Friday 31 January 2014

I think we expect too much of our

Olympic athletes - and anyone else at the very top of their field of sport. Yes, it really has become ridiculous. I know I wrote about this once before - probably while the Olympics were on.
I pointed out that there has to come a time when records cannot be broken any more. We have probably reached that point already if we only include records broken without the assistance of performance enhancing drugs.
Anyone who has read an account of Roger Bannister's first "four minute mile" will know that even that was mired in controversy. He was, it was claimed by some, "assisted" by the wind. (The fact that he was running laps of an oval both into and ahead of the wind apparently cut no ice with his critics.)
Bannister's time is considered very ordinary in these days of performance enhancing drugs, special training regimes, scientist designed shoes, clothing and diets. It should however be considered extraordinary. He was the first man to be officially recorded to cover that distance in that time. Yes, others may have done it before him but we will never know about them. I doubt Bannister thought he was the first when he did it. He just wanted to show it could be done.
Now runners worry about the one thousandth of a second they need to shave off to "beat the record". Beating the record has become even more important than winning the race. It puts them under enormous pressure.
There is a photograph of swimmer and Olympic medallist Ian Thorpe on the front page of our state newspaper. He is apparently in hospital. He's depressed. He has drug and alcohol problems.
I know some people will say "Why didn't he seek help sooner? Why didn't he talk to someone the first time he felt that way?"
The media, and thus the general public, put people like Thorpe on a pedestal. They are expected to be a certain sort of person - strong, able, always at the top, unfailingly polite, cheerful and on top of their emotions as well.
It doesn't work like that. The expectations we have of people at the top are simply too high. They are human beings like the rest of us.
I can remember talking to another boy who had spent hours in the pool as a younger teen. He had been told he could make it to the top. I can remember him describing the hours spent staring at the bottom of the pool, the mind numbing laps, the early rising every day of the week right through the year. I can remember him saying how it was not just what he had to do it was what his parents had to do to get him there. I can remember him talking about the financial and physical cost.
"It just wasn't worth it," he told me. He was right. It isn't worth it. Perhaps if we stopped treating such people as gods and heroes then they might actually achieve more. They might not need to go into rehabilitation.

Thursday 30 January 2014

I am getting a little tired of passwords

and "log in" processes on everyday computer sites. I am not in the least bit convinced they actually contribute to "security" on the average household computer.
I am not convinced they actually work even for the supposedly much more secure sites I use for work purposes. If mere teens can hack into the likes of the Pentagon computers then I am sure they will have much less difficulty into hacking into the sites I use. Let's face it the passwords are there for privacy rather than security.
I don't bank over the internet. The Senior Cat is seriously suspicious of such things. "Don't do it!" He still likes cheque books and cash and paying his bills at the Post Office or the bank - both of which will accept payment for a variety of places. He won't use direct debit either.
I keep an eye on things but the Senior Cat likes to pay the household bills himself. He can still do it - with the help of the wall calendar and multiple fridge magnets to hold the unpaid bills in place.
"You shouldn't let him do it," several people have told me, "You should do it yourself." Why? He likes to feel in control. I know what is going on because we discuss it. I know how to do it. I have done it and still do it on the occasions he cannot do it.
His method means that he does not have to remember multiple pass words. All he has to do is remember his PIN number at the bank. He is suspicious even of that. The system once went haywire while he was at a conference interstate and he would have been stranded without any money had it not been for a fellow conference attendee who provided him with a small overnight loan. He missed a conference session to go into the bank the following morning - so did a number of others.
I do need to remember multiple passwords - several of them are quite complex.
I have a password for the library. When they changed the system "passwords" were given to everyone...the last four digits on the card.
"You can change it if you want to," I was told.
I did. I changed it back to my previous password - one that makes sense to me.
Yesterday though I was in the library. I needed to access a computer for a moment. You need your card to do that - and then you need to put in your password.
I could not log in. I thought about it for a moment and then retried using the last four digits on the card. Success. So much for passwords and changing passwords.
Now really, what is the point of a password?

Wednesday 29 January 2014

The proposed recognition of

"indigenous" or "First Australians" in the preamble to the Australian Constitution will no doubt come under discussion in the media over the coming months. The plan to hold a referendum on the issue was put forward some time ago.
The wording will be a legal minefield - even for something going into the preamble. Selling it to the voters will probably be much less difficult.
Interestingly however the main question has yet to be addressed - and it is one which must be addressed. I suspect it is being avoided because it is a very difficult question, one that would be fiercely debated if people were given the opportunity. So far "political correctness", fear of being considered "racist" and any other number of negatives have prevented any real discussion of the question, "Who is indigenous?"
Some years ago a young mother who lived in one of the small "units" across the street came over to see me at the advice of one of the neighbours. She had been approached by a relative who identified as "indigenous" and told that she should be doing the same thing. She was told she "had to do it". She was also told that she should be telling her two children "about their indigenous heritage".
What she wanted to know from me was whether she was actually required to do it. I told her there was no legal requirement. Her great-great-great-great-grandmother had been a member of one of the clans around Alice Springs. That same woman's husband was thought to be a cameleer - probably from Afghanistan.
Closer in time her grandparents on her father's side were Russian and Estonian and Finnish and Estonian. Her father had been born in Sweden during the war.
Her mother's parents had the indigenous ancestor on maternal grandmother's side and then there were Irish, English and Breton ancestors as well and on her maternal grandfather's side the family was Irish as far back as they could be traced.
But it seemed that none of this mattered to her mother's relative. He had discovered an indigenous ancestor and was demanding that the family recognise this and call themselves indigenous. He took the issue to extremes and went off to learn an indigenous language and get himself accepted into the tribe. I don't know whether he succeeded but I do know that the girl who asked me what the legal requirement was thought it was wrong. The many times great-grandmother was, as she put it, "only part of what we are".
The same will be true of many other Australians who identify as "indigenous". The greater part of their ancestry will be something else. That does not make the "indigenous" portion any less important but should it make it more important? When do we cease to recognise it - or should it always be recognised? Should it confer any special status - or should we simply acknowledge it in the way that we acknowledge other ancestry?
I wonder whether the questions will even be debated?

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Today is the day that

school goes back. It will be the first day of school for some and the first day of high school for others. There will also be the first day at a new school for still others. There will be new teachers to get used to and all sorts of other "new" things...some good and some  bad, others just average.
The Whirlwind came in and informed me that she couldn't find her school sports hat. As she is generally careful this bothered her greatly. I pointed out that it was sitting where she had left it last week - when I suggested that she renew the cord that adjusts the brim. (That was a simple matter of threading a new cord through.) Right. It was not entirely her fault. She went home with other things.
Had she done everything else that needed to be done? Did she want me to check? Yes, all done - and no I don't need to check. She has finally decided she is old enough not to need me to check. She is growing up at last.
Her subjects were decided last year and she had holiday tasks to complete.
The Whirlwind will have the responsibility for a new boarder too. It was not something she really experienced herself because she was very young when she began to board and she was cared for by everyone in the boarding house. The new student is coming in from the country for the first time - at the age of eleven. It is still young to be away from home. The Whirlwind met her once towards the end of last year and had plans to "show her everything - and, if she's homesick then I'll tell her that's okay and I was too". It will be interesting to see what she has to say next weekend.
I can remember one first day at school after another, one first experience after another. I can remember new teachers, new rooms, new subjects, new pencils and new notebooks. New text books were rare. They were passed on from one year to the next. I had usually read most of them over the summer. (I drew the line at the maths texts.) It happened so many times that, while I never grew used to it, the idea stopped being new.
I wonder how many of the children starting school today will remember the "new" of it all. Will they like it? I know several children who are starting today. Three are looking forward to it. One is not. He didn't like being at day care and he thinks school will be more of the same. I hope he changes his mind when he realises there is more to school.
I feel for him though. I think I am glad I am not starting school now, that I don't have at least twelve years of school ahead of me. I know I didn't have the same facilities. There were usually 45 to 50 students in the classroom too. Now there are computers in classrooms. The "blackboard" is a "whiteboard" hooked up to a computer hooked up to the internet. There are around 20 to 24 students - and 24 is considered "big".
Are the students better off now? I really don't know. I am just glad I don't have to find out for myself.

Monday 27 January 2014

I suppose if I was a "real"

Australian I would have blogged about it being Australia Day yesterday. Honestly? I couldn't care less.
Am I proud of being Australian? Not particularly.
Do I like living here? I recognise it is a good place to live - except when the temperature hits 46'C.
But really, I don't care for this fuss about "being" Australian. I loathe the tacky (made in China) flags, caps, paper serviettes and plates decorated with the Australian flag.
My parents went through Europe by Eurail pass in the seventies. They wore raincoats onto which my mother had sewn small Australian flags. My mother thought this would be "useful" - and perhaps it was - but I would not have done it.
I went - all too briefly - to France and Italy with nothing more than a change of clothes in an airways bag. I went in the depths of winter too. I had just six nights away and I had no desire to spend time telling people that "Yes, I come from Australia."
When I lived in London I avoided Earls' Court - also known as Kangaroo Valley. I was not there to mix with Australians. I had other things to do. I never felt homesick for Australia - although I did miss being there for family events.
What does "being Australian" mean? My brother in law was born here. People sometimes refer to him as being "Greek" because his parents came from Cyprus. Other Australians I know refer to themselves as being Italian, Dutch, German, Irish, French, Ukrainian or Polish and - more recently - Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian or Sudanese - and many other things besides. Many of them were born here. It is their parents or even their grandparents who have come from other places - but it is still how they define themselves. Often they keep traditions from the countries their ancestors came from. It is even possible that they keep more of those traditions than some of the people who still live in those places - people who don't fear losing their identity.
(If you come from England, Scotland or Wales it is apparently different. Defining yourself as such is generally not well regarded - perhaps because identity is bound up with language and most people arriving from such places spoke English.)
I suppose there are some "First Fleeters" who see themselves as "Australian" but even my late friend Rosie, whose family has been here for many thousands of years, once said to me "Hah, even we once came across a land bridge from elsewhere." True. Probably we all come from somewhere else.
But, do I have to be "Australian"? What is more, do I have to be "Australian - made in China"?

Sunday 26 January 2014

There was a major plumbing emergency

late yesterday afternoon. I, pardon me for mentioning this, flushed the 'loo and the cistern kept running. It overflowed.
The Senior Cat tried to turn the tap off at the base - only to discover that the plumber who had put in the new valve had, for some reason, made it impossible to turn the tap off.
The only solution was to turn off all the water to the house and call a plumber - or call my brother-in-law.
The Senior Cat is always reluctant to call his son-in-law. I cannot remember when he last did it.
         "We can't bother him," the Senior Cat told me.
I looked at the Senior Cat and said
         "It is after five. It is a Saturday. It is the long weekend. Where are you going to find a plumber? If you do find one they will charge a triple call out fee - and expect to be paid in cash."
         "Yes, but I don't like bothering him."
         "He won't mind because it is something you can't do yourself."
The Senior Cat grumbled but made the call.
        "Not a problem, be round as soon as I can."
My BIL arrived about twenty minutes later with a plumber's toolkit and a new valve. He set to work and, half an hour later, the job was done and the mess had been cleared away.
I knew he would be able to do it. I knew he had the toolkit. He does most of the maintenance on their own home, the home that belongs to his father and the two houses that belong to their family trust and are rented out.  He saves them thousands of dollars every year by dealing with all the electrical work because he is an electrical engineer by profession and can do the work as long as a mate of his, a licensed electrician, checks it. (He does things for his mate in return.) He does all but the most major plumbing work. He can paint. He has a builder's licence - obtained when he bought a run down house and turned it into the very nice home they now live in.
He can turn his hand to almost anything. If he doesn't know how to do something he will find out. He has sought advice about woodworking from the Senior Cat - who helped him build the kitchen cabinets in the first house they lived in and then the current house.
The Senior Cat was of course apologetic about calling him.
"Not a problem," my BIL said again, "You never ask unless it is something you can't do yourself."
"I could have done it once," muttered the Senior Cat.
"You're getting a bit older...and anyway you can still do other stuff."
Right. He can. The piano stool he was given to repair went back to the owner yesterday. It was pulled completely to pieces and now looks almost new.
But I think the real reason for my BIL's willingness to help is that his own family tends to call on him for anything and everything. We have a firm rule that we only ask if it something we cannot do ourselves.

Saturday 25 January 2014

There was an e-mail yesterday

to let me know that, not unexpectedly, someone had died.  
I knew him - although not that well - and I know his wife and his daughter. We met years ago when he and I were both clearing post office boxes for other people who were away on holiday. Being a short cat I was only just able to reach the location of the box and a hand came over mine and pulled out the letter that had stuck at the far end.
It was the sort of thing that this man would do but he was, to put it mildly, a difficult man to live with. Yes, he could be thoughtful and helpful in situations like that but he was a difficult man to live with. He was very religious. He sincerely believed it was his duty to inform others about religion, his version of religion. He attended church at every possible time. He went to a Bible Study class. He ran another. When he retired from one sort of teaching he went to teach at a theological college.
He would pray aloud in public places and try to engage people in conversation about religion on public transport. His behaviour was a constant source of embarrassment to his wife and daughter.
After the first helpful act I saw him around the post office, the shopping centre and out and about. He would always try to engage me in conversation.
I was firm from the start. If he wanted to be friendly there was to be NO religious conversation. I will talk religion with a few select people. I mostly listen. I am very careful about what I say. I don't believe it is my business to interfere with what other people believe or don't believe.
Twelve months ago this man had to go into a nursing home. He had a complex range of medical problems that could no longer be managed at home.
For a short while, although he resented the need to be there, all seemed to be well. He had new people he could talk to. There were regular religious services - and he attended them all regardless of denomination. But he was soon isolated. People did not want to sit with him at meals. They did not want to engage in conversation with him. He had a few visitors to begin with - people from his church who felt they "should" go but they were rare. His daughter would take his wife to visit twice each week. They would phone him each day.
"But there is less and less to say Cat," his daughter told me, "We try to tell him what has happened here but he's not interested. We ask him what he has done and he says "nothing" and just complains that nobody will listen to him."
No, nobody would listen to him there. They are at the end of their lives too. They didn't want to hear his peculiar, twisted views.
For the last few months of his life he barely left his room. He grew depressed and almost completely inward looking. He went from talking almost constantly to saying almost nothing at all.
It was a sad end for a man who almost certainly meant well but had no understanding of the way his behaviour affected other people.
His wife will mourn him but she has been a different person since he moved into the nursing home. After the first few months of feeling completely lost she found that she could do things she had never done before. He had, without her realising it, controlled her every action.
It was all done in the name of religion. He undoubtedly meant it all very sincerely and was completely unable to see the harm he did.
It saddens me. I hope his wife will still have some time to enjoy some of the things they both missed out on.

Friday 24 January 2014

Yesterday I brought home some comic books

from the library. Yes, comic books. They were not for me. They were for the benefit of the Senior Cat.
Some time ago we watched a short documentary programme about the way in which young Japanese, mostly girls, dress as their favourite "manga" characters. It is a "role-play" exercise. It puzzled the Senior Cat because he did not understand what "manga" was. I had to explain.
"Well could you bring some home for me to look at?" he asked me.
I had no excuse but I kept putting it off. I was slightly embarrassed by the idea of actually borrowing these things. 
There are two stands of these books in the library. Some of them are familiar Marvel comics (Superman anyone?) in the updated, slightly more robust library version, then there are various "classics" in comic version (Romeo and Juliet anyone?) and comics like Asterix and Tin Tin. And then there are Japanese comics - and you actually need to read the things from back to front because all they have done is wipe out the Japanese characters and replaces them with the simplest of English words.
And yes, they get borrowed. They are almost always borrowed by young adults - up to about their mid-twenties.
There are more comics, many more comics, in the children's section of the library.
"It's all some children have time to read," one of the library staff told me, "And it's all some of them want to read. I suppose it's better to read that than nothing at all."
I wonder about this. On my own bookshelves I have a number of examples of books intended for "slow" adolescent readers in a series called "Topliners" They were brought out in the late sixties so they are somewhat dated now but, looking at them, I think they might have more to offer than the comics. They are actual books with a plot and character development. They tackle social issues that concern teens. The best of them would have been very difficult to write.
At the time I can remember giving Adam King's "Who wants to be a dead hero?" to a teenage boy who had real problems with reading. It is an exciting story even now. He took it reluctantly but he had to read a book in order to pass English that year so take it he did. He eventually gave it back to me and said something like, "That was okay. Have you got any more?"
I wonder what his reaction would be now. He would not be expected to read that much. He could "study" a comic book instead. Perhaps he would read more of those but would they be challenging his reading ability? I don't know. I doubt it. He might "not have time" to read anyway - but my guess would be he would find time for computer games and that he could text his friends.
It's different now but I wonder if those comics in the library are really filling a need or if they have made a need where there is none and whether we might be better off with more "Topline" sort of books?
I know there are still some of these sort of books around. I know they are not easy to write. I also know that they are not put out on display in the way that the comics are. Our library has very few of them. Reluctant and less able readers are directed to the comics instead - if they go into the library at all. I know the comics are sometimes borrowed by parents trying to get their teens to read.
I find that sad.
The Senior Cat has duly looked at those I brought home. He knows about Asterix (which he finds amusing in written form) and Tin-Tin (he actually bought one for us when I was a mere kitten) and he knows about the Superman type comic but the Japanese one defeated him - even after he realised it was read, as he put it, "backward". He gave up after a few pages. He gave up out of boredom. It is just not his "thing".  I knew it wouldn't be.
They are going back to the library today.

Thursday 23 January 2014

It seems some people cannot read

and they should be able to read.
Surely companies who send people out to door knock want their staff to be literate? I really cannot understand why they employ illiterate people in a job which clearly demands literacy,
Yes, we have a polite "do not knock" notice on the door.
Yes, three times this week we have had people knock on the door at the most inconvenient of times.
The first person was clearly unobservant.
"I didn't see that," they told me when I pointed to the notice and then they went on "But now your here...."
I gave them short-shrift. I am not interested in sports goods.
The second person told me, "But, it's for X charity..."
I never give to charity when the person is being paid to collect. If I want to donate to that charity (which is unlikely) I will do it by donating directly but it is small and obscure and should really be part of another charity.
The third person, who called at 5:50pm last night, told me, "I'm just trying to do my job". Oh yes, "the research worker". I am tired of these sort of "research workers". I know a good deal about research and this is not how it is done. You are going to ask questions and then come in with the hard sell. Out! Leave now!
Several weeks ago we had two young men turn up. They were trying to drum up business for a mobile car maintenance business. We don't own a car. That is obvious to any observant individual. They still insisted on trying to talk to us. We might, they told us, know someone who would be interested. No. We don't. Go away.
This morning there was an article on page three of the state newspaper about whether the "Do not call" register should become "opt out" rather than "opt in". I think it should be "opt out".  Allowing, as they do, political parties and charities to call is more than enough.  
It should also be extended to include those who door knock.
There should be no right to invade our privacy.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

An "extra year" of high school

is being proposed by the Opposition in the lead up to the state election in March.
The idea is bound to be debated at length but it should just happen.
We are out of kilter with the rest of the country - and a good deal of the rest of the world.
It has taken a while but Western Australia and Queensland finally joined the other states and have ended the "primary school" years at year six. We continue on to year seven.
Having "skipped" a year of school - what else did you do with a kitten who could read before it started school? - I was always much younger than everyone else. Nobody bothered too much back then about "extension" programmes. They just bumped you up a year. I was not the only one. There were three other children who moved up a year with me. Were we in the genius class? No, definitely not. It was just a way of handling what was seen as a problem.
I went on being a problem I suppose. School often bored me. There was not enough going on. I suspect there were other children who felt the same way. I was constantly in trouble for "reading under the desk" - even though I would be finished whatever tasks I had been set to do. We were glad to get to high school and be given something a little more challenging.
But there is another problem for children who move here from interstate at the crucial crossover point. Do you send a child who has started secondary school back to primary school so that s/he can be with his/her peer group? It is a dilemma more than one family has faced.
The private (fee-paying) schools in this state tend to end at year six and move the students into secondary school at year seven. This is what happens in the Whirlwind's school. She started French when she started school but other languages start at year seven. That means an extra year of language learning. Science becomes more complex then too.
There is also the advantage of specialist teachers - especially in maths and science. If they happen to be good teachers - and hers have been - then there are further advantages for the students.
I know the Whirlwind, who is a bright and enthusiastic student, looked forward to the move from "juniors" to "seniors". She was ready for it - and so were most of her classmates. There might have been one or two at most who would have benefitted from spending another year largely with one teacher but the rest were definitely ready to move on.
Looking around at the local students I know who will be in year seven this year I think most of them are ready to move on as well. In some ways they are more mature than I was at their age. Possibly I knew more than many of my peers because my father encouraged me to read articles in the paper and would then discuss things with me to ensure I understood - but I did not have the same access to information that many students have now. 
Their access to on-screen information means they know - or should now - a great deal more about the world than I did. They are ready for a much greater variety of learning experiences.
But, if we do make the move to start the senior years at year seven then I believe there is something else we should do. We should offer the option of transferring to another setting for the last two years of the secondary school. Just as England has some sixth form colleges and the Americans have senior high schools we need to consider that some students don't want to be "at school" any more. They are ready for something else. Perhaps it is time to specialise and those aiming for university or other studies can head off in one direction and those aiming for other things - perhaps of a more technical nature - can head off in another.
We used to have technical high schools. They were disbanded in the name of "equality" but perhaps it is time to reconsider them for 16+?
It might just help everyone grow up a bit.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

The Stroppy Author has boasted

about getting some bookshelves at a car boot sale. I wonder how big they are? I mean, bookshelves have to be big - don't they?
We have a lot of bookshelves, big bookshelves.
The Senior Cat's bedroom has a bookshelf which runs the length of the room above his bed. It has two shelves. Then there is another bookshelf against one wall. There are more books elsewhere in the room.
Move along a little and there is the room which he uses as an office/study/maybe-library. There are bookshelves on three walls.
There are less books in the next room but there are some stored in the cupboards there.
My room has a wall of books on shelves - and more piled up on the desk. (The latter are mostly reference books.)
But then, matters get serious. The family room has bookshelves on three walls. These are double (and, some places, triple) stacked. There are books on the floor beside the Senior Cat's favourite chair.
And our living/sitting/whatever-you-want-to-call-it room has two more large bookshelves - again double stacked. There are also books stored in the shed and the workshop - books that "might be useful".
Duplicates? Almost never. We don't buy duplicates. Sometimes they may be given to us - and we will then pass them on to someone who needs them.
Do we ever pass any others one? Well, yes. I cleared out a pile of cookery books belonging to my mother. I don't use the sort she used. I don't often use cookery books if it comes to that. (Yes, I do cook!) There were those embroidery books too - I gave those to the state embroidery guild because I knew they would be used there.
But, passing on other books would be like handing your children over to other people to care for. It's not on.
"Too many" books you say? How can we have too many books? Books are our form of interior decoration. They insulate the house.
All we need is another bookshelf - or two.
Perhaps I should follow Stroppy Author's example and attend a sale. The problem would be - where to put another bookshelf?

Monday 20 January 2014

Now did you guess the

acronym? Yes? No?
Book Advancement Beyond Life Expectancy. BABLE. Does that sound familiar? I suppose I could turn it into BABEL - Book Advancement Beyond Expected Life but I prefer BABLE. It has a certain quality about it.
Oh yes BABLE. The Senior Cat and I suffer from it. He still has books he wants to read...many of them. That apparent blip in last week's heat was not really a blip at all. He had things there to read. Yesterday he asked me whether I could order something from the library for him. He had been reading a review of it.
Like the dutiful daughter I am I have added it to the list of books I have asked the library to get for me. There are nineteen on that at the moment. (The maximum you are allowed on your waiting list is twenty.)
I know he went into the local bookshop early last week - before the heat struck - and asked them to order something for him. I don't know what the book was but one of the staff mentioned the fact when I was in there on Saturday morning.
More books? We don't need them! We have thousands of them here.  No, perhaps we do need them.
"You could get rid of most of these," my sister tells me. She reads but not in the way we do. She does not accumulate books.
"We could clear this out," says a friend of the Senior Cat. He is serious. This friend does not read apart from searching the internet for information about vehicles and extra-terrestrial sightings. He genuinely cannot understand why anyone keeps books. "But you can read it all on line!" 
But then there are other people who will ask, "You don't happen to have a copy of....?" or "I need to know how to..." The Senior Cat will say, "Wait a minute..." He will go to the shelves and, more often than not, he will find the book or a book. It will be used again - and again.
Novels get loaned out to people going on holiday. Occasionally they get given away - but only the light-weight "read in an evening" sort of novel.
But yes, BABLE still happens. There are the Christmas and birthday books we get given because people think we need to read them. There are the books we want to read.
Another blogger once told me he thought I must have the longest avatar on the internet. Yes, that pile of books I am perched on is long. It is probably dangerously unstable, especially as it keeps growing ever higher.
But it stills seems to me that suffering from BABLE is no hardship at all. Everyone should suffer from BABLE.

Sunday 19 January 2014

There is an acronym much beloved

by knitters and quilters and, no doubt, other craftspeople. It is SABLE. For those of you who are unaware of this most important of acronyms it means Stash Advancement Beyond Life Expectancy - or the accumulation of more supplies than you are likely to be able to use.
I suffer from it knitting wise but it is not entirely my fault. People keep giving me knitting supplies. There is my good friend Holly for instance. She arrived for the day last November and brought a bag of yarn and other goodies with her. Yes, she is a very good friend. There was, among other lovely things, a ball of silky smooth lace weight alpaca which I am currently knitting into a hap. (A hap is a shawl of particular design from the Shetlands.) Other things were pushed further down the list to accommodate that.
Then there are the elderly people who go into nursing homes who say things like, "Cat, I am sure you can use this." They pass over another bag of yarn. I thank them, take it home and sort it. I pass the cheap acrylic yarn on to the charity shop for knitting into dog and cat blankets for the refuge. I pass more of it on to other people who can use it for hats for the homeless.
The five teens who have been knitting together since they met at the hospital years get some of the yarn. My late friend Margaret, who taught each of them how to knit, would be proud of their progress and the amount they have raised for charity.
I keep some on the "that might be useful for...". I always have something specific in mind at the time but I know it won't always get done.
I sell some and put the money into a bank account for a friend who runs a centre for unaccompanied children in Africa.
Oh yes, it is all used one way or another.
The Senior Cat is still, at the age of 91, accumulating timber much in the way I collect yarn. He has, unless someone finds the secret to  greatly increased productive life expectancy, not going to use it all either. My brother will inherit what is left. I hope he sorts it and keeps the really valuable timber and passes the other on to people who do things like make toys for charity. And yes, the Senior Cat knows some other woodworkers in a similar position.
But I have decided that all of this, important though it is, pales into insignificance when compared with the other acronym of even greater importance in our house. All you need to do is change one letter of the previous acronym and you have it.
Can anyone guess?
I'll tell you tomorrow but do try.

Saturday 18 January 2014

A book, an interesting book

in the post? The Senior Cat pounced on it with glee. He has just finished reading his current "heavy" book - on the range of religions in North America - and he wanted another non-fiction book.
His cousin's wife sent him "Sing-sings, sutures and sorcery" by Anthony Radford. His cousin's wife was, for many years, secretary to the man who wrote the book. The good Professor also spent many years working in New Guinea and then, as his career progressed elsewhere, going backwards and forwards to a country he clearly loves.
New Guinea is not a safe place and I would loathe the tropical climate. I was, without applying for it, once offered a job there. Thankfully I was offered another position at the same time and I took that. The decision was made for me because of the climate. We cats do not like hot humid weather. (No, the job was not in the Highlands of PNG. It was on the coast.)
I glanced at the book. It looks interesting - although I suspect that, like many autobiographies actually written by the individual, it could do with a bit more editing. It won't matter too much. Right now the Senior Cat is more than happy to have it. He has met the author and likes him. I do too.  This was the man who not only came to the memorial service for his former secretary's daughter but insisted on driving her to and from.  It is I think typical of a man who genuinely cares about other people.
Another cousin phoned later in the day. Her library now has a copy of the book and she was the first read it.
"I didn't like all that medical detail," she told the Senior Cat. No, I can't imagine that she did.
It won't worry the Senior Cat. He will be much more interested though in the man behind the detail.
No doubt I will read it rapidly enough when the Senior Cat has finished it. Oh yes, I have quite enough to read as it is. That stack of books I rest on in my avatar is growing higher and more unsteady by the week.
But, the Senior Cat will be 91 soon and he still has a great deal he wants to read. His current fiction is the latest Ian Rankin - a writer he thoroughly enjoys. The previous non-fiction book was one on the history of the variety theatre. There are more non-fiction books waiting to be read. He still has a very inquiring mind.
Is this the secret to growing older?

Friday 17 January 2014

Ours was the hottest city on

Earth yesterday - and I don't recommend it.
As I mentioned in yesterday's post I actually managed to go out first thing. The rest of the day was spent indoors - much to the frustration of both myself and the Senior Cat.
I was worried about the Senior Cat. Even with the ancient air-conditioning system struggling on because we had the hose spraying litre upon litre of precious water on it he felt the heat. That is the only way it can function in temperatures over 40'C - and it was that hot well into the evening. It went to a low of 34'C overnight. The Senior Cat went to bed with a fan on low - for the second night in a row.
At least I can watch the Senior Cat. He is sensible in that he made no attempt to go out and he drinks plenty of water. So do I.
He worries about his garden - and, despite our best efforts, much of it is simply not going to survive the heat. We have watered things in the early morning and in the evening but the heat has been so extreme that things like tomatoes simply don't survive.
We are keeping our little patch of lawn at the front of the house as green as we can. There is a good reason for this. It keeps the front of the house cooler but, more importantly, the water seeps through further underground and prevents the concrete slab on which the house rests from cracking. The soil on which most houses here are built is not good. It can, in extreme heat, dry out to a point where it will contract or shift. Houses can crack badly.
Other things can crack too - tempers among them. People have to go to work in this heat. Many employers are encouraging people to take leave days or work from home if they can but by no means everyone can do that.
And some people have hot jobs. It is nice to have fresh bread but consider the people who have to bake it. The little bakery in our shopping centre bakes on the spot. In winter the warmth and the smell is wonderful. Yesterday it would just have been a reminder of how very hot it was.
No doubt they would say they were lucky compared with our fire fighters. They have, so far, has to deal with fires that have burnt out over 100,000 acres.
This morning I went out first thing to fill the water bowls for the animals who come in and out of our yard. There was a young koala drinking (yes, they do drink in extreme heat) from one of the containers. It saw me and I wondered if it would scamper off before it had finished but thirst must have got the better of it. I turned the hose on with the spray nozzle attached and wet the ground near it. It turned and looked at me so I moved the spray a little closer. It took a shower, had some more to drink and then disappeared over the fence and along the street - probably to a nearby gum tree.
We are promised a "cooler" change today. Personally I want a cold change. I think even the koalas will welcome it.

Thursday 16 January 2014

I have just prowled back from

a very early morning shopping trip. The supermarket in the local shopping centre opens at 7am and so does the chemist. Given a forecast of 46'C today I wanted to be out and back as early as possible. The heat was already on but had not been turned up to "absolutely mad to be out". It was just "mad to be out". (I drank almost a litre of water while I was out.)
Two days ago there was an ambulance outside one of the houses on my regular pedalling route. Despite the growing heat there was also a small group of people, some with dogs, another with small children talking to each another. I recognised two of them by sight and acknowledged them with a quick nod and a hello  - and I pedalled on.
Yesterday one of them walked past our place as I was giving thirsty plants an early morning drink - and refilling the bird bath. He stopped and said,
"You didn't stop the other day."
"Didn't stop? Sorry, did I miss you saying hello?"
"No. Didn't you want to know why the ambulance was outside number fourteen?"
"No. It was none of my business. I don't know the people who live there."
"Oh, just thought you would want to know."
He seemed put out but I really did not want to know. It is none of my business. Even if an ambulance had been outside the house of someone I did know I would not have stopped. It would still be none of my business. If people wanted it to be my business - and that would be because they wanted me to help in some way - then they would contact me. 
I am like that with accidents too. I will go the long way around if I can. It is none of my business. I can't do anything to help if the scene is being attended to by professionals. I get out of the way.
But it made me think of other things which are really none of my business. Marriage breakups between people whose names are deemed newsworthy, allegations of sexual misconduct, allegations of fraud or violence and all sorts of other items which might be termed "gossip" don't interest me.  Not only does it not interest me, it annoys me. It isn't my business. I also strongly suspect that it makes problems much worse than they might otherwise be.
"You should take more interest in your neighbours," I was told by the man who stopped. Should I?
I do take an interest in my neighbours. They know where to find me if they need me. Quite a number of them have our telephone number for that very reason. Two people had phoned to ask if I was doing a very early morning trip and, if I was, could I just leave a prescription at the chemist. (In this heat the chemist will do a delivery later.) I like to be asked. It means I know they are all right and that someone will also check on them later in the day.
I think that's all I need to know.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Our ancient air conditioning

system refused to function yesterday. I don't blame it because the temperature hit 45.1C yesterday - and today is forecast to be even hotter, tomorrow hotter still.
The Senior Cat made it home safely - although when he 'phoned me to say he had reached the chemist I made him go to the shop a few metres away and get himself an iced coffee. He was not aware of it but I could hear he needed it - despite having already drunk almost a litre of the cold water I had given him.
He rang the electrician - a local man who knows us and is aware of the Senior Cat's age.
"Be round there shortly mate. We can do what we did before," he told the Senior Cat.
Yes, we have had the problem before. The system was only designed to function in heat up to the old 100'F. These days temperatures often surpass that here.
He arrived just after we had eaten some lunch and set up a sprinkler system to - ridiculously - keep the cooler cool! It is not a perfect solution but it keeps the system going. Pay him now? No. Cold water? Yes please.
He had, he told us, just done the same thing for five units at one of the aged care complexes near us. His next job was on the other side of the city - a hospital's air conditioning struggling to work in the heat.
I don't know how much longer our system will keep working. I hope it sees us through the summer. We will pay him eventually but it will be a minimal bill.
And I will go on watching out for his intellectually disabled daughter and having those short conversations with her. I'd do it anyway - but he clearly appreciates someone outside the family saying "yes" each time she asks if we are friends. I just find it sad that it should even be something he considers unusual.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

I am anxiously waiting for

the Senior Cat to return from a visit to the doctor. I am not worried about why he has gone to see the doctor. It is a routine appointment for a repeat prescription that, by law, necessitates the doctor actually physically seeing him.
What I am concerned about is the heat. The medical centre staff have been very thoughtful and provided him with the first appointment of the day - 8:30am. If he arrives a few minutes earlier and his doctor has arrived she will probably see him immediately - unless there is an emergency.
I sent him off with a large bottle of water that had been in the refrigerator. He will have the sense to get another drink like an iced coffee if he thinks he needs it.
But, it is already not just warm but hot and it won't be long before it is very hot. The forecast is for 42'C in the city today. We could be looking at 44'C or more. The next few days will be the same. There will be a slight, brief respite at the end of the week before the temperature rises again.
We don't own a car so the Senior Cat has headed off on his gopher/scooter. It has a hood which will protect him from the sun but not the heat.
I know what my sister will say when she finds out. "You should have rung me. I would have taken him."
And yes, if she was free of her own round of medical appointments, she would have done so. But the Senior Cat is determined to be independent a little longer.
I can't stop him but it worries me.  I wish we had a car and I knew how to drive one.

Monday 13 January 2014

Party food?

The Senior Cat had to go to a "shared lunch" yesterday - the sort of lunch where Australians are asked to "bring a plate", which means a plate of finger type food which can be shared with other people.
I knew it was going to be hot and I did not want to have to cook anything so I made some little "salad kebabs" on toothpicks. Pieces of yellow capsicum and cucumber, cherry tomatoes, the smallest button mushrooms I could find and some tiny pieces of sharp cheddar cheese were all put on the toothpicks in varying combinations. I piled a plate high and sent it off with strict instructions that it was to be given to someone to put in the refrigerator until they were ready to eat.
He came home and said, "I didn't get any. It all went." It didn't matter that he did not get any. I was prepared for that. The Senior Cat rarely eats much at such events. He prefers to sit down and take his time at home.
I was telling a neighbour what I had done yesterday afternoon. It was after she had mentioned the problems her daughter was having with birthday party food. Apparently her daughter is not alone either because there was an article in today's paper about children's party food which mentioned the words "food stylist". Yes, I had to read those words twice too. A "food stylist" for a child's party?
I remember going to a birthday party as a child. Why I was allowed to go is still a mystery to me - perhaps because I remember my brother being there as well. 
I can remember the food even now. There were ham sandwiches, tiny sausage rolls, "fairy bread", orange jellies set inside half an orange skin and raspberry cordial to drink. There was also - surely the crowning glory - a birthday cake made from icecream. I don't remember anything else apart from the adults drinking what must have been tea. I doubt coffee was provided back then.
We didn't need food stylists back then. Nobody had ever heard of them.
A friend in London used to invite me to the parties she had for her two daughters. They were marvellous affairs where we "did things". Her parties were famous for it. We would collapse exhausted at the end of them. The food? Oh yes things like tiny sausages on sticks, tiny "pizzas" about the size of a 50p piece and other tiny delights. They were just mouthfuls - enough for very small children not to feel overloaded. There were jellies and cake too. 
Now it seems you are supposed to provide tofu squares and carrot sticks - and both tofu and carrots should be organic. Bread should be gluten free. There should not be any dairy products. It is wiser not to offer eggs or meat. Sweet things?  A little fruit if you must - organic of course. Drinks? As a very special treat one glass each of watered down fruit juice without preservatives.
Is that really party food? I don't think so. If I was running the party there would be proper party food. Oh yes, I would warn the parents what I intended to do but I would say, "It's a party. We are having party food."
I would go ahead and provide those bite size treats and then, at the end of it, there would be cake.  I rather like the idea of an icecream cake.

Sunday 12 January 2014

I am wondering about the possibility of

getting "lost". According to someone I know this is how you find new things. Is that getting lost or is it exploring? I don't know. Perhaps it is both things.
I have often thought this would be fun - if you could do it with relative safety. (I know I am a wimp about such things. Danger does not appeal to me. It does not give me an adrenalin rush.)
There was someone I once knew who, each weekend, would venture out from his room in his hall of residence in London. He would take the underground to a new stop and then walk for several hours. All it cost him was his fare.
He was a solitary sort of person who was doing his doctorate in some obscure scientific field which I did not understand. I doubt anyone else did either. Perhaps that is one reason why he was so solitary.
He probably saw more of London than many of the locals. He saw things that many people must have forgotten about - even if they passed them every day. I showed him the little cemetery tucked behind the research unit I was attached to for a while. It was not the sort of thing you would normally find - even on a "getting lost" sort of walk. He photographed it.
I had to visit a lot of schools in and around London so I "explored" (and sometimes managed to get lost) in other ways. I probably saw places other people never really saw too. There must have been places people went past each day without even noticing. I remember a lovely garden that was probably took up about as much space as a narrow terrace house. There was a little green hut at the far end - presumably for gardening tools - and a seat under a tree. I was curious enough to want to read the inscription on the seat. It just said something like, "Please enjoy sitting on me and leave me as you found me." Who looked after it? I still wonder who owned the eleven motorbikes I counted crammed next to each other on the paved area outside a house in Brixton. And who owned the house covered in a maritime themed mosaic?
I will never know these things. Is finding them exploring or getting lost? Is there a difference?
Does it matter as long as I go on finding things - and being interested in them?

Saturday 11 January 2014

Making a blue dragon

seems an unlikely occupation for scientists doesn't it?
But, yesterday, there was a wonderful little snippet on the news feed and then on the news about a seven year old Queensland girl who wrote to our CSIRO (a Commonwealth funded research organisation) wanting to know why they had not yet made any blue dragons.
The letter (no doubt written with some parental help and encouragement) was sent off and someone in the CSIRO must have posted it up on the internet. In the meantime the CSIRO apologised for their lack of interest in blue dragons.
Scientists do however appear to be interested in blue dragons. They consulted each other. The great dream machine in Hollywood also appeared to be interested. Anything like a blue dragon is of great importance to those who keep the dream machine working. Discussions were held. Research was done. What does a dragon look like? Does a female dragon look different from a male dragon? How big are they? What shape are the wings? Is the head round or elongated? Teeth? Toes? Ears? Eyes? Nose?
All was apparently discovered and discussed and drawn up.
The little dragon was incubated in a 3D printer and will shortly be flying to the child who wanted to know where it was.
It is of course one of those "human interest and let's have a smile" stories but there is also a serious side to it. It shows what can happen when people care and cooperate. I also have no doubt that the making of the blue dragon was a learning exercise for the scientists who created it. The potential for 3D printing is apparently enormous, especially in the medical world. (Yes, unfortunately it also has the potential to be used for destructive purposes but I hope the good outweighs the bad.) Making the dragon no doubt taught people a lot and brought them into contact with others who are interested in the same sort of work. 
It also shows what can happen when you write a letter - a good, old fashioned snail-mail letter.
You thought you knew exactly what a dragon was like and could do didn't you?

Friday 10 January 2014

There is an inevitable

article about "New Start" in the paper this morning. For those of you who don't know "New Start" is an Australian Government scheme for the unemployed. People get put on the "New Start Allowance" and they are then expected to actively seek employment and attend job interviews as required - and they have to be able to show they are doing this. At one time our local shopping centre was inundated by young job seekers walking in and out and asking if there were any vacancies. Often when they had done the requisite number in a day the young ones would gather in corners and commiserate with each other.
New Start will also send people on "training courses". There are the ultra basic courses on how to present yourself for interview - and yes, some people do need to be told that they need to turn up looking neat, clean and tidy even if they are looking for the most humble of positions. 
There are also other standard courses. "Food service" is something almost everyone who has been unemployed for any length of time needs to do. "Food service" means training in anything from being able to work in "fast food" pizza type places to bar work to working in the sort of establishment that does not get Michelin stars but may still serve good food.
I know people who have done this course and, on the whole, I would not want to be served by them. They are nice enough people but they will never be fast on their feet or deft with their hands. The only thing to be said for them is that they could do the job far better than I could. (I couldn't do it at all but then nobody would expect me to do it.)
There is also the "cleaning" course - obviously where people are supposedly taught to clean hotel, motel, hospital and other buildings. Again you need the physical capacity to work industrial cleaners.
Another standard course is the "care workers" course. This is the basic course for working as assistants in aged care homes and group houses for people with disabilities. The people who work as assistants are those who are expected to do things like make beds and clean up after the inevitable "accidents". Yes, you need the physical capacity to do those things too.
I believe New Start does offer a course to some people in setting up their own business - but how many people looking for employment would have the financial means to set up a business even if they had an outstanding proposal?
Like many other government programmes New Start probably started with good intentions. Like many other government programmes it has also been hedged around with so many rules and regulations it is ineffective and inefficient.
The jobs may not be there anyway. There were 82 applicants for a receptionist position at a local business recently. Even "volunteer" positions at the local charity shop now require application, an interview, a police check and a training course.
I wonder about things like New Start and similar programmes elsewhere in the world. I suspect that what we need here at least is a very much more flexible workforce. Unless that happens then I cannot see too many people getting a "New Start".  

Thursday 9 January 2014

Our weather forecast shows

the temperature will rise steadily into the low (and perhaps mid) forties for the coming week. No, I will not be a happy cat. The Senior Cat will also be frustrated beyond measure. He wants to be in his beloved shed - and it will be far too hot for that. The temperature there can rise to well over 50'C on a hot day.
I also have a heat rash - which makes me even more growly and irritable than usual. I will do the shopping early this morning - and visit the chemist to see whether there is something I can use to ease the itchiness of the rash. Sigh!
Now, I don't mind admitting to heat rash but I do wonder how I would feel if I had something seriously wrong with me and someone hacked into my medical records. How would you feel?
There was a proposal here to put all our medical records onto a national medical data base - so that they could be accessed from anywhere in the country. In theory that seems a very sensible idea. If you are on holiday or visiting another part of the country for work and something happens then the medical staff have access to what might be life-saving information.
There are problems however. The first is that the information needs to be kept up to date. That might happen if you visit your own doctor on a regular basis and s/he writes up the notes as you visit. I suspect most doctors do that these days. Do any of them actually write old-fashioned cards these days?
The next problem is what do they write? Is it accurate? Probably not - although I do not doubt most of them do their best. I had to remind my usually competent GP of something the last time I visited. Oddly the nurse I see once a year for a blood test - and who does not keep any records in her office - remembered me and the issue. Hmmm.
I also suspect that computerised records stop some doctors (and perhaps other staff) writing useful comments like, "hypochondriac" or "always arguing" or "refuses to take advice/medication" or "self-medicates" or "unstable" or whatever else it is that they wrote as reminders to themselves and their fellow doctors. 
And the reason for that of course is that anything on a computer can be hacked. Nothing is safe. A national medical data base would be no more secure than anything else - and we know how safe the supposedly most secure of records has turned out to be.
I know my medical records are on computer at the clinic I attend. There is not much I can do about that. Could they be hacked? I have no doubt at all that they could be. I don't think there is anything there that I would be worried about the world knowing but that does not mean I want the world to know. Why should they? It's my business, not theirs.
It would not be long before a medical data base was also made available to other government departments. Potential employers would no doubt argue for access - and at least other government departments would get it.
I don't doubt that any records which have been kept about me and are on a computer data base would be available to the world if someone chose to find them and publish them. The same would be true of anyone else. It does not make me paranoid - but it does make me wary.
You doubt it? Some years ago two primary school boys hacked into the computer system at their school. They did not do it for nefarious reasons but to show the staff that the system was not in the least bit secure - they were eleven year old boys without much experience at all and, they claim, it took them less than half an hour to do it.
I carry essential medical information with me. It's in a little green and white ambulance service folder. It is instantly available without access to a computer. I hope it is never needed. What more do you want? 

Wednesday 8 January 2014

I would be interested to know

what other people think about "ADHD" disorder - that's "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder".
There was one of those "pop-psychology" articles on our state newspaper website about claims by an American neurologist, Richard Saul, that the disorder "does not exist". He was not suggesting that problems do not exist - but that it is not a specific disorder that can be treated with drugs like a disease.
I sent the link on to someone I know who teaches a class of eight and nine year old children. She has complained to me in the past that, of the twenty-three children in her class, eight are on drugs for ADHD.  I thought she was exaggerating but she told me that it was "about average" for the entire school. The school is in what I suppose would be described as an "ordinary working class" suburb of a big American city.  The only thing that might make it a little different from anywhere else is that there was, according to her, a "bit of a blitz on ADHD" a few years ago. It seems to have continued.
I have no idea how common the ADHD diagnosis is anywhere else but I hear about it often enough here to believe that it is probably being used as an excuse for a range of behaviours that might, as Saul suggests, have other causes. He found one child needed glasses, another was bored in maths classes, an adult needed to go back to exercising regularly and so on. When these problems were addressed behaviour changed - without the use of drugs like Ritalin.
My goddaughter attended a fee paying school. Before being accepted into the school her parents had to undertake that she would not be allowed to watch television during the school week and that weekend television watching would be strictly limited. Access to the internet and other screen based activities was also limited.
Interestingly the school had almost no behaviour problems. There was no evidence of ADHD among the students. The academic results were (and still are - I just checked) outstanding. Of course the girls get some television, some internet activity and so on but it is clear that they do not get it to excess. It makes me wonder how much of the "ADHD problem" is due to what might be over-stimulation from screen based activities. Apparently, in society overall, our attention spans are decreasing because we are able to constantly switch between one screen-based activity and another. It seems to me there are real dangers in that - especially when our occupations demand extended periods of concentration.
Of course ADHD might exist in just way that food allergies exist. But, like food allergies, is it possible that the problems are not nearly as widespread or serious as we would like to believe? I have friends who claim to be "allergic" to all sorts of things. They have "gone gluten free" and/or "dairy free" not because they have been diagnosed as coeliac or they have been advised to do so on other medical grounds but because they believe they have problems which will be addressed by this.  But, while some people genuinely do need to avoid some foods many others do not. It's a bit like taking drugs for ADHD and might, in the long term, do more harm than good.
Are we just looking for easy answers when what we really need is to make a greater effort or be more disciplined? I would really like to know what people think.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

It all depends on how

you ask the question.
I was reading Nicola Morgan's blog yesterday and she posed the question "what does your existence do to the world?"
She had been reading Flourish by Martin Seligman and gone to his Authentic Happiness website. I had a look at these too. (You can waste a lot of time doing this sort of thing so I am not going to add the links to this blog as well.)
What was there was not really "my sort of thing". I have a background in, among other things, psychology.  I am wary of such things.
One of the questions on Seligman's website asks you to choose between the following:
A: In the grand scheme of thing, my existence may hurt the world
B: My existence neither helps nor hurts the world
C: My existence has a small but positive effect on the world
D: My existence makes the world a better place.
E: My existence has a lasting, large and positive impact on the world.

Answering this question is, according to Nicola, a clever way of finding out how happy you are. Her own reaction (and I can say this because she put it in her own blog post) was to say  "C but I try to aim for D". It is, I suspect, the sort of answer that comes from people who are confident and care about the world around but are also realistic enough to realise that they are not going to change a lot. It was also made in response to her definition of "the world" - the world around her. That's fair.
But what if you think of things in a different way? Unlike most people my job is global - I think of "the world" as a very big place. I am not in the least bit important in that big world. I don't think my existence harms the world. I certainly hope it doesn't. Would the world be better off without me? That's a question I can't answer - except to again say that I hope it doesn't. That deals with A I think.
Perhaps it deals with B too.
C is slightly different. I'd like to think I had a small positive impact on the world. But - if I was not here would it make a difference? I like to think some people would miss me - just as I would miss them but would it actually make a difference? Is there anything at all that I do that nobody else can do?
For the vast majority of us the answer to that question has to be no.  That doesn't mean that we aren't useful. It just means we aren't indispensable - even though we might like to be.
It might even mean that D sometimes applies to all of us. It may be possible to consider (as Nicola suggested to me) the idea of the butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon and having a global impact. Certainly anyone who tries to help anyone else might, if thought of in terms of the butterfly, have a lasting impact on the world. The problem with D however is that we will almost certainly never be aware of the impact we have. We need to take that on trust.
I concede that E is unlikely but our actions may help someone else achieve that goal. It was Braille Day recently - to honour Louis Braille, the man who invented the system which has allowed millions of visually impaired people to read. Most of us would probably think of him as an "E" person. I wonder how Louis Braille would have seen himself but I also wonder how his parents and teachers would see themselves. After all they had a part in what he became and what he invented.
So surely it depends on how you ask the question? The best we can hope for is that we are never an A, that B does not apply and that if C is largely true it also leads to others being D and E. But what does that really make us - and how does that apply to happiness?


Monday 6 January 2014

"You didn't wear that?"

I asked the Senior Cat last Tuesday.
"Why? What's wrong with it?" the Senior Cat asked looking down at his shirt.
"There's a button missing, there's a hole there and the collar is showing definite signs of wear - as in frayed - and that mark is glue from the shed."
"Oh, I thought it was all right."
I said nothing more. The Senior Cat really does not notice clothes. As I am not someone who spends a lot of money or time on clothes for myself I am probably not a good example. I really don't care terribly much except that - I like to look clean and tidy!
We have been having these sort of conversations for years. We had another similar conversation on Friday.
Yesterday he came out dressed for church and, because he should look clean and tidy for church, I suggested he change his shirt. He admitted, "I wasn't really sure about it."
I hate sounding as if I am nagging but something must finally have registered in his "clothing thoughts" because he said to me, "After lunch could we go through my shirts and mark the ones that I shouldn't wear out?"
YES! His wardrobe is crammed with shirts. He has shirts which he has had since before he retired. They are more than forty years old. Or rather, he had.
I was ruthless. I took a bin liner into the bedroom and I pawed through the shirts. I pulled the most ancient off their hangers and stuffed them into the bin liner. I marked others "S" for shed and garden. I marked some "H" for house wear. The unmarked ones are the shirts he can wear out.  I also hauled out a pair of shorts he has not worn for over twenty years and his dinner suit - not worn for about the same length of time. I brushed his one and only suit - worn only at funerals and weddings.
The wardrobe does not look so crowded now. He has enough clothes there - more like the amount I have. (I have sufficient but my wardrobe could not be called crowded.)
There is one thing in his wardrobe however that I would not dare to even contemplate throwing out. It is his 66 year old Harris Tweed jacket that his father made for him the year the Senior Cat married. It has been relined a number of times. There are patches on the elbows and it is worn at the cuffs, collar and along the front. It doesn't look good. But yes, he can still fit into it and yes, he still wears it. I could not ask him to give that up.
The shirts are something else.

Sunday 5 January 2014

Not everyone will agree

but it is my view that if you get arrested because you deliberately set out to break the law while abroad then you should pay for any consular assistance.
I don't have a lot of sympathy for the Greenpeace activists who got arrested in Russia. I certainly don't have any sympathy for Colin Russell's complaints about the consular assistance he received.
I have strong views about the environment. We should care for it. We should nurture it. We should encourage people to do all they can for it. We should conserve the world's resources and we shouldn't pollute the environment.
That said I do not like Greenpeace. I don't like the way they approach things. There are better (but much more difficult) ways to get the message across and get action taken. Greenpeace is about big gestures. I am much more interested in the sort of person I saw being reluctantly interviewed recently. He has, over the last thirty or so years, planted more than a million trees. Of the two I would say the tree planter has done more good - but it has been hard work and has cost the planter everything he had.
Colin Russell and his mates set out to knowingly break the law and broadcast the fact to the world. Of course they say they were endeavouring to draw attention to unacceptable environment related activities by the Russians in the Arctic. They say they have to break the law in order to get their message out. 
Does that give them the right to consular assistance? Probably - because people generally have that right. Governments are expected to support their citizens when in trouble abroad.
Does that give them the right to free consular assistance. No. If you set out to deliberately do something criminal or foolish, especially knowing the likely consequences, then you should be prepared to pay for the consequences.
Assistance to Colin Russell cost at least $25,000. He has complained he did not get enough assistance from the government. I am not sure what else he expected the government to do. It cannot interfere in the legal system of another country. If the "pardon" had not come through when it did Mr Russell might have been there much longer. He would, no doubt, have received more visits and more legal assistance. Nevertheless Mr Russell and Greenpeace say the government should have done more.
Among the Australians caught up in South Sudan there were tourists and Sudanese who had gone "home" on holiday after coming here as refugees. There was a travel advisory warning people of the dangers of going there. The government advised them to leave while they could but they did not send a plane in to help.
It did not send help in to the long term aid workers or the employees of Australian companies either. They were, like the tourists, advised to leave while they could. Hopefully these people had travel insurance and contingency plans. Colin Russell has had more help than these people, at least some of whom would no doubt have appreciated it.
I don't see Colin Russell as any sort of environmental hero. I see him as selfish. That $25,000 could have planted at least 250 trees. The trees would have been more useful.

Saturday 4 January 2014

There is always a little bit of fun

to be had on "Twitter" but, among the writers and others I know there who live in the northern hemisphere, days tend to start with discussion about putting kettles on, making tea or coffee and having outsize mugs of it.  As I am often at the other end of the day when I put a paw in to catch up on the other news this often seems even sillier than it is. Things soon settle down into all sorts of other news. My "work" feed will be filled with all sorts of information and requests and I will keep an eye on the "fun" feed and keep putting the virtual kettle on for people I have mostly never met and probably never will meet in real life. I would put the real kettle on for them in a heartbeat if they appeared at the front door.
In the real world I drink very little of either beverage. I am not really sure I actually like coffee. I know I am not part of the coffee drinking culture.
There are six different venues at which it is possible to drink coffee on the "ground" level of our relatively small local shopping centre. You can also go up to the cinema area and there is more coffee there. Venture a little way out of the centre and there are more places where coffee can be drunk.
People spend hours in these places. They sit there with their partners or friends or, sometimes, alone. They read papers and magazines (thoughtfully provided by the establishment) or they stare into space. Occasionally it is possible to see someone apparently working - laptop on the table - and talking to one of the shop owners or managers.  I have never seen anyone knitting.
And I have almost never sat in any of these places myself. On the occasions on which I have there has been a specific purpose for being there and it has involved work of some description. To just sit there and drink coffee and chat seems strange to me. I never developed the habit in my teens or as a student. Even when I was at law school I would go to the canteen only to eat lunch in inclement weather or to discuss a problem.
I know part of the problem was (and still is) money. I wanted to spend potential beverage money on other things - mostly books. I also had (and have) too many other things to do. I worked at other things all the way through my tertiary education - I had to in order to eat.
But I think there is something else as well. I simply don't understand coffee. I don't understand the long and the short of it, the latte and the cappuccino, the dark and the light roast, the Kenyan or the Brazilian. Are these things really important? Is being a "barista" really such a skilled job? Why don't they make coffee at least warm enough for me to believe I am drinking a hot beverage?
I suppose tea is just as complex - look at the way the Japanese made a ceremony out of it. There are all those flavours. There is the warming of the pot and the necessity for freshly boiling water (preferably rain water) and - if you are the Senior Cat - the necessity for the absence of tea bags.
But, somehow, tea is different. It is there. It happens. Kettles understand tea. They are happily married to tea pots - or so it would seem. Tea pots don't throw tantrums.
Coffee pots sulk and need to be drip fed. I really am not sure I like coffee.

Friday 3 January 2014

Having come close to being killed

by a collision with a police car recently I am following with interest the renewed debate about bicycles in traffic.  After all I was doing absolutely nothing wrong when the police car came down the wrong side of a narrow back street at speed. It was so close that I could have slapped the driver's face - something I longed to do, except that I would no doubt have been had up for assaulting a police officer. He, of course, would have got off with nothing more than a reprimand and I would have been incarcerated. Hmmm... I would prefer to be free to prowl the streets.
But we do have a problem here. Our city is, as cities go, extremely flat - almost as flat as a country like Holland or Denmark.
Those countries have a great many cyclists. Their weather is much less favourable than ours and they still have more cyclists per head of population.  Yes, on the whole the distances they have to go are shorter but they still have many more cyclists and some of them do travel a considerable distance.
There are more cyclists on the roads here than there used to be - and motorists complain about them. It sometimes seems they complain constantly.  They just don't want to share road space with cyclists.
There are some "bike lanes" but these are (a) sometimes shared with buses (!!!) and often congested with parked cars or even cars themselves. There are also "bike routes" - streets chosen for much lower levels of vehicular traffic and some times blocked off to "through" traffic.
I know all about these things and I am also, as one who use three wheels rather than two, allowed to pedal on footpaths. That actually requires extreme care. Too many drivers come out of driveways without looking.
But, where I live should be bike friendly. It has all the right things - weather, terrain etc. Distances tend to be greater but, for a fit individual, they should not be insurmountable. What is more it is possible to take a bike on a train. There are brave souls who live in the hills behind us who ride down the hill to work and then put the bike on the train at the end of the day and ride a shorter distance at the other end.
The latest suggestion is that motorists and cyclists should be required to stay at least a metre apart. I cannot see that happening. It would also be quite impossible to police and, I suspect, potentially dangerous.  
Of course cyclists have to do the right thing as well - and many of them don't. I observe them as well. I remain, as always, genuinely fearful of traffic. I think I spent too long living in areas of almost no traffic at all eve to become really used to city traffic jams.
Perhaps what we really need here though is a different attitude towards cyclists and cycling. What puzzles me is that, while mentioned, nobody seems to emphasise the environmental benefits.
Could cyclists save the world?

Thursday 2 January 2014

There was the almost

inevitable article about "names" in the paper at the end of last year. I am sure you know the sort I mean - "the most popular names of the year were...." and then the other list of names given just once.
There were some real oddities in that one this time - boys called "Clinchy", "Magick", "Qwade", "Rampage" and "Xenophon" and girls called "Asterix", "Blendin", "Bonnibelle", "Lingo" and "Shiny".
I feel sorry for the infants who will, unless they change their names by deed poll, go through life with these "unusual" names. I doubt that "Blendin" will blend in and who will blame "Rampage" if he goes wild?
My sister's "Greek" family tends to be much more conservative. They give their children traditional names - or their "English" equivalents. That means "Panayiota" has become "Pamela" and there are several boys called John instead of "Yiannis". "Sordidi" has become "Steven" or "Stephen" and "Katerina" has become "Katherine" or "Kathy" or "Kate". Names tend to run through families too as first children traditionally get named after grandparents.
I was a little anxious when another couple, also the children of Greek Cypriot migrants, wanted to borrow "that name book" from me but I passed it over. She is expecting twins - sex as yet unknown but I know that names have been discussed. I wondered if they were going to break from tradition and call their children something different.
The book was returned to me yesterday and I ventured to inquire, "Find anything good?"
"Oh  yes," came the reply, "George's brother has a new pup. He was going to try and call it something suitable - but the kids are insisting on Tim."
"Tim?" I asked.
"Yes - after Tim Cahill - the one who plays soccer."
Right. I wonder if the dog will learn to play soccer. There are, I suppose, worse ways to name a dog.