Thursday 31 January 2013

It is comforting to discover

that even though I am only blogging in the most awkward sort of way there are still lovely people like Donna, Judy, Jean and Miriam who leave comments and let me know that someone is reading this - and yes, I am reading you too.
I wonder what would happen if we suddenly had a world without the internet? How would people manage?
We have become very dependent on the internet and the amount of information it provides - and yet we can also forget it might provide information. It can also provide false information.
The Senior Cat tends to forget it might provide information. He bought some clear lacquer the other day. The assistant at the hardware store assured him that the new brand on the shelf, about the same price as the other brand (out of stock) was just as good. It was not. He needed to apply a further coat and it ended up costing more than the other brand.
When he told me this I said, "Look it up on the 'net and see what they have to say."
It had not occurred to him but I am sure there will be a site where brands of paint are discussed, possibly in a very professional sort of way.
He also has problems with many  of the abbreviations and terms in common use. They are a foreign language to him. The word (if it is a word) "apps" really irritates him. I have tried to explain "blog" more than once. He does not read this blog or any other blog. For him the internet is there to provide him with information if he wants it. He does not want it for any other purpose. He refuses to use e-mail - ("How do you know the person at the other end is going to get it?" - a fair question I suppose.)
My nephew, his grandson, turned up the other day to show him some photographs he had taken on a trip to Tanzania.
      "I thought you were going to show me some photographs," the Senior Cat protested.
      "Yes, we can look at them on your i-pad," my nephew told him, "It's better that way - we can zoom in on some of the animals Isaw."
        It was, the Senior Cat, almost as good as going on safari himself but he is still puzzled by how these things "get there" and "stay there". We tell him not to worry about it. Just enjoy it.
After all, I tell him, I have absolutely no idea how it is I can press buttons and have words appear on a screen and then save them and publish them so other people can read them. That is for people with other expertise.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

The ongoing discussion about

the selection of Nova Peris as a Senate candidate for the Northern Territory at the next election will probably continue right up until her election - or otherwise. If she does get elected it wil be because most people will vote "above" rather than "below" the line for the Senate.
It is one of those peculiarities of our electoral system. It has many but this is one of the strangest.  In order for your vote to be valid you must fill in all the boxes in order of preference in our preferential voting system  - unless you are voting "above" the line for the Senate.
If you do that then you can mark in a one above the line and leave the boxes below the line blank. That way you will give your preferences according to the preferences of the party of your choice.
For the record, I vote below the line. I prefer to make up my own mind about whre my preferences are going. I would, almost always, prefer not to have to fill in all the blanks.
There is, of course, a danger in voting below the line. You have to be very careful about filling out the ballot paper. It can have a great many names on it and the list of numbers can be long.
It is not such a problem in the Northern Territory, or it should not be. The number of voters is less there and the number of candidates for election tends to be smaller. The problem will be that people are encouraged to vote above the line. It suits the main parties. People will vote in a way that will give the main parties the preferences they want - and often depend on.
This time around the ALP is going to be particularly anxious for that to happen....even if they are unhappy with the Prime Minister's autocratic behaviour.
All this has made me acutely aware that governments of all persuasions would really prefer that at least some Australians do not understand the voting process and, more especially, the preferential system.
If they did then some of our more high profile candidates may not be able to rely on their names and popularity in other areas to "win" a seat.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

I have just copied

a page from our old street directory for a friend who is coming to the Senior Cat's 90th birthday party. (He was not going to have a party but then he had to know how it goes.)
This friend drives an elderly car, has no idea how to use a computer and the idea of using a GPS device is completely foreign to her.
Can she read a map? I wonder. She often gets lost. I plan on making it as simple as possible. Fortunately she knows how to get to our local library. Although she lives on the other side of the city she likes our library knitting group, She says it is friendly - and we like to think it is.
After the library it is simple - yes, really. But will it be simple for her? I hope so.
This friend is Italian. She had to leave school at the age of 13. Her reading confidence is not high - but it is very adequate and she does read books. She went to English classes at her local TAFE (technical and further education) college to improve her English and tells me it helped. If she runs into trouble she will ask her granddaughters or, at a meeting, quietly ask me. I admire her for her determination to do so well and continue learning after years of many things going wrong in her life.
And, she knits socks.
She knits socks for the Senior Cat. Every year on his birthday he gets two pairs of the most beautifully crafted woollen socks. I will never be able to knit socks as well as she does. The ribbing is perfectly even, the heels are expertly turned and the toes are so smooth you could skate on them.
She does not knit just socks of course. Other things fly off her needles. She reads patterns and then improves the design. She looks at a picture, consults her technical knitting books and comes up with a smooth, sleek fashion item.
I know she watches more television than I do - most people do - but she knits while she does it. She goes to craft groups and knits. She shares her skills and expertise with other people too.
       "You do it this way," she tells people and she shows them. She is, despite her sometimes ungrammatical English, a very good teacher.
The Senior Cat is very fond of her - and she of him. She had, he tells me, better be able to read a map. He wants her at his party. She wants to be there. She has two pairs of socks - even though he has asked "no presents please". It is, she tells me, her right to ignore that request.

I had better make sure I write some very good instructions to go with the map.

Monday 28 January 2013

"I am not sure you will remember me.."

the voice at the other end says hesitantly, "but I won the blanket you made."
"The blanket?"
I have made more than one blanket. I have put together more blanket squares than I care to think about. 
But this is not the blanket she is talking about, She is talking about the "Peace Blanket" - the small blanket I made in one piece. It had the word for 'peace' in twenty different languages with rows of the Blissymbol for peace in between. (If you Google "Peace Blanket"  you can find the pattern on the internet - and a picture and link under "patterns" in Ravelry.)
But, to get back to the story, the owner was asking me whether I would like to have it back - to pass on to someone else.
          "I have had it and loved it for more than ten years. I have used it in schools and in other places to tell people how it was made and what it means. Now I am retiring and moving to a much smaller place. There will be no room to hang it and I would rather someone used it."
I do not feel insulted by her inquiry in the least. I think I feel honoured that she thinks do much of it that she wants it to go on being used.
I have said she can return it to me. I do not know what sort of condition it is in but I think she must have taken good care of it or she would not want me to see it again or suggest that it could be used in other places.
But I also wonder now... what has happened to the other people who helped me make the blanket? What has happened to the people who added stitches? There were all sorts of people in all sorts of places. I travelled all over the city knitting it on public transport. I worked on it during a big craft fair where there were people from all over Australia and even from overseas. Some of them were very old and are almost certainly no longer alive. Others were very young and will now be in their teens.
It would be interesting to know.
Do any of them remember adding a stitch to the Peace Blanket?

Sunday 27 January 2013

I have been clearing

out two cupboards. It is the sort of thing one does when one is sans computer I suppose...or the sort of thing one should do when one is sans computer...or perhaps just should do occasionally.
We seem to collect things that "might be useful" but really should be passed on to other people much sooner.
The charity shop can use all those bags we seem to have collected or been given - you know the sort of thing. The bags in which the Senior Cat's new shoes came. The bag that came with a birthday present. The bag the Senior Cat collected at a gardening show and the one I collected at a craft show. There is a shoe box filled with rubber bands and used twist ties. There is another box filled with pens and pencils. (Yes, I went through those and yes I have thrown out all the pens that do not work and made the Senior Cat sharpen the pencils so we can use them again.)
There were almost two hundred plastic milk bottle tops. (When did we drink so much milk?) The Senior Cat was saving those because "they might be useful". I have put them in for recycling.
There were business cards and old bills (paid) and  a "dental reminder" notice.
The other cupboard had cleaning things in it. I am pretty good about using things to the end and then throwing them out but there are always things that do get kept. There was an empty bottle which had once held disinfectant, some worn out scrubbers, a half used tin of "light tan" shoe polish. My mother had shoes that colour but the Senior Cat and I do not. It was hard and useless but I suspect he had kept it because it had been my mother's. I quietly threw it out. He will not notice because he uses a different icecream box (in which he stores the shoe cleaning brushes and cloths and polish). There was an almost empty box of cheap washing powder. (I had thought it was full.) I quietly removed that too. It cannot be used in our current washing machine.
I  will prowl through the food cupboards too. Perhaps there is something to be said for computer down time...but I will have to catch up on work that is waiting. This is being written at the library and scheduled for later.
I have brought some magazines to the library. They belonged to my mother. The staff will put them on the "free" trolley. Someone will use them.
We do not need these things. I do need some space.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Today is Australia Day

but the holiday will be celebrated on Monday. Australians have to have their public holiday. If Australia Day or any other "day" falls on a Saturday or Sunday then Australians have to have a day off on the following Monday.
I really do not know why they need this. Australia Day should be 'celebrated' on the day - or not at all. We do not need a further holiday at great cost. It also makes a mockery of the occasion, just as it does if Anzac Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday.
There was a small article in the paper recently saying that forty percent of Australians feel the flag needs shall we say a 'bit of a push or an airing'. I wonder why? There are flags all over the place at present, many of them flying from cars. People are wandering around in Australia Day t-shirts and caps (both made in China of course).
It was also said in the same article that support for a republic has dropped still further and only about a third of the population would now vote for one. That bothers me not at all. I have never supported the idea of 'becoming a republic'. Australia is an independent country now.
But these apparent (and probably inaccurate) statistics are hardly surprising in a country which cannot celebrate its own day on the day.

Friday 25 January 2013

The Senior Cat likes to make

wooden puzzles, not jigsaw puzzles but three dimensional puzzles that require considerable manipulative skills as well as cunning to put together. They come in all sorts of shapes, forms and sizes.
The people who designed them (not the Senior Cat) were devilishly clever. Some of them look almost impossible to do.
Someone is coming to visit the Senior Cat this afternoon. They have forgotten how to do some of the puzzles the Senior Cat made for them some years ago. This person wants to use them as a preliminary activity for teens on a summer school.
She phoned two days ago to ask for help. I could see the Senior Cat hesitate and I knew why.
Some years ago he made another puzzle for a cousin. At the time he made it he could do it. He taught the cousin how to do it - after hours of frustration on the part of the cousin. Then he forgot about it. So did the cousin - until the cousin's grandchildren wanted to do it. There was a yell for help to the Senior Cat. Ooops...he had forgotten too!
It took him just half an hour to "remember" the trick to doing it but he felt mildly embarrassed. This time he is determined he will not be in the same position...although he has told the impending visitor this story.
I have given him books on making and designing these puzzles. The family has found him other puzzles over the years. They are some of the most irritating and pointless of challenges and yet people find them fascinating. I am not sure why. The psychology interests me.
I am quite sure he will remember how to do these puzzles - but I am absolutely hopeless at them.

Thursday 24 January 2013

In the interests of what might be called

" indigenous feminism" our Prime Minister announced that she had nominated Nova Peris, a former Olympian and now principal of an indigenous girls' school in the Northern Territory, as a Senate candidate in the forthcoming election.
 In doing so she has by passed the normal selection procedures and ignored the hard work and undoubted popularity of another female Senator - Trish Crossin. who currently represents the Northern Territory. Trish Crossin also heads an indigenous study group and a feminist group but she is known as supporter of the previous Prime Minister rather than the present one.
The PM's decision is arrogant and autocratic - if not downright dicatorial.
It is not the first such decision she has made and it is clear from the announcement and the fall out that it is not a popular one.
She made a similar decision when she pulled the now Foreign Minister, Bob Carr - former unpopular Premier of New South Wales - out of retirement and bypassed Warren Mundine for the last Senate vacancy. It was not a popular decision with the electorate - especially in New South Wales - or with her colleagues. Cabinet members knew better than to argue though - if they wanted to keep their own positions.
It will be the same this time.
We have had a number of high profile candidates running for election - and sometimes getting in. They have not necessarily been a success.
Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil made it in. Has he been a success? Not really. He has managed to do the job up to a point but people know him because of his association with Midnight Oil rather than because of what he has done as Senator.
Then there was Maxine  McKew - well known as a journalist for the ABC. She took on John Howard and wrested the seat from him - but only just. She lost it at the next election and rightly so. She may have been a competent journalist but she was not a good politician. Politics does not work the same way as journalism.
And there was an unsuccessful candidate in the seat I live in. Nicole Cornes is the wife of a high profile former footballer. The party was hoping that would tip her over the line, especially as our current member is not one of the front bench. He is not a "big" name in parliament. He is considered "lazy" by some although he does actually put in long hours and works hard on committees and in his electorate. He is also available.
The ALP will put up a strong candidate against him this time. They believe they can win the seat. The polls show the gap has narrowed to a point where the government may well win again.
But Nova Peris, however well meaning, should perhaps learn something about politics before she is put forward as a candidate by the Prime Minister. She may find it is not to her liking.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

My godmother's

husband has died. He was 87 so this was both a surprise and not a surprise. My godmother is 95 but her mother lived to 103 and she has a sister who is, I think 97 - or it might be 98. Her "littlr brother" is 92. They are a family of remarkable longevity. Still she married a cousin younger than herself and he did not outlast her.
They also moved not so long ago because they were finding it difficult to live in a house with steps and stairs. They moved quite some distance to be near their son - so he could "keep an eye" on them. I wonder now how my godmother feels about this. She is a long way from the friends she has acquired over the years and the activities she enjoyed. As she now lives in a remote part of another state I know I may not see her again. A journey there would be difficult. There is no public transport.
But, we can write and we can talk on the phone.
Her husband was an accountant, the chief accountant for a very large business. He spent his working life looking at figures. He spent a good deal of his private life looking at stamps. As children my brother and I would sit and listen fascinated as he told the stories behind the stamps he showed us. He was interested in not just the stamps themsevles but the history or the event behind them. It never made me want to collect stamps but it did add to my growing interest in history.
Apart from that he was a quiet, rather ponderous man - a distinct contrast to my lively, active godmother - a woman who never seemed to get ruffled and who handled many a medical emergency in the small town where they then lived. When they moved to the big capital city she built the same sort of relationships all over again.
I suspect she has made new relationships where she is now living but she will still be grieving. She can of course sometimes say to her son "remember when"... but there are things he is too young to remember...and things I am too young to remember. My mother, once her closest friend, is no longer here to share such memories either.
So, I am - when she is ready - going to ask her to tell me things instead.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

There was one of those thoroughly

irritating articles in the state newspaper yesterday claiming that the residents of the UK and New Zealand know less about Australia than the Swedes, the Dutch, the Finns and the French. Even the Americans and the Colombians are supposed to know more about Australia than the English or the Kiwis. Nonsense.
This is is of course the results of the "citizenship test" which they are talking about. The Swedes who sat it apparently scored 98.1% and the UK residents scored 95.8%. I doubt that the results mean anything at all. I have no doubt that UK residents know as much about Australia as the Swedes, probably rather more in fact.
They may not necessarily know the answers to everything in the citizenship test but they will know a lot about Australia. They will know more than almost anyone else doing the test. What they know may be even more important than what is in the citizenship test.
Out of interest I once did a version of the UK citizenship test - and yes I passed without difficulty. All the same it had a good deal to do with the fact that I have lived in the UK and my general knowledge is probably reasonably good.  I did not study for the test. I doubt people from the UK or New Zealand study for the Australian citizenship test. They assume, rightly, that life in each other's countries is sufficiently the same for it to be able to be understood.
I took a look at a version of the Australian citizenship test and I suspect that most Australians would score less than the Swedes or the Brits and perhaps not much more than the Kiwis (who scored a lowly 72.6%) indeed they may score even less.
The problem is that most people will study for a citizenship test. Most will score well enough to pass and then they will, just like Australians, forget most of that information. It is of less importance than knowing your neighbours and living in the community.

Monday 21 January 2013

There is a bicycle route that leads

into the city that I use on a regular basis. It runs parallel to a major road but the bicycle route has the advantage of being almost free of vehicular traffic. It is used almost solely by the residents of the surrounding districts.
It is not surprising to find people walking along the road rather than the footpath. The road is in a better condition than the surrounding footpaths.
What is surprising is to find a very elderly woman walking very slowly along the road. This very elderly woman was coming towards me. Every few steps she would stop and pick something up from the road.
I wondered if she had dropped something and slowed as I came towards her. I could see nothing on the road that looked as if it had been dropped. There were the usual leaves, jacaranda pods and other natural detritus. For once there did not seem to be any soft drink cans, iced coffee cartons or other discarded fast food containers.
As she came closer she looked up and smiled. No, definitely not a "bag woman" and not "strange" either. She told me this and showed me what she was collecting. Yes, jacaranda pods, leaves and other naturally fallen detritus.
       "I build things." She told me.
I must have looked surprised. (I was.) She flipped open her mobile phone and showed me a photograph. There was a work of art built from the jacaranda pods and other naturally fallen items. It was lovely and I told her it was. She laughed.
       "I have made hundreds of them. I give them to people who need them. It doesn't cost me anything but my time."
Nothing but her time and a little imagination. There are not many people who could see art in the "rubbish" on the road.

Sunday 20 January 2013

I am still without

a computer of my own, This is being written on my sister's computer. The keyboard is slightly different and I keep making unexpected errors.
But the really curious thing is that it has disrupted my working day. I usually start very early in the morning - because it fits in well with certain time zones. Right now people are having to wait for responses and our "conversations" are much more limited.
I was used to all of this once. So were they. There was a time when we, at considerable expense, faxed things to one another.  A little later I would download work for the day by dialling in.
Now I can leave the computer on and I can search for information while I am working. It is much faster and more efficient.
Except of course, right at the moment I can do none of those things. I have to pedal over to my sister's house and access my email here.
But blog posts? I suppose I had better try. If I get out of the habit I might stop - and that might mean people would stop reading...and then.. well I do wonder...
Even that matters less than the fact that I do not have a keyboard with which to write at any time of the day or night...I had forgotten just how frustrating it is to have to write things by hand...
But please don't run away. I am still here.

Saturday 19 January 2013

There was a rather strange funeral

yesterday. I did not attend it and I would have no desire to attend it. It was for a long dead bushranger, Ned Kelly.
I have never been able to understand the fuss that has been made about Ned Kelly. He was, in my view, nothing more than a common criminal and a murderer. He shot and killed three policemen at a place called Stringybark Creek but it is he and not they who have been remembered.
He has been accorded folk-hero status. There are people who say he should never have been convicted of any crimes, that he was some sort of freedom fighter who opposed oppressors.
He was not. He was a thief. His "oppressors" were law enforcement officers who were searching for someone who had not obeyed the law of the land. He shot and killed them in cold blood.
Despite all this the story of the Kelly Gang has gone down in history as some sort of heroism. It has been the subject of books - for both adults and children - of theatre, of art works and songs.
Worse still perhaps is that the story is taught in school - or should I say "mis-taught"? I can remember being told the story as part of our Australian history classes. I was told it at least once in primary school and then again in secondary school.
In secondary school I can remember asking my teacher, "But what about the men who were killed?" They were, I was told, not what the story was about. The three policemen, Sergeant Kennedy, Constable Lonigan and Constable Scanlon were not the important part of the story. We were being given a sanitised view of history. We were expected to accept that Kelly was some sort of hero. I could never do that.
Later still I can remember writers discussing the story and saying how it made "marvellous theatre" and that it was part of the "rich seam of colonial history to be mined". The problem was that it was not even approaching a true version of who Kelly was.
And, yesterday, that was happening all over again. Kelly family descendants came together to bury Kelly next to his mother. There is a fuss being made as if Kelly is some sort of hero. People actually want to claim a relationship with Kelly, just as some people have been proud to claim a relationship with a convict.
It is something else we were "mis-taught". We were told that people were sent to Australia from England for "stealing a loaf of bread or a handkerchief". They were not. They were sent to Australia for much more serious crimes.
Why are we continuing to mis-teach this? It seems we really do prefer fiction to fact..

Friday 18 January 2013

There was an article in

our state newspaper two days ago complaining that the author had taken some pre-loved/unwanted/second-hand books to her local charity shop - only to be told they did not want them. "People don't read books any more," she was told.
Of course today there is a letter from someone they would be more than happy to accept the donation. Their charity outlet has readers.
The charity outlets around here all have books. One has a particularly good book room. It is down a little ramp at the back of the shop. I admit the place has an unusual amount of space but it is also extremely well organised. The fiction is in alphabetical order. The non-fiction is arranged pretty much by sunject. (The librarian bit of me does a bit of quiet rearranging once in a while so that things are actually easier to find but, on the whole it is not bad.) There are piles of magazines - useful to take to people in hospital if they are fairly recent. There are knitting patterns, sheet music, records, DVDs, CDs  and videos. They will put out anything which still has some re-sale value.
It always amazes me what people give away and what sells.
But books not selling? I think not. I went in on Monday to pick up a couple of geographical type magazines for the stroke patient and there were seven or eight people browsing the shelves. I know one was a book dealer who comes in regularly. The others were people looking for things to read because they were on holiday, going on holiday, were not sure they could get to the library in time to return books etc. The place acts as a sort of book exchange as well. The person in charge of the area knows me. He has sometimes put things aside to ask me if I think it might be more valuable than they can sell there. The answer has sometimes been yes so it goes up on the internet.
I know that the second hand book business is not a happy place for authors trying to sell their books. They get nothing for the resale of their books (and I think they should as they get paid so little) but it is surely better that money is made by a charity than the books just thrown out.
So, why on earth refuse to take the books if you have the space for them?

Thursday 17 January 2013

I am getting anxious about

this "new computer" bit. My brother assures me that all my files can be transferred to the new computer. My brother-in-law keeps telling me that some of my programmes will not work on the new computer.
There are files it would be disastrous to lose. I have them backed up but should I do a back up of the back up. What if the Drop Box site crashed irretrievably? (Okay I backed that up too...after all those novels I have endeavoured to write are in there as well and losing all that would be a disaster.)
The programmes are a little more awkward. Will the Sweater Wizard work? It is very useful. The Sock Wizard and the Mitten and Glove Wizard are useful too... I could not have made mittens for a friend without some ideas from that last programme.
I think I will lose all the Kindle files. They won't be able to be transferred. I hope I can get another copy of Nicola Morgan's excellent WAGS (Write a Great Synopsis).  I have entire books as Adobe Files - I hope they can be copied. I can download some again but others I would have to buy again and that, to put it mildly, would annoy me.
Then there are all my passwords and my favourites and - well many other things.
All my professional material is backed up elsewhere. There are other ways of getting to it. It does not appear on here - for security reasons - but will anything go wrong? It should not.
This is the problem with computers. I am tempted to make hard copies - which is, I suspect, what other people do. It is why I still do not have a paperless office - and why I may never have one.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

The Seven Stories Centre

in Newcastle, England is in danger of losing 100% of its funding. It is the National Centre for Children's Literature in the United Kingdom. If it loses all its funding then an enormous amount of material related to children's literature will not be available to researchers, librarians, teachers, parents and children. All sorts of very valuable activities will be lost.
As some writers are pointing out everyone has to bear cuts but to cut the entire funding is simply wrong because once access to something like that is lost and there are no funds to, at very least, safely store the primary material for futue access, then we all (yes, including those of us in Australia) part of our history.
Children's literature gets far too little recognition in academic research. It is generally not regarded as worthy of research. Most research into children's literature in Australia is done in departments of librarianship (also dwindling in size and funding). It is not done in departments of literature or even in education. It is rare indeed to find scarce research funds being given to the study of children's literature, particularly contemporary children's literature.
Our own Children's Literature Research Collection at our State Library is now virtually closed to outsiders. I have used it in the past but it is difficult to access the material and the librarian once in charge is now deceased and two of her colleagues are retired. The librarians left have less interest. Children's literature is not "their area".
But we need these things. Writers need these resources, so do teachers and librarians, historians and others. It is about far more than "a child reading a book". It helps us understand the past so we can face the future with more confidence and understanding.
If you live in the UK then Seven Stories could do with your help. If you live here and you are involved in libraries or schools or writing it might not hurt to add your voice, after all we benefit from it too.
It is a cut of the wrong amount in the wrong place.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Do we write differently

when we write by hand, by typewriter and then by word processor or computer? What if we use speech recognition software? The subject came up yesterday at our afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea itself was a lively, noisy event. Much else was also discussed but the "writing differently" idea seems to be an important one.
The Senior Cat is of the paper and ink (read dip-into-the-inkwell) generation. He left school when most people still wrote that way. He taught some of us to use pen and ink. I can remember when you were not allowed to sign a cheque with a biro.
The Senior Cat still uses a fountain pen on a regular basis and I know other people who prefer to write with a fountain pen. Other people have never used them and I know children who would not know what a fountain pen is. Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, Austen and many others must have written with quill pens. The process of writing was much slower. I have already written more words on this screen today than they would be able to write in a similar time.
But, it is not just about being able to write more. Do we write differently? One person said that, if you write by hand, you perhaps write more carefully. You think more carefully about what you are going to put on the page. There is not the same room for revisions.
I remember my doctoral supervisor. He wrote everything in long hand with two blank lines between each initial line. He would then go back and make alterations on the blank lines. His long suffering secretary was expected to make sense of all this and present him with a pristine copy...which he would sometimes change again. He was not an easy man to work for.
Another member of staff used to dictate everything to his secretary. One of the staff was also a part-time journalist for no less a paper than the Times. He was a two fingered typist of amazing speed. He did precious little revision. There is little room for that in the world of journalism.
I do not revise what I write on my blog - and yes, it probably does read that way.
I am mostly a keyboard writer. Actually writing things down on paper is something I find difficult and the act of writing gets in the way of what I want to say. It is much faster to use a keyboard. I am not a "proper" typist, a keyboard artist who uses all fingers but I am faster at typing than writing. It definitely affects the amount I can say and yes, probably the way I say it.
And then there are the letters I occasionally dictate for other people to use. They tend to be short and very much to the point. They rarely get revised. It is just as well because it is often the Senior Cat or an older person who asks and, even without their equivalent of a quill pen, they tend to write more slowly and carefully.
I suspect we do write differently for different circumstances and depending on how we are doing the delivery. I have yet to try speech recognition software. It might be interesting but I think I will remain hitched to a dinasour-computer-screen.

Monday 14 January 2013

Afternoon tea is not

something we normally indulge in. The Senior Cat has a cup of tea somewhere in the mid-to-late afternoon but he does not have biscuits or cake with it. I might have a drink or, perhaps, an apple.
Today however will be different. We are expecting visitors. One of them is our friend Polly. There will be her two sisters, her neice and her neice's partner.
It will be a very mixed group. Polly is a nun - not that anyone would notice. She does not, to the best of my knowledge, own a habit. She wears trousers most of the time. She has a wicked sense of humour and is good fun to be with. One of her sisters is the co-owner of a large and successful second-hand book business. We have known her for years as well - and she has found many useful books for the Senior Cat and me. She is the mother of Polly's neice, a professional bridge player (a game I know nothing about) and writer of multiple blogs. She also knits.
The other sister is the amazing person who manages to somehow keep an entire extended family together. There are rather a lot of them and I am not sure how she manages it.
We have yet to meet the neice's partner, although someone who has assures me he is "very amiable". I do not doubt it.
But, afternoon tea for this group? I had cause to hunt out my copy of Elizabeth Goudge's book, "The little white horse" recently. I did it because of the description of the afternoon tea produced by Marmaduke Scarlett towards the end of the book. It is an extraordinary affair with nineteen different foods named - and only Cornish pasty and lettuce sandwiches being savory.
The emphasis on sweet things is remarkable. What did it do to their waistlines and their teeth? What about their cholesterol levels? Did teenagers in that era never suffer from acne? Were there no allergies?
My father remembers my great-aunt spreading bread with dripping and liberally dousing it with salt and pepper. It was a pre-lunch snack at the dairy farm they lived on. Later we lived in a dairying district and our milk came straight from a local dairy farmer. There was no nonsense about pasteurisation or not enjoying the cream that accounted for at least a quarter of the container. My mother would cook it gently on the stove so that we had great dollops of clotted cream on our cereal and toast.
But today I will put out some home-made not too sweet shortbread and the last of Polly's excellent Christmas cake...and I know that almost certainly little of it will be eaten.
Afternoon tea is not what it once was - but the Senior Cat is looking forward to a good bookish discussion!

Sunday 13 January 2013

I do wish they would stop

abusing the word "hero". It seems everyone is a hero. There are "little heroes" and "sporting heroes" and "environmental heroes" and almost any other sort of "hero" you can think of - or so it would seem.
I always thought a "hero" was someone who had shown courage and bravery while assisting other people. A "hero" might be someone who puts their own life at risk in order to save the life of someone else. If it is not part of their everyday job then it may well be something particularly heroic. I do not think people who do well at sport are "heroes". I do not think sick children are "heroes" although I do think there are many who face up to their problems with great courage.
The word is becoming meaningless. How will we describe true acts of heroism in the future if we cannot use the "hero" to describe them.
What started this little rant? The front page of the national paper (which really should know better) described the firefighters as "ordinary heroes". Would anyone care to explain what that means?

Saturday 12 January 2013

"We've gone backwards,"

the weary, almost in tears, voice at the other end of the phone told me last night.
The younger cousin of the stroke patient was reporting in. She has done this each night. She needs someone to talk to at the end of each day.
Nobody could have done more than she has. She has visited the hospital and, now, the rehabilitation facility every day and stayed for hours at a time. Her older cousin is still anxious and, occasionally, confused.
The Older Cousin's condition is complicated by an artificial heart valve. The valve is almost fifteen years old. That in itself would be a matter for concern. Her medication, particularly the warfarin, is being closely monitored but lately the results of the now daily blood tests have been "all over the place".
None of this surprises me, my sister or my newly qualified doctor nephew. There are multiple reasons why it might happen.
Last night the Younger Cousin said that Older Cousin had been "dizzy" all day - and frightened with it.
Older Cousin's speech is still very limited. I set up a simple communication board after consultation with the speech pathologist - a lovely young girl with far too little time to spend on each person who needs her. Would I be interfering? I asked her and she said no, she would welcome the help as I clearly knew Older Cousin better than she did and also knew what I was doing. So the board has eased part of the fear of not being understood about essentials but it has not eased the fear of having another stroke and becoming helpless. Underneath all the stubborness and determination Older Cousin is terrified. Even the anti-depressant medication they have given her is not enough to remove the fear.
Yesterday Older Cousin could not stand comfortably. She has been walking short distances with a walker and a person either side. That did not happen yesterday. She was desperately tired and yet afraid of falling asleep.
I can understand all of that,  so does my sister and my nephew. Her Younger Cousin understands too and, for all their lack of time, the nursing staff do too.
It made me acutely aware yet again of just how complicated the human body is, just how extraordinarily complex the engineering is and how each part is dependent on another.
It amazes me - and it terrifies me. I am trying not to feel useless in the face of the despair of Younger Cousin and the fear of Older Cousin. All I can do for now is listen.

Friday 11 January 2013

I had a curious experience

yesterday and I am still not sure what to make of it.
I was stopped by the police. No, I was not doing anything wrong. As far as I know the two cars coming up the street behind me were not doing anything wrong either. We were all just stopped.
We sat there. I was in the sun. I went to move into the shade. I was told not to move.  One of the cars behind me attempted to reverse and go another way. He was stopped from doing that as well.
The two policemen seemed quite relaxed. They went back to their air-conditioned vehicle (and drank water). They had a conversation and I saw one of them using a phone. They sat there for a bit longer.
Some traffic went around the corner ahead of me in what appeared to be a perfectly normal fashion. There was no visible emergency services vehicle or police escort.
After some minutes one of the policemen got out of the car and waved me on. He waved the two cars on.
I went home feeling annoyed - to put it mildly. Should I put in a complaint? I was debating this when I had a phone call. It was not from the police with an apology but from the secretary of the owner of one of the cars. He had described the incident to her and she had recognised me from the description "on a tricycle wearing a helmet which looked a bit different".
She told me, "He is dealing with it."
I will not put in a complaint. He knows who I am and I know who he is although we do not know each other. I am sure he can deal with the situation. If they had no good reason to stop us it will not be pleasant.
But, it was curious.

Thursday 10 January 2013

People have been asking

me in a variety of e-mails whether we are safe from the bushfires. The answer is "yes, at present".
We live in suburbia although we are not that far from a "reserve" and a national park in the hills behind us. The hills also contain housing which should probably never have been built there.
So far the residents of those suburbs have been lucky. No major fire has ever gone through there. Were one to take hold loss of human life would be almost inevitable. Loss of property would be great.
We know people who live in those areas. Some might, with good fortune, reach the freeway and make it down to the plains. Others would probably not make it out through the maze of streets that twist and turn through the tree lined ups and downs. It looks like a lovely place to live until you realise just how dangerous it would be in a fire, especially if a long goods train should break down or stop for any reason across the main road or two smaller roads.
There is even one newish suburb in the hills. The houses there are the sort you might find in areas of Hollywood. They are huge. We went and looked once - being driven back from somewhere else by a man who was curious about the architecture of one house. The houses all have high tech security and, no doubt, sprinkler systems. That would not save them in a fire of the sort which has gone through parts of Tasmania, Victoria or New South Wales.
This is all part of summer in Australia. Although the Prime Minister claimed otherwise it has nothing to do with global warming. The professionals in the Weather Bureau and the scientists say otherwise. It must sometimes have happened before white settlement but we never learned of it.
What we need to do is keep the ground clear of undergrowth and train people not to be idiots because, believe it or not, one of the biggest fires was started by a camper in Tasmania.
So, yes we are here and safe - for now. I am not going to get complacent.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

"Can you read this?"

asks the man ahead of me. He is squinting at the label on the tin of beans. The printing is small and it is also colour on colour - gray on blue. It is, even for someone with good eyesight, almost impossible to read.
It is not the first time I have come across such problems. The "home brand" labels in that supermarket chain are particularly bad. It is as if they do not want the customers to read the labels. Quite possibly they do not.
I manage to read the label to him. The source is China. He puts it back on the shelf.
          "So that's why my wife said not to buy it."
He picks up the more expensive but made in New Zealand brand - the only other alternative.
I go into that particular supermarket only rarely. I do not like it. It is large, indeed very large, but much of it is sourced from China now that there are more and more of their "own brand" appearing on the shelves. The variety is not there. It appears to be. There are multiple "flavours" of some things - such as cheap jams and cereals and pasta "sauces".
I do not use those things. I can understand why some people do. They are cheap, They have salt and sugar and preservatives aplenty. The bread is "fresh baked" but much of it actually comes from America. It is just the final baking which is done here.
I do buy a brand of tea the Senior Cat likes in there. So far, it is still available. If another senior asks me to shop there for them I will do it. Some of them believe it is cheaper.
I prefer the other supermarket. They have a "source locally if possible" policy. Their own "home brand" is printed black on yellow - much easier to read.
But, I still need to read labels - all sorts of labels. I wonder how people who cannot read really cope in the supermarket. There is an intellectually retarded man who does his own shopping with some difficulty. He cannot read at all. The staff know him and, if he cannot rely on the pictures, he knows he can ask them - or me or other people who know him.  He never shops in the "cheaper" supermarket because so many of the items no longer have pictures to tell him what the contents are.
Did they think of this? Quite possibly. I doubt that it bothers them. The people who run the supermarkets are not there to cater for those who cannot read.
Quite possibly, in their view, it is better if you cannot read.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Yesterday, pedalling up to the

place where I park my transport, I came across an elderly woman leaning on the railing. There was clearly something wrong so I hastily locked my trike and asked if I could help?
She said she felt faint. It was scarcely surprising in the heat. I was only out because I absolutely had to be out.
Then I saw the tiny little white plaster patch on her arm and asked,
      "Have you had a fasting blood test this morning?"
      "Yes, I came over here to get something but I can't get myself inside."
It is a long walk from the place where the tests are done to the shopping centre and she had done it in the heat. She had not been totally foolish. There was a small water bottle in her bag but she needed more than that and we both knew it.
It was still early enough that there were not many people around. Certainly nobody had gone past us. I could leave her there and get help, try and help her inside, bring something out to mind ran through the possibilities faster than I could type that.
Then, around the corner came a teenager, a boy. He was average height, skinny as the proverbial rake and untidy. He had slightly too long greasy hair, a rash of spots, and sported a variety of rings in places where you do not usually find rings.
He was not the obvious person to ask but I saw him hesitate as he too assessed the situation.
     "Can you help?" I asked now fearful the elderly woman was about to slide to the ground.
He gave me a look and then, with a small bow to the elderly woman, he said,
       "Madam, may I assist you inside?"
It was said with an air of cheeky gallantry. She looked startled but he almost carried her in, sat her on the nearest seat. It happens to be near a small place which sells coffee and crepes. They were getting ready for the day.
He went up to the girl setting things out and told her,
        "The lady there nearly fainted. She needs a drink."
Then he loped off in that peculiar teenage way and left us. The girl came over with a large glass half full of cold milk and said,
        "Please have this first and then  do you want coffee or something like that? It will take a moment to make it."
And then the girl looked at me and said,
        "I'll make sure she is all right."
I was sure she would, despite her nose ring and rather odd hair cut. They give me confidence in the next generation.

Monday 7 January 2013

There are frustrated people

right around me. It is mostly the heat. The Senior Cat wants to finish making toys for his great-grandchildren before they come in February. It is too warm  to be in the shed so he is up  very early each morning to do at least a little while it is cool.
The man mending and painting the pergola at the back was here before seven this morning. He knew we would be up but he also knows he will only get a few hours in before it is too hot to do any more.
I am frustrated because the computer (which is very old) keeps freezing and doing strange things. I may not be around for a bit. (I'll see if I can do some advance posts from elsewhere.)
I know I'll miss, for a while, the twittering on Twitter and that I will have to face the frustrations of going out in the heat to do the essential computer work from elsewhere.
But, it all pales into insignificance when I have just had an email from a friend in England telling me she has terminal cancer. She has been given, she tells me, at most a few months to live. I would love to see her again but know I won't. Our frustrations suddenly seem much smaller.

Sunday 6 January 2013

I woke in the night to the smell

of damp, charred wood. It meant the smoke from the fire south of us had finally reached us.
So far we have been lucky. Lucky in the sense that nobody has died during the fires of the past few days.
How lucky can be seen by looking at a map. There is a small peninsula east of Hobart in Tasmania. It was cut off by the fires. Many buildings have gone. People went into the water to get away from the flames - which went down to the shoreline. Many were eventually evacuated by boat.
One of the fires was apparently started by campers - who should not have been using an open fire at all at this time of the year. Another was started by arsonists. I cannot comprehend their stupidity. I wonder yet again what would happen if such a fire had trapped people in a valley rather than on a peninsula.
Many of our native trees are eucalypts and watching one catch alight and go up in flames is not exciting. It is terrifying because it occurs in a matter of seconds.
Fires move at incredible speeds. The heat they generate is extraordinary. They are not cosy little camp fires over which you cook toast and sausages and boil the water for billy tea.
The book I currently have on submission is about two children trapped in just such a situation. It is based on a story told to me when I was doing some research. Naturally I would like to see it published for myself but I would also like to see it published for another reason. I would like others to know that our bushfires or wildfires are terrifying things capable of destroying more than property.
And the aftermath of a fire has a lasting effect, especially if people lose their lives. I do not want that to happen. I know we will have fires though so I am going to write the sequel.

Saturday 5 January 2013

I have just finished reading

two books about daily life in North Korea - insofaras anyone can write about such things.
The first was "The Hidden People of North Korea - Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom (Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh  2009) and the second was "Nothing to Envy - Ordinary Lives in North Korea" (Barbara Demick 2009).
Neither made pleasant reading but they were useful for my purposes. I was left feeling depressed. All the writers make it clear that getting any information, especially accurate information, about North Korea is difficult.
The capacity of foreigners to gather any information is extremely limited. They need to rely on accounts from defectors (who naturally have their own agenda), diplomats (who have limited channels of information) and what they can observe by other means. Border areas are, naturally, even more tightly controlled than the rest of the country.
North Korea is short of food. It is short of fuel, housing, clothing, transport and just about everything else. It is also short of information. It has to be or people would not put up with the conditions under which they live. It is that which is perhaps most interesting of all because the present leader Kim Jong-un has spent more time abroad (at school in Switzerland) than his father or grandfather did. His father scarcely travelled at all. The present Kim knows far more about the world. It is likely his wife knows much more than the average North Korean too.
I was discussing this with a colleague yesterday, preparatory to doing some work for him. He suggested that perhaps things would change "when the two Koreas get together. It has to happen."
I am not so sure. The situation is not like that of East and West Germany and unification there, while it went ahead, was resented by some. There were those who felt that the economic price was going to be too great. There were those who felt suspicious of their East German neighbours - possibly they still feel that way.  The old East German sector is, I understand, still underdeveloped compared with the rest of the country. Unemployment is still higher there.
Despite all that East Germans were relatively well informed, well fed and well housed....compared with North Korea. If reunification of the two Koreas occurred suddenly and dramatically there would be economic complications of massive proportions. I doubt Seoul wants to see it happen. I doubt China does. Both are probably anxious to see conditions improve slowly so that people will not want to leave. They want to see change from within rather than external change. It is almost certainly what the USA and Japan want too.
So information will probably continue to be limited and what we can read will  be limited too. I am not sure I know very much about North Korea but I do know this. I do not like what I do know.

Friday 4 January 2013

We are heading for a

day of extreme heat - 44'C is forecast.  As I write this the Senior Cat is doing some early morning watering in the garden - before breakfast. I have done some as well.
We know that, despite this, we will lose plants. Some of the seedlings he has been nurturing simply will not survive. The Senior Cat loves his garden with a passion and it distresses him.
There are other people, like our neighbours, who are not gardeners. They simply do not care particularly - indeed on one side the garden is not a garden at all. It is a wilderness of weeds. When they were away earlier in the year I cleared some of them. I knew they would not notice - and they did not - but it reduced the fire hazard.
Staying cool is also an issue in this heat. Our cooling system is old. It does not work well. We have other measures in place. We close the curtains. Our side "wall" of green (vines) helps. We know the power will almost certainly be cut at some point today.
This would not be so necessary if people used it less. They would use it less if houses were built with the summer heat in mind. Most houses are now built without eaves. Once they were all built with wide verandahs and high ceilings - things which did something to ease the summer heat. Now people run their air conditioning night and day.
It is this I wonder about. We are supposed to be concerned about global warming. We should be concerned about electricity consumption. Despite this people are allowed to build houses which are simply not suited to the climate.
Someone laughed at me when I said this. They pointed out that houses in the Middle East do not have the verandahs I feel we should have. I pointed out that their walls are a lot thicker than ours. It makes a difference. I have a very elderly friend who lived in northern Africa for some years. She tells me the foot thick walls of the traditional houses they lived in made for much cooler housing.
Fortunately I do not need to go to work. I can work from home. I will need to cool the computer down occasionally but I can work without pedalling out in the heat. I feel for the commuters who will need to catch the substitute buses rather than the air conditioned trains - and the senior citizen I know who spends his days riding the trains because it is cooler. (As a senior he does not need to pay for a ticket.) The shopping centres will be crowded with people trying to stay cool in other people's air conditioning.
And it would take just one idiot to strike a match in the hills behind us and the situation could be catastrophic but I am hoping for care and commonsense to be shown by all.
Maybe later today I can contemplate knitting projects for the year - if it ever gets cool again!

Thursday 3 January 2013

The naming of places

which have indigenous names is a delicate issue. What was once called Ayers Rock is now known as "Uluru".
"Uluru" is the name given to the rock by the Anungu people, the indigenous people who live around it. For them it is a sacred site.
It is a sacred site for some other groups too.
Recently it was announced that Lake Eyre would now be known by another indigenous name, Kati-Thanda. This is the name given to it by another indigenous people, the Arabuna.
The problem however is that this is not the only indigenous name given to either Ayers Rock or Lake Eyre. There are other names given by other indigenous people.
There were thousands of languages spoken in Australia before European settlement. Some of them were spoken by very small groups of people.  Many of them have been lost. Others were spoken by greater numbers but the language spoken before European settlement almost certainly bears little resemblance to the language spoken today.
The idea that a language is being preserved or that it is somehow "right" for a geographical location to be known by an indigenous name is just that, an idea. No indigenous language is being preserved. English is not being preserved. In order for a language to live it has to change to fit the circumstances in which the speakers find themselves. As for one name  being "right" over other names that is equally incorrect. There are other names for Ayers Rock and Uluru, Lake Eyre and Kati-Thanda. We are not preserving anything. We might be acknowledging one group of indigenous people. In doing so we have to ignore other groups.
It is a sort of tribal warfare being carried out with the help of the "politically correct" brigade. A late indigenous friend had little time for all of this. Her "received" memory stretched back to her own great-grandmother. She was well aware that the culture of her own group was very different from the way it was portrayed by others. She was a highly intelligent woman who had lived much of it. As she once said to me,
"What is welcomed by some people is insulting to others."
At very least we need to be aware of that.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Could you live on

 $40 a day? Could you pay rent, feed and clothe yourself and your family, run a car or use public transport, and search for work?
According to our Family Services Minister Jenny Macklin she could. She said this in an interview yesterday - and her minders have been in damage control ever since. They have claimed the question is "inaudible" and the answer "distorted" by a "revving" car. Oddly the footage on the SBS news  was perfectly clear, even the Senior Cat could hear it.
Her remarks were made in response to a government measure which has cut the single parent benefit to anyone whose children are now over the age of eight. Those parents now go "on the dole" and are expected to search for work. The dole is much less than the single parent benefit.
There are all sorts of things wrong with this measure and it is going to cause many problems. At present however the government is merely interested in finding places to save money.
It was an easy target group, easier than targetting the Youth Allowance
and "work for the dole" schemes. Disability allowances are being targetted too. It is another easy target. These groups get little public sympathy and have little in the way of a public voice or voting power.
There is an assumption in all of this, the assumption that there are jobs there, that people are qualified to do them, and that they will be employed to do them.
I know many people, often with disabilities, who would like paid employment. The jobs are not always there, they are not alwys qualified to do those that are there and people will not employ them.
A great many things are going to have to change or many more people will have to try and live on $40 a day. It would be good if the Family Services Minister was one of them.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Of course this one just has to be

about New Year's Resolutions...except that I have not made any. I did not make any last year, or the year before that. I cannot remember when I last made one - if I ever did.
Oh, I think of things I would like to do - but I don't make resolutions out of them. There are too many uncertainties in life for that.
I think I would like to continue the blog. It's a daily challenge of a sort - an exercise of the mind muscles, if I have any.
I think I would like to write the sequel to the book I have on submission. This may be rather foolish. If the first one is not accepted the second one will not be accepted either. The problem is that the two main characters still have things to say. I turned their lives upside down and they are letting me know that. I had no idea that was going to happen.
Last year the writing side hit the bottom. I was prepared to quit. I still wonder why I bother but I got a "brisk licking" from a human I trust. It was rough but she cleaned me up and told me to get on with it. Another human nudged me in (hopefully) an appropriate direction.  We cats are lucky.
I did some knitting too. I made something I thought I would never make. It was difficult. My paws are not designed for that sort of project but I eventually succeeded. The recipient liked it.
Now my goddaughter wants/needs some woolly winter warmth to start university in the northern hemisphere this coming October. I am planning knitting but I am not resolving to do it. If it happens that will be good. I hope it will.
The Senior Cat needs a new gardening garment of those "made from leftovers and randomly striped" jumpers....I might get to that.
We put the new wall calendar up yesterday. It is ruled up by me to cover the entire year. It has (I hope) all the significant birthdays, the regular events, appointments and other information packed (in abbreviated form) onto a single large coloured cardboard sheet. At the present time it looks somewhat empty. I know that will not last. It will soon be filled with more appointments and other things which must be done. At least, I hope that this will be so. It will say that we are still here and able to do things.
I really think the thing about a new year is not to resolve that anything will happen but hope that it might happen and that what happens will be what we want.