as well as myself might get involved. We were warned not to continue until the issues were resolved between the major players. They never were.
I was lucky to get my thesis accepted. It meant my thesis was never formally published although a publisher was lined up. None of us could afford the risks involved.
The issues were never fully resolved because one of those involved died before there was any resolution. Instead there are still (and this is more than thirty years later) claims about who can use what and how they can use it. There are still claims made that you need a "licence" to use the idea and to teach others about the idea. Many people believe this. The idea does not get used as much as it might have been in some areas simply because people are told "you can't use the idea without a licence".
It was not what the original creator intended. Simply put other people have seen a way to have control and make money from an idea intended to benefit humanity. It was not something you could copyright. What people write about it is copyright. That is something quite different - although there have been attempts to control that too.
People get hurt in copyright battles. Breaching copyright is theft. Telling people you have copyright to an idea is an attempt to permanantly deny others the right to use it. That also comes close to the definition of theft in my eyes. 
You cannot copyright an idea. I repreat, you cannot copyright an idea.
And, if you like cats and have children you might like to buy them Debi Gliori's book.
I am going to prowl off and write other things.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

"Everyone needs someone

to lean on sometimes" were the words at the end of a report by Karen Middleton on our SBS news service last night. She had been talking to army chaplains in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East.
One of the chaplains had mentioned to her that he appreciated it when a soldier asked him, "You okay Padre?"
We expect people to be able to go on doing their jobs - whatever might be happening around them. That is what they are there for - everyone from the cleaner sweeping the floor and the checkout person in the supermarket to the teacher, the doctor, bus driver, mechanic etc etc.
Nobody is supposed to get sick - ever. They are supposed to be there for us when we need them. It is human nature to expect that.
I know that, out in the field, aid workers rely heavily on each other. If one of them goes down for any reason they all feel it. Lives can depend on it. You cannot afford to be ill - or, sometimes, even tired. You cannot make major mistakes. All sorts of things can go wrong so it is as important to be there for each other as the people you are trying to help.
And it is the same in the armed forces. I have always thought that there are two groups of people in the armed forces who have a particularly hard time of it - the medical staff and the spiritual staff.  Their roles always seem to be a contradiction in terms to me.
As Karen Middleton pointed out, like the rest of Australian society, many of the men  the Padre deals with are "not religious". He tells them he is "not religious" either. He's not interested in "religion". He's there for them. He's there to listen if they want to talk.
He's there to see grown men and women cry.
When my father was appointed to a very big school in the middle of a soldier settlement we, as children, saw grown men cry on ANZAC Day and on Remembrance Day. I answered the phone once and heard a very young voice saying, "My Dad is trying to kill my Mum". His Dad was too. His Dad had finally had what is loosely terms as a "mental breakdown". They got him to hospital. His wife kept the farm going in his absence. He eventually recovered enough to return but it was a tough time for them. The local priest was there for them - and many others - although they did not always go to church...and some of the men called him "Padre".
I wonder now who he talked to and who other people in his position talk to.  "Padres" are people too.

Monday, 29 October 2012

"I'm feeling really good today.

Could we come over?" my cousin's wife asked.
        "Of course!" my father told her. He was having a post-prandial nap and this was one phone call he did not mind being woken up for. He is very fond of her.
She has been very ill. Earlier this year she had an operation for bowel cancer. She became ill on a caravan trip and they had to rush home. Afterwards it was "touch and go" as they say. She was critically ill for some weeks, too ill to have visitors. Her husband spent most of that time sitting by her bedside and doing what little he could for her. We wondered if she would recover.
And now she is home. She has been home for some time,  doing little more than eating tiny meals and first and then a little more and a little more.
Unfortunately for us they live on the other side of the city in a not very accessible area by public transport. We don't own a car either so we have not seen them since our brief visit towards the end of her hospital stay. It has been phone calls and e-mails.
So, yes do come and see us!
She looks much better although she is still much too thin. Her hair has gone from very dark to white but it looks good. She was almost her old, chirpy self.  It is still little meals and often but I handed over the biscuit tin almost as soon as she arrived. We talked and talked about all sorts of things including their plans to go away in their caravan again. They had a three day trip recently and she enjoyed it. She was going to be a "happy wanderer" again - even if it was just in short bursts.
And I was reminded of something I had not thought of for a long time. We had a record as children. On one side there was the story of the Musicians of Bremen told in words and song. On the other there were German folk songs and one of them was the one we know in English as "The Happy Wanderer".
I looked here on the internet this morning wondering if it was by any faint chance still available and there it was still with the same Obernkirchen Children's Choir. It's a download but her grandchildren will know how to provide her with her theme song.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Showing things I have

made to other people is not something I usually go out of my way to do but one person in the library knitting group had already seen the part-completed experimental vest. As a consequence I took the finished garment to the library yesterday because she wanted to see it. I thought it might be interesting for other people to look at too.
Not so.
One of the group is coming because she is trying to learn to crochet - and is now getting to grips with the craft. But she has also been coming because she has clearly needed support.
We knew her father was ill. He had been in hospital for some months. It was obvious to the rest of us that he was not going to come out again. Nevertheless arrangements were underway for him to go to a nursing home - when one could be found where the staff could handle his medical needs. He wanted to go home to his own little flat. She felt guilty because she could not, however much she wanted to, give him what he wanted.
He died two weeks ago. We did not know of course. We only knew her first name. It is that sort of group. Even if we had known her surname it would not have helped. She goes by her married name.
And, she needed to talk. It has been an horrendous time for her for all sorts of reasons. We sat and listened. Our wildly talkative group was silent. We let her talk and talk. We heard about the half sister she did not know she had, the other half-siblings she had not seen for years and her father's many adventures over the years.
At last she was quiet. It was almost time to go. She had been talking non-stop for almost two hours.
She realised what she had done and started to apologise. No, we told her. You needed to do it. We're glad you did it. It is one of the reasons we get together. Now, show us the square you are doing this time.
Someone helped her work the pattern out so that she can go on working at home. Three of us looked at the border on a beanie and discussed ways of improving it. Someone else looked at the toe of a sock for a new sock knitter. Things were back to normal by the time we packed up to leave.
And the vest? Well it did get out of the bag - just. There was not too much time to look at it. That suited me just fine. I would rather have listened than shown it off.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

There was a "direct message"

in my in-box this morning - from my Twitter feed. It looked a little odd. Someone who rarely appears on my time-line had sent me a message to say that there was a "terrible rumor" about me. A link followed.
I have not clicked on the link. I sent the person whose account sent it a message suggesting her account had been hacked. A little later she had a similar message from someone else. Yes, her account has been hacked.
This makes me mad. It is not funny. It is not irritating or annoying. It is infuriating. It is also theft.
The person who has perpetrated this act puzzles me as much as they anger me. They have almost certainly done this to hundreds, perhaps thousands or tens of thousands of people. They will not know these people personally. They will have done it simply because they can do harm to people, people they do not even know.
It happened to me once. I was not even aware of it until I tried to log into another site and found I had been "blocked for sending spam". Fortunately for me I was able to inform someone I knew at the other end and they rectified the situation. The problem was at their end, not mine but they were not aware of it until I found I had the problem.
I wonder how many times things like this happen without people even being aware of it. My brother-in-law works for a large internet service provider. He tells me it is a constant problem and that, word to the contrary, it is not a matter of changing passwords frequently (although that is probably wise). Hackers have other ways of doing things. His workplace has a team which is dedicated to trying to prevent that sort of thing but it is a constant battle. They do not always succeed.
I kept getting an e-mail from a company in South America. It was written in Spanish - a language I read with some difficulty - but it was clearly from a legitimate source. I tried sending a message to them eventually - in English. It had no effect. I then sent a message in Spanish. My grammar was undoubtedly appalling but it had the desired effect. There were no more e-mails from them. I wondered though how many thousands of e-mails they had unknowingly sent out and how many people had been infuriated by them to the point where they did not want to do business with the company.
I feel sorry for the person whose account has been hacked and I know it could just as easily be me despite taking precautions.
Hackers should be consigned to the underworld.

Friday, 26 October 2012

There is a row brewing

over the placement of names on ballot sheets for the next election. There is nothing new in this. It happens all the time.
This time however there are claims of "sexism" because a male is likely to be put ahead of a female on a Senate ballot paper. There are other claims being made about "merit", "the system", "factions", "faceless men" and "how things are done".
It says more about our voting system than people realise. We really have very little control over it.
       "You could join a political party," someone told me when I said this. Well, yes I could but I have no desire to do that. There is no party I feel so passionately in tune with that I would want to associate myself with it. Indeed, I am so far out of tune that I doubt any party would welcome me. I would be a disruptive presence. I would want things changed, things that are long held certainties.
What is more joining a party would not help to change the system because both the major parties in this country believe it benefits them and are determined to cling to it at all costs. Oh yes, they would like people to be "educated" about the system - but only in a manner which benefits them.
So a male without a very high profile will go at the top of the ticket and a woman with a very high profile will go second. As most people will just vote according to the instructions of "their" party it means that both of them will get elected anyway. It really will not make a difference. "Merit" has nothing to do with it. It's a numbers things - and an eye on the election after this next one. Yes, they are planning that far ahead.
We were talking about this too. What's the solution? If you must have "compulsory preferential voting then should ballot papers be round with the names of the candidates in the round? The order in which they went around could be decided by names pulled out of a hat. That way nobody could be top of the list.
No doubt someone could find a way of rigging that sooner or later.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Julia Churchill left a

"tweet" a day or so ago to say that she had just read a picture book submission out loud to herself in several different voices. She did this at home where, presumably, nobody else could hear her.
I wondered what would have happened if she had done this in the office. Her response was that she talked to herself all the time in the office so nobody would have noticed.
I know I talk to myself - usually in the context of writing something. I feel idiotic but I need to know how something sounds.
My father talks to himself, especially when he is working out how to do something or put something together. It often sounds something like, "Now, this bit fits in here and if I..."
But, do other people talk to themselves in the same way? I suspect writers do. They need to know how things sound.
I had to go to the untidy shop yesterday. I looked around at the staff. They all had their mouths shut unless they were talking to a customer. I looked at the customer. They all had their mouths shut unless they were talking to someone else.
I went a little further afield. At the library the staff were talking to the borrowers and the borrowers were talking to the staff. Nobody browsing the shelves was talking to themselves. Someone was bent over a computer terminal and muttering - ah, trying to spell a word.
In the shopping centre it seemed to be the same thing. People were not talking to themselves although they were talking to each other except...
There was a small girl standing by the toy car outside the bank. She filled the car with petrol from the bowser, paid for it and then climbed into the car and drove off. The running commentary was a delight.
It takes imagination to talk to yourself.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

I finished making

something yesterday - apart from putting the shoulders together.  It all started quite by chance. One of the local children was given something by her grandmother. It was one of those nifty little machines into which you can thread yarn, then turn the little handle on the side and - hey presto - abracadabra - a cord appears at the bottom.
It is the modern version of "tomboy" stitch, a "knitting nancy", a spool-tool, an i-cord maker etc etc. What we did with a wooden cotton reel, four nails and a hair or bobby-pin the modern child apparently does with the machine.
The problem is what you do with what you have made.
The girl had made rather a lot of the stuff and then told me, "But I don't know what to do with it."
I showed her an old book she could download. That had some ideas in it. She is not much of a sewer  and the cord needs to be sewn together but she made a couple of caps from it, a tea-cosy for her grandmother and some flowers on chains for her friends. There was still some cord left. She passed it over to me. Perhaps, she suggested, I could use the rest?
Right. I put it to one side with absolutely no idea what I could do with it. Then I was looking at something else. It has an i-cord border. Hmm. I thought some more - and some more. I detest sewing. It is something I find really difficult. I also detest waste. I was determined to use the stuff.
So I found an old sewing pattern for a vest and I drew the outline of it. I pinned some of the i-cord around the edge and then, over the last few months, I have been filling in the middle at random. I knitted some "leaves" - diamond shapes and worked around them with more i-cord. In between those I have wriggled and whirled the i-cord. The end result is "red" and there is a myriad of textures.
The resulting "garment" is something I would never wear but yes, it is interesting and it could be worn. The cord has not been wasted.  I will get a photograph and put it up on Ravelry. I still do not know how to put photographs on this blog - and really, I do not want to. This blog is for word-pictures.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Our Treasurer is

determined to produce a "budget surplus" - at any cost. It is a matter of politics, not economics. It is about winning the next election, not what might be good for the country.
Producing a "budget surplus" is - apart from personally attacking the Leader of the Opposition - the most important thing on the government's political agenda. It does not matter what the cost is.
The cost may well be very high. The Treasurer outlined a further range of "cuts" yesterday and some of them are very disturbing indeed.
Others are making much of the "baby bonus" - the money paid to parents of new borns. That is to be reduced for second and subsequent children. I am not too concerned about this as the money did not always get spent on the children. My mother got "child endowment" for us. It came in small amounts, enough to cover things like shoes for school. It was not a lump sum that could be spent on an electronic baby sitter (aka as a television set). Research has shown that child endowment payments were spent on children more often than not - whether they were spent wisely may be another story.
But there are other cuts which do disturb me. One of them is the cuts to private health insurance rebates. Like private (UK "public") schooling. There are arguments for and against private health coverage. On balance however this is money going into the health system. It helps to prop up the ailing state system. People are more likely to seek and get help, seek it earlier and recover more quickly because the problem is less severe. The potential savings are vast and, far from delaying treatment in public health, waiting lists in all areas are reduced. We can afford to employ more doctors and other medical professionals. Cutting health costs never makes long term sense. In the short term though the government says it can save $500m and that will help to "put the budget into surplus".
Then there is the other thing that really worries me - and it is related to health as well. The government is cutting research funds to universities. Universities are already at an all time low with respect to government support. Our present government has been making ever increasing demands of others to fund research - while at the same time wasting research dollars on politically motivated research. (There is, believe it or not, a research project on whether trees provide shade which has been funded by the government.)
Cutting funding to universities is going to have major consequences. I already know of one scientist who will now be heading to Germany. He was wavering. He would prefer to stay in Australia. His family is here but the job is there. There is no job here because of the cuts. There will be others in his position. There will be even more students who are not able to get supervision who will also have to think of going abroad - or simply not doing post-graduate work, perhaps even under-graduate work.
Company tax will now be paid monthly, not quarterly. That adds costs to business - and they will flow on into the community. Revenue may well drop but, initially, it will appear to rise. It will give the government the money it needs to get the magic political surplus.
Nothing matters except the surplus. The government is banking on the surplus to get itself re-elected.
I just do not understand economics.

Monday, 22 October 2012

I made

Christmas cake yesterday.
I know that this may seem incredibly well organised. It is not. There are good reasons for making it this early.
The first is that the Whirlwind is organised about these things and it is something we do together.
We got the fruit together last weekend.
         "Now don't forget to stir it at least twice everyday!" she told me as she left.
 I would not dare to forget. My father remembered to give it the occasional prod as well. It is his "great contribution".
The second reason is that, along with two big cakes - one for the Whirlwind and one for my sister - I make four much smaller cakes. One of these is for us, one goes to another sister who lives in another state and the remaining two are used as "lunch" by two friends who each run stalls at the Quilt and Craft Fair.
They come from interstate and stay in cheap accommodation. Theoretically they could bring a sandwich if they went and bought bread and so on - or they could have those savoury sort of "sandwich" biscuits. In reality they usually arrive and have no time to think about grocery shopping. The food at the venue is expensive and they do not have time to get it anyway. One mini-loaf size of cake cut into four pieces does them nicely as a high-energy lunch time snack - along with the inevitable coffee.
So, cake is made early. I may, if there is time and the Whirlwind prods me, make shortbread and lebkuchen as well. I have little doubt I will be prodded. She still likes cutting out lebkuchen.
Yesterday was the perfect day for it. It was not too warm. My father was out for the day with my sister. We had the kitchen to ourselves and the cakes were in the oven in no time. There was even enough for four mini-mini sized cakes in little paper cases - well, we made sure of that!
The Whirlwind sat at the kitchen table and memorised vocabulary and wrote up an assignment. She kept resetting the timer and looking at the cake. I went and cleaned the bathroom.
Eventually she called me and we tried the cakes with a skewer - not quite done.
By lunchtime we had cake. The house was filled with the aroma of Christmas.
We wrapped the bigger cakes according to the instructions in the recipe and left them to cool.
 The Whirlwind went home carrying two of the mini-mini cakes. My father and I had the other two last night. The others are now resting. The big cakes still need to be iced. The smaller ones do not get iced.
Late that afternoon I had an e-mail from the Whirlwind's father. He had been reading  an article on line. It was about the way families in very poor circumstances do or do not manage to feed their children. He had shown it to her.
Her comment,
            "We may not be super rich but we are lucky because we are rich enough to make cake sometimes."
Yes, we are rich.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The doctoral student

who lives opposite came to see us yesterday. She comes from Mongolia. She brought us dessert because she had been cooking - ready for the return of her Australian "grandparents", the people she lives with. They are like family to her and she refers to them as "Grandmother" and "Grandfather" in Mongolian.
Her mother died earlier this year, at seventy-five.
        "That is old in Mongolia," she told us. Her mother was a doctor but even she did not have the benefit of palliative care. Our little student went home for several months and nursed her to the end.
Now she is back she looks at my father in disbelief.
        "He is so old but young too. He still works."
My father was in the garden when she arrived. She was delighted. The garden is a source of amazement to her. Until she arrived in Australia she had never seen many things growing.
        "We can buy but very expensive," she says of many things, "It is all imported. When I was home I so wanted an apple. I went and bought just one."
Her continuing appreciation of fruit and vegetables has been mentioned more than once by her Australian "grandmother". It is going to be very hard for her when she goes back to Mongolia for good.
Last summer she photographed the peach tree in our front garden - just so that she could show people how peaches grow.
Yesterday she investigated the parsley patch - no thankyou she did not need any then - and the rosemary bush. She broke off a tiny sprig and rolled it between her fingers and broke into a smile at the perfume. She looked carefully at the way my father is nurturing carrot seedlings.
        "What are these?" she asked of the broccoli plants. My father showed her the tiny buds on those. Spinach? Yes. Shallots? Yes. Lettuce? Yes, they grow that. Tomatoes? Yes, but not such big ones.
Then she comes to the boxes in which my father has planted strawberries. What are these?
And then, before my father can answer her, she says in absolute awe,
        "Strawberries! This is how they grow?! I must have a picture. I must show people."
There is, early though it is, one just ripe strawberry. My father tells her to pick it and wash it. She does so and stands there eating it slowly, savouring one small strawberry in four even smaller bites.
The dessert she has given us has come in a small pot. We will keep the pot for a few days because there are several more almost ripe strawberries there. When they are ripe my father will pick them, put them in the pot and give them to her.
I know, without a doubt, who is going to enjoy their dessert the most.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

I still miss

our last cat. He died fourteen years ago. He was a Siamese-alley cat. We used to jokingly say "his mother committed a slight indiscretion". He was a silver tabby with the shape and personality of a Siamese.
The vet loved him too.
          "I know you think I am just saying it because I say it about every cat," he told us, "But this one has personality plus. He talks to me!"
And our little cat did "talk" in all sorts of ways. He could communicate. He would sit in the doorway of my bedroom and I would ask,
      "What do you want?"
Then, as if he understood the question, he would head for the kitchen and wait for a snack or head for the area where he was brushed and wait for me to brush him - or he would simply come in and jump on my lap for a short cuddle.
If I was not home he would follow my father around the garden or sit and watch my mother do the ironing. In fine weather he would sleep under the rosemary bush and come in smelling of warm fur and rosemary.
He was, apparently, not interested in catching prey. When a bird was badly stunned flying into a window and lay, apparently lifeless, on the ground he brought it in and put it at the feet of my mother. He looked up at her with a single "meow" - as if to say, "Can you do something to help?"
In the evenings he would sit on my mother's lap while she knitted and hold the yarn, quite gently, between his front paws. He never chewed it or played with it. It was as if he knew that it was something one of his humans was working on. Oh yes, he owned us. We did not own him.
He had a companion for years, another cat who was wicked and mischevious and much more demanding. I still remember the awful sound our little cat made when his companion died. After that he became even more closely attached to us.
He slept, on his own towel, at the foot of my bed.
The night he did not want to do that I knew he was ready to go. The vet refused to charge us anything. He was weeping too.
Our former neighbour was sent home from work after the death of their cat. He was a big, strong male who did not appear to be particularly interested in - let alone fond of - their cat. He came home and shamefacedly admitted that he had broken down telling his boss about it - and his boss had the sense to realise he needed at least a day off.#
I still miss our little cat. I really do. I really sympathise when, as has just happened, someone I know loses an animal they love.
If an animal owns you then you will know what I mean. If you are not owned by another animal then please just try and understand.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Changing the definition of

a word is usually something which happens gradually but claims that "misogyny" has done this are almost certainly exaggerated.
There has been some discussion about this word and the meaning of it lately, Our Prime Minister accused our Opposition Leader of misogyny. She has not repeated the claim outside parliament and neither have any members of her government. They are unlikely to do so because it would lay them open to being sued for slander. The accusation is untrue even if they claim to mean it in the "expanded" form. What puzzled me, my father and a great many other people was the idea that this word had gained an "expanded form".
Sue Butler, the editor of the Macquarie Dictionary, claims (this from the ABC site) "that the political furor (sic) revealed to her fellow editors that their dictionary's definition was decades out of date" and then went on to say "since the 1980's "misogyny" has come to be used as a synonym for sexism - a synonym with bite, but nevertheless with the meaning of 'entrenched prejudice against women' rather than 'pathological hatred'.
I think she is, quite simply, wrong. The definition is not decades out of date. It is not a synonym for "sexism".  The word has undoubtedly been misused and abused on occasions but the Prime Minister would have been well aware of what the word meant. She would have chosen it quite deliberately. She would have had other words in her vocabulary if she wanted to talk about "sexist" behaviour.
The idea that the word is a synonym for "sexist" also suggests that "sexism" only refers to inappropriate male behaviour towards women and that the reverse cannot occur. Of course it can occur so the definition is at best - I will try to be polite here - "awkward" and "inappropriate". I doubt "misandry" will be redefined in the same way although it would seem that it should be.
The Macquarie Dictionary is supposed to be the last word on the meanings of words in Australian English. We own a copy of the most recent edition but it is a dictionary which frequently irritates me and my father. I also own a two volume "shorter" Oxford - my main reference source - and a number of other dictionaries.
Language changes and grows, of course it does. New words come into being in order to describe new things and new ideas. In this instance however I doubt that the definition of a word is "decades out of date". I think it is much more likely that it is an attempt to give a word a meaning for a political purpose - and that is not the function of any lexicographer.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

So what makes a book

"accessible"? I don't know.
There were some very interesting comments left for me yesterday. Thankyou. It set me to more thinking.
I took a quick look at Jeet Thayil's "Narcopolis" also short-liested for the Booker. The opening sentence is six and a half pages long.
If I had tried this in an essay at school my English teacher would, rightly, have thrown my work back at me and said, "Run on sentence. You can do better." When Thayil does it then it is somehow acceptable. It is "art" or - in this case - "literature". That does not mean it is easy to read. It is not.
I am not sure if it works or not. I have not read more than that yet. I may not read it but I will give it a go. Bombay - Mumbai? I think I had more of a sense of the place from letters a soldier sent his mother. I saw them after his death. His sentences were short, sharp and often misspelt. The English was not good but, somehow, he captures the essence of the city.
I also took a quick look at Will Self's "Umbrella" yesterday. I doubt I will be reading that. I will give it an honest attempt but I doubt it is for me.
I can remember when I was in the last year of primary school my father, who was teaching me at the time, read out a very short passage from Ulysses - a "stream of consciousness" sequence. The very fact I can remember him doing this is probably an indicator of the impact it had on me.  I can remember thinking, "Put down what is inside my head - exactly as I am thinking it. Don't change it."
I know I tried to do it often after that. It never really worked because I would immediately become conscious of what I was doing and, as always, the physical act of writing something down also got in the way.
Then there were the other questions of the position from which the book was - first person or third person, past tense or present tense?  My father encouraged us to try everything. I wonder now what practical farm children who did almost no reading made of these exercises. Did it make books more accessible for them? I hope it did. I know it made me more conscious of writing and how things are written.
So yes, one of the people who left a comment on yesterday's blog post is correct when she says that books like those on the Booker short-list are rather like modern art works. They can require detective work in order to be understood.  The detective work can be rewarding.
In the end though I think one of the other commenters is right. What we really ask for is to be told a story. It is, in the end, the story which we are looking for.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

So Hilary Mantel

has just won the Man Booker Prize for the second time - this time for "Bring Up the Bodies".  No doubt she deserves it and winning twice is a remarkable achievement but I do not envy her. Anything she produces from now on is going to be scrutinised to the nth degree. It is the sort of reputation that puts an enormous burden on the writer.
I also feel a little guilty. I could not read "Wolf Hall". I tried but I could not finish it. I barely started it. The writing was not for me.
I have a problem with some - perhaps many -  "prizewinning" books. I try to read them because I think I should at least know about them. Casting my eye down the list of Man Booker winners I realise that I have glanced at most of them. I have not read all of them.  I am unlikely to do so.
The same is true of other adult "literary" prizes. I often glance at them but I do not read them through to the end. I have said elsewhere in this blog that I cannot read Patrick White. I have been told I should. He is Australian. He won the Nobel Prize. How dare I not read him? Easily. His writing bores me. I know. It is shocking.
My father has looked at many prizewinners too. "Self-indulgent, navel gazing nonsense" he said of the work of one "highly regarded" Australian writer. It was an honest reaction from a man with a degree in English literature. The writing was not for him.
We will get half a dozen or more copies of "Bring Up the Bodies" on the shelves of the local library. They will be borrowed but, with rare exceptions, they will not be read to the end. The same was true of Wolf Hall. "I didn't finish it" and "I couldn't get into it" were common reactions even while a few people were saying, "I loved it. I didn't want it to end!"
It is more likely that people will read JK Rowling. The waiting list to read the latest Peter James - two copies - apparently extends to well over one hundred - and people will read it. "Don't tell me what happens!" I heard someone say. If Elizabeth George produced another Lynley novel or Ian Rankin another Rebus novel then there would be a queue the same length as there is for Peter James.
Then there are the prizes for "children's literature" like the Carnegie Medal. I can run my eye down those lists and say, "Yes, I have read - and even enjoyed - most of them." There will be a few I have not read - but not many. There are a few I have not enjoyed - but not many. Some of course I have enjoyed more than others.
I read a good many books intended for children. My father has too. He still says a good book for a child is a book which is good for anyone. They are not the only books we read of course but we can still enjoy them.
I wonder what changes for me between writing intended for children and writing intended for adults? Is it that I have never grown up as a reader? Does it mean I will never really be able to write well for children?
It bothers me. Should I make another attempt to read Wolf Hall and the other winners on the Booker list?
One of the problems is that there is just such a lot I want to read. Sigh!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Doing a free fall

from "the edge of space" is madness. To do it and survive is nothing short of miraculous as well.
Why anyone would want to do something like that is beyond my comprehension. The "because it's there" or, in this case, "because I want to" argument seems strange to me. Yes, Everest is there. Someone else has climbed. They have shown it can be done. There is no need to do it again - if there was any need to do it the first time.
But, like exploring foreign places, people do want to do these things. The plumber who is going to replace the leaking hot water tank at our place clearly gets a similar adrenalin rush from riding his motor bike. My nephews get one from racing go-karts at very high speeds around race-tracks. I know people who have been ballooning, parachuted from aircraft, bungy-jumped and gone white-water rafting or caving. It seems that anything which could be classed as "dangerous" gives some people a thrill.
I think I can live without any of those things.
Then there are other things that give people an adrenalin rush as well.  A publishers' agent I know says that negotiating book deals gives her an adrenalin rush. A magician my father knows says that performing (something he does on the international circuit) gives him an adrenalin rush. I am not good at hard negotiations and I hate performing in public. I think I can live without that sort of thing as well.
I was talking to one of our local politicians yesterday. He was out and about talking to people in a casual way. He does that sometimes in the belief it makes him a better and more accessible local member. He may be right. Even people who vote the other way seem to think he is doing a reasonable job. He mentioned the space jump to me and said,
        "He didn't need to go to such lengths. All he had to do was get himself elected to parliament."
Is that why they do it?

Monday, 15 October 2012

Max Fatchen has

died. He was 92,
He will be little known outside his native South Australia but he should have been better known across Australia. Max was a journalist and a writer, or perhaps a writer who also happened to be a journalist.
He was, like his friend Colin Thiele, a farm boy. Colin went teaching. Max went into the state newspaper, "the Advertiser", as a journalist. He was taught some of the finer points of the English language by my old English teacher. It was my English teacher who introduced me to Max. Her unenviable other role was to try and train cadet journalists to use the English language.
Max wrote with humour, compassion, optimism and - on occasion - fury. His first newpaper article was written in 1948. His last column for the same paper was written this year.  In between there were thousands of articles and columns, daily and then in his final years weekly unless there was something else he wanted to say. There often was and the paper would find room for it.
Max wrote them all on a trusty Imperial typewriter. He was not a computer man. "After my time," he once told me with a little grin.
He loved books, loved the feel of them in his hand. I am certain nothing would ever have convinced him to use a kindle - or even to write on a computer. It was not the way he did things.
He "retired" from the paper in the mid-eighties. That meant he stopped going into work each day. He wrote from home instead. He wrote many things, including several books for children which won commendations in the Children's Book of the Year Awards. The best known, "The River Kings", talks about the River Murray - a river he loved with a passion. 
He wrote "ridiculous" verses for children and had an extraordinary memory for nonsense verses which he would recite to the delight of children. He borrowed my copy of Peter and Iona Opie's book on childhood verses "The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren" (and yes I did get it back) but never got around to writing the Australian version.
Then, in later years, there were the weekly columns when he would talk about apparently ordinary and everyday things. In Max's hands they were not ordinary and not everyday. He would talk about his wife. He would mention chooks. He would write about a recalcitrant plant. He would describe a meal or a visit from a friend. It was all done with wit but kindness. Max was a gentleman.
His wife's death hit him hard but he continued on with help. He had Meals on Wheels and, as arthritis set in, "a new female - Freda, the Frame" to help him get around. The trademark fishing tackle hat was never far away and neither were his friends.
His family said his death was "peaceful". I hope it was because as my father said when I told him the news,
         "Max was marvellous."

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Have you tried

any "cro-hooking" or "crochet on the double" my friend wants to know. Yes. I know what it is. I have a done a sample square of the basic stitch - and that is about it. I need to know more before the Quilt and Craft Fair in November as I will be helping to sell the basic tool.
I know there is a book about "double ended crochet stitches" in our Guild library as I was the person who put it there. I can access that next weekend. It is unlikely anyone else will be reading it.
In the meantime there is the internet and somewhere in that maze there are videos and other instructions to be had. I will remind myself through a little searching. I will need to be firm with myself and not allow my paws to stray to other sites!
This is the problem with the internet. There is too much information out there. It is a vast - and often inaccurate - encyclopaedia. It is a tool which is abused as much as it is used. I mentioned an example of that earlier this week when I wrote about the video of our Prime Minister delivering a speech.
My father, the proud owner of an i-pad on which he searches for information about things like gardening and woodwork and many other topics, shakes his head at times. He has come across information he knows, from experience, is inaccurate. He has watched woodwork technique videos where the demonstrator fails to observe the most basic of safety skills. It worries him but there is little he can do about it.
But the internet is a valuable resource. When I mentioned it to the two friends who were here for lunch yesterday one of them knew what I was talking about and the other said, "I'll look it up."
Do they still have hard copy encyclopaedias, those long sets of twenty or more volumes filled with, sometimes inaccurate, information - much of it information you would never use or have any interest in? I can look the answer to that up too.
Now though I can, with care, look up almost anything I need to know. If there is an answer to my question then someone somewhere will have answered it.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Two friends are

coming for lunch today. They are part of a group that began to meet about ten years ago. There were seven of us to begin, we crept up to eleven and now our numbers have dropped again to below seven.
Our common bond was knitting. Our ages vary from almost ninety to thirty-two. The almost ninety year old is getting frail. Her eyesight is now very poor. She still lives alone but one or other of her daughters calls in each day. Today she is not coming because there is a family event.
The thirty-two year old now has twin girls. They are interstate this weekend but the girls liven the occasions on which our friend can make it. They are nice little girls who are good at entertaining themselves.
One good friend returned to America. We always knew that her time here was limited but I miss her perhaps even more than the rest of the group. We could talk books as well as knitting. She took an intelligent interest in food and would always produce something interesting for our shared lunches.
Last year another member of the group returned to New Zealand and we miss her too.
Another girl just dropped out of the group. We were sorry to see her go because we felt she needed a support group but she made so many excuses not to come that, in the end, we had to accept she did not want to remain.
Another now has Alzheimer's. The onset was rather early and we accommodated her as long as we could. It gave her husband a break from caring for her and it was never any bother to us. Someone would pick her up and take her home and she was, for a while, well enough to enjoy our company.
And so it has gone on. We have, with one exception, met at one another's homes on birthdays or "just because we haven't seen each other in a while".
But our group has dwindled. Today just two of them are coming here to lunch. It is the birthday of one. The husband of the other is going sailing with mates. They both want to see my father as they are kind enough to say they genuinely enjoy his company. One of them is bringing a chair for mending. My father has made the birthday girl a wooden pen because she makes him socks.
I know we will enjoy ourselves although it will be tinged with sadness for a time when there were more of us. We have been fortunate.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Malala Yousafzai

is in a critical condition in a Pakistani hospital because a group of religious extremists decided that she was a danger to them. She is a fourteen year old girl who wanted an education. They say she was "westernising" the country.
The Taliban are not opposed to women and girls being educated - as long as the education fits in with their thinking - or so, they say. They want women who are prepared to be obedient and dutiful wives who will have many children. The preference is for male children over female children. All of them will, in the Taliban's idealistic view of the world, grow up as devout members of their extreme view of Islam and the men will continue to see to it that the rest of the world is "converted" to their way of thinking.
I met a Muslim friend in the supermarket yesterday. She spoke to me about Malala and broke down as she was doing so.
        "It could be our daughter. She wants to be a doctor too."
I know her husband has expressed views about girls who want to go on to university. None of his sisters did. His father was opposed to it. He has been  not opposed but perhaps wary of it until recently. He is concerned about what else his daughter might be exposed to at university. When he told me this once I gently suggested that medical students had almost no time to socialise and that the drugs and alcohol he was worried about were not something all students indulge in.
What has happened to Malala has almost completely changed his view about women and education. If his daughter gets accepted into medicone he will now support her. It is perhaps something good that has come out of the most appalling and sickening attack on one young girl and, through that, the rights of women everywhere.
I am aware though that there are still people in Australia, particularly those from some ethnic backgrounds, who do not see the education of women as being as important as the education of men. I know women who were not allowed to go to university, simply because they were women. I still know girls in that position. Their fathers simply withold their support. They do not see education as important. Their attitude can be summed up as,
         "You'll get married and have children and it will all get wasted." 
Malala may not survive. Even if she does she may not be the highly intelligent and articulate young girl she was before she was shot. I hope she survives and recovers but I know that it may not happen.
Her situation however should serve to educate the rest of us. Education is only wasted if you do not use it - and there are many ways to use an education.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Taken out of context

anyone can say anything. Words can be used "for" and "against". Words can also be misused and unintentionally used.
Our Prime Minister ended up doing a world trip via video this week. Outside Australia a lot of people thought what she had to say was wonderful. Indeed, looked at it in isolation it was good.It was brilliantly edited to send a certain message.  It came across as articulate, fluent and well delivered. What she had to say seemed like a fierce defence of women and the place of women in society. The message was importnant. I did not disagree with the message.
The problem is that this great rhetoric was deliberately taken out of context. It was delivered at a time when the Prime Minister voted, and required her party to vote, to keep the then Speaker in his position, a man whose behaviour was the very opposite of what she was advocating.
The Speaker was not denying that he had been sending the vilest of vile messages with a sexual content to one of his then staffers. He was and still is involved in a court case over these messages and the sexual harassment of a now former staff member.
There was a vote in parliament and the Prime Minister was able to claim victory - by one vote. Anything else would have brought the government down.
The same evening the Speaker resigned. He recognised what the Prime Minister refused to recognise. His position, always on shaky ground, had become untenable. It leaves an unpopular government hanging on the thinnest of threads. It may hang on because some of the "independents" know they are unlikely to be re-elected and they naturally want to be there as long as possible. The government may go earlier than planned if an "independent" withdraws support.
The Prime Minister knows all this so she is using the "sexist" charge to attack the leader of the Opposition. He is not popular. He ousted a man who was "popular" - made popular by the media who would find him a convenient candidate for Prime Minister.
The leader of the Opposition is accused of being "anti-women". The media has poked fun at his religious beliefs, his charity work, his fitness and his family life. They have accused him of threatening assault, temper, lack of sensitivity, being under the thumb of his church, and many other "sins". It does not matter that these allegations have not been proven or that his actions often show the opposite of what is claimed. Nothing will change that. He is not perfect. No human being is. It is very likely he does have a conservative view of the way women should be treated but to say he does not respect them would not be true. He tells lies. All politicians do.  He is a politician and he behaves the way politicians do.
His words have been taken out of context. Everything he says and does is scrutinised in the hope of using it against him. He is blamed for events over which he has no control - a "racist riot" on Australia Day (set up by his opponents), the words of a broadcaster (over whom he has no control). It's politics - but a particularly vicious and vile form of politics. Would he do the same if the position was reversed? Perhaps but his attacks on the Prime Minister have always been about performance not about personality. Still, it's politics.  
The Prime Minister made the most of all this in her "speech". It sounded good. It sounded good because it was taken out of context and it may well do good because of that. In context however it takes on another flavour. The flavour of politics - and it is not a nice flavour.
Nobody involved has anything to be proud of.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A "SABLE" for

retirement would seem to be essential.
"It's a girl and all's well," my brother tells me in the early morning 'phone call. His daughter has just given birth to a second child.  (The first is also a girl.)
My brother gives me a few more sketchy details as he walks into his office, has a quick word with our father and that is it for now. Mobile 'phones do have advantages!
Our father has been waiting anxiously for this news. The baby was late in arriving and he was getting concerned. This is his fourth great-grandchild and he already has a list of wooden things he "needs to make" for her - more blocks, a doll's cot, a ride on toy of some sort and so it goes on. My brother will help assemble some of these things if they have to be flat-packed to send to the other side of the country. Like my father he is a keen woodworker.
For some reason we had a steady stream of visitors yesterday. One of them was planned but the rest were not. Of course everyone had to hear the news - several of them asked. Several of them asked,
       "What are you going to make?"
Late in the afternoon Dad went out into the shed with someone to do a small repair job. His wife stayed in to talk to me about something else but, as they went out the door, she said,
        "I wish Don was interested in that sort of thing. It would be marvellous to see our grandchildren grow up with those sort of toys even if they are so far away. It's all I can do to get Don to change a light bulb."
Her husband has retired. He fills his days with fishing, reading, a walk each morning unless he is playing golf and very little else. Occasionally he does a few days work for his old company. He is not happily retired and is considering finding more work. His wife wishes he would. It would mean he would be out of the house all day and she could get on with the gardening, the maintenance, her sewing and other things.
Our last unexpected visitor for the day was also someone who is retired. He was a piano tuner. He is one of the most practical people I know. He can turn his hand to almost anything. He has a passion for history. He has never married but he takes a great interest in his sister's children and, now, grandchildren. The days are never long enough for him.
My father has no hope of using all the timber he has collected. It is another case of what knitters call "SABLE" - "stash advancement beyond life expectancy". Our last visitor is the same. His shed is filled with "useful" things.  Don's garage is almost bare. There are only absolute essentials in there.
Without a doubt the happiest and most content people I know are the people who have advanced cases of "SABLE".

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

"The art of the sandwich"

is apparently a book title - not that I have read the book.
Someone I know was talking about making cut lunches for school and the perennial problem of what to put in the sandwiches.
I remember school lunches and the sandwiches. My mother would stand there and say, "Vegemite (Marmite is the British equivalent), cheese or peanut paste?" (It was peanut paste back then, now it is "peanut butter".)  There were only ever the three choices and sometimes we were not even given that choice. A sandwich would appear in our lunch box and it would be Vegemite.
When that happened I suspect there was no cheese or peanut paste to be had - or Mum was simply not in a mood to ask us what we wanted. 
There would be two biscuits or a "little cake" and a piece of fruit. Our lunches never varied from that. They were simple. They were quick to make. They were cheap. Those things mattered. We ate the same thing all the way through primary school unless we went home to lunch.
We went home to lunch if my maternal grandmother was staying with us in one of the rural areas my parents taught in. She would provide a hot meal in the middle of the day. It gave her something to do while we were at school. Ungrateful children that we were we resented having to sit there and eat a hot meal when we could have been doing other things.
When we reached secondary school, before boarding school, we were expected to get our own lunch. As we always lived next door to the school we would go home and make ourselves a sandwich.
The fillings became more interesting then. Mum was not around to supervise the art of sandwich construction. My brother and I would make ourselves cheese sandwiches but add layers of tomato, lettuce, cucumber, grated carrot and celery. In winter we would sometimes boil an egg and have hot egg sandwiches with plenty of salt and pepper. We had to be careful about how much butter we used because buying it usually meant a journey in the car but nobody was worried about cholesterol. We had never heard of cholesterol. Like everyone else we kept hens because, without them, we would not have had eggs in rural areas.
Mum would put some things off limits. They were for the evening meal.  I don't think we ever dared to touch them. Raiding the biscuit tin was off limits too. Mum left the day's supply on the kitchen bench - if she remembered. Somehow she always remembered the fruit but sometimes forgot the biscuits.
Very occasionally we made honey sandwiches, something we had never been allowed to have in primary school. Jam was almost unknown in our family but there was usually someone on a local farm who kept bees so there would be honey. We could get away with it if we did not use too much - and the bread had to be fresh for a honey sandwich.
We ate because we were active. We were hungry because we were active. We did not expect food to be exciting or different. The only problem we had was deciding between Vegemite, cheese or peanut paste. It was usually Vegemite.

Monday, 8 October 2012

There has been more vitriol

directed at broadcaster Alan Jones but, much more worryingly, at those who are seen to be "associated" with him - no matter how tenuously or for what reason.
Yes Alan Jones made insensitive and inappropriate comments about the Prime Minister's late father. We know that. He apologised. It may or may not have been sincere but an apology was made. That should have been an end to the matter.
Instead of that the Prime Minister has refused to accept the apology and her government has been using the matter to whip up something that is becoming more than a storm in a teacup.
In this they are being ably assisted by some sections of the media and a well orchestrated social-media campaign. Advertisers on Jones's radio show have been threatened unless they withdraw advertising - so many of them have. In tight economic times they simply cannot risk their advertising dollars being seen to support someone like Alan Jones. His show will now go to air without advertising.
The "punishment" of Alan Jones has now gone far beyond anything a court of law might have imposed if it had been a legal matter. At the most they would have ordered an apology and ordered he pay the costs and they may not even have done that.
The situation is simply being used by the government and the Labor supporting sections of the media. There have been ridiculous claims about who is responsible for the remarks which were made. There has been a barrage of hate-mail to the offices of opposition members of parliament and former members of parliament. If the comments made by Alan Jones were insensitive and and inappropriate many of these are worse, some of them amount to criminal libel.
Those sections of the media stirring up trouble would have you believe that they are whiter than freshly fallen snow. At the same time they are also stirring up more trouble with a "public interest" story of another sort. Sections of the Australian media are now camped outside a villa in Tuscany waiting for the opportunity to talk to the father of four girls and, if they can get away with it, the girls themselves. They believe that, if they are careful, they can get away with this intrusion into the private lives of a family torn apart by a custody dispute in which the mother deliberately flouted a court order. The more media attention given to the case the harder it will be for the girls to readjust to life at home because yes, Italy is home. They were born there. Their removal was against the law.
The story is not being told "in the public interest". It should not even be one of public interest. It should have remained a private affair. The media has turned it into a major international news story.
The Alan Jones affair was not told "in the public interest" either. It was an opportunistic act designed to "get Jones" and, when the potential was realised, to "get anyone associated with Jones".
I do not like what Alan Jones said and I doubt I could listen to his radio programme without cringing but efforts to get him off air are inappropriate. They are also dangerous. If they succeed it will do serious damage to everyone in the media, whatever their political persuasion.
If the media succeeds in getting their interviews with the Italian father and his daughters they will do serious damage in other ways.
I do not want to see the media regulated the way the government is proposing so why are they going down the very paths that will give the government the ammunition it needs to further restrict what the media can say?

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Please don't shoot

the messenger!
I was at a meeting yesterday and I had to deliver some feedback, some critical feedback from the person who judged the knitting at the event I talked about recently.  It is never a nice thing to do.
The comments were fair but I prefaced them with a perhaps slightly "critical" comment of my own. Very few people from the Guild I belong to entered anything. I could have said "actually bothered" to enter anything but I chose my words carefully.
It was actually a statement of fact. There were just five people out of over one hundred who bothered to enter anything in to the event.
Despite my care I was roundly criticised for even mentioning the fact. I was told that knitting is like making a cake. You only make cake for it to be eaten. You only knit for it to be worn. Guild members are not interested in turning out "interesting" knitting only in making practical everyday garments that "people will actually use".
Of course not everyone agreed with the speaker but it was clear that many of them did.
       "You know Cat she's right. We want to make things people will wear."
Oh right, so nobody wears "interesting"? All those books you wanted for the library will never be used? They are just there as what my American friends call "eye-candy"?
The woman who won four first prizes, who is over eighty and not at all well, just raised her eyebrows and said, "Well I am still interested in knitting something different."
Afterwards she asked me what, if anything, I knew about possible Mexican motifs.
        "I've still got a lot of that very bright yarn I was given last year."
There was nothing particularly suitable in the library but I have access to things that might be useful. I promised to let her have some. She will design something herself.
        "She's so good at that sort of thing," someone else said. She is another rare person who designs her own.
        "Yes, well she can afford to. She doesn't mind what she spends," another person said, "That's why the rest of us don't do that sort of thing. We can't afford to risk wasting the money if something doesn't turn out."
It seems like a valid excuse except that I know that many of them spend as much - or even more - than she does. They go and buy exactly what the pattern they are using tells them to use. They will import it if the yarn is not available. They won't substitute - even the colour has to be the same.
I know it is difficult for many people. The odd thing though is that they do not really lack confidence, the confidence to follow a pattern. They come unstuck if there is a mistake in the pattern. There are mistakes in patterns. When that happens someone can usually sort it out - often the knitter who won the four first prizes.
        "You have to learn to read your knitting," she tells people. It is good advice, very good advice.
         Yesterday as we were leaving she said quietly to me,
        "They didn't like that message much did they?"
        "No. They'd like to shoot the messenger too," I said.
I was about to pedal off when someone else rushed up to me with details of a book she thought I should get for the library.
       It was a book called "Cast on, bind off." It shows many different ways to cast on your stitches and cast (or bind) them off. I have in fact bought a copy for the library. It will be there at the next meeting.
I just wonder if it will actually be used and whether anyone will try something different as a result of looking at it.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

John Dougherty has just

reviewed an old book over on "An Awfully Big Blog Review".  It is a book I am glad he has found and read because it is a book written by an old friend of mine. The book is "Josh" by Ivan Southall.
John Dougherty does justice to the book so I will leave him to tell you about it and say something about Ivan  and writing instead.
I met Ivan when I was in my teens. He was about the same age as my father and I knew him mostly as the writer of a series of books about "Simon Black". My brother was an enormous fan of these books. He had all of them. If you have not come across them then think Biggles and you will have some idea.
Ivan was fed up with Black. His publisher liked Black. Readers liked Black. Ivan was bored with Black.
He wanted to write something else and later told the story of how he wrote the first draft of "Hills End" in less than a fortnight. Of course it took much longer to actually finish writing the book but it was there on paper (in those computerless days) in rough draft in two weeks. When he had done it he knew that he was not going back to Black.
He took off in a different direction altogether. What he considered his "real" second book for children "Ash Road" won a Children's Book of the Year Award.  He won it again later for "To the wild sky", "Bread and Honey" and the non-fiction "Fly West" (about his experiences in WWII as a pilot).
He wrote other books as well. Two of them stand out.
The first is "Let the Balloon Go" (1968).  It is quite simply a book about a boy who climbs a tree and yet it is also about the journey of a lifetime. Ivan admitted later that he had been thinking about "something" for some time because he and his then wife (they parted) had an intellectually disabled daughter. He also claimed meeting me was another reason he decided to write it. He sent me a postcard just before it was published. It was addressed "to the tree-climbing Cat". I have never quite forgiven my mother for throwing out that post-card.
It was, he said, a difficult book to write. He did not win the Children's Book of the Year for it. It was actually considered to be good enough but the judges considered it was "someone else's turn".  He accepted that quietly but I think he was disappointed because the book meant more to him than the others he had written at the time.
The second book that stands out is "Josh". It is the only book by an Australian author to have won the Carnegie Medal . Ivan admitted freely that there was an enormous amount of himself in Josh. He had been thinking about it for years. It was not merely a difficult book to write but a painful one. He relived many of his own childhood experiences, the pain of losing his father young and having to leave school as soon as he turned fourteen, the pain of country "holidays" in places where he was supposed to feel at home and never did, the pain of being "different".  He later admitted he almost felt he could not write it, indeed almost did not write it. We should be thankful he did.
Ivan wrote other things after that but he knew he had reach the peak with "Josh".  Even well established writers it seems may have one book inside them that they have to get out. 
Most people never knew Ivan was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944. He was uncomfortable with the AM and, I think a little bemused by the writing awards.  Ivan was above all a gentleman. He believed everyone should be treated with respect and allowed to climb their trees.

Friday, 5 October 2012

The last speaker of

the Cromarty dialect, Bobby Hogg, died this week. He was 92.
Most people will never have heard of him. I had not heard of him until his death was mentioned in the media.
For most people his death will be a matter of "another old man has died and yes it is sad for his family but it has nothing to do with us". Yet his death is important because we have lost another way of speaking. That matters.
I believe the Welsh Assembly has just passed a law which puts Welsh on an equal footing with English.  Many people will say this is ridiculous. Why would anyone want to preserve a language full of strange spelling, worse pronunciation and long words that can mean a sentence? Isn't it time that everyone "just spoke English"? No. Welsh matters.
I hope that the Scottish parliamentarians will eventually pass a bill that puts Gaelic on an equal footing with English. Gaelic matters too.
There is a growing awareness of the need to conserve and expand the use of Welsh and Gaelic. It is unlikely they will now be lost although Gaelic was said to be on the brink some years ago. It is now fighting back but there are a myriad of other languages and dialects which matter as well. Some of them have a very small number of speakers. They are in danger of dying out. People keep saying, "What does it matter?"
Yesterday was National Poetry Day in the UK. Welsh and Gaelic have magnificent poetic traditions, particularly oral poetry traditions. Oh yes, they can be translated - have been translated - but something always gets lost in translation. A translation is not the same thing. It is another set of ideas. A good translation may be close but it will not be exact. There can be words and ideas in one language which simply do not exist in another.
Every time we lose a language we lose a way of thinking. We do not lose "just words". We lose ideas. We lose emotions. We lose a little part of our humanity.
Language matters but languages matter too.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The abduction

of April Jones has reached the Australian as well as the British media. Pictures show a very attractive little girl with one of those perfect childish smiles that make you want to hug her. Why anyone would want to harm her - or any other child - is beyond comprehension.
It is something I cannot even begin to understand. Even when one of the children in the house next door has a screaming temper tantrum I have not the slightest desire to do them any harm. Even when a child goes on an uncontrolled rampage through the shopping centre, the park, the library or somewhere else I have not the slightest desire to do them any harm. I do not know anyone who would wish them harm - althought, like most people, I sometimes long to discipline them.
Like everywhere else we have had children go missing in this state. We have some particularly disturbing unsolved child disappearances. The most famous is probably the case of the three Beaumont children who went missing on Australia Day in 1966. The case resurfaces every so often but it has remained unsolved. It may never be solved. Their parents lived (and may still be living) with this for the rest of their lives. To wake every morning with the knowledge that your three children were missing would surely be enough to tip you over the edge of sanity into a living nightmare from which you would never wake. To never know what had happened to them would be mental torture beyond understanding.
Even when you do know what has happened I do not believe it is something you "get over". It would always be there.
I once knew, they are both now dead, a couple whose only child was murdered.
She was, from all accounts, a lovely and much loved child. Family, friends, parents of her friends, her teachers and people who just knew her casually all said she was a lovely child. She would not have gone willingly with her abductors. They would have had to overpower her. They were eventually caught but not before they had murdered more than once. They have never given any reason for what they did - apart from some sort of incomprehensible "thrill" of doing it.
I met her parents after she had died. Her father was working in the same area as I was. He was a quiet, thoughtful man who offered me more help than people who had not had a major tragedy in their lives. 
His wife was, among many other things, a writer. Several years after the murder of their child she finally found the courage to leave her husband for a few days and come to a residential conference at a university I had moved to. Her husband wrote and asked if I could keep an eye out for her. Of course. I knew it was taking an enormous effort for her to come - and for him to see her go.
I quietly informed several other people and they were supportive too. We saw to it that she had company when she wanted it, that someone walked to and from the conference venue with her without making an issue of it. We saw to it that she was included in discussions, again without making an issue of it. We simply tried to support her without smothering her with sympathy.
It almost all came to pieces when another student, training for the priesthood of all things, took it on himself to start quite deliberately telling "jokes" about death and funerals in her presence. They were not funny. They were cruel.
          "She has to get over it," he told us.
None of us could comprehend his attitude. I still cannot comprehend his attitude.
She wept in my room and then she went out and confronted him. She told him,
          "I am learning to live with it but I am not going to get over it."
No, you do not "get over" it. It is something the rest of us need to remember while we support them in living with it.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Pedalling through the park

yesterday I was stopped by a very small person pedalling a very small tricycle at the point where two paths cross.
He brought his very small vehicle to a careful halt and looked at me with a delighted expression. I looked for a parent and found his mother hurrying up behind. She gave me a nod and said,
         "That's fine. He knows he has to stop there."
I nodded and pedalled on.
Much later I was talking to a mother who is having trouble getting her two children to sleep at night. They are both at school now but this has been a problem for a long time. Both children are supposed to be "hyper-active". Both of them are supposed to have "attention" problems. They are supposed to have "allergies" - although just what they are allergic to has not yet been ascertained.
The two children are in both before school and after school care because both parents work full time in high pressure jobs. There are no relatives to care for the children. At school holiday time they are placed in "vacation programmes" at school.
Neither child had a tricycle and they do not have bicycles now, nor do they have skateboards or scooters or any other like article.Their parents consider these thngs are "too dangerous" bcause the children are also supposed to be "clumsy".
Their mother was almost in tears. It was "so disappointing the children have turned out this way". Their doctor has prescribed medication but it does not seem to have helped much. She outlined a range of other problems (which sounded like well known side-effects of the medication). They go to a special class on Saturdays which is designed to remediate "clumsiness" and they have exercises to do in between. Other measures are being taken. They are considering tutoring because the children are "not performing well in school".
I asked her what they did in their free time at home. She looked rather puzzled by this question. They didn't, she told me, really have any free time because, "we're hardly ever there you know".
I am sure their mother thought I was going to come up with some sort of miracle suggestions that would solve her problems. I was a last resort. Everything else had failed. They are spending so much money and the children have so many problems.
While we were talking her two children were running around our front lawn. It is not a very big lawn. She wanted to stop them doing that.
I told her not to stop them. They were fine. They were being children. They needed to run.
She was worried they might fall over and hurt themselves and that our neighbours might think they were out of control.
I told her that all children fall over and hurt themselves on occasion and that the neighbours had children who tear up and down the street on tricycles and bicycles.
Indeed, as we watched the eldest child from next door - a six year old - came out on his bicycle and started doing some acrobatics in his driveway. He fell off a couple of times but just got back on again. The mother I was talking to looked absolutely horrified.
      "I would never let my children do that!"
      "Why not?"
      "They might hurt themselves. It's terribly irresponsible to allow children to do that sort of thing."
      "I think, you will find all the parents in this street allow their children to do those sort of things."
      "That's dreadful."
In the end I advised her to buy two skipping ropes and a frisbee. I told her that the children were to have at least a half an hour of vigorous outdoor exercise every day. They were also to be read a chapter of a book before going to sleep. I would give her a list of likely books.
She protested but I said firmly, "I can promise you if you really do that then the children will improve."
Her husband phoned later. She had complained bitterly to him about the advice she had been given. I thought I was in for a lecture about giving unwanted advice but he said,
        "You could be right. (She) doesn't like the idea but it might be an idea just to tire them out. "
Well, it's a start.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Alan Jones has apparently

just repeated his apology to the Prime Minister on his "breakfast show". For those of you outside Australia this will probably mean very little.
Alan Jones is a radio "personality" - somewhere in another state. I have never heard him present a radio programme. It is not the sort of thing I could be bothered with but many people do listen to him. He was also asked to give a speech recently - at a private function. In that speech he apparently made a throwaway comment that the Prime Minister's father "died of shame because of her lies". 
The comment was out of line. I do not condone it in anyway. Nobody should make those sort of comments about the deceased parent of a grieving child.
That said there are some other equally disturbing things about this incident. First, the Prime Minister has refused to accept an apology. Yes, she is hurt but failing to accept the apology is a tactical error. If she had accepted a phone call from Jones and graciously accepted his apology then people would have thought well of her.
Second, the Labor speech writer Bob Ellis made an equally disparaging remark about her reaction to her father's death being "girly" but nobody has made a fuss about that - after all, he is on the same side of the political divide as the Prime Minister and most of the media.
Third, there have been calls to sack Alan Jones and companies have withdrawn advertising from the radio station in question. Those demands and those actions are also out of line. They are playing into the hands of a political party which is anxious to see someone they view as influential removed from his position. They would make no such call if the speaker had been Bob Ellis.
Fourth, the Attorney General and others have placed the blame and the responsibility for the remarks on the Leader of the Opposition. That is also way out of line. The Leader of the Opposition has no control over Alan Jones. The Leader of the Opposition has also made it clear that he believes the remarks were offensive.
That of course is not good enough for the government or the media. He is, somehow, supposed to have had control over what someone else says at a private function - and which was then reported as "something of public interest". It was not. It should have been ignored.
Of course this is politics. It was too good to ignore. It was an opportunity to do harm to the Leader of the Opposition.
I wrote something about volunteering yesterday. The Leader of the Opposition has volunteered for years. And yes, it is mentioned in the media from time to time - usually in a disparaging sort of way. It is something else which must put people off acting as volunteers - fear of being likened to a man they are supposed to loathe. It is also way out of line but the media does not see it that way. It's just politics.
Alan Jones was out of line - but so was the reaction.

Monday, 1 October 2012

So I will be happier and

healthier if I volunteer? That's the message on the front page of our state newspaper this morning.
The claim is that a study in the United States has shown that people who are volunteers are happier and healthier than other people. I would like to know a great deal more about that study before I made the claim. It might be that happy and healthy people volunteer, not that volunteering makes you happy and healthy. It might be a little of both. There may - or may not be - mental and physical health benefits. I do not know.
I do know that it is getting harder for organisations here to find volunteers. The places I know which rely on volunteers almost all have ageing volunteers. Our local charity shops, the community centre, the library, schools and elsewhere all suffer.
Part of the problem is that there is no longer a pool of  "stay at home mums" to rely on - the people who used to staff the school canteens, do Meals on Wheels, take elderly neighbours shopping etc.
The other part of the problem is that it is now much more difficult to volunteer. You do not just turn up and offer to help. You require a police certificate - for which you have to pay and pay to keep updated in some cases. The police certificate is fair enough if you are in close contact with people or handle other people's money etc but paying for it is something many people object to doing.
Then there is the training aspect. You have to attend "occupational health and safety" courses for almost everything. Where you once turned up at the school canteen, donned an apron and gave your hands a thorough wash you now have to attend a course on how hot the water has to be and how long you must wash your hands. I do not think they tell you how to tie your apron strings. My late mother was volunteering at the Red Cross Blood Bank canteen at the beginning of this OHS business. They did a morning. The course has grown longer - and longer. You have to "upgrade" and attend "refresher" courses.
I do not volunteer anywhere on a regular basis. I simply do not have the time to attend multiple OHS courses - courses I could teach. One local charity shop can call me if someone comes in needing the sort of help which involves filling out forms etc. The elderly people along my pedalling route know they can leave a little signal at their letter box if they want me to pick up a prescription or do a little shopping. It is, I hope, just as useful a way of doing some practical service to the local community.
I am waiting for the local OHS police to tell me I must cease doing that - although I do not know on what grounds. I am waiting for national OHS to tell me I must cease doing my job for fear I use a wrong word somewhere and cause an international incident - or perhaps they will insist on me doing a course? What sort of course?
There are all sorts of courses everywhere for everyone who wants to volunteer. It is important for people to be able to volunteer safely and with due regard for the safety of others but an entire new industry has sprung up - along with a much greater awareness of the capacity for litigation.
It is preventing people from offering to help and others from accepting their services.