Sunday 31 January 2016

How do you find someone?

I think you know what I mean. You've lost someone. You've perhaps even forgotten about them. You have drifted away from someone. You leave a place and lose touch. Then, suddenly, their name pops up and stares at you.
It takes much more effort to keep up a relationship with people when you don't actually see them face to face. I haven't been back to the UK for many years. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to go. I'd still, given the chance, live there. It would make my working life much easier. There are a lot of things going on I'd like to be involved in. I'd put up with the weather and all the other not so nice things if it meant I could say, "That's an hour on the train from here" instead of "That would mean a day's flying and then...." I would not miss Downunder summers in the slightest. 
And, I might keep in touch with more people whose company I once really enjoyed. It might be easier now. 
I came back before computers were commonplace. I came back before e-mail, Skype, cheap long-distance calls etc. There has been a complete revolution in communication since I returned.
For years I did keep up correspondence with a good friend and when she died I bitterly regretted not seeing her again. Another very elderly friend did not respond this past Christmas and I know that the lack of response from another means that her eyesight has faded to the point where she can no longer respond.  It saddens me. I'd like to see these people once more, hold their hands and tell them that their friendship really did mean something to me. 
But yesterday, in the course of my work, I was doing some on-line research and I came across a name. It was a name I have thought about over the years. I liked this person very much at the time. We weren't close friends. She was not even at the same school in the university. We met through a mutual acquaintance.
And what stood out then, as now, was her kindness. She invited me to her parents' home once - in a rural part of Kent. I had a wonderful day there. Her parents were not just welcoming but determined I would enjoy myself.  It was autumn and we walked across the common. The trees were what I thought of as "real autumn". We don't get much of that here. It doesn't get cold enough. I got well fed and her mother hugged me when we left. 
Back in London we saw one another occasionally. They invited me for Christmas the following year. Other things got in the way and I didn't go - something I regret.
I had to come back to Downunder of course. We corresponded once or twice and then stopped. I would see her name in my old address book  - the address of her parents. I would wonder what had happened to her. Did she finish her doctorate in phonetics? What did she do after that? I didn't look in the address book often. Someone had an incredibly hard time finding shoes to fit and I would remember her feet - very thin and yes, hard to fit.
I don't suppose I ever really forgot her. Had someone said, "Did you ever know...." I would have said an instant "Yes, of course."
And then, yesterday, I saw her name. It had to be her because her name is a little unusual and it was combined with "phonetics". I did a little further hunting. Yes, she had finished her doctorate. She had worked in academia and then....there she was - a priest in the Church of England.
I sat there and thought about that. Was I surprised? I suppose I was - and yet I was not surprised either. She will be a good priest, a good priest because she cares about people. It is why I remember her.
I've written her a note.  

Saturday 30 January 2016

Tea that makes itself?

Oh I just saw that phrase on Twitter. I immediately thought of Joanna Cannon - doctor-writer who sat in her car in the car park of the hospital in which she works to write her novel "The Trouble With Goats and Sheep". Naturally she was accompanied by a flask of tea.
I have yet to read the book. I am like a child waiting for Christmas over this book. If it is in the smallest bit like the writing on her blog it is going to be excellent. Certainly a lot of other people think it is excellent.
And now she is back to writing another one - in the same way as before.It is what writers do. They write things down. They drink tea. They write more things down. They drink more tea...or sometimes coffee.
I scribble down ideas inside my head when I am out pedalling my tricycle. People complain that I don't wave back to them when they pass me in their cars. I don't always notice them. I'm sorry. I don't mean to be rude. One part of my mind is very firmly on the road and other road users. I am very conscious of what those driving cars are doing. I anticipate what they are likely to do - at least, I hope I do. It  would be dangerous if I didn't. But I am also almost certainly thinking about something like the conversation between Robbie and his grandmother - or rather, the lack of it.  In a way I am drinking tea.
I still don't know what happens next. I have only the vaguest idea. I have to be patient. I know Robbie will get around to telling me - when he's ready. 
And there is actual tea involved in this chapter. It is because of tea that something happens. This time the making of tea has a purpose. 
"Go and make tea," Robbie told me.
"The tea can make itself," I told him, "You don't write about making the tea, or drinking it or anything else like that."
"Yes, you do. This time you do. It's important."
"Yes. You'll find out."
And I found out.
No, tea does not make itself. 

Friday 29 January 2016

So Sweden is going to send 80,000

"failed asylum seekers" back to where they came from? They are apparently not prepared to house, clothe, feed and educate all those people  who came seeking a better life?
I note with interest that our news services now refer to those entering Europe as "migrants" rather than "refugees". It is an interesting shift, especially as those seeking to come to Australia are referred to as "refugees" and "asylum seekers". 
People are still trying to reach Europe, even in the depths of winter. It's the promised land and some will do anything to try and reach it.
Greece is being criticised for not properly processing the flow of migrants too.
Perhaps it is time to start looking at what is really happening. Greece is a financial basket case and just processing the flow of migrants is expensive. They have been encouraged to come by the policies of other countries - particularly Germany. Germany needs younger workers and this no doubt seemed a way of solving the problem. It seemed like a simple answer to a complex problem - but it may have made the problem even more complex. Greece should not have to shoulder the financial burden of trying to handle hundreds of thousands of would-be migrants in order to benefit Germany. 
It is said that some people now regret having tried to migrate and that they are returning home again. I doubt there will be many who will go willingly. The fact that there are any at all suggests that at least some of the "refugees" being talked about earlier are people who, quite understandably, saw a possibility that they could have a better life somewhere else. I'd want to go too if there was a war on and a country I thought was rich and offered employment opportunities seemed likely to house me. 
But Sweden is going to send people back, Denmark is asking people to pay what they can - just as their own citizens do and some other countries do. Other countries will no doubt make similar arrangements. The "welcome mat" is no longer out. 
This worries me because some of the people who are most in need of help and shelter and a permanent place of refuge are still in refugee camps. They have nowhere to go.

Thursday 28 January 2016

There were once more than 700 languages

spoken by indigenous Australians. That is the estimate of academics who have studied them. It may have been more than 800. The estimates vary and there are, as always, discussions about what constitutes a "language" as opposed to a dialect or something else. Some of those languages were related to other languages. Many of them were spoken by just a few people. 
There are now about eighteen to twenty indigenous languages in every day use. If you could bring indigenous Australians from the eighteenth century into the twenty-first century and place them into groups which speak their language however they would not be understood. The language has changed. It had to change. Indigenous Australians didn't need the same vocabulary then that they do now. There is now no such thing as a "pure" indigenous language. 
Languages have to change or die. It is why the Oxford English Dictionary keeps on having to add words. It is why so many indigenous languages died out. There were too few speakers and they simply didn't have the vocabulary to describe the new world in which they found themselves. The new language began to take over.
When we lose a language we lose a way of thinking. We lose unique words and ideas, stories and connections. I have said this before but it is one of those big ideas which is worth repeating. 
There is now a struggle to keep alive the remaining indigenous languages. They are no longer the indigenous languages of the past. They can't be. There were no words for things like "car" and "television" and "computer" or "i-phone". The way people count has had to change, as does the way they describe familial relationships. There has been such a major impact on these languages that it is uncertain what is being preserved, particularly as no indigenous languages had a written tradition. 
On Australia Day it is said one of the local "pop" stars sang the national anthem in both English and a native language. Really? She sang the national anthem in English. She sang other words to the same tune. The meaning may have been similar  but it wasn't the same. I would be surprised if the words had been understood by more than a small handful of people. It was criticised as  being "tokenistic" and "politically correct", "meaningless" and "insulting". Given the attitude towards Australia Day of many people with indigenous links it might well have been "inappropriate" and, I would add, "inaccurate". Translation is a curious business. Meanings differ in so many ways. 
Language survival seems to depend on so many factors. Are languages worth saving? My gut reaction is that we should try to save all of them but my intellectual reaction is that we can't. What we do manage to save will not be the languages themselves but some sort of mutations of them. 
Is that going to be enough?

Wednesday 27 January 2016

"Change the flag" and

"We must become a republic!" are the two cries Downunderites hear each Australia Day. The two cries go on in a more muted form throughout each year.
People are told that the flag is a reminder of the colonialist past and that it is an insult to indigenous Australians and....well, you get the idea I am sure. Some people don't like the flag. 
And people are told that Australia won't be an independent country until it becomes a republic.
And yesterday the "picture" on the Google home page was a highly political one which was intended to remind Australians that, unless they are indigenous Australians, it is not their country. It was as divisive as it was racist - and yet, had it not been put up when the request was made, Google would have been accused of being both racist and in denial. It was a no-win situation for Google.
I believe the flag should stay as it is. It is a reminder of the past but that is a good thing. Australia as a nation was first built on migration, some of it unwilling, from the UK. The first colonists came from the army and the prisons. It was a penal colony. It was also, in the case of the state I live in, built on pioneers who worked hard - very hard. Why should any reminder of that be removed? Why should heritage be denied?
Australia is also a completely and fully independent country. It does not need to "become a republic". The argument that "the Queen is our head of state" is nonsense. The Governor-General is the head of state. The Queen is head of the Commonwealth. Republicans know that but refuse to accept it. Many of them probably believe that they would make a good President - and have the chance of being the first one. Forget it.
The Google Australia picture for the day was, to put it mildly, political. I would also question whether it was appropriate. I do not want to deny for a nanosecond that some truly appalling things were done to the people who were present before the first ships landed in Botany Bay. The measles-infested blankets and the deliberate hunting down, the denial of land rights and culture are an appalling and shameful chapter in history. 
That said we should also be aware that Australia as such did not exist. The landmass did. People lived on it. They had a diverse and rich cultural heritage. Note I said "diverse". The people who lived on the landmass now known as "Australia" were not "one people". They were not a "nation" as such. They lived in small tribal groups and most of them travelled within a limited area. Their many languages were not always mutually intelligible across the entire country. There has been cultural genocide and most of what they had has been lost. That's wrong. Much of what remains has been corrupted and that is wrong too. 
There are complex, very complex, legal, moral and philosophical arguments around such issues as the right to be called "indigenous" and "land rights" and whether there actually is or was a "stolen" generation.  The answers to those questions and problems are not simple although the media often makes them out to be. There are also those who have an interest in trying to make others believe in such simplicity.  
Some of it is simply myth and that is perhaps doing the greatest harm. Myths tend to take on a life of their own.

Tuesday 26 January 2016

"Australia Day" is a ridiculous

holiday. The "nationalism" and "pride" we are supposed to feel makes me cringe. 
I loathe people running around in t-shirts adorned with the flag or having little flags fluttering on their cars.  I don't like gongs being handed out to people for simply doing their jobs - and, what is more, being paid to do their jobs. I am fed up with the emphasis on the "barbie" and the booze which goes with it. 
Australia Day falls on a Tuesday this year. A good many Aussies managed to take Monday off as well - so they get a four day weekend. For some it was an official day off. Their bosses just gave up knowing that some people would not bother to come to work and that others would resent being there. Other people just took the day off anyway - some via the time honoured tradition of a "sickie", others as part of their "flexi-time" arrangements. It's the sort of attitude which makes a joke of Australia Day.
We get nationalism rammed down our throats by politicians and the media, by sportspeople and other personalities. They tell us how wonderful they feel about being Australian - that "deep inside" there is this warm fuzzy feeling about something I don't even pretend to understand.
I don't get shivers down my spine on hearing the Australian national anthem. It sounds like a dirge. I don't want to have a little flag fluttering on my tricycle as I pedal down the street. I don't want to wear the flag as a t-shirt or a hat. 
I don't want to listen to the likes of Malcolm Turnbull, Bill Shorten and Peter Fitzsimon telling me Australia isn't really an independent country yet. That's nonsense. It was an independent country long before any of them or their ancestors were born. It is also, despite what they want people to believe, a completely independent one now. These are people who believe that denying our past will somehow allow us to become some sort of Utopia in the future. It's nonsense but they want us to believe it - and in them as potential Presidential candidates.
I don't want Australia to go through what the United States is  currently going through. I don't want the regular social upheaval and political uncertainty of choosing a President - or the expense. I don't want one chosen by politicians because, unlike the present choice of a Governor-General, it would become a very political issue rather than a mildly political issue.
I don't want to listen to any more nonsense about Australia being a multi-cultural country but "everyone" being Australian as well. It's a contradiction nobody seems prepared to face. 
So could we cut the nonsense please? Could we forget the "all let us rejoice" bit and get on with being citizens of the world instead?
I might be able to feel something about that.

Monday 25 January 2016

Children get lost in wars.

They get abandoned. They run away too.
Children tend to get forgotten about in wars. There is an assumption that there are always adults to look after them. There is an idea that even if their father has died fighting their mother will be there for them - even that there will be extended family there to care for them. 
It doesn't work that way. There will always be "unaccompanied" children. "Unaccompanied" is the term used for children who have no adult to take responsibility for them. 
There was an article in the Guardian yesterday about taking such children into Europe. They should not be in refugee camps or wandering through Europe alone. I doubt anyone would think that was right. Most of them will be boys, many of them in their teens. Many of them will learn to be criminals - in order to survive. Some may become radicalised. It is the sort of thing that needs to be prevented at all cost.
They need to be educated. They also need to be employed. It's a massive problem but they will be a much bigger problem if the situation is not dealt with. The idea that we "just let them in" - to Australia and New Zealand and North America as well as Europe - is not the answer. We need to let them in on the basis that they will be required to attend school and further education and that they will gain skills their own countries can use. They need to be given shelter on the understanding that they will one day return home to help rebuild their own countries. 
    "When the war is over we will need the young people. The best young people have gone," someone told me. He is deeply concerned by the situation in his home country. There is no planning for the future. Everyone is too busy simply trying to survive right now. 
Europe took in more than a million migrants last year. Not all of them were refugees. Many of them were people who saw an opportunity to leave their home country and seek a better life elsewhere. It is perfectly understandable but it is not sustainable. 
Providing for refugees, those people who have nowhere to go and who genuinely fear persecution in their own countries, is a duty. They have a right to protection. 
Providing for people who wish to migrate in search of a better life is something different. There is no right to migrate. We have to recognise the difference between refugees and migrants.
Simply stopping the fighting is not enough to stop a war. It takes years for wars to be over, sometimes generations. The children in the middle of it all are still the best hope for the future. 
They need to be educated. They need to be given the skills their countries will need. They need to told that "one day you will go home and help to rebuild your country because your country needs  you". Yes, it will be expensive. Yes, it requires resources we don't presently have but we must find. If we don't then the situation will become far worse.
It is time to start thinking about the future. We have left it too long.

Sunday 24 January 2016

Kevin Rudd as Secretary-General

of the United Nations? 
I suspect there are quiet but frantic discussions going on over what to do if he does decide to nominate. The Australian government would be in a very awkward position indeed.
It is well known that the former Prime Minister has had his eye on the top UN job for some years. I suspect his original plan was to remain as Australian PM until the position became vacant and then nominate and step into the role. 
The Australian people thought otherwise. He was of course ousted by Gillard. Still determined he went on to be Foreign Minister - thus getting more "international" experience and contacts - and then, in the revolving door of Downunder politics, he ousted Gillard to return to the leadership and lose the election.
In office he could not keep staff. He was not known for being polite - and he was known for his temper. He was also known for his inability to express himself or, as a very senior public servant said to me, "I have never known anyone else who needs two minutes to say "no"."
It is said that one of his qualifications for the job is that he speaks "fluent Mandarin". One of our immediate neighbours is an interpreter and native speaker of Mandarin. I asked him once  how good Mr Rudd's Chinese really is. He thought about it for a moment and then said, perhaps rather carefully,  "He is able to make himself understood perhaps quite easily."  
I am not sure if Mr Rudd speaks French. I have not been able to find any reference to him doing so. He speaks a small amount of Swedish - as he should. He lived in Sweden for a time when he worked in Foreign Affairs. Speaking French is generally considered an essential on the international circuit. It is still a diplomatic language. 
You need negotiating skills. Mr Rudd lacks those. His managerial style is autocratic and dictatorial. I imagine his many international contacts heaved a sigh of relief when he was voted out of office - even those on his side of politics.
I imagine the Australian government is hoping he won't nominate. There was a very careful response from the current Foreign Minister,
       "Should Kevin Rudd nominate, then of course the Australian government would consider what sort of support he would require."
It was hardly an enthusiastic or ringing endorsement of the idea. 
Other Downunderites would be more likely to support Helen Clark, the former PM of New Zealand. Even those from Mr Rudd's own party would be likely to find her more acceptable and she is from the same side of politics.
But the next Secretary General is not likely to come from this region. It is more like that the next candidate with come from somewhere else altogether. Irina Bokova, the current Director-General of UNESCO is being touted as a possible candidate. Why not?
It would be good if they found a strong woman, someone with some real housekeeping experience who can start to clean up the mess they have swept under the carpet. 
I am not holding my breath.

Saturday 23 January 2016

Obituaries are

strange things.
I was sent a link to one yesterday. It was someone both the sender and I knew well, very well indeed. What, the sender asked me, did I make of it? I sent a message back saying "interesting".
Yes, it was interesting. Factually it was reasonably accurate - although it failed to mention two adopted children, one of whom died. 
And yes it mentioned her deceased husband but failed to say anything about the help he gave her career.
If someone had read me the obituary without mentioning any of the names I would not have been able to recognise the person being written about. 
She was described in glowing terms, a self-made woman of strength, courage and integrity, someone who was a delight to work with. If the article was to be believed her staff loved her and her family adored her.
The reality was rather different. She had strength? Yes. Courage? Yes, that too. Integrity? No. She undermined other people, played them off against one another. She used them for her own benefit and then discarded them.  She was arrogant and could be very cruel. She was not liked. People were afraid of her.
As each of her children left home they had less to do with her. She tried to control their choice of careers and relationships. Her son had not seen her for some years, her daughters saw her only sporadically. 
But, she did some good work and it was recognised as such. Her colleagues were always prepared to acknowledge that. 
Perhaps that is why such an obituary gets written? Is is because now only do we not wish to speak ill of the dead but because we do want to acknowledge the good people do?
I don't know. I was, I hope, polite but I never pretended to like her and she made it very clear she did not like me.  It would have worried me more but she treated almost everyone she knew in the same way.
In the end I suppose I felt sorry for her. She must have been lonely. It was probably why she continued to work. Her retirement was brief, brought on by the illness which caused her death. 
Perhaps it is just as well that obituaries are rarely completely honest. 

Friday 22 January 2016

There was a very sexist photograph

on the front page of our state newspaper two days ago. It was a picture of a male cyclist in the Tour Down Under being kissed by two females.
Yesterday there was a letter to the editor mildly criticising this. There was nothing more. Why?
If this had been a photograph of a female being kissed by males there would have been outrage. People would have screamed "sexism" and "harassment" and "inappropriate behaviour". 
Instead people just said, "It's traditional." 
Really? The Senior Cat thought it was sexist.
I was at a meeting yesterday afternoon. It was all females. I suppose that was "sexist" too but it wasn't intentional. If a male had wandered in we would have welcomed him - but we would not have kissed him, not even one we knew well. 
I do wonder at the message that photograph sent, particularly as a politician was forced to resign his ministry a little while back over what was considered to be "inappropriate" behaviour. (Yes, it was inappropriate.) We seem however to be saying it's all right to show that sort of thing if people agree. What's this sporting "hero" supposed to do? It's not sporting to refuse to have your photograph taken in this way is it? 
I want to know why the double standards. Why is it all right when the roles are reversed? Why is it all right when it is "sport" related?
It doesn't matter that someone "agreed" because there is still that subliminal message there.
Wouldn't it have been better to show this "hero" on his  bike? After all that would send a subliminal message of another sort.

Thursday 21 January 2016

Pulling down Cecil Rhodes statue

is not the answer. I am sorry if you disagree but it isn't. If you pull down his statue then you will have to pull down every other statue you can find.
Rhodes wasn't perfect. Nobody is. That should not deny him a place in history.
If we are to deny Rhodes a place in history then we have to deny people like Mahatma Gandhi - a racist - and Nelson Mandela - a convicted terrorist/murderer - their places as well Going to do that? Seriously? What about adding George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? They owned slaves. Winston Churchill was no saint either.
Here Downunder we have a list as long as your arm of local "heroes" who were quite definitely not saints. The present day Labor party likes to ignore the fact that they gave PM Barton support conditional on his bringing in the Immigration Restriction Act (aka as "the White Australia Policy").  There's a suburb in Canberra named after him - along with other things. Add some people like the irascible John Flynn (who started the Flying Doctor Service) and Ned Kelly (a violent bushranger) to the list of those people regard as heroes and have put up statues to and really Rhodes doesn't look any worse. 
Yes, start on the road of pulling down a statue because some young people don't like what it stands for and you are on a slippery slope towards denying history. I wonder what they think of the present day situation in Zimbabwe. Are Zimbabweans now better off? Ian Smith was no saint either but can we compare him with Robert Mugabe?
Rhodes statue should stay where it is - along with a lot of other statues. Children should learn about the good and the not so good in history. They should learn all human beings have faults. Add a plaque to a statue saying that if you must but don't pull it down  because, in the words of George Santayana,
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
We need to be reminded.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

It seems "community standards"

do not apply to everyone. 
I have been having a little correspondence with the man at the news site which blocked me. He informed me that the "community standards" only applied to them - not other people. Right. I was apparently a very naughty cat whose cat hairs should be consigned to the dust bin of history. I gently suggested that there was bias there - just as there is on any other news site.
Hold on though. This is a major international news site. There is no bias. How can there possibly be any bias? They don't employ a single journalist guilty of any bias. The editorial staff never let any bias slip through. Contributors to the site can say as much as they like about other sites. Libel of public figures abounds.  
Apparently all this is fine provided that you don't even hint that they might occasionally let a little bias show. I wouldn't bother with the site at all except that I need to. I suppose that shows a certain degree of bias on my part. 
But it happens everywhere. Our state newspaper has a photograph on the front page this morning. There is a male cyclist from the Tour Down Under being kissed by not one but two females.  If the cyclist had been female and those doing the kissing male?????
Media standards  appear to be based on "this is what was convenient to us at that moment".
I wonder what happened to journalism?
Rant over. Tomorrow this cat will try to find a much more interesting arrangement of cat hairs.

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Not all cartoons are funny

and some can actually do harm. 
There were two particularly distasteful cartoons in our media yesterday. They were both in papers that are well known for their particular political leanings. Both cartoons were designed to undermine national security in the minds of readers.
I don't mind media outlets having a particular political bias. I expect it. It has always been that way. I do mind those outlets denying that they have any bias. That is wrong. 
I read a number of newspapers every day. I need to. I need to be informed about what the media is saying.  I don't of course read those papers from the first page to the last. I ignore the sports chat. I ignore the classifieds. I ignore the social chat. I only glance at some articles. I do read the editorials, the columnists, and items about news which are of concern to me. 
I also get news from a variety of other sources. It all helps me do my job. I know I have a bias or two or more of my own. We all do.  I have been accused of being everything from far left to far right - sometimes by people commenting on the same letter to the editor.  It is important for people to be able to say those things. 
When someone levels an accusation like that at me I get annoyed. Of course I do. I wouldn't be human if I didn't but I try not to make an instant and angry retort. I do try to go back and look at what I have said. Did I say that? If so, why? Could I have said something in a different way? Does that sentence suggest bias? 
People read different things into the same words but to suggest that bias does not exist is ridiculous. Bias isn't necessarily wrong. What is wrong is a failure to acknowledge it exists.
So, to the person who blocked me from commenting on a particular website for saying nothing more that the website and many other websites display some bias....may I suggest that perhaps your bias is showing?

Monday 18 January 2016

Ken and Jocelyn Elliot

have spent most of their adult lives working in Burkina Faso. They're Christian missionary doctors. A few days ago they were kidnapped by Muslim extremists and it is thought they are probably now over the border in Mali where there will be a ransom demand.
Australia is involved this time because they are still Australian citizens.
I don't know the Elliots but I do know other people working in similar places. I don't know them because of their "Christian missionary" efforts but because they are doctors, nurses, teachers and other workers who have given up time and income to try and help. 
There was a doctor working in the children's hospital here. He has now moved on. He isn't married and perhaps it was just as well because when he takes his annual leave he spends three weeks working in Africa - and the fourth "asleep on the beach". He has been going backwards and forwards for years - at his own expense.  In the past few years the locals have built a place for him to sleep in. He doesn't use it much. 
Where he goes it is dangerous. Everyone knows that. They provide a guard for him. I don't know how much good it would do and neither does he - but they do it. 
I have written communication boards for him. There has never been any mention of religion on them. I don't think he has any religious beliefs at all, just a belief in the worth of other people.
I know a good many more people like him too. I have felt uneasy about the motives of a few but most of them have a  simple desire to help. Not all of them are aware of the situation into which they are going or how difficult it is likely to be. They do know they will be there for only a short time. 
     "I can put up with it for six weeks/three months," they tell me. Most of them do. Some go back too or go somewhere else.  They will go where it is felt they are needed. They will go because "word of mouth" has sent their reputation ahead of them.
One of the doctors I have written communication boards for was in a remote hospital recently. It was evening. He was still working. A group of armed men arrived with another who had been shot.
They held the doctor at gunpoint demanding that he treat the injured man.
His response  - in their language - was, "Put your guns down. It is my duty to help."
It has done his reputation there no harm but it has made him, his colleagues - and me - all more aware of the dangers in that part of the world.
There will be people here who will say of the Eliots things like, "Why do they bother?" or "Well, they shouldn't go to places like that" and "it's their own fault for trying to convert people". 
I hope they find the Eliots and bring them back safely without the need to pay a ransom. I am not interested in their "Christian" activities. I am interested in their attempts to help people in other ways, in the hospital they have built from nothing.
My personal belief is that other people's beliefs are their personal affairs. They go where they choose to go or where others ask them to go. 
Why do they bother though? I can answer that I think. It's one of the things which makes us human. 

Sunday 17 January 2016

How do you catalogue

a specialist subject?
I am the "librarian" for our Handknitters' Guild. In other words the guild has a collection of books and someone has to look after them. "Cat knows about books," came the cry when the old librarian left.
I agreed because I believe that, if you belong to an organisation, you should contribute.
The books were in a government issue cupboard not intended for books. They were in "sort of alphabetical order". There was a borrowing system by which you wrote your name in a book along with the name of the book you had borrowed. You crossed your name off when you returned the book.
Yes. All highly unsatisfactory.
Things would, I told them, have to change. People looked rather startled. The system worked didn't it? Why change it? 
I asked them whether they could find information? No, not really. It was all right if they knew which book they wanted but not if they wanted "a book about...". 
"Like it is in the library then," someone suggested. I pointed out that wouldn't work either. The DDC (Dewey Decimal Classification) number for knitting is 746.43 and you add more to that as you get more specialised. Specialist libraries need something else.
We would, I told them, use another system. I have used it before. You can use it for any specialist library. It is used for the Toy Libraries. I  used it for a major collection of psychological test material. It's simple. It's easy to use.  People will be able to find things. 
And, while we are at it, there will be a new borrowing system. Books go missing too easily. Most people are honest but there is something about books which causes them to go astray. Particularly if someone has been knitting something from them. 
It has taken a while - mostly because I couldn't always get to meetings last year. A bit more work today and we will have a proper catalogue. 
It works too. At the meeting yesterday someone asked me if we "had any books about..." and I could say "Yes. All the books in this section."
The response was, "Wow!"
She would never have found them in quite the same way when they were scattered in alphabetical order.
It all needs fine tuning. We still have to get the new borrowing system up and running. It will happen.
And then perhaps....if people can find information they will use it?

Saturday 16 January 2016

I was listening to Alan Rickman's

voice last night. Our news service had a short segment about him and they played that wonderful scene in the Harry Potter films where Snape is walking slowly through the middle of the assembled students and asking the person responsible for the deed to "step forward now". 
It's a marvellous piece of acting. Every word is enunciated perfectly. The pace is exquisite. The timing between the last two words is exactly right. 
Yes, the man could act - and that voice was magnificent.
I am no great one for live theatre or films. The last film I saw was "The King's Speech". I have meant to go several times since then but haven't managed it. I wanted to see the "Theory of Everything" but didn't. Someone has since loaned me the DVD and I still haven't found the time to sit there and watch it. Yes, I know - I should. The problem is I'd rather read a book.
But I did see the first two Harry Potter films. I was outside doing the inevitable watering later last night when a neighbour stopped and mentioned Rickman's death. Her attitude was quite different from mine.
"Why would anyone bother to put so much effort into a film for kids?" she asked.
My stunned look surprised her. She went on, "It was only a film for kids. It's not as if it really mattered. Those films were going to be blockbusters whoever acted in them." I may not be a film addict but I do know that even very young children are aware of good and bad acting. Children deserve the best. They will watch the best again and again. They will read the best again and again. It's why my cousin could recite "The Gruffalo". She had to read every night for weeks on end. 
I tried saying this to the neighbour. She disagreed. I left it. Her children have had an overload of Disney films and cartoons. They don't read a lot. They don't have the same capacity to discriminate as Ms Whirlwind or the two boys who live opposite her have. Those three have had a much greater variety of experience. 
And yes, they appreciate good acting. One of those boys told me yesterday, "He was brilliant as Snape. He sort of made you feel scared."
It's been a while since he saw those films but the memory has stuck. What a legacy to leave a child! 

Friday 15 January 2016

"I was wondering if I could bring someone

over to meet you and your Dad on Saturday?"
"I'll be out," I said, "And he has someone coming?"
"Next Saturday?"
"You'd be pushing it," I said.
This was, fortunately, a phone conversation. The person at the other end  could not see my expression. 
She has done this before, more than once. This person is not someone we regard as a friend. She is an acquaintance but she seems to have "latched on". On a number of occasions she has invited herself and someone "you will love to meet" to afternoon tea.
On the first occasion the Senior Cat answered the phone. He thought it was an odd thing to do but he was "polite" and said she could come. I was out - as I often am on a Saturday afternoon. I arrived home and she was still here with her friend. They had been waiting for me to get back. I think her friend was a little  uncomfortable.
The next two "friends" were definitely uncomfortable. They said they couldn't stay long. They had arrived separately and they left long before she did.
The third  "friend" was a little more comfortable perhaps but only just.
"I wish she wouldn't do it," the Senior Cat complained.
He's not being unsociable. He enjoys the company of people he knows. He avoids talking to people with accents he finds hard to understand now that his hearing is not the best.That said,  he will still enjoy meeting someone new if he feels they will have something in common. 
But the people this person insists she wants to introduce are not people with whom we have, so far, had any common interests. We are not likely to have any common interests. Her own interests are quite different from ours.
Middle Cat knows her as well. Being rather more blunt than me she has actually said, "Don't do that to Dad. He doesn't like it." 
The Senior Cat feels his space is being invaded. He feels he should be able to choose who to invite into his home but he has been brought up to be polite. When someone asks him to do something he feels he should do it. He doesn't want to "hurt their feelings".
I put her off by saying, quite truthfully, that the Senior Cat has rather a lot to do at the moment. I reminded her he will be 93 in February and that it takes him much longer to get things done now.
Oh yes, she "understands" and she "will leave it until Feb". 
"Can't she tell we aren't interested?" the Senior Cat asked. He is now wondering whether we have just put off the evil moment or whether he should just ask her "don't do this sort of thing please".
I have, to the best of my knowledge, never invited myself - let alone someone else as well - into the home of someone else for afternoon tea. I wouldn't do it to my friends, let alone a mere acquaintance. It's their space. They should be able to choose who comes into their space.
Is this right - or are we just being unsociable?


Thursday 14 January 2016

The United Nations response to

the situation in Madaya has been criticised in more than one place - and sometimes by people who should know better.
It's a horrifying situation - far worse than the media is suggesting. The  UN is being criticised for being "too slow" to respond and responding in the "wrong" way. 
These criticisms show a lack of understanding about the way in which the UN works - or doesn't work.  It also shows a lack of understanding about just what the UN can do.
People tend to believe the UN can do whatever it wants. They tend to believe the UN can make a decision and then people must act on it. 
It doesn't work like that. The UN is individual nations sometimes working together, sometimes not. On occasions they will meet and negotiate. They might ask for help or offer it.  It all has to be negotiated. Other countries can't just say, "We are coming in to deliver food and medical supplies."
The people in Madaya are hostages. Their release has to be negotiated. Those who hold them are not going to let go just because the UN says they must, or even if they ask nicely. It won't happen.
Madaya is in a war zone. It's dangerous. People get killed there. They die there. Those using them as hostages don't care about them. They only care about how they can use them to get what they want. 
Those taking aid in are risking their lives. Put a foot in the wrong place  and they could step on a landmine that will blow the entire situation apart - aid workers included. 
As for the sort of aid being delivered. Well, that had to negotiated too. You can't just take in anything. You can only take in what the  hostage takers are willing to allow - and what others are willing to provide. If the hostage takers said "rice" then it will be "rice" but if they said "flour" then it would have to be flour. It would be no good telling them "rice was not available". 
Someone said, "Why not just take everyone out and put them in a refugee camp over the border?" It's not going to happen.That wouldn't leave the rebels anyone  to negotiate with would it?
I have, after many years of association with the UN, my doubts about the way it works and just how effective it is. But, it is better than nothing and at least a little food has reached the people of Madaya. There are other places also in urgent need of help and it is by no means the only conflict zone in the world or the only place in urgent need of assistance. I know we can't do everything for everyone and money won't solve all problems.
As a refugee once said to me, "Hug your family and say something nice to a stranger. It helps."


Wednesday 13 January 2016

Complaints about emergency

services and how they communicate have been rife of late. Most of the criticism has been directed at a fire service but it brought on a slew of other complaints.
It is not that people fail to appreciate the emergency service personnel on the ground. The vast majority of people do. They believe they are doing a good job, in most cases an outstandingly good job. They appreciate their efforts.
The problem seems to be the media personnel and the "spokespeople" - the people in front of the camera on the news and, even more importantly, the people who write the bulletins which need to be read out as warnings. They aren't getting the message across. It's their job to communicate - and they aren't communicating.
On the (very) rare occasions that the Senior Cat hears a police officer talking on the news he often groans and says, "Police-speak." By this  he means that the delivery is often stiff and formal and it uses words in a way they would not normally be used. It is something we have come to expect.
When a warning is being given there is often another problem. A warning often relates to a locality. In the city and the suburbs this can often be given as "X" street or "Y" road or "the intersection of..." It is normally very specific. 
In rural areas it is very different. There may be names for roads but they may not be the names used by the locals.
We once lived in a very small rural community with just seventeen houses "in the town". There were two "streets"- the main one and the side one. The school was at the end of the side one and we lived there. These streets apparently have names - something  I was told only recently. Nobody used those names. I doubt many, if any, people knew them. Our street was referred to by things like "the short one past the pub" or "the one up the school" the other one was referred to as "where the shop is" or "where the cop-shop is" depending on which end you were talking about.
We moved again and it was "over the road" because the town was split by a main road and then, in yet another place it was "the road by the club" and "up past the school". We were given directions such as, "When you reach the mail box that says...." and "There's an old car dumped on the right..."
Locals know what these things mean. They navigate the landscape by these things.
The fire service did what it always does. It named an area bounded by four roads as a fire area. It did not say, "this includes the township of...." 
It was a large area. The roads were probably known locally as "the road to X..." and "the road to Y...." and "the coast road..." and "the one you take to go to..." or something similar.  A few people might know a name or two. They might have realised much earlier that they were in danger. 
Most people got out but they didn't take much with them. Two people lost their lives. If the warning had been given earlier and included the words "this includes the township of..." people would have been better prepared. It would have alerted people around the town sooner as well. As it was they were relying on their own observations.
In disaster situations in other parts of the world I have known people to be given directions like, "You take the track up the mountains to where the shrine is by the big rock and then you go left and you keep going until...." and so it goes on. People find their way. Or they say, "It's on the road to Kabul and it's the third village you come to and they use the fourth house as the hospital." People get there.
I hope they review the warning system here and include those magical words, "this includes the township of..." or "north of the railway line between W and Y stations..." - just something that tells the locals in their own language where the danger is.

Tuesday 12 January 2016

David Bowie's death

has made headlines. 
It was the lead story on our international news service last night and his death is the front page news in the state newspaper.
"Who," asked the Senior Cat, "is David Bowie?"
I explained.
"Oh, some sort of pop star?"
I gave up.
I mean I had at least heard of David Bowie. How had he passed by and the Senior Cat never noticed him?
The Senior Cat does not like "pop" or "rock" music. He doesn't like the Beatles - although he has heard of them. He barely tolerates "The Bushwackers", "The Seekers" and "Peter, Paul and Mary" - remember them? He might remember their names and he would probably recognise some of their music - but he wouldn't be able to tell you who was singing what.
His choice of music tends more to the old music hall songs, some songs from his youth, and musicals like "My Fair Lady". He likes Mozart - the lively pieces. 
He doesn't pretend to be musical. His attempts to learn an instrument were largely a failure. My mother accused him of having two left feet. He no longer bothers to try, just smiles and shrugs it off. You have to love him for it. 
I wasn't a Bowie fan but I was aware of him there in the background of my consciousness. I was aware of him in the way I have been aware of other musicians that may not have played music I necessarily enjoyed. I know there was something about them that made a difference to the world of music - and to the world in a more general way.
It seems as if there is an inordinate amount of fuss being made about Bowie, that a lot of people are upset. I know there will be other people, perhaps mostly older people like the Senior Cat, who will find this hard to understand. 
"You didn't know him," they will say, "Why does it matter to you?"
Why shouldn't it matter though? I looked at the story and thought, "He was only a few years older than I am. He should have had more time than that. He didn't get his three score years and ten."
There is also a report in the paper this morning about the funeral of the two young boys who tragically downed at one of our beaches. They had even less time. Their parents have to live without them. Their siblings have to live without them. I didn't know them either but it matters to me.
A doctor friend in the UK tweeted that she had often grieved over the death of strangers and if that made her weak then blessed be the weak. I can only agree with her.
"Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee."

Monday 11 January 2016

A complete stranger gave me a

a rather nice compliment a couple of weeks back. Then he apologised,
      "I don't suppose I should have said that."
I smiled and thanked him and said I didn't mind. I didn't mind either because it was quite obvious that he meant  what he had originally said.
Since then we have had the Jamie Briggs affair and some sportsman doing something else considered inappropriate. (I haven't bothered to follow it. I am not interested enough to want to know.) Then someone else has been criticised for something else.
Now there is inappropriate behaviour which goes too far. It can cause great embarrassment and distress. It shouldn't happen.
But it seems to me that there is also behaviour which is intended to give pleasure. There is behaviour which is intended to say, "I like something about you" and the circumstances should then dictate whether it goes any further.
Each Christmas I make some gingerbread biscuits for the people who work in the greengrocer. It's a way of thanking a thoroughly nice group of people who are helpful and friendly and occasionally give me a bunch of flowers that still have plenty of life in them but they can't sell. 
A couple of days after giving one of the girls the biscuits so that they could be shared around one of the boys who works there came up behind me, very briefly put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Thanks for the biscuits Cat."
Another customer looked rather shocked and, fortunately when he had gone, said to me, "I wouldn't let him touch me like that!"
"I feel perfectly comfortable with it," I told her.
And I did. He always gives me a wave if he's driving one of their vehicles out of the shopping centre. He always says, "Hello Cat" if I pass him in the shopping centre itself. He's young enough to be my son - if I had any.
Her reaction bothered me. The reaction of the man who gave me the compliment saddened me. 
I have observed similar reactions elsewhere. Giving someone a compliment is now fraught with danger. Touching someone you don't know very well is not at all acceptable. It doesn't matter how good your intentions are you don't do it  - or so it would seem. We see danger at every turn.
The Senior Cat will tell people the story of the day he went to see the man who was then his GP, a man now sadly retired early. My mother had not been gone that long and my youngest sister was causing a great deal of worry. The Senior Cat had just admitted he was not sleeping well because of both these things. The GP reached out and, briefly, touched his hand. He didn't say anything, just touched the Senior Cat's hand. The Senior Cat has never forgotten that.
It's important to touch people sometimes. I am going off to do some work on reorganising a small library today. Three people are coming to help me. One of them is giving me a ride to the venue. We won't touch one another. She isn't that sort of person. She never gives compliments to anyone. It just isn't in her nature to do that. I may give her one in the future - but I doubt it. 
Of the other two. I have hugged one person on a special occasion and she has hugged me in the same way. We can exchange compliments.
The last person is different. I know I'll be greeted with a hug even though it is hot. She will have something nice to say too.
People are different. If a stranger wants to do nothing more than say something nice then it saddens me to think that they no longer feel free to do it.
And how on earth are people going to build relationships if "flirting" is unacceptable? Of course there are limits. "Stop" has to mean "stop" but does it have to mean "don't dare even start"? Are we in danger of losing something important in relationships with other people? 
When I was a mere kitten someone said something unexpected and rather nice to me. I felt embarrassed and I didn't respond. My paternal grandmother told me, "Cat, that was a compliment. You must learn to accept compliments graciously. It is the mark of a lady to be able to do that."
She was right.

Sunday 10 January 2016

Politicians are people we love

to hate - or so it would seem.
Our previous Prime Minister could do no right. Oh yes the people in his electorate voted him in but - if the media is to be believed - that couldn't possibly have been a majority of his electorate. The media seemed to find plenty of people there who, at best, were lukewarm about him. Most seemed to loathe him. I doubt that's true but this is the impression we were given.
The love affair with the present Prime Minister has not lasted long. I suppose we all knew it wouldn't. The present Leader of the Opposition still has an abysmal rating in the opinion polls. The party is stuck with him for the present because of rules brought in by a previous leader - who thought it was going to save his job. 
Yes, I can be cynical too.
But I am getting more than a little fed up with people who criticise politicians for doing their job. The Premier of Victoria visited an area burnt out by fire recently. He was criticised for not doing enough - although I am not sure what else he could have done.
(The previous Prime Minister would have been more help. He has trained as a volunteer fire-fighter - something else he was sneered at for doing.)
The President of the United States was accused of weeping crocodile tears recently - over the deaths of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He was, it was claimed, only doing it to get what he wanted. What many people don't know is that when he went to visit the scene he also spoke to each parent who had lost a child - individually. If you could come out of that unscathed then you would be made of a triple duty teflon lack of emotion. 
And please don't tell me that David Cameron and Gordon Brown don't know what it is like to lose a child and that they would not sympathise with parents in the same position. 
So, why am I writing about this? 
Yesterday I had the misfortune to have to read a slew of particularly nasty, even vicious, comments about the Premier of Western Australia. They have been over a situation out of his control.
There have been catastrophic fires in Western Australia. One small town has lost more than one hundred houses - and may lose more. It's a situation beyond comprehension. 
The Premier was on leave. Like everyone else he has a right to some leave. Even if you didn't vote for him there is a need to recognise he probably works far more than the standard 37.5 hour week. He cut short his leave and came back to work. 
That was not enough for some people. They complained he should have come back sooner, that he should not have been away at all, that his response has not been right, that the failure of the water supply was his fault, that the lack of this and that and something else were his fault, that the government response has not been enough etc. etc. 
It made me realise how little people actually know about disaster situations and how they are handled.
The Premier would have been informed as soon as it was deemed necessary to inform him - probably almost immediately. His staff would have been making arrangements to get him back at the same time. He would have been getting updates. 
He is not in charge of the situation - and neither he should be. The fire services are in charge - and there may be some issues with that but they will be dealt with later and do not reflect badly on the Premier. The police and other emergency services have to coordinate with and be guided by the fire services in this situation.
People are under a great deal of stress and people under a great deal of stress don't always make the right decisions - although good training undoubtedly helps. 
I know that some people will still expect that the senior politicians in a situation like this will be able to wave a money wand and restore everything to the way it was before the event. I know that, when things go wrong or when the services seem insufficient, they will want to blame the politicians. It's good to have someone to blame in these circumstances. It's easier. It's nice to be able to vent at someone.
But there is a problem with all this. If you do that then you are also making it  harder for all those people who are volunteering, especially those who are risking their lives. It doesn't matter that you say, "Oh but the volunteers are doing a great job." It doesn't feel that way to many of them. When they line up to shake the Premier's hand and he thanks them they know that there are going to be people out there who believe "he's only doing it because he has to, because it is a photo opportunity". It takes the edge off being thanked even when they sense that thanks is sincere. It lowers morale and makes it that much harder to handle the stress they are under.
I personally think that happens to matter. 

Saturday 9 January 2016

There have been 95 houses lost

in one town in the current spate of fires in the west of Downunder. The fire was started by a lightning strike. 
It has cut roads and a rail link. A bridge has gone. One community on a small peninsula is cut off completely. They had to airlift emergency supplies into them yesterday. 
People who sought shelter in a neighbouring community have been moved on again - because it is no longer safe there. More than one "watch and act" emergency warning is in place. 
If you have never been anywhere near a fire like this then it is impossible to understand what they are like. Fires this big, fires that can be seen from satellite imagery, are not something you can fight or even defend with a garden hose. Even the most sophisticated sprinkler systems with independent power units are not going to be effective against a wall of flame higher than houses moving at speed and in an unpredictable fashion. The heat alone can you long before the flames reach you. (It is possible for the centre of a big fire to be around 3000'C.)
Fires don't stop burning once the flames have passed either. They can burn for weeks. They have to be monitored for "flare ups" and, although they may appear out, they can still be burning beneath the surface as well as smouldering on top. 
There are other dangers too - from  things like falling tree branches and even trees themselves. Power lines will be down and every part of those lines has to be checked and restored. 
And a different sort of power has to be generated too. It could be simply put as "people power" but perhaps it is something more than that - the instinct for survival.
I am sitting here safely in suburbia, more than a thousand kilometres away from the fire which destroyed those 95 houses. I don't really understand what those people are going through. They can try to tell me but only they can feel the pain of their losses. 
If someone here Downunder is reading this though I have one thing to ask of you. If you have been where those fires now are, if you have photographs taken of people there or of some event you attended...make copies and pass them on to those concerned in the coming months. It helps to remember the good times.

Friday 8 January 2016

A television "personality"

has died. I saw the news in this morning's paper. 
It isn't something I would normally take much notice of but, when he "retired", he was often to be seen in our local shopping centre.  I  used to watch the interaction between him and the other shoppers with interest.
People knew him. It is likely that most people knew exactly who he was. Others would think he looked "familiar". 
Some people would stare. Others would pretend not to notice him. Some people would meet his eye boldly, others shyly - and some not at all.
People rarely engaged him in conversation. It was as if he was "off-limits". 
He would wander through as if he was a little lost in the real world.
The world of television is very different. In front of the cameras it is bright and often artificial. Behind the cameras it can be brutal.
This man was in "commercial" television. I don't think I ever saw him on screen. He hosted a variety of chat and game shows I never watched.
Several  years ago he happened to  stand behind me in the queue in the Post Office. I had looked around, as one does, to see who had come up behind me.
He smiled and asked, "Aren't you the one who writes the letters to the editor?"
We chatted as we waited in the long, slow line that morning. He seemed to want to talk.
Over the next few years he would stop me and talk for a bit. I had the impression he was lonely. It seemed ridiculous that this man should be lonely but I suspect he missed the intense activity of what was once his workplace. He probably didn't have the time to develop many deep friendships.
In the greengrocer yesterday one of the staff said to me, "Have you seen L... lately? He hasn't been in for a while."
I hadn't seen him since well before Christmas. The paper mentioned he had died in hospital "after a brief illness". It mentioned him leaving a wife and family.
I'm glad he had them. I just hope he wasn't as lonely as he appeared to be. 

Thursday 7 January 2016

Negative comments

seem to be the only thing some people post on social media and comment forums.
I came across another one this morning. This time it was directed at me. The person who made it had not read what I had to say very carefully. He assumed I was saying one thing when I was, quite clearly, saying something else. Other people had understood me and commented favourably. He was not happy about this. 
I have "blocked" him. I can't be bothered with that sort of negative behaviour. But, it did set me thinking.
Last year I sat down and wrote a short autobiography of my childhood. A few people have read it and later this year it will be given to the person who requested I write it for an archive of such things. 
One of the people who read it is my friend R... She is a retired doctor and former politician. I like her a lot. She has a sense of humour, an inquiring mind and a realistic view of the world.
"It amazes me you turned out the way you did," she told me, "I'd understand if you hated some people."
What, I asked her, is the point of hating anyone? I don't think I actually hate anyone. I hate the things some people do but I don't think I hate anyone I actually know. As for anyone else, I'll reserve judgment until I meet them. 
I don't necessarily like everyone I know. I would prefer not to spend time with some people - and I don't spend time with them by choice even if I must spend time with them by necessity. "Hate" though seems to me to be such a negative emotion I don't want to waste energy indulging in it.
But I do try not to spend time on social media or comment forums being consistently negative. So, why do people do it? 
I have, out of curiosity, taken a look at the "profiles" of a number of such people. By that I mean I have run my eye down a fairly lengthy list of their comments - such people tend to be frequent commenters - to see what sort of comments they make to other people. Some of them seem to post "smart" comments at every opportunity. They seem to trawl through a post on a news website and make a negative comment about almost every other response there. If someone is foolish enough to disagree with them they get upset. They are prolific but don't really contribute to any discussion.
I wonder who these people are. What are they like in real life? Do they use social media in this way because they lack friends in real life? If so, I think I feel sorry for them.
Social media can be fun. For the most part I enjoy it. I haven't sought out a huge number of "followers" or "friends". I don't feel the need to do that. I like to think that I might one day meet some of the people who have been kind enough to comment here and elsewhere. I suspect I will like them. I also think that I should treat people here and elsewhere in just the same way as I would treat the people I have face to fact contact with on a daily basis. 
So, if you are reading this, "Hello."

Wednesday 6 January 2016

There have been two appalling tragedies

here in the past few days. Both could have been avoided.
The first was the death by drowning of two young refugees from Burundi. They were at one of the local beaches. There are life guards there but the boys were not playing within the area being watched. They had, childlike, gone to explore rocks and then slipped and fallen. 
Even if they had been able to swim this would have been dangerous. They could not swim. 
To lose a child on what should have been a good family day out is something I cannot begin to imagine. I don't know the mothers but I want to hug them. I don't suppose it would do much good but I hope they are getting a lot of support. 
I also hope people aren't saying, "It's their fault. They should have been watching. They should have known better."
No, it isn't their fault. There were younger children there as well and they were undoubtedly watching them. They come from a part of the world where there are no beaches with rocks to climb.
The second tragedy was in many ways even worse. The first may be considered an "accident" but the second was a deliberate act, a murder-suicide. A father drove off his car off a jetty at speed - with his two young sons inside. None of them survived. The father apparently posted a suicide note on Facebook just before he did it. 
Nobody seems to have been aware of his mental state or, if they were, they didn't recognise the danger. 
Suicide is a terrifying thing. We still don't want to talk about mental illness. Unless we have experienced it ourselves we don't understand depression. I have heard people say of a friend of mine, "She should just snap out of it." My response is, "She can't. Do you suppose she wants to feel like that?" But, even as I say it, I know I don't understand how she feels. 
I have felt depressed. All of us have. There have been moments when the world has felt dim, even grey, but I have not been unfortunate enough to feel that all enveloping cloud of darkness that makes it impossible to function properly. 
Is it hard to recognise in other people because we have not experienced it ourselves - or do we try not to see it because we don't want to know it is there? Do we try to avoid recognising it because not only don't know what to do it but because we fear it? Are we genuinely unable to recognise such things?
Years ago someone I knew committed suicide. People were shocked. They kept saying they had "no idea" but the signs were there. I'd had a conversation with her the week before. She had come into the research unit on a Saturday morning to do some "tidying up". We'd talked over mugs of tea and she asked me to do a couple of things related to the research she was doing. I thought it was a little odd at the time and I did mention it to someone else but they saw nothing strange about it. Perhaps if they had agreed with me she might have got some support and not taken the final step. 
I don't know. I'll never know. I just hope I never experience that depth of despair - and that I can be there if someone needs me.
There will have been signs this time but 

Tuesday 5 January 2016

"Would you like some wool?"

someone asked me. She had stopped me in the street with a sort of accusing glare. I smiled back.
"I want to get rid of Mum's wool," she told me.
"Yes, of course. I know people who can use it."
She nodded.
"I'll bring it round."
That was just before Christmas. Nothing happened over Christmas. I didn't expect anything to happen. Sunday afternoon there was an e-mail. She would deliver it tomorrow morning if that was all right with me. I responded it would be fine.
"It might take a couple of trips," she told me in the second e-mail.
All right I had said I would take it. I hoped that she was mistaken.
She wasn't. It arrived in six large plastic bins. Without looking the two of us hastily packed it into twelve large black plastic rubbish bags. She left saying, "Thank you Cat."
There was a glint in her that told me she was very pleased to be rid of the problem. The bags sat accusingly on the floor in the living area. 
Hmm. I phoned the person who deals with such things for the Guild. What was she doing? Fine. She would be up there in the afternoon to collect it. We could sort it out at her place. 
So, instead of doing the things I should have been doing yesterday afternoon I unpacked, sorted and repacked wool. The person who took it in has a wonderful workroom with a very large table and a skylight.  It's a good place for sorting.
Some of it was at least forty years old. It was not moth eaten. It had been well stored. Some of the colours were unexpected - hot pink was fashionable once and I am not sure that bright yellow could be worn by too many people. Nevertheless we sorted it into various packs of usefulness.
It is not the first time I have been through such an exercise. It is rather a sad one. All those knitting hopes and ideas came to nothing.
I really must make better use of my own stash!


Monday 4 January 2016

Am I really expected to sympathise

with people who do idiotic, stupid, vile, absurd or ridiculous things?
There is a media kerfuffle at present. One of Downunder's ministers in the federal parliament was forced to resign because, if reports are to be believed, he got a little too friendly with a female member of staff over late night drinks at a bar somewhere in Hong Kong. 
Apparently he put an arm around her, told her she had nice eyes and gave her a peck on the cheek. I suppose it is the sort of thing a fool does when he or she is a little tipsy. It was inappropriate.
There was, I believe, no complaint made for several days. The female in question then complained. The minister in question then apologised.
What happened after that is less clear. Apparently there is a picture of the two of them together. Apparently it got disseminated before and after the information became public. The female's name has not been mentioned in the media but the picture was published with her face blanked out. Right. 
And the media has had a field day. It's a hanging offence. It isn't enough that the minister has apologised and resigned. Disseminating her picture has been proclaimed to be a worse sin - although there is no suggestion that the former minister was responsible for doing this. He is held to be responsible.
I don't for one moment condone his behaviour but I don't condone the behaviour of the media either. They have had a field day on this incident. It has been used to question the judgment of the Prime Minister in appointing him, to have a shot at the man who previously held the seat - now the High Commissioner in London - and a good many other people as well.
It would be all very well except that quite recently there have been far worse incidences of inappropriate sexual behaviour by other members of parliament in even more senior positions. These have been mentioned in varying degrees by the media. Those in question have been "condemned" but there have been suggestions that they need to be forgiven such transgressions. Far worse behaviour has been portrayed as being "the lower end of the scale". Others around them have not been condemned in the same way and the same demands to resign have not always been made. It is of course all about politics, about keeping a government in power or trying to undermine it. Using inappropriate sexual behaviour like that is surely also inappropriate? Apparently the media thinks otherwise.
I find that abhorrent. 

Sunday 3 January 2016

"So what subjects did you do?"

A young friend of mine - not Ms Whirlwind - is at the point where she has to make subject choices for her last two years at school. The choices she makes will indelibly influence her choice of career. She is a good all rounder who does extremely well but she doesn't want to do the subjects her school and her parents believe she should do. 
"They want me to do 'the suicidal five' and then do something in the sciences," she told me yesterday. The "five" she referred to are Mathematics 1 & 2, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. You can get an excellent university entrance score with those if you are intelligent and work hard. She is intelligent and she works hard. Good results would lead her to a career in medicine or dentistry or engineering or.... just about anything in the sciences.
The problem is that she's not terribly interested in those subjects. 
"They're okay," she told me without enthusiasm, "And Dad says I'm not looking at the future. Ms T.... (at her school) told me I need to be sensible and realise I can't do just what I like and... well I feel like everyone is getting at me."
I feel for her. 
I didn't get a choice of subjects at school. There was no choice for anyone in the "area" schools I attended. The curriculum in the public examination stream (think O and A level if you live in the UK) was aimed at boys and the sciences. You did English, Maths 1 & 2, Physics, Chemistry, Modern History, Geography, Sewing (girls) and Woodwork (boys). I couldn't sew so I did Art (mostly Art History) by correspondence.  I did Latin and both Ancient and Economic History on my own. (I taught myself from the text books with a bit of help from the Senior Cat for the Latin.) That was it. There were no modern languages or any other science or arts subjects. 
I explained all this and my young friend promptly said, "I'm glad I didn't go to those schools."
But it doesn't solve her problem. I asked her what other subjects she might be able to do.
"Japanese. We had to do that until  now. French. I like that. History and I like that. Then there's stuff like Geography and Sociology and Psychology and Computing Studies and Legal Studies.... I sort of really like the idea of doing Auslan and Psychology though."
She has been learning Auslan (the sign language of the deaf) in another location and by communicating with her hearing impaired neighbours. She could do it as a SACE subject but it would have to be done outside of school. There is a unit for the hearing impaired at her school and she has, because of her neighbours, mixed with them from the start. 
We discussed some career choices if she did those subjects. There are some good possibilities in areas where there are skills shortages.
I wonder though whether she will be allowed to pursue that path. Her parents and her school have other views.  I know her parents well enough to know there will be pressure placed on her to "do the right thing".
I agree with them that science is important and that the career opportunities are greater. I agree that girls should be encouraged to believe they can do science and do it extremely well.
But if you aren't passionate about science and you do have other realistic ideas shouldn't you be encouraged?


Saturday 2 January 2016

Moving house? Did someone say

they are moving house? 
Someone has mentioned they are moving house. I feel sorry for them. Even if you actually want to make the move it is stressful. It is messy and time consuming. You spend weeks living in a muddle and wondering where things are.
I haven't moved house for a while now but we moved a number of times when I was a child. I moved after that too - to London and back, to two other cities and back - and between houses here. I really don't recommend it.
The Senior Cat won't move again. If he is fortunate he will end his life in this house. If he does need to move somewhere else because he needs more care than I can give him then he won't be the one who needs to deal with "the shed" or anything else. His children will have to do that. He won't have to deal with the thousands of books and all that timber in the shed.
My mother was ruthless each time we moved. She gave away things we children wanted to keep. I wanted to keep my doll pram. (It was useful for carting building materials for the cubby houses we kept building rather than dolls.)  I wanted to keep my dolls' house. I didn't actually play with it much but the Senior Cat had made it for me - a replica of the house we lived in at the time. Both those things were given away along with a lot of other things we wanted to keep. There was never "any room" for such things. 
My parents moved from one country appointment to another with a few years in rented accommodation in the city. They knew that wasn't going to last and they would go back to the small fibro-asbestos houses the Education Department required them to live in - and yes, they paid rent for them. 
Just after my maternal grandmother died and the house she had been living in became empty my parents were advised they were both being given city appointments. We moved into my grandmother's house. It was there. It was in a convenient location. It was the house my mother had spent part of the adolescence and early adulthood in. She didn't like it but she accepted it as much more convenient than searching for something else. She bought her brother's share of the house and, for the first time in their married lives, my parents had their own home.
At that point they did something we children had known nothing at all about. They went to my paternal grandparents home and got their wedding presents. The wedding presents had been carefully packed away in a tea chest. They had been married just after the war - in 1947. My mother had the presents, apart from the laundry basket, packed away and said she would not use them until they had a home of their own. It took almost twenty years for that to happen. 
The silver took a bit of cleaning but everything else was in perfect condition. There wasn't a lot because the wedding was small and people did not give extravagant gifts then but perhaps that made them all the more precious. My mother didn't want to risk losing what she had been given then.
As for the laundry basket, a sturdy cane affair from the Royal Society for the Blind Workshop, it is almost seventy years old and I still use it.

Friday 1 January 2016

This New Year's Eve thing and the

New Year's resolutions thing - I don't get it. I really don't get it. 
I was discussing this before Christmas with my friend R... I told her that all I want to do on New Year's Eve is put my head under the pillow and my paws over my ears and ignore the noise. I am not a noisy party cat.
Now I must confess we were lucky here. There were no wild parties in the immediate vicinity. There have been in the past. The year the house on the corner was occupied by tenants rather than the owners there was a tremendous racket. It was so bad that the immediate neighbours feared for their own property and called the police. The police did come eventually but nobody had any sleep that night.
There were neighbours at the back when we first moved here. They had a small outdoor pool near their back fence. They would hold pool parties and New Year's Eve was always the occasion for one. They would set up their sound system so that everyone in the surrounding houses was entertained by 50's and 60's pop music until around 3am. Polite requests to turn the music down just caused it to be turned up even louder. Complaints got nowhere. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when they moved - but I still feel sorry for  their new neighbours. 
I really don't understand such parties - or why they have to occur on one particular night. I know I should like standing there holding paws and singing "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight. Perhaps it is because, unlike some of the humans around me,  I don't get even a little tipsy? 
I haven't made any New Year's resolutions either. They are disappointing sort of things. Somehow they never keep me on the straight and narrow. I veer off and do other things. I was going to finish writing a book last year. I wrote an entirely different one instead. Does that count? No, of course not. I need to get back to the other one instead. There is no point in writing either of them but that is - well, beside the point. 
I didn't lose weight. I didn't do any more exercise than usual. I didn't... I didn't do anything! No, wait a moment. I must have done something. I was busy all the time. 
And the Senior Cat is still with us and still doing things. If he makes it to February 5th he will be 93. That is old and I know it and I treasure each day with him now. Middle Cat is still here too - against all expectations at one point. I met the smallest kitten for the first time - and found her an utter delight. All those things matter.
But those parties, those resolutions?  I ignored the first. As for the second...I think I will make a resolution not to make any other resolutions. 
Happy New Year everyone - and, to my fellow writers in particular, may it be filled with good words.