Monday 30 June 2014

Funding for the "School Chaplaincy" programme

was recently found to be "unconstitutional" after a High Court challenge.
It was the second time this has occurred. The challenge has also put at risk a great many other Federal Government programmes - programmes like the NDIS - National Disability Insurance Scheme.
It was not, as many people believe, found unconstitutional because the Australian Constitution does not permit laws to be made about religion. The reasoning was much more complex than that and now means the federal government has to find a way of funding many programmes which have the potential to be deemed unconstitutional if anyone cares to challenge them.
I know something about the school chaplaincy programme. It has been widely criticised by many people who claim that it is giving Christians a means of proselytising in schools. Such claims are wrong. School chaplains are not permitted to do anything like that.  Not all chaplains are Christians, some are of other faiths. They are there to provide a different type of support, a listening ear, a friendly face which is not official. Nobody is forced to approach the chaplain. They are not there to usurp the role of school counsellors or psychologists or anyone else.
In one of the local high schools the school chaplain has an office next door to the girls' toilet block. The location is quite deliberate. Her office door is left open at all times and the students know they cannot see her alone.
The students, distressed, unhappy, excited, eager and much more are in and out all day. The chaplain runs lunchtime activities - with an aim of participation - and listens to all comers. She sees students who go to church but most of those she sees are non-church goers. Some of them are Muslims. She has had Jews and Hindus as well.
The school wants to keep her.
Outsiders have said the school would be better off with another counsellor or some help from a psychologist. Perhaps. Perhaps not.
I remember "religious instruction" when I was at school. It was one lesson per week. Priests, nuns, ministers, pastors and some volunteers came in to teach a single lesson. Most of them were poor disciplinarians. They - and the schools - must have had a hard time of it.
Later I can remember talking to the students I was teaching about their behaviour in these same lessons. It worked - for a while. I think these same students would have happily gone to a school chaplain.
The armed services also employ chaplains - another programme under threat. I can remember hearing a chaplain being interviewed while the army was in Iraq. He did not see his role as a proselytiser of any faith but as someone whose job it was to listen when someone felt the need to talk - to listen in a non-judgmental way. He was not there to give advice but support. He was someone the members of the unit could go to when they needed a listening ear.
I don't believe in talking snakes and I have my own views about how some "miracles" might be explained but the chaplains are not - or should not be - teaching these things. What they are doing, if they are doing their job well, is teaching by example. They are teaching students about listening to others - about caring and compassion. Many students don't get that anywhere else.
Perhaps the school chaplaincy programme needs to be saved for that reason?

Sunday 29 June 2014

The Senior Cat

had forgotten to get some medication when he was out earlier in the week so I had to prowl off to the chemist yesterday.
I normally avoid the shopping centre on a Saturday morning. It tends to be crowded. It is sometimes difficult to park the tricycle in the usual spot because the bicyclists have arrived to have coffee. (I have never been able to work out whether they have been for their ride and need caffeine or whether they are stoking up on caffeine for their ride.)
Yesterday was no exception - except the bicyclists made space for me with cheerful comments. I headed for the chemist shop but, before I could get that far, I was met with television cameras, film crews, our local federal member of parliament, a member of the state parliament and various party workers. They were there to gauge whether people were still feeling angry about the defection of the local state member of parliament.  There should have been a notice which said, "Queue here to sign the petition" but perhaps they didn't need it because people were lining up - even people who had not voted for the defector. They still want him out.
I know they have to try. I doubt it will do any good.
Our local federal member of parliament and I know each other. I knew him before he entered politics. We chatted briefly.
"No time off this weekend?" I asked.
"Not a hope."
His son, who is still young, came wandering up. He smiled at me and I asked, "Helping out?"
"Not really but I get to see Dad this way."
The two of them gave one another a playful knock and fond look.
I went on to the chemist pondering that. He's a nice boy. I have no doubt his father tries to be a good father. The job is demanding. It means his father is often away in Canberra. No doubt they Skype to keep in touch.
The Senior Cat had a very demanding job too. He was often out in the evenings as well as leaving early for his school and coming home quite late. Even at home he would have paperwork to deal with and we would not see a lot of him - or of our mother. But, they were there. 
The defector also has a son about the same age. The defector has taken up a new Ministry. The nature of this particular ministry is such he is going to find the job even more difficult than it might be. It is an area which requires a high degree of trust. People will not trust him. Some will see the potential for security to be compromised. It will mean longer hours and even greater stress. He won't be able to take his son to meetings so they can see one another.
I wonder if the defector has really thought about these things. Has he thought about anyone other than himself?

Saturday 28 June 2014

The Great Tapestry of Scotland

is an extraordinary piece of cooperative artwork showing the hi
Struileag: An imaginary boat passed around at a ceilidh or other gathering. When you have sung or told a story, you'd say "cuiream struileag seachad orm gu..." "I pass on the struileag to..." for the next person to do a turn. - See more at:
story of Scotland to date in one hundred and sixty embroidered panels. There were more than a thousand people involved in the making of it. It was the idea of the author Alexander McCall-Smith, realised by artist Andrew Crummy and, as a book, narrated by Alistair Moffat.

The Commonwealth Games will be held in Edinburgh this year. The Ryder Cup will be held at Gleneagles - if you happen to be interested in golf. It is also the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn - an important event in Scottish history.

But there is something more important than that, something that Alexander McCall-Smith recognised. The year 2014 is the Year of Homecoming in Scotland. Scots, and those of Scots descent, all over the world are being encouraged to return or go to Scotland. They are being encouraged to acknowledge their roots.
Struileag: An imaginary boat passed around at a ceilidh or other gathering. When you have sung or told a story, you'd say "cuiream struileag seachad orm gu..." "I pass on the struileag to..." for the next person to do a turn. - See more at:

There is also "Struileag" - a modern version of the imaginary boat passed around at a ceilidh or other gathering. When you had sung your song or told your story you would say, " Cuiream struileag seachad orm gu..." and name the next person to sing or story tell. Imagine, if you can, the stories of great battles, great love, great storms at sea or snowdrifts in the highlands shared around a room lit by nothing more than firelight. 

The "Seanachaidh" - the chief story teller for the clan - was the person who could tell the history of the clan. The aim of Struileag is to make a seanachaidh of as many Scots and those of Scots descent as possible.

My clan is having its usual Gathering. They will indulge in some serious discussion about their own history as well as the essential socialising.  I would love to be there but it won't be happening. One of these days I hope to see the place my not so distant ancestors came from. My father has stayed there. My brother and one sister have visited it briefly. The cousin responsible for our branch of the family history has been more than once. He says the weather is usually awful. It is probably why my ancestors left but members of the clan keep going back. They keep following the traditional maritime, health, educational and engineering related occupations. Scotland has much to be proud of in those fields - and elsewhere. 

If you are a Scot or of Scots descent then I would recommend "The Great Tapestry of Scotland". It is a glorious visual panorama of the history of a great country. Scotland is much more than kilts, bagpipes and heather.

Friday 27 June 2014

It is deeply disturbing to see

just how quickly someone can become "institutionalised". It is even more disturbing to see it happen in a place where people are, supposedly, being treated for issues of mental health.
Those of you who have not given up reading this blog will be aware of my friend who has been in hospital for weeks. Yes, we have a nursing home bed for her. It was to have been yesterday and it will now be Monday. She was ready to go. The room is being repainted before she moves in. That will be nice. She was prepared to wait for that.
But I was bothered. She had, at the suggestion of the Social Worker, made a list of the things she wanted to ask about. This is something she should have done when she first made an application to the place in question. She should have been to visit the place when she first moved from interstate. All that is obvious now but, like most of us, she did not want to face reality.
I went to get the list yesterday. I had to go because she is not allowed to use the phone unless a staff member is monitoring the call. Will she be able to make phone calls in the nursing home? Yes, she can have her mobile phone back. She can have a landline if she wishes. Will she be able to write her own cheques? Yes. I will still deal with the bills that come in if she wants me to but she is perfectly capable of handling her day to day financial affairs.
Will she be able to have fruit in her room? I looked at her. Her sister had taken her four apples. They were confiscated under hospital rules. I told her how there was a small shop where you could buy such things to take back to your room. I am not sure she was convinced.
The list went on.
Eventually we came to some things I felt she should be asking about. I will check on those today.
But, in the short space of time my friend has been in hospital, she has gone from independence to dependence. Her self-confidence has dropped to an alarmingly low level. Of course it was going to drop when the need for a permanent oxygen source became reality. My self confidence would drop too. 
What bothers me is the regime she has been under. It seems to encourage dependence. It seems to discourage all decision making.
At the same time nothing seems to happen there apart from a compulsory "exercise" class in the morning. The patients sit staring at the television set. One or two might read a book. One woman had some knitting two days ago. They have taken it away from her. The needles were considered "dangerous". Perhaps they are. I don't know. It seems to me that boredom is also dangerous. 
I really don't know what goes on there. I suppose they know what they are doing. I don't know how mental illness and anxiety is treated there. What I do know is that I am glad my friend is leaving there. I hope she can now start on a journey of at least partial mental recovery. Her anxiety levels are too high.    

Thursday 26 June 2014

There is something wrong with

democracy in this country. In this state we have, for the third time, a government which was not elected by a majority of people. It was not even the second choice of a majority. It is also being propped up by (a) an independent who went against the wishes of those who elected him and (b) a local member who switched sides and secured himself a ministerial position. It is wrong on all counts but there is nothing that can be done about it because even riots in the streets would be put down with the ruling "this is what the law says".
At federal level the government is the one which was elected by the people but it cannot implement the major policies it went to the electorate with because the Senate, which is supposed to represent the states but does not, is intent on blocking everything it can.
And yes, we should be concerned by all of that. It is not democracy. Politicians are playing power games.
The curious thing then is that our politicians have anything at all to say about the supposed lack of democracy anywhere else in the world. They have had much to say about the jailing of Peter Greste. Christine Milne, who leads the Greens in Australia, has been demanding diplomatic and trade sanctions against the Egyptian government "whatever it takes". 
That sort of talk is dangerous. Milne believes she can say as she pleases. It is populist talk. It is unlikely that anything like that will be implemented. It would do both sides more harm than good.
The Australian media has made a great fuss about "one of our own" being incarcerated in a foreign gaol "for doing his job". The reality however is that he is one of many journalists incarcerated in prisons around the world - incarcerated for doing their job as they see it.
Perhaps that is the problem. Journalists don't merely report "facts", they interpret the "facts" as they see them. They have the potential to be a very powerful force in the world. Some of them are very well known. People will listen to them. If, like the late Alistair Cooke, they comment on current affairs they can influence millions of people. His "Letter from America", was broadcast for 58 years by BBC and BBC World Service. It was largely uncontroversial but very informative and influential.
Here Downunder we have a highly controversial columnist by name of Andrew Bolt. He is despised by many but he is still highly influential. People who loathe him still listen to him and they are, in all probability, influenced by him. There have been efforts to silence him and I have no doubt that more than one politician wishes Mr Bolt was incarcerated - perhaps along with other journalists.
It seems then that a "failure of democracy" in any other part of the world is something to be condemned. If it occurs here then it is a different story. Journalists have had little to say about the failure of democracy here. Those who have had the temerity to say anything have been roundly condemned by their fellow journalists and they find their access to politicians blocked. We do not normally gaol them, although they have been taken to court and fined for speaking out. Life canbe made difficult for them in many ways.
Are we really so very different - or is it just a matter of degree?

Wednesday 25 June 2014

I see "The Bunker Diary" has

won the Carnegie Medal.
It has now become clear that the Carnegie Medal is no longer about good literature for children (and young adults) but about controversial books that are designed to shock.
I have read "The Bunker Diary". I found it unrelievedly dark and depressing. It was a book without hope and without humanity. Others will disagree but my reading of it was that every time Brooks came close to either thing he dashed it away again. Brooks is playing with his readers. It is a vile game.
The Carnegie Medal list has changed in character over the years. That is only right. The first winner, Arthur Ransome, wrote books that now seem ordinary and predictable but they were, at the time they were written, seen as quite remarkable.
"The little white horse" (Elizabeth Goudge 1946) is still being read. "The Woolpack" (Cynthia Harnett 1951) is still one of the outstanding examples of historical literature for children and, where children get the chance to read it, enjoyed.
Jump forward - past some outstandingly good books - and there are authors like Anne Fine and Peter Dickinson who have one it twice - for books which can still be read with pleasure and interest. David Almond's "Skellig" (1998) and Neil Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book" (2010) are books which are likely to last the test of time too.
I doubt "The Bunker Diary" will. It will sell well for a short while because it is controversial, because it has won the Carnegie, because it will appeal to some who see no hope for the future and because a dangerous few will fantasize about doing something similar.
There was another book on the list for this year's Carnegie, "Rooftoppers" by Katherine Rundell. The characters are outstanding. It has humanity, humour and genuine hope for the future. We don't know whether there is a happy ending or not but the hope of one is there. If we want children and young adults to read and continue reading then surely this is the sort of thing that should be given precedence? Even if we want children to face the dark things in life, rape, murder, suicide, war, cancer and the like then surely we also need to say, "It's not all bad. There is always hope for the future."

Tuesday 24 June 2014

The sentencing of Peter Greste

is an appalling thing but I am less surprised than I might have been. I am appalled that he should have been incarcerated in the first place but I am not surprised he was found guilty. A friend who works at a university in Egypt warned me that it was "very likely". Even before Greste was arrested she warned me that he needed to be much more careful. He was taking risks, too many risks.
If you are a war correspondent or you are reporting on civil unrest then you do take risks. Most of those risks are physical risks. It is part of the job. You wear a flak jacket and, sometimes, a helmet and you duck for cover when the gunfire starts.  It is not a job I would even contemplate doing.
You probably need to live in Egypt to understand the (lack of) logic behind Greste's arrest. Even among some of those who support him there is a feeling that he should have been asked to leave. His reporting was apparently seen as one-sided by some Egyptians who had access to it. They did not see it as supporting the Muslim Brotherhood but as not giving enough consideration to what they felt was the other side of the story. Greste of course was about being where the action was. That makes for the more interesting news.
The West has widely condemned the coup in Egypt which saw the ousting of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Democracy, as we understand it, does not support such moves.
Many Egyptians, even those who voted for Morsi, see it differently.  At least some of them were voting against the alternative rather than for Morsi. Offer them, in their view, a more acceptable alternative and they voted against Morsi - particularly when it became clear that the Morsi government was going to institute the restrictions of an Islamic state. Perhaps it is in that context that Greste's reporting was seen as supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. It is difficult to tell.
What happens next is anyone's guess. There will almost certainly be an appeal. There may be a Presidential pardon of some sort. The jail term may be reduced. There may be other negotiations. There will be some sort of agreement on what can and cannot be reported and how it will be portrayed.
From the point of view of the Egyptian authorities all this will be justified. They have a country to control and an economy dependent on tourism to restore.
Greste and his colleagues have been brutally prevented from doing their job - for now. And, we all lose out.

Monday 23 June 2014

The headline read something like

"all children should learn at least one language". I should hope so. If taken literally it would surely mean that all children learned to speak their mother tongue. I suspect, not having read the article, that it meant all children should learn at least one more language at school.
There has been an on going discussion about this in Australia. It cannot really be called a debate because the powers-that-be in successive governments - and thus Departments of Education - seem to have made up their collective minds that Asian languages will be taught. Not just any Asian languages of course but mostly Chinese and Japanese.
The argument is that we do business with China and Japan and we need people who can speak these languages. There may be some merit in this argument but I doubt it. Business is usually conducted in English because it will often involve people from more than two countries. English will be the common language. There is of course another argument - the one about good manners and not making the assumption that business will be conducted in English.
The problem with all of this is that it offers an excuse to ignore other languages, other Asian languages and other languages spoken in the community. It offers an excuse to ignore Spanish - spoken by many, many people. I would rather see children learn such languages than no second language at all.
I would also like to see children actually learn their first language. There was another piece in this morning's paper about a different language issue. It was quoting research which suggests some very young children have speech and language problems because they, even before they start school, have too much "screen time". Parents use electronic devices as baby-sitters and child-minders. Children get "hooked" from an early age. Recently the Senior Cat read an article about the amount of screen time some children in America have outside school hours. It was frightening when you consider that it is time which could have been spent in active play, face to face socialisation, creating things and reading books.
Do we need to change our attitudes towards screen time?

Sunday 22 June 2014

Am acquaintance of mine returned from Africa

yesterday. Her journey there was a pilgrimage of sorts.
She spent three years living there when she was very young. Her parents were missionaries. They took their three children with them and went to build a hospital and a school and do the other things that missionaries do.
R... went back to see if it was as bad as she remembered.
"I thought perhaps I was being unfair to my parents. They believed passionately in what they were doing. The hospital was never completed. The school never got started. Corruption got in the way. They still believed in it all - even managed to convince themselves they had done the right thing."
The family spent three years living in a transportable hut supplied by the missionary organisation which sent them there. I know about the hut because a friend of mine later had it dismantled and transported to another location where better use was made of it.
Yes, better use.
R...'s parents are no longer alive. Her mother died about five years after their return from Africa. Her father about eight years later.
R... cannot talk to them about why they went and certainly not about why they went so ill prepared and with so little support.  She wants to do that.
"You don't just take three young kids and go off like that. We kids were supposed to be doing correspondence work from here but Mum never had time to supervise it properly. We all got sick. Mum and Dad were supposed to have some language training before they left. I suppose they did but I remember Dad having to ask this man to interpret all the time. We kids could talk to the local kids but my parents never really did talk to their parents."
And that was what interested me.
"When you went back could you remember any Swahili?" I asked her. I was curious to know if, once again surrounded by the language, she would remember any of it.
She nodded. "I thought I had forgotten it all but I heard words and remembered them. I didn't say anything for a few days and then I went into a shop on my own. The person who was serving was talking to someone else and then he turned around to me and I just asked him. It wasn't until I got outside again that I realised what I had done. I felt like a little kid again. It all made me feel like a little kid again."
R... says she does not want to go back again. It was, if anything, worse than she remembered. The part built hospital has never been completed. The school was never started. The local children she knew were young adults. They did not really remember one another. They are still poor and saw her as rich. She felt out of place. Her experience was interesting but it was not romantic or beautiful.
"I would always be a little kid in Africa," she told me.

Saturday 21 June 2014

"I have sad news for you,"

my friend said. She did not need to say any more. I knew. Another mutual friend had died.
Like my friend who is about to move to a nursing home this friend also had lung problems. She had emphysema brought on by heavy smoking. It is a wonder she did not have lung cancer. Each time she went "for a check up" we wondered whether there would be bad news. Somehow the disease passed her by.
But, she had a great many other problems brought on by heavy smoking. Her voice was husky. Her breathing was compromised. Her circulation was poor. Her eyesight was not good. Her hands were stained dark brown and her fingernails were yellow. She did not look good.
And, no matter what the doctors said or how we tried to help she could not give up smoking. She would stop for a day or two. Once or twice she managed to stop for a week. Then she would go back to it.
She started smoking during WWII. Her husband was at sea. His chances of returning were viewed as low. She had three young children to care for, a full time job to do and other relatives also away fighting. She was stressed. Who would not be stressed?
Her doctor at the time actually suggested she take up smoking to try and alleviate the stress - and she did.
Her husband did return - a changed man. Despite that they stayed together. She went on to become the Chief Librarian of a large municipal library service. She wrote a number of short books. They were never commercially published but she passed them around to family and friends.
She read my blog and would leave me e-mails with all sorts of sharp and witty comments. She read my other writing - and refused to comment at all. "I couldn't write like that," was all she ever told me but she would keep pressing me to finish the next one so she could read it.
And she read a great many other things. I would often find an e-mail in my personal in box saying "Do look at this" and "I really enjoyed this one. Do try it." The variety was enormous and, if our tastes were not always the same, I found some interesting books in her lists. I "met" Japanese and Chinese authors - and introduced her to my favourite South American authors.
She was also a knitter. She never followed a pattern. We met for coffee in the city one day and, when I arrived, she was already there. She was sketching the mural on the wall. Several months later it became a cardigan for someone. Yes, she was a woman of talent.
In the last couple of  years I would phone her about once a fortnight. We would talk a little about her family and then about books. Knitting might get a passing mention.
All the way through the conversation I would hear her breathing and wonder how much longer we would go on talking.
The conversation is over now but the books are still there.

Friday 20 June 2014

Our State Budget

is being drip fed to us through the media. It is the usual mixture of doom, gloom and blame game.
The state government has been in power for twelve years now. It managed to retain government at the last election with a minority of the votes and the support of an "independent" who went against the wishes of his electorate. It has since cemented the position with the support of the member in the electorate I live in. He also switched sides - a move which is costing the government $2.1m a year in on going costs. It does not take into account the money being used to set up his ministerial position. That is estimated to be about $8m.
And, of course, at the last election and the one before that and the one before that and... the state government promised it would create jobs. It has not. We now have the highest unemployment rate in the mainland states and will, if we are not careful, soon have the highest unemployment rate in the country.
Why? We are a relatively resource rich state. We should be doing much better than we are doing.
It is clear that the government has wasted a great deal of money. It has spent money on "cake" rather than "bread" and it has been propping up unsustainable industries instead of finding new ones.
It has spent it on infrastructure we don't need and entertainment to go with it. It has relied on old fashioned ways of gathering tax to pay for these things - payroll tax and stamp duty are two. These tax measures make it much more expensive to employ people. Add on all the other expenses involved in employing anyone and it is little surprise that business is not growing the way it should be.
We need a radical shake up - something that is not going to happen when we have a minority government held in place by "independents" and heavily influenced (if not actually run) by the union movement.
As for the blame game. I am not going to blame the present Federal government - although I think they could handle things differently - I am going to blame the people who spent money in an unwise fashion in the previous Federal government and the present state government.
Oh I know it is "not as simple as all that" but it seems to me that if we want an income we have to work for it. Doesn't that mean providing the means by which to do it? Cake won't do that but bread might. It is time to start making bread.

Thursday 19 June 2014

There is a fairly new "tradition"

here that always makes me feel very uncomfortable. It is viewed as a "politically correct" thing to do but I felt uneasy about it from the first time I heard someone do it.
It is the tradition of "acknowledging" the fact that the meeting, usually a public one, "is taking place on the land of the (insert indigenous tribal name) people".
To me it ranks along with things like "reverting to the indigenous name" and flying the "indigenous" flag. I squirm.
Before I get accused of being racist may I explain that I once had a very good and very close friend, now sadly deceased, who was a "full blood" indigenous woman. She was very strong minded about such things. She had little time for them.
Her view was that the acknowledgment should only take place if the gathering in question had some direct relationship to the tribe in question. She said indigenous names were often incorrect and were not there for the use of everyone - and certainly not without the permission of the elders of the indigenous community in question. As for the flag? Well indigenous Australians could use it if they wanted to but they had done without any sort of flag for thousands of years and they could continue to do so in her view.
That was her view - and I believe it was shared by many of her generation.
The "acknowledgment" is tokenistic. It divides rather than draws people together.  It lacks any real meaning and, I suspect, many people feel uncomfortable with it. A respected indigenous elder is now saying, in this morning's paper, that it is "over used".  I have heard it said with some respect but, far more often, I have heard it gabbled as if the speaker was embarrassed or said in a way which suggests it is a duty to be got out of the way.
I think we need to question why there is a feeling it needs to be used so much. What do people really believe they are doing when they use it?
And I can remember my friend's funeral at which nothing like that was said. There was a greeting in her language - and we all stood quite still and silent for her.


Wednesday 18 June 2014

A hair cut?

The Senior Cat is in need of a hair cut. It has reached the "just starting to grow over the ears" length. It is down to his collar, indeed perhaps a little below it.
I finally growled. He looked meek and agreed. It has still taken a week for him to find the time but he has informed me he intends to go this morning.
His barber has a go at him each time he comes in, "You should have come to see me before. Don't you want to chat to a friend?"
In all likelihood it will not be his barber who actually cuts his hair. It will be the lovely young Korean woman who is his assistant. She gets on well with the Senior Cat too.
So, why doesn't he go when he should? I don't know.
I cannot really say anything. I don't use the services of a hairdresser. My hair is long and, normally, I just tie it back. It is a style which suits the compulsory bike helmet. I am, if truth be known, not too fussed. I like my hair to be clean. I like me and my clothes to be clean and tidy and respectable but I don't do fashion or fashionable hair. I don't colour my hair. I don't get it tipped or layered or permed or plaited in teensy tiny plaits.
I had plaits as a child. They were tied of with rubber bands cut from old bicycle tyres. On Sundays I wore ribbons tied to the end of the plaits. My mother cut me a fringe on the first day of school. I came home from school with it clipped back - and a rash across my forehead. The fringe had irritated me. It was a nuisance until it grew out again and, for once, my mother did not persist I try to keep it. I still cannot handle having my hair hanging around my face.
I sometimes glance at hairdressing salons as I pass. I wonder what it would be like to sit in one of those chairs and have someone else wash, cut, colour, curl and dry my hair. I shudder at the thought.
My paternal grandmother had long hair all her life. She never once went to the hairdresser. It must have saved my grandfather a small fortune over the years.  
It saves time too. I think I will keep my head fur long but the Senior Cat needs to keep his short!

Tuesday 17 June 2014

"Aussie" slang? Do we really

talk "like that"?

With some amusement I read a list of Australian slang terms being provided by the organisers of an international conference in my home city.
Yes, some of the people coming will not speak English as their first language so perhaps these are necessary, or are they?
The list started with "G'day" and yes, some people use it but they are equally likely to say "hello". "G'day mate" is not likely to be used to be used except to a friend - and probably between men who work in trades. I don't know anyone who uses the term in a general way.
Then there was, "How ya goin?" - "How are you?" Mmm - some might use this but "How's things?" and "How's ya doin' " might also be used. All of them will be used by younger people. Most older people conference participants will mix with will ask, "How are you?"
Then there was "dunny" - the toilet, the bathroom (for Americans) or just "the loo". Any of the latter are more likely than the former.
Women are not usually referred to as "sheila" or "sheilas" and, although you might hear "he's a good sort of bloke" it is just as likely to be "he's a nice sort of chap" or a "good man".
Children are not usually referred to as "ankle biters" either - even toddlers - but it was on the list.
There was "Aussie salute" - for waving flies away. I have never heard that used although I have heard of it.
"Make a blue" is used to refer to making a mistake and yes, I do hear that occasionally.
"Bob's your uncle" is translated as "here you go" which is not how I would put it. I would suggest it was more "that's sorted out" in relation to action taken which is about to be taken.
"Dinkum" or "fair dinkum" - true. Yes, that is sometimes used but not as often as people think.
Then there is "dummy spit" or, more likely, "spit the dummy" - said to be when someone gets very upset - or perhaps when an adult behaves like a child having a tantrum.
We do talk about giving someone a "fair go" - a chance but it is an opportunity on reasonable terms.
"Have a lend" is translated as taking advantage of someone and there may be people who use it like that but I have heard it as meaning to borrow something (usually on unfair terms).
"Pull your head in" does mean "mind your own business". If said as "Pull your woolly head in" though it means "you haven't got the right idea so stop talking about it" - and it is usually meant in a joking sort of way.
"Shoot through" as in "I have to shoot through" means "leave" but it is not as common as it once was. "I have to go" is much more likely.
And then there was "ute" - a utility vehicle. The "ute" is mostly a farm vehicle with a cabin that seats two and an open tray at the back which can carry anything and everything from the dogs to farm equipment, a load of hay or a motorbike. Yes, that is used.
"Bring a plate" is also used. It means "bring a plate of food to share at a communal meal". This is a particularly common way of catering for an event in the country but it also occurs in the city.
"Smoko" is less common than it used to be. It is not widely used in the city but is still used in some places in "the bush". Smoko was once the cigarette break for shearers - at which they also ate morning or afternoon tea.
And, they were not on the list but yes "the bush" - that part of rural Australia which is not considered "the outback". The bush is more densely populated and there are more trees. There are farms rather than cattle or sheep stations or they will be areas of national park. There is a term sometimes used "no use beating about/around the bush" - which can mean persisting with something that is a waste of time.
And, something unique to this state - a "stobie pole" - the poles used to carry utility lines above ground. They are cement and steel structures designed by a man called "Stobie" to overcome the problem with white ants.
I suspect however that most of the terms on the list will not be used but the Americans who come will be more confused by what we refer to as the "boot" of the car  and they refer to as "the trunk" and the difference between "biscuit" (a scone here) and "cookie" (a biscuit here).
Little differences in language can be far more confusing than slang.

Monday 16 June 2014

I have been sorting

knitting yarn and books. A good deal of yesterday was devoted to this activity.
The yarn has been piling up. It is not mine. It has been given to me by other people with words like, "Can you use this? Maybe you can make something and sell it for your friend in Africa?" and "I thought I wanted to use this but I don't like it" and "I know I am never going to knit it".
Right. I am not going to knit it either - but I will use it.  I can sell some of it - although for nothing like the original price. The money can go to the unaccompanied children my friend cares for. I can sort the odds and ends into "useful for blanket squares - people" and "useful for blanket squares - animal" and "useful for charity hats". It can then be handed on to people who make those things.
The tiniest odds and ends of bright acrylic yarn can go to a friend who takes a craft class for underprivileged children.
Oh yes, I can make good use of it all - but it is time consuming.
And then there are the knitting "books". Most of them are those flimsy booklets of a few pages with patterns all in the same yarn. The yarn is out of date and so are the patterns.
And, if you look at them carefully, they tell you about more than changing fashions.
I have some pre-war and war-time patterns in the current pile. There are garments made from very little yarn - a few ounces of thin yarn. The patterns are often lacy. The women are slim - apart from the patterns for "matrons". Garments sometimes come in two colours. This was, I suspect, to cater for knitters who had "a little bit of this and a little bit of that". Nothing would have been wasted.
And there was a great deal more knitting involved.
When did these knitters knit? It is likely that the vast majority of knitters were women. They were often holding down jobs by then. They were caring for families in the absence of their husbands. They did not have many labour saving devices in the kitchen or the laundry. And yet they found time to knit and sew. They had to find time to do both because, without it, their families simply would not have been clothed.
Now we have ready made clothes. "Knitwear" means cheap, mass produced garments sourced from Asia. Most of them are not wool.
Women still go to work but they have many labour saving devices in the kitchen and the laundry. The food they buy at the supermarket is often at least partially pre-prepared. They do not need to make bread. Most things are easy to wash and require little or no ironing.
And they have "no time". The idea of knitting or sewing to clothe their family is foreign to them. The few who do knit and sew also do it in a different way. Yarn is thicker. The patterns are plainer and they take "less time" to complete.
We are, it seems, constantly busy - but we are less productive.  

Sunday 15 June 2014

"No, ISIS is not an

Egyptian god," I told a couple of friends yesterday. Although they are otherwise intelligent people they don't bother much with the news. One of them had just remarked that "ISIS sounds like an ancient Egyptian god."
Oh how much easier it would be if ISIS was just that - and could be condemned to the past.
It surprises me how little is known about ISIS - and how, until now, nobody seems to have been too concerned. There is still very little information in the actual news media. The World Cup seems to be taking precedence over everything else - and that could be a mistake. I am sure the leadership of ISIS is hoping that the world will keep its eye on the soccer ball and allow them to get on with their vile business unhindered.
ISIS is of course the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Their ultimate objected is an even larger Islamic state or "caliphate" which will stretch across the entire Middle East, including Israel - and then the rest of the world.
They are funded largely by illegal activities - the black market, arms trafficking, kidnapping, drug smuggling and extortion. They are more extreme than Al Qaeda and make people like Saddam Hussein and Bashar al Assad look less like the vile dictators they were and are. 
Yes, when a terrorist organisation like Al Qaeda condemns the level of violence of another group, it is surely time to start listening? Is it just that a different sort of war, one being fought over a round ball, is more important?
Of course there is frenetic activity behind the scenes now. There are high level exchanges going on around the clock. There are lower level diplomats, civil servants, military advisers and local contacts all talking and arguing about what should be done - and wondering how they let the situation get so out of hand.
And, even while all this is happening, there are people who are not prepared to give anything away. There are people who still want to retain power at all cost. The present government in Iraq is not prepared to confront the problem of religious division - because it would mean relinquishing some power.
When I had finished my brief explanation I could see that my friends did not feel too concerned. I know what their thinking is, "It's a long way from here and the situation will sort itself out. We shouldn't get involved in another war. It doesn't really concern us."
It is of course precisely that sort of attitude which allowed the situation to develop in the first place.
I just hope enough people take their eyes off that round ball for long enough to deal with the situation.

Saturday 14 June 2014

I always have two

knitting projects on the go. One is my "house" project and it tends to be a little more complicated. It will be something that requires more concentration or multiple balls of yarn or something else which means it does not travel well.
And I have my other project. It travels with me so that I can knit while waiting, knit while I am travelling on the train or in a car. Most of the time that project is small - socks or mittens, a hat or scarf. Yesterday it was socks.
I did not have a great deal of time yesterday - and it was raining.
But the solicitor finally returned the forms and I did as I had promised I would do. I went straight down to the hospital and waited while they copied them and certified they had seen the original documents and then put the copies into my friend's file.
All that took time so I knitted while I waited.
Remember a little while ago I wrote about the new patient who seemed confused and silent? The nurses' station is adjacent to a sort of sitting area. The television set is there and I thought he was perhaps going to watch television. It may even have been what he intended but he stopped by the first chair and stared across at me.
Then he smiled slowly and, still slowly, he came up to me. He stood there and I held the knitting up so that he could see it.
He looked carefully at it and then, slowly, held out his hand for it.
Not knowing what else to do I passed it over and then watched.
He looked at me and then he started to knit. The first few stitches were hesitant and then he seemed to remember. He knitted an entire round before passing it back to me. He held up his right hand and gave me a high five.
Then he wandered into the television area and sat down and stared at the screen for a moment before he looked down at his hands.
The tea lady said, "He needs some knitting."
Yes, he needs some knitting. I hope they realise that.

Friday 13 June 2014

I want to rub yesterday out

and start again - please!
To start with there was a massive pile in my in-box - most of it labelled with "do by yesterday" urgency. Okay, that happens. I can, most of the time, handle that.
There was shopping to be done. The shopping centre was unnaturally quiet for a Thursday but, for some reason, that seemed to mean people thought I had time to talk to them. I did make time because most of them are not merely elderly but might even be considered "old" by some.
And, having done that, I did something I have done perhaps twice before. I bought some pre-grated cheese in the dairy section of the supermarket. The reason for that? To save some time when I arrived home  and was making lunch for the Senior Cat. On the advice of the doctor we eat our main meal in the middle of the day. It is better for the Senior Cat.
I was making something we call "mornay". It gets a cheese sauce poured over the ingredients before you put it into the oven. The packet of grated cheese is exactly the right weight for a double quantity of the sauce.
I opened the packet and upended it the saucepan - and discovered the cheese was mouldy.
We had some distinctly unhealthy sausage rolls for lunch. They were in the freezer and were there as a planned "treat" for a Sunday night tea.
I took the empty packet back to the supermarket and explained. I did it very nicely by suggesting that they might want to check the other packets with the same use by date. Alarm! Consternation! The girl I spoke to told me to stay where I was and rushed off to the manager. I waited. I waited.
Eventually she came back with another packet of cheese - a different brand. I suspect there was something wrong but of course they were not going to admit it.
Moral, do not buy pre-grated cheese. It does not save time. Moral, check the cheese when you buy it. More haste, less speed.
Adding to my frustrations my cousin phoned. I was expecting to hear from him. He is here from London for his stepfather's funeral. He will, hopefully, come to see us this afternoon - and then again before he has to go back. I need to talk to him - or rather, I suspect he will need to talk to me.
For that reason I had hoped that the documents I am expecting from the solicitor would have arrived yesterday. They did not...although she said she was posting them on Tuesday. So far the solicitor has proved more than usually reliable so I suspect that the postal service is at fault. If they had arrived I could have gone down to the hospital yesterday and dealt with business there but that would have made life simple. I now need to go today - if the documents arrive.
I also had to make a trip to the library. The Senior Cat needed some pages laminated. I needed to pick up a book.
There were more e-mails snapping and snarling at me when I arrived home...and then we had an unexpected visitor in need of help.
Somewhere among all of this I managed to get some meals. I did not do the ironing - although I suppose I could have done it about eight o'clock last night. I did not get any writing done...apart from the blog post.
I did manage to feed the Senior Cat. I did manage to control my temper.
I suppose I achieved something?

Thursday 12 June 2014

Apparently Brazil has spent 14 billion

dollars on hosting this World Cup thing. Now I have no idea how accurate that figure is but that is what was quoted in our news.
In my (not so humble) opinion spending one billion would be too much.
Brazil does not have that sort of money to spend. Poverty is both widespread and severe in Brazil. Soccer may be a national passion there but does it justify that sort of expenditure? A football stadium does not, in the end, feed anyone. It isn't a school where the youngest get educated so they can work in the future. It isn't a hospital which helps people back to health so they can go on working. It isn't an industry which employs people and brings in taxes to support the school and the hospital. It isn't, in the case of Brazil, doing anything to conserve the rainforest and renew it.
Oh yes there is, supposedly, some useful transport infrastructure - but will that monorail be finished after the event? And yes, there will be hordes of visitors for a short time - but will they cover the cost of hosting the event?
My guess is that, just as hosting the Olympics did here in Australia, the event is going to cost Brazil far more than they will get in return.
Australia put in a bid to host one of these events. It apparently cost a lot of money even to put the bid in...and they got one vote. I presume that is because the Aussies put in a vote for themselves. I am not in the slightest bit sorry they lost - and I think it was a waste of money even putting a vote in but I know a lot of people think differently.
I have been thinking about all of this because my home city is about to host another international event. It has been seven years in the planning and yes, they had to put in a bid for it. It is not the sort of event that will cause much excitement. The people who come to it will be craftspeople - and almost all of them will be women. They won't fill the streets with rowdy supporters. They will bring money in. 
The event is the World Lace Congress. If you have got this far I imagine and least some of you reading this will shrug and say "so what?" Lacemaking is not exciting. It is often so slow that an acquaintance once compared it with watching the grass grow. As a craft it is immensely diverse and often extraordinarily beautiful. It can also require great skill.
I sometimes knit lace. Knitting lace is considered to be one of the (much) less skilled forms of the lace maker's art. Even so, I find it difficult. It requires the manipulation of stitches and concentration on a pattern - even one I have designed myself.  When I do try however I probably get at least as much, and possibly more, pleasure out of it as others do watching a soccer match.
There is a difference though - at the end of it those watching the match have only the memories. I have something that lasts.
So, why has the World Lace Congress so far received no publicity at all. It will be here in July. Nothing has so far been said in the media - despite the best efforts of the organisers.
"We are," one of the organisers told me, "competing against the current Cabaret Festival, the upcoming Commonwealth Games and the World Cup."
All of those things are passive entertainment. They require no great effort on the part of the individual. They do not require the learning of a skill. They do not require long term practice. All that is involved is a little short-term excitement, a short-lived feeling of "national pride" and, where children take it up, long term problems with concussion from hitting the ball with their head.
Yes, I know - thousands upon thousands of people even in my home city feel differently. I still wish Brazil had spent that fourteen billion dollars building the future.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

It is not just foster parents

who are in need of extra support. It is also grandparents who are the full time carers for their grandchildren. That issue has also been raised in the media over the last couple of days.
I would add another group of people to that - single fathers.
When I was a child unmarried mothers were not well treated. To have a child out of wedlock was considered to be a great disgrace. Some girls were sent away by their families, others were sent to a home for "naughty" girls - girls who were considered promiscuous. Almost all of them gave up their babies for adoption. And yes, it was usually considered to be the fault of the girl and not the boy.
Now unmarried mothers are encouraged to keep their children. They get financial assistance from the government. They get other types of support as well. No, it isn't easy but for some it has been a lifestyle choice and for others at least they don't face the same widespread public approbation that previous generations did.
It seems it is a different story for grandparents - and single fathers.
There will be sympathy for grandparents who have lost a child through illness or accident and have had to take over the parenting role as well. If their child is in prison, on drugs or otherwise in trouble there will be much less sympathy. I think the attitude is "well you should have done a better job of bringing up your own child and this would not have happened". It still does not give them the same level of financial security or freedom that others of their generation have.
And single fathers? If they have lost a partner due to accident or illness then the attitude is "you should get married again and find someone to help you bring your child(ren) up". That seems an extraordinarily sexist attitude to me but it also seems to be widespread. What is more you don't get the same level of assistance as a single mother would.
I know about this at first hand. The Whirlwind's father is single. His wife, the Whirlwind's mother, committed suicide - the result of a brain injury following a car accident. (The other driver was drunk.) There has finally been some financial compensation paid but the Whirlwind's father has not had the same level of emotional support that, had the situation been reversed, her mother might have got. People still wonder why he has not married again. I have been told "he should marry and give her a mother".
It is not that easy and, like grandparents who care for their grandchildren, his social life tends to be restricted - while fending off well meaning but often inappropriate attempts to find him another partner.
Giving emotional support to people who are in caring positions is not always easy. We don't want to listen to other people's problems - although we like them to listen to ours.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Yesterday was the day of the cheque book

I don't own a cheque book. The Senior Cat has one for emergencies.
My friend in hospital does own a cheque book. It is currently locked away - along with her mobile phone, her credit cards and her dignity.
We have long known she is not allowed to use her mobile phone. On the rare occasions she has been permitted to use a phone her calls have been monitored. Yes, quite simply a member of staff stays with her while she makes the call. This is the psychiatric ward and the reasoning is that it stops people making strange and potentially abusive phone calls.
There are no television sets in the rooms. The programmes in the common area are also monitored. There are no newspapers.
As my friend cannot get herself to the common area they permitted her to have a small radio, something the other patients know nothing about. It is, I was told, an indication that they really do not feel she needs to be in the psychiatric ward but there is - for the moment - nowhere else she can go. She needs a level of nursing care that cannot be provided at home but getting a high level care place in a nursing home could be months away.
But, use her cheque book? Yesterday she wanted to write a check so I can pay her health fund bill. This was necessary because the solicitor still has not returned the papers which will allow me to this for her.
My friend thought it was going to be simple. She would just ask the staff to give her the cheque book. She would write the cheque. She would give it to me. I would hand it in to the health fund office today.
No, nothing like as simple as that. She is not allowed to use her cheque book while she is in there. 
I had a feeling that might be the case. The fact that it was locked away was not merely about the possibility of it being stolen but it is for her "safety". It is like the phone calls. Her expenditure gets monitored.
I bought toothpaste for her last week. She needs a special brand because the drugs she is on leave her with a very dry mouth - which sometimes make it difficult to speak. We decided the purchase did not need approval - but I was told I should have asked. Yesterday she also needed shampoo - again something suitable for her very dry skin. She asked for that in front of a staff member - and it was noted down. She also asked for more t-shirts. Her hands shake so much at times that she regularly spills food and drink on them. We agreed she needed cheap t-shirts from a well known local chain. (Her sister would buy the expensive brand name sort.) The staff member was there at the time and noted that down too. That particular member of staff is actually very pleasant and we all agreed with a laugh that "showing too much cleavage" might not be the thing. (My friend has virtually nothing in front.)  
As I left the staff member told me that there was a note for the social worker who will "counsel" my friend about the need for the cheque before she is permitted to write it. They will, so I am told, let me know when that happens.
Yes, there are people in there who would not be able to write a cheque. There are probably people who would do whatever they were told and others who might simply give money away. I can understand precautions need to be taken.
At the same time it seems to me that common everyday sense needs to prevail. If my friend wants to write a cheque to pay her health fund bill then she should be permitted to do so. If she needs toothpaste then I should not need to ask if she can have it. If she needs more t-shirts then it is my duty to see she has them. And, like the radio they have quietly let her have against the rules, they should acknowledge that she is a rational, intelligent woman who found it incredibly difficult to breathe and, like anyone else would, found it frightening.
It will be interesting to see how soon they let her write that cheque.

Monday 9 June 2014

Should foster carers have rights?

There is a continuing story in our local media about a woman who has become "Mum of the year". She and her husband fostered a child with multiple disabilities. The child died.
In itself that is tragic but what makes the story worse is that, under the law here, the foster parents had no rights at all. Having loved and cared for the child they were told, "Now that he is dead he is nothing at all to do with you."
Instead his parents, from whom he had been taken at birth and who had shown no interest in him at all, were given all rights. They wanted nothing to do with him even in death.
Even then the foster parents had no rights to organise a funeral, invite others who knew the child to attend - or even be told the cause of death.
Another foster child was recently taken from her foster family, not because they had done anything wrong but because the child experienced a small problem at school - the sort that any child might experience. The foster parents did as they were expected to do and advised the department - and the child was removed. Why?
It had nothing to do with the way the child was being cared for - which was, from all accounts, exemplary. It was apparently considered that the child was getting too attached to her carers. They had even made inquiries about adopting her. 
There is something very, very wrong with this. We have all heard horrendous stories about foster parents but the reality is that many of them are good, caring people. They grow fond of the children they care for and the children grow fond of them.
Yes, there will be problems. These children have had a rough start in life or they would not be there.
We had "state wards" in two of the schools I worked in. They were profoundly disabled children and they lived in the boarding section of the school. If it had not been for the staff taking them out for days and, occasionally, an overnight stay they would not have seen anything much of the outside world. Looking back now I realise that those overnight stays were probably not strictly legal - and perhaps even the days out were not strictly legal either. The institution would have been expected to inform the department and the department would have been expected to "vet" the people who wanted to give the child a day out. I suspect all the requirements were simply ignored because, if adhered to, nothing would have happened. Those children would have spent Christmas Day sitting in an institution.  I wonder what happens to such children now? Are they fostered? Are they moved from one place to another?
And it happens to adults too. I know someone who is a "carer". One of the people she was caring for in his own home was a Vietnam war veteran. He had multiple medical issues and he was dying of cancer. She had become very fond of him. He was, despite all his issues, apparently polite and pleasant to help. He had a sense of humour and she enjoyed his company in the way a friend might. He had no family so her family became his.
His social worker made a sudden decision that they were "too close" and that the relationship was "inappropriate". He was, for the last few weeks of his life put into hospital. The carer was told she could not even visit him - despite the hospital staff saying he was asking for her to come. The department did not inform the carer of his death and there was no funeral service.
"I was told that all I wanted was whatever he had to leave. He had almost nothing, a few clothes and the like, and they knew that. I wasn't even allowed to say goodbye. Why?"
Fortunately the hospital chaplain became aware of the problem and organised a small memorial service for them - against the wishes of the department. It was, I believe, the right and proper thing to do.
I think carers should have some rights. They are being asked to take on responsibilities that are greater than those of parents or partners. If you care for someone, and you care for them well, then you cannot simply walk out and leave them.
I have been thinking about this recently. The "external" social worker at the hospital told me, quite kindly, that I was not to worry about my friend "she's our responsibility now". No, she isn't. I have signed the piece of paper that makes me and my sister her guardians. She is also my responsibility now.

Sunday 8 June 2014

I have just completed a

"French exam" and come out with an "A".
I cannot work out how to put the link in here but Elizabeth Chadwick posted it into her Twitter feed line and, being a curious cat, I had to have a look - and then of course I had to try it.
Now I have never formally studied French. Like every other language I know anything about, I have taught myself almost everything I know about French.
The test was on something called "Buzz Feed" and was a "multiple choice" type exercise. It was not difficult. The questions about irregular verbs defeated me but I could read the other questions well enough to guess the meaning and answer the question - in English.
In other words, use some common sense and what little vocabulary you know and you might be able to work out the meaning if given the context. I have to work like that all the time. Fortunately technical language is often so close to English that it is relatively easy to guess - and most of what I need to read is in technical language of one sort or another.
What interests me is the number of times I can hear or see a word in another language which is so close to English. Sometimes the word has simply been lifted from English and put into another language. Sometimes the spelling and/or pronunciation will be slightly different but the meaning will be the same. One of the easiest words to recognise in Indonesian is "taksi" - yes, "taxi" and another is "polis" for "police".
And, if you listen carefully to someone speaking while also reading the sub-titles in a documentary there are other things it is also possible to learn. The Senior Cat and I were watching a documentary set in Nepal recently. The documentary was about the process for choosing recruits for the British Ghurka regiments - a remarkably tough selection process indeed. I don't know a word of Nepalese but I suddenly heard the words "competition" and "selection" - in the middle of the Nepalese.
And that told me something I had never consciously thought about before. The Nepalese did not need words for "competition" and "selection" because, although there would have been some competition and selection in their society prior to the entry of the British Army into their lives, they would have approached the processes of competing and selecting quite differently. They would also have spoken about it in a different way and the words would not have had the same meaning.
Where I live it almost never snows. If we do get a very light snowfall in the hills behind me the snow has normally melted before the morning is over. It might make the news the occurrence is so rare. We do not need multiple words for "snow" but people in places like Finland do need multiple words - just as Australian indigenous languages needed multiple words for direction. If we needed those words we might well borrow them too.
And so I can "pass a French exam" for things we all need but I would be totally lost trying to differentiate between different sorts of snow or sand.  All I can do is marvel yet again and the complexity of the thing we call "language". How on earth did we ever learn to use it?

Saturday 7 June 2014

It was D-Day yesterday

but it went almost unmentioned here. The Prime Minister went off to France along with the last few survivors of that day. There was a little news footage of them and of a 93yr old American who parachuted in again seventy years later. That was about it.
Locally, most of the schools do not appear to have mentioned the occasion - or, if they have, they have done it only in passing. The Whirlwind's school had assembly and it was mentioned there. One of the former students was a nurse in the army at the time. She was working in France but not in Normandy. The Whirlwind came home for the weekend in a very sombre mood after listening to "this really old lady who still went on being alive after the most awful horrible things happened".
My father did not go to war. He would have enlisted but his eyesight was so bad they refused to take him. He was never sorry about that. He had no desire to go to war. He is, at heart, a pacifist but says he would protect his family.
I often wonder what sort of person he would be now if he had been to war. He is a very gentle person. It takes a great deal for him to express anger even though he may feel it. His GP recently said to me, "He's the sort of person I want to take home with me he so lovely." War would have changed him. He would not be the person he is now.
War changed many men. They came back different men. Many of them never talked about it. Some of them seemed unchanged but, underneath it all, there must have been - and must still be - the most appalling memories. There would be - and no doubt are - the really dark moments that come up behind you and grab you unexpectedly. They would perhaps come at what should be the happiest moments. They would come with a fragment of a song, seeing a young man in uniform walk along the street.
Years ago I knew a farmer who had been to war. It was a hot day. We were waiting for my father and someone else in the main street of a tiny country community when an air force jet flew over head. He looked up at it and then saw that I had shivered slightly. He put his hand briefly on my shoulder and said,
"It's all right - but you never forget."
He didn't say any more. I never said anything. I was about twelve at the time and I never mentioned his words to anyone - but I have never forgotten.

Friday 6 June 2014

It is sad that learning a

second language at any age can help to keep our brains active and ward off dementia.
I suspect that more research is needed to actually back this statement because I do know older and once bilingual people who now have severe dementia. I also came across two more at the hospital yesterday. They were new patients in the psychiatric ward my friend is in.
One patient was an elderly Greek woman who was clearly confused. She had Greek visitors, one of whom is friendly with another elderly Greek woman I know. The visitor recognised me and, before I could go any further, started to ask me questions in a mixture of Greek and English. I took a wild guess at what she was asking and explained as best I could in simple English. At least she did not, like some older Greeks I have met, believe you can catch dementia in the way you can catch cold. The nurses looked on bemused and then relieved.
Then, while waiting for the nurses to finish "a procedure" to my friend, the new patient from the room next door came out. He looked at me in a puzzled sort of way and said,
It was clear that getting the word out was an effort. I returned his greeting and smiled at him. He smiled back and wandered off down the corridor. The "tea lady" asked him if he wanted a drink. He heard her but he didn't seem to understand her at all. He stood there for a few minutes and then wandered back again. The door next to his was open. He stared in obviously confused about where he was. I also know enough to know that the occupant of that room would cause a serious disturbance if he entered her space.
So, there being no staff in the immediate vicinity, I said "No, R.... "
He looked at me. I suspect people have been saying "No, R..." for long enough that he does still understand that. I pointed to his door. He smiled and put both thumbs up and went into the room. After a while he came out and just stood in the doorway.  He seemed completely confused again. I suspect he has Alzheimer's and he may be there to be assessed for a nursing home. His name is also one which suggests English is not his first language.
Older speakers of English as second language who have dementia are a growing problem here. Even those with excellent English tend to revert to their first language. My sister's mother-in-law never had good English and, by the time she died, all she spoke was Greek. Others find English confusing and no longer follow questions or instructions well. Speak to them in their own language and they may do considerably better.
I just wonder at how confusing and frightening the world must be if you are losing your capacity to communicate. That would be frightening in itself but to have everyone around you speaking a language which is not your language would be far worse.
I was able to go in and see my friend at last. We can communicate in the same language. She is still rational and able to understand and make herself understood. That is something to be thankful for - even though she might not realise it now.
On my way out I see R... again. He smiles at me and says "H-ello."
And I smile and say "Hello" back because at least I can do that much for him.

Thursday 5 June 2014

I was helping someone make an FOI

request yesterday. The information he wants is not unreasonable and it would not be in the least bit time consuming to give it to him but I doubt his request will succeed.
Why? Government departments do not like giving out information, any sort of information. This information relates to someone else, his father. His father now has Alzheimer's and cannot request the information himself. If the government can go on denying the request then they will also save money - which would then be used to care for this man's father.
I suspect there is absolutely nothing new in this story. It is the sort of thing which happens all the time. It is not the first time I have tried to help someone in a similar situation and it probably won't be the last.
I once tried accessing some information about myself - and I couldn't get it. There was absolutely nothing difficult about it and I would not have thought there was anything secret about it but I could not obtain it. What did I want? The exact dates of my employment with a government department. What was so secret about that? I was told that the request would be "too time consuming" and that it could not be justified. It was a matter of looking up my file - still there - and sending me the information in an e-mail. I needed the information to prove I had been employed by them for a certain length of time. No, nothing doing - even if I paid for it. (You can pay to obtain information under some circumstances.)
It was the sort of response which made me think that most "freedom of information" requests are routinely turned down. If you go back a second or third time then you might get a response. And then, curiously, there is an article in this morning's paper about an inquiry into FOI requests which suggests just that. Requests are routinely turned down.
I am sure there are people who have abused the FOI request system. They ask for all sorts of information which would be time consuming to access and pass on. They don't need that information or they intend to abuse it when they get it. They are litigious and make a nuisance of themselves in a myriad of ways. That sort of behaviour makes it much more difficult for everyone.
But I also think there are public servants who find pleasure in the power they have to deny information. There are also governments who are paranoid about the public having information, any information - even the most innocuous information. What might someone do with the knowledge that the government employed me between certain dates? Is it just possible I might get a job somewhere else if that information is supplied? Are they afraid I might take state secrets with me? (Yes, I know a few but I am not in the least bit interested in divulging them to anyone. The information is actually pretty dull.)
I went to the doctor on the day before yesterday. She cheerfully showed me the computer screen with all my information on it. I know she would not do that to everyone but she knows my father, she knows my sister and she knows me. Her attitude is, "You're an intelligent person. You should be informed." My medical issues are my concern and she knows it. Much the same could be said for other information, especially if it relates to the ability to be responsible for oneself.
I am wondering what the point of our FOI legislation is if you can't actually get the information. The man I was helping knows it may take more than the FOI request. We actually discussed how he might proceed when the request is turned down.
The problem is that we know that, by the time he gets the information he needs, it may be too late. And that is of course precisely what the government is hoping.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

MIlk causes autism?

Give me a break! Please!
I have just caught up with this piece of nonsense from PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - and I feel more than a little angry with them.
I do not condone animal cruelty but PETA goes too far in demanding that everyone turns to a vegan diet and ceases using all animal products or clothing. Their zeal is akin to the zeal of religious fundamentalists.
PETA has done great harm to the lives of many of the poorest people in the world who depend on animals for their livelihood. Alternatives to animal dependent living do not come as easily as PETA would have people to believe.
But PETA has gone too far now - much too far. We had, indeed still have, the nonsense from those who would have us believe that vaccination causes autism. All that was based on one discredited study but it still gets repeated and repeated. There are people, many otherwise well educated and intelligent people, who believe it. Even after they have been shown further evidence to discredit their belief they go on believing it. Like a belief in a "flat earth" nothing is going to change their beliefs. They will put the lives of their children - and others - at risk by failing to vaccinate their children.
Now it is likely that people will deny their children dairy products in the belief that they are "saving them from getting autism". They will not be concerned that they may be subjecting their children to other health issues.
It is entirely understandable that the parents of a child with autism will look for an external reason for their child's behaviour. If they can lay the blame for the child's problems somewhere else their own feelings of guilt will be lessened. They can join the club of parents who were not informed or were ill-advised. It will, so they think, "not be (their) fault". That it is not their fault anyway is something they can ignore because they have something else to blame, something else at which to direct their anger and frustration and disappointment.
But the problem is that doing this causes problems for other people. It allows organisations like PETA to do great harm. The idea that milk causes autism makes no logical sense at all - we might as well say that autism causes milk. The two ideas are equally ridiculous.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

I am tired of hearing about Rolf Harris

and I wish the media would concentrate on more important people - like the woman at risk of being hung for her religious beliefs.
Now please don't misunderstand me. I think it is important that the allegations of sexual misconduct being made against Mr Harris are investigated. They are very serious and, if true, they are to be condemned in the strongest possible way.
Mr Harris was an entertainer with a big following and a great deal of influence. I could never understand this. I always looked on him as a "smart-alec" and a show off. His style of "entertaining" never did anything for me. It was too slick and reminded me of commercials on television - something else which irritate me.
His trial however should not be made into a media circus. It is serious court business, not entertainment of any sort. Given his past influence it is proper that the outcome is known but we do not need the salacious details the media appears to be intent on giving us.
The case of Meriam Ibrahim is an entirely different thing. We know very little about her or her husband. There has been some interest in the media - but far less than there has been in the Harris trial. Why?
I suspect it is because, despite the moves by human rights organisations and the condemnation by some Prime Ministers and Presidents, people are fearful of upsetting powerful political interests. There will be Islamic countries where the sentence will be approved of by radicals and by religious leaders. Condemning someone to death for their religious beliefs would come easily to some of these people. There will be terrorist groups such as Boko Haram who will strongly support such a sentence.
And people will say, "We have to move carefully. We have to be careful not to upset these groups or they will do even more harm than they are already doing. We mustn't negotiate with them but..."
Oh yes it is always that "but..."
I recently read the autobiography of Malala Yousafzai. It is not a particularly well written book but what comes through strongly is her passion for learning and ensuring others also have the right to learn - and her homesickness for her own valley in her own country. At the moment she is someone who is off centre stage - and that is probably a good thing for someone so young - but it would be better for all of us if we could concentrate on her story, on Meriam Ibrahim's story, and on the story of hundreds of thousands of people like them.
We don't need to know the sordid details of alleged sexual promiscuity by an ageing entertainer. It is just taking attention from the important things in life - education, dignity, compassion, freedom to believe and a belief in life itself.

Monday 2 June 2014

There were no plain sultanas

in the little snack packs in the supermarket.
          "They have to have them somewhere!" the man next to me said frantically, "I don't like the cranberry sort."
I didn't even know there was a cranberry sort.
I told him I was sorry I could not help.
He looked helplessly at me.
         "I don't buy sultanas like that," I told him, "If I want sultanas I buy them like this - or this."
I indicated the larger packets.
         "They're too big."
         "Yes, but if I wanted a take along snack like that I would put them into a small container. You can buy containers about that size. It's a lot cheaper."
He stared at me as if I was speaking a foreign language.
The only other things in his trolley were packets of oats, two boxes of long life milk (twenty litres in all) and two boxes of 100 tea bags.
And then I remembered him. We had met, briefly, at the checkout some years ago.
"You're the man who lives alone and comes shopping twice a year - for your breakfast."
He looked startled.
"How did you know that?"
I explained.
"You have a good memory."
Perhaps. Now that I was sure he lived alone I said,
"Wait a moment."
I went around into the next aisle and came back with a pack of four tiny containers - intended for snacks like sultanas.
"This is what you need," I told him.
He stared at them as if they were completely foreign to him.
I did some quick mental arithmetic and told him that, if he chose the option of filling the containers he would save a certain amount - rather a lot in fact. That did interest him.
He took the containers and then said, "If I had two lots then I would only need to do it once a week."
He put the sultanas in the trolley and went around to get another lot of containers.
And then he stood there in front of me again and asked,
"But these are a different size from the packets. How do I know how many to put in?"
He was quite serious.
"Have you still got a small packet at home?" I asked him.
He nodded and, looking very pleased with himself, said "You mean I can use that to measure these?"
"That's the idea," I said and I went on my way.
What I did not tell him was that I doubt a larger packet of sultanas is going to be enough for six months. He can find that out for himself.
And yes, this is absolutely true. It would be impossible to live with him.