Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Pity the child called "Isis"

and yes there is one in this morning's paper. She was, of course, named after the Egyptian goddess. What is more she is eight years old.
Eight years ago we did not know about Isis and her parents undoubtedly thought it was a pretty and unusual name. It should be. Now the poor child is apparently getting shocked looks when people hear her name.
Names can cause all sorts of problems. Mine causes problems. My brother's third name - one which has been in the family for generations - causes problems when he needs to use it. His first name however is thankfully standard. My sister's second name is spelt in the masculine rather than the feminine way. My mother had the same unusual spelling and her first name also had a rare spelling. My youngest sister has perfectly standard spelling but has never been known by her first name, only the diminutive thereof.
Oh yes, there have been problems with names in this family. My father says he would do things differently now.
The Whirlwind's name is a combination of her parents' names but is pronounced as if it is the male version of a name. Her father says he would do things differently now. Fortunately she has forgiven him his transgressions.
Last night we had the evening meal at my sister's place. My nephew, now a doctor, was there as well. He has a Greek name and surname and he was moaning to me that his Greek speaking patients assume he speaks Greek. Right. He speaks some Greek, a little Greek - certainly a little more Greek than I do. He does not know as much Greek as they assume. What is more his grandparents came from Cyprus. Cypriot Greek is a little different. He tries to encourage those who can to use English because other staff speak no Greek at all. People need to understand their patients.
But yesterday he had to try and help a young man who was highly distressed. He came from another cultural background and the staff were having difficulty in doing anything. When my nephew arrived he walked up to the young man and just said, "Hi, my name's...."
It did not get the young man to open up much, he's too damaged for that but it did calm him down a little. My nephew had used his own second name which was the same as that of the young man.
Names are extraordinary things in their power to hinder or help.

Monday, 29 September 2014

There was one of those "to do" lists in

the paper this morning. Lists like that tend to irritate me. They belong to someone else or someone is trying to tell me what I should be doing. (Warning here - I am an independent sort of cat. I prowl around in my own way thanks very much.)
This one was a list of 49 things a child should do before the age of five. It was compiled by an outdoor group of some sort so the activities are outdoor sort of activities. As lists go it was quite reasonable. For once there was nothing outrageous on it and most of the activities would not have cost anything - anything that is but time and the willingness of an adult to allow those things to happen.
I had done all but two of the things on the list by the time I was five - and a good many more besides. We spent a lot of time outside as children. We weren't supervised by adults. We were sent outside to play.
We discovered dirt and water, sticks, stones, holes, hills and that rough climbing apparatus called a tree.
There were also the concrete pipes. Most children never have the pleasure of concrete pipes but we did.
I do not know what they were for and the Senior Cat cannot even remember them but the pipes were left on the side road near the house we were living in. They were, from my child's eye view, enormous. I suspect they were for some drainage work.
They seemed to stay there for months. Certainly I can remember the grass growing high around them.
And, we used them. Oh how we used them. We rode our tricycles through them at top speed, around and through one pipe and into the next and then around and through again. We shouted and squealed and laughed inside them. They echoed.
I doubt we did the pipes any harm. We would have been hauled out very quickly if that was likely to happen. There was a large field next to the pipes and the cows in it tended to congregate on the other side when we were playing in them. (I don't blame them.)
If it was raining we would sit inside the pipes and play other games with sticks. We would eat our quarters of apple or orange in there and then carefully bury the core or peel outside. Oh yes, we kept the pipes clear of rubbish because that was our road for racing down.
I don't know how long they were there but we enjoyed them while we could. Our parents knew where we were. They knew what we were doing - and they did not know. Of course we were supervised at times and of course there were activities which were arranged by adults but we were not supervised every minute of the day. We went about that list of things to do without any help or interference.
We didn't want a physics lesson about gravity or sound. We were too busy being cowboys, police, ambulance drivers and other people.
There are some things in which adults should have no part because they simply don't understand.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The football grand final

meant it was quiet in the library yesterday afternoon. It was quiet as I pedalled my way there and back too. A few people were out gardening in the unexpectedly warm weather and one person walking his dog.
Would there be anyone at the knitting session? Oh yes. The usual people turned up. It seems that little group is not in the least bit interested in football.
There must be other people who are not interested either because there was one of the library "book" groups next door as well as some borrowers nervously eyeing the new check out system.
The Senior Cat was out at the hardware/garden centre when I got home. He returned a little later and commented on how quiet it was.
"Football grand final," I told him.
He grunted.
"Yes, they had it on a TV screen down there."
He is not interested in football. Then he gave a little laugh and said, "Remember the time when M.... insisted on taking me?"
Oh yes. M... is his cousin's son. M... is fanatical about sport. When the Senior Cat admitted he had never been to a football match M... decided the situation had to be rectified. He would collect the Senior Cat, pay for the ticket, buy him the traditional pie at half time and see him home again. M's... wife and I looked at one another and shrugged. The Senior Cat, always game for a new experience went.
He understood absolutely nothing about the game but he had a wonderful time people watching. M's... team lost. They still tease each other about the experience. M... will phone occasionally and tell him to "turn the telly on and watch..." football or cricket or tennis. The Senior Cat just laughs. He is not interested and neither am I.
I made the afternoon cup of tea for the Senior Cat while he watered a plant he had "rescued" and, as he came inside, he said with a rather wicked look on his face,
"You know when I am next talking to M... I can tell him I watched the grand final...for at least twenty seconds."

Saturday, 27 September 2014

I have written rather a lot of

letters in my lifetime. Some people would probably say I have written far too many letters.
There were the inevitable "thank you" letters for presents when I was small. I never minded the idea of writing those. I was just much too conscious of the fact that the results looked awful. I wanted to say a lot but the physical act of writing it down usually defeated me.
When I was sent off to boarding school there was that point in the week (a Wednesday evening) where everyone had to write their letter "home". We sat there and chewed the ends of pens, biros and pencils and wondered what on earth to tell our parents. After all there were things you did not tell your parents if you were in your teens. I usually ignored school altogether and told my parents about the weekend as I normally spent that with my paternal grandparents. Our letters were read before they were posted and it cast a great restraint on what we could say. (I did not like boarding school for a number of reasons.) I wrote other letters and posted them when I was at my grandparents' home. My paternal grandmother, with extraordinary understanding, provided the stamps.
Later there was also the dutiful letter home. I would, whatever else was happening, write home on Fridays. My mother expected this. If I failed to do so for any reason then an explanation would be demanded. Oh yes, I wrote letters home.
I also wrote other letters. There was a cousin of the Senior Cat in New Zealand, a cousin's wife in Canada and my godmother. (I told the latter all sorts of things I would never have told my mother. Bless her, she kept her mouth firmly shut.)
I wrote to other people too - notably a friend of the Senior Cat who encouraged me to do as he had done and set my sights on an English university education. (I didn't quite manage Cambridge the way he did but I did manage London.) And a writer friend. Well known (a "living treasure" in her time) she still made time to write to me about once a month all through school and beyond. I hugged those letters to myself and shared them with nobody. Now I regret not saving them.
I wrote to other friends. I wrote weekly letters to the friend who has just passed away, weekly that is until the advent of e-mail. Then we would "talk" several times a week.
It has made me wonder about e-mail. Would I have retained other friendships if e-mail had been available? I suspect I might. There was a friend in the UK who embraced e-mail and used, until she too died, to write to me with the opening "Hello Antipodes..." Until then we wrote perhaps twice a year.
Has e-mail changed friendship? I think it might have. I have several wonderful American friends, one of whom is almost part of the family. E-mail keeps us in touch with one another in a way that nothing else could.
The Senior Cat is still suspicious of e-mail. He growls about it and asks, "How do you know they are going to get it...?" ("When they reply," I tell him.) He concedes however that it has its uses.
Yes, it has its uses - so long as you use it.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Hearing your own words

being read aloud is a strange experience. Oh yes, I know we all hear that sometimes. We write a note to someone and they read it back - that sort of thing is commonplace enough.
But this was different. I had written something for someone else to use. It made her job easier - at least I hope it did. And it is her job to read and read well.
The woman for whom I wrote the words to use is a "celebrant" - weddings, funerals, naming ceremonies and so on. Yes, she does them all. She is someone the Senior Cat knows well and she is, I believe, outstandingly good at her job. She is often asked to do "difficult" services such as the funeral of a child.
Usually she knows nothing about the family she is asked to help. Although she knows me we do not know each other well. And, of course, she did not know my friend at all - or my friend's sister. So, I wrote the words for part of the service and she read them.
I knew what was coming, of course I did. I had written the words. But, oddly, I did not know what was coming either. It sounded different.
"Read it aloud to yourself," is advice I have been given by other more accomplished writers, "then you will be able to hear whether it works or not." Mmm....maybe. I thought it was good advice and still believe it probably is but I have also discovered that the way it sounds to me will not be the way it sounds to someone else. I won't hear it the way they hear it.
Oh yes, really I have always known that but it was more than usually obvious yesterday. We don't hear ourselves as others hear us.  

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The library reopened yesterday

- after being closed for a week.
It was closed while they made some small alterations to the building and put in the self-service checkouts. 
Yes, self-service in the library these days. You have to return your books via the computer screen rather than down the chute. You touch the screen, scan the book (and make sure it appears on the screen) and wait until it provides an arrow to a trolley. You have to make sure you put them on the right trolley.
Borrowing books is now a similar process.
Oh yes, you can now go in and out of the library without speaking to anyone. It's all in the name of "efficiency". It will "save money". Staff hours are being cut back.
And yes, Cat will help those people who find the process confusing won't she?
I will because I want people to be able to read - but I don't like it.
Libraries are about books and all the other things that can be borrowed from libraries. I know that. But...but libraries are also about people.
Our local library is the hub of the community. It was crowded yesterday. Yes, part of that was the result of the library not being open for a week but it also had something to do with the fact that the library is often busy. It is used. It is used in all sorts of ways. People meet there. They work there. The students gather there to study in small groups. People use the computers. They borrow books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, the electronic marking kits and so on. There are meetings held there. Last month there was a class on cheese-making.
And some people go in and out just to be able to say "hello" to someone.
I wonder what will happen now. Will the library be a less friendly place? Will the staff have more time to guide the readers?
I don't envy the staff the next few weeks as they try to guide people through the new system.
And I want our library to go on being the hub of the community. Please?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

No, it has not been quiet

here. An alleged terrorist was shot dead yesterday - after stabbing two police officers.
I say "alleged"  because there is always the possibility that the person in question was genuinely mentally ill and not responsible for their actions. Whatever, the individual was allegedly making threats against the Prime Minister and was allegedly violent.
We may get more such incidents and at least some of those who are involved in them will be mentally ill.
Some years ago part of our local shopping centre was destroyed by fire. It has since been rebuilt but it is not the same place as it was before. (Yes, there have been questions about whether it was arson designed to allow redevelopment. Nobody has ever been charged.)
Before the fire there was a seat outside the post office and the shoe shop. There was a mentally ill man who used to spend quite a lot of time sitting there. He would take occasional swigs of Coca-Cola from the large bottle he bought each morning.
He was completely harmless, in fact people would often say "hello" and he would say "hello" in return. I would sometimes tell him to tie a shoe lace or help with getting another multi-trip bus ticket. His day was made up of coming to the centre, sitting there and watching people, and then going back to the hostel he lived in.
After the fire there was nowhere for him to go. I can remember him standing there looking at the damage and then looking sadly at me before saying,
           "Got nowhere to sit."
He left and I never saw him again. I hope he found another safe place but I wonder.
He was not violent, just odd and incapable of handling the world. He was probably not that bright either, certainly he could not read or write and he had no idea of how much money he needed for anything.  In an odd way though I liked him. He was always the same until that last time.
With the "increased need for security" I now wonder what will happen to people like him. I wonder what will happen to others who appear to be violent and a danger to others. Social policies have demanded that those with special needs be "out in the community" but, all too often, they are not given the help they need. It is simply seen as two expensive to provide it.
And so, if the young man who was killed yesterday turns out to have been mentally ill, I think we need to ask some questions of ourselves. Is he responsible or are we? How do we ensure that people with his special needs get help?
No, there won't be answers - but that should not stop us asking the questions and being aware.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

I don't think anyone is taking the threat

of a terrorist attack too seriously in my part of Downunder. Why should they? The city is considered to be largely peaceful and safe. It is not a big place.
Yes, pretty complacent about the whole business. "Terrorism" is something which happens in other countries. Those who live here don't even really believe it would happen anywhere in Downunder. Why should it? We're all great people, aren't we?
Of course, if we are a target at all, then it is all the fault of the government for going to war against Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction. Right? Enough said?
Actually, no.
We should not be complacent. This city did have a terrorist attack some years ago and someone died as a result of it.
What is more it would not have made any difference whether we had gone to war or not. We would still be targets. It would not make any difference whether we were allies of the United States of America or not. We would still be targets.
We could be the most peace loving people on earth and we would be targets simply because most of us are "infidels". Even if we were all to magically convert to Islam it would not help. There is, according to those who threaten us, only one brand of Islam - and that is their brand.
Perhaps nothing will change people who think like that. But, there are some things that can change.
Yesterday we were meeting with the celebrant who will conduct my friend's funeral. My friend was not a religious person. There will be no religious component to her funeral. But, she was not an atheist either. She believed in people, most of all in the students she taught. It made her a good teacher. She didn't set out to change them. Instead she set out to give them the tools to change themselves. I was thinking of all of this in relation to terrorism because I had another e-mail from another friend - the one who runs the centre for unaccompanied children in Africa.
Some years ago one of the children there, a child who had lost both hands in a machete attack during the appalling fighting between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes, wanted to be a teacher. He had worked very hard to overcome his disabilities and he was exceptionally bright. He could not do physical work but he studied and had, against all odds, made the grades to enter university. He had found tutoring work to help support himself there but still lack the text books. My friend bought his text books for him. He went on to do an excellent degree and now teaches maths - sometimes to people who belong to the tribe which injured him.
Yes, things can change. Unexpected help can have great repercussions. We need to believe in people.

Monday, 22 September 2014

There are new powers being proposed

for ASIO (the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation for those of you in Upover) and the police, powers to reduce the threat of a terrorist attack Downunder.
I have contemplated this long and hard and I still cannot understand the need for these powers.  Although I believe we probably do need them Downunder should never have reached that point.
It is not nice to think you are being spied on but the reality is that we are all spied on in one way or another. It is almost impossible for the average individual to disappear completely.
It was once much easier to disappear. You left your place of residence and moved to another one giving yourself another name and, unless you were very unlucky and seen by someone who knew you in the previous location, that was it. Well, it was little more complex than that but it could be done.
Now it is a different story. You can be found in all sorts of ways and often at great speed. If there is a photograph of you it can be posted on line around the world in a matter of seconds.
If you keep your name it is even easier - or it should be. Certainly those who have access to the electoral roll can find you unless you are a "silent" voter (which only means your name does not appear on the roll available to all members of the public). If your financial records or motor vehicle registration (for your licence to drive) are available then still more can be discovered. If you have a "rewards" card at the supermarket or a "loyalty" card anywhere else then they will know precisely what you bought and when you bought it. They can target marketing that way - or they think they can. (I know a grandfather who bought a tin of infant milk formula for his daughter's infant son and suddenly found himself the recipient of advertising about baby items.)
So, yes spying will occur. Most of us lead fairly ordinary lives and it should not worry us - but there is something a little worrying about it all. No, I won't have a "rewards" card thanks very much.
And so it goes on.
Right now I feel as if I am spying on my friend. I have been going slowly through her address book for the people she knew in other parts of the world, often people we both knew. They need to know. When we were discussing the arrangements she wanted some months ago she asked me to do this but it still feels wrong.  I have been checking those addresses on line through telephone directories. And that alone makes people who live in one place alarmingly easy to find. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

I have been getting an irritating message

on my Blogger homepage to say that I am "not currently following any blogs". Quite apart from being incorrect the message is, according to the page, at least six months old. (I suspect it is even older than that.) I am following some blogs.
I admit that I am not following all the blogs in the list but that is because it appears those bloggers, who had looked as if they might have something interesting to say, have gone silent. Some blogs ceased several years ago. It makes me wonder whether "blogging" has gone out of fashion? Perhaps it has.
I am sure that there are internet fashions just as there are fashions in everything else.
I was reminded of this because another good friend C..., a nun who runs a place for unaccompanied children (refugees without an adult to care for them) reminded me of when the friend whose affairs I have been handling tried to make a birthday cake.
C... had never had a birthday cake. It was not part of her culture but there we all were at university together and E.... decided that C... needed a birthday cake. E was not, as I mentioned earlier, a cook of any sort but she thought she could manage a packet of cake mix. After she had bought it she realised she did not have a cake tin and, as we were all living in a hall of residence,  there was no oven either. 
She was not deterred. She would, she informed us, cook it in an electric frying pan. Remember them? I suppose they might still be around but I have not seen one in a long time. I told her I did not think that would work but she was determined to try.
E... mixed the batter and poured it straight into the frying pan. Disaster. It was made worse by the fact that she had not even greased the pan. We cleaned up the mess and all went out to the bakery in Conduit Street instead.
No, not practical my friend but she could laugh at herself. If she had written a blog I am sure it would have been full of such things.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

So Scotland won't be an "independent"

country. It is however full of very independent people and "independence" may yet come. Certainly the United Kingdom is going to change. It will have to.
I have mixed feelings about the result, particularly as I know people who fought for a "yes" and I respect their views and understanding of the situation in the country.
There were implications for Downunder that few people were even aware of. As they won't be happening I won't go into them here but, on balance, I think I am relieved they will not be happening.
A columnist here wrote an article asking what would happen if this state tried to declare independence. It is an interesting thought, especially given our geographical location - the middle of the country.
The state to the west of us has sometimes threatened to secede. The state to the north-east of us has sometimes threatened to secede - or break into a northern and southern state. A late friend of mine actually wrote his honours thesis on the issue. It, rightly, did not come to any conclusion but much of what he said there was reflected in the debate over Scottish independence.
There is one issue that he did not need to consider and that was language. Downunder has only one official language - English.
Scotland of course, and quite rightly, uses two - English and Scots Gaelic.
It is language which, more than anything else, makes a nation. Language is power. It is why so many regimes will try to stamp out the use of minority languages.
When I was at law school I submitted a proposal to write my final paper in Jurisprudence on language planning. It was a proposal which was hesitantly received - and had finally to be approved by the Professor as the lecturer in question felt it was an unsuitable topic. There was not thought to be enough in it. (If I may boast - the paper gained top marks.)
So, one of the things I hope will come out of the vote in Scotland is a renewed determination to keep what, for many, is a dying language. Gaelic does not have to be a dying language. It is a rich language and it has a magnificent literary heritage. It is also the language of my ancestors and, as the saying goes, 
       "Cha bhi fios aire math an tobair gus an trĂ igh e."
(The value of the well is not known until it runs dry.)
Don't let the well of language run dry. Revive that language because, without it, you will lose your identity.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Her favourite colour was

blue but she had no colour sense and, unless I was there to stop her, would buy acid yellow or lime green tops that did not in the least suit her almost albino colouring. Her preferred mode of dress was trousers and t-shirts and the cardigans and vests I knitted for her. The only time she wore dresses on a regular basis was when she taught in PNG. There she wore the same style of dress as the local women. I found one of those dresses in the wardrobe yesterday. It was the only dress she owned.
She was interested in food but she could not cook. I suspect, although she never said it, that she considered the process a waste of her time - however interesting the product might be. 
Oh yes, the product? She called me one Friday evening in London.
"Want to go to Oxford tomorrow?" she asked me.
"Why?"
"I've found this place which sells mead. I have always wanted to try mead. You can go to the Bodleian afterwards."
Oh, right. She knew what would entice me there. We went to Oxford. We got lost. The place that sold mead was closed. We went to the Bodleian instead - but for much too short a time.
We went to exhibitions she found and to an open air performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Regent's Park.
I stayed on in London when she went back Downunder. We wrote weekly letters to each other - something that continued until I returned. Then there were the weekly phone calls - and sometimes a call in between. For the last few years it has been contact every few days as she needed more help.
Academia was her natural home. She was happiest when talking ideas, imparting ideas and learning new things. Among her papers there is her doctorate in physics, a master's in philosophy, her  undergraduate degree in science and her post-graduate teaching qualification as well as her qualifications in German, Chinese and Indonesian. She spoke some French and Pidgin. When she retired from her job at university she took up Latin and had done a short course in Ancient Greek. She talked enthusiastically about doing MOOCs and perhaps teaching English to some of the young casual staff in the nursing home. It never happened.
Yes, of course it would have been good if it had happened. It didn't but, until a week before her death, my friend thought into the future. That matters.
I am grateful that something urged me to make the effort to see her the day before she died. Her death came, as death often does, in the early hours of the day. There was nobody there - but I hope she knew I had been the day before.


Thursday, 18 September 2014

I have been pondering "hell

on earth". How to describe it?
I had to go to the bank for my friend yesterday. We have sold her little "unit" in order to help pay for the nursing home fees. "Settlement" (the final payment) occurred last Friday but it takes the bank three days to clear a transfer of that size. The money went into a non-interest bearing workaday account and it had to be transferred into something that will bring in interest but be accessible as there is a loan to be paid back.
There were three possibilities. I wanted her to make the decision between two as the third, the one I knew she wanted, was not possible in her particular circumstances.
I tried to phone my friend. She was not answering the phone. I kept trying. I phoned the main office at the nursing home. They put me through to the "nurses' station" on her wing. Yes, they had heard her phone ringing but said, "She can't reach it. If you wait we will pass it to her."
I thought that was odd. We have set things up so that she can answer the phone whether she is in her bed or in her chair. When I saw her last Thursday she was not well but said she thought she would be fine.
I could hear the nurse who answered the phone saying to her, "It's your friend. She wants to speak to you. No, how do you hold it to your ear?" I thought that was odd and then there was a sort of grunt.
I could get nothing but grunts. I persisted and eventually there was something that might have been a "yes" at the other end. I left it at that. I made the decision I thought was best and went to the bank to deal with the paper work. Then I pedalled off to see what was up with my friend.
Yes, in bed. She was dozing. I woke her as gently as I could. She opened her eyes. There was another of those grunts. She looked at me without another sound. Her eyes were not normal - hysteria or a cerebral episode or a combination of both? I don't know.
I told her what I had done with the transfer. I tried to tell her as if we were having a normal conversation. I don't know whether she took it in or not.
She closed her eyes and I left her. I left her and contemplated hell on earth - not being able to communicate at all.
The Middle Cat and I will go and visit today. She can speak the language of the medical staff and find out what, if anything, they  know. We need to remind them we have guardianship powers - and if my friend is in hell on earth then she needs us to be there for her.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Give some people the smallest amount of power

and some of them will abuse it.
I had to go to the Showground yesterday. It was the day we dismantle the display and hand back the exhibits to the competitors.
I had to be there before eight in the morning and I was. I was also wearing the compulsory yellow safety vest - something not necessary a couple of years ago but now "essential". I had my label. It was very obvious that I had come there to do a job. The official (not a member of the Showground staff but an OHS official) did not want to let me in.
And I most certainly was not allowed to ride my tricycle in although there was not a large vehicle in sight - the reason given for not allowing me in.
I explained politely that I had come in this way when we setting up prior to the Show.
"Not through my entrance," I was told. Notice that possessive "my"?
As I was expected to be available at a certain time I gave the OHS official a look and said,
"Thank you for your concern. I will find another entrance."
"You won't get in anywhere."
It was said gleefully.
I knew there would be at least four entrances open yesterday morning. I had just tried to use the one closest to the railway station - the obvious one.
I went on around to the next entrance. There was another OHS official there. He was chatting cheerfully to a couple of workers piling equipment into the back of a van.
He saw me and waved me through with the words, "Mind how you go."
The law does allow me to ride in and I could have argued with the first individual but it was not worth the confrontation. It would just make it difficult for everyone else who wanted to enter for the rest of the day. I recognise this sort of officialdom. They enjoy their power - and should never have been given it. 
I have to admit though - I was very tempted to ride out through that entrance when I left.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The small matter of sub-titles

came up in the Clan Cat house last night.
The Senior Cat watches very little television - even less than I do. I watch the first part (non-sport) of the international news service and that is about it. We both watch a small documentary programme when it is not supplanted by more sport. The Senior Cat refuses to watch the news anymore. I don't blame him. Most of it is miserable sort of stuff.
But there was a short science item that he happened to stop and watch on his way through the room. I had to turn the sound up and then, as usual, "interpret" what someone with poor speech had said. Yes, the person was mumbling.
The Senior Cat is rather deaf these days. He refuses to wear hearing aids. He can hear me. He can hear most individual people. He can manage in some group situations. He tried hearing aids and they irritated him more than they helped. I can understand that. I had children at school who would sometimes pull them out. They were not being naughty. They just wanted the relief of not wearing them for a bit.
I could have turned the sub-titling on but that irritates the Senior Cat too. He knows it can't be so but he wants the text in full. Sub-titles for that are not the same as the sub-titles when something is interpreted from another language but neither is "complete". Most people speak far more quickly than other people can type in text - or read it!
We get quite a few sub-titles on our Special Broadcasting Service. It is supposed to be our multi-cultural broadcaster. It actually runs programmes in dozens of different languages. They also use sub-titles for some news items - often when interviewing someone who is speaking another language. I imagine it is faster and easier than finding someone to speak a translation.
It doesn't bother me. I am often just listening and looking at some knitting. If I know the context I can often understand enough of a European language to make sense of the item. It is not that I have the ability to speak multiple languages. I don't. It is because English sounding words appear in almost everything. Listen carefully and you will hear them.
Reading the subtitles irritates me for another reason - the translation will often be inaccurate. Yes, it is intended to give the general meaning of what someone is saying but it will give the general story rather than the words. What the speaker is saying may have a different meaning altogether.
And all this makes me wonder, over and over again, about words and meanings and what we lose in translation - and how easily we misunderstand each other.

Monday, 15 September 2014

David Haines was

murdered. He was brutally murdered after being humiliated in the most public way possible - on the internet.
The internet has changed war. You can do immense harm from the safety of your laptop in an anonymous setting. You can send out the most vile, menacing and outrageous messages to the world without moving from your chair. You can "encourage" young men - and even young women - to believe in martyrdom through violent murder-suicide with a reward of virgins in heaven. Of course you won't send your own children to do these despicable acts. They will be somebody else's children.
Well, David Haines was somebody else's child too. Unlike those being encouraged to indulge in the ultimately selfish act of murder-suicide or the games of murder of innocent children who happen to believe something different, David Haines was genuinely trying to help other people.
David Haines, like many aid workers I know and admire was taking risks to help others. He was not out there for the fun of it. Oh yes, there might be the occasional adrenalin rush - of relief -  but it was not something he looked for. Aid workers like David Haines go in with a purpose and that purpose is to help, genuinely help.
I don't know precisely what David Haines did. I never had any contact with him but I know what people like him do. Too many of them have to put their lives on the line everyday. They have to take risks to make sure that the limited food and shelter and even more limited medical supplies actually get in there and get distributed. More often than not it is chaos and they have to do their best to handle that chaos. All too often it is violent and they have to handle that as well.
The men - and they are mostly men - with guns don't care. The man who so brutally and violently murdered David Haines was almost certainly one of his fellow countrymen. He undoubtedly enjoys being violent. Murder almost certainly comes easily to him.
But, he hides behind a balaclava just as those who send out the other vile material hide behind their laptops and the internet. David Haines and his fellow aid workers, the ones I know and trust and admire, are brave people. Their killers are cowards.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

There were three children

here yesterday afternoon. The eldest is the one learning conjuring tricks from the Senior Cat. The younger two, twins, do some old-fashioned craft project.
The twins are a boy and a girl. The boy is like a jack-in-the-box. He springs out of his chair. He is constantly on the move. He talks - a lot. His sister is much quieter. Give her something to do and she sets about it quietly and methodically.
I get out of the house while they are here. It is not because I dislike them - I do like them - but because they have come to see the Senior Cat. They don't want me in the way. They never want to leave and the question at the end of every time they are here is, "When's next time?"
Their mother says they look on the Senior Cat as their grandfather - and yes, he spoils them the way a grandparent would. They get biscuits and cordial for afternoon tea instead of the usual piece of fruit. There is always something to take home = something they have made themselves. They are not aware of it but they have managed to learn a new skill.
"You're not really old are you? I don't want you to be old," the boy twin told the Senior Cat.
Most grandparents of children that age are much younger than the Senior Cat. Many of them are more like parents. They are taking on the responsibilities of parents. They sometimes see children to school. They often pick them up in the afternoons and ferry them to after school activities, supervise homework, provide the after-school snack and even the evening meal. They will baby-sit and childmind so that the parents can go out - and not always because they want to do it but because there is an element of emotional blackmail there, "If you really loved me then you would look after the children."
That's bad enough at times but, this morning, I came across another way of abrogating your responsibility as a parent. There is a suggestion that the "clubs" could provide child care services in return for a tax break on their "pokie" machines.
Pay for your childcare by gambling?
I think not. It is an appalling message to send to parents, to the children when they are sufficiently old enough to understand and to the community at large.
I can't help wondering what will happen to some of these children. Their grandparents are more like parents to many of them. Their parents are the people they see briefly - and the people who are already indicating that they have no intention of doing what their parents do for them.
Most of these children will never get to really know a Senior Cat. I think they need one.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Diversity in children's books

has been under discussion in a number of places recently - largely because of some comments made by the current UK Children's Laureate, Malorie Blackman.
She made the comment in a tweet that the lack of diversity in children's books means "some of our children believe they can't be in stories. It was followed up by a comment from Roopa Farooki, "We find ourselves in fiction."
We find other people too - or we should.
I tried thinking back to the books I read as a child. Someone said "yes, mostly white and middle class I suppose".
Actually, no. I remember books with working class characters - Eve Garnett's "The family from One End Street" stands out. So does Blue Willow by Doris Gates and Lois Lenski's Judy's Journey. The Road to Agra by Aimee Sommerfelt was another.
And there were Australian books by Nan Chauncy, Hesba Brinsmead, Ivan Southall, Colin Thiele and Eleanor Spence. Working class characters appear in books by all these writers and many other writers as well - and they appear as themselves, as a natural part of the story.
Perhaps there was a point where we forgot about these books. They went out of print. People started to write about other things - about "issues" rather than the characters.
A refugee I know who was used, in part, as the basis of a character in a book which has been published told me, "(the author) thinks it is right but it wasn't like that at all". The book was praised as "realistic" - by white, middle class people. What would they know?
It is the same with disability. There are many more books about disability than there are about race, religion or nationality. Far too many of them are sentimental tripe - all too often with the character miraculously recovering. Perhaps that is why they get published so often when books about race, religion and nationality don't get published as often.
You can't "recover" from race, religion, nationality or most disabilities. Perhaps it is time to celebrate these things instead.

Friday, 12 September 2014

There is a new railway

station associated with the Showground. It replaces another station on the other side of a major highway. That station was inaccessible for many people. There were only steep stairs to the platforms.
This station has three platforms - three because the line I use is a single track. It is a single track due to the lack of forethought by past governments and the unwillingness to spend money by the present one.
I had not tried to use the station until yesterday but I decided it would be wise to investigate it while they were plenty of people around. If something went wrong then there would be someone to help.
Access should be good but there are some issues. Yes, there are stairs again. If you are able to use stairs then access is probably fine. The stairs are steep so elderly people, people in wheelchairs, parents with baby buggies and cats on tricycles need to use the lift. Oh yes, the lift is quite a good size and I can fit the tricycle in there along with another five or so adults or a few more children. They had to put up a paper sign telling people to push the button which says "go". Right.
We went up. There is a covered walkway here - over the part which crosses the lines. That's fine. Then there is a long u-shaped ramp which goes to ground level. No riding down that.
I eyed off the sign - and I broke the rule. Safety comes first. I rode at less than walking speed and right to one side - behind the father with the baby buggy.
The railway man at the bottom just nodded at me. He is only there on a temporary basis for the Show.
I went from there, as an experiment, a considerable distance up two side streets to see my friend in the nursing home. I needed to deliver some documents to her. She was dozing in bed. There have been issues with pain relief and oxygen delivery in the past day or so. I did not stay long.
I thought about it as I prowled back to my pedals. Yes, I would try the journey back by train as well. It would take about the same amount of time as pedalling if I had the time of the train correct.
I pedalled up the ramp on my return. The man at the bottom actually waved me up saying, "Just take it slowly."
I did and then it was into the lift and down to the platform again.
Yes, it's fine but I am still wary. If there were people around it would not bother me but the station will not be well used in between events at the Showground.
I have visions of being stuck in the lift or the lift being out of action. I have visions of spending the night there.
Is this foolish of me? Did anyone think it might be nice to put in proper emergency access - or was it considered to be "too expensive"?

Thursday, 11 September 2014

There were a lot of people

at the Showground yesterday. I am not fond of crowds, especially not the sort of crowds intent on looking at things rather than where they are going. I dislike being at risk of being knocked over or having my rear paws trodden on or run over.
But, I had promised to be there. I pedalled off and went through the back streets. They are always interesting. Watching other people leave for work is interesting - so much grim determination to get the day over and done with is rather alarming.
There is supposed to be a new bicycle rack in the car parking area I needed to use. I asked the man at the little sentry box. He smiled and shook his head and told me, "No, you put that one up there - where I can keep an eye on it."
He indicated a railing just behind the sentry box. Very nice! I was not arguing with that. (I later discovered the bicycle rack a considerable distance away.)
And then, before I had reached the area I was working in for the day, I met three people I knew - all separately.
"Gidday Cat!", "Hi Cat!" "Hello Cat, what ya' doin' here?" Yes, it is a small city.
The entrance I used is the one closest to the area I was working in but you need to go through part of Sideshow Alley. I avoided the bubble blowing machine but I must admit great soapy rainbow bubbles are rather fun!
Inside the big hall - and it is very big - I met two more people I know by sight. One person is working there all week.
"Very quiet yesterday Cat. Today should be much busier."
Right. This is the business end of town, mattresses, beds, chairs, spa baths, felt hats, t-shirts, coffee machines and more.
And on into the atrium.
The quilts look good. I have a sort of love-puzzlement relationship with quilts. I can see no point in cutting up fabric just to sew it together again but I do admire the end results. I can appreciate the hours of work and skill that goes into making them. I do not understand making these things just to fold them away into drawers. If I made one I would want it to be used.
I put the knitting out and prowl around the space to make sure I know what is where. I didn't help to put these up. It requires men on ladders to lift some of them.
Some women who belong to an "egg artistry" group arrive. They settle themselves at a table and begin work. I understand that even less than the business of quilt making. At least quilts can be used.
My friend turns up a little later than expected. She looks harassed. The train she intended to catch was running late and it was over-crowded so she, sensibly, waited. We knit. We watch people coming into the area. No, this is a no food or drink area. You may not come in with four children all eating. Yes, that was made by a group. That one over there was made by a group too - yes, young people. The pattern on these? It's a pre-war pattern from the old Chronicle newspaper.  We explain. We put on white gloves and lift them so that quilting enthusiasts can "see the other side".
My friend shows someone a knitting technique. I take off the vest I am wearing so that someone can have a "proper" look at it.
The Convenor for the area arrives after her morning brunch meeting with the other convenors. We talk about next year's quilt challenge and what alterations might be made to the knitting section.
Next year? Oh yes, there will be a next year - or so she tells me. You will be available?
Mm - I suppose I might be. A lot can happen in a year. I hope the Show is there.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

There is not a lot of time

this morning. I have answered the urgent e-mails, advised people I will be away from the computer for the day, made breakfast and the beds, put the second load of washing in and hung the first on the line. I have put the Senior Cat's lunch in the oven so that he only needs to turn the oven on - and packed myself a cut lunch. Right.
I wonder how mothers do all this every morning and still get to work on time.
It takes a certain amount of organisation. I don't do all this in quite so much of a rush each day...although I sometimes need to do more or leave earlier I am usually back in time to do lunch or something else will balance things out.
The Senior Cat has just said, "Remember those weekly charts on the 'fridge - the ones your mother used to make?"
Oh yes. There they were - Sunday to Saturday along the top and the jobs to be done down one side - dishes, setting the table, taking out the rubbish, sweeping the floor, helping with the meal or the laundry and so on. Every Saturday evening a new one would appear, rapidly filled out by our mother with just our initial.
Any suggestion that the distribution was "not fair" was likely to ensure that, the following week, it was most definitely not fair.  It did not stop us grumbling of course but, for the most part, we did not let our mother hear us. If something really was unfair then my brother and I would quietly help each other out knowing that the favour would be returned. I suppose our mother knew about this but she never mentioned it.
Despite all that I did not learn a lot from her. It was my paternal grandmother who taught me the housekeeping skills - from how to sweep the floor to how to sort the laundry to anything else you care to name. I suppose our mother must have taught us some things but I cannot remember her doing it. Perhaps it was just done by example? She was a teacher - but not of her own children at home.
Now I am off to "mind the quilts" for the day - part of my "steward" duties at the show. I will have the company of a friend who is knowledgeable about the quilts and who will do an excellent job of answering questions.
It is always rather interesting to deal with the public when they are there to enjoy themselves.
And I have done the things that most needed to be done today - even written a blog post. Mm... perhaps I should have some drafts in reserve? Now, that would be organised!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

We had a referendum

here Downunder. It is a topical issue given that the Scots are going to have one next week.  It was some years ago now and it was over the issue of whether the place should "become a republic". Fortunately it failed but the movement still exists and needs to be watched. It is not, as republicans would have use believe, about "independence" but about "power". Those who want power should never be given power. Unfortunately they tend to get it.
In order to pass a referendum needs to get a majority of the votes in a majority of the states. Most referenda fail. (The one on a republic did not get a majority of the votes in any of the states - although one state came close.)
Although the date is not yet decided there is another referendum on the horizon. This one is to add recognition of indigenous Australians to the preamble of the Constitution.
On the surface this sounds like a good idea. We would be acknowledging that Australia was inhabited before white settlement.
It seems like such a good idea that, to date, there has been no attempt to provide an official "no" case. A "no" case has to be provided but the government, with the support of the other parties, is in no hurry to provide one. We are effectively being told that if we vote "no" then we are being racist and that the only way to vote is "yes".
I don't like it. Although I rarely rebel I do not like being told what to do. I like to make up my own mind.
In this case I also hope I managed to learn enough constitutional law to know that this is not a simple matter. Putting something like that into the preamble of our constitution has constitutional implications, particularly for sec. 25 (disqualification on the basis of race - never used) and sec. 51 (allows laws on the basis of race - has been used). It has the potential for division rather than cohesion. It has the potential to do more harm than good. It could lead to the need for change to other parts of the constitution - without any guarantee of success. We would need to do that in order to ensure that indigenous Australians were not discriminated against on the basis of race.
Someone thought this was a good idea. Perhaps they can convince me but, at present, I am worried the unintended consequences might do more harm than good.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The 175th

Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society Show is currently on. Oh yes, they are making a fuss about it this time. After all, the Show is older than the state itself. Mm.
Middle Cat is taking the Senior Cat tomorrow. We decided that it would be safer if he did not go alone. People at the show tend not to watch where they are going. They are too busy looking at things. I avoid such crowds and it is time the Senior Cat did too - unless someone is with him. I think they will enjoy themselves.
I can remember going to the Show as a child. It was a big day out, a very big day out. We would go and visit the animals. My parents would talk to people they knew in the farming communities they had taught in while we children waited impatiently to go on to the next attraction. There was the smell of hay and manure and the lanolin in the wool in the wool-classing shed. You moved on to the smell of frying onions and fairy floss as you passed Sideshow alley. We were not permitted to visit that area until the very end of the day.
We would move on instead to the dogs - my sisters both wanted a dog and would pat any dog they were allowed to touch. Then there would be the cats. They always upset me. I hate seeing animals in cages. We avoided the birds for that reason and went on past the farm machinery - all new and shiny yellow and green. We would, of course, have to bang our hands on the empty water tanks!
We would eat lunch, brought from home, on the lawn near the oval so that my sisters could watch the horses and the cows being judged or the men doing the wood-chopping. Right around us people would be consuming pies, pasties, sausage rolls, hot dogs and other delights but we knew better than to even suggest we ate such things. We knew that, if we behaved sufficiently well, there was a food treat coming up.
Lunch consumed we were impatient to be off again to see the flower displays and look at the art and craft. The Senior Cat and my mother would check the names on the craftwork to see who at the school had been given a merit certificate.
And then, at the end of the afternoon there would be three important things to do. First, we would visit the broadcasting centre where "Mac" and "Jimmy" and others would be talking to the "Argonauts". My brother and I were "Argonauts". It was an ABC radio programme for children. Oh yes, they were pleased to see us! (They must have been good actors.)
Then we would go to Sideshow Alley - one ride each. I never wanted one after my first couple of tries on a horse which went up and down as well as around and around. They made me feel ill. My siblings would have their rides though.
The last item for the day though was to go to "the special ice cream place". This was a stand advertising ice cream that, in those days, was only available in a small town in the north of the state. They sold not only vanilla but "honey" flavoured ice-cream. It was always crowded but we would wait (im)patiently for our single scoop in a cone.
Then we would consume it slowly, very slowly. We would watch people and listen to the magical sounds of Sideshow Alley and, in the distance, the cows and the man at the oval.
Then it would be on to the train to whichever set of grandparents we were staying with. My youngest sister would be asleep before the next station.
It was a grand day out.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

I was given a tiny

"thank you" gift the other day. It is a very small "pillow", no more than 3cms square. It has been exquisitely well embroidered. There is even a tiny kangaroo on one side.
It came from one of the organisers of the OIDFA Lace Conference 2014 and I appreciate her thoughtfulness.
But, I wonder what one does with such things. Remember? I cleared out the china cabinet. I got rid of things - or so I thought.
The Middle Cat did turn up yesterday morning. She brought some boxes with her. She failed to take anything away but we did pack some things into boxes. My nephew will, she informed me, have to carry them out to the car. Right. 
I may add some more things to the collection. There are things stored in "the shed". 
Now you need to understand that "the shed" is not "the workshop".  "The workshop" is sacred. It contains timber and tools and screws, nails, nuts, bolts, timber, machinery, racks with - did I mention timber? It is the Senior Cat's space.
"The shed" is where things get put. The Senior Cat put it up with the idea that it would store things not wanted in the house and "tidy the place up a bit". Of course that did not work. He rudely refers to it as "the wool shed" and tells people I store my yarn stash out there. I don't. There is one, well sealed box of yarn out there ready to be used for blanket squares and another of blanket squares ready for the next two blankets to be made and raffled off for charity.  What else is there? There's the very heavy "stoneware" dinner set that was given to my mother years ago and another gifted dinner set that can't be used in a microwave. What is more we don't like either of them. We prefer our perfectly ordinary cheap Blue Willow pattern set thanks very much. There are books and magazines and photo albums and old videos and more books. There is a box of spare tricycle pieces.
And then there is the Senior Cat's conjuring apparatus. He doesn't use it any more but he can't quite bring himself to give it away - yet. He says he will "think about it". There is his "sound system" which does get used from time to time - people come and borrow it. There are more books. There is the Senior Cat's "technical Lego" which, having solved the seven or eight problems for which it was bought, he no longer needs but "might be useful again one day". There are some boxed games and jigsaw puzzles which he also keeps on the grounds they "might be useful".
So, where do I put the little pillow? Where does it belong? Do I keep it? What do I keep it for? It was a lovely gesture but what do I do with it?
We have "stuff". We have too much "stuff". I am going to have to do some more clearing out.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The floor is still littered with

the contents of the china cabinet. Remember? I cleared it out some weeks ago. The Middle Cat was supposed to come and collect the rest two weeks ago. She has not got around to it. I threatened to put it, in small quantities, in the tricycle basket and take it off to the local charity shop.
No! Don't do that! I will do it. Just give me some time to get some boxes.
Now the Middle Cat informs me that she will be here this morning. I will  believe this when it happens.
A neighbour came in from across the road yesterday. The Senior Cat asked him if he would like to take anything. He laughed and then, looking more serious, said, "Actually I could do with a mug if you really want to get rid of something."
He has taken a mug. I had put it on the pile because it was one the Middle Cat used to use quite frequently. I had thought she might like to have it again.
I said nothing. I doubt the Middle Cat would even be aware of it but, if she is, then she should have been faster.
I had put other things to one side. There are other mugs and plates made by my late uncle. They are not good examples of the potter's art. He was learning new techniques and experimenting in those days. He gave them to my mother because they could be used - but not, he said, for guests. The Senior Cat does not want to keep them. He takes the sugar for his tea from a bowl made by his brother. It is enough for him. I am not even sure he likes the bowl but he continues to use it.
I wondered about that and some other ugly things - a particularly hideous hand-painted pink and gold plate is just one item and a politically incorrect plate with a naked indigenous child is another. We kept them for years. They were given to us. People might be upset if we passed them on. I hate upsetting people.
Our friend Polly is coming this afternoon. She has, she tells me, more yarn for me.
"Now Cat," she tells me, "I don't expect you can use it but pass it on to anyone who might - and tell them they don't have to use it either. Someone will."
It's an entirely sensible attitude. It makes me feel much better about accepting it. I wish I could feel that way about all unwanted things.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Government insanity has

apparently prevailed again. There has been a law in this state that has required older people to undergo an annual medical check with respect to their fitness to hold a driving licence. It has been a pretty basic thing along the lines of "Are you still breathing?" and "Can you read this line on the chart?" (A little more than that perhaps but not much.)
It got all older people who have a licence to the doctor at least once a year. Any serious deterioration in their ability to drive should have been picked up. Who knows what other issues might also have been picked up?
I know doctors did not like doing these tests. Nobody wants to tell an older person "You aren't fit to drive your beloved car anymore. I am taking away your mobility and freedom."
But driving a car is a privilege and a responsibility. It is not, as many people seem to believe, a right.
I have never had a licence to drive a car. Yes, I would like to have one. It would be very convenient. It would be lovely to be able to go out at night by just getting into a car and driving off. It would be lovely not having to pedal off in all weathers just we can eat. I know I don't have the necessary visual-perceptual skills.
I have also mentioned elsewhere that some years ago the Senior Cat had the good sense to decide it was time to hand his licence in. Not everyone does that.
So, why has the government decided to do away with the medical tests and rely on people making the decision for themselves? It is madness. The statistics now show that the older age group is involved in more fatal accidents than other generations. It used not to be that way but we have an ageing population. Their cars tend to be older too - and not as safe. Older people do not have the same reaction times.
We have friends who live in the hills behind us. In order to come into the city they need to come down via "the freeway". It is, as the name suggests, designed for fast travel. Our friends used to handle this with ease but this year one of them had several very small strokes. He appears to be okay to the general observer but he is no longer fit to handle the speed and complexity of the freeway. Recently there was a very serious accident at the lower end of the freeway. Three people died. Another two are still in hospital, probably for months to come. The driver of the tanker which caused the accident was not an older man but someone told me, "That could have been Dad in his ute." (A "ute" is what Downunderites call an open back utility vehicle used by farmers and tradesmen.) And yes, someone in a vehicle like that could have caused a similar tragedy.
I wonder, when people insist on continuing to drive although not fit to do so, how they would feel if they were the cause of an accident. What if it took the life of a much younger person? How would their families feel?
There is a family not far from here whose son was responsible for injuring a mate. He was driving. He did not survive. His mate was a passenger. His mate is now a "younger person" in a nursing home. He is not yet forty and he will be there for the rest of his life dependent on other people for everything. His parents died in another road accident so this family has, rightly, taken over. He is a constant reminder of their son's death and their son's stupidity in speeding. It has affected the entire family and will continue to do so for years.
But it is not just younger people who leave such legacies. It is older people too. If they don't know when to hand their licence in they could leave the same sort of unwanted legacy for their children.
To do away with even that minimal medical check seems like madness. I don't know what was behind the decision but it would seem like a moment of insanity. Can anyone think of a better explanation?

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The debate about independence for Scotland

is one I am following with interest. I have been, and will be, careful not to express an opinion about it - for two reasons. One is that I know people on both sides of the debate and do not wish to upset them. The other is that it really is not my business in the sense that I do not have a vote in the referendum.
That said, my ancestors were Scots. What is more most of them were Gaelic speaking Scots from the north. My extended clan tree includes crofters, sailors, dominies (teachers), engineers, shopkeepers, doctors and lawyers.
I wonder what these people, if they were still alive, would make of the present debate?
My paternal great-grandparents spoke Gaelic but they also spoke English. My great-grandfather was a sailor but also a marine cartographer. Where he trained to do the latter is a mystery. He may even have been self-taught. His maps were certainly accurate. They were, until computerisation took place, the basis for all other maps of a large area of the state. I wonder what a man who needed to be so concerned with accuracy would have thought of the arguments being put forward?
My great-grandmother was, from all accounts, an untrained but able social worker of sorts. She was also something of an entrepreneur and a business woman. How would she have reacted to the notion of "independence"?
Of course, even if the vote is "yes" Scotland will not really be independent. No country is independent. All countries depend on other countries. Even North Korea, possibly the most isolated country in the world, depends on other countries - particularly China.
There is apparently some evidence to suggest that there is a divide in the debate between those who are Scots-born and those who are incomers. If so, that would not surprise me. It does make me wonder what those of Scottish ancestry abroad would think of the debate and which way they would vote.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Yesterday's newspaper carried

a timely story for us. There was news that the state government plans to shut down the Guardianship Board in favour of a "one-stop-shop". They claim it will make things easier for people who come under the jurisdiction of the Guardianship Board. It won't. It is a move designed to save money.
The Guardianship Board is a tribunal. It consists of a psychiatrist, a lawyer and a member of the general public. The latter is usually someone with some knowledge of the needs of those who have been placed under guardianship.
The man I was speaking of yesterday would have been under the care of the Guardianship Board. They would have dealt with his needs on a routine basis and, unless anything unusual came up, they probably did not see his name at all. Someone in an office somewhere would have signed off on his needs.
But, he needed that board to watch out for him even if they did it indirectly. Without that he might have gone without his basic needs. Had we known of his existence my sister and I would have checked too - but we didn't know and it is too late now.
The idea that the Guardianship Board can be replaced with something else is simply wrong. It can't. People like this man will get lost in the system. They won't get the care they need or deserve. He was intellectually retarded and unable to care for himself. It is even worse for the mentally ill who have no family, no friends and no support network willing to take on the task of ensuring that what is supposed to happen does happen.
It is clear to me that the government officials who made this decision have no understanding of mental illness. They cannot comprehend the terror of existing in a world where there are "voices" in your head or where everything seems black and grey and trying to do anything to help yourself is impossible. Yes, it is impossible. People in this position cannot make considered decisions, if they can make decisions at all. They are ill. They are not lazy.
If this move goes ahead there will be more homeless people. There will be more suicides. We already have too many of these because people were moved "out into the community" and left to wander the streets without activity programmes during the day.
It costs money to care for people - and it is money we cannot afford not to spend. It is our moral duty to care

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Public Trustee

sent a letter here to my brother and I sent it on to him - and then forgot about it. I assumed it was something to do with his first wife. She died some time ago and my assumption was that the Public Trustee in this state had just caught up with that fact. Yes, it can take them years.
But it was not that at all. It was something much more unexpected. We need to go back some considerable time in the history of this family.
My maternal grandfather had a number of siblings. We had very little contact with them because my maternal grandmother was a very difficult woman who made having a relationship with anyone almost impossible. My maternal grandfather's family was also not close knit. His father had died when the children were young and his mother, unlike my paternal grandmother, was apparently not a letter writer.
We rarely saw our maternal great-aunts and great-uncles. One, great aunt whom I remember seeing twice, had one child. He was intellectually retarded. The claim was that a vaccination had made him that way. The truth was that he had been born that way - a fact told to me by another great-aunt years later on the death of her sister. The claim was used to try and prevent any of the children in the next generation being vaccinated against anything. Fortunately it did not succeed.
And I met the child. He was considerably older than me of course. I met him once at the home of his parents. He was there for the weekend from his home in an institution for the intellectually retarded. I was in my early teens and I remember him as being an overweight man who sat there rocking backwards and forwards holding a small toy car and making meaningless noises. We "played" together with the car while the adults talked. I hope he enjoyed it but I had no way of knowing.
Several years later I went with my grandfather to the institution he was living in. His mother was away. I assume my grandfather had some guardianship role because I can remember him signing a paper of some sort. We then took this "child" for a walk in the grounds and my grandfather gave him some chocolate.
I later taught in the school attached to the institution but I didn't see him again. My grandfather had died by then as had his sister and nobody at the institution seemed to know of his whereabouts. My mother, her brother and her cousins were apparently not interested. The adherence to "Christian Science" by some of the family did not help. Gradually, over the years, he was forgotten. 
And so we come to the letter. It was a sad thing. This man died in 2009. He died intestate. That should not have happened. Someone should have made provision for his death. It can be done. The Public Trustee's office was, after five years, beginning to catch up with this. He was probably buried or cremated without so much as a funeral service. There would have been no relatives there. He would have been a first cousin once removed from me and my siblings. We never knew him. I had assumed from something my mother had said that he had died not long after his own parents.
Now his "estate" is to be divided among his more distant family. The letter my brother received told him that the estate was small and not to expect a great deal.
We discussed this. That there should be anything surprises us. We did not and do not expect anything at all. There is only one thing to do in such a situation but even that is not going to relieve my conscience. We should have known. We should have visited. We should have given him some days out and seen that he was properly cared for.
I hope what's left will at least buy someone else with nobody who cares a walk in the park and a chocolate bar - and perhaps a little more than that.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The "Emergency Services Levy"

is another name for a tax which was introduced into this state in an attempt to get more revenue.
It is supposed to be our contribution to services like the Metropolitan Fire Service, the Country Fire Service, the State Emergency Service and the Marine Rescue Service as well as the state's Fire and Emergency Services Commission. The government told us, ever so nicely, that they were contributing to this to keep the cost down. (Yes, that's right - contributing with our taxpayer funds.) It also funds the rescue elements of the police service, the surf life saving service and the helicopter rescue service.
Our state government - which is run from a capital city which has been described as "Detroit with a festival" - is short of money. Our state is actually in serious financial trouble. So, among other things the government decided that it would no longer contribute to the Emergency Services Levy. We would have to pay for the entire cost. Weren't we already doing that? Apparently not - or not according to the government.
The money in the Emergency Services Levy can, by law, only be used to fund the Emergency Services mentioned above. What is more it only partially funds those. Our CFS is made up of many volunteers, so is the SES, marine rescue and the surf life saving service. Fund raising for these services is constantly going on.
Anyone who has ever needed to use any of these services will not doubt the value of them or the contribution the volunteers make. The vast majority of people do not object to contributing to ensuring those services continue and continue to be run well and safely.
But I think the government got the psychology wrong here. They have, for political purposes, tried to place the blame for the massive rise in fees (around 400%) on the Federal Government. It is actually an issue which has nothing to do with the Federal Government.  Of course many people are unaware of that so the strategy will, up to a point, work and work well. And yes, it will free up some money so it can be used elsewhere - on a project designed to shore up votes. 
But there is something more serious than that. By telling the taxpayer "we aren't contributing to this out of general revenue" they are sending a message that says, "we think so little of those who volunteer you can pay directly for the lot".
People who go out to fight fires risk their health and their lives. The people who volunteer for the emergency services are out in all weathers often doing very dangerous work. Like professional ambulance officers volunteer ambulance officers can find themselves handling a major emergency, especially in a rural area.
Oh yes, some people do it for the adrenalin rush but many - probably most - do it because helping others is something that is important to them. They do not want to see the hills behind me up in flames with nobody to fight the fire. They do not want to see a tree down on power lines or someone drown because a freak wave has turned a boat over. It matters.
So when the government tells us, however subtly, that volunteers do not matter it is not a good look. Volunteers do matter. We need them.