Monday 31 August 2009

My first day at kindergarten

was an unmitigated disaster. My first day at school was not much better. I hated both.
I admire the self-possession of children who sail straight on in with apparent loads of self-confidence and super-inflated egos and find a 'best friend' on the very first day. No such luck for me. I did not want to be there and it was not just separation anxiety - why was my mother abandoning me yet again after not visiting during my stay in hospital? - or the fact that I kept on being knocked over by the 'big boys'. There was one with red hair and freckles and I suspect the infants teacher in the state school breathed a sigh of relief when he went to be hauled into line by the nuns - something I learned about later.
There was 'free play' in the sandpit and with a variety of larger wooden toys - no plastic back then. I promptly 'built a castle' by lining up some wooden bricks in a ragged square and told everyone I was getting inside it and nobody else could. No doubt a psychiatrist would make a lot of that. Then we had Story Time. It was Marjorie Flack's "The story about Ping" that day. I owned my own copy and I never did like the way that Ping got smacked. I always thought it was very unfair. At two and a half my sense of justice was already well developed. I was feeling cross about that and pretty miserable about the rest of it. There was worse to come. It was Fruit Time. This was the afternoon snack. Fruit was cut up and put on a large plate and you were given a piece. There was apple and banana - and orange.
I would have been fine with apple. I would have managed banana. I could not manage orange. My manual dexterity was still much too limited to hold anything without squeezing it. Squeeze an orange and you get - juice. Juice is sticky. Juice runs all over you. I could not help it. I got smacked for making a mess. I was told I could stay like that and not finish playing with the others.
I did not want to go back to kindergarten. I did of course. I never liked it because I never found a 'best friend' and, more than once, was smacked for 'being naughty' when I was told to do something and failed. If I was invited to birthday parties I was never allowed to go. I never went to play at the houses of other children although the two children in the house behind us sometimes came to us - probably because my mother was minding them for some reason.
Perhaps it was all because my mother was not coping well with me and my baby brother - and then the first of my baby sisters. It is more likely my mother told any teacher, "She can if she tries. She just doesn't try." It would have fitted her Christian Science philosophy. My father, teaching full time, trying to finish his university degree and obtain the "skill marks" needed for promotion (and the much needed extra money that would come with it) would not have been aware of what was going on.
When I tell people this story they say, "But you cannot possibly remember all that! You must be imagining it. Mothers are not like that." I can remember it. I can remember tiny details. I could tell you what I was wearing that day (brown corduroy overalls and a grey and blue striped pullover) . I can feel the slight grittiness of the floor and then, under my palms, the roughness of the hessian mats we sat on. Mine was bordered with some green, white and orange striped material.
I can remember the juice rolling down my hands as I tried to hold on to the piece of orange. I remember it every time I peel an orange - and yes, some mothers are like that. But, after that first day, I always had apple or banana.

Sunday 30 August 2009

Not far from here

there is a suburb of Adelaide called "Colonel Light Gardens". It is named after Colonel William Light, a surveyor, who laid out the two square mile grids that make up the Adelaide CBD and North Adelaide. When he did that the grid pattern was probably appropriate for the transport needs of the day.
Colonel Light Gardens is not laid out on a grid pattern. It is a confusing mix of curving and straight lines. There are Strands, Ways, Crescents, Streets and Roads all flung together. The houses were all built during the 1930's. There are a limited number of designs, deliberately so. It was supposed to add to the cohesiveness of the suburb. A fiercely protective Resident's Association, in reality a small group, is intent on preserving the suburb just as it always has been.
Many of the problems are due to the layout. There are large patches which were presumably meant to be the 'gardens' but they are bare of anything except dusty grass in summer and, sometimes, green grass in winter. They get mown occasionally by the council. In one or two places there are seats that nobody uses.
Indeed, nobody uses these spaces. I think they were intended to be used. Why else have the seats? I think they were intended to bring people together but they have had the opposite effect. The spaces are a little too large. They do not allow for neighbourly contact. Houses already have front garden spaces and backyard spaces. Between the backyards are the 'night service' alleys along which the other utilities run.
They are spaces that would be perfect for children to play on and in but children do not play there. You are not supposed to ride bicycles or kick balls - or play outside unsupervised.
Adelaide is extending further and further to the north. It has reached far into the south. The hills to the east have more housing each year.
Colonel Light Gardens sits five or six kilometres from the CBD. Compared with the cramped suburbs around it the housing seems sparse and sterile. It is a desert in suburbia.
It would be good if they could build an adventure playground or two in the spaces, provide some of the "rubbish" needed to build cubby houses, and toss the kids in during the school holidays I think the Colonel would approve.

Saturday 29 August 2009

We teach children to fail

by demanding that they be a success. Do I need to say more?
The past week has seen media overkill on the death of Ted Kennedy - a man who may well have achieved more if less pressure had been placed on him - and media overkill on the subjects of truancy, the woeful state of maths and science teaching, and the woeful state of the cricket team.
I blame the last three on demands for success.
Our education system has the curious philosophy that all children must aim for university. This is not all children with the ability but all children. There is a difference. It is never stated as such but it is the philosophy which underlies the school curriculum and encourages truancy.
There is visible truancy. Everyone knows that this is a problem. Media overkill was naturally about the visible truancy problem. If you are in school you must be learning something - right? Probably not. There is invisible truancy as well. You sit in the classroom. You switch off. You do not do the set preparation or homework. (Why in the heck should you do work at home when your parents do not take work home and may not even go to work?) You learn to succeed at failing.
Maths and science teaching is succeeding at failing too. Nobody denies there has been an explosion of knowledge, even since most younger teachers were at school. For me maths was the relatively simple affair of the four basic functions with a bit Euclidean geometry, trigonometry and the use of logarithmic tables. I have forgotten most of it although I can still manage the basic statistics I was taught to use at university. Now kids have to cope with set theory and quadratic equations (by another name) down in the primary school. Science is much the same. There is so much to learn that they get the smallest possible introduction to the widest possible range of topics. The result is often that they come away knowing very little. "You breathe bad air out and the trees take it and turn it into good air" I was told by an eleven year old. It was what he had been taught in school that week. I checked with his class mates and they believed the same thing. It was part of their study of global warming.
But, worse than any of this, is the failure of the cricket team. Australia did not win the Ashes series. It is, if the media is to be believed, a major national disaster. It means that we have to stop children "just playing" and get them to work harder on their batting, bowling and fielding skills. While we are at it we also have to make sure that they can kick a football - for a team.
There are eleven people on a cricket team. There are eighteen people on a football team. You are a failure if you are not on the team. If you win you can be a national hero. If you lose then it is because you did not do your best. You let us down. Failure is not an option.
"You might not succeed but that is not failure. Failure is not trying at all. It is also persisting when you come to understand that the task is beyond your capabilities. Try something different instead." What would happen if we said this?

Friday 28 August 2009

"Can you use these?"

he asks sounding slightly shamefaced. My father is standing there with a pile of carrots from the garden. Well, I think they are still carrots. One of them is large enough to feed a family of rabbits for a week. There are others that are only slightly smaller.
I have been using carrots from our garden for some time. There is a nice little patch near the clothesline, next to the parsley and the lavender bush and the stocks that decided to flower a second year. Dad likes to mix vegetables with flowers and put things in wherever there is a space.
The problem is that I often do not know they are there. He forgets to tell me what he has planted. It is his garden. I do not interfere - except in emergencies. The carrots were not an emergency. They were tucked away in a corner. He had forgotten they were there. They have obviously grown - too much.
I try. I wash off the remaining soil and investigate. Is it possible to salvage some of it? We could have carrot soup - and more carrot soup. I scrape the outside of the rabbit family size carrot wondering how to remove the dirt from the warren of splits along the surface. The simple answer seems to be to cut it lengthwise and go from there but the sharpest knife in the kitchen is not equal to the task. I put the rabbit family size carrot to one side. I go down to a rabbit couple for a week size carrot. After a moment I put that to one side and search through the remaining carrots. There are some oddly shaped rabbit couple for a day size carrots. I try those. They still seem tough. I wonder whether the pressure cooker is equal to the task. Eventually the pressure cooker has enough to contemplate cooking them. I give it extra time and clear up the mess.
Much later I investigate. The carrots are still hard through the core. The outer edges taste green rather than orange. I discard them sadly. They will make good compost.
Carrots were originally purple not orange. I am wondering what they tasted like then. I go and pull a rabbit couple for a day size carrot from the patch near the lavender bush for lunch. It is orange and it tastes like carrot.

Thursday 27 August 2009

You can find lives past and lives future in a cemetery

but lives present visit only briefly, anxiously, guiltily. We're alive. You're not.
Kathleen's funeral, held yesterday, was brief and private. It reflected her belief "in God but not religion" and the importance of her neighbours.
It was held in the smallest chapel in the Centennial Park complex up on the hill not far from here. There is a big window, reaching to the sky. The weather was wild and windy. You can look out and see an inner, private garden. It is, supposedly, restful and peaceful but I do not much like Centennial Park.
There are thousands of rose bushes and, beneath them, there are tiny plaques...spaces one can rent for a while. There are no headstones, no information apart from names and dates, no messages, no real sense of history. Kathleen detested it. She is headed for the hills and life. She will have trees planted in her memory. They will, like the trees planted for my mother and Margaret, nestle anonymously with the other trees. They will be life past and life future - but not life present.
Kathleen's sister, 94, took the proceedings with the outward calm of the very old. Her inner feelings only given away by the strength of her grip as I greeted her and, eventually, left her.
I rode my tricycle through the winding road of the Garden of Remembrance, past the workers with their yellow safety jackets, past the lives past and the lives future. I watched the lives present leaving as they waited to turn into the traffic.
As I turned onto the footpath alongside the main road I thought of my sister's words when, as a four year old, she tried to describe how to find something, "You go down the hill, past where the dead people live."
It might have been true of an old style cemetery with headstones and history. It is not true of that place. I am glad Kathleen is going into the hills. It is better to live as a tree than a plaque beneath a rose bush.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

I do not wear pink suede shoes.

Nicola Morgan wears pink suede shoes and purple suede boots - and some turquoise shoes too. She told me about those.
It takes confidence to wear pink suede shoes - or perhaps they give you confidence. I do not know. I am never going to find out. I do not wear pink at all. It is not a colour I feel comfortable in.
Reading Nicola's blog, especially about things like 'perfect covering letters', was the same. There were times when I wanted to stop reading. If this, I thought, was what you have to go through in order to get a book published then it is not for me. I could not write that sort of letter about myself or about anything I had written. I cannot sell myself like that. It would not sound sincere.
Writing is a solitary activity because, when you write, the world has to belong to you. You have to be able to be anything you choose to be. There are no limits to writing unless there are limits to your imagination. There should be no limits to a writer's imagination. The only limits should be a knowledge of where to stop for the sake of the reader.
When you have done the best you can with the words then you can and must move on. You can observe the pink suede shoes but you do not have to wear them.
I do not lust after the pink suede shoes. I would like the confidence to wear the equivalent.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

I have just finished reading

"The Dying Light" by Henry Porter. It was on the new books shelf in the library and I picked it up as 'orange spot reading' - our library labels crime and associated fiction with orange spots. I tend to equate it with light reading, escape reading.
This book is set slightly into the future in the United Kingdom. It has Orwellian overtones. It is close enough to reality to be disturbing for the general reader. If you know anything about the machinations of government then it is a little more than that. It is about control, the sort of creeping control that we are largely unaware of. It is about the sort of control that, even if we are aware of it, we believe there is nothing we can do about it.
I am not paranoid - at least, I do not think I am. I do not hear voices telling me what to do. I do not constantly look over my shoulder. I do not believe I am always being followed. I am aware that people read this blog. That does not matter. I chose to make it public.
There are things however that I should be able to choose to keep private. There are things I should be able to choose not to do. Medical and financial affairs certainly fall into the former category of matters which should remain private. I should be able to choose not to join a union or political party or any other group unless I wish to do so.
I should also be free to pay my debts with the legal tender of this country without penalty. The increasing tendency of utility providers to demand that people go 'on-line' to pay their bills worries me. Charging people extra for not doing so amounts to theft. There is no such thing as 'internet security'. There is no system which is so secure that it cannot be breached by someone. If a human wrote the programme another human can breach it. It is a short step from there to the collation of large amounts of data about each individual - data that can then be used to control. It can be used to 'guide' elections. (In a country like Australia where there is a compulsion to attend the ballot box this is even more disturbing than in a country where no such compulsion exists.) Our present Federal government has already returned to a union dominated system more in keeping with the middle of last century. It plans an identity card -compulsory if you wish to access any form of social security, including a Medicare rebate for a visit to the doctor. At some point we will cease to be ourselves and we will be what the government wants us to be.
We have identity theft by stealth and we are told it is for our own good.

Monday 24 August 2009

Believe in yourself? Know yourself?

On Saturday one of our Australian papers carried a feature length article about an American motivational/self help guru - a Dr Phil McGraw. I had heard the name. I know people who watch his day time television programme with almost religious fervour. He is big business. People were paying $Aus297 to go and hear this man speak. He was apparently given some sort of rock-star like welcome. The crowd cheered him and gave him a standing ovation.
I fail to understand such things. That same day Dan Holloway, over on "The Man who painted Agnieszka's Shoes", had a post starting "You make your own luck..." and went on to add a few uncomfortable truths. He followed that up with a guest post on Jane's "How publishing really works" which says, "Believe in yourself but believe in the evidence as well." There were some more uncomfortable truths. They should be required reading along with Steve Salerno's book, "SHAM How the gurus of the self help movement make us helpless."
I am tired of hearing, "If you try hard enough you will succeed." The sub-text should read, "Or you will feel bad about yourself because you failed. It's your fault."
It's the cop out, the ultimate cop out. My father and I have discussed this many times and at length over the meal table. It is something we could not talk about while my mother was alive. My mother was still attached to her upbringing as a Christian Scientist. She had ceased to attend their 'church' but she still could not quite bring herself to give up the beliefs. They work on the ultimate cop out. "If you believe hard enough then you will be cured. If you do not believe hard enough then you will not be cured. You will not be able to do all the things you believe you cannot do unless you believe you can do them. It is your fault." Your fault. Your fault. My fault?
Sometimes you are going to fail no matter how hard you try. Sometimes it may even be wiser not to try. Such sentiments will have the self-help motivational gurus screaming I am sure. But, let's be realistic. I am not going to run a four minute mile. I am not going to run full stop. Why try? Why waste the effort on that? It makes more sense to try something at which I have a reasonable chance of succeeding. I might succeed. I might fail. If I have done the best that I know I can do - not the best that other people tell me I can do - then I will have succeeded whether I pass or fail the goal I have set myself. I am not going to be dependent on the self help motivational guru. I am not going to pay the guru good money to feel bad about myself. I am not going to aim for the impossible of copperplate handwriting when I can do a fairly legible scrawl or, better still, use the keyboard. I did aim for university when everyone around me said I could not do it - and feel degrees better about myself because of it.
I have to be able to purr contentedly inside myself. What other people think really does not matter - even if I think it does.

Sunday 23 August 2009

It is only a small room so

six knitters and one baby fitted in very nicely. The baby was definitely a bonus. She is a mere eight weeks old. We all fell instantly and deeply under her spell.
Eight week old babies should scream or sleep mid-afternoon, especially in the relative quiet of a library based knitting group. She did neither. When not involved in the normal baby activity of being fed she observed us and received compliments with a slightly smug, "Yes, well of course I know I am perfect." We all had a cuddle. She snuggled in.
Holding her was strange. I do not often hold babies. It scares me a bit. I definitely need to be sitting down securely to feel comfortable about any such responsibility for a human in miniature. It is a huge responsibility, however momentary.
She wriggled a little and, remarkably for her age, held her head up and looked at me. I wonder what she saw. She is still learning to focus but she seemed to be observing me intently. We had a little conversation. I am no good at baby talk. Babies get full sentences from me. They seem to like it. Her mother finished the row she was working on and I passed her back with regret and relief - or should that be relief and regret?
We all wondered at the way that, all being well, babies arrive equipped with so many essentials and all those little details like those minute fingernails and eyelashes. We wondered at the way she was still alert and awake and good tempered after two hours. We told her she was too young to learn to knit but we will teach her if she wants to learn. Her big brother is learning to cook and likes to play with sticks and string as well as his favourite yellow bulldozer and a collection of cars.
Much later Her Royal Highness was enjoying more social chat with another older New Admirer. New Admirer's husband arrived. His face lit up. "Two or three week loan?" he asked eagerly and reached out.

Saturday 22 August 2009

A former neighbour died this week.

She was 96. Her sister, 94, is still alive and now lives alone in the house they were born in.
The house itself is just over 100 years old. That is old in Australia.
Kathleen and Joan were the only two children. They never married. They also grew up in an era when you did not move out of the family home unless you married. When their mother died they cared for their father. He was a cantankerous, whisky drinking, pipe-smoking man. The summer he turned 96 he climbed onto the roof of the house and painted the galvanised iron again. He lived another two years after that.
After his death Kathleen and Joan went on living in the house. It was too big for four people. It was most certainly too big for two people. The kitchen has not changed since it was updated after World War Two. All the furnishings belong to the same era or earlier. They were once kept exquisitely polished and dusted or laundered. Now, like Joan, they are becoming frail around the edges. Joan is profoundly deaf. She is inclined to fall. She will not move.
Kathleen and Joan travelled. They used up more passports than many businessmen. They did not just 'do Europe' . They went to China before China opened up to the general tourist trade. They did the trans-Siberia trip without the benefit of an organised tour party. They went to Africa, India and the rest of the sub-continent. They toured Asia and the Pacific. They went to the United States, Canada, Mexico and through South America. They knew the United Kingdom and Europe better than many of the locals. They loved Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Libya and Morocco. Name it and they had almost certainly been there with the exception of North Korea - Kathleen's one regret. She did not find out how bad it was for herself and she was sure the scenery would be magnificent.
They almost always went independently until they were in their 80's. Then they reluctantly went with groups - or 'led' groups. They knew the ropes. Joan did 'the other half of the Silk Route' at 89.
Travel was their life. Work was what came in between planning trips and the undertaking them. They were the true travellers who return home with very few, if any, souvenirs. Souvenirs did not interest them. They had their photographs and their memories. They did not foist their photographs on other people although, if you expressed an interest, they would show you a few. They would inform us when they were going and when they returned. We would keep the pot plants watered. The garden would grow wild.
At the far end of the garden there was an old rowing boat. Their father had once used it to go fishing in. He was not a traveller. The boat, like them, was gradually decaying.
I am going to see Joan today and I will look to see if there is anything left of the boat.

Friday 21 August 2009

Most bought and least read?

What makes a 'best selling' book? Who reads it? Does it have literary value? Does it matter if it does not have literary value?
I own a copy of Stephen Hawking's, "A short history of the universe" - and I have read it. I do not claim I understood all of it. Physics is not something that greatly interests me. However I endured three years of badly taught high school physics and remembered enough to make some sense of the book. I wanted to find out what the fuss was about. I still do not know what the fuss was about. Professor Hawking once nearly ran over my toes demonstrating his (then) swish new state of the art wheelchair to me. That was rather more memorable than the book. A physicist later suggested that the book had to be one of the 'most bought and least read'. I suspect he was right. You needed to know something about physics and mathematics. The ideas are big. I think Professor Hawking has since modified his ideas but they are, in all likelihood, bigger than before. He's a big thinker. All the same it was not, I am certain, the ideas in the book that were selling but the fact that the author was viewed as a rather romantic figure -although his life is anything but romantic.
Most 'best-selling' books however appear to be quite the opposite. I see them being read on the train on occasion. I sometimes feel I should be embarrassed at being caught reading a book about language death or the revival of Gaelic or a new book from the children's shelf instead of the latest bodice ripper. Other readers probably think I am posing but I enjoy these things. Bodice rippers, war books, westerns and certain types of science-fiction/fantasy hold no interest for me. I have yet to read a book by Colleen McCullough. I tried to read Thornbirds - and it bored me. I have not yet read Tim Winton's Dirt Music. I started and got sidetracked by books I found more interesting. There are other 'best sellers' and 'best selling' authors that must do something for other people. They buy them. They appear to read them. I do not. There must be something wrong with me.
I prowl along the library shelves. I look at the little pink stickers which say 2009 and haul the book out. The blurb on the back or on the inside cover starts to tell me about a convoluted set of relationships. In fairness I open the book. Nothing happens on the first page. I delve a little deeper. There is a long and apparently meaningless conversation over four or five pages. Nothing happening there. The book is thick, probably 120,000 words and perhaps even more.
I can't be bothered. It might be a 'best seller' on the New York Times list or some other apparently respectable 'list'. It is not on my list.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Yesterday we did not get any papers.

This is not the first time. It will probably not be the last. The new paper delivery service is not efficient. There is only one available delivery service. I need to read the papers for my day job. I rang well before the appointed time for the 'missed delivery' round and asked for them to be delivered. They should have been here by 9:30 - getting late in the day for my work purposes. At 11.15 they still had not shown up. I rang again and was a little more terse in my comments to the answering machine. At 1.05 pm there is a 'phone call asking if I have the papers yet. No. I am going to the library to read them. They will be there 'in a few minutes'. I set off for the library at 2:15pm and return at 3:35pm (having skimmed both the 'Tiser and the Australian for the essentials) to see the paper delivery van coming around the corner.
We sympathised in the beginning. The new people were learning the round. Give them time. Now days of missed papers, constant 'phone calls and papers flung into the gutters or, once, as high as the carport roof (still wondering how they managed that one) are beginning to have a negative effect.
I know we are lucky there is a paper delivery service. What puzzles me is that they can deliver to the house across the street. They can deliver to the house next to us. They cannot deliver to us. It is clearly something to do with having also to do a U-turn at that point. It indicates that some men really cannot do more than one thing at once.
That made me wonder why the driver was also chatting on his mobile 'phone . It is illegal. It is illegal for a very good reason. It is dangerous. The danger does not stop people. Even when the police do pull someone over they rarely do more than reprimand. There is too much paperwork involved in a fine. Perhaps they should just have the power to take away the 'phone? On the first occasion they could tell someone, "You can come and get it in three days." If they offend again then it could be confiscated for evermore. Yes, the offender could go out and buy another one but it might be even more effective than a fine, especially with all the information some people apparently keep on their 'phones.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

"I can show you a photograph"

We had visitors and we had been talking about the Port River. My great-grandfather was a ship's pilot and he, along with another man, were the two who first mapped the misnamed inlet. There are streets named after both men in the nearby suburb. I think they would be disappointed by 'the Port' now. The number of vessels berthed there gets less each year. Even the 'Outer Harbour' has few ships.
But, my paternal great-grandfather came out from Scotland to work the waterway. We have a photograph of him looking solemnly out from behind a full, dark beard. If I look at my father, my brother and other relatives I can see the strong family resemblance. I am told people can see it in me as well. We have a family history full of such photographs.
I took the book off the shelf where it usually sits and flipped casually through it to find the photograph we were talking about. We looked. Then one of our visitors took the book and looked slowly through it. Occasionally she would look up at me and then look at another photograph.
"Yes, you are one of them aren't you?" she said when she reached the end, "Aren't you lucky?"
I know I am lucky. I have a whole clan behind me, a close knit clan. It is the sort of clan that allows Dad's first cousin once removed to 'phone last night and ask if he can come up to use my father's lathe today. Of course he can. The job will take most of the day so he will stay for lunch.
He's family.
And I realised again that I am lucky. Most people do not have that sort of family. They might have grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins in varying degrees. They do not all have clan. Those of us who have clan have something very special indeed.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

There was a 'grocerystore' almost next to

the home of my paternal grandparents. The only thing in between was the home of The Owner. The Owner terrified us. She had terrified my father when he was small too. The shop however was another matter.
It was small. It had an aroma all of its own, polished timber, flour, sugar, cheese, bacon, washing powder and cleaning fluid. They all came together to form General Store Perfume.
There was a wooden floor, so worn that there was a slight dip where you trod on the mat that caused the bell to ring and announce the arrival of a customer. My brother could jump over the mat so that the bell did not ring. It got him into trouble more than once.
Once you were over the mat you stood on floor boards swept daily, sometimes several times daily, by "Hazel". Hazel, if she ever had another name nobody knew it and even the children called her Hazel, worked for The Owner. She was, by then, in her late fifties or early sixties, no make-up. Under her white shop overall Hazel was a plain dresser who wore her hair in a plait around her head. She rode an heavy old fashioned bicycle to and from the shop. It was something she had done ever since she started working there at the age of fourteen.
Hazel never had a lot to say. Hazel was much too busy.
Sugar was not pre-packed in those days. It came in gigantic hessian bags sewn along the top with cotton. Hazel would snip one end of the cotton and the whole row would unravel revealing a quarry of sugar. She would mine the sugar into brown paper bags on an old fashioned black scale with shiny brass weights. Then she would fold the tops and, somehow tie them with brown string from a great reel hanging near by. We found this fascinating.
My grandmother would sometimes send me in for my grandfather's cheese. He liked the strong matured cheddar and often ate it with fruitcake. My grandmother bought it in small portions as she did not eat it. Using a cheese wire Hazel would slice two or four ounces from a great wheel. There was always a 'rind' of cheesecloth on the outer. Watching Hazel work the cheese wire was a breath holding moment. Would something that looked so flimsy be able to cut the cheese? Would I have to go back and tell my grandmother the cheese wire had broken? Somehow it always worked. If The Owner was not to be seen Hazel would sneak me a tiny crumb of cheese. It tasted divine.
Sometimes I would be asked to get 'cheese biscuits' as well. These were biscuits for cheese rather than biscuits which contained cheese. They came loose in a large, square tin. They were Swallow's Captain's biscuits. Rectangular in shape, they had a small round mark pressed into them. If given one I was always careful to eat right around the mark first and then eat the round piece last of all.
Hazel and The Owner would work all day on lists left by customers and these would be delivered by The Boy on his bicycle with the big basket at the front. Even my grandmother would have her order delivered by The Boy. If The Boy was not there for any reason then Hazel would do the deliveries. I suppose she took holidays. I am not sure when. The range of goods must have been limited but the service, despite the snappy manner of The Owner, was utterly reliable.
It was with more than a little alarm that I read in the paper of Woolworth's plans to open a new chain of 'corner convenience stores'. They claim these stores will fill a need and that they will be like the old fashioned grocery store of the past. Utter nonsense! No mini-mini-supermarket cum delicatessan filled with modern, pre-prepared convenience foods could compare with The Owner's shop. I am lucky to know that.

Monday 17 August 2009

Two 'gentlemen' appeared at the door

after my father had gone to church yesterday. I do not know whether they deliberately waited until he had left. I hope so.
They were 'not happy' about my recent letter to the 'Tiser - the one about global warming. Fair enough. I did not expect everyone to agree. I told them they could write a letter to the 'Tiser and disagree. Someone else did.
It turned out to be a little more serious than that. These 'gentlemen' were 'advising (me) that such letters are inappropriate and unhelpful'. They are? I was only asking for some hard evidence. How can that be inappropriate and unhelpful?
I stood my ground. I told them to tell the 'Tiser if they do not want letters published. Apparently they cannot tell the 'Tiser but they can tell me. After all, they tell me quite reasonably, how do they know what the 'Tiser is going to choose to print?
How do they know what I am going to write?
We do not even agree to disagree. We disagree. They tell me to be more careful about what I write because it upsets people. It is meant to upset people. It is meant to shock them out of accepting every word coming out of the mouth of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Climate Change and the Ministers for Everything Else and those who are supposed to officially oppose them as well.
They leave - and yes the car they left in did have government number plates. I doubt that they had been officially asked to deal with me. They were almost certainly a couple of over zealous bully boys endeavouring to protect those quite capable of protecting themselves. It amuses me that they think any single letter could have that much impact on the general newspaper reading public.
I do wonder however what those two gentlemen will make of the very short letter in the 'Tiser this morning. It was not written by me but it congratulated me on writing the best letter so far this this year. Nice of the writer. I wish I could thank him. I do wonder though whether the writer will also get visit.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Please speak up!

I am fortunate in that I have good hearing. My father is losing his - the age related hearing loss where it is becoming difficult to hear the higher registers. He gets frustrated when he cannot hear young children but acknowledges that this is, usually, not their fault. He gets very frustrated when he cannot hear adults he should be able to hear. They mumble. They do not enunciate. They do not project their voices.
My father was a teacher, a school principal. He was also a 'magician', a rabbit out of the hat type magician. (He never used rabbits. It is not kind to the rabbits.) He knows how to 'saw a lady in half' and a lot of other things besides. He knows the importance of what magicians call 'patter' - the talk that goes along with the trick. The art of communication is everything in that line of work.
I know a lot of people do not care for the idea of getting up and speaking in public. They do not even like asking a question or making a brief comment. I do not care for getting up and giving a full blown speech myself. Despite that I can get up and make myself heard. I will use a microphone if there is someone with a hearing impairment and there is a hearing loop for their use. I will go so far as to cue in a hard to lip read word with the initial letter in a manual sign for someone I know well enough. I do not need a microphone to make myself heard at a meeting.
Microphones make lazy speakers. I would have disagreed vehemently with this statement once but, Siobhan McKenna taught me this.
I have never personally met Ms McKenna but I attended a talk she gave in what was then a very new Festival Theatre in Adelaide. The theatre was so new they were having problems with the sound and lighting system. Everyone wondered if the talk would go ahead. The technicians got the lighting up. They could not get the sound up. Ms McKenna walked on to the stage with the Important Person Doing the Introduction. We could barely hear him. Ms McKenna began to speak. No microphone. We could hear every word. She used the lack of microphone to her advantage. At one point she whispered and we could still hear her. It was a magnificent 'performance'.
So, when I read Nicola Morgan's wise comments on book launches (Help! I need a publisher....) this morning I felt bound to add a comment, "Speak up, speak out." That makes eight words I now need to remember, "Be prepared, be polite, speak up, speak out". But then, perhaps I do only need the first four...because it is polite to to speak up and speak out when asked to do so.

Saturday 15 August 2009

Chocolate is best savoured slowly

and meditatively. I like the good stuff. I would rather have a small quantity of the good stuff than an entire chocolate bar of the waxy substitute which calls itself chocolate. Fussy? Yes. I also like having an excuse to buy chocolate.
Yesterday I had an excuse to buy chocolate. I had a chance to take an hour out of the day and see my elderly friend who has just moved into a nursing home. I went and bought chocolate for her. She likes chocolate. She is thin and needs chocolate. I bought her dark chocolate. It is supposed to be better for you. It is also the sort she prefers.
This nursing home is new to me - but terribly familiar in other ways. I have to check in at the front desk first. Security is everywhere these days. "May I please visit..." Am I a relation? No, I am a friend. I am on her visitor list. I am sent off down one of those wide corridors that accommodate walkers and wheelchairs and have nice handrails for those of us who are mobility challenged. It occurs to me as I go that I could actually be anyone at all. I was not asked for proof positive that I am the person I said I was.
I reach the nurse' s station and, as instructed, tell them I am there and who I am looking for. Ah yes, one of them will take me to her. I am taken off like a prisoner under guard at this point. Fortunately we go about five metres and elderly friend comes around the corner. Her face lights up. "Hello dear" and then to the nurse's aide, "This is my other daughter." The nurse's aide looks slightly startled but backs off hurriedly. I present the chocolate. It is appreciated. We both agree it is too soon before lunch to broach it now.
Instead we go and sit in the little courtyard so my friend can enjoy the sun. We chat. I hear about all the things there are to do in her new home. She likes it. Someone else is getting the meals now. Next time you come you can park your tricycle there. Have you seen...? There is plenty to talk about. The visit is like very good chocolate. We both savour it.
When I leave we hug and she says, "Life is back to normal now I have seen you." She goes off to lunch. I pedal off. I take a detour via the supermarket for extra milk...and a tiny bit of good chocolate for Dad and myself.

Friday 14 August 2009

Anyone who has the answers does not know

what the plot is.
My letter on the climate change 'debate' was printed in the 'Tiser yesterday. Yesterday I was also bailed up in the supermarket during the regular Thursday shopping session. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I did not understand the climate change debate. True. I do not. I doubt however it is for the same reasons as the rabid Labor supporter was trying to tell me about. He believes that Mr Rudd has the answers and that Mr Rudd's government can, single handedly, save the world. I wish it was true.
The reality is really very different. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme - voted down in the Senate yesterday - will not make one molecule of difference now. It would not have made many molecules of difference, if any, anyway. We should be back to square one but political arrogance means that the bills will be put forward again. To back down now would mean losing face. It would mean acknowledging that there are no easy answers. It would mean acknowledging that the whole scheme was a con job from the start, a means of getting elected and staying in power while quietly relieving unsuspecting tax payers of billions. It does not matter if we ruin the economy, send our carbon dioxide emissions 'off-shore' and make the presumed problems far worse - just so long as Mr Rudd stays in power and eventually gets Australia a seat on the UN Security Council and , eventually, the job of Secretary-General. The only reason he does not aim for President of the United States is because, not having been born in the United States, he is ineligible for the position. As I write he is probably trying to work out how the rules could be changed in his favour - declare his little bit of Queensland a part of the United States perhaps?
Mind you, the Opposition is no better - except that they seem to be a little more realistic about the climate change debate.
I suggest that we simply do not know but the following can do no harm. It may even do some good. We could begin by planting some trees. I think I have suggested this before. I suspect we need to plant a lot of trees. It is a simple idea. It should not be difficult to do. We could show the way. One tree for each Australian each year? That is more than 20 million trees a year. It is not a lot in world terms but I suspect that environmental impact would be about the same as the entire CPRS just voted down. It would not solve the problems we are told exist but it would be a start.
The problem is that this is an environmental solution, not a political one. It does not look after big business and that, in turn, means it does not look after government and they are supposed to look after us - so that we will re-elect them.

Thursday 13 August 2009

Three drops a day is all you need to:

and the list began with "Relieve your joint discomfort, Alleviate morning stiffness, Improve your mobility, Restore your independence and... (wait for this one) Give you the freedom you deserve."
The pamphlet arrived in the letter box. It was a "special report on Joint Health". It was addressed to my father. We can only conclude that someone has 'borrowed' a mailing list from somewhere - possibly COTA (Council of the Ageing). It even had a price on it ($6.95 should you be interested) although the postman did not appear at the door and demand we pay anything.
Both of us read on and on and on...after all, it said "Backed by 10 human clinical trials, 14 US Patents and a decade of research". The claims and the testimonials sound amazing.
BUT, where are the references to the scientific data? Why aren't doctors using this truly amazing liquid? It's the elixir of life! There was all this talk about toxins and 'less is more' and 'tipping point' and 'balancing your immune system'. Vital stuff (and the stuff is called Vital3)
By the end of page 16 however we had discovered not one single reference, although there were some amazing (and amazingly unverifiable) "testimonials".
The man who is promoting it is a doctor, one Dr Eugene R Zampieron, ND, MH(AHG). He is a doctor of (wait for this one too) Naturopathy from "the Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, the most esteemed doctoral program of natural medicine in the world".
I had never heard of this university but assumed it was somewhere in the old Soviet bloc. However it is apparently a private accredited institution in Seattle WA.
I wonder whether they approve of the way in which one of their former students is apparently so successfully treating thousands of individuals with the modern equivalent of cute little pink sugar pills?

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Evidence, evidence, evidence, I want evidence.

Would all those people who claim there is global warming or global cooling or global something else please provide me with some sound evidence of this? I do not want theories or modelling or claims based on carefully selected statistics. I want evidence based on rock solid, repeatable research that accurately predicts the future of the planet. What is more I want this evidence presented to me in plain English that can be readily understood by as many as possible.
I do not want political evidence. I do not want evidence from ‘experts’ with their own reputations to protect. I do not want to hear from people who say they ‘believe’ this or that or something else. I want evidence from someone who can tell me, without any doubt at all, that climate change is occurring and (more importantly) that it is occurring because of human activity and (even more importantly) that it can be reversed by human intervention.
I rather doubt any such evidence will be forthcoming. This is not because I am a climate change sceptic or that I do not believe human activity has done some harm to the planet. I think that is all too likely but I wonder whether that activity has actually had a global impact on the climate or whether the changes (if there are any) are natural or man made. If they do exist can they be reversed - and should they be reversed?
What is clear is that the Rudd government intends to use legislation related to presumed climate change to introduce a raft of legislation for which it believes it has a mandate. If they do not get that legislation passed then they will go for a double dissolution election.
What is also clear is that, presented with evidence rather than hysterical, inaccurate and nonsensical statistics about the way in which their plans will have an 0.03% 'positive' impact on the environment, many Australians may start to think twice given the likely economic and social impact.
I suggest it would make more sense to start planting more trees.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

The trains will start running again on

23 August 2008. This is according to the small paragraph in the paper this morning.
They will?
Being without a train service has caused a major disruption to our transport system. Adelaide's transport system is best described as 'antiquated'. We may well have the world's longest guided bus way out to the northern suburbs but even that has little to recommend it. There is not one single accessible bus for people with disabilities on that route.
There is talk of electrifying the train lines to Noarlunga and Gawler. Nothing is being said about the train line to Outer Harbour. That leaves our Belair line. This runs into the not-very-high hills behind us. It is apparently an engineering impossibility to electrify this - just as it was apparently an engineering impossibility to keep open all the stations when the goods track went to the interstate gauge and we had to go to a single track working for the passenger line. All this came on top of the gradual closure of the outer reaches of the hills line. It used to do a passenger service through to Murray Bridge - my entrepeneurial great-grandmother used it to carry supplies. When I was child it went all the way to Bridgewater - but they closed that in favour of a bus service which is slower, less frequent, less reliable and not accessible. All this is supposed to have been a good thing. After all, South Australia runs on the car industry. Even if Mitsubishi has closed operations here the economy needs the car industry. We cannot have alternatives. That would make the union movement unhappy and, we are told, would put hundreds of thousands of people out of work. I suppose it takes less people to make solar panels, bicycles, rainwater tanks etc. Less cars on the road would mean less work for any number of people. The car is the economy.
But, someone somewhere apparently realised we do need the railway line. I assume that is why the millions of dollars have been spent. They had to rip out the entire line. They have put in tonnes of gravel like filler and concrete sleepers. Two shiny strips of metal went down and were gradually banged, heaved, knocked and belted into submission. The crossing by-pass at Mitcham curves gently and elegantly.
I am wondering if they have levelled the track to the point where there will no longer be a step on and off the train. That will make it much easier to get my tricycle on and off. It will make matters much easier for the users of wheelchairs and gophers and the parents with baby buggies and pushers.
The train should be running in time for the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society Show. It will keep cars off the road simply because there is not enough parking at the Show grounds. It may even mean that some of those who have been driving to work rather than catch a slow bus will return to the train. They will catch up with friends, chat on their mobiles, read, do the crossword puzzle, listen to their i-pods, knit, join in the informal lesson being given to a student of English and sometimes just sit.
The train should be running again on 23 August.

Monday 10 August 2009

Dad came home with five ducks yesterday.

He went off to the Caravan and Camping Show on his gopher because there was a Science Show attached to it, He wanted to see the Science Show. (Jane over on How Publishing Really Works will be too busy celebrating her birthday still so I can safely say that this is ALL her fault. Jane was the one who sent Bad Science and he has been reading it. He wanted to see what they were telling the kids at the Science Show.)
So, he came home with five ducks for me. Ducks? Fortunately they were not live ducks - and not dead ducks either. He knows me better than that. It was a towelling bath mitt in yellow - and each finger tip had orange beaks and black eyes. Rather cute. What was remarkable however was his comment, "I suppose you knitters could make something like that?" We could indeed. I plan to show one of those knitters who does not mind the fiddly stuff and the embroidery. I never sew anything. Knitting is definitely my limit. The ends get pulled through with a crochet hook. Kind friends sew on essential buttons. It is why my contributions to shows and exhibitions consist of shawls. (They also have the advantage of being one size fits all - sort of.)
I did housework, including washing floors, and then went back to work on the checklist for the judges. It is almost done. I also have a pattern to write for my friend Prudence Mapstone who does the most amazing creations that require 'an awful lot of putting together'. This is something that was delayed by the Shetland shawl - for which I am not writing a pattern - and the Shetland baby shawl - for which I am also not writing a pattern. There are limits.
Instruction writing is very good discipline. All writers should do a little of it now and then.

Sunday 9 August 2009

We talked about books

when the knitters were here yesterday.
The little group is very varied in their intellectual interests. I am the only one who writes. Only two of us could be labelled 'keen' readers - rapid, enthusiastic and long waiting lists of things we want to read.
One of the others makes quilts and, rightly, says that occupation is not compatible with reading. Despite that she does seem to read quite a number of books in a year. Not many of them appear on that list I mentioned yesterday but she clearly enjoys good writing.
Another member of the group finished school at thirteen and English is her second language. It has not stopped her reading but she does find it more difficult and has admitted she keeps a dictionary to hand. I admire her determination to enjoy reading despite her difficulties. I suspect that she would read even more if she had been given the other educational opportunities she deserved - and was not expected to spend so much time running around after her grandchildren.
One other member of the group says she reads 'about a book a week or every ten days'. Certainly her ability to pun suggests she reads! She also does a range of other, exquisite craftwork,
The others say they are 'not readers'. They watch television. They cannot understand our fascination with reading. We cannot understand their fascination with sport and television soap-opera. One of them says, "But I just turn the telly on and knit."
Well, at least three of us turn on a page and knit too. I like the accompanying silence.

Saturday 8 August 2009

There was one of those nice fat padded envelopes

in the letter box yesterday. The sort of envelope that says "book". As it was not the sort of envelope that books usually come in I was puzzled. It was addressed to me. It definitely came from my other 'home' island because it said Royal Mail. I had not ordered any books from the UK. That is a rare occurrence. It costs the earth to send things there or from there to here.
I had forgotten that Jane over on How Publishing Really Works had decided that one of my blog posts was worthy of a copy of Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science". I also thought that the publisher would decide it was too expensive to send abroad and take up my suggestion that it could be donated to a library instead.
I will donate this one to our library after I have read it. It looks good - what little I have seen of it. My father has snaffled it to read first. It is entirely my fault. I showed him the book. It is just his "sort of thing". He was hooked by the first page. He still reads widely.
I therefore also passed on a list of books that Donna over on Musings of a Penniless Writer had on her blog yesterday. There are one hundred books on that list. Apparently it does the rounds of the internet with the claim that people will only have read six of them. Hmm. Enid Blyton makes it to the list. Patrick White does not. I can at least be thankful for that.
I do not like those sort of lists - the sort that say "these are the books you 'must' read". When I left school for my further education the Australian poet Judith Wright actually advised me against doing any more English. "You will be told what to read and that is not necessarily a good thing. In your case it would almost certainly be a bad thing. You need to get out and read and read and write and write." Thankyou Judith. It is still some of the best advice I have ever had - advice that I ever took any notice of that is. It suited my agenda of course. I still do not like to be told I 'must' do anything which should be optional.
As for the books on Donna's list. My father looked at them. He did his degree in English - and Latin. He has forgotten most of the Latin. Because he did his degree in Australia he was required to read Patrick White, after all Mr White won a Nobel Prize for Literature. He must be a good writer - or is he? I know Judith disliked him intensely. My father thought his writing was a bore. I have never managed to get past the first few pages of Voss, The Tree of Man or the The Solid Mandala - but at least I can name them.
My father's reaction to the books on the list was therefore interesting. He had heard of most of them. He dislikes Jane Austen. He likes some of Charles Dickens and Hardy. He likes much of Shakespeare but wonders how modern youth reacts to it. He has read Du Maurier, Collins and Golding, Joyce and Doyle. He was required to read Neville Shute. As a former teacher he is familiar with Blyton, Dahl and EB White (although he wondered why TH White was not there).
His overall reaction was, "Why would anyone compose a list like this? Are these supposed to be 'good books' that everyone should read?"
I have read - or sometimes 'skip-read/browsed' through a lot of the books on the list. (More than six out of the first ten Donna.) There are many other books that I have read which have been more enjoyable than most of these. I love The Little Prince but I am not going to bother with War and Peace. Life is too short to read a book just because it has been tagged 'great literature' that you 'must' read. There are other books - like Tom's Midnight Garden and Bilgewater - that have given me far more.

Friday 7 August 2009

Organised sport

has never appealed to me. My family is not particularly sport oriented. I doubt my father could name a single footballer. He knows who Don Bradman was. He probably remembers the Chappell brothers and he might be able to name a member of the present Australian cricket team but I rather doubt it. My mother took a little more interest and encouraged my sisters to play team games like basketball. She liked to see them win.
I think that may be part of the problem. Parents like their kids to win. It is not just about it being nice for the child to win. It is nice for the parent for the kid to win. If the kid does not win then it is not nice for the parent. It is worse for the kid.
Then there is the whole other issue with organised sport. It means that kids are being watched by adults. It means they have to ‘play’ according to the rules laid down by adults. It means that they are ‘safe’ and they are conforming. This is a 'good thing'. We cannot have children who are not safe and to have them not conforming would be unthinkable.
What happened to the negotiations over building the treehouse and all the physical activity that went with it? What happened to making the ‘billy cart’ and the thrill and exhaustion of using it? What happened to learning new ‘skipping’ games from your friends and beating your best friend at the new hopscotch design? What happened to role play games?
No, we could not possibly have any of that. “Play” now has to be sterile. It has to be adult supervised. It has to provide adult approved learning skills. Kids have to be seen to ‘participate’ but only in politically correct activities that are not deemed to be a ‘waste of time’. Negotiation skills are ‘taught’ in the classroom under artificial rules imposed by adults – even where the children believe they are deciding the rules for themselves. Anything is much too dangerous and radical. I have heard teachers discussing how to design activities to teach children 'negotiation' skills which will ensure they 'know their rights' - but only in ways that the teachers deem to be 'politically correct'.
There is no real room for negotiation here at all. Independent thinking is not encouraged. The child who tries to do this will be told that 'we are not discussing that now' , 'that is not in the rules we decided on' and 'that is not the way we are going to do it'. Child learns s/he is 'wrong'. Authority is right. You do not think for yourself. You think as you are told to think. You can rebel over some things but you cannot rebel over the way in which you learn to non-negotiate.
All this has to be learned within the context of apparently learning to negotiate along politically correct lines. It is a fine line and a confusing one. It is essential to ensure that children are well occupied out of formal school hours or they may learn undesirable negotiation skills. They may be politically incorrect and exclude others from their group. They may harm themselves or others physically and psychologically - perhaps irreparably. Growing up is an incredibly serious issue that cannot be left to chance. Things were different in the past!
With the emphasis on the constant supervision and control of children we are denying them endless learning experiences – and the right to be themselves.
I think I am glad I grew up when I did. I would have been left right out of organised sport.

Thursday 6 August 2009

Twenty-seven slices of pizza bread and

four litres of alphabet soup followed by Drumsticks (icecream cones with chocolate and nuts on top) later I think I filled the six children to their satisfaction. I am not sure how many slices of pizza bread the youngest ate - three? She is only four. The eldest at almost seventeen takes more filling. I am glad I put more than the usual amount of pasta in the soup. They had already had water, cordial or malted milk and biscuits on their arrival.
In between the essential arrival snack and lunch each of them was taught a conjuring trick by my father....yes, even the four year old.
After her turn (which came first) however we sat cosily together in my father's big chair and read "Katie Morag and the two grandmothers" together. It took a very long time to do this. I had to read it all the way through first and then we went back to the beginning. Youngest examined each of the exquisitely complex pictures in minute detail. She counted the cats and the sheep and found Granny Mainland's fancy shoes under the bed. She observed the 'reflections' drawn into the mirrors and commented on every possible item. Then we read it right through again. We were both sorry when it was finished.
The post lunch session was origami - involving more mathematics (especially geometry) than any of them realised. Youngest decided she was too young to do that - after all why come to this house and not play with that very special box of bricks that is kept there especially (according to her) for her delight? We sat on the floor and she made castles. Her castle building skills have improved dramatically in recent months. These are no ordinary structures. Every block placed has a purpose or is a person. There was an entire story to be told.
They had to leave a little earlier than usual because their parents had to go to the solicitor and sign the documents which will give their grandparents custody if anything happens while they are in Manila. I hope nothing happens. They are bound to get ill. You cannot live in the slums of Manila without getting ill. Hopefully any illness will not be life-threatening. These six are just too precious and loving.
What is more, as they were leaving, Youngest asked me, "When we come next time can we do ALL the Katie Morag books?" We have to do that!

Wednesday 5 August 2009

We are being invaded today

by a harmless little troop of children and their mother. I have no problems with this invasion. It has occurred before. It is very different from the planned invasion of an army barracks that had to be stopped yesterday.
There is much more to this than the media is saying of course. There was a leak, a dangerous leak which may well have jeopardised the carefully planned operation of the law enforcement agencies involved in the raids. There was an underlying suggestion by some elements of the media that this was all a bit of beat up. Most people do not believe Australia is a terrorist target. It is. Anywhere can be a terrorist target. It just has to be somewhere harm can be done.
Now yes, the vast majority of refugees are glad to be here. They are not knowingly going to break the law or deliberately cause any trouble. They may or may not be hardworking. It will depend on where they come from, what their qualifications are and whether they speak enough English to mix. If they come from a culture where the men do not work regular hours and have no formal qualifications or English then they are going to have problems. It is not merely a matter of teaching them English and giving them work skills. It is an entire culture change - and that does not come quickly or easily. It often takes two or more generations. There will still be other cultural issues. And, for many refugees, Australia is merely seen as a temporary place of residence. They want to go 'home' - and cannot.
There are also others whom we label "refugee". These people, almost always young, single men, are the trouble makers, the fanatics, the fundamentalists and the law breakers in their own society. They have been sent off by family and community because they are not welcome at home. They will be those who will almost always arrive illegally by boat. They know they will not get in by legal means. They will have been carefully coached in the stories they tell. If they are desperate then it is often the sort of desperation that arises out of endeavouring to avoid the death penalty in their home country.
To suggest that these young men do not exist, and do not exist in considerable numbers, is nonsense. There may even be another purpose in sending them. They can eventually bring in family to Australia - if they stay long enough and behave while they are here. They may even show their 'loyalty' to Australia by becoming Australian citizens but their real loyalty will always lie elsewhere. They will become involved, and involve others, in the sort of plans which had to be stopped yesterday.
"But I know lots of refugees and they are nice people!" and "You can't say that. It's not true. Refugees are good people! They want to be here!" and "It's our fault if they do this sort of thing. It means we have not made them welcome. We haven't given them all the help they need."
Perhaps it is time to start looking at those who come as people rather than refugees?

Tuesday 4 August 2009

I discovered a new (to me) language yesterday

and breathed a sigh of relief when we all decided that it would be possible to work through an interpreter instead. One of the doctors I work with from time to time is going to do some surgery on a five month old baby who comes from a remote region of a remote country. It is the parents who need reassurance, not the baby. The baby does not know - yet.
As I did not have to struggle with this I spent some time on the other 'technical' writing I am struggling with at present - the guidelines for knitters who want to enter items into the Royal Agricultural and Society Show, the Quilt and Craft Fair, or the Biennial Exhibition - and for the judges. I think I could do without this. It needs to be written in a rare dialect.
I was given the basic materials. One was a list from the Victorian Handknitters' Guild, now rather outdated. The other was a list, equally outdated, from the South Australian Handknitters' Guild. For the knitters I put the two together and rewrote the lot into Plain English. I hope it is Plain English. That was the easy part.
It is much more difficult to write something for the judges. My language must not and cannot be dictatorial. The judges will take offence. The judges have, after all, been doing this job for years. They know ALL about it. My job is to try and provide the sort of guidelines which will lead to some sort of consistency - and perhaps an awareness that knitting fashion has changed in the past umpteen years since they began their self-imposed task. It all needs to be written in a very rare dialect indeed. It is good discipline. I would rather write fiction. That's a different sort of discipline.
I need to get this done rapidly because there is also the display to consider. We have to put up some sort of display at the RAHS Show and at the Quilt and Craft Fair. Both places will have much the same thing because it is the International Year of Natural Fibres. I have information about (some of) the various animals and plants that provide fibre - everything from sheep and goat to bison and yak, from cotton and flax to banana and seashell. I have someone else, hopefully, hunting for the relevant illustrations and yarn. We will not use it all. There is too much. All we want to do is capture the attention of passers by at these events and make them think.
Perhaps I should just lasso the judges and the passers by instead? It would be easier.

Monday 3 August 2009

There have been a slew of letters

to the editor about Telstra's new charge for customers. This charge has nothing to do with the service they provide. It is the charge for - wait for it - paying your bill.
You can avoid this charge if you pay 'on-line' or by 'direct debit'. You cannot avoid the charge if you pay with old-fashioned cash.
A lot of people are angry about it - and rightly so. Nobody should be penalised for paying a bill.
Cash is still legal. It may be old fashioned but it is still legal. Some people prefer it. Some people need it. Not everyone has access to other means.
All that aside however there is another, much larger problem, with Telstra's move. It is yet another demand to make what should be private information available. There is no such thing as 'internet' security. Some things may be more secure than others. There may be safeguards in place but the moment something goes on line it has the potential to be used by others, often illegally used by others. The moment I do my banking on line I open up my bank details to someone else. If I pay something by direct debit then the bank also knows which company I am doing business with and how much I pay them.
There is nothing particularly secret about our telephone bill. It is, as telephone bills go, fairly ordinary. The same might be said of all our other bills. They are, however, our bills. They are not the property of other people.
All this however pales into insignificance against government moves to make medical records available on line. They claim this will reduce 'fraud', 'doctor-shopping' and any number of other evils. They claim this will allow patients greater access to information and, when necessary, other doctors similar access. It will all, we are assured, be completely secure. Nobody else will be able to access that information without our consent.
What a lot of nonsense. The moment it goes on line it will potentially be available to anyone. Doctors will become extremely cautious in their comments for fear of litigation. misdiagnosis and miscommunication.
Privacy legislation? What privacy legislation?

Sunday 2 August 2009

I have just been looking at what Nicola Morgan

says is the 'almost perfect' covering letter for the submission of a manuscript to an agent. (Head over to her "Help I need a Publisher" post for yesterday if interested.)
I was surprised at how long it was. Obviously they do things differently in the publishing world. It is a 'sell yourself' sort of pitch that I always feel uncomfortable with. I am not good at saying I am good, especially so good that you should employ me or publish me. If it is good enough then it is obvious. I should not have to say it.
A letter of submission as long as NM's to a government agency of any sort, or your local member of parliament would be - well, ignored. They want a short, short, short letter. It is a different sort of pitch altogether.
Then there are "Letters to the Editor" - usually read by young journalists who sift out the worst. It helps if they know your name. It is more likely to get included on the table at the editorial meeting. You still keep it short - most of the time. You have to be known at the paper in question to get anything more than 100-150 words in. They prefer 50-100 words. Anything else means being someone whose name is in the media often enough to be known - or a serial letter writer like myself. It is another sort of pitch.
In my kittweenhood I participated in a game of cricket against the biggest names in cricket. (Naturally they were being very nice to us mere kittens and allowing us to 'win'. ) At one point in the game I actually managed to throw (I will not say 'bowl') the ball straight enough to hit the wicket while the attention of the biggest name in cricket was momentarily distracted. He bowed out gracefully. I never meant to do what most cricketers could only dream of doing. It was a sheer fluke it hit the wicket. I suspect that getting a novel published is a bit the same. You need to bowl in under the radar, when the defences are down.
Getting a much longer letter into the papers not quite the same. It is a different sort of achievement. It suggests that they think you really do have something serious to say. What is even better is to get some feedback. This can, of course, be howls of rage and expressions of disgust and contempt from the population at large. It is the risk the letter writer takes. Pitched carefully there is an opportunity to make people think. It takes practice. It is a responsibility. It can have unintended consequences - hopefully, good consequences. It is not the same as pitching to a publisher of books, or their agents.
Perhaps I will manage another almost perfect pitch one day. Part of it will be practice. Most of it will be accident. I still have to find the courage to pitch to someone who can bat for me.

Saturday 1 August 2009

One of the bookshop staff 'phoned yesterday

and asked a rather odd question. She had been approached by one of the local government members and asked if the said member could come along to the knitting group that meets on the last Tuesday afternoon of the month. What did I think? (I nominally 'lead' this group.)
Now, for a start, I don't think I am the person to say 'yes' or 'no'. We are guests of the bookshop. Anyone can come along and knit. If they want to buy the occasional book then that is even better but there is no requirement that they should do so.
This person does not want to knit. She apparently said she wanted to find out what are issues of concern for us. I assume she means issues of local concern. It sounds a little odd to me. I threw the ball onto the side of the bookshop's owners but indicated I felt uncomfortable about it. We are a knitting group, not a political group. I think the members of it would feel uncomfortable.
Something similar happened to me once before. I was invited to a "knit and natter" event at the home of someone else. Unbeknowns to me she had also arranged for someone to come along and talk about her "organic cosmetic products". I do not use fancy cosmetics like eye-shadow, blusher or even lipstick. It was embarrassing. It was not what I expected and I probably would have found a polite reason not to attend. Life is too short to attend such functions.
If we have guests at the bookshop knitting group then my feeling is that they should be book or fibre or both related. That is the purpose of the group. It is not there to prop up the political aspirations of a stranger.
The stock in an independent bookshop will, invariably, reflect the interests and views of the person or people who choose the stock. I had been prowling around the bookshop earlier in the day in search of a gift. The request on the Fidra blog for stock suggestions for their new bookshop made me more than usually conscious of what is in our independent bookshop. I am aware that the tastes of the owners are not my tastes. I could still find books of interest. I know they will order something in if it is available. All too often it is not available. That is not their fault but a problem with our archaic protectionist laws relating to publication. The government is in no hurry to change these but seems intent on stifling reading in Australia. I am aware of all the arguments in favour of keeping the status quo.
If we add politics to the mix inside the shop as well as out then we are headed for trouble.