Thursday 30 April 2015

Rather than a credit card

I have a "Load and Go" card from the post office. It works like a debit card. You can put money on to it at any post office and then use it wherever  you would use a Visa card within Downunder. There is a different sort of "Load and Go" for use overseas.
It is a good idea. It is a cheap alternative to a credit card if you only need to do a couple of transactions a month or you don't want a business to have your bank details.You can put just enough on to pay the bill or buy something.
Or rather, it should be a good idea. My card got "blocked" yesterday. It got "blocked" for the second time.
No, it was not my fault. I went online to try and check to see that the balance was what I thought it should be. I typed in all the necessary information very carefully...and was told that it was wrong. 
Now I was extremely careful. I didn't think I had done the wrong thing but there is always the possibility. You cannot read the dots and check so...I did it again. The same result came up. 
I knew if I tried again the card with the same result the card would be blocked. So I changed the password, received the requisite e-mail, and then tried again - twice. Still "wrong". 
Now, at this point, I have gone into the security and given the computer at the other end the "word" that only I know - and it is not a word that anyone else would know because I made it up. I think about it. I have nothing to lose. I change the access number as well and receive the requisite e-mail. 
Then, ultra carefully  - hesitating over each letter and number as I type them in I try again. I tried twice. At the end of the second time I was "blocked".
By then I had actually tried to access my details not three but six times. And yes, I had typed in the correct details - more than once.
There is, I think, something else wrong. I will have to contact them later this morning. 
I am not impressed. It reminds me of why I do not use a credit card on line. I remember the horror tale of my friend R who had a call from the bank. Had she, they wanted to know, just bought a car in Singapore? 
Of course she had not. She had not been anywhere near Singapore for several years. 
Her credit card was stopped. It was stopped in the middle of a holiday weekend. Frantic phone calls ensued and she was at the bank when it opened on the Tuesday morning.
The Senior Cat once had to borrow some money from a friend. They were at a conference together and the teller-machine swallowed the Senior Cat's card and refused to give him any money. He had to go into the bank the following morning too. It was his good fortune that he had other ID and a friend willing to see he could eat something.
I don't like this "card" business. I know it is the way the world is going but sometimes, just sometimes, it doesn't work!

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Recalling an ambassador

is a political statement. 
The Australian Embassy in Jakarta will remain open - unless Indonesia decides otherwise. But recalling the Ambassador is intended to send a strong political message to Indonesia that Australia is unhappy with the state sanctioned murder of two Australian citizens.
I need to say two things here. One is that I find drug trafficking abhorrent and worthy of severe punishment. The other is that I am totally and utterly opposed to the death penalty.  The first offence does not justify the latter. Nothing justifies the latter offence. Taking someone's life, even when they have taken the lives of others, amounts to murder. It makes those who use the death penalty no better than those who kill for other reasons. Indeed, in some ways they are worse.
Indonesia is out of step with almost every other country in the world in imposing the death penalty. They compound the problem by seeking "clemency" for their own citizens facing that penalty in other countries. It is an entirely unacceptable double standard.
Australia provides considerable foreign aid to Indonesia. It comes as straight out aid from the foreign aid budget and, more indirectly, in many other ways. Australia also trades with Indonesia - something that benefits Indonesia more than it benefits Australia.
For years Australia has treated Indonesia with kid gloves. Oh yes, be so careful of that very big Muslim country next door. Australia needs to be very careful not to upset them. 
Indonesia is a very wealthy country. It has incredible natural resources. It has man power. The problem is that almost all the wealth is controlled by a tiny portion of the population. Most people are poor. They will remain poor because, even with all the aid that flows in, entrenched power and corruption will ensure that the wealth is not shared.
Sukumaran and Chan might well have stayed incarcerated in Indonesia if massive bribes had been paid. Why those bribes were not paid is a mystery and likely to remain so. (Equally it is certain that bribes were paid in the case of Schapelle Corby and that she was fortunate to be released on parole before President Widodo came to power.) The two men were executed because of another sort of corruption - the corruption that keeps a weak President Widodo in power. 
Indonesia is a political mess but a mess other countries are prepared to prop up in the belief that the alternatives might be far worse.
Indonesia may well respond to the current action by withdrawing their Ambassador to Australia. They will almost certainly respond by withdrawing support for the border protection measures - and the state sanctioned people smugglers will be back in business.
Nobody is going to win. I have just one word of advice. Don't go to Bali for any reason at all - no matter how attractive the holiday prices, how exotic the location or how beautiful the beach.

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Nepalese medicine

was the topic of a two part documentary the Senior Cat and I saw last year. 
We watch almost no television and we miss the wonderful Global Village programme that was used to air this documentary. Trying to remember the details is frustrating. 
The documentary looked at "amchi"- also the name of the shamans who use it - a form of traditional herbal medicine.  It is used in the western area of Nepal and is not, as many people like to believe, superstitious nonsense. It is firmly rooted (if I may use that term) in tradition that has been found to be or is believed to be effective.
Of course there are spiritual practices which go with it but the plants which are used do have pharmacological effects. (Yes, they do us cannabis sativa but they do not abuse it in the way that some in the west do.)
The spiritual practices which go with the use of these plants are also interesting. They require a belief in the efficacy of the use of the plants. If you do not believe then the healing properties of the plants will not be as effective. It is a common idea in traditional medicine of course.
T - the doctor I have been talking about -  has had to learn something about traditional medicine. When he goes there he works with the village amchi. It is part of the reason for his success. He has been willing to listen and learn from a man who knows the villagers well.  T also needs his help in a place which has only the most basic of operating equipment.
The village amchi looks after almost a thousand people in the village and the surrounding area. He also has to collect the plants and make the medicines. He now has an apprentice but it will be some years before that young man is considered fit to work alone.
Here we call and make an appointment to go and see our GP. We grumble about having to go there and wait. We grumble when the doctor is late. We grumble at the price of filling the prescription. We grumble when we are not almost instantly better. 
There the amchi will often go to the home of the person after a message has been taken to him. People will wait unless there has been an accident and urgent assistance is required. They do not, so I am told, grumble. The medicine is given to them and they pay what they can later  - and sometimes not at all. They know that recovery takes time - and thinking positively.
Our approach to our health is quite different. T says he is a better doctor for having to learn to work in other ways. 
Perhaps the rest of us can learn something from it as well.   

Monday 27 April 2015

My apologies to those who

were expecting a blog post earlier today. I was overwhelmed with work. I am now surfacing to say that the doctor I wrote about yesterday left me a direct message on Twitter to say that he and his guide were on their way through the valleys to their destination. 
Normally he would travel by "road". You can, apparently, go a considerable distance by a road of sorts before you have to abandon vehicles and complete the journey on foot.
This time he could not go quite that far but a helicopter took them up into the valleys and left him as close as they could safely get. It was barely daylight, dangerous but essential flying has been taking place whenever possible.
T says it is a scene of utter devastation and that they will need far more help than they are getting. At present Kathmandu and Pokhara are getting far more help than the surrounding areas. There is very little food and the limited water supplies have been disrupted.
T has been warned that survivors from surrounding villages will start to arrive when news reaches them that he is on his way. It's dangerous. People, like people anywhere, want their injured treated first. 
Nepal's economy depends on tourism. There are political issues the most in the outside world are barely aware of or wish to know about. An entire culture could collapse without help. 
If that happens then we will all have lost something. 

Sunday 26 April 2015

Nepal, a doctor and a hospital

I was planning to write something else this morning but the physical world gave me a jolt - another earthquake in Nepal.
Nepal is a beautiful country trying hard to remain independent. Please help them.
I know a doctor who spends some time there every year. He is one of the few foreigners the government there actually welcomes back into the country time and time again. You see, he saved some lives and he didn't ask to be paid for it.
The first time he did it was accidental. He had gone to Nepal out of curiosity. 
Being T he had not gone to Nepal on holiday but as part of a medical team. A member of the Nepalese community met him, discovered a connection, and asked him whether he could do something similar in another part of the country.
Being T he "wandered in" to see what he could do. And, being T, he did things.
The local community built a tiny hospital for him. It is not a fancy sort of western hospital but it is much better than anything they had before - and now there is a room for T to sleep in when he goes. He goes for a month each year. He operates under the most difficult of conditions. He doesn't always save lives but he does save some. He has trained local medical staff in some western techniques but he  respects their traditions as well - indeed he has high praise for much of what they do. 
No, wait a moment - they had those things. Their hospital has been damaged. They sent T a message, relaying it across the valleys. Please can he come? They need him desperately. They are trying to repair the hospital so he can use it.
So late last night T contacted me to tell me that his colleagues are covering for him. They have put together the things he thinks he will need. He is being flown up there by the authorities as I type this and they will take him as far as they can. After that, it will be a journey largely on foot as there has been so much damage. He should be there tomorrow and he will stay for at least a week. 
Communication with the outside world is limited so we e-mailed one another multiple times over the hours before he left. Yes, he's got his communication system working the way he thinks he wants it to work. He speaks some Nepalese now but sometimes medical words elude him.
And this time he will again sleep in the house of the grandson of a man who guided his grandfather out of India during World War II.
He says he owes it to them to help.

Saturday 25 April 2015

ANZAC Day 2015

The air is still
The hills sleep lightly
The trees watch
Water weep across the sand

I have left you one small stone
It came from the place
Behind the house
Where the creek's tears ran dry


Friday 24 April 2015

The "Aboriginal Provisional Government"

which lacks any recognised status is apparently issuing "passports" and Callum Clayton-Dixon, the chairman of the group, tried to use his to re-enter Australia. He was eventually allowed to re-enter the country when immigration authorities decided that he was an Australian citizen. He claims he used his "Aboriginal" passport by default. 
There are claims the passports have also been "recognised" by countries like "Libya" but claims that they have been recognised in Scandinavia and Canada are a little trickier than that.
I also note that Callum Clayton-Dixon has a name that would not instantly be recognised as "Aboriginal". His physical appearance suggests he has a mixed heritage. 
I wonder what made him do all of this. Does he feel so strongly about the indigenous part of his heritage that he is willing to give up everything else and even risk breaking the law? Does he genuinely believe that he is doing the right thing and that there will one day be an "Aboriginal Government"? Does he genuinely believe that there is widespread support for such a thing? How does he believe it would work? 
Or is he simply seeking publicity and power for himself? Is he, in a different sort of way, a Belle Gibson or Helen Demidenko or the man several streets away from here who acts out a sort of Walter Mitty existence?
Belle Gibson had signed a contract with Penguin before many people became aware that she was lying about having had brain cancer. She had made a great deal of money out of desperate people. She knew she was lying and her actions disgust me. I had a cousin who died of a brain cancer. It was an appalling journey and the best of modern medicine could not save her. That someone like Belle Gibson could add to the misery and distress felt by her and her family is something that makes me angry, very angry. 
Helen Demidenko, who wrote "The hand that signed the paper",  was highly disrespectful of victims of the Holocaust but she was quickly found out - although again she managed to fool a group of literary judges. I don't think she has managed to get anything published since and she may not even be writing. She now works for a rather whacky "independent" senator in Canberra - one who is not averse to similar tricks.
Our local Walter Mitty type character does less harm. He just lives in his own world. He is often kind and generous and willing to help others. You just need to go along with which ever character he has decided to be for the day.
I wonder what makes people do those things? I know I sometimes have a bit of fun in my "cat" persona. I wrote a letter to the editor once from the supposed point of view of the cat at the end of the street. It was published and it caused a great deal of amusement - as I intended. I was well aware though that it was just a bit of fun, that I am not a cat. Everyone else knew that it was a bit of fun too. Clayton-Dixon and Gibson are not doing it for the fun of it and neither are other people who do similar things. So, where's the fun? What do they get out of it?
Would anyone like to offer an explanation?  

Thursday 23 April 2015

One of the United Nations officials

has been suggesting that "rich countries" needs to take in another million refugees from Syria over the next five years.
It is a typical response from an organisation that has lost control and has no idea how to handle a crisis. The UN simply does not work any more. 
The Refugee Convention is out of date and does not meet the needs of the present day. It was designed to deal with another century, not this one.
Taking in a million people from Syria is not going to help. There are at least five million who are displaced for a start. And that is just Syria. There are millions more people who are looking for a better life somewhere else - preferably in Europe (particularly the UK) or Australia. These places are seen as accessible. People smugglers will get you there by boat. That's the hope of far too many people.
The UK is overcrowded already. Parts of Europe are overcrowded. Unemployment is high. Sending more people there will only add to the problems. 
Australia has an unemployment problem too. It may look as if there is a lot of space but the reality is that most of Australia is desert and nobody has yet found a way to live there and produce enough to live on, let alone live well on.
I really don't believe that just continuing to take in refugees and economic migrants is the answer. It is not because I don't care. I do care. It is not because I am selfish. I would actually love to share. It is because it won't work. 
It won't work for three major and very complex reasons. The first is the political, social and religious situations in the trouble spots of the world. There are no easy answers to those situations, certainly not answers that the rest of the world is prepared to accept or even tolerate.
The second is the economy built around arms dealing. The United States, Russia and Germany make billions every year through supplying weaponry. France and China are not far behind. Indeed China may be supplying more than is presently thought. North Korea's economy may also be dependent on arms supplies but the secrecy surrounding their dealings makes it impossible to tell.
Whatever the situation the money made from arms is so much that none of those involved - and that includes governments - has any real interest in stopping wars. (The UK supplies about 4% of the world's arms - most of which go to the US. Australia supplies less but one of the companies based here still comes in the first 100 companies in the world. We should be ashamed but I doubt many people even know.)
The third is a different sort of weaponry altogether. It is closely tied to corruption and bribery. Corruption and bribery makes people Poorly organised and administered "aid" programs make people poor. The very programs that are supposed to assist are actually making matters worse. Political correctness, non-interference and other issues get in the way of aid working. And companies like Monsanto move in with programs that make matters even worse. Yes, a good crop one year but the seeds cannot be saved. You need to buy new seeds each time - and that makes you poor. Indeed, you might not even be able to afford to buy seeds again. Then there is the water supply which is now controlled by the aid organisation which has been "given" the seeds by the company and... 
It is the tip of a giant aid iceberg which is actually causing part of the "refugee crisis" - causing people to become economic migrants.
Taking them in to other countries is not the answer, especially when their own countries are losing so many young male workers. 
The world has to start thinking about those things. Mass migration is not the answer. It doesn't solve problems now the way it once did. 
We need to stand up to extremists and dictators. We need to stand up to arms dealers and the economic dependence on them. We need to stand up to those who are endeavouring to control food supplies through modifications claiming to be in our interests. 
I don't see it happening - but please don't tell me we will solve the problems by taking in another million refugees. We won't. And I will still worry about the millions more in refugee camps with nowhere to go. 

Wednesday 22 April 2015

"Labor to propose superannuation

tax hikes for the wealthy" screams the headline. 
Yes, you know that ever popular "hit the rich" line. It seems to be the only way the Australian Labor Party can come up with trying to "save" money. 
Now please don't misunderstand me. I believe everyone should pay their fair share of tax. I also believe that "fairness" means some people will pay more than others. 
But there reaches a point at which "the rich will have to pay" ceases to be sensible. I have always believed that one of the reasons old fashioned "Communism" didn't work was because of the idea (rather than the reality) that people should be paid equal amounts for doing unequal amounts of work or for taking unequal amounts of responsibility. 
Why should a heart surgeon only take home the same amount as the person who drives the rubbish truck or the teacher take home the same amount as the person who works at the supermarket checkout?
The surgeon and the teacher work much longer hours. The surgeon literally has a life in his/her hands. It is an enormous responsibility. The teacher has lives in his/her hands too - the future of the country.The general belief is that they should be paid more. 
There is also a general belief they will pay more tax if they are paid more. The tax on money put into superannuation is lower of course. It should be. It encourages people to save for the future. It saves the government money in the future. It makes investments funds available. Where's the incentive to put money into superannuation if, in the end, you end up paying just as much - or potentially even more - tax?
Labor's argument is that "only the rich" will pay because there will be a point at which this extra tax cuts in. They say it will bring in "only $14bn over ten years". When any political party starts to talk in those terms I start to think of the measure they are describing as a populist measure designed to win votes rather than do any actual good.
If Labor really wanted to do economic good they would propose raising the GST and compensating the lower paid and pensioners for that rise. It would, in the end, bring in more. It is something that everyone has to pay. People would continue to contribute to their future needs through superannuation.
It makes more sense to me but no doubt some reader of this will be able to explain why I am wrong. 

Tuesday 21 April 2015

After the latest disaster in the Mediterranean

the European Commission has put forward a "ten point plan" to "tackle the crisis".
I have just read it - and I despair. It's meaningless. They use words like "will reinforce" and "extend their scope", "make a systematic effort" and "will meet regularly". Here's the list from the SBS website: 
"Here are the 10 points put forward by the European Commission and backed by EU foreign and interior ministers at a meeting in Luxembourg:
1. The EU will reinforce the EU's maritime patrolling operations in the Mediterranean, called Triton and Poseidon, by giving them more money and equipment. The EU will also extend their scope to patrol a wider area of sea.
2. The bloc will make a systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the people smugglers, using the EU's counter-piracy "Atalanta" operation off Somalia as a model. EU officials said it would be a combined civilian and military operation but gave no more details.
3. The EU's law enforcement, border control, asylum and prosecutors' agencies will meet regularly and work closely to gather information on how the smugglers operate, to trace their funds and help investigate them.
4. The European Union's asylum support office will to deploy teams in Italy and Greece for joint processing of asylum applications.
5. EU governments will fingerprint all migrants.
6. The EU will consider options for an "emergency relocation mechanism" for migrants.
7. The European Commission will launch a voluntary pilot project on resettling refugees across the EU.
8. The EU will establish a new return program for rapid return of "irregular" migrants coordinated by EU agency Frontex from the EU's Mediterranean countries.
9. The EU will engage with countries surrounding Libya through a joint effort between the Commission and the EU's diplomatic service.
10. The EU will deploy immigration liaison officers abroad to gather intelligence on migratory flows and strengthen the role of the EU delegations."
These points are not the answer of course. Nothing is going to stop people trying to seek refuge. Nothing is going to stop people trying  migrate to Europe. For them Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, France and Germany are seen as desirable destinations. The streets are "paved with gold".
At present there are also people fleeing violence. They are fleeing from places like Syria and from groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. They genuinely fear for their lives. There are women and children in the groups. Far too many of them have lost their lives trying to reach safety. Others can't. They have no money to pay the people smugglers.
Stop the warfare and the violence in their own countries? Make it safe to return and many of those fleeing violence would want to go home and start rebuilding their lives? If it does ever become possible then they are going to need new and different sorts of support.
That list above is nothing more than vague waffle from those who have no idea what to do about the multiple crises and problems which cause people to want to move on. How do you remove those who cling to power against the will of the people they have control over? How do you stop those who want power and claim to have "God" or "Allah" on their side?
I would be happier if the list acknowledged that there are two groups of people here. There are first those who are seeking asylum, those who are genuinely in fear of their lives. The women and children are the ones in that group who should be given priority. They are the future of any society. The very old need to be cared for. Many asylum seekers hope to "go home" one day. They dream of returning to their towns and villages and their old lives. Even when they know that their old lives will never be possible again they want to return if it is safe to do so.Home is home.
There is also a second group of people, people who are simply seeking to migrate. They believe life in another country will be preferable. Some believe that they will get rich and be able to support their families or bring their families to join them. Others abandon their families. 
The European Commission, the EU, other desirable destinations (and I include Australia) and - most of all - the United Nations need to recognise these two separate groups. Until we do that those who are most in need of help are going to take second place to those who simply want "a better life" somewhere else. 
I sympathise with the desire for a better life - but I would rather see children out of reach of the bombs and snipers. I would rather children were fed and going to school and getting ready to rebuild their countries. 
Isn't it time to start thinking about that?

Monday 20 April 2015

Car registration "stickers"

are a thing of the past in this part of Downunder. The government did away with them several years ago. 
You still need to have your car registered and insured with the compulsory "third party" insurance. The government has no intention of doing away with that. Instead they have "saved" money by not sending out what was known in Upover as a "tax disc". Yes, it is gone from there too as of last year.
I don't know how Upover organises their renewal system. Here people are supposed to get a notice in the post. 
There have been the usual problems such as notices being sent to the wrong address or delayed in the post. The online system for paying has had multiple problems.
And people still forget. There is no visual reminder any more. 
"You have to take the responsibility" officialdom tells people. Put simply however there are always some people who won't. The government is now grabbing fines of around a thousand dollars for each unregistered car it discovers - and there will be many more it does not discover. No ordinary member of the public can tell now whether a car's registration is out of date.
There is a problem with all of this. It means the third party insurance hasn't been paid either. Have an accident and you are not covered. Have an accident and the other person isn't covered either.
Several months after my mother died I happened to look at the registration disc on the Senior Cat's car. (He was still driving then.)
I then went into the house and said, "Do you realise you haven't put the new registration disc on the car?"
They still had registration discs then. In the emotional turmoil surrounding my mother's death he had forgotten - forgotten to pay his registration and third party insurance. We later discovered that he had not been sent a notice but he should still have been aware of it. When he realised he had driven the car both unregistered and uninsured he went very pale. He sat there at the kitchen table and literally shook. I made him a cup of tea and then he walked off to  the local point where you can pay such things. He asked to speak to the manager and told him what he had done.
The manager was very nice about it - perhaps because he could see how upset the Senior Cat was and because, he told the Senior Cat, he had once done something similar himself.  The Senior Cat paid his registration and insurance and came home looking much happier.
But I know too many people who would have blithely hopped into their vehicles thinking, "I must do that."
Well yes, they must do that - as quickly as possible. I know a number of people who are paraplegics. Two of them were involved in accidents where the major portion of the blame was placed on others - others who were unregistered and uninsured. I leave you to imagine the financial mess.
I think we need tax registration discs. They serve as a visual reminder and it means other people can remind you as well.

Sunday 19 April 2015

This "getting up early"

business is not the Senior Cat's "cup of tea" as the saying goes. He is, for the very senior cat he is, an early riser I suppose. He is usually out in the kitchen looking for breakfast by about 7:30 to 7:45am. 
But this morning he is being picked up by 7:45am to go to a meeting with a friend. So it was, "Please wake me at six."
I did it.
He appeared in the kitchen a short while ago with his pullover on back to front. (This one has "V" neck so one would have thought he would have noticed.) We have now rectified the situation. Nevertheless it raised a question in my mind, the question of "retirement".
The official retirement age is rising as people live longer. That's fine with me if the work is there, people are able to work longer and willing to do so. I recognise that the economy cannot support the growing number of older people without some input from them. But I also wonder who will do the work that  "old" people do now? 
When the Senior Cat "retired" he did so before my mother. He did the cooking for a while. It wasn't terribly successful and he was glad to hand the responsibility back to her. He also did the housework. He made magic apparatus for his fellow magicians - something not readily available here before the internet age of on-line shopping. He also volunteered as a minor maintenance man in a women's shelter - the only male allowed to enter the shelter in question. It meant that locks on doors, drawers, chairs and other furniture were mended, light bulbs were changed - and on one occasion a small and precious box of one of the women sheltering there was mended. 
He taught study skills and essay writing to students who were motivated but struggling. He ran his Neighbourhood Watch group, took his turn as President of the Soil Society (an organic gardening group) and did two turns on his church council. 
If he had still been teaching full time none of those things would have happened. He used to be at school by 7:30am and home around 6pm. He would often go back to school an hour or so later for another meeting or he would bring work home. Any good school principal would work the same hours. 
So, who would have done the things he did? Another retired person? What would have happened though if they had all had to work another five years? 
And now there is the added problem that grandparents, the supposedly "retired" generation, are expected to do much of the childminding. Not all children go to day care and not all of those that do go do not go full time but if both parents are working full time then someone has to care for the children. 
The "retired" childminding grandparents can no longer do the other things they want to do. Their days are tied to the school timetable and the after school activities. They transport and feed and entertain.
"It will be different when the kids are old enough," someone told me only yesterday. She is in her 70's. Her husband had taken the two older boys they care for to play their soccer match. She had brought the girl and the boy toddler to the meeting with her because, for once, she both wanted and needed to be there. Her husband will be almost 80 when the toddler starts school. They have given up on their dream trip but they'd still like a holiday. 
And they are still getting up early.


Saturday 18 April 2015

As librarian I buy the books for

our Handknitters' Guild. I keep a watchful eye on the major publishers of craft related books and read a number of websites. I look at the reviews and ask questions. 
Members of the guild can also make suggestions. Sometimes they will bring a copy another library has and show me or they will tell me about a book they have seen or heard.
I have over the past decade or so come to thoroughly appreciate some of the stories in Jen Campbell's "Weird things customers say in bookshops". All too often I get things like,
"It's this book about scarves..."
"You know that book by that designer who..."
"No, not that one. It's a book with a...I don't know this sort of..."
"I saw it at my library and it has a red cover with a picture of this girl on the front..."
I sometimes ask them whether it is British or American. And yes, it does make a difference. It means that, if they don't know the name of the book or the author, I have some idea where to look. British and American knitting terms are different. The patterns tend to be written in a different way. Not all members of the guild are sufficiently aware. Oh yes, I also act as "interpreter/translator" as well. There will sometimes be two different editions of a book as well - one with "English" and one with "American".
There are also books translated from various European countries - mostly Scandinavian and Baltic countries, occasionally Holland or Germany and - even more rarely - France, Spain or Italy. Some of these will be what I consider to be "mainstream" in that they will be picked up by a well known publisher in the UK or USA. Others may have English side by side with the first language. Most of those come from Estonia or Latvia. They tend to be valuable but specialised and expensive - books about lace knitting or collections of folk patterns for socks and mittens are the most likely. I don't buy these for the guild. I can't justify it.
There are also books from Japan. I have bought three excellent stitch directories at the request of other people. The Japanese have an excellent, standard charting system. Even their actual patterns are charted so well that an experienced knitter can follow them without being to read Japanese.
I like to think that I have built up a good collection over the years. And yes, people borrow books from the library. It's a popular collection. People will join the guild simply to access the library. I am well aware of that. 
So why is it that I will look around at the meeting this afternoon and realise that almost everyone in the room is knitting a straightforward pattern from a commercial pamphlet supplied by a major yarn company? I feel as if I am failing as a librarian. How do I get people to cease just looking at the pictures and start to read the words? 
I haven't used a commercial pattern for years. I can understand that  it may well be comfortable to use one and that there is a fear of "wasting" the materials. But when people say to me, "Yes, but you know how to do it..." or "I'm not as clever as you..." or "But you can do the maths..." and other similar comments - I want to shout at them. I have told them I will help. I am not particularly clever and I am self taught. The maths is basic - and there are always calculators if you are worried about making an error. For the most part knitting can be undone if you make an error so nothing will be wasted.
The most recent book I have been asked to get is about getting knitwear to fit. Yes, it is a potentially useful book - but I suspect that it won't be used.

Friday 17 April 2015

English lesson anyone?

I went to see Middle-Cat yesterday - currently in a rehabilitation unit waiting for the next lot of surgery. The trip to the unit involves two trains each way - plus the pedal to and from the station at each end. Yes, it took me half the day.
On the return journey a man came onto the platform and sat down some distance from me. A little later another man followed with a large dog, a very large dog.
It was rather a nice dog with a wagging tail and an eager expression. Yes, still a pup. It is going to be a very large dog indeed. The owner spoke to me - usual question about where I had acquired my tricycle. The dog also had a doggy sort of conversation. They continued on and the dog tried to do the same with the man who was waiting. 
He was not happy. He froze. 
"It's all right. He won't hurt you,"the owner said and pulled the dog back, made it sit and then went on.
The man who had been sitting stared after them and then stood up.
He came to me, still looking alarmed, and asked, 
"What generation he?"
I was puzzled. His heavily accented English told me he was probably a refugee from somewhere like Iran or Afghanistan. I understood the words but not their meaning. Generation?
He repeated the question more anxiously so I said,
"I don't know what you mean."
"You know word - generation?"
Yes of course I do. I explained what it meant. He frowned. 
The man I had been speaking to had a heavy Scots accent. I wondered if that had been the problem. I explained about nationality. No, that was not right either.
We caught the train and went on talking as I tried to sort his problem out. He told me he came from Afghanistan. He has been trying to learn English for a year now.
And then I realised. His fear of the dog was the problem. He wanted to know whether the owner of the dog was something like a policeman or other official likely to cause him harm. He meant "occupation". 
I explained as gently as I could that the dog walker had come from Scotland and was just being friendly. I explained "generation", "nationality" and "occupation" and, as he tried them out, I got him to use them several times.
He looked much more relaxed and, as I left at the station where I would change trains, he held out his hand and said,
"Thank you. You good help teacher. I learn more."
I'm glad he was able to learn something. I just hope he has managed to learn that not all dog walkers are officials of whom one should be afraid. I hope he knows what "generation" means.

Thursday 16 April 2015

Taxpayer funded party political

advertising in the form of "information" campaigns has always been an issue. 
Both sides of politics do it. You can't blame them. Why spend the money you need for the next election campaign when you can spend the taxpayer's money instead? Except that this time our state government might just have gone too far.
There was a letter addressed to the Senior Cat yesterday. It came from the Premier's office. It was addressed to the Senior Cat personally. I took it in and passed it over.
The Senior Cat read it and then passed it silently over to me. His expression told me something was wrong.
It was, of course, a pro-forma type letter and it was obviously being sent out to many people  - probably all those over a certain age. It was designed to lead them to believe that their pension concessions were being cut by the Federal government.   
Now the Senior Cat does not get any pension concessions because he was of the generation who were compelled to contribute to a superannuation scheme for teachers.  He is not eligible for any of the concessions. That was not what had made him so angry.
What was making him angry was that the letter was deliberately misleading. It has been designed to make pensioners believe that they are going to be much worse off because of "federal budget cuts" - cuts that amount to $19 a year and that will be made up in other ways.
The State government is already being questioned about a similar advertising campaign on television. It was designed to make the same point. The advertisements were obviously the lead up to the letters - letters that look like official government correspondence and which have been paid for by taxpayers.
Now the state and federal governments are on opposite sides of the political fence so it comes as no surprise when this sort of thing happens. If the situation was reversed with respect to political allegiance the same sort of thing would probably also be happening.
No, that is not what made the Senior Cat so angry. It is not what made me angry. What made us angry was the misuse of taxpayers money to mislead, to mislead the most elderly and vulnerable people in the community. 
The money used so far would have more than covered the "cuts" from the federal funding - but it won't cover the cuts from the state funding. 
And the state government is bankrupt.   

Wednesday 15 April 2015

'Flu vaccinations were

the priority of the day for us yesterday.
I had made the appointment last week and the Senior Cat and I went to see our GP yesterday. She was, miracle of miracles, running almost to time and saw both of us together.
I don't know how our GP does it but she is usually cheerful. I try not to prowl into her room too often and perhaps that helps. The Senior Cat is there more often but they get on very well together. She is a good friend of Middle Cat.
The clinic we attend is some distance away. There is another practice we could attend on the way but we followed two doctors who moved their practice to the clinic.
I pedal past the other clinic to come home. There was an ambulance outside yesterday. It had pulled up in the only available space - across two parked cars. The ambulance officers were trying to subdue a patient and get him into the ambulance. It was taking the strength of both of them to try and stop him from lashing out. I could see blood pouring down from a head wound of some sort.
Unbelievably someone else was shouting at the ambulance officers to move their "b....... ambulance because I want to get my car out".  The shouter was, rightly, being ignored.
I have seen ambulance officers at work more than once. They do an amazing job. They don't need that sort of hassle.
Some time ago I had a call from a hospital in the city asking if I could come in and help in an emergency situation where the patient could not speak and could not use his regular communication device. (I am second on his list of contacts and his brother was interstate.) It was sufficiently serious that they diverted a non-urgent ambulance case moving a patient from another hospital to the one I needed attend to pick me up. Did they mind? No, as I don't drive not in the least. 
     "Part of the job," the one watching the patient told me. It isn't really but her calm manner made me feel better too. The driver even left me at the right door with instructions of how to get where I needed to go. 
These are the people who discover that the mess on their uniforms is someone else's blood or brains or bones or that, for all their efforts, someone has died. These are the people who face violent drunks and distraught parents and the wrath of people who are impatient. These are the people who work for long periods without a break and risk their lives rushing at high speed down the wrong side of the road when people simply won't pull over to let them pass.
I didn't but I wanted to stop and give the driver of that car a dressing down they would never forget. Instead, I pedalled on and hoped that the situation was quickly resolved. I hope those officers got a break. They would have needed it.

Tuesday 14 April 2015

There is no "inheritance tax"

here - at present. There are rumbles that it should be re-introduced - and, of course, they have other ways of getting at you. 
Our tax system is one of the most complicated - if not the most complicated - in the world. Some people make a lot of money from it. Most of them are accountants and lawyers.
"Inheritance tax would simplify things," someone told me yesterday, "You shouldn't be able to leave your kids anything if they haven't worked for it. My kids aren't getting anything from me. Inheritance tax should be all you've got."
I don't agree. His kids should get something just for putting up with him.
But, more seriously, inheritance tax is not good psychology. To be required to leave your entire estate to the government would have far reaching consequences. "Tax" is an unpopular concept with most people and the notion that one should work and accumulate wealth just in order to return it all to the government would have people working on all possible ways and means to avoid leaving anything behind. 
Would people save for the future? Probably not. What would be the point? How do you provide for vulnerable family members, the very young, the very old or the ill? Is there any point in maintaining a property when the government would benefit from the improvements? Why bother to save for your own aged care?  You might die within minutes of retirement and not benefit at all - and your family won't benefit either. 
Of course there is the argument that the people who inherit are "getting something they didn't work for" and that "wealth doesn't get distributed to those who need it most". There will always be people who get something for which they did not work but more people work for their inheritance than is generally realised. And how do you define "need"? Is it the family with medical expenses brought on by an undetected inherited illness  - or the family with medical expenses brought on by a parent who has been drinking and crashed the family car? Is it the family who have saved carefully and gone without to buy their own home or the family who have spent their income on enjoying themselves and who are now looking for housing?
I understand the UK is currently looking at inheritance tax - and ways to increase it. I can also understand the desire to do so. It's an attractive idea which doesn't seem, at first glance, to hurt anyone but it can have unintended consequences. There is a word which needs to go with words like "tax", "inheritance", "wealth", "income", "benefits" and the like. It is the word "responsibility".
I won't have much to leave but I would object to it being used on those who have taken no responsibility for their own welfare when there are those who have and are still in need.
How you sort out that out though is beyond me.

Monday 13 April 2015

"When I use a word,"

Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "It means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is,"said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."
(Lewis Carroll - Through the looking glass.)
Regular readers of my witterings are undoubtedly familiar with this quote. I was reminded of it yesterday - along with this one, 
"I know you think you understood what I said but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant."
I don't know where the second one comes from. I had it on a card somewhere once and I have not forgotten it. 
People hear what they want to hear but that does not mean they are listening.
"But s/he said that!" is an all too common cry. It was said to me on Twitter yesterday but trying to explain in 140 characters is all too difficult so I will try to put it here and hope that the stranger who remonstrated with me will read it.
What I was trying to tell him was that you can say a word without using it yourself.  I can say "F.... is a swear word." That does not mean I am swearing. I am making a statement about a word.  I can say "The word "nigger" is considered to be unacceptable and incorrect." It does not mean I have used the word. It is not a word I would use.
I can also say that "X is considered to be..." but that does not mean I support or deny "X". I can go on to support or qualify a statement  but merely making it in that way does not mean I agree with it or am stating it to be a fact about global warming, genocide, green hair, dogs being lazy or anything else. I have said the words but I have not used them until I support or qualify them.
Of course the media sees things differently. Their job is about making headlines. If someone says something that is seen as potential headline material then the media will take advantage of it. This is why we need to be careful about the way we "read" or "hear" the media. 
I sometimes write a "letter to the editor" for our local or national papers. A short letter can take longer than one of these blog posts because I tend to put things very carefully indeed. There are still people who will willingly and knowingly misinterpret things I have said. It makes them look more foolish than me. And then there are the people who will bail me up in the street or at the library or in a meeting and say, "I want to argue with you but the way you put it..."
When someone says that I like to think I have used words rather than merely said them.
I know there will be people who read this and say, "You're splitting hairs. No such difference exists. If you say something then you have used the word(s)."
I disagree.

Sunday 12 April 2015

So what frightened you

in books when you were young? Anne Rooney was writing about this a few days ago in a post on "An Awfully Big Blog Adventure". There were a number of comments from other people at the end - mostly of the witches and tunnels variety. I understand those.
I mentioned a book I had as a child. It was a gift from my maternal grandmother - the sort of thing she would have delighted in. It terrified me. 
It was picture book for very young children, one of those "novelty" affairs. The front cover had some sort of animal on it and the eyes were made so that they moved. I cannot remember what the book was about. All I remember is my fear of it. 
Of course, given my maternal grandparents' and mother's adherence to Christian Science, I was not supposed to be afraid of anything. The book was produced over and over again. I screamed every time. 
Eventually my father discovered what was going on and threw the book in the fire. I sat on his knees sobbing and watched it being consumed in the flames. 
There were things in other books which frightened me but never in quite the same way. I was frightened of the wolf in Peter and the Wolf, the wolf in Red Riding Hood and the witch in Hansel and Gretel. Indeed I was not very fond of "fairy tales" before I went to school. Grimm's fairy tales were grim indeed. Perrault's were no better.
I was always upset at the way Ping the duck got smacked for being last in the line - perhaps because I was always last when it came to being in line for anything. I worried that the traffic would not stop for the ducklings in "Make Way for Ducklings". Would Milly-Molly-Mandy get into trouble? Would Peter Rabbit be all right? Would Heidi get home to her grandfather?
Despite all my worries I desperately wanted to read by myself - perhaps so that I could reassure myself that everything was going to be all right.
I could read by the time I went to school. I worked my way through the entire "infants" library and then the "big school" library. There were books that worried me, disturbed me and even alarmed me. I was careful to keep those things to myself. I never mentioned them to my parents. I didn't want to risk being forbidden to read anything. 
I wonder now how I would have coped with the books that are supposed to deal with "issues" like AIDS and other illnesses, death, divorce, racial issues, refugees, war and more. I don't think  I would have done too well. Would I, with all the negativity in many current books, even have been a reader? I don't know.
But, if some of those books are frightening or depressing children or making them anxious then is it any wonder they don't read?

Saturday 11 April 2015

Richie Benaud was

a gentleman. I know because I met him once.
I have to confess here that I have, apart from a faint interest in cricket, no interest whatsoever in sport. I look on it as a form of internal (national) and external (international) warfare.
But cricket was something I was hurled into with some force.
I met Richie Benaud one rather warm afternoon on the "cricket ground" of the Oakbank racecourse. He had come up, along with other cricketing greats to play "cricket".
It was, I believe, Sir Donald Bradman who initially set up the annual visit to what was then called "The Crippled Children's Camp" run by the Girl Guides' Association. This was a ten day camp under canvas on the Oakbank Racecourse grounds. We used the kitchen facilities and the changing room belonging to the jockeys but we also pitched tents and, somehow, managed to look after sixty children - some with very severe disabilities indeed.
What we did then nobody would do now. There would be all sorts of rules and regulations and insurance and public liability and....well I am sure you understand. But we set off blissfully unaware of those things. We worked hard. One of my few teen year friends is another girl from those camping days and we will still say "Remember when..."
And the Australian cricket team would come if the game coincided with our stay there. The entire team would arrive. They would scatter themselves among the children, eat lunch with them and then play "cricket" for "the Ashes" - which of course the children always "won". 
As someone with a disability I would cease being a Guide for the afternoon and become "one of the kids" so that I could bowl for the children who could not hold a cricket ball at all.  I still feel bewildered by the fact that I should have bowled a ball (often wide of the mark) to cricketing greats like the Chappell brothers, Lillee and Marsh. If I were to meet any of them now and remind them they would probably join me in roars of laughter at my attempts to throw any sort of ball. But, we pretended to be earnest and serious for a short while and the youngest children went off with shining eyes and the biggest of grins.
We played on rough ground and a pitch that must have left the real cricketers in despair but they were cheerful about it. Looking back I find their willingness to be there and the way they mixed and communicated with children who would never play cricket was remarkable. No doubt it helped that the children adored them. At the school where many of them came from cricket was rated far higher than football.
And Richie Benaud came once. He had retired by then but, like Donald Bradman - a regular attender, he joined in the spirit of things and "played" a game. 
I wonder now what he and those other cricketers really thought. Was it a chore to be endured? Did they resent giving up a day? Did they cringe at our efforts? If  they did feel that way they never showed it. 
I remember Richie Benaud shaking my hand and that of the "team captain" and thanking us for the game - as if he meant it. Perhaps he did. It would be in keeping with the nature of a man who was a gentleman. 

Friday 10 April 2015

Child protection laws? Really?

The state's coroner has just delivered a report into the death of a child. Her name was Chloe Valentine and she died, aged four, in the most horrific circumstances.
She was being forced to ride a "trail bike" - something way too big for her to sit on comfortably let alone control. When she fell off she was put back on it and forced to keep trying to ride it. Eventually she was so badly injured that she died from her injuries. 
Her mother is a drug addict. She had successfully "fooled" the social services into believing that she was caring for Chloe - even when her own mother kept telling them otherwise. 
The overworked social services didn't want to know of course. If things look all right leave them alone, don't interfere. Children should be left with their natural parents - whatever the cost to the child. 
One of the local teachers was telling me of another case the other day. "Big brother" brought little sister to school. He's nine and she is six. He had managed to get them dressed, out of the house and to school but he couldn't do his sister's hair so he had brought the brush and comb and ties to school for the teacher to do it. No, Mum wasn't awake. Someone went to the house and discovered that Mum was still in a drunken stupor. Neighbours said it wasn't the first time but it usually happened on Fridays and Saturdays when Mum entertains her  "boyfriend".  The children had not had breakfast and there was no food in the house for another meal. Social services were told - and decided it was a "one-off" incident. They didn't want to know. They told the school she was a "good" mother. 
Sorry, she isn't. A good mother never gets drunk and fails to get up in the morning to see her children to school after making sure they are properly dressed and have eaten breakfast.
The Coroner has made a list of recommendations. They appear in this morning's paper. My guess is very little will happen. There is an entrenched view in the department concerned that parent and child need to be kept together at all costs - no matter what the cost to the child. It's the way the department works. It has no other way of working. They have never put any other system in place. They have strongly discouraged adoption. They have strongly discouraged long term foster care. Short term foster care is seen as an "emergency" measure with the child to be returned to the parent(s) as soon as possible.
Yes, there is a desperate shortage of foster parents too - understandable given that, if you do the job properly, you will be paying more than you receive and you will get no thanks.
Has anyone thought about the child in all this? Is it really good for the child to be with "Mum" and then with "foster Mum" for six weeks and then back with "Mum" and then off to another foster mother? 
My own view is probably going to be unpopular but I believe that children have more rights than adults. Children don't have the capacity to make choices about their care. They have the right to stable physical, emotional and social care. They have the right to attend school, make friends and grow up knowing that the adults responsible for their care will be responsible for it. 
The priorities of the department are wrong. It worries me that they will simply go on being wrong because the cost of doing anything else is seen to be too great.  

Thursday 9 April 2015

There have apparently been w(h)ines

from the grape growers again - you know the people who call themselves "vignerons" rather than farmers or market gardeners.
A lot of them apparently failed to make money last year and one of their supporters in the Senate has been suggesting a twenty-five cent levy on each bottle of wine to prop them up.
I have no problems with the levy but I do have a problem with using it to prop up an industry which should not be propped up. Put simply, too many grapes are grown.
Have you stopped screaming yet? Do I need to repeat myself? 
Grape growing seems to be regarded as rather more important an activity than growing potatoes or pumpkin, pears or plums or peaches. The very fact that grape growers in this country choose to use the French word rather than "grape grower" is something of a giveaway. 
Then there is all the arcane ritual surrounding the making of wine. It has been turned into a business of immense complexity, an art form rather than something which is drunk. 
But is it really that complex? When my parents were having this house built the Italians who were doing the plaster work gave my mother a bottle of their home-made wine. She tried it and liked it. She gave some to a person who believed he was a bit of a wine expert. She didn't tell him where it came from and he thought it had come from a very expensive winery indeed. 
I don't drink alcohol. I am allergic to it and come out itching all over - not to be recommended. I do know though that, like home made anything, wine can be nice or nasty. That was apparently nice wine. 
So the fuss is surely all a bit of "con" job isn't it? And do we really need all that wine? For years some of it has been bought just to be thrown away. Other bottles, such as "Grange Hermitage", sell for far more than I would be prepared to pay even if I did drink wine. 
Wouldn't it be better and more useful for some of those grape growers to grow almonds or olives or peaches or something people could eat?
The people who grow our food should be respected and given all reasonable help. We should not be singling out those who grow something that should be nothing more than the occasional drink. They really are not that important when it comes to feeding people. 

Wednesday 8 April 2015

The "Australian" publishing industry

has enjoyed protections granted to publishing in no other country. But, things have changed in the last few years. There have been mergers in the publishing world. There has been the rise of e-books and "self-publishing" has become a viable option for many. 
E-books, Kindles and other e-readers may not be as popular as many thought they would be but they undoubtedly fill a need for many people. I know people who fill their Kindles to capacity before they go on holiday.
Many of the "self-published" books would never have seen "publication" at all before the electronic capacity now available to so many of us. I am not sure this is a good thing but it is a fact of life.
And it must be particularly tempting for many Downunder writers. Those protections which are supposed to "nurture" writers here are stifling publication rather than enhancing it. Bookshops do not benefit from those protections in the way in which it was intended. The laws were supposed to protect the market from being flooded with cheap remainders from abroad - from the US in particular but also from the UK. 
There are books that do not get "published" here at all so libraries never see them. Others take months and months after publication to reach the shelves. 
Even local authors suffer. The last book of one very popular and best selling author took eleven months to reach the shelves of the local library and that was considered to be "fast". Did the delay mean the author sold more copies? No. The book was not available in a local independent bookshop. I  could have bought a copy from the Book Depository for  $16.95 (including postage). The bookshop eventually got some copies and the price was $28.95. People who know these things are simply not going to pay the extra $12.
The idea that local authors benefit from these protections no longer holds true. Many. perhaps most, publishers are international. Any agent worthy of the title "agent" must surely work on an international basis now. Books with limited, local appeal are unlikely to attract publication now even if the restrictions stay in place. A good author will be talked about on sites like "Goodreads" and some will still make it to commercial media columns. 
Freeing up the market may not have the dire consequences for local writing that many predict. There may even be an increase in such services as "print on demand".
So, who do the restrictions benefit?

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Volunteers in libraries

are apparently keeping libraries open in some places - for now.
Our local library uses volunteers. I am not one of them. The staff would, I think, like me to be one but I can't make myself available at a regular time anywhere. My work isn't like that. It comes and goes and can pile up overnight or during a disaster - or fall to a manageable level at other times. 
There are other people who volunteer and I do not doubt that some of them do a good job.  But, I was sent a link to a blog post about volunteers in libraries. It was written by a librarian, a trained librarian. 
I know she wants to keep her job and of course she is going to say things about the way professional staff can do the job better. Unfortunately for those who would like libraries to rely more on volunteers what she had to say is true.
"Volunteering" here is now part of the job-seeking process. There are queues of people looking for work who say they want to volunteer so that they can put it on their CVs. It is not the best of reasons for wanting volunteer and it often doesn't work out well. Places like the library are expected to take people on to give the "experience" - even people who admit they "don't read much". It does not work well.
You can't rely on volunteers. They are likely to ring up at the last moment and tell you they won't be there - if they bother to tell you at all. 
In libraries they need to be shown how to do apparently simple jobs - like tidying the shelves. No, please  you do need to be shown how to "shelve" the returns! And no, it is not an exciting job but it is one that needs to be done. 
As someone with some training in librarianship I will often prowl along the shelves and return books to their correct locations. It is habit. But volunteers often don't understand how to do it or how much it matters that the job is done properly. 
Our local library will pair a volunteer with a staff member to do a stock check or weed out books for the annual book sale. That may make the job go a little faster but it is not particularly exciting. 
Many of these essential jobs in libraries are not exciting. They are not exciting but they do matter. They have to be done properly and carefully. "Messy" and "library" are two words which do not go together. 
I don't mind at all if, on prowling into the library, someone says, "Cat, would you mind showing this person where to find....?" or "Cat, do you know of any books about.... for children?" or "Cat, can you remember the name/author....?"
Questions like that make me feel welcome at the library - when the staff ask. They are not questions volunteers should be asking - except for themselves. They are not librarians.
"Volunteer" and "library" are words that should only go together with extreme caution. And libraries are such valuable information and social resources that they need to be staffed by well trained professionals. They save the community money.

Monday 6 April 2015

There is a child missing

in a national park in Victoria. He is eleven years old and he has been missing for three days now.
His photograph shows a child who is not really looking at the camera. Reports say he is autistic.
It may well make him much harder to find. If he follows the typical pattern of autistic children I have known he won't know to stay in one place. He almost certainly won't respond to people calling for him - perhaps not even his parents. He probably won't understand the dangers posed by water, by wildlife, or by the bushland he is apparently lost in.
By now he will be hungry and may try to eat something he should not eat. He will be thirsty and may try to drink water he should not drink. I say "may" to both those things because one autistic child I knew never thought to eat or drink unless food and drink was put directly into his hands.
He will be cold because he is not dressed for nights in the open.
Will he be frightened? Yes, he almost certainly will be but his fear will be mixed with confusion. In all likelihood, if his autism is severe enough, he won't really understand what he has done in wandering off. He may not understand where he is. His surroundings will register as different and he may actually like them because, although they will be complex, they may also be simple for him. He won't need to try and process the complexities of life with other people.
He will have no idea how much worry and work he is causing other people. His parents probably haven't slept since he disappeared. Other campers have had their holidays disrupted. The emergency search and rescue services have had to do over time. Everyone is aware that it may yet have a tragic end.
I hope not. I hope they find him today. I hope they find him standing there staring up at some small bird and seeing in it more than most people will ever see. I hope that, somewhere in his differently wired brain, he will remember his experience without fear.

Sunday 5 April 2015

"Where's Aunty Cat?"

"Is Aunty Cat back?"
"Is Aunty Cat here?"
"Have you seen my Aunty Cat?"
"Is my Aunty Cat here?"
Yes, my nephew was looking for me. Middle Cat rang just before lunch and informed me woefully that the cheap pyjama pants she had bought for her hospital stay were falling down and she needed some better ones that actually fitted. Oh. She is several sizes larger than me so I could not loan her anything. I promised to visit the unmentionable shop on my way to my knitting meeting or on my way from the knitting meeting  - whichever turned out to be the best. 
I did it on my to meeting  just to be certain I actually got it done.
I bought the requested bottoms but could not find tops to match. But Middle Cat had told me "a couple of t-shirts will do". I prowled into the "tops" section. They have winter stock in with long sleeves but no short sleeves that will fit Middle Cat's broad shoulders.
I head for the men's clothing section. Ah, things on sale...but Middle Cat does not need XXL or even XXXL and that XL is - vile. I prowled on. I explained the problem to a helpful sales assistant who apparently had nothing to do - remarkable in that particular establishment. She nodded and helped me prowl through two more "sale" racks. 
There they were - two XL t-shirts with a brand of car displayed on front. Sales assistant looked doubtful. I smiled an evil smile. My sister is a bit of a car fiend. They would be perfect. They were a mere $5 each. That made it even more perfect.
But Nephew-Cat was looking for me...he had rung the Senior Cat who explained that I had gone to do the shopping and then go to the meeting. Nephew Cat had gone to the meeting and then the shop and thus missed me both ways. 
And Nephew Cat also did some shopping. He bought Middle Cat a pair of pyjama bottoms. They were the right size too. 
I have not yet spoken to him but Middle Cat was very impressed that her son could manage such shopping. I am too. 
But it all made me realise that I really don't much care for this shopping lark.
And I should keep my phone turned on so that my nephew can contact his Aunty Cat when he needs to.

Saturday 4 April 2015

Does a "painting wall" in

the backyard sound like a good idea?
My nephew-in-law thinks it is. He has attached a child-height "wall" to one fence in their back garden where his children can "paint". They can go out there and make a glorious mess of water-poster colour on this wall - there and nowhere else. If they want to save the pictures then someone takes a photograph. 
The wall gets used frequently. Visiting children love it too. It is always carefully explained that this is a special painting wall and that is the only place that it is all right to use paint. His children understand the concept of "graffiti". 
They also paint indoors of course - when they are indoors. Their backyard is built to play in. There is a vegetable garden but, apart from that there is an above ground pool (with security fencing and adult only gate features). There is a sand pit and a tree house (you climb six feet up the ladder to get there), bars to swing on, a swing attached to a tree and paths for riding on.
If it is not actually raining you are likely to find the children outside. They have no problems entertaining themselves there.
Even inside they seem to have no problems entertaining themselves. They just get on with it. Of course they also watch the occasional bit of television but cuddling up to someone for a story is much preferred.
Yes, they have far more toys than we had as children but they do not have nearly as many as their cousins. My nephew's children appear to have a vast number of toys but no similar outdoor play area. Their backyard is designed for ease of maintenance. There is  no vegetable garden or even a sandpit. It's understandable if both parents work long hours and are not of the same practical bent. 
Even with all the toys they have my nephew's children are much less able to entertain themselves. Their play can be quite imaginative but they expect constant adult involvement in what they are doing.
The contrast between the two families is stark. The Senior Cat was commenting on this after my brother and his wife left. It also made me think. I am the one who buys the books we give them as presents - books being easy to post and something we believe to be very important. The odd thing is that I am already buying books which are distinctly different for the two families - or I think I am. This time I gave my brother a book to take back for the eldest child in the backyard family. It is a book filled with activity. The children in it are out and about and doing things.
It is not a book I would have contemplated for her slightly older cousin. I am a little disturbed by this. As children we spent most of our time outside - even if we took our books out there to read. We would all have loved a book filled with action - and just about any other book as well. 
I need to review my book choosing habits. Perhaps the non-active child needs some action to spur her on?

Friday 3 April 2015

I have Carole Blake to

thank for the fact that I have just ordered a book called "How to sharpen pencils"  by a chap called David Rees. It looks to be the perfect present for my nephew for his birthday. It may even be a good book for my brother - who shares the same sort of wacky sense of humour.
I have also bought multiple copies of a colouring book in the past year - although not for either of them. I bought Johanna Basford's "Secret Garden - an inky treasure hunt" for ill and distressed friends and for the Youngest Cat who happens to like playing with pencils.
When I told the Senior Cat I was going to buy a colouring in book for someone in hospital he looked appalled.
"You can't give her a colouring in book. Those are for children."
"Have a look at it," I told him. 
He looked and agreed it might be just the thing after all. I added pencils and a sharpener. It all cost less than a bunch of flowers that would only have lasted a week.
And yes, she loved it.
I have since repeated the exercise for a couple of other people who needed it because there is, for some humans, something soothing about the process of colouring in. It is not quite like doodling but it  still has some of that same therapeutic capacity. There may even be less stress involved as you don't need to create the design. The most stressful part would appear to be choosing which colour to put in which place. 
I have just had an e-mail telling me about the dates for a craft fair. I'll be helping a friend there but the organisers have mentioned that they are putting up a wall of  Johanna Basford's Secret Garden drawings and they want people to fill them in to make an art work. It is apparently being done with the blessing of the artist and it will be interesting to see if she comments after the event. (She has already done so prior to it.) 
It will also be interesting to see whether people do actually colour some of it in. I am sure some of them will even while others ignore it. I also wonder how they will colour it in. Will they pencil it, ink it, paint it, crayon it or paste something on? What colours will they choose? Will they cooperate with others and put in something they believe makes the coloured design more coherent? Will they think, "That's a mess!" or "That's amazing!" Will they love it or hate it or  think it is ridiculous. 
I don't know of course but perhaps it is an idea that they could take up in medical surgeries and other secure places where people wait. Give someone some coloured pencils and the picture on the wall to fill in while they wait.  If it is soothing it might bring their blood pressure down. 
And, if they don't want to do that then perhaps they would care to sharpen the pencils - always after they have read the book of course.

Thursday 2 April 2015

I know someone who "double tithes"

and he does it because the church he belongs to tells him he "must" do it. Of course they also require that he gives the money to them.
He sometimes struggles to pay his bills. I found him in the supermarket yesterday looking for the cheapest loaf of day old bread...well, several days old. It was "all (he) can afford". There was not a lot else in his trolley.
"I'll have to ask you how to cook some other stuff," he said.
"No you won't," I told him. 
I'd had enough. His "church" is bleeding him dry. That week they had asked for more "donations" for an "outreach" project for Easter.
I didn't have much time yesterday. My brother and his partner have been here for a few, all too brief, days to see Middle Cat. (Middle Cat is still in hospital.) I am worried about the way the Senior Cat is worrying about Middle Cat and I am concerned for Middle Cat. Perhaps I was less sympathetic than I should have been for the Tither.
I blew up. I did it quietly but I pointed out that he does not earn a lot. Tithing made sense when there was no form of social security and when people needed to share in order to survive. If people wish to tithe now then that is their affair but "double" tithing when you earn very little or have very little and need to go without basics makes no sense to me. 
He looked at me and I could see he was frightened. 
"They wouldn't like it," he told me.
"Who wouldn't like it?"
"The people at church. Everyone does it."
"Do they? And where does the money go?"
He hesitated and I pointed out that I know where their "pastor" lives and what sort of car he drives.
"You're funding his fancy life style."
I held my hand up and said, "Think about it. You aren't eating properly. Did you keep the house cool in summer? Did you water the garden? When did you last go out except to church? Are you still in contact with any friends outside church?"
"It's none of your business!"
"No - not unless you ask me how to cook something," I told him looking at the home brand baked beans and three day old cheap white sliced.
I went off to get the milk we needed.
At the check out a little later he was ahead of me. He ignored me - but in his basket there was some good wholemeal bread, some sausages and milk among other things - and there was a small packet of chocolate eggs as well. 
I went off to get some fruit and vegetables at the greengrocer. When I returned there was a small chocolate egg in the bicycle basket. 
I think I know where it came from.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

First we were told that

there were children being held in asylum seeker detention on Nauru. Then we were told there were no children. Now we are told there are children. Then we were told they were not getting an education. Now we are told they are getting an education.
But wait. We are told it was not a good education.  Now they are going to close the school and send them to school with the local children on the island.
But wait again. They don't want to go to the local school. Letters are being written. Apparently it is a good education after all. They want to stay in  the detention centre. It's safer there too - although just a short while ago we were being told it was too dangerous for children to be in detention. We were being told that they were being subjected to violence and sexual assault and all sorts of other dangers.
I do not want children in detention. It is simply wrong to have children who have done nothing wrong in detention. They should not be there.
But - and yes, there is a "but" - I do not want children being used as pawns.
The media will say whatever stirs up news. Accuracy is not an issue. "Refugee advocates" have an interest in making sure that the picture is as black as possible. Those seeking refugee status also have an interest in making sure that the situation is reported to their advantage. "The truth" would seem to be whatever people want to believe.
The reality may be rather different. Nauru survives on handouts. It might be said that they had no choice about accepting the detention centre on their island. They needed the money and employment it brings in. There is a small group of local people who are opposed to the idea but, I am told, most accept it as a means of their survival too. Capable young people who care about their own futures tend to go off to live in New Zealand or other places. It might seem selfish but it is understandable.
It makes sense to put any children left in the detention centre on Nauru into the local schools. It will actually help the local schools because it will bring in more money for education from outside of Nauru. That will help to raise the standard of education there. That might give the place some small chance for the future - or at least give young people a chance if they move on elsewhere.
Yes, there are problems. Children in detention are often traumatised. They don't speak the language. There are often behaviour issues. They may not have had any schooling at all. If they have been to school they may still be behind. They may need extra help in many ways. 
But will any children left in detention actually be allowed to go to the local schools? It might be the policy of others but some decisions in detention centres rest with powerful interests among those seeking asylum. If they decide that children should not attend local schools - or even go to school in the detention centre - then they will not go. It matters not to them if children are not getting an education. All that matters to them is the pressure they can put on a government to grant them "refugee status". 
A colleague has just come back from another detention centre. He heard a child pleading to be allowed to go to school in the detention centre. Her mother was saying "no" - "no" because the men in her group had decided there would be no education at all until they were granted the refugee status they wanted. That status is in serious doubt so they are using the women and children as pawns.
Detention centres are vile places but the children in them don't need to lack an education when it is offered to them. That is using children as pawns. That is unacceptable.