Saturday 30 April 2016

Diabetes doesn't help

the emotions. It is even less help if you have "brittle" diabetes.
I spent part of yesterday afternoon with the sister of my late friend. She has "brittle" diabetes - uncontrolled diabetes where the swings in her sugar levels can be sudden. It is not common now. Most diabetics are able to keep their condition well under control. She does not.
My late friend and I knew there were going to be problems and I promised to do my best to help. It has been tough for her sister. They have some cousins but no immediate family. Even with family it would be hard. 
My sister's friend lives alone. She has never married. More than once, she has been hospitalised.  More than once I was called on to go around there when she was not answering the phone. Now it is even more difficult. If it is evening and I can't rouse her I have to rely on the neighbours in the little set of "units" in which she lives. She doesn't know they are watching out for her. She would hate it if she did. She would see it as a gross invasion of her privacy. On the two occasions an ambulance has been called at night the doctor who lives in the last unit has made excuses as to why he was knocking on the door. 
She is extremely reticent about her diabetes. She believes that everyone else in her set of units, apart from the doctor, is unaware of her condition. I am perhaps the only person to whom she will talk openly about the problems her diabetes causes. She will eat meals with us because she knows that I will provide what she needs and when she needs it.
But  yesterday I went because someone else needs to talk to her. She has not been responding to them. The estate is not yet settled. She is emotionally confused and anxious about it. "I don't need the money," she told me. And no, she doesn't. She lives frugally. Her life style is rather limited now. Even when she went to work she didn't indulge in many luxuries. It just isn't her style.
And so, we talked for a bit. It wasn't easy. I know she is not taking things in. She has always found it hard to make decisions. 
Her diabetes gets in the way. She is afraid to make decisions, to make plans and, although I was there, she still felt horribly alone. 
So many lonely people need someone who is just prepared to listen but she needs more than that.
I hugged her and I hope that helped a bit. I know things aren't going to change now. She is too old for that, much  older than I am in more ways than one.  I just wish I could find a way of helping her get more out of life than she does now.

Friday 29 April 2016

The trains were not running

again yesterday. 
You would think it would be a fairly simple thing to keep our small rail network running - and running on time as well. Apparently not.
I had pedalled over to the railway station to catch the train to a meeting and was greeted with a morose, "Trains aren't running again."
The commuter who muttered this to me was heading back to his car. 
An elderly couple came out of the underpass. I could hear them wondering how to call a taxi so they could get to a medical appointment. I offered the use of my phone - accepted.
My own situation was a little more difficult. I didn't want to leave my trike at the railway station and get a taxi. It was damaged once and stolen on another occasion (I got it back). I also didn't have enough money for a taxi. I don't carry that sort of money with me unless I absolutely have to. 
So, I headed home. I phoned the leader of the meeting. He was sitting at another railway station. It is an odd one, only accessible on foot. He thought the train was just delayed. I explained. He swore fluently and said,
      "I'll call my wife and get her to get me again and pick you up as well."
The initial problem was on another line. There have been numerous problems on that line since it was "electrified". Our line still runs on diesel trains. It makes no difference though. If one line is "out" then the whole system goes out for some reason. It seems that the computer system cannot cope. 
There were gates down at level crossings. That added to the chaos.  There were roadworks somewhere else. More chaos. 
Nobody appeared anywhere. There was a brief announcement about an "unexpected delay". It advised people to "make other arrangements". Fortunately yesterday was still inside the school holiday period or the chaos would have been even worse.
I know there will sometimes be problems, problems that nobody can foresee and that cannot be helped. I do wonder though that a modern computer system can't be programmed to take into account a failure on one line and keep the others running.
Is that really so difficult? Can someone please explain?

Thursday 28 April 2016

The Manus Island Detention Centre

has been declared "illegal" by the PNG Supreme Court. Perhaps the only surprise is that the declaration did not come earlier.
There are about 850 men being held on Manus Island. They are asylum seekers. 
There are two things to note. Firstly they are men. Secondly they are seeking asylum. They are not women and children, not the very old or the very young. They have not yet been classified as refugees. 
There is also another thing to note. They want, quite specifically, to come to Australia. 
I can't comment on their claims to be refugees. I haven't met any of them.
What interested me was the comments of a former refugee. He came to Australia after the war. 
      "I was in the camp when the war ended. I had no family left. They told me I would be going somewhere. I didn't know where. I didn't care. All I wanted was to be safe, to have food and to be warm when it snowed. I would have gone anywhere with those things."
My belief that he would be sympathetic to the situation those on Manus Island find themselves in was soon dispelled.  It isn't that this man doesn't care about refugees. He does. His family has been some of the strongest supporters I know of refugees in our community. They have fed them, housed them on a temporary basis, clothed the children, taken them to medical, legal, and social welfare appointments, been at their side during job interviews and more.
He just has no time for people who are trying to bypass recognised routes and demand they be given asylum in a specific country.  It wasn't what I expected. 
His comments made me wonder. If this man, who was a refugee and came here, has worked hard and done well, does not support the Manus Island Detention Centre asylum seekers coming to Australia then who does? Senator Sarah Hanson-Young was naturally outspoken once again. People have come to expect it from her. Each time the issue arises she is in front of the cameras saying the same things.
        "What," he wanted to know, "would the Senator do with thousands of such men?"
I suppose it is possible to believe that he is prejudiced. He sees them moving into ghettos of a sort, mixing only with other people from similar backgrounds, and becoming disaffected through lack o employment. Certainly there is some evidence that can happen. Taking in refugees is not a simple matter of housing them, feeding them and then trying to find them a job.
His comments left me wondering whether anyone has any real understanding of the depth of the crisis in Europe and the likely impact on the way of life there. As I have said elsewhere I am deeply concerned about the impact the loss of so many young men will have on the countries they come from. 
It seems we will end up with more than one set of disaffected people. There are  those who want to settle somewhere else. There are those who want to help them. There are those who want to help but without affecting their own way of live. And, there are those left behind who must resent seeing their more fortunate neighbours resettled in countries where the streets appear to be paved with gold.
So, I'll ask again, "Isn't it time to start thinking more about temporary protection, skills training, language learning and the sort of help that will allow those who have fled to return and rebuild? Won't that do more to help everyone? Is it selfish?"

It seems this is not a popular idea. I wish someone would explain what's wrong with it.


Wednesday 27 April 2016

Twelve submarines are to be built in

my home state. Everyone in the state, or so it would seem, is cheering loudly. 
Or are they?
Yes, on the surface, it seems like a great thing. There are jobs involved.
The French, the Germans and the Japanese were all bidding for the contract. The French won. The Germans bowed out gracefully enough. (They will probably get some spin off anyway.) The Japanese are furious - and I mean furious. It is couched in polite diplomatic language but  they are very, very angry indeed. They see it as "loss of face". It is a major embarrassment for them.
The previous Prime Minister actually favoured the Japanese. The subs would have been smaller, lighter, less expensive to build and run and, apparently, capable of just as much.  Other interests took over. And, like it or not, there are still residual security concerns about allowing the Japanese to know too much about our affairs. I rather suspect that they never really had a chance.
The present plans mean that the current Collins class submarines will have to be around a good deal longer than planned. That's an expensive business too. They need to be maintained. The new submarines won't be around for  years yet - 2030 perhaps. The Senior Cat reckons he won't see one anyway.
There will be employment resulting from building the submarines (and also the frigates) here - but it won't make up for all the other jobs which have been lost in this state. We were too dependent on the car industry. We are still in trouble. It isn't going to solve the state's economic woes.
So I wonder about all the excitement. What are we really getting excited about? 
I even wonder whether we will need submarines in 2030. 

Tuesday 26 April 2016

I could just hear the faint sound of the Dawn Service

in the distance as I stood there. 
It is perhaps becoming a tradition. People just gather quietly for a few minutes towards the time which will be the end of the ANZAC Dawn Service some distance away.
It is very quiet at that time of the morning. There is no traffic in the surrounding suburban streets. 
The Whirlwind has snuggled in closer to her father, seeking reassurance about something that worries her. The teenage boys are close to their mother and their father has his hand on her shoulder. The couple with the son in the army are there this year. Another woman has wheeled her husband around. He is still in pyjamas and dressing gown and wrapped in a rug but he wanted to come. The Senior Cat isn't dressed either. The young couple have left their front door, about five metres away, to listen for the baby but they have both come out to join the rest of us.
There is a new Pakistani family in the units nearby. Someone told them and they have come out to join us for the last few minutes too.
Nobody says anything. We wait. There is the faintest sound of the hymn, the prayer, and then into the cold, clear morning air the Last Post.
And then we all go away again quietly. 
I know this won't last forever but, while it does, it is good. It is good that we can do it in a silence that speaks for itself.

Monday 25 April 2016

People don't need to live in silence

but sometimes they do.
There is a piece in our state newspaper this morning by the columnist Rex Jory. In it he talks about a trip to a remote village in Japan. Nobody spoke English there. He does not speak Japanese. He was with other people but they could not communicate. They found obtaining food and other services more expensive than they might have been if they spoke the language. Their experience frustrated them. What, Jory wanted to know, would it be like not to speak English here?
It is not quite the same thing of course. It is most unlikely that there would be no other speaker of an immigrant language somewhere. The SBS radio service will almost certainly broadcast a program in the native tongue of most Australian residents. There are numerous "multi-cultural" groups to help.  In some ways these can actually make it more difficult to learn English. Some elderly people see no reason to do so. Family will take them shopping and interpret for them at the doctor.  The bank teller might speak their language. Things will only fall apart if there is no family around - or the third generation does not speak enough Greek or Vietnamese or whatever.
But there is still a danger in all this. For years I exchanged morning greetings in Greek with an elderly man. He always seemed to be doing something in his front garden as I passed. It was never more  than "yasou" (hello) or "kalimera" (good morning) and, occasionally, "ti kanis" (how are you). 
When he died his son stopped me as I was pedalling past and told me the old man had actually waited to see me each morning. I was often the only person he spoke to all day. Not one of his neighbours spoke a word of Greek and his English was so limited they didn't try to communicate with him.
Yes, we could argue that he should have made a greater effort to learn English in an English speaking country. But he came from a small farm in Cyprus. He could barely read Greek. He was a labourer and he worked with others who spoke Greek. He had no reason to learn English, especially when his children were doing so well. He lived largely in silence.
The morning his son told me that I made the effort. I greeted my Chinese neighbour (who speaks almost no English) in Chinese. I asked the Italians how they were in Italian. I used my limited German and I "listened" while a profoundly deaf man told me he had just seen a fox. 
No, I don't speak anything but English. I never had the opportunity to learn a modern language at school. I am entirely self-taught in everything I use in my working life. I make mistakes. People correct me. They know I am trying.
I don't want to live in silence. I don't want them to live in silence.

Sunday 24 April 2016

There was a death notice

in the paper for one of my former teachers. She taught me English. Fortunately she did this for only two school terms. If it had been longer than that I probably would not be writing this. I might not ever have written anything. 
It is not usual to "speak ill of the dead" but this woman told me I couldn't write. She refused to even read what I had written. 
      "When you learn to write then I will read your work," she told me. 
Of course she was referring to my handwriting. The actual words on the page didn't matter to her at all. I loathed that woman. I think the entire class loathed her. 
She was not a kind woman and I have often wondered why she went teaching. It could not have been out of any love for teenage girls or for the subject she taught. We were expected to parrot back her views and they seemed strange to me. 
The Senior Cat had been teaching me English the previous year. He loves language. 
       "Come on," he would say to us, "Words that describe cows, that tell me what cows are really like."
And he would go on and link this to Keats. We ended up understanding cows and Keats. 
The other English teacher would go through a poem line by line. She informed us of all the technical aspects and what we were expected to say about it. That was it. The poem might not have had any emotion in it at all. 
I gave up on her. My Latin teacher at the time read my English essays instead. "I like that idea" and "have you thought about?" and "why have you...?" appeared in the comments. I wish she was still around. I could tell her how much I appreciated it all over again.
Fortunately for me I had an outstandingly good teacher the following year - at  yet another school. We remained good friends until she died. She provided me with more and more books she thought I could and should and might want to read. I read. 
But, looking at the death notices this morning I wonder what sort of old age the other English teacher had. I had lost track of her completely until I saw her name there - and yes, it was her. There was no mention of family or friends. Her funeral was "private" which suggests it was attended by very few. 
I found it sad. I thought  yet again of how absolutely vital it is to learn to use language, of how important it is to learn to express ideas and emotions and develop imagination. Science needs language, something even my science teacher (a formidable woman who always wore a lab coat) understood.
Did my English teacher that year understand any of that? Surely she must have. 

Saturday 23 April 2016

A union has just been fined almost

a million dollars. That's right, almost a million dollars.
The fines are for breaches of workplace laws, for things like threatening to walk off the job  unless the union's flag is affixed to a crane and for entering a workplace without permission when permission was required. They claim the latter was to "collect asbestos reports" which would, presumably, be concerned with worker safety.
I don't know what will happen next. It's a powerful union. It may well appeal or try to bring on more industrial action - and in ways that others can do little about. '
But why should the union's flag be flown on a building site  belonging to someone else? Is it simply that they want to boast about their presence there? And why didn't they simply ask for the reports? If they weren't given them then they could have got an almost immediate order for access to them.
It's all about power of course. Unions are used to dictating and they want to go on doing so. They don't want to relinquish any of the power they once had. There are still plenty of building sites where the "no ticket, no work" rule applies even though it is no longer "compulsory". 
And of course union officials will claim that they are acting in the best interests of their members.
I think that's what bothers me though. How is it that unions have the sort of money available which would, potentially, enable them to pay such a large fine? How can they pay it and all the legal fees they must have incurred? Why is it that their members apparently accept all this? Where is the money for the inevitable election campaign advertising come from? Are such things really for the direct benefit of those the union represents? If they have so much money why do they need government grants to run "training" programmes?
I am nervous of unions now. I remember that union car with "Your rights at work" on the side driving off after I was threatened by - presumably - two union members who told me that they didn't like the letter I had written to the editor about the way the unions had abused their considerable power. Apparently those two men had nothing better to do on an otherwise quiet Sunday morning.
I would have been happier if they had really been running a weekend training course for some of their members. Isn't that the sort of thing they should be spending money on?

Friday 22 April 2016

So the Queen has turned 90

and there has been the usual array of comments from the usual suspects. In past times some of those usual suspects would have been thrown into the Tower - and rightly so. There was a particularly snarky piece in the Guardian and another from a rabid republican here. There were other fawning pieces. And then there were a number of sensible pieces about the Queen's contribution to so many things/
Oh yes, I do have mixed feelings about monarchy. I know it is a ridiculous thing in one sense - but we need the ridiculous. We need ceremonial. We need figure heads. It gives people a sort of certainty. 
I envy people with very strong, certain, and absolute even religious beliefs. It has to make their lives much easier if they believe that they are going to heaven or eventually escape the wheel or whatever people believe. It's one reason why I would never knock another person's beliefs even if I can't see a way of believing them myself. 
But the British monarchy is more than that. It is a curious contradiction. The monarchy has no power at all and yet, because of that fact, it has absolute power. Yes, I did say it was a contradiction.
The Queen can "advise, encourage and warn" according to Blackstone - and that is what she has done. She is, according to my late constitutional law professor, an outstandingly good constitutional lawyer. (He should have known because High Court judges and Privy Councillors consulted him. I have no doubt the latter discreetly informed him of her concerns from time to time. He would never have mentioned it.)
There are specific  powers but almost all of them are unlikely to be exercised without the consent of the government of the day. (Exceptions are for things like the Order of the Garter which the monarch alone can grant - but even that is likely to be a matter for consultation.)
So people ask why bother with the monarchy? Just as easy to have an elected or appointed head of state they say.
The problem is that an elected or appointed head of state will always be a political issue. Here Downunder the Governor-General is selected by the government of the day. The Queen is then advised. As the Governor-General is also, but not solely, her representative she could reject the decision. In reality she is unlikely to do that and would only do so if the decision was an outrageous one likely to harm the people of Australia.
How the "head of state" would be chosen if Australia became a republic was a major issue during the debate which led up to the referendum on the subject. One of the many reasons it failed was the fact that people couldn't agree on the method of selecting a head of state.
The present method of selecting the Governor-General is said to be just as political as the options put up. In reality however it isn't. Both the government of the day and the opposition know that they need a good relationship with the Governor-General. Despite some protestations to the contrary the government does consult the opposition over likely candidates - just as it does for the appointment of High Court judges. Complaints of "bias" are more about politics than real bias. 
On the whole our system works well. Looking at the current kerfuffle in the United States I think I would rather stick with ours. I hope Her Majesty had a Happy Birthday.

Thursday 21 April 2016

So now they want to stop them playing

cricket with cricket balls...well using cricket balls at the practice nets.
I am really beginning to wonder at the "nanny state" we live in. One of the local councils is seriously suggesting that cricket balls should no longer be used at the practice nets.
Now hang on. These are the practice nets for cricket. They are designed for the very purpose of having your mate bowl the ball so that you can try and hit it. If you are a kid you aren't always going to hit the ball. If you do hit the ball then the chances of you hitting it far enough and hard enough to kill the soccer players on the oval...well, that's unlikely.
I actually think you could do more harm playing soccer. I mean, let's face it, you hit the ball with your head don't you? That's crazy. It's dangerous. Middle Cat would not allow her two kittens to play soccer for that very reason. Our GP says it is a "mad" game.
I know. People love it. You won't stop people from playing it. I wouldn't even bother to try.
So, why try and stop people playing cricket with cricket balls?
Somebody else might get hit with the cricket ball.
I go past one of the local ovals on quite a regular basis. There is  usually someone there after school or at weekends or in the school holidays. Sometimes they will be using the nets.
A cricket ball has never come anywhere near me although I suppose it could. On other occasions I have stopped pedalling and picked up a ball of one sort or another and thrown it back over a fence or to a child not allowed out onto the road. So far I have not been hit by one but I recognise it could happen. 
Surely all this is part of the risk you take if you happen to be involved in an activity - even if it is just pedalling along the road.
When I was a kitten kids played cricket in the streets. I admit the traffic was rather less, especially where we lived. The kids avoided the cars. They didn't always avoid damaging windows and other objects. They usually paid for the damage they caused. It was considered part of life. 
That changed. Kids went to the nets because it was "safer". Now most of them don't even go to the nets unless there is a "responsible adult" with them. 
Will it soon be that they won't even be allowed to go the nets with a cricket ball? Or, worse, not be allowed to go at all.
And we wonder why children are less active than they used to be. They might get hurt?
Even I was occasionally hauled in to help field at on-street cricket games. "Stand there Cat and throw the ball back..."
And it was a proper, hard, red cricket ball that gave a satisfying thunk against the bat.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

I hate doing the right thing and

still getting into strife. 
I tried to pay someone a compliment yesterday. They didn't like it. I apologised but they won't accept the apology so I feel even worse than before. It's someone I like and admire for their courage and ability which makes it even more awkward. Perhaps I should just have kept my mouth shut.
That was the little thing that went wrong - well, little compared with the other problem. I don't know how to handle this one. I've tried. Someone else has tried too. We both know it's affecting an entire, once happy group. 
The problem could be solved quite easily by someone else admitting she made an error of judgment, a mistake. She won't do it. It would mean losing face with the group. I can understand she would feel embarrassed. I know she has problems of her own and isn't handling her position easily but her behaviour is just compounding the present problem.
Without a serious breach of medical confidentiality - something I feel very, very strongly about - the two of us who have tried to solve the problem can't explain what has happened as a result of her behaviour.  It's turning into something very nasty. I hate arguing with people but this time I honestly believe I have done all I can do.
I'm tired of it. I have reached the point where all I want to do is curl up in a little ball, put my paw over my face and forget the world exists. I know that won't solve the problem though and walking out on it will just leave everyone else thinking badly of me.
Now, having had a good miaou sort of moan to the rest of you I am going to pedal off and try to think like a rational being. There has to be a solution.

Tuesday 19 April 2016

We had the "Clinic Nurse" here

this morning - to see the Senior Cat. This is the excellent service designed to keep older people in their own homes rather than in nursing homes or hospital. 
The Senior Cat has been visited twice in the past. Each time it has taken more than the allotted hour. 
I left them to it today - although I could hear the Senior Cat's answers. (Mostly reasonable and accurate.) There was a great deal of laughter at some points. 
I left them to it because it was his visitor - not mine. I made them tea and went on with what I was doing instead. They asked me for information later and that was fine.
But I was left wondering what the clinic nurse thought of the Senior Cat. She can't have too many 93yr old people on her round who still read as widely as he does, who still take an intense interest in other people.
I told her, "He's easy to look after." And he is.

Monday 18 April 2016

I have pulled up the file labelled "el terremoto"

and sifted through it yet again.
      "I suppose you will be busy Cat," someone said in a message to me yesterday. 
Well  yes, but not as busy as I might have been. It is all too familiar now. We have all been through this before. I have the easy part of the job. They have the hard part. 
"El terremoto" (m) is Spanish for "earthquake". As the Senior Cat said, "It sounds more like "terror" than an earthquake." It means "earth" and "move". 
I think I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog that I have memories of an earthquake when I was a very small kitten. I can remember the little wardrobe in my room swaying. I can remember the Senior Cat carrying me outside into the night. My brother was there in the arms of the railway worker who was on his way home and who had alerted my father to the possible danger.
Nothing really happened in our little space on the planet. We were lucky. Cracks appeared in some  houses in the city. I remember seeing one in the house of my godmother's mother. Although  the city I live in is built on a fault line we have, so far, been fortunate. Our own house is built to "rest" on the slab - supposedly that will withstand a moderate quake. 
But things are different elsewhere. Earthquakes are more frequent and, all too often, more severe. That "ring" in the Pacific is a cause for concern for many. The Japanese are  used to dealing with earthquakes. They build largely with timber because of the likelihood of an earthquake. It is one reason they have so few very old buildings. Their modern building codes are strict and strictly enforced. Even so the damage this time has been widespread. I am genuinely thankful that they usually deal with their own affairs. I don't know much about Japanese as a language.
Spanish is different. It's a lovely language - full of words I can guess the meaning of without having to resort to a dictionary. It has strong associations with Latin. 
They also speak Quechua  in Ecuador. One of the words for earthquake in Quechua is "pachakuyuy". I would have had no chance of working out the meaning of that but I was told the meaning of it years ago  in another disaster.
So I have pulled up the file. I have stared at it. I have looked at the communication boards written in the past. I sent the one to the engineer who just happened to be in Quito working on another  project. He's ready to go if the government there asks him to look at anything. His Spanish is good but he knows it is wise to double and even triple check some things with the local communities. There will be some more requests as people assess the damage and the help needed. 
I don't have as much work to do this time. I just wish I didn't have any at all. Pensando en ti. 

Sunday 17 April 2016

I had an unexpected email

yesterday. It was from a friend of the Senior Cat  - asking how he was.
It was unexpected because the writer is very ill herself. She has been going through the stress and trauma of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She has one of those rotten, lousy "inaccessible" tumours that cannot be operated on. 
We had been thinking of her and inquiring about her from other people. I hadn't seen her husband in the shopping centre for a few weeks but that didn't surprise me. We knew she was slowly going through the treatment. Everyone said she was "tired" - hardly surprising. 
The Senior Cat and I had sent messages with people we knew would visit her from her church. We know that, while people appreciate messages of support, they often don't want to have to try and make the effort of responding to visitors or answering the phone. 
And there was the email instead. It contained a brief update and inquired after the Senior Cat...and asked if I was managing to keep him under control.  It was that last little bit that told me that, whatever her health is like, her humour is intact.  I sent her a reply in a similar vein and love from both of us. 
When I had done that I reflected on how much easier it is to respond to someone who says something like that.  I had to write another email two days ago. It was a very difficult one to write. The person I was writing to is also going through a stressful time - largely of her own making - but she lacks a sense of humour. A sense of humour might have saved her from any of the stress she is now going through. It is making life difficult for a good many other people. She needs help but doesn't recognise it.
I hope my sense of humour is intact and robust enough to get through whatever else life flings at me. It has to be less stressful that way.

Saturday 16 April 2016

I know a little about child abduction

and I mean a little. It's not much.I hope I never know a lot.
I was once peripherally involved in a case.
The mother had been awarded custody by the court. There were well documented  incidents of domestic violence. The child was still not old enough to go to school. His father took him from home and disappeared.
It took almost eight months to find him. By that time they were in another country. It took almost twenty-two months to plan the operation to retrieve him from the appalling conditions they were living in. Everyone involved knew that silence was essential for success. (It was successful.)
The only thing I did was let his mother talk to me about it years later. She was under extreme stress for the entire time. The stress has never gone away. They will forever look over their shoulders and wonder if he will find them. They moved and changed their names. The local police know that an emergency call from them will be an emergency call that could lead to violence. 
Their lives are not easy even now - seventeen years later. They keep largely to themselves. They are cautious about friendships and trust does not come easily to them. The father has very powerful friends in other places. 
We were, inevitably, talking about the current failed attempt in Lebanon. There were so many things wrong with it that we both wondered at the real motives of the television crew. Did they seek any advice at all? Did they really think it was just a simple matter of snatching the children off the street and whisking them out of the country?
The possible damage to Australian-Lebanese relations at government level doesn't seem to have occurred to them. If it did they were clearly not concerned about it. 
It makes me wonder just how far the media will go in order to make and break a story.

Friday 15 April 2016

Members of Parliament who knit

come in all shapes, sizes and occupations. 
Yesterday Kate Davies had a fascinating story on her blog about a male MP who lived in Scotland in the early part of last century. She showed an ancient photograph of him wearing a "hap". (One of those traditional Shetland shawls with a lacy, waving border.) He has it tied loosely around his neck, rather like a scarf.
He apparently knitted his own socks while waiting for divisions in parliament. It seems like a good use of time.
I know other MPs and former MPs who can knit - two of them are males. They keep their skills pretty quiet but have been sent in my direction for advice and assistance with patterns. Both men knit socks and pullovers, scarves and beanies. They say knitting is a relaxation. They tend to do it in hotel rooms at night after a hard day of negotiating a deal. 
      "By then I don't want to read anything - not even the latest crime yarn," one of them told me, "A few rounds of knitting and I am ready for sleep."
Our Guild also has a former Senator of the Federal Parliament in Canberra as the Patron and she knits. Her own knitting is excellent - as are most things she does. She is intelligent and able and approaches her craft with a desire to "know". It gets results. She comes to meetings and has recently exhorted the members to do more learning. That can only be a good thing.
And that is where I suppose I start to worry. As a kitten I can remember knitting being taught at school - in year five. It was one of those rare occasions (perhaps the only occasion) where I could honestly tell the teacher that I could already do the physical activity she was about to teach. Fortunately, having observed that I really did know what to do, she allowed me to get on in my own way while she taught the rest.
I later taught a group of year six students - both boys and girls - to knit. I told them at the start that it was not a compulsory activity. I would provide another activity for those who did not want to learn to knit. I did this because there were some rather "macho" boys in the class and I didn't want them to feel that they were putting themselves at risk of being bullied or teased by other students. I did explain that men had once been apprenticed as knitters. Every single one of them decided to try - and every child eventually finished a simple football beanie for themselves. It took a term of craft lessons but they rated it pretty highly. Some of them went on to knit other things. Years later I met one of them in the city. He tugged his pullover and said, "Made it myself - thanks to you." It is one of those small thrills of teaching to hear and see something like that.
But now, they don't seem to teach anyone to knit at school - unless a volunteer goes in at lunch time. There are very few volunteers, especially with stringent (and quite expensive) police checks to apply for. Schools don't think it is important enough to pay for that sort of thing.
And most teachers I know can't knit. They think children don't want to learn because it is "slow" and "you don't get results quickly" or "it's too difficult" and "children don't have the patience for that sort of thing now".
I wonder where the next generation of knitters will come from. Could those MPs make it a compulsory subject in school?

Thursday 14 April 2016

Returning to a past

house or place of abode is an eerie experience.
There is a blog I enjoy called "Jean's Knitting". The writer is highly intelligent, witty and - well, older. She is approaching old age with the true determination of a knitter. She starts new projects - and  buys more yarn and she does far more knitting than I will ever do.
She and her husband own a flat in Edinburgh - and a house outside a village in Scotland.
Various trials and tribulations mean that, although they used to go on a regular basis, she has not been to the house for seven months. She went recently and her description of going back evoked memories for me.
We moved many times in my childhood. There are places I have never been back to - will never go back to. I can't go back to some because the houses are no longer there. The place I spent the first year of my life in is no longer there. Oddly, the second house - a standard Education Department fibro-asbestos board one - is still there. It is remarkable that such a relatively flimsy structure is still standing. We looked at it - from the outside - some time ago. I can only hope that the inside is better and more up to date.
And there are other, similar houses in other places. I have not seen them again.
The houses we lived in while in the city are still there. The homes of both sets of grandparents have been renovated but are still recognisably the same houses. One we lived in is in desperate need of repair. It looked small when we looked at it the other day and the side driveway looked so narrow. My memory of that driveway is a huge space where I tried, completely unsuccessfully, to learn to ride my brother's bike. It is actually barely wide enough to get a modern car down. I don't doubt that anyone who owns it now turns in the back garden and goes out forwards.
Another house has been demolished. It was weatherboard - cold in winter and hot in summer. The school administration block now stands on the same ground.
Other houses are simply too far away. I am told they exist but at least one  must be in a complete state of disrepair. They didn't clear the land properly before putting in the "stilts" on which fibro-asbestos houses stand. By the time we left trees were, once again, trying to grow beneath the house. How they survived without sunlight is a mystery.
I haven't been into any of these houses again. Perhaps it is just as well. I don't think it would be a comfortable experience. I would resent the changes in the home of my paternal grandparents. I would want them to be there. The other houses would bring back as many strange, uncomfortable, and unhappy memories as happy ones. I don't want that. I wouldn't want that sensation of familiar-but-strange - that sensation of distance.
You can't go back. 

Wednesday 13 April 2016

I thought I could communicate

a simple message to an intelligent individual. It seems I can't. 
I sent an email to someone yesterday asking whether they wanted something for a group we both belong to. I thought the message was straightforward.
It seems it wasn't. I had a rather odd reply back. It took me a while to untangle what the problem was. I had to send another email with some other information in it about another topic so I added a note to that.
I think we have it sorted out now - as much as it can be but it makes me feel uncomfortable. I can see the Senior Cat's  point, "I don't like those email things. I'd rather talk to someone."
In a way I would too but email does have advantages. What you have told someone is there on the screen. You can read it again - which I did - and make sure that you still think it says what you intended to say - which I did.  In any case I would have thought that "Do you want X for Y?" was a pretty straightforward message.
       "Perhaps they didn't read it all - or read it in a hurry," a neighbour suggested. She had come in for some help in interpreting some instructions that were not well written. We worked those out together very amicably. 
After she had gone though I realised that the problem with the first person was probably something quite different. It wasn't the way I had written  the query at all. It might not even have been the way that person read it. What was much more likely is that we have a rather awkward relationship. Instead of my usual, relaxed style of communication I was being very careful indeed and, oddly, that caused it to be misunderstood.
It all reminded me of the card sitting on my doctoral supervisor's desk which said,
      "I know you think you understood what I said but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant."
It is just too easy not to communicate. 

Tuesday 12 April 2016

"Their daughter committed suicide

on Wednesday."
I had already heard about a suicide in the local district but the name of the family meant nothing to me. Now one of the local dog walkers told me this as I was pedalling to the local library. The couple, normally friendly and cheerful, had passed us on the other side of the street without looking up. It was clear that something was very, very wrong.
I have been saying a casual "Hello" and "Nice weather" and that sort of thing to them for some years. Occasionally they  have said a little more. I have helped him find things in the supermarket and chatted to her about knitting. It has all been very casual. They never offered their names and I never asked. It wasn't that sort of relationship. They knew me as "the person who writes to the papers sometimes" - but a lot of people know me as that. I don't know them. Many of them never speak to me although they will give me a friendly smile and a nod as they pass.
But these two parents have just suffered the ultimate rejection by a child and I can't even begin to imagine how it must feel. I know other people who have lost children. There is another family in the district who lost a son to suicide some years ago. They are not "over it". I doubt you "get over it". They have learned to live with it  but that is not the same thing at all.
The dog walker obviously felt uncomfortable even telling me. He isn't the sort of person who displays his emotions at all so I suspect that this had hit him hard. He has children about the same age. 
We parted.
I went to the library and then on to the Post Office. They were standing in the queue in the Post Office, heads down, not speaking. They were holding hands. 
They reached the counter, did their business and turned to leave. They had to pass me again.
And I thought, "Damn it all."
I stepped out of the queue and did something I would never have thought of doing in other circumstances. I touched him on the arm and then I hugged his wife. 
We didn't say anything at all but she went off with tears in her eyes - and her fierce grip on me in return told me everything I needed to know. 

Monday 11 April 2016

Kidnapping your own child

or children is fraught with danger. 
I haven't been following it too closely but there is a story in the media at present about a mother from Downunder who went to Beirut to, apparently, try to "rescue" her two children. They were taken to Beirut by their father - who said they were going on holiday. They did not come back.
It is a more common story than most people realise. Children do get kidnapped by their parents every day. Many of them are returned quite quickly. Others are not returned for years or are never found at all. 
Sometimes the children are the centre of a custody battle. There is another case here where a father was awarded custody. The mother has taken the two girls and is "on the run". It is clear she is being supported by people who know her and know her story - but she must still be looking over her shoulder all the time. 
People sympathise. There are people who have set up organisations whose purpose it is to kidnap the children involved and return them to the "right" parent. It is dangerous and risky work to be involved in. It can take months of preparation and split second timing at the end. It can still end in disaster.
In all this though there is something that is often left out of the reports - and that is the children themselves. Sometimes they are too young to know what is going on but, on other occasions, they do know - and it can tear them apart.
I remember meeting two adult children who had been in this position. Their father was awarded custody in the days when mothers were normally awarded custody. It was unusual enough to suggest that there was something out of the ordinary going on. 
Not long after the court order was made and while "access" visits were still being arranged their mother took them out of the country. They disappeared from view for the next six and a bit years. They moved constantly. Their mother went from one man to the next and then the next and the next. Pre-internet days the children were just bewildered and believed their mother had the right to them. 
      "She was not a good mother. We scarcely saw her at times. She drank. She tried drugs but preferred drink. We were told that our father was a bad man and that we should be very careful never to say anything or he would come and beat us up when he got out of prison. Every time, just before we moved, Mum would give us new clothes and new toys. It's obvious now that she stole most of them."
Their mother's story about their father was completely false. She was eventually caught shoplifting - perhaps not for the first time. The children were put "into care" and inquiries were started. Their father arrived soon after but it took some convincing them that he was not the sort of person their mother had made him out to be.
They are adults now but the scars are still there. I wonder what they would say of the two children in Beirut. 
Is anyone thinking of the children?

Sunday 10 April 2016

Clearing out memories is

Middle Cat and I cleared out a drawer yesterday. It has been there - untouched - since our mother died. That was over fifteen years ago.
The Senior Cat had just left it. It wasn't mine to touch - or even open.  I don't know whether he visited it often. I don't ask about those things. He tells me what he wants me to know.
Occasionally he would mention the drawer. He would say it was foolish to keep what was in it. 
      "It's just her handbags and things like that," he would say, "I'm never going to use anything in it."
I never suggested touching it and certainly never suggested throwing anything out. It could wait. If he never wanted to move anything then that was up to him.
But he has been doing a little clearing out lately. There have been piles of gardening and woodworking magazines sorted to pass on to people who will use them. There have been some wall hangings bought by my mother and never used by us. There are other things that have gone. I have said nothing. He asks if he thinks one of his children might want something. 
But he couldn't face the drawer. And then, several days ago, he said to me and Middle Cat, "I'd like you to go through that drawer - turf out anything you can't use - give it to Vinnie's or something." ("Vinnie's" is the local charity shop.) 
So, we went through the drawer. We emptied the handbags and the purses. We threw out the old handkerchiefs, the combs, an ancient packet of cough drops, and more. Most of it was perfectly ordinary, every day and not particularly interesting.
But there were other things. There were baby shoes that had belonged to Middle Cat. There was a lock of hair that belonged to the youngest of us. There was schoolwork belonging to my brother and both my sisters - stored in envelopes. There was more schoolwork belonging to my nephews  - stored in plastic. There were photographs in envelopes, her camera, and two rolls of film. There were necklaces and brooches and her watch and then her wedding and engagement ring - and my paternal grandmother's wedding and engagement ring.   There was ugly costume jewellery belonging to her mother stored in a box that I doubt even my mother had opened. There was a calculator and some newspaper cuttings in an envelope - times when members of the family had been mentioned in the press. 
We sorted things - Vinnies, to the jewellery repair place to be cleaned, to our siblings, to my BIL to sort and mount the photographs worth keeping and more. Middle Cat has taken her schoolwork to show her boys - and no, she didn't want the baby shoes. 
The Senior Cat didn't come near us. I knew he wouldn't. He was very quiet for the rest of the day. I said nothing but I did kiss the top of his head as I passed him as he sat drinking tea at the kitchen table. He grabbed my paw and squeezed it.
I wonder if he knew. There wasn't a single thing relating to me in that drawer.

Saturday 9 April 2016

You can do interesting things with "statistics"

- those numbers which are supposed to "prove" - or disprove - things.
I was required to do two courses in statistics at university - the sort of statistics  used in the social sciences. Being a curious but cautious cat I was wary of them. I am still wary of them. 
Until I went to law school I also made the completely erroneous assumption that people who taught in universities had at least a very basic understanding of what statistics could and could not do.
I then discovered that one of the most intelligent and able people on the staff did not know how to read what I thought of as a simple statistical diagram - or fully understand the significance of the results it displayed.
Fortunately for me the staff member concerned  trusted me enough to ask for an explanation. It was an uncomfortable moment for me though as the usual role of teacher and student was reversed. 
Since then I have been even more cautious and, I hope, aware of the way in which statistics are being used.
In our state newspaper this morning there is an abuse of statistics which almost defies belief. It ranks schools according to the national NAPLAN test results. The list is absolute nonsense. It does not take into account so many things that affect test performance. It puts additional pressure on teachers, on students, on principals, and more. It is dangerous to compare schools in the way this has been done.
The Senior Cat sat over his breakfast this morning and read it. He is no statistician but he was a school principal for most of his working life. He sighed and said,
       "I'm glad I'm out of it. How do you explain this to the parents?"


Friday 8 April 2016

Arrium steelworks and Whyalla

dominate the first few pages of our state newspaper this morning. For those of you in Upover I will need to explain. 
Arrium is in the hands of an administrator. It employs thousands of people across the country, a thousand of them in Whyalla. Indirectly it helps to employ thousands more. 
Arrium makes steel in Whyalla. We don't use it.
Yes, you've heard it all before.
When I was a kitten we spent two years living in a tiny rural community a very long way from the city. We travelled backwards and forwards a number of times. It was a day long journey starting at around 5am and ending in the early evening. From Whyalla onwards the road was not sealed.
Whyalla represented civilisation to us. It was the place where we stopped for petrol and milkshakes. Returning to the city I remember Whyalla rising out of the dust and heat of the semi-desert. I remember the huge "arms" of the cranes in the shipyards and the haze from the industrial section. I remember the bowsers in front of the open forecourt of the "BP" petrol station - so different from the old, old hand pump in the community we had come from.  I remember what was, to  us, an extraordinary array of goods in the shop where my parents bought the milkshakes intended to stop us from wanting anything more until we reached the city - still about five or six hours away.
And Whyalla was a busy place back then. We measured the size of places by the number of schools we had - and Whyalla had a number of primary schools, two high schools and "the Catholic place". It was "big". 
Most people were employed in the shipyards and associated industries or because of them. It was a "union" town. 
But between those trips and my leaving school some years later something happened. The shipyards started to decline first. It simply became too expensive to build ships there and to keep the associated industries going.
Whyalla has been dying with a long, slow exhalation of dust, rust, and dirt for the past half century. Governments have looked elsewhere to buy ships and steel. It's hardly surprising. It was, they thought, cheaper. Our new hospital - the most expensive in the southern hemisphere - is being built with second grade steel from China. We have been told that the steel is so poor that the hospital will probably only last fifty years. The old one has been there  longer than that and, taking everything into account, cost a good deal less to build. It was "too expensive" to use locally made steel. They didn't use it for the rail lines or a bridge either.
And now they want to "save" the steel industry. There are demands for the federal government to step in, for "the banks to do the right thing". 
It seems to me that it is a little late for that. We should have been using the steel they made there. We should have been building boats made from that steel. Perhaps the work force needed to be a little more reliable and a little less expensive too.
I know the economics are complicated but I also know that something should have been done a long time ago. CPR won't save the steel industry. It needs a heart transplant - a very expensive one.

Thursday 7 April 2016

I read several newspapers on line

because I need to. It is part of my job to know what is going on in the world. I don't read them thoroughly - from cover to cover. I ignore the sport entirely. I ignore the gossip and the advertisements. I don't usually bother with "human interest" stories either but I do read Helen Fowler's pieces about her journey with MS in the Scotsman. The last piece was about knitting, knitting as therapy. The link is at the bottom if you are interested. It brought back memories - again.
I rarely pick up my knitting without thinking of my paternal grandmother. She was the person who, oh so patiently, taught me to knit. She was the person who said, "You can" when everyone else was saying, "You can't."
I am not sure why I wanted to learn to knit. My manual dexterity as a kitten was atrocious. My writing was (and still is) appalling. I had problems with pencils, scissors, utensils, cups and just about everything else. Even relatively mild cerebral palsy can do that to you. I still have some problems with all those things but I have learned my way around them. 
But learning to knit? Knitting is a two handed activity. 
If any of you play the piano you have probably come across that exercise where you are supposed to pat your head and rub around and around your middle at the same time. Remember the first time you tried to do it? Unless  you are exceptionally gifted it probably took a little practice in order to be able to do it.
Now, try imagining that about - I don't know - twenty, thirty, forty or more times over? It was like that - and worse. 
I had to be able to hold two things in two hands. That was a problem for a start. Those things, the needles, were small. You should be able to hold them with your thumbs and forefingers. I tended to grab everything in a fist. When I did that I sometimes had problems letting go of things again. It can still happen, especially if I am tired or tense, but back then it was a bigger problem. Knitting? You have to be able to hold on to two needles and the wool. Then you  have to actually do things with the needles and the yarn. You have to be able to make small, precise movements. You need to be able to put the needle through a loop of yarn and hold it there while you put more yarn over the top of the needle and then pull the loop over top in order to make another loop. If you can knit you will know what I mean. If you can't just believe me that it does require some manual dexterity.
Just holding the needles was a challenge. Letting go was a challenge. Moving the yarn around the needle was a challenge. Getting one loop over another was, I thought, impossible. I cried enough to fill buckets with tears. I knew what to do. That was not difficult. I could explain it to other people. I just couldn't do it myself. 
My hands would jerk uncontrollably and I would lose all the stitches on the needle. I would sometimes get the working needle between two stitches - and then lose all the stitches on the working needle as I tried to pull the needle out again to put it back in the right place. 
I am not sure why I didn't give up. Perhaps it was because of my grandmother. My grandmother would give me a handkerchief, cast on some new stitches and we would both try again. We experimented with ways of holding the needles - underneath, over the top, away from my body, tight next to it. Until I grew more confident she tied my hands loosely together so they couldn't jerk apart. She would uncurl my fingers when I became so tense they would cramp up - and then help me do another stitch. She never once said, "You can't." What she did say was things like, "Well, if that didn't work we will have to find another way" and, "It doesn't matter how you do it. The only right way is the way that works for you."
And I did learn to knit in the end. By the end of the second year I had made her a "pot holder". It was a very badly knitted "square" of blue blanket weight wool. She took it from me, added padding and a backing - and  she used it. 
We moved not long after that. We moved four hundred miles away. I was on my own as far as knitting was concerned. My mother was teaching full time and running a house with four children under the age of ten.  She wasn't interested in teaching any child to knit. But Grandma supplied, needles, wool and a book of patterns intended for children. I taught myself from then on. 
I eventually improved enough to discover the joy of being able to sit and knit. I discovered it could be rhythmical and soothing. I still dropped stitches and accidentally pulled them off the needles. I still had to pull it undone and start again but I somehow knew that I was going to reach a point where I could knit well enough to find some pleasure in it.
It took a few more years. I taught myself to read a pattern, to cast on "properly", to cast (bind) off, to knit two stitches together so as to be able to shape something. I knitted clothes for dolls. (I wasn't in the least interested in dolls but the items were small and it meant I could try things out.) I didn't learn to sew things together. Knitting needles I could manage but sewing needles were too small to thread. It didn't matter. There was always a crochet hook. 
I gave up with closely following patterns at about the age of sixteen. I used them as a guide and did my own thing. It wasn't because I was confident - if anything the reverse was true. I just felt it was easier not to be bound by a pattern.
I still don't follow patterns although I write them for other people. I have progressed to making what the Senior Cat calls "that stuff with all the holes in it" (lace knitting). 
I haven't mastered one ply yarn and, realistically, I know I won't. It would be nice but it isn't worth wasting time and effort on. I still have problems and I know that teaching a class next summer is going to be a physical as well as intellectual challenge. But, I will do it. I will do it for the people who have encouraged me, most of all for my paternal grandmother because she told me I could.

And here is the link to Helen's column. It's worth reading. 


Wednesday 6 April 2016

I have been writing something difficult

- no, very difficult.
It started out because of two conversations I had. One was with the Whirlwind - now a teenager - and the other was with a friend who was once a doctor turned politician but who is now retired.
"I need some advice," the Whirlwind told me some time ago, "You will have to be "mum" for a minute."
Oh. Right. We have been through this before and since then. Sometimes  it is something small, sometimes it is something bigger. This time it was big. It was not the sort of question she could go to her father with and it was not the sort of question she would have felt comfortable asking a teacher or housemistress about. I listened. I asked questions. She came, as I hoped she would, to her own conclusion. 
I am not a mother so I have to hope I do these things in the "right" way - if there is a "right" way.  I suspect there isn't.
The other conversation made me wonder what sort of relationship other people have with their mothers. My friend has three  boys and seems to have an excellent relationship with them. They are obviously  intelligent, creative, funny and kind - just like her. They all do entirely different things and are successful in their own ways. Her delight in their achievements is obvious. They phone her. They email her. She phones them. She emails them. They communicate. They share.
I am trying not to feel envious.It frightens me a little when the Whirlwind trusts me so much. I hope, hope, hope I never betray her trust in me. I would love to have had that sort of relationship with someone - especially in my teens.  It would be wonderful to have the sort of relationship those "boys" enjoy with their mother.
But they are not the sort of relationships which make for good writing or good reading so perhaps my own experiences were better.
It's just that, sometimes, I think it would be nice to be able to tell, to share - to communicate.

Tuesday 5 April 2016

"I'll be good,"

the Senior Cat promised me, "I won't do anything I shouldn't do."
He was sitting there looking rather anxiously at me. His expression reminded me of a small boy being left alone for the first time.
Middle Cat and I have our friend H... here for a few days. It is R and R for H so we aren't planning on doing a lot anyway but we do want to do a few small things. 
One of the problems at present is leaving the Senior Cat for more than a few hours. Until he fell in the bathroom I would have been happy enough to prowl off for a (short) day and have our neighbour from across the way casually "check" on him at around lunch time. She never minds doing that. I can do other things for her in return.
I was never happy about the Senior Cat making himself a cup of tea. He insists on  using a kettle "because jugs don't boil the water properly" and that means lighting the gas and making sure it is turned off properly and... well, you get the picture? Right.
But  yesterday Middle Cat decided H....needed to see a little place she had found. I hadn't seen it either. There is a cafe to one side and a garden/pet centre to the other. 
The Senior Cat promised he would not try to make himself a cup of tea. I didn't ask our neighbour to check on him. He said he was going to have a catnap and then do some "tidying" in his bedroom.
We went off and investigated the duck, the hen, the macaw, the parrot and the two budgies who live in the pet centre. It was also "cat adoption" day. Middle Cat cuddled the black and white cat up for adoption - and would have taken it home if she didn't already have two cats.  She had one little budgie sitting on her shoulder and "talking to her". H...took photographs of the other one and the parrot said "hello" to her. We all kept a good distance from the macaw. (She is a beautiful iridescent blue but her claws and beak look dangerous.) 
I prowled the plants and trees for sale... much too expensive unfortunately or I might have come home with some. The duck quacked at me. The hen gave me a quizzical look and flip flopped off.  I wondered what the Senior Cat was doing.
We arrived back several hours later. He was sitting reading a book.
       "I didn't do anything I shouldn't have done," he told me.
I suspect he spent most of the afternoon catnapping. He had a glass of ginger beer and read. He had done no tidying up.
That was fine with me. 

Monday 4 April 2016

RIP Bob Ellis my frenemy

- I'll miss you. I am sorry you aren't going to be around for the upcoming election. You loved elections - although you hated being on the losing side. 
It took you longer to leave us than you expected. It was July last year that I wrote another blog post about you. Someone we both know showed it to you and reported back your words,
      "That bloody Cat...."
I was surprised you even remembered me after all that time, especially as we always argued. It didn't stop you once ordering me to entertain Jenny, still in nappies, so that you could take Anne to talk to someone. 
      "Make up a story," you told me. It was, I think, intended as a compliment. There was no way you were going to directly admit I might be able to write something.
Your politics were so far left you found it difficult -  if not impossible - to see the middle ground. "Goodbye Jerusalem" deserve to be pulped. You had gone too far. Did you know that? Did you regret having written it?
After I had written the other blog post last year our mutual friend showed you. Your reaction was perhaps typical Bob,
      "Bloody Cat can write - but don't tell her that until I go. I don't want to have another bloody argument with her."
So last night there was an email from our mutual friend with those words and "he respected you".
That surprises me. Perhaps we were "frenemies". I'll miss his acerbity.

Sunday 3 April 2016

The Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara

lands are in the northwest of the state. They were returned to the indigenous people of the area in 1981 under a special Land Rights Act. You need a permit to enter the area and non-indigenous people who work in the area also need a permit.
It's remote, inhospitable country. You can find just eleven small communities on the map, some of these don't have as much as a shop. (By "small" I mean around 50 to 100 people. Numbers vary as people travel in from the desert and leave again.) A small plane might fly in once a week. Those planes bring mail, might carry a passenger, and may bring something essential. That's about it. 
The communities are not safe places. They are often violent. Domestic abuse abounds. Alcohol abuse is a major concern. Getting the children to attend school is a constant problem. Once the children are there teachers are faced with other challenges. The children almost always come from families where the education of the parents is limited. There is no tradition of "work" in the sense that we understand it. Schooling is conducted in the local language and resources are limited by that and other things.
Non indigenous people who work in these communities are different. They need to be. They are facing isolation and hardship. It is dangerous out there.
I remember when the postings were given out to my fellow students at the end of their teacher training. One of the boys was posted to "Indulkana". He didn't even know where to find it on the map. He was expected to go and teach there in his first year out. Now  you would get extra training and the resources are different. There was no such thing then. He resigned on the spot and would have had to pay his "bond" (the money given him to train as a teacher) back. He said he couldn't do it. He didn't know enough.
The Senior Cat's first appointment was to Oodnadatta. It is in the north of the state too but it was on the railway line to Darwin. He endured it for a year and was then transferred somewhere else. 
I suspect it was  used as a testing ground for young teachers thought to have promise. If they could survive that they should be able to run a school later. (He did. He was eventually head of one of the biggest and most complex schools in the state.)
But I wonder about the people who now choose to go to these places. You no longer get sent. Attitudes towards what should happen there have changed. The Senior Cat taught everyone in English. He knows not one word of any indigenous language. There were no resources. It was much the same for those who provided the limited medical and legal services.
It is supposed to be easier now. 
I don't think it is. A "pirinpa", an outsider, was murdered recently. She was nurse and she has allegedly been murdered by a local indigenous man. The rest of the community is angry with the man and want to deal with him themselves. (He would likely lose his hands in a tribal ceremony.) It is going to make for tense relations between communities and families and  outsiders for months to come. 
An indigenous man I know who lives in the city, a fluent speaker of  a local indigenous language, expressed his concerns to me in an email. He wants to see language and culture preserved but he worries about how it can be done without dividing those who live in the APY lands still further from the rest of the community. 
"Isolation and language divide us," he told me.