Sunday, 31 March 2013

"I thought it would never happen

again," one of our friends told me softly. 
Just before two o'clock yesterday afternoon she had 'phoned as promised and asked, 
         "R's feeling good, can we come over?"
         "I'll put the kettle on," I told her.
We had planned this for days but it would all depend on how our elderly friend was feeling. She is the one who had the stroke just before Christmas. Until now her outings have been strictly of the medical kind. She had not been anywhere just for social purposes.
I had seen her in hospital and then at the rehabilitation unit and then at home but, like her younger cousin, I wondered if she would have the energy and the desire to go visiting.
They do not live too far away but getting in and out of the car and in and out of the house is a great effort for her. To do it just to go visiting is something that had to be thought about. We would have gone to her if she could not come to us but we thought it would be good for her - if she could do it.
I had the ingredients ready and made her favourite cheese scones and put the kettle on. How long would they be able to stay before she needed to leave. Her younger cousin thought she might manage to stay half an hour so everything needed to be ready.
They arrived. It took her over five minutes to walk from the front gate into the house with her walker. She looked tired by the time she sat in the chair she had always sat in when she came to visit but she smiled. 
Tea? She nodded and managed to say "please". 
The Senior Cat brought out the lovely scrapbook album he was given as a record of his 90th birthday party. She had been too ill to come to that but he told her that we were having another party now - just for her. She laughed. They bent their heads over the album and she slowly said the names of some of the people she recognised. The Senior Cat cannot understand what she says now. She speaks too softly for him to hear and it is almost impossible to understand most of the time. Her cousin understands and I understand but few other people do.  But she was smiling as she saw photographs of the Senior Cat's last two great-grandchildren for the first time. 
I made tea and asked her if, like me, it would be easier to hold a mug than a cup. She nodded and looked relieved. Her cousin poured it for her, made sure it was not too hot. Scone? Yes. We had to cut it into bite size pieces but she managed. 
The Senior Cat showed her what he had been making in the shed.
"Tim-ber?" she asked carefully.
"What sort? This one is something I have never used before..."
They stayed an hour. By then it was clear she was very tired, Getting back to the car was a real effort. She was falling asleep as her younger cousin hugged us goodbye.
The Senior Cat was tired too. "Don't know how I.... manages to do that all day," he told me shaking his head. He went off to the shed.
Our house was designed and built with the old age of my parents in mind. It was built without steps and has a number of other features designed for easier access. It means it can also be accessed by people with disabilities, especially older people with disabilities. Yesterday I was very glad of that. 
I was glad too that the Senior Cat has met a number of people with severe communication problems. He could sit there and talk with R and not just to her the way other people now do.
And there it was, as they were leaving, R's younger cousin telling me, "I thought it would never happen again."
It has - and it might still happen again. 

Saturday, 30 March 2013

"Is it too soon to start reading

to him?" I heard the young mother asking one of the bookshop staff. She had a very young baby with her and was looking at some books on the table by the door.
          "Well of course I would say no," the staff member told her and looked at me, "But ask Cat. She's the expert."
Expert? I wish I was. I often feel I do not know nearly enough about children's reading. I love children's books with a passion. I have taught children to read. I have read widely about both things. Does it make me an expert? I doubt it.
Nevertheless I offered advice. It is never too soon to start reading to your child. 
"But he won't understand will he?"
No he won't understand everything but he will hear your voice. He will hear the rhythms and rhymes.  He will hear expression in your voice. If you repeat things over and over again he will be learning. You can choose some very simple things and just talk about them.
I showed her some of the excellent early learning books the shop stocks. 
"You start with this sort of thing and then go on to these...and then these..."
She sat down on one of the chairs for "small people" and looked at one of the early learning books. I explained,
        "Tell him it's a teddy bear...that it is yellow. Talk about the bear having two arms, two legs...say things like "Here's his head. Where's your head? Here's your head."
She looked up at me in amazement and then said, "Of course. It's how you learn to read."
Well it is certainly part of the process. I showed her some other books for older pre-school children and explained why they were useful and how small children tend to love repetition. She found "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and told me, "I still have that. I saved it because I loved it. It's at my Mum's place."
I asked her if she knew about the sessions for mothers, babies and toddlers in the library. No, she didn't know about those. She had only been in the district a few weeks and had not been to the library.
I told her where to go and suggested joining the library and the group as she will be a stay at home mother for the moment. I told her there would be books she could borrow there and that, for a small fee, she could also join the toy library. 
She bought the book with the teddy bear picture  in it and, as she left, I could hear her talking to her child as he faced her in his baby capsule. Was he listening? I think so. You are never too young to learn.

Friday, 29 March 2013

"Do you want me to

make some hot cross buns or just buy some?" I asked the Senior Cat yesterday.
He looked at me. I could see him thinking, "Making them is work but I don't like the bought sort."
I don't either. I said, "I can make them..."
"Yes please."
The Senior Cat does not understand the modern version of the hot cross bun. His mother used to make hot cross buns. They were what he still considers to be real hot cross buns. They were faintly sweetened bread dough flavoured with mixed spice, currants and sultanas. 
The Senior Cat came home from the shopping centre on Wednesday and said to me, "Did you know they make hot cross buns with no fruit in them? That's not right."
He had apparently seen the display in the bakery next to the post office. The bakery has buns with fruit, buns without fruit,  buns with dark chocolate chips and buns with white chocolate chips. The supermarket has all those things and buns without yeast, gluten free buns, buns with fruit and chocolate chips and probably other sorts of buns too.
They also have rabbit shaped biscuits, a seemingly endless supply of chocolate and sugar eggs, "specials" on fish, chicken and lamb as well as other "Easter" related suggestions of ways you can part with your money. 
I bought none of these things on Thursday. We still have chocolate left from the Senior Cat's birthday at the beginning of February. (He was given a box which we only opened at the beginning of the week.) We like chocolate but we often forget it is there. 
I make our bread. I have done it for years. The hard work is actually done by a bread machine. I fling the ingredients in, press a button or two and let it mix and need and rise and bake. I do have to be around to add additional ingredients as we don't have the sort of machine that adds nuts or fruit at the right point. It is not really a problem, The advantage is that I know what goes into our bread - and the Senior Cat thinks of it as bread not "that square white sliced stuff that doesn't taste of anything". 
And so we come to the hot cross could I even suggest buying some? The house is beginning to fill with the warm, sweet, yeast and fruit scented aroma of the hot cross buns of the Senior Cat's childhood - well, almost. I will still let the machine do most of the work!  

Thursday, 28 March 2013

I have taken my battle with

the Department of Transport up with the Equal Opportunity Commission. 
I have thought long and hard about this. I do not like complaining but the situation has not been resolved. They have had three months to sort out a situation which should never have occurred in the first place.
In all fairness someone in the department might have thought they had the solution to the problem. It is more likely however that it was a last minute decision made without any real thought when the department realised that no provision had been made for people who were not, for one reason or another, able to use the substitute bus service. 
I spent half of yesterday trying to reach the person in the Equal Opportunity Commission. She had left an e-mail giving me a wide period of time in which to call her. She was unavailable. I left a message on her answering machine and an e-mail and went and vented my frustration on my scratching post. She phoned me just after 6pm. She was still in the office and just back from a meeting. She apologised for not being there after having suggested the times she would be available and asked if we could discuss the situation right then. I was not going to stop her!
We discussed the situation. I told her I had placed the complaint largely in the hope of getting the transport people to actually make a decision. She saw that as sensible but as there still has not been a response the complaint is now a formal one. I also said I was informally making the complaint on behalf of people who were similarly disadvantaged but less able to make a complaint. She agreed that was sensible too. 
She also asked if the department's proposed solution been advertised. To that I had to answer I was not sure - as far as I know the information was only on the website. You had to be able to look there to know what was going on. We both agreed it was all about saving money. 
I am however not sure how far we will get. Naturally the department is going to delay the matter still further - and why not? It means they are saving money. I don't blame them for that. If I was responsible for spending taxpayer money I would want to make sure it wasn't being wasted. I suspect they will argue that their solution works and it us up to me to be "flexible". They will argue that I can always tell them the day before if I need to travel - and that I only need to travel if medical or dental appointments are involved. Anything else will be considered "want" rather than "need".  I can, I am sure go without a social life until October.
But, I had a wicked little thought last night, I wonder what they would do if I was called up for jury duty and required to attend a trial which lasted for weeks? It is not likely to happen and I would probably be excused or, at very least, could have it delayed.  But if the court insisted I be there I wonder who would pay for my transport? Perhaps I should ask them. 
In the meantime however I am making frustrated marks on my scratching post.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

There is going to try to be

another attempt to curb the worst excesses of the "snake oil" salesmen - those who sell "miracle" cures for things like weight loss and the common cold. 
This has been tried before. It has not worked. It may not work this time.
I suppose they have to try but I suspect many people are going to go on believing that wearing an amulet or popping a sugar pill is going to cause them to lose weight or cure their sniffles. Nobody wants to be sick. Those of us who need to lose weight want to do it the easy way. If we have another very serious medical issue we would all like to take a pill and wipe out any trace of it.
I have a sister who has tried to convince my father he should take a protein powder and exercise more. The Senior Cat is 90. He has talked to his doctor who says his present protein intake is excellent for someone his age and that he is generally fit for his age...and yes, the Senior Cat uses the walking machine my sister insisted on. He "walks" for about twenty minutes each day. He gardens and works in his shed. But, my sister still believes he should be taking the protein powder and that I should give our father more protein in his meals. 
I am giving him what he tells me he can tolerate, what he feels he can comfortably eat. His eating habits have changed over the years. He eats less than he used to. When he was running a big school he was always on the move. That was years ago. 
At my sister's insistence he has ready articles she has given him. He has read articles his doctor has given him. He has read other articles. When he reads he questions. His comprehension goes beyond the surface claims. He knows the difference between "one in ten doctors" and "one in every ten doctors".  He has tried explaining this to my sister.
My sister has some medical training. She should know better than to believe some of the claims that are made. She has a serious, indeed very serious, issue with her weight. She is supposedly "dieting" and taking exercise. The former is supposedly being assisted by something that I would not take. There is no medical evidence for the claims it makes - just glowing reports from a select group who have taken it. My sister has perhaps been fooled by the other qualifications of those who promote it. Search the internet and reputable medical sites dismiss all the claims being made. Ben Goldacre, that thorn in the side of snake oil salesmen, would have a field day. I still doubt he would convince my sister because she is already convinced - the other way. 
And that is, I think, the problem. People will believe what they want to believe. Some people will believe that something helps even when good medical science - or even just logic - shows the snake oil can have no efficacy at all.
Perhaps though if people have to stop describing their pills, potions and amulets in the terms they now describe them then fewer people will waste their money on them. It will give them more money to buy good food and walking shoes. 
I need to lose some weight because I am overweight - but thankfully not obese. I am relying on good food and putting my paws on the pedals.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

"He's lost his

licence," she told me softly as her husband shambled off.
I was in the chemist getting several prescriptions filled for "oldies". My morning pedal to the shops was punctuated by several little "flags" sticking out of letter boxes - a sign that one of the elderly people on my regular route needs me to get something for them. 
I don't do their main shopping but I will go to the chemist or the post office or do something else essential.
This couple live on my route too. She has not driven a car for six years now.  She had the sense to give up after having a very minor accident (her fault) in the car park near the bank. I can remember her saying at the time that it was fortunate nobody was hurt and that it was a sign she should give up her licence.
Her husband has clung to his. For the last three years his driving has been erratic. He has become lost between his home and the shopping centre and his home and the doctor's surgery. His wife has travelled in the car with him but kept her eyes closed for the entire journey.
His daughter stopped me in shopping centre before Christmas and asked me what I thought. I told her he definitely should not be driving but we both knew the consequences. There is no public transport between their home and the shopping centre and it is too far for them to walk. Their daughter has never learned to drive so she cannot transport them. 
The doctor was not prepared to make the necessary move. I know they, understandably, hate giving people bad news and "You are not fit to drive" is the sort of news nobody who has been driving all their adult life wants to hear. Most doctors seem to avoid doing it for as long as possible.
But last weekend I observed this elderly man driving down the wrong side of their street. Admittedly he was going very slowly but it was the wrong side of the street. He was alone in the car. As I watched one of the neighbours stopped him with a frantic wave. 
They gave me a look which said, "I'll deal with this." 
I left them to it and pedalled on. I knew it was not the first time.
Yesterday I heard the rest of the story. The neighbour somehow encouraged him out of the car to look at something. He left the keys in the car. The neighbour's son drove the car back to its carport and the keys were conveniently "lost" by the old man's wife. The doctor was rung. The relevant department was rung. The licence was cancelled. 
They could do it this time because the neighbour's son took a picture on his mobile phone. The evidence was there. 
"They say I can't get my licence back until I've had my eyes checked," the old man told me a little later. His wife gave me a sad little shake of her head. Her husband won't be going anywhere behind the wheel of a car again. 
"I think dear," she told him gently, "That we might get a little letter box flag like Spiros. Cat says she will come to the chemist for us if we need it. It will save a trip and petrol is very expensive these days."
Yes, I would rather pedal in the heat or rain than have him run into me on the wrong side of the road.

Monday, 25 March 2013

As the librarian for

knitting guild I have the unenviable task of trying to keep the too small cupboard in order and seeing that people return the books they have borrowed.
When I first took over the books were "just in the cupboard". They were tidy but they were in no sort of order - unless you count the order in which they were put away.  Okay there were not that many of them and it was usually possible to find what you were looking for.
The library has since expanded. I have catalogued the books. I add new books from time to time.
We also have a borrower's book. People are supposed to write their names, the name of the book and the date in the book.  The limit is two books. Someone is now designated at each meeting to see that this actually happens. At first there was an "honour" system but, as always, some people took advantage of the system. They would borrow more than two - and forget to return things. 
It was and still is my job to try and ensure things are returned. I hate it.
Knitting books tend not to be like other books. If you are not knitting a pattern from one then it is unlikely you need the book for more than a week or so. You should be able to return it within a month. If you are knitting a pattern from it then the loan can be extended and it is (usually) legal to copy the pattern for personal use. So, what's the problem?
I know some people just forget and the guild only meets twice a month so it can be a problem. I tell people,"if you have forgotten to bring your books back just let me know. We will extend them but we need to know where they are."
And yes, people will do that - but not everyone. They escape. They fear some sort of public humiliation - something we never do. It seems to be a hangover from the old-school library days when all was hushed and quiet and nobody spoke above a whisper.
And then there are one or two who have had books out for far too long. We tell them they may not borrow any more until they are returned. Usually they are then returned very quickly.
And then there is one serial pest who has made life difficult for everyone. She has borrowed books. She claims they have been returned. She shows us where the loan has been crossed off but nobody has seen the book. We have told her that she may not borrow anything so she stands at the cupboard, "Just looking". Items have still disappeared.  It makes me angry. A former President recently told me, "I'd like a search warrant for her house."
So would I. I doubt she really knows what she has there. It seems likely that she may even have convinced herself that the books belong to her, that the other items she has borrowed from people over the years also belong to her. I don't think she has any idea what she owns and what she has borrowed. She lives in a different world.
It is now my job to tell her she may no longer "just look" in the library cupboard - and that makes me sad.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

After all the unwanted excitement

of the week it was almost a relief to head off to the library yesterday. I am usually in there twice a week, sometimes more often but I had not been there for over a week.
I was greeted like a long lost traveller and told they were calling off the search party. Search party?
It is nice to be wanted - or it would be if they wanted me for myself rather than for something I could do for them. But, I was there for the knitting group. 
We had to open the fold back doors again. There were nineteen people there - and two more called in briefly. 
I wondered if our very young knitter would turn up. I had remembered to bring a book I thought she might be able to use. It is, unlike many knitting books for children, more realistic than most. It has small objects in it, a headband, covers for mobile phones, a simple bag etc etc...all in just plain garter stitch. (Knitters will know what I am talking about.) You can make something in a relatively short period of time - and then actually use it. 
I had a knitting booklet when I was little older than the very young knitter. It was called "Knitting for the Junior Miss". It was a small size Patons booklet. I paid for it out of my own pocket money. It was the only thing available unless I wanted one of the very grown up pattern books in the haberdashery store not far from where my paternal grandparents lived.  
I can remember handing over my money and watching the coins being sent on a small "flying fox" arrangement to the far end of the store. The pattern books were in a pile on that counter and the wool was lined up in boxes next to it. 
I had been allowed to spend the money because I had just managed to learn the purl stitch. My mother thought I was wasting the money but I wanted the book.
In some ways it was a disappointment. The projects in it included jumpers and cardigans, socks on four needles and other impossibilities. I would never have been allowed to buy the wool for any of those projects even if I had been given enough money - but I could dream. 
There was one project in there I thought I could manage and my grandmother thought I could manage too. It was a striped beanie. I made it for my brother - and he wore it for several years. Then my middle sports mad sister nabbed it and it was lost somewhere on a dusty rural football field. I was not impressed. Neither was my brother. He made another one for himself at school. All the boys were taught to knit that year. 
I still have the booklet. It is slightly battered by now but I went on and used it. I eventually made the cardigan and the two jumpers and the baby booties and my first pair of socks all from that booklet. It was useful - but not until I was well into my teenage years. All through that time I had my paternal grandmother to refer to and I wonder now whether I was following the book or following her advice. She did not need patterns. She would look at them but she did not follow them.
I wonder now about that book. It was probably intended for teenage knitters but I wonder how many of them were put off by what was really just patterns originally written for experienced adult knitters - in a different form. 
Later I borrowed a book from the Children's Lending Service that was a little better but not much more realistic in terms of the amount of knitting - unless you count jumpers for teddy bears. I did not own a teddy bear.
The little knitter turned up. She had knitted a piece about 7cms wide and 20cms long. I showed her the book and told her she could borrow it. There was a "thankyou!" and a grin. She sat next to her mother and looked carefully through the book. 
      "I could do that...and that...and I can make that one...and.."
There were at least five projects that were possible. All of them would take less than a ball of wool. She looked up and grinned at me again and wriggled in excitement. 
After that she concentrated on adding a stripe to her knitting. 
Stripes are a good idea. You can see your knitting grow. 

Saturday, 23 March 2013

There were further

political shenanigans yesterday. They were not entirely unexpected. Several people resigned from their positions in Federal Parliament. 
I overheard one person here say, "Dummy spitting." It was not that. They had made it clear they did not support the Prime Minister. She said, "Consider your position." What she meant was "Go or I will make you go."
It just adds to the idiocy. She has now lost four experienced Ministers just months out from an election. They are of course, like the (non)contender, saying they support her 100%. She clearly does not support them. 
Parliament is now in recession for seven weeks. It is probably just as well. The atmosphere there must be poisonous at present. In seven weeks time it will still be bad but there might not be an implosion.
There will be four new Ministers having to learn a job. They will also know that, barring electoral miracles, they are likely to be in the job for only a very short period of time. Me? I think I would be inclined to tell the Boss I would prefer to concentrate on the needs of my electorate in the hope of actually having a job after the election. It would after all be my job to represent my electorate. That is what I what I would have been asked to do. That is what I would have agreed to do. I would be the servant of the electorate.
Oh yes, someone has to be responsible for education, defence, health, indigenous affairs, the environment, business etc etc but not one of the new kids on the block who needs to know their electorate like the back of their hand - and need to have a mighty big margin to cushion them.
Those who have resigned say they are intending to stay in politics. They say they are not planning to leave at election time. They expect to be back. I do not doubt they feel entirely comfortable with this decision. Some of them are in ultra "safe" seats. There could be a ten percent swing against them and they would remain there. 
The (non)contender for the top job has stated his intention to run again. He is even sufficiently popular in his own electorate that he could be comfortably returned.
That will make things very uncomfortable indeed. Nothing will change if the same senior faces are returned come election time -
and they might be. Those who lose their seats are likely to be the younger, newer, fresher faces who are hanging on by a thread. They might have done a good job but they won't be back.  
Of course the same will be true of the current Opposition. They might well win over those same seats by a narrow margin. Those who take up the role will be one-term wonders and then forgotten. 
It makes me glad I am not one of the team which has to redraw the electoral boundaries each time. I think it is going to be even more difficult than usual.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Contrary to the Prime Minister's

remarks the question of who should actually be Prime Minister of Australia has not come to an end. Oh yes, she was "not opposed" yesterday but she was the only candidate so the matter did not go to a vote. It does not mean that she is popular or that everyone wants her there. She is not and they do not.
Word has it around Canberra that even some of those who support dislike her intensely - but they know they will lose their own positions if they desert her. She is, from all accounts, now less popular than the man she ousted from power. 
Would Kevin Rudd like his old job back? Undoubtedly he would - but I suspect only if he believed he could lead the party to an election victory. The way things are looking at the moment that may not happen, indeed it seems rather unlikely. I doubt he would want to take the top job only to be kicked out again after the election because they lost. He might be happier to let Julia Gillard lose the election and then take over again. His position would be pretty secure then. He could simply stare his remaining colleagues down and say, "You lost because you did not have me as leader. Do you want to lose again?"
Of course if the internal polling suggests they are in with a fighting chance if they change leader then he might take the position on - or he might not. Whatever his thinking it was interesting that he did not run yesterday. It was claimed he did not have the numbers. I suspect that it may have been more complex than that. 
The other apparent loser is Simon Crean, the man who demanded the leadership spill. There are many questions being asked about his actions this morning but I wonder if his actions were really as foolish as they appeared to be. Yes, he has lost his Ministerial post. He's a powerful MP relegated to the backbench - for now. I do not like him or his too close association with the union movement but I have to admit I think he showed considerable courage. He gave his parliamentary colleagues the opportunity to excise a festering sore, to settle a matter which has been the subject of debate for too long now. He was telling them to get the leadership issue out of the way for good and concentrate on policy, governance and the upcoming election. They did not take his advice. Many of them may have cause to regret that.
Yesterday the Opposition Leader, in a move that would not have surprised anyone, tried to move a no-confidence motion. It did not succeed. You first to have to get a suspension of standing orders. They failed to get that by one vote but that alone should have been a warning to the government MPs to resolve the leadership issue. That they can ignore such warnings is remarkable - and foolish in the extreme.
It is said that the Leader of the Opposition will endeavour to bring on another no-confidence motion when parliament resumes on May 14th. If he does the outcome may well be the same as before. There is a Budget coming up. The government is not going able to bring in a surplus however they fudge the figures. We are deeply in debt. We are in no better shape than some of the struggling European economies. The government has simply not been able to govern because it has been a minority government from the start. It has promised much and, although it has appeared to deliver, much of that delivery will never come about. It is unfunded. 
We need an election sooner rather than later. Will the government survive until the election on September 14th. As one SBS correspondent told me yesterday, "Anything could happen."

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Writing applications for

research grants is one of those time consuming activities that most of the academics I know loathe. Oh yes the applications must be written and seen to be written. It takes a great deal of time to write an application for a research grant. It might well be wasted time too. You are competing with many other requests for precious research money so that you can do the research which will help you publish and thus promote your career rather than perish through lack of publications. It helps to know people, the right people, and know what is likely to appeal to those with the power to hand out the grants. Indeed it may be that knowing people and knowing what to say to them is everything. How else can some of the following grants from the Australian Research Council be explained?

The cultural economy of Australian artist-run initiatives which develop an  understanding of a diverse range of artists’ practices, including in relation to the National Broadband Network which  will contribute to policy development for a more vibrant Australian arts landscape ($320,906.00)

The NBN is very much a political issue so I suppose the opinion of artists is important - or is it. I am sure I could do the same research for about a tenth of the cost and that artists could have used the remaining $290,000 on materials to work on actual projects..
And then there is this one
Sexing scholasticism: gender in medieval thought 1150-1520 which is apparently about “medieval theological debates about why it was necessary that Christ was born as a man” so that someone can have “access to ideas about  masculinity and femininity held by the elite ruling cultures of western Europe” ($357,630.00). 
It seems to me that this must involve a lot of first class travel to visit libraries in Europe. Apparently internet resources for academics do not exist but the topic is surely of vital importance?  Not sure about that but suspect I could do the research for considerably less than that.
And then we balance that one out with another gender based project
How Gender Shapes The World: A Linguistic Perspective. This project will seek to understand and explain gender roles in Australian society, and in nearby nations. Emphasis is placed on training researchers with an immigrant or minority background, working towards the empowerment of women researchers. This will enhance our nation’s capacity to interpret and manage gender roles in multicultural contexts. TOTAL COST: $2,416,141.00
Oh right I suppose that gives female researchers some hope for the future - but only those from an immigrant or minority background.They will presumably be required to do research in immigrant and minority issues. Note this is not about "equality" but about managing gender roles in multicultural contexts. I think the emphasis may be in the wrong place but what do I know? I am sure I could do something for useful for less money.
Now I am surprised that this next one managed to get as far as consideration. It is, given the government's latest efforts, quite naughty - or perhaps they are hoping it will give them cause to close down sites like The Punch, Conversation, Crikey, the Online Forum, Menzies House etc . (I have tried to suggest a broad range of Australian sites.)
‘Mediating the Conversation‘ is an international study of how public participation is facilitated and regulated in online  news and opinion sites. It will evaluate approaches to managing comments and interaction, and will produce best  practice guidelines for news media on promoting inclusive, productive online conversations” ($364,950.00),
Someone is going to have fun reading all those sites - but many online junkies do that anyway and the applicant must realise that each site has its own unique bias and flavour which is unlikely to change without political interference in the media. 
But perhaps all these grants (and the many others that received money) can be explained by this one:
Revisiting the foundations of mainstream economics: a cooperative account of wellbeing and moral improvement” which “presents a major theoretical challenge to the individualistic definition of wellbeing that defines mainstream economics ($371,931.00)
It seems that Marxism is still very much alive and well and in receipt of research grants to rehash and promote the old theories about communism and cooperation.
Oh yes, I would like a research grant but my interests have nothing to do with gender or politics. I just want to help people communicate. It really is very naughty of me.
My thanks to the Virtual Quilter for alerting me to the new round of grants. I have ignored all the environmental ones. Naturally they were mostly about global warming.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

We may or we may not

have a new Prime Minister by the end of the week - perhaps by the end of the day - or so media speculation is telling us.
The government is "on the nose". It has been that way since the beginning. They "did a deal" with some "independents" and managed to retain power despite not having a majority of the votes. It is, we were told, "the way democracy works".
Recent polls have shown the government approval rating appears to be stuck at around thirty percent. The Prime Minister is still, on most occasions, the "preferred Prime Minister" but has actually slipped on one or two occasions as well. Government MPs are running scared. Shock and horror, some of them may lose their jobs.
Media speculation about a change of leadership? Oh yes it is just that. MPs support the Prime Minister. Or do they? We might "even go to an early election" despite the Prime Minister saying September 14th was the day.
A new Prime Minister might decide differently. There is speculation as to whether Kevin Rudd will get his old job back. Few doubt he would, despite protestations to the contrary, like to be back in the Lodge. His leadership style would not really change -however much he says he has managed to learn from past mistakes - but most of the time he is preferred to the Prime Minister.
Then there is Bill Shorten. Oh yes, he's done a lot for the disability sector - or has he? Analyse that NDIS legislation carefully. Nothing much is going to change. He has robbed Peter to pay Paul anyway....sleight of hand, shifting money around for political purposes. He's good at that. Problem is that his mother-in-law happens to be the Governor-General and some people might think that was getting a little too cosy.
And now they are suggesting Simon Crean might take the job. Ah yes, the union man - very much the union man. The union movement runs Labor. They see it as their right. After all, they set the Labor Party up. They still have fifty percent of the votes at the party conference although they now represent about 14% of the non-government workforce - and about 17% of the government workforce. Never mind the numbers though they have the right to be there, dictate policy and make demands - and they do.
Will they just go with the person they think can win them the election despite the polls - or the person who will cause the least loss of seats? They can always ditch them once the election is over. It might not be popular with the people but really, do the voters matter?
Nobody really knows what is going on - except that those with the power to do so will jump whichever way will help them retain power or gain power and keep the government in power. The decisions which are made in the next little while will have very little to do with what is good for the country.
I am glad it is not my responsibility although - wait a moment - I have a vote. Oh.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

There was a fiery exchange

between Senator Doug Cameron and several media moguls yesterday. The media moguls had arrived in Canberra to front up to the Senate committee looking at the media legislation.
Let it be said here that I like Senator Cameron's accent but I do not think I would like the man if I met him. He's a powerful man. He was a union man - and still is at heart. His sympathies lie with the union movement rather than the rest of the population. He is not one to see the wider picture if he can get away with supporting old mates.
I have not had dealings with Senator Cameron but I have had dealings with other Senators - of all shades from all sides of politics. I have some idea of how they work. I know something of the constraints they work under and I can sympathise - sometimes.
I also have my doubts about the media moguls. They are also powerful people. They no doubt make good friends and powerful enemies. I have never had dealings with them although I have had frequent dealings with their underlings - the journalists who supply news for public consumption.
Please note I said "news for public consumption". There is sometimes a vast difference between what is going on and what journalists are able to tell the public - or wish them to know. Journalists do work under constraints. It may not seem like that but they do.
The behaviour of the phone hacking journalists is not something I will ever be able to condone. I cannot condone their invasion of privacy into the lives of ordinary people - or the rich and famous. I am simply not interested in stories about drug taking, wild partying, the son of the MP for Wherever getting a speeding fine or the fact that the partner of the MP for Whatever runs a business from home. None of that is my business. If the law is being broken that is the business of the law. It is not my affair. Kidnapping, rape and murder become my business only if the police believe they need public assistance.
What the government does however is my business. I have a vote. I use it. My attendance at the ballot box is required by law. Once I am there I choose to use my vote. I want to know what politicians are doing. I want to know where taxpayer dollars are going. I want to know why they are doing what they are doing.
I am not, like some people, a political junkie but I do try to take an intelligent interest.
That is where the problem with the government's proposed "Public Interest Media Advocate" lies. It is an attempt to curb still further the flow of information to journalists. It is an attempt to prevent them from doing their job and reporting on the news as they see it.
Yes, there is bias in the media. It is denied but it is plainly there. Our Australian Broadcasting Commission is accused of being "left". So is our Special Broadcasting Service. The Murdoch group is accused of being "right" and the Fairfax group "left". The reality is much more complex of course. There are journalists with left and right sympathies in all. There is editorial policy that dictates a certain line will be taken.
Despite all the claims however there is a very diverse range of views and opinions to be found in the media - and that diversity is increasing all the time. If you want to go news hunting, want the other side of the story then you can go looking for it - and sometimes it will be there staring you in the face like yesterday's fiery exchange.
We are in danger of losing that sort of thing. Journalists would simply be constrained. The news would be there but it would be bland. There would be no probing. Those in positions of power would not be held to account. Sites where people can express their opinions would be reduced to pale ghosts of their former selves and the Letters to the Editor pages would be reduced to comments about the first cuckoo.
I don't think the legislation will pass. It may not even be put before the House now. We all need to know though how close we came to losing the right to make ourselves heard.

Monday, 18 March 2013

While the Senior Cat was out

yesterday I took the opportunity to do something which I should have done long ago. I cleared out the linen press or linen cupboard.
This had not, I am ashamed to say, been done since my mother died in 2000. I have no idea when she did it before that.
It is perhaps not quite as bad as it sounds because the Senior Cat and I used the same things over and over again and just ignored the rest. They were stacked and stored quite neatly. They were not getting dirty or dusty. Why bother?
I am always reluctant to do anything like that when the Senior Cat is home. He hates to see anything that belonged to my mother thrown out - or anything that "might be useful" given away. I am a little less sentimental. I like to think of things we will never use being used by other people. My mother and I often disagreed but, on that issue, we would agree.
I also knew that it was time to remove one of the disgraceful hand towels the Senior Cat likes to use when washing the gardening soil from his paws. It has very little drying power left. There are holes in it. He has insisted on using it to the point of destruction. There are other things which can be used.
So, I pulled things from the shelves. I piled them neatly on the floor. I found no less than five damask tablecloths. The last time they were used must have been in my grandmothers' day. They both had large dining room tables. If we have guests I use one of two wash and drip-dry minimum iron table cloths. Why have we kept them?
I went through the sheets and discarded one with a tear in it. Even if I had access to a machine and could sew it would not be worth going sides to middle. There were two pillow cases that should have gone out long ago. Ah right, two new sheets. I knew they were there but now they might get used.
I went through piles of old serviettes, doilies, table runners, an antimacassar or two, ancient tea-towels with holes in them that could have been used as cleaning rags, ragged towels and a pile of oven gloves which would be useless for trying to hold anything hot.
I went and found one of those large black plastic bags which are used for rubbish. I filled it with things we did not need. Someone else will use it.
And I found two things I had forgotten were there. There is a doll called "Betty". It/she belonged to my mother. I have never found this doll very attractive but then I was never a "doll" sort of child. It is, I suppose, quite valuable. It is still in remarkably good repair, just one small finger has broken. The hair is intact. There are no proper clothes for it. I know it is as old as Queen Elizabeth. My mother was given it the day the Queen was born. I wrapped it up and put it  back. It is not something you can give away.
And the other thing? It  is my mother's wedding dress. It is plain cream satin with a "sweetheart" neckline. It was not fancy. It was home-made. My mother's parents had very little money. My middle sister wore it too. In those days she was as slim as my mother had been when she married. I packed it carefully into the wrappings and put it back. Will it ever be used again?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

There was a trestle table

in the meeting hall. It was loaded with the sort of "might be useful" things that only people with an all consuming interest in creating things can collect over their life time.
One of the members of the knitting guild had received a phone call earlier in the week. An old man had finally packed the craft materials  belonging to his late and much beloved wife. She would, he had told the stranger at the other end of the phone, want them used. He had found the contact number in the phone book. Would the guild be interested in having them?
That sort of thing happens from time to time. Sometimes what is passed on is of very little actual value. It is sorted. If it can be sold it will be sold to guild members and the money passed to charity. Sometimes it is passed to charity. People will finish half knitted garments and pass them on too. The rule is that, unless stated by the donor, no money must be made for the guild. The guild is a not for profit organisation but it is not a charity.
So the guild member went off a considerable distance and picked up the bags and boxes the old man had packed and brought them back. She brought them to the guild yesterday and they were put out on a trestle table.
She had been an old woman and she had preserved a great many things. There were things there that had belonged to her mother and that she had also kept carefully.
          "Come and have a look Cat," I was told as I went in. Other people were hovering around. They were picking up items, turning them over, exclaiming at the fine nature of some of the half finished work.
Knowing what was expected of me I looked through the books and patterns which were there to see if there was anything suitable for the guild's library. There rarely is but this time there was one book, a little out of date but one of those useful reference books when someone asks for information on how to do something. I passed it over to someone else who also knows something about books. Yes, it would be an idea to keep that one.
There were patterns too. We do not keep individual patterns or pattern booklets in the guild library. There is no space for that sort of thing. There was a thick pile of patterns from the sixties and the seventies that nobody was likely to use.
There were also some pre-war patterns, some dating back to the twenties. They were seen by most as objects of curiosity rather than anything else. I find them fascinating as historical documents. There was a pattern for a knitted "corset cover" in one. My grandmothers wore corsets but even they did not have knitted corset covers. I rescued some of those. On my way home I dropped them into a young student who is working on a fine arts thesis in pre-WWII pattern writing.
People went on poking around in bags of zippers and lace and old "ric-rac" braid, cotton and crochet cotton, half finished pieces of tatting and crochet, needles and a pair of folding scissors. There were neat twists of left over embroidery cotton and two unfinished book marks. There was some cheap fluffy yellow yarn which someone took saying "Just the thing for Easter chicks".
And so it went on.
Someone passed me a commercially produced folder of press studs, hooks and eyes, needles and the like.  Could we pop that in the cupboard with the spare knitting needles? I can remember both my grandmothers owning such things and perhaps my mother did as well. I opened it to see how much was left.
Something fell out. I picked it up. It was a small photograph of a young woman. She is smiling. I turned it over and there is a name on the back, the name of the woman to whom this all belonged. We will post it back to the old man with our thanks to him - and to her.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Whirlwind has informed me

we are heading for the local charity shop this morning. It is the third Saturday of the month so the place will be open. (It is open on both the first and third Saturdays.)
When I asked why she said there was a "fancy dress thing" at school and she has to be shearer. "I need a hat because it is going to be outside.There might be a hat there."
It is a reasonable assumption - although I know she is thinking it will be an excuse to prowl around the bookroom as well.
Why, I asked the Whirlwind, had she chosen to be a shearer? It did not sound in the least like her.
"It's what the teachers said I had to be. It's better than being a bushranger like Tilly or a kangaroo or something like that."
It is as well they did not tell the Whirlwind she had to be a bushranger. She would likely have refused to cooperate. She has no time for Ned Kelly and his associates.
I asked her what else she was wearing. "My Dad's old gardening stuff and the garden shears - but don't worry I'll tie them up tight so they won't hurt anyone." Right. She does think about those things.
I can remember being dressed as a rabbit when I was a very small child. There is a picture of me somewhere in the costume. It must have been borrowed from somewhere because my mother would never have made it.
I have the vaguest memories of "hopping" around the floor on all four paws with a number of other very small children. I also remember my brother wearing a similar costume a couple of years later although his was a tiger. I remember this because the tail came off.
Some years after that I had to go to yet another event at school which required "fancy dress". My grandfather had a large cardboard box in his tailoring shop. He brought it back with the suggestion we could do something with it because it was circular. My grandmother helped me paint it red and I went to the event as a "letter box". It was not a terribly comfortable costume. I could not sit down!
I have memories of the usual cowboys, Indians, ballet dancers, witches and animals at that event - but no other letter box.
And then I had another thought,
        "If you are a shearer do you need a sheep?"
        "No, some of the little kids will be sheep. I'm glad I'm not a little kid anymore. You will come and look won't you?"
I wouldn't miss it for anything!

Friday, 15 March 2013

So they have

a new leader do they? 
I am not a Catholic. I was baptised Presbyterian and brought up a mixture of mostly Presbyterian, some "Christian Science", Methodist, Lutheran and Church of England thrown into the mix. My father was/is the Presbyterian although he normally attends the local Church of England service. My mother was a Christian Scientist. In rural areas where there was neither church we went to the Methodist church. We lived next door to a Lutheran church in one rural location and I can remember all four of us children being "borrowed" one Sunday before Christmas to be part of a nativity tableau. 
My father was a lay preacher for the Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of England. I suspect the rules were relaxed for the latter simply so that people could have a church service of some sort. If my father was preaching people tended to travel long distances. He was, teacher style, entertaining. The children's part of the service usually featured a puppet. (Yes, there was a moral of some sort attached to the homily.)
One of the schools I attended later was Lutheran too. We were expected to attend church twice on Sunday and chapel every morning. 
I have since attended Catholic, Baptist, Church of Christ and Quaker services for one reason or another. I have also been to a synagogue, a mosque and a Buddhist temple. I would go to any of those places again if asked to do so. Other people's beliefs do not bother me - as long as they do not try to tell me what to believe.
I wonder how I would get along with the new Pope Francis. I rather like the idea of a man who uses public transport. You can meet people that way. You can observe them and talk to them on a much more casual basis. (Let's face it, most people would not know who you are.) 
I know that Pope Francis and I would not see eye-to-eye on all issues by any means but I wonder if we could agree to disagree? Unlike some I will not criticise him for "failure to act" over some issues. I suspect those criticising him for this are really saying, "He did not prevent this happening. He did not solve the problem." Well, it is not always possible to prevent something from happening. It is not always possible to solve a problem. Speaking out publicly can sometimes exacerbate a problem. Do we know what he perhaps did behind the scenes? Probably not. He has to live with his conscience on those issues and would his critics have done better - or even as much? Possibly not. 
I suspect he feels very lonely right now - and he will go on feeling lonely. It is a lonely job and a very difficult one. No wonder he preferred to share a mini-bus with his cardinals. I think I would too.
He will not be able to keep all that up. The demands of his office will not allow it. He must know that.
But, there has to be some hope for a man who likes to cook his own meals. I hope they let him do that sometimes.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Anyone who doubts the desire

of any government to control the media - or at least what the media has to say about them - is, I suspect, living in some sort of fantasy land.
Rumours and speculation are rife at present. "If" and "but" and "maybe" and the usual attempts to bribe the independent MPs whose vote is critical to the success of the legislation are all being waved around. There has even been the suggestion that the government does not want the legislation to succeed because they want to be able to blame some sections of the media and suggest that all the criticism levelled at them is unjustified.  Sorry, that one won't wash. All governments need to be held to account.
Inevitably the topic came up at a meeting yesterday. Disability issues are usually presented as "human interest" stories by the media. It is easier to write a "tug at the heart strings" story and get people to read it than it is to have the general public face unpalatable facts about hardship, lack of support and services, and the real psychological, social and emotional distress faced by many people who live with disabilities or have family members with disabilities. 
Would it, I was asked, make it harder or easier to write such stories if the legislation was passed? My answer was, "I don't know but I think it might be even more difficult to get such stories into the media and you know what the consequences of that could be."
There will be less space for such things because, contrary to what is being stated, there will be less diversity and greater control if the measures succeed and remain there. They will have even less room to be critical of government services - or the lack of them. 
This is sometimes difficult for outsiders to understand. If you are dependent on outside assistance for something as vital as getting up in the morning or getting your child to school then making a complaint is a risky business - even if you are highly articulate. Many people with disabilities are not highly articulate. They often rely on others to speak for them. The efficacy of advocacy varies. It does not always reflect the needs and interests of an individual or even a group - but the interests of the advocate themselves. They may advocate passionately for a cause. They may even hold an honest belief that it is the best thing for everyone. The problem is that this does not take into account the need for a diverse range of solutions for a very diverse group of individuals.  
We already have a lack of diversity in the reporting of disability issues because of such advocacy. The media is also bound by political correctness and the need to abide by "equal opportunity" legislation that often works in unintended and damaging ways. 
The current proposals to reduce media independence will leave less room for stories which criticise government services of any sort. Stories critical of disability services will be even less likely to be heard. 
The end result might well be a further reduction in disability services. It will be an unintended consequence of the proposed legislation. I doubt it is a consequence that will concern the government.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Controlling the media

is back on the government's agenda again. 
The measures announced yesterday by Senator Conroy are, in anyone's book, unacceptable. If brought in they would effectively hand control of the media to the government - who could then use the measures to restrict the capacity of journalists to do their job and also restrict the free flow of information internally.
It would, unless they put in a Chinese style firewall, be impossible to restrict information coming in from outside the country. Could that happen? Some scaremongering individuals have suggested it. I doubt it.
It would however make it much more difficult for people to get information in a compact reliable form from sources close to the action. It is difficult to imagine what the Press Gallery in Canberra would be like. 
I  do not doubt however that the present government would like to see much greater control of the media and so would their partners "The Greens".  It is because the Greens hold the balance of power that the "inquiry" took place to begin with. They believe they have reason to loathe the media, that the media is "against" them and determined to give them an unjustified and unjustifiable hard time. Oh yes, they have been criticised - sometimes severely. Some of their views are left of the left wing of the Labor Party. Some of their policies are, to put it kindly, impractical. 
The Greens however wield power which is greatly disproportionate to the number of votes they gained at the last election. They may have "broken the alliance" with the government and "torn up the agreement" with the government but it makes no practical difference. They believe the legislation does not go far enough. Others, from the centre and right of politics believe it goes too far.
At least one independent has expressed doubts about it.
The government is, once again, behaving like a child who is losing the game it is playing. It wants to change the rules to suit themselves, so that they can be sure of winning. 
Put the proposed rules in place now and their chances of winning the next election increase dramatically - and they are already in a position to win if they handle things carefully.
I was given another oblique warning to curb my own comments the other day. I was - mildly - critical of the government's proposed literacy policy for schools. Just after the letter was published I had the not unexpected call from a stranger "advising" me of the error of my ways. It amuses me that they believe anything I write has so much influence - but perhaps every little negative counts if you want people to believe you are losing and that the rules of the game are unfair. 
Good sense may prevail and the necessary legislation may not pass. 
If it does not pass then we still need to be vigilant because the very fact that such legislation can be contemplated shows our freedom to speak is at risk.
If it does pass it may be the end of more than press freedom to report - perhaps even the end of blogs like this one.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

I suppose they might call it an

accident but it is almost certainly suicide.
At 4am yesterday morning one of our neighbours drove his car at a considerable speed into a very large and very solid gum tree on the main road not far from us.  He did not survive.
I do not think he intended to survive. He had lung cancer and it had spread to other places. He could barely speak because of the damage to his vocal chords. He was severely underweight - and, despite the best efforts of his sister-in-law, he was still losing weight. He knew his time was limited. He had no energy. He had just lost his best friend, a small and very elderly dog.
His brother had gone to get him from interstate - where he had been living alone on an isolated property. The idea was that he would have more treatment here but nothing was working. He was told the cancer had not spread further but there was of course always the possibility that it would.
His brother brought him over and introduced him when they arrived and we made him welcome.His brother and sister-in-law are good neighbours. They are quiet but friendly. They are ready to help others. We share garden produce with them. They are the third people on my father's emergency number list if I am absent. It is typical of them that they should have opened their home to a student from another country. She lived with them for a number of years and calls them by the names for grandparents in her own country. They consider her part of the family. 
They would have taken in their brother and brother-in-law without hesitation
Every day was an effort for him and for his brother and sister-in-law. They could have done no more than they did, indeed they did far more than many families would do. He lived with them for the last short part of his life.
He was a gentleman, quiet, very polite and courteous. If you asked how he was getting on he would always respond positively.
He would not have seen his suicide, and it had to be that, for the ultimately selfish act it was. He would, I think, have believed that he was being just the opposite. He would have believed he was relieving his brother and sister-in-law of the burden of caring for him.
I was uneasy when I went out to get the papers early this morning. His car was not parked in the usual place in the street. I knew he was not well enough to have gone anywhere except to hospital. 
Some time later two police cars arrived. They were there for nearly three hours. His niece and nephew and their partners arrived. So did another relative.
I was not watching any of this in particular just going about some long overdue clearing up and putting out the rubbish ready for collection. It was impossible not to notice something happening directly opposite. I had heard the bang and then the sirens in the night anyway. I had no sense of foreboding until I saw the car was not there and I "knew" without knowing exactly what had happened when the police arrived.
We feel distressed for our neighbours but it can be nothing compared with their distress. Yes, it doesn't matter what anyone says, they are going to feel some sense of guilt. Did they do enough? What else could they have done? There are no answers to such questions. 
Now I am trying to understand, yet again, the utter despair which must be there to drive someone to even contemplate that sort of action. Was he in so much pain that life had become unbearable?  Was there nothing else he wanted to do or say or listen to? Was there nothing else he wanted to share - or have shared with him? 
Was life just too much of an effort?
I don't understand and I don't ever want to be in the position where I do understand. I suppose that is selfish too.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Someone asked me yesterday

whether the Falkland Islands should be returned to Argentina.
I am not sure they were ever taken away in the first place. If they were then there must be some evidence other than the "they belong to us" argument. I am not sure what that evidence is but it might be a matter for discussion in a place like the International Court in The Hague.
Might. I doubt Argentina will want that - or that Argentinians would be prepared to abide by the decision unless it went their way. The British might abide by it but my guess is that they would remove all Falklanders to the UK and take or destroy anything of value. The Argentinians would then be left with some islands and only the possibility of oil. They would need international assistance for exploration. They do not, to the best of my knowledge, have the money or the expertise to go it alone.
The reason I was asked the question was because the Falklanders are holding a referendum on the issue. The Argentinians say the referendum is "illegal". It is not. Even if the Falklands do end up belonging to Argentina the referendum cannot be illegal. I doubt Argentina has a law which says you cannot ask a group of people their opinion about something. The Argentinians also say the Falklanders are "implants" which makes me wonder what they would do if they did succeed in getting the Falklands (or Los Malvinas as they call them). Would they say the Falklanders were suddenly Argentinian or would they throw them out? There are actually a lot of difficult and complex issues surrounding the problem.
I suspect the result of the referendum is a foregone conclusion. The Falklanders do not want to be Argentinian.
Australia has referenda from time to time. Some have been passed with an overwhelming majority. Most of them have failed. The bar is high - and so it should be. To pass a referendum question has to have the agreement of a majority of voters in a majority of the states.
The questions which are asked are often simple. The issues which surround the question however may be very complex indeed. Voters often see an issue as something which is black or white when in fact it can be many complex shades of grey. 
I think one of the things which bothers me about voting in a general election or on a referendum issue is that we are making a decision not just about the present situation but about the future as well. The government we vote in will have an impact on the future. The referendum questions we answer will shape our future too. In a sense we are trying to imagine what our future will be like if we make one choice over another.
I wonder how many people think of that. 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Just after I had written

yesterday's blog post I had an e-mail from the daughter of a friend in England. It contained the not unexpected news my friend had died. She had cancer.I knew it was coming but I sat at the computer and wept. This was harder to take than the loss of Nan. Yes, Nan was a good friend but not close in the way Eileen was.
"Remember her kindly," her daughter asked.Yes. That won't be difficult.
I had known her for a very long time. We went to university together in London. She was a mature age student with a husband and two teenage daughters. They owned two dogs who had. I think, been awarded prizes at Crufts. Certainly they were shown there.
When I met Eileen I was barely old enough to be there in London at all. I was 20,000 miles from home. I was not homesick but I was still frightened. I was very frightened. It is unlikely that anyone knew what a huge step it was for me to be there at all. But perhaps Eileen sensed something because, without making a fuss about it, she let me know she was available if I needed help or advice about living in a new country.
Living in London was not so very different from living in the city I live in now - in some ways. In other ways it was very different indeed. I managed all the everyday things without too much trouble. The Hall of Residence was not too far from where I had most of my lectures. It did not take long to learn the layout of the Underground and I soon learned how to use the escalators and the maze of tunnels. I even managed to get on and off the buses, something of an achievement for me. Of course most of the time there was a conductor and I was safe enough. I did other things I had never done before too. Often though Eileen was there somewhere in the background never interfering but always available.
      "Catch the number "x" bus and you won't have to cross a road because it goes around...." Eileen told me quietly one day. I appreciated such advice.
The course I was doing involved a number of school visits. Eileen did not travel from the same point as I did because she was living in the suburbs but she always checked that I knew where we were going and how I was getting there. She invited me into her home and we would often eat lunch together.
Eventually I left to return to what she always referred to as "the Antipodes" with a regret I have never overcome. I did not want to come back here. I would still rather be there. I did go back of course although it took several years to get there. Eileen was there for me again. She knew I had grown up (at least a little) but she still made herself available.  She was head of a school by then but still willing to find the time to listen. She called me "my little Antipodean friend".
Of course I had to come back here again and I have not been able to go back since although I have tried on numerous occasions. All through the ups and downs of my life Eileen was there. There were cards at Christmas and witty notes in between. When she finally got a computer and e-mail we "talked:" more frequently.  I knew her husband was growing frail and I sensed she was not well either. She thought it was "just the stress of looking after him" but an MRI in January this year showed otherwise. I think she suspected it. I had what turned out to be the last e-mail from her a couple of days later. The doctors had given her six months. In typical style she told me that she had told her family she did not want "flowers or cards or fuss or God". I sent a not fussy hug back and refrained from writing anything that amounted to a fuss. In typical style she did not hang around. It was time to go so she went.
I'll miss her desperately. But I did tell her I loved her - and I am very glad I did. I was lucky to know her.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Why is it we expect our

friends to live forever?
There is a death notice for my old friend Nan in today's paper. She used to live on my regular pedalling route although we had met in the library. When her husband died I somehow took over the "small errands" role. That was almost twenty years ago. It meant I would do things like take a prescription to the chemist or pick up a litre of milk. Sometimes we would just talk if I happened to be passing and she was working in her garden. 
Nan liked to talk.
I did not mind listening. She had lived an interesting and varied life. Because of her husband's work she had lived abroad in some interesting places - Libya, Turkey and Ethiopia were her favourites. She had a passion for archaeology.
Nan had trained as a botanist. There is at least one plant named after her - at the age of eighty-two. I found that out from her daughter. Nan's reaction was, "Oh that's not important. It's just something new I happened to find."
Yes, but you need to be able to recognise these things and know what you are looking at. Her eye for detail, for small things that other people often miss, was out of the ordinary. 
"Look!' she would tell me and produce something which had excited her. 
And Nan read. She read a lot. Her television set was rarely turned on. If there was a documentary that looked interesting she would try it out but then she would go back to reading. She kept telling me there was so much to learn.
At ninety Nan learned how to use a computer and then it was hard to keep her away from the screen and the endless possibilities for finding out more about the things that fascinated her. 
She had a fall in the local shopping centre and her family decided it was no longer safe for her to be alone at home. She grumbled to me and probably to her other friends but said nothing to her family.
I am not sure the nursing home staff knew what to make of her. One of them once said to me,
      "She's like a kid who is always asking "why" something."
I had to smile at that. Nan had once told me, "I never want to grow up dear. I might have to grow old but it doesn't mean I have to grow up."
I am going to miss my "young" friend.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Yesterday was World Book Day

so I prowled off to my local indie bookshop and bought not one but four books...picture books.
I bought two for birthdays which occur this month. The first was "Mulga Bill's Bicycle". If you live in another part of the world you may not know the poem by AB (Banjo) Paterson but most Australian children learn about it in school. (There was a time when they would have memorised it but that is less common now.) The poem tells the story of an arrogant man who gives up his horse and buys a penny-farthing bicycle - which he proceeds to try and ride with disastrous consequences. 
Of course it is the illustrations by Kilmeny and Deborah Niland which make this version so funny. It will appeal to the parents of the intended recipient as well as the recipient herself.
Her brother is getting "The tiger who came to tea" by Judith Kerr. There is a smaller, rather battered copy of the book in this house. My nephews loved it when they were small - "even though it's a girl and not a boy"! They would make "tiger food" from malted milk powder and a chocolate drink known as "Milo" - and then eat it themselves.
I also bought the Ahlberg's wonderful "Peepo" - and yes it is one of the best picture books ever. The wealth of detail in the illustrations and the delightful anticipation of wondering what is behind that small round hole on alternate pages make for one of the glorious anticipatory experiences in reading even for an adult.
I know all of these books well. They have all been around for many years.
I did not know the last book I bought - although I had been told about it. I had been waiting for the bookshop to get it in. It is "Out of the Egg" by Tina Matthews (Walker Books). It is a retelling of the story of "The Little Red Hen" - with a twist to the tale that turns it into something very special indeed. I won't spoil the surprise if you have not read it - but, believe me, you should.
I brought them home and handed them over to the rather flat Senior Cat. The seemingly endless hot weather is not merely frustrating him but sapping his energy. 
He sat at the kitchen table and read all four books. He can still recite Mulga Bill (and a good many other poems). He remembered the Tiger and Peepo and was delighted by the twist to the Little Red Hen story.  
         "Oh, look at this!....I had forgotten that.... Remember this one... And the coal, children would not know what that was now...oh yes, tiger food....You can't even see the spokes in the wheels he is going so fast..."
The Senior Cat is 90. There were far fewer books around when he was very young. I am glad he has lived long enough to enjoy them. You are never too old for a good picture book.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

I am really beginning to

wonder at the sanity of our urban planners. Regular readers of my prowling and growling will remember my concerns about the expense of relocating a pre-school because of the danger posed by some trees. Oh yes, the trees were worthy of millions of dollars worth of expenditure. 
We have a little more madness today. There is a square in the middle of our fair city. It has been the subject of much debate over the years, as has the entire layout of the city. Unlike most cities ours was planned - or the CBD was. Colonel Light set out two neat square miles with cross grids of streets and the squares intended for public space.  And, as I said, one of these is in the centre of the area which is the CBD. Right. 
There is a road around the square and a road through the centre. There is a tram line down one side. There are buses. There is a fountain - and a statue of Queen Victoria. The main court buildings are one two sides along with other government offices.
From time to time things get moved. Someone decides that the square is not functional or that something else is wrong. Now they are doing things again.
In the process of doing things again they are planning to move one tree. It is the second time this tree, now fourteen years old, will have been moved. (Six years ago it had to be moved for the redirection of the tram line.)
Cost? One hundred thousand dollars. (Yes, $100,000.) This is for one tree. They plan to take it out and put it in the parklands about a kilometre away.
The reason? This tree is "significant" - but only because it has reached a certain size. 
Well, I am sorry but I would rather see a thousand trees planted in the parklands. The parklands could use a thousand trees. They would do far more good to the environment and for the natural habitat than one tree which may not even survive being moved.
Oh yes, the planners are going to put more trees into other places in the square - the wrong sort of trees according to more than one arboriculturist. Oh yes, they are putting in native gums. Native gums should never be put in an urban environment. They are, quite simply, dangerous. They shed bark and other detritus all year round. They lose limbs. 
At some point in the future there will be the expense of moving the gums too. 
The planners can see the trees but they cannot see the forest. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

One of our state

politicians has just made himself the focus of attention by taking on a three day a week job with a major law firm. 
This politician is "retiring" at the next election and is clearly looking to the future. He has been a Minister in the past. I have had dealings with his office. It is one of the few occasions on which I have welcomed union interference. (The representative told him the situation of which I had complained was dangerous - it was - and that the union would go out on strike unless the simple, cost free solution proposed by me was put in place immediately.) He was not too happy about it - or pleased with me.
If someone is not able to cope with something as simple as that I wonder how on earth the same person believes they can cope with being a full time politician and a part time lawyer. Are they 1.6 people to begin with? I doubt it.
Being a politician should be a full time job. If you are not talking with and working for your electorate you should be. There should be no time for a three day a week job elsewhere. If there is then you are simply not doing your job properly.  
I am not suggesting that politicians should be prevented from taking on occasional outside work. Sometimes that must be a very good thing. An unpaid directorship of an organisation or business can be very useful. It can keep you in touch with what is going on. If it is on the register of political interests and you remove yourself from the decision making process should something come up then it must be a very good thing indeed. 
It rarely works like that of course. Just "endorsing the product" (in this case the company or organisation) can be a problem. There will always be the suggestion that you are being "paid" in some way or other. Politicians are expected to give up the lot - even long term investments. Apart from their own homes a politician should own nothing of any substantial value - or so the fickle public would have them believe.
That is ridiculous of course. Some of our politicians are very wealthy people. They have wealthy spouses too. Many of them do have share portfolios - although they will claim to have them at a distance and managed by others. They own "family run" farms and businesses. It is of course often how they get into politics in the first place.
But taking on a three day a week job twelve months out from "retirement" as a politician is something else. It is thumbing your nose at your electorate. It is telling them, "You don't matter to me any more. It's a safe seat. You will vote the same way again. You will have representation again after next year's election. I am looking after my own interests."
I wonder though at the ethics of the law firm which has employed him.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

There was a note on the

kitchen table when I returned home yesterday. "Please ring...."
The Senior Cat had taken the message while I was out. He had not taken any other message. The person who wanted me to return the call needed to speak to me as well. 
I went and reported my return to the Senior Cat and said I would return the call. 
The number was engaged. I tried an alternate number. Nobody was answering that. I went on trying throughout the day. It was fairly clear by then that the phone had been taken off the hook. I had no idea whether it was deliberate or accidental. 
It was much too warm to pedal over to the home in question. It would have taken about twenty-five minutes to get there. If something was seriously wrong then I thought I would hear soon enough.
At five-thirty in the afternoon the phone rang. Yes their phone had been off the hook and no it was not urgent although she did need some advice. I gave her the name of the person she needed to see but it was clear that there was something else wrong. Why had the phone been off the hook? 
There have been occasions when the Senior Cat has accidentally failed to put the receiver back properly after answering or making a call. The result has been no incoming calls - until I have checked and rectified the matter. He hates it when he does something like that. 
For my caller however it was a different matter. Her sister had deliberately taken the phone off the hook at the extension in her bedroom. She "did not want to be disturbed". 
Her sister is a not well controlled diabetic who believes she can handle her diabetes and who refuses to listen to medical advice. The result is that, much more frequently than she should, she has had episodes of low blood sugar. When these occur she becomes irritable, moody and even violent. It is impossible to reason with her. She refuses to take in any food or drink to alleviate the symptoms. On two occasions in the last three months she has been taken to hospital in a semi-conscious state. 
Taking the phone off the hook yesterday was all part of this. Even if we point out to her yet again that this is dangerous it will make no difference. She will merely point out that her sister dealt with the situation, that there was "nothing to worry about" and that "these things happen occasionally".
I think there is something to worry about because her behaviour is causing problems for other people as well. The last time it happened the Whirlwind, who also knows them both, said, "But she's not being fair - like people who smoke or people who get drunk and end up hurting someone else."
How do you explain this sort of behaviour to a child with a very strong ideas about what is right and what is wrong? 

Monday, 4 March 2013

Australians do not choose

their Prime Minister. We go into an election with all parties having a party leader. The assumption is that the party which wins the election will choose their party leader as Prime Minister. There is no requirement for them to do this.
It is a simple enough fact although many Australians seem to be unaware of it. It is also one which the media conveniently ignores. How else could they have fun with those endless public polls about the "preferred Prime Minister"? 
Those public polls are designed to stir things up. There are other public polls that appear from time to time too. They are also designed to stir things up and remind people of the existence of an issue - or a non-issue. 
There are favourite topics like "should Australia become a republic" and "should we reinstate the death penalty". These get aired from time to time. Polling companies will get paid to do the public poll. If the poll goes the way those asking want then much will be made of the results. If the poll does not go the way those asking want then little or even nothing will be made of it. 
The questions in public polls are carefully designed too. If those asking for the poll to be undertaken want a certain outcome then it is possible to ask the question in a way which will encourage people to give the answer the pollster has been asked to get.
I have no doubt that someone like Roy Morgan, a man I once met briefly, would deny all this. So would his fellow pollsters. They are the public face of public polling. They claim it is possible to do a "random" sample of 1400 people and extrapolate it to the wider population.  They claim the questions are carefully designed to ensure that the answers are "not suggestive". Perhaps.
Just asking people to answer the question put to them and then announcing the results is designed to influence. For months now there have been polls asking about the preferred Prime Minister. Those asking were not too concerned while the government was on top and the Prime Minister had a sometimes double-digit lead over the Leader of the Opposition. When the situation was suddenly reversed there was a flurry of new polling. Phew! All would be well as long as the Government reinstates the previous Prime Minister. Much could be made of that. Or can it?
These polls make trouble. If we do not vote for the party leaders - and we don't - then this is a distraction from the government conducting the business of government and the opposition keeping an eye on the government. 
Perhaps we need a new poll. Should the leader of a political party be chosen by the elected members or by the electorate as a whole? How many people would think the elected members need to have someone they can work with? And how naughty of me to ask that last question.