Saturday, 16 February 2019

The new library

facilities are being celebrated today with a "Family Fun Day".  There will be face painting, music, a bouncy castle, craft activities, tours of the new facilities, story telling, the French Conversation group, the Book Club groups and more. When the idea was first raised the library staff said, "And Cat has to bring the knitters and get the children to knit."
They won't knit of course but we are going and we are prepared to show them how it is done - and perhaps even help them knit a stitch.
I have obtained some cheap yarn from the local charity shop and straight needles - also from the charity shop. I have cast on a "sufficient number" of stitches and knitted a few rows of two scarves.
These will be the basis of two "knit a row and go" scarves. They are just long strips of knit/garter stitch that anyone who can knit can add to and that are later given to someone to give to charity. Given that everyone knits slightly differently I don't suppose they turn out too badly but nobody could call them beautiful.  It is however an easy way to involve people.
The vast majority of children, perhaps people, cannot knit. Some children don't even know what knitting is. They have never seen anyone do it. If we can encourage any of them to actually do a stitch with help from one of the group that will be good. 
We will be next to the French conversation group. I am wondering whether any of them will tell a child, "Je suis  un tricoteur"? I am sure they will be encouraging young children to try a word or two of French. 
I thought about all of this last night as I was packing things ready to take. We are extraordinarily fortunate that our local library is not being closed, that it has actually been expanded.  
The new facilities are wonderful. They are open, light and airy. They will be used to their full capacity, indeed the range of activities can now be expanded. 
I saw one of our neighbours in there during the week. She had her three year  and her five month old baby in there. They were borrowing a pile of picture books.
    "Isn't this marvellous!" she told me.
 Yes. This is what children should be growing up with. They should see libraries as magical places and say, like the small boy told me, "This is the best place!"

Friday, 15 February 2019

Learning to read

is not easy. Learning to read English if your first language is Chinese is not easy either.
The Senior Cat has now reached the time in his life where he needs some help to shower. I could do this and I have done it on occasion but he is eligible for the subsidised service and, after consideration, we decided to take advantage of it on safety grounds. Thus S.... arrives and helps.
S.... is Chinese. Her  husband lectures at the university so we assume his English is excellent. Hers is fair - but she can also speak fluent German. This last time she arrived and announced, "I have come for my English lesson." 
We laughed but I know what she meant. When she cannot find the right word in English I will give it to her. She will repeat it and use it again. Sometimes she gets me to spell it and she will write it down. I will correct her grammar and construction too. Her English has improved greatly over the twelve months she has been coming to us. 
For the Chinese Lunar New Year she showed us a picture of something her family had bought in our local Chinatown shopping area. It featured a knot. This was a fairly simple knot but Chinese knotwork can be very complex and very beautiful. I know a little about it  and have two books on the subject. I brought them out and showed S... Could she borrow one? Of course. I have used them in the way I intended and no longer need them.
And so she had taken the book home with her.
The books are written in English of course. Although I can recognise a few characters I don't read Chinese. 
And I have been reminded yet again that reading instructions in a second language is even harder than simply reading straightforward information. S.... has asked me for help with phrases like "pass it through underneath". How can something be "through" and "underneath"?  
At university I taught more than one Chinese and Japanese student to read a knitting pattern in English. All those abbreviations I could read automatically had to be explained one by one.  The modern Japanese way of writing a pattern has much to commend it. I can actually struggle through one of those but, like S... with the knot, it would always be good to have someone who could help.
When someone who knits questions why we are so willing to help S.... with her English - and they often do - then I think I might ask them if they can read a pattern in Japanese. 
I think the answer will almost certainly be no. 

Thursday, 14 February 2019

The first year reading or "phonics check" has apparently

produced some unexpected results. If the report is correct just over half the state's children failed the test.
It was forty word test and to "pass" children were expected to be able to read twenty eight of these words.


Easy fake words: pib, vus, yop, elt, desh, chab, poil, queep, stin, proom, sarps, thend
Easy real words: chip, jazz, farm, thorn, stop, truck, jump, lords
Harder fake words: kigh, girst, baim, yune, flods, groiks, strom, splaw
Harder real words: fair, flute, goat, shine, crept, shrubs, scrap, stroke, index, turnip, waiting, portrait

 Now please note there are some "fake" words there. It was the child's ability to "decode" a word which was being tested. Only 43% of children managed to get to that mark of twenty-eight out of forty.
I could read long before I went to school - and I mean actually read. Our house had labels all over it. My mother's "infant school printing" remains deeply scored into my memory. Both my parents were teaching me to read. I don't think they consciously set out to teach me. The Senior Cat says that was not the case. I wanted to learn to read. 
I know I would ask for words. It would be written on a scrap of paper. If it was an object it could be attached to it would be attached to that object. There were lists attached to the fridge and the kitchen cupboards.
And I was taught to "sound out the words". I was taught to decode the new words I came across. Yes, by the time I went to school I was an independent reader.
Of course I still came across words I didn't know but I had the skills to at least try and work them out for myself. 
I know that, for my mother, it was a means of saving herself the time of having to read things to me. It was the Senior Cat who read my bedtime stories to me. Right from the beginning he would put his finger under each word as he read to me. 
Those things were a wonderful start. At school I read even more. I was in trouble not because I could not read but because I could read too much. I had read our "reader" for the year from cover to cover before the end of the first day. 
We had to do a "daily sentence" in our "daily diary" too.  Other children were asking for "I played with my dog". I was getting frustrated because the teacher didn't want to write, "I went to the Maritime Authority office with my grandfather." I remember being told, "You can only have that if you can spell it." I spelt it.  Phonics helped. It was the same for my brother. My sisters also had a good start. Our parents were firm believers in getting excellent "word attack" skills.
For a while there was something called the "whole word" approach. My parents quietly went on getting the teachers under them to teach phonics. 
When I taught a profoundly physically disabled child with no speech to read I would say to him, "P.... listen to the sound. Say the sound inside your head." I knew the day that his hard work and mine paid off. He was able to indicate to me that he had come across a new word - and worked it out for himself. After that his confidence knew no bounds. He knew he would be able to read.
So I wonder about  the children who failed this test. No doubt they aren't getting the same amount of help at home. The help we got was exceptional and few children ever get anything like that.
Young T... across the road has just started school. His mother is a paediatrician and she is well aware of the need to read. T... did an on-line reading program before he went to school. There was nothing forced about it. He had  indicated a strong desire to learn to read for himself and the program was fun as well as educational. I am sure if he was given the words  in the test now, in "Prep" he would do better than the majority of Year One students. He's highly intelligent, wants to learn, and has been taught some phonics.
I wonder what the children who were tested are being taught and when they are being taught it. Are we too busy teaching them other things - things they could learn themselves if they had the reading skills?

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

All those gloating over the government's loss

with respect to the asylum seeker bill may be less happy when they realise the likely consequences.
Within minutes of the government's defeat I had an email from someone in Indonesia telling me that preparations were being made for a boatload of "sick asylum seekers" to set  out. It may take a little while but there will be those who attempt the journey. They will not listen to the fact that the legislation only applies to those now in off-shore detention - indeed they may not be told that. They will simply told "if you are ill - or pretend to be ill - you will get to where you want to go".
The bill is a disaster waiting to happen. Both sides of politics knows that but one side is so bent on winning an election that they have done what they believe will be popular with the electorate.
It is quite wrong to say that the present government does not want refugees. I don't think there is anyone in it who would refuse a genuine refugee entry. I certainly hope there isn't. I would always want to give someone in genuine fear of their life a safe place to stay. I hope all politicians are like that.
But - and it is a huge "but" - there are massive problems in simply allowing anyone who sets out on a leaky boat to claim asylum. Many of those who remain in off-shore detention have long criminal records in their home countries. There are murderers and rapists among them - people who would be locked away here for many years. They face the death penalty in their home countries so they cannot, under our obligations in international law, be sent  back. They cannot be prosecuted here because their crimes did not occur in this country. In other words they are, if we simply let them in, going to get away with murder and rape. This is the reason so many of them are still in detention. It is not simply because they tried to come by circuitous means.
What is more, despite arguments to the contrary, there are better medical facilities available to many of those in off-shore detention than there are in many remote areas of this country.  There are better mental health options in off-shore detention than there are for many people here. It all comes free of charge too.
Had our obligations under international law allowed it would have been better to require anyone coming here for treatment to return to off-shore detention without being able to appeal. Their claims should then continue to proceed in exactly the same way as before. That would be fairer to everyone. 
I would much prefer we welcomed ten or twenty or more law abiding refugees who are willing to assimilate than one violent criminal who is not. Is that wrong?
I know that saying all this is not going to make me popular but I am not "anti-refugee".  I hope the many refugees who know me would say I have been one of their strongest supporters. I just want to see things done in a safe and orderly manner.
Refugee "advocates" have much to answer for in the harm they do.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Where does milk come from?

No, it is not a silly question.
While we did not have a working fridge I had to buy milk in small cardboard cartons. (We don't have glass milk bottles in this state any more.) It was an inefficient and expensive way to buy it because we get through rather a lot of milk in this house.
It made me think again about where the milk was actually coming from.
I suspect that this is something most people rarely think about. They simply take the milk off the shelf in the supermarket. In some parts of the world I know it still magically appears on the doorstep each morning. 
One of my memories as a kitten is of sitting on the cross bar of the Senior Cat's bicycle and going to get the milk from the dairy. Milk was not delivered but every morning there would be a little queue of people lined up waiting for the farmer to finish milking the cows. When he was ready people would hand over their "billy cans" and get their milk - straight from the cow.
Today's health inspectors would be horrified.  Nevertheless I grew up on genuinely full cream milk. Nothing was added to it and nothing was taken away. I simply drank milk when it was put in front of me.
Just before I started secondary school we moved to an area which was mostly dairy farms. By then I was quite old enough to be very conscious of what people did for a living - and how they did it. I hope I have been conscious of dairy farming ever since then.
All over the valley in the mornings and the evenings you would hear the soft putt-putt noise of the milking machines at work. You would hear the cows calling to one another, the occasional shout or a farmer or the bark of a dog. If the wind was blowing in the right direction you could hear the radio playing classical music as the cows were milked. (Cows much prefer classical music - and no, I am not being funny.)
 And that happened every single day. There was no let up. Cows have to be milked whatever the weather, however the farmer feels, whether it is Christmas, Easter, your birthday or any other day. It requires discipline and commitment. Life in the valley revolved around the cows and their timetable. School, church, football, meetings, social occasions and more all had to fit in with the timetable the cows set. If a farmer was late for any reason you could hear his cows - and that would set other cows off too.
I know it has changed a little now in that the farms have been consolidated. The herds are much bigger. It has all become much more "scientific" and "computerised". But, one thing  has not changed. The cows still have to be milked.
It is hard physical work every day. There may be milking machines but there is still plenty to do.
I try to remember that when my paw reaches out for a container of milk in the supermarket. I thought of it again this morning when there was a story of a family who has had to cease dairy farming because they were no longer getting an income from it.  And I know that milk is a ridiculously low price for the work involved. 
I won't mind if the price of milk goes up - but only if the dairy farmers get the money. 

Monday, 11 February 2019

The "medical transfer" bill

currently set to go before parliament is not a "medical solution to a medical problem". It is a bill that takes control of our borders and places that control in the hands of people who will not be accountable if things go wrong.
The bill, so it is said, would allow doctors to make a decision as to whether someone in "off-shore" detention was so ill that they needed to be transferred here.  That decision could be appealed by the Minister and subsequently referred to a panel. All that would have to take place within 24 hours. 
It is bad legislation because it is unworkable.  
Yes, people will become ill in detention. Some people are ill before they arrive in detention. There is also a higher rate of mental illness among those in detention. All those things are facts. People will die in detention. That is a fact too.  All that does not mean the legislation is good legislation or that it is a medical solution to a medical problem.
There is a story floating around that a woman was flown out with severe abdominal pains. She was found to be constipated. Refugee advocates though got wind of her arrival and the processes were begun to ensure that she was not be returned to detention. She would not have travelled as far as she did alone so the next step will be to "reunite" her with her family.  
I don't know whether that story is true or not but I have heard similar stories from medical staff in other parts of the world. One young woman was "married" to four different young men and they used her "pregnancy" to get across a border each time. Partially hearing and partially sighted she was raped by all of them and then left stranded in a refugee camp. Her story only came to light when someone recognised her on the fourth border crossing. She is pregnant - but by which of the young men it would be impossible to know.
The young men are in Europe and claiming refugee status - which they will almost certainly be granted. She has been left in a refugee camp. Those sort of stories are more common than we want to recognise. 
We need to get over the idea that simply because someone is claiming to be a refugee they are good, honest, upright citizens who have simply been through some terrible experiences and lost everything. It is much, much more complicated than that.
If it were not for international law then there would be a solution to the issue of medical transfers. People would simply be required to sign a legally binding agreement to return to detention once treated and would not be permitted to live in the community while here.  It sounds harsh - and it is - but it would stop the abuse of the law. It should not be framed in such a way that it prevents them from ever gaining residency or ever visiting but it would say, "You are going for medical treatment - nothing more and nothing less."
There is no "queue" for refugees but it angers me that some people have been able to buy their way in, people who may not necessarily be the most deserving but simply the most wealthy.  There are others who have been used and left behind. Those who do that need to face the full force of the law in the countries in which they seek asylum.
And it is still those who are fleeing persecution and don't reach places of safety at all who worry me the most. I wish that, instead of trying to make political mileage out of a situation which is much more complex than most realise, those supporting the present bill would give such people far more consideration. 

Sunday, 10 February 2019

A "Kitchener bun" is

apparently almost unique to the state I live in so I had best explain what it is.
It is a lump of sweet doughnut like dough that is occasionally baked but usually deep fried to a pale golden brown. It is then cooled down, split open and filled with raspberry jam and a LOT of cream before being finished with a dusting of caster sugar. They are much like "Berliner buns" or Pfannkuchen.
They are not healthy eating. The Senior Cat likes them. I like them about as much as I like doughnuts to which my response is "Thank you but no." The calorie count is high.
For the Senior Cat this does not matter. He is thin, too thin. All our attempts to add a little weight in the right places have failed. I concentrate on providing him with healthy things to eat - things that he also likes. 
A friend called in yesterday and brought the Senior Cat a Kitchener bun as a small birthday present. It was good of her and he appreciated it. 
I can't remember them as a child. They were probably there but I never had one. We were allowed to buy our lunch at the school canteen once at the end of each term. Our paternal grandmother used to supply the money for that and we were allowed to have a pasty and a bun.  Pies were considered too messy. 
The pasties have not changed over all the years I have known them. I still see them being eaten. They have almost no meat in them. Instead they are filled with potato, carrot, swede and onion. 
The buns have changed. You could get currant buns with a sticky sugar glaze. The school buns were not as good as the buns made by the baker in the tiny rural town where I was born. They did not have as many currants - but we still liked them.
There were "finger buns" - yeast buns in the shape of an eclair with pink icing and coconut on top.
You could also get "cream buns". These were yeast buns with "raspberry jam" and "cream" pushed into a split at the side. The raspberry jam was  not jam, just some sort of sweet gel like paste. The cream was not cream either - just some sort of fluffy white mixture.
I remember watching with envy as other children devoured these things on an apparently regular basis. Even there sandwiches seemed more interesting than mine. They had "fritz" (a type of processed sausage meat) or cheese, beef or ham, and even jam sandwiches - all on white bread of course. My brother and I had Vegemite sandwiches or, very occasionally, tomato sandwiches. That once a term treat meant everything to us. On that day we felt like the other children. We savoured every mouthful of our pasty and our currant bun. It was one of the things we missed when we moved back to the bush - where there was no school canteen.
Not that long ago I had to buy a loaf of bread at a bakery I had not been to before. There, in the display cabinet, was a cream bun. It  looked just like the buns the school canteen used to sell.
I bought it out of curiosity. I took it home. I cut it in half. The Senior Cat and I shared it. 
Never again. After all those years I discovered that I hadn't really missed anything at all. The bun was overly sweet. The "jam" was still not jam. The "cream" was nothing like cream. 
I prefer the memory.
But the Kitchener bun has real jam and real cream. They do need to be eaten on the day they are made - but perhaps that tells me something about fresh ingredients?