Saturday 31 October 2015

Going to a funeral

is always a curious experience. The Senior Cat went to one yesterday.
It has reached the point where he can be the oldest person in the church, chapel or other venue. He was yesterday.
He went to the funeral of someone he knew for more years than I have been alive. It's a long time.
He has been rather quiet for the couple of days since learning of his friend's death. It doesn't surprise me. They shared many experiences.
He talked some of them through with me as he made some brief notes to speak, briefly, at the funeral. The Senior Cat does not believe in prolonged speeches at any time. He also wanted to be sure that people would go away thinking well of his friend.
His friend was of Irish extraction. He had a great capacity for what he called "Irish blarney". Yes, he could tell a good story. He was an outstandingly good teacher.
I suspect that, unlike the Senior Cat, he was something of a fish out of water in the small rural community where they first taught together. The Senior Cat knew about rural life through family connections but his friend had always lived in the city. What the community made of him I don't know. He went on to teach in other places. He spent time in New Guinea. He came back and lectured. When he retired at 60 it was only because he was losing his hearing. He found even lecturing tertiary students too much of a strain he found other occupations. None of them lasted long. It was as if he wanted to experience things rather than forge a new career. 
Eventually he did retire. He lived not too far from here. His politics were far left. He would bail me up in the middle of the chemist or the supermarket or the bank and tell me what he thought of my latest letter in the paper. He wrote answers in response to them sometimes. We agreed to disagree. He knew that some of his most outrageous ideas would never work. He would go off and drink coffee with the Senior Cat and complain I was too practical. 
I didn't go to the funeral but I did speak to his eldest child on the phone. We agreed her father had done well. He'd had prostate cancer for more than 15 years and simply refused to give in to that or his increasing deafness or a multitude of other things.
He never gave in to the physical distance between himself and his friends either. If he hadn't seen you for a year then he just quietly picked up the strand between you as if he had seen you yesterday and carried on. It was true friendship.

Friday 30 October 2015

Returning from overseas travel

is a dislocating sort of experience. 
I have vague memories of this. It is a long time since I have travelled anywhere. The Senior Cat does not want to leave his own bed at night. I can understand that. He has done some travelling in the past and now he wants the comfort of home.
The Little Drummer Boy's family was away for weeks and the two children have found returning to school somewhat difficult. I wonder what the effect of missing nine weeks of school will be?
And our other neighbours have returned from their extended travels in France and Italy. Until yesterday we had only waved to them and exchanged nothing more than "Hello, glad you are back safely". They wandered over late yesterday afternoon to say hello properly. They brought small gifts, an interesting "backyard" picture for the Senior Cat and a curious tea towel for me. V does not intend for me to use it as a tea towel but she thought the weaving was rather nice. It is actually very special jacquard weaving and we agreed it might make a bag rather than a tea towel!
But they were both suffering a sense of dislocation. I know it is partly the jet-lag but it is also that strange sense of walking back into your own home and, having been absent for a time, seeing it with fresh eyes. Everything there is familiar but it is also strange. It is strange but familiar. How do you put that? It is as if you have to reattach yourself to your surroundings. 
We once had neighbours, two spinster sisters, who had multiple passports which were jam packed with stamps of where they had been. They were away at least once every year. They went to places like China before it became a tourist destination. They traversed the high Andes without the help of a tourist guide. They went just about everywhere you can think of apart from the Antarctic. They were real travellers. There were not many souvenirs apart from their scrapbooks of their travels. They went to  find things, see things, talk to the locals where they could. They tried the real local food and lived in the accommodation the locals used.
People used to ask what the point was. They wouldn't have any money left! They didn't have anything to show for it! 
But in their last few years they both seemed content to live with the memories of their travels. The scrapbooks would be open. They would relive their travels over and over again. The youngest child from the other side would wander in and spend hours listening to what they had to say. His school social studies projects were filled with their stories and pictures. He is now an intrepid traveller himself.
And yes, they too had that strange sense of dislocation on return.
"It's as if you don't quite belong anywhere but you belong everywhere," one of them told me.
Is this what they call "itchy feet"? 

Thursday 29 October 2015

Did someone mention manners?

There was an article in the Guardian about "manners". It was written by a young person who seemed to think that manners have changed.
She seemed to think it was perfectly acceptable to bypass a restaurant queue and claim to have a reservation - even though you don't.
She seemed to think it was perfectly acceptable to see the last available picnic table and run past the group walking towards it just so that you can grab it. Apparently that is "just exuberance".
She seemed to think it was perfectly acceptable to answer your phone and send text messages when out to a meal with friends. Apparently we need to "get over it".
Sorry, these things are not acceptable. They are just plain rude. 
The first is also dishonest.
Instead of keeping my thoughts to myself and my paws off the keyboard I wrote a comment. I asked the writer how did she know that the people apparently "strolling" towards the picnic table were actually strolling. Perhaps they can go no faster. Perhaps they are politely keeping me company because I can go no faster. Is it also possible that they may need those seats more than that "exuberant" young thing?
As for answering the phone at the meal table that suggests that you find the present company offensive and would rather be somewhere else. There are exceptions to that of course. If you are perhaps a doctor on call or a doctor who knows that a patient you have seen that day might need to see you then yes, acceptable. No doubt such a person would explain to the rest of the group before hand. And yes, there would be a small number of other acceptable excuses.
If you are at an informal gathering and your mobile rings then I suspect the right thing to do is say, "Excuse me" and answer it off-stage. It's embarrassing for other people to feel they are listening in to the conversation. 
I don't think manners have changed. Manners are surely about respect for other people? Attitudes may have changed among some young people but manners?
Yesterday a friend brought her grandson to visit the Senior Cat. The ten year old and the almost ninety-three year old shook hands. They got along extremely well together - so much so that the ten year old is hoping his grandmother can find time to come again before he goes back to his interstate home on Saturday. The Senior Cat is more than happy to oblige - because the ten year old is not only intelligent and interested in what the Senior Cat was teaching him (magic) but also because he shook hands without being prompted. He said "thank you" without being prompted. It suggested that he respected the Senior Cat. (He was equally polite to me.) 
Good manners make things pleasant. They encourage people to do things for each other. If attitudes towards that are changing then I am not sure I like it. 

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Health records on-line

everyone? Don't opt in to this but opt out? 
There are new plans for a national on-line system for accessing a patient's health records.
We are told it has advantages. It potentially means you can go to a health professional anywhere in the country and they can access your health records. It means that someone who falls ill on holiday can get medical help knowing that their medical records can be brought up immediately. It means that, in the event of an accident, health records may save someone's life.
There are claims that it will save time and that it will improve the medical care available. 
Perhaps. I have my doubts. 
Records are fine if they are (a) accurate, (b) honest and (c) up to date but should they also be available to everyone who provides you with health care?
I have seen my medical record at my GP. My GP obligingly turns the computer screen around so we can look at it together. There is nothing very remarkable on there - certainly no record of the spat I had with a misogynistic male GP. My GP treats me like an intelligent individual with a better than average level of medical knowledge in some areas.  She adjusts her vocabulary level so that it is appropriate to the circumstances. I have heard her do it. She talks to Middle Cat like another health professional. She uses technical language with me. With the Senior Cat she uses language which says, "You are intelligent but I know you may not always know the technical terms" and with an elderly Greek Cypriot migrant she explains slowly in plain, simple English and does it twice if necessary asking questions to make sure she understands. I know. I have heard her do it. 
We are fortunate in that she does communicate well. Many doctors don't - even though they try.
So you get medical records that are only as up to date as they have time for and they may or may not be accurate for any number of reasons. 
It may also mean that patients need to know more than before. The next health professional they see might ask, "You have...? What are they doing about that?" or "Are you taking..... or.... for....?" or "Have you noticed a change in X or Y recently?"
If a doctor is merely monitoring a potential problem then does the patient need to know if nothing can or should be done about it? Does it give the patient something more to worry about? Will they turn to Dr Google to find out more and then start self-medicating in an attempt to halt "the problem"? What do you tell the patient in these circumstances?
There is also the honesty issue. On the old, written records there was plenty of "code" for things like "this patient is an hypochondriac" or "this patient is rude" or "this patient does not take advice well" or.... well you can imagine plenty more. The information was not usually shared with other doctors. It was just there to remind the doctor who had written the notes. Doctors are not going to write such useful but potentially dangerous remarks on records that could be seen by anyone.
And I do mean anyone because any computer system can be hacked. Of course if you "opt out" people will say, "Oooh must have something to hide then." But it might be that you just don't care for the world to know about your medical history.
I can think of more issues but those above are, to me, the most obvious. I can think of some partial solutions too but they would be too expensive to implement.
It is an issue which still needs more thought than the government seems prepared to give it. 

Tuesday 27 October 2015

The Senior Cat is learning a new language -

or perhaps I should just say a new vocabulary. He has a new i-pad. This sort of technology is not his "thing". He doesn't understand how it works and that bothers him. He likes to know how things work. 
He understands his woodworking tools. He knows how the illusions work in a conjuring trick. He has an understanding of many other things. He is still smart at almost 93. If I am half as smart at ten years younger than that I will be doing well. 
But, the i-pad has him puzzled. Why does it work when he presses a point on the screen?
I don't know enough about it to explain. Brother Cat's explanation over the phone just confused him even more. My BIL is an engineer and the response from him was much too detailed. It left the Senior Cat sighing in frustration. Middle Cat just said, "Does it matter? Just use it."
My nephews have not been around to explain. Youngest Nephew would probably have done an excellent job of explaining. Unfortunately he lives in a neighbouring state. 
So, this morning, after a meeting, a friend of his is coming to explain some finer points of using the device. He has quietly promised me that he will explain, in simple terms, how the device works. He should be able to do this. He was a teacher until he retired. 
But it was all a timely reminder for me. I had a request a couple of days ago. Someone asked for help in setting up an explanation of how something works for a group of people who are illiterate. He first had to explain to me. He's also an engineer. His explanation was long and convoluted. It ran to three and a half paragraphs. Even then it was not clear. I finally resorted to looking up some information and went back to him with a one paragraph "is this what  you are trying to say?"
He agreed it was. I have sent the information on to someone who draws illustrations for such things and suggested what might work. She will come up with a short series of simple pictures that will make it very plain indeed. 
It is a long way from three and a half paragraphs of convoluted language. I hope the Senior Cat's friend can manage the same sort of illustrations. 

Monday 26 October 2015

Apparently Keith Richards has

just made an appearance on Desert Island Discs. If I lived in the UK I might have made a point of listening. (Yes, I know that will surprise a couple of people who read this.)
Let it be said that I am no fan of the Rolling Stones but I do know who they are (or were). I am not a Beatles fan either - but I can recognise a lot of their songs. 
I am not really a "pop music" fan. There are, very occasionally, individual songs that appeal to me. More often there are songs I recognise - usually from the 60's and 70's. (The Whirlwind informs me that "they are so old they are almost classical".) By the time you reach the 80's and 90's I am lost. This century is a wipe out.
I have two nephews here. They were (perhaps still are) a pop duo. They called themselves Redice (not Red Ice) and they did "cut" a couple of songs. They also performed early on but school, then university and other professional careers took over. They might have "made it" but they didn't really care for the smoky venues laden with alcohol and, as they admit themselves, they lacked that last all consuming passion for that and nothing else.
I don't know enough about their sort of music to judge what they wrote. Their mother, Middle Cat, believes it is good - but she is their mother. It was considered good enough to be played on national radio. I suppose that's an indication.
And yes, they did learn music. They can read music. They can  use a keyboard - piano or electronic device.
I doubt though that they know Mozart or Vivaldi well enough to choose any for a Desert Island Discs programme the way Keith Richards has reportedly done. They don't know Bach or Beethoven either. 
The Whirlwind's father is a 60's and 70's man. He also knows and likes some classical music. She has grown up hearing that sort of music. At her school she has also been taught about music from earliest times. She sings in the school choir and they do a wide range of music - quite deliberately. It is, perhaps, one advantage of a fee paying education. Parents expect it - and the students don't seem to object if the Whirlwind's reporting is accurate.
The Senior Cat sometimes worries that classical music and other music will be lost to the next generation. Yes, it is an issue.
Music performance at that level takes time and commitment. It is much more than "strumming a few chords" on a guitar. But there are music students out there who are putting the time in. I don't think it will all be lost. 
I would really like to think that, in twenty years time, Desert Island Discs will still be around and that the guest will be choosing Bach and Telemann along with McCartney and Richards.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Currently on the kitchen table

there is a little less than usual. I am grateful there isn't a chain saw.  Other people are apparently not quite so lucky.  Someone of my (virtual) acquaintance has a partner who is liable to leave such things lying around. The Senior Cat does not have a chain saw. 
I may find it on the table if he did have such a thing.
I am liable to find pieces of timber. I am liable to find glue. There could be a router cutter - or two. There might be screws and "biscuits" (not the sort you eat) and hinges. 
There is always at least one book - and, much more likely, usually four or five. They sit next to or underneath the day's paper. There will be pieces of paper with roughed out designs. There are post-it notes with reminders of appointments or to make phone calls or to do something else. 
Somehow I managed to find room for two place settings. I move some of those things on to a chair. The Senior Cat moves them back again. I suggest he might put things elsewhere. No. He needs them there. Right. Perhaps he does.
This morning he is eating breakfast and looking at the two wooden shawl pins he "borrowed" from me. He is scribbling down thoughts about "how" to make more like them. He's only almost 93. He is still learning how to do things.
I don't care what's on the table if that is happening. 

Saturday 24 October 2015

"I hate asking you but...."

I managed to get the Senior Cat out the door in time for his rather early medical appointment. (A regular visit to Nurse Dracula - as he calls the nurse who takes the blood samples - was also involved.) I was working my way through the household chores and the e-mail load for the day and the phone rang.
"Cat, it's A.... I hate bothering you and I hate asking you because I know you're busy but..."
It was an elderly acquaintance who lives several streets away. She walks a rather elderly dog. I have occasionally dropped things in to the chemist for her or returned library books.
Early yesterday morning she tripped over the dog. She was phoning me from the hospital. An ambulance had taken her there. The neighbour on one side is away in Japan. She couldn't raise the neighbour on the other side. She was worried about the dog. She didn't have her medication with her. They wouldn't give her any at the hospital unless she had seen a doctor and it had been prescribed so....
She offered to pay me to go into the house, get the medication and take it to the hospital in a taxi. "I don't want you running around on your bike..."
All this was said in an anxious rush. I groaned inwardly because it meant other plans would have to be ditched. The Senior Cat arrived home. I told him what I was going to do but it involved putting the trike on the train and going that way because it would actually take less time than waiting for a taxi, getting the taxi to wait for me at her place and so on.
I always feel intensely uncomfortable when people ask me to do something like this. It involves knowing where people keep their emergency keys or what the code is or something. I can let myself into their private space. I feel like an intruder.
The dog knows me. That would not be a problem. It was why she asked me rather than a range of other people. I knew that but I still felt uncomfortable.
I pedalled over - just as the neighbour A could not raise drove in. I told her what had happened.
"Oh. I haven't had breakfast yet. Just let me get something to drink and then we'll both go in the car if that's all right with you."
It was fine with me. I let myself in. I found the medication - thankfully just where I had been told it would be. I gave the dog a drink and some biscuits. I locked the door again. I left with a little shudder of relief.
We went over to the hospital. There she was, still in emergency. She has a nasty bruise on one side of her head and a very swollen ankle - sprained or fractured? It could have been much worse. The neighbour's boys will look after the dog. (They adore it and would like to own it themselves.) The neighbour will now see to whatever else she needs.
I handed over the medication. She was trying to look at it all without her glasses so I took it back. I read through the labels and gave her the blood pressure pill and her thyroxine and suggested she take them now. The other two had to be taken with food.
A doctor appeared. We actually know one another. I passed the medication over to her and told her what had been taken. She nodded and just said, "Thanks Cat."
The neighbour and I left.
"I wouldn't have dared to tell her to take anything," the neighbour told me as we went back to the car.
Perhaps not. I knew it was the right thing to do. A...knew it was the right thing to do too. It was why she had made that phone call to me. She didn't need her blood pressure to go any higher - and anyway, she used to be a nursing sister. She knows about those things. 
It was a relief to get back to my own work.

Friday 23 October 2015

Why are some people chronically late?

Please, can someone explain this to me? Why are some people chronically late? I need to know.
Middle Cat was supposed to take the Senior Cat somewhere yesterday. She was late. It was not a good start to the afternoon. They needed to be on time for the appointment. She knew that. She was still late - without a good excuse. I will draw a line there and say no more. 
For three years I babysat every Tuesday night for a family so that the mother could go to orchestra practice and the father went to an evening university lecture. It was one of the ways in which I managed to earn just enough money to go to teacher training college. 
I would arrive in the late afternoon. I would help bath the children ( and "don't let the twins sit at the plug end"- or the water would mysteriously disappear down the drain). I would hear the older two read from their school primers and do their homework. I would supervise the eldest while she set the table for the evening meal  while I watched the twins and helped the second one clean everyone's shoes for the morning. 
Their father would arrive home from school about five and there would be a very early meal before the two adults disappeared. The eldest two would look at me after their parents had gone. They didn't have to say anything. We all wondered what their mother had been doing all that time. 
She wasn't lazy. She was anything but lazy. She seemed to be on the go all the time. We just couldn't work out what she did. Things just didn't get done. She would rush from one thing to the next and the first thing would not get finished. 
After she had gone the eldest two would help me tidy up. In half an hour the house would be tidy apart from the toys the twins had been playing with. Then they would all pile into their cots and beds and I would read two stories - one for the twins and one chapter of whichever book the older two and I were reading at the time. 
Then I would settle down and  do whatever work I had planned for the evening.
Right through those three years the father only got to the university on time because he told his wife that the lecture started half an hour before it actually did. It was the only way to make  sure she got to orchestra practice on time and for him to get to university on time. It was the same for everything else. People knew them well enough to tell them things started earlier than they actually did - just so there was some chance of them getting there on time. 
I know other chronically late people, one as bad as the one I have just described.
It's not good. I don't like being late. I try not to be late. I'll get somewhere early and lurk  around the corner rather than be late. I don't like being early either but, as I don't drive, I have to depend on the train or a taxi or the person who is taking me somewhere.
But I don't  understand what makes people consistently late. I know there are times when it can't be helped but to always be late suggests something else is wrong. What is it?
If someone can explain then perhaps I can explain to the Senior Cat why Middle Cat is often late too?

Thursday 22 October 2015

Sad but good news

yesterday in that they have identified the little body in the suitcase. Some of  you will remember I wrote about this earlier in the year. The unidentified remains of a child had been abandoned in a suitcase on a remote stretch of road near Wynarka.
I watched the senior police officer announcing this and saw him struggling to contain his composure.Cops don't often show emotion when making a public announcement. They are trained not to do it. It isn't something people often see but it was right this time.
They had sifted through 1,267 phone calls to make the identification. They had, through DNA, tied the child in with another body found in a forest over a thousand kilometres away - the body of her mother.
Now that they have names I hope that they can piece together the rest of the story and find those responsible. It still won't be easy. 
For people like the senior police officer, who possibly has children of his own, this sort of thing must be incredibly difficult. No individual with any decency at all could fail to be affected by it. 
I know someone will probably say to me today, "I don't know how they can do a job like that."
People used to say the same thing to me when I worked in two different schools for  children with profound physical and intellectual disabilities. The answer for me was that you "switch off" at the end of the day. You don't take the problems home with you. It isn't that you forget the problems but you don't try to deal with them when you leave work for the day. You take the pleasure home instead. 
I would take home the joy of one of the children achieving something for the first time or the smile on a face because they heard a song they liked or one of them saying a new word. They were little things but, in their world, they were big things. 
And, sometimes there were big things. There was the day I knew that one of the children in my class really was far brighter than they had assessed him to be. I had not been wasting time in trying to teach him to read. He could read even if he could not speak. 
I hope, for the cop - and those working with him, that the 1,267th phone call was the same sort of experience. I hope it will encourage them to keep going and get to a successful prosecution at the end.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

"There is a previous Prime Minister on the list"

thus spake Senator Bill Heffernan about a list of alleged paedophiles. He said it was a "police document" too.
Now there will be endless speculation about "who" the "previous Prime Minister" is or was. Those who have it in for one side of politics or another will be scrutinising every possibility. There will be claims that "we have the right to know" and that "it is in the public interest" that we know who this person is alleged to be. 
Apparently there are other "high profile" names on the list too. They are all "alleged to be paedophiles". There will be much speculation.
Paedophilia is a vile thing. 
And this sort of speculation actually makes it worse in my book. It is too easy to make an accusation.  It is too easy to make an accusation without any proof, to do so just in order to "get at" someone you dislike or disagree with. 
It is too easy to ruin the reputation of an innocent person. Mud sticks. Make an accusation and there will always be some who, wanting to believe the worst, will say, "Where there's smoke, there's fire - that accusation wouldn't have been made without..." and on it will go. 
I had an e-mail from someone yesterday telling me couldn't do something he had undertaken to do. He has just had to stop volunteering in a role he loved. He can't get the necessary police clearance. In another role, as a teacher, he was accused of sexual misbehaviour by a child who wanted to get some parental attention. The child chose to do this by telling his mother that the teacher's behaviour was inappropriate. Yes, it got him parental attention. It was only at the point where things began to get serious that the child admitted he was lying - and why he was doing it. 
The police were involved by then. There was an official report. They have apologised but they "can't take the risk" of now providing the necessary police clearance. The teacher in question is being transferred to other duties. The kids have lost a good teacher at school and in another role. There is a cloud hanging over this man. It has affected his relationships with many people. His wife has stuck by him but you can see the strain it has put on both of them.
And it affected me too. I have had to find someone else willing to do what he had undertaken to do. I had to find an explanation which will not harm this man any further.
It is too easy to make a false accusation. It does great harm because the mud never completely washes off.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

There is something wrong with the

media in this country - and no, it is not just because so much of it is controlled by Mr Murdoch. 
Much of yesterday was taken up with the "news" that a small coffee type table had been damaged during a farewell party for the previous PM. Oh, did the Opposition and the media make much of this. It was an oh so convenient story to distract attention from some serious issues coming out of the Trade Union Royal Commission and the failure of the Opposition to make the mud stick on the financial affairs of the present PM. There was also the possibility of making sure that some inconvenient facts concerning a couple of  other stories could be quietly pushed under the carpet. Nobody was going to notice.
The Opposition and the media knew yesterday that the damage to the coffee table was going to be paid for but it would not have been a story if they had told the public that. (It is there this morning though - a tiny paragraph in the paper.)
Nothing at all has been said about the issues in front of the TURC.  Instead much was made of the fact that a trade union official was not found guilty of corruption because the prosecution produced no evidence in court. Nobody would dare to mention what was going on behind the scenes.
The financial affairs of the present PM are still an issue for the media too. They are trying hard. It stops people asking questions about inconsistencies in yet another story.
I am not sure where to start on this one. The story seems to go like this. A young, female, Somali refugee on Nauru has alleged she was raped and that she is pregnant as a result. She then allegedly refused to cooperate with the police on Nauru. They could find no evidence without her cooperation and abandoned the case.  
She then allegedly told people she wanted an abortion. Abortion on Nauru is illegal so she was flown to Australia for medical treatment. She was housed in a detention centre and she did receive medical care on eleven different occasions. On seven of those occasions she had an interpreter present. She then, allegedly, decided not to have the abortion and she was flown back to Nauru. 
Now refugee advocates and the media are claiming that she was confused, did not have proper access to an interpreter or medical care. They are saying she should be allowed to remain in Australia.
All that is something I cannot comment on but I can comment on something else.
A "letter" has been produced which, it is claimed, was written by her.
If she genuinely needed an interpreter she did not write that letter. She may, although even this is doubtful, have copied the marks on another piece of paper. It is extremely unlikely. The penmanship is too good for that.
A female Somali refugee is likely to speak Somali or Arabic. The alphabets for both languages are nothing like the alphabet used to write English. If this refugee can write the English alphabet this well then it is likely she also speaks English. 
Then we need to look at the language used in the "letter" which was written. It reads the way a lawyer would write it. It is the sort of letter I might write for a client to use if I was giving a client legal advice. If I was giving a client non-legal advice then I would write it quite differently.
I have no reason to believe that a good advocate or a sound lawyer would do it any differently.
The real story here is the one that has not been printed or aired - and it will not be printed or aired. It disgusts me.
This young woman is being used by refugee advocates and lawyers to try and put political pressure on the government to change the "refugee policy". The media is colluding with this.
I wonder what this young woman was promised by those who are manipulating her? Yes, she is being manipulated. It is a far more serious matter than a broken coffee table which, in all likelihood, someone tripped over in a careless moment. This is someone's life and emotions and, possibly, the life of an unborn child. 
Yes, successive governments have much to answer for but it seems refugee advocates and their lawyers have even more. 


Monday 19 October 2015

I shouldn't read

the columnist Andrew Bolt.
This morning he was writing about "group assignments" at university. Yes, those.
"Um...Cat, we have this group assignment..."
"Cat, it's supposed to be a group thing..."
"I've got this assignment to do and the others are supposed to be helping but..."
"The lecturer said we're supposed to do it as a group but..."
I want to put my paws over my ears and curl up in a small ball - after I have yowled, "Not another so-called "group" assignment!"
They rarely work. 
My doctor nephew did a lot of group work at university but there was a difference. People were assessed individually. That's vital. If you are a doctor you have to be able to show that you know the work - not that someone else has done it.
I am not nearly so sure about other "group assignments". By no means all of them are individually assessed. Far too many students are not pulling their weight. They let one, or perhaps two, students do all the work. 
Those one or two are going to do the work too - because they want to pass. Their degrees are important to them. They are interested in what they are doing. 
The university staff complain to me about the standards. They know that group assignments mean that some students do almost no work and others do far too much. 
"We know who's not working," they tell me, "But there's not much we can do about the situation. We have to pass them."
Group assignments make that easier. There's less to mark too. 
The only group assignments I had at university were in psychology practicals and, later, in "moots". In the psychology practicals we all had to write up a different aspect of the practical. Our assignments were marked individually. In "moots" everyone had to get up and talk. If you hadn't done the work you couldn't do it.
Things have changed. The assignment is given to the group. The presentation is usually given by one person - and that usually means the person who has done the work. Some subjects no longer have examinations. I have known students to pass a subject without doing any work at all. It should not be allowed to happen but it does happen.
I look at the standard of work being presented to me. It is, even from students who appear keen and interested, sloppy. They don't know how to present an argument. They don't know how to use the resources or acknowledge them. 
In my first year at university I was taught how to present an essay. If we had a comma out of place our lecturers would mark the place with a red pen. Some years later I went to law school as well. In first year we did a subject called "Legal writing and research". Many of the younger students thought it was a waste of time. The mature age students usually saw it as the most important subject they did. It taught us how to find the information we needed. 
There is a lot more information on line now but the students seem less capable.
And those "group" assignments? I would ban them. At very least they have to be individually assessed.

Sunday 18 October 2015

I bought Peter Garrett's autobiography

as a birthday present for the Doctor-nephew. It's his birthday today. He is, according to his own reckoning, "not much of a reader". What he really means is that he doesn't read fiction. He reads massive amounts for his work. (He is currently doing some research as well as the normal amount young doctors need to read.) He reads a good deal of other non-fiction too. People interest him. He loves the animal world, cars, music and much more.
I told Middle-Cat (his mother) what I had bought him and she said, "He won't know who Peter Garrett is."
Youngest Nephew happened to be there at the time and, in the overly patient tones of a kitten explaining to a parent, said, "Mum, everyone knows who Peter Garrett is."
Then he turned to me and said, "That's cool. He's led a pretty amazing life. I'll read it too when big bro' has finished with it."
And then the Senior Cat chimed in, "He's a rock star turned politician isn't he?"
Middle Cat looked slightly stunned.The Senior Cat knew that? I suspect she would be quite surprised at what the Senior Cat knows. He reads.
I think Middle Cat might be surprised at what her boys know too. I am completely confident in my choice of book. Her eldest will not only know who Peter Garrett is but he will probably be able to name a few Midnight Oil hits and something about their style. 
It's not my sort of music but I can boast about having been to the same law school as PG. We were reminded of the fact more than once during my tenure. 
He came back once while I was there and he has a handshake like a vice. He also reads books.  

Saturday 17 October 2015

So the CFMEU and the MUA

want to join together do they? For Upoverites these are the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Engineering Union and the Maritime Union of Australia. 
I am worried by this. They are already two of the most powerful unions in Australia.  They are already big. They are too big.
If they pull their members out on strike the country grinds to a halt.
It would be fine if they only did this when there was serious danger but the mere threat of going out on strike seems to have people running and ducking for cover. 
Every time there is an inquiry into these unions - and there has been more than one - they seem to survive despite the serious allegations of bribery, corruption, violence, and more made against them. People are simply afraid to speak up.
I once worked in a school where the majority of the children had fathers who worked for what was then the Maritime Workers Union. There had been earlier suggestions that the move to shipping containers was going to cause a great deal of unemployment and, some years down the track, it was interesting to see what was going on. 
I was told there would be poverty - and yes, there was some. I was told there would be unemployment - and yes, there was some of that too. But I also discovered that it was not where I had been told it would be. The children of the maritime workers were talking about going away on holidays in their family caravans. They went out with their fathers in good sized boats at weekends. They had money for school excursions. 
On the other hand there was the son of a widow in my class. They were struggling financially. She was also determined that her child would not  be on the "free" books scheme. He would, she told me, learn to pay for his books like every other child. When we had a school excursion I wondered what would happen.I knew she couldn't afford for him to go with the rest of the class. He told me that himself. He just came up to me quietly after the others had left the classroom and explained. I thought about it overnight and then I said, "Would you be able to go if you could earn the money?"
"Maybe," he said doubtfully.
I sent him home with a note. A note came back. A few phone calls and a visit to an elderly person who genuinely needed some help was made. He worked hard for the money and went on the excursion. I think he got more out of it than any of the other children.  He went on helping and soon had several regular jobs walking the dogs of elderly people. I believe he went on doing it right through high school. 
I would like to know what he thinks of the CFMEU and MUA and they way they wield their power. I don't know where he is or what he is doing now but my guess is that he has done well. He was a "nice" child even then - the sort of child I would call on to do a slightly more complex task. He would think things through. He wasn't brilliant but he worked hard. 
He might not own a boat and a caravan but perhaps he owns his own home? He would have worked for it.
There will be other children in that class I taught who, like their parents, will have rented a house all their lives. They will have wangled their finances to get at least a part pension and all the advantages which go with it. They will complain about not getting enough to live on.
It makes me wonder whether the CFMEU and the MUA really do the best for their members.

Friday 16 October 2015

I got another "rejection slip"

in the "mail" this morning. At least I got one this time and at least they didn't waste paper sending it to me. It came via e-mail. 
I have other people who keep telling me to keep on trying. Sigh.  There are times when I simply want to slink off into the undergrowth and give up. I suppose I had better get the book out and try again. As one person put it, "the only foolish thing is not trying". Perhaps.
But I also note in this morning's paper that there is someone telling us that children need to be taught to be more creative and the Education Minister is telling us we need to read to children - if we have them. In my case it means that if there is a child around who looks a likely victim I will read to them. It is the reason I collect books.
I agree children need to be more creative and they need to be read to. They also need the time to be creative and they need to read for themselves.
I educated myself by reading. I did not learn a lot in school - or not in lessons. In my final year at school I discovered there was a history subject I had not, until then, studied. It was not taught in the school I attended. I read the text book and some more historical novels. I sat the exam. I passed. I can't honestly say I did a lot of work for the subject. I merely informed the teacher filling out the examination entry form for me that I wanted to try. Interestingly she did not argue with me. 
I sometimes wonder what would happen if we taught children to read and then left them to educate themselves. Imagine, if you will, an enormous library crammed to the hilt with books and children - and not a computer screen in sight. Imagine another enormous area filled with a vast store of craft materials and creative kids. Have just enough adults around to prevent chaos but not interfere and leave them to it. 
It wouldn't work of course. There is "no time" for such experiments. Children have to be crammed with coding and maths and science and social issues and languages which will allow the country to "do business" with their region. Out of school they have to be on the winning sports team, learn dance or judo or a musical instrument and to speak in public. There is "no time" to read. Is it any wonder that it is increasingly difficult to get a book for children published?
Not all children want to read the way I did anyway.There are some though and they would probably learn far more if they were permitted to get on with it for themselves. We should have the courage to say to them.
"Go away and read."

Thursday 15 October 2015

"She's coming to get that book,"

the Senior Cat told me.
"That book"? I thought about it for a split second and then said,
"Oh, Nicola's book?"
We ordered several copies of Nicola Morgan's book, "The teenage guide to stress". We know stressed teenagers. We know people with stressed teenagers. They are reading it. If you know a stressed teenager or someone with a stressed teenager then I recommend it.

And so, a little later, a friend of the Senior Cat arrived looking hopeful. I passed the book over and she sat down to look at it - and to talk to us. 
Now the Senior Cat is of course experienced. He brought up four kittens and we have all turned into reasonable cats. He was responsible for a great many more in his working life.
Me? I never had a kitten of my own. I am in loco parentis to Ms Whirlwind in the absence of her father and I have two godchildren but one of those is now old enough to care for herself and the other one is all male "I don't need a girl to help" independence. My goddaughter has been through the teenage stress bit. I had endless e-mails while she was going there and doing that. Ms Whirlwind seems to be escaping the worst of it for now. She can and does talk to her father. She can and does talk to me. She will go to the head of the boarding house at school if she can't work out how to solve a problem. She avoids "screen time". Her mobile phone is only used to call her father or me or another adult.
"My friends think I'm weird," she told me. 
"Does that bother you?" I asked her.
"No. They're still friends."
I don't think it does bother her. She could do some screen time now if she wanted to. Her father would allow it at weekends. So far she hasn't bothered. She prefers to read or do other things. So do her three closest friends.

I told our visitor about this. She sighed and, inevitably, wished her child was the same, "I wish they had never invented the damn things!"
We agreed. Screen time is a problem. It takes up too much time but that is perhaps the least of the problems. The bigger problem is that it is "instant". It demands attention. Now. Immediately. You can't not "be there". You have to respond. There seems to be a fear of what I am thinking might be called "screen failure". It must be incredibly stressful. 
There is news this morning that a twelve year old is being monitored because it is feared he has been "radicalised". A twelve year old is not mature enough to fully understand the consequences that relationships with those who are radicals might bring. He probably feels important and "grown up". In reality he is almost certainly stressed out by the possibility of "screen failure" and the likely consequences of that. 
I don't know what the answer is. I just hope Ms Whirlwind continues to largely avoid screen time. There is definitely something to be said for reading books instead.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Why don't health funds

cover something like radiotherapy? 
There is a piece about this in the state newspaper this morning and it is timely. Yesterday I spoke briefly to the  husband of someone who is about to start post surgical treatment for cancer. 
They are both retired, own their own home, and have top level health cover. It's still proving expensive. If she was having radiotherapy rather than chemotherapy then it would be even more expensive.
I had a reminder look at what my health fund covers. It covers things I know I will never use. It covers "homeopathy" of all things. It is coupled with "naturopathy". "Chiropractic" and "osteopathic" are also coupled together. You can get a refund for "Pilates"  and "Acupuncture" and other things as well. They seem to have stopped covering "Iridology". 
There are also the more usual things like Physiotherapy, Podiatry, and Dietary consultations.
Middle Cat was, until she "retired", a physiotherapist. People told me she was good at her job. She certainly had a thriving practice. Knowing they were going to have shoulder or knee surgery or some other surgery people would book her post-surgery services weeks in advance. Fair enough. She will still see a few old patients, especially if she believes it will keep them safe in their homes or mobile a little longer. People believe in her - even though she will give them exercises to do and stern warnings about the consequences of not doing them. Middle Cat can be a bully, albeit with the best of intentions.
I suppose some of it works for that reason. But to fund something like homeopathy and not fund radiotherapy which is considered much more mainstream? I wonder about that?
Being seriously ill has major financial consequences. If you are still at work, struggling to pay a mortgage, bringing up a family, and any number of other things you don't need your health fund to say "we don't cover that" of a major mainstream service. 
It makes me wonder...just how much support do cancer patients get? Not much it would seem.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Speech night

or awards night or something else night with  speeches.
"We just have to sit there and it gets so boring," Ms Whirlwind told me.
This is Sports Night. Ms Whirlwind is not very interested in sport. This may be my fault - or her father's fault. Neither of us are terribly interested in sport. Well, all right. I have no interest in sport. Her father is only interested in cricket. As Ms Whirlwind puts it, "At least my Dad knows who won the cricket." She then looks at the Senior Cat. He has absolutely no idea. 
Sports Night at School is designed to cut down on the time that Speech Night would otherwise take. Sports Night is a strictly one hour affair held at the beginning of the last term of the school year. Awards and certificates are handed out. The School Principal talks for around five minutes. The Head of Games for another five and the awards are handed out by some sporty type who is asked to keep their speech "short". That's it. The Whirlwind still finds it boring.  I suspect most of her friends do too. She does not expect me or her father to attend. She is in the cricket team but sports awards are not her thing.
She asked me about Speech Nights. I don't really remember them. "Well, when you got your degrees then...was it boring?"
"I didn't go," I tell her, "or, I did go once but I didn't want to."
She looked at me in disgust. 
"Why did you go then?"
"Because we were told we must go."
I explained how there had been a row about our teaching diploma  ceremony. None of the students wanted to go because the Principal suddenly decreed that the staff who did not have degrees (and there were quite a few in those dim, distant days) could not sit on the stage as they did not have the right to wear an academic gown. The students, apart from one or two, were "bonded" to the Education Department. If they didn't attend - and did not have a medical certificate - they were told they would not get their diplomas. 
I had worked damned hard for my diploma, probably a good deal harder than any other student as I had also had to support myself while they had been getting their allowances. I wanted the diploma and I caved in along with everyone else. It is something I still regret doing.
I told the Whirlwind this. She listened in silence and then she nodded. "It's all right. I think everyone would understand."
Maybe they did. I don't know. I still feel guilty.

Monday 12 October 2015

Riding on the footpath

is not allowed in this state - unless you are under the age of twelve or are with a child under that age. There are also rare exceptions made for people like myself.
I ride my tricycle on the footpaths at the request of the police. I see it as a privilege and I have always tried to be particularly careful and courteous because of it. 
The law is about to change here. Cyclists will be allowed to use footpaths. The change is being made in an attempt to reduce the number of accidents involving cyclists.
Will it work? I don't know. 
What I do know is that cyclists are going to have to learn to share the footpaths. Riding on the footpath is not like riding on the road.
There are the obvious hazards such as cars coming out of driveways and the low hanging foliage that needs to be smartly ducked under. But there are also pedestrians. Pedestrians need to be treated with respect. They come in all shapes and sizes and degrees of impairment - youth, age, natural hearing loss, hearing loss induced by the use of ear plugs, natural sight loss, and sight loss induced by screen attention. There are people who are simply unaware of their surroundings and people who stroll slowly down the middle of the path not allowing anyone to pass. 
Cyclists need to be aware of all these people. Passing people from behind on the footpath is not like overtaking in a car. Pedestrians are even more unpredictable. You need to slow down, be sure they have become aware of you, wait for them to move over and then pass. 
You also need to thank people for moving over. It's polite. There are times when you acknowledge another driver. (I don't drive but I do observe these things.) Using footpaths involves you in much closer contact with pedestrians and, if this business of using footpaths is going to work, common courtesy demands a simple "Thank you". I wonder whether people will recognise that?

Sunday 11 October 2015

Empty houses

are strange things.
Our neighbours have been away in Hungary for the last nine weeks. They arrived back last night but the house was empty all that time. They stopped mail deliveries so we didn't have to empty the letter box. We tossed some stray bits of advertising into the bin and, as they instructed, just left the rest. 
They are never very interested in the garden so the weeds have grown above my knees. Rose petals are scattered across the weeds.  The place looked deserted. They are fortunate that nothing happened. 
Next door to them is another empty house. The husband died and the wife is in a nursing home. She wouldn't be eighty yet but she is mentally just a little off balance. We were watching out for her earlier and were relieved when her children were able to find her a safe place. That house looks a deserted mess too. It has been that way for a very long time. As a couple they weren't coping. 
At the end of the next street is a house which has been empty for years. Someone comes in and mows the grass occasionally  but nothing else has been done to it. Again, the elderly couple are in a nursing home.
If I go on along my regular route to and from the shopping centre, the post office and the library there are two more empty houses. There was activity in one the other day. People moving in? The neighbours didn't know. They hoped people would move in. It is not good to have empty houses like that
Across the way, down the very short "street" which leads to "the court", there is a small "unit", a single bedroom "flat" or "apartment" in a group of such places. It was empty for eleven years. After the woman who owned it died her son, the sole beneficiary of her estate, would go in each week and "check" it. He didn't do anything else. He kept the electricity and the gas on. It was almost as if he expected her to come back and go on living there. The cost of doing that must have been immense but it seems he could not bring himself to do anything. Eventually he was persuaded that someone else needed housing and that his mother would have expected him to do the right thing and see to it that the refugee family now living in it had a home.
But I go on looking at these houses. I want to massage them back to life, to tell them that they can still shelter humans and animals.
It seems as if empty houses stop breathing.

Saturday 10 October 2015

Mobile Libraries? Over on ABBA Anne Rooney

was talking about taking the delightful small human she calls the Micro-Bint to the mobile library service. (ABBA is the Awfully Big Blog Adventure - one of my favourite bookish blogs.)
I read - and remembered things. We have mobile library services here too. Yes, the floor rocks when people enter them. Being in there actually makes me feel a little peculiar. I am grateful that my local library is firmly rooted to the foundations.
But I remembered other things. I recently wrote something about my childhood. Included in it were memories of other libraries in other times. 
There were no libraries and there was was no mobile library service in the rural areas we lived in. There was however a "country lending service". I looked it up just before writing this and realise that it was newer than I realised. My brother and I would have been among the earliest users.
The Children's Country Lending Service was something very special indeed. It provided a service to schools and to individuals.
Small country schools could get a box of thirty books each term. My father did this for the school.
Individual children could get four books a month. They would be posted out or sent by rail (with a return  sticker so that the service was free). 
The librarians in the city knew me. I was as frequent a visitor to the library as I could persuade my parents to take me. My brother was the same. Those wonderful women - there were two of them from memory -  bent the rules for me and each fortnight I would pedal down to the railway siding in the tiny place we were living in. I would leave one parcel to be returned and pick up the next four books. There was a rather large goanna which lived near the siding but we were prepared to avoid it. (It was probably more frightened of us than we were of it.) We would look carefully into the shelter which held the parcels - just in case! 
The parcel delivery was all done on an honour system and, to the best of my memory, no books ever went astray. We always had our books back in time to get the next lot! 
It wasn't like choosing your own books but I was rarely able to do that anyway. (My father would return my books when he went to a lecture at the university and pick up more for me. The librarians chose them.) 
But oh, the excitement of those parcels. The titles were never repeated. The variety was wonderful. I devoured everything they sent. So did my brother. I read his. He read mine. We exchanged them with the only other child in the town who belonged to the service.
During holidays in the city we would go into the library and talk to the librarians about the books they had sent. It was the high point of the holiday as far as we were concerned.
There is a state wide library service now. With one card you can borrow a book from any library in the state - and I often do borrow from another library. But I also wonder how children who live in remote communities manage without the same care and consideration those two women gave us. We were incredibly fortunate.

Friday 9 October 2015

Scholarship or books or

daily needs or something else?
A little while back I had some news. It was the sort of news that I have often wanted but never thought would actually happen. 
(No, not publication. I still hope for that but I know I need to be realistic and realise that it is much less likely than this.)
This was good news though, very good news.
To put it briefly, the friend who died last year left $Aust50,000 for a mutual friend in Africa to use for the unaccompanied children she cares for - and me with the responsibility of deciding how this should be done. My friend left no instructions apart from a vague request  to "do something useful with it - whatever you think best".
I was so stunned that the person who was telling me this by phone actually asked, "Are you still there? Are you all right?"
"Er, yes. I think so." I finally managed to break the silence.
I was - but only just. It is a very large sum of money in the intended context.
I spent the rest of the day doing less work than I should have done. 
I had to let my friend in Africa know. I had to let another friend know. Z... deals with the financial paperwork.
E-mails flowed backwards and forwards. What to do with the unexpected funds? Did we use them for the immediate needs of the children or did we use them on  something else?
My friend in Africa runs a home for unaccompanied children - any child who has no adult willing or able to take responsibility for them is welcome. Day to day life there is a financial struggle. It was tempting to use the funds to make life a little easier for a year but that didn't feel right to any of us. Something that big should last longer and have a greater long term impact.
So I suggested a scholarship - a scholarship for the girls. The boys have one available for them. It has been in place for some years. This is Africa and, where such arrangements exist, this is not uncommon. Why shouldn't the girls have equal access to more education? Most of them still have to leave school far too early. Education has to be paid for and there are no funds for girls without families.
More e-mails flowed between us. It would be a small scholarship but it might be enough Z... said after doing the financial homework,
Or...he and I stopped talking to our friend C... who runs the place and started a conversation between ourselves. She was enthusiastic about the scholarship idea so what if....?
Z...put some feelers out among people he knows - and he knows a lot of useful people. He put them in touch with me. I wrote the most passionate and convincing responses I could as to why this was a good idea and what the outcomes might be. I have written a lot of words this year. People do not invest large sums of money without knowing they are going to see something in return - even if that something is of no direct benefit to them.
Yesterday we had an "internet" meeting between several potential sponsors, Z and me. We went backwards and forwards late into the night in Europe and the middle of the day here Downunder. The initial $50,000 has been matched with another $50,000. The banker participating in the discussion has indicated that, invested in the way he suggested, this will do what we believe is right.
We still have some hard work to do sorting out the fine print but it is going to happen.
Yesterday afternoon I called in to see my late friend's sister. I told her what we planned to do. There was silence for a moment and I wondered if she was going to burst into tears and then she said quietly,
"I think it's a wonderful idea."
I do too. 

Thursday 8 October 2015

We had an invasion

yesterday. We were expecting some of them - in two waves. The first wave arrived and announced cheerfully,
      "Hope you don't mind but J... and J... are coming too. We brought extra food."
The second wave arrived as she finished speaking. 
Well no, we didn't mind. It wasn't entirely unexpected and even without the "extra food" there was more bread available for sandwiches.
They settled in, prowling the bookshelves and finding out what the Senior Cat planned to teach the kittens - magic and lots of it. We cats caught up on news with pictures rather than news without pictures. 
All apart from husband of Cousin Cat. 
        "Having a problem with your i-pad?" he asked the Senior Cat and held out his paw.
 The Senior Cat admitted he was and meekly handed it over.  Husband of Cousin Cat is a technical whizz. He can build a computer. He knows about things like LINUX. He was almost purring at the thought of a problem which needed fixing. 
Now, other people have tried to fix the problem - and they couldn't.
Even the senior most person in "the Apple place in the city" couldn't fix it. 
Husband of Cousin Cat took it off. I heard him talking to someone and then to someone else. He interrupted the Senior Cat several times. He asked questions. He had the Senior Cat talk to two more people - and had to help out when the Senior Cat could not understand a heavy accent from the Indian sub-continent. On it went. He went on working through his share of sandwiches and quiche. He prowled outside, still talking on the phone while he licked an icecream held in the other paw. He pushed buttons. He typed. He talked some more. 
At the end of it all he said to me, "All I need to do now is hook it up to my Mac and download the updates. How soon does he want it back?"
"He can wait until he goes out with M... to see their cousin," I told him, "In the meantime if he needs to look anything up I will do it for him."
He gave a particularly Chesire Cat like grin and closed it. He drank tea. He caught up on his own work while the kittens went on with their magic lessons. 
I understand what he did up to a point. I could not have done it. I know nothing about i-pads. When the Senior Cat runs into trouble I have to work on cat-logic rather than computer-logic to see if I can solve the problem. I tried to explain to the Senior Cat later - because he asked - but the explanation was beyond him. His skills are "basic". He can search for the information he wants. He can't use the e-mail function. He refuses to even try.
"I feel guilty about J... spending all that time," the Senior Cat told me.
"Don't," I told him, "J... was enjoying himself. It's the sort of challenge he loves. He felt he was repaying you for what you were doing too."
"Oh...I had better get started on some more for them for after Christmas,"the Senior Cat said. (They will come again then because it is school holiday time.)
He prowled off and I heard him muttering, "Now the book with..." 
Magic books were hauled from the shelves. He is planning. The kittens are planning their performances at their community hall in the country town they live in. J...spent a happy day challenged by the sort of problem he loves. 
The rest of us searched the shelves and a pile of books - philosophy, religion, psychology, and fiction went off with them. 
I reckon we might be happy to endure another invasion in three months!

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Only 19 different languages?

I have just seen a note saying that the Emergency Services Levy notice is printed in 19 different languages. The person who sent it seemed to think this was something remarkable. Really? It is, apparently, "proof of multi-culturalism". Really?
Being a cynical sort of cat I think it is proof of the state government making sure that people know they have to pay an inflated tax, the money from which is also used for other purposes. Why else would the notice be printed in so many languages?
Other things do not get printed in that many languages. I know. I frequently have to try and explain forms to people who do not read or write English. The forms are often very important  but they come in only one language. I wouldn't expect them to come in more than one language. English is the official language here.
But I can walk outside and hear a neighbour on one side speaking Hungarian and neighbours on the other side speaking a Chinese dialect from Taiwan. The woman further down the road speaks German. Not too far away there is a woman who always greets me in Greek. In the shopping centre I can hear Italian, Arabic dialects, other Chinese dialects, Polish, Latvian and Korean on a regular basis.  Yesterday I was at a scholarship committee meeting where the mother tongue of three people is Swahili and I went into a nursing home as I was going home and was greeted by someone who speaks Thai and then someone who speaks Nepalese. It gets very noisy at times.
I take all this for granted unless someone draws language diversity to my attention. I use multiple languages every day in my working life but I don't speak those languages - although I often wish I did. 
It actually worries me that someone decided that it was necessary to send out that notice in 19 different languages. Do they send out emergency warnings in all those languages? Of course they don't.
At least we have our SBS network which broadcasts in more than 70 languages. I just hope there is never the sort of emergency where they will need to broadcast an emergency warning in all those languages. That would be noisy too.
I am about to prowl off to the supermarket. I have arranged to meet someone there just briefly. He needs me to witness his signature and check his English on a document before he goes to work. We will say very little to one another and what we do say we will say with our hands. The silence of sign language can be lovely at times.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

"You are not wearing that again,"

Ms Whirlwind informed me. She was looking at a modest pile of winter clothing I had folded ready to put away for the summer.
"What? My coat? It's all right."
"You can't. Look at it. Honestly. I worked it out. That coat is three times older than I am!"
I worked it out. She is right. I bought that coat in Marks and Spencer the first year I went to London. It was a bit big at the time but it was the only one in that particular branch and, being me, I couldn't be bothered to go further. 
It was a navy blue duffle coat. I wore it a lot - right through English winters. You don't really need a coat Downunder  but you do need one there. I had a scarf and mittens too - oh and woolly socks, care of the children's department. 
I loved that coat. It was comfortable. It was warm. I suppose it made me look like a student when I was part student, part staff.
I wore it when I lived in Canberra too - for four more years that coat got loved each winter. Other people envied it. Yes, it made me look like a student even when I was part student, part staff.
The coat had another year in Melbourne. 
Back here it has scarcely been worn. It isn't cold enough to need that sort of coat. I wear a waterproof when I am pedalling - it keeps the wind out as well. 
And I suppose I have to be honest and say that yes, it did look a little worse for wear. 
The Whirlwind took it from me. Did I want to keep the toggles? Yes. She took them off. She put the coat in with the other things I thought I needed to remove from the wardrobe. There weren't many. I tend to wear my clothes to shreds.
"It's all right," she told me, "The Senior Cat still has his coat. That's all that matters."
And yes, the Senior Cat still has the tweed jacket his father made for him. It was made before my father married my mother. It has been relined more than once. It looks old. It is old. 
But we can't throw that out. He wears it sometimes.
I'll put the toggles from the duffle coat on something else and go on wearing it that way.
But - little minx - the Whirlwind went off with my duffle coat. 

Monday 5 October 2015

"Get parents more involved"

is apparently going to be the new solution for "stopping teens from becoming radicalised". "Getting families more involved" too is another one. 
Oh yes. It sounds so simple. If your parents know what you are doing then you won't do it will you? You won't be able to do it will you?
The attack in Sydney which killed an unarmed civilian who happened to work in the police headquarters is being treated as a "terrorist" attack. It was apparently the work of a teenager who had become "radicalised". People are now "looking for answers".
Well perhaps there are some answers - but I doubt they will be acceptable to those searching.
An eight year old turned up to our knitting guild on Saturday. She is learning to knit. She sat there in among all the adults. She spoke when someone spoke to her but she didn't say much else. Why would she? There wasn't anyone else her age there. The conversation wasn't the sort of thing she was likely to be interested in. We did have a short conversation - about books. I think she enjoyed that bit of the afternoon. I did. But where were the rest of the kids her age? There weren't any. There should have been. We should be crowded out with kids wanting to learn to knit, crochet and more. Will she come again - or have we lost her because she was the only one?
The state's Embroider's Guild is doing a great job in that respect. They have their own premises. That helps. They run classes and provide certificates of achievement. The kids (admittedly mostly but not exclusively girls) do some great work. It's a little easier to get kids to embroider I suppose. The results are faster. They embellish the cloth rather  than make it. Still...they are doing it. They want to be there and adults are only part of what is going on.
I think of all the things we did as kids. We were always making, doing, reading about "how to", repairing, and of course reading anything and everything. Because we lived in rural areas we spent hours in the bush making things. We didn't ring bark trees out of boredom or set fire to anything. We most certainly didn't become teenagers whose heads were filled with radical ideas that involved getting a gun and going out and killing someone. We had too much to do. 
We didn't have the instant communication with friends via text messages so we had to plan ahead. We didn't have the same easy access to alcohol and cars. 
We aren't going to be able to reimpose a drinking age of 21 - although I think it might be a good thing as it might actually raise it to about 18 rather than 13 or 14. We won't stop easy access to cars - although raising the driving age might be a good thing too and the probationary period could certainly be extended. 
So what do we need to do instead? Perhaps we need to start at the very bottom. Instead of worrying about whether a pre-schooler has "all the skills" needed for school we need to think about whether they can actually play - play creatively without adult supervision. We need to stop worrying whether a kid can code and start worrying whether, given a box full of "useful junk", they can create something interesting without any adult interference. We need to stop worrying about whether an older child is involved in a supervised activity every afternoon after school and whether they can get outside and build a tree house or modify their bike or organise a game the adults take no part in. 
We need to back off and let kids sort things out for themselves sometimes. If they get hurt doing it then that is part of the learning process. They will be learning about consequences.
 Perhaps that is where we need to start. It is just that it all seems so much easier to supervise their every move when they are young. It's "safer" that way - safer until we think they are old enough to be responsible but haven't actually learned how to be responsible.

Sunday 4 October 2015

"I need to talk to you..."

Oh. What had I done or not done now?
"It's not working out. It's still too big."
I thought we had it sorted out. The tension (gauge) square had been knitted and carefully measured. The maths had been done. 
A friend knitted a jumper for her son. The yarn is lovely. It is natural brown wool, still with the lanolin in it. No, it did have the lanolin in it. 
She made the entire jumper. I told her that it was going to be too big. She was sure  she  could "adjust" it. It was going to work. It just meant "a bit of fudging" and it would be "fine". Right. She knitted on to the end and then realised that I was right. It was going to be not just too big but way too big. It fitted her, not him. 
I suggested she keep it for herself and knit him another one but she sighed and undid it all - every last stitch. She wound the wool into hanks. She washed it and got the kinks out - and lost most of the lanolin in the process. She dried it and rewound it and started again. I told her what to do. I told her!
It is still too big.
The problem is that she found a pattern she liked. It's for entirely the wrong size yarn. I have explained this. Oh yes, she understands but...why can't she just adapt it? I explained again. Oh yes, she understands but....
This week we are going to sit down together. I am going to write her a new pattern. (I have a nifty little computer programme which helps with such things.) I am going to give it to her and I am going to take the other pattern away from her so that she will not be tempted to use it. I want her son, who lives in the northern hemisphere, to have it for Christmas just as she intended. I want her her to be happy with what she has knitted.
And, we are going to laugh over this because she is that sort of person - and I love her for it.

Saturday 3 October 2015

"But you're not scared of

having strangers read your blog" someone tweeted to me yesterday. We had been having a short exchange about editing and I had mentioned that what I am currently working on scares me a bit. 
It is going to need a professional eye. I suspect it is somewhat disjointed  -  but that may be the nature of the thing.
But no, the idea of strangers reading my blog does not frighten me. Why should it? I choose what I say here. If people don't like it they don't need to read it. 
It is the same with writing letters to the editor. If you are frightened of strangers reading those letters why would you bother to write one? 
When I write such a letter I choose what I say - and I don't always agree with myself. I know. That sounds odd but there are other reasons for writing letters to the editor.  Sometimes it is important to try and get a more balanced view "out there". Not everyone is going to agree and many people won't read it but if one more person thinks about something different - even if they then reject it - isn't that a good thing? 
I will word such a letter carefully. If someone comes back at me and says, "But you said..." or "But you believe..." I can say, "No, that is not what I said" or "No, that is not what I believe." Reading comprehension skills over breakfast can be poor though. People will respond with arguments about what they believe was said.
Writing a letter or writing a blog post or sending a "tweet" or putting up some other sort of words or pictures on social media is, somehow, much less personal than talking to someone face to face or addressing a crowd from a stage. I don't like "talking in public" but the idea of the entire internet audience reading something does not trouble me as much. Perhaps it should.

Friday 2 October 2015

No, guns do not make us "safer"

Do I need to repeat that? Guns do not make us "safer".
There was a paragraph in the state newspaper yesterday reporting that the deputy leader of the Opposition wants the security staff in the public gallery of Parliament to no longer be armed. This morning there are reports of yet another mass shooting in the United States.
Downunderites do not have the same obsession with firearms as the United States apparently has but we still have far too many firearms.
Then Prime Minister Howard responded well and responsibly to the appalling Port Arthur shooting. Anything that makes it harder for people to access guns has to be a good thing.
When I was a child we went on a camping trip to a neighbouring state. We were waiting to buy milk at a delicatessan in a small country town when a policeman came in to get something as well. I can remember we, as children, were frightened by the fact that he was wearing a gun in a holster. Our police were not armed. The Senior Cat, quite sensibly, got the policeman to explain that "it wasn't for shooting people" but we didn't like it.  
Years later another policeman who is also a fellow magician called in to pick up something the Senior Cat had made for him. He was armed. He couldn't leave his gun in the car. My two nephews, very young at the time, were here. The Senior Cat asked his visitor to go back and put his jacket on so that the boys would not see the gun. I think his visitor thought this was a little odd but he complied. 
Middle Cat and Brother Cat never gave their children guns to play with. They asked other people not to do it. Brother Cat's children have taken the same approach with their children. I don't think it has stopped any sort of imaginative play.
There is always the argument that farmers who keep livestock need a gun in order to shoot an injured animal. Yes, perhaps they do - but a good farmer isn't going to be happy about having to do something like that. I remember a farmer coming in to see the Senior Cat at school. There had been a bush fire and the school sheep had all had to be moved into our back garden. The farmer had come to check they were all safe. They were. None of them needed to be put down. Apparently the farmer slumped into a chair and said, "Best bloody bit of news I've had all night. I hate my job sometimes."
I can't imagine "killing for pleasure". The very thought makes me squirm. I want to hide from the very thought. 
Guns don't make us safer. How can they possibly do that? People don't need them. Shooting is not a "sport". It kills people.

Thursday 1 October 2015

The United Nations Human Rights Council

is one of many United Nations councils, committees, forums and the like. Some are more useful than others. It is all supposed to be very "democratic" and lead to better things. 
Yes, I have some doubts. I have probably had more to do with the United Nations as an organisation than most "ordinary" people - those not in positions of power. I am well aware of the "individual action" requirement. The United Nations does not do things. Individual member states do. 
The United Nations is not about international cooperation. It is about politics, internal, external and international. 
Australia wants a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. It would put the country on the world stage for human rights for three years - or so some believe. 
The reality is that, once there, they could do very little. Australia could raise issues but it is unlikely that they would get debated in depth. The Council is as much about suppressing debate as it is about encouraging it. Countries like Saudi Arabia do not want gender equality debated and they will see that  it is not. Countries like Pakistan have powerful forces within them which stifle the education debate. Namibia simply does not have the funds to assist all those disabled by land mines. They don't want that discussed. I could go on.
But there is also Australian politics at work. The President of the Human Rights Commission, President Gillian Triggs, was undermining the idea of a bid yesterday. She used it to push her own agenda, claiming that Australia's record had shown "a decrease  in compliance with international law" over the past nine years. The Greens Senator, Richard di Natale, came out with a similar statement. Labor's Foreign Affairs spokesman, Tanya Plibersek, was a little more measured - but only just. All three were using the bid to try and force their view of human rights on the Australian government. It's understandable. They will do it even if it undermines the bid - because it may help to bring down the present government and increase their own power. 
Buying a seat on the Human Rights Council will be expensive. Yes, it comes at a cost. Votes are bought, not won. Foreign aid will need to be directed towards countries who will agree to vote for Australia's inclusion. It will have to be directed towards projects that those countries want - not necessarily the projects a country needs.
I have seen all this happen over and over again.
My own view is that Australia would be better off not making the bid and using the money saved on projects that  will allow people to help themselves. That will have a much greater impact. 
If anyone doubts that then here is a list of the countries currently on the Human Rights Council. It makes interesting reading doesn't it?
 Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, China, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Latvia, Maldives, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States, Venezuela, Vietnam.