Tuesday 31 January 2012

There was (not) a meeting

The meeting was arranged several weeks ago. Arrangements were reviewed and people were reminded on Friday. Yes, everyone would be there.
There was a shower of rain before I left. I eyed the sky and took my trusty lightweight two dollar yellow poncho with me "just in case". I did not need that. I did need patience.
It took me almost forty minutes to pedal to the venue. Oh yes, I need the exercise. That did me no harm. I probably should do that much everyday - and more besides.
On arrival I found one person waiting outside the hall. Well, we were just a little early perhaps. We waited. More people arrived. We waited. Eventually everyone except the person with the keys to the hall had arrived. The meeting was being held for his benefit. We waited.
Someone tried to 'phone him. He does not have a land line. There was no answer from his mobile. Had he had an accident? Was he ill? Had some other disaster befallen him?
After half an hour of waiting busy people become impatient people. They left. Two of us waited a little longer, "Just in case." We had other things to discuss so it was not completely wasted time but we could not do all we needed to do waiting outside a hall.
Eventually we left too. The other person said she would call in and see if she could find out what was going on. I heard nothing.
There was an e-mail from her this morning. "Eventually made contact. He says he forgot."
Forgot? He was reminded on Friday.
I am tempted, very tempted, to go to the "cheap" store and find a diary and give it to him with the words,
"This is a most seriously old-fashioned thing. It is called a diary, You use a pen or a pencil and write down where you are supposed to be and when you are supposed to be there. Then, every day, you look at it and it tells you where you are supposed to be and when you are supposed to be there."
He might write in it if we reminded him, The problem is - I think he might forget to look at it.

Monday 30 January 2012

"Moots" were a compulsory

part of my law school education.
In my first year you were given a simple problem and required to argue it in front of a member of staff or a visiting magistrate. Nobody was ever sure whether it was better to get a staff member or a visiting magistrate. I had already acted for someone in a real life situation. (You do not need to have legal training to appear on someone's behalf in a magistrate's court. I was not being paid for it, And yes, the case was thrown out - as it should have been.)
In the second year the problem was more difficult and the students worked in pairs. I was partnered with a young student who spoke English as a second language. Getting her to participate equally was as much of a challenge as the problem - but I had already been hauled aside and told that the staff knew this. Great.
After that there was nothing compulsory but there was something called "the Jessup Moot" which the students of International Law were expected to participate in. This is an international competition of very high standard where the students are given a problem of the sort that might be heard in the International Court of Justice. They are required to argue both sides of the case. When I was at university the work for that took place over the summer vacation. I was not a student of that sort of International Law but I was asked to participate anyway - not as part of the moots team but as part of the support team. It meant going back to university early but it was not the sort of invitation you turned down.
In Australia the finals - to decide the team which participates in the international competition - are held in the High Court. A member of the High Court judges the final. It is hard not to feel overwhelmed by the High Court - even if what you are doing there is fictional.
Yesterday I was talking this over with a young law student. He is wondering whether he will be good enough to try when he reaches that point in his degree. Why not? He is highly intelligent. He works hard. He still looked uncertain about this. Then he gave me a grin and said,
"You know what Cat? They should make all our politicians appear in front of the High Court and argue their case. I reckon most of them would fail."

Sunday 29 January 2012

The vexed issue of diets

came under discussion yesterday. In the absence of the Senior Cat the knitters descended. We would normally meet in the library on the last Saturday - but not in January. They wanted to meet and our house is fairly central to everyone else. All I had to do was make sure the kettle was full and the mugs were out - and the jug of water and glasses in the heat. I turned the airconditioning system on so it would be cool enough to knit.
We spent a couple of hours sorting out knitting issues. I had found a new-to-her hat pattern for someone, someone else was not sure which decrease she would use at the armhole on the garment she is knitting, another person was knitting a new-to-her cable and so on. We usually do talk knitting or related crafts. It is that sort of group.
One of the women also has a sister going into hospital today for major surgery for cancer. She knows she may not even make it through the surgery. We listened. I will 'phone her later today and listen some more.
It was this news that led to the vexed question of diet. We are all, I suppose, food conscious but one of the women in the group has, as long as I have known her, had issues with food. It began when she "turned vegetarian" because her sister demanded it. That meant she cut all meat and fish from her diet. Then she decided she was "gluten intolerant" and cut all cereals from her diet as well.
After that she cut all dairy products and eggs from her diet. It has left her "a vegan" but a vegan who does not eat many forms of carbohydrate (including potatoes) and does not, by any means, like all vegetables. Yesterday she said she had cut out sugar as well. She looks pale but says she is "feeling really good". Perhaps she is.
What was she eating? Oh, she was eating really well. It was a "very healthy" diet. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is also a more moral way of eating.
I plan on giving my father fish today - with potato and salad. There are enough strawberries from our garden if I eke them out with a little rockmelon and a dollop of good quality plain yoghurt on top. We will eat like royalty.
I do not think I could turn vegan.

Saturday 28 January 2012

The number of books

I could access before I went to school was, of course, severely limited.
At that time my father was on the staff of a school in a small country town, the one I was born in. There were, I think, about six teachers and the headmaster. The library facilities were restricted to a set of shelves in each classroom.
As a teacher my father was able to use anything. He took advantage of it and brought home books to read to me.
There was also Primer One and Primer Two. These were supposed to take a child through the first two years of school - the "infant" school. Naturally I had read them well beforehand. They were, even then, gloriously old-fashioned. They had lists of "oo" and "ee" and "ea"words and "ch" and "wh" words and the simplest possible stories. The pictures dated from the war years. As children we just accepted all this.
My father also brought home "The Radiant Readers" in turn. These were intended for the primary years. I read those too. My father would listen to me read aloud each evening, patiently helping with the new words I discovered. These "readers" were supposed to last an entire year. They lasted me about three weeks - and that might have been less if my father had been prepared to spend more time listening.
I read those because they were there to be read. My father indicated that I needed to read them so I dutifully read them. I have a vague memory early on of a story of a mouse and some strawberry jam. Apart from that I remember little of their content. My brother, while remembering Primer One and Primer Two, claims not to remember the early years of the Radiant Readers. Of course Primer One and Primer Two were also used for spelling, phonics and comprehension exercises.
One of my younger sisters had Primer One and Primer Two but she also had supplementary readers, the Happy Venture series - the Schonell Readers. These did not have word lists. There were stories about Dick and Dora, Fluff (the cat) and Nip (the dog) and Jane (the doll who fell in the mud). The books were mindless and repetitive, designed to reinforce the basic principles being taught to read. My youngest sister, whose second name happens to be Jane, was not impressed by the doll. Her reading of these was supplemented at home by my mother who had, by then, gone back teaching full-time and felt that Primer One and Primer Two had qualities lacking in the Happy Venture series.
All these "readers" obviously had their value. I doubt teachers would have coped without them. They formed the very basis of what they were being asked to teach. Although they were considered long out of date I used them myself when teaching a profoundly physically disabled child to read. I had to rely on his eye movements alone to know whether he was reading the word. I had no idea what he was "hearing" in his head.
I also used them for the Whirlwind. Her love of books and her frustration at not being able to read were obvious. Primer One and Primer Two and the Happy Venture books had her reading in just a few months.
But all of us had other books and it was only when we were reading those that we really believed we were reading. What were we reading? You will have to wait.

Friday 27 January 2012

The unruly scenes in Canberra yesterday

were pre-planned by a tiny minority of people. Those people do not, according to an indigenous friend who 'phoned me later, represent the majority or the thinking of the majority of indigenous people.
For those of you outside Australia who did not catch the news footage of our Prime Minister and Opposition leader being man-handled by security personnel out of the way of "protestors" I need to explain.
For forty years now there has been a "tent" embassy in Canberra. It was set up to protest the refusal of the government of the day to (instantly) recognise the "land rights" of indigenous Australians. The path towards that was, understandably, slow. Land rights took another twenty years. All students of constitutional law in Australia know about "the Mabo case".
The tent embassy should have folded then. The purpose for its existence had been achieved - although it was only the beginning of the still unfolding land rights issue.
Instead the "tent" embassy has remained as a political statement. It is, depending on your point of view a political statement, an eyesore or a tourist attraction. As a university student I was once in a group ordered not to get too close - although we were actually being shown something quite unrelated by an indigenous actor. He had no time for "them fools making fools of all of us".
Yesterday the protestors attempted to make fools of everyone, including their fellow indigenous Australians.
Someone at the embassy set up a member of the media to ask a question or two of the Opposition leader. It really did not matter what the questions were or how they were answered. The plan was to misinterpret the answers so as to accuse him of "racism" and descend on the restaurant at which an Australia Day awards ceremony for emergency services personnel was being held. The group was ready with placards and a plan of action. The media had been alerted that there was going to be a protest. Everyone fell neatly into line and the protestors got just what they were hoping for - massive publicity.
My indigenous friend was shaken. He had rung to tell me that he had, that very day, been given a letter offering work experience to a young indigenous student. I had given him the contact through which the offer had been made. His pleasure in the offer being made was overshadowed by events in Canberra.
"These sort of idiots set things back years," he told me, "How can we expect to have serious negotiations about anything when they behave like that? They are destroying the very respect that Tony Abbott (the Opposition Leader) complimented us on."
Yes, he offered a compliment and the protestors attempted to throw it back in his face. When asked if the "tent" embassy should be removed he did not say it must be he merely said, "Perhaps". If he had failed to answer they would have screamed "racist" and "coward". If he had said "Yes" they would also have screamed "racist". If he had said "No" they would have accused him of "not caring" and having done nothing for indigenous Australians. Whatever he answered would have been the "wrong" answer. No doubt they could have found similar fault with any answer given by the Prime Minister - but that would not have caused quite the same amount of controversy.
My indigenous friend is right when he says this sort of idiocy will harm relations. His mother, who was one of my closest friends until her death, would have been appalled. She believed in rights but she also believed you had to earn them. She never had any time for the "tent" embassy.
"They should get out of there and get on with the job," she used to say. I cannot help wondering what would have happened if her response had been given the same attention in the media. I doubt those protesting would have dared to stir from their seats.

Thursday 26 January 2012

It is "Australia Day" and

the usual topics of conversation are appearing in the press -"national pride"/Invasion Day/Honours List/barbecues/events/Australian of the Year (Geoffrey Rush).
There are also comments on a rather odd piece of research which claims to have come to the conclusion that Australians who fly little flags on their cars are more likely to be "racist" than other Australians. I have not read the actual research so I cannot comment on the methodology or the conclusions of the researchers. It is quite possible that the research is being mis-reported I suppose. Newspapers often seem to get things wrong. I should know. I have been the victim of misreporting more than once.
However it seems an odd sort of topic to research - and how on earth do you go about it. Is it really possible to measure levels of "racism"/"nationalism"/"tolerance"/"multiculturalism"/ "diversity" etc. I acknowledge that the most extreme versions of some of these things are recognisable and they can lead to dreadful things but how do you actually measure them? By membership of a group deemed "radical" by a majority and/or by actions which harm others? Or is there some other measure?
Australians do not fly their flags the way Americans do but the number of Australians flying flags on their cars for Australia Day has increased in recent years. Does this mean "racism" has increased? People have been encouraged to do it. Does this mean "racism" is being encouraged? Small flags (usually made in China) are much easier to get than they once were. I could have bought one hundred or more small flags in the local "cheap" variety shop. People were buying them too.
Children get their faces painted to look like the Australian flag. People wear "flag" clothing and carry their beer to the beach in a "flag" cooler - travelling in their "flag" decorated car. I doubt racism enters their heads and they are probably no more or less tolerant than most Australians.
So, what was the research actually about?
Australia apparently has a problem with its flag. Well, it has two flags. That is perhaps part of the problem.
There is a flag which has been adopted by "indigenous" Australians. It is black/gold/red. It is simple. It is distinctive. It is a political statement and, even among indigenous Australians it causes some controversy but it is flown, in among other places, in Victoria Square in an indication that it is "accepted". I do not think those who say it is theirs would be too happy about all Australians adopting it.
There is also the flag with the Union Jack in one corner and the Southern Cross. It reflects the history of the majority of Australians - or the history that people have chosen to adopt. It is this flag which seems to cause some problems. There is a small minority of people who want to see this changed. They have run competitions to design a new flag. They tell Australians that their flag is "a relic of our colonial past" and that "it does not reflect the values of the Australian people". They say a great many other negative things about the Australian flag and those who support it. There is even the suggestion that Australia cannot become a nation in its own right until it "becomes a republic and has its own flag".
Australia already is a republic of course. It just happens to call the president a Governor-General and that person is appointed by the parliament rather than elected by the people - although republicans insist that the Governor-General is appointed by the Queen. Australia already has its own flag. It reflects the history of modern day Australia. It acknowledges the past but the Southern Cross places it squarely in the present, looking to the future. We could change it to something green and gold with a kangaroo and a boomerang in the middle but it would not change the past, merely deny it. It is not a good thing for nations to deny their history.
So, if flying the flag is "racist", is this perhaps more to do with the perceptions of those who
find the flag offensive?

Wednesday 25 January 2012

The Senior Cat went off

to Sydney yesterday. My sister went with him as he will not, at almost 89, travel alone. My brother will look after both of them once they arrive.
This has taken a massive amount of preparation - but not quite the sort of preparation that most people do. The preparation involved copious amounts of thinking time and shed time. The result was that he went off with a large and very battered suitcase which held almost no clothes but rather a strange assortment of wooden objects.
There were two "hobby horses" - still in pieces. They will be assembled at my brother's place. He is also a keen woodworker so the tools are, fortunately, available. There were "posting boxes" - those nifty little boxes with shapes cut into the outside through which the child can "post" the relevant shape. There were jigsaw puzzles and a new tea caddy for my brother and his wife. He also had to take the shawl I had made my SIL and the books I had bought for everyone.
Clothes? Well yes he supposed that might be a good idea. What was he going to take with him?
He shrugged. There were clothes in the wardrobe.
He was being collected at around 1:15pm. At 10:am the suitcase still had not appeared. I went and found it, gave it a good dusting down as it had been in the shed, and started to sort some clothes. I had washed and ironed his second pair of light trousers earlier.
He wandered in with the most precious things at about 10:30am. Plenty of time. I queried certain items of clothing. Yes, they might be a good idea. Medication? Oh! Yes that would be a very good idea. Had he looked at the weather forecast? No? Then taking a raincoat might be a good idea.
And so it went on.
He was ready. He had even eaten a sandwich and read the latest book catalogue before my sister arrived.
She was, as always, running late.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Australia owns twenty per cent

of the world's "pokie" machines - "fruit" machines if you live in the United Kingdom or, I think "slot machines" in the United States. They do not bear fruit and you are likely to fall into a slot if you use them - but people still do.
They are a highly addictive form of gambling, perhaps the most addictive there is. To play them requires absolutely no skill and the "reward" (result) is almost instantaneous. Any psychologist will tell you that will encourage the player to keep playing. They were deliberately designed that way. Why else would anyone keep pushing a button in order to lose money? Oh yes, there is the hope that you "might win the big one".
All the casinos have poker machines and there is at least one casino in every state. Half the poker machines are in New South Wales but, apart from the casino, Western Australia does not - as far as I am aware - have any.
In Australia the laws which regulate gambling and, in particular, the use of poker machines vary from state to state but the machines themselves bring in more revenue than all other forms of gambling combined.
Governments - both state and federal - are addicted to this money. It is one reason why trying to reform the poker machine culture is so difficult. The ALP (Australian Labor Party) is also addicted. They receive "donations" from "clubs" owned by "workers". These are thinly disguised clubs indirectly owned by the union movement. Other political parties receive less revenue from gambling but they do benefit. Football "clubs" depend on the revenue from poker machines. The RSL (Returned Servicemen's League) depends on them.
Much direct and indirect employment depends on gambling. It is seen as a form of taxation - taken from those prepared to pay it.
That some people are unable to stop, can and do lose everything they own is seen as a problem but it is seen as less of a problem - or someone else's problem - than the financial and political cost of calling a halt to gambling
For a long time my state, South Australia, did not have pokie machines. Day bus trips used to be arranged across the border to Wentworth in New South Wales so that people could "play the pokies". It kept the problem in our state fairly much under control. There is a limit to what you can lose in a day.
I know of a mother (on the pension) and her two sons (both on unemployment benefit) who go to their local pokies venue each day. There they are relieved of almost all their meagre income. They live in a rented property in poor repair. It is filthy dirty. The stove is piled high with old newspapers and magazines. They have no washing machine and rarely visit the laundromat.
Those who know them well say that things were not good before the pokies - but they are a lot worse now. They regularly get food from social welfare groups. One of the sons has this down to a fine art.
Their story is repeated over and over again. The social welfare organisations which have tried to help despair. Nothing is going to change them - except perhaps a mandatory limit on what they can actually spend on the pokies.
There is an answer to the pokies problem. It will not be an answer to the problem of gambling but it would help. We need to gradually reduce the number of poker machines which are available. We need to wean individuals and the government off their dependence on them. Going cold turkey would have a devastating financial effect and, in the current economic climate, it would be unwise to risk the employment of so many people. Gradual reduction and a more diverse and flexible approach to employment in other areas would still see people employed.
I know there would still be a problem with "problem" gamblers and I know there is still a problem with internet gambling, unless the government chooses to block the sites.
The problem however is that all this would be hard work. It would require the cooperation of people who currently benefit from gambling. It is not going to happen. Australia owns too many pokie machines.

Monday 23 January 2012

One of our local columnists

has a piece in this morning's paper about the importance of sport. He is trying, quite unsuccessfully in my view, to justify the emphasis placed on sport in our society. He may well be correct in his assertions about the value of sport but what he, and many others, fail to acknowledge is the lack of balance between sport and other activities.
If a poll was taken in Australia I am sure many more people could tell you that there will be Olympic Games this year and where they will be held than could tell you that this is also the National Year of Reading in Australia and who their local ambassadors are. The former event has already had plenty of publicity. The latter has had almost none. It will get very little.
Far more money is spent on sport than is spent on libraries yet more people use libraries. Despite this libraries are not considered to be nearly as newsworthy. Far more money is spent on sport than all the arts combined. There are more “scholarships”, “awards” and “prizes” for sport than there are for the arts and they also tend to have a much higher monetary value. While junior sports people may not be paid anything at all the top names in sport are paid (I will not say earn) quite extraordinary sums of money. “Sponsorship” for sport is worth many millions of dollars more. Sponsorship pays of course. It is good advertising. It is tax deductible. Seeing a logo on a team of football guernseys, the tilt of a hat, the backboards on a racing circuit and so on can also be worth far more than it costs a company.
We are bombarded with sport. Almost the only television programme my father and I bother to watch is taken off the air for the "Dakar to Paris" rally (now run in South America), the Tour de France, the World Cup and - this year - the Olympics or whatever other sporting event is currently taking place. It is by no means the only sport on television. Sometimes it would be impossible to watch television and not watch sport. There will be, quite literally, sport on every available free-to-air channel.
This is not balanced.
Of course sport is important. It has a place in our society. Many people enjoy it. Sport however is as much about cultural expectations as it is about what is actually enjoyed. We are told, at least indirectly, that this is what we should be watching, enjoying and generally taking an interest in. If we do not then there is something actually wrong with us. If that is the case then I have an incurable illness. I have no interest in sport apart from the mildest interest in the psychology of cricket.
I do wonder what would happen if we put an equal amount of money and time into other cultural activities. Would people learn to enjoy those too? Would - dare I even ask - writers be more appreciated?

Sunday 22 January 2012

I bought the Senior Cat

two shirts yesterday. This is a major event and, I decided, worthy of comment.
The Senior Cat (aka my father) dislikes buying clothes. I dislike buying clothes. His one idea about buying clothes is not to buy anything until the old one quite literally falls to pieces. No, I lie. The other idea is that you buy the same thing as you bought before - if you can.
When he retired my father no longer needed to wear a collar and tie to work. (Soon after that most teachers - at least in state schools - did not wear a collar and tie to work.) My mother muttered things and put aside his best shirts for "wearing out" and the rest of his shirts for the other sort wearing out. He still has most of those.
Those shirts are thin. They are patched. They have odd buttons. He claims he can still wear them. He refuses to give them up. After all they "only a few years old". He only retired in the early 1980s!
Yesterday he was going to an 80th birthday party. He came out dressed - in a "house shirt". One of those not quite ready for the garden/shed but not a "going out" shirt. I gently told him this. He wanted to know what was wrong with the shirt. I pointed out the deficiencies - odd buttons and a stain on the front that I had not been able to shift. The stain is not that obvious but it is there. The shirt looks tired even without that.
Grumbling he went and took it off. I prowled after him and suggested a shirt. There are just two short-sleeved shirts I think are suitable for expeditions outside the house.
When he had gone I threw caution to the four winds and, despite the heat, pedalled off to the one place that might have a shirt at a reasonable price. I was aware it was a little late in the season for shirt hunting but he is off to Sydney on Tuesday and I want him to be presentable.
I prowled through the male clothing section of the "variety store". There were a great many knit tops. He does not wear knit tops. There were some cheap cowboy looking shirts. He would not wear those. A conservative open neck sports shirt seems to be a thing of the past - at least in that sort of shop. I prowled into the aisle with "business shirts". These days they come in pink, purple, lilac check and khaki as well as white and blue. Most of them have button down collars - another thing he refuses to contemplate.
There were shirts with long sleeves everywhere. Then I found one with short sleeves. Of course it was the wrong size.
Another woman was going through the shirts as well. We exchanged sizes and I found one in the size she was looking for. She put it in her trolley with barely a glance at it. I understood the feeling. At last I found a white one with short sleeves which was the right size.
"Do you want white or blue?" the woman asked me holding out a second shirt. This one was blue.
"Both," I told her, "Then the torture will be over for a while."
She laughed and I held out a second shirt to her as well.
"Both - any my torture will be over for a while too."
I left her shopping for other things and went to stand in the long queue. It was, I contemplated, marginally less painful than trying to find a shirt for myself. I bought two for far less than I would be required to pay for one shirt for myself. His will probably still be in style in twenty years time. Anything I bought for myself would probably be out of fashion in a year. Is it any wonder I hate buying clothes for myself?

Saturday 21 January 2012

I was given books

as a child which were "classics". The first of these were books like The tale of Peter Rabbit" and the works of AA Milne. I have given copies of those to other children and I will come back to them later in the year.
But I was also given copies of things like "Heidi" and "Pollyanna". I have not given copies of these things to any child. My first copy of "Heidi" was a large picture book version. It was nothing more than a not-very-accurate synopsis with rather dreadful pictures. My maternal grandmother thought it was a wonderful book. My brother cut it up with his "kindergarten" scissors. I encouraged him. It is the only book either of us ever deliberately maliciously defaced.
We did not like it.
Several years later my maternal grandmother gave me "Pollyanna". It was another book she liked. She had other "Pollyanna" books as well. I did not like it - or the other books. I still do not care for it or the other books. The Whirlwind found it on my shelves some time ago. She read it after seeing the film at a friend's house. I can remember her comments well.
"I didn't know it was a book. Was that why they made it into a film?" Did she like it? "Not much." Why? "It doesn't sound right - like the person writing it did not really mean it. The story is a bit silly."
I explained that the book had been written a long time ago and writing style was different.
"Yeah like maybe but the story is still silly."
I offered her "Heidi" - the full version. It was my maternal grandmother's present the following year. She was still trying to get me to like the few books she liked before television meant she did no reading at all. I read it but it did not enthrall me.
Later there was "Anne of Green Gables". There was also "A girl of the Limberlost". My mother knew about the sequels to these and Pollyanna. She had borrowed them from other people and read them as a child but she did not speak of them, or any other book, with great enthusiasm.
Heidi was returned with the comment. "That was a bit better but I am not impressed." Right. Then the Whirlwind wanted to know,
"Why do books get to be classics? Is it because they really are good and I just don't understand them?"
What do you think?

Friday 20 January 2012

There are shortly going to be

two by-elections in this state. Both of them are for the state parliament. Both of them are unnecessary.
One is for the seat of the former Premier. The other is for the seat of the former Deputy Premier. Neither member is ill or incapacitated. They have not been convicted of any offence. There is no other good reason for them not to see out their full term. Both members have simply decided to leave. Their ruling party can afford to let them go. The seats will not go to the opposition and, even if they did, the government could remain in office.
When someone stands for parliament they sign a declaration that they will, if elected, take up the seat. They are not required to remain in office. They can leave without good cause.
If it not going to shift the balance of power in parliament the major parties have never been too concerned about this.
People cannot be left "unrepresented" so by-elections must be held. By-elections are expensive, even more so under a system which has compulsory attendance at the ballot-box.
The former Deputy-Premier had a chequered political career and personal life. He has been portrayed in the media as a lout and a bully. He was involved in a number of law suits. Nevertheless he was elected to do a job and his resignation is a breach of contract.
The same can be said of the Premier. He was definitely "on the nose" and he was removed in what amounted to a coup because the opinion polls showed the government's popularity was at an all time low and, oh yes, the new man in the job did provide a bounce in the opinion polls.
Nevertheless, like the Deputy Premier, the Premier was elected to represent his electorate. Both of them can continue to do that job from the back benches.
Of course it is not easy for the new Premier and Deputy-Premier to do their jobs with their former leaders still there - but who said being in government was easy. Of course it is humiliating to no longer be the Premier or Deputy-Premier but they were not elected to do that job.
The cost of just one by-election would keep a country hospital open for some years. All South Australians are aware of one particular hospital that needs funds to remain open.
We are almost certainly going to lose our AAA credit rating too. The government also wants to put money into "saving" the car industry - at least until after the next federal and state election.
Despite that we are having two unnecessary by-elections.
Perhaps it is time to tell politicians who leave without good cause they will need to pay for the by-election. They need to stay and do their job.
It might just stop the rest of us having to pay for their breach of contract.

Thursday 19 January 2012

I managed quite

happily without Wikipedia yesterday. I manage quite happily without Wikipedia almost every day. Oh it is occasionally useful but there are other ways of getting most of the information I require.
The Whirlwind bounced in early yesterday evening and asked if I had a book on Russian because she was doing her summer project from school -this part has something to do with a Russian fairy tale and she wanted to draw the Russian alphabet around the page. I provided her with a book of alphabets instead of a book about Russian. It would be easier for her to glean the necessary information and I thought the rest of the book would interest her.
"Cool! Do you need it?"
"No. You can borrow it."
"I knew you would have something useful."
"You can find some words in Russian too if you want to."
"Do you know any?"
"I can say 'hello' and 'no'."
The Whirlwind is not impressed by my limited Russian. (Neither am I.)
"Do you suppose we could find something that is supposed to be Russian to cook? I can put it in my project as well."
"You find something and I will think about it," I tell her.
"Have you got a recipe book...?"
"No, not for Russian cooking. You can look it up."
"But I've had my internet time..."
"So? You can always...
"Use the library."
She makes a face and leaves. I know what she will look for in the library today. It would be easy to let her just type in the search terms and let the computer do the rest. There would be more information than she needs there. It might not all be accurate. This way she is much more likely to remember what she reads and, hopefully, it will be more accurate.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Wikipedia is

turning itself off at 4pm today. It is being turned off for twenty-four hours as a protest against the introduction of a bill into the United States Congress which is supposedly designed to stamp out piracy on the internet - at least inside the United States.
I doubt that the protest will do any good. I doubt that the legislation - if it passes - will work. Geeks somewhere will find a way of getting around the legislation eventually. Unlike China, where there are also heavy controls on the internet, there are constitutional issues for the United States. File "sharing" will continue.
If we really want to stop illegal file-sharing then we would have to do away with computers and photocopiers and anything else that has the capacity to record and store - and thus copy. Breaching copyright is wrong but it will go on happening.
I am wondering if one of the reasons it happens is because most people do not recognise the work involved in creating music, art and literature? They see it as being there for their enjoyment. How can something you enjoy for relaxation be work for anyone else? Musicians, actors, artists and (especially) writers just do it for the fun of it. There is no real work involved. They can have "real" jobs and just do those things part-time...unless they are super-stars. There are a very, very small number of musicians who get paid well, even extremely well. There are also a very small number of actors who get paid huge sums. Most musicians and actors get paid very little. It is the same with artists.
Writers get paid the least of all. Of all the creative arts what they produce is the easiest to reproduce. Anyone with a minimal amount of knowledge can copy this blog post. They can cut and paste and copy. They can change it minimally and put it up as their own. They can print it multiple times and use it as class material - a class they will be paid to teach. Yes, the copyright belongs to me but they will genuinely believe they are doing no wrong. Trying to stop them is like trying to hold back the sea in a storm.
Even when people pay for a book they will pass it on to others to read, donate it to a library or a charity shop, dump it somwhere. The amount of work involved in producing it will rarely, if ever, enter their heads.
Perhaps what we need is not an anti-piracy act that will not work but an education programme about the work involved. Perhaps what we need are governments who are prepared to acknowledge both ownership and effort. If they do not value creativity how can they expect others to value it?

Tuesday 17 January 2012

I have never played

on a poker machine. I would not know how to do this. I do not know how to play poker either.
I have seen poker "machines" of course. Even passing by them can give me a headache. I do not like things that whirr and whizz and make jangling noises. I cannot watch the screen shudder and shake and roll. I would not want to put money in a little slot (or whatever you do) in order to see it disappear for ever. If I had money to spare I would rather buy a book or another skein of knitting yarn.
I know there must be a lot of people who feel differently from me. Some people can limit the amount they spend and others cannot.
Our minority government is being propped up by, among other people, a man who claimed a seat in parliament on a platform which included introducing restrictions on gambling at "the pokies". He knew it was a problem. We have a Senator from my own state who also knows there is a problem. He has been trying to do something too.
The government knows there is a problem but it does not really want to do anything because, they say, too many jobs depend on it. What they really mean is that any move to restrict the use of poker machines will be unpopular and that the jobs of certain marginal seat politicians might be at risk. The government risks losing those seats. The government also likes the money brought in by poker machines, especially if they can rely on charities to support those who do not use poker machines wisely. It would be a problem to fill the hole in the budget.
The government has been stringing along the "independent" anti-gambling politician on whose support they have depended but it no longer depends on his support. The parliament will go back with a new Speaker, a man who should be sitting on the Opposition benches. The government now believes it can afford to lose a vote on the floor. It probably can. The other "independent" MPs know they are likely to be one-term politicians. For obvious reasons they want to stay there as long as they can.
The anti-gambling MP was gambling. He was gambling on the government needing his support and thus doing what he wanted. The government may do something because, without it, there will be another damaging "broken promise" weapon for the Opposition and the media. It will not be what the MP wants. He has gambled and, like most gamblers, he has lost.
I do not think I will try to learn to use a poker machine any time soon.

Monday 16 January 2012

Who designs breakfast

Like a good Scots-descended cat I eat porridge most of the year. The chief ingredient for that comes in a plain packet from the supermarket. There is nothing fancy about the contents or the packaging.
My paternal grandfather taught me to eat porridge. He also taught me to make it. His kitchen skills were not extensive but he regarded porridge making skills as essential. Proper porridge was not eaten with sugar but milk was acceptable. This may be the reason I have am aversion to sugar on - or in - breakfast cereal.
In the height of an Australian summer however porridge making is something I avoid. I avoid cooking more than the bare minimum when it is hot. Why add to the heat in the kitchen?
So I went and prowled along the shelves for the right sort of oats to put in the muesli. These are not the same as porridge oats.
As I searched I came across seven different sorts of cornflakes - "the brand", homebrand, another brand, another brand, three with "things added". Then there were "oat flakes", rice "bubbles" and "shredded" wheat. There were other wheat and oat "biscuits" and "bran" things - the sort you need to drown in milk before they are edible. I think all of them had sugar as well.
These were the "ordinary" things.
There were also things that had been mangled and moulded into extraordinary shapes. There were claims that "fruit" and "nuts" had been added. There were even more extraordinary claims about nutritional value and energy ratings. Oh yes, I read some of the packets in passing.
Right at the very end, on the bottom shelf, barely visible but well within the reach of a cat's paw, was a lonely packet of the right sort of oats.
As I put it in the trolley I wondered, yet again, just who designs breakfast cereal and why do they do it? Is it possible to get a job as "designer of breakfast cereals"? Do the people who do this eat what they design - or do they eat porridge and muesli?

Sunday 15 January 2012

The Whirlwind is very

impressed. I am the owner of an e-book - and "not any old e-book either". It is an e-book by someone she knows that I know, at least virtually. That makes it even more important in her eyes.
The book is, of course, Nicola Morgan's "WAGSynopsis" or "Write a Great Synopsis". Nicola generously gave me a copy. I suspect she knows I need help or prodding or both - yes, both. The book is all it should be, short, sharp, instructive and written in the inimitable "Crabbit" style.
If you are ever going to write a synopsis then you need to read the book. It will save you a lot of time and angst.

The Whirlwind has been on holiday with her father. They had planned on spending less time than they did but the subsequent booking at the beach house they had rented was cancelled at the last minute. Her father was asked if they would like to stay longer. Apart from the need for them both to find more reading matter and a question of making sure I could go on watering the indoor plants and collect mail they both said an enthusiastic yes.
It would not be every child's idea of a holiday but the Whirlwind is apparently more than content to just be with her father. Apparently they do a lot of reading. He goes fishing - the sort of fishing where you read a book. She draws pictures and reads. They swim and go for walks. It is, no doubt, soothing and relaxing. Certainly her father looks much better than he did before they left. It had been a tough year workwise.
They came home with more books than they went away with. They visited the local charity shop to get more.
I did not mention the word e-book but I knew what the Whirlwind was thinking. If they both had e-readers then they could have an endless supply of reading matter. At least, I thought I knew what the Whirlwind was thinking.
She looked at Nicola's book very carefully. Then she said, "It is very sensible for that sort of book but just imagine what would happen if my Dad took a Kindle with him when he was fishing." Mmm, perhaps it would not be such a good idea?

Saturday 14 January 2012

The second duck book in my

life has, of course, to be "Make Way for Ducklings" by Robert McCloskey.
Now the reasons for this are not because it won the Caldecott Medal in 1942 or that the book has been continuously in print since then, or because there is a row of metal ducklings in Boston Public Garden (and another in Russia by the same artist, a gift to Raisa Gorbachev).
I doubt very much the book would even be considered for publication now. The story line barely hangs together. If you doubt that do go and re-read the book. There will be a copy somewhere on the internet.
I think I read the story on my first day at school - that day when I was put in a corner with a pile of books and told to read. I was worried, very worried about those ducks crossing the road. For me that was what the story was about, getting across the road safely - with a little help from the police force.
Later I read the story to other children. I read to children I taught. I read it to my nephews. I read it to the Whirlwind. There is a battered, ex-library copy in this house.
Then, on my return from university interstate, I had to re-new my passport as I was using it as photographic ID. I had to get the new photographs certified by a justice of the peace. I went into the office of my local member of parliament and asked his secretary to do the job for me.
She was just about to sign them when she flung down the pen and said,
"Excuse me."
Then she rushed out of the office onto the busy main road. The traffic was halted. A family of ducks was escorted across the road and then everything went back to normal. The secretary came back in looking slightly flushed but relieved.
"I nearly forgot. It was my job to look out for them today. Max is at the dentist." Max is a very slow man who frequents the local shopping area. He helps out by returning trolleys, putting out bins and doing other small things. People know him and know him as harmless. It was also Max's self imposed task to see the family of ducks across the road each afternoon. They always arrived about the same time. He would stop the traffic and then escort the ducks across the road. They seemed to know that this was how to cross the road. If he ever lost a duckling I never heard about it.
I had to go in and out of the office on numerous occasions to get forms signed. If it was "duck time" Max would appear in his flourescent yellow vest" and escort the ducks across the road.
The office has moved now. The ducks have moved on too. Their habitat was altered and the local council arranged a new home for them further up the creek. There is no traffic there and apparently they settled in.
It is better for the ducks but there are a lot of us who miss our own "Make Way for Ducklings".

Friday 13 January 2012

Yesterday looked like being

"one of those days".
My working day can start at 5am, usually by prior arrangement. Someone, somewhere will need to "talk" to me. It will perhaps be very late at night for them or there will be other good reason to need me early in the morning. There has to be good reason for it though. I do not start that early for the fun of it.
Yesterday was an early start day - and yes it was worth it. I did all the other usual things and then started off for some shopping. Thursday is the day I do a "big" shop. I do this about once a month. It means heading to the supermarket and buying the heavy things. The nice boys up there then deliver it sometime during the day - when they have time. I do my bit by trying to do the shopping early.
Not so yesterday. I had done one pedal out of the gate and discovered that I had an almost flat tyre. I am quite capable of pumping up the tyres myself but my father insists it his job. He investigated and said, "Puncture." Oh.
I cannot mend a puncture. My thumbs are not strong enough to get the tyres on and off. My father managed this. New tube? Yes. My father went off on his gopher to get a new tube. Without his gopher we would have had to get a taxi or call on someone to help.
It took most of the morning. I changed my ideas about what we were eating. I made 'phone calls and rearranged things that needed to be rearranged.
"And the drive chain needs tightening," my father told me when he came with filthy hands, "You will need to take it to the bike shop. It needs an expert. I'll give them a call."
Right. They will see to it when I bring it down. I am aware that they will stop doing other things in order to help. It makes me feel bad but it cannot be helped. The bike shop is some distance from the shopping centre and the supermarket. I cannot walk to and from - or cross a major road on foot.
I see to lunch and then set off. I deliver things that need to be delivered on the way. At the bike shop they are busy. It is school holidays. There are always boys hanging around. There is a major bike race coming up, the "Tour Downunder", and this always adds to their workload as interested riders get last minute checks and adjustments. But, they find time for me.
I finally get to the supermarket. One of the boys is going out the back delivery door.
"You're late Cat"
"Flat tyre."
"We are doing last delivery round now."
"Oh, right. I'll leave it until tomorrow."
"No, hold on."
He goes back inside and then comes back and says,
"I can do it on my way home - be a bit before seven - I just live a couple of streets from you."
I know he does and accept the offer.
It was going to be one of those days. The flat tyre was a nuisance but at least I was not halfway to or from the supermarket. I had to get the chain adjusted and that was a nuisance but the bike shop, knowing how dependent I am on my tricycle, fitted me in. The supermarket boy was willing to go a little out of his way to help me.
It all meant I could also get on with what I really needed to do yesterday. I did not have to let anyone down - although I had to delay a couple of things.
Thanks guys. You are great.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Several people have let me

down over the last year.
There were four people who offered and then promised me faithfully they would "read and get back to me" or get their boys to read the first three chapters of the novel I have out on submission. I would really have appreciated comments from the boys but I am aware their parents may have dobbed them in. The boys in question may not have been willing - or may not even have seen the chapters. Their parents though did not keep their word. It is disappointing.
That said, two other people also offered to read and both of them gave me really constructive feed back. I appreciate that - and I told them I appreciated it.
There was the person who promised me two balls of sock yarn in exchange for a knitting book. I sent the book and have not heard a word from her since. The sock yarn has not materialised. E-mails have gone unanswered. As I was passing that on to someone who was knitting socks for her surgeon son and one of his colleagues I felt bound to buy her two balls - and say nothing about it. I would not have done this except that the surgeons were volunteering, entirely at their own expense, to do some work in a remote part of the Himalayas. The sock knitter did acknowledge the yarn - with a hug and a kiss. I know though that, had she not been home, she would have 'phoned me. She is punctilious about such things. We both know that good quality sock yarn is difficult to get here.
I did some unpaid work for someone else. This is the usual state of affairs but, this time, the work was not usual. It also took four full days at a time when I was very busy with other things. I have not received an acknowledgment. It was only because someone else mentioned they were using the material I even knew it had arrived. Perhaps I should be pleased it is being used - even though my name apparently does not even appear on the hand outs. And, oh yes, I know the person I did the work for is busy too.
Another person asked me to do something "as a favour". I did it and heard nothing at all. I saw her last week and inquired what had happened. "Oh, I decided not to do it that way after all." Right. Thankyou for letting me know.
Most of the people I have done things for have got back to me. It is usually nothing more than a brief "thanks" to let me know that what I have done has been received. That is enough. I do not want more than that but I do like to know that people have received what I sent.
That way I know that I have not let them down. If they choose to let me down then they have to live with their conscience - if they have one.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

For those of you who do not

know South Australia I need to explain that it has been heavily dependent on the car industry for many years.
When I was a child "Holden's" was situated on the Port Road and other drivers did their best to avoid the "shift-change" times there because of the heavy traffic streaming in and out of the plant. Looking back it was probably no worse, perhaps even better, than the traffic jams at peak periods now. However, at that time, drivers were not used to waiting in traffic. Traffic was light. You just drove, stopping occasionally for traffic lights or a vehicle coming in from the right. It is a very different story now.
Holden's employed a lot of people - almost all of them were men. There were just a few women employed in the office areas. Other places also employed a lot of people who supplied Holden's with parts and other supplies. The workforce was considered tough. It was strictly union based.
The plant is no longer there on the Port Road. It went many years ago. It went out to the then new satellite suburb of Elizabeth, an area with many migrants from the car factories of the United Kingdom and opened by Queen Elizabeth herself.
We had another large car plant at Tonsley too, the Mitsubishi plant. It also employed a great many people on site and off site. So many of the local deaf community worked there they had a special sign among themselves for the Tonsley plant.
Mitsubishi had a big government bail out some years ago. One hundred million dollars of tax payer money went into trying to save the place. It did not work. The area is still empty. Plans have been announced from time to time but nothing has happened yet. A lot of people lost their jobs. Some retired. Some found other jobs. The bail out is generally considered to have been a waste of tax payer money.
Now the same thing is happening again. Our State Premier has rushed off to the US to try and "save" Holden's. His efforts and our tax dollars may keep the assembly line going for a short while but it will not save it. Nothing can save it. It is expensive to assemble cars here. It is cheaper to assemble them elsewhere and then import them. The government knows this but it will persist anyway. They believe it will keep them in power and, aware of the dire economic consequences for the state, they will be reluctantly supported by their opposition.
The problem is that neither side has any vision for the future. They have not thought beyond cars. They have not thought about what else we might manufacture, or how we might do it. The word "diversification" is apparently not to be found in their vocabulary.
We could try bicycles, tricycles, electric bicycles, electric tricycles, electric vans and small buses for urban areas, housing units for disaster zones and deserts, the infrastructure units for alternative energy schemes and any number of other things. They may not be as complex as cars but they will all be needed in the future.
Perhaps we could even have a small corner producing e-book readers so that people can learn about diversification?

Tuesday 10 January 2012

I was given a present

yesterday. My friend Jen Campbell sent me a copy of her "100 poem challenge". For those of you who do not know Jen she is (naturally) a writer and the manager of a bookshop, a good friend, smart, funny and serious. Jen does things. You can find her over at "This is not the six word novel" in my blog roll.
Jen is also the author of "Weird things people say in bookshops" which will be published this year. Her blog is full of weird things people say, interesting interviews with other writers and other reflections on life.
Oh, and she happens to have EEC syndrome. Here's a link to the explanation for that.
In order to raise money for research into the eyesight problems associated with that Jen spent a weekend writing short poems inspired by "tag" words people had given her. Want to know more? Go and read her blog and the book.
Yes, Jen does things. It made me think about people who do not do things. Someone called in at our place last night. She wanted to return a box my father had made for some items belonging to the Neighbourhood Watch group. The group has just folded. My father was the first Area Coordinator of the local NW group. He did the job for eight years. A couple of other people took a turn for two years. Then someone did a long stint like my father. That person was simply too ill to carry on, so ill he died a couple of weeks ago. We will miss him.
Nobody was prepared to take on the job of Area Coordinator. It was not an onerous task but nobody was prepared to do it. I did talk to the previous Area Coordinator about it if they could change the time but he said, "Cat, your family has already contributed and you have enough to do." True. There are plenty of other people in the district who do nothing at all. They have time on their hands. They could do things. They have the ability to do things. They do not want to do things.
I admit I did not go to meetings -but they clashed with another commitment. I did do a newsletter delivery. I try to be aware of the needs of my neighbours.
So, we no longer have a Neighbourhood Watch group. I have fielded some complaints about this from people who want to know where the newsletter is. They never went to meetings. They never contributed in any way. I have said this. They are full of excuses about "lack of time" etc.
They say to me "I do not know where you find the time...". The answer is simple. I do not have enough time but I do not waste the time I have. (Unless this blog counts as a waste of time!)

Monday 9 January 2012

The snake man came

No, thankfully, we had not seen a snake. His mother is one of the very elderly people who lives alone in this district. He lives in another state and teaches at a university there.
I keep an eye on his mother, a fact of which he is well aware. She is still well able to look after herself but I post the occasional letter or pick up the occasional prescription at the chemist. It is no bother.
He came to have a look at our garden at his mother's request. Like him she knows rather a lot about wildlife. When she tells me something about wildlife I listen because she knows more than I do about such things.
Snakes were once found in the Adelaide Hills and the outer suburbs. Now they are found throughout the metropolitan area. They came in search of food during the drought and they have remained. It is up to us to learn to live with them - and do what we can to lessen the potential harm.
My father is too old to do the heavy gardening work now. As it is his garden and his hobby I have never liked to interfere but this is different. We have someone who comes to help for two hours once a fortnight. He does more in two hours than my father can now do in two weeks. Without this gem of a man, a member of the church my father attends, we would not be able to keep the garden even vaguely tidy.
I have for some time now been suggesting that we ask him to clear some of the "undergrowth" along the fences. Dad has hesitated. There have been other things that needed to be done - like getting the netting over the fruit trees, pruning in high places, clearing the gutters etc. Yes, it has all been important.
Yesterday "the snake man" said that the clearing needed to be done. It is a snake trap. My father went quite pale as he was told this. We have "brown snakes". They are some of the most poisonous snakes in the world, a bite from even a very young snake can kill. An adult has enough venom to kill at least several dozen people, if not more. They can move incredibly rapidly and they can climb anywhere...yes, snakes can climb. I told the snake man, "Snakes scare me." He said, "Yes, they should. They are very, very dangerous."
So we are going to ask our gardening friend to do some extra clearing. It will reduce the potential resting places for snakes. We are also going to remind him to be very, very cautious as he does it.

Sunday 8 January 2012

I do not write

short stories. Well, that is not quite true. There are a few about Tom, Lizzie and Mouse-the-cat. One of them was actually published in 100 stories for Haiti.
Apart from those I have not written any short stories. Short stories are also one of the reasons I do not belong to a writing group. The writing groups I know about seem to be obsessed with short stories - short stories and poetry. They do not cater for struggling, would be novelists.
I can understand this. It is easier to review and criticise a piece of work which is "complete" even if it is not "finished". The shorter that piece of work is the more likely people are going to find time to read it. It can be read aloud to the group or at an evening of readings.
The quality of work in a group can vary from awful to excellent. The help a writer can get may also vary from none to a great deal. Different writers will take different things from different groups. I tried joining a group but it was not for me.
There are also "reading groups". There are local reading groups, run by the library, the bookshop and the community centre. I have not tried joining one of those. My reading for pleasure time is limited. I do not want to be in the position where I "must" read something. I know too that books for reading groups will often be "award winning" novels. While I will read some of these, many do not interest me.
I have picked up some award winning novels and found them dense and incomprehensible. My reaction has, more than once, shocked someone. One person I know believes I should be reading all these things. He is particularly shocked that I have not read all of Tim Winston and Peter Carey. They are Australian authors and, apparently, I should read all Australian authors and revere them simply because they are Australian. I should also make my settings Australian, indeed it is my duty to do so. (I remind him that he has yet to read the poetry of Pablo Neruda - as a Chilean he "should" do this.) Naturally he is a member of a book group.
Would I learn something from belonging to a writing group? Almost certainly I would but, if I wanted to have any of my own writing criticised, I would have at least to learn to write short stories. Possibly I would have to write to a theme or a word length or in a certain way - any of which might fit the purpose of the class. No, my writing time is limited. I will not do that.
Would I learn something from belonging to a reading group? Well I may learn what others think of this novel or that novel. I may learn why what is now dense and incomprehensible is considered to be so good the writing wins a prize.
Would those things help me write? They might - but they would leave me even less time for actually writing.
If I want to write I know I must also read. I must also be prepared to read widely and well. I do not believe however that I should write something simply because it is what a small group expects as part of the price for belonging to a group. I do not believe I should read books chosen by others as part of the price for belonging to a group. But I also wonder - am I being a snob by not joining in?

Saturday 7 January 2012

Even though I knew the ending

I used to worry about Ping the duck.
I have no idea how many times my father patiently read the book to me. I know I could well and truly read it to myself by the time I was three but I could probably have recited it before that. It was one of the important books of my early childhood, one of the books that has somehow survived our travels. Even my mother did not dare give away "Ping". My brother and two sisters loved it too. My brother bought copies for his children as soon as they were old enough to have the book read to them.
If you do not know the book "The story about Ping" by Marjorie Flack you can download it here: http://www.gyanpedia.in/Portals/0/Toys%20from%20Trash/Resources/books/ping.pdf
It was published in 1933. It is still available. Children still want to hear it and read it and they still worry about Ping. The Whirlwind would cry over it. The book still remains on her bookshelves and mine. I suspect she still reads it occasionally. I read it to a small child recently. He needed reassuring too. It does not matter in the least that the book was published almost eighty years ago.
Looking back on the book now I can understand why it was so important to me. Ping gets left behind on the Yangstse River. I got "left behind" in hospital for rather a long time. Ping "found" his family again - all those forty-two cousins! - and I "found" mine again. Ping gets spanked on his return and, in a sense, I got "spanked" on my return - but it was still good to be there.
The book is still everything a good picture book should be. The story line is simple and repetitive but there is drama, some anxiety and then a happy ending despite that spank on the back for being last. Ping was, and still is, familiar and comforting.
Australia is having a "National Year of Reading". For that reason I have decided to devote some blog space this year to books that matter to me. I make no apology for the fact that they will almost all be books for children. What matters is the story - and I want other people to enjoy the stories too.

Friday 6 January 2012

A very curious telephone

bill arrived yesterday. It is not our bill. It is addressed to a dead man.
My late uncle's mail is being re-directed to us until the middle of February. The re-direction began before his death - at a time when we were still paying his bills. Since then my cousin has arranged for the local executor, a solicitor, to pay the bills. I usually just open the mail and fax it through to the solicitor's office.
The telephone bill however is another matter. It makes no sense. It is a land line. It is in my uncle's name and was sent to his address. This was confirmed by a search of the reverse directory. It is not his old telephone number. It is a completely different number. All the calls have been made after his death.
The bill itself is also extraordinary. There are a number of calls to one-three numbers - banks, a suburban police station and a child support agency.
Almost all the other calls have been made to a variety of mobile numbers - and most of them only last a few seconds. They do not appear to be random calls because some of them are repeated.
There is also a small charge for internet access - for my uncle's e-mail address. That account was closed in October.
The only explanation is that someone is using my uncle's name for their own illegitimate purposes. I have alerted the solicitor's office and my cousin.
We will probably never know the answer.

Thursday 5 January 2012

"What's wrong with this?"

"Ummm...rather a lot."
I was accosted yesterday by someone on my regular pedalling route. Annoyingly someone else had mentioned I happen to have a degree in law. Naturally he was looking for free legal advice. I do not give free legal advice. I am not a lawyer. No, I am not a lawyer. Having a degree in law does not qualify me to hand out legal advice, especially while sitting on my tricycle on the footpath.
This man had obtained one of those "free will kits" from somewhere. His wife has, according to him, been nagging him for some time now about writing a will. As he is probably in his late 60's this would seem an even better idea now than it would have been when he married her forty something years ago.
There is something about writing a will which seems to bother many people. I suspect it is a sort of superstitious thing. The vast majority of us do not like to think about dying.
Succession Law was one of the more interesting compulsory subjects in Law School. People have done some strange things, some nice things, some nasty things and some downright cruel things with respect to their worldly possessions. Yes, people really do will everything they own to a dog or a cat instead of their relatives.
Sometimes people unintentionally do what they did not intend to do. More than one wife has found herself homeless when an estate has been left to children in the belief that they will "do the right thing" by their mother.
Even getting proper legal advice will not necessarily result in an estate being divided the way it was intended to be divided. Leaving someone out, giving someone less (or more), even giving equal shares when there are clearly different needs can all cause difficulties when people choose to challenge a will - and they will. It is often a nasty business. However it is often a much nastier business without a properly drawn up will.
My father, in his emotional state after my mother's death lost the original of her will before probate was granted. He accidentally left it in the photocopier at the library and nobody had the good sense or courtesy to hand it in. He had the copies he had made that day. My mother's will left everything to him if she pre-deceased him. It was very simple. There were no arguments. Her intentions were also well known. A solicitor had drawn it up and also had a copy. We sorted the situation with far less difficulty than there might have been. My father tells it as a warning story to other people.
The man who accosted me clearly thought he was leaving nothing at all to chance. His attempt to write a will went on for pages. Every item he owned had been individually listed and, next to it, the name of the intended recipient. He had listed each book, each tool, each golf club and each fishing rod. Every item that is but one. He had not mentioned the house. I happen to know the house is not in joint names. It is his house - and he had simply failed to mention the house at all. I broke my rule and gave him some legal advice, "Consult a solicitor."

Wednesday 4 January 2012

There is a "merit" list

in the paper this morning - for the Year 12 students who achieved "perfect" scores in any subject in their final year certificates.
I am never too sure about the wisdom of such lists. It is, of course, nice for those who have done well and they do deserve recognition for the effort they have put in.
There are also other students who have put in equal (or more) effort and still failed to achieve perfect scores. I always hope at least one other person will acknowledge they have done well.
This time I know several students whose names appear in the merit list. They all deserve to be there.
One of them is particularly extraordinary. She deserves to be there but she should not be there. Her medical history has been the subject of more than one academic article. A great deal of her early life was spent in hospital. Her diet was, and still is, limited. She will always need to give extra care and attention to that and a range of medical issues. Her energy is limited.
I have known her since she was three years old. Two years later her mother sought help from me when no school would take a child with so many medical issues. She was taught at home until a fee paying school with a nurse always present because of a large number of boarders agreed to accept her. Even then she missed a lot of school because of medical issues. Her parents kept her education up in hospital and at home. They encouraged and never suggested she was not doing well enough and she worked hard.
She rewarded them and herself with four merit scores and a score just below that. Her parents are delighted and, although still very shy, she greeted me with more confidence than I had ever seen when her results came out.
Now her merit scores are public knowledge and I hope there will be many more people who will tell her "well done". While I still have some doubts about them this is one student who may really benefit from such a list - and there may be others.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

"I have not read a book

since I left school" is the proud boast of someone I know. He lives on my regular pedalling route. His front "garden" consists of a patch of lawn in which each blade of grass is trimmed to exactly the same length. The windows sparkle. The guttering has been wiped down. The driveway and the path are absolutely clear.
Every morning he sweeps the footpath in front of his home. Any debris falling from the street trees during the day is swept up yet again.
His mother used to live in the same house. It was much the same when she was there. I once had occasion to go inside the house and the inside was much the same as the outside. Like her son she claimed (and still claims) not to have read a book since leaving school. I think they watch television most evenings.
My maternal grandmother, although not quite so houseproud, was much the same. She never read books. She listened to radio or played cards before television. When television came she watched that. Television also caused her to give up sewing although she went on knitting the sort of plain garments once designated as "tv knitting". Eventually she gave that up as well and just sat there. Sometimes she would doze off and then complain that the programme "did not make sense". She was only seventy-six when she died. Her husband, who never read either, was only sixty-nine.
My paternal grandmother kept her house clean and tidy but she sewed and knitted and crocheted endless blankets for charity. She gardened and played bridge. She did a good deal of child-minding and making of our clothes and teaching us how to do things. In between all those things she found time to read several books each week.
As she grew much older and less able to do things at quite such an energetic pace my father suggested a television set. She thought about it and then said, "No, not yet thankyou. I don't have time."
It was only when she became physically very frail that my father again suggested a television set. Perhaps, he suggested, his father could watch the cricket that way? A television set was bought.
The commercials annoyed them both so much they would only watch the ABC. They rarely watched that. My grandfather preferred to listen to the cricket - and perhaps snooze. He worked until his mid-eighties and still brought work home at night. Only failing eyesight caused him to give up his business and, even after that, he read as long as he could. He held a magnifying glass over the words to go on reading as long as possible.
My grandmother went on reading, still trying to make up for the education she had lost by having to leave school after only three years. She travelled the world by reading.
My paternal grandparents lived much longer and happier lives than my maternal grandparents. Of course I cannot say reading was what caused that but I firmly believe it was part of the equation.
Not reading, not wishing to read, is surely a sad thing? It allows us to live so many lives.

Monday 2 January 2012

The New Year has begun with a

badly edited letter appearing in the state newspaper. As it is the lead letter this worries me. It gives an entirely unintended meaning to the whole thing. Sigh.
I was talking about the suggestion that Australians should show some form of photo ID to vote. The suggestion is that this would prevent people from voting twice.
Attendance at the ballot box (not actually voting) is required by law if you are an adult Australian citizen. You cannot actually force someone to vote but the law requires you to attend a polling station, have your name marked off, accept the ballot papers, mark them and place them in the boxes provided.
The actual marking of the ballot papers cannot be enforced of course but the rest can be and is enforced.
Deliberate multiple voting is rare. There is some evidence of it among confused elderly people and, occasionally, migrants. There was a case which received wide publicity at a state election where someone claimed a family had voted more than 150 times in the names of other people. I suppose it could be done. I do not know. Why anyone would bother is beyond me.
But the idea of having to have photo ID in order to vote in a country where attendance at the ballot box is compulsory does bother me.
Australians have indicated a strong dislike of the idea of a national ID card over the years. We already have a national ID card of sorts in our Medicare cards - but these do not have photographs. Medicare cards are also limited in their use. You cannot require them as ID for other services - although they can be used in some circumstances.
There are also numerous ways in which the government and other organisations collect information from us - more ways than most people are aware of. I also avoid "loyalty cards" for big organisations. They all keep central data bases of what you buy when you use them. I remove as much tracking information as I can from the computer. I give out a minimum of personal information to government departments. All the same I know that they hold far more information about me than is necessary or desirable. Information is collected for the sake of collecting information. It "might be useful one day".
But, a national photographic ID card? Oh yes, I know there are places which have them but they are used in much the way our Medicare card is used. If we went down this route the purpose would be different. No government would go to the expense of introducing such a system just in order to ensure a few citizens did not attempt to vote twice. They would look at where else - and how often - they could require it to be used. It may start out well but what government could resist (ab)using such a card at other times?
What is more it would not stop the confused voting at more than one polling station while we still have a system where names are marked manually off the rolls.

Sunday 1 January 2012

This year I should like to

tidy our bookshelves a little.
My father and I have greatly increased the book collection since my mother died. We have not necessarily bought books - although we do that as well - but we have done things differently. There is now a double book case in my father's bedroom, something my mother would never have tolerated. There are more bookcases in the formal area, again something my mother would never have tolerated. There are also more bookcases in the family area. There is a question mark over whether she would have tolerated that too. She simply did not care for books the way we do.
There are also bookcases in my bedroom and the room my father uses as an "office" or study. We have brought books in from where they were stored in the shed outside and a box of books stored at my sister's house has been returned to us.
They have just been stacked, double stacked and triple stacked on to the shelves. I know roughly where to find things. Dictionaries are in one place, name books are beneath them, language books on other shelves, books about the English language on others, cook books on the bottom shelf, knitting books on other shelves, gardening books in my father's bedroom, his collection of "magic" books in the office and novels everywhere.
There are people who say we do not need all these books. They say we should get rid of some of them. Why keep novels you have read? That atlas is out of date. You will never knit all the patterns in those books. That gardening book is so old and those magic books went out before the Ark came in!
There are good reasons for keeping novels. My collection of children's novels is a valuable resource. Children use it. I go back to the books time and time again. How did a writer handle that problem? Adults borrow books to take on holiday and, I admit, sadly we do not always get them back. My father refers to the gardening books and younger magicians come to him with problems or looking for ideas so the magic books get taken from the shelves and answers are searched for.
Our library is a tool in constant use. I know it is not the way other people live. Most people we know have some books in the house - but not nearly as many as we do. Others have almost none. I know families with no books at all - not even a dictionary or an atlas.
We have acquaintances who are almost obsessive-compulsive in their desire for tidiness. Their books are arranged not in subject order or even alphabetical order but in order of size. I could not do that. It would seem entirely wrong to me. The books themselves would feel uncomfortable.
I do feel however that it would be rather nice to tidy the shelves a little. They have become very untidy through constant use. It would be easier to find things if all the books about the same subject were at least together.
I may do it. It is not a New Year's resolution. It is just something I think I would like to do - when I get time.