Sunday, 20 August 2017

Volunteering

is one of those things which makes the world a better place - or it should.
I work with volunteers. I work with professional people who volunteer their skills, their time, and their money to some of the most impoverished and needy  people on this planet. (And yes, I volunteer my time to them.) 
They do not expect to be paid. Sometimes they are not even thanked. They simply go out and do the job they have been asked to do and then leave. 
You don't tell them what to do or how to do it. There will be a request from somewhere. "We have a bridge that needs repairing as fast as possible so that aid lorries can get through..." is a request that has come more than once, "We can supply the manpower but we have a problem and we need an engineer with experience of this sort of terrain..."  Then there are requests like, "Is there a doctor free to do a couple of weeks in a tent hospital in the earthquake zone?" They will know what sort of injuries to expect and, if they  have been talking to colleagues who have done similar work before them, they will know what sort of conditions they will have to work with. "We need two more people able to administer vaccinations..."
and so it goes on. 
I don't need to find those people. All I need to do is make sure they can communicate with people on the ground - if I am asked.
I thought of all that again yesterday. An organisation I belong to is about to have its AGM. There are a number of positions vacant. Once these positions would have been filled  without too much trouble. People knew approximately what was expected of them. Of course there would always be a bit of cajoling required but many people were prepared to take their turn. 
Yesterday "job descriptions" were produced. I read the job description for the position I am most familiar with - the one I  held for over a decade. I read it with a growing sense of unease. It wasn't that the description was that inaccurate. I did most of what was described there but I did a great deal more as well. Doing the job well demanded a good many things that about which the members were not informed. I also did the job differently.  I was not supervised. I did not have to report back or be constantly accountable. It was the same with every other position. It was assumed that people knew what to do and do it. In my case it was also assumed that I had the professional expertise and experience to do the job. I don't know who wrote the job descriptions although I am fairly certain who was behind them and why they did it. 
The attempts to turn a relaxed, friendly organisation into a much more disciplined one may or may not work. I suspect it won't work but those attempting may have to find out the hard way. What I do know is that if I attempted to tell any of the volunteers I work with how to do their job then neither of us could do our jobs.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Simple, effective, deadly

and totally lacking in any sense at all.
What is the point of hiring a van and driving it through a crowd? What is the point of killing innocent strangers who have done you no harm - and may even be of your faith and beliefs? 
Why should a seven year old boy be missing in a foreign city where, I have to assume, he doesn't speak the language. Even if he does speak the language he is only seven. If he is injured as well then what he is going through must be so terrifying that it will affect him for the rest of his life. 
The Senior Cat had responsibility for a very big school once, the biggest of its kind in the state. It was in the middle of a "soldier settlement" - one of those well meant but disastrous social experiments that took place after the war. It was meant to provide employment for returned service men who wanted to go farming - or simply didn't know what else to do. 
There were,  understandably, a lot of mental issues among the returned men. It wasn't helped by some of the local people not being very welcoming at the start. 
When we arrived about twenty years after the war debt was high and mental illness was a real problem. There were many other problems too. 
And yes, it affected the students in the school. It still does. I was talking to one recently. We met by chance at an event which should have been enjoyable. He was looking tense and anxious. His brother, the eldest in the family, was back in psychiatric care - the result of  having been violently physically abused by their father  during one of his many episodes of  mental illness. 
Yes, sixty-three years later someone is still suffering the consequences of the war - someone who wasn't even born before it ended. 
There are plenty of other stories like that. The idea that a war is over when peace is declared and documents signed is nonsense. It is only a start to recovery.
I am wondering about this small boy and the trauma he and all other children present are going through. Even those who are not too badly injured and come from loving, stable homes are going to have "flashbacks". What of those who have lost a parent? What of those who have seen others die?
And all that is just a small part of the terror and trauma  children are going through around the world right now. There have been too many requests for help to set up communication assistance for children who have simply ceased to speak or find it difficult to say anything because of the horrors they have seen or have been found alone without a common language. Some of them will simply never recover to the point where they can be fully functioning. stable human beings again.
Why would you want to do  that to someone else?

Friday, 18 August 2017

Pauline Hanson wore a burqa into Parliament

yesterday. 
It was a stupid, idiotic, crass thing to do. The reaction was almost as stupid.
It would have been wiser to completely ignore the stunt. It would certainly have been better if the media had not given it any oxygen at all. 
There are very few women who wear the burqa in my city. It is probably not worn by many anywhere else in the country. It is a ridiculous garment. There is no religious requirement to wear it. In some Muslim countries it is actually against local law to wear it. In countries where it is much more common women have few, if any, rights. 
The hijab - the scarf which covers the head - is seen differently by many women. Most Muslim women will cover their heads and some will not show their hair at all. 
I can remember going to the tiny "flat" of a Muslim friend at university. She had invited me and a Chinese friend - the mother of my godchildren - home for a meal.  As we all walked in she pulled off her hijab and tossed it onto a chair, shook her head and ran her hands through her thick black hair. No, she didn't wear it in the privacy of her own home. Why should she? 
    "I wouldn't bother here," she told me much later, "But it's what my husband and my father expect."  
I didn't say anything but her words have stayed with me. I have wondered since whether she would have worn a burqa if that is what they had told her to do. My guess is that there might have been some debate about that. She was young. She wore jeans and t-shirts to lectures. 
I never discussed the issue with the other hijab wearing students although I taught them. They wore jeans and t-shirts too. 
I also taught several Muslim girls who wore no head covering at all - unless they were going to the mosque.  
We,  the non-hijab wearing girls and I, did discuss the burqa, more than once. Without exception they were opposed to the wearing of it, even in their own countries. Their view was that the women who wore it were doing things like "giving in" to their husbands and other males or "too afraid not to wear it" or "just not educated" and more. They saw no point in trying to ban it but they did believe most women did not wear it by choice. They believed women wore it because they believed that was what was expected of them...and yes, they wore the hijab for that reason as well as because it symbolised their faith.
Yesterday the Senators who are usually vociferous in their support of "women's rights" and "equality" chose to side with a "religious freedom" which does not actually exist. They chose to support a symbol of subjugation rather than ignore a stupid stunt. 
If a woman chooses to wear a burqa so be it but if she wears it out of fear or even because someone simply says she should then there is reason for concern. Choosing to do what Pauline Hanson did is going to encourage a minority of men to insist women should wear a burqa - and wear it for all the wrong reasons. She has done more harm than good. 

Thursday, 17 August 2017

If Barnaby Joyce is a Kiwi

then I am a Scot...I think.
Barnaby Joyce is Downunder's Deputy Prime Minister. His father is a Kiwi married to a Downunderite. Joyce was born in Australia. Another citizenship row has erupted because the Kiwis claimed Joyce as one of their own.
Really? 
I thought about this. I am still thinking about it. My paternal great-grandparents were Scots, from Caithness. They migrated here in the late 1800s. They had eleven children.
Now, if Joyce is a Kiwi because his father was a Kiwi, those children have to be Scots. Right? That means my paternal grandfather was a Scot. He certainly never renounced his Scots citizenship. He was very proud of it. He belonged to the local Caledonian Society and was an office-holder in it. He made sure his children and grandchildren were aware of their heritage. There is a strong sense of "clan" in the extended family - our family reunions are known as clan gatherings thankyou very much. 
Now if my grandfather was a Scot then his children have to be Scots - yes? And that makes me a Scot as the child of a Scot?
You can start to see how awkward all this gets. 
There are vast numbers of people who claim "indigenous" heritage - even where that heritage may be of the order of a single great-great grandparent. At the present time we allow people to claim they are "indigenous" on that basis - they simply need to be acknowledged by others with similar claims as being "indigenous". It completely ignores their other ancestry.  If Joyce had an indigenous mother or maternal grandparent (and, as far as I know, he doesn't) and had claimed indigenous heritage would this issue even have come up?
Two of my nephews have a parent who is the son of Greek-Cypriot migrants. Is their father a Greek-Cypriot although he was born in Downunder? Are they Greek-Cypriot although their "perhaps-Scots" mother was born in Downunder?
Where does this row leave me and my siblings and my cousins? Are we Downunderites or Scots? I would have absolutely no objection to being held to be Scots. My siblings and cousins would not object either  but we have always assumed we are Downunderites.
It's time to sort the issue out. 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Handmade

and they fit and they are being used.
I made a friend a pair of "fingerless" mittens recently. They are made in about as simple a form as possible - two rectangles of ribbed knitting seamed up the sides with a hole for the thumb. It's the sort of mindless, beginner pattern that could be used to teach people to do knit and purl.
As I have said elsewhere in this blog my paternal grandmother taught me to knit. For both of us it was a huge challenge - but we made it.
My paternal grandmother also had the good sense not to start me on a scarf. Why do people think that a scarf is a good idea for a  beginner knitting. I do not like knitting scarves. Perhaps it is because I don't like wearing them but they also seem to go on forever. I know other people do like wearing them and I have knitted some but if that had been my beginner project I doubt I would have wanted to go on. No, I simply made a square-ish sort of thing and gave it to Middle Cat as a doll blanket. The next thing I made was square-ish too - a potholder for my grandmother. 
After that I got a bit more adventurous. Now I can think of other things a beginner knitter can make - a finger puppet to start with, a bookmark, a headband/sweatband, a phone cover? 
When I taught the class of 10-11yr old children to knit they made themselves beanies - in the colours of their favourite football team. 
I have made a lot of things for other people since then. I have had the thrill of sitting on public transport and seeing, several seats ahead of me, one of the city's "down and out" men wearing a beanie I have made. I have seen someone in the local shopping centre wearing a shawl I made and had raffled off. No, I didn't rush up and say, "Hey, I made that!" I most certainly didn't want to do that. It was just nice to think that someone was using something I had made. 
And there, in the email this morning, was a picture of A...'s hands wearing the mittens and the message telling me she appreciated them. She quilts. I know she knows about the time it takes to make things.
It makes me very glad that I was able to tell another friend recently, "I am still using that little holder you made me. It's one of the most useful things I have been given." 
And it makes me wonder about all the other things which are made with love and care and given away - and never used. 

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Doctor's appointment

for the Senior Cat again. Middle Cat arrived in the middle of yesterday morning and took him off. This was the monthly appointment with associated blood test. (He is on strong antibiotics because of his shoulder problem.) 
Fortunately the Senior Cat likes our GP - and she seems to like him. 
They arrived back almost three hours later - having also been to the chemist and the bank.They'd had coffee too. Middle Cat had even done some shopping.
When was the next appointment? Middle Cat had it all lined up. There is a row of medical and associated appointments for the Senior Cat, a row of appointments for her. 
I consider myself fortunate that, most of the time, Middle Cat can deal with these things. I can get on with feeding the Senior Cat and caring for him in other ways. Middle Cat has more medical knowledge. I have acquired more than the average over the years but hers far exceeds mine.  It also means that I don't have to worry about getting the Senior Cat into a taxi. At 94 he is not comfortable about using them. He worries that foreign born drivers will think he is being rude when he simply doesn't hear them well enough and also fails to understand their accents. It's a little more difficult to get in and out of cars these days too. And, I would need to go with him. Would anything else get done?
But, we get appointments for him. They happen. We have a medical system that, for all the criticisms, gets there in the end for him. 
I thought of this while he was out. Someone phoned me to ask for some help in writing a letter. Their disabled sister, a non-speaker, had been rushed to hospital. Her communication device had not been sent with her. Nobody from her group house had gone with her.  
In the emergency department nobody knew how to communicate with her. They couldn't ask the questions they wanted to ask of this woman doubled over with pain. They tried to get someone from the group house. Yes, they'd send someone - when they had time. How does she communicate? Oh, there's something here. Well, can you send it by taxi perhaps? When we get a moment. It's busy here right now. Is there a relative we can contact? She has a sister somewhere. We'll have to look it up but you'll have to wait until the person in charge gets here.
And what had happened to calling me? It is one of those occasions I would have dropped everything, called Middle Cat and told her what was going on, and gone in by taxi to help. Her sister lives several hours away by car. I am supposed to be the first in line in an emergency requiring communication assistance. They didn't even bother to contact me. The first I heard about it all was when her sister asked for help with the letter, well two letters. One was going the appropriate authorities to make a formal complaint. The other was going to the hospital staff to thank them for trying their best. Someone should have made a doctor's appointment before it was too late.

 

Monday, 14 August 2017

Do you know any dragons?

I am trying to design a dragon portrait. I would really like to talk to a dragon. What do they think is important about themselves? What would they like me to emphasise? How do they want me to set about this?
I am not sure if I consciously design things or whether they just happen. At the present time I have a project and - unusually for me - there is a deadline which has to be met. It is also important I do the project very well indeed. I will be teaching a class. People will be coming along to learn. I regard that very seriously indeed.
The general idea that I had to design a dragon came out of somewhere in the middle of the night - as such ideas are inclined to do. It was not my idea - at least I don't think it was. There's a dragon out there somewhere trying to tell me something. 
The problem is that I don't speak "Dragonal" or whatever it is that dragons speak. I am not even very good at "Universal" - that curious language non-human living things use to  communicate with each other. I just understand a little of it now and then. I have some basic phrases in Feline and Canine - most of which are of very little use here.
But, the dragon is there - somewhere - in knits and purls and twists and cables. (No he or she is NOT lace...this class is about cables and previous dragon portraits have been carved into stone.) I think I have a dragon head and a dragon body - all curves and cables.  It is the tail which is bothering me. Dragon tails are important. They are used for balance. Dragons cannot fly without their tails. At present I don't understand the aerodynamics of dragon flight... human aircraft tell me nothing about dragons. 
Today I will simply have to try again... cable two right, knit one or purl one? - cable two left? 
Somewhere out there a dragon will tell me what needs to be done! And yes, dear dragon, I promise you a nice bright beady eye to watch I do the right thing.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

It isn't only Muslim women

who aren't able to go swimming when men are around.
There is a petition up at present to bring back women's only sessions at a swimming centre somewhere in the north of England. Someone apparently complained that women's only sessions were a breach of their Equal Opportunity legislation. It was also apparently just one person who complained and the pool management gave in.
Did they really think that through?
For a start, exceptions are allowed under the UK legislation just as they are allowed under Downunder legislation. The thing to do would have been to discover whether they really were in breach of the legislation...and the answer would surely have been "no".
Equal opportunity should mean just that, equal opportunity. It doesn't mean everyone should be able to do everything at the same time or even in the same way, rather that they have an opportunity to do it.
Most Muslim women will not bathe in the presence of men. There may be exceptions that I am unaware of but I know a good many Muslim girls and they wouldn't contemplate undressing to that extent for men they don't know. Many of them would be "modest" even with their husbands. It's a religious and cultural thing. They simply would not go swimming. I know older women of other cultural backgrounds - Greek and Indian come to mind - who won't swim in mixed company too.
But they are not the only women and girls who feel that way. I know others who feel uncomfortable swimming where there are men. It isn't just the woman I know who was badly burned as a child. Her scarring is appalling and, understandably, she doesn't care to show it too much. She does go swimming at a women's only session. It took enormous courage for her to do it. A mixed session would be too much for her to handle.
What of the women who have had a mastectomy? Do they feel comfortable? 
What of women who are simply much older and would like to exercise - but not in front of strange men?
And what of women who have been sexually abused, harassed or raped? They may feel completely unable to appear in public in any sort of bathing outfit. 
Isn't it time to start thinking about what "equal opportunity" really means? 

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The local psychiatric unit

is familiar to me. A friend spent some weeks there several years ago. She was not in need of psychiatric help. There was simply nowhere else for her to go while she waited for a place in a nursing home.  I went in to see her frequently, got to know some of the staff and the routines of the place. 
I didn't get to know the other patients. My friend didn't either. She tried chatting to one or two but they didn't want to make contact so she respected their wishes and left them alone. It made me wary too.
Earlier this year a man I know was placed in the unit. He was in a depressed state because his wife had died. They had no children and they had been so wrapped up in each other that he had very little contact with other people.  I had known his wife. He asked me to clear her craft things away because he couldn't bear to look at them. I didn't want to do that but he insisted that he would "throw it all out in the rubbish" if I didn't. I packed it into boxes and, with the help of a neighbour put it in the unused room bedroom of their home. The day the neighbour found him sitting at the kitchen table with a large packet of painkillers and a bottle of whisky - neither of which had been opened - he phoned his doctor and then, when he was admitted, phoned me. 
He's well on the way to recovery now. He's doing some work for a local charity and has plans for the garden in the summer. We will watch out for him.
It was while he was there though that I met someone else, another patient. She was sitting in a sunny window seat in the corridor and knitting. Without intending to say anything I found myself saying, "That's lovely!"
Oh, had I done the right thing? 
She looked up, barely made eye contact and gave me the briefest of smiles.  
It was genuinely lovely. She hesitated and then spread it out slightly for me to look at. I asked a couple of questions, "yes" and "no" sort of questions so she didn't have to speak if she didn't want to. Then, in almost a whisper, she told me she loved to knit.
     "My husband hates it when I knit."
All sorts of thoughts went through my head but I said nothing more  than, "My father refers to my lace knitting as 'that stuff you make with all the holes in it'."
She did smile at that.
We had a few more chats over the following couple of weeks. One of the social workers asked if I knew her. I told her no, we were just talking about knitting. I was asked to go on doing that if I could. I was probably told more than I should have been told about what had happened to her.
The man I knew saw her knitting too. He knew I had talked to her.
As he was getting ready to leave the day before he was discharged he asked me, "Do you suppose she would like D's stuff?"
"Why not ask?" I said, "Ask the social worker first in case there's a problem but it might help both of you."
Yesterday in the shopping centre I saw him wearing the cardigan that "D" had been making for him when she died. Yes, the woman he had spoken to had finished it for him. She had apparently taken the huge step of leaving her very abusive husband and, with help, found a place of her own. She now had room for "all D's stuff" and she was busy making things for the homeless from it.
They have agreed it might be nice to be "just friends and have coffee together occasionally". I hope they do.

Friday, 11 August 2017

How many books

do you own? 
We managed to cull a few recently....several thousand of them. There are still a lot of books in this house. I am trying to get the courage to cull a few more. 
I don't really need them any longer. My nephews and niece have grown up and two no show no sign of having any children of their own.  The other two live rather far away and their children are not likely to want the books I so carefully collected. Ms W has read almost all of them, giving up on just a few that did not appeal. Her friends have borrowed from me. So have some  of the neighbourhood children, now grown up. 
There are other children I know and I keep being told, "They aren't readers."
Oh.
There is a tiny paragraph in this morning's paper saying "one in three" children have less than a dozen books at home.  
Oh.
I find this extraordinary and frightening. What do they do to entertain themselves when they can't be outside? Is it all screen time and playing with plastic? I know children who are not allowed to be outside unless there is an adult there to watch out for them so they must be spending a lot of time inside. Are they supervised there too?
There is a paediatrician living across the street from us. The Senior Cat gave her the last set of building blocks he made for her three year old. 
       "That's the sort of toy I want you to be able to play with," she told him. She takes him to the local toy library - and he likes books. He sees about half an hour of television a day - an age suitable educational but fun program. His mother admits she rarely sees television. His father will occasionally watch a movie. They read. I know T and his baby brother will grow up reading. They are very fortunate in their parents. 
But what of the children who don't have parents who read? Watching television is a very different experience from reading and being read to at bedtime and at other times. If there are less than a dozen books in the house and you don't go to the library every week then where do you get all the experiences that reading has to offer? What do you do with your time? I know there are very few children with sets of lovingly crafted timber building blocks that can be turned into anything you care to imagine. To buy a new set like those the Senior Cat made would cost far more than most parents would consider spending - although they will eventually spend far more than that on plastic toys with associated commercial marketing. 
I am glad T has the building blocks. He uses them. His little brother will use them. They will learn a lot from using them. They will read and they will almost certainly do very well in school.
It's the children who don't have blocks and books I am worried about.  

Thursday, 10 August 2017

I am tired of the endless bullying

by "activists", people who want things done or said or changed "their way". I am tired of people who keep telling me - and many others - "we are right and you are wrong and you are the one who has to change". I am tired of being told I cannot have opinions about things - even when I have read widely on a topic or experienced an issue.
Yesterday I got told off in no uncertain terms for parking my tricycle where it should have been parked, where it is allowed to be parked...in the bike rack. I try to park it on the end because it is wider than a bicycle. It was parked on the end. There is a normal car parking space next to the bike rack. It isn't a designated parking space for a person with a disabilities. I simply wouldn't even consider parking my bike there under those circumstances. The designated parking spaces are something I feel very strongly about. You don't use those unless you have the right to use them. No, this is a normal car parking space. 
My tricycle was not in the way of the car doors either. There was plenty of room to open those and for an able bodied person to get in and out.
No, the telling off I received was because someone could not push a shopping trolley between the car and my tricycle. There is a slight curb between the two. The trolley went off the curb and into the car. It marked the car. It was, apparently, MY fault - even though I had parked there before the owner of the car and gone to have an almost unheard of cup of coffee with friends. Still, it was my fault. The idea that the able bodied owner of the car could have walked another (and much easier) route of about the same distance to the car was not even part of the equation. 
     "That's going to cost good money to fix! You disabled idiots...." the owner of the car ranted on as I  unlocked my trike. My way was blocked. I couldn't get out.  People were passing - for once there was nobody around that I knew - and how were they to know who was at fault?
I didn't say anything. I didn't know what to say which wouldn't make matters worse.
And then, behind me, a voice said, "When you have quite finished I'd like to talk to you."
There was a parking inspector. Oh yes, the fifteen minute car park space...and there was the mark on the tyre and a ticket under the windscreen wiper. The inspector was not looking at me. He was looking at the driver and his expression was not friendly.
The inspector pulled my trike out for me, something I normally wouldn't like but accepted gratefully. I pedalled off to the sound of another attempt to argue. 
It was an argument the driver of the car was not going to win.  

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Computer program downloads

cause me extreme frustration.
I just want something that says, "Click on this button to download" and then "Click on this button to make it work."
Yesterday I decided, after a lot of deliberation, that I needed a much better program than I had to make knitting graphs. 
Now I know this will seem strange to the non-knitters among you but such things do exist. Like anything else, some are better than others. 
Mine is old. It is not very powerful. It was fine when I was simply doing things for myself. Now that I occasionally have to design something that other people are going to use it has to be better than that.
So, I went hunting. (We cats are reasonably adept at that.) Then I went prowling through the reviews. I found the one recommended by a major knitting site that I trust. Yes, good reviews and apparently easy to use.  I took a deep breath - because I hate not seeing things in detail before I buy them - but there were no growling reviews so I bought the item.
And I couldn't download it. I tried multiple times and it kept stalling half way through. (It was also extremely slow to get that far.)
I contacted the site and had an almost instant and helpful response. The person at that end went out of their way to download the program to a server on this side of the world - much faster. Great!
And then I tried again. Yes, I downloaded the program. Now I can't get it to work. I need a "workspace". 
Now yesterday I downloaded something called Java. I don't understand that either but it was apparently necessary before I could do download the program. 
Now it seems I need something called Java Eclipse. I really don't understand that at all. It is starting to scare me.
I need help. I am a frustrated cat. We cats like to keep things simple! Why do humans have to complicate everything? 
I just want to get on with MY work.  Growl!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

RIP Betty Cuthbert

As anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows I am no sports fan. I take very little interest in sport at all.
That said I have met several Olympic athletes - blame Middle Cat for that. She is a sports fiend and played various games to a high level - high enough to meet such people and claim one or two as friends.
There was also a former governor of this state who was an Olympic athlete - and a good deal more besides.  I met her one day in the bank - where she always insisted on being treated like everyone else and waiting in the queue because it gave her a chance to talk to people. (You would think she would have had enough of it in the role of Governor but apparently not.) 
She was a friend of the late Betty Cuthbert. I have vague memories of Cuthbert running in the Olympics but they are overshadowed by other things. 
I was much more aware of Cuthbert as someone who had multiple sclerosis. It is one of those lousy, rotten conditions that gradually rob you of everything. It can be painful. You never know from one day to the next how you are going to feel or what you are going to be able to do. You just know that each episode is going to leave you feeling less able than before. 
What must have that been like for a runner, a gold medal winning runner, a person who had been at the peak of physical perfection? What was it like for someone who had been used to moving so rapidly, with such apparent ease? 
I have no doubt that many people felt sorry for her - and yes, perhaps they also thought "that must be really hard for someone who used to be able to run like that".  Would they really have had any idea though? I doubt it. There must have been so many sleepless nights filled with "why me?" 
It is claimed she had a strong Christian faith. I hope she did. I hope it helped. If there was any such thing as purgatory Cuthbert would have done her time - many times over.
It just makes you wonder why something like multiple sclerosis has to happen to someone who was less interested in the honour and glory of winning a medal and more interested in doing her best. RIP Betty Cuthbert. You deserve it.
 

Monday, 7 August 2017

Voting for a representative

 in parliament or in an organisation can be both simple and complex.
There has been a redrawing of our electoral  boundaries and this household is now in a new electorate. I am now represented by someone I didn't vote for and for whom I didn't have the opportunity to vote. 
In March next year I will have the opportunity to vote for someone to represent me at state level. I may not get my first choice but I will have voted and I will have to accept the result even if it doesn't go my way.
The problem in my previous electorate is different. The current representative was elected by a majority as a member of a particular party in order to represent the electorate in a certain way. Two months after the election - and without consulting the electorate - he switched sides and accepted a ministry in the government. He claimed to now be "independent" and that it was all about "stability" in government. I doubt many people believe that. He is seen simply as someone who switched sides for his own benefit.
This morning he is being quoted in the paper as saying that, after the next election, he will support whichever party can form government.  He apparently has no doubts that he will be re-elected. 
That may not be the case. He may split the vote and preferential voting may get him across the line. There are some who will support him outright but he may not have the numbers. A lot of people are still angry.
What bothers me about the situation is that this man ignored the will of the people who elected him. He also ignored the will of the state. The electoral boundaries were drawn up in such a way that the present government managed to retain power without obtaining a majority of the votes. "Fair" and "representative" electoral boundaries are notoriously difficult to draw but there was no doubt what the people in this man's electorate wanted and what a majority of electors wanted.  He should have gone to the people of the electorate. He will need to do so in March next year.
An organisation I belong to will have an AGM next month. All the positions are open and voting will not be preferential. Positions will  be won by a simple majority - or no vote at all if nobody contests the positions. We will then need to accept the results for the next two years. As there is no "opposition" as such there is no opportunity for people to switch sides but those elected need to recognise they are there to represent what the members want, not what they want. If that doesn't happen then the group won't function properly. If it does happen then we can make progress.
It's called "democracy".

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Bus trip?

Birthday outing?
A group I belong to is turning 30 and some members decided that they needed to make a fuss about it. There was discussion. Ideas were raised, considered, discarded as "too long a day", "too expensive", "not really", "people won't want to do that", and more.
I did not participate in these discussions. It is not my place to participate. If I could participate in what they eventually decided to do well and good. If I couldn't then - too bad.
The matter was raised again in the meeting yesterday. The committee had made a decision. The membership listened with no great enthusiasm - which must have made the committee wonder why they were bothering. 
A bus trip to visit an alpaca farm. The farm charges for visits so I am assuming it is the alpaca farm with the very small mill. People will get a tour of the farm and the mill and have the process explained to them. Yes, it could be interesting - if people listen. 
I won't be able to go but I hoped other people would like the idea.
But, as I was leaving the meeting yesterday, someone raised an issue with me,
     "Cat, have you any idea how accessible that place is going to be?"
The answer had to be, "No idea at all."
It had gone through my mind. I suppose I should have said something. The group has some older members - one is over 90 and mentally as  sharp as sharp. She would no doubt love to go but she uses a wheeled walker. At least two other members use them too. There are several others who would find rough ground or steps a challenge. 
It's a farm. There may be distances to walk as well. After the visit to the farm they plan to go to a nearby town which has an art and craft sort of reputation. That involves a bit of walking too.
And, is the bus accessible? Will people be able to get on and off easily?
What seemed like a good idea suddenly had potential issues for some members of the group. Yes, it had gone through my mind. I should have said something but I didn't.
It's time other people thought of those things too. The person who asked me can say something instead.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

"This is an official message from Centrelink....

we are pleased to announce that your pension rates are increasing. If you are on the pension please press 2 to continue. If not press 1..."
I did not press either. The voice was not clear. The Senior Cat would not have understood what was being said because her diction was so poor.
If the message was genuine it was also the wrong way to go about informing people. It would be confusing for many elderly people. It would frighten some. Had they done something wrong? Were there more buttons to press? Who was talking to them? Why had they got a phone call when they always got a letter? Or, for the few older people who get their Centrelink information by email why was Centrelink phoning and not emailing them?
I don't know if the message was genuine or not. I didn't have time to listen. I was getting the Senior Cat's meal on the table. I had work to do and a deadline to meet. 
Given the number of telephone scams around I wouldn't risk pressing button 2...and then more buttons. I wouldn't give them any information over the phone. I keep copies of official correspondence I send. I date it and, once in a while, I have even sent it registered post so that I can have proof of delivery at the other end of whatever department or office or person with whom I need to make contact.
It doesn't always work of course. I have sent four letters registered post this year. Two were ignored to the point where I went on social media and demanded action. (It is amazing what even the most mild negative publicity can do in terms of at least getting a response - and my demand for an answer was at least polite - politer than the response I eventually received.) I didn't expect an actual response to the other letters...but there should be some acknowledgment of it at a meeting today. 
Phone calls don't always work. The Senior Cat likes the phone. He says, "I like an immediate response. I like to know the person at the other end has got the message. You can't tell with email."
I point out you can't tell with a letter either...and that people aren't always there when you phone and... well all sorts of things. He isn't going to change his views. 
I reserve physical letter writing - and the cost of the postage - for important things and for the once a year Christmas letters.  I use email where I can. If I want someone to do something then I want to give them time to consider their response. It puts people under less pressure than a phone call. I hate it when people phone me and ask me to do something then expect an immediate answer when I can't give them one. Sometimes it really isn't possible to give them one.  Sometimes it is not  convenient to talk.
And those automated calls? Why should I give up time to listen to an automated call?
If it is that important to tell me something then write me a letter. If you must, send me an email. I can choose whether to read it or not.
If there is absolutely no choice about an automated call then apologise, say it is urgent - and choose a person with a good, clear speaking voice!  

Friday, 4 August 2017

"How do you spell

'committee'?" the youngest child-next-door asked me yesterday. He was standing outside waiting for his mother and brother and - shock and horror - he didn't have a screen in front of him.
He had no idea where to start. 
I went through the word in my best "teacher" manner. I noted he had difficulty actually physically writing it down. Handwriting is not actually taught at his school. Keyboard skills aren't taught either. "They just learn to do it", his mother told me.
They do?
It seems they "just learn to spell" too. 
This child has views on a range of things I knew nothing about when I was his age - or rather I knew about them in a different sort of way.
He knows about the "environment" and "global warming". I knew about nature and taking care of it. 
He knows about "politics" and has met his local member of parliament when there was a visit to school. ("He asked me what I liked best and I told him soccer and he said he liked football.") I knew about the way we are governed. Our local MP didn't visit the school but he would sit in our kitchen, drink tea and talk to the Senior Cat about education policies. 
Youngest-child-next-door knows about "same sex marriage". I did actually know about same sex relationships. They were illegal when I was a kitten but there were two men who lived in the house next door to us in the city and my mother wouldn't even speak to them beyond a socially polite acknowledgment. She told us not to be rude but not to talk to them unless they said hello. Childlike we ignored her because they seemed very kind to us. Certainly one of them was good at putting wheels back on "billy carts" and showing us how other things got fixed. My paternal grandfather, a devout Presbyterian, employed the other one in his tailoring business. 
I thought of these things as I watched this child struggling to write the word "committee". 
In the end he had written, "We had a comittee meeting and desided that we will do 3 things."
It seems they had a discussion in the class room about some forthcoming activities and whether they would do three or four of those activities.
We just did as we were told  - and I think we might have done more.  

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Terror tactics

now seem to include possibly targetting one of our most loved events - the annual Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Show. It is an event which attracts a half a million visitors over ten days. It has a huge impact on the state's economy.
No, it is not just about the fair ground that plays on one side. It is a show case for the farmers who feed us and the many other people who are associated with such activities. 
I am involved in the event. I am a steward in the Open Art and Craft section. It's hard work but enjoyable. It is enjoyable because I see it as giving everyone a chance to show the very best they can do. No, it isn't about "showing off". It is about trying your best.
So, why would anyone want to target that? Yes, that is what a terror  threat would be targetting. Why is it that apparently anything we might enjoy is seen as sinful?
I had to bring the trike home from the  "trike hospital" - the bike shop - yesterday. It was in for an investigation after I had three flat tyres in the same left hand rear wheel. The bike shop I prefer to use is some distance away. I had to courier the bike there but Middle Cat took me down in her vehicle so I could pick it up and put it on the train to get it most of the way home. 
I just managed to catch a train by doing something I am not really supposed to do - ride it on the platform - but a transit officer was looking out the doors and gave me the nod. After all the weather was coming up and it would be nice to be home before it was raining as well as windy. 
We chatted about where I was getting off - the station at the show grounds so I could get on another train.  He talked enthusiastically about how much he had enjoyed the show last year. He was young. He had gone with a group of mates. They had seen all sorts of animals. He had a picture of  himself "talking to a sheep". "They're smarter than people think". He had bought his girlfriend a plant "And it is still alive".  He is planning to take her this year.
I listened and thought of all the other people with similar plans, of the children who are fascinated by the animals being shown and who find out where the produce on display comes from.
It is all something every child should experience - and they should experience it free from fear and from the need to go through metal detectors or any sort of security check.
Terrorists who target something like this are targetting life itself. It makes no sense. 
I just  hope more than half a million people defy them.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Bottom of the class again?

It seems this state is bottom of the class in NAPLAN testing again. For Upoverites the NAPLAN tests are national tests in things like spelling and mathematics taken at the end of years 3, 5, 7 and 9. They are supposed to tell teachers and parents how the child is performing.
I say "supposed" because of course any examination is only a snap shot of how you performed on a particular day. Overall it may also give you an idea of how the group is performing. The discussion around the value of NAPLAN can go on without me.
Ms W has done the NAPLAN tests for 3, 5 and 7. Her verdict at the end of the year 7 tests? "I suppose we had to do them." She was not enthused. 
It isn't that she minds tests or exams. She works hard in school. She does well. It is expected that she will do well - and yes, she did well in the NAPLAN tests. Her school did well in the NAPLAN tests. It was expected they would do well. It is one of the things that parents are paying fees in the expectation of seeing.
"Oh, the girls there must be much brighter than the average," I was told by someone else who is opposed to any form of fee paying even for books and materials in state schools.
No. The ability range is almost identical to that of a state school. There are even perhaps more students with special needs. The school is "accessible" in more ways than one. 
Classes are, on average, only two to three smaller than the neighbouring state school but they have access to additional help if they need it.The school has excellent facilities - and the "resource centre/library" is a purpose built building filled with materials. 
However those things don't mean that you will come top of the class. I know other schools with far less  that also come top of the class. Pana Mtoto Mlangoni, the refugee centre once run by my late friend in Africa, had almost no resources. The children there were doing well too, better than many of the local students who had families. Ms W's school has supported them in obtaining more resources.
In both cases though there is an expectation of the students from the start. That expectation is "You are here to work and to learn and that is what you will do and you will do it to the best of your ability. Nobody else is going to do your work for you."
Perhaps it is what all schools say but is it really what all schools expect?

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Les Murray and Les Murray

were and are two different people. I met one of them twice and I have met the other numerous times.
One of them was a journalist-presenter with our multicultural broadcasting channel SBS. The other is a poet. They were two very different men.
I met the journalist by accident. He first sat next to me on a flight between capital cities in Downunder.  I had no idea who he was. When the news reaches the sports section I switch off. I know. I am sorry. Sport, unless it is cricket, really doesn't interest me - and even cricket doesn't really interest me that much. 
But there was Les Murray. He had introduced himself politely, in the sort of way people do on those sort of trips. I said something like, "Well I know you aren't Les Murray the poet."
He didn't know about Less Murray the poet. I explained. I didn't know about soccer. He explained. I told him about my great cricketing adventure - my single achievement in the field of sport - and he laughed. We agreed that my sporting experience was rather limited and went on to talk about his family and how they had migrated to Australia.
On the second occasion I met him he was in the lobby of a building waiting to interview someone. I was waiting for someone else.  He looked over, saw me and excused himself from a knot of journalists. It was a brief conversation but, like a good journalist, he had not forgotten me or what we had talked about. I suppose there was always a chance in the future that I might have some nugget of information for him. 
He seemed pleasant and, at just 71, much too young. His former colleagues were clearly distressed at his passing. And yes, he did a lot for football or the game Downunderites usually refer to as soccer.
I wonder what he would have made of Les Murray-the-poet, winner of the Queen's Gold Medal for poetry and other prizes. They were and are two very different men. Had they met I know that Les Murray-the-poet would have written something.