Wednesday 30 September 2015

"You trust her then?"

a neighbour asked me.
Ms Whirlwind is doing a hospital visit today. A friend of hers has had surgery. It was "touch and go" for a while and Ms W has been worried about her friend. All the reassurance in the world did not help while her friend was in the various stages of not being able to have visitors apart from her parents.
A couple of days ago though the mother, knowing  that Ms W was anxious and missing her friend finally phoned me and said,
"A's ready for a short visit if it can be arranged."
This involves a trip into the city and up the hill to the Women and Children's Hospital. 
I discussed it with Ms W's father. We agreed that not only should she be allowed to go  but that she should be trusted to go. So I said to Ms W, "A's Mum rang me. She says A is ready for a short visit. How would you like to come in with me when I go to the dentist on Wednesday and then you can go up to the hospital while I'm there?"
"By myself?"
"Yes. A's Mum will meet you there but you can get there by yourself."
She thought about this for a moment and then said, "I need to take her something."
"Fine," I told her. So she wasn't worried about going there.
No. We planned the trip. She will go on the train with me. She can see the cathedral from the corner. Walk  up to that and cross the road to the  hospital. Someone there will show her where to find the right place. When she has stayed "just ten minutes" she can walk back down the hill and stay with her father's secretary until I am finished at the dentist.
She's thirteen. She should be able to do this. But the neighbour was clearly worried. She "wouldn't let a thirteen year old do that alone". 
Well, her father will. I will. We trust her. This is the middle of the morning. There will be people around, probably quite a lot of children because it is school holidays. 
Yesterday Ms W showed me what she planned to take. She had talked to a few more friends. They had put some money together and bought "a proper grown up sort of colouring book - the garden one because she liked it when we saw it in the shop - and some pencils and a sharpener AND something to put the pencil bits in when she sharpens them". The last was said with great emphasis.
I am not in the least bit bothered about her heading off this morning. If she can think about somewhere to put pencil shavings in those circumstances I think she is pretty responsible and reliable right round. I trust her. 

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Would good manners

help to reduce domestic violence?
I haven't followed it up but apparently one of our younger politicians is suggesting just that. I am appalled.
I am appalled not by the idea but that it actually has to be suggested. It should be a given. Good manners are about respecting each other aren't they?
I suppose the Senior Cat is very old fashioned. He believes in opening doors for women and walking on the outside of the footpath. He taught my brother to do the same thing and he taught his son. My sister and her  husband did the same with their boys.
The men I like the most are the men who behave with that sort of thoughtfulness.
I remember vividly the introductory lecture at law school. I think it shocked some of the students. It had nothing to do with the law. The Dean spoke quietly but firmly. This was the law school. It was a place where the behaviour expected in the law courts applied in the law school. That meant that people would respect one another. He went on to say, "Men will open doors for women here and women will respect them for doing it. Equally if a woman sees a man struggling to open a door she will hold it back for them. If you don't like that then please leave now because there is no place for you here."
Some of the "bib and braces brigade" as we called the then rather radical feminists didn't like it much but they accepted it. I always felt safe around the law school.
Some years before that I had occasion to be in Brixton, London on more than one occasion. It wasn't too bad during the day but I had to visit one of my research families one evening.
"Don't worry Cat I'll send the boys down to meet you," the mother said.
"The boys" turned out to be two teenagers dressed like "bovver" boys. We got stopped by the cops coming out of Brixton station. Was I, they wanted to know, all right?
Yes thank you, I told them, this was my escort. In the way that only London bobbies could they accepted it with a smile and told the boys to take good care of me.
And I did feel safe with them. Their manner was rough but their manners were impeccable. 
So  has something gone wrong since then? Have parents stopped teaching their children good manners? Do they now expect the schools to do that? What sort of message are children getting from the adults around them and, perhaps more importantly, from the media? 
Apparently there is a bit of media stir over the comments made by this politician. There shouldn't be. He's right. Good manners are about respect for one another. Domestic violence does not occur where there is respect for one another. 
I won't apologise for  saying that. 

Monday 28 September 2015

Wind turbines?

I know nothing about them. It seems that the youngest son of someone I am virtually acquainted with does. At just fifteen years of age he set about doing some emergency work on theirs when one of the springs snapped. (The springs apparently prevent it from going too rapidly.) I sent her a message and said to tell him it was "bloody brilliant" and the sort of thing that a resident of Downunder would do.
Well, some residents of Downunder. I doubt there would be many city-slickers who could manage it but some of the rural kids could.
It is the sort of thing they do out there. They have to even now. It can take a long time to get help. An essential part might not arrive for a week or more. You "make do". Oh yes, Downunder is full of strange and wonderful "repairs" and other devices. Some of them are models of ingenuity. Others are dangerous.
When we lived in a tiny community on the "west coast" of this state we went to visit a sheep station some distance the the north of us. It was an isolated place where the children did their school work by correspondence and "School of the Air". Even the area around the homestead covered a lot of ground. 
One of the boys living on the property had made a "billy cart" - four wheels, a body, steering and so on. The Senior Cat had a good look at this thing - partly I suspect because I was going to be hauled off on it and he wanted to be sure it was safe. I can remember him asking the boy how he had made it. The boy shrugged. "Just did." 
He wasn't being rude. It was something he had "just" done. Nobody had told him he couldn't do it. It was the sort of thing you did do out there.
The Senior Cat had to be able to do things too. We had a 32v power plant in several locations. He had to help put two of them in. He ran pipes to two houses so that we could have water inside. He mended things. He didn't do all the things that farmers would have done because he didn't always have the equipment. Someone would then turn up with the necessary tools and help. It was the way things were done and I expect are still done. 
There wasn't anything sexist about this either. Although  it was usually a male domain there were plenty of women who could  turn their hand to most things as well. Late last year an acquaintance of mine was talking to his elderly neighbour. He was about to phone for a plumber. She looked at him in disgust and told him, "Just go and get X and Y and Z and I'll show you what to do." 
He went off meekly and, at almost 90 she saved him several hundred dollars. Yes,  she had grown up on a farm and later married a farmer.  She still knew what to do after almost twenty years in the city.
I do wonder how many always-urban dwellers could do such things.But perhaps it is in the national psyche? There was the tense occasion in a crowded, chaotic refugee situation in Africa when someone suddenly yelled, "Is there a doctor available? British Army or Australian?"
The person who told me this said, "We knew what they meant. Those are the people who can make do and get it done."
Downunderites have a reputation for it. It seems the British do too.

Sunday 27 September 2015

I see Lucy Turnbull

has said she intends to carry on her life as before even though her husband/partner is now Prime Minister.
That's an interesting idea. I wonder whether she will be able to do it?
It came under discussion at the library yesterday and opinions were divided on the topic. How much should one person give up for another?
The Senior Cat had a very close friend who, with extreme reluctance, turned down a chair at Cambridge because his wife flatly refused to go or allow the children to go. He spent the rest of his life regretting what might have been. 
A cousin of the Senior Cat was in the diplomatic service. His wife saw herself as being part of the team. They were posted all over the world, often to some difficult and dangerous places, before they finally returned to Canberra - and both of them went on hosting diplomats from all over the world. I asked her once if she regretted not having a career of her own. No, she told me, being a diplomat's partner can be a career.
My cousin and his partner currently live in London. His partner would like to stay there. My cousin is not as keen. It will be interesting to see what happens.
I have known other people who have had to make choices about location, partnership, or career.  It has always been difficult. 
But I wonder too if there aren't times  when you simply have to accept that there is a need to give. If your partner is a sailor then you surely know that they are going to be away at sea sometimes. If someone is in the police force then you surely have to accept that the role can sometimes be dangerous.
You might be lucky of course and be able to pursue your own career or have a very accommodating employer. I had a lecturer at  university who was able to retain her post each time she needed to go overseas with her husband. It is not the sort of thing that happens often. But we talked about it once and she told me she knew that marriage to her husband would mean certain adjustments to her own career.  It was, she thought, the right way around. His was the more high profile job by far. Partnership meant accepting that you had responsibilities as well as rights. 
If you are the partner to the Prime Minister then does this mean that you should give up your own career? I think the general consensus would now be that this shouldn't be necessary. 
As we were talking yesterday though I thought back over what I knew about the partners of people in high positions. Many of them have worked very hard to support their partners and the partnerships have often been very successful - as have been the careers of the major player.
We didn't resolve the issue of course. There are too many variables but I wonder what I would want to do if I had to make such a compromise or choice.

Saturday 26 September 2015

The Senior Cat is going to a recital

this afternoon. A friend is taking him up into the hills to hear  a colleague of their church organist play the harpsichord. 
It is not quite the Senior Cat's "thing" as he put it - but he likes the organist as a person.Her friend will probably be just as nice.
"What," I wanted to know, "is he playing?"
"I don't know," he told me. He found the ticket and muttered,
"Bach - no, I don't know - I thought his name was John -  the German sort."
"You mean Johann Sebastian?"
"Yes," he passed me the ticket.
"Oh that's Carl Philip Emmanuel - one of his sons."
The Senior Cat raised his eyebrows. I explained about the Bach family. He'd forgotten. He prefers Mozart to Bach.
And then he looked at me and said, "I wonder what will happen about twenty years from now. They don't teach music in school any more and if you don't go to church you aren't going to hear that sort of thing. Will it just die out?"
It is an interesting question. There are still children learning to play musical instruments of course. They tend to be middle class. They tend to come from families where music is part of every day life. My nephews here had music lessons and went on to compose and record a number of "songs"  before their careers separated them. I doubt they would recognise Bach or Mozart but they would know it was what they would call "classical" music. 
The Whirlwind sings in the school choir. She can read music and pick out a tune on the piano well enough to learn to sing something. 
"When I go to university I'll join AUCS," she told me, "It will be good fun." 
Yes, the university choral society is good fun. And they still do the Bach family as well as more modern pieces. 
Not so long ago too I had to drop some books off to a house not far from here. As I arrived I heard their piano being played. Someone was trying the same few bars over and over again. I recognised the piece. My siblings all had to learn it when they were learning to play the piano.
The mother came  up the side path as I arrived.
"Do you have much trouble getting him to practice?" I asked as we stopped to listen.
"No. I have trouble getting him away from it. He wants to learn the organ. That's going to be a real issue but  we'll support him."
I thought of the several excellent pipe organs around the city. I think Bach might be around for a bit longer yet.

Friday 25 September 2015

The Book Bus

didn't really begin until around 2008  but it has been a resounding success. 
So, what's the Book Bus? You can find it here: 
The Book Bus charity, helping children in Africa, Asia and South America
Volunteer projects reading with children in Africa, Asia and South America.

 you can find the amazing Jen Campbell who wants to try and raise more money for their efforts by writing 100 poems over 48 hours.

The Book Bus is a project which means a lot to me. The Library Canoe and the Llama Library also mean a lot to me, as do a lot of other small libraries that operate in unexpected ways. 
Yes, there is a library which operates out of a canoe  in Africa - more than one actually. It is "just a canoe with some books in it". It  goes up and down one  of the rivers and  it allows children to access a few precious  books. They are the only books most of these children see.  The Llama Library works in much the same way in the  High Andes - in countries like Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. 
No, they aren't libraries with thousands of books but they are still libraries. They let people, especially children, access things to read.
Some of these things started as tiny, one off projects for International Literacy Year. In that mad, crazy, whirl of a year people talked to me about many things. "Can we...?" "Shall we...?"
"What if we...?" "How about we...?" and so it went on. Most of the time I couldn't help but they went ahead anyway. Sometimes there were people who could  be put in touch with people.
Some of the projects did not get off the ground. Others did. Some ceased operating because of lack of funds. Others no longer exist because others things took their place. Most of them though are still going. There are tiny huts in the most unexpected places with the word "library" on them. There are carts and canoes, bicycles, boats, buses, and more - all with small libraries 
It takes a lot of planning, time and effort to set up and run something like the Book Bus project. It takes money to keep it going. 
If  you are  interested then Jen would appreciate your support - and so will those  who use the Book Bus.

Thursday 24 September 2015

What would it be like to be

"super intelligent"? I don't know. I'm not.
I read an article about Terry Tao a couple of days ago. He's a mathematician, born and bred here. He won the Field's Medal - the "Nobel Prize" for Mathematics. He went to school with people I know. They didn't know him.
Oh, they met him. One of them was even in the same class for a while but although they knew him in the way that anyone might know a classmate they didn't know him at all.
"You sort of knew him but then he'd say something to the teacher that the rest of us didn't get at all. I'm not sure the teacher always got it. They kicked him up a couple of years after that and we lost sight of him. Then he went off to uni instead."
He did go to university early. He had his doctorate at about twenty years of age. I don't envy him. I think he must have been pretty lonely - although he might not have recognised that. It wasn't all easy for him according to the article.
I have a friend who would probably be considered "super intelligent" too. She went to university a year earlier than the average. She could have gone a year before that but she chose to wait. She did not waste the intervening year. She went off to a foreign country, taught English and learned another language. She speaks seven languages fluently enough to be both an interpreter and translator in them at the highest levels. She can also make herself understood in at least five more. In her rare time off she can often be found at a school for profoundly intellectually disabled children who have very limited communication skills. It's an extraordinary contrast.
I know her IQ is very, very high. It is on of those almost off the scale ones which generally have "experts" swooping. She avoided most of the problems because she didn't - for entirely unrelated and unavoidable reasons - go to school until she was thirteen. By then she had learned to hide her intellectual capacity from everyone but her guardian and the people who helped her learn. I won't say they taught her because, once she could read, she really taught herself. We talked about it once. It was not something she wanted to boast about. It bothered her. She was and often is lonely. Other people simply don't think the way she thinks. She tries to understand them but, oddly, the profoundly disabled children seem to understand her better than most people.
I sent her the article I had read on Terry Tao and she e-mailed me this morning with, "What I find interesting is what the article doesn't say."
Yes, I found that interesting too. It doesn't say that people like her and Terry still need to work - and work hard. It doesn't say anything about the increased responsibility which goes, or should go, with being that intelligent. 
And it doesn't say anything about the need for friendship and support. Just being "super-intelligent" is not enough. People need more than that.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

What do they think they are doing

when they "ban" bikie gangs and "ban" those who have been associated with them from owning firearms?
Don't misunderstand me please. I don't want to see criminal gangs condoned and I would be much happier if nobody had a firearm.
Our state government seems to believe that "banning" these things is going to stop them. It won't.
I read a book once on "bikie" culture. It was a serious study of motorcycle gangs, those who belong to them, their activities and the way they function. It was  something I was asked to read. I found it interesting - and disturbing.
"Bikies" are not necessarily bad people. I have met a few. They can be as kind and caring as anyone else. While I suspect that the annual Christmas "toy run" here is a public relations exercise for many there are times when they will just quietly go in and help. 
The man who is the "key holder" for the hall where a group I belong to meets has never been able to work. He suffered serious burns as a child. His lungs were damaged and his skin causes him constant problems. He often needs to spend a couple of nights in hospital. 
He doesn't belong to a bikie gang. He's never ridden a motor bike. But there are bikies who have had burns injuries and they have met him in hospital. 
On a day when he's "not feeling great" it is not unusual for a couple of them to turn up quietly at the hall and check to see he's not in need of help. 
One afternoon, after the meeting was over, I went out and found him with one of the bikies. They were standing by my tricycle. The bikie nodded to me and walked off.
"We put the new brake cable in for you," S told me.
I had left the new cable in a bag on the handlebars and they had found it and done the job without asking. 
"Do I owe him anything?" I asked.
"Nah. He says he owes you - for helping some mate of his."
I thought that through and then realised that the bikie probably meant someone who had come off a motorbike and was a paraplegic or quadriplegic as a result. I have written a few letters and helped them fill out a few forms on occasion through an advocacy group. Who? I didn't know.
It was an experience though that has made me wonder whether just "banning" these groups is the answer. 
They want to be seen as hard, tough people but some of them seem to have a softer side. Help someone they regard as a "mate" and they will help you it seems.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Cancer is a bitch

of a thing. It creeps up silently on people, may stay a while and then appear to go away - only to return and wreck a  body and everyone else around that body.
There was a message in my time line this morning to say that someone on my regular pedalling route is back in hospital. She had breast cancer some years ago. Everyone thought she had "recovered" but now it seems to be back - in her lungs. It was discovered when she was having difficulty breathing.
She has never smoked. Her husband has never smoked.They are good people who have faced other tragedies in their lives. Despite those tragedies they have helped numerous other people. 
They have been "go to" people. 
"Perhaps L.... can..." and "D has a trailer..." and "L's artistic and she won't mind doing the flowers/drawing that..." and "D will organise that...".
They have given of their time and their talents to their neighbours and to the community as well as their family. I have been guilty of dobbing D  in once for the use of that trailer - to take a great load of books to a church fete. When I told him I felt guilty about asking he laughed and said, "I don't mind in the least Cat. Happy to help."
Well,they might need some help now and I would like to be one of those to give it - if I can.
But there are some things you have to face alone and L...will have to face some of what is to come on her own.All we can do is be there.

Monday 21 September 2015

Changeover time?

I have just had a quick check on Facebook. It is not a place where I spend much time. Some days I forget to look even though I post a link to my blog on there.
But Facebook can sometimes be useful in the oddest of ways. It was today. There was a post by someone who has just spent some time changing her wardrobe from summer to winter. It reminded me that I should get out the short-sleeve t-shirts and iron them ready to wear.
My wardrobe is, I suppose, sparse. I work from home. I don't need "going to work" clothes. I wear jeans and t-shirts most of the time. I have good trousers for when I need to "dress up" a bit. I have a few shirts rather than blouses. I own one floral blouse - bought for me by Middle Cat who thought I should have "at least one thing like that". I have yet to wear it. A good many of my clothes are navy or blue. 
"Aren't you interested?!" Middle Cat has demanded from time to time. Coming from someone who wears t-shirts and tops with go-kart and V8 car racing on  them I think that is a bit much. 
Am I interested? I don't know. Not really. I don't prowl the shops looking for clothes unless I actually need something. 
There was a "dress shop" in our local shopping centre. I had to pass it to go into the supermarket. I got to know the woman who ran the quite well . She sometimes needed to leave the shop for a short time and would ask me to mind it. I would get paid with "staff discount" whenever I bought something - which was not often. I was about the unlikeliest person to be minding the shop. The owner lived in another state. If I answered the phone, as I sometimes had to do, and she was at the other end she eventually knew me and would ask, "Have we sold you a dress yet?"
No. I don't own a dress.
But the woman who ran the shop, G,  understood me and my clothing habits very well. If I needed something new I would tell her. She would think about it. I don't ever remember her producing something on the spot. It was more a matter of, "Wait. The boss is bringing the price of something  that might suit you down" or "There's something coming in soon that might be right."
I took her advice. She dressed with style. It wasn't my style but she knew style. She knew fabric and fit and fashion which lasted rather than dated.
She has been gone for years now but I still have things in my sparse wardrobe she recommended. They will probably last a few years yet. 
I wish she was around for other reasons too. She never once questioned my interest or lack of interest in clothes and she never once suggested I wear pink.
It is time to haul out the short-sleeve t-shirts and iron them.

Sunday 20 September 2015

I was both delighted and alarmed

yesterday when someone suggested that the Senior Cat and I might like to go to her place for "dinner". Nothing specific was said and I know she was thinking he might find it rather difficult.
She likes the Senior Cat - rather a lot - but she has only ever seen him on his home territory - and during the day. 
In the middle of the afternoon, having  had his post prandial nap he is alert and ready to make conversation with anyone he finds interesting. He finds her very interesting. (He will be polite to other people but he really perks up when it is  someone he can engage with intellectually.)
I suspect people forget how old he is and how much of an effort it can be for someone of 92 to engage in conversation, especially in the evenings. If he was invited out the Senior Cat would accept the invitation in order to be polite. He would not enjoy himself. He would, at that hour of day, be worried about not hearing things and falling asleep over the soup. He hasn't been anywhere except to family for the past couple of years. 
But he still goes out during the day. He's off to a gardening meeting today with Middle Cat. It means I can defrost the freezer and wash the floors in relative peace and without worrying he might slip by coming in and walking on a wet floor. (I have terrifying visions of his walker sliding off ahead of him at such times. Perhaps I worry too much.)
But invitations out in the evening are to be avoided if possible. When some evening event has come up at his church or among his friends and acquaintances he has said to me many times,
"I hope nobody thinks I might want to go. It would be nice of them but I really don't want to go out at night any more."
If we do go over to Middle Cat's place he knows he can come home early. Middle Cat's house is designed to be accessible - for their old age. This house is also designed to be accessible. I hope he can stay here where he feels comfortable. It's his home and he is like a tortoise gradually withdrawing into the home-shell for winter.
So I have left a message to explain it would be easier for her to bring her two delightful grandchildren over here. After all the other advantage of that is that he has all those magic tricks in his study and he can teach them how to do some - if they come here. 


Saturday 19 September 2015

I had a letter in the paper

There is nothing particularly unusual about this. I do write letters to the editor occasionally. I think I have mentioned it elsewhere in this blog.
Yesterday I took aim at the new Prime Minister and the way he had managed to get the job. The Senior Cat read it and said, "You're not pulling any punches are you?" 
No, I wasn't.
A bit later the phone rang - a complete stranger looking for "the man who wrote the letter in today's paper". (I write under my initials and it confuses most humans, especially male humans who tend to assume that initials means the writer must be male.) He was rather taken aback to learn the person who answered the phone was female - and literate. Still, he told me, it was a good letter.
And then I prowled up the street because I needed to go to the Post Office and the bookshop.
There is always a queue in the Post Office and it tends to move rather slowly. Yesterday it moved very slowly indeed. There was more than one person in the queue who knew me and remarked on the letter. Other people heard them. The three Post Office staff chipped in saying they hadn't read it yet. Someone unfolded the paper he had just bought and read it - aloud. 
I squirmed but, left or right of politics, they seemed to like what I had to say.
My turn came at the counter and I posted my niece's birthday present and then dived for cover in the bookshop.
"Good letter Cat," someone told me as I was hiding behind one of the shelves. Grrrrrr....
I bought the book I wanted and went into the greengrocer. I thought  I was perfectly safe in there. The staff are lovely but they don't read newspapers. No, there was the retired Chief Librarian buying something. He nobbled me - but he liked the letter. 
I pedalled home, stopping on the way to give the elderly cocker spaniel a pat - because he was looking hopefully over the gate. Someone else walking another dog stopped,
"You're the one who...."
I finally made it inside the house. If the phone rang then the Senior Cat could answer it. I was "out". 
And then someone else did phone. It was a call from someone close to the nerve centre of the last week's political shenanigans. I thought I was in for a blasting but all he said was,
"Cat, did you have to be so damn forthright?"
Yes, I did. I wasn't going to allow a  basically decent man to be knifed in the back. It isn't the way things should be done at any time. 
But the thing that annoyed me is that so many people, most of whom I don't know (at least by name), right across the political spectrum agreed with me. They agreed with me now that the man they loved to hate is out of the way. They would not have written a letter themselves for fear of being seen to support him. 
I wanted to call them all cowards for not supporting him earlier - but I was too damn cowardly to say it.

Friday 18 September 2015

Yesterday's trip to the dentist

was not without incident. 
It began with the train running even later than usual. Nearly thirteen minutes late does make a difference. I made it in time - just.
My dentist is nice but she did find that tooth with the chip in it and told me I had to come back again. Sigh. No, I did hope she would notice because it is rough - but couldn't she have a fairy dental wand? I mean I did give her that short story last Christmas. You would think she could do something about it.
And then, as I was waiting to make the next appointment their phone rang. I heard the receptionist say "Yes Mr P. I don't know if he has his mobile with him or not. How do I tell him if he can't read?"
I recognised the surname of one of the local interpreters for the deaf and looked in the direction the receptionist was looking in. Sure enough there was one of the more elderly members of the deaf community pacing backwards and forwards and looking agitated. I know him but not well. I know he really didn't go to school because he was brought up on a remote property. No, he doesn't read more than survival language. 
I couldn't help but hear the rest of the conversation. The interpreter was running late because the next train was even later than mine. He had only just arrived in the city. If he really hurried, almost ran, he could make it to the dental clinic in ten minutes. 
The receptionist put the phone down looking rather anxious so I took a breath and said,
"I couldn't help hearing that. I know him slightly. Would you like me to explain?"
So I waved when he was facing me and signed, "You - phone?" 
He shrugged in a way which suggested he didn't have it with him.  He came over to me still looking anxious. I was struggling to remember P's "name sign" and couldn't.
So I just signed "Interpreter P phone train" and then tapped my own watch to indicate late. He nodded and looked questioningly at me again and I signed "come" and held up all ten fingers.
He nodded and smiled and signed "thank you" and then with a rather mischievous smile added.  "You - child - sign."
We both laughed. He's right. My signing must look like that of a young child.

Text messages have changed communication for the deaf but it isn't much use if you don't take your phone with you or you don't have it switched on and your ability to read is minimal.
The receptionist thanked me, made another appointment for me and I paid the amount owing that day. As I was unlocking my tricycle P came hurrying along.He nodded to me and I said,
"Slow down. I told him you would be ten minutes late."
He stopped briefly. "You were in there? Thanks Cat."
My sign language really is minimal and poorly executed. A lot of it takes the sort of manual dexterity I don't have but I got that message across. 
I went off thinking - not for the first time - how exhausting it must be for the profoundly deaf to communicate with the rest of us. I'm glad I was there too.

Thursday 17 September 2015

The "Safety House" program

is closing. It should not be closing.
It was a program whereby people volunteered to act as a safe haven for a child who felt frightened, was lost or in other distress. It also helped adults with dementia.
The idea was simple. People would, after an interview and character check, display a bright yellow sign in a front window which showed a house with a smile. There would be another sign on a street corner.
I used to note these as I pedalled out because, before I had a mobile phone, I knew I would be able to ask someone at home in the house to let a friend know I had a flat tyre and he would come to help.  I never needed to do it but it was comforting to know that the help would almost certainly be there if I needed it.
And children did need it. They still need it. At a safety house they knew that they could knock or ring and a responsible adult would take over. They would be given somewhere to sit and, if necessary, a drink of water. The responsible adult would then a make a telephone call to a parent, the police or someone else the child asked for. Adults with dementia would have their ID checked and the person on the card would be called.
It was a wonderful system used in more ways than one. I know it was used when two boys riding their bikes came across a man who was having an epileptic seizure in the street. They recognised what was happening because they had seen something similar with another child at their school. One boy stayed with the man and the other went to the safety house around the corner, explained the situation and got help.
It was used when another boy fell of his skateboard and broke his wrist. He went into the nearest safety house. A girl coming home from school was being followed by a car with a man she did not recognise and did not like the look of. She saw a safety house sign and went in. Stupidly he idled the car long enough for the responsible adult to get his numberplate and he was caught. 
No doubt the list of those helped is long.
And so they are going to close it. Oh "kids have mobile phones these days. We don't need it any more. It is too expensive to do the regular checks on volunteers." 
What if you have lost your phone or it has been snatched from you? What if there has been an accident or another medical incident? How does an adult with dementia who is lost get help they can trust?
Yes, I know part of the problem is the expense of running the scheme. We are pricing "volunteering" out of existence with the need for police checks and repeated checks. They are supposed to save people from abuse, particularly sexual abuse.
The problem is that all a police check really says is, "This person has not been caught doing anything wrong." It is only a start.
Sometimes children will be fortunate. The Whirlwind came to me when her mother died. She came because she knew where I lived and I had let her, as the very small child she then was, "ride" my tricycle.  Would she have been there alone all day? What sort of effect would that have had on her?
Don't we have to hope there will be someone they know and trust nearby? But what if there isn't?
We need safe havens. 

Wednesday 16 September 2015

While all the politicking was

going on in Canberra yesterday your non-resident cat was doing something rather more interesting but absolutely exhausting. 
I was at the Show grounds dismantling the art and craft displays and making sure that the items were matched up with and returned to their owners.
This is always an interesting experience. Those of us who work there before the Show begins are really the only people with any idea of how much work it is to set it all up. Other people just wander in and hand their precious work over to us and then go away. They may go to the Show while it is on and gaze at, hopefully, their work with a prize ribbon on it. They come at the end and pick their things up again. They never see much of what happens.
 There are some people who never see any of it at all. Every year I have helped, and long before that, a woman has posted a box of entries in the knitting section. She lives in a neighbouring state. We know nothing about her except that we believe she may be elderly and possibly housebound. 
Her work is exquisite. It is incredibly fine. It is always extraordinarily well packed. There is never much space in the box she uses.
Among her prizes this year there was some knitting wool and two slim pattern books donated by a yarn company. It came in boxes and there was no way we were going to fit the boxes into the box. Her return postage would not cover the cost of posting the boxes separately.
"Do you think she would mind if she didn't get the boxes?" someone asked me.
"Not in the least."
"You seem very sure," she said to me.
And I was. You can sense something about people from what they create.
We packed the yarn on top of the baby clothes and around the little baby doll with the miniature layette. One of the men added it to his little trolley load and took it off the place where things to be posted were waiting.
I talked to the woman who had won best in show in the knitting section. Her son-in-law brought her in to meet me. She was still stunned by win and said again, "I didn't think it would be good enough."
I told her, "Put something in again next year please."
And another woman came. She looked very shy and very nervous and held out the form which allows people to collect their things.
Could she have her cardigan please? 
I went to get it. There was a prize ribbon it. She went to take it from me and then said, "That's not mine."
I had checked the ticket and it had matched her form.
"I'm sorry..." I started and she said, "The ribbon - it's not mine."
"Yes it is," I told her. I was very, very sure of that. I remember the judge's comments as she looked at it. I told her this and told her what the judge had said.
She looked at me and started to cry.
"I've never won anything before. Everyone said it wasn't good enough and I thought it was stupid to do it but I didn't want to waste the entry fee."
"You didn't waste the entry fee," I told her. I watched her go. She was looking down at the blue ribbon and nearly walked into someone coming in the other direction. 
I wonder what sort of  home life she has? Are people always putting her down? 
No, that entry fee wasn't wasted. I hope she tries again next year.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Malcolm Turnbull will dictate

- not lead. 
There was turmoil in Downunder politics yesterday when the Prime Minister was challenged and lost the leadership.
Now I will admit the PM was not popular. He was however a basically decent man who tried to  do the right  thing and, in doing so, he made more enemies than friends. He made some errors of judgment. He was criticised for some "Captain's picks" but more because, for the most part, his style was consultative rather than combative. (Yes, that may come as a surprise to many Downunderites but it is what more than one of his colleagues told me.)
In my personal dealings with him when he was Minister for Health in a previous government he was a gentleman, polite and courteous. He listened to what those of approaching him had to say and acted on it.  Others said the same thing.
It is not a view we ever got from the media. They wanted the new man from the start. The new man was once a member of the Labor Party. He transferred his allegiance out of self-interest.  He's a "Republican" who has his eye on one day being "President" here.
He eventually won and then lost the leadership to the man he has just ousted and he has been determined to win it back.
Yesterday he acted out of sheer self-interest. He had been stirring up trouble for months by leaking from Cabinet meetings - and getting others to do it for him as well - no doubt on the promise of "When I am PM you will be Minister for..."
He made a move of tactical brilliance - waiting for the PM to be out of Canberra, knowing that there was a by-election coming up that was being seen as a "test" of the PM's leadership. 
He could have waited until after the by-election which is just days away but internal polling was in the Prime Minister's favour. The government's candidate would have won the seat comfortably. The confected reason to act would not have been there.  So Turnbull went ahead and acted, quite possibly losing the seat and a potentially very good candidate as well. I doubt it worries him.
In the end the vote was not a resounding endorsement of his "leadership". It was just 54-44. That might be a landslide percentage at an election but it is not for a party which is supposed to be united. He will also lose some good experienced people and he may find having to renegotiate with the Coalition partners harder than he thinks. 
He may have what he wants. The media may have what it wants - for now. The price both may have to pay and the country will certainly have to pay is very heavy indeed.

Monday 14 September 2015

Men at work?

"I can tell you why it is taking them so long to get this NBN thing done," the owner of the cocker spaniel told me.
He was referring to the laying of the cables for the National Broadband Network.
I looked at him. I knew what he is was getting at.
For those of you in Upover I will have to explain. This is a major nation-wide project to connect most of the country to high speed internet access. It has been the subject of much political and practical debate over the last few years.  It is a very, very expensive project. 
Recently they started in our district. I have been watching them "at work". Yes, that's the problem. 
They started in our street last Monday. It is a very short street. There are just eleven house blocks and the lane which leads to the units. There are no obstacles. It should not have taken them long. They are still here.
The "workmen" arrived about 9:00am. They stood around and chatted for a while. About half an hour later they started to unpack some things.  At 10:00am one of them drove off in a truck. The rest of them sat on the brick wall of the house diagonally opposite us. When the one who had driven off returned they had morning tea. That lasted until almost 11:00am. After that they did a bit of measuring and marking and peering into existing holes. It must have been hard work because then they needed lunch and another rest on the brick wall. A little before 2:00pm one of them got down on his knees and did something in one of the existing holes while the others stood and kept guard. The process was repeated at the other end of the street.
By 3:00pm they had packed up and left for the day. The remaining four days have not been much better. 
An acquaintance of the Senior Cat dropped in to pick up some timber on the Thursday. He also observed the process. He's a former telecommunications engineer. He knows exactly what the process involves.
"If they pulled their fingers out they could get the job done in a day, at most a day and a half," he told us, "It's costing far more than it should because of this sort of thing."
They should be back today - but it isn't 9:00am yet.

Sunday 13 September 2015

Giving someone directions is a bit like

writing instructions. People don't always do it clearly. If they do then the person being given the instructions may not be listening carefully or capable of comprehending. Directions are particularly complicated because there is also the issue of "left" and "right" to consider. A lot of people seem to have a problem with left and right. People also forget that, if they are facing you, the situation is reversed and... well, you know.
There are also those unique sets of instructions given by people who know the landscape well and assume you will recognise what they are talking about. The question then might be whether they are observant enough to notice the landmarks you are talking about.
I have been thinking about this since someone I am acquainted with had difficulty with a parcel being delivered to a rather rural part of the United Kingdom. (Yes, there is rural left in the United Kingdom, even in England which is where she hails from.)
She bemoaned her problems on Facebook so I left a message: 

you mean that you don't give them directions like, "um it's about a mile down there and you'll see a sort of track but you go past that and then there's a dead gum tree - the one on your right not on your left - and you go up that track (and it's a bit rough mind) and when you get to the bit where it goes two ways you take the left bit and then it's about a quarter of a mile before you can see the house. You can't miss it."

I am sure she understood all too well. 
We had directions like that given to us when we lived in rural Downunder. Those sort of directions are quite common, even now. They are the sort of directions given to everyone, including the emergency services.  Even the Flying Doctor service can be given landmarks like that to look for from the air if  they are not landing on a proper airstrip. I can remember listening to someone using our phone at the school house. There had been a head on collision not too far from the school. Help was needed. The instructions went something like,
"Yeah, up the other road from the school towards the Chase. It's on the rise but you probably won't see it so we'll put a few more vehicles out and start the lights at the school."
This would not have meant anything to someone coming from the city but out there it did. The "other road" meant the minor road not the major road. "The Chase" was Flinders Chase at the far end of the island we lived on. "The rise" was the largest of the small hills in the area. There were absolutely no street lights or any other sort of lighting in the bush. The road was marked on a map but it would have been hard to see even in daylight. The school had a power plant for electricity and by lighting up the entire school there would be a beacon of sorts for anyone flying in. The other vehicles would be there to use their headlights so that the emergency services could find the accident.
It's bush talk I suppose. I was reminded strongly of this by not just J the other day but by a talk with a friend. We were talking about language and the landscape. The Pitjantjatjara people, like other early Australians, have many words for direction. They don't see the world as being North, South, East or West. The husband of my late friend R once tried to explain this to me. Unfortunately he was not a particularly loquacious man and the explanation was too brief for me to really understand it. 
I keep wondering though, how would he have described the journey to J's house? 

Saturday 12 September 2015

"You can go down along

the footpath if you want to," the policeman told me, "Just be careful."
I had come to a halt. I was on my way to see an elderly friend when I turned the corner and found a policeman at one end of the street. At the other end of the street there were crumpled cars, two ambulances and three police cars.
There were also any number of gawkers because it is a busy area.
"No, that's fine. I can go back and go in the back way. There are too many people down there now."
He looked at me and then said, "Most people would want to go and look."
"I am not most people. I avoid anything like that unless I need to be there. I can't do anything to help so I don't need to be there."
And I didn't need to be there. The nursing home has a back entrance. It is the deliveries entrance but I knew that someone would let me in.
And they did. One of the staff was actually coming out as I was parking my tricycle against a post in the street.
"Don't leave it there. Put it in the staff parking. You can get out under the boom gate."
She waited and then unlocked the door for me to go in.
It is quite a long hike along the corridors and I had to let myself in and out of several doors which require you to push in codes. 
I found the elderly friend and delivered the shopping I had done for her. She was unaware of the accident and I did not enlighten her.
As usual other residents wanted me to say hello, however briefly and I did.
On my way out of the wing one of the staff stopped me and asked if I had come in the way I usually do.
I told her no, that I had avoided it because of the accident.
"That's good. I was so worried you might have been involved. Somebody came in saying a cyclist had been hurt."
Thankfully no cyclist had been hurt. I actually met the cyclist as I left. He had seen the accident happen and used his mobile phone to call the emergency services. He is one of the regular staff at the nursing home.
"I saw you talking to the cop Cat," he told me.
"He would have let me through," I told him, "But I decided to come in the back way. There were too many people up there already."
"They were a damn nuisance,"he told me, "Thankfully nobody seems to be seriously hurt."
I left by the same detour as I had arrived. The policeman was still on the corner directing traffic away from the scene. There was still a crowd of gawkers. 
The policeman gave me a nod as I passed and then I heard him telling someone, 
"No, unless you live in this street you have to go the other way."
What is it with people? I want to go the other way!

Friday 11 September 2015

If you choose to mention the word

"research" to me then you would care to make sure it is actually research?
Research is asking questions and finding answers by looking at facts. It is not opinion. 
Research will also be only as good as the questions you ask. There are ways of asking questions.
There are also ways of writing up research.
Someone I do not know sent out a "tweet". It was "retweeted" (passed on) to me by "direct message". What do you know about this?
I knew nothing. "Research shows...." What research? I sent a message back asking for a link to the research. Fair enough? I thought I would read it, judge the quality of the research for myself and then comment.  Is that fair too?
I waited. The person who sent the original tweet sent a link to the "research". I looked at it. It was an opinion piece by a well known newspaper columnist. I may not always agree with him but he usually has his facts straight. 
I read what he had to say - and he hadn't actually said what the tweeter was accusing him of saying. Right. 
I am not sure why I bothered but I sent a message back to the  person making the inquiry pointing this out. "No", came the response, "You're wrong. Read it again." 
Now the person making the query is another newspaper columnist who is equally well known so I did read it again. I still couldn't see what he apparently thought I should be able to see.
By now I was thoroughly frustrated. I didn't understand what was going on at all. I asked for an explanation via e-mail.
He sent a terse response but the e-mail arrived. I compared that with the original article. Research? Opinion?
There was no research. There was a statement. It had been made by someone the first columnist had interviewed. His interviewee had expressed an opinion. The columnist had said as much. He had actually said there was no evidence to back up the assertion which had been made.
I sent an e-mail back noting all this very, very carefully.
There has been silence since then.
I wonder though how many people will now believe that a piece of research has been done which shows something that is not an actual fact at all?

Thursday 10 September 2015

An un expected day out

was not on the agenda yesterday.
The Senior Cat was going to the state's Royal Show with Middle Cat and one of Middle Cat's nieces. They hired a wheelchair and Middle Cat, who still gets tired, used his walker. Niece pushed. They apparently had an excellent time watching things like wood chopping and performing pigs. 
I avoid crowds. I am not very good at prowling through them. In any case I had the biennial breast screen appointment. After that I had arranged to call in on a friend and try to sort out a knitting problem. 
I told her I would be there about 11:30am.
"I'll put the kettle on for you," she told me. That was unexpected as it was getting a bit late in the morning for morning tea.
She came out looking for me just as I arrived, put the kettle on and talked - but not about the knitting problem. She made the tea and talked some more - but not about the knitting problem. Then she said, "You'll stay for lunch?"
I protested but she waved my protests down and made the two of us a very casual and simple lunch. We talked - but not about the knitting problem.
I love conversation with her. She was once a member of our Federal Parliament. Her experiences are many and varied. We don't always agree and my politics are more centrist and possibly measured than hers but she is one of the few people with whom I can talk politics, philosophy and theology - and just about anything else.  She is older than I am too. 
Eventually she suggested another mug of tea. I agreed and then said firmly that the knitting problem must be dealt with. We talked some more - but not about the knitting.
I looked at my watch when she went off to find something and knew I would have to leave very soon or the school traffic would be very heavy. Even though I can ride my tricycle on the footpaths I don't like being out at that time if I can avoid it. Kittens tend not to look where they are going and have to be watched extremely carefully.
She came back and gave her as stern a look as I could manage and she said, "Yes - but talking with you is such good fun."
It was a lovely compliment. We sorted out a start to the problem of the knitting pattern and she came out to see me pedal off. We hugged.
"I enjoyed today," she told me. 
"I did too."
No, it was not I planned to do. I had planned to do things I can't do while the Senior Cat is in the house. 
But, somehow, it didn't matter. Being with a friend is just as important sometimes. 

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Yesterday was International Literacy Day

and I was invited out by a rather senior member of the public service. 
"Need to discuss something with you Cat," he told me.
I groaned inwardly and asked, "More work?"
"Not exactly."
The words did not fill me with any joy. At the time of the invitation I had not checked the date as such it was just "Tuesday fortnight".
I liked the man enough to agree that lunch might be a nice thing. He has not, unlike his colleagues, been demanding of my time.
So I prowled off at the appointed time now aware that it was International Literacy Day and that other people were making internet demands of my and my "presence" at various events. 
"Hi Cat. He's in the meeting room, want to go along?" 
I went along. There was a considerable group of them. Lunch was spread out on the table.
"We thought we'd celebrate 25 years since International Literacy Year."
Oh. Fair enough I suppose. People ate lunch. I chatted with people - spending most of my time trying to explain the difference between a refugee and a migrant as more people asked.
And then there was the usual announcement of a speech. Groan. I hoped it wasn't going to last too long.
It didn't but I squirmed all the way through it - and I came home with a slim volume of letters written by an extraordinary array of people including our Prime Minister. They were thanks for the work I did getting International Literacy Year off the ground and the work I do now. They are not ordinary letters. People have told me about their favourite books, their best teachers and what being able to read means to them. To each of them - thank you. It's fascinating.
After 25 years I never expected any thanks at all. I didn't even want it because seeing people read has been more than enough reward. But  yes I will admit it was nice to be acknowledged.
And David, I know you read this even though you never comment. A lot of work went into organising that. Thank you.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

When Peter Greste

and his colleagues were sent to jail in Egypt I was not surprised. I had been watching Al Jazeera reports via our SBS news. An Egyptian colleague was in London at the time and warned me it was likely to happen.
The problem was that the news reports were perceived as being "biased". The other side of the story was not getting enough attention. Had Greste and his colleagues given more time to the other side of the story, even in a neutral manner, it is likely they would not have been incarcerated. (They may still have been deported.)
It is always a problem for journalists, particularly in a conflict situation. They are there to report the news as they see it but they are also there to sell the news. Selling the news is every bit as important as reporting it. 
Journalists are also only as good as their sources. A good journalist will cultivate multiple sources because they know they will be given biased information. The bias may not always be intentional but it often is. 
And there are times when a story is just too good to be ignored even though the media knows it is not true or unlikely to be true. The motivation for reporting it may or may not be one for the good but it will be designed to provoke a response.
And that is the story with the little boy on the beach. It is an horrific story and nothing at all should suggest otherwise. No small child should drown on a small boat without a life jacket.
But now it seems there was more to the story than that - more than the convenient cameraman filming someone picking him up off the beach. There are now questions being asked about the story his father told the media. Was his father even on the boat? Were they, as reports suggest, safely settled in Istanbul for three years? If so, what was the motivation for leaving? 
These things have not been extensively explored by the media. It can't be done because the story has been used to get massive support for those flowing across borders to countries like Germany.
Now please don't misunderstand me. There is an humanitarian crisis. It is real. There are more people on the move than Europe can comfortably cope with and many of them are on the move for very good reasons. They have no homes to go back to. There is no work. Groups like IS and the Taliban are still active. It's dangerous. The rule of law is the rule of thugs. I don't blame people for wanting to leave. I would want to leave.
But we also need to realise that the news we are seeing on the television screen, hearing on radio and reading in the papers or on the net is not necessarily giving us an accurate picture of what is going on. When we criticise governments for lack of  action and for inhumanity we are not always in possession of the facts that matter. The complexities of the situations are grossly over-simplified for general public consumption.
Our Prime Minister has suggested that this country should be concentrating on taking in women, children and families from refugee camps. Demands that we take in 10,000 or 20,000 or even 30,000 are being made by groups who know they won't have to actually handle such numbers - indeed the Opposition knows that their demands could not be easily met and that the costs would be high. 
The Prime Minister's response has come from the sort of advice that I hear being given in my job - from the aid workers on the ground. The Leader of the Opposition will know that - or should know that. 
We can all use the little boy on the beach to stir up public opinion. It is an incident which should never have happened and one that has left me deeply disturbed. But it is not the beginning or the end of the story or even the story itself. 
Refugees don't have a choice. Let's remember that and work from there, not from media stories designed to sell the news.

Monday 7 September 2015

Should we let kids fail?

There was an article over on the Guardian website about letting kids fail. I couldn't help myself. I had to comment.
I had to comment because people were burbling and buzzing along about "different these days" and "safety" and...well, you know what I mean.
I made a comment about the two boys around the corner. I have talked about them elsewhere. They are the two who have been brought up with what is best described as 50's style freedom. They  have survived and they are growing up into really good citizens. I like them. 
They tried all sorts of things and they failed - and they tried again.  The Whirlwind has tried things and failed - and tried again. (She has lost her temper with herself in much the same way as I did but she goes back to try again.)
My nephews and niece tried all sorts of things and failed - and tried again. 
One of my nephews and my niece have children of their own. My nephew's children are being brought up in today's more "protective" lifestyle. I suspect his wife was brought up rather like that. Their two children are constantly supervised. They seek adult attention and help. They already "know" that certain adult supervised activities are not negotiable and that their lives will be organised by adults.
My niece, my nephew's sister, has a quite different approach. Her children (younger) dress themselves without difficulty and the oldest (four) can tie her own shoelaces. They are expected to help around the house and they "help" to grow things in the garden - and they are expected to eat the broccoli and carrots and other things the garden produces.
They play, largely unsupervised, in the back garden. There has been a broken arm - falling off something - and a gashed head - running into something. They have been dealt with as "part of growing up".
And my niece worries about how she is going to continue to allow them to do all the things she believes they should be able to do. How long will it be before they are expected to go on "supervised play dates"? Already if a friend comes to play my niece knows that the expectation is the friend will be constantly watched.
"It's all about safety" and "You just can't let kids do the sort of thing we did" and "You can't let kids fail now. It's bad for their self-esteem."
I remember the Senior Cat failing a child one year. He did it after a lot of thought and discussion with the child's teacher and the child's parents. The child was very immature. He was, despite the best efforts of a good teacher, just not ready. 
The child was devastated. He wasn't going up with his friends. The following year he didn't even want to come to school so his teacher, the one who had tried to help, went to see him.
She told him, "You aren't going to fail if you try again. It's only people who don't try again who are failures."
He came back to school of course. He had to. His teacher kept reminding him quietly about succeeding if he tried again. 
I can remember this child because, as was the custom in the all age school, we older students had to hear the little ones read aloud from time to time. He would stand next to me and struggle with the squiggles on the page and then, one day, it seemed to make more sense because he read an entire page with almost no hesitation. He looked at me in a puzzled sort of way and then turned the page and went on to the next one.
At the end of it he burst into tears and told me, "I did it."
I hugged him - because you could do that sort of thing back then - and told him, "See, in the end you didn't fail." 
His teacher told him the same thing and gave him the "good reader" stamp on his hand.
He will have prize winning dairy cattle at this year's Royal Show but I wonder what would have happened if he hadn't been allowed to fail.

Sunday 6 September 2015

Father's Day?

I don't know where the "Father's Day" tradition came from but it is "celebrated" Downunder on the first Sunday in September. By "celebrated" I mean that commercial enterprise takes over and informs you that you should/must/will buy your father a (preferably expensive) present in order to tell him that you love him.
Needless to say it does not get celebrated in that way in this household. We just don't go in for that sort of thing. We don't need to. The Senior Cat gets told he is loved often and in all sorts of ways - like Brother Cat phoning him long distance for around an hour of chat each week and Middle Cat taking him to a medical appointment. 
I bought him a present yesterday.
"Going to give it to your father tomorrow?" the girl in the toy shop asked me. She looked doubtfully at me as if doubting my sanity.
"No, I'll give it to him when I get home," I told her. 
"IT" was a miniature pack of cards...about the size of a matchbox. 
"He does magic tricks," I told her, "I am sure he can find a way to use these."
I could see she was still doubtful but I prowled home and gave him the cards. He was, as I thought, pleased to get them and I could almost hear his mind ticking over as he plotted and planned to use them. 
"You don't celebrate Father's Day then Cat?" someone asked me later, "What about Mother's Day?"
We never celebrated that either. My parents acknowledged their mothers. My maternal grandmother expected gifts but my paternal grandmother was more than happy just to see us. They were very different people.
My mother told us she did not want the day acknowledged. As children we wanted to do it anyway. We wanted to do what was traditional back then - give our mother breakfast in bed. She was not one for lying in bed however so we never got as far as the "in bed" bit. We tried to prepare breakfast. The Senior Cat would offer to help (we accepted) but she preferred to have her kitchen to herself. Eventually we gave up.
And then one year we children knew there was a book she wanted to read. Our mother was not much of a reader really so even the mention of a book she wanted to read was unusual. We saved our pocket money, pooled it and the Senior Cat bought the book for us. We wrapped it and on the morning of Mother's Day we gave it to her. She looked at it and then looked at us.
"I suppose you meant well but you know we don't celebrate Mother's Day."
I don't know what our father said - if he said anything at all - but four very subdued children went off without a word. I can only suppose our mother meant well.  
It had been my idea to get the book and I felt so guilty about the pocket money the others had invested I eventually paid my sisters back. My brother, being older than them, took equal responsibility for the act. We never again tried to acknowledge Mother's Day. 
But Father's Day? We're taking the Senior Cat out for a cheap and cheerful lunch in the local shopping centre. 
"It will," Middle Cat informed me when making the arrangements, "save you from  having to get lunch."
The Senior Cat tells me he is "quite looking forward to it".

Saturday 5 September 2015

What do our MPs actually do?

Our local federal MP has announced he is retiring at the end of this term in parliament. He has come in for some criticism for that. "He's only 48!" "He's a rat deserting a sinking ship." "He's just served time to get a pension." "He's never done anything."
Some of the other comments about the story on another media website were far worse - the sort of libel I have come to expect from people who use the site as a place to hurl invective at the current government without any regard for the facts. 
I knew this man before he was an MP. I have known him for about twenty-two years. I will admit I was surprised when he was pre-selected for the seat because he is not a noisy, outspoken sort of person. He isn't the sort of person you think of as being an MP. He's actually a doctor as well though - and I think that may explain it. He listens and then acts.
He was never a minister but he worked hard behind the scenes. He was on the inevitable committees. He lobbied for funds for projects in the electorate. He dealt with problems brought to him and he often did it in a very personal way. He has been fiercely loyal to his electorate too.
That should count in this electorate because the state MP betrayed the electorate by effectively moving, without any consultation, to the Opposition. It added to the work load of the federal MP when people simply don't trust the state MP and won't go to him.
He has a young family and he has had to be away from them. Now that his son is heading towards his teenage years I have no doubt that they want to spend more time together. 
When he might have been watching his children play sport he was standing in shopping centres at "listening posts" - often being abused by those who do not like his side of politics and also being criticised for not doing the impossible. 
I know he has been putting in about seventy hours a week, sometimes more and rarely less. His wife says she knows what he looks like - but only just. It has been hard work for her as well.
And now he is planning a return to medicine. He will have some catching up to do after all this time - and he knows it. 
He will go on listening to people and trying to solve their problems.
And I wonder if the criticism of him is entirely fair. No, he wasn't a high profile, noisy MP who was always seeking publicity with a press release. He was never a holder of the highest offices in the land. 
But he did do what he was elected to do. He represented the people of his electorate and helped them where he  could. I wonder if all those high office holders can say the same thing?


Friday 4 September 2015

"Why doesn't Saudi Arabia take refugees?"

Miss Whirlwind wanted to know yesterday. I had delivered some footwear for her to go exploring the creek banks and she took the opportunity to ask me a question her teachers don't really want to try and answer. 
One of them actually said to me, "Cat, if you can explain it then explain it to us as well. We're trying to make sure the girls understand the situation without upsetting them but still involving them."
I can't explain. I am not sure that anyone can. How can a country like Saudi Arabia not take in a single refugee?  They speak the same language. It's a different dialect but it is still the same language.  They are the same religion. There are denominational differences for some but it is the same religion. The customs may differ but they differ in the way that Downunder customs differ with those in much of Europe  - not so much that you can't fit in.
Saudi Arabia also employs well over a million domestic workers to keep the locals in their comfortable lifestyle. Yes, it's a rich country - a very rich country. 
There is also Bahrain - another wealthy country - where the situation is much the same. And there are some smaller states like Qatar and Kuwait which are also wealthy. 
They are all built on the same Islamic base and none of them take in a single refugee. They haven't signed the refugee convention. People don't try to go there. They know they won't be accepted. Why?
These states have been "helping" by funding the crisis. They are perhaps even at war with each other but they are doing it on neighbouring territory.
Almost nothing is said about the inaction of the Arab states and their Gulf Cooperation Council. They get almost no criticism. Refugee advocates almost never mention the lack of  help from that region. Write a letter to the paper and in all likelihood it will not get published. Why?
I looked at the Whirlwind. She wanted an answer. I asked her a question,
"What's under the ground in Saudi Arabia?"
I saw her work it out in an instant.
"You mean people want petrol for their cars?"
Yes, the oil.
Is that fair?  

Thursday 3 September 2015

His message was simple

"Please just stop the war. That's all we want."
He was, apparently, thirteen. He looked about eleven. He was travelling  "unaccompanied" out of Syria.
I don't know what his story is or why he was where he was without a responsible adult.
An "unaccompanied" child is one below the age of majority (i.e. adult) who does not have a responsible adult (parent, other relative or friend) to care for them. They often get lost  in times of crisis, particularly if they are old enough and "street-smart" enough to forage for food and shelter for themselves. 
They are not "I am David" like characters in the book by Anne Holm. They are not going to travel to Denmark with the help of other people and find their mother there. In all likelihood they no longer have fathers or mothers and may not have any family at all. They are some of the most at risk children in the world. 
If you listen to their stories and you have any compassion at all you will not sleep that night - or perhaps for nights to come. They break the law simply in order to survive - and not all of them survive. They get raped and beaten and enslaved by others. I won't go into details on a public blog  which anyone can read. This is war, the worst of war. It is something that almost never gets mentioned in the media. It's too harrowing.
And so, a thirteen year old boy asks people, to "just stop the war". It's a simple, simple request.
The answer seems impossible. While Europe is struggling to house and feed a mass migration of people due to war and poverty the question does have to be asked, "What's being done to prevent this?"
Assad is still in power. Even if he goes the problems won't be solved. IS is no weaker and still intent on maximum damage and a caliphate which extends far beyond their current area of occupation. What governments exist are often weak and corruption ridden. The economies have crumbled and there is no paid employment to be had. Neighbouring countries, some of which have problems of their own, don't want to know. 
I don't know what the answer is. If I did I would be rich. I would probably get the Nobel Prize.
If I did I could give it to people like the boy who wants the war stopped. I could see to it that he got an education to help rebuild his country.
Perhaps though it is time for Europe to say to all those would-be migrants, "Yes, we will help. We will help you get the skills you need to one day return to your country and rebuild it. We will shelter you  until it is safe to return."
Is that part of the answer? Can we tell that thirteen year old that much? 

Wednesday 2 September 2015

"Going on a holiday?"

someone asked me. 
We were in the queue in the Post Office. These days the Post Office is a "shop". It sells all sorts of things -  books, toys, stationery, CDs, DVDs, boxes for packing things. It will do your passport photographs too.
But this was a display of "travel" items - passport holders, neck pillows and the like.
I shook my head. I had merely been reading the label on something that claimed to be a collapsible cup - an item somebody else had bought recently.
We now have two sets of neighbours away on holiday. The Little Drummer Boy's family went away several weeks ago. Now some of our neighbour's across the street will be away for six weeks. 
As their next door neighbour is an anaesthetist who works odd hours we will be responsible for making sure the place looks "lived in" - any stray papers will be removed. Any mail will be collected and so on. 
I know more people "away","going on holiday", and "planning a holiday" too. Many of them are older people who simply go off to the north of Downunder for winter. They take their caravans and join the caravan-train of grey nomads.
They don't have sheds and their gardens are non-productive "easy care". All I need to do is water a few pot plants and collect their mail  - those of them on my regular tricycle route that is.
But, a holiday? I am not sure what a holiday is any more. The last time I went away - some years ago now - I went with the Senior Cat and Middle Cat. We had a "long weekend" in the neighbouring state because Senior Cat and Middle Cat wanted to go to a gardening weekend.  I  haven't been away since.
People ask why. The answer is that the Senior Cat is not safe on his own. Have someone else stay with him people tell me. 
It sounds like a simple solution but it really wouldn't work. He would hate it. The Senior Cat is easy to live with but he's old. He is set in his ways. I accommodate that. I provide his meals at regular intervals. I know what he likes to eat. I know how he likes his tea made. I know all sorts of little things that matter. I can straighten his shirt collar and remind him he needs his hair cut. 
And, he worries. He worries every time I go out. He has always been a worrier. His mother, my beloved paternal grandmother who taught me so much, was a worrier. Perhaps there is an inherited genetic disposition for worry. The Senior Cat would be worried all the time I was absent.
I wouldn't enjoy myself knowing that. And yes, I would worry about him.
So when people ask if I am going on holiday the answer is "not yet". I hope they understand.