Monday 31 January 2011

Aros stone thirty

The right to a means of communication
is not a right to communicate - the means is more important.

Although I know I get a little

political now and then I have tried not to use this blog as a means of ranting against governments of all descriptions - well not too much.
This morning however I am tossing my planned blog post topic aside and I am going to fume. Why? Because our state government, in a totally outrageous move designed to "save $2.2 m over three years", has decided to grab money from the most vulnerable people in the community. They are doing this by shifting the financial affairs of some profoundly physically and intellectually disabled people from one department to another.
Now that does not sound as if it would save money but it will do two things. First, it will cut eight positions in one department and add to the workload of another which will not get extra positions. Second, because the other department happens to be the Public Trustee, there will be additional charges to handle the affairs of these individuals.
There will be a charge to move their funds to the Public Trustee, an annual charge and an ongoing charge. At present, unless outrage succeeds, these highly vulnerable people could end up paying another $45 a week. They already pay 85% of their pension on accommodation and food. The rest is taken up with clothing, transport etc. An additional $5 a week would have some people struggling. If they implement these changes then some people will depend entirely on charity for clothing and for getting to medical appointments - forget any daily activities or recreation.
What about family? I can hear some of you asking that question now. Yes, some of those with families will cope because their families will help, indeed are already helping. However there are others, and I once taught some of these people, who have no families. They were state wards as children and nobody has ever acknowledged them as family. They are highly vulnerable people.
They are a soft target for the government.
Governments can get away with such things because these people cannot speak for themselves. Yes, other people can try and speak for them - and I do and I will continue to do so. However the problem is that there are many competing needs out there. There are parents who are, rightly, determined to do the best for their own disabled child. They do not rest until they get what they want. That is understandable. It also sometimes takes services away from those who need them even more but do not have others to advocate for them.
There are also "advocates" who have a particular agenda to push. There are advocates who have pushed for the closure of institutions and the "right" of everyone to live "in the community". There are advocates who have demanded that all buildings be made "accessible". There are advocates who have demanded all children be educated in the "mainstream". Others have demanded the closure of "sheltered workshops" etc. All these have had considerable success - because governments see these demands as being "cost effective", a way of reducing demands on government or not requiring a government outlay.
It has left government with the problem of how to reduce the cost of caring for the most vulnerable people in the community. For government there can only be one answer to that - take as much of the pension back as legally possible. Leave others to voluntarily provide the basics of clothing, personal hygiene, transport etc. It does not matter to them that those they are targetting will have an even lower quality of life than they now have.
These are decisions made by people only concerned with cutting costs where they can be cut without fear of political reprisal. They would claim, and may even genuinely believe, they have the interests of people with disabilities to hand.
The reality is that they do not and will not unless it becomes a personal. Well, for me it is personal. I am about to go and do battle. I will be back.

Sunday 30 January 2011

Aros stone twenty-nine

Never grow "too old" to play!

Being a "morning" rather than

a "night" person I have always eaten breakfast. Breakfast is an essential part of my day. If I only ate one meal a day I would want it in the morning.
I do not eat a lot of breakfast, certainly I do not stand there and cook myself bacon and eggs. As far as I know I have never had bacon and eggs for breakfast. Cooked breakfasts do not appear on the menu in our household - unless porridge in winter counts as "cooked".
Other people's breakfast habits puzzle me. My father is fine. He has exactly the same thing every morning....he counts out five heaped spoons of home-made muesli and adds cold milk. He then gets distracted by something in the paper for a bit. When he has read that. He will pour milk into his coffee mug and then put the mug in the microwave ready to warm. He will cut one slice of bread ready to toast. Sometimes he gets distracted by the next piece of essential reading and these things will remain half done until he has finished the article in question. He eats cereal in an absent fashion reading all the while. He toasts bread and heats milk in the same way. Toast and milk can grow quite cold if there is something else that interests him - but he still needs to eat breakfast.
There are other people I know who feel quite differently about breakfast. I know people who never eat breakfast. Others drink coffee. On the rare occasions I venture into the CBD before 9 am I am always amazed by the people who queue at the doughnut counter for ersatz coffee. Some of them are so regular they do not even need to speak. They just hand over their money and get their so-called coffee. (I am reliably informed that it tastes of cardboard.) A few eat doughnuts as well.
There are local people who wander up to the shopping centre each morning and get their coffee there. They are also so regular the staff know them. One local man has trained them into providing him with a double strength coffee in his own insulated mug. If the weather is fine he then wanders slowly home talking to people on the way. If it it is too hot or wet he will sit there and read the paper the cafe provides or talk to people who appear. Other people do the same. For them breakfast (or at least coffee) is just an excuse to get them out of the house for a bit. They are not necessarily lonely. It just part of their daily ritual.
But all this is not "having breakfast" in my view. I can miss lunch if I really must, although it will leave me with a headache later in the afternoon. I can miss dinner in the evening.
I saw one of the local GPs in the supermarket yesterday. He was standing there staring at the cereal boxes. "Cat do you know" I showed him the packets of breakfast cereal in question. It is one of the more sensible choices, suitable for the household of a doctor. He took one gingerly.
"I suppose people do eat this stuff," he said vaguely.
"Well yes, what do you eat for breakfast?"
"Oh I don't eat breakfast. I just get coffee when I get to work," he tells me.
Right. He is a doctor. He does not eat breakfast. Maybe there is something wrong with me. Should I make an appointment as a matter of urgency?

Saturday 29 January 2011

Aros stone twenty-eight

Compromise in a state of calm
Not in a state of chaos.

Flood (levy) alert

Our Prime Minister has proposed a levy to raise money for the flood recovery effort. On the surface that sounds like a perfectly reasonable proposal. Everyone is affected, directly or indirectly, by the floods. Therefore everyone should contribute to the recovery - or so the argument goes.
Then there is also the argument that we have had other levies - for the gun buy back and the River Murray for instrance. The idea of a levy is not new.
This time however there is opposition to a levy and it is growing. The Reserve Bank of Australia has apparently quietly raised some questions about the wisdom of the levy. The RBA Board has to be careful what it says. Senior economists, from both the left and right of political economics, are also expressing doubts.
We still do not know what the recovery will cost. We will probably never know because there are costs that cannot be measured. The tax (because that is what the levy is) however is going to do three things if it is implemented.
The first thing is that it will do is add to inflationary pressures. These have already increased because of the event. Adding further pressure is clearly unwise but the government is arguing that the pressure will be minimal and households can afford it. This will have a lasting negative impact on the economy but probably not in such a way that many people will be immediately aware of. It may not affect the government's chances of another term in office.
The second thing is that it is introducing a new tax. At the present time that tax proposal is structured in such a way that it is asking some people to shoulder a much greater burden than others. Those seen as flood victims will pay nothing, those under a certain income level will pay nothing. That sounds fair. The problem is that combined household income is not being taken into account. This means that in a household where one person is earning $80,000 and another is earning $30,000 more could be paid than in a household where two people are $70,000 each.
The government apparently does not see this as inequitable, especially since they claim the levy will only be in place for a short time. (As governments are hooked on money the way a heroin addict is hooked on heroin this seems unlikely.) The government clearly does not see this inequity as affecting their chances of another term in office.
The third thing is the message that the government is giving to the community. They are saying "Don't bother to donate to charity. We will just tax you for the money required. The poor do not need to contribute at all. The rich can do that instead."
It is this third point which has the potential to have the greatest negative impact of all but it may not be a political impact - yet. Some of our essential services are maintained by volunteers. The State Emergency Service and country fire services/authorities in all states depend on volunteers. Without them rural areas in particular would not manage because the government does not provide or maintain these services, nor are they likely to do so. Other charities like Anglicare, St Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army, Red Cross, refugee and multicultural services all assist in such events. There are other major charities which help people in need at other times, particularly people with disabilities and those at risk through mental illness, age and poverty. They all need donations to run. Yes money gets wasted but money also gets wasted by government. Anglicare is the largest social service in Australia. Although it gets a government grant much of what is done is done by volunteers and because of donations. Similar things can be said about other organisations.
A “flood levy” sends a clear message. “The government is taking over. Now, and in future disasters, we will tax you and provide you with what we think you need. There is no need for you to make any other contribution.” It is not like other levies imposed by the government because many Australians have already donated generously, often more than they could afford.
They feel the government is double dipping. It is.
It is also a recipe for social as well as economic disaster.
We could pay for the rebuilding effort by, at very least, delaying the NBN and adjusting the budget so that the projected surplus is reduced. This, I am told, makes far greater social and economic sense.
Why is the government not listening?

Friday 28 January 2011

Aros stone twenty-seven

It is sometimes necessary to accept
Even when you do not really need it
In order to help the other person.

I am off to visit the

dentist this morning. The appointment was made at my last check up several months ago. I have spent the last week dreading it - on and off.
I do not like going to the dentist! My dentist is a perfectly pleasant person but I detest the invasion into my mouth.
When I was a child there was a "school dental service". All children were given check ups and some, particularly those in rural areas, were given basic treatment. Children in urban areas were more likely to be referred to a local dentist. The dentist we went to was rough. I can still remember the occasion on which, age seven, I had to park my tricycle outside the dental surgery one afternoon after school, go in alone and have a recalcitrant baby tooth pulled and then continue home with blood dripping down my chin. My mother added to my woes when she lost her temper because I had blood on my school dress. It is little wonder that I do not like visiting the dentist.
Dental standards and practice seem to have changed too. Once it was acceptable to have an annual check up and, unless something extra needed to be done, you did not see the dentist for another year. We went to a local dental clinic for years. The dentists who owned it were supposed to be "very good". They were perhaps a little too good - for two reasons. I suspect they over-serviced. There was always something that required doing. When I left and visited the dentist on an annual basis at the university health clinic in London there was never anything to do. The dentist there was a fellow Australian trained at the same university and at the same time. The other problem was that the dentists were members of a minority religious sect and were inclined to talk religion once they got to know you. If there had been somewhere else to go I would have gone.
Now our dental service insists on seeing us at least three times a year. It is part of the health fund we belong to and the cost is, compared with other dental services, minimal as it is part of the cover. Nevertheless I find it strange that they insist on seeing us so often. Is it really necessary? I am assured that it is and, if we wish to continue the cover, then this is what we must submit to. Now "dental hygiene" is big business. We are given dire warnings about the state of our teeth and our gums and the disastrous effects failing to care for them can have on the rest of our health.
This may well all be true but I cannot help thinking that one hundred years my paternal grandparents managed on an annual trip to the dentist and they both lived into their nineties.
Genes must have something to do with it!

Thursday 27 January 2011

Aros stone twenty-six

There is no right to lead
Except by example

The newspapers were

late this morning. When they finally landed they were tied together with a rubber band instead of rolled tightly in plastic. I rather suspect they had problems with the machine that rolls them so as to make them easier to throw.
Newspapers are just one of those things that happen. I doubt many people think about how they are put together, printed and passed out to readers. We had the same newspaper delivery man for years. He finally packed the job in when his shoulder would no longer allow the throwing action. It was his second job, one for which he had to rise early in all weathers. I doubt it paid well.
I doubt anyone delivers milk any more. We used to get it in bottles. Now it comes in cardboard or plastic from the supermarket. When we lived in the country we would get it straight from whichever local farmer was prepared to supply it. No, it was not pasteurised either. We seem to have survived that.
Our bread used to be delivered too. When I was in the early years of school we lived just around the corner and down a narrow lane from the small field in which the local baker kept the carthorses he used for delivery. The bakery itself was a bit further down our road. When the wind was blowing the right way we could smell the soft, warm yeasty smell of bread being baked.
I also remember "the Faulding's man". I am not sure what else he sold but he had a wooden display case with things like vanilla essence, lemon essence and cochineal displayed in small glass bottles. There were also junket "tablets" - plain or flavoured. Now those things come in plastic bottles in the supermarket - and it is no longer possible to get junket tablets at all. I am told that "people no longer eat junket".
You can go supermarket shopping "on line" now. I have yet to venture into that murky world. It will probably be delivered by the same pleasant but awkward teenage boys who deliver the 10kg bags of bread flour I cannot carry on my tricycle. Friends who have tried this tell me that they might - or might not - get what they have ordered. Somehow though "on line" supermarket shopping does not have the same appeal as getting the papers, milk, bread and vanilla essence delivered. I think I might go and look at real food for myself this morning.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Aros stone twenty-five

Change should not be made
In order to forget or deny the past.

We get an Honour's List on

"Australia Day" rather than "New Year's Day". This, for those of you outside Australia and the UK, is a list of people who get awarded medals of varying sorts for things like a "contribution" to the community. The list is supposedly made up from nominations by others to an independent committee which is then supposed to decide who gets the awards and at what level. In the UK it means that some people get the right to be addressed as Sir Jo Bloggs or Dame Josie Bloggs. In Australia it just means you can, if you wish, put some letters after your name. It is not however considered to be very good form to do that in a general sort of way.
The whole system in Australia is wide open to abuse. There are some worthy recipients but there are many others who are not. The list is usually littered with people who were merely doing their job - ex-politicians, sportspeople (but only when they win), business people and those who get their names in the media for being "activist" all appear on a regular basis. So do office bearers in organisations, preferably charitable organisations - some of these have been unpaid volunteers and others have not. I think you get the general idea.
So today I would like to award some honours of my own. Here goes.
I would like to award them to the team of people who regularly remove the graffiti from the railway station and keep "Nellie's garden" neat and tidy. I know there are people who go to sit there when they need spiritual renewal. I would like to honour any other Australian who regularly does a similar task. It is the sort of "housekeeping" that often goes unnoticed.
I would like to award more honours to the people who volunteer to drive the community bus or use their own vehicles to drive people to appointments. That allows many older people to stay in their own homes.
I would like to award more honours to the people who volunteer on the mobile library service which allows the sick and elderly to keep using the library service and enjoy the pleasures of reading.
I would like to honour neighbours who do simple things like put out bins and collect mail or take in papers for absent or ill neighbours.
I would like honour the teenagers of my acquaintance who walk dogs for elderly neighbours when they are unable to do so - and refuse to accept payment for it.
There are many other worthy recipients but that will do for this Australia Day. It seems to me that these people are every bit as worthy and Australian as those who were also being paid to do the task for which they received their honours.
Who do you know who deserves such an honour?

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Aros stone twenty-four

Change can be good or bad

Something different

Something misunderstood

Never neutral.

I was writing about the

internet being a communication board yesterday and, oddly, there are two pieces in this morning's paper about communication on the internet. Neither says anything particularly new or newsworthy. One is yet another statement of alarm at how things like SMS messages and "tweets" use all sorts of contractions and how this is affecting our ability to write the English language. The other is about how "virtual" communication can do more to isolate us than socialise us.
I cannot send SMS messages. I do not know how to do it. There has not been much point in learning because the keys on a mobile 'phone are simply too small for me to use with any accuracy. If I ever get something large enough to use then I may learn this art. It is an art. I watch young people do it rapidly and, almost, without thought. What they are saying may or may not be important, although clearly they believe it is important enough to communicate it.
I can "tweet" on the computer and I do. Although you only get 140 characters to play with a lot can be said. I have two "twitter" accounts. One for personal use (a bit of fun) and one for professional use.
Having a limited space in which to respond requires a sort of intellectual discipline. Using abbreviations is essential. I have however already managed to learn to read and write (although some of you may doubt the latter). My spelling is, I think, fairly accurate. I think you need to be able to do these things before you start to use abbreviated language to communicate. Why? I think you need to know what you really are saying rather than what you think you are saying.
Not everyone will agree.
As for virtual rather than actual friendships, I have both. I work from home so I am even more conscious of the need for both. It is not always possible for me to get out and talk to people during the day. "Chatting" to friends on the internet is a great pleasure. At the same time I will take this afternoon "off" and go and teach a knitting class in the local book-shop. The group does not actually require much teaching. The important thing is that it is a real group with real people.
I need both types of friendship just as people need both forms of communication.

Monday 24 January 2011

Aros stone twenty-three

Families have a
private language
impossible to interpret.

"What is a communication board?"

The question, asked of me yesterday by a friend in the UK, brought me up with a jolt. At least, I think this person is a friend. I have never physically met her. We only know one another "virtually". I think I would like her very much in reality as well.
What brought me up with a jolt is that the question revealed she knows very little about my working life. That brought the further realisation that most people know almost nothing about my working life. Perhaps that is just as well. I could not cope with any more work.
But it also made me realise that the nature of friendships are changing. I have long suffered from the fact that I went to far too many schools to develop and maintain the close friendships that some people make at school. Indeed I have no friends from school days. I was never at any one school long enough to make a lasting friendship. It may have been different if there had been the internet available. Communication in those days was via snail mail. Long distance 'phone calls were kept as short as possible. There were still telegrams.
My time at a teacher training college was no better. I had to work to support myself. It left no time to develop friendships. All the other students were on government scholarships. The money was not great but it was far more than I had. I saw one film in the three years I was at college. That was not a good thing. I was out of the cultural loop. On the other hand I had a long lasting friendship with one of Australia's most respected writers which meant I did meet a lot of other writers during each Festival of Arts!
When I went to university it was not in my home town or even my home country. I went off to the other side of the world. Although I still had to do some work to support myself I lived in a "hall of residence" and I met people. There was a chance to have conversations over the meal table. I am still in regular contact with people from my time there - even though we had to start out with "snail mail" communications and move gradually to the internet. Living together we grew to know one another rather better than we otherwise might.
I know other people here of course. Some of them are friends. We all tend to lead fairly busy lives. Our meetings tend to be pre-arranged and on regular dates in the calendar. They are not of the casual "meet for coffee" or "go to a film" spur of the moment type friendships. Our individual responsibilities for other people make that difficult - although the others seem to have done that sort of thing when young.
But the internet is a way of keeping up with them between pre-arranged meetings. It is a way of keeping up with a few old friends from the past and virtual friends that I may one day meet. My virtual friends may find out about "communication boards" then. In the meantime we will continue to communicate on the biggest communication board of all.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Aros stone twenty-two

We have lost the sereness
of Sundays to
frantic, furious sound.

"You still got all those books?"

The question from the man behind me in the "fast" line in the supermarket checkout startles me. I have to look a second time. It can't be him. It really is S.
I have not seen S since he arrived on our doorstep one Sunday morning with his friend D to tell me "Me Dad died." When I invited them in they had looked nervously around at our vast collection of books and S had asked, "Is this a library?"That was what, nearly twenty years ago? He had clearly felt uncomfortable in a house like ours, especially one with so many books. I can remember giving them breakfast and some lunch to take with them. We sorted out matters with the Probate Office and he went out of my life.
He was a street kid, one of the lads who roamed around a rather undesirable street in our city. He spent his days watching others play the game machines and kept his own money to feed himself. At the end of the day he would head off to the market and buy - or sometimes be given - unwanted bread, fruit and vegetables. If there was enough money over he would buy cheap sausages and feed himself and his two sisters while his father injected himself (when he was not in gaol) and his mother drank herself into a stupor. Eventually, along with D he decided he was not putting up with it any longer. He left with D.
A long, long story later he came back to see me to sort out the mess left behind by his father. By then he and D lived in another state and they were slowly getting an odd job business together.
I hoped they would make a go of it, knew they might not and that the odds were against rather than for them. I knew I would not hear from them again. They are not communicative boys. Their past was something they did not want to remember and I was a reminder of that past, even if I was one of the few people who had anything to do with helping them leave it behind.
But there is S standing there beside me. He hastily pays for the item he has bought and walks me out of the shop where he suddenly gives me a breath challenging hug.
"Down just for the day. One of my wife's lot getting married. The kids are with D's Mum. L here's Cat!"
His wife? He's got children? He is standing there looking immaculate in slacks and a sober casual shirt - wedding attire. I take a surreptitious glance at his hands. They are workman's hands but the fingernails are clean for this occasion. His hair is conservatively cut and his shoes are clean. He looks like any other decent young man of my acquaintance, indeed better groomed than some.
Business, he tells me, is booming and likely to get better rather than worse because of the floods. He and D have more work than they can cope with. They are lucky, they were about three streets away from becoming flooded out themselves.
He and D own their own homes. Both are married. Both have two children. Yes, still working together. They can turn their hand to almost anything in the maintenance line now.
A long time ago now S and D took themselves off to pick fruit "up the river" as a way of getting away from a situation they hated. They ended up more than a 1000km away. They live in a different state now but it is more like a different country.
And I get a second breath challenging hug as he leaves me.

Saturday 22 January 2011

Aros stone twenty-one

Never judge a boy by

the state of his parents.

I am contemplating cake

or at least the possible need to make a cake. I do not often make cake. We do not often eat cake. On the rare occasions I need to make cake I tend to use one of the few "tried and true" recipes I feel comfortable with.
I have books of cake recipes, inherited from my mother. She never used these, just looked at them.
I have occasionally looked at these books as I sought inspiration. Do I want to make a cake with squashed, over ripe banana or grated carrot or courgette? Do I want to try a sticky looking concoction? Do I want to melt chocolate and use it in a cake rather than just eat the chocolate? Coconut? No, I think not. Cake you need to eat with a spoon? No, this is not that sort of occasion. This recipe uses multiple bowls. This one requires the tin to be lined with three layers of paper. That one takes more than an hour to bake.
Our friend Polly makes wonderful cakes and decorates them properly. She recently asked my father to make a tiny wooden house for her nephew-in-law's birthday. Nephew-in-law is a real estate agent. The house went on top of the cake with a music box movement inside which played "Happy Birthday".
It was undoubtedly fun but I hope nobody ever makes that sort of fuss of me. If I had cake for my birthday I would have to make it myself. My sister only makes packet mix - and only chocolate at that. Packet mix is not cake in my view.
Cakes can be works of art. The idea of cutting into them seems sacrilege after all that work. Is it really worth the effort? All too often they look better than they taste. A thick layer of cream? No thankyou. I am quite hopeless at the decoration part anyway.
It might be easier to fling some ingredients for a fruit loaf into the bread machine. I just might do that. It will not be cake but I suspect my nephews would prefer the bread.

Friday 21 January 2011

Aros stone twenty

Coming from make believe
To reality -
Like a cat shaking sleep from her fur.

There are two houses being

demolished along my regular pedalling route. There have been other houses demolished in the past. When this happens they seem to be replaced with two dwellings rather than one. It has happened twice on the opposite side of our street alone.
Now we have a house being demolished about two hundred metres away. I knew the original owners. They built the house themselves. It was not really that old. After they died their daughter and her husband lived in it for a while but it was not large enough to accommodate their needs (a giant caravan, a boat, a trailer and three cars). They left. The house was sold. The neighbours assumed a family would move in. Instead the place is being demolished. The roof and chimney came off in one afternoon. Yesterday there was a constant stream of heavy machinery removing the rubble. This morning I can hear them clearing the rest. It will be done by the end of the day. It will have taken a mere two and a half days to turn a house into a building plot.
It would have taken months to build the house and years to develop the garden. I doubt the developer has even thought of that.
The other house is a little further away. It has been decaying for a long time. There were a succession of rental tenants in there until the cracks became so obvious that it was clear nobody could safely live there. There was no garden to speak of - just gravel and a couple of almost dead shrubs. Oddly it has taken them a little longer to demolish that house.
There will, without doubt, be duplexes built on those plots. The other houses will fade into distant memory. There might be photographs to remind someone that there were once new houses on that land, that they were once the pride and joy of someone.
I wonder if the new owners will give any thought to what was once there. I am almost certain the developer will forget as soon as demolition has taken place.
And I wonder about the men who demolish such places. Do they consider what they are demolishing? Is it just a structure that has to be pulled down or do they ever consider that, once, someone lived there?

Thursday 20 January 2011

Aros stone nineteen

Seeing a house demolished
Dreams demolished
and ghosts without a home.

My father is not a happy

technocrat. Computers are not his "thing" as his grandchildren put it. He tried to learn to use one and gave up in the end. He simply was not sufficiently interested to be bothered. He has trouble using his mobile 'phone...the limit there is to 'phone me and tell me he is going to be late. He does this because he worries - and he worries that I will worry. I love him for that.
Being put 'on hold' with commercial radio chatter or "modern" music infuriates him. Having to press (1) for service A, (2) for service B etc confuses and infuriates him.
He has tried to keep his financial affairs fairly simple. He has the usual bank account, a cheque book and a credit card he almost never uses. He will not give his credit card number over the 'phone or over the internet.
He will be 88 next month and the modern way of doing things is vastly different from the time you had to send your signature to a specific bank branch a month in advance if you wanted to withdraw money when you travelled. The financial arrangements of his grandson about to leave for foreign parts alarmed him. Convincing him that these were standard arrangements these days was difficult.
He has some very modest investments. One of these companies now wants to put his little dividend straight into his bank account. He hates the idea. He likes to see the little cheque, to
know exactly what it is without having to search through his bank statement and how does he tell the accountant who does his income tax return for him?
We have sorted it all out. We have filled out the form and returned it. Life will be simpler for the company in question - and more complex for my father.
I wonder if my father, and others like him, would have felt the same way if they had been 88 when the telephone came into common use?

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Aros stone eighteen

If circumstances prevent you from doing something
try to find an alternative course of action.
Do not do nothing.

There is apparently a new kitchen appliance

of some sort which is so whizz-bang it does just about everything short of the washing up. My father has friends who have just invested in one of these things. He viewed it yesterday and came back looking a little bewildered.
"They have got rid of just about everything else except the toaster, the oven and the refrigerator," he told me.
I looked at him and waited for more. There had to be more. There was.
"You can make bread in the thing but then you have to take the dough out and let it rise and then you have to put it in the oven."
Ah, right.
"You can make icecream in the thing too but you have to put the mixture in the freezer afterwards."
Mmmm, maybe.
"It beats stuff up."
"And it chops things."
"And it whizzes things."
Go on.
"And I am not convinced."
Phew. I am relieved to hear that.
I am not good at kitchen gadgets. We have a toaster and a microwave oven. Most people I know own those things. We could do toast under the griller but the toaster is faster, more efficient, uses less power and does not require watching in the same way. We could go back to the stove top for some of the microwave oven things but I have to confess it is faster and more efficient for heating things and cooking a small number of things. For most things I confess I prefer our gas cooktop. I could live without the microwave oven.
In the cupboard I have a "vertical grill". That is the healthy option. The fat from the lamb chops we occasionally have drips into the tray below and can be "got rid off". I am not a happy cat when the little meat I eat is greasy with fat. We also have an electric mixer which I could probably just manage without but having inherited it from my mother I will use it as long as it lasts.
We do have one luxury item, or is it? This is the bread machine. It has now paid for itself and, even if I say it myself, the loaves I can produce from that are superior to the shop variety. It does all the work once I have put the ingredients in. All I have to do afterwards is wash the bucket and wipe out the machine...oh, and help to eat the bread.
Lastly we have what I call the "whizzer". My sister gave it to us. I use it quite often when making soup but I could probably manage without it if necessary.
After my mother died I slowly and quietly removed a lot of detritus from the kitchen drawers. It was a "good thing". I have never wanted to replace the things I packed up and passed on to the local charity shop.
I do not want kitchen gadgets. Cleaning them up afterwards can be more work than it is worth. They take up space we do not have. They can go wrong or fail altogether.
Someone asked me once what I thought was the most useful thing you could have in a kitchen.
My answer was, "A really sharp knife."
I hope I will keep thinking that as long as possible.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Aros stone seventeen

What does it mean to say "I know" - about someone?

You have to wonder at the sanity

of some government committees. The front page of this morning's paper has a report suggesting that farmers in the hills around us will now be charged for the water they use from their own dams.
Now dams are not the most efficient means of storing water but farmers have yet to find a better and reasonably cost effective way of doing so. They need water to produce the food that the rest of us eat. The farming life is one long gamble on the weather and fraught with other problems. It is a wonder to me that anyone actually wants to be a farmer. Cows need to be milked every day of the year. There are no days off for a dairy farmer. Other farmers find it difficult. Holidays? Forget it unless you can find someone you trust to run the farm for a bit.
So the government committee set up to look into water supply and conservation has just decided to make it a bit more difficult and expensive.
Now I am well aware that the water farmers collect means that water does not run off into reservoirs or seep into the ground so that the rest of us can use it. This is, no doubt, what the committee has in mind. Their argument is that the water collected should be paid for in the same way as a city water supply has to be paid for.
There are some problems with this however. The farmers are being required to install expensive meters to register water use - at their own expense. The system does not appear to take into consideration evaporation - which can be considerable. The farmers have had to build their own dams, relatively more expensive than the building and maintenance charges levied on city dwellers for using water from reservoirs. They are also being charged for something that falls naturally on their property and which they have been permitted to collect since farming began.
A little further into the article there are hints that domestic tanks might be the next thing to be targetted. In the past there have been places where it was actually forbidden to have a domestic water tank. You had to use the mains supply. This has now been recognised as foolish and the installation of a tank is required by law in many places. Tax the water used from it however and psychology is such that people simply will not use it. They will use mains water instead.
Now it seems to me that farmers should be exempt from such idiocy. Certainly they should be required not to waste water and to store it as efficiently as possible. That is commonsense and most farmers are all too water conscious. Farmers however are growing the food we city dwellers us. The measures being put in place will just make it more costly and difficult to do that.
Threatening farmers with arrest for failing to adhere to measures designed by a committee that does not itself farm or have any real idea of the praticalities of farming is just, in my book, not on.
Nor do I see why urban rainwater tanks should be targetted. The government has not paid for our tanks, nor do they pay for the maintenance of them. We still pay a supply charge for mains water. That helps to keep the system operating.
I am much more concerned about domestic swimming pools. There are three in our street alone and many more in the district. All these pools require constant maintenance and additional water. Right across our city there are domestic swimming pools which use copious amounts of water. I am sure they are nice to have (if expensive to keep) and that they can provide a good source of exercise and relaxation in the summer. But, and it is a big but, they use water. No government has suggested a ban on backyard pools or even a tax on them and the water they use. This would be much too unpopular.
It is easier to target farmers. They only grow our food. You really do have to wonder at the sanity of government committees.

Monday 17 January 2011

Aros stone sixteen

If something sounds "too good to be true" read the fine print.

Can there be "too many books"

about a subject? Yesterday we had friends unexpectedly come for the evening meal. Like my father they were teachers and, like my father, the husband was the headmaster of several particularly interesting schools.
When my father ceased headmastering he turned to other pursuits, conjuring, making conjuring apparatus, other woodwork, gardening, and reading. He still does these things.
His friend took up residence on a 20acre block and became involved in the local rep theatre and reading. He also wrote a book about his experiences as a headmaster. He sent it to a "contact" in a reputable publishing company who told him there were "too many books" using that subject matter.
Now I wonder if that really was the case or whether the contact thought that the book was simply not good enough? Is it really possible to have "too many" books about a subject? It seems to me that if what is said is being very well said in a new and interesting way then there has, potentially, to be a market for it.
It also happens that there are new, badly written books out there about subjects which have had a great deal of exposure. When knitting became very popular again there were a number of badly written books that appeared very quickly, far too quickly. There were books which followed on the success of Harry Potter. Some were good and some were not so good. Some were terrible.
So, the reminiscences of a headmaster? I suspect there was room and there still is room. It may be that someone else would have been interested. There is also the possibility that it simply was not good enough.
But, can you have too many good books?

Sunday 16 January 2011

Aros stone fifteen

Make time for friends who need you
Even when you do not have time.

I spent part of yesterday writing

a short story, a very short story. It is a submission for this:

They may not want it. I certainly will not hold my breath over ever having anything accepted but I felt compelled to try. I am not there in Queensland to entertain the children while the adults start the long, tedious and dangerous task of cleaning up. I do not have large financial resources to simply donate a substantial sum. They do not, so far, require my professional services.

As I have mentioned elsewhere I do not normally write short stories but it is something I can try and do. In that sense I am fortunate. There are many people around me who would like to do more to help in a disaster but there is nothing they can do. Yes, they can give money but their financial capacity is often limited. It often leaves people with the feeling that they "have not really done anything". There is also a growing perception that money is often "wasted". (It is but, so far, nobody has solved that problem and it does not negate the need for money.)

I know someone else who, also having an apricot tree with an abundant crop (and the necessary permit), has made almost one hundred jars of apricot jam. She will sell them today at a small market and donate the proceeds. Her husband helped to stone the fruit and will assist her today.
As she collected the labels I had printed from my computer she said, "I am so lucky I can do something."

And I think that might be part of the problem. People who want to help often want to "do something". Donating a little money is not the same thing. "Doing something" makes them feel better, a little less guilty. They want to give some time or some effort. I think that is one reason why it is so important for some people to have at least one leisure occupation that produces something tangible that other people can enjoy. They need to create. They need to share.

I also think our education system will fail if it fails to give people the skills with which to do that. We need to consider those in need of help and we also need to consider those who need to help.

Saturday 15 January 2011

Aros stone fourteen

Don't tell me, ask me.

Patrick White won the Nobel Prize

for Literature in 1973 - the only Australian, so far, to have won the prize. I am not sure he deserved it.
My father read White because his books were set texts for his degree in English Literature. Even now he says they were the books he enjoyed the least.
I was once introduced to White by Judith Wright with the words, "This is Cat and be polite to her. She writes too."
I soon understood why. White was a very rude man, a boor and a bully. He was extremely arrogant. He was not liked by his fellow writers - or at least those of my acquaintance. Some had read some of his work but I never found anyone who enthused about it. There may be people out there who enthuse about White and can understand what is so great about his writing. I have never managed to get through one of his books. They bore me.
Yes, it is probably me. Peter Carey bores me. Tim Winton bores me. I think Colleen McCullough's work could do with drastic editing.
This is probably terribly arrogant of me. I wonder sometimes if I should not make myself sit down and read these Australian writers. They are, after all, supposed to be "good". They are the writers whose work tends to be known as "good writing". It makes me wonder whether I do not appreciate "good writing" - whatever that might be.
So, I am interested when UK writers tell me they know about Australian writers and like them. To date they have not mentioned White or Winton. One person has mentioned Carey and, like me, does not "get along" with him. Tom Kenneally has been mentioned and, although he irritates me, I recognise he can write. Sonya Hartnett and John Marsden have been mentioned. Garth Nix has been too.
Colin Thiele has not been mentioned, indeed he seems to be little known outside South Australia despite "Sun on the Stubble" and "Storm Boy". People know the titles rather than the name of the author. Other children's books like Robin Klein's "People Might Hear You" and Ivan Southall's "Josh" have never rated a mention and yet they are outstandingly good books in my view. Then there are the quieter, gentler reads, Hesba Brinsmead's "Pastures of the Blue Crane" and Eleanor Spence's "The Summer in Between" - both under-rated books about growing up.
The internet age may make more very recent fiction internationally available but I think we have irretrievably lost some past treasures. They matter because they are among the books that almost certainly influenced current Australian writing. I can be fairly certain that Hartnett, Nix and Marsden have read some of these. I just wonder if they have read Patrick White.

Friday 14 January 2011

Aros stone thirteen

I wonder what the words will be
for the things we have not yet invented.

Yesterday I had an e-conversation

with a friend who lives in Edinburgh. She was making some inquiries about the flooding in eastern Australia. This morning someone else I know made a comment on another forum about the fact that less is being said about the floods in Brazil.
Now the loss of life in Brazil has been far greater. If the news media is to be believed around four hundred Brazilians have lost their lives. All of them are someone else's family. Outside of Brazil that is, unfortunately, unlikely to make much impact. The area affected is small. It is disaster prone. The people are poor. There will be no major impact on the world economy. It is an every day sort of disaster that people now just accept as "ordinary" or "one of those things".
It does not make it any less of a disaster to those who are experiencing it - and it should not make it any less of a disaster for the rest of us. I will try to remember that as I write the rest of this.
The floods in eastern Australia cover about one fifth of the country. That is now an area larger than France and Germany combined. They have also directly affected about one fifth of the population and are already having an indirect impact on the rest of the country. That one fifth of the country is also responsible for about one third of the economy. The economic impact of the floods is yet to be recognised but it will reach beyond Australia.
The floods will affect everything from the availability of some fruit and vegetables in the local greengrocer to manufacturing in China. (Coal cannot be transported at present.)
More could have been done to avert the disaster. Everyone knows that although not everyone agrees on the possible solutions. There are even some people who say we have to learn to live with these sort of situations, that nothing can be done to prevent them. That may well be true but there are things that can be done to reduce the damage done by flooding. We do not do nearly enough to conserve and redirect water in Australia. It has often been considered economically and environmentally unsound.
Reports in the news media do not suggest that this is likely to change in a hurry. Whether we learn anything from the disaster has yet to be seen. We have a responsibility to do so, not just for ourselves but for the rest of the world. Other people depend on us as well.
As I write this twelve lives have been confirmed lost in the floods. Some of those were unnecessary and avoidable. Somehow that makes it even worse but people simply did not do the right thing. They are not living in precarious shanty towns in a Brazilian slum.
My father wanted something from the hardware store. They are out of stock. When will they get some in? They have no idea because the only importer is based in Brisbane and has been flooded out. When he came home and told me this we looked at one another and shrugged. It is a minor inconvenience compared with the loss of life.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Aros stone twelve

I do not have a right to communicate
And I do not have a right not to communicate.

Keeping people informed

in an emergency is vital. It saves lives. I could go on and say a great deal more but that is all I need to say.
As part of the business of keeping people informed our ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) has had extended national news services instead of the usual local parochial service. Now I would have thought that was important and that it would have been welcomed by most people. Not so.
Several of the locals have been complaining. They do not want to know about "all that doom and gloom" in Queensland and New South Wales and "so what if the Murray is flooding. We can't do anything about it". The television programmes individuals in their households like to watch have been put on hold for a few days. This is apparently a catastrophe - for them - especially during school holidays because "the kids are bored enough as it is".
I do not know whether I have merely been unfortunate enough to strike a small number of people who grumble about anything or whether this is something worse. I know about "compassion fatigue" but this seems to be about something different. They really do not want to know.
Now my father avoids watching the news but it is not because he does not want to know or does not care. If anything he cares too much. He worries and wishes he was young enough and fit enough to help. I do watch the news - but I watch it selectively. I do not trouble myself with the latter part of the bulletins which discuss sport in detail. This is of no interest to me. However I know sport is an all consuming passion for other people so I say nothing. Currently my father and I are missing the one television programme we do occasionally watch. The short documentary programme "Global Village" has, once again, been replaced by sport - this time the "Paris-Dakar" car rally (which is misnamed as it is actually being held in South America). We might grumble a little to each other but we have not said anything to anyone else. Global Village will return eventually.
But the grumblers seem to believe that their lives should not be disrupted because of a catastrophic event somewhere else in the country in which they live. They seem to be quite unaware that it does and will affect them well into the future. There will be an economic impact on everyone in Australia, indeed a global economic impact. Their response to this was a shrug and "It won't be that bad" and, in one case, "That's a load of nonsense. They are just saying that to try and get people to donate."
Do we get too much information these days. Is the only way to cope with information to switch off, to stop taking it in? I find it hard to believe the lack of concern and compassion. Whatever happened to the Australian concept of "mateship"?

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Aros stone eleven

Is writing a conversation with oneself
Displayed to other people?

My father has a garden

and has had gardens for as long as I can remember. Now we have a friend who comes for two hours once a fortnight to do the things my father cannot manage. My father pays him to do things like net the fruit trees to protect them from the birds (who would leave nothing) and keep the bottlebrush trimmed to a manageable level.
There is also the almost magical arrangement of utmost simplicity which keeps the western side of our house cool in summer. This consists of poles leaning at an angle against the house. The vines from the fence grow up these and provide a shady canopy. In winter the vines die back and the poles come down letting in the light again.
My father has lived in this house long enough to have a scattering of fruit trees, an apricot, a plum, two peach trees, two apple trees, a lemon and a grapefruit tree. There is a passionfruit vine, berry bushes and a variety of tubs. There are also garden beds.
This year my father has planted pumpkins under the clothesline. I am not sure he was thinking too carefully when he did this. Some of the leaves are larger than those of a giant water-lily. Nice. The trouble is that they are also much higher. They are becoming entangled with the sheets. I really do not want that.
He came out to look at the problem the other day. There is a solution. He will get shade cloth and we will drape it over the plants and flatten them slightly until the washing dries. When the washing is in we will remove the shade cloth. Fair enough. Pumpkin is useful. It keeps. I can live with that.
But, there is no more shadecloth to be had at any garden supplier within range of his gopher. I had no idea so many people grew pumpkins under their clotheslines.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Aros stone ten : I am trying to catch thoughts

I am trying to catch thoughts
but they are like water in a net.

We have far too much water

in parts of Australia right now - and we are not allowed to use it.
Now I know that this will sound absolutely crazy to those of you who live in Upover rather than Downunder but we have a little problem with water. Well, we have a big problem with water.
We have the River Murray and the other rivers which flow into it. These rivers keep Australia alive. We need to take care of them. We have also had years of argument about who uses the water and why they use it and how they use it.
Normally we do not have enough water for everyone to use as much as they want to use. Water has also been used in ways which are, to put it mildly, inefficient. Australians grow rice and cotton. They irrigate by water wasteful methods. Urban areas do not do nearly enough to conserve water and recycle it. Not everyone has a rainwater tank and even some of those who do have tanks do not use the water.
But, the truly ridiculous thing at present is that South Australian irrigators along the River Murray are not permitted to use 100% of their water allocation despite the fact that the water levels are expected to reach the same levels as the floods of 1956. These irrigators are growing our food. They will be expected to supply food to replace crops that have been ruined by floods in New South Wales and Queensland. They are expected to do this on a 67% water entitlement, which is up from previous years but still not enough.
Our state government has just shrugged and said that the inter-state agreement does not allow them to change the amount the irrigators can use. Why they are apparently not even trying to negotiate is beyond me. Why the Commonwealth government has not stepped in and demanded action is beyond me. The irrigators may well revolt and just use the water. This is two days water running out to sea that we are talking about, two days out of several months of water. We may be faced with years of drought again but water used now will help to preserve water use in the future.
My own view is that this is a national emergency and matters should be sorted out rapidly. The government tells me I am wrong but they cannot explain why.

Monday 10 January 2011

Aros stone nine

Why are there so few words
To describe the perfume of memory?

Getting feedback on my latest attempt

to write something is proving more difficult than I anticipated. I don't know whether to ask whether those who were "volunteered" by their parents have actually looked at it or not - or whether they are trying to be nice by not telling me.
But something curious happened to me yesterday. I went out to lunch with a small group of friends. This has been going on for a number of years now. We each take a plate of food to share and sit and knit. There is an unwritten rule that we do not gossip about other people so the group has survived. Television inevitably gets discussed so I remain largely silent at those points. Films get discussed, occasionally I have seen one. Books get discussed more rarely. Only three of us do any serious reading and our tastes are very different. We talk knitting, knitting techniques, plans for projects, design points. We talk about other crafty things.
Occasionally we ask each other what we have been doing outside work and our usual activities.
This question usually comes up over the Christmas and New Year period. Yesterday, for the first time, I mentioned that I had finished writing a book and passed it out to be read. All I said was, "I finished writing a novel for children and I have passed it on to a couple of children to see what they think."
The announcement was met with silence. Nobody seemed sure what to say to me. Nobody asked what it was about or indeed made any comment at all. After a moment someone said something else. Conversation was resumed.
I do not normally talk about the fact I write. I definitely do not talk about a work in progress. Once something is finished then I will, if asked, mention it. I am well aware that nobody else in my immediate social circle writes.
The silence puzzled me. The lack of a single question or comment seems strange. Did I shock them? Were they bored? Did they think I was boasting? Were they embarrassed? I just do not know. I will not mention it to them again.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Aros stone eight

Music in a minor key,

Half heard, half remembered

Exquisite agony.

It was a wild and windy night

and no, I do not care if that sounds like Snoopy sitting on top of his doghouse with his typewriter in front of him.
We get "gully winds" at this time of the year. I do not fully understand the geography but they have something to do with our physical location and the variation between ground and air temperatures. Whatever their cause they can rage all night and do considerable damage in the process.
Last night was one of the worst we have had in years. The local branch of the State Emergency Service will be busy most of the day removing large branches which have fallen in the wrong places. People will have to get out and remove debris from all sorts of places. We have some cleaning up of our own to do. The last of the apricots will almost certainly have fallen in the wind. With luck most of them will have fallen into the netting rather than making a sticky mess on the ground. Whether we will now get any plums or peaches depends on how well the netting (there to protect the fruit from the birds) has held the trees together. We may be lucky. So far I have not dared to look.
Over our suburb and adjacent suburbs however there will be more damage than is necessary. This always happens. This year the problem has three major causes. The first is the drought. Although we have now had some rain this did not come soon enough or in a great enough quantity to save some trees. If they have survived they are now losing limbs. The second is the failure of some householders to do necessary maintenance. Some people are simply unaware of the need to do it and others fail to do it. The third problem however is the conservationists who want us to leave everything as it is. They object to limbs being removed from trees. They object to trees being removed. They demand only "native" trees be planted.
The reality is that many gums and other natives, beautiful in their own way, are quite unsuited to the urban landscape. They do have a tendency to drop their limbs. It is the way they survive.
There was an enormous crash in the night. I know what has happened. I can see it from here, or rather I cannot see it. The big gum, about which even the council had doubts, has fallen. Going to the corner I can see it has fallen into the road and not on a home or even a car. By some miracle it just missed the power lines. The men have arrived to remove it. Those who own the houses around it will be relieved. They wanted it removed for safety's sake. The conservationists had lobbied against removal. None of them lived close by but they won.
I love trees. Our house is surrounded by them. Our street is lined with them. Thankfully none of them are the big gums. They belong elsewhere.
I can understand what the conservationists are concerned about. I can understand what the environmental lobby is worried about. Like any other groups however, when they become fanatical about a cause they become dangerous. This time we were lucky. They have to get the balance right.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Aros stone seven

When you say you see me what do you see? When you say you see what I mean what do you understand?

There is more to getting published

than writing something which is outstandingly good and following the rules with regard to pitch.
If you want to know about that go over and read Nicola Morgan's excellent blog. I do not disagree with her BUT....
I was talking to a publisher a couple of days ago. I have been pondering what he said since then. It was depressing to say the least. Now I will hasten to add that this particular publisher does not deal in children's books, only adult books. He may be wrong but it is still worth putting it up here and asking what other people think. If you read this then I would like to know.
I will say at the outset that I did not approach this man. I did not know him. I was introduced as the person "who writes to the papers". Right. He told me he "likes my letters". That is nice. The person who introduces me then says that I have also written a couple of books. He looks edgy - and I don't blame him. It is like asking a doctor to diagnose an illness at a party. You don't. I wriggled out of the conversation at that point.
Later however he came back to me to offer me some advice. The advice amounted to the fact that, while I might like to go on writing for the fun of it, I would need to face reality. "To be honest Cat you are too old. Publishers are looking for younger writers, much younger. They want writers with a writing life ahead of them. They want people who can provide them with multiple books, not just or maybe two ."
I was too stunned to say anything. It got worse.
"You could write an outstanding book but I doubt anyone will be interested. You need to be able to put in the other work as well. Authors have to be able to get out and do their own publicity. Adelaide is the wrong location for a start. You would need to be able to get out into retail venues and schools and do the book signings - and you couldn't do the book signings anyway. We can't just publish something and hope that it sells. It could be the next Ms Harry Potter and it won't get picked up unless you can do that sort of thing. Take my advice, give up the idea and just write to the papers instead."
He strolled off leaving me still speechless.
Now Nicola Morgan - and others - say that it is possible to be published if you write something that is outstandingly good and you pitch properly etc. Nowhere do they mention age or location as specific advantages or disadvantages. (I will ignore the comment about signing books. There is not much I can do about that.)
Obviously people living in Adelaide do get things published but are age and location a disadvantage? What do you think?

Friday 7 January 2011

Aros Stone six

I like first light - before I get too busy to see and hear the world.

There was a jingling

outside the window yesterday afternoon. I did not take too much notice at first but then it grew louder and more insistent so I looked out.
Miss Puss (the cat from across our street) was there looking up at me. She stepped back carefully with her paw holding something down and gave a small miaou-purrup of pride. Under her paw there was a still twitching rat. It was not a large rat but it was still a rat. There are a few of these wretched creatures in the area around the fruit trees belonging to use and multiple neighbours. They are a variety which live on fruit and, thankfully, prefer the outdoor life. I have never seen one scampering near the house.
But it was Miss Puss's behaviour that I found interesting. Having attracted my attention she picked the rat up between her teeth and went on her way. It was as if she wanted to tell me, "I have caught a rat."
Miss Puss is not a particularly friendly cat. Her owner says she does not like being stroked or even touched. She returns home for meals. At night she sleeps in an old laundry basket on top of a laundry cupboard. Apart from that she remains out of doors. She rarely bothers to communicate with humans.
Pluto (from the other end of the street) is a different story. He has complete cat confidence in his welcome and his ability to communicate. He will stroll in and demand attention. Like the last cat we had he is more than capable of "talking" to me. There are all sorts of indicators from a twitch of the tail to a lift of the whiskers or the flick of an ear to tell me something he apparently wants me to know.
And that is the thing I want to the cats want me to know? I suspect they "think" in images before sound but do they reason things out? Did Miss Puss catch the rat and deliberately come in my direction. She could just as easily have gone the other way. Did she notice me and "think" to herself, "I will show this human I have caught a rat". It seemed so deliberate.
If I was sitting in this chair and our last cat came in and sat in the doorway with a "miaou" I would say, "What do you want?" He would then, apparently quite deliberately, do one of three things, go to where he was fed, go to where he would be brushed or come and jump on my lap.
It is possible to argue that this was Pavlovian conditioning I suppose but the choice appeared to be deliberate on his part.
I don't know what cats think. I don't even know if they do think. If they do think then I do not know how they reason. Dogs appear to be much more straightforward. A well trained obeys commands. A cat will never do that. I infinitely prefer the independence of cats but I would really like to know, did Miss Puss want me to know?

Thursday 6 January 2011

AROS Stone five

In nature there is no such thing as "colours which do not go together".

I do not work I just

do things. Yesterday's non-work involved two loads of washing, ironing, meals, bread making, answering 83 e-mails for people who do work and the leisurely proof-reading of a thesis that nearly put me to sleep.
The latter was very relaxing. I will not trouble you with the topic. Suffice to say it was intensely dull and badly written. It is worthy of a fail but standards are low enough for it to be passed - just.
I have read more than my fair share of doctoral theses. One or two have actually been interesting, some have had interesting moments, most have been dull and some intensely dull. Most of them have been badly written. Ability to do research and the ability to write do not necessarily go together. There is almost an unwritten rule that research must be written in the most turgid prose possible - along with the use of unnecessarily long words.
But, I must remember that reading these things is not work. (I am not sure what it is.)
What bothers me more is the subject matter of some of these things. Are they really adding to our knowledge of the world? Are they really about something important? Have people run out of sensible, useful things to research?
There also seems to be a notion that you must be able to find research about your research. You need to be able to show evidence of reading. You must be able to quote from the research which has gone before. Nothing else is acceptable until you reach post-doctoral level.
This is not exploration. It is treading paths which have already been trodden. It is nothing more than a quick step off to the side before darting back to the safety of the known. I was once told "Don't quote outside the set texts. I don't have time to read anything else."
I can understand why this is happening but it worries me.
I am glad I "do not work". It gives me the freedom to explore.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Aros Stone four

Saying thanking you is important, doing thankyou is more important still.

Chewing my fingernails is not

going to help the situation so I am going to try and ignore the fact that I have not heard from the young reader who was volunteered by his parent. The circumstances are such that I feel I cannot ask. He may not have read it at all. He may have read it and loathed it. He may just have resented being volunteered. I will not ask.
I hated being volunteered for anything by my parents, particularly my mother. My mother would often volunteer me for things I had absolutely no interest in doing, knew I would do badly or knew I would not be able to do. She also had a habit of volunteering me as a "friend" to "suitable" people in whom I had absolutely no interest and, of course, they had no interest in me either.
Parents have a habit of doing this sort of thing. They naturally believe that they know what is best for their child. Some parents also believe that they can make their children into what they want them to be. I rather suspect that the end result is a miserable child, a worse childhood and an adult working in a role they loathe but believe is "right" because it is the one their parents chose for them. They then turn around and do the same thing to their children - or try to.
The Young Whirlwind will be in and out for the rest of the school holidays. She could have gone to the holiday programme at her school. It would have been the "right thing" in that she would have been under the supervision of adults and had her choice of activities chosen largely by them. She would have been mixing with her peers. It was not what she wanted.
We are going to do the "wrong thing" and enjoy ourselves. Her father says he is happy about that. He is a wise man.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

AROS Stone three

It is the first turning which decides the direction of a journey.

The local retail industry is

complaining about the "unfairness" of on-line competition. They are complaining about the Goods & Services Tax (GST - VAT to those of you in the UK).
There has also been the inevitable inquiry about this - by the Productivity Commission. I doubt I will read it. Most things from the PC are, quite frankly, pretty dull reading.
The on-line shopping issue however is another thing. I do very little on-line shopping. I do not own a credit card so many sites would be closed to me. My father simply refuses to use his credit card on line - or over the phone. I keep a very small sum of money in a PayPal account linked to a separate bank account with another small sum of money in it. I buy books for our knitting guild in this way but it was not always the case.
Our guild once bought all their knitting books - there were never very many - from the same source. This was a woman who ran a small business from home, importing craft books and then selling them on. She did the, for most people, hard work of sourcing and paying for books overseas. They were not available in local bookshops. Local bookshops did not do business with suppliers who worked with the often very small publishing companies that specialise in craft books in general and knitting books in particular. It was the only way to get the books.
Now we have Fishpond and the Book Depository instead. There is also Amazon if you want to use a credit card. There is a vast array of books available from these sort of places. I know it is not doing local independent bookshops any good but even my local bookshop has suggested I try such places when their suppliers cannot supply what I am looking for.
And that is where the problem lies. Australia is geographically large and population small. The demand for things we sometimes need or want is small. A local shop is not going to supply everything, or even alternatives to everything - and those who supply local shops are not interested in supplying one of this book or that book from a remote source.
It has been suggested to me that, if the books we want are not available locally then we should simply go without. We should just accept it as part of life. We should just acknowledge that this is part of living where we live. I disagree.
It is even more important to have access to information if you live in a remote part of the world.
Even now Australians lack ready access to professional conferences which are often held in the northern hemisphere. It is simply too expensive to pay for an airfare and accommodation and the often high conference fees. On-line support is essential and, for some of us, the only way we communicate with professional colleagues.
But, I really think much of the local retail industry has little to complain about. They have a captive audience. They have little competition. You cannot just dash across the Channel for a day or hop into Italy from France or Switzerland. Go shopping here and you will see identical items in many shops, all sourced from the same place - and imported largely from somewhere in Asia. People buy these items because this is what is available and comes at a price they believe they can afford - because that is what they are being told. Retail gets away with it.
On-line competition may actually be good for local retail - if they start to do some work.

Monday 3 January 2011

AROS Stone two

Bark is clothing for trees.

We went to see "The King's Speech"

last night. I would recommend it.
I knew the story. Anyone who has spent as much of their lives working with people who have communication difficulties as I have probably does know the story - or, at very least, the basic facts.
King George VI had a severe stutter and an unorthodox, untrained Australian helped him overcome it to the point where he could speak in public. It was never easy but the King managed it. The build up of tension to the radio broadcast in which HRH announced that Britain was at war was excellent. Colin Firth's acting is magnificent and worthy of an Oscar. I will leave it at that.
The story has great personal significance for me. If I can "name drop" for a moment I once met Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. She came to visit the institution at which I was doing some research and asked me what I was working on. Conscious that she had a room full of people who all wanted to talk to her (and feeling very nervous as well) I kept my reply brief. That was not good enough for her. I had mentioned "communication difficulties". It was something of personal interest to HM. She asked me several more questions, displaying a genuine interest in what I was doing. Then she had to move on but, as she left, she looked back and smiled. I am certain that, at that moment, she was thinking of King George and - possibly - doing things differently.
I have always done some things in highly unorthodox ways. When I taught children with severe and profound difficulties I also encouraged them to find ways of doing things that were - well, unorthodox. It did not always go down well with other professionals. There was always a view that "you should learn to do this in the way that everyone else does it". It is important to be "normal". It took me a long time to learn that looking "normal" is not important. It is much more important to be able to do something yourself and not be dependent on others.
I taught a child who could only hold his head up by flinging his arms out as well. When the therapy staff tried to keep his hands tied down so that he would "learn to hold his head up" all we got were tears and frustration. When the restraints were removed that child managed to learn to read despite having no speech at all. He did it his way and his way was different.
I could cite other examples.
The world is full of other examples of people who have done things differently. They have experimented. Sometimes they have failed. Sometimes they have succeeded. There is no "right way" to do something, only ways which work.
If you have a chance to see the film then go. It may encourage you to do something differently and succeed at something new.

Sunday 2 January 2011

AROS Stone for the day

A beginning has an end. An end has a beginning.

Names just tell me

they want to be used. It is annoying but that is the way it happens.
I have books about names. They make fascinating reading. I once picked up a second hand copy of a book called "Names through the Ages" by Teresa Norman. It starts with "the Dark Ages" in England and names like "Acha" and "Aelfgifu" for women and "Adelhard" and "Adhelm" for men. It covers Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and the United States and is one of those "useful books" that has a place on a (would be) writer's reference shelf.
But someone has just asked me why I called two characters in what they are reading by such similar names. There are actually three characters who share the name, one of them is their grandfather. He is not referred to by that name however but as the grandfather. The other grandfather, mentioned just in passing, also has that name. This is what happened. I tried other things but the characters kept telling me it was wrong. One boy has the English language version of the name, the other boy has the French version of the name. Their grandfathers would have been in the same position. The spelling is slightly different. The pronunciation is quite different. The boys are cousins. At the beginning of the book they have not met. They do not even know of one another's existence.
The adult reader asked if my choice was deliberate. The answer to that is, I think, no. It happened. It seems right. If it ends up being confusing to the reader then it will need rethinking but that is what the characters are telling me. It is also what happens in families. The same name or similar names get used between generations. My father and brother share one name which has been in the family for generations. My nephews are named after parents and grandparents. My niece has her great-grandmother's name.
I am named after a paternal aunt my father never met. She died young. We have a photograph of her. It was years before we saw it. When my cousin was writing up the family history for that generation he finally found a photograph of her. When he showed us my mother went quite pale. I look uncannily like my long deceased great aunt.
Names are not always easy. Most of the names I have used have turned out to be perfectly reasonable and sensible. Can you argue with John, Peter or Ruth? Is Lawrence or Miriam really that extraordinary?
I think Michael/Michel can work but, if it does not, then I am prepared to listen. Whether the characters will listen is another story.

Saturday 1 January 2011

What do you want for 2011?

I am not a "New Year's Resolutions" sort of person. I do not sit making endless lists of hopeless goals that I am unlikely to achieve.
I do however have some things that I hope for. They will require some effort on my part.
I hope my father enjoys another year. He will be 88 in February so we both know anything could happen but, at present, he is healthy enough and still able to enjoy working in the garden and his shed. I can help by making sure he is well fed, clothed and the house is clean. It will never be tidy but we both contribute to the untidiness.
I hope I remain as healthy as possible so I can go on looking after him. That means eating properly, getting enough sleep and exercise.
I hope I can keep this blog going. I began last year with about one third of the "followers" I now have. I did not, unlike some people, go actively hunting for followers. I would prefer that people found me. Thankyou for coming and deciding to tag along. I will try to make it worth your while.
I hope I can do more reading. I have added more books to the seemingly endless list of things I want to read. As I cannot afford to buy as many books as I would like I will have to wait for the library to obtain some of them for me.
I hope I can do more writing. I wrote a slighter younger than YA novel last year. The first three chapters are, I hope, going to be read by a young man who reads the manuscripts of published writers. His mother has said he will. If he likes it I hope I have the courage to submit it elsewhere. It was hard work and the next one I plan does not look easy either. I still want to do it.
I hope that there might be a contract out there somewhere with my name on it. I have to work on that.
I hope I can retain and grow my friendships. Working from home it is difficult to maintain face-to-face friendships. I need to remember that and take time out occasionally.
I hope I can continue to "purrowl" through the internet and visit "furriends" there as well. I wonder what you would be like if I actually met you. Maybe I will one day. I hope so.
There is a lot to look forward to and much of what happens will depend on me and what I do.

Thankyou everyone who stopped by and added a comment at any point this last year. I really appreciated it. Here is to a hopes-fulfilled 2011 for all of us.