Wednesday, 30 April 2014

So a "debt tax" is being proposed

is it?
We will have to wait until the actual Budget Speech to be sure of that but the scaremongers are already out in the media. There are also a range of angry protests from the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed, the employed, parents, those with mortgages, those who want to retire before they reach 70,  those who have already retired, indeed those who were "promised" anything at all as well as those who were not promised anything but believe they are still entitled to something.
And yes, the government got in on a "no new taxes" etc. platform.
But someone has to pay for past expenditure. We are in debt. We have to pay the debt off - and the interest bill alone is horrendous.
Oh yes, we could go down the United States road and be so deep in debt that it will be generations, if ever, before even the interest bill reaches a reasonable level. Do we want that? Is it fair to future generations?
I don't think that is wise - but then I am not an economist so what would I know? Perhaps all these people who are screaming about cuts have a point. Perhaps we should just borrow more money - no, wait a minute, the government has already done that.
Australia looked as if it came through the GFC pretty well. The previous government got widely praised for the way it handled things. It really did a lousy job because, although it kept people employed, the money was directed to the wrong things.
The government built school halls when it should have been building hospitals and aged care facilities. It built at least one school hall on a site which has now closed. It built another at a school which already had a new hall - but needed a library.
It put insulation in private housing when it should have been spending the money on regenerating the forests. We now have to pay for those things. 
If money had been spent on aged care facilities it would have had multiple social and economic benefits - places for those who need them - freeing up housing in the community and providing employment. Regenerate the forests and you are also providing on going employment as well as caring for the environment.
There were other things that money was wasted on. All governments waste money - often with an eye to the next round of voting. I am told it was not a waste of money - that infrastructure takes planning (yes) and that the economy had to be kept running (but it was running into debt). Why wasn't infrastructure being planned - and why were people putting obstacles in the way when it was being planned? The airport at Badgery's Creek should have been built years ago. Even now it is likely to run into obstacles at the NIMBY syndrome.
But when I hear people complaining about having to pay for these things when their child has "benefitted" from a new school hall and their heating and cooling bills are lower because they received benefits from the insulation scheme or that they have to pay anything at all for their child to attend a state school because their taxes are supposed to cover the cost then I wonder what they actually expect.
They will even say "there is only a certain amount of money to go around" as if they understand. It seems though that they only understand it in relation to themselves and what they want. They don't want money spent on aged care unless they or a family member needs it. They don't want money spent on disability services unless they need it. They don't want money spent on hospitals and health services unless they are ill.  They are all for "user pays" unless they need to use whatever it is - then "our taxes should pay for it". But they don't want to pay tax either. And, of course, "the rich should pay" - and by "the rich" they mean anyone at all they see as being better off than themselves.
I don't know what the answer is although I do wish that people understood economics a little better - or perhaps just basic money mathematics?
At the moment though the refrain of the economic song seems to be "It's all about me."

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The "Paid Parental Leave" scheme

proposed by the present government may or may not happen. I suspect that, if it does happen, it will not be in the presently proposed form.
I don't like the idea of "parental leave" or, in most cases, "maternity leave", for the sole purpose of having children and then going back to work. To me it sends the wrong message.
It sends the message that, yes it is important for you to have children but then you can hand them over to us to bring them up. You can put them in day care and kindergarten and pre-school or hand them over to your parents or a neighbour who is caring for other children. Then you can go back to work. Once they reach school going age the same sort of thing can continue with before school care and after school care as well as the school day being handled by other adults.  It sends the message that rearing children is not "work" or that it is, at best, a part-time occupation.  
It is work and it should be, for one parent, almost a full-time occupation.
I would like to see a scheme whereby one parent was paid to stay at home and be responsible for rearing the least until they are of school going age.  Yes, I know there are all sorts of other issues attached to that - many of them to do with "careers" and "adult company". In other words they are to do with adult desires rather than child rearing.
I don't know what the answer is, especially while we are told that both parents going to work is so important and we look down on those who are "stay-at-home" parents. I have my concerns too about those parents, usually mothers, who stay at home and then "hover" over their children.
But yesterday I was asked to take on a very big responsibility for someone else. It probably won't be for that long and it may not be that onerous but, when I was asked, I was told "I want you to do this because I trust you." Although the person asking me to help is an adult I had another brief but alarming glimpse of what it should be like to be a parent. I said "yes" but saying "yes"frightened me. It also, oddly, comforted me because it gives me an opportunity to do something positive to help someone else.
How can anyone who has a child who looks at them and says, often without words, "I trust you" betray that trust? How can they just pass the responsibility for rearing the child over to someone else? How can they forego that sense of comfort at being needed? We have been told it is all right to do this but is it really?
If we took child rearing seriously, child rearing as an occupation in itself, we would have a very different sort of society. I don't know whether it would be a better one but would it be worth thinking about?

Monday, 28 April 2014

"I've gone gluten free,"

someone announced to the knitting group. Homemade biscuits, delectable homemade biscuits, were being passed around. (Cookies to the Americans reading this.) She declined.
"Oh, have you been diagnosed?" someone asked sympathetically.
"No, I just decided to do it. It's obvious."
"What's wrong with me. I feel heaps better already."
"Oh, how long have you been..."
"Since Wednesday."
The exchange sparked more discussion but the person who had asked the question about "diagnosis" looked at me. We both knew what the other was thinking. If you don't feel well, get yourself checked out.
There are people who need to be gluten free. I know someone who actually needs to keep a separate kitchen for herself. Her husband cooks his own meals. She has a severe gluten intolerance and accidentally ingesting any can land her in hospital. Very few people are as intolerant as that.
But the exchange at the knitting group was topical because there is also a short piece in this morning's paper about the way in which foods which are labelled "gluten free" tend to be (much) more expensive. The gist of the article? Some things are naturally gluten free but label them as such and the price goes up - for everyone. Some gluten free foods may also contain extra sugar or other ingredients in order to make them palatable. Labelling something gluten free will not necessarily mean it is good for you.
I avoid the gluten free label and buy the cheaper version.
I have been told by more than one person that they do not like the "gluten free" bread. Nevertheless the insist that they need to it. Some people insist that it is a way of losing weight - although I have yet to meet anyone who has lost a lot of weight and kept it off by keeping to a gluten free diet.
The odd thing in all of this is that someone else I know has gone on a diet. He desperately needed to diet. He was morbidly obese. He has, to date, lost almost 40kg. He wants to lose another 40kg. If he succeeds he will still weigh considerably more than I do - and I am not as slim as I should be. Yes, he was grossly overweight, 
He did not go "gluten free". He sat down with someone and made a list of the things he should not be eating - cake, sweets, sweet biscuits came at the top of the list.
He is eating bread - good quality wholegrain bread in limited quantities. He is eating a good balanced diet in limited quantities. It is the sort of diet he is going to be able to maintain. He is reaching the point where he can now do some exercise with it - when he could not even reach his front gate without an effort.
Perhaps this gluten free diet works for some people but I look at this man and I have a feeling that the "limited quantity" diet might work just as well. 
You see, he tried "gluten free" and just put on more weight. 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

We were talking about mental illness

at the library knitting group yesterday. It's a tricky subject. I know that one person in the group has been through some very dark times. She never says much and I am fairly certain I am the only person who knows how dark those times have been. I am certainly not going to say anything but I am glad I know and can help to keep the conversation on a positive track.
The conversation started because someone else was late arriving. She is not mentally ill but she has mental issues. She is grossly overweight. Her hygiene leaves much to be desired. Her knitting is like that of a small child learning to knit.
When she speaks her voice is strained, high pitched and jerky. The words don't always come out in the order she probably intends.
In her late teens this woman had an accident. She had a "closed brain injury" and it has affected her intellectually and socially.
I suspect her presence in the group has caused other people to come and then not return. Too bad. They are the ones who are missing out.
I see this woman going in and out of the library. We sometimes exchange a few words - if it is a day on which she recognises me out of context. I know someone else who, when she is not having her own issues with clinical depression, attempts to watch out for her. They both live in the same lot of social welfare housing - tiny one bedroom, living area/kitchen and bathroom places which would be depressing in themselves.
Yesterday I told the group how I have been spending a good deal of time recently going in and out of a psychiatric unit at the local hospital. It is where my friend has been placed. She was placed there because of her physical needs. Her mild anxiety due to her breathing problems is well under control now and, according to the doctor who spoke to me at her request, never needed hospitalisation. What she did need was more short term physical care for a range of issues, particularly pain management, than a normal ward could cope with. Extreme pain - with every breath you take - has serious mental consequences and they wanted to avoid that.
The good news for all concerned is that she now has a place in a nursing home. It's not quite as close as the hospital but I will be able to pedal there. She had the news for me when I arrived on Friday - news that made her look happier and more relaxed than she had for days. She won't need to go home and stay alone - a prospect which was causing much of her anxiety. Someone else will always be there to help when she needs it.
So next week she will spend a night in the new place - and then return to the hospital for a little longer for more help with her pain management issues.
As she told me this we were watching the staff gently restraining someone who was trying to climb the tree in the little garden. The tree is not in the least bit climbable and the individual could not have harmed themselves but was still completely out of touch with reality and very distressed.
"I could have been like that," my friend said.
"Any of us could," I said.
And yesterday when the woman with the closed brain injury finally arrived and then sat knitting, apparently content to say nothing after she had greeted us I thought of that incident too. She knows she is not quite "normal" anymore but is, generally, happy.
We should consider ourselves fortunate. We are fortunate.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

There was national embarrassment

yesterday when a drunken Australian caused a serious disruption on a Virgin airlines plane. No, it was not a "hijacking" as first reported but it was still a very serious incident. 
I assume that, whatever other charges are laid, the passenger will be banned from flying - for life.
At the same time one of the state's police officers was facing the media to tell people of the death of a disqualified driver, age 21, and his passenger, age 27. Another man is in hospital in a serious condition as a result of the collision which occurred on a country track. The disqualified driver was driving without lights and apparently nobody was wearing a seatbelt.
The first incident was avoidable. There is no need to get drunk - or, surely, any pleasure in doing so. If you fear flying - and many people do - perhaps visit the doctor and ask for something less harmful to yourself and others? I hate to think what the cost of having to unexpectedly land a plane is - to say nothing of the inconvenience and anxiety it caused. The only thing to be said is that nobody died as a result of the incident.
The second incident was also avoidable - and, worse, people died as a result. That will have a major impact on all those involved. The monetary cost will run to well over a million before everything is sorted out. The emotional cost is immeasurable.
"Why do they do it?" the Whirlwind asked me yesterday. It is an issue which deeply concerns her. She is, in a sense, a road accident victim. Her mother was injured in a collision with a drunken driver.  Her mother subsequently took her own life due to the brain injury she sustained. The Whirlwind has had to grow up without a mother and her father without his wife. It's a lifetime of emotional pain. I don't want to count the number of times I had to hug the Whirlwind when she was a small girl and even a bigger one - because she wanted her mother.
I don't know why people do stupid, avoidable things. Everyone does silly things from time to time and they can cause accidents too but downright stupid, avoidable things? It is beyond me.
It also makes me angry.

Friday, 25 April 2014

"They shall grow not old,

as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them."
Laurence Binyon

These are probably some of the most famous words in the English language. They are repeated over and over again at ANZAC Day services, Remembrance Day services and other memorial services. They are repeated nightly at the Menin Gate and nightly in RSL Clubs in Australia, RSA Clubs in New Zealand. They are often followed by a minute's silence and, during a service, then the words "Lest we forget" with the phrase then repeated by those present.

For those of my father's generation the words stretch back to the war the words were written for, World War One - for the fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts they did not know. For my generation it stretches back to World War Two and the relatives we did not know because they went to war before we were born. For the current generation war is something else again. The World Wars are "history" to them. They see war on the television screen and there is a remoteness about it for them which alarms me. "Terrorism" is something new and different.
So it is becoming increasingly important to involve ourselves in remembering. And this morning, once again without any planning,  there was a little gathering on the small lawn in our street for a moment of reflection for ANZAC Day. Nobody said anything. People just gathered quietly and left again just as quietly. The normally talkative Whirlwind just put her head against her father's shoulder. He had his arm around her. The two boys did the same to their mother. This year their father was home and stood behind them with his arms around all of them. The couple whose son was in Afghanistan were not there. They are at a Dawn Service elsewhere in the country - with their son. Someone else came with his two teenage children. They lost a wife and mother last year and it was hard for them but they had been told by a neighbour.

Will we do it again next year? Perhaps. Who knows? Some of us may be here. Others may not. It is nothing really, just people standing on a lawn waiting for the distant sound of a bugle playing the Last Post at a Dawn Service some distance away. It is also an "everything", a reminder of how we are able to live our ordinary, everyday and largely careless lives. It is a small, but active, way to remember.

The Whirlwind asked me yesterday about the meaning of those words. They had discussed them at school before Easter but I could see they still bothered her.
"I think I understand but I don't think I will ever know. I hope not anyway."
I hope she never knows either.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Oh yes, the Budget?

There are already dire warnings in the media about the "horror" budget coming up and how we will all have to pay more for some basics.
Well, quite frankly I don't care how high the price of a packet of cigarettes goes. It doesn't bother me in the slightest. I don't smoke. I have never even tried to smoke a cigarette. If the price rise causes some people to quit smoking, others to cut back and some not to start at all then that will be even better.
Then there is the suggestion that the price of alcohol will rise too. That doesn't bother me either. I don't drink alcohol. I know other people drink it and enjoy it. Those who drink occasionally and in moderation will, in all likelihood, not be too bothered by this. Those who drink heavily - and those who supply them - won't be too happy but if it leads to one less drink-drive-crash incident it will be a good thing.
I am more bothered about retaining the policy of paid parental leave. The proposed policy seems over-generous to me. We all benefit from children. They are, after all, the next generation. The generation which will care for us in old age. They are "the future". They are, among many other things, an investment. So yes, we should support those who have them - up to a point and in the right way. The problem with the present proposal is that it supports the parent rather than the child. It is about the parent having time off to have the child and then returning to work. I have said elsewhere that parenting should also be seen as a career. People should be paid to parent, not just paid to have a child and then return to work.
It is unfortunate that parents are given the message that there is something wrong with being a stay at home parent. It would, ultimately, be much cheaper to pay one parent to stay at home and pass their paid work on to someone who would otherwise be unemployed. It is not cheaper to merely provide short term paid parental leave.
Then there are the pensioners - and their "assets". Safe or not? I doubt it. They will be hit. There are already suggestions that the pension age should rise to 70 as people live longer. In one way that makes sense - if people are physically and mentally able to work and wish to do so then they should be able to go on working. But there will be others who can't. Technology keeps changing so rapidly that, unless you can keep your skills up, your job might not even exist...anyone remember "switchboard operators", "telephonists", "comptometrists", telegram boys, the ice men or the rat catchers? All those jobs and many more have gone in the Senior Cat's lifetime.
And of course if an older person is in work then a younger person may well be out of work. It's a balancing act.
It seems to me that "Budgets" are also about social engineering. They should be about trying to balance the needs of everyone in society. And that is when politics gets in the way.
I was visiting someone in hospital yesterday and talking to one of the doctors. We were discussing whether it would be safe to send someone home until a nursing home place becomes available. We both know the answer is "no".
"Perhaps," the doctor told me, "We could house her in one of those nice new school halls they built - you know, at one of the schools they closed."
Perhaps we could.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Those of you who know me

in real life - fortunately for you that number is few and far between - will know that I have no time for political parties. They are, in my not so humble opinion, a waste of space. They do more harm than good.
I also accept that they are a necessary evil if there is to be any sort of order in society.
But the Australian Labor Party is now trying to convince me - and everyone else - that it is going to "change". What is more they are making claims that these changes will allow anyone to join the party.
What, you ask, the ALP is a closed shop? Yep. At present you have to be a union member to join the ALP. Of course if you are a union member you have been paying your dues to the ALP from the beginning of your membership. Your union has seen to that with its compulsory donation to the party coffers. It doesn't matter whether you approve of the donation or not. It happens. Someone from your union, more than one if you are big enough, will attend the state and federal ALP conferences. It is assumed that, as a union member, your loyalties lie with the ALP. The ALP is the union movement. The union movement is the ALP. Simple.
Mr Shorten, currently leader of the Federal Opposition, says he wants to change that. He wants anyone to be able to join the ALP. That sounds very reasonable. It may even happen - sort of.
Perhaps I am just too cynical but I have a feeling that even if the "anyone can join the ALP" move actually gets up then nothing much else will change. There won't be enough non-union members to make a difference to the voting patterns. It will still be union members who become party delegates - indeed that may well be preserved in the rules. It will still be union members who vote at state and federal conferences. Union members will still run the party and the politics. People who are not union members who want to join the ALP will find themselves under pressure to join a union. It is, in effect, a backdoor way of trying to revive the union movement.
It's a smart move by Bill Shorten. He can tell the world he has reformed the ALP. He can say this without having done anything of the sort. He is shouting "change or die" but it means nothing.
Nothing much is going to change.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

So Jonathon Emmett thinks

that female writers, agents and publishers have too much influence over what boys read and it is putting boys off reading does he?
I believe this debate has been flying around the internet for some time now but I only caught up properly with it this morning. (All right I know I should have done it sooner but other things happened.)
I prowled off to have a look at Mr Emmett's own website. Yes, quite a prolific writer for younger children. Yes, a very "politically correct" message. Yes, books like "The Princess and the Pig" are borrowed from libraries. (Question there - who chooses the reading matter for small children in libraries, the child or the adult?) And yes, children probably do enjoy them - and Captain Comet.
But is he right about those who form part of the 51% of humans having too much influence over the other 49%. Absolutely not!
Boys will read books about girls just as girls will read books about boys.
Mr Emmett suggests that boys would prefer to read about pirates, battles, fighting and the like. In doing so he seems to be implying that only males can write about these things. Is that really the case?I doubt it.
Surely he is not also suggesting that boys prefer to read about violence? My experience suggests otherwise. They are also - in my experience - happy to read about the genuinely funny, the fantastic, nature, sport, mysteries, family and friendship and adventure - and many other things as well.
And is there something wrong with a woman writing a book like "Captain Beastlie's Pirate Party"? Does Mr Emmett believe that Lucy Coats is not qualified to write about such wonderful things?
It also seems to me that there are books about boys - even about grown men - in children's literature. Margaret Wild's "Mr Nick's Knitting" is about a man who, shock and horror, knits! It was one of the favourite books in my time in schools - the children requested it over and over again. Yes, written by a woman - but it is about a man doing something that is now generally seen as an occupation for women. 
Move up a few years and one of the great "coming of age" stories to win the Carnegie Medal was "Josh" by Ivan Southall. Josh is very definitely an adolescent male. There are many more books like that out there - read by males and females alike.
What is more Mr Emmett ignores the fact that it is still women who do most of the nurturing of the very young and young. Women still outnumber men in the teaching of young children - both at home and elsewhere. I don't think that is going to change anytime soon - and I am not sure it should.
I don't think I want boys to be given books about fighting, battles and male "violence" just because someone believes that is what boys want to read about. We don't need to encourage that. What we surely need to encourage is the reading of good writing which stimulates their imagination, which adds to their experience of the human condition and makes them more aware of all aspects of life.
I will never get the opportunity to debate this with Mr Emmett but I think he is wrong. There is plenty of "maleness" out there - and male writers still dominate adult literature.
If you are a writer reading this - please tell me what you think!

Monday, 21 April 2014

"Speed cameras save lives"

or so the government would have us believe. Apparently our state's speed cameras managed to earn their maintenance this last year - all $13 million worth. In a state of just over a million people that's not a bad sum.
The other day I was waiting to cross a major road - at the correct point for pedal power - when I noticed something flash. Then I noticed that, since my last pedal along the route, they had installed a tall grey pole with a camera on top. Right.
I have no doubt that the location is designed to collect revenue. Indeed the camera will probably pay for itself within twelve months.
I have never been caught for speeding. It is rather difficult to speed on a tricycle. I know someone who was pulled over on his bicycle and told that he was exceeding the speed limit. He was not fined just "advised" that he was actually going rather quickly. He was going downhill at the time and was merely trying to keep up with the traffic. Most of the cars must have been speeding.
I have no problem with fining those who speed. If you don't exceed the speed limit you won't get fined so it is a sort of voluntary tax if you will.
But people will continue to fill the government coffers - because they speed. Some will fill those coffers more than once. Indeed I know someone several streets from here who has just had his third notice in twelve months. He is furious but it has not changed his driving style. His wife if not sympathetic. She told me, "When he loses enough points to lose his licence I am not going to drive him to work. He can catch the train." Personally I think he should start catching the train now. His style is such he should not be behind the wheel of a car - ever.
The revenue from speed cameras continues to rise and rise. There are demands to raise the speed limit. Those caught often say they are unaware they are speeding, that the limit is too low for modern cars. I watch people hurtling down the major roads as if they were being chased by demons. They need to get somewhere - and they need to do it fast. They need to be there - now. Then they have to brake and wait at the traffic lights or a pedestrian crossing - if they have not run the red lights. They forget that two cars colliding at the 60km speed limit have a combined impact of 120km - and the higher the speed the higher the impact.
Those who speed will often tell you "But I'm a good driver..." and "It's other people who don't know how to drive..." or "People who don't keep up with the traffic flow are the problem..." - even when other people are doing the right thing and, although not keeping up with the traffic flow are sitting on the speed limit.
I don't know if speed cameras save lives but I wish some of the revenue went towards training drivers who speed - but perhaps nothing will stop them except an accident.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Afternoon tea

We have been invited to afternoon tea this afternoon - across the road. Apparently one of the other people who has been invited is a friend of the Senior Cat - someone he has not seen for a number of years. (Yes, the city I live in is a small place - people tend to know each other.)
But, "afternoon tea"? I was given an interesting piece of advice with respect to writing recently. Quoting the advice of someone else she told me, "One of the things he says is to take out all the bits when they have a make/drink tea."
I can see why I was being told that. Does it move the story forward?
But then - you knew there had to be a "but" didn't you? - there are places where having tea (or at least food) works. In Elizabeth Goudge's book, "The little white horse", there is the wonderful description of the afternoon tea Marmaduke creates for Maria to give her guests. It is really not much more than a long list of things that might have appeared at an afternoon tea in Victorian times but somehow it is memorable. There is in fact a considerable emphasis on food throughout the book. Maria's breakfast with the parson is also described as are meals in Moonacre Manor.
And there are meals described in other books. Anne Barrett uses them in "Songberd's Grove." There is a description of the unequally divided omelette - which suggests good natured tension between the two men who eat it.
In "The Lark in the Morn" by Elfrida Vipont we learn that Kit, like many children, eats her jam roly poly by saving for last the piece with the most jam. Later there is a description of her having afternoon tea with her great-aunts - down to the careful warming of the pot and the use of Lapsang Souchong tea. It is a description of another different era. Would a child read it now? Some girls do. It's a curiosity and it does set the atmosphere and creates an even greater contrast between the two aunts who live downstairs and the aunt who has isolated herself upstairs. We never learn what sort of tea the upstairs aunt drinks but somehow we know it will be more robust than the Lapsang Souchong.
In "Pauline" by Margaret Storey, Pauline's stay at home aunt makes "bread buns" - eaten with butter and blackcurrant jam. It's another little glimpse into domesticity which somehow makes for greater tension.
So, although I understand the need in general not to describe the making and drinking of tea (and I know I am guilty of doing it) I also think there is a place for it if it somehow moves the story along or tells us something we need to know about the characters or helps us understand what they are going through. I am not (I hope) going to be guilty of describing those "wafer thin" slices of bread and butter, the cucumber sandwiches and the sponge cake but I do  
want to be able to say that someone like Maria or Kit or Pauline has afternoon tea "because....".   I want to be able to say that the first time Nicholas has breakfast with the cousins he is now going to live with that he is too anxious to help himself to more than one Weet-a-bix and that Michael's mother is so upset she forgets to put the yeast in the bread she is making.
I don't know if it is right or wrong. It feels right to me. But I know someone will disagree and, if it ever reaches the point of someone editing it then I might have to be prepared to throw it out.
But afternoon tea is still a proper occasion sometimes. Today it will be something more than a tea bag dunked up and down in boiling water or a teaspoon of "instant" coffee stirred around until the granules dissolve. Tea or coffee will be drunk with something more than a biscuit from a packet.
There is some hope for us yet - and that might be worth writing about.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Why do people want to climb Mt Everest

or any other mountain? Why do they want to white-water raft, go abseiling, bungy jumping or on treks to the South Pole?
I have no desire to climb Mt Everest - which is probably just as well seeing as how I would have no hope of actually doing so.
But I still puzzle over why people want to do such things when they are (a) unnecessary and (b) dangerous. Twelve more people have just lost their lives on Mt Everest - people who guide other people up the mountain.
It was the mountaineer George Mallory - not Edmund Hillary - who responded to the question of why he wanted to climb Mt Everest with the words, "because it's there". Perhaps that is reason enough. His words have gone down in the quotation books - and history - as reason enough.
Yes, Mt Everest is there. So are a lot of other mountains. A lot of other things are there too. I suppose I am a coward. I don't want to row across the Atlantic or sail across it in a replica of a Viking boat. I don't want to be an astronaut or even try hang gliding. A trip in a hot air balloon? No thankyou. A trip in a helicopter? The only reason for considering that would be if it was going to save my life.
I don't want to fly in a single engine aircraft and I certainly don't want to parachute out of a plane. (I don't even like flying.)
I have no doubt more people in my life will tell me that I don't know what I am missing but I am not, despite my intense desire to see things, a good traveller at the physical level. I suffer from motion sickness. I get sea sick - that does annoy me. I love the sea but I don't want to be tossed around on it. I would rather watch it.
Yesterday I went once more to see my friend in hospital - and I will keep going because she needs visitors. Yesterday she did not want me to go and I stayed much longer than I intended. My sister came with me. We both came away aware that this time next year my friend will almost certainly not be here. She may not even last this winter. She will never travel far again.
But she taught in Papua-New Guinea and China and she has seen something of the world. When people asked her why she went to teach in those places she would tell them that it was a challenge. It was interesting. She wanted something different and more satisfying.
I think that might be another sort of "because it's there". And perhaps that also means the phrase has some meaning for all of us.
What do you think?

Friday, 18 April 2014

The reports that flyers stating "Jews must register"

are being handed out in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine are apparently correct. What is less clear is who is handing out this vile material and what their purpose in doing so is.
Pushilin, the self styled leader of the "separatists", has apparently denied that any such moves are taking place. He has apparently claimed this is the act of those trying to harm the pro-Russian cause. It seems an odd way of trying to harm the pro-Russian cause because Muslims in the region also have concerns. It won't get them on side when they are also worried about their minority status.
I don't read Russian or Ukrainian and I am not going to waste time with a dictionary trying to translate what little I can see sufficiently well to read it. I am prepared to rely on multiple translations and reports to know that this is something that should not be happening.
It doesn't matter if it is a hoax it should not be there. It should never have been written.
I don't care who has written and distributed the material. I feel sickened by it. I feel sickened by it because it is designed to do harm.
I really don't care what people believe as long as they do not try to force others believe it. I don't care what people believe as long as they do not harm other people.
I have no time for people who knock on my door and start trying to tell me what I must believe. I have no time for belief systems which do not respect all people as equals. I have no time for those who threaten those who do not believe as they do or ridicule those who believe something different. I just don't want to know such people. I have friends who are Jewish. I have other friends who are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic and atheist. I wish I could bring them all together in the same room and that we would all condemn the sort of vile message that was distributed in eastern Ukraine.  
I can't do that of course - but I can say I don't support that vile message.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

A three thousand dollar bottle of wine

is surely something most people would remember being given as a gift?  I think I would - well, I know I would because I wouldn't drink it. I don't drink alcohol.
The Premier of New South Wales, Barry O'Farrell, is about to hand in his resignation over a bottle of wine he was given. It was apparently a very special bottle of wine - Grange 1959 if that means anything to you. It means nothing to me.
He could not recall being given it - although a "thankyou" note, handwritten by him, has apparently turned up. It is that note I find that interesting.
Do you keep that sort of correspondence? I don't think I would. There was other documentation which showed the wine had been bought. There was documentation showing a delivery had been made to the Premier's home. So, why keep the note? Did someone just fail to throw it away?
The note delivery documentation does not state what sort of wine was delivered. The note of thanks does not state what sort of wine was received. Was it actually that bottle of wine - or was it something else?
Why was the matter raised at the Independent Commission Against Corruption? There was no evidence of any wrong doing surrounding the gift - or indeed of any wrong doing at all. The Premier has resigned simply because he could not remember receiving the wine and said that in previous evidence. He corrected his evidence, apologised - and then announced that he would be tendering his resignation.
Yes, you could get into conspiracy theories here. I have no idea what the situation actually is. I know nothing about the wine or those involved. I don't want to know.
What I do know is that it pays to be careful. There is, they say, no such thing as a free lunch.
Some years ago the secretary to a very, very senior and well known person phoned and asked me whether I would come to lunch with this person. My immediate reaction was to wonder what this person wanted of me. He didn't know me personally. I thought it was highly unlikely he had even heard of me and I could think of no reason for him to want to speak to me. So, I asked, "What does he want?"
There was silence at the other end of the phone and then a rather huffy sort of reply that the secretary didn't actually know - unusual in itself. I suspect that the huffiness was related to that as well as to my questioning why I might be invited to lunch. She would, she said, get back to me.
Some time later I had another phone call - from the man himself. Most people would have unhesitatingly accepted an invitation to lunch with him and I wondered if I had committed an unforgiveable social sin. But no. He seemed amused.
Instead of going for an expensive lunch somewhere - the sort of thing he would have done for other people - we sat in a tiny private garden outside his office. We ate sandwiches and drank orange juice out of bottles. He asked me a lot of questions, took a lot of notes and shook my hand firmly at the end of it. I know I ended up on a committee because of that meeting.
A year's worth of meetings was a high price to pay for a sandwich and a bottle of orange juice.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Raising the pension age

is inevitable. It is going to happen. People are, apparently, living longer - or maybe modern medicine is keeping people alive longer.
Whatever is happening I don't doubt the pension age is going to rise. The previous government Downunder had plans to raise it to 67. The present government is saying it may even need to be raised to 70.
There are, of course, all sorts of issues surrounding this and there has been alarm and consternation in the community and in the media. How will people manage to work to 70?
And how will people manage to live after that?
A neighbour is retiring in a few months. His wife retired three years ago - so that she could take over some babysitting duties. They have two cars. They have a very nice house. They still go out at least once a week. They entertain at least once more. Their full retirement will be funded by a generous superannuation package.
Still, they claim to have problems.
"We will have to give up one of the cars. I don't know how we are going to manage without two cars."
That was the start of a list of things they will no longer be able to do on their reduced income.
Their priorities are different from mine - and from those of the Senior Cat. Their lifestyle is different too. We don't own a car at all. On the rare occasions the use of a car is inevitable we use a taxi or my sister will help out. We try not to ask her unless it is a medical appointment for the Senior Cat and she and I believe that she should, with her additional medical knowledge, attend the appointment with him. Once in a long while she will help me out with some especially heavy shopping.
But our neighbours use their cars to buy a paper or a carton of milk.
The Senior Cat and I almost never go out in the evening unless someone has organised a family occasion. Even when he did go out in the evenings it was not to lavish entertainment.
I was sent a personal "invitation" to an event for which the tickets cost $175 for the evening. I will not be going. It would cost more than $175 - even if I managed to find something suitable to wear from the local charity shop. That amount of money is more than I would spend in a year, let alone in an evening. Even if I had the money to spend I would not want to spend that much in an evening for a non-charity event. But our neighbours would not, until recently, have hesitated. Now they are alarmed that they will no longer be able to do such things.
I wonder about all of this. I wonder what the expectations of retirement are. Will many people be disappointed? Do some people look at retirement with fear? Do they worry about how they are going to fill their "empty" days?
The Senior Cat had no trouble filling retirement. He is fortunate that his days are still full and as busy as he wants them to be.
I have not retired yet. I probably won't retire unless I lose my capacity to use words. I don't have to "go to work" as such. I work from home. I earn almost nothing but that is beside the point. I am, I hope, doing something useful - and that matters.
It is those who don't know how they are going to fill their retirement or plan to fill it with things they believe they must do - from babysitting, child minding and joining an exercise group or the bowls club - they are the people I feel sorry for. I am sorry they have to give up the second car and that their entertainment has been curtailed. I am sorry they don't have the interests we have and the satisfaction we get from our activities.
If people do go on working longer I think it is even more essential that they plan for their retirement, that they develop interests and activities now that they can maintain in retirement. If you wait until you are seventy it might be too late.
So, what do you plan to do with retirement?

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

I need to write something

that I have not written before. I need to write some explanatory material and captions for someone else to use as part of an exhibition.
There is an international conference of Lace Makers being held here in the middle of the year. I am peripherally involved because one of the organisers brought some lace knitting and knitted lace for me to look at. (Yes, there is a difference between lace knitting and knitted lace although the lines are blurred.) What, she asked me, could I tell her about it?
The person who asked me is a woman who recognises fine craftsmanship when she sees it. She is a world renowned teacher. Her own work is exquisite and her knowledge of embroidery far exceeds anything I will ever know. But, although she knows how to knit (and does it well) she does not know much about the history of knitting or the finer points of the craft.
I am not sure how much I know but I do know more than she does - and so I was given the task of trying to identify the pieces if possible. That proved, as I suspected it might, almost impossible but I have learned a good deal more in the process.
And while I have been learning I have also been puzzling about history. What is it? I showed one of the pieces to someone else.
"Find the pattern and we could re-create history," she told me. Can you re-create history? I don't think you can.
In this instance you could knit the pattern again - but the thread which was initially used would not be available. You would be making a present day copy of something that was probably made about seventy years.
It was made when there was no television here, when radio reception was poor in rural areas. I don't know whether it was a written or charted pattern. Possibly it was charted because the pattern looks to be German and, by then, the master craftsman Herbert Niebling was producing complex charts for knitters to follow.
Not many people do that sort of knitting now. Not many people do the fine Shetland knitting either. That was once a cottage industry in the Shetlands and it actually helped to feed families.
Fortunately people have realised the historical and artistic value of this extraordinarily fine knitting - and yes, you really could pull a shawl gently through a wedding ring. It was that fine. I would very much like to see one of those on display for conference goers to see.
Making lace of any sort is a slow business. A neighbour used to do it. She used to say if she managed an inch in a day she had done well. I don't think she would have said she was recreating history but perhaps she was making it - just as anyone else who leaves a permanent legacy of craftsmanship.
And what I do know is that I feel awed by the capacity of the knitter who made the pieces I have here. The skill and concentration they required are immense. The only greater thing would have been to be the person who originally designed the pattern.
And history? Yes, I think it is history. I don't think we can recreate it. I think we can look at those examples and create it. Or can we? What are we doing when we make something like that?

Monday, 14 April 2014

I am prowling off to get my 'flu

vaccination today. It is not something I enjoy. I do not imagine it is something that anyone enjoys but I have a particular loathing of needles being stuck into me. It always makes me ponder people who get a tattoo - all that needlework to deliberately and permanently disfigure yourself? It's not as if it is even a cultural thing among most of the people I know. Why do it?
The Senior Cat and I discussed this yesterday when I reminded him of where I would be heading in the morning. He has had his jab. I should have had mine at the same time but had to delay it because of a meeting.
We both pondered whether my mother would have had a jab once she reached that age. We doubted it. Her upbringing as a "Christian Scientist" would probably have caused her to say, "It's not necessary." She never really got over her childhood rejection of all medical treatment or her desire to "protect" us from it. It was the Senior Cat who insisted we were vaccinated. His views about "protection" were quite different.
Other people I know also say of 'flu vaccinations "It's not necessary" or "It's a waste of time" or "It's just a con - a way for the pharmaceutical companies to make money" or "It doesn't stop you getting the 'flu."
But, because of the Senior Cat, I know a good many older people. They are vulnerable, some of them have other difficulties and a dose of the 'flu caught from me would be the last thing they need.
I have stayed away from older, vulnerable people I know because I had a cold. I didn't want to pass it on. I've been fortunate in not having many of those but I don't want to feel responsible for making someone else ill.
And then there is my friend with arthritis. It looks as if she will now need to have some breathing assistance for the rest of her life. The 'flu would probably be fatal.  One cold and pneumonia would be too. I know it is going to happen and it may even happen soon but I don't want to be the one responsible.
So, I am going to accept being jabbed.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

I am considering cake

or rather the making of a cake.
A friend is here from over the southern pond and the gang is meeting here on Tuesday so that she can see them and catch up on the latest knitting talk. There could be ten or more people here.
We rarely entertain. The Senior Cat prefers a quiet life these days. Having "the harem" descend for afternoon tea was discussed with him. Yes, he thought he could manage the invasion - with pleasure. What, he inquired, will I be feeding them on?
I considered this. They are not "scones and jam and cream" sort of people. I will make my particular version of cornbread - because the twins are coming too. The twins are four year old girls - not identical. They like cornbread and I have promised to make some for them.
But cake? I rarely make cake. We almost never eat it now. The Senior Cat does not snack between meals. His appetite is smaller now. He is less physically active.
His taste in cake has always run to the lighter sort of cake - sponge or Swiss Roll or maybe a lamington? He likes Armenian nutmeg cake too. I'll think about it.
I am reminded though of morning and afternoon "smoko" - the break the shearers took and probably still take on the stations when shearing sheep. When we lived in the bush we went to observe the shearers at work. A shearing shed is a surprisingly noisy, dirty, smelly place and the men work incredibly hard. The old clippers have long since been replaced by modern equipment but it is still very hard work.
They would stop work for a short time in mid-morning and consume cake and tea. The cake would have been baked that morning by the cook or the wife of the station owner -who would sometimes also be the cook. It would always be the same sort of cake - plain cake into which sultanas (golden raisins to North Americans) had been thrown. It would be cooked in huge slabs or even in old 44gallon drums which had been scrubbed and lined to prevent contamination from the fuel they had once contained. As "fuel" for humans I imagination it was excellent but the sight of so much cake in one place rather put me off cake.
My mother would, perhaps twice a year, make "small cakes" - what we would now call "cupcakes". Her mother made the same sort of cakes or heavy plain cakes with plums or apples imbedded in the top. My paternal grandmother also made small cakes, jubilee cake (sliced and spread with butter), Victoria sponges and rock cakes for everyday consumption.
And now I look at a book which was given to me as a Christmas present. It is a book about cakes around the world. There is an amazing variety of cake in it but I know that I am unlikely to make them.
Someone else is bringing a cake. I will make a cake too but I still have no idea what sort I might make.
What sort of cake would you make for a modern afternoon tea?

Saturday, 12 April 2014

"Did you set out to kill them all

or did it just happen as you wrote the story? What made you write something so dark and depressing? What made your agent like it enough to hand it on to a publisher? What made the publisher decide that this is the sort of thing that adolescents want to read or should be reading? Why is the book considered so important, good and valuable that it makes it to the long list of a major prize? Do we really want to give teens the message there is no hope for the future?"
I want to ask those questions of a writer currently on the long list of a major children's award. I will almost certainly never meet the author and, even if I did, I doubt the author could answer my questions. It would probably merely be seen as criticism and a failure to understand the message of the book.
I have no problem with death appearing in books for children. Death is part of the natural cycle of life. It is, at very least, disturbing and it can be deeply distressing. It can be a cataclysmic event. I have killed off parents in things I have written. It is an accepted part of the "adventure". I hope that, when I have done it, I have still left hope for the future. There has to be that. To tell children there is nothing there - that all hope is lost - seems wrong to me.
Someone who reads what I write told me that children have the right to be able to rely on the adults in their lives. Yes - but it doesn't always happen. Sometimes that makes for part of the story. Sometimes it just can't happen. Sometimes it will happen when we least expect it because, although the adult wants to help it is just not possible.
Thinking back on the scene I was questioned about I think I was justified in doing what I did. The adult does not deliberately fail to help. He can't help - and he wants to help. It adds to the tension - or I hope it does.
If I really wanted to say "there is no hope here" I would have the adult out cold on the floor and the object destroyed. That would not be the right message to convey. It would say "it's not worth doing the right thing".
But it seems there are books that say, "it's not worth doing the right thing" and "the future is without hope" and "it doesn't matter how hard you try you are going to fail and still lose everything".
To deny death is wrong. To deny failure is wrong. They can and should appear in some books for children. But death has to be replaced by some hope for the future. Failure has to be replace by some hope of success, if not at the goal in question at some other goal. We don't even need to know if the goal has been achieved - just that it might be. In "Rooftoppers" Rundell has us believe that Sophie might have achieved her goal - and that's enough. There is hope there.
Because John Rowe Townsend died recently I went back and refreshed my memory of "Gumble's Yard". It was a ground breaking book at the time he wrote it in the early 60's. The characters in it are poor in the extreme - and they don't have the cosy family unit of something like Eve Garnett's poverty stricken "The family from One End Street". 
There is an adventure and there are goodies and baddies. Kevin, who tells the story, and his sister Sandra are not going to get all they want but by the end of the book they have more than they had because they have new adults in their lives who are going to help. There is some sense of hope for the future.
I think I want that in a book - any book. I don't want to clutter my mind with darkness. There is enough of that in my working life and in the daily does of news.
But perhaps I am wrong. If you read this, please tell me what you think? Is it right not to offer any hope for the future?

Friday, 11 April 2014

The psychiatric ward

of the local hospital is an interesting place. I had to visit my friend there yesterday. She is not a "sectioned" or "voluntary" patient. She was placed there because the only available bed with the necessary facilities was there.
They were just about to take her off to an unexpected appointment  at the eye clinic - yet another problem she is facing.
"She won't be long. Can you wait?"
Yes, I would wait.
There is a little "garden" area. It is not a very interesting place - almost bare but there are a few chairs, some more of the rosemary bushes which you find all over the hospital and some pebble dash type paving - but no pebbles of course. Like the rest of the surroundings it is not in the least what I would provide for elderly people who are, by and large, there because they are depressed or have severe anxiety problems. (The rest of the place seems to be painted a particularly nasty shade of yellow and there are no pictures on the walls.)
There was nobody there to begin with then a very elderly woman came out and sat near me. She was joined by a younger man. It was soon obvious he was her son. He brought out cups of tea for both of them and they talked quietly. She seemed sane enough and indeed it seems the problem was panic over the new diet she needed to follow after surgery. She told me this quite calmly after inquiring about my knitting.
"So silly of me. I worried everyone."
I told her it was not at all silly. Her son agreed. We talked about the knitting I was doing while waiting. The conversation ceased when the dietician came to talk to them. She is going home tomorrow. A little bit of help in the community and she is going back to a normal, busy life.
Someone else wandered up and touched the knitting. "Pretty". I agreed. "What is it?"
I told her. She nodded and wandered off. A little later I saw her come back with some washing she had obviously done. She gave me a cheerful smile.
There was a woman who came out talking nonsense to herself and then "jogged" backwards and forwards until someone came and took her gently back inside with the words, "The doctor is here to see you."
The tea lady came along the corridor. She can see out into the "garden" and she stopped. Did I want anything? 
"That's kind of you but I'm just visiting." I told her.
"I can see that but you can have a cuppa if you like."
I accepted tea - which tasted of disinfectant and I quietly poured it into the garden after she was out of sight. The two biscuits I have given to the birds. But, I really did appreciate the gesture.
And still my friend had not returned. I was aware that school traffic would start to get heavy soon.
I was about to leave when one of the staff said,
"Hello, I know you from the shopping centre. Are you E's sister?"
"No, a friend of forty years."
"Well, she shouldn't be much longer. You will wait?"
I sensed she felt my friend needs visitors. I waited a little longer and then wrote my friend a note. I had to leave. It was not her fault and she will know I know that. I would phone her but although she is not considered a psychiatric patient she has to abide by the ward rules. No phone calls, no mobile phone.
I left after being buzzed out of the secure door. I chatted to a member of staff on the way up the long corridor. She agreed the rule about phones was too rigidly applied. All over the rest of the hospital people use them freely unless they are likely to interfere with equipment. There is even bedside internet access in some places. Perhaps there are good reasons for this lack of access in this unit but I find it hard to fathom the need to apply it to everyone.
Her sister phoned me later. She had arrived just after I left - and still had to wait. The news is not good. There is an ulcer in one eye. 
I can't get there today. I will try to get there tomorrow. 
And I wonder about this place which is supposed to be helping people with psychiatric problems. I don't know anything about psychiatric care so perhaps I am just wrong but I would have thought the surroundings could be more interesting even if they need to be quiet and calm. Would a quiet landscape on the wall be that disturbing? Is that dirty yellow the right colour?
I suppose other people know about these things but I found the surroundings much more depressing than the patients. All but one of them seemed quite sane to me - and the one who wasn't seemed happy. She had been singing to herself as she "jogged". What is madness?

Thursday, 10 April 2014

"I'm sorry we don't do

anything like that over the phone," I told the caller. Yes, when I answered the phone it was the "X research company" doing a "survey".
I put the phone down on her protestations. A few minutes later the phone rang again. It was the same person. Apparently I "had to" answer her questions.
I told her no I did not and not to bother me again. I was still, given the circumstances, extremely polite.
When the phone rang again I assumed it was the call I was expecting and I answered it. No. It was "the Supervisor" from "X research company". This, she informed me, was a government survey and I was required to answer the questions.
I told her - still very politely in the circumstances - that (a) government departments do not do research in that way and (b) I did not have to answer the questions.
"Well, we will send someone out to the house," she told me.
"No you won't," I told her, "If the government wants to ask me questions they can send me a letter. They can arrange an appointment and I will go to see them."
"But this is an anonymous..." 
I put the phone down. I suppose it was rude of me but I was angry by then and I might well have said something I regretted. She did not ring back.
The research company exists - I looked them up - and I have sent them an e-mail. In it I have politely informed them that someone appears to be using their name and they might want to investigate further. One way or another I have informed them of what I think.
I am sure nobody will come to the house - and, if they did, they will get nowhere. We don't answer "surveys" at the door either. The closest we come to answering a survey is the census.
It bothers me though. The "con artists" are getting smarter by the day, smarter and pushier and more demanding. The phone call came on top of not one but two e-mails that looked absolutely genuine - from a bank. I happen not to have an account with that bank. I don't own a credit card either. I sent the e-mails on to the bank in question so they can do their own tracking.
My ISP team is pretty good about screening out spam but the fraudsters are getting smarter at that too.
Someone at my own bank had occasion to phone me the other day. She offered me the opportunity to phone her back but I knew her voice and I was expecting to speak to someone when I visited the bank. I did not have to disclose any personal information over the phone I just had to say, "Yes, I want to do that" and she said, "Well I'll have the form here for you to sign tomorrow."
I can handle that but, if personal details were involved, I'd go to the bank.
Am I being paranoid? I don't think I am.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Charging people to go to a doctor

or the emergency department of a hospital for a minor cut, bruise, the common cold, earache, a stubbed toe or a mosquito bite?
It is an idea being tossed around at present in an attempt to reduce the cost of public health care and make people a little more responsible for their own health.
On the surface it doesn't seem to be a bad idea. It might reduce the waiting time in A & E - accident and emergency. It might allow the real emergencies to be seen more quickly. It might give doctors more time to deal with the genuinely ill.
Yesterday I went to visit the friend with arthritis. She has just been moved from one hospital to another. The second hospital is the one where her pulmonary specialist works and he should see her today. The only ward where there was a spare bed however was the psychiatric ward. Patients in the psychiatric unit are not allowed to use their mobile phones. They are not permitted to have television in their rooms and the lights are deliberately too dim to allow them to read.
I assume the idea is that all this will make the patient get out of bed and watch television in the lounge area or read in the reading area and that any contact they make with the outside world can be monitored. I know nothing about the psychiatric guidelines for patients there, the ethics underlying them or the treatment being provided - although I do know that most of the patients are not there voluntarily.
And of course my friend is not there voluntarily either - for physical reasons. She is also being subjected to the same rules which is not helping her mild anxiety over not being able to breathe without assistance.  
The ward is locked. I had to press a buzzer in order to enter - and then state the name of the person I wished to see and the room number. They had actually moved her "to the quiet side" during the morning but the fact that I knew the old room number seemed to be sufficient.
So there she is, in bed unable to read or watch television - not that she is much interested in the latter - and unable to get down the corridor because of the oxygen and the fact that walking to the door is, at present, too much for her.
To complicate matters still further she is, despite the contra-indication of breathing difficulties, on a powerful narcotic called oxycodone. It is supposed to reduce the pain of her arthritis. There is a strict limit on how much she can have in a day. She knows that and asked me to keep her distracted before the next dose. She also has a small radio. I will take spare batteries when I go because she has it on almost constantly if very quietly. "I have to concentrate to listen."
Today I am going to phone the society which provides talking books to the blind and others who can no longer read. I am going to ask if they think she might be eligible. If they say yes - and I am hopeful they will - I am going to suggest it to her.
It will be something to distract her while she waits to see her doctors and they try to work out if there is anything else they can do to help.  It will distract her while they deal with the common cold and the stubbed toes and the mosquito bites in accident and emergency.
If anyone can suggest other distractions - please let know.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

"I'm going to take some driving lessons

and get my licence back."
I heard someone saying this while I was waiting to pick up a prescription for an elderly friend.
I don't know the person who said this but I do know enough about medication to know that they won't be getting a licence again any time soon - if ever. He obviously had severe diabetes. He was grossly overweight. His feet (in sandals) were indicative of serious circulatory problems.
The chemist, ever patient, was explaining how he had to take another lot of medication. Was he keeping to the prescribed diet? "Yeah, yeah...doing all the right things. F.... doctors worrying about nothing...I'm fine. Cops just said I had to get some lessons and get me licence back."
I rather doubt that. My guess is that he was involved in an accident and lost his licence because of his medical condition.
The sister of my friend who has arthritis has had to stop driving because of her diabetes. It is, as she puts it, "a wretched nuisance" but she can still walk to most places she needs to go and the money she saves by not running car she can put towards a taxi when she needs one. She would not consider getting behind the wheel of a car again - although she would dearly love to have the freedom.
I took the prescription, paid for it and prowled off to the greengrocer and then home via my elderly friend. I told him of the incident. His response was a sympathetic nod.
"Hardest decision I made at the time. You give up your licence and you give up your freedom. Doctor.... said I could go on for a bit if I wanted to but I could see he wasn't really happy about it. Your Dad's lucky his eyesight is still good enough to ride that gopher of his."
Yes, I know the Senior Cat is lucky in that respect. It doesn't stop me worrying. He says he is careful He believes he is careful. Being a male he likes to go at top speed (about 20kmh) along the street even while watching for the traffic. He does slow down to a crawl in the shopping centre. Will he know when it is really no longer safe to ride his gopher? I hope so.
I wonder what it is with driving though?
 I once knew a man who kept riding his motor bike after he was declared legally blind. He insisted he was fine and, even more appalling, his licence was not taken away from him. It was not renewed four years later but, in those four years, he rode and somehow avoided having an accident but it must have been heart stopping for other people.
And I need to go out today. It is likely to be raining. Someone has offered me a ride but I have declined with a polite excuse. This person should not have a licence either. The doctor did not have the courage to say "no" but her family know she should not be driving. They have warned me not to accept a ride.
My paternal grandfather wanted to go on driving too long and, much as I loved him dearly, he was not a good driver. My father eventually removed a vital part from under the bonnet. The car would not start. The garage owner told my grandfather it was not worth repairing. My grandfather gave in. Did he know? Possibly - but it was a way of saving face.
My maternal grandfather might well have died at the wheel. He drove a lot.  He died in his sleep after a long drive to his childhood home.
My grandmothers did not drive. My mother did - and had, in her 70's, reached the point where she should not have been driving. I wonder how we would have stopped her.
So, although I worry about the Senior Cat on his gopher, I am grateful that he had the good sense and thoughtfulness to give up driving his car.
As for me, I have no idea how to drive and I have no intention of trying to learn.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Arthritis anybody?

I tried to call in on a friend on Saturday afternoon. She was not home. Her sister, who lives next door, was not home. As I knew my friend was not well enough to be "out" I assumed she was in hospital.
I tried again yesterday. She was not answering the phone - by her bedside - and her sister was not answering the phone either. I pedalled over and caught her sister in.
Yes, my friend is in hospital. She has been there all week. Her sister was supposed to let me know and forgot. I will put that down to her own medical condition - she has diabetes which is not as well controlled as it might be - and stress.
My friend, who is somewhat older than me, and I have known one another for almost forty years. When I scarcely knew her she called me one Sunday morning to say that her mother, then half a world away, had died and could she come over from her hall of residence to mine. Her mother also had severe arthritis. She was 73 when she died. History is repeating itself.
My friend is 72. She looks older than the Senior Cat does at 91. Pain is a constant in her life and it ages you fast. She can breathe in but it is difficult to breathe out. Every movement hurts. She has been living alone with someone coming in once a week to clean and help her do essential shopping. Someone else comes to help her shower.
She has Meals on Wheels three days a week - they do her for six days because her appetite is so small. She takes pain relief medication in terrifying doses and medication for anxiety as well - and who can blame her for being anxious when she cannot breathe properly and lives alone?
I know and she knows that she should be in a facility where there is more help available but I look at aged care facilities and know that they do not provide the other thing she needs - intellectual stimulation.  And yes, my friend needs this. She has a doctorate. Until her physical condition worsened she was back at university learning a language she has always wanted to learn. Now even using the computer is difficult for her.
This is the person who once belonged to a bush walking group, who has taught in three overseas locations and once patiently waited for me to negotiate the ins and outs of three Oxford colleges in one day looking for something she could only half remember.
Now she could not take a day trip anywhere.
There is arthritis and then there is severe arthritis. The former is something that most people will endure in a lesser or greater form as they age. Severe arthritis is something else. Endurance is not the word to use. I don't know what the word is but I find it extraordinary that, forty years later, we can still do so little about it.
I can't even hug my friend or hold her hand - it hurts too much.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

I saw two magnificent "roadsters"

on my way home yesterday. I came through the back streets after attempting to visit a sick friend. (Friend was not home and I am waiting to hear whether she is in hospital.)
But there, being ridden in the back streets, were the two "roadsters" - or that is what the boys called them. They were billy carts, push-carts, flyers or whatever else you care to call them.
You know the sort of thing I mean I am sure. A home made wheeled vehicle you can rise on or in or pedal or....well, something.
These were extraordinary.
They were, for a start, larger than is usual. They were also the "pedal" variety - which, believe me, is rare. They had a timber base but the axles and the steering were metal and the seats were cushioned. The wheels were solid rubber affairs.
I suppose the ride was rather bumpy. I don't know. I was not offered a ride but I was told a good deal about them. I promptly forgot the details. They did not matter to me.
What did matter to me was that the two boys, eight and eleven years of age, had made these things themselves. Their father had apparently advised (and undoubtedly guided) but, they proudly told me, they had made these things themselves. Their father had "told (them) how but didn't do it".
I did not have to pretend to be impressed. I was genuinely impressed.
They had some questions about my tricycle too. "Cool". I could see them thinking about "three gears" and "hand" and "back pedal" brakes. And did it bother them to be seen talking to me? Not in the least. They had stopped me. They called one of their mates over to have a look. (Another interesting child.)
They were friendly, polite and obviously intelligent, creative young men. I left them feeling there was some hope for the future if even only a small number of children are doing this sort of thing.
I can remember too my brother and I constructing a flyer or billy cart. (We called it a "flyer" because that is what our grandfather called it. I think the local children called it a billy cart.) Ours was made from the wheels of a pram abandoned outside the town. There was a fruit box for the body. We steered it with rope and tried to pull it along with our child size tricycles. We had some fun with it but it was never very successful. Our parents had no time to help and in any case our mother did not really approve of such ventures.
But I pedalled off aware that what had just happened was all too unusual. It almost never happens now. I can hear anxious parents saying of the tools used to make them, "You can't use those things. You'll hurt yourself." I can hear them saying, "You can't take those out into the street. There are cars." Even riding them up and down the driveway would be seen as risky. The rider might ride into the garden or hit the wall or.... well, you know the sort of thing that might happen.
Oh yes, all that "might" happen, let's not take any risks. Life will be a lot less exciting. You might not learn anything - but you will be "safe". Or will you? What do you think?

Saturday, 5 April 2014

When you next get a report from a war zone

told to you by a journalist dressed in a bullet proof vest ducking for cover as the sniper's bullets start flying - try imagining what it is really like to be there. Can you?
When we watch television there is a distance between us and the action. It never seems quite real.
We can look and say of the millionth Syrian refugee to reach Lebanon, "That's shocking" - and we may even feel genuinely disturbed and distressed by what we see but it doesn't feel quite real does it? The idea that half those refugees are children, most of whom don't go to school and many of whom are working to try and feed themselves and their siblings because their parents aren't there or can't help if they are there, is something we know at a "yes, I heard that" level.
It doesn't really register in our consciousness or our emotions that an entire generation of Syrian children has been affected by a senseless war or that girls in Afghanistan risk their lives simply because they want to learn to read. It doesn't seem quite real because we aren't there to experience it for ourselves and we have seen so much of it on television that really we don't quite believe it do we? We think the media is sensationalising something don't we....and yes, in a way they are.
But there are all the things they don't tell you either....the filth, the violence, the noise, the lack of water and any sanitation, the lack of food, children dying, adults dying, grief, anger, fear. It's all there - a lifetime of trauma even if things calm down, the war stops and they go "home" to rebuild their lives. And yes, most of them want to go "home". Many adults want to go to the past where things were different. The children just want to feel safe and go to school, kick a soccer ball, read a book or watch television.
And the aid workers who go in to help leave traumatised too. The images of distress are seared into their brains. They need to "switch off" in order to survive and go on helping.
And the journalists? They risk their lives too. One of the photographic journalists was killed in Afghanistan yesterday, killed as he covered the Presidential elections - the elections people are risking their lives to vote in. A colleague was critically injured. They are not the first journalists to be attacked and they won't be the last. Peter Greste is deeply unfortunate to be where he is in an Egyptian gaol - but there is still some hope for him. There is none left for the family of that journalist in Afghanistan.
So, next time you watch the news - can you try and imagine what it is like and try to understand the risks they are taking so that we can watch from the safety of a comfortable chair in front of the television set?

Friday, 4 April 2014

Today's front page

is sadly reminiscent of the old "News of the World" or the paper that was once published here called "The Truth" - the latter was, of course, anything but true.
There was more commentary about the way the latest horrific child abuse case was handled. Nothing is going to change there until attitudes change and different solutions are tried - and I doubt that will happen soon. "Rights" tend to be bigger than responsibilities in such situations.
And then there is the other "sensational" case. I would not be giving the idiot media space.  This is the bridegroom who allegedly turned up drunk for his wedding. The minister, rightly, refused to marry him.  I have to say "allegedly" drunk because the related offences have not yet been proven in court. I am not interested.
What did interest me was the complete self-interest of this character. It was all about him.
Oh yes, the bride-to-be gets mentioned. He wants her back. She is, apparently, still the love of his life. Really?
There is no mention however of how totally, utterly and completely humiliated she must have felt. It's all about him.
If the photograph is correct he didn't smarten up for his court appearance - t-shirt with a bird of prey on the front and non-brushed hair were the order of the day.  I think that says a great deal. I wouldn't want anything more to do with him.
I know of another wedding that did take place. It was very elaborate and very, very expensive. The wedding lasted less than twenty-four hours. The bride walked out. All she wanted was the wedding. She did not want marriage. Fortunately for the boy in question the media did not sniff the story out but he left the state and will probably never fully recover from the humiliation. She is apparently wondering why boys don't want to go out with her.
And then I wondered what would happen if you put these scenarios into a book - the same book.
I don't write "romance"  and I don't think there are "happily ever after" endings here. Would anyone find the story believable? 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

I wonder where to start this

because I am still angry - and will go on being angry.
There is one of those sensational "human interest" reports on the front page of the paper today - of how two people have been sentenced to four and a half years for the death of a child, the daughter of one of them.
Now I am sorry but four and a half years for the death of a child? It was not an accident - although the final event has been described as such. The child, still a pre-schooler, was repeatedly made to "ride" a 50kg backyard "motorbike" - not because she wanted to do it but because the adults thought it was amusing to make her do it against her wishes. The injuries she sustained over the course of three days killed her. The adults in her life failed to call an ambulance until it was too late.
Prior to that her mother had failed to care for her properly. The reports in the media are, according to someone I know who has first hand knowledge, the "least distressing" aspects of the case.
People tried to get the welfare services involved. They were involved - briefly. Repeated calls to the welfare services however did not get this child removed from a situation in which she was in danger.
I know what the arguments will have been. Everything would "seem to be okay". The child would have "seemed to be cared for". The mother had "listened to advice and undertaken not to repeat the behaviour". And so it would go on.
There would be a reluctance to separate the child from her natural mother. There always is a reluctance to separate mother and child. There would be nowhere to place the child. There aren't enough foster parents - and some of those placements have proved less than desirable.
I don't know what the answer is - although I do think the child should have been removed in this case.
It seems to be a different story with a single father and child. That is seen as much less desirable.
The Whirlwind - the girl I am a substitute "Mum" for - has faced close questioning on more than one occasion by people who say they are concerned that a girl in early adolescence should be living - even just at weekends - with her father. She is well aware of what the questions are about. We had a long conversation about what people might be thinking, what they would say and what sort of questions they might ask.
Her father is excruciatingly careful. It worries him. It also worries her. "My Dad," she will tell people, "Is an absolute gentleman." And yes, he is seen that way by other people but some of them still see it as improper that he should care for her alone in the house. It has been suggested that she should not be a weekly boarder but a full time one - and that other arrangements should be made for the holidays.
Fortunately the school is more than satisfied with the care she gets at home and the relationship between father and child. Her father is more than satisfied with the care she gets at school. I have no concerns about the care she gets in either place or the relationship between then.
I am concerned by those who see nothing but potential problems. "Matron" at the boarding house feels the same way, "She can't wait to be out of here on Friday afternoons, to get home to her father."
Wherever he is they speak on the phone each day, a phone call she eagerly awaits.
"I'm so lucky," she tells me, "My Dad really loves me."
I wonder how the mother of the deceased child felt about her daughter. There is an assumption that all mothers love their children and will do anything to protect them. And yet, at the same time, there are suspicions single fathers who have lost a partner through illness or accident will abuse a child in their care.  The former is not necessarily true and neither is the latter.