Wednesday 31 August 2011

Some people will be disappointed

that columnist Andrew Bolt did not resign this week. He apparently came close to doing it when the Prime Minister allegedly interfered in the publication of a story which could have had (and may still have) negative consequences for her.
Our Federal Government is hanging on by a few threads - the threads of "independent" MPs who threw their lot in with the government. They are widely seen as having done so in contravention to the wishes of their own electorates and the overall vote. Losing the support of any of them or losing an MP could bring down the government.
Currently there are also MPs and Senators under scrutiny on both sides of politics. One of them is a government MP. If he goes then the government may well go with him. Naturally the government is doing everything it can to prevent this.
Dirt is being dug up and raked over by the media. Naturally the government does not like this either. In any other circumstances the MP in question would at least be answering more questions than is currently the case.
I do not know enough about the rights and wrongs of the stories in the media to be able to comment but I do know the government has been well treated by the media. Fiercely left wing individuals would undoubtedly disagree but most moderate, sensible individuals are aware that the Gillard government has had an unusual level of support from the media.
That may be what made the Prime Minister believe she could attempt to interfere in the independence of the press by 'phoning the CEO/Chairman of News Limited. I do not know. I do know that it was, at best, a tactical blunder of massive proportions. The last PM to try something like that was Gough Whitlam. Pre-internet days he might have succeeded. It is much more difficult now.
The odd thing is that the Prime Minister should even believe it might work. Had she let the story run the usual course she could then have asked for, and would have received, apologies for any inaccuracies in it. She could have used the situation to her advantage. Now the story, pulled from some websites, has sprung up in other places. It is being pulled apart. Bolt has written a column in which he discusses attempts to muzzle the media (and allegedly muzzle it with threats).
As it is readers and listeners are left wondering, "What do you have to hide?"

Tuesday 30 August 2011

I am now in possession of a

portrait of my cat-self. I am catnapping on a calico background. I look comfortable and, may I say, cute?
The little picture is a piece of machine embroidery made by someone I know. She has one of those very fancy and expensive sewing machines that do complex embroidery. I have seen a good deal of her work. She made me a knitting bag. It has a picture of a cat asleep in a basket which also contains balls of wool and the needles.
Such things can be well made or badly made of course but hers are well made as are her cushions, her place mats, her wall hangings and other creations. She once made an entire jacket out of machine made motifs on lace. It is not something I would even contemplate putting on, let alone wearing, but it is a work of art. It is extremely well made.
I do not wear florals, frills or lace and the person who gave me the bag knows this. Her clothing goes to the other extreme. She buys plain garments and then embellishes them with embroidery, lace, beads, frills. She buys floral printed knitteds and embellishes them with beads.
It is all part of her personality. It suits her. It would not suit me.
But, she has given me the portrait of my cat-self catnapping and I like it. It is, unlike all the other things she has done, very simple. It is simply black stitching on a calico background. The design is composed of a minimum number of lines.
It is a haiku picture.

Monday 29 August 2011

"We will be out

your way tomorrow and we wondered if you would be free for lunch," the person on the other end of the 'phone asked me.
"That would be nice but I'll have to ask the Senior Cat when he gets back," I say cautiously, "I don't know what he has planned. Could I call you back?"
I really do not have the time to go out to lunch but I will make time. Well, I have made time. I got up earlier. I have done what I would have done later in the morning and I do not need to prepare a midday meal. As we eat a main meal in the middle of the day this also saves time.
Like most other "working" people we knew we always had a main meal in the evening until I went to boarding school.
Australian schools generally do not provide cooked lunches for their students. My boarding school did and I assume most boarding schools do provide such meals for the boarders. Naturally staffing considerations mean they provide that meal in the middle of the day.
I never had a school cooked lunch. The girls' boarding house was deemed too far for me to walk to and from - and it would have taken me the entire lunch period - so I was provided with sandwiches.
The odd part about this was that nobody ever suggested I had lunch with the boys, who lived in a boarding house much closer to the classrooms, or thought that a meal could be put aside and reheated in the evenings. The sandwiches were usually filled with tinned baked beans for some reason. They were horrible and only hunger drove me to eat them. All too often the evening meal was something like baked beans on toast as well. I could scarcely wait for Friday evenings and the haven of my paternal grandparents' home where there was what I considered to be "real food".
Under my grandmother's guidance I would do most of the cooking there but Fridays were always a fish night. It was not that my grandparents were Catholics but that most people in the area ate fish on Fridays. They would often eat it at other times during the week as well but the local fish and chip shops (there were several) did a particularly roaring trade on Fridays.
My grandfather did not trust the fish from the fish and chip shop however so he would bring home something he had chosen himself. He would gut it and clean it and it would be cooked while he went the short distance down Jetty Road to the fish shop and picked up the regular order of chips. Other people did the same thing.
After a week of school food those fish and chips were wonderful. So was every other meal I consumed each weekend but the hot, greasy, salty chips and the moist fish enclosed in my grandmother's light, almost non-existent, batter were particularly welcome.
We rarely eat out. There are places where I am still reminded of the awfulness of school food. I will eat baked beans but they have to be hot.
And fish and chips have never been quite the same as they were on those Friday evenings - but I still like them.

Sunday 28 August 2011

My father has made

some more buttons from scraps of rare native timbers. He will not buy rare timber unless it has fallen naturally so only a little of it comes his way. It is expensive and often very difficult to work. Native timbers can be very, very hard.
He uses the rest of the timber to make small wooden boxes and pens. What is left however is too precious to waste and so he makes buttons.
My father does not claim to be an artist. He claims not to be able to draw a straight line. When my mother was alive he would consult her on design. Now he will consult me or, if one of my more artistically inclined friends is there, he will consult one of them.
The buttons are a joint design effort. He had made round buttons but he wanted to try other shapes. What, he asked, might be useful? Squares? Rectangles? Triangles?
I pointed out that sharp angles on buttons are not generally considered to be a good idea. He agreed.
He sat by my side as I jiggled the shapes that can be drawn on the computer. When we had something that looked as if it might be the right size and shape I repeated the design and he went off to play with his various machines and tools and the precious scraps of timber.
It was not easy, indeed it was very difficult. It has taken him a long time. Of course these have been made in between doing other things, mending another chair and making twenty of something else for someone else.
Last night however he came in with some buttons. There are squares. There are hexagons. There are ovals. They are made from Desert Oak, from Robina and from Bull Banksia.
As they are made by hand they are not all absolutely even. Far from detracting from their beauty this adds to it. He has oiled them with a special oil which will not affect clothing but, apart from that, they are natural. You can see the grain of the timber. The Bull Banksia has tiny silvery flecks, the Robina has small streaks of deeper brown and the grain of the Desert Oak is almost too fine to see but gives the surface an unique appearance.
"I think I might just go back to round buttons," he tells me, "They are much easier to make."
I am sure they are but these are, in their own way, small works of art. They will be given only to those who are able to appreciate such art - the art in timber as well as workmanship.

Saturday 27 August 2011

The infamous "Publish America"

has been news in writer circles again. As usual it has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
I was startled to see a couple of "tweets" suggesting that they have not yet been required to make a statement with respect to their use of JK Rowling's name.
Normally I would ignore any Publish America advertising. I know they are vanity "publisher". The problem is that not everyone else does. It is an even bigger problem when it becomes necessary to explain this to a child.
Yesterday the Whirlwind tore into the house as soon as she could get here from school. I have not seen her for a fortnight but I barely got the usual bear hug. She dumped a piece of paper on top of the tomatoes I was cutting up and excitedly told me to read it. I took one quick look and knew exactly what it was.
Yes, a print out of the page saying Publish America would, for a fee, put my work in front of JK Rowling. A friend of the Whirlwind, a child who has far too much access to a computer, had found it on the internet when doing a trawl for Harry Potter related material.
Of course the two girls thought they were doing me an immense favour. They have read and re-read the Whirlwind's copy of the novel I wrote for the Whirlwind. They would like to see me as a published author. It would be something they could boast about.
The Whirlwind was jigging up and down with impatience.
"You will do it won't you?"
"No because it is not going to happen."
"But it says..."
I explained in detail. I gave her a lesson in reading comprehension and suggested she ask her father, an expert in legal drafting, if he agreed with me.
At first she was sure I was wrong. She was, to put it mildly, annoyed with me. Her friend had gone to all that bother and I was not going to cooperate!
Before she could storm out of the house and go home in a huff I managed to calm her down enough to suggest we went to the computer and look at some of the material about Publish America. Reluctantly she agreed. The Whirlwind, like most people (including myself), does not like to be wrong.
We looked. She sat there, arms folded, glaring at the screen.
"Okay, so you are right. They're lying and they are stealing your money too," she finally told me. "So why don't people stop them from doing it?"
Why indeed? The language they use is as carefully crafted as a piece of legislation. They have obviously had expert legal advice for many years.
I just hope that JKRowling's legal team will prove even more expert. It would save more young Whirlwinds from being disappointed. It might even save some would-be authors from themselves.

Friday 26 August 2011

There is a row of mice sitting on

a sofa. They are behaving perfectly and nobody is running away from them. There are a few squeals but they are squeals of delight.
"Come and look at these!" someone calls out.
We all duly admire "The Mouse Family". They are knitted. There are all sorts of little details - from the laces on the teen mouse's sneakers to the hearts on the back of the blue sofa. It is one of the best "soft-toys" the show staff have ever seen. It is lined up on the trestle tables ready for judging.
Other items arrive over the next hour. They are put out on the tables. Some are good, others are not so good. There are some which stand out immediately. I silently note these.
There are also quiet moments between the arrival of the entries and I am able to look at some of the sections which have already been judged and put on display in glass cabinets. The knitting is adjacent to the woodwork section.
I know a little about woodwork, not a lot but enough to appreciate the work involved. This year there is another extraordinary piece by someone my father knows from his days in a woodworking group. This man makes replicas of buildings in timber. Said like that they do not sound extraordinary but these are made to scale. He has made our local St Peter's Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament in London, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and other exquisitely detailed works. Everything matches. The mitred joints are almost invisible.
My father has explained to me the process of making the internal cuts. It is a very slow and painstaking business.
While I am looking at it someone else joins me. We laugh about the horrors of dusting it. (It is easier to use a hair dryer to blow the dust away.) Nevertheless I know her admiration for the skill involved is as great as mine.
More knitting arrives. There are two exquisitely knitted Estonian lace shawls. They are characterised by their "nupps" - small beadlike bobbles made by increasing and decreasing stitches five or seven at a time. The black shawl is made from particularly fine yarn and knitting the nupps would have taken great skill, patience and probably more than a few moments of anxiety. The cream shawl is made from slightly heavier yarn but it is still well done. There is a very fine white mohair shawl in a Shetland pattern. I would not knit complex lace in such fine mohair yarn. The pattern tends to get lost but it is nevertheless executed with great skill.
There is a full length coat which has an intricate many coloured design. I happen to know the knitter is 83. There are several other entries by the same knitter. Every entry displays a different skill. Her standard is high.
Then someone brings over the items that arrived by post earlier in the week. There are seven entries from one person. Every item is made with a skill most knitters can only ever dream of.
This knitter has sent entries before. They have always won prizes. We do not know who she is but there is a rumour that she is an elderly woman living in a nursing home. If that is true then it is even more remarkable as most of this work is made with very, very fine yarn.
One of the last items to arrive is something else I am expecting. The woman who has made it told me of her intentions last year. It is also a remarkably fine piece of work - the more so as the knitter in question has quite severe Parkinson's disease. I keep silent about this. I do not want to unduly influence anyone.
The judging begins. We have a chief judge but she never does it alone. We are all involved in the process because we have various skills.
I am pleased when the steward who has been keeping the names from us says that one prize has gone to the woman I mentioned several days ago. It is not a first but, against the exceptional competition, she will be pleased.
When it is done there is a decision to make. Which one will win best in show? The knitter we believe to be the elderly woman in a nursing home has won first prizes for all seven of her entries. Someone suggests displaying her work all in one place and giving her a special certificate. The overall convenor is consulted and agrees.
It means we can give the woman with Parkinson's disease the "best in show". She richly deserves this. Her garment is an original design. She has included a small explanation of what she has made and the history behind that type of knitting. The exceptional skill with which it has been knitted would have been sufficient but the extra effort she has taken has really lifted it above the other items we have considered.
The decision is made. I can then tell everyone what I know about the knitter. We know it has been the right decision.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

"Do you think you could mend this?"

my father asks me. He holds up one of his "gardening/shed" pullovers or jumpers. This one has another hole in it. He has caught it on something again. He claims tree branches and bushes grab him and that workshop machinery sneaks out and gives his garments a tug just for the fun of it.

There are a number of these garments. They were knitted by my mother, made from whatever happened to be left over from other projects and from odd-balls picked up cheaply in Spotlight (a haberdashery etc shop) and at the charity shop. The one he is currently wearing started out with grey cuffs. I re-knitted the cuffs once so they are now brown. There is a large patch in the front and a couple of darns. The blues/brown/red/yellow and grey one he is holding wil have to be patched not darned. The hole is too big to just darn - and the cuffs need re-knitting on that too.

He even has one that has a considerably large pink stripe in it, followed by a small green one and a larger yellow one. The colours clash horribly. My mother would just pick up the next ball of wool and go on knitting. The garments were never planned. The stripes do not match. The yarn does match - up to a point - but the colours do not.

Every one of these garments is now darned, patched, re-knitted in one place or another. They are worn and yet not worn out. The glue and paint and garden stains will not come out. They are a disgrace. I have offered to knit a new one or two, "No, no. These are all right for a while yet."
My father sees these garments as indestructible.

I know why he wants to keep them of course. My mother made them - and that is why I will patch them and re-knit the cuffs. He does not want to give up the part of her he can still hold.

I do wonder however what the people I will be working with today would make of these things. I am about to go to the Showgrounds where the judging for the knitting section will take place today. I wonder what the knitters who are entering would make of these garments my mother made. Quite possibly, like many knitters I know, they would quietly reach for their needles and repair the garments. They would do it because they value something handmade far more than the finest and most elegant of machine made garments.

"Why do people have

blogs if they don't write in them?" Daniel asks me. He has come from "over the back fence" to talk to me.
"You know me Cat, not particularly computer literate. I am not really sure what a blog is. Can you talk to him?" his grandmother tells me. It is one of those moments when she looks as lost as he does. Daniel's mother died not long ago and his paternal grandmother has moved in to help. She is doing a marvellous job on the love, food and clothes fronts but there are things she does not know about school. Daniel likes to tell me or my father about school. We know about school - or do we?
Daniel settles himself on top of the hay bale my father is yet to use for garden mulch and tells me about what he is doing. They have been talking about blogs at school. His class is keeping a blog.
"Did your class have a blog?" he asks me.
"No, we didn't have computers when I was your age," I tell him.
He looks at me in amazement.
"Then how did you write things?" he asks me.
Telling Daniel about this brings back memories of "the daily diary". Every morning we were expected to think of a sentence and, with the help of the teacher, we were expected to enter it into the exercise book which was used for that purpose. It was only ever done in pencil in our "very best writing". We had to keep a list of "spelling words" in a special dictionary which was another exercise book with a page for each letter of the alphabet.
I am not sure how long this took every morning. I know I always had something I wanted to say and that I was sometimes told the words I wanted to use were "too difficult". (My answer to that would usually be that they were the words I wanted to use and I could spell them thankyou very much.) My handwriting might have been atrocious but I could spell the word. Yes, I was an annoying child.
Apparently they still do something similar but they use a keyboard to "write" and "the computer does the spelling". It is not an everyday activity either.
"I don't think I could think of something every day," Daniel tells me.
"Well do you think that might be why some people don't write in their blogs every day?" I ask him.
He frowns and then says, "P'raps but we looked at some blogs and some people have not thought things for years and years."
I have just given him the answers I was given about not writing up blogs (thanks to Twitter last night) and he has headed off to school. But, I do wonder about his idea that some people "have not thought things for years and years."

Tuesday 23 August 2011

The events unfolding in

Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere have been making headlines for some time now. I also know there are local people who are tired of it and bored with it. It has reached the point where some of them no longer bother to watch the news or read a newspaper. They feel the news has nothing to do with them any more.
It also means they are missing out on local news. They have given up trying to persuade our state government we do not need to spend money on some of the more outrageous projects. They know that, despite protests and appeals, things they do not want to happen will happen. There is an air of weary resignation about many people, a "we cannot do anything about it" attitude. And yes, even a large scale protest would make little difference to the present government. It has a fixed term. There is no chance of getting it ousted in the short term.
The government is also trying to bring in measures it believes will be popular and which they fondly believe will actually win them yet another term in office. One of these is popularly referred to as "the bikie legislation".
This is legislation designed to outlaw motorcycle gangs like the Hell's Angels, the Finks, the Rebels and other groups which are seen as "criminal" organisations. The government has already tried to write this once - and failed. The New South Wales government has tried to write similar legislation - and failed. There have been good reasons why the High Court upheld the appeals.
Now our government wants to try again. It wants to bring in legislation similar to that in Hong Kong - where it is an offence to belong to a group associated with a Triad. It wants to "outlaw" motorcycle gangs. It wants to make it an offence for anyone to belong to such a group.
I have no time at all for the criminal element in such groups but I do wonder at the wisdom of endeavouring to outlaw them. It may well send criminal activities further underground while denying some people a support network. It is not a support network I would choose but I have seen a similar support network at work.
While I was at university I lived in a hall of residence. The senior administrator there lost her husband in a road accident. It was an appalling tragedy. I went to the funeral - and discovered myself surrounded by "bikies". There must have been well over one hundred of them. Her husband was a member of one of these clubs. These men turned up to support his wife. They were polite and courteous. They formed a motorcade which obeyed all the road rules.
Over the next months they saw to it that she had all the physical assistance she needed around the house. The lawn was cut, gutters were repaired and other essential jobs were done. They kept her husband's repair business open until she could sell it. They asked for nothing in return. It was all done "for a mate".
I do not know how often that sort of thing happens. I do know there is annual "Toy Run" here when the bikies collect toys for disadvantaged children and there have occasionally been stories of the way they have given assistance elsewhere.
Yes, there is enmity between gangs. Yes, there is a criminal element and there is occasional violence. Yes, some of them deal in drugs. Those involved will go on doing those things. They will be less visible than before.
And this will be the thin end of the wedge. If the government succeeds it is a small step towards the sort of repression seen in places like Libya. Do we want that?
Should we just say, "Have your gangs but we will prosecute law breakers"?

Monday 22 August 2011

"She's out in the car,"

my visitor tells me. He holds out the bag of carefully packed knitted items.
I take it from him as he adds, "She's not feeling too good today."
"I'll come out and just say a quick hello then," I tell him.
"That would be great Cat, thanks."
I do not know the woman in the car that well. She has been ill for a long time now. Her husband does most of the housework and the cooking. They get two hours of council help each week. Their daughter comes in to help her get up in the morning and go to bed at night.
There is not a great deal June can do but she can knit.
I first met her in our shopping centre several years ago. She was in her electric wheelchair and, unable to reach something, she asked me to do it for her. I inquired about the exquisite lace garment she was wearing. Yes, she had made it herself.
As is the way of such things we came to know one another in a superficial sort of way. We talked about the weather and about knitting. She mentioned she had run out of people to knit for and, having found out about my interests from others we both know, she offered to make some things for other people in need. I accepted and saw her inwardly glow.
Two of the items in the bag are going into this year's "Royal Show". The other four are for me to pass on to someone else to give to a young couple who have just lost everything they own through no fault of their own. The young mother is expecting twins in less than a month.
I go out to the car and June's face lights up.
"Those baby things can be thrown in the washing machine," she tells me. I know they can. She is well aware of the need for machine washable baby items. It is also typical of her thoughtfulness.
I ask what she is going to make next.
"Oh I have started that. I hoped you would come out. Look at this. Isn't it wonderful? I hope I can do it well enough."
She shows me an immensely complex and colourful pattern for a man's pullover. I know her husband would never wear anything like that so it must be going to someone else.
"It is just the sort of thing Solomon will like," June tells me.
Oh yes, I know Solomon. He is the young African refugee who lives across the street from them. He loves brilliantly patterned shirts and traditional tops. I have no doubt that the pullover will be a huge success as well. The patterns in the garment are traditional patterns from his part of Africa. They mean good things.
June is a good woman. Knitting gives her a purpose in life and a sense of worth.
I wave them off and go inside again. I put her show entries next to the others I am taking with me on Thursday. I do not look, just as I have not looked at the other things I have been given. I will be asked what I think when the judging is being done and I do not want to know who has put in what.
What I do hope is that June will win at least one prize.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Yesterday afternoon I went to

the social meeting of our knitting guild. My job at our guild is that of librarian. I have been librarian for nearly eleven years now. Nobody else wants the job.
I took on the job not long after I joined the group. The previous librarian was in her mid-eighties. There were three shelves of old donated books in a cupboard. She guarded these as if her life depended on it. Books were only loaned with the greatest of reluctance. I do not blame her in the least. It was just the way the system had developed. The fact that the books had been donated made her feel that none of them could ever be discarded, not even the tatty multiple copies.
No money had been spent on the library and most people were unaware of the wonderful array of good knitting books which were available. The exception was one member, an office bearer, who was a librarian on the verge of retirement. She knows a good deal about books and she knows about knitting books and the internet. Between us we transformed the library. We culled books and we insisted that some of the guild's healthy bank balance be spent on new books.
I buy books, maintain the order of the library and open the library for an hour each time the guild meets. When I put new books into the library I write a review of them for the newsletter. It is my contribution to the group. The professional librarian, now not in good health, does not often come to meetings. She has done her turn as Secretary and President and she has done much to support me.
Next meeting will be our AGM. There has been much discussion in the group about who will be the new officebearers. Nobody wants to be President. Nobody wants to be Secretary. I was asked and I have refused. I can never, because of another commitment, get to meetings on time.
I also pointed out that I already have a job. If the guild wants to survive they will need to find other members willing to take their turn.
Some people seemed rather puzzled by this. The library is apparently not seen as a job of any sort. It is "just books" it is "just there" and "there is not much to do".
The professional librarian and I have discussed this. It seems to be a commonly held view. The job of librarian is not to be taken seriously. It seems you can just sit there and read the books. There is a shelf-elf of some sort who does the actual work. Unfortunately I have not yet met the shelf-elf.

Saturday 20 August 2011

One thousandth upon a time ago

there was a cat who started to write a blog. She began putting her paw prints on the page on the 10th December 2008. The paw prints were not very clear and they may have faded a little.
Being a cat she had very little idea about blogs and blogging and, more importantly still, blog "eti-cat". She prowled rather cautiously into the blogosphere and, for a long time, wondered whether there was any point in visiting it. There did not seem to be any other cats there at all and there were no humans either.
Some humans appeared on the 29th March 2009. This rather startled the cat - who was almost convinced by then that humans did not appear in this virtual world. Indeed, the humans disappeared again for a while but then they started appearing again. They would drop by for a moment and then go again.
The cat was never sure what to make of this. She tried to purr at them and respond nicely when stroked. It made her feel rather irritated with her human friend Vanessa. She blamed Vanessa for giving her the idea that she needed a blog blanket in the first place. Vanessa still remains curiously silent on the subject. Some of Vanessa's friends have prowled in. Occasionally they offer the cat a stroke or rub her fur the wrong way just to remind her about the general importance of humans. They all seem to know a great deal more about the real world and the virtual world than the cat does.
Other humans have appeared too. Where they came from and how they got there remains an absolute mystery to the cat. Sometimes the cat wonders whether they are really there at all but just when it seems unlikely one of them will pounce on her.
In that time the cat's paws have been busy. She has had to earn her tuna, her biscuits and milk.
The cat has also written a book in that time and the draft of another. Her whiskers are twitching with ideas for still other books. Whether a human will be willing to take a cat onto the books for possible publication remains to be seen. Cats are purr-sistent creatures. It may happen.
In the meantime the cat has a severe case of paw itch, a need to keep putting paw prints on the page. Purrlease - if you are reading this - pounce on her occasionally and let her know you are there.

Friday 19 August 2011

Exam results days

were never happy days in our family. As "the teachers' kids" we were expected to set an example.
My mother was particularly concerned by this. It did not matter whether it was a quick mental arithmetic test or a major examination. We had, at very least, to pass and we were expected to do much better than that - full marks for mental arithmetic please! If we failed to reach expectations we were subjected to "extra homework".
My parents saw nothing wrong in this. They believed we could do it. We just had to do the work.
My siblings and I were given "times-table" and "spelling" tests at the meal table. It was one way of ensuring we were learning what we were supposed to be learning. I am not sure why but I have one sister who still cannot spell, indeed her spelling is atrocious.
Of course I did rather badly all the way through school. I never "reached my full potential". It had nothing to do with not doing the work or not being able to do the work. Even when I managed to get every mental arithmetic problem correct I would be given less than ten out of ten for poor handwriting.
Every afternoon I was expected to do "writing practice" for half an hour. My mother insisted on this. Did she genuinely believe that all she needed to do was ensure I was constantly humiliated and my handwriting would magically improve? I often wonder now what my teachers actually thought of her demands. It must have been obvious to them that my problems were due to my physical disability and nothing to do with "not trying". My mother always insisted I was "not trying". I think she genuinely needed to believe that. It prevented her from feeling guilty.
I remember getting my first external examination results. I knew I had worked hard and done the best I could. I also knew they would not be good. They should have been good, perhaps even very good. I did not fail but I came as close to failing as you can and still get a pass. There was of course an absolute uproar and I was told it was my fault. Well yes it was in a way. I simply had not managed to get enough down on paper. What I did get down I probably got right. I suspect the examiners were smart enough to realise there was a problem and they gave me all they could give me... a bare pass. It was not really encouraging.
I look around now at students doing their examinations. Students in the UK got their A level results this week. O levels come out next week. I know a number of people who have family members of that age. So far, most of them have met expectations, their own and those of other people. That is not to say they have all realised their dreams but they know they have done their best and their results reflect that.
This afternoon the Whirlwind will come in with her results for the week. She works hard at school and rarely slips up. She does not always get full marks but she is in the top group of her form. She will sometimes get upset when she does not get marks she believes she deserves but she knows she is a good student. She also knows that she can go on being a good student if she does the work. Her results reflect that. I hope she can remember it when she reaches her teen age years but her father will not demand impossible results and neither will I.
I think that is what really matters. Expectations are important. Doing the best you can is important. Trying to achieve the impossible is not.
I managed to get there in the end but I had to do it by myself. Some people would probably say "it made you a better person". I doubt that. I might have been a better person and done things differently with encouragement. I think everyone needs some of that.
So, if you know someone growing up and into their O levels, their A levels, their HSC, college entrance or matriculation - encourage them, expect something from them and make that expectation the best they can realistically do. Please do not ask them to try and achieve the impossible. We can all do better than that.

Thursday 18 August 2011

I have a rather long

letter in our state newspaper this morning. They prefer letters to be around 200 words, no more than 250 words. I have, more than once, managed to get away with closer to 400 words.
This is not because I am failing to be concise but because I have something to say and it needs to be said in that number of words. If I was not being concise someone in the editorial department would toss the letter aside. Editorial staff will edit spelling and grammar. They may cut a sentence or two but they do expect writers to be concise.
I have, more than once, been stopped in the aisles of the local supermarket by people who complain that their letter did not "get into" the paper. My first question is not, ""What was it about?" but "How long was it?". Very often the letter was simply too long for consideration. Examples of length, indeed the very words "not exceeding 250 words", appear on the letters page. When I point this out I am sometimes told "but you get long letters in". My answer to that is, "they know me". What is more I am usually concise. I do not often exceed the word limit. Many newspaper readers have a short attention span.
There are also topics newspapers will not touch. They cannot publish letters about cases currently before the courts. They cannot publish letters which might result in a libel action. They will not publish anything highly personal. Sometimes they will take a stance and choose letters which reflect that stance. And yes, they will seek out names they know.
I think there might be parallels here with other publishing. I am trying to learn from this.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

The "self-publishing" business

is apparently becoming more common. Am I tempted? No.
I know writing needs editing. It needs an outsider to read it and say, "That does not make sense. You have repeated yourself. Grammar! Did you run out of commas?" That would be just a start. There would be plenty of other faults.
Of course I like to think that my writing does not have any of those faults but one look at this blog would tell an editor there is work to do. I cannot afford to pay a good editor to do a good job. I like to think my writing is worth a good editor.
All writers need editors. Authors with multiple books on the shelves still use editors so the idea you can do it all yourself is not for me. If it is good enough then someone, somewhere will want to help me with the editing - I hope.
There are also all the other things I know nothing about. There is the set-up technical side - of which I know nothing. How do you choose a font? What about page lay out? Those things are just the start. The rise of e-books may reduce costs but there is still a great need for technical know-how. I just do not have that know-how.
Just as importantly there is the marketing side - of which I know less than nothing. Our local indie bookshop has occasionally provided a "book launch" for a self-published book. They might sell in small numbers. I admire the courage of the authors but I avoid such launches because there is, rightly, an expectation that you will buy the book - and no book has yet appealed sufficiently to me. I cannot encourage others unless I believe in what they are doing. I could not ask others to buy something I had self published. If it has been published by a reputable publisher that will be different. It will mean someone else has some faith in it too. That is important.
Self-publishing may well be on the rise however, especially as e-books become more accessible. Editors, with varying degrees of skill, are already offering their services. Some of it may well work, especially for smaller books or specialised books. The author is still going to need a great deal more knowledge than I have.
Other writers will still get caught however. They will use vanity publishers. The latest scam by one of the biggest vanity publishers, "Publish America", offering desperate would-be authors the supposed opportunity to have JK Rowling see their work is possibly one of their worst yet. Rowling is not going to sit down, read and criticise the manuscripts of hundreds or would-be authors. There is no contract between her and this vanity publisher and there never will be. They know this. They also know how desperate some people are for acknowledgement so they say, "Come on, pay us. We will be your best friend."
Friendship cannot be bought and even self-publication has to be paid for. I know I need an editor - and that is just a start.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

The island ferry service is

out of action. You did not even know we have an island? Take a look at a map of South Australia. See the bit that looks a bit like Italy and the blob of land underneath that? Right. That is Kangaroo Island.
My family lived there in the mid-60's. Back then it was even more isolated than it is now. It was serviced by the Troubridge - a "roll-on roll-off" vessel that operated out of Port Adelaide. The journey was an overnight one. We did it "sleeping" in the chairs in the basic lounge area dosed up on travel sickness remedies.
Going down the Gulf was usually fairly calm but the strip of water between the island and the mainland is one of the roughest in the world. As I have a compromised sense of balance at the best of times there were a few hours of agony before we hit dry land again. Do not misunderstand me. I love the sea and would like to live much closer to it but those journeys were torture.
Some years after we left the island they set up a ferry service and then another ferry service. There is now a ferry service from Cape Jervis, south of Adelaide. It is much closer and much faster. Like the old ferry service it takes cars. It also transports the essentials, including food and mail and the tourists who are now the life-blood of the island's economy. When we were there it was, supposedly, farming.
There is also an air service. This is better than it was too. When we lived there you landed on an air strip in a paddock. There was a tin shed which served as the office and the waiting area. If the weather was bad the planes could not land either because the cross winds were too strong or the landing strip was under water. All that has been improved to cater for the tourist industry.
I assume "the chicken strip" has gone too. That was the one section of paved road on the island. It was only wide enough for one vehicle at a time. The driver who moved over was referred to as "the chicken". (In reality most drivers moved over spraying up dust and sometimes rocks which would break the windscreen of the car they passed.)
Right now both the ferries are out of action. One is in dry-dock for maintenance. The other has problems with the gear box. The island is relying on air-transport which is fine if you want to get off the island and do not need to worry about a vehicle. It is less good if you want to go to the island with a vehicle or get essential supplies across.
I have said elsewhere on this blog that they originally considered having the capital of South Australia on the island, at what is now Kingscote. It is as well they did not.
Back then though there were some intrepid settlers who went to other parts of the island. They cleared land, built houses and endeavoured to make a living. They had no ferry service at all. Ships called in to Kingscote at irregular intervals and the supplies they brought were, to say the least, uncertain. There were no other services at all.
My parents said they would never go back to the island when we left so they made sure we saw as much of it as we could. It is a place with a rich history. There are a number of light houses around the coast. Like lighthouses anywhere in the world they are in isolated locations. We visited them and managed to learn a good deal. Life on the island felt remote and isolated.
On a journey back from one such visit my father stopped the car when we saw a cemetery. It is high on a cliff overlooking the see. It is surrounded by trees. It is old, as old as the settled history of the island. Yes, there are some older people buried there but there are also infants and small children. The dates are from the very earliest days of settlement. Of all the places we visited it is the place which left me with the greatest sense of isolation. It is difficult to comprehend what it must have been like for the first settlers.
The lack of a ferry service is making island life difficult but they are no longer really isolated.

Monday 15 August 2011

There was an overcrowded

house in one of the side streets on our way home. My sister was doing a detour and we came across it through one of those odd little quirks of chance.
It was an unremarkable suburban house with equally unremarkable surburban houses on either side. The steeply sloping front yard was covered in bark chips, a few lost looking shrubs and the party people.
There must have been one hundred or even more of them. What was odd was not just that there were so many of them but that they all wore the same stone coloured clothing. No, it was not a uniform. There was a considerable variety of dress - and undress.
There were also people you do not usually see in suburbia too, a Greek warrior and St George (or someone) was still, rather unsociably, astride his dragon. There were elegant women in chitons and men in togas. There was a row of earnest looking dwarves holding glasses and another leaning on a garden spade. There were elves, pixes, a gargoyle or two and others.
I have never seen so many "garden gnomes" in one place, not even the garden centre that once specialised in such things. They were all getting along very well with one another. There was no fighting or arguing or excessive drinking.
As we stopped and looked a large black and white cat strolled through them and stopped to look at us.
He gave me a look which said, "Ridiculous isn't it?" and then strolled on to the sunny spot near the letter box (gnome-shaped).
Yes, ridiculous - but it was marvellous fun for a moment.

Sunday 14 August 2011

There is an upside to

the recent trips to and from my uncle's house. It takes almost an hour to get there by car. I do not drive so I can knit in the car.
At the present time I am working on a "simple" knit project. It is not the sort of thing I usually do but this is being designed with other knitters in mind. There are long plain rows of knit and (seemingly) even longer rows of purl. The yarn in question is linen. It will wear and wash well but it has no elasticity.
Any knitter will know it is more difficult to knit yarn that has no elasticity. I am anxious to move on to a more interesting project, one which is gentler on the hands. Nevertheless I know I am making progress on this and it pleases me. I doubt I would have reached this point without the car journeys.
My sister and I went to the house yesterday. We will go again today. That will have to be it. The professionals will move in after this.
We have persuaded my father his services are not needed. Things will move more rapidly without him. We can be more ruthless. We do not stop and read things that do not need to be read or do not need to be read yet. We are not tempted to look inside the many photograph albums. My sister may do that later and put something together for our cousin. She has taken two thick stacks of charcoal sketches to work through as well. Most of them are likely to be unfinished but, if there is a gem among them, it can be framed for my cousin to keep.
And I will knit my way there and back. I will make something positive of all this to-ing and fro-ing. My sister is not a knitter so there will be no "knitting envy" attached to my activities in the car.

Saturday 13 August 2011

There is no door

on my uncle's bedroom. There was when he bought the strange little house. There were swing doors of the sort you see in a Western saloon in an American cowboy movie. My uncle had them taken off so he could see the patio leading to the garden.
Inside the bedroom there is a double bed. His bedclothes are grey, green, silver and black. He liked to think he was in twenties, not his eighties.
There is a bedside table. His personal alarm is still there - something else to be dealt with. There is a reading lamp. It has the brightest possible globe and no lampshade, a sign of his failing eyesight.
There is a chest of drawers. On top there is a hairbrush, although he ceased using a hairbrush some years ago. There are some old prescription glasses he has not used for at least eight years. There is also a picture of one of his children, my deceased cousin. It is a nice picture which captures my cousin's personality. My uncle has never managed to come to terms with my cousin's death. I can only try to imagine what it must be like to lose a child rather than a parent or a partner.
There are two wardrobes. I open the first one reluctantly. I know that some of his clothing has already been taken to the nursing home. This was the best of his clothing, the clothing that was considered by one of his carers to be the most suitable. It must have been difficult to find things. My uncle was an eccentric dresser. He wore clothes more suited to a teenager - but even a teenager would have been embarrassed by some of them. His wardrobe was filled with wild trousers, ferocious t-shirts and fiery sweatshirts. He was an angry man and it revealed itself in his clothing, especially his scant summer shorts and string vests.
I know the nursing home will not allow him to have what they consider to be "dangerous" footwear. He will not be able to wear the scuffs or the plastic garden shoes. My sister, a physiotherapist, has been trying to get him to wear something a little more sensible for years. Now he uses a walker and it is generally considered unsafe for him to move around alone. He has, among his many other health problems, diabetes and heart disease. His extremities, especially his feet, are purple rather than pink.
I dump all the shoes in one of the garbage bags I have brought with me. I can sort them out at home. I do the same with all the clothing there and move on to the next wardrobe where I repeat the procedure. I clear the dressing table. There is another wardrobe in what would once have been a dressing room and I do the same there. My uncle liked to buy clothes.
The friend who has come to help brings the wheelie bin into the bathroom. I empty the entire contents of the cabinet, apart from three sealed packs of pink tissues, into the bin. I do the same in with the "small" bathroom at the other end of the house.
Our friend has dismantled the computer and the sound system. They are being stored elsewhere. He has taken some quite valuable paintings and two valuable rugs from the wall. They are being stored elsewhere too.
The friend who drove us there is checking the gopher, setting it to fully charge the battery and ensuring that it is in good order. He used to work for the company who sold it so he knows about these things.
We move the wheelie bin to the kitchen. I throw out the last few things in the refrigerator - all past the use by date. I move on to the food cupboard and throw out anything past the use by date. The rest is packed to be given to charity. I do the same for the additional food cupboard in the laundry.
There is alcohol in the house. We leave it there. The person who house sits will be welcome to it.
I have given my father the job of clearing one small cupboard of his brother's personal papers. They are old papers. The new papers are in the filing cabinet and the other two men have already wheeled that out and taken it to the house where things are being stored.
"Don't read what's there," I warn my father, "Just pack it in the box."
Of course he cannot do that. It is all too much for him. He had insisted on coming but it has upset him deeply.
We were going to get the man who does the gardening to make up a couple of pots with scented plants for my uncle. Instead I give my father the pots and send him out into the garden with the suggestion that he knows what to do out there better than any of us. He nods and goes off almost cheerfully. Putting plants together is better than pulling papers apart.

Friday 12 August 2011

Clearing out a house

is never fun.
Today my father and I are going to his brother's house. We need to do some clearing out. His brother, younger by three years, has just been declared mentally incompetent. He is now in a nursing home and will not be returning to the house which has been his home for thirty years. The house itself will be cared for by a house sitter until my cousin can return to Australia and arrange to sell it.
There are things in the house which must be removed however and some of these are, naturally, very personal. This worries my father. He hates the thought of going through his little brother's home and removing anything. He knows it has to be done but that does not make it any easier. For my father all this is an almost unforgiveable invasion of his brother's privacy.
I do not like the thought of doing it but it does not worry me in the way it worries my father. I am another generation removed. I did not know my uncle when he was a child. I did not grow up with him. As a child I rarely saw him. We have never been close. That helps.
I have made a list of things that need to be checked and things that need to be done. We are getting some help from the friend who is driving us there and one of my uncle's much younger friends. My father has read the list, agreed those things need to be done and said he would not have thought of all of them.
To me the list is logical. I thought of the house and "looked inside" each room. I mentally pictured what needs to be done in each room before the professional cleaners come in. It sounds cold, clinical and uncaring but I know it has to be done.
What will be much harder for me will be to look out at my uncle's garden. He designed it. It is a work of art because he was an artist. He designed the extension to the house so that he could see the garden from the kitchen and his living area. He left the door off his bedroom so he could see out into the garden. His work room has glass windows so he could see on to the small patio.
Up the staircase there is another room with a balcony where it is possible to look down on the garden.
The garden dominated his life. When he could no longer do the heavy work someone else came in to help. He has had to leave it behind. There is a garden where he is now living. It is lovely but it is not his garden. He can no longer see well enough to see either of them.
All may not be lost. There are some scented items in his garden. At least two will grow well in pots. There is space for those pots where he now lives. He can have a little bit of the garden with him there after all.

Thursday 11 August 2011

"So what would you do

about it then?"
One of my local acquaintances who reads this blog and never bothers to comment on line (thankyou David - you might try sometime) wanted to know what I would do about preventing future riots. I am not sure you can prevent riots but I do believe there are ways we can minimise the risk of them.
There are all the commonly spoken of things such as "teaching respect". They are important but I will ignore them here and concentrate on something a little more practical. I would like to see children be taught to use leisure time - and then, in some cases, be given some leisure time.
I grew up in the pre-television era. My maternal grandmother was the first person to get a television set. She watched it in a darkened room, ate cashew nuts and knitted "television" patterns as she watched. When we visited her we were allowed to watch a local commercial television children's programme or "The Mouseketeers". My brother and I endured these things.
We would rather have gone down to the back fence of the property and watched the trains or read the old "Arthur Mee's Encyclopaedia for Children". Watching television was supposed to be a treat but we were used to "doing" things rather than sitting passively.
Our leisure time was not organised for us. We were tossed outside whenever possible. We did all the usual things out there. We explored the district and, especially in the country, we went a considerable distance without adult supervision. Inside we read, we used construction kits and we played board games. We also made things from all sorts of scraps as well as kits given to us by my paternal grandfather - mostly balsa wood aeroplanes and boats. If we had dared to say we were "bored" my mother would have found work for us to do. We were careful never to say that! When we went out we took books with us so we could read while the adults did the, to us, boring things.
I think that is the difference. We did things. We were active even when we were sitting down. What we did required more than pushing a button - even a button in reaction to something happening on the screen in front of you.
I suspect that there is a need to teach some of these activities and the skills we had as children. We managed to learn them naturally but the intervening both-parents-work generation has not been able to provide children with the same opportunities to learn them. The screen is a baby sitter and other skills, at least in middle class society, are provided by endless ballet, music, drama and sports lessons. Children are expected to excel in at least one thing, preferably more than one and all the while be supervised by an adult. They do not have the same opportunities to make decisions about activities. They are not used to organising their own free time. They do not have enough skills with which to fill it in a productive and varied manner. By the time they reach mid-teenage years "hanging out" in the shopping centre has become part of their social life.
At that age my brother and his mates were building a canoe and sewing "pup-tents" to go camping. I had written my first novel and my special friend had made the dress she wore to the Rural Youth dance. I do not think we were unusual. Now, if you bother at all, you buy the canoe and the tents. You buy the dress. Do you write the novel? Perhaps.
Now there are even schools which no longer allow the use of scissors and where knitting needles are banned as potential weapons. There is "no time" to teach crafts because computer skills are seen as more important. Some children do not have the skills with which to entertain themselves and that is one of the causes of the current problems.
I think we may need to teach them and provide them with the opportunities to do it in order to reduce "boredom".
Will adults trust children to learn these things? Will they recognise the need to do it? I hope so.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

"A state of anarchy"?

Our state newspaper, like so many others, loves to set up dramatic headlines. These often bear very little relation to what is actually going on. This morning's paper suggests that the United Kingdom is in "a state of anarchy". Nonsense.
Yes, there has been trouble over there. The problems are serious, even very serious. The UK government has had the unenviable task of trying to find cuts to spending after years of over-spending. The far left has used a police shooting to stir up trouble. It did not take much to mobilise the discontent felt by some young people. They have been fed a diet of "your rights" in school and in the media. They have not taken in the message of "your responsibilities" which should have been given equal weight but has sometimes been ignored.
Australia is no better. Our schools and our media have gone down exactly the same path. So far we have managed to avoid serious trouble. Trouble has been avoided because the current government is still in a "spend" mode with respect to social welfare. Although there are talks of cutting back no serious cutbacks have been made.
The government is unpopular and knows that serious cutbacks would make it still more unpopular. The Treasurer still talks about a "surplus" in 2013. If that happens it will only happen through creative accounting and cutting back in areas which are not vote winners. Any incoming government is going to have to make unpopular cuts. We are living far beyond our means and have been for a long time.
Trouble has also been largely avoided because we have a small population spread across a wide geographical area. Pockets of trouble can be relatively easily contained. Local media may report incidents but they will not always make the national media.
It is far from a state of anarchy, just as the UK is far from a state of anarchy. Anarchy requires far more people to be involved in the senseless violence. The vast majority of people in the UK condemn the violence. Many ordinary, decent young people have used social networking sites to the good and are trying to assist with the clean up.
There will be trouble here in Australia. How far it will go will depend on a great many things but we are not immune from it. I also believe that the vast majority of ordinary, decent young people will condemn it and contribute to the clean up.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

National Service is usually

looked on as being "military service" and frowned upon except in extreme circumstances.
But, why should National Service be military service? There are many other ways young people could perform national service.
When I have mentioned this to other people the idea is almost always rejected. I am told it would be too difficult to implement. Young people "would not want to do it". It would be "too expensive" and "too difficult" to implement. There would "not be enough for them to do" and "the insurance issues would be too great". "Who would supervise it?"
I have yet to meet someone else who thinks it would be a good idea. Yes, I admit it would not be easy to implement it. Is that a reason not to try?
My sister is opposed to it because, she says, her older child would not have gone to university. He went to university and wasted a year on a course he would not have started if a gap year had taught him he needed a more people oriented career. Her younger child regrets not taking a gap year but his mother still insists it would have been the wrong thing to do.
I know other people who say their child/ren would not have gone to university if they had taken a gap year. They say their children need to keep up the momentum of their final school year.
I wonder about this. Yes, a few students might not do this and some students might feel frustrated by having to wait. If someone does not go to university as the result of a gap year then chances are they were not really cut out for university life. If everyone else is in the same position then the frustration would be shared and, I believe, decrease - if such frustration really exists.
The real thing however would be that young people would have an opportunity to find out a great deal more about themselves and the world before embarking on further training or study.
They could be paid the equivalent of a youth allowance or unemployment benefit and required to work in a range of projects which would benefit everyone. It would give them extended work experience. They could do a lot of growing up in a year of service. I have no doubt they would also be less inclined to vandalism and law breaking. If they had been involved in a project they would be much more likely to protect it.
A columnist in our state newspaper was, rightly, outraged at the way some newly planted trees had been vandalised - just for the sake of vandalising them. It was done by "bored" young people with "nothing to do". What's wrong with spending a year planting trees?
John Major once said of youths causing trouble, "We need to understand a little less and condemn a little more." Perhaps we also need to require a little more.

Monday 8 August 2011

"That sort of thing does not happen here"

an acquaintance told us last night. He sounded smug. Adelaide, he told us, has never had any race riots and "we don't really have a drug problem or a gun problem".
I wonder which Adelaide this man lives in. There are areas of Adelaide which have small outbreaks of race based violence too often for the news media to be bothered reporting it any more. There are places where the police will not go, especially after dark, except in groups.
There is a street in the CBD where there is constant trouble.
Our drug problem is immense. Two people died last week as a result of a new batch of heroin hitting the streets. They were not young either. They were both in their forties. Marijuana crops of varying sizes are commonly found. An entire house was used to grow it in a street along my regular bike route. They raided the place about three weeks ago - and caught nobody. Someone must have tipped them off.
Over the weekend an older woman, with no known crime related links, was murdered by gunfire in her own home in a quiet surburban street.
It does not sound much until you realise that Adelaide is a very small place. There are just over a million people in the entire state of South Australia.
If you multiply the statistics and then compare them with the statistics in other places then we have problems on a similar scale. We may well have a much bigger problem with graffiti.
We once lived in a house which backed on to the local railway line. There was a pedestrian track along it to access the local railway station. On the other side of the tracks there is a very large complex of several blocks of flats. I could come home from a late lecture or a meeting and know that I was almost as safe as I was in daylight.
Now the railway station has been closed but the shelter is still there. It is used by some of the local drug dealers. The flats have gone from housing mostly older people to housing a mix of refugees and the mentally ill. It is an explosive combination. The Tactical Response Group must know the place better than they know their own homes.
So yes. Adelaide has problems like any other place. It does not make it a dangerous place to live. It is probably no more or less dangerous than most areas of any other city. There are many lovely places in Adelaide and most of it is safe enough in daylight but it is always wise to be extra cautious in some areas.
What is dangerous is the complacent attitude of the acquaintance who told us, "That sort of thing does not happen here."

Sunday 7 August 2011

I once spent a weekend

with a family who were Dutch migrants. I was about thirteen at the time. My paternal grandparents, with whom I would normally have stayed, were away. My maternal grandparents were going to the same event as my parents. I suppose these people offered to have me. I did not know.
We did know these people quite well and they spoke excellent English. We knew they spoke Dutch of course but I had never heard them do this in public. I am sure they would have felt this was impolite. It was much less usual to hear people speaking another language in public when I was that age.
The weekend however was another story. They were at home. They spoke Dutch. They spoke Dutch to their children and they spoke Dutch to me.
I remember curling up in the bed on Friday night and crying myself to sleep because I did not understand what was being said to me. I told myself it was only for the weekend and that my father would be picking me up on Sunday evening. I could survive that long. I was terrified of being rude without meaning to be rude.
The mother was really very kind. She knew I was frightened and unhappy and trying not to show it. I think she would have spoken English for me but her husband was insistent that Dutch was spoken at home to their two children. Their children were about eight and six at the time. Naturally they understood what was being said to them.
The language was strange. The food was strange. They had family prayers at the breakfast table. Right through the weekend their were things that were different and that made me feel uncomfortable.
I managed to get through the weekend, indeed by Sunday afternoon I understood some things being said to me.English and Dutch do have words almost in common. Nevertheless I was very relieved to see my father. How, he wanted to know, had I got on?
I let him know, as teenagers will, what I thought about my parents sending me into a situation like that. To be fair to him he had no idea what would happen. I know that now but I did not know it then. The couple had offered to have me and my parents had felt it would be rude to refuse.
We saw the parents on and off for the rest of their lives. They always spoke English in public and Dutch at home. On many occasions, even as an adult, I had to visit them to deliver something or collect something. On those occasions they would always speak Dutch to me although a translation would be forthcoming if I looked really confused.
I wondered what would happen when the husband died. I went to visit. There were people coming and going all the time. She spoke English to all but their Dutch friends. She greeted me in Dutch and hugged me tightly, told me I was another daughter. I went to help her daughter clear away some fallen apricots so people could sit under the tree.
"Your mother still speaks Dutch to me," I told her.
She smiled.
"And just like me and John you answer her in English!"

Saturday 6 August 2011

Our census form

arrived last night. Census night is the ninth of this month.
My father says he is too old to be filling in forms. He gets an accountant to do the tax form and passes everything else to me.
I could have filled in the form on line. On reflection I decided against it. There were two reasons for this and the major one was to do with security. No computer system in the world is absolutely secure.
I am never happy filling in a form which asks for large amounts of personal information. I am even less happy about filling in a form which asks me for large amounts of personal information about someone else, in this case my father. This one must be filled in. The law demands it and there are penalties for failing to answer the questions.
Some of the questions however are rather curious. Where do I live now? Where did I live a year ago? Where did I live five years ago? These are no doubt designed to try and discover how mobile the population is but what of the people who have lived in more than one place in the past year? There are increasing numbers of such people.
Are you an Australian citizen? If not, where were you born? It sounds reasonable but which country did you come from? If you are a refugee you might have been born in one country and spent years waiting to come here. It would be useful to know that.
Do you speak a language other than English at home? My BIL speaks English in his own home but Greek to his parents. There is no sub-question for that - or any indication of how well he might speak Greek. There is a subjective question about how well someone speaks English.
On Tuesday I will help three people who cannot read or write English fill in their forms. They all speak English well enough to be understood but they cannot fill in a form. There is no means of indicating they had my assistance.
There is a question about assistance given to family members but no question about assistance given to immediate neighbours. It is a question which should be included to gain more information about urban isolation.
There is also a question about needing assistance with communication activities. I wish I could believe that question was designed to provide future assistance to people with special communication needs. It is not. It is designed to allow the government to find out what they need to do to inform people, not have people inform them.
There will be millions of census forms filled in. It will take a long time to analyse the data. It will be out of date by the time it becomes available so it will be, at best, only an indicator of what is going on in the country.
There is an optional question on the census. It asks about religion. I am going to leave it blank. What I believe is not something the government needs to know. I am not sure they can really use the other information they will get.

Friday 5 August 2011

Taxing shoppers for shopping online

is one of the latest ideas for trying to "save the retail industry". It may work but it may not too.
I am old enough to be able to remember shopping without the convenience of the internet. I am also old enough to be able to remember another sort of shopping as well. It was called "being served".
You went into the shop and someone asked you, usually very politely, what you wanted. Actually I think they asked the adult with me. I was very small at the time.
I wonder about this now. The person I would be shopping with was my paternal grandmother. She would do most of her household shopping in "Jetty Road" which was within walking distance of her home.
There was a butcher, a baker, a greengrocer, a bank and a dairy. There was also, at the far end, a fish and chip shop and the hotel on the sea front. At the other end there was a church and, across the way, the doctor's surgery. It was all very civilised.
Everyone knew my grandmother. The butcher would allow her to inspect the meat before she bought it. As a farm girl she knew what she was looking at and he knew that. I heard him advise her, "I would not recommend that today."
The greengrocer would take a list and "the boy" would deliver later. Peas came in their pods.
The bakery did not sell the huge variety they do now but they baked on the premises. Most of the bread was white and you could have "sandwich" which was square or "high top" which had risen to a more natural shape. My grandmother would buy "granary" and the baker would have a loaf set aside for her.
The general grocery store was next door to my grandparents' home. My grandmother would provide a list and "Hazel" the assistant or "the boy" would bring the order to the back door - never the front door.
Further down the road there was a drapery store which sold some clothing. You could still buy men's shirts with detachable collars there. It sold fabric, haberdashery, manchester and a small quantity of crockery. (It was the shop where my grandfather would buy new "cup, saucer and plate" sets when he broke the handle on the cup of my grandmother's "breakfast in bed" teacup.)
You had to go further afield for shoes or other clothing but everywhere you went you were "served" by someone. They would know the stock. My grandmother commanded great respect so she would often be served by the most senior person available. Nevertheless everyone was served.
Now you have to help yourself. It is often hard to find anyone to answer a question. The variety has grown in some ways but reduced in others. The "Jetty Road" shops are no longer there. You need to travel some distance to a supermarket where, while you can find most things, the greengroceries are not particularly fresh and often come from another country. You need not say anything to anyone except the check out person - and soon that will come to an end with the new self-service checkouts.
Is it any wonder people shop on line? It gets delivered to the door and you might be lucky enough to have a friendly delivery person who actually says "Hello".

Thursday 4 August 2011

There was a knock on our door

several days ago. When I went to answer it I found, for the first time in several years, two women from a certain religious group. I gave them short shrift. The claim that they are not "selling" anything is false. They are selling their brand of religion.
I find the notion of selling your religious faith to other people offensive. I find that particular group particularly offensive.
There are several reasons for this. Some years ago I was asked to give some assistance to an elderly woman. I did not know her but I was told she was "on her own". Having had very little schooling she needed help with the paperwork surrounding her move into an aged care complex. It was a thoroughly sensible move on her part because she had no relatives here and did not want to rely on friends.
She had been going to the meetings of this particular religous group for a long time.
When we sat down together to go through the paper work it proved necessary for her to let me know something of her financial affairs. I was aware she was not well off and the person who had asked me to help had said, "She does not seem to manage her affairs terribly well but I cannot work out what she spends the money on because she does not seem to indulge herself at all."
No, she did not indulge herself. She had been struggling to "double tithe". Twenty percent of her meagre income was being given to her church. She had been told she "must" do this. It was what "everyone" did.
This elderly woman had been denying herself all comfort in the belief that she must give up twenty percent of her income to her church - the place that had been her limited social life and support group and to which she had given hours or kitchen work and charity shop work. She was trying to work out how she was going to keep on doing this and pay her fees to the aged care complex. They would also take a fixed percentage of her limited income. It would leave her with almost nothing. Her distress was obvious.
It took a long time and a lot of help from a number of people before we had the situation sorted.
She stopped double tithing, indeed she stopped tithing. The church cut her off. She was no longer welcome there. The members of it would no longer speak to her. She no longer existed for them.
Fortunately, inside the aged care complex, she found there was a group of volunteers happy to take her to a church on Sundays. They did not ask her to tithe. They just said she was welcome. Would she like to join the women's group? There was no pressure to do so. It was just an offer of friendship. After a little hesitation she joined. She also, tentatively at first, joined in some of the activities the complex had to offer.
I saw her several times and she always told me how glad she was that she had moved there. She spoke of how kind and caring her new friends were. Just once she mentioned her distress when, in the chemist shop, she was completely ignored by someone she had once considered a very close friend. That went on hurting. She died without ever being visited by anyone from her former church.
I have heard similar stories from other people about similar groups. I have seen more than one teen or young adult leave such groups and have family cut them off. I have seen people cripple themselves financially and then still be forced from the group.
I am suspicious of "prosperity theology" and anything which demands a great financial contribution. I am angered by anything which cuts off contact because of a difference in beliefs.
If that is the sort of religion being sold by these people who trespass on the property then I do not want to buy.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

There have been four universities

in Australia involved in some research called the "Aged Care in General Practice Project". The aim is to develop a test which will allow general practitioners to detect and manage memory problems among older people.
My father has, at the request of his old GP, been involved in this and so have a number of other people I know. There is nothing wrong with my father's memory. Like everyone else he forgets things occasionally but, for his age, he has a remarkably good memory. His mind is active. He can still seek a solution to a problem and learn something new. He gets up each morning wondering how he will manage to do all he wants to do not how he will fill in his day.
I know I am lucky, very lucky. It makes my father much easier to care for.
As part of the project I also talked with two people who were part of the research team. The first of these was the person who came to see my father in his home setting. As his "carer" I was also interviewed. I think this person was slightly startled by my father's inquiries about the research and how they hoped to develop the test! There are probably not too many people of my father's age who still read psychology.
The second person I spoke to rang because my father missed a question on the second test his GP had to give him twelve months later. As my father came home and told me he had done this and it relates to something he has done all his life nobody was concerned but the follow up questions had to be asked. The researcher and I then talked about other things - many of them to do with how the project might or might not relate to people whose first language is not English. It was not, at the time, something they had given a lot of thought to and I was surprised given the infinitely varied nature of our population.
Yesterday I came across an excellent reason to be concerned about this. A friend rang because she was worried about her neighbour. The neighbour is Greek. Her husband died a short while ago and this woman now lives alone. My friend went in to the neighbour because the power was not on.
My friend discovered that she had not paid the bill and that there was also another unpaid bill. She was afraid her neighbour was not coping and wondered what she should do about it.
So I asked the, to me, obvious question. Can her neighbour read English? There was a moment of silence at the other end of the 'phone and then, "I didn't think of that. I don't think she can."
Much later I had another telephone call. That was the problem. In the chaos surrounding her husband's death this elderly woman thought he had paid the electricity bill before he died. She thought the other notice was a receipt. She was acutely embarrassed.
In future my friend will give her some discreet help to read what needs to be read. And no, this elderly woman is not "losing it" at all. She expressed her gratitude for the help and understanding with a plate of freshly baked Greek shortbread biscuits.
I will be interested to see what the research study comes up with and what they have to say about this issue.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Reading the paper

is part of the breakfast ritual for my father. We get two newspapers. We get the state newspaper and the national newspaper. They are both from the Murdoch stable.
We get the state newspaper simply because my father likes to keep up with the local news. He refuses to watch the television news services any more, even the Australian Broadcasting Commission's Channel 2 or the SBS service. The ABC will put sports headlines before international affairs or even local affairs and the SBS now has advertising - although not as much as the truly commercial stations. All that irritates him. The bad news which makes headlines also bothers him. At 88 he has been through WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars and now Afghanistan and other places. It is not that he does not care. He probably cares too much.
Reading the paper means that he can take his time over the news. He can avoid the parts he does not wish to read. He does not need to dwell on what distresses him. If he needs to know more he can ask me.
There is a good deal of any paper which remains unread by both of us. We do not read the sports section or the racing guide. We do not read the real estate or employment sections. We barely glance at the business section. It would save a great many trees if newspapers could be divided into sections and one could just have the part(s) one actually read. My father gets irritated with the extra pages and threatens to stop having the papers delivered. He never quite gets around to it. Breakfast time is newspaper time. It takes time too.
This morning however no newspaper reading is being read. The papers have not arrived for some reason. Breakfast will take even longer this morning. My father is reading a book.

Monday 1 August 2011

There is political turmoil

in South Australia again. Late on Friday last week a move was made against the highly unpopular Premier of this state.
This is hardly surprising. There has been talk of it for some time. What might surprise many people however is who told the Premier he had to go. It was not, as might be expected, his parliamentary colleagues. It was not, as might also be expected, the people of South Australia through the ballot box.
No, it was the union movement accompanied by someone who does hold a seat in parliament. There is no doubt however that the person in charge was the union representative. He was there to tell the Premier what to do and he expected to be obeyed.
The Premier was about to fly out to India. He has now gone and he will be there for a week. He is not going as quietly as the union man must have hoped. The Premier claims he wants a transitional period - thus casting doubt on the ability of his anointed successor to do the job. It is a mess.
In a democracy the union movement, which represents around only 18-20% of workers in South Australia, would not have this sort of power. The numbers in the union movement would perhaps be even lower if it were not for the fact that there are still areas of employment where, although illegal to require it, the reality is that you do not get employed without a union ticket. Despite this the union movement still holds most of the power at ALP conferences. They have a great deal of say with respect to who gets pre-selected and what party policy is. Funds from union coffers are the life-blood of the ALP.
Two things need to happen. The first thing is we need to have an election in order to decide who is going to run the state. That is not going to happen because we have a "fixed" four year term and the government, elected by a minority of voters, is not going to recall parliament and revise the legislation in order to allow an election.
The second thing is the ALP needs to cut the union umbilical corn. That is not going to happen either.
In the meantime South Australia will be run by the union movement.