Friday 28 February 2014

"It's quiet,"

she tells me. The woman on the temporary stand advertising blinds and gutters has been in our shopping centre several times before. She stopped me on the second occasion because she wanted to know something - and I stood there and guarded her little stall while she rushed back and shifted her vehicle to a place where she would not be fined for leaving it too long.
I wonder about these little stands that pop up in the shopping centre. There is always a charity one of some sort or another. Sometimes it is just someone with a tin and a sign and that is it, sometimes they have literature available - but most people just pass straight by. It is not just "compassion fatigue" but other things as well - lack of time, lack of money, embarrassment, lack of interest, irritation.
And there are the temporary stands that seem to appear at irregular intervals. There are the people who sell water purification systems.
"No thankyou. We have rainwater."
I prowl on. I have no interest in their product.
There are the boys who sell "paintball" games. Thankfully they ignore me. I must look much too ancient for them - and my nephews think the "paintball" idea is ridiculous so they wouldn't be able to nab me to buy a present for them.
There are the people who sell cleaning products. They don't even make a claim to be "organic" or "environmentally friendly" so I am even less interested than I might be - and, thankfully, they are talking to each other.
There is the company trying to sell space in a yet-to-be-built "retirement village". Even if I had the three-quarters-of-a-million for the initial investment (plus on-going costs) I would not be interested. It does not even offer "end-of-life" care. 
There is the company selling "gophers" and walkers for the elderly and the disabled. Thanks but I can still pedal my tricycle and I don't quite need a walker yet. I suppose they must do some business though because there are some older people in the local community.
There are others too - and there is the woman with the blinds and the gutters. She has never tried to sell me anything. She has been there often enough now that she recognises me - and has not forgotten that I once spent a few minutes standing there so she could move her vehicle. She is always on her own. She spends her day standing there, smiling. Occasionally she talks to someone about the products and makes an appointment for someone to visit a house. Most of the time she just stands, smiling. People smile  back. She isn't seen as a threat.
Does it pay her to be there? I asked this question once. She shrugged and said, "My boss seems to think so. It's a job and I'm glad to have it."
It would cost him less to have her there than it would for him to run a showroom. She does the rounds of the shopping centres in the east and south of the city. Someone else does the west and the north. 
We  both agree that it costs less to run the business that way than it would to stock the clothing shops adjacent to her stand - or the toy shop a little further along.
It is a mystery to me how any of those places make enough to cover the rent. I don't know how her boss makes enough to cover the cost of having her there either.
What I do know is that it is nice to have her there. She smiles as if she actually means her smile. 

Thursday 27 February 2014

The Australian Electoral Commission

is apparently currently investigating "almost 19,000" cases of multiple voting. They claim most of those are due to "clerical error" and/or "misunderstanding" in the elderly, the illiterate or those who do not understand the process.
They are apparently referring "a small number of around 128" cases to the police for further investigation. Right.
Our elections are not fraud free or perfect. The decision to re-run the election for the Senate in Western Australia because of the "lost" ballot papers has shown up problems. The loss of those ballot papers was perhaps just a little too convenient.
I was talking to someone the other day. Her father voted twice. He was living in a nursing home. His daughter arranged a postal vote for him - and saw to it that he voted. Then a mobile team went to the nursing home and he voted again. He had by then forgotten that he had already voted. In his case I don't doubt it was genuine. He was getting very confused.
The AEC is to blame here. They should have mechanisms in place that prevent such things happening.
But I suggest that is the least of the problems faced by the AEC or the State Electoral Commission. Anyone can turn up and vote for anyone. All you need to do is turn up and state a name and address and say you have not previously voted in this election. Someone will mark the name off, pass over the ballot papers and the individual can enter a carrel and mark the papers. There is no form of identity check. How could there be? We don't have compulsory photo ID cards in Australia.
And the problem does not end there. There are multiple other ways of obtaining more than one vote, especially in nursing homes. A mobile unit may attend but, all too often, staff "assist" people who are no longer able to mark their own ballot papers. If someone is in hospital another member of the family or a friend will "vote for them". People see nothing wrong with this. "It's what they would do." But do they really know?
I know of someone who will have a vote in the forthcoming state election. In my opinion she will not know or understand what she is doing. Someone else will fill out the ballot papers for her because she can no longer do it herself. That person will claim she knows what the other person wants. To me that is not the point. The other person is no longer able to express such opinions. The right to vote is not one which should be lightly be removed - but in this case it should be because the individual is not able to make decisions about the simplest of matters let alone make a complex choice. It is not sufficient to say, "But this is what she has always done."  
I don't know how the Senior Cat votes. I can guess but I have never asked him. It is not my business. He does not know how I vote. Many people assume they know how I vote and would, no doubt, be willing to mark the ballot papers accordingly. They would almost certainly get it wrong.
Our electoral system is riddled with fraud. The notion that there were "almost 19,000" cases of multiple voting is almost certainly way off the mark - even 190,000 is probably an under-estimation.
Many of those would not see it as multiple voting or even believe they have done the wrong thing.
We need major changes to the system. They would be unpopular and are unlikely to happen any time soon.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Sometimes, just sometimes,

you can instinctively do the right thing. Mind you, it does not often happen to me.  I usually have to think things through, consult the arrangement of cat hairs, obtain advice I may not follow, hesitate, dither and then decide - sometimes followed by more indecision and anxiety. Did I do the right thing?
In work matters I am fine. I trust my judgment. There are often rules to follow. Sometimes those rules are stated in black and white. Things must be done in a certain way. At other times those rules are what must happen if the overall project is to work. There are things you just know.
But there are other things you know you may only ever do once and there are so many unknowns. There might only be one chance to get something right, especially where humans are concerned.
I can remember when one of our neighbours committed suicide. We didn't know him well but he had been living with his brother and sister-in-law across the street. I knew what had happened before they came to tell us. The absence of his car and the awareness that I had heard it drive away in the early hours of the morning told me something was wrong. The presence of two police cars for several hours and the awful picture on the local news feed told me all I needed to know.  I also knew it was going to be incredibly difficult for them to tell anyone.
I know I greeted them with the words, "You two must need a big hug right now."
I had never touched them before but yes, on that occasion they needed a hug.
On Monday afternoon our neighbour came over again. She has not been feeling well lately and had news for us. Today she is going to have a colonoscopy. Naturally she is anxious about it - and what the results might be.
It seemed a casual enough visit. The Senior Cat happened to be in the front garden. She happened to be outside. But I strongly suspect she was waiting for one of us to appear so that she could apparently just casually walk across the road and tell us. Her family are very close knit and supportive but, sometimes, it can help to tell an outsider. Of course we will be thinking about her - and hoping for a good outcome.
And I wonder if she would still have come if my reaction to their other visit had been more conventional? If I had just stood there and said all the things that one is expected to say would it just have been an uncomfortable experience for both of us? Would they have just gone on being people we were "friendly enough" with but nothing more?
There is no way of knowing that but I am glad I trusted my instinct on the other occasion. It made this time much easier.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

My great-niece is currently in

hospital. She has been ill for some weeks now. My brother first alerted us to the problem.
She stopped walking and would cry if she had to stand. She did not want to eat. At sixteen months of age she does not have the language to try and explain where or how something hurts. Nevertheless it was obvious that something is seriously wrong.
Her parents were fobbed off at first, accused of being over-anxious they were told that she was just looking for attention. As she had been a particularly amenable child until recently that seemed so unlikely they ignored that and sought further help.
Then she fell off the sofa while playing a game with her sister - and broke her left arm in two places. It is now in plaster.
And the other problems continued. My niece and her husband are exceptionally good parents - a fact noted by many other people. My niece trained as a teacher. Her husband has been a hands on father from the moment of birth. The two little girls get a great deal of love and attention. Like all children they have their moments but their parents also expect them to behave well and appropriately for their age. My niece encourages them to be active and, when possible, outside.
A third child is expected later in the year. No parent needs the worry of an ill child, particularly if another child is on the way.
So, ignoring the doctor who suggested it was attention seeking they sort the advice of another doctor - who sent them straight over to the children's hospital. And there someone did believe the problem was serious, serious enough to call in a specialist paediatric neurosurgeon on her day off. She had further tests done as a matter of emergency and diagnosed "discitis". It is an inflammation of the spinal column. It is not common but common enough for it to have at last been diagnosed.
Fortunately something can be done about it too. Antibiotics via a drip for a week and then a long term course of antibiotics. Yes, it's serious but the long term prognosis is excellent. Even by the end of the week things should be looking much better.
Keeping a small child on an intravenous drip for a week is not going to be easy - and the hospital, rightly, wants one of her parents there at all times. My amazing sister-in-law will help so will my nephew-in-law's mother.
They are a thousand kilometres from here so there is nothing I can do to help in the way of child minding or meals preparation - or is there? I am going to prowl off to the cheap remainder store at the edge of the shopping centre this morning and buy some activities for Big Sister to share with Little Sister. If it keeps them quiet for ten minutes that might help too.
And it might help Big Sister believe that she is helping to look after Little Sister.

Monday 24 February 2014

Well it was fun but....

having very small children around is exhausting. The Senior Cat prowled off to bed rather early last night. He did not get his usual post-prandial nap in on either Saturday or Sunday. He played games with his great-grandchildren instead.
The eldest great-grandchild talks non-stop. She has imagination in lorry-loads. She is demanding of adult attention - that they do as she wants in the game she has invented.  I think the Senior Cat was allowed to be exhausted after flying into outer-space with assorted animals. We had to hear her version of "The Gingerbread Man" several times after she had been given the jigsaw puzzle of a gingerbread man made by the Senior Cat. (It is rather difficult to do.)
They went "swimming" in the pool at the beachside resort they stayed at for the weekend. (A rather wonderful, cheap but very clean complex that actually caters for children.)
The younger one got rather cold in the breeze and demanded "out, out". He was passed over to me and, once wrapped in an over-size towel, cuddled in to me - and did not want to let go! I felt honoured but...
I would not want the responsibility for bringing up small children now. My brother, whose grandchildren they are, agrees. I think you reach a point where it is wrong to try and bring up small children on a full time basis. It is not just the energy which is required - and you need a constant flow of that - it is the distance between you. Their world is so different from ours.
I can imagine their world, of course I can - but they cannot imagine ours. There is nearly ninety years between the Senior Cat and the youngest great-grandchild. There will be more than ninety years between him and the one expected in June. That's a lifetime away. I know, at one level, what life was like for the Senior Cat when he was young. I know that he grew up in a world where most people did not have a phone - although his family did because of his father's business. The Senior Cat was in high school before he made his first, unsupervised phone call. The almost-four year old can already make a phone call - although only to her grandparents. 
Yesterday the younger great-grandchild here, not yet two, was playing a game on his father's phone. It was a simple game - designed to teach a child to count - but it was still a game on an electronic gadget that had not even been thought of when the Senior Cat was that age. Little One knows how to play it - and the Senior Cat does not.
But some things still have not changed. We sat on the floor and Little One cuddled into me again because he was feeling scratchy (he has allergy-induced eczema). And we played "this little pig goes to market..."
The Senior Cat played that too.

Sunday 23 February 2014

A cousin of the Senior Cat

died yesterday. We expected the news - although it came more quickly than anyone expected.
He was younger than the Senior Cat - just 88. The remarkable thing is that he lived as long as he did.
He was a risk taker. He did some dangerous things. He did dangerous things from the start. His childhood was, apparently, full of things like climbing trees which should not have been climbed, riding his bike across the railway bridge, almost drowning in the river (and being rescued by the Senior Cat and his own younger brother) and setting the garden alight on Bonfire Night. (They had Bonfire Night back then,)
By the time he reached his teens he had a "reputation". Before he was old enough to have a licence he was driving a truck (lorry) for the Oldest Cousin (not the Senior Cat!) who was something of an entrepreneur. How he never got caught is a mystery to this day.
At barely sixteen he and another cousin decided to visit Grandma (my paternal great-grandmother) who was still running her retirement project - a dairy farm on the river. They had no money for the fare so they "hitched" a ride on a goods train. Instead of staying hidden in one of the open coal trucks Cousin had to travel the length of the train - and back again - while it was going at speed. His other cousin remained where he was - petrified.
Cousin went on to distinguished service as an engineer in the navy and remained passionate about engines, particularly steam engines, all his life. He married and had children but still managed to go all over the world to see trains and ride on them. He drove the length of Britain more than once and then across Europe and into Asia. Later he drove across the United States and then back the other way through Canada. Everyone else held their breath. He was an appallingly bad driver and only got worse as he got older.
And, while he drove most of us mad with tales of his exploits, he was kind. He would always be willing to do something to help. He never had a bad word to say about anyone - oh he would criticise but it was always done in a positive sort of way.
He would occasionally phone the Senior Cat - they lived in different states - and spend an hour or more chatting. He would phone other cousins as well. He was gregarious and always doing something.
But I sometimes wondered if he wasn't a little insecure, a little uncertain of himself. I wondered if the mad exploits were not an attempt to prove to himself that he was able to do things, that he wasn't a failure.
His Little Brother is still working - part time - and had a much more stellar career I suppose. I will always wonder whether he wasn't trying to outdo Little Brother. Perhaps he was.
Whatever people will say about him in the end though they will be able to say of his relationships with other people, "He meant well."
It's not a bad epitaph.

Saturday 22 February 2014

We survived the first wave

of the invasion yesterday. My nephew, his wife and two small children arrived about 11:30. My brother and his wife arrived a few minutes later. Chaos ensued.
It is easy to forget how much work small children are when you only see them for a short time at irregular intervals. Most of the children we now know are five plus - school going age. These two are still pre-schoolers. One is "almost" four and the other is "almost" two. (Their birthdays are both next month.) They are "modern" children, used to non-stop adult attention. The idea that they might play on their own while adults do something else is quite foreign to them.
I was also trying to sort out a rather complex submission to a government agency, deal with the peaches that had fallen on the ground and were useful but too damaged to give away, cook some corned beef, cook some chicken, hard boil some eggs, make a very large pot of tea and hold three different conversations (two with the children) all at the same time.  I still wonder that nothing boiled dry, that the children seemed satisfied with the answers I gave them (and no, I could not remember all the names of Santa's reindeer), and that the tea was properly made. (I discovered that my nephew did not know how to make tea. He seemed to think that it was with a tea bag. The Senior Cat would be appalled by that.)
Sandwiches were made for the small fry a little later. The four year old managed to peel one hard boiled egg after the first small piece of shell was taken away. (Intense concentration required.) The adults made their own sandwiches - the corned beef was warm and so was the chicken...the children opted for cheese and Vegemite in theirs. They ate bananas.  I suppose it was a reasonably balanced lunch.
I like small children - there are, inevitably, some totally spoilt children who irritate me but I find it hard to dislike them. I like conversation with them. The about to be two year old is full of chatter. He can count to six - and even seems to have a vague notion of what it means. He spent a long time counting peaches into the bowl - and out again.
You forget all this if you don't see them every day. And then you are reminded of all the glories of childhood and how everything is new and interesting and different and there to be explored.
I wouldn't want to be a child growing up into the world as it is now but I love to watch others doing it.

Friday 21 February 2014

John Short broke the law. If you deliberately flout the law

of another country and end up facing their legal system then you only have yourself to blame. Please note, I said "deliberately flout". If you unwittingly break a law you could not reasonably be expected to know about then the situation may be different.
But someone like John Short only has himself to blame.
For those of you who do not know Mr Short took himself off to North Korea and has, allegedly, been caught distributing "religious material". The rigid, totalitarian and utterly terrifying North Korean regime does not like that.  
Mr Short has been to North Korea before. He has also lived in Hong Kong for many years. He has spent time in Myanmar and Vietnam. He knows Asia. He has been arrested for similar activities before.
Mr Short is still an Australian citizen. Our diplomatic services are now expected to swing behind him and try to extricate him from his plight.
Complicating the issue is the fact that Australia does not have "diplomatic relations" with North Korea. The Australian Embassy in South Korea has to work with the embassy of the Swedish Embassy in order to do the delicate work of trying to get him released.
The cost to Australian tax payers is going to be high, very high. Every effort will be made because, without it, Mr Short could die in a labour camp. He is reported to be 75 years of age. It is unlikely he would survive long in the reported conditions of those camps.  
But there is another problem that Mr Short seems not to have considered. He is putting other people in danger, the people he no doubt believes he is "helping".
If you are a local and caught with religious materials in North Korea you will quickly find yourself sent off to a labour camp - and your family will almost certainly be sent with you. Even if you are the relative who reports the individual you are at risk of being sent because you should have ensured that the individual had no interest in such material in the first place. It doesn't matter if you pick such items up in the street (not that such littering is likely) you best put it straight in the bin without reading it. You are not supposed to take any interest in such things.
Mr Short is either naïve or arrogant. I think the latter is more likely than the former. He knew what would happen if he was caught - and he knew he almost certainly would be caught. He no doubt believes he has an absolute right to do what he did and that he has an absolute right to have a great deal of taxpayer money spent on him - even when he, while still an Australian citizen, has spent more time out of the country than in it during his life time.
My own view is that yes, he has the right to assistance - simply because he is a human being - but I also believe he should be required to reimburse the government for the expenditure he has caused.
Why? Because his actions do more harm than good.
North Korea would be an appalling place in which to live. Nobody is safe there. There are no rights there. "Reunification" does not appear likely just yet. Many in the south do not want it because they see the north as being a financial drain when it happens. China almost certainly does not want North Korea opened up for the same reason.
The United Nations report - which I have just begun to read - will do little to help. Nobody really seems prepared to pay the price which needs to be paid to assist the North Koreans gain the basic human rights and dignity that most of the world takes for granted.
We won't do that but we will spend money endeavouring to rescue one man who deliberately flouted the law. It is money that could be better spent on the children of North Korea.

Thursday 20 February 2014

The Manus Island Detention Centre

is not a nice place. It is not meant to be a nice place. It is most certainly not meant to be a first class hotel.
There will also be tensions there - even when everything appears to be calm on the surface.
The people who have been sent there are "irregular maritime arrivals", in this case people who endeavoured to enter Australia without a permit of some sort. They also wanted to settle in Australia.
I cannot comment on whether they are "refugees". It is however interesting to note that the majority of them are young men. They are young men who claim to be fleeing persecution. Perhaps they are. It is also possible that some of them are fleeing harsh punishment for breaking the law in their own countries. The laws in their countries are of course different from ours and we may not always agree with them but we would be expected to abide by them if we visited the country. 
Refugee advocates will argue they come here "because they have nowhere else to go". That is simply not true. There are other places they could go but they are less likely to be granted asylum there or they may have to wait much longer, especially if they go to a refugee camp.  
Compared with most refugee camps the Manus Island Detention Centre is five star accommodation - or it should be. It should be a safe place. 
Yes, people arrive there from many different places. They come from countries which are fighting one another, from groups which are fighting one another and from different religious, social and ethnic backgrounds. They don't all speak the same language. Many of them do speak some English, often more than they are prepared to admit - no English or little English means you get the benefit of an interpreter.
There are inevitably tensions there. These are people who were not prepared to wait, who believe that they have paid their passage and should now be granted asylum. Even those who set out knowing they would not be granted refugee status in Australia refuse to believe they will not be allowed to settle here.
There was a disturbance reported two days ago, a disturbance in which one man died and another has been brought to Australia for treatment following a fractured skull. Other people were injured.  There are conflicting reports of what "really happened". Advocates have been interviewed on television and stated, quite categorically, that certain things happened. They were not there. They did not observe these things themselves. Their sources of information are the detainees.
Official sources of information are much more cautious about what they have to say - and, of course, the politicians responsible are accused of "lying".
Who is "right" and who is "wrong" is not something I can comment on. I wasn't there either. I don't like our refugee policy but I also know that what some others are demanding is unrealistic - and it is cruel of them to keep demanding it because it raises expectations which will never be met.
I am also angry that hearsay is being presented as fact on our news services. Those offering it are of course trying to undermine government policy. They want to stir public sentiment and get the situation changed. They believe they have human rights, dignity and compassion on their side. They are endeavouring to make an intensely complex situation appear simple, "Just let them in."
It is not that simple.
If we really want to bring more people who need protection in then we have to accept that we cannot bring in everyone. We have to accept that paying for a place on a boat does not give anyone the right to come here. We could bring in many more people if we did not have to pay to screen those who arrive this way.
Is that reasonable?

Wednesday 19 February 2014

"I have a very flat tyre,"

I told the Senior Cat after returning from a visit to one of the aged care places.
Fortunately for me (if it had to happen) it happened within a few hundred metres of our front gate. I managed, with considerable difficulty, to wheel it that far.
The Senior Cat went to investigate and then said, "I think you need a new tyre as well."
I was thinking the same thing myself. It's the "driving" wheel on the tricycle and it tends to wear out more quickly.
I suppose I have been fortunate. I have not had too many punctures. I carry a spare tube with me but not the kit to change the tube. I have always considered there is not much point as I could not actually change the tube myself. I know how to do it but my paws are not strong enough to remove and replace the tyre.
Yesterday's experience made me realise that it is time we seriously considered what the alternatives are to the Senior Cat doing the repairs. A friend of his did them until late last year and then he moved away.
Before that I used to be able to go to the local bike shop. The man who ran it when I first returned to this district was very good. He would drop everything else and fix something for me. I tried not to take advantage of this but there were a couple of emergencies. If it could wait I would tell him and he would put the tricycle in the queue with everything else. If I had to do an interpreter stint at the hospital in the afternoon he would fix the problem immediately. The new owners are much less cooperative. They would actually prefer not to work on it at all. Their interest is more in racing bikes than repairing them.
I know my brother-in-law would do something once he was home.  He would be willing to do it too - but it does not solve the problem of what to do if I have a flat tyre in a location which is not within walking distance of home - or a train to get me to within walking distance of home - especially at times when bicycle repair places are not open and willing to help.
There is a new family around the corner. They have moved into the house vacated by the retired maths lecturer. There is a van parked there which says something about "bicycle-fix" and a mobile number. I think I need to investigate this and find out just what this person is prepared to do - and when.
In the meantime the Senior Cat will head off on his gopher and buy a new tyre and yet another spare tube. He will, no doubt, spend most of the morning doing this, visiting the chemist and the bank, and replacing tube and tyre for me. It bothers me. He should not have to take the responsibility for keeping me on my pedals.
It is time we had a Bicycle Association the way they have Automobile Associations of various types. Being able to pay an annual fee to phone them and say, "I need some help please" would do a lot for the peace of mind of cyclists.
It might even make more people ride bikes.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

"I have a suprise for you,"

my friend Polly announced yesterday - in an early morning e-mail. She said she would be calling in later in the day - and please could we leave the gates open so she could bring the car in. Right.
I did remember to open the gates and the rest of the day was one of those hectic, I-almost-do-not-have-time-to-breathe days.
Polly arrived in the late afternoon and came staggering to the front door under a load of knitting pamphlets.
"Friend can't knit any more and she thought you might be able to use them," she panted and dumped them on the chair I hastily indicated, "Um... there's more."
The Senior Cat took his walker out and they loaded that with more pamphlets and some boxes of knitting needles. I took a bag from her and she took two more bags. We dumped it all in the living area. Then she dashed out and brought in yet another bag.
"I think that's it," she told me and proceeded to explain that her very elderly friend has serious shoulder problems and can no longer knit. "It's all that gardening that did her shoulder in I think ..she's Father X....'s housekeeper."
It is not the first time I have been given a quantity of knitting supplies. Often the supplies have been quietly passed on to the local charity shop so that knitters can use up scraps of cheap acrylic for animal blankets.
Yarn can be like a screaming child, something only a mother can love. I do not care for fluorescent acid yellow, neon orange or violent green acrylic yarn. Animals don't seem to mind - although I note that real cats know good quality yarn from bad.
I did not have a chance to look while Polly was there but she assured me, "It's good stuff."
Knowing Polly I knew it would be at least something useable. She also knows that I do not need more yarn. I decided to leave the problem until the morning. 
This morning I had a quick prowl through the bags because I have to drop some other things in to a woman who knits hats for charity.
Yes, there is some "good stuff" there. I have taken out the stray ends of balls to give to Margie and added them to what I am leaving for her. She uses the smallest scraps in her wonderful creations.
And the rest? It will be used to calm the screaming children - or at least to raise some money for the friend who runs the refuge. This time there is no fluorescent acid yellow. People will want to knit it. 

Monday 17 February 2014

There is an election coming up

in South Australia. The campaign has officially started - although it has so far been so quiet that many people don't seem to have noticed. I suppose they will eventually find out and remember to vote.
The state newspaper has of course had something to say about it and they were offering readers an opportunity to "say" something by way of a "questionnaire" on Saturday. I am sure you will know the sort of thing I mean. There is the opportunity to give "yes/no" and other answers to questions on a range of issues.
The first question on the list was "Do you believe South Australia is heading in the right direction?" You could answer "strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree" to that. Hmmm.
The next question was "Do you think that South Australia should change its name?" Answer "No Yes(list your suggested name below.)" Where did that one spring from? (And no, why go to the huge expense of changing the name of the state - no doubt to an "indigenous" name that will cause friction in both the indigenous and non-indigenous communities?)
The list went on and on. There are some highly contentious issues on the list ranging from whether voting should be compulsory to whether there should be a nuclear dump in the state, from whether parts of the parklands should be sold off to whether a permanent grandstand should be built in them for a car race.
Many of those issues are not the sort that have simple "yes" or "no" answers.
I am not sure I like these sort of exercises. They encourage people to think about complex issues in simplistic ways.
For example, I oppose the idea of selling off the parklands which surround the city for the purpose of building on them. They are open spaces which are supposed to be there "in perpetuity". People need those open spaces. I don't want to see a grandstand built on them either. The car race the temporary grandstand is built for may not last many more years anyway, particularly after car manufacturing goes in Australia. But I also believe that the parklands are not being utilised to anything like the extent they could be. They never have been. You can't say that in a "yes/no" answer.
I wonder how many people will answer those questions - and what spin the paper will put on them? Will they, as they often do, suggest that "most people..." want this or that or something else? Will they do it even if the sample is so small (as it almost certainly will be) and so biased (as it also almost certainly will be) that it cannot possibly be a reflection of the majority view?
I will have to trust that the usual "letterati" of the state get to work and make at least those who read the letters page think.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Never knock a teenager with attitude

because you never know what they might do next.
Yesterday I was reminded of this yet again when I did a little pedalling out into our rather damp neighbourhood. It had stopped raining but it was still very humid and I kept a wary eye on the clouds.
Oddly, there was no water in the creek in the park...and there should have been. That mystery remains to be solved. I had to avoid numerous puddles elsewhere. I attended a meeting and then left when the socialising started because I had visits to make.
I called in to see a friend with severe arthritis. I had to pedal through a large pool in the driveway of her block of units. As she can no longer walk that far I was not too concerned about her getting her feet wet. We talked about air-conditioners and I was relieved to discover that her new system is working well. She was not using it. For her it was cool enough to be wearing a cardigan, one I had knitted her years ago. It is now looking distinctly threadbare but the thought of wearing it made me perspire.
I eventually left to call on someone who lost her husband a short while ago. On the way I went down one of the quiet side streets adjacent to the railway line. It was there that I came across the two teens with attitude. They know me. We once had an altercation over the matter of graffiti at the railway station. They wanted their "tags" there and I told them the rest of us did not want their tags there. (Everyone said I was stupid to tell them that but I did because they challenged me over it.)
Yesterday one was up a ladder passing down (on a rope) a bucket full of leaves and twigs and other muck to his mate below. They were being watched by a very elderly man I know by sight. He nodded at me and walked of with the wheelbarrow piled high. It looked as if half a tree had come down on the roof.
"Gidday Cat!" yelled the one on the ladder.
"Yay! Cat!" came from the other one.
I stopped for a moment
"Did it do any damage?"
"Nah, don't think so," came the reply from the one on the ladder, "But when it rains again it might."
They looked damp and muddy - and quite happy about what they were doing. I also know that they are not reformed characters. They almost certainly still tag things which should not be tagged. I have seen them ride their skateboards down the wrong side of the road and cross against the red lights. At school they are known as "troublemakers".
And yet the two of them spent their Saturday afternoon helping someone else. He's not a close neighbour. They won't be paid for it. They just did it because "he's an okay sort of old guy" and, although they don't say it, I can hear "and he doesn't judge us".
I have hopes for these two...if people stop judging them they might just turn into responsible citizens a few years down the track.

Saturday 15 February 2014

"Yes, but it's NOT FAIR!"

Miss Whirlwind is standing in the kitchen looking at me. I sympathise. It isn't fair. A lot of things in life are not fair - and she has had more than her fair share of "not fair".
Most of the time she is a remarkably even tempered child...well adolescent now. She can be passionate about things but they are usually tempered with quite remarkable amounts of reason. Her father has always encouraged her to think problems and issues through. As a constitutional lawyer he is well able to play "devil's advocate".
Yesterday's problem was "not a Dad problem. I mean - like - well he will just agree but he won't really understand".  I had to agree with that. The relationships between young adolescent girls are a mystery to him.
It is moments like these when I feel desperately inadequate too. I am not her mother. I am not even related to her. I suspect that, even if I was her mother, I would feel inadequate sometimes. Hopefully I would not feel as inadequate as I do on occasions like this.
"Did you talk to your Mum?" she asked me once. The answer had to be "No".
I made the excuse that my mother worked full time and there was never time to talk but the truth is my mother and I just didn't "talk" - ever. I never had what might be described as a "mother-daughter conversation" with her. My sisters say they did but such conversations were infrequent, even later in life.
I know women who say their mothers or their daughters are their "best friends". They do things together. They seem to discuss everything from doing the washing up to relationships.
The Whirlwind observes mother-daughter relationships with interest. She can only just remember her own mother and she never knew mine. Thankfully she has been genuinely mothered at school - to the extent that she got her own bedtime story when she first started to board there - and the boarding house staff still watch out for her.
The problem? A very new boarder is desperately homesick. Her parents have gone to Cambodia to work. They didn't sign the form that would allow the school to make decisions about who she could go out with so she has been left at school when everyone else has gone out. Of course that makes the problem worse and no, it's not fair when parents fail to sign a piece of paper. I am sure the piece of paper will be signed but the Whirlwind wants it done now, immediately, at this very minute.
There is cricket at school this morning. There are two matches for the juniors. One is for the "proper" team against another school. The other is for those who have just come into the middle school or are new to the school. The Whirlwind is in the "proper" team but she needs to help with the other match as well.
"I get to help pick who does what and I am going to pick her first."
That sounds fair to me. Well, it's a start anyway.

Friday 14 February 2014

When I was a mere kitten our

state newspaper, "The Advertiser" was a broadsheet. There was also an evening paper called "The News" and a scandalous paper called "The Truth" (think the worst parts of the old "News of the World") and, on Sundays, "The Sunday Mail". The last three were tabloids.
"The Truth" was the first to go. I can't remember when. I never saw a copy in our house. My paternal grandfather called it "absolute rubbish" - and it probably was.
"The News" went next. It was a victim of the early days of what has become the "24 hour" news cycle.
We still have "The Sunday Mail" but I rarely see it as we don't bother to buy it. I remember when we did and we children used to fight over who would be allowed to read "Possum's Pages" first. Those two pages were devoted to children and the "children" ranged from about four to fourteen.
"The Advertiser" is now tabloid size and, the Senior Cat claims, "tabloid in content". He still reads some of it - he claims he reads enough of it for it to be worth getting.
We also have "The Australian", our national newspaper. People seem to love it or hate it - depending on their view of the Murdoch stable I suppose - or, in my case, remain neutral. There is some useful material in there. I read it - but I do not read all of it. I do not have significant investments so I leave the business section largely alone. I am not interested in sport - although there is thankfully less of that. There are columnists I find interesting - even when I do not necessarily agree with them. If we get the paper version the Senior Cat will read it as well. It keeps him informed -up to the point he wishes to be informed.
And now, if I want to be a "news junkie" I can read much more "on-line".  I do read some news on line. I have discovered there is a technique for doing this...headlines and the first paragraph are usually enough.
It all makes me wonder whether we really need news to be available all night as well as all day. It also makes me wonder whether we need all the news we get. Do we need all the gossip that comes with it?
Would we better off with less "news"? The only problem I can see is making sure the Senior Cat has enough news to read while he eats breakfast.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Words don't actually help unless

they do the job they are intended to do. Yes? I would have thought that was fairly obvious.
Someone on my time-line put up a "tweet" yesterday saying she had just read something

 "including: ekphrasis, ideologeme, genotext, intermediality. I'm sure it was interesting... wish I'd understood..."

I am sure you did Helen. I would feel exactly the same way. I don't use words like that. I can't. Oh I can read them and I can sometimes work out what they might mean from the context but I can't use them myself.
Interestingly each of those words has appeared here with a red line beneath them - obviously the vocabulary device on Blogger does not recognise them either. No wonder I cannot use them. I have never been able to use those sort of words. Is there something wrong with me?
I used to wonder about this. If I am honest, I still wonder. I have written "academic" papers in my time. I have written more government submissions than I care to think about. I have written many thousands of letters. I don't think I have ever used words like that. I didn't use words like that in my doctoral thesis.
My doctoral thesis was written in very plain English. I intended it to be that way. It was intended to be used.  (It was and it has now been superseded and the words have been consigned to the recycle bin.) My supervisors and my examiners were not happy with the way I had written it. They said it did not sound "academic". I kept all four paws firmly planted on the ground and said it said what I wanted it to say.
Is this what is wrong with the way I write everything? Does a ten year old want a straightforward story or do they want an adult-clever "stream of consciousness narrative" which "explores issues"?
I have been told my writing "won't challenge them". When I asked what this meant I was told that telling a straightforward story was not acceptable. The style has to be "different" - preferably slick and funny or dark and disjointed.
I don't think I can do those things. Words are tools for me. I use them to say what I want to say. It's my way of getting the message across.
And yes, I know I have probably used words here that other people do not know...but I tried not to do that.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

"We just had to bring it and

show you," our neighbour told us. She had come over with her older granddaughter, age four.
They had made a trip to what we call "the untidiest shop" in search of some cardboard because granddaughter wanted to make "a sun". They came back with a polystyrene kit to make a model of our solar system instead.
I am not sure how much a reasonably intelligent four year old understands about the solar system. She undoubtedly knows about Earth and the Sun, the Moon and Stars but I think the rest may be just a little confusing.
I say this because I asked whether they had seen the photograph of Earth taken by the Mars Rover. No, they had not seen it. I tried to explain it in the simplest of terms but I don't think the four year old mind could comprehend it - nor did I expect her to understand. She is a child who is firmly rooted in the actual world. She has imagination but the sort of imagination that has to relate to things she knows about.
The Whirlwind or my nephews would have had much more idea at that age - although I am quite sure they would not have really understood either. I can even remember having the idea of the planets explained to me - by my paternal grandfather as we were out on the lawn one night and he was showing me "the Southern Cross". How much did I understand? I don't know. I certainly related the picture in the sky with the picture on the flag and my grandfather explained the rest in the terms of the sun being at the centre of a roundabout and the rest going around it. I remember that clearly so I must have understood something.
But I do wonder what our little visitor understood and what she will understand when they have put the kit together. She has been exposed to a great deal more information about the world than I was or even than my nephews and then the Whirlwind was but, in an odd sort of way, I think she actually knows and understands less. Our little visitor is overloaded with information. She may know but I think she sometimes understands less.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

I can think of better ways to spend

two million dollars than giving it to a convicted drug smuggler for her story. Apparently one of our major television channels has thought it worth paying that to Schapelle Corby for her story - or so the rest of the media would have us believe.
I am cynical enough to wonder what other deals have been done behind the scenes and whether her Indonesian brother in law has also planned to cash in on this. After all, he is the one who is acting as her "guarantor" while she is on parole and I don't imagine he is doing it out of the goodness of his heart. He would expect to be paid in some way or another. And of course Corby still owes her principal. That person will expect to be paid for the botched delivery - with interest.
There was another news item here over the weekend, one of those regular but always disturbing and distressing appeals for information about a crime. This time it was revealed that there are eleven unsolved cases in which there are million dollar rewards up for information that leads to the discovery of bodies and clues as to who did the crime. It promptly made someone I know say to me, "Oh wish I knew something. It would be an easy way to make a million."
Not it would not. I did not say that to him because I know he would not be prepared to listen.  In at least one of those cases I don't doubt you would need to change your identity or have your identity changed. You would be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life. As for the others, even in the perpetrator of the crime was dead, could you really take the money? I'd like a million dollars but I couldn't take it knowing that it came from years of heartache and failed investigations at taxpayer expense.
I couldn't write a book for the benefit of a convicted criminal or benefit from their crimes. The thought makes me squirm. But, some people obviously don't mind and some others obviously like to read about it. I won't be.
I would much rather that two million dollars had been spent on teaching young people to entertain themselves so they didn't feel the need to try drugs even once.  I would like it to have been spent on something that would allow them to develop an interest that would last them for the rest of their lives. It didn't happen.
Apparently, crime pays.

Monday 10 February 2014

Dorinda Hafner is an

Adelaide identity, a "tv chef" with a larger than life personality and  a sense of humour. She also happens to come from Africa, Ghana to be precise.
She is a highly intelligent woman who trained as a nurse but has also worked as a story teller, actress and public speaker as well as a television chef. Her cook books are fun to read.
Many moons ago she taught me how to make a highly spiced peanut stew for an African evening my mother was having at her church. It was apparently well received but I have not made it again as I was given another recipe by another African friend. Still, there are some other interesting and unusual recipes in Dorinda's books.
But Dorinda has been in the news again recently. She was commenting on the racism she has come up against here.
It saddens me but it did not surprise me. When I was small it was unusual to see anything but "white" faces around Adelaide. There was the occasional, very occasional, aboriginal but that was it.
Out in the rural areas in which we lived there were aboriginal faces as well as white faces. As children we just accepted them. Although my mother had things to say about their cleanliness and warned us not to accept food from them we played quite happily with any child who happened to be around.
It has gone on that way for us. For many years one of my best friends was a very dark skinned aboriginal woman. Her house was spotless and her children were too - when the occasion demanded it. When Rosie died I wept. Her son asked me to speak at her funeral and I managed - just. I had the curious experience of being surrounded by many, many dark faces - dark, friendly faces. I was "Rosie's friend" and that was enough for them. I was hugged and I hugged in return. Years later we all still miss Rosie's good sense and her robust approach to life. She was "mother" to an entire community.
I wish Rosie was still around. She would have written a scathing letter to the paper about "your lot" and "our mob". In this case "your lot" would not have been those with white faces and "our mob" would not have been those with dark faces. "Your lot" would have been those who judge on appearance and "our mob" would have been those who judge on character.
I much prefer to judge people on character. I can claim Africans, Asians, Indians, Muslims, Jews, Christians and just about anything else as people I am friendly with. Some of them are also friends, good friends. My two godchildren are Chinese. I like it that way. Life is even more interesting - and not just because you can learn how to make peanut stew or go to a bar mitzvah or wear a sari at a Hindu wedding. I have done all those things and more.
People with a racist outlook on life miss out on so much.

Sunday 9 February 2014

It seems that the titile of a

blog post can make all the difference to the number of "hits" it receives.
I occasionally remember to look at the number of hits my blog gets - usually when I get another "follower". (I have been stuck at 99 for a long time now although I know there are other people who actually read it who are not "followers" - so why do I bother with the statistics at all?)
But, back to the title business. I put "Schapelle Corby" in the title the other day. She happens to be in the news again. The number of hits on my blog rose dramatically. Obviously people thought they were going to read something about her. I hope they were not too disappointed but I suspect they were.
I wonder what would happen if I put "Harry Potter" in the title line? It would not have the same effect it would have had say ten years ago.
I have just finished reading "Rooftoppers" by Katherine Rundell. It's a wonderful book. It says all sorts of things. Sophie and Charles are exquisitely well drawn.
Rooftoppers is on the long list for the Carnegie Medal. I hope it will at least make the short-list. (It is, as always, up against some pretty stiff competition.) But, if I put it into the title of a blog post now I doubt it would have much impact.
Titles puzzle me. Sometimes we seem to know things only by a vague description of the book. I sometimes prowl into the library and someone will say, "Cat, do you know that book about... what's it called?" Why can't people remember the title? Was the title not good enough? As for remembering the author, ask a room full of people "Who wrote Harry Potter?" and, unless they are fellow writers, most people will not be able to give you the right answer.
I can remember mentioning David Almond 's "Skellig" to someone. It's another wonderful book , the sort of thing I would love to be able to write and never will. The person I was talking to was looking increasingly puzzled and finally said, "I didn't know he had written any books." Eventually I discovered they thought I was talking about Dave Allen - and that I was calling him by the wrong name. They thought they were being polite in failing to correct me.
Having difficulty in remembering names is not unusual. We all fail at times. I know I do. It's bad. It makes the other person feel they are not important to you.
But there are some names which seem to be seared into people's consciousness - and not always for the right reasons. I'd rather be a total unknown than known for the reason someone like Schapelle Corby is known.
But there are some writers I would not mind being mistaken for too!

Saturday 8 February 2014

I gave Linda Strachan's book

"Spider" to the Senior Cat this week - my nice, new autographed copy which Linda very generously gave me! He had not read it before. I thought he had.
At 91 the Senior Cat does not read many books for children and teens but he does read some. I read a good many books for children and teens and I pass over those I think he will enjoy.
I buy the books we give as presents to his great-grandchildren. They are all still young enough to be at the picture book stage. The Senior Cat is, as he puts it, "still young enough to enjoy a good picture book".
There weren't too many around when he was a child but, by the time I was born, people were beginning to take the business of picture books seriously. I still have my copy of Marjorie Flack's "Ping". Now of course picture books are a very serious business indeed. They are even, Nosy Crow style, interactive. I am still not sure what I think of that. Something needs to be left to the imagination of the child too. I think I will continue to supply straight books along with the interactive sort.
I think it took people a bit longer to recognise that teens need their own books as well. They might still read books for older children and they may also read adult literature but there is that curious in between stage where teens have their own world, their own ways of thinking, their own language and attitudes that are all part of growing up. They need their own books about their own issues and about the big issues seen from their perspective.
The Senior Cat liked Spider. He liked it very much indeed - and so he should because it is, as he put it, "a damn good read". He has dealt with the issues in Spider, the illegal use of cars, accidents and injuries. It was part of his job as the principal of a large rural area school where, for some teens, one rite of passage into adulthood was the "borrowing" of a car and the playing of a game of "Chicken". That involved two cars speeding towards one another on a narrow strip of road. The drivers would be unlicensed and uninsured.  The one who moved aside first was, of course, considered the "chicken". "Chicken" was all the things that "Spider" talks about - with all the consequences. The Senior Cat considers himself fortunate he did not have to deal with a death. The night that happened the culprits had come from the city, escapees from the reformatory. It is a night forever etched on my memory as the night the crop duster pilot had to land his little plane on the unsealed road outside my bedroom window, not once but five times in order to fly the injured out.
I wonder now, as the Senior Cat did, how the teens who indulged in the stupidity of playing "Chicken" would have reacted to Spider. I don't doubt they would identify with him - but would they identify with the consequences?  That's a more difficult issue. The Senior Cat says it would be a good book to use in the classroom and I agree. The Whirlwind read it and the reason my first copy was quite literally falling to pieces was that it was read by her entire year group - and, I suspect, passed on to siblings to read as well. I am surprised the book made its way back to me.
What I do know is that I won't be loaning my signed copy out - although I might just buy another copy for more teens to read.

Friday 7 February 2014

The now infamous Schapelle Corby

is, according to media reports, likely to obtain parole very shortly.
There are varying views on her innocence and guilt - both here as well as abroad.  There are varying views on whether she should be granted parole.
Now there are also varying views on whether she will financially benefit from telling her story. There are claims she could get "millions" for it.
Millions? Where does this sort of money come from? It's ridiculous. I imagine that the vast majority of people would say that criminals should not benefit from their crimes but there does not seem to be the same view about others benefitting - mostly the media.
I am not talking here about a trip to Bali for a journalist and camera crew - although that may be very nice if they can wangle an extra night while they are there - but about the income which a story will generate. People will advertise on a television station which has a good story to tell. They know people will want to hear the story so they will take the opportunity to advertise there at the same time.
And who pays for the advertising? We do of course. The cost of advertising is built into the cost of the things we buy.
I know it is much more complicated than that but in the end that is what it comes down for. We pay people. Even those of us who watch almost no television, avoid the commercial television stations, press the mute button when the advertisements appear, and don't bother reading the advertisements in papers, we pay for people to write and speak about crime.
How much better would it be if that money was spent on paying authors to write good fiction instead?

Thursday 6 February 2014

"Do you want to save these?"

I ask the Senior Cat. He has been saving the blue and red lids of the plastic milk containers for a very long time now. My own feeling is that he could have stopped doing it long ago but, being a dutiful daughter, I have said nothing.
"No, I think I might have enough," he tells me. Magic words! I toss them into the recycle before he can change his mind.
The Senior Cat hoards things. His middle name should be "jackdaw". Things "might be useful one day" and they are often the most unlikely things.
He also hoards timber - often given to him by other people - and all the things that go with timber. He doesn't hoard it in a selfish manner. If people need something he will give timber away. He will make things for people, indeed he loves making things for people.
Yesterday someone asked me if the Senior Cat had "enough timber". I just looked at the man who was asking and he gave a sheepish sort of smile.  Yes, his wife was trying to persuade him to give some timber away. This man is twenty-three years younger than the Senior Cat.
"Don't you want to keep it?" I asked.
"Well, I'd like to but you know how it is...She Who Must Be Obeyed thinks I have too much. And we will have to do something about the tree."
A fourteen metre high tree came down in the backyard during the storm. It has caused a considerable amount of damage to their property and that of a neighbour. It was classed as a "significant" tree and, because it was "significant", they could not do anything with it. Even trimming it required permission.
The neighbours do not blame them for the damage but both households are upset because, despite the obvious danger, the council had refused them permission to touch the tree. The "experts" had decided nothing to need to be done and that it did not pose a danger...even when the tree was showing signs of age and heat related stress. Now they are facing an enormous bill to clean up the mess, repair the sheds and fences and gardens which have been damaged.
"Offer the timber to the mob who want to repair the clipper," muttered one of the men looking at the mess.
Everyone knew he was not serious but they knew what he meant. The clipper, the City of Adelaide, arrived two days ago. She is a wreck but she was once a clipper that sailed between Australia and the United Kingdom. Money was raised to bring her from Scotland to Australia on the deck of a much larger vessel. It has been an enormously expensive operation. Restoring her, even to the point where she can just be seen as a wreck, will be even more expensive. I don't see it happening and I suspect the people looking at the fallen tree feel the same way.
Yes of course she is part of our heritage and an important part of our maritime and social history. I happen to think history is important - and that children need to know a lot more of it than they are currently taught.
I also believe that we need to be realistic. We don't have the money to save the clipper and, like the tree, it might have been better to do something different and save the money.
I left the men standing around discussing strategies for removing the tree. Sadly there are some things you can't save.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

There were no papers yesterday, or

so I thought. We get two. They usually land on the front lawn in the early hours of the morning.
Yesterday they were nowhere to be seen. What I could see was an awful mess.
It had blown a gale all the previous day and night. The wind was still blowing just as strongly. This was more than the usual "gully winds" we often get in the summer. These were wind gusts so strong it was a struggle to stay upright.
There were leaves and small branches all over the lawn and a bigger branch by the gate. I had to move that before I could open the gate and go out into the street.
I had to go out into the street because the wheelie bins had taken flight. I rescued ours and those of the neighbours on either side. A neighbour opposite came out and rescued those on his side of the street. I was not sure whether they would stay upright but I stuffed some more tree parts into those on our side of the street and hoped for the best.
The Senior Cat found something else to read at the breakfast table.
I put the little parcel we had for our Scottish visitors and headed off for the railway station. The plan was to pass it over and come home, leaving them to do whatever they had planned for the day.
At one point I thought I was not going to get as far as the station. The wind gust was so strong I could not pedal against. The boy ahead of me, who was pedalling to school, fell of his bike. Fortunately he was not hurt but he gave me a rueful grin and asked if I thought the wind was a good excuse for being late.
There were some big tree branches down. They all came from gum trees. Someone's car had sustained some damage from the branch down near the track into the railway station.
The ride into the city seemed unbelievably calm and, when I got there, it was quiet. There was nothing more than a light breeze. In the eastern suburbs in which I live there were thousands of houses without power - although we were fortunate in our area. The damage in some places was considerable but, just five kilometres away, all was quiet.
I spent the morning in the city - not something I had originally planned but thoroughly enjoyed as I was able to take the visitors to the Migration Museum. (And then we talked some more!)
And, arriving home, I found it was much quieter. I brought the bins in from the street - and found the papers. They had blown into the bushes at the side of the yard and were almost covered by the detritus which had built up as the wind shifted things around.
I wonder what else went missing yesterday. Will it be found again?

Tuesday 4 February 2014

We had the most delightful "letter"

in our letter box yesterday. I rescued it just as the wind was blowing everything in sight to the far end of the street.
I knew the postman had not been so an envelope in the letter box had to be advertising or a neighbour.
The couple across the road have grandchildren, two girls of four and three respectively. They are both bright but rather shy children. They also have lovely, traditional Irish names which almost nobody recognises. I have been flavour-of-the-day ever since I first met them because "you know my name!" I even knew how to spell them - but then I happen to be interested in names.
The four year old has just started "kindergarten" at "big school". It is her first year in the classroom and she is, after just over a week, thrilled to be there. Perhaps it helps that her "bestest" friend is also there.
It also helps that her grandmother, who has been one of those "day care" grandmothers, has done a lot to prepare her for school. They have "cooked" and "gardened" and thoroughly explored the environment on walks. There has been painting and play with all sorts of construction toys (bought second hand at sales and in charity shops) and there has been a lot of reading and, recently, there has been "writing".  Her parents and her grandmother did not push this. They did expect her to recognise her name but they waited for the reading and writing to come when she was ready. She can recognise all her letters. She knows some words. Just before Christmas she wrote her name on a thankyou card for me.
Yesterday there was a "letter". Wow! There was "Dear", there was the Senior Cat's name and my name and "this is for you" and "Love from" and her name. The letters wander across the page a bit and some of them are back to front but, so what? We have the first letter she has ever written to someone outside the family.
I have yet to see her. When I do I won't praise her to the skies. I am going to thank her and say how pleased we were that she took the time to write it.

Monday 3 February 2014

There are reports of yet another

"Hollywood actor" dying of a heroin overdose and others saying what a "tragic waste" of life it is. And it is. It would have been a tragic waste of life even if Philip Hoffman had been a down and out on the streets.
I don't doubt that more than one person died of a heroin overdose at the same time as Mr Hoffman. Will any others make headlines around the world? Probably not. They will not, in the eyes of the media, be as "important".
But they are important. They will be someone's son or daughter. They may be a brother or sister, cousin, aunt, uncle or grandchild. They may have friends and acquaintances. People will miss them.
I was reading an academic article last week. In it the writer referred to a paper by another academic, someone I knew and thought I knew well. I knew she had problems but her suicide still shocked me. I suspect other people who worked with her were even more shocked. They simply hadn't noticed. All I knew was what she had told me one Saturday morning when we both happened to be catching up on some paper work after a week out in schools. She made two mugs of tea and brought one in to me. I sensed she needed to talk and made the time for her. Of course it was not enough. She needed professional help - and nobody listened when I said I thought she was not coping very well.
Seeing her name on the paper was a jolt, as it always is. I do sometimes wonder what she would be like now. She was older and would be well past retirement age now but academics, particularly those who have not developed other interests, don't always retire. I suspect she would not have retired. I wonder where her research would have taken her?  Yes, it was a waste.
There was another much younger man I knew who had drug and alcohol abuse problems. His suicide did not come as such a shock but it was still a waste. He was, when sober and not high, a quite extraordinarily witty man. He could make other people laugh. Again, his suicide shocked many people. They had no idea. Few of them had any idea how serious his problems were - even those who were trying to help him. His mother would weep on my shoulder because "nobody listens".
Philip Hoffmann was surrounded by people who should have been aware. They should have listened but Hollywood is a very artificial place. It is a place where many people have difficulty in telling the difference between the real and the imaginary. I have no desire to go there.
When I went out to get the papers this morning one of the regular dog walkers was going past and he mentioned Hoffmann's death to me. Then he said, "It's a wonder more actors don't kill themselves. They're always pretending to be people who do things like that."
Fortunately he moved on before he pursued the point.
Thankfully I don't have to pretend to be someone I am writing about. I just need to get inside their heads - and that can be much harder.

Sunday 2 February 2014

It would appear that the story

the ABC (in this case the Australian Broadcasting Commission) put out about asylum seekers being "tortured" by members of our navy is beginning to rapidly unravel. There were claims that the men on  board the vessel in question had been "forced" to hold on to hot pipes and had thus had their hands burned. Further claims have been made about these asylum seekers being kicked and beaten by members of the navy.
Now, I do not believe the navy is lily-white. I am quite sure there are individuals in it who would enjoy a good scrap and that, like the rest of society, there are people in it who do not conform to civilised standards of behaviour. At the same time I also believe that, again like the rest of society, the vast majority of navy personnel are ordinary, decent human beings who will do the right thing by their fellow human beings.
I never did believe the story the ABC came out with. "Telling a story" is part of the asylum seeker process. The better the story the greater the chance of obtaining asylum. Some stories are true. Other stories are not true. Some story tellers are good and others are not. You can also be coached in how to tell your story and, like someone acting in a role, you can come to believe in the character for a while. You can even come to believe you are telling the truth.
Talk to navy personnel, talk to immigration officials, talk to others who deal with asylum seekers and they will all tell you that they hear "the same stories over and over again".
Yes of course they do. They hear them for two reasons and on two levels. They heard them because some of those stories are true and because, having heard true stories, others have set out to copy them. They can be told by people who have actually experienced the events they describe and by others who are describing something they have not experienced. Knowing what story to tell and how to tell it is a vital part of the process.
Tell the story well enough and you will be able to sell it to other people. People like to hear about bad things - so long as they do not actually happen to them or anyone close to them. The story does not have to be true but it does need to sound as if it might be.
It is rather like trying to be a writer.

Saturday 1 February 2014

I met someone in "real life"

yesterday - "real life" as opposed to "internet life". It was a very enjoyable meeting too. I hope she and her husband enjoyed it as much as I did. I think they did.
While we were talking about people she knows in real life and I only know in my internet life she remarked that it must be very strange for me to know people only in that way. Yes, it is.
I went home thinking about it.
I think internet "friendships" must, for the most part, be artificial. You can't really know what people are like until you actually physically meet them. Even then the circumstances under which you meet them will colour your impressions of them - or they seem likely to do so.
I remember my first meeting with my chief doctoral supervisor. We had never made contact before. I duly turned up for the preliminary "I might take you on as a student" meeting feeling very nervous. More than one person had said he was "very difficult" to work with. (Yes, he was.) I wondered if he would be abrupt and impatient. (Yes, he was.) I wondered why he was bothering but assumed he wanted something from me. (Yes, he did.) I wonder now how he would have come across in social media. I don't think he would have come across well. I can think of more people like him - although not quite as difficult.
But there are other people I have chosen to make contact with - such as writers and knitters (and sometimes people who are both) - who seem very different. They come across as individuals. I think I would like some of them more than others - but that is true of everyone I know.
One day I may be fortunate enough to physically meet more of the people with whom I have virtual relationships. I will be interested to see if they are, to me, like the impression they give.
But, it bothers me a bit because one of them once said that I came across as being "very assertive" - and that is not the case. I would have said the reverse was true. She is very assertive and I am hopeless at sticking up for myself! One day I might find out.