Saturday 31 January 2015

So Colleen McCullough

has died at the age of 77. She was best known for a novel I could not be bothered reading.
The Thorn Birds sold millions of copies. It might even sell another million now. I wonder how many people started it and never finished it?
There are people who insist it is "marvellous".  Germaine Greer famously described it as the "best bad book" she had read.
Perhaps the writing is good but, for me, the book needed a good edit. I know that view will not make me popular in some quarters. It was a view shared by the late Judith Wright and others. Not wanting to be seen as jealous their criticism was perhaps more muted than it should have been.
Her obituary in the national newspaper "The Australian" was slammed by many. I don't know who wrote it - rumour has it that it was a male, now deceased. Certainly there were remarks in there that were seen as being sexist, chauvinist and more. (I do wonder what would happen if a female journalist wrote a similar obituary of someone like Peter Carey, Tim Winton or journalist Bob Ellis?)
I met Colleen on several occasions. She was a larger than life sort of person. You knew she was there. You couldn't miss her. Her laugh told you she was in the room or in the tent. She talked a lot - no, not all writers do but she did. She had a very high opinion of herself - and was not afraid of letting others know it. She was also highly dismissive of Jane Austen and a number of other, highly regarded writers. It didn't always make her popular. I don't think it bothered her. She claimed she was writing, "for the people out there in the street" rather than writing a literary novel - but I suspect she liked the idea of being considered an important novelist.
She also suffered from depression, a glandular disorder that caused her to gain weight and, in her last years, failing eyesight.
To the best of my knowledge she only won one writing prize, something called The Scanno Prize. I know nothing about it apart from the fact that it is Italian and must have been awarded her for one of the novels in the Masters of Rome series.
Was she a great writer? No, I don't think she was. Was she a good writer? Some would say so. Perhaps she is but I doubt she is of the stature of someone like Elizabeth Jolley or Helen Garner or that the Thorn Birds is of the same quality as Mary Durack's "Kings in Grass Castles".
What she undoubtedly did do though was write something that many people believed they wanted to read and did read. That's good.
And I admire her for continuing to write through depression, ill-health and failing eyesight. Those things would have made many a lesser person quit.

Friday 30 January 2015

I am more than a little tired of the uproar

over the awarding of a Downunder knighthood to Prince Philip.
No, it wasn't a sensible thing for our Prime Minister to do - at least, not on his own. But...
(1) he would not have done it entirely on his own. There's a process to be gone through and this would have happened. Even the PM couldn't get around that. The Committee would have advised against it if they had thought it a bad idea. My guess is that they didn't think that.
(2) it is the media who are making a meal out of it. It is no secret that they want to be rid of the PM. (But I wonder why they want the likely alternative if they also want to be rid of the government.)
I personally think the PM was a fool to even suggest the award. He was unwise to re-introduce knighthoods into the honours system. Perhaps we shouldn't even have an honours system.
(3) but we do have an honours system. A previous Prime Minister used it to award another gong to Prince Charles. That did not cause the same uproar.
There are things which bother me about all of this. First of all, the media coverage has been rude. It has insulted a man who was in no position to refuse the honour which was offered to him. That man has worked hard - although many people are unable to recognise it. He is still working. His Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme - which I participated in - has been the saving of many kids.  So, get over it media. Keep your prejudices to yourselves.
But, there is something even more serious which bothers me. The other complaint by the media has been that this award took away the focus on the Australian of the Year - a woman who has experienced the worst sort of domestic violence and is trying to do something to help. Well yes, it did take the focus away from her - and the media did that. They are responsible. They chose to make a fuss about something else. They could have made a fuss about domestic violence instead. Instead there were even some rather nasty comments of the "well she might have been a victim but what does she know about policy" type.
Frankly I find that behaviour unforgiveable. The media and those who commented in support used a woman who lost a child because of domestic violence. They used her to undermine an elected government because, since before his election, the PM has been portrayed as a fool. They don't like government policies and they are determined to be rid of the government. It doesn't matter who they harm in the process.
I personally believe domestic violence is an issue of major importance. It is something people need to be much, much more aware of. Claiming that it is of less media importance than a somewhat foolish move on the part of the PM is the worst sort of opportunism. I can't respect the media or the commentators for that.

Thursday 29 January 2015

There was an interesting case

up in the Supreme Court recently.
A local businessman was pulled over by the police. He was not breaking any traffic rules but the "tint" on his car windows was "too dark".
This should have been a simple matter of advising someone that this was the case, asking them to get it fixed and - if thought necessary - following up to see that it was done. It could all have been handled pleasantly and well. It wasn't.
The owner of the car put in a complaint about the way the incident was handled. He alleged one of the two policemen had assaulted him.
The issue was complicated by the fact that the police use service stations owned by the man who was stopped. He knows very senior people in the police force and he complained to them. Who wouldn't?
Even then the complaint should have been handled in a lower court. Was there a case to answer? What were the circumstances?
It went further. A QC defended the policeman - paid for by the police union. They claimed he was a hero. He was not convicted and the judge went as far as to say that the case had wasted two weeks of court time.
And then, the following day,  we learned an injunction was served on the state newspaper preventing them from now publishing anything further - about the policeman.
The injunction was lifted the day before yesterday. Yesterday morning the paper has published some details about previous complaints made about the way this policeman has "controlled" incidents.
It came as no surprise to me. A local man had complained earlier about a similar incident. He said he had not put in a formal complaint but now wishes he had.
I wonder what has been going on. Getting a QC to handle a case of minor assault seems strange to me. It is the sort of thing much more likely to be handled by a competent barrister who does criminal work.
Can anyone explain?

Wednesday 28 January 2015

"Hello Cat...

I was just about to pedal home when someone stopped me. I haven't seen him for some years and then only to wave to in passing. When my parents moved to this house he was in high school.
He is the older of two boys. He was the responsible one who didn't cause his parents too much worry. His brother was the wild one, always in and out of trouble. We would hear furious arguments coming from the house and the yard and heard tales of his bad behaviours. He was not expelled from school but they asked him to leave because he was so disruptive. He was probably responsible for a lot of graffiti. He had fines for speeding. He was trouble.
Their mother was intensely house proud. Her hobby, if she had one, was housework. At eleven o'clock at night she would be cleaning the front step because there was a smudge of dirt on it.
Their father had had by-pass surgery and had apparently changed from being a fairly relaxed friendly individual to an anxious and reclusive one.
But my parents got on well enough with them. When the husband retired they went to live in another part of the state where he could indulge in his passion for fishing. We wondered what would happen to the boys. The older one had just finished his chosen course and was starting work. He married his long time girlfriend and moved just up the hill from us. He has two boys - lively boys he told me.
He talked to me about his parents, now elderly. His father is in a nursing home after falling down some stairs. He has Alzheimer's. They can't sell the house in their country town. There are problems. It is the end to the romantic dream of retiring to the country - the one that worked while they were young enough and fit enough to live there. It is the one that does not have the facilities for old age.
I could see how worried he was.
He hadn't mentioned his brother but I asked. He suddenly smiled.
"He's turned out okay."
"What's he doing?"
"He's a plumber...did all the qualifications too."
Then he looked at me and said, "I can remember you telling Mum not to worry - that he'd be okay. How did you know?"
I thought back. There were three things I think. The first is that he loved (and still loves) animals. Animals went to him. Strange dogs would talk to him. Cats would climb on him. He could hold his hand out and birds would take food from it. The next was that I once saw him, when he had no idea anyone he knew was there, help an elderly woman up the step into the train and insist on her being given a seat. Lastly he would go fishing alone. He told me once, "need to get away from it all". He would read while he was doing it. He read a lot.
I told his brother these things. He stood there thinking for a moment and then nodded.
"Yes, he still does those things and he's turned out okay."

Tuesday 27 January 2015

The Australian national anthem sounds like

a dirge. The words are, at best, inaccurate and - well it is just plain awful. There, I have said it.
I will go on and say that I have no time for Australia Day. There are indigenous Australians who find it insulting, indigenous activists who call it "Invasion Day" and many others for whom Australia is the second country of allegiance rather than the first. The  idea that Australians are all one united happy people is utter nonsense. They're not. "Mateship", if it ever existed, went out the window years ago.
There was apparently an idea floating around that everyone should stop at eleven o'clock - or some hour - and sing the national anthem. Most Australians don't know the words and don't want to know the words.
The idea of a "national day" seems to be at odds with the other idea of a "multi-cultural country". How can you have both? How can you just have all the green and gold and wattle and football (Aussie Rules of course), meat pies, Holden cars and whatever else the song said - as well as claiming to have every other colour under the sun, a different shaped ball (for something called "soccer") and more foreign than locally made vehicles?
Yes, that last sentence was too long. It is not good English. 
There are always "citizenship" ceremonies on Australia Day. There are always pictures of people with happy, smiling faces. They have achieved their dream of being "Australians". Good on them. I am pleased for them, genuinely pleased. I hope they won't be disappointed.
But, last night on the SBS news, they interviewed the man who owns He's a migrant who came here as a child. He had something rather blunt to say to other migrants. If you migrate here become Australians, don't try to bring your way of life and your values from your other country. I think it is a fair message.
But, it is a message that is at odds with the official message.

Monday 26 January 2015

I set about stirring the political pot

yesterday. I did it on Twitter and I did it deliberately. 
I probably should not have done it, particularly as I was sitting safely on my fence-post. That particular fence-post is a long way up. It is comfortable. I can stare at the political dogs on both sides - and drive them mad. Fence-posts are friends if you are a cat.
I stirred a few cat hairs into the pot and waited - and got the expected frenzied barking.
I let them bark for a while, told them it was a joke and let them growl in disappointment. I wasn't moving from the fence-post.
But, there was also a serious side to what I was doing. The media is not, generally, kind to politicians of any flavour. That's fine - up to a point. One role of the media is to question and another is to criticise.
The problem is that this has gone a little too far in recent years. The last two Prime Ministers had an on-again off-again relationship with the media. The media had a great deal to do with their downfall. The media also miscalculated. There was a belief that they could reinstate the previous PM and win the election. They lost.
Our present PM has never had a good relationship with the media. Put simply, they don't like him. He's a Rhodes Scholar but they make him out to be a fool. That reflects on other Rhodes Scholars of course apart from one of our previous PMs, also a Rhodes Scholar - but he was of the other political persuasion. 
The present PM volunteers, and has done for many years, as a surf-lifesaver and in a rural fire service. We're told he only does that for the sake of his political career. Perhaps he does. I don't know why he volunteers. What I do know is that it doesn't help the image of  volunteerism or help in encouraging others to volunteer when he is derided for volunteering.
He's Catholic and apparently began training for a religious life so he gets called a "mad monk". He goes to church. He has been accused of allowing his faith to get in the way of policy and taking orders from the church instead. True or not? I don't know. What I do know is that previous PMs have not had their faith - or lack of it - questioned in this way.
He has been accused of being a bully and threatening violence. Are the accusations true or are they politically motivated exaggerations? I don't know. I do know much has been made of them. I also experienced, first hand, the boorishness of another PM - something well known to the media but barely mentioned.
Much was made of his having had a child out of wedlock when he was much younger. A paternity test proved otherwise but the story still surfaces when the media find it convenient. Despite the fact that he appears to be in a strong, supportive married relationship he's accused of being a chauvinist. Is he? I don't know.
I could probably go back to every previous Prime Minister and find they have had similar treatment from the media. There is now a difference however. In the past we did not have the same 24 hour news cycle. We didn't have blogs or sites where people could comment on what others had written. It was not possible to have well-organised and well-conducted campaigns designed to oust a figure in the news simply because they don't share the same beliefs as others who have "media clout".
The last two Prime Ministers were effectively ousted by the media. It seems they want to do it again. Voters need all the chapters in the book, not just those which suit the media.

Sunday 25 January 2015

"Australia doesn't have a problem with

alcohol. We have a problem with violence," the article by Tim Gregg in the Sydney Morning Herald suggested.
Mr Gregg cheerfully went on to "support" his assertion by telling people what it was like when he was in Germany. If you believe him there is no alcohol fuelled violence problem in that country.
Sorry Mr Gregg I don't believe you.
Australia does have an alcohol problem. It has a very serious alcohol problem.
I will have to say here that I do not drink alcohol at all. I am allergic to alcohol. It makes me feel violently itchy all over - believe me it is not a pleasant experience.
I also have to say that I see nothing wrong with other people enjoying alcohol. I know there are many people for whom "a glass of red" or "a cold one" (beer) is a pleasant way to pass an evening at the weekend. 
I also know there are many people who drink much more than that one glass of an evening. I found the article offensive and irresponsible. Ask a traffic policeman what the main causes of accidents are and s/he will list things like inattention, speed, drugs - and alcohol.
So why would any responsible newspaper print an article like that? I could probably ask one of my nephews, who happens to be responsible for the digital advertising for a major news group, whether the article was accompanied or followed by a spike in alcohol advertising. I am as certain as I can be that the answer would be yes. I am also as certain as I can be that the industries fuelled by alcohol would be trying to put pressure on state governments to relax some alcohol related laws.
Media access makes it increasingly easier to do that sort of thing. More and more people have access to social media. It makes it easy to get your message out, not by direct advertising but by articles like Mr Gregg's. Those who commented on it almost without exception thought it was a "great" article. They agreed with him. They agreed with him although there were no statistics to back his claims. Even if there had been statistics they would need to be treated with caution. It bothers me.
I am also bothered  by an increasing tendency to undermine our  leaders and elected governments while giving time to people who engage in dangerous behaviour or try to influence others to engage in that sort of behaviour.
It's time to stop.   

Saturday 24 January 2015

Apparently only about 1%

of people registered on social media contribute regularly. About 9% contribute occasionally and about 90% "lurk" - don't contribute at all.
The link I was sent about this also mentioned that there are about 55m blogs (about 5% of all users) and, of those, only 0.1% of them post daily. 
Hmm...I suppose I am in the minority. I didn't realise just how much in the minority I was. I knew there were "inactive" blogs in my own list. I have left them there because, once in a while, the owners think of something to say.
Then there are the people who "contribute" to other sites - newspapers, on-line forums, news-services and so on. The "chatter" there can get over-whelming.
But - look carefully. Even there it will often be the same few people who contribute the most.
There are people who contribute usefully. They are worth reading. Their contributions will be thoughtful. They will offer alternate views, raise issues that are missing from an article or provide reliable sources of information. There are others who "maintain the rage" against the government of the day. Still others will be for or against another issue - climate change anyone?
I keep my wide-range news feed on. I need to know what is going on. A major incident might mean there will be more work for me. But - I confine my contributions largely to the beginning and end of the main part of my working day. Rarely I will add something to a discussion - and I might go back hours later to discover that is has stirred some comments.
And there is Twitter. It's there in the background. I use it in two ways. There is my professional account - the one used strictly for direct messages to and from people I am working with. And there is my "cat" account, the one I "prowl" with. It's the thing that makes my day-to-day working from home life bearable. I can have a little fun. I can "chat" with people I would otherwise never communicate with.  
Yes, for once, being in the minority is a good thing.

Friday 23 January 2015

Yes, we need libraries!

Am I really having to say that all over again?
Nicola Morgan has been saying it all over again too - over on "An Awfully Big Blog Adventure". Nicola isn't the only one either. I sent on what she had to say to someone I know who used to run the library at one of my old tertiary institutions. He read it and then sent a message back saying "What in the hell do they think they are doing? Kids need libraries."
And then I mentioned it to someone who used to work in something we called "The School Libraries Branch".  She looked at me in despair. "Things started to go downhill when we stopped calling libraries "libraries" and started calling them "resource centres". Perhaps she is right. I don't know.
I know teachers who seem to think that the lack of libraries doesn't really matter. They believe the children can get all their resources on line. I hasten to add that these teachers are in the minority and they may not be the best teachers. Some seem to think it does not matter in "their" subject area - usually maths and science.
There are other teachers however who say things like, "They need to know about books. They need to know how to use books." In the past week one teacher, about to go back to work in a tough school, said to me, "Some of my students need a place where they can go and find a book for themselves. They don't want me telling them they "must" read something. They need to be able to browse the shelves and lose themselves in a different world."
Over the summer school holiday period I have watched children and teens going in and out of the library. So many of the younger ones run ahead of their parents or grandparents in their eagerness to get into the library. Those of primary school age are usually lugging a bag over-flowing with books and DVDs they have borrowed. They want to know what activities the library has planned and what's new on the shelf.
The "young adults" or "teens" are different. They tend to sneak in furtively, as if they don't wish to be caught there. They pretend to wander nonchalantly around, as if they are really not very interested in being there. Borrow a book? Yeah. Maybe. Don't let your mates see you doing it. Once in a while the "nerds" might gather. The seats are comfy. They can get their phones out. I've seen them text a friend and then realise, with some embarrassment, that the friend is in the next book bay!
Yes, they still read. But, something happens on the transition to secondary school. The "homework" is suddenly greater. More of them are allowed to go to and from school alone. They stop off at the shopping centre in the afternoon. They stand around and talk to friends. The opposite sex is more interesting. Somehow there is less time to read.
If we then tell teens that reading is not important by taking away their libraries in schools - that place where they can browse the shelves and where it IS acceptable to be seen because it is a normal part of school - then what are we doing?
As a child and a teen I absorbed an enormous amount of information through reading. I did it in a way that television and the internet cannot do. I went back to books. I am not in the least musical but, in our house, "The Oxford Children's Companion to Music" was well thumbed by me and my brother. My parents had found a slightly damaged copy going out cheap in a bookshop which specialised in children's books - alas, the place is no more. We had many other books. We borrowed books even when we lived in the most rural areas. The Children's Country Lending Service let us do that.  It made us culturally literate - or at least partially so.
Something has gone wrong somewhere. It's not just "screen time". We're telling the next generation that reading is not as important. Really it is more important than ever.

Thursday 22 January 2015

The Senior Cat had visitors

yesterday. I had just arrived home having done a quick trip to check on an oldie who broke her wrist last week. It was something I needed to do but it took time out of work.
Yes, I work. I still work. I am likely to go on working as long as I have the ability. The problem is I work from home.
Back in the dim distant past, before the advent of home computers and the internet and e-mail, I used to have to go into the university each day. I don't need to do that any more. I go in when I need to see students.
I don't have a room there any more. We decided I didn't need it. That was a mistake. People don't believe I work any more. I mean, if you don't "go to work" then you "don't work" do you?
So, yesterday... neighbour came in as I was getting midday meal for Senior Cat and self. That's fair enough - although it slows me down she knows to let me go on doing it. And then I pedalled off and saw the oldie - who is miserable but at least being cared for.
I had just settled down to do some work when the phone rang and someone invited himself and his wife to afternoon tea. He needed to talk to the Senior Cat.  I put the kettle on.
I was in the middle of doing something for someone. He lives in Tanzania. His internet connection is uncertain at the best of times but he had "come into town" from the village he is currently working in especially to contact me. So I went on working. Each time I sent something off for him to read and consider I went back and made tea and talked to the wife. Then I would go back and see what my colleague's response had been and do a bit more or make another suggestion.
It was stressful. I felt I was not giving it my full attention. I knew I was not giving his problem my full attention - and his problem was a great deal more important than talking to someone I had not been expecting to see.
Oh yes, they know I work "but you can always take a bit of time off" and "it's not as if you get paid for doing it" and "you can always do it later" and "it doesn't really matter does it?" These things are said by other people who have no idea what I do or how I do it.
Well yes, it does matter. It matters a lot. If I say I will do something then I like to do it and I like to do it on time. It is not always possible to take time off simply for the convenience of other people who have imposed themselves on you. No I am not getting paid but the people I work with are not getting paid for doing that particular job either - that's part of the agreement we have between us. We can't always do something later for any number of reasons and yes it does matter - because other people's lives matter.
We ended up having pita bread stuffed with egg and salad for our tea. The Senior Cat, bless him, quite understood. He almost never interrupts me - and I don't interrupt him either.  


Wednesday 21 January 2015

"He should have gone to school

last year," the weeping mother told me, "And now they say he can't go this year either." We had this conversation at the beginning of January.
Her son is now six. He has a medical condition which makes him doubly incontinent. There are other serious health problems too. 
His parents were asked to delay his entry into school for a year "to see whether things improve". They haven't.
I can understand the family's local schools not wanting to take the child and I think the parents do as well. There needs to be a qualified nurse in attendance - or someone fully trained to take care of his special needs.
There is nowhere for him to go. There might have been once.
I came away feeling frustrated at having to advise correspondence school lessons - which the teachers at the hospital school will continue whenever he is there. He's going to be lonely because he is an only child and his physical problems mean that mixing with other children is always going to be difficult. A school dedicated to children with needs like his would make life very different.
There is very little "special education" left in this state. It was all about "integration" and only the most difficult and disruptive students are removed from the "normal" classroom.  We have been told that "mainstreaming" is the way to go.
I had doubts from the beginning and the doubts have grown over the years. Yesterday there was an article in the Guardian talking about how many special schools in England were getting an "excellent" report from the OFSTED inspectors. The article asked why this was not being publicised. Suggestions were even made that the inspectors were just giving them those ratings out of sympathy. I would say that was utter rubbish. In my experience school inspectors are more likely to be critical. They know special schools are more expensive to run and when money is tight - as it usually is in education - they would be looking for excuses to close such schools.  
No, a good special school can be very good indeed. It can be outstanding. It can give children the skills to move into other schools and it give them the skills to move out into the community. It can make the most of a child's abilities. It won't make a child with a permanent disability "normal" but it can make the child a great citizen.   
I wonder whether the real problem with special schools is something else. If you are mainstreamed then you can pretend that, at least in some ways, things are "normal". You can pretend that the child is "accepted" and is "part of society" and is "doing most of the things that other kids do". You don't need to feel "guilty". It makes you feel better. The child is being "socialised" and has "normal" friends. Somehow that makes the child "normal" too.  Special schools are said to deny those vital "normal" experiences.
About six years ago I went to the last school reunion of an outstanding special school. It was about to close for good. In that room there were two people with doctorates, three more with degrees, and at least seven with other good post-school qualifications. All but the most profoundly disabled students with additional communication impairments were employed. The school had handled physically disabled students with profound hearing losses and with severe visual impairments.  It had all happened because of the intensive specialist work put in by the staff and the students - all day and every day.
Children with similar impairments are now out in ordinary schools. They get limited help from a classroom teacher - who has responsibilities for other children too. They get some help from teacher aides - if they are lucky. They might, if they are lucky, get some specialist assistance once a week from a peripatetic teacher with some additional qualifications. It's not the same. It can never be the same.
And some children cannot go to school at all.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Adele Geras has a new

"quick reads" book, "Out of the dark" coming out in February. (Quercus) The "blurb" on the back caught my attention because it is rather similar to a real-life story I was once told.
I knew a very old man, now deceased, in this district. He went off to WWI as a very young man, very young indeed. Tom had been brought up in an orphanage. He lied about his age to go - and they took him. I can remember him telling me "I had no idea of course. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just thought it was preferable to being by myself."
He was sent to France and endured the unimaginable horrors of life in the trenches. Next to him was another young man, one just old enough to go. This second young man had a sister who had knitted him a pair of socks. She had knitted his initials into the top of the socks. The two boys were, perhaps inevitably, both wounded.
When the owner of the socks was dying he elicited a promise from his younger, seriously wounded friend that he would go and see his sister and take the socks with him. Tom took the socks.
When he was eventually repatriated. He went to the address he was given only to discover that the family had moved. Nobody seemed to know where they had gone but eventually a postal employee gave him an address in another part of the country. It was over four hundred miles away.
Tom had no money and he was not in a fit state of health but he set out to walk - and he took the socks. He worked odd jobs along the way.
"I don't know what made me do it. I could have posted the damn things to her," he told me with a smile.
Eventually he found the house in the suburbs of another city. It took time but he summoned up the courage to knock on the door. It was answered by the mother who thought he was one of the many men tramping the countryside at the time. She was prepared to offer food but, for once, he shook his head. He held out the socks and told her how he had come by them. They were barely worn.
She looked down at his feet. He was wearing roughly fashioned "shoes" of kangaroo skin.
And yes, he met the daughter. They were married for fifty-four years before her death. 


Monday 19 January 2015

Why do people want to go to

Bali on holiday anyway?
The Whirlwind came back from holiday yesterday. She and her father went to a fairly remote beach location in this state. They "didn't do much" according to her. Was she bored? No.
"I did heaps of reading. I used up two big sketchpads and three little ones. We played chess and Scrabble and we started to learn how to play Go. It's harder than chess..." and so she went on - enthusiastically.
A friend of hers went to Bali with her family. I asked what said friend had thought of it.
"I don't think she liked it."
I must investigate further.
One of my nephews went to Bali with a friend. They did not go to the tourist part. My nephew never did see the tourist strip. He didn't want to. The two boys went to a quiet, very quiet, part of the north. They stayed a fortnight. My nephew was ready to come home after a week. He could lie on the beach here. (He isn't really interested in doing it anywhere.)
I don't understand the fascination with Bali. I know people who have been more than once - and would go again. They don't venture out of the tourist area. They seem to believe they have been somewhere exotic on holiday. Perhaps it is - for them. I rather suspect Bali is a money-laundering site for a certain group.
Drugs? People who have come back seem to fall into two groups. Either they say nobody offered them any or that they are readily available. I don't know.
I wouldn't take the risk. As I have said elsewhere I am opposed to the death penalty. The last man to be hung in England was not the man who pulled the trigger - although he was present at the scene of the crime. The other man was too young. They ended up changing his identity and sending him to New Zealand.
Bali has just executed six people for drug offences. There will be more executions. I don't think anyone should doubt that. Nor should anyone doubt that the vicious drug trade will continue.  Those at the very top are safe as long as they remain at the top - and people continue to holiday in Bali.
I think the Whirlwind probably had the better holiday.

Sunday 18 January 2015

"There are too many books in this house,"

Middle Cat informed us. She was looking at a selection of goodies the Senior Cat had found on sale at the library - used library books, excess to their requirements.
She looked severely at the Senior Cat. He smiled.
"I'm serious," Middle Cat protested, "You should get rid of some."
"Yes, day," Senior Cat told her. He had that long-suffering look on his face - the one he has every time she tries to bully him.
Middle Cat is a bully. She likes to organise people and tell them what to do. I dislike being organised. I hate being told what to do. I was never a team player. The Senior Cat is not much better.
Middle Cat tried to tell him he should do it "now".
"Every time you buy a new one you should get rid of at least two old ones."
"Yes dear," he said with absolutely no intention of obeying her.
She turned her attention to me.
"You don't need all those dictionaries or those or those. You can get all that stuff on line these days. You could get rid of them and stop cluttering the place up."
No. It doesn't work like that. I don't work like that. I like books. My reference books sometimes look like hedgehogs with their little paper spikes bristling out of their spines. I sometimes need to have four or five open at a time. I need to be able to flip backwards and forwards.
"I've never even heard of half of these. You can't possibly need to use them."  She pulled out a dictionary of Melanesian Pidgin. "I bet you've never even used this."
"Take a look inside," I told her and put the kettle on for the Senior Cat to have a cup of tea.
She put the book back on the shelf. If she had looked inside she would have discovered a good many pencil ticks against words - words that were used to set up a communication board for an emergency.
Middle Cat does not read a lot. There is just one bookshelf in their house. The books in it are mainly medical texts.
"You should watch...." Middle Cat goes on to Senior Cat and tells him about a "funny" television series. He watches almost no television. The series is on a "commercial" station that airs seventeen minutes of advertising in every hour. There is no way he would tolerate that.  I can't tolerate that.
"No, I have to go," Middle Cat tells me when I ask her if she is staying to drink cups of tea with the Senior Cat.
She takes the book she came to borrow and leaves. The Senior Cat opens one of his new found treasures and immerses himself in tea and words.
Half an hour later I remind him that the hose is still sprinkling on "that patch". Does he want me to move it? Oh. Yes. He got caught up in the words.
"We have too many books in this house," he tells me - but he won't do anything about it and neither will I.

Saturday 17 January 2015

"The reality of being Stephen Hawking

is messier than Redmayne can convey" is the title of an article by Anne Perkins in the Guardian.
I don't know who Anne Perkins is but she was criticising the portrayal of Hawking's life in the film, "The theory of everything". I have not seen the film so I cannot comment on whether Anne Perkins's ability to comment on the film or the film.
Years ago I did see Daniel Day Lewis in "My Left Foot". A group of "us crips" (we all have cerebral palsy) went to see it - eleven of us if I remember correctly.  Most of us had read the book as well.
What did we think of it? We enjoyed it. We thought Lewis was good, indeed very good - so did the critics. He won an Oscar for his performance.
I know a other people who did not like it. They found it too confronting. It was, they said, "too real".
I suspect they have "tidied up" Hawking's day-to-day life too. The reality is that it would not make a good film. It would be too slow. It would, quite frankly, be boring to watch someone being lifted from bed, washed, shaved, dressed, fed etc.  People want something to happen.
Does "tidying up" make it a bad film? Is it wrong to ignore the "messiness"? I don't think so. If I do see the film I think the thing that will bother me the most will be the inability of anyone to convey the frustration at not being able to communicate through speech.
It has to be said here that I can speak. I probably talk too much! But I have good friends who have severe and even profound communication problems. I have taught children with severe and profound communication problems. The effort they have to put into communicating even the simplest messages is something I only partially understand. I understand it only from my point of view - even when I am trying to think of how to frame the next question so that they can answer me "yes" or "no". ("Yes" by looking up and "no" by looking down.)
Could I portray that in a book? I don't know. I haven't tried. Would I need to do it from my point of view - or theirs? I don't know. 
I did put a character with a disability into one book - but I write about her from her brother's point of view. A friend, now deceased, asked me why I had not written the story from her point of view. "You could you know," she told me.
I could write a book from her point of view - but it would be a different story. The story I wrote is Michael's story - not Chantal's.
And of course Michael is a "normal" boy. The other characters who appear in the book are "normal" people. I can write about them can't I?
One of the things writing has to be about is trying to get under the skin of the characters - what do they think, believe, feel, do, know? How do they do these things? 
If reading or seeing a film or play is about "the willing suspension of disbelief" then writing has to be about that too. We have to believe we are the character we are writing about for a moment. We have to know whether they like cornflakes or porridge for breakfast - or no breakfast at all. We will probably never write that into what we are writing - but we should know it.
And we have to be able to write about the things we need to write about. Michael needs Chantal - and he needs Chantal to be the way she is. I had to write it that way.  I may not have succeeded - it certainly hasn't been published - but I tried.
So, they may not have got the film about everything right from the point of view of real life - but they will have got something right. It's a start - and it may be as far as any of us can go. Quite possibly the film portrays as much as we would want to understand. As TS Eliot puts it, "Humankind cannot bear very much reality."

Friday 16 January 2015

The first round offers for university

places are out in this morning's papers. I have just prowled through them to check on "my" students.
All but one of them has gained a place in the course of their choice. The other will not be disappointed - just pleased to have a place at all after a year made difficult by very serious family trauma. There is always the chance to transfer into her chosen course.
Offers used not to come in a long list in the paper where everyone could see it. They came in envelopes. You could tell by the size of the envelope whether you had an offer or not - although not what the offer would be. At least it came to your home. (I hasten to add I never had such an envelope. I did my university degrees in a different order and by a different means.)
There was a very limited range of university degrees when I left school. There was just one university. Entry was much more difficult and places were definitely limited. My brother was offered a place two years later - but could only take it up by agreeing to train as a teacher. There was a choice, from memory, of Arts, Science, Law, Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Architecture and Engineering. Music was taught at the Conservatorium. There were specialisations within those degrees of course.
The Senior Cat did his part-time on leaving college (as did most young teachers who wanted to get on) in English and Latin with a subsidiary in History. His (then compulsory) science subject was Geology. He loathed it but one of his good friends was specialising in Geology and coached/coaxed him through it.
Now you can do a degree in just about anything it seems. Tourism? Environment? Media Arts? Nursing? They are some of the less unusual choices now.
I wonder about all this. I see some of the work students turn in. Some of it is good but the standard is not consistent across universities or degrees or even within degrees. It seems ideas about what a university is and is for have changed.
Perhaps it is a good thing to have the greater variety and more students attending. But are some of those degrees really worthy of the name? Is this why my nephews are embarking on their part-time postgraduate studies with sighs of resignation knowing that they need to be a Master rather than a Bachelor?

Thursday 15 January 2015

Pay more for a visit to the doctor?

This issue is under discussion - or should I say there are howls of rage?
Downunder has a Medicare scheme. A levy is imposed on all tax payers to fund a national health scheme. As a result some people get "bulk-billed" for a visit to their GP - i.e. they pay nothing - and others have to pay. Those who pay are of course those who earn an income over a certain amount. There has never been a requirement for doctors to "bulk-bill" anyone and some don't. 
Bulk-billing however has led to two things. The first is that some patients have taken advantage of or even abused the system and made many more trips to the doctor than are necessary.  The second is that some doctors have abused the system by seeing many patients - perhaps one every ten minutes.
I suspect that the doctors who do this are very much in the minority but it may be a different story with the patients. I know people, particularly elderly and lonely people, who see a trip to the doctor for some minor ailment as a social outing. I know other people who will go to the doctor seeking antibiotics for a cold, because they have stubbed a toe wandering around bare-foot or because they have been bitten by a mosquito. (Yes, really.)
Then there is the "sick-note" so you can "take a sickie" (sometimes a day off to recover from a hangover) and "doctor-shopping" to find the doctors more likely to grant you these things and the antibiotics/attention you crave.
And now there are suggestions that, should the system be changed, the emergency departments of hospitals will be overloaded with non-urgent emergencies.
So, what is it with us and doctors? The Senior Cat needs to see the doctor once a month - because the government will only allow a certain prescription to be filled for a month. Someone, somewhere - when the drug was new - decided that the patient should be monitored once a month. Years later that has not changed although both doctor and patient know it is not necessary.
I try not to bother my GP. She knows that I will only see her if it is absolutely necessary. I have had one lot of antibiotics in the past thirty or more years - and yes, I was ill enough to need them. I have been fortunate.
But I wonder about other people. Are we getting sicker or turning into a nation of hypochondriacs? Are there a lot of lonely people out there? Do we need a different sort of medical system - one which would allow people to turn up to a "minor ailment" clinic where someone could take their temperature and blood pressure and listen to their chest and then decide whether to send them on to the doctor?
I would not like to be a GP - or indeed any sort of doctor. If I need to pay more to visit my GP I will - but I will only go and see her if I need to.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

There has been some dirty work

going on again in government circles - or so it would seem. This time the government appears to have completely ignored a court ruling. It has gone ahead with the sale of a large parcel of industrial land to a development consortium at a much lower price than should have been paid for it.
The Supreme Court had some scathing things to say about this but it made no difference. The sale went ahead.
It went ahead despite the fact that this state is in debt and needs all the money it can get. We are getting hit with increased taxes. The government claims this is necessary because there were "cuts" in funding from the Federal government.
There were no cuts. What happened was that there was a change of government in Canberra and what the previous government had promised in its election campaign did not come into being. We could not have afforded it. It would not have happened even if they had been returned. The money simply wasn't there. It was never there. But, it makes a good excuse for the present state government. The lie doesn't matter. People are going to believe it.
So the question now has to be - why did they sell off the land for far less than it is worth?
You don't do these things without a reason. If there was a good reason for it I suspect we would have been told. The government would have been only too happy to tell us that someone had paid "X" but they had undertaken to do "Y" and that meant that there was more profit to be had in the end.
But it has all been kept quiet. Is this because someone made a blunder? Was the government so desperate for short term finance it had to agree to the sale? Or is there a more than a whiff of corruption in the air?
The last seems unlikely - or so we would like to believe. Our governments are supposed to be "clean". We aren't supposed to have the same problems as other governments. Corruption is not supposed to exist here.
That's nonsense of course. It does exist. High ranking officials do take "kick backs" and more - everything from the expensive lunch to the new car and more besides.
But there are other sorts of corruption too. The corruption of being in power for too long, in believing you can do as you like because you are in power - the sort of corruption which leads to carelessness.
It might be that and that frightens me.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

So, what next?

There are pictures over several pages of the paper this morning. They show "millions" of people marching "in support of free speech". There is even a line of "world leaders" and one of a few hundred people standing in the rain in our very own CBD.
Last night those marches took up about eleven minutes of the news service on television.
This morning there is a single paragraph about children returning to school after around one hundred of their classmates were massacred. There is another paragraph about Boko Haram using a ten year old girl as a "suicide bomber". The first of these stories did rate a mention-with-interview on one news service but the second was considered "too upsetting" to get more than a mention on the same news service.
Most people won't get as far as reading the paragraphs buried pages into the paper. If they watch a commercial news programme the stories may not even have been mentioned.
So, what next? What are all these people who marched going to do? My guess is - nothing. Marching will have made them feel good, feel better, feel that they have done something. Most of them will feel no need to do anything more. They will believe it proves they are not racist and that they are not religious bigots. that they are not intolerant and that they do believe in "freedom of speech".
They will go back to their comfortable lives in middle class suburbs and expect life to continue as before.
I don't blame them. I am not even surprised. It is so much easier to do that than consider the children who will never go to school again. It is easier to march than think of the ten year old who should have had the rest of a long life ahead of her. It is easier to hold a pencil in the air than think of the toddlers living in tents in the snow because of the power struggles in the neighbouring country they once called home.
It would be better if we could use the pencils to positive effect.

Monday 12 January 2015

There are members of a religious cult

living not far from us who do not mix with the rest of the community unless they cannot avoid it. When the women go shopping they do not make polite casual conversation with the shop assistants. They never sit and have coffee with friends. They wear headscarves over their long hair. They don't buy newspapers or magazines.  At morning recess and at lunchtime one of the grandparents will be there to ensure all the children of cult members are separated out from the other children at whichever school the children attend. They remove themselves as far as possible from the community.
At the same time they demand a great deal from that community. They don't vote - but they expect politicians to do their bidding. They don't take out insurance but they will sue for damages and accept money from an insurance company.
I could go on but I won't. They are, in one sense, no different from some other groups - the Amish or the Mennonites perhaps. And yes, if that is what they believe, then I have no business trying to stop them.  
I have, over the years, had a little to do with them. Aside from their beliefs some of them appear to be perfectly pleasant. The life they have chosen would not be the life I would choose. I don't know that they are content or happy but they believe they will be in their after-life.
But, they are viewed with suspicion. They are generally disliked. I may be wrong but I believe the reasons for this are as simple as they are complex. If people don't mix - if they deliberately keep themselves separate - then others are going to wonder why. Is it arrogance? Is it because they have something to hide?
Sharing food with one another around the table or campfire or mat is an act as old as mankind. If people don't do this then questions will be asked about why?
This isn't about intruding on the lives of other people. It isn't saying we need to share the beliefs of those we eat with or mix with but it does, I think, say something about the essence of humanity.
We are being told we need to reach out. I hope I do. My friends and acquaintances come from many places, many faiths, many beliefs and many backgrounds. But - it's a two way thing. It won't work any other way.

Sunday 11 January 2015

Downunderites get excited about

Aussie Rules football and rain - well, some of them do.
You don't want to know about Aussie Rules football. It is a dangerous game played with an oval shaped ball.  Enough said.
The rain? Well that's a different story. Australia has droughts and bushfires and floods. We have all three at the moment.
There are parts of one state that are still drought declared. That may change. I hope it does.
The fires in my state are out for now but another state was battling property threatening blazes yesterday. Yes, more lovely homes built in among "natural" bush surroundings.
And then there is the rain which has flooded places that are usually dry. Someone in the weather bureau tried to explain that it was a "monsoon" which had "headed south without the heat". Mmm... I am not sure about that description.
If you look at a map of Downunder there is a town in the middle, a town called Alice Springs. (Yes, the town referred to in the title of Neville Shute's book, "A town like Alice".) There is a "river" there, the River Todd. Most of the time the river bed is completely dry. It is often used as a camping ground. They even have a "boat race" in the dry river bed.
But, if it rains, it can turn into an actual fast flowing river in an extraordinarily short space of time. It is dangerous. Sadly, a young man lost his life there a couple of days ago. He was attempting to "tube" (ride in the inner tube of a tyre) down the river. 
People are warned about these things. They don't always listen. They are told "don't try and cross the creeks". They simply don't believe it is dangerous.
I do. I once experienced the power and speed of that water in a very unusual way. I was in a plane.
Plane trips are usually very boring affairs. That in-flight entertainment is there for a very good reason - even if I would prefer to read a book.
But, on this occasion I was flying on the Singapore to Downunder leg of the long trip from Upover. It was early morning as we crossed what is usually a vast expanse of desert. The pilot made an announcement and then, unusually, asked the staff to arrange for everyone who wanted to do so to take a turn looking out the windows. We would, he informed us, see something that might be a once in a lifetime experience. We would be able to see water moving across the land.
It sounded completely crazy. We were 20,000 feet in the air and travelling at speed. Nobody could see water moving at that height or speed. But, he was right. We could see the water moving. There was so much of it and it was travelling so rapidly that it was possible to see it moving even at that height. From so far above of course it appeared very slow but, on the ground, it must have been moving at a tremendous speed.
It rained here yesterday. It was a welcome relief. It helped to put the fires out even as it brought down more fire damaged trees. It has helped the fire fighters who will be monitoring the area for a while yet. 
And next door I heard the Little Drummer Boy yell, "It's raining. Come out and play!" It was something to get excited about.

Saturday 10 January 2015

So, they are closing the Grand Synagogue

in Paris for this Shabbat - or rather, they will have done that by now. They have not done that since WWII.
I can understand those responsible for safety there advising it be done - but it lets the terrorists win. It lets the terrorists win - for now.
We can't let that happen.
The very act of closing anything, even for a short period, sends the message, "We are frightened of what you might do next."
It is what the terrorists want. They will merely see it as another challenge, another barrier they have to scale in their filthy war. They know that those responsible for the safety of others will see that as a priority. They know that extra security will cost, that it will divert funds from other things that people need. It is all part of the "punishment" the rest of us are expected to take for not adhering to their twisted beliefs.
Even if we did adhere to their twisted beliefs it would do little good. Those responsible would simply find more and more ways to exert control. They would impose more and more "rules" and demands as to how our lives should be lived.
Charlie Hebdo, and others like it, have been criticised for being "anti-" this and "anti-" that - and even for being internally guilty of prejudice. There are people who will scream "anti-Semitic" and "anti-Muslim" even while they find "anti-Christian" cartoons acceptable.  Our state newspaper has been happy to poke fun at the religious beliefs of the Prime Minister - something they would not dare to do if he was anything other than Christian. People will scream "racist" if anyone tells a joke about someone from Iraq, Israel, Indonesia or an indigenous Australian but will find a similar joke about someone from Iceland or Ireland acceptable.
We have had double standards for too long. If we are going to permit cartoons at all (and how on earth could we stop them even if we wanted to) then we have to accept that Muslims, Mormons, Mexicans, Moroccans and everyone else (including me) is likely to be a target.

Friday 9 January 2015

No, I am not going to be silenced

either. I think I have calmed down enough to write this now.
Yesterday, in the normally fairly peaceful surrounds of the library, I was accosted by a man who told me I should cease writing this blog and cease writing letters to the editor. He informed me it was "not safe" to do this.
        "People like you are what make people like those terrorists kill people. You're just as bad as they are. They should lock you all up and throw away the key."
I don't know this man. I have seen him before but he had never as much as acknowledged me - until yesterday. If anyone had asked me I would have assumed he was a normal, reasonable individual. Yesterday's behaviour however was not normal or reasonable.
Obviously he knew me. He knew my Letters to the Editor activities. I admit to a little stirring there - sometimes at the request of someone on the staff.  I do not set out to offend people, indeed I do my utmost not to offend - but I do try to make people think.  I see the Letters page as a place for alternative views and additions to debate.
Apparently this is wrong. All such activities should cease. All blogging should cease. Twitter and Facebook and all other forms of social media would be banned under this man's governance.
And that is surely just what the terrorists who committed yesterday's atrocities (yes, there was more than one) want. They want everyone to think just one way - their way.
Well, I'm sorry but I am not going to be told how to think. I am not going to be silenced.

Thursday 8 January 2015

The massacre at Charlie Hebdo

was far more than an attack on those who were murdered or on free speech. It was an attack on our very existence.
I am not religious in the sense that I go to church and believe in a "god" who is some sort of little old man sitting up in the sky working miracles and surrounded by angels. I don't believe in the other "gods" of other faiths either.
If someone asks me I will say I believe in the command that we "love one another" - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. To me, those things are just common sense. They make it possible to live with each other - and find some pleasure in doing so.
If really pushed then I will admit to a belief in something other than myself. I have absolutely no idea what that something is. I merely have this sense that to believe just in myself would be incredibly arrogant.
I do not believe that I have any right to demand that other people believe what I believe. I detest people trying to persuade me that I "should" believe anything or do anything or be anything. That does not mean I do not want to be challenged or that I want to avoid debate, discussion or argument. I do want these things. They involve me with the world.
To go out and kill people because they do not believe what you believe or because they challenge your beliefs is something I find totally abhorrent. The idea that any "god" would condone this I find appalling. This is not the sort of "god" I could believe in - certainly not if the god in question is supposed to be a creator one. It makes no sense to me.
It makes no sense to me because surely our very existence depends on our diversity? Diversity can only be protected if ideas are challenged. If we have the right to exist then we must also have the right to challenge those who threaten that existence.
Come on, talk to me...challenge me... laugh at me - but please don't threaten my existence.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

The media circus and others

recently criticised our Prime Minister for making a trip to Iraq - and not informing the media or inviting them along. There were claims he was trying to "avoid scrutiny".
Perhaps he was. It is equally likely that, as he said, there were "security issues".
Although journalists are happy to "protect their sources" they are not good at keeping their mouths shut. It isn't their job to keep their mouths shut.
We now have a constant flow of news available from a seemingly endless variety of sources. As part of my work I am provided with a "news feed". It, supposedly, keeps me up to date on what is going on around the world. What it really does is give me the understanding/viewpoint/opinion of one or more people who happen to be in a certain location or have technical information about what they believe to be happening there.
There was an earthquake in New Zealand - or there were a series of earthquakes. It measured 6.4 on the Richter scale or perhaps it measured 6.3. It depends on who is providing the information - and where they got it from and what they believe about earthquakes and aftershocks.
Journalists are under pressure to make much out of a story, to keep the news flow constant and exciting. Accuracy no longer really matters. You need to be able to "sell" the story in a way which keeps the reader/listener on your website, your radio or television channel and your "app". 
Journalists will, of course, say I am wrong about that. They report the news as it happens. They do it accurately. They do not allow their personal views to influence their reporting - perhaps.
They know that, for the ratings, national security is less important than getting a story out - especially any story they can twist to make anyone in authority look even slightly foolish.  Journalists can report news, they can report a story from their point of view, or they can create a story out of  (a misapplication of) "the facts". After all, it costs money to send a reporter to report from another location. There was a prime example this week. Our SBS news service reported that two people were missing in the fires. This announcement was made at the beginning of the bulletin, despite the fact that over six hours previously the police had announced that everyone was accounted for. It was not until half way through the bulletin, after calls from a number of people, that SBS announced "breaking news - everyone is accounted for". My guess? They knew beforehand but they were manipulating the news in order to keep the story about the fires alive and "interesting" for viewers. Accuracy didn't matter - a good story did. Too bad if you happen to have a relative in the fire zone and you had not been able to contact them.
It is no secret that the media has been particularly critical of the present Prime Minister. They don't like him. He doesn't like them. They know he knows how they work and he refuses to play the game. They will create stories where there are none - simply to "sell" no-news.
But, if they looked carefully, they would have discovered that even the staffer who was filming the Prime Minister's visit to Iraq was asked to leave at one point. Yes, there were almost certainly good security reasons for not allowing the press to tag along. They can make a story of that too.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

I think i might need to talk about magic....

Somebody I don't know sent the above quote to someone I do (virtually) know and I suspect it is something she related to instantly. And, as a quote, it appealed to me too.
I wanted to find something more cheerful to write about today. There has been a bit too much tension and gloom and doom in my life in the past few days. Bushfires tend to do that to me - and to other people.
So, a little magic.
The Senior Cat likes playing with magic. (He's an OM if anyone is interested - Order of Merlin.) He does things with cards, coins, silk handkerchiefs, cups and balls and other things. He knows how to "saw a lady in half" and many other things. It is not my cup of tea as they say, not my sort of magic.
But he likes other magic too - the magic of gardening and carpentry and reading and talking with friends. Yes, it's all magic.
Creating good things, useful things, beautiful things is all magic.
There is the magic of reading the new book. There is the magic of finding yourself or someone you know in a book - and seeing them in a new way.
Cooking is magic too - even just putting all the ingredients in a bread machine and, hours later, opening the lid to discover that there is something completely different inside.
I can put my paw out and push the button at the pedestrian crossing and stop a fuel tanker, a lorry, a bus, a car. Magic.
An acquaintance of the Senior Cat once bemoaned the fact that magic (as in conjuring) was less popular because people were surrounded by things like lifts, escalators, doors that open as you walk towards them, television, the internet and so on. He was wrong. Magic is more popular than it ever was but people don't recognise it as such.
Some time ago I watched a small boy walking up to an automatic door. It opened. He stopped. It closed again. He walked back towards his father and it opened as he moved again. He stopped. This went on for some time and it must have seemed magical to him. Oh yes, he will grow out of it and will only notice an automatic door if it doesn't work. It's still magic. We just have to recognise it as such.

Monday 5 January 2015

The main fire area is

still on a "watch and act" level. It is not yet under control. The fire fighters hope to have it under control today, indeed need to have it under control. The weather will be worse tomorrow and Wednesday and not much better Thursday. We are all hoping that, for once, the weather people are right about the cool change for Friday. Weather forecasting is such an inexact science that I will not be holding my breath.
My news feed is still full of CFS (Country Fire Service) alerts that say "grass fire" and "building fire". The CFS site is still a sea of red and black - the first "going" and the second "complete".
There are some huge trees down - sometimes across roads - and they will have to be watched for days because fire can flare up again even it appears to be out. Embers flying out on the wind are a constant problem.
My youngest sister has a friend who lives in the fire zone. She has not heard from her. Text messages are simply not getting through. We know she is safe because everyone is accounted for - but her home, her animals, her business? (She runs a holiday farm.)
We know a couple whose son is a volunteer fire fighter. They are on high alert all the time he is out - but they would not have it any other way. The teacher around the corner is an SES (State Emergency Service) volunteer. His daughter was out walking the dog a short time ago.
        "Dad's come home to get a bit of sleep," she told me.
We have not-quite neighbours who went to get their daughter and two small children while their son remained to help. I'll find out shortly whether all is well with them.
The local charity shop, run by a major church, will be open this morning. People will be sent to them for assistance. I know they will call me when people need help with paperwork. And I know that insurance companies will do their best to delay, to not pay out, to find all the excuses in the world not to help.  I know that the $700 the government is offering - that is the maximum they will pay per family - is going to go nowhere at all and that many people will not see a cent of that.
But I also know that people will help, are helping. They can do that here. It's not a catastrophic earthquake or tsunami. All that really matters is that everyone is alive and accounted for - and we want it to stay that way.  

Sunday 4 January 2015

This post is especially for Upoverites

who have been concerned about the safety of myself and the Senior Cat due to the bushfires here Downunder.
Let me say hastily that we are fine. We are safe. We live in suburbia and, so far, there have been no fires in the hills immediately behind us. That would pose a risk to us and many thousands of other people. We have been fortunate that there has not been a fire in the Brownhill Creek Conservation Park or in among the gullies leading up into the suburbs built in among the bush that covers the hills.
It is, of course, madness to build in these places.
The current fire is in a place started in a place called Sampson Flat. It is to the north of the city - about 26km from here. It is what Upoverites would probably consider to be a very remote area but it is, by Downunder standards, a moderately populated area. There are many small "towns" (villages) like Kersbrook, Lyndoch and Gumeracha and many individual houses on small vineyards, hobby farms, some market gardens, a lavender farm and other such activities. These individual houses can be some kilometres from their neighbours.
There is another conservation park in the area and that, along with other high fuel loads on individual properties, is what is burning. Natural Australian "bush" tends to be very fire prone. There are a number of reasons for this, one of them is the eucalypts.
Yesterday the authorities evacuated 21 towns. That sounds like a lot and it is but they are small villages by Upover standards. It was done because the fire was and, as I write this, still is out of control. People are not yet allowed to return home. At this time they do not know how many houses have been lost.
My job yesterday was, along with a team of other people, to see that people with disabilities who might need extra assistance were informed of the situation. Late in the day we knew that everyone on the list was accounted for and safe. It was good news.
We have a problem however. It is simply this. We build houses where houses should not be built. People have romantic ideas about living "in the bush". They have romantic but extremely dangerous ideas about "leaving the bush in its natural state". They don't understand - or perhaps want to understand - that this is not safe. Fires can be started by human error, human mischief or nature but they are made much worse by failing to clear the land around dwellings, by failing to clear the undergrowth which causes fires to travel so rapidly, by failing to have fire plans in place and means to fight fires. The means to fight a fire may not stop it but it can slow a fire sufficiently to bring it under control more quickly.
One man who had lost his home was interviewed. In true Downunder style he, while visibly upset, shrugged and said he would rebuild in the same location. He "liked the solitude". Yes, no doubt he does but his former home was surrounded by a frightening fuel load. The problem is that it is simply not safe to live like that.
We live in suburbia. The conservation park  begins about two kilometres away, so do the gullies leading up into the hills. I would like to think we are safe but I don't doubt other people believed they were too. 

Saturday 3 January 2015

We have our first major

bushfire of the season. There have been other fires - smaller fires which, while still bad, have not been as disastrous. As I write this though at least five homes have been destroyed and the Country Fire Service has been warning there may be more. I hope not but I know the reality is that there almost certainly will be others. Certainly the smell of "wet smoke" (smoke from a water-bombed fire) is strong even here.
We are about 20kms from the fire area - and more than that from the actual fire. There is a vast swathe of suburbia between us and the fire area. To be on the other side of the city now would mean not going outside at all. To be closer to the fire area than that would be frightening.
I keep an orange "emergency" bag packed. It contains very little - nothing more than a change of underwear, socks, my passport (for purposes of official identification), something made by the Senior Cat, and a copy of "The Four Quartets" by TS Eliot. I could, I think, replace almost any other book or object I own but I could not replace this one. It was written by hand. There is one illustration for each section. It was made by a friend, now long deceased. The love and care which went into that book is something that still astounds me.
Some people laugh at the idea of my "emergency bag" and what it contains and tell me "If you're going to do that Cat, pack a proper bag."
But I know what is important to me. I hope there would be time to grab the little black box which is the back up for my computer. I hope there would be time to grab a few more things. If there isn't then - too bad. But I want my passport and something the Senior Cat made me and the book. I want to be able to be me - and have those gestures of love.

Friday 2 January 2015

"We're going to adopt him,"

an acquaintance told me. She was pushing a small boy along the street. He was sitting on the seat of one of those odd little wheeled toys that let you push the pedals and, presumably, pretend you are riding a bike.
I was startled because I had always assumed that he was their child. I first saw him being pushed around the streets when he was very young. He looks very much like his father in colouring and facial structure - so much so that people have often remarked on it. Seeing my obvious confusion the woman told me, "He's my husband's sister's child. Remember? She died in September 2013. His father can't care for him - since the accident. We want him - want him to be able to stay in his family."
I remember hearing something about it. I did not inquire about the details. All I know is that there was an appalling accident. The child's mother died of her injuries some weeks later. The child's father is unable to care for himself and certainly could not care for the child. So relatives have stepped in to take on the responsibilities.
It sounded as if it should have been simple but apparently it has not been at all simple. His father was willing, indeed more than willing. He was anxious it should happen. He will have to live in care for the rest of his life. They were willing and anxious for it to happen. The authorities apparently had other ideas. They were "too old" to adopt. (They have other children in their late teens.) They had to be considered "suitable" and so it went on. That they had been caring for the child since the day of the accident apparently had nothing to do with the decision making. It has taken the past fifteen months - from the time it became clear it was going to be necessary - to ensure that this child's future was going to be secure.
I know that there are good reasons, very good reasons, to ensure that a child who is gong to be adopted is going to a good home but why did it take this long? His new mother told me that the constant uncertainty has been hard on all of them. They feel much more relaxed now but there were several times when the authorities questioned whether people now in their late forties could care for such a small child. The fact that they were doing it was apparently irrelevant. If they had not been willing and his father had died then he could have ended up in a series of foster homes. This way he has a home - and he can stay in his family.
Our brief conversation ended when he looked up and demanded, "Mummy - push!"

Thursday 1 January 2015

I had to rush out and

water some drooping plants this morning. They had been watered last night but the day promises to be rather too warm for comfort. The next few days will, apparently, be more of the same.  We will endeavour to keep the garden alive but I know that we will lose some things and that it will all be something of a battle.
The weather will also mean staying inside and drinking a lot of water and trying to stay as cool as possible. Air conditioning has its limits and there is every likelihood of power cuts.
The Senior Cat gets frustrated in such weather. In daylight hours he is out in the garden or in the shed. He wants to "get things done". He is not someone who can happily sit and watch sport on television. He doesn't watch sport at all. He watches almost no television.
So, why did we give him his personal DVD player for Christmas and birthday? The reason is simple. He loves British comedy. With earphones he can still hear it well enough to enjoy it. After the heat of last summer we decided that he needed to be able to just relax. If the player is fully charged it will give him about ninety minutes of good entertainment - a change from reading, working out magic puzzles and lessons, wooden puzzles (not the jigsaw sort), origami puzzles and so on. Yes, he keeps himself entertained but the DVD player will add to that.
We have ordered "The Good Life" and "Keeping Up Appearances" for him. He only ever saw some episodes. Someone I know has given him "The Vicar of Dibley" - again he missed most of those at the time and someone else has promised me the loan of their copy of "To the Manor Born".  All of them are, according to the Senior Cat, "marvellous British comedy". He might even get around to watching the not funny but rather pleasant, "Hetty Wainthropp" series someone else dropped in for him yesterday. He also has a set of old films given to him by a friend of mine who returned to the US. It includes such things as "The Lady Vanishes". It will be interesting to see what he now makes of them and whether he can be bothered to watch them to their conclusion.
"I mustn't watch too much," he told me. How much is too much if you are laughing?