Tuesday 31 March 2015

"So 1868....that makes it

one hundred and forty-seven years old," Brother Cat said. He was looking at a tiny plaque on a small cottage. 
Downunder 1868 is "old". This part of Downunder was only settled as a state in the 1830s. 
Brother Cat is over here with his partner for a few days. They have come to see Middle Cat who is still recovering in hospital. They came by car as they have other essential things to do on the way back. It also meant we headed to the hills yesterday.
There are some curious little places up there. Many of them have German names. The "towns" (Upover would called them villages) are growing. It will not be long before some of them begin to join together along the winding roads that go through the hills. The new parts do not  yet have the character of the old parts.
The old parts have Lutheran churches and schools and streets with German surnames. The bakeries still carry breads with German names - something that is not entirely a tourist gimmick. 
While another part of the state still has a church which conducts a service in German for a tiny handful of elderly people you won't hear German spoken on the streets - except by tourists - but German is still the preferred "modern" language taught in the local schools and many of the children still have German surnames. 
And there are the  old cottages and some larger houses. The cottages were for "the workers" of course. They are made of local stone, some of them are white-washed and others are not. They are  basic four room structures with a verandah at the front and, unless upgraded, a "lean to" at the back where the kitchen and the washing took place. (And yes, there are still a few like that.) The windows are small and open outwards rather than upwards. 
The houses for the gentry are much, much larger affairs with an upper as well as a ground floor. They tend to be square or rectangular and built of the local stone. Unlike the wooden verandahs of the cottages  though they have ornate wrought iron verandahs and high ceilings. And yes, they are old too.
They would all have been built when it was still the journey of a day or more from the colony on the plains. There was no refrigeration. The water supply was the rainfall - more certain up there but still something to watch in the summer. What they did about doctors and the like depended on whether anyone had chosen to go up there for a time - and whether they stayed.  
     "You could be certain of a pastor but much less certain of a priest or a doctor," a very old man told me when I was in my teens. His grandparents had been among the first settlers there. He had been to a tiny school in the room of a house. It was run by the daughter of the pastor. Even in the late 1920's an old woman I know went to such a school. She was taught in German, not English. It was less common by then but her education consisted of basic reading, writing, arithmetic, religion, a little history and geography and things it was considered essential for a girl to know - sewing, cooking, laundry skills and how to knit socks. She was brought up in a house like the one Brother Cat and I were looking at. 
It won't be too much longer before her generation goes entirely. She remembers her grandparents with little affection. They were strict Lutherans who worked hard and had little time to offer their children or their grandchildren. 
Brother Cat and I turned away from the plaque and saw a present day grandfather pushing his grandson down the street as the tiny boy tried to keep his feet on the pedals of a push along plastic toy. His wife was talking to someone on a mobile phone. It made 1868 seem a long time ago - a very long time indeed.

Monday 30 March 2015

"The question now is whether Anna Palaszcuzuk

will accept his vote," the earnest dog walker told me. 
The dog had stopped to "talk" to me. He is usually walked by a woman I know by her dog and he usually gets a pat from me. He's a nice dog. 
His master is, it seems, one of those determinedly "political" people. He brought up the situation almost immediately. He asked me for my opinion and then did not allow me to give it to him - not that I would have anyway. It would be unwise to give him an opinion about anything. 
But the situation is an interesting one. Earlier this year there was an election in another state. The government was "on the nose" - partly because of the media, partly because of the way they handled the media and partly because it had needed to do some unpopular expenditure reviews. There were other reasons as well but they were big ones.
And so a party with an inexperienced leader and an unpronounceable name got in - just. They have a majority of one. They put the "independent" in as Speaker to get that majority of one. And now they are in danger of losing that majority of one. Yes, a couple of months into their term one of the team has been expelled from the party for not revealing a range of criminal offences that do not make him ineligible to be an MP but do raise serious questions about his candidature. 
The interesting thing is that he does not need to resign as an MP. He might not. He argues he has "turned his life around". 
The next interesting question is whether his former boss will still accept his vote? Will she in fact accept his vote to stay in power herself? Should she do it? If she does is she in effect condoning his behaviour - or has her previous statement been sufficient to condemn him and yet allow him "for stability" to accept his vote.
My guess is that, if he refuses to resign from parliament, she will accept his vote. She really doesn't have a choice. And he may even be able to get more for his electorate by threatening to withdraw it. 
What I think about all that is another matter. I will however say one thing - I have no desire to be a politician. 

Sunday 29 March 2015

I investigated curing some

olives yesterday. One of the people on my regular bike  route offered me some. 
He lives with his dog and his dog will eat the fallen, raw olives. They are not the best food for a dog. The best solution is to pick the olives and offer them to anyone foolish enough to say "yes".  
After being asked more than once I said "yes" in order to relieve his anxiety to be rid of them. Then I wondered again if I could be bothered.
There is, naturally, more than one way of doing it. Whichever way you choose it is a long process. I read. I read some more. I looked at the olives which are small and black - not those big Kalamata olives Middle Cat's mother-in-law used to deal with so competently.  Were they worth at least six weeks of work? A lot of salt and a lot of water were involved too.
I consulted a Greek friend. She looked at me as if I was more than slightly insane and said, "Don't bother - not worth the effort."
The Senior Cat said, "Put them in the compost. They won't get wasted that way."
I put them in the compost.
But, I feel a little guilty. They were, potentially, food. I hate wasting food. When I cook I like to be able to plan ahead so that things don't get wasted. And yes, we do eat olives in this house. 
Perhaps I just need to think of it in terms of knowing that I have saved the dog a tummy ache - and his owner the anxiety.

Saturday 28 March 2015

I suppose I should not try to

comment on news websites. It doesn't seem to matter how carefully I word a comment someone will take offence. 
This is particularly true of the Guardian website which, unfortunately, I need to look at. I say "unfortunately" because many of those who comment there seem to be belligerent and quite incapable of listening to anyone else.
Of course there are some intelligent and measured comments there but many more add nothing to any debate. I wonder who these people are and how they have time to do so much. 
I look at the Guardian website if something comes up in a news feed I get. Their rolling coverage can be useful to me. I need to know what the news media is saying about an incident. It won't always be that accurate but it will give me a general idea. If there is an incident which is likely to become a major humanitarian disaster then I can prepare myself and alert other people. 
But I am sometimes caught by an article on the website. I read it and I am foolish enough to make a comment. 
Yesterday I asked a simple question. I made it very plain that it was a question and not a comment but someone almost instantly fired back and told me to find out for myself. I was accused of "insinuating" something simply by asking the question. It was rude. It was unnecessary. 
I was waiting for a response to a message I had just sent someone so I did something I had not done before. I looked at the previous comments made by the same individual. And yes, as I suspected, there were many more similar comments. They were almost always rude or belligerent and, all too often, they were attracting attention from similar individuals. 
I have not had time to explore further but I suspect other news websites which allow comment are similar. There will be individuals who comment frequently on them. They will rant. They won't "listen" in the sense that they won't read and take in what anyone else has to say or they will misread it so that it suits them and gives them the opportunity to cut someone else down, be rude to them and generally fail to show any common courtesy. 
I can only suppose that some people get some sort of perverse pleasure out of such behaviour. Presumably they feel good  - or just better about themselves - when they can do this.
I wonder though - would they all be like this in a face-to-face situation? Would they dare to insult and belittle others  if  they met them?
The psychology of internet commentary disturbs me. I really should try not to comment so I won't be (perhaps deliberately) misunderstood. It only allows and encourages some people to indulge in poor behaviour. I don't want to be responsible for that.

Friday 27 March 2015

Yesterday did not happen

- at least it seems not to have happened.
It is partly my own fault. I object to the idea of my nephew and BIL living on "take-away". This tends to happen if Middle-Cat is not at home. The males in her household can cook. They would not starve but right now my BIL is particularly busy at work and may not leave there until late. He then goes to visit his father in hospital and, of course, Middle-Cat while she is there. He finally gets home at around 9pm or even later. Cooking something to eat is not high on the agenda.
Nephew is at the beginning of post-grad work at  university and doing locum shifts wherever he is needed. He would need to do the shopping and....well you get the idea. 
Middle-Cat's household tends to eat Greek-Cypriot style cuisine. So yesterday I made "pastitso"  - after a trip to the supermarket. I made pasties because they also need nothing more than heating up.  BIL and nephew can make themselves the green salad to go with it. (Ingredients in the fridge guys.) It took up a good part of the morning and it had to be done then because we were expecting visitors in the afternoon. Senior Cat had an unexpected omelette for lunch. He is very accommodating about such things.
I was starting to clear the other table to put out things for afternoon tea when the phone rang. It was the mother of my friend asking if I  had  an e-mail from her. No. I hadn't checked the e-mail for about half an hour. They wouldn't be coming. She was ill. Oh. I am glad she was thoughtful enough to not share her germs with the Senior Cat. The e-mail arrived about twenty minutes later. 
As we were expecting her aunt to come later - and take them back to where they were staying - I phoned her. She was out but another member of  the community in which she lives answered the phone and I said I'd call again. Of course she called me when she got in and I explained. Right. She would change her plans and see us later than expected so she could visit someone else on the way. 
And then - another call from her. She was stuck in traffic - an accident at a busy intersection had traffic at a standstill - so would see us and pick up what the Senior Cat had made for her at another time. 
And then, at almost 7pm - yes, you can surely guess by now - my BIL called. He was still at work. He was going to do two hospital visits and then still had work to do. That pastitso would keep wouldn't it?  Nephew (also at work) would pick it up tomorrow.
What was he going to eat? He'd pick up something on his way to the hospital. Right.
And I managed to get all the work e-mail answered, letters written and several hours of serious internet research done.
But somehow....yesterday didn't happen. I didn't do most of what I planned to do... and today?

Thursday 26 March 2015

There is something called "Clean Reader"

now apparently available for those delicate souls who find the use of Anglo-Saxon sexual terms and other profanities unacceptably appearing on their e-reader screens. My understanding is that you can plug your current book into the application and it will remove all the offensive words and replace them with something else. You can then go ahead and read the book without having to face these offensive words.
Let it be said here that I do not swear. I have never felt the need to swear. My vocabulary is extensive enough (I hope) not to feel the need to use the sort of language which is often considered offensive. 
But I know other people use that language and that writers will use it too. I don't have to read it. It is as simple as that.  
Recently I picked up a book in the library but I didn't borrow it. There was what I felt was an excessive use of offensive language. I felt it served no purpose. It had just been put there - perhaps to shock. It didn't add anything to the story. The subject matter (which appeared to be quite different from the blurb on the cover) did not appeal to me either.
There is the occasional swear word in the light crime novel I am currently reading as my "book at bedtime". It doesn't bother me in the least. The main character is the sort of person who would use that type of language and so are some of the people he is dealing with.
Removing that sort of language would change the book into something entirely different. It would no longer be the book the author wrote. The characters would become flat and colourless. The writing would sound stilted and dull. It would cease to flow. 
"Clean Reader" is not doing anyone any favours. It may even be illegal - depending on the view that would be taken by the court about "publication". Whatever that decision may be though the idea is wrong. The author is entitled to object and object strongly. It is not what they wrote. It is not what they published. 
Would you paint in blue instead of pink in a Renoir simply because you find pink offensive?

Wednesday 25 March 2015

My sister had major spinal

surgery yesterday. The operation lasted almost five hours and last night she was still in "intensive care" and on "assisted breathing". The Senior Cat is frantic with worry. He couldn't settle to anything yesterday and he has just prowled out this morning admitting that he did not sleep well. 
We knew this would happen. We did not tell him until afterwards just how complex the surgery was. It was "external" to the spinal cord and, while serious, not nearly as serious as some types of surgery. It was a complex and fiddly "engineering" procedure involving vertebrae. 
All being well however she should be recovering at home in a remarkably short time. 
Still, the Senior Cat worries. He is a "born worrier". I understand. After all Middle Cat is his second daughter.  I can even sympathise. Middle Cat is my sister and I am concerned for her.
There was something else in this morning's paper that made me wonder about the care she is getting. It is probably excellent. The hospital has a good reputation. She knows and trusts the surgeon. She has the medical knowledge and had done the research.
But there was a report in the paper about the way our prison population is growing older and the care that some of the oldest prison inmates might need. It is a problem that most people will never have thought about. We don't expect "old" people to be in prison. A decade ago there was 80 yr old man in prison. Now there are eight more than 80 - two who are 87. They are sexual offenders who were convicted late in life. 
The report is suggesting that they will need to have special consideration and care. Well yes, everyone has the right to the basics of life. I find the activities of sexual offenders utterly repugnant but I acknowledge they have the right to food and shelter and access to the bathroom and so on.
But, the report goes beyond that and suggests that they need to be treated just like any other elderly person in a nursing home and provided with art and music appreciation classes, craft work and other entertainment. With the exception that they would not be allowed to leave prison it is being suggested that they be treated no differently to those outside the prison walls.
My observation of life in nursing homes and the lives of elderly in the community suggest to me that the offenders would actually be better off. Many nursing homes are not able or are unwilling to offer the residents much in the way of activities or entertainment. Many elderly people who still live in the community are isolated from activities simply because it is too difficult to get to and from them. 
If the recommendations of that report were implemented elderly prisoners might actually be better off than many people in the community who have committed no offence at all. 

Tuesday 24 March 2015

The funeral of the late Gough Whitlam

was a lavish affair. It was held in the Sydney Town Hall. There was an entire symphony orchestra. The ABC covered the event. All the living former Prime Ministers and the current one were present.  Two Prime Ministers, from the opposing side, were booed and heckled on entering and leaving - a disgraceful and disrespectful thing to do to both them and Whitlam. It was an event at which many people wished to be seen.
And now we have lost another Prime Minister. Fraser's funeral is to be held in Scots Church Melbourne - a suitable venue for a former Presbyterian. It won't be the same sort of lavish affair in the least. He would not have wanted that. Members of the public welcome and will be seated in order of arrival. There are arrangements for the overflow. 
There were no such arrangements for Whitlam's funeral. You had, apart from former Prime Ministers and the media, to have Labor credentials to enter the Town Hall. A friend of mine, a former Labor Senator, was nearly left outside because she didn't have the necessary invitation card. Only when vouched for by someone else was she allowed to enter.
Of the two men though I genuinely believe it would be right to say that Fraser did more, far more, for the country. He handed it over in good shape after years of hard work rebuilding it from a chaotic financial and social mess - the mess that Whitlam left behind.
And yet it is Whitlam who is remembered with warmth, gratitude and adulation. Ask anyone and much of what the Fraser government did will be attributed to Whitlam. Those who know better will claim Fraser only managed it because Whitlam had laid all the ground work. Did he really? I have been doing some reading for another purpose recently and , with no disrespect, his government did not achieve as much as is usually assumed. Nevertheless he is seen as a powerful figure in the past political history of the country.
I wonder what will be said at Fraser's funeral. Will they recognise his immense contribution? Of course they will recognise some of it. That is what state funerals are for. But, over the years he changed. He moved away from the politics of the party he once led. He became close friends, and was influenced by, the man he had once ousted - Whitlam. He eventually resigned from the party that had given him so much. Did he regret doing that? 
His funeral will be an awkward affair at best. The condolences in parliament were tinged with that same awkwardness. It was sad to hear a man who had contributed so much being honoured but not really praised.
We went to a funeral yesterday, the funeral of my cousin's mother. Her second husband was opposed to her maintaining any ties. It is one of those things you have to accept. We went yesterday because my cousin both wanted and needed us to be there. He has now lost both parents and his brother. He's the last of the four. 
The service was simple and it reflected her life of love of family and love of music and art. Her old "library ladies" - her work colleagues - came. Some of the staff at the nursing home slipped into the chapel as the service began. I couldn't help contrasting this with Whitlam's funeral. That was like the man himself - big, bold, ready to spend money. I can hear Fraser now urging restraint and saying, "I know you will have to do it but nothing too fancy please. I would rather you spent the money on trees or children or refugees."
And I will say the same when my time comes. A tree would be nice but forget the granite headstone please.  

Monday 23 March 2015

"I didn't know what to do

with what would have been my screen time."
A group of secondary school students in the UK apparently tried an "experiment" recently. They tried to go without their social media screen time for a week. 
Most of them failed. Some lasted a few days. Only a couple of them managed to stay away from social media all week.
That they failed to stay away from it does not surprise me. I have seen the teens here. They seem to be permanently attached to their phones. But, you know that. 
What interested me were their comments. Some, perhaps most of them, expected to fail. They didn't think they would be able "live without their phone". They said  things like, "You think you're missing out" and "You've got to keep up..."
The pressure on them must be immense if that is how they feel. I suspect they could learn to live without that pressure - if their friends were in the same position.
But what really alarmed me was the fact that more than one of them said that they didn't know how to fill in the time that would have been the time they spent on social media - their "screen time". They didn't appear to have any other interests with which to fill their time. Teens? Teens with no other interests?
In my teens my peer group played sport - and even I participated by passing the umpire's exam in softball and scoring for netball. Okay, some teens do that - but not all of them. At the last school I attended there were chess groups, Scrabble groups, a folk dance group (run by the students themselves), a ball room dance class (useful if you were going back to a rural community where there were Saturday night "footy" dances). The girls sewed and knitted themselves and their boyfriends scarves in team colours. The boys made complex model airplanes and flew them on the school oval. Most of them participated in the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme programme. Yes, they sat around and gossiped a bit too. The girls though would often be doing something at the same time. Perhaps it was because most of them came from rural areas where you didn't "waste time". 
I don't know how many of them read. It was not the most popular activity during the school day. Some of them, like me, must have read at other times. Talking to some of them in later years I am aware that they did read. We didn't have the opportunity to watch television at school - apart from the rare programme that the teachers deemed a "must". 
There was just one girl in the segment who said something like, "I have this huge pile of books I want to read and I read two of them in what would have been screen time. It was great."
I didn't know whether to shout or cry at her words. Surely screen time should not be a substitute for reading time?
At the Whirlwind's school phones are not permitted to be used during the day. The boarders can keep one in Matron's office and use it to call their parents or guardians in the evenings. It's a severe offence to be found using one at another time. Day girls have to leave their phones in the office complex. 
I told the Whirlwind about the television segment. Her father rings her each evening when she is at school - as far as possible at the same time. It's all she uses the phone for during the week. At weekends she takes it with her but has, so far, only used it to talk to him or me or her best friend's mother. I suspect it is much the same for most of the boarders her age because she thought about it for a bit and then said,
"Well, we don't need it because we see each other all the time - and most of the time we're doing something else."
And most of them read a lot too.


Sunday 22 March 2015

There was an article in the Guardian

yesterday in which Gabrielle Chan said voters were "not fickle, just discerning. And they will punish bad governments."
If I had been reading the paper as newsprint I would probably have tossed it across the room in disgust. As it was I needed to treat the computer screen a little more carefully. My contempt for the article remained the same. 
It was based on some conclusions made by Simon Longstaff, Director of the St James Ethics Centre at a community event in an electorate in Victoria. The seat there was won by an "independent". Yes, the quotation marks need to be there.
The event was organised by a group which also claims to be "independent" and supposedly brought together 250 or 300 "non-aligned" people. (It depends on whether you are reading Chan's article or their article.)
The group is not "independent" and those who went to it were not, with perhaps a few exceptions, "non-aligned". This did not stop Longstaff "proposing" the following

The Politicians Pledge

In the pursuit of power, I will:
Act in good conscience;
Enable informed decision-making by my fellow citizens;
Respect the intrinsic dignity of all;
Refrain from exploiting my rivals’ private failings for political gain; and
Act so as to merit the trust and respect of the community.
In the exercise of power, I will:
Give effect to the ideals of democratic government and represent the interests of my electorate as a whole;
Abide by the letter and spirit of the Constitution and uphold the rule of law;
Advance the public interest before any personal, sectional or partisan interest;
Hold myself accountable for conduct for which I am responsible; and
Exercise the privileges and discharge the duties of public office with dignity, care and honour.

I have no problems with what is written there. I do have a problem with the way it has since been used. Longstaff did not get it up for the election in one state. He has got it up for the election in another. He has made much of the fact that one side of politics has not supported it. They have not done so because the members of that party are already required to sign up to a similar contract. 
As a contract it is meaningless anyway. It's nothing more than a publicity stunt. Longstaff knows about the contract  the members of the political party are required to sign. Rather than say "this is a good thing" - and then perhaps to go on and say "it's a pity that politicians don't abide by these things" - he has made much of the fact that not everyone has come on board.
Longstaff's "ethics" are not ethics at all. They may be ethical but they are also political activism. But it suited Chan to ignore all this and she did.
Voters are fickle. They are not discerning. They will, for the most part, vote according to (a) the way they have always voted or (b) the way in which they believe has most in it for them. Almost nobody votes against their own interests.  It's hard to do that.
The idea that there are large swathes of people out there who think about the policies rather than the personalities or bother to find out what the policies are rather than what they think they are is nonsense. Yes, a minority of people do actually think, observe and act on the basis of what they believe to be best - but they are a minority.
I was at a meeting recently. The group has been offered another, permanent place to meet where there will be a proper place for the library and they will be able to meet at other times than the presently restricted times. The cost will be about the same and, for most people, access by public transport won't be so very different. Others will still go by car.  There are pros and cons to the proposed change but the pros do outweigh the change. So, along with others, I voted for the change. I voted that way even though it means that I will have to stop attending meetings - at least for now. For me the venue is, at present, inaccessible due to restraints of time and transport. I have responsibilities towards the Senior Cat and others that have to come first.
It was a tough decision. I know it was right but doing the right thing made me feel rather peculiar. I didn't like it. Could I always do something like that? Can we all always do the right thing - the thing that is best for the majority - when it goes against our own interests?
In the normal way our own survival comes first. Chan's article and Longstaff's "contract" ignore that - for their own interests.  

Saturday 21 March 2015

Malcolm Fraser was

Prime Minister of Australia between 1975 and 1983.  
I was out of the country for much of that time so I did not get to "know" him well as Prime Minister. 
He gained government through controversy - a constitutional crisis which saw a Governor-General intervene and dismiss a government which was about to seek an illegal loan in order to stave off almost certain bankruptcy if it was to continue its socialist policies. 
Fraser went to the people and won the biggest victory in Australian political history. He was re-elected twice. 
It was the Fraser government that brought in the land rights legislation for indigenous Australians - something that is often, wrongly, attributed to the Labor opposition. Labor has little to do with that and was not even supportive of it at one time. 
Fraser's government strongly opposed apartheid in South Africa and he had close personal ties with people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu. 
Multiculturalism - the policy which is often attributed to the previous Whitlam government - was really a Fraser government initiative. Fraser encouraged and supported migration from Vietnam and Cambodia. It was his government which set up  the SBS - the Australian multicultural broadcasting service which broadcasts in more than seventy languages. His government refused to allow drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. 
Like all governments it was eventually voted out of office.
Fraser retired but did not retire from political or public life. He eventually resigned from the Liberal party as his own views became more "liberal". He was, perhaps, heavily influenced by his growing friendship with his old enemy - Gough Whitlam.
I never met him but one Sunday morning the phone rang and a voice at the other end said, "Malcolm Fraser here. Could you save me the papers please?"
His distinctive voice was immediately recognisable. I told him politely that it was not the newsagent and that he must have a crossed line. There was a moment of silence and then he said, "And to whom am I speaking?"  I told him and, after another moment of silence he said, "Ah yes. I heard you interviewed on radio yesterday. Well done I thought." 
I had been interviewed on national radio the day before about International Literacy Year and he had, apparently, recognised my voice and made the connection. I was amazed he should remember it at all.
Put that incident into a book and people would say, "That's too unlikely, too coincidental. Take it out." 
But strange things happen in real life and I like to think that the 22nd Prime Minister and I had that brief contact. 

Friday 20 March 2015

Royal Mail? Australia Post?

I have written a lot of letters in my life time. I have written more letters than most people but there was a reason for those letters. They were letters asking people to support what eventually became International Literacy Year.
I probably used Royal Mail for about half of them because I started writing the letters seriously when I was living in London.  I admit I used "second class" post because it was cheaper and, although I was prepared to go without all sorts of things to write those letters, I was not prepared to pay for them to go first class when I knew they would get there just as safely a day or so later. 
And they did get there. Royal Mail was efficient. Compared with the Downunder postal service of the day it was extraordinarily efficient. I suspect it would still seem that way.  Letters probably still go from London to Edinburgh in, at most, a couple of days. 
The same distance here Downunder can take much longer. It can be a week or more. 
I know there are problems. Downunder has a much smaller population and it is scattered across a much wider area. (That said however the majority of mail goes between the various capital cities.) It may well be easier to send much greater volumes of mail over much shorter distances.
There are good reasons to still use the postal service and to send a letter to someone. Unless the mail is tampered with then information in it is much more secure than it would be in an e-mail. There is still no way to send original documents by e-mail. 
And there is the psychology of a letter. It is still much more personal. The recipient will still take greater notice of it. It isn't part of that email in-box stuffed with spam and silly jokes and health scares your friends believe you need to have. 
I still use letters to make first-time contact with people I don't know.
But, the cost is rising. I could not now afford to write all those thousands of letters I wrote so many years ago. The cost would, relatively, be much higher. Australia Post is considering a charge of $1:50 for a letter which might get there in a couple of days but could take longer. Compared with the minute cost of hitting the "send" button people are going to use email. 
Handwriting is, I suspect, a lost art. (I could never write anyway so it worries me less than it should.) But - letter writing is also becoming a lost art. Email is somehow different. And yes, that bothers me.

Thursday 19 March 2015

It is just as well that the Senior Cat

can laugh at himself because yesterday I was given another one of those "never trust a male when he says he has checked" lessons.  The night before he could not get his shed door to shut. His shed, that double garage which went up on the property before  the house was built, is still an immensely important part of his life. 
His shed houses all the timber he still has and makes my yarn stash look miniscule. There are all the bits of machinery which go with serious woodworking and manufacturing of magic apparatus skills. There are screws and nails and tins of paint and glue and things he has saved like an old typewriter (because "the bits might come in useful one day") and lengths of wire and pieces of perspex and.... I could go on.
There is far too much in his shed. It is scarcely possible to get in and out. He's happy there. He loves his shed with a passion and, even at 92, he can work there for hours.
But, sometimes things go wrong. I could hear a screeching noise the previous evening and went out to investigate. The sliding door would not slide.
"Something must be blocking it," I told him.
"No. I've looked with a torch. There's nothing there."
I should have known better at that point but I took his word for it and told him to leave the shed open. Nobody was going to be able to get in without me hearing the noise as it was partly shut. Anyone going in was going to have to open it wider than that.
He rang a younger mate who sometimes does things the Senior Cat can no longer do.
"I'll be around tomorrow evening. Just leave it until then."
The Senior Cat sighed heavily about not being able to do it himself. He had to go out yesterday morning but his mate turned up. He couldn't get another job done so he had called in on the off-chance someone was home. 
I didn't need to leave for my meeting quite then so we went to investigate. 
He pushed. He pulled. He frowned. 
"Can we get the other door open?" he asked. (There are actually two doors which slide across one another but one is rarely used.) 
It wasn't locked so he pulled it open and looked in and then burst out laughing. 
"Look," he told me. 
The handle on the door of a cupboard which faces outwards had swung open. It was blocking the sliding door. He shut the cupboard door and yes, the sliding door slid along the runner just as it should have done.  He secured the handle while I went and made him a cup of tea. He also looked at the fence on one side. It needs to be replaced and he will do the job later this year.
"What do we owe you?" I asked as he left. After all, this sort of thing is his livelihood.
"Nothing," he said, "Just don't tell my wife because she would get a damn good laugh out of it too - at my expense."
No, she is most unlikely to read this.

Wednesday 18 March 2015

The Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide

has just been charged with covering up allegations of sexual abuse. It has taken a team of detectives more than five years to decide to lay the charge. The events are alleged to have happened forty or more years ago. The abuser (who was found guilty) was a fellow priest who is now deceased.
Child abuse is an abhorrent, vile, disgusting thing. It should never be covered up. There is no excuse for it.
However unless there is evidence over and above two things then the allegations need to be treated with caution. The allegations seem to be based on 
(a) he must have known because he was living in the same house at the same time
(b) the other priest was found guilty.
It should take more than that to find someone guilty of covering up allegations of sexual abuse but the Archbishop must be a worried man. 
I am not Catholic. Nobody in my family is. I am not a churchgoer. The only person in my family who goes to church is the Senior Cat and his views on many things are - shall we say, robust? He believes in the basic moral tenets of Christianity but not the, as he sees it, myths and legends.
Nevertheless we all have some concerns about the widespread allegations of abuse in religious organisations - and yes, it spreads beyond Christianity. Recently there have been allegations about abuse in Jewish, Islamic and Buddhist communities as well. I don't imagine any group is immune. What deeply concerns me however is that it seems to have become almost inevitable someone will be accused of abuse simply because it can be done.
It's an easy thing to do and the results can be devastating. There was a case here  recently. Two girls accused a male teacher of abuse. He had apparently kept them behind for a moment to speak to them about their behaviour. They didn't like it and they made allegations of abuse. 
It was only at the point where the likely consequences were going to be very serious indeed that the girls admitted the allegations they were making were not true. It was still too late to repair all the damage done to the teacher's reputation. He will spend the rest of his life living with the consequences. 
The Archbishop will now face the same problems. If there is sufficient evidence to find him guilty then the prosecution will seek the heaviest possible penalty because of his position. If there is insufficient evidence then his reputation will be tarnished. Some will say "he was lucky to get away with it" and others will say, "there just wasn't enough evidence". His very position will condemn him because, given the publicity around sexual abuse, some will say, "He's a priest so he must be guilty."
I don't know him. I have never met him. I am never likely to meet him. I don't believe what he believes. It makes no difference. I dislike the way the media has already endeavoured to tarnish the reputation of someone who should be innocent until found guilty - and who might just have been trying to live a life of service to others. That is surely abhorrent too.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

"They haven't heard from her

yet. They had a text message on Friday and she said she was heading for a shelter then."
Friends of mine have neighbours whose daughter is in Vanuatu. She is volunteering there for two years on one of the outlying islands. 
I was contacted in the hope that I might have some other way of helping her parents who are trying to get in touch. I haven't. I wish I had. I have no idea what they might be going through waiting to hear whether a much loved daughter is safe. I have no idea what it must be like for several students here who come from there and have not been able to contact family.
The last couple of days have been the usual chaos of e-mail and "meetings" on the internet. For the most part there is not a face to face communication problem. The problem is that communication lines are down. Facilities have been knocked out in a country which has limited facilities at the best of times. English and French are widely spoken and Bislama is a "pidgin" I have worked with before. In fact, for most purposes, English will do.
The four "bikies" were relieved to hear that. The leader of the group was in touch via e-mail. They were packed and ready to go and, this time, it was "official". They were being flown out. Their reputation has gone before them. They will spend two weeks up there restoring part of a hospital. They will camp as they always do. All I needed to do was reassure them that language would not be a major problem. Yes mate, they do speak English in that part of the world but you might find it difficult to use your mobile phones.  His response was "might be good to get away from the f.... mess here for a bit".
I fielded a few of the usual "can we go and help" type inquiries - mostly from well meaning young people with absolutely no idea. What did they think they were going to go? Help? How? Where were they going to sleep? Where did they think they were going to get food and water to drink?  Did they think it was just a matter of walking off a plane into a nice commercial air port with all the facilities? I explained about the bikie crew and how they now had the experience and skills which were needed. Oh. Right. 
I sent them off to talk to a university student of my acquaintance. His parents spent four years living there and he is organising a fund raiser. If they really want to help then they can do that. Going to "help" in a disaster zone is no help at all unless you have specific skills and a specific reason for going and take your own kit and food and water and often shelter as well.
There is a real need to explain to people who want to "go and help" that really, unless there is a specific reason for them to be there and they have the skills and the equipment, then they are no help. It would be better for them to raise money here and get some skills that might be needed in a future emergency. 
But, thank you for offering you young people. Your hearts are definitely in the right places. You tell me there is hope for the world.

Monday 16 March 2015

"They need to build a different sort

of house," the Whirlwind told me yesterday. She had come around to cut something else out of our newspaper "because I need two copies" and was also looking at the utter devastation left by Tropical Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu and beyond.
Such disasters worry her. She worries about children being left without their mothers most but everything bothers her. I am glad it does worry her and I hope  she goes on feeling like that - but I also hope she can do it in a way that she can handle it. Yesterday was not such a good day. She was close to tears.  
So we talked about it. What sort of house? She didn't know.
"But think about it," she told me, "We all build our houses the wrong way. We make them up and down because it's easy and we  use up all the space."
"Up and down?"
"Yes, the walls go straight up so the wind goes bang into it because it doesn't have anywhere else to go. It's not like rain. If that comes down on our roof it just sort of slides off. The wind needs to be able to sort of slide off too."
I told her to look up "dome houses". There is just one that I know of and, quite by chance, it is not far up the hill from here. I told her about that as well.
Later in the afternoon her father took her up to see it during their afternoon bike ride. It's an oddity that does not sit well with the much more conventional houses on either side. I haven't been past it for some time and, on their return, the Whirlwind's father told me it is in need of some attention. 
I wonder if it will last? The Whirlwind is right of course. We build houses rather like boxes because it is easy to do that. It is easy to use the space in them as well. Our lives, and the objects in them, tend to be set out in squares and rectangles. It is harder to make a circle.

Sunday 15 March 2015

We had an unexpected visitor

yesterday afternoon. The Senior Cat was waiting for his young magic student to arrive - along with two siblings and another child on a "sleepover". I was trying to get some urgent e-mail answered before they arrived....
And the door bell rang. Were they early? No. 
"Is it a bad time to call Cat?"
Yes, it was but I sensed something was wrong so I said, "We're expecting.... but they won't be here for a bit. Come in."
She took a deep breath, came in and said,
"I've had some bad news and...."
She is not the sort of person you hug. I doubt anyone has hugged her in years. She doesn't like being touched even by her family. The fact that she had turned up on our doorstep indicated how distressed she was.
Her husband has been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease - MND. He's 79 and she is not much younger. They live in an upper floor flat in the city. It is too small to handle someone with a disability who will, before long, need a wheelchair and all the aids that go with caring for someone with the condition. She has no nursing experience.
We talked. Did she have their wills up to date, power of attorney and power of guardianship for both of them? Who is named and are there alternatives?  Yes - and no she had not thought of the need for alternative persons. They had named each other. 
There is an MND organisation here which will help but yes there are accommodation issues and major lifestyle issues. It would not be easy for anyone at any age to learn their partner has something like MND. A younger person might feel utter despair at the thought of nursing someone for years. At her age she feels overwhelmed by the need to change things again - change their lifestyle when she thought they were settled. Change when they have been, while comfortable enough in the company of each other, leading fairly separate lives and pursuing their own interests.
I didn't have the answers she would have liked but she was not expecting those. Did I give her the reassurance which she needed? 
I  couldn't tell her, "You will cope with this." All I could say was, "Yes there are people who will help you cope with this."
She left just as the children and their mother arrived. They demand full attention. When they gone and everything had been put away the Senior Cat, who had obviously been as concerned as I was, said,
"I've been thinking about..... Everyone needs a support network."
It isn't the first time he has said that by any means. I can only agree.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Terry Pratchett taught a great many

children to read. Tiffany Aching anyone? Who can't love her?
I saw Pratchett interviewed on a television news service last year. It was one of those "human interest" segments they put in to lighten a day of dire news...although the news itself was dire. Pratchett had Alzheimer's - a rare sort, an early onset sort. 
I wanted to rage. "It isn't fair!" And it wasn't fair. The Senior Cat  had just wandered in. He had no idea who Pratchett was but he stood there watching the segment and then turned to me and asked,
"Who is that chap? His sense of humour just shines through."
 And it did. His writing is funny. It is funny in the very best sort of way. He took the real world and made people laugh at it - and by doing that he helped people to understand it as well.
 I was not, am not, an adoring fan of all things Discworld and Discworld alone. I read a great many other things as well. At the same time I know many children, usually boys, who have met Pratchett's writing. Some of them have never really gone beyond Pratchett but, for most, his writing means they have gone on to other things. 
I would have read Pratchett to children at school - in that last precious moment on Friday afternoons when there was always "the book" to be read. I would have read Pratchett to them along with Tolkien, Rowling, Gaiman and others who should all be part of a child's cultural literacy. Children need his books and they need books like his. They may not seem like much to some adults - the sort of adults who would not read his adult works either - but books like Pratchett's are essential mental exercise. They exercise the imagination. 
As I have said elsewhere in my witterings, the Senior Cat is a "magician". He loves "magic" - as in "conjuring". He sees it as an essential part of his life. He agrees with what Pratchett said somewhere in "A Hat Full of Sky"
"It's still magic - even if you know how it's done."
The problem is that too many people don't recognise magic. They don't know how it is does done. They think it doesn't matter.
But it does.

Friday 13 March 2015

So the "Palmer United Party"

is a little less united? 
For those of you in Upover let me explain. Clive Palmer is a Downunder "mining magnate".  He also has political ambitions. (Those ambitions may even include a desire to have a shot at the top job.)
Mr Palmer spent a lot of money at the last federal election. He ran candidates in 150 seats and managed to get himself into the Lower House and two Senators into the Upper House - a third Senator was elected at a special election slightly later. 
One of the Senators quit the party last year - just months after being elected. She is now an "independent". Now another Senator has quit. Five "PUP" members in state parliaments have also resigned. That leaves one Senator and Mr Palmer in his "united" party. 
It does not surprise me. Mr Palmer is a larger than life character - in more ways than one. He recently told the Prime Minister to commit suicide. He has been outspoken on many issues. His attendance in parliament has been "irregular". After all, he has a business empire to run as well.  His foray into politics has been as much about his business empire as it has been about uniting to save the country.
But how business savvy is he really?
People have used Mr Palmer to get themselves into politics. He has paid their deposits. He has paid for the advertising that got them there. 
I know there are people who will say, "Too bad. He can afford it."
I disagree. There was a "contract" between them. He "offered" or paid. They "accepted". There was another "contract" too - between those who resigned and those who voted for them.  They voted for PUP representation - not independent representation.  
We had a similar problem with our local MP. Within weeks of being elected he effectively switched sides. Many, perhaps most, who voted for him won't use him as their local member. They are relying on the services of someone else. They don't trust him enough to go to him with a problem. From all accounts he still believes he is going to be re-elected. If he isn't then other people, his electorate staff, will lose their jobs too. I doubt it is a problem which keeps him awake at night.
"Loyalty" doesn't seem to be a word that belongs with "politics". Oh yes, there are people who are "rusted on" to their parties but I suspect they would still stab their leaders in the back if it meant they could take their place at the top. 
But, for those of us who vote them in, I think there should be some certainty. If you are elected as the member of a party and you choose to resign from it then you should also resign from parliament and take your chances at a by-election paid for by you. There should also be the possibility of your former party recouping their expenses in getting you elected. Anything else is taking money under false pretences. 
We all know what can happen to people who do that in the real world.

Thursday 12 March 2015

The Prime Minister was accused of being racist

yesterday. He made some very carefully worded comments about the plans by a state government to close some indigenous "communities" on not just economic but social welfare grounds.
There are 274 remote indigenous communities in Western Australia and there are 12,114 people living in them. There are just 507 people living in the 115 smallest - or an average of 4.4 people in each. The cost of keeping those communities going is very high. 
Is closing them the right thing to do? There have been furious demands to keep them open. It is said the Prime Minister is a racist to even suggest that they might need to be closed.
But, let me ask some other questions.
Just who is living in these places? Are they indigenous Australians with very close ties to the land? Do they, by choice, live a traditional life style? Do they speak a traditional language? Are they able to support themselves? Are their children receiving an education? Do they want to access health services? Do they need any form of government benefits?
In some places there will be indigenous people with close ties to the land. Some of them will be living a traditional lifestyle - in some respects. Some communities speak traditional languages  - but that is a much more complex issue than it sounds.There are some communities which have attempted to at least partially support themselves or provide work for some people in their community. In some places the children are going to school - another activity which raises many issues.  And yes, even a basic clinic can make a difference to communities with many health issues. Such communities tend to be the larger communities. 
But take a "community" of eleven people - I am thinking of a specific one. There are six adults and five children. They use what might be described as a basic pidgin-English. None of the adults work because there is no work available. None of the children attend school and they don't do the correspondence lessons because none of the adults will supervise them - and probably only one of them can read well enough to do it. There are no health services. Social welfare organisations are worried about child abuse, domestic violence and alcohol issues - to name the big ones. 
Or there is another community of eighteen. All of them are living in the same three bedroom house - the only house at the end of the track. None of the adults work. The children are not going to school and one of them has a severe intellectual disability. One of the adults has diabetes. There are questions about child abuse and incest as well as alcohol related issues. Emergency services are called to the property from time to time - from a long distance - because nobody is really coping with the situation. 
These are considered to be "communities" however and those complaining about "racist" remarks want to keep these communities going. They say mental health problems will increase and the cultural heritage will be lost. They say that people who choose to live in these places do not do so from "lifestyle choice" but from a strong spiritual connection to the land. They say all that is needed is more money, more services and more support.
So, should these "communities" continue to be supported or is it a life-style choice or should we ask those getting taxpayer funds to contribute to their own welfare? Should people be required to relocate? Is it possible that others are not getting services because of the costs involved in servicing these communities? Where does it stop?
All I can think of is that we all have responsibilities to ourselves and to each other - and that usually means we cannot have everything we want. 
Is that fair? 


Wednesday 11 March 2015

There is a row going on because Julian Burnside

claims letters of support he arranged for people to write to refugees on Nauru have not been passed on to them.
Now, as I understand it - and I may be wrong, Mr Burnside asked people to write letters and send them to him. He was going to forward those letters to people on Nauru. The people who wrote the letters had no idea who they would be writing to. Only Mr Burnside knew that.
There was an article in the Guardian. There were many comments as well as claims that the government had broken the law in not passing the letters on.
I think it may be a little more complicated than that. 
Mr Burnside is a QC. He is also an activist. He has made a name for himself in more than one area but one of those areas has been "advocating" for refugees. One can be cynical here and say it has done his career no harm. 
Mr Burnside first tried the "letters of support" to refugees during the Tampa affair - when John Howard was Prime Minister in a Coalition government. He then remained remarkably silent for some time. He does not appear to have become fully active on the "letters" issue until the Labor government was out of office and the Coalition was back in. Is there something political in all this? I don't know. Perhaps he was just busy. Perhaps he felt the situation had changed in other ways.
The problem however is that he was asking people to write letters and send them to him. He was then sending them on to people in detention in Nauru.
I have no doubt that many people were writing those letters with the best of intentions but they were not writing a letter to an asylum seeker - although they no doubt believed they were. They were writing a letter for Mr Burnside to use. He was the one with the list of names, numbers and boats. He could, if he chose, pick and choose who received letters. He might claim to do it on any number of grounds - "this person speaks English" or "this person needs particular support" or "this person has just arrived" or "this person has been there for a longer time". 
I have no idea what the letters said. It may well be that most of them would be innocuous. "I''m sorry you are there and I hope you are soon here with us in Australia" might well be typical. They would be well intentioned. 
The problem is that they might also be seen as offering false hope and false information. Detainees on Nauru have been told they will not be resettled in Australia. Whether we like it or not this was the policy people voted in when they voted in the present government.  Offering false hope might also mean stirring up trouble. Things have changed since the Tampa affair. People were resettled here at that time. 
Has the Australian government broken the law by not seeing that the letters were passed on? There are certainly laws which make it an offence to interfere with mail. In this case however there may be an argument that the letters were written to Mr Burnside. He has received them. It is Mr Burnside's intentions in passing them on that then need to be questioned. He can argue that he is passing them on in order to support asylum seekers on Nauru but what is he actually passing on - and what is his purpose in doing so?
I would like to see people in detention getting support and care packages but I don't want anyone put at physical risk because a letter stirs up emotions that lead to violence. I don't want to offer people false hope. 
Mr Burnside can say what he likes but he is surely too well educated to believe that the "letters of support" are nothing more than that. They are being used as political statements. They are being used to place political pressure on government and they are using vulnerable people rather than supporting them.
If Mr Burnside wants to put political pressure on the government he should be asking people to write letters to the government. He should have been doing it all along - not when it is politically convenient for him.
Personally I hate the way he is using the very people he says he supports for his own political ends. 

Tuesday 10 March 2015

So Lance Armstrong got paid

three million dollars (yes $3m) for coming to the Tour Downunder did he? Oh yes, he was seen as a big draw card back then - before they discovered he was a "cheat". 
I think that, somewhere in my witterings, I may already have said that I though the money that was spent bringing him here was a waste of money.
The editorial in today's paper states otherwise of course. It is argued that he brought money into the state by encouraging other people to come. They even suggest he "worked hard" while he was here.
Did he really? 
The entire budget for Writer's Week for the Festival of Arts would not come anywhere near $3m. No individual writer would be offered anything like that sum of money for coming. They would not be given the VIP welcome at the airport, the media coverage or any of the other perks offered to Armstrong. Oh yes someone would meet them at the airport and there might be a radio interview or a brief mention in the evening news. The book tent might sell some books - which they would be expected to sign - and they would be expected to do some school visits or talks to other groups. Authors would work a good deal harder than Armstrong.
But he did all that training! Sports people have to train long hours! It's hard work! They reach their peak very quickly and then they have to retire and....  
Oh yes - and writers? They do all that writing...a lot that never gets published. They might 500,000 words to get 50,000 they can use. They spend long hours doing research and then writing. It's lonely and frustrating. There's no match at the end of the week with the crowd cheering you on. Oh yes, they can write longer than a footballer or a cyclist or some other sportsperson but they normally have to do it in conjunction with another job.
And they still won't get paid much  - if anything at all. We could have paid for one hundred writers at $30,000 each for the same amount as we paid for one Lance Armstrong.
I know which would have been better value - and they would have  brought much more than money into the state.

Monday 9 March 2015

"Do you want some tulips?"

Middle Cat asked me. She was sorting out the order from the garden company she had ordered the bulbs from.
"Not particularly," I told her - but only because I was not sure where I could put them. They need to be kept in the fridge before planting. It does not get cold enough here to leave them in any sort of store shed. 
"Right, I'll be round later with the rest - in about half an hour."
Being Middle Cat I made that an hour and she did turn up about sixty-five minutes later.
I now have six hyacinth bulbs - and discovered that the Senior Cat has planted other things in the pots I planned to put them in. I may need to pay a trip to the garden place myself. 
There are also daffodils. We already have some of the usual yellow ones. They always remind me of London. You knew spring was coming when the daffodils appeared for sale in the streets.  
The new bulbs say "mixed". The photograph looked interesting so, here's hoping. 
There are also some freesias - when Middle Cat remembers to give me the packet. They are going in the window type boxes Senior Cat keeps under the front window.
We  have some irises too - given to us by my late mother's secretary and a late neighbour. The neighbour's garden was filled with gladioli and irises in spring. It looked like something out of an impressionist painting.
I love all these things. I (almost) like the way they are not there all year round. I know if they were there all the time I wouldn't anticipate them and get that small thrill when the first one appears.
But what I find extraordinary is that, right now, all these things are apparently nothing more than brown lumps. I can remember Ms Whirlwind looking at some when she was small and saying, "But they don't look like flowers." 
No, they don't. How does it happen?

Sunday 8 March 2015

We went to a pub yesterday

and it was an experience I do not wish to repeat. Allow me to explain? 
The Senior Cat and I were invited to a birthday "party" for a friend of ours. She was turning 40. She isn't married and her mother is not that well so she did the simple thing - she invited a few friends to "drinks" at one of the local hostelries during the afternoon rather than have a party at home.   
So, off we went. I went into a Downunder "pub" for the third time in my life. I know. Wowser. Anti-social. You can add a long line of other derogatory and rude terms if you wish. Finished? I did go into more Upover pubs than that.
I don't drink alcohol. It brings me out in a rash. I don't like the taste or the smell either. The Senior Cat is the same. We know we could go to a pub and have lemon squash (which is what we had yesterday) but we don't bother.
The reason we don't bother was very clear yesterday. The place was crowded. One half of the outdoor "beer garden" was roped off for a "boutique" beer tasting. 
Because the Senior Cat could not negotiate the steps at the other end we had to negotiate our way through the crush. Everyone at that end was young. Some of them were already inebriated. One of the staff was very helpful and got us through to the other end. It was not quite as crowded but the noise flowed over. People were smoking. The Senior Cat was wheezing by then - and I felt as if I was gasping for breath. I loathe cigarette smoke and so does he. 
We found our friends however and sank thankfully into a couple of chairs. And that was when the even bigger problem hit home. There were the nieces of the birthday girl. They are aged 5 and just 4. They were sitting at the table with their parents who both had their i-pads out and were desperately trying to entertain the two with a simple game they had loaded. Their father looked up and said quietly,
       "This is no place for children."
He was right. They may grow up to participate but, right then, they were much too young to be surrounded by adults they did not know drinking alcohol, smoking and - at the other end - getting very noisy with it.
They stayed a little longer so as not to disappoint sister and aunt and then left. It was clear their parents could hardly wait to remove them from the venue.
There are people who claim to enjoy the sort of thing that was happening at the other end of the "garden". They will have spent the afternoon drinking beer and talking to people. Some will have a  hangover today. It will be described as "great" afternoon. 
I really don't understand it. A good afternoon for me in similar circumstances would have been being able to sit quietly, lemon squash on the table beside me, chatting to people.
I'll rest the vocal chords today and try to work out why other people think of it as "fun" - but, if anyone can tell me I'd welcome an explanation.

Saturday 7 March 2015

"You should not have asked that question"

came the complaint on a list I read. The question was asked by one of the moderators and an explanation about why the question was being asked was also given. There was no requirement of compulsion to answer - also made clear - and there was also the opportunity to answer "off-list". Still, someone objected. 
This person, who claimed to be a professional in the area of disability, was the only person who objected.
The question was "are you housebound?" It was asked because some funding to keep the list going might depend on it. In the circumstances it was a perfectly reasonable question to ask - unless apparently you are a member of the ultra politically correct brigade. In this instance the question came from Europe and, as I understand the law in that particular part of the world, it was legal to ask it. I don't know the legislation in every part of the world but I know that putting such a question here is fraught with difficulty - even when there is good reason to ask the question.
There are other questions you are not supposed to ask now either. You are not supposed to ask young mothers about child-care arrangements or ask about someone's marital status.  But, why not?
One of my nephews has just been "head-hunted" by a very big company - and I mean very big. He listened very carefully to what they were offering him. They were not offering to pay him quite as much as he was already earning but they were offering a "free" child care place instead. They didn't ask whether he had children. Someone had done their homework and found out what his circumstances were. 
Would he have been happy to answer a question about child-care arrangements? Yes. His argument is that the company is employing him to do a job - not to take time off to care for his children. His wife is employed to do her job - not to take time off to care for her children. 
Marital status can matter too. The Whirlwind's father goes away quite frequently. It is part of his job. When he does the Whirlwind may need to stay at school for the weekend. During school holiday periods the Whirlwind needs to stay with friends if he has to go away. His employer, the government, needs to know he is a single father and give him time to make the arrangements. 
I don't think those questions need to be intrusive they should be asked in the spirit of, "That's your situation. How can we help you to do your job?" or "Are you likely to need time off to care for a sick child and, if so, are you prepared to do some work from home?"
And if there is funding specifically to help a certain group then yes, the question should be asked. 
A lot of people answered the question which was put about being housebound. According to the moderator some answered her privately but others appeared to willingly admit they were housebound. They also made it clear that the list meant a lot to them because of their status. It made me think differently about the list as well.
There are questions we should not ask in some circumstances because they are unnecessary and obtrusive. Is it possible however that there are times when the same questions should be asked - asked in the spirit of "How can we help you?"

Friday 6 March 2015

The impending execution

of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran and all the publicity surrounding it has to be recognised for what it really is - political power play.
The Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, is a weak president. He may have won the vote but he does not have the support of those he needs the most. 
There was absolutely no need for the huge security show put on to transfer the prisoners from Kerobokan. They could just as easily have been transferred in a prison van in full daylight with no fan fare at all. There was no danger they were going to be abducted and they had no chance of escaping. 
The way it was done has cost the Indonesian government millions of rupiah.  It was done as a warning and as a boast to Indonesians - and the world. 
It also distracts attention from the question of "who supplied Chan and Sukumaran"? The answer to that is, of course, the virtually untouchable drug lords. Those really at the top may have come from beyond Indonesia but there will have been powerful people involved in Indonesia as well. They will be people who have the power to make or break a President - and he knows it. 
The show of strength, the seemingly endless "preparations", the gloating "selfies" - all have nothing to do with the two young men who have spent ten years waiting for the summons to inform them of their execution. It is instead all about internal power games and a President who fears he might lose more than his position. 
It is about bullying - and cowardice. 

Thursday 5 March 2015

"Where will the volunteers come from?"

the Senior Cat asked me.
He had been to a Seniors' Concert the day before and now he was back from a visit to the bank and the post office in the local shopping centre.
The Seniors' Concert happens once a month. It is a local event, a joint venture between a local church and the council. They get a great variety of musical talent along - anything from African drummers to harpists an choral groups. The Senior Cat goes as much to support the organisers of the events as for the music (which is not always to his tastes). 
Like everything else it takes volunteers to help organise it.
And yesterday he observed, once again, all those "volunteer" grandparents doing the essential baby-sitting and child-minding.
A friend of his had surgery yesterday. She won't be looking after the grandchildren for a while. It's been a major drama making alternative arrangements. 
I know someone else who wants to go to a relative's wedding - but he and and his wife can only go if alternative arrangements can be made for the care of his very elderly mother who lives with them. Getting three days in non-emergency "respite" care is also a major undertaking. 
The world would not end if the Seniors' Concerts stopped. It would be a pity but the Senior Cat knows they might well cease for a number of reasons  - and one of those is the reliance on volunteers. The world won't end if grandparents aren't going to be available for the care of children either. Nor will it end if someone cannot go to a wedding. But the world would be a very different place. Children might not be as safe or they might spend more hours in day care or a parent might need to give up work to care for the child(ren). An elderly person might fall or fail to feed themselves  or even die alone. No right minded person wants that to happen. 
But the Senior Cat asked, "Where will the volunteers come from?"
I know what he means. The current generation of volunteers are women who were housewives or women who ceased to work at sixty. Because many of them were at home they did things that are now done by both partners over the weekend - the time when they might have been volunteering. Children have more outside activities. Some, but  by no means all, parents will be involved in that but for others it is a passive role. Grandparents who might have volunteered in other ways are being used by families.
And it is more difficult to volunteer. Volunteers need police checks (and they need to pay a hefty fee and sometimes multiple hefty fees to get the necessary certification). They have to do courses in occupational health and safety, in customer service and so on - just to volunteer. We're told it is all about safety. Perhaps it is. It also halts some would-be volunteers in their tracks. I know someone who would have been happy to volunteer at a large charity concern. The building is just around the corner from her. She could get there in her wheelchair. They would like to have her. She once worked as a secretary and she knows office procedures. But their organisation does not pay for police checks and she would have to do the courses in health and safety and customer service - neither of which she could get to, nor needs to do. 
They are losing ten volunteer hours and paying for fifteen - using money which could be used to help the people the charity serves. The person they employ in the office could be employed out in the field. 
So yes, where will the volunteers come from. Has the government really thought all this through? Have charities thought this through? Have those who claim to be concerned about occupational health and safety and customer (or client) service really thought it through?
I don't think they have.  There needs to be a hefty dose of commonsense applied as well. 

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Our State Government is targeting pensioners

in a deliberate misinformation campaign. They are claiming that pensioners will lose money because of a cut in Federal funding.
There has been no cut in Federal funding. The state simply did not get what it was promised if we voted in the current Opposition. 
It would not have got it anyway. There was never anything definite about it. If the money had been forthcoming in that area it would have been taken from some other area. 
This has not stopped our bankrupt state government spending $11m on an advertising misinformation campaign for political purposes. I object to this. From the letters to the editor this morning many more people object to this as well - and some of them are from people I recognise as being supporters of the party in question.
The campaign amounts to party-political advertising of course  - the sort that all governments of all persuasions will try to get away with if they can.  We all know that happens.
The problem this time is compounded by the fact that they are deliberately targeting a very vulnerable group of people - the elderly. Radio, television and the press are still major sources of information for the elderly - particularly the first two. I know many older people who live alone. For them the radio is "company" during the day - particularly in the mornings when the "chat" shows are on. They may watch a television news service in the evenings and then their "favourite" shows. The advertisements naturally appear in those times. They won't be hearing the other information they need to have an informed understanding of the situation. All they are being told is that the Federal government has taken away money and that means they will be about $4 a week worse off. It doesn't sound like much to most people - unless you are already struggling. 
The problem is that the Federal government has not taken the money away - and the State government will almost certainly not be able to do it either.
So, why is a bankrupt government doing this? Why waste the money?The answer is obvious of course. I wonder just what they will cut. 
I know the local library staff are worried that the central funding will be cut yet again. The new "self-service" borrowing system has seen a cut in casual hours - something that was not supposed to happen but obviously was going to happen. When the transition period is over then my guess is that there will be even less staff there to help. The new stock is being reduced too. Although you can borrow anything from anywhere in the state most people won't because they borrow by browsing the shelves not by browsing the on-line catalogue. 
Should we be worried about these things? I think we should. We are losing essential resources at an alarming rate. It is yet another reason to do away with the ridiculous expense of state governments. The only thing to be said for our state government is that it serves a population twice the size of the smallest state government...but that isn't saying much. The entire population of Downunder is about the same as that of New York state.


Tuesday 3 March 2015

I tried to have a conversation

with one of our neighbours yesterday. This was our immediate neighbour. She is Chinese and has lived here for about eight years now. She spoke no English when she first came. She still speaks almost none. 
Her husband speaks excellent English. He is an interpreter and does a lot of work in hospitals and the courts. He has been here a  lot longer  than his wife. It's rather an odd situation.
Yesterday I saw her in the supermarket. I am not usually there then but the Senior Cat had needed something. There she was ahead of me. 
She saw me and her expression went from anxious to relieved and she smiled. She obviously does not like to go shopping alone. I cannot remember seeing her there alone before except on one occasion several years ago. She was in the chemist then and I had to help. Her limited understanding of English must make it very stressful in the supermarket. She can't read labels and limits herself to the obvious. She often doesn't understand what is said to her and she can't make herself understood. 
I know the woman at the checkout we were both using. She is an older woman who has been there for many years - the sort of woman many would call "a rough diamond". She is also very kind to the elderly and anyone else she thinks is in need. I told her,
"H... is my neighbour."
She smiled at H... and said the usual things but  said them more slowly. She had heard me talking to H.... 
After H.... had gone she asked me, "How long has she been here? She doesn't speak much English."
I told her it was about eight years. She scanned the item I was buying and then asked,
       "She seems really nice. Doesn't her husband want her to learn English?"
It was an interesting observation. The Senior Cat and I have discussed this on more than one occasion. We have both offered English lessons. We have tried to engage her in conversation with the deliberate aim of improving her English. 
The English lessons have always been rejected by her husband with the excuse that she is already going to classes. She is rarely seen outside the house and even more rarely will say hello to us. If her husband hears her doing this he will immediately join her on the excuse she does not understand.
This woman once taught Classical Chinese Literature in a secondary school in her home country. She is an intelligent woman and, after eight years, her English should be better than it is. I think the English classes stopped long ago - if they ever took place at all.
And I think the checkout woman in the supermarket suspected what the Senior Cat and I also suspect. Her husband does not want her to learn English.

Monday 2 March 2015

"How many of you are housebound?"

The question came up on one of those Yahoo groups. It is a group called the Antique Pattern Library which preserves and puts up out of copyright craft patterns on the internet. I put up a post about it last year when they were trying to raise just enough funds to cover the cost of keeping the site going.
Now the group is trying to retain and maintain the current funding and get more. The person who does the hard work put the question up as she had been asked to find out how many people who used the site were in this position.
As I expected there were a flurry of responses from people who are housebound and use the site for inspiration. Most of the respondents also mentioned that they were short of money and that a "free" resource like this made an enormous difference to their lives. 
Other people use it too, of course they do. I have a friend here who is a world renowned needlewoman. She teaches all over the world. She has written books on types of needlework I had not heard of until she showed me. Although she must get paid in order to live she has also volunteered hours of her time to preserving materials for future generations. She uses the resource because she cannot get to the museums and libraries that hold other materials.
There has been a great deal written about the importance of hobbies, especially creative hobbies, and the maintenance of mental and physical health. I don't doubt that people who create things are much less inclined to destroy things. 
So, why should it be up to a few to have to fight to preserve things? Why should they still have to fight for funds? A local government organisation here wanted to charge quite heavily for a group with support needs to meet in old school buildings intended for community use. The group - which taught crafts - was run by volunteers. It folded because, to just cover the costs, they had to raise the fee to more than people with support needs could afford. Craft groups run in local church halls have waiting lists.
I can see the same thing happening to internet sites like the Antique Pattern Library. Most people could afford to pay a small fee to  use it but projects like this need government funding or funding from international bodies. If the money is not there the groups will fold and many more people will lose.
There are essential services that have to be paid for but the question of who pays for them and why they should pay for them is surely in need of investigation. If government is happy to pay out millions of dollars to sporting organisations - where professionals are well paid - then why not even one percent of that to groups like the Antique Pattern Library? What's the difference?  Why should a footballer earn more to play one match than a craftsperson will earn in a  year?
If anyone can come up with some good reasons - please let me know!