Thursday, 31 December 2009
You have yesterday as well as today
Rachel pointed out that I have yesterday. It is just as well. It is my birthday today and I am not feeling particularly happy about it. Indeed, if I am honest, I am not happy about it at all. I am too old. I have not achieved enough. There are times when I feel I have not achieved anything at all. Other people can retire at my age. I feel as if I have barely started. I need yesterday.
Last night my father said that he wants his 90th in three years time. He wants it with a splash and a magician. He had a magician for his 80th - a friend of his. He hates the sort of party where people "just stand around and talk". I think I just hate parties. Really.
You cannot talk with people at parties. They are noisy. People fuss. Some of them eat and drink too much. The "conversation" is superficial - if there is any at all. I do not "network" well. I cannot sell myself, nor do I want to sell myself. I would rather know about other people.
There is usually a curious assumption that I have a party to go to on my birthday, after all it is New Year's Eve. Right? Wrong. Most years I have just crawled into bed or, more likely, on to bed in the heat. I do not want to be out and about when idiots who have had too much to drink are doing wheelies on the roads. I remember one disastrous year in my early teens. We took the one family camping holiday we ever had - complete with borrowed tent, sleeping bags and camp equipment. We were in a large caravan park. The caravans had the best sites of course. Tenters were expected to be well away from everything else. We were at the farthest point. My parents hoped it would be quieter there. It was not. The entire night was little better than a drunken brawl Australian style. There were also mosquitoes, flies, ants and other insects - all of which expected a share of the baked beans on smoky black toast which was my birthday tea. I have never wanted to celebrate my birthday since then and, even before that, I was not exactly keen.
Coming in the middle of the school holidays as well as on New Year's Eve my mother always found an excuse not to celebrate my birthday. "Later perhaps" I would be told but later never came. Then, quite suddenly, I was simply too old for birthdays to matter and now I do not want them because they remind me of how old I am.
But yesterday is important - the long yesterday of my life. It is what I have most of, what has made me into my today.
My father has made me a wooden box. Inside he put some wooden buttons, oak, olive, mulga, elm and walnut. They are "experiments". The timber is beautiful. The grain on each button is fine. The olive and the mulga are streaked with colour, the oak is silky as is the walnut. The elm comes in between.
I feel like a button fastened on to life by a single, fragile thread.
Wednesday, 30 December 2009
There is today and there is tomorrow
What do I want to make resolutions about? (This is assuming I make some.) Is it a resolution to say I will do things I have undertaken to do or do resolutions have to be about something new?
Should I aim to read a page of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary each day? I would learn some new words. Is that cheating? I like dictionaries. Resolutions should really be about something uncomfortable or new or different.
What if I try to read one new author each month? But how would I choose which book to read? Ideally I should try to read something I would not usually read. The problem is that the pile of things I want to read is getting larger not smaller. (That book stack I am sitting on is very unstable. I am in danger of falling off and doing myself a serious injury from a great height. Cats do not always land on all four paws.)
I will finish writing the current book. No, that is not a resolution. That is something I must do.
I will write the third book about the same characters. No, that is not really a resolution. It is something I want to do, indeed must do if I can.
A resolution should surely be about something one does not really want to do but should do. I could give up smoking but I do not smoke. I have never smoked. I could give up drinking - alcohol that is - but I do do not drink alcohol.
I should try to lose weight but that is not a resolution. That is an health issue.
I will keep the little library I am responsible for tidy? No, that is part of the role of being the librarian.
I will not buy any more knitting supplies? What? I might need them!
Would it just be easier to make a resolution about not making resolutions?
I will have to think about....after all, I have today and tomorrow to be resolute about this.
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
There was another charity dollar discussion
I have problems with this. There are already far too many charities in Australia - and not enough charity.
There are very big, big, middle sized, small and very small charities. They are there for all sorts of purposes, human, animal, environment, arts, education etc etc. It is all very confusing. They all claim to be absolutely essential. Nobody else deals with the precise issue they have been set up to handle etc etc. There are, believe it or not, more than 600,000 registered charities in Australia. Yes, 600,000 for a population of about 23million.
You hear my frustration by now? Over the last couple of years I have been reluctantly involved in efforts to set up the fundraising for an organisation for people with severe and profound communication impairments. It is a worthy cause. There is no organisation, so far as we can discover, that specifically handles communicaton impairments. The problem is that we cannot see where it fits into the guidelines for charitable status. It needs charitable status to be an effective fundraising group. I am also reluctant because, although the problem is a major and largely unrecognised issue, we have so many charities I feel that another one will just get lost in the system. Money raised will end up being used on administration and more fundraising. Efforts will go into that rather than into the cause it has been designed to help. The group is small and the very nature of the problem means that there are communication issues, that the professionals who deal with the problem through their employment will be those who make the decisions about what is done and how it is done.
There are multiple charities which support cancer, the intellectually disabled, the mentally ill, sports (and sports for people with disabilities), the arts, animals and the environment. Some of the big ones have been around for years. Small ones come. Some stay and grow. Others fade. Some are splinter groups resulting from the infighting within larger groups. "You aren't giving our particular little group a fair share" and "You aren't paying enough attention to our needs" and "You didn't vote X back on to the committee" and...it goes on.
Then there are the fundraising ploys "We are charity direct. 95c in every dollar goes directly to the cause." Ah yes but 'directly' can (and usually does) include the costs of fundraising, the office and the administrative staff. Whatever the claims you can be certain that the proportion being spent on the problem is limited.
Several years ago a charity I have had dealings with over the years had a "fund raising dinner". It was a jubilee year occasion and was being advertised as a glitzy affair. At that dinner there was also supposed to be an acknowledgment of several people who had contributed to the cause the charity supports. I was specifically invited to attend. Several people tried to persuade me. I declined. The "fund raising dinner" cost the organisation some thousands of dollars. No money was raised. I have always been relieved I did not attend.
If those who had gone had donated the same amount and a much smaller amount had been spent on tea and biscuits I would have considered attending. People need to show appreciation of others efforts and some need to have their efforts appreciated but excess is not appreciation. We need to review the number of charities. We need to review the causes they support. Charities must come together and provide the services they claim to provide. Only in that way will people come to appreciate what charity can do.
An excess of charities is not appreciation.
Monday, 28 December 2009
There are mutterings of discontent
I suspect we have too many public holidays. The silliest one of all is for Adelaide Cup Day. This is, believe it or not, for a horse race. Even the Victorians in the next state do not have a holiday for Melbourne Cup Day which is, I understand, a much bigger event. I have no interest in horse races. I just feel sorry for the horses. We do not need public holidays in honour of animal cruelty.
But, back to the discontent. The root of the discontent is, of course, financial. There are the post-Christmas sales to consider. The retailers are complaining that it is hard to keep the momentum going. It is more difficult to get people to part with their money - or their credit. Apparently there are some big ticket items (like televisions) going 'cheap'. Hmm. (Our television set is about 30 years old. When we go digital next year then we will need to do something about this but it will be in the form of some sort of gadget attached to the telly. My nephew knows about this and assures us that is all we will need - although I think he thinks we should just upgrade the telly. We think we do not watch enough to warrant it. )
The recovery from the financial crisis is supposed to be led by the retail sector, the demand for goods (and thus services). I do not understand enough about economics to know whether this is really going to be the solution to the problem. It sounds simplistic to me, too simplistic. Surely one of the things that led to global financial meltdown was the desire to have more than we needed?
I find it difficult to sympathise with the big stores wanting to sell me a television set I do not need. While these big stores can open, the small independent stores like our local independent bookshop will have to remain closed. They do not get a look in.
There are too many people out there who may already be regretting the size of their credit card bills. That will be a real source of discontent. I think we need a holiday from shopping.
Sunday, 27 December 2009
This will be number 365 and it is not a leap year.
Leap years remind me of hares rather than hairs. I do not know why. I also associate hares with rabbits. Again, I do not know why.
Some years ago I invented a title for an imaginary Latin textbook. It was called "Leaping into Latin". The characters in it were rabbits. There was also (supposedly) "Flying French" and "Speeding Spanish" - more rabbits. They were aviators and racing car drivers. I wonder why I made the characters rabbits rather than hares?
Nobody has written the books. I think they would be more fun than "hasta" (spear). That was the first word in my school text. The book was full of spears, soldiers and wars with the occasional loving farmer thrown in. It did not appeal to me at all. I have always wanted to see a copy of Kennedy's Latin Primer to see if it was any better than that. Probably not.
I try to tell myself that Latin was useful. I did very little in three years. I could struggle through some of the Latin text in the Roman Catholic Prayer Book brought in by a classmate. We never got as far as Caesar's Wars or the love poems of Catullus or the possibly much more interesting comments on food by Pliny (the Elder I think, not the Younger).
Latin does come in handy when I am trying to work some Spanish and, to a lesser extent, with Italian. Logic says that should be the other way around but it is not so. I cannot say anything useful in Latin and, apart from the Pope, who might understand me? I am not likely to meet a Pope and they seem to speak respectable English.
I will keep writing in English. I am fortunate that it is my mother tongue, fortunate because of the immense and varied vocabulary and the many sources from which it comes. I do wonder however, what is the Latin for, "This will be number 365 and it is not a leap year."?
Saturday, 26 December 2009
There was a mini-gathering of Europe
They have a wonderful space for entertaining. They designed their home so as to be able to entertain family and, somehow, other people get invited as well.
We are considered 'family', after all my sister married her brother and that is good enough. It does not make us Greek-Cypriot-Australians. We are quite definitely Scottish-Australians. My sister's SIL married a Macedonian. They have Albanian neighbours who need to be included. Then there is their own German neighbour who lost her husband almost twenty years ago. They always invite her to Christmas lunch. One of the cousins married an Italian. There is the Welsh-Dutch one engaged to another Greek and the Russian girlfriend of the Greek-Italian family's son. There are three complete strangers. They are Bulgarian refugees. The child is eleven and calmly interprets occasionally for her mother. The father's accent is heavy and he struggles to find words at times. There is a relationship between Macedonian and Bulgarian which helps.
My Greek brother in law explains what I do and leaves me to help keep the conversation jerking along.
There is food, far too much food. They do a BBQ, bread and salads. There is a long break and then Greek sweets, cheesecake I have made because they love it and claim not to know how to make it. There are cherries to eat and the usual pip-spitting contest onto the vacant block of land next door to their home.
This year my sister's father in law did not dress as Father Christmas to hand out the gifts to the children. That role was passed to the eldest grandchild, my eldest nephew here. He is 22, a young man studying medicine. He did it differently from his grandfather. He knows his cousins are growing up and that, now, it is just a bit of fun for the benefit of their grandparents as much as themselves. Photographs are taken, video is shot. There is laughter.
I watch the young Bulgarian girl. She is laughing but she has hold of her mother's hand. Then there is one more parcel in Santa's sack. He produces it, looks carefully at the label and says as he has for each child, "This is for Liliana. Is there a Liliana here today?"
She goes pink, blinks and walks up to him. He gives it to her and, with the smallest of curtseys, she accepts it with a smile that reaches right into her dark hair. She is part of the family now. Christmas is complete.
Friday, 25 December 2009
Greetings from Downunder
Thursday, 24 December 2009
I think Christmas went downhill
There was the pram. That was supposed to be for dolls. I used it to carry building blocks and the cat.
There was the doll's house. It was nothing fancy but it was a crude replica of our own house, a fibro-asbestos "standard Education Department accommodation for teachers" house. My father had made it, along with the crude furniture that went inside it. By age four I had an imaginary family living inside it and had long conversations with them.
And, most important of all, there was my first tricycle. It was not new but my father had repainted it a bright, gleaming racing car red. My father had also adapted the pedals so that I could keep my feet on them. I could go anywhere and everywhere. I could go all the way up the lane next to the house to the farm and get the milk. (I would carry it home carefully in the tray on the back of the tricycle.)
I could go across the lane and along the path by the road, past the Methodist church and the kindergarten, over the little side road and reach the "Four Square" grocery store. I would then wait outside until someone realised I was there. There was always someone around to take me inside or come out and get me. I would hand over the shopping list and things would be put in the tray at the back. Money would exchange hands and I would pedal off again.
Occasionally I would even pedal off to the school. I was supposed to be too young to go to school of course. Going to school meant going past the grocery store, the butcher, the baker (where there were excellent currant buns to be had) and the hardware store with the fascinating display of saucepans, brooms, buckets, boxes of nails, rope, twine, sacks filled with unknown mysteries and the bicycle tyres hanging like limp hoops from the pole by the front door.
You went around the corner and up another lane. There was one small street to cross and then you had to pedal like mad past the cottage hospital (in case 'they' came to get you). That was the really scary part. After that there was another small street and you arrived at the redbrick building which was the school. I could 'park' by the front door - next to the school library books. (They lived in a bookshelf just inside the front door.) I would read for a while before somebody would tell me it was time to do the journey in reverse. I assume my parents knew where I was. I suspect my mother used the school as a baby sitter.
Nothing could equate to that first tricycle. It was Christmas every single day I used it.
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
I made a small detour
The building which holds the market is old and dark. The floor is uneven and the aisles are narrow. When the market is in full swing it is noisy. Spruikers, shouters, screamers, chatterers and children all try to make themselves heard at the same time. You get jostled and trodden on as you try to buy the temptations that surround you.
Yesterday there were the yellow-green mountains of bananas and the red pyramids of tomatoes, the jumble of capsicum, the neat hooded rows of mangoes, and the soldier like rows of celery and asparagus standing stiffly next to the lumpy, grouchy mounds of potatoes. There were deep, deep red cherries too, still wildly expensive, strawberries in little boxes, peaches, nectarines and apricots in little rows. It all looked luscious but - I think the apricots did it - unreal.
I headed for the place which sells coffee beans, ground coffee, flavoured coffee, coffee in bags and boxes, coffee from Africa, New Guinea and South America, coffee which is dark roast, medium roasted, light roasted and everything in between. They even sell chocolate for drinking. I am not sure where that comes from. I look along the rows and find the 'fair trade' variety to put in the Christmas baskets. Tea comes the same way at the tea shop. I can buy almonds by supporting a local grower. I add some other items.
Eventually, clutching my purchases, I manage to retrieve the tricycle from the little parking place under the escalator and escape without getting knocked over, dropping anything or losing my purse. Outside I carefully repack the rear basket and lock the bags on. If I look back I can see the lights, the untidy ebb and flow of people and the bright maze of colour. I can hear the market symphony. It IS fun for a short while.
I pedal off feeling both reluctant and relieved.
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
"It smells like Christmas"
It is a relatively simple process. Cut in halves, remove stone and remove any serious blemishes. Put in a saucepan with a little water and a little sugar. Cook until tender. Remove from stove. Cool, pack in the little freezer containers and freeze. I will do the same for the plums later - if there are any plums. Last year both the apricots and the plums 'cooked' on the tree.
There is something about all this cooking and freezing of fruit that says it is Christmas in Australia. Christmas here does not, for me, smell of turkey or goose or any other bird. It does not smell of plum pudding or mince pies. It is fruit. The smell of warm tomatoes reminds me vividly of sitting on the floor under the table in our house in Riverton. I would, naturally, be reading while my mother and grandmother preserved tomatoes or apricots or peaches or some other fruit from our garden or the garden of a neighbour. There was very little tinned fruit used in our house.
Smells or perfumes do evoke memories. My first year in London I ventured, at last, into Oxford Street. I went into one of the big stores there only to discover that it was as if I had walked into the tiny 'deli' around the corner from my paternal grandparents' home. Both places used the same perfumed cleaning fluid.
It is time to cut some fresh lavender and bring it in. This will go into the big blue glass jug my aunt gave my mother many years ago. It will stay there all year and gradually dry out. It is our apology for fresh flowers in the house. I like flowers but I like them much better in gardens than in the house. The perfume of the lavender however will be there for some time.
Now though I can go outside and return and the air will be a rich, warm apricot flavour. It smells like Christmas Downunder.
Monday, 21 December 2009
I really thought
I know I do not always write as well as I should. I wonder sometimes what on earth I can write about. This is not because I have nothing to say. Most people would say I have far too much to say. They ignore me - probably rightly so.
Yesterday something unexpected happened. The parcel delivery service left two parcels for me.
I was not expecting either of them. It was a Sunday. I rather think that the postal strike elsewhere has disrupted deliveries. These people have a contract to deliver and "Ev" who is in charge of the team in our area decided to do Sunday. Her husband was the one who left the parcels. We know Ev quite well. She has been known to arrive at the front door on a very hot day with a parcel in one hand and her empty water bottle in the other. Rightly so too. It is no fun delivering parcels in the heat.
The parcels contain Christmas gifts for me and my father - not to be opened until Christmas Day. I have put them with the little pile of books we are giving immediate family. We do not give big presents or presents in a big way.
And that gets me back to the blog. I usually send a small calendar to an author friend in the US. She finds Australiana fascinating. This year I asked her if there was any specific theme she would like. The reply came back as the ultimate compliment, " A Catdownunder calendar?"
I will have to see what I can do.
Sunday, 20 December 2009
Copenhagen was not even a compromise;
They are thinking big instead of thinking small. They want to make grand gestures instead of small movements. They are looking at the big picture without understanding how it was put together. They think they can see the forest but they cannot even see the individual trees.
Even many of the most well meaning activists and 'green' lobby groups are starting at the wrong end. They want, quite understandably, to make a big difference.
It does not work like that. It has never worked like that and it never will. If we want to make a difference we have to start small and grow big.
If we want to make a difference we will plant trees, grow some of our own food, walk or ride a bike when the distance allows it and catch public transport when it does not. We will recycle all we can. We will build houses that suit the environment in which we live and reduce our dependency on heating and cooling. We will put on another layer of warmth in winter instead of turning on the heater. We will wear natural, renewable fibres and recycle the water they are washed in.
When we want to provide aid to others we will listen to what they need. We will not do the job for them but allow them to get on with the job for themselves having provided the right tools for them to do the job. We will not feed them but help them feed themselves.
It sounds good and it will not happen. It will not happen because our own economies are dependent on luxuries like the car and our belief that we should be able to eat whatever food we choose at any time of the year, not merely when it is in season. We believe it is our right to flick a switch for instant energy. We believe we cannot live without television, microwaves, refrigerators, entertainment systems and - dare I say it? - the computer. We want things, if not immediately, as soon as possible so they are flown in from other parts of the globe.
No government of a 'developed' economy is going to put any of that at risk. They know that, if they did, they would lose government. They will continue to talk big and they will appear to look at compromise. They will do nothing. The United Nations will do nothing because it can do nothing. It could have done something if it had been prepared to start small and grow.
I know this. I never expected or even wanted International Literacy Year to teach everyone to read. That was not possible or even desirable. What was possible was the setting up of thousands of small projects that made a local difference and that could go on making a difference. That is what happened. The smallest thing provided that year had to be "a little machine for making the pencil thin" or a pencil sharpener for a child in Burkina Faso. That same child is now teaching mathematics to adult students. There was the "book-boat" which serves as a mobile library along a stretch of river. The librarian was one of the first children to borrow from it and borrowing has increased to more than forty times the original figure. There is the craft cooperative for the disabled where they now do their own bookkeeping because literacy is also taught. There is the mobile school which serves three remote villages and provides for adults as well as children. With the rise in literacy there has been a rise in health and overall living standards.
They were small projects and they made a difference. We need to work from the inside out, not the outside in.
Saturday, 19 December 2009
"Can I have one now?"
Sam almost never smiles or laughs. At almost seven he still 'hates' school although he is doing quite well in the classroom - top group for both maths and reading. He seems to have friends at school and appears to play happily enough with them. Ask him anything about school though and it is as if he is mute. He struggles to say anything. There is something wrong there. His parents are worried. The school does not see a problem. Sam does not misbehave. He does his work. He participates. He does all the 'right' things. He just hates doing them. It makes him moody and discontent and hard to handle at home.
Sam also has a range of allergies, including an allergy to nuts which could kill him. He cannot even sit next to a child who has been eating peanuts without beginning to react. There is an epi-pen at school, an epi-pen at home, an epi-pen in the car. His parents, his almost eleven year old sister has been shown what to do as well as his parents. She knows what medications he takes in the morning and at night. Sam knows too.
I think that might be part of the problem. Sam knows there are things that make him ill, very ill.
He is afraid. Who can blame him? His parents do not fuss but they are naturally concerned.
Around this time of the year there are parties. At parties there tend to be all sorts of things to eat. Most of us are all too conscious that there is too much food and that much of it is not particularly good for us but we eat it anyway.
Sam will go to a party and has to be coaxed to eat anything even when his mother tells him it is safe to eat it. He does not like parties. They put him in a foul mood.
So, do I risk it? I make shortbread for friends. His family and ours always exchange a small quantity of home baking. This year I decided to experiment. I made two packets. One was bigger and the other smaller. When they came to see us I gave the bigger packet to his mother and then I held out the smaller packet to Sam and said, "Sam, this is yours. There are no nuts."
He looked up at his mother. She nodded, "Go on. Cat made them especially for you."
He reached out and took them with muttered thanks. Them, quite suddenly, there was a proper small boy grin and he wanted to know, "Can I have one now?"
Friday, 18 December 2009
It was only $350,000
But, 14 people? Why not 4 or 40? Did they really need to visit all those places? Will they really learn from the mistakes of other people?
Adelaide put in a ticketing system for public transport some years ago. It did away with a good many jobs. It turned buses and trains into single person operations. Drivers now have to assist passengers where necessary. Many drivers see no necessity. It delays and impedes progress when they have to get out the ramp for wheelchair users. If you have a pram or pusher or, like me, you have to take a tricycle on the train you get no help. Once a guard would have been there to help. It was his role to help. Now the transit officers, when they appear, are there only for security. "It's not our job to help passengers. We're just here to see people behave." They are rarely there anyway - and, it sometimes seems, never when they are most needed.
The ticketing system which brought about all of this was supposed to keep fare evasion at a minimum. In reality it allows a high level of fare evasion. Kids have the system sorted. Adults 'forget' to validate or, having placed their card next to a convenient magnet to wipe it, claim it does not work. It will get them at least one free trip.
The government has only itself to blame. The system is clumsy. There is no provision for 'return' tickets. There is a two hour time limit. There are peak and non-peak fares. They recently cut out fares for those over sixty - as long as you no longer work and have a Seniors Card - but only in the non-peak period between 9.01 am and 3pm. (Please note that 9.01 and not 9.00.) The timetables are also neatly designed so that connections cannot be made.
We must also acknowledge that the ticketing system we implemented was brought into being at great expense after a very expensive fact finding mission to find the 'best' ticketing system. After all, we had to avoid the mistakes made by the rest of the world. Just as we began to put it in place the French were ripping it out because it was losing them so many fares. Never mind, it was all going to be very different and work well here. Perhaps.
So, we will get the world's best mass transport system in the future. We will not make any mistakes because the fourteen people who went, including two government ministers, are going to be on hand for years to give us the benefit of all this expertise.
In the meantime I had a 'phone call, "I'm from X department. I've been told to get in touch with you because we urgently need someone who knows about...." Oh yes? And then it comes, "I'm terribly sorry we can't pay you but we really do need to see if we can help this family."
Now, did they really need to spend $350,000 on that grand tour or could they have used it to employ someone for a year to save them more than $350,000?
I know, government does not work like that.
Thursday, 17 December 2009
Do you want the good news or
the other news? Or perhaps the good news is the other news as far as the rest of you are concerned? Yes, the computer appears to be up and running again. Mind you there were the usual muttered cursings from my long suffering BIL. I can hardly blame him. He works for an internet company. He knows about the big stuff as well as the little stuff. He does fancy things with the computer that I know nothing about. There are all sorts of fancy little things that appear when he starts to play on the keys.
I did not like trying to use the lap top. I kept hitting the wrong keys - most frustrating. I felt the way I did when I was first learning to type. It is, I understand, a very old lap top - or perhaps I really am getting old. Ms Whirlwind (age 10) eyed me up and down the other day and then said kindly, "I don't think you are old yet. You will be old when you don't like to read what I like to read." We both like to read picture books so perhaps there is some hope for me yet. Come to thnk of it Dad will read a new picture book and he is almost 87 years young.
I am wondering about this age thing and books. I am wondering about choice of books and the young too. I remember when we thought Jill Paton Walsh's "The Dolphin Crossing" might be too realistic for some children to handle. It is not even on library shelves now. It is regarded as too old fashioned. War books now should be about Iraq or Afghanistan, refugees and boat people. The message is being lost because of the images on television screens. Children, or some children, are becoming immune. No doubt there will shortly be a rush - or should that be 'rash'? - of books about climate change, Copenhagen, how the London Olympics will emit so much carbon pollution and how a family took a holiday at home in order to reduce their carbon footprint. People will write these things. Publishers will publish them. The books will receive accolades and prizes. People will buy them in the belief that this is what literature for children should be about. Perhaps it is but it should be about all of the rest of life as well. An elderly neighbour has asked me to help with Christmas books for his grandchildren. "Do you think we can find something funny instead of all this doom and gloom Cat?" We can certainly try.
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
What you will read is what you will be allowed to read.
Now, the little problem. Adults choose books that they believe adults will want to read. Adults also choose books that they believe children will want to read - and should read. I suspect that the selection process for a children's book is very different from that for an adult book. (If you are reading this Nicola please correct me if I am wrong.)
If the rest of you disbelieve me head along to the library shelves and take a look at what is there. Read the blurbs on the dust jackets or on the backs of the endless paperbacks. There will be (a) books about social issues - thinly disguised as stories about other things and (b) formulaic undemanding stories that are crude copies of the genuine article.
Okay, that is an exaggeration of course. There will be other things but much of the shelf space will be taken up with those two things. Adults have the advantage. They can dictate what children will read. The child who wants to read will read it. They will read it because it is there. It is, in their view, not too bad but it could be better too. If they do not have access to 'ordinary adventure stories' it is assumed that they will not miss them. It is assumed that it does not matter that they are missing out on the adult equivalent of the detective story. (The detective story is top of the borrowing choices in our local library and, I suspect, elsewhere.) If, the argument goes, a child is going to read then they should be reading something 'useful', something that is going to teach or give them an issue to think about.
For me, having amassed a considerable collection of children's literature from the 1950's on the exciting thing is to have a child borrow a book from me and then come flying through the door at great speed saying , "Are there any more like this?" Are they learning anything from a straightforward story without didactic or moral undertones? Yes. They are learning to love reading. They are choosing to read.
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Copenhagen, contracts, corruption
I have a friend who runs a refugee 'camp' in East Africa. She is African herself but under no illusions about the way her country is run. Put simply, it is corrupt. Corruption is part of their culture. It is the way things are done. You pay people a little extra to get the service you want, you give them some of the goods to ensure that things get through, you provide certain services etc etc. There is corruption in our culture as well. I do not deny it. I do not think it is as overt or as widespread but it is there. There is waste, particularly government funded waste - some of which is corrupt and some of it careless. There is however more accountability as well - not enough perhaps but there is some.
But there are major problems in Africa and much more gets wasted. Now billions of dollars have been pledged to help Africa and elsewhere overcome the problems of climate change. What is going to happen to this money? How will it be spent? Who will spend it? Who will supervise? How much of it will, like so much aid mone, be wasted?
I think our approach is wrong. I saw a brief news item a couple of nights ago. An army colonel in Mali had the local men digging out the silt that was preventing a waterway feeding into a lake. When the water flows food can be grown. He was saying they were fighting a losing battle against the encroaching sand - but he thought the battle could be won with the provision of some heavy earthnoving equipment.
It sounded like a positive project. It looked as if it really did have potential. Is it the sort of thing likely to be funded? Probably not. Governments want big projects, not small projects. They want to run marathons before they have taken the first step.
Monday, 14 December 2009
BUT I do not understand computers. My BIL knows a great deal more. He took time out yesterday and he has this sulking animal limping along at present. What he did is beyond me. He brought up things on the screen that I have never seen before. He tells me this is telling him about the inner workings of the computer. I apparently have plenty of 'storage space' left on it so that is not a problem. It is never likely to be. I do not download music or movies. Dictionaries do not take up the same sort of space apparently. They are 'just words' according to some people. (I disagree strongly.)
Now, dear readers, do you understand the inner workings of these machines? Do you understand the inner workings of all the other things you use on a daily basis? Do you know how a power plant works, how it delivers the electricity that allows us to use the machines? You probably have far more idea than me.
I come to the conclusion that there is more and more I do not know.
Sunday, 13 December 2009
Okay, okay I know I am a little later than usual
Now all I need is a new computer probably - well, the bits that make it work if you understand my meaning. My BIL assures me that this can be done - although it will flatten the computer account to zilch...ah, cat hairs and humbug.
Now, if you are reading this please cease - and do a back up of all your files...especially the Work in Progress (aka the Booker Prize winning novel). I did do a back up - not that I have a Booker Prize winning novel in my files.
I shall go and spread a different sort of cat hair elsewhere.
Saturday, 12 December 2009
"I'm going to read and read!"
It is also tough when your father is not able to take time off and see you be the talking dog in a class play. I went instead. It was funny and she did well. Her father did get to speech night on Thursday. Just as well when she was getting a prize!
But, this is the weekend. She has been dropped off by the mother of one of her friends and stays with us until her father arrives home from work. Usually she has homework or 'prep' to do but this weekend there is the blissful prospect of the summer holidays. She has no intention of wasting a moment.
"What else are you going to do?" I asked the other day when we were busy icing the Christmas cake.
She thought about it and then said, "I want to do lots of drawing and learn some more cooking and look after my tomatoes and go swimming and riding my bike and make some things and remember Dad and I are going to stay at the beach."
I note silently that nothing is said about playing with friends. A child who prefers her own company, she is not looking forward to next week's out of school hours care and being herded around in a group on various outings and excursions. I have to sympathise, although without actually saying so.
Her father is taking annual leave for a month at the end of that week. Then it will almost be time to return to school. Friends will step in and see that she is looked after for the day and she will enjoy it but look forward to the evenings and some precious time with her father before returning to the routine of school boarding during the week and only weekends with her father.
Reading is important for her. It means that she can escape for a while. It means she can explore other people's emotions and locations, their hopes and fears and dreams.
I was worried for a while that she was using books to escape from real life but she seems to have her feet firmly planted on the ground. "School is boring. There isn't enough to do there."
It has been a toss up between Latin and Japanese next year as an 'extension' class. We talked a lot about it. In the end Latin won. She wants to learn more Italian later. Her best friend's family is Italian and she knows "little bits".
I have found her a simple picture book I own. It is in Italian. I give her an Italian dictionary as well and tell her, "See how much you can work out for yourself."
I get that "I know what you are doing" look from her but she accepts both with a grin. It is another thing to do.
"But," she tells me, "I am still going to read and read."
Friday, 11 December 2009
I may or may not get this written
I know. I know. I know. I used to manage without a computer. Having a computer has made me lazy. I keep things I should not keep. I am less organised. The computer is like a messy office. I need to deal with it.
Before that I have to go and have one of those fasting blood tests. I dislike these intensely. I am, unlike many people, a "needs breakfast in order to function" person. Bah, humbug - and a liberal sprinkling of cat hair.
I am actually feeling a little anxious. I do not want my computer breaking down entirely over the holiday period. I do have a computer repair fund because it is a vital link for my work but....
I think I had better do a back up RIGHT NOW!
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Writing the 'right' book?
Most of it was of little interest to me. I could not afford to buy the language and lingustics texts even at those prices and the mathematics and physics were way above my furry head. So were most of the other subjects.
Eventually the marketing experiment, if that is what it was, died out and it was replaced by a mainstream mail order company. Once in a while my father or I will order something from the catalogue. It will usually be something that is greatly reduced, a clear 'remainder'. Very occasionally it will be something that our local indie cannot, for some reason or another, access.
Most of the books however hold no interest whatsoever.
"Do people really want to read all this doom and gloom?" my father will ask, "Do they want to read about violence and sex abuse and child molestation? Why do they want to read about 'real life' mass murderers?"
Doom and gloom is what makes headlines in the media. There is very rarely a good news story in the headlines - unless it relates to winning something in sport. If the media is anything to go by then people seem to want to vicariously live doom and gloom. It makes them feel good. It has not happened to them.
And this gets translated into books written and published as well.
Now Nicola Morgan is saying it is simple. You have to write the 'right' book to get it published. I am pondering this. For many years the Royal Society for the Blind had, probably still has, a committee which decided which books would be made available as talking books. Their choice was often apparently paternalistic. Doom and gloom did not feature too highly on the list of available books. It was not what they wanted their clients to read and, if they are to be believed, not what their clients wanted to read.
There was also the child in the library who was clearly tired of doom and gloom and just wanted 'an ordinary adventure story'. Talking to other children made me realise that adults who are, after all, responsible for choosing what gets published for children are guilty of the same sort of sin as the RSB once was. They choose books they believe children should read rather than books children want to read. Yes, given the choice, some children will head for a constant diet of 'ice-cream' and they do need to have some vegetables thrown in. Many other children will read a wide and varied diet without too much encouragement. There is a limit to the number of 'greens' or 'social interest' books they can handle.
So, when an author writes the right book is it the right book for the publisher? Is it the right book for the parent or the teacher or the librarian? Is it the right book for the child? I suspect that the last matters less than it might because, if books are there, children will tend to read them in the absence of something better. Then they grow up wanting doom and gloom.
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
Nick has gone off to see the same man in Melbourne this morning. His mother is pacing their house. His father has gone off to do the essential watering and clearing on their small property in the hills behind us saying he wishes it was him and not Nick. You do not expect your children to die before you and they know this could happen.
You do not expect anyone younger than you to die. It is not supposed to happen. I do not have children but Nick is younger than I am. I used to supervise Nick in the bath when he was tiny. He was a little demon, along with his twin brother. They were always up to mischief. They did some pretty crazy things in their teens and young adulthood but (there is always a but isn't there?) they have always been kind to me. They never teased. They were never rude. They always acknowledged me - even in their worst teenage years. Nick at 14 or 15 was the one who carried a mug of tea outside for me and put it on the table without being asked. It was just enough help but not too much. It counts for a lot.
There was a bit of a party for their father's birthday not that long after Nick came back from the major surgery in Melbourne. He had reached the point where he was able to eat again with some semblance of normal appetite. There was the usual buffet laid out and people were helping themselves. Nick was trying to manage with the use of only one arm and not succeeding terribly well at cutting something. Nobody else seemed to want to notice although they must have seen. I came up on the opposite side of the table. Our eyes met. I put my hand out and steadied the plate for him. It was enough, not too much. Nothing was said. It is not Nick's style.
I hope, if - when the time comes I can do the same thing for his parents. The thing will be to judge how much is enough and not too much.
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Living back to front
I gave up on the actual physical writing yesterday and went off to the post office. I posted a little packet - and forgot to get stamps for the overseas Christmas letters because I was too busy trying to fill out the customs form. Sometimes the staff, who know me, are nice and do such things for me but there were just too many people around yesterday. It is just as well I only had to put 'pen' in the description of the contents.
While I was there I was bailed up by someone I know. He wanted to write a letter to the 'Tiser he told me. What he really wanted was for me to dictate a letter to him which he would then send. I have occasionally done this for people I know to be lacking in word confidence. I never write the entire letter, just help them sort their ideas out and, occasionally, add a phrase or two or even a paragraph. He does not lack word confidence. He does not need any help from me. His letters do not get published because they are too long. Letters to the 'Tiser need to be short, especially since they changed the format of the Letters to the Editor page. I might live back to front but he thinks back to front.
The upside down part of my life came to a head when I realised that I would need to be up at 5am this morning in order to participate in an evening discussion being held yesterday in Europe. It is always an odd sensation to realise that other people have not yet gone to bed for the night from which you have just risen,
I did not get to putting any of the inside out bit into a written format. It has remained inside my head. I spent the afternoon comfortably making shortbread. It needs to be packed into little cellophane bags today so that my father can take it with him to a small, informal Christmas dinner tonight. The afternoon was not wasted however as I think I have a solution to a problem. I need to check something and that cannot be done until later today.
The rest of the inside-out bit continues to be uncomfortable. How do you survive in a vacuum?
Monday, 7 December 2009
Drawing up the calendar
I need to explain. When my parents retired they naturally ceased to keep the large diaries provided by the Education Department. When they had both retired they tried to keep separate diaries for appointments, meetings, reminders of birthdays etc. Naturally this did not work. My aunt found them a wall calendar. It might have worked but there was nowhere to hang it.
I came home from university at the end of that year and discovered my mother was busy with a large sheet of coloured cardboard, pencil, pen, my father's long steel rule and one of those little calendars you get from businesses of all sorts. She was drawing up a calendar for the following year. It was designed to fit on the side of a cupboard adjacent to the kitchen bench.
My mother was perfectly competent at this sort of thing. Her 'infant-school' teacher printing was neat and legible. All the birthdays and other regular events would be quickly and neatly slotted in. Everyone knew where everyone was supposed to be at a glance. All people had to do was remember to (a) add things as necessary and (b) look at it.
When my mother died and I had to return home to look after my father I continued to draw up the calendar. I solved the problem of almost illegible paw prints by printing off certain things and pasting them on to the new year's sheet of cardboard. We add reminders of things like the date the council rates are due too these days. I have to take more responsibility for looking at it than Dad these days. He is not terribly interested in remembering dates of birthdays etc. Reminded of these things he is more than happy to provide generous presents and congratulations but he has never been one to remember how old any of us are. Perhaps that is just as well.
At the time I draw the calendar up I look at it and think, "Ah, nice and empty. Perhaps there will be time to achieve something this coming year." Gradually it fills up. By the end of the year there is always something in almost every space. There is less than there was but there is enough. It suggests my father is busy and still able to enjoy life. It is why I will draw up another calendar.
Sunday, 6 December 2009
I do not have the right to communicate.
The thing that marks us out from other animals is our capacity for complex communication. We can teach chimpanzees sign language and they may even initiate some apparently new (to them) messages. Even if that happens they are not going to do the mathematical calculations to get another chimpanzee to the moon.
If we do not give people the right to a means of communication then we fail to acknowledge them as human beings. If we try to restrict ways and means of communicating then we fail to acknowledge them as human beings. My entire working life has been taken up, one way or another, with the right to a means of communication.
That does not mean any of us have the right to communicate. Communication is a two way process. It requires a sender and a receiver. It involves choice. If we choose to offer communication then we have a responsibility to do the very best we can to make others understand what we are trying to communicate. If we choose to receive communication then we have a duty to do our best to understand the message which is being delivered.
There will always be a barrier, marker, a point, a space, something, between sending and receiving. My experience is not your experience. When you read what I write you will be reading something different from what I am writing. What matters is whether we can share something between my writing and your reading. The more we can share the closer we can come to understanding. Good writing is a shared experience.
There are also good manners. If, by virtue of your occupation, you invite others to communicate then you have a duty to acknowledge the presence of the invitee. Failure to do that is failure to do the job. Acknowledgment can be brief and even dismissive but, without it, communication has failed. You have failed to acknowledge someone else as human.
Heavy duty Philosophy 101 over for the day. I am going to do the housework so I can do some real writing later.
Saturday, 5 December 2009
I feel like quitting.
My third Christmas was fine. I was given a wonderful little Hornby train set. My father and I spent the morning playing with it under the dining room table at my grandparent's house. I read the instructions to him and he set it up...there were not too many instructions but I did manage it myself. Christmas went downhill after that. There was always a problem because my maternal grandmother wanted us to spend the entire day with her. We wanted to spend it with my paternal grandparents who, although strict, were the sort of people with whom you could always feel secure. They were happily married. My maternal grandparents were not. Christmas feels more like maternal grandparents than my paternal grandparents. I am not happily married to it. Indeed, I feel entirely anti-social about it and all the fuss.
In a week I will have been writing the blog for a year. In the process I have found some other blogs and virtually met some people (and actually met one person). It has been interesting. If I can keep it up then I will have achieved my goal of writing it for a year. My other writing is a mess. It usually is. I am not a disciplined writer. I cannot start at the beginning of a book and work my way through to the end. It just does not happen like that. I know there are writers who decide exactly what is going to happen and exactly what their characters are going to be like. Mine tell me. I might argue with them - but that's another story.
I am not sure what else I have achieved - and yet I have been busy all the year. It feels as if the year has only just started not as if it is ending. I looked at some other blogs this morning. You have all read more than me - and I thought I had read a lot. Those who knit have knitted more than me - and I thought I had done quite a lot for me. Writing? Well, that has been up and down for all of us. It is the writing which is the problem. It is not simple. Nicola Morgan is wrong to suggest that there is a very simple theory to getting published. I followed all the rules and I can't even get a rejection slip. I can't even get a darn response. I feel like quitting.
....but I promised Ms Whirlwind she would have the sequel of the sequel for Christmas.
Friday, 4 December 2009
The things you need to know
I have several novels languishing in the 'bottom drawer' of the computer. They need work but they sit there because I got side-tracked. I wrote a 'sort-of-sequel' to Elinor Lyon's Cathie-Ian-Sovra novels for children instead. It was written for a young friend who wanted 'another story about them'. Sadly Elinor died before I could give it to her as well.
Simple you say? The characters are all there. The setting is there. All you have to do is supply the story. No, no, no! I had to re-read Elinor's books first. I had to make notes. I had to get things right. Young friend would have rapidly informed me if I had any detail wrong. I had to feel my way into a place I have never visited. My picture of it is undoubtedly different from the reality of the place Elinor based her Melvick, Lochhead and Kinlochmore on but I have lived in similarly remote places. It can be done. I had to remind myself about Skellig Michael and a couple of other small points.
All the same it was relatively simple. The story is simple. I am, more fool me, writing the sequel to that sequel. (I wonder what you call sequels to sequels?) I thought that would be relatively simple too. I have no idea where the idea for the story came from but I have suddenly found myself checking facts in history, finding out about lighthouses and people in positions of importance and little bits of law. The last do not go into the story as such but they have to make the story possible if you see what I mean.
Nicola Morgan was talking about physics and mathematics and other subjects only for a genius on her blog when I read it this morning. I hope I never have to head in those directions. I am not a scientist. I have no great interest in physics or mathematics except at an everyday level.
When I had finished reading Nicola however I realised that there was something she needs to say to writers. "All writers should be competent researchers."
Thursday, 3 December 2009
Stir once, stir twice, stir again....
The recipe I use these days belongs to a friend. It was her grandmother's recipe. It is relatively simple. The fruit is sitting there with the contents of a bottle of cheap sherry over the top. It gets stirred several times a day. Things get added. The mixture goes into a variety of tins. It gets cooked. Cake, hopefully, comes out at the other end.
I will dutifully add a few mince pies (for my father) and shortbread. I am not cooking turkey or Christmas pudding. I do not care for either and neither does my father. Pudding belongs to winter, if we eat it at all. Both of us prefer fresh fruit.
"There will just be the three of us," an elderly friend told me. She has an invalid husband and still cares for a psychotic and sometimes violent son. I give her a small cake with the excuse that it is what will not fit into the tin I make ours in. It is a convention that allows her to accept it. She does not have the time or energy to make cakes of any sort.
A father and his young daughter will take one small cake with them when they head off for a week at the beach. They go over Christmas and New Year. It is important for them to get away because Christmas in the city has too many reminders of things past and what might have been. There will just be the two of them. I will get my young friend to help with the last stages of the cake making. She can ice their cake herself.
This sort of thing makes me feel a bit better about Christmas. I do not like the excess which surrounds Christmas. I like to stir in a little TLC but I do not want to smother.
It was very warm first thing this morning. When I collected the papers from the front I could smell Christmas. It was sweet and delicate. It was the 'barely there and not quite ready yet' scent of the peach tree. It was the way Christmas should be.
I went inside and stirred once, stirred twice and then stirred again.
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Will he lead or will he be allowed to lead?
This morning's papers leave no room for any doubt that the media is not happy with the new leader. He is a conservative, a former Catholic priest in training, a man with strong views on abortion, workplace flexibility, taking responsibility for oneself, looking out for your neighbour when they need it and a monarchist to boot. Not nice. This is not the sort of politics the media wants. It makes people think. I will reserve judgment. He has been known to put both feet into his mouth before now.
Nevertheless it raises the question of whether he will lead the Coalition to the next election. Given that election may well be a double dissolution this is a very big question indeed. The government is still saying they do not want a double dissolution. The timing for one would now be awkward. Go for a double dissolution before Copenhagen and nothing can be done at Copenhagen. Go for a double dissolution after Copenhagen. There will be no point in doing that unless the Copenhagen conference comes up with something that will give Labor leverage. Given the current track record of such conferences that may not happen. The government therefore also made a tactical blunder in demanding that the legislation be passed before Copenhagen. It was supposed to be the Prime Minister's chance to shine on the world stage. He wanted to lead. He has, without doubt, a view that he is a world leader. He speaks Mandarin - of a sort. What more could you want?
The problem is that Australia is merely a minor player on the world stage. If our first language was not English we would be smaller still. The new leader of the Opposition recognises that. He is prepared to move more cautiously. Is that what we want? We are being told it is not what we want. We can be a world leader. It will not make any difference to climate change. It will bankrupt the economy yet again but it will put us on the world stage.
I will suport an ETS if we cease to mine coal. I have concerns about nuclear safety but, if we sell uranium to other countries for nuclear power then we must also use it ourselves - or cease to sell it. I want to see reforestation taken up as a major issue and major changes to transport and other personal power usage issues.
None of that is likely to happen in a hurry, if it happens at all. The question for now then has to be whether the new Coalition leader will lead or will he be allowed to lead? Will we get an effective Opposition that might allow these issues to be debated? I doubt it. It makes people think. Thinking is dangerous.
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
A little searching
Now that I have them I am, naturally, determined to use most of them. There are places to go and things to explore. There is this,
No, I do not actually read Gaelic. I can struggle through and translate a short sentence into English with the aid of a dictionary. Most intelligent people could do the same thing. Nevertheless it is the language of my ancestors and there are some utterly marvellous proverbs poetry and tales to be found. I could also go hunting for something that has been eluding me in Latin and download a Hausa dictionary and some Swahili folk tales for my friend Claire to use with the children she works with. There is even some knitting from the 19th C that is set out in a completely different way. It assumes people are intelligent enough and knowledgeable enough to make some decisions for themselves about bonnets and bustiers and other strange items. Strange indeed because knitting patterns now tend to be prescriptive. It is why I never follow them. I was never any good at being told what to do.
I have not yet dared to head towards the Children's collection of the same archive. There is bound to be far too much reading material there. I should be working. I can also skip over to some book review sites I do not normally have the download for and some blogs I need to catch up on. There is the rest of the Giddy Limit cartoon strip - set in Orkney.
The sheep related cartoons are something anyone ever associated with sheep can appreciate.
I have to stop this searching. There is work to do. I need to go to the Post Office. The Christmas queues there are getting irritatingly longer. I need to write real letters, make more shortbread and a Christmas cake so as to have something to offer visitors.
The trouble is that there is just one more site and that will lead to another...and another. Searching is dangerous. I must limit my download. It weighs too heavily on my time.
Monday, 30 November 2009
Retirement is not an option.
She is 'baby sitting' for at least the next six months, possibly longer. "Baby sitting" is not quite the right term but it is the one she used. What she will be doing is looking after her son's three children, aged 4, 7 and 10 yrs. She will be doing this full time. It is not the retirement this acquaintance had planned. Retirement was supposed to be a chance to do a little travelling, get the garden in order, do some community work with a service club and the church and join out knitting group. It was supposed to be a slow preparation for a move to a retirement village in the knowledge that her family will not be willing or able to care for her. She is not in the best of health so all of this had been carefully considered. It was supposed to be a balanced approach to life. Now she will be endeavouring to find the energy to do what a much younger person would do. What is more she will have to do it alone. Her husband died some years ago.
Add to all that there are her daughter's children, the two who need to be picked up from school and taken to football and athletics and all the other activities. She will be caring for them over the month of the summer holidays as well.
Her children know what they are asking. They say it will keep her busy, active, young and that it will be good for her. I wonder. She feels she cannot refuse. I asked her what they would do if she was not available. The matter had not even been discussed. What if you become really ill? That has not been discussed. Non-availability is not an option. Illness is not an option. Retirement is not an option. So why are her children are already planning their retirement?
Sunday, 29 November 2009
Do cats paint?
That year however he found a book called "Why cats paint." It was a book allegedly about cats as artists. I have never been absolutely certain what to make of the book but, ever since, I have watched cats to see if they exhibit artistic tendencies.
Yesterday it rained. Pluto was crouched in our carport. We have no car so the space is home to my tricycle, Dad's gopher, some timber and one or two other oddments. There is a nice flat concrete surface on which the car, when we had one, used to sit. Pluto was crouched on this surface, tail flicking, apparently watching the rain fall off the roof.
When the rain had stopped he sat for a little longer and then he strolled out onto the wet area, turned and padded in again. After a moment he repeated the exercise twice more. Then he sat apparently looking at the pattern his damp paw prints had made. His tail kept flicking. Eventually he did a wide circle and, with more damp paws, he came back and put another row of paw prints across the end of the other rows. He sat. He appeared to look some more. Then he strolled off, jumped on the fence, walked down the top of the fence and disappeared from view.
What was he doing? Was he "painting"? All his actions appeared to be quite deliberate.
I have no idea what he was doing but I am sure of one thing. Cats observe.
Saturday, 28 November 2009
These sort of articles appear often enough for me to assume that there is some sort of problem - but I am still uncertain just what the actual problem is.
One of the neighbourhood children frequently spends time in our house. She considers it to be one of her local libraries, the source of help with homework (rarely needed) and advice about things she feels she cannot talk to her father about. When your mother has died this is important. This child boards at school Monday to Friday. She does not have a lot of free time but neither is she dragged off to an after-school activity every afternoon of the week. She plays sport at school and participates in other school organised activities. She is not learning an instrument, ballet, gymnastics, little Athletics, swimming, dramatics or any other formal activity. She likes gardening, especially if she can grow something which will be eaten. She likes to cook and can produce a diverse range of simple meals under minimal supervision. She is learning to knit, likes to make all sorts of things out of paper, cardboard and other oddments. She reads voraciously. At weekends she likes to go bike riding with her father. Her computer time is limited and under supervision.
Some people say she must be lonely although she is well liked at school. They tell her father she is missing out on a lot of experiences because she does not do the after school activities that so many other children do.
If she wanted to do any of them her father would try and find a way to do it. She is simply not interested. She has too much to do. If she is not actually doing then she is reading. She rarely watches television and, if she does, she will be doing something else at the same time - or she fidgets.
Recently we were doing a bit of girl shopping together - her father finds it difficult to buy clothes, especially underclothes, for her. We came across one of her school friends, a child who has an activity each afternoon of the week. This child complained she was bored. My young friend looked at her and, without actually saying anything, it was clear she was asking, "You're bored?"
When we had moved on she said to me, "You know I think you can be bored from being told what to do all the time."
That might just be the problem.
Friday, 27 November 2009
Can you really read
The 'Tiser printed a letter yesterday. It raised some legitimate questions about the manner in which scientific research is conducted. This morning there was an angry response from another reader. It condemned the writer but made no attempt to address the arguments put forward. We are back to "bad science" or seeing just what you want to see on the page. If the big boys say something is black then it must be black. If the media says it is grey then they are merely stirring up debate to sell the story. If anyone else, even another scientist, says something may be white tinged with grey then they absolutely have to be wrong.
Trying to explain that big issue science is as much about politics and economics as science and that scientific 'facts' may only be theories is not going to make you popular. People want certainty. They do not want to think. People want to be told. They will accept the direst predictions as long as they are presented as cold fact about which there can be no argument. They do not want to be told "maybe". It seems we cannot handle uncertainty.
A friend rang yesterday to say that a mutual elderly friend who lost a breast to cancer some years ago has to go for more tests. Her regular check up found something the doctors do not like the look of. There may be nothing wrong or there may be something very wrong. She has to wait a fortnight - and it is going to seem like a very long fortnight - before the tests and then she will have to wait for the results. We will wait with her and share her uncertainty.
Whatever the outcome the uncertainty will always be there. This may be why we like to have certainty, even false certainty, about issues like climate change or global warming, the threat of terrorism, cholesterol, the drop in education levels, increasing unemployment, the nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea, and the health threat from the consumption of any number of foods and the use of deodorant or some hair shampoos. Even is we go and live a totally natural lifestyle on an island we are in danger from rising sea levels or falling into the ocean as we endeavour to catch a mercury laden fish.
So, can we really read? I have never regretted doing a degree in law. It taught me to read. I am glad I did it after my doctorate. If I had done it before that I might not have done my doctorate because I would have been even more conscious of the uncertainties in what I was doing. Doing it afterwards told me that I did not want to be a lawyer - but then I never had any intention of being one. I needed the degree for other reasons. There was a bonus though. It taught me the value of the lack of certainty - but it is also hard to live with that lack of certainty. Perhaps it is just as well that so many people have never really learned to read. It is much more comfortable to see what you want to see.
Thursday, 26 November 2009
Am I allowed to read or am I only supposed to be
Nicola Morgan had a little shot at Oxfam for suggesting that giving someone a book token was 'boring'. What Oxfam was, of course, trying to suggest was that giving someone you do not know a goat or gardening tools is more useful. It may or may not be. Giving someone a goat or gardening tools will only be useful if they know how to care for or use these things. These things are only going to happen if someone can 'read' in the widest possible sense of reading.
There is, of course, no point in giving someone a book unless they know how to read or someone can read it to them. Again, this has to be reading in the widest possible terms. Reading is about much more than recognising and making sense of the funny little squiggles on a page or screen. We 'read' constantly in order to make sense of the world around us.
As far as reading in the more traditional sense however I am getting the impression that, in some places, reading for pleasure is considered to be a waste of time. Certainly, reading for pleasure is not something you do at school. At school you read to learn. If you are not reading to learn you should be doing something productive. The same goes for after school activities. You should be doing sport, preferably something competitive and (most definitely) you need to be on the winning team. If you are not doing sport then you should be learning something else, an instrument perhaps. If you are doing that then you should be aiming to pass exams and perform in public. Then there are various youth organisations with levels and badges and challenges. All these things are aimed at doing, at learning, at performing, and at competing. It is all wildly important. "How many after-school activities does little Bobby manage to cram in?" and "Can your parents get a second car so that Jilly can do ballet while Anna does soccer and can you still get off early from work to take Robby to tennis coaching?" Children must not be left unattended for free play. They may waste time. They may not be learning something.
"Television? Oh that is different. They can eat while they watch television. Computer games? Well it is good for reaction times and manual dexterity and, anyway, that's something they all do."
"Read for pleasure? Well, no. It's really a waste of time isn't it? I mean, they aren't learning anything are they? The Harry Potter stuff? Well I suppose that was a bit different, you know the films and all that as well. It was different when I was a kid. We didn't have so much to do."
So, learning and doing are more important than reading a book? We can learn and do without reading? Why would anyone want to read when they could be kicking the winning goal? Isn't life all about kicking the winning goal? We're complete failures unless we manage to kick the winning goal and go on kicking the winning goals.
The problem is that very few of us will ever kick the winning goal - but, if we learn to read, we can be on the winning team .
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
The wonders of modern technology allowed me
Prior to that, Roger had broadcast between 4pm and 5pm on a Thursday afternoon which meant it was the wee sma' hours of Friday morning for us. Those of us interested were (or should have been) asleep. Why does it matter you ask? Why on earth would anyone living in Downunder want to listen to radio programmes broadcast by older, amateur radio fanatics? (Why would anyone want to do a lot of things?)
Well, for a start, Roger sent an e-mail telling me he was going to do this. I felt rather pleased by that. Roger contacted me after his mother, Elinor Lyon, died. I will always regret I never met this wonderful children's author - wonderful because her books were marvellous, straightforward adventure stories peopled by real, believable people. Her children were lucky.
I hardly know Roger but it is apparent he has a wicked sense of humor and he was kind enough to answer questions put to him by a young friend of mine when she wanted answers for a school project. Whatever he thought of my own efforts in adding a sequel to his mother's work for said young friend he was kind enough to keep his thoughts to himself. I rather suspect I would like Roger a lot in real life.
Now, Roger's taste in music and mine differ. That is hardly surprising. I was brought up by cows. Well, not literally brought up by cows but we lived in a dairying district at the point where we could actually get some sort of radio reception. (Prior to that we had intermittent reception which rather depended on things like the weather and the time of day.) It is a fact (not always believed) that cows prefer classical music in the milking shed. The children in the district heard the then modern music of course but they were also familiar with the classics. My parents preferred the classics too. So, we grew up listening to masses of Mozart and (for lighter relief) musicals like My Fair Lady. My more manually dextrous siblings were allowed to learn music so they discovered the set examination pieces, carols, and a book of Irish folk tunes that had been left behind by a previous music teacher. We did not learn a lot about the Beatles or whatever else was around at the time. There were occasional groups, like The Seekers, who came into our consciousness because one of their songs would, suitably modified, become part of the school music programme.
Where is all this leading? Well Roger asked for requests the other day for the extra edition of his programme. I would have had no idea what to request. My young friend however knew immediately what she wanted - or rather what she would like Roger to play for her father. It was a song by a group I could not have named to save my life but I could actually remember hearing it. My father could remember it too just as her father (who is ten years younger than me) could remember it. Do you remember "Lily the Pink"?
Roger was kind enough to include it in the programme. Thankyou Roger. I could not listen to the entire programme but I listened to part of it. It felt strange to hear someone I virtually 'know', but also do not actually know, speak. It felt strange to hear a song from a time when I was not much older than my young friend. I wonder what it will be like for her when she is my age. What will modern technology be like then? What will music be like? Will there be a Lily the Pink to save the human race?
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
When the whole thing first blew up
I am bored with the whole affair but it does raise some interesting questions about politics and the media.
Journalists, like everyone else, have political views. One of the thngs that can lead people into journalism are strong views about issues. That is a problem. It means the rest of us are getting views, not news.
I think it would be fair to say that, recently, our media has been more about views than news. Our Premier was once a journalist himself. (This may go some way to proving my point about views not news.) He knows how the media works. He knows how to control the slippery slime that pretends to be steel hard facts. The Premier has been working this slime for nine years with barely a slip until now. It means we have not had an effective opposition.
The same thing is occurring in Federal politics, although the tactic there is a little different. If you want to be part of the Parliamentary Press Gallery then you will learn the approved lines and deliver them. The Prime Minister does not tolerate dissent or criticism but appears to allow a little of both - in order to avoid them. He has line-walking down to a fine art. He is, after all, the world's greatest diplomat. He is going to single handedly save the world by presenting the Australian government's ETS (emissions trading scheme) to everyone in Copenhagen. That Copenhagen's climate change negotiations conference is really about raising money in order to keep an effectively bankrupt United Nations from completely collapsing is another story altogether - not one we are allowed to know about.
I wonder where the media is headed. I wonder where freedom of speech is headed. Perhaps that is why blogging is important. There must be blogs out there that will tell me things. I just have to find them.
Monday, 23 November 2009
"Blogging should be banned.
Oh. I suppose it had to happen sometime. Someone does not like my blog. There are probably a lot of people who do not like my blog. They pass me by. That's their right. Nobody said you had to read my ramblings. Not many people do. I do not write "Help I need a publisher" or "How publishing really works" or even the occasional ramblings from the Fidra crew (It is Vanessa's fault that I have a blog and she does not even bother to read it.) I do read a few blogs that do not appear on my list. They would appear on my list if I could work out how to make them appear. I am not technologically minded.
Nicola Morgan says you should write for the reader. Well, yes if you want to be published by someone else. Perhaps that is the problem with blogs. You publish yourself. You can say what you like. But, I am conscious that someone else might read it, anyone at all. I try to be responsible.
There are things I do not bother to talk about. I could turn it into a "life with a disability" blog but, why bother? I would not find that interesting or challenging. I imagine there are plenty of those out there but I have never bothered to look. I don't bother with most of what I am reading. There are plenty of people who do that better than I will ever be able to do it. I do not bother with what we eat or drink or what I am knitting or...well, most things. I do not talk about certain of my friends, particularly my young friends. That's a safety issue. I know one of them reads this. She keeps me up to mark but, on the whole, she does not wish to see herself here.
Mm...well then what do I blog about?
Do I need a focus for my blog? Should I stop rambling on? Should I start to blog about a specific topic? Should I stop blogging about things that interest me? Am I being madly selfish and self indulgent?
The problem is that I am getting rather addicted to this little challenge. Now, what can I blog about this morning? What happened yesterday that someone might find interesting? What happened that I want to remember? How did I feel about it? Is is possible to make someone else feel a similar way? Can I make someone purr with pleasure or can I give them something to think about? Should I get political? Where am I going with this thing? A year is coming up fast. I gave myself a year. Should I stop at the end of it?
Hmmm...blogging should be banned? No, I do not agree with that. I have made new cyber-friends. I think I would like them in real life as well.
Blogging is selfish and self-indulgent? Well, it could be but, when I write something, I like to try and give a potential a reader a picture or an idea. I want to give them something to enjoy or to think about.
It clutters up the internet? A lot of things clutter up the internet. The internet is one big advertising screen most of which is to be avoided by the likes of me. The Blogosphere is a minute part of the internet but probably the most interesting part.
It allows idiotic people like me to make downright stupid and dangerous remarks about things we know nothing about? I try not to make stupid and dangerous remarks about things I know nothing about. I actually try not to make stupid and dangerous remarks. I try not to present my thoughts as fact. Perhaps I should be more controversial? No, that could spread more than cat hairs across the blog. I don't mind cat hairs. I do not want blood.
Hmmm....I think the speaker disagrees with my politics. I happen to know he is a radical left-winger. He is a member of the left leaning politicial party in Australia and, even within that, he is regarded as left of left. If he is not careful he may get left behind.
If you have reached this point, please leave a cat hair. I think I am going somewhere but I need to know where I am going.
Sunday, 22 November 2009
Look! I did it!
Sam has been making a simple wooden plane. He has managed to learn quite a lot in the process. He is only six but he can hammer and nail and glue with the best of them despite being small and not having the best of eyesight. Yesterday he managed to learn to use my father's electronic calipers. He measured every small thing in sight while his sister and her mother went on making the wooden step-stool. (This will let the children stand safely at the sink and learn to cook.) Sam had to peer carefully at the little screen and I could hear him muttering away to himself. He is not a child who smiles very often but he seemed content.
When it came around to Sam's turn for help again they finished the plane. It was almost there last time. Then it was done. I was there at the precise moment. He looked up. He blinked and pushed his glasses up his nose again. He looked at the plane and back at all of us.
Very carefully he removes the plane from the bench and looks up at my father,
"Can we go and try it?"
The two of them go off to our small patch of lawn at the front of the house. They try. They make some minor adjustments and try again. More adjustments. Sam is looking a little anxious by now. Will it fly? My father shows him again. Then the plane leaves Sam's hand. It glides beautifully, smoothly. It goes almost three metres before landing quite gently on the grass. Sam runs over and picks it up as carefully as if it is a new born infant. His face creases into a grin that looks as if it will never end. "Look! I did it!"
Saturday, 21 November 2009
I have spent the past week battling
"Go to the doctor" I am told. Why? The doctor would tell me to go away and stop spreading my germ laden paws over humans. Antibiotics would not solve the problem. My doctor avoids prescribing antibiotics wherever possible anyway.
I know I will recover - although I wish I felt a little more energetic right now. Yes, I told you, I am impatient. I do not make a good patient.
But, there has to be an up side to all of this. Well yes. Work has hit a fairly quiet period. I spent part of yesterday afternoon lying on the bed with book in hand. I almost fell asleep. A siesta? I could get used to the idea.
Friday, 20 November 2009
I am back to trying to catch fish today.
No, I am not going to give up but I do wonder why I devoted eight lives almost solely to catching mice. Ridding the world of mice is a good thing you say? Purrhaps, but it is a housework sort of job. Nobody notices unless you do not do it.
I do have new ideas for bait and lines but I understand I will still need to get my paws wet. I might even need to dive right in. That's all right. Cats can swim even if we do not like getting wet. Getting wet is better than having fur balls.
Thursday, 19 November 2009
I think I live in the wrong place Ms Morgan.
I do not hate where I live but I feel no strong attachment to the place. I do not write about it. I cannot write "Australiana". I could not write a novel set in Australia. There is no reason why I should - except that, I am told, I will never get published unless I do. I will never get an agent unless I first write about Australia. I will never get an agent because I am too old. I will never get an agent because I live in the wrong place. No publisher will look at me because I do not write about Australia. I am expected to write about Australia because it is where I live. It is supposed to be the place I know most about. It is what you are supposed to write about. I do not. I will not because I cannot.
So, this is just an excuse you say? You are not published because you are not good enough! If you had been really serious about this writing thing you would have done a lot more writing years ago. You would have been sending your work off and you would have kept sending it off and sending it off and sending it off. You would have papered the house in rejection slips - never mind that, up until recently, you spent most of your life living in a single room. It is all just excuses. The reality is that you cannot write. You will never write anything good enough to be published. Get used to the idea. Just enjoy the blog. It does not matter if nobody else reads it. Just have a bit of fun. Forget the hellish expense of sending a hard copy of a manuscript overseas. Forget that agents and publishers simply ignore polite, quiet well ordered purring pleas for, at very least, an acknowledgment of the receipt of my carefully ordered cat hair?
So, it's all my fault? I don't have talent? I can't write? I am expected to accept never getting a paw in the door?
I know agents are not charities. I do not want them to be charities. I want them to be a business but (yes there is a but Ms Morgan) agents also have responsibilities. Far too many of them only want big names. They want big profits for minimum effort and outlay. It is understandable but it is not helpful. Many agents will not even consider new writers. They only want established writers. Many publishers will not consider new authors, especially new authors who come to them without the benefit of an agent. It is a question often posed (in many ways) at Writers' Weeks in Adelaide, "How do you get an agent? How do you get someone to look at what you have written when you are a first time author? How do you, even after you have obeyed all the rules laid down by successful authors, agents and publishers, get someone to actually look?" The answer is, you do not. There is no way you can do it. It is sheer good luck if it happens. Hard work and imagination are the essential ingredients of the writing equation. Publication is a different story. There is nothing that can guarantee that. It comes down to luck.
Now, give me a good reason why my tail should not droop. Tell me why I should not have the right to feel like not purring about agents and publishers? Profit before impractical purrsonality? I think I understand...but I still have every right to find it depressing.
Miaou...I may go back to being human tomorrow...if I can be bothered.