Saturday 31 May 2014

My anti-bucket list?

Someone on another blog (Girls Heart Books) wrote about having an anti-bucket list. I read her post yesterday and I have been thinking about it since then.
I rather like the idea of a "bucket list". Although I have never actually written one I do have things I still want to achieve. I may not achieve them but I can at least work towards them - or grab the opportunity to try them if that opportunity comes up.
But an anti-bucket list? Things I do not want to do?
The author of the other article mentioned bungee jumping as being at the top of her list. Hmm...yes, I would agree. I have no desire to brain damage myself still further by indulging in that idiocy.
Then someone else mentioned "potholing". Hmm...yes, I would agree. The idea of crawling into dark, damp, small spaces for the fun of it is something I completely fail to understand. I am anxious in the basement car park in the local shopping centre. (Yes, I am wimp but even being called that is not going to make me like it.)
I don't like heights either so I do not want to go to the top of any the world's skyscrapers with their "observation towers" or their "viewing platforms". Oh, and I don't want to climb Mt Everest either  - even if I could.
I don't want to visit the South Pole - or the North Pole. I don't want to row across an ocean - or be rowed across one.
Even if space travel becomes normal in my lifetime I do not want to leave Earth. (I get travel sick and apparently even people who do not normally get travel sick are prone to do so on space missions.)
I do not want to go to another Wagner opera, read War and Peace or own so much as a print of a David Hockney painting.
I do not want to eat snake or snails or scorpions.
Well, that's the start of a very long list. Would I be missing out on much?
What's on your anti-bucket list? Do tell me!

Friday 30 May 2014

It is a "locked" ward

and that means I need to be "buzzed" in and out when I go to visit my friend in the psychiatric ward at the hospital. The staff have seen me so often that they recognise me and, if they see me coming, they will buzz me through before I can ring the bell. They don't ask who I have come to visit either, just tell me if they think I need to know something or they want me to do anything. One of them even jokingly suggested that they should provide me with my own swipe card.
Most people in the ward do not get regular visitors, indeed some don't get any. Other patients will get visitors at weekends and some must get visitors in the evenings. Visiting hours are generous - from 8am to 8pm. I have also been told that, if necessary, visits can be made outside those hours. I doubt it would make much difference. People still would not willingly come. Many people dislike visiting hospital anyway. 
I have watched the other visitors. They go nervously in and out. They look, at best, anxious. They are uncomfortable about being there. It is clear that mental illness frightens many of them even though the patients in this area are considered to be no danger to anyone - except perhaps themselves.
As part of my teacher training I had a placement in another psychiatric ward. It was another locked ward. There were two doors to the ward and both of them were kept locked. There were armed guards present. The patients were considered a danger to themselves and to other people.
My role, along with one of my fellow students, was to provide "art therapy". Neither of us knew much about what was expected of us and there were serious limitations on the materials and equipment provided - no knives, no scissors, no string or anything else that might be turned into a weapon. So, we took along some clay - and at the end of the term we had a small exhibition of things the patients had made. I don't know if we really did anything to help but the patients seemed to enjoy the experience. Most of them talked to us. Sometimes it did not make sense but often it did - although sometimes not in ways that other people would necessarily recognise.
Did it bother me being there? If I am honest I suppose I was not completely comfortable. I was only nineteen at the time. I did not have much experience of the world, rather less than many other nineteen year old students. I would not have chosen to go but I was not given a choice. It was where I was assigned.
I would not feel completely comfortable there now but the ward I am currently visiting does not bother me. The door is not locked because the patients are violent. It is locked to ensure that the staff know where the patients are, so that they don't - as some of them would - wander off or deliberately injure themselves. Most of the patients would not do either. They are simply incapable of it. Some of them cannot make decisions - even offering them a choice of tea or coffee can agitate them.
It makes no difference.They are ordinary people. It's why I will go on visiting my friend and chatting to the other patients who are wandering the corridor and the garden or the television lounge. It could be any of us.  

Thursday 29 May 2014

I have a little more to say

on the issue of defection today.
I wrote a polite but firm letter to the man who has been my MP. I advised him, politely, that he no longer had my respect or my support.
I pedalled off to deliver it - because, unlike him, I believe such things should be done in person - not by text message or an announcement in the media. If you wish to make such a statement then you should be willing to put your name to it - and you should continue to be polite.
Nevertheless it did not surprise me to discover that the window of the electorate office had been sprayed with angry graffiti. There was a large media contingent outside the office. There were police. I had the letter in my hand. One of the police coming out of the office took it from me and took it inside. I thanked him politely and pedalled off rapidly - before the media could nab me for an on air opinion. I am all too well aware of how they can edit and twist things so that your words come out with an entirely different meaning.
There were angry mutterings in the post office, the chemist and the bank I visited. Most people, even those who voted for other people, are disgusted. They also feel powerless.
We shouldn't be powerless but we probably are. So much for democracy.
Yesterday afternoon I went to visit my friend in hospital. I had promised her I would come - but I came away feeling I might just as well not have gone. She was fractious and irritable and showed no interest in me being there. Her lunch was still there. As hospital food goes it is not too bad - at least edible. She had eaten half a small bowl of soup and a tiny container of ice cream - about a third of a cup size. That was all. There was an IV line in.
Today she is having an endoscopy because she is still complaining of pain when she eats - but an ultrasound and a CT scan have found nothing.
One of the senior staff believes they will not find anything. I suspect he is right. I suspect my friend wants to defect from life. I left feeling I wanted to defect from her as well. It makes me angry that she is not making an effort but defection would be wrong. I am not going to do it.
Defection does not take courage. It is cowardly.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

It seems our votes ARE worthless

and that is not something I say lightly.
We had a state election in March. Our local electorate voted the incumbent MP back in. He had about 55% of the primary vote and even more after preferences. He also had almost twice the number of votes of the party which managed to form minority government. He was popular and he was considered to be an able and loyal member of his party. He had been leader of the party until he made a foolish blunder and was forced to step down.
Before going into politics this man was an officer in the army. His entire career has been built on the concept of loyalty and leadership.
Yesterday he abandoned all that. He betrayed his party. He betrayed the people who voted for that party through him. He betrayed those who voted for him. He betrayed the principles of democracy and political representation.
Without consulting his electorate or his party he announced that he was becoming an "independent" - and taking up a ministerial position in the minority government which has, until now, known it would have to rely on the vote of another "independent" with a ministerial post. Both "independents" are ignoring the wishes of their electorates.
Politicians are our servants. They are not are masters. Although they behave as if they are our masters they must at some point face the electorate. The system is not perfect. Our state saw a minority government retain power when it should, on the numbers, have been sent to oblivion. That makes the actions of this man even more reprehensible. He is not merely going against the wishes of his electorate but against the wishes of a majority of people in the state.
There can be very few reasons for an elected member of parliament to leave the party he was elected to represent. One possible scenario would be if the party was in power and abusing that power in a way that was harming the electorate. That is not the case here.
The decision this man made was made not, as he claims, in the best interests of the people of this state. It was made simply in his own personal interest. He will - if he lasts - leave politics at the end of this term with a pension relating to that of a Minister rather than a member of the Opposition.
Thirty pieces of silver does not even begin to describe his actions.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

So the bar on the graph of voting patterns

in the EU elections in the UK indicated that more than a third of the population didn't vote?
It does not surprise me. I often wonder how many people would vote in Australia if we did not have compulsory attendance at the ballot box. It is usually referred to as "compulsory" voting. This is of course incorrect.
Nobody can be forced to vote here. You have to attend a polling station, line up, give your name, get it marked off on the roll, accept the papers and put them in the right boxes. Although you are supposed to mark them nobody can actually force you to do that. Indeed, for the most part, nobody needs to know if you don't actually choose to vote.
I did once see a man of "alternative" appearance take his papers and go straight to the boxes. One of the staff questioned him but he told her, very politely, that he did not want to vote for any of the candidates. He then put the papers in the relevant boxes and walked out. I suspect most people who do not wish to vote go into a carrel and fold the papers in private or perhaps draw something on the papers?
I actually believe compulsion to attend the ballot box is wrong - just as I believe that failing to vote is wrong. No, the two things are not incompatible. Democracy should allow the choice but it also requires the individual to actively make that choice. Not voting simply because you cannot be bothered or think it won't make a difference is not democratic. It actually undermines democracy.
Our system of compulsory attendance at the ballot box is, in my view, just as undemocratic. It makes for lazy politics. It makes for complacency.
There are still parts of the world where not everyone has a vote or where just one candidate is put up for "election". There are places where the "elections" are carefully controlled by those in power. The results will be a foregone conclusion in such places. There are places where people are prevented from voting in large numbers through the threat of violence and intimidation - and where their votes can be bought for a bag of rice or maize.
We need to be aware of those things. Just as the bar at the beginning of the graph should be almost non-existent because almost everyone has exercised their right to vote the vote here needs to change. It needs to change from those who unthinkingly vote the way they have voted all their lives, the way their parents and grandparents voted to those who think about what they are doing.
It is asking a lot, probably too much for immediate change. I just hope it will happen before it is too late.

Monday 26 May 2014

Apparently Minister Gove

in the UK has demanded that only literature written there should be studied in schools. That would of course cut out things like "To Kill a Mockingbird", "The Crucible" and other things which have appeared on the examination lists since time immemorial.
Naturally all this is also causing outrage among those responsible for educating the young, among writers and among others involved in the world of books. It is entirely understandable.
There was a similar suggestion made here some time back. It did not get very far and it did not get a lot of publicity but there it was, the suggestion that Australian children should study only Australian literature.
What happened was that more Australian writing was put on the lists of what needed to be taught. Note now that I said "literature" first and "writing" second. Not all writing is literature worthy of study.
If we had gone down the road of Australian literature and/or writing only there would have been plenty of material. Australia has produced some outstanding writers and they are worthy of study. It has also produced some mediocre and downright poor writers.
Choosing only Australian authors would of course deny students the opportunity to study other great literature. It would be unacceptably narrow. Despite all the diversity of, and access to, modern media there is already a narrowing of cultural literacy. There is so much information available that some of the literature, music, art and so on that society has absorbed into everyday life is no longer studied. Even some of the most culturally literate people can be entirely unaware of where things come from.
Does it matter? Yes - and no. There has been a revival of all things Jane Austen in the past few years. Joan Aiken wrote some more "Austen" novels before she died. Jane Austen has appeared as a character in other novels. There are people who will read these things without ever reading Jane Austen but they may absorb some Austen along the way.
Nobody has, to the best of my knowledge, tried to write another Shakespeare play or a Charles Dickens novel. (Alexander McCall-Smith writes chapter by chapter novels for the Scotsman but his characters are uniquely his own.)
I did not study "To Kill a Mockingbird" at school. I read it because my English teacher in my Leaving ("O" level)  year gave it to me.
I read a good many other books she suggested as well. Many of them appear on lists of books to be studied for English literature.
In the year previous to the Leaving we were supposed to read just the first 18 chapters of "David Copperfield". I was told to read the entire book "How can you hope to understand it unless you read all of it?"
I suspect "studying" a novel can kill it for many students - especially if it is not well taught and the exam at the end is emphasised. I suspect that there are novels and writers who have been over-exposed. If the study guides, the teaching materials, the films and the plays based on the words are there then it is perhaps easier to teach the same things over and over again, after all you are teaching new students each year and that makes a difference.
I am not worried if students never read "To Kill a Mockingbird" (although they will have missed out on a valuable experience) but I am worried if they never read anything like that. I am worried that they no longer seem to read as widely or often as I did. I am worried that they are not getting that diverse experience of cultural literacy that I did and continue to get.
I am worried that Shakespeare is rapidly disappearing from the texts to be studied here and that his work is being replaced by things like "film posters in context" (whatever that may mean).
Shakespeare is still worthy of study. His works just need to be put into a 21st Century context. 
And I want students to read literature from anywhere, literature in English and literature in translation.  Only then will they be able to consider the great ideas that will shape their future just as they have made their past.
Is that wrong?

Sunday 25 May 2014

"No, not between the loops -

through the loop," I tell her again...and again.
There was knitting yesterday. We are trying to teach someone to knit. She desperately wants to learn and several of us are doing the best we can to help her learn.
J is brain damaged. She has a "closed brain injury", caused by severe concussion in a car accident. She is big and uncoordinated. Her personal hygiene leaves something to be desired. Yesterday was fine and warm but she was wearing her raincoat over a frilly organza blouse. It made her perspire but the suggestion she might take it off was met with, "I might forget it."
Even suggesting we would remind her to take it was not enough to make her remove her coat.
She has a pattern. She has "wool" and she has needles. The pattern is actually rather nice although the size range is not nearly large enough for her. She does not have nearly enough of the cheap acrylic yarn she found in the charity shop. The needles are about the right size - the woman in the charity shop apparently helped her choose them.
Those of us trying to help - there are three of us - are not too worried about the pattern or the yarn or the needles. Instead we admire her determination. We encourage. We show her over and over again...and yes, she is slowly getting the idea. When she manages to finish a row of about twenty stitches we are pleased for her - but not too pleased because she knows the difference between genuine and false praise.  She knows too that her work is not perfect. Does it matter? No. We have all, quite deliberately, talked about the way we dropped stitches when we started. We all tell her that she will get better at it - and I genuinely believe that.
I talked with one of her other "teachers" yesterday. There is enough yarn there for her to make a "beanie". If she can knit the top this woman thinks it might be acceptable to "help" her knit a band for it. Then she can sew it together - no doubt with more help - and use it. She will probably wear it in the summer. It will look odd but I doubt it will worry her. She will have done much towards making it herself.
And when she has done that then we will give her a small present in celebration. I have a skein of nice yarn put aside for her. It was in the boxes of yarn my friend sent me before she died and I think she would be delighted to see it used that way.

Saturday 24 May 2014

There has been widespread criticism

of a scholarship being awarded to the Prime Minister's daughter. It is said that the scholarship was awarded on merit but that has not stopped the criticism - if anything it has increased it.
I do not know anything about the scholarship. I do not know anything about the work of the Prime Minister's daughter. I do not know whether the scholarship was awarded on merit or not.
What I do know is that there is a strong tendency to use the children of public figures in an attempt to cause embarrassment for their parents.
That's wrong.
As children my siblings and I were expected to be extraordinarily well behaved and hardworking at school. The most minor infraction and we would be given a lecture. We were "the head's kids" and we were expected to reach a certain standard. It was not unusual for us to be publicly chastised by a teacher. We were always punished more severely - to "set an example".
Our paternal grandfather was also a well known figure and we were aware that, if we were tempted to get up to any mischief, he would soon hear about it.
I think we were actually as well behaved as most children and a little more well behaved than some. We wanted to break out occasionally but we knew that, if we did , it would be all over the district in no time. Other children could break the rules and most people would never hear about it.
But if you are the child or a member of parliament or some other very public figure then it is different. Some years ago one of the sons of an MP was caught speeding. Speeding is something which alarms me but this was a minor infraction. It might even have resulted in a caution in some instances. But, not for this lad. He was hit with the full force of the law - the maximum fine and the maximum penalty the magistrate was able to hand down. And, on top of that, he was hit with his offence being made front page news. It was made to sound like an offence akin to murder - and it was done to embarrass his parent. Something that would not normally even have been mentioned by the media was big news. It had a flow on effect too - tension between parent and child that exists to this day.
Some people will say that this is all perfectly fair. It is what you have to expect if you choose to take on a job like politics or something equally high profile.
Fair? Who are we talking about here? Are we talking about the parent or the child?
And when it comes to scholarships is a child expected not to apply or accept a scholarship earned on merit because of their parent's position? I was never allowed to get any of the prizes at school. It was explained to me that it was unacceptable because it might look like favouritism. It seems that attitude still prevails.
I am reminded of the way in which children born out of wedlock were once treated. Now we say how appalling it is to punish the child for the sexual actions of a parent but we continue to punish them in other ways.
I did get a major scholarship at university. It came from an organisation which was completely independent of all universities but this did not stop accusations of favouritism being made by some students. I was even stopped by a small group in the courtyard and told I should turn the scholarship down. It was jealousy of course.
I suspect that jealousy also has something to do with the criticism of the Prime Minister's daughter. It's not nice. It takes much of the pleasure out of being given such an award. I hope she has genuinely deserved it and will use it wisely and well. I hope she won't be pressured into giving it up simply because her father is who he is. That's a form of discrimination.

Friday 23 May 2014

We went out for

a meal at a local restaurant last night. It is not a fancy place. There is no need to dress up. You just need to look "tidy". Prices are reasonable. Some local people eat there on quite a regular basis.
The service is perhaps a little slow - but those serving you are students who work there part-time.
The cuisine is largely Italian. They actually make proper Italian pizza - the sort without about a dozen different ingredients on top and without masses of grease either. 
And, being a "local" place, you are likely to see people you know in there. The local state MP has his office next door. It is not unusual to see him in there. One of the local bank managers once told me he eats there most evenings. (He lives alone.) An elderly couple, quite well off, ate there each day before they could no longer drive. They then went to Meals on Wheels instead but they missed going out to be among people. The staff knew them well and, I suspect, they were often provided with meals more suited to their age and appetite. It is that sort of place. 
Last night there were several people in there that I knew. One of them was someone my mother had known in her days as head of a school. I also knew him in his professional capacity as a psychologist. The Senior Cat had, surprisingly, never met him. I introduced them. They know more people in common.
My BIL was talking to someone he had been to university with - and had not seen since. My sister was talking to an old patient. My nephews were talking to someone they had met on the way in - the owner of a very fancy sports car.
It left my sister's father-in-law. I was concerned he might feel out of it and said something to him.
The response was a smile and a shrug, "Is like back in Cyprus. Everyone knows everyone. It's good. I like to watch it."
It is good. It is good that there are still a few small pockets of a city which are like a village where people might see other people they know and be acknowledged by them. 
"And," the old Cypriot told me, "It is the difference between living and dying."
Perhaps it is.

Thursday 22 May 2014

"What did you have for breakfast?"

I ask my friend. There had been a call from the hospital while I was out and, at the time the Senior Cat gave them, they phoned again. My friend wanted to talk to me. Was that all right? I could hear the warning in the voice of the nurse making the call and, knowing my friend could not hear me, I asked, "Yes - pain or food issues?"
Both it seemed. Well, at least I was prepared.
My friend has become like a small child in many ways. She wants the impossible of me. Of pain medication she will tell me, "Tell them I need it!" And, of food, "But I'm not hungry. I get this awful pain when I eat. You've got no idea."
No, I haven't got any idea. She is wearing a nappy (diaper to those of you in the USA) now - something she was not wearing six weeks ago when she was taken to hospital. She has lost more weight, a lot more weight. She was underweight to start with and now she is almost skeletal.
My sister went with me in the afternoon and, while she was talking to the ward doctor - a friendly, pleasant and cheerful young man from Africa with just two years experience out of medical school - I talked to my friend. I asked about breakfast. That, it seems, was a pot of yoghurt and - she hesitated over this - some milk. Lunch? Half a bowl of soup and a small tub of ice cream - and a nurse later told me that she had fed her although my friend is perfectly able to feed herself. "We wanted to make sure she ate something."
I don't know what my friend ate for the evening meal. She is being given packs of high energy drink and complained to me they had taken the water away. It all sounded like a fractious toddler's complaints.
And no, it is not in the least bit like the highly intelligent woman I know - or knew.
My sister came in and asked a great many more questions about where the pain was located, what type of pain it is and when it occurs. It comes from anxiety as much as anything else - and a failure to eat.  An explanation of why it is necessary to eat in order to reduce physical discomfort followed. Suggestions were made for gentle bed exercises to keep up some muscle strength. I know it is all perfectly reasonable and possible. My sister does too. She's a professional and would not be suggesting something she thought unreasonable.
And I watched my friend. My sister and I signed the papers yesterday giving us guardianship. It's a huge responsibility - the responsibility for someone else's sick child even though that person is now a grown up and her parents have long gone. We have, in a sense, "adopted" her. It frightens me. How do people do it?

Wednesday 21 May 2014

So Australian children get a D-

for physical activity do they? They even rank behind countries like the UK, Canada and Finland and - let's face it - those countries have winters which are much worse than ours.
I have, as regular readers know, been pedalling to and from a local hospital recently. It takes me about fifteen minutes to get there and about twenty minutes to get back - yes, coming back is uphill.
My route takes me on a path which runs between a local primary school and an oval the children are allowed to use during the lunch hour. There is no road to cross between the two and I slow my pedalling to walking speed because there are always some children who will completely fail to look where they are going. Collisions between themselves occur and I do not want to be responsible for any collisions with me. Thankfully most of the active children still seem to be agile enough to work a split second avoidance manoeuvre.
But I have been observing the children as I go through. Some of them are just standing there. Some of them are leaning against the trees. There are small groups of girls sitting on a low wall and on the grass near the play equipment. There are usually three or four children using that equipment - girls rather than boys.
Some of the boys are on the oval kicking a ball around - but under the close supervision of a teacher. Other children seem to be playing some sort of game which does involve moving around. There is no evidence of skipping ropes, hopscotch or "elastics" - perhaps it is the wrong season. I have forgotten when my generation played those things.  Of course it is possible they do not play those things at all. They may have been banned on safety grounds. I need to ask the little drummer boy next door - although he may not know either.
And, when I return from the hospital visit, it is the time school finishes for the day. Those children who are not in after school care are being collected by grandparents and a few non-working parents. The streets around the school are crowded with cars. I recognise some of the people. I know they live locally - certainly within walking distance of the school. Perhaps they are always going on somewhere else. Almost nobody seems to walk to and from school. The bike enclosure is not crowded and very few children in the final two years seem to be trusted to travel to and from school alone - and I do not doubt their parents are, at very least, cautioned about doing so - if not openly criticised.
And I know children who are not permitted to play outside in their own back gardens unless there is an adult there to supervise. Even if they were permitted to play outside alone there are the competing pleasures of screen based entertainment.
What chance do children really have to exercise? We spent days outside in countryside - with some of the deadliest wildlife in the world. We disappeared for the entire day and knew to return home when it was growing dark.
I know city children cannot do that and there are endless problems with letting them roam free but perhaps we need a few more "adventure" type playgrounds - not the sterile and "safe" schoolyard. Our climate is largely ideal for outdoor play but we will go on getting a D- (or worse) unless children are actually allowed and encouraged to play outside without adult supervision.
Does it matter? I think it does - for the future mental as well as the physical health of the next generation. Or, am I wrong in thinking that?

Tuesday 20 May 2014

So the site which is supposed to record

our health records is not being used? Well, it only cost a billion dollars didn't it? I mean, let's face it, who is going to "opt in" and put their health records up for the world to see?
It was an idea brought in by the previous government. The idea was that everyone's health records would be instantly accessible by a doctor anywhere in the country. If you needed to visit a doctor while on holiday in another part of the country they would be able to access your health records. If you had an accident then the doctor in emergency would have instant access to your records.
It sounds like a good idea but of course, like many good ideas, it has not worked out quite the way it was intended. Are you surprised? I'm not surprised.
Apparently only about a million people have taken up the "offer". I suspect that those people are mostly those who travel regularly or have moved from one state to another and, in addition, have medical conditions that require a regular trip to the doctor. There may be some public servants and others "in the know" who have done it. The GP clinic we attend has not mentioned it to us. I am not surprised by that either.
One of the reasons it has not worked is that it has been an "opt in" and most people will not opt into anything like that. If they are going to the doctor then they will be concerned by the reason for going to the doctor, not their medical records being stored somewhere else.
Then there is the privacy issue. Nothing is secure so medical records would not be private. Most people, including myself, would prefer my medical records remained private. My medical history is nothing to be ashamed of but I don't really want it to be broadcast to the world.
There are other people, those who have had an abortion, a sexually transmitted disease or a mental illness who might, quite rightly, object to having their records centrally stored. If records were hacked and that sort of information was broadcast it could have a devastating effect on someone.
Then there is the accuracy of records. Doctors don't always record information accurately. They can, because they are only human, make mistakes. The records would need to be kept up to date - and since when do most people keep administration up to date?
And there is the issue of honesty as well. Is a doctor going to write an honest opinion of someone knowing that it has the potential to go out into the wider world? Personally I would not be writing anything negative about a patient - perhaps something about how difficult or rude or uncooperative they are - if I thought there was any chance of it being accessed by Jo or Jodie Hacker.
There is now a suggestion that the site should be "opt out" rather than "opt in". I have no doubt that, if the suggestion is taken up, the "opt out" option will be made difficult. There will be some sort of penalty for opting out - a reduction in benefits perhaps or the requirement to pay more for health services?
And when the Hackers succeed in accessing records, as they surely will, and make them public or use them to deny someone health or life insurance, a job or some other service then I am sure the government of the day will shrug. The courts will find a way around the issue for them as well.
We already have what amounts to a de-facto ID card in this country. It is our Medicare card. Perhaps it could just include information about where the patient's records are held - and a means to access them at request? Such a system won't be perfect but more people might accept that.
In the meantime I carry a card provided by the ambulance service. I trust that is the sensible alternative?

Monday 19 May 2014

There was a protest march

yesterday. It was organised by those opposed to the "harsh" budget measures. They claimed to be a "diverse" group and perhaps they were. Certainly the popularity of the government has plummeted. They would lose an election right now. And, of course, the Opposition is making the most of this.
It would not be unreasonable to suggest that the Opposition helped to organise the march through the union movement. Certainly someone had to pay for the quite extensive advertising about it - and that would not have been the "diverse" group. They would not have had that sort of funding. The union movement has and they are no doubt paying for the anti-government advertisements about to air in the media.
I suspect that all this was planned prior to the election and it will go on until the Opposition is returned to government. They refuse to lose or even acknowledge they lost. Whether that is a good thing depends on your political outlook.
But what if, instead of protesting, Australians did something quite different? What if they altered the way the country was run? We are perhaps the most over-governed country on earth. We have local councils/authorities. They are, supposedly, responsible for immediate local issues. They run things like garbage collection, tree trimming, footpath repairs, the local (rather than national) parks and playgrounds etc. We have state governments which run everything else within the state - as well as supervising and restricting what the councils can do. State governments are very expensive to run but even a state like Tasmania - population about 600,000 has a state government, a governor, a premier and parliament, elections, departments and ....well, I am sure you get the idea.
And then there is the federal level of government which deals with most of the same issues on a national level. There is wasteful duplication over and over again.
Is it possible Australia could be rid of state governments? Yes, there would need to be some sort of regional administration but could the nature of councils be changed - so that they deal with more issues and become more accountable with it? Could Australia have one set of laws for the entire country instead of (often minimally) different laws in each state?
It is surely something worth thinking about. The entire population of Australia is about the same as that of New York State in America. Do we really need to be so over-governed? Of course not.
It would save billions and encourage growth.
It won't happen but it is worth thinking about.


Sunday 18 May 2014

Support network?

Do you have a support network? The subject came up in discussion again yesterday. The Senior Cat and I discuss it often. Does someone we know who needs help have a support network? Yesterday I also contributed to an on-line discussion about something else and raised the matter there as one part of the solution to the problems being discussed. I then discussed it further with a friend at my knitting guild. She was once a Senator for this state, Minister for Health and was - and still is - interested in such things.
What do I mean by a "support network"? Put simply I mean your family and your friends - the people who will help you when you are in need of help.
Some time ago I was talking to someone I know about what might happen if I had to leave the Senior Cat alone for a number of days.
"Don't ever worry about that," she told me, "We'd see to it that he was fed."
And I know they would. I also know that someone would sleep here overnight. The Senior Cat is still able to look after himself but, at 91, he should not be left alone overnight when he is somewhat unsteady on his feet. Even his personal alarm does not cover all contingencies. So, yes he needs someone to be around but not hovering over him.
He has a support network and, by extension, I have a support network. We are lucky.
Some people would say we have worked at it. They would say we have done things for other people and, because of that, they also do things for us. Perhaps. It may not always work like that but perhaps it has in our case. We certainly didn't help other people with that idea in mind!
But the friend who is currently causing me so much concern has no such support network. She has one close relative, her unmarried sister. Her sister is not able to take responsibility for anything other than herself - and even that is difficult. It's just the way she is. Her own medical issues get in the way.
My friend has her late cousin's wife, a still energetic woman of 80. I have known this woman for many years on a casual basis and I like her very much - but she has other responsibilities. When we were talking on the phone several days ago she mentioned that she had managed to get to a meeting of her semi-professional craft group and that it had been "good to see some friends there and chat" as well as get some work done.
My friend has nothing like that. Her pursuits have been almost entirely intellectual. Her hobbies were things like reading and doing another subject at university, going to the theatre, a film or a concert. She knew people of course and occasionally went out with them but she didn't really develop a network of friendships of the "help each other" sort of kind. It was only a little over a year ago that she bought her first television set - and it has not been used much. Now she doesn't even do much reading. I suspect that large print might help but, so far, she has not pursued it with me and I am not prepared to push anything that makes her feel her life is spiralling further out of control.
There was a crisis on Friday - just as the solicitor we have obtained for her called in. The solicitor was someone she had not met or spoken to before - a very pleasant and competent sounding young woman with whom I had spoken on the phone. They were supposed to be sorting out some paperwork to give me the proper legal standing to take on her affairs. Instead the solicitor sat with her for almost half an hour and calmed her down enough to get her to agree to go for another scan. She obtained further pain medication for my friend - apparently by being quite forceful. And she phoned me to let me know exactly what had happened before I went to see her in the afternoon.
I have no doubt there will be a hefty bill for these services but she could also just have walked away and left my friend there - alone. I know my friend is not behaving normally. She is becoming much more dependent and unable to make decisions. Pain does that. Anxiety does that. Being in hospital, especially for an extended period does that. Not having other distractions does it too. It could have been very different if my friend had a wider support network. I hope I am learning from this - learning to maintain my own network and to support those who support me.

Saturday 17 May 2014

There was one of those e-mails

yesterday. It was actually addressed to the Senior Cat but I get any e-mails for him. He refuses to learn to use e-mail and nothing I can do will persuade him.
So, there is the e-mail. It is a plea for help of course. This time it is not financial help but actual help. They want knitters. They want knitters to teach teen girls at one of the local schools. The idea is that they will learn to knit and knit a square which will be put with other squares to make a blanket for a homeless person. Right.
I mentioned this to the Whirlwind when she appeared after school. My day had been chaotic. There had been frantic phone calls from the hospital with respect to friend who is currently in there with messages about drips and scans and pain relief and please to contact the pulmonary specialist etc. I had also pedalled down to the hospital after lunch - and fitted in my own day's work in around it all.
The Whirlwind looked at me and then said firmly, "You are NOT getting involved." No, I won't although I would normally grab the chance to teach someone to knit.
There might be other people though. I will inquire at the meeting today and next Saturday the group meets at the library. It is just across the road from the school in question.
All that brought up the business of a police clearance. Everyone who works in a school now needs a police clearance. Nobody will be able to volunteer in a school without one. Fair enough - although a mere police clearance will not solve the issues of paedophilia or sexual abuse and harassment in schools.
But, that is the school. The girls who want to learn to knit could also come to the library next weekend and get a lesson from the same people who might volunteer at the school. At the library there is no need for a police clearance. People just come to the group.
I have no qualms at all about girls mixing with any current member of the library group but it makes me aware that different rules still apply for different circumstances.
It is almost impossible to legislate for all circumstances. That we need to legislate at all seems wrong. I wonder just how much difference it really makes. I hope it does make a difference or people are going to cease offering to help - or pay for the police clearance to do it.

Friday 16 May 2014

Paying to go to university

is one of the ideas being put forward as both a Budget 2014 and ideological measure. Do I agree?
I have always been of the opinion that it is the intelligent people who should go to university - the most able people of all. I suppose that sounds elitist.
But what is a university for? There seems to be an opinion here that universities are for everyone. That everyone should aim to enter university.
I think that's wrong and the reason I think it is wrong is because it wrongly devalues the many other skills we depend on to keep society functioning. Where would we be without cleaners, bus drivers, shop assistants, assembly line workers, shearers, farm hands, fruit pickers and so on?
Do plumbers need a degree - or the people who drive the council garbage compacters? Of course they don't.
Universities should be places of intellectual rigour. Standards should be high. Those who work in them and those who attend them should be able to focus on learning. Universities should also be places of intellectual creativity, the sort of creativity which results in advances in research.
I think there are places where that occurs and courses within which such things occur. That's good. I also think that many university courses are turning out too many second-class graduates. Some of these students will have worked hard but many will have coasted through their degrees. They will have enjoyed campus life and done an excellent job of judging just how much work they needed to do in order to get a pass degree. If they have shown the occasional spark it will be a 2:1 rather than a 2:2.
The Senior Cat has a degree in English literature and Latin. He did it at a time when even entering university was considered to be an achievement. He had to do his degree part-time while teaching. It was not an uncommon way to do it. As a small child I can remember looking at the lists of strange words stuck on the shaving cabinet mirror. He would learn his Latin vocabulary while shaving.
I have degrees. My brother and one of my sisters also have degrees.  I supported myself all the way. My brother and my sister were "bonded" teaching students. They later "upgraded" their teaching diplomas to degrees and then went on to do second degrees- all at their own expense. Around them there were students on government university scholarships.
My niece and nephews all have degrees. By the time they reached university the "Higher Education Contribution Scheme" had started and they would have accrued hefty debts if their parents had not said, "You can have your inheritance now in the sense we will help you through university. In other words, you can work for it but it will help you get a job at the other end." And yes, they are now all gainfully employed and will probably remain so. 
Many of their fellow students are much less sure of employment. Some of them have worked hard but the jobs simply are not there. You could say they chose to study the "wrong" things - things that interested them rather than things that might bring about employment.
I don't think there should be a "wrong" subject choice, not if it is something you feel passionate about. I am much more concerned by the increasing numbers of students who feel they must do something they have no interest in simply because it "might" lead to a job at the other end. They are discontented and often anxious. Their university life is not the great intellectual adventure it should be. It is something to be got through with the diminishing hope of a job at the other end.
I really do think we need to rethink what universities are about. We need to say that "technical and further education" (TAFE) courses are equally important and should be valued as such.
I met an engineer recently. He never wanted to be an engineer but was pushed into it by his father who kept telling him it would be a "career".  He is now building up a fruit growing business instead. It is not a secure line of work at all. He doesn't yet have a degree in arboriculture or horticulture. He's self taught.  I don't doubt he will succeed though because he is passionate about it.
We need university students with intelligence, creativity and passion - and we should provide them with assistance. Their co-payment can come in many forms - not just the financial one.

Thursday 15 May 2014

One lawyer later

I went out to lunch yesterday.
I had spent well over an hour on the phone with the lawyer and ended the conversation with a sigh of relief - relief that I was not paying for the dubious "privilege" of speaking to them. Lawyers, as anyone knows, are expensive.
This one sounds pleasant, interested and anxious to get things done. She had the courtesy to thank me for me for the preparatory work I had done - which she could have done and charged for but had agreed was "urgent". Tomorrow she sees my friend, still in hospital, and does yet more paper work. Hopefully this time next week the necessary papers will be signed and we can get some essential things done for her.
After that I had another meeting. This one was the last in a series of work meetings, a project that has involved a good deal of my time in the last year. Unlike the others I am not in paid employment. I also had to put in far more time than anyone of us had expected would be necessary.
"Cat, we are taking you out to lunch," I was told.
"The sandwich bar?" (The place they have been getting together on the ground floor of the building several of them work in.)
"No, a kiosk at the beach."
Oh right. It will, I thought, be an equivalent of the sandwich bar with sand in the sandwiches.
It turned out to be a very pleasant inexpensive café with good food at low prices. It is not a place where you get waited on but the staff cheerfully accepted that some of us needed a bit of extra help. They asked us where we would like to sit - that sunny corner? It sounded good and it was lovely to watch the waves coming in.
We tidied off the ends of the project, ate an assortment of café style dishes, and then toasted each other in coffee, tea and orange juice. I even shared a piece of home-made apple strudel with someone because it looked so good. (It was good - a lot of apple and not too much pastry.)
But why, if they were taking me out to lunch, did we go to such a location? Were they being mean and penny-pinching?
Not in the least. A girl who helped to served us was one of those who had been involved in the pilot project - before my time. Her flat face and slightly slanted eyes instantly tell you she has Down Syndrome. The smile on her face and in her eyes tell you she can do the job as well, if not better, than many other people. No, she doesn't do everything there but the things she does do she does well and she does so with great pride and obvious pleasure.
Only the project leader knew. The rest of us had no idea she had been employed there for almost a year. The owner is hoping she will stay. I hope she does too.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Budget 2014

The papers are full of it of course. The Federal Budget was handed down last night - after weeks of speculation, "leaks", leaking, debate, doom, gloom and alarm.
And no, it is not good news for anyone. We will all be getting less and paying more.
Is it disastrous news for anyone? Probably not. It will be uncomfortable for some but most people will manage just as they did before.
I have some reservations about the co-payment to visit the doctor. I don't object to paying to visit the doctor but I hope it won't stop people who really need to go from going. It might. (I also suspect that it might stop people going to the doctor seeking an instant cure for the common cold.) If the money really goes to medical research and not into general revenue then it might be a very good thing but such things have a way of being siphoned off.
And then there is the petrol excise. Well that has not been changed for years. The problem with increasing that is that it will probably increase the cost of everything as businesses try to recoup the cost from their customers. It will also be more expensive for those who actually need to use their cars. What would be nice is if it succeeded in reducing the number of cars on the road. If it reduced the number of single occupancy vehicles - whose drivers could get public transport but choose not to - then that would surely be a good thing. Think of it as a sort of carbon tax?
I know putting together a government budget is a very complex matter but in one sense it is also a simple affair. Like a household budget there are things that must be on the list, things that should be on the list if they can be managed, things that need attention if they can be afforded and things that would be nice to have but may not be affordable at all. There are also things that the kids (or in this case the public) might like but we can't afford no matter how much they (or we) whinge about it. It is when you give in to the kids in order to keep them quiet (or get them to vote for you) that you end up in trouble. Right? I suppose that sounds much too simplistic.
I think the current Budget is paying for the bread, the fruit and vegetables, some protein and perhaps an ice-cream once in a while. Perhaps we will survive.
It all depends on whether the Budget can survive the likely monumental row between the parents in the Senate.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

The Nigeria of Boko Haram

- or the Nigeria that Boko Haram would like to have - is very different from the Nigeria the Senior Cat's cousin was Ambassador to many years ago.
The Senior Cat's cousin was posted to Lagos in, I think, the 1960's. It is not something either of us remember much about. Lagos was still the capital of Nigeria in those days. It was, as it is now, a growing city. It had all the usual problems facing a country with diverse social groups and tribal loyalties.  Corruption was, as it is in many places, rife.
But the Senior Cat's cousin went with his wife and two young children - and they enjoyed their time there. It was challenging but they made life-long friends among not just the "diplomatic circle" but the local people. Years later young Nigerian students would arrive in Canberra and be welcomed by them. Whenever a new Nigerian diplomat arrived in Canberra the Senior Cat's cousin and his wife would make sure they "knew the ropes" of everyday life.
The Senior Cat's cousin died several years ago and his wife is now in a nursing home but they did their bit for international relations between Australia and Africa.
I also have friends who have taught in Nigeria - taught in the north where the worst of the problems now are. And I have colleagues who still try to do some work there. It has been increasingly difficult and dangerous of late.
We are all as puzzled as we are distressed and angered by Boko Haram. The philosophy of Boko Haram makes no sense. I watched Malala Yousafzai being interviewed on television the other night. With quiet dignity she gently pointed out that her brand of Islam requires people to educate themselves. And, she wanted to know, what was the difference between a western stethoscope and an eastern one? Many people will, of course, see that as a simplistic response from a naïve teenager but she is not really naïve. There is no difference. Boko Haram, and like organisations, would have a less than mediaeval society where women are not even regarded as second class citizens. They appear to have nothing but contempt for women.
I cannot visualise the sort of society Boko Haram members seem to want. It does not seem logical or possible. It is a sort of insanity.
I don't think the Senior Cat's cousin and his family got it wrong when they went out of their way to continue their friendships with Nigerians after leaving the country. They never tried to impose their beliefs on anyone or in anyway indoctrinate or convert them to anything. But a colleague who has been in Nigeria recently told me, "If they were there now their lives would be constantly in danger. Mine was too. I was glad to leave."
The sad thing is that her grandparents were born and brought up in Nigeria and she wanted to do something positive to help.
Who is funding this vile organisation? What do they want to achieve? Even their version of Sharia law is extreme. I could weep for Africa.

Monday 12 May 2014

"Do you remember Sunday School

picnics?" the Senior Cat asked me over lunch yesterday. He had come home from church waving pieces of paper about plans to get young people to go to church.
Oh yes, I remember Sunday School picnics. There was Sunday School first of course. You were given a little book and every Sunday you were given a little picture. The little pictures had "sticky" on the back of them like stamps. We would lick them and stick them into the book. If you had enough stamps at the end of the year you could go to the Sunday School picnic. It was a major event in our lives.
The church would hire two buses and a tennis court at the National Park. We would arrive at the church on a Saturday morning neatly dressed in our second-best clothes. (Our best clothes were, naturally, for Sundays.) We would climb aboard the buses and set off. One of the buses would almost always break down but, somehow, we got there. There must have been at least sixty children attending, plus a good many adults. We sang all the way.
Once there we would have sports day type races - egg and spoon, the three-legged race, the sack race and the like. (I would be given tasks like handing out the eggs and the spoons and the sacks.) When that was over we would sit in rows and - after we had sung "the grace" loudly and cheerfully - the mothers and other women would walk up and down with, to us, enormous trays of sandwiches.
There was only one sort of sandwich - cooked mutton which had been minced and moistened with tomato sauce. I cannot eat that sort of tomato sauce. It has vinegar in it and I come out in a rash. One of the boys around me was always happy to take my sandwich. (It made me quite popular.)
The sandwiches were followed by "sultana cake" (plain cake with sultanas added to it) and "raspberry cordial". As my brother and I never saw sultana cake or raspberry cordial at home we thought this was a real treat - and most of the other children must have too.
After lunch was over we endured, as we knew we must, the Sunday School Superintendent - and on one occasion the Moderator - and the minister giving little speeches and handing out the books we had managed to "earn". There were little bookplates in the front stating that they were for Sunday School attendance. The books themselves were not literary masterpieces. Some of them still appear from time to time at sales of "second hand" books.
I don't know what happened to ours. They disappeared, along with many other things, when we moved back to the bush. I suspect my mother decided we were not to keep them. It was easier to give such things away that pack them and have them transported.
After the speeches and presentations were over we children were free to roam "as long as you can always see us" and the adults would sit and drink tea or play tennis. No, nobody supervised. We did not need supervision and nobody broke the rule about going too far. It was not that we were "good" - far from it. We just knew it was expected of us.
And then, later in the afternoon, ice-cream! Someone would arrive with the magical container filled with "dry ice" that "smoked" and we would line up and get a little cardboard tub filled with vanilla ice-cream. We would sit around and eat it with a little wooden spoon and scrape out the last possible drop before returning the tub to the cardboard box provided for "rubbish".
Eventually it would be back into the buses and we would head home more quietly than we had set out. The parents who had not been would be there to greet us just as dusk started to fall.
Had we had a good time? Absolutely.
The Senior Cat and I considered all of this. His own memories of Sunday School picnics 85 years ago are not so very different.
We both decided that, as a bribe to get children to attend Sunday School, it would no longer work - but we had fun.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Eurovision? Will someone please

explain this "Eurovision" thing to me?
Anyone who knows me will also know that I am no lover of "pop" music. I am not particularly musical. I cannot sing in tune - but I do know when I am not singing in tune and when other people are not singing in tune. I can read music but I cannot play a musical instrument - or even strum a guitar.
I probably have a greater musical sense than the Senior Cat. He makes no claim to be musical. My mother used to complain that he had two left feet and could not dance. (The latter part of that statement is true. He cannot dance.) I can often correctly guess whether a piece of music is by Bach, Beethoven, Handel or Mozart - but I have no idea how I know because I rarely listen to music. I listen to words instead. Our house is largely silent. We prefer it that way.
This year the Eurovision thing has proved to be more of an event here in Australia because an Australian was invited to perform (but not compete). There has been a fuss about this. I don't doubt that Jessica Mauboys is a nice girl. Is she talented? I have no idea. The preliminaries to her actual song were apparently cringe-worthy even by our standards.
I wonder what would happen if someone entered the contest with a song that was actually a song that people could learn - a sort of Greensleeves or a Scarborough Fair for the 21st C? I have a feeling that it would be ignored. I am not too sure whether this Eurovision thing is actually about music or whether it is about performance. The two are not necessarily the same thing.
I think the Senior Cat is even more bewildered than I am. What, he wants to know, is the fuss all about?  This was hard to explain. I made an attempt of sorts - difficult because I don't understand the ins and outs of it at all.
He thought about it for a while and then said, "But nobody I have ever heard of has ever won this thing."
"Yes they have," I told him. I reached back far into time and did an internet check. Yes, I was right. "ABBA won it in 1974."
I had to explain about ABBA. He agreed he could remember hearing about them.
"But 1974 is forty years ago - almost as old as the Beatles."
True - but at least he knows about the Beatles. I can remember when they were considered to be outrageous simply because of the length of their hair.
It seems to me that a lot has happened in the fifty years since the Beatles and the forty years since ABBA winning Eurovision. I have been watching my Twitter time line as I wrote this because even I knew the contest had to be close to the end.
I don't care for the music but it makes me happy that the world of pop music can choose a bearded drag queen as the winner. Who will win forty years from now?

Saturday 10 May 2014

There is a list

posted in the hospital room of my friend. Someone in the psychiatric unit has obviously been attending a course in behaviour modification and there is a "new" plan afoot. Everyone in the unit now gets given a "personalised" list of things they are expected to do each day. These have been printed on sheets and laminated. They get ticked off by the staff and then, at the end of the day, they get wiped off again. You apparently start with a "clean slate" again the next morning.
At the request of my friend I had a look at her to-do list yesterday. If this is personalised then I am amazed by what they believe she can do. This is a to-do list for a physically able person - not someone who has difficulty in walking to the door of the room with the aid of a walker.
And no, it is not because she is not trying or that any sort of mental issue is getting in the way. She just can't do it. She would love to walk to the dining room for a meal and eat that meal at a normal speed along with everyone else. The reality is that the distance is beyond her. She can manage half way before they put her back in a wheelchair and push her into the dining room.
The problem? Going half way exhausts her. She then has to find the energy to eat. Hospital meals are not attractive. What is more they tend to come in containers she cannot open.
Fortunately another patient, a man who is - according to her - almost silent, will help with the containers. She is apparently the only person to whom he will speak. But even his help does not solve all the problems. My friend eats very slowly. Her ability to chew is limited. Eating is not a pleasurable activity but a painful one. The hot food is cold long before she has eaten much of it. She has digestive problems. They limited the amount and type of liquid she is allowed.
As for going to the exercise class - we laughed about it. Laughed? Yes, it is the only way to handle the situation. We both know the list is an impossible list. We know she will not reach the limit of 1.5 litres of liquid she is allowed each day.
She told me yesterday that there is supposed to be a "family" meeting this coming week. She wants me to be there but I doubt the hospital will allow it as the necessary paperwork giving me the legal right has not yet been done. What she wants will not necessarily be taken into consideration - although it should be. I did not tell her that but I will leave a message for the doctor so he knows I know what she wants.
In the meantime all we can do is try to find the funny side. It's just that it really isn't funny.

Friday 9 May 2014

How much privacy

does a teenager have - say someone up to the age of sixteen? That "sixteen" is not an arbitrary figure because it is the age here when a "child" can leave home and become independent.
Someone posted a message on Facebook yesterday about their daughter - not yet sixteen. The girl had made an appointment to see a nurse without informing her mother. She needed a note to go - which she had obtained from the medical centre - but had confused the day and the school would not let her leave. Instead they phoned her mother to check - thus letting her mother know about the appointment for the first time.
Now of course the first thoughts of many people, perhaps even most, would be that the girl is seeking contraception advice or help - or perhaps that it is a drugs issue.
In this particular instance the girl, like other members of her family, has a genetic disorder and trips to the medical centre are a frequent occurrence. Her mother had been away and the girl had been mature enough to (a) recognise the need to seek advice and (b) do something about it.
The problem was a rather different one. Teens are supposed to be able to seek advice without the consent or knowledge of a parent.
It is a legal minefield. I am glad I am not working in schools anymore or in the medical profession. I am glad I am not the parent of a teenager.
But I do sometimes have responsibility for the Whirlwind. She happened to have a dental appointment. As she boards at school the school got her there and I met her afterwards. On the way back to school I asked her what she thought of the situation. 
Her response was the sort of response I thought I would get.  What it amounted to was that there should be communication on the issue. If the parent knows there has been an appointment made then it should be mentioned. The parent should say, "I know because the school phoned me" and "do you want to talk about it?".
I have been thinking about it since then. It's a very awkward issue. It is not just an issue of "trust" or "confidentiality". There are also issues about maturity and decision making. I do not doubt that there are some younger teens who are capable of making very mature decisions but there are others, especially faced with a crisis, who are not. And should teens who are not of a legal age to consent be able to go to medical staff and ask for contraceptive measures - and ask without the knowledge of their parents?
It is not likely to be an issue for the Whirlwind. She boards at a single sex school and their movements are tightly controlled. At weekends her father keeps a close watch. So far she has shown no interest in boys as anything more than friends - with the occasional comment to me that someone "looks pretty cool". She also knows that school rules say and her father and I agree that she won't go out alone with a boy until she is sixteen. Even then there will be some rules. It is not, as the school and her father have emphasised, that the girls are not trusted but because they are trusted - trusted to have the maturity to understand the potential dangers in relationships.  Is it invading the privacy of the girls? How much right to privacy do you have when you are still legally a child or young person and you are still financially dependent?
They are interesting questions for me - and probably for my siblings. My mother believed we had no right to privacy at all - even as adults. We were expected to show and tell her everything. The result of course was that we tried desperately hard to keep secret even things that did not matter in the least.
When I was teaching I can remember asking a boy who had a reputation as a troublemaker why he had always behaved for me. He looked at me and said, "Well you said you trusted me to do the right thing."
Is that what it takes? Do we need to tell teens that we trust them to do the right thing - and then perhaps make them believe that trust is important?

Thursday 8 May 2014

In the lead up to the highly

commercial "Mother's Day" (as opposed to the gentler Mothering Sunday) there are always a few "human interest" stories in our state newspaper.
There is one there this morning about a family with eight children.
My parents had four children. They had four children at a time when nobody was too bothered about things like "over-population". They had four children at a time when parents were not expected to provide designer clothes, electronic toys and expensive out of school activities etc. etc.
I have a second cousin who has six children. She home schools them and the house seems to be in a constant state of activity - so much so that the eldest girl once said of our house, "Gee it's quiet around here." I know several other families with five, six and seven children - mostly home-schooled.
"They have ready made friends," my cousin told me. Perhaps. Relations, particularly close relations, are not always friends.
I also remember visiting a family with twenty children. Before you say, "WHAT?" let me explain that a widow had married a widower and one family had eleven children. The other had nine children. I remember their living arrangements were extraordinarily well organised. They lived in a "double" council house but there were still bunk beds in the bedrooms. Their refrigerator was industrial size and so was all the other household equipment. Every available bit of garden space was cultivated for food. Their home was clean and, compared with many, tidy.
As a family unit it seemed to work. There were rules and everyone knew what was expected of them.
I also do not doubt that "Mum" was at the centre of it all. She was an extraordinary person, apparently full of life and energy. Her household planning was full of little strategies. The school bags all hung on their own hooks in the central passageway - that way she could see at a glance who was home from school and who wasn't. Everyone had the same grey socks for school and white socks for weekends - you just took a pair that matched (more or less).
On Mother's Day some years before I visited the family her children did not give her flowers or breakfast in bed.  They gave her a piece of paper and a pencil and asked her to write down some of the things she still wanted to do. It was, if you like, a "bucket list". They told her she could add to it any time, cross off the things she had done or no longer wanted to do.
"They're just little things most of them," she told me, "Sometimes though the children surprise me and I do one of them - or we all do. We just call it "Mum's list" but it really belongs to all of us."
My mother would never have written such a list....but I rather wish she had.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

How do you spread the word

about books you want to tell people about?
I had an e-mail from the local indie bookshop yesterday. It was one of those group e-mails they send out to everyone rather than a personal one. It informed me that an author would be at the shop to sign books on a certain day - for half an hour.
I have never heard of the author. I know nothing about the book. I won't be there anyway because I already know I will be elsewhere. It all seems a little odd to me - just half an hour?
I might check with one of the staff today. Is the book self-published? I suspect it is. Our local indie, unlike many shops, will give a tiny amount of shelf space to self-published books by local authors. As one of the staff told me, "A lot of the books are pretty awful but they usually sell a few copies because people know them."
I have bought just one self-published book from the shop. I didn't know the author but I knew the person who edited it. He recommended it as a gift for someone we both knew. I glanced at it before I gave it away. It was about a sailing, not something I am particularly interested in but they were. Because it had been edited by a professional the book was, if of limited interest, fine. Some of the others I have looked at have been dreadful. It puts me off the idea of even trying to self-publish something. I know that means I will almost certainly never be published but better that than putting my name to something which would make me and my family cringe.
And the publicity side? I have the impression the bookshop staff are not too interested in this author who only has half an hour to give to promoting his book. The bookshop staff do a pretty good job of author promotions. There is often an event with wine and cheese and a talk by the author or, if for children, a themed Saturday or holiday event. For a small bookshop which struggles to survive they do authors proud.
I know authors have to work at selling their books too and, if I "know" the author - even only virtually - and I like what I see I will encourage the shop to stock some of their work. They take my suggestions on board. Why not? It comes with a recommendation from someone who reads. The staff know I will tell people about the books I have recommended.
So, what's with this half-hour author? Who is he? Why just half an hour? How good is the book? I'll look at it and I will try to be open minded about it.
But, how do you spread the word? When Jen Campbell produced her first "Weird things customers say in bookshops" I showed one of the staff my copy - and they promptly ordered half a dozen. It's a perfect sort of gift book. It is the sort of thing they are often asked for. I suspect that her book about bookshops, "The Bookshop Book", will also be popular here. Would they have seen it without me waving a copy in front of them? Possibly not. There is a limit to the amount of information they can access. That's why I think it is important to tell them about things I know they might not know about. They will even ask if I know of anything.
Spreading the word about a book is done in all sorts of ways. Nicola Morgan and Linda Strachan, both people I know and respect, do a lot of work in schools. I suspect many other children's and YA writers do too. But, if you write books for adults, then you need to work in other ways.
I suspect half an hour in the local indie bookshop is not going to sell many - if any - copies. I might be wrong but I suspect it is much harder work than that.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

So James Packer and David Gyngell

had a bit of a fisticuffs did they? The "news" has made the front page of the state and national newspapers this morning. There were four more pages devoted to the matter in the state newspaper. The history of their "friendship", their childhoods, their business interests etc. etc. were all unearthed, analysed and then put out for public viewing.
Let me be quite clear. I do not like violence. There are always, and I mean always, better ways to sort out personal differences rather than resorting to violence.
But was the fisticuffs any of our business? Should we be interested? Should someone else have made more money than I can think about by selling the pictures? Of course not. It was none of our business. We did not, despite what some senior journalists like Malcolm Farr have said, have any right to know. It was not "in the public interest". It was gossip. Yes Mr Farr is right when he says it tells us something about the character of the two men but there is a difference between that and making front page news of it. The police were not involved - although perhaps they should have been.
Was it a "slow news" day perhaps? No. There were plenty of issues which should have been reported.
Someone mentioned to me yesterday that, while there has been plenty of attention given to the appalling tragedy of the ferry which sank off Korea, far less attention has been given to the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram. I can only agree. I have heard people say how shocked they were - rightly - by the loss of life in the first incident. I have not heard anyone, apart from that one individual and the brief reports on the news services, express concern for the schoolgirls - girls who must, if they are still alive, be absolutely terrified and who will be forever traumatised by their experience.
Mr Packer and Mr Gyngell having a fight was not news. Reporting it in the way it has been reported will have done nothing but harm. The same space could have been devoted to trying to get people to understand vile organisations like Boko Haram - so that we can better understand and support those who are subjected to their violence.
It seems that the rich and powerful however are more newsworthy than the girls. Personally, I prefer the girls.

Monday 5 May 2014

"Could you possibly stay with her

while I get the car? It's in the other car park down there."
The person who asked me this was a complete stranger. I had just parked my tricycle outside the psychiatric wards at the hospital and was about to go in to visit my friend. The couple had come out the door at the same time.
The looked pale and shocked and the woman was weeping. She had one foot in a "moon boot".
"I'll be all right on my own!" she protested but then started weeping even harder.
I just nodded at the man and he walked off. I knew it was going to take him a few minutes to get the car and bring it around to the pick up point.
"I'm sorry. You don't have to stay. I'll be all right."
"You will be all right but it might take a bit of time. I'd like to stay. It might make him feel a bit better. Is that all right?"
My answer produced a shaky smile.
There was silence and then she said, "It's our daughter. She's really done it this time. I have to stop crying. We have to tell the children they'll be staying with us now."
"How old are the children?"
"Eight and five."
And then the words came tumbling out. In the space of those few minutes I was told a life history of "getting in with the wrong crowd", of drug addiction and much more. The children have been backwards and forwards. They are difficult to handle. It was a tale of utter misery, of the failure of social services to intervene when they should have - all compressed into a few words. Her parents had come from interstate - and this time they will be taking the children back with them for good. They will now be responsible for bringing up the children of their own child.
A car appeared. She turned to me and suddenly, unexpectedly, hugged me.
They were gone and I was left hearing my own question over and over again.
"How old are the children."
"Eight and five."
I hope life is kinder to them now.

Sunday 4 May 2014

Who are these UKIP people?

UKIP is, apparently, a political party in the United Kingdom. They seem to have some odd and, to me, highly offensive ideas.
My Facebook time line has been providing me with an idea about their irrational thinking. I wish I could say we don't have any political parties here with any ideas like that but of course we have.
I am also not sure that sending bricks to their "FREEPOST" address is a good idea either. That might send them a message but, do too much of it, and it might have consequences for innocent people - or even end the ability of anyone to use the Freepost idea. Sending their literature back Freepost will be just as effective - and much less likely to get them further donations, publicity and other support. Add a campaign of letters to the press which oppose their views and reasoned verbal opposition and their influence will diminish.
One of the candidates however has reportedly raised the prospect of abortion for anyone carrying a child with Down Syndrome. I would rather like this man to meet the girl with Down Syndrome who works in one of the local supermarkets.
It is her job to keep the place clean and tidy during the day. She can be seen sweeping, tidying shelves, clearing away a spill, stacking fruit in the greengrocery area, returning wrongly shelved goods to the right area and helping in the bakery area. Want something packed? She is an expert. Her sense of orderliness would put most people to shame. She knows precisely how to pack a bag of groceries so that nothing gets squashed or damaged.
Last week, after packing things into my rear tricycle basket, I was about to return the trolley to the collection area when she came in from helping an elderly woman to the community bus and she told me, "I'll do it." Yes, she is thoughtful and she loves to help.
I don't know what she gets paid. I have a nasty suspicion she is probably doing it for her disability pension money but she loves her job - and tells everyone she loves it.
I am sure she feels useful and wanted - and she is. There are some people who avoid her but most of the locals who know her will smile and say hello. Her fellow workers have had to smarten up since she joined them. She comes to work clean and tidy and has no qualms about telling the boys to comb their hair or tuck their shirts in properly.
I like her. We are not friends perhaps but we are friendly. She often comes out with quick and funny responses that give me an insight into her world and her way of thinking. She is a useful and contributing member of society. Much of it is due to her family and schooling in an outstanding unit dedicated to the needs of those with learning disabilities.  The idea that she might not be here because someone thinks any foetus with Down Syndrome should be aborted appals me.
The UKIP candidate, and those who think like him anywhere in the world, are missing out on something very special - the opportunity to see the world through someone else's eyes. 

Saturday 3 May 2014

The Senior Cat has an "i-pad"

- a gift for his 88th birthday a little over three years ago. After some excellent tutoring from his youngest nephew he can use it for basic internet searching.
Anything more seems to be beyond him but he has found the joy, enlightenment, despair and woe of things like "You-tube". Internet information continues to puzzle him.
He recently research "sharpen router cutter". Could it be done at home? Some said "yes", others (mostly professionals) said "no". There some clips showing how to do it or, as he put it, "how not to do it". He took his cutters off to the man who has sharpened his blades for years. I knew he would.
Then there was "glue". He wanted to know something in relation to glue in order to repair a chair. He could not, for some reason, use the usual method.
"You will need to be more specific than "glue"," I told him. Right.
I have tried to explain that searching the internet is like drawing a Venn diagram. The search terms need to overlap around the information until you find the nub you need in the middle. The Senior Cat understands that - sort of although he thinks "it would be much easier if you could just look it up". Right.
The Senior Cat also researches woodworking techniques, gardening, conjuring and a great range of other things.
"That's totally wrong," he will say of something.
"Well you could add to the comments," I tell him.
"I don't know how."
"I can show you but you will need to log in."
"No - I can't be bothered."
He refuses to learn to use e-mail - although that would simplify my life as people do sometimes send him e-mails to my personal address.
"How do you know they got it?" he asks me.
"How do you know someone gets a letter?" I ask him.
"I would much rather just ring them up," he tells me.
Would he? It's all a bit like his mobile phone. He can, just, make a phone call to me on that. It is more likely that, in an emergency, someone else would need to do it for him. 
I think he could still learn to use e-mail. He could learn to log in and make comments. He simply doesn't want to. He is content with life as it was in the 20thC.
I really can't blame him. Some things were simpler then - unless you dialled the wrong number.