Tuesday, 31 May 2016

"Being alive is a privilege"

is a "tweet" I have just seen from authorJoanne Harris  - in conversation with Matt Haig, another author.
And yes, yes, yes! Being alive is a privilege. Let's treat it with respect.
There is an appalling front page story in our state newspaper this morning. I knew about it last night. It kept me awake. A mother and two young children have been murdered. The woman's partner has been charged. It happened in one of the most outer, almost rural, suburbs of the city I live in. 
Now people are asking how and why and what could have been done to prevent it. The same questions are asked every time. Being alive is a privilege. Will their immediate neighbours think of that this morning or will they just wallow in the shock and awfulness of it all? I suspect the latter.
Almost every morning my mail box will have at least one, often more than one, story of disaster. There are the stories we all read in the press or hear in the media and there are the stories which don't make it that far. These are the sad, individual cases where people, particularly women and children and the very old are caught up in wars not of their own making, which they don't understand or support. They just want to get on with their lives. They know that being alive is a privilege. So many people around them have died that finding themselves alive in the morning is something that some of them wonder at. There is the dread of trying to get through another day and yet, underneath it all, there is that small thing, that very small thing, called "hope" and they know they have to nurture it.
The Senior Cat had a friend visiting yesterday. This man asked me why I was still bothering to work. Wasn't, he wanted to know, looking after the Senior Cat enough? My answer was no, it isn't. While I know there is a child out there who wants to be alive and needs help to communicate that fact then I have a responsibility to help.
Because, being alive is a privilege. It is also a responsibility. 

Monday, 30 May 2016

Dress code

is another of those curious things I have had to contemplate of late.
There was a piece in the Guardian about a teacher not wearing a tie and being told to do so. Right or wrong? 
The Senior Cat doesn't like "dressing up" these days. He rarely wears a tie. It is an interesting departure from the teacher and then headmaster who went to school each day in a suit and tie. He even wore a tie out in remote rural areas. He did remove his jacket in extremely hot weather but he still wore a suit to school. It was expected of teachers back then. 
When I was in teacher training college the boys were expected to wear ties and the girls were not permitted to wear trousers. The girls in fact were expected to wear shoes with heels and stockings too. I had to get "special permission" to wear the only footwear I can manage. It was, perhaps, a slightly ridiculous situation in college but it was not a ridiculous situation out in schools back then. Teachers still wore ties and skirts.
My brother wears a tie to work. My brother-in-law wears a tie to work. My nephews wear ties sometimes. It depends on what they are doing. They keep ties in their desks in case they are needed. If they aren't meeting the public they are not required to wear ties. If, as in the case of one, he is in the lab then he doesn't wear one. They know when they need to do it. 
It's about showing they care about their appearance and about respect for others. It is like having clean hair, clean shoes and clean fingernails. It is about wearing trousers that have been washed or dry-cleaned and pressed. It is about changing your shirt at least once a day. 
Ties do seem odd articles of attire - and not particularly comfortable ones. The Whirlwind still has to wear a tie as part of school uniform in winter. She thinks it is "stupid" and yes, it probably is - but she does it anyway. Ask her whether she thinks "uniform" is "stupid" however and she will tell you "no" - because everyone wears the same thing and she doesn't need to think about what to wear or compete with anyone else. 
School uniforms are more common than not here. Most students wear them. Some schools have a much stricter dress code than others. 
I can only assume that goes for teachers as well. More than once I have observed groups of students out and about on, presumably, a school excursion. I have noted the adults with them. Most teachers wear name badges so it is easy to identify them. I have noted that the male teachers who wear ties appear to have much better discipline than the male teachers who wear t-shirts and ripped jeans.
I might be wrong but it seems that wearing a tie can make a difference. 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

I would like all unaccompanied children

to have a safe place, a home, adults who care for them, food, clothing, education and the opportunity to be children.
But, and there is a but, they have to be unaccompanied children. I know there was an outcry when the UK government recently voted against allowing entry to unaccompanied refugee children. I was upset too - because I want all children to have a safe place. There are far too many children without a safe place and it makes me angry - very very angry.
Children don't start wars. They aren't politicians or religious clerics or outspoken fools. They learn from these people but children don't start out that way. A two year old doesn't know about religious and ethnic differences. A ten year old is learning fast. They will already have some very set ideas.
Getting people to change their opinions is notoriously difficult. Even when they appear to have changed them it takes very little to revert back to their previous beliefs.  Psychological experiments have shown this but groups like the Jesuits knew it long ago. Grab them young and you have them for life even if they appear to have changed their views.
And this is one of the things that bothers me about the unaccompanied children we are all being asked  to take in. Many of them are not children at all. They are teenagers, male teenagers. They are being used by adults. Some are being sent by desperate parents in the hope that a son will make it safely to a country which will feed, clothe, house and educate him. I don't blame them in the slightest. I am sure I would do the same.
Others are being sent in the hope that it will keep them out of further trouble. They have been running wild in countries in turmoil. They are law breakers. In peace time these teens might have been no more difficult than most teens but turmoil has allowed them to go much further.
Some are being used as an "advance ticket". People hope that if a "child" gets in to their  country of choice then the rest of the family will be able to follow. Again, all too often it's a measure of desperation.
Almost all of these are teenage males.
And then there are other children, real children without any adult to be responsible for them. Sometimes a mother of other children will watch out for them in a limited way or let them sleep under the same piece of plastic sheeting and share the limited food supply with them. It's asking a lot though when you are desperate to make sure your own children are safe and survive.
There are more of these children than we are ever told about. Mothers will sometimes lie about a child being theirs if they believe that saying otherwise will put a child in further danger - and then need to abandon them later.
Children get separated from their families too. Some run away from violent and abusive homes. Others have tried to care for adults who are ill, injured or insane.  All too often it is the girls who are doing this - and caring for younger siblings. 
War is incredibly messy as well as frightening. It doesn't treat people fairly. Some people make it and others don't.  Anyone with any empathy at all surely cheered loudly when Noujain Mustaffa finally saw her brother in Germany. It was a "feel good" story among all some of the most distressing news  of the time.
I was asked yesterday how I would choose which unaccompanied children to bring in first if we can't bring them all in. It's a question I cannot answer. When I am faced with two or more equally urgent pieces of work my general gut response is to go with what will be of the most benefit to a child but to choose between children is something I cannot answer. I want to say "all". All I can think of saying is "start with the youngest and, from there, those who have the least and try to reach a point where we have provided for all of them".
I just wish it could work like that but I know it doesn't, won't and can't. I just want them all to be safe.


Saturday, 28 May 2016

"Thank you" letters

should be written promptly and sincerely. 
We were invited out recently and, the following day, we sent a thank you card because our hosts had made a very special effort. We had enjoyed ourselves. It made sense to make the effort to thank them properly.
The Senior Cat, being a very well brought up kitten and then cat, is meticulous about thanking people - and he means it. My siblings and I have been taught to do the same. 
Many years ago Middle Cat  was part of a national sports team. They were away and won whatever match they were playing. They were celebrating but Middle Cat went quietly around to everyone and obtained a small donation - to thank their coach. They gave some recognition to her as they were leaving the bus for the last time. It still irritates Middle Cat that nobody else thought of it. The Captain of the team should have organised it.
I once took a small group of children to meet an author. We had gone to see him rather than him come to see us. He had a busy job as the head of a teacher training college and he had mobility issues. He spent more than an hour with the group and provided them with very, to them , grown up tea and biscuits. They talked about the visit for weeks afterwards but it was the following day when they said to me, "We have to say thank you again." When I asked which one of them was going to write the letter they looked at one another and then told me they were all going to write individual letters - and they did. He remarked on it to me later - "they really meant it". Yes, you can tell.
As a kitten I was told thanking people, even for help I didn't need, was especially important, "because one day you might really need some help and people won't want to help you". I know the same philosophy applied in a school for children with physical disabilities. I also know that, like me, they learned there are ways to decline help politely but sincerely thank the person offering it.
It's the sincerity which is so important. I had a "thank you" letter recently - except that it wasn't really a thank you letter at all. It was written three months after the events had occurred. It dripped with insincerity. It was perhaps one of the most insulting letters I have ever received. It would have been better if the writers of the letter had said nothing at all. I know that the letter was written under duress but that made it no easier to read and I can't accept the sentiments expressed in it. Far from reassuring me that I had contributed something worthwhile it has raised all sorts of questions in my mind. No, I am not being over-sensitive. I showed another member of the group the letter I had received and her reaction was, if anything, even stronger than mine. "Why," she wanted to know, "did they bother to write that when they obviously don't mean a word of it?"
Why indeed. The only thing that saved me from complete despair over the situation was other people going out of their way to thank me long before the letter was sent. I don't doubt they were genuine.
Thanks must be measured and appropriate and prompt.

Friday, 27 May 2016

The Toy LIbrary

in our local council area is well used it seems but I wonder how it keeps going.
I know something about toy libraries. I worked with someone else to set up the first ever toy library in this state. That is more years ago than I care to remember. Back then it was not intended as a general lending library for all children. Instead it was a highly specialised library for children with disabilities. The toys were chosen accordingly.
Toy libraries spread in this state from that first library. They extended further into the "special education" sector and then into the pre-school area. 
Our neighbours used the toy library for their children. As their father said, "It gave the boys an opportunity to play with things we could not afford to buy. It also gave us an opportunity to see what we could afford to buy that they would really use."
Oh yes, it is a good idea. 
But when toy libraries started out here there was, as always, a limited amount of money and we sought help from people who could make the sort of toys the people  using the library needed and wanted.
The Senior Cat made some over weekends. He made samples for other weekend carpenters to copy. He made sturdy wooden blocks and "posting" boxes. He made simple wooden puzzles. Other people in his woodworking group did the same. 
The children responded to these things. They were designed to suit them, designed to suit small hands, unsteady hands, with bright vegetable dyes that could be seen by those with poor eyesight. The pieces were all approved sizes - that could not possibly be swallowed. They were shapes that children could not hurt themselves on. 
All the toys had "play value" too. The puzzles had associated books - simple picture books. There were cassette tapes (well yes, it was rather a long time ago) of music and story. 
While we were clearing out the shed we came across seven more puzzles. The Senior Cat had put them away. They were samples. They had never been used. They were in perfect condition. What to do with them?
I gave one to someone I thought might be able to use it and I took the rest off to the Toy Library although I had a sneaking suspicion they might not want them.  Well, they did want them but they were not allowed to take them for the library.
No, the quality had not changed. The needs of the children have not changed. The staff I showed them to thought they were wonderful. They would have loved to have them  but "occupational health and safety" now demands that only commercially made toys with a manufacturer's label and number and....well you get the picture don't you? 
They did take them - to sell. They will buy something for the library with the money the donation raises.
     "I wish we could keep them," the senior toy librarian told me, "They are so much nicer than the ones we have."
I pedalled away thinking of the group of men in "The Men's Shed" who do woodwork, men who would be all too happy to make toys for such places - men who would like to feel "useful". 
But, somewhere in the last few years, someone has made a decision that it is no longer "safe" to have good, solid, home-made toys. It is better to have flimsy plastic which can be "cleaned" and thrown away after a year or so. 
My great nieces are still playing with the blocks I played with when I was a very small kitten and the eldest tells me that her children will play with them too. The Senior Cat made those.
Isn't that they way children should play? 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Making a cup of tea

should be done properly. Tea must be treated with respect.
Every Wednesday afternoon during the school term a friend calls in and has a pot of tea - yes, one of those small pots but all of it. It is the pot I use for the Senior Cat as well but she can drink the entire pot by then.
She has spent the time before that teaching knitting at a church craft group in the hills behind us. They have an "urn" on. It does not, according to her, make good tea.  I am certain she is right.
The Senior Cat  has certain requirements with respect to tea making. He likes China rather than Indian. He does not like exotic teas like Russian Caravan or Lapsang Souchong. He likes plain teas like English Breakfast. He disapproves strongly of tea bags. 
According to the Senior Cat tea must be made with rain water, not our city's tap water. The water must boil freshly in the kettle. The pot must be warmed.
I do all these things automatically. 
We once lived in a very remote corner of the state. There was no rainwater tank attached to the house when we arrived. (The house was "new" but it was also a badly put together fibro-asbestos one.) The Senior Cat informed the then Public Buildings Department that a tank was needed - urgently. It might rain. Actually it did rain that year.
Meanwhile there was a tank at the school. It was for drinking water only. I don't think there was a child in that small school who would have wasted any water.  The tap water, from a reservoir nearly two hundred miles away, was undrinkable in summer and not really drinkable in winter...but people did make tea with it. It tasted salty.
Visitors would arrive at the school and look for a cup of tea made with rainwater. 
We moved on to other places. There were tanks. I wouldn't like to count the number of times I was told at the end of the school day, "When you get back to the house put the kettle on." There was the afternoon when the wood burning stove in the kitchen was not alight and I had to set it going again as well as go outside and turn the gas bottle on - something we normally only used in the height of summer. The school inspector would be over shortly for a cup of tea! (He was very nice about waiting a few more minutes but I was terrified I hadn't been fast enough.)
But yesterday our friend W... came for her pot of tea. She can, if necessary, find her own way around the kitchen. I know she likes "proper" tea. Like the Senior Cat she likes it made with loose tea and freshly boiling water.
And for her, and the Senior Cat, tea comes in a cup with a saucer and a teaspoon for the Senior Cat.  (He has sugar.) I am always reminded of my paternal grandparents. I am reminded of the way my grandfather made my grandmother "breakfast in bed" - a tray of tea and toast, with butter and marmalade, and the tiny vase with the single bloom of something from the garden. When he broke the handles off the cups, which he did on occasion, he would go and buy a completely new cup, saucer and plate trio from the shop several doors down the road they lived on.  He taught me about  tea made with love.
I am a little less fussy. All those years living in institutions and working in schools and universities have made me appreciate that even getting something like that to drink is a bonus. I have left mugs in all sorts of places - mugs with handles I can hold easily. I went back to one place recently and I was offered tea. 
          "It's all right Cat. We still have your mug."
And yes, there it was. It was still in the cupboard. Nobody else had used it. It was still labelled with my name after three and a bit years.
Tea needs the right mug too. 

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A new job

is three weeks away for my eldest nephew. He phoned last night to let the Senior Cat know he is, once again, moving on. 
He came back from the UK some years ago - to marry the girl he loved. The experience there was good for him. He came back to no job but landed one within days. Since then he has not been out of work. He has been "head hunted" three times. He turned another one down because it didn't feel right for him.
This new one means he is now in charge of more than three times as many people as before. He has to get all of them to perform. He has to perform himself.
He is happy an excited about the challenge. Can he handle it? He is sure he can but he also knows he has a lot to learn. It is good that he is prepared to acknowledge that.
I would loathe to even try and do what he is doing. It's in the digital technology field. I know nothing about it beyond that it involves selling as well. I am not a happy cat when I have to sell anything other than ideas. I don't mind selling ideas.
It made me realise though how much the workplace has changed since I began work...and how much more it has changed since the Senior Cat started work. Even when the Senior Cat retired things were very different. 
There were still blackboards in classrooms when the Senior Cat retired. Is there a blackboard anywhere in a school now? I suppose there might be. Do they get used? I doubt it.
I remember the Senior Cat writing on the blackboard. He was slow. His writing has always been abominable. He admits it. 
I used to get the children to write on the board when I taught the only "ordinary" class I ever had. (The students were anything but ordinary. ) One of the girls came in every morning. Her exquisite calligraphy filled the board. Other teachers would like to have borrowed her. 
You don't need that now. I could type it all and fling it up on a screen via computer. There would be no need for a "blackboard monitor" to go out and bang the chalk dusters. There would be no children begging me for a "little piece of chalk so we can do hopscotch". 
We were paid via a fortnightly cheque we had to put in the bank. The Senior Cat started out with actual money in an envelope. Now pay goes straight into a bank account via computer.
And that brought the Senior Cat to a question for my nephew. "What do you do about your superannuation?"
The Senior Cat worries about things like superannuation and insurance. It worries him that I was never allowed to enter the superannuation scheme...a discrimination which would now be against the law but was too late in coming to rectify for me. 
"Oh that rolls over with me," said my nephew. I could hear the Senior Cat  sigh with relief. He really doesn't understand not staying with one employer for life as he did.
It is all strange and different. Work has changed. The Senior Cat loved teaching. He still loves it if he does it on a one-to-one basis. I liked it but I didn't feel passionate about it.  I feel quite differently about the job I carved out for myself.
I suppose that is what my nephew is doing and that he finds it satisfying. I wonder how long it will be before he moves on to the next challenge.
All I can hope for him  is that there is always a job there. 

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Aged care

is back on my mind again. 
I had to visit a nursing home again yesterday.  I went to see two people. One is a mentally lively and physically frail woman who was, at the age of 98, wanting a little help with her computer. She loaded a new program over the weekend to help her with her "research" ("much too fancy a word though dear") into her family  history.  It was a little confusing but we worked through it together and I left her happily researching records from the other side of the world. 
She has made the best of life wherever she has found herself. The staff like her. It's just as well. She has no family left here but she talks to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren on Skype and she is hoping for a great-great-grandchild towards the end of the year.
The other person I went to see is thirteen years younger. She's had a stroke and her days are spent mostly staring blankly into space or weeping, wailing and lashing out. She can't speak. I know she's frustrated, frustrated and frightened. I knew her before her stroke and she was an active, abrasive and often abrupt woman. Her family avoided her. She wasn't able to see that her behaviour was the problem. Now she is in the nursing home nobody comes to visit unless I look in. Sometime the home will call me, as it did yesterday, and ask if I can come and try and work out what the problem is. It can take time - something the staff don't have - and patient questioning. 
I didn't have a lot of time yesterday either. I wanted to help the 98yr old. Who knows how much time she has left? I knew I needed to help the 85yr old even if it was just to make life easier for the staff.
I think I got to the root of the thing that was worrying her and one of the staff gave me a hug on the way out.  She's a tiny Asian girl who still  has a bruise where this woman lashed out and hit her.
In her culture the elderly are still respected. I wonder how she really feels about the way we isolate so many of the elderly in places with dreadful names like "Resthaven" and "Sunset Lodge" and more. They smell of cabbage and disinfectant and they are, all too often, empty of meaningful activity. 
I came home to the Senior Cat. He had been having a catnap and was now sitting at the kitchen table reading a political leaflet left in the letter box.
      "Won't  be voting for him," he tells me of an "independent" candidate.
I glance at it. The leaflet is short on policy detail.
I think of the major parties. All of them are short on policy detail when it comes to caring for our oldest citizens. 
It seems we don't really care about aged care. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

Not standing for the magistrate

in court is a sign of more than disrespect. 
There is an opinion column in today's paper about the failure of some Muslims to stand in court when the magistrate entered. She asked them to do so. They refused. The magistrate allowed them to stay. 
She had no choice - and they knew it. To have had them removed from court would have provoked further disruption and perhaps violence. It would have laid her open to accusations of "bias" from a sympathetic media.
I used to sit on a tribunal. When we entered those present stood. It felt strange to me but it is part of the court process so I accepted it. In any case the process is mutual. It acknowledges the presence of each other and the procedures of the court. I can remember one occasion on which a man using crutches struggled to stand and then sit again. The head of the tribunal thanked him quietly and said, "You are excused from standing again."
It was the right thing to do.
The Muslims say they don't stand for anyone but Allah. Really? I wonder what happens in ISIS territory. Do they not stand for their leaders there? How do they maintain discipline without that sort of thing? 
The men who refused to stand were there to "support" five men who are accused of trying to leave Australia by boat in order to travel via Indonesia to join IS and fight. It is a case which has raised considerable discussion in the media. There are varying views on whether their actions can be proven and, if so, how severe their punishment should be. From discussions around me it would seem that many locals believe they are guilty and that they should be locked up and the key thrown away.
My own concern is more about why people want to do these things. I met a man once who had spent his life in first the army and then in mercenary roles around the world. He was a strange man who made me feel intensely uncomfortable. He thrived on danger. He liked fighting. Had he killed people? "Probably". It didn't seem to bother him. In the end he succumbed to a very nasty medical condition which robbed him of his capacity to speak. There was not a lot of sympathy for him and people questioned why I had even bothered to try and help him communicate in some other way. (His entire body was affected and he could not write either.) 
Other people said he had "what was coming to him". Perhaps. I don't know. It isn't my role to judge. If people need help to communicate then it is my job to provide it. I can't pick and choose.  
I suppose that is what bothers me. The men in court are picking and choosing. A female magistrate would have had even less chance than a male magistrate of getting the men to stand. When they left though the men would have obeyed other laws - such as road traffic laws. They may have gone to the ATM and withdrawn money from a bank account on which they earn interest or gone back to jobs where they pay tax used to pay for  such things as the courts they refuse to recognise. 
I was asked why I had helped the former mercenary communicate. The answer was "I don't have a choice. A means of communication is a basic human right." Is that wrong?

Sunday, 22 May 2016

History week was

duly acknowledged at our knitting guild with a small display of items from the past belonging to some members - and a mini-market.
I managed to get there - another story - and looked at photographs, old school reports, certificates, a dress someone had worn as a baby and some school exercise books.  
Had things been different I would have taken the family christening gown - carefully stored away. It could still be used - if the baby was small enough. My great-great-grandmother made it. There is a petticoat and a gown. They are made from white linen. The design is not as elaborate as some but it is exquisitely pin-tucked and there are tiny puff sleeves and lace around the edges. 
I look at it in amazement. I was once small enough to wear this. I wore it and my brother wore it. My two sisters were too big - their christenings being delayed for one reason or another. My father and his brother wore it too. My paternal grandfather wore it - as did all his siblings and other members of that generation.
Yes, it looks old now and it is probably too fragile to wear. Even taking it out of the bag it is kept in worries me. Still, I wish I had taken it because it would have been a great deal older than anything else there and people would I think have been interested in the workmanship involved.
Instead I prowled around the mini-market. No, I wasn't going to buy anything...I was not going to buy anything.
In truth most of it did not interest me. There were buttons no different from the buttons I had been selling at the recent craft fair.
There were books I already had or did not want and I no longer buy books for the guild library.
And there was yarn of course - after all this is a knitting group. People were looking at it and talking to the vendors. 
I happily avoided all the commercial yarn. One vendor lives just around the corner from me. If I want yarn from her I can go and visit. 
I had been told that the only person I might be interested in buying yarn from would not be there. I had thought I was "safe". Not so. There she was.  She sells hand-dyed yarn. 
Unlike many people who sell "hand-dyed" yarn there is something very, very special about her yarn. It is truly professional. Her "colour ways" are lovely - to the extent that, even though I don't like pink, I can approve of her pinks.  
She smiled at me and nodded. I knew that meant she had something she thought I might be interested in. She finished serving another member of the guild and just pointed to a compartment on her small display as she started to serve another person.
Ah! Yes! My paw went out. Lace weight. Merino-silk mix.
     "I wasn't able to get much of it and it is a  heavy lace weight," she told me.
I let the back of my paw run slowly over it - a trick I long ago learned from the Senior Cat and his woodworking friends. Mmm....I was definitely purring now. My paw closed around it. No, it wasn't expensive. When I consider the time it must have taken her to dye it the yarn was actually ridiculously cheap. I considered who might benefit from it. There is a long list of people who might just like something made from this.
I added to the stash...and I am still purring. History in the making perhaps?

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Planting spring bulbs

is a curiously satisfying thing. I am not a gardener. I just put things in the soil, cover them over, water them and hope for the best. 
Until recently I have done almost no gardening. There is a good reason for this. It is the Senior Cat's garden. It has been his hobby. Before that it was a hobby he shared with my mother. I didn't interfere.
The Senior Cat gardens in pots at waist height these days. Our friend S.... comes in for two hours once a fortnight. He does almost all the heavy work, keeping the bit of "hedge" at the front trimmed, clearing things, cutting back the glory vine that keeps the house cool in summer and so on. He will dig over patches if there is time.
Last week he was helping to clear the shed and take a load to the dump so he didn't dig.
I had to dig. The bulbs needed to go in. I have been doing it slowly. I am not good at digging. I am not good at standing on one paw and trying to get a fork into solid, dark brown soil. I am worried I will spear a worm. They are useful things. 
I have been digging slowly, small patches at a time. I have planted daffodils and irises. I have freesias, ixia and sparaxis still to go. I planted one patch of those yesterday. 
No, there is no plan to our garden - well, the only "plan" is that it is unplanned. We prefer it like that. It changes constantly. I have not reminded the Senior Cat that my mother had a plan. Under her watchful eyes the garden was carefully laid out. Plants were told to behave themselves.
We let the plants wander freely once they are planted. Last year I found an iris in among the vegetables. It seemed to be quite happy there. I left it.
And yesterday I dug and I scrabbled around in the soil with my paws and I placed those little bulbs, right way up, into the soil. I covered them over gently and I have left them to grow up on their own. I know they are quite capable of doing this. They don't need me to watch over them every minute of their growing. I'll give them some help if they need it - water them or remove a weed or three.
I am told that this is not the right way to do it. There were instructions about how things should be done. I gave those to the Senior Cat for the hyacinths and tulips he planted in the pots. I made a copy for R....because we gave her the spare hyacinth bulb in another pot but I doubt she needs it. I am sure she is prepared to trust such "children" to grow up on their own.

Yes, they will grow up and flower. I don't doubt that.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Political advertising via

the phone network is a waste of time - at least for  us. 
We have now had three election campaign phone calls. The last one began something like, "This is.... and I am asking you...."
No, it was not you sir and I am not in the least bit interested in what you have to say here. I am reading the campaign websites. I don't vote on the basis of an automated phone call. 
Do they really believe that works? Eldest and Youngest Nephews know something about the facts and figures in advertising and what works and what doesn't work. Of all that side advertising on websites on the 'net only about 0.004 people actually click on something they see there. 
Advertising is expensive too. Youngest Nephew was recently involved in one campaign which cost the company in question a million dollars - over just eight hours. That cost is spread across the product of course. Customers have to pay for it.
And nobody really knows how effective advertising is. 
I know I looked for the A-frame on the shop I visited to buy the presents earlier in the week. That told me the shop was open and that making the effort to cross a rather dangerous and busy road was worth it. But, I already knew where I was going and why and I wasn't doing it because of advertising. I didn't go to the shop because of advertising in the first place. I came across it by accident. 
All my best finds have been accidental. I will go searching for a specific item on the 'net. The Senior Cat needed something recently and it was useful to be able to sit down, type in search terms, and discover who was likely to supply the item locally. That is not the same as going to those sites because of advertising.
And political parties are the same. I don't go to a political party based on their advertising. I look at policies on websites. I think about the issues. I discuss issues. I have been known to write letters to politicians - perhaps more often than I should.
But I really don't want to listen to a recording. If the real politician cares to phone me I will talk to them. I will be a polite cat even if I violently disagree.
Just don't phone me when I am in the middle of making toast. I do not like burnt toast.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

I bought two Christmas presents

yesterday. No, I am not being smug about this. I am most certainly not "super-organised" as someone said to me a little later. 
It just happens that I was late getting a birthday present we could post easily. 
You see, I forgot to give Brother Cat's lovely partner her birthday present when she was here. My only excuse is that there was rather a lot going on - like the clearing out of a shed. Sigh.
I can give her the birthday present next time I see her but it is rather awkward to post so I went in search of something else. It was the only thing to do.
Normally I would have headed to the bookshop but she is "not much of a reader" and I had already ascertained there was nothing likely to interest her there - yes, truly. She really isn't a reader of books. I love her  but I cannot understand how she cannot read. 
So, I headed "up the hill" instead. I went to the shop that sells all the "stones" and "chakras" and "incense" and other stuff I really don't understand but I know she loves. They also sell quite sensible Celtic jewellery and other earrings and pendants and mugs and t-shirts and more. I have often found things in there. The current owners are nice people. Sadly they are planning to sell the business so that she can care for her elderly parents at home. I hope the people who buy it will be just as nice.
J.... was not around but her husband was. He heard the door bell and came out to see who it was, said hello and we chatted a moment and then he said, "Give me a call if you find something" and disappeared back into the wholesale area at the back. 
I prowled around, found something I thought was suitable and the two Christmas presents. One is for the birthday girl. The other is for my youngest sister who lives in another state. 
I put my head around the door into the wholesale section and told the owner I had found what I wanted - and more. We both laughed too. Earrings will be easy to post - just as long as the butterflies on one don't decide to fly off!
And no, I really am not that organised. I just hope I don't forget the "safe place" I have put these things. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Fancy restaurants,

the Senior Cat, and yours truly do not come together very often. We aren't the sort to spend a lot of money on a single meal like that.
I look at menus and think, "I could feed an entire family for the price of that one dish for one person."
I know that other people don't mind at all. They enjoy choosing, chatting, waiting to be served, eating their elegantly served food with fancy names and strange combinations of flavours.
The Senior Cat and I were invited out to lunch at one such place  yesterday. It was a very special occasion. It was the actual anniversary of the 60th Wedding Anniversary of the couple the party was for on Sunday. They had organised it because, as I mentioned in that post, they thought their children had forgotten the occasion. There was also the small matter that the Senior Cat and the other couple invited had been members of the wedding party. 
Problem number one: we had to dress up. The Senior Cat growls about wearing a tie so much I didn't mention it. If it was that sort of place too bad. I don't own a dress but I did put on my best trousers and a good shirt that actually, wonder of wonders, goes with the trousers.
Fortunately, when we were picked up by the other couple, I discovered they were dressed much the same way. It was, "lunch" not "dinner" they said cheerfully.
We went up the hill and found the restaurant. It was one of those "little" places with a "theme" - this one claimed to serve only "local" food.  We actually arrived before our hosts so we had the opportunity to look at the menu - which was posted outside.
I knew the Senior Cat would be confused. For him, food is what I put on the table. He doesn't read French. I explained what the various  terms meant. He gave the sort of shrug a Frenchman would be glad to own and muttered something about, "Why not say that in English?" There was a hint of wickedness in his eye as he said it. He is well aware that menus often use a second language.
A little later we were seated. The place is small. It is bigger than another place we have eaten in but it is still small and I wonder how they keep it open. Perhaps the fact that a single waiter does everything "in front" and there is, I suspect, just one person "out back" makes it possible. Yes, service was "slow". 
That was a good thing. The Senior Cat is not a big eater these days. He asked the waiter for a "small serve" of his chosen meal. It came and was still twice the size of anything I would give him. By then he was hungry enough to eat almost all of it. (I managed to clean up my vegetarian option which was, although labelled a main course, about entree size.) The others didn't too  badly either.
But I watched the only other people in the place at the time. They had entrees and then full size main courses - and ate the lot. It was more food than anyone would need in an entire day. Another couple came in while we were there and proceeded to do the same thing. 
The waiter attended to them in much the same way as he had attended to us. We sat on after they had gone. This was a long, slow lunch intended to be celebratory and the waiter knew it. He refilled water glasses and accepted that the two people driving would only drink a half glass of wine. He didn't question the fact that the Senior Cat and I don't drink alcohol. He just asked if we wanted something else.
We shared dessert and the waiter brought two plates and two spoons for the home made ice cream.
I sensed he was thinking something about our little party and yes, as we left and thanked him,  he said,
     "Thank you for coming and thank you for doing us the honour of ordering only what you could eat and clearing your plates."
It made me wonder how much food gets wasted and how much it worries him.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Exclamation marks are

"out" it would seem. Grammar is "in". 
I am following the Great Debate on the teaching of language in schools in England with interest. I am interested because I am worried about what is happening - both there and in Downunder. 
I am allowed to be worried. What is happening is wrong.
Let me start by declaring my interest in the topic. I spent a decade of my life doing something completely stupid. I wrote letters. I wrote thousands of letters.  I did it in the days before the "internet" and "e-mail". It cost me a lot of money. It almost certainly cost me a lot more than that as well.
The letters were for a specific purpose. I thought it would be a good idea if the United Nations had an international  year devoted to literacy. It was a crazy idea. Who on earth was going to listen to a completely unknown, young, female from a fairly remote corner of the earth?
Fortunately for me almost the first person I spoke to came up with a brilliant solution. I should write to the people who could make people listen.  I knew it meant that I would never get any recognition for the idea. That didn't matter. I wanted to see it happen.
There were times, many times, when I felt like giving up. I wrote those thousands of letters. I would write at least one in the morning and one in the evening. I made them individual. It meant research. I had to find names and addresses. Sometimes friends who spoke other languages would translate letters for me so that they went in the first language of the speaker. (There's not much point in sending a letter the recipient can't read immediately.) I asked them to approach their representative at the United Nations with the idea.
And, they did. We managed  between us to do it. Perhaps it would have happened some other way as well but I like think that our combined efforts did it.
I did it because I grew up surrounded by books. I could read long before I went to school. I love reading and I want as many other people to love reading as well. I want all children to be able to read and write and I want them to do it for the pleasure of doing it as well.
It isn't happening. There is an obsession with "coding" and other "IT" skills here. Downunder hasn't quite reached the point of telling children where to put exclamation marks but creativity is rapidly being squeezed out of too many children. I have seen their written work. It lacks life. It displays a lack of reading for pleasure. There is, I am told, "no time to read". Out of school hours are supervised - or spent on screen time. 
Oh yes, of course some children still read. They read a lot. It's a good thing but the librarian in charge of children's books tells me that the reading of fiction has dropped markedly. That worries me.
We should be worried.
It worries me because we need creative children. We need children who dream and imagine and are willing to experiment. They won't be able to do that if they don't have the language with which to do it. They won't be able to set up a science experiment or build a power station or send a ship to the outer reaches of the universe, discover a cure for Alzheimer's or multiple sclerosis or diabetes unless they can dream and imagine and think in diverse ways. 
In school a child should be reading and reading a lot about all sorts of things. They should be writing too. In the junior school a child should be writing without worrying about where to put an exclamation mark and whether they are permitted to use one. They shouldn't worry too much about spelling and grammar either. They  should simply be concerned with getting their ideas down. When they have done that then they can be guided into the "correct" spelling and grammar that will allow them to be understood with ease by others. 
There can be few better things to halt the free flow of ideas than demands that what is being written is written correctly right from the start. No author works like that. 
If we want great scientists and more then we will start with great readers and writers.

Monday, 16 May 2016

They look old and

one of them is decidedly frail. 
The Senior Cat and I were invited to a celebration of a 60th Wedding Anniversary yesterday. The Senior Cat was the "best man" at the wedding. The other groomsman and his wife, who was Matron of Honour, were also there. The bridesmaid was not. She died several years ago. Still, it was a pretty remarkable thing to have so many of  the immediate wedding party there. 
It was not a big celebration though. The Senior Cat's friend has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and, while still functioning on a daily basis, everyone knows that he "forgets" things. 
Their daughter arranged a surprise afternoon tea. Her mother thought the children had completely forgotten the occasion. We have been invited to lunch on Tuesday (the actual date) as she thought nobody had remembered at all. We all kept our mouths firmly shut and their  delight was obvious.
But I looked at them. The Senior Cat was not the oldest person in the room. That honour went to their daughter's mother-in-law. She is 98 and a feisty Italian with a wicked sense of humour. I have come to know her over the years and like her a lot. Her husband is several years younger. The Senior Cat comes next. They all look younger than the groom who is in fact only 85. Alzheimer's seems to take a toll on appearance too - at least for some. 
We have not, for one reason and another, seen them for twelve months and he looked a little bent. His hair, what's left of it, is completely white now. He moves a little more slowly. His wife, three years younger, looks grey with the increased responsibilities and her own ill health.
There was another elderly couple there. The husband is "only 82" and looks at least ten years older than that. His wife looks so much younger it is difficult to believe that they too have been married for nearly 60 years.
But the couple were obviously thrilled that yes, the children had remembered. There was a simple afternoon tea with a cake that was a replica of the simple cake at their wedding.
We left late in the afternoon and I wondered what they were thinking. Sixty years of memories are fading for one and not the other. 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

I don't "get" Eurovision

I really don't. 
I know. I know. It makes me a totally hopeless and unappreciative cat with no musical sense at all. 
But, I just don't "get" it. 
For a start why is Downunder allowed to enter something called "Eurovision".  Downunder isn't part of Europe. (It should be - but that is another blog post one day.) This "competition" will have to stop calling itself "Eurovision" if they let anyone else in.
And then I don't understand the music - if it is music. I suppose it is. The other night there was a brief clip on the news of some man singing with a wolf. I rather liked the wolf but I didn't care for the noise. 
Last night the reporter mentioned that the twenty tonnes of sound equipment for the finals had caused the stage area to sink 35mm. That sounds dangerous to me. 
And all those stage effects...is the music so bad they really need them? 
I  know, I really do, I don't appreciate this music. I don't understand it. I am not a particularly musical cat. I can't sing in tune - but at least I know why I can't sing in tune and I know when others are out of tune too. I was taught to read music and I know a certain amount about musical theory. All this Eurovision kerfuffle doesn't seem to match what I was taught but never mind. It's me. It has to be me. 
I might just put my paws over my ears and close my eyes and think of Beethoven. 

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Birthday card....

birthday card....birthday card.  I kept telling myself this all week.
A  friend of ours turns 80 tomorrow and I wanted to make her a birthday card because we aren't going to the party. (We are going to a 60th Wedding Anniversary celebration instead. The Senior Cat was "best man" and most definitely needs to be there!)
I am not one of those people who fusses around with cardstock, stamps, dies, embossing tools and fancy techniques. I cannot do any form of calligraphy. 
I still make birthday cards. I make them for some people on special occasions - such as turning 80 or 90 or, on one memorable occasion, 100. 
I make them by searching out quotations that are likely to interest the person. I type those up on sheets, print them off, cut them into individual quotes and then stick them - at random - over sheets of card. I print off a "Happy Birthday" as well, punch holes in the sheets of card, thread curling ribbon through and - there is a card of sorts.
I would not do them for everyone. There are people I know who wouldn't be in the least interested in such things. They don't read. But my friends tend to be determined readers,  unhappy unless they have a book close by. The only time I have made a card for someone who is not a reader was for a friend who is  Italian by birth and a knitter as well. She is a very good friend who had to leave school when she was just twelve. She had to learn English the hard way and she does read a little but she needs to have a dictionary by her side. I made her one with knitting terms in Italian and English and some quotes in Italian. The other day I noticed it is still on her bookshelf with the knitting books. I think that means she liked it.
But other people who are gardeners or cooks or carpenters or doctors or something else as well as readers are people I can find quotes for quite easily. I have books of quotes and I have collected more over the years. 
I don't always agree with what the author of the quote is saying and I know my friends won't always agree either. That's not the point. The idea is to give people something new to think about. People have quoted quotes back at me - from their cards. They get passed around at parties. 
I made one recently for a good neighbour. He was turning 70. We share an interest in philosophy and we did our degrees in different areas of visual perception. We didn't get to his party because the Senior Cat was in hospital but  he told me later that the event was a bit slow to start so he handed the card to someone - and soon everyone was talking ideas. He could have done something else because he is an excellent host but that worked for him too.
And yesterday, knowing I only had the day left to do it after a busy week, I brought up the files of quotations I already had. Was there the sort of thing right for this 80th birthday? Her interests are wide and varied. It wasn't a problem. I would have liked the time to hunt for some new quotations but  she doesn't know other people I know so I knew I could use what I had.
This morning I had an e-mail from her sister with an enthusiastic, "She's going to love it!"
I hope she does. They are fun to make.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Exercise class?

The Senior Cat has been going to a twice weekly "exercise class" for the last five weeks. The last session will be today. The idea behind the ten sessions was to restore his confidence after his fall. I think it has helped. He says it has. He is still very cautious but at least I am not holding my breath each time I watch him stand up. Middle Cat has been her usual stern and unrelenting self in such matters. Physiotherapist cats are bullies in more ways than one.
So, today he has to go for the last time.
It means I won't have to hoist him out of bed early (for him) and see to it that he has bathers and towel (for the pool), his taxi vouchers and everything else. It's a bit like getting a child off to school. We have succeeded so far. There is no reason to suppose we won't today.
He was very late getting home on Wednesday. Taxi drivers don't like short trips and this is a short one. I think that's been the biggest problem of all. The Senior Cat hates using taxis. He is a very polite sort of cat and he worries that he will mishear or completely misunderstand what the taxi driver will say to him. They are almost always "foreign". They speak with accents. He's not used to that and his hearing is getting worse.
Earlier in the week he also had to go back to the cardiologist. Middle Cat took him to that appointment. It was just as well. There was another "foreigner" involved. The Senior Cat could not understand this delightful man at all. He came home and said he was "very nice". I spoke to him on the phone before he put the pacemaker in and I agree. He is very nice. He is one of those kind, caring, empathetic doctors we all want when we aren't well. He's also the Professor of Cardiology at the university. And yes, he has an accent. 
He's a Scot. This is not "foreign". All the Senior Cat's ancestors are Scots. 

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Power of Attorney and

Advanced Care Directive and Will and....
I went with my late friend's sister to see the company which is responsible for executing my friend's will. It has taken longer than it should for a number of reasons.
One is that the company in question is trying to gain control of her sister's affairs. They pounced when her sister was at her most vulnerable and, since then, they have been trying to get her to agree to handing over all her affairs.
She has no other family - unless you count me. I am not related by blood. In the eyes of the law I don't count. Her sister and I considered we were sisters and I promised to watch out for her but I don't have the legal right to interfere.
But yesterday she asked me to go with her to yet another meeting. The executor company agreed I should be there - something I suspect they now  regret.
We went after we had talked between ourselves. "You do the talking" she told me.
I didn't do all the talking. That would have been wrong but, at the points where they started to try and put pressure on her I intervened. 
There are three things she needs desperately.
The first is a Power of Attorney. They want that. She wants someone she knows personally. She will in fact end up with two people - me and Middle Cat. I did it for her sister along with her cousin's son. He doesn't need to be involved this time because there is no real estate to be sold. The company wants to be "substitute" but that's not necessary if there are two people willing to act. It only needs to happen if she becomes incompetent to manage her day to day affairs. That hasn't happened yet. It may never happen
The second is an "Advanced Care Directive" - essential a medical power of attorney. It's a separate issue from the other one. The company in question cannot act in this capacity. It has to be an individual. It makes sense to have someone with medical knowledge - Middle Cat and I have that too. We also have good access to other medical knowledge if need be. I also makes sense that the people with that power have some access to a person's financial affairs. There is always the question of whether money can be spent on equipment or drugs outside their health fund. Again it may never happen. 
She "doesn't want to bother" us of course. She is a very private sort of person. I can understand that - but someone has to do the latter so it makes sense to do the former as well. I have done it before and so has Middle Cat. We know what we are potentially letting ourselves in for. We know we can't be paid for it.
The executor company couldn't be paid for doing it either - but they can charge for "expenses" and they would charge like a wounded bull. It is one of the ways in which they make money.
So, today I will get the necessary forms ready for her. I will leave the places for the names blank. She can fill those in herself. It will give her one last chance to change her mind if she wants to do so. I am not going to put her under the sort of pressure they have put her under. I suspect it is more likely to get results.
Her will is a different story. That is going to take some work. There is a considerable sum of money there. She would like to leave it to charity and that seems only right if she has no family. The company had ideas about that too - ideas that would earn them income. I've explained. I know there are ways of ensuring that charitable gifts don't end up being used on paving car parks.
This could all have been sorted out long ago - if the company was not looking at what was best for them rather than best for her and those she would like to benefit.  

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Age discrimination

is a curious thing. 
I wouldn't want to suggest that, at 61, someone is "too old" to do something because people do all sorts of things at 61. I know someone who rode his bike across the United States of America at that age. He had "retired" and it was an adventure he wanted to have. He went on to ride his bike in Europe - from Greece to Denmark - before deciding that he was "getting a bit old" for that. He was 76 when he stopped travelling like that. (No, he wasn't married.)
But there are times I wonder about people who do things at a certain age. There is, on the front page of today's paper, a former Senator who would like to make a "comeback" to the Senate. He was in the Senate from 2008 to 2014 but lost his seat at the last election. At the time he said he wasn't considering a return. It seems a little over two years makes a difference. He was once the leader of one of the most powerful unions. I have no doubt he misses the power he once had. The Senate would have been a different sort of adrenalin rush but it would still have given him a sense of doing something. 
Is that what he is looking for? He will, most likely, be second on the ticket after a female with a high profile. He will almost certainly regain his seat.
But is he the right person for the job? Yes, he's only 61. He's an old style unionist. That may well appeal to many who still feel strongly about unions. It will get him in but will he be the right person to help run the country if, as expected, the Opposition is returned to government by a slim majority?
I know other people who have gone on working or returned to work after "retirement". The person who taught me maths at the equivalent of the old "O" level was 77. He knew his subject. He had been teaching it the same way for 57  years. He was stale. We were restive. I sensed he was bored by the whole business but he kept on working because he didn't know what else to do. He was employed in the non-government system so this was possible. He went on working after I left too. He never had a retirement but I doubt he did the best by the students. My English teacher in the same school was in her 70's too. She loved literature but most of her students, from rural areas, saw no point in it at all. She did retire the year after I left - then travelled and read. Some years later she admitted to me that she wished she had retired ten years earlier. 
My paternal grandfather worked well into his 80's. He wanted to retire but people kept asking him to do "just one more uniform" or "just one more suit". Seeing his signature in the list of "visitors" to Government House - because he made both things for many Governors of the state - made me realise how difficult it must have been for him to retire. He cut back the amount of work he did but it wasn't until his eyesight failed that he stopped. 
I wonder though whether all these people would have enjoyed a retirement if the opportunity had been offered. My grandfather regretted not taking his wife on a trip back to Scotland. He regretted not seeing his cousins there and was delighted when the Senior Cat went instead. 
Now we expect people to go on working. We are told "age discrimination" is a bad thing. Perhaps it is if you want to go on working. 
But, I also believe it is necessary to acknowledge the need to make way for younger people. They will have new ideas, more energy - and they can go to their elders and ask advice can't they?

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Oh those "renewable energy"

targets are driving me wild.
It was wild, wet and windy here yesterday. We were fortunate we did not lose power but large portions of the city did. Middle Cat was without power for some hours. A friend on the other side of the city was without power for most of the day - not fun when you are caring for your daughter's two small children.
The "green" brigade said that all this would not have happened if we had all the necessary wind and solar power in place. 
Really? That was part of the problem. The wind was erratic. As I understand it the turbines have to be switched off when this happens because the equipment cannot handle wild swings, surges of wind and more. I don't understand the way these things work so perhaps I am wrong but it at least sounds logical. 
Of course, there was not enough sunlight getting through the clouds. (I went out and looked at the display which shows the amount being generated by our solar panels.)
Now please don't get the wrong idea. I like the idea of renewable energy sources. I think it would be absolutely wonderful to have the entire world's power needs run by such things. 
I don't see it happening any time soon - if ever. 
The current Opposition is making grand claims about getting to 50% renewable energy by 2030. It isn't going to happen. The cost would be horrific. It would bankrupt the country within weeks, if not days. 
Our coal fired power plant at the top of the gulf has just been closed. It used "dirty" brown coal from further north. (Isn't all coal dirty by definition?) It was undoubtedly also inefficient now.
But every morning people expect to get up, shower in hot water, make cups of tea and coffee, make toast - and all under artificial light. They dress in clothes made with machines that use more power. They travel in vehicles that were made with power. They go to work in places that use power. 
And so it goes on. We consume vast quantities of power. If a city like this is to function it needs power, a lot of power. 
I suspect that this was in the minds of those who handed over the report on the nuclear options to the government yesterday. We don't have a nuclear power plant here - although we mine uranium. We don't even want to story other people's nuclear waste - even though we sold them the uranium in the first place. Nuclear power is still not considered "safe" - and perhaps it isn't.
Should we be working on ways to make it "safe"? Would it be safer than relying on the wind and the sun? 

Monday, 9 May 2016

We are now officially in "election

mode". Downunder goes to the polls on July 2nd.
Yes, it will be a long election campaign. Yes, it is a "double dissolution". 
The High Court has not yet brought down a judgment with respect to the changes for the voting rules for the Senate. If they find for those challenging the new rules then it will be chaos. It's not likely but it could happen.
Some election "corflutes" (posters) are already up in this district. They suggest we have the choice between an ageing union man from the left and a pretty young thing from the right. In truth both of them are pretty close to the centre. No doubt we will also see two more candidates further to the left appear in a few days. 
An election campaign this long is a massive risk for the government. They will have to hope that the current Opposition makes some major blunders over the next two months.
The strategy on one side seems to be the economy. The strategy on the other side seems to be people. My own strategy would be to try and manage the economy in such a way that people benefit. I am told that "it doesn't work like that" by both sides. We will see.
There are some very serious issues which should be up for discussion before the election. I suspect they will be hijacked and that any "debate" will end up in a shouting match. 
One of the journalists put up a reminder on Twitter, a reminder to the young to enrol now if they are eligible to vote.   It's not a bad thing to remind them to do - if they can work out what on earth the adults are on about.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

"I am not allowed to touch anything and

Cat is not allowed to touch anything either."
The small boy stood in front of me looking very serious indeed. I was a little startled at first and then I realised he was holding a small toy cat.
The small boy had come to the craft fair with his mother. Children are a hazard at such events. They want to touch. Touching is one way of learning about things. 
There were tiny things on the stall I was working on too. Children like tiny things. There were beads and buttons and mini-size balls of wool (complete with label) and small knitting needles. It was all too much for most children. Their mothers and grandmothers and, occasionally, grandfathers would say "Don't touch" and "Put that down" but the temptation was severe.
But this small boy just stood there. He looked at everything very carefully. His mother spent some time choosing yarn and buttons and talking to me about the pattern she had chosen.
I thanked her for her purchase and quietly congratulated her on his behaviour. She thanked me and said, "I hope there's some crafty materials somewhere he can use too."
I told her where to find some.
A couple of hours later I went to speak to another stall holder near the crafty stand. The two of them were at the crafty stand. He was still clutching "Cat" and his mother was showing him something. He nodded and then, as I watched, she took Cat. He took a small child's stamp set and a pack of paper cards. He had the money for these things firmly clutched in the other hand. He went and joined the queue to be served. His mother stood back and waited. 
I was waiting to speak to the stall holder so I watched. He waited his turn, handed over his money and his purchases, said "Please" and "Thank you" and went back to his mother and they went off. 
     "If only all children in here were like that," someone near me muttered.
I am sure he has his moments at home but he was perfectly behaved there. His mother did more shopping. I saw her talking to a sewing machine salesman and he stood there watching a woman working on another machine. She spoke to him and, after looking at his mother for permission, he went to look at what she was doing. Their two heads were bent over the intricacies of machine quilting and I could, even from a distance, see his fascinated expression. He didn't touch. He just looked. 
He was the sort of child you wanted to spoil but of course it was because he had not been that he behaved the way he did. They went past the stand I was working on as they left and his mother bought a second packet of buttons. As she was choosing them I asked him what he had bought. He showed me and told me, "I like making things."
I hope he goes on liking making things. He's only four years old so there's a lot of time to do it yet.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

"The pattern's wrong"

The knitter looks at me accusingly. "I've tried it and it's wrong. And, I've got my friend - and she's a knitter too  - to do it and she says it is wrong too."
I take a deep breath. I know the pattern is not "wrong". It has been knitted by a great many people now and nobody else has had a problem with it. I doubt that some of the "beginner" knitters who have used the pattern  would have been able to knit it if the pattern was "wrong".
I go through it with her - or rather, I try to go through it. She keeps interrupting. I ask her if she can read the chart. Of course she can't. She is trying to follow just the written instructions and work it out from there. I go through the chart and the instructions together. She shakes her  head and goes off to "look at it and count the stitches". She comes back triumphantly and tells me "it's still wrong". I doubt anything will convince her but I give her one of my own cards and tell her to try again and then e-mail me if she still has a problem. I seriously hope I don't hear from her. 
Yes, one of those days at the craft fair. It was actually rather quiet. My friend and I managed to get some planning in. She has new  yarn lines she wants me to knit samples for. That means designing and writing a pattern as well. I also talked to her about planning for the summer school I am teaching at. 
Just before people were going off to lunch someone stood in front of me. She is shorter than I am - something of an achievement. She is also a good deal wider. (I almost look anorexic next to her.) She has a mischievous smile which reaches deep into her dark brown eyes.
       "You won't remember me but I know who you are," she tells me.
I look carefully at her face and shake my head. I am not good at this game but, in this case, I sense she is sincere.
She tells me who she is - the "little sister" of a girl I went to school with for a short time. And then I did remember her - and I remembered her well. 
Her entire family were very kind to me. Her father was a "rough carpenter". He put up the framework for buildings for the Public Buildings Department. Her mother was a "stay at home" Mum. There was the girl I was friendly with, her brother, then the person in front of me and, lastly, another girl who was not even at school then.
They had me there for the evening meal around once a week when I was miserably "homesick" and living in a girls' hostel for two terms. The mother would give me a hug. The father mended my shoes more than once (because I scuffed the toes out frequently). I helped my friend with  her English, talked to  her brother about his school projects, and listened to this sister struggle through her early readers.
I suppose it was a two way thing but I often felt it was one-way. They were giving me so much. It was a little taste of family life. 
I  found out what they were all doing - which was much as I expected. She bought some buttons from the stall and went off with a cheerful promise to say hello to her sister from me.
I just wish though that her mother was still around so I could tell her all over again how much those hugs meant.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Let's do away with all the magic

in the world and concentrate on what is real. Let's forget all the stories. We don't need them. It's enough for children to have maths and science and computer programming. They really don't need anything else. 
That is how it is beginning to look to me. There was apparently a piece in a journal somewhere recently which explains why "the Borrowers" could not have existed. They do exist. They are "real". It infuriates me when adults try to suggest that "of course it's not real". Their idea of reality and mine are obviously very different. What's real is what is inside your head. I'm sorry. It has to be that way. If I can't believe in such things then life becomes flat and two dimensional. It becomes grey rather than colourful. 
People who tell me the Borrowers could not have existed because they are too small and that no tree was ever made into a wardrobe that led to Narnia or that no caterpillar was ever that hungry are simply trying to take all the magic out of the world. I hate explanations of what is "real" in all the wrong places.
There is a book by Margaret Storey simply titled "Pauline".  Pauline, an orphan, goes to live with a cousin and his family. He is perhaps kind enough but he is lacking in imagination. One night his youngest child is singing "Fifteen men on a dead man's chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum..." He explains what she is singing about - and she stops singing. It's a powerful little paragraph. It doesn't say why she stops but you know.
And I worry that the world is becoming more and more like that. There seems to be less and less magic there. Children don't get AAMilne's "The King asked the Queen and the Queen asked the dairymaid..." with all the delightful nonsense that goes with it. They get told ,"Cows don't talk and that couldn't have happened." Of course it could happen. It happens in your imagination.
How many imaginations are we stifling when we tell people what is "real" and "not real". Do people understand language at all? 
How can I think about something I can't see, touch, smell or hear unless I can engage with it in my imagination and make it "real"? Oh what are you doing when you tell a child something is not "real"?

Thursday, 5 May 2016

They are offering "early retirement"

to some staff over 55 at one of our universities. The same sort of thing is occurring in a slightly less public way at the other two universities in the state.
I am not surprised. I am worried. The universities already rely on far too many "casual" (paid by the hour) staff.  As one of those "casual" people I also know that the "casual" system simply doesn't work as well as it should.
There is something very wrong with our universities now. When I was a student there was just one university in the state. The second one was being built. It was thought there was a need to expand. Naturally it was filled with young staff - all of about the same age. They are now almost all gone. A few of them still do a little research.  Most of them have simply retired.  
There is now a third "university". It was created by amalgamating the "colleges of advanced education" - not the best way to design any university. It is still spread out over more than one location.
The "arts" type courses at all three have dwindled in popularity. Students are discouraged from doing them because "it won't lead to employment". University is now about that - about employment. It is about studying something that will lead only to employment. It is not about learning for learning's sake. It isn't about inquiring and the students look at me in a puzzled sort of way when I suggest they might do some "research". They believe that reading the set texts should be sufficient. 
The universities are about to embark on a project to "find out why so many students drop out of their courses at the end of their first year". Do they really need a research project to tell them that? Students are dropping out because 
         (a) some of them should not be at university in the first place 
         (b) they have been pushed into courses they have no interest in  but will lead to employment
         (c) they don't have the necessary language and study skills
and   (d) the courses they are doing don't actually relate to potential employment even though they are supposedly designed for that.
There are other reasons as well of course but that's a start.
We need to change our ideas about universities, about teaching in them, about what is taught and how it is taught. I would like to see students who are eager to learn more and who are able to develop the skills which will allow them to go on learning - and learning for the sake of learning not just in order to get a job at the other end. 
And, among other things, that means having good staff - not just casuals who might care but cannot always be there.  
And yes, I'm a "casual". I put in more hours than I am paid for but I can't be there as often as the students would like. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Two asylum seekers have

set themselves alight recently. One has died. The other is in a critical condition in hospital.
Refugee advocates blame the Australian government for these actions. I don't. I blame the refugee advocates. 
I realise that may bring down the wrath of many on my head but I hope at least some of you will go on reading this and consider what I have to say.
First of all I don't believe Australian takes in as many refugees as it could. We could do better, of course we could do better. We need to do better. 
Second, we need to handle refugees quite differently from the way we now do. I have said elsewhere in this blog that many refugees want to go home eventually. Many of them are desperately homesick. They want to return to their countries of origin when it is safe to do so. We should be doing much more to make that possible. 
At this end we should be providing people with protection. That does not necessarily mean saying, "Yes, you can live here for the rest of your days." It may mean saying, "Yes, you can stay here until it is safe to return."
That is not nearly as harsh as it sounds. By far the greatest number of those seeking asylum have been healthy young men. They should be able to go back sometime - go back and help to rebuild their countries. If they don't do that then those countries are going to be even worse off than they are now. Refugees and asylum seekers should not be seen as migrants.
Refugee advocates seem to see things differently. Some of them at least seem to believe that anyone who wants "asylum" is a "refugee" and that everyone who asks should be granted it. I know they are at odds with the Immigration Minister over this but,  if they are encouraging those claiming asylum to protest, then they are responsible for what happens to them. I know a certain Senator says that protest is the only  hope some of these people have. I disagree.  There are alternatives.
A colleague went to Nauru recently. He came away a little bewildered. He had been reading newspaper reports about conditions there. He, rather naively perhaps, thought people were somehow still locked up and living in tents. It was the impression being given by the media. He found a quite different situation. It wasn't ideal and not everyone was happy with it but it was far better than he had been led to believe. He also came away believing that it is a minority who agitate and that yes, advocates do stir up unrest.  He went with the attitude of many of the advocates and protesters. He came away feeling angry that a difficult situation is being made far worse by advocates who don't need to handle the practicalities of preventing people from drowning at sea, assessing claims for asylum, and making sure that those who do come here are fed, housed, educated and - where possible - employed. 
I am tired of the simplistic approach of the refugee advocates. I don't know what the answers are but I do know that I'd far rather the money this agitation costs was spent on helping refugees so they can, one day, go home and rebuild.  To do anything less than that is to treat people as less than human - and that makes me angry.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Pay for a parcel to be delivered?

Ummm....hang on a moment. Didn't the person at the other end pay for it to be delivered?
Our postal service is getting worse, much worse.
As a kitten I remember there were eleven deliveries a week. There would be two each weekday and one on Saturdays. You knew if there was something in your mailbox because the postman, on an ordinary pushbike would blow his whistle. 
As small children we thought all of this was interesting. It was fun. We liked to go and pull the letters out of the box and give them to our parents or grandparents.
Then deliveries were dropped to one each day and none on Saturdays. The "postie" came around on a lightweight motor bike. In this district our old postie had to cease deliveries. He had epilepsy and he was not allowed to have the necessary licence to ride a motor bike.  
I know all about this because one of the jobs I was once offered was that of postie. The Australian Public Service knew I did not have a licence and that I had no hope of "maintaining" any motor bike issued to me. It was why I was offered the job. They could then claim I had "turned it down". (Another job they offered me was that of "customs officer" - where I had to prove my fitness to climb up and down ladders in the hulls of ships and carry parcels up to 10kg in weight before I could be considered. They knew I would "turn (that one) down" too. )
And now they are thinking of dropping deliveries to three days a week. I suspect they are already trying it out in our district because some days we get no mail. On other days we get more mail than usual. We don't see the postie some days and we do on others.
And then there are the parcels. They get delivered  by van of course. There seem to be more of those these days. People do more shopping on line. 
The parcel delivery service however is not efficient. More than once we have found a card in our letter box telling us to call and collect a parcel at the Post Office. 
We knew the old parcel delivery person. She was lovely, really lovely. On one very, very hot day she rang our door bell and  held up her empty water bottle and asked if I would mind her filling it from our tank. I made her come in, gave her a cold drink and colder water from our fridge. She knew to give the Senior Cat or my mother time to get to the door. I think everyone in the district was sorry when she retired because she always went the little extra way to make sure people did get their parcels. 
Since then we have had a seemingly endless variety of people. None of them last long. They don't like the job. The notes in the letter box suggest that they haven't even bothered to try. I saw one of them simply write three cards one day without even bothering to get multiple parcels out. He simply placed the cards in three different letter boxes and went on. I wonder if he delivered anything that day?
Now they want to charge people to pick up parcels at the Post Office. You will have a few days grace but many Post Offices are not open on Saturdays and if you work all week?
I wonder about all this. Does Australia Post want to keep running or doesn't it? Isn't a postal service a necessary requirement? Not everything can be done by computer.
I suspect they may find the public will say, "Stay and deliver."

Monday, 2 May 2016

I have been breaking the law

for years - and I have been encouraged to do so by the police. I have sometimes had to explain to others that I have their permission to break the law. Well, that was true until recently. I no longer need to break the law because the law has changed.
Until recently it was not legal to ride on the footpath in this state -unless you were under the age of twelve. I stopped being under twelve a very long time ago. 
We also had very few bike paths or bike lanes. Bikes had to mix with traffic - all too often with disastrous consequences in a state where there are too many people intent on going too fast in their cars. 
I had come back from Canberra, the nation's capital, where there were 186km of dedicated bicycle track. It was legal to ride on the footpath - but not within ten metres of an open shop. I pedalled happily there. I had lived in another state too and the area I lived in had similar arrangements. I was, as they say, "a happy camper" or cyclist.
It was different here. I set out in trepidation having been told that,  unlike the years before I left the state, the police were now much tougher on footpath cyclists. They had once happily ignored me and any other tricycle rider. But, I had been warned, "Don't go on the footpath Cat. They don't like it now."
I went on the road, a busy main road. I had no choice. It was terrifying. There were  huge vehicles thundering past me, close enough to touch - or so it seemed. 
And then, inevitably it seemed, a cop car pulled alongside me and a worried looking  policeman looked out at me and said, "Get on the footpath!"
I got on the footpath wondering if I had done something wrong. The car pulled in just ahead of me. Two of them got out and came up to me.
     "Don't you think you should be riding on the footpath?"
     "I'd be breaking the law," I told them.
     "Then break the law. We aren't going to pull you over for it."
They investigated my tricycle (all in order) and asked some questions about it. We parted in a friendly fashion.
I have since had police pull their mobile radar equipment out of the way to let me through.
And, at the end of last  year, it became legal for cyclists to travel on the footpaths. This has not been well received  by many people. It is taking time for people to get used to the idea. Many cyclists still use the roads (legally) but I have noticed older people and women using the footpaths. I have noticed more parents teaching their children to ride. 
I hope they are being careful. I have had years of riding my tricycle on the footpath. It takes an even greater degree of care than riding on the roads. There are cars coming from driveways and all sorts of overhanging vegetation to avoid. Things get dropped and dumped on footpaths. They have to be avoided - especially the advertising stands. There are pedestrians - and pedestrians with dogs. There are also pedestrians with mobiles. 
It is these last who complain most bitterly about cyclists on the footpath. Why should that all important text conversation be interrupted by the need to look at the cyclist coming towards you?