Friday 31 July 2009

The gopher broke down right outside -

an elderly citizen's home. If your gopher is going to break down there are worse places for this to happen. Dad was a bit put out to discover that they thought he was a resident - after all he is only 86. He's not old yet. (Younger people might be referred to as 'old' but he is not old - yet.)
He did not get to exercise class.
When I arrived home I discovered the gopher was in the rain in the driveway. I covered it with the all weather cover and went in to hear what was wrong. The gopher had come to a halt outside 'Resthaven' in the next suburb. A Resthaven nurse mistook Dad for a resident but then directed him to the respite care office where they let him wait (and provided tea and sympathy) for an 'access' cab - the sort big enough to take a gopher or wheelchair. He does not know it but he is lucky he did not have to wait for hours. They are often very late in arriving.
The man from the gopher service arrived after lunch and fixed the problem. It was nothing too serious, just a loose connection. Dad blames the condition of the footpaths. I admit they are not good but it may also have something to do with the fact that he does ride (legally) on the back streets - at top speed.

Thursday 30 July 2009

What should go into a bookshop?

Vanessa asked this question over on the Fidra blog yesterday. They are, courageously, setting up a new bookshop in Edinburgh in a recession. Some people will say they are mad. I say, the more good bookshops the better. A book is not going to eat anything and requires little maintenance - just a safe place to sit and the gentle pat of a duster from time to time when not being otherwise gently caressed by the owner.
I also know why Vanessa has not yet read my offering of more than a year ago. Opening a new bookshop as well as running another one and a re-publishing business does not leave much time for real life or the reading of books or the baking of cakes. (I still expect my virtual slice of the shop's birthday cake Vanessa!)
But, what do you put into a shop? I sent off a list of Scottish authors - probably all terribly obvious to her but harder to obtain in Australia. (Ian Rankin, Nigel Tranter and Diana Gabaldon do appear on the library shelves along with JK Rowling et al. It was some lesser known bodies like Michel Faber and Edwin Morgan that I was suggesting.)
It made me think though. What else do I want in a bookshop? I do not want it cluttered up with calendars, cards, magazines, bookbags, CDs (unless they are audio-books) and DVDs. Some bookshops look more like a mini-supermarket. I know one that sells tea, coffee and mugs - but not in the civilised "sit down and have one now" fashion. It is not for me.
And then there are the books. I know that bookshops cannot carry every title in print. That would require a building the size of several city blocks and some storeys high. It would be good to have a means by where the intrepid customer could discover for themselves whether a book is (a) in print, (b) on the shelves and (c) if not on the shelves able to be ordered from this location. At the present time only the staff can do that - and some of them do not do that terribly well. I know, I have watched. Some of them need training in basic search skills. A facility such as I am suggesting will not do the staff out of a job - but it would be expensive to maintain.
Ah, the books. I am not interested in everything under the sun but a general bookshop needs variety. I find it off putting to go into a shop and be faced with huge piles of the latest "best-seller". Other people, especially the author, must delight in it. I like dictionaries, books of quotations, books about language and languages, knitting and children's books. Occasionally I will browse the cookbooks for something unusual or the gardening books for my father or my aunt. I'll look at toymaking, box making, origami and religion (of all sorts) for my father. I'll pick up new fiction by authors I already know and look at something that has been reviewed if it is of likely interest.
I do not bother with sport, true crime, tarot card reading, feng shui or the like. Other people obviously do or the books would not be there. It annoys me when an owner's personal prejudice gets in the way of a balanced selection in one area or another.
Once in a while I will pick up something that just 'catches my eye'. It is a hazard of entering a bookshop. It is a hazard I will have to continue negotiating. I am addicted to bookshops.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

We did not need 24 icecream cones

but I came home to discover the freezer packed to capacity with them. It is clear that my sister cannot be trusted to be sensible any more than my father. They went shopping unsupervised.
We were supposed to be invaded by the six children today but their mother is still trying to fight off a bronchitic like virus. Next week perhaps.
In the meantime I went to knitting at the bookshop yesterday afternoon. Dad went shopping with daughter number two. They were supposed to buy him new shoes. There was no time for that. They had to buy - icecream.
"But it was a bargain!" I was told.
"We didn't need it."
"I thought the children would like it."
They will - but they do not need that many. My sister took four with her. That still leaves twenty. I almost never eat ice cream. I do not like that particular sort. I love the good sort but it is not good for me.
I must admit my father rarely does anything like this. It will have been my sister's influence.
I really cannot begrudge the six children a treat however. It is about a month before they are supposed to head for Manila and the slums for three months. They will not, if their mother has any sense, be eating icecream there. Any food they eat should be cooked. The water should be bottled. I am certain that she has not really thought all this through. She may think she knows but the reality will not hit until they are actually there. Yesterday when she was, obviously feeling lousy, trying to talk to me and control some high spirited behaviour I asked her how she would cope if she was feeling like this in Manila. Her answer was that she would be better by then. Perhaps she will be. She may not get ill again. They may all remain perfectly healthy for the entire time they are there. It's unlikely.
Oh well, it is a good thing there are still 20 icecream cones in the freezer.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Yesterday morning found me crawling on the floor

as I have yet to find a better way of 'blocking' a shawl. For any non-knitter who happens to be reading this 'blocking' is an essential part of the finishing process. You soak the item you have knitted. (I do this in lukewarm water with a dollop of the sort of shampoo that has conditioner in it.) Then you gently stretch and pin the item to shape - or you use blocking wires.
I have blocking wires but this shawl was circular and I prefer to pin each of the 72 points around the edge with a separate pin.
I designed this damn thing. I had to. There are plenty of shawl patterns around of course. I have several hundred myself. I will almost certainly never use them except as inspiration. Designing my own however is both a challenge and a necessity. My shawls get given away - often to be raffled off for something or other. It means I have to have an original. I cannot use someone else's work.
So, yesterday morning I placed the polystyrene boards on the floor of our lounge and set to work. This shawl is a very pale cream, almost white. It is mixture of wool and silk. It was difficult to see against the white of the polystyrene. Eventually, done to my satisfaction, I left it. Later in the morning one of the neighbours came in to pick up the little table my father had repaired. She saw the shawl pinned out and went back to get her Mongolian boarder. They investigated it closely. I have now been promised some yak wool next time Alimar goes home.
This morning it was dry so I have taken the pins out and put the blocking boards away. I will take the shawl up for the bookshop group to see this afternoon. We share projects so 'showing off' is not as bad as it might be.
I never thought I would learn to knit lace. I can still remember the first project. It is the only occasion on which I have followed a pattern from beginning to end. I only did it because I was not confident enough to change anything. It was a Pacific Northwest shawl for my mother. I have no idea what happened to it. She never wore it. It was not among her things when she died. She did wear the other things I made for her.
I do not suppose it really matters. What does matter is that my paternal grandmother had the patience to teach me to knit.

Monday 27 July 2009

There were at least five of them

in the car. There might even have been six. It was going too fast for me to see.
The car itself was old. The 'music' coming from it was almost drowned out by the sound of the exhaust and the shouts and jeers. The car's wheels barely skimmed the surface of the railway crossing. In the back window there was a "P" for probationary driver.
Need I say more? Yes. First up, it is a good thing that my tricycle has good brakes. The second is that the elderly couple walking their young grandchildren were within a hair's breadth of a major tragedy and the youngest child was screaming with terror. The car had, quite deliberately, swerved towards him with the horn blaring.
For the occupants of the car this was a fun afternoon out. For the rest of us it was something else. Unfortunately none of us managed to get the number plate. Almost certainly the police could have done nothing, even if they decided the paperwork was worth it.
There is a Stop sign at the level crossing. It is ignored all too often. Too many of them think it applies only if the boom gates are down and the bells are ringing as well. It applies all the time. I keep well to the left and am still terrified that someone is going to run into the back of me because they have ignored the sign.
Now we have two competing demands. One in the Australian is a suggestion by the incumbent Federal Government that 16 yr old Australians should be given the vote. (Why not? They know the vast majority of young people are impressionable and think they will vote to keep them in power.) The other, in the Advertiser is suggesting that 16 is too young for a driver's licence and that the age should be raised.
I know which one I would vote for.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Now where was I, what was I doing?

No, I do not mean where was I when Kennedy was assassinated (I was in bed and asleep). I do not mean where was I when the Beatles landed in Adelaide. (I know that too. I was sitting in a Latin lesson and the teacher let the alarm clock ring.) I also know where I was when they landed on the moon. (In teacher training college watching the grainy images on the tiny black and white set they had set up in canteen.)
I can remember all those things. Well, for the first one I can remember my brother coming in to my bedroom looking rather pale and saying, "Cat someone shot the President of America." He had been listening to the news on his "crystal set".
If I can remember all those things why is is that I cannot remember other things? I can remember lots of things. My family tends to rely on my memory. I can, although outsiders rarely believe me, remember things from before I was even two. Of course I was talking by then and recognising individual words not much later. (No, I was not so damn precocious that I was reading books. I had to wait a couple of years - much to my frustration.) We need language to remember things.
I can remember vast numbers of words and ideas and wheres and hows and whos and whats and whys and whichs and whens and whatevers - and, if those words do not really exist then you know what I mean anyway. Even those unfortunate enough to have less than "average" intelligence often have remarkable memories. Knowledge is memory.
No, what I want to know is why I sometimes stand still in the middle of the kitchen and think, "Now where was I? What was I doing?"

Saturday 25 July 2009

"It's like chocolate!"

I was more startled by the words than I was to come home and discover that our neighbour was pruning our roses and weeding the narrow strip in which they grow at the same time. She had arranged to do this in return for Dad mending yet another piece of furniture for her. The pieces he has mended have sentimental value.
The roses should have sentimental value for us. My mother planted them. Dad likes roses. I like roses. We do not like the thorns. We would not have roses in the garden by choice. Dad likes 'useful' things. It took him a while to realise the value of things like lavender. The bees love our lavender bushes. They do not discriminate between English or French lavender. We plan to plant an Italian lavender for them as well.
My father does realise the value of good soil. He has been working on the soil in this garden from the day we moved in. It is this that our neighbour thinks is like chocolate. I think she must like chocolate. She had an expression on her face which suggested, "mud pies" and other delightfully messy, small child sort of play. The roses, she assures me, will survive and bloom under her ministrations. No doubt they will.
I have mixed feelings about our garden. I do very little gardening. It is mostly the 'tidying up' sort of gardening. It is Dad's garden. He makes the decisions. A friend comes in once a fortnight and does two hours of the heavy work. Dad can then maintain the rest. He has removed some things since my mother died. Some of them, such as the lemon tree the gas company managed to kill, have had to go. Others have been seasonal. He has put in a new lemon tree, an orange, two grafted apples, a peach and a nectarine - the latter to replace the seedling trees which died in the drought. The rose bushes remain.
After our neighbour had gone home he surveyed the rose bed. It is barely a foot wide and about fifteen feet long.
"Mmm, I don't know, I still think we should get rid of them - but your mother planted them."
I think the roses will stay.

Friday 24 July 2009

24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Someone I once met briefly at a consultation on disability services has been charged with murdering her son. He was in his teens, had the intellectual capacity of a two year old and was violent. I do not know whether the defence team will go for self-defence or temporary mental incapacity. Either way it would be wrong to see this woman incarcerated. She loved her son. Her mental anguish and despair is something I cannot begin to comprehend.
Her family will love and support her. They always have. They loved the child. In the end it was just too much. She had to be the primary carer - all day, every day. Her husband had to go to work to support the family.
There are far too many families in that position. They live in policy prisons, prisons made by government policy. This is a government policy which says, people with disabilities have a right to live in the community. It sounds good. Few would disagree with it. The problem is that the government's notion of how to approach this right is to say, "Your family will look after you." That is the end of the story for the government. It is a cost saving measure for them.
They are supported in this by the articulate minority of people with disabilities who are able to live in the community. They can fight for their own needs and services. Many of them hold down responsible jobs. They passionately believe in the right of everyone to 'live in the community'. When others point out that it is not possible for their child and that, as a result, an entire family is isolated from the rest of the community the articulate minority say, "It is just a matter of more support services, of more respite care. You have to fight for it."
The reality is that it is not just a matter of more support services, or more respite care. These families do not have the energy for the fight. It requires resources, organisation, time, powerful lobbying, media interest. They do no have resources. The organisations which are supposed to speak on their behalf keep to government policy for fear of losing the little funding they get. The families do not have the time or energy to lobby - and nobody will listen anyway because this is not a cute, good looking little kid with a visible disability who will make a good human interest story on the media.
So we go on having families where everything that can be locked away or bolted down will be locked away or bolted down. The crockery and cutlery will be plastic. The other children learn it is not possible to bring friends home. They can never have a birthday party - and so do not get invited to the parties of other children. Their parents sleep in shifts so that someone is always alert for trouble. They never attend school events as a family. They never visit - even relatives - as a family. They are never visited. Money is always short. Everyone is constantly on edge waiting for the next explosion of frustration and anger from the child who does not understand the world around them.
It's a good policy. It saves the government money. It provides for the rights of the individual with the disability. It ignores the rights of the other members of the family. That is all right isn't it? They can look after themselves - or can they?

Thursday 23 July 2009

The planned invasion did not occur yesterday.

We were to have been invaded by the six children and their mother. Illness means that the visit has been postponed until next week. I wonder how they will cope if they are ill when they go to Manila. They almost certainly will be ill - and with something worse than the common cold.
It gave my father the chance to spend more time preparing for Saturday night. He is participating in a talent contest.
What, you ask, is an 86 yr old doing participating in a talent contest? (Why not?) This is a church event. They were short of participants. I could have told them they would be. There are almost no young attenders at the local Anglican church. Those that do attend are hauled there on an irregular basis by their parents. Other things get in the way. Even public school sport is scheduled on Sunday mornings.
My father does very little conjuring these days. It is not that the magic has gone out of it for him. He is as passionate about it as he ever was. (He will be heading off to see David Copperfield in a couple of weeks. I do not need to endure that. My sister is taking him. ) You do need a certain amount of stamina to perform. You also require a degree of manual dexterity. He knows he is not as good as he once was. Preparing the bigger illusions can take a lot of time. He has given away some of the apparatus to younger magicians, many of whom he has taught. Two make their living from performing, one of them is an international star who had his first lessons from my father. Dad still enjoys teaching other people.
Saturday night however he will perform "table magic". These are smaller illusions using packs of cards (not necessarily your ordinary packs of cards) and other small items like coins and small boxes that are not what they first seem. I know enough to know that the illusions are just that, illusions. They are often remarkably simple. Some of them have been around for more than a thousand years. He does one which was known in the time of the Pharoahs. Others date from mediaeval times. They still fool people. You really can fool some of the people all of the time.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

But I don't want anything that complicated!

I was with an elderly friend in the mobile 'phone shop yesterday. Her children have decided she should have a 'phone "for safety purposes". They would really prefer that she never went out. They do not want her to move into an elderly citizens residence of any sort because that would mean selling the house. That is 'theirs'. Mother cannot be permitted to sell what they regard as their inheritance. They are not paying for the mobile 'phone either. None of them live here. She rarely sees them. Her son lives on another planet. It is about 6km from here. Her two daughters do live on planet Earth, or did when her grandchildren needed a baby sitter.
So, we are standing there in the shop. The pleasant young man is trying to explain that all mobile 'phones are easy to use, so easy to use. Anyone can use a mobile 'phone! You can take photographs, you can access the internet, you can send text messages, receive them and yes, you can even make an old fashioned telephone call - or get one. All of this is, of course, expensive but hey, this is the 21st C and 'everyone else has a mobile 'phone'. He goes on and one. He pushes buttons faster and faster and faster. He shows us a photograph of ourselves standing there. He wipes it and takes another. He talks about plans and purchasing outright and how useful it will be.
"Young man, I just want something that will allow me to make a call in an emergency. That is all I want."
"You can't have that. They don't make them like that. They all have cameras and this and that and something else." He twitters on. Eventually, sensing he is losing a potential sale he turns to me and says, "You use your 'phone all the time, don't you?"
"I don't have one," I tell him.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

When my father was growing up

he belonged to an organisation he calls 'the PFA'. This was the Presbyterian Fellowship Association. No doubt all Presbyterian churches had similar groups but his seems to have been particularly large and active. It was also known as the local marriage bureau. Yes, a lot of them did marry each other and almost all the marriages lasted. My parents met, in a roundabout sort of way, because of the PFA. My father has had lifelong friends because of that group. Many of them have now died. There was another death in the paper yesterday. He grows quiet for a while when this happens. Who can blame him?
Friendships for my father have often been almost life-long affairs. He lived in just one place as a child and teenager. He only left home when he was sent to a remote outback settlement for his first year of teaching.
My father was posted all over the state. If you worked for the Education Department you went wherever you were sent - and whenever you were sent. Every couple of years he would be transferred on - and up. He had a good career. My mother had a good career too as she tended to be promoted whenever he was.
It was very different for his children. I have no friends from early childhood or even from my teenage years. The same is true for my brother. My sisters have casual friendships from those days as they finally spent their last secondary school years in one place.
I wonder about the next generation and the one after that. It seems that many more people move now and they do so more often. Their children move with them. Marriages, if they occur, are less likely to last. Families do not spend as much time together. Both parents work. Television too often takes the place of conversation at the evening meal. Sport is now competitive, organised and under the control of an adult. It is not kicking a footy up and down the street or breaking the occasional window with a cricket ball.
This is why it was good to find the children in the next street outside yesterday. It was the last day of the winter break from school. Two were riding bicycles up and down in between the three kicking a football. The two youngest were up a tree. They looked down at me as I passed and one said, "It's good up here."

Monday 20 July 2009

Reading in the house

is not something that would normally cause comment. When that 'house' is the lower chamber of our state parliament however itis cause for comment. Last week one of the intrepid Advertiser journalists apparently spent the hour which is supposedly "Question Time" observing our elected representatives at "work". The results are reported in this morning's paper.
Even allowing for the usual journalistic licence and exaggeration the report makes curious reading.
Several people were reading newspapers. Now this might, just might, be considered part of the politician's job. They need to know what people are saying about them. A past pollie of my acquaintance used to greet me occasionally with the words, "Good one Cat" or "Did you have to Cat?" or "You're wrong Cat" or some like comment about a letter I had written to the editor. It is nice to know they (sometimes) read them. Reading the paper may not be terribly polite but it is just about tolerable. Taking papers in to work on is about the same. Taking a novel or a magazine - not polite.
All such things pale into insignificance against the mobile 'phone. The modern mobile 'phone offers access to the internet, to Twitter, to anyone you care to name (if they care to speak to you). It offers games and shopping and movies and just about anything else you care to think of - apart from sustenance. It is the mobile 'phones which were apparently in full swing. Even the Speaker was playing with his. This is not merely impolite. It is rude. It is insulting.
We are compelled to attend the ballot box and mark the ballot paper in Australia. Most people see that as a requirement to vote. Voting is a right. It should be seen as privilege. It should not be compulsory. We most certainly should not be required to elect a government and then have them return the trust we have placed in them with the games they play.
Quite simply these people were playing. They were not doing their job. It is not democracy.

Sunday 19 July 2009

"What language is it in?"

"Estonian."I had to explain this any number of times yesterday afternoon. I had taken the new Estonian lace stitch dictionary with me to the knitting group.
"Can you read it?" was the other question. My answer, "I could if I had the right dictionary but there is a translation of the symbols in the book." Most of the knitters present do not look convinced. Why would you buy a book you cannot read?
Why indeed? Of course I can read the book. It has charts. It has photographs. It has diagrams. I can read all those things. I can even guess the meaning of some of the words. There is more than one way to read a book, especially a book like this.
The book was passed around for everyone to look at. Some spent longer than others. One woman had to leave early and asked if I would bring it back for her to spend more time on. I will because I know she really does want to look at it closely. Most people looked at the few photographs of the fine, delicate lace garments created by some of the stitches. They agreed they were "lovely", even "gorgeous" or "exquisite". They said they "could never knit that".
The person I thought would be most interested in the book spent a long time over it. She handled it almost reverently. Her expression was intent and content. She is a woman who says little, a migrant whose first language is not English. It is not Estonian either. She comes from a culture where lace knitting is acknowledged as an art form. Her hands moved unconsciously at one point, as if she was trying a stitch for herself. She was "reading the book".

Saturday 18 July 2009

Now having written the piece on plagiarism

I will continue to the next chapter. I wrote a book. Er, make that I have written a number of books. They languish in the bottom drawer of the computer - apart from one. I sent that one to Vanessa over at Fidra. She may have time to read it one day. She tells me she wants to. It's a matter of time. Perhaps.
The book I sent Vanessa uses someone else's characters. There is no secret about this. The location is the same. The characters have the same name. I have tried to keep all the original details intact. It all required research and discipline. There is a new character. She is about nine years old and the story is really about her. It was written for another nine year old.
Now, this is not plagiarism. First of all, the story is mine. Second, were the book ever to see the shelves of a bookshop or library, there would be an acknowledgment of where the other characters come from. If the author was still alive I would have to seek her permission to use her characters. The heirs to her estate would need to grant their permission. (My guess is that this would not be a problem. It would likely increase the revenue from royalties of her books as well as the cut they would get.)
My book is not another Arthur Conan Doyle or Jane Austen type book. There are plenty of authors around who endeavour to openly imitate. They are often less than successful.
Now, I can hear you asking, "But why didn't you just write a book with new characters? Aren't you being a bit lazy here? "
Vanessa was foolish enough to ask for new books like those she publishes. The nine year old wanted another story with the same characters. I had an idea and it fitted in with those characters. Am I being lazy? No, I do not think so. Ruth is the central character. I had to create her. I could not have the other characters doing things which were out of character from the previous books. It's a sequel - sort of.
The row over the Productivity Commission report into bookselling in Australia is growing. Shane Moloney's rant in the Advertiser this morning makes interesting but unconvincing reading. If the new proposals mean that Australian authors and publishers have to open up to the world then this may be a good thing. Good writing will survive.

Friday 17 July 2009

Our ancient reverse-cycle - and a little more on plagiarism

airconditioner broke down on Wednesday night. No heating. Not a good thing in the middle of, for us, cold weather. I can cope. Dad finds it a bit more difficult but I popped a hot water bottle into his bed and he slept well enough.
He rang the electrician in the morning. We know the electrician. This is definitely a good thing. He lives not far from here. We met over my tricycle. He pulled up beside me one day in the traffic and said, "Great bike!" When we needed an electrician we naturally called him. How can you not like a man who admires a tricycle.
He employs other people of course so we were expecting someone to arrive in the next couple of days - every electrician in the district being flat out repairing, rewiring, and re-doing whatever else it is that electricians do. We were resigned to at least another cold night and possibly the fact that we would have to take out a loan the size of a government debt and buy a new unit.
At 17:30 hours there is a rapid knock at the door and there is the tricycle admirer himself. "Can't have your Dad cold, not with this swine flu around." He nips out to the unit. Unscrews the cover. Turns things off and then on and off. Runs backwards and forwards to the fuse box. Tells me to switch things on and off inside. Ah! "It's the switch out here. It's faulty. Unit's okay. I'll get someone to replace the switch next week but I've fixed it for now. You can have heat tonight."
Dad pays him. As he rushes out I pass him a jar of the home-made grapefruit marmalade as well. He grins.
I mentioned the idea of an "Anti-Plagiarism Day" to someone who has been trying to write a knitting pattern. "Cat," she said, "There are only so many ways you can tell people to cast on ninety-six stitches." Yes, but why are you casting on ninety-six stitches?

Thursday 16 July 2009

Plagiarism is theft

Jane, over at that terribly addictive blog "How Publishing Really Works" wants to declare Friday "Anti-Plagiarism Day". There should be an "International Anti-Plagiarism Day".
I have this nasty habit of writing in "letters to the editor" of more than one newspaper. It is not exactly a hobby but I do it often enough that people sometimes ask "are you the one who writes to the papers?" Well, yes. I will sometimes (often) write something controversial to try and stir people up and make them think. "Do you really believe that?" people will ask of what I write. "No, I am trying to make people think."
So, what has this got to do with plagiarism you ask? Well, sometimes the letters do not get published but the ideas do get an airing in an editorial or the work of one of the columnists. I will be reading something and a sentence will pop out at me. It looks familiar. It is familiar. I wrote it. It is never acknowledged. It just appears. There might even be an entire paragraph. It has been re-written but each sentence follows one I have written.
Now, either we think remarkably alike (rather unlikely), or there is only one way of putting an argument (even less likely), or in the rush of a newspaper office people read something and then forget they have read it and pass it off as their own idea (possible), or the juniors who read the e-mail letters to the editor pass it on and a lazy individual decides that a little rearrangement of the words will allow them to have a longer lunch break (very likely?).
And this is where plagiarism can start. It is not only theft, it is laziness. I tried telling a journalist this. "But you should see it as a compliment!" was his outraged response. Compliment? Why should it be a compliment if I am not being acknowledged? He is the one getting the acknowledgment. Come to that, he is getting paid.
"And it is only an idea," he added. Only an idea? Are ideas worth nothing? It means he would not get paid. He tells me that is different. That it is his job. It is not my job. I should not expect to get paid or acknowledged if it is not my job. I disagree.
When I wrote my doctorate a major problem arose. I was using, with written permission, the work of another person in a unique application. He was enthusiastic at the beginning. I was careful to work closely with him and maintain the integrity of his work. There were others using his work. They did not always request permission. Some of them abused it and claimed much of his work as their own. He withdrew permission from everyone. It looked as if my doctoral thesis would end up on the scrap heap. Eventually we came to a compromise. I would not publish my thesis. My work was not wasted because it was applied in other settings but it was less valuable than it might have been. Those who had endeavoured to claim for themselves what was rightly his did lasting harm.
There are places where the lines are fuzzy. I can see that. There will be places where there is none of my cat hair. If I use the idea I have to seek permission. I have to acknowledge it. There will be places where there is a little of my cat hair but I might still need to seek permission and acknowledge the cat hair of another. There will be places where my cat hair outweighs all other cat hair combined. Those places are mine. There will also be a place where there will be me, an entire cat. Cats are territorial. It is best to remember that and acknowledge it.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Howls of rage

seem to be coming from all directions.
The Parole Board issue is escalating. That is almost inevitable. Our state government feels so certain it will win the next election it now seems happy to interfere in court processes as well. That is dangerous. The Parole Board is essentially a court. It works within the law. It applies the law. It is advised by others. "Tough on law and order" needs to be balanced with basic human rights. It is one of the prices we pay for living in a democracy.
Balance is also needed on another issue. The Australian publishing industry, some Australian authors and some independent booksellers are crying foul because the Productivity Commission has recommended a relaxation of the laws which have kept book prices in Australia artificially high for years. The laws were put in place with good intent - to protect Australian writers and assist them in getting published.
The problem is that these laws were put in place prior to the internet, internet shopping, internet publishing, e-books and any other number of ways and means of circumventing their application. The reality is that they did need to be reviewed.
As librarian of a knitting guild I buy books over the internet. I would buy them from the local bookshop if I could but I would pay at least $5 more for each book, often far more - in one case it would have been $32 more. I would also have to wait for months rather than two or three weeks to get the books. My duty to the organisation is to buy the books they want for the lowest price I can.
We also need to question what it is we are protecting and, presumably, encouraging. Good writing? Australian writing? The two are not necessarily the same thing. Are we giving new authors a greater chance to be published? Not necessarily. Are we protecting jobs in the publishing industry? Not necessarily.
The reality is that good writing is being published in Australia and overseas. Australian writing is not always good. Some of it is so self-consciously Australian that it is cause for cultural cringe rather than cultural celebration. It gets published because it is seen as being the "Australian voice". Indeed, there is little chance of being published in Australia if you do not have the required "Australian voice". While we have the Vogel Award and state governments dabble the very tip of their smallest toes in the arts the further reality is that new authors find it just as difficult to be published here. "If you want to be published go and do a creative writing course at university" I was told. No thankyou. I do not want to be told what to write or how it should be written. I would like an honest appraisal of what I write. That is another matter altogether.
Jobs in the publishing industry are also going off-shore - like the printing of books. Most Australian books get printed in Asia - often Hong Kong. Many books are edited via the internet from the US or the UK.
It is difficult to know what we are protecting now. It is said that the chain bookshops will take over, that we will be a dumping ground for cheap remainders. If we are then we are at fault. We are at fault as individuals for buying "bargains" rather than "books". As a nation we are also at fault for not acknowledging that it is now governments who must be the new patrons of the arts.
We must acknowledge we need books. We need to read.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

In "Dragon Castle"

by Elinor Lyon some of the characters have developed the acronym "SATBYS". They use it to remind others of the need to "Stop And Think Before You Speak".
SATBYS, SATBYS, SATBYS. Perhaps that should be SATBYW - yes, Stop And Think Before You Write. I must remember that anyone could find this on the internet.
Letters to the press are a different story. They may or may not get published. If they do they may or may not be edited. Sometimes the editorial blue pencil will produce a version which is not what the author intended to say at all. They need to SATBYE - Stop And Think Before You Edit.
This morning however there is a story in the press which should be of interest to anyone who cares about the way in which justice is delivered. The Parole Board has an impossible job. If those they let out on parole behave themselves nobody hears about it. If someone commits another criminal act then the Parole Board is blamed - not the individual who commits the criminal act. The Parole Board also has the impossible task of trying to administer the law as laid down by Parliament and as interpreted by the courts and as demanded by those who want to see their clients paroled. There are conflicting interests all the way. It is made even more difficult when the Attorney-General appoints to the board the individual who gives him free legal advice and that individual makes an error of judgment resulting in a major police incident. The answer for the Attorney-General has been easy. All he has had to do is blame the Chairman of the Parole Board. The only problem is that she was on leave when the decision was made. She played no part in it. SATBYS Mr Attorney-General?

Monday 13 July 2009

My father loves jokes

and will often tell them to other people. When he discovers a new one he likes I will hear it a dozen or more times as he repeats it to family and friends. I was even foolish enough last week to buy a new (to him) book that happened to be in the local newsagent and the evenings have been punctuated with laughter. He tries to limit the number he reads so as to spread the pleasure.
Yesterday he read one as he was waiting for me to put lunch on the table and we had yet another discussion about what makes something funny. It is something that has fascinated and puzzled my father for years.
Humour is an elusive thing. There is of course visual humour, spoken humour and written humour. There are things which are only funny in context or in their own cultural setting. Scripts often fail to read as well as the action. There is humour which depends on our own knowledge -something particularly true of newspaper cartoons. Something which is funny in one language may not be funny in another language because it will depend on a pun or some other specialised linguistic usage. (What do you call a cat who works in a hospital? A first aid kit. You need to know about 'first aid kits' and the fact that a cat can be called a 'kit' - short for kitten. It's a simple enough riddle-joke in English but it would not translate well into other languages.
Pauline called in last with yet more grapefruit and more jars. My father told her the latest joke and mentioned the lunchtime conversation. She was reminded of an incident that had occurred to her some years previously, possibly because the colleague with her could not see what was funny. They were sorting out pictures for the hearing impaired children she once taught when Pauline came across a cartoon of a mother bear sitting with a small bear. Mother bear is reading to the baby bear and the beginning is, "Once upon a time there were three people...."
Humour turns things upside down. It makes us see the world differently - if we will let the humour do its work.

Sunday 12 July 2009

I have been reading a knitting history book

by Sharon Miller. She has written two. The first was called Heirloom Knitting. This one is "Shetland Hap Shawls, Then and Now". It was given to me by a friend who once edited a knitting magazine.
The topic itself is a fascinating one for anyone interested in knitting or social history. If you happen to be interested in both the topic is virtually irresistible. Had I been given the book to review however I would have said it needed a heavy editorial hand.
There is a wealth of information there along with a great many photographs. The problem is that it is presented in a haphazard fashion. The layout is all over the place. It makes the book difficult to read. There are no subtitles to some of the photographs. The sequence of information also lacks logic. It needs expansion in some places and a reduction in others.
The problem is that this is a potentially very valuable book. There is very little source material available for serious knitters, especially the sort of knitters who design their own rather than follow a commercial pattern. There is also an assumption that such books, if written, would not sell.
I suspect however that the Shetland Times has done rather well out of Miller's first book, Heirloom Knitting. That could also have done with a much heavier editorial hand. Knitters cannot necessarily write.
Failure to edit such books well just perpetuates the myth that knitting is not a sufficiently important topic to warrant proper attention. The knitters of Shetland shawls were often among the poorest of the poor. Although they were highly skilled craftspeople they were paid a pittance for their works of art. Their work sometimes meant the difference between a family eating and not eating. The information is there but it could have had a far greater impact.
This, surely, is where government needs to step in with some assistance. This sort of history is just as important as the history of a particular make of car, or a building, or a drainage system. It matters just as much as the history of a branch railway or the technical data on the engine which ran along the line.
Perhaps the problem is that it is ordinary, every day, domestic history. There is no single catastrophic event to capture attention. It does not suddenly change the course of history. Does that really make it any less extraordinary?

Saturday 11 July 2009

Cat hairs on the birthday cake?

Jane accused me of getting cat hairs on the birthday cake belonging to an Awfully Big Blog Adventure. I must learn to scrub my paws. I must learn to scrub my paws. I must learn to scrub my paws! It is good that she feels she can tease me because we have never met.
I have never physically met many of the people I now regard as friends. We chat over the e-mail instead. I often wonder what it would be like to meet them.
I also wonder what it would be like to actually meet the characters from books. What would they really be like? Would I recognise them? Would I understand them? I realise that there is so much I do not know about so many of them.
ABBA asked readers to choose a favourite book from childhood. They asked readers to choose a character they would like to be. Is the book the book though, or is it our version of the book? Is the character that character, or is it our version of that character? We are what we read perhaps but we also read what we are.

Friday 10 July 2009

The door bell rang.

It was our neighbour from across the road. She wanted to know if she could leave three chairs with us. The open inspection for their house was in 35mins and the agent had told her to put the chairs somewhere else. Their double garage (which has served as her husband's workshop) is full of their tent-trailer, the dinghy, woodwork machinery and all the household items that the agent told them they needed to have out of the house. The place looks bare. It is apparently the right way to sell a house.
Belinda duly dumps three chairs and, half an hour later, comes back with the two children so that they are out of the way while the half hour inspection for invited potential buyers takes place. I can see the children have very mixed feelings about this. Belinda has mixed feelings about it. They do not really want to move. They will not be going far but they had decided that the children each need a bedroom of their own. It's a big thing. They own this place but the next place will mean a new mortgage.
For us it will mean new neighbours. We like Belinda and her family. We exchange biscuits at Christmas and have always given the children small gifts on their birthdays. We fed their cat and their dog, watered their garden, collected the post and acted as babysitters in emergencies. They did things for us in return. We will miss them.
We know everyone in our little street by name. That's good. We do not have quite the same relationship with them but we recognise them and they recognise us. That is a rare thing in the suburb of a city. I hope we will know the new family who moves in. If I know Belinda she will make sure we meet them. Did I mention the fact that Belinda was born and brought up in the country? I wonder if that makes a difference. I suspect it might.

Thursday 9 July 2009

"A separated mother of three...."

is the way in which the media has described the new leader of the state's opposition. Nothing was said about her other qualifications for the job. "Mother of three" might well be an excellent qualification for any job. "Separated mother of three" is a slightly different take on things. A male would probably have been described as 'has three children' and, perhaps, "separated from his partner" but these would have been somewhere near the end of the story.
I just love the media. They really know how to mess things up. They know how to turn a good news story into a bad news story. They know how to turn a bad news story into an even worse story which, of course, makes it a good news story. News sells. They must invent it if it does not exist.
I had a 'phone call last night - from Queensland. Someone had seen my letter in the Australian and wanted to congratulate me on it. Thankyou very much. I am just surprised there have not been a slew of letters criticising me in this morning's paper. Are people getting a little tired of the adulation being awarded to Our Revered Leader at state as well as Federal level? Is the suggestion that we are too much like a one-party state giving people something to think about?
I am surprised Our Revered State Leader has not sent his secret police around to let down my tricycle tyres.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

The title "Bad science and bad research"

on Jane's, How Publishing Really Works, jumped out at me.
As a child I took a little time to work out what "7 out of 10 dentists" as opposed to "7 out of every 10 dentists" really meant. Once I had sussed it out I started to look for similar examples. There were plenty. I will not bore you with them.
Then I discovered statistics in a different way. I was expected to use the damn things at university. I was taught about 'bell curves' and 'chi-square' and ANOVA and then ANCOVA and all sorts of other fancy arithmetical playthings beloved of psychologists to try and show that something they have thought of can be 'proven' correct.
I nearly failed my doctoral thesis because I made a small change to the way in which a 'standard' diagnostic test was applied. In doing so I succeeded (quite by accident) in bringing down the entire house of cards relating to that body of work. I was not popular.
I can remember sitting in the basement canteen of a certain psychology department and, behind me, hearing the professor of statistics and the department's statistical expert discussing a problem and the words, "If you use 'x' test rather than 'y' then you will get a significant result."
I nearly quit university at that point. Perhaps I should have.
Since then I have tended to treat all 'research' with some scepticism. It makes life uncomfortable. There is no certainty any more. When there is a 'breakthrough' I merely wonder what is going on and hope that there might be a grain of truth in it rather than a new way to sell another drug that has side effects worse than the disease. When the polls of 484 voters show massive support for one political party over another I wonder how many people will be caught up in 'well I might as well vote for them. They are going to win anyway" mode.
We should teach logic in schools. We should train the young to apply it to what they hear and read. In about fifty years from now we might have a few people who could really think for themselves. Research suggests that changing beliefs and opinions will be much harder to do.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

I had to make two trips on the tricycle

to get enough sugar for the marmalade. Unexpectedly it was 'on special'. I have no objection to paying 18c less than usual for each packet. I will need to get more. There is enough fruit for three batches. I will need to go on a jar hunt as well.
I sliced the fruit yesterday afternoon and the house is now filling with the unmistakeable aroma of grapefruit, sugar and water boiling gently together. It is cool (cold according to us) and the windows have steamed over. I can see the steam rising over the pan. Looking into it is like looking down on bubbling yellow little pieces of sunshine jumping, running and chasing one another around. Little do they know they are about to be captured and bottled.
Dad gave the jars another thorough scrubbing yesterday. I discovered the reason he had volunteered for such duty was that his hands were feeling cold. He cannot wear gloves in the shed, not even fingerless mittens. It was too cold out there yesterday. The temperature did not get above 10'C. This seems so odd. I finished some work for someone in the northern hemisphere who has been grumbling about the heat!
In between I wrote a longer than usual letter to our state newspaper. I do try to keep my ramblings to the press short but I felt the need to express myself on the issue of the perceived need to keep children constantly competitively occupied under adult supervision. Someone in there must have agreed with me as they printed it in full this morning. No doubt I will get criticised by those who believe children should not learn to entertain themselves.

Monday 6 July 2009

"We must do a boiling..."

This is what my grandmother would say each year as the citrus fruit became ripe. It was time to make marmalade. I have no idea why my grandmother would say "we must do a boiling" rather than "we must make marmalade" but, once it was said, the fruit would be obtained from one of my grandfather's customers and work would begin.
The fruit would be finely sliced on one day and put in the great preserving pan. It would be covered with water and left overnight before being brought to the boil the next. Sugar would be added and it would continue to cook until judged ready. Then it would be bottled in the waiting jars, labelled and stored away for use throughout the year. Grapefruit was the most popular variety but orange and lemon would also be made. Coming in from the cold outside a wonderful citrus aroma would greet us. It was a companionable exercise and I never minded scrubbing the floor afterwards. However hard we tried it was always sticky underfoot.
I was reminded of all of this yesterday when our friend Pauline called in with a bucket of grapefruit. Pauline is a Dominican nun. I doubt she actually owns a habit. She wears pants most of the time. Her nun like qualities only come out in things like an abhorrence of waste. Her time is limited because, although officially retired from her teaching and social work duties at the women's shelter, she has more than enough to do. Would I make the marmalade and pass it on to anyone who might need some? Of course I will. I can get up earlier in the morning.
Pauline stopped long enough to talk for a while. She was talking about her brother-in-law. He is an atheist. They do not agree on many things. We also know him. He is an odd man but she has just read his autobiography and many things have been explained. His parents were Calabrian. They worked hard and had little time for their 8 children. He sat in the middle with what is now termed a bi-polar disorder. He is brilliant in many ways. He has a magnificent capacity to use language. It will have been therapeutic for him to write his autobiography. I doubt it will be therapeutic for me to read it but I will.

Sunday 5 July 2009

A little positive discrimination

is a good thing when it is related to road safety. The snail like pace of the railway works meant that the crossing I use the most frequently was completely closed yesterday. I had to use another one to get to the Saturday knitting group. That was fine. They are not digging that up for another fortnight according the note in our letter box.
The vehicular traffic of course is all over the place. Some people have no understanding that they may need to slow down a little in changed traffic conditions. Take an extra minute to get somewhere?????? Impossible! Pedestrians have to be nimble footed as they are sharing parts of the road with the impatient lunatics in cars.
I spent a very satisfactory afternoon tidying up the library cupboard with Maureen. Maureen is tall enough to reach the top shelf with ease. This helps no end in my role as "shelf elf ". We had quite a few books checked out which was also satisfying. It suggests that the new books we have bought are the sort that people want to borrow.
I had to call in at the bookshop on the way home so I returned via a different route. It had reached a very busy time on the road and I was rather apprehensive - no, very apprehensive - about using the railway crossing I have so far managed to avoid using. The pedestrian maze which I normally use had been closed off completely. There were the inevitable boys (of all ages) leaning on the fence to watch the activity along the line. I avoided them and waited to see what the young men who are on "lollipop traffic control" were doing. They have to control the traffic coming off the main road, the traffic going on to the main road, the traffic coming from a parallel side street, the traffic crossing the line and let the huge vehicles working there move backwards and forwards. I had to get across these streams of traffic and turn right from the footpath. It is an awkwards manouvre at the best of times because of the slope and the need to avoid a traffic island.
As I was watching and wondering how best to manage all this and even considering back tracking a couple of kilometres to use the crossing I had used earlier the lollipops went up in the
"Stop" position in all directions. The lollipop man nearest me called out, "Your turn." I pedalled through feeling like royalty.

Saturday 4 July 2009

We were the recipients of

ten roses yesterday. They are dainty things with deep red interiors and an apricot yellow exterior. Unlike many shop bought roses they also have a faint perfume. They also have thorns - but I am willing to tolerate that for the pleasure of looking at them.
They were a gift from one of the oldies I keep an eye on. It was unnecessary and that is possibly one of the things that makes the gesture particularly nice.
As Dad and I do not spend a lot of time in the dining area or the lounge area we have them on the kitchen table. They will get in the way - and we do not care in the least.
We have rose bushes along the front fence. My mother put them there. My father says he would not have put them there but he will not remove them now. We have removed a nameless bush she planted that grew too high because she never wanted to cut anything back. In its place we have another lavender bush. The bees like that. The two visiting cats sleep underneath the lavender bushes in the summer. They do not sleep under the rose bushes.

Friday 3 July 2009

The Queen and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer

is a Scottish Officer I have had occasion to research in the last few days. (It appears in the next book I am struggling with.) Those interested can look it up in Wikipedia. Suffice to say that it is one of those differences between Scotland and England that is a reminder that things are different north of the border. Scotland is another country. They do things differently there. Being of very Scots ancestry I find it interesting.
They do things differently here too. That is perhaps even more interesting because, technically, we are supposed to be one country. There are times when it seems more as if we are a herd of dingoes scrapping over a bone. We have been doing this since before Federation.
One result of this was a failure to agree over a standard gauge of railway line between South Australia and the eastern states. That meant that, some years back, we had to endure a disruption to the rail service so that the gauge could be changed for the goods service. The passenger line had to go to a single track working. Several stations were closed. The service was reduced. Trains no longer run to time.
For the past couple of months we have had no trains at all. The passenger line has been pulled up and is being relaid. Progress is slow. This is winter. Australian workers cannot handle what they consider to be bad weather. There are, no doubt, technical problems as well.
It is also causing other problems. The congestion on the roads is greater because the alternate bus service does not provide an alternative for all. It is not always an 'accessible' bus. Even if it is an accessible bus not everyone can access it. Some gophers simply do not fit. Not all wheelchair users can manage. There is only space for two such mobility aids. Prams, pushers and strollers are supposed to be folded and stacked at the front. There is limited space. On a train the child can simply stay put - which usually restrains them nicely. The alternative buses take much longer to traverse the difference.
I simply go nowhere unless someone takes me in a car. I am not permitted to put my tricycle on the bus although it can go on the train. The nice young man at the railway service office has arranged two taxi vouchers so I can get to two medical appointments next week. Apart from that I am limited to pedal power. Sometimes this is rather good. I can avoid meetings unless someone is so keen for me to attend they arrange transport. When it is cold and wet and blowing a gale I feel the founding fathers did me a favour. If they had not disagreed I would be waiting for a train.

Thursday 2 July 2009

The death of newspapers

has no doubt been predicted as long as newspapers have existed. I am certain their death has been predicted as long as radio, television and, now, the internet have existed. Oh, I forgot, add mobile 'phones and something called Twitter. I have yet to investigate Twitter. There is also the death of books issue - but that is something else.
Newspapers have declined. Their circulation has dropped. In terms of trees, newsprint, ink and the overall carbon imprint this may well be a good thing. In information terms it may or may not be. Newspapers have simply failed to adapt according to John Hartigan of News Ltd.
I have news for Mr Hartigan. The standard of journalism has to be maintained, indeed increased, if newspapers are to survive.
Editors and journalists appear to believe that newspapers can survive on sensationalism, trivial events, gossip, misinformation and unnecessary intrusion into the private lives of those who suffer serious misfortune. I object. Serious matters will be trivialised or given the peculiar bias of the reporter responsible. Again, I object. Political interference is perhaps one of the most serious offences of all, especially where it is designed to undermine democracy. We should all object however much we might like it when the interference is favourable to 'our' side of politics.
Newspapers are still powerful forces for change. Journalists are some of the most powerful people on earth. Editors are even more so. These people decide our daily news drug and the dosage they will deliver.
I am told that 'blogging' is dangerous. It is subversive. It trivialises journalism. I always wanted to be an anarchist.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

The parcel in the letter box was for me!

I love getting the sort of surprise parcel I had yesterday. It came from my two godchildren in Singapore. There was a DVD in there of my goddaughter's solo with the orchestra. It was carefully protected from harm by being wrapped in a t-shirt.
The t-shirt has a cat on it - black, printed on cream. It is elegant and sophisticated. The cat is....sleek, smug and decidedly Asian in its simplicity. I will enjoy wearing it next summer.
My godchildren are great kids - and not just because of the t-shirt. I at least remember their birthdays...and my own godmother's birthday. She will be 89 tomorrow. Sadly she lives in Sydney these days so I will not be seeing her.
I do see my godfather occasionally. He escapes on the days that his wife has a bridge party in their unit. He usually calls in to have a cup of tea and a chat with Dad. He has never done a thing about being my godfather - apart from boast about what he sees as my achievements. That's okay. He just would not know how to do anything else. He is not that sort of person. My godmother still sends birthday cards and Christmas cards...and is still the unflappable person she was when she was a triple-certificated Sister in a hospital aeons ago. I like them both.
After the morning excitement of the parcel there was a short, sharp storm which caused considerable damage in some areas. I had to go out and haul empty rubbish bins on to the footpath from where they had been blown into the centre of the road and then head off to the bookshop. It was knitting afternoon. I nearly did not make it because of the wind.
I was quite convinced there would be nobody but myself and perhaps one other but ten more people turned up and the owner sat down with us for half an hour. I explained how to lengthen the little pullover she had knitted for a grandchild. She said sitting there was a well earned rest after a morning of stocktaking...and we agreed about cruel and unusual punishments for people who deliberately remove stock without paying for it. We both want the bookshop to survive and indeed thrive. If it stops raining long enough this morning I intend to head back and get a book I saw languishing sadly on the sale shelf. It needs a home. I will parcel it up carefully and send it on so that someone else gets a parcel.