Sunday 31 October 2010

It was rather like those pictures

of people stampeding into shops at sale time. I have never been to that sort of event and, after yesterday's experience, I am quite sure I do not wish to attend a sale at opening time. There were people waiting to enter the church hall two hours beforehand. This was despite the fact that it was cold and wet. The threatened thunder did not appear but I wonder whether it would have made any difference.
I could recognise some of those waiting - book vultures. I have this uncomfortable relationship with second hand books. I try to buy them only if they are out of print. This is difficult for me as I have a very limited income but I know most writers have a very limited income as well. Even if I am not published I feel I should support my fellow writers. I justified, if it can be justified, yesterday's sale of books by telling myself that writers would approve of a programme providing support to teenagers. After all, if these teenagers do not end up as reasonably balanced and stable individuals are they going to read and go on reading? Is it looking after the reading clientele? I hope so.
But, the book vultures are another story. They make a living out of authors but give nothing to authors in return. Second hand books are their livelihood. They descend on garage sales, church fetes, charity shops. fairs and elsewhere. They rapidly pick the cream of the crop and leave the reduced fat for everyone else. They will tell you that life is hard, that there are less books around than there used to be, that their costs are rising and that they have to compete with cheap imports of remainder books etc etc.
I cannot sympathise. I have no objection to the dealer I know who deals only with out of print books. It is her speciality. She is aware that, rightly, people will sometimes need or want something that nobody has reprinted or is ever likely to reprint. She makes a steady income from this. I had put aside several books I thought she might interested in. She took them and gave me more than I asked. We understand each other quite well.
The vultures were another matter. An argument broke out between two and, even as they were arguing they were continuing to rapidly pick through the books. I know one will sell the books he obtained for highly inflated prices. He somehow manages to sell in print paperbacks for almost the same prices as new copies - and convince people they have 'a bargain'. I asked him once how he could justify it when authors get paid so little. He told me, "That's their problem." It is?
Later in the day, after the dealers had gone, I had another little problem. It had come to the point where we were anxious to deplete the remaining stock by as much as possible. A couple turned up and spent almost an hour looking through what was there. Each potential purchase was closely examined and dicussed in a language with which I recognised but do not understand. The woman, presumably the wife, was looking uncomfortable but her partner continued his minute examination. Finally he turned to me and asked, "How much?"
I told him. It was half the sum we would have asked earlier in the day. He then told me, "No, discount. I give you..." The sum was so small I said, "No. I have already given you a discount."
He looked taken aback. I knew precisely what the problem was - a woman had dared to argue with him. In his culture women, especially strangers like myself, are expected to do as men say.
Even inside that culture I expect he is not a pleasant example of the way men treat women in that country.
He said something to his wife which was clearly an order for her to tell me to do as he asked. She looked down. He picked up another three books he had recently discarded. "How much?"
I told him. This time I did not offer him a discount. I did not feel inclined to do so. He flung the books down and snapped an order at his wife. She paid me what I had asked for the other books and I thanked her -in her own language. It is the only word I can say with any confidence. It was enough. They left quickly. He looked furious and strode straight out. His wife, if that is who she was, hesitated just long enough to whisper her thanks in return.
I hope he did not take it out on her but he is not in his own country now and I think there are some things he should learn to do our way. One of those is treat everyone with respect.

Saturday 30 October 2010

What other people read always

interests me. I find the "returned books to be shelved" trolleys in the library a useful indicator of this.
Of course I cannot be certain that the books have actually been read. I have no doubt that some of them have been taken home because they looked interesting. Once at home other things have gotten in the way or the book simply becomes not as interesting as it was first thought.
There is a great deal of crime fiction borrowed in our largely law-abiding community. Travel, cookery, craft, biography, autobiography are all popular. There are many other topics taken from the non-fiction shelves too.
I spent several hours late yesterday afternoon and early evening sorting books for a "garage sale" at my father's church. I had no idea there would be quite that many when I "volunteered" for the job. It was quite heavy work but it was interesting to see what people felt they could discard.
There are a good many volumes of crime fiction, romance (although not of the Mills & Boon variety), some literary novels and a few straightforward novels - all in paperback. There are many much older hard cover books, novels of an earlier age. If one of the local second hand dealers comes along he will probably take the series by one publisher. They are in excellent condition and they will, no doubt, end up as decor in someone's home. I doubt they have been read or that they will be read.
The non-fiction has proven even more illuminating. There are a great many autobiographies and biographies - but only one about a sports person. There is only one book on soccer and none at all on Aussie rules football. Cricket is represented by a short, light hearted book which the owner told me is "a second copy". There are a bundle of books on skiing, walking and running - all from the same person. There are a great many cookery books and "foodie" magazines. Some are obviously more used than others. The craft books are in good conditon but they have obviously been used too.
One person has hopefully donated an entire encyclopaedia. Perhaps it will go as decor somewhere but I rather doubt it.
There are gardening books, a book on wildflowers in Western Australia, a few religious books, a comic look at Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance and many more.
As I was sorting though the person helping me said, "Hey Cat, take a look at this. Now who could possibly want it?"
There is a fat maroon covered volume. I looked at it. As I was puzzling over it my helper brought out a second volume, a later edition of the same book. We looked at each other and shrugged in despair. Who is going to buy two volumes of the Merck Index?

Friday 29 October 2010

Armenian Nutmeg Cake

I do not do a lot of cake baking. We do not eat a lot of cake. When there are just two of us it has to be the sort of cake that keeps more than a day or so which, I suppose, explains the popularity of Christmas fruit cake.
There is however one recipe that I do occasionally succumb to making. It is the oddly named "Armenian Nutmeg Cake". Whether it really comes from Armenia I do not know. I am not even sure where the original recipe came from but the ingredients and instructions are "in the yellow folder" along with the instructions for such things as the Christmas cake, marmalade, mushroom sauce and a couple of other family favourites.
This cake has a biscuit like bottom and a more cake like top. It is not difficult to make. (The Whirlwind could do it virtually unsupervised at age 9.) It does not require icing.
As I somehow needed to send it to Becky (an enthusiastic and competent baker of cakes) over at Fidra Books and have mentioned it elsewhere, here is the recipe for those of you who feel inclined to create cake.

Armenian Nutmeg Cake
1 cup self raising flour
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
125gms butter
1 ½ cups brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
¾ cup of milk
1 egg lightly beaten
½ cup chopped walnuts

Grease 20cm x 30cm tin
Sift flours and nutmeg into large bowl, rub in butter, mix in sugar.
Press 1 ½ cups of this mixture across the bottom of the prepared tin
Stir combined soda and milk into remaining ingredients with egg and nuts. Mix well.
Pour into the tin.
Bake 180’C /375F for about 35mins
Stand for about 5 mins before turning out onto wire rack to cool. (Important or it will end up as a broken mess!)

It comes out with a sort of almost biscuit like base and cake top. No icing needed. Enjoy.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

It will be a late night in the shed

Last night was a late night in the shed. Tonight will be too. My father is 'getting things ready'. All this 'getting things ready' is for the so-called "garage-sale" at the church he attends.
He was given the timber by someone else who attends and felt that it should be returned - in a slightly different form.

He has spent some weeks making a range of "late Victorian and early Edwardian" toys. These are one of his passions. Until he ceased driving my father would head off at quite regular intervals to give a talk about these toys. He had some original examples. He had also made many more so that people could have a "hands on" experience of playing with them. Occasionally he has made such things as presents. One small child was fascinated but puzzled by a small moving toy he was given because there was no battery. There are 'tumbling men', 'Jacob's ladders', and ducks that walk down an incline
There are also some jigsaw puzzles (photograph of one of the oldest churches in Adelaide), some wooden manipulative puzzles and some rather nifty Nativity scenes that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle when not being used.
It has been a challenge for my father. He last did something as big as this about fourteen years ago for a much larger and more commercial event - although his proceeds went to charity. Since then he has continued to make things. He made buttons and boxes earlier this year. They were sold at a knitting event and, as always, the proceeds went to charity.
My father was 73 back then. Now he is nearly 88. It is a long time in between. I am thankful he can still do things. I know he is a lot slower. Once he would have been in the shed until 10pm. Now he will come in about 8pm. But, he is enjoying himself - and someone else will also benefit.

Our local indie bookshop is about to

change hands. For an awful, heart-stopping moment yesterday I thought the owner was going to tell me that the shop was closing. It is always a possibility in this uncertain economic climate. I am well aware that one of the things that keeps this one going is the relationship the owner has built up with schools over the years but even that is changing.
The owner has held launches for local authors published by small local presses and even, once or twice, self-published authors she has deemed worthy of attention. I have mentioned elsewhere the poetry group, the book discussion group, the embroidery group and the knitting group. There is also the story-telling for the small children. It is all very different from deciding to open a shop, stock it with some books and try to sell them. Bookselling does not work like that any more - if it ever did.
Things will change. The manager of the shop is leaving, not because she must but because she has decided she needs a change of direction - her decision was the final nudge the owner was waiting for before she sought to sell it. I will miss her too - and our discussions over the "Thought for the Day". I have provided many of those over the years, not always intentionally.
We do not always agree.
Yesterday the knitting group finally saw the finished the rug that will be raffled off for the Fred Hollows Foundation. It is one part of the community service that the bookshop does. The cost to the bookshop is actually nothing more than a bit of space once a month. We borrow the chairs from the centre management, clear a space and knit. People come in to see what we are doing.
Sometimes they stay and buy a book.
Does the new owner want all this to continue? I put this question to the current owner as she said "things will change". Oh yes, she told me, some things will not change. It sounds good to me.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Do we actually need days (or nights)

like Halloween?
We used to have Bonfire Night, November 5th. My father would use it as an occasion to burn some rubbish. My mother would somehow find enough money to spare to put an extra potato each into the ashes and we would eat these half cooked on one side and cinder black on the other. My paternal grandfather would come with a small quantity of the least noisy fireworks. I can remember the first time I was actually permitted to hold a "sparkler" on my own. It was a momentous occasion - and no I did not set fire to myself or anything else.
Bonfire Night was abandoned years ago. Fireworks are only available under very strict rules and supervision in South Australia. It is designed to prevent accidents. Now we have other sorts of accidents instead.
We also have other sorts of nights and days. Many of them seem to come from the United States. We have "Mother's Day" and "Father's Day" and "Valentine's Day". Last year, for the first time, I saw mention of "Thanksgiving".
For some time we have also been treated to Halloween. About twelve years ago some of the previous neighbour's children knocked on our door to "trick or treat". They did not do it the following year. It is likely that they got short shrift or blank looks in most places they tried. Twelve years on however commercial interests are making a more determined push to turn Halloween into an event.
The Whirlwind was offered the opportunity to go 'trick or treating' this Sunday with the other children in her street - under adult supervision. She declined. I heard all about the invitation not long after it was issued. She wriggled with embarrassment even as she told me about it. You do not, in her opinion, go knocking on people's doors asking for anything for yourself - except for help if you need it. I have to agree.
Halloween, as it is 'celebrated' here, is a purely commercial event. The same can be said of Mother's Day and Father's Day. There used to be "Mothering Sunday" - a non-commercial church based event. By no means everyone goes to church so the argument is that Mother's Day is needed and that we also need Father's Day for gender equality. Mother's Day and Father's Day are now designed for commercial interests to tell us we should be giving parents expensive presents. Valentine's Day requires bunches of roses and boxes of chocolates - at least according to the commercials. I do not think Thanksgiving will get too far in Australia but we do have Australia Day, Anzac Day, Easter, the Queen's Birthday, Labour Day and Melbourne Cup Day, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day to name a few. All of them, according to commercial interests, are for the express opportunity of throwing a party or buying a present for someone.
I like giving presents to people. I admit I watch anxiously as people unwrap things - have I chosen the right thing? Most of the time my immediate clan give books, occasionally something for the garden, or something we have made. We do not do big, flashy or expensive. We do not fuss. We do not need commercial interests to tell us what we want to celebrate.
Now, how do we handle Halloween?

Monday 25 October 2010

We have been sorting books

for the upcoming 'garage sale' at my father's church. Yes we plan to donate some books to the book stall that I have, somehow, been inveigled into caring for.
I have no idea what else will turn up, if anything at all. Donations go to the church hall on Friday afternoon and evening ready for Saturday. More than that I do not know. I have not been told. No doubt the organiser will tell me I have a trestle table or some such in due course. I draw the line at attending the planning meetings.
But there are books we need to part with.
"Do we", I asked him, "need all those cookery books?"
" What cookery books?"
"Those. They belonged to Mum. I never use them."
I point to a shelf full. My father never uses them. He does not cook. I do that.
"I suppose we could get rid of those," he says.
I hastily transfer them to the pile of things that someone is coming to collect. As we do not own a car it is up to others to transfer things to the hall.
"And what's that lot?" he askd of another pile.
"Embroidery, sewing, patchwork - Mum's. I don't use them. There are people up there who might." (The church is at the top of the hill. We live at the bottom.)
He shrugs. Those things are of no interest to him.
"And we have some duplicate copies of other things," I tell my father.
"We do? Yes I suppose we might have."
I put out two copies of Jane Eyre and some paperbacks. There also some Readers' Digest books about household hints, emergency situtations that need to go. My mother collected those too and they have not been opened for years.
None of this seems to make much difference to the state of our shelves. I am not prepared to part with all the children's novels I have carefully collected over the years. My dictionaries are definitely staying where they are, so are my books on language and linguistics. Those books of quotations get used all the time - remember that card I made last week? Right. Leave them there. That book on islands? No, I need that. The one on French chateaus - I used that when I was researching the book. I might need it again. The folders are knitting stuff - old stuff. It's valuable. No, do not even consider asking me to part with any of those knitting books - have you any idea of what they sell for on E-bay? Right.
There are also his joke books - the books from which he used to get magician's 'patter' - and his gardening, theology, psychology, a Latin dictionary, woodwork and various biographies and autobiographies to be considered. No, he wants to keep all those -and I use the dictionary occasionally.
Tucked away behind it all is a paperback. It is a reproduction of an old Sears-Roebuck catalogue.
My sister found it in a charity shop years ago. It cost her ten cents Australian. She thought Dad might be interested in the Victoriana in it. He was. He still is. He goes off to drink the tea I have made for him. In the kitchen I can hear him chuckling over the elaborate Victorian language and claims.
I hastily remove three duplicate copies of joke books and put them on the pile of books to go to the sale. Perhaps someone else will get a good laugh out of those too.

Sunday 24 October 2010

This real life horror story was

'tweeted' by author, Gillian Philip. (You will find Gillian under her own name and on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure - I recommend her writing.)

The story here - - is a different matter. There are probably more stories like this available on the internet if you want to look for them. I do not. I hear enough about them as part of my day job...from aid workers who somehow have to find the mental strength and courage to continue trying to help the people these atrocities happen to - because this was not a one-off incident by any means. This sort of 'judicial surgery' frequently results in death and only a tiny fraction of cases are reported.

The notion that this sort of 'punishment' is somehow 'condoned' under Sharia law is also outrageous. It is an 'interpretation' by criminals, thugs, the ultra extreme extremists. It is done in the name of power, not religion. It is also one more reason why Islamic fundamentalism has to be condemned and fought.

I am totally opposed to the death penalty, to torture, to flogging, to stoning and any other form of cruel or unusual punishment. Their 'legality' in some parts of the world does not interest me. If you impose those punishments on other people you degrade yourself and the society in which you live.

I do not know what sort of God these scum think they believe in. I do not see how they can believe in a God at all.

Sorry, I just had to have a little rant. I will get back to something more pleasant tomorrow.

Saturday 23 October 2010

One of the library staff

mentioned the dreaded words "cut backs" to me yesterday. This is getting more and more alarming.
I am certain that the government simply does not understand that librarians are also social workers, mental health workers, child minders, carers of the elderly, the local global positioning system, a parcel delivery service, detectives (of information) and researchers along with all the usual library jobs.
One of them mentioned that the knitting group might have to go. Now the knitting group costs almost nothing to run. It uses a small amount of electricity because the room has no external windows. It meets just once a month - like the bookshop group. Apparently the problem is that the room is needed for another group and, that group being larger, should apparently take preference.
I am not so sure about that. The knitting group was there first. I admit that there are usually only seven or eight people present - but that is quite enough as I am the one who does most of the teaching. Sometimes people sit and knit. Sometimes they knit and talk. Sometimes they want to know things. Sometimes the library shelves get raided.
There are several regular attendees who need the group. They are shy. They lack self-confidence. They are beginner knitters. One woman who comes gets a few precious hours of relaxation away from a difficult and demanding husband who has Alzheimer's. Another has a very high stress weekday job. She also lives alone since the death of her husband. The group has been her lifeline. There is a girl who always sits almost silently. As we left last time she said softly, "I do like coming here. Everyone is so friendly." We do try to include her in the conversation and she might really join in one day.
There is the man who does not belong and cannot even knit who usually looks in to find out what we are knitting. I have offered to teach him. He thinks he will stick to woodwork. Fair enough.
There are small children who wander in to watch. If we speak to them they mostly scuttle off again but, occasionally, questions are asked and the bolder ones might try a stitch or two. One day they may be knitters.
Knitting is a mental health activity as much as it is a physical activity. It can be relaxing, soothing, creative and constructive. (I will ignore the fact that it can also be frustrating and require the occasional deconstruction of rows.)
Altogether it is another service to the community. I am quite certain that the state's Premier and Treasurer would look on it as nothing more than a few people 'enjoying themselves' once a month. The staff member who mentioned the possible closure of the group listened to my 'this is a mental health issue' comment. She is going to take it back to the person who will make the decision.
I think I know what that decision will be - and it saddens me.

Friday 22 October 2010

I should have started my

'examination summaries' by now - except that I am not doing any examinations this year. I have not done any for years. Nevertheless there comes a point in October when I feel vaguely guilty that I have not started to write those summaries of the year's work, the case names, the important issues, the relevant rules etc etc. As a law student I was, like every other law student, allowed to take my 'examination summary' into the room with me. You could refer to the summary during the examination if you wished to do so. I never did. I never had time.
I do not know whether other students referred to theirs. I never asked.

There were very few essays to write in law. You were given problems. You solved them. I did not enjoy most of the course. It bored me. I needed the degree (and I am glad I did it) but law irritated me. I enjoyed Jurisprudence - examination for that was by long essay. I wrote about "Language planning, multiculturalism and bureaucratic law making". I do not know where the essay is now. Someone wanted it the other day. I think I gave it to a judge of my acquaintance and it has not been returned. It would well out of date. Language planning was another world for the lecturer who had to read what I had written - and yet language is central to law.

Lawyers use and abuse language. Many of them also have little idea how to use it outside the law. I discovered great gaps in my knowledge but equally great gaps in their knowledge. In my first year I had no idea how to write an examination summary. I did not know what an examination summary was. There was a Saturday morning workshop for the first year students where later year students were supposed to provide examples and staff were supposed to explain. It really did not help a lot. The nice man from the "Study Skills Centre" said all the usual things - the things my father had been telling me since I began school - but he did not understand examination summaries either.

Over the summer at the end of my first year, in between the tutoring that would feed me the following year, I wrote a guide for new students. It was intended for the Asian law students in my English tutorial group. I passed it over to my first year tutor and asked her to check it for any blunders. She passed it on and, each year, it was copied for all students. It is still a Study Skills Centre resource - and a Law School resource as well.

But, there is something I did not put in the guide. I never mentioned that there is a point at which such things must be well and truly underway - I know I need to have done most of the work by the time the fluff is flying from the plane trees. The fluff is definitely flying at full speed this morning - and I have not even started.

Thursday 21 October 2010

There is a photograph of a 94yr old

Mr Joseph Doyle on the front page of our state newspaper this morning. Mr Doyle is a student at Marden Senior Secondary School. Mr Doyle is not just sitting in class and listening. He is preparing to do the examination in history. Good on you Mr Doyle. If I ever reach the age of 94 I hope my brain is as agile as yours obviously is and that I too can do something like that. It is not likely but it is something to aim for - perhaps the publication of a book on my 90th birthday would do?
My father will be 88 next birthday and his mind is, thankfully, still very agile. He reads widely. I know a number of other elderly people who are the same. I know a woman who is 101. She
'phoned me yesterday to say that she approved of my latest letter to the editor. About ten years ago she went to a computer class for 'seniors' and has her own computer, linked to the internet, in her room in the nursing home in which she lives.
There are also, it is reported, 133 people over the age of 71 doing examination subjects at school this year. This has to be a good thing. For example - Mr Doyle is studying the history he has also lived and he apparently has the capacity to discuss this with his fellow, but much younger, students. It will give them a much better understanding of history. In other places simply having an older student in class can be a helpful influence. They are there because they want to be there, often because they had no opportunity to be there earlier.
The government wants to cut the re-entry programme. It says it is a waste of money. Yes, it could be argued that Mr Doyle is never going to 'use' his history studies for direct taxpayer benefit but he is assisting those who will enter the workforce. The same can be said of other elderly students. Why should they be denied the opportunity to learn? Why should they be denied the opportunity to set an example?
It is almost, but not quite, enough to make me want to go back to school - just to show 'them' I can do it. The problem is I really do not want to do any more exams and, why waste all that effort if I don't do the exam? I am with Mr Doyle on that one too.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

As usual our telephone

rang a number of times yesterday. It was not all queries or requests for help and it was not all good news. One call was to say that an elderly friend of ours had been taken to hospital after a stroke.
In one way such news is never a surprise. When someone is 87 there is always the possibility of a medical incident. People fall and break a hip. They need eye surgery. Some long standing medical condition that has not been too much trouble up until then will flare up.
This friend has been very active. Up until twelve months ago she was the one "cooking meals for old people" and looking after several refugee families. Her husband is 91 and it has been much the same story for him - despite chronic leukaemia and diabetes.
They were born on what we call "the West Coast" - which is, confusingly, really the southern coast but both inland and in the west of the state. It is dry over there. The farming, which is what they did, is almost subsistence farming. When they farmed they did not have the modern conveniences apart from a party line telephone. Eventually he sold the farm and they moved closer to the city and ran a church owned 'colony' for men with alcohol problems south of Adelaide. On retirement he drove trucks for the church charity. She cooked meals, dispensed practical advice and assistance, cared for family, neighbours and strangers. Occasionally they would take time out and go away in their small caravan. The big caravan parks were not for them. They would camp 'in the bush' or at the side of the road. Even last year they drove the hundreds of kilometres to their old West Coast community for a wedding.
She is apparently recovering but we all know things will not be the same again. Life may not cease but it will slow down. Their eldest daughter has come from interstate. I do not doubt there will now be talk about what happens next. Is it time to let someone else start caring more about them?

Tuesday 19 October 2010

If you suddenly put more than

four hundred people into a small community you are going to have problems - but the government is planning to just that. No, this is not an emergency. What is more the four hundred people they plan to put in place will not integrate. Most do not even speak English. No, this is not an emergency. It is an attempt to deal with a problem largely of their own making. They want to house 'low risk' asylum seekers 'in the community'. They should not do it.

I sympathise with refugees. There can be few things worse than to spend your life in squalid conditions in a refugee camp fearing for your life inside the camp as well as out of it. To try and bring children up in that setting must be terrifying. Even in a well run camp (and they are by no means well run) there is never enough food or water. Sanitation is vile. Disease is rife. There are always security issues. You can trust nobody. I understand why people want to bypass camps and come straight to the country of their choice. I also understand why they do not want to live in detention centres once they get here.

There have been more than one hundred SIEVs this year - Suspected Illegal Entry Vessels or boats carrying people who want to enter Australia. For reasons of health, safety and security we need to reduce the number of SIEVs. It is unlikely that we will halt them completely. Someone is always going to be stupid enough or desperate enough or criminal enough to risk this means of entry. There will always be someone prepared to profit from this trade - and it is a trade. These people are illegal migration agents.

Wanting to migrate and seeking asylum are two different things. We need to provide a safe haven for people who are genuinely in fear of their lives. That is the right and proper thing to do. There is however a difference between fear of direct persecution and fleeing the living circumstances of your country. Asylum claims are supposed to cover the former, not the latter. We may well need to give permanant residency to people in the former category. We should not necessarily be giving permanant residency to people in the latter category. Yes it would be nice to welcome them all to Australia but it may not be the right thing to do. Not everyone wants to integrate. They simply want to live somewhere different. There is a difference and it can make a huge difference to the social fabric of a country. It also encourages people to undertake dangerous journeys in SIEVs and, worse, others to make money out of providing those SIEVs.

Current government policy is encouraging people to risk their lives in order to migrate but not integrate. That is simply wrong. It has to be discouraged. That alone is reason enough to resist the temptation to place people in large groups in the community. It will not offer a safe haven to those who need it most.

Monday 18 October 2010

Our former Foreign Minister

in the previous Coalition Government now has a weekly column in our state newspaper. I rather like his style. He often talks a lot of surprisingly even handed common sense. This morning he was discussing the fact that the fair city of Adelaide is not exactly a bustling metropolis where things happen.
It is true. Not a lot happens in Adelaide in the progressive sense. We have a V8 car race we could do without. In my not so humble opinion driving cars at great speeds around city streets is not a sport. It is dangerous. It wastes precious fossil fuel. It encourages others to think they can speed safely. It encourages hooning. Despite the apparent crowds very few people are really involved and it disrupts the lives of many other people who live in the surrounding area. Of course it is a photo opportunity for the Premier et al. I suppose that is important - if you are a politicians.
There is also a bit of sport - if you happen to be interested. Again the real numbers involved are minimal as a percentage of the population.
Occasionally an internationally rated rock/pop/something else group will descend - if they can sell enough tickets.
Then there is the Festival of Arts. This, at present, occurs every two years. There is talk of making it an annual event. Other states have their festivals of the arts as annual events. Adelaide has only ever been biennial. There has been a good reason for this. We have been too small to support anything more. I suspect we still are. The idea behind the original festival was a good one. It would do two things, bring people and cultural items of interest to people in Adelaide over a two week period and allow those people to mix.
The Festival still brings cultural items to Adelaide, or what are perceived to be cultural items. Certainly some of them have been world class. Others have been so "artistic" that only those who negotiated their attendance appear to have understood their relevance - or so people tell me. I do not have the financial resources to justify paying $100 or more for a ticket for an hour of entertainment late in the evening. Some people must but I do not know of anyone who actually attends such events.
That however is not the problem and Alexander Downer recognises it. He would, I think, be the first to say that those who come need more opportunities to mix with local people. The Festival organisers, having gambled on at least breaking even, are more concerned with getting the maximum number of performers for the maximum profit. It is the same for authors. They are naturally required to attend a certain number of sessions at the tents erected at the Parade Ground. (No Nicola - if you are reading this - we do not have anything as romantic as a yurt.)
They are, if the appropriate sort of author, taken off on a round of school visits or to lecture at one of the universities. If you are a 'member of the public' you might be lucky to be able to ask a question or exchange a few words when you line up to get the author to sign the book you have bought in the other tent. Right.
It used to be different. It was once not a commercial affair. I met and mixed with many authors in the early days of Writers' Weeks. I still have contact with some. They do not like the commercialisation of the event. We all accept it is an economic necessity of sorts. If the event is to survive at all it has to happen but authors regret, perhaps even resent, the lack of real contact with their readers. Answering a question is one thing. Sitting under a tree and talking about something else is another.
It is the same for the artists and musicians. We need a permanant arts and crafts school which anyone can attend, not something that other people come in and do for us for a fortnight once every two years. We need to get rid of the cars in Victoria Square and turn it into a cultural hub.
Whether you can teach people to write, create artworks or music is irrelevant. It is important that they have the opportunity to mix with those who do and perhaps be encouraged to try.
But, reading Alexander Downer this morning, I could not help thinking that he is right. Adelaide needs to change. It is not likely it will.

Sunday 17 October 2010

When my paternal grandmother taught me

to knit she taught me to do so without using patterns. Patterns were not part of her life. She kept notes about the number of stitches she used for certain items but little else. I remember my grandfather's very fine black socks began with the rather cryptic "Ben's black 84". Presumably that meant "Ben's black socks - cast on 84 sts". His grey socks began with 72 sts because the wool was a little thicker.
She could also make him a cardigan with no pattern at all and the grandchildren had a succession of sensible, sturdy no-nonsense garments for every day wear. Our Sunday wear was a little more exotic. My brother might be given a knit-purl pattern or a simple cable. My sisters and I would get the angora boleros that all little girls had (for them) or a lace panel in wool for me. (Angora and I did not mix well. It was much too warm for me.) Even then my grandmother did not use a pattern. She would occasionally look at a pattern and she was able to tell other people how to make particular patterns. She could even read the instructions and translate them into language other people understood but patterns were not for her. She wanted to make a garment that fitted an adult or could grow with a child.
My maternal grandmother on the other hand was a rigid pattern follower. Patterns were there to tell you what to do. They saved you the trouble of thinking about the issue yourself. You knew exactly where you were with a pattern. She would make herself and my mother lacy garments. We children had very little from her. She was not terribly interested in knitting for children. If you were going to put the effort in then it had to last longer than a couple of years for a growing child.
Their approaches reflected their approach to life. Having finished a task yesterday I was waiting for something to finish cooking before I served a meal for my father and myself. I took out a pile of books belonging to my mother and my maternal grandmother.
"What are those you have there?" my father asked when he came in.
"Knitting books," I told him.
"You don't use knitting books."
I knew exactly what he meant. I have technical knitting books. I have stitch dictionaries. I have some books for inspiration but I do not use patterns. Life is too short for that. I want to try things which are different, not do what someone else has already done.
"What are you going to do with them?" my father asked after he had looked at two.
"They can go to the book stall at the church fete. They probably won't sell but some might. If they don't then I suppose the rest will go to the charity shop. Someone will use them."
He nodded and then said,
"Well when you have finished that can you have a look at this? I thought I might try and make some for the fete but I think the design could be improved."

Saturday 16 October 2010

The first 'word' I learned in sign language

was 'thankyou'. I do not know a great deal of sign language and, not having had to use it much in recent years, I tend to forget what little I do know. That said I do remember the important things, "Please", "thankyou", my name sign (which naturally includes 'cat') and a few other things.
It is the 'please' and 'thankyou' I consider to be really important. They are words I would try to learn in any language - and I would make sure I used them.
Yesterday there was an article in our state newspaper about these words and those other words, "excuse me" and "may I". They are the good manners words and it seems they are not being taught as they should be, or as thoughtful human relations demand. There was the suggestion that parents feel they do not have the time to teach these things and that they are increasingly looking to day-care, pre-school and school to teach these things and related social behaviours. Some children are apparently being sent to specialist teachers of 'etiquette'.
I said nothing to my father but waited for him to reach the article. He was drinking his mid-morning cup of tea when he reached that point in the paper. He then exploded. As a former school principal he tends to have strong views on children, manners - and parental responsibilities. It is not, he contended, the role of a teacher to teach good manners. Good manners should be taught by parents and reinforced by teachers.
We discussed this over lunch and I thought of the schools I had worked in, most of them were schools for children with special needs. The first one was where I learned my limited sign language. It was a residential nursery school for children with profound hearing loss. They were very young but the residence was their home during term time and the housemothers were all very conscious of the need for good manners. Those children were orderly, polite and watched out for one another. I needed to learn that "thankyou" sign fast or they would have looked disapprovingly at me.
Every other school for children with special needs placed special emphasis on good manners. It is essential if you need other people to help you at times. Those schools did not specificially teach good manners but they reinforced what they expected the parents or houseparents to teach. It worked. Parents knew what their responsibilities were and, to the best of my knowledge, never questioned that they were part of the teaching process. It was all part of the cooperative approach.
My nephews are, thankfully, known as extremely well mannered. My sister and her husband, both working, expect it and they worked on it when the boys were small. The Whirlwind is also extremely well mannered. Her father is a widower. He has a very heavy workload but he has found the time to ensure that his child has been taught to be considerate and caring of others. I know other polite children whose parents both work. "The manners thing is hard work but worth it" one of them once told me. Yes, of course it is worth it. It is less trouble in the end. These children know the limits.
I think that might be what bothered my father and me the most. It is parents who need to teach manners initially. They have to be the ones to show children the limits of social behaviour. It is not something that can be taught solely in a communal setting. "Please" and "thankyou" are essentially individual acts of behaviour even when there is a group request or acknowledgement of thanks.
My father thanks me frequently, many times a day. I try to do the same in return. It is not meaningless. I do appreciate it when he empties the food scraps into the compost bin or holds the door back so I can get the laundry trolley out easily. He appreciates the meals I cook and the fact that I do the ironing without the scorch marks he would be likely to leave. It is part of living together.
Will the children who are apparently growing up without basic social behaviours be able to live together in the same way?

Friday 15 October 2010

I was reading the dispatched column over

breakfast this morning. It is something I glance at each day because my father has reached the age where he is more likely to know the names in the dispatched rather than the hatched or matched columns.
One of the things our state newspaper does get right is to put all the names in one place and in alphabetical order. It saves the reader having to read down columns and past or around names which have multiple entries or exceedingly large ones.
Occasionally there is a little information in the brief column, a surname will appear with "Dr" or "Rev" or "Sr" or "Br" or some other appellation. This morning's column contained two of those. I also recognised the name of the former Police Commissioner and that of a teacher who had once been in the news for the wrong reasons.
If I wanted to go further I could perhaps guess at the age of the person by their given name. A "Vera" or "Albert" is likely to be older than a "Verity" or "Andrew" because the popularity of some names do vary over the years.
At the end I found a name I knew well. It is an unusual name. I was surprised as he had seemed fit and healthy when I last saw him over the weekend, indeed he had been striding it out with their small dog struggling to keep up. His wife, who normally walks the dog, was not able to do it that morning.
I looked down to the end of the notices. Yes, there it is but it is not him. It is someone with an identical name, a very much older person. He will be someone of whom people will say, "He lived a long life" even as they mourn his passing. The two men may even be related. I do not know.
I do wonder however what the man I know will think if he reads his name in the dispatched column this morning.

Thursday 14 October 2010

I have to return to the issue of

water this morning - and say something about the Murray Darling Basin Authority plans. Now, the idea is that these will save the rivers and restore them to health. We are being told that they will and that they are a 'good thing', perhaps the 'only thing'. Being a born cynic I doubt this.
I do think that the socio-economic impact will be far, far greater than the MDBA believes. The idea that 'only 8000' jobs will be lost is nonsense and I think that the MDBA knows that. The state and federal governments must know it too.
If it was a matter of 8000 jobs then it is possible that these could be reabsorbed elsewhere. The reality is that it will be many more jobs than that and that not everyone affected will be able to find employment even if they are prepared to move.
That is just part of the problem. The biggest issue of all is perhaps one of national security. We grow food along the length of the rivers. If we stop doing that we need to import it. If we import food, particularly from places like China, Indonesia and other points north and north east of us, we become dependent on them. They can start telling us what to do, who to support on the world stage and how to support them. They will say, "We feed you. Do as we want or you starve." We will pay the price they choose to demand or provide the commodities they wish to have.
It is a problem for any country which imports large quantities of food but it will be a particular problem for Australia because of our geographical location and the likely sources of our food. We do not have the buying power of a large population like the United States or the backing of an organisation like the European Union.
We have a relatively small population. We should be able to feed ourselves without importing anything. We will import things for the purposes of exchange of trade - and because Australians have grown to believe they should be able to eat anything they choose all year round whether those things are in season or out of season. Importing some food is not the problem, importing a lot more food could be. It is no good saying, "But China is a big trading partner." That could always change. It is better to have the potential to be as independent as possible.
We may not eat quite as well but we would eat well enough, better than they do in many places.

At the same time as they are planning to cut back water use for irrigators our state government is doing two things that seem foolish in the extreme. First, they are lifting many of the water restrictions that have applied and that people were learning to live with. It is not possible to calculate how much water these restrictions really saved but they did make some people more water conscious and that can only be a good thing.
Second, they are planning to open up more prime agricultural land for the purposes or urban housing. They are still going to offer people the opportunity to build their own castles on individual blocks. Australians are used to this. Home ownership for many means their own four bedroom home on a quarter acre block. It is not that they need four bedrooms or that they want to look after a quarter acre block. It is what they have been told is desirable. It is not true of everyone of course - and many people know it is not going to be a reality. The government however is still encouraging that by developing housing estates in that way - and then taxing us heavily in an ever more desperate effort to provide the necessary infrastructure and services.
It is, after all "what people want".
Now I may be quite wrong about all this. Perhaps it is what people not only want but have a right to want. On the other hand I am wondering whether our need for national security might not be greater. If we are dependent on external sources for food and those external sources are controlling us in perhaps subtle ways then I am not sure the four bedroom house on the quarter acre block will do any of us much good.
I think that one of the first steps with respect to the MDBA should be to reduce water usage in urban areas and return it to the food bowl. That will mean smaller houses on smaller parcels of land. Am I wrong?

Wednesday 13 October 2010


One by one
you will leave.
You will step forward
in pre-decided order
and enter the cage
which is your future.

You will leave your
past and the
never ending present.
You will head from
a silence of darkness
into the dim dawn.

As each one leaves
there will be another silence
and each silence
will be different from the last.
Then there will be none
and the greatest silence of all.

I do not care for

heights. They make me feel weak, not just at the knees but in every joint. I fizz a little like lemonade beginning to lose its carbonated bubbles. It is not a pleasant experience. I even felt a little like this looking at a picture of the Millau Viaduct sent by a friend in the UK. He wants to know if I would like to drive over the slender and delicate looking piece of engineering which is the bridge. Er, no. I will close my eyes. Tell me when we get to the other side! I wonder if it sways at all in the wind?
My father and I have also been watching some television programmes which were filmed entirely from the air. Modern technology kept the cameras steady beneath the helicopters. We have flown across Austria and Germany and part of Greece so far. I have had occasional fizzy twinges looking at mountainsides from unexpected angles, looking down onto the Rhine, a castle or a cathedral. Going to see all of it in real life is unlikely so I will make the most of it this way.
Occasionally my father will say, "Now how on earth did they build that?"
Last night was the first of two parts on Greece. Greece is, of course, considered to be ancient. We expected to see the remains of temples and ampitheatres. We know there are many islands. Exploring some is another unlikely dream. I wonder how far I would get with my six or so words of 'polite' Greek? Not far.
What made me feel fizzy however was something else. It was the walls. There were so many walls set on the very edge of cliffs, high above the sea. The walls surrounded fortresses, temples, a mosque and blue domed churches. There were walls around a monastery built on a lump of rock.
From the air the walls still seem thick and strong. Their purpose is clear. They are there to protect what is inside the walls. I wonder who built them and what they thought.
I also wonder - did they always build the buildings and then the walls - or did they sometimes build the walls and then the buildings?

Tuesday 12 October 2010

"La Stupenda" has exited

stage left. Dame Joan Sutherland was one of the great voices of the operatic world of the last century. At 83 she was perhaps not particularly old but she had been ill and, without opera, I wonder what her life was like.

I met her once, very briefly. It was not at the opera. I do not particularly care for opera although I would never have said it to her. We both happened to be in the same area of the university I was attending at the time. My exchange with her would not even have occurred except that she happened to know my companion. They had both been students together in Sydney. They were both now expatriates.

Dame Joan appeared very pleased to see an old friend and, on learning why we were there, also seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing. On learning of my involvement she asked me questions about "why" and "how" I had become involved. They were not casual questions either but followed up with questions that suggestions she had listened to the answers and wanted to know more. It was the sort of brief conversation I have had a number of times with people who live apparently full, busy and satisfactory VIP sort of lives. They really do not want to talk about themselves at that point and there is a luxury in asking questions rather than having to answer them.

When she had been whisked away my companion said, "She must lead a hell of a life really." I had to agree.

There would have been long hours, physically exhausting rehearsals and even more exhausting performances. There would have been strange theatres, dreadful accommodation when she first began, strange hotel rooms, uncomfortable costumes, roles she did not particularly like or want but felt she had to perform. There would have been the requirement to go on stage and perform her very best no matter how she was feeling. There would have been the adrenalin highs yes but the lows would have much more numerous. There would have been the hours and hours of working alone or with just one other person.

All the standing ovations would not have made up for that. You can be very alone in a crowd of admirers.

Monday 11 October 2010

"How much water did you waste this morning?"

I was asked this question by a completely strange man walking a rather unfriendly looking dog along our street a few minutes ago. It was not quite what I expected when I went out to put a container in the recycle bin at the side of the house.
We are water conscious, perhaps more water conscious than many people in the suburbs. We have lived in places where water was a rare and precious commodity. There are now six rain water tanks on our property. One is quite small, four are medium to large size and one is very large. They are not beautiful, although we have them partly hidden. They are not intended to be beautiful. They are there to serve us and the garden. They also provide water for the birds and animals that frequent our property in summer. It is the least we can do for them. Who knows whether the family of koalas may return looking for water if their gum leaves get too dry?

My father still gardens. He does it slowly and mostly placidly. He still reads gardening literature and experiments with new methods of growing cucumbers, tomatoes, broad beans, onions, carrots and spinach. This year he wants to try growing peas by a different method.
A friend now comes in for two hours once a fortnight to do the really heavy work. He will shortly put up the arrangement which will provide us with our 'green air conditioning' for the summer. This is a series of poles leaning against part of one side of the house. The vines grow up these poles and provide some protection against the worst of the summer heat. The vines do not get watered but survive on their own. Their roots must be far underground by now.
I wash and cook and clean using small water efficient ways that I have managed to learn over the years. We take short showers.
We probably still waste water but we endeavour to keep our water usage to a minimum. It requires some thought and organisation.
I suspect that most urban dwellers could and should use far less water than they do. For most people, despite all the requests and publicity, it is just there. We turn the tap on. Water flows out. The state government has even lifted some water restrictions this year, possibly because they have discovered that trying to restrict water usage has had little effect on actual consumption. Despite that few people we know try to grow any of their own vegetables. We do that with water from the tanks.
The man with the dog did not wait for an answer. He kept walking. I wonder how much water he wasted this morning?

Sunday 10 October 2010

Please go and read this first

and now let me say that the situation is no different here in Australia. In some ways it may even be a little worse because we also have to contend with import restrictions, issues of distance, a scattered and often sparse population, central buying policies and a culture which says that a disproportionate sum of money should be spent on largely spectator sports.
The last State Budget here in South Australia cut library expenditure back so far that, in the next twelve months, there will be major repercussions. Most people are unaware that this is going to happen, indeed unaware that there has been a cut to library expenditure. It was well hidden in the budget and there have been other issues which have caught public attention - such as the closure of a vital community centre in the western suburbs.
Our local library is open from 10-4 on a Saturday and from 2-5 on a Sunday. It is open during the week apart from Friday afternoons. It is used at all but particularly at weekends. On a winter afternoon the library can have as many seventy or eighty people in it. Thousands of books are borrowed every weekend, to say nothing of what is borrowed during the week. The local schools also use it during the week despite having their own 'resource centres'.
The local bookshop benefits in that library staff will send people there - but the library is not permitted to buy from the bookshop apart from a tiny discretionary budget. Books are bought and distributed from a central point. Libraries can make requests - often based on reader requests but the books will still come from a central point. Libraries will also take donations - most of the DVDs, audiobooks not intended for the vision impaired, CDs and the remaining old videos have been donations. Our local library has a minimum number of both newspapers and periodicals. They are simply seen as too expensive to buy.
It is still a good library, a very good library. The staff are pleasant and, mostly, well informed. If they do not know they will ask another staff member - or someone who happens to be there, like myself. Most of the staff are also part-time and female, willing to work odd shifts. Some of them are casual. They know their jobs are at risk. Library hours are likely to be cut. There will be almost no new books this year. Activities will be cut.
Sports facilities, not just the upgrade of the Adelaide Oval but sports facilities in general, got increased funding in the budget. It was, supposedly, a response to the 'obesity crisis'. In reality other politics are at work.
Nobody gave much thought to libraries. They are just there. People expect them to be available. They expect the library to be open when they need it. They expect new books to be available. As Anne Rooney points out however new books in libraries means buying books not just donating them and that means new books need to be published. Money has to be available. No ordinary individual can hope to buy all the books they wish to read. Libraries are essential and libraries are as old as reading.
It is going to take a lot of work to save libraries, to save books, publishers and all those involved with the production and distribution of books. It is going to take even more to save writers and let others read them.

Saturday 9 October 2010

"What's the name of that

language that was invented - you know the one that was supposed to be used by everyone?"
"Do you know anything about it?"
"A little. Why?"
"Just wanted to know."
I am none the wiser. Now why would anyone stop me in the middle of a crowded supermarket aisle and ask about Esperanto?
Later that day my father came home from his exercise class and asked, "What exactly is Sanskrit?" He did Latin at university. Sanskrit was apparently not mentioned - and almost seventy years ago is a long time to forget it. He still remembers some Latin, probably more Latin than I do.
Why were they talking about Sanskrit? Oh, that was the Global Village programme everyone seemed to have been watching. It was on Kuttinayam theatre, the highly stylised form of Hindu religious and dramatic performance. That has its roots in early Sanskrit literature. We watched those two episodes as well. It was very foreign and strange to us but also fascinating. The training for it takes longer than the training to be a doctor and would be just as rigorous. The language was unintelligible to us and so were the gestures. We had some idea of what was going on only from the actions and the facial expressions. There are things you need to know before you can understand what is going on.
Some years ago there was an Esperanto conference here. I happened to be at a three day planning meeting in the adjacent building or I might not ever have known about it. There was nothing in the media. It was, and remained, a non-event for the media. My colleagues had never heard of Esperanto. One of them asked which country it was spoken in. I had to explain what it was. It was clear they thought it was a ridiculous idea. It was impractical but it was not ridiculous.
English is now widely accepted as a universal spoken language. Those of us who have it as a first language are perhaps fortunate although it tends to make us lazy in terms of language learning. Far too often we assume that everyone else will speak at least some English -and all too often that assumption is reinforced by the fact that they do.
Watching the Kuttinayam performers training I was again aware of how little language I really know.

Friday 8 October 2010

There have been two murders

in the last four weeks. Both have been elderly women living alone. The news media has been making headlines from both. It is understandable but it disturbs me. There have been the usual 'lock your doors' and 'do not answer to strangers' type warnings but they have come amid details that I do not want to know.
Recently there was also an entire double page of books about such things in a book catalogue this household receives. Why, my father asked, would anyone want to read about such things? How, he wanted to know, do such books get published? He threw the catalogue into the bin in disgust.
There are similar books in the local bookshop and at the library. I assume someone reads them. I do not and I do not know anyone who does read about sadistic killers or serial killers or violent sexual abuse. I know those things exist. I know something about the psychology of such people and I do not want to know lurid details provided in racy journalistic language.
But there is something that bothers me even more than that. There are quite a number of children around here. Most of them are not free to roam the local streets. Most of them are not even permitted to play in the front garden, the driveway or the street. A few are not even permitted to play in their back garden. They certainly are not permitted to go to the local playgrounds alone. If they have bicycles they are only permitted to ride up and down their driveways or occasionally "to the end of the street and back". They have no idea how to use public transport and even crossing a road is a problem because they rarely do it on foot. When they do cross a road they cross with an adult.
On the rare occasions they go to a playground they find a highly sanitised "child-safe" place which is supposed to prevent injury - and even then I hear parents saying, "Be careful. No, don't do it like that. You might fall and hurt yourself."
Nobody wants their child hurt. Children do not want to hurt themselves. Even so it seems as if children are becoming less and less able to do some things.
I remember the first time the Whirlwind walked around here alone. She was much too young but she needed help. She knew me. She knew where I lived. She crossed two small, quiet suburban side-roads and banged furiously on our door. Fortunately I was at home. "Mummy won't get up from the floor". We rang for an ambulance and then for her father.
She was not quite four years old. Children can do a lot, especially when they need to.

Thursday 7 October 2010

Our Prime Minister does not like travelling,

or so she has informed us. She would, apparently, rather be at home in Australia talking to school children.
I am sure she would. She is almost certainly one of those misguided people who believe it is easier to talk to children than it is to talk to adults. Wrong.
On the other hand there are undoubtedly many other people who think that "all that travel and meeting important people must be fun". Wrong again.
I had a cousin, now deceased, who travelled almost constantly. He saw very little of the real world. He knew what the inside of many hotel rooms looked like - or perhaps he saw the same one many times over? He saw the inside of many board and meeting rooms. He met many important people in the business-of-entertainment world and dined with them in restaurants. The dining part was about the only thing that differentiated one trip from another. On one occasion, desperate for meat like a good Aussie boy, he paid almost $100 for a dish which included a small square of beef in a Tokyo restaurant- more than twenty years ago. I would never have done that.
Meeting the important people was never much fun either. He never got to know them. They never got to know him. He was almost never invited to their homes and he almost never invited them when they came to Australia. It is the way of the business world. I do not think his life was much fun.
Politics would be even trickier - and there is always the knowledge that the person you are meeting might not hold that position after the next election, or coup or something worse, or that you might not be there yourself. The real work gets done behind the scenes and it is done by others, the negotiators. Perhaps that is why the Prime Minister would like to stay at home. Other people do the work.
I would like to do more travelling than I have done. I have done very little. Every other member of my family has done far more than I have. People assume I have done a great deal. "But you lived in London all that time!" they exclaim. Yes, I did. I was at university. I was writing a thesis. I was also tutoring to have enough money to eat. I was not there to play or travel. Even the African students on meagre government scholarships had more money and free time than I did. I just accepted it. I had to or I could not stay and that would really have been a waste of everything I had put into trying to prove I could do something.
But the travel is a different story. I would like to have had the courage and the ability to set off on one of those extended working holidays, a 'gap' year. I think all school students should be encouraged to have a 'gap' year, that they should not go on to further study without it. They need to see a bit of the world, particularly the world outside relatively safe and cosy Australia.
If our Prime Minister had done that then she might be happier about travelling abroad - and we might be happier with her as our representative on the world stage. It is not a good thing for a Prime Minister to dislike travelling. It is part of the job.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Is it really true that the sandwich was invented

by the Earl of Sandwich so that he could eat and go on gambling? I doubt it. I suspect that the sandwich has been around as long as there has been bread. The format may have been slightly different but even I would be willing to gamble that the Egyptians and others stuffed some sort of filling into their flat bread occasionally.
Making loaves and loaves of bread into sandwiches is not something I really care for but I occasionally need to do it. People have meetings. People need supper. Supper is not something they would normally eat but, at a meeting, they need supper. I make sandwiches. I make sandwiches because, they tell me, they like my sandwiches. They do seem to eat them.
I do not make the bread for those sandwiches. Our bread machine only makes one loaf at a time. It takes a minimum of four hours in the machine to make a loaf of bread. You must leave the machine to cool down between loaves. I have never made more than a loaf a day in the machine. Sandwich construction takes more bread than that.
I have a problem with the ordinary sandwich. To put a smear of butter or other spread on two opposing pieces of bread and a meagre piece of cheese or whatever takes your fancy in between does not seem to me to be a sandwich. It is food. It will satisfy a certain hunger but it lacks the creativity of a real sandwich. I look at the white squares of plastic bread piled high in the sort of establishment which claims to sell sandwiches. I then look at the resulting sandwich, four white triangles with a barely visible filling. That is not a sandwich. It is not even an apology for a sandwich. My nephews regard it as four mouthfuls of food, a mere starter and not a very substantial one at that.
A loaf of bread will make around ten rounds of such sandwich or it will make ten rounds of something rather more interesting. A cheese sandwich does not have to be a rubbery square peeled off a block of other rubbery squares does it? Why? Just to make the sandwich look tidy? What has tidiness to do with taste? I know that good food should look attractive but it should also taste good.
Sandwich construction requires interesting inner ingredients. There need to enough of them to actually be able to taste them.
I know someone who has had nothing but cheese and pickle sandwiches all his life. He refuses to have any other sort. He has a lot of the inner ingredients.
When we had a disaster with the banana crop in Queensland and bananas were horrendously expensive one child went to school with just bread. His only sandwich is banana but he has an entire banana as the inner ingredient. (He takes a chunk of cheese and a carrot too but they never go in the sandwich.)
Australians do not seem to eat what Americans call "peanut butter and jelly" sandwiches. Everyone I know regards the peanut side of things to be a savoury, not a sweet.
The experiment with "Cheesymite" - a mixture of processed cheese and Vegemite (Marmite to the British) was not well received among those I know. Cheese in the middle of bread spread with Vegemite is a rather happier option, add a little tomato and some are happier still.
But there are other things, cream cheese, walnuts, cranberries, chopped dried apricot, flaked almond, avocado, asparagus, baby spinach, curried egg instead of mayonnaise egg, a sprinking of dukkah, taramaslata, grated carrot, parsley - and many more.
A sandwich is an art form. It should be appreciated as such.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

My screensaver is

a cat. Well, what else did you expect? My brother-in-law found it and added it when he put my original computer package together. I am very happy with this. It has been there for years and I see no need to change it. After all, it is my screensaver. I am the one who has to look at it from time to time.
Apparently not everyone feels the same way about this. I get asked, "Why don't you get rid of that thing?" or "Why don't you get something more up to date/exciting?"
I actually feel as if my screensaver cat is a friend. I do not want anything more up to date and my cat is quite exciting enough for me. I actually like cats and, mostly, they like me as well. We get along very well together.
But there is something else about this suggestion that I should change my screensaver that bothers me. It is the suggestion that I need to change something that works perfectly well for me.
Change can be a very good thing sometimes. Change can renew. Change can be more efficient. Neither of those things apply with the screensaver. The site from which it comes allows me to update it occasionally but the essential character remains the same. He is an old friend. Why should I discard him?
"Well at least change your avatar occasionally" I get told. Why? That cat sitting on a book stack is me. I cannot change myself just like that. I am comfortable with my cat self. Changing my avatar would also be change just for the sake of change. It would not do anything useful. It might also be a nuisance. People might think I had prowled off into cyberspace.
I do not dislike change but it has to serve some purpose.

Monday 4 October 2010

We are not tidy people and that

fact is quite obvious the moment you walk into our house. I like to think the house is clean but it is definitely not tidy.
At the moment it is slightly worse than usual. There are about two hundred brown paper bags piled in boxes in the living area. Each bag now contains a ball of wool, a pattern and some knitting needles. These will be passed out at the Quilt and Craft Fair at the end of the first week in November so they will decorate the living area for another month. The knitters put the bags together at their meeting on the first Saturday of the month. They had to be done then in order to have them at the fair. The fair coincides with their next meeting. The President asked if they could be stored at our place as her own is a one bedroom residence in the city centre.
When they arrived she also mentioned that "not all the bags have needles...we ran out". Right. A pattern and yarn are not much use without needles. I spent half of yesterday morning digging through a large box which contains knitting needles and other assorted items left by my mother. She used straight needles but always seemed to buy a new pair for each new garment. There were a good many needles there. I found pairs. I added them to the bags. I am not sure that the needles match the yarn terribly well but I am hopeful. The pattern is for a small scarf in a loose stitch so it is less of an issue than it might be.
Such emergencies are clearly a good reason for keeping such things - even if it does clutter up the house. The box is now much less cluttered anyway.
There are other things that can go to the church 'garage sale' too. I cleared out another pile of cookery books in order to get to the knitting needles. My mother was not a vegetarian. Why did she need so many vegetarian cookbooks. I do not think she ever cooked a vegetarian meal. I do but I do not need those sort of books to do it. I rarely use a cookery book. I am simply too lazy to do that.
There are other things I am too lazy to use as well, like certain kitchen appliances. I swear by a sharp knife rather than a multitude of things designed to chop vegetables. My mother used the latter and then had the fuss of cleaning them. I am far from dextrous but I still prefer to use a knife. It is less bother. I plan on quietly removing more of these things. Someone may use them - or they may think they will.
Will it help with tidiness? I rather doubt it. My father had periodic fits of tidying things away when I was young. We dreaded it. We could never find anything because things would go in the most unexpected places. Now he does not put things away because, when he does, he cannot find anything.
It seems to me there is a dreadful warning in that.

Sunday 3 October 2010

It was strangely quiet

yesterday afternoon. The traffic was noticeably lighter than usual, indeed barely there, as I rode off to the other end of an adjacent suburb. The car park in the shopping centre was only half full instead of filled with circling schools of cars waiting to devour the spaces left by other people.
I returned some library books. The memorial park at the library was completely empty. The library is on the main road and I avoid pedalling along that but yesterday I could have done so safely.
I slipped into the back streets and made my way to the meeting I was attending. Compared with the outside world it was noisy and busy, filled with activity as preparations began for another event in November. I did my library duties there and then returned to the almost silent world outside.
It was one of those perfect days, a comfortable 21'C with a cloudless blue sky and no wind. People should have been out of doors. I passed the oval which would normally have a game of football or cricket in progress. There was nobody there at all. The big park with the wonderful playground equipment was completely empty. There was not so much as a dog being walked around the perimeter. One car passed me and then it was silent again. I crossed the major road that leads from the seaside to the hills without encountering any traffic.
Two people were silently pulling garden weeds behind a half closed gate next to the narrow lane which forms part of the bike path. They did not look up as I passed.
I went on - and on. I went on alone.
It was the replay of the Grand Final that had ended in a draw last week, there was a local Grand Final and some other Grand Final. I can only assume people were indoors watching.
I turned into my own short street and heard tired crying coming from our neighbour's garden.
The mother and two children have been away in Europe visiting her parents. They arrived home yesterday morning. Life is back to normal.

Saturday 2 October 2010

This is the last morning

of "real" time. Tonight we "spring back" and tomorrow we will be on summer time or daylight saving.
It has been just light enough in the early mornings for me to see without turning the light on when I get up. Now it will be dark again.
I do not like daylight saving at this latitude. I am a morning rather than an evening person. I have to be. My job demands it but I also like the almost solitude of early morning. I like the freshness of the day, the anticipation of the new page to be filled.
When I was almost five we returned to the city. That magical summer we lived mostly with my paternal grandparents in a seaside suburb. Early each morning my grandfather would put me on his shoulders and take my brother by the hand and, in silence, we would go down the jetty road to the beach. My grandfather would then give each of us a swimming lesson before leaving us, quite safely, to paddle "up to our knees" while he swim out some distance and back again.
There would often be other people on the beach taking an early morning dip. They would be acknowledged but never spoken to. The beach was an almost silent place at that hour. There would be a light swish of the waves and the occasional call of a seagull but little more. Even my brother and I had little to say to one another at that hour. It was enough to be there.
My grandfather was "an iceberger" - someone who swam year round. Even when he finally moved into the nursing home section of the small hospital along the foreshore he swam in summer. His eyesight was not good enough to cross the increasingly busy road safely but one of the staff going off duty would see him safely across. He would take his dip in the sea and then wait until someone could see him safely across the road again. So many people knew him he never had to wait for long. People would even stop their cars and see him across the road before going on their way.
He needed that morning swim. It was not just about the exercise or the independence but about the semi-solitude. It was, although he would never have put it into those words, his time of meditation. We knew better than to talk. We never disobeyed my grandfather. He was mid-Victorian in his outlook and expectations but we also knew he loved us.
He also taught us to love those early mornings, the semi-solitude, the quiet time. He taught us by example to prepare for the day ahead.
It is one of the things I have missed most in my adult life. Yes of course there are still the same number of hours in the day. Yes of course things can be done after breakfast, after school, after work. There really should not be any difference to what we achieve in the day. The aim of daylight saving is to achieve more.
Somehow it does not work that way.

Friday 1 October 2010

"They're having a garage sale"

my father informed me. "They're" in this instance being the members of the church he attends. Right. This really means that they are having a church fete but they will not call it that.
There are a number of reasons for this. One is that "church fete" will put a lot of people off. They do not go to church and anything that sounds "churchy" is something they will avoid. "Garage sale", even a "garage sale" held in a church hall sounds fairly harmless and there might be a bargain so they will go and look - or that is the thinking.
Another reason for holding it inside the hall is the weather. The weather might be all right but why take the chance when you can be undercover?
It also keeps the thing to a manageable size and the congregation is getting smaller and older.
I am not sure what my mother would think of this. The members of the Women's Guild she led spent twelve months preparing for the last big church fete. There were twice the number of Guild members back then and they were younger - and even then some of them were in their eighties. They sewed and knitted and embroidered and crocheted and painted and did other mysterious things. The week beforehand they baked.
This last big fete was about fifteen years ago. I know. I went up and ran the second hand book stall for them. After all, according to them, I know about books. I do not attend church but they know me and it was assumed that I would help. My father came home and informed me I had been "dobbed" in, not by him but by two members of the Church Council. The "request" was the sort of request that is not a request.
There were rather a lot of books at that time. Most were paperbacks being recycled for a second or third time. They were the sort of thing people take on holiday because it does not matter if they leave it behind. There were a few gems. I passed five books of some value on to a second hand book seller of my acquaintance. I knew he would give me a fair price for a worthy cause - and he did. If I had put them out they would have been snapped up at a much lesser price by one of the book dealers who descended in search of bargains.
The morality of selling books like this always bothers me. Second hand book dealers of my acquaintance tend to buy books for absolutely minimal sums and then sell them for maximum prices. The author gets nothing. If their books are in a library they might get something from Public Lending Rights - as they should. However it is legal to sell books this way and at least the money on the occasion of a church fete will go to a worthy cause. I will be running the book stall again.
That will not however be the end of the business of the garage-sale-church-fete however. My father is busy in the shed...jigsaws of pictures of the church, sets of dominoes and building blocks and other things are gradually appearing. It will use up some of the timber a member of the church gave him. This can only be a good thing.
And I am eyeing off other things. There are things we have not used for years. They are good things we have not used since the last church fete. We really do need to be rid of them. They could go on the bric-a-brac stall or on the household utensils stall or on the clothing racks. They could be - well, recycled. Someone might use them.
If not then there might be another garage sale in another fifteen years.