Friday, 21 February 2020

Bullying doesn't just happen

at school.
I saw an incident of it out in the community yesterday. It was perhaps what should be called "elder abuse". I won't detail it here. All I will say is that two of us stood there and stared in disbelief at the behaviour of the younger woman towards her mother. She saw us staring and tried to justify her  behaviour but it was unjustifiable and she knew it. I felt deeply disturbed by what I saw.
It made me wonder how much more of this sort of thing goes on out there.  I hope it is obvious that I love the Senior Cat and he is my first priority. He is my responsibility. If he does something silly or dangerous and I growl we almost always end up laughing at the same time. If we didn't we couldn't live together. 
Other people seem to think there is something extraordinary about this. There isn't. It is what should happen if it needs to happen - and it does need to happen.
But there are also parents who bully their children. When the woman and her mother had left (with the older woman in tears) the person I was with told me of something she had seen on social media - footage of a young boy with "dwarfism" crying and saying he wanted to kill himself because of bullying at school. His mother has apparently filmed this and put it up on the internet. If that is true then I am appalled. I am appalled (but not surprised) that he is being bullied at school but I am just as appalled that his mother can film it and then show it to the world. Okay, it apparently garnered a lot of support for the child but how is he going to feel about being used in that way? His mother obviously isn't coping with the situation either. I don't doubt that she was sincere but it is still a form of abuse. There are other ways to handle the situation - and what is the child's school doing about it?
I got bullied at school. In the end I retreated into books - until I went to a new school of all girls. I had come from a small rural school to an all girls high school. I was homesick. The class teacher had ridiculed my handwriting in front of the other 52 girls in the class. I would never have dared to try and defend myself.
Something must have snapped in one of the other girls because the first thing she did was say,
    "Come and eat lunch with us."
There were three girls who seemed to sit together. I sat next to them and listened while they talked about "the Beatles". It meant absolutely nothing to me. I had come from a dairying district and cows prefer classical music - seriously. The students in the other school rarely talked about "pop" music. I couldn't join in. I thought, "This is it. They won't want me to sit with them tomorrow."
The girls had organised themselves to see "the film". I was boarding in a hostel and going to a film was not the sort of thing I thought I would be allowed to do. I wasn't even going to ask.
But I did see the film. All the girls who were going - and only the Exclusive Brethren girls were not - all put in a small amount of their pocket money, probably no more than tuppence each. (Yes, this was before decimal currency.) One of the other girls arranged for her father to pick me up and take me back to the hostel. Her mother had obtained permission and Miss G... who was in charge did not consult my mother (who would have said "no")  she simply thought I should go too.
    "Come on. It's all organised. You're going too."
I still felt homesick and the class teacher still ridiculed me but suddenly I wasn't being bullied. It only lasted two terms before I had to move again but it was good. 
It was just one girl to start with - and that's enough. One person can make a difference. 
I've gone on trying to remember that. I hope the boy I heard about gets his one person too...not the adults apparently rallying around him but someone his own age who "just wants to be friends."

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Men's clothing

is normally a simpler matter - or is it?
The Senior Cat's "wardrobe" has to be reviewed. One of the things he hates doing these days is getting dressed and undressed. He finds it extremely difficult to do. It is slow and time consuming.
Yes, I have offered to help. The response I get - most of the time - is,
    "I can do it myself."
Fair enough. He can do it himself - with a little help from me. 
Part of the problem is that he is the ultra-conservative. He still likes to wear white shirts if he is "going out", traditional grey  trousers and so on.
His  "around home" clothing is appalling...and he loves it. His "work trousers" have multiple pockets in them - in which he keeps his pocket knives (the knives which end up in the wash if I am not careful),  pieces of binder twine he uses in the garden, a screw or two, the small screwdriver, a pencil stub, a handkerchief or two and much more. The shirts are no better. I threw out two last year. I threw them out after showing him they had simply shredded in the washing machine they were so old. Could I buy him some more? I said I would look "but they don't make shirts like that any more". He was not happy.
There are glue and paint stains - and other, unidentifiable, stains on the work clothes. These are left over from days spent in the garden and in the shed.
S...., who comes to help him shower, tries to get him to wear something slightly more respectable. She cannot understand that  the better clothes are not there to be worn just around the home. They are still "too good" for that.
It was comforting to read a BBC article about Fair Isle and the fact that one gentleman still owns a pullover which  is at least fifty years old. 
The Senior Cat's older tweed jacket has turned seventy-five. If I had known the exact date I might have given it a party. And yes, he can and does still wear it. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Holden cars

will no longer be/people prefer an SUV.
Yes, it does rhyme.
More seriously the "iconic" Holden is apparently not  going to be produced any longer. It comes as no surprise. The manufacturing plants in this state closed some time ago.
As a kitten I remember "Holden's" on the Port Road. Back then it was a "real traffic jam" if you happened to be trying to get somewhere when there was a shift change. I don't know whether we would look at it like that now but we children were always amazed by the sight of what seemed like thousands of men pouring out of the factory gates. In reality it was probably only hundreds but it was a very big workforce. Get a job there and you had a job for life back then. Men worked there for their entire working lives. All that went long ago. 
Things moved to the north, to the satellite city named after Queen Elizabeth. Men still thought they had jobs for life, indeed many of them did.
But things changed. Asia industrialised. The unions here priced the workforce out of contention with their ever increasing demands for "better wages and conditions" while Asia used (and often still uses) what amounted to almost slave labour. 
The federal government started to prop the industry up, a loan here and a loan there...more money and then more money. The unions kept flexing their muscles. It became more and more expensive.
And then something else happened too. People began to want something different. A standard Holden car was no longer the thing. It became possible to buy not just the rival Ford but many other sorts of cars. Vehicles like Mitsubishi and Toyota, Honda, Suzuki, Kia, Lexus, Audi, Subaru and many more became much more readily available. There were all the 4WDs that people seemed to think were essential for merely suburban driving.
A friend of mine at university had a 4WD. It was a battered thing which had done a lot of serious travelling on rough terrain. He retained it simply because, as a mature age self-supporting student, he couldn't afford to replace it with anything else. He was not impressed by people who bought the same sort of vehicle with no intention of doing more than a limited amount of suburban travel.
If C.... was still alive I am sure he would be saying that the loss of the Holden is as much to do with the fact  that people have bought themselves a "Land Cruiser" as the cost of manufacturing it here.
I had to go past the local high school the other day just as school had ended for the day. There were no less than eleven of those huge vehicles picking students up - students who could probably walk or ride home.
No wonder the Holden car has ceased to be produced. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

No, it wasn't true

and it wasn't fair either.
I had to keep an eye on the Twitter feed yesterday because I needed to know what was being reported about an incident elsewhere - and whether I would need to take action.
But there was something else that caught my eye too. It was the story of a man called "Paul Parker".  
Now Mr Parker is to be admired for volunteering as a fire fighter. It's a dirty, dangerous job and I would be among the first to support a fire fighter who was dismissed from the role simply because he had criticised the Prime Minister in some strong Anglo-Saxon language. I don't doubt that there were many other fire fighters who cursed the Prime Minister, every MP, the federal, state and local governments and a great many other things as well. That wasn't the problem.
The problem is that the story, which was repeated over and over again, simply wasn't true. The fire fighter in question had not been dismissed. He wasn't telling anyone that. People were buying him drinks at his local pub thinking he was some sort of hero for criticising the Prime Minister and being wrongfully dismissed for doing so.
He even raised the question, "How can a volunteer be dismissed?" (It is possible to dismiss a volunteer who brings discredit on an organisation - and so it should be.) 
Mr Parker however had not been dismissed. He was using the situation and so were a great many other people. Among them was a particularly high profile media commentator. Even after he must have known the story was not true he kept repeating it.
He kept repeating it until it was discovered that the fire fighter in question was not the far left wing Labor supporter or the Green that everyone had supposed him to be. He is apparently a supporter of the far right instead.  There has been silence from the high profile media commentator and silence from some of the usual suspects. 
It doesn't change what Mr Parker has said but apparently it changes their opinion of him. 
I am not really surprised by this. The high profile commentator (for my Downunder readers this was not Andrew Bolt for once) has not been silent for long. He is back this morning - this time criticising the Prime Minister for not continuing to subsidise the ailing Holden car industry.  What he is simply ignoring is that Holden has already had millions of dollars of taxpayer money and, despite that, people were not buying Holden cars. Why should the government give taxpayer money to a company which is making a product people no longer want to buy?
It is convenient of course for the commentator in question to simply forget this awkward fact. He's not in the business of facts. He is in the business of trying to bring down the government. The worrying thing is that he also teaches politics and journalism at one of Downunder's more reputable universities. It is worrying because, as an academic, he should be more aware of the dangers of what he is doing. 
But yesterday was a good reminder to me. "Don't believe what you read on the Twitter feed. check your facts." What I needed to know eventually came up - with a link to something I read quietly and carefully. Having done that I sent two emails. Something was done and a potentially serious situation was averted by someone who had taken the trouble to check with me and several other people. It felt good to have a small part in that process. I just wish everyone was as careful as the person who alerted me and the others involved that something needed to be done. 

Monday, 17 February 2020

"You can't take that to school"

seems to be said more and more often.
There is a piece in the paper this morning by Andrew Bolt, a writer of whom I am wary.  Is he correct in saying that a school in another state has banned "cupcakes"?
Now I am not particularly fond of cake. This is probably because it rarely appeared in my school lunch box. When I was too small a kitten to make my own lunch I would find (1) a Vegemite (sort of Marmite) sandwich and (2) a piece of fruit already peeled or cut up or something. If I had been "very good" there might be a biscuit. I would eye off with envy the jam sandwiches, peanut "paste" (not "butter" back then) sandwiches, the cheese sandwiches, egg sandwiches and so on. The other children seemed to have cake and biscuits on a regular basis. I don't think they had as much fruit. We all ate white bread because brown, grain, rye, seed etc was almost unheard of. 
But, back to the cake. There was plenty of cake around. If you bought your lunch from the school canteen then it was likely a pie, pasty or sausage roll and a bun of some sort. (Oh how I envied those children who, on a cold winter's day, were tucking in to a hot pie or pasty.) Nobody considered that the "cream bun" - a stodgy white dough like affair slit diagonally and filled with a dab of sweet red "jam" and ersatz cream - was bad for you. Home made sultana cake was common too. I remember watching other children consume that and leaving crumbs everywhere.
When I was old enough to make my own lunch things didn't change much. They didn't change much because my mother would tell me and my brother what we could have -but we had to do it ourselves. There wasn't any cake to be had. Cake was something that appeared on birthdays and when we went to visit our grandmothers. Our mother would occasionally make a batch of biscuits. This would likely happen when visitors who needed more than a batch of scones were expected. The remaining biscuits were a treat. We only had "bought biscuits" in other people's houses and the strict rule was that we could only have one - even if we were offered another one.
I suppose our mother thought all of this was good for us. Perhaps it was. I do eat fruit in preference to cake - or is it that I am too lazy to make cake? I do buy biscuits occasionally but neither the Senior nor I eat much of that sort of thing. 
But, it doesn't mean that I would stop other people eating that sort of thing. I wouldn't police what goes into a lunch box to the extent of banning "cupcakes" or "muesli bars" or anything else. I can remember the day one of the children in the Year 6 class I once taught brought cake to school. It came in a huge tray, enough for the entire class. His grandmother had made it. She was Greek and spoke not a word of English but she knew that one of the other children in the class had a birthday and that his mother would not be able to afford anything at all. Her grandson and this boy had often done small things to help her and she wanted to repay the boy. 
The cake was divided. We all had a piece. It was magnificent cake, moist and lemony.  We discussed how it had been made. There was no nonsense about gluten free vegan diets or anything else. Even the boy in the class who was diabetic had a small piece  after we worked out that it was within his allowance for the day. 
Sharing food is a way of showing our care and concern and pleasure in the company of others. Yes, there are some issues to think about but an outright ban on cupcakes is probably doing more harm than good.
 

Sunday, 16 February 2020

The power of the internet

or the "world wide web" is not to be underestimated. And, when it acts as a force for good, it can be very good indeed.
Yesterday one of my knitting colleagues, who lives in far off Kirkwall, put up a notice on her Facebook page to say that the beanie pattern we designed between us had raised A$750 to donate to a GoFundMe page for the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park. Add another A$75 "tip" to that and  there is $825. 
It is perhaps only a "drop in the ocean" when you consider what is actually needed but it is a start. 
And yesterday afternoon I had a short conversation with one of the islanders. He was over here briefly for a long standing medical appointment - from which there was some much needed good news. 
Of course I asked how things were going. He was one of the fortunate ones who did not lose his home.
    "Still clearing debris Cat,"  he told me, "S.... reckons I look like something out of a coal pit each night."
S....is his partner. I went to school with her mother.
    "How is she coping?"
    "Don't know how she is doing it. She has the kids off to school and then she is just hard at it. We're both absolutely knackered at the end of the day."
The fire came to within metres of their house. They consider themselves "one of the lucky ones". And yes, in a way they are. I know some of that "debris" will be animals that did not survive and whose carcasses now need to be buried. There are trees that need to come down because they are no longer safe. S....has been out there wielding a chainsaw to help him and his brother.
He asked after the Senior Cat. His father was taught by the Senior Cat. He's been out there too - out until it is too dark to be safe most days. 
I told him how the shed clearing had started. 
   "Piddling little job,"he told me with a wry smile.
I know.
And the good news from his point of view?
   "We found a little cluster of koalas on Tuesday - moved them to a new location on Wednesday - took us half the day to do it."
I wondered how they had done it. Turns out his eleven year old son had done some tree climbing - before and after school.
They are working incredibly hard - but they will get there.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

"Are they the biggest ones ever?"

T.... wants to know. He is looking at the knitting needles my brother made. He has picked them up and pretended to knit with them.
    "That's really hard to do."
I go to hand over two smaller needles. He is not interested. He takes the two big needles to his mother,
    "Look Cat  has two ginormous ones for doing knitting."
His mother has already seen them but she dutifully looks at them again.
     "Cat's brother made those."
     "How?"
I explain as best I can without the machinery there to show him. His father is not a "hammer and nails" man.  He nods and then asks,
     "Have you got any really, really little ones?"
I show him a pair of 1.5mm needles.
     "No, they aren't the same."
     "They do the same thing. They are still knitting needles," I tell him.
      "No. Those are different."
      "Yes. They are smaller."
      "No, not different like that."
      "What do you mean?"
He frowns. Eventually after a long silence he says,
      "They are made from different stuff. The big ones feel nicer."
He's right. There is a difference. Wood does feel nicer than metal here.
      "You are absolutely right," I tell him, "They do feel different. I like the way the wooden needles feel too."
      "They should always be wood ones then."
Do I try to explain why some knitting needles need to be metal?
In the end I didn't but I thought how wise T...'s mother has been. He has almost no plastic toys. His parents have bought wooden toys and asked his close relatives to do the same. His father may not be a "hammer and nails" man but T... is still growing up to appreciate the feel of timber and the pleasure of holding it.
I might even teach him about the pleasure of knitting real wool on real timber needles one day.
 

Friday, 14 February 2020

Chinese students

who did not return home for the summer break are, rightly, concerned about their fellow students now stuck in China.
    "They should just allow them to return here if they are not sick," one of the girls told me yesterday. 
I explained what the problem was and she looked even more worried, indeed close to tears.
    "I do not know Cat. It is bad."
Officials in China are apparently trying to put pressure on authorities here to once again allow travel to occur. I hope that the relevant authorities here will not succumb to pressure and put more lives at risk. The cost of succumbing to that pressure might well be much higher than remaining firm.
We have had two reported cases in this state. They were Chinese nationals who attended a house sale. The real estate agent had to close for at least a fortnight. Other people at the same sale had to be traced. There has been no more news - yet. I hope there isn't.
We have a good healthcare system here but it would be quickly overloaded. Unlike China we could not build a "hospital" in a week.
The woman who comes to help the Senior Cat shower is Chinese. We like her very much. Her brother is a doctor in China. She has told us something about his working conditions and they are not good. She has told us something about the health care available in China. It is limited, especially for the poor - of whom there are many. Life expectancy is lower - although not as low as many people might think. (It is around 76 and here in Downunder it is around 82.) The number of people who use tobacco in China is much higher than it is here and that too is likely one reason the death toll has risen so quickly there.
But we would still be very vulnerable here. We wouldn't be cured with a course of antibiotics.
Yes, the financial implications are huge - but what is a human life worth compared with that?

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Reading bands or reading levels

as they are known here still puzzle me. The idea that you cannot put a word into something "because it is not on the list" seems strange to me.
Let me explain.
When I was a very small kitten, around two years of age, I wanted to learn to read. The very best part of each day for me was sitting on the Senior Cat's bony knees and being read to. We would choose my "bedtime" story and then he would hold his left arm around me. The book would be in his left hand. With his right hand he would point to each word as he read it.
I couldn't read then but I did associate words with marks on the page. I could recognise my name.
By the time I was three there were words all over the house. My mother would, in best "infant school print" label objects. There was a list of "little words" - words like "the", "for", "and", "is", "on", "up", "yes" and "no" on the kitchen cupboard. The Senior Cat would put them together in sentences for me. I would get very cross indeed if we couldn't do some "reading" every day.
I knew the word "elephant" because there was an elephant in one of the Little Golden books. I knew the "ph" was the same as it was in "photo". I could also read "plough" and "scythe" because we lived in an area where those things were used.  
At the age of four I went to school. Back then you could start school in the year you turned five. My birthday was at the end of the year but why wait? My mother was only too glad to have me out of the house. She had two more to care for at that time. 
Of course at school we had a "reader". I had already read that and the next "reader" and quite a few more as well. The Senior Cat had been bringing them home, along with books from the tiny school library shelves. He never suggested I couldn't read something. I was left to find that out for myself.
We went through much the same process with my brother and my nephews here and then I did it with Ms W when she wanted to learn to read. My brother reads a lot, one of my nephews does too. Ms W kicked up a real fuss when they tried to prevent her from reading what she wanted to read at school. I had to go along and say, "Yes, she can read and understand that. Listen to her."
So all this reading bands or reading levels business puzzles me a bit. It seems fine as guidance with respect to what we might expect a child to do but it shouldn't stop words being used. After all there is a child who lives in the next street who informed me the other day,
   "I am going to be a paleo-biologist and look after the dinosaurs' bones."
He turned four last week. He knows more about dinosaurs than I do.  He can read a great many things.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

"Stuck on a cruise ship

somewhere out on the ocean - and not by choice."
Someone I know in the sort of vague "I recognise you from the library" way was saying this as I passed her yesterday. She gave me a nod of acknowledgment and I realised her mother was not with her. They usually come into the library together. Her mother is a voracious reader and I was going to give her some details about something else as well.
So, I asked.
    "Mum's gone to look after my grandfather. My grandmother is on that cruise ship that docked in Hong Kong - the one that no other port will take. She's with my great aunt. I'm worried sick. There haven't been any cases of that virus yet but if there are it will go through the ship like wild fire and those two would have no chance. What in the hell did the captain think he was doing?"
I could understand her concern. I'd be worried too. The Senior Cat would stand no chance at his age and her grandmother, although ten years younger, is not in the best state of health. It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime. It was supposed to be real respite from looking after her invalid husband. 
I wonder just how many other people on that ship are in a similar situation? Someone else cheerfully said to me, "Think of it - all that holiday!"
It wouldn't be a holiday. I doubt people are mixing. The news suggests people are staying in their own cabins. Being stuck in one of those, particularly in an inner one where there is no natural light or air,  would be worse than house arrest. What would you do all day?
I am not likely to go cruising. If I ever do please remind me to take a lot of knitting and a lot to read - oh and a large pile of notebooks and pens to write up the experience ready for the blog. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

The Public Service

is not a "public" service.
I had a phone call yesterday. It was from one of those delightfully named "public servants" who really should know better by now.
   "Cat, I am wondering if you could do something for me..."
   "No, I don't even want to know what it is," I told her.
   "Oh, come on...at least let me tell you."
 I listened. Yes, a "training day" and could I come along and talk about...
    "And are you prepared to pay me?"
    "We haven't got any money to pay you but I'll get you a couple of taxi vouchers."
    "No, sorry. I am not going to do it. If you want me to do it then I want to be paid. It will be a lot of preparation. I would have to get someone to check on the Senior Cat and that's the day before something else I am preparing for."
She was not best pleased. 
   "Oh really Cat! We depend on people like you."
And that is the problem. There are far too many public servants without nearly enough to do. I know of one who is quietly studying for a degree in a different area as he waits for "redeployment". He was smart enough to see where things were heading and is willing to do the work.  Unlike some he also recognised the need to retrain.  
They need to retrain some more in areas where people are needed or get rid of them and put in people who do have training. 
But they don't need to do it using people like me. I have occasionally helped out - when I have thought the well being of people with profound physical and intellectual disabilities was seriously at risk. That wasn't the case this time and I have in fact said that they need to find other people now. There are younger people around who are more in tune with "the way things are done now". 
The "we have no money" excuse is unacceptable. If it is worth asking someone to do something then it is worth paying them. If there is no money then money has to be found elsewhere. Surely some of those with no role could be retrained or offered separation packages? Why should people like myself be expected to work for nothing when that sort of thing is going on? 
No, I don't particularly want the money - although that would be nice - I just want to be treated with some respect. Failing to pay me and others like me isn't doing that.
    "Well, I'll see if T.... can do it," my caller said.
I phoned T.... 
    "Thanks Cat. She can find someone else," T... said.
The problem is she probably will but it won't be me or T... or the person T... thought the caller might try. Will the message get through? I doubt it.  

Monday, 10 February 2020

Of droughts and flooding rains

 There is a poem by Dorothea McKellar, "My Country" which is probably still taught to children in school here.  I think I endured it every year through the primary school. For those of you who don't know it I have copied it (legally) below. 
It is the second verse which most children know. When I was taught it the first verse was  usually ignored - and, more often than not, the last four were as well.  The Senior Cat thought otherwise but undoubtedly struggled to teach children in a small "bush school" what "field and coppice" and the like actually meant. The children in that far off place were used to "paddocks" and "saltbush". 
It isn't a poem I particularly like but the Senior Cat quoted the second verse yesterday just after speaking to my brother and SIL. They left yesterday. Their plane was delayed because of the weather in the eastern states. My brother said it was the roughest trip he had ever done. He was clearly relieved to be on the ground - wet though it might have been. 
But, they couldn't get home. They ended up spending the night with my niece and her family. The drought had turned to floods. Almost a metre of water had been measured over the bridge on the road leading into the town where they live. People were being asked to stay off the roads if possible.  My brother wasn't going to risk travelling if they had somewhere to stay. It also meant he could help my nephew-in-law pump water from their property.
The "climate change" doomsayers told us there wouldn't be any rain for at least six months. They told us that when it came there would not be much of it. The Bureau of Meteorology was a little more positive than the doomsayers but they didn't forecast this. The eldest member of a farming family I know was even more positive,
    "I tell you Cat that mob don't know what they are talking about. It will rain. It always does in the end."
Perhaps we should be listening to farmers who have lived for nearly a century? 

Here's "My Country" 


The love of field and coppice
Of green and shaded lanes,
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins.
Strong love of grey-blue distance,
Brown streams and soft, dim skies
I know, but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!

The stark white ring-barked forests,
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon,
Green tangle of the brushes
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops,
And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When, sick at heart, around us
We see the cattle die
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the rainbow gold,
For flood and fire and famine
She pays us back threefold.
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze ...

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand
though Earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.

**

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Bullying in schools

seems to be on the increase here. 
There has been a case reported in the media here about a new high school student who ended up in hospital after a group of older girls attacked her. It's an extreme case but a deeply disturbing one. 
I personally know of another new high school student who was also attacked. On his first day at high school a group of older boys grabbed him pulled him into the toilets, threw his belongings around and stamped on them. They then held his head down into a toilet bowl and flushed it. 
The police and courts are involved in the first case. The two main perpetrators have been suspended. It is said one of them won't be returning to the school. The victim is still not well enough to return to school she was so badly injured.
The school is involved in the second case. The police probably should be but the school "decided to deal with it internally". It's a state high school that says it has "a reputation to consider". The victim is apparently less important than the reputation of the school because the parents have been given legal advice to say nothing. The victim is on the smaller side for his age, wears glasses and has difficulty walking following a road accident. He didn't stand a chance against five boys three or four years older than he is. 
Right now he doesn't want to go to school. Who can blame him?  His sister is being subjected to "comments on social media" because "he is a cry-baby" and a "wimp" and more. 
The other boys were not suspended because the school didn't want them to miss out on the first weeks of the new school year. I suspect there is more to it than that.  One of the boys alleged to be involved has a father who wields considerable influence. 
Both these schools have "anti-bullying programs". I just wonder what good they are doing. Are they having an opposite effect than the one intended - at least on some students? Are they just making some students more aware of what they can get away with?

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Writing a review

of my "shopping experience" or being asked to "tell us how we did" and more are beginning to make me want to scream.
This seems to be part of the "on-line shopping experience". It doesn't occur in the bricks and mortar world. 
If I go into my local bookshop (a place I love) the staff know me. I can buy what I need or want, pay for it and say "thank you" like a good little well brought up cat and that is it. I do not have to "review" my experience.
The "on line" buying world doesn't seem to operate by the same rules. They want me to "review" and tell them "how (they) did". They say it is so that others will know that they are reliable and safe to buy from. Perhaps. It seems more likely that they want their customers to do their advertising for them.
I bought something for the Senior Cat recently. The item was not available here. We made inquiries and the most likely and most helpful place here told us "only available on line".  They could order it or we could order it. It would be faster if we ordered it. I ordered it. And yes, it arrived promptly. I acknowledged the arrival and thanked them.
It should have been an end to the matter but I then had a request from them to "review my shopping experience". I ignored it. I then had another "reminder" that I had not yet done this. I ignored that too. I then had a "query". What was wrong? Why hadn't I done this? I have ignored that too.
I fill out enough forms in my day job. I don't need to do this. I thanked them and that should be sufficient.
And it isn't even just on line shops that are trying to demand feedback now. The Post Office has sent messages wanting to know what I thought of their service. The bank asked me the other day. (They warned me in advance it was going to happen.) A "public service" department asked me after I had given them information they had requested.  (It would have been much more appropriate for me to be asking them for feedback about my performance!)
It seems that everyone wants "feedback" in order to advertise themselves or perhaps, in a small number of cases, to reassure themselves. Thanking people apparently isn't sufficient any more.
I have thought about this. I am wondering if it is because we don't have enough face-to-face contact any more?

Friday, 7 February 2020

Photocopying is

rather different these days.
Do you remember those enormous machines which worked very slowly and kept on jamming? There was a machine in the basement of the building I worked in at the university in London. My little "office" was next door to it. I would hear the thumps and bangs and occasional swear words as people tried to get it to work. Sometimes a face would appear around my door and someone would say,
    "Cat, do you know anything about..." or "Cat, can you get the wretched thing to work?"
I would go in and look. It wasn't because I believed I would be any more successful than the person who asked. It was simply because I sympathised. I wanted to give moral support. Once or twice I even managed to pull out a piece of paper which had jammed. 
I knew how to load paper into the machine - and do it the right way up too. If you didn't do that then the machine would sulk. They were temperamental things.
The copying was only in black and white of course. We still thought it was pretty good. It meant I only had to type my first thesis once. Photocopies of the required copies were acceptable - and they hid a mass of correction tape.
All this had to be done page by page from the original document.  You had to get the piece of paper you were copying lined up straight on the screen and close the lid and....hope for the best.
We moved on to photocopiers that could do colour printing. I never had much to do with those. 
Libraries put photocopiers in. Our local library now had three machines. You can scan anything in up to A3 size and print it off.  There were dire warnings about copyright. Sadly people seem to think that copying anything in any amount is acceptable. It isn't but I doubt it will change. 
You can copy at home. You can even print in colour at home. I have never ventured into colour printing at home. The printer attached to this computer chugs along in simple black and white.
But I needed something a bit more than that.
I went off to the big stationery business a few train stops away. I prowled in and lined up behind the people waiting. When it came to my turn I handed over  what I wanted copied.
    "Be about ten minutes. I think. There's still a big job ahead of you," the boy told me.
    "Can you bind it as well?" I asked, "I think the margins are big enough."
    "Sure thing."
Eight minutes later he waved me over again. He passed me over a copy of my recent thesis - the one I never intended to write. It was on better paper than I have  here at home. It was bound in simple comb binding. The front page has the university logo in colour. There is clear plastic cover over the top. It cost me about a fifth of what it once would, if that.
And with it he handed back a USB that had all the information the machine had needed to give me the hard copy.  I really do like modern technology when it means I don't need to carry vast quantities of paper around and feed them slowly into a machine one by one.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Clearing out the shed

is something I am leaving to Brother Cat and his partner unless they find things that need my attention.
    "Cat, there are two boxes there. Can you take a look please? It's stuff that looks as if it might belong to you."
Now I know that there are some things in the shed which belong to me. I thought they were in the small blue trunk. It is always possible of course that things have been shifted around without my knowledge.
I went out to look a little later. No, these things don't belong to me. They belonged to my mother. Why they were out in the shed is a mystery which will never be solved. It means they have been there more than twenty years.
I sort it. A tiny English-French dictionary my mother took on their trip to Europe. Her schoolgirl French was barely up to the task even with the dictionary but the Senior Cat knew none at all. The friends they travelled with believed everyone would speak English.
A couple of handbags - no, not good enough to be passed on. An old set of school pencils, a "rolling ruler", some cloth only fit for throwing out, a small carved box, and a t-shirt still in the packet  all come to light. I don't know who the t-shirt was intended for. It might have fit a child in the junior school. It's fine. The charity shop can have that.
In the other box I come across no less than eleven printed tapestry canvases. Where on earth did my mother get those? Tapestry would never have been her "thing". It would have been much too slow for her. There is some embroidery fabric too...the expensive Irish even  weave sort of linen. It's another mystery. My mother was never an embroiderer, or at least not by hand. She tried some machine embroidery for a while but she was too impatient to really enjoy it.
At the bottom of it all is some knitting yarn.
I had just found that when a friend called in to see the Senior Cat and wish him Happy Birthday. (He turned 97 yesterday.) J....belongs to the same group I belong to. I show her the yarn. 
    "Looks as if it might be okay," she said inspecting one lot closely.
"Might make a prayer shawl. Do you want me to wash it?" 
    "You can have it," I tell her.
I pass it over in the sure knowledge it will get used and pull the rest out.
     "This looks okay too. It just needs washing." 
It's another job I need to do. I'll skein it up and wash it carefully. If it is all right then it will survive washing. Then I can put it back into balls again and.... well, someone will use it.
I just hope they don't find any more yarn out there or, if they do, it doesn't need washing before I can give it to someone for the Replanting Australia project. 
I suppose that at some point today or tomorrow a box of books will be found in the shed...and they will get the blue trunk down from where it sits on top of the old cabinet-dryer that ceased working forty years ago.
Sheds contain unexpected rubbish - and treasures.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Men's sheds

are nothing like those comfortable cosy craft spaces belonging to other humans.
The Senior Cat has a shed. He hasn't been able to use it for the last couple of years. Middle Cat read the Riot Act and told him he was not permitted to use the circular saw several years ago. He meekly agreed. Since then he has done little things but now he feels unsafe.
He has now passed the contents of the shed over to my brother. 
My brother has less space than the Senior Cat. He looked at the shed when he was here in November last year. He came into me looking a little pale.
    "Heck Cat! The mess out there...."
    "I know," I told him, "It's not safe to even venture in."
It isn't quite that bad but it isn't good. The friend from the Senior Cat's church who helps us with two hours of very heavy gardening once a fortnight needed some duct tape yesterday. I knew there was some in the shed.
     "It's in the drawers on the side," the Senior Cat told me.
     "No, it isn't. I thought it was too."
     "I had better come and look."
     "No, just think."
     "Well it is somewhere on the side. He can have a look."
I went back to our friend. We found it in one of the cupboards. His parting words were,
     "It's just as well your brother will be over tonight."
And yes, Brother Cat and his partner arrived last night. They are staying with Middle Cat and they will spend the next three days clearing out the shed - or as much of it as they can in that time. They came to see us before they settled in for the night and discussed how this was to be done.
     "But it might be useful...." the Senior Cat started to say. Brother Cat shook his head. 
      "I don't use slotted screws any more." 
Oh. The Senior Cat slumped.
      "I've got a couple of old golf ball typewriters out there. I picked them up for nothing. I used some of the springs..."
      "They are land fill now..."
      "What?!"
And so it went on.
Brother Cat hugged the Senior Cat before they left - not common these days. They love one another deeply but it seems men of a certain age don't hug one another.
After they had gone to Middle Cat's place the Senior Cat sat there staring into space for a long time. I know he isn't happy about not being able to use the shed and watching so much of it go is going to be even harder.
I went on clearing away the tea things. Then I heard him sigh and mutter,
     "At least  he'll get rid of those rusty old paint tins."
 

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

"I've been diagnosed as having Alzheimer's"

S.... told me yesterday.
He had been sitting, as he often does, in a chair by his front door. He had given me a wave and  I had stopped briefly to speak to him. I know it had taken all he had to admit this to me. 
S...lives alone. He has never married. He worked for the further education sector but had been retired for about ten years. In that time he has done very little. He reads and he gardens. He goes for solitary walks. Occasionally, very occasionally, he goes out with a nephew who lives on the other side of the city. His sister lives in another state. 
I met him after his very elderly neighbour, now deceased, introduced me. S.... was going into hospital and she thought he needed to know that I was the person who sometimes took her prescriptions to the chemist. He didn't want me to do that. He was fiercely independent.
    "I don't want to be beholden to anyone," he had growled.
    "And if you don't let anyone check on you and you end up on the floor then you will be an even bigger nuisance," I told him. I sensed he was the sort of person who had to be told that. He was. He agreed reluctantly that, if he needed help, I would do the chemist and the milk run.
He asked for help twice. I left prescriptions at the chemist. I later discovered that he had bought a supply of "long-life" milk to see him through his convalescence. 
His neighbours have never been into the house. I have never been into his house or his garden. I simply picked the prescription up out of his letter box. He has never directly said please or thank you but  he did start to talk to me if he happened to be out working in his garden. Three years in a row though he gave me his lavender cuttings with a rough, "You might be able to use those."
And now?
I don't know what he will do. He isn't the sort of man you can ask. He knows I will help if he needs help of the sort I can give. It must have cost an enormous amount for this intensely private man to admit  his problem to me. I certainly couldn't tell him that I had wondered recently whether there wasn't a serious issue there. He had seemed confused and forgetful and he hasn't fully understand the diagnosis of another serious condition.
I wonder what will happen to him. Will he go on staying there to the point where he can't care for himself and the house, which is not in good repair anyway, starts to fall down around him? Will his nephew, a busy man by all accounts, have to try and help? It won't be wanted. 
I know I'll need to go on making contact when he wants it - and that won't be often. How long before he "forgets" who I am?
How do you help someone like him?

Monday, 3 February 2020

The proposed nuclear dump

which has been under discussion in this state was back in the paper this morning. This time there was a picture of some children who "oppose" it.
Now let me explain about the proposed depository - and yes, it is a "depository" and not a "dump". "Depository" suggests something planned and cared for while  "dump" suggest thrown somewhere - at least it does to me. I suspect it does to many others as well. That is why some people see it as so important to use the word "dump".
The depository though is intended for the storage of waste associated with nuclear medicine.
Now nuclear medicine is used to look at, diagnose and treat certain medical issues. It uses tiny amounts of radiation in the process. Yes, there is a (small) risk in that - but the benefits would seem to my non-medically trained self to far outweigh the risks.
And so we have nuclear medicine and we have nuclear waste from nuclear medicine. I know people who would not be alive today if it were not for nuclear medicine.
That nuclear waste has to be stored somewhere. We humans still haven't worked out how to make the waste entirely safe so it has to be stored somewhere considered "safe" - or as safe as possible. Yes? 
Apparently not - at least not if you are a Green. You will oppose it in parliament. You will stir up opposition in the community. You will tell children that there shouldn't be a "dump".
And you will make no attempt to explain the benefits of nuclear medicine and nuclear medical research. If you did that then the children you are so carefully indoctrinating might start to question you.
I read all this in an email from a mother of a twelve year old boy yesterday. The boy has apparently been arguing furiously with her over "the dump". She has tried to tell him what I have just said above. He isn't listening. She is wrong and he is right. His new teacher has told them "all about it".
   "Cat, do you think it is all right for me to talk to the headmaster about this? I do think the kids need to know but they need to know all sides, not just one side."
My response was "absolutely all right". I think it is like a lot of other contentious issues. If those issues are going to be discussed at all then they have to be discussed in a balanced way. If we don't do that then children aren't being taught to think for themselves. They aren't even being really taught to listen.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

No driver's licence

does not bother me most of the time. There are however rare occasions on which I did have one. Yesterday was one of those times.
I had to go to a meeting yesterday afternoon. In the late morning someone called me to ask if I would put in an apology. She sounded close to tears.
   "What's happened J....?" I asked.
   "I was closing the kitchen window and I felt something go snap," she told me.
Oh. The last thing J.... needs is an injury to either arm because she uses a mobility aid to walk around. She lives alone too - apart from two cats. There is nobody there to help.
We continued the conversation and came to the conclusion that, despite the pain, she probably had not broken anything. But I still said, "You need to get someone to look at it. Can you get yourself there in a taxi?"
She decided she could but of course that was the point at which I wished I could say, "I'll get someone to call in on the Senior Cat and come and take you there."
I went off to the meeting a bit later - leaving the Senior Cat at the point where he was contemplating his afternoon snooze. It wasn't a particularly pleasant meeting. There was some trouble we could all have done without. Even without that I was concerned.
As soon as I was home I called. No reply. I assumed, rightly it turned out, that she was still at the hospital. Again I thought to myself, "If I had a car I could call the hospital and..."
J....phoned much later. She was home. They had actually wanted to keep her there but there was nobody there to care for the cats. So, heavily dosed with pain killers, she had gone home to care for them.  Again I wished I could drive. I could have gone to care for the cats but J.... lives quite a distance from here. It isn't close to a train line - something I would need to get there without a car.
And where was everyone else? That's the problem. There really isn't anyone apart from a relative by marriage. He is very good to her but he isn't well either. When J...'s husband was alive they had each other but now she is alone she is isolated unless she can drive. Even that is a problem because she has to get her mobility aid in and out of her vehicle and that is not easy.
J... is usually cheerful but yesterday she was close to tears. I couldn't be there for her in the way I wanted to be. It made me want that licence to drive. Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I could!

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Birthday presents

are usually books in this household. It makes no difference that the Senior Cat will turn 97 on the 5th of February or that he already has an extensive library. He will get books given to him.
I bought him two. One is called, "Around the world in 80 trees". It is by Jonathon Drori. A friend of his recommended it. I think the Senior Cat will enjoy it in a "dipping in" sort of way. The other is Tom Holland's "Dominion" which he will read slowly but read from beginning to end.
I will need to read these too - so that the Senior Cat has someone to discuss the ideas with. I find myself doing this more and more now.
   "Do not," I tell him, "expect me to read books about conjuring. If you want to talk about those then find someone else."
I am still a much faster reader than the Senior Cat but I am not as fast as I used to be. There isn't quite the same need for speed as there was when I prowled off to law school.
The amount of reading we were given to do in law school far exceeded the amount I had to do in my other university courses.  It was no good just reading the "head notes" - those useful little notes at the top of a case that told you the main points. Some of the younger students tried to get away with that - and they did when the lecturer was not the sort to pounce and ask, "Now what did the judge actually say here..."  The more mature students knew that we really did need to read an know precisely what was said. "Keeping up with the reading" was something you did if you were sensible.
I complained to my first  year tutor that my reading speed had dropped dramatically.
   "And how fast are you reading Cat?" she asked.
I told her. She laughed and said, "That's about three or four times faster than most students - and we know you are taking it in. Many of them aren't yet and some of them never will be fast."
It was the language and the vocabulary of course.  There were members of staff who were not much faster than me and several of the other older students. There were also members of staff who read at three times the speed and managed to retain what they had read.
I mentioned this to the Senior Cat the other day. He was complaining that he had "slowed down". Yes, he has. I told him it didn't matter because he is still reading. He hasn't watched television for years now. I keep meaning to watch programs and so does he but somehow we never get around to it. There is always something we want to read and even need to read.
There is a nicely wrapped birthday parcel sitting next to the Senior Cat's favourite chair. It is from my cousin and his partner. I suspect his partner chose it because he shares the same love of books. It will have been chosen with care. I was quietly told it is another book I will need to read.
But what would a birthday be like without a book?

Friday, 31 January 2020

Godfathers

come in all shapes and sizes and sorts.
Mine come to visit us yesterday. It is almost certainly the last time he will do it. He will turn 95 on the 6th of March and his children say it is time he gave up driving. I suspect it is too.
My godfather is still intellectually sharp. He is getting increasingly deaf. That problem started early - on a naval ship in the Pacific during WWII.  He is a very tall, very thin man with a "bad back" - another war time injury where some vertebrae were crushed. It didn't stop him working although there must have been times when the pain felt unbearable.
And cars have always been an important part of his life. He has driven since he was fifteen. No, it wasn't legal even then but there were no computers to do an age check and  he  was so tall he got away with it. He has an absolutely clean driving record too.
But when he gives up driving? He sighed.
   "Yes, it's time...on my birthday. I had to come to see you and I am going to see my brother."
He lives too far from us for me to help. His children will help when they can  but... His wife is in the early stages of a form of dementia. She gets very anxious if he leaves her even just to walk down the driveway to their letter box. Their daughter was "mum-sitting" yesterday - so he could come to see us.
I put the kettle on. I listened. I heard all the words and I also heard the despair and depression underneath. 
My godfather and I barely saw one another for years. It was just one of those things. My mother wanted someone else to be my godfather. I am always grateful that the Senior Cat said "no".  A very close friend of my mother was my godmother and that was a good choice. We were close. I needed her at times. But it has only  been since the death of my mother that my godfather and I have grown closer. 
I watch him now. He is old, very old - although not as old as the Senior Cat.  There should be an easy way for him to get to us or the Senior Cat to get to him with a bit of help from me if necessary. It shouldn't be a matter of taxi fares. 
The old need company too. They need company just as much as the young. It is hard enough for them that members of their own generation are no longer with us. We ought to make it much easier for them to see those who remain whenever they want to do so.
 

Thursday, 30 January 2020

"Not more blanket squares!"

someone wailed yesterday.
We were talking about the Replanting Australia project and one of the women in the group was not happy at the thought of making any more squares. 
Nobody was saying she had to make a square but there was a sudden quiet in the room. I knew why and so did one or two others. I looked at someone else.
    "I have something to show you," she told everyone, "It's only a photograph because well...."
She brought out a photograph.
    "I came here as a refugee in 1960. Before that my parents and I had been living in a chicken house on a farm. The farmer let us live there and my parents worked on the farm in return for food. It was very cold in winter.  My brother had died because of the cold. My mother could not keep him warm. We had nothing else  unless someone gave it to us. My father had been a doctor but the war came and he was sent away for a long time. He had a friend here who thought we could come. It took a long time. When it all happened I was afraid because I did not believe people here would be any different. 
We landed in Melbourne on a very cold and wet day. I was wearing a blue cotton dress. It was too small for me but it was all I had. My father's friend met us and his wife took us to their church. There were women there who found another dress for me, one which fitted. It wasn't new but I liked it because it was warm. They found other things too. Nothing was new except one thing.
   "We made this for you," they told me.
It was a blanket. It was knitted in squares which seemed to be all the colours of the rainbow. The squares didn't quite match in places but I didn't notice that then because they told me it was for me. I looked at my mother and she was trying not to cry. This time it was not  because she was sad but because she was happy.
I couldn't say "thank you" because my throat felt as if it had closed up altogether. I did something I had never done before. I hugged someone I didn't know to say "thank you". She hugged me back.
I kept the blanket on my bed. When my daughter was old enough to know the story it went on her bed. Last year she gave it to her son and told him the story. It's still good because we take care of it. It isn't perfectly made but it is perfect because it was made with love and I loved it, still love it, because people made it for me. It made me believe I was loved and wanted. That is why we should make the squares."
There was silence and then the woman who had said, "Not more blanket squares!" asked me, 
    "Will you show me how to start?"
 

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Do we really need sports funding?

There is currently one of those political rows going on about funding and who gets it. 
I am sure you know the sort of thing I mean. It is one of those "it's not fair" sort of rows where the other side of politics claims and complains that the government of the day has been "pork barrelling" their own electorates. Of course the other side of politics has either never done anything like this or, if they are caught, then they have dealt with the issue immediately - and sacked the relevant Minister.
Both sides of politics do all of this - and more. It is how the game is played. You cheat. If you can get away with it that is even better.
What bothers me though is something rather different. It isn't a matter of who is getting the sports funding but whether they should be getting any at all. If they are getting funding then it is a matter of how much they should be getting.
Sport is expensive. Anyone who plays sport knows that there is a cost involved. It is said that people should play sport for any number of reasons to do with well being so we, the taxpayers, help to provide the facilities. Sounds fair doesn't it? We want people to be active, healthy and social don't we? There is plenty of research (of greatly varying quality) and anecdotal evidence to suggest that "sport is good for you".  I don't doubt that it is - if you actively play it and don't get involved in a "win at all costs" sort of way.
But how much of that activity should be funded?
I have said elsewhere in this blog that more people use libraries each week than attend a sports game of some sort or another as spectators. Even fewer people actually play sport.
Despite that libraries get less funding. Very few people could name a "famous" librarian. Librarians do not get well paid - and the job involves a lot more than putting books back on the shelves! Modern libraries also provide many services apart from books. Our local library runs different Storytelling groups for babies and preschoolers, games groups (Scrabble, Chess, Catan and more), French classes at three different levels, craft classes for kids and teenagers - just to name some of what goes on. I run the knitting and crochet group - which is well attended and about a great deal more than "little old ladies knitting garter stitch squares".  
And other things don't get funding at all. We don't put taxpayer funds into other hobbies. There are hobbies which might well be as beneficial as active involvement in sport and certainly more beneficial than simply watching it - especially just watching it on television at home. Yes, I know that can be "fun" but....
Why aren't we putting more funds into things like "walking groups" or getting "dog walking groups" together? Why don't we fund more "men's sheds" and the equipment to put in there? Why don't we fund buildings which are especially designed to house art and craft groups, amateur music groups, gardening clubs and more? All these things are important too. They can give people a life-long interest and help them build strong friendships. 
All that is even more important now. The nature of family relationships has changed. Social media has reduced the amount of face-to-face contact we have with each other. 
Spending so much money on sport to the exclusion of other things - and that is what is happening - is not helping to solve the issues of mental illness and obesity. It may actually be encouraging those things and contributing to the very serious problem of isolation in old age.
Sport is important. It is a very important part of the lives of some people. It isn't the only thing that is important though and it is time to recognise that.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

The Country Fire Service

still has forty-one units out fighting the fire on Kangaroo Island but it is now being "contained" - in other words it is not spreading beyond the perimeter.  That must be more than welcome relief to the men and women working on it. 
A former islander told me that her husband, now in his early eighties, had gone back to help their son. He is doing what farm work he can manage while his son is out helping others. She has been looking after their grandchildren and was taking them back to the island over the weekend.
They start back at school today. The school the Senior Cat was once the principal of is much smaller now. There will only be around 180 students there this year. It may be even less than that. When the Senior Cat was there the school had around 660. 
We were reminiscing about what it was like then. There were twelve school buses, eleven of them on the road at any time and the spare. The roads were not sealed. One school bus run started at just after seven in the morning and ended close to half-past five - and that was if nothing went wrong. The youngest children would often fall asleep, especially on the way home. 
It was the teachers who drove the buses. They were required to do it. They were paid a little extra for it but it was not nearly enough. The geography of the island is such that they would do most of the journey driving in to the sun in the mornings and in to the sun at night. 
They had to live at the end of their bus run. They lived in tiny caravans next to a house in which a school family lived. A caravan? Yes, because the houses were almost all small fibro-asbestos dwellings that the government had provided for the "soldier-settlers". There was no heating or cooling provided and, unless they used their own vehicles to return to the school at night, they worked under dim light from a 32v power supply.  If they did return to the school, as they sometimes did just for the company, then the big diesel generator had to be turned on so that there was power for lighting.
That was a long time ago now. The Senior Cat and his deputy worked very long hours. I remember the Senior Cat being in his office at the school by seven in the morning. He was not only responsible for the entire school, he was teaching at least three classes each day. He would appear just before we ate at six in the evening and then, more often than not, would need to go back to his office. (We lived next door to the school.) We children saw a little more of our mother but not a lot. She was what was then called "the Senior Mistress" and was responsible for the first three year classes.
This morning there was the usual "human interest" story in the paper about children returning to school today. It mentioned the children returning to the school I am talking about. The teachers there have not had a break over the summer - believe me teachers need that break! Today they will have to deal with children who are traumatised and anxious and who will act in all sorts of ways. Some will be aggressive and others will be withdrawn. Some will appear to be fine but may not concentrate well.  
The Senior Cat told me he was relieved it was not going to be his responsibility. I asked him if he would still go back in an emergency if asked to do so. He thought about it for just a moment and then said, "Yes, if I thought I could do it. I wouldn't want to but I'd do it for the children."
I think being a teacher, a good teacher, is a bit like being a parent. You always feel responsible.  

Monday, 27 January 2020

Australia Day has been

and gone for 2020. 
There has been the usual fuss about barbecues, beer, citizenship ceremonies, whether it is "invasion" day and much more. It was a quiet day in this house. It was a quiet day in our street. 
Our neighbours across the road are New Zealanders. Next door there is someone who is South Korean. Her neighbour is of Italian extraction. The man who lives further on is of German extraction. On one side of us the mother is Hungarian. On the other side the couple comes from Taiwan.
You get the idea? Downunder, they proudly tell us, is the "most successful multi-cultural country in the world".  I don't agree. It is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world but it is not a multi-cultural country. 
There is plenty of cultural diversity but there is only one legal system - for now.  Many different languages are spoken but there is only one official language - English. In order to be multi-cultural we would need the big things like more than one legal system and more than one language (and education system) to be in place.
I know that might sound as if I am "splitting hairs" (or cat's whiskers perhaps) but I really felt as if there was nothing to celebrate yesterday. It really didn't help that the news gave as much time, if not more, to people protesting that the day was "invasion day".  Changing the date won't help there. 
Brother Cat taught the politician who was suggesting children should be taught to swear allegiance to Downunder.  She isn't old enough to remember the old Friday "School Assembly" sessions in which we chanted, "I am an Australian. I love my country. I salute her flag. I honour her Queen. I promise to obey her laws." Then we would sing "God Save the Queen" and "the Song of Australia". I never felt comfortable doing it. That was long before Downunder became so culturally diverse. I went all the way through my infant and junior school years doing that and even now I cringe at what we were asked to do.  I don't think getting children to swear allegiance now is going to work any sort of miracle of acceptance. Do we really need a day like this?

Sunday, 26 January 2020

The Honours List

is out this morning.
I know two people on it - neither of them well. One is a former politician who has continued to be involved in a wide range of community activities.  She is one of those rare politicians who probably does deserve to be acknowledged for her work in other fields. I know she leads a rather busy life - and gets things done. 
Perhaps the other politicians who are, inevitably, on the list also get things done that I know nothing about.
The other person is an embroiderer, quilter, artist and the like. She knows an enormous amount about Gujarat and Moroccan textiles. Her work is heavily influenced by those traditions. It is not just simply "colourful" but almost fiery with colours from the deserts. She leads tours to Morocco and India. (I'd love to do them but know I never will.) She teaches. Not being an embroiderer I have never done one of her classes but people tell me her classes are usually "one of the best I have ever done". I have heard her telling people how to do something and there is a quiet authority there - the sort which will give a student confidence.
I thought of all that this morning when I saw her name in the list because yesterday there were some knitters here. One of them had brought a project she had finally finished from the first class I taught at the Embroiderers' Guild Summer School some years ago. Yes, a couple of mistakes but does that matter? It was her first attempt at lace work and everyone makes mistakes. I know I do.
It still looks good.  The same person also brought her second project from another class I taught. I know she will finish it. I reminded her how to do a simple two stitch cable without a cable needle. I'd forgotten the pattern I gave the class. (If I had known she was going to bring her work I would have looked up the file and refreshed my memory.)
What interested me though was the idea that, if you are open to ideas, you can go on learning. You can go on learning about the subject, the form and the idea you are teaching. There is never an end to it. You can go on learning from the people who are supposedly your students.  The honours day artist once told me in conversation that there was "still so much to learn".  
I know. I keep wanting forty-eight hours in each day - not a mere twenty-four.
When I was talking to another group on Friday I discovered they pursued a wide range of crafts. One of them asked if I had ever taken up  card making. The answer was "no". It is too fiddly for me. I would not be good at it. There is also an enormous amount to learn in any new craft.
I need to stick to knitting and crochet. I really have only just scratched the surface in those areas - and I can go on honouring the experts.
 

Saturday, 25 January 2020

I have set up a FB page

and yes, I know there are too many FB pages already. We really don't need any more do we?
The problem is that I didn't feel I could put what I needed to say on other people's pages. There are definitely limits and it is not good manners to post long pieces on someone else's pages even if invited to post something.
But how else to get the message about replanting Downunder out? (And  yes of course it is called Replanting Australia there.) I am just hoping that the page will prove useful. It doesn't even have a header photograph yet. I am no technical whizz cat.
Yesterday I went and talked to a small group of elderly women - most of them well over eighty, some over ninety. They meet once a week to do "craft" which they then sell at their local church to raise money for Anglicare. (Anglicare is the biggest social welfare organisation in Downunder outside the government.) 
Their skills are many and varied. They are the generation who can "make something from (almost) nothing".
I told them what we were planning and why. Yes of course they were interested. Yes of course they thought they could help.  
That's good. It's a start.
I'll talk to some more people today. I know some of them will help too. But it will take a lot more than that. It will involve a lot of work.
There is a tiny group of young people I work with who have plans to work on some squares. Their reaction was not just "of course we will help" but "it will help us too...we can learn some new things and try some new ideas".  They are full time students. All of them have serious disabilities. They can't work at part time jobs but it isn't stopping them from helping other people.
But there must be a lot more people out there. They might be willing to help too - if they know. 
I have to find a way of getting the message out.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Replanting Australia

If you want to help to help Downunder recover from the bush/wildfires and you can knit or crochet then I have a challenge for you.
No, it isn't to make pouches for joeys or mittens for koalas.  They aren't needed. What we need is something much simpler.
Last year our state's annual show had a Queen Victoria Challenge - for the 200th year of Queen Victoria's birth. It went well. We had more entries than we expected - although we would have liked more still.
This year we are asking for entries which relate somehow to the International Year of Plant Health.
And we want something else. We want blanket squares. We want lots and lots of blanket squares. We want people to design and knit or crochet blanket squares which somehow relate to Australia or Downunder as I refer to it here.
It's a challenge. There is no entry fee. You donate the square. You can donate more than one square if you wish to do so.  We will choose the best of the squares and put them into a special blanket to be raffled off for the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park. (This will benefit the entire island community and help to save the internationally important Ligurian bee population.) 
All the other squares will be made up for bushfire victims (both human and animal) in need after the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society Show is over in September. 
We will award a blue ribbon to what is judged to be the best square in knitting and another to the best square in crochet. If we get enough squares we will display all of them as a map of Australia at the 2020 RAHS Show at Wayville.
The details:
     (1) Squares must be 30cm (12") square.
     (2) They must be made from wool, wool blend, cotton or good quality acrylic
     (3) They can be knitted in fingering (4ply), sport (5ply), DK (8ply) or worsted and aran weight. 
     (4) They can be any colour you associate with Australia, the "outback" or desert, the rainforest, gum trees, wattle, Sturt Peas or anything else you can think of.
     (5) They can be any pattern you like, plain, fancy, ribbed, cabled, Fair Isle type, intarsia, single/double, treble, tapestry and more. 
It is up to you to design it. Work out your tension/gauge for your chosen pattern and go from there. 
     (6) Block your squares please
If you want to enter the challenge and have your name acknowledged then please firmly attach
                    (i) your name
                   (ii) an email or other address where you can be contacted
                  (iii) if you want to do so add something about why you have made the square you have made, how you associate it with Australia.
By entering you agree to have your square, if chosen, included in the final prize winning blankets for raffle and all squares sewn into a blanket for use for those in need.  The judges' decisions are final.
Send your squares to:
 
Secretary's Office
Adelaide Showground
Goodwood Road
Wayville SA 5034
 

(PO Box 108, Goodwood SA 5034)

or if you live outside Australia to 
   
    Community Project Group
    PO Box 401
    MSC
    Torrens Park  SA 5062
    AUSTRALIA 

All entries need to be there absolutely NO LATER than 20th August 2020 but earlier than that would be greatly appreciated if possible.

I have set up a Facebook page so that people can see what is happening - no pictures yet.  I have called it "Replanting Australia". Please join it and put  up pictures of your squares to encourage others to join in.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Is the bushfire relief money being spent?

My nephew has just sent me something which is apparently doing the rounds in social media.