Monday, 31 March 2014

I found the apparent ban on books

being received by prisoners in Britain very strange and disturbing until someone informed me that the ban was not on books as such but on prisoners receiving parcels.
It made more sense after that - the ban on parcels has had the surely unintended consequence of apparently banning books as well. Would anyone seriously want to prevent prisoners from reading - as opposed to looking at indecent material? I doubt it. Will they ban the receipt of textbooks? Of course they won't. There will surely be an adjustment to the ban on parcels so that those who can and want to read will be able to do so.
A ban on books and reading would also mean a ban on libraries in prisons and a ban on studying. Such a ban would soon be the subject of a legal challenge - and it would be overturned.
Nevertheless the media has made much of it. I am sure the media here would do the same thing.
I don't know how much reading goes on inside prisons. Not a lot? All too often one of the reasons people are there is because they are academically less able. The average "IQ" is depressed and reading is not a popular occupation among those who have learning problems.  It is one of the issues that still isn't properly addressed.
Assessing a prisoner's ability to read, write and calculate and providing intensive remedial assistance might well help to reduce recidivism. It would be expensive and it certainly should not rely on the services of volunteers - as it appears to do here.
I finally managed to find an explanation of what the reasoning behind the ban was. The government is trying to make prison tougher, privileges - like parcels - will come through not merely behaving but fully cooperating with the rehabilitation process, and the reduction in the number of parcels that can be received will help to reduce the problem with contraband goodies. On the surface those goals don't seem to be objectionable.  The problem is that the means of introducing them has had unintended consequences.
I suspect that blanket bans on something like this never work anyway. They are not, as someone suggested me, the same as any other law or regulation. The ban is on an activity that is seen as having the potential for a positive outcome. People will find ways around that and it just makes the banned activity all the more desirable.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

"They read the newspaper

to them in the mornings," my friend told me.
An elderly and most unwell friend has just been moved from one nursing home to another. The second one is much closer to her old home and easier for visitors to access.
I dutifully pedalled down there yesterday to see her in her new accommodation. It is supposed to be one of our better nursing homes.
Saturday afternoon. The place should have been buzzing with visitors? It wasn't. I didn't expect it would be. There was a major football match - of no interest to me or the people I went to see.
I tied the trusty tricycle to the flagpole in the front yard. I hope nobody thought that was disrespectful but there was nowhere else to park it.
I prowled in the front door because I did not know exactly where to find the room. (My previous visits to this establishment have been through another entrance entirely - to "low care", not "high care".)
The entrance to the area I needed was on the left. It was quiet. Most of the residents I saw were asleep - or so it seemed. There was a television set on in a sitting area. Two women in wheelchairs were facing it but slumped forward staring into space. A younger man was sitting in a wheelchair using his feet to turn himself around and around backwards.
I came across someone visiting. She was sitting there quietly talking to a woman who was lying there with her mouth open and her eyes blank. A little further on a man was showing his mother some photographs he had taken on his 'phone. His father was asleep. "I'll show Dad when he wakes up," he told her quietly.
He caught my eye as I went past. We didn't need to say anything. "Dad" won't understand.
I found a member of staff. She is, from her name and appearance, Thai. She is competent and cheerful and, despite being pulled three ways at once, pleased to see me. "Yes, I'll show you. Is she expecting you?"
"No, her cousin knows I am coming."
Oh yes, they are both pleased to see me. The older one sounds very wheezy but is, apparently, "much improved". I wonder about that.
We chat. The younger one tells me, a little too cheerfully, about the fact that there is "bingo with pictures" and that there are "quiz nights" and "exercise classes" and "an outing on the bus" and "they read the newspaper to them".
Oh yes, the paper. I wonder what they read? What does it mean at the end of your life? Eyesight is going. Hearing is going. For some, understanding is going. The people in this section have largely lost touch with the world.
As I leave the cheerful competent nurse stops me and asks how I think the older one is - and thanks me for saying hello to the man still turning circles in his chair.
"It helps so much if someone just says hello," she tells me.
"I know," I tell her and say I am going to the other side of the complex to see two more people before I leave.
"I'll let you through the staff door," she tells me, "It won't be so far to walk."
And I go through the door into another little world not so different from the first but at least they are reading the paper for themselves.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Over on "An Awfully Big Blog Adventure" there is

a passionate discussion going on about "at least they are reading" - or the idea that it is better to be reading "trash" than nothing at all.
I have actually heard parents say of their children "well at least s/he's reading something" when they watch their children reading comics or some of the very lightweight books available in our local library.
And several days ago I had an interesting conversation with the librarian who organises some of the children's activities in the library. I was returning several of the books on the Carnegie long list and she wanted to know what I thought of them.
This librarian has a senior colleague who is in overall charge of the YA and children's books for all the libraries in the group. I know her views are very different and her approach is very different from that of her more junior colleague.
Her junior colleague then said, "You know all that vampire stuff doesn't really get read. Kids borrow it but they don't read it. Some of them start but they don't finish it."
Before I could respond two more of the library staff agreed with her. Soon they were telling me that there were (a) books on the shelves that have never been borrowed, (b) books that get borrowed because the kids have been told they are good, (c) books that are borrowed because they are books the kids are supposed to like and (d) books that are borrowed and read.
Allowing for generalisations and exaggerations I suspect that is true. The library is having the annual book sale today. I know I could walk in and pick up "as new" books that sat on the shelves for several years. They might have been borrowed by one or two readers because the YA librarian "suggested" them. They might, just might, have been read by the borrowers but they haven't passed the information on to their friends - and recommendation from your peer group is a pretty powerful recommendation.
There will be other books that the YA librarian has enthused about. These will be books like those on the Carnegie long list. Are they the children's and YA equivalent of "literary" writing? Perhaps some of them are. If so, they may not get read in much the way that many people never read the books that win adult awards for literary writing.
Then there will be books like the Twilight series and the Hunger Games which some borrowers will read avidly and others think they should read. These are books that have been incredibly well marketed - to the point where films have been made. They are supposed to be "wow!" books. I have talked to avid readers about these books. Opinions vary but I think it would be fair to say that the success of these books is as much about the marketing as it is about the reading experience. Of the several hundred teens I have talked to only a few were genuinely enthusiastic - and many had started but not finished the books.
And then there are the books which actually get read and re-read and passed around and genuinely enthused over. They are the books which kids who do read will queue to read. Are they trash?
In the comics stakes the books which fall to pieces soonest are not the Japanese style manga with particularly simplistic story lines but Asterix and Tin-Tin with the more complex story lines. (Yes, I recognise that some Japanese comics are more than simplistic but many are not.) I think that says something about reading choices.
Adults have the advantage when it comes to what children and YA readers are able to read. They write the books. They sell them to publishers. Publishers choose to buy. They sell them again. Librarians buy. Bookshops buy. Adults buy for children and YA readers. Even in a library children and YA readers will be "guided"  by adults. Often adults want children to read "modern" books about "issues" or - at the other end - to read the "classics" they remember or believe they remember are good.
But the first "Harry Potter" was eventually published because a young reader thought it was "marvellous". It had been rejected by adult after adult before then. That suggests that sometime adults can get it very wrong.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Have you ever tried to herd cats?

Herding just one cat, the Senior Cat, up and out of the house by eight in the morning is - a challenge.
The Senior Cat is not an early, early riser. Why should he be? He's 91 now. A little lie-in should be perfectly acceptable - and I won't mention the little "contemplation of the eye-lids" after lunch. Despite not being an early, early riser the Senior Cat is normally up at about half past seven in the morning. He always has things he wants to do but he likes to take his time and read the paper over breakfast.
Today I am keeping an eye on proceedings. He needs to be gone in twenty minutes at the latest. I think he will make it - just.
It reminds me of the days when all six of us - two parents and four children - needed to get to school. There was, of course, only one bathroom. The Senior Cat would need to shave. We all understood that and, to be fair, he didn't take longer than necessary.
My brother and I were in and out fairly smartly. We liked to be clean but we didn't fuss over our appearance. We still don't. I have never understood the desire to spend hours looking at oneself in the mirror. I sometimes look in the mirror with a slight sense of unfamiliarity - who is that person?
I have two younger sisters. One of them has been accompanied throughout life by the refrain, "Come on H....hurry up H....". She got distracted. She still gets distracted. She played with things. She still plays with things. It drives her family to distraction. 
The other was one of those "look in the mirror" people. She still likes to fuss about her appearance, dye her hair and apply make up. That's fine now. She lives on her own. She can organise her life any way she likes.
My mother had perfected the art of doing things at speed - probably like most mothers.
I wonder how she would react now. I sometimes wonder what she would be like. I think the slow pace of the Senior Cat would infuriate her more than any slower pace enforced by her own advancing age.
I am, most of the time, happy to leave the Senior Cat to prowl slowly through his day. He shouldn't have to hurry. He's reached an age where he should, if he wishes, be able to take his time. It's the right of senior citizens. Most of them have spent a lifetime moving at a steady speed.
The Senior Cat's appointment is for 8:45am - and yes, he made it out of here at 8:02am. That's good. I don't much care for him going to the medical centre in early morning traffic but there is nothing that can be done about that.
When he gets home I'll make him a cup of tea and he will go back to his slow, measured prowl through life. He still has things he wants to do and that's all that matters.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Do people have the right to be bigots?

This question is being, rather heatedly, debated at present. The Federal Attorney-General, George Brandis, has said they do have that right. He is trying to change Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act which legislates against
Offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin
             (1)  It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

                     (a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

                     (b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

      (2)  For the purposes of subsection (1), an act is taken not to be done in private if it:

                     (a)  causes words, sounds, images or writing to be communicated to the public; or

                     (b)  is done in a public place; or

                     (c)  is done in the sight or hearing of people who are in a public place.
             (3)  In this section:

"public place" includes any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation, whether express or implied and whether or not a charge is made for admission to the place.
You don't need to be a lawyer to realise that the scope of that provision of the Act is very wide indeed - except that it isn't.
Political correctness creeps into it as well.
My personal belief is that you cannot stop people from being bigots - but the rest of us don't have to like a bigot.
Nothing is going to stop some people from being bigots. All the legislation in the world is not going to prevent that. Making it an offence may well turn some bigots into martyrs. It makes it much more difficult for people to debate the issues that bigots raise. It also makes it much more difficult to defend yourself and those who cannot defend themselves without taking legal action. Legal action inevitably publicises what the bigot has had to say - and may end up giving his or her views even wider coverage. It's a balancing act.
I think Section 18C does need review. It is the section which famously caught columnist Andrew Bolt but it does not catch other people. 
I have seen and heard far worse than anything Bolt had to say. It has come from other sections of our society. I have seen people deeply distressed by what has been said to them in very public ways. There has been nothing they can do about it. They cannot even respond because saying they find something "offensive" will lay them open to charges of racism.
And what about those who discriminate in offensive ways against the elderly, the mentally ill, those who look or are physically different, those with intellectual disabilities, or those with different beliefs? That can hurt too. It can also do lasting damage.
The present law has somehow encouraged us to go down a path which allows some groups to be "offended" but not others. That is dangerous. We need to be able to debate issues. We need to be able to tell bigots we don't like what they have to say.
We need to be able to defend ourselves and, more importantly, we need to be able to defend those who cannot defend themselves.   

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Some time ago I was accused of being

an elderly Welshman. He is a very pleasant person and very supportive of me so it was not as distressing as it might have been.  There is however a considerable difference in our ages.
We were both occasional writers of letters to the state newspaper. His were often in support and/or in defence of something I had said. Another, much more regular correspondent, accused him of being "her (my) alter ego".
He 'phoned me.
       "Cat, my wife keeps looking at me. She says she is not sure who I am any more."
We both had a laugh.
But I wonder what brought it on? Did the person writing the other letter try to do some research first?
It would not have got him very far because the elderly gentleman, quite rightly and properly, did not use his surname in his letters. He used his third name as a surname. There is absolutely nothing illegal about this. He had, as required, given the paper his contact details. He just chose to keep his surname to himself. At his age that is probably wise.
He also had an unlisted telephone number because he and his wife were often out of the country. They did not appear on electoral roll because, although they had right of residence, they had chosen not to take out citizenship. They would have liked to be able to vote but he and his wife both object to Australia's requirement to "attend the ballot box".
I had seen no letters from him for quite a while and I had not seen him either, something that would occasionally occur in the shopping centre or at the library.
Yesterday someone told me that he and his wife have returned to Wales - to be closer to family in their old age. It was a big move for people in their eighties. I wish I had been given the opportunity to say goodbye but it didn't happen.
It also left me pondering how easy it is to make a statement about someone which is completely incorrect. If the person who had claimed I was an elderly Welshman had bothered to contact me and asked I could have given him a means of contacting my "alter-ego".  They could have talked.
It is wise to check such "facts".

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

There was "one of those pictures"

on Facebook yesterday - no, it was not even mildly pornographic - one of those "can you see the "X" in this?" sort of pictures. I saw it instantly. (It was, supposedly, a horse.)
I am still puzzling over this. I normally have great difficulty in seeing anything like this - even when it is kindly pointed out to me. The Whirlwind will look at me in a puzzled sort of way and say something like, "You are supposed to be smart."
I'm not.
I never learned to drive because I genuinely do have some visual perceptual issues which would make it dangerous. Even riding my tricycle has challenges if there is a lot of traffic around. I need time to make judgements about speed and distance.  Of course I have managed to learn a lot over the years but, looking back, I wonder how I managed to get to and from school without getting hit by a car. Of course there was much less traffic around then. I must however have used up a few of my nine cat lives.
Somehow I managed to learn to read with no apparent difficulties at all. It was one of those things that just happened. I don't think my parents were aware of the fact I could read at first. They though I just liked looking at the pictures. I was not supposed to be a clever child. If anything my mother thought (and told me) the opposite.
It would have been a different story if I had been presented with some of those books where you are supposed to be able to see things which, to me, are not there. Illusions often puzzle me - although I will usually get there in the end. I still have not managed to see anything in those books of  patterns which were popular about twenty years ago. My nephews liked those.
"You can train yourself," people told me. No, I don't think so. There's no point. I have better things to do with my time. It's not important to me. I could read years before I managed to write anything in a legible fashion.
I wrote my doctoral thesis on an area of visual perception. It had absolutely nothing to do with my own issues - although I suspect many people thought it had. I was much more concerned with finding ways of helping profoundly disabled children communicate. 
The question was could they see the differences they needed to see in order to use the symbols they were being given in order to "speak"? Previous research suggested that they would not be able to do this. Because most of the children could not even hold a pencil I had to find another way of conducting the initial testing my supervisor required. In doing so I found some unexpected results. Yes, the children had problems - but they were not the problems they were supposed to have. Almost all of them could see what they were supposed to see. Their problems lay in the way they were being tested.
I think that might be the answer to my own puzzle as well. I first caught that picture "out of the corner of my eye". I did not read the caption. I just saw "horse". If I had seen the caption or if someone had told me I was supposed to see a horse I might not have had the same reaction. As it was it was just there and I  "saw" what someone was asking people to see.
Now, what does that say?

Monday, 24 March 2014

Well, we have a result of a sort

but it is not the election result anyone expected - or wanted. The result has ended up with, as the Whirlwind put it, "the team with the least runs winning".
How? Two "independent" MPs have been elected. One has held the position previously and seems to be genuinely popular with his electorate - popular enough to be voted in again. Unfortunately he has been taken ill and will be off sick for the next two months.
The other man was elected on preferences from one of the major parties.
Yesterday he announced that he would allow the present government to continue in power in return for a ministerial post.
In making this decision he has gone against the wishes of his electorate. He claims the decision was made "in the interests of stability" - but the decision was not his to make. It was not what the voters of his electorate wanted. They made that clear both at the time of the election (through their preferences) and when it became obvious he would be in the position of "kingmaker".
We had the same problem at the time of the Federal election before last. Two of the "independents" sided with the party those who voted them in did not want. They have, rightly, not been re-elected.
We have, as regular readers of this blog know, a system of compulsory preferential voting here. If independents fail to acknowledge the wishes of those who vote for them and those for whom the candidate is the second choice then it makes a mockery of the system.
As we also have fixed terms of four years the situation is even more serious. This decision does not allow the situation to be remedied any time soon.
Stability is not necessarily democracy. It won't necessarily get things done.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

"They should give up trying to find that plane,"

said the man waiting ahead of me at the library counter.
He was, fortunately, not talking to me but to someone else. The other man agreed.
"Yeah, waste of money. They aren't going to find. Just accept it's gone and get on with it. Improve their f........ security."
"I'd never fly anywhere - not any more - might have once when I was young and stupid but not now. It's not safe."
"You're right."
I bit my tongue. I did not look at them. I was very, very aware of two small children standing there. They were clutching their picture books and they were listening.
I wondered how much they understood. They probably have not been shielded from the news. At least the older of the two - he was probably about six - would understand enough to realise that a plane was lost and that there were people on board and that some other child his age was still waiting for "Daddy to come home". What if his own father has to fly somewhere?
I felt angry with those two men and I could see other people felt, at very least, uncomfortable. Nobody said anything. I think that was probably the right thing given the presence of small children. It was a case of "least said the better".
Finding the plane from the MH370 flight may not be possible. It may cost more than the actual plane is worth but you cannot quantify the value of the lives on board.
If they do manage to track it down somewhere deep in the ocean then it is unlikely they will be able to salvage any of it. They may never know what went wrong - but people will know where it is. That will give them at least partial relief from the agony of not knowing.
If they can find out what went wrong then they may be able to prevent the same series of events from occurring again. There is probably no way to prevent deliberate acts designed to harm. If there are other problems then I don't doubt people will work on them - just as they will work on procedures designed to prevent deliberate acts of harm.
And yes, it will all be very expensive. We will all end up paying for it. We are just fortunate we won't pay as much as the passengers and crew or their families.
But the two men in the library apparently care nothing about those things. They have almost certainly never experienced what must be the excruciating feeling of "not knowing" what has happened to someone.
"Missing, presumed dead" is one of the most cruel phrases there is.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

I have just had an unexpected

and very lovely experience. I went to hang some washing out. When I turned to get the next item from the basket there was a tiny wren sitting on the handle of the basket. Nothing too unusual in that I suppose but what was unusual was that it stayed there for, perhaps, almost a minute. It seemed to be looking at me and "chatting" to me.
Despite two cats who visit on a regular basis we still have a lot of birds in our garden.  They frustrate and infuriate the Senior Cat at times. The blackbirds particularly drive him to despair as they scatter the straw he uses as mulch. But he keeps the water in the bird bath and multiple containers clean and fresh. The cats, lizards, a possum or two and, once in a while, a koala all use the water. I suppose the fruit rats must too.
But the birds make the most use of it. The blackbirds make a mess of the water too. Are they the untidiest birds around? 
The sparrows and swallows dive in and out of it. The tiny wrens and the even smaller honey eaters use the water as daintily as they themselves are. 
We can watch honey eaters in among the fuschia as we eat lunch. I can watch the sparrows cleaning the tomato plants of insects as I work. I can watch the pigeons strutting along the ridge of the roof next door - and then sitting and chatting to each other like old men on a park bench.
In the mornings I can find the rainbow lorikeets eating their breakfast on our front lawn.
I don't know a lot about birds. I can only recognise a few varieties. I am not particularly interested in knowing more. It takes away the magic and knowledge gets in the way of imagination.
And what I wanted to imagine for that moment was that the wren had chosen to stop and have a short conversation with me. Ridiculous.

Friday, 21 March 2014

I have just finished reading

"The Bunker Diary" by Kevin Brooks. It's on the list of contenders for the Carnegie Medal. So is "Rooftoppers", another recent read.

I did not like The Bunker Diary. I will be disappointed if it is the winner of the Carnegie. Yes, I recognise it is well written but it is a dark book, so dark that all hope is lost.
I won't give away the plot here. That would be unfair of me because someone may want to read it. All I will say is that I could not quite believe in any of the characters - or the way they react to their circumstances. None of them seem quite real to me - and the plot does not seem quite real either. It is just a little too unlikely.

Rooftoppers was different. Perhaps the plot is just as unlikely but Sophie and her guardian are wonderful characters, complex and rich. There is an array of other memorable characters too. It's a book with humour, joy, love, despair and determination. It doesn't answer all the questions but there is some hope for the future.
I am about to embark on reading a third book on the list - and I will read the rest of them as well. If you want to write for children then you need to know what adults think they want to read, what children actually want to read and what is being published.  Perhaps it is just me but I find there is sometimes a difference between those three things.
I would not give the Diary to the Whirlwind or her friends. They have the ability to read it but I don't think that, at age twelve and thirteen, they need to be confronted by such darkness, such lack of hope. I am not sure anyone does.
Years ago now my last English teacher at school gave me a short piece to read. It was in German with an English translation. I have not been able to find it again but it was written by a mathematician while he was imprisoned during the war. In it he talks of his utter despair and then - his hope for a new day. The contrast between his despair and his hope is something I can still remember all these years later. If there had been no hope I doubt I would remember the piece. I certainly doubt I would remember it with any pleasure or whether it would have had any impact on me.
Do we really need books like the Diary? Obviously some people believe we do. What sort of effect did it have on the author while he was writing it? I don't know but I find it hard to believe the impact would have been positive.
Do children and young people have the right to have some hope for the future? I think they do. They have to live it.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

We still do not have

a result for the state election. The situation may become clearer at the end of the day when a good many more of the pre-poll and postal votes are counted.
Nevertheless it has been predicted that the major party which won the least votes is likely to form government. They did this last time and they have done it before. They have, so far, won about 36% of first preferences. The opposition has won about 44%. Votes for other candidates run to about 20%.
In two seats those candidates are "independents" who are likely to win their seats. Both candidates will get there by strong preferences from the opposition.
It would seem logical that these "independents" would support the opposition - after all, it is their voters which have helped them secure the seats. Not so. They are "meeting". They are "negotiating". They are putting in "wish lists" for their electorates. In other words they are both playing games and enjoying the power that they hold.
I suppose that is human nature. Perhaps I would do the same in their position - although I hope I would do the honourable thing and support the side that the majority of the electorate which had voted me in had indicated it wanted.
Apparently it is also human nature to want power. I am certain that, should the present government retain office (as it well might) then they will not lose any sleep over the fact that a majority of people did not give them their first preference and that, given a choice, they might not have given them their second or third preferences either.
There was one candidate in my electorate who managed to poll a mere 529 votes so far. Her party has polled just 4778 for the entire state so far. In the Legislative Council they have done only a little better with 6883 of the votes so far counted - and yes, there are more than a million eligible voters in this state.
I have a particular interest in that party. It is called D4D - short for Dignity for Disability. They actually have someone in the Legislative Council. Her arrival there was unexpected. She was the second candidate on the party list. The first candidate died unexpectedly just before election day. The media made an issue of it and the party got extra publicity. I suspect some people who might otherwise not have done put that party first, others put it second so that preferences flowed. Certainly the candidate managed to get in on less than 2% of the primary vote. It was a ridiculous result of course but she hasn't done a bad job - or rather, her advisers have done a good job and, although young, she has had the maturity and good sense to listen to them. It was not enough to make me vote for her party and I doubt that they will get a second candidate in this time. (She does not come up for re-election until next election and I doubt she will keep her position.)
Someone asked me yesterday whether we should not keep our present system simply because it can produce surprise results like that. My answer is no. It sounds inviting but it is not democratic. Preferential voting may be democratic - although there are mixed views on that - but the moment you say "You must make a second choice (or more) in order to make your first vote count" then it ceases to be democratic.
And, if you compel people to make a second and third choice, then those chosen to represent them need to be aware of the way the preferences have flowed and take it into account.
I don't think anything is going to change any time soon but, this time, the result is likely to be sufficiently different from the one the electorate intended that whoever forms government is going to have a hard time of it.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

"That sort is a bit shiny,"

the Senior Cat informed me. He was looking at the "shade card" sent to me by a woollen mill. It is not the sort of thing he takes a great deal of interest in. Knitting is a mystery to him - more of a mystery than woodwork is to me. I know the difference between a finger joint and a dovetail joint. I can recognise Huon pine when I see it. He calls cables "that stuff with ropes in it" and lace "that stuff with holes in it". As for the difference between wool and alpaca or silk and cotton he has no idea. Try to explain the difference between merino and blue faced Leicester and he is lost.
I don't need any more yarn. I know I have explained elsewhere that I suffer from SABLE, Stash Advancement Beyond Life Expectancy. It is not my fault. I have been given more yarn than I can possibly use. I am no doubt guilty of passing some of it on to other people in the same position.
But the shade card will be perused by other people in the endless search for "just the right colour" or "something conservative" or "that might be bright enough".
The "shiny" yarn has bamboo in it. I would be unlikely to use it. Bamboo is remarkable stuff. It grows quickly. It is fibrous. It is tough enough to build scaffolding. Some people like to knit with it but, for me, it lacks resilience. There is no elasticity.
I know Ms Whirlwind will want to see the shade card. She still refuses to learn to knit. I think it may test her patience - although she is currently making a model of Westminster Abbey from a book. Naturally it had to be one of the most difficult in the book.  She has hopes I will make her a vest of a certain design. I might.
I am currently making a blue mohair cardigan -for my friend with severe arthritis. I dislike mohair. I dislike knitting mohair. I especially dislike knitting mohair in hot weather - or even warm weather. I will do it because my friend needs it. When it is done I will go on to the next project - and the next. I have other yarn to use, even some silk and some cashmere. Most of the yarn I have is wool. I have given the acrylic to others.
Life is too short to knit things I do not want to knit. I don't want to knit shiny yarn that does not keep its shape. The Senior Cat is right. "That sort is a bit shiny."

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The notice said more than most of us realised

• Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright, cook, bookshop owner, writer and broadcaster, born 24 June 1947; died 15 March 2014

Anyone landed with a name like that was bound to have problems.
I rather liked "The two fat ladies". As most regular readers of this blog know I watch almost no television. I simply cannot be bothered but I did watch those two break every rule in the book - and enjoy doing it.
I met Clarissa Dickson Wright once. We met at a party in London - long before her television days. She promptly hauled me into a corner and grilled me about kangaroo meat - a subject about which I know very little. I eat very little meat and I have never eaten kangaroo. It didn't seem to bother her.
          "You must know something."
I told her what little I knew from my time in remote areas where, yes, kangaroo was and still is killed to be eaten. I also introduced her to the idea of "quandongs" - often described as a "wild peach". She scribbled that word down on the back of a ticket - having borrowed both ticket and pen from one of the men present.
Her personality was - to me - much like the one she later presented on television. She was there to enjoy the experience, to make the most of life but I sensed the traumas in her life.
She had dressed for the party - in a caftan of sorts - but I suspect she had forgotten to do her hair. That did not seem to matter. I don't think she cared very much about her appearance - or perhaps she felt it was not going to make a lot of difference to the way people viewed her.
And the other thing we talked about was names. She did not tell me her full name. I didn't know it until I saw the notice but now I wonder how she ever filled out a form with her "full name" - or did she just stop at a certain point? What did she really think of being given eleven names and a double barrelled surname? What were her parents thinking of?
I liked the little I saw of her. She would have been an interesting person to know but our paths never crossed again. It was never likely to happen but I watched her on television and wondered if she ever ate kangaroo or tried the quandongs - and how happy she really was.

Monday, 17 March 2014

I like conspiracey theories but

I don't believe them. I need proof before I am going to believe that President Kennedy was assassinated by the CIA or that the CIA was responsible for September 11 or that aliens are responsible for the disappearance of the Malaysian jet.
Nor do I think that there are rooms full of people reading everything everyone sends each other via the internet. I don't believe that the ordinary individual's mail is opened or that "the Tax Man" just has to ask to get all the details of your financial affairs and can then pass them on to a company specialising in credit checks.
There is a short video somewhere on the internet of a small "car" hovering and then apparently zipping around a Chinese city. The explanation given - that it works because of the special earth beneath the ground -  is just this side of ridiculous. It is made to look convincing of course and it is a bit of good fun. There is another related video showing people how it is just a bit of nonsense.
Except that the Senior Cat and I know someone who firmly believes that it is not a hoax. He keeps pressing the video on people and telling them how dreadful it is that this technology is not being used and that, in the future, they won't be able to hide it. It will happen. I sometimes wonder whether he has managed to convince anyone else. Showing him the second video was hopeless - that was just part of the effort to make sure people did not believe it so that the big oil companies could go on fleecing people.
The problem with believing or not believing conspiracy theories is that there are other times when it is hard to know what to believe.
I had to do statistics for a year at university. It was a subject I loathed, not least because it was possible to manipulate things in ways I felt were dishonest and objectionable. Nevertheless the lecturer was an honourable man and, I sensed, he sometimes felt uncomfortable about the way the figures would be manipulated. He told us, "Get the facts. Do the sums. Apply common sense."
I'd like to think it worked but, somehow, life is not that simple. 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

I heard only a small amount

of the ABC's analysis of the election results last night. It may be a week or more before we have a result. It looks tight.
What I did hear however also disturbed me. One of the panel, the man who has been the Attorney-General, was complaining about the number of people who had cast postal or pre-poll votes. Postal or pre-poll votes are supposed to be available to the elderly (in nursing homes), the disabled (who find it very difficult to get to a polling booth) and those who will be away from the electorate or working such hours they cannot attend a polling booth.
Apparently many more people than that are now "voting early". Our panel member did not like this. He said it was a "life-style" choice and it had to be stopped. He wants people to turn up on the day. The reason for this is that results will be known more quickly. In a "tight" election, like this one, he sees that as an advantage. And yes, of course it would be nice to know.
But, is it democratic? No, of course it isn't. There is already an undemocratic requirement for people to attend the ballot box. (Please don't misunderstand me here. I believe people should vote and should be encouraged to vote. I don't believe they should be compelled to vote.) Requiring more people to give up time on a Saturday - when many more now work on Saturdays - or find time when they have to fit voting in to an already crowded schedule of shopping, school sport, ballet lessons etc. would not be popular.
It would add, just a little, to the queues and the time required. It adds to the pressure to mark the ballot paper just as the major parties (for whom most people vote) want in a system which not only requires compulsory attendance at the ballot box but compulsory preferencing of all candidates. If you want to take the time to do it your own way (as I do) then you are likely to feel under even more pressure.
Our electoral system needs some major changes. I don't doubt these will also be resisted by the panel member in question. He almost certainly believes that the current system benefits his party. It does. That is why it needs to change.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

So Tony Benn, the man that many

loved and others loved to hate, has died. He was 88 - a remarkable age for someone who lived the sort of life he lived.
There will be plenty of other people who will write obituaries for him. I won't try. I don't know enough about him - although I do know who he was. A lot of Downunderites won't. Ask them who Margaret Thatcher was and even some of them my age will give you a blank look. (You might even get a blank look if you mention Tony Blair or Gordon Brown - and John Major is even less well known. Even some of our own Prime Ministers will be met with - "One of our Prime Ministers but I can't remember....")
But it made me wonder about something else. I am, for my sins, trying to write another book. Being a foolish sort of individual I prefer to make life difficult and write for children rather than adults. I also write in the past - at least far enough back that mobile phones, computers and other technology do not get in the way of things happening. Half the fun disappears if you can just pull the phone from your pocket and text someone. It sometimes means things can't happen.
I think we are in 1966 this time. The action is set between an imaginary middle Eastern country and Scotland. (There are reasons for that so don't tell me I should be writing about Australia.) I say "think we are in 1966) because I can adjust that if I need to.
I spent some time yesterday afternoon searching for a possible character. I could invent one - or I could have a real person. Having an imaginary person presents one sort of problem and having a real person presents another sort of problem. I need to work on it.
While historical figures from the past appear in fiction more recent figures appear less often. They get mentioned of course along the lines of "Prime Minister X..." or major world figures. There is always the danger of (a) getting facts wrong or (b) unintentionally libelling someone or (c) giving your readers the wrong impression without even doing (a) or (b).
Perhaps that is why so few real people appear as characters in children's literature set in the present day...I mean as active characters, not just mentioned in passing. But it is a challenge and it might be a useful one. I am going to work on it.
I know Alexander McCall-Smith successfully puts all sorts of real people into his books. It is fun trying to pick them out because some of them are what many people would think of as "ordinary" people. Nobody is ordinary of course.
I do wonder though who I can use and how far I can go. It's a challenge. It involves research. I may or may not do it.
If I do I will learn something more.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Her surname is probably

Lebanese, certainly it would originate in that part of the world. The fact that she was apparently born and brought up in the middle of Australia is beside the point. At least, that is what the opposing forces would - very subtly - have you believe...a brick wall, paint, graffiti and bullet holes. Nothing racist about that - or so they claim.
We go to the polls tomorrow - for a state election.  The present government is looking for a fourth term in office.
It did not win a majority of the vote last time - just a majority of the seats because of the infinite peculiarities of our electoral system. It believes it can pull the same trick again.
And, because of that, they will try everything they can. I don't doubt the other side would do the same in their position. It is just that this is particularly nasty.
There are more than two candidates for the seat of course but there are two main contenders. One is the woman with the surname that has been (ab)used by her opponents and the other is a woman who has twice failed to wrest a federal seat from the man who has, despite a massive redraw of electoral boundaries, managed to retain a seat which many people believed would fall to her.
I am sure this woman believes it will be "third-time-lucky". If she didn't believe that why would she be trying? But why did she let them use that tactic with her opponent? She may still win the seat but her reputation has been irreparably damaged.
It has been a nasty incident and of course her team insists that what has been read into the material was not what was intended. Perhaps not - but they would have been well aware that it could be taken that way.
The good thing about all this however is that the court of public opinion appears to be firmly against them. While the media makes much of racism and some people appear determined to paint our society - rather than a few individuals within it - as racist it seems that many people think differently.  I hope so.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Should parents be teachers?

I think most would answer "yes" to that but there is a suggestion on today's page three that the teaching should go far beyond what most people would think of as parental teaching.
It seems parents should be "teaching children fractions while cutting up the potatoes" - or perhaps they should teach them long division with grains of rice? Apparently parents should also go back to school themselves to learn how to teach these things to their children.
Right. Let's just halt it there.
I once taught in a primary school. I admit it was not for very long and it was a long time ago. Since then I have followed the progress of assorted niece, nephews, neighbours, children in the surrounding streets (including Ms Whirlwind) and young users of the library. My teaching time seems to have been very straightforward. There was a classroom. There was a blackboard. The children sat at individual desks facing the blackboard - for most lessons. They did some group work and some individual progression. We used the library a lot. There was a curriculum but, within that, there was enough flexibility for them to pursue something that really caught their attention. We did not bother with debates about what was "fair" - although we sometimes took a vote on what would happen.
All but one of the children I taught could read well by the end of the year - in fact, when I took over the library the following year, I had trouble keeping them out of the library when they should have been in the classroom. Even the non-reader seemed happy enough in the library.
My niece and nephews seemed to get some of the classroom discussions about "what should be done about what should be done" as my youngest nephew once neatly put it. They were always irritated by the waste of time. In reality there was very little of it in their schools. I doubt the parents would have tolerated that sort of thing. They were paying for the children to learn - and learn they did. They all have at least one university degree.
The Whirlwind has similarly seen very little of it in her school. Work there is often intense. It is seen as an "academic" school. It suits her - and most of the other girls too.
But the Older-boy-next-door has just started his third year at school. He complained to me yesterday that it was "boring". On inquiring a little further I discovered that, yet again, there had been - in his view - a lengthy discussion about something "but we didn't do anything".
He gets homework - reading, spelling and maths problems. His mother is not a native English speaker so he sometimes comes to me for help. His father is well able to do the maths - but not in the way the child is being taught to approach the problems at school. I have seen some of the other work this child is supposed to be doing - all part of an apparently tightly controlled curriculum.
I know the amount children are now expected to know has greatly increased since I taught but I wonder if it is all really necessary. At least some of it seems to be there because "it's politically correct for children to know about these things".
Personally I would cut almost all of it out. I would teach the children to read and then let them loose in a library with real books and the requirement that they read. Of course I would teach them to use a computer - and even use it for research. It's the way many things happen now. But, I would still let them loose among books and guide them gently when they needed it. They could report back. They could report the thrill of discovery without the confines of "work sheets".
But the idea of turning the peeling and cutting of potatoes into a maths lesson because school is full of other things disturbs me. I doubt parents have time even if they had the desire. It is not the sort of teaching parents should be expected to do. Who wants to eat a maths lesson?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

I have just had an irate phone call

from a man who strongly disapproves of my letter to the editor in this morning's paper. 
Quite apart from the fact that it was much too early in the morning to ring someone he did not know he was barely intelligible. He spluttered to get his words out.
I would not have thought what I had to say was that controversial. I had just pointed out that our voting system was not free of fraud. He refused to believe that there was any fraud at all.
For those who live elsewhere I need to explain. In Australia it is compulsory for people eighteen years and over to be on the electoral roll if they are eligible to vote. There are, as you might imagine, all sorts of problems with this.
Some people never bother to enrol. That does not bother me - although it does bother the government. If people don't want to enrol and don't want to vote then they probably should not be voting. Other people enrol and then move out of their electorate and fail to update their enrolment. That is another sort of problem.
The responsibility for the electoral roll lies with the Electoral Commission. Every so often they endeavour to check the accuracy of the roll.
The problems I was talking about in the letter lie there. There are some people on the roll who should not be there. They should not be there because they are not competent to vote.
Some of them would have been competent to vote in the past but they are not competent to vote now. They may have had a stroke or accident which has left them mentally incompetent. They may have Alzheimer's or some other degenerative disorder which means they no longer understand what they are doing.
There are people with mental disorders which leave them out of touch with the world who have no idea how to fill in a ballot paper - although they too may have once been able to do it.
And there are people who should never have been placed on the electoral roll in the first place. They are put on the roll by family or carers in the belief that "they have the right to a vote". They do not understand the process and they may not even understand the concept of "choice" so someone else votes in their place. I have written about this elsewhere.
My letter to the editor was prompted by the need to explain to someone how to take the person they have been caring for off the electoral roll. Yes, there is a form and yes, you do need to fill it out.
At least this person recognises that the person they have been caring for is not competent to vote.
What alarmed me is that this same person was told by more than one person, "You could do it for her. You know how she would want to vote."
And it has made me wonder. Does our system of compulsory attendance at the ballot box actually make people believe that voting is a right? Yes, it is a right - and a responsibility. How many people actually see it that way?
I suspect that, for a great many people, voting is a chore. It is a nuisance to be got out of the way as quickly as possible. They believe there is nothing they can do to change things so they do not even give much thought to what it is they are voting for. They do not know what the policies of the parties are and cannot even name the candidates. They will vote the way they have always voted - which may be the way their father voted.
It is not going to change but to suggest that our electoral system is free of fraud and difficulties is not correct.
And to tell me that it is correct at just after six in the morning is not correct either.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Good idea or bad idea or just

an election idea?
One of the major parties has come up with the idea that they will not let convicted killers out on parole unless they have told people where the body is. Oh, good idea! There was a rush of support for it.
But is it a good idea? I can see some problems with it. I suspect most people reading this will see some problems with it too. The most obvious is, what would happen to the innocent person who was convicted and did not know where the body was?
We like to think our legal system does not make mistakes but of course it does. It is run by humans. Humans make mistakes.
I can remember several incidents from my childhood. My third year teacher accused me of doing something I had not done.
"You can sit there until you apologise," she told me. As I had done nothing to apologise for I sat there. I sat there all through morning recess. "I didn't do it." I sat there at lunch time in tears - and without my lunch. "I didn't do it." I sat there after school - in more tears by then - until my father came from his classroom to take me home. "I didn't do it." I went home and my mother gave me a beating - for not apologising. "I didn't do it." She went to school with me the following morning - in order to try and make me apologise. I refused. "I didn't do it." I was not going to apologise for something I had not done.
At that point one of the other teachers discovered what was going on and informed my teacher that the culprit had been discovered and punished the day before.
I was let out of detention without an apology. "If you had apologised you could have saved yourself all that trouble," I was told, "You deserved to be kept in for being rude." Apparently saying I didn't do it was rude. I don't think I was rude - just furious at being accused and unjustly punished.
So much for that. It was one of those situations in which children are completely powerless. I imagine an innocent but convicted prisoner must feel much the same way. Even now I wonder what would have happened if the other teacher had not come forward.
I can remember another occasion in the same year on which I had been asked to do something by another teacher - just before the bell rang to return to class. Of course I was late back to class. I got detention for being late - even after I had explained - because the punishment for being late was detention. There were no exceptions to the rule.
I can remember the awful occasion when I was accused of stealing money from my mother's purse. The money - a note - turned up later tucked into her bankbook. She had put it there herself and, apparently, forgotten she had done so. I was thrashed, sent to bed without my tea and denied an outing before she found it - and, of course, everyone else knew what was going on.
Again there was no apology and all I could say was, "I didn't do it."
In effect I was innocent and I did not know where the body was either.
There were other incidents. I remember them too well I suppose. There is a need to be flexible and to take individual circumstances into account, to ask questions and listen to the answers
One size fits all rarely, if ever, fits everyone.

Monday, 10 March 2014

What the writer writes is not

what the reader reads.
I don't usually bother with such things but yesterday I listened to a video clip, posted by Liz Fenwick, of Joanne Harris reading from The Gospel of Loki.
I haven't read Loki yet. It is in the "to be read" pile along with too many other books but I will get to it in time.
By then I may have forgotten what the author, reading her own work, sounded like. I know she has a lovely speaking voice and good diction and I will remember that. Will I remember what she sounded like reading Loki though? Probably not.
I will put my own interpretation on the words. My own interpretation will be stronger than that of the writer. It will come from my personal experience of the world.
I commented (in a tweet) to Joanne that it had been interesting to hear the emphasis she gave the words when she read. She sent a message back saying that listening to someone else read her words (aloud) was like listening to reading them in translation.
I think we understood one another very well at that point. Everyone experiences the world in a different way. We understand one another not because our experiences are the same - they aren't - but because our experiences are sufficiently closely related that we can communicate them to each other. We make connections.
More than once in my life I have been asked by other people a question which usually goes along the lines, "How can you write about things you have not experienced?"
I know that, for me, they probably mean some of the more everyday things like running or carrying a glass of water across a room. Could I describe driving a car? Possibly. Could I describe playing a game of football? Possibly. I haven't tried - yet.
I might one day.
I can remember when I was teaching a profoundly physically disabled child to read. I was trying to give him a range of other experiences as well. He couldn't speak but he was learning to communicate by other means. Early on I put a range of things against his hands, soft, hard, rough, smooth, cold, hot, silky, furry and so on. We held him upright. We took him "swimming" and rolled him in the grass in the playground. When he wanted to try we strapped him into a swing and pushed him gently backwards and forwards - only to be greeted with the obvious desire to go faster and higher.
"Well, I suppose he is getting some of the same experiences as the rest of us," one of the other teachers told me. She didn't quite approve of my approach.
No, he wasn't. He was getting his experience of the world. It was quite different from hers - or mine. But, we were making connections.
I knew I had succeeded the day he told me via his communication board, "You me think same different."
It took him several minutes to get that message across with nothing more than his eye movements to tell me. His message made absolute sense. We understood each other. We had connected.
Writing has to be about making those connections. It has to be about making so many connections we can understand each other - and enough new connections that we can understand a little more.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

If I had been a second later

the car would have hit me. As it was I felt it roll out of the driveway instead.
The "duplex" houses opposite both have driveways that slope slightly towards the street. We were puzzled by that when they were built. The old house there had a very flat driveway. I know. The boys who lived there used to play with marbles in the driveway.
They left. The house was demolished and two houses went up instead. And, the driveways slope towards the street.
Yesterday, as I pedalled past, a driverless car came rolling silently out of one side. Fortunately it also came quite slowly. It stopped at the opposite curb, just in front of a tree.
Yes, it missed me. Even if it had not missed me I would probably have lived to tell the tale - although I and my little vehicle would have been seriously damaged. As it was the incident did not seem quite real. Indeed, it was so unreal that I pedalled on a metre before fully realising what had happened.
Then, reality hit. I did the fastest U-turn I have ever done, pedalled full speed up the neighbour's driveway and yelled the name of the owner of the car. No doubt everyone in the street heard me do it.
"That's the second time that's happened," she told me after she had returned the car to the driveway. She looked rather pale. Her mother looked very pale. Her father looked worried. He was saying things about "getting the brakes checked".
I doubt her parents really believe that there is anything wrong with the brakes. It's a modern car, two years old and very well maintained. It's the driver. She's under stress at present, something she does not handle well. Her present contract runs out in a few weeks and, although she has had interviews, she still does not have another job.
I suspect that, although she does not handle stress well, there are jobs she would be very good at doing. She has the same compassionate qualities as her parents, her mother's organisational skills and her father's analytical skills. Run a small office? (The sort of work she is searching for.) She would be very, very good.
I hope she gets another job. I would much rather someone put fuel in her tank than slammed the brakes on her - that way she might not forget to put the brakes on when she parks.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

"Well Cat doesn't go to work so....

maybe she could do it?" someone at the meeting said.
There was silence. I did not explode. It was a close thing. The person who said this is retired and has time on his hands. He loves to organise other people. He loves meetings. He loves to run meetings. He could do what needed to be done much more easily than me - but it involves real work.
Thankfully he was not running this meeting. I looked at the person who was running it. She knew what I was thinking. 
"I think," she told him, "You might find that Cat is rather too busy for that."
I was at the meeting which should have been held on Tuesday morning. It was held very early yesterday - before several people went to work. We met at the only coffee place open in the shopping centre at that hour. It's central for all but one person, close enough for me to pedal there and for another person to walk.
"I have to go back to work."
I managed to say this quietly but I was fuming. I am not a member of this committee. I had agreed to come so that they could call on my knowledge, indeed I had been prepared to perhaps miss something else I wanted to go to in order to be there on Tuesday - and thankfully did not have to do that when the meeting was cancelled.
The other person, who really does have time on his hands and does not know what to do with his retirement, is a professional "meeting" person. He loves committees but he does not like work. His working life was like that. People said he was "good at delegating" but, in his case, it was often laziness. He would see to it that people did the things he did not want to do. He irritated me then and now, when he does have time to do things, he makes me angry.
There are too many people like that. They like the importance of "being on the committee" but they don't like doing the other work involved.  I am sorry but I am not going to do their work for them.

Friday, 7 March 2014

I got caught in the aisle

of the other supermarket yesterday. I do not normally go into it at all. It is owned by a big multi-national company. They have ruthless market strategies. More and more of their goods are "own brand" and sourced from overseas. I don't have a "loyalty" card and I pay cash. They don't like either thing.
There is one brand of tea the Senior Cat particularly likes however and it is only available in there so I venture in once in a while and buy it.
Other people do use the place of course, despite the rather dim lighting and the very poor layout of the store - and thus I got caught by someone who needed to talk. I escaped an hour later - but yes, she needed to talk.
Like me she lives with an elderly parent. Unlike me she is married (without children) and her parent is demanding. Her parent is very demanding. I was aware there were problems but, even allowing for minor exaggeration, I had not realised just how demanding her parent is.
Her parent is younger than the Senior Cat and physically a good deal more able. The Senior Cat is much more independent and does a great deal more. He is not demanding. He is appreciative of things which are done for him. He enjoys helping others and still has a wide range of interests. At ninety-one he is still enjoying life. I know he is fortunate in that he can still do a great deal - and that makes me fortunate.
I often wonder though what it would have been like if my mother was still alive. Things might be quite different. Her mother, my maternal grandmother, was the most demanding woman I have ever met - demanding of companionship and things done her way. My mother saw that in her mother - but not in herself. I know, if I'd had to look after both her and the Senior Cat, I would not have coped.
I am not suggesting that looking after the Senior Cat is easy. It is not easy to look after anyone else if you try to do the job properly. It is however much easier when someone says something like, "Have you got a minute?" or "Would you like me to do that?" - and when they thank you for doing something.
The Senior Cat is like the other supermarket. (It's well lit, sources as much as it can locally and deliberately employs students to give them experience and much needed income._
The Senior Cat has my loyalty card.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Oh yes, John Short is a

fortunate man. He does not deserve his good fortune. He has, at the expense of a good deal of diplomatic time and effort and a great deal of money been deported from North Korea.
It has gained him a great deal of publicity and he will, no doubt, be praised by like-minded people. He has, to my mind, done no good. He may even have done great harm. I doubt he will see it like that.
We now have a similar problem on our hands.
Our former Prime Minister has been appointed a Senior Fellow at Harvard University. His qualifications for this are something of a mystery but no doubt Harvard University believes it is buying a name and that the expertise can come from somewhere else.
It has given Mr Rudd an excuse to do more globetrotting. At a time when others are studiously avoiding Russia he has gone there. His excuse is that it is a "research" mission and that it was arranged some time ago. Apparently he also intends to go to the Ukraine. More research?
I doubt it. Columnist Malcolm Farr has suggested that it is a "job application". Mr Rudd still has yearnings to be the ninth Secretary-General at the United Nations. Mr Rudd is not Scandinavian, African or Asian. His chances are surely remote - and yet he seems to believe he can do the job. This is not the first time that the idea has been mentioned in the media.
Mr Rudd has had diplomatic postings - but diplomatic postings do not make an individual a diplomat. He was posted to Stockholm and Beijing but, rather than pursue a diplomatic career, he went into politics. In reality I doubt he would have reached the top if he had stayed in the diplomatic service. He is too volatile for that. The Senior Cat had cousins, now deceased, who rose to far more senior positions in the diplomatic service than Mr Rudd would have had any chance of gaining. 
And yet, Mr Rudd now wants the top diplomatic job. He's off on a research mission. I suspect it is to try and gauge just how much support he has abroad. He may not have much at home. The new Opposition Leader was cautious in his remarks. The Government has diplomats (and others) monitoring him closely.
Mr Rudd is a publicity junkie. He thrives on publicity. He is not a team player. He is not a leader. You need to be both to be a diplomat. 
He has a lot in common with Mr Short.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

"Yes, it's Writers' Week and

I am taking time off to go and hear a couple of sessions," I told the person on the other end of the phone.
It had rung just as I was about to get ready to leave. The person on the other end of the phone did not sound too impressed.
"But Cat, you were supposed to be at the meeting so..."
"The meeting was cancelled and I have made other arrangements," I told him firmly, "If you want to talk to me about the other problem then it can wait until after I have been to those sessions."
I don't think my caller was too impressed but I am not paid to work for him - or anyone else - so yesterday I took time off.
I went to two sessions at Writers' Week. I would like to have gone to more.
Writers' Week has changed. Writers have come and gone. During those first Writers' Weeks I attended I had the outstanding good fortune to be looked after by Judith Wright. (She might have said I was looking after her because of her hearing loss and the need for me to "interpret" at times but the reverse was the case. I met people I would never otherwise have met and spent time listening to them.)
Now Writers' Week is attended by hundreds of people. Two sessions will be run in parallel and each will have a crowd.
One had a particular crowd yesterday - possibly close to a thousand people came to hear Alexander McCall-Smith speak.  I wanted to hear him too. I also wanted to hear Louise Doughty speak. Her session was fortunately in the same "East Tent" before him. I arrived early enough to snag a chair in the shade of the canopy which comprises the "tent" and enjoyed listening to the buzz of anticipation around me.
Someone sat down next to me and asked whether I had read any of Doughty's books. Yes, I have - although I have yet to read the one she was going to speak about. Oddly our conversation continued until I admitted that I write - or try to write. Silence. That was the end of the conversation. Oh well. It was a good session. The woman ahead of me was taking notes. Oh yes, she's writing a novel.
Alexander McCall-Smith's session was special for two reasons. First of all he is a witty speaker, more than capable of keeping an audience amused. He did not have much to say about the craft of writing but that would have been wrong for the audience anyway. They were there to hear the creator of the No1 Ladies Detective Agency, the creator of 44 Scotland Street (particularly Bertie), the creator of Isabel Dalhousie etc. They wanted to know about the Really Terrible Orchestra and so on.
It was also special because his session was signed for a number of people with hearing impairments. The good professor speaks very clearly but rather rapidly so those signing were hard put to keep up with him. There was a glorious moment, largely lost on those who know nothing about sign language, when they had to interpret a name involving the repetition of a word. I won't spoil it here because I have no doubt at all that, somewhere in the future, the incident will appear in his writing.
Afterwards I did something I don't like doing. I lined up with my copy of  No1 and waited while more than a hundred people ahead of me gushed that they "loved" his books, while they got others to take their photograph with him.
I had been watching him of course. He had been pleasant and polite and seemed to show a genuine interest in everyone he met.
Eventually he turned to me and I told him who I was and mentioned that we knew people in common. I did not say I "loved" his books. I was not in the least sure he would be interested in anything I had to say by then and there were still a few people  behind me so I was not going to prolong the conversation.
But he looked at the stragglers behind me, obviously decided they could wait a little longer and asked me several questions. I don't think they were asked out of politeness but out of a genuine curiosity. For a moment he could stop being an author signing books - however much he might like people - and be a writer instead. There's a difference. 
It would have been so very good to have been able to talk longer - to talk about writing rather than reading - but Writers' Week has become too big for that.
Someone gave me a questionnaire to fill out. I don't usually bother with those but this time I might. Writers' Week has to be for writers as well as readers. What writers get from listening to another writer is different.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Why is it that the Oscars

hold so much fascination for so many people? Why does all the glitz and glamour hold so much appeal? Would we really want to be part of it if we could? Would we, if female, really want to wear one of those supremely uncomfortable looking "gowns"? Would we want to risk being humiliated if we were a "favourite" and then not chosen - for all the world to see?
I could go on and on but even that is not what bothers me most about all this. What bothers me is something quite different.
There are millions of dollars, pounds, euros, yen etcetera poured into the film industry every year. Film budgets, even for a "low budget" film can be huge.
Oh yes, I know there are large numbers of people involved and they all have to be paid. Some of them get paid more than others. 
But films are about telling a story - and someone has to write that story. Even before the "screenplay" can be written someone has to write the story. Sometimes "the book of the film" will be published but the reality is that it is still "the film of the story".
There is an Oscar for "the best screenplay". There is no Oscar for the author of the story.
A film is fleeting entertainment. Oh yes, everything is there on the screen. It is a "complete" visual and aural experience. Someone else has done all the thinking and produced their version of what the story is about. And yes, it requires skill and imagination and a great many other things. It is also over in a couple of hours.
But a book is different. Every reader is going to get something slightly different from a book. A book depends not just on what the author has to say, not just on the words the author uses and the way they are used. It depends on the reader's experience of the world as well.  It requires work on the part of both writer and reader. We  know all that but we don't know it.
When we come to a film the writer is barely acknowledged. It is much more likely that people can name the actors in a film than the author of the story from which it has been made. Some people would not even be aware that a film they enjoyed had been adapted from a book. They don't think, "Where did the story come from?" The story is, for them, just there.
If we made even a tenth as much of a fuss about the writer of the story as we do about the actors then all writers would be far better off. We need more than "the Booker" or some other prize chosen by a panel of judges because it has arcane qualities the rest of us struggle to appreciate. We need something which says, "This is work, hard work. It has taken months or years to complete. It is worth paying for."
Why is it that people object to paying for a book when they will readily pay to see a film? If we buy a print book it is there for as long as we want it. If we see a film then, apart from the mis-memory it is over in just a short while?
Is it because reading a book requires work on the part of the reader? Are we really that lazy?

Monday, 3 March 2014

Coming out of the library

yesterday afternoon someone I know by sight but who obviously knows me asked,
"Cat, is there an election on?"
"Oh, when do we have to vote?"
I explained and he nodded and went on his way.
Now, I don't know him well. Possibly he has been away for a while. I haven't seen him around.
I should have been surprised, even shocked he did not know there was an election on - but I'm not.
This is Mad March. There are hares in the form of "the Fringe", the Clipsal Race, the Adelaide Cup and the Festival. The media has also been concerned with sport. The other distraction over the weekend was the Mardi Gras in Sydney.
In all that there is little or no room in the media for news about a state election.
"The Fringe" - rather like the Edinburgh one - has had its share of controversy this year. I have not been to any of the events and I don't plan on going to any. I am not interested in hearing people read poetry while sitting there nude or productions called "Heckle Christ" or a five hour film which features a great deal of totally unacceptable and unwarranted violence.
I have written elsewhere of my disapproval of "motor sport". I don't like the waste of fossil fuel but my real objection is to the disruption and cost to the lives of others and the way it encourages excess speed in others.
We certainly do not need a public holiday for a horse race - not even the Melbourne Cup is seen as warranting that. A long weekend in the middle of an election campaign?
And then there is the Festival itself. I have not managed to see anything at a Festival for some years now. The tickets for anything I might be interested in are always far too expensive for me to justify it.
This week is Writer's Week. I would like to attend some sessions. It's a rare chance to hear writers speak and talk with others. I had to miss the last one altogether and most of the one before that. It began Saturday and I had a meeting to attend. I was unavoidably otherwise occupied yesterday. There are more meetings today. I'll try for tomorrow's lunch time session at least - if the morning meeting ends early enough.
But, there is an election on - and that means that I have the responsibility of ensuring that a good number of people with disabilities know there is an election on, who their candidates are and how they want to fill out their ballot papers.
I just wish Writer's Week did not coincide with all this.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The small matter of "copyright"

was being discussed yesterday when I arrived at our knitting guild meeting. It is a topic which gets raised at unfortunately regular intervals - usually in my absence.
I caught them yesterday. I am a little tired of it. No, I lie. I am very tired of it.
Copyright is really a very simple issue for knitters. Copying patterns comes under the same rules as any other print material. How hard is that? You may not use somebody else's pattern without permission to make anything to sell to someone else. How hard is that?
I understand what part of the problem is. People lack the confidence to design their own. They are afraid of "wasting" materials and the time and effort to make something. They believe they cannot design something. They are also lazy and want the easy way out.
I have written knitting patterns. It is not an occupation I recommend. Writing instructions for anything is extremely difficult. It does not matter how careful you are someone is bound to misunderstand. It takes time and effort.
There are knitting books where express permission is given to photocopy charts - usually in an enlarged form - if you are making the item. There is an implied right to do this if you are working from a chart in any book. There is a good reason for this. Enlarging the charts makes it easier to read them. Charts are also tools and many people mark off the rows as they work them. Does this confuse people? It shouldn't. It still does not give people the right to use the charts to make a garment to sell to someone else.
But...but...but... they splutter, "Why is it all right if someone gives you a pattern and the wool and asks you to make something?"
Ah, you are being paid for the work you do - if you are prepared to work for a few cents or pence an hour. You are not offering something on the open market with the intent of making a profit. In all likelihood you have also made some adjustments to fit a particular individual. It is like making a jacket to fit from a commercial pattern or altering the length of a table in woodwork.
I could go on - and on. I won't. It is when the issue is deliberately raised in my absence by people who have raised the issue before, people who know the answer is "no, you may not do that", that I feel frustrated and angry. I have tried telling them that this is theft but they seem not to want to see it this way.
Yesterday the issue was raised because they were discussing whether they should buy a photocopier/scanner/printer. They have the money to do that - and there are other good reasons why it might be done. I know however that easier access to the means to copy will increase the likelihood of illicit copies being made. I know it means other people's patterns will be used and the end results will be offered for sale. I know there will be arguments when I say that this is not legal.
I am attempting to set an example. I never use other people's patterns. I know I am fortunate in that I don't need to use them. I can work without them even though I will glean ideas from them.
It is a lot more work - but it is also a lot more fun.