Saturday 30 November 2013

I went to visit a

cousin in hospital yesterday. She has had "female" surgery in what used to be the Children's Hospital and is now the "Women's and Children's Hospital".
It is a hospital I am familiar with. When I was teaching in a school for children with profound physical and intellectual disabilities I went in and out frequently because there would, all too often, be one of the school's children in there. A familiar face could help the parents as much as the child.
Visiting hours are flexible if you are immediate family. The rest of us are asked to wait until afternoon.
As I have some understanding of how hospitals work I am happy to adhere to such things. I also know that not everyone is. I also checked at the nurses' station to see that it was convenient to continue on to the room my cousin is sharing.
Yes, the other person had gone home this morning and nothing was going on. Oh, you're her cousin? Did you ride all the way in? (I have my bike helmet dangling.) I need to speak to her anyway so I'll show you where to go.
We get almost as far as the door and someone says, "Hello Cat."
It is a doctor I know. She waves to me as she passes in the other direction.
"Oh, she's so nice," the nurse tells me. Yes, she is.
I duly visit my cousin who is delighted to see me. She is having a second unit of blood and still does not have much energy but insists that she will "probably go home tomorrow". She is not one for lying around and the next few weeks are going to be a test of her patience.
I leave early thinking I need to give myself time to negotiate the building works at the railway station in the city. It is as well I do.
I unlock the bike and then see a woman coming towards me. She is carrying a tiny baby and trying to half carry, half pull a toddler along as well. She is in tears and the toddler is crying. The baby is ominously quiet and still.
"Emergency?" she asks me. 
"No, this is the main entrance. Emergency is around the corner. Come on. I'll show you. It will be faster that way."
I grab the small boy and put him in the big basket at the back.
I pedal. She runs now. I actually ride in through the sliding doors
and say as calmly as I can to the rear of a nurse hurrying ahead of us,
"Code Blue."
It is the term for a medical emergency within the hospital. I don't need to say "infant" because that is obvious as soon as she turns to look. Fortunately the area is, for once, almost empty.
The nurse reverses her steps and takes the baby. The mother swings the small boy out of the basket. The look on her face says everything that needs to be said. It is all done with a minimum of fuss.

I pedalled off as fast as I safely could. I had done all I could. There was no need to stay. I even managed to catch the train with the help of a friendly workman who moved the builder's fence so I could pedal through to the entrance I needed to reach.
I sat on the train feeling a little shaken. I would never have put a small child I did not know into the rear basket and pedalled off in any other circumstances. It made me realise, yet again, that there can be different rules for different situations.
I would just like to know the baby was going to be all right - and I never will.  

Friday 29 November 2013

I am getting more than a little

growly at the bullying going on in the media.
"Bullying" you ask? Yes, bullying. I believe there is a point where constant criticism of someone, particularly in certain ways, becomes bullying. Criticism reaches a point where it is not "fair comment" or justified, instead it is designed to do harm to the individual.
This is about more than selling news to people for revenue purposes. This is about destroying individuals. The collective media, being more powerful than the individual, abuses its power to undermine or ridicule someone or hold someone responsible for something over which they have no control.
If complaints are made then that can just make matters worse. The individual is told to "toughen up" and "it's your fault". Sometimes it gets worse than that and members of the individual's family are targeted as well.
I remember when the two sons of a very high profile figure were subjected to extreme bullying when their father was accused of a criminal act. One of them was in the same class as the son of a friend of mine. She picked the two boys up one morning as they were walking to school. It was pouring with rain but that did not entirely account for their wet and dishevelled state. Their mother was afraid to leave the house until after the trial - in which her husband was found not guilty. Even then the media did not leave them alone and neither did the boys' classmates. They were easy targets.
I remember when a new student had his head thrust into the toilet bowl - and the water flushed - on his first day at high school. Instead of the perpetrators being disciplined he was punished by being ridiculed for his dripping wet appearance and told to "toughen up".
Our Prime Minister has been ridiculed for years. The media still refer to him as "the mad monk" - a reference to his time in a seminary and his Catholicism. He is often referred to as wearing "budgie smugglers" - his bathers or swimsuit. Those things are said so often people think of them as "normal" and "acceptable" and part of what someone like a Prime Minister has to just accept. Are they? I don't think so but I doubt my opinion will change anything.
And then there is Nigella Lawson. I don't happen to have any particular feelings one way or another for Nigella Lawson. I know very little about her but it would, unless you lived on another planet, be almost impossible to have missed the photograph of her then husband grabbing her by the throat.
Whatever was said or done at the time that action was unacceptable. Her then husband admitted he "accepted a police caution" - meaning he admitted he did it and was warned.  
They are now divorced but he is a powerful man. He owns an advertising company. He has powerful friends in the media. Is it therefore so very surprising that "revelations" are coming out suggesting that his former wife is a drug addict and many other things? The other two women at the centre of the row, her former assistants, have nothing to lose and goodness' knows what is going on behind the scenes.
But, the really worrying thing is that more than one piece in the media has now suggested that "she asked for it" and that "it serves her right". This is being said around "White Ribbon Day", a day on which we are asked to reflect on the horrors of domestic violence. We are being asked to agree that, in this instance, her former husband's actions were justifiable because she is alleged to have been a drug user.
I do not agree. It is an extension of the domestic violence perpetrated against her. It is bullying of the worst sort.  

Thursday 28 November 2013

I had to prowl off to the doctor

yesterday. No, nothing seriously wrong. It was a routine appointment.
I arrived with some homemade shortbread for the front desk staff at the clinic we attend. They do an excellent job of caring for people like the Senior Cat. He has, at his age, to prowl in more frequently although not nearly so frequently as many people I know. I like to think I can say "thank you" occasionally.
My GP was running late. I had an appointment for 9:15am. There was no sign of him.
There were people in the waiting room of course. The clinic we attend has eight doctors at present. Not all of them are there all the time but there are usually five or six working.
There is the inevitable television (with subtitles) playing quietly in the corner. There are people leafing restlessly through the paper and the magazines. The state of those tells me that I must remind the Senior Cat to take some more next time he goes. (We pass on the Readers' Digest subscription given to the Senior Cat.)
There is one person pacing restlessly and irritating everyone. His doctor is late and he needs to go to work and... The staff try to quieten him and tell him his GP is dealing with an emergency situation.
A young man arrives looking pale and anxious. He has x-rays in his hand.
A mother arrives with a young child. The child obviously knows the routine. He heads straight for the toy box, pulls out a book and "reads".
And so it goes on. I greet an elderly Greek couple. They ask about my sister's mother-in-law. The news is not good but I make it as positive as possible. 
At 9:50am my GP calls me in with apologies. He looks tired already.
"Rough morning?" I ask
"Very rough - been up most of the night," he tells me.
"And it wasn't good?"
He shakes his head and says, "The worst."
We leave it at that but I know that even being able to say that has helped.
He is about to check my blood pressure when his phone rings. He listens, issues instructions and says he will deal with something immediately.
"Cat, I need to take another call..."
"Want me to wait outside?"
"No. You might be able to help. Got time to call in on J... on the way back? Her daughter's away at present or I'd get her to do it."
The patient is confused about new medication and how to take it. I nod.
He takes the call and tells J am there. Is it all right to talk in front of me? I can help? Yes.
Rather than have them visit the chemist again in the heat he tells them I will come and explain. He gives me the instructions which are simple if you are younger, intelligent and speak English as your first language but confusing if you are elderly, lacking in medical intelligence and English is your second language.
At last he takes my blood pressure - which is, with mild medication, reassuringly normal.
I thank him and he says, "No, thankyou very much."
I call in on J and draw a picture of what she needs to do. I mark the level for the liquid dose on the little cup.  She nods. I make her repeat the instructions and, yes, now I am satisfied she does understand.
When I get home out of the heat I ring the clinic as requested and leave a message to say I am certain she does understand. Do I want to speak to the doctor? No I tell the receptionist, he's busy. A message will do. It's all he wants - and he has already said "Thankyou."

Wednesday 27 November 2013

There are demands being

made by some correspondents to the media that Australia should cut all aid to Indonesia. The demands are being made because of the spying allegations, the diplomatic row, the withdrawal of cooperation and the trade "sanctions" being applied.
Australia gives Indonesia over $500m in aid every year. It has given aid for a long time.
There is also a notion that countries which are given aid are supposed to be grateful for it. There is a belief that they should behave like a child given a present.
The reality is rather different. Many countries don't really want aid. They accept it because they need it. It is humiliating to realise that they cannot manage without it. They like it even less when they are told how it has to be spent - all too often on something which is different from the way they would have used it themselves.
There are often cultural differences too. How often are other countries subjected to western ideas about birth control and contraception? 
Indonesia would be an exception to all of this if the country was organised and taxed along the lines of a western democracy. It isn't. Wealth in Indonesia is very unevenly distributed. A majority of Indonesians are poor. There are some Indonesians who are incredibly wealthy - and they are almost all in positions of great power as well. There is also a growing middle class. 
If wealth in Indonesia was spread out along the lines of a western democracy then possibly Indonesia would not need any aid. It is a relatively wealthy country with enormous natural resources. But many people still have low levels of education and the country is largely Muslim. Islam has its own ideas about charity and the distribution of wealth. They are not western ideas. 
We give aid to Indonesia in the hope not that it will improve the lives of individuals so much as that it will reduce the perceived threat to us. The argument is that, if aid helps people, then they will be less likely to be discontent. Discontent stirs trouble. Trouble means fundamentalist and radical beliefs will take hold.
Indonesia knows that Australia is not going to suddenly withdraw all aid and our own government knows it too.
Demanding that we withdraw aid from Indonesia is not going to work. It would hurt the people who do benefit from health, water, sanitation and education projects. It would do the most harm to women and children.
There is a presidential election in Indonesia next year. If it were not for that the difficulties would have been far less. Australia is now being used for domestic political purposes in Indonesia.
If we withdrew aid as well it would be a gift to the fundamentalists and radicals who would like more power. That would be a problem. 

Tuesday 26 November 2013

There are still calls for

our Prime Minister to apologise to the Indonesian Prime Minister. The media is still printing letters from people who are, sometimes stridently, demanding the Prime Minister apologises.
I wonder how long it will be before all this stops? I am also alarmed at how little most people seem to know about the world of "diplomacy".
Diplomats work under different rules. There are things they can and cannot do. Spies work under different rules too. There are things they can and cannot do. Put the two together and you have a situation which is fraught with difficulties. It is a minefield I would not care to be walking through.
Apologists for our ABC and the left leaning areas of the media would have it that the present Prime Minister is responsible for the situation. No, he isn't. He is responsible for trying to sort the mess out but the mess was not of his making. He cannot be held responsible for that. What he does about it may make or break his Prime Ministership and the government but he did not create the situation and attempts to hold him responsible for that are not reasonable. Nevertheless the latest opinion poll would seem to indicate that people do not understand the difference or the ways in which he is constrained.
That makes no difference to the media of course. They say they are simply doing their job and doing it "in the public interest". I doubt that. They are doing it to sell news and, if you are to sell news, then you sometimes need to make news.
This morning's paper brought the expected letter criticising me as an apologist for a far right columnist. Had the writer read my letter carefully he would have realised that I was not supporting the columnist at all. I suggested he had raised a point worth thinking about but I had also said that I did not agree or disagree with what he had said. It was not the point of the letter I had written. I was in fact making the point about the way the media will make news in order to sell it and that, this time, it had done a great deal of damage. Someone else asked whether the ABC should somehow be accused of and dealt with for treachery. (That might be going too far but I do think that the head of the ABC should be called in to explain and his staff advised that their job is to inform people and provide a balanced commentary. They are, after all, paid for from our taxes...and some of them are very well paid indeed. )
So many people seem to thrive on negative news, the misfortunes and wrongdoings of other people. Good news gets overlooked, unless it is a win in sport for "our" team. I believe an attempt to once produce a good news newspaper failed. People simply did not want to read it. That does not surprise me.
But, sometimes we need good news. Coming home on the train yesterday I sat opposite a mother and a small girl.
It was the small girl's birthday,
"I'm four today so we are going on a train ride and we are going to have a picnic with my grandma."
There is absolutely nothing earth shattering about that but, for her family, it must be news they want to share with everyone they meet because her mother smiled and said quietly, "She had open heart surgery in June. We weren't sure she was going to be here and she is."
Now, that is good news. I had to share it.

Monday 25 November 2013

I went to

to visit someone in a nursing home yesterday had an opportunity to observe Sunday afternoon in summer in suburbia at close hand.
I am not impressed.
At the end of our street there were two people having an argument. They are husband and wife and it was a very public argument in the front garden. I moved on quickly.
The next little street  was quiet enough but there was a very strong smell of incense of all things. I have no idea where it was coming from. Nobody in the street would be foolish enough to be smoking pot and trying to cover it with the smell of incense...there is a senior member of the police force living in one of the houses and he is a rabid anti-drugs man. But, why else the incense? Ugh - that strong it was vile.
Around two corners and I came on someone mowing their lawn. I expected I would find someone doing that. There is always someone willing to disturb the peace on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  I pedalled on only to be met by even more noise and a cloud of concrete dust. Someone was cutting concrete slabs.
I coughed and spluttered past that and came upon three men lashing a double bed mattress and a ladder to a trailer.
       "Of course he does most of his work at night," one of them was saying in some of the purest old-fashioned BBC tones I have heard in years. I wonder who does most of his work at night - and what he does. I wonder which public school in England the speaker attended.
I avoid glass deliberately scattered across the roadway. I wait for a taxi to back out of a driveway. (He is supposed to give way to me but I never trust taxi drivers to do that...or anyone else unless they indicate they have seen me.)
The playground on the corner is empty. This is Sunday. It is a fine warm day (23'C) but there is not a child in sight. Why use a playground if you can use a computer screen?
I wait for traffic at the t-junction near the railway line and get acknowledged by two people I know by sight.
Over the railway line and around the corner - that bit is downhill, no pedalling needed. I go on and give way to a smart new sports car. Then it is push the button at the pedestrian crossing. I still take a childish delight in stopping the traffic with just one fingertip.
I pedal up the hill to the nursing home. The traffic is heavy. There must be an event somewhere that I know nothing about. Car horns blare. There is a squeal of brakes and another of tires but nobody hits anyone else - this time.
I will pedal home again too. I will have some exercise in the sun and the "fresh" air.
The nursing home is quiet. The small car park is almost empty. Two of the dementia patients have been put out into the sun. They smile uncertainly at me. One is the old man who seems to like the wind chimes that hung there.
Inside it is very quiet. There is a television turned low somewhere. The person I have come to see is asleep. It does not surprise me. Her younger cousin is, as always, there. She is reading the paper. We chat quietly for a bit. It is really for her I come now. She needs the support.
Eventually I leave. Most of the journey back is a gentle slope up or a whizz down the hill. It is different from the journey there.
But, there are still no children around. I want to see children. I want to be reminded of young life.
What bothers me is the almost certainty that nobody will be using the playground as I do the return journey...and they should be in this weather.
Perhaps that is why when, stopping for a moment at the shopping centre, I did not mind as much as I might when nearly knocked over by two boys running where they should not have been running.
Their mother told them off and made them apologise before heading into the bakery. When I returned to the pedals a little later there was a bag from the bakery in it. Inside there was an apple and walnut bun - with icing on top. The Senior Cat and I had it for our tea. I'll have to remember to thank her when I see her - and I would actually like to hug the boys.

Sunday 24 November 2013

If, as I suspect, there will be more leaks

from "whistle blower" Edward Snowden then I doubt that our media will be able to resist the temptation to make much of them.
Edward Snowden is not to be admired. He is, at best, naïve.
Is he a traitor? I don't know. I don't know what he really believed when he started out or even what he really believes now. He may not know himself.
He should however be able to see the damage he is doing and the destabilising effect his actions are having. Perhaps he doesn't care. He may even want to start World War III. I hope not.
The media however should know better. It does know better but sections of it are using the situation for their own purposes. Some sections of the media have given up any pretence of neutrality and are now using the situation in an attempt to undermine the elected government of this country.
They may not like the result of the election but attempting to undermine it in this way is an abuse of media power which is unprecedented. It goes beyond taking sides in a debate - and there is plenty of that which goes on.
Our government funded Australian Broadcasting Commission no longer makes any secret of the fact that many of the reporters, interviewers and commentators they employ are of a certain political persuasion - not friendly towards the current government. It has become too obvious for them to deny it. The Guardian (Australia) takes the same line. Another newspaper employs a columnist who takes an equally strident but opposite point of view. He also has a weekly television programme. There is perhaps one thing to be said for his column - he has usually done his homework even if he chooses to use it in what many would see as a biased manner.
It is becoming difficult to sort "truth" from "fact" from "fiction" now but some interesting statements have been made of late. If however, as suggested, the media was given the allegations about Australia spying on Indonesia in June then why did they hold off on publication?
They claim to have published the allegations because they were "in the public interest". No, they were not. It is widely known and understood that countries spy on one another - and that they do so at the highest possible level. And yes, they will target the partners of those at the top because you never know what might slip through.
Quite simply the timing of publication was designed to cause maximum damage and embarrassment to the new government. The media had to be sure that cooperation between Australia and Indonesia looked as if it might be working, especially over the issue of people smuggling. From the media's point of view it is essential that the policy of attempting to stop boats filled with "asylum seekers" coming to Australia fails. That way the government fails.
The media is not too worried about the other big issue, the repeal of the carbon tax, because it believes the Senate can prevent that from occurring. The boats issue however is different. It required cooperation from Indonesia and it looked as if Indonesia was ready to offer too much cooperation. It might just have reduced the flow to the point where success could be proclaimed.
I do not doubt there are people in the media who are delighted with the apparent success of their efforts. It apparently does not concern them at all that there are reports of renewed attempts by people smugglers to ply their abominable trade. It apparently does not concern them that more lives will be lost at sea or that the increased cost will take away finances that could be used to assist those who need it most. Nor does it seem to concern them that intelligence sharing about the activities of suspect persons and groups has slowed to a trickle and might even cease altogether - putting entirely innocent lives in both countries at risk.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing of all though is that the media is choosing to do all this to a government which has, to date, been largely supportive of the freedom of the media, more so than the previous government. In opposition this government did not demand the same accountability from the media that they might now do and that the then government looked as if it might demand. Yes, it was politic to do that at the time but there was also a long held belief that the media should be free to comment and raise issues.
The media is now putting that at risk. Does it believe it can get away with it and that life will really be better under what they view as the Government-in-Opposition?
Yes, I am stirring the pot a little here.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Apparently "Dr Who" is

fifty years old this weekend.
I have not really been following this. I have not had the opportunity to actually watch the programme for many years. (I know, that will shock a few of you. You can smack my paw in the comments below.)
I can remember the first time I saw the programme. We were at my uncle's home and my two cousins were waiting to watch the next episode.
The pictures were in black and white and the Daleks had just made their first appearance. My uncle muttered something about "I worry they'll be frightened by all that nonsense."
We caught one small glimpse of it and were sent off to another room while my cousins watched it. My mother was not taking any chances. There was no further opportunity to watch in childhood because we did not have a television set. Nor did I have access to a television set during my days at teacher training college. (Unbelievably perhaps there was no television for recreational purposes in the boarding school I worked in to earn my board and lodging.)
It went on like that. My parents did not watch Dr Who even after inheriting a television set from my maternal grandmother. They almost never watched television. They were still working - both running big schools - and, if they were not out at a meeting, they were dealing with paperwork at night or catching up on household chores. Dr Who would have been at the lower end of their television watching priorities - only just above the commercial stations.
I finally saw some when I was at university in London. Almost everyone in the hall of residence, both staff and students, would crowd into the television room to watch. If someone had to miss it then they would be brought up to date on the plot and any particularly funny lines by Tom Baker...yes, it was that long ago.
I think most people I knew watched it by then, not just my fellow students. There was a High Court judge who apparently watched it. (I had no idea who he was but he would walk or ride his bicycle through the university grounds each morning and we had got into the habit of greeting one another. He quoted Dr Who one morning.)
It was  light hearted fun.
I returned to Australia - and back to a television free existence. There was no chance to watch. My mother used the room the television set was in and, apart from the news service, it did not get turned on.
Away at university again I was too busy tutoring and doing research to even contemplate watching television. For four years I scarcely read fiction because the work load was so high.
I suppose I got out of the habit of watching anything. I don't watch now but I have sometimes heard people talk about "the new doctor" and understood they meant "Dr Who". I wonder what they have been like. It's been around fifty years. There are still Daleks!
And I wonder if they still have those deliciously funny lines that Tom Baker apparently used to just ad-lib from time to time.
As someone reminded me again the other day, "I though Eureka was Greek for 'this bathwater is too hot'." You have to be a Dr Who fan to appreciate just how funny that was in context.
Only the British can make that sort of television.

Friday 22 November 2013

"It is not because you are a

girl," the Senior Cat tells the eight year old, "You're just not quite old enough for it to be safe yet."
He is telling the four youngest of the six children what they will be doing out in the shed.
She accepts his words with good grace. The boys are going to use the copy lathe, the metal lathe and the scroll saw today. They are equipped with safety gear, things the Senior Cat insists on.
Youngest however learns about sanding, glue and the need for absolute precision. She glues together two three-dimensional puzzles - one of which is quite diabolically difficult to both construct and do. After that he hands her a kit he has found.
"Now, I want you to be an aeronautical engineer. You are going to build a helicopter."
The kit is really quite simple but it is solar powered. Fortunately it is a sunny day and the end result, after a couple of "crash landings", works well.
Meanwhile the boys are hard at it. There is quite a lot of mathematics involved. There is much precision involved. Things go wrong and need to be rectified. Patience and persistence are required.
The boys have both. Their grandfather is there to help. He is not a woodworker in the way the Senior Cat is but he can watch and guide under instruction. The machinery is too dangerous for even a fourteen year old not to be watched. They have much to learn. They do not know even the simplest things yet - things like never having the timber touch the cutting edge when you turn the machine on.
It was a fun day. It was exhausting for the Senior Cat. There is more than eighty years difference between him and the eight year old. It is more than a lifetime away, it is a world of work away. As an eight year old the Senior Cat made simple wooden boats and other things in the shed in the backyard of his home. He has retained the skills and improved on them.
At the end of the day much has been accomplished by everyone. They have eaten an Everest of sandwiches, quiche, raisin bread, fruit and ice cream ( a rare treat in a household of eight.)
They have objects to take home and they will have memories.
Youngest confides in me that she wants the Senior Cat to be there again when she is old enough to do what the boys have done today.
I hope he is - and still able to help her. I hope she has the memories and can pass them on to her grandchildren.

Thursday 21 November 2013

One of the bidders on the Authors for Philippines

site has asked me to describe the sort of things the people I work with have gone to do. It's a reasonable request because it also helps to describe where some of the money raised in a disaster situation goes.
First of all however I have to explain that the people I work with are volunteers. They do not get paid. They pay their own airfares and for whatever accommodation they happen to find. They take their own food - or have arranged for it to be at the other end. They take their own equipment or tools. Airlines tend to be pretty generous about baggage allowance in such circumstances - but not always.
There is an enormous amount of paper work involved. You don't just hop on a plane and go there. There is all the usual paperwork for travelling plus security clearances and/or police checks, professional qualifications or certificates stating you can do a certain job etc. It all has to be up to date, checked, certified, stamped etc. The authorities wherever they have come from and in the destination have to be aware of what is going on and offer other assurances, clearances and demands.
A lot of this can happen very rapidly, particularly with people who have done it before. They know what is needed and often keep their paperwork up to date - or their staff will do it for them. Often the biggest challenge is to find people willing to cover for them in their normal positions while they are out in the field. It is not that people are unwilling to help but they too will be overworked.
Going into a disaster area is not a holiday. Anything less like a holiday would be hard to a imagine. You can end up working twenty hours a day in filthy dirty, dangerous conditions. You do it without enough food and, if you are not careful, enough clean water to keep yourself hydrated. It is not a game for amateurs.
The bikers I mentioned in an earlier post know this. They have done it before. They are building something out of the debris - on a "waste nothing" principle.
There is a retired teacher who worked with severely traumatised children. She will be there to help locals set up suitable programmes for children who need care. Again, she has done it before and her community has provided her with some basics for the children.
There are doctors and other medical staff who have done this sort of thing before. They will work with local people. It is the best way of getting things done because the locals can continue to provide care when the doctors need to leave.
There are architects. They will go in with locals to check any structures which have remained standing. If they are safe or can be made safe without too much effort then they will leave the locals to get on with it but be there to offer advice if asked. They will check any significant sites,
There are engineers who will check remaining roads and bridges, airports, harbours etc. It is all done with safety in mind and how best to repair things to the point where they can be used.
There are logistics experts who work with local teams deciding priorities and getting people who have remained and are fit to do so to work. (For example, they will have provided the bikers with some young labourers.)
Often there are local people who could do this work but they may injured or so traumatised they cannot function as well as they might. They will have asked for assistance.
All the people who go are there to support the aid efforts we see on television. They won't be seen. Most people will never hear about them or even know of their existence. They will go in and do the job they went to do and then leave again. It isn't part of their role to stay around. The big aid organisations rely on them and coordinate with them but they are there for the local community and not the organisation.
It often seems like small and insignificant aid but it can have a huge impact on a small community.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

The continuing diplomatic

argument between Australia and Indonesia over allegations that Australia spied on the Indonesian President and his wife is likely to continue for a while yet.
Our Prime Minister is, rightly, refusing to apologise. He is, rightly, refusing to comment on the allegations being made. 
Both sides know that spying occurs. If there are degrees of guilt in this matter then I suspect that Indonesia is more culpable than Australia.
Indonesia spies on its own citizens, both at home and abroad. I know. I have dealt with the problem. Indonesian students here are well aware that they are under constant surveillance. Malaysian students tell me the same thing.
If you want a job when you return home then you do and say the "right" thing all the time you are here.
That means more than observing Ramadan and, if you are a female, dressing appropriately and not being seen without your hijab. You are expected to keep your head down, study, pass your exams and not belong to anything other than a government approved organisation. Even becoming friendly with other students can pose problems.
I tutored Indonesian and Malaysian students and I know I was vetted first. I assume I was considered suitable and not likely to be a threat or the students would not have been permitted to get help from me.
The fact that at least some of them were the sons and daughters of high ranking officials did not bother me. I was there to help them with their academic work. That did bother me because some of them should not have been there. They were simply not good enough but they had been accepted and nobody dared fail them. It was, and still is, a diplomatic as well as academic issue. Everyone knows it occurs but nobody admits it.
Spying occurs in the same way. Everyone knows it happens. Nobody will admit it, or at least not in the way that is now being demanded.
President Obama made a major tactical blunder when he apologised to Chancellor Angela Merkel over spying allegations. In effect he was admitting what is never admitted, "Yes, we spy on you." Everyone knows it. You just don't admit it.
Indonesia has gone even further. It is demanding not just an apology - an admission they know the Australian government should not give - but an undertaking that any spying activity will cease. They know both demands are inappropriate but they will persist anyway. They will try to use the situation to their political advantage at home (for the forthcoming Presidential election) and abroad.
That is understandable but our Prime Minister also needs to stay firm and refuse to comment further. If the row escalates then Australia must not be the one to add fuel to the diplomatic flames.
We cannot allow ourselves to be used for Indonesian domestic politics.
Should we go on spying on Indonesia? Yes of course. It is a big country and one of our immediate neighbours. There are all sorts of tensions there. Jakarta knows that. It actually relies on Australia to spy - and inform.
It might even be said that good neighbours do spy on each other - for the best of reasons.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

There is a row going on because

the Australian government because our Prime Minister appeared to support the Sri Lankan government despite concerns about human rights and because it is also giving two reconditioned naval vessels to Sri Lanka to help combat people smuggling.
Now, may I make it quite clear I do not support human rights abuses or torture, rape and murder. I don't believe our Prime Minister does either. He could certainly have put what he had to say better than he did.
There were people who did not want him to go to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at all. I think they were wrong. You cannot change things by ignoring them or the people who perpetrate the atrocities you want to change. You don't praise them by going but you can challenge them. The protesters have of course made the most of what our Prime Minister is alleged to have said. (If you listen carefully it is not what he is reported to have said but of course that means nothing to the media or the activists.) It is partly his own fault for not making matters clear.
But the question of whether we should be giving reconditioned naval vessels to Sri Lanka is also not being properly debated. I admit the timing is poor, probably about as bad as it can get but there is a serious question here. If we should not be giving reconditioned naval vessels to Sri Lanka because of human rights issues should we be giving them any aid at all?
Should we give any country which commits human rights abuses any form of aid? Should we do any sort of business with them? Should we even have contact with them?
Some activists would have us believe not. They would have us believe we should not do business with them and that we should not have contact with them. Is that right?
Is giving someone support they need wrong? Do you hold out a life jacket to a mass murderer or do you let him or her drown? I say you hold out the life jacket and find ways to restrain them once they are out of the water - and I acknowledge that it might not be easy to restrain the individual and that they might try to take advantage of you once they believe they are safe.
It seems to me though that the demands from activists are more about domestic politics than international politics. There were thirty years of civil war in Sri Lanka but it took CHOGM for the activists to really make demands - not of the Sri Lankans involved but of our own government. There are people who have seen the opportunity to score a point for their side of politics. I find that offensive. 
Human rights abuses should not be used for domestic political purposes.

Monday 18 November 2013

Authors for Philippines

is to be  found here - and, if you happen to be reading this blog then I would ask you to go and look at that page. Bidding closes at 8pm GMT on Wednesday.
It is filled with offers by authors, editors, agents, illustrators and others. You can bid on those offers, pay the money to the British Red Cross (and yes, they take international donations and PayPal - I checked) and also receive something in return.
There are some very generous offers there and the bidding on some of them is quite high - far more than I can afford. I plan to prowl in and see if there is anything within my price range on Wednesday.
It's a particularly nice idea because it allows writers, who are generally not at all well off, to raise money for a cause that anyone with imagination and compassion has to care about.
Perhaps someone reading this can donate to a much needed campaign and get an unusual present for someone at the same time?
I'll stop here and let you use your blog reading time over there...

Sunday 17 November 2013

My sister's mother-in-law

had a heart attack some days ago. Yesterday she had a stroke as well. She is now in intensive care at one of the big teaching hospitals.
The news did not surprise me at all because she had, following the heart attack, had an angiogram. In all possibility that caused some of the plaque clogging her arteries to break off and disrupt the flow of blood to her brain.
She is affected down her right side and unable to move that side or speak. Yes, it causes many problems.
And, for her, the problems are even greater. She is in the early stages of Alzheimer's and her overall medical condition is complicated by the fact that English is her second language. Even before the stroke she was reverting rapidly to Cypriot-Greek.
My sister speaks some Greek. It is not good but she can make herself understood at a basic level. I know a few words - enough to be polite.
When my sister phoned yesterday and asked, "Should we be thinking about a communication board for Panyiota?" I could tell her that it was something I was already giving some thought. Whether she will ever be ready or able, or indeed willing, to use such a thing is beside the point at this time. Her family needs it.
What they need most of all is to believe that other people care enough to support them by providing such things.
We know Panyiota is worrying about her husband. His state of health is precarious too, very precarious. He has not taken care of his health. There is not a great deal the medical profession can do for him now. He has been spending most of his time watching television until now. Since his wife went into hospital he has spent a lot of his time just sitting next to her but he cannot get in to see her without help. He loves her and he needs support too.
So, I went over to my sister's place. We found a photograph of Yiannis, a photograph of the children and the grandchildren - the people Panyiota cares about most. We have added a very few pictures of things she may need or need to ask about. We have added words to the pictures in Greek and English.
There is a temptation to add more but I know from experience that, in a setting like this, less can be more. Too much can simply be overwhelming and nothing will get used - and even this might be too much but at least it will say "we care about you".

Saturday 16 November 2013

Our previous Prime Minister

has just resigned from parliament. I am not impressed.
He was re-elected just a few short weeks ago. He said he would stay even if he lost the election - something that was as certain as anything can ever be in politics.
All sorts of things are now being said about him. Some people are saying he "saved" as many as fifteen seats for the now opposition. Others say he was, and continued to be, a destabilising influence.
Perhaps he did save some seats, even the seats of those now on the shadow front beach, but the question has to be whether they should have been saved.
Perhaps he was a destabilising influence, but the question is whether that is because his colleagues allowed him to be.
It may have been better for the now Opposition to lose those seats. They could have begun afresh. The people who retained their seats were, like some now in government, career politicians. They have never been out into the "real" world. They need to go there.
As it is the Opposition looks tired. It is behaving as if it is still in government. It has control of the Senate and appears determined to block every piece of legislation it comes across. It is still claiming a mandate it did not, being a minority government, have last time. The method of voting for the Senate has given it control there.
Perhaps they are right to claim that the former Prime Minister was a destabilising influence. If they don't need to worry about him trying to get his old job back then they can concentrate on governing from opposition.
I am not sure any of this is going to do the country any good and, even now, the numbers for the next Senate are not finalised. The Australian Electoral Commission has had to do a most extraordinary thing and lodge an appeal to the High Court to overturn the declaration of results the AEC itself made in Western Australia. That was all to do with the closeness of the result, the recount, the missing votes.
All that can be said of the entire mess is that it is time the electoral system was reviewed and overhauled. It needs major changes. In the Senate we have people getting in on less than 2% of the overall vote because of the compulsory preference system and others getting almost a full quota and missing out. No, this is not democracy.
Nor is it democratic to abandon your electorate just because you are no longer than gang leader.

Friday 15 November 2013

I took some

"time out" yesterday. It meant I had to start the day very early but it was worth it.
My sister and I headed off to pick up our friend Holly from the boat she is travelling on. It was in port just for the day and we all wanted to make the most of each other's company.
And it was a good day. I "went out to breakfast" for the first time in my life. (We cats simply do not normally do such things.) We talked and talked - and talked. Holly and I knitted while she availed herself of some essential computer downloads - and we added to each other's stash.
One day was not long enough of course. It never is. Last time she was here for three - and that was not long enough.
"Next time..." we told each other. I hope there is a next time.
It is a problem for me. Most of my friends live in other parts of the world, at very least in other parts of the country but mostly in other parts of the world. I consider myself fortunate that e-mail makes it much easier to keep in contact with them now but it is not the same as seeing them at least occasionally.
One of our next door neighbours is Hungarian. She told me the other day that, although she loves living here, she gets very homesick. They will shortly be going back again. She will stay three months with the children. Her Australian husband will be there for a shorter time as he has to come back to work. I wonder how he feels about his Hungarian wife being homesick. Is that why he is willing to accept another prolonged absence?
And it makes me wonder what it was like for my great-grandparents who came out here before the time of e-mail and Skype, whose own parents did not even have access to a phone. The only means of communication was a letter - which took several weeks to arrive.
Does the ability to communicate more easily make us more or less homesick?
I know that I am torn between two places - the United Kingdom which is my intellectual and academic home and where most of my friends live - and the place in which I actually live which is where my immediate family is.  People said I would get used to being back here but it has been a long time now and I still feel no differently.
I am not sure where "home" is.

Thursday 14 November 2013

There are renewed complaints about

the English curriculum. An academic has said that grammar has not been taught for forty years.
That is not quite true.  I was taught some grammar and my brother was taught some grammar. My sisters were not taught grammar. The Whirlwind has been taught some grammar. Her school believes such things are an essential part of education.
If the Whirlwind's mother was alive the Whirlwind would probably be attending the local high school. It once had an excellent reputation. My mother went there. She was taught Latin by one of the men who had written the textbook. My brother went there for the final year of his secondary education. He did not do Latin.
The Senior Cat went to another school. He was taught by the other man who had written the textbook.
Both my parents claimed that learning Latin taught them more about grammar than learning about grammar as part of English.
I was not taught Latin at all. What I know about Latin I taught myself as an extra subject. Having done Latin at university the Senior Cat would check what I was doing but he had no time to teach me. Grammar certainly came into it.
Unfortunately I did not have very long learning Latin. I changed schools again and the idea that I might continue with it was soon ridiculed. Why, I was asked, did I want to do anything like that? 
It was too late to pick up German, the modern language taught at the school I was attending. That did not stop me learning some German but it was very little and of very little use. I assume those learning German were taught grammar but it did not concern me. Of course I was also taught English by a number of people. One of them was the woman who also taught the journalists of our state newspaper. There was no time for teaching grammar in the classroom but she took me to one side and taught me many other things that were also not included in the curriculum. As she was over seventy-five at the time she would, if still alive,  be well over one hundred now.
I often wonder what she would make of the modern English curriculum. We "did" Shakespeare and Dickens and Hardy. We "did" Wordsworth and Keats, Kenneth Slessor and Judith Wright. The Senior Cat gave me Shakespearean sonnets in primary school - as well as introducing me to passages in the writings of James Joyce. When the first eighteen chapters of David Copperfield were set for the old Intermediate the Senior Cat handed me the book and said "read ALL of it".  I read more Dickens later. I think I have read all of Shakespeare's plays. I have not read all of Hardy or some of the other "greats" of English literature. I have no particular desire to do so. I have read a lot of poetry - but not nearly enough. One of my other English teachers gave me a long list of books she thought I "should" read. I read some but not others.
The English teacher who taught grammar to journalists introduced me to many more books. She gave me the first poem I read by TS Eliot. "It's difficult Cat but it will be worth trying to read it."
And yes, it was both difficult and worth the effort.
Later I had the enormous good fortune to have the late Judith Wright guide my reading as well. Some of her ideas would have surprised many people. I had, for example, the vague idea that I "should" read Patrick White. Her reaction was "whatever for?" I still tried but soon abandoned him. I know he won the Nobel Prize and that other people think he is wonderful but I found no pleasure in his work.
I have just indulged in the purchase of the new edition of Neruda's "Odes". I will savour it slowly. It is a bilingual version. My Spanish is not good enough to read the original but the presence of the Spanish adds depth to the translations.
I wonder if I would read Neruda if I was a present day English student brought up to believe that studying a film poster is part of studying the English language? Would it lead me to read poetry or novels in translation from other languages? I wonder what present day students are missing out on - and what I am not experiencing.  I think however I have been fortunate to have so many people suggest things I might like to read.
Have you read books because your teachers suggested them? What have you read?  

Wednesday 13 November 2013

"Er, it's C... don't know if you remember

me?" he asked.
"You're the one with the big cat tattoo?" I responded.
I heard a sigh of relief.
"Got, the other boys and I are thinking of heading up there
to help. We sort of have things organised but we need a bit of help. Think we might need a list like you made us last time - you know just in case. Think most of them speak English this time...but just in case they don't - Tom said to ask."
All this is said very quickly and rather nervously but I take "there" to mean the Philippines. He confirms it.
"Not a problem - there is a list. Have you still got e-mail? I can send it through," I tell him.
"Ah, knew you could sort it."
I am given an e-mail address. I ask a few more questions just to check. Have they got all the certification they need? Who are they in contact with at the other end? Do they need help with the paperwork?
He answers patiently enough. Last time taught them the need to have everything in place before they leave. I give him another name in case they need it.
I ask about finances too because I know the four who plan on going don't have much. They never have much. They live from one pay cheque to the next and they won't be getting a pay cheque for a while.
"Ah, the others are helping out...just have to raise a bit more for the fares and a bit of fodder."
I give him another name here. I know his staff are looking for something specific to help with.
He leaves me with abrupt thanks. I make a quick call to the man who might be able to help and tell him what is going on. He's cautious but interested. I tell him I'll come over and talk to his staff if he wants me to but he says he knows I am too busy. I also suggest asking Tom's secretary. Tom is a doctor and he is about to leave to help too but she has sorted some of the paperwork out for "the boys". I remember their local MP was also involved last time. He's still in the job and so I phone his secretary and tell her what is happening. She promises to get in touch with my other contact.
There is a flow of e-mails through the day and the next day and the next. At the end of it people have raised enough money for the fourth fare and food.
Four rough, tough "bikies" are heading for the Philippines. They would seem to be the most unlikely aid workers in the world but they went to Indonesia after the Boxing Day Tsunami. They were not very experienced that time. It was a steep learning curve and they didn't always get it right but at the end of twelve weeks they had done more than most people do in twelve months.
This time they have much more idea of what to expect and how to help. They plan to mobilise some of the young locals to help - and yes,  I don't doubt they will mobilise them. They plan to clear some of the debris and use what they can to build some temporary medical accommodation for Tom's contacts there.
It's a specific project and one the local authorities have already decided is urgently needed. The "boys" are going because they have done it before. They can even use the design they used before - with some modifications.
They are the sort of men the police tend to look twice at although none of them has more than a speeding ticket. It is a salutary reminder to me - never, ever judge a human by his or her cover.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Yesterday I was accused of being an

"ambulance chaser" - because I had left a "tweet" on the time-line of a journalist about Australia's aid contribution to the latest disaster in the Philippines. I hasten to add that it was not the journalist who accused me. She knows better than that.
The person who accused me does not know me at all. I have never met him. He apparently based his response on that one tweet. It gave him an opportunity, or so he thought, to make a derogatory comment about the government's contribution. I can only assume he votes for the opposing forces. I may be wrong.
I was tempted to try and continue the "conversation" with him and point out he was wrong but I did not have the time and it might well have made matters worse.
What started it all though was a misunderstanding about the way in which governments give aid. What had been announced was "an initial payment of $380,000". The tweeter was up in arms. How dare we give such a paltry amount to a country which needed so much?
He ignored the "initial" of course. It suited him to do that. What would have happened would have been contact at high level between the two countries. Someone would have asked someone else what was most urgently needed right then. The cost would have been sorted out and whatever it was would have been made available as fast as possible. It could have been something as simple as asking an available aircraft to do a fly over and assess the damage. I don't know what it was this time but it will have been something that was urgently needed to get the relief effort under way.
And that is where other people come in. I am a very tiny part of what happens. I don't chase ambulances. I don't chase work. I don't need to. Work chases me. I don't work for a specific organisation. I do work for specific people and they will put other people in touch with me. If someone approaches me independently then they need someone I know and trust to vouch for them. 
Why? I don't get paid for what I do and I don't work for people who do get paid. I work for people who volunteer and they have to be professional at what they do. Many people I work with are actually professionals. They are doctors, dentists, engineers, architects, hydrologists, biologists and other experts in their fields. There are also builders - builders of all sorts of things. They are part of a vast network most people are completely unaware of.
Depending on what has happened they might get a room somewhere in which to catch a few hours sleep. It is more likely they will be sleeping in a tent and, when they eat, they will be eating cold baked beans or tuna straight from the tin. They may not stay very long. They will go in and do the job they went to do and then leave again. More often than not they will have paid their own expenses to get there and taken some of their annual leave to do it.
I'll happily help people who are willing to do that. They don't chase ambulances. They don't need to or want to. 
Since that "initial $380,000" the Australian government has offered another $10m in aid but that will not be an end to it. There will be more down the line as the situation settles and the money can actually be used as it is intended to be used.
It is not a simple business. It is immensely complex. I wish I could tell the person who "tweeted" that the people who really get involved are not "amateurs" and they don't have time to chase ambulances.

Monday 11 November 2013

I had the most curious collection

of "tweets" in my time-line yesterday.
I had left a response to one of our senior journalists "suggesting" that perhaps the Jakarta Post was not a reliable source of information. As a journalist of course he is well aware of that. Like other journalists he has been using a front page article in the Jakarta Post in order to try and pressure the Australian government into a different information delivery mode. They do not like the "reduced" access to information. It makes it much harder to produce the sort of headlines they love.

Our political viewpoints and our interests will determine whether we believe the media is biased or balanced. The reality however is that what information we get and how we get it is determined by the political viewpoints and interests of journalists. Their “fair and balanced” reporting is often heavily influenced by their own beliefs, other popular beliefs, political correctness and the need to maintain their audience. Actual news or balanced commentary are secondary to headlines, scaremongering, “human interest” and gossip. Deliberately misleading but politically correct information makes good copy.

All this is irresponsible but it is policy and market driven. The media is not there to inform. The idea that journalists are there to provide a balanced and unbiased version of the news is utterly incorrect.  Governments of all persuasions use it to promote their policies, so do activists. Advertisers will use the sources with the largest audiences. They are not interested in news unless it brings in their own target audience. Sensational headlines will sell. Cold, hard facts will not.  

In recent years many in government have sung from the same hymn sheet as journalists. There has been unprecedented “access” to information which has suited both those in power and the many members of the Press Gallery who support them. Selective and often negative reporting and misinformation has been used to try and shape public opinion about any number of issues – often with great success.  What we know about issues like "climate change", "terrorism", "illegal boat arrivals", "racism", "multi-cultural affairs", "mining taxes", "transport" and "law enforcement" to name a few have all been driven by government and media - often working together to give an inaccurate picture but the one they want us to have in order to shape our behaviours and our responses to these issues.

There is now a different government in Canberra . It has a different agenda, one the electorate voted for.  I suspect many journalists are unhappy with this. They do not see it as democracy at work but as a failure to educate the public to think in the way they would wish.  They are finding it difficult or impossible to “maintain the rage” and “make the news”, especially when it is not dished up daily as it was in the past.  

It is not necessary however for them to seek information from abroad. It can be obtained here. It is up to journalists to report it – and report it in a fair and balanced fashion.

Journalists only have themselves to blame for the apparent tightening of control on information sources within Australia. The information is there and available. Using sources such as the Jakarta Post to try and pressure the Australian government to reverse decisions is both dishonest and deliberately misleading.   Australian journalists had access to that information and chose not to use it. It suited them not to use it.  They have the freedom to do this...and it is being abused.

Sunday 10 November 2013

I have been purring my way through

four days of helping at a craft fair.
Most of it has been fun and most of the customers have been friendly, genuinely enthusiastic about what is on display, interested in what others have to tell them and generally co-operative and understanding.
Not so one customer yesterday. I could see trouble coming. She would want something we did not have or would complain about something we did have. She would say the price was too high or that she could get it cheaper somewhere else.
It turned out she wanted something we did not have but, in a new twist, she tried to demand it was ordered in especially for her. She was sure we could do it.
I tried, gently, to point out that it was not something the person I am working for deals with and that there were other places where she might be able to get it. Each suggestion I made was met with a negative. No, she did not have access to the internet. No, she did not know anybody who had access to the internet. No, she did not belong to a library (where she could access the internet). No, she did not have access to any knitting magazines which might tell her where she could write for information. No, she could not do an overseas transaction of any sort.  No, nobody else in Downunder would do it for her. It had to be us.
I eventually managed extricate myself from the conversation - which was growing rather one sidedly heated by then - because someone else really needed help, or I thought she did. Madam Difficult stormed off. The other woman smiled at me and said,
"You were being so patient I just had to interfere. She has tried that on several stall holders today. Each time she wants something different. Even if you did have what she claimed she wanted I don't think she would buy it."
I had wondered about that myself.
"Is there something I can help you with?" I asked with a relieved smile.
"Oh, yes. I want one of those rug kits but I am wondering - would it be too much trouble to make it up in really bright colours? Do you have time? The person I am giving it to would like...."
It was no trouble at all. A substantial sale was made - and she gave me a wink as she left. Some people can be very nice indeed.

Saturday 9 November 2013

There are other words

begin with the letters "G", "F" and "C", not just Global Financial Crisis.
Apparently the cousin whose memorial service we attended last Saturday felt rather strongly about this. She told her partner she was tired of hearing about the Global Financial Crisis and she would rather hear about Gratitude, Forgiveness and Courage.
This was mentioned in the eulogy.
My cousin had, if it is possible, a Christian-Buddhist outlook on life. My cousin took "mindfulness" - that Buddhist concept of attempting to see things as they really are without allowing emotion to get in the way -  and tried to combine it with the fundamental principles of Christianity. 
It is probably not a bad way to live - although how many of us would succeed? I know I don't. I doubt she thought she did.
Gratitude? I know I have often resented feeling I should be grateful.
Forgiveness? To truly forgive someone who has hurt you is probably the hardest thing of all. How can you cease to be hurt? Achieve that and you have probably achieved more than almost any human who has ever lived. I've tried but, if I am honest, I have problems with that.
Courage? I am not a brave a cat. I am a coward. There are all sorts of things I have never done, never achieved and never will achieve because I have been too frightened to try them but I doubt my cousin was thinking of that sort of courage. I imagine she was thinking of courage as it relates to living with others.
How many of us are really good at living with other people? We can't do without them but we want them there on our terms - or I do, even when I like to think I don't. Worse, there have been times when I have remained silent rather than speak up. That is real cowardice.
I wondered what I could substitute for the letters "G", "F" and "C". What should I try and strive for if I can't meet those expectations?
What about Grace, Friendship and Compassion? I'll keep trying.
If you have more suggestions then could you please leave them here. Thankyou.

Friday 8 November 2013

I am being supervised by

an irate young cat. His whiskers are back and his tail is twitching crossly. How dare that ridiculous columnist in the paper compare him with a cushion and say he "lacks functionality". According to Pluto he is a being of higher order than any human.
Cats, according to Pluto, are superior beings. Humans should worship cats. Cats look down on people. People should look up to cats. Dogs should look up to people - and cats.
Cats, Pluto advises me, work hard. He acknowledges that there are some working dogs but many dogs do not work at all. They actually have to be trained to go for a walk - an exercise they are supposed to enjoy. Cats require no such training.
Journalists really need to be a little more careful about what they say about cats. Cats are advisers to politicians (unfortunately some politicians refuse to acknowledge the excellent advice given to them by cats and the consequences can be disastrous). Cats reside in places such as Number 10 and the White House and the Royal Courts of Thailand. Doors are opened for them. They are treated with respects in some places.
They have been paid for their services to the Royal Mail and been the heirs to great estates. They have been immortalised in literature, music and art. They have, rightly, been worshipped as gods in ancient times.
So, how dare some upstart journalist say they lack functionality? And how dare some scientists try to suggest that purring is only a sign of distress? How dare they suggest that cats never like to be stroked or cuddled. Why do cats sometimes seek a human lap or demand to be played with? Is the lap just for warmth? There are other warm places. Is the demand to be entertained not that at all but something else? What?
It is now my unfortunate task to try and comfort an angry cat.

Thursday 7 November 2013

There is a great deal being said

said in the media right now about the fact that countries have been "spying" on other countries.
Some of it has come about because Edward Snowden "leaked" information. Julian Assange's lot did too.
There are people who like what they have done - and others who loathe it.
Whatever you may think about it the reality is that ALL countries indulge in spying activities, both on their own citizens and each other. What is more ALL countries know that other countries do it. They not only spy on each other and themselves but they share information with one another about those activities.
I know. I get spied on. You do too. Anyone who uses the internet is spied on. This post will be read by someone somewhere simply because I have put Snowden and Assange into close proximity with one another. What is that dreadful cat from Downunder saying now? It will be no more than a glance and it does not bother me because I am not saying anything untoward.
I know the spooks have better things to do than waste time on me. They are much more concerned about those plotting terror attacks and what the unpredictable Prime Ministers, Presidents, Premiers and Dictators have in mind.
People like the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Marty Natalagawa, know full well that spying takes place. His own country indulges in massive spying operations - both at home and abroad. I was watched at one of the universities simply because I happened to be co-supervising an Indonesian student.  I was actually told I was being watched and that the student was being watched. The student expected it.
It is useful however for the Indonesian Foreign Minister to be able to make outraged noises about his country being spied on. He hopes to be able to get some sort of concession because of it. What is more he would genuinely believe we will be but should not be spying on his country. He will also believe that it is perfectly acceptable for his country to spy on us. We are seen as a threat. Our culture is a threat to his country's largely Islamic culture. We are said to see his country's Islamic culture as a threat to our Western ways.
Spying, intelligence gathering, counter-intelligence and just information gathering are part of everyday life. It is not going to stop. Making a fuss about it is not going to help.
Trying to get concessions because of it is the really dangerous thing. Yes, dear spook reading this - I am aware of that.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

We managed to ignore the

great race yesterday.  Yes, it was "Melbourne Cup Day" or "the race that stops a nation" yesterday.
Oddly, it does not stop us. The Senior Cat and I have no interest in horse racing - apart from the fact that we would like to see it stopped.
People claim that horses like to race. Do they? How could we know? They always seem rather nervous, excitable animals to me. They are big too. I do know that.
I was not a childhood or teenage hippomaniac.  Only my youngest sister had a mild form of the disease. She liked, still likes, horses but never demanded to own one. She can ride - the only one of us who can - but she does not ride well.
The Senior Cat stays well away from horses. He was trodden on one as a child. He came to no harm but he keeps a respectful distance from them even now.
I think my mother may have been interested but there would have been no money in her family to indulge in such a passion. She would not even have asked. There was barely enough money to feed the family. My maternal grandfather was not a good provider.
My mother did not however like horse racing.
I would have no idea how to "place a bet" and my knowledge of horse racing is confined to the (presumably accurate) information imparted by Dick Francis in his books. I am happy for it to remain so - and to remain a safe distance from those strange but often elegant creatures.
Yesterday was the first Tuesday in November though, the day on which the race is always run, and the nation went overboard with Melbourne Cup lunches, fashion for both women and men, champagne, bets people could not afford and a few other things best not mentioned.
One horse had to be put down. No doubt others have injuries. I feel sorry for the horses.
And yesterday was also the fifth of November this year. We don't have Guy Fawkes "celebrations" any more. They are considered "too dangerous" - and yes, there were house fires and other fires and injuries from fireworks. I miss the bonfire and the sparklers and the half-cooked potatoes covered in ash and eaten with a lot of butter and salt but I don't miss the bangs or the idea that money is being sent up in flames.
Of the two though I wonder if Guy Fawkes night did less harm and cost less. I'll never find out but given the choice I would reinstate Guy Fawkes night - with greater safeguards - and let the horses have the run of the pasture instead.
Did someone say something about the economy?

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Apparently "plain paper packaging"

for cigarettes has not had the desired result. People are still smoking. Nobody really expected them to stop - but what is more disturbing is that tobacco consumption is apparently on the rise again. Illegal tobacco sales are also on the rise - at an estimated $1bn a year.
I have no qualms about telling people I do mind if they smoke near me. I recently told someone who wanted to look at my tricycle he could - but only if he wasn't smoking.
"The trouble with you ex-smokers...."
"Actually I have never as much as tried to smoke a cigarette," I told him.
He put his cigarette out, took out his phone and took a photograph of the drive mechanism - all while I was packing the groceries into the rear basket.  As I left he relit his cigarette and drew heavily on it. I could hear him coughing as I pedalled off.
Smoking is something I have never been able to understand. As a child I felt ill around smokers. I still do. As a student, a teacher and member of university staff and as an attendee at far too many meetings I have had to endure sitting in smoke filled rooms while others smoked.
"It's legal. We have a right to smoke." I was told that over and over again even when I tried not to look as if I disapproved and made no complaint. People still knew. I suppose my coughing and watering eyes gave me away.
It is still legal. People still have a right to smoke. But, the dangers of secondary smoking are now well known. I genuinely believe that, legal or not, people do not have the right to force me to smoke alongside them.
I admit I am not surprised if plain paper packaging does not cause a dramatic drop in the consumption of tobacco. I hoped it might but thought the addiction factor would be too strong.
Does plain packaging stop people from taking up the tobacco habit? I doubt it. It probably adds to the mystique and the siren lure. If we want people to cease smoking and we want to discourage people from taking up the habit then we probably need to make it harder for them to smoke, we need even fewer places where they can smoke. A start has been made with bans in some places but I can think of more places...such as bus shelters and railway stations and the area surrounding shopping centres , not just inside the centres themselves.  
Yes, I know. I can hear the cry, "But it's legal. We have the right to smoke. Car fumes are just as bad."  Oh yes. Smoking is legal. You have the right to smoke. What is not legal and what you do not have the right to do is assault me - and your cigarette smoke is an assault. It can have serious medical consequences for the non-smokers as well as the smokers. Car fumes are not good  but, realistically, smoking is a deliberate and avoidable choice which harms other people as well.
Okay, off the soap box - but where and when would you like to see people banned from smoking?

Monday 4 November 2013

The old buildings are more like a

rabbit warren than a hospital but they have served as a hospital for years now. I am sure you can imagine, probably even know, the sort of place I mean. It started life as a respectable set of buildings that were never quite big enough and successive governments added to them over the years, always with the same result.
There is a new hospital being built down the road. The site is controversial and the size is also controversial. The design is not what the doctors ordered. It will be a monument to political power games. Enough said.
Then there is the question of what to do with the old site. Some suggestions have been made in the past, including bull dozing the lot, but no real thought has been given to it. I have my own ideas about what should be done with it but nobody is likely to listen to me. (Yes, I will probably write another letter to the paper about it.)
But now there is a suggestion which, unfortunately, probably will be taken seriously. It will be taken seriously because sport is involved.
The proposal is that the buildings should be turned into housing for the city's bid to run the Commonwealth Games in 2030. The estimated cost of having the games here would apparently be two billion dollars - yes, I did say "$2bn".  And our sports mad government and society will probably thoroughly approve the idea. We can't afford it of course but that will be beside the point.
Please don't misunderstand me. I am not against sport. I know a lot of people are passionate about it - if mostly as spectators. That does not bother me.
What does bother me is the amount of money which is spent in the name of sport - or should I say misspent. We have already spent more than we can afford on an oval and a footbridge across a small "river" to access it - because spectators cannot be expected to walk a few hundred metres to get there. This is money which should have been spent on public transport projects. (The government is now claiming it cannot finish projects unless the federal government also puts money in. The projects could have been completed by now if the money had been there and the projects had been better planned.)
We desperately need to upgrade and extend our rail system but that is something that is getting even less attention now. All the road upgrades will not solve our problems unless we also get some of the heavy transport off the road. Arguments about "double handling" by rail are more to do with endeavouring to retain jobs in the heavy transport industry. It is, I am told, actually fairly easy and cheap to swing a container on to the back of lorry or truck after it has been carried thousands of kilometres by rail.
We need to spend that two billion dollars it would cost to have the games elsewhere. We need to spend it on projects that will bring long term jobs into the state, not just a short term, feel good sports event.
I know that most people think cake is nicer than bread but I think I would prefer to have the bread!

Sunday 3 November 2013

We went to my cousin's

memorial service yesterday...the one who was only 58.
It was simple and, as they say, "dignified". My cousin was an interesting person who did many things and it was reflected in the diversity of the crowd which had gathered.
She did things I would never do - like spending a year travelling through Asia and staying in villages with the local people. She was a feminist, an activist, a teacher, an artist and a musician. The occasion was happy and sad. We laughed and more than a few tears were sniffed back.
But, there was something else. She brought her daughter up to love art and music too. And her daughter read us a picture book, a book her mother had often read to her as a small child - Alison Lester's "The Magic Beach". I had not seen it or heard it for years.
And I was transported back to my own childhood and the magic of the beach as it then was.
My paternal grandparents lived not far from the sea. My paternal grandfather swam all year round until he was simply too old to get himself in and out of the water. Even when his eye sight was failing he swam.
One of the staff at the hospital where he spent his final years would see him safely across the road. He would take his swim and wait until someone came along to help him safely cross the road again. He never had to wait long. There was always someone around to help. People knew him.
And I remembered my brother and I being collected from the house we lived in for a while. It was not far from my paternal grandparents home. My grandfather would arrive very early in the morning and my brother and I would let ourselves out very quietly and go for our swimming lesson with Grandpa. It was a magical time. The beach would be quiet. It would often be deserted by everyone but us. We loved it.
There is something immensely soothing about early morning on a beach, before other people get there. I have no time for the crowded place it becomes on a fine, hot day in summer. I don't like having to avoid the sunbathers, the volley ball players and the sandcastle architects.
I love the sea - although I do get seasick very easily. I love watching water rise and curl and ripple and roll into shore. All my family love it. Our ancestors were - among other things - sailors, ships' pilots, marine engineers and marine cartographers.
The sea and all the things that go with it is perhaps the thing we missed the most when we moved to rural parts of the state. My father was never fortunate enough to get a coastal appointment. If he had I am sure we children would have spent hours on the beach.
But yesterday, just for a moment, I am sure every one of us in that room who had spent part of our childhood on the beach was transported back to it - through the power of a picture book.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Apparently 1375 votes have

gone "missing" in the recount for the Senate seats in Western Australian.
The recount was being undertaken after an appeal by two candidates. They were of course not happy with the original results.
There is a possibility now that the entire Senate election in Western Australia will have to be re-run.
That exercise would be very expensive and it might not produce the desired outcome for those who appealed against the original results.
There will no doubt be arguments in the media about what is the most "democratic" way of handling the problem.
What would be desirable outcome would be a review of our entire electoral system. It needs major changes.
Many people view our electoral system as free and fair and an excellent example of democracy at its best. Compulsion to attend the ballot box is seen by many as desirable and as is the compulsion to preference all candidates.
I disagree with both these things. There should be an absolute right to vote but no compulsion to attend the ballot box. There is no compulsion to vote. Nobody can force you to mark the ballot paper - although many people believe you must. What is needed is education about the importance of casting a vote and information about how to do it. There are provisions in the Electoral Act which actually hamper the Australian Electoral Commission from fully informing people about these things. That has to change.
And we need to do away with compulsory preferences. There is nothing democratic about this. The argument is that it allows people to get their second choice if their first choice is not elected. That is, of course, nonsense. If there is only one candidate you are happy with then you should not be required to go any further. If you could tolerate a second person then the option should perhaps be there but it should not be a requirement. As for "deals" with respect to preferences they need to be knocked out altogether. That is the only way to stop single issue parties with a tiny minority of the vote winning seats over multi-issue parties with almost an entire second quota in the Senate.
Voting in places like nursing homes also needs to be much more vigorously scrutinised. How many elderly people who are no longer competent to vote are still on the roll and have their votes used by others? I have been told "it's bound to happen and there is not much we can do about it". Is that good enough?
There are other people on the electoral roll who should not be there either. As soon as a death certificate is issued the relevant authority should advise the AEC so that the name is removed from the roll and cannot be used by others. Former students of schools I have taught in have had their names places on the electoral roll by their carers. Their vote is used by their carers and again nothing is done about it because of arguments that "these people have a right to vote" - yes, even if they do not understand what they are doing and you are doing it for them?
I could go on. I won't. What I will say is that there needs to be a major review of our electoral system. It is perhaps the one thing that the newly elected Clive Palmer and I would agree on. I suspect our way of handling the issues might be different but we would at least agree that there is a need for change.