Tuesday 30 April 2013

We are two weeks out from

Budget Day so I thought I would offer some unwanted advice to the government as they do the preparations.
You have been spending more than you earn? Yes, all governments do this from time to time. That is not a concern in itself as long as the money has not been wasted and has been spent with an eye on future income sources.
There could be a problem there. Pink batts insulation scheme? That has not generated any future income has it? Those school halls? No future income generated there either. The new, too big, too powerful Holden? No future income there either. The NBN? Well you say it will generate income but the take up rate is so low and the cost so high that it is looking unlikely.
Right, the Baby Bonus and paid parental leave - paternity as well as maternity leave. Yes, the argument has been that we should all pay for this because children are our future but the economics of this need to be looked at carefully. It may not be the wise use of money it appears to be.
Ah, you have been subsidising child care costs so people can go back to work? Yes, the argument is that we should all pay for this too, again because children are our future. But does that really target the right people? There are suggestions that this might not be the case. The actual economics of this need to be more closely examined as well. 
Then there is the "Schoolkids' Bonus". Wouldn't that money be better spent in other ways that would actually benefit all children?
Oh, I forgot. There is the "First Home Owners' Scheme" - a nice little hand out. Of course the argument is that it helps people buy a new home and provides the building industry with work - but it also means that expectations are high, perhaps too high. People want nothing less than a four bedroom house on a quarter acre block with a rumpus room, family room, patio, swimming pool, low maintenance garden and the sort of white-goods that make it easy to take something from the freezer and zap it in the micro-wave after picking the kids up from day care and after-school care. Well, I exaggerate slightly but I think you understand what I mean. 
I think we need to look at the economics of these schemes and many other schemes. We also need to look at the actual social impact of these schemes. Is the cost low enough and the benefit to the future of our society high enough to justify the expenditure? 
Does the right to go to work also include the right to expect assistance from other taxpayers to pay for the house of your choice,  assistance to pay others for the care of your children?
Finance Minister Penny Wong is now saying that there might be a need to increase the Medicare levy to pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It would, I suspect, raise taxes by a minimum of $6 a week. That will, in turn, bring about a demand for higher wages.  Whether the extra money raised would actually go into the NDIS, get wasted in administration or keeping the noisiest advocates quiet is something else. So far there has been too little detail about how the NDIS might work or what it might cost. It is a political battle ground of "anything you can do I can do better" rather than a carefully thought out scheme for the long term. It will not be the panacea for all disability funding ills that many people seem to  believe. 
And paying for the "Gonski reforms" by taking money from under-funded universities is not the way to go either. We need better teacher training not more money just flung at schools. We do not need smaller classes but better classes in which more is expected and more is done.
For the record, I do think there are ways in which governments should support families with children - but you can have too much of a good thing. We can't afford all of it. We are living beyond our means. 

Monday 29 April 2013

I had never really thought of

biscuits as an art form until the Whirlwind found the biscuit book last week. 
She made biscuits and, yesterday, she iced them. She did a pretty good job too. 
Sensibly she did not attempt to do anything too complicated the first time around. She cut out flower and leaf shapes and iced them. The icing was fine. We bought that although she wants to try and make her own "royal icing" one day. 
Her outlines are a bit wobbly and I was told "That's really hard to do!" She managed to get the rest of the icing inside in a technique I am informed is called "flooding" it . 
She left it at that for the first attempt. The Senior Cat and I were presented with one each. The rest, apart from one for her father, were taken back to the school  boarding house last night. They always try to make the first night back at school a little bit interesting for the boarders and this was her contribution. I know some of the others will come with other home made goodies too. I have, at her father's request, always seen to it that she has gone back to school with something, often something we have made together. Ginger nuts, popular in my boarding school days, are still popular apparently. I know one mother will have baked a large batch of ANZAC biscuits. Both those things keep well. The Whirlwind's biscuits will not last.
"It's a bit different from E's party," the Whirlwind told me. She was invited to a birthday party during the holidays. Everyone in her form group was invited. She went reluctantly. She does not like birthday parties. It means finding a present - and she is generous but afraid of getting the wrong thing or something that someone else has already given them. (We solved that problem this time by her talking to the mother of the party girl.) It means finding something to wear - and many of the girls at her school have a much more extensive wardrobe. 
Fortunately nobody expects her to reciprocate with the sort of lavish party that some children seem to get. Indeed, there are surprisingly few such parties among her school friends considering the school is a fee paying one where quite a few of the parents might be considered "well off". There was some discussion about this some years ago and the school guidelines ask that parties be kept simple for a number of very good reasons, particularly as the boarders cannot reciprocate.  Most parents are only too happy to cooperate. 
Her father has always asked the Whirlwind if she wants a party. I know that a number of mothers would be happy to help if she wanted one and he does too. Her answer has always been a firm "No." Her birthday always comes in the middle of the long summer holidays. She is often away with her father then. "Birthdays," she insists, "Have to celebrated on the proper day."
I suspect it is just an excuse. She is not fond of parties.
But she was happy to participate in what would have happened at school last night.  This time she had something from home "like everyone else" and she has made it herself. It is the first time I have known her to think that going back to the boarding house might not be too bad. We may need to try this art-form yet again.

Sunday 28 April 2013

"How can anyone so intelligent

believe something like that?" the Senior Cat asked me.
A friend of his had sent me an e-mail with a link to a short video which he asked us both to watch. 
The Senior Cat refuses to have an e-mail account - and it is probably just as well. However it does mean that these things appear in my personal e-mail account and I am expected to pass them on. They irritate me - and they irritate the Senior Cat as well. 
We watch because the friend really is a friend. He has done a good many things for the Senior Cat - and the Senior Cat has always tried to reciprocate. We tolerate the oddities of this person - and there are many - because he is kind. He genuinely cares about his friends.
But, somewhere along the line, he has collected some very strange ideas. 
He grew up in another state and went to a school which has produced some people with other ideas which, although they differ from his, are also somewhat out of the ordinary. I can only think that perhaps there were teachers there who believed some of these things and passed on their ideas - perhaps to children who did not fully understand what was being said to them. Whatever happened the Senior Cat's friend has some very strange ideas and he appears to believe things we find unbelievable.
Yesterday's link was to a "levitating" car. The friend in question has, for years, been trying to develop an engine which runs by some magnetic device or other and "pulls energy from the air". I do not pretend to understand it - and neither does the Senior Cat. I doubt anyone does. The idea of a levitating car however would appeal to the friend. 
The Senior Cat and I duly watched the little video. We knew it had to be a prank. It was quite funny. The special effects were excellent. It was, cleverly, set in China with Chinese narration and characters on the screen and that added to the realism. You can (apparently) see this "levitating" car beetling around the streets of a major Chinese city. It's a "smart" car. It avoids collisions. You can speak to the GPS system and it takes you where you want to go. We are told it works on some sort of force between the vehicle and the natural minerals under the ground in this city. It is the stuff of dreams.
And, the Senior Cat's friend believes this is real. I know it is what he wants to believe. Many people would like to believe it. There will be no point in trying to convince the Senior Cat's friend. I could show him the material on Snopes and Wiki-answers and other sites. His response would be that all this is a conspiracy by the oil companies et.al. to prevent the development of the vehicle. Nothing will change his mind. 
I mentioned the video to someone else I know. She also knows the friend. She agreed. Nothing will change his mind. Then she said, with a rather wicked expression, "I wonder who taught the car to meditate so it could levitate." 

Saturday 27 April 2013

I have just been investigating

biscuit cutters on line - those nifty little things the Americans call "cookie cutters". I am sure you know what I mean. You make biscuit dough (or perhaps play dough) and roll it out. Then you use the cutters to cut out the shape you want. 
Before I went to school I remember playing with "play dough". It was made, I think, from a mixture of flour, a lot of salt and water. I have no idea how long the mixture lasted. It was probably only for the one session at kindergarten. We rolled and stamped and pretended to cook the resultant "biscuits". I believe some people coloured the dough with food colouring. Ours ended up a grey-brown colour from little hands, bits rescued from the floor and scraped from the table we were sitting at. 
I suppose it was fun and that I enjoyed it at the time. I can remember doing it but I cannot remember how I felt about it. Mind you, I did not much like kindergarten. I used to get scolded for wanting to read a book instead of participating in games I could not participate in anyway. 
But, the biscuit cutter business is a serious one. I have collected a large variety of shapes over the years. I have the alphabet in two sizes, numbers, flowers, animals (domestic as well as wild), Christmas ornaments and even a set of chess set shaped cutters. 
On my birthday last year my sister presented me with several that she had found in a cookware shop somewhere. 
Yesterday the Whirlwind found a book "in the back room" - by which she means the second hand book area of a local charity shop. It is a favourite place to visit ("I mean like if you have to go shopping then you might as well go somewhere useful""!) The book looks new. It is about decorating biscuits - the sort you roll out and then cut out with biscuit cutters of course. 
I confess it does look interesting, tempting and even tasty. It looks as if it would be great fun...so much fun that I was tempted to investigate and see if some of the shapes really were available. (There were cats and anyone who knows me knows that I would be tempted by cats.) 
Realistically I know that I do not have the manual dexterity to decorate the biscuits in the way that they are decorated there. I am not even sure why you would bother because they are just going to be eaten almost immediately. But, the Whirlwind has decided that it might be fun. She went through the box of biscuit cutters and chose some shapes. We talked the recipe through and I left her to it. Her biscuits came out rather nicely. She is now patient enough that she left the icing of them until today - something she will do at home in her own kitchen. Rather than make the royal icing she is going to use icing bought from the supermarket. 
"If they are good enough I will take them back to school on Sunday and share them with the others," she told me.
I am sure they will be - and I am thankful that, providing they know what is in the recipe, the boarding house staff will allow her to share. 
But, there is something about these biscuit cutters. They are addictive. I do not need any more. I have restrained myself - but it was fun to look and...those cats do look fun.

Friday 26 April 2013

The Whirlwind was reading

an article in yesterday's paper about the way in which some parents call their children something like Charlie, Lily or Jackson and then spell it Charlee, Lilly or Jaxon.
"Charlie is not a name anyway," she told me, "Well, I suppose people think it is but really it has to be short for Charles or something like that. Mine is just a girl's way of spelling a boy's name."
Her own name is sometimes a problem for her. It sounds like a boy's name but it is a combination of her father's name and her mother's name. Her father now agrees that it was "probably not that sensible". It was given to her with good intentions and she does not dislike it "because it reminds me of my Mum and otherwise I would not remember her properly".
One of my sisters has a similar problem with her second name in that the spelling is what is usually considered the masculine form of a name that can be given to either a male or a female. It is the spelling that was given to my mother whose own second name was the same. Her first name was a common one for the day but the spelling was different. It caused constant problems. My mother should have known better than to pass such problems on. 
The Whirlwind went on reading and then asked,
"Why would you want to call your baby what everyone else was calling theirs? It's like you want them to be the same as everyone else or you don't care or something."
And that is a good question too. I know three men called "John Smith". All of them have come face to face with other men who bear the same name. I know two women called "Mary Jones" too, although one of them married a man called Jones and took his name. 
The couple across the road from us have grandchildren. Two of the little girls have, in keeping with their Irish heritage, been given Irish-Gaelic names. Their grandmother was delighted when I recognised the names for what they are and could even spell them. Their names will cause problems because people here will not be able to spell them or know how to pronounce them unless they have come across them before, have an interest in Irish literature or something similar. Nevertheless they were chosen with care and respect. 
Only my youngest sister was given names my parents chose because they happened to like them. They are not unusual but they were not the flavour of the month at her birth either. The rest of us have names chosen for specific reasons. 
I do wonder though at parents who choose a name which is popular. Do they really like it? Do they want their child to be one of many? Are they doing it because it has a family association? Does it really go well with their surname? Is there something other than the popularity which appeals to them? Is the naming of their child not important - or something they feel others should dictate? 
There has apparently been a rash of Jack, William, Noah, Ethan, Oliver, Thomas, Lucas, James, Cooper and Jackson in the past year. Little girls have apparently been named Charlotte, Ruby, Lily, Olivia, Chloe, Sophie, Emily, Mia, Amelia and Ava. 
I suppose they are not likely to embarrass their recipients but they might sometimes wonder who the teacher is addressing.

Thursday 25 April 2013

It was not quite light when I

prowled out this morning. Getting up that early is not unusual for me but I am feeling snuffly. What was I doing this for? Nobody really cares. I could have curled up for another half an hour.  But, I was up and I had said I would do it. 
Outside I discovered it was, ever so slightly, damp and I thought I might be alone. No. 
There is no dog this year but the man who walked him is walking up our small street. A front door opens and another figure walks over. Then two more people next door to that. 
Gradually we are joined by several others. The Whirlwind and her father walk around with several people from the next street. For once the Whirlwind is not talking. She is holding her father's hand. The two boys who live next door to her are walking on either side of their mother. 
We gather quietly on a small patch of lawn across the street. At the very last two more people join us. They look uncertain but we shift slightly to make sure they are very much part of the group. 
Nobody says anything. We can hear the faint sound of a hymn being sung in the distance. Then it comes, the bugle call.
As it finishes I hear several soft sounds of breath being let out. The last couple to come hold one another tightly. I do not know them except by sight but I now know their son is in Afghanistan. 
The man who walked the dog told them what we had done last year. He also told several other people in their street what we had done not quite on purpose last year and, quite accidentally, the year before that. They all made the effort to get up early and come just for the last few minutes before the Last Post was sounded at the ANZAC Day Dawn Service over on the Reserve. 
The father of the soldier then says just one word,
His voice cracks even on that. 
The people from the next street depart quietly but in a group. My neighbours return home. 
The idea that ANZAC Day is irrelevant with the passing of the last of them is nonsense. There are still people who desperately need us to remember.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

There is news of yet another

death in yet another "faith healing" family in the US. The family apparently lost one child when they failed to seek medical attention and have now lost another. The authorities are currently investigating whether the death is due to failure to seek medical attention. The couple, already on probation for the involuntary manslaughter of the other child, may now face a charge of violating the terms of their probation.
I know that the entire area of religious belief, faith healing, rights and responsibilities is fraught with moral, social and legal difficulties.  There has been an upsurge in commentary over the "vaccination debate" here. Doctors have been urging parents to get their children vaccinated. Groups which oppose vaccination have been urging parents not to get their children vaccinated. 
My mother and my maternal grandparents belonged to a sect which did not believe vaccination. My maternal grandparents would tell anyone prepared to listen of how one of my mother's much younger cousins became intellectually disabled as a result of having been vaccinated. What had actually happened was that he had been given the then "triple-antigen" vaccination and several weeks later he had become seriously ill with meningitis which left him permanently disabled. The two things were not related at all - except in the minds of my maternal grandparents and the members of the church they attended. 
A university professor I once knew well also claimed the same cause for his child's severe intellectual disability. Again the child had become ill a little later with an unrelated illness.  I have no doubt that the professor had convinced himself that the cause was the vaccine, despite being told by members of the medical profession, his colleagues, that this was not so. Perhaps though it was easier to blame the vaccine than recognise your child had been unfortunate enough to become ill through some other cause. The problem was that, when he told others what the "cause" of his child's disability was, people believed him.
I met someone yesterday whose child has been seriously ill with whooping cough. It has been a very, very anxious time for them. Their child was one of the unlucky few to have caught the disease despite having had the vaccination.
"It happens in about 15% of children and we were unlucky but the doctors said that, without the vaccination, he would have been much worse and may not have survived," his mother told me, "And having been through all that I can't understand why people don't protect their kids if they can."
The Whirlwind and one of her friends were with me at the time. This is the year they have their HPV vaccination. It is done at school. Like most of us they does not like "jabs" but they know they are for their benefit. Her friend knows the mother of the child too. 
"I feel awfully sorry for her. They've been worried for weeks and weeks now. I know it didn't work properly for them but mostly those things do don't they?" the Whirlwind's friend asked me.
I agreed.
"Then why don't people do it? I mean do they want to be worried? Do they want their kids to die or something?"
I tried to explain to both of them and the Whirlwind looked at me in disgust and said,
"Well not doing it is child abuse and if their kids die because they don't have it then it is as bad as killing someone."
And her friend agreed. I think they will have any children of their own vaccinated. 

Tuesday 23 April 2013

A resident of one of the

local nursing homes died a few days ago. There is of course nothing unusual about death in an establishment given over to the care of the very elderly. I often wonder what it is like to live in one of those places and to be surrounded by people who are perhaps not going to be there in the morning.
I knew the old woman - she was 98 - but not well. We would smile and say hello to each other if she happened to be in the sitting area when I went to see other elderly people. 
"Mary never has visitors," I was told by more than one person. Because of that I made the effort to say hello. Occasionally we would exchange a word about the weather or some other trivial matter. Last Christmas, after asking one of the senior staff, I slipped  a tiny bag I had knitted into her hand. It was filled with lavender from our garden. I told her it was a "little something for Christmas". I have no idea why I did it - although the oldies I did know were getting similar tiny things from me.
She gave me a brief smile and said "thankyou" but there was no other reaction. We went back to talking about things like the weather or the cardigans she wore - made by herself years before.
Yesterday I had occasion to go into the nursing home and the senior staff member on duty called me in to the staff room.
A couple of the younger staff were standing there and talking about the death of a rock singer I had never heard of. They were full of how sad it was and, yes, it is a tragedy for a much younger and much loved person to die of breast cancer but she was not someone they knew personally. They had known Mary, much better than I did but did not seem in the least distressed by her death. Perhaps they can only cope with their jobs by not minding too much the death of those they care for? 
The staff member told me what had happened,
      "She slipped away in her sleep poor old thing - but she left something for you."
She handed over a paper bag. My name was written shakily on the outside. Inside there was the little lavender bag and a handkerchief. The handkerchief is obviously new. It has a crochet border. The crochet is not terribly well done and it is not quite finished.
      "She was making it for you - she could only manage a few stitches a day. She took that lavender bag to bed with her every night. You know she never had visitors?"
I wish I had told her I was coming to see her.

Monday 22 April 2013

I spent part of yesterday

giving the Whirlwind a history lesson. If "my Dad" cannot tell her something I am usually the next in line. He was working so, despite the rain, she bounded in and asked for advice about her school project.
They are supposedly studying history, "Australian history - again". I can only sympathise. I missed out on studying any other sort of history until I reached my "Leaving" year - the approximate equivalent of the old UK "O" level. 
It should not have happened that way but when I was in mid-primary school we moved again. My father became my teacher. He had four year levels in the same classroom - and supervised another year who were doing the first year of secondary school by correspondence. 
To simplify teaching the Education Department had decreed that all children in such schools would be given the same history and geography lessons. (There was no "social studies" then.) Australian history had to come first. We "did" the first settlers in both New South Wales and our own state, the explorers and the invention of the "stump-jump" plough and "bushrangers". We did not do anything to do with the government or how it worked. I repeated all this at least four times until I was tired of it. What is worse is that I now know that what I was given was a rose-coloured glasses view that was far from accurate - although my father did his best to down play the romantic aspects and tell us of the hardships and dangers people faced. 
Every year we were also told the story of "Simpson and his donkey" for the ANZAC Day Gallipoli lesson. Simpson was always treated as an Australian hero, a very brave man and someone of whom we could be very proud  It was a highly romantic view of history - and quite inaccurate. (Simpson was actually a deserter from the British merchant navy who enlisted in the Australian army in order to get a ticket home.)
The Whirlwind knows the story. It is still taught in a similar way but her father has given her a rather more accurate version.  It has, as he hoped, made her question other things she is being taught.
I gave her some ideas about where to look for other information about this episode. When she had found what she thought she needed we talked it through. 
At school she is being taught what is best described as the "politically correct" view on this particular topic. It is what the set curriculum demands. I know her teacher is not happy with it. It is no doubt why they were set the exercise the Whirlwind was doing.
I explained this to the Whirlwind. 
"Well why does she have to tell us that stuff if it isn't true?" she asked me. 
Why indeed?

Sunday 21 April 2013

I made some ANZAC

biscuits on Friday afternoon - with a little "help" from assorted humans, both small and taller. 
They were intended for afternoon tea at the meeting I attended yesterday - and yes, most of them made it there. A few more are hidden in the biscuit tin so that the Senior Cat can nibble on them in the coming week.
On delivering the biscuits to the person on kitchen duty yesterday I became involved in a discussion of what people had eaten in their childhood. The ANZAC biscuits were part of this. They are, I believe, approximately what North Americans would call "oatmeal cookies" - a combination of oats, flour, sugar, golden syrup, butter, boiling water and bicarbonate of soda. (You can find more than one recipe if you do a search on the internet.)
There were other things mentioned as well. Scones and "fruit" scones (they had a handful of sultanas - US "golden raisins"? - thrown into the mix) and, later "pumpkin" scones. The latter were made famous by the wife of the then Queensland Premier. 
There was sponge cake and "Swiss Roll" - the thin sponge cake spread with jam and rolled up. The only way to eat that, if you were a child, was to unwind it carefully a little at a time and then bite into it.
There was "sultana" cake. This was plain cake with more sultanas thrown into the mix. It was particularly popular with the people, mostly farmer's wives, who had to cook for shearers. It was cooked daily in huge trays during shearing season and the workers would consume it during their morning and afternoon breaks. 
"Jubilee cake" was iced - but you still sliced and buttered it. It also had dried fruit in it. 
There were "little cakes" (what people now call "cup cakes" but most were plain vanilla or perhaps chocolate) and they would sometimes be turned into "butterfly" cakes by cutting off the top and then cutting the top into two "wings". 
There was also "marble" cake...the batter was divided into three. One portion was left plain, another was coloured pink with cochineal and (occasionally) flavoured with an essence of some sort and the last portion was flavoured with cocoa.
Naturally there were "lamingtons" and "jelly" cakes (a pink form of lamingtons made with a thin coating of jelly).
Come Christmas time - or a wedding - and there would be rich fruit cake, shortbread, mince pies, cream puffs and meringue kisses. Nobody was too bothered about putting on weight or cholesterol. They just ate when they felt hungry. At weekends people stopped for afternoon tea. 
Yesterday someone was having an 80th birthday and had brought a cake to share. The cake had been bought from a bakery with a good reputation and it was very nice. There were the usual biscuits on the kitchenette table. They had, apart from my contribution, been bought too.
And I could see that some people were puzzled by my contribution. Someone actually said to me, "But Cat you can buy ANZAC biscuits now. They have them in the supermarket."
No, they don't. ANZAC biscuits have to be homemade. They have ingredients in them, especially when made by smaller humans. They have love, wonder and excitement in their creation - and they have to be the most important ingredients of all.

Saturday 20 April 2013

"Just wait until I show you

what I have here!"
I think my visitor must have run to the front door. She may even have broken the speed record getting here.
I was not expecting her to call in so her appearance at the front door, flushed and excited, was startling. She looked like a small child who had just been given something very special.
And yes, it was very special.
My visitor is involved in helping to set up and run an international lace-maker's conference. It will be held in Adelaide next year and it will, I am told, involve several thousand people. There will be all sorts of lace making involved. There will be exhibitions. There will be workshops, lectures, seminars and discussions. 
I am not a lace maker. It is far beyond my genuinely limited manual skills to play with thread like sewing cotton wound around bobbles or through tatting shuttles or... well, you have the general idea.
There is also knitted lace and lace knitting. Yes, there is a difference between the two. The line may be blurred at times but knitted lace is generally considered to be the finer of the two.  It involves complex patterning on both sides of the work or, if knitted in the round, on virtually every row. Lace knitting tends to be more the sort of work you would see in a garment to be worn and the patterning takes place on one side with a straightforward row on the other.  
Having got that little piece of (perhaps unwanted) information out of the place I think you may be able to guess what my visitor was carrying. Yes, knitted lace,
Someone had given a box of it to a local charity shop. Fortunately one of the workers in there knew something about what she might be looking at. She also knows my visitor and phoned her. Would she like to have a look at it and tell them what she thought of it?
My visitor is an embroiderer - someone known all over the world of embroidery. She is not an expert in knitted lace. It is something I know a little about, more than she does anyway. So, she brought it to show me.
It was extraordinary. Some of it must be over one hundred years old, certainly older than the tatting I recently passed on to her. The first piece was a small doily made in linen thread as fine as hair. It is in perfect condition. There is a small circular table cloth also made in very fine linen thread. There is another table cloth made in "art-silk" and two more pieces, one in linen and one in cotton. All but the last are outstanding examples of the lace knitter's art - and even the last piece is more than many knitters could achieve. What is more they are all in excellent condition. There are no stains, holes or frayed threads. They were very well blocked (stretched out so that the knitting becomes even and the pattern is regular). They have been stiffened, as was the habit of the day.
And they solve a problem. We were hunting for knitted lace. My visitor had asked me to ask around. They wanted some for one of the displays. I know there must be people who knit such things even  now and others who have pieces they have inherited. I had been hunting without much success for such pieces but these are beyond my expectations or my visitor's expectations.
I can guess at who the designers might be and I will be looking to see if I can find pictures of the patterns or even the patterns but I want to know who made them. What sort of person was she? Where did she come from? How did she find the time to knit such exquisite pieces of work? 
That would be the most fascinating thing of all.

Friday 19 April 2013

There has just been a very early morning

telephone call. 
I rushed to answer it thinking it would be some sort of family emergency. Instead I got an irate mouthful from a reader of today's paper. He did not like one of the letters in it - mine.
When he paused to take a breath I said, very politely, "If you don't like what I had to say then perhaps you should write a letter yourself."
"They won't publish it. People like you have it all sewn up. The letters page..." he tried to continue on.
I said, perhaps a little less politely this time, "Sir, it is not yet 6:30 in the morning. Everyone has the right to write to the newspapers and many people do. If you want to argue with me do so there." 
I put the phone down. He has not rung back. He may write a letter to the paper but, even if he does, I doubt it will be published. It will need to make whatever point he was trying to make in a much less rambling fashion.
The odd thing is that I did not think I was being particularly controversial. It was a letter suggesting that while schools might like more funding they did not actually need it. 
Yes, I know that sounds like a highly controversial statement on the surface but I really do doubt that ever smaller classes and greater amounts of technology are the answer.
When the Senior Cat began teaching class sizes were far larger than they are now. It was common for city schools to have classes of more than fifty students. His one teacher school with all seven years of the primary school had forty-two students. 
I started school in a class of about forty-five infants, so did my brother. 
When my brother and I started our teaching careers classes of forty were still common although some "lucky" teachers had only thirty-four or thirty-six. I had nineteen students in my class of profoundly physically and intellectually disabled children. The maximum was supposed to be twenty but one of the other teachers who had more ambulant children than the rest of us had twenty-four children.
Now "normal" class sizes of twenty-four are considered too large and most teachers say they can only cope well with twenty or less.
I know that what goes on in classrooms is now very different and that the curriculum has expanded but are those class sizes really too large?
The idea behind the smaller class sizes is, of course, that the child can be given more "individual" attention. Is that necessary or even necessarily a good thing? It is said that it allows a teacher to identify and help the child who is struggling, to make sure the child does not "fall behind". 
I am not sure about this. Of course all children need attention some of the time but they do not need attention all of the time. They need to be left alone - with the expectation that, if they are given tasks to do, they will do them. If a child is really struggling then of course they may need some extra help - or perhaps they need to be able to do something different, or in a different way or a little more slowly. Perhaps they should even be allowed to fail sometimes? 
I think we need to stop thinking of schools as places where little princes and princesses are constantly entertained and never allowed to fail. Instead they should be places where everyone works most of the time, a place which is sometimes interesting and sometimes boring and where people succeed and fail - just like the do in the world outside school.
But, it seems I am wrong.

Thursday 18 April 2013

I had to go to the

Eye Clinic at the hospital yesterday. (It's all right I can see! I just have an ongoing problem with the vitreous gel at the back of the eye breaking up and, for safety's sake, it needs to be monitored.) 
But, back to the visit. 
The Eye Clinic is part of the public hospital system. It is situated between a big public hospital and a "private" one. The waiting area for the clinic is large and also tends to have a fair amount of through traffic to other, eye related, areas. 
I had, as is usual with medical appointments, to wait for a while. While frustrating because there was work I should have been doing it was also an opportunity to knit and observe.
There were the three Chinese. One of them, an elderly man, spoke no English. There was a younger woman and an interpreter. The conversation was just audible - and progressing slowly. It had obviously been going on some time, probably in a more private place at first. The old man needs an operation, an operation which will require hospital admission overnight. 
For most of us the necessity of staying in hospital overnight would be a matter of concern - mostly about whether the procedure would be a success or what the results of tests would be. For the old man it is a cause for intense anxiety. How will he cope if nobody around him speaks his language? How will he understand the instructions he is given? How will he tell them if he needs something or something goes wrong? 
I could, without understanding a word of Chinese - and thus understanding just one half of the conversation - understand what the problem was. I did not understand it precisely of course but I understood it well enough to feel for him. 
Being ill or needing medical attention in a foreign country where there is no common language between you and the doctor is a very frightening thing. It would not matter how much was explained to you beforehand the fear of not being able to communicate would be great. 
I know it is bad enough for people with other severe and profound communication difficulties when they have to go into hospital. I have often had to try and give communication assistance in such situations. Usually though there are ways around the situation so that at least basic communication can take place...look up for 'yes', close your eyes for 'yes', raise your hand for 'yes' and other things for 'no' will at least allow staff to ask questions for which yes and no answers will suffice. There are simple and complex communication boards and booklets. There are basic signs that take little interpretation.
None of that will work for the old man. He won't be able to understand what is said to him.  If he could see they could use a communication board with dual language capacity. It seems he can barely see - and the procedure is designed to save what sight he has.
It is none of my business. I could not interfere even if I had a simple answer. I wonder if they will eventually come around to the only solution I can think of...employing an agency nurse who speaks his language to be there with him overnight. 
In the end I did interfere but not directly. I suggested it to the nurse they were speaking with after they had left. I could do it only because she happened to see me next. I did it hesitantly because one should not interfere in some things.
She listened without comment and I thought for a moment I had done the wrong thing but then she said,
 "Will you excuse me a moment? I'll just go and call the interpreter."
Nothing more was said to me. I hope I have done the right thing, that they can afford to take up the suggestion - and that it works.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

:"Yes, but why

do they do it?"
I can remember having a conversation with the Whirlwind about two years ago. There was a vicious and prolonged attack of graffiti at our local railway station and, for a while, it seemed that nothing was going to stop the problem. 
The Whirlwind and I were going somewhere and, while we were waiting for the train to arrive, she had wandered around looking at the mess in a puzzled sort of way.
"I don't understand," she told me, "I mean do they think it's fun or something like that?"
Possibly the young graffiti artists do think it is a sort of fun. There is the thrill of obtaining the spray cans - either by stealing them or getting an "adult" to buy them (it is mostly the former). Then there is the thrill of spraying the paint on - and the adrenalin rush of hoping you will capture attention but not get caught. 
Every morning one of the local residents would take paint and paintbrushes and paint over all the graffiti. The need to do it every day for weeks made him angry but he went on doing it. Eventually the attack stopped, quite abruptly. It was as if the perpetrators were tired of having their "art work" wiped out all the time. The local resident still checks the railway station each day - even though it is closed for the moment. If he is unable to do it someone else in the street adjacent to the line will do it. There is usually very little graffiti there now.
The kids who were spraying graffiti did not, as far as anyone can tell, move on to another venue. Perhaps they simply grew up and decided that there was no fun in doing something when the evidence of their foolishness was just wiped out all the time.
Of course we can't do that with other sorts of violent vandalism where lives are lost and property is damaged. People have a right to know what is happening. It is even necessary that they should so that precautions can be taken - and people understand why those precautions are being taken.
Yesterday the Whirlwind came in late in the afternoon. School is on holiday this week and she had been out for the day with three friends. They had been helping to take some much younger children to a rather swish playground. It was, apparently, "super" fun. Inevitably though the news of the bombing in Boston had reached the ears of the Whirlwind and her friends. They were upset - and so they should be.
"Don't they want people to have fun? Nobody was doing anything to hurt anybody!"
I don't have an answer to those sort of questions.
"I wish that they could not say anything about them doing it at all. That just makes it worse, like a really big deal, so they want to do it again. They should just go and sort of paint it over like the man at the railway station does."
I wish they could. His method worked.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

There are reports coming in

of bombings at a marathon in Boston. I find it hard to comprehend how anyone could even contemplate such an act, let alone carry it out. How can any human being hate another so much they want to kill them?  
There have been some people whose actions I have loathed and detested. I would happily incarcerate them in solitary confinement but I do not believe in the death penalty. How can anyone kill people they do not even know? How can anyone kill people who have done them and nobody else any harm? 
My Twitter time line is also full of expressions of shock, of admiration for those who immediately helped and for the emergency workers. There are requests for help. There are phone numbers to call for information. Such events bring out the worst and the very best in people. 
There will be much made of all this in the media today and tonight. There will be expressions of anger and outrage - and rightly so. 
And yet, this happens almost every day. It happens in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. It happens in other areas of the Middle East and it happens in Africa. There are incidents in other areas of Asia and elsewhere in the world. They happen almost every day and often do not reach the international media at all.
How often do people watch something like that on the television news services and find it barely has an impact? It is almost as if we have grown used to scenes of violence and carnage - as long as it is happening in a country we regard as being "somewhere else" and "nothing to do with us really". 
How much do we really care? How much do we just think we care? Do we care just because this time we think of it as something which has happened to us?

Monday 15 April 2013

I was clearing out

a bookcase yesterday. This, as those of you who know me well will be aware, was only preparatory to trying to find a way of fitting more books into the shelves.
No, we were not trying to rid ourselves of any books. The books contained in that bookcase are all reference books of one sort or another. Most of them belong to me. Some belong to the Senior Cat.
All of them have been used, are being used - or might be used again. 
While I was doing it someone called in to pick up some timber. I had the kettle on ready to make the Senior Cat's afternoon cup of tea and offered him a cup. Oh yes, that would be nice. 
The Senior Cat was looking for a pamphlet in his filing cabinet so I left our visitor looking at the pile of books I had removed from a shelf.
"What's this Amharic stuff Cat?" he asked. He had my Amharic dictionary in his hand.
"It's a language they speak in Ethiopia."
"I suppose it's pretty much one of those almost dead languages."
"Actually it is a Semitic language and the most widely spoken after Arabic."
He raised his eyebrows. I could see he did not believe me.
"Can you read it?"
"Then what have you got this for?"
"I helped someone set up some communication boards. I'm keeping it because we might need to do some more one day."
He shook his head and put the book back on top of the Arabic dictionary - and no, I do not read Arabic either. He pulled out several more dictionaries in different languages and different alphabets. 
"You do try and read some weird stuff."

I made the tea. The Senior Cat found the pamphlet. I left the two of them to read whatever it was they were looking at.
A little later the Senior Cat called out to me. Could I please come and look at something?
The pamphlet had been written by someone in China. The English translation was, to be kind, not terribly good. The instructions were not clear and the illustrations were not helping. I made some hesitant suggestions. I do not know much about the advanced tools of the carpentry trade.  
"I thought you might be able to work it out," the Senior Cat said looking at me. 
Our visitor looked at me as well. I could not resist it.
"No, you do try and read some weird stuff."

Sunday 14 April 2013

Cutting $2.8bn from

university funding is the latest hare-brained announcement by our Federal Government. No, wait a moment, that is an insult to hares. They have more sense.
I watched Professor Glyn Davis being interviewed on the SBS news service last night. He was clearly still shocked by the savagery of the cuts the Gillard government has proposed. 
The interview was an interesting one. I suspect he had written the questions - or at least collaborated in the writing of them. They were very careful and obviously designed to provide a maximum amount of information in a minimum time to anxious students. His responses were equally careful.
It does not matter. Cutting $2.8bn in university funding is still unacceptable. It will disadvantage all tertiary students. Even now Australian universities have been over-dependent on the full fee paying students from other countries. Our universities are some of the most under-funded universities in the world.
I suppose I have an outdated view of what a university should be. I like to think of universities as places where students with above average intellectual capacities can learn and where the staff teach these students and do research. The reality of course is that universities are now businesses designed to push through the maximum number of units (students) for a minimal cost.
The money being "saved" at university level will, according to the government, be used in schools instead. Apparently throwing more money at schools, especially the state school system, is going to raise standards and - somehow - make Australia lead the world again. I doubt this. Teachers I have spoken to doubt it as well. 
Of course the teachers I have spoken to tend to be older teachers. I only know a small number of younger teachers - but even they have expressed their doubts.
Class sizes are half what they were when I was a student teacher - and a third or even less or what they were when the Senior Cat was a student teacher. Does that make them better places? Surely there is much more to schools than class sizes?
The amount of knowledge we now need to know has increased but so have the resources available.
Older teachers I have talked to say that, although always nice to have, schools do not need more resources as much as they need to change what goes on inside them. As one of them put it to me recently, "I am not there to entertain. I am there to teach. The problem is the kids expect to be constantly entertained."
I suspect that there will be some fancy footwork (accounting) on the part of the government come Budget time and that schools will not get all of what is being taken from universities. There are already suggestions that some of the funding will go on the political needs of the government (marginal seats) rather than be spread equitably. More of it will be siphoned off to try and suggest that things like the National Disability Insurance Scheme is going to happen. 
I just hope they leave enough to teach future generations to read. They may need to teach themselves after that.

Saturday 13 April 2013

"You really do hate modern

technology don't you Cat?"
I was bailed up in the Post Office yesterday...well I was in the queue and thus captured by another customer. 
"No," I told him.
"Yes you do. You haven't got one of these..." he said, waving his fancy phone with the screen covered in all the fancy little apps, "You don't do your bill paying on line or drive a car...and now you are having a go at the NBN. You should have a phone so people can get in touch when they need you.Don't you at least realise how important the NBN is?"
I do, reluctantly, have a phone. It's for emergencies. If people want to talk to me they can wait until I am home. I am not going to be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Even I need to sleep sometimes. I have no idea how to use the fancy sort, send a text message, read a text message or take a photograph. I am sure I can learn those things if it becomes necessary. 
The Senior Cat refuses to do bill paying on line. He says it is not safe. It may well be that, for him, it is not. He can use his i-pad to search for information although he will still ask me. While we both contribute he likes to pay the bills himself. I let him because he feels he is being useful by doing it. I know how to pay bills too - but not on line. I can learn when I need to do that. 
We no longer have a car. The Senior Cat gave up driving some years ago. I cannot drive. My visual perceptual skills and reaction times would not make it safe and I am not prepared to risk even trying - even if we could afford it.
But the NBN - the National Broadband Network? Oh yes, I have my doubts about that. Let it be first said though that I believe that computer access for medical services, educational establishments, government departments and business is essential these days. That access needs to be powerful enough for it to cover the needs of those who use it.
I have doubts about the need for it in the home. It may be nice to have but do we actually need it? Probably not. It might be nice to be able to watch all those movies and play all those computer games and download all that music...but do we really need to do it? I doubt it. 
And there is something that really does genuinely worry me about doing all those things. It isolates people. They are being entertained by what, I assume, is a flow of electrons. They are not making contact with other people.
We have come to believe it is our right to have on demand entertainment - and not just any entertainment but the precise song or movie we want to hear or see. We are constantly in search of something new because we get "bored". 
We have no right to a constant flow of entertainment. We have no right to not to be bored. It might even be good for us. We might go and actually do something. 

Friday 12 April 2013

There are two supermarkets

in our local shopping centre. One of them is run by a very large multi-national. The other is a "family run" concern - part of an "independent" chain. 
I do not like the supermarket run by the large multi-national. It is, at first glance, larger and apparently less expensive to shop there. 
The Senior Cat and I discussed this back when the smaller supermarket made the bold move and came into the main shopping centre. We thought we should support local if we could.
Since then the large supermarket has filled the shelves with their "own brand" products. These are at eye level. They are cheaper. Other products are disappearing from the shelves. I am sure I do not have to explain. More and more of their products are coming from overseas - mostly from China. People flock in there despite the poor lighting, the appalling layout and the vast distance from the entry to the far end - where they, of course, keep the milk.
The service however is poor. Staff stand behind checkouts and ask the usual "How are you today?" type questions. They do not listen to the answer. (My father's brother once answered "lousy" to such a question and received the answer "that's nice".) They are not, generally speaking, interested in their jobs - and who can blame them. It must be fairly soul destroying. Of course the profits go to the big shareholders at the very top.
The other shop makes the point of employing university students - something I think I may have mentioned before. These young employees know that they are not going to be there more than a few years. I have seen quite a few of them come and go - and have read quite a few of their essays as they go through their degrees. 
But I am wondering how much longer the smaller supermarket can survive. 
Why? Because this morning there is the report of yet another local food manufacturing business going into voluntary administration. One of the chief reasons, it states, is that they suddenly lost 40% of their business when the bigger supermarket chain decided that they would no longer source products from them. Bang. Just like that. The big supermarket chain has made a decision. Any contract will no doubt have been a short term contract. They will break the terms of a contract if it suits them Their market share is so big it does not matter - to them. Small companies know that it will not even be worth taking them to court. 
It matters to the rest of us of course. I think there may be some parallels here with other monopolies... but apparently it is all right for the government to have a monopoly... or is it?

Thursday 11 April 2013

Yesterday our Foreign Minister

accused Margaret Thatcher of being "racist". He claimed to have had a conversation with her in which she stated she liked Sydney but Australia needed to be careful or the Asians would take over.
Naturally the accusation made the headlines. It was intended to do just that. 
If our Foreign Minister thinks such statements are going to endear him to Australia's Asian neighbours he can think again. They won't.
Our Foreign Minister is in the position he is in by virtue of the fact he was drafted in from the outside to fill a casual Senate vacancy and immediately given the post Foreign Minister. He should not have been drafted in and he should not have been given the post of Foreign Minister. 
Bob Carr was once the Premier of New South Wales. When he left he was so unpopular that his approval rating was in the low thirties. It is a mark of arrogance that he should have accepted the appointment. He should have retired from politics and remained out of sight. Instead of that he has announced his intention to seek another term in the Senate when his appointment comes to an end in 2014.  
There is no actual record of the conversation that Carr claims took place between himself and Thatcher. They probably met on the occasion he claims but what took place between them is not a matter of public record. Thatcher is not here to dispute the claims that have been made. They should not have been made. 
Was she "racist"? I very much doubt it. It is much more likely that, if the conversation took place at all, she said something along the lines of she liked Sydney and that she hoped Australia would not have to face the problems that Britain, another country with a high migrant population, was facing. There is nothing racist about that. It is a much more pragmatic view than the publicly stated view of many Australians in high places.  
Australians in high places like to praise "multi-culturalism". They also like to ignore the ethnic tensions that inevitably arise from it.
Migrants make Australia a much more interesting place to live in but Australians are not immune from the problems their presence can cause. 
Australians are not immune from the threat of terrorist attack or inter-ethnic violence. Recognising that such problems exist does not mean that someone is "racist". It shows an understanding that there are differences and that they need to accommodated and/or addressed.
Carr's comments were undiplomatic in the extreme. If they were intentional then they were clearly designed to do harm not just to someone who is no longer here to defend themselves but our relationship with their country. If they were not intentional then they show someone who is unable to foresee the consequences their words might have.
Intentional or not Carr should apologise. 

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Why do we need superfast

broadband internet access to every home in the country - paid for by the taxpayer?
I am puzzled about this. Unless you plan to sit there and watch movies via computer rather than on television do you really need it?  So you even need to do that? What's the point?
The "NBN (National Broadband Network) is shaping up to be an election issue. The present government has an immensely expensive  project in place which, it claims, will deliver this super fast service to all homes by 2021. The present opposition is promising a cheaper but slower service at half the cost to be in place by 2019. 
It is unlikely that either proposal will appear in the promised form or by the promised date.
I do not understand the technology but my brother-in-law does. He tells me one uses fibre and the other uses copper wire. Fibre is supposed to be superior - for now. My brother-in-law also says there is absolutely nothing certain about technology. What is state of the art today can become ancient archaeology tomorrow.
What I do understand is the difference between "need" and "want" or "nice to have". It seems to me that super fast internet access is one of those things that is "nice to have" but, with the exception of a very few, we do not "need" it - or not in the way that many people now need internet access.
I need internet access. I need it to work from home. I know other people also need internet access to work from home. I do not, even on a big download day, need sort of super fast access. I can, apparently, already watch a movie on my computer if I want to do so. (I don't.) I could do Skype. (I won't.) So what do I need this super fast access for? What does anyone need it for? 
It seems to me that the supposed "need" is making assumptions. It is making assumptions about how much people download and how much they need to download. It assumes they need to do it very rapidly - seconds faster than they are already doing it. Oh yes, we are impatient. We "need" that virtually instant access - or do we?
What are people accessing? Why are they accessing it? When are they accessing it? If, as I suspect, most of it is entertainment or shopping related, then super-fast access is not needed is it? If someone can explain why it is, please let me know.
I know the education sector would be in severe difficulties without internet access. The medical, legal and other professions use computers and often internet access with it. Many businesses also claim to use it. Places like our library use it. But how many ordinary people use internet access at home all day, every day? Yes of course there are some but does it really justify the spending of billions of dollars?
It would apparently be possible to supply those who need super fast broadband to those who need it without that expense. The rest of us might just have to wait. 

Tuesday 9 April 2013

I was never too sure what to make of

Maggie Thatcher. 
Politics aside, what do you make of someone whose previous job was to find ways of putting more air into ice cream? Yes, I kid you not. Her previous job ( or one of them) was to find a way of churning emulsifiers (and thus air) into ice cream to make it lighter and fluffier. It resulted in that vile stuff they call "soft-serve" ice cream. It is not ice cream at all in my view but some people must like it. It sells.
Thatcher sold too. She sold herself and her party three times if my memory is correct. People bought her and her party.
It seemed she was hated or she was loved. Some of those who hated her secretly admired her even while they did not admire what she was doing. 
Although they are on opposite sides of the political fence I suspect our present Prime Minister would be a secret admirer of Thatcher.  Our Prime Minister does not have the same physical presence as Thatcher but it may be that she has tried to model herself on the Iron Lady.
It is said that Thatcher did not get on well with the Queen. Their meetings were apparently tense affairs. I suspect Thatcher did not like being given advice - even by someone who, although not formally trained, has to be one of Britain's most knowledgeable constitutional experts. 
I suspect our present Prime Minister would not take kindly to being given expert advice by the Governor-General - if such a parallel can be made.
It can be said that Thatcher got things done - and stared down the likes of Arthur Scargill in the process.  Gillard has tried to appear to do the same. The comparisons probably have to end there because they are or were on the opposite side of the political fence. Gillard has the support of the Australian Scargills - or, more accurately, they support her and she knows it. 
I did not like Thatcher and I do not like Gillard. I still do not know what to make of Thatcher but I do know what I make of Gillard. I have the unfair advantage of knowing what she was like as a teenager. I know people she went to school with and what they thought then - and what they think now.
If one has to like any politician then yes there are a few I think I would have liked to meet and talk with - and they come from both sides of the political fence. 
I cannot help wondering though what would have happened if Thatcher and Gillard had met when they were both Prime Minister. 

Monday 8 April 2013

I can think of at least eleven

"charities" for people with intellectual impairments in this state alone. I did not have to think very hard either.
All of them claim to be essential, to be filling a need that nobody else fills and to be doing work that nobody else can or will do. There are also two different organisations for Guide Dogs and several more for other aspects of vision impairment. There are other organisations for those with a hearing impairment. Mental health organisations abound, so do general and specific organisations for physical disabilities and chronic illnesses or rare conditions. There are "support" groups like the one for aphasia and groups which "educate" like one of several for diabetes.
There are, to put it bluntly, far too many "charities" for a state which still has a population of less than two milllion people. I do not know how many charities there are altogether in Australia - estimates range from "10,000 plus" to "600,000 or thereabouts". I suspect the answer lies somewhere in between and that some very small "charities" would not be recognised as such by the general public. Somewhere along the line though an application would have been made to have them recognised, they have been recognised and they are able to access certain tax benefits. 
We need charities. The country would not run without charities. It would not run without the small army of (often ageing) volunteers who do much of the work. All the same it is time the charity business (and it is a business, big business in some cases) was streamlined. There are gaps in the system.
I have been conscious of one of those gaps for a long time. There is a gap in the area of communication impairment. There are multiple organisations for the hearing impaired - and there is still the great divide between those who support sign language and those who do not - and there is, as I just mentioned, a nod given to people with speech impediments.
There is a national, indeed international, organisation for people who need augmented or alternative means of communication. It does a good job but it does not have a high public profile like some groups. The need for it is simply not understood by most people - communicating about the problems of communication is, to put it mildly, difficult. 
It means there is no immediate or local support group for someone like the woman I mentioned yesterday. She does not need an "aphasia" group, or a hearing impaired type group. That is not her problem. Her problem is that she cannot speak due to illness - and it may be that it will never be possible. I can put her in touch with several other people in a similar position - but they don't live nearby and she can't travel. 
So there are gaps in the charity system. I don't think we need a new charity though. If we streamline the existing charities we should find more people in her position - and bring them together. It's called communicating - and there should be more of it.

Sunday 7 April 2013

Her face lights up

when she sees me - although how she can smile at all is beyond me. She has just had her oesophagus and larynx removed because the cancer has spread. The prognosis is not good but she keeps hoping.
I can also see hope and despair in her husband's eyes.
In hospital she was writing everything she wanted to say down on paper. There was not much to say there. The nursing staff anticipated some of her needs. Some of them were quite good at asking questions which just required "yes" or "no" as an answer. Now she is home - at least for a while - and the situation has changed. 
She needs to be able to communicate more quickly with her family and writing everything down is not always going to be convenient.
It is still natural for her to try to speak. Everyone is trying to be patient but I can see from her eyes that she feels isolated and excluded from the chatter around her. I can sense the impatience her family feels at her not being able to immediately answer them.
Even if I give her additional ways to communicate - and I can - she will still feel like this and they will still feel impatient. But, she keeps hoping...hoping the cancer can be controlled and give her time with her family...hoping she will still see her family grow up...that she will find a quick way to communicate which will be just as easy as speaking. 
I know there is no such way. Even the most modern speech device is not the same. If they invest in a speech device she will sound more like a female version of Stephen Hawking. She "laughs" at mention of that and I can just lipread "Me - brilliant mathematician!" 
      "Well at least you get the right change when we go shopping," her husband tells her. He also knows there are no easy answers. She has been through so much that he wants to make it as easy as he can for her but he does not want to take away her dignity either. It's a hard thing to balance.
So we discuss the options. I am careful to include her all the time, to wait for her to answer, to write things down. 
As I am about to leave I tell her, "If you need me 'phone me." She looks shocked and disappointed. I know what she is thinking, "How can I make a 'phone call. Cat does not do text messages." I smile at her and say, "I thought about it. Just phone me and give two good thumps into the phone. I'll know it's you. I'll come round."
She smiles and hugs. I can feel her shaking slightly and there are tears in her eyes when she lets go. 
It's going to be tough but I hope I have given her a little reasonable hope...hope that she will be understood.

Saturday 6 April 2013

They are still arguing

about what sort of trees to put in the square in the centre of the city. Whatever they put there someone will complain about it. People are now suggesting that they should not plant plane trees because some people are allergic to them and that American oaks should not be considered because they are hard to find. 
As we already have many plane trees in other places around the city I doubt the allergy issues are as grave as they make out and if the oaks are hard to find then they need to look a little harder. Jacarandas? Well yes they are messy at times and they would require cleaning up at regular intervals. Moreton Bay figs? Well yes, they do damage to footpaths - if they are planted too close. 
Remember those lemon scented gums though? They can drop entire limbs which is surely a good deal more life threatening. Oh and they make a mess that needs cleaning up too. 
I wonder what they will decide. It will not please everyone. That square has been designed and re-designed over and over again.
It seems out superannuation system is being designed and redesigned again too. We all know the government is desperately trying to find money anywhere it can. Australia is supposed to have weathered the financial crisis very nicely. The Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, actually got voted "World's Best Treasurer" by some mob somewhere. I am puzzled by that. All he did was drag the country deep into debt, a debt that will take generations to pay off.  That is what accounts for the raid on the superannuation funds. Those funds are what the government has been demanding people pay into to save for their own futures so that they will not be as dependent on the pension. Now the government wants to raid it for present expenses. 
Oh yes, the usual claim that it will only hit a very small number of "fabulously wealthy" people...and then you start to read the fine print and consider the implications for everyone. Yes, it will affect everyone - and not in a positive way. 
People have been investing in superannuation because it pays them to do so. They have already paid tax (albeit at a lower rate) once. The government benefits from having the money in superannuation because it gets invested and that means jobs and more people paying tax. Yes, you can see where I am going. If people start to withdraw money from superannuation funds and invest it in ways which minimise their tax bills (and they will find ways to do this and then do it) then there will be less invested and returns will be lower and... need I go on?
I have a tiny (and yes it is tiny) amount invested in a superannuation fund. It is meant to be there for emergency funds should I need it. I put it there on financial advice. It was good advice at the time. I do not doubt that. I imagine many other people have done the same thing.
The government is changing the rules mid-stream - again. It is the same as the way they have been playing with the square in the centre of the city. The government needs to decide how it wants things laid out and what sort of nest eggs or trees they want people to grow - and then let them get on with it so that eggs or trees can actually grow. That way everyone gets protected.

Friday 5 April 2013

"What do you really think...

will happen in North Korea?" the Senior Cat asked me yesterday. I know it genuinely concerns him. He is old enough to remember WWII as an adult. There have been other conflicts since then, some of them - like the Korean one - still unresolved. Some of them indeed seem insoluble.
I know someone who has been to North Korea. He did not go as a regular tourist or an aid worker. He risked his life going in and out on an "investigative" trip. He wanted to know if things were really as bad as other people were suggesting. He found they were far worse - at least in the area he went into.
I have to be careful here, as careful as he was. He did not want to exaggerate and he has no photographic proof as, if he had been caught with a camera, he would almost certainly not have been released. He said the houses were small and not in good repair. It was not, he felt, the disrepair of neglect but the disrepair of poverty and lack of building materials and the lack of energy to do the work which needed to be done.
Clothing was much the same and there was a sameness about it all. 
There were, he told me, no fat people - or none that he saw. Most people were underweight. He took his own food with him. It was a wise move. There was very little food for sale in the area he visited. Evidence of the famine which had hit the country was very obvious.
Everything seemed clean and very tidy, parts of it reminded him of an army barracks.
But the thing that really hit him was the silence. There was almost no traffic. People did not talk to one another. They did not smile or laugh or chat. There were no cafes or coffee shops, no gatherings for a sports match. (There was an old poster for a propaganda film - dated some years previously - but his contact told him that there was no electricity for films now.) People simply do not gather unless they are told they must. It is not safe. It is not even safe to visit the neighbours.
He saw children marching to school - supervised by the older children. Apparently they do sometimes sing as they march - songs in honour of the Kim dynasty - but they were not singing that day.
If the rest of North Korea is like this - and the person telling me this stressed he did not know although he thinks there are likely to be similar problems everywhere - then any sort of conflict with the outside world will surely cause severe confusion. North Koreans are taught they are fortunate, that they live in the best country in the world and that the rest of the world envies them. It is a terrifying thought.

Thursday 4 April 2013

The government is planning to

raid the superannuation funds. Of course they are making all sorts of claims about only doing it to the "fabulously wealthy" and that this is only "fair" and that the poor are paying for the rich. All the usual arguments are being trotted out by a government that has spent far more than it should - and has little to show for it, indeed which has wasted a great deal of it.
Now I am not sure that the "other side" would have been much better - or that they will be if they get into office. 
I do think they should leave superannuation alone. After all it has been taxed and the money is not just sitting in the bank. It is being used to help the economy grow in other ways. It employs people. They pay taxes. I am sure you get the general idea.
What puzzles me sometimes is the things that governments do and do not spend money on. There were those strange research projects I mentioned on this blog the other day. There are other projects that really don't seem to add up - roads to nowhere, bridges to nowhere, new buildings that remain empty, land cleared for projects that were never granted funds, equipment which is out of date before it is bought and not able to be used because spare parts will never be available.  
It turns out that one of our car manufacturers has had over a billion dollars worth of government money in the past decade. The government has made all sorts of claims about this, about how many people the industry employs, about how Australians want a good Australian made car etc. They have also handed out money to other car manufacturers as well.  Much of that has to do with keeping the unions happy. The car manufacturing sector is still heavily unionised.
They have not handed out the same sort of money to all other manufacturing areas. We have been steadily losing manufacturing capacity overseas for years. We send raw materials off-shore and buy back the worst of clothing and yarn and household goods made by cheap Asian labour. "We have to do it if we want these countries as trading partners," they tell us. Actually we don't. We don't have to accept shoddy, second rate goods at incredibly inflated prices but we do. 
Rather than raid superannuation funds, something which amounts to theft, perhaps the government could question why a pair of trousers made for less than $5 in China retails here for more than $100.  I doubt they will do that though. I am told I do not understand the way international business is done and why it is necessary to do it in the way it is done.
Actually I think I understand it all too well. Slave like labour is used to produce items we are told we want. We buy them because alternatives are not available at a price we can afford. If we were allowed to buy good quality we would not consume enough. Some people would not become fabulously wealthy. 
The problem is that these truly fabulously wealthy individuals do not have superannuation investments. They invest elsewhere. They pay very little tax - and almost none (if any) in this country. 
The government needs to raid them first - but it won't.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

"I don't care if you don't

want to play football. I want you to play football and you are going to play football and you are going to win because if you don't win you are a loser and I can't tolerate losers."
I doubt I will ever forget those words or that very public confrontation between a father and son in one of our local supermarkets. I often wonder what happened to the relationship between them. I suspect it was not good. 
I know other parents who take a similar attitude - although perhaps not quite as strongly or publicly. Sport is important to them, as important or even more important than doing well in the classroom. Their children have to be in the team, the winning team. If they don't win it is not because the other team was better but because their own child did not try hard enough.
The Whirlwind was here yesterday. She is in the junior cricket team at school and she plays netball because she must play a winter sport. Given the chance she would rather go for a walk, swim, ride her bike or climb a tree. She is not very interested in sport. Fortunately for her she has a father who feels the same way. There are just the two of them. 
       "It's up to her. If she wants to play something that's fine with me. If she doesn't that's fine too," he told me once. He does not expect her to be on the winning team. 
He does expect her to be near the top of the class academically.
      "I know she can do that and that she will be happier if she does achieve but I won't expect her to be top all the time. I want to see her do well but I want her to feel comfortable about the way she does it."
There were questions at the end of last year about subject choices and which sports she would play - a school requirement. 
We were talking about this yesterday and she was telling me about some parents who go to matches.
      "They shout stuff and it puts everyone off," she told me, "It makes you not want to be there. If my Dad came and did that I would absolutely hate it."
Would she be in a netball team?
      "No, I don't want to be in one of the teams. I'm only doing it because I have to - but don't tell Miss K.... that because she's so like it's important but it's just a game."
I know not everyone would agree with that. I hope my own attitude has not influenced her too much although I know her father feels much the same way.
       "And now it's football again and everyone is going stupid over it. I need some more books to read - in case I have to go and pretend to watch - or maybe I might get a new sketch pad - one of those little ones -  and then I could do some drawing."
       "Official sports artist," I say and then have to explain about war artists. 
       "I do not," she tells me, "Want to draw people being stupid and anyway P.... and I have this thing we want to do for her brother."
It turns out they are writing and illustrating a story for a small boy who is still seriously ill after major surgery. I think that is more important than being on the winning basketball team. It will help him recover.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

We are gearing up for

an election in Australia. The date is still set at September 14th and the parties still have not officially launched their campaigns but do not doubt it. We are in election mode.
If anyone doubted it then they needed to look no further than the front page of our local newspaper today. There is an article (continued on page 4 no less) about the "pork barrelling" of Western Sydney.
Western Sydney is a vast metropolitan area. It has a lot of marginal seats - seats the government might lose. Oh yes, give them a project or two or three. 
All political parties do it at all elections. It will come as no surprise that it is likely to happen.
There was also a list of proposals for my home state. These proposals had already been rejected. I read down the list - and most of them deserved to be rejected. 
I have no doubt they are dear to the hearts of those who proposed them but they were not worthy of consideration. Many of them were smallish sports projects - an all weather track at a racecourse was one. I am sorry but if people want to play at riding on horses in races they can pay for it themselves. I feel sorry for the horses required to entertain humans like this but why should something like that be funded. 
I know sport is important to many people. I also know that it is held to be useful in keeping people fit and healthy. I know it should be encouraged for social and psychological reasons. All the same I doubt that funding "upgrades" to the facilities used by some groups is really the best use of taxpayer money. Does the upgrade bring in more people? Does is it benefit the wider community? I rather doubt it. 
There was one there that should have been seriously considered for funding, indeed it should have received funding. The organisation which asked for it had already raised more than half of what they were asking the government to put it. It would have employed 150 people with disabilities in a regional area. The benefits of this would have spread far beyond the 150 people it would have employed. So why was it ignored? The only answer to that is that the two seats it might affect are considered "safe". 
Now obviously funding should not be given on such grounds. It is not what government, democracy and taxpayer funds should be about. It happens. 
Oddly our politicians are likely to complain if there are reports of the votes of illiterate people in less developed countries having their votes bought with the gift of money or an animal to increase the herd. I can't see the difference myself. 
Raising money is hard work. The Senior Cat and I went to a memorial service yesterday. It was held in a centre we have visited before. It is not large but it can hold about one hundred people comfortably. It has the usual bathroom and kitchen facilities and two small rooms as well as a larger area which can be partitioned into two areas. Because it is in the grounds of an old convent there are gardens around it and a carpark adjacent to it. The convent community raised the money themselves over the years. They hire it out at a very reasonable rate - enough to cover the upkeep. It is a community facility and it gets a lot of use. It is the sort of thing that all governments should consider funding and assisting because it can benefit the entire community...as it benefitted the family and friends who used it to farewell someone yesterday.
There were two projects listed which might have had a similar use. I wonder how many others with similar projects did not even attempt to apply. How many people believe that sports projects in at risk areas and marginal government seats are the only things likely to benefit?  Is that the way we should be funding the social health of the electorate?