Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Please stay fine for the ANZAC Day march

I think to myself. It rained at a crucial moment early this morning - just before the dawn services were due to begin.  At the moment it is fine but cloudy and the forecast is for more rain later. Please, make it later.
The last thing I want to do is glorify war. There is nothing glorious about war. Most of the people we label as "heroes" were terrified young men doing as they were told, terrified in a way that the rest of us will never know about.
The men of WWI have gone. The men of WWII are getting older and fewer.  Each year I remember the time we spent living in a "soldier settlement" area - one of the farming communities set up by the government after WWII to try and give returning servicemen some form of gainful employment. The ANZAC Day dawn service was one of the most important events on the community calendar. Everything else stopped for it. The wildest teens in the community - and there were a few - didn't put a foot out of line. Every school child turned up to the service. We had gone through all the usual hymns at school the week before - no nonsense about religious sensitivities as the Methodist minister and the Catholic priest and the Anglican priest and my father as headmaster organised the service with the head of the Returned Serviceman's League. Men wept. 
It was strangely quiet in the early morning.
Later there would be "the march" and we children would stand in our Guide and Scout uniforms or our school uniforms on either side of the road they came down. When it was over the men would disappear. They would go and drink beer, play "two-up", and perhaps reminisce. I say "perhaps" because most of them didn't want to remember and their dreams were often full of their war experiences. 
The youngest member of the library knitting group is in the state's school choir and they were singing at the main dawn service in the city. It meant getting up at 4:30am to get in there on time.  I wonder what sort of impact it will have on her. She is about the age I was when I first really became aware of ANZAC Day.  She is a creative, thoughtful child. 
It is something MsW has done in the past - and the experience made her a fierce pacifist. It is as well her father was there to support her afterwards. It caused a leap forward in her emotional maturity.
I rather suspect there will be some "bored" children today, children for whom the events of today will have little or no meaning. But, for those who do understand something of the emotions behind the events it will perhaps be a good thing. They may help to at least reduce the conflicts of the future. 

Monday, 24 April 2017

French politics has apparently

seen a seismic shift away from the major parties. 
At this hour in the morning Downunder it looks as if the French will be heading to a run off vote between Macron and Le Pen. It won't matter who wins out of those two. They will  need to work with a hostile government and they will leave the country divided. I don't envy the French.
What puzzles me though is the number of people outside France who can vote in the election. I don't mean those people who live in the French territories like Noumea but those who live in places like Downunder.
Last week a friend here flew to Canberra. He timed an important meeting so he could also vote - and yes he timed the meeting so he could go and vote. He hasn't set foot on French soil for the last how many years and has no intention of ever going back - but he voted in the French election. He will vote in the next one too. He sees it as his right. 
Perhaps it is. I know he isn't the only one to feel that way. I know other people who vote in elections for their home countries, people who have no intention of ever returning. They still want to shape the future of the country they left.  
The French Embassy has apparently said they are expecting at least 15,000 French to vote in Downunder. In a tight race even that many could make a difference. I wonder if it has made a difference in other elections, whether people who don't live in a country and ultimately won't be affected by the outcome will make a decision that affects others. 
The electoral boundaries here have just been redrawn. We are now in a "new" electorate. I missed an opportunity to meet one of the candidates recently. I hope I meet her soon. I knew my old Federal candidate well and I have met the new one. I need to meet the person who is likely to represent me at state level. To me this is important as I want to know not just what policies they will supposedly support but what sort of person they are in themselves.
It seems most people never bother. There is research to suggest they vote the same way all their lives. Do people who vote from outside their country of birth for elections in their country of birth do the same? Or, are they people who take a genuine interest in politics?
It is difficult enough to vote here. The responsibility weighs heavily on me. I look at the policies. I look at the candidates. How on earth do people do it from outside the country?

Sunday, 23 April 2017

We are making a Christmas tree

at the knitting group in the library. Yes, I know it is MUCH TOO EARLY to think about Christmas but one of the group thought it would be a good idea and... we have started.
It is based on an old umbrella. She has removed the tatty cover and the spokes are being covered in long lengths of twisting green crochet. It looks good.
Of course it needs to be covered in decorations as well. G...., the owner of the umbrella, began by making a tiny knitted bag with even tinier balls of wool and some toothpicks for knitting needles. 
The knitting needles were out of proportion. We've been thinking about that.
Other people are working on other ideas. I tried a knitted heart but didn't like it - undone. There's an angel coming up. I've found a nice idea for little parcels and someone else has found a new pattern for a knitted heart. Crochet? Yes, that will be fine too.
And I have knitted a very long piece of i-cord (French knitting, tomboy stitch, Knitting Nancy cord) to go around the lower part of the spokes and hold them out. 
But yesterday the miniature knitting needle problem came up again. The youngest member of the group hasn't been there for a couple of sessions - birthday parties and school camps tend to get in the way. She arrived full of smiles and eagerness - and saw the problem with the knitting needles. She didn't say anything but settled down and took out her things. It wasn't knitting and I was about to say something when I thought, "No, she's obviously doing something important to her."
She had brought out jewellery wire, snips, pliers, and some tiny beads from her beading kit...another of her crafts. She fiddled for a bit, shook her head and tried something else. We all went on knitting and asking one another about the work we were doing.
There was more snipping, some straightening, a look at what it produced. A second one was made. Then the youngest member of the group quietly and calmly handed over an almost perfect pair of miniature knitting needles and asked G...."Would these be a better size?"
This girl has just turned twelve. She saw a problem and also saw an almost instant solution to it. She designed it and made it and had the confidence to do not just that but pass her work on, What is more she passed it on to an adult with the confidence that it was not only good enough but that it would be welcome. G... responded with the words, "Yes! Can you make another pair too?"
So a second pair was made. Then things were put away and she went back to trying to master the tricky business of knitting into the front and back of every stitch across a row so that she can make a small pink pig. 
I have no doubt that she will keep trying that until she has it right.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

'Flu vaccination....growl

I hope it works because right now I have a very sore arm. It always happens.
I prowled down to the clinic yesterday - well, pedalled down. It is a 25 minute ride down there. I need to be feeling reasonably fit to get to the clinic.
There is a clinic closer than that but, when we returned to the city, it was overflowing with patients. Middle Cat knew someone at the other place. The Senior Cat was still driving a car and... well, we go there.
So, I pedalled down and made sure that I was on time. Of course the doctor wasn't. Usually she isn't too bad but yesterday she was running late, very late. As it was still reasonably early afternoon I hope she didn't have too many patients before the end of the day. She had a student in with her. 
C.... and I educated the student into the difficulties of taking my BP. "Come on Cat...relax... breathe in deeply, now out slowly, keep your eyes closed..." 
All the usual things. She showed the student it is no good trying my right arm...switch to left...yesterday it wasn't much better. Eventually she got a reading - elevated.  She looked at me.
I could have told her it would be.  
She knows me well enough not to say anything in front of the student. She sighed and said, "Come and see me in a month Cat."
The student won't be there then. She will distract my attention and she might get a reading she feels is accurate. She knows I am stressed at present -  but that the situation will resolve itself. We both know that.
Right now though it is hard to live with - and I hate having my BP taken at any time because if you tell me I have to keep still I can't!

Friday, 21 April 2017

They have just closed a mental health facility

for older people in this city. It  was not a good place and some truly dreadful things occurred there. People generally approve of the closure.
The problem is, where do older people in need of long term mental health care go now? Where does anyone in need of long term mental health care go now?
However hard we try it isn't always possible for people to stay at home, especially if they are on their own. Even if there is someone at home with them it may not be possible for them to cope. 
A close friend of the Senior Cat was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about eighteen months ago. I suspected it some considerable time before that and his daughter did too. The diagnosis came as no surprise to us but it shocked his wife. She thought he was "just forgetting things" occasionally. He has deteriorated since then. At present his wife is coping with him at home - coping but not really managing the situation.  He isn't at the point where he is considered to need "care" but that doesn't need the family doesn't need care. They do.
I have seen all this before. I have seen it with several older people in the district. They have families who should be looking out for them but their families live in other places and, more often than not, they don't want to know. They leave it up to the neighbours or the authorities have to step in.
One son, who hadn't spoken to his mother in over a decade, simply said, "It's not my responsibility."  He passed her care over to the Public Trustee. They sent in a local charity to clear the house and put the old woman into a care facility far away. I saw a death notice for her a few months later.
Recently someone contacted me. She is a friend of a friend. She lives in Canberra. Her mother had died a short time earlier and the house had been shut up. She was now going through it. There were knitting things there and our mutual friend had given her my name. Could I use it? She would like to give it to me personally as our mutual friend thought I might actually use it.
Neither of them have any idea how long it takes to knit something but I accepted. I knew I could always pass it on. I thought there wouldn't be much there.
It arrived. Bags of it - and it wasn't the usual mess of cheap acrylic. Some of it was really lovely. 
     "I don't know what Mum was thinking of. She just kept buying all this. Oh, there's some fabric too. Can you use it?"
I don't sew. I left it for someone who does sew and told her to take what she could use and pass the rest on. 
There were garment amounts there. Even if I had owned no yarn at all there was too much there for me. I sorted it. I arranged for someone to pick up some for a group which does charity knitting and for someone else to pick up more for the knitting guild I belong to. 
The woman who brought it all to me was almost pathetically grateful.
     "I didn't want to just dump it at the charity place. It's too good for that.  I think Mum was getting a bit odd. I don't know what I would have done...."
And that's the problem. What would she have done? She is still working. Her husband is still working. They work long hours. Even if she had taken her mother to live with them the house would have been empty all day. It would have been unfamiliar. Her friends would not have been there and, if she was "getting a bit odd" the problem would just have become worse.
I hope Middle Cat and I can go on caring for the Senior Cat for as long as he needs it. He knows this house. His (also elderly) friends live within a reasonable distance. We are fortunate that his mind is still acute - even if he does occasionally forget to do something! We have good neighbours. 
I just don't know what to do about age and "getting a bit odd". How do you help people?

Thursday, 20 April 2017

An affirmation of "citizenship"

for all Australians?
When citizenship ceremonies are held around the country the new citizens are asked to say, "I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey."
Those present at the ceremony who are already citizens are asked to affirm the same in return. 
Perhaps it is a good thing but I don't feel comfortable with it. I have never felt comfortable with that sort of thing.
I was barely four years of age when I started school. You could begin school in the year you turned five. My birthday comes at the very end of the year. Most parents would have waited until the following year but my mother, with two more small children at home and a child who could - annoyingly - already read, wanted me to go to school. I went to school.
At school we had "assembly" and in assembly we learned to say, "I am an Australian. I love my country.... " and more - as a pledge of allegiance to Downunder.  Even at four years of age I didn't like doing it. My dislike of it grew stronger and stronger. There were arm movements that went with it and, if I could have gotten away with not making them I would have done it. I would mouth something else instead of the words.
The idea that I was supposed to feel good about being Australian and proud of my country was something that I could never come to terms with. I still don't feel that way.
Now please don't get me wrong. I know that Downunder is a good place to live. It is, as countries go, safe. People are, on the whole, well housed and well fed and "free". It is a country with a reputation for friendliness and a relaxed life style.  I acknowledge that and I would never do anything that might make it less safe or cause people not to be housed or fed. I just don't feel the need or the desire to make a fuss about it. I want to belong to the world, not just part of it.
I know that will shock a lot of people. It's like barracking for the "wrong" football team - a sin. I just don't see the need to vote for any football team at all. 

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Those 457 visas have been

scrapped - the visas that allowed employers to bring in workers from overseas to fill positions in a variety of occupations that Downunderites could not or would not fill. 
Of course Downunderites could have filled most of the positions. There was work they simply didn't want to do and places they didn't want to go. Some people would rather be unemployed in the city than employed in a rural area. Some people think that jobs like cleaning the hospital or shopping centre is beneath them.
Our parents were teachers. One condition of their employment was that the Education Department had the right to send them anywhere in the state at a moment's notice. We children simply had to follow them whether we liked it or not.
In reality of course most teachers were moved at the end of the school year. The long summer holidays saw the removal companies around the state hard at work moving teachers from one place to another. (Yes, it was hard work. Teachers tend to have books. Books are heavy. That was in addition to all the other household goods and chattels.) 
You could "apply" for various schools. This was part of the "promotion" process as much as anything else. You had to know where the vacancies were likely to be and what sort of competition you were up against - and much more.
I can remember the Senior Cat sitting at the kitchen table (no office in those days) discussing each option with my mother. In the end he wasn't actually given a choice. He was considered to be a "trouble shooter". He was sent to places to "sort things out" and set the school up or back on an even keel so that someone else could move in and go on running it while he went on to the next set of problems. 
Now he would probably be given more help to do such things and might even be given a pay increase for the added responsibility. Then he just accepted that this was what was required of him. One of the places he was sent to, the one where my mother went back teaching full time in the little two teacher school, had no running water and no electricity.  The house was so badly built that Middle Cat and I had to sleep on mattresses on the floor. You couldn't get beds into that bedroom. My parents slept head to toe in two single beds in a room where you had to sit on the bed in order to open the wardrobe door. My parents didn't like it but they accepted it. Teachers wouldn't put up with that now.
So I wonder whether they will be able to fill the vacancies left by scrapping the 457 visas. Will they find people who are prepared to do the sort of thing my parents, and many more like them, did? Will they find a "local lad" to do the work the Sikh trolley collector is doing in the local shopping centre? I was talking to him the other day. He unhitched a trolley for me. He's studying to become an accountant. Will he work here? He probably won't get the chance now.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Prince Harry speaking out on mental health

has probably done more good than all the "experts" who tell people to seek help.
Prince Harry is seen as "privileged" of course. He is one of those people who is supposed to "have everything". It's supposed to be "easy" for him. He "doesn't have to work".
Hold it right there. He isn't privileged. He was born into a family that has a position in society which makes it difficult to actually do anything at all without being under scrutiny. What's more he doesn't have everything - far from it.
He doesn't have his mother. I'll come back to that in a moment. He doesn't have the freedom to "just hop in the car and go out for a meal". Everything gets planned ahead. He is expected to attend events that must bore the socks off him - and his family. He is expected to meet and greet people - and always, but always, be polite to people. He works. Yes, he does work. It hasn't just been army service either. He attends meetings. He makes decisions. He makes speeches. He listens to people. He has to be a diplomat at all times.
And  yes, he does it without his mother. I liked his mother. I am going to be totally upfront here and say I met his mother on more than one occasion...before she married. We met over small children. I was doing research. She was caring for them. I thought of her as a "caring" person too. The children she was caring for liked her - and small children tend to be instinctively the best judges of what an adult is really like. Children went to Prince Harry's mother - and she listened to them. It wasn't the halfhearted  listening that is so common among adults. She concentrated on what they were telling her. We talked too, about the research I was doing, about the way children grew up in Downunder, about stories children liked, and much more.
I wonder how many of the children remember her now? How many remember the way she listened? I suspect a lot of them do. I am sure Prince Harry does. I am sure his brother does. It will be one of the things they miss the most.
I have been fortunate in that I have had two people in my life that I could talk to on occasion. One was my paternal grandmother and the other was an indigenous woman who mothered me in my teens and became a very close friend. They are both long deceased  - and I still miss them. I didn't talk to my mother in the way I talked to them. My siblings didn't either. Our mother simply wasn't that sort of person. Not all mothers have that intense, close relationship with their children - although many do. 
Most of us though need someone like that. When you lose someone like that at an early age then you need support from other people. You might look as if you are "coping" but that isn't enough. 
So Prince Harry speaking out was important. It told the world, "it may look as if I have everything but I still need someone to listen to me. I am not totally self-sufficient. I am not an island with everything I need in it".
If by some odd unlikely chance I ever meet Prince Harry I hope I can tell him how his mother listened.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Meals on Wheels is

appealing for funds from the federal government to keep running - at least in this state. I hope they get it because it will save money in the long run.
Meals on Wheels can be the difference between someone staying in their own home and going into a nursing home. The latter is much more expensive.
When we first moved into this house thirty years ago an elderly couple lived next door. At first they were still able, indeed very able. Just before winter each year they would hitch their ancient caravan to their almost as ancient car and head "up north" along with so many other older people. They would stay for the winter and return in spring.
Then came the year they didn't do it. It was just too far for the old man to drive and his wife didn't drive at all. That was the start of the long downhill slide. Two years later the wife became really ill for a while. He struggled to feed them but said nothing to anyone. Then, quite by accident, I discovered they were having problems. He asked me how you cooked something - and admitted he wasn't "much of a cook".  I gave the help he asked for but things got worse.
Because he could still drive his car to the shops and do a certain amount of preparation they weren't considered eligible for Meals on Wheels. One of their children lived several hundred kilometres away. Another lived in London. The third was estranged from the entire family.  There was no help there. They weren't church goers. They didn't belong to any organisations. They had no support network.
I started to provide the occasional meal, trying to do it in a way which wouldn't offend. 
The doctor called one day because the husband simply couldn't get his wife dressed or into the car. I met the doctor as he was coming out of their house as I was about to go in. The husband introduced me and said I was giving them meals. A short discussion ensued. What about Meals on Wheels? Not eligible? Nonsense! 
They were on the list within a week. Five days a week a good hot meal arrived on their doorstep. At weekends I supplied the two remaining main meals and the husband would pay me for the ingredients. All I did was cook enough for two extra. It was really no extra work.
They lasted in their own home for almost two more years that way and only moved into a nursing home when the husband's eyesight meant he could no longer drive his beloved car.  I met the doctor a second time towards the end of their stay at home. We agreed that Meals on Wheels had kept them there and that they were much happier because of it.
I've organised Meals on Wheels for other elderly people on their own since then - in conjunction with their doctors. In every instance it has allowed them to go on living at home. One man only needed them for a short time while he convalesced but it allowed him to return home safely. Someone checked on him five days a week. I only needed to check at weekends for the seven weeks he need  help. He's back to helping others now.
I know other people who have organised Meals on Wheels for elderly neighbours. It is so much more dignified to pay, however little, than to depend on neighbours who may not always find it convenient however willing they are.
So, I hope the funding comes through. It's a marvellous service because it isn't just about feeding someone. It's about keeping them where they belong - in their own homes. 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

A half solved mystery

- I think. I may be wrong but....
I have a wonderful friend who is a fibre artist. She also visits craft fairs around Australia and New Zealand with the extraordinary selection of unusual yarns and other items she has sourced. Her stand is the sweet shop of the dreams of knitters and crocheters.
I am extremely fortunate in that, whenever she is in my home city, I get to "play" on the stand for the few days she is here. She sells my patterns and I have knitted some samples for her. 
It is that last thing which gave rise to a mystery. Some time ago she had some unusual rayon yarn in rather different colour combinations on her stand. She passed over two skeins and asked me to "do something with it". Mmmm....just the sort of challenge I enjoy.
I thought about it. I looked at all sorts of things. I knitted a small square to get the feel of the yarn. Mm...that didn't feel right to me so I tried another one. Much better.
And I made a simple top that could be worn alone or over the top of something else. It had neat (I like to think) little ties at the side. I thought that made it unique enough to call it my own design. I wrote the pattern. I put the pattern and the finished garment into the post and I waited...
Oh right they were away. The parcel had not been collected from their post office. I waited some more. No. The parcel was not there. There was some double checking.
According to the post office at this end the parcel had been delivered.  According to my friend the parcel had not arrived. That was three years ago.
Yesterday I was out and about briefly and, in the not too far distance, I saw something. It didn't register at first. I just thought something looked vaguely familiar, that I'd seen it somewhere before. 
And then I realised....it was the top I had made. Yes, I would ask where the wearer had got it from! She was a very pleasant woman who seemed quite happy and relaxed about talking to me. Where had she got the top? She had bought it at a garage sale.
     "The usual thing. They were getting rid of a heap of stuff because they were moving. I suppose it didn't fit or something. I don't think she had ever worn it. Isn't it nice. Look, I love these little ties."
I didn't say anything because I sensed that the person I was talking to had come by it honestly. She would not have been aware that she was buying something that was almost certainly not come by honestly.
It solves the mystery in part. At least I know the top is being worn and appreciated.
But I would love to know how the seller had come by it!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

I don't think "ADHD" existed when

I was a child. There were children who were "fidgety" and who "didn't listen" and "didn't concentrate" but the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder label wasn't something people knew about.
Now we are being told that it is a serious disorder which requires the administration of medication to calm children down, sometimes to children as young as two. Indeed without such medication your "disruptive" child might not be permitted to attend a day-care centre.
I am not a medical person and I most certainly couldn't diagnose something like ADHD but I wonder why it has become an issue.
Is it a physical condition or is it a problem associated with the sort of life style we now lead?
My mother worked as a teacher. I knew other mothers who worked too. They worked in shops, banks, hospitals, and offices. Not all mothers worked outside the home but an increasing number did. Most however did not work until all their children were of school going age. If they did work then children were usually cared for by grandparents. Before my mother went back teaching full-time she would do the occasional "relief" day and my paternal grandmother would care for my two small sisters. She would come to our home, about a mile away, and care for them there. "Day Care" as such simply didn't exist.  There was "Kindergarten" but it wasn't seen as a child minding service for working parents. 
Most children played at home and they often played alone outside in everything but wet weather. Most children, even the poorest, had tricycles or pedal cars. They might be third or fourth or fifth hand even - certainly ours were - but they were toys which encouraged us to be active. We "dressed up" in old clothes belonging to our parents and pretended to be pirates, cowboys, space men and all sorts of other things. We played imaginative games. My siblings climbed trees. Even I managed to scramble up a precarious heap to sit on the lowest branch of a tree. It was well below the height of the back fence so it must have been much less than two metres high but it was still "high" to me. 
Our mothers didn't supervise our outdoor play. They didn't provide us with a stream of electronic entertainment. I don't suppose everyone had a "bedtime" story either. We certainly didn't have a huge quantity of plastic toys relating to films like "Frozen".  My father had made me a dolls house, a replica of our house in the little country town where I was born. The furniture was simple. There were no dolls in it. I used it mostly as a "railway station" for my Hornby clockwork train set with the green engine and the simple track that travelled the world from the time I was three.  I never quite forgave my mother for giving it away when we moved. 
I think we played quite differently. We would come inside reluctantly. We were dirty and tired and hungry. 
While we were outside  unsupervised our mothers, particularly our working mothers, were getting on with other things. They were doing much of it without the modern conveniences. They had to make our clothes because you couldn't just head to the nearest shopping centre and buy them. You had to actually polish the floor when you cleaned it. 
When we went to school we didn't have "before" and "after" school care or a supervised activity every afternoon. We went home. We went outside and we played.
I could be completely wrong but I can't help wondering whether this epidemic of ADHD isn't related to the modern lifestyle where there is constant supervision and the overuse of a range of electronic baby sitters. 

Friday, 14 April 2017

"Would you pick up the papers please?"

came the request from our neighbour. 
He's Chinese and we don't have a great deal to do with him. He speaks good English but his wife speaks almost none although she has now lived here for some years. (I offered English lessons but they were turned down.)
But R.... speaks excellent English and he likes to keep up with the news. He does a great many financial transactions via the internet. The back room of their house has multiple computers and clocks - each dedicated to a financial hub somewhere in the world. I have never bothered to inquire precisely what he does or how. It's none of my business.
And yes, he gets the papers - more than one paper. It helps him keep up to date apparently. 
Yesterday he told me he hadn't cancelled them in time for the holiday so please would I pick them up. No, he didn't want them. I could read them if I wanted to. As the Senior Cat still likes to get an actual paper we get the state one but I read the rest I need to read on line.
None of that was my concern though. Our neighbours have a dog. It is a small, yapping chihuahua. It is not a nice dog at all. It isn't friendly in the least. I do not in the least blame the neighbourhood cats for all learning the trick of sitting on the fence and making it bark in frustration - however annoying the barking may be.
What, I inquired of my neighbour, were they going to do with the dog? I was appalled to discover that they planned to leave it there "with food and water" - from this morning (Friday) to Monday afternoon. 
Now if it was a friendly sort of dog I would have been happy to help out. I would have fed it. I would have spent some time playing with it in their garden even if I couldn't take it for a walk. (It almost never gets a walk.) It isn't that I actually have the time to do those things but dogs are not like cats. They need company. You can't just leave food and water for them and hope they will be okay. Cats can regulate themselves. They can hunt for food and water if they really need it. Dogs don't do that. What if the dog upset the water bowl - or the water ran out? A dog won't pace the food either... most cats would. And dogs are pack animals. Cats are generally solitary. Dogs need company. Cats will seek out company if they want it. 
I know that our neighbours know very little about the care of dogs. The dog was wished upon them and I suspect they would prefer to be without it.  Still, in all fairness to the dog, I gently suggested that it might not be wise to leave it alone. R...seemed startled. I told him that a dog is not like a cat.
I don't know what he plans to do but I hope we are not in for four days of barking. 

Thursday, 13 April 2017

There is a piece by Andrew Bolt

in this morning's paper. For those of you in Upover, Andrew Bolt is a right wing columnist who sets out to be deliberately controversial. His topic today is about the prosecution of a silly individual who called a footballer an "ape" on Facebook. The footballer in question is of indigenous background. I have never met him but, from all accounts, he is a gentleman and a fine football player who is generally liked - unless of course he isn't on your team. 
The silly individual's alleged offence was reported by someone and newsreaders all over the country informed the public of the act. It is now apparently the subject of a major investigation. Mr Bolt is questioning the wisdom of using police resources in this way.
It seems to me it would have been much simpler to simply require the silly individual to take the post down and apologise to the person they were speaking about. That should have been enough. Had someone not made a fuss it is unlikely that the footballer would even have known the remark had been made. He is probably no keener on the matter being pursued than the individual who made the remark.
These sort of things can get out of hand all too easily. I know. I have had a nasty series of anonymous letters over the last twelve months. There have apparently been letters to other people as well. I think I know who is writing them but I don't have absolute proof.  If I had absolute proof though what would I do? 
I wouldn't go to the police. I wouldn't bother with legal action. I'd just confront the individual and demand it stop. In all likelihood that would be enough. In a way such people are worse than the silly individual who puts a name to their words. 
People who do that sort of thing are simply cowards.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

I am ready to do murder

of the possum who thought it was fun to "play" with something on the carport roof last night. 
No, it wasn't the cat who visits from across the road. It was the possum. Possums make a distinctive and very odd noise. This possum was making that noise. It was also skittering across the roof. It sounded as if it was also pushing an avocado stone around. One was probably left on the roof when the possum had eaten the avocado.
I am tired, very tired. I estimate I have had about three hours sleep at the most and I only had about five the night before. That is not enough. I need much more than that.
Once in a very long while the Senior Cat has forgotten to push the button which brings down the carport door - the place where we store his gopher and my tricycle. When he does I get woken by car lights on vehicles leaving the access road on the other side of the street. Most people aren't noisy. I am used to the sound and, even if I am conscious of it in my sleep, I don't wake properly. It is the lights which will wake me.  I growl and make up for it the following night.
But the possum noise was different. It was unusual. It was intermittent. I didn't know if it had stopped and was going to start again or whether it had stopped completely. A couple of times I almost drifted off but was woken again. 
I am too old to do the "all night awake" thing. I need a good sound catnap at night.
So, this morning, I feel vaguely sick. 
I may join the Senior Cat and Brother Cat (currently here) in a catnap after lunch!

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

"Her throat is very sore"

That was part of an email message to me yesterday. It was from a friend in the US about another friend in the US. In it she had told me that our mutual friend was recovering from surgery.
I knew nothing about this. M.... is a good friend, a very good friend. She is not just my friend but one of those loving and supportive and generous people the world needs more of and is, sadly, not likely to find too often.
I didn't say anything to the Senior Cat because I didn't know what was wrong. I sent messages back and asked.
And then, in the post, came the most wonderful book for me - as a "very belated birthday present". It's a book about knitting - and texture, and colour, and much more. It is a book I have  looked at and felt I could never justify buying. And yes, it came from two of the wonderful group who live in Virginia and beyond.  M.... must have posted it a little while back - knowing that she would be going in for surgery and not telling me. Typical.
I also told A... the mother of one of "the Mob". The Mob are a group of students with physical disabilities. I met them years ago through my late friend Margaret. Margaret lived in a hospital. It was the only way they could cope with her many medical issues. She was one of the most useful "volunteers" they had. Every day they would settle her into an electric wheelchair and hand over her knitting and she would go and "hold the hand" of a patient who needed someone to "just be there". She met the entire Mob over that time. She taught them to knit. She introduced them to each other. They have gone on meeting and knitting - three boys, two girls - and giving back what she gave them.  And our friend M.... in the US has sent "care packages" to them...magazines and yarn. They have used every scrap - the youngest of them makes a lot of finger puppets and really does use the last few centimetres of everything. It's good. 
A.... will get word around to the Mob today. They are meeting over Easter but this is news they won't want to wait for. This is about a friend and knitting buddy.
And they will be cross because she didn't tell us. I know. She didn't want to worry us....but what are friends for?
M.... I know you will get around to reading this. We love you and we are thinking of you. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

This idea of a desert(ed) island

is  beginning to look more appealing....perhaps.
Those of you who live in the United Kingdom will be familiar with "Desert Island Discs". Even if you never listen to it you will know about it in the way that you  know about "The Archers". 
Desert Island Discs was created by Roy Plomley in 1942. That makes the program 75 this year. It still takes the "interview someone famous and ask them to choose 8 records" (or recordings now I suppose) to take with them to a deserted island, along with a luxury item.
I listened to it occasionally when I was living in London, along with the omnibus version of the Archers. I listened to the Archers largely so that I could make "intelligent" conversation when those things were mentioned. I can remember the fuss when Shula's grandmother "died" and discovered from a reader of this blog that "Shula" is still being written into the program. I listened to Desert Island Discs when someone I was particularly interested in was being interviewed. The interviews were never "in-depth" but there were little nuggets of information which often helped me better understand those being interviewed. There were the small insights into their lives that made listening worthwhile. 
I remember hearing PL Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins, interviewed. There wasn't a single piece of music in the recordings she chose. I wonder whether that has ever happened in any other episode? 
And there is the frustrating memory of a piece of  harp music I never caught the name of and never followed up. I haven't heard it again since - but I am sure I would know it instantly. I cannot remember who was being interviewed or I would go back into the archives and find it. 
The Whirlwind's father had cause to explain the program to her over the weekend. He sometimes listens to it. He listens to quite a lot of BBC radio while doing other things.
"It sounds weird," she told me later, "How could you choose just eight?"
We let her think about it. Her father has tried to give her a more varied musical experience than that of many of her generation. He has taken her to the occasional symphony concert. They have been to at least one opera. They have been to other concerts and recitals. She isn't fond of "loud" music. 
I don't think she is particularly musical. She has been taught to read music at school and, along with everyone else in her class, was taught to play the recorder - "they sound awful". She is in the school choir and can at least sing in tune. 
So, what would she take to a desert island? She had no idea but it was interesting to learn what she would not take,
    "I don't think I would want something that everyone likes right now."
    "Well you might get sick of it. You don't know if it is something that you are going to go on liking and liking...not like my dad likes some of those old things and he's liked them for years and years. You might think you would  but at school we sort of like something one time and then something else."
And then of course she asked the inevitable question of what I would choose. 
The answer to that is, "I'm glad I will never be a guest on Desert Island Discs."


Sunday, 9 April 2017

There were screams from across the road

yesterday. I looked out the window to see if help was needed. No. Stay out of that one.
Youngest Granddaughter of the Neighbours was the problem. She is the one who has been away from school because of problems associated with not eating properly.  Over the past few weeks she has had a great deal of adult attention. 
I don't doubt that she is also frightened because she doesn't really understand what is happening to her. Yes, adults have tried to explain. She doesn't want to listen to the explanations.  She just wants everything to go on as it always has.
I think there are some other issues too. She was away from school for a fortnight and the school did not give her any work to do so now she has to catch up with the others - more effort.  It may be that someone somewhere, perhaps even the child herself, has said something and she is now being teased and won't admit it. There are all sorts of possible scenarios.
It doesn't help.
Yesterday the two girls were left with their grandparents while their parents went off to do something - a not infrequent occurrence. They generally like being there. There is always plenty to do. Youngest apparently had one really severe tantrum which involved some physical violence on her part and left her grandmother shaken by the severity of it.  Calm was eventually restored.
The parents eventually returned and Youngest had another tantrum.  This was the tantrum I could see. She was refusing to get in the car. Her father was trying to get her in, holding her but not hugging her. With all the strength of a furious and frightened six year old she was resisting and screaming. I think everyone in the district, not just the street, must have heard her. 
It was no normal tantrum, not the sort of "over in a few minutes" tantrum or the tantrum of a two or three or four year old who hasn't been able to get their way. Youngest was hysterical. It took twenty minutes to calm her down and get her into the car and, presumably, not be a distraction for Mum-who-was-driving-today. 
They came back yet again later in the afternoon. There was no repeat tantrum but Youngest was sulky and apparently muttered a barely audible apology before rushing off with her sister. When they had gone again our neighbour crossed the road and spoke to me. She looked exhausted - as well she might. They don't know how to handle the situation within the bounds of modern parenting guidelines - in which they believe. I know there aren't any easy answers and that all the problems are going to take months of work to undo several  years of bad habits which have been allowed to develop.  Neighbour knows this too.
      "Now they have gone, " she told me, "I am going to get myself something I haven't had for six months or more. I am going to get myself a gin and tonic. I am going to sit there and sip it very slowly and read my book."
I wonder whether she finished the drink or whether she fell asleep.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

The sarin gas attack in Syria

has left me and many of my colleagues in stunned disbelief. Oh yes, many people believed that chemical weapons were still available. There can be no doubt that at least some of Iraq's WMD's were smuggled across the border into Syria and stored there. Saddam Hussein had no intention of giving them up - any more than Assad has now. 
And yes, some people expected that they could be used - just not in the time and the place that they were used.  And yes again, there were opponents of Assad in the area which was targetted.
That doesn't matter. What matters is that the gas was used, used in contravention of the law and in contravention of everything that is good, loving, caring, and decent.  It was used against civilians who simply want the war to stop and for life to go back to something resembling some sort of "normality". It was used against children who were too young to even understand and will now never grow up. 
     "We don't have what we need to help them," I was told immediately after the attack. 
Then I was told that again, and again. 
     "It was too late to help them..."
     "How can you explain to someone what this is?"
"Poison" seems so inadequate. It's more than that. It is unspeakably vile and evil.
Yesterday a neighbour brought over her three year old for a short visit. The Senior Cat had promised to pass on a set of building blocks. It's a lovely set and will make a good toy for a very long time. Nobody has used it for several years and he would like T... to be able to use it. It's a construction toy with high play value.
T....sat on the floor and built houses while we talked. When it was time to go he didn't want to dismantle his houses. It took some persuasion. He eventually understood that he could make them again at home and packed the blocks into their box. 
As he left he told me he was going to make the houses again. I thought of the small children in Syria and wished that was all they needed to worry about. 

Friday, 7 April 2017

The new supermarket has opened

across the road from the main shopping centre. 
We have all been watching this being built over the past year. Comments have been many and varied and there have been grumbles about the disruption to traffic as the concrete mixers and cranes and transporters made their way to and from the site.
The supermarket finally opened on Wednesday. I did not go and look then. I did go and look yesterday. The Senior Cat wanted to know about it because it sells other things apart from food. Was it, he wanted to know, worth a visit sometime?
I went to have a look. 
It isn't what I consider to be very accessible. To enter from the street you either need to go up a long ramp intended for prams and baby buggies/pushers or shopping trolleys. A wheelchair user could use it but the corner is only just within regulations. If you don't use the ramp there are six steps - rather steep steps. 
I thought there had to be something better than that as I made my way very cautiously up those steps. Oh. Yes, the usual electronic access from the car park beneath the building - or more stairs.
I went in. I went up and down the aisles. I didn't linger. 
Yes, you could buy most of the usual things but the brands were different and limited. The sizes tended to be "large". 
As I was there I picked up another box of paper tissues for the Senior Cat. The claim was they are made in Downunder. I wonder why I haven't come across that  brand before? 
Prices varied. Most were about the same. The place was curiously quiet. Perhaps it had been busier the day before? 
I went back over to main shopping centre. It was Thursday busy - pension day for many people means that they shop then. There's a 5% discount on eligible items in one of the two supermarkets there on Thursdays. The staff know a lot of the customers.
The manager came out and, seeing a little queue in the lane for just a few items, served several customers himself. One of the staff said, "Hello Cat." A student who works in there said, "I just emailed you my first assignment Cat. Are you sure you don't mind looking at it?"
No, I don't. You're a refugee and getting this far has been very hard work. You're the first person in your family to go to university too. I didn't need to say that. It's the sort of thing you find out when other students who work there talk to you too.
I caught up with the good news that someone was home from hospital and "doing really well" as I waited to be served.
      "Leave that Mr..... and I'll drop it in on my way home," I heard one of the young staff members say to the customer ahead of me. I know he lives just around the corner from the old man in question but he doesn't need to do it.
Mr.... smiled at me and said quietly, "Now why would I be wanting to go across the road when I get service like that here?"
The new supermarket may be good for young families who want to rush in after work. They may want things in large quantities. Choice - or the lack of it - may not bother them.
I assume the owners of the new supermarket have done their homework. They must believe people will go there to shop.
Some of us will continue to go where people say, "Hello Cat."

Thursday, 6 April 2017

I have no time for Pauline Hanson

or her "One Nation" party.
That said I also have no time for the media bias against her. It is one thing to criticise, especially where criticism is justified. It is another to "create" news in order to criticise. Does the desired end of Pauline Hanson justify the attempted means of getting rid of her? No.
It would be much simpler not to give her any media oxygen. Parties like hers thrive on it. Currently she has around 10% support nationally. That's disturbing. 
That support is being fuelled by the media. Those who support her are simply becoming more committed. Some of those who don't support her are becoming more strident. The media is supporting the division and the arguments. Wouldn't it be better to simply stop? 
I know. It wouldn't be news. Too bad.
The media has also helped to halt a visit by Ayaan Hirsi Ali too. I have yet to read one of her books. There is one sitting in the "to be read" pile. I'll make up my mind about her after I have done the necessary research. Whatever I may end up thinking though I wonder at the support given to those opposing her visit. Is she really that dangerous? 
If the media is to be believed then both left and right think this woman is dangerous - or is it perhaps that not criticising her is dangerous?
Is not criticising Pauline Hanson also considered dangerous? Is it the same for Marine Le Pen? 
Former PM Julia Gillard came in for plenty of criticism. The current British PM comes in for plenty. The First Minister of Scotland does too. 
I wonder what the media is doing here? Do they actually know?

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

So now we have a chiropractor

being taken to court for treating animals.
I find this hard to believe...or do I?
Let it be said here that I would not personally allow a chiropractor anywhere near my spine - or any other part of me. I also know there are other people who swear by them.
Middle Cat is a physiotherapist by profession and I have largely avoided her ministrations as well. (The occasional massage has been useful - but then I would do the same for her.) A couple of times I have been to the Chinese massage business in the shopping centre. Middle Cat approves of them. They don't try to do anything other than loosen up tight muscles and get their victims to relax. 
For the most part though I will, if I can, avoid such things.
I have never visited a "naturopath" or an "iridologist" or any other form of "alternative" medicine - and please don't get me even started on "homeopathy". 
But apparently there are people who will take their precious pets to a chiropractor and get them treated for things like "sore shoulders" and get their spines "adjusted".  Yes, mostly dogs - and the occasional cat or horse. The chiropractor in question claims to be able to treat goldfish too. Perhaps he can. I doubt it - but others may believe it. Instinct tells me to stay away from such people. I acknowledge I may be wrong but I will continue to avoid them.
Currently we have an extremely friendly young "willy wagtail" in the garden. He appears to take a great bird-like interest in us. I turned the hose on yesterday to water and he appeared. He darted in and out of the spray for a moment. Then he stood on the lawn and, balancing on one leg, he pulled at the other with his beak. I could see something stuck there. I knew I wasn't going to get close enough to pull whatever it was from him.  All I could do was watch. He worked on it for a little while.
Eventually he gave another little tug and a tiny twig came loose. He gave himself a little shake. Then he darted through the spray again before flying up to the telephone wire and chirruping at me, almost as if to say, "Thanks for the water."
 He didn't need my help.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Apparently I am someone else

or so it would seem.
As children we were "the teachers' kids" and, as my parents rose through the school system, "the heads' kids". My siblings, cousins and I were also "(my grandfather's) granddaughters and grandsons". I still get the latter once in a while. 
Now I sometimes get "the one who writes the letters to the paper" or "the one who rides the tricycle". A complete stranger came looking for me in the supermarket yesterday and said, "He told me to look for the person wearing the bicycle helmet."
I suppose there are, especially for me, worse ways to be described.
But it seems I am also someone else - or perhaps not someone. As a white, female of Celtic ancestry I really don't exist you know. I am not even "Greek" or "Italian" or "Maltese" or "Dutch" or a descendant of any of the other non-English speaking Europeans who make up part of the Downunder population. I am most definitely not Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Burmese, Thai, or Filipino. It doesn't count that my "Greek" nephew has the most wonderful Filipino-Japanese partner either.
For some reason none of those count. I am actually not allowed to say "I'm Scottish-Australian" but my brother-in-law is allowed and even expected to say "I'm Greek-Australian".
My paternal great-grandparents spoke both Gaelic and English. (My paternal great-grandfather began his working life as a sailor so English was essential. His wife was a very determined, self-educated woman who saw English as a stepping stone into the world of business.) Their children knew a few words and phrases. The Senior Cat's generation knew none at all. There should be none in my generation either but I do know a few words and so do several distant cousins.
You see, we wanted to know. Right around us there are people who claim another heritage, who are actually encouraged to claim that heritage. They are encouraged to learn the language of their ancestors - often with very little success but still done - and they are encouraged to "keep traditions". There are festivals and "cultural events". It is all supposed to be part of a "multi-cultural" country. So why are some of us being told we really aren't anyone. Why are we being told our ancestry doesn't matter? Is there something wrong with it? Should we be ashamed of it? The Scots have had a significant influence on science, technology, engineering, social systems, and more but apparently those things don't count. We apparently have no right to celebrate those things. 
I really don't understand this. If someone could explain I would be most grateful.  Tapadh leat. 

Monday, 3 April 2017

Anger is a largely wasted emotion

so I am trying not to feel annoyed but I am also finding that rather difficult.
On Saturday I had the newsletter for a group I belong to delivered by email. It saves paper and postage and that's fine with me. It was the content that annoyed me. 
The group runs workshops. That should be a good thing. The workshops were advertised. Fine. I have no problems with that. 
What is being taught however is a problem. 
I know who will be teaching the class. I know why that approach is  being taken. I also know how they will justify what they are doing. The reality however is that they are allowing their personal prejudice and dislike of me to take precedence over the good of the group. That's not good. 
This person knows that, if invited to help, I would happily have shown people a much simpler and more flexible means of doing something. I have written something that everyone could have used without worrying about copyright restrictions because I would have granted permission to use it. 
But, it isn't that which worries me. What worries me is that someone has so little loyalty to the group to which they belong that they will deliberately deny them information which is of benefit to them.  It means that people will go ahead and do a lot of work and then find that there is another way which is judged to be more acceptable. They won't receive the credit they could for their work.
That's not telling me how much I am disliked. I know the rest of the group won't see it that way and I'll be given a lot of support. This person is simply showing a disregard for other people and the good of the group. That's not good and it bothers me.
That's not good.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

The floods in New South Wales and

Queensland are now being blamed on "global warming". It seems that global warming gets blamed for every significant weather event these days.
I have no idea whether the floods are caused by global warming or not but they are messy, dangerous, destructive, and expensive. They will also make other things more expensive - such as the types of food grown in those areas.
I can't imagine how people must feel to see everything they have worked for destroyed by water or wind or fire - or a combination of those things. It can take years to rebuild. There is no guarantee the same thing, or something different and equally devastating, won't happen again. 
Farming or food production seems to me to be one long gamble, a gamble on the weather and disease and all the other things that can go wrong. I remember a shortage of tomatoes - because there was a strike somewhere and the goods had been held up and gone rotten in the heat. The waste of food made me angry at the time. It still makes me angry when I think of it. 
The Senior Cat likes to garden. These days his gardening is limited to his many pots which he now has at waist height. Those pots have produced tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber, beans, carrots and other vegetables.
I receive them gratefully and use them in our meals. (I also rescue some he fails to see.) Today I will pick as many plums as I can reach and we will have stewed plums too. Over the  years we have been "lucky" - lucky that the Senior Cat has spent hours in the garden. I know that gardening is work. 
But ours is done on a small scale, and for the pleasure of doing it. I also know that doing it on a large scale is much harder work. It involves long hours. There isn't any "taking time off" when something needs to be done. Holidays, particularly for dairy farmers, simply don't happen without arranging for other people to do the work.
The rest of us walk into the supermarket or the greengrocer and just take something from the display, put it into the trolley, queue at the checkout, pay for it, take it home and use it.
We really need to think about it as well.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The police turned up

for the third time yesterday - and will have to come back at least once more. All this over a burglary in which the would-be burglar got away with nothing. The paper work will be an inch high before they have finished - if not more.
Yes, the paper work.
I had a phone call from one of the CIB staff working on the incident yesterday. Could he come over and show me some photographs of the possible offender? Would I also sign my statement.
He came over about twenty minutes later. I am not sure what he thought when I asked to check his ID - but there is something else going on and I wanted to be sure he was who he said he was. He explained the procedure - twice. I was well aware of it anyway but he had to do it. 
There were eight photographs. A glance told me which one I thought was the offender but I looked carefully at the rest and then tapped it for the benefit of the video camera and said, "If it is any of them then it is that one." 
Why didn't I say "It's that one"? I suppose I know too much about the way people "see" things. Under stress and shock you don't necessarily see things accurately. I was as certain as I possibly could be and that has to be it if I was going to be absolutely honest as well.  I signed the back of the photograph and the spot below the photograph.
And then he gave me the statement to read through. Oh ouch! The language in which it was written made me cringe. It wasn't just the "police-ese" but the lack of punctuation and the grammar. I wanted to say "look, I'll dictate a statement to you". I didn't. But I did say, "Something important has been left out."
He asked. I explained. We discussed. He agreed it could be very important and said he would have to get a new statement typed up. He wrote notes into the statement. I'll get a new statement to sign some time in the next few days. I hope the addition helps the overall statement to make more sense.
All this running around for "serious aggravated trespass". I hope they catch the criminal. It would be good if he had to spend the next years of his life writing out every word he has caused to be written over and over again. The problem is he may not even be able to write his name.

Friday, 31 March 2017

It has not been a good week

for many people. 
The neighbour who called the police for us on Tuesday is stressed by a family medical situation which she knows will be resolved but is still taking time and energy to deal with. The people who live in the other half of the duplex have heavy colds. Dealing with two small children in those circumstances is absolutely draining. 
The Senior Cat is still coughing badly although the doctor has assured him he doesn't have pneumonia. I am still coughing.
And of course Tuesday afternoon's intruder did not help any of us.
Yesterday I did something I almost never do. I bought some flowers.
I don't ususally do it for two reasons. I don't buy flowers because I prefer to see flowers in gardens rather than cut and brought inside. They last longer in a garden and more people can enjoy them. It is also something I really can't afford to do.
But I decided yesterday was an exception. There was a "two bunches for..." in the greengrocer of irises - those deep purple-blue Dutch irises. They were still buds. I knew they would take about a day to come out they were so fresh. So, I bought two bunches. There are just a few in each bunch but that's enough.
I took one bunch over to the stressed neighbour as she has been so good to us. That nearly caused tears - of the right sort. 
I made a mistake over the second bunch. I tried to give them to the unhappy person I mentioned a little while back. There was good reason to believe that the situation might have improved slightly but she simply shut the door in my face saying she "didn't want presents from (me)".  
I brought the bunch home. We are enjoying them instead.
And I thought to myself. It hasn't been a good week for us but it has probably been worse for her. I have been surrounded by people who care about us...and she is alone.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

National Book Week

is on in Upover and the "page 56, fifth sentence" exercise is doing the rounds again. I did it once - for someone I like and respect. 
The problem was that what came up was a line from a poem in Gaelic. (It was in a book about language, not a book of poetry.) I put it in anyway. After all, my paternal great-grandparents spoke Scots Gaelic and I once, and once only, heard my paternal grandfather use a mild swear word in Gaelic. (I didn't understand it but he was so embarrassed at having sworn in front of his wife and granddaughter it was obvious.)
I don't know much Gaelic. I can recognise some words. My pronunciation would make all Scots cats shudder - but please  be kind to me. I haven't really heard the language spoken. All that can be said for me is that I can pronounce the Gaelic name of the new owner of the not quite local shop which sells a little bit of yarn...although I think there may be slight differences between the Scots and Irish versions. Never mind. It will be better than what she almost certainly usually gets.
But, as always, it made me regret that I have never had the opportunity to learn the language of my ancestors. Schools here sometimes have Modern Greek or Italian. Some still teach French or German. Chinese and Japanese are considered important, so important that a lot of money and effort was put in - and I mean a lot. It has largely been wasted. You can't teach those languages in a few short lessons a week. My great niece is supposedly learning Chinese at school - after two years she knows a few songs and a few social phrases. She still can't count to ten and of course she hasn't been taught to read a single character. I won't say it is a complete waste of time but it comes close to it particularly as she probably wouldn't continue if she went to another school where Chinese wasn't taught. 
I don't know anyone here with English as a first language , not even university students studying modern languages, who reads a second language for pleasure. There are plenty of non-English speakers who read English for pleasure. I have a friend who left school at 12 and didn't have a formal English lesson on her arrival here. She reads English for pleasure. "How else was I going to get anything to read?" she asked me.
Those of us who read English as a first language have more resources than anyone else. So much is written in English. So much is translated into English. 
We are so very fortunate. 

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

We had an intruder

on the premises yesterday. 
I had been out and came home to discover a strange bicycle propped up against the carport roller door. A visitor for the Senior Cat? 
I didn't recognise the bike.It was old and not in terribly good condition. 
The front door was open but I assumed the Senior Cat had opened it to a visitor. I went in. He was sitting there alone drinking a cup of tea. No, there was nobody else there.
Then he said, "There's someone down the back - going round the side."
I went out the front door, still expecting to see someone we knew. Then I saw a small blue bag I recognised as the bag I use if I need to take lunch somewhere. It had been dropped behind the brick pillar of the carport and, on the other side, there was a movement. Someone was hiding there.
It wasn't someone I recognised. Thin, wiry, dark, nervous - and angry, very angry with me. I had frightened him. He had knocked on the front door. He was "just doing a house-to-house". In ordering him off the premises I was being "rude". There was "no need to be like that".  I shouted loudly. He pushed past me and got his bike and then, unbelievably, came back on the bike and demanded I show him the notice on the front door which says, quite politely, "Please do not knock." It is intended for all canvassers. It is an officially supplied notice. 
I showed him and snarled, "Now get out!"
By this time our neighbours across the way had heard the noise. One of them had come out to see what was going on. (He told me later, "You sound distressed.")
He saw the intruder ride off. His wife came out and phoned the police. 
The police were there within a few minutes. They were already searching for him - at least, they were searching for someone on a bicycle who had broken into a house in a neighbouring suburb earlier in the afternoon.
The Senior Cat sat there looking pale and shaken. He doesn't go down for his afternoon nap with his hearing aids in so he hadn't heard anything. He had left the back door open. (I had locked the front door on my way out.) I was shaking with fury and upset for the Senior Cat.
I gave a statement to the policeman who arrived. He was nice enough not to growl at the Senior Cat for leaving the back door open. When I had to say, "Sorry, I can't tell you that" to a couple of the questions he asked about the intruder's appearance and actions he didn't get annoyed but actually said, "That's all right. I'd much rather you said that than made something up."
We both agreed that taking in details under stress is not easy - and that the rules of "political correctness" make it more complex to describe someone.
Forensics arrived - and got nothing. If I hadn't opened the screen door to get inside they might have but, as we all agreed, how was I to know. 
And Mr Nasty Intruder didn't get away with anything. He had put the small tin in which I keep loose change into the lunch bag along with a $5 note but he left it behind. He also left behind greasy marks on the carpet and a mess.
The neighbours came over to check. The doctor one looked carefully at the Senior Cat and later sent a message for me to come and get her if he didn't seem to recover from the shock. Our Chinese neighbours came in to check after the forensic vehicle had gone. No, they hadn't seen anything. Middle Cat arrived unexpectedly and helped to calm the situation. 
I eventually got everyone out and started thinking about things like the Senior Cat's evening meal. I also thought about something else. We have good neighbours, very good neighbours.
We've been lucky, very lucky.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

"Activist" groups who use innocent

third parties in an attempt to push their agenda need to be held to account.
I am not in the slightest bit interested in a certain brewery's products. I don't drink alcohol. I don't eat a certain brand of chocolate either. It's simply too expensive.  And that lovely range of jams, sauces and other products produced in the hills behind me is also, on the whole, out of my price range.
But all three companies are in no way associated with a government decision or the implementation of that decision. It isn't even remotely connected to their businesses.
That apparently hasn't stopped the "activists" from urging people to "boycott" their products so as to put pressure on the state government to do something. 
These so called "activists" apparently have no care or consideration that they might be putting others at risk. They don't seem to think there is any harm in causing financial damage or even potentially having people lose their jobs because sales go down - and perhaps, in a worst case scenario - a whole business folding. It won't be the fault of the "activists" of course. It will be the fault of the business which has been the target. "You didn't support us. You should have put more pressure on the government" they will be told.
This is nothing more than bullying.
The businesses will just be told "You should stand up to them?" How? Do they advertise? What do they say? And why should they be forced to spend money advertising? My guess is that all three companies have already donated to the cause for which the activist group wants support. What else are they expected to do? The government isn't going to do anything differently if a managing director picks up the phone and says, "We want you to..." or even if, "Are you aware that our sales are going down because you..." The government might act if the MD said, "We are going out of business..." but it might not be in the way the MD would want.  
This is not good activism. It is an abuse of the power of the internet and the media. It might make headlines but it helps nobody. It is bullying. 

Monday, 27 March 2017

"She's not eating properly"

our neighbour told me.
She was watching her younger grandchild attempting to turn cartwheels on our front lawn. The cartwheels were not wildly successful but the child and her sister were having fun.
"She's been off school for ten days being treated for constipation."
I waited for some more. I knew I'd get the details.
To my mind neither of the girls eat properly - not for want of trying on their grandmother's part. The sort of food we ate as kittens doesn't seem to be considered "normal" now.
I know things have changed. Pizza was unknown when I was young. There was one sort of lettuce - iceberg. We didn't know what "broccoli" was - although we certainly knew "cauliflower". A zucchini/courgette didn't appear on the table until I was in my teens - and it was "new" to most people then.  We had never had a "stir-fry" and fish always came fried in batter.
Compared with the modern child our diets were really rather monotonous and boring - stew, mince, chops, roast, fish on Fridays (even if you weren't Catholic), the very occasional BBQ at a picnic, and chicken at Christmas. 
We ate it all - largely without complaint and with voracious appetites. The holes were filled with fruit and, occasionally, slices of bread or "weetbix" and the Downunder version of Marmite known as "Vegemite". We rarely had jam - and if we did it was homemade. We drank water and milk. Lemonade was something we had on Christmas Day. Ice cream was a treat.
I know our diet has changed - and changed for the better. So why should a small kitten from a good middle class family with well educated parents not be eating properly and suffering the consequences? I know she isn't the only one. Her sister is rather the same. There are other children I know that age. They "won't eat" this or that or something else. 
Middle Cat's children ate almost everything which was put in front of them. There are a couple of things they really didn't like. They tried them because they were told they must at least try but she didn't force them because there were sensible alternatives. They were told, "If you really, really don't like that then you must eat this instead." She explained why.
She found time to do it even though she was working full time. Perhaps it helped that their paternal grandmother was a superb cook of Greek-Cypriot origin? She knew how to feed small children - and big ones too. 
My brother's children were a little "fussier" but they ate most things. My niece and her husband resorted to one of the best encouragements ever. They have had their three girls grow some of their own food.
But these other two kittens and too many more like them "don't like" this and that and the other thing. They seem healthy enough but I wonder what nutrients they are missing out on and what effect it will have in later life. 
I know another child too. She is on a restricted range of foods because of a life-threatening medical condition.  She is now old enough to be aware of what she can and cannot eat. We were talking about this and she said
     "Maybe their mum should just tell them they can't eat all the things which are good for them because you know something I'd really, really like to try all those things they don't want to try."
It's a thought - but I suspect it's a bit late now.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The community centre at the library

was busy yesterday. Yes, I do mean the community centre at the library and not the library at the community centre. 
Our local library, as I have said elsewhere in this blog, is at the centre of a great many activities.
Yesterday there was plenty of activity  yet again. The Scrabble group had the meeting rooms - the dividing folding door had been opened out to make one big one. The knitting group had to meet in the main area.
We had some newcomers. They had been thinking about coming for a little while, a young mother with two girls in the lower and mid primary school. The younger one had some "French knitting" or "tomboy stitch" or "i-cord" - whatever you want to call it.  She had already done a considerable length. We asked what she was going to do with it. She didn't know. She was just doing it. One of the regulars suggested plaiting it into a head band. 
Her sister was learning to crochet. She is making herself a small "blanket". It will be about a metre square. All she needs to do is go backwards and forwards working double and treble crochet (single and double to my US readers). 
Their mother was working on a slightly more complex blanket. It looked good.
I am always curious how it is that children apparently want to do these things - and so are other regular members of the group. We discovered that the family had, until recently, been living in another country with a very different culture. They had only recently returned here. 
Yes, there was television there - and yes the children were going to local schools there so they would have understood any suitable programs. Books were not quite so readily available so they were using digital versions. They were reading.
What the children were not doing, and still aren't doing, is looking at a computer screen and playing computer games. Their mother said "there's a strict 20 minute limit each day". That is probably long enough to do their homework. It's how the children get time to do their craft work and to read.
It showed too. After sticking to their work for half of the two hour session both girls went off to the children's section of the library. They went without any sort of  fuss or demand that their parent accompany them. I don't know what they were doing down there but I assume they were looking at books. 
The older one came back with a craft book and two cookery books intended for children about her age. There was a casual conversation between her and her mother about something she thought she would like to try and cook.  Her mother didn't suggest it would be "too difficult" or "maybe" or "if there is time" or "no, you might waste the ingredients". Her child's request was considered and agreed upon. I sensed that she was teaching them to cook as well.
Her husband had gone off to do something with their son - another low cost, non-screen based activity. I sensed that was deliberate father-son time too.
I wonder how long they will be able to keep these activities up in this country. How long will it be before the children realise that so many other children do things differently? How long before they realise that so many parents cannot or do not find the time to do things with them? How long before they realise that other children are spending far more time in front of a screen?
But yesterday the two girls could go to the other end of the library on their own. They were independent but completely safe. They could explore books. They could make decisions. They could dream of making this or that. Even more important it seems they have parents who are encouraging that sort of behaviour. 
I hope they come again - and again.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Handwriting skills are

being lost apparently. Children can tap and swipe a keyboard even before they can buckle their sandals and long before they can tie their shoe laces. They can "type" on a keyboard but they apparently have difficulty in writing anything - because they no longer "need" to do it.
Or do they? There is a piece in this morning's paper about this but I was actually thinking about it yesterday. Today there is the monthly knitting group at the library. I face two challenges. One will be working with the now 11yr old and teaching her to read a pattern - with all the abbreviations. I am not expecting too many problems. She is an intelligent and able child and, by choice, she does a lot of craft work. What is more she does it to a very high standard, often better than adults. Her handwriting is neat and tidy and I suspect she has no difficulty in writing a page - or two, or three.
The other challenge will be to help an adult who is left handed to learn to crochet. I will be interested to see if she turns up and, if she does, whether she followed my advice and looked at some instructional video material on line. She's a teacher so she should be able to find things like that without my help. 
But it all made me think about things like learning to write, use a pair of scissors, use sticky tape, wrap a parcel, tie a knot and more.
"Craft work" in school seems to be rather different now. When I was a kitten we had "woodwork" for the boys and "sewing" for the girls in the last part of the primary school. 
Now I am hopeless at sewing. My paws just cannot manage a fine sewing needle or the fine motor movements which are required to sew nice, neat seams. It is not for want of trying on my part and, as an adult, I have simply ceased to try. Friends step in and take up my hems and re-attach buttons. I do things for them in return. 
But, I can knit. It took me a long time to learn to knit but I can knit and I can crochet too. I am not quite as good at crochet but it is something I taught myself. My paternal grandmother, who had more patience than any saint, taught me to knit. It is still one of the best things that ever happened to me. It helped in a lot of ways.
I went on to teach an entire class of children to knit. We talked about it first. I told them knitting took a long time. It wasn't something they would be able to do in one or two weeks of craft. Did they want to stick at it? There were other things we could do. If someone didn't want to do it then there were other things that could be done. My plan was that they would develop sufficient skill over a several weeks to go on knitting while I read to them in the last lesson on Fridays. It worked. Only one boy was not that keen and in the end he shrugged and muttered, "Might as well try." They all knitted football beanies for themselves - smaller than scarves, not too expensive to make and potentially useful for themselves or someone they knew. 
And I noticed something else. As they were learning to knit and gaining confidence at it there were other things that improved. Their handwriting improved and their general book work was neater. Those of them who were learning to play a recorder seemed more confident too. Other people noticed as well.
I wonder then if it is time to think about these things. Not all children will want to learn to knit - although it is part of the Waldorf schools curriculum.  Not all children will want to learn to crochet either. But shouldn't we be encouraging children to make things, use scissors, nails, hammers, screws, and screwdrivers, bits of timber, glue, paper, craft knives, yarn, string, and much more? I know I banged my fingers more than once making "boats" to sail. 
Of course it all means taking the child away from the screen and the keyboard and unplugging the device that gives instant feedback and "entertains" then without effort. It means recognising that there are other valuable skills which are being lost and making time to regain them.
I know G.... will arrive this afternoon eager to get on and learn a new skill.  She knows there is a lot to learn - and she wants to learn it. I want to teach her...and I'd really like to be teaching many more children like her.