Wednesday, 31 July 2013

There are reports coming in

that the driver of the Spanish train was on the phone at the time he crashed it. What??? You're driving a high speed train full of passengers and you are on the phone?
Oddly, there have also been reports in our state newspaper over the last couple of days of a survey done among local car drivers and yes, one in three drivers admits to "texting while driving". My guess is that is an underestimate and that it is probably closer to one in two. Some people will never admit to breaking the law.
Then there are the people who drive one handed so they can talk on their hand-held devices. They are breaking the law too. 
"But it was just a quick call." (Five minutes is a "quick call"?)
"I've been waiting for that call." (I left the office early but I didn't want anyone to know.)
"Look it was urgent." (I'm going out tonight with my girl/boy friend tonight and I had to book the restaurant.)
"I just wanted to be sure..." (I'm picking the kids up and I'm not really supposed to stop there but I reckon I can if it only takes a moment.)
"I just wanted to know if..." (I might need to do some shopping on the way home if there isn't any milk left.)
I could probably reel off another dozen excuses in my sleep. I have heard these and overheard these dozens of time. We once managed without mobile devices at all. They have their uses, especially in an emergency, but is it really necessary to be in constant communication. Of course not.
Time and time again I have wanted to report these idiots but I know people who have and the police reaction is that, unless they catch them in the act, there is little they can do about it. Indeed I have seen those same police breaking the same laws. No doubt they have other excuses.
People simply just don't seem to care that they are breaking the law. They don't seem to see this as important. For some reason it is not seen in the same light as drink-driving or drug-driving although it is every bit as dangerous. Like breaking the speed limit it is seen as "Look this is really perfectly safe. I know what I am doing. I am a responsible driver. I am not going to have an accident. That only happens to people who don't know how to handle the situation. I do. The law is ridiculous."
The technology must surely exist which would not allow people to use their mobile devices in a moving vehicle...and I don't mean the "off" button as humans are apparently not sufficiently responsible to use it.
Two days ago there was an accident on a road near us. A number of vehicles were involved. It took a long time to sort the mess out. Fortunately nobody was killed or even seriously injured.
The reason? Someone was apparently texting someone else to tell them that there was "a bit of fog" and urging them to "be careful".

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

There is a story going around

Pope Francis. I have no idea whether it is true. The person who told me did not know either. The person who told her was someone who has direct contact with the Vatican so it might well be. It would certainly be in keeping with the impression the media is giving.
The story goes that the Pope found a member of the Vatican Guard outside his door in the morning, inquired what the young man was doing there and expressed surprise that anyone should think a Pope needed guarding all the time.
"Have you had breakfast?" he asked the young man.
The reply of course was no. He could not leave his post. The Pope tried to send him off to eat but the young man explained he was not permitted to go.
The Pope went off and, so the story goes, came back with a tray of breakfast for the young guard.
As I said, I don't know if the story is true or not but apparently the Papal apartment is vacant and the Pope prefers to eat in Vatican cafeteria along with everyone else. He certainly seems happy to mix more with his parishioners than previous Popes and that may be a good thing. If the Pope can still command respect and do this sort of thing then I think he will be better at his role than his predecessors.

I am a member of a knitting guild. The patron of it is a former senator. She is not just the patron but an active member of the guild. She knits socks. She knits for her grandchildren and will buttonhole me to ask my opinion about all sorts of things. We do not always agree but I don't hesitate to argue with her. She is, after all, a person.  I note though that there are people who avoid her. They believe she is still "too important" for them. She makes them nervous. Her personality and belief in herself is still too powerful.

Yesterday someone suggested to me that, because our former Prime Minister is a knitter and likely to be moving back to the state, we should invite her to join the guild. I doubt she would find the time or even be interested. I also doubt it would work. People would avoid her. She would still be seen as "too important". I suspect that, like the senator, her personality and belief in herself would be too powerful for some people to handle.

The present (recycled) Prime Minister is, at the moment, popular. He outstrips the Leader of the Opposition who has never been very popular. It is not something which will last, indeed he was once so unpopular he was replaced in a leadership coup of sorts. At present it suits the media to give him maximum positive coverage. I know though which of the two would bring me a mug of tea if I needed it and I would respect him for that.

I hope that story about the Pope is true and that more people learn of it. I hope he can balance authority with humility - and I wish many more people could learn to do the same.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The books I have not read

are many and varied. Yesterday someone put up a link on Twitter that I could not resist looking at when I should have been doing something else. You know the sort of thing I mean.
This link was to a list of 25 books you did not need to read by someone called Kerry Parnell in the Telegraph.
I read through the list. It started with Murray Bail's "Eucalyptus" - he should stick to writing cartoons. He is better at cartoons. I glanced at that book and decided not to read it.
The next was Ulysses. My father had to read Joyce at university. He read a part of it to us at school. I was 10 or 11 at the time. I have not forgotten it but the rest of the book is something I gave up on. I have never been back to it. Perhaps I was just too young to read it?
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton came next. I do not like Winton's writing but I skimmed Cloudstreet because people kept asking had I read it. I suspect they had not read it.
The Dice Man by Luke Rhineheart had somehow passed me by. I doubt, from the description, that I would bother with it.
Catch 22? I have not even seen the film. I know that is a shocking admission but really, do I need to?
Oh yes, Virginia Wolf's "To the Lighthouse" had to appear on the list didn't it? Another book I skimmed without any great interest. Yes, I know it is supposed to be one of the great books of the 20thC but does that mean I have to like it?
Tsiolkas's "The Slap" has, quite frankly, been made far too much fuss of. I glanced at it in the library and hastily returned the book to the returned book trolley. I suspect, from the state of it, that most people did not get past the first few pages.
As for Twilight. Well Ms Meyer how did you do it? I borrowed this from the library. The Senior Cat and I both took a look at it. Neither of us could read it. It was puerile.
Kerouac's "On the road" is another book I have never felt any desire to read. Yes, one I have glanced at but was not grabbed by.
The Metamorphosis? Well just let's say that Kafka does not appeal.
And "Midnight's Children", like "The Satanic Verses" just appears overly long to me. I skimmed them both to try and find out what the fuss was about.
Then we came to Peter Carey's, "Oscar and Lucinda". My late uncle gave me the book telling me he did not understand it. For once I had to agree with him...I certainly did not understand the fuss.
Jodi Picoult's "My sister's keeper" is a book my sister raved over. Let's just say our tastes in reading are vastly different.
Oh, the next on the list was "Sons and Lovers". I read that in my early teens. It's still around somewhere. It was another of the Senior Cat's required university reading. There is Lawrence I prefer.
Shriver's "We need to talk about Kevin" is becoming something of a catch phrase in Australian politics...we do need to talk about Kevin PM. The book is uncomfortable.
I am not going to bother with 50 Shades of Grey. The subject matter does not interest me at all.
As for Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, well let's say that I have largely avoided the Russians. They do tend to be overlong and gloomy.
And I still fail to understand the fuss over Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love". Is it really that well written?
I don't know Gregory Roberts "Shantaram" - which probably says something about the value of it - but I was required to read "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" at school.
And Dahl should not have written that sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It didn't work.
Memoirs of a Geisha was another book given to me that I gave up on - perhaps because I had read a Japanese book (in translation) on the same topic.
As I am not likely to ever wear Prada or mix in that strata of society I gave up on "The devil wears Prada" too. I don't know Byrne's "The Secret" but I doubt I want to or I might already have found it and my future does not lie with "The Celestine Prophecy".
Hmmm...that has disposed of only 25 books. I know some people will have genuinely enjoyed some of the above. Do let me know if you have. In the meantime I will try to work my way through some that I do want to read - and that list just keeps growing longer.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

I know almost nothing about

the art of the milliner. I do not own those sort of hats. I have an ancient "straw" hat which I wear in the sun - if I am not wearing my bicycle helmet.
The bicycle helmet is compulsory if you are using pedal power. It has a covering with a peak and a flap, somewhat akin to those once worn by the "Foreign Legion". I have been through several of these coverings.
The first one came with the helmet. Then the bike shop said they were no longer available. I bought the second one from the Cancer Council shop. It was in Italian racing colours. I was fond of that one. Like the first one, it eventually disintegrated in the sun.
I knitted the third one because the Cancer Council said they were "unavailable". I bought two balls of cotton from the local "untidy" shop. They were in the "bargain bin" and cost me about a dollar each. I had a bit of trouble working out the shape but it fitted well enough - and even received some compliments. I could, like the others, wash it at regular intervals. Eventually it began to look rather worn.
Last year my nephews gave me a new helmet cover as a Christmas present. The Cancer Council had decided to stock them in their shop again. This time it is a dull grey colour but I'll put up with that. I prefer to keep out of the sun as much as I can.
I have made other hats and beanies and caps. They have all been passed on to other people with the exception of the woolly beanie I wore when there was snow on the ground. That was passed on to another needy student when I left university.
I am making another beanie type head covering at present. It is pale pink. I am not fond of pink. It is a colour I never wear. Fortunately I do not need to wear it this time either. It is not for me. It is a peculiar thing anyway. It is a skull shape. It will have wiggling lines all over it. It is intended to represent a brain. I know the person I am making it for will never wear it either. We have both agreed it is much too peculiar to be worn but she will be able to use it in other ways.
There is a woman who comes to the knitting group at the library. She makes a great many beanies. She lives in a short, dead-end street. Every person in the street has been given one of her beanies. They apparently wear them. There was a communal barbecue the other night and apparently everyone was wearing one of her beanies. She does them in every imaginable colour and style. She tries out new techniques on them.
There is also "Beanie Festival" in Alice Springs each year. I know people who sell their beanies there. I have seen pictures of the beanie displays. They range from the ultra conservative plain colour and plainly knitted to the wildly fantastic decorated with bobbles, beads and branches of I-cord (French knitting) in multiple colours.  People flock there and buy beanies. Do they wear them? I  suppose they must.
I see very few people wearing head coverings apart from boys with those caps they wear backwards. Perhaps I just don't go to places where people wear beanies or hats or caps.
I really do wonder at all this beanie, cap and hat knitting. They are quick to make and can be fun - but do people really wear them?

Saturday, 27 July 2013

I once knew a twin

who hated being a twin.
"Can you, " she once asked me, "imagine anything worse than seeing yourself across the breakfast table every morning?"
Yes, she was an identical twin and that probably made it even harder for her. She did not have the personality to share her intimate life with anyone. She did marry and even had three sons but, despite all that, she was always an unhappy woman. There was almost no contact between herself and her twin.
My father's godson on the other hand revelled in being an identical twin. He and his brother spent their childhood getting into mischief - much of it the sort of mischief that only identical twins can get up to. His death has had, and will continue to have, a lasting effect on his brother.
I know other twins and even a set of triplets. They seem to be coping with sharing their intimate world fairly well. There does not seem to be any more than the usual sibling rivalries. I also know people who think it would be great fun to be a twin. (I beg to differ there. I am not sure that two of me would be a good idea for the world.)
There was also a piece in the paper this morning about a family which now has identical triplets - the odds of that occurring are high so it makes for the sort of human interest story the media loves to call "news". The girls will have to grow up observing two more of themselves over the breakfast table. How well they manage that will be largely up to their parents.
There was also an article about missing persons in the press this morning. There are an extraordinary number of people who go missing every year - over 7000 in this state alone. Most are, apparently, found again within a week but some disappear for much longer and still others are never found.
I only know of one case of a "missing" person. He walked out of the family home over thirty years ago. He clearly intended to do so because he took some possessions with him. His small bank account was used. He had somehow obtained a passport and he simply left the country. Nobody knows where he is or what he is doing. His mother, whom I sometimes see, is still bewildered as to why he did it. Most people do not find it hard to understand. He did not feel loved or wanted.
His is probably an extreme case. Many people who do go missing are loved and wanted and their disappearance causes extreme distress. News stories about missing people usually concentrate on the family - and the distress the missing person is causing by their actions. We are almost always given the impression that the missing person is behaving selfishly, that all they needed to do was talk their problems through - and that there was no need to leave without informing people they intend to do so.
I doubt it is as simple as that. I wonder if they feel so suffocated by family life that all they can think of is finding some space for themselves. I wonder if they feel afraid of staying - and afraid of going too. Do they see their act as selfish - or as  some sort of survival mechanism?
I wonder if any of them are twins - and whether they feel the need to be individuals.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Ah labels!

I have just bottled (or jar-red?) a second batch of marmalade. This is the batch that the Senior Cat will take as part of the contribution to a fete being held at his church a little later in the year.  
Another member of the church provided me with the jars. They were small. They were very clean inside. Most of them had useful lids. They were, in short, very useful jars.
They also had labels. There were jam labels, "Three Fruit" marmalade labels, "tomato, basil and tuna" spread labels, olive labels, "spreadable fruit" labels, tomato paste labels. Hmmm...when you are making "Seville Orange" marmalade you do not want it to be labelled anything else but - well, "Seville Orange".
I soaked the offending labels in hot water. I even managed to pull some of each label off. There were still bits of label stuck to the surface. There were green bits, red bits, silver and black bits. There were white sticky bits.
The Senior Cat prowled in. He took over from me while I weighed out the sugar and added it to the bubbling pale yellow-orange mixture in the pan. The Senior Cat scrubbed - and scrubbed. Eventually the jars were clean and ready to use. The bubbling mixture looked about right. I tested it. Yes.
I bottled the marmalade.
The ingredients are simple. The marmalade is just oranges, water and sugar. There were more ingredients than that on the labels of the "Three Fruit" marmalade - and it was not just the addition of two more varieties of citrus fruit. I did not read the label on the jars that had originally held jam and the "spreadable fruit" still has me puzzled. I do not want to know what is in the "Tomato, basil and tuna" spread. It will be a good deal more than those three ingredients and basil gives me a headache anyway.
Oh yes, labels. We need them. We need to know what is in the food we eat. They need to be there in case you or someone you plan to feed is allergic to something. Labelling is sensible. Of course it also advertises. Yes, I know that. There are brands that are instantly recognisable right around the world - like a certain soft-drink.
But, what I really want to know is this - what brand of glue do they use to stick the labels on with?

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Luchris Programme (or how to....

This is something I wrote for a challenge but it seems topical and is, hopefully, a bit of light-heated fun as well.

It started as soon as people knew Lucy was pregnant.  Her Mum was the first.

“Is it a boy or a girl?” her Mum wanted to know.

Lucy was a computer programmer. Her mother was convinced Lucy had no idea about the things that really mattered.

Lucy didn’t know whether it was a boy or a girl. She didn’t want to know. It was too soon to know anyway.

“You need to know” her mother said, “How can I start making things if I don’t know whether to do pink or blue? Of course it might as well be blue. There hasn’t been a girl in Chris’s family for five generations. It’s bound to be a boy.”

Chris was Lucy’s partner. They had been married nearly two years now. Everyone, well Lucy’s mother and Chris’s mother and a couple of Lucy’s friends, had kept asking when they were going to “start a family”.  Lucy’s mother had even gone so far as to get some information on IVF in the belief that perhaps they were “having problems”. Any fault would be on Chris’s side of course. Lucy had not spoken to her mother for a week after hearing that except to say they would start when they were “good and ready”.

As for colours, well Lucy thought she did not care particularly about colours either, at least not at this moment. Babies wore all sorts of colours now.  The baby would not know. Still she told her mother,

“Well make everything blue. It won’t matter that way.”

“You can’t put a girl in blue!”

“Well if she has red hair like me then it would be a better choice than pink,” Lucy said crossly. Her hair was an unfortunate shade of red. Despite that her mother had insisted on “pink for a girl”. It had clashed horribly with Lucy’s hair.

“Don’t be so ungracious. And you had better start thinking about names,” her mother said sidestepping the issue of pink or blue.

“There’s plenty of time for thinking about names,” Lucy said. She sighed inwardly. There would be no end to this until the baby was born. That was, according to the doctor, another thirty-four weeks away.

“You should start thinking about it now…and don’t forget you will need to include your father’s name and Chris’s father’s name.”

There had been a terrible row when Lucy’s sister had failed to call her son “Mark Albert Solomon Stafford” or even “Mark Solomon Albert Stafford”.  This time it was supposed to include Albert because of Lucy’s father.

Chris’s father was called Edmund but everyone called him “Piper” instead. Lucy did not care for Albert or Edmund and Chris’s father had actually said,

“Don’t call the poor little beggar Edmund.”

“He’s only saying that, “Lucy’s mother said, “Because he really does want you to do it.”

Lucy ignored that. Edmund had been “Piper” from the day he was born.

“And then you have Gramps and Pop to consider too.”

They were Lucy’s grandfathers, both still alive. Gramps was Ezekiel and Pop was Edgar. Lucy did not care for those names either. Anyway the old men were known as Pat and Ed to their friends. Lucy thought it said something about what they thought of their names.

“And Christopher’s grandfather is still alive isn’t he? Do you know his name?”

“Balthazar,” Lucy told her. She had no idea what his name was but it might stop her mother’s ridiculous suggestions.

“Mmm - different. Perhaps it wouldn’t be quite the thing. But, you must start thinking about it Lucinda.”

Other people said she should start thinking about names too. Her friend Josie gave her a fat book of 75,000 Baby Names with the words,

“You won’t need all of those but they might give you some ideas.”

Lucy felt sure she would not need all of them. She might not need any of them.

“Of course it is no use thinking about names until you know,” her friend Sandra told her.

“Know what?” Lucy asked – and then wished she had not.

“The sex of Bump of course – boy or girl. You really do need to know you know. After all is he going to Chris’s old school or yours?”

“We both went to the same school,” Lucy reminded her, “You went there too – remember?”

“Yes, but that’s not the point. You need to start thinking about names now. If you don’t you’ll end up calling him Albert just to please your Mum.”

“And you want to start thinking about giving Bump something a bit different, you know – not ordinary,” Josie added, “That’s what the book is for.”

Josie’s girls were called Clarissa and Tatiana. Her son was called Sylvester. Lucy did not care for those either.

Chris was, as she knew he would be, sympathetic.

“No, we don’t have to think about names yet.”

He got a piece of paper and his favourite magnetic pen. He clipped the paper to the fridge under the pen and said,

“If you do have ideas then put them there. I’ll put mine there as well. We won’t discuss names until Bump is born. I have an idea for sorting the issue anyway. I’ll work on it and tell you later.”

The months went on. Lucy’s mother worried. She had long conversations on the phone with Chris’s mother. They both agreed that the young couple was being completely irresponsible. Names were very important and they were not even thinking about them. That piece of paper on the fridge was still blank. Lucy’s mother tried adding some names to the paper herself but Lucy and Chris just changed the old piece of paper for a fresh blank piece.

It was a dreadful worry; especially as both mother and mother-in-law were sure Lucy must have miscalculated the dates. She was rather big already. Bump was bound to be a boy. No girl would be that big. They only needed to think about male names. Surely the young couple would be willing to listen to advice?

Lucy’s mother did her best. She bought two more baby name books. One claimed to have 1,000,000 names in it. There were names like “Bob”,”Trev” and “Em” in it. Lucy thought they were not names at all, just diminutives of things like Robert or Trevor or Emily or perhaps Emma – or even Emlyn. The other claimed to be “Names for the Twenty-First Century Baby.” It contained things like Elvis (Lucy thought of him as very last century) and Homer (Lucy did not care for the Simpsons). You could forget Aretha, Britney, Kermit and Uma too.

Chris’s mother, much more adept at using a computer, provided a list of “potentially useful” internet sites. Chris actually used them – but not in a way his mother expected or even knew about. He was working on something else.

“All you can find Mum,” he told her cheerfully, “We can use all the help we can get.”

Puzzled but pleased his mother spent hours working at the list for him. The result was that their regular “third Sunday in the month get together” lunch consisted of frozen pizza instead of the usual roast. Lucy’s mother did not speak to Chris’s mother for a week after that – but Chris’s mother was too busy to notice.

Chris was busy too. He was a lecturer in “Computer Programming for Core Value Social Network Systems” at King James College in Oxford. He was never sure what “core value” was supposed to mean but he had done his thesis on an alternative to Facebook. His new “Person-able” site was going to be launched in a matter of weeks. Interest was intense. Despite that Chris seemed distracted.

Lucy understood. He had done the work on Person-able. He was ready to move on to the next thing. Well, he had moved on to the next thing. He told her about it while they were painting the nursery in a rather nice shade of lavender blue. (The blue was because they both liked the colour and not because everyone was saying Bump would be a boy.)

“It will take people from guess work to an informed choice. It should save a lot of arguments.”

“It’s brilliant,” Lucy said meaning it and, at his request, made more suggestions. Chris added them to his mini-computer. He did this while he was up the ladder painting the ceiling cream. It meant he had to remove some paint from the computer’s screen but the ideas were too important to risk forgetting them.

By then Lucy was feeling very uncomfortable. Bump felt like a footballer, a whole team of footballers. No, she did not know the sex. She did not want to know the sex. She did not want to know anything except to be reassured that “everything is going very well”. It was, she told family and friends, all she needed to know.

Chris was barely sleeping by then. There was a definite time limit on this new project and the project was a huge one.

The team doing the launch of Person-able were puzzled. Chris did not seem interested in the millions it was bound to generate or the intense media buzz surrounding it.

“Come on man, concentrate. It’s way bigger than Facebook! It’s your baby,” his media advisers told him.

“No,” he told them, “Bump is.”

“We haven’t got time to waste!” the team leader told him, “Person-able is due to hit the screens in just over two weeks.”

“It’s not a problem. I promise you.”

Chris went back to his computer programmes. The team leader sighed and found, somewhat to his surprise, that most of the problems he was worrying about had sorted themselves out.

Lucy went into labour right on schedule. It was perfectly timed. The launch party for Person-able had ended an hour before.

“Just the way a good computer programmer should behave,” Chris said as he rushed her at high speed to the Radcliffe Maternity Unit at two in the morning. They got there just in time. (It was only then they noticed a police car had been following them.)

Lucy’s mother and Chris’s mother arrived almost at the same moment later in the morning. (Their husbands had gone to work.) Chris was nowhere to be seen. The woman at reception could tell them nothing. They paced the waiting area. What was taking so long? What was wrong? They drank cardboard flavoured tea and paced some more. Surely Chris would come to tell them what was going on very soon now?

At two in the afternoon Lucy’s mother demanded to know what was going on in a very loud voice. They had, she told the new and very young girl at reception, been very patient. If there was something wrong they had the right to know. Would the girl at least inquire?

More easily intimidated than the previous receptionist she finally tapped some keys and then gave them some directions. They hurried down the corridor united as never before by their concern for their status as grandmothers.

The room at the end was in semi-darkness apart from the light beaming from Chris’s laptop screen. Lucy and Chris were watching the screen anxiously.


“Absolutely perfect!” Lucy said. They high-fived and laughed, “Quick, write them on the cards now.”

“Just what do you think you are doing?” the two grandmothers asked together.

“Oh hello Mum,” he said, “We wanted to be sure it worked before we told you.”

“Hello Mum,” Lucy said, “Chris is just going to write their names on their cribs. We used his new Luchris Baby Name Program to find the right names.”

Lucy looked at the three white cots lined up against the other wall and smiled.








Wednesday, 24 July 2013

"Heard you on radio

yesterday Cat," someone told me.
"Letter on 5RPH again?" I asked.
"No, snippet of an interview from way back. I've never listened to 5RPH."
We don't, somewhat to my good friend Roger's horror, listen to radio at all. (Horror because Roger is, it seems, a keen radio man. He is the host of several sessions each week on Vintage Radio which broadcasts from Liverpool in England. I have heard him and he's good.)
I intensely dislike having radio noises chattering at me in the background, especially if I am trying to concentrate on a piece of work. The Senior Cat is the same. We prefer silence. We have a small radio which we would use in the height of summer if we happened to believe that there was the danger of fire reaching the suburb in which we live and that we might need to evacuate.
But, if I had to listen to radio, then it might well be 5RPH. The "RPH" stands for Radio for the Print Handicapped". It was initially intended as a radio station for people who are, for one reason or another, unable to read print. It is now used by all manner of people who claim they "do not have time" to read the papers. Volunteer readers will read the main articles and things like the letters to the editor.
I know people who were on the first management committee for the station and our friend Polly reads for them.
I am also aware that any "letter to the editor" I write for the state newspaper will be read on air - although the one I wrote for the local cat (a fun piece) apparently had the reader laughing so much they almost did not manage it. It has gained me a sort of notoriety I think I could do without. I get accosted by strangers because other people point me out. I overhear whispered comments "...writes to the paper" and I have been shouted at in the aisles of the local supermarkets. People will stop me to talk (or argue) about something I have written and, if I am short of time - as I often am, then this can be irritating. I always need to be polite when sometimes I want to tell them they are being impolite.
I know it is nothing like being a celebrity and being recognised wherever you go. I know it is nothing like always needing security and not being able to prowl out your front door without planning, and informing more than one other person. It is really just an irritation and, some would say, I have brought it on myself. (That is a little unfair as I do not prowl around with a label and my photograph does not appear along with the letters. I am also asked to write letters.)
But it all makes me sympathise with people who are "celebrities" because other people have decided that they are "celebrities". All the "privilege" in the world would not make up for the lack of privacy. What on earth is life like if, when you are only a day old, you are already being asked to wave to your adoring public?

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Right, so now we have

another baby to coo and smile over?
I quite like babies - other people's babies that is - but they also terrify me. I have never had any babies of my own. Perhaps it shows in the idea that they terrify me?
Yes, I do regret never having married and never having children of my own but I also acknowledge that babies are an enormous responsibility.
I can, just, remember my brother being born. He is two years younger than I am. He was born in the same hospital in the same small country town (village).
My maternal grandmother was there for my birth - or so my parents told me. I was, I suppose, not particularly aware of the situation. It is certainly likely she was in attendance. My maternal grandmother was not the sort of woman who would have wanted to miss out on the occasion.
I do not know why she was not there for the birth of my brother. The Senior Cat, when asked, had no idea either. He agreed it was odd.
My paternal grandmother came instead. Whatever the reason for her absence it must have riled my maternal grandmother. She was never happy sharing her grandchildren with their paternal grandparents.
The Senior Cat and I were however quite content with the company of my paternal grandmother. Children were, of course, not supposed to be visitors to the maternity ward in those far-off days. My grandmother had that sorted very rapidly. She came from a farm. Birth was commonplace. Children knew all about it from a very early age.
I was placed in the pusher and she walked briskly up the hill to the hospital. The French doors were, conveniently, open in the summer heat and I was taken in through them to see my new brother. I can just remember being held by my godmother, a nurse at the hospital, and looking into the bassinet that held my brother. It is not a strong memory but I can remember the tight feeling under my arms as I was held up to see who was there.  He was mine? I didn't really believe it - not until he came home to live. 
I suppose my parents had prepared me in other ways as well. I know I had a book about the arrival of a new baby. I think it may have been a "Golden Book". Jealousy though was not an issue for me. I had Grandma. Grandma must have stayed for at least four weeks although my father thinks it may have been longer.  I had plenty of attention while getting used to the newcomer.
By the time my sisters arrived I was old enough to understand what was going on. I started school - early - a few months after my first sister arrived. I could read by then. I had more than enough to do.
The Whirlwind is, currently, not impressed by the idea of babies but she thinks that it would have been nice to have a sibling, preferably a brother.
"But," she told me when we were discussing it, "The best thing would be to have one boy and one girl both at the same time. Then they could be friends and do things together."
If only life was that simple.

Monday, 22 July 2013

When does "government advertising"

become "election campaigning"?
Over the weekend, and again today, there are full page "advertisements" in Australian newspapers about the "new policy" concerning people who arrive by boat without a valid visa. These "advertisements" are supposedly aimed at people considering making the journey by sea without a valid visa and those who transport them.
Why then are they being put into Australian newspapers? Yes, it could be said that the Australian government is intending to inform people in Indonesia about the matter.
There are problems with this. First of all, they know anyway. Word gets around. I had a slew of e-mails over the weekend telling me that word had got around - but not through the Australian advertising campaign. People smugglers have their own networks - and they are efficient and effective. Second, almost nobody in Indonesia reads Australian newspapers. Many people in Australia do not read newspapers. A full page advertisement in our national newspaper, "The Australian", is not going to be seen by the people the policy targets.
This is election campaigning dressed up as "government information".
One of the advantages of incumbency is that there is the potential to spend money informing the public about what the government has done or plans to do. Nevertheless there is also a fine line between informing, advertising and campaigning.
I have no problem with informing people about what is going on. Indeed, I would encourage it. People need to know what is happening and how it affects them. That means that any necessary legislation needs to be in place, money needs to have been allocated and something needs to be ready to start (or will be underway) and involves things the community needs to know about.
Plain English and minimum money should be the order of the day.
There is even a place for some advertising. This may be about something a government is seeking public input on - perhaps for a Senate Committee or a Productivity Commission inquiry. It may be about something that has come up as a result of these things and action governments plan to take as a result. That is legitimate information and people need to be informed.
But, party policy changes made in response to public opinion in the lead up to an election campaign and announced as government policy when money has not been allocated by parliament, no legislation is in place and there is nothing more than an informal agreement between those involved are not something which people should be informed about via the public purse. This is campaigning pure and simple.
All governments do it. I would rather they spent the money on fixing the problem.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

I would like to make a suggestion

to the Australian government. It is quite a simple one.
Put in place a policy which says, "If you come to Australia by boat without a visa then Australia will not give you permanent residence here. Australia will give you a Temporary Protection Visa and Australia will expect certain things of you."
First of all Australia will expect you to be literate in your mother-tongue. If you are not then Australia will arrange for you to be instructed in it so that you will be literate when you return home.
Second Australia will expect you to learn English. Australia will arrange for you to receive instruction in the English language.
You will attend classes unless ill and you will be required to work very hard at these things.
When Australia is satisfied by your linguistic proficiency you will be sent for training in a peacetime skill needed by the country you have left. If you already have such a skill Australia will see to it that you receive advanced training.
In return you will live where you are sent in Australia. You will receive the basic wage and you will be housed in designated housing. You will not be able to re-locate in Australia without permission.
You will be able to access health services and, in particular, mental health services should you need them.
Naturally you will not break the law.  Any breach of the law or refusal to comply with the above conditions will be cause for immediate deportation.
When Australia considers it is safe to do so you will be repatriated to your own country and you will be required to use the skills you have gained here to rebuild your own country, including passing theoretical and practical knowledge on to the next generation. Unless prevented by illness you will work in your skills area for at least the time you spent in Australia.
Should you at any time return to your country of origin of your own volition then you will not be permitted to return to Australia but you will still be bound by the above conditions.
This programme will be expensive. Therefore it will be paid for in part by a reduction of aid to Indonesia of at least $200,000 for each person who arrives by boat without a proper visa.
I suspect that, if implemented, the number of arrivals by sea would be dramatically reduced almost immediately. Australia would also be doing something positive to assist troubled countries - and doing it in a manner which can be controlled on Australia's territory.
Is there any chance of it being implemented? None at all. It would be politically inconvenient. 

Saturday, 20 July 2013

The new "boat people" policy

outlined by Kevin Rudd won't work. It is illegal, immoral, dangerous and ridiculous.
It is illegal because it contravenes the United Nations Refugee Convention. Australia is a signatory to that. If the government wishes to withdraw from the convention then the matter has to go before parliament. It is not something the current Prime Minister can merely announce.
Withdrawing from the UNRC is unlikely. It would complicate international relations to an unacceptable degree and would not solve any other problem.
I imagine the legal eagles are already working on proposals for a High Court challenge.
The proposal is immoral. If people are in desperate need of assistance then we have a moral duty to help them. Even if people are not in desperate need of assistance then we have a moral duty not to send them into danger.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an often dangerous country. It is poor. Corruption is rife. Unemployment is very high. It lacks infrastructure. The geography (much of terrain is mountainous) and the linguistics (there are still around 800 languages spoken at local levels) are such that much of it remains isolated. It already has a problem with people seeking refuge from West Papua. 
PNG depends heavily on aid from Australia and I have little doubt that Mr Rudd was quick to point that out when he put his proposal to the PNG Prime Minister Mr O'Neill. 
The proposal is also dangerous. It could exacerbate an already existing problem. Mr Rudd has said, "If you come by boat without a valid visa you will not be resettled here." What happens if you come that way, get sent to PNG and then escape detention (which will not be hard to do). You then contact the new breed of PNG people smugglers and they slip you across the Torres Strait on another boat or fly you in on a light aircraft. Suddenly you have an entire new industry in a country which already has that problem with corruption. Local sectors of the economy could quickly become dependent on human trafficking. We will also have people entering the country illegally. They may disappear into the community but they will be forever at risk of discovery and exploitation.
The proposal is also ridiculous. Mr Rudd knows it is not likely to be fully implemented - although it might be played with for a time. Certainly he will continue to tell Australians it is a good thing until he manages to win an election. After that there will be excuses as to why it cannot be done. People will be left in limbo - and more of them will die at sea because the boats will not stop. PNG will be seen as a detour.
In the end this proposal will damage Australia. It will damage relations with PNG as well as Indonesia. It will not solve the problem of people risking their lives in order to reach their preferred destination.
Is there an answer to the situation? I think there might be but that will have to wait until tomorrow.  

Friday, 19 July 2013

They say that, if you pay

in peanuts then you will get monkeys to do a job. Perhaps we are paying in peanuts and getting monkeys in parliament then....only it seems to me that we are paying out an awful lot of peanuts.
If the facts are correct, and I have no reason to suppose that the journalist did not at least get the base figures correct, then Australian politicians have to be among the highest paid in the so-called "democracies". They may even be the highest paid.
Oh yes, one of those interesting little articles about the salaries of MPs surfaced in this morning's paper. It was probably not a good time for it to surface.
Australia is one of the most over-governed countries in the world. We have a population of about twenty-three million people. To put that into some sort of perspective the population of Greater London is, I think, around eight million.
Australia has three tiers of government. There are the local councils with their mayors and underlings, their buildings, their rules and regulations and their responsibility for libraries, swimming pools, dogs, footpaths and many other things.
There are the state and territory governments with power over all sorts of things like education, fishing rights, transport, agriculture, state taxes etc.
There is the federal government in Canberra with power over all sorts of things as well, including the right to raise taxes (the First Uniform Tax Case cemented that), postal services, the armed services etc.
There are times when law making overlaps. When that happens Commonwealth Law over-rides state law. (Human rights is one sticky area. Fiddling with environmental issues is another. The High Court famously used the external affairs power in the Constitution to over-ride the state government of Tasmania with respect to what is usually referred to as the "Tasmanian Dams Case" - which prevented the building of a dam on the Franklin River.)
All of this over-governing keeps politicians busy - or so we are told. Yes, they probably are busy. A politician who does his or her job should be busy.
But, Australian Federal politicians had just 63 sitting days last year. Their UK counterparts had 147 sitting days.
Australian Federal politicians had a base salary of $195,130 last year and their UK counterparts had a base salary equivalent of $109,863.
The article did not say what the UK Prime Minister is paid but the current local lad is getting $507,338. My guess is that the UK lad gets less than that.
People will say that, compared with some industry figures, these salaries are small. Yes, that is true. Nevertheless our politicians also have all sorts of additions to their salaries funded by tax payers. They get staff and offices (one lot in their electorate and another in Canberra or the capital city if they are state MPs). They get accommodation away from home. They get travel allowances and taxpayer provided cars - often with chauffeurs as well.
Governing us is, it seems, a multi-billion dollar business and yet it also seems that we are governed by monkeys who are paid in mountains of peanuts and are on show at a tea party just 63 days of the year.
What would you say to removing the state governments, cleaning up the councils and having the federal monkeys on show for 163 days a year? Would it work any better? Perhaps not.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

"I do not want to sleep

in tiger stripes or a flower garden," the Senior Cat informed me.
I was looking at a sheet. It is (or was) one of those "fitted" bottom sheets.
The elastic has gone in three of the four corners of this sheet. It is (or was) very thin. The Senior Cat has now managed to put a hole in it.
I am not going to try and mend it. We do not own a sewing machine and those iron patches would be useless. The Senior Cat wants the sheet anyway. He says he can use it for some purpose in his workshop. I have not inquired.
I will have to buy new sheets. I have known this for some time. I have been putting off the evil moment.
Let it be said here that, unless it involves buying a book or knitting yarn, I am not fond of shopping. Buying sheets comes even lower on the list than food. It ranks only just above trying to buy something to wear on my feet.
The problems are many and varied.
First up there is finding the right size. It is not a simple matter of finding "single bed" sheets - although there seem to be less of those. There is something called "drop" or "depth" which apparently also relates to the size or thickness of the mattress. Deal with that and then you have to consider other things.
What is the sheet made of? The Senior Cat and I both prefer pure cotton. Cotton/polyester sheets are not as comfortable, especially on a hot summer night. Finding cotton sheets however is a bit like hunting for a hen's tooth.
If I succeed in finding them then there are at least two more hurdles to overcome. There is the "thread count". I am, I think, reliably informed that the higher the thread count the better the cloth. What I do know is that the 250 count feels cheap and nasty. I will look for something better on the grounds that it will last longer and will, in the end, be better value for money.
And then, this will be the biggest problem of all it seems, there is the colour. The Senior Cat wants white sheets or, at very least, cream sheets. He does not want blue or green or pink or pastel of any type. He does not want spots or stripes or floral patterns or gingham squares. He wants plain sheets.
"But you don't see them when you are asleep," I tell him. It makes no difference. He wants white or cream. 
"They shouldn't be hard to find," he tells me, "Everyone uses them."
Perhaps that is why there are no white or cream sheets readily available. Perhaps it is because "everyone uses them".
I have no excuse not to go shopping this morning. It is not raining. The trains began running again yesterday. I can pedal to the station and prowl into the city.
I just hope I can buy sheets that provide the Senior Cat with a cloud to sleep on rather than a tiger or a flower garden.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

"Did you like science...

at school?" my caller asked me.
One of the local journalists had contacted me to ask about something else but mentioned that one of the other journalists was working on a short piece about science teaching.
My answer probably shocked her because I said, "No, I loathed it."
Yes, I really did. I loathed science at school.
I can remember "Nature Science" in my "Infant School" days. There was the "Nature Science" table at the side of the classroom. There was the obligatory jar with the tiny tadpoles swimming sadly around. There were the obligatory saucers filled with damp cotton wool and sprouting wheat going mouldy and that worm farm. There were the feathers and the autumn leaves and a drooping plant.
It was hardly exciting stuff.
We did weather observations and listened to our teachers tell us about the importance of rain and the dangers of snakes and spiders.
We did "health and hygiene" as part of this nature science thing as well. There were lessons about germs and the importance of washing your hands. There were lessons about tooth decay, food groups, hair and how the heart pumps blood around the body.
Oh yes, I managed to learn something. I probably managed to learn more from reading books but I did learn something.
I don't remember learning about dinosaurs, in fact I am fairly sure they were never mentioned. When I asked the Senior Cat he said he could not remember dinosaurs being part of the curriculum in his first teaching years either. Possibly the inclusion of dinosaurs came later. 
Science was not history. I loved history with a passion. The history of science interested me too. I can remember the Senior Cat teaching us about Pasteur and Jenner - but that was a history lesson.
In secondary school we did "General Science" to start with. Science was not split into Physics, Chemistry and Biology (the only sciences available where I went to school) until we were in the "Intermediate" (UK residents read 4th year of secondary).  There was some "laboratory" work then. I was never allowed to so much as touch a test tube but I doubt it would have made any difference. I loathed the smell of the laboratory. What happened in there held no interest for me.
Looking back I know I was badly taught. I was taught by teachers who were little more than one lesson ahead of me. They were no more enthused about science than I was. They had been landed in remote country schools and been told that this is what they would be teaching because this was what was needed. Even if they had been enthusiastic the curriculum was not exciting.
I did manage to pass my science subjects. I even managed to do creditably well in them but I did not like them.
Later I had to do units in science teaching and I had to teach some science. Remembering my own boredom I set about trying to find ways of providing activities so that science became a subject in which you did something. We made telephones from tin cans and string to learn about sound and kites to learn about flight. I hope the children I taught enjoyed science more than I did.
I saw the article this morning. It mentioned some of the common misconceptions young people have about dinosaurs and their lack of knowledge about fresh water supplies. It was rather alarming because I know these things from general reading. It seems they don't know these things but they are supposed to learn about dinosaurs in schools and water is incredibly serious topic in Australia.
And I keep wondering about those dinosaurs. I wonder if I would have been more interested in science if the dinosaurs had been there?

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

No, you are not a "Kokoda Track Survivor"

Mr Rudd - and you never will be.
That term has to be reserved for the men who walked the track in 1942. They were Australian soldiers and natives of Papua-New Guinea - the men who walked it under incredibly difficult war time conditions. They did it without the support afforded to those who now walk the route as a tourist adventure of sorts.
Yes, I know it is a hard walk and you have to be fit to do it even if you have the support. Nevertheless Mr Rudd you went off with the best equipment money could buy. You were catered for along the way. The year you walked the track, 2006, it was peace time. There were no Japanese soldiers waiting to capture or, worse, kill you. That ninety-six kilometre path along the Owen-Stanley Ranges might contain some rough terrain but you had time to appreciate the beauty of the country around you. Yes, you did it in daylight didn't you Mr Rudd.
I don't know how long you took but I imagine you went at a leisurely pace, and that can mean as many as twelve days for some people. I might, although it would be extraordinarily difficult for me, even manage to do it myself in twelve days.
It would not make me a Kokoda Track Survivor Mr Rudd. Even if I managed to climb to the very top of Mount Bellamy, all two thousand one hundred and ninety metres of it, I would not be a Kokoda Track Survivor.
In your position Mr Rudd you must have met men who did walk that track in 1942. No, they probably have not told you what it was like. They would not have told you about the heat, their thirst, their lack of food, their rotting boots, their injuries and the malaria and dysentery which killed so many of them. They will not have told you, because there are no words for such things, of the compassion shown by the local people even though there was often no common spoken language between them. (Yes, I did note your own use of a few words of Pidgin the other day and I understood it. I hope the locals did not find it too patronising.) 
I wonder Mr Rudd if you have ever been told of the enduring nightmares of some of those who did return. No, they never forgot. Some of them managed to repress their memories during the day and perhaps for weeks at a time at night. But memories keep coming back. They surface when you least expect them. They are waiting there to capture you over and over again. You have to live with those memories until you die - and your family has to live with them too.
So, no Mr Rudd you are not a Kokoda Track Survivor. You are merely someone who has walked the track in peacetime. There is nothing very special about having done so. Thousands of people do it every year.
I know people who have done it both ways. They don't claim to be survivors.

Monday, 15 July 2013

My grandmother used to "do a boiling"

and, no, she was not losing her temper. I never saw my paternal grandmother lose her temper. Once in a while she would hold her breath and you knew that she wanted to say something - but she never did.
"Doing a boiling" referred to making marmalade. She would do more than one "boiling". One lot would be Seville orange from the tree in the back garden, another lot would be grapefruit from fruit my grandfather - a tailor - would be given by one of his customers. If there was fruit left she might combine the two or even add some lemon. Fruit did not come waxed from the greengrocer in those days.
Grandma, as we called her, would stand at the kitchen table and cut the fruit with a very sharp knife. The slices were so thin they were transparent. Grandma was an artist with a kitchen knife.
I suppose she had been doing it for more than fifty years when I first saw her do it. There was real skill involved. Before she married my grandfather her marmalades and jams had won prizes in the local rural show in the area she lived in.
I would sit and watch as she explained what she was doing - and why she was doing it. For a woman who had a mere three years of schooling before being taken out and put to work on the farm my grandmother was an outstandingly good teacher. In another era she would have continued at school and perhaps had a professional career. Instead, she saw that her sons and her grandchildren understood the value of education.
I never made the marmalade myself. I helped with the washing of the fruit, the washing and warming of the jars - and, of course, the tasting!
My mother made marmalade later. Hers was, like her mother's, much chunkier. They were impatient to get the job done and not as interested in the outcome. We children were not allowed anywhere near the process.
In the last couple of years before her death my mother reluctantly allowed me in on the process - but only because she could not handle all that needed to be done. I was still not allowed to do such things as judge when it was ready to put in the jars and she would supervise me adding the water and, later, the sugar. She would always write the labels in her still neat, infant school teacher print.
After my mother died there was no one to make marmalade unless I did. The Senior Cat likes marmalade on his slice of breakfast toast. I would, I announced, do a boiling. I am still doing them.
I do not slice the fruit the way my paternal grandmother did but I do not make the chunky sort my mother and maternal grandmother did. No, we have a nifty "slicer" which does the job almost as well as my paternal grandmother did it. It is also fast and efficient. Cutting the fruit is not a chore. The Senior Cat has even offered to help. I decline that offer and ask him to make sure we have enough jars saved. He is good at bringing in the jars stored in the shed over the year and making sure they are ready for use.
"How do you know when it's ready?" he asks me every year. It is a sort of alchemy to him - and perhaps even to me.
"You just do... you put a little bit on a saucer when you think it is about right and..."
He nods and shrugs and looks bewildered. I know he is not really concerned. As long as marmalade results he will be happy.
I have found a safer way to transfer the marmalade to the jars - the issue of concern for my grandmother and strictly forbidden by my mother.  I ignore my mother's instructions and come closer to those of my paternal grandmother yet again in so many things.
And, every year, I wonder at how much my paternal grandmother taught me about things like making marmalade - and "doing a boiling" without losing my temper,

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Birthday parties are strange

events. I am still not sure why we celebrate birthdays, celebrate "getting older".
The Senior Cat and I were invited to an 80th birthday party yesterday. The birthday person knows a great many people. She is the wife of a retired priest. People like that do tend to know a great many people.
The Senior Cat had an 80th birthday party too - and has since had a 90th.
I know other people who have had their 40th, 50th, 60th, 70th, 80th and 90th birthdays. I have even known people who had their 100th birthday and a party with it.
But, I am still not too sure about this party business and "celebrating" the fact that you are getting older. Looking back it seems odd that we humans should be so anxious to grow up and to celebrate our birthdays. Other animals do not bother with birthdays. They just get on with the business of living.
My birthday falls on a day when a great many people party for other reasons. Fortunately for me people tend to assume I have a party to attend and I can usually get away with nobody making a fuss. I mean, let's face it, life is just going too fast. I still have so many things I want to do. I don't have time to celebrate getting old.
I don't think Malala Yousafzai is going to have time to celebrate getting old either. As most of us know she spent her 16th birthday addressing the United Nations.
She did it with more poise and composure than many adults would manage. Her language was simple. Her diction was excellent.
If you watch her speech (to be found on more than one place on the 'net) look carefully at the camera as it catches her parents. Her father has to swallow hard at one point in an effort to hide his emotion. Her mother wipes away tears.
Oh yes, she is "just a kid who happens to have...." as someone tried to tell me yesterday. And yes, up to a point, that is true. But I think she is also an internally driven girl. She could not have delivered that speech in the way that she did unless she believed in what she was saying.
"Let us," she said, "pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen, one book can change the world. Education is the only solution."
The 80th birthday yesterday was a celebration of a useful, busy and varied life - much of it spent serving other people. It was good to be able to recognise it.
The 16th birthday though was a powerful statement about what might still happen. Idealistic? Perhaps - but does that matter? I don't think it does. It was a 16th birthday worth celebrating. Happy Birthday Malala.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Visiting someone in a hospice

is not an experience I welcome. I admit I am quite cowardly about such things. Perhaps other people are too. Who wants to face their own mortality as well as that of the people they love?
Nevertheless I went to visit someone yesterday. I went because I like the person I went to visit. I went because I would want people to visit my family - if they were in that position and wanted visitors. I went because I want to offer her husband support.
I went for all sorts of reasons.
I have not seen this person for more than two weeks - not since she was rushed back to hospital on a Sunday afternoon. Her husband took her, not even wanting to wait for an ambulance.
Since then we have been waiting for news. The immediate neighbours have been leaving meals for him and the two children. I offered too but he told me quietly that he had put some things in the freezer because there was more than they needed - for now.
He is a teacher. State schools here are in the middle of the two week winter break so he is spending hours with her.
Yesterday morning he caught up with me and told me they had moved her from the hospital which would take me most of the day to get to and from to the hospice. I can pedal to the hospice. It's a fifteen minute journey there and a twenty minute journey back. The journey back is just slightly up the hill.
It was raining but the Senior Cat and I agreed I should go anyway. We know there are people who will be staying away because it is difficult to visit anyone in her position.
Yes, she is dying. We all know that. She knows that. She is only 45. She will be leaving behind a husband and two teenage children.
She has not been able to eat for weeks now. She is being "fed" artificially, not to keep her alive as such but to keep her comfortable.
She is not able to speak either. The cancer, which started in her thyroid has gone to her oesophagus. When they operated to try and remove the cancer they took away her capacity to physically speak as well.
But, none of this has stopped her "talking". I went in to find her holding court. Her mother-in-law was there. She has been their rock throughout this. Her husband was there. And there was a mate of his who rides a Harley-Davidson....ah yes, the Harley-Davidson. Her husband still hankers after a Harley-Davidson. She shook her head and gave me a look which said, "Boys and their toys!" We all laughed.
She held out her arms for me and we hugged -long and hard. Underneath her top I could feel every bone and she was shaking slightly but she put her head on my shoulder and snuggled in like a small child.
Her husband looked at me from behind her as if to say, "She needs  that."
Her mother-in-law and the Harley-Davidson rider left. We spent another ten minutes "talking" but I could see she was tired.
"I'm going," I told her and I could see her disappointment but I said, "You're tired. I'll come back - and that's a promise."
She will have visitors over the weekend. The visiting hours in the hospice are 24/7. They just ask you to be particularly quiet at night.
I'll prowl down there on Monday but, before I left, we had another hug.
I'll give her a hug on Monday too.

Friday, 12 July 2013

"Richer, better at school" is what

the title of the article said. I read it in yesterday's state newspaper. The Senior Cat read it. I waited for him to mention it. I knew he would.
The Senior Cat was a headmaster, school principal if you like, in his working life. He continues to take an interest in education, schools, children, psychology, teaching methods, and the research which surrounds all these things.
He was not impressed by the research - or the fact that the research had been done. He believes in both "nature" and "nurture". You inherit genes from your parents but your environment also influences you. Why waste precious research funds stating the obvious?
The Senior Cat growled about this all through lunch yesterday. He has little time for the current moves to put a lot more money into education. That, he says, is not the answer. You need better quality students willing to become teachers and better training for them. Smaller class sizes do not necessarily make for better educational outcomes. He went on. I have heard it all before. I mostly agree with him.
He has been saying this regularly since the present government decided, on the strength of a report headed by a man who is not in the education sector, to put more money into schools. I will not say "spend money" because that seems to at least hint at some consideration at the way in which the money will be used. There are, we are told, many millions going to be lavished on schools. It will, we are told, solve many problems.
It won't of course.
The Senior Cat would like to see much of the money spent on getting and retaining better teachers. He would like to see some sort of career path for them. Instead we currently have the situation where teachers are now on short-term contracts from one year to the next. How can you plan a career around such a scenario?
He thinks even the Whirlwind gets too much material not prepared by her teachers - although her school has very little compared with the local state high school students in the same year. I know he has never really come to terms with the way that modern technology has allowed many teachers to do far less preparation than they once did. Remember those lesson plans we once had to do starting with "Aims" and "Materials" and moving on to "Methodology" and "Outcomes"? (I probably have that wrong. It is a long time ago.) Apparently you no longer do it that way.
And then there is the problem with libraries. The Senior Cat simply cannot understand the idea that there are now schools which do not have libraries. He cannot understand the idea that there are schools where the students have all their resources on a screen, that they never open a book.
How, he asks can you learn, if you never open a book? Oh yes, he understands the concept of the e-book but he says e-books are still not the same as a physical book.
He even wonders if poorer families who cannot afford the latest technology might actually be richer because their children might have access to a "real" book, a physical book.
It's an interesting idea.
I just think it is a shame we are not spending at least some of all those millions on physical books. That would make everyone richer.