Thursday 30 September 2010

Maths1, Maths2, Physics & Chemistry

are now the preferred subjects of students doing Year 12, or the Matriculation year in South Australian secondary schools. Please note - preferred. That is what the latest report from the Board in charge of Matriculation examinations would have us believe. They say that a majority of students no longer want to study the humanities or languages and that arts subjects are out the window. Even biology is seen as a 'soft' option.
It seems that the push to get students to study science has worked at last. We need scientists! We need mathematicians to support scientists! We need people to develop the new wonder drugs! We need people to spend their days in laboratories or building infrastructure. We don't need people who know about poetry, literature, music, history or even geography. (A certain amount of cartography might be useful to make sure the maps are accurate but that can be a science.)
I know science is important. I am only too glad that some people want to do it. We do need the people who do it.
I did science at school. I had no choice. The Area Schools I attended catered for boys who were presumed to want to do science. We girls were merely tolerated in the class. I had no interest in science. It was badly taught by people who were not trained to teach it. That just made it worse.
I never had the opportunity to do a modern language. Those things were not taught in the schools I attended. Everyone did Maths 1 Maths 2, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography and then the two 'arts' subjects, English and History. I did some Latin as an 'extra' subject - my father gave me the book and told me to learn it. He occasionally tested me - and the other girl who was doing it with me. History (Australian of course) was not taken seriously. Everyone was bored with it by then. We had done nothing but Australian history, unlike our city counterparts who could at least learn about the Egyptians, the Romans, the Greeks, Roman Britain and then the Tudors etc. It was just the way things worked. I read history out of school hours but it was not Australian history.
Now it seems that, despite the push for a national curriculum in history, many students are not even going to be doing history. "You can't do anything with an arts degree" and "There are no jobs in humanities" students are being told. It is as if that is reason enough not to study these things. What is the point? You need a really good mark to get into your chosen course at university. You may not want to be an engineer or a physicist or a computer programmer let alone a doctor or a dentist. The point is that, if your marks are good enough, you can be one of these people and society needs these people so you will get a good, well paying job in an industry where people will respect you. That you may never really enjoy your working life is beside the point. That is life. Put up with the boredom or the constant anxiety about the responsibility in an area where you never feel fully confident because it was not your first choice.
It also means that students have not been confronted with the big ideas about life. Including a compulsory unit on 'ethics' in some courses is of course seen as a way of overcoming the failure to provide students with the cultural, social and moral underpinnings of our society. Can ethics taught in isolation from literature and language give students the same understanding of society? I think not.
But apparently none of this matters. Science is being studied. We will have scientists in order to research, invent, provide services and keep the economy running and GDP rising etc etc. Or will we? To me there is a small problem. Research takes creativity. Without imagination there can be no creativity. Imagination comes not from strict observation it comes from asking, "What if...?" and that comes from reading "What if...?" as well.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Why would you close a community centre

which has 20,000 users a week? Why would you close a gym, a swimming pool, meeting rooms, a workshop, and a hall? Why would you give 85 community groups nowhere to meet? Above all, why would you close a library - with the books, the DVDs, the CDs, the magazines, the computer terminals and the staff with the knowledge that rivals that of any Citizen's Advice Bureau? What is more, why would you do it in an area with a low socio-economic status? It may have improved slightly over the years but the area is still not upper middle class professional suburbia.
Our state government plans to do just that. Indeed the deal has gone through and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. They have sold the land on which the Parks Community Centre sits for a mere $17m - far less than the value of the centre to the surrounding community.
There is, rightly, an outcry in and through the media. All this came out in the Budget. It did not come out at election time. The government has, ever since elections have taken place in this state, taken for granted the votes of the people who live in that area. They will, despite all this, probably be able to go on taking for granted the votes of these people. It is one of the advantages, from the politician's point of view, of compulsory attendance at the ballot box.
But, it will not bring back the Community Centre. There is no plan to replace it, or any of the services it provides. The government claims that there will be Centrelink (social security) and health services in the new development. They will need both. I hope the health services provide a big mental health unit. They will need it to cover what the Community Centre now does. The government clearly has not understanding at all of the wider benefits of any community centre. They just see it as costing $5m a year to run - cheap when you consider the cost of running a mental health unit and cheap when you consider the numbers involved.
No, I do not live on that side of the city. My library is probably safe. It sits in a memorial park. It is unlikely that even the government would dare to touch the park. I have always thought of my library as safe too. I have thought of it as a community asset. I have thought of it as the social hub of the community.
The same is true of the Parks Community Centre. Why would you close it?

Tuesday 28 September 2010

I believe it is "Banned Books" week

which brings me to this article.

It also brings me to some thoughts about things that have been banned here at various times. Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are" was banned at one point because it was thought to be "too frightening" for young children. It is now regarded as a classic of children's picture book literature.
All Enid Blyton was banned from school libraries at one point. I think the reality of that ban was that books that were already there stayed there but librarians were simply not permitted to buy any more books by Enid Blyton. The reason for that ban was that someone decided EB was a "bad writer". She was superficial and, like a diet of nothing but icecream, not going to give you a balanced reading diet but - bad?
There was Judy Blume's "Deenie", "Forever" and "Then Again Maybe I Won't" - and these are still banned in some places because they mention teenage sex.
Questions were asked whether William Mayne's work should remain on the shelves after his conviction for child sex offences. They stayed - but only after a committee had carefully examined each one.
At the same time "Go Ask Alice" was left on the shelves because of the "dreadful warning" about the dangers of drugs. Blume's books are now available in some public libraries but "Go Ask Alice" does not seem to be there. Perhaps it should be.
I was once responsible for a school library and the buying of new library books. I was told to take Jill Paton Walsh's book "The Dolphin Crossing" off the shelves because it deals with war and a death occurs. The real problem for many of the parents was that the book does not glorify war but rather tells of the brutal reality of boys trying to do a job that not even men should be asked to do. What about the Silver Sword or The Ark or I am David?
What sparked this blog post off was the mention of Bette Greene's "The Summer of My German Soldier" - first published in 1973. Apparently it is still seen as being about 'consorting with the enemy' and it is still banned in some places.
I read Sons and Lovers in my teens. My father gave it to me. I found it dull.
Now David Hicks is about to publish a book. That is his right. He will not actually have written it although it will be touted as his autobiography. I do not believe he should be permitted to make money from the venture. He went in active search of adventure and, in doing so, cost the Australian tax payer a vast sum of money. Anything he earns should be returned to the taxpayer. Banning the book however will merely make it more desirable.
Unfortunately banning books for children is not quite the same thing. They tend to get really banned. They do not even get published. Nobody is quite prepared to take the same risk. If, as Anne Rooney suggests in her article, books are being banned on nothing more than an image of what might be a Tibetan flag on top of a roundabout/merry go round then we really have something to worry about.
It is time we started to worry the thought police.

Monday 27 September 2010

I am being told that I should be

preparing for Christmas. This seems a little early to me. However my sister informs me that "Christmas" will be held at their place this year and my brother-in-law is already feeling concerned about the state of the cobwebs in the unreachable corners of their garden shed. Then someone else informed me that they have bought all the presents they intend to give and have them wrapped and hidden in the wardrobe. Now someone else has announced that she was having a Domestic Goddess day and has started to make her Christmas cake - which has led to the discovery that someone else has already made theirs and has it "nicely maturing in alcohol". I am allergic to alcohol so the maturing part does not interest me but the part about having already made the cake worries me. (The same paragon informs me that she has made her Christmas puddings as well.)
There are other little things that are happening that say Christmas and then...Christmas. The calendars have appeared at the newsagent. The cards have appeared. The wrapping paper has appeared. There are suggestions that this or that or the other things would make a good present.
Sorry I only give two sorts of present, something I have made myself or a book. All the children of my acquaintance prefer books rather than toys. I have trained them to prefer books. Books are easy to wrap...indeed the local bookshop will even do it for me on occasion.
I suppose I had better start considering which books to give. I should make a list. I should be organised.
I should also make a list of fruitcake ingredients. I am the one who makes the cakes - yes cakes in the plural. I make one for my father and another for my sister. I make shortbread - but that can wait. Perhaps making the cake can wait too. I am not a Domestic Goddess.

Sunday 26 September 2010

Apparently the much anticipated

"big match", the grand final was not final at all. The match ended in a draw.
Now I have no interest in football and spent the afternoon cosily tucked up in the local library with the somewhat depleted knitting group. We spent some time investigating the intricacies of the Norwegian cast on as one of the group wants to try it on a hat. Football did not even get mentioned.
Out in the real world it was a different story. As we left the library I could hear the match being relayed over loud speakers from the pub a little further down on the opposite side of the road. The assumption seemed to be that everyone passing also needed to know what was going on. This is Aussie Rules football and everyone is interested right? Wrong. I am not. My father is not. There are many other people I know who are not - and there are other people I know who are fanatical about football.
Something did interest me however and that was something that occurred at the pre-match shenanigans. As always the Prime Minister gets invited to the breakfast. Now anyone living here will know that the new government has had a problem with finding a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker.
Finding a Speaker should not have been a problem at all. The previous Speaker was still available. Given a casting vote he would do the conventional thing and side with the government. He is also considered to have been good at the job and much more even handed than most Speakers. So, what's the problem? The problem is that he has been good at the job and that he has been even handed and that he is respected by the Opposition. The government has the slimmest of margins and they did not want someone like that. They wanted one of the 'independents' to give up their voting rights instead and thus give them an extra vote instead. They also wanted someone who would be less even handed - and it would have been in the interest of the independent to favour the government, keep them in power and not go to an election.
They will, all going to plan, end up with the previous Speaker. This is almost certainly the best outcome for democracy.
The problems do not end there. They also need a deputy for the Speaker. They want that person to be 'paired' with the Speaker, again so that their own slim margin will not be affected. 'Pairing' arrangements allow people, such as Ministers, to be absent from parliament by prior arrangement but pairing arrangements do not and should not apply to the role of Speaker. This is constitutionally unsound. It also erodes democracy. There have been mutterings of "if both sides agree to the arrangement then what's the problem?"
The first problem is that the opposition member 'paired' would lose the right to represent their electorate. (The Speaker does not because s/he has a casting vote in the event of a tie.) That denies people their voice in parliament.
The second problem is that it interferes with the wider democratic process. A Bill passed under these circumstances could be open to legal challenges.
If we end up with a draw in parliament then that seems to me to be a much more serious thing than a draw on the football field. The latter is really of no importance at all.

Saturday 25 September 2010

At 16.42 yesterday afternoon I pressed

the button and sent a submission off to the government. I hope it is the last time I will have to do such a thing.
The report has gone to the Social Inclusion Unit. This unit is supposed to be looking at Social Inclusion Disability Reform. I wonder if it really will?
There will be submissions to the unit from across the state. Many of them will come from organisations that have been putting in submissions for as long as I can remember...and that is a long time. Other submissions will come from individuals, some of who, have also been putting in submissions for as long as I can remember. Both organisations and individuals are tough. They have to be. They are still making very little progress.
My submission will be different from anything anyone else has submitted. Their submissions will focus on issues specific to their areas of concern or look at the need for the supply of equipment and services, and the lack of special needs accommodation, transport, education, employment. They are perennial and urgent problems. Little will be done. There will be no increase in funding, indeed the last State Budget has effectively decreased funding yet again even while appearing to increase it. The need for assistance is growing now that the generation of people with disabilities who were "mainstreamed" in school and placed "in the community" are reaching an age where they need more physical assistance and their parents, who have undertaken most of their care are reaching an age where they have come to realise that they will not always be able to do it.
Siblings, who have married and have children and even grandchildren of their own, are not always able or willing to take on the care of a brother or sister with a disability - and yet this is, all too often, what is expected.
All these, and many other things, are issues. They are issues of concern and there is a growing awareness that the problem is going to grow rather than go away.
There is also an almost universal problem in the disability sector. It does not get acknowledged because it is not understood. It goes almost unrecognised and, when it is recognised, people have no idea what to do about it and even believe it "does not really matter".
It is a problem with communication. Put quite simply, many people with disabilities also have a communication disability and that disability will go unrecognised. There may be a casual acknowledgment that someone is not literate or has difficulty with literacy skills but that is seen as part of a wider problem rather than a problem in itself. It is not a visible problem and, for many, it does not exist because it cannot be seen.
Literacy skills are just a small part of the wider communication process. The research I did which forms the basis for the submission used the following as a guideline for a definition of being able to communicate independently,
The ability to make contact at any time with a stranger and ask for assistance without the assistance of or interference by any other person.
How many people do you know who would be unable to do that? Anyone unable to do that is at risk of abuse. That alone is why the problem of communication in the disability sector needs to be addressed. It is also why it will almost certainly not be addressed. Even acknowledging that
the problem exists would require a major change to the way in which we view the whole concept of disability.
I will leave it at that except to ask, "How would you feel if you were not free to ask for assistance when you needed it most?"

Friday 24 September 2010

There was a helicopter circling

overhead for some time last night. In the darkness it was not possible to see whether it was the rescue, news or police helicopter. It was unlikely to be something belonging to the armed forces because, as far as I know, they have none stationed here.
We sometimes see a helicopter in daylight. They are normally rescue or police dealing with a major incident, sometimes just a major traffic snarl up. If the police helicopter circles in business hours we can be fairly sure that a bank or post office has been held up or some idiot is being chased through the suburbs. If it is the rescue helicopter we hope that nobody is too badly injured.
At night it is a different story. We cannot guess what is going on. Over the years we have had searchlights appear, powerful searchlights that light up the sky to unbelievable brightness. One night a couple of years back there was one of those gutwrenching brake screeching booms on a main road not too far from here. It was so bad that it sounded as if it had occurred in the next street not, as subsequent traffic noises told me, on the main road. A helicopter had been up for some other reason and, almost immediately, it was hovering over the scene with a search light. A little later it had left again. I assume it had informed the services on the ground of the situation because sirens sounded and traffic was still being diverted the following morning. A young man had chosen to end his life by crashing into what South Australians call a 'stobie pole' - concrete and steel poles that carry electricity across the suburbs. (They are named after the man who originally designed them.) It was close to home. We were shocked but we did not know the young man.
Last night was clear and cold and I was reminded of something else, an incident that occurred when we lived in a remoter location. Some of the local boys had cars, most of them could drive from an early age. There were accidents but nobody in the immediate district had, to that point, been killed or even seriously injured. One night however my father had a telephone call. It was the police from a town further along. Could he get some help and block off the road outside the school so that the crop-duster could land? (The crop duster was a light plane used to spray crops with fertiliser.) He was given fairly precise instructions and told "there has been an accident".
That night a young crop-duster pilot landed and took off outside the school house which was our home. He did it not just once but twice. Each time he had to fly with a critically injured patient to the city - and he had to go without any of the usual medical help because the little plane could only carry him and the patient. I still wonder what he saw and thought. He died several years later in what might or might not have been an accident.
At school the next day the students were unusually quiet. We knew what had happened because the school buses had been required to take a detour. We were relieved to find that those involved were not local. They had absconded from the reformatory in the city. We did not know them.
It always seems that way. We see an accident and we are shocked, perhaps even shaken but, unless we know those involved, the impact seems short lived. We view incidents on television with an internal remote control that causes us to 'switch off'. We read of incidents with the same internal remote control switched off. It is a survival mechanism. We really do not want to be involved.
I wonder why the helicopter was up there last night but I am thankful there were no accompanying sirens.

Thursday 23 September 2010

My letter to the editor

with respect to the (de)funding of libraries was not appreciated by the president of a hockey club. His letter accuses me of being wrong. Sport, he says, is not 'elite' and I said it was. Many people do not read books. Libraries therefore are not, as I suggested, for everyone.
Now, I did not say say sport was elite - although few could argue that sports funding does tend to favour the elite in the sense that it funds those who are on teams, or training to become part of a team. That is the point of sports funding. Funding for physical exercise is a different story and does not receive the same attention.
But the notion that libraries are not for everyone? Now I really do have to take exception to that. Good community libraries really do cater for everyone. You do not have to read books to use the library. I know several people with well-used library cards who do not read books or even listen to audio-books, at least two never borrow reading material. They borrow music CDs and DVDs or the few old videotapes the library still has on the shelves. Others borrow magazines but do not borrow books.
One person has a library card simply to use the photocopier to increase the size of print on things he wishes to retain. He jogs there and back despite being visually impaired.
Another person comes into the library just for meetings of the gardening club. I happen to know he can barely read but he contributes to the gardening club and some members of it have been to look at his excellent garden. He cycles there and back at the age of 84.
There is a boy with Down Syndrome who borrows CDs, DVDs and magazines with the help of the staff. He cannot read a lot but his library card and his weekly trip to the library are important to him. He walks there and back slowly because of his heart condition.
Of course there are a lot of people who do not use the library. They may, or may not, play sport.
The two things are not mutually exclusive, far from it.
My feeling is that sport is not necessarily elite but it does tend to be about being on a team or being 'the best'. Physical exercise is not necessarily about sport - or should not be.
Libraries however are something else. They can cater for everyone, whether you read or not.
The president of the hockey club is, at least in my opinion, wrong to suggest that funding sport in preference to libraries can be justified. Libraries really can cater for everone - and they can often use physical exercise to get there.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

I wonder what real cats actually see and know

because Pluto, paying a very late visit, sat on my lap and appeared to watch a cartoon last night.
I hasten to add that I do not normally watch cartoons but this was a small 'art' type cartoon which was used as a filler between a documentary and the news service. It was quite good fun with little insects buzzing around sounding like motorbikes and lawnmowers.
Pluto had strolled in through our old cat flap, done the usual tour of the house and then settled himself on me for what I thought would be the usual short stroking session. When the cartoon started however he flicked his tail at me to stop the stroking and appeared to turn his attention to the screen. For the duration of the cartoon - about two minutes in all - he appeared to concentrate on the screen. His ears twitched occasionally but the rest of him was quite still. When the cartoon finished he jumped down and strolled out again. Was he watching it? I told myself, "Of course not. Don't be stupid. Cats do not watch cartoons." Or, do they?
I once met another cat who went to church each Sunday. It was a tiny country church. The priest lived next door. It was his cat. When he went into the church on Sunday the cat went too. It would lie on a window ledge for the entire service. It never strolled around the church during the service. It would be ridiculous to suggest that the cat was 'going to church' in the sense of worshipping but it did attend church.
Another cat of my brief acquaintance was introduced to me at the door of a terrace house in London. His owner, a young mother, was worried he might attack me as he had attacked a tradesman the previous day. If the baby was in the back garden then the cat would lie under the pram until the baby was taken in again. It would also be ridiculous to suggest that the cat was babysitting but it nevertheless remained there.
We had two cats when my youngest nephews were very small. Cats and boys rubbed along very well together. The cats were very tolerant, mostly by avoidance. One afternoon however they were playing together on the floor. The cats were asleep together on a chair in the adjacent area. A neighbour who was well known for his dislike of cats and his rather imperious manner with children came to borrow something from my father. He was invited in. Almost instantly the cats had woken. Instead of going out as I expected they went and sat on the floor between the visitor and my nephews. Their fur was up and they hissed when he moved towards the boys. He tried to tell my mother they were 'dangerous'. They were, she said, 'just being protective'.
I still wonder what they knew. They must have sensed the visitor disliked cats. Cats do seem to know that.
So, what do real cats see and know? We can guess but we will never know. All the same I rather hope Pluto enjoyed the cartoon.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

"You should read at least one of hers,"

I am told. Right. There are a lot of books I apparently should read. I do not always want to read them.
Now, let's get this straight. There are a lot of things I must read. Newspapers and news feeds on the internet are a must. Reports, reviews and articles in areas of concern to me come close behind. Then there is the non-fiction, mostly in the fields of language and psychology, that I feel a certain compulsion to read and some of which I enjoy. There is the occasional knitting book.
There are certain blogs I like to prowl through - and they teach me a good deal.
When it comes to fiction however I want to choose my own reading. It is one reason why I do not belong to a book discussion group.
Book discussion groups for adults do not normally consider the merits of children's literature. I happen to like reading children's books. I like to be able to talk with children about what they have been reading. There are many children's books which are well written and they make enjoyable reading. Many adults never read a child's book. That is their choice and I accept it.
It does not appear to work the other way around.
I am constantly being told by well meaning people that I should read this or that or another thing. I am told that books are "marvellous", "fantastic" and "a great read" or that someone is a "terrific" author (terrifying?) . Then there are the award winning books and award winning authors with their literary novels, the introspective, dark and confusing novels in which nothing much seems to happen and which leave me wondering what the story was really about.
And then there are what I think of as television novels, some of them are actually television tie-ins. The characterisation is flat and the story line is full of holes. It might have been okay on the screen but does not work as a book.
One such book was thrust at me in the library on Saturday. I made a rash promise to read it. By the time I was a third of the way through the first section I was thoroughly bored. The writing did not flow. The characters were static. There were descriptions that had no relevance to the story. There were long passages of conversation that did not lead the story forward - they probably came directly from the television script. I skim read the rest of the book in half an hour and found something else to read.
What bothers me however is that I looked at the on line catalogue for the library. There are three copies of the book available for borrowing. The are no less than twenty-seven titles by this author. There are waiting lists for six more recent titles. Obviously other people do like reading these books. I wondered why and then decided that, like Enid Blyton, the books are an easy and undemanding read. It is why I could skim through the book in half and hour and still get the gist of the story line.
I think I may also be a lazy reader of fiction however. I do not want long Russian novels or literary navel gazing novels. I do not want the adult equivalent of Enid Blyton. I want something in between. I want a story line, I want some characterisation, I want the conflict that makes the reader turn the page and I want to experience something as I read it - something other than boredom.

Monday 20 September 2010

I have an addiction to libraries

as the contents of my purse indicate - never much money but at least five library cards and my pass to the state archives which is another sort of library and card. I feel comfortable in libraries. I would probably feel comfortable in a Chinese library surrounded by books I could not long as I had a bilingual dictionary so that I could make a start.
A lot of other people clearly feel comfortable in libraries too. Our local library is a very busy place, especially at weekends. Of course, these days, it provides more than just books. There are computer terminals, magazines, newspapers, e-books, CDs, DVDs, discussion groups, a gardening group, a knitting group, a cooking group and other things. School children turn up in groups during the week, the senior citizens bus stops there and the home library service is run from there.
The library service is funded by our taxes, our council rates and state taxes. It is open to everyone. You do not even need to live in the council area to use it. One of my library cards is for another council area because they have a particular collection of books I sometimes need to use.
Libraries are there for everyone. More people use public libraries each week than attend any sort of sports.
It is therefore with a sense of disbelief that library goers have found the funding to libraries has been cut yet again. At the same time the amount of money given to sport has been increased.
Now I know, and they know, that physical exercise is important. They know, and I know, that most people (including myself) do not exercise enough.
The problem is that providing money to sports clubs is not going to get more people to exercise. Sports clubs are for enthusiasts, they are for the people who want to be on a team, who want to commit regularly to training, to matches, to giving up at least one evening a week to training and at least a half day to playing. The majority of people, even if they have the time, do not want to make this commitment. Sports fields get used for a few hours during the week and then at weekends. They are important but they are, like playgrounds, not fully utilised.
Heading for the library is a different matter. You can go on your way to the do shopping (and keep your child quiet by allowing them to read while you shop) or you can go on your way from doing the shopping - remember the freezer bags and threaten the child that they will not be able to change their books unless they behave. There is no absolute requirement to be at the library at a certain time or every week or any demand that you stay until it closes. A trip to the library suits the modern, urban lifestyle.
Cutting funding to libraries makes no sense. Increasing funding for sports fields makes no sense.
What might make sense is running keep fit classes at the library - perhaps a continuous keep fit class. Come along, join in for ten minutes or twenty minutes, borrow your books and leave?

Sunday 19 September 2010

Extra post - shrug pattern for the knitters!

There is nothing terribly amazing about this but so many shrugs have a bulky increase after the cuff that I find gets in the way so I shaped it slightly. The yarn I used was something I was asked to try - a very fine Korean yarn but any laceweight would do and anyone with even just a little knitting experience can play around with the pattern.
Here you are.

A shrug should be made to fit the intended wearer. Measure the person (or get someone to measure you) by getting them to hold their arms out and measure from wrist to wrist. That will be the length needed.

Two balls Muse. Unless you are very tall this should be enough to make a shrug for someone up to 170cms ( 5’ 10”) in height.

One pair 2.25mm needles for the bands
One pair 3.75 needles for the main part.

Abbreviations: sts – stitches
k – knit
p – purl
k1bf – knit into the back and the front of the stitch to increase 1 stitch.

Tension : Not vital – the body of the shrug should feel loose and elastic in both directions. This will make it comfortable to wear. Muse is not an elastic yarn. Please make sure you cast on and cast (bind) off for a comfortable fit.


Using 2.25 mm needles cast on 60 (66) sts.
Row 1: *k1 p1 repeat from * to end
Repeat first row 27 times. S
Row 28: Change to 3.75 mm needles. Increase 26 (20) sts across the row. You should now have 86 sts.

Now start the pattern for the main body of the shrug.

Row 1: knit
Row 2: knit wrapping the yarn twice around the needle
Row 3: knit dropping the extra loop off the needle
Row 4: k1bf knit to the last stitch k1bf (88sts)

Repeat the last four rows and increase 14 more times (116 sts)
Measure the length and keep a note of it. You will need to decrease at the other end!

Continue to repeat the four pattern rows without any further increases until the shrug is as long as you want it less the length of increases. (e.g. If you want the shrug to measure 160 cms and the length from the first row of ribbing to the end of the increases is 20 cms you will stop when your knitting measures 140 cms and then start to decrease. See diagram.)

Now decrease at each end ofon every 4th row until you have 86 sts again.
Next row decrease evenly to 60 (66) sts
Knit 27 rows of k1p1 rib as before and cast off.

Sew the wrist bands and the seams to the end of the decreasing.

I am being a little cautious about

this business of 'following' people - here and on Twitter. Now I know that it is supposed to be a good idea according to people like Nicola Morgan, Jane Smith, Lynn Price and others. As a writer - or would-be published writer - I am supposed to get myself out into the public arena and make myself known. (This is difficult for a shy and retiring cat who prefers solitariness in real life.)
Now, I confess to having had a little fun at blog parties. Feeling that, if people comment on a blog site where a "party" is being held gives you the right to explore their blog is rather nice. I have met some interesting people that way. I will, no doubt, meet some more in the future. Without the party however I feel that just putting my paw around the door and peering in is - well, a little rude. It is butting in. I may not be wanted there. I suppose they can always ignore me or tell me to go away but it still seems a little rude. I will not do it.
I like the idea that people might actually read my meanderings from time-to-time. It is even nicer when they leave a paw print in the comments. I am not however aiming at a 1000 followers - or more. If that happens, it happens. I would rather people follow me and I follow them because we have mutual interests and find one another interesting within that. (I have met boring people who read books - unbelievable but true. I know boring knitters - unbelievable but true.)
I am even more cautious of "Twitter" (and yes Nicola I did read your blog posts on the topic - anyone else I advise looking at "Help I need a publisher"'s posts about Twitter) because it is easy to be misunderstood in 140 characters and it can have very serious consequences. (If you doubt this please go and read Jack of Kent's latest post on this issue.) Twitter is not just for birds. It can be fun. Living Downunder it is fairly easy to regulate the time I spend pouncing on tweets and playing with them. (It is a bit like chasing autumn leaves.)
But, all of this takes time. If people follow me and I follow them in return then I feel I should actually follow them. I may not read all they have to say all the time but I should at least prowl by and check that all is well, put a paw up to say "hello" - otherwise I am not really following them at all. I am just a number on the screen. It may look 'good' but it is meaningless. Some people will say "this is the nature of the internet". Perhaps it is.
I will go on being a cautious cat.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Yesterday I went hunting for a

birthday card for my niece. We keep some blank cards in a shoe box on top of the bookshelf that does not have books on top of it. There are quite a few cards in there but none of them seemed quite right for a modern younger woman. My father, who has a half interest in the card, wanted to send pink roses. I said "no". Pink roses would not do at all, neither will the poppies or any other flowery card. We also discarded the koala, the view of Uluru, a lighthouse and a very masculine vintage motor car. The sympathy cards are obviously inappropriate and the other cards are intended for children of my acquaintance.
"I'll find something on my way to the library," I tell my father and then make the necessary detour to the "cheap shop" where there are cards aplenty - but nothing I think is right. They are still flowery and the blank cards, although nice, are not suitable for a modern younger woman.
Oh well, over to the newsagent.
Now, I want a suitable card but my neice would not be impressed with the thought of anyone paying anything from $6.95 to $8.95 for a small piece of cardboard with a piece of inane doggerel inside or a risque joke. I spend more time than I should amusing myself by reading the nonsense inside some of the cards and admiring the artwork on others. Someone I know stops to speak to me about the report I am supposed to have finished pretty smartly. I really need to get to the library and pick up a book.
I am about to leave in disgust when, at the end of the second long row of cards I see a box of $2 cards. Oh, take a quick look? There might be something. I flick through a large pile, one for one nephew and one for another nephew, one for my sister - they all have birthdays coming up. Then, a Japanese lady behind a fan. It is interesting. It is different. The message is plain and simple and appropriate.
Clutching it and the other three cards very firmly indeed I go to the counter, pay and leave. I really should talk my card making friend into doing a dozen or so cards for me. I think I would knit an entire cardigan in return - unless I can find more cards for $2.

Friday 17 September 2010

I have just had no less than three reminders

that Christmas is, apparently, fast approaching.
The first reminder came from my dentist yesterday - she told me she did not want to see me until next year and wished me Merry Christmas as I left. Merry Christmas? It's September!
Then I was standing in the post office waiting to send a book off to my godson for his birthday and I heard the post office assistant saying, "Christmas parcel mail for overseas has to be sent by Wednesday". What? It's September!
Then a friend notes that she has found a box of Christmas cards and should write them now and at the same time another one notes that Christmas things have already appeared in the aisles of the supermarket. Christmas cards? It's September!
All this is too soon for me. I do not want to think about Christmas until December at the very least.
My mother was the person who wrote the Christmas cards in our house. She would send letters to people, handwritten letters tucked inside cards from our charity of choice. It took her hours but she was always happy to write letters. I have no idea what she said. Most of them were sent to people she had not seen for years and only corresponded with once a year. They responded in kind although the list grew shorter each year as people died or simply stopped writing cards.
After my mother died my father said that he would send cards to people who sent cards to us. Unlike my mother my father detests writing letters. We still hear from some people my mother wrote to but the list is small. My father dutifully writes some cards and sends them to people he does not see but, like the people he sees on a regular basis, he no longer writes local Christmas cards.
Most of my friends live elsewhere in the world. Not all of them celebrate Christmas. Some of them are Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist, others have no religious beliefs at all. I keep in touch with most by e-mail - on a regular or irregular basis. I exchange cards with some and small gifts with a few.
But I wonder about the actual celebration of Christmas. Most people I know do not attend church, even those who would put down their religion as "Christian" or "Catholic" or "Anglican" on a census form. Some of my friends would say they have no religious beliefs at all. They still celebrate Christmas.
So, what is Christmas? Why do we celebrate Christmas? Do I need to start writing Christmas cards?
I wonder if the newsagent has any of those overseas calendars? I need to get them into the post before next Wednesday.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

We are heading for a disaster, one of those

Budgets beloved of tight-fisted Treasurers who believe that the AAA credit rating must be preserved at all costs backed by a government that believes the Premier needs to be able to open a new hospital several years down the track and that Australia is going to host the World Cup for soccer in about 2020 and that we need new oval facilities for this.

Now, we have a hospital. It is older than some people would like and, according to them, there are problems with it. I am also aware that it is newer than many European hospitals which have been successfully upgraded and extended but, being Australians, we must have nothing but the best - and that is a new hospital on a contaminated site overlooking railway yards. This will provide employment in the short term and ensure another term in government - or that is apparently the thinking. The cost has already blown out and nothing has happened apart from some clearing of the proposed site. The same is true of the oval redevelopment - although I am not sure if work has started at all there. There is also the small matter of a desalination plant - and the fact that we do not harvest storm water but let that run out to sea. A desalination plant however can be opened by the Premier and be seen. Harvesting storm water is not such a visible project.

In order to pay for all this and other projects that will make the government look as if it is doing great things there will have to be tax rises and service cuts. There has even been a suggestion that children who use rural school bus services to attend school may be charged. They can probably get away with this because there is no requirement to attend school in South Australia if you can prove that suitable home-schooling is taking place.

Until two days ago they may have been able to get away with closing some police stations but the murder of a woman who called for assistance and did not get any may make that more difficult - or will it? They will probably keep saying "procedural error".

Closing country hospitals, the Repatriation General hospital, the emergency department of another, and schools of less than one hundred children are also on the table for consideration.

Someone leaked the report of the razor gang put in place to find $1bn worth of cuts. The police have been called in along with a forensic expert to try and find out who did this. I rather hope they do not find the leaker. I think it is time for a heated community debate. We need to get some priorities right. Let's forget a new hospital and see if we can do something with the old one.

Let's forget the upgrade of one oval for an event that will almost certainly never happen here. That way there might be money for something that really could make a difference - let's turn one of those TAFE colleges they want to close into an arts and crafts school for everyone not just would-be art students who create "installations" nobody understands. It would be good for mental health, employing the unemployed, encouraging tourists to come and buy quality handmade items, it would preserve skills. Let's teach carpentry, woodturning, woodcarving, basketry, spinning, weaving, metalwork, knitting, crochet, embroidery, musical instrument making, shoe making, sewing, jewellery making and any other skill that looks likely to be lost.
Yes, it would cost a little - to start with. I think it would end up paying for itself - and the Premier could open it.

"I am sorry but you have the wrong number"

I tell the elderly voice at the other end, "There is nobody called Ruby here."
"Oh, sorry dear."
The 'phone goes down. A moment later it rings again. The same caller looking for Ruby. I ask what number she dialled. It is ours. It is the number she has been given. I suggest a look in the telephone directory. "I can't see that dear." "Would you like me to look? I'll find it if I can and read the number to you." "Oh, would you? That's very kind of you. You must think I am very silly." "Not at all."
And I do not think she is silly. It is easy to reverse numbers, mishear, be given the wrong number and not be able to read the telephone directory because you are old and the print is too small. I give her the right number - two numbers were reversed - and put the phone down again. Misdialling numbers must occur quite frequently, certainly we get a number of wrong numbers. I suspect, from the sound of them, that most are genuine. We do not own artworks of great value or keep a stash of bullion in the filing cabinet. If the caller is elderly or distressed I will try to help with the right number.
Sometimes however it is not possible to do much about a misdialled call. Someone I know had a message left on her answering machine in England. It was from Eric Sykes telling Vera Lynne that her appearance on television was magnificent. All my friend can assume is that Mr Sykes reversed some numbers but she said "his voice is unmistakeable".
It reminded me of something I had almost forgotten. One weekend I answered the 'phone and the equally unmistakeable voice of one of our former Prime Ministers said, " Could you save me a Y paper please." In response I said, "I am sorry Mr X but this is not the newsagent."
There was a momentary silence at the other end and then a chuckle before, "Good grief am I still that recognisable?" and a very polite apology.
Thankfully I am not (in)famous but I am still going to make an added effort to dial carefully.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

"I've never done anything like this before,"

the knitter tells me, "And I want to know what I did wrong, I really want to know. I'm not cross or anything."
She is probably in her twenties, old enough to have children who like the Simpsons and young enough to be nervous about her temerity to enter anything in the big Show. She has come to pick up her show entries, two bright red child size pullovers with Simpsons characters on the front and a small cardigan with a lacy pattern. The small cardigan won a third prize but what did she do wrong with the others?
Fortunately the first prize winning garment in the relevant section is still there. I can show her.
Wow! How did she do that? I try to explain and then say, "The knitter who made this is apparently more than 80 so she has probably been doing it for years - and anyway you should feel pretty pleased with yourself getting a prize the first time you entered anything."
She goes from anxious to looking relieved. I get her e-mail address so that I can send her the judge's report - so she can try again. I think she will.
Other people came and went and said they wanted to know why they had not won prizes. Some really wanted to know others wanted to know why their work had not been appreciated. I pointed out to one woman that she had entered it in the wrong class.
"It is a rug!" she told me.
"Yes, but it is crocheted, not knitted."
Oh. She looks stunned and then she starts to laugh and she takes it from me, "You must think I am an idiot."
She already has the knitted rug in her other hand and had entered that in the crochet class.
The woman who has made the exquisite gansey comes to collect it. We had talked earlier about her entering this in the Show. The attention she has paid to the detail, even down to finding the right button for the shoulder opening is extraordinary. A lot of research has gone into it and I can tell her now how impressed the senior judge was. She glows and tells me of her new project, another research and then knit project.
At the end of the morning there are items which have not been collected. There is a particularly large collection from someone who has been entering items for years. Until this year she has managed to win prizes for almost everything she had entered, often first prizes. She was known to the previous judges. Her work may well have been the best there was when she first started entering. They may well have gone on considering it was. This year things are different. She is clearly in no hurry to collect her work. It will be left for a while in a locked cabinet.
The very elderly champion knitter has not collected her items, or perhaps someone has not collected them for her. I would like to have met her and asked her, "How do you do it?"
That is what matters in the end. How do you do it? It is not whether you win a prize or not. It is learning something new - and then passing it on.

Monday 13 September 2010

"What did you read about

when you were a kid? Did you read about things you wanted to do - I mean in story books?"
The Whirlwind asked me this question yesterday. "Like even if it was not real did you think you would want to do those things?"
When I finally sorted out what she actually meant it seemed to come down to, "Did you ever want to be one of the characters in a book you read and have the same things happen to you?"
I told her yes and that most people, at least those with any imagination at all, probably wanted to be a fictional character at some point in their lives.
"Well which ones did you want to be?"
It seems there is a school project. The Whirlwind has to think of three characters she would like to be and write something about why she would like or not like to be them. The Whirlwind does research before she starts such things. She does not recognise it as research but she has asked me, she will ask her father and she will almost certainly ask anyone else who might give her an answer. Only then will she consider her own answer and write something down. Like most such school projects she has a time limit but it is long enough to allow her the luxury of a little research.
Her own choices, when she eventually makes them, will interest me. She has read widely from my bookshelves as well as the school and local library. I wonder if she will choose characters who are secure or insecure, brave, foolish, wise or funny? Will they be realistic or fanciful and what will they have experienced?
I encourage such research and, in the interests of that, I promised to ask more people. If you are a reader of this blog and you had a special character or characters in your childhood reading then will you please write them into the comments section? The Whirlwind, my young neighbour and friend, would like to know.

Sunday 12 September 2010

There is an article in the UK Telegraph

which states that research suggests that teaching the children the alphabet, nursery rhymes or a musical instrument may have "no impact". You can read it here. I would like to read the actual research.
Time spent doing these things at home is, presumably, time spent with a parent and positive time at that. These things should be enjoyable. They should assist in the development of the child-parent relationship. Of course if you are trying to teach little Johnny or little Mary to read at a very early age in order to boast about their skills that is unlikely to be a good thing but reciting nursery rhymes should be part of childhood. It is part of our culture and our heritage. Knowing about these things helps us make sense of our world.
Oh yes, you can learn these things at day-care, at nursery school, at kindergarten and pre-school and wherever else working parents leave their children but you will not learn them in quite the same way. It will not be one-on-one. It will not be your time with your parent or accompanied by your bedtime routine or some other ritual. Learning to sing "Three blind mice" in a crowd of other children is not the same. There it becomes just another song you sing. You probably will not even notice the words, let alone wonder about carving knives and tails and other things.
The stories you hear will not be the same. There will probably just be one story, followed by a suitable "educational" activity. It might be quite good fun but it will not much up to two or three bedtime stories and a favourite story repeated for nights on end. There are no comforting rituals in the crowd if you are very small. The world revolves around you. You want to be the centre of attention. You want to be comforted when things go wrong and you want to be safely on a parent's knee when the wolf is blowing the house down or someone is going to get into trouble for eating someone else's porridge or the witch is going to put you in the oven.
Or maybe they do not even read those sort of stories in other-than-parent-or-grandparent care? Do they now read about the new child who has two mothers or two fathers or came here on a boat or who has a missing parent? Is this what is really bothering the researchers? Is it because children are not being confronted by "social issues" and "political correctness"?
If teaching the alphabet and nursery rhymes has "no impact" then why should these things have an impact? Why do we insist that children "should not be wasting time" but "actively engaged in learning" at all times?
I would rather have an individual child look up and tell me, "Say it again!" Have we forgotten that playing is also a form of work?

Saturday 11 September 2010

The smell of toast

has apparently topped a poll of favourite smells in Britain. The suggestion is that it the smell of toast is, for most people, associated with breakfast, comfort food and associated "niceness". I rather like the smell myself.
My paternal grandfather made toast in two ways. In winter he would make it on a toasting fork in front of the old Metters woodstove. If you were fortunate you opened up the front portion when the coals were glowing and the bread would turn brown as you held it there on the end of the fork. If you were not so fortunate the bread would drop in the ash or burn. If that happened my grandfather would dust it off and scrape or cut off the black part.
In summer it was made in an ancient toaster. The bread still had to be watched and turned. It too would sometimes burn and need to be scraped. He would then butter the toast and eat it with marmalade made by my grandmother. He also made my grandmother's toast.
For the last few years of their life at home he insisted she had breakfast in bed each morning.
Each morning he would set the tray with a tray cloth, a tiny vase with a single bud, a dainty matching cup, saucer and plate, the butter dish, the marmalade in another small dish and the tea in a small pot with a woollen cosy. (My grandmother took neither milk nor sugar in her tea.) The toast would then be put in the silver toast rack they had used all their married lives and he would take it all in to her.
If my grandfather chipped a piece of the crockery or knocked the handle off the cup he would go to the drapery store a little distance down the road on which they lived. There he would buy a new cup, saucer and plate. This was for his wife and it had to be perfect. He had, after all, only been married to her more than fifty years by then. He was not in the least romantic in other ways but she was the love of his life and he was determined to show it.
My grandmother loved him that way in return. She would have been happy to go into the kitchen and make her own breakfast but she accepted that he wanted to do it for her. She would smile at the single rosebud or the single daisy and tell him how pretty it was and thank him for the trouble he had taken. It was a ritual and yet not a ritual. Each occasion was important to them.
As they grew older and frailer I spent a good deal of time with them. I would leave my boarding school on Friday afternoon and spend the weekend with them. During that time my grandmother taught me to cook, clean, iron and other things. I would do it all under her direction and leave the meals for a week in the refrigerator so that they only needed to be heated up.
My grandfather however continued to get breakfast. As he grew unsteadier he would put the tray on the tea-trolley and take it in that way. Trips to the draper for new crockery became more frequent but the standard had to be maintained.
I will forever associate those wonderful weekends with the smell of burnt toast.

Friday 10 September 2010

Living in "the bush"

or "outback" or just in a "rural" area of Australia is not necessarily nice or romantic. I was born in a very small country town. It was just large enough to have a small hospital. My brother and one of my sisters were also born in the same hospital. Being the eldest I have more memories of the place. We have been back to visit although not to stay. If I had to live in a country town it would be pleasant enough. There is still a hospital. There are still the other essential services although the train does not run to the city any more. It should. They may one day come to their senses and reopen the line to passenger transport.
The town has grown considerably since we were there. It is almost commuter territory. The same is true of another rural area we lived in some years later. That was not much more than a few houses and the school along the main road to the South Coast.
Neither place qualified as "the bush". We also lived in "the bush" or a tiny settlement a long way from anywhere else. Beyond that there was "the outback" which was even more remote. We were almost civilisation - and the place was growing. There were nineteen houses when we arrived and twenty-three when we left. (Four had been built for the families of the men who came to work in the wheat silos when they brought in bulk handling.) There were two teachers in the school - my parents. My father remembers it as having fifty-seven children. (If the numbers went below fifty they would have been back to one teacher.) There was a school about fifty miles away that had just eight children - and one teacher.
There were also other schools of varying size up and down the railway line that linked them to "the big smoke" or the capital city. Most of the children had never been that far - or even to the town considered to be the regional capital. Most of them had never seen the sea. My father fixed that by arranging a day trip in the two tiny vans that did the school "bus run" and a couple of other vehicles. Nobody worried about seat belts back then and the "big ones" had the "little ones" sitting on their knees. After a visit to the regional "airport" (a field with a landing strip and a tin shed) we looked at the room which housed the "school of the air" (where a teacher talked to the children who lived "outback") and "the flying doctor". Later we went to look at the building of the new bulk handling terminal.
I remember we had lunch sitting on the sand, the usual (kanga) 'roo or (in our case) mutton sandwiches. Most of us had bananas that week because that was the train had brought. We drank water from plastic cups filled from the containers kept in the vehicles we were travelling in. Everyone travelled with water supplies.
When it was all over and we were just about to leave we all visited the, to us, amazing general store in the main street. Each of us - even the adults - left with an icecream cone, one scoop of plain vanilla. I think my father must have given the store owner advance warning because there was enough for everyone.
Over the next few days at school my father reinforced what we had seen in other lessons. At the end of the week he asked, "What was the most important thing?" No doubt he meant the flying doctor service on which "the bush" and "the outback" still depend.
There was silence and then the deep voice of the oldest boy in the school came from the back of the room, "The icecream sir, the icecream."

Thursday 9 September 2010

"So how many hours does it take

to make one of those?" people keep asking as they stand there and look at the quilts hanging on the walls.
"Well that particular one took about a thousand hours to make," I tell them. The quilt is large enough to cover a very large bed and hang over the sides. It has been made entirely by hand. I explain this. Oh.
I can almost see the questioners wondering why anyone would bother to do this. They wander on and I wait for the next person to ask the same question or ask of the shawl I am making, "How long does it take you to make one of those?"
There seems to be a preoccupation with the time it takes to make something. The process is secondary.
People keep wandering into the area where things have been displayed. Most walk around and out quite quickly. I suspect they do this everywhere else until the reach the "fun" area with the sideshows, the rides, the fairy floss and hot dogs and the funny bunny ears which are all the rage this year. For them the visits to the animals, the flowers, the farm machinery and educational displays are secondary. They do those out of a sense of duty and then head off to enjoy themselves. That is fine. It is their choice.
There are other people, often older, who move more slowly. They are there to see things that remind them of their childhood growing up in the country or because they enjoy gardening or handicrafts or have an interest in livestock of one sort or another. There are still others who look more closely. Some take photographs. A very few ask technical questions which those of us working there try to answer. "Try this site on the internet" or "A group meets at X on Y day at Z time" or "you can buy supplies for that from the following places" etc.
There are school children in small groups with their teachers. The spinners fascinate them. The fine yarn of lace knitting is a "wow" factor. Sock knitting from the toe up or the top down? Why do it one way or the other? Yes, they want to know how long but they are also encouraged to ask about the process. They move slowly on, several with a reluctant glance behind as if they would like to stay and join in.
A young French couple are interested in the process. How are these judged? What specific points is a judge looking for? They thank me enthusiastically - in French.
Then there is a group of dark skinned, elegant young women and handsome young men. African. They look almost overawed. Each quilt is examined by both men and women in detail. They are talking among themselves. It is some sort of bazaar Swahili. I can pick up a word here or there because of loan words from English.
Then one of the boys comes up shyly. In careful English he asks if they might be allowed to look at the reverse side of one the quilts. These people really want to know how it is done. Someone turns it back for them. Paper and pencil are produced. Notes are taken.
I make eye contact with one of the girls. We smile cautiously at one another.
"Hujambo," I say. My Swahili is almost non-existent but it is clear she is not willing to try to use English yet.
Her face splits into a grin. She nudges the girl next to her.
"Unatoka wapi?" I ask, "Where are you from?"
"Natoka?" They are from Uganda. That explains the difference in their Swahili.
The boy who speaks some English is listening. I explain I know only a very few words but it has been enough to make contact. He interprets a little more. They are at last ready to move on, to really look at more.
"Nafurahi kukuona," they tell us, "Nice to meet you."
"Asante. Kwaherini," I tell them. It is about the last of the Swahili I can actually say with some degree of intelligibility. "Thankyou. Goodbye."
They start to leave and then the boy who has been acting as interpreter comes back and says,
"Asante sana."
It means "Thankyou very much."
No, it is we who have to thank them. They did not ask how long it took to make something. They asked how it was done. Asante sana!

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Yesterday I met someone

I have not seen since I was about 16 - and that is a very long time ago. She had not changed that much, older of course and her hair is going grey but she is still recognisably the person with whom I had once been to school.
We were not friends - or enemies. She was just another pupil. Our interests were, and still are, wildly divergent. She had come in to the arts and crafts area of the Show to meet someone else before they headed off for lunch. Arts and crafts hold no particular interest for her. The quilts on display in the area in which we were working were "quite nice I suppose".
I do not quilt and many other people who came through the area do not quilt but they found the quilts on display genuinely beautiful and/or interesting. She did not. It is just the way she is. I have no doubt that she finds her animals just as beautiful and interesting.
I introduced her to one of my colleagues at work there.
"Oh, you two must have a lot to catch up on then!"
We did not. I asked the usual questions. Yes, she had married and yes she had children and now grandchildren. I asked if she had entered anything in the Show. Yes. At no point did she eleborate on any of her answers. I remember that she was just the same way at school. Holding a conversation of any sort with her was always difficult. "She never says much" was the way other students would describe her. I can usually get people talking about themselves or something that interests them, most people are only too happy to talk about such things. Her virtual silence did not bother me. I could remember what she was like. I felt she would be happy just to wait.
Nothing more was said until my colleague suddenly asked, "Were you at one of the school's Cat's father ran?"
Oh yes, she was. Suddenly she was enthusiastic, genuinely enthusiastic.
"Cat's father was a great teacher."
What made him like that my colleague wanted to know.
"Well he was terribly patient. If you didn't understand something he would explain it again and he would do it in different words so that you did understand. I have always remembered that."
At that moment her friend arrived. They went off. I wonder if she went on talking?

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Roll up, roll up - it's Show time!

I am off to spend the day working at "the Show". I have talked about this event before but, for those who have arrived recently, this is the event which goes under the official grandiose title of the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society Annual Show. I do not know if any royal personage has ever visited it. Possibly. They often have to do strange things.
For the rest of us it is one of those annual Adelaide events that some go to out of habit, others go to because they love it (my father is one of these) and others go because they must (me).
My father is a people watcher. He is spending the day at the Show too. I will meet him at lunch time just to check he is okay, although with all those people around someone will help if he gets into strife. After all, this is somewhere people go to enjoy themselves and they want others to do the same. He will look at animals and farm machinery and water tanks and other items of interest to him. He will also wander (on his gopher) into the big hall which houses the handicrafts and the flowers. He will watch the Jenny Gillies "flower people" perform and talk to the gardening gurus about why his rhubarb plants keep dying.
I am going for quite a different purpose. The Convenor of the Handicrafts section wants it to become more interactive. There will be spinners, weavers, egg artistry workers, patchworkers, carvers, embroiderers and others at work during the week. This is the first step forward on a road to making the whole area more interactive. This year they will be there to talk about what they do. People will be able to ask questions. They will be encouraged to ask questions.
This has to be a good thing. There are many people who come to the Show who have never seen such things being done close at hand, sometimes have never seen these things at all.
I am personally not at all interested in egg artistry but it is fascinating to watch the skill of those who carve beautiful shapes out of translucent egg shells or pieces of wonderful timber. I am a little envious of those who can spin easily and well. I have also seen it all before.
I will be there to talk about knitting if people want to talk to me. There will be four of us knitting. We will all be working on something different so that people can see a variety of techniques. It will all be familiar to me and those knitting with me. We have all done this sort of thing before both at the previous Show and in other places.
There will however be people who have never seen any of these things. I will no doubt explain that we are knitting, not crocheting. I will have the shawl I am currently working on. I will be using a circular needle, something that always creates interest. Someone else will be working a sock from the toe up. I am not sure what the other two are bringing but it will be something that people can talk about.
I will also be taking a small piece of plain knitting for the children to try and make a stitch. For me this is what the Show should be about. It should allow people to experience and not just watch the world.

Monday 6 September 2010

Congratulations you have just won

a holiday on an iceberg in the Antarctic. This is a wonderful opportunity to watch the whales, the waves and te penguins. You will be sharing your holiday with penguins but please do not approach or disturb them in anyway. They cover 99% of the iceberg. You may not pitch a tent on the remaining 1% but you are permitted to take one of our $1000 sleeping bags provided that you agree to remove it at the end of your stay. You will also need to obtain Iceberg clothing from our Iceberg store but we are providing it at cost to special customers providing that you sign on to take your holiday before the end of the month. Due to a tendency for icebergs to melt you may not take any form of heating with you, instead we will provide our new Warmberg apparatus. Due to legal requirements we will require you to sign a secrecy agreement about this exciting new technology. This will incur a small legal fee of $5000 on your part. Meals and drinks are extra but our no-star Michelin chef is able to cater for all diets.
This is the most exciting holiday on Earth and we know that you will want to take advantage of this free offer.
Maybe. Most likely not. No, definitely not. I am, I hope, immune to such sales nonsense. My internet provider does an excellent job of removing such nonsense before it gets to my mail box. Anything like that which arrives in the letter box gets marked "RTS" (return to sender) and put in another letter box. If people try to cold call us we report them because we are on the "Do Not Call" register.
I even avoid entering competitions where my name is likely to go on a mailing list. My name was on the mailing list for a book list. It has occasionally been a very useful book list but new people took the firm over and they also sold the mailing list on to another organisation without permission. I have asked for my name to be removed from both lists. One has lost a potential customer and the other will never be supported by me.
Yesterday I said this to someone I know and they looked at me in alarm. "But you might miss out on something!" No, not yet. It is unlikely. I think I can live with the possibility. I do not want to buy a holiday on an iceberg in the Antarctic.

Sunday 5 September 2010

I am not much of a big party goer

and I am not happy in crowds - unless they are of the literary or knitting variety and, even there, I tend to be cautious. It always astounds me how some people seem to manage to enjoy themselves at big events. They appear to sparkle. They will be surrounded by others. They will be telling the jokes and everyone will be laughing. I will be on the other side of the room, standing by myself and wishing I was somewhere else because I am sure that everyone knows I am not talking to anyone. How do you start a conversation at such a party? What do you say? I have no idea.
"What have you read lately?" "I don't read." or "Did you enjoy your holiday in...." "No." Or what about, "You must be very proud of...." No, we won't go there.
Conversation is a two way thing. If someone asks me something at a party I simply must attend I do try to respond appropriately. That is why it is better to attend events where you know people have common interests. At the literary variety you can talk about books, even books you have not read, "Tell me about it. Did you find it a worthwhile read?" and "What about the way X is shown....?" Plenty of material for a conversation there. It does not always work but it is more likely to work, especially if you are prepared to listen.
At the knitting sort of event it is even easier. People talk about their knitting. They show you what they are doing. They show you the pattern. Serious knitters will talk about designing their own and show you the clever bit of short row shaping or the new stitch they are trying.
I have a now very elderly friend who once spent some time in Libya - before the days of Colonel G. Her husband was posted there. Nan is still a knitter but back then, so she tells me, she was a non-stop knitter. Not being too sure about things in that part of the world she took plenty of knitting with her. When her husband travelled the country she went with him and took her knitting. On one occasion they broke down just outside a small town or large village. She was waiting in the old lorry while the men went to get help. When they returned the lorry had to be towed by local men. One of them indicated she should get out and come with them. When she went to leave the knitting behind it was put firmly into her hands and she was taken into one of the local houses.
Inside there were a number of women sitting and knitting and occasionally chatting to one another. She was given a seat. Her knitting was passed around for inspection. Their knitting was offered to her for inspection. She was offered a cool drink and the late afternoon passed peacefully and comfortably among strangers. Nan refers to it even now as "the Libyan knitting party I went to". I can live with that sort of party.
Yesterday I 'went' to two virtual parties run by blogging friends. They consist of heading over to their blog, seeing who has left comments and then heading off to 'meet' these people. I can handle this sort of party. I can participate or not participate. I can 'meet' people by leaving a short comment or can depart without comment and nobody is any the wiser. I do not have to feel as if I am being trampled on. I do not need to shout to be heard. Nobody worries that I am not holding a glass or not eating food I do not care for. I do not even have to dress up. That is the sort of party I can live with.

Saturday 4 September 2010

"When are we going to get a government?"

the Whirlwind asked me yesterday afternoon. She was standing there looking cold, wet and generally miserable. As Friday afternoons are usually cause for celebration I was a little alarmed by this apparent interest in politics.
She shrugs off her raincoat and her soaking wet shoes, dries her hair on the towel I pass over and heads for the cupboard in which the mugs are kept. A hot drink is in order. I tell her to make herself some Milo (chocolate flavoured).
She nods and repeats the question about when are we going to get a government.
"Probably sometime next week."
"Oh. I thought if you had an election then you should know by now."
"Well yes, we should," I tell her.
"Well why don't we?"
"Because the three remaining independents have not yet made up their minds which side to back."
"But if they are independent then they should be independent. They should not be on one side or the other."
I explain why they will be. The Whirlwind is not impressed. We talk some more about this while she drinks her Milo.
"They should go and ask the people who elected them. It should be what they want. They are supposed to be working for them."
I could not agree more but politics does not work that way. Then I discover what is really bothering her.
"Well I just wish they would hurry up and stop arguing because my Dad has had to work and work all the time because of them. They are just being selfish."
I agree with that too.

Friday 3 September 2010

I have a book written in Japanese

and charts and diagrams. It is a knitting book. The Japanese do not write knitting patterns in the familiar format of "cast on a thousand stitches and knit forty centimetres" or "CO 1000 sts and knit 40cms". The Japanese do charts and diagrams.
Their charts and diagrams are standardised. It is all very orderly, orderly enough for someone who does not read Japanese (me) to follow if they want to make the effort.
I do not use knitting patterns for garments. I design my own. There is nothing clever about this. It is laziness. It is easier to do my own design. I can make it in such a way that it needs very little sewing together afterwards. My dark green pullover has two small seams at the underarm - put together with a crochet hook. I have an aversion to sewing needles and too much of the purl stitch.
I also have other books of stitch patterns. There are some in chart form. Others are written. The symbols on the charts differ from book to book. The instructions are sometimes abbreviated and the abbreviations will also vary. It is a bit like dialects. I have patterns in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Icelandic, Faroese, Latvian, Finnish, Russian and other languages. It is possible to guess at much of what is required if you understand the overall language of knitting.
The Japanese book however is different. Japanese symbols are standardised. The book is designed to be used by both Japanese and non-Japanese. It matters not in the least that the little text there is appears in Japanese. The numbers appear in familiar form. The charts are read from right to left and from bottom to top like other knitting charts. This all makes sense because the Japanese use numbers in the same form and knitting is worked in the same way as the charts are laid out.
Knitting is three dimensional. The charts are two dimensional. It does not matter. It still means something to the knitter with a little knowledge. It really does not matter.
I had the book out yesterday checking on something for someone. One of the visitors we had picked it up. "Oh, that's nice," she said and pulled out a notebook and pen. She quickly drew the little chart into her notebook.
When she finished I said something about how sensible the Japanese were to do their patterns in this way. Japanese? She had not even noticed the book was Japanese.
It seems knitting really is a universal language.

Thursday 2 September 2010

My day has just been unorganised

by other people.
I like to start each day with a general plan. I know it needs to be flexible but I like to have some idea of what might happen because my father has reached an age where routine is good and the unexpected is not so good. He keeps saying he could not live with my sister and her family. Their lifestyle is frequently chaotic. There are two boys at university and university students, particularly those doing certain courses, do not lead regular lifestyles.
My father has also reached an age where a little 'contemplation of the eyelids' is pleasant after the midday meal. He can live without the little nap but it is still pleasant to have. Other people do not always understand this. They like to call in early in the afternoon. It seems to them to be like a good time to call. They will be on their way somewhere else. We are bound to be at home, after all why would we be anywhere else?
So, two telephone calls before 8 am "just to check that you will be there"...well father is going to his weekly exercise class. I need to go to the bank and the library and get some essential shopping done. Once I am home I have work to finish, including a large report with a much too rapidly approaching deadline. But, one person is coming from more than 100km away and the other is taking a day off work in order to try and sort out a problem. Right. Grumbling to myself I reorganise my day.
Then I realise that I have the perfect excuse not to attend an Annual General Meeting which promises to be more than a little tense. It is so good to have been unorganised by other people!

Wednesday 1 September 2010

I have lost a sock

and I am feeling more than a little frustrated by this. How can I lose a sock between my bedroom and the laundry? It is not in the bedroom, no definitely not in the bedroom. It has to be in the laundry - or tangled in the clothes I have just washed. I looked but I cannot find it.
Why should I lose just one sock, why not two socks? Why should I lose any at all. I know it has to be there somewhere!
I am fond of that sock. It is half of a pair of handknitted socks. It was made for me by a friend. She knits wonderful socks. I can knit socks but not nearly as well as she knits them. She can turn out a couple of pairs in a week without any real effort. I am slow at knitting socks and find it rather difficult, although I will always have one pair on the go for my train journeys. They usually find their way to other people so the socks my friend makes for me are important.
Her socks are not complex, fancy affairs. They may have a simple pattern in them but, more often than not, she uses the multi-colour sock wool that allows her to watch television at the same time. English is my friend's second language and she seeks out all the television programmes in her mother tongue on our multi-cultural station. She left school at the age of twelve and, although she is literate, reading is an effort for her. Now she lives alone television is her companion, so are her knitting needles.
I have to find that sock. Without it I feel a little lost. I know it has to be inside the washing. I will go back shortly and look again. Commonsense tells me it has to have hidden itself down a sleeve or somewhere similar.
The sock is striped, pale brown and green with darker brown patterning. If you happen to see it will you please send it home!