Sunday 30 September 2012

I came home with a

tomato plant yesterday. Yes, this was a little unusual.
Our garden is the domain of the Senior Cat. He planned it (in that it is planned at all) and he plays in it...or works in it. Gardening can be a very serious business.
I rarely get consulted about what might get planted in it. That's fine with me. We may sometimes have an excess of some things but I do get a variety of useful produce for the kitchen. The Senior Cat enjoys himself. That's all that matters.
The tomato plant was in the supermarket. I had gone in to pick up extra milk because Monday is a holiday. ("Labour Day" I think - rather a foolish reason for a holiday.) There were plants lined up just inside the entrance.
Not only would I normally never buy a tomato plant I would also hesitate to buy one from a supermarket but this one looked fresh, very much alive and very healthy. It was also a cherry tomato. The Senior Cat and I are both very fond of cherry tomatoes.  We like the way you can pop a tiny whole tomato in your mouth and go "bite" and get a little squirt of tomato flavoured juice. Yum!
The Senior Cat approved. I thought he would. He went off after lunch and "rescued" another one and some flower seedlings that he thought looked in need of a good home before anyone mistreated them. We may also have petunias this summer. It is something to anticipate with pleasure.
When I went out this morning the birds were busy in the garden. One tiny bird was perched on the edge of the pot containing the tomato plant. I stayed out of the way and let it get on with breakfast. The bigger birds graciously accepted a handful of breadcrumbs. One of them came within a few centimetres of my feet to rescue a few crumbs.
There are people I know who have garden space. They have time to garden. They have the money to garden. They do not garden. Their front gardens are a patch of lawn and a few hardy shrubs surrounded by shredded bark...sometimes there is not even any lawn. They have paved the lawn over so they do not need to mow that area.
Their "gardens" are dull - and they have no birds.

Saturday 29 September 2012

The second-hand bookshop

about a kilometre from here is closing today. I will be sad to see it go.
As many of you know I have distinctly mixed feelings about buying second-hand books. I will buy them - but only under certain conditions. It usually means that they need to be out of print and otherwise unavailable.
Other people tell me this is silly of me - especially when I have a very limited income. I say my fellow writers need the tiny amount they get from the sale of each new book. Sigh. It makes life very difficult.
The person who runs this second-hand bookshop however is a particularly pleasant person and he is conscious of the problem. He has, he claims, never stocked books that are within five years of their publication and has still managed to make a living from his business for the last forty or so years. He says it is time to put his feet up and read a book rather than sell them.
The Senior Cat, despite horizontal rain showers, needed a hair cut yesterday and the barber is several doors along from the bookshop. He went to the barber and, inevitably, he went to the bookshop. The two of them watched the rain and had a good chat. Equally inevitably the Senior Cat came home with three more books. They have been added to the tottering pile by his bed. These are things he considered he "must" read. 
He also came home with a message for me. There are several books for children that the seller has put aside for me - if I do not already have them. 
This man has, over the years, found quite a number of useful books for me. He knows I am trying to maintain a library of good books for children which are no longer available in libraries.
While the Senior Cat was out someone else called in. We had to look at some documents together. He had three restless grandchildren with him. They were "bored" with their little screen games.  I pointed to the shelves and said,
           "Find something to read."
There was some muttering and then silence. When the time came they did not want to leave.
There is limited space in libraries. It is up to others to keep at least some of the literature for future generations in a place where they can access it. It still has the capacity to entertain.

Friday 28 September 2012

I am not fond of

the colour pink. It is a colour I never wear (and no, I am not a red head). I was sometimes forced to wear it as a child but the garments were never favoured by me. Had I been given the choice I doubt I would ever have had anything pink.
There are other people who clearly love the colour. I was given wool recently. Two bags of it. A great deal of it was pink.
I shared some of it - the less virulent shades of pink were taken away by other knitters I know. They seem content to use it - after all they did not have to pay for it! But there was some even they could not bring themselves to use.
It was a sickly-ickly bright candy pink. It reminded me of a sort of sweet around in my childhood. It was a small, hard square in a composition similar to that of "conversation" sweets and came in that very colour.  If you just sucked at it for a short while and then wrapped it in the piece of waxed paper again it would last for days. Ugh!
It seemed nobody was going to use the candy pink so I have done the sensible thing. I dyed it.
        "Isn't that difficult?" someone else asked when I announced my intention, "Doesn't it mean mucking around with nasty chemicals and all sorts of other horrible stuff?"
There was none left from the last foray into dyeing so I bought some more of the cheapest white vinegar. I had food dye. Water and my new dye pot were to hand.
I measured out two cups of vinegar and eight cups of water into the pot on top of the stove. I added some dye and tested an end of the yarn. I added a little more dye and tested again - and again. Eventually it looked to be a colour I thought I could use - a rather pleasant indigo shade. I dumped the wool (tied in hanks) and poked it down gently until it was saturated - it was machine wash so I was not too concerned it would felt.
Then I heated it to almost boiling point and let it simmer for a short while - until I judged that the dye had taken and would remain fast enough. I let it cool, removed the yarn and "washed" it by dunking it in water that had some cheap shampoo in it. I squeezed it gently and hung it on the line to dry.
Last night, just as it was starting to get dark I went out and brought it in again. I wound some of the yarn while watching the news. I will wind the rest tonight. The colour is perfectly satisfactory - a very useful sort of shade.
Someone will be wearing once-pink - but they will never know it!

Thursday 27 September 2012

"You've had enough junk

food for one day. What about we go home and make a nice ham-salad sandwich?"
I heard an harassed grandmother saying outside the library.
There are school holidays this week and the Whirlwind was with me. She waited until the grandmother and the two girls had gone into the library and then gave me a smile. The Whirlwind does not usually like what is usually termed "fast" or "junk" food. She will make an exception for fish and chips from certain locations but most other convenience foods from major and well known outlets are of no interest to her. Her father has never bought them for her.
On the rare occasions she goes out with friends and fast food is on the menu she struggles. Her preferred choice of lunch would be what she terms a "proper sandwich" which means wholemeal, full grain, rye or other "interesting" bread, some sort of protein in the form of fish, meat or cheese and so much salad it is difficult to eat tidily. It will be accompanied by a couple of biscuits or some nuts and a piece of fruit.
There have been lessons in nutrition at school but this is also her personal choice. Even when she was much younger and I was responsible for making suggestions she would choose this sort of food. I think it is probably what her mother was giving her as well.
At school she does not get a chance to eat "junk". School meals are, from all accounts, pretty reasonable.
This morning, on the front page of our newspaper, there is an article about the way some parents are feeding their children vitamin pills - and comments about how this should not be necessary. I can imagine what the Whirlwind will have to say when I see her. It should not be necessary to give otherwise healthy children any sort of vitamin supplement - indeed otherwise healthy people surely should not need them?
I hope the harassed grandmother succeeded in get the ham-salad sandwich inside her charges and I am thankful that I do not have that problem.  I am heading off to the greengrocer shortly.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Not rude or funny?

In the bookshop yesterday afternoon I heard one of those conversations between a bookseller and a customer which must make a bookseller, all writers and publishers want to weep.
"I want a book book for my nephew for his birthday."
"Oh, how old is he?"
"II don't know how old he is but I think he's about six."
"And he likes reading?"
"No he doesn't like to read much but his mother said to get him a book but nothing rude or has to be something he can learn something from."
Oh right. Perhaps that is one reason why the child "doesn't like to read much".
I have noticed, and so has the bookshop staff, an increasing tendency for some ambitious parents to "encourage" their children to read only non-fiction. The library staff I have spoken to have also noticed this. There seems to be an attitude which says, "Don't waste your time reading fiction. If you want to read then read to learn something."
It is not quite, "Why are you wasting time reading a book when you could be doing something?" but it is not much better than that.
If you want to read non-fiction - and most children do at least some of the time - then that is fine. If you have to read it and are discouraged from reading anything else then you may soon get the message that reading is "work" and not for pleasure. Reading will be seen as something you "must" do rather than also choose to do.
Children get little enough time for reading as it is - apart from what they read on the screen of their computer, i-pad, e-reader, phone and other such devices. That is often not seen as "reading" anyway.
The Whirlwind is given time to read at school. The boarders are all expected to have a fiction book and the very last part of the day is their "book before bedtime" reading. She reads at other times too but she tells me there are day girls even in her school who "do not read much" at home. They are too busy with extra-curricula activities.
I wondered how many out-of-school activities the young nephew is expected to participate in.
It seems one of the unintended consequences of the perceived need to supervise and occupy children at all times has been to reduce the amount of reading some of them do for pleasure. I might be wrong but observation really does suggest there is less time for reading, especially reading for pleasure - and some have lost sight of how much it is possible to learn from fiction.
The young man buying a book for his nephew went away with a politically correct book about the environment. It might get read but the bookseller and I both agreed that the "rude and funny" book about the body was a great deal more (harmless) fun.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Australia is bidding for

a seat on the UN Security Council. It is a temporary seat for two years but our government is attaching huge importance to it.
The bid was initially made by Kevin Rudd when he was Prime Minister. (He would also like to see himself as the Secretary-General of the UN.) The bid has continued under the Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard.
It has cost, according to the government, $24.5m so far. They claim the expenditure is necessary because Luxembourg and Finland have been in the running for a decade and Australia was late bidding.
The real cost has been far higher. It has involved trying to bribe countries they think might vote for Australia - a little "foreign aid" here and there - in Africa in particular. It has involved "taking a stance" and commenting on some issues and remaining silent on others.  It has taken up months of diplomatic negotiations. It has also affected Australia's foreign policy.
The bribes have almost certainly lined the pockets of some high ranking officials. That is the way those things work. The public stance taken on some issues is sometimes at variance with the advice being given government by those who have far more idea what is really going on. Remaining silent on other issues has sometimes caused extreme disquiet.  Australian diplomats really are being sent abroad to, as the saying goes, "lie for their country". The months of negotiation are causing stress and anxiety. Foreign policy decisions are being made with an eye on the bid rather than an eye on the country.
What is Australia doing it for? The "prize" is a seat on a committee with no teeth. The Security Council is powerless. The decisions of the Security Council are often vetoed by one or more of the permanant members - and are often ignored by others. Only individual states can take action - and they often fail to do so for their own political and economic reasons.
It is no secret that Kevin Rudd, along with other politicians of all persuasions, likes to suggest that Australia is very much more important than it really is. He (and others) talk up Australia's influence and importance "in the Asian region" and in world affairs. "We talk and you listen" has been the message delivered to the world.
The reality is that Australia is a small country - in terms of population and influence - and if English was not the official language it would probably have no influence at all.
The idea that getting a seat on the Security Council will dramatically increase the influence Australia has on world affairs is nonsense. Other countries will simply watch to see which way Australia votes - and that could end up doing more harm than good, especially when a choice has to be made between countries like China and the USA.
It would be better if the bid failed - but I suspect mine is a minority view.

Monday 24 September 2012

"If you want to stop talking

to me I'll understand," she tells me looking nervously around and then ahead at where her husband is chasing their two year old before he falls into the water of the creek.
        "Why would I want to do that?" I ask. I can guess the answer but I think it is important for my young friend to say it.
         "But all this trouble will be trouble for you too."
         "No it won't."
         "But your friends won't like it."
         "If they don't like it then they are not my friends."
She looks disbelievingly at me.
The girl I am talking to is a young Muslim mother. Her husband is a student here, a bio-chemist. I have spoken to him no more than half a dozen times in the two years they have been here. They will be returning to their home country at the end of the year.
She has been lost and lonely for much of the time she has been here. When they arrived the baby was only five months old. I found her at the library soon afterwards trying to get a library card. We got that sorted and she has been forever grateful. I suspect much of her free time in their little upstairs flat is spent reading. Even with a two year old there is a limit to the housework that needs to be done in such a small living space. In fine weather I have often seen her catching a bus or train. She has been walking all over other parts of the city, looking at things and taking photographs. She sometimes sells the photographs to publishers of calendars and tourist brochures.
Both she and her husband have been wary of offers of friendship. They knew their stay here was going to be strictly limited. Their tickets are booked for mid-December. It will, she tells me, be good to go home. I am glad she feels pleased by the thought of going home but I wish she also had regrets about leaving here.
The last couple of weeks have been very difficult for them. Her husband is not a devout man, far from it. He does not attend the mosque on Fridays or pray regularly - if at all.  Still, he has been labelled as "one of them", a Muslim and thus radical, violent and extremist. He is none of these things. His world is the laboratory and the wife and child he clearly adores.
He returns with a wriggling two year old under his arm and greets me quietly.
       "Is your work going well?" I ask.
He smiles suddenly and starts to tell me about the success he has finally had. He is about to write up the last part of his laboratory work. He hopes to have the rest finished before he leaves. It will mean long hours but he wants to do it. Today was too nice to be inside all the time.
       His young son wriggles free and comes up to me. He wants a "ride"on my little vehicle. His father looks surprised.
       "Oh, he almost always has a ride."
His mother takes him off down the path and back, holding him on firmly with one hand and steering with the other. He squeals in delight and makes car noises.
      His father laughs and asks, "Every time he sees you?"
      "Almost," I agree, "I'll miss seeing him."
      "Thankyou," he tells me and then, "No, many times thankyou."
      "I'll see you in the library on Tuesday," I tell my young friend as she comes back.
It is "story time" for the very youngest children on Tuesdays. Their son loves it.
      "You weren't there last week and the others were asking if you were all right."
Suddenly she smiles and says
      "Yes. We'll be there."
So they should be.

Sunday 23 September 2012

I have cornbread

baking in the oven as I write this. The Senior Cat is going to a "shared lunch" today and this is "finger food" which can be cut into slices.
I have a standard recipe. It is supposed to make twelve "muffins". I double the recipe and make it in a heavy duty cake tin which has a pattern of flowers on the bottom. You are supposed to turn the cake out and get the flowers on the top of course. Perhaps the idea is that, if you are making real cake, you do not need to ice it. I do not know. I have never made that sort of cake in that sort of cake tin. It would be a lot of cake. There are just two people in this house and we almost never eat cake.
But the cornbread is a different story. For a start it is savoury. It made from the usual flour and eggs and milk but no sugar. You add oil and parmesan cheese. The recipe says "dried dill" but I add a pinch of cayenne pepper and then parsley or carrot or courgette or sometimes a combination of these things. I once flung in a few chopped semi-dried tomatoes. I have put in very finely chopped onion and celery. I have no doubt I could find other things to put in as well.
Someone else - going to the same function - asked me yesterday, "How do you think of those things?"
She was worrying over whether she should make scones instead of sandwiches and yet I know she is a good, competent cook. She can ice cakes beautifully - something I am hopeless at doing.
It puzzled me a bit at first but then I realised that she is someone who always follows the recipe to the letter. She does not deviate from it. Experimenting is not for her. I think can understand  as I suspect her childhood, growing up in the country during the war, meant the meals her mother could cook were very plain. She has never had the courage to experiment herself.
Oddly though it is because of similar circumstances that I do experiment. As a student in self-catering accommodation I looked for the cheapest but most nutritious food I could find. Most of the other girls (it was single sex accommodation) did the same.  Nobody was going to cook a roast dinner - meat was rarely seen.
We experimented out of necessity but we did it with the support of our kitchen mates. It has taught me something about what works. So, today, the cornbread has carrot and courgette in it - and the Senior Cat has just complained he will have to wait until lunch time to taste it.
That is the other thing which makes it a pleasure to do - someone else who appreciates his food.

Saturday 22 September 2012

"You will never get

those to grow here," the "expert" gardener tells me.
      She is looking at the two tulips I was given earlier in the week. The person who gave them to me is not an "expert" gardener but her advice, gleaned from the company which grows them, was that they will flower again next year - if I follow the instructions.
       I can follow instructions for things like gardening. I do not know nearly enough about gardening. The Senior Cat knows a great deal more than I do. If there are no instructions I tend to do what "feels right" and leave it at that. The results are usually pretty reasonable.
       But the "expert" does not take that approach. She "knows". For years she was the secretary and then the president and then the secretary again of a garden club. Oh she knows so much, "not everything but I do know most things".
       She insisted on pruning our roses one year. My mother planted the roses. I would pull them out and even the Senior Cat has considered doing it. He leaves them there only because my mother planted them. They are a thorny and not particularly valuable addition to the garden. Only one of them is perfumed. We would prefer to have lavender. It attracts the bees and is, in this climate, a pretty hardy sort of plant. But, we have the roses.
       The "expert" pruned them and we had almost no flowers at all. "That's because they have not been properly pruned before." Oh.  I just chopped off the dead bits and took a bit more here and there - where it "felt right". It worked. We always had roses.
I know a couple who belong to the Rose Society and they have told me, more than once, "You really can't do much damage to a rose. Just go ahead and cut at the places you think look right."
       I told the "expert" this and she was horrified. It was, she told me, the wrong approach completely. The way we garden horrifies her altogether. It is of no consequence that we eat carrots, peas, beans, spinach, pumpkin, onions, capsicum, courgettes, tomatoes, strawberries, apricots, plums, nectarines, peaches, grapefruit and more - all from our untidy, friendly garden. No, we do not garden properly.
       The "expert" no longer has a garden. She lives in an inner-city apartment with just a few pots on her little balcony. I did not know her until she moved there. I never saw her garden but I often wonder what it was like.
        Was it as productive and friendly as ours?

Friday 21 September 2012

I spent an unplanned

hour on the phone yesterday. I should have been doing other things but I am glad I spent that hour. Someone else needed to talk.
I feel for this person. She lives with, and cares for, a much older cousin. They have no other family at all.
They should have friends but there are also very few of those. I can understand why. The older cousin is not always the easiest person to get along with but the younger one feels  bound to care for her. The older one took her in when she was abandoned by her own mother at a very vulnerable age.  Now the situation is reversed and it is the older cousin who needs care. They are good people who have always been willing to help others but now they need some help too even if it is just someone who is willing to listen occasionally.
I see them about once a fortnight, sometimes for just a few minutes but I do try to keep contact because I know the younger woman feels isolated. I recognise their birthdays and give them home-made shortbread at Christmas. Their birthday and Christmas card list is very short and, while they may give one another presents, I doubt anyone else does.
Yesterday they lost their pet dog. She was a very well behaved little terrier and she was the centre of their lives. They are devastated. The dog had recently been for a check-up and been pronounced as being in excellent health for a twelve year old. They hoped to have her for another two or three years. It was not to be.
So the younger cousin rang me and wept. I know it was not "just" the loss of their dog. She admitted it made her even more aware that the older cousin, in her mid-eighties, is not well either. Yesterday the younger cousin clearly felt lost, lonely and more isolated than ever. She felt the lack of even a narrow circle of friendships. She apologised for wanting to talk to me "but there's nobody else".
All I could do was listen and sympathise. I was expecting a visitor I could not contact or I might have pedalled over to see them. I feel concerned for them. It is not good to be that isolated.
I know there are people who say, "It's their own fault. Nobody needs to be that isolated." Those who are critical are often people who have grown up in close knit and loving family units. They simply have no idea what it is like to feel rejected or why anyone should feel so uncertain and cautious about any sort of relationship, how difficult it can be for someone in the younger cousin's circumstances to make friendships. I am sure they do not mean to be unkind. They simply do not know.
So, I am glad I let her talk. I know that, today, she will be getting on with all the things that need to be done, with the seemingly endless round of medical appointments that make up their lives, the shopping and the housework.
She will not be walking the dog but there will be other things to do. And I hope that when the older cousin goes the younger one will have the courage to go out and do the other things she told me she has always wanted to do.

Thursday 20 September 2012

Yesterday, legislation which would have allowed

same sex couples to marry failed to get through the House of Representatives in Canberra.
This came as no surprise. It was expected to fail. The Coalition was required to vote against the Bill but, even with a conscience vote, it would have failed. A similar piece of legislation in the Senate is also set to fail. There are two more similar pieces of legislation due to be put before the parliament and they may also fail.
Those who want to see same-sex couples be able to marry say they will continue to fight for the right to do so but, if the next two pieces of legislation also fail, the issue will lose some of its momentum for now.
One of the local Senators spoke out strongly against same sex marriage. He suggested it would lead to demands for polygamy and even bestiality to be made legal. There was immediate outrage at his remarks.
I think he was right that there would be demands made on the polygamy issue and utterly wrong on the bestiality issue. Polygamy has already been raised as an issue. There are members of the Islamic community who would like to see it introduced. They say it is part of the Islamic tradition and that, along with all (or even just some) aspects of Sharia law, it should be introduced into Australia.
One of the local journalists wrote a column in response to the remarks of the Senator. She is firmly for same sex marriage. She suggested it is "balanced" because it is made up just two people. She suggested that polygamy is "imbalanced" because it involves one person of one sex and multiple persons of the other sex - and that alone is reason to refuse to allow it.
After I had read that I thought of someone I know. I do not know him well. His wife had a stroke at the birth of their child. She is alive but she is in a nursing home and appears to have no idea who anyone is. She has been in hospital and then the nursing home for the last seventeen years. He has remained married to her and supports her financially. He lives with another woman now and, each week, they go to visit his wife on their Sunday walk to church and then brunch at a cafe. The other woman has brought up his son as her son and they have another child as well. I know her better than I know him and she accepts the situation. She has been accepted by his family and the family of his wife, indeed they encouraged the relationship.
It's a rare situation and a very sad one in some ways. There are some who would say that here is a case where polygamy should be allowed. Others would say it should not be allowed because marriage vows say "for better or worse"- and they would claim he has done the wrong thing although he has provided his first child with an exceptionally good mother.
I am not making any judgements on either issue here but it does seem to me that nothing is ever quite as simple as it appears to be.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

I have been reading

a thesis proposal. This one was given to me by the student. She is a lovely girl from an Asian country and, for her, failure is not an option. Her government expects her not merely to pass, but pass well.
She came to me last week and said that, having written more than half of the thesis, one of her supervisors was raising questions about the proposals and "giving (her) a hard time". Could I please, please, please look at the proposal?
Her English is fair but it is very difficult to read. In writing she uses words she has obviously been taught are "acceptable" rather than appropriate. Like all students from her language group prepositions are a problem for her.
Those things though are not the problem. The proposal is. I wish I had seen it earlier. I am not sure how she was allowed to proceed so far without someone raising questions.
I can see what the problem is and it is a cultural one. She is being obedient. Although she is asking questions they are questions for which there are already answers. She is not adding to the knowledge in the area. In her own country this may well be sufficient. It will not be sufficient here. She needs to pose a question which has not been asked before and then use the material she has gathered to answer it. 
Her field is education. Her proposal looks only at the Australian education system. If she could relate it to the situation in her own country - and it is not politically sensitive so she might - then it would be of far greater value.  It is such an obvious solution that I wonder why she has not thought of it herself or why it has not been suggested to her - or do I?
It may be that, in her case, it is due to obedience. It would be rare for students, especially female students, to question teachers in her home country. Her supervisors here however should be aware of that and they should be encouraging her to question. They need to actually say, "Argue with us. Tell us what you think, not what we think."
And perhaps it has not been suggested to her because her supervisors have never been to her country - few people from here have been there. They do not know the language. In all likelihood they would not even recognise the script it is written in. What they know about the culture may be limited to what she has told them. They would almost certainly know nothing of the education system there. They may feel that supervising from that aspect is beyond them.
So I have corrected some English errors and scattered the pages with things like "ref?", "how?" and "why?" and "evidence?" Will it help? I do not know. I want to suggest a major change to the structure of her thesis but she has just five months of her visa left and I am not sure it will be extended. Would she cope with working on it alone in her home country? Will they see that as a failure?
I hope not.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Three wheels rather than

two means that I have an increased chance of getting a puncture when I pedal. I had a puncture yesterday.
I had gone down to the showgrounds to do the last of my duties as a Steward.  As there were very few people around I was able to park fairly close to the entrance and locked my trusty little machine to a convenient post.
The morning was a busy one passing back items to exhibitors, explaining to some people why their work did not win a prize and congratulating some who did. I packed things in boxes to send to people who enter from far off places. I put tissue paper in boxes and folded metres of material used over display stands.
Eventually, having done all I was supposed to do, I headed out to pedal home. Oh. The rear left wheel was as flat as flat. This was not a tyre in need of air. This was definitely a puncture.
I tried the phone to let the Senior Cat know I would be delayed. It was not working.
What to do next? I went back into the hall to see if I could borrow a phone, ring the Senior Cat and then perhaps an Access Cab to get trusty machine home.
        "Oh Cat, wait - one of the men might be able to help," someone said when she heard my tale of woe, "Just stand there."
I could have asked myself - although I would have hesitated to do so,
        "Hop down to Event Maintenance," a cheerful man tells her, "They will be able to help."
        She goes off to Event Maintenance for me because it is some distance away - and returns with another cheerful man and a bicycle pump. He shakes his head when he sees the tyre.
        "Definitely a puncture."
Neither of us have a puncture repair kit of course.
        "Where do you live?"
I explain. It is not that far, about three kilometres away. If I can get to the railway station I can catch the train and then the Senior Cat can come to the station with a new tube I tell them.
        "No, take you right home."
They bring around a trusty Australian "ute", a vehicle designed to carry just about anything because of the open tray at the back. My little vehicle is lifted onto the back and tied down expertly. I sit next to the driver who says it is "not a problem".
We have a nice conversation about the statistics for the new building at the showgrounds - cost $55m, 10,000 sq m of solar panels serving all their electricity needs and 3.25gigalitres of water stored on the roof if you are interested. He weaves expertly in and out the back streets to avoid the road works near us. On arrival my vehicle is lifted carefully off and wheeled right to the front door.
No, I cannot pay them anything. He just shakes my hand firmly and departs.
The Senior Cat had to go to the bike shop on his gopher. He bought two tubes - which was just as well as one of those turned out to be faulty.
He will return to the bike shop today to replace the faulty tube and buy a second puncture repair kit. We are going to post it to the cheerful men who went out of their way to help. I hope nobody else needs it but I do not doubt they will be prepared to help.

Monday 17 September 2012

I have just lost

almost four years worth of research. No, it was not a computer glitch. It was a human decision - not mine.
I will not bore you with the details but it involved monitoring the communication skills of a number of children who do not speak.  I have been working closely with their parents and their parents are devastated. The children are confused and frightened.
It is not even a "cut in funding". We could understand that - if there had been any funding in the first place. There was not. It was precisely because there was no funding that the project and my research was set up.
I have not yet been officially informed of the "policy change" but the parents were informed on Friday. The children's means of communication were removed during the day - without warning. The research material was apparently removed from the files at the same time. When I tried to access the online material over the weekend it was "unavailable".
The children have been given an alternative means of communication but it will take months, perhaps years, for them to learn to use it. The parents have apparently been told that this is a "much better" way of doing things. It will make their children "more like everyone else".
As one of the fathers in the group said to me, "But our kid is not like everyone else and he never will be."
I am not sure the other parents would say that quite so bluntly but they have all faced the fact that their beloved child is not going to be able to speak and will always have limited communication skills.
At very least, if there had to be a "policy change", the parents should have been involved. I do not expect those responsible would have involved me. They have never been happy about the project. It never involved the state of the art technology that they seem to think is so important. We were working on almost the oldest technology of all - paper, pictures, pens and pencils.  It worked.
I am waiting to be informed about the decision. I expect that, unlike the children and their parents, those responsible will be unable to communicate.
And yes, I am angry - very angry.

Sunday 16 September 2012

I have not seen the latest

idiotic anti-Muslim video allegedly made by a "Coptic Christian" from Egypt. I hope I never do see it. I do not want to see it.
That video was also allegedly the spark for a serious (and expensive) confrontation between protestors and the police in Sydney yesterday.  I doubt all the protestors had seen the video. They would merely have been "told about it". They would believe what they were told. That is dangerous, very dangerous.
I once heard an otherwise highly intelligent man from another religious group ask, "Why do you hate us?" At the time he was surrounded by a group of people who had invited him into their group in a genuine act of friendship. They were stunned and embarrassed. He was equally genuinely unable to understand he was welcome among them. All his life he had been told "you all hate us". It was not, and is not, true but it was what he had been "told".
Last year my sister and her family had an Australian of Fijian Indian heritage staying with them for most of the year. He happens to be a friend of my youngest nephew. As far as all of us were concerned he just became part of the family but another person asked me quietly, "Isn't it a bid odd?" Odd? He was waiting for enough work to be done on the house he had bought for it to be safe to move in. My sister and her family wanted to be sure he was safe but the person who questioned me had been "told" that you do not invite someone from another culture or background to live with you.
And then there is the alleged "incident" which has just surfaced in a piece by David Marr. It makes unsubstantiated claims about the leader of the Opposition during his time as a student back in the seventies. These claim has never been made before - and it would surely have been made in the student newspaper of the day. There is no evidence to back it up but it is getting widespread media coverage. Like the anti-Muslim video it is simply designed to do harm not good because people will simply believe what they are "told".
The allegation against the Opposition Leader is, in part, "pay-back" for some questions which were raised about the past conduct of the Prime Minister. As the unpopular-with-the-public leader of a minority government she is vulnerable. There was some old paperwork which gave rise to the allegations made against her. What cannot be proven is what she knew or thought at the time or whether her resignation was a personal choice or a choice made for her. People will still believe what they are "told", in this case influenced by the way they tend to vote.
Deliberately causing offence in order to stir up trouble is not new. Those who do it know all too well that far too many people will simply believe what they are "told".

Saturday 15 September 2012

"Tell me, they don't...

put these on beds any more do they?"
The lone male looking at the quilt display had been moving very slowly around. Unlike many people he really was looking.
We had a lot of people through the quilt display at the Show yesterday. The weather outside was cool and blustery so people headed indoors to the other displays. Many of them did a circuit of the quilts. Some just walked around and out of the area again. Others went a little more slowly but few of them really looked.
I can understand that. For most people they are just "nice" to look at. People have no idea how they are made or what is involved. It is like a great deal of the other craft work there - and in other places.
Unless you actually do the craft yourself or do something similar you cannot understand. The Senior Cat refers to the shawls I make as "those things you make with all the holes in them". He means the lace patterns. He does however understand that work is involved because of his own shed based woodworking.
So, seeing a lone male going very slowly around the quilts and looking very closely was something different. He finally reached the place where we were sitting and demonstrating other things and asked that question.
       "No, most of them do not go on beds these days," we told him.
       "Well, what do people do with them?"
       "Sometimes they get hung on walls but often they just get put away."
Yes, he could see that it was a problem. If you make multiple quilts then what do you do with them?
We explain that some of them are "art" quilts. They are intended to be wall hangings and not bed coverings. He can appreciate that but... the biggest ones, the size of a king sized bed? No, some of them still get carefully packed and put away. Storage? Yes, it is a problem. Cost? Sometimes extraordinary but, for the addicted quilter, this is less of an issue than not having enough fabric to continue making quilts.
He nodded and I showed him the quilt they have dubbed "Nearly Insane" because it is made up of quilt blocks within quilt blocks - one square about eight inches in size is made up of nearly four hundred pieces. The entire quilt is made of thousands and thousands of pieces.
He went on looking carefully at the last pieces in the display and then came back and thanked up courteously for the explanations.
        "It is," he said, "a magnificent form of madness."

Friday 14 September 2012

I am "truanting" today

and, while I know this is reprehensible, I am refusing to feel too guilty about it. I have already made up most of the time and I will make up the rest tomorrow.
I am heading off to the state's agricultural show again - where I was on Sunday and for much the same reason. This time I am going to demonstrate something called "double knitting". Knitters will probably know what I mean but, for non-knitters, this means knitting two layers of fabric at the same time. You start with twice as many stitches as you need then knit one stitch with one yarn at the front and then purl the next stitch with the other yarn at the back. If you (er..hmm) do not get tangled up then you should have two layers of smooth fabric. We will see. It is not something I am particularly skilled at so I am just doing a small sample piece to give people the general idea. They can then go and admire the incredibly skilled mittens knitted in that technique - or remember them with a renewed understanding.
The need to do something like this made me aware once again of the need to show people how things are done. The Convenor of the Arts and Crafts area is a wise individual. When she took the role on and found that there would be some space in the new building she raised the possibility of people doing demonstrations there. Now there is knitting, spinning and other yarn crafts. The cake decorators display their sugar-craft skills. These are probably the most popular. People recognise what they are but they like to watch - and ask questions. There are some other crafts too - tatting, woodcarving (on a very small scale), and paper-crafts of various sorts.
We have a project in mind for next year that might be an ongoing project for the entire week of the show. It will be interesting to see if it takes off because it will involve cooperation between the crafts.
Can we do it? I don't know but I am reminded of a story my father likes to tell. He was a very young teacher. There were annual inspections in those distant days. The inspector asked to see the craft work of the students and then looked at my father and said, "Man is a skill hungry animal."
And yes, many of us are fortunately still curious. I will probably learn as much as I teach today.

Thursday 13 September 2012

"There's more," she tells me

when I answer the knock at the front door.
I was expecting the caller. She works for the local bookshop. At the last meeting of the knitting group she asked me quietly if I thought the group could use some more knitting wool.
Oh yes, we will use knitting wool. I know other people who will use wool too. As always though I assumed she meant a few odd balls of wool that we could turn into hats and mittens or small garments for needy children.
Not so. First she e-mailed me and said she thought it was "a bit too much" to leave at the shop. I thought there might be a bag full and said, "Well, bring it around."
Late yesterday afternoon she came with two big bags and, on the second trip from her car,  a plastic container full to the brim. Oh. Yes. Right. Thankyou. Thankyou very much. I'll see it gets shared out and knitted up for worthy causes.
She smiled nicely and said, "Do what you like with it."
She dumped it on the floor of the living area and left. I did not even dare look at it. I went and finished the document I was working on. I uploaded it. I dealt with more e-mails.
I could almost hear all that wool complaining and moaning about "just being dumped". If it could have shifted itself I am sure it would have marched to where I was working and demanded attention. I ignored it.
I ignored it until I realised it was going to be in the way and the Senior Cat was likely to trip over it. Then I went and moved it into the other room. I peeked into the top of the bags as I did so, brilliant pink, bright sky blue, scarlet, purple, cream and brown. Good colours for beanies. I know my fellow knitters will be pleased but I told it all firmly that I did not have time to look further.  Tomorrow perhaps.
It is still sitting there. It stared accusingly at me as I passed it this morning - and I swear that, in revenge, it multiplied overnight.  

Wednesday 12 September 2012

We had unexpected visitors

yesterday. This was very bad news on the housekeeping front. The visitors must have wondered. They had not been in our home before and it would come as a shock to anyone.
The housework has been somewhat neglected of late because too many things have been happening. I did a considerable amount of housecleaning on Monday (a day later than the usual bathroom scrubbing etc) so the house is clean but....well the house looks so untidy that even the Senior Cat and I have noticed it.
We are not tidy people. I am not one of those people who has books ranged in alphabetical order or, as does one person I know, in order of size. We have a great many books and they are - well, everywhere. There is also wool in a couple of tubs and ranged around the chair I sit in to watch the evening news service (wool I am working on that is). There is also the box of sock wool waiting to be picked up and taken to the sock knitters. It had to come here because there is, usually, someone at home during the day.
Wool also means needles, pieces of paper with calculations and graphs, the pin container and the polystyrene blocking boards and the tube in which I keep the blocking wires.
There is another tub with the newly knitted blanket squares I collected from the lovely but elderly lady who knits the squares. On top of that is a tub full of biscuit cutters I need to sort. Duplicates will get passed on to other places. I will keep the rest for making Christmas biscuits for the oldies I keep an eye on. There are pens, pencils and scraps of paper decorating a corner of the kitchen bench - must tidy those and get the pencils sharpened again.
The Senior Cat has books, a steel rule, several pieces of sandpaper, a tin of polish, some seed packets (empty), some copper wire, a torch (waiting for new batteries) and several pieces of timber in an untidy pile by his chair.
And then there are the newspapers. We get two, the state paper and the national paper. I need to read the national one and the Senior Cat likes the local one.  The Senior Cat starts out quite tidily with the papers but, by the end of breakfast, parts of it have been discarded. He has never read the racing guide in the middle in his life - and neither have I. We would not know how to read it. Real estate lift out gets tossed on a chair. He is not buying a house. Cars guide. Tossed. We do not have a car. Advertising inserts...not unless it is the hardware store in the next suburb and he thinks he might want something. Unfortunately the sports section is the entire rear section of the paper and that is attached to the pages at the front of the state paper. He is still frustrated by that.
I will blame those newspapers. If they just gave us the bits we wanted to read then our house would be a lot tidier - perhaps.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

There are no less than five full pages

in this morning's state newspaper which are devoted to the death of a young football player.
I have not read them and I do not intend to read them. I heard about it on the news service. There was a good deal said there as well.
It is sad when any twenty-two year old dies. They should still have their life stretching ahead of them, full of hope. At twenty-two I headed off to London for a year. It was, despite all the problems I faced, the best year of my life. I was half a world away from my mother. I would happily have stayed in London forever. Going back to Australia was the hardest thing I ever did, especially when my career plans were halted by events outside my control.  But, I have still done things. I even went back to London for a bit.
The young footballer was not that lucky and I am sorry for him and I am sorry for his family and his team mates. But, I still think the fuss made by the media is wrong. If you have read yesterday's post you will perhaps be able to guess one of the reasons why. Far more has been made of this one young footballer than all are Paralympians combined.
The other reason is that this sort of coverage is not about genuine grief on the part of the media or the rest of the population. We can feel sorry and even concerned but we don't feel the grief the family or close friends might feel.
Perhaps there is something wrong with me but I feel a good deal more concerned for the two young girls holidaying France who have lost their parents and their maternal grandmother. They will never, like so many other children I have heard about, recover fully from their experience.
There is also the young Syrian boy they managed to get out last night. His parents are dead, his two brothers are dead. He has lost both legs. He's nine and he is worrying about his seriously injured sister - and whether he will still be able to play soccer.
I know about far too many children like that.
And another friend of mine has just written a piece on her blog about the way she has just lost a friend. She turned the comments off so people would not comment. I can understand that but I wish she was not on the other side of the world so I could just give her a silent hug instead.
Sometimes we use too many words.

Monday 10 September 2012

So the Paralympics

are over as well.
Regular readers of these ramblings will know only too well that I am not interested in sport. It barely gets mentioned. I was not even particularly interested in the Paralympics although I know something about one or two of the competitors.
And I know something else too - all of those who went had to work just as hard, indeed sometimes harder, than any Olympian to get there. Their families and friends had to work much harder too.
You see, they don't get the support Olympians get. They don't get those sports scholarships or the same level of sponsorship or the same level of government funding.
It would be nice but I don't think they expect it.
There is also something else they don't get - and that is the same level of television coverage and public adulation. They barely rated a mention on the news services.
Now I have to confess I did not see the commercial television news services but friends assure me that "they didn't say much - not like the Olympics". I do not doubt them. They apparently could not even get the names of the competitors right at times. It was no different anywhere else. Front page pictures of beaming medal winners? Front page medal talleys? Lead items in the news? Forget it.
Then, yesterday, someone actually said, "Well, it's not the real Olympics is it? Nobody wants to watch people like that. Nobody is going to pay to advertise while that sort of stuff is being shown."
I held my breath. Three more people agreed, a fourth thought it was "a bit tough" to take that attitude. A couple of people shrugged and looked uncomfortable but did not say anything.
So, I said a thing or two. I said it quietly. I did not lose my temper but I said it and then I left before anyone could say anything to me. I don't want them to argue with me. I don't want them to apologise for their attitude. I just want them to think about the effort that some people put into getting to London. It's more effort than any of them have ever made in their lives.

Sunday 9 September 2012

"Bread? Well actually

we don't eat much bread. It wouldn't be worth our while."
We were discussing bread and breadmaking and one of those present dismissed both bread and breadmaking as being of just that much importance.
I make our bread - with the help of a bread machine. The Senior Cat prefers what he refers to as "real bread". He does not consider "cheap, square, white sliced" to have any food value at all. I suspect it has considerably less food value than what I make or than some of the other breads available in the supermarket.
The supermarket I shop in does have a good range of bread. Some of it is the "cheap, square, white sliced" sort but there are breads as well, wholemeal, full grain, dark rye, light rye, fruit, flavoured etc etc. You can buy a cheap loaf for a couple of dollars (less on special or if it is "yesterday's loaf") but the better breads can be as much as three times that price.
I have watched and the vast majority of people buy pre-sliced bread in plastic packets. It is convenient. It makes sandwiches for school lunches. It makes toast. It has a soft crust and spongy texture. It does not have a lot of flavour. It was what most people want. They see bread as an addition or a base. It is not seen as a food in itself. I used to be "the staff of life". Now it is seen as "carbohydrate", something to be avoided.
I make ours from a variety of flours but largely from whole meal. I add other things, particularly seeds like sunflowers and pepitas or nuts like walnuts. They are our basic everyday loaves. Sometimes I will make something special. It might have dried fruit if it is sweet or olives or cheese if it is savoury. Yes, it is still largely carbohydrate but we need a certain amount of carbohydrate and I like to consider this sort is better for us than some other forms of carbohydrate.
The woman who made the comment about bread was eating a commercially made biscuit with her coffee. It was not a bad biscuit in itself. There are plenty of others with a much higher calorie or kilojoule content but these are high enough. The biscuits are convenient and require no preparation. They taste good. It was her second such biscuit.
I suspect she sees the biscuits as "just a little snack" although they probably have more calories or kilojoules than a slice of good bread. No wonder they are so tempting!

Saturday 8 September 2012

Our local bookshop

staff tell me that craft books are selling particularly well at present. That does not surprise me. The previous owner has the theory that, in an economic downturn, people turn to making things. Her theory is that people go out less. They spend less on restaurant meals and external entertainment. Instead they find other ways of entertaining themselves.
As my life has always been in "economic downturn" I have always found things to do which do not cost a great deal. Nevertheless I know I have invested in books and yarn.  The books I rarely part with. The yarn gets made into things that are given away, sold to raise funds for a friend who runs a refugee camp, or used by me, the Senior Cat and other family members. Knitting is a useful sort of hobby.
There are craft books that tell you how to do things with the left overs. You can make egg-cosies and mug cosies and finger puppets, toilet roll covers and a cover for practically anything else. Some people make pet blankets or knee rugs.
I am not interested in such things. I doubt they get used. They would not be used by anyone I know.
I also have a friend who does what she calls "scrumbling". She uses up the smallest lengths of yarn by crocheting and knitting them into abstract shapes and putting them together as vests, jackets, coats, handbags and other items. They are works of art.
She has written more than one book about the process. I possess a copy of the book and I have given copies to several other people.
I do not "scrumble" myself but I have left overs. I also have many single balls of yarn left to me by a friend.  Some of these will get turned into useful hats and mittens but there are other balls that are unsuited to that. There are cones of fine yarn that need to be used in multiple strands.
And there is the current "play" project. I have seen nothing quite like it in any of the books I have read but I know that they must have been the source of the idea. It involves metres and metres of French knitting/spoolknitting/tomboystitch - call it what you will. It involves squares knitted from yarns that I do not particularly like or are not particularly useful. It involves rather a lot of red, a colour I do not often use. I am still not sure it is going to work. It is definitely not a scrumbled garment but it may end up as a vest - although not one I am likely to wear. It is a means of not wasting the odds and ends, some of the odds and ends.
I am knitting something else at the same time. I have, as always, designed it myself but I know that the books I have read will have influenced that too. No wonder craft books sell well.

Friday 7 September 2012

So if little Johnny

and little Mary climb a tree and fall out and break their arms as they fall it seems their parents can now be prosecuted for "neglect" - at least according to an article I have just read. Has the world of child protection gone mad?
Apparently if parents take an injured child to hospital they now risk prosecution for "neglect", for failing to keep the child safe and for failing to keep the child from injuring himself or herself even if the injury is a minor one. I can hear parents all over the country now telling their children, "No you can't go outside and play. You might injure yourself and I might end up in court" or "No, you can't learn to ride a bike because you might fall off and break your arm or your leg and I will end up in court."
The list could go on and on.
Rather than risk prosecution parents will wrap their children in more and more layers of cotton wool and deny them more and more experiences. They will transmit their own fear to their children. Exploration will be discouraged. Initiative will be forbidden. It will be because parents do not know where "reasonable parenting" ends and "neglect" ends.
You're bored? Well we will find yet another supervised activity for you to participate in...another sport? Yes, you do have to try and be in the team and the team has to win. Dance class? Yes, but you have to do the set exams. Music? There will be music practice and exams. A craft? Probably not. Too messy or too dangerous and really it's a waste of time. Read a book? Do you really need to waste your time reading a book when you could be learning something?
Children are already over supervised. They are rarely left alone. Adults are with them almost every hour of their waking lives. When they are left alone it is because they are "indulging" in some form of sedentary occupation - usually screen related. The freedom to break a window throwing a cricket ball or kicking a football in the street has long since gone. It is more dangerous. Cars are faster and there are far more of them. Gardens, if they exist at all, are squares of lawn and a few shrubs. The materials for making a cubby house no longer exist and the trees, if they exist, have been pruned by an "expert". They are not there for climbing.
It all makes me wonder how long it will be before a child trips over a shoe-lace an arm which will result in the parents being charged with neglect. They in turn will sue the child's nursery or pre-school because the child has not been taught how to tie shoe laces.  It will happen.

Thursday 6 September 2012

"But, it's natural!"

the woman told me. I can remember looking at a photograph of her "garden". This was last summer and I am still shocked by it. I dread to think what it looks like now.
She lives in the Adelaide Hills and, like some other residents up there, she likes to believe she is living in a natural bushland setting.
She is not. She is living in almost-suburbia. She has neighbours within fifty metres on one side and about one hundred on the other. There are more houses opposite and a small shopping centre about a kilometre away.
Her garden is not a garden at all. It is just a mess of trees and undergrowth. Nothing has ever been done to it.
It is an extreme example of the way some people in the hills area believe they can live. Many of them have trees, usually gum trees, close to their houses. They do not clear the undergrowth. Gutters do not get cleared. Stray branches which fall do not get removed.
The end result harbours unwanted snakes and other vermin. It is also, even more seriously, a fire hazard.
When this is pointed out some people do make an effort to clear their properties of the detritus. Some do it well. Others do not do it well enough. Some do not do it at all. They leave it because, despite the potential hazards, they see it as natural. They do not like to be told they cannot have it this way.
We have friends who live several houses away from the woman who showed me the photograph. The area around the house is cleared. The gutters are clean. They have a dam for water and  a pump. The whole area is set up with a sprinkler system. It is the best they can do. The fire service will send people to them to see what should be done.
It is still not going to be enough if a major fire occurs because their neighbours have not done the right thing.
We have massive amounts of undergrowth in the hills this year because it has been a wet winter. It will not take long for it to dry out and become a major fire hazard. Yesterday was a wild and windy day, the worst we have had in some years. If it had been this wild and windy in summer and someone had lit a match or an overhead power line had sparked....
I dread to think - and it is not natural.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Confidential information

should be kept confidential. Requests to keep information confidential should be respected. There are only very rare occasions where it is right and proper to breach confidentiality.
There are also vast amounts of information which, although not confidential, are best kept to oneself. It is information which does not need to be shared with other people.
I am the keeper of both sorts of information. Most of us are.
I do not put things up on the internet for the public consumption of others unless I want to share it with the world. This blog gets read in China and Russia and other distant parts of the world so I try to be careful - for readers there as well as myself. I am not about to breach national security, nor am I going to share information which should not be shared.
The Australian government however is thinking differently. Nicola Roxon, our Attorney General, gave a speech yesterday. In it she indicated that the government is moving towards favourably considering the idea that vast amounts of personal and private internet and other telecommunications data should be kept for a time so that our every move can be monitored.  It is an Orwellian move more in keeping with North Korea's government than a supposedly democratic twenty-first century state.
Does the government really need to know that a friend phoned last night? Oh, we might have been plotting to put some knitters on stage? Or that I had an e-mail to say that someone's grandson is critically ill? Oh his grandparents might harm someone else in their grief and frustration?
Claims that data would be secure and that it would only be used by government are a nonsense. No data is secure. Anything can be hacked.
And it does not even take hacking. A short submission to the government with the words "in confidence" was put up on a government website for the world to see. As it is probably not too much damage has been done - although some has been done. It was removed from public view when it was pointed out to them that the submission was intended to be confidential but, if they cannot get even that right, how can they be trusted with vast amounts of infinitely more confidential information?

Tuesday 4 September 2012

The Prime Minister's

long awaited response to the Gonski Report was delivered yesterday - and sounded like a damp squib.
For those of you outside Downunder the "Gonski Report" is the report into education funding which was commissioned by the present Federal Government. Naturally the person they chose to write it is someone who shares the political leanings of the government - although I doubt it was quite what the government expected.
Nevertheless it can be summed up along the lines of "we need to spend a lot more money on public education".
The Senior Cat, who was once the principal of one of the largest and most difficult schools in the state, has been following this story. I am a former teacher. I have been following it. I know others who have been following the story too.
We all agree that more money would be nice but we also believe that money will not solve the present or future problems. They are going to need a change of philosophy.
The Senior Cat went to school in the days when class sizes of 50 or more were standard. There was the Qualifying Certificate at the end of primary school. It was stiff examination which decided whether you went to a high school (grammar school) or technical high school (secondary modern).  There was also the Intermediate, the Leaving and the Leaving Honours (sub old fashioned O level, O level and a sort of sub-A level). You could actually go to university after the Leaving - and some did.
By the time I was at school the class sizes were down to about 45 in the primary but still around 50 in high school. There was the Progress Certificate rather than the Qualifying Certificate - and yes, it was easier. You did it over the last two years of primary school.  There were still high schools and technical high schools and the same examinations there.
Now there is no examination at the end of the state primary schools although some fee paying schools do have examinations. There is merely a Year 12 certificate or "the Matric" at the end of high school. A lot of that is internally assessed. Class sizes are less than half of what they once were.
Yes there is more to teach but the Senior Cat has serious questions about what is being taught. He says you need a basic set of skills in order to be able to learn other things. You need to be able to read and write with confidence. You need to know and understand basic number facts in order to go on to other concepts. You need basic social skills before you can "negotiate". He says a school should not be seen as a place where you are constantly entertained.
Others agree with him. They do not necessarily want to return to class sizes of 50 plus but they do want to see a return to teaching and learning the skills that will allow children to go on learning.
There was nothing really said about that. I suspect it would not be popular. Teachers pay lip service to it but many of them do not want to be faced with that challenge. It is hard enough to keep their young charges entertained.

Monday 3 September 2012

I was alerted

yesterday to the fact that there was going to be an article in today's paper about "kids in care".
It is there and I have just read it. There are the usual complaints that it is hard to find people who are willing to foster children and that some children are difficult to foster.
I do not think the article said anything new. I suspect the real reason for making a fuss is sheer desperation on the part of the department concerned. They need more people willing to foster children, particularly difficult children. This does not surprise me.
It would be nice to think of all children in a loving, safe environments where they are well cared for. It is also not going to happen.
I also think that the social welfare "industry" and the "politically correct" lobby have made it much harder to be a foster carer. They are partly to blame for the problems.
Foster care is seen as a last resort. The philosophy is to keep parent and child together if at all possible. That sounds fine but is it always the best thing for the child? It seems to me that, by the time the social workers realise it is not going to work, the child has suffered so much damage that they are going to have behavioural and other problems. When the foster carers are asked to take over they have the almost impossible task of disciplining the child and trying to alter the behaviour patterns brought on by years of bad parenting - and they have to do it within the guide lines laid down by the department rather than their own. 
Yes, children get abused in care too and nobody wants to see children being beaten or sexually assaulted but it is difficult to punish a child in any way at all.  I know two people who have fostered a number of children over many years. The children they have taken in have all had other disabilities and they have done extremely well with them.  Recently they were asked to "as a favour" take in a boy with serious behavioural issues "just until we find a place for him". Against their better judgment they did it.
He disrupted the household to the point where it was clear he could not be handled there either. He also made an accusation of sexual harrassment against the husband and, until the child was caught out in a blatant lie - coached by his mother whose visits they were expected to supervise, it looked as if the other three children would also be removed from what is a loving and caring home. The stress it has caused them all is unbelievable.
Life is settling down again for the foster couple and their charges. They have not given up on the other three children. The department in question is fortunate. They have three children being well cared for who would have been almost impossible to place elsewhere because of their medical issues.
After the disruptive child had departed the foster mother said to me,
       "You know Cat if he had been with us from a baby he surely would not have been like that. They kept him with his mother until he was seven and that is just too late."
I wonder what we are doing to some children in the name of political correctness and the social welfare industry.  Are we really doing the best thing for the child?

Sunday 2 September 2012

"You are wearing

your old trousers," I tell the Senior Cat.
       "No, I'm not."
       "Oh yes you are."
       "I am not."
       "All right but have a look when you change."
The Senior Cat is vague about clothes. He tends to just grab the nearest thing to hand and, if it looks about right, he wears it.
He has two pairs of grey trousers. They are virtually identical except that one pair is much older than the others - and they look it. They are thin in the seat of the pants. The knees are slightly baggy. They are a size larger than the current pair and they have an old belt attached. The Senior Cat has apparently noticed none of these things.
He hates buying clothes. As I do not like clothes shopping either this is something of a problem but I do notice his appearance and mine.
Fortunately he has only been to see the lovely person who cuts his toenails and otherwise keeps an eye on his feet. She is the daughter--in-law of a friend and very understanding.  I know that he has at least made sure his feet are very clean before he sees her!
He disappears to change back into comfortable workshop and garden clothes and then comes out.
       "Er, you were right."
       "Never mind. I am sure Liz understood."
It being the first Saturday of the month yesterday the local charity shop was open. The Whirlwind and I prowled into the book section as usual. There are some gaps in her library and she is trying to fill them. We had to go past the men's clothing section to get to the books.
       "New shirts," she tells me, "I wonder if there would be any there for my Dad."
Yes, new shirts. They are still in their cellophane wrappers and packaging. There are white business shirts, cream business shirts, a striped one and a number of coloured shirts. Unlike most children the Whirlwind knows what size her father takes and what he is likely to wear. He is, if anything, even more conservative than the Senior Cat.
       We look. They are good quality and cheap. I pick up a couple for the Senior Cat. The Whirlwind finds two good business shirts for her father and borrows the money from me to buy them. Why not? Where else will you find a brand new shirt for $3?
We look at the books but do not, for once, buy any. We pay pay for the shirts and head out the door.  As we go the Whirlwind says,
         "You know Cat my Dad was wearing the most disgusting shirt yesterday. I felt awful. It's like I don't look after him properly."
         "I know exactly how you feel," I tell her.

Saturday 1 September 2012

There were five

deaths in our armed services this week, all on a single day in Afghanistan. Two men died in a helicopter crash and the other three died in a "green on blue" attack - an attack by a "rogue" Afghan soldier.
Recently New Zealand lost some soldiers too. The British have. The United States has. Other countries have too, including Afghanistan itself. There have been too many deaths.
People say "it's like Vietnam". It is and it is not.  Vietnam is the first war I am old enough to remember clearly. My brother was a conscientious objector. I have no doubt that our entire family will be forever in the files of the shadowy figures in our nation's capital because of it. My brother was accused of being a coward and we were accused of harbouring a criminal. There were rocks thrown through our windows. Life was uncomfortable for some time but we also had supporters who helped us through.
My father says he is not a pacifist. He would, even now, attempt to defend his family if faced with actual and immediate confrontation. But, like me, he would prefer to negotiate with words and reason. We both loathe violence. Violence frightens me. I know I do not handle it well. I am not even good at minor face-to-face confrontation.
My brother is the same. He is not a pacifist. He would defend his family. So would his son and his son-in-law. My brother-in-law and his sons would too.
Someone I was talking to said that it is not possible to be a conscientious objector and still say you would defend your family with potentially the need to use force. I do not agree. I think failing to defend your family is cowardly but refusing to be conscripted in order to fight someone else's war is not the same thing.
We do not have conscripts in Afghanistan. The personnel there are regular members of our armed forces. They signed up knowing that they could go to war. It is a risk they chose to take. It does not make their deaths right or proper or in any way better or more acceptable because no death by violence can ever be right or proper or acceptable. 
I sometimes wonder what will happen when all the overseas troops leave Afghanistan. How rapidly will it descend into chaos? How soon before the Taliban succeed in taking over again? What will happen to the surrounding regions? Or, will there be some sort of miracle which will allow the shaky and corrupt government in Kabul to maintain some sort of law and order. Will women manage to get an education? Will there be at least basic health services? Will the country be able to build on what it has?
I don't have any answers. I just know that fighting someone else's war is impossible.
Defence has to come from within ourselves.