Monday, 19 April 2021

There is a mental health pandemic

as well as the Covid19 pandemic. This is becoming increasingly obvious.

Nephew Cat, a doctor, works in mental health. He knows there are increasing problems. We have talked about this. He isn't old enough to really understand how some things have contributed to the increase and I find it hard to explain.

It puzzles him that people are so "connected" and yet so disconnected. People have mobile phones. They are addicted to the little screens but they feel lonelier than ever.  There is television to entertain us but no conversation. We can work from home via computer but asking someone a question involves an email.

Are we losing the art of holding a conversation? Do we actually listen to what our friends say any more?

Yesterday there were five children, all still of primary school age, racing up and down our street - currently almost free of traffic. They were on bikes and scooters. They don't live in our street so I was aware of them. It is very rare for children that young to be allowed out on their own. I wondered if their parents were even aware of where they were - and then sure they were not because the children were not sure which street they were actually in. 

How did I know this? Because they were talking to each other - on their mobile phones. These are children who are not yet perhaps twelve years of age. They were playing some game or other in the same street and they were talking on their phones.

We would have been shouting to one another. Our mothers might not have known precisely where we were but someone would have known us. When we were not shouting to one another we would have been huddled in groups negotiating, deciding who did what, where we were going and why. All that seems to have gone from weekend play. Of course during the week children are now at school, in after-school activities, or in out-of-school hours/holiday care. We didn't have that. We had to entertain ourselves. 

Of course there were mental health problems in my generation. There is a mother around the corner who, at the age of 87, is still caring for her severely psychotic son. I see him occasionally. He will be talking to the power pole outside their house or pretending to drive the rusting cars in their front garden. His mother longs to be rid of the cars but doesn't dare for fear of upsetting him. There are other people I know who have had episodes of severe depression or who simply wander the streets here their capacity to think and communicate dulled to almost nothing by strong drugs. It's not good. I try to say hello but, more often than not, there is no response.

But this is not the same as the really hidden problems. It isn't the same as the people whose "conversations" are held almost entirely by phone. It isn't the same as people who will tell you they have a hundred "friends" on Facebook but have really just accepted every invitation to "friend" someone and will never meet them. I don't see that as real friendship. Friendship is more a "let's sit down and have tea or coffee or (if you are that way inclined) a glass of wine together and have an actual face-to-face conversation" sort of thing isn't it?

We are putting more than "social distancing" between us. We are putting screens between us. Getting a text message from a "friend" is no substitute for seeing them and saying "Hello".  

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Lessons in pouring concrete

are, so I am told, due to begin tomorrow. Does this mean that the ditch across our driveway will soon be filled in?

The "man in charge of operations" informed me that they "should be doing the concrete on Monday". Maybe, maybe not. I am not holding my breath.

Brother Cat had obtained the Micoo's number from head office to inquire about getting the trailer in and out. "Should be fine by Wednesday" he was told. Maybe, maybe not. I am not holding my breath about that either.

In the meantime I am struggling to get in and out. Yes, there is a small steel plate there but there is also a little ramp of sand and I have problems getting the trike over this. Everyone else in the street has a nice big steel plate in their driveways because they have cars. There is also a load of sand and a load of gravel next to our driveway - just where I might otherwise prowl. Someone is out in the street right now surveying this. I hope that, even on a Sunday, they might move some of it.

It is supposed to rain this coming week. We need the rain - but can  you pour concrete in the rain? Can you pour concrete even if the rain is "just showers"? I don't know.

I remember my maternal grandfather building the big workshop at the rear of their house. How he got permission to put it there is something we will never know. Money or services must have changed hands, probably the latter because my grandfather never seemed to have any money. The building involved rather a lot of concrete. We were not allowed to watch the process. Later though there was a little concreting to be done. My grandfather brought in one of those small concrete mixers and, with my mother's brother, did the rest of the job himself. We children watched this being done. It seemed like a messy business. There was certainly a fuss about keeping the concrete moving in the mixer and then washing the mixer out very thoroughly. 

I suppose we managed to learn something in the process. What still sticks in my mind is my maternal grandmother getting so angry about concrete dirt and dust coming in on the kitchen floor she had just washed - even when we had all removed our shoes at the back door. My brother has done more than one lot of concrete work since then. I haven't asked but I have no doubt he researched the process and then did it. He's good at finding out how to do things like that. I would have to do the same thing.

The concrete work must have been well done. The structure is still there after all these years. It now houses an enormous model railway lay out. The people who bought the house bought it so that the husband could use the building for precisely that purpose. They showed me the lay out once. We talked about how the building had come into being.

     "Yes, I know precisely where the concrete mixer stood," H.... told me with a laugh, "I still can't get rid of it all." He showed me, a lesson in how not to do it as well as do it I suppose.  

Saturday, 17 April 2021

The magician's "cups and balls"

trick or routine is one of the oldest there is. It is thought it might date from as far back as 2,500 BC. There is at least a little evidence for that in the form of a picture on a tomb in Egypt.  

It was certainly mentioned by Seneca

"ic ista sine noxa decipiunt quomodo praestigiatorum acetbula et calculi, in quibus me fallacia  ipsa delectat. Effice ut quomodo fiat intellegam perdidi lusum"

The very rough translation is something like, "These arguments are deceptive but harmless like the juggler's cup and dice, in which the trickery delights me. But when I know how the trick is  done I lose interest."

I understand Seneca's feelings. I have lived long enough with the Senior Cat's interest in fooling and tricking others with "magic tricks" to know how a good many of them are done. I cannot do any of them myself but I understand how they are done - and once I know I tend to shrug and say, "Yes darling."

This week a friend of his who is still a professional magician - a man who made a living out of it until Covid19 meant there was no live theatre and no birthday parties and other events - was visiting when I prowled in. 

P...is actually a regular visitor. He still values the advice the Senior Cat can give him. He will show the Senior Cat a new routine and ask for criticism that he actually wants to hear. This time however he had brought a trick for the Senior Cat - one of the oldest in the world. This was the "cups and balls" routine. The Senior Cat knew it of course. He has performed it many times but always with a much larger version of the required cups and balls. This version was smaller. The Senior Cat was delighted. 

The two of them were playing with it. P... said, "Look at this Cat!"

He did the trick. I clapped and he laughed, "Of course, you know how it is done."

And I do. I am not sure the Senior Cat has the manual dexterity to do it any more. I hope he has. He is going to be very disappointed if he cannot do it. Of course he can still produce a coin from behind the ear of the unsuspecting person who is close enough. He can still do another trick with three lengths of rope which is perhaps almost as old as the cups and balls trick. He can still shuffle cards for card tricks and more. The Senior Cat still works on these things. The activities person would like him to do a few more tricks for the other residents. 

But me? I have lived with these things for as long as I can remember. I have helped the Senior Cat write his "patter" - that endless stream of words magicians use to help misdirection. I have told him when something works and when it doesn't. 

Three years ago, at the age of 95, the Senior Cat retired from the International Brotherhood of Magicians. It wasn't until yesterday, when looking for something he had asked me to find, I came across his "Order of Merlin" award - given for more than just membership in his case. It was given for teaching young magicians.

"Magic" is not as fashionable as it used to be. Perhaps it is because there are too many other bits of electronic wizardry in our lives. We walk through doors which open automatically without thinking about it unless they cause a problem.

But perhaps we do need to think about things like the cups and balls routine more often. We need to think about how we entertain people. Isn't the harmless fun of that routine better than "shooting" people on a screen?

Friday, 16 April 2021

Funding for mental health

has suddenly become a major issue again.

My doctor nephew works in the area of mental health. He was on contract last year. He is on contract again this year. Younger doctors are not getting permanent hours or permanent employment now, especially in the area of mental health. All too often he was told that, even though he was contracted to work a certain number of hours, there was no money to employ him at a shift even when though he had already arrived.  When on a shift he would often have to work far more hours than those for which he was contracted - often without pay. I don't know what his present position is but I am not sure it is any better. Yes, it puts the doctor under pressure. They can have mental health issues too.

But it also made me think of other things which have increased pressure on mental health for everyone.

Many more women have gone back to work in the last sixty years. This has generally been considered to be a good thing. It is a good thing in many ways. Despite all the problems involved some women have been able to use their training and their skills. Some have been able to pursue their careers and even reach the top rungs of ladders. Women are contributing more to all areas and they do so in ways which are different from men. 

All that has come at a cost - to men as well as women. I know there are still many men out there who feel threatened by this. They don't like working for a "female boss". Women feel under pressure to not simply do the job but to do it better than their male counterparts. At home they are still expected to do most of the housework and the bringing up of the children. We still don't value the mothering an caring roles the way we should, indeed we don't value good parenting and caring the way we should.

I wonder how many mental health issues have been exacerbated by these things?

There is also the issue of changes to the school curriculum. Children are now being expected to learn about "issues" we had not even heard of when I was at school. We knew about the importance of planting trees on "Arbour Day" but we knew nothing about "global warming" (global cooling was more of an issue if we knew about it at all). We knew it was wrong to tease anyone who was different or taunt them because of their skin colour but we didn't have lessons about "Islam" or "racism".  We were taught to be polite and that boys had a responsibility to look after girls and not do harm. We weren't given sex-education lessons or lessons about domestic violence and rape. Yes, those things existed but we were largely ignorant of them. Simply knowing about these things puts pressure on children, especially when they really don't understand all the implications. 

And now it is so much easier to make negative comments about other people and get away with it. "Social media" really isn't social at all. It puts some people under pressure to the point where they take their own lives. 

We don't address those issues. We don't address the issue of people who go to work but sit at a computer screen for most of the day or work on a production line where talking to the person next to them is not possible or not allowed. We ignore the fact that many people simply turn on a television set at night, that meals are not eaten together and much more. 

Is it any wonder those who work in mental health want more staff and more funding? Perhaps it is time to look at the sort of issues which are causing what is now considered to be a crisis? 

Thursday, 15 April 2021

"Bonus" - definition please!

I thought a "bonus" was a sum of money paid to an employee in recognition of a good performance - a performance over and above of what is expected of them.

Some years ago my BIL was given a bonus at his last place of employment. It was awarded by his first boss there, before the company changed hands. 

My BIL had put a lot of extra hours into getting a major project off the ground after someone unexpectedly left the business. His boss was asking a lot more of my BIL than was in his job description and the bonus recognised that. It was presented to my BIL at the Christmas event, just after the successful completion of the project. 

He was a good boss. This is why a bonus should be awarded. It should be awarded for doing something extra.

There have been ructions here in Downunder because the former head of the postal service bought several Cartier watches as a "bonus" to senior executives. Now she may not have actually broken the law but her judgment has been questioned - and rightly so. The senior executives were well paid. They were doing the job that they were expected to do. What is more they were paid to do it and do it well. I would much prefer to see the young postal delivery person who was doing our round just before Christmas in 2019 get a "thank you". On several occasions when the Senior Cat was tottering around the front garden trying to do some watering this young person didn't put the letters into our box he came right in and handed them over to the Senior Cat. He didn't need to do that but it was that little extra service, the sort that should be rewarded. (Letter boxes in Downunder are on the street, not at the front door.) We tried to thank him with cold bottles of water on very hot days.

I don't believe our Prime Minister was being "sexist" when he questioned the judgment of the former head of the postal service. It is a judgment which should have been questioned. It is too easy to say the criticism is sex-related. And why were these particular people given an added bonus?

More than once I have wondered why people in some positions are given a bonus or some extra recognition. If you win a race and you get a medal then isn't that the appropriate thing? Why do  others then go ahead and give the medal winner extra recognition? Is that fair when there are other people who might have put just as much effort in but didn't quite make it? 

I am not suggesting we should give everyone a medal. That is just as silly. What I am suggesting is that we need to consider more carefully whether we should really be giving "winners" more than the medal or whatever initial reward was decided on.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Why don't they build houses like mushrooms?

When Ms W was about nine her class at school was set the task of designing and making a miniature house. It was one of  those topics that spread across many school subjects.

Most of her class came up with perfectly reasonable everyday sort of designs based on their own homes. Ms W and another child came up with things which were quite different. The other child designed a house for living on Mars. (Her father is a physicist.) It was good. There were features for temperature control, growing food indoors and much more.

And Ms W designed "a house like a mushroom but without the stalk". I remember her coming to me and saying what she wanted to do. She was quite anxious about it. "I have to do it like that but I don't know how to make it all round and it has to be the right sort of round," she told me. She drew me a picture of what she wanted. She showed it to her father as well. He suggested using a ball, an idea she wasn't that happy with but was prepared to go along with if she couldn't think of anything else. 

At that point the Senior Cat stepped in and suggested a balloon and papier mache. Yes! She was off and away for the outside of the house and thinking about the inside of the house as she did it. There were problems of course. Ms W discovered that designing for circular was not as simple as designing for square or rectangular but she persisted. It helped that she had made a house out of a shoe box and knew something about "little things". The Senior Cat showed her a book of doll house designs he had. It had miniature furniture and so on. For the next three weeks Ms W worked on it in all her spare time. The end result was very, very good. Her work, along with that of the Martian house, was displayed with pride on the school's Open Day. 

I was disappointed when Ms W admitted she eventually put it into the rubbish. She has made more houses since then as well as other structures - there is a miniature library filled with tiny books, a bakery with tiny loaves, a florist with tiny origami flowers. They have been given to her friends as birthday presents.  All of them have been more conventional shapes.

I asked her over the weekend whether she had considered making another dome shaped structure. She shook her head but then said, "I still think it is a good idea. I'd have to find out a lot but if it's because of the cyclone then I thought about that and a house that shape would be better in a cyclone. Maybe you could have a square sort of shape inside the round part."

I wonder about this too. Would dome shaped houses be a better protection in areas prone to cyclones and hurricanes? If so, why don't people build them? Is it really that difficult to do? I can understand that it is much more difficult to build curved kitchen units but a "square sort of shape inside the round part" is surely possible - or is it much too expensive?

Ms W's father phoned me about something else yesterday and said she had gone on thinking about it. "I suggested she might think about architecture as a career and got told there was too much maths and engineering involved." 

And yes, Ms W has other career ideas now. It's a pity. I would rather like her to design me a cosy little house like a mushroom without the stalk.  

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Tracking mail

could become an obsession now that the Downunder postal service has been reduced to such an extent that it seems to be barely there. 

I sent a small parcel off to someone in another state at the beginning of the month. It still has not reached them. The tracking information suggests that it has finally reached a sorting office somewhere. I asked about this in the Post Office yesterday and was met with a sigh and shrug,

   "You know what it's like Cat. It could be a few days yet."

Not good enough. We only get mail delivered on alternate days anyway. There is another "long weekend" (for ANZAC Day) coming up. That will make yet another week when we only have two deliveries.

"But people don't get much mail any more. It's all done on-line," I was told. 

This is apparently what the postal service wants. Letter delivery does not pay. They don't want people to write letters. They want people to use e-mail or their fancy phones. 

I posted a letter yesterday. I sent it registered post because I need proof it has been posted. It was ridiculously expensive to do this because it was actually being posted to a letter box in the same post office as it was posted in. This is a matter of a few metres.  The postal service assistant at the counter was not impressed at the cost - and neither was I.

And now the parcel delivery service - which is quite separate from the regular delivery service - seems to come when the contractor feels like it. A packet came for the Senior Cat last Sunday. It is still classed as "mail" but it was delivered on a Sunday? I queried this.

"It's my second job. I just do it when I can," I was told. Really? This is the way they run things now?

When my parents first moved in here there was a regular mail service and an equally regular parcel service. We knew the parcel delivery person. She was great fun. She lived on a boat in the docks area and we heard about their plans to eventually travel further than the best fishing spots. More than once we filled her water bottle on a hot day. We were sorry when she eventually retired and they did sail off. She sent us a post card from thousands of kilometres away. They were enjoying life.  We just wished that the parcel delivery people who took over were as good and as efficient. None of them have lasted long. 

Now I have "tracking numbers" to tell me where parcels are supposed to be and when registered letters have been delivered. Those don't seem to work either. 

Today is supposed to be a delivery day. I am expecting mail but I doubt it will be delivered. The postal delivery person will decide, perhaps rightly, that it is too difficult to get down the street while the WITS are here. 

Perhaps I should just curl up on my sleeping mat and put my paw over my ears and sleep until the usual services resume?