Saturday, 17 November 2018

She is grossly overweight.

She can barely walk. She is lonely and unhappy.
I am saying those things without someone's permission. It won't matter because she has no idea how to use a computer and you won't know her.
I also want to say that, despite appearances, she is kind and she does her job extremely well. Her co-workers rely on her knowledge. It's all "Ask X..." and "If X was here she would know..."
I don't see her that often, perhaps once a week. She knows me. She will acknowledge me outside her workplace. We have  had the occasional short chat, often as she waits for a taxi to take her home - to where she lives alone. She finds it hard to read and doesn't do any craft. She doesn't belong to any groups. We have nothing at all in common. All things considered though the two of us also get along well together.
I don't avoid her the way so many people do. I ignore her apparent impatience on her bad days, days when the pain is almost too much to bear. 
    "I don't know why you bother," people have said to me. That bothers me. 
It bothers me when, as yesterday, someone completely ignored her as she was serving them. He was on his phone the entire time. He didn't look at her or even acknowledge her. It bothers me when the next person told her, "Well, if you'd cheer up and lose some weight people might want to talk to you."
That reduced her to tears. The next person ignored her too - perhaps embarrassed by her obvious distress. 
I was next in the queue and the other girl serving was about to serve me. We looked at each other and she asked quietly, "Can you wait a moment?"
I knew what she meant. She pretended to rush off to put something back, something that could have waited.
And there we were, just the two of us. I smiled as sympathetically as I could and asked,
     "Bad day?"
She nodded. I handed things over. I told her of a small funny thing that had happened earlier and there was a faint smile. I thanked her for my change and I left.
I was packing things into the tricycle basket when the store manager came out to see about a delivery. He waved to the driver but then stopped and said to me,
      "Thanks for that."
Then he went on. I knew what he meant but I don't deserve that because I hadn't done anything at all really. It was her co-worker who gave me the opportunity to be friendly. to be polite, to give a lonely and unhappy person some support. It is the same co-worker who will give her a lift home if they both end their shift at the same time.
I have hopes of her co-worker. She's a student who wants to work in a career where good human relations are vital. I just hope she can teach her students to care for people like X.

Friday, 16 November 2018

ICAC will be as corrupt

as the corruption it is intended to investigate if the present state legislation remains in place.
The present government may not be the best but the present Opposition left behind a litany of disasters and underhand dealings. Why on earth did they want to goad the Attorney-General into "breaching the provisions" of the legislation? 
Parliament was where the problems started. I haven't read the Hansard transcripts but an inner source tells me that was not the only problem. The Opposition was well aware of the answers to the questions it was asking because those involved were appointed by them when in government. They were going to take it further whatever the A-G did. That they themselves were actually responsible for the cause of what the Independent Commission against Corruption is investigating is, in their minds, beside the point.
The media has tended to portray the A-G as being out of her depth. They should perhaps be more on her side. She is the one who is attempting to bring in legislation to make the ICAC proceedings much more public. At the present time nobody is even supposed to know if people are under investigation by ICAC. The new proposals would allow the media to report much more.
I have mixed feelings about all this. People's lives can be ruined by media reporting. It isn't simply those under investigation who can suffer damage. It isn't just their colleagues either. Families and even friends can suffer harm. I remember the intense misery of the two sons of a former federal A-G turned High Court judge who was investigated. They were primary school age children then and, I am told, have never really recovered from what happened then. 
But, if we don't open up the commission which deals with corruption then it is in danger of becoming corrupt too. What is really needed is genuinely responsible media reporting of such things, not simply stories designed to sell the news.
The question then surely becomes (if I have my Latin right) is not "quis custodiet ispsos  custodes"  but "quis custodiet ipsos media"?

Thursday, 15 November 2018

The priest at the church

on the hill - the church the Senior Cat attends - has been spending some time in the shopping centre lately. 
The idea has been that he will just be there and his parishioners and others can just stop and chat about anything.
Recently the same priest also sent out an email asking for people's views on the various mid week church activities. As the Senior Cat does not use email I printed it off for him to think about at leisure. He can tell D.... what he thinks on Sunday if he wants to say anything.
But I sent D.... a message yesterday. I might or might not bump into him in the shopping centre tomorrow but it won't be the best place to tell him what I had to say.
Let me start at the beginning though. The first priest the Senior Cat knew at the church was a gentle, kind man. I have never known anyone to say an unkind word about him. No, he wasn't perfect. Nobody is. He was and is loved. He still lives in the district but, rightly, goes elsewhere to church. Once in a while he has officiated by invitation. He is old now but he has not lost the capacity to listen. It's not unusual to see him having coffee with people in the shopping centre but he could never be accused of interfering. I got to know him quite well. Would I run the book stall at the church fete? Of course. He is the sort of person you don't mind doing things for because he always said thank you to people - and meant it.
His support was welcomed by the next priest, a much younger man. We got on well too. On more than one occasion we would meet in the shopping centre and he would run an idea past me for the thesis he was writing. His curate, also writing a thesis, would do the same. I didn't (and don't) pretend to know anything about theology but perhaps that helped me pick the flaws in their arguments?
He left too and was replaced by a man I never got to know. We spoke face to face once and on the phone once. This was before the "prayer circle" messages were emailed out and when I told him the Senior Cat was not available he said something along the lines of he supposed I could take the message as I had apparently doing it for years. Well yes, I had. It was hardly a ringing endorsement but I simply took the message.
And then D.... arrived. Cat gets the messages? He simply accepted it. They are confidential messages. You don't pass them on - except in my case to the Senior Cat. 
But it means that I know things. I am told things. Those others who are involved know that I know. They can tell me more if needs be. That's important. The congregation, like congregations in many other places,  is older and dwindling. There are often people who are ill, who have lost someone close to them, or simply need just a little extra "TLC". 
I thought of all this when D... sent his request for thoughts about mid-week activities. Then I responded by telling him that I thought the most important thing he had done this year was to start coming to the shopping centre for "coffee and conversation".  It means he is out there in the community. He's visible. He's available - available to anyone. That's far more useful than a mid-week service which must, at most, be attended by four or five people.
I have no idea how many people actually talk to him but there always seems to be at least one.  It isn't "church" or "religion" - I caught him with someone one day and they were looking at cruises on his i-phone.
That isn't what matters. What matters is that he's there. He's available. People can recognise him.
He's not the only priest I know by any means. One or two others have other ways of getting to know not just their congregations but the people they live among.  I know it's hard work. Priests haven't had a good press lately.
But, the vast majority of them are good, caring people. If they choose to trust me with confidential information then I need to trust them as well.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

He was the graffiti cleaner

at the local railway station - and much more.
Every morning C...would take his bucket and brush and other equipment and he would go and clean off the graffiti left at the local railway station. He would pick up any rubbish left lying around, mend anything broken by vandals and help to tend the garden.
He was the good neighbour. Away on holiday and need the bins put out? Not a problem. He kept the plants alive too. He was the Neighbourhood Watch representative. The local council knew him well - and not because he complained but because there had been a small problem and C.... had fixed it before it became any worse.
His own garden was the best in the street and the produce from it was shared freely. 
He once bailed up a couple of young troublemakers and told them, "Come and have a look at this."
He took them and showed them the old signal box, told them how it worked and asked them to keep an eye on anyone trying to damage it. They supported him ever after.
C... would bail me up as I passed and say, "We need to write a letter."
      "C.... you write it," I would say but I always knew that I would be the one who would end up writing it. 
He knew each successive MP both state and federal, alerted them to issues he knew they could fix with simply the letter "we" had written. 
And, unfairly, while being treated for cancer, he had a bout of shingles. The pain must have been horrendous. It was too much. 
He did not manage to last until they unveiled the little statue honouring all he had done. It's there next to the bicycle racks at the railway station for which he did so much.
I understood when his wife told me, 
     "I can still say hello to him."

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Food banks are

important and an unfortunately necessary part of life today. Please don't misunderstand my support for them.
There was however a news item yesterday which suggested that the government was cutting support for them. This is wrong. The same amount of money is there. It is just being divided between the various organisations in a different way.
I have been advised that the idea behind this was "to ensure that  more people in ethnically diverse communities across a greater geographic area can be serviced". In other words the idea is to try and help more people, some of whom live in areas where there is no service.
It didn't make any difference of course. The people who run the largest service cried "cuts" and then the media screamed "cuts" and more people got in on the act.
I know people who work at two different food banks. They have called on me to give people "communication assistance" at times... the sort of "s/he needs some help with a form" sort of assistance when someone can't read and write.  I've heard some appalling stories of abuse and deprivation. 
There are people out there who need help - need it through no fault of their own. They are ill, have had an accident, been laid off, had a house fire and so on. There are others who should not need it but they have partners who gamble, drink, take drugs and have committed acts which have landed them in prison.  None of it is good. 
It is why I put items in the Senior Cat's walker every Sunday morning and he puts them in the box in the narthex of the church he attends. It is why I stop at the local charity shop and, in a quiet back room, I'll help someone fill out the endless government forms needed before they can get proper assistance. 
And no, it isn't "good" of me because I know it could easily be me looking for that assistance. It could happen to anyone. It frightens me.
I remember the story I was told about the young children who went to their local food bank, something they had never used before. They asked if they could have some milk because the eldest couldn't use their mother's card to buy some. Someone went around to the house to find out what was going on. Their mother was in bed with the sort of migraine which meant she was unable to care for the children. They were doing the best they could to care for themselves - and doing a very good job of it -  but they needed some help. The food bank staff saw to it that they got the help they needed, including the milk. Some time later their mother took them there again - to "return the milk". 
That is what food banks should be about.
So yes, I am concerned if the "cuts" mean a cut to the service but to simply say that the funding has been cut when it has been redistributed is wrong. 
Perhaps what the media should be saying at this time of the year is something along the lines of "the need is so great that the government has decided to redistribute the available money and your help is needed, help as volunteers as well as in donations". It would surely help if people were made more aware of who uses food banks and why people need to use them.
The media story was not helpful. It will have left too many people thinking that the food bank is somehow "the government's responsibility and they don't care". 
It's our responsibility and we need to care. 

Monday, 12 November 2018

Our local cemetery is full of

history. It is one of the earliest in the state. Some of those buried there are people who actually founded the state. There are names anyone who has done any history of the state in school would recognise. 
And there are other people. There are of course the very young who died in a time where medical care was not what it is today, if it was available at all. There are others who met with accidents because of the type of work done. 
Some graves are much newer than others. Some are cared for and others are gradually decaying as no family members are even present in the state to remember them.
Ms W came in on Saturday looking very serious and said,
     "My Dad has to go to the big thing in the city. I don't want to go because I'll just cry again. Are you going?"
I told her I wasn't and asked,
     "Is there something else you want to do?"
She nodded.
     "Is it silly but I want to go and put some flowers on Uncle Peter's grave? Nobody else will."
     "It's not silly," I told her, "It means you are thinking of him - and that also means you are thinking of everyone like him. I think your  father will be pleased you are doing that."   
"Uncle Peter" was a neighbour not a member of her family. He was her substitute grandfather for some years, a returned serviceman who never spoke of the war. He left his war service medals to Ms W's father because he had no other close relatives - and Ms W's father has none either.
We sorted out some arrangements and yesterday we pedalled over there.  It was quiet but not empty. There were more tributes around than usual. People had been in and I guessed there would be more people in as the afternoon progressed. 
We found the grave in question, no easy task because the cemetery is not numbered in the way that many here are. The headstone is very plain. It is the burial place of several members of the same family.
Ms W put the flowers, flowers she had grown herself, on the grave. We pulled out several very small stray weeds but the place was tidy.
     "Someone has tidied it up," Ms W said.
I suspect the "friends" group has been busy. 
Ms W stood there for a moment and then hugged me and said,
      "Thank you. I still sort of miss him."
I know she does.
      "And I know maybe I shouldn't have asked you but I didn't want anyone else - except maybe my dad and he said not to worry about not going with him because he would be too busy and anyway he was going to tell people we had something else important to do."
And yes, it was important.  There aren't many young teens who would have thought of doing this but I didn't want her to get more upset so I said, 
     "Come and have a look at the places some interesting people are buried - if I can remember where to find them. Some of the inscriptions are interesting. I think I can show you where T...'s great-great grandfather is buried."
T... is a work colleague of her father. We wandered slowly down the next path and turned the corner. The grave was where I remembered it. 
     "He was pretty important wasn't he?" Ms W asked.
     "He certainly did a lot to help get the state started," I said.
 Someone had put flowers on that grave. 
People were coming in, some with flowers and others without. Ms W looked at a young boy running down one of the paths and said,
     "Let's go. I'd rather be here when it was quiet."
I would too. 
     "I think I'll come back one day and find some more history. My dad will probably like it too."
He will but I am glad her mother's ashes were, like those of my mother, buried under a newly planted tree somewhere in the hills behind us. She doesn't need to visit that grave.


Sunday, 11 November 2018

One hundred years ago today

marked the official end of the fighting. It is seen as the end of WWI but the reality is that there were still a great many problems.
And then we had WWII. We had Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and numerous other wars and skirmishes which have killed people and animals and destroyed the lives of future generations.
    "My Dad died when I was four. I didn't know then but it was a result of the war," someone told me recently. She is almost 90 and her father fought in WWI. It has been a matter of life-long regret that she never really knew him, that all she has are vague memories of him. I felt for her and thought perhaps I had been lucky although it didn't seem like that.
When the two of us and a couple of other people handed over the wreath our knitting guild had made I was struggling to maintain my composure because forty-one years ago, almost to the day, the man I intended to marry was killed as a result of another war.  He was in Vietnam at the time - on government work. He hadn't wanted to go. We had decided to delay announcing our engagement until he came back. He didn't come back, or not that way.  He was killed on a street corner by someone who took exception to his presence there -  the killer believed that all Westerners were bad because a Westerner had killed his family. 
It didn't matter that David was barely old enough to have even fought in that war and had nothing to do with it. He was, in the mind of that man, a "bad" person. I wonder how many more Vietnamese, particularly older Vietnamese, still feel that way? It may not even be a conscious thing, just an underlying uneasiness. I know it took me some years before I could relax in the company of any Vietnamese students I met. I didn't blame them for what happened. I never told them and they would have been embarrassed and upset if I had but I still couldn't quite relax. 
Now I have acquaintances from many countries, cultures, religious and political backgrounds. That is as it should be. Some of those acquaintances are also friends but I realise I don't have any Vietnamese friends. It hasn't been a conscious decision on my part, simply something that has just happened. Have I been unconsciously avoiding the big Vietnamese community here - or have our paths just not crossed? I don't know. I hope it is the latter but it does make me realise that all we can acknowledge today is the official end of a conflict that cost far too many lives.
And every year David's father has sent me a message on the anniversary of  his son's death. His father is now a very old man indeed and I doubt there will be any more messages. I think he knows it too because this one said,
      "Thinking of you and what might have been my almost-daughter."
And that did make me weep - for an old man who lost his son in a war that neither of them fought in.