Friday, 31 October 2014

"Shield laws" for journalists

are under debate again in this little part of the world. The Opposition put up a bill which passed the state's Legislative Assembly but then failed to get through the House of Representatives. It leaves us out of step with most of the country.
The Attorney-General has declared the laws "unnecessary" and claimed that a journalist has never been imprisoned for failing to reveal their sources. That is incorrect - at least one journalist has spent time incarcerated for refusing to name a source.
At Federal level there is an attempt to bring in other laws which would possibly see a journalist imprisoned for revealing matters of national security. There the Federal Attorney-General has said that the laws are not aimed at journalists, rather they are aimed at terrorists and those supporting them.
Both situations have journalists and others concerned. They have me concerned.
I think we need shield laws. I also think they should not apply to behaviour which is irresponsible.
There are things journalists uncover - or, more likely, get told - that should be made known. It will genuinely be "in the public interest" to inform people about something which has happened or is currently happening. The recent information about the highly inflated water bills in this state is one of those stories which needed to be aired.
It is plain the government is using many household bills to try and raise the money to run a state which is as good as bankrupt. People need to know that. They may not be able to do anything about it but at least they will know why their bills are so high. (Even if there is a change of government at the next election it will change nothing because a government would need the money.)
It is also improper for a journalist to reveal issues of national security which put people at risk. If a journalist were, for example, to name "undercover" agents who had befriended terrorists in order to gather information and prevent an attack on innocent people then surely that is wrong. The journalist would in effect be assisting the terrorists and endangering the lives of others.
I know people who say "but no responsible journalist would do that". Perhaps not but there are irresponsible journalists - and even the most responsible journalists would find it hard to resist a really big story. They would attempt to justify it.
One of our local columnists wrote an article in the state newspaper earlier this week. It sounded good but it was incorrect. It gave entirely the wrong impression of a social programme that she happens not to personally like. On being challenged she has allegedly claimed that this is what she was "told", that complaints were made and she believed them to be true. A balanced story would have involved more research and some acknowledgment of the actual facts - but then it is unlikely the paper would have found the space to print it.
We need to balance the right to know against the right to privacy and the right to safety. We need to balance the right to offer an opinion with the right to accurate information.
If journalists do not behave in a responsible manner then they should not be shielded. The problem is that any irresponsibility on their part may end up denying all of us information we need to make an informed decision for ourselves.
If someone has an answer to this could they please let me know?

Thursday, 30 October 2014

"I think the Senator may be

in a tad of trouble," someone said to me yesterday.
We were waiting for a meeting to start. I had pedalled over in the sun and was feeling more like curling up for a cat nap. I just looked at the speaker and, although I privately agree, tried not to look as if I was passing judgment.
He went on talking and I went on half-listening. Suddenly he said, "You think I'm prejudiced don't you? You think just because she identifies as indigenous nobody should criticise her."
Fortunately someone else butted in at that point because I do think he may be prejudiced. I have heard him make mildly disparaging remarks before but I have always sensed he is holding back and would like to say a great deal more than he does.
But it did raise a question in my mind. The Senator in question is alleged to have used or attempted to have used public funds for personal benefit. Yes, she could be in trouble because of it. I won't say any more than that. I don't know the story. I don't want to know. She also identifies as "aboriginal" although I think her heritage may be more complex or diverse than that. She is a good looking woman with a very successful athletic history and I do not doubt she is intelligent.
She was hand picked for the role of Senator by a previous Prime Minister. Oh yes, female, indigenous, successful sports person, it seemed the PM knew what she was doing. The Senator won a seat. There were questions asked though because the PM had not consulted anyone. She made the announcement as "Captain's Pick". It did not endear her to her colleagues and it denied the party the possibility of choosing a candidate for themselves. Everyone was however very careful not to be too critical - lest it seem they were being prejudiced against an indigenous candidate.
It made me wonder at the time about the way in which so many people will be so very careful about not criticising an indigenous person. It also made me conscious of how careful so many people are about being polite to someone from another culture. They are afraid of appearing to be "racist".
After the meeting was over I was talking to another person when her daughter arrived with a five month old baby. He was awake after his afternoon nap. He had been changed and fed and was ready to take on the world.
Life won't be easy for him. His skin is the colour of good dark chocolate. 
"He's adorable," I told his mother and meant it. She smiled and said, "Yes, when he's asleep." We laughed.
I sat there cuddling him for a moment, making the silly noises adults make and smiling at him. It was easy to smile. He was smiling back. 
I hope he gets a lot of real smiles in his life. I also hope he gets criticised if it is justified. That will show real acceptance.  

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The new principal of one of

the state's largest (and most expensive) private ("public" to readers in the UK) co-ed schools made some very public remarks about single sex education causing emotional damage that "could last for years".
I had occasion to call in on Ms Whirlwind at her single sex boarding school yesterday and the girls were puzzled by it.
"We see plenty of boys," they told me.
They do too. Not only do they have they usual range of male relatives but they mix with other schools, including an all male school. They have mixed social events. They go on outings together. The Whirlwind has mixed with the boys in her street all her life.
But school? No. They were all quite firm about that. They preferred to keep the classroom to themselves.
"Boys don't learn the same way," they told me. It was an interesting comment coming from young teens. They may be right.
"And they are not as grown up," one girl said. Yes, she is almost certainly right about levels of maturation. They do differ. It is interesting she should have noticed that.
The Whirlwind's school does very well in science. It is not something the Whirlwind is particularly keen on but many of the girls do specialise in maths and physics in particular. They have outstandingly good teachers and that helps but they are also not competing against boys who tend to get the attention in class.
"And you know," the Whirlwind told me as we went back to the school gate, "We don't have to worry so much about what we look like. I mean we still have to be sort of tidy but we aren't competing for the boys all the time."
"Yeah, my Mum went to this other school with boys and she says all the girls used to do things like put their hair in rollers at night. Weird!" one of her friends told me, "It used to take them forever every night."
Oh yes, I remember that. My boarding school was co-ed. The competition was terrific - in the proper sense of the word. I hated it. The girls actually had their hair measured. It had to be an inch above your collar. It was supposed to stop all the nonsense with rollers and competition for the boys. It did nothing of the sort.
I can remember the traumas when partnerships broke up. I avoided the worst of it by spending weekends with my grandparents. I loathed school at that point.
But - I never had my hair measured. I arrived at school in a later year than the other girls. My hair was long and I insisted on leaving it that way. I had always had long hair. If they didn't like it that way then too bad. They didn't like it but there was nothing, short of ordering me to have it cut, they could do about it. That was a step too far even for that school.  
I never bothered with rollers and I refused to wear ribbons in the school colours. I wore ribbon covered elastic (made by my paternal grandmother) instead.
I was probably the only girl not traumatised by my appearance or the opposite sex at some stage because I simply did not care. I had other much more serious things to worry about.
The Whirlwind has plaits in school and about half her friends have plaits or pony tails in school as well. On the whole they look tidy. They keep their shoes and fingernails clean and then they get on with life. I don't see them as being traumatised by their appearance or the lack of the opposite sex in the classroom. They can go out in "civvies" and look good.
Of course there are arguments for and against both single sex and co-ed schools but to suggest that one sort traumatises students and the other doesn't is, I suggest, nonsense.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

We had the most dramatic

thunderstorm I can remember the night before last. The sky kept lighting up like day with both sheet and fork lightning. I am still amazed that we did not lose power - like the other half of the city.  I am even more amazed that no real damage was done because outside my bedroom window is a little dent in the ground where the lightning hit the gravel at the edge of the garden. Yes, it was a little bit dramatic.
The girl in the greengrocery told me that she had been out. She could see the storm coming in and left the event she was at to go home and take her two dogs inside. Oh yes, they have a good kennel but they were frightened.
Other animals must be too. I know I hoped that our visiting cat was safely inside and, in between the bangs, I heard someone take their dog indoors. (I know they did because it stopped howling.)
There is a different sort of thunderstorm in this morning's paper. The media finally managed to get permission to print a letter of resignation. It makes interesting reading.
I normally would not take too much notice of such things - or the sort of headlines the media provide with such stories. I don't know the writer of the letter. So, why did I notice it this time?
The writer was resigning his position on a government board. People must resign from boards on occasion. What was so different about this?
His letter makes some accusations about the way the board, which is supposedly independent, is working. The accusations don't surprise me. I have worked with government boards - and often detested doing so. They tend to be political even when they are supposed to be apolitical. They tend not to get things done in time or not done at all. Sometimes they simply cannot do anything.
But this letter accuses them of not doing things which could be done and not doing them because other members of the board are colluding with the government - and that collusion is costing the taxpayers.
Even that should not surprise people but one of the issues the board deals with is something that is vital. They deal with water. The government is set to benefit from what people have to pay for water but it won't go back into building a better water supply. We have a desalination plant in mothballs. Ageing water mains break. There is talk of taxing rainwater tanks on private properties and dams farmers build to supply livestock.
The man who resigned is an economist. He presumably understands basic economics. If he believes that water bills could be reduced for the good of the economy then perhaps we should be listening. Perhaps he is right about the way we are handling the storm water?

Monday, 27 October 2014

It seems our charity sector has been hit

with another rise in fees - this time for "Workcover". Workcover is the scheme which is supposed to provide funding for injured workers.
Like all other such government run schemes attempts to abuse it abound. The odd thing is that not everyone who is injured at work benefits from the scheme while others do. Don't ask me how that works. I am puzzled. I suspect others are too. The pay outs can also be very small for some injuries and large for others.
I personally know of two cases, one where someone broke their wrist slipping on oil left on the floor by a fellow worker and the other where someone cut their hand on a jagged piece of metal. The first injury needed considerable medical attention. The second injury was caused by a failure to wear the heavy safety gloves supplied by the employer. It required several stitches. 
Now, the first injury received the greater compensation, yes? Wrong. It was the second injury which received a hefty pay-out. How that was achieved I do not know. I have not asked. It is probably wiser not to know.
Workcover "blew out" some time ago. The unfunded liability is now a huge problem. Money is needed to cover the present claims - money that should be covering future claims.
So Workcover has hit the charity sector. The claim is that most of the claims have come from the charity sector - although they have failed to provide any proof of that. One large charity with a pay base of $6.5m has, it is said, been hit with a Workcover bill of $1.1m.  Can that possibly be correct? I don't know. I admit I am wary of taking figures in the media as correct.
What I do not doubt is that the sums are large because I also thought of something else. Our knitting guild is required to have "public liability" insurance. We meet in a hall which is already covered by such insurance but this is not good enough. Apparently we indulge in a dangerous activity and we are likely to injure not just ourselves but each other. It costs the guild a considerable sum of money each year - and the price goes up each year.
What sort of injury would be covered by this insurance is uncertain.  The sort of injuries likely to occur would be much more likely to be related to the premises we meet on and they would be covered by other insurance. We contribute to that through our hire of the hall.
Of course if someone is injured because of the carelessness of other people we need to ensure that they get the care and assistance they need but does that mean we need to cover everything else, including our own carelessness? Should it be a sort of lottery? We need to be more careful about cleaning up the oil on the floor so we don't injure others and more careful about wearing safety gloves so we don't injure ourselves.
Do we in fact just need to be more responsible?

Sunday, 26 October 2014

"You can't vote,"

a friend of mine was told. No?
Our council elections are being held at present. Unlike the state and federal elections there is no compulsory attendance at the ballot box. Ballot papers were sent out to eligible voters by post. (Eligible means you actually live in or pay rates in the area.)
The Senior Cat and I received ours on Friday. We filled out the ballot papers. (Again, the voting process is different. It is not preferential. You can mark just one for mayor and at least two for your councillors.)
After you fill the ballot papers out you seal them inside an envelope with a flap on it. On that flap you fill out your last name, your given names and your date of birth. You then sign it. You put that envelope inside the pre-paid envelope and post it back. The returning office staff then remove the envelope with the flap, check the details on the flap sand mark your name off the electoral roll, they then remove the flap and add the envelope to the pile of votes to be counted.
It all sounds very simple - unless you can't sign your name.
I have more than one friend and acquaintance with a severe disability. Not all of them can sign their names. One young acquaintance wanted to vote. He lives in group accommodation and his house manager told him he couldn't vote because he couldn't sign his name.
I happened to meet one of the other carers in the library. She told me what had happened.
"Has he still got the voting papers?" I asked
"Yes, I think so."
"Well then it is not a problem. You fill out the forms at his direction and get him to sign it with a thumb print the way he did when he enrolled. Call in on the way back and I'll give you a stamp pad."
She duly called in and I had fortunately found the old stamp pad by then. It needed to be moistened but it worked well enough for the job. The Returning Officer can check it is legitimate.
I need to get a new stamp pad. You never know what it might be needed for. 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

There were no words for

what most of us would consider to be basic concepts, no words for "knowledge", "experience" and "institution". There were other words too but I was not keeping a list.
The Senior Cat and I were watching a short documentary about "shamans" in Sikkim - that tiny kingdom in the clouds of the Himalaya which was taken over by India for strategic reasons. I can remember reading about Sikkim as a child - in a book belonging to my paternal grandfather. It sounded strange and romantic but rather uncomfortable to me even then. Last night it still sounded that way.
The shamans of Sikkim are not charlatans. They are men of great medical knowledge. They use the herbs and other plants found in the surrounding rain forest to treat their patients and that treatment is often efficacious. Many people find that remarkable but we really should not. They have been gathering knowledge for thousands of years.  
Sikkim is a largely closed country. The last king of Sikkim ensured that. Tourists are almost unknown and it is almost impossible for an outsider to settle there. The documentary followed a young man who works for a government organisation. It is his job to try and learn as much as he can about the work of the shamans and record what he can - before it is lost. 
To say he has a difficult job would be an understatement. What makes shamanistic medicine work is perhaps a combination of sound medical practice and the belief that it is going to work.  It's complex. The shaman seem to have good reason for what they do mixed in with a belief system that Westerners would often find strange. If I were in Sikkim and not within reach of Western medicine I think I would feel quite safe allowing a respected shaman to treat me. "First do no harm" would seem to be their over-riding principle as well.
But what really fascinated me was listening to this young man. He was being interviewed in his own language but he is well educated in the Western sense as well. He knows English. His speech was scattered with English words. He was not showing off. I am sure he could have been interviewed in English. The reason for using English words however seemed to be quite different. The concepts do not exist in the language he was speaking - or at least they do not exist in the sense that we would understand them.
If I think about it that way it is an extraordinary reflection of their belief in where knowledge and experience come from. Yes, one shaman talked about watching his father, also a shaman but they seem to believe that their capacity to use herbs and to heal comes from the gods. That is an entirely different understanding of knowledge and experience. The belief in those things appears to be an important part of their ability to heal.
The linguistic psychology fascinates me. I would love to know more.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Does someone become

"self-radicalised" and, if so, how?
I am not sure about "self-radicalisation". I think it is much more complex than that. I doubt anyone sets out with the conscious aim of becoming a radical. Individuals have to be influenced by other things.
What happened in Canada yesterday was appalling - and yes, of course it could happen anywhere. I even heard someone say, "I wish he'd done it to our mob and succeeded." They probably weren't being serious but it made me, quite literally, shiver.
People say that sort of thing without meaning it at all. They also say things like "I could kill him" and "I could strangle her" when they are frustrated or annoyed with someone. It is not nice or polite but it seen as a way of "letting off steam".
The young Australian in the IS video sprouting hate and death is something entirely different. Is he sane? I doubt it. He has certainly been "brain-washed". His thinking has, somehow, been successfully changed. That is what worries me. How was that done?
Do we have to take some responsibility as a society for that? Do we actually isolate people - or allow them to become isolated?
I work from home. It would be easy to become isolated. I could go all day without seeing anyone but the Senior Cat. That almost never happens though. We might have neighbours come in or, more often than not, I have to visit the library or the Post Office or go to a meeting. There might be shopping to do. I see people I know - or people who know me even when I don't know them. We say hello. It isn't like visiting friends or doing something in a group but it is human contact of a sort. And then I belong to a knitting guild. Knitting is a hobby. I enjoy it.
But I also "lead" two knitting groups and teach knitting to a small group of teens with disabilities. It may sound like a lot but it really means a social activity about once a week. The first two groups are also what I consider to be "support" groups. There are people who attend both of them who need those groups for reasons quite unrelated to knitting. They need the company. They need support.
I wonder if some people have that sort of support. I suspect they don't. They are lonely.
The teens recognised that long ago. All but one of them are now in the last year of secondary school. The other has one year more to go. Will they go on meeting? It will be more difficult but they have been discussing ways of doing it - and I think the bonds are so strong that their friendships will be life-long. Social media helps even now.
A big city, where you are surrounded by people, can be the loneliest place in the world if you don't know anyone. Interaction via an electronic screen is not the same thing. I really enjoy my interactions with many people via social media. I have not met most of them and I know I probably never will. That doesn't matter we can still enjoy a form of friendship and company. But I also know that I need, for my own mental health, to see people in the flesh from time to time.  It's a different sort of relationship.
Social media can however make it easy for us to believe in friendships which don't really exist. If you are young and lonely and someone "friends" you on social media and then starts to tell you in a persuasive fashion that you are "important" and need to do something important then you might well come to believe it.
I know not everyone will agree but I don't really believe people become radicals in isolation. I think they may become radicals because they are isolated. 

Thursday, 23 October 2014

"Can you come and

have a look at this?" the Senior Cat asked me.
He doesn't often interrupt me if I am at the computer so I assumed it was important.
He had begun work on what will be a bigger project than he expected. A neighbour had asked him whether he could "fix" a sideboard she had bought. The Senior Cat hates to say "no" so he agreed but, as is often the case, this is full of unexpected problems.
The object in question probably dates from the 1930's. (I did some on line research and found some of very similar design dating from that era.) It is, to put it mildly, not well made.
The Senior Cat showed me what was bothering him. Was he right? I got right down to look at it in a way he could not. Unfortunately he was right, indeed it looked worse from where I could see it. I could see the same long split in the timber at a crucial point. It will need urgent attention.
And then I looked at the drawers. There are three. The Senior Cat had taken them out and put them to one side.
"The drawers are pretty awful too," I told him.
He had not actually looked at them. I showed him. The runners are so worn that they actually cave in. The backs are coming away. He groaned.
We spent more time going over the object. I am not by any means a woodworker although living with the Senior Cat has taught me something. The timber which was used has shrunk. There are gaps where there should not be gaps. The back is a piece of cheap, cracked plywood which is breaking off at the edges. Inside someone has covered two shelves with cheap brown plastic which is intended to look like timber but looks like - well cheap brown plastic.
The neighbour did not buy it as a piece of antique furniture but she still paid a hefty price for it in a second hand furniture store. She liked the look of it. If you like that sort of thing then yes, it is pleasing to look at from a distance and it would make a nice addition to a room decorated in that style.
The Senior Cat asked me if she could return it and get her money back. Unfortunately the answer is no. A smart dealer might give her a few dollars for it but the second hand dealer must have heaved a sigh of relief when it went out the door.
Last night the Senior Cat explained all this. Did she still want him to do anything with it.
Yes, she is in love with it. Please would he do whatever he could with it.
It's the sort of challenge he still loves. I'll leave him to his wood dust and glue and slivers of timber to repair the cracks - and hope she lovingly dusts it when it is done.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

So our former Prime Minister

Gough Whitlam has died. He was 98.
I met him on a number of occasions. No, I do not normally hob-nob with Prime Ministers - although I have met some. I met Mr Whitlam because of Mrs Whitlam or, as she told me "Margaret, because that is who I am".
I quite liked Margaret. I met her first at a Writers' Week. We also had other interests, largely literary, in common. She was immensely supportive of International Literacy Year. It was her efforts behind the scenes that saw the Whitlam era spending on school libraries. Whitlam was not nearly as keen or interested in spending money on libraries. I doubt many Prime Ministers are.
Margaret was very forthright. If she didn't like something then you knew about it. Other people told me I was fortunate that she had "decided to like me". We never talked politics but I suspect she knew that my approach to politics was not hers - or indeed anybody else's approach. 
Whitlam could be equally forthright and he was liable to ask questions. The questions would not require an answer but rather a confirmation that the person being questioned shared the same view as Whitlam himself. If you didn't that tended to be an end to the conversation - unless Margaret was around. Yes, Whitlam was arrogant. I did not like him.
The media is currently full of what a wonderful Prime Minister he was. He wasn't.
Oh yes, he withdrew Australian troops from Vietnam - but he would have done what the previous government had done and sent them there in the first place.
He is also said to have set up the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and started indigenous Australians on the road to "land rights". The reality is that, while these things happened under his watch, the previous government was already moving in the same direction. It was the previous government which had called the 1967 referendum - the one in which Australians voted overwhelmingly to include indigenous Australians in the census. (Contrary to popular belief they already had the right to vote but were not required to attend the ballot box.)
It is said that Whitlam dismantled the White Australia Policy - the policy which restricted but did not completely forbid the migration of other ethnic groups to Australia. Again, this is incorrect. It was the previous government which brought in the Migration Act of 1966 which effectively ended the policy. 
Whitlam is also said to have begun diplomatic relations with Asia, particularly China. He was one of the first high-level Australians to visit the country and relations were formalised under him but again the reality is that moves had been made in that direction. There was already a great deal of activity going on but it was low key because of a general concern in the community about "Communism".  Whitlam did it with an arrogance that nearly wrecked the careful diplomacy.
His government introduced Medibank, our national health system and cut out university fees. Both those things, seemingly sound and fair in principle, have proved unsustainable. It was his own side of politics which reintroduced university fees and increased the now Medicare levy.
Whitlam was said to be a supporter of the arts. His wife did far more. She supported the purchase of Jackson Pollock's "Blue Poles" - a controversial addition to the Australian National Gallery. Perhaps it helped in that it got people talking about the arts - but the purchase was not well received by many in the arts community. 
Whitlam was said to be a supporter of women's rights. It was Margaret who pushed this from behind the scenes. She demanded equal treatment for herself and expected it to be given to other women. Whitlam himself was less than enthusiastic in private.
And Whitlam reduced the voting age to eighteen. It was a cynical move. He believed that the overwhelming majority of 18-21 year old citizens now able to vote would vote Labor and thus ensure that Labor remained in power.
His government was filled with scandal but it was his secret attempt to raise $8 billion through an outside agent, one Mr Khemlani, that eventually brought about the circumstances for his dismissal. The Senate blocked supply because the country was facing bankruptcy. Whitlam and his government had simply been introducing "reforms" without the money to pay for them.
If, instead of being dismissed on November 11 1975, Whitlam had gone to an election he would have lost. His dismissal allowed him to be seen as a martyr. It allowed him, and Labor, to "maintain the rage". The reality is that it was an incompetent government that put in place populist ideas without the means to pay for them.
"Gough doesn't understand money," Margaret once told me when he came looking for money to buy something to drink. He had, apparently, come out without his wallet. She was right.
It made me wonder what their conversational life was like. I suspect it was "robust".

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Rolling Stones are in town

and a great deal of fuss is being made about their presence.
They were, I believe, supposed to be here earlier in the year - something to do with the re-opening of the city's central oval. I was not interested in the re-opening of the oval. I have never been to a football or cricket match there. (Yes, I know - I am a sports' heathen!)
I am not terribly interested in the Rolling Stones either. I know who they are - something which had to be explained to a friend of the Senior Cat. (The Senior Cat - who detests "pop" music - actually managed to explain that himself. I won't say the description was particularly accurate but it did give his friend the general idea. I was proud of the Senior Cat.)
Would I recognise a song by the Rolling Stones? Um... I think "Ruby Tuesday" was one of theirs. And that is about it. I know. Appalling. Dreadful. Disgraceful.
Now, ask me about the Beatles? I can, I think, name "the Fab Four" and perhaps a half a dozen of their songs...I might even recognise more.
That has nothing to do with being wildly fond of the Beatles. I wasn't. I grew up in a family where my parents did not allow that sort of music to be played. We grew up with Gilbert & Sullivan (whistled out of tune by the Senior Cat), Mozart and Bach, English folk songs and Wesleyan hymns. I just had more to do with people who liked the Beatles and they tried to "educate" me.
But people are currently hanging around the establishment the Rolling Stones are apparently staying in and trying to catch a glimpse. Why?
I remember the year the Beatles came to Adelaide and it seemed "everyone" (except me) was trying to catch a glimpse of them too. (The alarm clock went off in Latin lesson at the presumed moment of their touch down on the tarmac. We knew better than to be absent at the great moment.) I couldn't understand the fuss. I still don't understand.
I once shared a lift with a very, very VIP. He came in on the floor after me. There were just the two of us. He looked at me in a resigned sort of way as if to say, "Here we go again. I suppose I'll have to...."
He has a reputation for being very polite and pleasant to everyone - including his staff.  I took a risk. With a smile I said, "It's all right. I don't know who you are if you don't want me to."
He actually laughed and we had a brief and perfectly pleasant conversation about something entirely different - but not the weather.
I met him again later, in another context altogether. Someone was about to formally introduce me but he stopped them and said, "Thank you. We've already met."
He didn't explain where and neither did I. Out of all the thousands of people he had met in his lifetime he remembered a brief and very ordinary conversation in a lift.
I suspect that this is what celebrities sometimes crave - a little bit of "ordinary". It seems "ordinary" can sometimes be "extraordinary" - and I won't be hanging around for a glimpse of Mick Jagger.

Monday, 20 October 2014

There has been an interesting contribution

posted to another blog site over the weekend. It raised the question of whether it is possible to feel "ashamed" as a nation.
It brought back memories of one of the actions that angered me most about one of our former Prime Ministers. Kevin Rudd presumed to give an apology on behalf of others to indigenous Australians for the treatment they had received. It was seen as a great moment in the history of Australia.
For me it was anything but a great moment. I cringed. The way many, indeed most, indigenous Australians were treated (and often are still treated) was wrong. I don't deny that but Mr Rudd had no business apologising for it. He should not have said "sorry". Some indigenous friends found it insulting. They felt Mr Rudd should simply acknowledged that the past was, by our current standards, wrong and then said every effort would be made to do better. Yes, as the saying goes, the past is another country and things were done differently there. We can acknowledge that and, if we were wise, we would learn from the experience of others.
As adults we are presumed to know the likely consequences of our actions and we have to take responsibility for them. We cannot take responsibility for a past over which we had no control. We can disagree but we cannot feel an emotion on their behalf or on a nation's behalf. Emotions are personal things. I believe they are what we feel. We can empathise with others and sympathise with others of course but I also don't believe we can apologise for others over whom we have no control.
So can a "nation" feel "ashamed"?  No. People within it can but a nation is an idea not a person and people differ on every subject under the sun.
I might be wrong of course. I am undoubtedly wrong about a lot of things.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

I succumbed to more

book buying yesterday...but this time I promise you that the books are presents for small humans. Small humans need books.
The day before yesterday I had the totally delicious experience of snuggling up with the youngest granddaughter of the neighbour who acted as Florence Nightingale when I sliced my thumb. We read a picture book together. "three and more than a half" and already passionate about books and words. On the days that her grandparents care for her she gets at least a half a dozen books read to her but, given half a chance, she will come over to me and ask me to read with her.
Her grandparents read to her. They do it well too. Her grandfather is particularly good at making the appropriate noises in the appropriate places. Her grandmother talks about the pictures and helps her to read them.
But A... is getting ready to read. She almost knows the letters of the alphabet. She can read her own name. She can read her sister's name. She recognises several other words without hesitation. And so, if we read a book, we read it together. I let her choose the pace and try to make sense of those strange squiggles on the page. I let her tell me about the pictures because reading the pictures is an important part of reading the story. I'll tell her that a word like "elephant" is one she knows already. I have to judge whether she needs me to tell her, guide her, encourage her or let her go her own way.
     "You're reading her, aren't you?" her mother commented when she came to find us all.
Yes, I suppose I am reading a small human. It's a difficult task. I don't always get it right either. She will tell me, "I do so know that word!" Oops!
But reading her is like reading a good book. Her plotting is unexpected and exciting and I want to go on reading.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

I have no idea how to

prune a citrus tree - or indeed any other tree. I don't know how to prune a rose bush either.
I am told the rose bushes don't matter much. You just lop them at the likely looking points. Yes, I know "experts" who make their living out of pruning rose bushes will not agree. I was however given that information by someone very senior in a large, rose growing society. He assured me we could not kill off the roses that easily. It's true. The rose bushes are still alive.
The lavender bushes are still alive too. I hacked out some dead wood last year and they seem to be flourishing. The French lavender is a mass of colour. The English lavender is looking as if it might be too.
But, the citrus trees. We have an elderly grapefruit tree. It lives next to the side fence. That is probably a rather warm spot for it. Then there is the lemon tree we had to rescue and another lemon tree (small) which was given to me. We have an orange tree (also small) and a cumquat tree. We don't eat the cumquats but we do use the fruit supplied by the others.
And yesterday a friend of the Senior Cat, former teacher and now retired priest, turned up. He chopped pieces off the grapefruit tree and the larger lemon tree and then told the Senior Cat,
"They need to be painted."
Painted? I thought the Senior Cat was joking when he told me this but apparently not. The trees are going to be painted. Their trunks are going to get a coat of white paint - so that the heat from the metal fence will be reflected.
I never thought of tree trunks as naked.

Friday, 17 October 2014

I managed to do something

very foolish yesterday. I sliced my thumb open while cutting some cucumber.
Of course I was the only cat in the house at the time. There was blood everywhere - except on the cucumber.
I managed to grab a tissue and get myself to the bathroom where I gave the wound a thorough wash and sprayed it with antiseptic. It kept dripping. I tried to keep pressure on it while I took out the pesky little sticky strips that seem to stick everywhere but the place you want them to go.
Eventually I managed to get a strip on that at least stopped the blood dripping. It did not look good but the floors no longer looked as if murder had been committed.
I managed to finish getting lunch for the Senior Cat. I even managed to finish making the Christmas cakes and put them in the oven. The sticky strip was keeping things under control but I was not a happy cat.
And then a neighbour called in. The Senior Cat is doing something for her. I asked,
"How squeamish are you?"
"Try me and see if I faint," was her reply.
I explained. She looked. Then, with all the experienced efficiency of motherhood she removed the strip and applied two more just where they needed to be applied. It was neat and tidy. There was no blood seeping through the little pad. My thumb felt much more comfortable.
The Senior Cat said, "I could have done that for you."
No, he couldn't - although I greatly appreciate his willingness to try. He is not good with sticky strips. I know. I have watched.
I thought about this later. I can never remember my mother doing this for any of us. I am sure she did not do it. If we needed a sticky strip she was not foolish enough to deny it but she would pass the packet over and tell us to do it ourselves - or do it to each other. I can remember neighbours doing it for me when I was a pre-school kitten.
The neighbour who helped me yesterday is a particularly nice person, helpful without being intrusive. In the nicest possible way she made me feel like a kitten again. Everyone should feel like that sometimes.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Richard Flanagan

has just won the Man Booker for his book, "The Narrow Road to the Deep North".
I have not read the book - and I am not sure I want to. I won't be buying a copy. I won't add to Mr Flanagan's prize money. I don't think I like him enough for that.
Mr Flanagan was, quite naturally, interviewed after winning the prize. That was to be expected.
In the course of that interview Mr Flanagan made it clear that he does not like the present Prime Minister of Australia or the government he leads. There are many other people, particularly in the media, who have expressed the same point of view.  Mr Flanagan then went on to say that he was "ashamed to be Australian".
Well, I am sorry Mr Flanagan but the government is not Australia and it is not all Australians. In saying you are "ashamed" to be an Australian you are insulting all Australians. You are insulting the memory of your father and all men like him. They are the men who were forced to work on the Burma railway - the very thing you are writing about in your book. Many of them gave their lives so you could live in Australia as it is now and not under Japanese rule. They made it possible for you to write that book - and win that prize. 
I have no strong nationalist feelings. I don't feel, and never have felt, strongly about being "Australian". I don't talk about it. It is just the way I am. Nobody in my family could be accused of being "flag wavers". However we are happy to associate with the country which houses us, feeds us and cares for us. We have all tried to acknowledge that and do something in return.
It doesn't bother me if Mr Flanagan has no strong nationalist feelings. What does bother me is that he is saying, "I feel ashamed at my association with the country which houses me, feeds me and cares for me."
You don't need to be a flag waver Mr Flanagan - but telling people you are ashamed to be Australian is rejecting a lot more than the government of the day.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Sorting, tossing and packing words.

I have been sorting, tossing and packing my friend's personal belongings has not been a happy experience.
It is the one thing that needed to be done fairly quickly. Nursing homes give families (or friends) very little time to clear things out. We packed everything in a great hurry and then, having no time to arrange storage anywhere else, had it stored at the home of my sister's father-in-law. Things could not be left there too long. Even though he now lives alone we felt it was improper.
My friend had made a list - or rather, I had made a list at her direction. We have now dealt with the list to the point where everything is sorted, tossed or packed and ready to pass on. Right. I will be glad when it is done.
And that made me start to think about sorting, tossing and packing words. I need to do some of that.
My own writing has been on hold for far too long. No, the morning blog-post does not count. I need to be writing other words. I need to sort them into neat piles. There will be words I need to toss out and words I want to pack together in the hope they make something worth keeping and sharing with others. Recently I had not even been sure I could do it again. I still wonder whether I am just wasting time that would be better spent knitting blanket squares and handing out those blankets to the homeless. I wonder whether it is just self-indulgent to write.
But....I have come back to the need to write. There are words that need to spill out of me. Words are funny things. They are "just" sounds or marks on paper or on the screen. They can mean nothing - and everything. I have been neglecting them. They need to be collected together, dusted off and oiled. They need sorting. Some will need to be tossed aside. Some will need to be packed carefully into sentences - and, oh yes, they will often need to be rearranged to fit. It's a big job - but all writers know that.
The only problem is that I don't know to whom I should give the words when I have packed them. Who will want to take them out?

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Reading, writing and

not arithmetic.
Oh yes, we are back to the arguments about the national school curriculum again. Sigh...
The national school curriculum was set up some years ago. The idea was that, because families are much more mobile than they used to be, it would be easier for children to transfer from one state education system to another. Sensible? Yes.
The problem was that it was used for another purpose as well. It was used to push a particular view of the world. It was given an "indigenous culture" and "Asia centric" focus with an emphasis on "sustainability".
Yes, I know a lot of people will see nothing wrong with that. I do. It was, in my not so humble opinion, completely the wrong way to go about things. Schools were supposed to do things like teach very young students about indigenous number concepts. I won't go into those concepts here except to say they are, of course, not the same as the concepts on which Western mathematics are based. It might well be something interesting to learn but the problem was that children were supposed to be taught about this in maths lessons - not in social science. "We count like this and they count like that." Confusing?  Yes, almost certainly confusing in the context of a maths lesson.
To be blunt about the national curriculum - it was a "politically correct" document. It was designed to teach students a particular view about "indigenous culture". It ignored the fact that indigenous culture does not exist. There is a complex and varied set of cultures and beliefs - which have now been greatly changed by outside influences. It is also a set of cultures and beliefs seen largely from an outside perspective.
And "Asia centric". Yes, we still have issues with that. The "we must be part of the Asian region" mantra is still alive and well. One day Australia might learn to be itself. We have plenty of Asian migrants. They make up a good percentage of the community and they contribute a great deal. Australia does a lot of business with Asia but we are best seen as neighbours and not part of the family.
There is no need to insist that all children learn an Asian language. The vast majority of them will never use it. If they go to Asia on holiday then they will speak English because they don't speak Japanese in Bali or Chinese in Phuket. Business, particularly business between three or more countries, is usually conducted in English with interpreters available as needed.
And then we have "sustainability" - or the constant emphasis on global warming and the environment. I note what the Little Drummer Boy next door has been taught. It appears to be about rising sea levels and melting ice and hot summers with fossil fuels and 'carbon' thrown in to the daily mix across as many subjects as possible. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.
The Little Drummer Boy thinks school is "boring because it is always about the same sort of stuff" and he has already managed to learn that spelling does not matter provided that you "write down what you are supposed to say".
I cannot generalise from one child - although I know others with similar views - but it bothers me. I am sure there are plenty of good schools with excellent teachers who are doing their best to give the students a more balanced view of the world. I am also sure it is hard work.
The new curriculum proposals seem to be swinging in the other direction. I hope they don't swing too far. One day they might get the balance right.

Monday, 13 October 2014

I was given more

yarn yesterday. The person who gave it to me was the child of a knitter.
"It's been sitting there since Mum died. I thought you might be able to use it."
Obviously they never observed their mother at work with her needles. They also have no idea what I knit.
I tipped the bag out onto the floor. This yarn was cheap acrylic in lurid colours. I never knew the woman so I have no idea what she made with it. There were no patterns in the big black plastic rubbish bag the yarn came in. There were some knitting needles - plastic needles tied together with a rubber band, now sticky with age. So yes, I surmised, a knitter rather than some one who crocheted.
I suppose I am a yarn snob. I like to knit wool and other natural fibres. I do not care for the likes of cheap fluorescent coloured acrylic - even when it is gifted to me.
I looked at it. The later owner's son looked at me and then he smiled. "It's pretty awful isn't it?"
"Well, it's not the best but I suppose she used it for something."
"Oh she used to make those little teddies for the kids in hospital and that sort of thing. She did it out of her head."
Right. That explained a good deal.
"I know people who make that sort of thing," I told him, "I'll parcel it out and pass it on for them to go on with the same thing if you like."
"That'd be great. I knew you would find a use for it."
But it reminded me that there is other yarn there, also gifted to me, that I also need to pass on. It still has to be sorted and packed into project sized packs, preferably with a pattern so that people can buy it with some idea of what it can be used for.
I am certain that non-knitters have no idea how long it takes to use that ultra-skinny string like stuff they call "yarn". I have good yarn sitting there, very good yarn. I want to use it. I do not want to waste my limited knitting time on poor quality yarn. I will knit for other people - but I will knit what I want to knit and not cheap yarn. That is an insult to the person I am giving to.
Consider this though. If I knit a fairly standard size shawl in a sock weight sort of yarn then I can use at least 800m of yarn, perhaps more. It takes time to knit that much yarn. A pullover/sweater for a man can take 2km of yarn - or even more. You make each stitch individually.
Cheap yarn has a place I suppose. If it is suitable for those "trauma teddies" then that pleases me because those little bears are often a great comfort to a distressed child. I don't knit them. They need to be sewn together and I can't sew.
I sent a pattern to someone yesterday and she was kind enough to say she liked it and may use it - but "it may take some time" before I see the photograph. Yes, I know it will. Knitting is not a fast hobby.
That does not matter. What matters is that I knit the things I want to knit and, more importantly, that I can give the things I make to others.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A member of our state parliament died

yesterday. He had won his seat again but requested leave - which was granted - because he had a brain tumour. It was, he assured everyone, something that could be treated. He expected to recover and resume his parliamentary duties. He did not.
Perhaps he genuinely expected to do so but I doubt it. He had a medical background and must have been more aware of the likely prognosis than most people.
I knew the man. I did not know him well but he was a frequent traveller on the same train and we would sometimes have a chat. Someone else had once pointed me out to him as "the person who writes the letters to the paper".
He spoke to me first just by saying, "My name's ..... and I liked the letter you had in the paper yesterday. Thanks for writing it."
I have no idea now what the letter was about but I was pleasantly surprised that he did not expect to be recognised. He did not say he was an MP or talk about politics.
We never talked directly about politics. He would sometimes raise a policy issue with me. I soon found out that he genuinely wanted to know what I thought. It was not idle chatter. He would sometimes scribble a note down. He quoted me on a couple of occasions - accurately.
He was once a member of a major political party. They parted company and he went to his electorate as an "independent". People were, rightly, cynical. Is any politician truly independent?
He tried to be. On more than one occasion he actively tried to discover which way his electorate wanted him to vote on an issue.
It was hard work. He worked long hours in parliament and in his electorate. He gave a great deal of quiet help to a very, very young member of the Upper House who was catapulted into parliament when the first person on the ticket for the disability oriented party died unexpectedly.
He was perhaps more realistic than many politicians. He knew the limitations of government and his own as an independent member of it.
We did not always agree but I grew to respect him. I think he genuinely believed he was there to represent the people in his electorate. Replacing him will not be easy.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

So Malala Yousafsi

has been awarded, along with Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Prize. I am both pleased and saddened by this.
I am pleased that her focus on the right to all girls and women to an education is being recognised as important.
I am saddened that it took one girl blogging from a village in Pakistan and then shot by the Taliban for this to happen.
There is nothing "lucky" about Malala's Nobel Prize. It is just going to make her life even more difficult.
She had, after hearing the news, the profound good sense to continue with her school day as normally as possible in those circumstances. I think I admire her even more for that. It must have been difficult.
From now on however she is going to have to live with the consequences of being the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Wherever she goes she will be tagged by that. She will be expected to use it as an influence for good for the rest of her life.
And, how long will the rest of her life be?
Yes, that's a reasonable question. I do not doubt for a minute that there will be Taliban and others who will wish to see her and her family dead. She is not safe. She has not been safe from the moment she started to write about her life and education in a village in Pakistan. She is even less safe now though than she was before.
Earlier this week my father and I watched a documentary programme on our multi-cultural broadcasting service SBS. It was about women in a Yemeni village who have, through the aid organisation CARE, been given the opportunity to run a water supply and an electricity supply for the village. There were problems, major problems. Put simply, the men did not like it. They have always had complete control. Women cannot do anything outside the home without the permission of their father or their husband in that remote, mediaeval place. Electricity would make a major difference to their lives, almost as big a difference as a good water supply. The men were prepared to deny everyone that simply in order to retain the power they have had for centuries. To say that my father was appalled and angered by this would be an understatement. As a teacher and school principal he spent his working life trying to ensure that everyone had an equal chance to learn. 
I want to see a "Malala Movement". I want to see girls and women everywhere standing up and saying, "We have a right to an education and not just a right but, at very least, an equal right."
I am afraid that there are people who will try to silence Malala. That cannot be allowed to happen.
Malala, you have my utmost support.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Apparently a twelve year old

Chinese boy has hacked into his school's computer. For some reason this has made news. I am surprised by that. I am not surprised by his ability to do so.
Some years ago two primary (junior) students hacked into the computer of a local school - at which they were students. Their teacher was foolish enough to tell them that the school had a new computer system and that it was "secure". Of course the two saw this as a challenge. They managed to gain entry that night - and left a polite note for the school secretary saying the system was not secure.  
Panic stations! They were in trouble. The parents of one child were beside themselves, certain that their child was on the path to a criminal career. The parents of the other were set to add to the severe punishment that the school was preparing to mete out. The two were left in no doubt they had "done the wrong thing".
Another parent, a neighbour of the second, told me about the incident. He was on the school's parent committee as well. The committee had been informed about the incident.
I asked him what had happened in the end. It seems that common sense prevailed. The two young hackers were advised that the behaviour was inappropriate and the parents were advised not to take any further action. Security was reviewed.
A couple of years after the incident the secretary admitted to me that she had actually quietly thanked the two young hackers. The note they left her, she told me, had been very polite indeed.
I met one of the hackers last year and asked him why he had done it. As I had always suspected he had seen it as a challenge, "Because it was there - like Hillary climbing Everest but not as difficult. The row was worth it although Dad was set to send me to boot camp. I still think we did them a favour."
I suspect they did. I wonder too what would have happened if they had, as planned, been suspended from school? Neither could have contemplated their present course of study - doctors.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The "Safe Schools Coalition"

appears to have caused a stir. It is supposed to be an anti-bullying initiative.
Let it be said now that any genuine and effective anti-bullying initiative is likely to have my support. This one does not.
Instead of focussing on the things that kids do get bullied about - their appearance, size, their shape, their ethnic background, their speech, their clothes, their possessions or lack of possessions, their disabilities and other such things - this "initiative" is focussing on sexuality. It goes as far as to suggest that six year old children who "identify" as being members of the opposite sex should be allowed to use the facilities of their "chosen" sex.
Sorry, no. There will be very, very rare cases where the sex of a child is uncertain. Those cases need to be treated with the utmost support and sympathy. But, for other children, then the idea that they identify and choose to be transgender, gay or lesbian at six years of age is something I find hard to understand. Yes, I might be wrong but I really do believe it would, at best, be very rare for a six year old to "know" they are inclined one way or another. Children are, surely, still children at that age. They may well know that same sex couples exist but they do not have the emotional experience to understand the implications. 
Transgender? Who didn't wish they were a boy or a girl at some point - especially when it meant they might not have to do something they did not want to do or could do something they wanted to do? There is a vast difference between that and discovering at puberty that you feel you are more comfortable identifying with the opposite sex or are beginning to be more attracted to the same sex. I doubt anyone really knows before then. Yes, I might be wrong but I do doubt it.
But the "Safe Schools Coalition" is demanding that members of the opposite sex be permitted to share facilities at a very young age if they choose to identify that way. Will it stop bullying? No. Who is doing the choosing and/or the encouraging? The child - or an adult? 
I suspect it will make some children feel very uncomfortable and that could lead to bullying. Are people, in trying to "solve a problem" actually just making a much bigger problem?

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

"Do you remember

when we used to eat those Morning Coffee biscuits - slathered in butter - for morning tea?"
"M....used to eat those big Bush biscuits. They were about three times the size of the others."
"And dip the Milk Arrowroot ones in the tea..."
"And the waxed paper around the sandwich at lunch time..."
"White bread of course...with cheese and pickles..."
"Left over lamb on Mondays..."
And so the conversation went on.
I was waiting for a meeting to start. People were bringing in their cappuccinos in their take away cups. (I was swigging this year's rainwater from my trusty plastic bottle brought from home.) Everyone at the meeting had once been a teacher. Oh yes, this is what they had eaten for morning "recess" in the good old / bad old days.
I remember other people eating those things too. In one rural school there were also "finger buns" - long rectangles of sweet doughy bread topped with pink icing and coconut. When the local baker had enough currants he would tip them into the mixture as well. You never knew whether it would be a currant day or not. Nobody complained.
And I do not remember people being obese either. There were of course some people who were overweight but not grossly overweight. My brother had a friend called "Tubby" and he was overweight but not remarkably so. Most people were just a normal size. Look at school photographs of the secondary years at the time and we were all, if anything, on the thin side.
We ate butter. We ate cream. Our mothers fried the lamb chops in the frying pan. Most nights we ate vegetables that had been boiled in salted water along with the chops. Fish (in batter) and chips would be "deep fried".
So what went wrong? Now we supposedly eat "healthy" food. We are supposed to avoid butter and cream and anything which has been fried in anything more than a smidgeon of good oil. The vegetables are steamed and no salt is added. People don't eat biscuits slathered in butter for their morning tea and the cappuccinos they bring in are made with low fat milk, soy milk or some other "healthy" alternative.
And yet they grow "fat". They are "overweight" and yes, "obese".
Oh yes, I know I weigh more than I should - and I was the only one who pedalled to the meeting. That is not fair.
Tonight the Senior Cat and I will eat the last two slices of the cake we had on Monday with Cousin Cat and his wife - and, for once, I won't care about the calories or the kilojoules.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

There was already a gale

blowing when we left yesterday. We had wind gusts of between 80 and 110km an hour in our relatively sheltered spot just below the foothills. I had even wondered whether the trip might be off. No, tough descendants of Scots get going when the going gets tough. We were off to visit her.
Her? Yes, boats are definitely female. This one may be elderly but she is, after a fashion, still with us.
We were going to visit "The City of Adelaide". It is a clipper - or rather, what is left of a clipper.
Clipper? Think "Cutty Sark". Right? Enough said.  I know very little about boats and boat building.
The Senior Cat knows more. He has, in his time, built canoes and boats. Even he would say his knowledge is not extensive.
But the Senior Cat and Cousin Cat wanted to see the elderly vessel so Cousin Cat and Cousin Cat's wife picked us up and we prowled off to her home in a dry dock in the port.
Oh...and then oh again. She is still, in her way, beautiful. There really is something about old wooden sailing vessels that cannot be matched by their modern counterparts. I don't know whether it is the way each carefully cut piece of timber fits into the next or the way the prow curves "just so". Perhaps it is the way... no, I won't start trying to describe it.
Our family has associations with the clipper - and the entire port area. My paternal great-grandfather was first a "lighter man", then a ship's pilot and a maritime cartographer. We have no idea how he came to qualify to do these things. Quite possibly he was self-taught. However he came to do them he did them well. There were no accidents recorded under his watch. The maps he made of the area were still being used a century later and formed the basis for the first computer based maps.
I wonder what he thought of the City of Adelaide? Cousin Cat's wife thinks the elderly lady looks big. Yes, close up she is imposing.
Then I thought of her out at sea and she is, compared with many modern vessels, tiny. She rode out here for the last time on the back of another vessel. Oh how she must have hated that! She had once sailed proudly back and forth by herself.
The wind was blasting her with rain but of course she is used to that. Nevertheless I was glad to see the pile of tins there. They are going to give the old lady a new, protective wood preserving coat. I hope she feels comfortable in it.

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Antique Pattern Library

is an extraordinary project. The aim is to scan early craft publications which are in the public domain (i.e. not subject to copyright) and make them available for anyone to use free of charge. It is run by a small group of dedicated volunteers.
The idea has been to preserve old resources for modern research and use.
Some of the subjects covered to date include,

Battenburg Lace, Beading, Berlin Work, Book Binding,
Calligraphy, Carpentry, Cross Stitch, Cutwork, Drawing, Dressmaking, Embroidery, Filet Crochet, Irish Crochet,
Knitting, Macramé, Tatting, Weaving,Woodwork
and more.

Many of the items are from European publications which would otherwise be almost inaccessible to those of us in other parts of the world. They often come from times when people appeared to have "more time" to do such things. The instructions sometimes sound quaint and different. The illustrations sometimes seem comical. The accompanying advertisements in some publications are often amusing too. The actual resources though are marvellous for anyone who has the slightest interest in designing their own projects, recreating something from the past, learning something about how something was done or how it might be done now. It has value even for people who are not craftspeople - as a history lesson. 

The scans have been graphically edited for two reasons. One is that is reduces the size of the files. The other is that merely scanning old documents does not necessarily make them easily readable. Merely scanning them can mean they are barely legible. The scanning and then editing is often skilled and time-consuming work.

The library is an on-line resource. Anyone can access it and download the material there for personal use or educational purposes. The value of it for craftspeople and artists is not to be underestimated. Like all such ventures it needs support and it needs to be used.
If you are a craftsperson and you are reading this please prowl over to
and take a look. Please tell me (and them) what you think. I want to know.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

I have been contemplating leaves

and then more leaves.
Let me explain first that my current "mindless" knitting project is a shawl in hand-dyed autumnal yarn. I bought the yarn - good merino wool - from a woman who does a rather nice line in such things. She lives in the hills behind us and told me that she had been thinking of a leafy shawl when she dyed the yarn. Unfortunately she was not well and gave up on the idea - or perhaps fortunately because I took the idea over.
Our two ways of doing it would of course be entirely different. We did not discuss the project further.
I considered the possibility of knitting an entire shawl out of separate leaves and then joining them together. It would have been interesting but there were two things wrong with that. The first is that I hate trying to join things together. I can knit but I cannot sew - or at least I cannot sew easily. I find it very difficult to thread a needle and get it to go where I want it to go. Sewing things together is simply not worth the misery of failing to achieve what I can see in my mind's eye.
The second thing wrong was that I needed a "mindless" project. The sort of thing that does not have to be thought about. In this case all I needed to do, at least to begin, was knit.
But I will put leaves on it - leaves around the edge and leaves scattered across it. I have yarn in autumnal colours . I have ways to knit leaves.
And every leaf will be different. Why? Because all leaves are different. No two leaves are the same.
I tried to explain this to someone yesterday. I thought it was obvious. Oh yes she agreed that, in nature, all leaves are different.
"But," she told me, "You are knitting that so all the leaves need to be the same."
"Why?" I asked her.
"Well it's just the way things are. It won't look right if you do it any other way."
I disagree. I will do it my way. It is spring here. There are masses upon masses of new green leaves everywhere you look. Some of them are so small you can barely see them, others are close to full size. They are every green imaginable and then some more besides. They are all different but they are also more uniform than autumn leaves. I might, if the shawl was green, have considered more uniformity - or I might not.
But these will be autumn leaves. Autumn is different. Autumn is every shade of red, of orange, of yellow, of brown and yes even the greens which are left. Autumn is a wild fire of colours, the sparks from the first log on the first fire of winter. Autumn is a scatter and a dance in the wind. It is not, and never can be, the same all over.
No, the leaves have to be different. It won't be quite mindless knitting but it should be interesting.
And, I won't need to sew the leaves on with tiny, neat stitches because this is to be a wild, windy shawl....I hope.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

It has been school holiday

time here. The weather has been warm, sunny and generally more than good.
I have had to pedal out on any number of errands in the last few days. I have been in and out of one of the banks at the local shopping centre. I have been to the Post Office almost every day.
I have had to go elsewhere as well.
Every day I have passed two playgrounds. One is large and the other is small but they both have play equipment. The large one is big enough in which to kick a football or play a form of cricket.
There has not been a child in sight in either place. There has not been a child in sight in either place on any day.
The local shopping centre has a "cinema complex" upstairs. On at least four occasions I have seen large groups of children from the local schools' "school holiday programme" being herded up to the cinema - presumably to watch a film during the sunny, daylight hours.
Oh yes, I think they are quite happy to be going there - the noise suggests they might even be looking forward to it.
I can remember "going to the pictures" with my maternal grandmother once. We went during the school holidays and we went in day time. It was, fortunately, a wet day or I would have wanted to be there even less than I did. My grandmother wanted to see "The Sound of Music" for the fourth or fifth time and her excuse was that she was taking me. I did not want to go but I can remember keeping my mouth shut rather than endure a row. I presume I was even polite enough to thank her for taking me. But going to see a film in daylight in precious school holiday time seemed wrong to me. There was too much else to do.
These children are being entertained, occupied and organised. They seem to expect it. I am not even sure they would know what to do in the playground if they were let loose. Would they look for an adult to organise them into teams to kick the football or bowl the cricket ball? Would they just do the moves they have been taught on the hanging bars?
I wonder if those bars ever become the only way across a moat full of crocodiles or piranha fish? Do those children ever climb to the top of the twirling yellow plastic sliding tunnel and think of it as an escape route from the aircraft or the castle?
I asked the Little Drummer Boy (he lives next door) what he did when he went to the park. He just shrugged and looked at me as if I was slightly stupid.
"We don't go there any more. It's boring."
He's almost eight and the park is boring? He doesn't want to climb or hang or slide or swing?
It can't be like that for all children. I know it is easier to take them to the pictures than it is to supervise them in free play. I know it is also considered to be "safer".  I wonder though just when they are allowed to get "bored" so that they end up actually creating a game for themselves.
I am frightened this might not happen and, if it does not happen, that they might end up not thinking for themselves. Isn't that how people become jihadists?

Friday, 3 October 2014

I bought (another) book

yesterday. Oh yes, I bought another book.
The conversation with the Senior Cat went something like this,
Me: "It's P....'s birthday next Wednesday." his fourth great-grandchild.
SC: "How old?"
Me: "Two."
SC (without missing a beat): "Well when you go shopping get her a book will you?"
Me: "I just wanted you to be sure you knew I was going to do that."
And so, after the milk and the green-groceries, I prowled over to our local indie.
I didn't even have to think about choosing. I knew the perfect book was there. I picked it up and took it to the owner's daughter - she works there part-time.
"Oh, I love this!"
"Birthday present."
"Great choice. The illustrations are divine."
They are good. The book has sold many copies and the illustrations are definitely very, very important.
I took it home. The Senior Cat read it - again - before I parcelled it up ready to post. He enjoyed it too. The Senior Cat is still a kitten at heart. He loves a good picture book. (So do I. Does that make me a kitten at heart too?)
As I took it into the post office though something occurred to me. This is a book about the beach and activities at the beach. The illustrations show people at the beach dressed in the way people normally go to the beach Downunder.
Yesterday I wrote about the wearing of the burqa and I wondered how someone who wears a burqa relates to a book like that. Do they read it to their children or do they put it aside as unacceptable?
If that book is unacceptable then many other books must also be unacceptable.
I hope they aren't. I'd like "Magic Beach" by Alison Lester to work its magic on other people too.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Our Prime Minister finds the burqa

"confronting". I find it unnecessary.
There is no requirement in the Koran for women to wear the burqa or the niqab - or even the hijab. There is a verse, which I cannot find at present, which requires women to dress modestly. That is all.
It is that verse, written by a male and interpreted by yet other males, which is used to demand the burqa and other forms of dress which mark some women out and isolate them from the rest of the community.  It is a form of dress demanded by men as a means of controlling women.
And, before anyone suggests that I am being anti-Muslim, may I point out that other groups do the same thing. The most notable example in our local community are the Exclusive Brethren - a rigid fundamentalist "Christian" sect. The women of that sect are not permitted to wear trousers (or any other item of male attire) and are required to wear head scarves over their long hair in public. Married women also wear a ribbon in their hair as a token of their submission to their husband - a fact rather awkwardly explained to me by one of the women in question.
I find all that unnecessary too.
I find men requiring women to dress in a certain way insulting. It doesn't matter who they are or where they come from.  
Some Muslim women will say they choose to dress that way. They may genuinely believe that. I think it is much more likely they have been brought up to believe that is what they must do. They will do it because, like a Brethren woman, to rebel is almost unthinkable. It means losing your family and your support network. It might even, in some parts of the world, result in your death.
The notion of dressing "modestly" does not bother me - if it is taken to mean that you are appropriately dressed for the circumstances in which you find yourself. Yes, you need to consider other people up to a point. I would find it a little odd to have a High Court judge deliver a judgment in a bikini. It would be disrespectful of the office they hold. Going to your child's wedding in your dirty old gardening clothes suggests a lack of respect for the importance of the occasion. But, covering yourself in certain ways simply because someone else says you "must" even when a majority of others do not do it in the same setting suggests you are being controlled rather than controlling your own life.
I do not own a skirt or a dress. I have no need of one. I once wore a sari to the wedding of an Indian friend. Her father gave me the sari - as he gave all her friends a sari - and told me he would be "honoured" if I wore it but he made it plain I did not need to, especially if I would find it too difficult. I did wear it because the idea appealed to me and I felt I was respecting their culture - and we both laughed later about how nervous I had been about the whole thing falling apart. I have often considered having the whole thing cut up and turned into trousers and tunic - his suggestion.
I dress as I want to dress. I dress with due to consideration to the circumstances in which I find myself but I won't cover myself from head to because a man demands I do it.  Is that wrong?

Perhaps people could argue I was being controlled by a man on that occasion. I hope not. I seriously considered trousers and then decided that the challenge of wearing a sari just once was not to be resisted. I have not spent the rest of my life wearing a sari. If I lived in India I would not wear one on a daily basis. I might if I was "dressing up".  

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

"You aren't writing about

knitting on your blog," someone told me yesterday. She is a member of the bookshop knitting group and a reader of my witterings, "You should write about it and include some photographs."
Oh yes, I have been told this before. The problem is that I do not see this as a "knitting" blog. I do not see myself writing about the latest yarn craze as I am most unlikely to be using the yarn in question. I do not see myself as writing about the pattern that "everyone" is knitting as I won't be knitting it.
I use yarn from odd places. It is often "different". I have an artist friend who also has a stall at craft fairs around the country. She does some extraordinary work. (For those interested try "googling" the words, "Knot Just Knitting" or "Prudence Mapstone" and see what you come up with - and tell me what you think.) She sources some very interesting and very different yarns. She has given me yarns to knit up as samples - and the freedom to design what I like. It has allowed me to play with not just wool but silk, mohair, bamboo, linen and quiviuk. (The last is madly, wildly expensive and the softest and most exquisite yarn imaginable.) Oh yes, I like playing with such things. Mind you, writing the resultant patterns is work, real work.
I have also regularly bought yarn from a source in England. (They call themselves "Colourmart".) They source and sell cones of yarn that are remainders from manufacturing runs. It isn't the sort of yarn you can buy in a local yarn shop - and it attracts me for that reason. It's different. You never know what is going to be on their site but they often have cashmere, cashmere mixes, merino, linen, silk and so on. Oh yes, you have to know something about yarn and knitting to use their yarns but, for the keen knitter, it is well worth the effort. They are popular. You have to be quick to get the brighter colours.
But how on earth would I write about these things? Oh yes I made a "tension square" or "gauge swatch"? So what? I didn't like the fabric so I "frogged it" and started again? So what?
Oh, I suppose I could post a picture or two of things I have finished but what?
It's not a knitting blog you see. It's about other things. What other things? Well, whatever I feel like writing about. One day I might even write about knitting...or did I just do that?