Thursday 31 December 2015

The Royal Commission into Trade Unions

report has just been handed down by Commissioner Dyson Heydon - with predictable responses from all interested parties.
The government is saying it is a good report and that the recommendations must be acted upon. The opposition is trying to be conciliatory because it knows that this will be an election issue.
The unions are saying "witch hunt" even more loudly than before.
The media is taking a range of views depending on the political affiliations of those writing and presenting the news and views.
One columnist, Peter van Onselen, tweeted that it was possible for the commission to be both a "witch hunt" and necessary.
I have no doubt at all that, in setting up the commission, the government hoped to show that there was corruption present in the unions being investigated. Apart from the cost and time which would be involved they (and many others) no doubt believe that it is a pity that the investigation was not much wider and more intensive. 
One former Prime Minister has avoided prosecution - but only just. The present Leader of the Opposition is in a similar position. They were, at best, sailing very close to the winds of misconduct. There are many other union members who have avoided answering questions simply because, even with 185 days of hearings, time was too short.
The report barely scratches the surface of the problems being investigated. One of the six volumes remains confidential. I can guess at what it might contain  - and so must many other people. It worries me.
Unions now represent about 16% of the government workforce and 11% of the rest of the workforce. When I joined the government workforce as a teacher union membership was over 80% in both the public and private sector. Union membership was compulsory for many occupations. Even where it was not compulsory it was difficult not to belong.
There are other ways of negotiating pay and conditions now. There are laws covering many more aspects of employment. Unions can be, and still are, involved. They still effectively run "Labor" politics - and that is essentially the problem. The core of the union movement and the leadership has not changed. One of their most senior members recently told me that they would much prefer to go back to compulsory union membership or "no ticket, no start", that they would prefer to have "more control of the work place again".
I think - hope - the workforce has changed and become more flexible. If it hasn't then we won't survive.   

Wednesday 30 December 2015

Teaching children to read

is surely important? Teaching them basic number skills would also seem to be important.
But it seems I am wrong. Someone has just had a shot at me and said those things don't matter. I've just been told it is more important for a child to be able to code. 
"There's a calculator on phones," I was told.
Hang on a moment. Don't you need to be able to read the screen on the phone? Don't you need to be able to push the right buttons? Don't you need to understand the concept of "add" or "take" or "multiply" or "divide"?
There was a report under the previous Downunder government which, like most such reports, suggested there was a need to spend more money on education. Like most such reports it also suggested that it needed to be spent in "poor" schools. It was suggested that these schools needed resources in the form of such things as computers, smaller class sizes etc. There were the usual suggestions that lack of resources was causing children to fail, holding them back, not giving them the skills, and failing to get them into university.
It is the sort of thing people want to hear. It's the easy "answer"  - except that it isn't the answer at all.
I know of schools in other parts of the world with almost no resources and class sizes of fifty or more which have sent students to university. Was it easy? Of course not. Would they like more resources? Of course they would.
When Jen Campbell set out to raise funds for "The Book Bus" she was doing much more than raising money. She was raising awareness, awareness of the importance of being able to read. Books are precious to many children in Zambia. To own just one book is to be rich. To be able to read that book is an achievement in which they take pride. 
Yes, like anywhere else, there are children there who don't want to learn in school. They will leave and do more practical things. For the children who do want to learn however learning to read is a gift of great importance. Most of them will use it as much as they can.
They will use the resources that they have as much as they can.
It makes me wonder whether the "problem" here is not a lack of resources but one of too many resources. Perhaps we need less, not more. Perhaps we need to use what we actually have instead of believing that we don't have enough. 
And we need teachers who have the skills to encourage children to believe they have enough "things" and that what they really want to do is learn more instead.

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Doctors or administrators?

That would appear to be the question. 
My doctor nephew had some time off over Christmas. He will be doing New Year instead - in the emergency department of whichever hospital needs him most. 
Currently he is doing enough "doctoring" to cover his living expenses and doing some research as well. It is the sort of research which should be funded by government but it won't be. It has major implications for eye surgery and saving sight. It isn't 9am-5pm research. It is 8am-10/11pm research - on one day just before Christmas he finished at 1am. He was back in the lab at just before 8am. 
He tells me he isn't the only one. I know he isn't. I probably understand a bit more than the average individual does about what he is doing and why he is doing it. I also understand some of what drives him to do it. I have also been driven by the same sort of passion to get something done.
But he gets frustrated, as do the people he works with, at the amount of time that has to be spent convincing administrators that the work is worth doing. He faces a similar situation when he is doing work in the emergency department. Does he admit a patient? Does he send the patient home? Does he go on his "gut instinct" and treat the patient or does he order a test because "something else doesn't seem quite right"? 
He makes life and death decisions. His colleagues make life and death decisions. They make those against a background of administrators who are trying to dictate that they do one thing or another, that they "save money" and that they never make mistakes because of the risk of litigation. 
I understand a little of this - only a little. There have been times when I have been asked to provide communication assistance in an emergency situation. I am under pressure then. I can't make mistakes then because somebody's life may depend on asking the right questions in a way which can be understood and then getting answers they can understand. 
But I don't do it all the time I am at work. I often have time to go back and check my work - often double check. I know that the doctor or other person at the other end is relying on me to be accurate and to do my job without a fuss. I am not there to question what they want or how they do their job. I might be able to say, "I did this for X once before. Do you want it done the same way or have you got any particular requirements?" I don't say, "You have to do it like this."
So this morning when I see that, once again, the paper has a piece about there being three times as many administrators as doctors in our hospital system I can only feel for the doctors. Would it be possible to just let them get on with the job? They know more about medicine than I do. 

Monday 28 December 2015

It is Proclamation Day

in the state in which I live in Downunder. 
Proclamation Day is supposed to be a reminder of the day in 1836 in which the then governor, Governor John Hindmarsh, read out the document which proclaimed South Australia could now have a parliament and thus also be a state.
It is said that he read out this proclamation under a certain gum tree at Glenelg. The gum tree is preserved as such - with concrete as it has long since died. Whether it is the actual gum tree - or whether Governor Hindmarsh read the proclamation out under a gum tree at all - is a matter of debate.
There is a ceremony there every year. It is attended by the governor of the day, various politicians and other dignitaries and perhaps a few hundred members of the public who wonder what is going on.
I have never bothered to go. 
I remember learning about the event in school. It was one of those things I was taught, along with the ANZAC story about Simpson and his donkey, that I sensed lacked a certain accuracy. They were nice stories but the real significance of the events was never mentioned. 
I do not remember the idea that the state finally had a parliament and all the implications of that ever being mentioned. We were told "the state could govern itself" because someone had stood under a specific gum tree and said so but there was no explanation of what it meant. From the comments in this morning's state newspaper I doubt children are now even taught that much - or, if they are, they forget it very rapidly.
Does it matter? Perhaps it doesn't but I still think it would be a good idea if children were made more aware of it. Understanding where the government of the state started might encourage them to think more about the way we are governed. Knowing why the day is a public holiday might be a good idea too. 
I almost lost interest in history at school. All through primary school I was told the same few stories each year - and they were just stories. They were not accurate accounts of events.
I was incredibly fortunate that, outside school, other things taught me about history. 
My father had an uncle who lived in Captain Sturt's cottage at Grange. We went to visit him when I was about five or six, not long before someone recognised the historical value of the place and it was bought in order to preserve a significant piece of the state's history. I remember this man, my great-uncle, telling me the story of the house. He didn't bother with the story of Sturt's disastrous expedition but he told me the story of the house. I was there inside a piece of history and, even at that age, it seemed much more real than anything I had been told at school.
And my paternal grandfather showed me things and told me things about the port and the docks and took me to see them. They were things he had done and seen and used. I saw the house he had lived in as a boy - before it was demolished. I saw the place where he tied up the rowing boat they used to cross the river. I saw the river maps his father made which were so vital to all the shipping.
It was all so different from just being told an inaccurate account of history. 
Proclamation Day really doesn't interest me terribly much but if you asked me whether I wanted to visit the Maritime Museum again I'd say yes in a heartbeat. History gets personal then. 

Sunday 27 December 2015

The Sydney to Hobart

yacht race is one of those mad and perhaps peculiarly Downunder  things that I suspect most yachtsmen want to do at some time. It is probably a bit like climbing certain mountains if you are a mountaineer or playing on certain golf courses if you are a golfer. It's probably on the "bucket list" of such people. To win it is probably rather like climbing Mt Everest - and getting down safely.
The idea terrifies me.
I love the sea. I love to watch it. Unfortunately I also get sea sick - I get sea sick very quickly. Watching the reporter on one of those yachts last night made me feel a little odd.
The water was already getting rough and they were barely out of the Sydney Heads - the narrow entrance into Sydney Harbour. Some of those boats might be "maxi-yachts" but they are small when you look at them in relation to the vast stretch of ocean beyond.  
The Sydney to Hobart race is generally considered to be one of the most difficult in the world - if not the most difficult. It starts on Boxing Day and people often think that, in summer, the waters off the east coast of Australia and  across the Bass Strait should be relatively calm. They aren't. There is often very bad weather indeed. 
When the race started in 1945 they didn't have the safety equipment or monitoring devices they have now. Even with those lives can be lost. By no means all the boats that start the course will finish it. This year one of the favourites is already out of the race - and that is a boat which has won the race many times. It's tough  on the boats as well as the crew.
But there have been some remarkable achievements. The first race took more than six days to complete. Now at least one boat and crew has done it in under forty hours. In 2011 Jessica Watson, who sailed around the world alone at 16, skippered a crew of all women - something nobody would have thought of in 1945.
The race isn't over as I write this. Anything could happen as they move across Bass Strait and down the east coast of Tasmania. I don't in the least care who wins. I just hope everyone makes it there safely.
And I wonder at the parents of the two eleven year old girls who are going to take part in the shorter race from Launceston to Hobart. It's a little safer perhaps but only a little.
The sea is wild and unforgiving. It's also magnificent and I suppose  it is "in my blood" because of my ancestry. 
I just wish I didn't get seasick. 

Saturday 26 December 2015

There nearly wasn't a

blog post at all  yesterday. 
Allison wanted to know in the comments how many short stories there were now. The answer to that is that I think there are five. 
There are three stories about Tom and Lizzie and their cat Mouse. Last year I wrote the first one about the Cathedral Cats and this year I wrote the second.
I didn't really intend to write any of the others. They just happened. This year I thought about it on Christmas Eve. Oh. A short story? I have no idea what to write! I stopped thinking about it and got on with a rather busy and chaotic day. If it happened it happened - and I thought it was unlikely to happen. I thought even a blog post might be pushing it a bit.
I woke up with no idea what I was going to write. I ate breakfast and still had no idea. 
And then the first sentence arrived from wherever such things come from. I wrote it. 
I knew who the Cathedral cat was. I knew that the Cloister cats were mischief makers. The rest of it just happened. I didn't tidy it up or edit it. I suspect that shows all too well. Matins and Vespers appear to be looking hopefully at me. They seem to like publicity. Bach tells me they don't deserve it. Decani and Cantori tell me it is their turn to star.
All of them can wait for a while.Today is about investigating whether there are any apricots which did not get cooked on the tree. One of my nephews will be here to do some work in the shed. I am also going to visit the elderly in a nursing home and I might finish reading a library book.
Things are back to normal - except that the Cathedral cats are watching me.

Friday 25 December 2015

There were muddy paw prints all the way down the nave

again. That meant the Choir School Cats and the Cloister Cats had been playing soccer in the Cathedral. 
The Cathedral Cat purred in frustration and padded off to find Matins and Vespers. They would be two responsible. They always led Decani and Cantori into mischief. 
Or maybe, Bach thought to himself, it was the fault of the Senior Chorister. He had been the one to give the miniature soccer ball to the four cats. 
They could play with it in the cloisters of course but this weather they preferred to be inside. Who could blame them when it was raining, especially when it was that particularly nasty thick sort of rain that was almost-but-not-quite-sleet?
But they were not supposed to play soccer in the Cathedral. Bach had told them that more than once. If there were no humans around they could play Hide and Seek or Chase Tails around the walls as long as they didn't leave a mess. If there were humans around then they had to sit very quietly in the places where they could not be seen. 
All the cats who lived in the Cathedral Close liked to go to organ practice. They would settle themselves on the kneelers and nap to the sound of Tallis and Byrd, Monteverdi, Palestrina, Handel, Mozart and Tavener. Bach liked to lie there with his stomach flat to the top of the kneeler and let the deep growling of that long ago other Bach flow through to the tips of his whiskers.
But right then he was prowling through every possible place looking for Matins and Vespers. He couldn't find them anywhere. 
He knew all the hiding places in the Cathedral. He had  been playing those games when he was a mere kitten. He knew the Close as well as he knew his own fur. They weren't there. 
Their mother, a tabby named Cadenza, had no idea where they were. She went off  rather crossly to find their sister Terce so that they could sweep the nave with their tails. Bach rather disapproved of that. He thought the Matins and Vespers should do it themselves.
But they were nowhere to be found. They had not been in for breakfast at the Deanery. They were not there for supper either. They were not shut in anywhere - or not anywhere that Bach or Cadenza could hear. Decani and Cantori had no idea and claimed they had not been playing soccer in the Cathedral. Bach did not have time to lecture them about that anyway.
He did another circuit of the entire Close. He listened carefully to the humans. No accidents had been reported. Had they, contrary to instructions, been exploring a car? Had they been kidnapped?
Bach could not settle. He prowled backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, until even Cadenza told him to sit quietly. There was, she told him, nothing they could do. He still worried.
By then it was very late. The Cathedral was filling for Midnight Mass.
Bach watched everyone coming in. All the other Cathedral cats were on their kneelers in the Dean's stall but there were two blank spaces. It  would not be Christmas without Matins and Vesper!
Where were they? The procession started and Bach had to put a paw firmly over his mouth to stop himself from howling. All the other cats were doing the same thing.
And then, from under the Bishop's cope, like a hair's flash of lightning came Vespers and then Matins. They were on their kneelers almost before Bach realised they were there. He watched them fold their paws neatly in front. They curled their tails just as they had been taught. They stared straight ahead at the feet of the choir. 
What had they been up to?
Bach purred a sigh of relief. He wouldn't even ask. After all, it was Christmas.

Thursday 24 December 2015

The book (I) hope to find under the tree????

Now Vanessa you have to admit I have been pretty good. I have done the entire list you asked me to do...after this I have to start thinking of my own blog post topics again. 
Now that would be a good book to find under the tree - except that we haven't got a tree. I haven't even put the Christmas cards up somewhere. Yes, I know but time....and the Senior Cat is not interested in decorating the place. Never mind.
But a book of suggestions for blog posts? You don't know of one do you? No, I thought not.
I really don't know. I usually buy my own books these days. My siblings have no idea what I like to read. The Senior Cat's Christmas shopping consists of book vouchers. As he says it serves a dual purpose - presents for his loved ones and supporting the local indie bookshop. 
I might go and trawl back through some of the books that other people have bought this year - Carole Blake has made more than a few purchases I am itching to get my paws into and my friend R... loaned me a fascinating book I wouldn't mind actually owning. 
Fiction? Mmm...I'd really, really like to have Joanna Cannon's book  "The Trouble with Goats and Sheep". All right. All right. I know I have it coming eventually. I have had it on order for weeks now. Yes, I know. I'll just have to wait.
In the meantime...if someone gives me a book voucher I will be very pleased because then I can have any book at all. Purr-fect!
Thank you. 

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Book of the year???

Oh Vanessa I have no idea. No, I won't go for one of those "award" winning books and I won't go for one of those mega-sellers. They have already been given accolades by others. Their authors don't need me to add to them. 
Does it have to be something published this year or can it be something I have used a lot this year? 
My most used book every year would be the Oxford English Dictionary. That's not quite what you meant? Oh.
I bought twelve copies of the Teenage Guide To Stress this year. Nicola Morgan's book is keeping me poor - but it is proving enormously helpful to teenagers. When the boy serving at the checkout stops serving a customer and rushes out and hugs me because I suggested reading it and he did and he asked me for help with his essays as a result and he got the marks he needed to get into his choice of course - well I reckon that makes it the book of the year. 
But that was published last year...I am not allowed to have that?
I suppose that, for adult novels, "The Girl on the Train"  (Paula Hawkins) might do it.
But, does it have to be an adult book? No? Oh good. I think I have found my book of the year. It's a picture book.
It's "The Unstoppable Maggie McGee" by Juliet Clare Bell with illustrations by Dave Grey. It is a book about childlike wonder and imagination. It is about hope and friendship and caring for each other. 
I think I'll have that as my book of the  year.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Favourite Christmas book???

I wish I could say that our family had a tradition of getting together and reading the same book out aloud to each other on Christmas Day. It would be lovely - but we haven't.
Of course I was given books at Christmas. I always knew there would be a  book for Christmas. My parents deliberately gave us books. 
My mother saw them as a way of keeping us quiet while things like Christmas lunch were being prepared. It must have been the teacher in her. My father, when he wasn't busy doing whatever he had been told to do, would sneak another look at them. I remember waiting impatiently while he read "a whole chapter of Pippi Longstocking all to himself".
Christmas Downunder tends to be hot. The forecast for this year is very hot. The Senior Cat and I will probably stay home. It will be too hot for him to go anywhere. I may dig out "Pippi in the South Seas" and remind him of how he read that chapter. 
But Christmas comes in other books. I remember the carol singers coming in Noel Streatfeild's "Ballet Shoes". The closest we ever came to such things was the Salvation Army Band playing carols some distance away. Now even that doesn't happen. "People don't want those sort of carols" I was told recently. They don't? Do they prefer those awful commercial versions  in the supermarket?
There was a book by, I think, Ralph Smart called "Bush Christmas" made into a film with Chips Rafferty but it didn't evoke Christmas for me. 
But there are two of my childhood books that do evoke Christmas I suppose. One is "The Summer in Between" by Eleanor Spence. It is the story of Faith, daughter of a teacher in a rural town, and her summer between leaving primary school and going to high school. Early in the book she says "It smells like Christmas" and this is not about Christmas lunch but about  the other smells of summer, particularly the glut of apricots her mother is making into jam.
It's one of those books which should be better known, even now.
And the other is a book which was translated from the German, "The Ark" by Margot Benary. It is set just after the end of the war. The mother and the children have almost nothing but they have each other and, somehow, the mother makes Christmas for her children and the old woman who has - reluctantly - taken them in. The description is a very moving one. There are the mittens their mother has made by unravelling a knitted garment that of which there is "almost nothing left" and there is a cake - something the children wonder at because it means their mother must have given up food for herself in order to make it.
I have experienced something close to the Spence but the Benary is something I appreciate even more as an adult.That mother is Christmas.

Monday 21 December 2015

Book set where I live????

I doubt there is a book set precisely in the suburb where I live but there are books set in the state so that will have to do Vanessa.
Do you know Colin Thiele? He's the most obvious choice. Colin was an amazing man. He was a friend of the Senior Cat. They knew one another from the time they went to teacher training college together. 
And Colin wrote books. The three best known books for children were "Sun on the Stubble" a poignant and funny semi-autobiographical episodic  book of growing up in the Barossa Valley in the period between the two world wars. It is a reflection of rural life with a strong Germanic influence - so common in that part of the world.
Then there was February Dragon - bushfires are all too common here and that dragon is merely sleeping. And then there was Storm Boy - barely long enough to be considered a novel but a brilliant piece of writing about the Coorong, about loneliness, about the environment and so much more. Find them for yourselves if you can and read them.
Colin was very generous about giving children time. I once took a small group of children to meet him. By then he was principal of a teacher training college himself. His arthritis was so bad that he was having difficulty getting around so we went to him. He had taken the trouble to organise very grown up tea and biscuits and he patiently answered all their many questions. They talked about it for months afterwards - and years later I saw one of the children, now very much an adult, and he said, "Remember when we went to see Mr Thiele...?"
He did a great deal for children's literature in this state.
And there is another book very worthy of mention that I found out about through his recommendation, "Always Bells (Life with Ali)" by Winifred Stegar. It is an autobiography of a woman who, in the early part of last century, married an Afghan cameleer who lived in the far north of the state. He was a Muslim. She was a Christian. It was a stormy and often difficult marriage. They made a trip to Mecca with their children at a time when it was nothing like it is now. They lived in appalling conditions. 
After he died "Winnie the Washerwoman" wrote a regular column for a rural newspaper. Some of it and some of her recollections may be less than accurate but the book is still fascinating. If you can find a copy (and it is, sadly, out of print) I recommend it too.
But, apart from that, I am sure you can find plenty of Downunder literature for yourselves. 

Sunday 20 December 2015

Book I've read more than three times????

Oh dear where do I start on that one? How long have you got?
You see I was a teacher in another life. We have to read books more than once as part of our work - well, I did.
I once worked in a school for children who were profoundly physically and intellectually disabled - or so their assessments would have had me believe. Some of the children were more intellectually able than their assessments made out. There is always a problem with trying to assess children who can't hold anything, who may have a problem holding their heads steady even when they are being held in a sitting position with numerous bits of tape and velcro. 
I read a lot of books to such children. They were simple picture books. The simplest Dr Seuss books were favourites. I read those hundreds of times - and no, I don't exaggerate. 
And I read slightly longer books to some of the more able children. We read nursery rhymes and we read "The Story About Ping" and "Make Way for Ducklings", "Whistle for Willie" and "Where the Wild Things Are", "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and "Madeline".
And in other schools I read other books to other children. I read Alan Marshall's "I can jump puddles" and Colin Thiele's "Sun on the Stubble". I read "The Hobbit" and "The Dolphin Crossing" and "Goodnight Mr Tom" to one class after another...and other books too. When we did the Boxer rebellion I read them "Tulku" - a book brought sharply into mind with the recent death of the wonderful Peter Dickinson.
Friday afternoons were sacred. It didn't matter what else had happened during the week we had "a chapter" (or perhaps two if they were very short). They would sit there in absolute silence unless there was a joke being told by the author. 
Did I find it dull to read these books over and over again? No,  because the reaction to them was always new. The book would be new to the class or comfortingly familiar for some.
And I always made sure that somewhere along the way I read them Randolph Stow's book, "Midnite".
And there were lines in there that never failed to raise a laugh. Midnite, a not very bright Colonial cowboy, asks Khat - a very bright Siamese cat - what a typewriter is. Khat replies, "It is a machine for writing books. A hundred years from now people will be preposterously lazy."
Now, isn't that worth reading three times - or even more? 

Saturday 19 December 2015

"Book that made me laugh"????

Oh - this is going to be difficult? Just one? No. I must have more than one Vanessa.
You see one of them was written by a rather remarkable person we both "know". You know her in real life. I only know her "virtually" but we have exchanged things over the years and we have both come across some of those customers.
Yes, "Weird things customers say in bookshops" by Jen Campbell is very definitely a book which made me laugh - and sigh. It is so very true. I have had my own experiences with such stories in our local bookshop - and similar experiences in the library.
Yes, if anyone else is reading this and has not read Jen's book then please buy a copy and read it now. It will lighten your day.
I will lighten your day with my own experience. I was "minding the shop" for our local indie bookshop owner one day. I was standing behind the counter and feeling important - perhaps. Actually I was hoping the phone would not ring and that nobody would expect me to know how to use the till. 
A potential customer strolled in and looked at me and then asked, "Do you know anything about books?"
Another book is a very old one indeed. "The Devil's Dictionary" by Ambrose Bierce. It started life in the 19thC and became a book in the 20thC. 
Bierce wrote it over many years and the definitions first appeared in newspapers where he was employed as a journalist and then as an editor.
The first book appeared in 1906 and there have been a number of versions since then with some "lost" definitions being included in the most recent versions culminating in the Unabridged Devil's Dictionary. 
Some of the definitions are old now but many of them are still as cutting and funny as they were when they were first published.
"Lawyer (n) One skilled in circumvention of the law" and "Love: A temporary insanity curable by marriage" being just two which are still, to my mind, funny now. 
And, should you want a slightly more modern version of the same type of thing then try Peter Bowler's "The Superior Person's Book of Words". It is an equally wicked and deliciously funny book by an Australian lexicographer.
Or what about Asterix? Oh yes, I know. It's a comic strip sort of book but it IS funny.  
Have I made you laugh? 

Friday 18 December 2015

Most underrated book or author????

Ooh...I could be naughty here Vanessa and say, "Me!"
I mean, let's face it, I write don't I? But I am not published so I must be underrated? It really means I can't be rated at all.
But that's not what you meant? No, of course it isn't and there are some published authors who are definitely underrated.
John Verney is - or was - one such author. "Going to the wars" is one of the best war memoirs ever written but I doubt there is a copy on any library shelf in the entire state I live in. It is funny and yet kind and essentially very human. It should be better known.
But John Verney also wrote for children and I fell a little in love with the Callender family when I was just a kitten. What's not to love about a family where the children get called things like "Friday" and "February"? Their father, "Gus Callender" is a "left winger" - and this was before it became popular to have such characters in books. He's a journalist - enough said. And then there is  "Lord Sprockett" in "Friday's Tunnel". He is an undesirable piece of work - a thinly disguised Tory peer perhaps but also more than that.
"Friday's Tunnel" and "February's Road", "Ismo" and "Seven Sunflower Seeds" and "Samson's Hoard" would perhaps be considered a little old fashioned now. The setting is old fashioned I suppose. 
The Callenders live in a large house. They are upper class (the older children are away at boarding school part of the time) and slightly bohemian at home. The older children know their classics and their reference books. (Does a modern child even know what "Who's who" is?)
But, like Going to the Wars" these books are funny as well. There's resourcefulness as well as chaos and they care about people.
And John Verney once wrote a long and passionate letter about International Literacy Year for me to the relevant United Nations official. He was a remarkable man - an author who should be much more widely appreciated.

Thursday 17 December 2015

My favourite comfort read?????

Oh...."comfort read"?
That's difficult. If I need to ignore the world for a while then I'll try and find an undemanding sort of read - a whodunit possibly.
A tough time over work...being told about the almost unbearable situations some of my colleagues find themselves in or, worse still, losing one of them out in the field due to violence? I'll go back to some things I have already mentioned Hammarskjold, a book of "meditations" or quotations or something similar. It will be something that reminds me that other people have been there in that place too - and that they have come through it.
Once in a while I may re-read something familiar. I sometimes re-read a book a child has been reading so that we can talk about it - and going back to childhood favourites can be comforting. There is a sense of safety about some of them.
But a real comfort read? It will only take a few minutes but - should an ancient cat admit this? I love picture books...I'll pick up a picture book and read that. I'll prowl through the familiar pages and pictures and get stroked by the sheer simplicity of them. What does it say about me? I don't know. I still love "The Story About Ping" and "Make Way for Ducklings" and many more.
If you really want a comfort read pick up one of the Katie Morag books by Mairi Hedderwick. There's a wonderful sense of family and community in those books. The illustrations are marvellous. Granny Island and Granny Mainland are wonderful.  Katie Morag is just delicious. The books remind me of life in small communities here - and the island we once lived on.
Yes, yes I know this is possibly not quite what you meant Vanessa but I think you have to admit it's a pretty good comfort read. 

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Most recent (book) purchase????

Ah now Vanessa, I'll have to be careful that none of the people on my Christmas and birthday list are reading this....because I am not sure in which order I decided on the following...
(1) Another copy of Big Blue Sky by Peter Garrett. I am not sure how well people in Upover know Peter Garrett. He was the lead man in the group known as "Midnight Oil" and he was also a Senator in the previous government.  One of my claims to (non)fame is that I went to the same law school as he did - and we were never allowed to forget he went there. 
The sort of music "Midnight Oil" went for is not mine but he has led an interesting life in other ways and his autobiography is intended as a birthday present.
(2) "The believing brain" by Michael Shermer is a stocking filler for the Senior Cat. It's a psychology book about why people believe things - a companion to his "Why people believe weird things" which the Senior Cat found fascinating. I know, a little odd to be giving someone as a Christmas present but - believe me - he will be pleased.
(3) I also bought him "Confessions of a Conjurer" by Derren Brown - an autobiography of a fellow magician.
(4) And I bought one of my nephews "What If..." by Randall Munroe. It is the quirky sort of thing he will enjoy dipping into in the rare moments he has time to read anything.
(5) And three more copies of "Captain Beastlie's Pirate Party by Lucy Coats - at the request of a friend unable to get to a bookshop She has three nephews she thinks will appreciate the story. I know they will - they are dirt magnetised.
I think that's a pretty good haul. 

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Own more than one copy (of this book)????

I have multiple copies of more than one book - some of them are "loan" copies - but there is one book I will never loan although I own two copies of it.
 One copy is rather too tattered to loan to anyone. The other is one of my most treasured possessions. 
In my last year at school other people decided I should be a teacher. I didn't know what I wanted to do - or rather, I think I did but it wasn't possible.
Given the choice I  think I would have gone off to university and studied linguistics. I would probably have been an academic of some sort at the other end. I think I would have enjoyed it. Yes, some of it would have been teaching. There would have been some research too - which I ended up doing anyway but in a rather different sort of way.
But, I went to teachers' college instead. Not everyone wanted me at teachers' college. It was thought I wouldn't cope with teaching, especially in a "normal" school. I was shunted into "special" education but  I actually left college better qualified than most of my contemporaries. They had two  years there and I had three. I did an extra "special education" course. Some people thought I might manage that - not realising that it is actually much more physically demanding.
In the middle of all this there was an art lecturer who thought I do it - and made sure I did. He was married to a rather wonderful woman who, on going to see her son in New Guinea, phoned me from there and said, "B....would like to take you out to see a film but he knows you won't go unless I tell you it's fine with me. Well, it is fine with me and will you please accept the invitation so that he stops bothering me. You can trust him."
I went to the film with him - and he acted like the gentleman he was. I visited their home on a fairly regular basis and we got to know one another well. He liked some of the things I was writing at the time. He encouraged me to look to the future - and university in a back to front sort of way. (I did get there.)
And then, on the morning of my 21st birthday - the very early morning, he appeared on my doorstep. He was holding a small parcel in his hand. He couldn't wait a moment longer. He handed it over almost shyly. "P... (his wife) hid it so I wouldn't give it to you early."
In it was a book - but not just any book. It is small. It has a dark green leatherette cover. Inside is a remarkable piece of artwork. It is a copy of TS Eliot's "Four Quartets" - handwritten with an illustration for each part.
I don't know how many hours it took B... to make that book. P... told me later that there were "much muttered cursing" as he did it. I do know that the Art Gallery here would like to own it - but I am not parting with it.
It sits there by my bed. Sometimes I take it out of the cloth I keep it in and I wonder at it and the work that went into it. If I want to go back to that poetry I pull out the battered, annotated copy and read that. This one however is to held gently and treasured...and treasured.  
It was a book made for me. 

Monday 14 December 2015

Guilty literary pleasure????

Oh, right - I have to admit to this one Vanessa? Hmm...I don't suppose the comic strips in the paper are quite what you meant? And, I don't always read them now that they don't always appear on the same page. Mind you, they haven't been the same since you removed Broomhilda in favour of something I don't consider at all funny.
So, I suppose it will have to be the "detective yarns". I sneak those in last thing at night. 
I am sure you know the sort of thing I mean....impossible murder mysteries with equally impossible sort of heroes and heroines. I rather like those impossibly romantic individuals who get themselves involved in murder and mayhem. 
My love affair with these things started when I was very young. I read my way through Agatha Christie and then Patricia Wentworth and JJ Marric and more. I am not sure that they really count as "literary" but I read them.
And I went on from there to reading about detectives like Patrick Petrella, Inspector Wexford, Superintendent Wycliffe, and then Charlie Resnick (what's not to love about a man who has cats) and Adam Dalgliesh (who writes poetry for goodness' sake). Richard Jury has that wonderful collection of friends - who wouldn't want to meet someone called Melrose Plant? 
I am not in the least bit interested in horse racing but I enjoyed Dick Francis - not so  sure about his son Felix but Dick always had something besides the horse race in there.
And there are those historical detectives who work without the benefit  of modern day forensics. Falco, Brother Athelstan, Matthew Bartholomew,  and of course Cadfael.
Then there is Morse. The setting was Oxford. He was an interesting one - opera, crosswords, drank too much.
Rebus drinks too much too. He's a troubled man but there's that  underlying sense that he actually cares about people.
And Lynley - yes, a slightly ridiculous character I suppose but there's something rather nice about his uncertainties. His side kick, Havers, is an excellent irritation. 
There are plenty of others but they will do for a start...I am not sure how "literary" any of them are but they are my guilty reading pleasure. 
But there are three I am particularly fond of - Morse, Rebus and Lynley. 

Sunday 13 December 2015

What I am reading now????

Well Vanessa, I suppose this one is a little easier - but of course I read more than one book at any time.There's my reading for work, my non-fiction and my fiction.
Oh let's start with the non-fiction because I am nearly at the end of that one.
I have been reading a book which someone asked me to read. It was the result of a conversation we had - one of many - about the many and varied roles of women. R... had been looking through her bookshelves and finding it impossible to throw anything out when she came across something she thought I "ought" to read. I was cautious about this. The book is called "When God was a Woman" by Merlin Stone. She passed it over with, "You will find this interesting."
I have now read most of it. At times it has irritated me because the person who wrote it is not an academic and her style switches from personal to academic and back again. She makes a lot of claims without having the endless references an academic would have to back them up. But, the book has some very interesting ideas about the apparent shift from the dominant status of women and the worship of "the Goddess" to the reverse.
The Senior Cat and I have discussed parts of it over the meal table. (He takes a keen interest in such things even now.) I will discuss it further with R...
But I will also be glad to go back and finish reading the utterly fascinating "Landmarks" by Robert Macfarlane and then "Language Play" - a David Crystal I have not yet read.
Work reading...I am about to embark on Larissa Fast's "Aid in Danger" - something I should have read some time ago but don't really want to read because it will both depress and anger me that people who go to help in disasters all too often risk their lives as well.
As for the fiction...I have just finished Peter James, "You are dead" and just begun, "A Banquet of Consequences" - Elizabeth George. 
Right at the moment anything more "literary" than that is too much to handle. 
Yes, I endeavour to read widely but sometimes.... 

Saturday 12 December 2015

The book I always give as a gift???

A single book? No, not possible Vanessa. You see, it depends on the age and the interests of the recipient - or the purpose of the gift. Well, you know that don't you?
But...babies tend to get Peter Rabbit. All children should own a copy of Peter Rabbit.  It should be the proper little Peter Rabbit with the proper little water colour pictures please.
They should also own AA Milne's poetry "When We Were Very Young" is actually 91 but it is still an excellent introduction to verse and "Now We Are Six" is equally good. Then yes, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" comes somewhere in between and "The Tiger Who Came To Tea" comes around about then too.
As they head into school and reading for themselves then Paddington is still a favourite for me, along with Pippi Longstocking and the Moomin Books and then, a little later, comic strip type "Asterix" and Tin Tin books.
After that I try Joan Aiken, Eoin Colfer, Roald Dahl and Eva Ibbotson and, for Australian children Colin Thiele and Ivan Southall if they are available. Other people can give them the likes of Paul Jennings.
And for older children still I have offered Neil Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book" - if I think they might be that way inclined. 
I give my godson, who doesn't much care for fiction, books about the human body (preferably funny books), and aircraft. (His mother was not impressed with  him making paper aircraft out of the pew bulletins and launching them in church on Christmas Day - my fault because I gave him the book.)
I give the "how to live on a student budget and still eat" type cook books to teens moving out of home to study. 
I have, with great caution, given Ronald Searle's wonderful "Les Tres Riches Heures de Mrs Mole" to people I have felt needed it.
I have given Dag Hammarskjold's "Markings" to others. 
And, for many children, I have at some point given them a large, hard covered completely blank book and some pencils and told them "This is your book to write or draw or both exactly as you wish."
Everyone should have one of those.

Friday 11 December 2015

Favourite move adaptation????

Now really Vanessa you know I don't watch many films. I don't go to the pictures very often. The last film I saw was "The King's Speech". I meant to go and see some others but, somehow, I didn't get around to it. I have the DVD of "Theory of Everything" sitting there and the Senior Cat and I still haven't watched it - and we were given it months ago. 
But yes, I suppose I have watched a few films "Breakfast at Tiffany's", "Dr Zhivago", "One flew over the cuckoo's nest", "Fried green tomatoes", "To kill a mockingbird", "Lord of the flies", "Charlie and the chocolate factory", and "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone", "The Snowman", "Heidi", "The Hundred and One Dalmations", "Bedknobs and Broomsticks", "Goodnight Mr Tom", "Matilda", "The Golden Compass", "Peter Pan", "The Secret Garden", and a few more I suppose.
Does a play count Vanessa? What about Alfred Uhry's "Driving Miss Daisy"? No, maybe not. I have to think again?
Yes, rather a lot of them were films for children - watched with The Whirlwind who wanted to watch them but not watch them by herself, "in case they are scary or sad". 
I didn't see "2001: A space odyssey" when it came out - and when I did eventually watch it about fifteen years later I wondered what the fuss was about. I have never seen a Star Wars movie. I haven't seen Jurassic Park or some of the other  "cult" movies - like the Hunger Games. I don't want to. I don't want to see war movies. I hear too much about violence in my day job.
There was some brilliant acting in "My left foot" - which is also an autobiography of course. Daniel Day Lewis deserved that Oscar. It might be a toss up between that and "Goodnight Mr Tom". I could probably watch both of those again if I had to. 

Thursday 10 December 2015

The book that made me cry....

Oh right Vanessa...the book that made me cry? My "Statistical Analysis in Psychology and Education : Fourth Edition" by George A Ferguson, 1976 (McGraw Hill). And, does a manual count? If so then it would have to be the SPSS manual - Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. I loathed them. I wept tears over the trouble they caused me.
Now, what else do you need to know?
I hated statistics - I still hate statistics. I recognise they have their place. My doctor nephew is currently doing some research in which statistics very definitely have their place. We discussed what he was doing over the weekend and, between us, explained to the Senior Cat what ANOVA meant and why it was important.
That's fine. I can handle that.
What I couldn't handle was the reliance on statistics in so much of psychology. I kept being told how important it was. I kept being told I had to be able to "prove" something - and I couldn't. My doctorate turned a psychological theory upside down or perhaps inside  or perhaps back to front - simply because I asked the same question in a different way. I kept being told that I "must be doing something wrong" because I could not get the results from my control group that psychological theory said I should be getting. Right.
I sat there for hours trying to work out what I was doing wrong. I read Professor Ferguson again and again. In those days he was the standard text for the likes of me - and the SPSS manual was supposed to help me apply the necessary tests.
In the end I didn't do a neat piece of straightforward research. I had to argue something quite different. I suppose it was good for me. It has made me wary of all research in the social sciences. Human beings are just too complicated. Statistics have their uses but please keep your mind open because, if you ask the same question in a different way, then you might get a different answer.
It is timely I should think of this because yesterday a complete stranger butted in on a Twitter exchange between myself and a senior journalist. This individual was irate because a piece of research had "proven" the ABC was not biased. It had said so in the papers.
I tried gently pointing out that the research had not "proven" anything. It had been based on the number of questions asked and those they had been asked of and the time allotted. It had not looked at what sort of questions had been asked, whether people were allowed to answer, whether people fronted the camera, what was said about them and much more. As a piece of "research" it was so full of holes as to be meaningless. It would in fact be very difficult to conduct such a pieces of research. The question of "bias" has not been resolved at all - and is unlikely to be resolved.
But the individual who butted in was upset - so upset s/he blocked me. Perhaps that is just as well. They can keep their prejudices. I don't need to be bothered by them.
But, it brought back floods of memories of a small, stressed out Cat sitting there in tears because of that wretched book and that equally wretched manual.

Wednesday 9 December 2015

The book I couldn't finish????

So where do I start on this one Vanessa? 
Life is too short to read things for pleasure if you don't enjoy isn't it? I have to read a lot of non-fiction I don't enjoy so anything else... well that needs to be something I want to read.
I gave up on "War and Peace". Maybe I was just too young when I started trying to read it? In the end I couldn't be bothered. I have tried other Russian literature since then but I have never gone back to Tolstoy and I have to admit "skimming" some other things.
And then there was the Chinese classic, "A Dream of Red Mansions" (Xueqin Cao). Our Chinese neighbours suggested I should read it. I tried but it didn't "grab" me. 
Patrick White - Nobel Prize winner. I have tried several of his and never finished one. I know several highly regarded Downunder authors who have never managed to finish one either. That makes me feel a bit better. 
"Catch 22" (Joseph Heller)- I know, I of the supposed "greats" but I couldn't finish it...I suppose I don't like those sort of stories at all. 
"The Thorn Birds" (Colleen McCullough) - yes, another supposed "great" but I gave up about half way.
"The Narrow Road to the Deep North" (Richard Flanagan) was one of those books I thought I "ought" to read. What is it with books which win the Booker and me? They are supposed to be great works of literature so it must be me...I must be a philistine when it comes to literature. 
But at least I tried to read these things. I barely got started on "Twilight" (Stephanie Meyer). I borrowed it from the library because I was curious. The Senior Cat was curious too. We sat at the table one lunch time and looked at it. Three pages in the Senior Cat handed it back to me and said, "Well, tell me what you think."
I read the same three pages, then - trying to be fair  - I skimmed a little more. I closed the book.
I couldn't finish it.
But those of you who know me as that cat sitting on a stack of books know I still have too much to read.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

First literary crush???

Cripes Vanessa! These get more difficult.
My first literary crush would have to be a very long time ago... Milly Molly Mandy perhaps? I was about four when I first came across her. I thought she was pretty good. I mean she did things didn't she? They were pretty ordinary things like going blackberrying but I could relate to them. After all she lived in a village which seemed quite a lot like the small country community I lived in at the time.
And soon after that there was Pippi Longstocking. Now there was a girl! She lived on her own - well, apart from a horse and a monkey. She was immensely strong. She did things too. The only problem was that Pippi did not go to school - and that had to mean she didn't have a supply of books to read. Apart from that I rather liked Pippi although I don't think my mother approved of her in the least. 
On the male side there was Tin Tin - at around six I thought he was pretty good. I didn't mind The Little Prince either - although I thought he was very lonely. 
Then came Nicholas Fetterlock in Cynthia Harnett's "The Woolpack". Oh yes, Nicholas is good looking, intelligent, loyal and he does things despite the restrictions of his place in society and his would-be over-protective mother with ambitions for him. I was always a little envious of Cecily because she is betrothed to him. Does she realise how lucky she is? Perhaps.
I felt the same way about Robin in "The Little White Horse". He gets things done too. Maria is going to marry him. Lucky Maria! Those two are going to have an interesting marriage. Don't be too independent Maria.
But I suppose real literary crushes should begin in adolescence? That's more difficult. You see I didn't fall in love with Heathcliff - or Mr Rochester - or Mr Darcy - or Atticus Finch. I really don't know - mind you I might have fallen for KM Peyton's Pennington - had he been around for me to meet at the time. 

Monday 7 December 2015

The book that should be better known???

Oh right - another difficult one Vanessa. There are so many good books out there that should be better known. 
Perhaps we should start with a dictionary? I like dictionaries. I own rather a lot of them. Some of them are in foreign languages, others are "subject specialist". I have a "visual" dictionary - with pictures to show me what the word "means". That one is rather fun actually - and very useful if you are explaining something to a child. 
I know when I worked in school libraries that some of the most popular books were things like "The Cat in the Hat" dictionary and the Richard Scarry dictionaries.
I love my Oxfords - I have the two volume, the "shorter" and the "advanced learner's". The last is precious. It was given to me by the poet, the late Judith Wright.
Then there is poetry. 
Whatever one's religious feelings there are some wonderful passages in the King James' version of the Bible....poetry written by a committee! There is some good advice in that book too. Perhaps we should be taking more notice of it.
Pablo Neruda's "Extravagaria"contains several of his finest poems - in my opinion. I have the bilingual edition. That perhaps? Or perhaps TS Eliot's Collected Poetry?
Or what about going back to the "Ortha Nan Gaidheal" or "Carmina Gadelica" that Alexander Carmichael translated? There are some magnificent passages in that. 
I also like books of quotations. A good book of quotations, perhaps the Oxford one again - or a multi-language one would be even better. They can give me an insight into other minds, other cultures and other ways of life.They can make me think.
And then there is "Markings" or "Vagmarken" in the Swedish - Dag Hammarskjold's book of fragments, thoughts, poetry, haiku and more. It is a book which looks deep into the mind of a man at the top of one of the world's most complex and diverse organisations - the United Nations. It is not a book about the position he held or the politics he had to deal with. It is a book about doubts and fears and concerns, about relationships. God gets mentioned but you don't need to believe in God or be "religious" to read it. It's a book about each and every one of us. It would do some of our current leaders no harm to read it.

Sunday 6 December 2015

My favourite fictional detective????

You aren't asking for much this morning are you Vanessa? I mean really, just one? You aren't serious are you?
I mean, let's face it, I read detective fiction. I have just finished Peter James, "You are dead" and I am about to embark on Elizabeth George's "A banquet of consequences" - hmmm....Roy Grace and Thomas Lynley...
As a child I wandered through Agatha Christie...Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. I read Simenon...Maigret was deliciously foreign to a twelve year old. Or, more recently, Donna Leon's Venetian, Guido Brunetti - or perhaps Henning Mankell's Wallander? Mmm...
The poetry writing Adam Dalgleish perhaps? PD James did a very good job there...or Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford? Mmmm...
Or one of those historical detectives perhaps, Cadfael (Ellis Peters) appeals but so does Marcus Didius Falco (Lindsey Davis) and Matthew Bartholomew (Susanna Gregory) and Brother Athelstan is not to be taken too seriously but he's fun I suppose. Mmmmm....
Endeavour Morse (Colin Dexter) - now there's a name.
Cliff Janeway (John Dunning) appeals because of the book related crimes. 
There's Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton) - we'll soon be at Z in the series and there won't be any more...Kay Scarpetta (Patricia Cornwell) doesn't appeal as much as Tempe Brennan (Kathy Reichs). Mrs Pargeter (Simon Brett) is rather different and so is Imogen Quy (Jill Paton-Walsh) but neither as exotic as Precious Ramotswe (Alexander McCall-Smith).
Here Downunder we have Cliff Hardy (Peter Corris) - much beloved by the Senior Cat - and Hal Challis (Garry Disher), Arthur Upfield's Bony, Anya Chrichton (Kathryn Fox) and of course the Phryne Fisher series (Kerry Greenwood) - just a few of many.
But I think I prefer the traditional British detectives. Ian Rankin's Rebus, Susan Hill's Simon Serraillier, Quintin Jardine's Bob Skinner, Stuart McBride's, Logan McRae and Aline Templeton's Marjorie Fleming.... 
I have barely started.
I think I will have to go back to my childhood again...Tin Tin? He gets a bit racist at times. No, may be the Reverend Septimus Treloar (Stephen Chance/PhilipTurner)...
Oh, I don't can I choose just one?

Saturday 5 December 2015

"That parking space is reserved for

people with disabilities." 
From memory Upover also has such parking spaces. They are under discussion again in this morning's paper. Our one MP from the "Dignity for Disability" party has raised the possibility of not just a fine but demerit points for people who park in such spaces without a permit.
Let it be said that nobody expected that young MP to get a seat in parliament. She was second on the ticket and it was only the unexpected death of the first person that saw the party - and thus her - get a seat.
I admit I thought she would be out of her depth for a while - and she was. She struggled initially simply because there was so much to learn and adjustments had to be made to accommodate her. A lot of people rallied around and helped - sometimes to the point where she has been overwhelmed with advice. But the demerits points idea was, I think, her own. She relies on being able to use those designated spaces too.
This idea is not going to be welcomed by those who think it is perfectly all right to park in a designated parking space - without a permit. Oh yes, there are plenty of them out there. I have even had my own friends suggest they should park in one so as to help me. I have had to explain more than once that I don't have a permit and they cannot use the space without one.
The Senior Cat has a permit to use such spaces. (The permit goes with the person, not the vehicle.) Middle Cat has had a temporary permit while recovering. Both of them try not to abuse the privilege. Recently I went to a meeting with a friend who has had a permit for some years. He got it reluctantly when it became obvious that his energy was better expended on doing what he had to do rather than walking to where he had to do it. 
Miracle. We found a designated space near our destination. I went to haul his walker out of the car for him when there was a toot behind us. There was another vehicle with someone we both recognised. She needed the space even more than he did.
"I'll move," he called out to her.
We moved several spaces down to a "normal" spot. She moved in. He hung up his permit on the inner rear vision mirror while I hauled his walker out. (His permit allows him extra time in a normal spot.) I went and hauled her walker out as well - otherwise she would need to phone for someone to come out and help her. 
We went into the building just as the parking inspector was coming along. She checked the permits in both cars, gave us a wave - and made sure the driver just pulling in next to my friend left plenty of space for him to get in again.
It was a small gesture on her part we all appreciated. I just wish that all other drivers would realise that those designated spaces are there for a reason - and that even some people with disabilities need them more than other people with disabilities.

Friday 4 December 2015

My favourite "scary" book????

Oh Vanessa, what are you asking of me today? My favourite "scary" book...
I was scared of a lot of things as a child. A psychiatrist would probably have a field day if I started. 
I think the explanation for many of my fears is probably very simple but I can only remember one book that really frightened me. It was a picture book. It had some sort of animal on the front - not exactly a teddy bear but something rather more sinister - and the animal had eyes that glowed in the dark.
I did not see those eyes as friendly. They terrified me. The book must have been given to me by my maternal grandparents. I say this because it is the sort of thing that would have appealed to my maternal grandmother. She would have thought the eyes were fun and that I would like them. I cannot remember what the book was called but I know I eventually sat on my father's lap and watched the book burn. It is the one and only time I have seen my father deliberately destroy a book. It solved my fear of the book. My maternal grandmother was not pleased.
My paternal grandparents gave me books like Peter Rabbit - which is just the tiniest bit scary. Would he escape from Mr McGregor? The Story About Ping was a little bit scary too - would he find his way back to the boat?
As I got older I think any book where a child was abandoned, left behind, lost or otherwise found themselves alone bothered me a bit. I wonder now how I would have coped with something like Colin Thiele's "February Dragon" or Jill Paton Walsh's "The Dolphin Crossing". I read "The Diary of Anne Frank" and Morris West's "Children of the Sun" when I was about ten - and found them deeply disturbing. I suppose they "scared" me.
But I don't read horror stories. I can't be bothered. I don't want to be "scared" like that. What was the name of that story by Ray Bradbury with the evil child in it? Was it "The Small Assassin"? 
I don't think I want to remember.

Thursday 3 December 2015

Once upon a time there

was.... or "once upon a time there were...."
Vanessa's request for her Glenogle and Bell Advent calendar today is for the "most memorable opening line".
Well, there you have it. The line that opens so many stories.  
I  wonder who first used it? What story did they tell? To whom did they tell the story - and why?
We usually think of stories as something to entertain us but they often have another, more serious side. Before literacy was widespread, before scrolls and then books were widely available, people relied on oral storytellers.
In my teens I used to go to a camp in the summer. It was run by the Girl Guides for children with disabilities. In the early evenings we would sit around "the campfire" and someone would read a story to the children. It met with varying reactions for a variety of reasons - not least because the children ranged from six to fourteen. 
One night a friend who taught drama came and told a story instead. It was more than just relating what happened. Her hands moved. Her voice changed for each character. Her words were simple but said all they needed to say.
There was absolute silence until, at the end of it, there was a collective sigh.
And yes, she began with "Once upon a time..."

Wednesday 2 December 2015

"Can you write a letter...

I need to..." the speaker stares at me.
It is not the first time I have been bailed up in a public place by someone who seems to think that I can write their letters for them. 
Yes, I know I once wrote "all those letters" and I know that I still write letters but...why should I write letters for other people who are 
       (a) supposedly literate and intelligent
       (b) want to complain about something without offering a constructive solution
and  (c) know that I am likely to disagree with their point of view?

The Senior Cat says I should set up a professional letter writing service and charge these lazy, ineffectual idiots who want to waste my time as well as their own. 
I told yesterday's inquirer that he needed to look at the legislation. It does not allow him to do as he did and not get fined. Nothing he says is going to help. I also pointed out offenders are going to have to pay more if they don't pay this particular fine on time.
He glared at me as if it was my fault. Fortunately his partner turned up at that point and told him it was no good getting stroppy with me. I left them to argue.
But, Vanessa wants my favourite book cover today. I don't really have one but I was reminded of "The Story about Ping" by Marjorie Flack - and taking the consequences of being late.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

My fabourite book as a

I have been asked that question by two different people in the last twenty four hours.
My friend R... turned up yesterday. Between us we have reached the point on the jumper where the V neck stitches have been picked up and she is working around them. After that there will be the top of the sleeves. If those are managed without too many problems this thing may be finished before Christmas. She sat there and worked through the intricacies of the V neck yesterday and asked me, among other things, about my favourite book as a child. 
And now my friend Vanessa wants to know as well. She runs the Glenogle and Bell book company...go hunt and read. I should know how to add a link but I don't. 
Did I have a favourite book as a child? I had favourite books at different times I suppose. The reality is that I just loved books. I read almost everything that came my way. I failed to finish only a very few - I suspect that they were just a little too difficult for me at the time. 
So when R... asked me I tried to think back to the books that stood out. Even that was difficult. I remember a lot of them.
So, here are three:
(1) The Little White Horse (Elizabeth Goudge)
Maria is a real heroine. She's not without her faults but she is brave and she is not afraid to stand up for what is right. She knows girls are every bit as capable as boys. Yes, I'll remember Maria and that wonderful array of characters who appear with her.
(2) The Woolpack (Cynthia Harnett).
Nicholas is another wonderful character. Reading Harnett's books was a completely painless way of learning a lot of history. Cecily, to whom Nicholas is betrothed, is a wonderful tomboy. It is an adventure which keeps within the boundaries of the time in which it is set.
(3) The Lark in the Morn and  The Lark on the Wing (Elfrida Vipont) All right two books - but one is a sequel.
Kit. How do you describe Kit Haverard? Sensitive, uncertain of her place in the world? She is a thinker. She has doubts and determination. The contrast between Kit and her much older cousin Laura is marvellous - Laura is a busybody, well suited to her decision to train as a social worker. Kit is going to succeed through sheer hard work and determination.
After I had said all these I realised that each one is a Carnegie Medal winner.  The Little White Horse is still in print - perhaps because it was televised? None of Harnett's marvellous books are in print. Vipont's books have been made available by "Girls Gone By" but I wonder how many girls actually read them?
They may not be easy to find but I'll go for Maria, Nicholas and Kit any time.
And your choice is?