Thursday, 28 February 2013

I had two most extraordinary

e-mails yesterday. Let me explain.
Last week I had a conversation with someone in which it was explained to me that we needed an attendance sheet to be filled in or we were in danger of losing the space for the knitting group at the library. The attendance sheet has appeared on occasions and we have dutifully added our names. My own feeling is that it should be sufficient for the library and the local council to know how many people were there but they insist on knowing who was there. (As anyone can wander in and out of the library and you could sign on under any name you please this seems more than a little strange to me and the other members of the group.) 
I know that there are members of the council and one or two library staff who feel the knitting group has nothing to do with the library and they would prefer it did not meet there. We have usually managed to overcome any objections and most of the library staff have been very supportive. I have tried to support them in turn.
I assumed I was being given the information about the attendance sheet for a reason. The staff member who told me about it actually asked me to "let the others know". 
I also thought it would be a good idea if people knew why the attendance sheet was important so I put up a personal note on the relevant local internet site. Anyone is free to post there, so long as they join the group.
What I said was not controversial. It was merely an explanation. I in no way suggested that the information was coming from the library or the council. I just suggested that, if we wished to retain the group then people would need to come. 
Naughty me! Yesterday I had an e-mail from the library asking me to take the message down - because it had not been approved and did not fit their format.
Then there was another e-mail from a different group. It was a long e-mail. There were four attachments. There were all sorts of explanations and references and backtracking. I have put it aside to try and sort out later. I suppose I will have to sort it out at least in my own mind. These are proposed changes to an already unnecessarily complex "constitution". It is already an over-long document in which they are trying to cover any possible eventuality. The excuse for the many changes is that the law is changing and that, if they wish to make changes in the future, then it will cost them something to register the changes. They need to do it now an get it right.
I know they will never get it "right". There will always be someone who will argue. The more complex a document becomes then the more it will be possible to argue about it and to find different ways of interpreting something.
I have legal training. I know there need to be rules. I also know that there are people who delight in working with such details. They live and breathe this form of "constitutional law". It is their bread and butter. It makes them feel important and they feel it allows them to dictate to others. 
I suspect these are the same people who argued over rules in the schoolyard.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

"But they said all I had to

do was ring them and they would send someone to help!"
The younger cousin of the friend who had the stroke has, I think, been stunned by the lack of support from official sources. I did try to warn her.
While her cousin was in hospital they promised that, when she went home, there would be a range of support services available. They made it sound easy. Yes, help with this and that and something else would be available. Respite care would be available in an emergency and for medical appointments for the younger cousin who has health issues of her own. Other respite would be available following an in-home assessment from another agency. Here were other services to access and numbers to phone etc etc.
You want to go home? Of course you do. It's the best possible place for you. As long as we put in place all these services it will be much better than going into a nursing home. Yes, of course we are going to do it and no it won't take much to arrange.
I tried to explain that it would not work like that. Another friend with similar experience of our health and welfare system also tried to explain.
"But they said...." 
We tried to explain that they would say one thing and do another. They would in fact say almost anything in order to get the younger cousin to agree to having the older one home before she was ready to go home. Once there then trying to get help would become more and more difficult.
And, of course, it is working the way it always works. The help they need is not there. It will never be there. The rest of us are doing what we can but most of it will fall on the younger cousin.
The older cousin cannot be left alone now. That means finding someone to stay with her while the younger cousin goes to the dentist - or have her sit in the dentist's waiting room and wait. It is better to have someone stay with her because she gets confused and anxious outside the house - even in the all too familiar surroundings of the doctor's surgery she has problems. 
There are still endless medical appointments and, to complicate matters further, most of them are on the northern side of the city. Currently there are streets blocked off and parking is even more restricted than usual because there is a street car race - the "Clipsal 500" being held. It inconveniences a lot of people but for those trying to get to medical appointments in the area near the race or just north of it (where many specialists have rooms) it is even more difficult. They need to use taxis - an added expense - because there is no means of leaving the older cousin while the younger one tries to find a parking space which probably will not exist.
Yesterday morning the younger cousin could not get the older cousin out of bed - one leg kept collapsing when she tried to stand. The younger cousin phoned one of the numbers she had been given to request some advice even if they could not send help.
Their advice was "well find someone to help you". She ended up out in the street. The neighbours were at work. A passing tradesman saw her distress and offered help - which she accepted.
I know my sister will go there today in her professional capacity and show them how to handle the situation if it occurs again. Had she been home yesterday she would have gone then. 
But it seems to me that this is all beside the point. The younger cousin is exhausted. She has not had a break since the Friday before Christmas - the day the stroke occurred. She went to the hospital and then the rehabilitation centre every day - for hours at a time - because those places were short staffed and her older cousin was so dependent. Her older cousin was sent home before they had any support services in place. Those services will probably never be in place.
The younger cousin cannot believe that there is so little help available. I know only too well how little help is available. It is why the health clinic we belong to employs (part-time) a nurse who does an in-home assessment for older patients. It is done as much for the benefit of the health and welfare system as it is done for the patients. It is about saving money rather than spending it.
As the younger cousin has discovered it is not about phoning a number and asking for help or whether you have paid taxes all your life. It is about how the government can save money by having you do it all yourself. And yes, it is the same everywhere - but it still makes me angry.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

"Trial by tweet"

- or should that be "trial by twitter" seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. 
I am fed up with the Oscar Pistorius story. If he had been any other South African we would never have heard of it in this part of the world - and neither we should have. The whole thing is a tragedy and I am particularly disgusted at the use being made of a grieving family.
This morning's paper is making suggestions that our court system might soon allow people to tweet from the court room. The whole idea alarms me.
I believe two things. One is that our adult courts should be open for all to see what is going on. Only in exceptional circumstances should our adult courts be closed to the public. I believe they should be closed if a child is giving evidence or if a witness is under protection or might otherwise be endangered - and in most cases this is what happens.
That does not however mean that I believe the media should be in there with cameras. I don't.
The second thing I believe is that there should not be any reporting of a case until it has reached its conclusion. The media should not be able report the progress (or otherwise) of a trial - and certainly not by short tweets. It can give entirely the wrong impression.
Let me explain why.
Years ago I went to what should have been a pleasant evening with friends. Other people I barely knew had also been invited. They arrived late and looking very distressed. The woman's brother had been arrested at his work place that afternoon. No explanation had been given. The police had simply arrived and taken the man away. 
His wife was told by her husband's employer.
He was released more than a day later. It was a case of mistaken identity. He had a similar name to the person the police actually wished to question. His name was splashed across the media and it took a very long time to repair the damage that was done to his reputation - even after an "apology" was issued. It also damaged the reputation of the company he worked for but they had the decency to recognise it was not his fault.
Had the media been prevented from mentioning his name much less harm would have been done. As it was an innocent man had his reputation tarnished by an inept investigation and irresponsible reporting. An equally innocent business lost money.
We all know bad news sells but to sell it at the expense of the innocent, the injured and the grieving is immoral and unjust. It can do enormous harm.
To give an accurate and balanced account of what is going on in 140 characters - or even a string of those - is difficult. It may not even be possible. I am going to leave such "reporting" well alone and I think justice demands we all should.

Monday, 25 February 2013

"I want a reading blitz

in schools," the Prime Minister announced over the weekend, "I want to see phonics back on the curriculum and more children doing more reading. We have to raise the standard of literacy in Australian schools." 
Well, that was the message. She does want a "reading blitz" and she does want phonics taught. The standard of literacy does need to be raised.
The problem is that this is an election year sort of announcement. Last year was the National Year of Reading. It is the sort of announcement that, had the Prime Minister been genuinely concerned about reading, she might have made then. Yes, call me a cynic if you like.
I would like the opportunity to meet the Prime Minister and make some points to her.
Yes Prime Minister, phonics is an important part of learning to read. I have taught phonics to a non-speaker learning to read, "Think the sounds in your head Peter." I wonder how many times I said that?
It is not the only part of learning to read but it is an important one.
I would also like to tell you Prime Minister that children need time to read. 
Yes, reading happens all the time in school but I think we are talking about more than what happens in the classroom? If we really want children to read, read for essential information outside of school, read for life-long learning and read for pleasure, then we need to make sure children have time to read. 
The school curriculum is over-crowded. My own feeling is that at least some of what is on the school curriculum could be cut and no harm would be done. Talking with children, parents and teachers it seems that much of the "learning" is superficial anyway. Perhaps it would be better to teach less and allow at least some children more time to read alone and follow their own interests. Guided reading might actually produce better informed children than trying to cover vast amounts of information at a superficial level. Does that worry you Prime Minister?
Many younger children are short of time outside school too. Their days are now filled with adult supervised activities. They are encouraged to  "be active" rather than read when in out-of-school care. They go to music, dance, drama, swimming and other sports classes. They have other screen-based activities. All of these compete with reading time. Yes, I know physical activity is important Prime Minister and that we cannot keep children away from their screen time but - if you want time for reading - then something needs to change. 
And then, Prime Minister, there is the need to supply things to read. Once we had libraries in schools. They have, at least where I live, been largely renamed "resource centres" and their primary function is no longer the supply of library books. Their activities are screen based. Their function is to entertain as well as educate.  Some schools do not even have resource centres any more. They say that, with the introduction of screen based learning, they do not need them. The books are on the screen. It is not the same as browsing a library. 
Many students will never go beyond the books on the screen. Perhaps that does not bother you Prime Minister? As long as the child can read what is there you can control what they are reading. As long as the textbooks favour your point of view this is probably not an issue for you.
Recently I had occasion to look closely at the shelves in three different libraries used by children. Yes, there were a few new books but the majority of the books were thin paper backs on cheap paper. They were tatty. About one in five of them was labelled something like "make your own adventure" or "Sweetheart High" or "Babysitters" etc. Oh yes, they are borrowed, they are obviously read and perhaps enjoyed but they almost certainly do not provide a challenging or satisfying read for many children.
Other material was, quite frankly, depressing. It lacked hope and humour. It lacked depth. There were Harry Potter not-quite-clones, vampires and violence, death and destruction. There were light weight books which had obviously been commissioned to try and encourage poor readers. 
And yes, of course there were some good novels - but less than there should have been. I also noted that many of them were reprints from past years. That delights but also disturbs me. I am delighted that children are getting an opportunity to read those things if they have the time. I am disturbed that there was less evidence of sound new writing on the shelve than there should have been. 
Those responsible for trying to fill the shelves and then to get children to borrow expressed the same concerns. They say children have less time to read Prime Minister. They say there is less money for books for reading for pleasure. They say that, while publishing for children is happening, much of it is going into what is perceived as "marketable" and that they get caught up in "series". 
I suppose children are reading Prime Minister but I think we need to rethink the time they have to give to it and what is available for them to read. Is that too much to ask or are you merely concerned the next generation might not be able to read the election material thrust at them?

Sunday, 24 February 2013

"We need bottoms on seats if

the knitting group at the library is to survive," I was told.
Our library is desperately short of space when you consider all the things it is expected to handle. 
There are book groups, Scrabble and chess groups, a writing group, computer groups and terminals, story-telling groups, sing-along nursery songs and "story" for the very youngest, school groups coming in all the time, school holiday activities, teen discussion groups (and clothes swaps), visiting doubt I have missed some things. No doubt other people would like to see things added. 
The knitting group has never been looked on kindly by some members of staff. I was once told. "It has nothing to do with books." Oh. Right.
Yesterday we had fifteen people come. We actually had to fold back the partition doors between the two small meeting rooms in order to make enough room to do all the teaching and learning which was going on. All of that was good.
What was even better was that two new people arrived, mother and daughter. We welcomed them enthusiastically - as the group is always inclined to do. It is friendly.
We then discovered that it was daughter who really wanted to learn to knit. She is six and she has apparently been asking to come ever since she managed to read the notice displayed at the library at the end of last year. We do not meet in December or January because of the heat so she had to wait.
And wait she did - but she did not give up on the idea. So yesterday her mother brought her. Her mother was a bit anxious. Was she too young?
Normally most of us would have said, "Yes a six year old is a bit young."
There are issues of coordination and concentration. Not many six year old children have enough of either. But this child? 
Her eyes were bright with expectation - and anxiety. I could almost hear her thinking, "What if they say no?"
Her mother could not knit either. We suggested she needed to know the basics if her daughter was going to learn. She agreed and we split them up so they could be taught one-on-one.
I was helping someone else when they arrived so I did not help the six year old. The woman who did it has two boys and had never taught any child to knit. I kept watch in case they needed help but they needed no help. 
The woman teaching her had cast on nine stitches - enough to produce a piece of knitting about three centimetres wide. The row was both long and short enough to feel both the rhythm and a sense of accomplishment. The stitches came off. They started again - and again - again. 
For almost two hours that child concentrated. Right around her the adults were talking and doing things. She concentrated. The tip of the needle went into the stitch, the yarn went around and was hooked off. At the end of each row she hesitated and then turned her work. At the end of two rows she could barely get the stitches off the needle because her tension was too tight. She undid it and they started yet again. Now she hooked her finger under the yarn as she put it around the needle. After she had made the stitch she tugged it very gently until it was sitting not too tightly or too loosely on the needle. The person teaching her had not suggested that. She did it herself.
At the end of the afternoon she had about two centimetres of knitting three centimetres wide. She looked pleased with herself - and relieved. 
I found two knitting books for children in the junior section of the library and suggested she borrow them. They are both intended for children about ten or eleven years of age so her mother will help with them. If they run into trouble before next time I am an e-mail away and they live locally so we can meet and get help.
"Will you come back next month?" we all asked.
She looked at her mother in a questioning way.
"Do you want to?" her mother asked. There was an enthusiastic nod.
If birthday parties for friends, ballet classes or something else does not take precedence in the social diary of a six year old I think we may have found two more "bottoms on seats". I just wish more of them were six and that determined to learn something.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The new library catalogue

which encompasses all the public libraries in the state has a number of advantages. The biggest advantage for me is that I can now browse the catalogue and borrow books from any public library in the state. If a book is available then, eventually it will find its way to my local library - and thus to me.
I have no idea how many people are actually using this service - or how often. I suspect it was done with the thought of saving money rather than the convenience of library users. You can spend less on books (and a little more on petrol) by having fewer copies available to more people.
I do wonder how long it will last but I will use the system while I can. I have caught up on some books I missed out on and some books I felt I needed to read.
I can also use it "browse" and borrow books I know I probably will not read but need to see. Our libraries do not contain that many knitting books. They are quite possibly sixty or seventy times the number of cookery books in our libraries. 
It is, for some reason, assumed that people do not knit - or rather, that not many people knit. We rarely get a new knitting book on the local library shelves. This is despite the fact that a knitting group meets in the library - will meet today in fact.
As I am also the librarian for the state's knitting guild it is difficult to buy new books. I must often rely on reading what others have to say about them. Sometimes the members suggest something - or show me something they have bought for themselves. These things do not substitute for being able to take a thoroughly good look at the books myself before I decide whether the book has enough to offer guild members. I know many members just want patterns but books need to offer more than that.
Now I can borrow and look at some books at my leisure before deciding whether they might be a useful addition to our library. I can talk to one or two members of the guild whose knowledge and judgment I trust too. 
There was a book which promised "55 patterns" but, as I suspected it might, it turned out to be one pattern and 55 graphs. No, we decided, we won't bother with that because it will not add  something different to the library. 
There was a "beginner" book intended for children. It turned out to be a sixty year old reprint that no modern child would use.
Another book had disappointing patterns in the sense that they would not be made or used here. Our climate does not need that sort of knitting. Nevertheless the book had some outstandingly good material on techniques. We might have missed that if I had not been able to borrow it. A copy is on order because we decided that the technique material justified it.
"You're using the catalogue like a bookshop," someone told me. Yes, I am. Our local bookshop is limited in what it can hold in the way of stock. All shops are but ours is particularly limited. They are very good about trying to get books but I cannot ask them to get books "on approval". I do look whenever they tell me they have something new. Sometimes they give me a catalogue from one of their suppliers and say, "Which would you suggest we get?"
I know at that point they are relying on my knowledge of authors and the reputation of authors and companies and on what the on-line communities are saying. It is not a substitute for actually seeing the book although somewhere along the line someone has to make a judgment without seeing the actual book. Most of us though need to see the book before we make the final decision.
It is why we need libraries and bookshops 

Friday, 22 February 2013

Apparently I am not being

"controversial enough" on this blog. It seems I should be saying more for people to disagree with and then more people might read it and more people might leave comments. 
Oh. Really? I do apologise. Of course the person who gave me this very helpful advice does not have a blog himself. He will probably read this today - or maybe not. We came close to arguing yesterday. 
He means well but I am not here to do an Andrew Bolt and ruffle feathers. It is Andrew Bolt's job to ruffle feathers. If I want to be controversial I will do it elsewhere.
Except that today I am going to say something that some people will disagree with. I am going to say that it is better to spend $480,000 cutting down twelve "significant" gum trees than it is to spend $3.5 million on re-building a pre-school for forty children just sixty metres down the road. 
I had heard rumours about this from someone whose grandchild attends the pre-school. They have had to find a new pre-school for the interim period and it is causing a number of difficulties. Today the story was confirmed on the front page of the state newspaper. 
Gum trees are notorious for losing limbs, big limbs. They are not good trees to have in an urban environment. Nevertheless people insist on planting them on the grounds that they are "native" trees. The result is that they are a problem, they are often a very expensive problem.
A friend of ours planted a gum in her back garden. She was very proud of it. It grew and grew. It was a lovely tree. It reached a stage  where it was considered "significant". That thrilled her. Anyone buying the house would have to keep the tree. Two things happened. First, a limb fell on her sun room and she was left with a bill of over $25,000 in repairs - not covered by her insurance. Second, when she died and the house had to be sold the tree was not an asset. It actually detracted from the value of the property because of the danger it posed.
My uncle had five gum trees along the edge of his property. They were there when he bought it. At the time they looked small and insignificant. Some eighteen years later they posed a risk to both his property and the property of the neighbour. By then they were "significant" trees. Council permission had to be obtained to prune the trees. The Council sent their "arborist" out to look at them. He did not agree there was a risk - yet. My uncle and the neighbour appealed the decision and won the right to prune the trees but not before they were propping up one limb to prevent it from falling. The bill for pruning five trees would have come to almost $20,000 had it not been for two younger and more able bodied friends of my uncle hiring a chain saw and doing the job. My uncle and the neighbour shared the resulting firewood but it was still an expensive exercise.
So we come to the school. The twelve gum trees are considered "significant". They are on Council property. The school is on government property. Rather than seek permission to remove the trees through the relevant authority the government has decided to move the school - just metres down the road. 
It would make more sense to remove the trees. Other, more suitable trees could be planted in their place. The children could be involved in this. They could learn a great deal from the exercise. Quite possibly, given the nature of gum trees, it would be possible to plant more than twelve trees of another variety. It might even be possible to find suitable natives. I am advised by a local resident, who lectured at the university in native flora conservation, that the removal of unsuitable and significant gum trees from the urban environment would not upset the ecological balance.
I love looking at trees. We have quite a few in our garden. There are a great many trees all over the city. I like the birds being able to use them as "homes". I do not believe however that all trees should be kept just because they happen to be trees or trees of a certain size or in a certain location. We need to balance things out. That $3.5m could be far better spent.
Gum trees might be natives but we do not need them in the suburbs. Disagree with me if you dare.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

There are more letters

in this morning's paper from "Baby Boomers" who are, I think rightly, annoyed with the Minister for Ageing Mark Butler. His comments about the need for the post WWII generation to continue working while young people cannot get jobs were - if nothing else - insensitive.
The issue has been so hotly debated that another issue has not yet made it to the letters page of our state newspaper. It is an issue that did get some attention this morning from the columnist Andrew Bolt. I imagine that there might be some letters complaining about Mr Bolt tomorrow. There usually are. He is a controversial figure. He rubs many people up the wrong way. I doubt it would matter what he said they would find some way of disagreeing with him. They will disagree this time.
Mr Bolt is talking about the Dutch MP Geert Wilders. Mr Bolt met Mr Wilders in the course of journalistic duty.  They had lunch together. They were surrounded by the Dutch police who are constantly on duty to protect Mr Wilders.
Mr Wilders nearly did not come to Australia at all. Last year there were doubts that he would even get a visa. It was certainly delayed to a point where his visit had to be put off to this year. His staff and security personnel were given visas within three days. He was not. I understand he had similar difficulties in getting entry to England.
At the same time the Australian government provided an entry visa to a radical Islamic cleric who openly demands violence against non Muslims and has some equally controversial things to say.  Minister Chris Bowen did eventually allow Mr Wilders a visa.
Mr Wilders has had to cancel at least one public meeting here - in Western Australia. He was told he would not be welcome in as many as twenty different venues. 
I would not bother to go and hear Mr Wilders myself. I find his views offensive and divisive. I find the views of the Islamic cleric offensive and divisive too. That said I believe, if we also give space to a radical Islamic cleric, then we should give space to Mr Wilders. They both have the right to be heard. 
I put this to someone else yesterday when he asked what I thought. He did not agree. He felt that the Islamic cleric had every right to expect to come, that we should not interfere with people's religious beliefs and that our "multi-culturalism" is strong enough to withstand any "threat" from Islamic extremists. On the other hand he felt that Mr Wilders was a "divisive political figure who puts our multi-cultural society at risk". 
I could not agree with him. It is when these things do not get discussed and when we try to stifle one side of a debate that we put ourselves at risk. 
The media has a lot to answer for here. I asked the person I was talking with what he really thought of Hilary Mantel's piece about Royal Women - he had already made a remark about it. He said, "It serves those Royal Parasites right." 
He was, of course, relying on local media reports about it. The irony of the article was completely lost on him. He had not even read it.
I suggested he read it carefully but he told me he did not need to do that because he already knew what it was all about. 
He doesn't know of course - any more than Mr Wilders knows or the cleric knows or I know all about anything.  There is a right to hear what others have to say - and a responsibility to listen carefully, not just to hear what we want to hear.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Senior Cat "retired"

about thirty years ago. He was considered "young" to retire at sixty but he was not well and stress was clearly part of the problem. He had been the headmaster of a number of very difficult rural schools - difficult because of the problems brought about by things like isolation and the need to consolidate a number of small schools into bigger ones bringing in children on long, complex bus routes. (The buses also had to be driven by teachers.) 
Even on his return to the city he was asked to take on schools with reputations for being "difficult". He would be given a couple of years to pull things back together and then be moved on. 
By sixty the Senior Cat was, quite simply, exhausted. He needed a break. He "retired" on medical advice.
After a short break he did some lecturing at one of the universities, tutored, made conjuring apparatus for magicians, helped to look after his grandchildren, taught conjuring and woodwork to children, and lectured to community groups. Much of this was unpaid work.
He is still busy. He still does some tutoring. He still turns out woodworking for charity. 
If the present government had its way people like the Senior Cat would go on working not just to sixty or even sixty-five but beyond. They are saying that they cannot afford people "the luxury of early retirement" - if indeed they can afford for people to retire at all. They claim they can no longer afford the growing pension bill and the "burden" older people are on society. There is talk of taxing superannuation savings not just twice as they now do but for a third time. This is money that people have saved over the years to help with their retirement so they would not be so dependent on government pensions. Prudent savings are already over taxed when others, who have chosen not to have superannuation at all, are getting tax free pensions plus a range of benefits self funded retirees cannot access.
I doubt the Senior Cat would still be alive if he had continued to work - but perhaps that is what they want. For all the talk about "valuing the skills and experience of older people" I suspect the government, and most employers, are really not that interested. They prefer younger people with innovative ideas and the energy to carry them out. Oh yes, they like them to have some experience but not forty or fifty years of experience.
There is something else the government devalues too - the contributions older people make. Many older people I know are still working - but they are not being paid for it. How much is the unpaid child minding worth? How much is it worth not just to the families where it takes place but to the community as a whole? How would all those "charity shops" be run without them? I don't think they would survive a week. Would there be Meals on Wheels? I doubt it.
Many of the social services provided by organisations like Anglicare, the Red Cross and St Vincent de Paul (to name three of the biggest) depend heavily on "retired" volunteers. I wonder if the Blood Transfusion Service Collection Centre run by the Red Cross could provide the same service at the same price if it was not for the volunteers who staff some areas of it? I doubt it. Does anyone doubt that service saves young lives? What would it cost for the government to run the service instead of a charity which depends partly on volunteers?
I wonder if anyone has anyone really studied the economics of ageing. Yes, older people have more medical needs and often require more assistance but many more of them are independent and are still contributing more than they cost to keep. 
Perhaps it really is time for the government to look seriously at what older people contribute. It may make economic sense to pay an aged pension to an older person rather than the unemployment benefit to a younger person.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

I have just had a "conversation" with a koala

in the front garden. He or she was out there drinking from the bird bath when I went out to get the papers.
Yes, koalas do drink water sometimes. If the gum leaves get too dry they need to get water from somewhere. The recent weather has been very dry and there have been media reports of koalas heading down from the hills in search of water. As we live just below the hills we do occasionally see them but they are not common. If we do happen to see them they are normally up a tree.
You do not mess with koalas. They have claws (for climbing) and can inflict considerable damage. On the whole though they are peaceable creatures.
I think this one was quite young. It was certainly not very big. It just looked at me and then went back to drinking before clambering back on to our low front fence and scampering off - presumably to the gum trees at the end of the street.
Koalas have a very restricted diet. They eat gum leaves - and not just any sort of gum leaves. They restrict themselves to certain types of gum trees. Normally they also get enough liquid from the leaves not to bother with drinking water - but they know when they need more water.
Yesterday the new National Health and Medical Research Council "dietary guidelines" came out. There was the usual advice about lots of vegetables and fruit, whole grains rather than processed, low fat dairy etc. I suspect most people will look at it and think they either do it or "well, that's what they say but really...." and go on eating the way they always eat. 
I really do try to ensure we eat sensibly in this house. We are still eating our way through some shortbread given to us at Christmas. (It comes, two biscuits at a time, in little cellophane packets. It is made from butter and is very rich. A "serving" is two biscuits. We have a half serve each. It is enough.) There is still chocolate left from Christmas - and some Christmas cake. Do not mistake me - we do like those things but we try not to have too much of them.
I consider myself extremely fortunate. The Senior Cat is easy to feed. There are, as I think I have said elsewhere, very few things he does not care for. They do not matter. He likes vegetables and salad, fresh fruit, whole grains and wholemeal bread. He does insist on butter and 'proper' cheese (not low fat) but limits the intake. 
Still, I do not doubt that an earnest dietary expert would find things wrong with our diet. It makes me wonder what they eat themselves?  An organic lettuce leave and a single raw cashew for lunch perhaps?
I think we will go on eating in much the same way as we always eat. The Senior Cat is content and as healthy as can be expected at his age - and that is what matters the most for him. I know I am overweight (although, thankfully, not obese) so perhaps I do need to be more careful and pedal a little further than I do - but I do get some exercise!
But, I looked at the little koala and could not help wondering - how on earth do you stay healthy on a diet of just gum leaves with the occasional side of water? 

Monday, 18 February 2013

So the deported Senator Xenophon

has arrived back in Australia claiming all sorts of political intrigue - and surprise at his detention and subsequent deportation from Malaysia.
I am much less surprised and I suspect that Senator Xenophon is also much less surprised than he claims to be. He may even have been expecting what happened to happen.
For those of you who are unaware of what happened let me explain. There is an independent Senator (i.e. not a member of a major party) in our Federal Parliament by the name of Nick Xenophon. He runs on a No Pokies (gambling) platform. He is well known and quite popular. He is well known because he is very good at getting his name in the media through a variety of stunts. 
I by no means always agree with him or his methods but he has done some good work and he has certainly raised the profile of the problem gambling issue and some other equally thorny social issues.
One of those issues is "democracy" and "fair elections".
Senator Xenophon has been to Malaysia before - to support the Opposition. He has also been an outspoken critic of the way Malaysia conducts elections.
I have no doubt that there is very real cause for concern about the way Malaysia conducts elections. Few people would doubt that the government there is determined to suppress any opposition and that it will do it in whatever way they consider best. Malaysian culture is also such that it is unwise for outsiders to openly criticise this - or the way elections are conducted in that country. 
Senator Xenophon was travelling on a personal passport. He was almost certainly aware that he was on a "watch list" and that he was likely to be detained and deported. Perhaps he still believed that it was a way of raising the issue of electoral corruption in Malaysia. 
That seems rather naive to me. The Malaysian media is also largely controlled by the government. It is a brave person who criticises the government in the media.  Any open opposition is normally shut down very quickly. The Malaysian government now has the perfect tool against the opposition. Here is a foreigner coming in and interfering with the internal affairs of the country. In hugely nationalistic Malaysia that is not going to go down well - and they will make much of it.
Our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister were treading very carefully last night. They expressed "concern" and "surprise" but they did not condemn the action (which must have been requested and condoned at the highest level). If anything they supported the action of the Malaysians. 
That does not surprise me either. We have an, at best, uneasy relationship with Asia. The government is still trying to get its "Malaysian solution" with respect to asylum seekers through parliament. It does not want to upset Malaysia (although the so-called solution is unequally weighted in Malaysia's favour). There are also upcoming trade and other agreements. Malaysia does not welcome the presence of Australia in regional affairs at the best of times. 
Canberra is saying that the Senator's actions will make no difference to the relationship. That is nonsense. We will pay dearly for it - and so will Malaysian democracy.
Our own so-called democracy is not much better.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Why is so much surprise

expressed at Oscar Pistorius having a "dark side"? Quite apart from the fact that the vast majority of us have a dark side - things we do not want others to know about - this man is a "sportsman". His life is about winning - not losing.
Part of my university career was spent at the Australian National University. A short distance down the road - so to speak - there is the Australian Institute of Sport. 
The "hall of residence" I lived in would occasionally have students from the AIS staying for short periods. It was often my job to make sure they knew the ropes. I have never been sure if this was supposed to be some sort of joke or whether the college leader really believed I could handle difficult students well. 
Yes, they usually were difficult. They were not like other students. Other students had their ups and downs. Some of them were immature. Some were more mature. Some were difficult part of the time and one or two were downright obnoxious but the vast majority of the university students were normal, intelligent individuals.
Not so the sports students. They were different. They were much more demanding. They were used to being the centre of attention. 
I can remember the kitchen staff complaining that these students expected their meals to be served around their training session times - not according to the usual college timetable. 
It was the responsibility of students to keep their rooms clean and tidy and do their own washing. Most students would at least pull the bedclothes up and we kept an eye on the general cleanliness of the rooms - peer pressure can be positive as well as negative. 
The AIS students rarely made their beds and, thankfully, were not there long enough to allow their rooms to get really dirty. I devised ways of making sure they did some cleaning.
Doing the washing was another story. The college had washing machines and dryers and area where clothes could be hung. All too often to AIS students these machines were as great a mystery as the internal combustion engine is to me. 
It seems their mothers had always done it for them and, unlike the average university student, they believed someone else should do it for them now. They were there to run or jump, kick or hit a ball or swim. They were not there to wash clothes. We had to disabuse them of the idea that they were "gods" and "goddesses" and make them understand that, at least while they were there, they would have to do these things for themselves.
There were exceptions of course. I remember one quiet, courteous runner. The kitchen staff loved him and he gave them flowers when he left. A male student who was sexually harassing a very shy and timid new female student suddenly found himself on the floor - courtesy of a small female swimmer. She called him a "worm" and walked off to loud cheers. 
But sports students are there because they want to win. They know they have to work. They know they will be criticised by their coaches and team mates and that they will be exhorted to go faster and higher and longer. Outside that though they expect admiration. Their egos demand it. 
This is their dark side. Life with these precious individuals cannot be easy. They probably do not find life with themselves very easy. Much is demanded of them and they demand much of themselves.
And, for the likes of Oscar Pistorius, it must be even worse. He has even more to lose than most. 
Someone else has lost their life - and that is an unspeakable tragedy for any family.
Whatever the outcome Pistorius will have to live with that. 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Someone in the next street

had a wild party last night. It was an occasion for much loud talk, laughter and then the breaking of much glass at about three this morning. At around four in the morning car doors banged, engines were revved, there were shouts of farewell and everything finally went quiet.
The only thing to be said for all this was that the incessant thump, thump of the bass was not to be heard. They were not playing music. No doubt they believed that this meant they were being quiet.
It was another of those very hot nights we have been experiencing of late. In order to sleep at all most people have their air conditioning systems on all night or, like us, they have their windows wide open in an effort to catch whatever cool there is to be caught.
The party people obviously decided that being outside was better than being inside. I know their neighbours have told them before that the noise echoes off their galvanised iron garden fences. It does not seem to register with the idiots. There are, I think, two young men who live in the house but there always seem to four or five more there. They have a large collection of old cars and maniacal motorbikes between them. All of those seem to need regular "tuning" involving that same sort of deep bass beat destined to destroy the very soul of our existence.
I like quiet - even silence does not normally bother me. I cannot work against noise. The constant chatter of the radio in shops and some work places irritates me beyond measure. I don't need to hear the inane conversation between a DJ and some unsuspecting member of the public . The Senior Cat was rung by a commercial radio station once. They wanted to know if he recognised something they had just played. He replied, quite politely, "I'm sorry I have no idea. Can't you just read the label?"
I still wonder what they thought of that. He did not win $5 - or whatever it was. He does not listen to radio and, these days, he rarely watches television. He reads two newspapers - one in a very efficient manner over breakfast and the other (with the better journalism) in a more leisurely manner during the day with his essential cups of morning and afternoon tea. At night he reads books. Ours is a quiet house.
I think some people must live with an almost constant background of noise. How do they think? Or is there a need for noise so they will not think? 
A short while ago I prowled around into the next street. I did so cautiously. I was not afraid of waking the party people. They will probably sleep until at least midday. I was more concerned about what might be on the footpath and on the road. 
Yes, there was glass from broken beer bottles on the footpath and the road. Their elderly next door neighbour was out there clearing it up "before an animal or someone else treads on it". He looked both annoyed and anxious but declined my offer of help. 
"I'll put it in their bin," he told me and then added, "But I feel like putting in on their back door step."
I had no difficulty in imagining how tempted he must feel.

Friday, 15 February 2013

I was not going to write this but....

I am feeling angry. I think I mentioned somewhere on this blog that our local railway line has been closed until September. So has another line in a similar direction.
Work is being done to make it easier for the long goods trains to go through without stopping. Supposedly this will also be less disruptive for the passenger services.  
Now there is a lot wrong with this. In the first place the goods trains should not be coming into the city at all. They come in and the shipping containers in which everything is transported are then unloaded onto trucks (lorries) and, for the most part, taken north or north-west. Only a tiny percentage of it goes elsewhere.
The sensible thing would be to route all the goods trains through the north. The logical thing to do would be to route them all through the north. It would save time. It would save transport costs. It would cut down heavy goods traffic through urban areas etc etc. There is a  line that could be used. It needs rejuvenation and repair but it could have been done. It would have cost more but figures, produced by the government themselves as well as others, showed that it would have ultimately saved money. It was not done. The money was "not available" - although there has been other money for other, less worthy projects.
All this is to be  expected. What is not to be expected is that I, and a number of other people, should be without any form of public transport for eight months. 
Oh yes, there is a "substitute bus service". The transport authority kindly put on a bus service for people who do not have cars or cannot drive cars. They did not even forget about those of us who cannot, for one reason or another, use buses. 
So, what am I complaining about? I cannot take my tricycle on a bus. (I can take it on a train.) I use my tricycle at either end of the journey to get around. My ability to roam the city is restricted to the areas around the railway lines - or someone taking me there in a car. 
Oh right, the transport authority said. We will provide taxi vouchers if you need  to travel. That is where the problem begins. Their glorious idea is that the individual must telephone in advance and ask (beg) for taxi vouchers - one journey at a time. They will then provide them. 
Now notice the word "need". I was verbally advised this means things like medical and dental appointments. It might cover a requirement to appear in court "although you could probably get refunded from them". It is unlikely that it would cover anything else.
It does not cover the sort of medical situation which requires someone to appear at the dental surgery or hospital on the same morning. It does not cover a request to attend a meeting so that a person with a severe communication impairment can have an advocate present. Anything like attending a meeting, meeting a friend, going to anything else - or even doing shopping that cannot be done locally - is apparently not acceptable. It can all be done after September of this year - unless of course the other person with a disability needs your help now or your friends are from overseas and not staying that long.
Some people have said, "Too bad. You don't have to pay much for your use of public transport most of the time. Put up with it. It's only a few months."
I do not agree with that point of view. Maybe I am being unreasonable but I don't believe I am. Having thought long and hard about this I went to the office of our local MP. I know the MP's secretary quite well. I suggested to her that, at very least, a few taxi vouchers to cover emergencies was not unreasonable. She agreed - agreed to the point of saying without  prompting that she would make inquiries - and she did.
There has still been no action. There have been stalling responses to  her queries. I expected this. I know they do not want to reply. To give in would be to recognise that their policy is ridiculous and simply does not work. They do not want it to work. Supplying taxis is expensive. They have made it as complex and demeaning as possible in the hope that people will not apply. 
I am capable of making a fuss about this. The question is, should I make a fuss? I think the answer is yes - because not everyone I know in this position can make a fuss.  That is what makes me really angry.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

I think there would be outrage if

any (non-state) Christian based school here suddenly required all female staff to wear a cross - even a discreet cross. It would make no difference even if all the female staff were Christians. If any of them objected to the requirement to do so then I have no doubt at all that the media would be instantly on their side. Politicians would be speaking out in their favour. There would be complaints about the way in which people were being forced to do something of a religious nature. Any government funding or outside sponsorship to the school would probably be instantly suspended pending an inquiry and a resolution of the issue. The issue would be resolved without going to court. The school would simply back down and accept that they could not make such a requirement a condition of employment. People would say that requirements with respect to what you wear can only go so far.
My father always wore a shirt with collar and tie with good trousers to school - and, except in very hot weather, his suit jacket as well. Things have changed since he retired but many non-government schools still require male staff to wear a collar and tie style of dress at least part of the time. They do not allow jeans and t-shirts. Why should they? They do not allow the students to dress that way. 
My mother always wore skirts. She never wore trousers to school. I did wear trousers but my teaching position was in a school where most of the children were in wheelchairs. All the staff did.  We often sat on the floor with one of them cradled in our arms as we encouraged them to do something. I did not wear jeans. 
It seems the situation is a little more complicated when it comes to the wearing of a head covering if you work in an Islamic school. We have an Islamic school in this state. The female students who attend it are required to wear the hijab. It is part of the school uniform.
Not all teachers at the school are Muslim. It is unlikely the school could find that many Muslim teachers to work there. There is a requirement for women teachers to "dress modestly". I have no problem with that if it means clothing appropriate for teaching in. But the governing board of the school has now said that all female staff must wear a head covering. They have warned that those female staff who do not will be sacked. It was not an original condition of their employment. The new and more conservative governing body has decided it will be a requirement. It is not the policy of the peak Islamic body in Australia.
As I understand it, someone please correct me if I am wrong, there is no religious requirement for a Muslim woman to wear the hijab. It is, at least in this country, a matter of personal choice - or it should be. I have little doubt that there are Muslim women who wear it because the males in their lives demand it. 
Dictating that anyone must wear a religious symbol belonging to another group seems very wrong to me. What is even more worrying is that this demand is being made in a country which does not, as a whole, accept that this is the normal dress code for the majority of the population. More worryingly still, rather than come out and say that such demands are not acceptable, those who have spoken publicly are choosing their words with extreme care. They are clearly worried about upsetting this tiny conservative group - far more so than they would be about upsetting other tiny conservative groups. 
Before writing this I spoke to the mother of two children who attend the school. The mother wears the hijab, indeed she always wears long sleeves and her hems reach to the top of her shoes. It is, she says, her choice. And that is what she said about the requirement for female staff to wear a head covering, "It should be their choice. I wouldn't wear a crucifix so why should they cover their hair?"
The Equal Opportunity Commissioner said it is a "grey area of the law". It seems to me it is another example of the unintended consequences of "ant-discrimination" legislation having the opposite effect from what was intended.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

I was not particularly surprised

by the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. I certainly wasn't shocked. Perhaps my reaction might have been different if I was a Catholic - but I'm not. 
I have not yet had a chance to talk to our friend Polly. Polly is a nun but I have a feeling that her reaction might not be what some would expect from a nun.
The man is 85. He is obviously unwell. There are suggestions he may have been diagnosed with a serious medical condition. (Several people have mentioned Alzheimer's but there has been no confirmation of that.) He was a strange choice but apparently never considered to be more than a sort of stop-gap Pope while one of the younger Cardinals was learning more about the job.  
Younger is, of course, relative. All the current candidates are over sixty. Most people are thinking about retiring at that age, not taking on a new career.
There are some interesting analyses of the possible candidates on numerous websites, in the press and in the news services. Some names come up over and over again. Others get a mention in one place and not in others. The reason for their mention is often because they are the local or regional man, not because they are really likely contenders for the position - or so it would seem.
The reality is of course that very few people, if any, understand the inner workings of the Vatican. Even those who work there at the highest level do not fully understand the way it works - if it does work. It is unlikely that even Popes understand how everything happens there. I doubt they do. 
There was a description in one place of how a Pope is chosen. The actual voting is steeped in ritual - or so they say. Yes, I do rather doubt they just scribble their choice on a scrap of paper and drop it into the hat of the nearest cardinal - or the last Pope's skull cap. How do they make their choice? Nobody knows. I doubt they know themselves. Do they ever admit to being jealous? Rivalry in the Vatican is apparently intense. 
I imagine that most of them secretly hope they will get the top job. They would, like anyone else, like to think of their names going down in the history books. Most Cardinals will remain unknown outside their immediate area of influence - and they know it. There is one who has apparently stated that being Pope would be "a nightmare". If he genuinely means that then he is probably the man for the job. (He is also younger than most of them.) Of course he is a "conservative" but most of them are. They were chosen by conservatives.
Sadly one of the best candidates is no longer available. He would have been ideal due to his name alone. He was, I believe, the Cardinal of Manila for many years. His name was Jaime Sin. It was the cause of much amusement among his flock. He would apparently welcome them to his home with the words, 
      "Welcome to the house of Sin."
Now imagine being able to do that at the Vatican.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Okay, so you cannot

"have it all" - or can you? It seems the government is now going to legislate so that people will have the "right" to ask for part-time work and "flexible" working arrangements.  The government has also said it is not going to require employers to provide part-time work or be flexible. 
Or is this just where the legislation is heading? It is where the Greens would like it to go. The unions would like it too. The Greens have some extraordinary ideas. Many of them sound good but they are completely impractical. The unions would be happy. It would keep their members in employment and allow them further control over employers. 
The government has also said that this will make it easier for mothers returning to work to keep their jobs, for people with disabilities to get jobs and for people who are victims of domestic violence to retain their positions. No doubt they will also suggest that it will mean older people can continue to work longer.
All this seems a bit odd to me. People already have that right. There is nothing to stop people from asking for part-time work or flexible working arrangements. Many people do work part-time. Flexibility is more of an issue but there are flexible working arrangements.
Our rubbery employment figures have a large "part-time" and "under-employed" component. There are many "employed" people who would like to work more hours. 
There has to be a reason for this legislation and I doubt it  has anything to do with the right to ask for part-time employment because that has always existed. I suspect it has more to do with gradually trying to bring in a requirement that employers must offer part-time employment and must offer "flexible" arrangements, arrangements which suit the employee rather than the employer.
It is more expensive to employ two people part time than it is to employ one person full time if the work is there in such a way that it can be handled by one full time person. If employers choose to employ people part time then there is usually a good reason for it. The work is available at that time. Perhaps the worker has skills the employer values but does not always need or perhaps they want to retain the employee but know the employee cannot return to work full time just yet.
But this legislation seems to be about employees. It seems to be about individuals deciding that a part-time job would be nice or that  keeping their job and having the flexibility to take days off when they feel like it or because the kids are sick is what they want. It all sounds quite reasonable. Why should someone not be able to work if they have children? Why shouldn't they be able to take time off if their kids are sick or need to go to the dentist or it happens to be school holidays? If you had a violent row with your partner the night before then you should be able to take the day off. If you feel too ill to come to work or the care staff who give you a shower are late arriving then you should just be able to take the time off without penalty. Or should you?
The employer really does not matter in all of this. The employer is there to provide the employment. If the employee cannot get there then it is the employer who should bear the cost of work not getting done and contracts being broken - with the consequent financial penalties. 
Or should they?
I don't know what the answer is but I do know that once you start legislating for anything then things usually become less flexible. Legislation about rights for one group will almost certainly erode rights for other groups. Legislating to enshrine a right which already exists can have nothing to do with the right. It will be used as a political bargaining tool. The government is almost certainly hoping to slip something in now and use it later.
I am worried about the way they may use it and just who might end up being disadvantaged by it.  

Monday, 11 February 2013

I made a "promise" yesterday

and I now realise I may not be able to keep it. I made it reluctantly but in good faith.
One of the (very) extended clan contacted me and said, "Cat, there's this writing competition you must enter!"
Now, as Nicola Morgan would tell you, I have a "thing" about writing competitions. I do not like them.  I regard them a bit the way I regard exams. 
Exams are not a test of what you really know but a test of what you know at a particular time about the topics an examiner has chosen to ask you. The marking of them can be reasonably objective - in subjects like mathematics - or very subjective - in subjects like English. Although all sorts of things get tried from time to time there is really not an answer to the problem of subjectivity. The best that can be said for most exams is that they give other people some idea about what you know and what you have to say about it.
"Competitions" are even worse. It must surely be rare for the judges of a competition to agree with each other - and then have that great critic "The Public" agree as well. Let's face it, the vast majority of people enter competitions because they believe, whatever they might say, that their work is worthy of a prize - preferably first prize. The vast majority of people are also disappointed. They do not win prizes but, like gamblers, they keep on trying. They tell themselves that, this time, it will be me. 
So, yesterday the distant member of the clan contacted me about a writing competition, or perhaps I should say "the" writing competition. I need to explain at this point. The competition bears the name of a highly regarded Scottish author and member of the clan. The author is, of course, deceased but his work sits among the classics of twentieth century Scottish literature. There is a biennial competition for a short story, poetry - for adults and schools. Apparently it behoves all clan members who write anything to enter it - or so the distant member of the clan has advised me. I do not believe that but he made me give an undertaking to try. He knows that, unusually for me, I have a short story almost complete - and that it fits the theme of the current competition. (I was foolish enough to mention this fact as an excuse for not doing something else.) Entries must be in within the next two weeks. The writing will probably be finished within two days. There is no excuse - or is there?
So, what's the problem? Well, there is the small matter of how to pay the entry fee. There is an entry fee of seven pounds. In the United Kingdom this would not be a problem. It would not be a problem if the organisers had Paypal facilities but the entry fee must be paid into a bank account, by cheque or money order.  If I had a credit card I might - just might - be willing to pay the exorbitant bank fee of twenty-four dollars for sending that sum. As it is I do not have a credit card. I would need to go to the bank and pay thirty-two dollars to send what currently amounts to about twelve dollars. I object to that. I object to banks charging those sort of fees - especially for transactions which amount to nothing more than a flow of electrons where the customer does the work.
The question - is that a valid excuse for breaking my promise to enter the competition? 

Sunday, 10 February 2013

"How's things?"

a neighbour asked. 
We met one another in the supermarket yesterday morning. I was replenishing the milk supply. He was doing the weekly shop. 
I thought it was a bit odd he was doing the shopping but I told him things were fine, that the Senior Cat's party had been a success and I had the new computer.
Then I asked,
       "And how are things with you?"
       "Not good. L's in hospital again. The cancer's back."
His wife had stage three thyroid cancer diagnosed eight years ago. She had surgery and chemotherapy. Since then she has been on medication but seemed to be healthy. She was healthy enough to have brain surgery to reduce her epileptic seizures. That was a success. She has been seizure free since the surgery. Everyone was delighted for her. 
I was particularly pleased. Her mother used to phone her about lunch time each day just to check she had not had a seizure. When her mother died her husband did the same thing. If she did not answer they would ring me or another neighbour and we would go and check. I found her on the floor once. Fortunately she had not hurt herself on that occasion.  Her daughter, one of two children, had to call the ambulance once before she left for school. The seizure surgery seemed miraculous. 
It was because of the seizure surgery they found the new cancer. It is in her oesophagus this time. I did not inquire about the details but it must have become very serious very quickly because they have been feeding her through a nasal tube. Problem. Thyroid medication cannot be taken that way. She needs the thyroid medication. They were going to try something different yesterday. I can imagine the sort of thing. It may or may not work. If it works then they will try to operate in the coming week.
I know the prognosis is not good. Her husband knows that too. He is a teacher. He can read more than books. 
It just seems so terribly, horribly unfair.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Can you really have something called

"The Happiness Test"? Can you actually measure "happiness"?
Apparently Australian school students in year 6 are to be measured for "happiness" - so that they can be made "happier". Apparently they need to be made "happy" and to "feel positive" about themselves so a test has been developed to find out whether they do "feel happy" and, if not, how they can be made to feel this way. Even if they do feel "happy" apparently it is necessary to improve this.
It seems it is no longer acceptable for children to feel sad, anxious, worried, depressed, angry or anything other than "happy". Negative emotions are only for grown ups - and they might not be acceptable even there. If you do not feel constantly happy then there must be something wrong with you.
All right, I exaggerate. Nevertheless the mention of this proposed test, of no less than seventy-six questions, in this morning's paper has left me feeling bewildered. Am I allowed to feel bewildered?
I do not know about anyone reading this but I know I spent a good deal of my childhood feeling a range of emotions. I probably spent a little more of it than most children feeling anxious, worried, frightened, depressed and downright angry. There were good reasons for it. I survived. I grew up. 
There are times when I still feel anxious, worried, frightened, depressed and downright angry. Despite that I think I am reasonably well balanced individual. I think I have a sense of humour. I enjoy prowling around the internet pretending to be a cat on occasions but I know I am not a cat. I can laugh. I enjoy the company of my friends and tell a joke.  
There is almost always something to look forward to during the day. Even on a day that I have to do something I loathe - like visit the dentist - I can think to myself, "Well, it will be nice when that is over and I can..."
If I have to do something that frightens me (and all sorts of things frighten me) then I will try to think about what will happen afterwards - about whatever it was being over. 
We had all the immediate family here recently. The last two adults and two small children called in for a short while yesterday on their way back to their home interstate. They had been for a short break on Kangaroo Island before my nephew starts in his new position in the company he works for. It was wonderful to have them here - if thoroughly exhausting. 
The Senior Cat had a wonderful time playing with his great-grandchildren. (He is one of those extraordinary individuals who has never lost his capacity for child-like wonder at the world.) At the end of it all we both felt "flat" when they left but he said,
      "It makes you appreciate how much you love them and how important family is."
It seems to me you cannot have one emotion without having other emotions too. "Love" comes with not just "happiness" but other emotions too. 
So is this "happiness" thing really a good thing? If we constantly emphasise "happiness" as the only acceptable emotion won't we devalue other emotions? Will we still be able to love one another? 

Friday, 8 February 2013

Why is there so much

"surprise" and "shock" and "alarm" being expressed over the report about drug taking in sport? 
The only thing that surprises me is that the report is so restrained. I am sure that the problem of cheating in sport has been around as long as competitive sport has been around and that drug taking is becoming a greater rather than smaller part of all this. It has to become a greater part of it.
If "records" are going to continue to be "broken" then it will only be done with the help of science - and most of that will be in the form of unnatural substances or the use of natural substances in unnatural ways. Even then there will come a point (if we have not already reached it) where records cannot logically be broken any more. We are already "measuring" speeds in terms of  "one-hundreths of a second". Can we really genuinely measure human performance like that? I doubt it.
I tried to point this out to someone the other day. He, a sports fanatic, is convinced that most sport is "clean", that there are just a few rogue players around who spoil it for everyone else. I disagreed. I still disagree. 
Sport, at the level he was talking about, is no longer a game. It is big business. It is also theatre. It is about winning - not losing. It is dirty. It is corrupt. It can be violent. Matches get "fixed" because fortunes are made and lost on the results of a match. "Professional" players get paid large sums of money - and then add "sponsorship" to the amounts they "earn".  
I know of someone who makes his living out of betting on sports matches. He is actually employed to do this. He spends his days watching games, listening to what is being said about the players and who is saying it. Apparently he has other sources of information as well. I did not inquire. I did not, and do not, want to know. He is not someone I want to know. The very fact his job exists should indicate that sport is not "clean".
I am not a sports fan. I have no interest in sport apart from a vague (very vague) interest in the psychology of cricket. I do not understand football, soccer, tennis, baseball, golf or any other game. I do not understand cricket either.  I am simply not interested. 
I cannot understand why other people are either - except perhaps for the fact that they have been conned. They believe they are watching something "real". No doubt someone will have a shot at me in the comments about "skill" and other things. Yes, there is skill - the same skill that goes into acting, playing the piano or performing a surgical procedure. That skill does not preclude cheating, the ingestion of performance enhancing drugs or match fixing.
If all unnatural substances and use of natural substances in unnatural ways was to be removed from sport then records would no longer be broken. Sport would become slower. It would not be the spectacle it now is. It would no longer be theatre. Would that matter? 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

There is currently a fuss

being made because one of those precious "Aussie Rules" football clubs has allegedly been caught injecting what might be a banned substance into their darling over-paid players. A lot of people are shaking their heads and expressing horror. Others, not supporters of that team but other teams, are suggesting that this is how they gained their advantage last season. Still others are saying that "everyone does it these days" - often mentioning Lance Armstrong in the same breath.
I suspect that drug taking in sport is rife. It has to be. There has to be a limit to what humans can do without external assistance. Roger Bannister's breaking of the four minute mile barrier was, I believe, mired in "assistance" controversy - assistance from the wind? I am sure someone can enlighten me. I doubt however that it was from modern performance enhancing drugs.
My sister's area of special interest within her profession is sports injuries. She also believes in the sort of diet supplements and drinks often ingested by sports players. She insisted the Senior Cat needed an exercise machine. He uses it simply because she bullies him into doing so. At ninety he is not going to re-develop the strength and coordination he had at age nine. He was never very coordinated anyway. Our mother always dreaded the dance she had with him at the annual school ball (such things being held in country schools). She complained he had "two left feet". I sympathised with the Senior Cat. 
My sister also insisted that the Senior Cat needed a dietary supplement. She arrived with a large tub of "dietary food". It was a powder, supposedly chocolate flavour, to be mixed with water. It was to be taken in addition to the meals I prepared. I was, I was sternly told, to feed him a lot more protein as well. He needed it.
I believe older people do need to watch their protein intake and that many of them do not eat enough.
We listened humbly. The Senior Cat tried the drink. He would rather eat a piece of chocolate. (We still have chocolate left from Christmas last year. We both like chocolate too much to hurry it.)
Drinking the drink made him feel he did not need a meal. We decided the meals were more important but, dutifully, he spoke to the doctor. 
The doctor listened. The doctor asked questions. The doctor laughed. No, you do not need a dietary supplement if you are eating that well. I wish all people your age ate such a well balanced diet. The Senior Cat came home and told me this. It was nice to know the doctor thought I was feeding him properly. We put the dietary supplement to one side. My sister was not pleased about this but, for once, the Senior Cat did not allow himself to be bullied by her.
We felt guilty because she means well but he does not need a dietary supplement.
I doubt many people, even sportspeople, need a dietary supplement. They do need to eat properly. They need a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, protein appropriate to their age and level of activity and carbohydrate which is equally appropriate. It all takes time to consider and prepare. 
I rather suspect that, at least for some people, that dietary supplements are seen as dietary substitutes.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

No more birthday candles

will be allowed on birthday cakes in childcare centres under a new hygiene regulations (not guidelines) put out by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
They are also stating that all toys, cushions, and floors must be washed every day. Door handles must be "disinfected".  If children play in the sandpit then they must have their hands washed in "sanitiser" both before and after they play there.
The NHMRC has also added to the regulations governing sick children. They, rather than the doctor, will now decide when a child can return to day care.
All this, reported in this morning's paper, will add immeasurably to the amount of work already done by child care centres - although I suspect that the floors in any reputable child care centre are washed everyday. It will also add to the pressure they are under as parents (also under pressure to go to work) will want their children cared for.  It will also add to the pressure some grandparents and other carers are under to take over the care of a child who is deemed not well enough to attend day care.
As regular blog readers will know my father had his great-grandchildren here over the past weekend, They are still very young.  One of them, aged ten months, has just started to go to day care for two days a week.
He is also teething.
       "Of course he has picked up a cold," his mother told me. She was not disturbed by this. "He has to develop some immunity to this sort of thing."
She was concerned for him but not worried. Her view, like that of her sister-in-law (mother of the other two great-grandchildren) is that "a little dirt is natural". Their children are not, thankfully, going to grow up in a sanitised environment. Their clothes are bought with the idea that they will get dirty when they are playing. They are allowed to explore their environment. Their parents are watchful but they do not hover.
Of course there will be issues from time to time. Their parents are not perfect any more than I am the perfect aunt or their own parents are perfect grandparents. Nevertheless they are doing well at the very difficult job of being parents.They do not expect that their children will never be ill or suffer from the minor bumps, bruises and grazes of a normal childhood.
The NHMRC guidelines seem to suggest an entirely different sort of childhood. It is coming closer and closer to "bubble wrap". It is coming closer and closer to "sit still and learn but do not do". It is taking much of the fun out of childhood.
Going to day care is now considered the norm. Stay-at-home mothers are frowned upon. The government expects both parents to go to work. More and more guidelines are being imposed. We all need to know the limits if we are to live with other people but do these go too far?
The eldest granddaughter was given a sweet on Saturday afternoon. I am advised she put it in her mouth and sucked it for a while. Then she took it out and dropped it on the lawn. She picked it up again and looked at it. Then she carefully wiped off some dirt by rubbing it on the brick surround of the nearby garden bed and put the sweet back in her mouth.
There could be few less hygienic things to do. She suffered no ill-effects at all.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

It is the Senior Cat's

actual 90th birthday today.
I have been told "do not fuss". What does that mean? I never fuss. I am always cool, calm and collected - perhaps.
My brother and his partner are not going home until tomorrow. We plan on taking the Senior Cat out today. There is a lovely garden centre on the other side of the city which is more like a landscaped garden than a commercial enterprise. We will go there and have him choose something for the garden. After that we plan to go on to lunch in the Barossa Valley and do very little. Yes, I am taking the day off!
And I have just given the Senior Cat his birthday present from me. "An Open House" by David Boyd. It is a biography of the Boyd family - Australian artists, sculptures, musicians and otherwise involved in the arts family. I may have to remove it from him in a moment so that he actually eats his breakfast!
I also made him a birthday card. I did not, although I wanted to, make him a card with 90 quotations. The computer was not, as regular readers of this blog know, working. It meant that typing in the necessary quotations and printing them off was not possible. It was not the sort of job I could do at the library or at my sister's place. It requires access to reference books. It requires peace, quiet and solitude in which to choose the quotations.
What to do? I looked at commercial 90th birthday cards. Definitely not. He would get most, if not all, of those. (He did. He was given some of them several times over. There is a limit to the variety available.)
The problem was solved when I looked at my precious box of Puffin post-cards. There were the front covers of books and more books.
I pulled out an ABC and a 123. The cover for the books of magical tricks and the jokes were absolute musts. Life has been an adventure for the Senior Cat (and still is) so Tom Sawyer was added. He treasures life too so Treasure Island was another must. There was the book about 'things to make and do' and a gardening sort of book, one on puppets and the Punch and Judy cover as well.
I wrote on the back of each, turning them into a continuous message. Then I taped them together into a concertina type fold that falls open into a long line. He liked it enough that he has taped it to the kitchen wall calendar. I am not sure how well it will stay there but - for now - he can see it there.
And so can I. It is a reminder of how much he loves books - and how much of that love he has passed on to his children. We are fortunate.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Yesterday there was chaos in

the house. It had been quiet but something happened. The four great-grandchildren appeared over the horizon in the middle of the morning.
We were expecting them. They leave early today and the first thing on the list for yesterday was a visit to "Grandpa" (my brother is Grandad instead) and "Cat".
The kettle went on for the adults. Milk was supplied to one toddler. The other declined but they both had dry profiterole cases - left over from the party preparations. The almost toddler had a rusk. (He's teething and was not at his sunny best.) The baby was asleep but soon woke.
Our supply of toddler toys was brought out. There were blocks all over the floor. They needed plastic bowls to make a swimming pool - but without water "because we have to make it". (The father of one has just made a real one and we noted with interest that a high fence went around the imaginary one as well.) There were the inevitable trips to the little room - the younger toddler has been out of nappies for two weeks now.
They explored the garden, Fortunately the birds had not pecked the strawberries which had ripened just in time - three each for the two toddlers.
Oooh there are tiny, tiny red tomatoes too! They consumed some of those. They smelt the lavender "stinky nice" and headed off up the other path.
They stopped. "Cat's big bike!"
           "Could we have the key for the lock please?" the father of one asked. I went in and handed it over. A little later there were small squeals of delight and much laughter as the two little girls were being taken for a ride in the big basket at the back. I still do not know how they both fitted in together. I am not at all sure it was a good thing for the basket but they were having fun.
Meanwhile the baby was being fed and her mother was talking to me about early reading. Yes, the toddler gets a story every night and, if there is time, before she settles for her afternoon nap. She is not two yet but a book is the only thing she will sit still for.
One family had to leave then. They were catching up with friends. The others stayed a little longer. The baby was passed to me as the Senior Cat and "he's MY Daddy" went into the shed to get a screwdriver to put something together. The toddler used the little room - again.
It was well past lunch time by then but, having had a late and luxurious cooked breakfast, they did not want lunch. The toddler was sleepy but not too fractious.
The baby went to sleep in my arms. I could keep her!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The birthday party was

a success...a great success even. 
The magician did magical things  - and everyone laughed. Much party food was eaten by almost everyone. 
The cake, decorated by our friend Polly, was a work of art. It was pale cream and there were two "books' on top. One was "The Compleat Gardener" and the other was "DIY". The first had flowers and vegetables on it. The second had carpentry tools of all descriptions. It was much admired  by everyone. 
The speeches were short.  The great-grandchildren behaved perfectly. (Two of them are of an age where they slept for most of it.) The Senior Cat insisted that they were the really important people there so they had presents given to them. He had made two little wooden walkers and I put teddy bears in them for the youngest two who will soon be walking. The older two are getting sets of modified "Lincoln Logs" so that they can build houses and sheep pens - just the way we did when we were young. As there were too many pieces for safety in a crowd I compiled "busy bags" of a blank book, pencils and some activity cards for the day. They were soon "busy" - mostly loading everything into the laundry trolley and "going shopping" on the back lawn!
We had name tags for everyone and, underneath we had written something like "cousin" or "friend" and, in the case of one of the Senior Cat's oldest friends "ancient friend" - because they rib one another about this sort of thing all the time. That worked well because it told people about each other's relationship to the Senior Cat. 
Old friends discovered one another - "we haven't seen you for forty years!"  Unexpected connections were made - "yes, I taught her music!".
My brother had compiled a "book" for my father. We all wrote short pieces and he put it together with photographs. It is the sort of thing my brother enjoys doing - although how he found the time is nothing short of extraordinary.Many more photographs were taken.
And the Senior Cat's smile grew bigger...and bigger.
The little ones will be back again today for a while. I have, as far as possible, child-proofed the house for their safety. The Senior Cat is already purring at the prospect of seeing some more of them.
They will be going back to their home halfway across Australia tomorrow so we are making the most of it.
It was worth all the work, definitely worth all the work just to hear the Senior Cat purr so much!