Monday 31 October 2011

The grounding of Qantas

could have been avoided.
I believe that the CEO of Qantas made a major blunder in accepting a pay rise at this time but, apart from that, it may be that he and the board of Qantas have more idea than the unions about
what needs to be done to save Qantas - if it can now be saved. I do not know.
There are things I would like to know but nobody has yet spelt them out. I want to know if the pay and the working conditions for Qantas employees are comparable with those doing the same jobs in other airlines. I want to know what the impact of the global economic climate and natural disasters has been on the airline industry and on tourism.
There are suggestions that employees at Qantas are already paid more than their mates in other airlines. If true then they need to back off. Arguments about "job security" cannot apply if there are no jobs because you have priced yourself out of existence.
News has come to light this morning that the government was asked to intervene and refused to do so. The Prime Minister failed to return calls to the CEO of Qantas. Her chief of staff had been contacted and asked to use the government's powers to intervene and terminate strike action so as to prevent the lock out and require the strikers to return to work. The CEO of Qantas also travelled a considerable distance to try and get the Assistant Treasurer to act. Nothing happened.
It is clear that this situation is no longer about Qantas. It has moved beyond that. The government did not want to intervene because many of them are former unionists or, like the Prime Minister, they worked for or with the union movement.
"Fair Work Australia" has just advised the unions that they must terminate their strike action because it could damage the national economy. It comes a little late. The national economy has already been damaged to the tune of millions of dollars. It was unnecessary and it could have been avoided if the government had shown some leadership.
The government will now claim a victory for their form of industrial relations but the reality is that they should have intervened weeks ago. It was all about saving their own jobs. Our leaders lacked the courage to act.

Sunday 30 October 2011

I am knitting a blue silk

hat. I have finished the vests and the shawl and I am still considering what to do with the skein of milk. The blue silk has been staring at me for a while and saying, "Use me" rather in the way that Alice looked at that liquid which said "Drink me". I just did not know what would happen if I tried.
It was given to me by the friend I will be helping next week. "Try it," she told me, "See what you can do with it." That was two years ago. I have not been inspired by it.
Silk comes in many different ways. It can be fine and smooth and soft. It can be rough and hairy. It can be limp or springy. This is called "straw" and it is more like raffia than silk. It is fine and smooth but it has no elasticity - although it is springy. It actually seems to bounce around. It also has a tendency to split.
All that said I have to confess that the resultant fabric is much pleasanter than I thought it would be. I can understand the attraction of silk, especially given its capacity to take on colours. This blue has a wonderful sheen to it. I remember there were other brilliant colours in the collection too, reds, oranges, golds, greens and a rich, royal purple.
I wound the skein around a small polystyrene ball - my trick for winding yarn that will collapse in on itself into a tangled mess. I am not into the business of those neat "centre-pull" balls that people seem to do so neatly. They do not work for this sort of yarn. It has a tendency to unwind from both ends and I do not want the sort of mess that would be bound to result if I tried.
Even as I was winding it I was still not sure what I would do with it. It did not feel flexible or soft enough for a scarf - and I was not sure there was enough of it. A small pochette of some sort? But who would use such a thing. It might make a "something blue" for a bride but I thought of all the other colours and it still seemed too limited. Fingerless mitts? Totally impractical. I like to think that knitting can be used.
So, I decided on the hat. I do not know how well it will work. I have knitted similar hats before. The first such hat was more of an accident than a design. I had a ball of cotton and I had four needles and I was a long way from any other knitting having just finished some socks. The hat just happened. I blocked it over a pudding bowl using starch. That I managed to do this at all was because my paternal grandmother taught me how to starch a detachable collar on a man's shirt.
I do not think you can starch silk. The brim will be floppy rather than stiff. I am not sure whether this will matter or not. There is always, I suppose, the possibility of undoing the whole thing and making something else. I rather hope I do not feel the need to do that but at least, unlike most of life, I can start again.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Anyone who knows anything

about psychology will know that "poker machines" are designed to be addictive. You apparently put money in. You push a button (or pull a lever?) and you are "rewarded" with flashing lights and rows of bananas and some sort of sound. I am not sure exactly how it works as I have never come close enough to a poker machine to lose money in one and I never intend to but it is a sad reality that some people do. I also know that "rewarding" the individual reinforces the behaviour. Is it any wonder some people get addicted.
The Federal Government is now playing with the idea of "mandatory pre-commitment" to try and stem the problem some people have with spending excessive amounts of money at these machines. The government did not set out on this path by choice. Left to their own devices they probably would not have done anything. One of the "independent" MPs they depend on to remain in government is demanding that something be done. It was his bargaining chip when the government was looking for support.
While I am concerned for people who may lose their employment if the revenue at hotels and clubs drops I am also concerned for the families of those who are so badly addicted that they lose everything. It really is distressing that some people see poker machines as their best friends, that they have so little else in their lives that a machine takes over and they give everything to it. Whether mandatory commitment will help people in these circumstances I do not know. It may be worth a try - but there needs to be other support given as well.
However I also think that there are other things the government could and should do if they are serious about the problem. One of the Senators for the state I live in has tried, not very successfully, to get the number of poker machines reduced. That seems like a good start to me. If there are less machines then less money can be lost.
The fact that the Senator has not been very successful however tells me that the government and hotels and clubs industry is not very serious about the problem. There were all sorts of arguments about investments and employment - and threats about what could happen at election time.
The government could also legislate to cut back on the number of hours during which people could play. The argument used against this one is that shift workers also have a right to play poker machines and that older people have the right to play during the day so poker machines should be available virtually around the clock. I disagree. Does anyone need to play at seven in the morning? I think not.
The government could also legislate to restrict the amount of time any one person can spend on any one machine. There are addicts who will only play one machine, their "lucky" machine. Restricting play to a short period of time would also limit losses - and revenue.
Yes, it is all about revenue. The government gets money from gambling. It gets it in all sorts of ways. Millions of dollars a year in govenment revenue is at risk from too much reform.
I suspect the simple fact is that the government is also addicted to gambling.

Friday 28 October 2011

I will need a new

knitting project very shortly. I am very nearly finished the comfort shawl I am making for a friend. There are "not quite three rows and the casting off" to do. My other project, the "small" one, is about half way there and must be finished by Wednesday of next week. I want to give that to someone else.
I try to always have two knitting projects. One will be a "large" project and one will be a "small" project. The "large" project does not usually travel far until it is finished. The "small project" is the one I keep for things like train journeys into the city or travelling in a car. Large projects are shawls or pullovers, cardigans, vests and the like. Small projects are socks, mittens or hats.
Occasionally I break the rules. I knitted mittens in my "large" knitting time this year because I was anxious to give them to the person who needed them. The current shawl has travelled to the bookshop - again because I am anxious to finish it.
I have made two vests from linen this year. They have gone to the friend I will be helping at a craft fair next week. (Yes, I am taking my four days "annual leave". I am not working at my usual day job. I am going to go and talk about knitting instead.) They were "large and small" projects because they travelled with me until they were done. They were time consuming because the yarn was fine - laceweight to the knitters among you. They were also time consuming because linen has no elasticity. It is not easy to knit. (I also made another shawl out of the same yarn this year. It went off to America and I have not seen it since. I suspect I may not see it again. )
I have been given yarn this year, more than I can hope to handle in my life time. Some of it I have sold for the benefit of a friend who runs a refuge for children. Some of the "odds and ends" have been given to other knitters. We made a rug and raffled it off with the proceeds going to another charity.
There is yarn there, most of it is "odds and ends". There are quite a lot of single balls or single skeins. There is the curious sample skein of yarn made from milk and merino. Yes, 80% milk and 20% merino. Do not ask me how they make it. I do not know. It feels a little like a silk/wool mix. I am wary of making it into anything for a baby in case they should try to suck it. They suck things anyway but this might irresistible. It may make a smallish Juliet type cap. We will see.
My next small project needs to be something interesting but not too complex. I need to be able to take it with me. I need to be able to pick it up and put it down. I need to be able to talk about it.
I am considering this skein of milk -will it be worth "drinking"?

Thursday 27 October 2011

Filling out forms is

not my favourite activity. There may be some rare people who actually enjoy doing it but I do not know of any.
I do a lot of it in my day job. Much of the information I am asked for is standard. It is designed to keep public servants happy. They like information, the more irrelevant the better.
I can understand why they need my name, well a name. They like to know who they think they are talking to. But why do they need to know my date of birth? If I am old enough to read the form and understand it then they should surely assume I am old enough to do the job? My race? My religion? Those things might matter to some people but they will not matter to most people. I am not going out to proselytise and I am well aware that Australians are not popular in some parts of the world.
My qualifications? Well that can matter I suppose. They may need to know whether they are dealing with a tinker, a tailor, a soldier or a sailor. In my case it is more likely to be whether they are dealing with someone who has a legal or medical background.
Do they really need to know where I went to school? University? I suppose they can check with the latter to see if I actually exist and have the qualifications I claim to have but I very much doubt anyone has ever done it.
My work history? I doubt that will help much either. Someone would have to go digging out dusty files to check - and they are not going to do that.
Then there are all the other items about associates and funding and inter-agency contacts and languages and certified translations and the purpose of the current project etc etc. Some of it is so standard that I can do it almost in my sleep. Other items have to be considered more carefully.
I filled out another form the other day. It will form part of the death certificate for my late uncle. The information required on that was detailed. His full name and date of birth, his parents' full names and their dates of birth, the full names and date of birth of his former wife and the date of their marriage (but not the date of their divorce), the full names and date of birth of his children and the date that one of them died. The family history provided most of that information. Was all this really necessary? I doubt it. His birth certificate should have been sufficient information.
And there was a further question. It is apparently something that has come about in recent years. Was he of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage? That question was unnecessary.
Most of this information does not go on the death certificate. It is just information collection by the government. Someone, somewhere has decided that all this information is useful to someone other than family historians - who have their own means of collecting it.
I have several friends and colleagues who answer such forms in their own way. One always replies to his date of birth with "too young to know about the calendar then" and qualifications with something like "I can read this form" unless he knows they need to know. So far he has got away with this and still gets the job done.
He will answer many questions with answers that are legal but meaningless. He has it all down to a fine art. Most of the time however he ignores the all important question relating to his sex. He has not yet given in to the temptation to answer "Yes please".

Wednesday 26 October 2011

One of our local supermarkets

has a policy of employing students wherever possible. While it means constant training and turnover of staff management sees it as a means of giving young people much needed employment while studying. Rosters are fitted around lectures and at examination times the senior staff will fill in on the checkouts. A good reference from there also helps employment prospects in other places. It is, I understand, all quite civilised and competition for employment there is fierce.
Competition for employment in other places is fierce too. I met one of the former student-employees yesterday. I read a number of his essays in his first year when he was struggling to understand what was required of him. He has finished his degree and is doing some post-graduate work part time. He is also working.
He gets up at 5:30am and leaves the house at just after 6:00am.Using public transport he travels to a location on the other side of the city and arrives for an 8:00am start. He arrives home again just after 7:00pm. He does this four days a week and on the other day he attends university. His weekends are spent doing university work and writing job applications. There has not been much time for anything else. It as been a tough year.
What has made it even harder is that he is trying to find paid employment. He is not being paid for the work he is doing. He is getting the government benefit for a job seeker. It barely covers his day-to-day living expenses.
When I spoke to him he was feeling more than a little fed-up. His place of "employment" had been a bit difficult about the time off he needed to do an exam related to his post-graduate work. He did get the time off but it was made clear that they regarded it as a nuisance. That however was now the least of his worries. There are two positions available where he has been working. They are both reserved for "new graduates". He has been told he is not even eligible to apply. He is not a "new graduate". The positions will be given to students graduating at the end of this year.
Yes, this is a government department. The "rules" are "strictly" applied. Where is Sir Humphrey Appleby when you need him?

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Politicians are elected to

represent their constituents - or so the theory goes. It does not always work out that way.
At the last federal election in Australia several electorates ended up with "independents" - representatives in Canberra who were not members of major parties. There was then a tense wait to see on which side they were going to align themselves.
In two particular cases they chose to go with the party that had won a minority of the votes. In doing so they also went against the wishes of their own electorates. Had people in those electorates wanted to vote in that party they would, presumably, have chosen the candidate that represented that party. They did not.
Ever since then these two elected representatives have tried, unsuccessfully, to justify their decisions. There has been much discussion of their position. Arguments have broken out. The situation has been analysed. Their choice has been hailed as courageous by some. Their choice has been condemned by others. The situation has been analysed again. Their support has dropped. It is now said that they are unlikely to be re-elected at the next election.
They recently supported the government in passing a bill which does not have the support of the Australian people. The bill will get through the Senate because the very small party which actually runs the government has the balance of power there.
Those who support this state of affairs say, "this is the way the system works" and "we have to put up with it - we can vote them out next time around". In the meantime they can continue to "represent" their electorates - which of course they are not doing. They are however getting paid to do what they are not doing.
What puzzles me about all this is not that it is happening. That does not surprise me. Power is an addictive drug. What does puzzle me is the way that Australians accept this state of affairs. The usual suspects (including myself) write "letters to the editor" in the press. Other usual suspects respond. Columnists discuss the situation. The media asks questions but does not demand answers. There are no mass protests. Nobody challenges the right of a minority, sometimes a very small minority, to make decisions for the rest of us. There is never ever any mention of the fact that Senators are, under the Consitution, supposed to represent their states. I do not know when Senators last voted on state lines - if they ever did.
If we continue to be this complacent about our "democracy" we might lose it altogether.

Monday 24 October 2011

Looking at old cars is

of no particular interest to me. I have never had a licence to drive a car. I know almost nothing about the way they work. Like Widdershins, who commented yesterday, I would be inclined to look at "boys" crowded around the open bonnet of a car and say earnestly and seriously, "Yes, it is an engine".
My father and brother are a little more knowledgeable. As my brother came from Sydney for the funeral of our father's brother and have stayed for the weekend we decided on a day out yesterday and went to the National Motor Museum. My brother's partner and I decided that "the boys" could have this pleasure if we also did something else we really all wanted to do.
So, we headed off to Birdwood, a town some distance north of the city, the location of the museum.
Before we even reached our destination we were met with motorbikes and more motor bikes and then still more motorbikes. There was obviously some sort of motorbike riders gathering - not a "bikie" meeting but those earnest, serious sorts who attach themselves to one brand of motorcycle for life and keep the vehicle polished to perfection.
The museum is interesting - although what I found interesting and what the boys found interesting were two quite different things. I would have liked more social history. I found an interactive screen which enabled you to "pass the 1950's driving test". This was purely a theoretical thing back then. I tried it and managed to get full marks. Apparently the road rules have not changed much! Around that there were some photographs, one of a family on a picnic. The women and girls are wearing skirts. One of the men is wearing a tie and the other is wearing a suit jacket. I wondered what they were eating. White bread ham or cheese sandwiches? Sultana cake? Tea from a thermos? Cordial for the children?
There were vehicles that had done long distances - Tom Kruse's "mail truck" looked nothing like it must have looked like as it traversed the outback - and others that looked incredibly impractical like the wickerwork sidecare for a motorbike. Apparently 80% of motorbikes once had sidecars, now there are almost none. More people can afford cars now.
Oh yes, it was all interesting enough. Eventually, some hours later, we left and had a late snack before heading a little "off the beaten track". This meant going down an actual unsealed track for a short distance to a lavender farm.
It is not very big but it is quiet and pleasant. You pay your $2 and are then free to wander around looking at varieties of lavender or sit looking at the view across the Barossa Valley before returning to the point where you can have tea or coffee (included in the entry price). It was all very nice after the noise of multiple motorbikes and the imaginary sound of other motor vehicles.
My father and I came home with a tiny cutting of Bosisto lavender - a deep dark purple colour. I hope it grows. We already have another English variety in the back garden and a French variety in the front. We like lavender. It brings in the bees. They also sound like small engines as they work for the environment.

Sunday 23 October 2011

I have unintentionally shocked a

reader of another blog by saying that the idea that water goes down plug holes one way in the Northern Hemisphere and another way in the Southern Hemisphere is a myth. Yes, it is a myth.
The sad fact is that the "fact" we were all quite sure of as children is not true. (I can actually remember being told this in school by a teacher in my third year. She was endeavouring to teach us about "railway time" - slightly silly anyway as the local trains did not, and still do not, use it.)

The idea that water always spins clockwise down the plug hole here Downunder is incorrect. The reality is that it does so about half the time. My guess is that it depends on which way the water initially hits the plug hole. I do not know. I am not a physicist. (To cheer you up however, cyclones always go clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere...if you do not want to run into a cyclone run clockwise ahead of the cyclone instead.)
The idea about water down plug holes came from someone called Gustave-Gaspard Coriolis back in 1835. He was wrong but a lot of people have had fun with it ever since. I can remember trying to prove it with my brother and at school. My nephews have done the same. The Whirlwind did it and so have countless other children. No doubt they will go on doing it.
Here endeth the science lesson for the day. I am going out to look at old motor cars - or rather watch the supposedly grown up "boys" in my family look at old motor cars. My sister-in-law and I are insisting on going to the lavender farm after that. We may investigate other water down plug holes myths while we wait.

Saturday 22 October 2011

There is just one student doing

Latin at year 12 level this year. I do not know how many students there are in lower years but it will not be many. Things have changed.
When I was in secondary school Latin was compulsory for potential law students and potential medical students were advised to do it as their arts subject. Rural schools (which we attended) did not teach languages, modern or classical, so most students were denied the opportunity to enter these professions. (One of Australia's leading paediatric heart surgeons, now in international demand, was a year above me at school. He had to spend an entire summer learning enough Latin to satisfy the entrance requirement into medicine - only his other outstandingly good results got him in.)
One of my nephews is now doing medicine. He has never been to a Latin lesson in his life. Another is doing law. He has never been to a Latin lesson in his life either.
My father, who did Latin and English at university, taught me some Latin outside school. He insisted on me working my way through "Giles and Pfitzner" - the South Australian equivalent of the classic "Kennedy" text. I remember some of it. It has, I have to confess, been useful at times.
The Whirlwind is learning Latin. I gather she rather likes it. I am not sure how much of the language they are actually learning. It is an "extension" class for brighter students. I think there are just seven of them in the class. She can tell me about classical Roman dress and food (they have made both) and she appears to know some vocabulary which is not related to soldiers and spears. She has been shown a little about how Latin changed and grew too
It would make a nice change. For me Latin was all about declensions, warfare and farmers. It did not seem in the least bit real. I could not imagine anyone actually spoke it!
My father was required to do one year of a science subject as part of his arts degree. He did geology. It was the only subject which would fit into his timetable. He did not like it and only managed a pass in a degree otherwise littered with credits and distinctions. Nevertheless he says it was wise to require one science subject.. (I mugged enough geology to pass the subject at Intermediate (sub-O) level - and hated it even more than he did. I can remember absolutely nothing of it.) Science students were not treated in quite the same way. There were special arts subjects set up for their benefit. Those who had not done any Latin could actually do a special Latin subject - just for scientists. Not any more.
Although I grumbled and protested about the extra work at the time I am now glad my father insisted on my learning some Latin. My nephews know it might have made student life a little easier at times. They would have known what "that Latin phrase" meant.
I gave my law student nephew a list of all the Latin phrases I had to know for my own degree -and told him how one of our law school exercises had been to trace a random case back to the beginnings of the case law used to decide it. I traced mine back to something written in 14thC Latin and so did one of the other older students. No, a judge would not have expected us to cite it but the tutor had challenged us to do it.
So I can smirk at my nephew when he grumbles about learning Latin phrases and say, "Illuc ivi illud feci" (or, roughly translated, "been there, done that") but I very much doubt an ancient Roman would understand me. I also doubt they would understand the lone Latin student. But I understand the world a little better because of Latin.

Friday 21 October 2011

There is a robust discussion

currently taking place in the Australian media over whether the Prime Minister should have curtseyed when she met Queen Elizabeth.
I will not go into the issue of whether or not one should curtsey to royalty or not, or into the issue of Australia "becoming a republic". (It is one already.) However there are issues about good manners, setting an example and leadership here. These things are even more important if you happen to be someone like a Prime Minister.
Our Prime Minister made a major error of judgment the other day -or she deliberately set out to cause a problem - or she will do whatever it takes to keep her job. It still has the potential to be a disaster for all concerned.
The problems started when a fourteen year old Australian boy was arrested in Bali for drug possession. Now there are all sorts of rights and wrongs and issues with that but the situation has been made much worse by the media - and by the way in which our government has handled the situation. They went public and they went public very loudly indeed. Oh they said all sorts of things about not interfering in Indonesian affairs etc etc but they have been doing just that.
And then our Prime Minister did the unthinkable. She 'phoned the boy and spoke to him. She has talked to the boy's father as well. She claimed she was "showing her support". It was perhaps the worst thing she could have done.
No doubt the tactic was supposed to show her as a good, caring person who was concerned about the plight of a child caught up in a dreadful situation.
The Foreign Minister also weighed in. He used to be Prime Minister before he was uncermoniously dumped in favour of the present one. He would like his old job back. There is rivalry between them. He claimed to be working with the Prime Minister on this one and said that she had his "fullest support". Perhaps.
If, as they almost certainly do, the Indonesians feel under any sort of pressure from Australia they will not react positively. You do not interfere in the internal affairs of another country, particularly a country like Indonesia. They have their own code of conduct. It is not the same as ours. They do not like it to be questioned. We do not like ours to be questioned either. Australia or the boy who has been arrested will pay dearly for this. Perhaps they both will.
The Prime Minister was trying to shore up her dwindling support. The Foreign Minister was trying to undermine it - while appearing supportive. They both know that telephone call should not have been made. Using the boy's situation to achieve their own ends has shown they are both unfit to hold the positions they hold.
That call was bad manners, making it public made matters much worse. It set a poor example and showed a lack of leadership. Real leadership would have involved working quietly behind the scenes. It would have involved very discreet high level negotiations along the lines of the "yes, he was caught, he has confessed and we understand your position...given his age can we negotiate for him to serve his punishment here in Australia?" That may still happen but it is going to be much more difficult - and may end up costing Australian taxpayers dearly.
Good manners cost nothing. They show respect for other people. They show leadership. They allow us to respect ourselves.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Socks were mentioned on

Twitter yesterday, specifically the need for them not to be too tight. Oddly, this was not on my professional Twitter feed but the one where I have a little fun with friends.
It started me thinking about socks again. I have a short piece in KnitLit (ed. Roghaar) about socks in which I talk about the way in which an old man of my acquaintance met his wife. He was given a pair of handknitted socks by a fellow soldier who was dying. When he came back to Australia he went to visit the maker of the socks and married her. Those socks were plain.
My paternal grandmother made socks. I can remember watching her do it. She made plain grey woollen socks for my grandfather and other plain socks for the rest of us. There always seemed to be a hedgehog of needles in her hands.
On Sundays my paternal grandfather wore very fine black socks. They were not knitted by my grandmother but by the woman who did his "gold work" for him. (This was the braiding on the uniforms he made for the Governors of South Australia and the naval and maritime captains.) This woman had a reputation for the work across Australia - and for her socks.
Back then we had cotton socks in summer and woollen socks in winter. They were white for Sunday and grey or brown for the rest of the week - and always plain.
Now socks are different. I have them in a variety of colours. I have made some of them myself. Other hand knitted socks have been given to me by a good friend who also knits socks for my father. In summer I reluctantly revert to the much thinner commercial sort but the rest of the year my father and I wear handknitted socks.
Sock yarn these days can be bought in any colour you care to think of. You can buy yarn that will knit into pseudo-fair isle patterns. People knit socks with all types of fancy patterns. They knit long socks, short socks, sideways socks, socks from the top and socks from the toe up. There are workshops and festivals of sock knitting.
I have several books of sock patterns - review copies. They are lovely to look at. One of them is written in Estonian and those socks are complex and colourful. I have patterns for Turkish, Russian, Albanian and Peruvian socks. All of them are unique and colourful.
But they are all designed to fit feet, to protect them, to keep them warm - and to be comfortable. I want to make more socks.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

There are far too many

charities in Australia. There are, literally, thousands of registered charities across the country.
Australia's biggest charity - in terms of funding, breadth and depth of work - is Anglicare. It is not as well known as St Vincent de Paul or some of the other large charities but government, at both the federal and state level, depends heavily on Anglicare and the volunteers within it.
Some of the other charities, such as the Red Cross or the Cancer Council or Greenpeace, are well known to everyone. They are large and have a variety of local and international interests. There are others which are so small that nobody has ever heard of them apart from those directly involved. There are charities of all sorts and shapes and sizes in between the two extremes.
Most people have, sometimes unwittingly, been the beneficiary of a charity. I have been a beneficiary of "charity". The two scholarships I was fortunate enough to get were from "charitable organisations". Education is usually considered to be "charitable". Perhaps it is - or it might be a curiosity left over from a time when such things were designed to benefit the poor.
But, there are still too many charities. Many of them overlap. There are two charities here which work to provide guide dogs for the blind. It is a very worthy cause but, because of differences of opinion among people within one group a second group was set up. Now there are two sets of running costs. That is wrong. The second lot of administration costs should be going towards providing the service not running it.
Most people are aware of these problems but they go on giving to charities anyway. It is probably just as well they do. Government is unlikely to provide many of the services charities provide.
But yesterday, when I was working through the arrangements for my uncle's funeral service, I was asked whether we wanted donations to a charity. The service will be very small and private so the answer was no - indeed that was the assumption of the person who asked. Like my father my uncle did give to charity but, rather than give small amounts to many, he gave more to a few in which he had a particular interest. He watched the way it was spent.
My father and I are fortunate as we have a very particular interest indeed. We can give directly to that and know that everything we give goes directly to the needs of the children concerned. Without any administration costs the money given by us and others can do far more. There is a catch of course. The person we give to is running a care facility for unaccompanied children in Africa. Donations to her work are not tax deductible. It is not a charity. It will never be a charity. That does not bother us. We would rather see the money spent on the children. There have been people who have refused to donate to this cause because they say, "It's not a proper charity."
But, after the question yesterday, I wondered again what the motivation is for donating to charity. I would have thought it was a desire to help but perhaps, for a few, help also has to be tax deductible.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

My father's brother died

yesterday. After some weeks of restless and sometimes violent behaviour he eventually went quite peacefully. Modern medications can do a lot to help with that. On the reverse side of course modern medicine kept my uncle alive far longer than he might otherwise have lived. What the answer to that is I do not know.
There are other elderly people I know who dutifully take medications in the belief that the doctor knows best and that they are expected to live as long as possible. I do not know whether that is the right attitude or not. I do think the quality of life also matters.
When we first moved into this house there was an elderly couple who lived next door. They were in their early 80's when we first knew them. They still took their caravan to Queensland each winter. Then towing the caravan became too much and they just drove and stayed at motels on the way. Eventually (after their 65th wedding anniversary) it became too much to go anywhere.
They missed the annual trip up to the warm weather. I knitted the old man an extra heavy pullover so that he could stay warm as he worked in his garden. He was not doing too badly but his wife, always a little strange after the birth of their last child, was now more confused than ever.
I remember the day the old man came back from a visit to the doctor. He looked puzzled and a little worried. He had been told he had "mature onset diabetes" and the doctor had given him a long list of things he must now avoid eating. He showed me and shook his head over it. He was 91 by then. "Cat, if I cannot have these things now, when can I have them? I don't want to live forever."
A year later they moved into a local nursing home. His wife died soon after. I went in to see him now and then. I would take some of the forbidden chocolate. Naughty of me? Probably. He enjoyed it. He was not interested in the diet the doctor had said he "must" follow. He felt he was too old for that.
The same was true of my uncle. He enjoyed a glass of wine. He was addicted to chocolate. Many people tried to stop him from buying both wine and chocolate. He was told they should not be part of his diet. He hated that and it just made him more determined to consume both.
A friend told me she had visited an elderly relative recently. He was bedridden and unable to do anything for himself. He could not even speak. A nurse came in with some porridge for him - but no sugar on it "because he is diabetic" the nurse said apologetically. My friend looked at her relative and he looked at her. My friend said she would help with his meal. When the nurse left she pulled out one of those little packs of sugar handed out with coffee. She sprinkled it on top and helped him eat the porridge. Naughty? Yes. Kind? Yes. He died a few days later and she likes to think that he enjoyed the porridge. Certainly she said he smiled at her and there was laughter in his eyes.
If, at the end of life, there are only little things that can be enjoyed then denying them has to be the ultimate cruelty.
It makes me very glad that the last time I saw my uncle I was able to give him some of his favourite dark chocolate. Diabetic or not, he needed it.

Monday 17 October 2011

You can knit a boat

and, should you doubt this, here is a link to a lace coracle made by Debbie New. . There is a picture of the artist inside the coracle in her book "Unexpected Knitting". I believe the knitting has been covered in fibreglass to make it water/sea worthy.
Yes, this is knitting - the boring stuff that little old ladies sit in their rockers and do, perhaps. Most of the old ladies I know do not sit in rockers and only some of them knit. I think most of them know how to knit. Some of them are too busy to knit, others have arthritis and have given up trying to knit and others have taken up other crafts they feel are more suited to the Australian climate - such as quilting or embroidery.
But knitting is still a passion for some and, in cooler climates, it has enjoyed a resurgence. People knit not just at home but in pubs, clubs, parks, coffee shops, bookshops, libraries, on public transport and almost everywhere else. They do not just knit with wool but with alpaca, linen, mohair, angora, cotton, silk, bamboo, soy, corn, quiviut, milk (yes I did say milk) and a wide range of fancy artificial fibres.
I freely admit I am a "yarn snob". I like natural fibres, good quality wool for preference. Good wool has a natural elasticity. It is much easier to knit than linen or cotton, neither of which have natural elasticity.
You can buy a wide range of knitting needles now too - no longer just tortoiseshell or metal or plastic but bamboo, a range of timbers, milk (yes, milk again) and other materials. Needles are not just round anymore. You can buy square needles. You can buy them with points designed specifically for lace knitting. You can buy "interchangeable" needles where you can screw the points on and off a length of cord for a "circular needle". Australians are taxed on knitting needles. They are regarded as "precision instruments".
But, back to the coracle/boat. This sort of work has reinvented knitting as an art form. Knitting does not need to be of the "buy a pattern, buy the yarn, follow the instructions" sort where the end result is something the same as everyone who has bought the same pattern will achieve if they buy the yarn and follow the instructions. I have no doubt that making the coracle gave Debbie New a great deal of satisfaction.
And here is a link to more knitting/crochet "art" and not "just craft" - although, believe me, it takes craft as well:
These are just two of many examples out there on the internet for everyone to see. You may not be interested in knitting as such but, if you are interested in art, colour, form, sculpture - or life itself - then they are worth looking at.
I want to look at life like this too.

Sunday 16 October 2011

"My life is so boring..."

One of the women at our knitting guild told me this yesterday. I had just put out some donated books for people to look at. She was discontentedly flipping through one of them.
"What are you knitting at the moment?" I asked her.
"Oh just something plain. I can't be bothered with all this sort of stuff."
The pattern she indicated is not complex. It has a simple stitch pattern but it looks quite smart. I suspect "can't be bothered" might be the clue.
She put the book down and wandered off.
Sitting opposite me was the woman who acts as treasurer on the rare occasions the official treasurer is not there. She was taking the money for the items on sale. She has been President in the past. She is still President of her aged care facility's social committee. Twice a week she teaches knitting to women who need support and once a week she runs a more formal class at a local shop which sells some knitting materials. She also happens to have diabetes, heart disease, fibromyalgia and bladder cancer. At the present time she is working on a very complex "kilim" rug pattern. She smiled at me and said softly, "I'd be bored too if I wasn't doing anything."
I have to agree. One of my frustrations with life is that there will not be enough time to do all the things I want to do.
There are other women who attend the guild who have the same attitude as the first woman. They knit strictly to patterns, plain patterns. Sometimes the excuse is "if I make anything fancy nobody will wear it". I know that can be true and it can be a problem but does that also mean you cannot try knitting a sock from the toe up instead of the top down or a cardigan from the top down instead of the bottom up? Does it mean that you cannot, once in a while, try something new?
The donated books came from a much younger woman who died suddenly. Her family thought the knitting guild might benefit. There were useful books we did not have in the library. I have put them to one side to process later. There were books we did have that we will raffle off for funds for other new books as they come out. We have now sold the other books but, although they were quite eagerly bought, I wonder whether they will really be used.
I rather think most people will look at the patterns. They will think, "That's nice." They may even think, "I'll make that one day." They will almost certainly never do it.
It is easier to return to the things we know and feel safe with. It also, well - boring.

Saturday 15 October 2011

I do not often read

the "hatched" column. Friends usually advise me of a birth via e-mail or 'phone. However the "hatched" column sits adjacent to the "matched" and "dispatched" columns in the state newspaper and occasionally large capital letters will catch my eye. Someone will have announced the birth of their child in a way which is not to be missed.
I glanced at the column this morning. An elderly neighbour wanted me to check a notice for her.
I believe the Debrett approved way of putting a notice in the paper is to simply put something along the lines of the names of the parents and the sex of the child.
Providing details of the weight of the infant, thanks to the hospital staff and the doctor, the football allegiance and other quirky details is apparently incorrect. I believe the name(s) may also be left out. This may be a good thing.
Some of the names in today's column are curious to say the least, "Sonny"? "Lexyce Kasce"? The extraordinary spelling of otherwise ordinary names will cause some children problems for the rest of their lives. "Rian" (presumable for Ryan)? Some of the infants appear to be unisex. Is "Jan" a girl or a boy? No other details are given.
Please do not mistake me. I find names fascinating. I love the variety of names which have come with the new waves of migrants. Variety however is one thing. Playing with names is another.
Giving your child an unusual spelling of a common name can cause life-long problems - and indeed beyond that. The spelling of both my mother's given names was unusual. The wrong spelling nearly appeared on her death certificate. It was only a double check by me and my brother that prevented this. Another friend with an unusual spelling was, on one occasion, ridiculed by a teacher for "not being able to spell his name". He was right. The teacher was wrong. He has never forgotten it.
The elderly neighbour is a "Betty". It is not short for "Elizabeth". It is just "Betty". It has caused her trouble all her life because people have assumed it is Elizabeth. She does not even have a second given name. Her great-grandchild has two pleasant given names. Nobody will doubt the sex. The spelling for both names is common but the names themselves are just different enough not to "date" the child. Betty's view? "Very sensible sort of names dear. No problems with those."

Friday 14 October 2011

I believe the "fairy dust"

was a great success. My father's young visitor arrived with her grandparents in tow just as I was leaving.
"Today, I will only count marbles," she announced to me as she walked in the door, "Oh are you going out?"
"Yes, I am."
"Where are you going?"
"To a birthday party."
"I like parties. I think we will have a party here."
"That sounds like a good idea. The bears are waiting."
"They have to have something to eat."
"Oh yes. Look on the table. There's milk too and maybe cups of tea. Will that do?"
"I should think possibly."
The friend taking me to the birthday lunch arrived at that point and I left her to the joys of entertaining three "really old" people to morning tea. (I am just "old" according to her!)
The birthday lunch I went to was a 70th and it was a lovely occasion. There were just eight of us present as my friend had not wanted a fuss.
It was held at a plant nursery in the foothills on the far side of the city. The property was once the "country residence" of an early settler family. It now belongs to the great-great grandchildren. What was once country is now outer suburbia but they have retained a considerable area of land and turned it into a nursery or, more accurately, a garden which sells plants and has a small restaurant, part of the old house, attached. It is beautifully landscaped and cared for. Much of it is just like strolling through a well kept garden.
Lunch was lovely. The group was small enough for us all to be able to talk to each other. The food was simple and nicely served. The service was good. We sat under the verandah and looked at part of the garden. Later we wandered through the garden and all of us succumbed to plants of some sort. (I bought two tomato plants for my father.)
On my arrival home I discovered that three biscuits with "fairy dust" had been consumed by my father's young visitor, another plain biscuit, two strawberries (from the garden) and two "dinasour" glasses of milk. I doubt she wanted to eat any lunch. Once in a while I am also sure that does not matter. A good time was apparently had by all. The remaining biscuits with the "fairy dust" were taken home.
I brought home three small pieces of food too. The restaurant thoughtfully supplies small paper bags for that express purpose. It meant my father could taste some of the bite size morsels that made up the plates put before us.
The two events were quite different and yet very similar. I would like to think that we never grow out of occasions which require the use of "fairy dust".

Thursday 13 October 2011

There will be "fairy dust"

at our house today. My father has invited a "two and almost three" year old girl to morning tea. She is a good friend of his. They get on very well together.
My father likes small children and they like him. At any gathering if you want to know where the children are you look for my father. If you want to know where my father is you look for the children. The younger children will be watching him perform "magic" and the older children will be learning the secrets of how to perform some "magic" or other.
This is a rather special and very sad occasion. His little friend will come with her grandparents. They have been looking after her five days a week because both parents work. Now her grandmother has been diagnosed with lung cancer - and no, she never smoked but other people did right around her. There is also a "spot" on the right hip. Surgery is not an option. They are going to try chemotherapy.
The process has been delayed however. The prognosis is not good. "Granny" will almost certainly not be there even for such rites of passage as the beginning of school. They are making the most of their time together.
So, this morning they are coming for morning tea. It was unexpected and I have to go out but I have lined up the bears on the sofa (they live here for the benefit of small children) and I have iced some otherwise healthy biscuits with a little icing and pink and white "fairy dust". It is somewhere at the bottom of my list of food choices but, on this occasion, it is the proper thing to have - along with milk in the plastic glass with the dinasours on it that the young friend happens to particularly like.
No doubt the bears will be fed and require a bath from me when I return but an enjoyable time will no doubt be had by all.
I think our young friend is going to be just old enough to remember doing this. I hope so. If she is she might do it for her grandchildren too. Will there still be fairy dust around then? I hope so.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

I was criticised

yesterday. There is nothing new in that. I am often criticised. No doubt I deserve it. This time it was about clothes.
I am not too bothered about clothes. I work from home. There is no need to "dress up". I like to be clean. I like to be tidy. I think that is sufficient.
I do not own a skirt (apart from my kilt) but I do own a sari (worn once to the wedding of a Hindu friend - at her family's request). I do not own a dress. I do not need these things.
If I do need something like this I can do something about it. I can go to the local charity shop or, for something a little better, I can go to the shop which recycles designer clothing.
I have found new clothing, complete with shop tags in the charity shop. I have a shirt from the designer clothing shop. (It was on a rack outside the shop and caught my eye as I pedalled past.) The shirt was being sold for $5 because it was "last year's". It had been worn once and the woman who had bought it had decided she did not like it. She told me that herself. A neighbour changed the buttons to something less glitzy and I have been wearing it for six years. She put the old buttons on to something that her daughter wanted. Both of us are better off.
My favourite pedalling jacket cost me the excessive sum of $2. It is denim. It buttons on the "wrong side". It is comfortable. It is sturdy. It had been worn but not overly worn. The owner had no doubt grown out of it. I grew into it very comfortably.
I might be the eldest but I almost never had new clothes. Clothing was passed around back then. As a small child my winter coats came from a family with two girls older than me. They wore them. I wore it. It went back to their third daughter and was then returned to my two younger sisters. If there was any wear left in it my mother would pass it on.
The single exception was the coat my mother made me when she was learning Dressmaking III and the material for that was cut from an old coat which had belonged to an adult.
The person who criticised me is appalled at the idea of buying clothes in charity shops. The idea of wearing something that someone else has worn shocks her. She was an only child and never had "hand-me downs". I should not, she told me, buy from charity shops. I did not know who had worn the clothes before me.
No, I do not know who has worn the clothes before me. I just wash them thoroughly before I use them. There are things I would not buy - such as underwear - but the charity shop does not sell those things.
Having cast another critical eye over my clothing the person who was criticising said, "Well, if you won't take advice from me you should talk to "X". She always looks smart."
Rather than argue I agreed that "X" always looks smart and I might talk to her sometime. When she had gone I smiled to myself. "X" does look smart when she is out. At home she dresses much the same way as I do. "X" also shops at the charity shop.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Wearing a bicycle helmet

while riding is law where I live. It is not a bad idea. I am certainly not opposed to it. You are very vulnerable on a bicycle or a tricycle. My father wears one when he rides his gopher.
I know at least one person who would have sustained much more serious injuries if he had not been wearing his helmet. Stories also surface in the media from time to time.
I have long since given up worrying about what my hair looks like. I keep it clean. I keep it tied back and I accept it will get flattened under the helmet. Safety and obeying the law come first.
There is also another problem with bicycle/tricycle/gopher riding. You are exposed to the elements. Walkers can take an umbrella to shield them from sun and rain. We cannot.
So there are two competing pieces in this morning's paper. One says "ride a bicycle" and the other says "cover up, use sunscreen, do not expose your skin to too much sunlight". Right. Both things are good advice.
I always cover up. I wear trousers. I wear tops with long sleeves. I should probably wear summer mittens as well as winter mittens. I wear my helmet
The helmet is the problem. When I bought the helmet it was possible to buy a helmet cover. The helmet cover had a peak and a flap. The peak helped to shade the face. The flap protected the back of the neck.
Exposed to the elements these helmet covers wore out, indeed disintegrated. The last time I went to buy one I was told they did not make them any more. My helmet is old-fashioned. It has gone out of style. How, I asked, were cyclists supposed to protect themselves from the elements? They shrugged. Even the people at the Cancer Council shrugged. I found this extraordinary.
I made my own helmet cover. I knitted it from two balls of cotton out of the bargain bin in an untidy shop some distance away. It was an experiment. It is far from perfect but it has a peak and a flap. It caused a lot of comment when I first used it. It is now getting faded and worn looking.
That the competing articles should appear in today's paper is of interest. Yesterday a complete stranger was standing by my tricycle when I returned with the milk. There is nothing unusual about this. They usually want to know where the tricycle came from. This person was different. Where, she asked, had I bought the helmet cover. I had to explain I had made it. Oh. Could she knit I asked? No - but she could crochet. It will work just as well.
But, this should not be necessary. It is all very well being creative and producing something I need or she needs but many other people need the same thing. I am truly puzzled as to why nobody has taken to manufacturing helmet covers - or helmets with peaks and flaps.

Monday 10 October 2011

There is a piece by Alexander Downer

in this morning's paper. He is a former Foreign Minister, now a visiting lecturer in politics at the University of Adelaide. He still does some foreign negotiating as well. He is an intelligent man with a wide range of experience and a remarkable capacity to be even-handed in an argument.
He is bemoaning the fact that the University of Adelaide is not in this year's "top 200" around the world. It is not, he says, good enough. I agree.
There are three universities in South Australia. The University of Adelaide is the oldest of these. There is Flinders' University, set up in the sixties, and the University of South Australia (UniSA) which is an amalgamation of various other tertiary institutions.
I have not been to any of them. I did my teacher training at one of the other institutions long before it became part of UniSA. Flinders' University was the "new" university back then. It was considered to be a hotbed of 60's left-wing radicalism.
When it came to the point where I realised I needed to know more, much more, I also realised that the University of Adelaide did not teach what I needed to know and Flinders' University taught even less. Note that I say what I needed to know, not just what I wanted to know.
South Australia is a small state. The universities are, relatively, small. There is a limit to what they can teach. I know that. Local and political interests demand that certain things be taught so we have courses in oenology and Pitjantjatara as well as the standard law, medicine and engineering. Overseas students are attracted with degrees in accounting and business and economics as well as the sciences.
It is all fine if you think you need to know these things. Standards will, inevitably, vary between universities and between departments. Standards will not be as high as they are where there is more competition for places. It does not mean you cannot get a good grounding in the knowledge you need.
What it does mean however is that you might not be educated. You might not learn the things you need to know as well as the things you want to know. You might not learn the little things that will get the university you attend into the top 200 or - better still - the top 100. The universities need to work on that.
One of the university staff sent a student to talk to me last week. She is getting ready to do her final exams. The question is whether she stays here and does some postgraduate work in an area which does not really interest her or whether she goes elsewhere and does what she is passionate about. Funding for the latter is, as always, a problem. I told her not to give up on the idea of the latter. We need more students like her, alive with enthusiasm for learning and not merely doing it because external interests have decided it needs to be done. The universities need to work on that too.

Sunday 9 October 2011

A friend of mine died

on Thursday. She went peacefully in her sleep at the age of 103.
It is not an occasion for sadness. While mentally alert she was physically frail and had given strict instructions she was not to be revived if there was a medical episode.
She told me some weeks ago that she was "one of the lucky ones". I knew what she meant. She was surrounded by people, younger than her, who did not have the same level of mental alertness. They spend their days according to a timetable set by other people. They doze in chairs. Conversation is an effort, if they can manage it at all. Some of them are able to feed themselves but others need to be fed.
The nursing home she was in does the best it can. It provides some entertainment. There is "community singing" (accompanied by tapes). They have Christmas parties, a Melbourne Cup lunch, films, a craft group, cards and games. Those who are able to go out will sometimes go on a bus just for a ride and a change of scenery. The garden is nicely kept and most people spend some time in it when the weather is warm and dry.
But, the place smells of over-cooked vegetables and disinfectant. It is almost inevitable. The buildings are old - and currently being replaced by new buildings on the adjacent land. It is not somewhere most people would ever contemplate spending the last days of their lives. None of us want to think about something like that.
My cousin 'phoned last night. My uncle has been taken to hospital again. They have apparently revived him twice in the last week. My cousin has questioned this. The nursing home he is in claimed not to have any record of my uncle's wishes. They are legally required to keep him alive. We know they were advised when he first went there. He was still sufficiently alert to advise them of that himself. It is in his hospital notes at the three different hospitals he has been in. All these places have revived him, once doing so despite a very clear note at the head of his bed asking that he not be revived.
Now they want to do a range of tests and my cousin feels he is being considered cold and uncaring for questioning the need for these. He talked this over with my father and me last night. We all feel that my uncle should be given the care which will make him comfortable, not care that will unduly prolong his life. He no longer knows people. He is frightened and physically uncomfortable. My cousin is again invoking the Medical Power of Attorney and asking them not to do anything which will prolong his father's life. Will they listen? As I also have Medical Power of Attorney I will advise them the same way. I know it is what my uncle wants. He told me so himself when he granted me the power. It is not a responsibility I took on lightly. It is not a decision I have made lightly.
How much easier it would be to go peacefully in your sleep at the age of 103 having been mentally alert until the end. My uncle is not "one of the lucky ones".

Saturday 8 October 2011

The Nobel Peace Prize

often courts controversy. The most recent award will no doubt be scrutinised and criticised as well.
If you have not already heard who the winners are they are Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tanwakkul Karman.
Who? Oh yes, this will send a few journalists rushing to type the names into a search engine and then do some more research.
Sirleaf is the current President of Liberia. I can see a few more rushes to the search engines to find out where Liberia is - and what the capital is. (Alternatively you can ask me and I will tell you that Liberia is in Africa. The capital is Monrovia. It may not leave you much the wiser but now you know.)
Gbowee is a social worker turned activist and Karman is a journalist-activist - the latter comes from Yemen. (Yemen? It is a country in what might be described as the Middle East. It is also one of the poorest. The capital is Sana'a.)
All three women have taken risks - and done much for the women of their respective countries as they try to bring about peace and stability.
Readers of my witterings may actually be aware of all this but I am certain the world at large will have far less idea. Women do not often win the Nobel Peace Prize. The latest announcement makes it fifteen women in 115 years.
A look at the list of winners of the Nobel Peace Prize is instructive. Many of the figures are, naturally, well known. The choices sometimes seem strange. More than one American President and other public figure has been awarded the prize when many would say they were simply doing their job. There are others who have been given the prize and the choice has been criticised as "political". The Chinese government was certainly upset by the choice of Liu Xiaobo in 2010 and the Dalai Lama in 1989. The Burmese authorities saw the 1991 award to Aung Sun Suu Kyi as a threat to their existence. I am not sure that even the Indian government was that pleased by the award to Mother Teresa in 1979.
I sometimes wonder what Alfred Nobel would have made of some of the choices. What did he really want? Would he always approve? No, I am sure he would not. There will always be some worthy person who does not even get a nomination. There are unworthy persons who do get nominations. It is all very political even while it can do great good.
Winning the Nobel Peace Prize might actually be more of an outside honour than an inside honour. It brings with it more responsibility. The 1984 winner, Desmond Tutu, is still speaking out - and rightly so. Those truly worthy of the award know that they must now spend the rest of their lives working for the cause of peace. It is a heavy burden to bear if you really deserve the prize.
Peace is something which must be constantly worked at and watched over.

Friday 7 October 2011

I have just spent ten minutes

on Twitter - on my personal rather than work account. Yes, I have two. I caught up with the overnight news and what my friends in "Upover" had been doing. I sent a friendly tweet or two and responded to a couple of messages. I know where some of my friends are going in their tomorrow and what they will be doing. It is friendly and pleasant. I will prowl in again for a few minutes later today - their morning - and catch up again.
I flicked over to Facebook and left a message for someone who is not on Twitter. I have glanced at the posts for the blogs I follow. I may get back to those later in the day if I am waiting for someone to respond before I can go on working at something else.
Once a week I prowl into Ravelry - a huge site for knitters and crocheters. I check my messages there (again from other friends in Upover) and the groups I keep an eye on. I might look at something else if I have a moment to spare. That is it.
I do not do "LinkedIn" which is apparently another sort of networking device. I looked at it. Several people have suggested I join it but I feel enough is enough. I do not want to spend my limited "social" time on the internet looking at such things.
All this happens not because I am very disciplined. I am not. It just happens that I do not have the time.
I have been told that "LinkedIn" could be a useful way of meeting with other professionals. There is something called Google Plus which I have not even looked at. I have a nasty suspicion it too would just add to my work load...which is too big now. I really do want to cut back. I want more writing time. I am old enough to retire - especially from high work load job I do not actually get paid for. (No, that is not caring for the Senior Cat. He is easy to look after. It is the world of humanitarian emergencies which causes the problems.)
I must admit the internet makes my life much easier - I can prowl into almost any university in the world, find an e-mail address and make contact with an academic. It is probably just as irritating for them. I am conscious of that and I try to keep requests for help to a minimum. The vast majority are very good tempered and helpful.
But, all this apparently professional socialising is not for me. It might be if I was at the beginning of my working life but I do want to retire at some point - or at least reduce the workload. I have seen too many people who have never done any of the things they wanted to do because work got in the way. I am afraid it might happen to me too.

Thursday 6 October 2011

I began reading a novel

last night. This is my "bedtime book". I always try to have something there. It helps me wind down, relax and go to sleep.
This one is by a well known female author. It is supposed to be a psychological thriller. So far there has been an unlikely escape from prison and a string of subsequent events that are - unlikely.
I know that thrillers, crime yarns, detective stories etc etc often have unlikely events in them but this may be too unlikely for me. So far the plot is full of holes. It just could not happen that way. The law is wrong. How in the heck did the writer get away with it?
I have just looked at some reviews of the same book. There are the usual glowing reviews but there are also hints of uneasiness within them. There are several reviews which query aspects of the plot but still commend the book. Perhaps I am demanding too much. Perhaps I need to be more willing to suspend my disbelief.
The book has done me a favour however. It has reinforced my belief that my own writing will need a good editor. All books need a good editor. Mine, if they ever get that far, will not be an exception. It would be arrogant to suppose they did not.
I suspect that outstandingly good authors employ outstandingly good editors. If I had a lot of money one of the few things I feel I would like to be self-indulgent about is to have one of those really good editors sit down with something I had written and pull it to pieces. I would probably hate a lot of what they had to say but, if I was sensible, I would learn a lot from it.
I wonder if some authors get to the point where they are so well known they feel they do not need an editor for anything more than a cursory glance at the manuscript? Do they want nothing more than someone to check that the hero has not changed eye-colour or occupation - unless it is part of the plot?
I read a book intended for children recently. A child gave it to me and asked me to read it. Their comment was, "It's supposed to be a good book but I think it's stupid because kids don't do things like that."
I had to agree with the child. I understood why the book had been written. It had been written in an attempt to teach children something. I explained this and received a look of disgust. "Then just write about that. Don't try and make a stupid story out of it."
I have some sympathy with that point of view. At least the book had been edited. The plot was unlikely but the facts were accurate. It would teach a child something.
However the book I started last night does not even have that excuse. Outright attempts to teach in adult books rarely, if ever, succeed anyway.
I will try to be completely fair and read some more of the book this evening. Perhaps there will be something there to grip me and say, "This book is worth reading. Persist."
If that does not happen then I will read something else.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

My friend Jen Campbell needs

help. She wants ideas for one of the most difficult things of all - how to raise money for medical research into something which appears to be obscure but is actually a problem which potentially affects everyone.
Jen has EEC syndrome and she has written about one of the many side effects here and here is what she wants to try and do
Jen has a brilliant and wicked sense of humour. She has a contract for a book about the weird things people say in bookshops. Did I mention she runs a second hand bookshop in London? Go and look at her blog to discover more. Jen is also highly intelligent. She writes poetry and short stories - and she gets them published. She gets things done. I have no doubt she will do something to raise some funds for EEC syndrome research.
But why should it matter to the rest of us? Does anyone else reading this blog have EEC syndrome? I do not know. It is rare. It is unlikely.
That however is not the point. Research into one genetic disorder always has the potential to assist people with other genetic disorders. It also has the potential to assist in research into things like cancer. All these things cost lives, cause misery, cost money and need to be considered.
The search for the charity dollar or pound or euro or whatever is always going to be there. Research will always need funds. I do not have the financial capacity to support what I would like to support so I like to support friends and things I know about at a personal level. Ideas do not in themselves cost money. Can you think of something unique, witty, fun and fundraising? If so, please prowl on over to her blog and leave them there. Thankyou.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

I do not watch

very much television. I sometimes manage to watch a programme called "Global Village". It consists of short documentary pieces, often from France or Germany, about life and culture all over the world. I usually manage to watch an international news service and the headlines of a local news service. Once in a while I see something else, most likely a documentary.
I would not want to watch televised court proceedings. I do not believe television cameras have any place in courts.
Yes, courts should be "open". The public should be able to go in and out if they so desire and they respect the proceedings taking place. Most people will never bother but the possibility is one of the things that keeps the system on track.
Television cameras are something quite different. This puts the legal system on show and turns it into something it should not be.
It is often said that the best barristers are also actors. They can feign concern, worry, understanding, misunderstanding, incredulity and anger as well as a range of other emotions. They can, for a short period of time, appear to be experts in all manner of subjects - about which they really know nothing but will have been coached by someone in the field.
It can all be intensely tedious. Moments of high drama are rare although they can occur. With television cameras present barristers will be under increased pressure to "perform".
That however is the least of the problems. Television cameras will show too much. They will show the guilty, the innocent, the accusers, the victims, the duped, those who have misjudged the consequences of their actions, the well intentioned who tried and failed and all other manner of people. They will also show witnesses, bystanders caught up in something they have no wish to be part of, experts called on to assist both prosecution and defence.
Oh yes, they say that the use of cameras in courts will be limited but the reality is that once the cameras are there the potential to show everything is there. Everything is too much, even a little can be too much. Guilt and innocence are by no means always obvious.
We have to be able to trust the legal system to do the right thing as far as possible. Mistakes will always be made and an open court system drastically reduces the potential for abuse. But, an open court system should not become a trial by media. Media powers have to be limited.
The law is not there for our entertainment.

Monday 3 October 2011

Is it possible to say too little?

My friend Nicola Morgan has been asking people to pitch their books in 25 words. (There is an ulterior motive of course but do go and have a look at her blog post about it on "Help I need a Publisher".)
Now, I tried just because I thought I should. I cannot do it. I can do succinct. I cannot do this in 25 words or less.
Oh yes, I can say that my young hero has found a body. I can say his parents have been killed. I can say he is on the run. I can tell you he is running from the people he should be able to trust. At the second attempt I put that into 24 words. It sounds boring. Put like that it is boring.
In my first attempt I had informed the reader that my young hero is eleven and that the body he has found is by no means a fresh corpse. Both those things had to come out for Nicola's purposes. I understand what she was getting at but, for me, it did not work. (I told her this and she agreed that the second attempt was not actually gripping.)
There are things that matter here. They need to be said for the idea to have any impact. The likelihood of a child falling over a fresh corpse is pretty low - and it would not suit the story line at all. I have tried to suggest a scenario where an old corpse might well be found - and no, it is not in a graveyard. (It matters that my hero is eleven and not twelve too but that could come out for Nicola's purpose.)

I have written the first draft of this book. I am working on the revisions. Despite the apparently trite story line I think it may work. One adult has seen it and said nice things and, of the ending), "All the clues were there but I did not see that coming." That is the way I want it to be.
But, if I try to put it into twenty-five words, or less, it does not work. It needs the words "long dead" to suggest there is something more than "boy finds body, parents get killed, he's on the run".
I think it is possible to say too little. Some things simply need more words.

Sunday 2 October 2011

A man's life is reflected in

his garden. Yesterday's birthday party was held in a back garden. It belongs to the man who was celebrating his 80th. He is a "retired" priest - only priests never seem to retire. He, and his wife, are still involved in many things. They know they are fortunate to have the physical and mental capacity to be involved and they make the most of it. They also know how to make the most of their surroundings.
Their garden, mostly his work, is a work of art. It is also productive. There are vegetable patches. There are fruit trees. There are flowers. Herbs - rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, chives and others appear in between other plants. There are plants in pots. The side of the garage is a mass of sweet peas at present. Two enormous rainwater tanks collect the roof water and maintain the garden throughout the summer.
Yes, they do spend a lot of time there - but they also find time for other things. I thought of that as people wandered around the garden, chatted and exclaimed over things they had found. I also thought of the other gardens along the route I had pedalled to get there.
It is my regular pedalling route and I think the gardens reflect their owners. Ours is fairly tidy at the front - a small patch of lawn, the rosebushes my mother planted, the lavender I planted because it brings the bees to the garden, the side patch where the bluebells come up unassisted each year, the peach tree and the orange tree and the lemon verbena bush. Around the side there are more fruit trees and my father's attempts to grow things in tubs, lettuce, shallots (spring onions), beetroot, a struggling rhubarb plant, the almost empty row where the carrots were planted. There is a huge carrot plant by the tank. It reaches well above my waist. Yes, it may go to seed and we may have seeds but I doubt it. There are three tubs of parsley, the winter tomatoes, broad beans, stocks, more lavender, spinach, courgettes (zucchini) and capsicum before you reach the plum and apricot trees at the back. It is all, like the house, rather untidy. It is productive. The garden shed is untidy. My father's shed is untidy. We are not tidy people.
There is one other rather untidy but highly productive garden on my pedalling route. It belongs to a man who was a landscape designer. He likes his garden the way it is too. Most of the other gardens are patches of lawn, a few shrubs, a rosebush or two. They are neat enough but their owners are not, by their own admission, interested in gardening. One house on a corner is an exception. That garden is rather like ours, untidy but productive. The owners, two men I know well enough to pass the time of day with, lead untidy but productive lives in other ways. They also find time to be good neighbours.
There is one other interesting garden before you reach the home of the priest. It is across the street from his home. It is another one of those gardens with unexpected plants in unexpected places, one of those "planned but unplanned" gardens that look right. The owners are good friends of the priest and his wife.
I am no gardener. The garden is one of my father's interests. I do not interfere - even when he plants far more of one thing than we can hope to use or give away. But, if I had my own place, I would want more than a patch of lawn and a rosebush. It would not be tidy. It would have variety. It would be like my life.

Saturday 1 October 2011

We are going to a birthday

event this afternoon. I will not call it a "party". It is a "drop in" for an 80th.
I do not like these sort of events. I never know when to arrive - or leave. I am not an "idle chit-chat" sort of person. I am not sure I like birthday parties either
I have made the requisite card with 80 quotations on it. The birthday "boy" is a retired priest. Some of the quotes are "religious", others are "gardening" (his passion). Some are in Swahili. (That is less clever than you might think. I do know a few words of Swahili but all this requires is a little searching on the internet and a little cross checking.) Yes, he spent some time in Tanzania as a "missionary". I make the card for the person, not for my own interests.
I will, as mentioned a little while ago on this blog, make another for another friend - for her 70th.
The cards are just a bit of fun. They are also a compromise when the invitation says "no presents" and you know you really do not know the person well enough to offer a present anyway.
But, I do not want anyone to make me one. I do not want my birthdays celebrated. If I had grown up having an annual event which centred around "me" I might feel differently. I did not. I feel uncomfortable when people attempt to make a fuss. I would not want a party. One reason for this is that most people will be celebrating something else anyway. They always have been. They always will be. Sometimes, when I am asked, people refuse to believe me when I tell them the date.
The celebration of birthdays was under discussion several days ago. I was told I was selfish not wanting to celebrate my birthday, that I should think other people might like to acknowledge it.
I do not mention my birthday unless directly asked. I do not expect people to know when it is or acknowledge it - especially if they question my veracity as to the date. Is that really selfish?