Sunday 31 August 2014

School lunch

has not been to the Whirlwind's liking of late.
"Too many sprouts. They don't know how to cook them. The fish is horrible," she grumbled to me. The boarders have their main meal in the middle of the day.
The Whirlwind is not a fussy eater. She is interested in food and how to prepare it. She will try new things and will, with the rarest of exceptions, eat what is put in front of her. The sprouts must have been dire. The fish would not be wonderful. It is difficult to cook good fish for eighty girls and serve it all at the same time. They get crumbed baked fish I suspect. I did not inquire.
What, the Whirlwind wanted to know, did I eat for lunch at school?
It was a good deal less interesting than her lunches. There was no cooked lunch in state schools. There never has been. Children bring their own or they buy it from the school canteen.
My mother would make me a Vegemite (Marmite-like) sandwich and, if I was lucky, put in a small home-baked cake or biscuit. There would also be an apple, orange or banana. The sandwich would be wrapped in waxed paper and that paper had to last all week. I was expected to fold it and put it in my lunch box. If the fruit was an apple it would be cored and cut into four. The orange would be cut into four.
Very occasionally the Vegemite would be replaced by peanut paste (now called peanut butter) or tomato or a tiny bit of cheese. Once each term (we had three terms  back then) I was allowed to buy my lunch - if my end of term marks were good enough. As I usually got full marks for everything except writing this was not a problem. The Senior Cat would order me a hot pasty and a "cream" bun. The pasty was mostly filled with potato and onion and the bun's cream and jam were both artificial but, being a child, I thought they were wonderful. The same thing happened for my brother when he started school. 
Those glories did not last for long. When we moved back to the bush we lived in the house next to the school. There was no school canteen. Everyone brought their lunch to school.
My mother began teaching full time. She would leave the food for lunch on the kitchen table. We knew exactly what we were expected to do and we did it. If we did by chance not clear up or wash our plates we would be punished.  
The local children ate much the same sort of lunches as we did. The fruit was not always there and the sandwiches would be filled with mutton and, occasionally, kangaroo or wallaby. It would be moistened with tomato sauce.
The bread was always white. If my grandmothers came to stay we would get home-made bread. They could both do that. My paternal grandmother made wonderful brown bread. She would cut us a slice as an after-school snack and add a little salt and dripping. We would sit on the back step and eat it before doing our afternoon chores. I had to explain what dripping is to the Whirlwind. She was not impressed. We thought it was a treat - and no, we were not fat. We were, if anything, underweight.
Our diet would probably cause a modern dietician to turn pale but we survived with the help of the few vegetables the Senior Cat could grow in the difficult climate and red, sandy soil.
We went on to a dairying district and drank copious amounts of full cream milk. It came straight from the dairy and it was cheap.  Growing vegetables was less of a problem there. We ate more.
I wonder now how we would have liked the Whirlwind's school meals. Would we simply have grown tired of them?
I wouldn't want to eat a school pasty or one of those "cream" buns now - but I remember them with pleasure.

Saturday 30 August 2014

There is a news site on

the internet which I like to keep an eye on. It offers another point of view about issues which should concern anyone who is concerned about issues like the environment, national and international relations, health services, research etc. Yes, it's a newspaper of international standing.
I suspect that the columnists are generally intelligent people. We wouldn't always agree but, for the most part, we could have a courteous if lively debate.
It is not the same story with many of those who comment on what the columnists have to say. Very occasionally I have put up what I hope is a measured response to something a columnist has said. I might have added another issue, raised a question or put forward an alternative.
It would probably be wiser to have said nothing. The response has always been extraordinary. The most ordinary of comments, even a genuine and legitimate question, seem to bring out the worst in some people.
The comments are politically one sided. Given the nature of the site I expect that. On the whole those who read it are not willing or able to countenance another point of view. For them the site is almost certainly about surrounding themselves with like minded people in order to reinforce their point of view.
I hope I more open minded than that - not so open minded that my  brains fall out but open minded enough to consider another point of view. For me part of the value of the site is that it has made me aware of the dangers posed by almost instant access to a vast range of information and misinformation. Now people who would once have had a very small audience for their views have a world wide audience and they can do it at arms length. It makes them bold.
And this site is well regarded by many. It is considered normal and harmless. It in no way compares with the vile, violent filth posted by extremists and hate groups.
But is the site really harmless? Are the many others, on all sides of politics, really harmless? I don't think so. There are times when I feel tempted not to bother looking at it because I am so irritated by some of those who comment. I want to respond and ask if they have ever thought that something might not be the way they see it or whether they have ever considered an alternative. I won't because I don't want to be subject to the sort of comments with which they would respond. No, I am not brave enough to do that.
Perhaps they are right too. I could be wrong.
Right or wrong I am going to try to keep a more open mind. If I don't will someone please tell me? But please, do it nicely.

Friday 29 August 2014

One of the great and wonderful

curiosities of life is what people will spend time creating.
I spent most of yesterday at the show grounds doing my part as a "steward" for the upcoming Royal Show. It is the 175th year of the event and people had been encouraged to make a special effort to enter in all areas.
I work in the area known as Open Art and Craft which involves accepting entries on the day of judging, helping with the judging and then putting up the display in cabinets. It was, as always, a frantically busy day.
There was also the usual range of awful to lovely in the entries.
And, "awful" does not matter. No, it really does not matter. Why? People have tried. They have had the courage to enter. Some of them will try again. They will learn from the experience. They will, usually, have done the very best they can do on that occasion. Next time, if they try again, they will do better.
And there are other people who enter things and you wonder how they could possibly do better. There were two lovely entries from the same person last year, socks and mittens. Both won first prize in the relevant sections. How could that person improve? She did by coming up with another exquisite pair of socks. They were so good people crowded around to look.
There was an amazing baby blanket that turned into a poncho, into a toy racing "car" (complete with steering wheel) and a play mat - designed by the knitter.
There were two incredibly fine garments with the most intricate colour work - again, designed by the knitter. The hours of work that must have gone into those were something we could barely contemplate.
All this, from the awful to the amazing, will be on display throughout the show period. I wonder what people will think as they look. Many of them will just wander past with no great interest, others will look with interest. Some people will stop and admire and yet others will have some understanding of what went into the making of something.
And, in the end, what matters will be that people have participated. They will have created something.
We need more people to do that.

Thursday 28 August 2014

The Jehovah's Witnesses turned up

yesterday. Those of you who know me at all will know that these people and their proselytising make me see red. I have no time for them.
I have no time for them because, when my parents first moved to this house, the elderly couple next door had a daughter who had converted to the cult. She refused to let her son have a life-saving blood transfusion and he died. Her husband had earlier needed another life-saving blood transfusion. He also refused to have it and died.
The husband was an adult and, while I think his decision was mistaken, he could be said to have the right to make it. The child was given no such right. The law has changed since then and the mother's wishes would almost certainly be ignored in favour of saving the life of the child.
What I do know though is that the grandparents were deeply distressed by what happened. It contributed to the further mental decline of the wife - and that added further stress. As neighbours my parents did what they could to support the old couple but it should not have been necessary.
The daughter actually tried to convert my parents - and then me.
Then, when my mother died, the Jehovah's Witnesses called. I don't know what they do in other parts of the world but here they read the death column in the state newspaper and call on at least some of the grieving families. The daughter of our neighbours admitted as much.
What is more they tried more than once. I wrote a letter. They phoned. I wrote another letter and asked them, firmly but politely, not to bother us.
Last year they called again and I sent yet another letter asking for no contact at all. They were not, I told them, to enter the premises, phone or leave any material for us.
I saw them out and about this morning and, on looking out our window to see if the car which had arrived was someone we were expecting, I saw them grouped at our gate. One of them was consulting a folder. Oh yes, they know our property is private. To enter it is trespass.
They saw me watching - and left hastily.
I went out a little later to greet our visitor and pick up the mail.
In the letter box there was a flier from the Jehovah's Witnesses.
This afternoon I put it in an envelope along with a letter and sent it back to them. No contact means no contact. It does not mean trying to come through the letter box.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

The Community nurse came to see

the Senior Cat yesterday. No, there was nothing wrong. This is part of a project designed to save money by keeping older people safer in their own homes.
It has been going for some years now and this is the second time the Senior Cat has been visited. The last time was, from memory, about five years ago.
A lot can happen in five years. A lot can happen to anyone, but particularly if you are very old - or very young.
I was out when the nurse was supposed to arrive. She, like many others before her, got lost trying to find our small street. She phoned the Senior Cat and said she would be late because she was lost. Could he give her directions?
He asked her where she was and said, "It would be easier if I came and showed you." He then dashed off in his gopher and led her through the streets!
I heard about this when I arrived home. The two of them were sitting at the dining room table in fits of laughter. The table was littered with books ("which might be useful") and a conjuring trick.
I looked sternly at the two of them and asked if they had actually done anything? Er, no. She had only been there almost an hour.
Right. I put the kettle on because the Senior Cat needed a cup of tea.
I made tea and kept an ear on the conversation. The Senior Cat is still mentally agile and, if slower and more unsteady on his feet, physically able despite using a walker/wheeler.
I think the nurse was surprised to find a senior who still eats three proper meals a day. I see to that. He also eats well. I also see to that. We both know it is good for both of us to eat plenty of vegetables and fruit and, at least in the way I shop and prepare food, it is cheaper.
I think she was also surprised when I said, "He gets up every morning with a list of things he wants to do that day."
The Senior Cat reeled off a list of things he still has to do for other people.
He knows he is lucky he can still do things. If it worries me sometimes that he has taken on too much I remind myself that, like his father before him, he does not believe in "retirement". Even if the weather keeps him indoors he is planning and doing. I would worry far more if he sat there and did nothing - or watched television.
The nurse eventually left and, as she went, whispered to me, "Isn't he marvellous?"
Yes he is - and I know it. I also know I am fortunate. I know so many older people who would be much harder to care for.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

There was a letter for my brother

yesterday. Yes I do mean for my brother and not from him. My brother lives in another state. He has done for about twenty-five years. He has never lived at this address.
His complete name (he has three given names) was on the envelope and the letter was official. It was from the Public Trustee.
I sent him an e-mail at work and told him I had forwarded it to him at home. He sent a message which said, "Thanks but !!!???".
I think he almost wished I had opened it and let him know what was inside. He will have to contain his patience but I sent him a likely explanation.
He married here in this state. His wife at the time has long since died but I suspect they had made out wills in favour of each other and deposited them with the Public Trustee. They moved on to another state. They had two children. They made new wills accommodating those children...and so it went on. They failed to inform the Public Trustee here of those facts.
Somewhere along the line the Public Trustee's office has caught up with his wife's death (after years) and they are wondering why the will has not been activated. In their usual style they would not have thought to look up the registry in other states to see whether another will has been lodged. Yes, you could say they are being careful - as perhaps they should be - but after all this time?
So, I have told my brother what the likely scenario is and said, "Sorry, I don't think anyone is leaving you a fortune."
I made a very simple will and left it with the Public Trustee when I first went away to university in London. It was not a pleasant experience but I had no time to do more. The young man who made it refused to do as I requested and told me, "Just write a letter telling your parents what you want done."  That is a fairly typical attitude of the Public Trustee's office. They dislike anything except the sort of will which says, "I leave everything to X". Even then, as the letter will undoubtedly show, it can take them years to get things done. (And yes, they do charge for the service. It is not cheap. A solicitor can, in the end, be cheaper and faster.)
But, although I think I am correct about the content of the letter, the Senior Cat was still puzzled as to why the letter should come here. I think I have an answer to that too. My father would have been named as a beneficiary in the event of my brother's death after that of his late wife. Someone has done a search of the electoral roll.
It is probably all, if you think about it, very ordinary detective work.
What puzzles me however is that this is the long way of going about it all. A phone call could have saved a lot of time and work.
Oh well, I suppose it is what they public servants to do.

Monday 25 August 2014

He is a very old man now

- or it seems that way. Actually he is only 80 but he seems older than the Senior Cat who has more than another ten years on this man.
This man is my sister's father-in-law. There was a party to celebrate his 80th birthday yesterday. We were invited to the inevitable barbecue and, as always, far too much other food. (Yes, I confess I contributed to that excess but one cannot go to such a party empty handed.) It always amazes me how much food disappears at such an event. The Greek-Cypriot community knows how to celebrate in style. The men cook the barbecue and, in this case, they do it very well indeed. After all they have had a lot of experience.
Yiannis is a widower now. His wife died just before Christmas last year. His children are constantly in and out. One does his washing, another cleans the house. My sister's husband does all the paperwork and any maintenance. My sister is usually the one who takes him to medical appointments - and there are a good many of those. There is one more sibling who will help if asked. He is perhaps the only one who is not fully involved on an almost daily basis.
It hasn't stopped the depression Yiannis has felt but perhaps it has kept it somewhat under control. Yesterday was obviously difficult for him. Physically he is a mess. He has not, like many men of his background and generation, taken care of his health. He is overweight. He needs heart surgery. He walks very slowly with the aid of a stick. His English is still good but the occasional Greek word will be slipped in. He will often speak Greek to his children - and sometimes to my sister or even to me. In context we usually guess what he means - and answer him in English. I always greet him in Greek. The Senior Cat speaks no Greek. Yiannis does not expect that of him. He does expect it of me. I am, he tells me, another child of his - just by virtue of being the sister of his daughter-in-law. Even my brother - who lives in another state and barely knows him - is considered another son.
It is a different concept of "family" - one my family understands in the sense of "clan".
I have tried explaining this to other people but they cannot comprehend it. For them it appears there is "family" and "other relatives" and then "other people".
But yesterday, after we had sung "Happy Birthday" and he had managed to say a single sentence before being overcome, his eldest granddaughter hugged him and he reached out for my hand and held it tight as well. He wanted us close.
        "Family," he told us in Greek, "Family is everything."

Sunday 24 August 2014

Yesterday there was the small matter of

buttons. Yes, buttons. You know what I mean don't you? They are used to hold things together.
The Senior Cat has been known to sew on a button- he is, after all, the son of a tailor. (I won't say his efforts were wonderful but the button stayed on.)
I keep a box of "might be useful" buttons - most of them are old shirt buttons. I also have a lovely, carefully and lovingly crafted timber box made by the Senior Cat. It has my "good" buttons in it - the buttons that I have collected or been given and that I use from time to time on something I have knitted. Like any craft addicted individual I know there will always be the need for buttons which match the project. That's all right. I can always look for more.
But then there are other people who are not craft addicted and thus lack such supplies.
One of these people lives around a couple of corners from me. We know one another because of his dog. The dog is an elderly cocker spaniel which walks at a leisurely pace. That suits his younger but still retired human. They live alone.
I came across them yesterday as I was pedalling home from the library. The human was urging the dog to go a little faster than usual and he was clutching at his waist.
They stopped on seeing me,
"Cat you don't happen to have a button do you? I've gone and lost the b....button off my trousers and it rolled off and I can't find it and the b....trousers keep falling down."
I couldn't help it. I laughed. Fortunately the human in question has a sense of humour. He laughed too.
"I'll bring one back for you in a moment," I told him.
I came home, found a button of the right sort - the same as the buttons on the Senior Cat's work trousers - and then hesitated. Mmm...I looked in the box with the cotton and found some thread. I added a needle. I returned.
I handed them all over. He thanked me. He looked at them as if they were foreign objects but I said,
"I am sure you will manage."
I am wondering how long it took him to sew the button on.

Saturday 23 August 2014

Nicola Morgan has an excellent post on

An Awfully Big Blog Adventure: Why I don't want to self-publish again: and there are some interesting responses in the comments as well. 
More than once I have been asked why, if I want something published, I won't do it myself.
"It's easy Cat!"
No it isn't. There is an enormous amount I do not know about the world of publishing. I wouldn't know where to start. 
"You could buy a package from one of those companies who do that sort of thing."
No I could not. I could not do it even if I could afford to do it - which I most definitely cannot. I wouldn't know what I was buying. I wouldn't know if it was good or bad or right or wrong for me. 
"And you could advertise yourself on your blog and Facebook and Twitter and all that sort of thing."
"NO!" For a start I get really irritated when other people advertise themselves that way. There is a difference between an author letting you know they have a book coming out and people flinging advertising at you. The former is fine, the latter makes me want to stop seeing their name. 
And those things apply to a Kindle version - or any form of e-book publishing as much as anything else.
But, for me, there is another problem too. My work would need editing. All writing needs editing. It needs the fresh eye of someone who is not emotionally involved. It needs someone else to pick up the split infinitives, verb-noun disagreements, other grammatical errors and the spelling errors. Oh yes, it happens. I cannot proof read my own work. 
Good editing costs money too - as it should. I would have no idea where to find a good editor and I suspect that cost is very high.
Our local indie does try to support self-published authors. They will help them with a book launch and stock a few copies on the shelves. It is very generous of them. One of the staff told me, "And most of them are pretty awful. At very least they need editing." Kindly, they have told me my writing is "much better than that" but, for me, that is not good enough. My writing has to be as good as I can make it. 
I could not advertise myself unless my work had the professional endorsement of a publisher - someone else who had said, "I think this is what I want to publish."
People look sadly at me and shake their heads and say, "But start out doing something yourself and they will find you and want you."
No they won't. They don't look. Even if they did they would think, "No, it wasn't good enough. If it had been we would have been interested."
I think I am being realistic . It is better not to be tempted.

Friday 22 August 2014

Breaking the law

is, it seems, easy to do. Most of us break the law at some point. Some do it deliberately. Others do it without meaning to do it and without intending any harm to others.
Readers of my witterings who live in other places are probably completely unaware of a woman called Maggie Beer. She lives in the Barossa Valley and runs a food business which employs about one hundred people. She has a property where it is possible to eat and buy her products. She makes much of the fact that she lives in the Barossa and has appeared in a television series called "The Cook (herself) and the Chef (a rather interesting young man)."
She has recently been hauled over the coals by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission because four of her approximately two hundred products are not made in the Barossa but are made in (a) Victoria and (b) Queensland. No, they are not made overseas - merely in other states - but the ACCC did not like this because the labels suggested to them that the products were being made in the Barossa Valley. They prosecuted.
Yes, you may well ask what is going on. Just before I wrote this I also read a comment on that notorious Facebook site saying that the EU is intending to regulate the size of vacuum cleaner motors. Apparently they are too powerful. Something has to be done about that. I don't know whether there have been people killed using powerful vacuum cleaners in the correct manner. I doubt it. This is surely just regulation gone mad?
Add both those things to the increasingly crazy rules and regulations that govern our lives. I read labels when I go into the supermarket. "Made in Australia" does not mean that the ingredients or components are made here. They can be grown or manufactured overseas and then combined or assembled here. I would be much more interested if the ACCC turned its attention to some of those who mislabel their products in this way. They won't. The law will allow people to get away with saying "Made in Australia".
Is it time we started to ask why organisations like the ACCC and the EU regulators are so concerned with the minutiae of life. Is it because they believe that these things are the most important? Have they simply ceased trying to fix the major problems? Do they believe there are no answers to the long term issues or that they can only be dealt with by interfering with every other aspect of life?
It is all about how you read the label.

And, talking of reading "labels", it is worth noting that there is a big difference between "innocent until proven guilty", "no case to answer" and not proceeding with a case because it is "unlikely to lead to a conviction". The ACCC seems to have forgotten that - as have others.

Thursday 21 August 2014

"Some viewers may find

the images in this story distressing."
I wonder how many times I have heard that warning on our international news service recently? It is good of SBS to warn viewers but I wonder how much it really means to viewers? There will be a few perhaps who think,
"Yes, that's real. Someone is out there being shot at or leaning out of a helicopter filming that or...."
I won't go on. It always scares me - and I have usually heard something about it before the story reaches the evening news.
I often wonder how many people realise that the news does not just magically appear. People have to go out and collect it. Collecting it can be dangerous, very dangerous. People die collecting the news.
I know a number of journalists. News collecting is an addiction for them. They are always on the hunt for the "big" story.
This does not mean that their lives are exciting, far from it. Their everyday working lives can be as tedious as the everyday working lives of anyone else. They are also under pressure - produce a piece and produce it now. There is no longer any old style journalism for these people. The digital age means it needs to go up rapidly. As one of them said to me, "You hope you have the facts right."
And there are familiar faces like John Simpson and Orla Guerin who seem to get around with ease and appear to have the ability to get an interview with anyone. That is so far from the reality that I still wonder how they manage to make it look easy. It isn't. It is dangerous. Both of them are lucky to be alive - and they know it.
More than seventy journalists lost their lives in war zones last year - just so the rest of us could feed our insatiable appetites for violent news. That's wrong.
Groups like the vile terrorists in the Iraq are becoming experts in manipulating the media - and media outlets allow them to do it. "If we don't tell it someone else will." They have viewer numbers to keep up so they can sell advertising and make money. Yes, that's a simplistic way of putting it but what we hear is based on the money to be made from it or the power to be gained from the message.
James Foley lost his life for this and more journalists will lose their lives before it ends - if it ever ends. Yes, he knew the risks he was taking. The question is whether the rest of us do or do we just look on the story as distressing us?

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Clive Palmer is a dangerous man

and becoming more dangerous.
For those of you in other parts of the world I need to explain. Mr Palmer is a member of the Australian Federal Parliament. He is also the leader of the Palmer United Party - otherwise known as PUP.
The fact that he heads a party with his own name in it should tell people a great deal. He is also a billionaire. He has wide ranging business interests.
Mr Palmer represents an electorate in Queensland and, with a massive advertising campaign and some behind the scenes deals, he also managed to get some of his party members into the Senate. They are "cross benchers" who hold the balance of power - and they are both much too powerful and much too inexperienced. It is clear they have little, if any, understanding of what governments can actually do or how they work.
Mr Palmer gets a great deal of media time - far too much. Many people may like it when he has a shot at columnist Andrew Bolt and many of those same people may like it when his Senators block unpopular Budget measures. I am sure that some have looked on him as "a bit of a larrikin". But when Mr Palmer fires off offensive remarks about the Chinese he is not only being offensive he is endangering our trade relations with the Chinese - and a great many other things as well. That one of his Senators added her support just makes matters worse.  They make Pauline Hanson look reasonable.
Of course Mr Palmer is in parliament for his own purposes. It would be foolish not to recognise that. He is not a philanthropist. He would like to be Prime Minister - for his own ends. He may make noises he believes people want to hear with respect to education, social security and the unemployed but the reality is that he wants what he believes is best for him. He's a businessman first. He's angry with the Chinese for not doing what he wanted with respect to a big project.
Other people go into parliament for their own purposes too but, for the most part, they join a recognised political party and work towards their goals with a little more subtlety than Mr Palmer has.
He scares me.
And it puzzles me that the media is prepared to give him so much oxygen. Why? Even if they are so ready to oppose our present government - and some of them are - why do they give air time to someone who is so ready to do so much harm?
It is time to recognise that the PUP is just that - a puppy in need of training and discipline.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

There was a serious accident

yesterday at the main intersection between the freeway down from the hills behind us and three other major roads. It is a nasty intersection at the best of times but it is made worse by lorry/truck drivers speeding and people quite simply failing to obey the traffic lights.
This accident was, apparently, caused by a very large sewage vehicle speeding and failing to take the corner into another road. That vehicle ended on its side - having first hit three stationary vehicles. One person is dead and three more are in a critical condition. They had no hope of getting out of the way.
I know more than I want to know about this because there was a diversion on the route I needed to take. No vehicles could go up the road to the intersection in question although it was about two kilometres away.
As I reached the diversion and wondered whether I could go the long way round the policeman on duty asked me where I needed to go.
I showed him the packet with the doctor's name on the outside and said,
"He's flying out in the morning."
He nodded, "Go ahead but stay on the footpath. There could be an ambulance through any minute now."
I would anyway. It is a very busy road at all times.
I delivered the requisite papers into the letter box and came back just as yet another ambulance screamed past.
I hate the noise their sirens make. They leave me shaking. It must have shown. I thanked the policeman.
He nodded again and stopped the traffic so that I could cross again.
I went on my way.
The accident had occurred almost two hours before I got to the diversion. The diversion was still in place some hours later.
I do not doubt there were people who were irritated by the diversion and made impatient by it.
But I came home wondering what had happened and thinking that the lives of many other people had just been turned upside down. They started out the day one way and ended it another - because someone they did not know was going too fast.

Monday 18 August 2014

Who remembers the QC?

No, I am not talking about a person here - not one of those eminent Queen's Counsel who can charge thousands of dollars a day in a court of law.
No, this was the Qualifying Certificate. It was the exam the Senior Cat had to do in order to go on to secondary school. If he and his fellow students did well enough they were eligible to go to High School. If they did not do that well they went to a Technical High School. If they failed they repeated what was then called Grade 7. It was a bit like the 11+ in England. I have written about it elsewhere on this blog.
It was very different from the NAPLAN tests now done in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The tests cover reading, writing, spelling and maths.
The results for those tests, done in May this year, are apparently now available. Much has been made of the fact in this morning's paper. The state I live in is bottom of the class.
There will be excuses. There will be complaints. There will be calls for the tests to be scrapped. There will be demands from parents and others to know "why are our students failing?"
It will be, with one exception, a fuss about nothing. That exception is reading - and even there the test is not important.
What is important is that at least some, and perhaps many, children are reading much less than they could. It is not just "screen time" which takes away from reading time either.
One of the things the Whirlwind complains about if she has to spend the weekend at school is that there is not enough time to read. The boarders are organised into doing things. They are kept occupied - or encouraged to occupy themselves.  The Whirlwind's idea of a good Saturday night is reading a book she wants to read. Her school's idea is organising a debate or a film, games or some other activity that keeps everyone occupied. I can understand that - and so can she - but it takes away reading time.
The same is true of many parents. They will organise something - or suggest television or another activity. "Just reading" is somehow seen as less acceptable.
Children need to read. It doesn't have to be fiction. Not all children do want to read fiction - although I still believe that the right book at the right time will cause almost any child to read fiction.
We recently had some major work done to the heating and cooling system for this house. The electrician's apprentice has severe dyslexia - so severe that he was eventually given books on tape as if he was blind.
He has been inside our house before. He likes to look at the books.
They look "interesting" according to him. He admitted to me that he is intensely frustrated by not being able to read the printed word easily. It took him an entire year to read the first sixty pages of "The Hobbit". "I really, really wanted to read it," he told me.
He ended up listening to it. He will listen to other books as well but he knows it is not "reading" in the same way. It doesn't give him quick access to the print world.
"If people can read then they should," he told me, "Books are so full of ideas even the ones that are not the find-out sort of books."
And that is why I would be concerned if the children in this state are failing to not just to reach the minimum standard in reading but exceeding in it. Books are full of ideas.

Sunday 17 August 2014

There was a party

somewhere in the neighbourhood last night.
I am not quite sure where it was held but I hope the culprits have very sore heads this morning - and that their neighbours decided to mow the lawns while the party-people are trying to sleep.
I do not often wish such revenge on people. We have very few such parties. Our neighbourhood tends to be quiet.
If people do have parties they tend to be thoughtful enough to move the noise indoors after midnight or, at the latest, one in the morning - or they turn the sound down.
Many years ago we did have rear neighbours who did not do this. They had a small swimming pool in the back garden and their parties would be accompanied by loud squeals, screams and splashes as well as music played so loudly all the surrounding houses would vibrate with the sound. This would happen almost every Friday or Saturday night in the summer and sometimes at other times of the year.
On one occasion they had a particularly noisy party. I had come home to care for the house while my parents were in China and the noise was so great it was frightening.Their next door neighbours at the time and our next door neighbours at the time - both couples in their late 80's - put their heads together and the next time the culprits had a party they left others to call the police (who can do very little). Instead they each got younger neighbours to come in and mow their lawns. Then even younger neighbours joined in the fun. Two more neighbours who own motorbikes started their engines and another neighbour began to use a chain-saw.  
For about half an hour it was a very noisy neighbourhood. The people who had thrown the party the night before apparently complained about the noise because the police, either misunderstanding - or perhaps deliberately misunderstanding - arrived with sirens blaring and knocked on their door. Their house went up for sale about two months later. I often wonder where they went and whether their new neighbours have been plagued by the same problems. I hope not.
It has usually been quiet since then. People still have parties. They still play music and talk loudly as they leave but the noise is not excessive. We can live with it.
But oh I wish I could hear the sound of lawn mowers right now.
Is it very wicked of me to wish such revenge?

Saturday 16 August 2014

I had to visit the doctor

We go to a big practice with a number of doctors. Although I am not a frequent visitor I know most of them and they know me. The reception staff know me too.
"Hello Cat"
"Hi Cat."
"Morning Cat."
I am sure the other patients must think I am a very regular visitor.
While I was waiting yesterday I was chatting to a very worried mother. One of her children has multiple medical problems and she needs a lot of support. Her anxiety levels that morning were obviously at an all time high. Her child had been rushed to hospital earlier in the week and she was there to discuss the options for his future - none of them likely to be good. The reception staff had actually asked me to engage her in conversation to try and calm her down a bit.
As we were talking several of the doctors came into the big waiting area to call their patients in.
"Good one Cat."
"Good one Cat."
"Right on Cat."
I assumed it was just another letter to the editor. It had been in support of doctors and I guessed someone had read it out at their early morning meeting a few days previously.
My appointment time came and went. The doctor was running late.
And then the mother was called in and her doctor said to me, "Good one Cat. Thanks."
He usually manages a cheerful smile but his eyes were sombre.
After a moment the doctor I was seeing escorted an elderly patient back to the reception desk.
I waited and she said, "Come on through."
We went in and she shut the door.
"I have to apologise. I saw you talking to A...  so I called Mrs L.... through before you. I hope you didn't mind waiting."
My test results were good. I left as a taxi was leaving with a weeping A...
No, I didn't mind waiting.

Friday 15 August 2014

The former owner of our local indie bookshop

came to see me yesterday.
She has been here before and always expresses surprise at how many books we have. I think the Senior Cat kept her business alive for some years.
While I was considering the problem she presented me with she prowled the shelves.
"I remember you buying this...and this...and here's another one," she said.
I nodded and did some mental arithmetic on her knitting problem.
She prowled further.
I was just about to open my mouth when she said,
"Cat! You have THREE layers here! I thought there were only two."
She looked at me accusingly.
"That whole bookshelf is triple stacked," I told her, "Some of the other shelves are as well."
"Has anyone ever told you that you have too many books?" she asked.
"And how many of them have you read?"
"Well I have consulted all the non-fiction and still do. There are about fifteen novels I haven't read yet. I gave away a few recently that I decided I was not going to read or finish reading."
She looked at me.
I smiled and got my own back,
"Has anyone ever told you that you have too much wool?"

Thursday 14 August 2014

I got accosted by an angry

man outside the supermarket. He was not someone I knew but he apparently knew me because he wanted me to write a letter. He knew what he wanted me to say too.
He wanted me to say we should never have become involved in Iraq or Afghanistan - or indeed anywhere else. We should not, he told me, do anything to help Syrian refugees - or indeed help any refugees at all. Charity, he told me, begins at home and there was enough money wasted here anyway. People should, he informed me, look after themselves.
His verbal onslaught was so fast and furious I was given no opportunity to respond. It would have been useless anyway. He is, almost certainly, not the sort of person to listen to me - or to anyone else.
There have been other suggestions we should not get involved in the situation in Iraq again - in any way. It's dangerous. We are putting lives at risk.
Yes, it is dangerous. Yes, it will put lives at risk.
The problem is that there is a complex humanitarian emergency in Iraq and it is a problem that spills over the borders of Iraq into other places as well. It is a far worse problem than the media has suggested, perhaps worse than even those who do know something about the realities of what is happening there want to recognise.
And, for me, the problem of whether we help or not is simple. We have to help. It is our duty and our responsibility to help the very elderly, the women and the very young trapped on Mt Sinjar and in like circumstances elsewhere - not just in Iraq but in other places as well.
The man who accosted me said that they did not need help. They looked well fed and well dressed. Most of them were not crying - "just a few silly women and a couple of spoilt kids".  He completely ignored the fact that these people have fled their homes, often with nothing at all. They have not changed their clothes for days. They haven't had a bath. They have no shelter. They sleep, if they sleep at all, in the open. It is cold at night and hot during the day. They have reached that point where they cannot cry because emotions take energy they simply do not have. If he looked closely he would see the children are not playing. They stay close to the adults who are left - and the expression in their eyes says more than I want to read but I doubt he could see it.
He told me that they didn't look hungry either - that when some of them were given a meal they weren't bolting it down as if they were starving. No, it reaches a point where you wonder where the next meal is coming from and whether you should save this one just a little bit longer in case there isn't another meal or keep it to feed your children and go without yourself.
And there are times when there is nothing you can do about the situation you find yourself in. You have to rely on other people.
And some of those people have to be us - however difficult and dangerous it might be.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

The suicide of Robin Williams

will sadden and distress many people. It saddens and deeply distresses me that a man with so much to give should believe he was worth so little. It has also brought back memories which are never too far away.
Depression is a dreadful thing. I have, like most people, had momentary bouts of depression but I have so far been fortunate in not having the deep, lasting depression which is so intensely debilitating. Could it happen? Of course it could. It could happen to any of us. I consider myself very fortunate to have come this far without experiencing "the black dog".
I have a friend who has such bouts of depression. Many of the people we know in common at a knitting group have no understanding of the problem at all. They ask, "Why can't she just snap out of it? Surely she doesn't like being miserable."
Well, she can't "just snap out of it" and no, she doesn't like being miserable.
The frustrating thing is that I don't know how to explain so that they understand this. I don't know how my friend feels because, like any sort of pain, it is an intensely personal thing,
On one occasion when she was hospitalised I offered to go and see her. I phoned the hospital and told them who I was and asked if sh could have visitors. They surprised me by putting my call through to her. She asked me not to come but asked, "Be there for me when I get out of here?" Of course! It is the least I could do for someone who, when well, does much for other people.
Instead of going to visit her I alerted a very old friend, the widow of a Presbyterian minister, who was doing visits at that hospital.
"I'll just pop by," she told me - and she did. It was the start of a friendship. The old friend has now died but my knitter friend still talks about her.
We have talked about my friend being needed by other people. She knows this and she can believe it when she is well but not when she is ill.
My late uncle was cared for in part by a man who desperately needs to be able to help others. He is quite open about the fact that it helps to keep depression at bay but when he is ill he finds it hard to believe that he is needed or wanted.
And all this brings back memories of people I once knew but did not know well enough. One was a highly intelligent research worker who, on the day of her mentor's funeral, ran over the cliffs at Beachy Head. There was no sympathy for her among her colleagues, just anger. But I keep remembering the Saturday morning in an otherwise deserted research unit when she brought me a mug of tea and said, "Can we talk for a moment?"
I let her talk - but it wasn't enough and, although I knew there was a problem, nobody else was listening when I tried to speak up.
And there was a university tutor I knew who had the tell-tale marks on her wrists. Everyone told me she was "over it" but several years later she succeeded in doing what she had failed to do earlier.
Do we ever really know other people? I doubt it. But it should not stop us being there for them. We can't feel their pain for them. We can't experience that deep, dark, colourless world. We can't understand that. What we can and must understand is that they don't choose to be like that.
They can't "snap out of it" and they do not choose to be miserable.
We need to be there for them when it is like that and not condemn them or desert them.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

"We're moving,"

an acquaintance told me. I don't know her well but we occasionally see one another in the library or at the supermarket. She sought my help some years ago when her first child was having problems learning to read and was also telling her he "hated" school.
I said the usual, "I'm sorry to hear that."
Her response surprised and alarmed me.
"We decided we needed to move so the children can change schools. We don't want them to get radicalised."
Her two children have been attending an Islamic faith school. It is some distance away and had she said they were moving closer I would not have been surprised.
But, move further away? They are, I think, quite devout. The husband has his own business. He can attend Friday prayer without difficulty. They observe Ramadan and buy their meat from a designated butcher.
I must have looked surprised because she sighed and said,
"Yes. It is something my husband thought long and hard about and then he raised it with me. It has taken us almost a year to come to the decision but we want the children to be Australians first. There are small things at the school which are making us nervous."
"How do the children feel about it?" I asked her.
"A....says he will be glad to get away. He was the one who alerted us really. He's never been really happy there but we thought we were doing the right thing. As for S.... well, she only started this year of course so I think it will be fine."
We chatted a bit more. I agreed they were making the right decision - and I think they are because they are not happy with the situation.
I asked about the school the children would be going to and it is in an almost country community. The school goes from pre-school through to year 12.
Her husband arrived to pick her up as we were talking. He has said very little to me in the past. I was never sure whether he was arrogant or shy. Yesterday he repeated what his wife had just told me.
"I trust we are doing the right thing. The new school looks very good to us."
"I'm sure it is. I know it has an excellent reputation," I told him - and it has.
"And several cricket teams!"
We all laughed at that. Their son is a very keen cricket player but his old school does not have a team.
"It will be good for A... if he can find some friends with boys who play like that," his father said, "And there is a special maths class. He's doing very well at that."
And what about the children's religious education? I didn't ask but I think they will get a good moral education from their parents.
Yes, a good move.  

Monday 11 August 2014

A little hidden treasure

was found in the process of clearing out the "china cupboard" in the dining area.
I am not sure why I have never bothered with this until now. It is not because it was my mother's territory. That does not bother me. There was nothing there that had any great sentimental value for her. She was not a sentimental sort of person. The Senior Cat is the sentimental and romantic one.
I suppose I was just being lazy but I set to and removed a good many things - bowls and dishes of no great value, some cracked items that could not be used (why did my mother keep those?) and some mugs advertising a brand of soup we do not drink.
There were several very large "turkey" plates - from the days when my mother was competing in the catering stakes with my sister's Cypriot mother-in-law. (It was an unequal contest my sister's MIL won without even trying. Her family was much bigger.)
There were other plates that my mother had picked up along the way, two painted by her late school secretary. I have kept those. One is genuinely useful. The other was painted to acknowledge my parents' 50th Wedding Anniversary and inscribed as such on the back. I don't want it but my sister will eventually take it.
It was all fairly standard apart from the hand painted delicate bone china tea-set belonging to my paternal grandmother. No, I am not parting with that. It probably has some monetary value but it is also a family heirloom. We have never used it - but if we ever have an elegant afternoon tea for six then we can.
I put the pieces of Royal Doulton back too - not because they are Royal Doulton but because "Grandma" used them. Yes, I can be sentimental too.
And then I opened the first of the drawers containing the cutlery items. We use the set of plain stainless steel Scandinavian cutlery. It will probably serve more generations to come. There were some "apostle" spoons on one side - in a cardboard box. I had forgotten about those. They need cleaning but I just put them back. They have sentimental value for the Senior Cat.
In the next drawer I discovered things I only vaguely remembered being there. There were leatherette boxes with clasps and, nestled inside on velvet and satin there were cake forks, dessert forks and spoons, another dessert set with bone handles.
Underneath those was a slightly larger box with a set of a dozen fish knives and forks with bone handles. There was also a small rectangular card which said "From Will and Jean". The knives and forks were a wedding present to my paternal grandparents. They are at least a hundred years old. Were they used? Yes, the Senior Cat remembers them being used.
I put them back.
And then there was the larger blue box right at the back. I had to pull it out carefully and, when I opened it, I discovered something I had never seen before. It was a "trowel"/cake slice.
It is inscribed with my paternal great-grandmother's name and marks the occasion on which she laid the foundation stone for a church.  
I took it out to the Senior Cat. He remembers the occasion - but only just. He was a very small boy.
Did she use it? He doesn't know. Did his mother use it? Yes, on very special occasions.
"I thought we had lost that," he told me and then, "I wonder why your mother hid it away like that?"
I can guess. My mother belonged to a very different religious group. She would not have approved of the laying of such a foundation stone. She would not have wanted to be reminded of such things - or use them.
But now that I have found it I will perhaps make a cake and invite some of the clan to afternoon tea. We will use the cake slice and remember my paternal great-grandmother because memories should be used or they will be forgotten.

Sunday 10 August 2014

I arranged the contents of a small library

yesterday. It was just one smallish set of bookshelves.
The last of my friend's belongings were moved into her room at the nursing home on Friday and she pleaded with me to arrange the books on the shelves. If, she told me, her sister did it they would argue.
No, she did not want them in any particular order but please put the heavy volumes on the bottom and the lighter books on top. Yes, for a physicist, that makes sense. I am not a physicist but it also makes sense to me.
So, we worked on it. Did she, I asked, really want a very large French Asian one...two German old book of Punch cartoons and three volumes of outdated statistics?
We put those back in the box. The rest fit on the shelves - just. If she acquires any more books then we may need to cull something else.
Her choice of reading matter is not mine. I doubt she has opened a book for children in all her adult life. She has only taught adults. She has never read a crime novel - unless Umberto Eco's "The name of the rose" counts. There is in fact almost no fiction on her shelves. There are biographies and autobiographies and books about Papua New Guinea and China. Her Latin texts - she had been learning Latin - and a Chinese dictionary. There is a score for the Messiah and another for Bach's St Matthew Passion. She is content with these things.
Perhaps it is a matter of "opposites attract". Our interests are quite different.
I came home to a house filled to overflowing with books. I will be culling some more in the coming week - but I know I will not cull as many as I should. I use the dictionaries, consult the language texts and the cookbooks. The Senior Cat will often reach for a gardening book. The fiction gets loaned to friends and the local children use my collection of children's literature as a second library.
There is something immensely comforting about books. Yes, they decorate the rooms and insulate the walls. They also bring in friends and neighbours. They are a sort of security blanket.
E-books simply don't do the same job. 

Saturday 9 August 2014

There is a discussion going on over at ABBA

(Awfully Big Blog Adventure) about seeing yourself in a novel - in this case Keren David is talking about Jewish characters and how they are often portrayed.

It's a fascinating post and well worth reading - as are the comments.
Did I see myself in any novels as a child? I think I saw myself as I would have liked to be but I never saw myself. In all likelihood someone like me simply did not exist for any writer when I was growing up. Characters like me still don't really exist.
I wanted to be brave - and I wasn't. I am still not in the least bit brave. I wanted to have adventures - but new experiences frightened me. They still do.
And I wanted to meet all sorts of interesting people. I have managed that - although I am always frightened when I have to introduce myself to someone new. What will they really think of me? I like most people - but will they like me? Have I got any right to introduce myself or should I wait for people to approach me?
Have I got friends - or am I just friendly with people? There's a difference - or I think there is.
These sort of people did not appear in books when I was a child.
When I wrote the first book I showed anyone I wrote it for the Whirlwind. She had asked me to write another book about specific characters and one more who had to be, "a little bit me, a little bit you and a bit made up". So I wrote about Ruth who is effectively motherless and has cerebral palsy and anxieties and doubts and determination. I think she is believable. The book worked for the Whirlwind because she was the right age at the time but a person in the book world was right when she said I was "talking down" to the audience. I was - but I was writing it for a child who had just turned nine and the characters were too old - apart from Ruth.
I have written something else since then and I would still like to see it published one day. There is even a sequel sitting at the back of my mind. Chantal is not the main character in the story - although she might be in the sequel. Her brother is the main character in the first story but he depends on his disabled sister.
I admit I was wary of writing about Chantal - and I know it might be one of the things that some people don't like about the book. If Chantal makes them feel uncomfortable then I may have succeeded - but not for the purposes of publication.
And perhaps that is part of the problem. If you write about what being different is really like then people are either going to feel uncomfortable or they will say, "No, it isn't like that. I don't believe you."
 I can remember many years ago having a conversation with Ivan Southall. He had just won the 1971 Carnegie Medal for "Josh".
"It is the hardest thing I have ever written...hard because I was writing so much about myself. It was like skinning myself."
Yes. I understood that then - and I understand it even better now.
It is what writers do. It is what makes good writing difficult.

Friday 8 August 2014

The Yazidis are a

minority religious group found mostly in the Kurdish speaking area of Iraq. There are also communities of Yazidis to be found in Syria, Georgia, Armenia and Turkey. There are also groups in a number of European Community countries - particularly Germany - as well as the United States. There are even a small number in Australia.
Although they worship a monotheistic God they are not Christians or Muslims. Their religious beliefs seem to have roots in the ancient Zoroastrian religion.
I know very little about it. What I do know is that they are a minority group and, like many other minority groups, they get persecuted for being "different".
There is a Yazidi refugee family in the local district. People here tend to confuse them as Muslim because the wife wears a head scarf. Say "they are Yazidis" and people here have no idea what you are talking about. It is hardly surprising. The local community knows very little about such minority groups - if anything at all.
I occasionally have a halting conversation with the wife at the library or in the supermarket. Both places are strange and wonderful to her even now but she can barely enjoy them because of her anxiety about what is happening at "home".
The situation in their home country has recently become much worse. The war in Iraq caused many of their fellow Yazidis to flee to Syria. Now there is also a war in Syria some of them have returned to Iraq - only to be further persecuted by the Islamic extremists there.
And the reports are of some of the worst persecution I have ever been unfortunate to hear about. I cannot write about it here except to say that the words "rape", "mutilation", "torture", "deprivation", "murder" and more barely begin to describe the atrocities which are occurring there. The words "flee", "convert" or "be killed" do not begin to describe the horrific decisions the Yazidis are having to make. Their entire culture and very existence is under threat.
I was trying to explain this to someone a couple of days ago. He just couldn't get the point at all. His attitude was "so what?" It wasn't that he wasn't concerned by the physical aspects of what was happening to them but he couldn't understand that the cultural, religious and social aspects were equally distressing.
The world will be a much poorer place if we lose yet another culture and another way of thinking to the horrors of war and extremism. What is under threat is much more than even the stranding of innocent victims of war on a mountainside without water, shelter or food horrific and terrifying al though that is - and we need to understand and be aware of that.

Thursday 7 August 2014

Mr, Fr, Msgr or something else?

I had to visit someone yesterday. He is elderly and frail and I had been to the chemist for him. He was also waiting for a priest to come and give him Holy Communion.
I let myself into the house as I always do and he asked if I could wait for a short while and let the priest in as it takes him several minutes to get to the door.
"I don't like to keep him waiting,"he told me, "It's very good of him to come."
"It's his job," I told him.
"I suppose it is but he always makes me feel so guilty about not going to church. He likes to be called "Father" too - and he's young enough to be my grandson."
Oh. I know quite a few elderly people and, because of it, I know a number of priests, pastors, ministers and other "clergy". Like the rest of humanity they are a varied bunch. I like some of them more than others. I call all of them, even the very elderly Catholic priest, by their given names. It's what they expect, indeed have asked me to do. I once tried being what I thought was polite to a retired Archbishop and he gently corrected me and asked me to call him by his given name. "I'm retired - and I never much cared for the title anyway."
I know there are times when titles are useful - useful because they put a shield between the person and the position. They are important in places like a court of law where being sentenced by "Your Honour" or similar is not the same as being sentenced by "Mr Smith" or "Mr Jones" or even "John Smith" or "John Jones".
But I wondered at the young priest insisting on being called "Father".
I let him in but he did not introduce himself or offer to shake hands.
Perhaps he does not feel secure in his position yet? If he doesn't then he needs help from people like the elderly.
He also needs to learn to introduce himself and shake hands. Is that too much to ask? 

Wednesday 6 August 2014

There were mixed messages

in the media this morning. The government has, after six or seven months of political wrangling, apparently decided not to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. This is the section which deals with racial vilification.
Minority ethnic groups are cheering loudly. Civil libertarians are expressing concern. Most of the population has no idea what the discussion is about.
The legal profession appears to be concerned and I imagine Andrew Bolt is angry about it. He was the columnist who was "caught" by the section.
My own view has always been that the section should be axed. It should be axed on the grounds that it encourages the very behaviour it is supposed to prevent. It makes for the much more dangerous covert racism rather than the overt racism which can then be roundly condemned by reasonable people.
I don't agree with the present Commonwealth Attorney-General when he said that people have the right to be bigots. I would have agreed if he had said, "There are people who are bigots and nothing is going to change that."
Bigots will speak out whatever the law says. The problem is that they be made martyrs of if there is an attempt to prosecute them. It will also be much more difficult for others to speak out against them. Racial vilification laws actually give bigots a platform they would not otherwise have. A high profile Section 18C legal case could cause far more harm than good. I suspect that Bolt's case did just that.  It was seen as politically motivated and just confirmed what he had to say in the eyes of many.
Mix all that with religious differences and it is a recipe for an explosion. Do we really want to go there?
My friends and acquaintances come in every colour, race, religion, background and belief system possible. I want it to stay that way.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Sport is a form of warfare

but it is rarely recognised as such.
As anyone who knows me will recognise I am not a lover of "sport". I can't play it. I don't watch it. I do not follow a football team and I support the wrong side in the only game I have any mild interest in - cricket. (It is the psychology that interests me - not the actual game.)
The Senior Cat is the same - but worse. He does not even have a mild interest in cricket.
If it involves a ball one of my two sisters has played it at some point - at both state and national level - but even she is not a lover of sport. She does not watch it or support a football team.
My brother occasionally goes sailing with his son's father-in-law. It is a purely social outing. No competition is involved. He watches no sport at all. He has no interest in any game.
My other sister appears to take some interest in sport. She watches it on television - while folding origami boxes and flowers which she sells at a local craft market in her home town.
And yet I know there are thousands, indeed hundreds of thousands, of people out there who love sport with a passion. They follow it avidly. They analyse moves and matches and players. They display the colours of their team of choice and put labels on their cars announcing that "blue" (or maybe "brown") is best. It's warfare.
Commentators talk in those terms - wins and defeats and battles. 
I know, the ancient Greeks did it - and every other civilisation in history has had some such form of warfare.
It isn't harmless. People get injured and even killed. Drugs are taken. There is violence and cheating. Money is bet on the results.
And people worry.
My brother and his wife are currently on a catamaran off the east coast of Downunder. They are sailing close to shore. He and his wife are with experienced sailors. They have all the necessary safety equipment and then some. It was something his wife wanted to do and my brother was happy to acquiesce.
And the Senior Cat is worried, so worried he is not eating or sleeping properly. He won't be happy until the two of them are "safe" on dry land. I am looking forward to Thursday, the last day of the "adventure". The Senior Cat's levels of worry will return to more normal levels.
Sport is definitely a form of warfare - in more ways than one.

Monday 4 August 2014

One hundred years ago

today Australians woke to find themselves at war.
The Prime Minister of the day was Joseph Cook. (He was succeeded by Andrew Fisher on September 17th.) King George V was on the throne. The world was a very different place.
My paternal grandmother's brothers defied their father and went off to serve. He cut them out of his will. Their siblings reinstated them.
My paternal grandfather offered to go but was turned down because all his male siblings were already in the navy and two of his sisters were nursing the wounded. The youngest children, another boy and a girl, were too young to go and it was felt that my grandfather had war work to do here - besides being a tailor. We have never discovered exactly what that was but it apparently also involved the navy. Perhaps he was busy making uniforms? We are never likely to find out. Many records were destroyed and much went on that people did not know about.
We do know his mother, by then a widow, somehow managed to feed and comfort a seemingly endless stream of sailors on leave.  
On my mother's paternal side one of her uncles was in London at the time. He joined the army there and survived but never came back to Australia. Her father did not go to war and nor did any of the other siblings. Their father had served in the Boer war and their mother was apparently determined that the rebellious child in London would be the only one to serve. 
And my maternal grandmother had just one brother. We believe he went to war but my grandmother had no contact with him after their childhood. She did not know where he was or what he was doing. We still don't know.
I wonder about all this now. At the time it must have consumed the waking lives of everyone involved. It would have been a time of constant worry - would that knock on the door be the telegraph boy with the black-edged telegram? Would someone come home so badly wounded that they could never work again?
What must have it been like to have not just one son away but, as my paternal great grandmothers did, six? I can't comprehend that.  
Courage comes in many forms.

Sunday 3 August 2014

I am going to stick my neck out

this morning and say that not everyone who claims to be a refugee is one.
Yes, I know that is a very unpopular point of view and that I should not be saying it. I know it will make me appear racist and selfish and lacking in compassion.
I know that a certain Senator here would tear strips off me. How dare I say that not everyone who claims to be a refugee is one? How dare I say that not everyone who risks their lives to come here by boat is anything but a refugee?
Well, I am sorry - they aren't.
I had a phone call yesterday and, instead of going off to meet a group of fellow knitters for a bit of well earned relaxation I went off to talk to the person who phoned me and her family.
They were doing the right thing - or what they thought was the right thing. They have been very pro-refugee. They have been attending rallies, writing to the media, protesting in other ways - and giving a lot of practical assistance to people who have come here as refugees. Their parents have done the same thing.
As a family I admire them because they really have put their words into action.
But the parents have had a refugee family living in their little beach "shack". It is a comfortable little house in a very pleasant location. After being alerted by a very late night phone call they went to see the family yesterday. They were not there. There was nothing else there either. The place had been cleaned out. Nobody knows where the family or the furniture - including a fridge and stove and beds, bedding, table, chairs etc. have gone. Add to that the police are looking for the father of the family. He is wanted on a variety of offences - in his home country as well as here. And the name he has been using is not the same as the name the police had been given - although the photograph is, apparently, too distinctive to be anyone else.
He was, from all accounts, a "charming" and "quiet" man who told a most convincing story. His wife was "very quiet" and the children were "extremely shy". The man employing the father thought he was going to be a good employee - but some things had gone missing. He had been in the job not quite three weeks.
Local people apparently say their move was assisted by other people who spoke their language - although the family claimed to know nobody here at all.
The family who tried to help are shattered. There is very little that can be done even if the law catches up with the father. They knew that but they needed to talk to someone. So, I listened.
I have known other "refugees" who have just simply disappeared too. They have been found housing and employment and been given a great deal of support. Most of them have at least left much of what they have been given behind but they leave. It is then the stories of dubious relationships with other members of their own communities come out. It is then that stories of demands and threats and concerns about possible domestic violence surface. Sometimes people try to excuse it as people being traumatised by their experiences - and perhaps that is sometimes the case - but sometimes it is clear that people have simply told a story to avoid facing justice in their own country. They continue to behave as they always have.
It is not something any of us want to face. I don't know what the answer is because those who genuinely need help can also behave in ways we see as unacceptable. Culture and trauma both contribute to that. We want to believe the people we are helping are genuinely in need of our help. It isn't always the case.
And what makes me so angry is not just the harm it does to the cause of those genuinely in need but the hurt it does to those who tried to help.

Saturday 2 August 2014

There have been some rather

serious meanderings on these pages recently so I thought I might try for something a little less heavy this morning.
I was sent this link
and it contains some photos of flags knitted for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Some flags are easy to knit. Others are very difficult. I was once asked if I would knit an Australian flag into the front of a jumper for a rather large man who was going to travel abroad and wanted to announce to the world that he was an Australian. I declined. I am a yarn snob. I refuse to knit with cheap acrylic. I do not like the type of knitting called "intarsia" which was called for - and I didn't particularly like the man.
I would never consider wearing such a thing myself but another knitter made it for him and he apparently toured the world wearing his flag on his chest.
Before my parents went on the inevitable Grand Tour By Rail of Europe back in the 70's my mother bought two cloth "badges" of the Australian flag and sewed them on the raincoats she had purchased for herself and the Senior Cat for the trip. As the Senior Cat does not speak another language this may have been wise. My mother's schoolgirl French was apparently revived with some success on a couple of occasions.
I went briefly to the Continent. I did not do the Grand Tour By Rail. I did not wear anything which labelled me as anything and I travelled with nothing more than one of those old airways type bags that someone had given me. It belonged to no particular airline. I can't have looked too much like a tourist because, more than once, I was stopped by tourists wanting to know where to go.
Was it a good idea? I don't know. It didn't seem to do any harm. I really didn't want to be labelled. I am not a flag waver.
But the knitted flags are fun because, although they represent individual countries, when they are all put together they represent a common effort. It was, unlike the Games themselves, not a competition but something done in the spirit of cooperation. I like them for that reason - and they must have looked bright and cheerful hanging out there. 
And here is a "flag" I made years ago. There is the word for "peace" in twenty different languages on it. Have a peaceful weekend!


Friday 1 August 2014

We went through the last of the

clearing out of my friend's unit yesterday. It was a depressing process.
I know we were fortunate in that she has accumulated very little. She has books but, at her request, I removed the highly academic titles and the rest fit into a small bookshelf. I made a list of the academic titles I thought she might want to keep and even that was short.
Apart from that there was really very little. Some old passports, some old travel documents. Some Chinese paper notes, a few coins from foreign places - no longer legal currency - and a map. Her university degrees and diplomas were all in a large, faded envelope.
I found her brown suede beret. She was wearing that the first time I met her more than forty years ago. There was a Chinese hat - with earflaps. She told me she had never worn it. The red one I knitted her was warmer but she gave that to a student when she left China.
There were two frogs carved from timber in a village in the highlands of PNG and an abacus given to her in China. There were photographs in an envelope - from friends after holidaying with them in Noumea.
In the tiny kitchen my sister cleared out an assortment of unmatched crockery and cutlery, an electric kettle which did not work, a toaster (which does work) and four mugs. There were saucepans which had never been used. She bought them when she came here but was never well enough to do any cooking. We have, at her request, passed on a small blender (unused) and an electric jug (used) to a young student from PNG. He also has the unused wool underlay for his bed and the quilt from the bed. They will be used. Other things will be used by other people.
My sister carefully packed two beautiful champagne flutes. We will take them to my friend because there is a small shelf for such things. She told us yesterday they belonged to her parents. Yes, worth keeping.
But much of the rest needs to go to other people who can use what is there.
And it makes me realise that we have far too much here. It would be good to dispose of it now and see other people use it. We don't need it.
I just wonder whether I will have the courage to part with it.