Friday, 30 September 2016

The great clean up

is going on after the state wide power outage. Questions are being asked about "what" was responsible, "who" was responsible and "why". The State Emergency Service (SES) has been working over time. 
There is a man in the next street who is an SES volunteer. He will have been out most of the night. He will now have to go and teach today - unless the school principal takes pity on him and sends home early. (He might. It is the last day of term here.) 
The storm has had tragic consequences. Nobody lost their life but some people have lost a great deal. Some embryos at the fertility clinic at one of the big hospitals did not survive and that is undoubtedly devastating for those involved. A premature baby did survive because a doctor used a hand ventilator.  
I read all that - and thought of what happens in war zones and disasters in other places. It's my job to think about those things.
And I also thought of something that caused  me and my siblings a good deal of alarm when we were children - and seems almost funny in retrospect.
The Senior Cat had what we used to call "cleaning up raids". Now it has to be said here that we are not a tidy family - and the Senior Cat is one of the worst offenders. Things get left around. Books and papers are left on the floor, on chairs, on the table, on the kitchen bench and more. The 'fridge is littered with bills, appointments, reminders, notices, 'phone numbers, business cards, "artworks" by the neighbours' children and grandchildren and more. There are currently two pieces of timber on the kitchen table, a screwdriver and the various pieces of a small machine the Senior Cat is endeavouring to repair. 
All this sort of thing was also pretty normal when we were growing up. It is probably why my work desk tends to have piles of paper and dictionaries and....well, need I explain? 
And then, suddenly, the Senior Cat would pounce. He would want to know what things were doing there. Why hadn't they been put away? The place was going to be tided - now! We would scatter in alarm. Some time later we would peer cautiously around the door. If he had gone we were safe. We would search the rubbish for things we thought were "precious". We would return things to their rightful place so that they could be used. I mean, why put the kettle in the saucepan drawer???
And that would be it - for a while. 
It has been a long time since the Senior Cat had a cleaning up raid. 
I may have to have one myself. 

Thursday, 29 September 2016

We were without power for almost

twelve hours. The main connector from the power station in the north failed in the foul weather and plunged the entire state into "darkness" - or, more accurately, a state of chaos.
I had a friend here. She was on her way home and had, as she always does on Wednesdays, called in for a "proper cup of tea" with the Senior Cat. 
I wasn't sure she would stop but she did. Her daughter called her while she was here and warned her that the traffic lights were out across the city. Everything was at a standstill - including the traffic. I hope she did eventually get home to her little unit on the southern side of the CBD. At least she didn't have to cross the entire city.
There were no trains - all the signalling is dependent on electricity and one line is electrified. The buses could not get through. Shops had to shut. Entire shopping centres had to close. I am trying not to think what might have happened to people stuck in lifts.
Middle Cat was at the surgery. There is a dental surgery next door and two dentists were in the middle of procedures. The automatic doors were not working in the building.
A magnificent tree came down in a street not far from here - and blocked the street for hours. The emergency services time line I sometimes have to monitor was a sea of red "tree down" notices this morning, along with "flooding" and "salvage" and more. At least it is back up and running and able to warn people. 
The phone lines were not working and the mobile phone towers were out of action as well.  (It also meant that the Senior Cat's emergency pendant would not have worked because it needs the phone line as well.)
In all this chaos we actually coped quite well. When this house was built my mother insisted on a gas cooktop. Her reasoning was that you were unlikely to have both a power outage and a cessation of the gas supply. It meant that you could always have a hot drink.
Yesterday this proved to be true. I put the kettle on when my friend arrived. I filled the thermos flask for her to take with her. If the power had still been out this morning I would have been able to get another hot drink and give the neighbours who don't have gas one too. 
But the weather is still wild, very wild. We will be lucky if we don't have another power outage  - but it is likely to be local and of a shorter duration. I know we are fortunate being on the same "grid" as the local hospital - because they get priority in an am emergency. 
And it all made me aware yet again how dependent we are on power. We had torches and I brought out the emergency candles.
We had soup - but no toast - as a light supper. The Senior Cat watched a DVD on his battery operated player. I knitted and went to bed early - and was up at 4am to deal with some essentials. 
This morning I went out briefly and surveyed the damage. Things have been blown around - and will get blown around some more. There are some branches down in the street and there will be more elsewhere. 
I came back in as quickly as I could.
And I have finally found a use for those pewter mugs I was awarded all those years ago. They make great candlesticks! 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

We are about to batten down the hatches

because there is a super storm on the way. We have been warned to expect high winds, power outages, flooding and more. This morning's paper has a list of what and what not to do. Right.
I just went and put a load of washing on the line,
You see, at the moment we have blue sky and sunshine. I know it isn't going to last. There are other signs. I don't doubt the storm warning - or that we will see some wild weather. Right now though it might be possible to get some things almost dry before bringing them in and having the living area look like a Chinese laundry for the umpteenth time this year. 
I vaguely remember the storm of 1964 - the one this is supposed to be rivalling. We lived in a rural area, a dairying district. The farmer who owned the land next to the school had to put his cows on the school oval which was on slightly higher ground. The "flats" they grazed on had so much water on them it wasn't safe for anything else. We lost power of course - but it was less of an issue than it might have been because, like everyone else, we had a wood burning "slow combustion" stove - a bit like an Aga. My father sent the school buses home early and we all went to bed early as well. The following day it had blown out and the little ones came back to school full of tales of all the damage done. Some of the older students were still busy dealing with fallen trees and other damage.
A naval boat ran aground a short distance up the coast and there was doubtless much more damage elsewhere but we didn't know about it.
Now the news will, power permitting, be out there as it happens. It has made me aware of another problem. Some people won't get any news. They don't get a paper delivered. They won't have any power. At the present time it looks as if it is going to be a lovely day. There will be students who go off to school in nothing more than one of the standard school cotton-polyester tops. People will go to work dressed for this morning rather than taking precautions for this afternoon. 
There is an assumption about information now, an assumption that information is disseminated quickly and easily to everyone. There is an assumption that everyone is informed. There is an assumption that people will hear news and warnings and make the necessary arrangements, that they are connected to the internet and that they have mobile phones.
I have a friend who, since the loss of her husband earlier in the year, now lives alone. She came late to the event on Saturday, late because she had a flat tyre. She is frail and slight and had no hope of changing the tyre herself. She had just got herself out of her car to try and get some help - which meant getting her walker out as well - when someone came out of a nearby house and, seeing the situation, changed the tyre for her. When she eventually arrived she said to me, "It's time I got a mobile phone." I agreed. She needs one now. She won't always find some stranger so willing to help. People are more likely to pass her by now - on the assumption she has such a thing and can call on other help.
It makes me wonder what will happen when the power gets knocked out though. Is our reliance on such communication actually causing us to communicate less than we should?

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

So the "terrible twos" are the result of

"poor parenting"?
There is a teacher turned therapist spouting this in the paper this morning. I wonder how that will make parents feel.
Apparently it is all to do with "expectations" and "taking children into inappropriate situations" - like taking them to the pub. (Well actually I agree with not taking them to the pub. I don't like going to  such places myself - but then, like them, I don't drink alcohol.)
But is it really just poor parenting that causes the temper tantrums of a two year old?
I can remember being two. I can remember being two very clearly indeed. I also know that most people have only very hazy memories of being two. Why should I remember and others not remember? The answer to that is both simple and complex. 
The simple answer is that I had a lot of language at my disposal by then. I'd been through that sort of temper tantrum stage long before that - when I didn't have the language to express what I wanted to say.  I still had temper tantrums - tantrums of sheer frustration at not being able to do things I saw other two year old children doing apparently without any trouble at all.
But I remember being able to talk to adults - and adults talking to me. I can remember asking questions, wanting to know why and how - and a good deal more. Where was I going to take my train today? What was there? How long would it take? 
I do not remember being bored. I do remember my mother saying, "Be quiet Cat!" Being a reasonably obedient kitten I would lapse into silence - for a few minutes.
If you can ask questions about your world - and get people to answer them - and if you can make sense of your world and what is in it then you know more about where you fit into it. You know what others expect of you and how you are expected to respond. It's possible to explore your world.
So yes, if a two year old is having a temper tantrum in the pub or the supermarket or somewhere else where largely adult activities are going on it is possible that "poor parenting" is to blame. Even telling a child to "hold this for me please" or asking "which one will we get?" might help - and parents in a rush might not ask that. 
I think there is something else though - and it is that language issue. It is about not being able to ask, not being able to make sense of your surroundings. It's about wanting something because you are, quite simply, bored at being expected to sit still in the child seat of the trolley.
There is a local boy I know. I have watched  him grow up. From the very start his mother provided something for him to do every time  I saw them. He started with soft toys and age appropriate things in his carry cot and graduated through to serious picture books by the age of two. He would "read" these to himself while his mother went rapidly through the shopping list. Once in a while we coincided at the checkout area and he would tell me about his toy or his book or the fact that they had just been to the library.
He went off to school this year, already able to read - and yes, his two older siblings were the same. His mother said to me, more than once, "It's so much easier when they can talk to you and you know what they want."
I think she's right. And yes, that is partly about good parenting. It is about learning how to communicate, listening, speaking, reading, gesture, emotion and more. It is about words and books and nonsense rhymes. It takes time to learn all that, the child's time and the time of the adults around the child.
Are the "terrible twos" then about something more than "poor parenting"? Are they about "time-poor parenting" and the sheer volume of knowledge, especially linguistic knowledge, a child needs to access in order to begin to make sense of the world?

Monday, 26 September 2016

It is back to work today and

a week before the schools break up for the last break before Christmas.
I know some grandparents who are not looking forward to this. They will have their grandchildren full time while "Mum and Dad" are at work. 
One of our neighbours is a "stay-at-home Mum" and she isn't looking forward  to the break either. 
     "I don't know how I'll keep them entertained," she told me. I know she was looking for ideas - preferably ideas that don't cost anything.
I don't remember school holidays being like that. We didn't get entertained. We were expected to entertain ourselves - and entertain ourselves out of the house at that. Even before we went to school we were expected to do that. It had to be pouring with rain before we were allowed to "play inside". 
Of course, for most of the time, we lived in the country. Children on farms were expected to help. Those of us who lived in the small rural communities were also expected to help.  My brother could drive a tractor from a very early age. I can remember being given a broom that seemed much bigger than me and being told to sweep the floor of the shearing shed. I collected eggs (and was terrified I would drop them) and fed calves  (and wondered if they would bite me) and did all manner of other things. You just did those things - and then you went off to do what you wanted to do. I did not learn to milk or round up the sheep but I did get satisfactorily and happily grubby.  In most places it was assumed I could do whatever was asked of me. I wonder about it now but, at the time, it was a source of huge satisfaction to feel as if I was being useful.
We wandered in the bush. The snakes avoided us - or so it seemed. We knew they were there and to "never pick up a smooth stick". Out there we built "wurlies" and "cubbies" (small shelters).   
The communities were small enough that everyone knew everyone. If we really, really, really needed an adult to help we always knew where to find one - such as the day that one of the boys fell to the ground after a tree branch broke under his weight. He knocked himself out and we thought he was dead but, by the time someone had run for an adult, he was sitting up and saying "my head  hurts". He was taken home for the rest of the day. Now he would probably be rushed off in an ambulance. All I can remember is his father saying to the Senior Cat, "I suppose if it hurts there's something there to be hurt."  We avoided tree climbing - for a couple of days. 
There are only two local boys - brothers - I know of who have climbed a tree. None of them has built a cubbie. Most of them have only ridden bikes up and down their driveways and perhaps on the footpath outside their home. They don't know how to use public transport...and even I would be put on the bus or train  in the care of the conductor (we had them then) to get off at a certain point and then go to one or the other of my respective grandparents. My maternal grandparents meant walking down the platform and about fifty metres along the path and climbing through the back fence. My paternal grandparents meant walking back past the little shop and in the gate. I suppose if I had not arrived questions would have been asked but  it was just assumed I would arrive. Now, a child alone like that would be the subject of investigation  by social services.
Perhaps we were lucky, luckier than we realised. We had to entertain ourselves and we knew how to get there.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

I hope I can say this without sounding

too much as if I am "blowing my own trumpet". One of the reasons I want to say it is also to say "thank you" to the people who read this and who came along and made the event such a success.
Yesterday I was given an acknowledgment for doing my job. Yes, okay I have been doing it for forty years - and no, I have never been paid properly for doing it. Sometimes though life chooses you and you don't choose life. I was given the ability to do something and that something needed to be done.
I've been writing communication assistance aids or "communication boards" for more than forty years actually but the work for adults which led to my job started forty years ago. D....actually had the precise date I designed the first board for him so he could go off to Thailand and "at least be polite to the local people" he was trying to help. That was the 18th September 1976. He told other people what I had done and a trickle of requests became a flood which, at times, has threatened to drown me.
D...wanted that acknowledged and so, apparently, did a lot of other people. I had so many emails on the 18th I thought my in boxes would crash.
And  yesterday the local crew, organised by Middle Cat, the Senior Cat and my friend R.... turned out and gave me something incredibly special. I have absolutely no idea how to photograph it so that  it can actually be seen but it is a little silver pendant designed by D...'s daughter. It has my internet avatar - the cat sitting on the pile of books - on one side and, on the other, is a message in Blissymbols, "To Cat, thank you in many languages from all of us". Okay, I admit I shed a tear. It's extraordinary, truly extraordinary. The workmanship is superb - and was much admired by a master craftswoman who was present yesterday.  You can even see the whiskers on the little cat!
Middle Cat had, when things had reached a point where I couldn't back out, said, "Well look, we'll keep this  thing small and intimate. We aren't inviting many people." 
There were enough to fill the hall of the church the Senior Cat attends - and the church donated the use of it for the afternoon. People I know there dealt with an amazing afternoon tea - of which I ate almost nothing because I was too busy trying to make sure I said "hello and thank you" to everyone.
My friend R.... , a former Senator, did me the honour of a short speech - standing in for D...who lives in Wales. (He's also, like the Senior Cat, 93 and said he was a "bit old to be travelling that far".)
I think I actually enjoyed myself once the "speech" bit was over and my diverse family and friends were noisily communicating with one another.
Thank you for turning out on a rather bleak afternoon and for making it so special. 

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Something is happening today

and I may blog about it tomorrow but right now I am feeling more than a little apprehensive. (It is not helped by the weather which is decidedly dreich - the Scots among you will understand what I mean.)
It made me think again about an article in Guardian by Graeme Innes, the former Human Rights Commissioner. He was trying to argue that the Labor Party here in Downunder should appoint a person with a disability to the Senate to replace a senator who has just resigned.
No, I am not putting my paw up for the job. I live in the wrong state for a start. It isn't the sort of job I would want and I am too ancient a cat to start in politics.
I didn't put my paw up at the state election before last when a group I was involved in decided to run two candidates for the state election. I was asked and I said no as kindly as I could but also very firmly. In the end they ran one candidate and a very young girl agreed to be second on the ticket for tactical reasons. Nobody at all was expecting them to come anywhere near actually winning a seat but the politics of compulsory preferential voting is such that they thought they could influence the outcome to favour people they believed would be more supportive of people with disabilities.
What happened was something nobody expected. First of all a fortnight out from the election the first candidate died suddenly and unexpectedly. His name had to remain on the ballot paper. His preferences flowed to the second candidate. The "party" in question had more publicity than they could otherwise have hoped to have.
And....the second candidate got in for an eight year term in the upper house of the state parliament. Nobody, least of all the second candidate, expected it.
She's done a damn good job too. At the beginning she must have been feeling absolutely overwhelmed. I know she was stunned. She told me that herself. "I don't believe it" came from her lips more than once.
One of the reasons she has done a good job is that she knew she needed to listen to advice - and she has had some good advice. The other is that she has recognised that she has to represent the interests of everyone, not just people with disabilities.  
I think Graeme Innes has made a mistake there. He's suggesting that someone should be appointed because they have a disability and that they should be there to represent people with disabilities. That's not the answer. You have to appoint someone with ability and they have, in the case of a senator, to represent their state - although the reality is that senators vote along party lines. That doesn't preclude the person being appointed from having a disability but they do need to have ability as well.
I wonder what will happen at the next state election when she has to "stand" again. Will she get the votes she needs for another term? Does she want another term?
If she does then I hope that voters will recognise her ability.

Friday, 23 September 2016

I see that Michael Mopurgo is

suggesting that children should be read to in the last half hour of the school day and sent home with something to think about.
It's a good idea - but it won't happen. There will be too many other things that schools think children "should" be doing.
I only ever taught one mainstream class. They were ten and eleven  year old children from a very poor area. There wasn't much money around, especially not for books. 
Most of their parents didn't think books were that important. They sent their children to school because the law required it but many of them didn't have great expectations or ambitions for their children. They assumed their children would do the sorts of work they were doing and most of those jobs required no post-secondary training. Some of the children knew they would leave school as soon as they were old enough and go and work where their parents worked. This was particularly true of the boys. The girls tended to think of life in terms of shop assistant or nurse's aide and then marriage and children. When I asked them what they wanted to be most of them looked at me blankly. One boy answered "doctor" and one girl answered "teacher". 
When I suggested that I would read a book to them and that they could choose the book they were even more confused. I told them I was going to teach them all to knit. They could make themselves football beanies while I read to them. Their confusion grew.
But, I taught them to knit. Two of the girls could already knit. They came from European backgrounds where such things were taught at home. We taught the rest of the class - and only one boy objected. (I had given them a history lesson on knitting and told them how it was once a skilled occupation for men with a seven year apprenticeship. ) 
And they sat there and knitted slowly, very slowly. I read to them. We read Roald Dahl, Ivan Southall, Colin Thiele, Randolph Stow, Gill Paton Walsh, and more. If they got through the work I had set I would read to them during the week and, whatever else happened, on Friday afternoons the last "lesson" was me reading to them. 
         "Just one more chapter! Please miss!" 
Their parents were wary at first. Was I just wasting time? They admitted that their children talked about the books at home.
I took over the school library in the following year - in those glorious far off days when schools had real libraries. My students from the previous year were in there immediately demanding more books like those I had read to them. They started to think it might be possible to be something more than their parents were. 
I don't know how many of them read now. I haven't seen most of them for many years. I am not likely to see them again. Somethingt tells me though that some of them might have retained the need to read virus. I hope they have.
If I had to go back into that same situation I would read to them again - but I would do it more often because I didn't do it enough. 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

They are ditching the Reading Recovery

program in the schools in a neighbouring state of Downunder. This does not particularly surprise me. It's an expensive program to run because it involves individual tuition.
For those of you who don't know anything about it the RR program is an early intervention program for beginner readers. If children are underachieving at the end of their first twelve months they are given  intensive, individual tuition in tailor made sessions with a specially trained teacher. It's expensive to run.
I have a good friend, now retired, who worked on this program through a university in the UK. She has lectured on it, written about it, trained teachers to use it and worked with children  who were in need of extra help. 
The Senior Cat has also taken a great interest in the teaching of reading. He is still interested in the topic. He worked closely with an excellent "Reading Resource Centre", a marvellous resource for teachers in this state. He did an intensive three month "study trip" for the Education Department in the UK and Scandinavia looking at reading schemes, talking to teachers and academics. He brought back a great deal of material and the RRC used it. The government disbanded the RRC not long after the Senior Cat retired. They said it was too expensive to run, that the courses it ran should be taught by the teacher training people.
In teacher training college I had just two lectures on the actual teaching of reading. My initial course was the junior/primary school course but reading - all important reading - rated just two lectures. I considered myself fortunate that I had all the resources the Senior Cat had amassed. Of course I went on to learn a great deal more about children with learning difficulties and that helped as well.
I know reading gets a little more attention in teacher training now but it is still not nearly enough. I know too that the RR program has been criticised - and I would agree with some of those who have criticised it. Nothing is perfect. Yes, it is expensive too. 
But not learning to read is even more expensive. If you can't read you can't educate yourself. If you don't read you won't educate yourself.
I think there may be another problem with which nobody has fully come to terms. We test children, we test children in ways that are supposed to diagnose "the problem" and then "solve the problem". We see the education of the child as a problem which has to be solved. We've forgotten to teach them what reading is like for the sheer enjoyment of reading. We want children to read for a purpose and their reading time has become more and more limited. There is pressure on them to "read and succeed" rather than "read and relax".  Instead of letting them loose in a library to explore we tell them they "must" read  this or that. It's become a chore, even a bore. 
If we want children to read then we need to read to them from the very beginning. We have to tell them that reading is not just simply that something that must be done because the teacher says so. We need to provide them with the skills, the place, the resources and the time to read for the sheer pleasure of reading. 
There is absolutely nothing more important in the education of the child.  
I will now get off my soap box and go back to reading.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The aid convoy which was bombed

in Syria was an almost inevitable target. 
Yes, I know that there was also an "incident" in which the Syrian army was targetted. We'll hear about "mistakes" and "collateral damage" and "unintended" and "regret" over that.
But the aid convoy? Apparently the Russians are now claiming that there was a "militant vehicle carrying a heavy mortar" with it.  I don't know. It was a UN/RedCross/RedCrescent convoy. They don't usually get accompanied like that. It's something worth thinking about.
Yesterday my work mail had one of those messages I dread - an urgent request for help for a child. They thought he might be about nine or ten. He was so severely malnourished it was hard to tell. He had been pulled out of a collapsed building with some severe injuries and he was completely silent. They had ascertained he could hear and see but he wasn't making a sound.  
It isn't the first time rescuers and aid workers have come across a silent child, a child too traumatised to speak. All we can do is give them a simple communication board and encourage them to use it until they are ready to try and say something - say anything at all. It is sometimes easier if you don't need to make eye contact with anyone, if a simple board with words, symbols, and pictures does that for you - if all you need to do is point silently. 
I don't know what will happen to that boy. I never find out what happens. Perhaps it is better not to know. What I do know is that the aid convoy which was bombed was heading in that direction. It might have brought some pain relief, some much needed medical supplies, some food and clean drinking water. 
It was carrying people, people who were trying to help. They were people with families too. 
I wonder whether that little boy would have spoken to any of them?

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

"I'd get the bus but...

there isn't a bus back after 6pm".
There was an opinion piece in this morning's paper which was very topical after the discussion I had with someone at the library yesterday. She isn't someone I know well but she chose to bemoan having to use her car to  go to work that day. There's a late meeting and she knows they won't be finished until well after 7pm so the bus is not an option. 
In the paper this morning someone was making very similar comments. She would like to take public transport but, from where she lives, there is none in the evenings. If she tries to take her car to a point where she can catch public transport in the evening there is nowhere to park her car. 
This city is built along the coast line. It stretches a long way north and a long way south and it comes up with a bump against the  sea in the west and the hills in the east. Obviously building does not occur in the sea. Some building does occur in the hills but there are problems with that too - not the least the fire hazards in summer and how to get people out safely and quickly if a major fire occurs. The other problem is that the city has, until this century, been built on the assumption that most people would own a quarter acre block with a single dwelling. That was fine when the population was small and people tended to work locally. Now people travel much further to get to work. They still expect to have a single dwelling  on their block - although some of the blocks are considerably smaller. Most houses are still bungalows but, gradually, there are more two storey dwellings. 
I am sure all this must look strange to visitors from many other parts of the world. Since we moved in here two sets of "duplexes" have been built in our short street. I have no doubt that when another house is sold in the not too distant future the same thing will happen. We are a comfortable commuting distance from the CBD.
But, we still have a problem with public transport.  The trains run only once an hour at weekends - and they are often almost empty.  People say, "If I just miss one I have to wait an hour for another one and if I take the car I can be home before then." The buses are much the same. If you don't live within walking distance of the station or stop you have to find a park or a safe place for your bicycle. (You can take your bicycle on the train but that leaves the problem of where you put it at the other end.)
I sympathised with the person moaning to me. She is one of those fortunate people who can read on a bus. Taking the car eats into her reading time. She tried an audio book in the car but prefers to concentrate on the traffic around her - a wise move. 
So I wonder about this public transport business. The government says they want us to use it but do they really? Is the lack of it and the lack of parking spaces really designed to stop people reading books? It's a thought. 

Monday, 19 September 2016

"There should be some mail today...

the email said. It was Sunday yesterday. We do not get mail deliveries on Sundays. 
But there was already email...and more email. My personal and work email boxes were overflowing.
And no, there wasn't a catastrophic disaster somewhere. Even those have not produced quite the deluge of mail I received yesterday.
According to my long time colleague D.... it was a "simple but brilliant" idea which came from my friend R....  
I didn't realise it but it was forty years ago yesterday that I gave D.... the first "communication board". He was going off to Thailand and he needed some help to "talk" with the locals. He had been trying to learn Thai - and finding it almost impossible. He is seriously "tone-deaf ". 
D... is Welsh and jokes about being the only tone-deaf Welshman there has ever been. It's a serious issue though, especially if you are trying to learn a tonal language like Thai. His teacher was almost tearing her hair out in frustration. He was getting more and more worried and tense. I suggested we write a communication board for him the way I had written boards for the children I had once taught. So there, in a student room at a university hall of residence in London, I sat down with him and his teacher and we worked out what he needed to be able to communicate and how to put  it together. 
I remember that first, painful effort. We needed something small enough for him to carry around. (Remember, there were no fancy phones around which carried any useful sort of translation tools!)
We did it. He went off to Thailand and his family helped a local community build a business there. (These days it is a major one belonging to that same community.)
D... introduced me to more people who needed help and they introduced me to still more...and more...and more. It ended up as my unintended working life, a job that has had the most extraordinary consequences.
And yesterday - I still don't believe this - because my friend R.... suggested that one way to mark the anniversary would be to send me an email my mailboxes almost overflowed. I could almost see the messages spilling out into the curious swirling mass of electrons which is the internet. 
They came from all over the world. The oldest person to send me a message was D... himself, now 93. The youngest was 13...ten years ago he had major brain surgery and his surgeon worked with me and his parents to find a way of helping him communicate during the surgery. In between there were people I know I will never meet but every single one of them has given up their time to go out and help others on a voluntary basis. Many of them have risked their lives and some, like my friend T..., have gone back year after year to help. 
To be a small part of all they have been done has been immensely satisfying. I stopped counting at around 200. There were at least 14 different languages there as well. I don't read all those languages of course but everyone could have read the messages of each other because they all used Blissymbols as well - and some just used Blissymbols. I hope the one I put here will come out and, in the language of my ancestors, "tapadh leat"!

Sunday, 18 September 2016

"Read this and tell me what you think..."

So I read it and...  It was one of those stories being passed around the internet. This time about a late librarian in America. He had left the university he worked at the not inconsiderable sum of $US4m. They apparently plan to spend one quarter of that on an electronic score board for their sports complex.
The person who showed me the article knew what my reaction would be of course. The money should have gone to the library.
In Downunder more people use libraries each week than go to the football - and Downunderites "love their football".  Sport is a sort of religion in Downunder. There is Aussie rules, rugby and soccer to get them through most of the year with some cricket and tennis flung into the summer and some swimming on the side with golf added at intervals. Of course there are other things as well but those all seem to get a fair bit of television coverage. People get paid outrageous sums of money to play them at the "professional" level and the best of the best are treated like heroes.
None of that happens to libraries. They barely rate a mention. The people who work in them almost never get acknowledged. I remember in my school librarian days overhearing a parent ask, "Who's that?" The response was, "Oh that's just the librarian." The sports teacher was surrounded by anxious fathers.
In an institution of higher learning, a university, I would have thought that a library was considered sufficiently important to welcome any extra funds. It might not all be spent immediately - although all the librarians I know would put plans in place so that the money was spent. 
Our local library actually needs to be considerably larger than it is. The services it can offer are being constrained by the space available. The library gets used...and used...and used. In the coming couple of months it will be even more crowded as some students try to find a quieter place to study. I know I'll prowl in and one of them will whisper to me, "Cat, can you have a look at this...?"
It was one of those students who asked me to read the article and tell him what I thought. He's doing his "research topic" on library use. It was his father's suggestion. His father works in one of the university libraries.
In Africa one tenth of that has bought an investment for a scholarship for one child at a time to finish secondary school. I  doubt the first recipient even knows what an electronic scoreboard is. We hope that money will last some years.
Oh yes, I read the article and then I asked him, 
        "What did your Dad have to say?"
        "He swore."
One million dollars would buy an awful lot of library, of knowledge, of scholarships. I wanted to swear too.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Nujeen Mustafa appeared on

our television screens last year on from her arrival in Germany.
I had already had news from a friend in Germany about what was happening to this feisty teenager from Syria but it was good to see her.  She was still smiling, still determined, still making the most of every opportunity that comes her way.
And she is homesick. She wants to go back to Syria some day.
Nujeen is going to school. She is speaking German. I'm told it is good German too. Her English is excellent - and the truly extraordinary thing is that she taught herself English. Who would have thought that "soap operas" would be so useful?
In our national parliament this week we had one of the new Senators calling for a halt to migration from countries like Syria. I don't doubt that she was expressing the beliefs and fears of many others - after all her party obtained around half a million votes. The reporting may have been "selective" but it was definitely inflammatory. Later we had a member of the lower house, a member of the ruling coalition, appearing to back her up. 
I think I can understand where they are coming from but, if you denied entry of everyone from such places, then you would deny someone like Nujeen.
We need Nujeen.  We need Nujeen because she sets an example to everyone. I don't doubt that there are teenagers in Germany who are tired to death of hearing about her, who wish their parents would just stop telling them how lucky they are and how they should be more like her in their attitude. I wonder what they will think when they are older?  
But it is not just teenagers who can learn from Nujeen. The rest of us can too. Her story is about making the most of what you have and, more than that, using it to go further. Stuck at home with only television for company? Why not teach yourself English? Yes, it is possible. 
Nujeen is the sort of refugee we surely want to help. She says she hopes she is working hard. I am sure she is. I know she has a lot of schooling to catch up on but I have the impression of a young girl who, given the opportunity, could make it to university and then do a great deal more good.
She is entirely different from the taxi driver I met recently. He spent the, fortunately short, trip complaining about the lack of opportunities here and how he couldn't work in his chosen profession of engineering. He, a refugee, was thinking of returning "home".
I listened. I didn't bother to explain that his qualifications in engineering were  not considered to be adequate in this country and that he would need to upgrade his qualifications.
After all, he said he had been here almost four years - and, even to me, his English was almost unintelligible. 
Keep working Nujeen.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Water makes a mess.

Yes, I know water is supposed to be nice clean, calm, cool stuff that is essential to human life but.....too much of it is not a good thing.
We have had a little too much lately.
I suppose I should have been warned when the Senior Cat knocked over half a glass of water on the kitchen table. There were rather a lot of things on the table at the time - including Middle Cat's 'phone. I rescued the phone before any damage occurred to it and then had to clear up the rest of the mess. Some of the water had dripped on to the floor. It had soaked a bill that needed to be paid and... well, I'll leave it at that. 
The Senior Cat was upset at "being so clumsy"even though I had done my best to reassure him that it didn't matter. I mean, really it didn't. I dried the bill out and made sure he couldn't slip on the wet floor and just wiped everything else down. I didn't care.
But did that start the deluge. We had 72mm of rain here in the space of 48 hours - and then some more on top of that. We don't get that sort of rain in the normal way of things. The built environment is not built to cope with it.
There's a creek (brook/stream) not too far from us which is prone to flooding. They still haven't got around to doing the things they need to do to prevent this - partly because the environmental lobby started to object to parts of the plan and the government objected to the cost. Now of course it has cost a good deal more. The deluge across the state has, it is estimated, cost well over a billion dollars. That's just this state. The neighbouring one is in a worse mess. 
Yesterday it was  almost fine. I pedalled off to the library to pick up a book they had obtained for  me on inter-library loan. I was greeted with, "You didn't get washed away Cat? Do you know they had to sandbag the Senior Citizens' Centre?" 
The Senior Citizens' Centre is about 100m from the library and a little closer to the creek. Further upstream houses had been flooded and further downstream more houses were flooded. The library itself had remained dry but the ground around it was squelchy. 
I rode over the little footbridge and looked at the dirty brown swirling mass of water still rushing down. Work on a nearby building stop has come to a halt. They are flooded out too. That may actually cause them to rethink what they are doing there - or it may not.
I stopped to drop a prescription in to an elderly neighbour. He was eyeing his sodden yard and thanked me for bringing in his mail as well. It was still too wet and muddy for him to venture outside.
"Don't you go riding through floodwaters now will you?" he cautioned me. 
I had no intention of doing that but I wondered where the koala whose photo appeared on the front page of the paper had gone to stay while his tree dried out. I wondered whether the swallows who nest under the bridge were safe.
And there is more rain on the way!  

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Now there is a row about golliwogs

in our state newspaper. Apparently they are "racist" and should not be displayed and...well of course you can imagine the arguments. There were some on display at the recent show I was involved  in. Adults remembered them. Children thought they were a curiosity.
Yes, I have heard it all before. I had a golliwog as a child. I also had a doll. Being a difficult sort of child I didn't play with either of them in a conventional fashion. I turned the doll into the train driver and the golliwog was the guard. 
The guard was actually the more important of the two. He said when the train could start going again. At age three I would explain this in a very earnest fashion - and I was absolutely correct. 
There was the golliwog in the Noddy stories by Enid Blyton.  I don't know what I thought about the golliwog there. I read Enid Blyton of course, most children did. You had to be a complete non-reader not to read Enid Blyton at some time - and I read a lot.
I don't know what I made of the golliwog. I suspect he was just another character.  I also had "Little Black Sambo" and "Epaminondas" - both of which would probably be considered as politically incorrect as Blyton's golliwog. They too were just characters to me. Perhaps it helped that my grandparents were friendly with a missionary from Tonga. He was, in my memory, a big man with quite dark skin. I wasn't in the least frightened of him though because he was a very gentle man who would hoist me on his shoulders and carry me wherever we were all going. 
And later of course there were indigenous Australians in our lives and, as children, we just accepted in them in the way that the Senior Cat had been brought up to accept them.  I remember R's children each had a golliwog - dressed like station masters. She, an indigenous woman of very dark skin, had made them for her children. Her husband was a station master.  Did she think they were "racist"? I doubt it. If she had why would she have made them?
From lecture's in children's literature I seem to remember that a "golliwog" first appeared in a story by someone called Upton. At first it is a fearsome sort of character but Upton's golliwog turns out to be a good and kind character - far from the way that many modern day critics have portrayed it. And aren't most golliwogs shown to be smiling? I suppose it is their anthropomorphic nature that makes them unacceptable. 
If that's the case though I think I'd rather have a soft, cuddly golliwog grinning at me than a hard plastic Barbie with a vacuous expression.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

No, I do not speak Swahili

although I know a few words. I can also say one complete sentence. I can't remember how I managed to learn it and I have no idea how I have retained it in my memory. That it would ever turn out to be useful - not once, but twice - I do not know.
Yesterday I was waiting for the train to come home at a station which usually has only a few passengers unless something is going on at the nearby showgrounds. There was a lengthy wait and a young man came along. He was looking hesitantly around him and then, seeing me sitting there, asked me even more hesitantly if this was where he would catch the train to B....? Yes, it was.
"You're from East Africa?" I asked.
He nodded and told me shyly that he had only just arrived and the only journeys he had previously done were in and out of the city. He came from Kenya.
He stood there looking awkward so I said, "If you speak Swahili, jambo - tafadhali kuketi cini." (Hello, please sit down.) He looked, as I suppose he well might, absolutely startled. I had to quickly explain that this was almost the limit of my Swahili. It didn't matter/ He sat down - something he would not have done without being invited to do so - and we chatted. He told me he had arrived here some months back to do some study. He was homesick. He hadn't heard a word of Swahili since he left home. "It's not difficult but I have found nobody speaks it."
No, it would be a rare and wonderful thing here. I know two people, former missionaries, who speak it  but the only other occasion on which I have heard it spoken was when an elderly woman fell in the city. We got her a chair and I had to use the same sentence to let her know that the chair was for her to sit on.
I told the young Kenyan about this and he smiled, "One day perhaps I will find her."
He might. Very few people here speak what is a rather lovely language - although, like Welsh, it mutates and you need to know the rules to use the dictionary easily. 
But I wondered at the extraordinary coincidence of being able to use that once sentence twice in my life - and use it in a meaningful way.
As I was getting ready to leave the train the young Kenyan helped me get the tricycle off and said one of the other few words I know and understand,
         "Asante" (Thankyou.) I told him the same.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

I know I shouldn't comment on

the internal affairs of other countries but the election in the United States of America is beginning to worry me.
There are an awful lot of people in America, millions of them. They ought to be able to find plenty of good candidates to run the country. So, what went wrong this time? Is it the money?
The Senior Cat says, and he is probably right, "nobody who wants the job is fit to have it and anyone who is fit to have it doesn't want it" - he says the same thing of Downunder politics. 
I confess that being President of the USA, Prime Minister of Downunder or Secretary-General of the UN are not jobs I would want - and I am not fit to do them either. I'd fall asleep in meetings, or get impatient and order people around, or get annoyed with the media, or....well, I'd do all the wrong things. I might even stop trying to run the place altogether and just curl up on my sleeping mat and put my paw over my ears, close my eyes, and go to sleep.  The place could run itself.
But apparently we need people to run things - and some people even want to run things.  I experienced some headmasters like that. One of them, completely untrained in teaching, had been a physical education instructor in the army.  He tried to run a school in the same way and it didn't work. Another spent each  lunch time at the local "club" - a football club which served alcohol. The children used to imitate his drunken walk back into school, lining up like ducks behind him. (I think ducks have more sense than he had.) And of course there was the school that I had to run when the headmaster wasn't there - which was often.
All those people wanted to run things - in their own way.
Perhaps it is like that with politicians too. One candidate in America is apparently a failed businessman with some very strange ideas and a very large ego. The other is the partner of a former president who ought to know better than to even consider the job. Anyone who has been that close to the job should know better. My aunt, who knows about such things, also wonders whether the latter candidate has the physical stamina to see the job through. 
Of course this is what happens when you give people an apparently free choice - to run for office or not to run for vote for someone or not vote for someone. It's called "democracy" and it is probably what happens until people realise that it really isn't democracy at all. It is just what happens. 
I mean, look at Downunder. We had a similar sort of choice and we made a right mess of choosing. 
I am about to spend the morning at the showgrounds dismantling what we put up a fortnight ago. All that was judged by people who - well yes, they were "volunteered-coerced" in a way. Their egos were appealed to along the lines of "will you with your expertise come and judge..." and it seems to work pretty well. The judge's decision is final. 
Perhaps that's what we need before the internal affairs become infernal - but how do you choose the judge?

Monday, 12 September 2016

Being paid to go out on strike

seems a little excessive to me.
The railway staff in this state are still "negotiating" over a pay deal with the government. They have had "stop work" meetings before. Some of them worked recently - just so that people could go to a football match. Now they expect to be paid for time off to go  to another stop work meeting - because they worked to get people to the football match instead of going out on strike.
What's more the government appears to be happy to give them their pay to go to the stop work meeting. What in the heck is going on?
When I was a teacher I would have gone out on strike for just one reason - the children I taught would have had to have been in danger. 
Our local railway line is what is known as a "single track working". The other line is a different gauge and only for interstate trains. It's all to do with the history of rail in Downunder.  There are two platforms at the station and when the single track working was first put in place some years ago we never knew what platform the train would come in. More than once I, and many others, missed a train because it would come in on the platform we didn't expect and we couldn't get through the underpass in time. It was also extremely  confusing for two young men with intellectual disabilities who had been taught "you get on the train here".  I took the matter up with the railways and, after months of argument, they sent someone out to look. The head of the union came to look too. 
I was prepared to argue my case but there was no need for that. The union man took one look at the situation and said, "It's dangerous. If it's not fixed we'll strike."
The situation was fixed the following day. It was fixed because he was right. He had recognised something I hadn't even thought of - someone trying to cross the tracks from above instead of using the underpass.  
He was right to threaten strike action in those circumstances. But, to be paid to strike simply because the pay offer isn't high enough? (From all accounts it is a pretty generous offer in a state which has the lowest economic growth in the country.) If you want to go out on strike for something like that why should you be paid for it? I don't get paid to work so why should you get paid not to work? I know people "love their footy" and they wanted to "get to the game" but to say "we didn't go out so that people could go to the footy so pay us to go out now" is something I find unacceptable. Are we going to start paying everyone to go out on strike? Who will bother to go to work?

Sunday, 11 September 2016

What Paralympics?

Anyone who knows me will also know that I have almost no interest in sport. The Senior Cat isn't interested either. He managed to dislocate his shoulder twice throwing a cricket ball to the children at school and says they are his greatest achievements in the field of sport.
I can boast of one real achievement in the field of sport. I once bowled out Sir Donald Bradman.  Yes, really. Okay, I confess it was at a cricket match for children with disabilities. I was bowling for one of the boys who couldn't even hold the boy. The kids considered this fair as I can hold the ball and throw it - but it could land anywhere. Sir Donald was batting - and not paying attention because he thought he "knew" that I wasn't going to get the ball anywhere near the wicket. Just as he turned to say something to the "umpire" I threw the ball and - I still don't believe this myself - it hit the wicket. He was out. (He left very gracefully.)
The only thing that little episode did was to give me the vaguest of vague interest in the psychology of the game of cricket. I still don't fully understand the rules of the game.
But the Paralympics?  Well, no I am not particularly interested in the sense that it is sport and it isn't something I bother about but I am infuriated by the fact that enormous news coverage was given to the Olympics and, apart from the opening ceremony, the Paralympics have been given almost no attention in the media here.
Now there is something wrong with that because, believe me, the Paralympians have worked just as hard to get there - if not harder. Some of them are taking risks that other people wouldn't dare to take. It takes real courage to jump if you can't see or are unbalanced through the loss of a limb or your hearing has gone and your body has to work just a little bit harder in the pool. You need to be more alert to what is going on around you so as not to injure yourself or those around you. Wheelchair basketball is an incredibly dangerous game. (Wheelchair "football/soccer" is even worse. I know. The boys had me at it one unforgettable night. It was terrifying.) You have to trust the people guiding you if you are blind. And have you ever considered what happens to someone who uses a manual wheelchair and injures a hand or arm?
There was no mention of medal winners or broken records on our major international news service. All we have seen is that spectacular and quite crazy somersault in the opening ceremony. Perhaps all the journalists and camera people are just too tired. Perhaps they have all just gone home. 
It's a pity. The rest of the world might learn something from the Paralympics.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Grammar schools/secondary moderns....

high schools/technical high schools.
Downunder hasn't had grammar schools and secondary moderns. When I was in the secondary school my city cousins had high schools and technical high schools. They were not quite the equivalent of the grammar/secondary modern but they were a similar idea. 
We didn't have the "11+ " type exam. We had something called the "Progress Certificate". We did the exams for that over the last two years and the marks were added together  out of 500.  (The Senior Cat's generation did something called the Qualifying Certificate which was rather more like the 11+. )
It didn't matter what marks you got you could go to either sort of school but there was an expectation that those with lower marks would go to technical high schools where there was a greater range of practical subjects and more likelihood, especially for boys, of getting an apprenticeship.  
Big city schools were also ability streamed. I spent my "gap" year working in one where the first year went from 1A to 1G and there was another school not that far away which went from 1A to 1H. 
Now they often label classes according to the first letter of the surname of the class teacher. Classes are not supposed to be ability streamed. Everyone is supposed to study the same subjects until late secondary school and all schools are just "high schools" in this state with the exception of the one school which  has special agricultural facilities.
It's all supposed to give children "an equal opportunity". The idea that we separate them according to ability at around age eleven or twelve is considered wrong. 
Yes, there are problems with that. Being labelled a "failure" or "not quite good enough to make the A stream" or something equally "bad" can have severe consequences. I don't know what the answer to that is.
But I also know that there are a lot of students starting high school who do not want to study algebra, physics, Japanese or IT. They would prefer to do arithmetic, general science, basic communication skills and woodwork. What is more we still need people who can do those things - but we aren't teaching them those things at school. Instead we are asking all students to "aim for university"  when some of them have absolutely no interest in that. I know there are all sorts of arguments about maturity and not closing off options and that young people don't really know or understand the consequences of their choices and.... well you know the arguments too no doubt.
But  yesterday someone bailed me up and asked if I could recommend something that would give her son some basic communication skills. He's no saint but he's landed himself an apprenticeship and he had actually asked her to ask me. I told her to get him to give me a call. Late in the afternoon he wandered around from their home in the next street and we chatted for a few minutes. 
I asked him, "When did you last read a book because you wanted to rather than because you had to do it for school?"
He looked blankly at me. He hasn't read a book like that since primary school. He was too busy trying to learn Japanese and algebra - "which I don't get at all". 
I passed over a short autobiography I thought might interest him and told him that we could talk some more in the upcoming term  break. He went off - in grave danger of tripping over as he was looking at the book.
Is it just possible he's learning the wrong things - and not reading enough? How do we get around that one?

Friday, 9 September 2016


and then library again.
I don't think anyone really used the library in the first primary school I attended - anyone apart from me. I can still remember going in there the first time. (I had found my own way up the staircase from the infants' school below and demanded of a somewhat bemused headmaster that I be allowed to use it.)
One of the things I remember the most was that it was dusty. It smelt of  dust and varnish and that undeniable perfume which says "books". 
Fifteen  years after that I was in charge of a school library. The place buzzed. There were classes in and out all day. I had it open throughout every play period, before school for those who arrived early - and even late in the afternoon on occasion. We did things in there. The children found information. They read non-fiction and fiction. They played chess and draughts and other games - especially in wet lunch periods. Their mothers met in there. I talked about books to everyone. The children and I put up displays and they did demonstrations. On parent nights they would haul their parents over to see the library and whatever was going on there. 
The same school doesn't even have a library any more. It went from being a library to being a "resource centre" when computers became more commonplace. Then it simply ceased to exist. 
One of the children who had been a "library monitor" told me this yesterday. I met her quite by accident in a local shopping centre. She came up to me and re-introduced herself saying, "I absolutely had to tell you because the library was absolutely the best thing about school."
I remembered her then. She was a very quiet child from a "difficult" family - the sort of family which would now have social workers involved. I suspect school was a trial for her as a child. She was of average ability but other things got in the way of her doing well. In the library though things were different. She loved order and putting fiction away in alphabetical order and non-fiction in numerical order pleased her. She borrowed books but,  unlike many other children, rarely told me what she thought of them. I sensed they allowed her to escape the problems at home and would occasionally suggest something but didn't push her into talking about them.
        "So, you are still reading then?" I asked her yesterday. I didn't like to inquire about anything else  but I thought that question was safe.
       "Oh yes. I'm a library assistant at....." she named a large council library on the other side of the city. She was enthusiastic about her job.  Library assistants are not librarians. There are not nearly as many fully qualified librarians as there used to be. Library assistants don't need to be paid as much. I suspect that they too will go and libraries will be run by "volunteers" rather than trained staff. It won't be good.
But if we have even just a few like the girl I saw yesterday perhaps there is some hope for the future. She knows about books. I like to think I taught her something. 
What is more, she knows about the importance of books. She told me about the demise of the school's library and her distress was obvious. She wants her own children to have the same opportunities she had to use a library. 
We parted and I went off wondering how many of the other children who went in and out of that library most days feel the same way. Are they concerned by the lack of a library? So many people keep on telling me that the lack of a library doesn't matter, that children can get what they need "on-line" and that they "don't really have that much time to read anyway". 
And yet S..... said to me yesterday, "One of the best things was that you let us choose what we wanted to read. You'd tell us about things and you let us wander along the shelves and we could find all sorts of other things as well. I read all sorts of things I would never have read just because  I found them there. You can't do that on a computer." No, you can't. 
That very quiet child came from a family of seven children. Her mother had a fierce temper and "belted" the children frequently. Her father was often "away". We were careful never to inquire about exactly where he was. And yet that child now works in a library - and loves it. Would she have done it without a library at school? I doubt it.
Books matter.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

What is the point of writing a letter

if you don't get an answer?
I don't mean sending an e-mail sort of letter. I mean an old fashioned snail mail type letter. I know the letters I sent arrived because I delivered them myself.
Of course this is the bank I am talking about. Should I be surprised? Probably not.
I thought the lack of response was bad enough but a friend of mine lost her husband a little over six weeks ago. She had to go and deal with some of his business at a bank. Now she doesn't bank there. 
Oh, she doesn't bank there? The officer dealing with the closure of the account was immediately on to that. They could offer her this...and that....and something else... and why didn't she...they would make an appointment for her to come in and talk to them about her finances. 
She let it all flow over her, even agreed to making the appointment. Then she went home and wrote a letter to the manager and said she thought that what they had done was "highly inappropriate". It is.
I suspect that the reason I haven't had a response from the bank the Senior Cat deals with is much the same. They know that they were about to do something inappropriate. 
What they don't know is that they are dealing with me. I do not take kindly to being told I "must" do things I know there is no compulsion to do. 
But there is something else that bothers me about what happened to my friend and the failure to respond to me. We wrote letters - and we didn't get a reply. That is simply rude.
I know people sometimes ignore e-mails. I don't blame them, especially when people keep sending silly things, or someone hasn't read the instructions properly, or it is inappropriate for other reasons. Occasionally, very occasionally, I will request a "read" response. If I do that it is  usually because I know the person at the other end will take it as meaning, "Just let me know you have seen this. There is no need to say anything." Once, in a long while, I want to make sure someone who might not want to respond at all has actually seen something. It will be a receipt of sorts. If they still don't read it then that is their problem, not mine. 
But snail mail letters usually attract attention. They usually receive a response.
I know damn well why the bank has not responded to me. When they do eventually do what I have asked them not to do then there will be rather more than a snail mail letter. There will be an irate Cat to deal with instead. 

I really don't recommend that.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

I had a dream in which Hillary Clinton

was driving a car down a very narrow passageway. It was only just large enough for the car to get through. I was with her - and had the usual worries of anyone in that situation.
At the other end I had to to open up her head for some reason - and I found it was full of what knitters call "i-cord" or thin, rope like knitting in a variety of colours. There was too much in there and, as I tried to push it all back in, there seemed to be more and more of it.
 If someone can explain this to me I would be grateful.

Thankfully I have not yet had a dream about the "other candidate".
Someone, who professed to know about such things, once told me that dreams are a way of removing extraneous details from our memories. If we don't dream he told me our day time thoughts are cluttered with all sorts of information we don't need. I don't know whether he was right or not but perhaps it explains why some, perhaps most, dreams are so odd. 

I don't often remember dreaming - although I know I must - and I rarely remember dreams quite as vividly as that one. I wonder what a psychiatrist would make of that? Do they still analyse dreams for their patients? Modern psychiatry isn't something I know much about. I hope I never have first hand experience of it. It's something none of us can predict.
Last night's dream about Hillary Clinton was disturbing though. 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

"It's a pupil free day,"

our neighbour told the Senior Cat. 
He was wondering why two apparently healthy young girls were spending a school day with their grandparents.
Oh? There were no such things as "pupil free" days when he was teaching or running a school. I didn't have such things either.
It was interesting that came up yesterday because there is more news about pupil free days in the paper this morning. Teachers want more of them to do things like write student reports.
When I was teaching we had staff meetings after school, after the children had gone home. I wrote student reports at night. I also prepared lessons and the materials for lessons then. During the school holidays I went to conferences, "institute" meetings and more. (The "teachers' institute" was what is now the union but, back then, it was run rather differently and was more for the purpose of educating teachers about  all manner of things.)
I won't say all teachers did it but, unless I absolutely had to be somewhere else, I made myself available for any parent after school. Very few of them took advantage of it but they knew I would be there if they needed to know something. It was particularly important in a situation where the children I was teaching were not able to tell their parents what was going on. 
My lunch hours were often spent in the school office dealing with administrative matters because the head of the school I worked in was rarely there. Other teachers would do my "yard duty" so that I could deal with those things that  had to be dealt with - and more.
I know things have changed in schools. I know there are, in some ways, greater demands and greater expectations of teachers. I also know that attitudes towards teachers have changed. Parents addressed me by my surname. I addressed them by theirs. Now it is given names - and, in some schools, the senior students call their teachers by their given names. 
Teaching is done differently. I used to have a blackboard and chalk. In the one school where I taught a wonderful group of regular classroom children for a couple of terms I had a wonderful student who came in early each morning and "did the blackboard" for me. She had wonderful almost copperplate script. It meant I had to be there very early each day - but it was worth it. Now I could type it all up and fling it up on a screen - and what I would be putting there would be quite different too. 
These "pupil free" days they now have are apparently for all the sorts of things I did outside school hours. I didn't see my job as being from 8:45am to 3:45pm. It started at around 8:30 and went until I had finished what needed to be done. School "holidays" were for professional development and preparing for the following term. The long summer break meant three or four weeks off with no more than reading whatever I needed to catch up on.
I know there were teachers who did a good deal less than that. The Senior Cat, running big schools, would take three weeks away in summer and then return to work.
I'd like to know how teachers use their term breaks now. Have things changed so much that all they want to do is sleep? Do they really need those pupil free days to get things done? 
I don't miss school - but I sometimes miss the children.

Monday, 5 September 2016

"But I was just pretending to be a boy!"

I can almost hear a future conversation in my head now. It will be between a mother and her "son" - a child who has undergone "gender transition" at an early age.
It's been under discussion in the media lately and it worries me.
I am not a "girly" sort of girl. I never have been. I never wanted pink frilly dresses. "Pretty" things did not interest me.
Middle Cat was even worse. She wore boy's clothes - handed down from her big brother. The Youngest Cat wore jodhpurs whenever she could.
I don't think I ever wished I was boy but I know Middle Cat did. She was the lone girl on the football team. She played with the boys. 
We didn't play with dolls except to put them into what were considered male roles. (Mine was often the train driver.) 
But we were girls. We weren't boys. 
I wonder now though what would have happened to Middle Cat in particular. Would someone have said of her at the preschool stage, "Oh, she should have been a boy. We better get her some transition therapy and start the process."?
Do three and four year old children even really know the difference? Of course they do on one level but I doubt very much they understand at the complex emotional level which says, "I'm a girl in a boy's body" or "I'm a boy in a girl's body". 
I actually know someone who has undergone a sexual transition. It wasn't easy for her at all. It was incredibly difficult and I know that there are still issues for her. We've talked about it.
How soon did she know? According to her it wasn't as a preschooler. 
"I knew something was different about me in primary school," she once told me, "But I don't think I would have been ready to do anything then."
Perhaps it would have been different if she had undergone some sort of gender transition therapy then. I don't know - and neither does she. It's an immensely complex issue. 
I don't doubt at all that there are a few, a very few, people who do need to go through all the pain and trauma of a sexual transition. It must be a  very, very difficult thing to acknowledge and go through. But I also wonder whether the sudden spike in very young children presenting for gender transition therapy is about what they really are or whether some of them are simply like Middle Cat and "a bit of a tomboy" or their parents wanted a child of that sex.
Perhaps we should leave gender transition therapy until a bit later?

Sunday, 4 September 2016

What is it about AGM.s?

I am sure you know what I mean - the dreaded "Annual General Meeting". What is it about them?
I made myself go to one yesterday. I didn't want to go for a variety of reasons but, even if there hadn't been other problems for me, it would have been an effort to go.
I don't know how many AGMs I have sat through. I have run a few as well. I like to think they were over quickly, that people did what they had to do, and that we got on with whatever else we wanted to do.
The President tried. She arranged to have a "shared lunch" to begin with and a "trading table" afterwards. 
I am not a happy cat at "shared lunches". I made some savoury cornbread and took it but my paws don't do well with cardboard plates and helping yourself to finger food. I ignored the food.
The meeting was all that one expects an AGM to be. Do people ever like volunteering to do things? I have been  brought up to believe that, if you belong to a group, then you contribute. I have contributed to this group in the past. I hope things will change so that I can contribute again in the future. There are people who have never contributed and probably never will.
I had contributed some things for the trading table and, if anything sold, then the group will get the money to build up their working finances again. I suppose it was naughty of me not to buy something as well but by no means everyone had contributed something so I didn't feel too bad about it.
I collected my plate and prowled off fairly early. I pedalled home slowly. It was hard work pushing against the wind - but not as hard as going to an AGM.  

Saturday, 3 September 2016

So there I am being a good little cat

and pedalling slowly and carefully down the footpath next to a very busy road. Please note I just wrote "slowly and carefully". 
Now I am allowed to ride my tricycle on the footpaths. Even before it was legal the police wanted me on the footpath - like the under 12's. I am not a speedster.
I don't like that particular road. It is very busy and the footpaths are a nightmare. They are rough. There are obstacles in the form of trees. There are numerous driveways which need to be watched. Some of these are behind high hedges so that I need to slow almost to a stop and make sure nobody is backing out. All that I can handle but the footpath also slopes.
For a cat with a very poor sense of balance this is not good. I don't feel comfortable. I keep thinking I am going to topple over although part of me knows I won't. 
But, I need to use that road because it leads to another one that can only be accessed that way. So, I pedal on.
And then I come to another obstacle. Someone has dumped a large pile of garden soil in the middle of the footpath. There is no way to get around this - except to get off the trike and bump down the curb, walk into the oncoming traffic, and then bump up the curb again.
And on the other side there is a young man in a wheelchair. We looked at one another. We shrugged and shook our heads in disbelief.
      "Can you manage that?" I called to him. He shook his head. He was stuck. He had just come around the corner and hadn't been able to see the pile until it was too late. The slope of the footpath meant he couldn't even turn around safely. Had he tried he would have been in danger of rolling backwards into the road.
A small break in the traffic let me reach him.
"If you can help me turn around...I'll just have to go back," he told me. 
As we were doing that someone came out of the driveway. He looked at us - and laughed. 
It takes a lot for me to lose my temper - a lot. I lost it. So did the boy in the wheelchair. Neither of us swore but we both told the laughing idiot what we thought of him. The boy took out his mobile phone. He took a photograph. 
I don't know where he was going to send it. He didn't have to send it anywhere because a local council van stopped. The driver had the situation assessed in a moment. He took more photographs and we left the man who had laughed arguing about the fine he was about to receive. 
And then, as we were both about to turn into the street I wanted to access and where the boy apparently lives someone walking  towards us stopped and said,
        "Hi T can't you get around that pile....where were you going? Can I get something for you?"
And T....handed over a prescription for the chemist on the corner and said to me,
      "Aren't people nice?"
Yes, most people are very nice - but please think twice before you block the footpath. 

Friday, 2 September 2016

Someone I really want to meet

took her digger to day-care the other day. She apparently took a book about diggers too. 
I am not sure what sort of "digger" it is because I haven't seen a picture of it yet. I am assuming it is like one of the large industrial diggers that "big boys" play with. I haven't yet seen a "big girl" play with a digger - although I once met one who drove monster size trucks at a big mine in Outback Downunder.
Taking the digger and the reception she apparently got - a comment about her top instead  - reminded me of trying to tell people about my "train-toy" set. This was something I acquired the Christmas just just before my third birthday. 
It was something I desperately wanted. I knew, even at that age, I would be given books. The train set was the only other thing I wanted. I don't know where the idea came from but I suppose I must have seen one, or a picture of one, somewhere. It was a "Hornby", a little green engine and a couple of carriages and a short track that could be set up in two ways. 
Mine came from my paternal grandparents. There was absolutely no nonsense about it being "something for boys". I wanted a train? That was fine with my grandfather. He must have been the one to buy it. 
My paternal grandfather was a mid-Victorian sort of character. He was very "proper" and often described as "an absolute gentleman". Manners were important. We never put a foot out of line in his presence. On that Christmas morning when I finally managed to pull the paper off the box containing the train set I flung my arms around his knees and thanked him. I knew it had to have come from him.
Later in the morning my father helped me set it up under the big dining room table. I remember sitting there reading the instructions to him. I am not sure how much I actually read but I know I read something. My father, knowing I wouldn't have the manual dexterity to put the track together, had told me, "You read the instructions so I know how to do it". After all, it was a week before my third birthday. I should have been able to read!
The little engine was clockwork of course. I was shown how it worked by my grandfather and I was told how important it was never to over-wind it. I never did.
That train set took me to all sorts of places. I played with it for hours. (My father set the track up on a piece of plywood for me so that I could use it at any time.) I went all over the world on that train. 
And no, it wasn't a "girl" toy at the time but I didn't know that. Along with the other pre-school children in the tiny country town I lived in at the time I would go off to the "big trains" at the railway station. The station master - who must have been a very patient man - would actually put parcels in the trays at the back of our tricycles (no bikes for us in those days) and we would take them from the train to where the parcels were sorted. I know I told him about my train. He asked questions. I don't think he ever said it was a "boy" sort of toy.
So, I want to meet MB one day. I want to find out about her digger and what it can do. 
I might tell her about my train.  

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Going to a country school

is not the same as going to a big city school.
There is a piece in this morning's paper about the cutting of "bonus points" for students in rural schools. These are additional points given to some students who are aiming for university. They are supposed to recognise disadvantage and put the students on an equal footing with everyone else. I am not sure that anything can really do that. However perhaps it is one way of trying to ensure that students in rural or other disadvantaged areas at least have a chance of success.
It's a topic I know something about from first hand experience. The Senior Cat had the challenge of setting up one of the state's "area schools". He had in effect to add a secondary section to an existing primary school. It was not an easy job. 
There were not a lot of students in the secondary section. It was only because I was going to join the little group that there were even considered to be enough students. The Senior Cat had to run the school and teach us English and History. There were three more teachers who taught some secondary work. As a group we were often left alone to get on with some work while the teachers taught younger students elsewhere in the school. (We were simply expected to behave - and we did.) 
It was not an ideal situation by any means. The Senior Cat knew that. It was my love of books that saw me through but it also meant that I was never able to study a modern language at school. That my present job involves working with multiple modern languages is, to say the least, a little ironic.
At the time, and in keeping with the social expectations of the time, these "area" schools were set up with boys rather than girls in mind. The "public examination stream" (think "O" levels) was set up for boys to do maths and science. Girls went off to do book keeping and typing. I did maths and science - and I wanted to do French and more history. I read a lot more history but the "Teach Yourself French" book wasn't much help as I had no idea how to pronounce any of it. The Senior Cat gave me a book called "An intermediate Latin grammar" and told me to learn what was in it. He didn't have time to do anything else.
So, was I disadvantaged? Well yes, I think I was. There were no subject choices and I was always more of an English and history child than a maths and science child. We weren't really being taught a lot. We had to teach ourselves with help from the teachers when they had time. It was the way things were though and nobody knew how to solve the problems.  There were no extra points back then for a student aiming for any sort of post-secondary education.
Even in the second "area" school my father was sent to things were not much better. It was larger but there were multiple other problems. He had been sent there to sort those problems out but it didn't help that the teachers were not trained to teach the subjects they were supposed to be teaching. I managed to pass physics - but the person who was supposed to be teaching us in the third year had only done fourth year physics himself. As "the head's kid" I knew to keep my mouth firmly shut about the fact that this teacher would sometimes get me to quiz him the night before he had to teach one of the required "practicals".  It showed a degree of trust in a stroppy teenager (and I was stroppy) that I still find remarkable.
I got where I wanted to go in the end but it took longer, much longer, than it should have done. I didn't get the extra time I needed to write enough to scrape through exams I should have been getting "A's" for but I expected that and the results. In one sense it didn't bother me. I was much more bothered by the fact that I wasn't learning enough. I wanted to learn. I constantly ran out of books to read. I had to learn alone. It was probably good in that it taught me to work alone.
But not all students are like me. There are students who need to be taught in classrooms. They need to be taught by competent teachers. If they are going to have a "fair go" then they are going to need a few extra points simply because their schools don't have the resources, their internet access will be patchy and they need to spend hours on a school bus each day - and they are expected to do chores on the farm as well.
If they get to post-secondary education of any sort they have done very well indeed.