Saturday 30 June 2012

There were some books in

the local newsagent recently.
I should explain that our local newsagent is not like a branch of something like WH Smith in England. Ours sells newspapers, magazines, cards, wrapping paper, stationery and a range of "gifts". It is in fact more like a gift shop than a newsagency.  It occupies a prominent position in the shopping centre because the original owner knows the owner of the actual shopping centre and was given favourable treatment after a suspicious fire which destroyed half the shopping centre.
And, sometimes, the newsagency will have what are clearly remainder books.
They are often paperbacks by "popular" authors, cookery books, travel books or coffee table books. Last week there was even a knitting book there. It was not one I had and I did not succumb.
Sometimes there are also books for children. They are usually "activity" books or books for very small children. There are sometimes "colouring" books. These are usually printed on cheap newsprint. On one occasion there were some books that might be considered "adult" colouring books. I bought one and gave it to a cousin's wife when she was too ill to concentrate on reading. She was pleased to get it and whiled away some hours filling in the intricate drawings.
Sometimes there are other picture books. I will look at them if I happen to be passing the table at the front of the shop. More often than not they hold little or no attraction for me. I can understand why they have become "remainder" books.  Occasionally I have even wondered how they came to be published in the first place.
And then, just once in a while, there will be a real find. I will guiltily buy the book and often pass it on to a child I think might enjoy it. Yesterday I bought two. They were both far too cheap but they were two books about Maisie the mouse. Just right for a Cat to give to small humans!

Friday 29 June 2012

You will know the sort of

blanket or lap rug I mean. You see them in nursing homes covering the frail, spindly legs of the "old dears" sitting in their wheelchairs or the armchairs in the "day room".
They are crocheted in little squares or knitted in little squares. They are usually made from scraps of yarn or garishly coloured acrylic. They are often inexpertly made.
As a knitter I understand why people make these things. Knitters tend to use every scrap of yarn - or pass it on to other knitters to use. Even while I inwardly shudder at the design and workmanship I know why these things are made. Of course some of them are lovely.
Some are interesting too. I spent over an hour one afternoon listening to a very old woman telling me about her blanket. She had made it herself. It was made from the left overs she had saved from the garments she had knitted her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. She had an album with pictures of the garments she had made. They were often intricate works of art.
Each year another elderly woman I know contacts me about half way through autumn and says, "I think it might be about that time again if you have any wool."
So far I have found wool for her. People have given it to me or I have found wool in the charity shop. I pass it over and she knits plain garter stitch squares. Her knitting is exquisitely even. Her squares are square. They are all the same size. There are no problems about sewing them together.
She knits enough squares to make a blanket that will cover a single size bed. The bookshop knitting group is supposed to sew them together and put a border around the edge. It then gets raffled off for the Fred Hollows Foundation, the eye surgery charity the group supports.
I loathe sewing. I am not good at it. My paws are  much too clumsy. I usually resort to pulling the yarn through with a crochet hook. It works.
Somehow I seem to have put most of the squares together this year but a friend is coming this afternoon. I am taking time out and we are, I hope, going to finish the sewing. She will add the border.
Most of the squares are tan this time and the design looks intentional. It's fine but I think of the really scrappy blankets and lap rugs. Somehow they seem to have a special beauty of their own.

Thursday 28 June 2012

"I know you,"

he told me. I looked at the man sitting on the other side of the table. I was certain I had never seen him before.
I am not good at remembering people's faces on a casual basis. It is not that I do not care about people. I like people. I find them fascinating. My brain is just not wired to remember them when I have only met them briefly and perhaps once many years before. I assumed that, if he was correct, it was the case here.
He laughed at my startled look and said,
          "You might not remember."
I shook my head. He pulled out his wallet and took out a battered plastic coated card.
          "My father laminated this for me. I have kept it all this time. I often show it to people."
I recognise the card. It is the card I made for him and gave him on his second day at school in Australia.
We were both strangers at the school. I had arrived in the morning for my second lot of "practice" teaching. He had arrived in the afternoon. His family had arrived from Finland the previous day. We do not have very many Finnish migrants to Australia and I had no idea what they were doing here.
His English appeared to be limited to "good afternoon", "please" and "thankyou". He was about ten. He was bewildered. The teacher of the class he was placed in had little time for him and there were no external support services the way there are now.
         "You can help him," I was told but I was given no idea what to do.
I went home via the State Library. I knew there was a reference book there, a book of word lists in twenty different languages.  I copied out some potentially useful words. That night I typed them up with their English translations and pasted them onto a card. The following day I gave him the card. I gave similar cards to several other boys.
I was only there for three days so I had no idea if the cards really helped or not. I thought they would probably be lost in the rough and tumble of the playground or discarded in the waste paper but they were used that day and the next.
        "We are going to play jalkapallo - you come too?" one of the boys asked.
Football? He was bewildered by that too. Football is played with a round ball not an oval ball. Nevertheless he headed off to play with them at lunch time and they showed him where the "toaletti" was on the way.
        "I've kept it because it reminded me of how hard it was to learn English. I always wanted to tell you thankyou but you left again. I didn't understand at the time and I was terribly disappointed."
        "I'm sorry," I told him.
        "No - it is about forty years too late but thankyou. Bet you can't remember what I taught you?"
Oh yes I can, "Yksi, kaksi, kolme..." One, two, three....
We high five it over the table. I watched him carefully put the card back in his wallet. His family were Russian refugees in Finland. It was why he had arrived speaking so little English. Finnish was his second language. English would be the third.
Now I can remember a small, very blond boy. As we leave the meeting he asked me, "May I do something I wanted to do then?"
He hugged me.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

There are two boys

who live just around the corner from us. Both of them are still in the primary school. They are having what we would once have considered to be a "normal" childhood. They spend most of their non-school daylight hours out of doors. They walk or ride to school on their own. They are not required to attend "after-school" activities each afternoon but entertain themselves instead.
They know how to climb a tree. They know how to make a swing by slinging ropes over a branch of a tree. They can ride their bikes with great skill up and down the gutters and in out of their driveway and those of all the neighbours. They go to the playground at the end of the street on their own and perform acrobatics on the climbing frame. They know at least a dozen ways to come sliding down.
Walking along the street they know how to scrunch the most leaves and avoid the cracks. They drag sticks along fences. They know where the dogs and cats live and have on occasion returned straying dogs to their owners. They have a cat of their own which, contrary to the expectations of one of the neighbours, they do not terrorise. When it went missing they were devastated. It was micro-chipped however and when it escaped from custody it was returned and they now watch over it anxiously and keep it firmly indoors at night.
Both these boys are doing very well at school. They have lively imaginations. They are physically fit and healthy. They watch very little television and rarely use the computer. They like to read.
We were discussing them at knitting group yesterday and someone remarked,
       "Their mother must have worked hard to get them to be like that and fancy trusting them so much."
Their mother would laugh at this. She once told me that she just expects them to be like this. She does not say they cannot watch television. If they wanted to go to some after school activity then she and her husband would be prepared to listen and support them.
Their mother also knows that she is criticised for allowing them so much freedom but it is her belief that you have to take risks. I remember telling her about the young Norwegian boy I mentioned a couple of posts back. She thought it was an entirely reasonable thing to do. Risks? Of course there were risks.
Pedalling home yesterday I saw the two of them on their way home from school. They were walking yesterday.
        When they saw me the older one called out,
         "Race you to the end Cat but you have to wait until we cross the road."
They are taking risks but they are learning. I was happy to let them have a head start on me because they are getting a head start on life.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Characters? Where do you get

the people you write about? I was asked that question yesterday by one of the Whirlwind's friends.
The Whirlwind and I looked at one another. We know precisely where one of the characters comes from. "Ruth" is "a little bit me, a little bit Cat and a little bit imaginary" in the Whirlwind's description. It was quite deliberate. It is what the Whirlwind wanted, what she asked me for. Nevertheless I had to wait for Ruth to appear. She took a while to come. When she finally did appear she was not quite the sort of person I thought she might be - and I had no choice.
The sources for the other characters are a great deal more complex than that - at least I think they are. The charscters seem to appear from nowhere. They tell me who they are. I have to listen. If I get it wrong then the writing does not work.
They name themselves too. Try to name them anything else and the character simply stops talking.
I do not normally write short stories. I have written very few of them. I have written three about "Tom" and "Lizzie" and "Mouse". Tom is a harp player with the Harpcottle Orchestra. Lizzie is his sister and Mouse is their cat. I have no idea at all where they came from. They just appeared. They have told me who they are and how they behave. I cannot change that.
I tried to explain this to the eleven year old asking the question. Next term they will do some writing exercises involving physical descriptions of people they know and that they create. It will tie in with biology, history, art and maths - and possibly other things. Their English teacher has already mentioned it to me.
But the question of where the characters come from is likely to remain a mystery. It irritates me but I am not sure I really want to know. It is better to be surprised.

Monday 25 June 2012

There have been calls for a

"bi-partisan" approach on the issue of those attempting to enter Australia by boat. They come of course from the government and the media. They do not come from the opposition. There is no need for them to come from the opposition.
There is also an excellent article in our state newspaper today by Alexander Downer, our former Foreign Minister.  It makes interesting reading. I also have no doubt that what he has to say will be criticised in tomorrow's letters pages.

I am not sure whether I am right or not but I have always believed that it is the role of the government of the day to run the country. If the present government and the media are to be believed however everything which currently goes wrong is not the fault of the government. It is the fault of the opposition for failing to support the government.
I do not believe it is the role of an opposition to support the government in everything. Any reasonable opposition is going to support a government in some things but not others.
In this case I believe that the government has got the border protection and asylum seeker policies catastrophically wrong. As Downer has said, nobody wants anyone to drown. It must be a most appalling and terrifying way to die.
What is perhaps even worse is that those who drowned were safe. They were safe but they wanted to be somewhere different. They are no longer fleeing persecution - if indeed some were fleeing persecution in the first place - they are attempting to travel to a chosen destination. That is a very different thing.
The rescue operation which was mounted has been incredibly expensive. Australia has had to assist and accept survivors. Aircraft are being used. Hospital beds are being taken up. Later there will be the expense of resettlement in Australia because, without a doubt, all the survivors will be granted refugee status.  It bothers me even more that there are "unaccompanied minors" among the survivors. Their needs for care and protection are going to be even greater.
The money all this has cost could have been put towards education, housing, hospitals, roads and other essentials in places which desperately need them. It could have benefitted many. Instead it is directed towards saving a few, some would say a selfish few.
All this tells me that it is not a "bi-partisan" approach we need. We need a government which will acknowledge that the current policy is not working, that the "solutions" they have offered are not going to work.  They need to acknowledge that anything else is going to be very hard work and that they have made it much more difficult through intransigence and ineptness.
It is not the role of an opposition to support policies which do not work, nor is it their role to compromise in the hope that something "might" work. The government is there to govern. It claims to have the numbers in both houses. If it cannot get their policies to work then it is up to them, not the opposition, to do something about it.
If they can get something to work then they might even get bi-partisan support.

Sunday 24 June 2012

I once had a conversation on

a train with a Norwegian boy. He was ten years old and his English, while careful, was excellent.
The conversation began because he asked me a question. He was travelling alone.
He and his parents were travelling the world for a year. He was keeping up his school work with help from his mother. The train journey he was taking was part of his schoolwork. He was equipped with money, map, a mobile phone, his lunch and his school work. He was facing the world with a degree of confidence rarely seen in ten year olds. Yes his parents were at a business meeting in a seaside suburb and he could phone them for help if he really needed.  He was permitted, indeed encouraged, to talk to female strangers he assessed as likely to be safe. Male strangers, unless railway personnel or someone like a policeman were not to be spoken to.
He told me all of this while we waited for the train to leave. He investigated my tricycle and asked questions about it. He showed me the work he had to do as part of the journey. It was demanding. It involved reading, maths, following a map, observations to be taken in the National Park which was his destination and other activities.
Had he done this sort of thing before? Oh yes. He showed me a smaller map of a larger area in his work folder. He was a well travelled child. I have no doubt that the work he had been set would have been done. There was evidence of previous solo expeditions in the folder.
I was telling two people I know about this child yesterday. They were horrified at what he had been allowed to do. Travel alone? Even worse, travel alone in a strange city? He did not speak the language! He could not possibly look after himself all day! He would not have done the work he had been set. It was ridiculous. It was irresponsible. Why had I not reported the incident to someone?
Why should I?
I know children who have never been anywhere alone. They reach the first year of secondary school and they still have not been anywhere alone. They travel in cars and do not know how to use our public transport system. Part of the problem is time when both parents work. A far greater part of the problem however is fear of what might happen if you let your child out alone.
I hope I would be an irresponsible parent. I hope I would want my child to show a degree of independence. I would like to have the trust in my children that the parents of the Norwegian child had in him. It would be taking a risk but it would be a risk you would have to take if you really wanted your child to grow up. Wouldn't it?

Saturday 23 June 2012

Yesterday Nicola Morgan

and I were having a little bit of fun with Spike. Spike is a cat who appears in an important role in her book "Wasted".  He appropriated me last northern winter. It was something to do with thinking that a southern summer might be preferable to an Edinburgh winter. I am sure he had no idea how hot it was going to be Downunder but he settled in. He recently returned to Edinburgh in the belief it is currently summer up there - and also in the belief that Nicola may need a good brisk licking.
He left me thinking about animals in books.
I was never a fan of "pony" stories. Truth be told I am not particularly fond of horses. I never had any desire to jump on the back of one and gallop off. My youngest sister was mad about horses but even she was not a reader of such stories. I read a few of course, "Rosina Copper", "We couldn't leave Dinah", "Fly-by-night" come to mind. I struggled through "Black Beauty" because I thought I should read it. A couple of "horsey" acquaintances insisted it was "wonderful".
I did think "The Little White Horse" was wonderful but not because of the horses in it. I was much more interested in the way the cat leaves a message for Marmaduke.
It is similar to the way the cats communicate with the humans in "The Magicians of Caprona". In both cases they use images rather than words. Is it the way they think? Possibly.
There are plenty of dogs of course. L'Engle's "Mr Rochester" is very much a pet but he is also a protection. And there are children who want dogs. Philippa Pearce's "A dog so small" is a gem of a book. So is the wonderful "One dog and his boy" by Eva Ibbotson - a book I wish I had written!
There are animals who speak of course. CS Lewis made full use of those in his Narnia books. Somehow though, for me, animals who speak lack the same magic as animals who retain their own characters and choose their own means of communicating.
I can imagine "Feline" or "Canine" or "Avian" being "spoken". It will be there in the tiniest twitch of a whisker, the left flick of a tail, the particular down beat of a wing.
So it was when Spike arrived for the summer. It was not supposed to happen. He moved in without asking me - or Nicola. In mid-autumn he went back. He has his own particular way of communicating. It is there in the twitching of his whiskers, the flicking of his tail, the turn of his ear and the curl of his tail.
I hope Nicola did not mind too much. He was no trouble here. Most of the time he was so busy exploring I did not notice him. He remained a cat.
It is the way it should be.

Friday 22 June 2012

I had other plans for

this blog today but I am going to put them to one side and do a little pot stirring instead.
Yesterday another boat, reportedly carrying around 200 people, capsized in Indonesian waters. The occupants were apparently heading for Christmas Island from where they hope to move to Australia. They will have paid a large sum of money, more than an airfare to Australia, to come this way.
The arguments around this issue are many and various. There are extreme views and there are moderate views. There people who have no views at all and others who express their views passionately. In the media the debate has been taken over by people who claim to have the moral high ground. Many of them are self-styled "experts" whose demands are sometimes downright dangerous to our national security. Others are more reasonable but their voices are unlikely to be heard above the clamour.
Our present Federal Government did away with a policy that seemed to be working fairly well - at least in terms of the number of people who were risking their lives endeavouring to get to Australia by these boats - in favour of a policy that has caused a surge in people attempting to come this way. Their stated reasons for doing it are, of course, not the actual reasons for doing it. What they hoped to do was introduce a policy that would make them appear different and more humane than their opponents. It did not work.
They then proposed another solution. They would, with the "cooperation" of Malaysia, taken in a certain number of people the UN had declared to be refugees. These people would come from detention centres or camps in Malaysia. In return the Malaysians would take a much smaller number of people attempting to arrive by boat in Australia. 
The idea is flawed in many ways but not least because as soon as those numbers had been reached the number of people arriving by boat would swell again. It would be a very short term measure but it is not a "solution". Despite this our Federal Government is still trying to insist that it is a solution and that the fault lies with those in opposition for not accepting it. In an attempt to score political points both sides are blaming each other for the drownings. That is pointless.
The problems are so complex that they will likely never be completely overcome. However there are some answers to the problems which keep arising. The difficulty is that governments, and the present government in particular, are reluctant to accept any of them. They need to keep to the present course in order to maintain power. In Australia this means, among other things, the need to maintain the support of the Greens, on whom they depend to remain in power.
It seems our government will pay any price to remain in power, even the unnecessary loss of life at sea.

Thursday 21 June 2012

There are times when

I wish we did have a car.
The Senior Cat, my father, made the decision to turn his licence in several years ago. It was a responsible and sensible decision.
He could have gone on driving. The doctor had assessed him as fit to do so at the compulsory medical. He had even had some refresher driving lessons and the instructor had said he was competent. He passed another driving test with no problems. But, he did not feel comfortable aboutdriving.
My father was never very keen on driving. He was tense behind the wheel. I admit I worried because he was, if anything, over cautious. He had kept the car because it was useful, especially when we live some distance from any public transport and that public transport is not frequent.
Breaking his leg and having an enforced period of driving did not help. In order to help him out then his doctor signed the form to allow him taxi vouchers. These temporarily allowed him to use a taxi for half fare when he needed one. He also bought a gopher.
His doctor was sensible. He did not argue with the decision or try to persuade my father to go on driving. He turned the taxi vouchers into a permanant affair and said the gopher was a good idea. My father turned his car over to a much younger friend who needed one.
I do not drive either. I never did learn to drive. I have too many spatial problems to be safe behind the wheel of a car. We remain without a car.
It is something we have learned to live with. It is perhaps something other people learn to live with too. There are complaints from our Equal Opportunity Commissioner in today's paper that the medical and driving tests for older people are discriminatory. From the point of view of the law she has to administer they appear to be. There are younger people who should take medical and driving tests and do not do it. Sensibly all people should do it. Many doctors permit their patients to go on driving long after it is safe. They do not want to "take away someone's independence" if they are older or "their livelihood" if they are younger. I remember one disability activist who drove long after it was safe but he insisted it was his right to drive. I know other people who are unfit to drive but retain their licences with the connivance of their doctors and their families.
We probably need an independent government unit that administers medical tests as well as driving tests. GPs should probably be required to forward by law information about conditions that may information that may impact on an individual's ability to drive safely. After all anyone on the road has a responsibility not just to themselves but to all other road users.
But it is raining steadily right now and I can understand why people want to retain their licence to drive!

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Our Prime Minister is at the

centre of a diplomatic row at the G20 summit in Mexico. She has presumed to lecture the rest of the world on how to overcome the economic problems which beset.
I feel acutely embarrassed by this for a number of reasons - not least because we have some serious economic problems of our own which have been made worse by the policies of our present government. They are about to be made worse still and the damage could be very long lasting.
However it is not just that. It is the idea of any small country, and we are small in population terms, presuming to lecture much larger ones about how to manage their affairs. Our Prime Minister has no idea of the complexity of running a country like the United States, France, Germany, the UK, Mexico, China, India or Indonesia.  I am sure she thinks she understands but I am equally sure she does not.
Julia Gillard said her speech was "not intended to be a lecture" but it clearly was. She was also lecturing to two audiences.
One of those was the other members of the G20. The other was her domestic audience.  Her government is not popular. It has never been popular. As a minority government it has always been seen as lacking a certain legitimacy. The speech was designed to tell us, as much as the international community, how well Australia is doing.
The reality is that we are not, at this very moment, doing badly. The reality is that we could be doing much, much better. The reality is that we are not, despite claims to the contrary, preparing for the future.  We are, a bit like oil producers, depending far too much on the income from mining. Without that income and without one country in particular buying a great deal of the mining from us we would be in a parlous state.
Instead of using that income wisely and investing in education, in smart technology, in developing our own food and energy supplies, we are squandering it on politically motivated "environment protection" schemes. We are trying to buy a seat on the UN Security Council as if we are a big player in world affairs. At the same time we allow ourselves to be dictated to by the US, by China, by Indonesia because we are heavily dependent on good relations with them. Balancing their diverse (and often contrary) demands is getting more difficult.
We are endeavouring to lecture the rest of the world when we are failing ourselves.
There will be people who read this and say, "Don't be ridiculous. What do you know? You are a pessimist. Our government is doing a great job. We are in a good financial state. We have a great future."
I hope they are right and I am wrong...but even if they are we still failing ourselves.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Invading Europe

is a rite of passage for many young Downunderites. Of course they also invade Asia, particularly the beaches of Bali and Thailand, and North America. The more adventurous make it to South America and Africa. A few, really brave adventurers, head into the Himalaya or across the Gobi desert or into the Atlas mountains. Take your pick. The world is there to be explored.
My two youngest nephews have just gone to Germany. It is the start of a six week adventure for them. They would like longer but medicine and law studies make that difficult. I hope that they might both get work experience in the United Kingdom so they can do more travel later but, in the meantime, they are going to make the most of it. Their itinerary is packed. They might not manage it all but I have no doubt they will manage most of it.
Their mother went to Europe in her early twenties. She backpacked with a friend. Later she and her husband spent almost six months travelling through Europe. As my sister says they were young and fit then. They hired a small car and they used it as their accommodation as well as their transport. My sister looks back in amazement at the way they managed to do it and where they managed to go. They went behind the old Iron Curtain long before it was considered safe to do so.
When they did it other young Australians were doing "the overland trip". That was the long bus trip from Kathmandu to London. Back then it was a trip which took courage. You had to be willing to rough it and get along with a group of your fellow citizens as well as risk the roads and illness and other dangers. Now it is considered much too dangerous. The areas you once travelled through are now war zones.
Contact was limited to expensive long distance telephone calls, letters and post cards.
Our parents waited anxiously to hear from my sister. The Senior Cat still worries any time a member of the family is travelling. My sister is much more relaxed about it. Communication is virtually instantaneous these days. You can 'phone. There is Facebook. There is Skype. There is e-mail. There are even letters and postcards.
And there are friends. I opened my personal e-mail this morning to a message from my good friend Holly. The two boys are spending a few days with her family first. It is very kind and brave of her to allow herself to be invaded - and to let us know that the first young one (they travelled separately) had landed.
Modern communication is marvellous for times like this!

Monday 18 June 2012

One of the big supermarket

chains launched an assault over the weekend with renewed claims that they were "listening" to their customers and making changes. Nonsense.
Woolworths does not listen to their customers. They listen to their bottom line. Any big supermarket chain is the same. They are there to make a profit.
I rarely enter Woolworths. There is a particular type of tea my father likes that is (locally) only available there or I might never go in at all.
I did once but the place changed beyond recognition many years ago. It went from being "the local supermarket" run by faces the local people knew to a store which almost doubled in size and halved in value.
The "new approach" claims they will have butchers working where you can see them and that you will be assailed by the smell of "fresh baked bread" as you enter. It says that signage will make it clear where your "fresh" fruit and vegetables are coming from.
It will solve none of the problems I have with Woolworths. Woolworths aisles are now filled with "WOW" brands...Woolworths' Own. Far too many of these have been introduced at the expense of other brands. We are told that WOW is cheaper and that the quality is not the same but "better". I look at where it is sourced from and how it has been sourced and wonder how many people have lost their jobs because it has not come from local sources.
Woolworths, like their main rival Coles, has "buying power". Between them they own the vast majority of supermarkets in Australia. They may be rivals but they also collude. It would be foolish to believe otherwise.
They advertise too. Customers pay for the advertising of course. They will also pay for the new plans to be implemented. None of it will come free - whatever they might tell the customers.This is the supermarket chain that changed the debit card rules to suit themselves, hauling in yet more profit. It is the supermarket chain where the assistants look shocked when I tell them that I do not have a loyalty card and no, I do not want one. I hand over old fashioned notes and coins to pay for my purchases.
What I buy is recorded on their computers when I go through the checkout. They do not need to know precisely who I am and bombard me with more advertising for which I will pay.
And sadly, I can see our other locally owned supermarket having to go in the same direction. They will have to do it simply in order to survive. They take pride in trying to source locally and look after the local community but even they have resorted to one "self-serve" checkout.
So far only a few have used it. Most of us prefer contact with one of the friendly university students they employ.

Sunday 17 June 2012

I was aware of the story

because it appeared in our state newspaper.  I then heard about it from two more sources. It goes like this.
A man with a fairly common name receives a letter from a government department.
It is, unusually, hand addressed. The letter itself states the writer believes he may be the father of a child. He is ordered (not asked) to attend the offices of the department for further questioning.  Knowing full well he is not the father of the child, indeed of any child, he attends because he must. He is questioned. At the end of the questioning he is told, "You can go."
There is no further explanation.There is no thanks for attendance or cooperation. There is no apology.
Now this has happened to at least two men. It may have happened to others. The newspaper reports suggested that it has. I have, by quite extraordinary coincidence, been told about two by other people closely associated with the men.
The first recipient was a young man, too young to be the father of the child in question. The other also cannot be the father because of other facts which would also be easily checked.
In the case of the young man he was away working at the time. At his request his mother opened the letter. She was apparently even more upset and shocked than he was even though she realised the allegation was baseless. In the case of the other letter the intended recipient opened it but his partner saw it. Both were shocked and upset. Their relationship is sound. They will support one another but it could have been very different.
To allege someone is the father of a child outside a relationship is serious enough in itself. We all know it happens. We know that people get both rightly and falsely accused.
The problem here is the manner in which the department in question set about seeking information. There was no attempt to check facts that could have eliminated people without contacting them. There was no attempt to be discreet. There was no explanation. There was no thanks for the cooperation, the attendance or the time taken.There was no apology for the distress caused.
Above all there was, apparently, no thought for the possible consequences of the action which was taken. It could be the sort of allegation which would send someone over the edge or break up a relationship. How do you explain to your boss that you need time off to attend an interview? If you are honest is your boss going to think "no smoke without fire"? Will it go on somebody's employment record?
A government department did this. They do this sort of thing more often than people realise. It rarely becomes public knowledge. The individuals to whom it happens often suffer in silence. Trying to take it anywhere will, normally, get you nowhere.
It would have been much better to make some discreet telephone calls to the men they wished to interview. It would have been much better to check some facts first.
It made me realise that, sometimes, it is better not to write something down.

Saturday 16 June 2012

"See if you can get the new

Peter Corris," the Senior Cat tells me as I prepare to pedal off to the library.
      "You'll be lucky. I'll put your name on the list if they have it," I tell him.
      "Well, something light."
      "Yes dear."
I have to find him some bedtime reading at the library. I know the sort of thing he wants. He wants something that is easy to read, has a plot he can follow at bedtime and is not too filled with dark passages, doom, gloom or the unnecessary use of bad language. Peter Corris and Dick Francis suit him just fine.  He saves the heavier reading - philosophy, religion, serious gardening, woodwork techniques and a more literary novel for earlier in the evenings.
Peter Corris is a Sydney based writer. He writes, among other things, a series about "Cliff Hardy". Cliff Hardy is a private detective with the usual sort of private detective issues and problems. He is marked out by the location - Sydney and New South Wales - rather than his personality. I think the Senior Cat likes the location rather than the character. It is Australian and that appeals to him.
He has tried other Australian based detective novels too. Kerry Greenwood does not appeal. Gary Disher's "peninsula" series are a bit too introspective. Kathryn Fox is too grim. Bedtime reading needs to be as light as an old Agatha Christie but a little more up to date in language and plot - and (dare I say it) better written.
In the library I put his name on the list for the new Peter Corris. It will take a while. It is not the sort of book he actually buys - something he feels guilty about because he knows authors need the income, but not so guilty that he is going to buy it over other things he feels he needs.
I prowl the shelves and find an Athelstan mystery by Paul Doherty that I know he has not read. He likes those, the descriptions of London at the time fascinate him.
I borrow other books as well. He can choose from several but I know the Doherty will be his choice. It is.
          "They should," he tells me, "have shelves labelled 'bedtime reading'. Bedtime reading is different from other reading."
I think he might be right.

Friday 15 June 2012

There is an ongoing discussion

- or perhaps argument - on the letters pages of our state newspaper. It revolves around the question of "refugees", "asylum seekers", boat arrivals, foreign policy and related issues.

I have mentioned this before. I have also mentioned that there is a particularly vociferous participant in this debate. She speaks with great assurance. Her views are very definite. She is right and the rest of us, should we dare to disagree, are wrong. It would be very difficult, probably impossible, to get her to change her point of view.

Yesterday, in our local shopping centre, I was bailed up by three different people. All of them wanted me to write another letter to the paper telling her she is wrong. I declined.

I tried to explain that some people will not, even in the face of the strongest evidence possible, change their minds. They will rationalise. They will say that something is just an "exception to the rule" they believe in. They will say that belief in something is not strong enough. They will claim some sort of interference. They will have, at least in their own mind, an answer.

We all, at least to some extent, do it. We see what is not there. We believe things that cannot be. Our memories are faulty but we are still "absolutely certain" or even just "sure" of facts. Faced with evidence of our faulty memories we do not want to believe it. It makes us less certain of who we are.

Thursday 14 June 2012

There was a story

in yesterday's paper about a London based policeman and his family who wanted to emigrate to Australia. They had been denied permission because their 26 year old daughter is "autistic". 
There was a very angry response to this on the website of the paper. About ninety percent of the responses disagreed with the decision.
This morning there is another story. The decision has been reversed.
Right. We have been there before. The last time was, I think, a decision not to allow a doctor in this state to remain because his child is also "autistic".  He was allowed to remain after his colleagues raised the money for the child's continuing treatment.
Prior to that there was a doctor in another state. His child has "Down Syndrome". The doctor was working in a country area. There is a shortage of doctors there. The community was desperate to keep their doctor.
I was talking to someone else about the decision yesterday. He has a profoundly disabled daughter who will never be able to care for herself.  His entire working life has revolved around her needs. He had to move from the public sector to the private sector just in order to remain in the city so he and his wife could access the services their daughter needs. The department he worked for was not willing to make an exception in his case. That was more than thirty years ago. He said he hoped things would be different now.
We still accept migrants who smoke or are obese through failure to eat well and exercise. Would we accept an asthmatic whose condition would dramatically improve in our climate? Probably not. Would we accept someone with a medical condition that meant they could not avoid being obese even if they were otherwise healthy? Probably not. Statistically the smoker and the obese person are more likely to require medical treatment in the future. Cancer and diabetes come to mind.
There are double standards here. I suspect all countries have double standards like this. They do not want to take in people they view as being a likely medical "burden". Their argument is that they should not be required to pay the extra medical expenses. The country of their birth can do that. That is, they say, only fair. As, it is argued, it is impossible to draw the line everyone with a disability must be denied the right to migrate and their families must also be denied that right. It is regarded as lawful discrimination. There is, apparently, nothing wrong with denying entire families opportunities because one person is different.
The difference between yesterday and today however shows that exceptions are made. The daughter of the policeman was suddenly deemed "not likely to be a burden on the community". She never was.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

There is an Australian lawyer

being detained in Libya who is working for the International Criminal Court in the Hague. She should have diplomatic immunity - meaning she she should not be detained. Instead, if she has done something the Libyans consider to be a breach of their laws she should be deported.
Diplomatic relations need to work this way or there would be no diplomats. Diplomats are, as someone famously put it, "sent abroad to lie for their countries".  I know. My father had cousins who were in the diplomatic corps and served abroad. I also know other diplomats. Their life is not, as some seem to think, one long round of parties where you make social chit-chat.  Their lives are, among other things, about not making social blunders and, if not actually being tolerant, pretending to be tolerant of all sorts of differences.
I rather suspect that the Australian lawyer currently being detained was rather naive. It is probably not altogether her fault. Other people should also have been watching out for her. She should have been told that what she was going to do was dangerous, that she was most certainly not going to be able to see the prisoner without being accompanied by someone who "understood" English, that she should have asked to be searched before she entered his presence - and after she left it. She should have been very, very careful about what she said and not given any indication of whether he was being treated as guilty or innocent.  She probably had some idea it was dangerous but I wonder if she knew the rest? Even if she did it would have been difficult. 
I also wonder why a woman was sent. This is not being sexist - although I am aware it will appear like that. I just wonder whether it was "culturally correct" to send a woman into that situation. I suspect it was seen as an insult.
There are all sorts of pitfalls for the unwary. I have no doubt that I would make one blunder after another if I had to live in any other culture, let alone one that is so very different from my own.  There is a vast number of things I know nothing about. I cringe at the memory of some things I have done.
I was interested therefore in a letter in our state newspaper this morning. It was written in response to a letter from someone I have worked with. He had asked this woman about her background as she writes frequently and passionately about "refugees" and related issues. Her letters exude confidence that she is right and that those who dare to disagree are wrong.
I have no doubt at all that this woman is sincere and believes what she writes. I was surprised however at how limited her actual experience is. I wish I had her confidence. I am very glad I have a little more experience. I wish I had even more experience.
It takes a great deal of experience to be truly diplomatic.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Apparently our Prime Minister can

knit. This seems a rather unlikely occupation for her but it was mentioned in one of those "social interest" pieces about celebrities over the weekend - along with the fact that she boxes. The boxing seems a much more likely occupation.
I know there are other celebrities who knit. The music students at one of the university students I attended were actually advised to learn to knit. There were two reasons for this, one was the exercise it gave their hands. The other was it was something they could do while waiting in the wings. I have taught a number of music students to knit. They say it is soothing.
Perhaps it is. Perhaps that is why our Prime Minister knits.There are other politicians who can knit of course. I believe Winston Churchill could knit. It is quite likely. He was not a man to waste time.  I wonder if any US President was a knitter? Some of their wives were.
Perhaps there is something about yarn, needles and yarn overs that calms people. Knitting is often repetitious. Good yarn and good needles are pleasant to hold. Creating something can be comforting when other things are going wrong.
We were given a clue about the sort of thing our Prime Minister and toddler garments for friends seems to be the choice. We were told how she buys her yarn - from an online store in another state.
It is good she knits for friends but it would be better if she supported a local yarn store. Canberra has at least one, probably more.
I hope she has added a row or two to "the world's longest bookmark" being knitted in the National Year of Reading but I rather doubt it.  I wonder if she can knit and read at the same time.
Knitting is one of those rare occupations where it is possible to do two things very successfully at once, both knit and read. It may not be possible to knit a complex pattern and read at the same time but "the boring bits" or "the plain bits" can be managed - even I can manage it. I cannot sit and watch television - a very rare occupation - unless I am also knitting. I know other knitters who react the same way. I would however rather read a book and knit. It occupies the mind and the fingers. It can produce something useful. It can produce something beautiful. Sometimes it is both useful and beautiful.
People say knitting is a mindless activity. I disagree.

Monday 11 June 2012

As an (ir)regular

correspondent with the print media I sometimes get criticised for stating a point of view someone else deems "controversial". It is part of the risk you take if you write a "letter to the editor" and you have to expect it.
What always surprises me however is how other people, who also write letters to the editor, fail to actually read what I - or someone else - has to say before before pounding their own keyboard in response.
I do not expect everyone will agree with me. I know they will not.
If I write a letter to the editor it is because I feel there is a point which needs to be raised. It is not always something I will agree with but, in the interests of balanced debate, I feel it needs to be said. Or it may be that the reporting has been more than usually biased.  Our print media is not known for printing both sides of an argument. There are also times when an issue will be reported - as a tiny paragraph eleven pages in. Oh yes, they will have said something - but only just.
I have been asked, more than once, to "use (my) influence" to express a point of view. No, I will not do that either. Quite apart from the fact that I doubt I have any influence I do not write letters to order. I have been known to help someone else write a letter even when I disagree with their point of view - but the final writing and sending is their responsibility, not mine.
There is a letter in this morning's paper criticising me. It comes from one of the usual suspects. Almost all the letters this person writes are about the same subject and they carry the same message.
I read it carefully, far more carefully than she had read my letter. She sets herself up as an expert in her chosen subject. She states opinions as facts. She uses facts selectively. Her writing is fluent and often persuasive - or it appears to be until you actually analyse what she has to say.
And that, I think, is the problem. Like so much of what is written in the "letters to the editor" and the rest of the print media opinions get in the way of facts.
All this tells me that I need to be very careful about what I say. If I state something as fact then it must be a fact and it must be accurate. If I state an opinion then I must make it clear that it is an opinion and not a fact. I must read what others have to say with this in mind.
There is something however I cannot do much about. I cannot make other people read with comprehension. I cannot get them to read critically. I will sometimes need to say to someone who accosts me in the street, "No, that is not what I said." They probably will not believe me because that will be what they have read even though it will not be what I have written.
We need to learn to read.

Sunday 10 June 2012

We have had a number of

cats who have agreed to live with us. There is a picture of me, barely able to stand, holding a cat almost as big as myself. He apparently patiently waited for the photograph to be taken before removing himself to a more comfortable location.
There was a cat in our first house who only came inside to eat but would spend hours sitting by me as I played in the back garden.
There was a semi-wild cat in our first house in the city. She had an excess of kittens which my mother said she gave away. I suspect now that my mother did away with them in our absence because they would all disappear on the same day. I think she would have given away the cat if she could. The cat would talk to me and I would talk to it. My mother thought that was ridiculous. My brother talked to the cat too. He used to say, "I am going to tell the cat on you."
We had no cat in our first home in the bush. There were too many snakes. Cats and snakes do not mix well.
When we moved on though we had another half-wild ginger animal that my father found quivering in the wood heap. It slept with the dog my sister insisted she wanted. There were other moves and more cats.
Once back in the city we were given a grown Siamese. He belonged to a teacher who had been on my father's staff. It was not our intention to have a cat but John was taking up a new, specialist position in a school in England. If the cat went too there would be all sorts of complications. The cat stayed with us.
When he died we had two more Siamese. They arrived by accident too. They were mere kittens, barely old enough to leave their mother. She was unwell. The kittens needed a new home fast. They made mischief and needed a lot of entertaining.
When we finally moved here we said no more cats but we took in the two that belonged to my youngest sister. And that was it. They were, I believe, happier here than they had been in her chaotic lifestyle. They settled in. They took over. We played games with them. We talked to them. We allowed them to take over our laps. We took thm to the vet. We cried over their inevitable deaths. One was almost sixteen, the other nearly twenty-one.
I still miss the last one. He was a mixture of half Siamese, half alley-cat - and all Siamese in character. He talked. He insisted it was his right to share my bed - or rather, have his own "sleeping mat" (a towel) on the end of it. He was the one who brought an injured bird in to my mother and demanded she do something - and no, he had not hurt it himself. We saw it hit the roof at speed and then fall, stunned to the ground. He would somehow know when I was due to arrive home and come out to wait for me - too consistently for it to be an accidental thing. Could he hear the tricycle? I do not know.
When he was ready to go we all wept. The vet wept too and refused to take anything for the last consultation.
I talk to the neighbourhood cats now, the moggies, the Blue Burmese, the two Siamese, the Devon Rex. We know one another. I am not responsible to them. They are not responsible for me. It works. I do not want another cat.  Being responsible to a cat (and for their welfare) is a heavy burden. It is about much more than feeding and caring for them. You have to be able to communicate with cats and learning "Feline" is difficult.

Saturday 9 June 2012

Watching the brief report of

the wonderful spectacle of the flotilla of boats going down the Thames (our news services gave very poor coverage of this) I was reminded of a book. This was because, apart from the Royal vessel almost the only thing we saw were the Maori warriors and some of the tiny boats that made the journey to Dunkirk.
It was those tiny boats that reminded me of a book that nearly did not go into school libraries here. It was considered, at the time, to be "too controversial".
The book was "The Dolphin Crossing" by Jill Paton Walsh. I also remember the book being criticised by other authors. The subject matter was considered unsuitable. The author had not experienced it herself. Children should not be exposed to "that sort of thing".
It all seems faintly ridiculous now. There are other books which confront similar topics. There are books which confront other highly controversial topics.
At the time though I can remember that individual schools had to decide whether to allow the book into their school libraries. The headmaster left the decision up to me. I talked to the mothers...after all, they met in the library once a month and there was a meeting that week. I told them I had read the book. I told them what it was about.
One mother asked me, "Do you consider it to be well written?"
I told her I thought it was. That was enough for those mothers. Nobody argued. We agreed that anyone who did not want their child to read the book should let me know. Nobody did.
The book is set in World War II.  It is largely about two boys from differing backgrounds who come together and, through their own efforts, set up accommodation for the one who is the evacuee. That is not the controversial part of the book however. The controversial part begins when the two boys, one an experienced sailor and the other who has never seen the sea until his evacuation, set out across the Channel to Dunkirk.  This appalled some adults. Why would any author allow boys to do something so dangerous? Why was she allowed to describe the horrors of Dunkirk, the horrors of seeing a ship blown up? Even worse the final journey is made by the evacuee alone. We are left not knowing whether he is safe or not. That was considered an appalling and entirely unsatisfactory ending.
The odd thing is that I remember the book. I also remember "The Silver Sword" (Ian Serraillier) and "The Snow Goose" (Paul Gallico). I remember others too. I have had young borrowers weep over them.
There have been other books about World War II and other wars which have been written since then. Some of them are as graphic, perhaps more graphic, than "The Dolphin Crossing". Some of them have not even raised an eyebrow.  I have a nasty feeling that children have been immunised to some extent against violence. They see too much of it on television. They play too many computer games where people and animals get "zapped". It does not seem real to them. That is wrong.
I watched those tiny boats going down the Thames though. I watched and I remembered the book. I also wondered how many other people remembered the book. Do you?

Friday 8 June 2012

The Senior Cat is a conservative

dresser, a very conservative dresser.
It was years before he would wear anything other than a white shirt. Eventually it reached the point where he agreed, reluctantly, to wear a pale blue shirt. Over the years he has had other muted shirts of blue, grey or green. The faintest stripe (blue or grey) is now acceptable but only just. He still insists on grey melange trousers and one of two conservative sports jackets for winter.
His "going out" pullovers are plain. He does not like colour work or cables. They are extremely boring to knit.
Around home it is a different story. His workshop woollens are a riot of colour. They are made from leftovers. There is even a pink stripe in one. He does not care. He believes they can get as dirty as he likes. I do my best to drag them from him before they get too bad. I do not always succeed. He wears his checked flannelette shirts until they are thin enough to poke a finger through them - at which point I do insist on throwing them out and remove the buttons so he can no longer wear them. The trousers he wears are equally disgraceful. We buy them in the local charity shop - so far the choice there has been between "new" and "almost new" but about a tenth of the price they would be new from a shop. Again, he feels it does not matter how dirty these get or if he stains them with paint and glue.
But, we have a problem. He likes conservative underwear too. It is becoming increasingly hard to find. He is appalled by the idea of anything other than white underwear. The younger males in the clan appear to wear brightly coloured underwear. The shape and fit is different. It has been carefully explained by my sister that this is what men now wear. It is not, the Senior Cat says, what he wears. The other day I spent some time trying to find the sort of underwear he likes. There was none. One shop even said they no longer stock that type "because nobody wants it any more".  I could have pointed out that someone did but I kept my mouth firmly closed. Next time I am in the city I will go into the more conservative men's outfitters and see what they have.
Yesterday the Senior Cat had to go to the doctor. He had to pass another branch of the same chain I had tried without success. He went in and was, I think, genuinely shocked by the underwear on display but there, under all the brightly coloured piles, was a broken packet of three white underpants. They were his style. They were his size. That is all they had. No, they will not stock them in the future.
He came home purring triumphantly nevertheless.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Taking a "gap year" is

apparently less common in Australia than it is in the northern hemisphere. I am not sure why this should be so or why it is often actively discouraged.
I know there are pros and cons over gap years. Mathematicians tell me that students of mathematics really should not take gap years. Linguists say it is a good thing to spend a year living in the country where the language you want to study is spoken. I suspect it depends on who you are and what you are studying.
My nephews here did not take gap years. They are both about to go for a short experience in Europe. They have plans. It is probably the last opportunity they will have, especially for the one training to be a doctor.
My nephew and niece in another state did not take gap years either but they travelled later, before their children arrived. Travelling was very much a "growing up" experience for them. They needed to do it.
I did not get the opportunity to travel - and gap years were unheard of when I was a student. Working while you were a student was almost unheard of too. I worked as a housemistress in a boarding school for girls. It was the only way I could fund myself through my teacher training. I was very fortunate to get the job and even more fortunate that the hours were designed to fit with my lectures.
I have still done very little travel. When I eventually went to university in London I had high hopes of perhaps spending weekends doing a little sight seeing. The reality was I came home after a year without even having seen Westminster Abbey or the Tower of London. It was not much better when I went back to do further study. I had to work in order to help keep myself there. There was no time to travel and I did not have the money to do it either. I was not, unlike many people, in the position to take a year out and support myself as a waitress, a fruit picker, a factory hand or a nanny. The options open to me were more limited than that. It is just the way things were and I had to accept it. I still made a go of it in other ways and I have achieved other things.
Since I reluctantly returned I have not even had an opportunity to leave Australia. I want to. I want to see a great deal more of the world. Realistically I know it probably will not happen any time soon, if it happens at all. I still hope. I still dream. Why not?
A young teaching student visited us yesterday - and she is very young. Both she and her husband are lovely young people but they have a lot of growing up to do yet. A gap year would have been good for both of them. It would have helped them grow up. It would have made her a better teacher. Teaching is one of those occupations where a gap year, preferably with travel, should surely be compulsory. It would be part of the learning experience. After all, teachers need to teach about the world, not just the subject.
And so I wonder about gap years. Are there some fields in which they should be compulsory? Are they a way of growing up? What would I have been like if I had been able to take a gap year?

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Temporary Protection Visas are

designed to give people in need of a safe place as a temporary shelter. They can be likened to offering strangers shelter in your home during a violent thunderstorm.  When the storm has ended you expect that they will leave and return home or continue on their journey elsewhere. What you do not expect is that you will be asked to shelter them for an extended period at your own expense while they do little or nothing to help you or the situation in which they find themselves. Nor do you expect to find that they will demand to stay permanantly in your home or that they are actually criminals avoiding prosecution, that they were not avoiding the violent storm but were avoiding justice.
Years ago I was involved in helping a family who had fled from a country in what is usually termed "the Middle East". They arrived in Australia with no more than their clothes and their identity documents. Their passports, birth certificates and other documentation were all there. They asked, not for refugee status (which they would have been granted) but temporary protection. They said they hoped to go home one day.  The father had raw wounds on his back and elsewhere. He had been beaten for stopping to help someone in need - and not for the first time. There were other old scars on his back and elsewhere.  An airport official had helped to get them out of the country - at risk to his own safety.
They have long since moved. I do not know where they have gone and it is better not to know. The situation in their home country is still not safe although it has greatly improved. It would not surprise me to learn they have returned to try and help. Their attitude was that their country needed their skills, that if everyone with those skills left then the place would be worse still and more people would want to leave.
They paid the normal airfares. They arrived in the normal way. Immigration officials could immediately see who they were. They asked for, and were granted, temporary protection. Within a week they were housed in a tiny unit and using their time to, among other things, improve their English.
We discussed this at some length while they were here. They were intelligent, professional people and taught me a good deal. They taught me that, as I had always been told, people will protect the documents that prove their identity if they possibly can. They taught me that it is possible to enter a country legally and seek temporary asylum - and that asylum will quickly be granted if the evidence is there.
Our current Australian government did away with Temporary Protection Visas. It was part of their deal with the Greens who see no need for such things. The family I knew would not have been able to seek the temporary protection they wanted. The situation would have been infinitely more complex than that. 
The Greens argue that Temporary Protection Visas just increase the uncertainty faced by the people who come here. I disagree. It is all some people want.  Many refugees still hope to go home one day and we may be making it more difficult for them to do that.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Katherine Langrish was talking

about Victorian working women over on "The History Girls" yesterday. It was fascinating to read about her discovery of how many women actually ran a business in Victorian London - and, no doubt, elsewhere. 
There is a perception that, in Victorian times, there were upper class women who lived a life of leisure and women who were servants. The women in the middle get forgotten but, if we think about it, many of them must have worked. Not everyone had a husband to support them. Women were widowed and left with children to care for and support too. Divorce was almost unheard of but women were sometimes left unsupported by errant husbands too.
The situation was no different in Australia. Many women worked.  My paternal grandfather employed more than thirty people in his tailoring business, all but two of them were women. Most of them were married. Their husbands were often at sea and they did not always bring much - if any - money home.
What fascinated me about Katherine's post though was the fact that she had discovered a great deal by looking at an old Ordnance Survey map of an area of London. It showed not only the streets and the houses but the names of the occupants and their occupations.
There are old "directories" of sorts available that detail these things too but they are not quite the same for me. My grandfather's business appears year after year in the business directory for this state but, while it gives the address, it does not show the location of his shop on a map. There is no way of knowing that he was in a stone's throw of the busiest wharf in the state. 
I once had to go to Government House and I was shown my grandfather's signature on any number of pages in the Visitor's Book. He made uniforms for many of the Governors of the state but it had come about because much of his business was to do with making uniforms for sea captains - something rather more complex than making a man's suit.  My grandfather made kilts too, another specialist piece of tailoring. My father has, and still wears, the Harris Tweed jacket his father made him almost 65 years ago. It has been relined more than once and it now looks very worn but it can still be worn.
Reading Katherine's post I thought about all this. If I had been looking at the sort of map she found and seen a name and an occupation there what would I have thought? Would I have guessed who this man tailored for? Would I have noticed the close proximity of the wharf and realised how busy it was?
As it is I spent the best five years of my childhood not far from there. We almost never went to my grandfather's place of business but we knew it was there and he was so well known that even now some people know me as his granddaughter. The wharves were still very busy then. He still made suits for the Governors. The fishermen knew he would stop by on Fridays to pick up fish for my grandmother.
It is all gone now.
There are maps. Although they are not quite Katherine's sort of maps if I put a map and an old directory together I can still learn a great deal.

Monday 4 June 2012

One of the past television presenters

on the ABC made no secret of his political allegiance. "The 7:30 Report" was not a neutral presentation of current affairs but a front for the Australian Labor Party. (Yes, it is spelt without the "u".) The presenter got away with it because, within the Australian Broadcasting Commission, there was - and still is - wide support for the ALP.
The ABC however, like the BBC, is taxpayer funded. It is supposed to be neutral. It is supposed to provide, as far as possible, non-biased and non-judgmental  information and some entertainment. It does not. It is one of the reasons we watch very little television - even Global Village has let us down lately because there are third time repeats being shown.  My father and I did consider watching the new series on the history of Wales but, come the time on Friday night, we were both busy doing other things.
I do try to watch the news on what we call "SBS" the Special Broadcasting Service. This is a probably unique channel which is supposed to provide a service to "multi-cultural" Australia. The news service concentrates on international and national affairs rather than state affairs. I usually manage to last to the point where they, inevitably, start talking about sport. Then I switch off the television set and do something else.
I was talking to a neighbour about this yesterday. He does watch television. His idea of a good evening at home is "a glass of good red and a bit of telly". He had come over to see if we still had a newspaper from a week back as he needed a death notice from it.  We found it before the whole lot goes to recycling tomorrow. He stood there reading an article on another page though and then said to me,
        "That's wrong you know."
I looked. He works in that particular area of that particular government department so he should know. It so happens I did know it was wrong . He had told me about the project earlier. It was a small thing and the article was only a paragraph long but it was quite inaccurate.
I pointed out that a great deal of information is actually mis-information. Sometimes it is just sloppy reporting but sometimes it is quite deliberate. He shook his head.
        "Reporters are not supposed to be biased."
I mentioned the television presenter.  He shrugged. "We all knew that - and I quite liked the guy. Anyway, it didn't really matter. Everyone knew what he was like."
It did matter and not everyone knew what he was like. They still assume the ABC is neutral. The Finkelstein Inquiry into the media was supposed to be neutral too. It has not been. I wonder if the Leveson Inquiry in the UK will end up the same way.
Now the problem is - where am I going to get my information from?

Sunday 3 June 2012

Monarchy is an odd

concept if you think about it. Yes, it is an accident of birth. If you are the eldest child (or sometimes the eldest son) you will end up in a job for life - and a pretty rotten sort of job at that.  It might look like a life of luxury to the outsider. It is not. (I have seen the nether regions of Buckingham Palace. What the public sees and where "the Firm" lives are two different worlds.) They work far harder than most people are aware of and they do not, like some people, retire. They endure endless ceremony and inane social chit-chat. Republicans say, "Let's get rid of them. They don't have to do the job." Republicans then promptly replace them with something like a "president" who serves much the same function with politics thrown in.  On the whole I think I would rather have a monarchy where the monarch has little or no power. It causes far less argument and provides a focal point for a nation.
There will however be one difference between the Queen, her family and most of the rest of us. They will get every care and consideration in extreme old age. If they cannot cope with something then someone will be on hand to deal with it. I do not begrudge them that. It would just be nice if the same service was available for everyone.
My father will be ninety next February - assuming he lives that long. At the moment he is still intellectually active. He is not terribly steady on his feet but he has the sense to use a walker. He is still working in his shed. He does some light gardening and a much younger friend comes in for two hours a fortnight and keeps the garden under some sort of control. I cook, wash, clean etc. We get on well together. There are times when I feel trapped and when he feels guilty. We both know that. We do not talk about it. I have a sibling here who interferes occasionally. I have two more siblings elsewhere. They are not in a physical position to interfere and, thankfully, rarely offer "advice". I suppose we might be said to coping with the situation fairly well. 
I had occasion to call in on someone else yesterday. He has been on his own for the last five months. He has tried to keep things going. His children do not want him to move out of the family home. It is somewhere for them to stay when they come to visit from overseas and interstate. It is the place they grew up in and the place they expect to inherit.
Yesterday I had done a small amount of shopping for him. His car was at the garage and in need of a repair. The part was not immediately available and it is just too far for him to walk to the closest shop. I delivered milk and bread and bananas and the library books he had ordered via his computer. He knows he can keep going for a while longer but the thought of a small unit somewhere still appeals.  He is less physically able than my father and he does not have a daughter here to care for him.
We talked about the Queen. He is an ardent admirer. As I left he gave me a smile and said,
       "Cat, I wonder what they would say if the Queen said she wanted to move into an old folks home."
I wonder.

Saturday 2 June 2012

Books set in the countryside

or in small towns and villages were under discussion on "An Awfully Big Blog Adventure" this week.  Cathy Butler wrote about how these were the books she enjoyed as a child growing up in the 60's and 70's.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to be driven through the hills behind me. I had to go to Hahndorf with a friend. Hahndorf is actually a tourist town. The shops along the main street reflect this. They make the most of the early German settlement origins of the town. You can buy all many of "German" foods and "Australian" souvenirs etc. The friend I went with and I did what we had to do and had lunch (off the main street!) and left again.
We came back "the long way around" as she wanted to look at something else. That meant going through the winding back roads. There are some non-native trees that have been planted in our hills, many of them are "liquid amber" trees. At this time of the year - late autumn and early winter in the southern hemisphere - they are a spectacular colour. They stand out against the dull grey-green of our local trees like pillars of gold and fire. If you looked down into the gully beside the road we were travelling on there were brilliant yellow patches of fallen leaves. One tree ahead of us was bright maroon and green. We looked in silence until we reached the more built up area again. Magnificent would not begin to describe it.
City children rarely, if ever, see this sort of thing. The children who live in the area are surrounded by it all the time. They are also surrounded by the dangers of bushfires, the difficulties of ensuring there is a water supply, the mud and dust from unsealed roads and all the other difficulties of living in a rural area - even one which is just a short distance from the city.
Do they notice it? I mentioned this to someone else and she shrugged and said, "Probably not. If it was around you all the time you probably would not notice it or appreciate it."
I am not so sure. Your environment has to have an impact on you. I thought of someone else I know. She spent a year of her life living in Hahndorf. That was the year she and her three brothers were free to roam the countryside. She considers herself a city girl through and through but they all enjoyed that year. Now an adult she still feels that one of her favourite books from childhood was Colin Thiele's "Sun on the Stubble" - a book set in an area similar to Hahndorf. She has passed it on to her own children and now grandchildren.  It is, she says, a way of experiencing the country.  It is, she tells me, "what books are for". 

Friday 1 June 2012

The "Thinker in Residence"

programme has been a state government initiative for some years. The idea was to invite "eminent" people from outside the state, indeed the country, to take up short periods of residency here and suggest how we might do things better, implement things, expand things, begin things etc.
There have been experts from the social sciences and the sciences, transport, law, health, sport and education. Baroness Greenfield was one lively participant.
The programme is now going to cease. When asked why the member of the government responsible for running the programme said that it had run its course. There was no other area they felt needed to be investigated.
I think it says everything about how seriously the government takes the arts. There has never been a Thinker in Residence for the arts. It has, apparently, never been considered important enough to warrant anyone actually thinking about the arts - or even about non-sporting recreation.
Very little attention is actually given to non-sporting recreation. It is, I think, assumed that people will entertain themselves. If they do not wish to play or watch sport then they really do - perhaps - need much attention. The fact that more people use libraries each week than play or watch sport is something the government chooses to ignore. They provide libraries because they must but they do not spend the same amount on libraries as they do on the hallowed city oval, home of cricket. Other forms of recreation do not receive the same media coverage or the same sponsorship.
I do not suppose that, after my post about the lack of a library in a high school, this should come as any surprise. It is however an indication of how little regard is given to the recreational needs of the population as a whole. They struggle to find places to meet and many now struggle to keep up membership numbers. If you want to play chess these days you apparently do it via the internet. There is no need to turn up and enjoy meeting fellow enthusiasts. If you want to grow roses or succulents then the information is there on the internet - presuming you have the time to garden. If you want to search your family tree then you can access a genealogy data base - or two or three.  And, of course, if you want to watch sport then it is there on multiple channels via your satellite connection as well as the free-to-air television broadcasts.
It all isolates people very nicely. It makes them easier to control. Groups of any sort are, after all, dangerous are they not?
I think we needed a Thinker in Residence for the arts and crafts. We needed someone who would tell the government how important it is for people to be exposed to creativity and to be creative themselves. We needed someone who would say, "You must do this."
The latest budget for the state was delivered yesterday. We are deeply in debt. Things are now worse than they were when the State Bank collapsed. The Treasurer has still found the money for some items we do not need. That will always happen. He has not found money for increased library services or the arts and crafts. Sport? Oh yes, the oval redevelopment will go ahead although a majority of voters were against it.
Where oh where was a Thinker in Residence to tell the government that unless it nurtures creativity our state will go into further decline?