Friday 30 November 2012

Prowling through a very large

shopping centre is not my idea of fun. The Senior Cat wanted to see "Skyfall" and so did a friend of his. I would not have minded seeing it myself but the friend's wife did not want to see it. She only likes "gentle films". I would, she decided, accompany her on a tour of the shopping centre while the "two boys" went to the film in the upper reaches of the same centre.
In order to keep the peace I dutifully agreed to take some time off. It would, I thought, at least be cooler there and the forecast temperature was for 40'C.
They picked us up and we were incredibly fortunate to find a parking space close to the entrance and under cover. A lunch of quiche and salad at their favourite eatery in the centre and "the boys" went off to the film. We toured the shops.
She likes to look at shoes and clothes.
I detest trying to buy shoes, not least because there are severe restrictions on what I can wear. I also think that shoes for females are often ridiculous and outrageously priced. We looked at strappy little things with barely nothing over the top and impossibly high heels.
        "I would have worn those once," she tells me. Yes, I have no doubt she probably would - and got away with it. She has style. There were flatter sparkly sandals and I suspect she might have bought those but I am afraid I asked,
        "When would you wear them?"
        "Yes, you're right."
We looked at clothes.
        "There are such lovely bright colours around this year," she tells me. Yes, if you like orange and lime and tomato red in filmy fabrics which look as if they have never been ironed. I am sure they must suit someone. They do not suit me.
Labels are read. Styles are scrutinised. Construction is considered. I listen but do not listen.
We prowl on. She looks at nail varnish in an unlikely array of colours. I have never worn nail varnish. That horrifies her.
Eventually she suggests we sit down for a while. There is another hour and a half before we need to collect the film goers. So we sit for half an hour. Coffee is consumed and we watch the passing parade. She observes clothes. I observe the people who are wearing them.
The coffee area is opposite a shop selling a wide variety of kitchenware. I ask if she would mind wandering in there for a moment so I can pick up some new kitchen tongs. She agrees but tells me, "I've never been anywhere like that."
There are all sorts of "gadgets" in there. I would never want any of them. I packed a lot of similar things up when my mother died. She inherited some from her mother and then collected more. I do not use many "gadgets", just the most ordinary things like a tin opener.
She wanders around but I can see she is not really interested so I find the tongs (on "special") and buy them. We leave and continue on. More shoes. More clothes. She also looks at large water machine-gun like water pistols for her grandsons for Christmas stocking fillers. Knowing what their mother would think I hold my breath. I say nothing. She does not buy them.
There is a bookshop next door. No, she is not interested in reading. I could have spent the rest of the time in there. We do not even enter the shop.
She looks at sheets. They would give the Senior Cat nightmares. I don't see the point of fancy sheets. You don't notice them when you are asleep and, like the Senior Cat, I prefer the comfort of cotton rather than the floral of polyester-cotton but she believes that the sheets should match the rest of the decor.
Eventually we return to the foyer of the theatre area. There are chairs. We sit down to wait.
          "Oh that was lovely! But, we have only done about a quarter of the shops. We must do it again."
          I say nothing.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Our Prime Minister is

in more hot water as documents start to surface in the bubbling cauldron of fraud and deceit which has been cooking in the kitchens of the Australian Workers' Union.
I admit I have never been too happy with the union movement. I recognise it once had very worthy aims and it has, in the past, done a great deal for people who were not able to speak up for themselves. Now people have other weapons at their disposal. Some of those weapons may be more effective.
       "Going to the union" when something goes wrong may not always be the best course of action. A colleague of mine had the choice of going to the union or going to the boss recently. He chose to go to the boss and explain, politely, that there was a problem. The boss listened and the problem was resolved. I have no doubt the boss appreciated the problem being handled in that way. It saved time and money.
The union did not like it. He was reprimanded for "not going through the proper channels".
         "All they really wanted Cat," he told me, "was a chance to flex their muscles. I managed to get the problem fixed in a five minute meeting with the boss and now I am the one seen as a 'troublemaker' by the union."
I can understand that he might be. Unions do not seem to like people treading on what they regard as their territory.  I can understand that too. The percentage of workers who belong to unions is not nearly as high as it used to be. They are as anxious to protect themselves as the workers they are supposed to represent.
So the current problems for the Prime Minister must also be a worry for the union movement. The Health Services Union is being investigated for fraud. The AWU has questions to answer. The CFMEU is under scrutiny again.
The same colleague who went to the boss also said to me,
         "You know Cat if you put it all into a book they would say it was a stupid story."
Probably - at least it would be an unbelievable plot.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Our local railway line is to be closed

for seven months next year. It was also closed a couple of years ago when they did a massive alteration to meet the interstate gauge requirements. (No, do not ask. The "founding fathers" could not agree on that either.)
This time it has to do with a railway crossing. It is supposed to make it a few minutes faster for the traffic to flow and for the over-long goods trains to get to their destination more easily.
There are a number of problems with this. The first is that the traffic flow problems are not at the point where they are making the alterations. They traffic flow problems are in other places entirely - and there is nothing they could do about them short of building a  massive over pass. That might not be a bad idea but it would be even more expensive.
The second problem is that the goods trains should not be using that route at all. They should be sent north of the city. They will eventually need to be sent north of the city. Even now they are a major danger. They come down through the hills behind us and, if there is a break down they can block access to major roads. So far there has not been a najor fire emergency but, if there was, then there could also be a major tragedy because vehicles simply could not get through. As it is emergency vehicles have to come from greater distances - and through traffic which may have built up to an almost impassible point.
All that has been carefully explained to the powers that be. They are not listening. They want the cheap option. They want the short term solution.
Nobody needs to be surprised by that. It happens everywhere.
There is also a third problem. Our line is not the only one going to be closed - although ours will be closed far longer than the others. The rail network will be closed for at least a month.
That brings me to the fourth problem. How do you transport the people who usually use the train?
The government thought they had a simple answer. They would provide a "free" bus service - i.e. paid for by the taxpayer.
It won't work. If buses go the route of the train (as planned) then they will have to go where no bus can go. They claim to have thought of that. They will do a roundabout route which will allow them to pick up and drop people off at railways stations. The time table will be different (because it will take buses much longer than the trains) but "the service will be the same".
Buses of course do not carry as many people. This does not matter too much in the middle of the day when very few people use the trains - or the buses. It will matter at either end of the day when people are getting to and from work and students are getting to and from school. No matter, they tell us. We are putting on fourteen extra buses. Fourteen?
If the service is also going to be "free" other peole will want to use it as well. I imagine it will be chaos.
In the middle of all of that there is another problem. What happens to people who cannot access buses? Not all buses are "accessible" even now and I suspect that "accessible" buses will be too crowded to add a wheelchair or a gopher. I am not allowed to take my tricycle on a bus. There are wheelchairs and gophers which cannot access "accessible" buses. What if several elderly people need to get on with their walkers. Trains have spaces for those things. The doors are wide enough to make access easy.
No problem they say. Just let us know in advance if people need a taxi voucher. Oh? You are going to provide an "access cab" to and from work each day for the quadriplegic who uses his electric wheelchair on the train? It is going to arrive promptly and take him home promptly? I doubt it and so does he. That service is notoriously unreliable.
He is not the only one by any means. So far, apart from answering individual inquiries, the authorities have not said a word about this. All the individual response has said is that taxi vouchers will be provided if advance notice is given. It sounds very reasonable until you start to think about the possible consequences.
I am advised the work, if it needs to be done at all, could be done in about a third of the time if they worked around the clock. They would in many other places. Here they will apparently work one daylight shift.
Those of us who need to use the train know we will need to forego any social life that involves train travel but I hope there are no emergencies and nobody needs to get to work for seven months. It just seems rather unlikely.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Do you remember the "Friday Test" or

the "weekly tests"?
I am not sure when they stopped having them in schools but my infant and primary school years were marked out by regular "tests".  On Friday mornings you were given ten mental arithmetic problems, five written arithmetic problems, ten spelling words to write down, five reading comprehension questions, a short piece of "dictation" and a "composition" to do. Some weeks there would be history or geography or nature science. At the end of each term there would be all of those things plus handwriting and physical education.
We all did those things. It was part of school life. A few of us came under some pressure. I was expected to get full marks (and mostly managed it) in the academic subjects.  I had to make up for my complete failure in handwriting and physical education.
At the end of primary school we all did something called the Progress Certificate (something akin to the old 11+ in England) and then headed off to high school or, in rural schools, the Public Examination Board stream - or there was the technical high school or Area School stream for the less academically inclined. There we were faced with the "Intermediate", "Leaving" and "Leaving Honours". Not any more.
They stopped testing at all for a while. It was considered to be harmful. Then the government decided they needed to know more about what was going on in schools so they introduced NAPLAN - nationwide testing of children in the third, fifth, seventh and ninth years of school. NAPLAN is said to be "controversial". Teachers are said to "teach to the test". It has produced "league tables". The worth of a teacher is, in the eyes of many, a reflection of his or her NAPLAN results.
Worse than that, according to some, is the fact that children get stressed by the thought of doing these tests. They suffer sleeplessness and vomiting. They feel inferior if their results do not measure up to those of their classmates. Entire schools are said to suffer when their results are below the national average. Children are not, apparently, allowed to "fail" any more. It is, apparently, not good for them. They suffer psychological damage.
I had children who failed when I was teaching. Perhaps I failed to teach them. Some of them were lazy. Perhaps I failed to motivate them. There were some who were not as able as others. Perhaps I should have made them more able or lowered the standard just for them. There were a few tears but they almost always set about trying again with encouragement from me and their classmates.
At the end of every term I had to write reports for the parents. Not everyone had passed in everything, one child had barely scraped through most things and failed at arithmetic. Every single one of them had excelled at something. The boy who had barely scraped through was the self-appointed "bin monitor". At the end of every day he would, without being asked, check the classroom floor and empty the waste paper basket into the big bin on the other side of the schoolyard. If for any reason he could not do it he would remind someone else to do it.  I remember writing "M.... is helpful and reliable..."
His father came in on "Parents' Day" and asked me about his progress and I had to explain we had considered suggesting he repeat the year but his willingness to persist with his self-appointed task suggested he could make it through the next year with some extra help. His father nodded and then said with a wry smile,
        "But he's a good kid isn't he?"
 He was and he is probably a good adult too. I wonder though what he would be like if he been "passed" in arithmetic.

Monday 26 November 2012

For all the wrong reasons friends of mine have appeared

in the state newspaper this morning.
They are lovely people who just happen to have a profoundly physically and intellectually disabled daughter. Their life for the last thirty-five years has revolved around her care. The father is now 82 and the mother 73 and they still have K living at home. There is nowhere else for her to go.
Giving K a bath is a major undertaking but K is always immaculate. Because of the difficulties of dressing K her mother makes many of her clothes and they are lovely. They go on regular outings in the vehicle her father has had adapted for her wheelchair or on the train. K likes being out and watching things.
It is hard to know how much she is taking in because she does not speak. When I am talking to her I have to frame my questions so she can answer "yes" or "no" by looking up or down but, as her mother says, she has a "wicked sense of humour".
And this morning they are in the paper - for all the age old reasons. There is nowhere for K to go and they are worried about her future when they can no longer care for her.
Her father had a knee replacement recently. They were found "emergency respite accommodation" for a short period because it was absolutely impossible for him to do the things he normally does to help. He talked to me about how they might manage when he was considered "fit" again. He also mentioned that, while K was in respite, they were "having a couple of days out" doing things together that they cannot do when K is with them. They were, for most people, the most ordinary activities in the world. He spoke of them as if they were a gift.
Next to the column talking about their worries - and the worries shared by many like them - was another article about the proposed introduction of a National Disability Insurance Scheme. The NDIS proposal has rare bi-partisan support.  A lot of people are hoping for a lot from this scheme if it gets passed into law. They are almost bound to be disappointed.
The real cost of any NDIS would be so high that no government could afford it. That is not to say that it should not be considered. It should be. It will not however hold all the answers. If we are not careful it will end up offering less support than people are given now. The argument will be "you have the NDIS and nothing else needs to be done".  It will not solve the problems of the families who care for children like K even if it gives them a little extra equipment to do the caring themselves.
It will not solve the problem of what will happen to K when her parents can no longer care for her. No government scheme, not even a private and well funded scheme, could provide what K's parents have always provided - outstandingly good care given with love.
But even that is not an issue because there is simply no provision made for the K's of this world - or their parents.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Shortbread was consumed

in the library yesterday.
I had promised the knitting group they could have some of my shortbread baking - and of course the staff needed some too.
It was our last library knitting group meeting for the year - an up and down sort of year for the group. One of them lost a sister to cancer, another lost her father and discovered a sister she did not know she had, another went back to New Zealand and one has been away in America for several months. 
The rest of us have knitted and taught each other new ways of casting on and finishing off and how to read particular patterns. Crochet has been taught too. We have experimented. We have talked about new knitting ideas, new knitting books and just about everything else. We have welcomed people in for just a few sessions - a young mother-to-be making baby garments, a girl who needed help to finish something before she went on her gap year abroad and a woman who asked shyly for some help in working out how to do a border. We have not yet had any men - but we live in hope. Men do knit. I know men who knit very well indeed.
It has been a noisy group. The meeting room is usually alive with chatter. There was a "book group" in the other half of the room yesterday and that was alive with chatter too.
We ate. We drank. We talked. One person used a pen to write something on a pattern she was using.
We broke all the old rules for using libraries. No eating. No drinking. No talking (except very quietly to the staff). No pens, only pencils.
Breaking some rules can sometimes be fun.

Saturday 24 November 2012

The question is, "What did

she know, when did show know it and (more importantly) what did she do about it?"
I think that might actually be three questions - all related to the same topic.
Oh yes, the Prime Minister is in hot water - again.
I had a phone call yesterday asking me to write a letter about the hot water in which the Prime Minister finds herself. I declined. The matter has to do with a "slush fund", the Australian Workers Union and a former close male friend of the Prime Minister. I do not know enough about it to comment.
I can however answer the questions.
     "What did she know?"  More than she is telling us. Part of this has to do with the fact that she was acting as a "senior lawyer" in a large law firm. Some of that will come under legal professional privilege - but not all of it. Some of it will be about covering her own back. She may not have done anything wrong but her judgment is being questioned.
     "When did she know it?" Sooner than she is telling us she knew. That also has something to do with legal professional privilege - but again it is not all of it.If she did not know she should have known because it was happening on her watch. If she did know she should have done something about it. Again her competence and judgment is being questioned.
     "What did she do about it?" What she was apparently asked to do in respect of setting up the fund - but that may not be what she should have done.
There is another question too, "Did she know enough to take any action?"
The answer to that question is an unequivocal yes. She knew enough to know she should, at very least, have shared the information with one or more of the partners in the law firm. She did not do that. It is very likely she should have reported her concerns to the police. She did not do that.
Her excuse is that "the matter was already under police investigation". That would seem all the more reason for ensuring that others were aware of what was going on.  
Oh yes and she also says it was a very long time ago. It was. For most people this would not matter but she is the Prime Minister and even some in her own party would like to see her replaced.
There is also the suggestion that she left the law firm under a cloud. There are suggestions, unconfirmed, that she was asked to leave. Those involved are not going to answer questions about that, least of all her.
Does it matter? Yes. it probably does. This is the Prime Minister people are talking about. The affair addresses issues of honesty, competence and good judgment. 
As the Senior Cat said to me after the conversation was over, "Who would want to be Prime Minister?"

Friday 23 November 2012

I had to pick up a book

from the local library yesterday. I did this after a quite pleasant visit to the doctor.
          "I haven't seen you for seven months and eight days," he told me, "the computer never lies."
         "The computer," I told him, "is only as good as the information you and your colleagues throw into it. "
He agreed. We talked about Ben Goldacre's "Bad Pharma" and he agreed the medical profession is not well informed. Then he surprised me by saying, "I never give my patients anything unless it has been on the market for at least ten years and I can see proof that it does the job."
Well yes, he probably is the most conservative and cautious member of the team. I know the practice leader has close ties with the pharmaceutical industry. It may be why people avoid visiting him if they can.
I left with threats to buy my GP a copy of Bad Pharma for Christmas. He would prefer I made him shortbread.
At the library, which I visited on the way home, I thought of him again. The new "story telling" session for the infants and toddlers was just starting. This is really a nursery rhyme sing along with pictures and the simplest sort of picture book being shown and talked about. The children are not expected to sit still or be quiet - but they are often are if they are not joining in the "singing".
I watched their faces. I watched the faces of the young mothers and the grandparents who had brought them to the session. I watched the faces of some of the other adults in the library.
One person working at the computers looked up and frowned slightly when the singing started but I heard someone else humming "One, two, three, four five - once I caught a fish alive" almost under his breath. The boy issuing books at the desk was moving ever so slightly in time to the sounds of "Gum trees are tall..."
A small toddler who was late wriggled out of his mother's grasp and rushed down to the front of the group. His face was alive with expectation.
His mother sat down on a small chair with a sigh and put a fractious baby over her shoulder.  She quietened.
I collected the book I had ordered and prowled out to "Hickory Dickory Dock"... and decided that libraries are still the best prescription of all.

Thursday 22 November 2012

I am off to the doctor today

but no, I am not sick. At least I hope I am not sick.
I do need a prescription - the reason for the visit - but that does not make me "sick". The medication should not make me sick either. Medication is supposed to make you better.
My GP and I have an ongoing "battle" over this. I do not like taking things. The clinic at which he works is one of those "modern" clinics with eight doctors and several other medical staff. All the GPs seem to believe the same thing, handing out pills and potions is good. If they can find a reason to prescribe something it means they are doing their job.  I suspect this is true of all GPs everywhere.
GPs are under constant pressure from drug companies to sell "ill-health". They are underconstant pressure to find something "wrong" so that they can prescribe more medication. The "ideal" individual's ideal weight, blood pressure, cholesterol level, kidney, liver and other levels of function is always changing. That allows the drug companies to sell more drugs. It is a business like any other business. They advertise to the public, often via scare campaigns in the media, and they put the hard-sell on doctors. At the same time they are so secretive that the real value or otherwise of these drugs is often hidden from public view. We are just told that we need to take them. I am a menace as a patient. I like to know too much - and I argue.
My GP and I do not argue about diet however. We both agree that a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables is sensible. It is what I give the Senior Cat. It is what I eat myself.
We had visitors recently, one of whom is diabetic. In honour of that occasion I bought a small quantity of cream, the smallest quantity it is possible to buy. I offered it with the fruit salad I had made. We all had a small amount of cream - a rarity for me and for the Senior Cat. The following morning the Senior Cat had a teaspoon more on his cereal. Eventually the rest of it got thrown out. We like cream but it is just not part of our normal diet any more, although it was for years when we lived in the country and got our milk straight from the farms.
I have friends who love things like cream. They are also on medication "for cholesterol". One of them has suffered severe side effects. Her doctor has suggested trying to change her diet as well. She tried, or said she did. It did not seem to work. She is making herself sick with worry. There are frequent trips to the doctor and to  "specialists". Inviting her anywhere is a night mare. She no longer eats out at restaurants. Her "cholesterol level" is a constant anxiety to her - and I admit it is almost twice what mine is - but it seems nothing is going to change it.
I know other people in a similar position - several of them well over eighty, one who will turn ninety this coming week. One of them finally told his doctor he was, at 87, going to take his chances. He was not ill. He was active. His diet was "sensible". He was off to play golf after his appointment.
His doctor, reportedly, shrugged and muttered things about "on your own head be it". I have just sent him a birthday card for his 100th. He is still walking and swimming for exercise.
I really do think all human beings are different. None of us are going to end up being the "ideal" anything. Being sensible is the sensible thing.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

And having said things about discrimination

yesterday I will now say a little more bcause the government is also planning on changes to the laws surrounding discrimination issues.
I know something about these laws. I was a member of the Equal Opportunity Tribunal in my home state at the time a QC argued the state law, as it was then drafted, did not give people the right not to be discriminated against.
That was many years ago. I have long since left the Tribunal. Since then the state legislation has been redrafted and there has been more than one version of Federal legislation as well.
The legislation does not work well. It will never work well. People will always be discriminated against. It is human nature to discriminate. Discrimination is choice. It can be positive although it is often seen as negative - and can have devastating consequences. I also know that all too well from personal experience.
But the government wants to change the ground rules. It is a political issue for them. They have found yet another thing the Opposition will not dare argue against and they will use it, whatever the consequences.
Put simply they want to make it much easier to complain about discrimination. On the surface that sounds like a good idea because people often find it difficult to make a complaint.
But, will it really make it any easier? All, they say, it will now take is for someone to make a complaint and provide "some prima facie evidence". They do not say how much evidence. There will be no cost to the complainant to do this. After that the complainant will not need to do any more. It will then be up to the accused to prove they were not behaving in a discriminatory fashion. In other words the burden of proof has shifted from the person who believes they are discriminated against to the person who is accused of doing the discriminating.  This will apply across all "equal opportunity" legislation.
It will not work. It will not work because many people who are discriminated against are simply unable to take the matter any further. They are simply not articulate enough to do this - even with help. Some of them are not even aware that they are being discriminated against. Even those that are aware of being discriminated against know that a complaint can lead to further discrimination. They will experience delays in services, failures to cooperate and find themselves at the end of any queue. If they are looking for a job they will not even be granted an interview - and the potential employer will have found some way of apparently legitimately not including them in the interview list. Employees looking for promotion will find other barriers put in their way. It rarely pays to complain about real discrimination.
There will be people who do complain of course. They will be articulate, able and they will use the legislation to their advantage. They will be those with a mission in life. A single complaint will rarely be enough. They will find another and another issue to complain about. They will "advocate" for others they say are in the same position as themselves. They know what is "right" for everyone.
And those who really have been discriminated against will rarely complain. Some of them however will try and negotiate. It often gets better results - for everyone.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

There has been word that

a local swimming pool is to close. It is not just any swimming pool but the swimming pool attached to "Balyana" - the centre which employs a wide range of people with disabilities, people who have not been able to get positions in open employment.
The pool is also used by the local hospitals and local physiotherapists for "hydrotherapy". The Senior Cat was sent there after he had his knees and a shoulder replaced. A former neighbour who lost a leg in a road accident used it as a means of getting exercise. A young mother I know has been using it because she has an inherited condition for which non-weight bearing exercise helps.
So, it is not your average pool with your average clientele - if such a thing exists. This pool has special access facilities, even a hoist for the most seriously disabled to use it. The staff in attendance are specially trained.
And yes, it is expensive to run.
It also needs upgrading. The authorities have been told it would take $600,000 to upgrade it to the standards required today. Balyana, like everywhere else, is struggling. It does not have that sort of money. Even if it did the ongoing costs of keeping it open would be a struggle.
There is a "gym" complex adjacent to our shopping centre. It has a swimming pool. People have been told they may have to use that - if they can get up the steps into the building, fit in with the times, pay the fee for all the facilities even if they cannot use them. They will not do it.
There is a newish complex in the next suburb but, during the day, it is rightly used for teaching school children. The same is true of the new state swimming centre about six kilometres away.  And yes, we do need all children to have basic water skills.
So the swimming pool at Balyana serves a different purpose. It keeps some people active. It provides some people with a safe environment in which to exercise. If it saves just one person from going into a nursing home or just one person needing life long assistance then it will have paid to keep it open.
I doubt the government will see it that way. They will look at the short term saving. They will say, "it's not our responsibility".
It should be their responsibility.

Monday 19 November 2012

I know people on both sides

of the Israeli-Gaza border. They are not friends as such, more colleagues. I have never actually met them. I really know very little about their personal lives.
What I do know is that they also know each other - and that makes their desire for peace very personal. Each of them is worried for the other, for someone they actually know. They are worried for someone they have worked with.  It does not matter that they have different religious beliefs. They all believe the others have the right to live free of the fear of attacks.
Everyone has that right. I really do not understand what people think when they watch the television news and hear "a rocket was fired..." or "was targetted in self-defence..." Many people appear to have grown immune to the atrocities of conflict everywhere. They see too much of it on their television screens during the news. It no longer has any impact on them.
I also know people who are working in the camps that have sprung up because of the Syrian conflict, just as I know people who are working in other conflict and disaster zones in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere They are not immune to the atrocities of conflict.
People are risking their lives living and working in all these places. They can work twenty hour days under the most appalling and dangerous conditions. They get exhausted. They can get ill. It is both physically and emotionally draining. Sometimes they pay their own fares and give up their annual leave to go and help for a few weeks. Some have taken extended leave. Occasionally their colleagues will cover for them so they can stay longer. They work with people who want peace and people who do not want peace.
But, most people do want peace. It is a tiny minority of radicals who do not want peace. It is a tiny minority who are not prepared to make the necessary compromises, who are too selfish to share and who believe they have some sort of God given right to impose their beliefs on everyone else. They are the ones who urge others into action, who tell people what they "must" think rather than have them think for themselves.
It is our failure to think for ourselves that allows that tiny minority to become much too powerful.

Sunday 18 November 2012

There is to be a "Royal Commission"

into sexual abuse in Australia and it is, even before it begins, causing some controversy. I am not happy about it either. The announcement was an ill thought out piece of political one upmanship for which the Attorney-General is almost certainly quietly cursing the Prime Minister.
Now, please do not misunderstand me here. Sexual abuse is an appalling thing. I am all too well aware of the harm it can do. It is not an issue which should be politicised or compromised in any way.
The problem is that the Prime Minister made the announcement without even consulting her colleagues. No terms of reference have been decided on. No time limit has been given.  At the moment it is a mess.
We have multiple jurisdictions in Australia - and multiple issues arise because of that. Where do the states and territories come in here? They cannot be ignored. Apart from anything else they are, through their own institutions and practices, involved.
Are there to be limits on the areas under investigation?
There are already those who are trying to turn it into a witch hunt against the Roman Catholic church. They claim it is a "Catholic" problem - simply because Catholic priests are supposed to be celibate. That is nonsense. It is not a Catholic problem. It is everyone's problem.
The Catholic church may have a particular problem - or it may be that it is more obvious (or appears to be more obvious) within the Catholic church. It is not alone however. The Anglican church also has monks and nuns who take vows of celibacy. I also understand that unmarried Anglican priests have to to seek permission from their Bishop if they wish to marry.  (I may be wrong on that issue - someone correct me if I am.)
There are priests, pastors, ministers, rabbis, mullahs and clergymen of all sorts in other faiths who are also in positions of trust and who have abused that trust. There are also teachers, welfare workers, youth leaders and many others who work with children and other vulnerable individuals who have abused the trust placed in them.
The anti-religious lobby is seeing the issue as a religious one. It is not. Abuse goes far beyond the reaches of religion. It can occur almost anywhere. It is in fact more likely to occur in families and in situations where people, particularly children, are vulnerable. It is, reportedly, rife in some indigenous communities.
I worry when people try to make it a "religious thing" and use their anti-religious beliefs to push this idea. I am not a church-goer but I am conscious of the fact that without the support of church organisations our social welfare system would crumble. Church organisations, particularly Anglicare and a range of Catholic services, do a vast amount of work on a voluntary basis which would otherwise have to be paid for by the government - or perhaps would not be done at all.  Hospitals, schools, housing for the homeless and the elderly, drug and alcohol addiction services, shelters for women, day care for dementia patients, services for the disabled and youth, food banks and opportunity shops are all run by church organisations.
And then there is the other thing that bothers me. It is the not so small issue of "evidence", evidence that will stand up in a court of law. It is easy to make allegations but they are not evidence. While I have no doubt that abuse has occurred allegations can also be made by emotionally disturbed, vulnerable individuals who come from dysfunctional families. It may well be easier for some of them to lay blame for what has happened outside their families than acknowledge it within them - especially if they see the opportunity for some financial "compensation".
And I think that may also be part of the problem. Victims of abuse almost always need counselling and psychological support. They need social support networks too. Financial compensation may be nice but it is not the answer. The potential of financial compensation feeds an unhealthy desire to make unwarranted allegations in order to "get back" at those who have been responsible for decisions which were, and still are, resented.
So perhaps the first thing which needs to be done is to make it plain that while financial compensation will not be given to victims of abuse they will be given counselling, pyschological and social support. I suspect that the last might be much harder than handing over "guilt" money to the detriment of the current generation of those in need of the services provided.

Saturday 17 November 2012

I prowled off to the library

yesterday - and straight into trouble.
I like the library. It is one of my most favourite locations for prowling. Libraries are comforting places. They are full of books (and other things these days) and ideas. People read in libraries. They do reading related things in libraries.
The problem is that libraries also have humans who seem determined to make trouble. I had already had enough trouble this week. I did not need more.
I was however confronted by an angry male. He was determined to make trouble - and make trouble loudly.
He did not like me. He did not like the letter I had written to the paper, a letter I had apparently written some weeks ago. It was a disgrace. I should apologise. I was always writing letters about "that particular topic" and people were "tired of hearing (my) views".
I was totally confused. I could not remember writing the letter. I know I did write something once but it was months back - and my views were supported by other letter writers and he seemed to be supporting their point of view. It is a view which is held by a great many people. There would have been nothing controversial in what I said. If I remember correctly I was just pointing out where more information could be found.
I could not escape him. I tried to be polite. One of the male members of staff tried to intervene and got brushed off. He was going to have his say.
And then he addressed me by my name - or rather, what he thought was my name. It was obvious that he thought I was someone else entirely. Her views are controversial and radical and yes, she does tend to carry on about the same subject. Attacking her in the same way would still not have been acceptable although it would, perhaps, be more understandable.
         "I am not X..." I told him over his fizzing stream of words, "My name is Cat..."
He glared at me.
         "You write letters to the paper too don't you?"
         "Well it applies to you too then."
He walked off with his books.
He had not had them checked out so the security alarm went off when he tried to leave.


Friday 16 November 2012

There was no hot water

yesterday....unless I put water in the kettle and put it on the gas. We watched sixty gallons - it measured in gallons - of hot water go down the drain very sadly indeed. Water is precious stuff, very precious stuff.
Our problem has been a leaking holding tank. It has now been replaced. This was a major undertaking. It involved making a hole in the roof, getting past the insulation, pulling the old tank out and putting a new one in.
It sounds simple enough said like that but it also meant cutting a beam and then repairing it, disconnecting all sorts of pipes and wires and then reconnecting them. We hope the solar panels will be back to doing their job today and that we will not have to use the off-peak heating.
There is however a problem. Yes, there had to be a problem. The timer switch is not working properly. The off-peak heating is still on. It should not be on this morning. There has been time for the cold water to warm and reach the required temperature.  There was also a little hiccup in the power. The electrician needs to come back and check, something the Senior Cat will see to this morning. No doubtit will be fixed in due course.
I know people who would be on the phone now, demanding things be done immediately. We are prepared to be a little more patient than that. Why?
We have water. We have power. We have hot water. All those things are remarkable. There are people who live with an uncertain supply of the first and none at all of the second. Hot water from a tap would be a luxury beyond belief.
Oh yes, I am prepared to wait when I know that.

Thursday 15 November 2012

To apparently be "in a vegetative state"

but still be aware of anything at all must be absolutely and utterly terrifying. I am still trying to imagine this although it gave me nightmares.
There was a small snippet on our early evening news service last night. It showed a man who has apparently been in a vegetative state for more than a decade being put into the doughnut ring of an MRI and then asked to imagine he was playing tennis.
The idea was to see whether he responded at all by observing his brain activity. When asked the question the scan showed his brain was active in the same place as when someone who has normal cognitive functions is asked the question - suggesting that he had heard and understood the question.
If he did understand it was a cruel question. What if he can think? The excruciating boredom and frustration of not being able to do anything at all, of not being able to respond to anything or anyone would be mental torture beyond belief. I will perhaps partially forgive the researchers the question however because they also asked if he hurt anywhere and the answer appeared to be "no". I suppose that is something but his life must be hell.
If the answer to the question of whether he hurt had been yes I wonder how they would have proceeded. I think I know what I would have done but it would have been interesting, indeed instructive, to know what they would have done.
The person the researchers were trying to communicate with is a university graduate. His situation is the result of a road accident.
There is of course a difference between someone like this who has experienced many things and may have memories of them and some of the children I once taught. They had never, and will never, experience such things. Most of them had a limited ability to communicate - but they still tried, and tried and tried.
I became adept at asking questions so they could tell me what they wanted me to know. I had to learn to do it without asking "leading" questions, questions which would suggest the answer - or the answer I thought they might want to give.
All too frequently I saw and heard other members of staff ask leading questions - when they bothered to ask at all. I saw the disappointment on the child's face when their chance to communicate something was snatched away. I know I was, on occasions, guilty of doing the same thing myself - even though I tried not to do it.
It was by asking non-leading questions I discovered that one child loathed the artificial orange juice given to the children because it contained extra vitamin C.  His "gag" reflex was reduced to a minimum when he was given water instead.  Everyone was much happier about trying to get him to swallow a liquid after that.
I often wonder what happens now to some of the children I taught. Are they given artificial orange juice when they want water? What do they really know and understand.
I have always thought it was more than people were prepared to give them credit for.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

There have been four letters

addressed to my late uncle in the past week. All of them claim the same thing - that he is owed money and the writer can help to reclaim it. I have binned all of them.
Yes, there is money owing and it is that amount. We know that. At present it is tied up at the taxation office. My cousin will, no doubt, get around to having it released in due course. It has nothing to do with me now that I have checked and informed him that it is there.
The letter writers however think differently. It does have somehing to do with them - or so they would have us believe. Oh yes, three different organisations (one of them so keen they wrote twice) believe that they, and only they, have the power to unlock this money - or that is what they would have us believe.
The letters all sound very serious and very professional. All sorts of documents will have to be produced so that the money can be claimed. We are to ignore the letter if it is not intended for the recipient - oh yes and there will be a "modest fee" of 10% of the sum.
We have had similar letters before. They are actually legal (although only just) but they are also immoral. These "companies" rely on the fact that many people do not know where to look - a government website belonging to the taxation office -  and that even those who do believe that they cannot access the money themselves if they find they (or an estate) is owed some. I know there are other similar sites for other countries.
They must make money - and probably quite a lot of money - because many people cannot be bothered doing the work themselves or just fail to understand that they can.
It would probably be useful to teach this sort of thing at school and for the general public to be reminded from time to time that they can do this sort of thing themselves.
It is just a little too easy and dangerous to allow others to do it for you.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Today I discovered I am not a writer.

I discovered this by a roundabout route and there was more than one lesson in the discovery.
I entered, under duress, a "competition". It does not matter which one but it is a reputable one for female writers.
I was not expecting to win it because my main character in all three pieces were boys. I suspect that girls, or at least a mix of girls and boys, may have been more acceptable.
Despite that I had secretly hoped that the judges might at least want to read more - after all, there might be girls somewhere in there! But no, they lacked any curiosity about "what happens next". My writing is clearly not up to standard. That was lesson number one. It is something I should already have known.
Lesson number two however was a little harder to take. I found out I had failed when I went over to the Whirlwind's school. One of the teachers told me I had not been successful - by telling me she was sorry I had not been.  Apparently she was doing some prowling around writing sites on the internet and looked at the one in question and then looked at their social network sites as well. The information had, indirectly, come up there. The teacher was embarrassed at having given me the information in this way - and so was I.
I had not thought to look where she looked. Why would I? I was expecting a pro-forma "Sorry we don't want your work" by then. As the teacher said, "It would have been polite." That was lesson number two. Don't expect an answer.
Agents and publishers do not normally send replies. I don't like that - I suspect most people don't. I don't like it because you can never be sure they have even received what you have sent. Nevertheless it is apparently normal - and acceptable because of that.
I do feel that this time was different. This was a "competition" of sorts. There was a fairly hefty entry fee. As I am an impecunious cat friends helped with the fee because they had the confidence I would receive some feedback. There was none. Perhaps there were too many entries but there was no general feedback on the site in question either.
It does rather put me off the organisation in question but perhaps that does not matter. I am not a writer.
I am contemplating giving up the blog as well. I could use the time to learn to write...or maybe I could just go and play with yarn.

Neighbourhood dispute

resolution has apparently become the biggest issue for those places which handle "citizens' advice" issues - at least according to an article in yesterday's paper. Part of this is due to the fact that, here at least, lawyers may not handle very small claims. People have to do this for themselves.
I had glanced at the article in the paper before I left for a meeting yesterday morning. On my way back I was stopped by someone I know. He lives in a street where there have been two relatively recent arrivals.
He drew my attention to the workmen who had been opposite his place.
      "She had an extra wall put in - and double glazing on the bedroom window."
I know the woman opposite often works night shift at a hospital. She needs to sleep during the day.
Her new neighbours have teenage children. They have erected a basketball pole and backboard against the fence, just outside her bedroom window. The bumping and thumping against the fence (and occasionally against the heavy metal shutter she pulls down to get darkness) was keeping her awake.
She apparently politely requested they put it further down. They refused. They would not negotiate at all. She would have been happy to pay someone come in and cement the pole into place away from her window but that is where they want the pole and that is where it is going to stay.
I am not an assertive person. I normally flee from confrontation but I think I would have sought a court order requiring them to move the pole. It would not have been an unreasonable request. The previous owners did have a similar pole in another location for the very reason this one should have been shifted.
I think I would have been prepared to do it because it is not going to make any difference to the relationship. These people are not going to be thoughtful neighbours.
It reminded me of my train trip on Saturday. The train was crowded because people were going to the Christmas Pageant - a parade of street floats and bands - in the city. I needed to take my tricycle a shorter distance on the train.
The Transit Officer (usually invisible) was not sympathetic although he could have asked parents who were letting their small children occupy seats to sit them on their laps for a short time. It is in fact his job to do such things. He just said, "You'll have to wait for the next one." The next one is not for another hour and I needed to be there long before that train would arrive.
I told him, politely, I needed to board because I was going to work. Yes, I was helping a friend and I had no intention of letting her down.
He shrugged and walked back to the other door of the carriage with the words,
      "Well good luck if you can push your way on."
I did not have to. It was a squeeze but the people standing there had heard him. They sympathised with me. They moved further down the carriage. Someone called out,
       "Breathe in and hold your breath until Goodwood everyone. She really needs to get on."
I thanked everyone (apart from the Transit Officer) and I arrived at my destination feeling positive rather than angry and frustrated. Such neighbourly acts can make all the difference.

Monday 12 November 2012

We had two minutes of silence

yesterday. The noisy, lively, cheerful, talkative craft fair was, quite suddenly, silent for a moment.  Remembrance Day was being observed as it should be observed.
I am glad they did it. Not all such events would do it. If we are at home my father and I always observe it. I have stopped pedallling if I happen to be out, found a quiet corner of a library or a shopping centre or, somehow, done it. I stopped once in the middle of an exam. Nobody else knew because I was typed my answers and that meant I was usually trusted to be alone in someone's office. It was a few moments out of my precious exam time but it seemed important to me.
I once had a university lecturer who stopped in the middle of a lecture and asked to be excused while he observed it. When he asked I am pleased to say that one of the older male students said quietly,
          "We will observe it with you."
The entire lecture theatre stood and observed it with him. I do not know if any of the younger students would have thought to say that but there was a sense it was a good thing to do.
Yesterday the sudden stillness was almost dramatic. The noise in a very large space where there is the inevitable background "music" as well as many people talking can get overwhelmning. To go from that to instant silence is almost overwhelming.
Then, almost as suddenly, the noise was back.
Perhaps that is why the woman who had been choosing some yarn looked up and asked me, in Dutch, how much something cost. I answered her in English and I doubt she was aware that she had spoken to me in Dutch. In the context of the fair I had understood her without difficulty. I wondered if she was a post-war migrant to this country. If I guessed her age correctly she would have been a teen during the war.
We had two more profoundly deaf people stop at the stall. I could see them signing to one another. They waited a little to one side until I was free and then "spoke" to me. Their friends, the two who had come yesterday, had apparently told them I would understand. It was very trusting of them!  I found the crochet hook one of them wanted and sold them yarn that we agreed was "like stroking a cat". The sign language for that is so obvious! I wish I knew more Auslan. I have forgotten most of what I did know and it is as frustrating for me as it is for them but at least we understood one another at a very basic level.
There was a boy of about eleven or twelve who brought a dragon he had made. He wanted a crochet hook too. He was going to crochet the dragon's wings. No, he could not crochet. No, his Mum could not crochet - but his Nan could. He was going to find out how with a big bamboo hook. He makes these fiery looking creatures to give to his friends the way some people give their friends "comfort" or "prayer" shawls.
Others bought yarn for themselves, for family, for friends. Someone asked if I could suggest something for a "comfort shawl" for a bereaved friend. She did not care about the cost. Her friend was too important for that.
I readily admit I do not find it easy to stand for several hours at a time but the effort is worth it when people make an effort to communicate or an effort to learn or when they want to do something for others.
And I am grateful when they also make an effort to remember others too.

Sunday 11 November 2012

"Is there room for

one more if she has her own chair?" I ask my friend. She is about to run her class. There are fifteen places because there are fifteen chairs in the teaching area.
The person in front of me is someone I know from the previous year. It is ten minutes after the fair has opened and the class has already filled. Some people booked yesterday or arrange for friends to do it.
But the person in front of me has the disadvantage of having come a considerable distance and  of being, most of the time, housebound. She also has an advantage (she and I agreed on this) of having her own chair, a wheelchair of course.
      "Yes! We'll make room for you."
The friendly, always-cheerful-despite-serious-health-issues, person goes from looking anxiously hopeful-but-prepared-to-accept-disappointment to beaming.
      "It's what I came for really. It's something new to learn. I did so much after last year's class."
Other people do classes at the craft fair. Some do classes because it is something they expect to be able to do. Others do classes because they are curious. Some want to hone a skill they already have or learn about the latest developments, tools or techniques in their craft. Some want to learn something new.
And there are people like our friend in her wheelchair for whom it is a very special part of the day. I know from talking to her that she can spend as much as half the year in hospital. Having a new skill which can produce something interesting and beautiful is important to her. She can pass on pleasure to other people too.
        "I feel I can go on being useful," she told me.
That is oh so very important.

Saturday 10 November 2012

I have survived day

two of the craft fair...and all those questions.
      "Do you sell   ?"
      "Have you got any....?"
      "Is there a pattern...?
      "What's it made out of?"
      "Last year I bought X and have..."
      "When's the class?"
      "Can I book for tomorrow's....?"
      "What are these for?"
The last question was asked frequently, so frequently that I suggested to my friend that she do a small sample of "tricot" of "tunisian knitting" to show people how to use the long hooks that look like a crochet hook. 
I can do it too but the sample best comes from her because she is right handed and I am left handed and - well, we work in the opposite direction don't we?! The class she is teaching this year involves using the hooks. It is something very new for most people.
And then there was the woman who came up to the stall. She looked vaguely familiar. Was it someone I should know or a customer from last year?  I do not have a particularly good memory for faces.
She smiled at me and then signed, "Hello."
Ah, a customer from last year. I now remember well and she must remember me because there would not be too many stall holders or their helpers who can sign.
She shows me a photograph of what she has made from the yarn she bought last time - a very fine lace weight scarf from silkand mohair yarn - and tells me she wants to make another one - for her sister.
I find enough sign language to tell her it is lovely (which it is) and ask how long it took her to make it - about ten weeks. She tells me she is "slow".
I show her where to find the right sort of yarn. She spends a little time choosing a colour and then hands me the exact money. "Next year more," she signs and then "thankyou".
I sign another "thankyou" back.
She goes off with a friend who has been waiting. They are talking rapidly now. Their hands are moving elegantly and gracefully and I know my efforts are kindergarten level. I admire her patience with me!

Friday 9 November 2012

Yesterday was the first day

of the Quilt and Craft Fair. I am, once again, helping friends who have a stall there. They sell interesting yarns and useful knitting needles, crochet hooks and other items which are difficult to source elsewhere. I help because they come from interstate and make no profit in coming here. They just feel they should include our little outpost in the mix of fairs. A familiar face (unfortunately mine) on the stall can encourage people who do not know them to stop, chat and perhaps try something new.
I had to familiarise myself with some new yarns very quickly. They come from a weaving company in Thailand - silks in brilliant colours, pale colours, natural colours. Some are smooth others are textured. They are the sort of thing you have to stroke to understand what you might be able to do with them. No, there are not always patterns. It is a problem for some people but not for others.
My friends do sell a few patterns. One of them has written some simple ones herself. It always amazes me that confident knitters apparently need a pattern for a garter stitch scarf but they seem to want them, perhaps because the yarns are so different.
I have also written a number of patterns for shawls and vests. Any money made from these goes towards the funds for my friend who runs a centre for unaccompanied children in Africa.
But no, there is no pattern for that vest I made from metres or yards of French knitting! I tell people what I did if they ask. I am fascinated by people's reactions to this. Their reactions raise from "I couldn't possibly do that" to "Oh, I see. I don't crochet but I do knit so perhaps..."
I can crochet but I do very little of it. I find it much more difficult than knitting so I am happy to encourage people who "don't crochet" but do knit!
And other knowledge comes in useful. One woman I spoke to breeds alpacas. She has been dyeing some of the yarn she has been spinning. I was able to tell her where to find powdered food dye - much more economical than the liquid dye you can buy in the supermarket if you want to dye yarn with food dye. She wrote down the details with the intention of calling in there on her way home.
Someone came with a photograph of something she had made from her purchase last year and we all felt pleased for her. She started to chat to another customer and the two of them went off to have lunch together because the first was going to show the second how she does something. I will explain some things in my sleep tonight. I will probably count out change as well.

Day one has finished. There are three to go. I will be exhausted at the end of it but it will be worth it because people are going away with things to make or things that can be used to make other things.
I'll go back to my normal day job next week and know that there are people who will have started their projects - and who will be planning to come again next year. I might even manage to do it myself if they need me.

Thursday 8 November 2012

I never really doubted the

outcome of the American election - but I am disappointed by it. I preferred the winning candidate but I wonder how much he is going to be able to do.
The numbers show he has lost support and he still has an uncooperative Congress to deal with. My guess is that this is going to be a problem for the next four years and that he will fail to achieve much of what he has promised.
What he needed was the resounding support of the voters and a Congress which was prepared to work with him instead of squabbling among themselves. It did not happen.
All this worries me because it influences our politics more than it should. We are also playing personalities rather than policies.
I worked for a very short while in a politician's electoral office. I did just six weeks. I did it as a favour to the politician's secretary when she needed to go elsewhere with him. Yes, they paid me money - and then the government took almost all of it back again. But they also paid me in a way they could never have imagined. What I managed to learn about the inner workings of politics, power, parliament and government in those six weeks was priceless. I know too much, far too much now to ever really "believe" again.
And the power of their media machines and the media itself worries me.
So, today I am off to do something completely different...I am going to help my friend at the craft fair. I will, hopefully, help people create things rather than destroy things. We need more creativity and cooperation and less destruction in politics too.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

I am preparing the pot of boiling

oil. The Senior Cat and the friend who does two hours heavy gardening each fortnight will be plunged into this when it reaches the requisite temperature.
Why? They stole my clothespegs again, my very good clothespegs. This is the fourth year in a row they have done the same thing. They use them to peg the netting to the fruit trees.
        "But they are only pegs!" the Senior Cat told me this morning, "I'll get you some more."
        "No, I will get some more," I tell him.
        "No, I will."
        "I will get some more because I know what sort I want."
        "But aren't pegs just pegs?"
I show him. I show him the cheap sharp edged plastic pegs in the old plastic icecream container which were bought for the specific purpose of pegging the netting together. It does not matter if these gradually disintegrate in the sun. It does not matter if the edges are rather sharp or rough or catch on the netting. It does matter if they catch on the clothes. He had forgotten all about this container. He had just grabbed the pegs in the small blue plastic bucket.
These pegs are smoother and stronger. There are a number of longer pegs I use for the sheets on windy days. There are the green "double-ended" pegs a friend gave me as one of those "useful" presents. Or rather, there were all these things. Many of them now decorate the trees - again.
I rescued as many as I could from lower down the trees. I supplemented with the old wooden pegs I have kept as "useful". There were just enough to hang out two loads of washing and a few extra things like the tablecloth we used last night.
The oil is heating gently. I am going to buy more pegs this morning and peg the Senior Cat and our friend into place!

Tuesday 6 November 2012

There will be a great deal of

gambling going on to today. It is Melbourne Cup Day - a horse race which, for some reason, stops the nation. Parties are held for the event. "Sweeps" occur at work. (The year I won the packet of chocolate biscuits I had to share it at morning tea and did not actually get a biscuit!)
On top of that there is a large, indeed very large, lottery jackpot. The queues at the local newsagent (where the tickets are sold) have been growing longer ever since the results of last week's draw were known. People who do not normally buy tickets have bought tickets. They will probably gamble on the horses as well, even if it is just the sweep at work.
Then there is the American election. There are people gambling on that as well, gambling in more ways than one.
The Senior Cat has only just woken up to the fact that it is (1) Melbourne Cup Day and (2) that there is some sort of lottery.  He has known about the American Election for some time.  He is not interested in the first or the second. The third interests him because he knows that the outcome will affect our relations with the United States (and thus the rest of the world) for the next four years. We will not however be watching the progress of the election on television tomorrow. There is nothing we can do to affect the outcome.
If you vote you gamble. You gamble that the candidate you choose will get in and you gamble that they will be able to do as they have promised. If you don't vote then you gamble that the candidate others choose will do what is best for you and for the country. It is not like gambling on the outcome of a horse-race.
I know that the people I know in the US have either voted already or will vote. I can guess which way most of them will be voting and, like them, I know that not everyone else will vote - but every one of them will be gambling on the outcome.

Monday 5 November 2012

Guy Fawkes night

is no longer held here. I will not say "celebrated" because there really is nothing celebratory about "gunpowder, treason and plot".
Fireworks are, except under professional pyrotechnic expertise, banned where I live. That is not to say they do not get smuggled in from elsewhere. They do. Nevertheless they are not sold openly.
They were sold openly when I was a mere kitten. Each year fireworks would appear for sale in various locations. Pocket money would be saved, money would be scrounged from parents and other relatives and children would go and buy "rockets" and "wheels" and "fountains", "sparklers" and "squibs" and variations on all these things.
There were the almost inevitable serious accidents and fires. It is the beginning of our long, hot, dry and dangerous fire season so eventually they were banned for reasons of public safety.
I can understand that. I am not fond of fireworks. I used to worry about the animals who did not understand and were frightened by the noises. I worried about the potential for humans to injure themselves (or others) or destroy their own and other people's property through carelessness and ineptness. 
As a child I suppose I was less concerned by this. We never saw very many fireworks. My mother would never allow us to buy them for ourselves.
This did not stop our paternal grandfather buying them for us. I think this surprised my mother. "Grandpa" was a mid-Victorian gentleman. He was not, apparently, the sort of person to enjoy playing with children, let alone children and fireworks. He never let us down while we lived close enough for him to appear on that wonderful evening.
In anticipation of this we children would have cleaned the garden up of any rubbish that might burn. My father would, despite my mother's protests, have cleared the space for the bonfire. He would have added scraps of timber he had been storing for the night.
Our grandparents would arrive. The fire would be lit. We would wait for it to grow dark. Then a large brown paper bag would magically appear in Grandpa's hands. Out would come the rocket and the Catherine wheel, the fountain, the little packet of squibs and the flat packet of sparklers. They would be laid out in a row, well away from the flames.
Grandma would produce another paper bag. In it would be one potato for each of us. They would be carefully placed in the right places at the ashy edges of the fire. Grandpa would keep watching the sky until he decided it was dark enough to "see". We knew not to be impatient. We trusted him to know the best moment to start the display.
Then my brother and I would sit on either side of my grandmother and each hold one of her hands in delicious anticipation and the display was on. We would raise our hands together and cheer as each of the fireworks showed their glory. When they were done we would write our names in the air with the sparklers. Grandma would prod the potatoes and eventually pronounce them "done". Butter and salt were produced and the potatoes eaten in all their messy, ash covered deliciousness. The bonfire would be hosed down and we would be sent off to bed. From there we could watch other and much bigger rockets whooshing into the night sky. It did not bother us. They were for "big people" and we knew we were not big - yet.
We never did have fireworks as "big people". I doubt we would have wanted them. What we both missed were our grandparents who understood we needed to have fireworks and potatoes just like everyone else.

Sunday 4 November 2012

"Your ears must have been

burning," a local resident said and then she hugged me, "Oh Cat, I have been trying to get around to see you and your father."
         "We haven't liked to interrupt," I told her, "I have been keeping up with the news when I see N (her husband) on his walks."
         "Yes, I know."
         "And it does get to the point where you just don't want to answer the phone and respond to another question about how things are."
         "Tell me about it," she said and hugged me again, "That's so thoughtful of you."
I had finally seen her in the shopping centre. We talked. I was late home. My father was getting anxious and I was sorry about that but he was more than forgiving when I explained what I had been doing.
There is a fine line between being concerned and being interfering. In this case my father and I have been able to show our concern by talking to this woman's husband. He goes on a doctor ordered walk each morning. He and I sometimes coincide and he can let me have the latest news as they struggle with a combination of ill health and mental illness in the family. It has been an enormous load for them. It is time consuming as well as mentally and physically draining.
They know we care and that we would do something if we could but we made the conscious decision not to phone. N keeps us up to date when I see him. That has to be enough. I left a jar of marmalade on the doorstep earlier in the year. I hope there will be enough fruit to share soon. That seems to me to be a good deal more practical.
If she lived closer I would do the same thing for another friend whose husband is now fully dependent on her for everything. He has a motor neurone disorder and cannot even speak. It is never really a convenient time to phone her and say, "How are you?" There is always something to be done in that household. 
I worried about that until I realised that sending her a note in the post occasionally was something she appreciated much more. It told her somebody cared enough to get in touch but she did not have to respond to the inevitable litany of questions.
It is "being there" for other people that matters. There are ways of being concerned without being interfering.

Saturday 3 November 2012

"So, you're going to get

a new one then?" I heard someone asking.
       "Well, new to us," was the reply.
       "Oh you should get a new one - support the local car industry. You know what sort of mess they're in."
Ah, they were discussing cars. I went into my meeting and did not hear any more of the conversation but I wondered how many other people will be offered such "advice" by family, friends, car salesmen, mechanics and the like?
We tried the same trick as the United States. The car industry was given a massive injection of tax payer funds in an attempt to save it. It's not working. It never was going to work. It is no good just making cars. You have to sell cars. They have to be cars people want, need and can afford. Yes?
I am not an economist but that seems fairly obvious to me. It also seems obvious to me that our state is still far too dependent on the car industry for employment.
There seems to be a belief that, rather than do the hard work of diversifying, it is easier to prop up a failing industry with taxpayer funds. It keeps the unions happy. It keeps the workers in the automotive industry happy. It keeps the workers in the associated industries happy. The only problem is that the taxpayer funds are drying up. Money is not being spent on others things. The state is heading deeper into debt.
The government says it has everything under control so perhaps I am worrying about nothing...or perhaps I do have something to worry about.
We have too many cars on the road now. People use them without really thinking about it. They think, "I'll just hop in the car and...." They do not think about the cost of an individual journey, that the "quick trip" to the supermarket to get a couple of litres of milk has just added quite a few cents to the cost. The government certainly does not want them to think about it either. That would mean people did not use their cars as much.
But I wonder about the man who was saying something about getting another car. Will he cave in to pressure and buy a new-new car, something he cannot really afford? Will he pay even more for it because he needs a bank loan to buy it? Or will he buy a new-to-him car at a lower cost? Will he buy a locally made car which does not quite suit his needs or will he buy an imported one which does suit his needs?
I am glad I do not have to think about those things - even if I have to pedal in all weathers.

Friday 2 November 2012

"So how do you say

"hello" and "goodbye" in Japanese," is apparently a question a mother asked a Year 6 student and her friends. They had apparently been "learning Japanese" since they began school. They could say "hello" but not "goodbye" according to a letter in our paper this morning.
It was timely because yesterday someone else asked me to say a bit more more language teaching.  I was doing the weekly big shop in the supermarket and was accosted by someone I know, introduced to someone else and asked to give them some advice on whether their child should begin Japanese.
The first question I asked was, "Does your child want to learn Japanese?"  The answer was "No, but you know what the government is saying about Asian languages so we wondered if he should do that instead of French or Italian."
         "Do either of you speak French or Italian?"
         "I speak some French - and we know people who speak French and Italian."
         "Does he want to learn French or Italian?"
         "He doesn't really want to learn a language at all but we could probably convince him that his interest in Formula One racing would be enhanced with a knowledge of Italian."
And so the conversation went on. I pointed out that learning Japanese demands a commitment that even the schools are not (yet) prepared to make. You do not learn Japanese in the minimum time alloted for language teaching. It would take three or four times as long to reach the same level as it would for a language like Italian. Even the two young people of Japanese extraction who work in the local sushi shop do not read and write Japanese. The children of the Chinese couple next door speak but do not read and write Cantonese.
The Whirlwind is learning French (and Latin) at school. She is also learning Italian as an extra. She likes language learning. Her French teacher gives them work designed to ensure that they can say some genuinely useful things. They have to "shop" and "go to the doctor" and "travel on transport" and many other things. Her Italian teacher, the mother of a friend also learning Italian, talks to her in Italian and gives them the same sort of exercises in Italian.  Both girls could say "hello" and "goodbye" and many other useful things a long time ago.
I suspect the Japanese students have been told how to say "goodbye" and have forgotten. I also suspect they cannot "go shopping" or "visit the doctor" or "travel on transport" and that, unless they really begin to study the languages seriously, they never will. They are playing at learning Japanese.
My nephews were required to "learn Chinese". They were also required to learn some French. They cannot remember any Chinese although the youngest one was second in class (the first was a native Chinese speaker). I am not sure how much French they remember but it is some.
Of course some of it has to do with actually being in a situation where you need to use the language you are learning but there is more to it than that, much more. I could not in all honesty recommend that the son of the person I was talking to learns Japanese. He might pick up some Italian - especially the language of motor racing.
If we want children to learn Japanese or Chinese then there are going to have to be some radical changes to the way these things are taught - and a great deal more time spent on them or even saying "konnichiwa" and "sayonara" will be beyond them.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Despite the best efforts of one of the

local supermarkets we had no little "trick or treaters" for Halloween.
Oh the supermarket tried. I had to pass it on Tuesday and it was filled with masks and pumpkins and ghoulish sweets and "half-price" chocolate. No doubt today the ghoulish sweets will be half price today and the chocolate back to usual. I am not sure what they will do with the masks and the paper pumpkins.
Halloween is not widely celebrated here - yet. The big supermarket chains are endeavouring to change that. Naturally they see it as a commercial opportunity. A lot of people here still do not know what Halloween is about. Ask them and the response is likely to be "isn't it something American?" But Halloween celebrations could grow for another reason. It is an apparent contradiction but it might be seen as another means of retaining the Australian identity.
Attempts to encourage it are also at odds with the government's moves to try and "Asianise" the country. The latest "white paper" talks about "the Asian century" and how we need to have much closer ties with Asia. There may be some individual households in Indonesia which celebrate Halloween but it is not publicly celebrated the way it is in North America. I suspect the same is true throughout Asia.
There are now mutterings of discontent among the voting ranks. People are questioning the direction the government is saying Australia must take. As the Opposition is largely in agreement with the government over the issue it is causing some disquiet.
Australia had a "White Australia" policy once. It was designed to keep Australia a "European" country if you like.  It began in 1901 and it was not until 1949 that it started to be dismantled. In 1973 the government removed the last barriers but the policy was not really tested until 1975 when people started to leave Vietnam. Since then Australia has accepted an even more culturally diverse range of people into the  country.
But that does not mean that Australians want to become "Asians" or even "part of Asia". Many Australians do not. And it has nothing to do with being "racist" or "insular". There is nothing negative in their rejection of attempts to make the country more culturally akin to Asia. They simply want to be Australian.