Monday 30 November 2015

"So what do you want for....

Christmas?....for your birthday?"
Elsewhere someone has just posted that her husband asked her this question and she didn't know the answer. She has everything she needs - and if she wants something she goes and buys it.
I never know the answer either. I probably have everything I need. I can, at very least, make do with what I have. 
I probably have too many books - at least people who don't read tell me I have too many books. I have enough yarn - yes, I do although my knitting friends know that "enough" doesn't necessarily hum! But my family would never buy that. They would have no idea what to get or how much to get or where to get it. 
Clothes? No thank you. I'm really not interested. 
I don't want things which will just clutter up the house still further. I don't want meals out or concert tickets.
As children we were encouraged to make things for people. We would plant things in pots and give them to people too. At Christmastime we would get given a book - with the idea in mind that it would keep us quiet during the day. (It usually did.) For my birthday I would be given something I needed but that was considered a little bit more special - like my Sunday dress - and another book. 
We were never given much. Money was short. Our toys were mostly second hand apart from the "special" things like my clockwork train set and the doll house my father made me. It was a replica of the house we lived in at the time. I made up an entire family to live in it. 
I'd like to still have both those things but my mother gave them away when we moved along with the doll pram that had never carried a doll. (We attempted to get the cat to ride in it.) 
But other things? I have no ideas. I don't really want anything,
Years ago the Senior Cat went to Scotland. He went up to Thurso to see where his ancestors came from and to meet his father's cousin. He went into a small museum there and had a conversation with the woman who was minding it. She told him that, when she was a child, she thought that if she was given a shiny new penny and an orange for Christmas she was rich. Apart from that they had each other.
Perhaps that's the way it ought to be. 

Sunday 29 November 2015

I heard the crash and

went to investigate.
The Senior Cat had dropped a jar of marmalade on the floor. He was standing there staring at it in a slightly stunned sort of way.
I promptly said, 
         "Don't worry. I'll deal with it."
He went on looking guilty and apologising and I growled (nicely), 
         "It  could happen to anyone."
It could certainly happen to me. I am just surprised this sort of thing does not happen more often in this house.
          "Just back away carefully and go around the other way," I told him.
He crept back. 
I surveyed the mess. Fortunately the jar was only about a quarter full but the glass had scattered far and wide. What is more the glass was sticky. The mess was sticky. 
I  got the dustpan. It is plastic. It can be washed. I managed to pick up most of  the mess.
         "I'll put it in the bin," the Senior Cat told me. He was trying to be helpful.
         "It has to go in a bag first - two bags, one inside the other."
He got two "plastic" greengrocery bags from the pile I keep for recycling. I think they are made from potatoes.
        "Hold  it wide open and I'll put it in."
I should have been even more specific. His attention was caught by the mess still on the floor. He moves the bag as I am tipping the dustpan into it. More went on the floor. More glass broke. I pick it up again and show him how I want the bag held and ask him to please concentrate on the job.
He does. He offers to put the bag in the bin, I send him off with a sigh of relief  but...
I go to get the mop, the bucket and other things I need to clean the mess up properly. I come inside to discover him walking across the mess.
Now I admit the marmalade does not show up on the linoleum. The linoleum looks like light coloured timber. It isn't obvious but...he was walking through it.
I point this out. I send him outside. I tell him to take  his slippers off. I get his shoes. I take his slippers. I wash the wheels of his walker and tell him to go right around the house and come in the other way. He went off meekly. 
I cleaned up the mess. I hope I have found all the glass. There were miniscule specks of it everywhere.
I washed the dustpan. I washed the soles of his slippers. 
Later in the morning I went up to the shopping centre to buy some milk. Perhaps milk in plastic bottles is not such a bad thing?
I went past the bakery. I back tracked and went into the bakery. I bought the Senior Cat an apple turnover. I came home and told him, all over again, that I love him. 

Saturday 28 November 2015

It will cost a dollar to post a letter

from next year. The cost is rising from 70c to a dollar then - and it will also take longer for letters to reach us. 
Australia Post says this is because most people use their phones (and the text messages which go with it), email and the like to communicate.
Perhaps they do. 
I think it is a rather sad commentary on society. I remember letters.
When I was a mere kitten there was one delivery a day in the country town I lived in but there were two deliveries a day in the city. 
The postman rode a bike and he blew a whistle at your house if there was something in the letter box. 
My maternal grandparents had an old metal letter box in the fence.  You opened it by flipping the lid at the top. Nana, as we called her, would hurry out to get it. Most of her mail was bills or circulars or the recipes she collected (and never used) from a cooking programme on television. Occasionally there would be a letter from a friend who lived in Broken Hill or her cousin in Western Australia. Once a year my grandfather would get a card from his brother who lived in London. There were also my mother's weekly letters home.
My paternal grandparents had a larger wooden letter box that opened at the back. If we were there Grandma would send us out to get the letters. She was never in a hurry to get them - or so it seemed to us.  There was almost always at least one letter from one of her many brothers and sisters, from my grandfather's many brothers and sisters or his cousins in Scotland and from other people they knew. Both my grandparents wrote letters to their siblings on a regular basis. While their mothers were alive they had written to them at least once a week.
My mother wrote letters to her mother and, while we were away at school and university, she wrote to us. We were expected to respond - and we did. The letters were never that long but they kept us up with the family news.
The Senior Cat now uses the phone to keep in touch with Brother Cat and Junior Cat (my youngest sister). Middle Cat lives in the adjacent suburb so he sees her as well as phoning her. It's not quite the same as  getting a letter though. You can't read the phone conversation again. You can't check on what was written there. You need to remember things - or write them down as you hear them. The Senior Cat forgets to tell me things - or, more likely, assumes he has told me. 
And the postman comes past on a little motor bike. He doesn't blow a  whistle. He only comes once a day. We don't get those sort of letters from relatives any more. My friends email me. The mail is bills and newsletters, the occasional circular, and...well books. 
Yes, that's the reason we need the postman. He delivers the books we buy. 
He commented on this once. On a very hot day I had left a message stuck to the letter box saying, "Cold water available if you need it."
He came in to get his water bottle refilled - and brought the mail with him.
"You're the book people," he said. 
He waves to me when I am out and about. And he knows he can ask us to refill his water bottle if he needs more.
I would be sorry to see him go altogether. 

Friday 27 November 2015

The front line of an emergency

situation is not a place I would care to find myself in. I hear too much about what is going on without that.
When the disaster is much closer to home then there may be no escaping it. I consider myself very fortunate that we live in the suburbs and not in the relative isolation of the current bushfire emergency. The extreme isolation of some rural areas would be even worse.
But yesterday I found myself doing somebody else's turn on the emergency roster of a small group I belong to. It was set up for a number of people with special needs if they should find themselves alone in a situation where they need urgent help. All of them have problems which would make it difficult for them to let the authorities understand what they are trying to tell them. My role, like the others on the roster, is to act as an intermediary and help them communicate. I have done this a number of times in medical and legal situations.
And there was a call yesterday. I got a message from a young man who is, we think, brain damaged.  He doesn't speak. He cannot read or write. Nobody is too sure how much he understands. He is physically able but he doesn't drive a car because he sometimes has seizures. He lives with his father on a small property and the two of them have little contact with other people. He communicates with signs or a small range of pictures.
The message I got was in pictures - just before the power went out.
It read "house water up Dad no". I took that, correctly, to read he had turned the sprinkler system on around their home but that his father wasn't there. I tried to send a message back and couldn't but wasted no time in trying again. I sent the message on to the person I knew who needed it. Result. They sent one of the crews further along the road and picked him up.
His father, a man of almost as few words as his son, left me a message this morning, "Thanks. A safe. House okay."
It's enough. 
I'll probably never know how close the fire got to the house but it made me wonder how close it was and how frightened A was. He was obviously calm enough to turn their sprinkler system on and then think he might need to leave. 
If I hadn't been around then someone else would have taken that message. A could have gone direct to the emergency services but it would have wasted time while he tried to get his message across. It was faster to do it through someone else. It's just about speed and ensuring that the message is understood. He was perhaps fortunate that the power was still on up until moments after he sent the message. 
I wonder what he would have done if the message had not got through. Would he have taken the risk of trying to drive their truck? He knows how to do it but he knows he shouldn't in case he has a seizure.
I would like to know what goes on in the mind of this young man - he's in his twenties. How does he process information? How does he make a decision about what and how he wants to communicate? Does it come automatically as it does for so many of us? I doubt that. But those five words were an extraordinarily economical way of getting a very complex message across. I admire him.
Most of us use too many words. 

Thursday 26 November 2015

A "catastrophic" fire day

was declared yesterday. 
There were several large fires in this state. Two of them are now under control, the third is still dangerous.
All fire is dangerous of course but the third had a front of 41km at its height. It was moving too rapidly for fire crews to get in front of it. It travelled around 50km in four hours. There were seventeen aircraft working on it and sixty-eight ground units. Late yesterday they brought in two much bigger aircraft from another state and some interstate fire crews are coming to relieve the exhausted crews here.
At present the perimeter of the fire is around 210km. They hope to keep it contained inside that today.
The reason the fire could travel so quickly was not just the windy conditions (60-65km and hour with gusts of up to 90km) but the fact that most of the area is farm land and fire can travel incredibly rapidly across now mostly dry pasture. There is an enormous difference between dry and wet pasture  - one farmer said his crop of green lucerne slowed the fire to the point where he was able to save his home but at least sixteen houses have been lost.
For many people there would be nothing they could do - except get out while they could. Schools were closed, a child care centre was evacuated to a police station in the northern suburbs of the city. School children had to be taken to other safe places.
All of this has happened very close to where I was born and where I spent the first few years of my life. I have a memory of a fire very close to the little town at that time. I still remember the heat, the smoke and my grandfather, who had come to take us to safety, gripping the steering wheel of the car and peering forward through the foggy haze of smoke, a damp handkerchief over his nose so he could breathe. I remember the damp of a face washer over my face and being told to keep it over my brother's face.
My parents, travelling in our tiny car behind him, had to stop at one point to get more water from the house of a stranger - water which probably saved the life of Middle Cat who was then my tiny baby sister. The woman at the house was getting ready to leave too but she ran for a bucket of water and Middle Cat was put in it to cool her down and help her breathe again. When we reached Gawler, then a rural town, my grandfather stopped and I could see his white shirt was pink where the dye had come out of the seat of the car. (Back then car seats were leather and thus dyed different colours.)
My grandmother had a sister in law living in Gawler and we were given copious quantities of water at her home before driving towards the beach side suburb my grandparents lived in. 
That fire bypassed the town we lived in. This fire did not quite reach it. 
The Senior Cat came out this morning and his first words were not his usual ones but, "What's the news like?"
He will see a picture in the paper this morning of a man he once taught, a man whose son has lost everything despite their best efforts. It is the price some people pay for living in rural Downunder. They will pick up the pieces and start again - with some help from the rest of us. 

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Turkey's Erdogan is part of the

problem, not part of the solution  - at least, at present.
In order for Erdogan to stay in power he has to keep the religious conservatives happy. It is why he has been moving toward an increasingly conservative religious rather than a secular state. 
He also needs to keep the Kurds suppressed in order to maintain control.Any failure to do that and he will be seen as weak. He has enemies who will be prepared to move in rapidly.
The election results earlier this year were unexpected.Erdogan and his party misjudged the mood of the electorate.  Erdogan could not afford to allow the Kurds a real voice in parliament. The "trouble" leading to the second election was deliberately orchestrated - and the outcome of the second election just what was expected by everyone. Erdogan was back in control.
This is the man who wants Turkey to become part of  the European Union. It would be politically very convenient for Turkey, especially if the country became part of the Schengen zone - that region of Europe which allows for free passage between the citizens of countries who have signed up to it. Even if Turkey did become a member of the EU it is very very unlikely the other Schengen zone countries would agree - but Turkey would like it to happen. So would much of the Middle East. Such a move would make it much easier to move vast numbers of people from neighbouring countries into Europe.
Erdogan is as dangerous as Putin. Downing a Russian fighter plane was foolish in the extreme but it will make Erdogan appear strong at home. What it will do to Turkey's European Union aspirations and relations is yet to be seen. Right now though I suspect Erdogan is more concerned about staying in power.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

So the ABC's presenter Kerry O'Brien

is "moving on to other things" is he? 
For Upoverites I must explain, Kerry O'Brien has been a fixture at the ABC (the Downunder equivalent of the BBC) for many years. He presented Lateline and went on to be the editor of the 7:30 Report and has been hosting Four Corners since 2011. He's seventy. 
I doubt he is ready to "retire". He wields too much influence for that - six Walkley Awards tend to give people influence. His other major media contribution has been political commentary and interviewing at election time. He used to be Press Secretary to a former Prime Minister - the late Gough Whitlam.
O'Brien, like a number of other ABC journalists - think of people like Maxine McKew and Leigh Sales - makes no secret of his left wing sympathies. One of his parting acts has been to help ensure the downfall of the previous Prime Minister.
He is generally viewed as an outstandingly good journalist. Perhaps he is. I have never met him but I have little difficulty in imagining the sort of reception I would get. I doubt he would bother to say more than "hello" - if that.
There are journalists who use other people to further their own careers, who see themselves as the teller of the story and see their own actions as being important. They use "facts" to try and influence people. They don't mind ignoring, twisting, abusing and otherwise mangling facts in order to make something sound sensational. "Selling" and "acting" a story is important to them. They are out to mix with the main players.
There are other journalists who see the story as important and the way they tell it as important too. They will try to use the facts in ways which will help people understand the implications as well as the reality of what is going on. They see every person they meet as a potential story.
The former journalists usually go far. The latter don't get far - although some of them may end up writing scholarly books.
I think I prefer the latter sort of journalist. I learn more from them. I won't regret the departure of Kerry O'Brien. I am just wondering who will replace him. I suspect it will be more of the same.

Monday 23 November 2015

What on earth is wrong with reading

non-fiction as a child?
I have been pondering this ever since Nicola Morgan wrote about it on her blog and on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Needless to say Nicola sees nothing wrong in reading non-fiction!
I read non-fiction as a child. I read a lot of non-fiction as a child. I read anything that came my way. Some of it was probably quite unsuitable. 
I remember a book my parents had. It was called "Heredity and you" and it explained, among other things, why brown eyed parents could not have a blue eyed child - or was it the other way around? I can't remember now. I read the entire book. I doubt I understood it all. It was an adult book and I was around eight or nine at the time.
My brother and I used to get non-fiction books in those wonderful packs from the Country Lending Service. I remember learning a great deal of history that way. (It was just as well because, due to the peculiarities of the rural education system, I only studied Australian history until I was fourteen.) I also remember many science books - and trying some of the "experiments" in the books that described such things. My brother and I made "telephones" and "parachutes" and kites and all sorts of other things from reading non-fiction. 
There was a series of books about composers which had small pieces of music in them. Before we had music lessons (music theory in my case but piano for my brother) we tried to learn to read the music and find it in our parents' record collection.
We still have Eve Pownall's "The Australia Book".
I was in our local library a couple of days ago. There on the "new books" shelf was a book I recognised. Someone else was just reaching out for it with a delighted squeal, "I remember this!"
The next minute she was sitting on the floor with two children reading Miroslav Sasek's "This is London". The were a number of these books, London, Paris, New York - and one about Australia. I know we got one in one of the CLS packs. It was pretty new at the time - and now, half a century later, it has been reprinted. It is still a good book.
Of course good non-fiction can excite the imagination. Of course it can make us dream and empathise. Will someone please tell me why anyone would want to stop a child from reading non-fiction?

Sunday 22 November 2015

Conversation with a friend

is important,very important. I discovered this yet again yesterday.
I was planning on doing something else yesterday afternoon. It was the day we have our social gathering at the knitting guild. It's a chance to sit, knit, talk. You can find out what other people are knitting and so on - or that is what most people do.
I usually use at least some - if not most - of the time to do my work as librarian. Books get returned to the shelves, minor repairs get done, new books get processed. I find information for people. I sort out knitting problems and so on. It is all part of being the librarian. I do the job because I am not much of a house elf. I am no good at carrying cups of tea or shifting the tables back to their storage space. I can never get there on time to be on door duty. 
In the New Year we are about to embark on something I have been planning for some time - a new borrowing system for the library. The other system was not designed by me. I have never liked it. This one should be much simpler and easier for everyone. It won't be a computer based system. We haven't the money for that and I don't have the skills to set it up. It will still be easier to keep track of who has borrowed what under the new plan.
Yesterday I planned on doing several things at the library shelves. I didn't. An hour before I left home I had a phone call. 
"Cat, I have a problem. Could I possibly come around and see you this afternoon?"
"What's the problem?" I asked. I am not sure why I said this. I could have said, "I'm going out."  I didn't. Something prompted me to ask first - something in the tone of voice? 
The person asking the question is a very good friend indeed. I knew it would not be an idle question.
She explained briefly. It was a practical issue but an important one. She needs to get a job done so that it can be sent off.
I know her well enough that I could say, 
"I was going to guild. I'll just do what I need to do there and then I'll come to see you."
I gave her an approximate time of arrival. There was a sigh of relief at the other end of the phone. 
I did go to guild. I did not do what I planned. That was not my fault. Something has gone missing in my absence. I left other people hunting for it.
I went off to see my friend instead. I heard her run to the front door. I was bear hugged. We sorted the problem. We talked. We drank tea. We talked some more. 
The conversation was good. My friend looked much more relaxed. It was a problem for two people to work at together. 
This time last year I was still adjusting to the loss of my closest friend. Yesterday I knew, for the first time since then, that I have another friend I feel completely comfortable with - the sort of person I will happily change my plans so as to be able to help.
It is important to have the sort of friend you can exchange a bear hug with.


Saturday 21 November 2015

I don't yet know what Peter van Onselen

is going to say in his column today but there was an exchange between him and someone who tweets as "LaborFAIL" yesterday. 
Now I know you can't have a serious discussion in bursts of 140 characters but it seemed to me that neither of them was acknowledging the complexity of the issues surrounding "refugees as terrorists". 
Peter says he has read up on the issue and that his column in "The Australian" today has been written following on that. I'll get around to reading it when I get the paper.
In the meantime I would like to say that we don't know what the situation is with respect to terrorists posing as refugees.
Do they exist? Yes, of course they do. It would be naive and extremely foolish to suggest that they don't. ISIS/Daesh, or whatever else you care to call them, have claimed they do. While they are quick to claim responsibility for all sorts of things this is the sort of claim which should be taken seriously. The reason? It does maximum harm with no effort at all.
A claim like this makes every person asking for refugee status be viewed with suspicion. It doesn't matter whether you are young or old, parent or child, fit or sick you are going to be viewed with suspicion. I'll give you an example.
There was a young girl interviewed several times on our SBS recently. She was in a wheelchair and came from one of the most dangerous parts of Syria. Her command of English was interesting. It was competent and fluent. She told the interviewer she had taught herself English by watching television. She had not been to school. She is obviously highly intelligent and eager to learn. Her outlook was positive and determined and she was, with the help of her sister, attempting to join her brother in Germany. (Yes, she did get there.) 
But what happened? People around me made comments like, "Someone taught her English. She's probably a spy" and "When she gets there the miracle will occur and she will get up and walk" and...well, you can imagine the sorts of comments which were made. They should have known better but they still made those sort of comments.
They were made about a girl who can be physically examined and whose story can be checked in a number of ways but many people will still believe she isn't genuine. It's how ISIS wants people to behave. They want us to view all refugees with suspicion. 
And it is that sort of attitude that can breed the "home-grown" terrorist. These are the people who have been brought up in Paris or  London or Sydney and who have had all the "advantages" of a western style education. They "become radicalised". They are are seen as "misfits". They are being carefully groomed - and groomed so subtly it is often hard to discover what is happening until it is too late.
Our "politically correct", "multicultural", "human rights", and "equal opportunity", "let's accept everyone who claims to be a refugee" approach is equally bound to fail. I know. It sounds good. It makes us seem like nice, decent people when we say that sort of thing but it isn't a realistic approach either. 
You see, refugees have to be housed and fed and educated and employed - and that is just a start. They also have to helped to assimilate. If we really want them to be part of our country then we have to have expectations of them - big expectations. These are the sort of expectations it is difficult - and sometimes impossible - for them to meet. They have to accept our values, our way of life and our laws. It doesn't matter if they speak Babel at home they have to speak our language when they are at work, at school, and in the community. They have to accept that women don't walk down the street covered from head to toe in black and that young girls do learn to swim in a country where a lot of time is spent at the beach. They have to accept that marriages are not arranged and that girls have careers and that boys choose their own careers - not the one their fathers choose for them. They have to accept that our laws and our courts are what apply - not their version of the law. They have to accept a great deal more as well. They don't have to celebrate Christmas or Easter or Halloween or any other festival but they - and those who advocate for them - have to accept that we do. Calling Christmas something different or, worse, banning it - as a local child care centre did for fear of offending some - is not the answer.  
Yes, it is hard enough for someone who has chosen to migrate and is eager to assimilate. It is much harder for a refugee who has already lost everything. There is a natural tendency to want to cling. to the familiar and to keep reminding oneself of "home". Anything which might seem to allow a refugee, or the children of refugees, to cling to the past can seem desirable if you feel you don't fit in. It is a short journey from there to radicalisation, and from there to illegal acts.  
My sister's husband's parents came from Cyprus - as migrants. They wanted to come. It wasn't always easy. There are things their children do that are "very Greek" - but they don't flaunt those things in public. The girls don't wear black on marriage - not even their mother did that here. I asked her about it once. She shrugged and said, "Not here - in Cyprus, different." Her English was not good but her attitude was the sort that made them successful migrants.
It is much harder to be a refugee. I know refugees here who are law abiding, hard working citizens. They have made the effort to learn English and do all the right things. It has not been easy for them. And they still want to go home. If things were different in their home countries they would go back in a heartbeat.
I sympathise but I still don't believe that we can afford  the luxury of allowing them the right to things like a different legal system, a different language in the community, and different, more restricted ideas about respect and freedom for individuals. Allowing people to isolate themselves, encouraging them to do it through the process we call "multi-culturalism", making excuses for them is going to cause harm. 
No, we don't want everyone to be the same but if we allow and encourage them to be too different then we will have migrants and refugees who become terrorists.

Friday 20 November 2015

"I don't understand this and I...."

don't really understand this one either. I must be getting dopey dear."
One of the many elderly people I see when I am out and about stopped me and asked me to "have a look at something". It is not the first time and it probably won't be the last. 
I sometimes see things I would rather not see. Even when they ask me to look I feel as if I am prying into their private affairs. 
I have read many letters from Centrelink (which deals with pensions among other things), letters from banks and other financial institutions, the tax office, solicitors, other government departments, and service providers. I have explained.
I never give advice about what to do - although I will explain what the consequences of a decision will be when I am asked. "Cat won't tell you what to do but..." is a common phrase.
Yesterday the elderly woman who asked me had two items in her hand. One was a bill and the other was a letter from a service provider.
We went through the  bill, a complex one, item by item. I checked to make sure that the company in question had actually supplied everything and done the work involved. There was an item on there that I didn't understand either. I made the phone call on her behalf. I spoke to the receptionist. She didn't know either. I spoke to "the manager". He brought it up on a screen in front of him. 
"She's a pensioner," I told him, "And she did provide her pension number."
"Oh right. I'll send out an amended bill. I don't suppose she's got a computer?"
"No," I told him. I was not going to offer he send it to me.
He sighed and said it would be in the post.
The other letter was from a service provider saying that they would be charging to send out paper bills in future. This puzzled her. Why would they charge to send her a bill? No, she doesn't want it to come out of her bank account. That confuses her. She likes to feel in control. She likes to know exactly what she has there. 
She is actually a very organised person. Her late husband was ill for some years and he taught her to deal with everything - in an old fashioned sort of way. 
I dealt with the second letter when I got home. I dealt with it on line. I sent an e-mail to the service provider stating she is a pensioner and giving her pension number. There was a response several hours later saying it had been noted and there was no charge for pensioners.
I will print that off in a moment and leave it for her this morning.
But, I shouldn't have to do this sort of thing. By no means everyone is computer literate. I also know highly intelligent professional people who are computer literate who will not use direct debit or internet banking. I don't use internet banking. The Senior Cat is strongly opposed to it. He thinks it isn't safe. My siblings use it. I would use direct debit but the Senior Cat won't do that either. Although I am involved he actually pays the bills. It is something he can do. I know how to do it. I can do it if I need to but, while he can, he likes to feel he is doing it. He wants to go on doing it in the way he understands. 
It is the same for a lot of other elderly people. Insisting a ninety year old start using internet banking or trust direct debit is too much.  Charging them because they don't have the ability to do these things is simply wrong.

Thursday 19 November 2015

Yesterday was not a

good day.
The early rising part did not bother me. I didn't mind the usual shower and hair wash or breakfast or getting one load of washing on the line - all before I needed to pedal off to the doctor.
It's all right. There was nothing seriously wrong. I needed a new prescription for regular medication. 
But, it was hot. It was very hot. I did remember to take the litre container of water with me. If I had been sensible I might have taken two litres of water with me.
I arrived at the clinic. There was one other person in the waiting room - seeing someone else.
I had to pick up two other prescriptions - one for the Senior Cat and one for Middle Cat. I did not look at those when the receptionist gave them to me.
C..., our GP, actually seemed pleased to see me. She is currently reading Nicola Morgan's "The Teenage Guide to Stress" and we talked about that. There was nobody else around in the heat so I took the whole ten minutes instead of prowling off after just five. It's not that I don't like C... I do. I just feel she has plenty to do and I don't need to stick around.
But I pedalled off in the heat. I thought of "visit Middle Cat, visit chemist, get home OUT OF THE HEAT". And then, something stopped me. I was waiting to cross a major road. I thought, "I'll get the prescription for Middle Cat out ready...."
I pulled out the three prescriptions. There was no prescription for the Senior Cat. They had given me the prescription for Middle Cat - and another one for Middle Cat's BIL. 
I turned around and pedalled back. I got the right prescription. I did not growl at the receptionist although I wanted to growl. I delivered Middle Cat's prescription - only to discover that she could have picked it up herself because her other appointment had been cancelled.
"I'll be around later with the exercise thing I've bought," she told me.
I go to the chemist. I see three people I know lurking in the cool of the shopping centre. I try, unsuccessfully, to avoid. I want to get home OUT OF THE HEAT!
The chemist is busy. I have to wait. I buy fruit and carrots - and forget to buy potatoes. I collect the Senior Cat's prescription. I pedal home. By then I have consumed the entire litre of water. I drink another half a litre straight down. I put the second load of washing on the line and bring the first load in. The Senior Cat supplies me with a properly cold drink - to cool me down. It helps only a little.
I put our lunch in the oven - quiche. I make salad. I answer more e-mails. 
Middle Cat turns up with the exercise machine for the Senior Cat. It is a simple device. He can sit on a chair and pedal this thing. It is safer than other forms of exercise. The two of them start to put it together. Things go wrong. 
Lunch is cooked. I leave it one "keep warm" and answer more e-mail. I write a lengthy letter to the editor - at the request of someone who works there. I write some instructions for something else.
There is a cheer from the kitchen. Middle Cat and Senior Cat have the exercise machine working. Middle Cat eventually leaves. Lunch is overcooked. I bring in the second load of washing while the Senior Cat clears the mess away. We eat the overcooked lunch. ("It's very nice even if it is a bit over done." I love the Senior Cat.)
Struggling through the seemingly endless e-mail and two academic papers which should never have been written the door bell rings.
I answer it and find a friend there. She looks at me and says, "I need a proper cup of tea and I've come to tell you my tales of woe."
Oh. Right. I put the kettle on. I listen. I know she has problems - and this one included an ambulance for her husband. She stays and talks to the Senior Cat for a while. I look some information up for her. She leaves. I answer the phone twice and sort out another problem. I get back to the work I am supposed to be doing although I am hot and sleepy.
There are two more interruptions and then I make the Senior Cat an evening snack. I deep water the pot plants to keep them going in the overnight heat. I start to watch the international news service.
The phone rings again. I answer it. This time it is a  "Hello. It's Ged Kearney here, President of the ACTU..." She goes on to apologise for the recording.
I do not want to listen to a recording. I do not want to listen to Ged Kearney. I am not even sure that what she was doing was legal. The ACTU is not a charity. It is not a political party. They are the only callers exempt from the Do Not Call Register.
I hung up.
I found a piece of chocolate. I ate it. It was that sort of day. 

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Reading comprehension

was one of those things I was, supposedly, taught in school. I usually managed to get full marks for "reading comprehension". It must have been pretty simple I suppose.
There were, at the very beginning, things like "The boy's name was John and he was seven years old" and the question would be, "How old is the boy?" You would dutifully write "Seven" as the answer. It went on. It got more complicated but it was never really that difficult.
Perhaps it should have been more difficult because it seems that many people cannot read with comprehension. Yes, some of this does have to do with the quality of the writing but much more has to do with a failure to actually read at all. People make assumptions about the information which is there. They read what they want to read into something. Sometimes they don't read anything more than a headline - and those of  us who do read beyond that know how misleading those can be. 
Going to university taught me more about reading comprehension - particularly going to law school. My family now has the nasty habit of saying to me - or to Youngest Nephew - "what does this mean?" I don't always know the answer. It is difficult to write clear instructions. I know. I have to write instructions sometimes.
And then there are people who deliberately misinterpret what is written. I know. I should know better. I shouldn't do it. I should be aware that making a comment on a news website is asking for trouble. You can make a plain statement of fact. Someone else will take it as "opinion" and it will lead to a string of remarks about how wrong you are. Try telling people something is not what you said and you will get another string of remarks about how it is what you said. 
I wonder whether those sites should come with a warning?
The Senior Cat tends to write too much. In an effort to make sure he is understood he will write three or four times more words than is necessary. It sometimes makes things less clear.
"What are you trying to say?" I will ask. He sighs and tells me. I dictate the words he needs. Other people will stand there pen and paper or screen to hand and look expectantly at me.
It is not that I am particularly skilled. Part of my job is to make sure the maximum amount of information is given in a minimum number of words or pictures or symbols. Other people could learn to do this too.
They could also learn to read instructions. They could learn to read with comprehension. Perhaps they don't want to do this?


Tuesday 17 November 2015

Remember writing exams?

I am assuming that most readers of my witterings are old enough that they no longer do exams - but do you remember them? Do you remember the awful dread of double and triple checking that you had everything you needed, that you would get there late, that you might not be able to answer any of the questions, that something (anything at all) would go wrong? It was stressful. If you were lucky your best friend was doing the same exam and you could experience the misery together.
It is exam time here at present. I wrote about my own experience with school exams earlier this year (in another place) and I was forcefully reminded of exams when I was at the show grounds recently.
Some students here do exams in the big halls at the showgrounds. You can fit several hundred students into the same place. It is an efficient method of administering exquisite torture.
At least the modern buildings are air conditioned. Years ago the local high school students used to sit exams in buildings like the old Centennial Hall - now demolished. The building was not air conditioned and the external examinations are held in summer. On occasions students fainted in the heat and the stress. A friend of mine still vividly remembers another student having a seizure. It was the year she had a major nose bleed - probably brought on by both heat and stress. Other problems abounded. 
Watching all those university students enter the building a couple of weeks back  I could only wonder and sympathise.
In rural areas we did the exams at school under the supervision of teachers. The rest of the school was expected to "be quiet" while we did them. I am not sure it helped much.
There were very strict regulations then. Any student with any problem serious enough to be granted a medical certificate was given an additional half hour. That was it.  After failing every exam except maths (which did not require much writing) first time around I was granted that extra half hour and, I presume, a note to those marking the papers, I managed to scrape through. At the end of each exam I was an emotional wreck because, after three and a half  hours of trying to write legibly, my writing was even worse than usual. I knew that I wasn't going to get the marks I would have got if I had even had just reasonably legible writing.
A friend of mine, now deceased, was granted permission to use an amanuensis because he could not write at all but it was a rare and unusual thing - and the fuss that went with it was extraordinary. He had to have a special invigilator for each exam - from the examining board. His speech defect was so bad that he was physically as well as mentally exhausted at the end of exam.
It is no way to do exams. It is no way to be assessed.  At university, if there was an essay versus exam option I always wrote the essay. The other students could never understand this but I knew I was going to get much better marks - and I did. 
It wasn't until I went to law school and the Dean of the law school literally raised his hands in horror and told me, "The arrangements we make will be the arrangements that allow you to do your best" that I actually managed to get marks that reflected my capacity to do the work. I still found exams stressful. I still took the essay options where I could but at least I was getting much better results. (Unlike today there was no chance of cheating on the essay option. There was no internet to help you along.)
On one occasion during a particularly long exam for everyone a staff member made sure I had something to drink. (The other students were allowed to take drinks into the examination hall.)
That is what it ought to be like for all students, especially those in my position. 
Exams are about what you know in relation to the questions asked on the paper - and how much of that you can organise and put down in the time available. They are not about what people actually know. We still haven't discovered an efficient and accurate way of discovering everything people know and whether they can apply it. But in the inaccurate world of examining knowledge students with problems who have done the work and do know the material also need to know they are going to have a fair chance of showing it.
It therefore makes me furiously angry when someone I know has to fight for her son's right to do that.
If you know someone going through that please be supportive. There are few things more devastating as a teenager than to fail because, although you know your work, "the system" is designed to ensure you fail.

Monday 16 November 2015

"So what if a few dozen people

were killed? It happens all the time in places like Syria."
 The speaker was a young Muslim student of my acquaintance. He comes from Indonesia. He did not appear to be in the least bit concerned by the events in Paris. Indeed, to the contrary, I have a very nasty suspicion he thoroughly approved of them. 
He lives locally in a house with other Indonesian students. I think he has another year to go on his degree before he returns to his father's business in Indonesia. 
In Indonesia his family is wealthy. His father is a very important man. They employ servants. At home he can have pretty much whatever he wants just by demanding it.
When he first came here he expected the girls who live in the same house to wait on him hand and foot. He expected them to do his washing and ironing, get his meals, and do the washing up. He expected them to do all the cleaning.
The other boys who live in the house quickly disabused him of that idea but he still does the bare minimum and with poor grace. Women are there to serve him. 
I don't think anything will change him. He has been here long enough now to see that things are done very differently here. The other boys acknowledge that. The mother of one of them told me, rather shyly, that being here has been good for her son as he now "much kinder to ladies". Yes, her son observed and took note but  this boy is not going to do that.
He thinks it doesn't matter. He isn't a radical. He's too lazy for that to ever happen. He likes comfort too much for that.
He is doing the bare minimum to get through his degree - and woe betide the lecturer who dares to give him less than a credit even though he, at most, deserves a pass. 
The other students in the house don't like him. I don't blame them. They are stuck with him for a variety of complex reasons. Most of the time they don't argue with him. 
Yesterday one of them did. One of the girls said quietly, "Everyone matters."
And then one of the boys quoted Donne: 

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

And he quoted the entire verse accurately. The boy who had been arguing with them walked out. The boy who had quoted it looked at me for some help in explaining it to the others. I did. I did not ask where he had come across it although I would like to know.
I left thinking perhaps there is still a little bit of hope left - because the boy who quoted it is a devout Muslim.

Sunday 15 November 2015

The events in Paris yesterday

were appalling. Words cannot describe the deliberate carnage. Everyone I know is distressed by it.
I now want to say something that may upset some of you. It may mean that you will stop reading my blog, block me from your Twitter feed, Facebook, and your lives. It still needs to be said.
My working life, most of my daily life, for many years been about providing communication assistance for the people who deal with disasters. Some of them come across this sort of thing from time to time - a bomb in Beirut, a suicide bomber in Kabul etc. They risk their lives going in to help in the sort of circumstances any normal person flees from. I admire them. It is one of the reasons I go on helping.
They have varying views about "God" and "Gods". Some of them believe firmly in "God". It is their reason for being there. They are not the sort of people who proselytise. I leave providing assistance to missionary types to other people. But yes, there are people I help who have a belief in God. Others "don't know" and still others are confirmed atheists. They all have one thing in common. They believe in helping other people. They believe people have a right to be safe, secure, fed, housed and - I think - as happy as the circumstances allow.
There is a very strict religious sect here - and elsewhere in the world - which preaches something rather different. Not long after the Boxing Day Tsunami one of them stood in the supermarket and told me, "God does not mean us to be happy."
I was - and still am - appalled by that statement. I think it is wrong on many levels. The idea that "God" is some sort of vengeful, evil being who wants to constantly punish all living things is vile. What sort of humane, compassionate person believes in that sort of "God"? 
The members of that particular sect call themselves "Christian". I think they genuinely believe they are Christians. 
I know atheists who are more Christian than some people who call themselves Christian. There are atheists who have spent their entire lives helping others for little or no reward. 
I think the same is probably true of other faiths. I don't believe that Islam is a "religion of peace" but I do believe that the vast majority of Muslims prefer to live in peace. They just want to get on with their lives.
Whether great numbers of them can do that side by side with the values and beliefs of the Judeo-Christian tradition is something rather different. We talk about "multi-cultural" societies, equal opportunities, human rights, religious freedom and more. I have no doubt many people genuinely believe in those things. They would like to believe we really can live in a world where each individual has the freedom to believe in and experience such things.
I think the reality is rather different. There are vast differences between living in a democracy and living in a theocracy. There are vast differences between the laws built on Roman Law and, later, the Magna Carta and Sharia Law. These impact on the way we view other people, how we treat gender differences, care for those in need, provide education, employment and more.
We can't, as the German Vice-Chancellor Angela Merkel is going to discover, take in great numbers of people who view things differently and not expect society to have to change. It will change. 
I have Muslim friends. They say they want things to change but, probe a little further, they want things to change to their way of thinking. They want Sharia Law and they view the role of women in society rather differently - even when they "agree" with other thinking. It is what they have been taught to believe. My friends are ordinary, decent people but they still "know" I am "wrong". I am not going to be able to change that.
Our former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, made waves when he told a gathering in London that the West cannot take in huge numbers of refugees and not see society change. It is not a popular view but he may be proved right.
Yesterday's attacks in Paris were not solely about "revenge" or "vengeance". They were not solely about "evil". They were also a warning - a warning that things like music, a friendly football match, eating out with friends, and other simple acts are viewed as wrong. It's that "God" who doesn't mean us to be happy which tells them this. 
I suppose I am an agnostic. I think I believe in something other than myself - but I don't know what that something else. I just think that the world is too vast, too complex, too interesting, too full of things I know nothing about to be lacking in something other than me. I want to believe that most people care but I am not sure about that any more. 
And I don't want to believe in a "God" who is vengeful or doesn't mean us to be happy. We have to fight that. The human race cannot survive that sort of thinking. 

Saturday 14 November 2015

"No, he doesn't need an ambulance..."

I was leaving the library and pedalling through the Memorial Park in which it sits when a teen crossing the grass  from the other side of the footbridge fell over. He didn't get up.
I changed direction pretty smartly. I recognised him. He has epilepsy. I had never seen him have a seizure before but he had once mentioned it in the course of telling me why he doesn't ride a bike. 
It was very obvious to me what was happening. I have seen many, many epileptic seizures in my time. I once had five children with epilepsy in one of my classes. I have seen more than one of them rushed off in an ambulance.
I reached him and, with great difficulty, managed to push him over so his face was not in the grass. 
At that point someone else rushed up and said, "I'll call the ambulance!"
"He doesn't need an ambulance," I told her, " He's having a seizure. He'll be okay in a minute or so."
"He might need CPR!"
"He won't. He's fine. He's coming round now."
Her hand hovered over her phone. I was hoping she wouldn't call the ambulance. If he wanted help he was going to be able to tell me in a moment.
He went on lying there for a moment giving those odd little jerks which are the second stage of a seizure and then blinked. He looked at me and then saw the phone in the other woman's hand.
"No ambulance," he told her rather abruptly if still a little groggily.
She put it away reluctantly and then, with a disgusted look at both of us, strode off muttering things about people who "don't want help when it is offered".
He looked at me. My words must have registered with him even though he had not answered at the time.
"You're welcome. Want any more help?"
"Just let me get to that seat. I'll call my mum."
I waited while he did it and, when she had answered, I left him sitting there quietly waiting for her. 
He didn't need me hanging around. He's a teenager. He needs his independence.
There are times when an ambulance is needed. He didn't need an ambulance. He wasn't being deliberately rude. He didn't want a fuss. He really, really didn't need an ambulance.
I hope the would be good Samaritan understood that. 

Friday 13 November 2015

If one more thing had happened

yesterday I might have screamed.
I had to go out yesterday morning. There were "roadworks" where I wanted to go. (The men on the job were actually sitting around eating a late breakfast or a very early morning tea.) I had to go the long way around. 
The person I went to see had not finished what she had undertaken to do. I had to wait.
I called in at the supermarket on the way back. They had run out of what I needed. That meant going to the other supermarket - a place I dislike intensely.
I had just settled in at home and there was a loud banging on the front door. I wondered what was wrong.
I went to the door and there was an untidy young man wearing a shirt labelled "Roof" and a liberal sprinkling of tattoos. He started to tell me about his "free" offer. I interrupted and told him, "You can't read can you?"
I pointed to the sign which clearly says "No canvassers please". He protested. I asked him to leave. He stood there and said, "But I'm not selling anything..." "Get off the property," I told him. He protested still more telling me it was a "FREE" offer - as if I didn't understand. I said "Out now, before I call the police."  He wanted to know what they would do and I said, "I'd tell them you are trespassing with criminal intent." He left. (I saw him again later. There were several of them all with a "Roof" shirt. All of them had tattoos. I should not be prejudiced but tattoos make me feel uncomfortable.
The Senior Cat was trying to work out what he can afford to "get rid of". He doesn't want to get rid of anything but the carport has to be cleared so that the new carport door can be installed. He is not a particularly happy cat about that. He "might need it". Perhaps. We will see.
Yesterday afternoon I had to go to the untidy shop. I did manage to find what I needed but it took a while. The checkout girl overcharged me - but it was not her fault. We both looked startled when something costing $3.99 came up as $89.40. That had to be sorted.
Pedalling back there was a man coming towards me. He is pushing himself slowly and with some difficulty in a wheelchair. A plumbing van appears and pulls into a driveway just in front of him. The van is blocking the footpath. The man in the wheelchair cannot get past. I tell the van man, politely, what has happened. He abuses me and doesn't want to move. I say nothing. I take out my mobile phone and pretend to take a picture. Van man swears and moves. Wheelchair man moves on and thanks me. I pedal on. 
No, nothing else went wrong. Perhaps the large mug of tea I consumed on reaching home helped?

Thursday 12 November 2015

I should have known better of course

I should not bother to comment. 
There was that very nasty incident in the New Zealand parliament yesterday with the comments about rapists and murderers and who supports them and... I won't bother to try and sort out the horribly tangled mess. I suspect that, in the heat of the moment, all sides said things that they were sorry they said and that some things were misunderstood.
But, if you are living in another country as a guest and you have not bothered to take out citizenship when you could, then shouldn't that country have the right to deport you if you commit a serious offence? If you were a guest in someone's home and you started to deliberately damage the house or hit their partner don't they have the right to tell you to leave?
Yes, there are people who have lived here for years. They have grown up here. Their family are here. They have no ties to the country of their birth. Deporting them does seem very harsh. It is a punishment over and above the one handed out by the courts. It is treating some people differently from others. 
The question still remains, why haven't they taken out citizenship - particularly when most countries allow dual citizenship. They wouldn't be losing anything. They would be gaining something.  If they don't do this then it would seem to suggest that they have, at very least, no respect for the place in which they are a guest.
I don't know what the answer is. I suspect it varies from case to case. 
But, I was foolish enough to suggest that perhaps the best place for rapists, murderers and the like was on an uninhabited island somewhere. Now that was clearly not a suggestion to be taken seriously for any number of reasons. It was meant to show that there are people Downunder no longer wants as guests and that, in this instance, there are Kiwis who would not be particularly welcome back in their own country. The idea of putting them somewhere else, somewhere nobody else lives, might well be attractive to some people. 
If some people find that offensive I am sorry but even I can think of a handful of people I would like to place on an island as remote as Pitcairn - without internet or other broadcast access. The world might be a better place.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Remembrance Day, Poppy Day, Armistice Day

I don't care what you call it - just remember it. 
We had a visitor yesterday. He is a former member of the Royal Australian Air Force. He flew planes in another lifetime. He has a different role now - a helping role.
I like him and respect him. Yesterday I respected him a little more. He took his wife and young daughter to Europe this year. They went and looked at a lot of the usual tourist things. And they went and did something else, something he had wanted to do for a long time. 
They went to France and, very early one morning, before anyone else was around they went off to one of the many war cemeteries. As the sun came up, they stood quietly and paid respect to those who are buried there.
He told us about the experience yesterday - and his voice cracked as he spoke about it. It was obviously an intensely moving experience for him. Imagine it. Imagine a quiet, still morning in a foreign country surrounded by the many graves of people who died fighting a war you didn't experience but one which has affected your entire life. It is hard to comprehend.
It is something I would like to do one day. I don't want to go on one of those guided tours. I want to go alone - because, in a way, all those buried there were alone too.
I'll likely be in our local library at eleven o'clock this morning. The staff will stop. They will remind those in the library to stop. There will be a reminder in other places. One year I was in a shop. The assistant was about to serve me and a bell sounded. We stopped. She started to apologise for keeping me waiting afterwards and I said "No. Please never apologise for remembering."
Some people will just go on with their lives as if there is nothing to remember. That is up to them - but I believe their lives are a little less rich because of it. 
I'll remember. I'll imagine myself standing in the quiet of a cemetery in a far distant country and I'll try to remember how very different it was for those who are buried there. 

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Doing "nothing criminally wrong"

and doing nothing morally wrong would seem to be two different things.
The current Leader of the Opposition at federal level Downunder has been cleared of any criminal wrong doing with respect to certain affairs being investigated by the Trade Union Royal Commission.  He is now jumping up and down and demanding, yet again, that the TURC be closed down. He has also rejected the apology the TURC offered for releasing the  information at about 8pm at night - after the main news services were finished for the day. 
I think he should be thanking them for timing it then - and for their finding. He's a lucky man.
He may not have committed a criminal act with respect to the affairs under investigation but he apparently felt the need to appear in front of the commission with a team of high profile legal advisers. His actions were not the actions of a man who is completely confident about what he had done. And yes, his election campaign was funded by morally dubious means. And no, he didn't always do the right thing by the workers he was supposed to represent when he was a trade union official. 
Those things may not be criminal acts but they are morally suspect. 
Having said that I don't doubt that there are plenty of morally suspect acts in the cupboards of politicians of all persuasions. I do not doubt that many of them would like to ensure that some of their activities never see the light of day. 
But this is a little different. This man wants to be Prime Minister. He wants the country to vote him and his party in at the next election. He is claiming he has the interests of workers at heart and that only he and his party will see that the most needy in society will be cared for. 
A great many people are likely to believe him. They will vote for him - although, at present, there are indications there won't be enough for him to form government. Whether he gains power or not is however not the issue here. It is that he is claiming to be something he isn't. He is claiming to be an honest, upright, caring man who has always acted in the best interests of other people. Is any politician like that?
He's a lucky man because the morality of his acts has not been closely scrutinised. He might be better advised to now keep quiet - and hope people forget.

Monday 9 November 2015

Building submarines

is undoubtedly a very complicated business. I know someone who is involved. He lives just around the corner. 
I have no idea what he does. He never talks about it. His wife has no idea. His two boys have no idea. He is the sort of person who makes a Trappist monk seem talkative. 
He's not supposed to talk about his work.
My maternal uncle worked for another defence related industry. He spent most of his working life travelling to Woomera and back. Once there he, presumably, spent his days helping in rocket launches. I don't know. He never talked about it either. We didn't even know when he was going to be there or back in the city. 
That's the way it ought to be.
Currently Downunder is negotiating new submarine contracts. The question is, apparently, whether Japan, France or Germany will get the main task and how much of the work will be done here. This morning there is the not unexpected news that Chinese and Russian interests have been endeavouring to "hack" into information about the new submarines.
There is also immense pressure from within and without the government for the Japanese to have a role. It is a mistake the government will almost certainly make - for business and political reasons. It is one of those "part of the Asian region" strategies successive governments are intent on pursuing.
The problem is that Downunder is not "part of the Asian region". It is a neighbour, not "part of the family". We can be good neighbours, indeed we should make sure we are good neighbours.
We need to build our own fences without letting our neighbours have the knowledge to undermine the foundations or provide weak fence posts to knock over in the future. Submarines are fences at sea. Good fences help to make good neighbours.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Oh yesterday was interesting

oh yes - and frustrating.
It was my day on duty at the Quilt and Craft Fair. I normally work there every day but the friend I work for was not there this year. (She is off visiting the wilds of Peru and I am just a little jealous.) So, the knitting guild claimed me instead. I could give them a day.
I could stand there on my rear paws and knit with my fore paws and I could talk nicely to people. I could answer all those questions. 
"What are you making?"
"How do you do that?"
"I can't knit. Is it hard?"
"I can't knit but I can crochet. Do you teach people to crochet?"
"I can crochet but I can't knit. Do you teach people to knit?"
"Where do you meet?"
"Do you want some yarn?"
"Where's the yarn for sale?"
It was the last question which caused the most problems. There was no yarn for sale. 
The fair was smaller this year. There had been another one earlier in the year - with some yarn for sale. My friend was there then. There was another stall holder with a rather different variety of yarn as well. Yarn addicts swooped to enhance their stashes. 
This time there was nothing. At previous fairs there have been four or more stands that might not be solely yarn but there has been yarn for sale. People have bought it. 
But having a stand is expensive. Even the guilds pay to be there. Admittedly the guilds do not pay what the businesses pay but the guilds are not permitted to sell anything so they should pay less. I know what it cost my friend to be there. It's money for jam if you organise the event but not if you sell at it.
One new exhibitor was charged a ridiculous amount for a tiny area  you could barely move around in. She was the only person there. I "minded the shop" for a short time so she could go to the rest room and get herself a drink. 
I know some of the other regular stall holders. I "sold" something for one of them - in that I took the money from the customer and handed it on when she had finished with another customer.
"Thanks Cat. Can you stay for a moment so I can go...?"
So much for me having a short break to wander off to look at the quilts!
And there were all those people who said, "Hello Cat..." "Oh, look here's Cat. I  knew she would be here somewhere." "What are you doing here Cat? Where's P....?" "Why aren't you helping P... Cat?...What do you mean she's in Peru?"
And so it went on. My fellow helpers on the guild stand were amused. I was less amused. These people were nice. They meant well. Most of them were regular customers at my friend's stall.
They know me but I don't know them. They forget that they know my name because, like everyone else working there, I am wearing a name tag. They are not wearing name tags.
But, in my brief wanderings, I stopped to pick up something which had fallen from a stand. I passed it back to the owner. In doing so my eye alighted on a length of ribbon. It is white. It has some tiny modern arty crafty cats on it. My paw went out. It  was not expensive. There was enough there to put around the sun hat I have been making - just for the fun of it. I bought it. I could say to the owner of the stand, "Thanks T..." and he could say, "You're welcome Cat."
It helps when we are both wearing name tags - even though we both know each other.

Saturday 7 November 2015

"The carport will need to be

cleared out," the Senior Cat informed me with a groan of massive proportions.
"Good," I told him. 
He glared at me.
We need to get the carport door and the mechanism which raises and lowers it replaced. Attempts to repair both failed. Brother Cat removed the mechanism when he was here. I have been waiting for the Senior Cat to do something about it ever since. It is not the sort of thing I interfere in. 
A friend of his turned up on Saturday morning to have a look at the problem. He has just had a new one installed at his place. They talked about it.
Yesterday the Senior Cat called the same firm - after getting a couple of outrageously expensive quotes from elsewhere. There was a man there when I arrived back from visiting the nursing home. His quote came in at around half the previous estimates and he took into account a couple of things they had not been interested enough to consider. The Senior Cat signed on the dotted line.
BUT....the carport now needs to be cleared of all the timber and the "spare drawers" and the other detritus the Senior Cat has collected "because it might be useful one day".
How this clearing away is going to be done is another story. The council's "hard rubbish" allows for two square metres in a financial year. The list of things they will not take is long. It has to be put out by 7am on the day of collection. All of those things mean it is not an option. What is more most of it is genuinely useful - to any sort of handyman or woodworker. 
The problem is that most of the handymen and woodworkers the Senior Cat knows have the same problem. They have too much. They have collected it over the years. All those useful things in the carport have been given to the Senior Cat - or he has "rescued" them. He didn't buy them. He doesn't want to give them away. They "might still be useful". 
It is his problem, not mine. I was given bags of cheap acrylic yarn at one stage. I could have kept it on the grounds it "might be useful" or that I "might use it one day". I knew the reality was that I wouldn't ever use it. I gave it to the local charity shop. It has been turned into useful things by other people. I still have too much yarn but it doesn't clutter the place up the way those drawers and pieces of timber and so on do.
I would like to suggest a small "skip" - one of those industrial bins - and just get rid of it. There are always people scouring the dump for "useful" things. I am sure those drawers would find a good home - in a carport belonging to someone else. 

Friday 6 November 2015

Bonfire Night

no longer happens in this part of Downunder. The government decided it was not safe. It is the beginning of the fire season. There were too many accidents. There were....The list of excuses for not having it went on and on.
As I write this Bonfire Night is occurring in the UK and responsible people will be trying to keep their pets inside and as calm as possible.  No doubt there will be some accidents. Humans and fireworks are not a good combination.
We had Bonfire Night when I was a kitten. We were told about Mr Fawkes in school. I doubt it was a very accurate version. It all sounded exciting rather than serious. 
For several weeks beforehand - probably the entire month of October - children could buy fireworks. They would be set off at all sorts of times and in all sorts of places. We were not permitted to buy fireworks. We had no pocket money to buy them.
We knew we would get a few. Our paternal grandfather would buy some. There would be a bonfire of all the rubbish our father had been collecting and our grandfather would set the fireworks alight for us. We liked the Catherine wheels and the fountains but not the ones that went off with a big bang although we didn't mind the squibs too much. 
We had "sparklers" - even I was allowed to have a sparkler despite the possible dangers of doing accidental harm to myself. I remember the thrill of actually being allowed to hold the stick as it went "fizz". 
And remember those potatoes we insisted on cooking in the bonfire? They were black on the outside and raw on the inside.
I remember the last, sad, sleepy sizzle of the fire too. My grandfather would hose it down and it would be trodden on and then hosed down again. He never took risks with fire.
I was always concerned about the animals. My mother would stay inside with my baby sister and our cat, Blackie. We thought it was very noble of her to miss out on the fun. Looking back I suspect she was only too happy not to be there - although my grandmother seemed to genuinely enjoy being with  us. It was a little longer before the concept of burning money started to bother me.
I also remember my father carefully pulling one of the fireworks apart. He showed us what "made it work". He told us about gunpowder - and how dangerous it could be. I remember him lighting the match and making the tiny, tiny pile of gunpowder "explode" in the driveway. My mother was not keen on that lesson but my brother and I were greatly impressed by it. We did not play with fireworks. We never played with matches either. 
Children growing up in our part of Downunder don't know about Bonfire Night now. I am glad they aren't burning money and even happier that animals are not being terrified. But, there is a tiny part of me which knows the children are missing out on something.

Thursday 5 November 2015

So Hizb-ut-Tahrir

is telling followers "not to assimilate", not to cooperate with ASIO, and not to support the democratic values in the citizenship oath? They are claiming that Muslims are being "forced" to assimilate?
Yes, it's also an organisation which also supports Sharia law. Yes, it has been banned in some countries. Yes, it is radical.
Recently children were removed from a school assembly because the national anthem was about to be sung. They were removed because the children were not supposed to sing during a period of mourning for a Muslim leader. Now Hizb-ut-Tahrir is saying that being required to sing the national anthem is "forced assimilation".
There has been nothing more than the mildest of rebukes from other Muslim leaders. "They're just looking for publicity."
They got publicity. They had an extended segment on the SBS news service. Listening to well dressed, well groomed, well spoken young men speak was alarming. I have no doubt at all that they would have great influence over impressionable young people and the less well educated. Their influence may even go further than that. 
Their intention is to isolate people from society. The greater the degree of isolation then the greater control they will have over others. This is the way cults operate. It should be ringing alarm bells. Surely more moderate Muslims should be condemning this? If not, why not?
With respect to the school assembly perhaps it would have been more appropriate to simply say, "Those children not able to sing at present just stand quietly." This would both have respected their beliefs (or the beliefs of their elders) and asked them to respect those of others.
Segregating them was not the answer. It marks them out. By doing that it tells others "they're different" and "it's okay for them to isolate themselves and not be part of our society". It gives everyone the wrong message.  
So why did the media give this group so much attention? Why didn't others condemn their extremism?

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Girls can do anything

on the race track thank you very much. 
I have no time for horse racing. I don't think it is a "sport". I think it amounts to animal cruelty. I would have it banned if I could - along with a number of other things labelled "sport".
But, that said, yesterday was a moment for a certain amount of amusement. A female jockey won the Melbourne Cup. What is more a female jockey won the Melbourne Cup on a rank outsider.
I suspect that there are still some male jockeys smarting at the dressing down they will have been given by trainers and owners. "You let a woman beat you?!!!!"
Too bad. It just showed a woman could do the job every bit as well as, and in this case better, than a male. It also showed that gambling, especially betting on the horses, is about losing money. 
As a teenager I used to go to a summer camp organised by the Guides. It was held on the grounds of a race track in the hills behind the city. We would take children with a wide range of physical disabilities off to camp for a week.
In the very early mornings those children who could get out of their "beds" alone would often be found sitting next to the actual track watching the horses being exercised. The horses would be going around and around and around.
I remember one of the boys, about nine or ten, asking me, "Don't they get bored?"
My careful answer was, "The horses know it's their job."
He seemed to be satisfied with that. I don't think I was lying to him. I don't know what or how horses think. They probably think in images. They must "know" in a certain way. Some people claim horses "like" racing. I doubt that but perhaps they have some sense of what is expected of them?
I was with the child though. It must be boring. Human runners must get bored too. I went to university with a boy who had ditched training as a swimmer. He had been told he had Olympic potential but the hours "spent staring at the bottom of the pool" were not for him. It takes a different sort of individual to handle it.
But women can handle it all just as well as men. The girl who did it yesterday didn't mind saying so either. You could see some of the men itching to ignore her and concentrate on the horse and the trainer and the owners. The post-race speeches sounded like that. It took the Governor-General to eventually bring her to the front and say something aside from his prepared speech. Perhaps it did hit home then. The media started to make a fuss.
But we shouldn't need to make a fuss. It should be considered a normal achievement. Being male or female shouldn't come into it.
I was far more impressed by the jockey's brother. He is a strapper in the stable she was riding for. He had no doubts at all. He knew his sister could do it. He has probably never given much, if any, thought to whether there are any differences in what males and females can achieve. 
We can learn a lot from someone with Down's syndrome. Thanks Stevie Payne. Your sister is right too. Girls can do anything.

Tuesday 3 November 2015

Lowering the voting age

has been suggested yet again. This time it has come from the Leader of the Opposition. Mr Shorten is not doing too well in the polls and this is an all too obvious attempt to divert attention from his leadership and gain support from those too young to vote - yet.
Shorten's arguments run along the lines of, "You're old enough to go to work and pay taxes" and "You are old enough to drive a car" and "You are old enough to serve in the armed forces (at 17)" so "you should be able to vote at 16".
He has also said that "young people were allowed to vote in the Scottish Independence referendum" and that there is a tendency in Europe towards lowering the age at which people can vote.
Hold it right there.
Very few 16yr old adolescents pay tax. If they do pay tax they pay very little tax. They have, by and large, chosen to be in the workforce. The vast majority of them are still in school.
The law says a 16yr old can get a licence to learn to drive. That does not mean that a a 16yr old is old enough to drive - and they can't get a full licence then. Most young people are not old enough to drive for some years - and research shows that many young males in particular are not mature until around age 25. Learning to drive is a choice. It is not a requirement. 
Entering the armed forces is also a choice - and a 17yr old wouldn't be sent to fight unless Australia went to war. (It may not happen even then.)
Allowing young people to vote in the Scottish independence referendum is not an argument for allowing young people to vote here either. There is no compulsion to attend the ballot box in Scotland and it was a vote about one issue - not many. 
There is no compulsion to attend the ballot box in most European countries - Cyprus, Lichentstein, and Luxembourg try to enforce it but Belgium doesn't. Most countries have an age requirement of 18.
The idea of lowering the age has very little support in the community - even among those who would be eligible to vote if the measure was successful.  Yes, it is a diversionary tactic from a man who is desperate to change his standing in the polls.
But there is more to it than that. I genuinely believe 16 is too young to vote.. At that age I am sure I made many choices on impulse. I didn't know party policies or how they might affect me or the groups I cared about. It's possible most people still don't know. Some young people take an intelligent interest in politics. It is easier to do it now with so much information so readily available. But because some do and because information is readily available it still doesn't mean that informed choices will be made.
If we are to have compulsory attendance at the ballot box then I would be inclined to say "raise the age" or "allow voluntary attendance at least to the age of 25". It's about that age our brains finally mature. That's when we should start to vote.