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.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Running towards danger

and putting your own life in danger in order to save your own children is something I think I can understand. I am not a mother but I can imagine some "instinct" kicking in and doing it. That's something to do with the preservation of the species isn't it?
But when strangers are involved - adult strangers who "should be able to look after themselves"?
What really makes people want to join the police force, the armed services, the fire brigade, or the ambulance service? Do they like the high speed race to a scene or the hospital, the arrests, the noise of the fire, the danger? Do they like manhandling a suspect or entering a still smouldering  building? Do they get an adrenalin rush from that sort of behaviour?
I confess I question the reason some of our local police have joined the force. I suspect they are natural bullies and they positively enjoy pulling over drivers for the slightest infraction or confronting a kid doing no more than mooching down the street. There are many others who actually care about people. How soon before they "burn out"?
The MP, Tobias Ellwood, who tried to save the life of the police officer has reportedly said that "training kicks in". You just do what needs to be done. Perhaps you do. Is it any different, at one level, than me grabbing the child I don't know as they are about to dart out into the road? I am not sure it is. I didn't think about that - and his mother probably didn't think before giving him the resounding whack on his well padded backside. 
Perhaps there are times when you just "do it" but the difference between merely stopping a child as I did yesterday on a quiet suburban street and trying to save a life is enormous. Mr Ellwood will live with that for the rest of his life. In a year from now, unless someone reminds me, I probably won't remember the incident with the child.
What I am going to remember is the email from the friend who works in Westminster. It was just a very short note.
"Just to let you know Cat that we're all shaken but safe."
I don't want to know any more. I am too much of a coward to run towards danger. 

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The terror attack in London

has left me questioning yet again, "Why?"
Terror attacks like this don't make sense to me...well, no terror attack does but these make even less sense.
Can someone please explain why it makes sense to go out and kill innocent people going about their daily business? Why kill people who are not doing harm to anyone else? Why get yourself killed?
It makes no sense.
A long time ago now I answered the phone in our home and, before I could say anything, a terrified voice at the other end said, " Dad is trying to kill Mum."
No, it wasn't a joke. We lived in a "soldier settlement" at the time. One of those areas set up by the government where returned servicemen were given parcels of land to farm. It was a well meant but crazy scheme, particularly in that extremely isolated area. The rate of mental illness among the men was particularly high. 
On this occasion the farmer in question was chasing his wife across a paddock (field) with a red hot poker in his hand. He thought she was the enemy. 
The Senior Cat didn't hesitate to believe the child. He made a couple of phone calls, the farmer on a neighbouring property went with his teenage son and restrained the man until other help arrived and the poor man was taken off for a spell in psychiatric care. He had done no physical harm and no charges were laid. But of course it harmed his family. The marriage eventually broke down. It wasn't the only incident while we lived there but it was perhaps the most dramatic. 
It affected me too. I was only a young teen at the time.
I look at the news now, at the teens and the children going through the most horrendous experiences. Their apparent calm is not real. Underneath they have to be living in a constant state of fear as well as coping with a lack of food, of shelter, and of all the things they should have as a right. Their experiences and that of the young boy on the farm are far worse than the one I had.
I don't understand why any human being would deliberately put another human being through something like that. It makes no sense. What sort of "god" do these people believe in?

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Are Australians "racist"?

No, I am not going to attempt to answer that question. It is unanswerable anyway.
It is being debated again though. Yesterday was "Harmony Day" and yesterday was also the day the government announced some proposed changes to Sec 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act - that section of the Act which makes it an offence to insult, offend or humiliate anyone on the basis of their race.
I have always though that section was a mistake. That is not because I think it is right to insult, offend or humiliate anyone. I don't. The problem, as I see it, is that it sends "hate speech" underground. Yes, I have said that elsewhere. I will probably say it again somewhere in the future. 
Hate speech has no place anywhere.  Encouraging it by attempting to forbid it by law is simply going to make the problem, if there is a problem, worse. 
And there is another a problem. That section of the Act does not apply equally to all people. Oh  yes, in theory it does. It should. It doesn't. It is there to "protect" minority groups.
There are other minority groups in the community too and they are not afforded the same protections.
I had to go into the local supermarket yesterday. There is someone who works in there part time. She is grossly overweight, unattractive to look at, and not a particularly happy person. That is due in part to her multiple medical conditions.  She also happens to be very good at her job. She knows what the supermarket sells, what sizes the products come in, where to find them, the names of things, the prices of fruit and vegetables, and much more. 
We have a relationship of sorts. When there isn't anyone behind me in the queue she will sometimes chat a little to me. I hear about how she went to the football with her Dad or something else. She will ask me about something I am buying and how I cook it. It's all just casual chat - but a little more than "have a nice day". There are times when she will be almost abrupt. She's in pain and is best left to herself.
It takes courage for her to front up to work. It is difficult for her to stand there. She is fully aware that many customers avoid her. They would rather wait longer in another queue than be served by her.
Yesterday though she served someone who was, to be blunt, extremely rude to her. It wasn't the all too common rudeness of a thoughtless customer. It was directed at her as an individual. It reduced her to tears.
I was much too far back to in the queue to intervene in time. I couldn't physically reach her then but she was still fighting back the tears when I did reach her. All I could do was put my hand over hers. She gave me, ever so slightly, the faintest hint of a smile blew her nose and went on with her job. Nobody else had shown any interest or sympathy.
I know. It's hard. You don't want to get involved. It's none of your business.
But I came away thinking that it is that sort of behaviour which is the really dangerous sort. It's not the insulting or offensive behaviour. That's bad enough. What is worse is simply allowing it to happen when you see it happen, when the person on the receiving end of such vile behaviour can't defend themselves. As the shop employee she just had to take what was given to her. She couldn't be rude to a customer.
She has as much right not to be offended or insulted as someone from another minority group. 
We don't need legislation. We need thought for each other and the courage to speak up.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

March is a mad month

in this part of Downunder. There are too many things happening!
There are all the official things which include,
(a) a street car race
(b) a horse race
(c) a Festival
(d) a Fringe Festival and

This household ignores (a), (b), and (e). Although Middle Cat is the on-site physiotherapist for (a) both the Senior Cat and I dislike all forms of motorsport. To me there is nothing "sport" about burning fossil fuel, making a lot of noise, and speeding. None of us is in the least interested in horse racing. WOMAD's music does not, on the whole, attract us - well, it doesn't attract the Senior Cat at all and the artists who might attract me are few and far between.
That leaves (c) and (d). 
Now (c) includes Writers' Week. I usually prowl off to this as often as I can. This year I did not get to one single event. Work intervened. I had a funeral to go to the one afternoon I might have been free. The Senior Cat had appointments and Middle Cat was not available to deal with those so I had to deal with them. (Middle Cat is very good about this usually. She says it is her share of caring for him. It was just unavoidable.)  I did get some phone conversations in with a couple of visiting writers and two of them came had coffee with me in the local shopping centre but.... sigh. Next year? 
The nice thing about Writers' Week is that you don't need to pay to go - unless you choose to buy books (and who doesn't need books?)
The other Festival events tend to be very expensive. I can understand why they are - especially those with big international artists. Live theatre, which accounts for much of the Festival, is very expensive to produce. Last year the Senior Cat was recovering from the fall in the bathroom. We didn't go to anything. This year the Senior Cat didn't feel he could handle going to anything. I suspect his nights out are over. Mine are too - for the moment.
The Senior Cat went to a matinee at the Fringe...the conjuring show in which someone he knew and has encouraged was performing. He said it was "okay" but his standards in that area are high. He watches performers like David Copperfield with professional interest. He's made apparatus for performers like Raymond Crowe. He knows what is behind the illusion and he knows about stagecraft. He's taught at least two young performers who will make their living this way.
Did he want to see anything else? No. He couldn't be bothered to make the effort of getting there. I left it at that. He goes to another monthly group and he goes to things associated with his church. 
I was planning on going to a number of Fringe exhibitions but that hasn't happened either. I am not about to pass on my rotten cold to anyone else. 
So the madness which is March has pretty well passed us by this year. Perhaps it is just as well.... I did get a little writing done!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Those big yellow school buses

you sometimes see in a news story from North America are also used in Downunder.
I was reminded of them yet again when someone put up a piece on FB about the possible closure of a tiny rural school in Cornwall. Yes, I do mean tiny. At the present time it looks as if there might be just 11 students there next year.
I never went to a school quite that small. The smallest school I went to was a "two teacher" school. By rural Downunder standards it was quite large. The Senior Cat taught "the big kids" and my mother taught "the little kids". There were twenty-four of the big ones and twenty-two of the little ones. The little ones included the youngest kitten in our family who wasn't actually officially on the school roll but was in the class anyway because there was nowhere else for her to go. There were two small "buses" - one of them a VW "combi" and the other a vehicle of about the same size which had been what Downunderites refer to as a "ute" - a utility vehicle with a tray at the back. The tray had been closed in and a couple of seats added. It was also used by the football team. There were no seat belts in either vehicle. It wouldn't happen now but such were the joys of remote rural life.
When we moved from there the Senior Cat was given the task of setting up an "area" school...which meant adding a secondary section to a small rural primary school.  The students came in buses from the surrounding farms. None of them had to travel a particularly long distance. I think the outermost farm was about eighteen or nineteen miles out. There were just four buses. Some of the other children walked or rode their bikes because you had to be a certain distance from the school before the bus was permitted to pick you up. The buses were driven by local farmers supplementing their income. If one of them was unable to do it then the science teacher, also responsible for the overall running of the buses, would fill in. 
And then, when the Senior Cat was considered to have done the job he had been asked to do there, we moved again. He was asked to take on another (and even more difficult) task. This school was big. There were 660 plus students and almost all of them came in by bus. There were, from memory, eleven buses. They were yellow of course. They were big. They were driven not by the farmers but by the teachers. The shortest run was about 46 miles round trip and the longest was over 100 miles. The teachers lived in caravans at the end of the bus run and the one who started earliest had to be gone before 7am - and so did the children. 
The little ones would fall asleep in the bus and be woken by a parent picking them up or an older child taking them from the bus. It would be dark in the mornings and growing dark in the afternoons in winter. 
If a teacher was ill the deputy headmaster would have to travel out in the spare bus and pick the children up. Those buses were a constant worry to the Senior Cat, the deputy, and the teachers who drove them. There were no mobile phones back then. If a bus broke down or had a puncture then you had to walk to the nearest farm - which might be some miles away - and get help. 
All this and a "big school" was considered preferable to having children in the one-teacher schools which had been quite common a few years before. 
I still wonder what it was like though. What was it like at five years of age to be put on a bus, travel up to two hours, spend the entire day at school, and travel another two  hours home? It was a very long day. Weekends must surely have come as a huge relief. Even if you were "goin' the footy" you didn't have to start out that early.
What was it like for the teachers? I know they found it hard. As "the head's kids" we heard things other children didn't hear.
I can still remember going into the staff room at the school to pick something up for another teacher and finding two in there, one weeping - perhaps from sheer exhaustion. She was the only female bus driver and those buses were very heavy to handle.
    "Cat won't say anything," I heard her say.
And I never said a word. How did they manage to teach?
Small schools have advantages and disadvantages but getting children to bigger schools is a challenge of another sort again.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Getting one thing right

will help - at least that is what I told myself.
I was feeling nervous. Would I be able to communicate? I was about to meet a profoundly deaf woman whose first language was Irish sign language and whose second language was Irish. 
I had been told her English was "almost none". She can lip read a few words like "please".
That isn't going to get me far. There is no point in trying to write things down. She can't really read either - and certainly not English.  Even if she could my writing is barely legible - although not for want of trying.
It had all taken a bit of working out even to get together. The first email to someone else had gone unanswered. Her son, also profoundly deaf, might have given up but a curious series of events led to someone I barely know but who knows my "name-sign" recognising who they were trying to contact and telling someone else who contacted me. Would I help? 
I said I'd try but it isn't the sort of thing for which you can ask for help from a trained interpreter. We would have to go it almost alone.
I met them at the home of a family where the parents both use Auslan - Australian Sign Language. I don't know them either but the person who had asked me to help introduced me. When I signed "hello" it helped a bit but I was still feeling nervous.
The curious thing about knitting though is that you knit with your hands and, as I said yesterday, if you also talk with your hands then you do one thing or another.  I was also wondering how well this person would be able to knit.
That was not a problem. She is an expert knitter. She actually knits the most complex garments and sells them for large sums of money. They would be worth everything someone paid for them. I saw two of them.  She seems to do them without a pattern - just with her own series of diagrams and pictures and charts.
I had taken along one of the hats I had knitted. She spent some time looking at it. I showed her how I cast on. It was something she had not seen before. I showed her twice and then she tried it twice more. Again she drew things on paper. I had taken the "pattern" with me and I went through it with her by showing her on the hat I had taken. By the time we had finished she had her own pattern in a form she could understand - and I could "read" enough of it to know she would be able to work from it. 
With difficulty I explained about the sort of yarn not to use - in a mixture of sign, finger spelling and a picture dictionary. We all laughed over "goat hair itch".
At last I was offered ice-cold home made lemonade and we sat for a few minutes. They talked and the daughter of the house called in. She's hearing so the conversation flowed more easily although I addressed my remarks to them and not to her. As she was leaving she offered to take me home.
Before we left I asked her, "Can you work out how to say I want to see all the leprechauns wearing green sun hats when I go to Ireland?"
Leprechauns? We looked in the picture dictionary and found "gnome" instead - an Irish gnome. She showed me and I repeated it. There was more laughter and then I was hugged and being thanked - in sign. 
And that was a good sign. I'm glad I tried.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

It seems I can't get anything right

at the moment.
Perhaps it is having the snuffles - and, worse still, the Senior Cat having the snuffles. We have both been coughing and sneezing and  blowing our noses. He has used two boxes of "man-size" tissues. 
In desperation I went to the chemist yesterday. The chemist looked up the Senior Cat's medication and gave me something to help - at least I hope it will. I don't want the Senior Cat to get pneumonia. He has not growled at me for getting the cold and passing it on. He's not that sort of cat but I still feel guilty.
In the  middle of all that I could do without the other problems. The work problems are getting solved - slowly. I know they aren't my fault. They actually aren't anybody's fault. It is just the nature of the work but I would still like them to be out of the way.
Then there is the problem with the knitting group. There is an email in my personal in box this morning. It is from someone asking if she can pass my email on to someone who wants some help - at least, pass it on to her son. There's no point in giving  them a phone number as I am not into text messages and they are both deaf. That's fine. I don't mind. I know where and how they heard about what I was doing and why they want to contact me. I'll help because the woman will then pass the information on to her small group of knitters, all of whom are deaf. (As you can imagine if you talk with your hands you stop talking when you knit!)
None of that is a problem. What is a problem is that they apparently tried to contact someone else who has simply ignored their message and made no effort to contact me or pass the information on in any other way. That is simply rude. At the moment I am fuming over it. I know I shouldn't but, if you are profoundly deaf, reaching out into the hearing world can be a real challenge. It takes courage to contact a stranger and ask for help without the assistance of an interpreter. 
All it would have taken would have been to forward the email to me. Was that so hard?

Friday, 17 March 2017

Apparently breaking the law

is justified if the law is "unjust" - or so the new trade union leader in Downunder would have people believe.
 As a teacher the Senior Cat always believed, and still believes, going out on strike should be a weapon of last resort. While teachers are "in loco parentis" - that is, in place of the parents of the children they are teaching - they should not remove their services and put the children at risk. I agree. In fact in the area in which I worked going out on strike was not to be contemplated. Everyone I worked with agreed that there was just one reason we would go out on strike and that was if not to do so would put the lives of the children we were teaching at immediate risk. Of course that was never likely to happen. There was a strike at one point. We all went to work. So did the teachers in the Senior Cat's school - and in many other schools. The few militants who had tried to call it found they had to look for other ways to negotiate the problem which had arisen. 
But the new head of the union movement clearly feels differently. There are rules about striking, about who can strike and when they can do it. She says they are there for breaking if she deems it necessary.
It's a confrontational approach and I am not sure it is a very wise approach. Her argument is that it is about "safety". Really?
Occupational Health and Safety is a big issue now, so big that the local charity shop was closed for the morning a couple of weeks back. It was closed so that the mostly very elderly staff who have been working there for years could have compulsory occupational health and safety training. I heard about it later. The person who came along to talk to them was reminding them of things like washing their hands before eating morning tea.
      "I could have told her a thing or two. I turned 90 last year and my fingernails were cleaner than hers!" one of the women told me. I rather suspect the "bright young thing" got their backs up.They had been ready to listen in case they were doing something wrong, something that might harm a customer but that wasn't what they were told about.
And then I wonder about the way in which it is always the employers' fault when an accident occurs. Yes, of course that happens because the employer is the one who is insured, the one who has the capacity to pay for the injury. It doesn't however take into account the worker who doesn't put on the relevant safety goggles or gloves or harness or something else. It  doesn't take into account the worker who deliberately takes a risky shortcut or fails to follow an instruction because he or she believes there is a better way to do something. What is more it doesn't ask people to take responsibility for their own actions.
When a worker deliberately disregards the safety regulations it isn't a matter of working conditions. It is a matter of obedience.  Should you go out on strike because someone was disobedient?


Thursday, 16 March 2017

There is no water

and the lorry bringing it is late - again. Nobody knows whether it has just broken down or whether the soldiers have stopped it because there has been "an incident" or if the rebels have managed to get at it. The last time the rebels killed the driver and let all the water out - first making sure they had enough for themselves.
There is almost nothing to eat - whatever they can find in the bush. The last UN aid shipment was weeks ago. You can't plant anything because the rebels just destroy anything in sight. They burnt down the neighbouring village last night and now the women and children left here are terrified that it will be their turn tonight. The rebels have already killed all the men and older boys. They have taken some of the younger boys - to turn them into fighters.
It is searingly hot. Two children and an old woman died in the night. There will be more deaths before the end of the day. The mother of those two young children won't even weep. She is already in the worst emotional hell that any parent could ever fear of finding themselves.
Around her there are other mothers, other children. All of them are waiting. There is a sort of dignified patience about them, also resignation. 
People ask me sometimes, "Why don't these people do something to help themselves?"  The answer is that they can't. They don't have the capacity. They have no energy. All the energy they have is concentrated on staying alive, on keeping their children alive if that is at all possible. They will walk incredible distances in the poorest state of health, carrying others because they have that one, tiny, almost not there, little bit of hope that someone, somewhere will give them water and food and shelter and let them have the most precious thing of all - life.
There are fourteen million people in danger of dying from starvation in East Africa right now. They are in danger  because of conflict, drought, and agricultural mismanagement brought about by the greed of companies like Monsanto.
While we worry about the appalling conflicts in places like Syria we seem to have forgotten the women and children in places like the Sudan and Yemen.  It's almost as if they don't exist any more. They are too quiet. It isn't their way to speak up and the effort of doing so is too great. 
One of the aid workers left me a message. One of the few literate people in the village had left a message written in the dirt. Translated into English it read, "I have gone into the night."
How do you stop millions more joining him?

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The $550million power plant

has been announced. I suppose we were all waiting for it. 
It's all part of the careful planning by the state government - the careful planning for the next election that is.
The state has been beset by power problems for years now. People still try and blame the sell off of the state owned electricity supply back in the last century. Oh yes, the opposition did that so it's convenient to suggest  they are responsible for all the mess. Really?
It might actually have more to do with the collapse of the State Bank. Most of the blame for that was laid at the feet of the bank's managing director  but the government of the day was also heavily involved. Money had to be found and found quickly. The new government had no choice in the end. We haven't finished paying for the mismanagement yet.
But yesterday there was "the announcement". We would, the premier announced, be "going it alone" with a "new, gas fired power station". It would be built with $550m of "surplus" funds from the budget.
There are all sorts of problems with this announcement. It may not be possible to "go it alone" even if the funds were there. If it had been it might have been done some time ago. There might not be the gas available to fire the plant - and it certainly won't be available without breaking some big contracts to supply other places. The money isn't there either. The "surplus" doesn't exist. It will simply be taken from other parts of the budget - mostly from areas where people need it the most but don't have the political clout to make much impact if they complain. 
There is a real danger that, like the expensive "desalination" plant a gas fired power plant won't get used. 
But, it all sounds good. It might get the government re-elected next March. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

So, I am supposed to work for nothing?

There was a public holiday here yesterday. It was, of all things, for a horse race. 
I have no idea what happened at the races. It didn't make the front page and I don't look at the sports section of the paper. 
The front page was taken up with a concert. People had been talking about the concert for days. I think at least some of the tickets were about $250 each. They sold thousands of tickets and filled the oval.  I don't know what the main attraction got paid but I suspect it was rather a lot of money. 
Of course it was a normal working day in the rest of the country so I had some emails and a phone call. The emails were from people who probably were not aware that it was a holiday here. They expected me to be at my desk with my paws on the keyboard.  I responded because their requests were fairly easily dealt with and I was too busy snuffling and sneezing to want to be doing much - although I did go and get dirty in the garden later.
But the phone call was from someone who was well aware that it was a public holiday here and who thought that I "wouldn't mind" because after all I am "not interested in horse races".  He was "in the office catching up on some paper work". 
Fine. He gets paid. He gets paid rather a lot. 
I felt like saying "I do mind" but something made me say, "I'm not being paid for this you know."
There was silence at the other end.
I don't know whether it simply hadn't occurred to him or whether he thought I was being paid or whether he thought I shouldn't expect to be paid or something else entirely. When his secretary phoned me some days ago it had merely been to check on a piece of information. That was fine. It's the sort of thing any sensible person might do. Going any further than that though was something I was not prepared to do. 
I don't agree with the policy they are trying to put in place and, even if I did, why should I be expected to provide my professional expertise for nothing?
Into the silence I went on, "You know I don't agree with what you are trying to do. It's about saving money, not about assisting the clients to help themselves. I know funds have been cut and that you have to find savings somewhere but that doesn't mean you can just pick up the phone and ask me to do the work your staff are being paid to do."
I could almost hear his frustration at the other end but then there was a large sigh,
      "Sorry Cat. I'll see if I can get hold of..... It was just easier to ask you."
I half expected him to call me back because the other person he mentioned had the good sense to be out for the day and told me she was "accidentally" leaving her phone at home. She does get paid but she is only supposed to work three days a week and she has been doing five.
It made me wonder just how many people are doing unpaid work. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

I said "No" yesterday

and of course I am still wondering whether I should have said "Yes".
Now yesterday was Sunday. I often need to do some work on Sundays but I try at least to do a bit less, to take a bit of a break. After all I don't get paid for what I do so why should I work seven days a week?
Yes, I know. "It's urgent!" and "We really need some help..." and "Nobody else can do it..." and....  Some regular readers of this blog will be well aware of such demands.
Well, yesterday it wasn't urgent. It wasn't about saving someone's life. It was about knitting so I said "No." I said it nicely but I still said it. 
I am not popular. I am not "flavour of the month". And I still think the person can find the answer to her problem on the internet or by asking someone else. It was all too easy to think, "I'll ask Cat. It will be a nice little outing. I'll probably get a cup of tea and I can stay a couple of hours."
Well actually Cat has a cold and Cat isn't feeling that great and would prefer not to pass her germs on to anyone else. She is already worried she might have given them to the Senior Cat. Give me a break people. I would prefer to curl up on my sleeping mat and go back to sleep!
And I am also tired of people thinking that it is easier to "ask Cat" than it is to think for themselves. Of course there are people who, facing the same problem, I would happily have helped. Had the youngest member of the library group, now aged 11, asked for the same help I would have said, "Yes" and taken the appropriate precautions not to pass on my cold. After all, she is still learning to read a pattern and do all sorts of other things. Even more importantly she would have tried to do it herself before asking.
I am not very good at asking for help. As a kitten I was strongly discouraged from asking for help. If I couldn't do something myself then it didn't happen. I went without and sometimes I missed out altogether. Looking back I realise that was not good either. The questions I should have been taught to ask myself were, "Do you really need help? Can you do any of this yourself? How much help do you need?" and so on. After a lifetime of not asking for help I now get, "Don't be so ...... independent Cat!"
But I still believe that asking for help should be confined to times when you actually need it. That way you are more likely to get the help you need. 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The "Marree Man"

is a "geoglyph" in the north of the state. It appeared in 1998.It shows an indigenous man. 
It was made with considerable skill in the days before GPS was common. It is thought to have been made by an itinerant artist, one Bardius Goldberg. He has since died and whether he actually made it or not is still the subject of some debate.
At the present time it is also the world's largest geoglyph and it can be seen from space. It measures around 4km high. It has been called "environmental vandalism" and "graffiti" by some but it might also be seen as genuine tribute to the local indigenous people, after all the man who made it didn't exactly advertise the fact. It is thought he never saw it from the air.
Yes, it is back. For a while it almost disappeared because it was overgrown with low, scrubby, dry and dusty bushland. The tourists who paid to fly over it ceased coming.
And then a couple of enterprising pub owners brought it back to life. The locals were, reportedly, delighted. Anything that brings in a bit of money for that remote area is considered to be a "good" thing. The local indigenous community, the Arabunna, are not too fussed either - it means money for them.
Not so a neighbouring indigenous community. They complained. It would seem the real problem is some tension over native title in the area. Now we have the Environmental Protection Agency looking into the matter and threatening to prosecute the two pub owners - for clearing land without permission. The EPA has apparently spent hours and hours on this - and they have spent a lot of money too.
Now the EPA does have other matters to deal with - some of them very serious matters indeed - but this is apparently more important.
I suspect it was originally made with the permission of one or more of the local elders. It would have taken much too long to make for that not to happen. It is, in its own way, a work of art. 
Perhaps it should have been left and allowed to slowly disappear again. I don't know -  but does it say something about the local indigenous community and should we be listening?

Saturday, 11 March 2017

There is a wonderful cartoon

in this morning's paper. It is in honour of another cartoonist, the late Bill Leak. He died  yesterday at the much too young age of 61. It depicts his gravestone in the form of a hand - with a particular finger raised and one person reading his will saying to another, "He says he wants it facing the Human Rights Commission".
It is a reference to the cartoon which caused a complaint to be brought against him under Sec 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.  I won't bother to address that here. It is easily found on the internet, along with the vigorous debate for and against what he depicted.
Cartoonists are not generally kind people. They are observant. They see things in people that most of us would prefer to remain hidden. I will never be able to see one former Prime Minister without thinking of him as looking a little like the cartoon character "Tin Tin".  The way he was drawn made him instantly recognisable.  Another was made instantly recognisable by his eyebrows.
It is a cartoonist's role to draw people in this way. It is also their role to comment, often unkindly, on public figures and events. 
It must also be said that the commentary may not be what they believe but what they believe needs to be said.
Many years ago now I was at a gathering of writers, journalists, and others. Bill Leak was there. He was arguing with someone about something. I never did discover exactly what the argument was about. The other person, a writer as famous for his temperament as his writing, challenged him to "draw someone then - someone you have only seen once". Leak sat there and scratched away with a pen on a scrap of paper. He was at it for several minutes. I was vaguely aware of him looking in my direction but someone was talking to me. A few minutes later I heard, "He's bloody gone and done it."
To which the response was, "Of course I've bloody gone and done it."
Leak held up the scrap of paper - and there I was, instantly recognisable. He had no idea who I was - and even if he had been told my name it wouldn't have meant anything to him. He wasn't nearly as well known himself back then - but he still had the capacity to observe and draw. I wish now though that I had asked him if I could have that little cartoon. It wasn't unkind. It was just me.
He had an incisive mind and an acerbic wit. He was a master of satire. More than once he was accused of being "racist" - an interesting observation given that his partner is of a very different ethnic background. He was called "crude" by some.
His cartoons were not popular with everyone but perhaps that's the way it should be. Being a cartoonist isn't about being popular or kind. It's about telling the truth as you see it or as it needs to be said.

Friday, 10 March 2017

So "stay at home mums" are

a "drain on the economy" are they?
Apparently the OECD has put out a paper saying that Downunder needs to get more women into the workforce, that "stay at home mums" are a drain on the economy, that they should be back in the workforce - and their children should be in childcare.
My mother went back into full time work when the youngest of us turned three. It wasn't what she intended to do. Before that time she sometimes did days of "relief" or "supply" teaching to cover absences at the school we children were attending. My paternal grandmother would care for my baby sister. 
I remember the embarrassment and misery of having my mother teach the class I was in for an entire week. Our teacher was off playing in the national netball championship of all things. 
But, for the most part, my mother was home trying to make ends meet on a single salary. The Senior Cat was doing his university degree one subject at a time and had to pay fees as well so money was very tight. We ate and we were clothed but only just. Teachers were not well paid and there were four children.
Teachers were in very short supply at the time so when my father was offered promotion if my mother went back to work in a two teacher school they took the opportunity. It seemed like a good thing. It wasn't all good though. Good teaching requires a lot of out of hours work. It does have an effect on family life. Financially we were not a lot better off. Women were paid less than men and the cost of moving to a new location - including the essential new-to-us car - reduced the benefit dramatically.
Was my mother happier? I don't know. She was considered a good teacher and eventually ended up as the principal of more than one "infants" school. It was just assumed she would go on working.
But there were many women of her generation who were "not working". Is that really true?
These were the women who ran the school canteens, listened to children read, cared for the sick, cared for the elderly, did the housework, cooked the meals, made clothes, volunteered in all sorts of ways, and more. They did a lot of unpaid work. It was valuable work too. It was work society needed. 
I know things have changed. Professionals run the canteen, teacher aides listen to children read, the elderly are supposedly cared for by "carers" or in nursing homes, cleaning services do the housework, cooking meals has become much less time consuming, and you don't need to make clothes unless you actually want to do it. As for volunteering - well that is what your very elderly parents do if they can. 
One of the youngest federal politicians announced her "retirement" yesterday. She says she wants to spend more time with her young son. I'll be interested to see how long it takes her to get another job but right now she says she is leaving at the next election. Some sections of the community have praised her, others have ridiculed her.  My own view is that, if you choose to have children, then you need to make sure you have a position or way of life which is compatible with child rearing. In this case she was away in the national capital for twenty weeks a year and now feels this is not compatible. Another politician feels differently. She has just had a second child and says she will, if necessary, breast feed the baby in parliament. 
But I think what really bothers me about all this is not that women are encouraged to go back to work - I know it has as many benefits as draw backs. What bothers me is the idea that motherhood isn't work in itself and that all the other things my mother's generation did wasn't also an economic contribution to society.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Internatonal Women's Day

was yesterday? Do we really need one? Isn't it a bit like "Mothers' Day" and "Fathers' Day"? Shouldn't every day be "women's day" - and "men's day" too? 
I went to a funeral yesterday. It was the funeral of a woman who lived to 101.  She had done a lot before I met her and she still did plenty after that. Being a woman didn't stop her. She didn't "get mad" she simply "got even". If she wanted something then she worked on getting it. 
When she started school she decided she was going to be a teacher - and she kept on wanting to be that. She told me once "I never wanted to be anything else." Her niece said the same thing yesterday when she gave the eulogy.
D....never married. She had no desire to marry. She was married to teaching. 
It was no ordinary teaching job she sought though. She started out that way because she had to but she went from there to first work in a new school for the disabled in one state - and then came to this one to build a similar school here. 
The school no longer exists. It was an outstandingly good school but the philosophy surrounding the education of children with special needs changed. They were "integrated" into the "normal" school system instead. While the school existed it catered for the unique learning needs of the children who attended and, just as importantly, it gave them life skills. There can be few other "special schools" of that nature which produced two PhD's and several other degrees, an extraordinarily high "open employment" rate and an involvement in the wider community which would put almost any other school to shame.  
This is just what D...thought should happen. It is what she worked towards. She showed that "special" education didn't mean isolation from the rest of the community but involvement in it.
I met her at the school. She was quite a formidable sort of person. You didn't "muck around" under her. She was, even when I first met her, considered "a bit old fashioned", especially about things like manners. But, her students loved and respected her. If Miss G... was pleased with them they were happy. They knew they had to work hard for her, that her standards were high.
There were about fifty old scholars there yesterday - many of them in wheelchairs. No, not easy to get there but they made it to say goodbye to their Miss G...
The service was simple. There was just a hint of old "school assembly" about it. I was transported back to all the school reunions I had attended. They started when the school closed and went on until the old school hall was no longer available about five years ago. They would take the form of first having a "school assembly" with the tradition of the school hymn and "the Song of Australia" being sung and other little traditions. We all knew what to expect. After that everyone would talk, catching up on the year. Some of the conversation would be in sign language or by using communication devices. What were people doing now? Miss G... would be there in the thick of it all. She knew every student and every member of staff. In her "announcements" she would tell of special achievements. I missed some years when I was away in other places but I would get the "newsletter" and I would always make sure I had sent a note so that Miss G... could tell them what I had been doing. 
She was that sort of person. You didn't quite dare not tell her, "I have done this." She expected people to get things done, just as she herself had got things done. 
When International Literacy Year was finally announced she told me, "Good but now I expect even more of you..." I would not have dared to stop demanding the right of everyone to a means of communication.
She never stopped. She lived alone until she was 99. She spent the last two years of her life in a nursing home. Depending on other people was not her style but she accepted help in the way she taught her students to accept help - with dignity and graciousness.
Hers was a life well lived.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Denying your child medical treatment

is something I don't understand. Okay, I am not a parent. Yes, I have had responsibility for younger relatives, the children I taught, children for whom I have been the babysitter or childminder, and the Whirlwind of course.
If any of them had needed medical attention I would have made sure they were given it - as quickly as possible. One of the first things I managed to learn as a very new teacher - my first day on the job in the classroom in fact - was how to deal with a major epileptic seizure. I had been told what to do - press the emergency button in the classroom for help - and I did. I also gathered the tiny child up and held him side on so he would not choke. It took every bit of strength I had because even a small child can be amazingly strong when having a major seizure. I am not a big person. I sat on the floor cradling him and hoping none of the children would do anything they should not be doing.
One of the nursing staff was there quickly - a big, strong, male nurse - and took the child off with the words, "Thought he might do that this morning." Great.
I thought of that this morning when I read that some people still won't get their children vaccinated, and still believe that vaccination "causes autism". Because of that some medical staff are said to be "refusing" to treat them. I am not sure what that means. Presumably a child presenting with a wound that needed stitching or a broken arm from falling off the play equipment would get attention. But a child with spots and a fever? 
I could have done what I know some of the other staff did. They would clear the area around the child having the seizure and just leave them to "come out of it on their own". I never managed to do that. The entire time I was in that school I was afraid a child would die on my watch, that I wouldn't have done enough to help. They were my responsibility.
So I wonder about the parents who choose not to vaccinate their children and, if really true, the medical staff who turn the child away. After all, it isn't the child's responsibility to get themselves vaccinated.
I grew up when vaccination for things like rubella were not available. I went through the usual range of childhood illnesses, as did my siblings. We were nursed by our paternal grandmother because my mother and her parents were Christian Scientists who refused to recognise illness. But we did get the available vaccinations. The Senior Cat and his parents insisted on that. 
I just don't understand why people don't give children all the available help.


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

$340,000 in unpaid traffic fines

would seem rather excessive to me - but someone apparently owes that. She is a pensioner, lives in a caravan, and will be paying the debt off into the next century.
Of course she will never actually pay the debt off at all.
Why was she allowed to accumulate the debt in the first place? She was apparently driving unregistered,  uninsured, and then unlicensed as well. 
Why were those responsible for seeing to such behaviour not behaving in a responsible fashion and getting her off the road much earlier? (Yes, apparently they have now taken the car from her.) 
I can't actually drive a car. I tried once in my teens. The Senior Cat took me out in the family car onto the school oval after I had obtained my "learners' " - i.e. I had passed the multiple choice written test. I did that test with flying colours. I knew the road rules all right.
That was as far as I got. 
I sat there in the drivers' seat. I listened very carefully. I did everything that I was told to do. I did it because I really, really, really wanted to learn to drive. I saw it as freedom beyond my wildest dreams at the time. The idea of being able to get in a car and go somewhere without having to rely on someone else to take me, of being "independent", was something I had dreamed about for years. 
What I hadn't taken into account, what nobody had taken into account or even recognised, was my spatial problems. The Senior Cat had told me it didn't matter if I hit the hay bales that were on the oval for some school event. (They were small bales.) I wasn't going to damage the car.
I didn't get as far as the hay bales. He said something about turning the steering wheel. At that point I knew there was something wrong. There was nothing wrong with the car. There was nothing wrong with the way he was teaching me. There was something wrong with me. I wailed, "I don't know where I am in the space."
The car stopped. I suppose I stopped it by getting my foot off the correct pedal. I don't know. To this day though I can remember my terror and confusion.  I had no idea how my actions related to the movement of the car. It was nothing like riding the tricycle.
On consultation, the local doctor stopped all thought of my learning to drive. I was told never, ever get behind the wheel of a car again - and I haven't. It would be completely irresponsible of me. Her view was confirmed by a specialist later. You don't do it Cat, however much you might want to.
I wanted to all right. I still think it would be lovely to get behind the wheel and spend five minutes driving somewhere instead fifty minutes pedalling. 
And I am sure of something else too. I wouldn't be driving unregistered, uninsured, or unlicensed. I would be sticking to the road rules and trying to do everything right because driving isn't a right. It's a responsibility and a privilege - and nobody should be allowed to accrue large amounts in traffic fines.