Thursday, 31 October 2013

There were pumpkins

and pumpkins and yet more pumpkins...and then there were mounds of chocolate and lurid coloured sweets. There were masks and bats and hats and other things as well.
There was also a Christmas tree near the automatic doors...and probably more Christmas trees somewhere else. I did not look. I do not want to know about these things.
It is not that I am a party-pooper or that I refuse to join in the fun but I do not like the commercialisation of events.
When I was a mere kitten I had never heard of Halloween. It was never mentioned at school. We would have been puzzled by it. My first taste of Halloween was when an American family I knew made a Halloween pumpkin for their small son. He was so frightened by it that they promptly threw it out.
To me that was a waste of a good pumpkin that could have been eaten. As we were all living in a hall of residence at the time and most of us were (very) short of money it hurt even more.
That was the end of Halloween until about fifteen years ago it began to sneak in here. It was a small thing at first. Now it is much larger. Yes, those pumpkins are huge - and so are the profits.
We don't need it.
We certainly don't need it mixed in with Christmas. We don't need Christmas trees up now. They can wait until the twelve days of Christmas as far as I am concerned.
The Senior Cat and I do not bother with a tree. We don't put up the few cards we get. (The Senior Cat refuses to write cards, especially to people he sees on a regular basis.)
I know, it's all a bit sad but we have our fair share of fun and games without all that.
There are children around here. Most of them are too young to go "trick or treating". The Whirlwind's school ignores it - which is probably just as well. She has strong negative views on Halloween - ever since their old letter box got blown to pieces by young vandals who were not given a "treat" by her father.
The older children are also likely to ignore it. Their parents do not approve. There might be children from further afield. I hope not.
There is a polite notice on our door anyway - asking people not to knock.
I might make pumpkin soup instead.

Apparently there is a new subject

on the curriculum called "Work Studies". It will begin next year and is, apparently, compulsory. The alternative name for the subject is "How to find a job."
It is yet another thing schools are expected to find time to teach.
And yes, finding a job is difficult. Even well qualified people have difficulty finding a job. I would not get one now.
But the "curriculum" outlined in our paper concerned me. Apparently teachers are expected to cover things like "on line etiquette" and "standards of dress" and "other cultures" - and this is for the last years of the secondary school.
Now, to me, "on line" behaviour should be taught from the time you can use a computer. (Another little report said something about children learning to use computers before they can talk but presumably they do not mean social media.) But, if you can use a computer well enough to access social media without adult supervision - and I would guess the vast majority of children and young people could do this - then you need to know about online etiquette long before you start to search for a job. What is more, I think parents should be involved. I think they should be teaching children basic etiquette from the start.  I know it is hard work and I know it also takes time but children need to know. By the time you reach secondary school acceptable social behaviour should be what is normal, not what is exceptional.
The same goes for standards of dress. It should be obvious you turn up appropriately dressed and well groomed. Surely it is something that parents should show by example.
As for "other cultures" I am not quite sure what that has to do with finding a job. Surely that is part of your overall education? It seems it is an excuse to put a little more "political correctness" into an already politically correct curriculum. I would prefer that tolerance and acceptance was taught from the start.
And then "standards of behaviour" was mentioned. All the above mentioned surely come into this as well? Surely it is common knowledge and common sense that there are acceptable and non-acceptable standards of behaviour?
If these things need to be taught in the last years of the secondary school could someone please tell me what, if anything, is being taught elsewhere - and who is teaching it?

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A friend of mine was

"home-schooled" out of necessity, not choice. She lived just out of the city and the local two teacher school could not cope with the extra demands her disability would have placed on a young teacher who was in her first year out and had to cope with three different levels in the same classroom.
My friend, who is highly intelligent, was fortunate in that the local priest, the local doctor and another teacher all pitched in and gave her individual tuition whenever they could. She did exceptionally well academically, eventually went on to university and still works for the university where she did her doctorate.
It might all have been very different. She knows she was exceptionally fortunate to have had people who were prepared to give her time at the critical stages of her education.
Yesterday I was talking to the priest who helped her. He is now an old man. He mentioned the two of them had recently met for lunch on his visit to the UK.
"She really taught herself you know," he told me, "Once she could read it was just a matter of guiding her and suggesting paths to follow."
I suspect he is right. She is one of the most motivated people I have ever met. She gets things done.
We have discussed the "home-school" issue at length. It worked for her because she was motivated and she knew there was no alternative. She wanted to learn - and wanted to learn as much as possible. But we both agree that she did miss out on other things. It took her a long time to make friends at university. There were all sorts of things she knew nothing about. Now she is friendly with a great many people but her real friendships are limited to a small circle of people she knows and trusts. I count myself fortunate to be one of them.
We also agree that the "home-school" idea is not suitable for all children. It works for some children but not others. Unless you are motivated to learn and have more than one adult willing to give you time then you may not achieve as much as you might otherwise achieve. There is no stimulus from the other students in the classroom, no way of measuring yourself against them.
And that makes me wonder about people who "work from home". I work from home and I admit there are times when it is hard to sit down and get on with what is often tedious. How do people motivate themselves?
I'd like to know...if you have any ideas please tell me!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Doing an internship

is tough and doing a medical internship is perhaps the toughest of all.
One of my nephews is doing a legal internship at present. He is working sixty to seventy hours each week. He is being used to do the hard work on an appeal case which, if won, will be a feather in the cap of the barrister he is working for. It is unlikely my nephew will get more than a cursory thanks. He just has to hope that someone will be impressed enough to employ him. It is a problem with internships.
Another of my nephews is doing his medical internship this year. He has been working eighty, ninety and even one hundred hours a week. The hours are ridiculous and the responsibilities are huge. He finally had a weekend off and came to see the Senior Cat for an hour yesterday. I supplied sympathy and something for the headache.
He has been on an orthopaedic surgery rotation - and not seen a single operation.  His next rotation will be in another area of surgery - paediatric surgery.
"But there is all the paper work before I leave this rotation," he told me.
I sympathised again. I know what he means by paper work. The number of forms to fill out - in duplicate, triplicate and more-plicate is unbelievable. Even I spend far too much time filling out forms and putting in unnecessary information that nobody is going to use or even care about.
So it was with interest that I read a short piece in this morning's paper in which it said research had estimated that Australian scientists had, combined, wasted 500 years of research time filling out forms last year. Five hundred years? It does not seem possible. What a waste of time!
Much of the form filling seems to be designed by bureaucrats in order to keep themselves occupied. And no, often they do not need it.
I was asked to look at a proposed form recently. It had been designed by a bureaucrat somewhere and sent to me for comment and, if necessary, modification. The form ran to almost three pages. I reduced it to one. It contained all the information that the three page document had asked for. It could also be filled in by ticking boxes or writing in numbers.
I sent it back and have not heard a word. My guess is that the three page document is the one which will be used. There are people who like forms. They like to make life for internees difficult. They like to waste the time of scientists - and others.
I wonder why I bothered but, perhaps, somewhere there might be someone who will see it and design a form that takes five minutes to fill in instead of fifteen. That will be another ten minutes of research or care.

Monday, 28 October 2013

"No, I do not speak

Spanish but yes I did understand your half of the conversation."
I said this to the man in the library. He had been sitting there in one of the carrels with his laptop and was, presumably, having a conversation on Skype or some such thing. Is that possible? I suppose it must be. He was not talking on his phone. 
He was talking rather slowly. If he had been speaking at a more normal speed I would not have understood a word he was saying. This conversation however was slow and, without intending to, I discovered I was picking up a word here and another there and that, somehow, it was making some sense. 
I tried not to listen but he was also speaking quite loudly and it was hard not to listen. 
"Oh, I didn't think anyone in here would understand anything I was saying."
He seemed to think that was an excuse for talking sufficiently loudly to be heard. 
Yes, I know people don't whisper in libraries any more but they do tend to have conversations quietly - unless it is the knitting group!
"Well, most people won't understand but there are several people in the district who might. I wasn't trying to listen you understand and I didn't understand everything you were saying. You just made it hard not to hear you."
He shrugged and then said, "My father is old and getting very deaf."
Yes, I had worked out he was speaking to his father. I just wish he had gone into the little room at the side which is set aside for such things. It is uncomfortable being able to hear someone's private conversation - even if you can only understand part of it.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

There were boxes

and boxes and more boxes and then some bags -all filled with books.
Our living area was literally knee deep in books for some weeks. There was a shed somewhere with more books. There were books stored in the rectory. There were books in the church hall.  And yes, "Cat will run the book stall, won't she?"
I weakly agreed. After all, according to the Senior Cat, the average age of the congregation has to be at least 80. The last time they did a big event like that was about fourteen or fifteen years ago - and yes, I did the same thing then.
On that occasion the book stall was outside under an awning and I think we actually had less books. I only remember two trestle tables sagging under the weight of books. This time there were three trestle tables and they already had too many books on them when we lined books up on the floor and there were more books in boxes.
After consultation with the organisers we made them cheap. Most of those sold will be used as holiday reading and then passed on to yet another charity shop or left for Book Crossing or some such.
There was also the inevitable pile of cookbooks - many looking unused - and a lot of them sold. There were "coffee table" books and travelogues, old travel guides and seemingly endless "airport" type novels. There were very few children's books. I did not buy any that were there.  
I came across just one book of slightly greater value. It has long been out of print. I talked to a book dealer I knew and she gave me an excellent price for it. I also offered her the opportunity to go through the books before the sale because I knew that she would only buy a very few from us but she would give us more than I could ask at the Bazaar. And, she did.

I have mixed feelings about all of this. I have a rule that I do not buy a second hand book unless it is not possible to buy it new. I would love to buy cheap second hand books but authors do not get paid anything unless you buy the book new. So a book has to be out of print before I will buy it. Yes, there is a possibility that it will be reprinted but, more often than not, it is not going to happen. It is the best I can do. 
I have a large collection of second-hand children's books bought that way. There was and is a second reason for doing that. Libraries cannot keep as many good books for children as they should be able to do. The space is simply not there. I feel that children should be able to read some books if they are keen readers and want to do so. The Whirlwind has read almost every book I own and some of her friends have read many of them as well. Their current English teacher has been delighted by how many books they have read and encouraged them to continue talking with me about them.
So yes, books should be passed on. The money will go to a good cause and people will read more. I just wish the authors could be paid too.
And so, we sold books yesterday. We sold boxes and bags of books. We had other dealers of course but we also had people who pounced on things and said, "Must read that" or "That looks good" or "That's one I haven't read."
And people left 50 shades of (yes, there was a copy). They left almost a metre of Mills and Boon but no doubt someone will read them somewhere. I thought the few teenagers might want the first twilight book but, like the Whirlwind, they went for other things.
The Whirlwind has two more books on her overloaded shelves. Her father has seven, the Senior Cat has seven.
Oh yes, perhaps recycling is a good thing if it means people are reading...but I do wish the authors got paid when it happens.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

I had been waiting and

then waiting and waiting for the results of my biennial "breast screen". (Gentlemen reading this I make no apologies for mentioning it!)
I first had one eight years ago - when I became eligible for the government's free screening service. My GP did not suggest it and even seemed surprised that I should bother but I belong to a loose group of women with disabilities who try to set an example to other women with disabilities who might feel that such things do not apply to them or that the difficulties of getting it done are too great.
There are also important reasons why I personally should get a check.
It is not a comfortable process but the new procedure is much better than the old one. I won't go into details. The whole thing was over and done with very quickly.
It was the results I had to wait for. I was warned as I left that there would be a longer wait than usual. The service was criticised recently for failure to read some problems with the new equipment. I don't think the staff can be criticised but their training perhaps caused a problem. They are now being even more careful but it means delays. 
I was prepared for the four week delay but five weeks later I had heard nothing. Okay, there was also a public holiday and I thought that might have added to the delay. I told myself not to worry but... well you know what it is like...and the Senior Cat (who unfortunately knew that I had been for the screen) was getting even more worried. I waited another couple of days and then I sent an e-mail because the time waiting on the phone was something I did not have with the computer playing games and other things to do.
There was no answer that day or the following morning. In the afternoon I went off to sort books for the book stall without having seen the mail come.
I arrived home to a full sheet of paper on the table "OK!". One of the staff at the centre had rung. She must have heard the extreme anxiety of the Senior Cat because she broke with the standard protocol and said, "I'm not supposed to do this but it is good news so I will tell you".
I am extremely grateful to her both for the good news but, every bit as much, for alleviating the anxiety of the Senior Cat.  Yes, he is an inveterate worrier but the recent death of his cousin's daughter from cancer had heightened his normal level of anxiety to even greater levels than usual.
Yesterday someone else rang to double check that I had been given the results - and the Senior Cat took the call. And yes, I was out! (Sorting more books.) This person said she could not really speak to him and even her reassurance there was nothing wrong did not help. 
 He panicked and couldn't remember my mobile number or find it but rang someone else he knew would be in the hall with me.  "Use the office phone Cat."
I used the office phone and finally spoke to the person, "No, nothing wrong but we wanted to be sure you had the message. It shouldn't have been given to someone else."
I explained about the Senior Cat's age and anxiety. "Tell him not to worry."
I think I may suggest a slight change to their procedures, that they might send an answer via e-mail if requested to do so, but I have much to be thankful for - and I just sent an e-mail to say "Thankyou".

Friday, 25 October 2013

Apparently the almost black, sticky

and salty stuff beloved by many Australians is 90 today. That makes Vegemite almost ten months younger than the Senior Cat.
"Vegemite" you ask?
Ah yes, Vegemite. It is Australia's version of Marmite or Promite. It is a little less sloppy than Marmite and the flavour is subtly different. It is an essential part of the Australian diet. All health warnings about the consumption of salt are ignored when it comes to Vegemite.
For those of you who live in North America it may be necessary to explain still further. Vegemite is a yeast extract. It is eaten with bread or toast and butter or margarine or a similar "spread".  Vegemite does not need to be spread thickly, a mere taste will do. Local students in halls of residence have had to explain - by example how to eat Vegemite.
I have seen visiting American students, sadly unfamiliar with the joys of Vegemite, spread it thickly on toast - only to discover it is inedible like that. The Chinese students view it with extreme caution - and compare it unfavourably with soy sauce.
Vegemite sandwiches are common in school lunch boxes. They are cheap and will almost certainly be eaten. I ate a great many Vegemite sandwiches as a child, as did my siblings. My nephews ate Vegemite sandwiches.
Vegemite can appear in other places. There are recipes which call for Vegemite - usually as some sort of addition to stock. A sandwich may contain Vegemite with a slice of cheese and/or tomato. These are rare but not inedible even if they are not traditional. 
There was an experiment with something called "Cheesymite" - Vegemite with cheese already added. I think it is still around but it has not taken off. True Vegemite fans do not add to the delicate, subtle, salty flavour of toast, butter and Vegemite. They do not use it as finger paint or face paint. Vegemite is to be treated with respect.
Dieticians claim Vegemite is not good for us. It's the (admittedly high) salt content and apparently even the yeast is not favourably looked upon. Right.
With respect to Vegemite however I believe it is a case of a little bit of what is bad for you may, in this case, be good for you. It is a slice of fresh bread or hot toast with a comforting smidgeon of childhood spread on it to be savoured slowly. Everyone should be able to do that sometimes. 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Normal service will be resumed

when the computer is working properly. We thought we had it fixed but.. no it is not the cable (we put in a new cable) and I  don't think it is the monitor because that was working just fine too. Ah, that message "no signal input" again. It has to be the video card... sigh... I am SO FRUSTRATED!
I have written a blog post and scheduled it for tomorrow...
dear readers please do not desert me because, quite frankly, I need you. I need to know that, just once in a while, someone reads my witterings.
I promise, normal service will be resumed...

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Our Prime Minister is also a

volunteer member of a Rural Fire Service Team. He has attempted to keep up that role despite becoming Prime Minister.
Over the weekend he did a fourteen hour shift on the front line along with the rest of the crew - and he has been criticised for it.
There are two ways of looking at this but let me first say that his office did not tell the media where he was or what he was doing. Social media came up with some rather indistinct photographs taken by other people who saw a chance. I don't think they did anyone any favours. It was actually rather irresponsible of them.
We all know about our PM and volunteering. There was no need to tell people again.
There are cynics who say that the PM just does it for a photo opportunity - and they will probably say "Well his office didn't say anything because they knew that someone would do it for them."
There are other cynics who will say, "Bet, he was only there long enough to get on camera."
There are critics who say, "He shouldn't be fighting fires at all. He should not put himself in harm's way. He should be running the country."
There are other critics who say, "If it is his time off he should be spending it with his family."
Yes, all those things can be said but we can also say, as his team leader did, that he did a full shift and then some. He had to be fit. He had to take orders. He had to take responsibility for himself and others because team work is everything in that sort of situation. He was actually setting an example and not just telling other people they should volunteer.
And that, surely, is the other side? It is common to see photographs of politicians out walking, jogging, playing tennis or taking a foreign dignitary for a round of golf.  We see politicians lined up serving meals or "lending a hand" at some event which is carefully stage managed.
I suspect this was different. The PM was there for fourteen hours. He has been a member of the RFS for fourteen years. It has been a long term commitment. Of course there are photo opportunities. It probably hasn't done him any harm but to suggest that he only does it for the publicity he is likely to receive is, I think, going a little too far.
I wonder what would happen if all politicians did something like this? I know a number of politicians - not all of the same political persuasion I hasten to add - and only one of them is what I would consider to be a committed volunteer. The rest of them belong to groups in a manner which suggests that they are there for the opportunities it provides. They don't attend meetings regularly or generally pull their weight but the organisations in question are happy to have them because they can also use their names. It works both ways.
But being a volunteer fire fighter would seem to be different. It has taken a long term commitment. Team work is essential. So is training. You can't just turn up when you feel like it or when asked to open the annual event or be the MC at the annual dinner.
Yes, it is dangerous but I have nasty suspicion that were our PM to go sky diving or bungee jumping or indulge in some extreme sport our sports mad country would love him for it.
Perhaps the real problem is that he is in an uncomfortable reminder to some people that they do not volunteer.
Personally I would rather have our PM at the other end of the hose than someone who cannot make that long term commitment. It might not be particularly wise of him given his present position but he made a commitment and he seems to be sticking to it. Perhaps some of his critics could try doing the same thing?

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

There was a mildly funny

cartoon in the  paper yesterday which has raised the ire of the Minister for Transport. She is demanding an apology. Much of this has been made on page three of today's paper.
I don't particularly connect with the present cartoonist. His style often irritates me but, that said, the cartoon was not what most people would consider to be in the least bit offensive.
The original story which sparked the cartoon was to do with the way that the Premier of the state and some of his Ministers are spending tax payer dollars on "artworks" with which to adorn their office walls. I can think of better ways to spend taxpayer dollars at the present time, especially as the artists are not usually the beneficiaries. The paper took the same view. They criticised.
The cartoon showed a couple of people in our state art gallery looking at blank spaces with notes pinned to the wall saying the works were on loan to.... hardly offensive I would have thought even when the word "snaffled" was used.
The other day I used the word "snaffled" myself. I used it in an e-mail to someone at a site which sells left over cones of knitting yarn. I said something like "Thanks Sue, I managed to snaffle three and it should be enough to make her a cardigan". I had of course sent payment to the Sue in question so that she will send me the yarn in question.
There was absolutely no implication of theft involved but our Transport Minister has apparently decided that there was in her case and she wants an apology. The paper has now compounded the problem with an "apology" written by the flamingo which appears in the cartoons on a regular basis. I foresee more trouble ahead unless the Minister has the good sense to retreat. (She may not.)
Being made fun of in cartoons is an occupational hazard of politicians. They cannot afford to be too sensitive about such things. Comment through cartoon can be very funny but it can also border on libellous. If there is ever any doubt then of course someone at the paper will consult some over the potential for libel. It is the way things are done.
Although I cannot think of any examples I suppose contributors to the letters pages in the press may also be the subject of a cartoonist's pencil. Contributors can also be subject to criticism which borders on libel, particularly when they are deliberately misunderstood and used to make the point of the next writer. It too is an occupational hazard. If you don't want it to happen you don't write letters to the editor.
I suspect the Minister in this case may lose her seat at the coming election. She is only there now by the slimmest of margins and many do not believe she has done a good job. Her demand for an apology will not be well received by the public and the "apology" from the flamingo will outrage her even more. Whether the paper has gone too far remains to be seen but the Minister would have been wise to ignore the cartoon.

Monday, 21 October 2013

I am having problems with

the computer again... sigh! This is being written at my sister's place and I know I am fortunate to be able to prowl over here and "get things done" but it is still awkward.
It makes me realise how dependent on technology we are and also how dependent I am on books and computer programmes which are specific to my work. There have been many discussions about e-books and their advantages and disadvantages but the last couple of days of using a different computer has, once again, convinced me that there are certain advantages to having a real paper book at my disposal.
I have a fondness for what might best be termed "hedgehogs" - multiple strips of paper (sometimes colour coded) sticking out of a book so that I can flip backwards and forwards quickly for information. Scrolling through something is simply not as fast. I cannot annotate the pages either. I know there are ways of highlighting information in an e-book but it is simply not the same.
And, not everything I need is available in e-book form nor am I prepared to pay for a second e-copy of a book when I have a perfectly usable hard copy.
And then there are programmes that I use that I cannot download on to this computer - apart from anything else I would not want to add to the mass of icons they already have on the screen!
I am no sure when I will get my own computer back either. I am dependent on my brother-in-law to return it and he is in no hurry to do that. He takes the attitude, "Cat, if you are working for nothing then they can wait."
It is however not quite as simple as that. The people I work for are also volunteering their time. I don't help people who are paid nice fat government wages for doing "aid work". Yes, some of them work hard but compared with people who give up their annual leave and pay their own fares and take their own equipment and live alongside the locals the government funded aid workers have it easy. I also suspect that some of the volunteers I work with do more good. They do operations which save lives and teach the locals how to build footbridges which won't get washed away every time it rains.
There have been comments here and elsewhere about writers being asked to "volunteer" or work for minimal pay and I really do firmly believe they should be properly paid but should I be? If someone is not being paid to help then should I charge them? I get a minimal allowance for caring for the Senior Cat but it is not a full time job at present. I hope it never is. It means I can help others as well. I think I am doing the right thing but it seems that other people disagree. It is not just my brother-in-law but others who say, "You should charge people."
Yes, if they are being paid but if someone is volunteering their time - is that right?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Bushfires are

common in Australia - all too common. The current situation in New South Wales is of disastrous proportions and likely to continue for some weeks.
It is just good fortune that, so far, my home state has not had similar fires in the hills behind our house. Yes, just good fortune.
The claim by the Greens MP Adam Bandt that there will be more of these fires if we do not  go along with the Greens policy on global warming and what to do about it however is to be questioned. His statements smacked of political opportunism. The reality is that his party must take some of the blame for the present situation.
Why? There are several reasons for this but one major one is a belief among some people that the bushland environment should remain "natural".
People have moved into areas where houses simply should not have been built in the first place and then they have failed to keep the ground around them clear of the sort of natural debris that allows a fire to move through so extraordinarily rapidly. They have not kept their gutters clear. They have allowed trees like gums to overhang their houses. Gums burn readily, all too readily.
Add to that the failure to do controlled burning off to create fire breaks because some environmentalists oppose such things and you have a major problem. Fire breaks may not stop a fire from starting but they can help to do much to contain a fire that has started and they can make the job of fire fighters much easier.
People still want to live in high risk fire areas but they also expect to have the benefit of largely volunteer fire services when things go wrong. They expect to be able to keep their "natural" surroundings too and to do it without the need to clear gutters and grounds of debris.
Yes, I have said all that before and I will probably say it again somewhere else at some other time. Yesterday a stranger contacted me and said, "I have been told you have written a book for children about two children in a bushfire. I am just wondering if you could give me the name of it so I can order a copy."
I had to tell them, "I'm sorry. It hasn't been published." I gave them the name of another book (Colin Thiele's "February Dragon" as a substitute only to be told, "Isn't that the one where the horse dies?" Well yes, it is. Animals do die in bushfires and people die in them too.
I explained that the children in my book lose their parents and their sister. "Oh, I don't really want to scare her and she would be very upset about the horse in the other book."
We ended the conversation but it made me wonder whether perhaps that is one of the reasons why I have not succeeded in getting the book published? When Colin published February Dragon there were people who objected to the death of the horse but this is what happens in fires. And yes, children do lose their parents in similar situations - just as parents can lose children.
But have we come to a point where people don't clear debris from around their houses and publishers (and agents) believe that the theme is inappropriate for a children's book because people no longer want to face the consequences of their own actions or their own beliefs. Do we want to so protect children from such information that they won't know the consequences until it is too late?
Maybe the book I wrote is not good enough - although I still think it is - but is is also the topic?

Saturday, 19 October 2013

He fell off the roof

of the chicken house," our neighbour told us.
These neighbours live two doors away. We have never had much to do with them. They are, to put it kindly, "slow". He was a twin and suffered some brain damage at birth that left him with a below average learning ability. He spent his years at school in a special class. He said very little at any time and increasing deafness made it more difficult.
His wife is pleasant but also not very bright. Their marriage has been stormy and she was often physically abused. We heard horrendous tales from our previous neighbours and say the police there more than once. Nothing was ever done although I filled out more than one set of papers for her she would always withdraw at the last moment.
Despite their problems he held down a job at the same factory for all his working life. They had three girls, all of whom were more able than they are. They have gone on to have careers, marriage and children.
I could sometimes see him working in his garden or in his tiny shed.
Yesterday his wife told us that he had climbed on to the roof of the old chicken house. There are no longer chickens in it but he has things stored there and apparently it was leaking. It is only about 1.5m high but he slipped, fell backwards and landed on his head as well as cracking his ribs and his coccyx.
This happened last Sunday but nobody knew anything about it. It was a day of wild weather. He must have gone out in the rain and climbed a very slippery roof.
He has been in hospital since then. He is in an induced coma because of the broken ribs but now they have had to do further surgery, including a tracheotomy. It is intensely distressing for her. She was in tears as she told us the whole sorry tale.
I wondered about all of this. Here is a man who has been morose, sometimes violent, often verbally abusive and rarely pleasant. She is a "battered" wife.who has never had the courage or intellectual capacity to leave him and yet she is still upset by what has happened, upset for him. She has shown more compassion and care than many people show at any time.
I think that, in a way, I admire her.

Friday, 18 October 2013

So far nobody has built

a duck house but our politicians have also been involved in some very dubious expense claims.
Claims have been made to attend weddings, funerals, birthday parties, football matches, participate in charity events and visit wineries.
I don't condone any of those claims.
The weddings are probably a little awkward. You're getting married? You feel bound to invite the boss, in this case the leader of the party. He or she feels bound to attend because the media will make much of it if they are not there. It is also an opportunity to do some "networking".  But yes, it is an expense you have to wear as leader of the pack.
Funerals? A former Prime Minister or Governor-General? Mmm... possibly reasonable to expect some minimal taxpayer assistance. Try and tie it in with something else so that things get done. Anyone else - unless you are representing the country abroad pay for it yourself. 
Birthday parties? (That one was for a once leader of the pack.) Definitely not.
Football matches? Why on earth should the taxpayer fund your leisure activities? No, I don't care if Aussie Rules is loved by thousands - even worshipped. Send the team an e-mail if you must.
I would rather you actually played football with the local kids.
Mmm....yes those "charity" events. On balance you should probably be paying to participate in those too. There may be circumstances when you attend such an event in your role as a politician. If it can be genuinely classified as "work" then perhaps there are some expenses that can be claimed but it is a grey area. Great caution is needed.
And then we come to the visits to wineries. I think this might come into the "building of a duck house" class. Nothing can justify those. They were for personal pleasure. They should have been paid for by you. 
The whole business of who pays for what with respect to politicians has become ridiculous. Questions need to be asked. "Is it part of my duty to my electorate?" "Will my electorate benefit?" "Is it part of my wider duties to the parliament?"
There has been more than one blog post recently about the way authors do not get adequately paid for both writing and activities related to writing and earning an income from writing. It seems to me that, if we can pay politicians to visit wineries or go to birthday parties, then we should be able to pay writers to do their job. What is more we should be able to pay them well.
Reading the latest ridiculous claims and counter claims has further depressed me. I just cannot understand how so many of these claims are justified. There might actually be more money around to fund new writing or writing from new authors if we stopped paying politicians not to do their job. 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

It seems we are going to be invaded

by ice cream. Yes, ice cream
Now even I have heard of a certain brand of ice cream from the United States. It comes with a certain philosophy and a mind boggling array of flavours.  If someone is prepared to put up almost half a million dollars then a single shop will open here in our fair city. Hmmm - or should that be "mmm"? I am not sure.  I suppose people will buy it.
When I was merely a kitten there was just one flavour of ice cream to be had, if ice cream was to be had at all. It was just too bad if you did not like vanilla or chocolate coated vanilla. The chocolate coated vanilla came wrapped in silver foil and it was available when you went to the pictures if you lived in the city.
We lived in "the bush", the rural areas of the state. Ice cream? Well you needed electricity to keep it from melting didn't you? It was a rare, very rare, treat.
My mother would make it occasionally, usually for the occasion of my sister's birthday in October. (The rest of us have our birthdays over the summer when we were usually in the city.)  She would make it from milk, condensed milk, powdered milk and sugar I think. There were no eggs in the recipe so it was not custard based ice cream at all. I know she mixed it, semi-froze it, beat more air into it and then re-froze it. The resultant mix was a slightly grainy textured frozen mixture that we actually liked. It was, after all, ice cream of a sort.
If we happened to go to "the Show" (our Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society Show) in September there would be the other treat...honey flavoured ice cream. It came from the mid-north of the state. People would line up for scoops of this rare treat. We would save our pocket money for that single scoop and savour it. Honey flavoured ice cream only appeared at that event.
If you went hunting there was an "ice-cream cake" made by another firm. It consisted of vanilla, ersatz strawberry and chocolate swirled together and decorated with "hundreds and thousands". I can remember seeing these but we never had one.
There must have been other ice cream type treats around but we never saw them in the country. It took a long time before the other fancy things appeared.
Now I can prowl along the frozen food section and find honey, boysenberry, vanilla, chocolate, lime, pistachio, chocolate chip, strawberry (still ersatz) and other flavours. There is also "frozen yoghurt" and "gelato" and "low fat" and "no-fat" and "soy" and yet other variations on the ice cream theme. There are ice cream treats on sticks, in cones and between biscuits. There is ice cream which is, to put it mildly, very expensive. There are "adult" flavours and ice cream intended for children. There are now mini ice creams intended to be a guilt free treat for those who are on diets but want to indulge occasionally.
And yes, there is still vanilla ice cream. It sits there in plastic containers or cardboard plastic coated containers of various shapes and sizes. It comes from at least a half a dozen different sources. Even then it is not just plain vanilla. There is also "French vanilla" and "some-thing else vanilla".
The Senior Cat likes ice cream. I do too. We try not to eat it too often. Ice cream is to be treated with respect.  I explore the flavours available. I reject the most expensive brands. They rarely live up to the extravagant promises they make.
I wonder, if it comes, what the new place will be like? There are a number of "ice-cream" places around now. Some of have lasted longer than others. It is no longer a seasonal treat. I am told it is easy to flavour a basic recipe so flavours can come and go. But, comfortingly, vanilla is still there.
My paw reaches out for the familiar vanilla from the familiar maker - or perhaps today it will be the honey flavour. I'll ask the Senior Cat before I do the shopping.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

It is AAC Awareness Month

which, for those of you who do not know, means it is Augmentative and Alternative Communication Month....a time to give special attention to the needs of people with communication disabilities.
Now, as my fellow cats will tell you, I miaou far too much and far too often - and probably far too loudly. I like to be heard - if I have something to say. I also engage in everyday social mewsings or chat.
I consider myself fortunate in the extreme to be able to do this. The friend who had a stroke just before Christmas last year now has great difficulty in getting out more than two or three words. Sometimes they are inappropriate and sound ridiculous in the context but can actually be related to what she is trying to tell you. As an example the other day she said "Periscope hurts". What she was trying to say was that she had a headache in the region behind her eyes.
Her younger cousin actually sorted that out and understood it. It took a while and a few more questions. When she was finally understood appropriate action was taken by the staff and, quite possibly, another migraine was avoided.
But, it took time and time is often what the staff in a nursing home do not have. They don't have the training or the knowledge to deal with issues of communication. It is faster and easier to do what they think is right, rather than finding out if it is actually what the patient wants or needs.
I remember when I was teaching in a school for children with profound physical and (supposedly) intellectual disabilities. There was one child who had been placed there by accident. He had come from a home where English was not spoken. Assumptions had been made about his ability to understand because how do you understand English when you have never had a chance to learn it?
He was in my group. He had been in school two years by then. I was puzzled by his alert, eager face and his obvious curiosity. Compared with the other children he was all too obviously, to me, taking in a great deal even though he could only communicate by looking up for "yes" and down for "no".  Oh yes, it took a while but we found other ways to communicate. He went on to learn to read (a huge challenge for both of us ) and was transferred to another school where the education was much more appropriate to his obvious intellectual capacity.
It still takes time to communicate with him. He has a complex communication board of 516 symbols in two languages - the maximum number we could "eye-code" for. His family manage it well. Strangers don't always get it right. Sometimes I don't get it right because I don't often see him now.
There was a "chat" on Twitter last night. Some of those who joined in are users of AAC but they have a far greater physical capacity than he does. One of them mentioned that she does not engage in everyday "social chat". It takes time and effort if you are a user of AAC. He does not engage in that sort of casual conversation either.
But, I thought, watch his expression, "listen" to his eyes. His family don't ignore him in social settings but many people do.
If you meet someone who cannot communicate in the normal way give them time, allow them to engage in a little "social" chat as well. It's part of being human.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Year twelve examinations

start this week with the oral examinations in various languages. After that there will be written examinations.
One of the local church halls is used as a venue. There are already notices up warning people of the fact that examinations are being held there and asking them to be particularly quiet. Does it make a difference? I don't know.
My experience with externally moderated examinations started at the end of my primary school years. We did an examination a bit like the English "11 plus" which decided what sort of secondary school we would attend. Of course in some places there was no choice but it still decided whether you went into the "PEB" or "Area" stream.
PEB stood for the Public Examinations Board stream and Area meant the rural-agricultural/commercial stream. The PEB stream led to university, teacher training college etc.
We did a series of external exams. The first lot came at the end of our third year in secondary school. As country students we did our exams in our own school but thousands of city students had to go to the Showgrounds where they sat in the big halls. It was often hot,  very hot. I hate to think what sort of effect the heat and the surroundings had on the performance of some students.
There were just three hours to show what you had managed to learn (or not learn) during the year. Rural students were often at a serious disadvantage. Their teachers had not been able to benefit from the meetings their city colleagues had to discuss what might be in the papers and what they should be concentrating on.  I remember one occasion on which a physics paper had an entire section which had not been covered by rural schools at all. My father made frantic phone calls to the head office to find out what was going on. In the nick of time he had instructions for the students to ignore that section and do something else. It was, as he put it later, entirely unfair on the students.
The Whirlwind will soon have exams as well. Her school is sufficiently old-fashioned to believe that having them is still a good preparation for having to face them at year 12 and post-secondary level.
Although she does extremely well she does not like exams. I fear I have not been much help in that respect. I hated exams. I went on hating them right up to and including the last one I did. I had nightmares for years afterwards that I had failed that exam in Constitutional Law. (No, I passed.)
Despite that I have been looking at old exam papers and "practice answers" for several students recently. Some of it seems so simple now.
"Compare and contrast...." "Discuss..." "Outline the reasons for...." "Show how..." The instructions tell you what to do.
But then I remember my teenage self with all the doubts and anxieties (compounded by problems of getting it down on paper in my case) and I can only sympathise madly with these students. It doesn't matter how well you know your work or how much work you have put in there is always the fear of misreading the question, of not dividing your time up etc.
Perhaps exams are rather like democracy - we just have not yet invented a better way of doing things.  

Monday, 14 October 2013

Why was it so quiet

in the nursing home on a Saturday afternoon? You could have fired a cannon down the passage of the old house which forms the main part. I doubt anyone would have come.
It is a lovely old house, old for our part of the world that is. Australia doesn't have the really old houses of Europe. This one was probably built about a hundred years ago. It is the classic passage down the middle, rooms to either side and veranda around. The veranda has an intricate tiled pattern which reminds me of my paternal grandparents' home. Inside there are polished wooden floors in the passages and dining areas and carpets in the bedroom. It is all very clean - and very quiet.
I had tied the tricycle to an outside post and told it not to get in the way. Then I went to find the elderly friend I had come to visit.
She was in her room. The television set was on but the sound was off. She was dozing. Her younger cousin was there doing a crossword puzzle from the daily paper.
"Cat's here," she told her cousin. She switched the television set off. We sat and talked for a while. I gave them the news I had come to give them and greetings from a former neighbour I had seen that morning. The older cousin managed to say a few words but we both know it is an effort for her.
The woman with the afternoon tea trolley came and went with a minimum of fuss. I could hear her chatting softly to the woman in the room opposite. The other day I said hello to that resident as well. She is still able to knit and read and does both. Most of the residents do nothing at all apart from sit and, perhaps, watch a television screen.
Yes, it is not much more than a hospice for the elderly dying. Only a few will be there for any great length of time.
Is that why people don't bother to visit? There is a paucity of names in the book you sign as you enter and leave.
I left after half an hour or so. It's long enough, just enough to break up the day a bit and they know I'll be back when I can.
And, as I leave, I see someone has wheeled another man out onto the veranda. We saw one another the last time I was there. He saw the tricycle and gave me a "thumbs up" of approval. We smile at one another.
And then, there is a small sound. He looks up and smiles again. There is a wind-chime on the veranda post next to him. A slight breeze has caused it to make a light, almost laughing sound. It is company of a sort.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

There is another "discussion" brewing

about the age at which alcohol should be (legally) available. I have done some quite deliberate stirring with a letter to the state newspaper after "Australian of the Year", Ita Buttrose, suggested the drinking age should once again be raised to twenty-one.
Naturally her suggestion has produced howls of rage from many. Two groups are particularly prominent. The first is the 18-21 year old group who believe they would be the most affected. The second is the hospitality industry with its dire warnings about unemployment, flow on effects, a downturn in tourism etc etc.
Now the 18-21 year old group claim that, if they have the right to vote they also have the right to buy alcohol. They say that if any government tries to bring in such a law they will simply vote them out of existence. The answer to that of course is for all parties to have the same policy. Probably no hope of that.
The "we are allowed to vote therefore we should be allowed to drink" argument is interesting. Recently there were quite serious suggestions that sixteen year olds should be given the vote. If they had the right to vote would they also have the right to drink? Where would you stop? Why sixteen? Why not fifteen or seventeen?
The reality is that those under eighteen already find ways to procure alcohol and drink it - often to excess.
We have an alcohol problem in this country, a big alcohol problem. It is very readily available at extraordinarily extended hours and our culture encourages the excess use of it. It is not, as it is in many countries, drunk with food. It is merely drunk. It is seen by many as an essential part of an evening out, so much so that some young people will consume a considerable quantity at home before heading out simply because they actually plan to drink to excess and "have a good time".  
I don't drink alcohol myself. I am actually allergic to alcohol. It causes me to feel itchy all over - and, believe me, it is a very unpleasant sensation.
That said I have absolutely no objections to other people enjoying alcohol - but I do mean enjoy it. I do not mean indulge in it or drink excessive amounts of it or use it as an excuse for violence or causing an accident or doing any other harm to themselves or to other people.
What puzzles me is that it is so often seen as an essential ingredient in the "have a good time" recipe. It seems to be part of the expectation that, rather than create our own entertainment, we will be entertained by others.
I am sure, if you can tolerate it, a little alcohol is nice now and then but is it also necessary or even essential? And, shouldn't it wait until the majority of brains have "grown up"?
We aren't going to stop under-age drinking but it should surely be possible to reduce access to alcohol. If it harms the "hospitality" industry too bad. Perhaps some of the money saved on alcohol related incidents could go on employing them in other ways to entertain us all?

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Learning to say "thankyou"

is difficult.
By this I do not mean the sort of everyday "thankyou" we say for all sorts of things.  What I mean is the sort of "thankyou" for a bigger gesture that someone else has made an extra effort over.
I hope I am very conscious of the need to thank people, of the need to say "I appreciate what you did".
I, unusually for me, asked someone to do something for me the other day. I think she was pleased to be asked. It will indirectly benefit both of us and quite a number of other people. It was a small thing, a very slight detour on her way home to drop some things off at our place so that I can pass them on to someone else. That person has now paid for them and the money will go into the funds for our knitting guild.
I made a point of thanking the deliverer at the time and next time I see her I have a spare ball of yarn I know she can use for the hats she knits for charity. I won't tell her "that's for delivering". I'll just tell her "I thought you might be able to use this for the hats".  I know I don't have to do this but I will feel more comfortable about it because it was an extra effort on her part.  She didn't volunteer. I asked. It's a gesture, nothing more.
The Senior Cat needed some help in his shed recently. Someone he knows put him in touch with someone else. The man turned up and spent a little time there and refused payment for his services. "Pass it on" he told the startled Senior Cat. Yes he will. Since then we have seen the man who put him in touch and he said, "X said he was so impressed that someone your father's age is still doing things for other people that he wanted to do something for him - so he can go on doing things for others."
As a result of the help he got the Senior Cat has managed to help someone else - and told them to "pass it on" too.
I have been going backwards and forwards to see a friend in a nursing home. It's a fair distance to pedal and the journey there is up the hill. It takes time I do not have but will make because I know that the friend does not have a lot of time and her younger cousin needs the support of my visits. I don't expect or want to be paid to do it. The smile I get is more than enough thanks.
And sometimes that is all you need. Trying to pay someone for what they have done can turn out to be the wrong thing.
Now please don't misunderstand me here. If you ask people to do something then proper payment is to be expected - and I believe you should pay them promptly as well. Don't ask someone to do something they should be paid to do unless you are prepared to pay them? Well no, I won't.
But there are also times when I may volunteer to do something. If I do then I don't expect to be paid for it. The question "How much do I owe you?" or the statement "I have to give you something for that" is an embarrassment then. It is also a rebuff. It suggests that the other person is rejecting a friendly gesture - or perhaps even friendship itself. It can make you wonder whether the gesture was really appreciated or merely tolerated. 
I recently offered to do something for someone else. The offer was accepted and I did the job. The recipient then tried to pay me for it. She was quite insistent. I refused. She then tried to give the Whirlwind something instead. I know the Whirlwind would have been thrilled with what might have eventuated but she showed a great deal of maturity and refused.  She refused because even at her age could see it was not right to accept any form of payment. "She should just have said 'thankyou'. It's like she doesn't want to be friends."
The Whirlwind is not yet old enough to fully understand the difference between "friends" and "friendly" but yes, it was as if she didn't want to be friendly.
Learning to really thank people is hard. I suspect it sometimes involves giving them less but meaning it more - and passing the gesture on to someone else instead. Perhaps the recent experience has been a good thing for me. It's a reminder to thank people properly and appropriately.

Friday, 11 October 2013

It should not be acceptable

to charge taxpayers to attend a wedding or a sports event - or is it?
The media is presently spending a great deal of time investigating old "expenses rorts" by our politicians. They love doing that and so do certain sections of the population.
The reason it is so much fun is that the reporting has, to date, been a little - shall we say one-sided? They are making a great fuss about expenses claimed and then repaid by our newish Prime Minister. Some of these date back years. The information was available long ago. It is old news but it has been made into new news because, without it, there would be no opportunity to continue criticising him and glossing over anything he might achieve. After all, this is the man the media loves to hate.
I am not suggesting he did the right thing. Was he attending those weddings as a friend, a colleague or because he thought he should or for some other reason? He was competing in the sports event. Was he doing it for personal satisfaction, to set a good example or because it gave him the chance to network in a marginal seat? I suspect it would have been wiser to pay for these things straight out.
At the same time however there is no mention of the fact that some of those now in Opposition have had some interesting trips of their own. Two of them claimed taxpayer funds to attend the 80th birthday bash of a previous Prime Minister. The Prime Ministerial jet was used to fly from Canberra to Melbourne to attend a football match as a spectator.  And of course there have been weddings and funerals of an equally party-political nature which have been claimed on taxpayer expenses.  Oh and someone attended the last royal wedding...but that counts as a duty.
Mmm... I do wonder what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.
What really gets me are those "study trips". You know the sort of thing I mean. Our politicians take a little trip abroad, first class fares and hotels and meetings with a few people one of whom will show the politician around a power plant or printing press or something equally unlikely.
Of course our new Foreign Minister said "business class" and a single room was quite adequate thankyou. She did not need first class travel or a suite of rooms. Not much has been said about that. The media probably thinks it is not befitting her position to slum it like that.
And there is something that really puzzles me. It seems that the taxpayers are now expected to foot the bill for something that is definitely a party-political issue. The opposition members are heading back to Canberra to vote for a new leader. It is all part of the "rules" that the previous Prime Minister managed to put in place believing that he was going to be there for the long haul. The process is supposed to be more "democratic". It is supposed to give the party members a say in who leads the party. There appears to be dissension in the ranks - or at least between the plebs and the pollies. I suspect the pollies will win - after all, they have to work with the leader.
But why should taxpayers have to pay for this? It should be a simple matter of a vote. It could even be done by post. Taxpayers should not be forking out $200,000 or more for them to sort out their leadership squabbles. No doubt someone will tell me it is vital they have a leader. Well yes, but they have to sort it out for themselves and at their own expense.
I believe there is one politician who has been in parliament for years. Much has been said about Bill Heffernan and it has rarely been complimentary but the man has apparently never been guilty of rorting travel expenses or taking a study trip. Perhaps all other politicians could learn something from that.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

There was a "rear ender"

on the busy main road yesterday. This road leads up into the hills behind us. It carries a lot of traffic and it is not, contrary to the belief of some, a race track as well.
There are three sets of traffic lights and a further set of pedestrian lights all in close proximity to one another along this stretch. The pedestrian lights are there for a very good reason. They lead to the library on one side and an aged care complex on the other. The side street leads to two primary schools and a secondary school. The pedestrian lights are used a lot. Oh yes there are always idiots who do not use the lights but the majority of people getting on and off the buses and visiting the library, aged care complex and schools do use them.
Perhaps one hundred and fifty metres away there is the first set of lights. It is a T-junction and the lights lead to the shopping centre, the big gym and places like a branch of the Motor Vehicles Department. You can turn here and continue on past these things to the "old" part of the "village" (now mere suburbia),  another school, day care places etc.
Go straight ahead and there are two more sets of lights - or perhaps just one rather complex set of lights. Their phase is inconsistent and relates to whether pedestrians are using the push button facilities.
It is altogether a short but difficult stretch of road that requires both alertness and patience to negotiate.
And yes, the problem is that people are often not alert or patient enough. Minor "dings" are common. Pedestrians add to the problem by not using the designated crossing points - after all, why walk a few extra metres if you think you can get away with it?
I hate crossing roads. I don't cross roads unless I absolutely have to. I always use the lights and I always pedal. I will not cross a road on foot. I know I can't make it to the other side in time. People who know me will do a trip around the block and dump me at the destination before parking the car we are travelling in. I appreciate that more than most of them will ever realise.
I simply fail to understand people who do not use pedestrian lights.
Yesterday's rear-ender occurred because a pedestrian did not use the lights. Swerving to avoid the pedestrian the driver went into the rear of the other car.
The driver was a young "P" plater. The car was an "old bomb" but probably the pride of its owner.  The driver was not travelling at an excessive speed. The lights were in the driver's favour. The pedestrian had no business to be on the road at all. Had he been hit he would, at very least, have been badly injured.
The young driver's car was beyond repair. The other car, much newer and sturdier, was badly damaged. Both drivers were badly shaken but, fortunately, suffered only minor injuries.
. It has no doubt shaken the confidence of the probationer who will face all sorts of questions simply because he is a probationer. There was the mess and the inconvenience and the disruption to the traffic flow. There will be insurance claims, court time, police reports and legal and financial consequences for the drivers of the cars. 
The pedestrian must have been aware of what had happened. He must have been aware that he was the chief cause of the incident. He simply finished crossing the road and walked on.
I wonder how well he slept last night?

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

There was another packet

of patterns to go through yesterday. These were mostly crochet patterns. Quite a few of them dated from the 1950's. They are mostly made up of "motifs", small squares or rounds which have then been joined together to made table "runners", tablecloths, doyleys and the like. The instructions state they should be made in various weights of cotton, all of them fine.
It is not the sort of thing I could make. My paws are not that able but, even if I could, I would not bother. I do not know anyone, including myself, who would use such things. There must be people who do I suppose but the thought of laundering such things fills me with alarm. My late uncle objected to the "oil-cloth" on our kitchen table but it serves us well when the Senior Cat comes in covered in sawdust and other shed or garden detritus.
There were also patterns for other crochet items though. Some were for babies. No mother would use them now. They were made from wool of course. Imagine how uncomfortable they were if they were if not properly washed! Even well washed I wonder how comfortable they were against a baby's delicate skin. Perhaps babies were tougher when those garments were in use?
And there were other items too. There were the inevitable tea pot cosies and antimacassars, some snoods, men's ties, blouses for women and more. There was another book devoted to "prize winning yokes" intended for nightgowns and, perhaps, blouses.
They were, on the whole, fine and beautiful. I suppose they were also reasonably practical as they were mostly made from cotton. I have found other such books in the collection as well.
Last night I was talking to an elderly member of the Guild and I mentioned these things.
"Yes, people made time to make those things. I made all my own clothes back then. Now I just go and buy something. It isn't as satisfying even though it gives me more time to read."
At 86 perhaps she can be forgiven for buying ready-made but I wonder how many younger women have never experienced the satisfaction of making something. Many people say they don't have time but I note that Margaret said "make" time.
Perhaps we all need to make more time.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Yesterday I went on prowling through

the old knitting books and pamphlets I brought home to sort. I have put the duplicates to one side and, as far as possible, put the others into some sort of order. In doing so I came across some more interesting things, interesting even if you have no interest in knitting.
There are several copies of small booklets with the title "What to make for baby - Designs and Instructions in Knitting or Crochet by E.G.J.A.". The price is 1/6. The E.G.J.A turns out to be a "Mrs Ella Allan" who lived in Southey Street, Elwood, Victoria. 
The "Mrs" is interesting in itself. So is the "Ella". Was she a widow - or a feminist? There is a list of "Mrs Ella Allan's Publications" too - among them "Dainty Adornment for Tiny Tots", "Desirable Designs" and "Her clothes as she grows". I can't help wondering what they looked like, especially the "Dainty Adornments".
There are a number of copies of something called "The Lady's World Fancy Work Book, Containing Knitting, Crochet and Embroidery". No 24 carries an advertisement for "Robinson's Groats" on the back. The wording reads,
"Babyhood at its best is seen in the thousands of healthy, vigorous, bright and merry children brought up on Robinson's "Patent" Groats. The nurseries ring with their happy laughter, and it is a pleasure to see their smiling, gleeful, chubby faces. Robinson's "Patent" Groats is rich in body-building elements and is most easily digested."
Hmm....with all of that they will never have needed "Dr J Collis Browne's Chlorodyne the best remedy for Coughs, Colds, Asthma, Bronchitis (which apparently) cuts short attacks of Spasms, Hysteria and Palpitations (and which was) the Only Palliative to Neuralgia, Gout, Rheumatism..." I wonder why they stopped making a remedy which did so much good?
I showed these to the Senior Cat. He laughed. He can remember being made to take cod liver oil and milk of magnesia but his breakfast porridge oats was made the old-fashioned Scots way. He was "spoilt" with milk - but no sugar.
I suspect it was just as good as the "groats".

Monday, 7 October 2013

Clearing out the other cupboard

belonging to our local knitting Guild was interesting. We had to move the cupboard to a shed at the rear of the building we meet in and it seemed to offer an occasion for a clear out.
I doubt we can make more room in the cupboard that serves as "the library". This was the only opportunity to find more space.
I have already, much to the alarm of some members of the group, removed the magazines that are more than ten years old. We put the old ones out on the table - for sale at a mere 50c each. Nobody wanted them although they had complained about not keeping them in the library. I refuse to worry about such things. They left the building and a charity shop welcomed them.
The other cupboard has held the paperwork - Guild Minutes and correspondence which must be kept. Old accounts. We disposed of those not required to be kept by law. The "pattern booklets" the Guild has printed in the past. I long to dispose of those as they are not only out of date but poorly produced but, beloved by some members, they remain there.
There are old knitting needles. I handed those over to someone to sort and (mostly) discard. The sound system which has never worked properly. We can't discard that but it should be fixed. The real problem is not the sound system but the hearing loss among older members and the fact that many people do not know how to speak to a room full of people. 
There were odds and ends used for exhibitions. Yes, useful. I put them back.
Then, crammed in tight on the bottom shelf, was the rest of the "old stuff". For me it was a treasure trove but it has not been touched in years. I did not know it was there. I had, wrongly, assumed, it was the minutes and the newsletters from the past but of course I had found that on the upper shelves.
I opened up a folder...old knitting patterns. I do not mean the sort of thing you might find in the local charity shop. I mean old enough to have some historical value. Some of this dated from the 1920's. It is more than 80 years old.
My enthusiasm for it was not shared. "Nobody will ever knit any of that!" No, perhaps not.
I looked at other folders. There were similar items in them. There was a folder full of material from World War II with items to knit for the armed services.
The garments seem to take very small amounts of yarn. Certainly people were smaller then but the amounts still seem small. Of course the knitting is done with much finer yarn and needles. Look closely at the patterns and you realise that people embarked on projects that took much more time than the modern knitters is usually prepared to give.
"Did people actually knit that stuff?" someone asked me.
"They had to," I explained, "It was much harder to buy things ready made. Most women had to make their own clothes or have them made. You didn't just walk into a shop and buy something cheaply made in China or Bangladesh."
She looked at me in disbelief and said, "They must have had more time."
I don't think it was that at all. They actually had fewer "labour-saving" devices and there were no ready prepared meals of takeaway. Not all women went out to work of course but some did and they still managed to get things done.
I suspect they caught the bus or tram or train to work. They would have knitted then and in the evenings while listening to the radio or reading. Now people drive a car to work and watch television - and only some of us knit.
They didn't want the treasure trove. I am going to offer it to a home where it will be appreciated.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

My father and I were saddened

but not surprised to learn of the death of a friend yesterday. We had been expecting it.
She was once the secretary of my mother's school. They became good friends as well as working partners. After my mother died we continued the friendship. We would talk on the phone every couple of months and, at Christmas, we would have "breakfast" together at her local shopping centre. We probably had more in common with each other than she had with my mother. She was a serious craftswoman and a knitter of note. She was a reader. My mother was not really any of those things.
She had her problems. Her husband became a violent alcoholic after a work related injury. She left him and brought up four boys on her own. They all became a credit to her parenting.
 I rang her one evening to find out how she was. What made me do it that day I do not know but, choking back tears, she told me that her third son had been found dead on the kitchen floor that morning. There was nothing sinister about it. He had simply had a heart attack.
And she had a glandular condition which caused her to be massively overweight. Her weight increased as she grew older.  Always beautifully groomed she made her own clothes in an effort to dress with some style. It is difficult to do that when you weigh 148k but she managed.
She was a Justice of the Peace and the secretary of more than one group for many years.
As it grew more and more difficult for her to get about she cut back on some of her activities but not all of them. Getting out was still important to her as was maintaining contact with people.
In her own home though the companionship of her dog was enough. There were a succession of dogs, always the same breed. The dogs were as well behaved as her children. There was something about her which caused dogs and children to behave.
We did not see one another at the shopping centre last Christmas. I knew the journey to the shopping centre would be too much for her. I made the journey to her home instead and took our "breakfast" with me. The table was neatly set - the way it always was. The dog was sitting patiently waiting to shake my paw. She put the kettle on and made the tea and we talked and talked.
It was the last time I saw her. We did chat after that. I am going to miss the phone calls - and eating "breakfast" with her.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Does the rest of the world

argue the way we do in Australia?
This weekend we are switching over to the so-called "daylight saving".  Unlike some areas of the northern hemisphere we are not far enough from the equator to really benefit from this but some were convinced it was of benefit to them and pushed for it. It makes assumptions about people's lifestyles and activities which have been largely disproven. People still need to go to work at the same time and, once home, they tend to stay indoors. The latter is particularly true in the heat of summer.  But, we now have daylight saving and we are likely to be stuck with it.
Every year however my state, which is half an hour behind the next state - yes, I did say half an hour - does not take the opportunity to rectify that half hour difference. There has been talk from time to time of moving our time forward "so that it is in line with the eastern states". That would put us even more out of line with the world time zones but business keeps insisting that we should move forward rather than back. It makes all sorts of spurious excuses as to why this is necessary. Of course it is not necessary. It is merely desirable for business. After all, Australia does not - apparently - do business with the rest of the world.
I read the usual letters to the editor about these things and also pondered on the fact that today the last major football match is apparently being held at something called "Football Park". I have never been there. It was built and opened some time in the 70's because - yes, wait for it - an argument between football and cricket officials. Apparently that has been resolved and football will now be returned to its "rightful" place - a venue in the city centre and the hallowed home of cricket. It took a lot of government money for that to happen. I don't understand the politics of it all and I don't want to. It is a waste of money in my view.
We have other arguments here that just cost money, such a two organisations for guide dogs and numerous other small charities for highly specific purposes. Most of them achieve very little but no doubt those who run them feel they are doing some good.
There are duplicate "guilds" too. Some of them have come about because of other arguments. People have disagreed about how things are run, how things are done. It all costs money, more money than it should. Our community is not large enough to have such duplications and waste simply because people argue, a minority want something and get it or people are simply too lazy to organise themselves in accordance with the natural rhythms of nature.
Does the rest of the world argue like this? It might. It just seems more obvious here.

Friday, 4 October 2013

"They'e having a de-stash

sale at the art and craft centre," my informant said with a meaningful look at me. "I am sure you could contribute something. I'll send you a flyer. Just make sure you don't go home with a pile of other people's stuff."
Oh. Right. I pedalled off after being held up and wondered what she meant. De-stash? Get rid of something I didn't need? Mmm. I needed to think about that.
The flyer arrived home before I did. E-mail allows this sort of thing to happen. I ignored it until late in the day. There are, after all, more urgent things in my life.
There are also things I could usefully pass on to other people. Occasionally, if the Whirlwind does not use them, small crafty bits I believe are genuinely useful for someone have found their way to the local charity shop. If people are willing to pay a dollar or two to keep their children occupied in the holidays then this can only be a good thing. The Whirlwind does use a lot of what other people would consider "junk" or "rubbish". She likes to make things. They have to be able to be used. She does not like what she, like me, considers to be "dust collectors". Give her an empty milk container and a few other items and she will have it recycled into a useful seedling container in a trice.
There are some things that neither of us will use though. There is a book on sewing teddy bears. Neither of us sew. The Senior Cat most certainly will not use it. There is a similar book of Beatrix Potter patterns, interesting but we won't sew them. There is some of the "clip art" by the Dover publishing group. My younger sister used some of that at one point for a project she was working on. We don't need those any more.
There are duplicate biscuit cutters. They are new. Do they count as craft items? I suppose they do. Someone might find those useful. There is a pack of twelve HB pencils with floral printing and rubber tips. New. I think my mother was going to put them with something. I won't use them. The Whirlwind has her own ideas about pencils. They have to be good quality pencils. It is one of the few things she fusses over. I think I can be safely rid of the other pencils. There will be other things I am sure.
The group doing the de-stash sale will take a cut of course but perhaps I can add to someone's stash and they can provide a small donation for my friend who runs the centre for children in Africa?
I really must do a little clean out and see what else I can find!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

There is a photograph of the Rolling Stones

on the front page of our paper this morning.
I am waiting for the Senior Cat to surface and ask me who they are. I know he will. I also know what he will say when I tell him. It will be, "Aren't they a bit old?"
Now I have to explain here that I have never been into "pop" music.
I was never a Rolling Stones "fan".
I was brought up on a diet of Mozart and music hall (my father) and Mendelsohn, Schumann and Schubert (my mother). There was a little Bach and others thrown in for good measure. As children we did not hear "pop" music being played.
I heard other children talking about people at school and I had a vague idea who Elvis Presley was but, beyond that, the world of popular music was a mystery.  It did not matter either. Where we lived by then the radio reception was so bad that we children were lucky if it was good enough to hear the old "Children's Hour" with the Argonauts. Nobody really listened to the radio apart from the weather forecasts, news and something I think was called "the Country Hour" for farmers. If reception was good enough some rural people listened to "Blue Hills", the long running serial a bit like the UK's "The Archers".
When we moved it was to a dairying district and the farmers played classical music to the cows in the milking shed. Some of the local children knew a little bit about popular music but it did not loom large in their lives. They knew "The Seekers" because our music teacher at school was training the choir to sing one of their songs for the Schools' Music Festival. Our school song book was filled with classic folk songs and campfire favourites - which we sang with much enthusiasm and little musical ability.

Three years later I was sent off to school in the city and was totally bewildered. It was like moving to a foreign country. Everyone around me talked about "groups" I had never heard of - and no, until then I had not even heard of the Beatles. My classmates banded together and hauled me off to see the first Beatles film. It was interesting but I did not really enjoy it - although I was too polite to tell them that.

And yes, I do vaguely remember the Rolling Stones being mentioned but I cannot remember anything about them. They did not make a big impact on my life. I vaguely remember other "pop" things, one about pearl shells, another about a boardwalk and, of course, the (as my mother put it) the House of the Hair-raising Sons. (No, she was not impressed.) And I will forever hear  "Blowing in the Wind" sung in German rather than English because that is the way I first heard it.  Yes, I can remember the likes of Joan Baez (also doing a return trip Downunder) and other more "folk" than "pop" people. I also remember the group the Whirlwind found in her father's collection. Procul Harum cheated and used Bach to their advantage in something called "A whiter shade of pale"....I actually don't mind it. The Whirlwind also liked the Bach when I found it and played it for her.

But, the Rolling Stones? Well, I recognised Mick Jagger before I read the caption. I could actually name him.
Does that count for something of an education in "pop" music? What have I missed out on? Everything?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Our living are is knee deep in

books at present. I was "volunteered" to run the second-hand book stall at the "Grand Bazaar" or fete being held by the Senior Cat's church.
This grand event takes place on the last Saturday of this month but people seems anxious to be rid of their books. I am advised that there are more in the church rectory and in someone's garage. They will, I am told, be moved into the church hall for me so that I can sort and price them.
There will be nothing too fancy about this. I have warned the organisers I do not have time for that. I think I can tell pretty much at a glance whether a book is worth more than what I think could be charged at a church fete. So far however I have not come across any likely looking "first editions signed by the author" type books.
I have been given a great many cook books - most of them in excellent condition. It makes me wonder if they were ever used. Probably not.
My mother collected cook books - and never used them. I have some. I do use them. If I didn't they would go. Cookbooks are something I can discard. They are not, to me, like other reference books. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I rarely cook to an actual recipe.
Then there are some school text books. I doubt anyone will buy those although someone might be interested in "Japanese for busy people"? I don't know. There are some other reference books. Most of them are out of date. Their usage is limited. We may sell some of those however because "home-schooling" parents will often buy such things.
Then there are piles of hard-cover novels. The Senior Cat prowled through these when they arrived. I told him to look for first editions and signed by the author books. There weren't any. Some of these are in excellent condition. They have their dustcovers. I doubt some of them have been read. Someone may buy them. Will they find a home in a designer bookshelf?
And then there are the piles of paper-back books. Some are in excellent condition - and likely to remain so. They are, all too often, award winning novels that have, I suspect, been given as gifts. The inscriptions read that way. I suspect the recipients looked at the first few pages and got no further. I will not bother to cut the uncut pages.
And then there are the tatty paper backs. There are the books that have obviously "done the rounds" already. Most of them are "crime novels" by authors whose names are instantly recognisable. I don't doubt for a moment that they will sell. People will buy them at a very low price. They will read them on holiday and then leave them at the nearest charity shop. I suppose that is something to be grateful for.
I really do hesitate over the buying and selling of second-hand books - but only because the author does not get another tiny royalty from someone else's reading pleasure. I hope they do get some pleasure from the thought that they are contributing to charity.
In the meantime I need to prowl cautiously through those knee deep piles and try not to feel too guilty. Forgive me please writers?