Friday 31 August 2012

Today is looking like

a repeat of some of yesterday...not all of yesterday, just some of it.
The judging for the knitting went smoothly. We were finished in good time and we should have been able to start on putting things into display cabinets etc etc. We went off and had a quick snack while making a list of issues to be raised and then it was back to the exhibition hall.
Problem. Not enough space. Cabinets had to be rearranged. Things had to be removed and rearranged in other cabinets. This was not our fault. It arose out of a misunderstanding. Right. We can cope with that.
We might have got the job done but there was another problem. This time it was a much larger problem. The judges for another craft section had not turned up. The Convenor for the overall section waited. Then she tried to phone them. Nothing and nobody.
         "Can you judge the.... section?"
         "We're desperate!"
Now I do know the craft. I can actually do it. I even know something about it but that is a far cry from knowing the finer points of the craft.
          "If I can have some help," I said and bowed to the inevitable.
A judge from another section and I went to look. We did the job. It was not too bad really because some things to look for are the same in every section. There is colour, design, even stitching, piecing together and finishing for a start.
In the end I decided it was a little like life. There are some things which should always be there.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

I was publicly

told off yesterday for expressing the opinion that Channel 2, our Australian Broadcasting Commission channell, tends to be left wing. Apparently even saying that displays an unacceptable degree of bias on my part. I have been branded "right wing" and this is "unacceptable".
I like to think that my politics are - well, practical. There are things I would love to see happen but I know they will never happen because of economics or because society does not work in the way that would be needed.  I know that is not always considered "acceptable " either.
As an example, I think it is unrealistic to demand that all buildings be made "accessible". It simply is not going to happen because there are competing demands in accessibility. A wheelchair ramp is not the only thing which is needed to make a building accessible. The expense of putting in a ramp in an old building may not be justifiable, especially when there is a finite amount of money available and it is unlikely to be used - but you should try to build new buildings so that they are accessible to all.
There are people who strongly disagree with this point of view. They say anyone should be able to enter any building at any time if they need to do so. In an ideal world yes they would be able to do this - but we do not live in an ideal world. I like to think I am being realistic but I know that there are people who think I am letting the side down when I state another point of view.
But, the question of bias is different. I was told that "words are counted" that the ABC "has to account for every word" and  "if there is bias it would be in the other direction". Nonsense. The ABC has been fortunate. It is a largely independent body. Many of those at senior levels are drawn from one side of politics and they employ like minded people.That is understandable but it does influence what they say and do and how the programming is set up. One former presenter of the 7:30 Report made no secret at all of his left wing politics. It influenced the entire programme.
I have no doubt that there are other people from the other side of politics in other television stations, indeed in the ABC itself. I can think of one or two very obvious examples of political bias in commercial television but I just do not watch enough television to know of them all.
Bias happens. It is why I find it important to say to myself, "What's really being said here? Where's the evidence? What was that question designed to do?"
I know that nothing I can say or do will change the views of the person who disagreed with me.
But, I asked them a question, had they heard the story about a lion being on the loose in Essex in England? Oh yes. That was a dreadful thing. If we did not have circuses this sort of thing would not happen.
Oh, it came from a circus did it?
Well of course. Where else would it come from? A zoo would not have allowed it to escape. Someone allowed it to escape but "you know what circus people are like and none of them will say anything".
I see. Well, no lion has been caught. I very much doubt there is a lion on the loose. The reason I doubt it is that any responsible individual would have reported the loss of such a valuable and potentially dangerous animal. 
I know my bias is showing.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Two parcels appeared

on the doorstep yesterday. I was expecting one but not the other.
One contained some wool I had ordered for a friend. She is never home during the week so the occasional parcel gets delivered to our place. The other parcel came from the same company.
I was puzzled. I had not ordered anything from the company in question - tempting though it is.
They specialise in mill-ends. Mill-ends in this instance mean left overs on cones from commercial knitwear companies, often Italian. Their yarns do not feel like regular knitting yarn. They need washing in detergent to rid them of the coating used to allow them to flow freely through knitting machines. They appear finer than ordinary handknitting yarn and only increase in volume after a good wash has loosened the fibres. Once that coating has been removed you need to treat the yarn with the same degree of care as any other yarn.
They also have a range of yarns other than wool - which is often lovely merino. There is cashmere, cotton, linen, mohair and silk - and mixes of these.
Some time ago I bought some pure silk from them. It is soft and flows like water through your fingers. The knitting teens I know used it to make caps for someone going through chemotherapy. I mentioned this to the company and they sent me some ends they could not sell.  More caps were made.
Yesterday there was a large bag of more ends of silk. Some of the colours are bright, some of the colours are muted. They are soft and smooth to the touch. It is not the easiest yarn in the world for young knitters to handle but they will fall on it with glee.
They want to do "100 Hats for Sue" before the end of the year. So far they have about eighty-two. This will get them to one hundred easily.
The company is giving twice over here. They are giving to cancer patients in need of not just caps but comfort.  They are also giving to a small but very special group of teens, three boys and two girls, who knit in spare moments. The work of these teens is as good, indeed often better, than that of many adults. They have not let their own physical disabilities get in the way of doing something for others and, along the way, they have had help from unexpected places.
Thankyou Colourmart for your generosity.

I have been writing

in between all the other things which must be done in my life. There always seem to be too many of them.
Today I am prowling off to the Showgrounds where I will do duty as a Steward and help to judge and display the handknitting. It is one of the smaller classes in the art and craft section but still an important one.
I know that, when we have put the display together, I will think that so many people will pass through and look at it all and say (hopefully) nice things. Very few of them will think of the amount of work involved or how some of us will give up another day to demonstrate our crafts.
It is the same with any exhibition. There is an enormous amount of planning beforehand. There is a lot of volunteer time involved so that others can enjoy themselves.
I do it because it may encourage someone else to take up knitting or crochet or some other craft. It may encourage them to learn the craft or a new skill within the craft. It may encourage them to join a group.
And that group may make all the difference to them. One person coming to help is very quiet but she is a good worker and, she says, she enjoys helping. She lost her son several years ago having already lost her husband - both in tragic accidents. Someone invited her to help. "We need you."
It made the difference between coping and not coping for her. She did not want to come but she was encouraged and the friend who invited her made sure we all knew what she needed. Some people need mental health care. Others need to be told they are needed.

Monday 27 August 2012

Nicola Morgan and I

were discussing the whereabouts of her virtual cat last night. He has a habit of disappearing at times. He visits me on occasion.
There is a good reason for that. He comes in summer. It allows him to avoid winter in Edinburgh. He gets virtual salmon for Christmas Day lunch - and, being a Scots cat, insists on the same thing for Hogmanay as well.
This time I could guess where he had gone. He had prowled off to the yurt at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and was, no doubt, helping himself to titbits of salmon in the author area. (He fancies himself as an author.)
The Whirlwind likes Spike. She says the best part of Nicola's book "Wasted" is the part with Spike in it but what, she wanted to know, does Spike eat for breakfast.
       "Virtual milk and cat biscuits," I said.
She looked at me in disgust.
       "That shows no imagination at all!"
We went on to consider other possibilities. Mouse flavoured cereal perhaps?
The Whirlwind tells me that breakfast at school (she boards during the week) shows no imagination either. There is cereal or porridge and wholemeal toast and a piece of fruit. There is Vegemite (similar to Marmite), jam or marmalade to go on the toast. It is apparently the same each weekday. On the rare occasions she has stayed at school for the weekend breakfast is later and might include pancakes or boiled eggs. It is probably all very healthy and designed to keep active girls content until the next meal.
At least they eat breakfast.
I eat breakfast too. I can, if necessary, go without other meals but I need breakfast. What is more I need breakfast sitting at a table. I do not want to drink some artificially flavoured mix from a sealed tetra-pack on my way to work. That is not breakfast.
I do not want a bacon and eggs type breakfast but I do want porridge or cereal or toast. The day does not seem right without breakfast.
It would be a sort of virtual milk and biscuits day.

Sunday 26 August 2012

I have woken to the news that

Neil Armstrong has died. He was not particularly old - 82 is not a really great age anymore. The Senior Cat will, all being well, have a 90th birthday next February. I know people who are over 100 years old.
It makes me wonder about the toll of space travel on the human body. It must be very great. Astronauts apparently have to be incredibly fit. The Australian state I live in has a homegrown astronaut. He went to the same school as my nephews and they have, briefly, met him. They were rather young then and rather overwhelmed and had little to say about the experience. One of the nephews did mention the fitness issue. There were small boys getting "astronaut fit" all over the playground after the visit.
I can remember trying to explain to my nephews how I was at teacher training college when that moonwalk occurred. College stopped. Staff and students gathered around television sets brought in for the occasion. It was all in grainy black and white of course. The reception, coming in via a series of relay stations, was very poor. It all seemed more than a little unreal.
Our homegrown astronaut was probably watching the same pictures at school. I doubt very much work was being done anywhere that day. I know friends in other parts of the world were sitting up and watching when they would normally have been sleeping.
My nephews found all of this rather extraordinary. They have grown up in the age of regular NASA and Russian flights. A launch is nothing remarkable in their book.
Space flights no longer cause the same intense interest unless something goes tragically wrong. Most of us know very little about the international space station. We have even less idea how any of it works. The extraordinary Mars landing was barely reported here. I find that sad.
I wonder what Neil Armstrong thought when, on his return to earth, he could stand outside at night and stare up at the moon. "I've been there and I walked on that" would hardly begin to describe the journey.  Did the memory stay sharp in his mind or did it fade? Had the moon lost its mystery for him - or had it become a greater mystery than before? I hope it was a greater mystery.

Saturday 25 August 2012

So another great sporting hero

has gone to zero - or has he?
I was going to write about something quite different this morning. I try to do bookish things on Saturdays but there is something that needs to be said this morning.
Yesterday Lance Armstrong, seven times winner of the Tour de France, announced he was giving up his fight against drug doping charges. He said something about "enough is enough" and other people started to say "he's guilty". 
Perhaps he is. Perhaps he isn't. I don't know. I am not terribly interested in whether any one individual in sport takes drugs or not. I suspect that almost everyone who reaches the top of the field in their chosen sport does take performance enhancing drugs. Some get caught. Some don't.
Sport has almost certainly reached a level of achievement where it is only possible to be "the best" with some sort of external assistance. People do not do it unaided. They no longer run barefoot. It's a fact of life. All the anti-doping authorities in the world are not going to change that.
I once read a complaint somewhere that Roger Bannister only achieved his "four minute mile" because he had assistance from the wind. He did? I thought he was running around an oval so half the time he would surely have been facing into the wind. Maybe I am wrong but the article did tell me one thing. People will believe what they want to believe - and they will rarely believe the best of anyone, especially anyone who achieves more than they have when they have set out to achieve the same thing.
I heard Bannister interviewed recently and he spoke about his achievement as a joint achievement. There was a good deal of planning which went into that first mile. It is considered a "slow" mile now but there had been long discussions beforehand about how it might be achieved.
The pressure to win in sport now is immense. It is not even just the top athletes who are required to do extraordinary things. Any schoolchild now knows that participating is less important than winning. Schools can try to tell them otherwise but the message is out there in all sorts of other ways. Even when parents tell them "it does not matter" they know that, really, it does matter. They are not "the best" and being "the best" is all that matters. If you need to take performance enhancing drugs you will do it, despite what they might do to your long term health. You will do it and hope you do not get caught. Indeed the real sin is not taking them but being caught, letting the team down, embarrassing your country. It's like being a traitor.
Is it any wonder that I loathe that sort of sport? I am tired of the adulation given drug enhanced achievements. I am tired of the vast amounts of money poured into finding and producing those things.
If we spent as much money on finding cures for that range of diseases we call "cancer" then we would all be better off. I think Lance Armstrong might agree with that.

Friday 24 August 2012

There was an Antarctic

blast yesterday. The day before had not been wonderful but yesterday morning I was woken by the flashing lights, rumbles and bangs of a thunderstorm. It was dramatic but fortunately short lived. What followed was rain and hail and wind - all straight up from the Antarctic.
There is no land mass between my little part of the world and the Antarctic, just the ocean. Brrrr.
My family spent four years living on an island just south of the mainland. My father was the principal of a very large school there. It took in all the children from the western half and centre of the island. The school itself was situated in the centre of the island on a plateau where there was no protection at all from the wind - and the wind came straight across the southern ocean from the Antarctic.
When my mother or I put the washing on the line we grew to expect that it would hang horizontally rather than vertically. The trees grew the same way. They were stunted spindly trees. If you wanted to grow anything else you had to protect it from the wind.
Going to the "general store", the only shop, meant bending into the wind. It was difficult to pedal my tricycle into the wind but, coming home with the shopping in the little tray on the back, was easy. The wind did most of the work. I just had to be careful that none of the shopping got blown away.
My brother and I lost countless numbers of kites made from newspaper and sticks. The strings kept breaking in the wind. If other toys were not kept inside they would blow around the garden and cause damage as well as be damaged.
My father kept the firewood in a corner of the yard, under a wooden structure made the previous owner - or perhaps the boys in the school had made it for him. We woke one morning to find the structure had collapsed in the wind. My father and two of the teachers spent a Saturday morning constructing something much sturdier.
The house itself was made fibro-plaster board. It was standard Public Buildings Department issue, the sort provided to all teachers who had housing supplied.  It would shake and rattle in the wind. We wondered it did not lift from the flimsy wooden posts it stood on and transport us like Dorothy.
It might have except that we were already in Oz.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Every morning one of my acquaintances

takes a bucket and a brush and heads off to the railway station at the back of his home. Once there he cleans off any graffiti which has appeared overnight and clears up any rubbish left lying around.
He has been doing this before dawn almost every day for the past twenty years. If he is away then another neighbour does the job for him.
The railway station, which is heritage listed, is neat and tidy and clean. It is all because of the efforts of this man and a small band of gardeners who go in once a week and keep "Nellie's Garden" tidy.
"Nellie" was the wife of one of the station masters - in the days when the station had such a person. They lived on the property and, while her husband dealt with trains and switches and parcels and tickets, Nellie gardened.  In their off-duty time they rode a motor bike - Nellie sat behind. There is a mural depicting them on the wall of the old switch "box". Their neighbour keeps all that clean and free of graffiti too.
The result is that, although the car park area still gets used for the almost inevitable drug deals, the station itself is remarkably free of crime. There have been just three serious incidents there in the last twenty years - things that even the neighbours could not have prevented with their vigilance.
It is the railway station I use. I would not use it at night but then I would not use any public transport at night. It is, sadly, no longer safe to do that. It is however much safer to use the station during the day largely because of the efforts of one man. No, he is not around during the day but other people are. They will use the station because it is clean.
Once none of this would have been necessary. There would have been a station master living on the property. The train to Melbourne actually used to stop there and pick up passengers and parcels. Now it is just infrequent suburban trains as the long goods trains roar through without stopping.
Soon our line will be closed for months. They are building an underpass on a part closer to the city. This is not for our benefit. It has something to do with the needs of the long goods trains - which will be getting even longer.
My acquaintance will continue to maintain the station though. He will do it as long as he can.
And when he stops? Will someone take over?

Wednesday 22 August 2012

We had a small visitor of those just old enough to be in need of earnest entertainment while the adults talk.
Granny and I stayed inside with the young man while the old men disappeared to the shed to find timber to mend something. The shed is not safe for small visitors.
All she had for him to play with was the bunch of car and house keys. He was bored with the keys. Five or six months ago they might have been enough but now he wants more.
      "He's got something in the car but it's broken - some horrible plastic thing."
      "Hold on, I'll get the blocks. He can play with those."
      "Yes. He will like those."
I brought out the large box of wooden blocks that we keep for just such occasions and opened it. I took out the archway block and put it on the table and we drove the keys through as if they were a car.
A few minutes later he was on the floor. There were blocks on the floor too, all over the floor. He was pushing them around, piling one on another and pushing it off again. He was standing them upright and pushing them over. He was pushing the pillars through the archway and making noises to himself.
Blocks were banged together and banged against the box. They climbed the chair his grandmother was sitting on. 
He was perfectly content for nearly half an hour. I made tea for the adults. He was not interested in milk or a biscuit. He was busy.
His grandfather, a good carpenter, was watching by then.
       "All it takes is a bit of wood," he said."
I was surprised he had not thought of it before. My father has made many sets.  We had a set. All his grandchildren had a set - and now his great-grandchildren. The blocks are castles, houses, garages, princesses, dragons, fire engines, a garden, the beach, a cricket game, a boat and a plane - complete with passengers.
Yes, all it takes is a bit of wood. All children should have a bit of wood.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

The Confederation of Australian

Motor Sport apparently wants the government to teach twelve year old children to drive. They want road safety and driving to be taught as part of the secondary school curriculum. The suggestion has come up because there has been another proposal to raise the driving age to eighteen.
While I am a very firm believer in teaching road safety I do not believe it is appropriate to teach twelve year old children to drive. There are twelve year children who can drive. There are children younger than twelve who can drive. They are either children who live on farms who never leave the property in the vehicle they are driving or they wrong doers who can cause immense damage behind the wheel of a car in an urban area. 
I have a child driving a vehicle in the plot of one of my books. He is told to go along the track leading to the edge of their property. Circumstances demand he drives a short distance on the road before turning on to another track. I make it quite clear that he is very aware of what he is doing, that he does not want to do it. He is frightened by the circumstances and the responsibility. He knows what he is doing is very dangerous. The incident in the book is based on a real life incident and, in real life, the driver in question chose not to get his licence until he was twenty-one. He still felt traumatised.
Driving is a very adult activity. It requires physical and psychological skills which do not completely develop until people, especially males, are in their mid-twenties. We can certainly teach people about driving earlier than that but we cannot teach them to drive safely at the age of twelve or even fourteen or sixteen. They can be the most responsible kids in the world but they are still too young to drive. They are not physically and mentally ready to do it.
It is even more difficult for children to develop road safety skills now than it once was. Children are much more likely to be taken to and from school by car. Walking along a footpath is a rare activity. Crossing a road on foot is also rare. Our experience of traffic while inside a car, especially if someone else is driving, is completely different from the pedestrian experience. Teenage years should be spent learning to be a safe pedestrian and a safe cyclist.
I know there are many who disagree but it is my belief that the age for learning to drive should be raised to eighteen here, just as it is in some other parts of the world. It is an adult activity which should be confined to adulthood - and only then with proper professional training.

Monday 20 August 2012

"Do you want to go?"

I asked the Whirlwind. She was looking at an advertisement for "the Show" - our Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Annual Show. It is held in September each year. I have, I think, mentioned this before. I am acting as a Steward in the Arts and Crafts section again. I will spend a day there beforehand, a day after and one day during the Show itself. On the day during the Show I will be "demonstrating" knitting - which really means I will sit and knit and let people ask question if they so wish. I will also keep a discreet eye on the display in the area in which the demonstrators knit.
The Whirlwind would need to go with a friend and the friend's family or come with me. Her father is likely to be away for the entire period of the event. He is not keen to go anyway. I would not actually go during the event unless I needed to go.  I am not good at very crowded events which require constantly avoiding people who are not looking where they are going. We cats value our paws more than that.
The Whirlwind has been of course. She has been with the friend and her family. It was "all right" but I know that she felt rather uncomfortable. The friend is a nice child but she gets four times the pocket money the Whirlwind does and, for many children, going to the Show is about going on fun fair rides, eating "fairy floss", hot chips and icecream as much as it is about seeing animals and displays of produce. The Whirlwind does not like the rides, loathes "fairy floss" and commercial hot chips. The icecream? Maybe, but she would prefer the icecream from the Italian shop in a neighbouring suburb. For her the Show is more about the Animal Nursery, the sheepdog trials and the various displays. We went together one year when she was small and, apart from the entrance fee and an icecream cone each, we spent no money at all. We took lunch and drinks. She did not want a "Show Bag" or any of the
childish delights.  She did not even want to go and look at the rides. I was surprised. I am no longer surprised. Those things are simply not her idea of fun.
So, does she want to go? She is just old enough now to be trusted to go off for a short time on her own and then report back to me. Her father has already discussed the possibility with me. There is a lot to see there and you can learn a lot if you do the things she will be interested in doing.
        "Maybe. I don't want to go with the others though."
We discuss the possibility of going with me. I will have a spare ticket because, as Steward, I get given several for my trouble. She will not have to pay as I will let her use one of those. Even that is not really an enticement.
        "Maybe but only if you absolutely promise not to go anywhere. I have to be able to find you."
I will not be going anywhere - unless I go with her.

Sunday 19 August 2012

Yesterday I was given two

skeins of yarn the colour of the sky shaking rain off and leaving tiny flecks of cloud behind. The yarn is made from merino and reminds me of plunging my hands into the fleece shorn from a prize merino sheep. It comes from Ireland and was an unexpected gift from a friend who has just been there.
The Irish know about wool. Like my Scots ancestors they have been using it for centuries. Wool has amazing properties and they have made the most of it. 
There are all sorts of myths surrounding the thick, heavily patterned, cream coloured "Aran" pullovers - myths about being able to tell where a drowned sailor came from by the patterns and what the patterns themselves mean.  The heavy patterns were not there just for decoration. They added to the warmth of the garment.  Garments might be recognised as someone's work. Some patterns might be favoured in some areas rather than others but there was no common pattern for one village and then another for the next. Like other knitting for fishermen the knitters worked without written patterns and put in what pleased them. The patterns themselves might be given names but to say that they were placed in a garment to convey a message is not correct.  Unlike other fisherman's jerseys the Aran garments did not normally include even the initials of the person it was originally made for. Nevertheless the myths are perpetuated and,  if nothing else, they help to maintain an interest in the garments and their rich rope-like cables, twists and turns so reminiscent of Celtic knotwork.
       "What will you do with it?" I was asked as I stroked it.
       "Mmmm... mittens?" I could see the back of the mittens with one of the complex cables I have stored away for use, "I need to think."
Whatever I end up making I know I will enjoy knitting it. I will enjoy it because of the long knitting tradition behind such yarn - and because it was given to me in the even longer tradition of friendship.

Saturday 18 August 2012

One of the nice things about

being librarian for my knitting guild is that I see the new books first. I am even allowed to order the new books. They usually get delivered to my home and I take them from there.
We have a reasonable library now. When I took it over it was a rather tatty collection of "donations" in vague-sort-of-maybe alphabetical order. Then the discovery was made that I knew something about books and had been reviewing some for another organisation. I actually owned a reasonable collection myself? Right. I could do the job.
As I am unavoidably late to meetings because of another commitment it seemed a reasonable thing to do this rather than try to make arrangements to act as the person on door duty or get underfoot in the kitchen. I agreed. If you belong to an organisation you should be prepared to do things within it.
So, the library is my responsibility but there has always been a problem. Our book stores do not normally stock many knitting books. There are the pamphlets of course, the little booklets put out by the knitting yarn companies to accompany the specific yarns they sell. They are not what the library needs.
We need books on techniques, stitches and various forms of knitting - lace, Fair Isle and the like. We need books about Scandinavian knitting, knitting fisherman's jerseys, shawls, hats or gloves.
Not everyone uses them. Some knitters only knit from the pamphlets. Other people simply borrow the books simply to look at the pictures. Sometimes they will read a pattern and try something new. A few use the library as the resource it is intended to be or they will find a complex design in a book and translate it into the garment.
I do not read all the books in the library but I do look at them thoroughly. I need to know what is there because many of the guild members are simply not users of libraries. Searching books is foreign to them. They rely on me to know what is in them and I am, slowly, trying to teach them how to do this for themselves - but I need to know what is there first.
I have not always known and since I no longer review for the other organisation I do not see as many new books. I rely on internet sources for reviews. Now I also have a new source to view books before I buy them. It is our new library system. The new, multi-library catalogue which extends across the state means that I can borrow from other libraries. There are only a few knitting books in each library but there are new books there that I can look at before deciding whether we buy them or not. I have two possibilities out at the moment and can take them to the meeting this afternoon to discuss with others. Do we get them or don't we?
I am sure that the library system had no idea the common catalogue would be used in this way when they set it up. I know they expected a rush of inter-library loans to occur but, although numbers have risen, there has not been the expected volume.
Perhaps people have not yet worked out just how much information there is to be had out there - or perhaps they expect people like me to tell them. Being a librarian is a big responsibility.

Friday 17 August 2012

"If only they would pursue

all alleged rapists as hard as they going after that Assange guy," someone said to me as we were waiting for a meeting yesterday.
I have to agree. The "well he/she must have asked for it" attitude is still alive and well in the minds of too many people. The initial trauma is horrendous enough but reporting it and not being taken seriously makes it far worse. Even if action is finally taken there are more hurdles, prolonged delays, a court case where the victim is made out to be of worse character than the perpetrator and in many cases - after all the trauma - a slap on the wrist for the perpetrator if the victim is finally believed.
I have friends who have a profoundly physically and mentally disabled daughter. She is unable to do anything for herself and requires their full time care. Her communication is limited to looking at the floor (no) or the ceiling (yes)  and smiling (please/thankyou). They have lovingly given truly excellent care to her all her life. She is always beautifully clean and well dressed. As a family they are considered a "model" of care and concern.
They also have a problem.  Two years ago the husband, now in his seventies, became seriously unwell and was in hospital for several weeks. His wife continued to care for their daughter with just a little assistance to get her up in the mornings and put her to bed at night.  At the end of that time she was also exhausted.
They were finally offered some "respite" care so that they could go right away and have the first break they had ever had. They took it  knowing that if they were to go on caring they needed the break. Relatives banded together and gave them air tickets and they had a wonderful month in New Zealand, wonderful that is until they came home.
They found their daughter traumatised. She had been physically abused in care and, far worse, sexually abused. The physical evidence was there in the injuries but their daughter was considered incapable of giving evidence. Those who had been caring for her all denied any knowledge of what had happened. As there were more than twenty different "carers" involved over the month it was considered "impossible" to decide who was responsible. Nothing was done.
Someone did this. There may be even more than one "someone". Others know who did this. The investigation was not rigorous. There were not-so-veiled threats that there would be no chance of further respite or even "day activities" if the parents pursued the matter. As it is the day activities which now allow them to go on caring for her they gave up. They need the sleep they get then to keep going. They worry constantly about what will happen to her when they die.
I find it sickening that the authorities can do so little. Some of those "carers" will still be working in the area and perhaps still abusing those in their care.
I think the Assange case has been badly handled from the start but at least those making the complaint are articulate and others appear unusually determined they will have their day in court. No such determination was apparent for someone who was far more vulnerable. She is not the first and she will not be the last. The authorities need to rethink their attitude towards pursuit of all alleged rapists not just someone who is a political embarrassment.

Thursday 16 August 2012

"Would you like some

possum yarn?" a friend of mine asked.
Yarn? I love yarn. All knitters love yarn. We all suffer from SABLE - Stash Advancement Beyond Life Expectancy. In other words we all buy more yarn than we can possibly hope to use in our life time or, in my case, have been given.
I have been given yarn by old people, both men and women, entering nursing homes. There is too much yarn for them to take with them - or they have stopped knitting.
I have been left yarn by people who have died. There was the sad little note the daughter of a friend found, "You don't knit. This is to go to Cat. If you are lucky she might finish the ghastly blue thing,"
I did not finish the "ghastly blue thing". Her daughter did not like it either. We gave it to someone else who professed to "love" it.  She finished it and wears it. Each time I see it I am reminded of my old friend but in a good way.
I have been given yarn I would never ever buy for myself. I have passed on the cheapest, brightly coloured acrylic yarns to someone who makes pet blankets. It is all the pet refuges want. I have passed on other yarn to other knitters who make things for charities.
I too have knitted hats, mittens, vests, small pullovers and other items but not all yarn is suited to charity knitting. It needs, at very least, to be machine washable. By no means all yarn is machine washable. People need to know how to care for hand knits - and many people do not know.
Then there is yarn given specifically to me. "It's for you Cat. Use it for you. You never make anything for yourself."
That really is not true. I do sometimes make things for myself and I like to make them for other people. The only family member who really needs my knitting is the Senior Cat. The others simply do not feel the cold enough to need woollen garments in this climate and the rest live in places where most people do not need them. They do not want cotton either - which is just as well because I do not particularly enjoy knitting cotton. It has no elasticity. I do have several friends I knit for. One friend has very severe arthritis. She feels the cold. Dressing is difficult. I have the pleasure of making her things designed with extra deep armholes so they are easy to get on and off. She likes mohair because it is light but warm. I am not particularly fond of knitting mohair - unless it is very good quality it sheds like mad and I really do look like a cat covered in hair.
And then there are the odd little bits yarn I have been given to try, yak, camel and some horrendously expensive quiviuk. (I knitted that and passed it back. It was pink and I do not care for pink or fluff and it was both.) I have knitted linen and silk and soy, bamboo and corn - even seashell. The last formed part of a sock yarn.
And yesterday, I was asked if I would like some possum yarn. I know it will come from New Zealand. Possums are a pest there. I am sorry about that. I feel rather sorry for the possums. It is not their fault.  Their fur however, mixed with merino wool, makes very soft, very fine yarn.
I said yes of course. I don't need it but I know someone who will like what I can make with it. I suppose that really is all that matters. My case of SABLE just got a little worse.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

What is a university for - can anyone

enlighten me?
The Whirlwind came back from school last Friday and put a piece of paper in front of me. "It's about what subjects I do next year. I have to talk to you and my Dad."
      "Well you know about things like this, maybe more than he does and anyway he will tell me to talk to you too."
I read through the information. It is alarming. There is apparently a need to start making subject choices that will affect your career choices even before you reach the tender age of twelve. It is not a huge choice at this level but it will still mean choosing. In two years time there will be very big choices to be made, choices that will set the path to university or not university and then science, languages or the arts.
The school the Whirlwind attends has an excellent range of subjects but I had not realised you had to make a choice quite so soon. Does she continue with French or start Japanese? Does she do Special Maths or just Maths? Does she continue with Latin or do more Science?
For the Whirlwind that answers are simple. She loves French and is learning Italian. Japanese does not appeal in the same way. Maths is not her favourite subject. It is tolerated rather than enjoyed. Latin wins hands down over more Science. Science is "okay but messy and smelly".  She is definitely a languages and arts student and always has been.
On Monday night, because her father was on one of his frequent trips to Canberra, I talked to her at school. She had passed in her subject choices for next year and her form teacher had apparently asked if she was sure about them.
       "She asked me what I would do with them when I leave school and I told her I want to go to university. She said that was all right but what would I do with them after that. I still don't know. Does it matter? It's what I like. What's going to university for if you can't do what you want to do?"
It's a big question. What is university for? Nowadays it seems to be all about your future career rather than about learning.
I told her not to worry and she can talk to her father when he comes home. I also said there were a great many possible careers for someone who is very good indeed at languages.
But the question remains, what is a university for? Would any reader of this blog care to enlighten me?

Tuesday 14 August 2012

The long awaited Houston report

into the mess that is Australia's asylum seeker debate has just officially come out. As expected it demands compromises from all sides - something it may or may not get.
The twenty two recommendations are laid out in the Australian this morning. Along with those are an indication of where the Government, the Opposition and the Greens stand or lie on the recommendations.
I wondered just how far Houston, once our Defence Force Chief, would be prepared to oppose the government which appointed him and two colleagues to do the review. One of his colleagues claim there was political consultation and also community consultation. I doubt the consultation went far enough.
It has been done in haste and I can see some things have been left out. Perhaps they were outside the terms of reference provided. It is likely. The government would not want to climb down on some issues.
As it is the report does go against government policy. The recommendations provide for a "no advantage" scenario for people who attempt to come by boat. If the necessary legislation passes they will no longer be able to do what is viewed as "queue jumping". It will take away some, but by no means all, of the incentive to pay a people smuggler a large sum of money in the hope of resettling in Australia - and then risking your life in the hope that the navy vessel will pick you up when the bung is removed as the ship appears.
Many of the recommendations in the report closely align with the policy of the Opposition. That is hardly surprising. It was plain that they were working before they were dismantled. It is going to be much, much more difficult to get them to work again. People smugglers, indeed Asia as a whole, see the present government as "soft" and that perception is not likely to change quickly. Indonesia has no real interest in solving the problem. The current situation means that some of those in high places are making a lot of money from the misery of those endeavouring to come to Australia via Indonesian soil. They may make noises to the contrary but they will do very little.
The proposed "Malaysia solution" is still there too - and I think many people will be unhappy about that. Admittedly the report recommends it not be put in place unless there is further discussions and safeguards are put in place. The problem is that it is still a "people swap" deal and we should not be trading in human beings, especially with a country that has a very dubious human rights record and has not signed up to the Human Rights Convention.
There is something else we need to do however and that is demand much more of those who are now in detention. You want to come to Australia? Then you will attend English classes while in detention. You will learn English and show us that you have some basic communication skills. You cannot read and write in your own language? Then you will attend classes and become literate in that language too. You have no work skills? Then you will attend still other classes that will give you work skills we need - and you will go where you are sent to work.
There will be people who say "but refugees are too traumatised to cope with this sort of thing". I disagree. Most refugees are desperate to learn these skills if they do not already have them. There will be some who cannot cope but most will be able to cope. They will want to learn. My guess however is that many of those who arrived, and will arrive, by boat will suddenly "acquire" literacy and work skills.
The problems are a long way from solved but, if you want to come here, then there are things you must make an effort to learn - just as I would expect to have to learn your language and abide by your way of life if I went to the country you came from.
That is still a major failing of our asylum seeker policy.

Monday 13 August 2012

Today is apparently "World Lefthanders' Day"

- or so a friend informs me. He left a brief e-mail to remind me that "today is our day". He is, of course, left handed. He is very left handed indeed. Life has been a constant challenge for him - or so he claims.  Well yes, he welcomed ring pull cans because he no longer had to try and "use a can opener backwards". (Is that even possible?)
I am also left handed - after a fashion. 
I can do some things (equally badly) with either hand. I blame my mother for this. She thought I should be right handed. Whenever I tried to use my left hand I would get smacked. I was not supposed to be left handed. Everyone else in the family was right handed.
When I headed off to school my mother told them I was right handed and that I was to be right handed. I am old enough that this sort of statement was allowed and even encouraged. I can remember other left handed children. Every effort was made to make us right handed.
I can also remember the dreaded words, "Hold out your hand."  The teacher would mean my left hand. I would hold it out and the ruler would come down hard on my hand. 
One teacher refused to allow me to do any art and craft at all. She set me "extra writing". I made pot hooks while the other members of the class drew, coloured in, cut out, pasted, threaded and otherwise constructed bright colourful things. I hated her with a passion. I hated school. I think I hated the world that year. It made no difference. It is surprising that I still did well in every other subject. I came third in class that year. If I had been given any marks at all for writing I might have done rather better.
I wonder now just how much damage the attitude towards left handers did - and perhaps still does. Some of the most creative and able people in history have been left handed - just look at Leonardo da Vinci. There have been some idiots who were left handed too of course - but now I like to think I am not one of them.

Sunday 12 August 2012

How many of your favourite books

as a child had adults in them? They might have put in an appearance but how many of them had adults in major roles?
          "You can't leave a kid on their own!" someone told me when I explained the plot of something I have written, "It's irresponsible. You can't write that sort of thing now. Nobody will publish it."
Perhaps it won't get published but, unless the kid is on his own, there is no plot. I don't see it as "irresponsible". It's about a resourceful, intelligent kid dealing with a bad situation. He makes mistakes because he's a kid. Is there something bad about that?
One of the rules of writing for children is that, in many situations, you need to get rid of the parents. It is getting harder to do that - and doing it believably is even harder.  Once it was acceptable to have latch-key kids who took themselves to and from school, who roamed the streets barely supervised or even not supervised at all. You could send kids on a train journey alone for a holiday in the country - preferably to an ancient aunt or uncle who leave them to their own devices.  It all opened up enormous plot possibilities.
Now children get taken to and from school. There is after-school care. There are other after-school activities. Weekends are taken up with more supervised activities. Some children are not even allowed to have unsupervised play in their own backyards. They are never more than a few metres from adult scrutiny. They have no chance to climb a tree or ride around the block. I know children who are not allowed to ride their bikes up and down their driveway unless one of their parents is there to supervise.  I know others who have not been allowed to have a skateboard, scooter or soccer ball for fear of injury. Many more are not allowed to join Scouts, Guides, church youth groups and other like activities for fear of paedophiles - and yes, it is a very serious issue. The same children will attend sport - but generally with a parent in full-time attendance. They will go to ballet, music or drama class. Those things are somehow seen as different - whether they are really "safer" is dubious but they are seen as more disciplined and "worthwhile". It is hardly the sort of thing many children want to read about.
How do you write a book about children and for children when they are under that level of adult supervision? The answer is - I don't think I can. I am sure there are people who believe they can but I doubt I can.
I have chosen to set my writing back in the middle of last century, at the time when I was growing up. There are no computers. There are no mobile phones. There are adults - and I hope they are believable - but they are not always there.
Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it is possible to write books where there is a high level of adult supervision of older children. Perhaps it is irresponsible to do away with the adults - but it is fun.

Saturday 11 August 2012

There was a "bang!"

and it was rather loud bang...and my computer went dead. The power supply had gone completely. At 5:30am, and when I am expecting to have a conversation with someone elsewhere in the world, this was somewhat disconcerting. (Yes, a slight understatement there.)
At 9:30am I was still not on line. My sister's house was still asleep. The library was not open. I 'phoned a colleague interstate and asked them to send an urgent e-mail to the person who had been expecting to hear from me - at least they had the correct e-mail address.
At 10:30am my brother-in-law who "knows about computers" was up. "It's the power supply I would think."  He came over, pulled the cover off the tower, sniffed (as I had) and said, "Has to be that." He took the tower off with him and has now returned it. I am back on line. I have done some urgent work for someone and sent it off.
You will get today's blog post tomorrow - when I write it.
And you might like to silently thank all such brothers-in-law who drop everything so that people like me can get things done.

Friday 10 August 2012

I filled out a form

yesterday. I just love filling out forms - perhaps.
Name? Oh, I suppose you need that if you want to get back to me...but you probably won't get it right when you do respond.
Sex? A friend of mine is inclined to write "yes please" but I won't do that. I find that response as objectionable as the question. I will ignore that question. It is irrelevant to the rest of the information on the form.
Date of birth? Also irrelevant. Ignore. Age? You just asked.
Address? You won't take a box number? Why not?
E-mail address? Will you spam me? Which one of my e-mail addresses has the best filter for that sort of thing?
Phone number? Well yes, on this occasion you need it I suppose.
Mobile number? I don't know what it is. I never phone myself and the mobile (which I have ungraciously accepted is needed for the safety of the Sr Cat rather than myself) is for emergencies only.
Have I contacted you before? No. (If I had why would you need all this information again?)
The account number? If I had one and you asked for that in the first place you would have all the above information in your system would you not?
There were other things as well. Then I filled out the little box stating my business and pressed "next". Nothing happened.
After a moment I was returned to the beginning with a bright red demand that all blanks must be filled in.
I filled in the blanks with nonsense and pressed "next" again. I continued on. Let them believe they are dealing with an MF who is 99.
I just wanted to tell the relevant authority that a very large piece of street tree trunk was blocking access to the home of an elderly man around the corner. He had not been able to get through to them on the 'phone and neither could I.
A couple of hours later there is a phone call. I repeat the information in the little box. The voice at the other end says,
          "Next time phone us. That way we know it is a genuine problem."
          "Next time," I say, "Will someone in your office please answer the phone?"

Thursday 9 August 2012

"I thought you might like to know

that J passed away in the night," the voice at the other end of the phone told me. "Like"?  No. Need to know? Yes. We once had a close association with J and still have a close association with her children so it was important that we know but "like" to know? No. She was "only 64" and that is scarcely "old" by modern standards. She will not be there for the birth of another grandchild, due in a few weeks.
We say things in odd ways. Most people I know use "passed away" instead of "died". There are plenty of other euphemisms or "avoidance" phrases in all languages. It is as if, by couching some ideas in vague terms, they will do less harm or be less painful - or perhaps just be less embarrassing. They may help to make an awkward situation less awkward.
One of our neighbours came over the other day. He was checking on his own next door neighbour who had been taken off in an ambulance. Did we know anything? I took the opportunity to ask about the mother of their "adopted" Mongolian student. I knew she was very ill. The student had gone home to see her.
            "Dead," he said bluntly. It was less startling than it might have been because that is his way. He does not avoid things. He confronts them.
He came over again a couple of days ago. This time he brought his brother with him having just been to another state to get him. They are searching for accommodation for him. His brother has lung cancer. He is a very sick man. It is immediately obvious there is something wrong, even before he speaks - something he can only do in a whisper. Our neighbour is blunt about this too.
There was no avoidance of any issue. His brother was the same. He was here for treatment which "might give me a few more months". It was said without embarrassment or any sort of self-pity. It made meeting his brother much easier. I have seen him since and chatted quite easily to him. I am not sure I would feel so relaxed if his dire state of health had been couched in euphemistic terms.
I wonder if we do ourselves and others any real favours when we use euphemisms? Does the veneer of social politeness and apparent regard for the feelings of others in such situations just make it harder for them as well as us?

Wednesday 8 August 2012

"So, what are they going to pay you?"

I have been asked that question more than once. People assume you are going to get a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. In reality I get a small allowance for caring for my father and the rest of my workload is "voluntary".  It is "voluntary" in the sense I do not get paid for it but the reality is that failing to do my job means other people cannot do theirs and that means that hospitals and schools do not get built, roads do not get made, bridges do not get repaired, ancient buildings crumble, operations are not performed etc. My payment is knowing those things get done, that I have had a very small part in providing the communications necessary to get the work done.
And, this morning, I realise I actually get well paid even in financial terms. There is a front page story saying that the Thai government is offering to have cars made there for $Aus1.12 an hour (less than 50p at the current rate of exchange). If they succeed then the workers will think themselves well paid. Our local unions will be furious at the low rate of pay being offered and the jobs being lost off shore but there is another side to the story.
I know someone whose family runs a pharmaceutical/laboratory supplies business in Thailand. They have been there for many years. Their staff have been with them for many years too. Positions are often handed on to the next generation in the family. Working for them is considered to be very good fortune. The physical conditions are excellent, the hours are good, the other conditions are good and the pay is good.
They still make a healthy profit. Some of it gets ploughed back into the local community. They needed a good water supply but when they built it they extended it to the local community. It was a first innocent gesture which won them a lot of support. They learned from that and realised it was the way to go.
Now there's a school and a medical clinic with a small hospital. There are other facilities as well.  It did not all come at once. The local community was made to feel that they had earned it, that it was not charity or a gift.
There are problems of course. There always will be. Corruption is ever present. Even so it is a community which works well
I know though that the workers there earn slightly less per week than I do. I do not have to feed myself or house myself on the money I get. They do. Yes, living expenses are different there but the fact remains that I am better "paid" than they are.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

"On page 24,"

I tell him.
        "Page 24?"
The Senior Cat missed the news segment about the landing of the Curiosity on Mars. He was trying to catch up by reading about it in the paper this morning.
I knew he would want to know so I searched for it before he was up - and eventually found a small piece at the end of the international news section of the paper. Obviously our local people did not think it was important.
It was important. It was important for any number of reasons but the front page today has a picture of a man on a small yacht. He apparently won a gold medal at the Olympics. Fine. People do want to know about that right now. I will allow that is probably front page news.
The rest of the front page however is taken up with some controversy about a football team, a coach leaving, a former Treasurer of the state wanting to be involved and... well I gave up reading because it simply was not important. It bored me. It does not matter.
I am no scientist. Science was not something I found particularly interesting or exciting at school. Much of that would have been to do with the fact that it was very badly taught. I was never allowed anywhere near actually doing any of the experiments - which might have been fun - and the curriculum was scarcely challenging. (I managed to pass with a minimum of effort.)
But, I do think science is important. I am aware of the enormous challenge that the Curiosity project presented - all the maths, physics, engineering, design, logic and planning that went into it were well beyond my abilities. I know someone who was peripherally involved. He works at the Deep Space Communication Centre in Canberra, the "ears" of the Curiosity project. I have no idea what it is he actually does. He is an astro-physicist and I have only a vague idea what that means. I understand basic mathematics. I managed to do statistics at university simply because I had to produce some. I have little faith in them with respect to the social sciences because they are so easy to manipulate. In other areas of science they have a different value and different application - or so the astro-physicist explained. All that is beyond my abilities too. The retired Reader in Mathematics around the corner despairs of my lack of interest in her passion for numbers - and I in her lack of passion for words.
But there is one part of the Curiosity project which is not beyond my abilities - or the ability of anyone else either. The project really began thousands of years ago with people staring at the stars and wondering "what?" and "what if?" and then "how?" They imagined doing it. We have to be able to imagine things in order to turn them into reality.
That really should be front page news.

Monday 6 August 2012

"Did you ever truant

from school?" the Whirlwind asked me.
        "No," I told her and wondered what was behind the question. There is no chance of her truanting because she boards during the week. I never had the opportunity to truant either. My parents would have noticed immediately if I was missing. They went to work in the same place for most of my school life.
        "B....." she told me, naming a girl in her class, "Is going to truant a whole term. Her parents are taking her back to India. Are the others back yet?"
She indicated the neighbour's house. I told her the father was. The mother and the two children will be in Hungary for another two months yet. The elder boy is missing an entire term of school here.
        "He will have to do heaps of work to catch up," the Whirlwind said. Missing school bothers her. She is worried she might miss out on learning something vital.
It does not seem to bother many other students nearly as much. In the last two years of secondary school here the local state high school students are not required to be on school premises unless they have lessons to attend. Rather than get on with their work as is intended many of them head off to the closest shopping centre. There they "hang out" and spend apparently endless pocket money on chips, sushi, icecream and soft drinks. Some of them drive their cars the short distance - cars packed with other teens.
They do not see themselves as truanting and technically they are not - but they are in another way. They are supposed to be working, not playing.
I pointed out to the Whirlwind that B.... will not really be truanting. Her parents, both doctors, are going back for a purpose. I know because I have had some input into the project they are working on. They will see to it that B.... has work from her school here and that she and her three brothers will also see as much of Indian life and culture as they can. It will be a marvellous experience for them - and they will undoubtedly come back appreciating life with a reliable electricity supply and clean running water.
The older child from next door will also come back speaking passable Hungarian. He has spent time there before and his father says he quickly picked up what he had known before and has added to it. If his mother has her way he will probably go on with at least the spoken language here. He is a very bright child and any other work will, at his age, be quickly made up. He is also learning many other things while he is away.
It seems to me there is a vast difference between absence from school and truancy. Absence from school, unless one is too ill to learn, can be educational. Truancy is not.

Sunday 5 August 2012

I went in search of

"leather thonging" yesterday. The Senior Cat needed some for the small items he is making for someone else. He makes these on a fairly regular basis and they are used for charitable purposes so the thonging is important if not urgent.
The last time I bought some I obtained it from the Untidiest Shop - the one I have mentioned before. It was there on reels. You took it to the counter. They measured it, cut it and passed it over .
I pedalled off confidently and searched the shop. (It is very large.) Nothing. I asked. The girl on the other side of the counter did not even know what I was talking about. Another assistant frowned and said doubtfully, "There might be some with the beads."
I went and had another look. There were tiny plastic packets of much thinner, artificial material. You could get 1.2m for the princely sum of $3.99. I left it there.
There is a quilting and theatre fabric shop some distance away. I pedalled to that. The woman there was much more helpful in that she at least knew what I was talking about. "Try the internet?" she suggested after she had made a 'phone call to the only other likely source. I thanked her and we both agreed that, much as I would prefer to shop locally and keep the shops open, this would be the solution.
I pedalled home, searched and found what was needed. I sent a message to the person my father makes the items for. Did he want a reel?  He sent a message back to say that he would order a reel himself.
I was reminded though of the haberdashery store not far from the home of my paternal grandparents. It sold all manner of useful things not just the sewing things, fabric and yarn which were the real reason for its existence. I am quite sure that I can remember seeing reels of leather thonging in the far northern corner of the shop. I can remember buying some with my father for the small leather purses every child made at school. You were given two small pieces of leather. You marked the edges with holes measured at "absolutely equal" intervals and then you threaded the thonging through to hold the pieces together. I think the teacher put the fasteners on. 
There was no nonsense about 1.2m of skinny, artificial "stuff" in a tiny plastic bag. It was good, solid stuff you bought by the yard. It can still be bought but you have to go hunting for it and yes, it comes in yards rather than metres. I wonder why.

Saturday 4 August 2012

Shetland is not a

"remote" place. Kate Davies talked about this on her blog "Needled" this week and I have to agree with her. 
I do not have an i-pad so I cannot download the offending e-magazine (available on ly on Apple) and read the article for myself but she, rightly, criticises an article in that magazine for referring to Shetland as remote, "sheep infested", windswept and the like. The author of the original article apparently gets his geography wrong too. It would cause me to question not just the article but the entire magazine.
My ancestors came from Caithness. Some of them were sailors. Shetland was just a short hop away for them. There was nothing remote about it. It might take a little more travelling for some people than others but, as Kate points out, it is easier for her to go to Shetland than it is for her to go to the Isle of Man or Guernsey - and nobody calls them "remote".
We lived on an island once. It was isolated but it was not remote. Very few places are remote. To my mind "remote" means not being able to get satellite communication - and most places in the world can get that. You can be isolated but it is not quite the same thing. People can be isolated in big cities. Island communities are often very close-knit. They once had to be in order to survive. That is not a myth but it would be equally wrong to suggest that there are not rivalries and tensions at times. Of course there are.
Kate also complains gently, but again rightly, of people perpetuating such myths about places, people and things. It is a common habit of writers and, as readers, it is confronting if our expectations are not met.
I can remember being asked by young Canadian children if Australian children rode kangaroos to school. They were terribly disappointed to discover they did not. Their romantic view of Australia was disrupted.
It is good to be reminded of myths and good to be reminded that they are myths.

Friday 3 August 2012

There was a particularly lovely

jacket being worn by a shopper in the supermarket yesterday. It was obviously hand made but not the sort of hand made which looks home made. (Knitters will understand this perfectly. The rest of you must just imagine.)
It was made from many different colours, yarns and textures brought together with a charcoal grey. The sleeves were exactly the right length. The mandarin collar sat perfectly. There were pockets.
I admired it first from afar, not even realising it was a handknit. It disappeared from view.
A crowded supermarket is not the best place to observe such things or prowl after them for a better look so I went on filling the trolley with the heavy shopping I do once a month. I turned into the aisle that has biscuits, tea, coffee, sugar and related items. There was the jacket again. The wearer was frowning at a label on a tin. I edged closer. Could I get a better look?
As I did so the wearer put the tin of cocoa back on the shelf and turned her trolley around. Our trolleys banged together.
          "Sorry," she muttered in the sort of way that you do to be socially polite but when you actually feel irritated. She really did not look in the least bit happy.
          "I was admiring your jacket," I told her.
She looked startled.
          "Did you make it?"
She nodded.
          "You really like it?" she asked. She seemed almost bewildered. Her eyes filled with tears, "My husband hates it. I made it from all the left overs and he says it looks as if I can't afford to buy clothes. I can only wear it when he's away. I even thought I should just give it away."
I really liked it. I was looking at a work of art, several hundred dollars worth of art.
We were blocking the aisle but I wanted a better look, I really wanted a better look.
           "Yes, I really like it. I would really like to have a closer look at it."
We moved our trolleys. She undid the jacket so I could see how she had lined it (a remnant of fabric from her quilting shop) and how she had put in darts to accommodate her very ample figure.
Someone else I know stopped to look. She also knits and was equally appreciative. Two quilters stopped to admire it as well. One of them said, "Tell your husband it is a patchwork quilt! It's marvellous."
At last we all had to move on but, as we left, she was smiling.

Thursday 2 August 2012

"Are you in training for the Olympics

or something?" someone snarled at me as I pedalled past them yesterday.
I always go at walking speed on the footpaths but I was going very slowly indeed this time because, ahead of me, were two very small humans not on their leashes. This always worries me. I prefer very small humans to be properly under control when there is traffic around. They could dart out into the roadway at any moment.
Their mothers were chatting - one of those "And then he said to her... and she said to him..." type of conversations.
I reached the button controlled pedestrian crossing and pushed the button and waited. The two very small humans caught up and the smallest one jumped up, pushed the button again and then started to cross the road. I grabbed. Fortunately I grabbed clothing.  Car brakes squealed - and missed by more than enough but still alarmingly close. The very small human still screamed - and screamed.
And, suddenly, I was being screamed at. How dare I push the button? I should know better than to push the button with children around? I thought I was going to be physically attacked.
The car driver had pulled over by then. He walked back looking the colour of the sky (grey) and very shaken.
         "Kid okay?" he asked. I nodded because the mother was still ranting.
 He rapidly backed off. The traffic stopped for us to cross. I tried to get over and found my way blocked by the mother. She still seemed to think that it was all my fault.
Her friend was just standing there looking confused. By then both the children were crying.
Someone else crossed from the other side. He was big. He was wearing work boots, dirty work clothes, the obligatory tattoos and a "don't mess with me" sort of expression.
He just stood there. He did not say anything. The mother turned on him. The traffic had started to flow again.  Calmly, he pushed the button while he continued to stare at the mother. She stopped shouting. Her friend said nothing. The children sobbed. The traffic stopped again. I pedalled silently over and he walked beside me.
When we got to the other side ahead of them I said, "Thankyou."
He nodded and went towards the ladder he had come down. I pedalled on feeling distinctly shaky.
A little later, on my return from the post office, I saw the two women and the two children in the shopping centre. The two women were having coffee. The two children were running up and down nearby. They stopped when they saw me.
They probably went back to running after I left but I like to think they might have managed to learn something - despite their mothers.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Medals do not matter

but manners do.
I have not been too impressed by the manners being displayed by some of the athletes at the Olympics - or the manners of the television presenters. Some of the Australians have been making me squirm with embarrassment.
Crying because you "only" got a silver instead of a gold? Sorry, someone else was better than you. I know it is disappointing, terribly disappointing, but this is the highest level of sport. You are in the international arena and crying like a spoilt three year old is not part of the behaviour expected of you.
Yes, I know there are huge expectations of people at that level. I know they are under enormous pressure. I know that the media adds to that pressure and most athletes would do well to stay away from the actual reports.
The media however also expects to be able to interview the athletes after both wins and losses. Not responding, however you might feel, is seen as churlish - to say the least.
Then there was the wearing of the "aboriginal" flag on a boxer's t-shirt. The wearer knew perfectly well what he was doing when he wore it. He knew it was against the rules. He knew perfectly well what the reaction was going to be. He also knew it would get him the publicity he craved -and it did. The media should have refused to mention it because politics are not supposed to be part of sport but it suited the media to make much of it.
There have also been grumbles and rumbles here in Australia about the way that our athletes have "hundreds of thousands" of dollars spent on their training - at taxpayer expense. Because of that, it is said, they "should be performing better".  Our swimmers were said to have had a "disastrous" day in the pool.
Well, get over it. It was not a disaster. Disasters are earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, famines, fires, floods and wars. Failing to win a medal is not a disaster. Medals really do not matter. Manners - and they very much include how we care for other people - are much more important.