Friday, 2 June 2023

Why we go to the ballot box

was never made more obvious than it was yesterday.

I was stopped in the supermarket by someone I know. I don't know her that well but she knows me sufficiently she felt confident about asking me a question. It was a simple question about the referendum process in this country.

Note well please. It was a simple question about the referendum process. It had absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter of the referendum itself. 

It is, rightly, difficult to get a referendum question to pass in this country. It requires what we call a "double majority". In other words it requires a majority of people in a majority of the states. This is not the same as a simple majority.

If you had a hundred people voting on something and required a simple majority then fifty-one votes in favour of something would be enough to see something pass.  In a referendum this would give people in the most populous states an advantage over the rest of the country. This is why we have the "double majority". Yes, it is a complex idea but it is one which was designed to be as "fair" as possible across a huge geographical area. 

I don't know how good my explanation of the mathematics was but the person who asked me seemed satisfied. She pushed her trolley on as a man I did not know at all said, "You didn't tell her she has to vote "yes"." He meant "yes" in the upcoming referendum. He was clearly very upset by this, indeed angry with me

"But it isn't my place to tell her how to vote. It wasn't what she was asking me about anyway," I told him feeling more than a little taken aback.

"It's your job to tell her to vote "yes" if she doesn't understand what to do," he told me and strode off. 

I hope he didn't accost the person who asked me but I felt a bit shaken. There is more and more of this aggressiveness occurring here. It is becoming very nasty at times.

I am very thankful we go into that little private space at the polling booth and mark our ballot papers without someone looking over our shoulders.  It is much better than putting our hands up publicly.  

Thursday, 1 June 2023

I don't watch "the footy"

I don't care if it is rugby, soccer or the other unmentionable game. I am not in the least bit interested. I have never watched an entire match in my life and I have no intention of doing so. Yes, I know it is absolutely disgraceful. I know that I am a heathen who will be forever consigned to hell because I failed to worship the great god Sport and his archangel Football.

That second Twitter feed, the "for you" one, has given me even more reason not to do it. It was full of comments about a "welcome to country" ceremony apparently held at the beginning of some Origin match or other. People were complaining that they were being given a political message, a "Vote Yes" in the upcoming referendum. 

I think I would have turned the telly off in disgust too. Politics has no place in sport. There is certainly no place in it for an artificial "ceremony" which people are paid to perform. Yes, the so-called ceremony is an artificial one, not a traditional one. It is a piece of theatre and, although they will tell you otherwise, those who perform it are actors. 

I spent some time with three women from a remote community yesterday. They had come down to the city for several purposes but one of them wanted to talk to me about her child's future education. As is the way of such things they all came along. I provided afternoon tea and we had a fine old natter. 

They are great women, all of them in steady paid employment. They are doing their best to keep their children in school beyond the minimum age and then on to further education. It's tough. Teenage boys don't like being told what to do. Teenage girls are no better. The idea of them leaving home and coming to the city to further their education is a very real cause for worry. 

I certainly wasn't going to raise any other contentious issues but one of them did. "Now listen to us. You know this referendum thing? We don't like it."

I took a deep breath inside and said, "Tell me please. I know what M.... thinks."

Their views are much the same as my friend M.... As I listened to what they had to say I couldn't help thinking how diverse our country is. Here were a tiny group of women from two different tribes who speak different native languages as well as English. The needs of their communities are very different. They don't speak with one Voice - except perhaps in the sense they all want the best for their children.

And that "welcome to country nonsense"? They have no time for it.

"Nothing traditional about it," one of them told me, "Never saw or heard anything like it all the time I was growing up. It's rubbish." The others agreed. 

I eventually waved the three of them off. Each of them gave me a warm hug as they left. They don't need a Voice. They have one.  Other people are not listening. They are too busy "welcoming" other people to a country they already live in with a contrived ceremony.

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

No, you may not call me that.

The bank called me yesterday. The person at the other end did introduce herself before asking whether they could speak to me. There were at least two things wrong with this.

There is a note on my file at the bank that I am NOT to be phoned unless there is an emergency - and then I will phone them back. This was not an emergency. It actually had nothing to do with my account - and everything to do with a further reduction in "customer service".

The second thing? This was the one that really infuriated me. The caller, a very young sounding female, addressed me by a diminutive of my given name, one by which I am not known even by friends. It is a diminutive more appropriate for a very small child. 

The caller did not know me, had never met me, had never spoken to me before. She knew nothing about me and she chose to be what can only be considered "extremely familiar". 

I know we have gone from the old "Mr/Mrs/Miss" titles to the use of given names. I tolerate that although I am old fashioned enough to believe it is not appropriate in all circumstances. 

I corrected the caller. I did it politely but through gritted teeth. I am not a two year old. I can be polite. She still used the same diminutive three times more in the same conversation. Perhaps I should not feel that way but I found it highly offensive. 

In this country people with certain positions don't always use the titles they would once have used. I call my doctor by her given name and she calls me by mine. There are people she calls by their title and surname and they call her "doctor". The difference is in the relationship between us. She has called on my services as well as me calling on hers. I call my dentist by her full given name - at her invitation - and she calls me by my full given name.

At our local library the staff wear name tags, the names they prefer to be known by. That is what I call them. They call me by my given name. (Yes, I know them all well enough for them to know me!) They never call me by a childish diminutive.

Recently I had to get a document witnessed by a Justice of the Peace. I had never met that JP. He called me by my professional title and surname. I called him Mr.... It was the right thing to do in a formal situation. His given name is apparently "David" but I would not have called him that and most definitely not "Dave" or "Davey".

In my early years at school I didn't even know the given names of my teachers. It was only in later years, and often only because the Senior Cat was the headmaster, that I knew their given names. I still addressed them as Mr/Mrs/Miss at school. Outside school hours I did, at their invitation, address some of them by their given names but only out of the hearing of other students.

At law school we had one staff member, a highly respected professor, who called all students by their title and surname. He did this in the lecture theatre. His attitude was "get used to it. This is what happens in court."  In my last year there I did, at his invitation, call him by his given name and he mine but he was no longer going to teach me. I was a "mature age" student who had been doing some tutoring by then.

But, all too often, people just use a given name without a thought as to whether it is appropriate. I don't want, as happened recently, to be addressed as "Doctor, Doctor Professor..." but I don't want to be called "Kitty" either.  

Tuesday, 30 May 2023

Well done or over praised?

 I have wondered about this for a long time so the article in this morning's paper saying that perhaps it is not a good idea to constantly praise children was of more than usual interest to me.

It seems to me that children are naturally competitive. It also seems to me there is very little point in trying to hide the fact some children are better than others at doing some things, perhaps even most things.

As a kitten in the early years of school we had "Friday tests". They were based on what we had done and supposedly managed to learn during the week. We had "mental", "arithmetic", "spelling", "composition" and a sort of general knowledge test. Our handwriting skills were also marked. I could get ten out of ten for mental and spelling, twenty for arithmetic and seventeen or eighteen for composition (nobody ever got twenty) ...and then come down with a bump with zero or two or three for handwriting. It never seemed fair to me when I had tried my hardest. I still went on trying for everything else though because, even with such low marks for writing I was somewhere at the top of the class.  I didn't dare be anywhere else. It was what was expected of me. I was expected to work at everything and I was expected to do well. Getting "full marks" for mental, spelling and arithmetic was expected of those of us who were thought able to do it. Getting high marks everything else was also expected of us. 

We all knew who had done well and who had not done well. I don't remember the teachers actually telling us that "Jo" had "come top". Even at the end of the first and second terms when reports went home to our parents nothing much was said apart from perhaps a "well done" or "your parents will be pleased". At the end of the year we all knew of course because there would be "speech day" and the prize giving ceremony - prizes for the children who had come "top" and "first". It was always an aggregate of the marks though so I never managed to get a first prize or even a second. Handwriting always let me down.

"It's all right," the others would tell me, "We think you should have got first."  Even the boy clutching his cheap version of a "classic" novel told me this. Other children can be just as kind as they are cruel. We didn't need the constant praise of a teacher.

Now it seems to be different. I notice even the parents in this street seem to constantly praise their children. The most intelligent of the children have been known to give their parents what I call "the look" when praised for something that is what should simply be expected of them.

There are times to praise and not to praise. I remember saying "that's really good" to a child who had similar problems to my own. She looked at me in disgust and said, "No. It isn't." I didn't tell her it was rude because I knew how she was judging herself and that it was against every "normal" child. Instead I said, "Yes, it is really well done for you. You put a lot of effort in and did the best you could do and that's what I meant. Okay now?" She gave me a smile and went back to work. 

It taught me something though. Constant praise is meaningless. Don't just throw it away.

Monday, 29 May 2023

Can't get your child into daycare?

Why do you want to get your child into daycare?

Apparently one of the main reasons for putting your child into daycare is so you can go back to work. 

"I need to go back to work. We need the money." I am wondering how often I have heard that excuse.

Yes, it is an excuse. Sending your child to be looked after by other people because you "need" to go back to work is something that "needs" to be looked at more closely.

There is one mother in this street who did not go back to work at all. Her twin daughters went to a local day care centre for several hours a week. They went so that they could meet other children, join in the activities and develop some skills. She used the time they were there to do the major weekly shop and get some housework done. It was hard work but it gave her time to do other things with the two girls. D... did it that way out of a conviction that, while the girls were not old enough to go to school, the best place for them was at home and learning.

Not all parents can do that. Not all parents want to do that. The argument though that both parents need to go to work because they "need the money" is something else.  Yes, I do know there are families who are genuinely struggling financially.  What worries me is that some of them have not really thought about the cost of both parents going back to work when they really don't need to.

If you are not in a profession with a career structure and you don't need to maintain your professional qualifications you might well be in a role where you are not earning a lot anyway. Sending your child to daycare is an expensive business. Is the cost of sending your child there, often five days a week, so high that you end up "earning" very little? There will be very little after you have paid for the associated costs of going to work. All too often there is the second car - the "old banger" which costs more to run that it at first seems. There are other expenses too. Not everyone has "Granny" to rely when then child is sick either.

I think we need to think more about the actual economics of daycare. We tend to say and think it is a good thing. It is said to be the "right" thing to do. 

All the children in the street have been to daycare, preschool, kindergarten and a combination of these things. Only two of them went full time. It is those two children who do not mix with the other children in the street. They are never outside playing the way the others are. I know there are multiple reasons for this but they are also the children who seem the least able to entertain themselves. I have talked to their parents. I know what they do in their limited free time at home. They are both intelligent children but they are not as able to hold a conversation with an adult. I know that too because all the other children in the street will stop and tell me things. If I ask them something they can answer and keep the conversation going. 

I am wondering if the other two are so used to being told what to do and even what to think they simply cannot do these things. They have, so far, spent their lives being controlled by adults. The other children all have at least some freedom to work things out for themselves.

When it stopped raining yesterday there was a knocking on the front door. I opened it up to four young faces. Could they use our driveway (which slopes gently downwards) to try doing "u-turns" on their scooters and skateboards? 

"Go for it!" I told them. They were off, up and down the street and into this driveway and one belonging to their families. There were shouts and laughter and, when one of them fell, concern. She was picked up and scrutinised and then put back on her scooter. They were off again. One of the fathers was watching from across the street. He wandered over to me and we watched together.

"Isn't it great? This is the best time of day," he told me. I couldn't agree more.  

Sunday, 28 May 2023

"Raping" a ten year old

at school?  I was "talking" to a complete stranger in the library yesterday.  I had been peacefully reading a completely different article in another paper I don't get when I heard her trying to hold back tears. It had been an automatic reaction to look at her. She shook her head and pointed to the short article.

Three eleven year old boys had reportedly held down a ten year old girl "in the rape position" and one had proceeded to "beat her up" and threaten to "rape her properly" if she didn't provide them with pornographic pictures of herself. She refused. The boys have apparently been trying this for some time but she was more vulnerable than most.

I had seen the article on line and felt more than disturbed. I felt angry and sick.  The main perpetrator reportedly was suspended for five days. The others for a day. That was it. The girl has apparently received some "counselling". 

What in the heck is going on? At that age we didn't even know about such things. We might know something about "how babies are made" if our parents had decided to tell us but that was about all we knew. Now children seem to know far more than that - and they are all too often abusing that knowledge. 

This doesn't start in secondary school like it did for us. It is starting in preschool years when children are also being taught about all sorts of same-sex and transgender issues. I only knew something vague about homosexuality because, for several years, we lived next door to a male couple. My mother wouldn't let us even talk to them. Such a relationship was illegal back then. From my vague memory of them the couple in question was, as is the usual case, very kind and completely harmless. I am very glad such relationships are no longer illegal.

But do three and four year old children who have only a general idea that there are "boys" and that there are "girls" really need to know so much more? I am not suggesting we should hide these things from them as my mother and others of her generation did. What I am suggesting is that we need to drastically reduce the emphasis on all sorts of issues around gender and sex. Children need to know that there are behaviours all right minded people consider abhorrent. Do they need to know so much that eleven year old boys can demand pornographic material from a ten year old? Do they need to know that and then get away with a short holiday from school?

I nodded mutely at the other woman. We looked at one another and then she walked rapidly off. I saw her wiping her eyes as she went through the doors. The story had obviously distressed her even more than it had distressed me. I wondered what had happened to her in the past.

I went off to knitting group but I didn't say anything. I couldn't. Perhaps I should have. I still feel angry and upset and just a bit sick. 

Saturday, 27 May 2023

An "unbirthday" lunch

was on the menu yesterday. 

My aunt and I have birthdays five days apart in the "holiday" part of the year. Neither of us much care for celebrations, especially of the party sort.

She phoned me earlier in the week and said, "I'm taking you out to lunch..."

We settled on Thursday and then, because of the weather, delayed it until Friday. We went to a quiet cafe with a menu which suits both of us. It isn't fancy and the service might perhaps be faster but the staff are pleasant and friendly. 

And we exchanged presents. I am now the owner of yet another knitting book, a very nice one. What is more I could honestly tell her, "No darling. It's lovely and I don't have it." 

I gave her another small shawl she can fling around her shoulders while sitting. These days her arthritis is bothering her more than it once did and she often wants something like that. I made it last year and it was one of the things I won a prize for in the state's annual show. It is covered in leaves and flowers and I suggested she might like to use it when she is sitting in her garden drinking tea. 

"No, I am going to keep it in the car. That way if I feel cool everyone can see it when I get out."

It was a typical response from her. I love her for that sort of thing as well as herself. 

It also made me think about the business of giving presents. Hers are always chosen with thought and care. If I had told her, and she would have wanted to know, I already had the book she would have returned it and found me something else. In the past I have had some other amazing books from her.  She is a very, very generous person. Middle Cat often gets gardening related things because they both have a love of gardening. Again, they are presents chosen with thought and care.

I love to give people things I know they want or, as I did yesterday, something I have made. It's important to me too. I recently sent someone I know a 90th birthday card. I made it. It has ninety quotations on it. I could just have taken any ninety from my extensive collection but I tried to choose words I thought she would enjoy reading. Her return note to me was a delight to read.

This morning I am going to send my aunt a note. I will tell her again that I like my "unbirthday" book and how much I enjoyed having lunch with her. It doesn't matter if she only lives about a kilometre from here. She will get a letter in her mail box - and I hope I can take her out for an "unbirthday" lunch again later in the year.