Thursday 31 May 2012

A school without a library

does not seem possible but yesterday's paper showed the empty shelves of one of our high school libraries. It has "gone digital". The shelves are empty. The books were donated to charity.
I am still almost too stunned to write this. A school cannot survive without books. An e-reader is not a substitute.
Yes, e-readers have a place. They are a fact of life. They are useful in all sorts of ways. A visitor told us yesterday told the Senior Cat and me that she knows of a 92 year old who wanted an e-reader. Why? You can adjust the size of the print and she can now go on reading. That is a wonderful use of technology.
But -get rid of all the books in the library simply because e-readers are available?
Quite apart from the fact that this is an appalling waste of a valuable resource now it is going to be almost impossible to replace it in the future. Quite apart from the cost of doing so many of the books will be simply unavailable. They will be out of print. They will not be available as e-books.
Some people will say this does not matter. They will say other books will replace those which have gone. They will say that what was there in the past is not important. It is what will be there in the future, that the students will have access to the most up to date information.
The problem is that students will only have access to what is there on their e-readers. They will not have access to a library. They will not be able to browse the shelves, open a physical book and skim a few pages. They will not be able to pull two, three or four physical books from the shelves and see which one suits their needs.
Far from expanding the amount of information available to students the policy will restrict what is available. That may not be the intention but it will be the reality. If the information is not immediately there on the e-reader then many students will go no further. They may not have the capacity to go further. Searching the internet takes time. It takes skill. It takes money. How many teenagers are going to be keen enough to search for material this way when they could once have spent ten or fifteen minutes in the library and found a half a dozen resources? Are we going to reduce initiative? Are we going to dull the sense of achievement?
And fiction?
Fiction may suffer even more. It is one thing to browse the library shelves in search of something to read. It is another to download an e-book and read it. Adults who praise the advent of e-books tend to forget that they already know something about reading. Children and teenagers still have to learn about reading. They may already have managed to learn to read but that is not the same thing. If we are to learn about reading we have to develop other skills. We have to read many books. We have to read a diverse range of books and authors. We need to be able to find the known and the unknown. We need to be able to challenge ourselves.
A new author cannot come simply by word of mouth, by the recommendation of others. Experienced readers will find new reading material in other ways. Often it will be by browsing the library shelves or searching a library catalogue for books similar to one they have already enjoyed or for a genre they think may interest them. E-readers in schools will not work that way. The fiction which will be downloaded will come from teacher recommendations and peer recommendations. Both of those sources of recommendations will be made on the basis of what they already know and on advertising. These are not necessarily going to provide the diverse reading matter that a physical library offers. Many students will download material because they are told they must or because one of their friends recommends it. They will not browse.
The psychology is simply wrong. Books reflect our aspirations as a society. They represent our past and our future. If we do away with access to them then are we also doing away with ourselves?

Wednesday 30 May 2012

I had to go to the eye

clinic at the hospital yesterday, It was my follow up visit after my "might have been a retinal detachment" scare. All is well on that front - although the doctor tells me I will probably have a problem with the other eye at some point - and to make sure I come straight back if I do. You do not play games with your eyesight.
When I went in it was early but there were still several other people ahead of me. There was a man at the desk and there was a communication problem, a serious communication problem. The problem was not a second language this time but a quite profound hearing loss. The nurse-receptionist was lost. She had tried shouting (that does no good at all) and she had tried writing things down. Whatever the problem was that was not working either. He could not - presumably because of the problem he was experiencing - see what she writing. The lighting in there is rather dim and she was writing with a biro.
I watched for a moment and then interfered saying,
       "May I help? I have a very little experience working with hearing loss."
On seeing the receptionist look at me he turned ready to express annoyance at the apparent interruption and I signed quickly, "Hello" And then much more slowly, "Me - help?"
He nodded and we went through the tortuous process of making sure he understood he would be there for at least two hours and that he could not drive home afterwards. He was not too happy about that but indicated he understood and agreed.
My sign language was definitely not up to mark. I have forgotten most of it. I have not used it for years apart from the most casual of greetings and comments. It was barely enough to help. I had to fingerspell words I should have known. I am ashamed at my lack of ability.  The nurse-receptionist thought I was wonderful  I was not. It was better than nothing at all but it was not good enough.
As I left later the staff member thanked me again. They are quite used to people with guide dogs. They have people come in with interpreters. They rarely deal with the solitary deaf.
On my way out I saw someone else I know from the community of the deaf. He had come to drive his friend's car home. We stood for a moment in the well lit foyer of the hospital and managed to sign greetings and I explained the two hours and the drops in the eyes. He nodded.  Then he made me smile by signing "Cat" had "purred" for his friend - something he can feel rather than hear his cat do. It was much more like a plaintive "miaou" but I am glad I was there.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

It was a celebration of

a life well lived. My father and I went to a funeral yesterday for a man of 93. It was one of those bitter-sweet occasions - knowing we would never speak with him again but also knowing that he had lived life to the full.
We had known this man for more than fifty years. My siblings and I grew up with his children. Our parents stayed in touch even when we were moving around the countryside.
He started out as a child on a farm on the West Coast of our state. Farming there is even more difficult than it is in most places. He and his siblings walked four miles to school barefoot because even among the poor farmers his family was considered poor. He had to leave school early to help to bring in some income.
When the war came he joined the airforce. It meant travelling to the city for the first time in his life. One getting his first pay packet he went to the market and bought a dozen bananas - for him these were the height of luxury.
He saw active service too. In February this year he went back to Darwin with his son for the 70th Anniversary of the bombing of Darwin., something he felt most Australians knew (and still know) far too little about.  I felt an odd sense of pride at seeing him interviewed on our international news service about this.
He married his partner of 64 years after the war and they worked the farm together eventually buying his father out. They did without electricity and a septic tank until almost at the end of their time there. What a difference a 32v power plant made to their lives! He passed the farm on and changed not so much jobs as responsibilities and took up a role as the manager of a farm which was run by the then Methodist church for homeless men and alcoholics. He and his wife ran that, with all the many problems it presented, for sixteen years. It was typical of his deep faith and his belief in other people.  Eventually he moved on, still within the church, to another job.
At that point he talked to my father about doing something else he really wanted to do. He wanted to do his Matriculation certificate. He wanted to feel he had "at least finished school".  It was a big challenge for a man who had barely finished primary school. My father, recognising his undoubted intelligence, encouraged him and helped him. His Matriculation certificate was there on the table of memorabilia today. There were the family histories he wrote too. I helped to proof read and edit those.
           "Cat, I cannot find the mistakes in my writing!"
I told him nobody could do that. Typically he wanted to know why!
Many family histories are not well written or even well researched. These were real pieces of research, the sort of thing that might have been awarded honours in history. There was the short article he had accepted by an academic journal - challenging the location of a South Australian landmark. When he talked to me about how to set about it he spoke of maps, sources and trigonometry.
When he retired he went with his wife and worked on a project with indigenous communities in the far north and with refugees from several locations in Africa. They spent a year in Canada doing similar work there. He was awarded and Order of Australia Medal - and said it was awarded to both of them.
His wife had a stroke about eighteen months back. She is frail. Yesterday she was having great difficulty putting a sentence together. I sat with her for a while after the service. People spoke to her briefly but did not know what to say, especially when she could not respond easily. Her three children were there. Her grandchildren were there. All of them have done well. He was justifiably proud of their achievements. They circulated among the many people who had come knowing I would help their mother, the person I turned to when I needed one.
Her conversation was halting but she said one thing clearly.
        "I have lost the words," she told me, "but the music was right."
His service had ended with the Ode to Remembrance and then the "The Ode to Joy", that extraordinary outpouring of joy that Beethoven managed in the last movement of his last symphony even though he could not hear it for himself.  Yes, the music was right.

Monday 28 May 2012

Knitting should bring out

the craft-creative best in people, like woodwork, carving, weaving, sculpture, patchwork, printing, paper-making, crochet, emroidery - or whatever people do in order to create things which are both useful and decorative.
I knit. Yes, it is a sad fact of life. I knit. I am (almost) as addicted to yarn and needles as I am to words.  And, I do create things. I start from the beginning and fight my way to the end. Knitting is a challenge for me. It is a physical, intellectual and artistic challenge.
I also belong to a "knitting guild". I have mentioned this before. I am also the librarian for the group - a fact I mentioned recently.
This past weekend they group had their biennial exhibition. I dutifully pedalled off to the hall in which it was being held on both days. I went early and did the first two hour shift on the door on Saturday and then on Sunday. The group was charging two dollars to look - the idea is to raise enough money to cover the cost of hiring the hall. It belongs to a local council and is used by their Senior Citizens and for meetings of all sorts.
I spent the weekend intermittently glaring at a professionally made poster about another event in which they had written "practise" rather than "practice" and attempting to smile nicely at people who came through the door.
Most people paid their two dollars quite happily. One or two tried to pull the $50 note trick..."that's all I have". From past experience I was prepared for that and gave them change, rather a lot of change! Two people went through and refused to pay anything.  "Just want to..." There is, short of physically barring their way, very little that can be done about that.
Two younger women left saying it was not worth the money because there was nothing they wanted to buy. Would they like to be reimbursed? No. Then why say anything?
Later I took a wander around myself. I talked to the woman running the book stall. She comes to each event. We buy some books through her. I bought a book from the bargain box to give to someone else who could not attend. I wandered further and chatted to someone else with yarn for sale. We have known one another for years and just needed to ensure I knew what she had there so she could take a quick break in the middle of the day. The other yarn stall, natural yarns only, had two people so that was not a problem. I have always done this. It seems only right and proper.
One of the members wandered up to me. She had been walking around the hall knitting but I noticed she had not spoken to anyone - although she is normally a very gregarious person.
       "Oh these things are so boring!" she told me.
It made me wonder whether the other guild members, some of whom had come but had congregated in the tea and coffee area, felt the same way.
It made me wonder why we bother with an exhibition. Maybe we need Mrs Weasley's magic knitting machine to cause some interest?

Sunday 27 May 2012

My father dislikes using his

credit card. He has never been quite certain about the security of such things. He does not like cheques either. Unless it is a large sum of money he prefers to pay cash.
I shop using cash because of this. I do not have a credit card. I have never had one. I do have a debit card but I use it sparingly and there is only ever a "small" amount of money in it - well, it is a large sum to me but any potential thief would probably be disgusted at how much I do not have in my debit account.
I also avoid other cards where I can - apart from library cards.
One of the reasons for this is that I see no reason to give other people more information abuot me than I wish to give them. I know there are many other people who feel the same way but give in and allow the "benefits" given by a card to overcome their reluctance to share their personal information.
They end up on lists, on mailing lists, on advertising lists, on research lists, their information is cross-referenced and stored and sent whizzing around the world and out into cyberspace. It is captured and analysed and placed on yet more lists.  And yes, inevitably, some information about me is out there too.
Oh yes.
Then, on Saturday, I had occasion to go into Woolworths - the supermarket chain supermarket in our shopping centre. Now I do not normally shop in Woolworths. I stopped doing this some years ago when they went over to as much of their "own brand" (frequently made or sourced in China) as they could possibly do. They were ignoring local sources. The variety was no longer there etc etc. Since then I have gone in there only for things not available in the locally owned supermarket which sources as many local products as it can. Is the locally owned supermarket more expensive? In the end, no. The staff are friendly. They will do a home delivery without any fuss. The variety is there - apart from the brand of tea my father prefers I can usually get anything I need in there.
We needed tea so I went into Woolworths. Someone I know was in there for the same purpose as myself.
          "Cat, come and have a look at this."
She showed me a label on a shelf - a "special". Oh yes, very nice. If you need coffee it would be half price.
Then she showed me some other "specials". Again, very nice prices.
But - yes there was a but - there was a catch. Woolworths runs a scheme they call an "Everyday Rewards Card". You give your personal information to Woolworths in return for a card. This allows Woolworths to work out not only what they have sold but precisely who they have sold it to. The idea makes me feel very uncomfortable. It is not necessary for them to know. The card is supposed to give you a discount - and some of the discounts in Woolworths were only available to members of this "club".
Now I know why they want to do this. They see it as smart marketing. It is going to allow them to target their advertising even more effectively. Their profits will go up still higher. As Coles and Woolworths own about 70% of the market between them this could climb even higher. Their prices will go higher as well. The variety will not be there. Local producers will find it still harder. (Woolworths imports "bake at home" bread from the United States to give you an idea of how non-local they are.)
I looked at one of the "specials". In other circumstances I would have stocked up on this. I did not. I think I am better off. I hope I am - and that the locals are too.

Saturday 26 May 2012

"Has anyone other than..."

the speaker asked and then named my father, "Read any Patrick White?"
Nobody in the room put their hand up.
I can remember, at age fourteen, feeling faintly embarrassed by this - and who, I wondered, was Patrick White? Did he matter?
My father had to study White as part of his university degree in English. White came in under the compulsory unit on Australian literature or it is likely that even my father would not have read any of his work.
It is the centenary of White's birth this coming week. He was, until JM Coetzee became an Australian citizen, our only Nobel Prize winner in literature. Along with Christina Stead he is regarded by some as a towering and highly influential figure in Australian literary history. He is an academic's novelist.
I suspect that the vast majority of Australians have no idea who he is and have never read any of his work.
At the time of publication it was regarded as "unAustralian" - whatever that may mean.
I also suspect that his homosexuality made many people uncomfortable in an age when same-sex relationships were considered much less acceptable than they are now.
I would probably have taken very little notice of him except for the question put by the speaker at a gathering of the public to hear an author speak. At fourteen I was not interested in reading him anyway.
I did not study English at tertiary level. I was never required to read White. I have not read him. I have tried but his writing simply does not interest me.  I met him. That was enough.
I was fortunate enough to meet many writers through my friendship with Judith Wright. In later years Judith, growing increasingly deaf, would sometimes ask me to accompany her to an event so that I could -discreetly - interpret for her.
Patrick White, a notorious non-attender at many things, happened to be present on one occasion. The two of them clashed but they were both involved in something and they needed to speak to each other. Judith had to speak to someone else she knew well. She decided that Patrick White could wait but I could entertain him - or he could entertain me. She introduced me with the words,
         "This is Cat. And be polite to her. She writes too."
White was not in a congenial sort of mood at all. I believe he rarely was at functions he had to attend. He looked me up and down. Naturally I was tongue tied, all too conscious that I could not say I had read any of his books - or that I liked them.
         "Write? I suppose you can put two words together if she says you can. You might be able to write something when you are as old as I am."
It was, I believe, a typical sort of comment. I wonder if I will ever be able to read his work?

Friday 25 May 2012

There is a friend of mine in

England who must be much loved by all the children he knows. He has a store of wacky jokes and riddles he likes to tell. He sends them to the Whirlwind - who very much likes the fact that a very grown up person takes an interest in her.
The latest one he sent me - and no doubt her - was, "Why aren't blind people allowed to go bungee jumping?" The answer was, "Because it is too frightening for their dogs."
I have no doubt however that Roger would think it was perfectly acceptable for a blind person to try bungee jumping if they so wished.
Now, I do not know about Roger but I do know a legally blind person who has been sky diving. He has climbed a couple of mountains, been water skiing, skiing, trekking in the Andes and in the Himalaya too. He goes with his wife. They rarely talk about their travels. I only know because I deal with their mail while they are away. He is all too well aware that going on those sort of travels is regarded by many as fool hardy even if you can see well. So far nothing much has happened to them apart from a couple of minor bouts of illness. They are off to Africa next week. I say, "If that is what you want to do, good on you."
I also know someone who uses an electric wheelchair. He has so little control over his body that he needs to be strapped firmly into it. He has also been sky diving, gliding and, "strapped securely on the back" of a very powerful motorbike, he has done circuits at high speed around a race track. The rest of us tell him he is mad but he wants to experience these things and, as long as he is not putting other people in danger, then there is no reason why he should not - after all, he says, he could hardly be more severely disabled than he is so an accident  is not going to make a lot of difference.
My spatial awareness is such that I cannot handle speed - or heights. He can. I still think he is mad to want to do it - but I would say that of anyone doing the same things. I am a physical coward. Unnecessary risk does not appeal to me.
Someone who read my blog post yesterday left me an e-mail suggesting that this is why I do not care much for sport or events like the Olympics.  I do not think that is true. I think it is up to other people to decide whether they enjoy those activities or not. My family is not one of those families who must go to every football or soccer match, who must see the tennis and the cricket on television or will queue to obtain tickets to obtain tickets to watch cars speed around a track. Only one member of my family has ever taken any serious interest in sport but it is not an all consuming passion even for her. We are simply interested in other things.
Sport just happens to be an area of big business we are not very interested in. Does this matter?

Thursday 24 May 2012

The Olympics are a modern form

of warfare. Other forms of sport are also anything from minor skirmishes to major battles.  There is nothing friendly or fair about them. The cost is high.
There was a student at one of my universities who was also a long distance runner. He was "in training" and he was studying. I do not know how far he ran each day but he was spending hours each day in physical exercise. He did this before lectures, between lectures and after lectures. In the time that was left over he was attending lectures, studying, eating and sleeping. He never socialised apart from brief appearances at meals. He was up for selection for Australia. Nothing else mattered - or so he was told.
There was another student who had been a swimmer. He had begun his swimming career early. He was keen. His parents were keen. He was at the pool at 5am every morning - taken there by his parents. After training and breakfast he headed off to school. After a day at school he headed back to the pool and then, in the evenings, he studied.  He never socialised either - until he came to his senses.
He told me about it. He told me.
        "I suddenly realised that I was spending hours staring at the bottom of the pool. Life in my family had to revolve around me. It was costing an enormous amount. Just feeding me was expensive. It was not worth it. I did not have that sort of killer extinct. I don't believe anybody should be asked to do it. We certainly should not be told it is a good thing. It isn't."
Not everyone would agree with him. For many that Olympic gold medal is worth all the effort. They have the killer instinct. They will risk everything to get one.
The Olympics left Greece long ago. They have become something quite different now. This time around they are reportedly costing London something like £10 billion - much of that on security needed to protect people from outside threats.  Yes, they will recoup a great deal of that through the influx of tourists to the country but the expense is huge. Each Olympics has to be bigger, better and more spectacular than the one before. It has become ridiculous.
It occurs to me thought that, if we must have the Olympics, they could be returned to Greece. There should be a permanent venue built in Greece. Everyone could contribute to this and then the Greeks could run the event every four years. It would save the vast expense of hosting and some of the corruption involved in the bidding for the Olympics. In between the facilities could be used for sporting and other events.
Yes I am aware that "the generals" running the sporting armies might not like the idea - but it might just save the Greek economy.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

We all know trees provide shade,

or do we? It seems not. My good friend Judy sent  me a link yesterday

Right? You have read it? I admit that it is a little more involved than it first appears to be but it still does not, in my view, justify a research grant of that size.
Oh yes, there is money around for "climate change" research, "climate change modelling" and other "climate change" activities. After all, this is a very urgent problem for our politicians. They have to save the world.
My mind is, I hope, open on the issue of global warming or climate change. Open at least to the point where I believe we have to take responsibility for and care of the environment. It is our home. We need to maintain it and care for it. If we can improve it then so much the better for everyone.
I do not believe we should be wasting money on that sort of research. For a start it could have been done in other ways. Trees could have been planted elsewhere and changes could have been noted with the help of local people. School children could have been involved in a longitudinal study. It would have made a marvellous science project for schools. 
It is a hefty sum of money. The arts department of the same university will probably not get anything like that for the entire department. If they get ten percent of that in fact they will be very, very lucky. It is more likely to be one per cent. There are other areas of the same university struggling to find any research funds at all, often for research that does matter. The staff in those areas are under threat of losing their jobs because there is no money to pay them.
It is a scenario being repeated right across Australia - and elsewhere in the world. I know we need to do more research in science. I know it is important.  I also know that we need to do more arts research and development. I know we need to spend more time and money on developing creativity and that is best done through the arts. I know we need to encourage the use of imagination and that is, I believe, best done through reading, literature, music, drama and art. We need people who can create things not merely design experiments because the money is there for political purposes.
And what will become of us if we no longer have people who can ask "What if...?"

Tuesday 22 May 2012

There was an abuse of

"parliamentary privilege" yesterday. The MP at the centre of a scandal allegedly involving fraud, 'phone records, unexplained expenses and the use of prostitutes while a union official used parliament to make a statement.
Craig Thomson used parliament to make a statement in which he attempted to defend himself. In doing so he used "parliamentary privilege" to name other people and accuse them of wrong doing. It was an abuse of that process.
I have no problem with the idea of parliamentary privilege. Politicians are sometimes in a unique position. They have access to information that we more ordinary mortals do not have. There needs to be a mechanism where they can, with due caution, name individuals or raise situations which are in the national interest or in the interests of their electorate. They need to be able to do it without fear of legal proceedings being taken against them. They also need a limited right to defend themselves if they are accused of wrong doing. Note  - a limited right.
That process was abused yesterday. Thomson was given the opportunity to speak to parliament about the  allegations and findings against him. He was, so we understood, going to use the opportunity to provide an explanation. It would, we were told, take about fifteen minutes.
Mr Thomson talked for fifty-seven minutes. He explained nothing. He repeated some allegations. He named some names. He attacked the Opposition. He attacked the media. He cried.
The speech was well crafted - but not by him. He was given tutoring in how to deliver it. (Those constant sips of water were a dead giveaway.)
Tellingly only a few MPs from the government side of the house turned up to hear him speak. The press gallery and the public gallery were full. I would not have wanted to be present. I saw enough of the tawdry proceedings on the news service last night - and the news feed kept me (too) well informed before that.. It was an uncomfortable speech delivered in an uncomfortable atmosphere. Accusations were delivered against people outside parliament who will now have to apply to the Speaker for the right to reply in an attempt to clear their names. There was also the usual diatribe against the Leader of the Opposition and others who are seeking the downfall of a minority government.
It was the plot which did him in though. If this had been the plot of a novel and it had been sent to an agent it would have been rejected as "implausible".  Truth may be stranger than fiction but this was still implausible. 
I think it was the "cloning" of the mobile phone suggestion that really did me in. I am advised by an expert in the field that this (a) needs access to equipment not in the hands of ordinary individuals and (b) even with that is very difficult to do. It is a very great pity because it might be a worthy element in a plot.
I will need to think of something else instead when I write that "MP-spy-murder-thriller".

Monday 21 May 2012

Change my name?

No thankyou. I will stay with "Catdownunder" unless I move to Upover - unlikely.
There is yet another call though for the Australian state in which I live to change its name... oh and change the name of the capital at the same time. Oh?
As usual the call comes from one of the usual suspects. This time it is "the business lobby" - or rather the leader thereof.  No doubt he has some support from within the ranks. They like the idea because they believe it would give business a boost. They like the idea because "the very act of changing our name would boost our profile". Oh?
To me all this smacks of laziness. If we are having a problem marketing our state then I do not think changing names will help. It may even hinder things. It would be extremely expensive.
I think what matters is what we have to sell.
In world terms we do not have a lot to sell. We have a small population. We have only a little industry (and some of that is disappearing). We have some nice scenery. There are some pockets of history - Australia's one and only saint if you happen to be Catholic, the old mining towns and the opal fields. There are a few caves in the south-east of the state and over on the far "west" coast. There is a longish walking track and the wine-regions and the biggest automobile museum in the Southern Hemisphere. If you want a nice, quiet holiday or an outdoor holiday or you want to go fishing or wine-tasting then it is an ideal place for a holiday.  There is a Festival of Arts, SALA (the South Australian Living Artists) Week, a horse race, a car race. Yes, things do happen as well.
The capital however is not exactly a bustling metropolis. It is, by world standards, small. It is not going to suddenly change into a city of ten million people overnight. Yes, shopping hours are different here. Opening shops for longer makes no sense unless you have far more people to spend far more money. As it is longer opening hours just adds to the expense of buying locally.
Changing names is not going to change these things. Changing names is not going to turn the state into some sort of mega-tourist attraction. Changing names is not going to sell more wine or fruit or bring in more tourists. Oh yes, there might be a small increase for a short while but things would soon settle back into the same rut.
There would be a fierce and divisive debate over any name change. There would be those who wanted it retained. There would be others who would want an indigenous name (which would cause more division because which tribe would you recognise). There would be others who came up with suggestions that may or may not be acceptable to some and not others. We would, like Burma/Myanmar and Bombay/Mumbai
have years of dual names and some would always resent it.
It is not a name change which is needed but an attitude change. The state has to recognise what it is - and work around that. It has to work at marketing itself. Merely changing names will not do that.

Sunday 20 May 2012

There was library cull

yesterday. Sigh. I had to do it. I always feel guilty getting rid of books.
I am the librarian for our knitting guild. (Naturally, who else would do it?) The library is stored in a large steel cupboard - bought secondhand from the "Public Buildings Department". One of our members is the wife of the man who once ran that department and he arranged this. The cupboard is good and sturdy. It is lockable. It can store quite a lot of material. It cannot store all of it. Space was becoming ridiculously short.
As we have the biennial exhibition coming up next weekend I suggested we remove some material and put it out for sale. It may raise a tiny amount of money. It will not be much.
I obtained the services of the one other guild member who knows a good deal about books and we went through the books. We removed some old fashioned pattern books - 1978 is ancient history in knitting terms. The sort of yarn you used to make things back then is not available now. The fit is different. The designs look ridiculous or quaint - or should that be Quant?
We also removed all the knitting magazines more than five years old. There were two big piles. They were put into the boot of someone's car ready to take to the hall in which the exhibition will be held.
Most people did not even notice we were doing it. They will probably not even be aware that the material has gone. By no means everyone actually uses the library. They buy a pattern. They knit the garment exactly as the pattern says. They go on to the next garment in the same way. I do not use patterns. I use books to give me ideas. There are a number of other people who do similar things. We keep working on the rest of the members in the hope of stretching their comfort zone and their satisfaction with their craft.
One member however was indignant. She came striding across.
          "Just what do you think you are doing?"
I explained  - or I began to explain. She stopped me.
          "How dare you? Have you got permission to do this? It should have been a decision of all the members."
She carried on like this for some moments. I went on working and so did the person helping me. We pulled out another book. Even worse.
         "I donated that to the library!"
         "Would you like to have it back?" I asked her. She snatched it.
We added another book to the pile.
         "Don't you want that either? If you don't want it then I'll have it."
         "Well you had best ask the Treasurer how much she wants to charge for it," I told her.
         "You're not going to charge for them are you?"
         "Well yes, that was the general idea."
         "But you are throwing them out. They aren't worth anything."
Thankfully at that point her mobile 'phone rang and she had to leave. I looked sadly at the pile of books. They are still worth something to someone.

Saturday 19 May 2012

When I was very young

I liked "When we were very young" by AA Milne. I still do. I like "Now we are six" and "The House at Pooh Corner" too.
I also had Hilaire Belloc's nonsense poems and Robert Louis Stevenson's "A child's garden of verses", poetry by Eleanor Farjeon and Christina Rosetti's "Goblin Market".
As my father was doing his degree in English Literature at the time I also heard Wordsworth, Keats,  Hopkins and many others. I did not understand them of course but I liked the sound. My father could (and still can) recite lines he loved.
I was given other poetry and verse at school of course. I did not like it all. After a while "Mulga Bill's bicycle" ceased to be funny. It was just something I had to learn. There were things we were supposed to memorise although I am not sure why some things rather than others were chosen.  I suspect a good deal of it was chosen because it was narrative. The curriculum writers probably thought the poems would appeal for this reason.
I did not have Dr Seuss. None of us did. My mother disapproved of  the writer of "The Cat in the Hat". I do not know why. 
For my 21st birthday I was given a copy of Eliot's "Four Quartets". It is not just any copy. It is handwritten. There are four hand painted illustrations. It was a gift from a friend.  How many hours it took him to make it I do not know but I have hugged every stroke of the pen in it.  
I have other volumes of poetry as well. Once in a while I will pull something from the shelves and remind myself of something. I notice my father does the same thing - something he never did when my mother was alive. I think she was too practical to enjoy poetry.
And there are things I just know and that is good. I was waiting on a railway station platform one day. It had been raining and there were puddles around. A small boy was jumping up and down them in an obviously new pair of wellingtons/rubber boots - call them what you will. His mother and I made contact when he came close to splashing water over all of us and I recited AA Milne,
               "John had great big waterproof boots on...."
He looked up at me and demanded,
               "Say it again..."
And that is the way poetry should surely be?

Friday 18 May 2012

I have just finished reading

"Escape from Camp 14" by Blaine Harden. It was disturbing, indeed frightening. It is not the sort of book I enjoy reading. Indeed, had I not been asked to read it, I probably would not have picked it up. If I had picked it up I might have done nothing more than skim it.
Blaine Harden is a journalist. The book reads like a serious column in a serious newspaper. It is about a very serious - and profoundly depressing - subject.  Harden is telling the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, a man who escaped from a North Korean prison camp.
Before reading the book I was vaguely aware that such places existed. I guessed that the lives of those in them would be at least as bad as the worst of the WWII Nazi or Japanese concentration camps. They are, if Shin is to be believed, even worse than that.
I suspect that most people are not even aware that the camps exist. Nobody talks about them. Why should they? If we do not think about them we can pretend they do not exist. We can, perhaps, pretend that North Korea does not really exist.
North Korea has to be the most isolated nation in the world. The people who live there - or it might be more accurate to say "exist" there - appear to be barely aware that there is another world outside North Korea. Even when they are what they believe about that world is apparently inaccurate.
For Shin Dong-hyuk however the world was even more restricted. He claims not to have known even about the capital or where it was.  His education was restricted to a bare minimum - most of it appears to have been about listening to and learning how he had to work hard in order to atone the sins of an uncle who was supposed to have escaped to the South.
Harden describes the slave labour conditions and Shin's extreme difficulty in adjusting to a life outside the prison camp. It is clear though that even he has difficulty in understanding Shin's feelings of guilt and self-loathing at what he did in order to escape and how he came to do it.
But there is also a discussion of the attitude of the people in the South and the people in China towards the North. They are not, on the whole, sympathetic. They see the potential collapse of the North as an economic burden on them - rather in the way that German reunification was an economic burden for the West.
And Shin worries that, should there be a collapse, then hundreds of thousands of North Koreans existing in the slave like prison camps will simply be slaughtered before anyone can do anything about them. He has no idea how that can be prevented.
I do not know either. Even allowing for the fact that it was written by a journalist who has a story to sell, it was an appalling book to read.

Thursday 17 May 2012

I am confined to

barracks...grrrrr. On my way home from a funeral on Tuesday there was a sound in the pedal area that should not have been there.  The Senior Cat and I oiled the strategic spot and I took it off for a careful pedal up our little street and back again. CRUNCH! Oh.
My knowledge of the mechanics of my tricycle is limited but even I could guess that the most likely cause is the bearings have worn in what I think might be called the pedal shaft . Well, something like that.
We have rung the owner of the bicycle business which sold my tricycle to me. He is used to dealing with tricycle emergencies. We hope he will be here today to take it away and repair it. We hope it will not take him too long.
Being without wheels is a real problem for me. We do not have a car. I cannot in any case drive a car. My father has a gopher but I cannot "drive" that either - even if he would allow me to try (unlikely). There is no public transport near us. (It would have, at very least to be no further than the end of the street for me to use it.)
My tricycle is used to do our shopping. (The Senior Cat is hopeless at grocery shopping.) It is used for visits to the Post Office and the bank and the library. I also use it to maintain a watchful eye on several elderly people who live alone.
I had to make a round of 'phone calls this morning reassuring them that I was all right and asking if they needed anything from the chemist. If they did then the Senior Cat would deliver the prescriptions and the chemist, a nice young Vietnamese man who lives in the next street, would deliver them on his way home.
Thankfully nobody needed anything.
The Senior Cat had to visit the bank this morning. I sent him off with a note to give the girls in the greengrocer's. One of the boys in there showed the Senior Cat where to find things. The girls checked and added the carrots!
If we urgently need anything else I will send an SOS to my sister but, in the meantime, we will manage.
I do not want to trust the Senior Cat with any more shopping!
We had to take the handle bars off my wheels too - so that it can fit in the back of the vehicle coming to collect it. The Senior Cat investigated. He went and found his collection of Allen keys and decided that he did not have one to fit one point so the handle bars would have to come off at another. He went to get a wrench because he could not shift the key. I investigated the keys and found one that fitted the earlier point. On his return I showed him. Oh. We removed the handlebars. He shook his head.
         "Fancy a female finding an Allen key to fit."
There was a little grin on his face. He had got his own back!

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Do you know anyone who

sleepwalks? There is a small piece in today's paper saying that about 3.6% of adults "sleepwalk".
I might not have taken any particular notice of that except that an acquaintance had actually mentioned that her husband had done this on Sunday night. It frightened her.
He has not been well lately and the medication he was given has apparently made him rather restless. He has been sleeping in the spare bedroom rather than disturb his wife. She heard him get up and walk around the house. Then she heard the back door being opened. At that point she went out to investigate, spoke to him and received no response.
When she realised that he was sleepwalking she led him back to bed - in his usual place next to her and put up with him being rather restless for the rest of the night. It is likely he only believed her because he found himself there in the morning. He was going for a medical appointment on Monday and mentioned it to the doctor who told him to stop taking something. Since then he has slept soundly.
I can only assume that his sleepwalking was induced by whatever medication he was taking. That is quite a disturbing thought and I do not blame his wife for being worried.
My mother however was an occasional sleepwalker - without the taking of any medication. It did not happen often and, looking back, I realise she did it when she was stressed. My mother never recognised stress of course. It did not exist for her. It was what other people had. She refused to admit that she ever went sleepwalking. Hers would take the form of wandering into the bedrooms of her children and standing there for a time and then wandering out again.
I shared a bedroom with my two sisters for years and they never woke. I would. My brother woke several times. I can remember lying there rigid with fear as my mother apparently stared down at me with a blank expression. There was no life in her face. I could never bring myself to move or to speak to her. She would stay for what seemed like minutes but was probably no more than seconds. Then she would move on. When she left the room I would get up to check she had gone back to bed.  No, I was definitely not dreaming.
Was she worried about us? I think we disturbed her dreams.  She never mentioned them.
My father is an incredibly restless sleeper. His mother told me stories of how he would throw the bedclothes off and how she made "sleeping bags" from blankets when he was tiny. Even now the bedclothes will end up all over the place. The mattress will be half way off the base. He has even fallen out of bed. Fortunately he has never hurt himself.  He does not however sleepwalk - except on the one occasion when he had taken a certain brand of sleeping pill following an operation on his shoulder.. Even that was not true sleepwalking because he was partly aware that he was out of bed. I contacted his doctor in the morning, told him what I had observed and was told to flush the remaining five tablets down the toilet. They had been prescribed by the hospital and, he said, that was the second person he knew of who had reacted that way.
I am a restless sleeper but I do not, to the best of my knowledge, sleepwalk.
I wonder what makes people do it. What are their minds doing at the time? It might be interesting to know but it might also be disturbing.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Do you remember the dreaded

"Friday Test" at school - or are you too young to have had them? Maybe the dreaded Friday Test did not happen in other parts of the school world.
Where I live my infant and primary school years were marked by these tests. On Friday mornings you were "tested" in the "spelling" for the week from the "primer" - ten words, "mental" - ten simple arithmetic calculations, "sums" - five slightly more complex calculations (like a "money sum"), "reading comprehension" - a paragraph to read with questions to answer or "compostion" - a topic about which we had to write a page. Occasionally there would be "history" or "geography" or "nature science" as well. "Writing" was judged as well and "neatness" in arithmetic - did you have your numbers lined up under each other in the correct way so you did not make mistakes?
We accepted these "tests" as part of school life. I suppose they told our teachers something. They certainly told my mother something. We were expected to get full marks for spelling and mental and sums at the very least. If we did not we had not worked hard enough and precious play time over the weekend would be devoted to doing more.
At the end of term there would be the same sort of tests. The only difference would be that they could cover the entire term's work. In the final primary year "grade seven" we did the "PC" - the "Progress Certificate". It sorted out students into high school or technical high school if they lived in the city, "area" or "PEB" (Public Examinations Board) if they lived in the country. There was no absolute "must" about the latter but most people accepted that the results entitled them to one thing or another.  
Now they have something called NAPLAN instead. It is done once a year but not every year. The results are scrutinised at a national level. Schools as well as students are graded on the results.  I have seen some of the "practice sheets". The Whirlwind showed me some given to her by a neighbour. The neighbour was appalled to discover that the Whirlwind's class was not being drilled in these the way her own child was.
The Whirlwind was equally nonplussed. At her school they get regular "snap" tests. They might take up ten minutes of lesson time. The girls never know when they are coming although they know they will come. "Snap" tests do not appear to bother them. There is no specific preparation for the NAPLAN tests. The school's philosophy is that this should not be necessary.
Inevitably the NAPLAN results lead to things like "league" tables. These are nonsense of course because they do not take into account an enormous range of factors that can affect the overall performance of a school.
            "These are so boring," the Whirlwind told me when she showed me the practice sheets. She is right. They are. I have no doubt her class will do very well on the NAPLAN tests. Her school did very well when the last set of results came out. They did it all without a fuss. There might have been one or two anxious students but the junior school head told me that they did not see the results as a reflection of the ability of the students or the standard of the teaching.  Parents have had that made very clear to them. The tests are just something that have to be done.
We also reflected on our own "Friday tests". They were just something you did really.

Monday 14 May 2012

The National Disability

Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is apparently under threat before it even hits the ground.  There was supposed to be funding for a start to this in the Federal Budget last week. Now the Finance Minister says it could go if there are further cuts needed and the states and territories do not contribute to the funding of it. She also accused the Opposition of failing to support the idea.
The states and territories already underfund disability services. My home state is the worst of the lot. The "unmet need" list is growing at an alarming rate. The government claims to be funding well and to be spending as much as it can.
The Opposition does support the idea. Indeed it was the Opposition's idea to investigate the possibility of introducing such a scheme. The leader of the Opposition has approached the government with offers of bi-partisan support. These have, no doubt for political reasons, been ignored.
The government is now saying it willl take another tax to introduce such a scheme. Perhaps it will.
An NDIS will be expensive. Nobody doubts that. Most people in the disability sector also believe it is long overdue. The Productivity Commission recommended it five years ago - after another lengthy and costly investigation. Like a good many other people I had my say.
No new tax is popular and the government no doubt sees this as something that will lose votes.The government cannot afford to lose more votes. I am now wondering whether, once again, it will be a matter of "Good idea...but too expensive...let's leave it for the moment..." and so on.
I belong to an organisation which attempts to provide assistance to people with severe and profound communication disabilities through augmentative and alternative communication systems. It gets no government funding at all. The professional staff who work in the area are among some of the lowest paid professional staff in the country. They should not be but they are.
I have my doubts about the highly technical nature of some of the aids being provided to people who need an alternative means of communication - simply because, when they break down, the individual is often left with no adequate means of communication - but I acknowledge that people have a right to these things if that is what they want. Government funding for this sort of equipment has also been cut still further.
It should not be. It gives people a voice.
That is the problem. As someone reminded me yesterday, "If you cannot communicate, you cannot complain."
Well, I can communicate and I will complain.

Sunday 13 May 2012

There is a sort of Walter Mitty

character who lives not far from us. For years he has appeared at various times of the day dressed in the uniform of a pilot or the robes of a Queen's Council.  The two things are apparently not incompatible. He has an explanation for both.
Many people believe he is one or other - or even both. - at least at first. He sounds utterly convincing. He can use the language of either well enough to fool a lay person. He tells stories that are full of detail. He can even repeat the same stories, still full of the same detail. In all other respects he is able to function in the actual world. He can drive a car, do the shopping and is often to be found giving someone else some help.
This man is, of course, a liar - but it may also be that he genuinely believes what he is telling you. He does no real harm. His long suffering son, with whom he lives, says his father inhabits the same fantasy world at home. They do not always know who he is in the morning or who he might be by the end of the day. It must be very difficult.
I cannot go inside his head to find out what he is really thinking but there can be no doubt that his thought processes and his beliefs about himself are not usual. As long as nobody takes his "legal" advice he will do no harm. As he always suggests getting a solicitor before he can take up a case it is unlikely that he will do harm there either.
I was reminded of him while watching our national news service last night. There was an excruciatingly embarrassing excerpt of an interview between a very senior political journalist and a politician.  It was quite clear that the political journalist was having problems with the answers the politician was giving. If the politician was telling the truth then there is some sort of complex conspiracy out there. It has been exceptionally well planned and executed. More than one person would have had to be involved. If he was not telling the truth then it is the stuff of fantasy, more suited to a second or even third rate television drama. It may even be that the politician is not telling the truth but believes that he is. People can come to a genuinely held belief that a lie is the truth over a period of time - or that the truth is a lie. It is sometimes impossible to tell whether soemthing is one thing or the other.
For our Walter Mitty character it does not matter terribly much. He is happy enough I think. I hope so because he can be very kind. He does not actually represent other people. I think it would worry him if he really had to do it.
For the politician it does matter. Is he happy? I doubt it. Is he kind? I do not know. He claims to represent his electorate in parliament. Does that worry him? It should because, whatever the truth of the matter, it has reached a point where he cannot be effective.
A Walter Mitty character should do no harm. The Thomson affair is harming all of us.

Saturday 12 May 2012

I can remember the ghost

stories we were told as children. We were told some by an old aboriginal man who lived in a humpy not far from the tiny place we lived in when I was in primary school.
My mother tried to prevent us from going anywhere near him. He was, like far too many others, an alcoholic. Of course we, along with all the other local children, found him fascinating. He could tell stories.
I doubt we were ever in any danger from him. He would sit under one tree and have us all (we only ever went in a group) sit under another tree about three metres from him.
Where he got the stories from I do not know. Some of them probably were traditional stories of the Dreamtime for his tribe. They were simple. They were short. They sometimes included ghosts - although he did not call them ghosts.  Oddly, the stories were not frightening. I think that, even his befuddled state, he was aware that it was not wise to terrify us. Scared? Oh yes, we could be scared but somehow the "spirit" he spoke about would become something familiar.
They were his stories. We promised never to repeat them. I do not think any of us ever have.
Then there were the stories told to us by other people. There were farmers who claimed to have had strange experiences. There was the doctor who claimed to have had a ghost ask for help and the pilot of the light plane who claimed to have had an extra passenger.
Later we were told ghost stories by writers like Alan Marshall, Ian Mudie and Colin Thiele. Geoffrey Dutton once told us a story about ghostly seals at Seal Bay on Kangaroo Island. The next trip to that beach had all of us looking over our shoulders. Were we being followed by those two seals?
Another family friend went to New Guinea. He was supposed to be there for two years. He came back after five months - the house he was supposed to live in was, according to him, "haunted". He was not a fanciful man but the stories he told my father were disturbing.
Every early Writers' Week I attended there would always be at least one "ghost story" session. They were never planned. They just happened - usually late at night after a few drinks had been consumed. I would hear about them later. It was probably just as well. Several years later I went to a children's literature conference and, at a late night session there, Russell Hoban and Ted Hughes told ghost stories.  The rest of us definitely went back to the dormitory in a group!
I do not suppose we were anything more than a little nervous of any of these stories. I do not think I had severe nightmares over any of them. 
There was however one sort of story I did not like. I still do not like them. They were stories about "doppelgangers". I was reminded of these by the fact that Lucy Coats has someone talking about these doppelgangers over on Scribble City Central this week. I find the idea of a doppelganger particularly disturbing.
When I was at university there was another mature age student doing the same course as myself. She had a "double".  This other person was so like her that she would be accused of ignoring people she knew. I was with another mature age student one day when we saw her "double". She walked straight past us. The likeness was so close that it was disturbing for us. What it would have been like for the other student I do not know but it would have frightened me.  There are stories it is better not to tell.

Friday 11 May 2012

The young Whirlwind

was given a school project recently in which she was required to design a house. There was, as you might imagine, a great deal of learning to be had in this exercise. It spread across a number of school subjects and caused a great deal of debate. I have now seen some of the first results and they are interesting.
The students were told they could design any sort of house they liked. Cost was not an issue. There were one or two very futuristic type of houses, one which was supposed to be entirely self-sustaining and another which could be transported from one place to another "on an air bubble".
Most of the houses reflected the sort of housing the girls themselves live in. There were the additions of things like swimming pools, solar panels and some environmentally friendly features. There were areas for children to get away from parents in almost all of them!
The Whirlwind asked, as she usually does, what I would like to live in. I told her a round house but said it would be quite impractical because of the difficulty of fitting in things like cupboards, work surfaces, bookshelves and so on. She agreed that was impractical.
It is getting cooler here so I suggested she think about how her house might be heated in winter and how she would keep it cool in summer. Yes, they had been told to do that at school too.
Her final design was modest but interesting. It is designed around a courtyard with separate areas for sleeping, working and living. There is a garden in the centre "so you always have something nice to look at". There is underfloor heating "like the Romans had". There are rainwater tanks, solar panels in the appropriate places for heating the hot water and providing power. The windows have double glazing and look onto the garden. There is no swimming pool ("too much work and they waste lots of money") and the area in which she would park the car is small. It is fitted with a charging point for an electric car.
It is all quite sensible and, I would think, practical.
But there was an internal feature I really liked. Anywhere there did not need to be a wardrobe or cupboard the space was marked "B". In her plan the "B" stood for bookshelf. In her notes there was the statement.
"Books make good insulation and they look really good. You always have something to do but you could not do it with e-books."
I think books may be around for a while yet if the Whirlwind has her way.

Thursday 10 May 2012

I had to prove that I was

me yesterday. I am still not sure how you do this. Knowing that you are yourself is not the answer. It is who other people think you are that is the critical question in some circumstances.
The problem arose because my signature never looks quite the same twice running. There is not much, if anything, I can do about this. For all my adult life I have had an up-to-date passport to use as a form of ID when necessary.
Last week I had to sign some documents relating to my simple financial affairs. I have very little money. It is, I hope, invested wisely. Once in a while there is a review of my affairs. I sign forms and hear nothing more for another twelve months. Yesterday I had a 'phone call. It purported to come from the authority which deals with these things.  Could they check some details?
No, I told them, they could not. Why? I had no idea who I was talking to. The person at the other end offered a telephone number for me to call back. No, not good enough - although, in retrospect, I could have checked the actual number in the reverse telephone directory. Nevertheless I was wary. I still did not know the person.
Well, how was I going to prove my identity? I asked why I had to prove my identity yet again. They had seen my "Proof of Age Card" - which is my daily form of photo-identity as I do not have a licence to drive - the thing used by most people..
It is actually quite difficult to get a "Proof of Age Card". You need to show several forms of ID in order to get one. My passport was one of the forms of ID I had to show - again because I did not have a licence to drive. The "Proof of Age Card" was actually just as difficult to get as my passport. It should do for any purpose within Australia. It has my photograph on it. Possession of it says I am an adult. It says I am old enough to vote.
No, not good enough I was told. They needed something which proved I was me. I pointed out they had a certified copy of my birth certificate and told them they should check what documentation I had needed to provide to get the "Proof of Age" card. No, still not good enough. They wanted me to come in personally. What good, I asked, would that do? It would not prove anything. Anyone could walk in and claim to be me. Well, not if you came in with the "Proof of Age Card" I was told.  Oh.
I thought about this and then said,
      "No. I am not going to come in with that because you have just informed me that the card is not sufficient."
      "Well we cannot do anything for you..."
      "Oh yes you can. I am going to get a copy of the relevant page in my passport. I am going to ask the secretary to the local MP, who just happens to be a Justice of the Peace, to certify that it is a photograph of the person she has known as "Cat" for the last twenty-four years" and I will post it to you. Will that do?"
Silence at the other end of the 'phone and then,
       "Well, I suppose she knows who you are."

Wednesday 9 May 2012

I have just finished

knitting a jacket out of left-over yarns. It still needs the many ends tidied away (although I knitted them in) and there are buttons to be put on.  What will happen to it after that I am not sure. I may use it if the weather ever gets cold enough because I made it so it would fit me. I may pass it on to someone else.  It really does not matter.  (And yes, I know about photographs. I will try to put one up on Ravelry later.)
What does matter is that I did not just give up on the left overs. I did not just throw them out or dump them at the charity shop. I used them and turned them into something potentially useful.
My father has a collection of such garments. His are all pullovers made mostly by my mother. They are the garments he wears in the shed and in the garden. The colours in them do not coordinate. My mother made hers by the simple process of picking up one ball of wool and knitting it until she came to the end. She would then join in another ball and repeat the process. The balls were different sizes so the stripes would vary in size from a row or two to much larger chunks of colour. My mother was not interested in making anything beautiful. She just wanted it to be functional.
The colours in mine should not have coordinated either. Had I set about the process in the same way as my mother the garment I have just made would not look as if it went together at all. I was fortunate enough to have five balls of the same colour yarn - it was three different dye-lots. (For the non-knitters among you this matters. It can show.) This may be why I found the five balls in the local charity shop. The way I have used them you cannot see the variation in shade. It is the only wool in the garment that I bought specifically for it. The rest really was left overs belonging to me or to other people and passed on to me.
My father looked at it when I had cast off the last stitch. He said, among other things, "That was a lot of work."
Yes, it was. I knew it would be. I knitted other things in between. It was my "I mostly do not need to think about this so I will do it while I watch the news" knitting.
But perhaps it is also a reflection of my life. If I want it to go together I need to work at it. I need to make the effort. It requires, as far as possible, a certain amount of planning. I have to fit pieces in and make use of what I have. If I can turn out one useful garment at the end of it perhaps I will have achieved something.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

The "Thomson Affair"

just got messier - if that is even possible. The much too long delayed report by Fair Work Australia into the Health Services Union has finally been released.
I have not read it. I will not be reading it. I have no reason to read it. It runs to more than a thousand pages and I have better things to do with my time. It has cost $430,000 so far and will cost far more before the matter is concluded.
A lot could have been done with that $430,000. A lot could have been done with the union money that appears to have been misspent too. More could have been done with the money that will be wasted on future investigations into this sordid affair.
All this makes me angry. I am angry that the person at the centre of the affair continues to maintain his innocence (which is his right) but refuses to answer questions "because it might prejudice any proceedings" against him. That is not his right. He is a Member of Parliament. He might have moved from the government bench to the cross-bench and be nominally "independent" but the move is meaningless - an attempt at saving face by the government but done in such a way that allows them to cling to power.  At very least Mr Thomson needs to stand aside while the allegations that he misused union funds/credit card etc are properly investigated by those with the power to do it. The problem is that, if he did that, the government would almost certainly fall.
Tonight is Budget night. Our Treasurer is promising us a "surplus" - a surpuls of $1.5 billion. In terms of government savings and spendings this is very little. It is the "political" surplus they had to have. It is going to be used as one of the cornerstones of the next election campaign. It will, they claim, show that the government has managed the economy well.
The government has spent a lot of money and has nothing much to show for it. The pink batts are well hidden in the houses of a few and the coffers of the union movement whose members charged excessive amounts for putting them three. The NBN rollout has not reached very far but it will cover a few electorates where they hope to cling to power. There are the often unwanted school buildings in similar electorates and again the BER has lined the union coffers nicely.
Not quite 11% of Australian workers belong to a union. Many of them are inside the state and federal public services. Despite their low numbers they still wield a great deal of power in the ALP and over the government.  It makes me wonder how long it will take to resolve the "Thomson affair" and how much will be swept under carpets for innocent people to trip over at some later date.
It also makes me wonder how much good could have been done if the money used to investigate all this could have been used for worthwhile purposes - like training in communication skills for medical staff.
Just before I wrote this I sent an e-mail to someone who was asking if I would consider running a day workshop for her staff in that very area. I would like to do it but there is no money to pay me. I had to say no. 
I should not have had to say no.

Monday 7 May 2012

The first house my

parents lived in after their marriage was, quite literally, an unlined galvanised iron shack of four small rooms at the top of a windy hill. It had packed earth floors - covered with linoleum. The power, when they had it,  was generated by a windmill.
They considered themselves fortunate to have it. There was an extended housing shortage in Australia after the war. My parents married a couple of years later. Like many other young couples they had almost nothing. My mother was delighted when they moved down into the little township the year after I was born because, luxury of luxuries, there was a proper clothesline on which to dry the nappies.
One of our neighbours was complaining yesterday because her clothes drier was not working properly. Clothes drier? Well yes, she does have two young children...but she is also a stay at home mother. She does not actually have a clothesline.
This really puzzles my father. To him sunshine is free. It is what you use to dry the clothes. Our climate is perfect for such things. I personally love the smell of sheets and towels dried in the sun. I suggested our neighbour could borrow our clothesline but she tossed the washing in their car and took it up to the laundromat instead. Why? Because she "did not have time" to hang rhe clothes out and take them in again.
Her children do not appear to own any clothing made from natural fibres. Everything they own can be machine washed and machine dried. It also seems much of it does not require ironing. As a child my clothes were made from cotton or wool. They were usually made from remnants my mother or grandmothers bought cheaply. I even wore pullovers that had belonged to my mother and her brother - and my siblings wore them after I did. They were not "best" clothing but they were considered good enough for wearing at home and were "not to be wasted". 
Our neighbour has none of those things. She dresses in similar clothes to her children. Her husband gets his business shirts professionally laundered.
My mother, who worked as a teacher, would have hung the clothes out and then walked to the shops with a shopping trolley. 
The odd thing is that, somehow, I remember my mother having more time to do things than our neighbour. Were the days longer back then?

Sunday 6 May 2012

"It is lovely but it is not green"

he says. Silence.
I suspect I am the only person who understands what the person making that statement means. There are a number of us standing on the verandah of his present home. We are looking out over the valley. It dips down to a creek and then rises up in a perfect curve to the paddock with the sheep in it. They are grazing quietly. There are gum trees scattered on either side of that paddock. There are several willows by the creek. There is rough grass.
We all manage to ignore the electricity pylons to our left and the main road some distance to the right.
        "That's the village," he responds to another question and gives himself away again. Here in Australia it is a "town". It is considered to be a reasonable size.
Years ago this man married an Australian girl. They have come out here after years of not-quite-nagging, hints, not-so-gentle-suggestions, requests and almost-demands from her parents. Oh yes, they are happy enough - for the moment. What makes it bearable for him is the thought that they will go back.
         "I am enjoying the country," he tells someone else, "There are some lovely bush walks and the scenery is amazing."
Again, it sounds as if this is merely a working holiday for him.  Other people ask him questions and I can see him struggling to give honest but diplomatic answers. He is that sort of man. He does not want to hurt anyone's feelings by appearing to be less than enthusiastic about being here.
Later we happened to find ourselves standing alone for a moment and he said to me,
         "You know the light is different here. The colours are different."
         "Yes, you're right. The colours are harsher - the greens are yellow greens aren't they?"
         "Yes, that's it. I thought you understood what I was talking about. The greens look wrong."
         "There needs to be another word for it."
         "Yes - I bet the aboriginals have more than one word for it."
         "Almost certainly - although I have no idea what the words would be."
         "I think," he tells me, "that is what is wrong. I don't understand the language of this landscape."
         "You will go back eventually won't you?"
         "Yes - but don't tell her parents that. They think we are here to stay - that it is home. I suppose it is = for now."
Yes,  it is home - for now - and it will never be home at all. Some people never fit into some landscapes.
I understand that only too well.

Saturday 5 May 2012

If you look at the blogs

I read you will discover that almost all of them are writing or book related or written by authors I have "met" or "know" for some reason. 
I am trying not to add to that list because it can take up too much time but there are some which are regular reading. May I ask you today, even if you do not regularly read her, to pop into the last of Nicola Morgan's blog-warming party over at "Crabbit at Home" - yes, the author of "Help I need a publisher" has finally decided that it was time to have a more personal sort of blog. There's still some bubbly left I think. Spike, her cat from Wasted, and I decided to leave that for the rest of you. We might have snaffled a piece of chocolate each and we know there is a virtual salmon in her 'fridge because we put it there and plan to have it later. (She thinks it is for her but little does she know...  :-)! )
Nicola should not really need an introduction. She swoops around the internet as "the Crabbit Old Bat" - her description, not mine. She writes books like "Mondays are Red" and "Wasted." 
I sometimes wish she had not written "Blame your brain" because a couple of teens I know think it is utterly marvellous because it gives them - so they believe - an excuse not to get up in the mornings. Their mother, a friend of mine, is not so sure that it does give them that excuse. She blames me for introducing them to the book. It's a good book, an excellent book. It should be read by all teens - and their parents. The Whirlwind has also read it - and says she will try not to behave like that "even if my hormone things go wild". We will see.
There are other writers on my reading list too. I will try to get to all of them during the year but, if you are feeling impatient head over to "The Awfully Big Blog Adventure" (aka known as ABBA) because they appear there at times. The very articulate Crabbit Old Bat occasionally has a rant there - usually about some very important issue like the horrendous closure of libraries or the dire state of publishing for younger readers or the problems associated with "World Book Night". (Other authors have other rants and they are always worth reading.)
Now, do pop in to the last of her blog warming party - gifts of virtual chocolate and bubbly will be welcome I believe.

And if anyone cares to replace the salmon I would be grateful. I did not leave any for Cat or the COB - Spike.

Friday 4 May 2012

The "homestay" programme for refugees

which was yesterday announced by the government has to be one of the most foolish yet. It is a  measure designed to relieve the pressure on accommodation for some people seeking refugee status in Australia.
The idea is that people who already have approval to take in an overseas student for the "homestay" programme will volunteer to take in refugees instead.
In theory the idea sounds good. You take in a needy refugee rather than a student. In reality the idea is close to ridiculous. Students come because they want to learn the language. They want to study. Their home lives are, generally speaking, relatively stable. They usually come from well-off families. While some of their customs, dietary requirements and so on are different they are also sufficiently similar for adjustments to be made. They will, on the whole, be accommodating. It is why they are here. Most know it is a temporary experience.
Refugees do not come from such backgrounds. The levels of adjustment they, and those who try to help them, must make are enormous. They will not necessarily be accommodating. They will expect to be accommodated. They will often want to cling to some of their familiar things. Their routines, their food and the dietary rules surrounding it, their prayer times (and a quiet place to do this), their language and their ways of doing things. Some will have serious emotional issues. They may want to seek out people who come from the same parts of the world as themselves.
I know people who have taken in "homestay" students. It takes a lot of adjustments on both sides. There is a Mongolian student across the road. She lived with the family for four years several years ago. She is highly intelligent. She is now back here doing here doctorate on scholarship. They invited her to stay with them again. They regard her as being as much a member of the family as is possible if you come in from the outside.
We have talked at length about the problems she first faced and how much she had to learn. She has repeatedly said how fortunate she has been and how many other students have had not quite such happy experiences.. Nobody, she says, is to blame. It is just that there are sometimes huge barriers to cross and not all students have her resilience.
The government is planning to implement this programme with virtually no preparation for anyone.  People will be "paid" to have strangers in their house - that, it seems, is sufficient preparation. Nobody appears to have given any thought to the potential for conflict, the legal responsibilities or whether this is actually safe.
There does not appear to be an adequate support network in place, or indeed any support network at all.
None of that matters to the government. It has the support of the Greens - indeed it was probably designed by them.
The alternative of housing in the community with high level culturally appropriate support services is more than the government is willing to pay - and more than the community is prepared to pay.
The idea however is still dangerous and foolish. It is cheap and simplistic. I doubt that any of those proposing it will actually participate in it - and that is perhaps the most telling thing of all.

Thursday 3 May 2012

It helps if you can use the

language being used by those around you.
I have always been aware of this but I was particularly aware of it when I was in the emergency department and the eye clinic.
I have a reasonable grasp of the technical language. I have the capacity to ask questions. I was asked, "Are you still working?" Yes, I am. "What do you do?" I told them.
There I did not need to explain - both doctors understood what I do without further explanation. One of them actually said, "Oh yes, you've done some work for X?" Yes I had.
I was treated with respect and courtesy - and I feel they would treat all their patients that way. I would certainly hope that.
Once I had also told them about the work I do though I was also treated as more of a colleague than I might have been if I had not been able to speak their "language". I doubt they were aware of it but my nephew noticed it. It has given him something to think about.
There was a very different experience for someone else recently. It was raised, as such things are, on Twitter which is where I became aware of it. Someone called Michael Hodgson had his speech made fun of. in the press, the Sun newspaper I believe. I think Mr Hodgson is someone big in football but I do not care whether he is big or small or somewhere in between - or where he works. No doubt someone will enlighten me.
Who he is does not matter. What he is does matter. He is a person. His speech should not be made fun of. Nobody should have done it.  The media should be condemning such behaviour not participating in it.
Mr Hodgson can, if I have his area of occupation correct, speak what might be termed "advanced football". I cannot even speak "elementary football" - I can barely manage "elementary cricket". He knows about things of which I have no knowledge at all. I respect that.
I would also respect the woman with Down's Syndrome who was trying to explain what she wanted to the shop assistant yesterday - and the assistant, who just happens to be a psychology student as well, was just as pleased as she was when they had it sorted out. It took a little extra effort but they could use the language.
It is using language, in all its shapes, forms and sizes and ways, to get your message across that matters. It is not the way you physically say it.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

I consider myself fortunate

because, yesterday morning, I woke to find the "floatie" in my eye (one of those irritating moving spots) was still there.  It had appeared late the day before. I was not too alarmed because I know what these things are. I had never experienced one before but I know other people have and what causes them.
What did alarm me was the fact that I was also getting some tiny but very bright "flashes" at the corner of the affected eye. I also know that these can be the pre-cursor to retinal detachment. 
As I do not drive (and it would have been foolish to do so anyway) I 'phoned my sister's household at 7:30am. Someone would be up and would, no doubt, drop everything and take me up to the emergency department at the hospital. It was that or a taxi. At that hour a taxi could take an hour to arrive even if told it might be an emergency.
No, my medical student nephew answered the 'phone. He listened to my description and agreed it needed to be seen to as quickly as possible - just in case. He was sufficiently concerned that he arrived wearing his oldest pair of track pants and a disgraceful t-shirt. "We are not," he told me, "wasting any time."
I left my father in a state of panic. He does not handle such things well at the age of 89.
My nephew did not get pulled over for speeding but he did get me there in record time - and he stayed with me. I did not expect that.
The emergency department was, thankfully, almost empty. There were just two people waiting. I had to wait for the changeover of staff to occur but was able to sit quietly.  My nephew prowled off to get himself some breakfast. He knows where to find the best food in the hospital these days - although it is not like food at home. I sat. A nurse came in and asked questions - the first being did I have a headache and then was I in any pain. No and no. My blood pressure and temperature were taken. Fine and fine. The other usual questions were asked. 
Everyone was more than usually concerned because my sense of balance is not very good at the best of times and a problem with my eyes could have very serious consequences for me. 
        "Read the chart," I was told. I read the chart. I can still read the bottom line without glasses. They were impressed. So was I.
The nicest possible female doctor in emergency had a look and said, "I don't think that's the problem but I am sending you upstairs to the eye-clinic. They will see you straightaway."
I was prepared to wait but no, I had to wait only a few minutes. I was called in by a nurse another medical history taken, another chart to read - further away but I could still read most of the bottom line. (It is the one above that which is considered the standard for good vision.)
I had drops put in my eyes - not pleasant but not too bad. I had to wait then for those to take effect and was seen by yet another doctor. She was also pleasant and friendly and concerned. She looked with the aid of her fancy equipment into the back of my eyes and then said,
          "No, no tears or holes in the retina. I can see the floater and it is occasionally pulling on the retina which is why you are getting the flashing. It's a nuisance but it will gradually disappear. You were quite right to be very concerned though because the symptoms are virtually identical. I'll check it again in a month but it should be fine."
So, I had not wasted her time - or that of anyone else. It could have been something very serious and my tentative self-diagnosis was very close to what might have been wrong.
I came home with a headache - sheer stress. I can put up with that. I can put up with the current irritating obstruction knowing it will disappear over the next few weeks.
I just wish I had not had to worry the Senior Cat. He had not been able to settle to anything in my absence.
I love him for it but he is worry-wart.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

I hope normal service will be resumed

shortly but I am having some problems with my left eye - suspect that the retina is detaching and needs urgent attention. Am off to get an opinion from those much more expert than me.