Monday, 30 September 2013

Yesterday a local idiot

was disturbing the Sunday peace and using a chainsaw.  One of the neighbours complained about this when I went, cautiously, outside to try and find out what was going on.
The neighbour had been around to investigate. He came across and told me who it was and what he was doing.
It did not surprise me but it did disgust me. The chainsaw user is a man who talks long and often (I will not say "incessantly" as that would not be true) about the need for everyone to be concerned about global warming. It is one of his pet themes of conversation, along with the iniquities of the new Federal government, waste of taxpayer monies, council rates and a few other things. I am sure most people know someone like him.
Yes, he is concerned about global warming, very concerned. He is so concerned about it that he protests. He writes letters. He demands to see his local and federal MPs about the issue.
At the same time he lives in an environment that I would, until this weekend, have called "almost sterile". His back yard is, according the people who live either side of him "paved" with artificial lawn.
His front yard has a few struggling dusty "natives" and the tree. The tree was, like many in the district, a jacaranda.  In full flower they are magnificent. Their purple lace against the rough grey-brown of the bark and the blue of the sky is something that people take the time to photograph. There are several long streets you can look down and see one jacaranda after another. The roads and footpaths are paved with purple. The air is filled with a faint but definite odour of honey.  
Oh yes, jacarandas drop flowers and pods and other bits and pieces. They make a mess. Most people love the mess. It says "spring" and "summer is on the way". The flowers never last long, a few weeks at the most. The pods are more of a nuisance but they can be handled and most people are more than happy to deal with them.
But no, he is not happy to deal with them. We should be rid of all jacarandas. He is "campaigning" for this. So far nobody has taken any notice of this.
His wife has wanted to keep the jacaranda. She would love a real garden but he insists there is no time for them to have one. They both work full time. Obviously he has finally won the argument - or just doing it anyway. The tree has been removed. No doubt there will be more noxious artificial lawn put in to replace. It will look green but it still requires maintenance. In summer it is hot and it can, I believe, give off a nasty gas. The artificial lawns I have seen look impossibly well manicured. Give me the real stuff.
I associate the flowering of the jacarandas with the death of my mother. As they were coming into flower she was dying. We were travelling backwards and forwards each day to the hospital and watching the flowers open and the sky fill. I told him this once and he could not understand why I would ever want to see a jacaranda.
Well, a flowering jacaranda is a beautiful thing. Forget the mess. It is a tree, a living tree. The birds play football with the pods and pieces. It provides shade in the summer.
And the other day I saw a toddler run up to one of those jacarandas and hug it. Isn't that a good enough reason to make sure we keep them?

Sunday, 29 September 2013

I prowled back

to my sleeping mat yesterday. I had a headache. It was perhaps not quite a migraine. There were no flashing lights or the need for a darkened room and absolute silence but I was desperately in need of a horizontal rather than a vertical position. Thankfully I feel almost normal today but yesterday I was capable of doing very little.
Of course this worried the Senior Cat. I do not, according to him, get ill. Well of course I do. I am not totally immune to illness but I have been fortunate so far, especially when I compare myself with many others.
While I was curled up feeling rather annoyed with myself because there were things I should have been doing I wondered how the dog around the corner was. He is old. He is owned by the family who recently lost their mother. On Wednesday his senior owner was walking him around to the vet.
         "It's not too far. He'll enjoy the walk but I am worried about a lump on his back."
It doesn't sound good actually. I noticed it the other day when the dog came over to greet me. He's old, very old, for a dog.
And then this morning a friend on the other side of the world posted a message to say their much loved dog had died. I had never met her but I had heard a good deal about her and she was obviously loved by a great many people. There are a good many messages for her owners.
I have no doubt that those messages are genuinely meant too. I hope they help a bit but I know that there is nothing anyone can say or do which will fill the empty space which is peculiarly "pet" space.
We know we can't fill the space left by people. We have funerals to "say goodbye", "to celebrate life" and to try and "adjust" - at least a little. Nobody thinks you are odd or strange or foolish for mourning the loss of a human. It's not about filling the space but adjusting to it.
We are not expected to react in the same way to the loss of an animal. Why not?
One of our local shopkeepers sees things differently. One of his staff lost their dog last year. They came into work as usual but he could see that she was struggling to remain bright and cheerful for the customers. He phoned his mother. She came in and, with his support took the staff member off to have coffee and a weep on her shoulder. It is something that his staff member has not forgotten.
 I still miss our last cat. It's not a constant, everyday thing any more but he is still "there" sometimes. I turn the corner and I am conscious he is not there waiting in the usual place. We would love to have another cat but we also don't want one. It's too much of a responsibility now. We could not get it to and from the vet. The Senior Cat could trip and fall on a cat. Chasing after it to bring it in at night would be a problem and, unfortunately, there would be the constant worry of the idiots who use our short street as a sort of race track. We have the pleasure of the neighbour's cat without the responsibility but we also worry about him too - and we will miss him when he goes.
I am not suggesting we should have funerals for other animals but we should be allowed to mourn their loss. It's part of life and, if we can't mourn them, then our lives are all the poorer for it.

Friday, 27 September 2013

The electricity bill landed

in the letter box yesterday. We had been expecting it. The meter reader was around last week. Bills have a way of arriving very promptly.
Now our use of electricity is not excessive. We are careful. We turn lights off when we leave the room. I put the computer into stand-by mode if I am leaving it for a while and turn it off at night. We limit the amount we use heating and do it in the most efficient manner we can manage. I do the minimum amount of ironing. (That is not a hardship.) If I need to use the oven then I try to do more than one thing at once - or a meal that will do us at least twice.
We also have some solar panels.
The Senior Cat uses some power in his beloved Shed. It is not an excessive amount of power and, recently, his circular saw has been out of action. That would use more power than anything else.
Our electricity use has not changed over the past three months. (We are billed quarterly.) We were expecting a bill at around the same level as before.
It was much higher. It was much, much higher. The Senior Cat puzzled over it. Then he handed it to me to see if I could make sense of it.
I read it. I asked him for the previous bill. He hauled it out of the filing cabinet. I did some arithmetic.
According to the new bill we have used almost twice as much electricity this quarter. We sat there staring at the bill in disbelief. It is still, by some people's standards, not a large bill but it is a large bill for us.
There is something wrong here. I can only assume that there is something wrong with the meter - or the electronic equipment which now reads the meter when the meter reader takes the reading.
Our problems do not end there. I headed off to the company's website to try and find an e-mail to contact them. It seems the only way you can do that is to set up an on-line account. The Senior Cat refuses to use on-line accounts. Nothing I can say or do will convince him to use them. I could try phoning them - but that would involve hours on the phone waiting for a "customer service officer" and then being passed from one to another to another. All of them would tell me "we are right and you must be mistaken about the amount of power you were using". 
I found an e-mail address in another place. I sent a message there hoping that it will be passed on and they will contact me. I rather doubt it. I'll give them today though.
After that I am going to write an old-fashioned snail-mail letter. I am going to make sure they sign for it at the other end so there will be no doubt about the delivery. I will be polite. I will be firm. I will advise them that no we have not used twice the amount of electricity - and no, we will not be paying for their error. They can pay me for my time.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Shopping with my sister

can be frustrating but it is always interesting. We have been trying to coincide for several weeks so that she, being the owner of a vehicle, could take me to the sort of Greek owned warehouse where we do the heavier shopping. They have things in bulk and things in bulk that are unavailable in other places - and things that are difficult to find or not available in other places.
She phoned just before lunch and suggested going after I had fed the Senior Cat. Right. I would have to do catch up later but I thought it was time to get the trip out of the way. We went. 
The building is a gigantic shed, about the size of a small aircraft hangar. It is piled high with domestic size and catering size containers and packets of everything from olives and gherkins, dried fruit and pasta, flours and tomato paste to cleaning materials. We got a trolley and I pushed it up and down the aisles while she loaded it with the staples we had come for.
The haloumi cheese? (Her family eats bucket loads of it.) No, she told me, we would go elsewhere for that - yet another warehouse. Right.
It is paid for and I set off to the vehicle with the loaded trolley. I thought she was following. No. This capital city is small enough that of course she met someone she knew. I waited. I waited some more.
Eventually she arrived at the vehicle. We unload the trolley and return it to the bay. We go to the warehouse which sells the cheese. We buy the cheese - and more olives. We pick up some empty cartons to pack some books at the same time. No, they won't mind how many we take. They hope to get rid of them - recycle them! Yes, we will.
Then we head off again. This time it is to the wholesale meat store.
Inside there are two women from Sudan. We smile. The younger one speaks some English. The older one has only a few words. The younger one however is trying to explain something to the butcher. He does not understand. My sister does. (She knows a great deal more about meat cuts than I do.) She interrupts with a smile and a question and then explains.
Somehow that makes the four of us instant friends. The older woman tries to use her English. I know how to say two things in her likely language, Dinka. Cautiously I use one of them "kudual"  - it means "hello" or "I greet you". Suddenly we are the very best of friends.
Meat is bought by them and paid for and, before they leave, we are hugged. Westerners would never have done that but it came naturally from them and it felt right.
I use the only other thing I know it means "yin aca leec" - it means "thankyou".  I get hugged again.
I was taught those two things by another Sudanese refugee woman years ago. They were the only words she taught me and I had no idea I could even remember them. I doubt I would have in any other circumstances. I certainly had to look up the spelling
So few words can make so much difference.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Do you have a blog?

Yes, I have a blog. Other people have blogs too - or do they?
I was waiting for someone to answer a query yesterday and found I had also left my blog cover page open as well. I went to tidy it away from the screen when I looked at it again and realised that there were bloggers on the list I "follow" who simply do not seem to blog any more.
Some of them have not blogged for years. Why do I still have them there? Why did they stop writing? Will they start writing again one day?
I must have once enjoyed what these people wrote. I prowled back through some of them.  Yes, I did. There were people who were funny. There were people who were sad. There were people who were serious. There were people who clearly thought they should try blogging but gave up fairly quickly. I tried encouraging one of the last by "following" but even purrs of approval in the comments were not sufficient.
There are regular bloggers. They may not write every day but they write often enough for me to feel that yes, they are still there. Some write every few days, others write weekly or monthly. One or two just put something up every few months but it is still often enough to feel that they will put up another post.
And then there are those sad places that are dusty and neglected. Their owners have not touched them in three or even four years. I wonder about these abandoned places. They remind me of abandoned houses slowly crumbling away, not even inhabited by mice or spiders. I wonder what the occasional visitors (there must be some) make of them? Do they see ghosts?
Is there a place where lonely, unvisited blog pages gather for company or do they just go to sleep?
The internet is crowded with the past. Is there any room for the future? Yes, there must be. There are a few people who keep telling me to write my blog. That's nice of them. I made a pact with myself when I started that it had to be a long term affair. I couldn't just start and then abandon the idea. It's a daily writing exercise but, unless someone comments, I have no idea whether people are reading it.
Is that what went wrong for other people? Was it lack of feedback, comment and conversation that caused them to halt?
I wonder about the past. I wonder about all those blog posts nobody reads and all those blogs that have been abandoned. Have they been forgotten?

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

There was a small flood

in Downunder yesterday.
Oh yes we had been having a little trouble with the cistern. The Senior Cat thought he had fixed it a couple of weeks ago. In all fairness to him it did seem that way.
And then....well I am sure I don't need to explain. At least it was just an overflowing cistern and not something much worse.
       "Where's the card for the plumber?" he wanted to know, "It should be on the 'fridge."
Of course it is not on the fridge. He has "put it away tidily" - somewhere. We have not found it.
Now there are of course plenty of plumbers but the one he is referring to is the plumber who put in the new hot water system last year. The Senior Cat and I were very pleased by that. It was a major and rather complicated job and this man did it with a minimum of fuss. He was also very reasonable in his charges.
I remember the name of the plumber and suggest he looks for the number in our small telephone book - the one with the numbers we use. Right. No. Not there.
"Look under ... " I suggest and give him the name of the man who did the repairs and painting to the back pergola. He recommended the plumber. Yes, it is there. The Senior Cat wonders how I knew that but I have some idea how the Senior Cat's logic works.
He phones the plumber at 8:01am.
"I'll be out there later this morning."
Right.  I mop the floor again.
"You'll be lucky," someone else says when he calls in.
No, he does not get there in the morning. He does arrive just after twelve.
"Sorry I'm late. Had a bit of a problem at the previous job."
We leave him to it. I know he will need to turn the water off and, as always in such situations, am thankful we have tank water as well.
He bangs and clatters and flushes and walks backwards and forwards more times than I care to count.
"Almost there," he says at last.
I put the kettle on.
Eventually he finishes. It is past 2:00pm. Yes, he would appreciate a cup of tea.
"Sandwich?" I ask, "I can do cheese or egg?"
There is a slight hesitation and then he says, "Yes please. That other job this morning was an emergency. I haven't had breakfast yet."
I don't know what made me do it but I am glad I asked.

Monday, 23 September 2013

On the topic of being paid

for work I have a little more to say. The first is that both Nicola and Chris have missed the point I was making. I was not missing theirs. No, I wasn't. Oh yes, it was probably my fault. I was not making myself clear. It seems I rarely do. (Nicola I apologise. We always seem to be at cross purposes.)
I do not disagree with Nicola or with Chris.  Writers should be paid for writing and talking about writing and for encouraging others to read and write. What is more they should be paid well and not just for the publication of a book.
But (you knew there had to be a but didn't you?) there is something else I want to say.
Those of you who know me in real life know I knit. I never knit to order. I do not take on commissions. That would turn knitting from something that is enjoyable to something which is stressful. It would mean following a pattern and doing what someone else wanted when I prefer to do my own thing. I do make things for other people but only if I think they will appreciate them or use them.
I recently made something for someone else. It was a small item but it involved a lot of work. It was fiddly and, for me, it was particularly difficult. The person I gave it to wanted to pay me for it. That disappointed me. I did not want to be paid for it.
I had offered to make it because I thought they could use it and not because I wanted them to pay me for it. They could not have paid me what it was worth in terms of the time I spent on it. Nobody would pay that much. Even at a dollar an hour it would have been more than anyone would be prepared to pay. I had thought they might understand that.
The Senior Cat finds the same thing with his woodwork. People have very little idea of what is involved or how much is involved. There was a model of the Milan Cathedral at the recent RAHS Show. The Senior Cat understands how the thousands of internal cuts were made into the timber used for the model. He explained it to me some years ago when a similar model of another building was put on display. They were made by the same man. The Senior Cat admires his work. He is aware of the amount of planning and the hours of extremely skilled and patient work involved. Both of us have tried to explain to other people how it is done. On the whole they simply have no understanding of what is involved because they do not know even the basics of woodwork.
Being undervalued and underpaid is not just a problem for writers. (And I am not for one minute suggesting that Nicola and Chris do not understand that. I am sure they do.)  I think almost all individual art and craft is undervalued. It is undervalued even by people who should know better.
I think that we, as a society, have to learn to revalue such things. When books were individually handwritten, magnificently illustrated and richly bound they were considered to be works of art. The young hero in the last book I wrote at least has some understanding of that but he would, no doubt, treat most books the way we all treat books. We pick them up. We buy them or borrow them. We read them. We almost forget people had to write them. Even when we do remember it is like the knitting or the woodwork, we don't really understand how much is involved in writing them unless it is also our craft.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

So how much should an author

get paid for talking to a group, doing a school visit, reading their work at an event or some similar activity?
Nicola Morgan (yes, the Crabbit Old Bat again) got crabbit with me when I left a little message on one of her Facebook posts. I pointed out that many Australian authors are unlikely to get the sort of sums that were being quoted in replies to her post. She directed me to the Australian Society Authors website where there is a list of Public Appearance Rates.
Now, in all fairness to Nicola, she knows Australian authors who do get those sort of rates. They know they can charge for appearances. They have the confidence to charge for them. People also expect to pay these people to come and talk.
But I suggest that the situation is very different for many other writers. I was with a group of writers recently and this was actually under discussion. (We were there to discuss another charity issue so it was relevant.) There were five of them in the group. Now yes, I know that is not a large sample but they all know other writers as well and they were aware of what their fellow wordsmiths were or were not being paid.
All of them had done local events for nothing. They see it as part of the process of getting published. Usually it is an event for the local independent bookshop. In return the bookshop gives the writer some publicity and stocks the writer's book in a prominent position and encourage people to buy it.  Sometimes the writer will do an event at the local library as well. Again it is expected that they will, as a local author, do it for nothing unless they are already a "name", an author whose name is sufficiently well known that people will say, "Josephine Bloggs, the author?" Like the bookshop, the library will bear the cost of running the event but a local and not well known author is unlikely to be paid.
School events are even more difficult. There is the issue of when you can do it. All the writers who were at the meeting work full time. To do a school visit would mean taking time away from work. It rarely happens. One builds up "flexi-time" and does the occasional event. He does not get paid for the appearance (his work does not allow it) but he does ask for expenses at the same rate as he would for his work.  Another had taken the occasional half day of leave. Her boss likes the idea of having a writer on the staff and is prepared to be flexible about time off (but not, of course, to pay her while she is absent.)  She has been paid but the most has been one hundred dollars.
The others had arranged to take annual leave during Writers' Week (which their employers were variously interested in granting) and they had done their networking and school visits during that time.
Payment varied but it was never nearly as high as the ASA suggests it should be. They only knew of two authors who were able to charge those sort of sums.
I may be wrong but I suspect that the ASA guidelines are rarely adhered to and that most lesser known authors would be laughed at if they asked for that sort of appearance money. It seems it is a choice between "well if you don't want the publicity" and "obviously you aren't interested in your readers".
Of course it should not be like that. Authors should be paid more for their writing. They should be paid more for talking about their writing. They should be out talking too, especially in schools.
Bur what about the rates? Say an author is like a casual lecturer at university. The last time I delivered a lecture at a local university the rate of pay for a "basic" lecture was about $165. The rate for a "specialised" lecture was $278. Repeat lectures and you will get $111. Tutoring pays between $80 and $120 per contact hour. You don't get travel expenses.
If authors follow the ASA guidelines then they will ask for more than a casual university lecturer. Yes of course an author is worth it and, given the usually abysmal payment for their books, they should be able to get more.
The reality though is that they won't. It doesn't matter what the ASA guidelines are. Very few authors could ask for that and hope to get it.
So, the answer to the other question? If I was in the fortunate position of having a book published would I charge my local independent bookshop? That's a difficult one. I am friendly with the owner. I am well aware that local bookshops are on a knife edge. Local author events are one of the things that keep people coming to the shop. I know I should charge but I don't know if I could.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

There are renewed demands for

"indigenous languages" to be taught in schools.  These are coming from Professor Peter Buckskin at the University of South Australia. He believes that all Australian children should be taught an indigenous language.
It is the good Professor's job to believe this but it is also politically correct nonsense. It can't be done. It won't be done and it should not be done.
I am aware that there are people, apart from the Professor, who will disagree with me. They will jump in and say I do not know what I am talking about, that it is important to retain indigenous languages and culture and give them a much higher status in the community. They will claim that there are people for whom these languages are a first language and that they have the right to use them as such. I have no doubt someone will tell me we should make more effort, as a society, to use indigenous languages.
I think I have pointed out elsewhere in this blog that there are problems with this, many problems. There are problems relating to which languages are taught and what version of these languages are taught. How do you retain a language which needs vocabulary it does not have for the twenty-first century - and how do you teach indigenous concepts accurately to those who have twenty-first century ways of thinking? What is more, how accurate is what is being taught anyway? It is almost certainly not very accurate. Do native speakers of indigenous languages want others to learn their languages? Do they want to use them as their means of communication with the rest of society? Do some people want to confine their capacity to learn and read in languages which only have the smallest amounts of material available?
There are said to be an increasing number of Pitjantjatjara speakers but are these schoolchildren who are being given their primary school education in this language and who will later lose it if they continue their education in English? What measures are being taken to ensure they retain the language and would teaching it in other settings really produce fluent speakers and retain the language in everyday use? Of course not.
As for Kaurna, another local language mentioned as a possibility for the classroom, that was extinct in 1931. It was "revived" and is used as a second language by a small group of enthusiasts. I have heard it spoken at a funeral, just as I have heard Pitjantjatjara spoken at a funeral. But Kaurna was spoken merely as a greeting. It was not used fluently. Kaurna probably has less chance of survival than Cornish, Breton or Manx. Trying to teach it in schools would simply be a waste of resources and precious teaching time. Pitjantjatjara may survive but it will have to change in order to do so. 
I don't want to suggest any of this is a good thing. The loss of any language is a loss to overall humanity. Languages however change and evolve and some do die out. All minority languages face  problems but they are particularly acute for some Australian indigenous languages. I can understand Professor Buckskin's concern  but I cannot condone his solution because it is not a solution at all. It won't save the languages. It may destroy them completely.

Friday, 20 September 2013

There will be howls of rage

because the new Prime Minister has closed the "Climate Commission".
I happen to think that closing the Climate Commission is an excellent thing. The head of it, Tim Flannery, talked a lot but he did very little, the Commission did very little. It kept telling us that climate change was real, that it was something to worry about, that we should do things about it and that a "price on carbon" was a good idea.
I don't know whether climate change is real, whether it is natural or is man made, is something to worry about or something we can do something about or something we cannot do anything about. What I do know is that we need to care for the environment. Caring for the environment is about much more than the climate change debate - and yes, it is a debate. Some people's facts are other people's theories are others people's nonsense.
Putting a "price on carbon" is not going to care for the environment. People will just pay the price and continue to pollute - here or elsewhere. 
I have said elsewhere there is a need to plant millions of trees. Am I wrong? No, I don't think so. All sides of the debate seem to think that would be a good thing - but they don't do enough of it. There is also a need to keep the environment as clean as we can. There is a need to care for it and nurture it.
The Climate Commission was so busy with the climate change message that the environment message got lost.  Tim Flannery was no a climate scientist. He frequently got his facts wrong. He often sounded alarmist. It often seemed it was his role to sound alarmist. Was it?
I just hope the new government will realise the importance of the environment and do things about it. There is much that could be done. 
What if we kept some people out of prison but required them to work under supervision on an environmental project or two? It would save a lot of money and perhaps teach some of them some skills. It wouldn't be for everyone but it might work for some and for the benefit of all.
What if we took some of the young unemployed and trained them up as well? They could be employed as apprentices with the same wages and conditions except that they would be allowed to leave the project if they moved into paid employment elsewhere. Would something like that really be so much more costly than having them doing nothing and becoming not just unemployed but unemployable? We don't want them "employed" as a sort of slave labour force doing just unskilled work but teaching them to use tools and equipment that will allow all of us to become more self-sufficient surely has to be a good thing?
I don't think the climate change crew is terribly interested in that sort of thing. They don't see that as being their role. Perhaps it really is time to ignore them and get on with the business of saving the environment instead?

Thursday, 19 September 2013

It seems that one of our previous

Prime Ministers did get something right. What is more he apparently got it right about two decades ahead of a lot of other people. This is according to a report in this morning's paper.
The Prime Minister was John Howard and what the report says he got right was gun control.
Of course he did not succeed completely. We still have far too many guns in Australia. People still get killed by people who should not have guns.
Nevertheless the rate of gun ownership per one hundred people is much lower in Australia than it is in the United States and the number of gun related deaths per one hundred people is also much lower.
John Howard had the states and territories bring in the measures after the horrendous Port Arthur massacre in which Martin Bryant pleaded guilty to killing 35 people and injuring 21 others. The measures relate to automatic and semi-automatic weapons.  
I don't know the details and I don't want to know the details. I loathe guns.
I know there are people who need guns but there are not many of them. Contrary to belief most farmers find it highly distressing to have to shoot an injured animal. Wildlife officers also find it distressing.
Who else needs a gun in civilian life? Police? Perhaps but most UK police still go unarmed don't they?  
I don't see guns as "recreational" items at all. I don't see "clay pigeon" shooting or target shooting as "sports". I most certainly don't see duck hunting or kangaroo hunting as "sport".  I know there are times when "culls" take place. I don't know enough to know whether they are necessary or not. What I do know is that the alleged need for a cull should not be used as an excuse to arm the population.
I know there will always be the argument "but what about the mad guy/gal with a knife?" or "what about the person who...?" I don't like the idea of  "tasers" either but perhaps stunning someone is preferable to shooting them - and those stun guns are dangerous enough. They can kill too.
I suppose I just don't like the idea of violence at all. I am afraid of violence. I hear too much about it in my job.
Despite that there are renewed calls for more people to be armed and more people seeking gun licences. There are people who argue that, if they are armed, then they can prevent violence. No. I don't think so. It could end up in the wrong hands.
If an individual needs a gun then there should be very strict controls on their use. If an individual wants a gun then they should not be given one.

 

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Our Prime Minister is being criticised

for not having women in his Cabinet.
I am wondering whether this criticism is really justified. It may be our fault, not his. After the howls of outrage at that remark have died down may I be allowed to explain?
Let's first consider this. How many women take a real interest in politics? I think there have always been women who have been interested in politics. This is a good thing. I think there are more women than ever before with a real interest in politics and this is a very good thing.
But, having said that, an interest is not enough. There has to be action too.
I don't belong to a political party. I doubt there is a political party around that I would feel comfortable about joining, even with the aim of trying to make changes from within. But if women want to be involved in politics then, like men, they probably need to join a political party. They need to go to meetings. They need to join in the discussions and the debate. They need to make themselves heard. They need to put themselves forward and get nominated as candidates. The rest of us cannot vote for a woman if there is no woman on the ballot paper.
I know there will be people who will say, "It's not as simple as that Cat. You don't understand how political parties work."
Well, I am not suggesting it is simple or that the process is simple. It is not. Nevertheless that is what it comes down to in the end. Women need to become more involved and demand more representation. They need to be there on the ballot paper and convince men as well as women to vote for them.
If women do get into politics then there are other issues. If you are single some of these will not apply although questions might, unfairly, be asked about why you are not married. (Who asks men that question?) If you are married or in a relationship then your partner's position will be scrutinised. (Again, the partners of men rarely get scrutinised with such intensity.) If you happen to have children as well then there can be real problems. Remember when one of the female politicians wanted a "pair" so she could go home to a sick child. What comes first, parenting or parliament? (And why isn't a father expected to do the same?)
Then there is the question of experience. A first time male MP is not expected to be a Minister for Anything. That is something that may, or may not, come with experience. You are expected to prove yourself. It may take more than one term in parliament too. You have to be there for the long haul. That means continuing to convince your party that your name is the one that needs to be on the ballot paper, that you have been doing your job (the job of getting re-elected) and that you can handle the extra work involved.
So, our Prime Minister has one woman in his about to be Cabinet now and a woman lined up to be Speaker. He has women in his outer Ministry.
Will there be more women involved in the future? I suspect that, despite the criticisms currently being levelled at him there will be. But, it will not be up to the Prime Minister. It will be up to us. We have to elect them and tell them they are doing a good job. That way they cannot be ignored.  

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

"Give her to me

for a moment?" I suggest to the man holding the squirming little girl.
He hesitates and then sits her on the trestle table and I hold on to her so that he can help his wife wrestle with the large quilt she and I have been trying to pack into a bag.
The little girl squirms and wriggles and I say appropriate things. She looks at me and smiles but it is a smile she would give anyone.
Her narrow head, odd features and lack of speech are indicative of a child with a severe degree of intellectual retardation.
Nevertheless for a couple of minutes I talk to her and she smiles and I tell her what a clever person her mother is. Her mother is clever too, how she finds time to make quilts when her daughter needs so much care is remarkable. Her mother makes her clothes too, age appropriate but designed to be easy to dress and undress a child who probably has no idea what she is wearing.
We had some lengths of red, white and blue ribbon in one of the display cabinets. They won't be used again so, keeping hold with one hand, I grabbed a red one with my other hand and showed her.
She smiled and grabbed at it. We "agree" that red is a good colour and a nice, shiny red ribbon is just what she needs.
Her parents have the quilt in the bag and her father turns back to us. He wants to give the ribbon back but I tell him she can keep it but cut it into a shorter length so she can't harm herself.
He looks at me, hesitates again, and then says "Thankyou."
I congratulate his wife again on her work. She looks at me and then says, "Thankyou."
They look at one another and then her husband says, "And thankyou for talking to Evie."
Most people will never talk to Evie but it was a red ribbon conversation.

Monday, 16 September 2013

I am about to head out

to the last of my duties as a steward at the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society Show. This time it is to help dismantle the displays we put together in the craft area and make sure that people get their items back safely.
The system works pretty well and I know some of the exhibitors who have won prizes so it will be good to be able to congratulate them.
It will also be interesting to hear what some of them have planned for next year. They can plan in advance because there are categories which remain the same. There will be new categories too. The present Convenor of the area likes to keep people on their toes and interested and it is paying off. People who have never entered items before are finding the courage to do so when they see a class they think they can enter or that suits their style of work.
And next year there is something special coming up. A quilt challenge. Remember I wrote about the Chronicle quilts?
The pattern for one of the quilts has been put together for people to use and they are hoping that the 175th year will produce an array of quilts of that pattern interpreted by intrepid quilt makers and other craftspeople.
I have done my bit I hope. Today I am planning to hand over the 21 pictures which appear on the Farm Life Quilt in their charted form.
It has taken me a long time to do this. It was a difficult and very fiddly process. My writing time for the last few weeks has had to give way to doing the charts. I would rather write, much rather write,  but I promised I would try to do it and I have done it.
The pictures are "twee", a pig leaning over a gate, a boy fishing, a maid in a mob cap churning cream into butter and so on. It will be interesting to see how people interpret these pictures now. They were old-fashioned in 1932 and more so now.
And I wonder whether the descendants of the 18yr old girl who made the prize winning quilt on the front of the pattern pack know what she did. Do any of them make quilts?

Sunday, 15 September 2013

How could you stop people

from searching the internet? Why would you want to do it?
I am not talking about vile and illegal content or about racist or other content but the sort of content most of us would consider normal even if we could not be bothered with it ourselves. Why should it be a problem?
I had not considered it until yesterday. There is an article in the weekend paper about what has to be a new problem for the justice system. A juror did a little searching on the internet about the defendant in a criminal case. His curiosity got the better of him and he went searching on line to see what, if anything, he could find.
He did find something and then he shared it. The other jurors, rightly, advised the judge. He is now facing potential prosecution as he had been told to stay away from the internet for the duration of the trial and the verdict.
When a defendant faces a court the jury is not supposed to know if they have any prior convictions. The media is not supposed to publish any details of such things. The jury is not supposed to have any relationship with the defendant. Justice, it is said, depends on these things. A defendant has a right to the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. You cannot accuse people of having done wrong simply because they did wrong in the past. You have to be able to show they did the wrong thing this time.
The judge on the other hand will have access to that information. If the defendant is found guilty the judge may take that information into account when sentencing occurs.
But now there is a new problem. In the past it was difficult for jurors to have any prior knowledge of the defendant. Now, if the matter has been reported anywhere or there is any other activity relating to the defendant, a search of the internet might produce all sorts of information. Some of it might be accurate. Some of it might be inaccurate. Accurate or not jurors are not supposed to have access to it.
How many jurors have looked up a defendant's name on line? It would be natural curiosity to do that. If they don't do it themselves then they can get others to do it for them, sometimes by asking people who can access sites that are not readily accessible to the general public unless fees are paid.
It's a problem with the internet. You could of course haul potential jurors in, choose them and then isolate them for the duration of the trial and their considerations. The expense and inconvenience of doing that would be prohibitive. You could remove their internet capable phones and their computers but that would mean denying their families and friends access too - as well as ensuring they did not head off to a library or an internet café. That would be almost impossible to achieve and impinges on the rights of others.
You can go on doing as is being done and relying on jurors not to do an internet search or, should they do one, being able to consider the evidence without making assumptions.
I have no idea what the answer to the problem is but it does raise another issue. The media needs to be a good deal more careful about what they report and the way they report it. If the child of a high profile figure gets reprimanded for some minor infraction, as many others do, then splashing it on the front page of the paper will have to stop. That act may have nothing at all to do with a case before the court. It could influence a future jury. Jurors are going to do internet searches.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Talking to strangers

is not for everyone. Some people do not feel comfortable about doing it at any time. Other people avoid it if they can but will be polite. Yet other people will have a casual chat. Still others will tell you their life story.
I am a writer. Other people interest me. I like to observe them. I often like to listen to them. If they tell me their life story, or something which has just happened to them, then there might be something there I can use.
I don't always feel comfortable with people. I hate it when people "invade my space". There are people I am wary of, even very wary of.  I don't always want to listen, especially to a life story of someone who has little say and many words to say it in.
There are times when I don't feel like talking too. I try always to have a book in my bag and some knitting.
Knitting causes all sorts of comments. Other knitters are often good casual travelling companions. We can talk about patterns, yarns, techniques, designs and disasters. Even knitters who are happy to just follow a pattern will take an interest in the knitting of someone like me who never follows a pattern but will use other people's ideas.
You can go on knitting while you talk. The other knitter may pass over a problem or ask to see how something is done or question why you work from the top down instead of the bottom up - or, in the case of socks, from the toe to the top or the top to the toe. The merits of the yarn being used can be discussed. The difficulty of sourcing the right yarn and colour for the project are things that can only be understood by another knitter. If you need to count stitches they will remain silent.
Books however are another story. You are not immune from someone striking up a conversation if you are reading. Reading is not a sacred activity. Indeed it would seem reading is what you do simply because you do not have someone with whom to make conversation. There they are willing to make conversation. Why wouldn't you want to talk to them?
"What are you reading?" and "Is it good book?" or "Do you really read that stuff?"
The answer to the first question is easy. You show them the cover. The second one is more difficult. Do you say "yes" or "no" or "I don't know yet" or perhaps, "It seems to be" or "Of course it is, that's why I'm reading it" ? The third is obvious and, oddly, the most difficult of all. Yes, people really do read "that stuff" - for me "that stuff" might be a book about another language. Perhaps a better question for you to have asked me would by "Why are you reading that?" People don't seem to ask that question. Strangely if people are reading a book in another language the same comment about whether you are really reading it does not appear to apply. Perhaps the assumption is that the reader does not speak English?
But if the book is in English then, in this country, it seems you are free to start a conversation. I know just what is coming next too.
           "I'm not much of a reader myself."
No, that's obvious. If you were a reader you would not interrupt another reader.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Electoral fraud is

an issue in what are sometimes called "emerging democracies", the countries where "election monitors" are likely to be called in. Very few people think of them as necessary elsewhere, or even believe that they are necessary. Perhaps however it is time to rethink the accuracy of our own elections.
I say this because yesterday I had an uncomfortable and disturbing experience.
I had to go to the local library. When I came out of the library there was a couple, perhaps in their late sixties or early seventies, standing by my tricycle. There is nothing unusual about that. People sometimes ask where I got it, what it is like to ride etc. There are more tricycles around than there used to be and I like to think I have sold the idea to at least several people.
I did not know the couple. I had never, to the best of my knowledge, seen them before. It would not be the first time I had been accosted by complete strangers wanting to know about my transport.
But this couple wanted to talk about something quite different and they were obviously finding it extremely difficult. They started out by asking whether I was "the person who wrote the letter about voting yesterday". I had written a letter about the electoral process the day before so I said yes.
They looked at one another and then the man said, "We need to talk to someone. We don't know what to do."
I wondered if they had forgotten to vote but it turned out to be very much more serious than that. They were accusing their daughter of electoral fraud. She works in a nursing home and she had boasted to them that she had, among other things, filled out ballot papers for patients who were no longer competent to vote.
I will not go into details. It would be all too easy to replicate what they alleged she had done.
I had to explain that yes, it was wrong. I also had to leave them with the decision of whether to report their daughter. It's  not a decision I can make for them. I doubt they will go that far but I can see that it is a problem that is going to cause them a great deal of unhappiness.
I cannot remember the details now but it reminded me of a claim that was apparently made by a family some years ago. I think it was for a state election. There were headlines in the paper about a family who claimed to have voted over one hundred times. It was even claimed that one of those involved was not old enough to vote. I think the Electoral Commission investigated that claim fairly thoroughly but I wonder how far they got. If the claim was true how did the family get away with it?
Our voting system can be manipulated in more than one way. Our system of compulsory preferences ensures that some manipulation will take place. But it is not the only problem which occurs.
I went to vote last Saturday. I gave my name and address honestly and I answered the question about whether I had voted before in that election honestly. But, nobody asked me to prove I was me and I could have voted half a dozen times before. Unless someone sits down with the electoral roll and goes through every copy by hand and compares them with every other copy then nobody is going to know whether I voted once or twice or more often. It is even of even greater concern that someone could walk into a polling booth and pretend to be me. They could steal my vote. They could negate it by voting the opposite way. If a thorough check was made how would anyone know whether I was telling the truth if I said I had only voted once?
Our electoral system is not free of fraud and manipulation.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

"What are you

making?" "How do you do that?" "Is that crochet?" "That person's knitting." "Hey, look at this?" "My grandma did that." "My nana made me one of those."
Oh yes, yesterday was spent at our Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society Show. The Senior Cat was determined to go.
As I am a Steward I get free entry on one day for myself and for someone else - and of course the someone else has to be the Senior Cat.
He loves people watching. He took his walker, the one with the seat, so he could prowl around and sit when tired.
A friend came with us. She and I were on duty in the craft demonstration area. We left the Senior Cat outside that hall and he went straight off to look at animals and working displays.
Friend and I went into the hall and set ourselves up in an area which displays quilts. People were already wandering in and out. Yes, we can tell them something about the quilts and how they were made. I have never made a quilt but I have read a good deal about them and I have used quilt block patterns in knitting. The friend I was with is an experienced quilt maker. She designs her own these days.
We had the usual flow of comments and interest in what we doing and we also had some poignant moments.
We had a father come in with his two adopted children. We knew they had to be adopted because he was Anglo-Saxon and they were Chinese-Vietnamese. The little boy was in a wheelchair. The girl was interested in the quilts. She said she could sew and had made a small quilt and wanted to make another. The little boy was in awe of the model of Milan Cathedral. His father and I told him he would be able to make something like that one day if he wanted to do it. I showed him a pen the Senior Cat had made and his father said, "You will soon be able to do something like that." They work together in the shed at home. In the orphanage in Vietnam he might just be sitting.
There were four young men who wandered in at one point. They looked shyly around. We smiled at them wondering what they were doing there. It was fairly obvious they were not quilters. They looked and then they sat down at the demonstration table and, in careful English, they asked some questions. "My grandmother made," one of them told us.
We talked a bit more. Three of them came from Afghanistan and one came from Somalia. They were here to learn English. They had been given tickets to enter the Showgrounds and they were feeling overwhelmed by the sights and sounds surrounding them. The demonstration area was quieter - and we had smiled at them.
And we had some light relief too. The Senior Steward came back from her meeting and could not find her phone anywhere. Lost! Two people tried ringing the number to see if we could hear it. No.
She went off saying she was going to Lost Property to see if it had been handed in puzzled as to what she could have done with it. And then she was back. My friend had tried ringing the number again and, as the Senior Steward passed a display cabinet she heard it ringing. She had opened a display cabinet to replace a ticket on an item, put her phone down in the cabinet and locked it inside. We all laughed at her "first prize phone".
The Senior Cat returned to eat his packed lunch with us and then prowled off again. He was back just before four o'clock. He was exhausted - but already has plans for going next year.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

I spent an extremely

frustrating afternoon yesterday. When the new computer arrived in February it naturally had to have the latest programme - Windows 8. I have come to the conclusion I do not like Windows 8. It has some thoroughly irritating features. And no, I am not alone in finding them irritating. Other people also find them irritating.
I also had to re-install a number of programmes and, in one case, I needed to buy a new version of a programme I use. First of all it was unavailable as it was being "updated" and then there were other delays. As it is hobby related rather than work related I have endured all this in silence.
The new version finally arrived several weeks ago but I had not had time to do what I wanted to do with it - and then discovered that I cannot do what I used to do.
It used to be simple. The first version of the programme, which will turn pictures into charts, was easy to use. It was straightforward. It did not require a degree in computing or rocket science. The new version would appear to require both.
I had to hunt for several tools in the programme. What was once obvious is no longer obvious.
I can convert things from pdfs to jpegs. I can save things as jpegs.
I should be able to put a jpeg into the programme, convert it to a chart and save it. (I should export it back to my own pictures and then e-mail it on to someone else.) I can't. I cannot open the files. They save themselves as jgg. files (unknowns) which is ridiculous because the programme is there on the computer.
It seems other people have a similar problem. I searched and discovered this.
It is my own fault of course. I should have done a search before I bought the new version of the programme. Nevertheless the capacity to save a file would seem to be basic.
Growl. I will consult the computing guru who is transporting his partner, the Senior Cat and myself to the Show today. I am taking the rest of the day off. I am going to knit and talk to people about knitting and other craft. Yes, I may have had to get up early and I may need to work late but, in between those things, I am going to be there for the Senior Cat if he needs me (but he can prowl alone because he prefers to do that) and I am going to enjoy myself.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

I joined in one of those

Twitter "conversations" last night. You know the sort of thing I mean I am sure. There was a flurry of statements, a bit like those old "snow domes" where you turn the thing upside down and then let the "snow" settle on the scene inside.
What was under discussion was, I suppose, science fiction and those who watch it.
I had to confess I had never seen Star Trek. No doubt this will alarm the Trekkies out there. I know nothing about it apart from the fact that there is an artificial language called "Klingon" involved. I have heard about Klingon simply because I am interested in artificial languages. I use an artificial language in my own work but it is nothing like Klingon. There is no way of speaking what I use. 
But keen Trekkies apparently do speak Klingon. They also watch and probably re-watch the series.
Then there are the Star Wars films. I have never seen those either. I only have the vaguest idea what they are about.
You can probably tell I am not "into" SF? The closest I have come to reading SF is a book called "The Overman Culture" which a student gave me because it was set in her home state of Tasmania.
I have also read the books for adults by Diana Wynne Jones. I enjoyed those but I suspect they are not classed in quite the same category as Star Trek or Star Wars.
It took me more than twenty years to see the film "2001: A space odyssey". They filmed it one afternoon when I was a postgrad at university. I duly paid my two dollars and went along out of curiosity. So many people had thought the film was "marvellous" at the time it first came out. As an impecunious student who wanted to see other things (live theatre and museum exhibitions not likely to be repeated) I had not seen it. Perhaps I just left it too late. By the time I saw it I couldn't understand what the fuss was about.
There are more modern films I have not seen - like Avatar. Quite apart from the cost, I can't be bothered with most of them. I don't want to view violence. I don't want to see a depressing and violent film. I get enough of that in my job.
It's the same with television. I don't want to view depressing and violent programmes. The news service is bad enough. I know I have missed some good television and that I am lacking in cultural literacy.
But, I have read a lot of books.

Monday, 9 September 2013

The peculiarities of

Australia's voting system are likely to lead to a very peculiar mix in the Senate of our Federal Parliament.
Let me explain first that our founding fathers intended the Senate to be quite a different place from the one it has become. The Senate was supposed to represent the interests of the states. If you are a Senator you are a Senator for the state in which you have been elected. You are not supposed to be a Senator for a particular political party.
Of course what has happened is that the Senate has become party based and not state based.
The last government was working with a finely balanced Senate. It could get most legislation through with the support of a minor party, the Greens. What this meant in fact was that a minor party actually wielded a great deal of power, power which was not proportionate to the number of votes they received. Naturally they do not see it this way.
The Greens also had one member in the House of Representatives and he has, against the odds, managed to retain his seat. Overall however the Greens have had a drop in their primary vote. Despite this they are claiming that their success in getting one member elected to the lower house is a mandate for all sorts of things. They will retain their position in the Senate as well, although at least some of their positions will be due to compulsory preference flows and a lack of understanding by voters of how the system works. They will almost certainly get a Senator in this state although at least three parties will have had more first preference votes.
Again the Greens say that this gives them the right to block legislation they do not like.
Add to the likely mix of Senators one from a "Motoring Enthusiasts" party and a "Sports" party and perhaps two from the new party run by one of the country's few billionaires and there is a problem. It would be a problem for whichever party managed to win government.  It means that minorities have control and they believe they have the right to dictate how the country is run.
Do they? My answer is no. It is simply wrong that any group which is supported by a small minority should have that amount of power.
The system needs to change and this time there may be calls for change.
We need a system that can respect the past but not veto the future.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Voting seemed to

go reasonably well yesterday. I am not referring to the results here but the process. Your view of the results will depend on which side of politics you choose to support.
I voted reasonably early in the day. It would have been earlier if the Senior Cat had managed to surface a little earlier. He was behaving like a Night Owl and determined to finish a book the previous night.
Having voted (and it took me nearly twenty minutes to do my own thing and fill out the Senate paper below the line) I prowled out only to be greeted by someone I only know by sight. He obviously knows me rather better because he promptly accosted me with an urgent hiss, "Cat, can you help me?"
What was the problem? He had broken his glasses that morning and would not be able to read the ballot papers. I queued again with him and, after he had explained, I showed him where to place the numbers he wanted. Thankfully, a simple and straightforward vote for a major party.
I then went off to keep my date in the neighbouring electorate. Yes, they were just arriving. My former student's carer left him in my care. We queued just like everyone else, papers at the ready. I had advised the AEC beforehand and we went in. My student was asked for his name - and indicated by looking at it on his wheelchair tray, asked if he had voted before at this election. "No" by looking down at the floor. His name was marked off. The papers were put on his wheelchair tray and we were given a space in a quiet corner.  It took a little while but the papers were eventually marked to his satisfaction. I folded them and, on a nod from him, placed them in the appropriate boxes. He was looking terribly earnest and serious and I could not tell what he was really thinking. Then, outside, he broke into one of his brilliant grins and just about knocked me flat as his arms flailed  uncontrollably around.
By arrangement I went on to help several other people who needed assistance during the day but they are articulate and sight impaired or unable to write. They made straightforward votes and all above the line for the Senate but none of them were quite the thrill his vote was. His was thoughtful and careful and I could guess at his reasoning. 
It was a good moment. He had, at the age of 42, voted just like the majority of other people for the first time in his life. He experienced the right to line up and participate the way most people do it. He did not have to worry his postal vote might not get there.
This man was once the child of whom people once said, "He'll never learn anything."
Never ever say that of anybody.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

I cannot remember

my parents voting when I was a small child. They must have done it in the country town I was born in and then in the city where we lived before my father was sent out to a succession of rural schools.
I do remember the state election held when I entered the secondary section of the big "area" (rural) school my father was in the process of setting up for the Education Department.
I remember it because the local Member of Parliament came to see us. I can also remember him joking with my father about having his vote. He was a very popular representative and held the seat by a huge margin but he never took his position for granted. He got on well with my father and did a great deal to support the new school which, like any new venture, was in need of it.
The same man later wrote me the reference I needed to enter teacher training college. We had left the district by then - my father was sorting out problems in yet another school - but he had not forgotten us. I saw him outside Parliament House one day. He stopped to speak to me and found out I had applied for entry to a a teacher training college. A couple of weeks later there was a letter in the post. It was a copy of a letter he had sent the college principal recommending me. His apparently casual question had not been casual at all.
Since then I have known other politicians, a great many politicians. They have been of all political persuasions. I have never agreed with all that any of them have had to say. Some of them are no longer alive, others are no longer parliament, some of them are still working although not necessarily as politicians. A politician who makes his or her mark rarely fully retires. They will always be in demand for committee work, for advisory bodies, for community events, on the speakers' circuit and so on.
The politician who wrote that first reference for me did not live long enough to do that. He retired due to ill-health at the end of a term and died a short time later. I always felt sorry he did not have the enjoyment of at least semi-retirement back on his farm. He would have continued to work for a community which clearly meant a great deal to him.
Most people I speak to do not, unless they belong to a political party, know their local member of parliament. Our local state member was in the local shopping centre last week. He often goes over there for lunch if he's in his electorate office. He tries to meet people there and talk to them. It's difficult. He mentioned this to me once when he first started out in the position. He stopped to speak to me the other day. It wasn't about anything particularly important, just casual chat between acquaintances.
"I couldn't do that," someone told me after he had walked on.
"Why not?" I asked.
"Well he's our MP!"
"Yes, we elected him to do a job. It's his job to talk to us and do what we ask of him."
They could not see that. Perhaps that's the problem. We need to stop treating our politicians as special, important people. They are there to represent us. They are, as the Senior Cat puts it, "servants not masters". We should treat them with the respect due to them as human beings not with the false respect all too often given them because of their position.

Friday, 6 September 2013

There were three 'phone calls

last night. Two of them were a waste of time and money although I doubt the political strategists thought that.
We have been plagued by phone calls throughout the election period. They seem to have taken the place of door knocking.
We have never had a politician knock on our door here in the suburbs. Our current local representative knows us. He is likely to keep his position unless something goes horribly wrong. I assume the opposition has better things to do than visit us.
But we have had "automated polling" (just put the phone down) and "automated electioneering" (again, just put the phone down).
Last night I listened out of curiosity. What would the final pitch be?
The Opposition Leader came first. His message admitted it was automated in the first sentence. That would give anyone a chance to put the phone down. Good. He was polite. Good. He asked you to vote for the local candidate. Expected. He thanked you. Good. That was it. It was short and clear. He seems to have grown increasingly confident but his delivery style could still do with improvement.
The Prime Minister came next. There was no admission it was automated. That would be using words he wants to use to convince us to vote for his side. He was aggressive. Well yes, at the moment he does appear to be on the losing side. He asked (or perhaps told) you to vote for the local candidate. Expected. He told you how essential it was. Expected. He used more words than the Opposition Leader. Expected. His delivery style was "chatty". Expected.
The Opposition Leader uses less words. It makes him sound less fluent and less certain of himself. The present Prime Minister can use more words than Sir Humphrey Appleby - and say less. Both men could benefit from some coaching although I doubt the Prime Minister could change his style. He has tried to convince the electorate he has changed from the first time around and it looks as if he has not succeeded.
Tomorrow is E-day. I will endeavour to vote early. I suspect the queues will be long if large numbers of people decide to do their own thing and vote below the line for the Senate. I have my guide prepared. I printed off a blank form the Senior Cat. He was still struggling over the final numbers last night. We are ready.
Are the leaders ready?
The messages were a reflection of the personalities of the two contenders. The first was probably better strategy than the second, especially in the final stages of a campaign. Less is more. Use less words and get the message across?
No doubt they have been advised about getting the message across.
"Fewer words and more action" would be a good motto for all politicians.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Small boys attract

dirt like magnets attract iron filings.
A friend of his arrived about five yesterday afternoon. He was "just picking something up" and he would "not stay long".  Perhaps.
His friend had arrived looking, for a male who dabbles in woodwork and other such hobbies, very clean and tidy. He would not have passed muster with the Dirt and Dust Patrol but he really did look remarkably clean and tidy.
The Senior Cat on the other hand had been in The Shed. He was wearing an ancient pair of trousers covered in paint and glue stains and a shirt which has seen better days. (The shirt now has three different sorts of buttons on it.) The laces of his Shed Shoes have a knot in them. "Yes, I'll get around to changing them," he told me. Nothing has happened.
His friend was wearing trousers with only one paint stain, a fresh one, and a shirt with matching buttons. Hmm.
They disappeared to The Shed. I could hear them out there. Timber was shifted. Machinery was started up. Something was sawed and shaken and stirred.
At almost six-thirty they reappeared. They were covered in sawdust. There was a fresh stain on the friend's trousers and a button hanging loose from his shirt. The Senior Cat looked no better than he had before.
He went to wipe his hands on his trousers and dislodge more sawdust on the floor. I stopped him.  It makes the floor slippery.
          "I know," he said, "Grottus domesticus".  It is the family term for someone who is not very clean.
          "More like "grottii domesticii"," I told them, "Outside and dust yourselves down."
They went out giggling like two small children and then came back looking only a little cleaner.
Apart from the genuine problem with a slippery floor the dirt does not bother me. I actually rather like it. It means the Senior Cat is doing one of the things he loves to do and I would not stop him for anything. If he can do it at 90 then it really is marvellous.
The problem is though that I am not actually sure what it is that he and his mates actually do to get so dirty. I mean, they were only sawing up a piece of timber weren't they?

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

"But didn't you see

the one with the cat in it? It's so cute!"
No, I didn't see it. I am not likely to see it. I do not want to see it. I am not interested in advertisements for cat food.
As regular readers of my wails know I am not interested in the advertising which appears on television. I am not really interested in television. It has to be something I really want to see before I am prepared to watch television. Even if I do watch something then I have to be doing something else (usually knitting) at the same time. But, other people obviously feel differently. Some of them must watch a lot of television.
I sometimes wonder what they get out of it. Yes, I suppose it is nice to just press a button and be instantly entertained without having to make any effort at all. I am just not like that.
Lately the only programme the Senior Cat likes has been off-air in favour of yet more sport. He is not impressed. He has watched no television at all lately. My watching has been confined to the first part of the early evening news service which concentrates on international affairs. I do something else at the same time of course. I cannot just sit there and watch.
There is one commercial break in the middle of that time. I turn the sound off simply because listening to the same thing over and over again really irritates me. The commercial break has been worse than usual during the election campaign. The on-air advertising for political parties has to stop today and even the chief political reporter for that station admitted it would be "a relief".
The political advertising has not been good. It has been dire. It has been filled with only the sort of lies that political parties can get away with. The advertisements have continued even after independent sources  have said that some of the "facts" in them are not accurate. You don't get in the way of a good advertisement it seems.
Then there is print advertising that lands in the letter box. The Senior Cat struggled in with a tree load of paper last week and another this week...well, I exaggerate but you know what I mean. I put it in the recycle bin as I return to the house. All of it makes the most extraordinary claims about what will and won't be done. Very little of it will actually happen. At best it is a guide to what might happen, if you can work out which party is actually responsible for the piece of paper you are looking at.
If each party was required to state their policies in plain English on just one piece of plain paper the choice for voters would be much simpler. We might decide not vote for any of them.
If cat food companies were required to state the ingredients on just one piece of plain paper I doubt cats would vote for any of them either.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The "history wars" may

shortly be re-ignited. It seems that at least one of our politicians has concerns about the "black arm-band" view of history currently being taught in our schools. 
I also have concerns about the way history is taught in schools, although the reasons for my concern are probably not quite the same as that of any politician. Let me explain.
Many years ago the Senior Cat was the head of a large country school, one of a number of such schools for which he had responsibility. He was approached one night by one of the farmers on the School Council. This man had left school at the age of twelve to work on the family farm. He was one of many boys who did the same thing. It was often not a matter of choice but of necessity. I wrote about his funeral, a celebration of a life well lived, in May last year.
This man's Matriculation Certificate, duly framed, held pride of place on the wall of his living area until he died.
But the story does not end there. He did Australian History as one of his subjects. It was at that point that my father confirmed what he had always suspected. Here was a man who had, despite his limited early education, been reading widely. He was passionate about history. He knew a lot.
There was a unit of history that bothered him greatly. It concerned the exploration of the area he had been brought up in as a child, the one his family had farmed for several generations.  On several occasions when he and his wife went back for family reunions and other events he went out to re-explore the landscape.
Eventually he came to me, by then much more grown up, and said,
"Cat, I have a problem. I think the history books are wrong."
He went ahead and explained. I understood, just. Here was a man using primary sources, cartography, trigonometry and logical reasoning to argue his point.
When he had finished I agreed that what he had told me made sense. What, I asked, was he going to do about it?
Now that I agreed, he told me, he thought he might write it down. Someone might be interested. I promised to read whatever he wrote.
It took him a little while but the half-page "note" appeared in an academic journal and any new history book will tell the story differently. Even his youngest grandchildren know he wrote "some real history".
Now my question is, "How many students in their final year of school could have done what he did?"
Oh yes, he was older. He had a life time of reading behind him. He had a passion for history. He grew up in the area he wrote about. But he still had to find out for himself how to search the primary sources and apply his other skills.
In the equivalent of my "O" level year I did an extra history subject. It was called "Economic History". I read the textbook and memorised the summaries at the back. I had read a lot of historical fiction. I told my school I wanted to sit the exam because I thought I could pass. My teachers were reluctant. I was persistent.  I paid the fee (as you had to back then) out of my pocket money. I passed the exam and I passed it well. It really took very little effort on my part. I know now that the standard had to be rather low if I could learn that much without any guidance.
But, if that was low, then how much lower is the current standard? Just what is being taught? The resources available now are so much greater but it seems that there is a narrow, politically correct view of history being taught in many places. Where this is challenged those who are teaching it are also being challenged.
If we don't teach a wide view of history then children are not going to understand the world they live in any more than they understand the past. 
I think we do need to re-ignite the history wars. We need to tell the politically correct brigade that they might have won a battle in the past but they have not won the war.

Monday, 2 September 2013

I have just downloaded

the Senate ballot paper for my state. No, it is not the one I will use on the day but the guide I will take in with me.
For those of you who live Elsewhere, Senate papers in Australia tend to be large and complex. There are two ways of voting. You can mark one box "above the line" or you can mark all the boxes in numerical order "below the line".
If you mark one box "above the line" your vote will be processed according to the preferences of your first choice of party.  If you vote "below the line" then you can make up your own mind where your preferences go.
Needless to say in this part of Downunder we cats make up our own minds. I have never voted "above the line" and I doubt the Senior Cat has. My mother might have but I know my siblings don't. We all have our own ideas about what is best for us and our fellow citizens.  Arrogant? Perhaps. At least we think about what we are doing.
I had to explain the process to a woman at the library yesterday. She was telling me who she intended to vote for and then said she would "just vote above the line". When I pointed out that the preferences for her intended vote would flow to a party I know she vehemently opposes she was, to put it mildly, shocked and outraged. At first she did not believe me but we looked it up on 'net when a computer was free and she went off muttering. Will she change her voting intentions? I think she might. 
The incident reminded me, yet again, that many people simply do not understand the difference between the House of Representatives and the Senate and even fewer understand the voting process for either house, but particularly for the Senate. Those who advocate preferential voting say it is "fairer" or "more democratic" but the complexities of the system can have unintended consequences - such as when a minor party member was elected with a very small number of votes but a large preference flow. Steve Fielding ended up being one of the most powerful people in parliament but he was not the first choice of most people and many would not even have been aware that their preferences were flowing to him.
The other thing which has been forgotten by voters (and often by the politicians) is that the Senate is the house of state representation. If you win a Senate seat you are there to represent the state you come from, the party is (supposedly) secondary. Of course it does not work that way and minor parties or independents often have power which greatly exceeds the numbers who voted for them. They can change the political landscape and prevent the House of Representatives doing what it was elected to do. Of course they argue they have been elected to make sure that the lower house is accountable - to them.
I am a firm believer in having both a lower and an upper house in parliament. Review is essential.
It is therefore also essential that we vote in an informed manner. It is why I will vote "below" rather than "above" the line.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

I have just seen "Walter Mitty"

walking past the house. Have I mentioned him before?
This morning he was walking his dog, a "retired police dog" - or so he would have us believe. "Walter" would have us believe many things. His attire this morning was, for him, relatively normal. It was a tracksuit decorated with a number of badges from somewhere...police, fire, ambulance, emergency services? It will  be one of those or the "casual" pilot's outfit. He is all those things.
Sometimes he wears a smart black suit and carries his lawyer's wig and gown in a bag - carefully open so you can see them.
He now lives with his son and daughter-in-law. They moved in when his mother died. I suspect he really does need someone there with him. He lives in many fantasy worlds.
It was odd I should have seen "Walter" when I did. Over breakfast this morning I was reading an article in the supplement of our weekend newspaper. The article concerned men who falsely claim to have a war service record or make false claims about that record.  It, rightly, raises concerns about those people who dress in uniform with a row or rows of war service medals across their chest.
We once lived in the midst of a "soldier settlement" and I think I can understand at least some of the distress it would cause a genuine returned serviceman. The horrors of war are always with them, that car backfiring is always the sound of a gun and the cut on a finger is always a gaping wound. It's the way things are. People who claim to have experienced those things but have not are either delusional or disrespectful.
"Walter" can talk to you. It even seems to make sense. He will tell you all sorts of things.
If I have time I will stop and listen. I never tell him what he is telling me is not true. He would be dreadfully hurt by that. He believes what he is saying when he tells you a story. It's just the way he is.
The one thing "Walter" never is though is a soldier. He is delusional about his war service in that he claims he once flew his helicopter under (rather than over) Sydney Harbour Bridge but he never dresses as a soldier. He never wears his war service medals. He never marches on ANZAC Day.
All that would be real and "Walter" cannot handle the real world. He is a returned serviceman. It's why we let him be "Walter".