Monday 30 April 2012

I am going to be political

today. If you are not interested in the shenanigans of Australian politics please stop reading now.
However, at the request of three regular overseas readers of this blog, I am going to say a word or two - or perhaps a few more.
Yes, we had some political tremors over the weekend. It was not, as some hoped, the forerunner to a political earthquake - or, not yet. Australia is not due for a federal election until 2013. The question is whether the government can hang on that long.
The Prime Minister returned from an overseas trip at the weekend and finally took some action that, even in her own party, was regarded as long overdue. That action however does not change the political landscape.
The Speaker stepped aside before that. By doing so he deprived her of his casting vote should it be needed and a vote on the floor of the house because the Deputy Speaker is a member of the government. (The Speaker was not.)  What the PM did say to the Speaker however was that he should not return to the position until all the allegations against him have been resolved.
And then, after months of distraction, the PM moved against another of her MPs - or appeared to do so.
Mr Thomson, member for Dobell, has been the subject of lengthy investigations. He denies any wrong doing but there are many unanswered questions. The union he once led is also the subject of investigations. It has taken Fair Work Australia a very long time to produce a report - a report which still has not been made public. The PM claims she told Mr Thomson he had to go and that he has gone.
That is not quite the case. There can be little doubt that something else has happened behind the scenes. Party strategists have been trying to work out how to handle the situation without losing any votes on the floor of the house. Their solution was to ask Mr Thomson, through the Prime Minister, to "suspend" his membership with the ALP.  Mr Thomson agreed. He will now sit on the cross benches as "an independent" - and continue to vote with the government.
So nothing has changed but the PM is claiming she has shown "strong leadership". In reality she is bowing to public pressure to do something - but not actually doing anything at all.
Some say that the Speaker, if he has any sense, will resign - thus keeping all the entitlements of his office in his pension package - rather than risk being kicked out. That would not make any difference to the government if they decided to go the by-election route. They would still, just, have the numbers with the support of the "independent" MPs. They are likely to cling to their positions as long as they can because they know they are not likely to be re-elected.
The government is on the nose because of a string of broken promises and wasteful programmes designed to buy political support. There are increasingly vociferous demands for an election - now coming from the media as well as the community.
How long can the government hang on? I do not know.
Should there be an election? It is probably the only way this mess will be resolved.

Sunday 29 April 2012

"You know there aren't many

here," one of the knitters told me.
We were looking for something on the shelves in the library yesterday. It was the day the knitting group meets there and she was looking for help. I was looking for an illustration to show her.
She was right.  All but three of them were out on loan.
There are not a lot of knitting books in the library. Those that are there tend to come in as donations. Anything else is likely to be of the "remainder" nature, bought cheaply by those who do the central buying.  Knitting, unlike patchwork or embroidery, is not considered to be a "serious" craft - and even they do not get the consideration of some other areas of non-fiction. The cookery section takes up multiple shelves. Oh yes, food is important. There are often cheap remainder books available. It is a problem with libraries. How do you cater for all tastes?
Our library has had very little in the way of new material for the last few years. The previous Chief Librarian was very good at getting money out of the local council. The new one has to work under a different system. This makes it very difficult for everyone.
When I first started using the library - a very long time ago - there were just books and a few magazines and two newspapers. The catalogue was a card catalogue. The checkout system was manual.  Now there are books, CDs, DVDs, videos, magazines, eight different newspapers and other items which can be borrowed. There are eight computer terminals for public use (you need to show your library card or other ID and book a slot). The catalogue is now on computer. The checkout system is computerised.
It is all very nice - but people still need reading material. It is, after all, still the primary function of the library. There are now moves afoot to change this. Our library is going to be one of the first involved. You will be able to have just one library card for all the libraries in the state. The catalogue will be statewide.  At the conclusion of the changeover we should have access to a much bigger data base and be able to borrow from anywhere in the state. That is the theory.
A staff member and I were discussing this later. We both know that there will be some initial problems. And what if the computer system crashes?

Saturday 28 April 2012

There was a book on the shelves of

the local charity shop last week. It was a book I remembered as having enjoyed when I was about six or seven. I could even vaguely remember the plot. It was by Enid Blyton. Out of curiosity I paid twenty cents for it and brought it home to look at it.
I could not read it. I squirmed. The plot was impossible - two children run away from a bad tempered aun and a work shy uncle. They go and live in a hollow tree in the middle of a forest.  Eventually they end up living with the poor-little-rich-girl who has befriended them.
The language is stilted. The characters are flat and lifeless. The ending is sugar-sweet-happily-ever-after.
Mmm...that is probably a clue as to why I liked it as a child. There was a happy ending. I know I needed happy endings in books around then.
I passed it over to the Whirlwind to read and asked her what she thought of it. She is much too old for it now but I thought she might be interested. She was but she did not finish reading it. She summed it up in one word - "Boring".
There was the usual exaggerated sigh that comes when I ask her to explain something like that. Then she said,
       "It's not real. It has to sound real and that doesn't."
      "What do you mean?"
      "Well she tells you what they look like but she doesn't. On the first page she tells you that they have blue eyes and black hair but she does not tell you what they are really like. You don't know what any of them really look like. She just makes the aunt all horrible and the uncle all lazy and the other girl all nice and her parents sort of all nice too."
       "Well people aren't like that. You know that. You did it with Michael and Chantal. You know what Pauline looks like - inside as well as outside. I'd know her if I saw her."  I understand she is referring to Margaret Storey's heroine, "Pauline". The Whirlwind has just re-read the book again. "If you want people to be real you have to know about them inside as well as outside. You know what Bruno is like and that is all short bits. (She was referring to Colin Thiele's Sun on the Stubble.) You don't even really have to know what they look like outside. It is the inside bit that really matters. I like it when the book tells you about the inside of the people."
So do I.

Friday 27 April 2012

There are many odd things

to be seen and heard in shopping centres and their associated car parks. Ours is no exception. Yesterday though was one of the most amusing I have ever seen.
There was an elderly car with the bonnet up. There was an RAA (Royal Automobile Association) van next to it. There was the RAA man, a man in his forties or early fifties. Most of these men are very competent. They do a good job at getting cars moving again.
There was also an elderly lady. My guess is she was in her late eighties. She was standing there looking sternly at the RAA man.
He was trying to explain something to her. She waited for him to finish but the look on her face said,
       "I am not impressed with what I am hearing."
I had to wait to pedal across the traffic coming up and down the ramp so I could hear what was being said by the RAA man. He sounded like a parent trying to explain something to a two year old child.
The elderly lady waited until he drew breath and then said,
        "Young man I probably know more about the workings of the internal combustion engine than you will learn in a life time. I was doing my own repairs before you were born. I know precisely what is wrong. I asked for your assistance, not your advice."
I managed to get across the traffic flow at that point. The railing I lock my tricycle to is above the car park so I could see what was going on as I pulled out the lock and secured my transport.
The RAA man was meekly following her orders.

Thursday 26 April 2012

The "Slipper Affair" appears

to have caught the interest of a couple of regular non-Australian readers of this blog. They have asked if I can explain.
I am not sure that I can but the very fact that they have asked rather puts a lie to the comments by Bob Carr, our Foreign Minister, that people outside Australia are not interested. I imagine that anyone with an interest in who is in power in Australia will be watching.  Australians are watching too.
The (fairly) simple explanation is that Australians elected a government that cannot govern in its own right. The government did not get enough seats to do this. It depends on the votes of a number of "independents". Naturally they formed government by offering some of these "independents" certain deals.  With those votes they can (just) cling to power.
One of those deals was over reform to the legislation surrounding "poker" machines - the gambling machines used in hotels and clubs. This deal was made with a Tasmanian MP, Andrew Wilkie. The government had no intention of actually keeping the deal but they agreed in principle because it gave them a crucial vote. They had no intention of keeping it because government revenue from such gambling is high, hotels and clubs desperately want to keep their machines too. It also provides employment for many people - and misery for a great many others.  It is however cheaper and easier to keep the machines that try to develop other means of occupying and employing people.
The government delayed doing anything about the matter and then brought in a proposal that they claimed would allow them to see if the proposed legislation would work. It was a delaying tactic. Mr Wilkie recognised it as such and withdrew his support for the government. The loss of his vote was almost, but not quite, enough to cause the fall of the government.
They moved. They bought the vote of an Opposition member who had just lost (with good cause) pre-selection for his seat in Queensland. They offered him the role of Speaker. He resigned from his party and accepted the position. It was, some would say, a brilliant tactical move. They got the previous Speaker back on the floor of the house (no doubt with inducements of other sorts) and deprived the Opposition of a vote.  Numbers were once again wafer thin but workable. They have pushed through a number of pieces of highly unpopular legislation since then.
The problem now is that the Speaker has had to stand aside. The government was aware there were allegations surrounding him, allegations of sexual harrassment being dealt with as civil proceedings and allegations of misuse of public funds (relating to travel expenses) which are being dealt with as potential criminal matters. The Speaker cannot currently participate in parliament. He cannot vote even as an MP on the cross benches. The Deputy Speaker is a government member. The government needs the matter to be resolved urgently in order to shore up their wafer thin majority.
What will happen? I do not know.It may be that nothing much will happen at all.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

The ANZAC Day Dawn Service

for our district is held in the little memorial park about six blocks from our house.  It is not something I attend but, since my teens, I have made a habit of being up at dawn on ANZAC Day. Whatever else I am doing that day I make time to give some thought to the meaning of the day.
For the past few years I have been able to stand on our small front lawn and listen to the faint sounds of the hymns.
Last year I was joined by a man walking a dog. He stopped and opened his mouth and then shut it again and just stood there. The dog sat quietly at his side. When the Last Post had been played he went silently on.
Once in a while he passes when I am picking up the papers. This morning he was there. He stopped. The dog stopped. As we heard the faint sound of the last hymn two more front doors opposite us opened and the owners came out.
I know one of them goes jogging about that time. The other goes to work. This morning they came across the road and just stood there. When the Last Post had been played the jogger left silently. The worker went back into the house. The man with the dog smiled at me as if to say, "I knew you would be here" and walked on.
Nobody said anything - and yet we had probably said everything there was to say.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

I can now hear people asking

"Well what did you get for your tea at school?"
It was not any better - or worse - than the other meals. There were sandwiches - always cheap white bread filled with more fritz or the strange, soft, pale yellow slices of Kraft "cheese" and dry sultana cake or biscuits. I suspect the cake and biscuits were bought cheaply as well. Sometimes the bread would just be put on the table with the margarine, the Vegemite and the stiff, over sweet concotion that passed for "jam".
Occasionally there would be spaghetti or more baked beans on limp toast - or even without the toast and the bread just passed out with it.
In winter there would be soup, always tinned soup. There would be bread or toast with this. Whether we got toast or not I think depended on who was on duty in the kitchen and how organised they were.  The soup would be served out at the table. How much you got depended on how good the prefect in charge was at dealing it out equally. Most of the time they were fair and did a good job, occasionally natural girl-bitchiness would surface and someone would get very little or a favourite would get more. I was always given a fair share - they were too conscious of what I given for lunch. 
We ate because we were hungry.
I went on to work in another boarding school - in order to pay my way through teacher training college. The food there was quite different. It was still institutional but it was good food. It was plentiful. It was hot and attractively served. The staff ate the same food as the students. I can even remember the headmistress having a second helping of a dessert the girls called "The Cook's toenails" - apricot crumble.

Monday 23 April 2012

"And you absolutely have to tell them

about lunchtime," the Whirlwind added after I promised to write about breakfast at my boarding school. Right.
Lunch was a problem. In order to explain this you need to realise that the boarding house was a five minute (very fast) walk away from the school. This was a fifteen minute walk for me. The girls (it was a co-ed school) were route-marched back there for lunch. This was the main meal of the day.
I have absolutely no idea what the other girls were given to eat.  I stayed at school.  Boarders were not allowed to have bicycles (or tricycles) so any thought of me returning to the boarding house, eating lunch and then going back to school in about forty minutes was not considered advisable.
Why I was not permitted to eat with the boy boarders (who lived on the school grounds proper) I do not know. Why the meal was not saved for me to have in the evenings I do not know. It was, for some reason, deemed "not possible".  I never had a hot lunch.
Each morning I had to wait at the kitchen door and would be given my lunch. It was always the same. Cold baked beans between two pieces of white bread and a piece of fruit.  It never varied. It was why I always saved the boiled eggs if we had them!
Although the boys soon found out about this, I was not teased about it. I suspect their food was as dire as ours because quite a number of them took it in turns to eat the "sandwich". I simply could not face it. It made me quite popular with the boys!
The school tuck shop was only supposed to be used by day pupils. It sold, among other things, hot "cup of soups" in winter. In the winter term I was told to get one of those to go with the sandwich. I do not know who arranged it but I suspect it was the work of my English teacher who had seen my lunch and was shocked by it.  I still wonder whether she actually paid for those cups of soups herself. (As a boarder I was not allowed to take money to school. We were not supposed to need it.)
The woman who ran the tuck shop found the occasional "spare" roll or bun for me as well. She did not approve of the situation either but there was not a lot that could be done about it. I did not dare complain. My mother simply said I would not starve. No, I did not starve but I was certainly not eating properly.
What saved me were the weekends. I spent those with my paternal grandparents.  My grandfather would take me with him and we would go to the newly opened "supermarket" to do the main shop of the week. He could never understand my preference for packets of plain savoury biscuits rather than chocolate bars to take back to school.

Sunday 22 April 2012

"You didn't tell them about

the fritz fritters," the Whirlwind said to me. We were talking about my post on school food.
School food is familiar to the Whirlwind as she lives at school during the week. She also gets fed extremely well there. There are not a lot of boarders at her school and the kitchen staff seem to understand girls and their eating habits.
Breakfast at school is cereal (or porridge in winter) and toast. Once it would have been a cooked breakfast of some sort but that went before the Whirlwind even went to school.
We had cereal at school too. The school bought stale cereal from some outlet or other. I remember reading the "use-by" dates on the packets and it was always past the use-by date. What we got depended on what was available.
We also had cooked breakfast at my boarding school. Most of the boarders came from farms and they expected a cooked breakfast. There were boiled eggs some mornings. They were always hard boiled. I used to save mine to eat at lunch time. There were baked beans on toast. The beans were, at best, luke warm and the toast was limp and soggy. Once in a while there would be a spoonful of tinned mushrooms and a piece of bacon about three to four inches long. A small sausage and a half a tomato was another combination. I believe there was bacon and egg on Sundays - but I escaped to spend weekends with my grandparents. Breakfast there was another story altogether.
And then there were the "fritz" fritters. "Fritz" is a form of pale pinkish coloured german sausage. It is called "German" in other parts of Australia. The original form was probably made in the Barossa Valley - out of the left overs from the bratwurst, metwurst, liverwurst and other wursts.  It is cheap. Some butchers still give small children slices of it to keep them quiet for a moment or two. There is even a variety with a "smiley" face in the middle. Yes, cheap and vile - and loved by many.
At school they sliced this sausage up, dipped it in batter and deep fried it. It was then served up in greasy pools on cold plates with great dollops of cheap tomato sauce. I never ate it. (I am allergic to vinegar so not even the tomato sauce attracted me.) There was never any problem finding someone who wanted my share. They used to take it in turns around the table.
The Whirlwind shakes her head over this. Would she eat it? "They would never give us something like that!"
No, they would not.

Saturday 21 April 2012

Food in children's books

can be a tricky subject. I blogged some time ago about the attempt to turn The Very Hungry Caterpillar into some sort of politically correct nonsense. Picture books are filled with things like birthday cakes and jam sandwiches - and why not? Small children do not usually want to read about the sort of food they often do not particularly like. Carrot? Peas? Spinach? Cauliflower? Broccoli?  Bread is fine and you might get away with cheese, especially if you are talking about mice. "Vegemite", the Australian equivalent of "Marmite" got a boost with the book "Possum Magic" by Mem Fox.  Sausages are usually welcome - especially if cooked outside by the children. Icecream is definitely on the list and, for some, yoghurt.
It really does not change much for older children. Enid Blyton's books mention food often. It is usually of the sausages and icecream and birthday cake variety although young Lucy-Ann in the "of Adventure" series has, if I remember correctly, a penchant for "tinned pineapple". When the books were written that probably was a particular treat.
Food can of course be used in evil ways. Edmund is seduced with Turkish Delight in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" - enough to put me off Turkish Delight at the time. I still do not like it. He was a nasty child too.
But there are other references to food that are just as memorable and far more pleasurable. There is the reference in Cynthia Harnett's "The Woolpack" to the hot "griddle cakes" and burned tongues that had to be cooled with "ewes' milk". It is a homely scene and contrasts sharply with the life that the young hero, Nicholas, leads at home.
In "Pauline" by Margaret Storey there is a reference to "bread buns that Aunty Madge had made herself". They are eaten with blackcurrant jam you sense has also been made by this stay-at-home mother. In "The House in Hiding" the book opens with Ian and Sovra eating "marmalade tart" or rather, Ian is, Sovra has finished her piece and is impatient to get on with things. Nevertheless you once again sense that the tart is homemade, their background is secure. Things can happen because of it.
Harriet, in Noel Streatfeild's "White Boots" is given another piece of cake "with pink icing" although "she had really meant to have a biscuit with chocolate on it". By denying Harriet the biscuit her friend Lalla's Aunt Claudia is shown to impose her will on everyone simply by failing to inquire what Harriet would prefer.
John Owen in William Mayne's "A swarm in May" shares a second supper with two of his teachers in the school kitchen - omelette "like the prehistoric moon" (which sounds more like scrambled egg) and toast. It is an extraordinary scene in many ways, a glimpse into the close relationship between staff and students in a choir school - something that would not exist in a larger school.
The omelette that Geneva cooks in Anne Barrett's "Songberd's Grove" is an entirely different thing. It is a work of art. Martin has never seen anything like it. He is used to what might be described as the "good, plain cooking" of his mother and the tins and packets of his Aunt Emmeline. The omelette, in payment for the bread and cheese they have eaten but intended to replace, leads to help with the bullies but it also indicates that food can also be an art form.
And it is perhaps that we see in one of the most glorious descriptions of food in a children's book. In Elizabeth Goudge's book "The Little White Horse" Maria has invited a number of people to afternoon tea.
Far more people than she expects arrive but Marmaduke, who is - among other things - the cook, tells her she is not to worry. He is prepared. The list he gives her of the food he has prepared is enough to fill a busy tea shop twice over. It is magnificent. You just know that it has to be a case of living "happily ever after".

Friday 20 April 2012

School food came under

brief discussion recently. Someone mentioned that England was likely to do away with free school lunches for children who had been deemed in need of them. I experienced school lunches a number of times while I was there. They were not too bad.
State schools in Australia do not provide lunch for their pupils. Children bring their lunch from home or they buy it.
We almost always took ours from home. My mother would supply us with a sandwich - usually Vegemite - and two biscuits and a piece of fruit. We drank water.  Naturally we eyed off the lunch buyers enviously, a hot pasty on a cold day!
Even the lunch buyers were limited in their choice back then. It was bought from "the tuck shop" next door to the school. You could buy a pie, a pasty or a sausage roll and a "cream bun", a "Kitchener Bun", a "finger bun" or a "jam tart".  There were also sandwiches and rolls available. That was it.
Once a term we were permitted to buy our lunch - we were allowed to buy a pasty. The rest of our lunch would still come from home. It may have been largely because of the household finances but it was also because my mother strongly disapproved of buying lunch when a better lunch could be provided from home.
Of course we did not see it that way!
Nobody checked on what children ate back then just that it had been eaten and even that stopped after you left "the infants". I remember jam sandwiches being common. One child always brought banana sandwiches. The bread was white. Children ate cake and biscuits and most of us had a piece of fruit. Our mothers would peel the oranges but not the mandarins. Apple cores and fruit peel were wrapped in the waxed paper that had held the sandwich. A few children had "drink bottles" and brought cordial from home. The rest of us drank water - and the city's water supply was particularly vile back then. Rainwater was regarded as a treat. It tasted good.
School "canteens", run by mothers, came into existence after we left for the bush. Nobody bought their lunch in the bush. There was no way to buy it. The kids ate mutton or kangaroo sandwiches and endless slices of sultana cake - the staple cake made for the shearers. There was not too much fruit around but sometimes there would be quandong (wild peach) pie or "jubilee" cake - a bit like brack or bara brith.
School absenteeism in the bush was low so the diet cannot have been that bad. There were no fat children.
We were all, even me, too active for that.
Now schools are struggling to run canteens because mothers are now expected to go to work. What is sold there has changed dramatically. The canteen is probably a cleaner and healthier place than it was but they are not allowed to sell foods which have been deemed "unhealthy".
I have seen the lunch list for the local school. Pies, pasties and sausage rolls are not permitted. There are no buns or cake. You can still buy sandwiches and rolls - but only with fillings which are deemed "healthy". It's a dull list. The food is not likely to appeal to children but they are also forbidden to bring things like potato crisps and chocolate bars from home. It is all supposed to be about healthy eating.
My observation of the eating habits of the young suggests that they merely tolerate this and eat what they consider to be "real" food after school is over.

Thursday 19 April 2012

"It doesn't sound right..."

an elderly neighbour told us. He had called in to ask if I could check something for him.
He was being particularly cautious because there has been a recent spate of attempts, too many of them successful, to defraud elderly people. The issue has had a fair amount of coverage in the media but not everyone reads the papers or listens to the news. He does - so he was being cautious.
The scammers are getting more and more sophisticated too. There were the "roofing specialists" with their pseudo-science and the "paint" that did more harm than good. There were the "insulation specialists" who conned the public and the government into paying for unnecessary insulation. (We had our roofing insulation checked by a firm with a good solid reputation and were told it was good for another 25 years at least.  When he was satisfied by that my father allowed a bew company that had been advertising heavily and persistently in our area to have a look. Of course ours was "in a dreadful condition and needed to be replaced immediately". My father made sure the Neighbourhood Watch Group - now defunct but still going then - knew. People were warned. )
Some of the most recent lot have been claimed to be from a government department - pay something to register and you will get a nice cheque in return. We have not been targetted but apparently they have been very convincing.
That is at the simple level. At the more complex level there are high level investment scams. Some of these have been so sophisticated that it is scarcely surprising that people have been taken in. Even those attempting to unravel the resultant mess have admitted they could have been taken in by them. It is a nasty, nasty business.  I am wary, very wary but I am aware I am not immune and that my father and others we know are not immune.We hope we can trust our financial adviser. He does not work alone. It is a fair sized company. It is well thought of. If there is an individual rogue then they are covered by insurance. We like him, just as we liked the man who retired. That is no guarantee of course, fraudsters can be apparently very likeable people. It is why I read all of the thirty-six pages he sent my father recently. I know the adviser expects me to do this.
I took our neighbour very seriously too. He is almost as old as my father and, like my father, he is still mentally alert. We went through the document together. No, it did not sound right.
        "I don't think they are trying to scam you but I think you are right and they have made a mistake," I told him.
He nodded.
        "Didn't want to make a fool of myself. I'll get on to them in the morning," he said looking reassured.
Not wanting to make fools of ourselves is, I suspect, a big part of the problem - and it is better to check before than after. It still scares me.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Someone I know is making

a "sky scarf".  Each morning she walks outside her front door and does a "sky reading". At night she knits two rows of the colour she sees there. The idea is that, at the end of the year, she will have a scarf which is 730 rows long. Perhaps.
At the moment the scarf is mostly blue or blue-grey. Once or twice she has added a little yellow or pink or apricot. There has been no red as yet.
Someone else is blogging about doing a similar thing. I think it has been some sort of project on the big knitting site, Ravelry.
It is not the sort of thing I usually know about. I would never bother with a scarf like that. I do not wear scarves. This climate is not cold enough for the woolly sort and the other sort irritate me. I like my clothes to be without fuss. I do not care for frills or florals or lace. My clothes are not "fashionable" or "trendy". They are more likely to be bought in the local charity shop or through one particular on line outlet than a regular shop. I only shop when I really need something.
I have been told that doing something like the scarf would be "good discipline" for me. Would it? Why do I need that sort of discipline? I asked these questions and the answers were yes, of course it would be good discipline and everyone needs to do something like that.
My answer was that it would take the pleasure out of the activity. I was then told that the pleasure would come from being disciplined about the activity, that it was like taking regular exercise. Apparently it makes you "feel good".
I have no doubt it does make some people feel good. No doubt it helps them feel that they are in control of their lives too. Perhaps they are.
I am not well disciplined. I am not in control of my life. Life is not like that. It is interesting. I will not be knitting any sky scarves.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

A friend of mine was assaulted

in his own home yesterday.
He is a frail man in a wheelchair. He lives alone. Carers come in to get him up in the mornings and put him to bed at night.  Twice a week he gets help to have a shower. Once a week someone comes in to do the cleaning. If he needs to go somewhere then an "access" taxi or another friend whose husband is also in a wheelchair will take her in their accessible van.
Philip is not on the pension. He works. He has set up a business from home. He studied accountancy. He has a loyal group of clients who say he does an outstandingly good job. He employs a secretary who is there for a good part of his day.
Yesterday, while she was at the Post Office, three men came in. They proceeded to remove his computers and anything else of value, knocking over a chair and his lunch tray as they did it. They were in and out of his office area and the house in less than ten minutes.
Philip had the presence of mind to press his alarm-call button. He wears it around his neck, under his shirt. The intruders were apparently unaware of this.
With that and some extra information from one of his elderly neighbours the intruders were apprehended last night. Philip will take some time to get over the shock. He says he was "lucky". It could have been much worse. It all seems rather unreal. It is the sort of thing which "happens to other people".
Early last evening two teenagers from the house opposite went over and helped him put the computers back the way he needs them. They had everything back in working order within an hour. They come under the heading of "really nice kids". Their father is coming over tonight to put in a buzzer at the front door. People will no longer be able to let themselves in and out without a key or someone in the house releasing the lock on the door. It will be a nuisance but Philip knows it should probably have been done earlier. He has never thought of it as essential as he does not keep any money on the premises. There is no outward sign that any sort of business is run from there. His computer files are heavily protected and backed up in at least two other locations.
Something which could have done great damage and taken weeks to sort out (and perhaps cost Philip his business) has been sorted out quickly and with a minimum of fuss.
Philip might have been more shaken than he is but he believes he knows the motivation for the intrusion. All he has said is that he has been "monitoring" the accounts of one of his clients. I have no doubt that he will take action on that today.
He told me all this and said he will be back at work again this morning. Knowing this was why he had callled, I asked him if he needed anything. I could drop it in this morning on my way to a meeting.
         "Another teapot. The bastards broke the other one. Can't live without proper tea."
 Philip loathes tea bags. I will buy him another packet of his favourite tea while I am at it.

Monday 16 April 2012

We had news last week of

yet another person we know being diagnosed with cancer. She went to the doctor feeling "a bit off". He did not like what he saw and sent her for tests. She has been given "weeks".
This was on top of being told someone else we know had already had surgery for "aggressive" breast cancer. Her son told us this over Easter. She starts chemotherapy this week.
My mother had stomach cancer. She had two lots of surgery but refused any other treatment. Her Christian Science upbringing meant she was opposed to it. I suspect she would have refused surgery had it not been for my father. I also wonder whether there was any point in it. It prolonged her life a few uncomfortable weeks.
There is someone else we know who has lung cancer. She never smoked but, like me and endless other people, she had to endure the second hand smoke of people who did use cigarettes. She is on a drug to try and shrink the tumour but there is another spot in another location. The treatment is expensive. There are side effects. She wants to see her granddaughter grow up and is hoping for a miracle - and why not?
Cancer seems to be more prevalent these days. Perhaps they are getting better at diagnosing it? I do not know. Survival rates seem to be increasing but there are still horrendous tales of what people will endure in an effort to survive. Yes, most of us fear death.
My father had a health scare too recently. His own doctor thought he might have breast cancer - yes, something men also can get. He had to wait a week for an appointment at the breast clinic. It would have been longer but his GP had marked him "urgent" she was so sure of her diagnosis. We worried of course. My nephew, the one in the final year of medicine, went with him.  He was calm and sensible and would, I am sure, have handled bad news. He will make an excellent doctor.
 As it was we were told that the problem was something quite different. It was rare. It was interesting. It was not cancer. It does not need to be treated but the doctor will watch it.
They rang me with the news and said they were going for a "celebratory cup of coffee" before coming home but, they added, "And we will think about the other people we know who are not so lucky". 
I patted Pluto the cat and thought the same thing.

Sunday 15 April 2012

Bob Brown is "retiring" from

parliament. For those of you who live overseas he was a member of the Senate - our Upper House in Federal politics.  He was also leader of "the Greens". 
He was there for sixteen years and, I think, most people expected him to be there for another sixteen years. Just recently he spoke about staying until 2024.
Something happened. He changed his mind. He said that, at 67, it was time to go. He said it was time to allow the next generation to take things on, that things had to change.
This came from the man who was seen by many as actually being our Prime Minister. After all, the government needed the Greens in order to form government. They still need the Greens. Brown wielded enormous influence over the Prime Minister. Nobody, except perhaps the Prime Minister herself, would deny that - and even she would have difficulty in denying it to herself.
Brown had immense media power too. If he called a press conference people attended. If he made a pronouncement it got media coverage. He was almost never given the sort of grilling given to Prime Ministers or Leaders of the Opposition. Journalists would only ever try that once with him. They would publicly laud him and privately loathe him.
So, what happened? Did he make an independent decision - or was he pushed? I suspect it was the latter, although it is unlikely we will be told.
Why? He recently gave a speech one night in Tasmania that apparently began "Fellow Earthians" and went on to talk about, among other things, the need for the world to have just one ruling body.  That was probably enough. People at last decided his ideas were dangerous - dangerous in the sense that they would lose votes for the Greens.
The Greens will almost certainly lose votes without him. He was the public face of the Greens. He was the person people associated with the Greens. People voted Greens because of him. The only member of the Greens in the Lower House, who holds the seat of Melbourne, is going to find it very difficult to retain his seat at the next election. Only the fact that Labor's primary vote is currently so low can give him any cause for optimism.
But, nothing much is going to change for the moment. When Brown goes in June he will be replaced by another Greens senator, another Tasmanian. This is the way our parliament works. The balance of power is not going to change. The new Greens leader, still another Tasmanian, is going to be just as tough in her own way. She will be a woman dealing with a woman. She has more on her agenda too.
There have been hints of discontent in the Greens. The new leader is the one endorsed by Brown. She has been his right hand woman for a very long time. There were three contenders for the deputy's position. The person chosen is the sole member of the party in the House of Representatives. That may have been done for tactical reasons in the present political climate but it has caused some discontent among those who have served longer.
It is the next election which will tell us which way the Greens are going.

Saturday 14 April 2012

The very first instructions I read

were the instructions for putting together the track on my Hornby clockwork train. I remember lying under the dining room table at my paternal grandparents home. It was Christmas Day and the train set was my "Christmas and birthday" present - a much wanted one. The track was short but, if you followed the instructions, you could make it into several different shapes. My father was putting the track together. I have no doubt he could have put the track together without reading the instructions but he waited for me to sound my way through each word. I was about to turn three years old. Precocious? No, probably not. I had been encouraged to read from the time I looked at books. It was expected of me. My reading at that age was not independent or fluent but yes, I was reading something. Reading instructions was important. I wanted that train to go around the track!
The first book of instructions I read was probably some sort of craft book. I cannot remember what it was. I have vague memories of one which involved folding paper and drawing half the shape of a person. You were then supposed to cut this out with scissors, open it up and have a little string of people.
I was never very good with scissors or drawing so my attempts at this were doomed to failure. I might perhaps also have been rather young to be trying because I also remember my godmother, an excellent craftswoman, taking over and making me a string of little girls and then another string of little boys. What else that book contained I do not remember.
Later there was a book which included instructions on how to make a kite - my brother and I made several kite shaped sort of kites alone. They were made from sticks we found, old newspapers and garden twine. Our father helped us to make a much more elaborate "box" kite, again following the instructions in a book.
We also made shoe box houses and garages with furniture and vehicles made from matchboxes. The instructions were all there in books.
Once I had mastered the knit stitch my grandmother gave me a "knitting book". It had instructions too. It had instructions in an abbreviated form. There was "k" for "knit" and "p" for "purl" and "tog" for "together". I do not remember having any problem with reading the instructions. I had a great many more problems actually doing what the instructions said had to be done but read them I could.
At school "reading comprehension" held no fears for me.  "What does it say?" "Who is he talking about?" "Where was she going?" "Why did Mother pick up the dog?"  I could answer any of those questions. Most of the time I saw them as pretty pointless. It was something you did because you were told to do it. You did it and got it out of the way so you could get back to the much more important business of reading some more.
I had to pick up a book at the library yesterday. While I was waiting to check it out a small boy brought his books to the counter. There is a notice there. He looked at it and then looked at his mother. "What does that say?"
       "You can read it," his mother told him. Then she was distracted by his baby sister so he and I read it together. "Please place books here with barcode facing up."
The barcode? What was a barcode? I showed him the numbers on the book. "The computer reads those and remembers the books you borrowed."
He looked at me and said,
         "Computers do not read. I can."

Friday 13 April 2012

"Which book would you take if

you could take just one book to a deserted island? Why? Find out what at least three more people would like to take and say why they would take those books.
The Whirlwind bounced in at lunchtime yesterday to ask about this. It is "holidays" this week and she has been working on various tasks given to her by her teachers. She left the English until last. English is her favourite subject "because I like to read".
She had spent the morning with a friend. The friend has the same work to do. "She just asked her Mum and her Dad and her brother." Right. I would expect that.
           "I asked my Dad and he said "How to live on a desert island" but there isn't a book called that but he said it would have to be a how to do it sort of book. He still could not do things."  No, her father is not very practical  but the book might be useful.
           "So, what would you take?" she asked my father.
           "A gardening book because I would need to be able to grow something to eat."
She agreed that this was a reasonable choice. It is the sort of thing my father would choose although I know he would prefer the complete works of one of his favourite authors.
What would I take? The complete Oxford English Dictionary.  We argued about this because it does not come in one volume. Even the shorter two volume version was something we argued about. Why did I want it? Because I could learn more words and more about words. Yes, she understood that but was still dubious about allowing me to take it. I told her that, if I could not have that, then I would have my Gaelic-English dictionary and I might learn some more. Yes, she thought, good idea - if not at all practical.
She did the rounds after that and asked our Chinese neighbours. The husband just shook his head. He is not a reader of books but maybe some sort of how to book? He is even less practical than the Whirlwind's father but he thought it might help him build a shelter. His wife, a former teacher of Chinese literature, opted for a classical Chinese text. The German woman across the road said she would take her Bible. The Italian girl next to her said "a book about how to draw things so I could do that and then I could bring the drawings back with me".
Eventually she wandered back into our house and I asked,
         "And what are you going to choose?"
She did not know. She prowled along our shelves, took some books off, opened them, shut them, put them back.
Finally, as I knew she would, she ended at the dictionaries. I have quite a number of dictionaries. I need them for my work. She is learning French and Latin at school and, informally, Italian from a friend's family. At last she took down a multi-language thematic dictionary that was given to me many years ago. It is a very large tome. It is illustrated.
         "I'll take this one and then I will be very well informed - at least about some things."
What would you take?

Thursday 12 April 2012

How small can a house

be and still be liveable?
There was news yesterday of someone in the United States who has built herself a 7.8m sq house "to minimise her footprint on the environment".  Yes, it is small. There is barely room to move in it.
There is another article in today's paper about living spaces being built into underground nuclear proof, earthquake proof, solar flare proof, pandemic proof bunkers. They are somewhat larger. There is also a swimming pool and the means to grow your own food. People are apparently buying them. (They are rather expensive.)
We live in a perfectly ordinary (for Australia) suburban house. My parents had it built when they retired. Until then they were required to live in housing provided by the Education Department and, for the last few years of their careers, in the house my mother's parents had owned.
The Education Department houses were dreadful. They were made of asbestos sheeting. The same sort of housing has been used for government workers in remote locations all over the state. In one place the land had not been cleared properly and, because the houses are built on stilts, there were small trees growing under the house. In another place the builders had skimped even more on the same design and the rooms were so small I had to sleep on a mattress on the floor. During the day mattress was put up against the wall so that my two sisters and I had a little room to move around the room. In another they had made a mistake with the design and some of the furniture had to go in (and then out of) the living area window. They had to take the glass out and then put it back again. The doorway and the entrance area were too narrow to fit the furniture in that way.
My parents never did anything to these houses. They had to leave them as they found them. Before we moved into one my mother was told that the kitchen was going to be repainted before we arrived. She could choose the colour - cream or grey? She knew precisely which cream and which grey it would be because they were standard colours. She consulted the woman likely to be the next one to use the kitchen and they agreed on grey. They were tired of "departmental cream".
My mother loathed living in the house that had belonged to her mother. This only happened because her mother had died about six months before my parents returned to the city. The house was vacant. It was convenient for my parents to move into it until the estate was settled.  My mother felt her mother's presence all the time. It had not been a happy relationship.
This house was the first one my mother felt was truly hers. It is nothing remarkable. It is, if anything, very ordinary indeed. My mother chose the colour of the walls, the carpet and the curtains. We kept furniture but had some of the upholstery redone.  It was enough for my mother.
Since she has died my father and I have changed very little. We had some very worn carpet removed and replaced with a surface that people often believe is timber. If we could afford to do it and bear the disruption we would do the same throughout the house and do away with needing to clean the bedroom carpets.
We have added just one thing my mother would disapprove of - more bookshelves. There are now three times as many bookshelves in the house. We have brought in books from where they were stored in a shed. We have bought more - certainly more than my mother would approve of.
And that is , I think, what bothers me about the very tiny house and the underground bunker housing. There is no room for books in these places.
I want to be insulated by books.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

There may be a Constitutional challenge

to the so-called "carbon tax" that the Federal Government is intending to introduce in July. At that time there will also be a "compensation" package for some people - but not others.
The so called compensation is one of those confidence tricks beloved of governments of all descriptions. They like to tell you that they are giving you something (with your money of course) so that you will think fondly of them and, if you live in a "democracy", you will then vote for them.
      Many people are fooled by such things. It is not surprising because the little "gifts" often come cleverly packaged.
      It must therefore be disturbing for the government to read the small pieces which keep creeping into the paper about the hitherto hidden costs of this tax.  Are these things the government was hoping to keep quiet - or did they just fail to think of them at all?
       They did not have a mandate for the tax, indeed promised not to introduce one. It has been pushed through with unseemly haste - the price a minority had to pay the Greens and the "independents" in order to form government. Had the Opposition succeeded in dealing with these two groups they would have faced similar problems.
        But they may now face much worse problems. Charities are going to be hit hard by the tax. Today's piece in our state newspaper is about the concern of one of the biggest charitable groups, the Salvation Army. They believe, probably rightly so, that there will be an increase in the amount of rubbish dumped at their bins because the cost of "going to the dump" is going to increase.
        Charities already have a problem with dumping. I regularly pedal past the local charity shop and, at weekends particularly, people will leave things outside. This is despite notices asking people not to do it. All too often one of the regular workers will have to make time to go and haul things inside. All too often what is dumped is not something that can be sold. The charity then has to pay to dump it.
         We have given things to that charity from time to time. If it is clothing I make sure it is washed and ironed or otherwise clean. If it is something else, like the very heavy stoneware dinnerset we were once given but had never used, I make sure it is clean and likely to be of some value to someone. I ask myself the question, "Is it good enough to sell?" If it is not then I believe it should go out in the rubbish. We do not throw much away.
          The Salvation Army believes increased "dumping" could cost them upwards of another $600,000 a year - perhaps twice or more than that. There is also the hazard of having rubbish lying around collection bins. It is a problem now. And yes, it will probably grow worse.
          Add an increase in all sorts of other charges, such as electricity and transport, as the cost of the carbon tax flows through from the big polluters which are hit by it and it would seem we have a recipe for inflation. Nothing has been done to get people's behaviour to change. Even the attempt at "wealth redistribution" will have failed - indeed it may end up hurting low income earners even more.
         If a Constitutional challenge goes ahead it will be on complex grounds that may not succeed. There are issues of "states' rights" and "external affairs" which are likely to come up. I am glad I am not a Constitutional lawyer.
          What puzzles me though is how we got ourselves into this mess because it is a mess. There will, no doubt, be more difficulties raised between now and the introduction of the tax. The government desperate to have it in place. It is depending on it for revenue. They desperately need to be able to say the budget is "in surplus". It will not be but, like the "compensation" they plan on handing out, it may look as if it is. That is all that really matters to the government.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Apparently more than 700,000 people

have gone "missing" in the 2011 Australian Census. This was reported in this morning's paper along with the concerns of the government at the failure of so many people to respond. A comment by a government official about increasing numbers of people "resisting" giving information to anyone was also included in the story. This does not surprise me. I was not surprised by the number failing to respond either.
I had to do some shopping the other day. I did it in a supermarket I rarely use because it happens to be the only place which stocks a brand of tea my father likes. While there I was asked by the assistant why I did not have a "rewards" card for that particular supermarket. My answer was because I do not wish the company to know what I, as an individual, am buying from them. They have other ways of keeping track of what is being sold. The so-called "rewards" card is a confidence trick. It is designed to track you as an individual. Very few people ever reach the point where the "reward" kicks in. It is also designed to buy your loyalty to that particular supermarket chain and their "name brand" products. The chain has a huge slice of the market. It is aggressive. In our area it has been trying to remove another excellent independently run supermarket.  To do this information about spending habits is absolutely vital. The assistant tried to insist I was losing something. No, they are. They are losing information they want.
There is another small chain of shops in Adelaide which ask you for your postcode. People were objecting to giving this. More than once I heard people asking why did the assistant want to know that. An acquaintance of mine on being asked for his postcode asked for a reason and was told "I don't  know. We have been told  to ask." He went to the management and asked. "We are thinking of expanding. We want to know where are customers come from."  His response was, "Well get your employees to say that. People will answer honestly then."
I also remember many years ago there was an Australian owned clothing company. It provided very high quality, Australian made clothing. Their shops were frequented by professionals who were often busy people but needed to look smart all the time. When my grandfather was no longer able to make my father's trousers my father bought them there. My mother bought skirts there. The shops kept customer details. We were in the Adelaide shop one day and an assistant asked a new customer for his name and address.
          "What do you want that for?" came the rather aggressive response.
          "Well sir. We can save you time. We have your measurements. If you decide you do need that extra pair of suit trousers all you need to do is let us know and we can post them to you. You won't need to come back to Adelaide."
He gave his name and address without further quibble.
I suspect that is what the government needs to do with respect to the census. They need to better explain why they want the information. Yes of course they do a little of that but they do not do enough. They do not explain how it is going to be used or who is going to use it.
People might be more cooperative if they did...on the other hand though, they might not.

Monday 9 April 2012

We had a card

from our friend Polly for Easter. Polly is a nun and Easter is, naturally, one of the high points of her year. Polly also makes her own cards.
Over the years we have known her we have had a variety of hand made cards from Polly. They are always lovely. She is very artistic. The cards are usually simple in concept and design but the workmanship is so good that they are taken to another level.
I also have a friend in the United States who makes her own cards. She will sometimes send me one for an occasion that I would not think of. There was one for their Thanksgiving last year and one for Valentine's Day this year. Her Christmas card was a snowflake she had cut herself. They are always lovely too.
I sometimes need to make a card as well. My efforts are not in the least bit artistic. I make no pretence that they are. My cards are literary.
I collect quotations I like. I sometimes save them specifically for people I think they might suit. If someone has a special birthday coming up, such as 60 or 80 or even 100 then I will make a card with that number of quotations on it. I print them off, cut them up and paste them on to cardboard in a random pattern. I have made other cards for things like wedding anniversaries as well. It is fun but, as I said, they are not works of art.
         "I would just buy a card," someone else told me. I can understand that. She is not creative in that way.
But then she went on, "Why would anyone bother to do this? It's just a card."
No, it is not just a card. Yes of course buying a card says, "I care enough to send you this" but making the card says "I care enough about you to do this" and sometimes it is nice to be able to do that.
We haved told Polly how much we appreciate the fact that she cared enough to do something like that. We do appreciate it too.
My father gets hand knitted socks given to him each birthday. They are made by another friend of mine who is also very fond of my father. Those socks are special to him and he tells her that. If someone else does something for him he is always careful to acknowledge them too .
I try to be sure I acknowledge people as well. If someone comments here I will try to respond. If someone offers me a ride or does something else for me then I like to offer something in return as well. I know they do not necessarily expect it but it feels right. Saying "thankyou" and "I appreciate it" makes me feel more comfortable.
Not everyone feels like this. I know someone who simply does not thank people. I think she appreciates gifts but she simply does not see it as necessary to say "thankyou". Her behaviour makes other people feel uncomfortable and it can be hurtful.
My father is about to make a gift for someone. We both know that it will be barely acknowledged but that there is an expectation we will give something he has made.
         "Why bother?" another friend asked.
My father thought about this and then said, "Because I want to do the right thing."
Later, over lunch, he said to me,
         "I sometimes wonder if doing the right thing is just being selfish."
It is an interesting idea. 

Sunday 8 April 2012

Over on "The History Girls"

Adele Geras is talking about kitchen equipment. I thought she might be talking about kitchen equipment from mediaeval times - you know "real history" as we often think of it.  I know I was fascinated to find a reference to a "pressure cooker" in one of Cynthia Harnett's novels.  Pressure cookers were an early Italian invention. Goodness' knows what they were like, how effective they were - and how many times they blew up!
But Adele Geras is talking about the kitchen equipment of her own past and of my childhood. She mentions "the mincer", the Tala measure and the Pyrex jug.
My grandmothers had "mincers". They also gave one to my mother. They were very sturdy affairs. I do not know what they were made from but they were metal - and I remember them as being heavy. You put pieces of food in the top and poked them with the next piece while turning the handle. It was a job which was often given to "responsible" children - which usually meant myself or my brother.  We were not actually responsible but my mother no doubt thought that this was a way of ensuring the job was done. A great deal of cheap, tough cuts of meat went through our mincer.
My grandmothers had old fashioned scales too - with brass weights. I rarely saw them used. My paternal grandmother cooked largely without reference to such things. She would "weigh" flour by the cup. When she taught me to cook she showed me how to weigh and measure but I suspect it was largely foreign to her. My maternal grandmother was more inclined to weigh and measure. She used recipes. When television came in she used to watch "Cooking with Gas" demonstrated by a lady called "Lillian Newman". The ABC would send you the recipes being used if you sent in a stamped, self addressed envelope. I came across one of those recipes recently in a pile of old knitting patterns someone donated to our Guild library.  It was duplicated on a Gestetner - another piece of history.
I have the Tala measuring cup belonging to my mother. I think you may still be able to buy them. My mother used it on the rare occasions she made cake. She was not particularly interested in baking. As children we were always surprised if she made cake of any sort. She did not buy it either. Cake was "special occasion". I can only once remember having a birthday cake. My birthday is too close to Christmas. There was always Christmas cake to be eaten.  One year however there was, for some reason, no Christmas cake. My maternal grandmother made a "Dolly Vardon" cake - a cake with a doll in the centre of it. I suspect it was something she really wanted for herself. She kept the doll.
Several years ago I inherited some cake pans from an elderly friend whose cake making skills were the stuff of legend. These cake pans are shaped. There is a cottage, a castle, a train and a pan with six little houses. There is also a rectangular one with flowers on top and a "muffin" pan.  She used them all.
I use the rectangular one occasionally. I use the muffin pan. The Whirlwind has had a birthday cake shaped like a train and, last year, made her own cake in the castle pan.
My elderly friend made her grandchildren magnificent birthday cakes. None of them bake. They buy birthday cakes for their own children, birthday cakes of too sweet sponge, ersatz cream and brilliant blue icing with a brown football in the middle. It seems rather sad they never have the train. 
Should I ever make myself a cake it will probably be in the tin with the flowers - although I think the train might be fun. Do I have to be grown up?

Saturday 7 April 2012

When I mentioned "LIttle Golden Books"

last week "JeanfromCornwall" rightly said, "Don't knock them". I won't. We had quite a few of them. They were part of my pre-school life. We had them at home, at kindergarten and at Sunday School. We found them in the homes of other children too. We still have some.
We had "The taxi that hurried" and "Scuffy the Tugboat" and "Fix it please" as well as others. They were read to us and then we read them ourselves.
I suspect they were the books that helped me learn to read to myself. They were familiar, so familiar I could work out the words for myself. I can actually remember sitting on the back step of our our house in the small country town I was born in and reading the words to myself. I was reading aloud. If I got really stuck over a word and my father was gardening or doing something in the shed I could ask for help but I was expected to try and "sound it out" for myself.
They all had the same format, thin cardboard covered books with bright illustrations. The print varied in size - but not greatly. The illustrations were usually simple and realistic representations. I think, without looking, that the mother in "The taxi that hurried" is wearing a hat and gloves.
The books are old-fashioned but you can still find some. They were probably, relatively speaking, cheap. They were also useful. They made good presents. They were presents that still lasted. We still have some. Children who visit still read them.
I had to buy a book for my father to give his great-granddaughter-number-two for her birthday this week. In the bookshop, looking for something for a one year old, I thought of these books. I still have my "Splish Splash Rainy Day" with all the little fold pages. I loved opening those up and pretending it was a surprise each time I did it. In the bookshop I knew what sort of book I wanted to find. I knew what my father would want too.
It was not a Golden Book. There are none of those in the local bookshop but there was a book with flaps.
It was a "Miffy" book. It is very simple and Miss One Year Old is almost old enough to appreciate it with some help from her parents. I bought that. My father posted it this morning. I hope Miss One Year Old gets as much pleasure from it as I did from the Golden Books.

Friday 6 April 2012

Our local charity shop

is housed in a very large tin warehouse next to the railway line. At one end there is the garage which houses "Fred's Van", a food van which feeds street dwellers. In the middle there is the shop. At the other end is the storage area. At the back of all this is the "bookshop".
I have problems with buying books second hand. I am conscious that writers do not get paid nearly enough for their efforts. When you buy a book second hand then the writer gets nothing. I try not to buy books which are in print  second hand for this reason - even when I want to.  Occasionally, like everyone else I succumb to temptation.  The argument that "charity" benefits is not quite good enough for me.
Our local library also sells books second hand - and gives what it has failed to sell to the charity shop.
On the other hand I think that books which are no longer in print are fair game. It is hard on the author but once a publisher has decided that the book is not going to be reprinted then, should I want a copy, this is the only way to obtain one.
I wonder what is going to happen in the future now that "e-book" publishing and "self-publishing" because of such "e-books" is going to be that much easier. Will places like this charity bookshop gradually become a thing of the past? I have already noticed that the sort of stock these places get is changing. People have realised that second hand books can be sold on the internet. Once there would have been a large pile of old knitting patterns. Now they get sold on the internet. All sorts of other things also get sold on the internet. The bookshop gets almost no hard cover books. What does arrive there is often unattractive and of very little value. Anything of value gets sold on the internet.
I suspect the nature of charity is changing too. We may drop a couple of dollars or a pound or a euro or two in a collection box but if there is something of value or potential value we will first try and sell it on the internet. Is it giving a new meaning to "charity begins at home"?

Thursday 5 April 2012

My teacher training college

was just that. It was nothing fancy. Indeed the buildings were nothing more than "temporary" transportable buildings placed on a piece of vacant land along one of the busiest roads in the city, around the corner from that and two miles away in the city itself. As students we had to rush from one part of the college to another, often trying to do the two miles in ten minutes. I hasten to add that the staff who approved of my being there were very good about seeing that I was given a lift in their cars because they also had to do the same dash. It was, of course, a ridiculous situation. 
There was another teacher training establishment as well which would have been physically much easier for me to handle but my uncle was lecturing at that and it had been deemed wiser for me not to have to attend it.
There was also a third teacher training establishment for those training to teach secondary school students. To complicate matters I also attended lectures there. Again the staff would see to it that I got to lectures because two of them lectured in the subject I was doing there. It was a simple matter, so they said, for them to take me as well. I paid in time and, later, tutoring.
Eventually the college became a "college of advanced education" and then it amalgamated with a number of other places and called itself  another "university". We now have three in this state. Today's newspaper suggests that we should revert to two. The suggestion comes from the head of this third university.
He is right. The establishment is not a university. It is a convenient means of administering a number of courses, some of which probably do not deserve "degree" status - although I doubt that those doing them would agree with me. It suffers the same problem that our college did although there is, I think, only a campus in the city and a campus in the suburbs and students are not actually required to do as much travel between the two as we did.
My nephews each attend another university. They are almost at the end of their courses. Their university lives have been busy, one is finishing medicine and the other economics/law. There has not been a lot of time for socialising but they have worked largely with the same group of students and/or in one place. University has been a different experience for them.
The students of the third university tell me that the time they spend travelling between the two locations means they have not developed quite the same sense of community. Some of them manage it. Others do not. I wonder what would happen if this third university was to be amalgamated with the other two. They would still need to travel. Will it prove to a be a further division?

Wednesday 4 April 2012

There is a legal challenge currently

underway in our local Supreme Court. Someone is challenging the $20 fine and conviction he received for not voting. He deliberately did not vote in order to bring the issue before the courts.
It is a challenge which is long overdue. It will almost certainly fail but it raises some serious questions about the Australian electoral system.
There is a widespread belief that Australia has a "compulsory" voting system. That is both correct and incorrect. Let me explain.
Australians have a right to vote under the Constitution. That has, rightly or wrongly, under the Electoral Act been interpreted to mean that (a) you must enroll to vote, (b) on polling day you must turn up at a polling station in your electorate (or cast an absentee vote) and (c) you must mark the ballot papers you are given correctly and put them in the boxes.
Nobody can actually force you to mark the ballot papers of course because the voting is done in little booths and only you are supposed to know what you have done.  (Someone was prosecuted once for actually failing to mark the papers. He took them and placed them straight into the boxes without going into a booth.)The voting process, as laid down by the Electoral Act, is where what is seen as the compulsion to vote lies.
This is being challenged as being in contradiction of the constitutional right to vote.  It is argued that the "right" has become a "duty" and is therefore invalid.
It will be interesting to see how the courts deal with this argument. The judge in the Supreme Court has already indicated that he may just refer the matter directly to the High Court. It may well be a wise move. The High Court has previously indicated that failure to mark the ballot papers is an offence under the Electoral Act although the Electoral Commission apparently thinks otherwise. The validity of the Electoral Act however has not been brought into question.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly will be aware of the fact that I do not believe anyone should be compelled to vote and there is no such compulsion. I do believe it is our right to vote and that we have a duty to do so once we have informed ourselves about the issues and the candidates. I am strongly opposed to compulsory preferential voting - which is what we have. It is, quite simply, wrong to require people to mark any preference for people whose policies they do not approve of. If they wish to cease making a choice after their first candidate that should be their affair. I know that others do not agree.
The question in front of the courts now though is an interesting one. It will be interesting to see how the High Court twists language in order to preserve the status quo - and what effect that might have elsewhere in the world.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

There is a call to make Kaurna

compulsory in all schools on the Adelaide plains. Kaurna? You have never heard of it?
I had but I suspect that most people have not. It is, supposedly, the language of the people who lived here before white settlement.
I say "supposedly" with good reason. It would not have been the language of all the indigenous tribes on the Adelaide plains. It would have been one of many related languages. Along with Pitjatjantjara it may also be one of the best preserved.
I also say "may" with good reason. The Kaurna language before white settlement no longer exists. We do not know what it was like.
For indigenous Australians the Australian landscape required a particular vocabulary. There are also many words for things like family relationships. A meeting between members of two tribes could require a long conversation about relationships in order to find common relationships and precisely what they were. There was no loose usage of the word "cousin" among them.  It is all highly sophisticated.
But indigenous languages also lacked the concepts and the vocabulary to deal with white settlement. This had nothing to do with being "primitive" or "stupid". They simply did not need these things.  Colour is described differently. Mathematical concepts were rare. They did not need to count. (There were words for "one" and "two" and the idea of "three"  or "four" was formed by combinations of these words but the idea of counting from one to ten was foreign to them.) There was no written language.
In order to describe and discuss what they saw when the first settlers arrived they had to either create new words, take on the words of the settlers or gradually lose their language in favour of a new one. All three things happened over time. If time travel occurred and a speaker of the language as it was before white settlement arrived he or she would find there was nobody with whom they could easily hold a conversation. It would be rather like us trying to hold a conversation with a member of a British tribe from say the first or second century.
So why should schools teach Kaurna? There are claims that indigenous students do better and are more motivated when they know something about "their" language. Perhaps. I think it is more likely that the students involved do better and are more motivated because they are getting a great deal of time and individual attention. They are being told they are "important", Learning Kaurna has been only a small part of an overall experiment in education. The results would not be translated to the rest of the population.
It is not like the revival of Welsh and, now, Gaelic or Breton. It is not like ensuring Tibetan survives in order to preserve religious and medical knowledge which is in daily use. Kaurna is not in daily use as a primary language. It would need massive changes in order to be able to be used in the 21st C.
We have lost most aboriginal languages and we will lose more. Only a handful have any chance of survival. Every time we lose a language we lose a way of thinking. We lose unique words and ideas. Of the languages which remain we will also lose ways of thinking. Languages have to change to remain alive. We cannot "preserve Kaurna". Language does not work like that.

Monday 2 April 2012

Yesterday's blog post appears to have

caused a little controversy.
First up Donna wanted to know if I had changed the name of the person I was talking about. Of course I had.
Then there was "Martin" - I had not come across him (or her) before - suggesting that the people I was talking about were recognisable and that this was "dangerous gossip".  It was not.
Chris and Ros, regular commenters, knew who I was talking about. Chris knew because his family was involved - and I am saying that with his permission - and Ros knew for other reasons I cannot go into here.
Perhaps though some explanation is due and there is something which needs to be said about my personal blogging rules.
"Amina" actually asked me to write a blog post about the issue and gave me permission to use her circumstances. I altered things sufficiently that, when she read what I had written before I put it up, she sent a message back saying "if I did not know you meant me I would not know it was me".   I was being very careful not to identify her - or breach any confidences. I had her permssion to tell the story.
I will identify people who are in the media. I will identify people who are fellow bloggers in order to direct attention to one of their blog posts. I will talk about my family and friends but I do not mention their names unless they are fellow bloggers known by those names and I sincerely hope I have never embarrassed them!
Blogging should be fun but it is a responsibility too. It is a  bit like newspaper reporting.
There was a little piece in this weekend's "Australian" (our national newspaper) by the columnist Greg Sheridan.  In it he talks about two different views of Mohamed Merah, the young French jihadist.
There is a view in which certain, presumably reasonably accurate, facts have been gleaned from the authorities. This suggests that Merah made certain decisions, that he was not a social isolate. His stepfather has been found guilty of recruiting for a terrorist organisation. His brother is said to be "proud" of Merah's actions. The family is an immigrant family but they appear to have had a support network. The media has mentioned all this and other things as well.
There is another view, from the professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford university Tariq Ramadan. He paints a quite different picture. As Sheridan points out he does not attempt to justify or support what Merah did but he explains it in sociological terms. He suggests that Merah is an "overgrown adolescent" who has been deprived of dignity.
The media is notorious for getting things wrong but Le Figaro, in which the supposed facts were reported, had a good reputation. Such facts can be shown to be accurate. It is more difficult to show that Ramadan's point of view is correct. He is theorising, perhaps even fantasising. Nobody wants the members of their group to appear to have flaws. If they do have them it is better to be able to blame outside influences - in Merah's case this would be French society.
In Aminah's case though who would be to blame? Aminah? Her husband? The way they were brought up? Their religious beliefs? Our society? The way we welcomed them into the community? Something we said? Something the children were taught in school? What?
There is no easy answer but the culture clash, if that is what it is, needs to be talked about.

Sunday 1 April 2012

"I have been fooled..."

my friend told me.
If it had been today I might have thought it was some sort of not-very-funny April Fools' Day joke but this was yesterday and she looked and sounded much too distressed for that. As she spoke to me she watched her husband at the other end of the aisle. He was talking to someone else.
Amina is Muslim. Her husband is Muslim. They have lived in Australia for the past eighteen years. Both their children were born here. I met them not long after they first arrived and their English was not nearly as good as it is now. They are intelligent people. Both of them have jobs in the IT industry although Amina's job involves working from home.
I have always been aware that her husband is someone who likes to be in control. Amina has appeared to accept this. Sometimes she has told me "This is the way we do things" or something similar.  Over the years though I have become aware that she has become more aware of Australian culture and the Australian way of doing things.
Their children were born here, have grown up here, attended school here. They do not speak a word of their parents' first language. They do not want to. The two children consider themselves to be Australian.
There was, I suppose, a hint of trouble several years ago when Amina's husband insisted that their daughter attend the local girls only high school.  Most public secondary schools are now co-educational. This one has been retained to cater for the needs of girls from families where - for cultural or religious reasons - single sex education is deemed to be the right thing.  Amina agreed. It seemed the better option. There were two other state high schools within the area. They are both very large and there are problems at both.
Now Amina's husband is suggesting that their daughter be returned to their country of origin. She can, he says, go to her great-uncle and his family. There she will, he believes, learn "proper" ways. He is disturbed by the fact that she refuses to keep her hijab on at school and that she is, at sixteen, showing an interest in the opposite sex.  He is threatening to shave his daughter's head if she does not agree to keep her hijab on.
I was told all that very quickly and then Amina had to go. I told her, "Ring me when you can if you need to talk."
She called yesterday afternoon. Her husband had just left for the airport. He will be back from one of the mining communities on Tuesday. It turned out that the hijab affair is merely the tip of an iceberg. Over lunch yesterday Amina's husband told her that he has bought all of them air tickets for a holiday during the Easter school break. The destination is to be a surprise but they will need their passports. Amina tells me she has suspected this for some time. She believes the holiday will not be a holiday at all and that her husband plans to leave their daughter behind.  Amina and the children are planning on leaving but it will not be to return to her country of origin.
Amina's husband appeared to be fully immersed in Australian culture. There were just small hints that he was not happy with everything. There are other men who do not like women to work away from home, even women who are content to stay at home. There are other parents who would prefer a single sex education for their daughters and who worry when they start to show an interest in boys and do not like the way their daughters dress. There are other parents who like to be in control.
But, this time, it is different. Amina's husband apparently believes in a solution Amina and the children cannot accept.
Amina and the children are leaving. If all goes well they will fly out to another destination this evening. It will not be to Amina's country of origin. Amina's son spoke to me. He is nearly fourteen.
       "Cat, I want you to know. We support Mum. Girls can do anything boys can do and they should be allowed to do it."
I hope he goes on thinking like that.