Friday 30 April 2010

Where does it come from?

When our shopping centre was partly destroyed by fire and then rebuilt Woolworth's altered their supermarket as well. This happend in two stages. First they acquired all the small shops on one side and, leaving things much as they were before, opened it up so that you could see the outside world. The stock was much the same and in much the same position.
A little later they acquired even more space and major changes occurred. The lay out became entirely different. The lighting, which had been reasonable, grew dimmer. The checkout lanes face towards the rest of the shopping centre but are designed in such a way that they do not look out onto anything except the wall of a shop and a Chinese massage 'parlour'.
The floor area has increased but, strangely, the number of lines appear to have decreased. They have also changed. Now the stock is becoming more and more "WOW" or Woolworth's Own Brand. Understandable? Yes. Desirable? Probably not.
I no longer shop there if I can avoid it. I was never particularly fond of the place but the WOW brand annoys me. It is almost all imported. Is that really necessary? Much of it is imported from Asia, and more specifically China.
I hope I am not a Sino-phobic but importing food from China seems unnecessary. We even import oranges, onions and potatoes and other greengroceries from China although we also grow them in South Australia and elsewhere. We bring in tinned goods, jam and other consumables as well. They are all things that we can manufacture here.
The balance of trade demands it? I doubt this in respect of food. It is a miniscule part of the Chinese economy. If we ceased importing tomorrow it would make no discernible difference to them. They would just sell it on their local markets and for much the same price as the local growers get now.
It is cheaper? I doubt that too. I have noticed only a few cents difference in the shelf price of most goods and the quality is not the same. There is also the issue of the carbon footprint required to get the goods here.
So why do we do it? It would seem that multi-national companies like Woolworths and Coles hold most of the market shares. They can do pretty much as they please. They can ensure shortages and the consequences which go with shortages. They are taking advantage of a law which allows them to claim that something is 'made in Australia' when all they have done is add water and packaged it. We need a change in the law. It is unlikely to happen.
I shop mostly in the opposition. It is South Australian owned and run. They buy local wherever possible. They do have a house brand but there is much less of it and the labelling on it tends to be better. You know where you are with them. The shop is lighter. The stock is more diverse. The place is almost always busy but the staff are friendly.
One of the staff in there yesterday looked at a packet for someone who was asking where it was made. It was labelled, "Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients". When she read it out the elderly man said, "Sounds as if it is made the way we are made."

Thursday 29 April 2010

I think it is very difficult to write about

cats in books. Someone brought up the topic of animals in books yesterday or, I should say more accurately, the subject of horses in books and then dogs. Cats came lower on the list.
I never wanted to ride a horse, let alone own one. I did not read 'pony' books. Dare I say that Black Beauty was not one of my favourite books, that I did not eagerly await the next Ruby Ferguson to discover what was happening to Jill and her friends?
Then there were the dogs who were rescued by children or who rescued children and the dogs who were naughty or the dogs who (like horses) won ribbons.
There were horses and dogs and, occasionally, talking cats. Some of them were improbably human.
The odd thing though was that the lovers of pony books did not know about the cats. They did not know about Mickle in Joan Aiken's "The Kingdom and the Cave" who has his own personal 'mechanical stroker'. They did not know about Caliph in Margot Benary's the Ark who plays a miniscule and yet very important role in telling us so much about the other characters. They did not know about Benvenuto in Diana Wynne Jones highly imaginative "The Magicians of Caprona". Benvenuto thinks and communicates to Tonino in pictures, not words. Paolo has failed to understand that. It is important. It makes Benvenuto a cat hero and not a person-as-cat hero. There is Zachariah in Elizabeth Goudge's "The little white horse" who also draws pictures to deliver messages...again more cat than person-as-cat and right for the semi-fantasy world that has been created.
Nicola Morgan has just published another book with a cat in a central role. Spike has a chapter to himself and I have read that. He is a cat-cat, not a person-as-cat. His role is both limited and expanded by that.
It is difficult to do. Cats are probably more difficult to write about than anything else. Horses and dogs have a different sort of relationship with humans. They can be taught to obey. They will learn to do a range of actions or "tricks". They will perform. Cats please themselves. Even if it seems they have been 'taught' something there is no guarantee they will perform even for a reward. In the best writing they will behave exactly the same way.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

It seems we are not going to get an ETS

or Emissions Trading Scheme or a CPRS or Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme either. This does not particularly bother me.
Of course our Revered Leader was quick to blame the Leader of the Opposition for the failure of the ETS. It was, he declared, the failure of the Opposition to support the scheme which caused it to fail in the Senate. The Revered Leader carefully did not mention that the Greens did not support the proposal either.
Australia's contribution to atmospheric and other pollution is considerable per head of population but small in global terms. An ETS or CPRS would make no impact on the problem. It would also cost more than it would recover. I am not sure we can afford to do it.
What we could afford to do would be something much simpler and yet much more difficult. We could set an example to the rest in the way we live.
Early settlers used to build houses with wide verandahs. It is a good idea. It keeps houses cooler in summer and saves on the airconditioning we now believe we need. Now we know how to build houses in such a way that we can have those verandahs and still benefit from the sun in winter. We do not do it. Instead we want bigger houses with no eaves. We rely on airconditioning to keep use cool or warm. There is no need to own woollen clothing or a winter coat. We step from airconditioned housing to an airconditioned car.
Oh yes, we use or abuse car travel too. It is simpler and faster to get in a car and head for the shops. There is no time for anything else and that sort of pollution still has not been addressed by the government. Our economy is car dependent.
But...but....but what if we built houses with eaves and wore another layer of clothing in winter? What if we used public transport to get to work or school and rode a bicycle at least some of the time.
I can remember reading a short article several years ago about the success of a campaign in the United States. All it did was something quite simple. It encouraged people to turn out the light when they left a room. Electricity consumption dropped to a point where the power companies were saying, "People need to use more power." That was all it took.
I wonder then if we are not starting at the wrong end. If everyone used a little less energy then the impact might be greater. Is it really what the government wants though? I doubt it. It would not be as dramatic. It might have a negative economic impact because we would not be using as much power or buying as many new cars. Our houses could not be quite so big. We would not appear to be quite so wealthy.
Most of all - it would not win an election. We want the problem to be solved elsewhere and not by our own efforts.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

It was not a quiet day

after all, although it should have been.
We had a knock at the front door - more of a bang, bang, bang really. I should have realised that there was something wrong then. No, it was not an emergency and nobody was hurt.
There was an elderly woman standing there with a small dog of indeterminate breed. It kept winding itself around her legs and snapping at me.
What did she want? She began a long winded story about 'the man from Neighbourhood Watch'. I eventually sorted out that she was talking about the Area Coordinator. Right.
Now I know who she was talking about. What was she talking about? I have no idea. It was a muddle of something to do with someone who rides a red gopher. My father has a gold gopher. No hers is not gold but silver and this one is red. Yes, but why are you telling me this? It is because someone rides a red gopher and the Area Coordinator and well this person who rides the gopher but it cannot be your father and the police took away my car and I do not ride my gopher because I have hurt my arm and...
Twenty minutes later she decided it was time to go and I gently shut the front door. She quite possibly should not be wandering the streets even with a dog to look after her. She is clearly on the verge of not being able to care for herself. One of her neighbours has said as much to me.
It was at the point that my father wandered in and demanded to know what she wanted. He has left me to handle her alone and now he wants to know? I explain I do not really know even now. He rushes for the 'phone and rings the Area Coordinator. Yes, he has casually mentioned that my father rides a gopher. He does not think this woman should be riding hers and she lacks confidence and is almost certainly in the early stages of Alzheimer's.
My father is impulsive. He will always try to help if he thinks he can. He will 'phone this woman, go and see her. Why? Well she probably should not be riding a gopher. I explain to him that she is not riding her gopher because she has 'hurt her arm' and I believe that in reality she knows somewhere in her confused state that she should not be riding a gopher.
No, that is not good enough. He will have to see her. He has, after all 'promised' the Area Coordinator.
I try to explain that it would be wiser not to encourage this woman. I know where she lives. She has good neighbours in the units either side of her. They will watch out for her. If he encourages her by taking an interest she will be backwards and forwards as long as she can find her way here. I will be the one who will answer the door and endure the snapping little dog. It makes not the slightest bit of difference. He has 'promised' the Area Coordinator that he will talk to her and I will know 'just how to handle her if she turns up again'.
Is it possible to be too kind?

Monday 26 April 2010

I am wondering if some dogs speak Greek

or, I should say, understand Greek. Probably. Greek dogs and Cypriot dogs from the Greek-Cypriot side must understand Greek. They do, after all, get spoken to in Greek.
I met two new dogs yesterday. They are beagles. One is sixteen and considers himself above understanding anything except those commands which are to his benefit. This is terribly sensible of him. Why do anything you do not want to do in old age?
The other is about sixteen months old. She is anxious to please - and knows which side her bones are to be found on. She also likes to escape for the occasional mad dash down the road. It is a little disconcerting for the humans she lives with. The humans in question have only had her for a little under six weeks but they were puzzled by her behaviour because, although she appeared to have settled in well with them, she was not the usually obedient dog they had been led to believe she would be.
"Where did she come from?"
"Friends of our son. They had to move unexpectedly. They could not keep her."
I was left not much the wiser but well licked by the dog.
It was a little later in the conversation that I became aware of the fact that these people were Greek. Ah. I have about six words of Greek but they are sometimes useful. One of them is the Greek word for "come". I picked that up from my sister's Greek mother-in-law. She used to say it to my nephews when they were small.
I try it on the dog - who immediately trots over to me from about two metres away. I reward her with a pat and she settles down by my feet. I hate to disappoint her. All I can say after this are things like "Good morning.", "How are you?" and "Thankyou." They are all quite useful in their place (although my pronunciation is appalling) but they are not much help when having a conversation with a dog. What is more she must learn English. Nobody here speaks Greek.
Well, perhaps the dog does.

Sunday 25 April 2010

It is Anzac Day

and, as it often does, it rained for Dawn services.
Anzac Day did not mean a lot to me as a child in the early part of my school life. We had the annual ritual of the story of "Simpson and his donkey" and a service in the school yard. That was followed by a "half-holiday" granted by the School Council. We just saw it as a story and a bit of time out of school.
In the mid-60's my father was appointed to a large school which was part of a "soldier-settlement" - farms allocated to returned service men who did not have other jobs to go to. It was one of those "good ideas" that turn out to be a disaster. The location was an island. The soil was poor. The water supply was inadequate. There were not enough support services. The men were physically and mentally unfit to farm and most of them had no background in farming. We had been there less than a week when I answered the 'phone to the sound of a frightened child desperate for help because his father was chasing his mother across the 'home paddock' with a red hot poker thinking she was the enemy.
Anzac Day really meant something there. Everyone turned out for the Dawn service whatever the weather. It was the first time in my life I saw grown men cry openly. The impact on me and my brother - in our teens - was immense.
Vietnam came a few years later and my brother, supported by the rest of us, put in his papers as a conscientious objector to that engagement. I rather suspect we are still on Asio's list of suspect citizens. We had a brick through the front window of our home at the time and visits from nameless officials. At my teacher training college I was 'invited' to a meeting with the principal and one of the nameless officials where it was suggested that my getting a job of any sort might depend on persuading my brother not to be one of the three lead motorcyclists in the demonstration that saw thousands of people rally against that war. I told them what I had witnessed a few short years before and walked out of the room. It would not have surprised me if I had been asked to leave but I was not. Did it affect my future career? Probably - but I can live with my conscience.
My father and my brother say they would defend their families and those who cannot defend themselves in the face of violence. My brother and my sister have brought their children up to believe the same thing. You do not do violence.
This morning in the faint light I thought of all that again. By the end of the service it is always lighter than it was at the beginning. It is the only way to think of these things.

Saturday 24 April 2010

Annaliese is leaving her

maisonette across the street from us. She has been there almost twenty years.
Annaliese is German. She is eighty-two. She came to Australia almost fifty years ago. Annaliese and her late husband escaped from the East and went to a remote settlement on the Adelaide to Perth railway line. He worked for the railways and she acted as the local nurse. There were no children - the Nazis saw to that. Her husband died younger than he should have.
Annaliese moved in here with her friend Martin. Martin was five years younger. It was an arrangement of convenience for both of them, nothing more. They led largely separate lives, Annaliese with her church and Martin with his theosophy group. Their beliefs could not have been more different. When Martin became ill Annaliese nursed him until almost the very end. Perhaps it gave her life some added purpose. His death distressed her deeply.
When he had gone she travelled to and from Germany several times. The fall of the Berlin wall allowed her to see her only surviving relative and some old school friends before they died.
In the past couple of years she has fallen several times. Bones have been broken. We have watched her growing frailer. Some months ago she came to me and asked for help with the papers she needed to complete to enter an aged care complex. We made a time and then sat at her little dining table to fill them out.
Annaliese has excellent, if heavily accented, English. That day however she looked up and asked me something in German, not once but three times. After the third time she had done this she was very quiet. She just sat there for some time. I waited. Then she shook her head and said in German,
"Home is there and home is here. You understand?"
Yes Annaliese, I understand. We will come and visit you.

Friday 23 April 2010

What is the fuss about?

There is a headline on the front page of the state newspaper this morning which says, "Premier cheats". For a moment I actually hoped that they had finally seen reason with respect to a certain politician but it turned out to be concerned with some football club or other which had been cheating.
I am not sure what the fuss was about. Any 'sport' where millions of dollars are involved, where players are bought and sold like slaves in a marketplace, where more than mere dollars are bet on the outcome of a match, where immense salaries need to be paid to non-playing executives and where there is a general culture of corruption is bound to have some cheats. This is big business. However it is portrayed it is not a game. It is certainly not a friendly game. Television ratings and advertising revenue depend on the entertainment value as much as the supposed skill of those involved.
Yes, there is some skill attached. There is some skill attached to a lot of things but, for some reason, society values the capacity to kick a bit of leather around more highly than most things. It has always been like that. Once it actually mattered. Your very survival depended on your ability to outrun danger or catch your dinner. I would have been dead long ago, if indeed I had survived at all.
Obviously it still matters - but for the wrong reasons. National or state pride should not depend on the ability of a very few to kick a bit of leather around. It should not depend on how many gold medals are obtained at international sporting events - and gaining those should not depend on performance enhancing drugs, other forms of cheating or huge salaries or endorsements.
Further inside the paper there is an article about Juan Antonio Samaranch, late President of the International Olympic Committee. Under his stewardship the Olympics descended even further into a commercial, drug ridden crevasse where bribery and corruption is now rife. How can there be any national pride in participation in something like this.
It is a sort of war - a war we would be better off losing than winning.

Thursday 22 April 2010

The Internet went down in the middle

of yesterday afternoon - and, naturally, in the middle of a discussion with someone in Singapore.
My father's personal alarm also sounded and a check showed that the telephone was not working.
Fortunately for us it was nothing serious. The "Big Pond" van was parked in the street and the man poking around in the hole in the ground assured us he was 'doing some maintenance'. It would have been nice if they had advised us of this in advance. I could have stayed at the library and used a computer terminal there to finish a piece of work for someone.
Instead I went and sorted out the confusion for another elderly neighbour. She had become very agitated because her personal alarm was also going and she, naturally, could not telephone to say that she was all right and did not anyone to attend to her. I calmed her and, at her request, put her kettle on. I then returned and did the same for my father's afternoon cup of tea.
As I was unable to finish what I had been doing and did not want to start the next task immediately I took a few minutes out to look at something my father had been given to read earlier that day. It is a history (of sorts) of a small community we lived in for two years.
When we arrived in the place there were 19 houses. When we left there were 23 houses. The extra four houses were for the workers at the wheat silo. That was also built in our time there.
The houses were, of course, fibro-asbestos - like ours. The silo was rather more substantial.
The community was considered to be a considerable size. It was on the railway line to the West - or Western Australia. It had a two teacher school. My parents were the teachers.
In the middle of the book there is a chapter on the school and the surrounding schools. Back then there were a number of schools with only 7 or 8 children. Our school had two 'buses' - one was a VW "combi" van and the other an ancient Ford truck which had been converted to carry the children to and from outlying properties to school. They carried about 8 or 9 children each.
The school was considered "big" in local terms.
There is a photograph of my father and the senior class in the book. When he came in for his cup of tea I showed him. I could remember most of the names. He could remember most of them too. Neither of us have seen any of the children since we left there. The person who passed the book to my father is someone who lived in the district at the time. He did not have children at the school then. He knows only a little of what has happened to them. My father is not really that interested in what has happened to them now. Most of them would be grandparents. They were just children then. They are still children to him.
I spent two years of my life growing up with those children, so did my siblings. Like my father we had no contact with them once we left the district. In reality we had nothing in common with them. Some of them never went beyond doing year 8 by correspondence lessons which my father supervised. One father did not even want his son to do that. The boys would be absent at harvest time - and sometimes the girls would be too. Most of them had never been to the city. Several had not even travelled to either of the two townships on the coast.
I wonder what it would have been like for them if there had been access to the Internet that far back?

Wednesday 21 April 2010

The murder of a gangland boss

while serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison has been causing headlines around the country. There is a considerable section of the population which appears to find this sort of thing fascinating.
A television series I have not seen (and do not wish to see) has apparently been made about this character. How realistic it is I do not know but the legal fraternity was concerned enough to request that viewing of it be restricted in his home state while his trial was running.
I suspect that did little good. Copies of the programmes would inevitably have been slipped in by relatives and friends of those who did want to watch it. Trying to restrict viewing of it merely added to the mystique surrounding the individual in question. No doubt it did even more to ensure a guilty verdict. "It said on the telly that..." and therefore it "must" be "true". Perhaps it was. I do not know. I am thankful I was not on the jury.
Now questions are being asked as to how he could be murdered while in virtual isolation in maximum security. Conspiracy theories, fanned by his legal representative, abound. There are demands for an inquiry that would extend well beyond those on duty at the time. I doubt there would be answers.
One of the things that may have set all of this off was a front page story - on more than one newspaper - that the police were paying fees for this individual's daughter to attend a fee paying school. Now yes, this may well have been "news", the sort of front page news the media loves.
It was also irresponsible journalism and may well have led to his death.
Many people will say he is "no loss to society" and that it was costing taxpayers money to keep him incarcerated. Many of those same people will say in the next breath that they do not approve of the death penalty.
In the middle of all this is a young girl. The individual was her father. The media must be held at least partially responsible for her distress.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

"Singapore - he's stuck in London..."

came the terse reply from the mother of my godchildren when I inquired as to her whereabouts.
She is, fortunately, at home in Singapore but her husband is stuck in London.
I also have colleagues stuck in Dubai, Istanbul, Moscow, Paris, Edinburgh, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and in a place I am not permitted to mention.
If you wanted a few days extra holiday (at airline expense) then being stuck in some of these places might be quite pleasant - provided you could leave your accommodation and do the tourist thing. I don't think I would care for Dubai or Kuala Lumpur. Some time in Singapore with my godchildren would be good, although I do not think I would care for the climate. The other places all sound attractive - particularly Paris and Edinburgh, particularly Edinburgh.
It is not going to happen.
My colleagues of course are just frustrated. They were all away on work related missions of great importance - or so they would have me believe. I was once paid to go on a day conference from London to Birmingham. The university paid my train fare. The conference was 'free' but I took my own lunch -having been warned about the expense of eating on British Rail. I later paid for the trip by giving a report on the conference. Whether anyone took any notice of it I do not know.
I do rather wonder about all this jet-setting around. Is it really necessary to actually be there everytime? Yes, of course it is easier. I recognise that. I do understand that you get a better feel for someone if you meet them face-to-face and shake their hand. Once you have done that though is there a chance, any chance at all, that video-conferencing might be an option on some occasions?
I had a cousin who travelled constantly. He used to long for the sight of something other than a standard hotel room and a standard board room. He once paid almost $Aust100 for a small piece of meat in a restaurant in Kyoto because he had been away for eleven weeks and not eaten any meat at all. I would have gone without but, by then, he was so fed up with meatless meals and travel that he gave in to the cravings.
There are other 'constant travellers' who see very little too. They arrive, attend a meeting or meetings and perhaps a meal if they are staying over night. They see the inside of terminals, the freeways into cities, the inside of that standard hotel room and the inside of that standard board room. Then they depart. They sleep on 'planes - something I can never do.
It is not 'sight-seeing' by any means - and nobody would expect it to be. I am not sure it is anything else either. I do wonder how valuable much of it really is.
I also wonder if there is any chance at all that some good might come out of the eruption of a volcano. What if business people found they actually needed to travel less?

Monday 19 April 2010

I am off to the dentist this morning

and it seems as if I was just there recently. I detest going to the dentist. To make matters worse it is (a) raining - although we need that so I will put up with getting wet - and (b) the first day back at school after the Easter break - that means a lot more traffic on the roads.
The dentist insists on seeing me at regular intervals - fair enough - but do other people actually go through this torture as well?
The dentist, her name is Sue, is a nice person. We actually get on quite well together. In another life, another existence, we might be quite friendly. In the life of my teeth however...
This is - supposedly - a check up. She will find something to do. I will be relieved I have dental cover.
After that there is a little list of things to do, go to the bank, go to the post office, pay a bill, visit the old-fashioned 'health food' shop (where things still come in bins and tubs) and talk to someone in the ticket office at the main railway station.
I have lunch part prepared and I have packed essential reading in my rucksack so I will not 'waste time'. Now what else do I need to do? Yes, yes I do understand that none of this is actually 'work'. I was up at 5am to do some 'real' work.

Sunday 18 April 2010

"I don't know how to

put colours together," someone told me yesterday. We were both looking at some hand-dyed knitting wool.
It had been dyed by a male knitter I know. He spins it, dyes it and knits it himself. The end results are not always to my taste but I recognise that they suit him and his male partner, another fibre artist. Throughout the cooler weather they wear an array of handknitted items.
The two new vests I looked at yesterday were works of art.
The knitter had also brought along the small amounts of left over yarn so that people could see what he had made the garments from - and that is where it became really interesting. It would have taken someone with the capacity to put colours together to recognise that the apparently unrelated colours could come together as a whole.
There were quite a number of colours that I consider "muddy". They lacked the interest of "heathers" but, because they were hand dyed they did have irregularities in them. On their own they would have made a very dull garment indeed. Then there was a rather bright mustard - not a colour I care for under any circumstances. It was barely visible in the garments. There was also a bright blue and a deep red. They were also barely visible in the garments.
If any of these colours had been given a prominent place in the garments they would have spoiled the otherwise careful balance. All that had happened was that there was an occasional stitch of bright colour across a row. It was barely there and yet it was everywhere as well.
Words should work the same way.

Saturday 17 April 2010

There are going to be 32 sitting days

for State Parliament this year. This was announced yesterday. This is down from 62 in 2007 and 46 last year.
Our "we have a mandate although we only got 48% of the vote" government has apparently decided that it does not need to face the Opposition too often. Who can blame them? It is a sorry state of affairs for democracy.
According to a government spokesman this is going to be long enough to allow them to deal with all the business they need to deal with. They have made it plain there is no room for debate. Legislation to deal with a number of issues for which they do not have a mandate will just be pushed through. Some of these are big ticket items that do not even have the support of their own side of politics but - they have the numbers. They will do it.
I believe Westminster sat for about 160 days last year. No doubt not everyone attended all that time but there would have been people there. It would also mean that visitors could have seen that version of democracy at work. There would have been opportunities to debate the issues in front of them and opportunities to raise other issues of concern in question time.
Here, both state and federally, question time gets hi-jacked by the party in power. Does it happen in the UK? I do not know, quite possibly.
Our Premier says he is fighting for a water allocation (which we are entitled to by law so the 'fight' is political speak for "aren't I such a good boy for doing this for you") and is busy being nice to the Prime Minister - in public. The Queensland Premier is being nice too - but then the Prime Minister comes from that state and the Premier knows on which side the political bread is buttered. Debate does not really enter the equation.
So, I was interested in the reactions to the first television debate of the leaders in the UK. Many people seemed to think that the candidate with the least chance of winning the election was the winner. It was an interesting reaction. The two main contenders were both heavily criticised and then praised.
I do not really know enough about it. I saw some of the debate because it was reported on both local and international news services that I follow for other reasons. My own impressions were of something else altogether. Compared with our politicians those looking to lead in Westminster were so very polite to one another. Perhaps this is because it was the first televised debate?
Whatever it was it made one thing very clear - our version of democracy is crumbling rapidly.

Friday 16 April 2010

There is an icecream counter in

our local shopping centre, one of the "Wendy's" chain. It is neatly placed in an area where there is maximum foot traffic - and it seems to do excellent business despite the prices charged. The icecream appears to come in all the colours of the rainbow - yes there is blue icecream - and a number of forms. There are also "icecream cakes", over-large muffins and doughnuts. The doughnuts are the iced variety - more bright blue icing, almost flourescent pink icing, brilliant lime green icing, chocolate brown icing, all with sprinkles should you want them.
I have never bought anything there. Comments from other adults suggest that the goods sold there please children more than they do adults. Certainly the children patronise the place. Some of the teens hang out there - or at the tiny sushi bar if they are trying to appear health conscious. The rest disappear across the busy main road to the two fast food outlets where chips, among other delights, are available.
During the two week Easter break from school these places have been even busier than usual.
On our return yesterday from other errands my young neighbour, Ms Whirlwind, and I called in to the local shopping centre for groceries. On our way in we passed Wendy's without a comment. Her tastes in icecream run to the better quality icecream or gelati at another more distant outlet. It is an occasional Sunday treat she shares with her father.
On the way out she stopped and said, "Look." There, standing by a pusher was a small girl of about three with a melting icecream in both hands. She was holding it right into her even smaller brother's face. He took a messy lick. She had a messy lick and held it out to him. He had another messy lick. They kept taking alternate messy licks, all the time smiling and giggling at the other.
Ms Whirlwind grinned and said, "Watching that is better fun than buying it."

Thursday 15 April 2010

"Why would anyone let them

run the hospitals? They can't look after a building insulation scheme or the schools buildings thing. They can't look after our daughter."
The person asking the question is an 80yr old acquaintance. He and his wife still care for their profoundly physically and mentally disabled daughter at home. There is nowhere else for Kaye to go. They get a little respite now and then. When they do get respite they have learned, the hard way, that they need to be at least out of the state and preferably out of the country or their daughter can be returned early because people do not understand her special needs. Kaye is liable to choke if fed incorrectly and, despite their age, her parents are seen as able to cope.
Over the years they have amassed the skills and the physical equipment to care for her. Eleven years ago when her father injured his shoulder shifting her they were finally given a little assistance and their daughter was given a place in a day-care programme four days a week. It gives them a chance to do essentials without having to constantly watch her.
I have known them for twenty-seven years, from the time Kaye left school. They consider themselves fortunate because she attended a special school and was able to stay there until she was twenty. After that there was nothing for her.
They are wonderful parents. Kaye gets included in everything. She is kept spotlessly neat and clean but the effort is beginning to show. They know they cannot keep it up much longer. Still the authorities say there is nowhere for her. The waiting lists are years long. They have told her parents that her brother may need to take responsibility for her. He lives elsewhere and has a family of his own. Caring for his sister would mean giving up his job. The authorities have just shrugged and said, "If that is what it takes."
The Prime Minister has grandiose plans for taking over the hospital system from the states - in return for having control of more of the GST revenue. In principle it sounds a good thing - one service right across the country, all nicely streamlined. The reality is probably something rather different - a top heavy administrative nightmare with money eased out of the hospital system for any other politically popular agenda that will see the government of the day re-elected.
There is no political mileage to be made out of caring for the severely and profoundly disabled. It is not something any government really wants to spend money on. They were happy to close the institutions which once cared for some of these people. Yes, it is true that they were not good places either - but they were more open to public scrutiny in their latter years. In-community housing all too often means that families will try to continue to care for their children rather than risk the care (or lack of it) provided in such places away from public scrutiny.
If the federal government does take over the hospital system then there will be even less resources for people like Kaye and her family. They will be a little further away from public scrutiny. Canberra is a little further away from public scrutiny.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

I did a little pot stirring yesterday

and the results appear in two newspapers this morning.
Perhaps I am just too cynical but I always saw the BER (Building Education Revolution) as nothing more than a means of lining the pockets of unionists and thus the Labor Party. It does not take a rocket scientist to work that out.
If a local builder says four permanent classrooms and a staffroom can be built at a country school for $850,000 and a union controlled big name builder from the city says that they need a cool million to put four too small transportables on the same site then something is wrong. The local builder will of course supply local work - but not union work. The big name builder will bring in their own team - unionists because the unions have a "no ticket, no work" agreement with the company. Those in charge of the government programme demand the use of the big name builder.
There is also the issue of all the required plaques stating that the Labor government of the day funded the projects. They must be a certain size and they must be placed in a prominent position. It's a nice bit of advertising that the ALP does not have to pay for.
No doubt the Coalition would do the same - if they thought they could get away with it. They do not however have the unions behind them so they will not get away with it.
It has taken a while for these stories to surface in the media. The media is firmly to the left here (and probably elsewhere). Indeed, if you want to succeed as a journalist in Australia, then you write left wing articles in your journalism course and you are carefully left wing as you 'grow up'
to be a columnist - unless your name is Andrew Bolt or Alexander Downer. Others will try to be more even handed but they will not get promotion to their own columns.
I do not watch commercial television so I missed the trail of reports that finally led to the Deputy Prime Minister announcing there would be an inquiry into the rorts. It will be a Clayton's inquiry designed to cover up the mess. She already has the information in another report sitting on her desk. It does not make pretty reading - but it definitely benefits the ALP so it will not be published.
The scandal over the debacle that was the home insulation scheme was bad enough. This is worse because it is money that could have gone towards providing better learning environments for students - those who are supposedly being educated for the future good of the country. The government inquiry is designed to allay fears before an election is called. At present it looks as if the government will win another term - they are desperate to win another term so that they can paper over the economic errors and the rorts.
The pot-stirrers, those of us who write letters to the editor, need to get busy. There is a degree of bias even there - in the letters they choose to publish. Letters need to be written in a certain, careful way if one wishes to stir the pot. I do not always agree with myself in my letters. That is not why I write them. I have no doubt that tomorrow there will be a flood of outraged responses to what I have had to say - but there will be others who will say, "I didn't think of it that way" - at least, I hope there will.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

We are being invaded by three more teenagers

today. They are coming to learn some basic woodwork skills. They also have to be fed. Their grandfather is helping in the shed. Their grandmother is helping to feed them.
We have not yet met these teens although we have heard a good deal about them. They lost their father to illness almost two years ago - just at the ages where they were most vulnerable. Their grandparents, good friends of my father, have been highly supportive of them. My father and their grandfather both believe that all children should be able to use some tools so today will be about making something that will show them how to use the basics. If they enjoy themselves and my father can find the energy they will no doubt be back.
Ms Whirlwind is spending days here this week. She is quite at home here and is looking forward to feeling a little superior even though she is younger. She can use a hammer and nails and glue and has used the safer power tools under my father's watchful gaze. She knows all about wearing goggles and keeping your hands behind the tools you are working with. For a child she is very safety conscious - but my father still watches constantly. I do the same in the kitchen.
Yesterday we made a cheesecake to feed the others today. We doubled the quantity as the recipe says 'serves 4-6' and there are 8 people to feed. I made her to do the arithmetic. She set up the mixer and added the ingredients in the correct order. Although I supervised she did almost everything herself.
We also made the evening meal for her and her father with the ingredients she brought from home. It was a dish my grandmother had taught me to make.
And I suddenly, ridiculously, found myself feeling 'homesick' for my grandparents house, their inconvenient kitchen, my grandmother's quiet explanations of why and how to do something and my grandfather's abrupt advice to take care and his gruff refusal to teach me to gut fish because, "it's not women's work".
I still cannot fillet a fish but I can do any number of other things because they taught me. I want Ms Whirlwind and the teens to be able to do the same - if they want to.

Monday 12 April 2010

"Prepare to be bored but proud again"

is what we told my father. He is being whisked off to see his youngest grandson get the first of his degrees today. (This one is Economics. He has two years of Law to go.) Last year saw the other grandson here get the first of his degrees.
Of course my father has been through this before. We have a picture of him in cap and gown getting his degree. His parents are by his side and their pride is obvious.
I think there might be pictures of my brother and the older of my two sisters getting their degrees but I have no idea where they are.
There are no pictures of me getting any of my degrees. I went to my first graduation ceremony only because I was required to do so in order to get the qualification. There was a row going on in the institution at the time because not all members of staff had degrees and those who did not were not permitted to be part of the proceedings. When the students said they would not attend the ceremony they were ordered to do so or not receive their diplomas. As the vast majority of them were 'bonded' teacher training students who could not teach without their diplomas and still had to pay back their 'loans' they had little choice. In the end the staff stayed away and left the whole affair to the college principal and a couple of cronies. The whole affair was very uncomfortable.
I never went to another graduation ceremony. There was no point. No member of my family would have been present. I saw no reason to travel thousands of miles to get a piece of paper.
My nephews share my views but, being local students, they do it for their parents and their grandparents. Their father's parents had almost no schooling. Despite that their own sons have degrees. They are proud of them although they do not understand what they do at all - one is a forensic chemist and the other a computer engineer (the big stuff). Their grandchildren are doing things like law, medicine, accountancy and nanotechnology. My father has more idea but says that it is 'beyond (him) these days'.
Degree granting ceremonies bore him as much as they bore my nephews but he will still be proud as he goes off today. Thankfully there is limited seating. I am not included in the invitation. My nephew knows that I am proud of him. It would not matter if he was the guy who drives the rubbish truck because he is a decent, honest, polite, funny and hardworking person who cares about other people.
Anyway, they call the rubbish collectors "sanitary engineers" these days.

Sunday 11 April 2010

My father found some buttons

recently. They were in a drawer with some old cassette tapes that had not been touched for more than twenty years. We do not even have anything to play them on. As they are mostly lectures and some music my mother liked but the rest of us did not the tapes were of little interest. He tossed those out but he kept the buttons.
We think my mother must have bought them on their trip to Tasmania because the timber is uniquely Tasmanian. They were still sealed in their little plastic packet. The bark is chocolate brown and the timber itself is honey-coloured. They are pretty but there are only six of them and they are rather small - which is possibly why my mother never used them.
My father made inquiries of me. What would you use them for? Knitted garments. How big should buttons be? I showed him various sizes. How many should there be in a set? I explained.
I knew what he was thinking.
He has a store of timber. He has collected it over the years. He has picked it up in the wild or rescued it from what other people has dumped. Once he obtained a rubbish bag half full of huon pine that a shop outfitter was throwing away. Huon pine is incredibly rare and precious. You may no longer cut down a huon pine tree - and rightly so. They take thousands of years to grow. The grain is incredibly fine. Once, they actually made railway sleepers and fence posts from huon pine. They had no idea back then how valuable the timber would be. My father has always his small store of it sparingly. He is determined to waste none of it. He has beech and birch and various oaks, leopardwood, gums, mulgas, olive, walnut, blackwood and jarrah. He has small pieces of timber from all over the place. All of them have been rescued from other people or found lying on the ground. He has only ever bought timber from renewable and sustainable resources.
So, the rare timbers are precious. They are also often incredibly complex and beautifully marked. And some of the pieces have been so small that he has not, until now, known what to do with them. Buttons however do not take a lot of timber. He is experimenting. They are fiddly to make but he is relishing the challenge. The present buttons are round. He is turning them on his tiny metal lathe. He is puzzling over the problem of making "square" buttons. They need a slight camber at the edges. He has read the books on buttons I borrowed from the library for him. There were not that many wooden buttons there. We looked at buttons in a shop in the city. Nice, but we both liked the idea of working buttons.
The buttons will be plain for that reason. It is the timber which is a work of art.

Saturday 10 April 2010

I was given a book yesterday,

a book filled with patterns for knitted socks. The friend who gave it to me had it given to her.
My friend does knit socks but said, "I'll never knit anything like that."
I won't either. I am not very good at knitting socks. I have done it. I even know something about knitting socks. You can knit them top down or toe up or sideways or flat or in all sorts of directions. You can knit them in any colour you choose. You can do stripes and Fair Isle just by choosing some of the fancy dyed sock yarn now available. People put in the most incredible fancy patterns and cables. They try to find new ways of constructing socks. There are internet lists for sock patterns and sock knitters. Intense discussion takes place about the merits of various yarns and methods for knitting socks.
My father likes hand knitted socks. Another friend of mine knits them for him. She never does anything very fancy. The ribbing may be varied but that is all. She uses whatever yarn she has to hand. Her socks are evenly knitted. They are finished with care. They are comfortable. My father is aware they take time to knit. He would not want anything fancy.
He looked at the book when I was given it and then passed it back with a puzzled frown.
"Why would anyone bother to do something like that. You don't really look at socks do you?"
"Women do," I told him, "Well, some women."
He knows I do not look at socks as fashion items. I never wear sandals or clogs or clear plastic wellies designed for the purpose of showing off handknitted socks. I like handknitted socks. I also have several pairs knitted by the same friend. I keep mine for winter and appreciate their woolly warmth.
The socks in the book are beautiful. They have fancy cables and mirror patterns. There is fancy Fair Isle, intarsia and entrelac. I will knit none of these things. I like simple socks.
What I will do is look up a poem this morning. I will do this so that my father can read it. It is a poem by Pablo Neruda. The title is a simple one - "Ode to my socks."

Friday 9 April 2010

Our house is a very quiet place

most of the time. We almost never turn the radio on. The television set gets turned on for the international news service and the headlines of the local news service and stays on only if there is something we think we need to know about in more biased detail from the ABC (Australian - not American - think BBC.) We watch the Global Village programme that proceeds that if we happen to be in and we watch the occasional documentary . We rarely watch anything else.
When I was last at university I was puzzled by students who could, apparently, study with the noise of the radio in the background. One student admitted to me that she flipped the switch on the radio as soon as she walked into her study-bedroom. I soon discovered that many other students did the same thing. I do not know what other students did when I first started my tertiary education. I was too busy to find out but I now suspect they also had the radio playing in the background. My father tells me that a brilliant academic friend of his always worked to the radio too.
Me? I prefer silence. I am happy with my own thoughts most of the time. But, I would like to acknowledge that other people feel differently and I thought it was time to introduce you to a most interesting and remarkable radio station in the United Kingdom, in Birkenhead to be more precise. I am not sure whether the people who live there think of themselves as a suburb of Liverpool but even I know that Liverpool is the home of the Beatles and even Ms Whirlwind's generation seems to know about the Beatles.
The people who run Vintage Radio are, or so I understand, "retired". This really means that they have new jobs running a radio station. It can be heard live or on the internet. My yet-to-be-met friend Roger Wright runs a music show on Vintage Radio. He is endeavouring to educate me into an appreciation of the music of 60's and 70's. (Not sure you are succeeding Roger but we can work on it together!) If you do like that sort of thing then Roger does it very well indeed. Of course he used to teach at the University of Liverpool and the best teachers tend to go on thinking of any audience as worthy of the care and attention they once lavished on their students. Here's the link - try it and tell me what you think. Better still, try it and tell them what you think.

Thursday 8 April 2010

Returning library books on time

is one of those things I do manage. I tend to return reference books as soon as I can after finishing with them, usually within a few days. I read fiction fast enough to return a book before the due date.
I think it has something to do with my training as a librarian. I was the school librarian at 12 - in the days before schools had librarians but somebody had to keep the shelves tidy. I taught myself to catalogue (Dewey Decimal) out of the two dusty volumes on the shelf above the librarian's desk. Almost certainly I made endless errors but people seemed to find things and nobody worried too much. My assistant (another 12yr old) and I worked out how to use the brown paper and plastic rolls of book covering and she printed the catalogue cards by hand in her beautiful neat script. It was all terribly unorthodox.
We opened the library twice a week at lunch time and the other students who read would wander in and change their books. We chased up overdue books and kept the little room tidy. Amazingly the Parents' Committee entrusted us to buy a small number of fiction books while the teachers bought the required non-fiction. We used to go to one of two bookshops which supplied schools. Neither exists any more. We would be strictly fair about it. Every class got two books, one would be a 'boy book' and one would be a 'girl book'. It was not quite as crazy as it sounded because my assistant and I would, by then, have been through many parcels of books from the Children's Country Lending Service. We knew what we liked. We knew what the other kids liked. The boys would always tell us to get the new Simon Black book if there was one. I never chose Cynthia Harnett, one of my favourite authors, because the other children did not like history of any sort.
On the very rare occasions that books were lost we left the problem for the teachers to do deal with. I think it only happened twice in the three years I did the job. Overdue more than a week and we handled it by suspending borrowing for another week. Again, it almost never happened.
Now I wonder about all that.#
Our local library seems to have a problem. There are 'express loans', two week loans and four week loans at the library. 'Express loans' are for a week and very popular items like new DVDs and, occasionally, additional copies of books that are very popular. Two week loans are for books that someone else has also reserved or the magazines. The four week loans are considered the normal loan period and you can, if you really need to, extend this once. It is all very fair and reasonable - but some people still have overdue books. They will be reminded to return them and still fail to do so. "Oh, it can wait."
I have been waiting to read a book on the reading list for the lower secondary school. It is a book I need to read because a young student is struggling with it. The students have their own copies so someone else has had this out for more than eight weeks now. They have been asked more than once to return it but told the staff that they had 'not finished with it yet'. How long does it take to read a short teenage novel?
Fortunately I have multiple library cards. The adjacent council left me a message yesterday and said the new copy they have is now available for me. I will pick it up this morning - and I will do my best to return it on Saturday when I go back that way. After all, someone else might want to read it.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

There was not enough water

in the creek bed to present a hazard yesterday. The rain of the night before was welcome but not enough to make the creek flow. All we had were small muddy pools here and there along the creek along with a lot of debris that had washed through from gutters and drains.
There were five middle size boys doing a "clean up and get dirty" operation in the portion of the creek that flows through the memorial park next to the library. There was, unusually, no adult in sight.
I stopped to watch for a moment as I rode over the little footbridge. One of them looked up so I called out, "Looks like fun!"
There was a chorus of agreement. They had the rubbish piled in heaps and stones heaped against some tree roots on the bank.
"What are you going to do with the rubbish?"
They looked at one another. They had not thought quite that far ahead.
"If you want to finish cleaning up that bit I'll pick up some bin liners for you."
They agreed that might be a good idea. It was the work of five minutes to pick up a roll of cheap bin liners from the local bargain shop.
I went find them all standing there being harangued by someone for "mucking around" and "causing damage" and being "little vandals". The boys were clearly too stunned by this onslaught to move. I moved in with the roll of bin liners in hand. The adult turned to me and started to tell me what dreadful little boys they were. I tossed the entire roll of bin liners to the nearest boy and said,
"If you still want to be good citizens go ahead. Leave the bags you don't use at the library. I'll ask them if you can leave the full bags next to their bins - and personally guys I think you are doing a great job and need to be congratulated."
They eyed off the other adult uneasily, their pleasure in their self-imposed task clearly diminished.
I went into the library and told one of the staff I know well what they were up to.
On my way home a couple of hours later I was relieved to find the five boys sitting outside the library in front of a row of well stuffed bin liners. They were drinking from mugs and eating biscuits from the biscuit jar belonging to the library staff. They grinned at me and gave me a wave.
I must remember to make the library staff some more biscuits.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Four million Australians

apparently have difficulty reading and understanding terms like "hearing protection" and "personal protective equipment". This is according to a report in the state newspaper today. I am not surprised.
Why not use like terms like "ear muffs" and "safety clothing" and "safety gear"? They are much more likely to be read and understood. Add a few pictures and still more people will understand. There will still be people who do not understood even these terms and others who will ignore the need for such safety measures but more people will understand.
I wonder who dreams up the convoluted language used by those who write notices and instructions? Part of the problem is almost certainly the need for 'inclusive' language and a range of other legal requirements which have arisen out of litigation, confusion, and claims of confusion. Some people will simply not want to understand. They do not want to obey instructions. They will, of course, also be the first to claim compensation when injured. They will also get it because their employer will almost certainly be held responsible even if the worker happens to be working alone and far from supervision. Tort law, the law of injury, tends to revolve around the capacity to pay damages not the stupidity of human beings or a requirement for them to be responsible for their own actions.
However perhaps there is another problem. If you can be entertained by the push of a button on a remote device designed to turn on a television set then you may not even be aware of the written word. You may not realise there is a need to read instructions. I know this sounds unlikely but - there are people who simply do not read. They have no need to read. They recognise things but they do not read. They are not aware of a need to read.
They are not illiterate. Put something in front of them and they will read it with varying degrees of competency and comprehension. What they will not do is read something by choice. Why bother? They can push a button and someone else will read to them. They will get news that way - if they want it. They will get information about the football and be able to follow their favourite television programmes. If a programme does not appear then they will 'surf' the channels until they find an alternative. They will not even look up the television programmes to find out what else is there to watch.
I wonder, if all they had to do was push a button, would these people read?

Monday 5 April 2010

"What are you doing in retirement?"

"Oh, nothing much. Haven't really decided yet. We might do a bit of travelling. Need to clean the place up a bit I suppose."
The speaker sounded far from enthusiastic. I know he used to take work home with him.
When my father ceased being the head of a school he moved into making conjuring apparatus for his fellow magicians. He was in demand as a speaker about late Victorian and Early Edwardian toys and entertainment...complete with hands on experiences for the audience. He did conjuring shows at children's birthday parties. He taught (and still teaches) magic, woodwork and study skills to young people. He mends things for other people in his shed. He has largely ceased going to night meetings and he has ceased to take on roles in a diverse range of organisations and to belong to quite so many of them. He no longer belongs to the woodworking group, the organic gardening group, the electronics group, or the group which is concerned with the preservation of old recordings. He is still a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and, if they bring things to him, he still repairs items for the women's shelter. He still reads widely and he is busy. He knows he is fortunate.
I wondered about the other person though. What will he do with his retirement? I know people who read for RPH, our local radio station for the 'print handicapped', who work in the charity shop, who do Meals on Wheels, who look after Nellie's Garden at the Railway Station, who drive the Community Bus so that older people can go shopping, who volunteer at the local library and do the Mobile Library service. I know someone who has walked the Milford Track and another who went trekking in Nepal. Many of these people have also taken a caravan trip at least as far as Queensland, some have been right around Australia. The two most intrepid people I know have driven from Malaysia through to Paris. It took them nearly three years to do it. Their children thought they were mad.
In between people look after their grandchildren or neighbour's children. They go to classes in quilting, embroidery, videorecorder techniques, computing, webpage design, pottery, drama, tai-chi and anything else you can think of. Life is not going to be long enough for them.
If I ever manage to retire then I hope it will be the same. There are still so many things I want to do and learn and know.
I do wonder about that other person though. Has he simply stopped wanting to learn? Does he feel unwanted now that he no longer goes to work? Has his life in fact been 'nothing much'?

Sunday 4 April 2010

"So we put the clocks forwards or backwards?"

Daylight saving ended last night. Our government cannot even get that in line with the rest of the world. It has to be the first weekend in April, not the last weekend in March for adjusting the clocks.
Daylight saving is, of course, a misnomer anyway. It does not save daylight at all. The amount of daylight remains the same. At this latitude it does not make a great deal of sense. We do not have long dark winters or long light summer evenings of the type you get in Norway or Iceland. Our climate is such that it would make more sense to encourage people to use the cooler beginnings of a day. We do not. Daylight saving suits the hospitality industry. They say it encourages people to go out. Perhaps it does. Whether sitting at the pub and drinking is actually using daylight saving is another question. If people are not doing that then they are home with the airconditioning on while watching the telly. That suits the power suppliers. The variety of 'night owl' known as 'young person' does not start to get active until after eleven in the evening either.
What most people are not doing is gardening, walking the dog, playing sport or actually using the 'saved' daylight. Most of the time it is simply too hot or people simply cannot be bothered at the end of the day. Of course they will tell you that, like the exercise they do not take, daylight saving is a 'good thing'.
Then there is the puzzle over the clocks. Do they go backwards or forwards? A friend of ours got it horribly wrong one year and arrived an hour late for the first service in his new parish. (They forgave him but ribbed him unmercifully as they got to know him.)
I went around and adjusted the clocks last night - all the clocks except the oven clock. It will not budge. I gave up but now I am wondering. Does this mean all our meals will be an hour late - or do I mean an hour early or....?

Saturday 3 April 2010

It was unusually quiet

around here yesterday. I know it was Good Friday but the vast majority of our neighbours do not attend church. They have not headed off to Oakbank or on some other four day jaunt for Easter. They were home. They were quiet, very quiet.
This is good. I like quiet.
I have never wanted to go to Oakbank for Easter yet there are people who do this every year. There are others who 'must' go away for Easter. Why?
Oakbank is a little town (village to those of you who live in the UK) in the Adelaide Hills. Oakbank's claim to fame is a four day horse racing meeting held every year at Easter. Thousands of people descend on the place. They camp out, caravan it, stay with friends nearby or in the numerous bed and breakfast types of accommodation available. They apparently meet other friends, have picnic meals and watch horses running around a track and jumping over obstacles.
The last time I sat on the back of a horse was at a Crippled Children's Camp. It was very, very large police horse. It was a very, very long way off the ground and I only did it because a child called Miles would only do the same thing if I would do it with him. Those camps with the very politically incorrect name used to be held on the Oakbank Race Course in January each year. They are still held there but they go by a different name now.
The Girl Guides, of which I was a member, used to take sixty children to camp under canvas for ten days each summer. We used army tents. (The soldiers from the nearby army base used to come and pitch them for us.) We had the use of the primitive kitchen and primitive shower facilities. We largely made our own entertainment but some things were tradition.
The police horses would always come to visit. The children would be given 'rides' which consisted of being walked around a small enclosure. Unless there was a good medical reason not to do it all the children would have a ride - even if, like Miles, some of them would only ride with someone else behind them.
The Australian cricket team always came to visit too. They would come for lunch and sit then 'play' a game of cricket. There was a small battered mug labelled 'the Ashes' which the children always won. The visits had been initiated by the late Sir Donald Bradman and he always captained the team himself.
There was a visit to an orchard with rides on the tractor and an opportunity to pat a donkey.
In the evenings there would be singing around a 'campfire'. I still have my untidy folder of campfire songs. Each year a friend of mine would teach something new but there would always be the old favourites as well. I would sit on the prickly grass with Miles or Danny or Chris out of their wheelchairs and propped between my knees and hold their hands so that they could 'clap' in time even if they could not sing.
I had a specific role for the seven summers I spent at camp. I was there to act as what would now be known as a "communication facilitator" and what we then called "interpreter" between the children who had severe and profound communication issues and those who had been designated to help them. There were no fancy electronic communication devices back then. You had to rely on "yes" and "no" questions and communication boards. It took immense courage for a child to turn up and not be sure whether they would be understood and whether their needs would be met.
I stopped going to camp the year before I finished my teacher training. I could have gone on but I knew that the following summer I would be starting to work with children full time. It was time to stop. I trained up two keen young Guides to take over from me that year. I know they trained two more some years later. I wonder if they went on to train more.
From what people tell me the nature of the camp has trained. Videos have replace community singing. Tree 'climbing' is now forbidden. (I still do not know how a literally armless nine year old managed to get eight feet up a tree but he did.) Children are no longer allowed to leave their beds until the rising bell when those that could would once wander off, still in pajamas. to watch the horses being given an early morning work out. We are more security and safety conscious than before.
I suspect we had more fun at Oakbank than the race-goers will have this weekend. Perhaps we also had more fun than this year's campers too. I do not know. I do know that yesterday, when it was unusually quiet, I was reminded of something unusually good.

Friday 2 April 2010

April Fool's Day was marked

by the usual idiocy. I was not fooled by a very official looking document from someone in government concerning daylight saving. The very fact that there was 'an urgent need to give South Australians an extra thirty minutes of daylight' gave the game away.
Unfortunately it was taken seriously by someone who has a limited understanding of English. He passed it on to me because he thought it would necessitate making new arrangements to get to the airport and pick up an elderly relative. When I tried to explain it was a "joke" and what April Fool's Day was he went ahead and 'phoned the perpetrator of the joke to ask if it was indeed a joke. The idiot then went ahead and assured him it was a government directive. It took several phone calls to sort out the resultant confusion.
I like jokes - but not when they are taken that far. When you come from a background where the government dictates everything you do, the way you do it and even what you wear while you are doing it then you will be inclined to believe officialdom however ridiculous it may seem.
That sorted we had two mail deliveries yesterday. We are still puzzling over this. We had no mail on Wednesday. The postman went straight past. Good. No bills. Yesterday there was a demand from the gas company (small) and the electricity supplier (somewhat larger). Bad. Bills in both deliveries. The postman claimed he only delivered once. He must have put our mail in the letter box over in the units across the road...again. We are lucky they bother to pass it on.
What did arrive in the second delivery was a DVD from my brother. He makes excellent short films for the family. Of course he has all the necessary equipment to do this but he is also capable of editing so that the result is not the usual mish-mash of repeats, wobbly camera work and shots of feet rather than heads. This one was a mere six minutes of the new infant, her parents, and her grandparents. Her great-grandfather is still smiling.

Thursday 1 April 2010

All I wanted was a cheap household candle

for my father. He needs it for waxing something or other out in the shed. I promised to get one when I went to the Post Office. Easy!
The supermarket was out of candles. Yes, they were planning to get more but they did not know when. The newsagent had one but it was a red one, left over from Christmas. As it was also $5.99 I left it there.
Then I tried our local version of one of those cheap "reject" type shops. They had pink, silver and a green that was (supposedly) scented like pine.
While I was in there two elegant women in shalwar kameez came in. This is still an unusual sight in our area. As there was no shop assistant in sight they approached another well dressed woman obviously looking for help. I will not repeat what she said to them. Suffice to say it was rude in the extreme.
I was close enough by then so I said, "I'll be happy to help if I can. What were you looking for?"
They wanted elastic. They had been to the charity shop believing it to be a habydashery store and been sent on here. I showed them where to find the haberdashery section and they thanked me politely. I went on my way, still without a candle.
I was about to pedal home when I remembered that I had promised to stop at the charity shop as well.
There on the counter was a small, white candle still in cellophane wrapping. I did what needed to be done. Then I handed over 50c and went home with the candle.