Saturday, 21 July 2018

Extending rail lines

seems like a good idea to me. 
It came up in the news again this week and I know a lot of people in the immediate vicinity who would be only too happy to see the lengthy goods trains go through the relatively flat area north of the city. It can take far too long for such a train to travel through suburbia. The delays at level crossings can be dangerous. If a train breaks down or must come to a halt for some reason then it is even more dangerous. 
I suppose when the first railway line was built those who built it had no idea how the population would grow or what the potential dangers would one day be. 
But, we need to extend the rail network. It is not a matter of whether it might be a good idea. It is essential.
And then we need to make people use it. 
Let's be realistic about this. It is much easier to walk a few steps to the car and then sit in it and drive to work or wherever else you want to go.  Humans will take the easy way out. It's understandable. It's unrealistic to expect anything else.
But..it has to change. It makes sense to transport two, three, four or more carriages filled with people to a destination than have several hundred cars on the road. If it is used to capacity then public transport can run at a profit. It may not be a monetary profit but there will be a profit in other ways if people use the time.
I tried explaining this to someone yesterday. He's a former railway man who held a fairly senior position. I thought he would be in favour of extending the rail network but all he can apparently see is the cost involved in actually extending it or renewing the rail lines that were once there.
     "No Cat. It can't be done. It would cost far too much. You just don't have any idea how much it would cost - billions."
Billions? Actually I can imagine it might cost a great deal but that isn't the point. It is what it would also save on road accidents, the life long care of the injured, on mental health services and on any number of other things. 
Use time spent on public transport wisely and there could be immense benefits for everyone.  I know I have said this elsewhere and I will probably say it again.
I couldn't say anything to the person I was talking with because he would not be aware but using public transport saved the life of someone we both know. 
This other man is still young, not yet 30. He lost his much loved wife very suddenly. Perhaps fortunately there were no children but he was devastated and finding it very hard to cope with even the activities of daily living. He knew he had to go back to work but he was finding it almost impossible to get himself out of bed in the mornings.
His doctor told him not to drive. It wasn't safe. 
On the railway station platform that morning there was a young Asian man with very little English who asked for information. He gave it and told him the correct way to ask. They chatted briefly. The next day the young Asian man was there again. This time he had a friend with him. They chatted again.
Now the two young Asians have an English lesson each morning on the way into the city. It's given the grieving man a purpose in life.
He caught the train instead. He caught the train and he told me,
     "It saved my life. Instead of jumping in front of the train I jumped on to it."
Now tell me, what's a life worth? Isn't it worth more than the billions it might cost to extend the rail network?

Friday, 20 July 2018

Plastic straws

and the banning thereof have been in the news here too.
There is something I would like to say on this issue, something you may not have thought about.
Let me begin by saying that I am very conscious of the dangers of plastic to the environment, to wildlife and more. It worries me. I would like to see all plastic recycled and made use of in environmentally friendly ways. 
I also know that is not going to happen. A lot more could be done. How many unemployed people with no qualifications could be employed to collect plastic waste and trained in the technology of recycling it into road surfaces, garden furniture, building materials and the like? 
     "It can't be done Cat!" 
I have been told this impatiently by people who "know" about these things. Am I not allowed to dream that it might be done? If I can think of it as part of the solution then can't someone, somewhere turn it into reality?
But there is another problem entirely with a ban on plastic straws. There are people who depend on them. 
I don't mean the normal person who buys an "iced coffee" in a container and uses a straw with it.  I don't mean normal people poking a red, green, blue or black straw into a soft drink bottle or container and using it.
I mean people with disabilities who rely on straws to be able to drink at all or people like me who have a problem holding a glass and bringing it to my mouth.  
My good friend J.... went out for a rare coffee with friends the other day. It meant putting his wheelchair into his mate's van and manhandling him in. It's an effort for all concerned but one of his gang was having a small celebratory moment and wanted J... there because J... has mentored him through the study process.
They went off to a wheelchair accessible place in the city. They even managed to get an access park not too far away. All was going well.
Then they went in and ordered coffee...and discovered there were no straws. The owner of the venue had ceased stocking them for "environmental" reasons.  J...needs a straw to be able to drink. He can't hold anything. At the same time he is a highly intelligent man who does not want someone else to feed him in public thank you very much.
Now to be fair to the owner when the situation was explained to him he sent someone off to get a straw from a nearby business. He also apologised and said he would keep a packet on the premises for people who need them. 
J.... has plenty of sense and good manners and he took it well but we are both acutely aware that this is a problem. What seems like a good idea has had unexpected consequences. 
Yesterday another straw dependent friend sent me a link which I, unusually for me, posted on the internet. It added to my concerns about the lack of plastic straws in some venues.  The article mentioned alternatives to plastic straws. Ah yes, glass, bamboo, and paper of course. 
     "I can't use those Cat!" 
No, he can't. He can't speak at all. Put something between his teeth and he grips it so hard it is as if it is in a vice. He would break glass, crush bamboo and paper is useless. He has enough problems with plastic. 
I am not happy about the idea of glass. It seems to me there are safety issues for a start. Would glass straws just get thrown away too? Bamboo might work...and there might be other natural fibres that would work. The problem is that, for now, they are not commonly available and the way they are made needs considerable improvement.  Paper? Paper has two  problems, one is that it is generally covered in some sort of wax (or even plastic) and this tends to melt in anything hot and the straw quickly becomes a soggy mess. The other is that paper is not exactly the strongest material in the world and, for some people, it simply doesn't work.
Yes of course some of us carry straws with us. J... usually does but the outing was arranged at the last moment and they were going to a venue which sells a wide variety of hot and cold drinks. It was reasonable to expect there would be a straw available.
So what seems like a sensible idea is already having unexpected consequences for a small number of people. 
And what if they stop making plastic straws?
I

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Making cake

- yes, I did say "cake" is not something I do very often.
The Senior Cat and I do not eat cake very often. We get cake given to us at Christmas time by our friend P.... She makes a very, very superior fruit cake. 
It is extremely rich cake. It takes us a very long time to eat it. We ate the last two pieces in February this  year. 
But, I need to make cake. The library staff need cake. Next week they are moving books, a lot of books, from one location to another.
It is all part of the renovation process. Yes, they need cake.
Moving books is hard work.
The Senior Cat made the mistake of packing his books in tea chests when we moved from one location to another. It seemed sensible at the time but the removal men did not like it. The Senior Cat felt dreadful. He had no idea that a tea chest of books could weigh so much...and there was of course more than one tea chest. 
I was given an almost thigh high pile of knitting books recently.  Sadly the only sensible thing to do was pass them on - although I was greatly tempted to keep some of the new books in the pile I knew I had to give them all away. 
There was no way I could have put them all in the basket on the back of the trike so I told the long suffering Secretary of the group I belonged to and yesterday she came to pick them. Like a sensible woman she brought bags with her. They were still heavy but she weighed down the rear of her car with them and the Senior Cat is no longer in danger of falling over that pile. 
But the library cannot be rid of books like that so the staff need to shift them. I would offer to help but I would be more nuisance than I am worth trying to do that. So, on talking to one member of the staff it was, "Why don't you make us some cake Cat? We'll need something to keep us going."
Yes. Good idea. Cake. Cake can solve a lot of problems. Cake can be shared. You can have mugs of tea with cake.
Perhaps I had better deliver some tea bags as well?

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

So what is the location for the book?

There's a Twittering on at present about where  books for YA and children are set in the UK. Well someone asked and someone I know answered the question...and other people went on to answer the question.
And it went on...and on - rightly so - and it made me think.
A lot of books are set in imaginary places of course. That makes it much easier for the author.  It is much easier to write "somewhere in Cornwall" or "on holiday in Wales" or, vaguely, "in London". 
I wrote a book some time ago. It was set on the east coast of Downunder.  The young hero makes a journey from a small place near the coast to the capital. 
I gave it to someone else to read and it was returned to me with the comment, "It's terrific but you can't go from X to Y in like that."
Actually you can. I checked. I didn't do the journey myself but I checked the railway timetables and then I asked someone who was actually doing the first part of the journey to check. Could he have done it? Easily.
It was more difficult to find a believable way of getting a slightly underage boy on to the last train to do the last part of the journey. It isn't a local train he uses. It's an interstate train and different rules apply to children travelling alone. I needed to know about those things. 
Yes, it took some research. 
I always marvel at the amount of research which must go in to even apparently simple historical novels. Get something wrong and one of your readers is bound to tell you. If you get something wrong in present day novels then there will probably be even more people who will pick it up and tell you "that's wrong" or "it's in the wrong place" or "you can't do that". As for the thought of writing serious science fiction....I wouldn't even consider it. I don't know enough.
So perhaps it is easier to set things in the present but in a fictional location? I am not even sure about that. You still need to do research. Can that black haired child really have two blonde parents? It seems a bit unlikely...so where does the child come from? Is there a job which requires someone to leave the house at precisely the same time every morning? 
There are all sorts of things you need to know. If writers set their books in real locations as well then surely they are to be admired?

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

There was a dental crisis

over the weekend.
On Friday evening the Senior Cat's "plate" came out. This is a denture with three front teeth. It replaces the teeth he lost years ago when he was hit in the face with a cricket ball. (Is it any wonder he is no lover of sport? He couldn't see the ball coming at him.) This particular denture is one which is held permanently in place.
It is Middle Cat who deals with his medical issues so he was on the phone to her before I was even aware of what had happened.
     "I am falling to pieces," he told her. He actually sounded shaken. I felt shaken by the words too. As I listened to him explain I calmed down. Yes, a bit of a crisis - but not life threatening.
Middle Cat got me to look. I looked. I explained. No, the denture was not broken. It had merely come loose. I could see what had happened. The Senior Cat is losing bone density and it no longer fitted well.
Middle Cat heaved a sigh of both relief and frustration. We agreed that, as he was in no pain, nothing could be done until Monday. I would phone the dental centre associated with our health fund first thing.
It was an interesting weekend. I had to rethink meals - something of an issue at the best of times. The Senior Cat couldn't speak properly which infuriated him. We went to Middle Cat's home on Saturday evening because Youngest Grandson was there for the weekend. 
I wondered if the Senior Cat would manage the outing. He is never steady on his rear paws these days but he was much worse than usual.
Yesterday morning I was on the phone the moment the dental centre opened. Could they fit him in and at least assess the problem? No, the denture was not broken but it might need an adjustment. The girl at the other end was kind and sympathetic. It is school holidays this week and the place would be teeming with children but she would ask the dental technician to have a look. She slotted the Senior Cat into a fifteen minute appointment later in the morning. 
He was still so shaky that Middle Cat took him off  in an access cab in a wheelchair. If it had not been school holidays she may not have managed to snare such a cab even with her contacts in the industry.
That was one good thing about it being school holiday time.
They were home a couple of hours later. The dental technician had worked wonders. The plate was back in. The Senior Cat has a follow up appointment with the dentist in a couple of weeks.
By late yesterday afternoon he seemed somewhat better but the whole episode has made me aware of something too. Our elderly need to be cared for. It takes time and energy for them to deal with even a small crisis. The rest of us need to understand that.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Knitting books

anyone?
No, I don't mean those thin pamphlet type affairs. I mean heavy, hardcover affairs or substantial paperbacks. 
I have rather a lot of them on my shelves. I have collected them over the years. 
It began with a search in my teens. There was a book in the library - where else? - that I picked up. It was called "A knitters' almanac" by one Elizabeth Zimmermann. The book was not exactly a revelation to me, more of a relief. You could, according to Mrs Z, break the rules of knitting and still come out with something useful, wearable, interesting and actually your own work. That suited me. The problem was that I could not find a copy of the book anywhere else. I asked at three bookshops in the city and they all said they couldn't order it because, although it was in print, it wasn't on some list or other.  
The book did not fade from my memory although it disappeared from the library shelves and I did not see it again for many years.
When I did see it I bought a copy and I went on to buy copies of other books by Mrs Z - all of them interesting. There were other books too...and yarn...and more yarn...and then more books...and more yarn.  
And then I started to review books for a major knitting magazine. I could have collected those books too but I passed them on to a knitting guild. The magazine is now defunct. This is probably just as well because the guild told me they didn't want any more. I might have been tempted to keep the review copies for myself - indeed sometimes wish I had. There were some lovely books there. I would not have used them as such but they were good to look at.
So yesterday someone I know arrived with a large pile of knitting books.
     "I am sure you can use these Cat...if you can't, sell them for your African friends perhaps?"
Circumstances mean I can't do that but she left them anyway. They are sitting in a large pile by the front door. Some of them are very old and of little value but there are others which are lovely. No, I can't use them. I don't have room on the shelves...and when did I last knit a pattern that someone else wrote? 
But other people do use patterns so I sent off an email. Perhaps someone will relieve me of the pile later this week?

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Buying from China

is fraught with difficulty.
I needed something recently. It is something unavailable where I live - a Japanese book. It was not available from the only shop which stocks Japanese books and has an on-line service in another state. The person whose knitting problem I was trying to solve told me she was "prepared to pay" for the book she had seen in Japan but she had no idea how to get it.
So, I did the obvious thing. I searched the internet. I looked at "images". I clicked on "images". Eventually I came upon a site that apparently sold the book I needed.
Oh. It was in Chinese. 
Did I go next door and bother my neighbours - who come from Taiwan - or did I do it myself? That problem was solved by discovering they were away. Their son was home but he had no clue. 
      "It's a rotten language Cat. I never did get the hang of reading it."  (As his mother used to teach Classical Chinese Literature I wonder what she thinks of that.)
So, I search further. Ah, another site. It was another Chinese site. This was one was in English - of a sort.  I managed to make sense of it. The only way to pay was by credit card. I don't own a credit card but I solved the problem by getting something similar from the Post Office. 
Then I made the transaction with extreme care. It didn't want to take my money at first but I tried twice more and succeeded. According to the website the book should arrive on or about a certain date. Yes, it would take time. I was prepared to wait. They sent me a message saying it had been posted.
I waited. I waited. I waited some more. They sent a message. Would I please confirm I had it? No, I didn't have it. I could not "track" it either. They tracked it. It was still in China.They apologised. I waited again.
It finally arrived yesterday. The friendly person who sometimes delivers parcels on a Saturday "because I just like to get out and get things done" came to the door and said,
    "I think this might be what you have been looking for."
I had told her what it was. 
She actually waited until I had opened the outsize envelope it was in and we both looked at it.
     "Can you read that?" she asked me.
     "No, " I told her, "but Japanese knitting books are strictly controlled in the way they can present things. I can read the charts and the diagrams."
I showed her. She was impressed. I am impressed by the book. Now I know what I need to know. Japanese knitters are fortunate indeed. All their written materials seem to be designed in a wonderfully uniform way.
Yesterday I spent an hour showing the knitter how to read the charts and the diagrams and helping her understand how to start the pattern she had chosen. She won't wear it this winter but she might wear it next winter.
But I do wish she had bought the wretched book when she was in Japan. And why didn't the Japanese have it on the Japanese version of Amazon? Life would have been so much simpler.