Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Senior Cat's i-pad

cover is looking a little worse for wear. I noted this last night when Youngest Nephew came to pick us up. He was home for the weekend to see his mother (Middle Cat) and we had been invited over for the evening meal.
"I want to know how to do something," the Senior Cat told Youngest Nephew. 
Youngest Nephew is good at this sort of thing. He is very computer literate and he is also a good teacher. He has an excellent command of language and he can adjust it to explain in terms that people understand. 
He also expressed no surprise that the Senior Cat would want to know how to do something. It will be when the Senior Cat shows no interest that we will start to be concerned. 
While they were talking Middle Cat, who was lying on the couch with a purring cat on top of her, consulted me about another problem. 
The husband of someone she knows has just had a neurological incident. He was in rehab when she was there. He's young. He's a doctor. He needs some help. 
His speech, one of his chief tools, went for a while. Some of it has returned.  He did get some immediate speech therapy but the sort that rehab can provide is not the sort of help he needs.
He is having problems seeing and processing what he sees. He cannot read - yet.
According to Middle Cat his attitude is positive.  He's working on his problems.
Middle Cat, as is her wont, dobbed me in to give some help. His wife may call me and I will help if I can. I'll help because he is trying to help himself.
I don't mind helping people who want to help themselves. It has always been that way in our extended clan. My paternal great-grandmother set the example and it has carried on down through the generations. 
I wonder sometimes whether her parents also set an example and whether it stretches back and back. I hadn't inquired what the Senior Cat wanted to know but it turned out to be something to do with helping someone else. 
I hope I can still be like that when I am as old as the Senior Cat.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

I pulled out the manuscript

yesterday and my main character gave me a stern look. It had been much too long.
I have not been working on this since Middle Cat went into hospital. She will, if all goes according to plan, be home today. That is nine weeks and four days in hospital. It was supposed to be a week plus two weeks "rehab". There is still more to go of course. It will be several months before she is prowling around in her usual manner. And yes, because she lives not too far from here, I will have to prowl backwards and forwards. It is going to take time. I still have to do other work but the writing needs to be done too.
I have written of course but I have not been able to write. Does that make sense?
I wrote blog posts. I dare not go back and read them. I assume - from the occasional comments - that people have been reading them. I have even written a couple of letters to the editor when people have stood menacingly in front of me in the supermarket and demanded that I do so. I sent off a submission of a completed manuscript. No, don't hold your breath. I know it's more than good enough but I am not sure the publishing world will think it is.
But, I have not written. For me, writing demands being able to bury yourself inside the characters. You need to know everything about them. That takes time and energy. All I have been able to do is keep putting down ideas. I have tried talking to the characters as I pedal out - fine if nobody wants to stop me and inquire after the Senior Cat or Middle Cat or nobody wants to tell me their woes or ask me to do something. Those things do rather stop conversation with characters.
In the middle of all the chaos of recent weeks and the anxiety of not knowing whether Middle Cat was going to make it I did plant some bulbs. This is something the Senior Cat would once have done. He  would have preferred to do it this time but, realistically, he cannot do it. He decided where they were going and I did it. 
In the past few days some of them have begun to climb slowly through the soil and make the slightest appearance on the surface. I can actually see, from my bedroom window, the green tips of the hyacinths the Senior Cat did plant in bowls and I know that further along there are the almost invisible beginnings of daffodils in the patch near the big rainwater tank. 
They will take time to grow. My characters will too but I know that, like the bulbs, they will surface and talk to me. 
I just need to keep them weeded. 

Friday, 29 May 2015

Move over Sepp Blatter

because I am coming to take your job. 
I know nothing about football or soccer or whatever you care to call it but I still think I could do a better job of it than you or any of those over-fed and over-paid people around you. Somewhere along the line you forgot that this game was supposed to be just that - a game.
Downunder put in a bid to host the World Cup under the previous government. I think it cost them about $45m to put the bid up and am I right in saying they got just one vote? Whatever, they didn't win and probably never had any chance of winning. It was an expensive publicity stunt for the government of the day and the money would have been better spent on buying soccer balls for the kids. 
The cost of putting in a bid should have had alarm bells ringing a long time ago. How much money does it really take to make a bid? Who's involved? Perhaps it is time to put a limit on the costs and the number of people involved? You don't like that? Why not?
Now, that great big fancy building you have in Switzerland...yes, that's the one I mean. You don't need it. I run a global project from home  - from a desk in the corner of the room I sleep in to be exact. I am sure that you can manage on less - after all, aren't the boys outside playing with a ball?
Oh and all those meetings around the conferencing? 
On site visits? Employ some back packers? They can send some pictures on their phones and i-pads in return for a couple of nights in a youth hostel. 
Sponsorship? Strictly to help those who actually need it, not to house someone's cats in a New York apartment all of their own. (The cats would prefer a place on a farm.) 
And that is just a start Herr Blatter. I am sure I can think of some other savings. Corruption? Any evidence of it and you will be banned for life.
You see Herr Blatter, this football/soccer thing - it's just a game. I'll come along and take over and sort this thing out. 
What am I charging? The basic wage plus the cheapest accommodation near the office will do nicely thank you. 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Same sex marriage

is back on the agenda here. Well, it never really went off the agenda but the Leader of the Opposition has used the vote in Ireland to make some political hay. He has put on notice his intention to introduce a private member's bill to legalise same-sex marriage. His move is political opportunism, nothing more and nothing less.  
There are already two other bills on the same issue awaiting the consideration of parliament. We didn't need a third. 
Some will consider it a political masterstroke. It will give gay and lesbian couples what they want and the issue will divide the current government which does not, at present, have a conscience vote on the issue. It will show the Leader of the Opposition to be - well, a leader.
It all sounds simple so I was surprised when a friend who is in a long term relationship with his partner said,
"I don't like being used in this way."
We have discussed the issue of marriage at length. As I have mentioned my cousin, who does not live here, is married to his partner. They have been together since university days - more than  thirty-five years ago. 
I am assuming that both these relationships are what people would call "stable". They appear to be happy. (I certainly hope so because I am very fond of my cousin's partner. He is one of the nicest people I know.)
But are they being "used"? The friend I was talking to feels the issue of same-sex marriage has become a political and divisive one. Legally recognised partnerships which would allow the same rights as married couples would, according to him, be enough for all but a minority of same-sex couples.  He acknowledges that the length and stability of his relationship is unusual among same sex couples. 
When I suggested that nobody was suggesting that people were being forced to marry if the law changed he said, "But there will be questions won't there? It will be, "When are you going to get married?" and "Don't you love him enough to get married?" - that sort of thing. There will be expectations."
I had not considered that. Perhaps there will be. My own view is that it is entirely the affair of each couple. If marriage becomes possible, as it probably will, then it is up to them and nobody else.
I wondered whether things like the "Gay and Lesbian Mardi-Gras" will remain and whether "coming out" will still be an issue if marriage becomes the law. 
He shrugged but then he said, "I wonder if the divorce courts are ready for the extra work too."
It's a gloomy view. I hope the future is more of a rainbow than that.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

On this day last year

the man we voted in as our local member of parliament defected. He stood beside the Premier of the state and said that he was no longer a member of the party that had worked so hard to get him into parliament. He was taking up a Ministry in order to support a weak government which had, by sheer good luck, managed to get not the most votes but the most seats. In doing so he talked about what was "best" for the state and that it was a move for "stable" government.
I have spoken about that elsewhere in this blog but his defection has had a personal impact on me. I am sure I am not the only one but I am one of the people now doing the job our elected member is supposed to be doing.
"Cat, I'm wondering if...."
"Oh Cat, I'm so pleased to see you because..."
"You're Cat aren't you and X said...."
"You're the person who writes the letters..."
"I hope you don't mind but..."
And so it goes on. In the past twelve months I have been approached numerous times by people looking for the sort of help they might normally get from a local member of parliament. 
I can't always give that help, nor should I have to. I have advised people of alternative sources of information and help and I have, on occasions, written letters for people to send themselves. Those letters will not have the same impact as a letter written by their local member of parliament.
The reason for all this has been two fold. One is that people no longer trust their local member of parliament. Even some of those who voted for another candidate and support the present government will not seek his help.   
The second reason is this. He is simply not available. He is supposed to be in his electorate office one afternoon a week. Theoretically you can make an appointment to see him. Realistically that is not possible. He has been on fourteen overseas trips in the last twelve months. He is rarely there. His electorate secretary is new. How she is coping I don't know. I have met her once. When I need a JP - as I sometimes do - I look elsewhere now. I know what would happen if I went in. It would be, "Cat, can you tell me...." and "Cat, how do I..." or " Cat, who do I..."
I did it for the previous girl when she was working for the previous member because he knew I had extensive local knowledge. He would come back to the office each evening he was in the state too.
The new girl admitted on the day I met her, "I hardly know what he looks like."
It's not representing the electorate. I know I am not the only person helping out. Perhaps someone could enlighten me though. What are we paying him for?

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Jen Campbell is one of my

my favourite humans. She wrote the "Weird things customers say in bookshops" - and if you have not read it then you should.
But it is the other "weird things" people say that was getting to Jen yesterday. She put some of them up on Twitter.
"Did your parents consider abortion?"
Who for?
"Would you consider yourself normal?"
Now what sort of question is that? 
"I was going to ask for this book to be gift wrapped but I'm guessing that's beyond your physical capabilities."
Do you worry that it'll be difficult for someone to fall in love with you?"
"Do you think you did something bad in a previous life?"
Previous life?
Those are my answers - not Jen's. She has dealt with questions about her EEC syndrome in her own way. She is more than capable of handling them but, like me, she gets tired of idiots. 
I have had the question about whether I consider myself normal.
Yes thank you I am normal and no of course I'm not. Nobody is normal. We're all different. Difference makes the world interesting. It is essential to the functioning of the world.
People with disabilities are expected to be something other humans are not expected to be. We are expected to be always polite, always good tempered, always friendly, kind, and grateful. We are expected to "set a good example" and accept help whether we need it or not but never to ask for help either.
There was an article in the Guardian children's books section recently. It was by a teenage book blogger who just happens to be in a wheelchair. She bemoaned the fact that there are almost no books which include characters who have a disability. By this I understood her to mean books which were not "issues" books but books about other things in which one or more of the characters happens to have a disability - just as they might in real life.
I agree with her. It doesn't happen often. Far too often the book is an "issue" book or the main character has a disability and there is a miraculous cure or the disability is treated in an otherwise completely unrealistic fashion. 
"It's what people expect," I was told by someone who should have known better than to say it to me. I am not interested in what people "expect". Sometimes they need  the unexpected. 
Good books do give you the unexpected. Good books give you something new to think about or a new way of thinking about something - or even both. Good books won't tell you that people with disabilities are always polite, always grateful, always a genius, always something we are not.
We just happen to be human. The important thing is to try and be a good human. 

Monday, 25 May 2015

We were unexpectedly

invited to afternoon tea yesterday. Former neighbours invited us. When they lived here we would feed their dog and cat and water the garden if they were away for a weekend. They returned the favours with other help. We talked occasionally and met her parents, his brother and so on. Even the children's birthday parties did not disrupt the street. We still miss them.
They have not moved far. They have moved into a new and much more modern house. The kitchen in it has been designed for her work as a cook providing a number of local businesses with all sorts of delicacies. 
Oh yes, going to afternoon tea there is a treat! It was simple but very pleasant indeed.
But, as we were talking, we both agreed that something has happened to morning coffee and afternoon tea. It doesn't often happen in the same way - at least, it doesn't often happen among her generation or mine. Perhaps older people still do it?
You know what I mean don't you? You set the table properly with matching plates and cups and saucers - never mugs. You make "proper" coffee - not instant. You make tea in a teapot - with loose tea and not tea bags. You make scones and cake and put out some home-made biscuits. The milk comes in a jug and the sugar has a spoon all to itself.
The Senior Cat likes a cup and saucer - he has milk and sugar in his tea and it gives him somewhere to put his teaspoon. He likes loose tea in his little pot. It's easy enough. I don't mind.
But the milk comes in the "crystal"(plastic) milk jug in the normal way. We use mugs and the biscuits, if we eat them at all, come from the supermarket. That all seems pretty normal in the houses I have been in over the years.
And people go "out for coffee". They meet friends in a local cafe and they drink coffee and eat cakes or biscuits with fancy names.
Our erstwhile neighbour saw this happening and she has found outlets for a small range of home made goodies. They sell. The prices still shock her and, as she says, she and I would never pay those prices for a biscuit or a piece of cake. But, some people do.
Somebody else boils the water, makes the fancy coffee, serves it and does the washing up. Oh yes, it is nice.
But, there is something missing from it all. It is not the same. 
As we were leaving I was given a cake recipe she had been talking about. I almost never bake cake. We simply don't eat it but she would like me to try this one. I must.
Then I can invite someone to proper afternoon tea.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Is this Eurovision

thing actually important? 
There has been an even bigger fuss about it in Downunder this year. The reason for this is that Downunder, despite not being part of Europe, had an entrant in it. Please don't ask me how Downunder suddenly became part of Eurovision. I don't know. I suspect that (a) money and (b) (media) politics were part of it. 
I had actually heard of Guy Sebastian. For a cat with no interest in "pop" music this  is not the achievement it would appear to be. You see Guy Sebastian originally came from my part of Downunder.  
At the time he made his "debut" on the national stage he was a member of a charismatic, fundamentalist church on the other side of the city. On Sundays they attracted large crowds of young people for what amounted to a free rock/pop concert. Yes, the "message" was there too but the music is, I suspect, what brought many of them in. It would be interesting to know how many of them still go to church - or whether they have been replaced by other young people.  Here's hoping that, even if they no longer go to church, some of the good in the message that came with the music has stayed with them.
But, I digress. Guy Sebastian was part of that group. There was/is a television show called "Australian Idol". I don't know much about it except that people vote in it. 
Before that happens however there are auditions. I do know about these because, the year Guy Sebastian entered, my nephews did as well. It was the first year of the event. They went along to the auditions for the experience, to find out what they could learn and to see if they get a song on air. They achieved all these things.  It was as far as they went.
I happened to meet one of the judges a couple of years later. I had no idea who he was but he made a point of seeking me out at another function and introducing himself. 
"I just want you to know," he told me, "that your nephews are very, very good. They were better than the winner but we thought they were too young."
Then he asked me, "Would you mind telling me what they are doing now?"
I told him they were both at university but they were still doing gigs. He nodded and said, "That's good. It means we made the right decision."
Yes, it was the right decision. My nephews would not have had the same voting power behind them. Guy Sebastian had a massive support group who mobilised even more support. I assume he also has talent but I don't presume to understand his sort of music - or that of my nephews. Those contests are about politics and people and being able to market yourself and gain the support. They may require some talent but they are not - as far as I can see  - about talent.
I am also glad for other reasons. We now have two caring, professional, and personable young men in the family. If they lived in the same state they would still do gigs together and give the money to charity. They won't make millions. Guy Sebastian might but I think my nephews will be more satisfied with their current careers.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

I have just finished making

a vest. It has been knitted out of yarn left me by a friend. When she died she asked that her "stash" be given to me.
She was not the sort of person to acquire vast quantities of anything but yes, like most knitters, she had more than she had used or was likely to use. What she did get was often beautiful.
I gave some of it to others. I gave it to friends who knit who would appreciate what they were going to use. I have seen almost all of it knitted up and I know it would give her pleasure to see how it has been used.
And I have used some of it myself. There was some Japanese yarn there. Much of the "Noro" yarn is coveted by knitters. It is a yarn company whose products I have mixed feelings about.
Much of their yarn contains silk. I always feel guilty about the process of making silk fibre. I remember trying to care for silkworms as a child. There was always that anxious hunt for mulberry leaves. I could never have tried to make the thread.
But, being Japanese, silk is often used. That's understandable. 
Perhaps that is why there are often knots in their balls and skeins. I don't know. This may not concern Japanese knitters. It does bother Western ones. There are frequent complaints about knots on knitting pages. 
Then there is the type of yarn. Many of the varieties are "bulky" or "chunky". I am certain people look at a pattern and think, "That will be quick to make."
Perhaps it is for some people but I do not find knitting at the tension (or gauge as they say in North America) of 3 or 4 stitches to an inch particularly easy or satisfying. Some of the other yarns are textured  or loosely plied. Some of them are single ply and that twists awkwardly as you knit. Oh yes, problems.
The end result though can often be interesting. It can feel good. I don't know how well the garments wear. I suspect there may be problems. It is clear that these are not intended to be the sort of hardworking and everyday garment that one wears while doing the gardening. They are fashion items. 
A visitor saw the vest when it was nearly done. She is not a knitter and she asked me, "How did you get the colours to go like that?"
I explained that   this was the way the yarn was dyed. It is dyed in long, long stretches of colour. It can produce a striped effect. Admittedly I had juggled the balls of yarn so that the two fronts "match". The colours this time went from almost black through to pale blue and pale green. There is brown, darker green and darker blue there as well. 
It all sounds strange but perhaps one of the things that interests me most about the yarn I have just used is that mix of colours. It is not a mix that I would have contemplated - but it works. There have been other mixes I have seen. Again, I would not contemplate them in the normal way but they do work. 
It is something I have been able to learn from using something new. I will write a pattern now and I will pass the vest on to my friend Prudence so that other people can try different colour combinations. 
I hope they learn as much as I did.

Friday, 22 May 2015

The "silence of churches"

was the topic of a piece by columnist Andrew Bolt in the Downunder media yesterday. I am waiting for some reactions to it.
Bolt is a controversial columnist and often stirs strong reactions. 
There was nothing in this morning's state paper. People were too busy complaining about the rise in the Emergency Services Levy - some  with some interesting mathematics attached.
But Bolt does not mind stirring the pot and there must surely be some reaction. Why don't the churches speak out more about the persecution of their fellow Christians?
The Senior Cat and I have discussed the question of why people don't go to church. It is an interesting one.
When I was a kitten many more people did go to church. I was baptised  into the Presbyterian church wearing the christening gown made by my great-grandmother. It was an "occasion" - not that I remember it. I do remember the subsequent christenings of my siblings and my cousins - all in the same christening gown. I suppose people who never went to church turned up for the occasion, just as they do even now. (The Senior Cat, who does still go to church, assures me this is the case.)
Perhaps things changed back in the sixties when the pubs were allowed to open on Sundays. Sport began to be played on Sundays. Some shops were allowed to open on Sundays. There were more families where both parents went to work so other things were done on Sundays. 
But does the declining church going population explain the silence? Because yes, at very least, the voice of the church is muted. 
I don't think it is the declining population - although that may have something to do with it. I think it is something different. 
I think the media has much to do with it. The very thing that should make it easy for churches to speak out about the things they should be speaking out about has effectively silenced them. 
Headlines about sexual abuse - a subject which is of the utmost seriousness - and corruption within some sections of the Christian community have tainted everyone. The good work being done by many has been ignored by the alleged and actual behaviour of a few. 
Yes, it's the way the media works. The good cannot be acknowledged along with the bad. If someone does speak out then  it is not going to make the sustained headlines that the alleged or actual vile misbehaviour of someone else will make. As Bolt pointed out sections of the media are not even going to acknowledge those doing the persecution and killings are targetting Christians. 
There is also a fear of offending Muslims. Will it lead to a terror attack? Remember the Charlie Hebdo affair - and more? That the vast majority of Muslims are ordinary people going about their ordinary business in exactly the same way as anyone  else is not a message the media finds convenient to portray.
So are the churches silent? My view is that they don't say nearly enough. Failing to speak out is surely like Peter denying Christ? 
Perhaps it is time for them to overcome their fear - the fear of retaliation, of legal action and abusive headlines - and speak out more. 
I doubt they will do it though - any more than I am likely to go to church.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Emergency Services Levy

has risen yet again. 
The state government is trotting out the tired excuse that the Federal Government "cuts" to health and education are the reason. It has used the same excuse to justify cuts to other services.
At the same time it has run an expensive "information" campaign telling us about this.
The reality is that there were no "cuts". There was actually an increase in funding. What happened was that the state did not get what the outgoing Federal government promised it would get - if it won the election. The state's treasurer was relying on that money. He shouldn't have done that. The election went to the other side.
The state was bankrupt before that. It is in a worse state now.
I will leave it at that.
The other question is, who should pay for the emergency services? It is not, as someone tried to suggest to me, a simple matter of  "user pays". You don't stop fighting a fire because it has reached the edge of the property or stop stacking sandbags half way down the street. If the tree falls next door but lands on your roof then you want some help don't you? And if your neighbour's fire sets off toxic fumes which bring on an asthma attack in your child as well as his then you want to be able to call an ambulance don't you?
So  yes, we pay an Emergency Services Levy. I don't object to the general idea of one. I do however object to the Treasurer lying about why it has been increased so much. 
It is of course politically expedient to lie about it. "Why not if I can get away with it" seems to be the order of the day. 
It costs money to prop up an unstable government. Our local MP is costing the government nearly $9m over four years. He's the fourteenth minister in a tiny state government. Yes, fourteenth. He has an electorate office - although he is only there about half a day a week. People don't use it very often. He has a fancy office in the CBD and the staff to match. He's not a member of the party in power but he will cost even more when he retires at the next election on his parliamentary pension at ministerial rate - something he is almost certain to do.
The money that one man is costing the government to do a job which could and should have been handled by others would be enough to negate the need for such a hefty rise. It is just a pity the next election is not until 2018. People will have forgotten by then - and you can be sure that they are not going to be reminded. 
There is no money in the bank. Reading the cat hairs tells me that the ESL is simply going to rise still further. 
I just hope we don't need to call on them because they are still underfunded.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

I shocked someone yesterday

by saying that the answer to the "refugee crisis" was not to allow everyone who wanted to come here simply to come. It isn't.
This woman holds a position of some power but she has a rather simplistic view of the world.
I asked her, "Where do you draw the line?"
Her answer was, "You don't care about refugees."
Well hold it right there. I do care about refugees. I care passionately about people who, if they return to the place they called "home", will be in genuine danger of persecution and death. 
Refugees are not migrants - or, if  they are "migrants" then they are unwilling migrants. They don't want to be in the situation they are in. Almost all of them would prefer to be going about their daily lives, earning a living, eating meals with their families, having their children go to school, being able to chat with friends, and much more. They would also like to be able to do it in safety. They would like to do it without facing anything more than the dangers everyone everywhere faces.
Migrants are people who want to move. Yes of course they are searching for a "better" life. I don't blame them in the slightest when they see others with more than themselves. It is natural to feel envy. Many of them come from places with appalling living conditions. 
It is those living conditions which have to change. Migration is not the answer. 
Those who try to migrate tend to be younger and fitter. Many of them are the more intelligent but poorly educated, or those who believe their skills will get them a good job even though they lack formal qualifications. 
Their own countries need those people. They need to be there to change their countries. We need to take more of them as students and give them the extra skills and training that will allow living conditions in their own countries to improve. Somehow we need to  help them be rid of the dictators and despots and religious masters who rule some of those countries. 
I don't know how we do that but I do believe that simply allowing people to migrate is not the answer.  Migrants are taking places refugees need. 
There will be refugees who can never go "home" but they should be accepted on the understanding that everyone is working towards a solution to the problems that sent them fleeing. There should be an understanding that, just as many of them want, they will be able to go home one day.  We need to ensure that they can use their time in their host country learning and/or maintaining the skills needed to rebuild their lives on their return.
But we aren't doing that sort of thing. We grudgingly allow migrants in and leave the refugees in camps and at sea. We say we can't interfere in the internal affairs of other countries while placing sanctions on them that hurt the poor. 
We allow some countries to do nothing and others to do little and yet others to do far more. 
I think my question about drawing a line is a valid one. There is no easy answer to it. It won't be a straight line but that doesn't mean the question should not be asked. We need to think about it so that those most in need are those who get the help. 
That is not what is happening right now. If you are Rohingya and out on the Andaman sea right now I could weep for you.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

North-South Link - faster, faster....

no traffic lights for a very long distance will make your journey faster and easier.
The Downunder city I live in is built along a narrow strip of coastal plain. It makes the city long and thin. People cover considerable distances to get to work each day. They move in and out of the CBD. Most public transport "interchanges" still take place in the CBD too. There are some in the outlying areas but they tend to relate to reaching transport that will get you to the CBD. 
Most people drive cars. Many families own more than one car.
We don't have a car. It makes us a little strange but the Senior Cat stopped driving some years ago. I never managed to learn. It would not be safe. 
Pedalling out in the rain I sometimes think it would be nice to be in a car. Waiting for public transport I think it would be nice. I long ago organised my life around taxis at night.
So the coverage in this morning's paper of the planned "link" between north and south with the idea of being able to travel a very long distance without encountering a traffic light did not impress me. Parts of this link have already been built. It will make the city's residents even more car dependent. 
There are other things wrong with it too. They still don't have the main railway line, the one which carries goods, in the right place. It still comes through the hills behind us. It runs next to the suburban line (a different gauge). The government has been warned many times about the need to change the route. It is simply unacceptable to have many wagons of dangerous goods travelling through bushfire prone country. It will take a disaster before they listen though - and they may not listen even then. 
But, people apparently need to get from north to south and from south to north - and they need to do it fast. 
There is a need for speed - or so they tell me. Oh yes, a few people might live at one end and work at the other. 
But could somebody please tell me what everyone else is going to do with all that extra time?

Monday, 18 May 2015

I submitted a manuscript

yesterday. No, I submitted the first three chapters yesterday. I hope I followed all the other instructions carefully. 
This scares me but I am trying again. I am not sure why I am doing it. Am I a masochist? 
I put the book aside for over a year. I put it aside because I submitted it elsewhere, to several "elsewheres" in fact, and received no response. 
"You need to think about this Cat," I told myself. I know that people can submit books "umpteen" times and more before they succeed. I know I may not succeed this time. 
Putting the book aside was not "giving up". It was wondering whether it was good enough . "Good enough" means so good that someone else would think it worthy of a wider audience.
I am not holding my breath. 
First of all it is, in one sense, an "old-fashioned" adventure story. You know the sort of thing I mean. The children are on their own (for part of it) and things happen. It is based on a true story so it is dangerous and deaths occur.
The second thing is that there is a child with a disability in the story. She is not the main character. I know putting such a character into a story is tricky. There are too many books where such characters do amazing things or have miraculous recoveries or have genius ratings on IQ tests. It doesn't happen here. She's intelligent but not a genius - and she also works hard to get her results. All the same I wonder if reading the first three chapters makes the adult reader wonder if she is one of "those" characters. There is nothing I can do about that. Children read it with different eyes. 
The third thing is that the book is not set in the twenty-first century but in the middle of the twentieth century. There is good reason for that. It allows distant communication to be poor. The book is set in two countries - half a world apart. Travel to and from then was not nearly as common as it is now. Letters were much more common than phone calls. But, doing that means it is almost historical fiction in the eyes of some people. They expect to see mobile phones and computers and more in any book. 
Of course other people may find many other things wrong with the book. It would have been good to have someone cast a professional eye over it and say "That is wrong. Cut this out. Put more in there. Take that scene away. Why did you do that? This is superfluous."
I'd like someone to professionally read it.
So, I am trying again. When I went back to my characters with, hopefully, a fresh eye I thought, "They are nice kids. I still like them the way I did when I wrote about them. They deserve to be introduced to the world."
After all, they told me what to write. I don't want to let them down.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Using the appropriate vocabulary

has been under discussion in our establishment of recent days. 
My nephew, Middle Cat's son, is a doctor. He has been keeping us informed about Middle Cat's progress. 
After talking to him a couple of days ago the Senior Cat said to me,
"You know, he sounds like a doctor when he talks about her."
Yes, he does. He switches to "professional".
But it goes further than that. If he is talking to me he uses the correct technical terms. When he talks to the Senior Cat he uses a slightly simpler vocabulary and he throws in an explanation here or there.
I don't think he is conscious of doing it. It is almost certainly an unconscious "Aunty Cat knows those words and my grandfather needs to be told like the intelligent relative of a patient".
If he judges people correctly then that is good. It means his communication skills are good.
Yesterday I drew someone a diagram to explain her knitting to her. My drawing skills are almost non-existent so this caused some amusement but it enabled her to understand why she was having a problem. 
There was also a very pleasant man at our knitting guild selling some knitting related woodwork. He had made something the Senior Cat wants to make and I told him this. I explained the problem the Senior Cat was having. My language must have suggested that I know the meanings of "chuck" and "tailstock" because he gave me a technical explanation of how he had solved the problem. Someone else standing next to me was looking bewildered but wanted to know how he had made the items so he explained again in quite different terms. When we moved away she said to me, "He'd be a good teacher." Yes, he probably would be.
Late in the afternoon I went to see a friend who has had a stroke. I had been asked to call in as she was distressed about something and, they said, had been "asking" for me. She can, with difficulty, get a few words out but nobody could work out what the problem was.
It wasn't easy. I had to ask a good many "yes" and "no" type questions. Eventually she was able to tell us that she  had heard the "death notices" read on the Radio for the Print Handicapped newspaper programme. The person who reads parts of the paper for the day only reads the names out and listeners can phone and ask for someone to tell them the details if they have nobody who can help. Of course my friend could not do this and she had heard a familiar name. When we had discovered what she wanted to know someone found a paper and yes, sadly, it was her friend. But now she was sad rather than distressed.
As I left one of the staff thanked me for coming in and said, "I was listening to the way you did it."
I am not nearly as expert as I would like to be but I hope she managed to learn something from listening.
We all use multiple means of communication of course. It is using it appropriately which matters. 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Maths, science, technology and Bill Shorten

made the news this week. Ah  yes, the importance of having students well educated in maths, science and technology. Ah yes, all students should be learning computer coding.
But Mr Shorten went a step further than that. He suggested that 100,000 students who choose to do maths, science and technology at university should be eligible for "free" degrees. Those who choose to do "arts" degrees on the other hand should have to pay.
It was enough to make this cat froth at the mouth in fury.
I agree the world needs students who are well educated in maths, science and technology. I also agree that all students should know about computer coding and have at least an elementary understanding of how to do it. 
But we also need students who are well educated in the art of communication and that means well educated in the arts. There is absolutely no point in being a maths genius if you cannot communicate your ideas to others. You won't be able to do research in science unless your mind is able to create possibilities and you won't be able to design the technological equipment you need unless you know something about art.
We cannot learn "all about everything" and the amount of knowledge has increased multiple-fold since my childhood. Even when I was going to school there was a strong tendency to prevent  the most able students from doing any art or craft subject but we did do English (it was compulsory) and at least one arts subject  if we were science stream or one science subject if we were arts stream. In the rural schools I attended - where the academic stream was aimed at boys and science - there were opportunities to do history, geography (then considered "arts"), and art or a craft. It was not because this was considered particularly valuable for the brighter students but because the availability of the teachers and the timetabling made it necessary.
My last rural school still managed to produce, among other professionals, a word renowned paediatric heart surgeon, two doctors, a dentist and an agricultural scientist who solved a serious problem for the state's farmers. Those were just the scientists in my year - and they all did English, history,  and one of woodwork, art, and sewing. There was no opportunity to do a foreign language or another arts subject might have been added to the list.
Now the body of knowledge is said to be too great for students to do those things. Is it really? Can we really afford not to teach these things to the brightest students? How can we expect a student to use language if they have never studied it?  How can we expect them to read scientific material with understanding if they have not been taught to comprehend what they read and assess it? How can we expect them to write up their work so others can understand it if they have only written dry "reports" as exercises? How can we expect them to draw a diagram if the only "drawing" they have ever done is on a computer screen in a lesson primarily designed to teach them computer code?
Can anyone convince me that the arts don't matter? Is Bill Shorten right? 
Or am I right in thinking we are in danger of losing  our cultural literacy to a view of the world that seems to say, "If you aren't the sort of scientist we want then you aren't worth anything"?

Friday, 15 May 2015

Johnny Depp's dogs

are making headlines. Johnny Depp's dogs are making headlines around the world. A couple of "cute little pooches" are in trouble - or the humans who believe they own them are in trouble. Should we be worried?
The problem is that they were brought on a trip to Downunder. They came in a private jet belonging to an actor. These globe-trotting pooches were not quarantined as is required by law.
I have two things to say about this. The first is that the dogs should not be travelling like this. No, I am sorry but you don't drag dogs around like this. The exception would be a guide dog for a visually impaired person. Those dogs are trained to travel. They are working dogs. Other working dogs may also need to travel from time to time but household pets, unless you are moving house, should remain at home or be boarded out in reputable kennels if you are travelling. 
I know there are people who will disagree with me but do "cute little pooches" really need to endure plane travel just so that they can be doted on by humans?
The second thing I have to say is that, while Depp's dogs may well be healthy, Downunder has very good reasons for its quarantine laws. As a country it is, aside from a couple of scares, rabies free. It is also free of some other nasty diseases which could potentially kill the cattle and dairy industries and - perhaps even worse - decimate the unique wild life. There is also the possibility that something unique to Downunder might get transported elsewhere. As a responsible global citizen Downunder does not want that to happen.
The question of whether Depp knew about the quarantine laws or not is immaterial. Someone in his party should have checked. That is the sort of thing he would have "aides" for and it means someone did not do the job they were being paid to do. 
It also means that someone in Customs Downunder was not doing their job - or did they also think "couple of cute little pooches belonging to well known actor let's not make a fuss"?
Whatever the story the pooches must go back to where they came from. Depp has to be fined - and heavily fined.
It has been marvellous publicity for Depp - publicity he didn't have to pay for. Most people are going to say "oh, he didn't know" and "all he wanted to do was have his dogs with him" but those things are no excuse.
So, pay up Mr Depp  - and a substantial donation to an animal charity at the same time perhaps?

Thursday, 14 May 2015

For those asking - T is safe in Nepal

but  he is exhausted. He was going to fly out on Sunday but his colleagues suggested he stay another week as there has been so much to do.  That means they need to cover for him as well.
He was outside when the second earthquake hit. It did not do a great deal more damage where he is. As he put it, "There's nothing left to fall down."
He  has to leave on Saturday whatever happens. The villagers know that. He spent the first few days dealing with severe injuries and then with a range of related problems that have, according to him, tested his own knowledge. He's seen the delivery of two healthy baby boys but lost another. He has lost patients he might have been able to save in a modern hospital with all the necessary equipment. He has operated without modern anaesthetics but with the help of the herbal medicines of the amchi.
Through all this he says the villagers are "stoic". They continue, as best they can, with their lives and their daily round of religious observances. The men are trying to rebuild some shelter before the monsoon season arrives. The women are trying to feed their families, care for the sick (and yes, the dying), and the very young.
The children have no school for now but they are helping the adults during the day and getting English lessons in the evenings from T's guide who has returned to help. English lessons may save them  if the tourists return.
What has moved T most is the small "gifts" the villagers bring him  - such as a cup of boiled hot water to drink when both water and fuel are in such short supply. When he prepares to walk out tomorrow he is going to leave behind a valley full of people trying to help themselves. 
He put it simply as, "It's going to be hard to say goodbye."

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

How do you stop someone from

worrying? Yes, I know I worry sometimes. I am possibly rather more anxious than most people I know. I also know that most people, if honest, will admit to worrying sometimes.
But, the Senior Cat is a world class worrier. I sometimes wonder how he has made it to 92 when so many things "could have" gone wrong or "might" happen. 
Middle Cat, who has given me her permission to say this and seemed to be making good progress at last, was taken back into intensive care two nights ago with very low blood pressure and an infection. My brother-in-law phoned to inform us of this. Fortunately I answered the phone and was able to inform the Senior Cat in an apparently calm and orderly fashion. I answered his questions. He said, "I feel sick."
Oh. He slept badly. He prowled the house yesterday. Normally he would be in the shed. (It was not fine enough to be in the garden.) 
Last night he phoned his nephew, son of Middle Cat and a doctor.
He was, as ever, kind and caring and said, "Don't worry. Mum's in the best possible place and they are doing all the right things."
Senior Cat sighed and, after he had put the phone down, sat there staring into space for a bit.
My good friend Holly - another doc - had already sent a reassuring e-mail which stopped my imagination running riot. I am not going to worry. I am going to take the attitude that there is nothing I can do to help on the medical side. I can be there for Middle Cat and Senior Cat. I can cook meals so my BIL eats in between work and hospital visits. 
But the Senior Cat is another matter. Middle Cat is his child. You never stop being a parent.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Oh right, Budget 2015?

The Federal Treasurer for Downunder brings down the Federal Budget for 2015 tonight.
We have already been told most of the contents. There are no great surprises there. Nor is there any surprise in the fact that the Senate - where the Opposition holds sway - intends to ensure that most of it will never be implemented. 
They will argue they have good reasons for not passing the measures. The biggest and best reason of course is that they would like to bring about a double dissolution and regain power. Will they succeed in doing that? I don't know. 
But there were some interesting letters in the state newspaper yesterday and today. They almost all raise questions about who should be getting the pension. 
Perhaps I am wrong but I think a better question is "why should people get a pension?" May I explain?
There has been an assumption that if you don't have enough to feed, clothe, and house yourself then you should be able to get help. It is what you paid your taxes for - or is it? 
Some of the letter writers recognised another problem. The problem of people who have spent as much as they could - perhaps even more than that. They don't have much left to show for it. They certainly don't have housing of their own or money in the bank. 
Someone else with an identical income and in identical circumstances who has spent their money differently is now, because they do own their own home and do have some money in the bank, expected to support the other person.
And of course they will end up doing this because, as a society, we cannot leave people starving and naked in the cold. But it does - or should - raise the question of why should some people be allowed to "double dip"? It leaves everyone worse off  in the end. 
This is a problem I struggle with. My impulse is to help someone obviously in need.  I also believe people should be able to make their own choices. The question, for me, has to be - is there a limit to those choices? Where does someone else step in and say, "No, you can't do that because other people have to pay for it"?
I don't know what the answer is.
All this has been of concern to me recently because someone asked me for help. He has, very generously, taken on the affairs of his elderly neighbour, a man with no family whatsoever. This man is now in his 80's. He has been living to the limit of his income and beyond for some years. He should have had a good income from his superannuation but commuted as much of it as he could and spent it on holidays and other luxury items. He is has been getting a part-pension for years - something he would not have needed if he had not commuted his superannuation.
"I don't think it's right," the person trying to help told me, "He used all that money to swan around the world and enjoy himself and then he puts his hand out to the taxpayer when he could have done one trip - or even two - but saved his super. He'd be better off and so would we."
I would be interested to know what readers of this post - if there are any - think. Is "why" an important question too?

Monday, 11 May 2015

The Repatriation General Hospital

is  under threat. I have written about this elsewhere and I will not repeat myself concerning the failure of the present state government to ignore the wishes of an overwhelming majority of  the people it is supposed to serve.
Yesterday however I had cause to visit the new building there. It was finished last August. Yes, they put a new building up even while they were deciding that the entire place should be closed.  (It reminds me of the week in which they repaved a street I was living in. They finished the job on a Tuesday and then dug the road up again on the Thursday to put in a new gas line.) 
Middle Cat is currently in the new building. It is a designated "rehabilitation" facility. The maximum stay is a fortnight and Middle Cat is hoping she will be fit enough to prowl home at the end of her stay. 
The facilities are lovely. It is, as they say, "light and airy". The colours are light. Each room has an ensuite. There is a social area, there is a gym and all the other things one might expect in a new rehabilitation facility. The place is full and there is always a waiting list - hence the fortnight stay restriction. 
And yes, they want to close that too. One of the staff told me that  the government considers it might make good aged care accommodation. Oh. Right.
We need aged care accommodation. We desperately need aged care accommodation. The population in this state has an ever increasing number of older people who will need accommodation outside their own homes. 
But we also need rehabilitation facilities. It makes sense to have them. It may stop some people needing aged care accommodation or it may mean they need it later rather than sooner. 
Somewhere there must be a very strange committee, the Committee of Foolish Decisions. It is the only obvious explanation for even considering that a gym full of intensive exercise machines could be used by the frail elderly.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Trying to explain the Australian electoral system

is probably impossible. Several people in Upover have left me messages asking, "How does it work?"
They were not happy with the "first past the post" system which saw the Conservatives re-elected. Their understandable question was, is the Downunder system any better?
The answer is "no". It is different but it is no better. It has other problems.
One of the biggest problems with politics Downunder is that there is a system of compulsory attendance at the ballot box. I know there are many people who believe that this is "democratic".  There is no requirement to actually vote. That would be impossible to enforce  but  you are supposed to "mark" the paper and put it in the proper box. I once saw a man take his papers - one for each house - and simply put them in the boxes. He did not vote. He was taken to one side and I often wonder what was said or done. 
Compelling people to attend the ballot box does not however make them "thinking" voters. I suspect the opposite is true. It makes them see voting as a chore. Part of this could be changed with more public education about the importance of voting - about "having a say".  I am however opposed to the idea of "compulsion". Attempting to compel people to do anything is bad psychology. People resent being told they "must" do anything. 
Add this to another problem with elections in Downunder, the iniquitous compulsory preference system and you have a potentially serious problem.  By "compulsory preference" I mean the system which requires you to mark each box with a number from "1" - your first choice - through 2,3, "x", that being the number of candidates. The compulsory preference system is wide open to abuse and it also compels the voter to vote - however distantly - for candidates whose policies they disagree with. 
If your first choice is a party to ban widgets and you strongly support this but all other parties want to retain widgets then why should you have to assist them if your candidate does not get in? Choosing to continue your preferences but having your vote declared invalid because you failed to do so  is another story. 
So, my opinion - for what it is worth (not much I know) is that whether to vote or not should be a matter for the individual to decide. It is not something people should be required to do but something they should be given every encouragement to do. And people should be required to vote only for candidates they feel are able to represent them and their views - and not further.
Downunder's system for the Senate in the federal parliament needs a major overhaul. It does not work the way the founding fathers intended - but that is another story. I know people grumble about the House of Lords in the UK but it may well be no less democratic than having someone enter on a vote of a little over 1% when others on votes of more than 11% fail to get a "quota". That has to change.
I thought of all this yesterday. The craft fair I was attending asked people to vote for various stalls, workshops, demonstrations etc. There were stall holders actively touting for support. Others did not bother. They clearly felt their product was good enough.
The friend I was working for is so well known and her products are of such a high standard, as are her classes, that we simply ignored the entire process.
After all, the constant question was "when are you coming back?"
(Not until next year.)

Saturday, 9 May 2015

SABLE anyone?

SABLE is an acronym. If you are a crafts person you will know what it means. For the rest of you it means "Stash Advancement Beyond Life Expectancy" or having more craft materials than you can possibly hope to use in your lifetime.
This is a "disease" that most crafty people suffer from in varying degrees. The Senior Cat has more timber than he will ever be able to use. I have more yarn than I am likely to use - but less than many people. I have been given a great deal of yarn and I have also passed a great deal of it on to other people.
I might add that serious bibliomaniacs also suffer from "BABLE" (book advancement beyond life expectancy),
Both SABLE and BABLE have been under discussion in the last couple of days. The reason for this has been my attendance at a craft fair where I have been helping a friend who has a yarn type stall. She sells a few books and some patterns (some of which are mine) and we also direct people looking for information about other subjects to another stall where there are books about all things crafty. 
There have been some interesting reactions to this. The young will often agree that they can go on line and search information out. Older people will say they can get their children to do the same thing or they say they will do it with help from their children.
But, whether older or younger, people want books. They tell us they want pictures and diagrams and the capacity to look and be inspired by books. Over and over again people say that looking at something on the screen is not the same..
I have to agree. I have an e-book which is about knitting. I looked carefully at it when I bought it. I thought it was going to be useful. The other day I realised that I really had not used the book. It just isn't convenient in e-book form.
I think craft books have an even greater future than before...and at the rate people were buying yarn and other craft related materials I think SABLE is at epidemic proportions.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Election results are trickling in

from the UK general election on one of the news feeds I follow. The results there are always more rapid than the results here Downunder because the system is different. 
There are always arguments for and against each system. First past the post is seen one way, preferential is seen another.
Downunder has compulsory preferential voting. If you do not mark all the boxes your first choice will not (normally) count. There are some exceptions to that rule but they are rare and often the subject of a court case in a tight election.
But, even if a case can be made for preferential voting, then compulsory preferential voting has to be wrong. Our  state newspaper has a front page article about our local MP this morning. I have written about him elsewhere. He is the man who, a few short weeks after being elected, announced that he is was effectively switching sides and taking up a Ministry in a government which was elected by a minority of the voters. (It won the greater number of seats - just -  due to an issue with electoral boundaries.) 
It was not a popular move. His approval rating is now down around 5% having plummeted still further because he has supported the closure of a hospital which also serves a special purpose for war veterans. As he is a former member of the SAS this has met with disbelief.
If he has the gall to stand again then how do people vote? They can of course preference him last but is that the point? Why should anyone who feels strongly about his defection be required to place him anywhere on the ballot paper?  This is said to be democratic. 
No. Being able to stand for election if you meet all the legal requirements is democratic. Being required to vote in a certain way is not democratic. It can lead to unintended results.
I don't envy the British today. There will, whatever the result, be recriminations and soul searching. There always is post a major election. I wonder how the home of my ancestors will vote and whether UKIP will actually get any seats but at least I know that someone will not have entered politics not because people voted for him or her but because they voted against someone else.
"Democracy" is a strange thing.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Whatever you may think of the Prime Minister

of Australia if you are also a journalist then you have a duty to get things right. 
There was a nasty little piece by Peter Hartcher, a Fairfax journalist well known for his dislike of the present Prime Minister, a couple of days ago. Yes, it has taken me a while to cool down enough to write this. And yes, it was nasty. 
It was nasty for two reasons. The first is that it was incorrect and the second is that it insulted other people as well.
The story, according to Mr Hartcher, is that the Prime Minister refused to meet the gay partner of the Australian Ambassador to France in Paris. That was incorrect but it was written in such a way as to try and suggest that the Prime Minister is anti-gay. 
Now it is well known that the Prime Minister, a devout Catholic, does not support the concept of "marriage" for same sex couples but is he anti-gay? I think it would be hard to say that. He has a gay sister and they have a very close relationship. He had a very close friend, now deceased, who was gay. He has a close friend who is gay and another who is transgender. He also counts the gay Ambassador to France among his friends and hosted a dinner for the man and his partner before  the Ambassador left to take up the appointment. 
Now there is also a "bible" of diplomatic protocol  used in Canberra. I know it exists. I have seen it. It was written by the Senior Cat's first cousin. It will have been updated in the intervening years but it makes clear that, unless the partner of the PM is travelling with him or her then then partner of the Ambassador does not attend the meeting that is being complained ab out. There is a good reason for this. The partners are expected to keep one another company while the PM and the Ambassador talk. There was no "refusal" to meet a gay partner here. It just was not an occasion on which any partner would have been invited. It is the way diplomatic protocol works. 
And, if you have any further doubts, the PM and the couple went out to dinner later - before the "story" broke. The PM, whatever the media likes to make of him, is a very courteous man. He would not have insulted anyone in that way.
So, why the story? Obviously it was intended to put the PM in a bad light - and it has not been rectified by the media which ran it - but it has also made matters awkward for the Ambassador and his partner and any other same sex couple in a similar position.
Peter Hartcher owes all those people an apology and the media cohort which supported him also owe an apology. 
My guess is that they won't be offering one - and that makes me angry.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Apparently I do know some Scots

and so I should. My ancestors were all Scots. 
Yesterday, while waiting for someone to respond to an e-mail - and knowing that I was going to get an almost immediate response - I did something I almost never do. I took one of those "quizzes" that appear on the internet from time to time.
This one was posted on my personal Twitter feed by the Scottish  Book Trust. Did I understand Scots? The quiz was talking about the language of course, not the people. 
Did I? Yes. Full marks - but don't get too excited because there were only fourteen questions. I sent a cheeky message off to the Scottish Book Trust asking whether was going to be given (virtual) chocolate as a reward? No, came the reply, you get a piece of (virtual) tablet instead. (For the uninitiated this is a uniquely Scottish, sickly sweet "toffee" of sorts - almost certainly almost pure sugar.)
Hmmm.... Scots. I am reminded of the visit of the then Glasgow University Theatre Club to my hall of residence in London. I had no difficulty in understanding the members of the group but other students, particularly those from Africa did. I had to act as an "interpreter" the gap was so wide. 
It is less remarkable than it seems. Accents of any sort do not unduly bother me - although, like everyone else, I need to listen more carefully to some than others. They do bother the Senior Cat now. His hearing is not good. He can no longer understand Middle Cat's father-in-law. Mind you, Middle Cat's father-in-law's speech has also deteriorated in recent years. The Senior Cat never understood Middle Cat's mother-in-law. She was softly spoken and her English was never good. It was one reason why I found myself learning to say half a dozen polite words in Greek.

This morning the Senior Cat is venturing out alone. He will need to get a taxi both ways. The drivers will almost certainly not be Australians and he will, if they choose to be chatty, probably not understand them. 
This bothers him. He likes to talk to people from different cultures and backgrounds. He is always full of questions for them. He believes it is rude not to make conversation if someone else wishes to do it.
From my teens onwards I have always mixed at times with people who have severe and profound communication difficulties. Some of those of them who are able to speak at all can be almost unintelligible. It takes patience on both sides for them to be understood. I hope I will always have the patience and the ability to listen to what they have to say. It's important.
Really, it is time someone invented a machine to make this easy!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

I find names

fascinating.  So, yes I was interested to see what the latest royal baby was called - and why.
      "They could call the baby anything they liked," someone said to me.
No, they could not. Whatever her parents chose it would need to be "sensible". 
I doubt that a name like Plectrude, Sigga, or Wolfeva would have been considered appropriate. Yes, those are names once given to girls - along with names like Bebba, Eald, and Swidbwert. They sound strange to us now.
I know someone who named her daughter "Maud". The child hates her name with a passion and her second name, "Phyllis" is - in the child's eyes - no better. She was named after her grandmothers.  Even the initials "MP" cause the child distress. Her parents keep telling her she will grow out of hating her names. She plans to change them as soon as she is legally able to do so - and I have no doubt she will. At school she insists on being known as something entirely different.
The Whirlwind does not mind her name. It is a combination of the names of her parents but looks like a feminine version of a masculine name. She has never met anyone else with her name but an online search showed her that a number of other people do share her name. It is, according to her, "quite sensible".
I wonder whether people are more inclined to give girls an unusual name. Our former neighbours named their daughter "Monet". I had always thought of Monet as a surname - the name of a painter. Monet is in her mid-teens now. She is a lovely girl and her name doesn't seem to have caused her any bother.
I always feel concerned when people say they don't like their names. Names are intensely personal things. In many ways they define who we are. Our parents wield immense power when they name us. 
"Charlotte Elizabeth Diana" has a lot to live up to but they are what the Whirlwind will call "sensible" names. I think she will cope with the responsibility of caring for them.

Monday, 4 May 2015

"Plain packaging" on cigarettes

came into Australia some time ago now. It was hailed as a "success". Sales of cigarettes dropped - or did they?
There is a piece in the paper this morning saying that the amount of illegal tobacco being consumed in Australia has risen dramatically. The cost to the government in lost tobacco revenue is enormous of course.
Surprised? No, neither am I. People won't stop smoking simply because the packaging changes. The last price hike was just so great that people will look for cheaper sources. After all, cigarettes in Australia cost about seven times as much as they do in China and it is pretty much the same through the rest of Asia.
There have to be other ways of encouraging people not to smoke. The "it's legal and therefore I'm allowed to do it" argument no longer makes sense. The medical evidence that smoking is bad for you is now so strong that more of an effort does need to be made. 
The "it's my choice" argument makes no sense either.
Smoking affects the health of the smoker AND the health of other people. I have had to ingest far too much secondary smoke in my lifetime. It has undoubtedly compromised my health and I resent that. I cannot be near cigarette smoke now without finding it difficult to breathe, my eyes water and my nose starts to run. I have never as much as tried to smoke a cigarette and I do not want to. I believe I have the right not to ingest the secondary smoke from other people's cigarettes.
There were heavy smokers at the universities I attended. In staff meetings the non-smokers would sit on one side and we would open the windows - hoping for some fresh air. The smokers still smoked - on one occasion after being told that the director of the research unit had just been diagnosed with a smoking related terminal cancer.
As a student at another university there was a member of staff who chain smoked his way through lectures - until, one year, one of the students pointed out that there was a "no smoking" sign in the lecture theatre he liked to use. Then he would stop the lecture half way through and go out and have a cigarette. It made him abrupt and impatient. He was a "three pack a day" man.
One of his colleagues, who smoked almost as heavily as he did, supervised me at one point. When the arrangements for supervision were made we agreed that we would meet in the library - where he could not smoke. The professor who had organised my supervision had told him bluntly, "You will not smoke around Cat. She is allergic." (He was also unable to tolerate cigarette smoke and had instituted a "no smoking in staff meetings" rule for the staff who did not smoke.)
It's not nice and really amounts to an assault on other people. So, how do we get people to kick the habit? We probably won't because nicotine is incredibly addictive. Many people never manage to do it.
Is it time to register smokers? Should they pay more for health care? Should their life insurance policies be renewed? Should they pay a greater contribution to their compulsory superannuation? 
It is no good making tobacco illegal. We have tried that with other drugs and people will still use them.
We could do more. Perhaps if the government realises how much revenue is being lost they will.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

I woke to the news of a birth and a death

and both of them in far distant Upover.
I am not likely to meet the baby. I am glad she arrived safely and I hope all other babies delivered that day also arrived safely. I also know that is unlikely.
The deceased? Yes, a writer. Ruth Rendell of course. I have read her work. 
She was one of those writers that you would look for each year. The Senior Cat referred to her as a "holiday reading writer". This was in no way meant to be disparaging. It meant that she was a writer he could relax with but still considered wrote well enough that the language was also enjoyable. He preferred her as Barbara Vine I suspect. I haven't asked. 
The problem was that she wrote crime novels. Crime novels? Who takes those seriously? I mean people read those for the story don't they? It isn't serious writing is it? You won't win the Booker or the Miles Franklin for a crime novel.
But, why not? A good crime novel can be every bit as rich and complex as any other novel. 
Rendell's Wexford is a complex character. Of course we can read him as an ordinary policeman leading an ordinary (for his occupation in literature) life. Read the books more carefully though and he is not ordinary. He's a man concerned about human relationships. 
I wonder what the media will have to say about Rendell? I haven't looked yet.
What will they have to say about Ian Rankin and Rebus? Or Elizabeth George and Lynley and Havers? Or... I could go on. 
But Rendell's death raises a serious question. Why is "crime writing" considered to be a less serious occupation than other types of writing?
Of course there are badly written crime novels. There are people who have produced long series of lightweight novels with cardboard characters. People will read them for their predictable, comfortable story lines. 
But there are many other badly written novels too. Walk into any library and there is row upon row of fiction. People read some of it but there are other books which are borrowed and never read - and even some which are never borrowed. There are books which get shelved in the charity shop that have not even been opened until the man who deals with them creaks them open and looks at the contents. He shrugs philosophically and says, "Well someone thought it was good enough to publish."
Really? He shows me and we wonder why the book was written and how anyone else felt it was good enough to publish.
"It's all about marketing," the former owner of our local bookshop told the Senior Cat last week. (She had turned up with a knitting problem and they were discussing the "50 shades of..." over the teapot.) Perhaps it is - but the book has to be written first, an agent has to take it on and then a publisher.
That is, I suspect, not true of most crime novels. They get read. It seems we like murder and mayhem. 

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Calvary Hospital

was once run by nuns - the Little Sisters of Mary.
It is where Middle Cat is currently incarcerated. She hopes to slink back to the rehabilitation place very shortly. The food, she tells me, is better there. Yes, hospital food does tend to be dire. I took her some grapes and mandarins yesterday because there is no fresh fruit to be had. ("Fruit salad" comes out of a tin.) Why?
The hospital itself is, quite frankly, old. The bathrooms were last redecorated back in the fifties and must be a nightmare to try and keep clean. Middle Cat's room reminds me of the only episode I ever saw of an American medical drama with "doctor" someone who was supposedly a neurosurgeon. That would have been in the early sixties - my maternal grandmother thought it was "lovely". I was bored but I do remember the decor. 
My paternal grandfather had one of those essential male operations there. I can remember going to visit him. The place was staffed by nuns then - nuns in full habits. We children, just Brother Cat and myself, were very, very well behaved at the sight of these alarming women. I remember however that my grandfather, a staunch Presbyterian, saying they were good to him. It is, of course, highly likely his reputation had gone before him. 
There was no nun in a habit in sight yesterday. The only reminder of their existence are the ward names and the small plaque on the pillar in the foyer. It tells people of the beginnings of the hospital. The hospice next door still has some nuns working in it. I know one of them. She wears "sensible" slacks to work these days. Her life has been spent tending to the dying.
Middle Cat was having her BP taken by a lively young nurse with a Greek-Cypriot background. They were discussing the nurse's forthcoming wedding and laughing about the fact that the nurse was "eloping" so as to avoid all the traditional fuss my sister had to endure.
The "vampire" from pathology turned up too - to take a blood sample - a male vampire. He and Senior Cat agreed that the role had once been "women only". 
It's certainly different now. When my grandfather was there the only male staff were doctors. I suspect that everyone employed there would have been a Catholic. Yesterday one of the nurses was a rather good looking young man. The specialist talking to a nurse at the nurses' station is Jewish. I know because I once did some work for her.  She gave me a wave of acknowledgment as I passed. The sense of self importance seems to have diminished. I wonder if it makes them better at their jobs?

Friday, 1 May 2015

So what should Nepal repair first?

Apparently there were over a thousand injured people waiting to see Doctor T when he eventually arrived at his destination. More were coming - as they could bring them in from other villages. 
That means bringing them across terrain which is difficult to cross at any time. It is even more difficult now when the rough tracks have been blocked by landslides and some of those bringing others have been injured themselves.
Even when they arrive there are problems - no medical supplies, no food and almost no water. They are still waiting for the helicopters they can see overhead to drop something to them. 
T has apparently sent some terse orders to the authorities and something should arrive today - but he knows it won't be enough. 
Yes, people have to be repaired first. Without man power Nepal can do nothing else.
After that there are arguments raging. Does Nepal repair the temples and monasteries and other places of historic interest - or do they use aid money to build roads and schools and hospitals?
It is not a simple question. 
Nepal's economy is almost one hundred per cent reliant on tourism. Some of the buildings which have been demolished were hundreds of years old - some perhaps as much as a thousand years old. Others which have been badly damaged are also very old. Those buildings were not merely tourist attractions, they were an integral part of the daily life of the Nepalese. Their culture and religion, one of the things that attracts tourists to Nepal,  is also the thing which binds their society together.
It is easy to say "Nepal needs hospitals, schools, roads and housing." Yes, of course they do. All societies need those things but they also need more than that.
If Nepal does not repair the things that make it unique then it will simply cease to be a destination people care about. There will be no money build anything new in the future. Repairs will provide employment for years to come. Building new structures will also provide money. Money must come from elsewhere - without strings attached, especially strings from communist China which views Nepal with great strategic interest.
If the Nepalese choose to repair their temples and monasteries first then we should not condemn them. For them it will be part of the long and difficult healing journey.