Thursday, 31 July 2014

Are Australians really racist

or is there something else going on?
There have been some media reports recently about yet another survey which found that Australians are "racist". It was said that certain percentages of them believed that indigenous Australians had an unfair advantage in the social welfare system. It also said that Australians believed indigenous Australians were lazy and that nearly half of all Australians are anti-Muslim. It also found that Australians were anti-Jew and anti-Asian.
Hold it. Another survey found that about 85% of Australians support the idea that a society made of up of diverse ethnic groups is a good thing.
Which is correct?
The first survey was written up by a group with an agenda. The second survey was one of those on-line polls undertaken by the media. Neither is likely to be accurate.
There is also an advertising campaign starting which is about "subtle racism" - things like failing to meet the gaze of an indigenous Australian or not sitting next to a Muslim on a bus.
Now am I racist because I don't meet the gaze of every person I see? Am I racist because I decide I don't want to sit next to that particular person?
As a female I will usually choose to sit in the train seat that is closest to the door - for ease of exit with my tricycle - but next to another woman if possible. It doesn't matter what ethnic group she belongs to - but does it make me racist if I sit next to the obviously Greek woman rather than the Sikh in a turban?
Years ago I went to the other side of the city to meet a family whose young daughter was, due to a medical condition, unable to speak. I met them at the last stop on the railway line. They were waiting. I waved and then the little girl came running along the platform. We had never met before but we hugged and I sat her on my tricycle seat so she could have a ride. Her parents shook hands rather shyly and we went to a nearby playground so that the little girl could play while we talked about how she might be helped.
When it came time to have some lunch the father asked if I would join them. Of course I would. We needed to go on talking. We had lunch at a little bakery where the owner was happy to heat the little girl's special food in the microwave oven and provided the telephone book as a "cushion" for her to sit.
And when I finally had to leave all three of them hugged me. They were warm and, after their initial shyness, friendly. The little girl died about five years later. We all knew it was going to happen but on that first day we started a communication board that she used constantly for the rest of her short life. Being able to "talk" was a source of great happiness and pride for her. It was one of the best experiences of my life. She was a marvellous, outgoing child and her parents were lovely people. I just wish that child had been able to have a long, happy and comfortable life. She would have been a marvellous ambassador for the communication impaired.
But I have told colleagues about her and her family and they have focussed on the fact they were indigenous Australians from a northern community. Why? No, they were not negative about it in the sense that they thought I should not have helped or not associated but they expressed surprise that the parents bothered to seek help. Why? Most parents want the best for their children.
The parents of non-communicating children usually see the situation very differently. Their questions are more likely to be  "What did you do? How did she learn to use the communication board?"
I do not doubt that racism exists. I do not doubt that it hurts. I do not doubt that it does extreme harm.  But I think our reactions depend on where we are coming from. We have to come from the right place.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The new "work for the dole"

proposals are unworkable. I suspect the government knows that and will backtrack, downsize, downgrade, "listen to public concern" etc. It's a classic ploy. All governments do it.
At the same time I have no real issue with people doing some work for the dole. If you are not involved in job hunting for all the working week then something to do can, for many people, be a good thing. Not everyone can occupy themselves in a productive fashion.
My godfather phoned yesterday. He was hoping to come over and see us but the Senior Cat had gone to a meeting - at 92 he still attends such things. He still gets up in the morning with a list of things which need to be done. It's good.
My godfather is only 89 - but he also has a list of things to do each day. One of those things is watching out for a young man who has, to be blunt, made a total mess of his life. This young man has never been employed. Drugs and alcohol are part of his lifestyle, as is being up most of the night and then sleeping in until midday - or later.
People have tried all sorts of things. None of them have worked. All my godfather tries to do is keep this young man off the streets - at least for now.
So, work for the dole? Who would want to "employ" this young man even on a voluntary basis? There are waiting lists for volunteer work now. Some people see it as a way of getting employed. It looks good on their curriculum vitae.
The government is also suggesting that the unemployed should be making forty job applications a month - that's two a day for twenty days. That requirement is being seen as too onerous by many. I have seen young people doing a tour of the shopping centre, asking at each place whether there are any vacancies in retail. It is fruitless exercise.
You need to be in the right place at the right time. A neighbour's child has four hours each Saturday. She works in the local bakery. The pay is poor but, as she said, "I went in to get some bread and the owner asked if I wanted a job. I said yes. It will look good on my cv."
And, as I have said elsewhere, one of the local supermarkets has a policy of employing students who need a job so that they can afford to study.
If we want people to work even for the dole then we will have to find more for them to do. I have no problem with that but I suspect that many people will. There will be claims of exploitation - and they might be justified if things are not gone about the right way - and complaints that too much is expected of the unemployed. And how do we handle the young man my godfather has tried to help? How do help people in rural and remote areas where the opportunities are limited?
But, in the end the question has to be, should the unemployed be treated any differently from the person who must get up each morning and go to work? Surely it is undignified to treat them any other way?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

What is more important

the safety of children or a bicycle race which brings in money?
It's a serious question.
The Premier of this state flew off to France last Friday. His stated aim was to try and secure the Tour Down Under for the state beyond 2016. Apparently the contract runs out then. Right.
He left behind an absolutely appalling child sexual abuse scandal. It is of major proportions - even bigger than the media has led people to believe. What is even more appalling is that it took some digging on the part of the media to uncover most of it.
I will not go into the sordid details here. It is simply too distressing. I have no doubt the story will run for a while. The media will make the most of it.
But, behind it all, there are children. There are children who were too young to articulate what was happening to them. They had already been taken from an unsafe environment. They were supposed to be "safe". They weren't.
There are the usual arguments about what those in authority did and did not know and who told who what and when. I have known MPs to say "Don't tell me." I suspect that this has been the case here. If you "haven't been told" it might save your own job.
Well, I'm sorry. I know it is a nice job to have. The pay packet is quite exceptional, the additional perks - such as the chauffeur driven car - are great. The superannuation package is excellent.
But, you are expected to work for all that. You are expected to take the responsibility.
And, it is even more important for you to take the responsibility if you lost the election - which you did - but formed government because of the way the electoral system works. Yes, that's democracy, even if you won a minority of the votes you have to take the responsibility if you form government.
You don't go off on holiday to France saying that you are working to secure a bicycle race. You might meet a couple of people there and mention it but the real negotiations will be done by others. The bicycle race, like the car race and the horse race we have a silly public holiday for, is not important. It is not of long term benefit to the state. It does not provide the young unemployed with year round jobs and a career path. Nobody who cared about children would, in the current circumstances, expect you to be where you are or stay there. If they did care so little about children then do we really want to do business with them anyway?
So, I am sorry about the holiday Mr Premier but you have a job to do. Come home and do it.

Monday, 28 July 2014

I have been clearing out

again. Those of you who bother to read this will know that I have been helping a friend enter a nursing home. One of the things we have had to do is clear out her "unit" (small flat or apartment at street level).
She has relatively few possessions. One reason for this is that she has lived and worked in other countries. She could never take much with her, would leave only a few things stored with friends and then leave more behind when she left the place she had been living in.
Her pursuits are entirely academic but even her books are few. When we have culled a few cookbooks then her books will fit into one small bookshelf.
Most of her unwanted items are going to charity. Charity shops won't take electrical goods so we are passing those on to a family we know who needs them.
It has still been a surprising amount of work.
"There's a box of old stuff there - can you go through it and find...?" she asked.
I wonder if she realised what she was asking me to do? It made me feel very uncomfortable - and sad.  I found things I did not expect - notes from me and cards I had sent her. The birthday cards her sister had sent her were in a little heap with a rubber band. There was a photograph of her with two children - the children of her friend in Noumea. She had been there on holiday.
And there was very little else of a personal nature - an old passport, two address books, and a few medical documents.
As the address books show, she has friends - although they do not live in this state - but she has not kept anything from them. She has made no contact with them in over eighteen months. It would not be that she does not care but that she has not had the energy to be bothered.
But, there were the notes I had sent her - a name and address she needed (of a person long deceased), a telephone number for a doctor friend, how to wash a mohair cardigan that she wore threadbare - and so it went on.
And then I wondered - if a country had to move house what would it take? What would its address book look like? What possessions would it take? Why would it choose to keep what it kept? It is just a fanciful thought. 
But I can't ask my friend why she has kept those things either. I wish I didn't know she had.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

"I can't do it! I can't do anything!"

the woman next to me told us yesterday. She pushed her chair back, started to push her knitting roughly into her bag and stood up abruptly. She was so close to tears that there was a startled silence from the rest of the otherwise lively library knitting group.
     "You're not going?" someone asked.
     "Yes! What's the bloody point of being here? I tell you I used to be able to knit anything! Now, I can't even follow a bloody simple pattern!"
I took a deep breath and said, "Well, before you go would you like me to have a look and see if I can sort the problem out?"
She hesitated and, taking an invisible deep breath, I said, "If you don't want to do it now then we can get together later."
I was thinking to myself, "I want you to sit down now and try again because you are too upset to go driving anywhere."
       "Yes, come on - Cat will help," someone else encouraged. She looked at me and I knew she was thinking the same thing.
       "Yes, give me the pattern," I told our upset companion, "You know the instructions aren't always clear."
I knew full well that the instructions were, on this occasion, perfectly clear but anything to stop her leaving in anger, frustration and tears.
She hesitated and then took the pattern out and pointed to the row.
There was an asterisk in it - an indication that you need to repeat the action from that point across the row. The instructions told her to do that but she was not reading them that way. I explained gently and said,
        "Now, why don't you knit the row? I'll talk you through it."
At the end of it there were three rows of plain knitting. Yes, she could do that. We went on to the next instruction.
An hour later she had done eight more rows. It was time for all of us to leave.
        "Don't do any more now," I told her, "If you are free on Tuesday afternoon come to the group at the bookshop. We'll do the next bit together then."
She claimed not to know about the group I teach at the bookshop but she actually came to it last time. She had no memory of doing that at all. I did not persist with the issue.
She took out her diary and put the time in. Still sounding a bit tearful she thanked me and left. One of the others, someone with some medical knowledge, and I looked at one another. This is not the first time this person has had problems with her knitting. What she is making is simple and the pattern is something a confident beginner could follow.
What bothers me - and the other person - is that this woman told us she "got lost" the other day and, on a couple of occasions, she has hesitated over simple words. When she left us yesterday she was going to drive for more than an hour to the far side of the city to visit her son. She would be coming home in the dark. She lives alone. I hope she didn't "get lost" again.
Tomorrow I will talk to someone else who knows her much better than I do and say we are concerned. It might be stress - we think her son lost his licence recently - or it might be early Alzheimer's or there may be something else wrong but yes, there is something wrong. The rest of us need to watch out for her. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Every year a "sea of hands"

is planted by ANTAR - Australians for Native Title and Recognition. The first "sea" was planted in 1997 and each year another "sea" has been planted. The idea is also used in schools and by community groups.
It was the inspiration for one of our neighbours when she made her quilt of hands. She drew around the hand of each member of her extended family and appliqued them on to a quilt cover. It is a unique quilt.
Last week we were talking about the quilt. Her grandparents are now deceased and she said, "But I will always have a part of them on the quilt."
It's a lovely idea.
I have made mittens and gloves for other people. Someone has made mittens for me.
I made a tiny mitten for a "mitten tree" a friend made as a gesture for peace after the appalling 9/11 incident,
Albrecht Durer's "Praying Hands" is one of the most widely reproduced pieces of artwork.
And there was a blog post about hands yesterday. I never knew artist Sally Collins but Linda Strachan talked about her and they held hands over the wonderful "Hamish McHaggis" books. When Sally was too ill to have visitors Nicola Morgan suggested people draw their hands for her and send a message inside them. Sally died before she saw the hands but apparently she knew they were there.
I wonder what she thought.
It would surely have been some comfort to know that your friends were all, in their own way, holding your hand.
It would surely be a way of knowing you were not alone. I hope so anyway.

Friday, 25 July 2014

"He's only doing it to

divert attention from domestic issues," someone told me yesterday "And she was just playing politics. They couldn't care less about the victims or their families. They're just using the situation for their own ends."
I was doing the weekly prowl through the supermarket and he bailed me up next to the milk.
I know this man has an intense dislike of our present Prime Minister. I don't usually get involved in conversation with him although I know and like his partner. I did not want to get into conversation with him even after he had said that and I opened my mouth to say, "Oh, do you think so?"
I had no chance to say it when someone else who had obviously been listening butted in and told him his statement was nonsense. I escaped. (Yes I know, I lack courage.)
The statement was nonsense though. Our Prime Minister is very unpopular. People don't like him. They are very cynical about things like his volunteer work and his support for remote indigenous communities. He's a Catholic and suggestions have been made he takes his orders from the Vatican - or, at very least, a cardinal and a priest. He is accused of being a bigot, a misogynist and homophobic. He does not speak fluently in public. Oh and he has been criticised for being a Rhodes Scholar. (Another of our Prime Ministers was also a Rhodes Scholar but PM Hawke was never criticised for that.)
And our current Foreign Minister is a woman. Shocking! Her clothing gets commented on and her ability to do the job is constantly questioned.
I guess it is all "politics" and that until we vote in the Opposition again we will have to put up with this - and worse.
But, more seriously, are they really doing such a bad job of handling the appalling air disaster? I actually believe they have done well. They have handled an extremely difficult and delicate situation well. They got a resolution through the UN Security Council - no easy task. They have taken action by sending people to the Netherlands and to the Ukraine. All this may seem simple enough to people who have no knowledge of how international relations and diplomacy work. The reality is that it is all extremely difficult to do - and even more difficult to do well.
And the Prime Minister has also taken it on himself to talk directly with the families of those involved. They do not, of course, have to accept his phone calls. Cynics will say it is nothing more than a public relations exercise but each one of those calls will be very difficult to make - difficult for the families and difficult for him. I would not want to do it and I do not know anyone who would.
Perhaps our PM is setting an example to follow with respect to grief and that makes us feel uncomfortable?

Thursday, 24 July 2014

To foster parent

or not to foster parent?
One of the staff inside the government department here which is responsible for placing children into foster care has claimed that simply changing the way the department is run will not be enough to prevent sexual abuse cases.
Unfortunately that is undoubtedly true. Equally unfortunately it came with the inevitable demand for more staff.
In the current economic climate that is unlikely. What is much more likely is that very little will change. It needs to change.
Someone I know and trust recently told me of a child who had been in foster care with the same family since her birth. She was now eight, happy and well settled and treated just like any other member of the family. Her foster parents had even made inquiries about adopting her.
Then, quite suddenly, she was removed from them - on less than twenty-four hours notice. She was returned to her mother. The foster parents are not permitted to have any further contact with her. They do not even know where she is or whether she is safe.
They do know the mother is single and that a parole officer is involved.
I wonder who those responsible were thinking about here - the child or the mother? I don't know enough to comment except to say my gut reaction is that such a move was not in the best interests of the child. It must also have required hours of time - for everyone except the foster family and the child. They would be the last to know.
I do know it is not unusual for children to be removed from foster families at very short notice. When I was teaching I had a foster mother come in to see me in tears one morning - to tell me that the child they had been caring for, a boy in my class, had been suddenly removed the day before. He was back again four months later. Another attempt was made to return him to his abusive alcoholic mother the following year. He ran away - back to his foster parents. I left after that and never found out what happened to him but I can remember him standing there in the school library asking me, "Why can't I stay with them?"  Why indeed?
Of course natural parents have rights but I am beginning to believe more and more that those rights should not over ride the rights of the child. 
It isn't just a matter of more staff. That won't solve the problems. We have spent too long massaging the egos of some social workers and the adults they are supposed to be helping. 
The first thing we need to think about is what is best for the child - or do I have that wrong?

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

I don't know how we "keep children safe"

because it seems that, even if we remove them from an "unsafe environment" to a "safe" one they are still in danger.
Yes, this morning's paper has more than one page on the latest sexual abuse scandal. This time the allegations are about a man employed by Families SA - part of the government department specifically designed to assist families in difficulties.
A friend of mine, now deceased, trained as a social worker after she had brought up her own family. Her youngest child was adopted and the family's experiences in adopting the child had made her acutely aware of the many issues surrounding adoption. That child was wanted, loved and has grown into a very well adjusted adult with a stable marriage and equally loved and wanted children. My friend was aware that not all relationships work out like that and that all parent-child relationships need to be worked at - just as the relationship with your partner does.
We talked long and often about all this when she was training. I was reading her written work, commenting on the language and construction of her essays and questioning her thoughts so that she could clarify them. We both knew that, all too often, she was writing what she knew she was expected to write. She wrote it in order to pass the subject. Privately she thought much of it was nonsense.
"What they need to do," she told me more than once, "Is apply a good dose of common-sense."
She also knew that "common-sense" would often be lacking and even not allowed. Rules and regulations would come first. They are there to "protect" the children - or so they say.
It infuriated her because those very measures also made the children even more vulnerable. The secrecy surrounding their circumstances made it impossible for them to lead "normal" lives. There was no chance of them attending anything as simple as a birthday party because it meant the family and friends of the other child all had to be vetted. They could not be left in the charge of another parent to play sport unless that parent, their partner and any other adult they were likely to come into contact with was vetted. Result? No birthday parties, no sport and no normal interaction with other children. Oh yes, they were keeping them "safe".
No wonder it has been so easy for someone to abuse children in care. The children "in care" were simply being isolated.
I don't know whether the system is still the same fourteen years after the untimely death of my friend. I suspect it is. I wish she was still here to apply her robust "common-sense" to the situation in which some of these children find themselves.
We have tried to care for too many vulnerable children on the cheap. We leave some with their parents when they should, for their own safety and future well-being be removed. When we do remove them we pay those charged with caring them so little that some of those who would like to do it simply cannot afford the extra costs involved.
And yes, they will even take away a child who has been with a family since infancy, who is happy and well adjusted and extremely well cared for - because the child is becoming "too attached".
How on earth can we keep children "safe" when this sort of action is considered right and proper? Safe? I don't think so.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Once a week in Israel

a young boy who is able to do almost nothing for himself breaks out into smiles and laughter as his father passes him over to another father. The two men chat for a moment about the sort of week the boy has had and whether there is anything special that has happened or needs to be watched for.
Recently the other father showed the boy's father a problem with a door. The two of them worked together to repair it watched by the child. He was all smiles when his father left. By then he was in the arms of the other mother - the only mother he knows. His own died at birth. His own lifespan is limited because of his medical condition.  
That once a week visit gives his father and his grandmother a break. It gives them an undisturbed night's sleep. It allows the child to socialise outside the narrow limits of a life lived largely in one room with only the television set for company.  
The child is a Palestinian. His "other parents" are Jewish.  His Palestinian father counts the Jewish man as one of his closest friends. The Jewish man reciprocates.  They share many things. It began with a game of chess but now it includes meals and other things.
None of this happened easily. I don't know the whole story and, even if I did, it would not be mine to tell. I know only because the mother is someone I have worked with over a number of years. It's not easy. Both families are criticised for fraternising with the other. There are other families doing similar things. It is not easy for them either. There are differences - and tensions too - but they are persisting.
"The hardest thing I do each week is hand him back," J has told me more than once. She knows how hard it is for his father too.
Almost half of the Palestinian population is under the age of 14. Many of them die. Many of those who died on flight MH17 were children. Three of them came from the same family. An Afghan family lost their three daughters recently. An Iraqi family lost five children - the children of two brothers.
No wonder J finds it hard to hand her other son back. We should be keeping children safe.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The conspiracy theories

are flying around again. Some people even seem to believe that the MH17 disaster is the work of aliens from outer space or a God-given punishment or a deliberate attempt to start a major international conflict.
Such nonsense makes me angry. I am angry because it makes it even harder for the families of the victims to cope with the situation. I am angry because it makes the delicate international negotiations even harder.
Much of the reporting around the incident has been contradictory and, quite frankly, irresponsible. We still don't know what happened. We may never know what happened. Trying to lay blame does not help. It just further encourages a lack of cooperation on the part of those responsible.
There is something else that angers me too. Here other people are using the situation for their own political purposes. Our Prime Minister is being criticised for his "handling" of the affair. Our Foreign Minister is being criticised too. The Opposition leader was given prime air time - to criticise the way in which the government was handling the situation. Oh yes, he sympathised and said the right things but nobody edited out the uncalled for or unnecessary jibe at the government.
Whatever you happen to think of the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister now is not the time to be criticising them or making their job that much harder. The media, and the Opposition, should be offering maximum support so that a united message is sent to the families of the victims. Those families should not be led to believe that the government is not doing everything it can to help. Those responsible should not be able to use divisions to further exploit an event of unspeakable cruelty.
Yes, other heads of government are also being criticised for their reaction to and handling of the affair. Our political leaders are always seen as being "fair game" for criticism but, in these circumstances, it is incredibly irresponsible. It is also dangerous.
We don't know what happened. If we want to know then we will allow others to get on with the job without analysing every word and every move. We will support them so that we can also support those who lost someone.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Having just begun to

clear out my friend's unit and having just read the post about clearing out on another friend's blog I am more aware than ever that we need to do some clearing out here.
Yes, we need to do it. We have too many possessions. Some of them have not been used for years. We have kept them because "they might be useful one day".
No, they won't be.
I recently divested myself of large quantities of donated knitting yarn. Some of the good stuff in colours that were not suitable for garments (think worse than mustard yellow) was passed on to the elderly woman who knits the squares for the blankets our bookshop knitting group puts together for charity. The other yarn, acrylic and poor quality fibre in general, was given away or sold for charitable purposes. It had been given to me and I did not want to even try and use it. I have enough yarn. I did not need it. If I am going to make something then I want to make it from good quality yarn, yarn that will last. Am I yarn snob? Probably.
But there are other things. We seem to have an extensive collection of tea and coffee mugs. The Senior Cat drinks tea from a tea cup with a saucer. He disapproves of tea in mugs. At breakfast time he drinks coffee - in a mug. It is always the same mug. I drink from a mug too - always the same mug.
I have a small collection of cat, sheep and knitting mugs. People have given them to me. I do not wish to part from them. The Senior Cat has been given mugs too - one which says "Real men like cats" is the large one he will, on occasion, take out to the shed. If I removed that he would be most distressed. Sigh. How do I get rid of any of our "too many" mugs?
There are other things too. We have too many books. How do you part with a book?
I have, over the years, gradually managed to get rid of kitchen things I did not want and never used. I have not missed them. The same would probably be true of a great many other things - if I could find the courage.
So, I sympathised with the Senior Cat. He has been indoors because it has simply been too cold to be out. While I was doing shopping and banking and bill paying the other day he decided to clear out the drawer that still has things in it belonging to my mother.
He pulled everything out. He looked at it. He brought out one handbag thinking my sister or I might use it. And then, yes - he put the rest back in the drawer. He could not give it away.
The handbag was left on a chair. It was, finally, given to someone else yesterday. I hope she uses it. I wouldn't. My sister wouldn't. It is, I suppose, "retro" enough for a young one - and it looks new.
But, it had me thinking again. I can't ask the next generation to take the responsibility - or feel guilty about giving things away.
So, I'll try...but where do I start?

Saturday, 19 July 2014

"Are you lost?"

I asked yet again. The two women standing there with the map and the conference tags were looking in a puzzled way at the building in front of them. They did not respond for a moment and then one said something to the other in French so I asked very slowly, hoping I had it right, "Avez-vous besoin d'aide?"
Right or wrong they seemed to get the idea. There were smiles and they showed me the map, asked me where to go in much better, if heavily accented, English. (All much to my relief - my French is entirely self-taught and utterly atrocious.)
That was the third time within about twenty minutes. The first time they were German and then there were the Spaniards.  Later in the day I met some Italians, some Latvians and of course some Americans. There were other accents I guessed at but they spoke English.
They were all visiting for the OIDFA14 Conference. There is one main street on the side of the CBD which has a good many of the exhibitions related to this international lace conference. It is the street which houses the art gallery, the state library and other exhibition areas.
It should have been easy to find your way up and down and see things. It wasn't. Even I had problems. The exhibition areas are not marked. There are no signs to them.
I don't know what's going on. There has been no publicity either - and, of course, yesterday's appalling news has now pushed everything else off the first fifteen or so pages of the paper. There will be no chance of last minute publicity now.
But, why weren't there signs out - A-frames perhaps or posters?
There were small exhibitions everywhere - and a larger one in the Art Gallery.
I managed to see some of them yesterday. No, it is not because I am intensely interested in lace or lace making. I do however recognise it as "art" and very skilled art at that. There is history attached to much of it too - and to the people who have made it. The small exhibition in our Migration Museum was wonderful - but there was absolutely no signage to even suggest it was there. People are going to miss it - even if they can find the Migration Museum. (That's down the side avenue.)
Now the organisers knew that there would be people from all over the world. They have supplied the maps with the venues for the exhibitions marked out. Not all the venues are open unless you have a ticket but many of them are. I do not entirely blame the organisers. They tried to get local publicity for the event but the media has remained stubbornly silent. It is "textiles" - not sport. I suspect they probably did not employ a publicity person and perhaps they should have. Despite that I think the media should have shown some interest. Any international conference should have some coverage. People need to know these things are happening.
And the signs? Well yes, I think they should have done much better there but it might also be that the city council has restricted them as well. Why? An international conference, especially one with hundreds of delegates, brings money into the city.
So yesterday I tried to do my bit for the city I live in. I spent more time telling people where to go than going to look at things myself. That's fine. They paid to come here and see things.
And that is why I caught a later train than I had planned. I took a small group of Dutch women back to the Art Gallery and showed them where to find the display which included the work of one of their ancestors. The morning's news had shocked and upset them but they wanted to make the most of their trip. As I went to leave them each of them hugged me and thanked me.
I think I should be thanking them for coming.


Friday, 18 July 2014

I have just picked up the newspapers

from the front lawn. They always arrive late on Fridays but I am thankful that neither of them carry news of the latest air disaster - the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. That happened too late to reach the print media.
I am thankful because the Senior Cat does not need to read that sort of news over breakfast. At 92 he has reached the point where he does not watch the television news. He finds it too distressing. He remembers WWII, Korea and Vietnam all too clearly.
Nothing has changed. People are still fighting one another.
I watch the international news service. It is a part of my job. I need to know what people here are being told about what is happening elsewhere. What is actually happening and what we are told about via the media are often very different. Much of what is actually happening in a disaster would be too distressing to show.
I know that even I am shielded from the worst of it. I do not have to try and cope with conditions on the ground. I do not have to bear the smells and sights and noises and the constant possibility of death in a conflict zone. I don't know how "war correspondents" do it or how aid workers manage to work under such conditions.
I also know that, at some point, the Whirlwind will want to know, "Why did they do it?"
And I will try to answer her but I know that it will not really be an answer. How do you explain the lust for power and possessions to a child verging on adolescence - especially a lust for power and possessions given a veneer of religious and cultural differences? How do you explain that someone who was elected to lead simply used the position to amass a fortune and live a life of luxury?
All I can really tell her is that nothing has changed in thousands of years. Everyone will blame each other.
Perhaps we should start by blaming ourselves.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Carbon tax - will they or won't they

repeal it today? It has been debated - although the Opposition of course will claim that it has not been sufficiently debated. They want to keep it now - although they were singing a different tune before the election.
The new kids on the block - mostly PUPs (Palmer United Party) don't seem to be too sure what they want. They keep switching sides - sometimes because they appear confused about what they are actually for and what the outcome will be. Their leader (who appears to believe that he is both Prime Minister and dictator) wants some sort of "emissions trading scheme". I am not sure he is going to get it.
It is a mess.
I am tired of the global warming debate. I wish we could have a serious debate about looking after the environment instead. I really don't think "global warming" is the issue we should be concerned about. The environment is the issue. If we don't look after the environment then there is absolutely no point in worrying about global warming.
I don't know whether global warming is an issue. The science appears to be contradictory and confused. I am not prepared to believe the alarmists on either side of the debate. No, I am not fence sitting either. I just don't know. I doubt the scientists really know either. Researchers tend to find the results they want to find around such issues. Statistics can be read one way or another.
What I do know is that there is a lot of money and power tied up in the argument about global warming - or lack of it. It is why, even when trees are planted, the wrong sort of tree is planted. We should not be planting quick growing pines and eucalypts but slower growing hard woods that do not present the same fire danger and offer a greater diversity of habitat for wildlife. Reforestation should not be about money and power.
That money and power needs to be redirected - redirected into improving the environment and reducing the negative influence of companies like Monsanto. It is Monsanto which should be fined when their products pollute an organic farm - not the other way round. If we look after the environment we will not need their genetically modified, one use only, seeds to grow crops to feed the world. If we look after the environment then we will be able to feed everyone.
Sorry everyone but I have had enough of this "global warming" issue. It's the wrong issue. Please plant a hardwood tree - or arrange to have one planted somewhere. It will be a start.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Lost the contract?

There is an almighty row going on here because a local company did not get the contract to supply non-combat boots to the army.
Oh woe is us! The jobs have gone overseas! Well, that seems to be the case.
The question of course is whether the government should support Australian businesses - at all cost. Just as successive governments have been propping up the "car industry" for years should they now prop up other industries as well?  If, in doing so, they spend money we do not have then will they be criticised? If, in doing so, they fail to spend money on health, education, welfare and the environment will they be criticised?
It is of course a no-win situation.
I am one of those who believe that the money spent propping up Australia's car industry was wasted. We should have acknowledged years ago that our population is not large enough to support a car industry. Forget Holden and cross the Ford and start seeking new and diverse manufacturing outlets? No, we couldn't do that. The unions were too powerful. They wanted to keep things just as they were - only with ever increasing "pay and conditions". It couldn't last.
The same thing has occurred in the footwear industry. A friend of ours was the chief accountant for a major footwear manufacturing business. He warned the management that they were in danger of going under. He put facts and figures in front of them. He told them where they could make savings without compromising the product. They didn't listen. Two years after he retired they went bankrupt - for the very reasons he said they would. He met one of the senior managers just afterwards and was told, "We should have listened."
It was too late.
I suspect that the same is true of the company which wanted the defence contract. The product they offer might be good but if an equal product is available elsewhere for a lesser price then a cash strapped government is going to take it. This is especially true if the Senate keeps blocking measures which are supposed to get our Budget back on track.
People wonder why this is necessary. They point to the way things are done in other countries. There is a difference between us and many other countries. Put simply, their debt is internal and ours is largely external. We need to pay off as much as we can as soon as we can because we don't owe the money to Australians. We owe money to international entities and they are going to call in the debts.
It is something nobody in politics is mentioning right now.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

So there are three nuns

a Catholic, a Jew, a Presbyterian/Anglican and a lapsed Presbyterian. One of the nuns is Buddhist and the Presbyterian/Anglican is actually a bit of a fraud - a churchgoer who does not believe in the theology but does believe in the principles.
I am the lapsed Presbyterian - I haven't been to church since the argument with my mother in my teens. My brother and two sisters have not been either. Well... we have attended funerals and the occasional wedding. I will even help out by running the second hand book stall at church fetes but please don't ask me to go on Sundays. 
The Senior Cat goes to church. He is really a lapsed Presbyterian at heart but he goes along to the Anglicans on Sundays.  He likes the company and he likes the basic principles - the "love one another" type principles that I also like.
The attendance at the Anglican church was a sort of compromise for my parents. When they returned to the city my mother would have gone back to the Christian Science church. My father refused. They did not really argue about this. My father simply said he would not go. He did not like it. He had never liked it.
My mother had continued to try and inculcate the principles of Christian Science into us when we lived in the bush. This was despite our attendance at whatever church service happened to be held in the community hall on a Sunday - mostly Methodist or Church of England. It was a social event. Most people went to church. Did they believe? I don't know. I suspect it was more of a social event. 
My mother tolerated this but tried to keep us on what she saw as the true path. The more she tried the more we rebelled. In the end there was an almighty row and, on returning to the city, we children simply refused to go to church at all. (As the eldest I was blamed for this although my brother backed me at the time.)
But yesterday we had visitors - yes, the three nuns and the Catholic and the Jew. One of them was our friend Polly and another was her sister. We know them well. They both have an almost startlingly robust view of religion and, while they still believe things I could not believe, they do not believe in talking snakes or the infallibility of the Pope.
I do not know the others well enough to comment on their beliefs.
The Buddhist nun is a delight to know. She is down to earth and practical. Things get done when she is in charge. The other nun came to it all rather late in life. She was once married and she has children. I wonder if she could have taken up a vocation if it had meant never marrying and never having children? Her faith surely has to be different from that of Polly who never married and never had children?
When Polly took up her vocation she expected never to go home again. Now she travels alone, drives a car, visits her family on a regular basis, comes to see non-believers and is going to pick the Senior Cat up to take him to her home to do a repair job. He can even tease her about making sure she has the kettle on. Her every day life is perfectly ordinary. She knows the Jew too. They have worked with each other and occasionally have coffee together. I have introduced both of them to a Muslim friend and they all get along perfectly amicably.
And this is what puzzles me over and over again. We all get along perfectly well together. We know we believe different things. We don't tell each other "you are wrong" or try to convert each other. I told them about a picture I had seen recently - of the graves of husband and wife separated by a wall because one was Catholic and the other Protestant and they way their "hands" reached out to touch one another over the wall. We all agreed such things should not have been necessary and should not be necessary now.
I think there is a lot to be said for that "love one another" principle.

Monday, 14 July 2014

The "World Cup" is over

and there have been cries of joy in this Downunder household.
Yes, I know it is called "the world game" and "the beautiful game" but it bores me.
I am bored by the prominence given to it every night in the news. It is not important. It should be nothing more than a game.
Instead it seems to be about lying, money, cheating, money, injury, money, drugs, money, war, money. Yes, international sport seems more like drug-ridden warfare to me. It seems to be directed by rich and powerful individuals - some with morals lower than a snake's navel. I don't like it.
I do not for one moment doubt that the athletes who competed in the ancient Greek Olympics tried every trick in the ancient scrolls to gain an advantage too. Anywhere there have been competitive games people will have tried to gain an unfair advantage. It is human nature to do that. They do that at the modern Olympics and they will do it at the Commonwealth Games and the Tour de France - and in every other competition of any note.
Nor do I doubt that the last few weeks have been bliss for sports junkie couch potatoes. There has been so much sport on television that it would have been impossible to watch it all. I even know someone who has recorded things he was not able to watch. He knows the results but he will still watch. Why?
More people use public libraries than go to football matches but we give libraries scant attention. We spend far less money on libraries. We pay authors far less than footballers. A professional footballer will earn far more in one match than an author will earn after a year or more of writing a book - a book that is there long after the match is over and forgotten and which may have far greater impact.
Somewhere along the way we got our priorities wrong. Of course sport has a place but it should not be the only place.
I wonder what would happen if we insisted that everyone who plays sport each week also has to read a book each week?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

There is a red cashmere-wool

cardigan missing from my friend's wardrobe. There is also a blue woollen sleeveless one with buttons like pansies missing as well.
I know because I made them for her. I gave them to her sister three years ago. Her sister was making a trip to see her and, rather than post them, I gave them to her to pass over.
Everything else I have made my friend over the years was still there. She refused to part with anything I have made. The red mohair cardigan and the blue mohair-wool one were worn almost threadbare. The grey mohair tweed one needed mending - again. There are others as well. All of them were made with longer than usual armholes so it would be easier for her to dress.  
I am delighted that they have been used so much. Yes, she has taken good care of them. They have been washed carefully and appropriately.
So, the absence of the other two garments puzzled me. That the two things I gave her at the same time should not be there also puzzled me.
And then I remembered that my friend had been in hospital when her sister went to see her. I remembered that my friend had never thanked me for them - something she has always been punctilious about. At the time I had assumed she was too ill to be bothered. It was unlike her but it seemed the only explanation. I had asked my friend's sister whether they had fitted. It seemed the best way to ask if they had actually reached her.
There was a slight hesitation and then she said vaguely, "Oh yes. It was so cold when I was there we both wore them."
Her sister can be vague, very vague so I did not think too much about it - until now.
And now I wonder - I wonder whether those things actually reached my friend or whether they are sitting on a chair in her sister's unit under a pile of books or packed in a suitcase she decided not to take.
Her sister is not dishonest but she is not to be relied on. Perhaps I should ask her if she has taken them to be washed?

Saturday, 12 July 2014

I have a rather long letter

in the paper this morning. They like letters to be less than three hundred words. This one ran to four hundred. I wrote it more with the idea that someone I know in the editorial department might use at least some of it. There have been times when I have seen my words used, without acknowledgment in editorials.
It is not polite but it does not particularly bother me because the paper specifically states that submissions might not be used or might be edited etc. If they think that what I have said - or the way I have said it - is good enough for the editorial then so be it. It is actually rather nice to have someone say, "There's a rather good editorial today..." and know that I have been responsible for part of it even if I cannot actually say anything. 
But this time they have published the entire letter without any editing and I know what will happen. There will be people who will comment on the length. (There are a variety of answers to that depending on the person who is commenting.) Some will ask how I manage to get so many letters into the paper. (I write them.) Someone is bound to ask whether I will help them write a letter to the paper. (With very rare exceptions to that the answer is "No.")
And there will be people who comment on the content. Some will agree and some will disagree. Those who do not agree will fail to recognise that I have, very carefully, put both sides of the argument. They will read what they want to read into what I have said. They will make their own headlines in just the same way the media made headlines over what Joanne Harris said - and did not say. No doubt we all do that at times.
And how often do we only read the headlines and think we know what something is about? How often do we not bother to read further or really consider what is actually being said?
Years ago, after we had argued over something, another student and I gave our mutual doctoral supervisor a card. He had it framed and placed it on his desk. It read,
           "I know you think you understood what I said but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant."
How often does that happen?

Friday, 11 July 2014

I finally caught up with Joanne Harris's

article in the Telegraph - better late in the day than never. It was, as I expected it would be, full of sense.
Just before I read it there had been one of those brief but lively Twitter exchanges between myself and a couple of other people on the "why I write" theme.
I don't write for money. I have never written for money. Realistically I know it is increasingly unlikely that I will ever be fortunate enough to find an agent or a publishing contract. Some people will say I should have tried harder and much sooner but studying while working and also doing what amounted to a second full time job really did not leave time. I wrote but writing is not preparing something to submit for publication.
I wrote because, as Joanne Harris puts it, "Most authors are driven to write - would probably write whether or not they were ever published or paid, just for the joy of it."
And she goes on to say, "This is their strength and their downfall."
Yes, true. We would write anyway.
I need to write. By "write" I do not mean the daily blog post, I mean the words that need to come out because a character has introduced himself/herself to me and demands that I tell their story. I don't have a choice. It would drive me to the edge of madness if I did not do it. It might even tip me over the edge - if I have not already reached that point.
Authors are, quite simply, undervalued. They are paid far too little. Everyone uses words. They are seen as being of little value. There is, as Harris points out, the occasional writer who becomes extremely wealthy. She gave JK Rowling as an example and that produced another stereotypical type storm from the media. (Either they deliberately misunderstood or journalists are severely lacking in listening and reading comprehension skills.) Most writers earn so little that it does not pay them to write. The most skilled among us are perhaps the lowest paid.
We need story tellers. My ancestors are Scots. There was a time when each clan had a "seanachaidh" (pronounced shan-a-key) - a storyteller. The seanachaidh was an important member of the clan, the person who kept the story of the clan alive and passed it on to the next generation. It helped the members of the clan understand the past, make sense of the present and plan for the future. All societies have had such people. They are the tellers of the myths and legends that were used to explain the world.
And we still need those myths and legends. We need stories. We cannot make sense of our world without stories. Stories are what give us the concept of time - the idea of past, present and future. They are the way in which we order the world.
And, as Harris has to say here,

"Stories – even fairy stories – are not just entertainment. Stories are important. They help us understand who we are. They teach us empathy, respect for other cultures, other ideas. They help us articulate concepts that cannot otherwise be expressed. Stories help us communicate; they bring us together; they teach us different ways to see the world. Their value may be intangible, but it is still real.

That’s why our politicians, far from closing libraries, should be opening new ones. That’s why our thinkers, instead of dismissing fairytales as fantasy, should celebrate creativity. That’s why our schools, instead of teaching literature in the way that gets the best grades, should be using it to fire pupils’ enthusiasm and imagination."
I will go even further than that our politicians, both here Downunder and elsewhere in the world, have to come to understand that without writers firing the enthusiasm and imagination of readers - especially young readers - then there will be no progress. Without enthusiasm and imagination we will not make progress. We won't even stand still. We will go backwards.
And so, I am compelled to write.
Writers are sentenced for life with no possibility for parole.





Thursday, 10 July 2014

The "Stroppy Author" had another

well reasoned article over on "An Awfully Big Blog Adventure" yesterday. In it she had, yet again, to talk about the dire state of financial affairs for almost all authors.
And Joanne Harris was in strife because the media had misquoted her and made it sound as if she envied JK Rowling's income. I did not see the article in the Telegraph but I do not doubt reports from many reliable sources that said it did not point out how unusual JK Rowling's financial success as an author is. 
Most authors earn very little. Most authors have another job. Most authors write part-time. They do other things in order to feed, clothe and house themselves.
Most people have no idea what authors do. I think that is correct.
The odd thing was that I saw someone I know slightly in the library yesterday. He comes in to use the free internet services in the library. Most, if not all, of his searching seems to be concerned with used car sites, motoring sites and the like. He sometimes borrows motoring magazines or a DVD. I have never seen him borrow a book.
He apparently reads some of the state newspaper - because he will tell me he has read something I have written. We often agree to disagree. His views appear to reflect his apparently narrow interests.
And he thinks writing is easy. He believes anyone can do it. All you have to do is sit down and write and, according to him, it is then easy to publish it. He knows about e-publishing and self-publishing.
Many other people do too. They also seem to think that writing is easy, that all you have to do is sit down and write. Some of these people have actually done that and "published" the result.
Well yes, as someone put it on the ABBA blog site, most people can make beans on toast. Beans on toast is surely the literary equivalent of writing a note which says, "Gone out. Back later."
Writing a novel, a novel which someone else is prepared to publish, is more like preparing a long series of gourmet meals for a dozen dinner guests all of whom have different dietary requirements.
I doubt I will ever do it but I keep trying to hone my cooking skills.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

"Paro? Who is Paro?"

This was posted on Twitter recently and a good friend in the UK sent the link to me.  It is a story about "Paro" a baby seal robot. He is being used with dementia patients in nursing homes.
Some years ago there were a great many "new born" baby dolls at the annual Quilt and Craft Fair. We saw grown women wandering around "nursing" these very realistic dolls. They made me, and the friend I was working with, shudder. But, they also serve a purpose. They are used in nursing homes to comfort elderly female dementia patients.
My late uncle had something called "multi-infarct dementia". It was dementia brought on by a series of small strokes - some so small that nobody recognised them for what they were. My uncle went from being a quiet, gentle man with a quirky sense of humour to an aggressive, angry man who had no idea what a joke was. His personality changed almost completely. He was not the same person. In the end his behaviour became so bad that there was no choice except to place him in a nursing home.
He could not understand this. He wanted to go home - although he did not where home was or, indeed, where he was. He hit out at people.
There was just one thing which calmed him. One of the staff had a dog and it was a regular visitor to the nursing home. Let into my uncle's room the dog would, trustingly, walk up to my uncle and wait to be patted. It always got those pats. My uncle's breathing would slow. He would actually smile. He would run his hands slowly over the dog's coat and murmur to it. We didn't understand what he was saying but the dog seemed to sense it and sense my uncle's need. My uncle was never violent or angry when the dog was there.
I don't think my uncle would have reacted to Paro at all. In his own way my uncle still understood what was real and what was not real. In his own way he understood his own behaviour was not normal.
But, I think Paro has a place in the lives of some people. It seems to provide something which is missing in the lives of many dementia patients even though it is provided in an artificial way. I think Paro tells us all something very important. We need to have something which responds to us. We need to be needed.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

"Traveller's cheques? They

still exist," I told the Senior Cat. I had told him I needed to go to the bank to find out what should be done about the traveller's cheques my friend has not used.
She has had these for years. She bought them when she went to China to teach about twenty years ago. Because she became ill there she did not use a rather large sum of money.
Traveller's cheques are money. They do not date. They can still be cashed - but there is a catch.
For those who have never used them traveller's cheques are like paper money. Each piece is worth a certain denomination in a certain currency - usually US dollars or Euros or Pounds Sterling although other currencies are possible. You sign the front of the cheque when you get it and then, in order to cash it, you must sign it again in front of the bank, business or person who is accepting the money. They must then put it into their bank account. They are considered to be very secure.
They are so secure that, as I suspected, even the person with the Power of Attorney, cannot cash them for immediate deposit into the bank account of the person whose name they are in. I needed to ask at the bank just what could be done about it. They had no answer except "try talking to American Express".
Of course that organisation expects people to have an account with them before they will even speak to you on the phone. I thought some more and read the website carefully. We cannot get her to a bank but my friend can still sign her name so there had to be an answer somewhere.
I am hoping there is. Her solicitor is going to see her today. Her solicitor, whom I have not met but have spoken to on the phone, appears to be a competent, compassionate and caring individual. I sent her an e-mail. If the accountants for the trust fund at her firm agree would she witness my friend sign the cheques and then place them in the trust account. They could then be used to pay my friend's account.
I had an e-mail back late in the afternoon. It sounds like a reasonable solution if the accounts department agrees. She will let me know via e-mail this morning. I hope they agree.
But, moral, use your traveller's cheques!

Monday, 7 July 2014

"Can you get the second set

of keys?" my friend asked me.
No, she had not locked herself out. This is the friend now in the nursing home.
Before she went in to the nursing home she had one of the systems which allows other people to enter the house by pushing a security code on a small box by the front door to obtain the keys. The box is made of heavy steel and, so far, I have not heard reports of anyone breaking into a house by breaking into such a box.
On Saturday afternoon I had accessed my friend's place (with her permission) by using the keys in the box. Her cousin's son had put the keys back in the box and put them back on the wall. There was another set of keys "hidden in full view" in the house and we had left them there as she had not asked for them. We should have rung and asked her about them. She was worried her sister, who is not at all practical, might use the keys in the box and lock everyone out. Having experienced her sister's capacity to do such things I had to agree. She had decided to pass the inside set of keys over to the real estate agent.
But I did not want to upset her sister so we arranged my friend would ring me when her sister arrived to visit her.
"Tell me you have decided on the blue one," I told her. (The keys were in a blue bowl.)
I waited - and waited. Her sister is not known for punctuality and I wondered if she had perhaps decided not to go out at all. Eventually she arrived and I got the message. It was after four in the afternoon. It is a half hour's pedal but I went as quickly as I could. I managed to retrieve the keys from the box. It took less than a minute to retrieve the second set of keys and then....I had to put the first set of keys back in the box and back on the wall. Oh. I had not done this before.
I knew what to do but it actually requires a considerable amount of manual dexterity. I tried three times...four times....push the security code...pull the little tab it again. I stood there and took a deep breath. Late Sunday afternoon and there was nobody around and...well I couldn't ask anyway. I tried again...and again...and again. It finally clicked into place on the eighth try. I had the other keys.
I just hope she does not ask me to enter the place again on my own because I am still not sure how I managed to manipulate that code and the tab and the slot and... well, I did it.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

There was a "sale" of wool

and other yarn at our knitting guild yesterday. I am sure the craftspeople reading this will understand just what I mean by that. For the uninitiated - knitters suffer from a disease known as SABLE. This is an acronym for "stash advancement beyond life expectancy". Occasionally they convince themselves that they do not suffer from this incurable disease. In an endeavour to cure themselves they decide to "sell" some of their yarn stash.
Our knitting guild arranged to have one of these days yesterday. I pounced on the opportunity.
I think I have said elsewhere in this blog that people keep giving me yarn? Right. Yesterday I sold a lot of it as a fundraiser for my friend in Africa. I left the house with five of those red, white and blue striped bags made somewhere in China - in their hundreds of thousands (possibly millions). They were the largest size bag and come halfway up my thighs. (All right I am short cat but even so - these are big bags.)
I had sorted the yarn. I had packed it. I had labelled it and priced it.
I did not ask a lot for it - far less than it was worth. All the same I was determined to get rid of some of it.
And I did. With the help of a good friend I sold all but five balls of lace-weight. The lace-weight with a pattern attached (my own pattern) did sell. The other did not. I may put a pattern with it and try again. It is not the sort of lace-weight I like to use but it is good for a raw beginner.
It is a load off my mind. I hated seeing yarn I had been given and knew I would never use sitting there. Knitting is a relaxation for me. I am more than grateful for thoughtful gifts of yarn - yarn that good friends occasionally give me because they think I will like it and want to use it. I use it. I might pass the finished item on to someone I know will really appreciate it but, by then, I will have had the pleasure of working with it. But, I don't want to use endless amounts of mustard coloured high acrylic content yarn. I don't know what to do with single balls of muddy green. Some people can use those things. I can't - or won't.
I left to meet another friend and we went off to pack clothes and papers from the little place belonging to my friend who is now safely and happily in her room in a nursing home. The friend I was meeting is a craftswoman of great skill. She spins and weaves and does many other things as well. At the age of eighty she has just been honoured with a retrospective exhibition. I told her what I had just done. We agreed it was necessary. She was wearing a jacket she had woven herself - woven some thirty years ago. It still looks magnificent and it is still fashionable today - fashionable because it really is a work of art as well.
"Did you buy anything?" she asked me.
"No, nothing at all."
How on earth did I manage it?  Mind you there is still evidence of SABLE in the house.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

I would like to rub out

yesterday and start it again. I had tricycle trouble again.
I have not been happy with the new vehicle. Although there are issues with the old one and it is prone to need repair (hence the new one) I have still been using it while I tried to get used to the new one.
It is a different brand. I did not expect the ride to be exactly the same but I thought it was me. I would take it for a ride around the block and that would be about as far as I could pedal it.
Yesterday the Senior Cat said, "For goodness' sake take it a bit further than that. You have to get used to it."
I had to deliver something to someone who lives a bit over a kilometre away. I have no problems pedalling that far and even further, much further but...not on the new vehicle. I managed to get there and found I was not looking forward to the pedal back. There was also an ominous "crunch" and I suspect a bearing has already gone . (No, I do not weigh that much!) When I did eventually get back I had a headache and an ache in my lower back. I am still having problems today.
Yes, before you ask if I am sure it was the exercise on the new vehicle, it is the new machine.
The Senior Cat and I had another look at it. We knew the configuration was different but we had set the seat at the same height. It cannot go any higher or I cannot get on and off. As it is it I can only just manage it on this one because the cross bar is much higher than it is on the old one.
The two machines are almost exactly the same length and the handlebars are almost exactly the same height. What is wrong with it?
The configuration is actually quite different. The seat is at a different angle - and the crank shaft is about ten centimetres shorter. In short, it is simply badly designed. Even if we raised the seat by ten centimetres to try and accommodate the short crank shaft it would not be comfortable because the seat would still be at the wrong angle.
Our problem now is what to do with it. I have sent the bike shop an e-mail. I suspect I will not get a reply. Even if we send it back to the manufacturer they will simply want to "repair it".  They will say other people ride these without problems. (I suspect that such an answer would be far from true but it is what they will say.) We cannot, in all honesty, offer it up for sale to some other unsuspecting human. I cannot ride it, indeed should not ride it.
And, worst of all, I feel bad for the Senior Cat. He was the one who arranged all this. He thought he was doing something very special for me. I love him dearly and this makes me angry and disappointed for him.

Friday, 4 July 2014

There is apparently just one

student studying Latin in the final year of high school this year - one out of 13, 500 final year students.
The Senior Cat did his degree in English Literature and Latin. Like many other teachers of his generation he had to do his degree part-time while teaching and supporting a young family. I can remember the lists of Latin words stuck on the shaving cabinet mirror. It was not a matter of "amo, amas, amat..." either. He did not love learning his vocabulary lists.
But, he did think Latin was important enough to learn - and so did many other students of his generation. As he remembers it there were well over one hundred students in the lecture theatre - and that was just one class. The Greek class was smaller because that contained just the students doing Classics as their major and the Theology students. Latin however was a popular choice for the minor strand for many English literature students. Latin was once compulsory for both medical and law students too.
The Senior Cat's closest friend was doing the same subject. They would travel into the city together, taking it in turns to drive a tiny three wheeled car so that they could test each other. They did not get distinctions but they did get credits - and they can still remember much of their Latin after more than sixty years.
I know some Latin -  but not a lot. The Senior Cat insisted that I learn some. He taught me outside school hours. He taught my brother some as well. My two sisters refused flatly to have anything to do with the language.
It shows. My brother and I write better English, at least I think we do. The Senior Cat seems to think so as well. And when I studied law I found I understood the legal terms that are still used. So did the other students of my generation. A member of staff once remarked to me that they should, at very least, have a compulsory unit in "legal Latin". Perhaps they should. As I remember it there was only one student in my year who was, as part of her double degree strand, doing Latin. She loved Latin. It was her passion. I doubt her peers ever understood her. She finished both degrees but never went into law. She actually found a job teaching Latin. I don't know what has happened to her since but I often wonder how many students she inspired and encouraged.
Is Latin important? It's a "dead language" isn't it?
I would say Latin is still important. It is far from a dead language. It is of course one of the official languages of the Vatican. I may be wrong  but I believe Papal decrees are written in Latin. However that is just one small way in which Latin is used. We all use it every day. We just don't recognise it as such. Many of our medical, scientific, economic and religious terms have a Latin base. New medical and scientific terms often look to Latin for their creation. Scientists around the world can understand one another more easily because of it.
And so I would ask the head of the modern languages association who dismissed Latin as being of no importance, "Where would you be without Latin?"
You would not be here. 

Thursday, 3 July 2014

"I don't think it will be

very much work and it shouldn't be difficult," my friend told me. I am sure she really believed that too. I thought otherwise.
Yesterday I had to go into the delightfully named "central business district" or "CBD". I avoid this if I can. I like the side which contains the museums, the art gallery, the state's main library, the state's oldest university and other assorted buildings. They are all in a long line along one of side of the square mile which comprises the main CBD.
It is what is inside the CBD that I like rather less. It was filled with what might be best described as "footpath works and obstacles".
With some difficulty I detoured past the first one by wheeling my tricycle off the footpath and on to the roadway into the oncoming traffic and then up on to the footpath again.  I then realised that another sixty to seventy metres down the way there was another obstacle. Could I get past? No.
There was someone on a gopher coming from the other direction. Of course there was no workman in sight. We shrugged and the gopher user did a smart U-turn. I backed and did a less smart U-turn because there was now one of those double baby stroller affairs behind me.
I went around the block and then found the street I had planned to go up was completely blocked off with fencing and notices about "demolition". I did not want to be demolished. I did another long detour. 
I reached the street I needed to visit and approached it from the other end with extreme caution because there were yet more footpath works. At least this time one of the workmen saw my predicament and said, "Hold on.." and moved the pole holding the bright orange "fencing" out of the way.  
I reached the office I had to visit and - a miracle - there was a bicycle park outside. I locked the trusty tricycle to it and went in.
"You didn't ride here?" the receptionist asked me.
"With all that's going on out there?"
The noise of the pneumatic drill being used on the other side of the road could be heard all too loudly as the automatic doors slid open again.
I did the business I had come to do and contemplated how best to return to the railway station. I did another detour and, apart from one small obstacle reached the station without incident although it meant walking the tricycle through a shopping precinct.
I sat on the train thinking of the peace and quiet of the suburbs - and arrived at my local railway station to be greeted by the sight of workmen putting up yet more orange safety fencing.
"Hello matey - want to get through?" they asked.
Yes please!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Just how well do we

know people?
No, I am not talking about Rolf Harris here. (For the record I never did like him. That sort of slick "entertainment" style does not appeal to me at all. )
No, this is about my friend M whose funeral I went to yesterday. It was a surprisingly cheerful occasion. Her three daughters refused to let it be a sad one. Their mother would not have wanted that.
M and I go way back - to before I even knew her. She knew my paternal grandfather. He was a grown man when she was a child but she would see him around the port area they both lived in and she once told me that he taught one of her brothers to row the small boat used by many of the local children. And yesterday I heard, not from the daughter who gave the eulogy but from another member of the family, that my grandfather was the one who set her out on her first career - that of dressmaker.
It was not deliberate but M could sew and some nuns needed some habits made. It was not something my grandfather could do. It had nothing to do with the fact that he was Presbyterian but that it would have been highly improper for a male to be in close contact with nuns. (How different things are now. When our friend Polly comes to visit - alone - she and the Senior Cat hug one another.)
But, the nuns needed habits. My grandfather knew M could sew. He knew - because he had seen clothing she had made - that she could sew well enough and he suggested her for the task. She did it. I had no idea - and neither did anyone else.
I also had no idea that she was a "Master Mariner" and I don't think most people in the room had any idea either. I knew her husband had been one. He and I had discussed maritime issues when he was alive. He had been a lighthouse keeper and had known both my grandfather and my paternal great-grandfather - a maritime pilot.  But M, a Master Mariner as well?  I was aware she was highly knowledgeable about such things but I had assumed it was because she was intelligent and interested. Where and when she obtained the qualification is a mystery.  And yet it explained other things about her - particularly the way she kept her house and her use of some maritime words such as "anchor her down".
And so, did I know my friend? Of course I did. Did I know her well? Yes, in some respects I did. But how well did I know her? I don't know but I glad I did know her.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Getting a "police check" to

work or to work as a volunteer should be a straightforward business for the vast majority of people. It isn't.
That does not mean that the vast majority of people have some nasty incident lurking in their post. They don't.
I have no problem with the general idea of a police check. It is a good thing if it saves even one vulnerable individual, particularly a child, from being at risk.
But I think our system goes too far. A friend of mine is, at 76, a keen knitter and always willing to pass her skills on to others. She obtained a police clearance to work at a church craft group. Then she was asked to work at a school. She required another police clearance for that - because she was working with children. That may seem fair enough. She had to pay for both clearances although I feel that those asking her should have paid for the second if they specifically wanted her.
But she was telling me that someone else volunteered for the same programme in the same school. The other woman, a similar age, had a police clearance to work in another school - but not in the second school. If she wanted to work in the second school she had to obtain yet another police clearance. The students in both are in the same age group and from similar backgrounds.
My question is, why does the other woman need a new police clearance to work in the second school? My own view is that the system should be able to cope with such things. You should be able to get a police clearance to work in all schools of one type or another. You should not need a clearance to work in Red primary school and a new clearance to work in Blue primary school. The clearance should cover both schools.
Many organisations are exceptionally short of volunteers now. Some volunteers are working close to full time. Some volunteers are in their eighties and nineties. Often they have to do Occupational Health and Safety training as well as get the police clearance. They have to learn new ways of doing things because of new rules and regulations.
We want people to volunteer. We want them to be safe. We want the people they are working with and for to be safe. There is now a delay in the handling of applications. They want to put the application fee up again.
Surely one way of handling this is to make the application process situation specific rather than location specific?