Thursday 30 June 2016

Two days to go before we vote

in yet another election. I think most people will be breathing a sigh of relief this morning. There was a "media blackout" from midnight. The parties can no longer air election advertising - those lies they tell us before we vote. 
I am pretty well immune to advertising. Cynical? I suppose so. I remember one of my lecturers at teacher training college writing me a little "poem" on something I had written. It ended "you so cynical and you so young?" Perhaps I have always been a cynic. Even as as small child though I expected promised things would not happen - perhaps because I knew however hard I tried I was not going to be able to do some things and that I would not do others as well as I would like to have done.
I suspect government is rather like that. Ms Whirlwind is not the first child to say to me, "Why don't they do what they promise?" I can remember trying to explain very carefully and in very apolitical terms why it happens to an entire class of children aged around eleven. One of the boys looked at me and said, "Why do people bother to vote then?" My answer to that was, "In this country attendance at the ballot box is compulsory." They were confused. I don't blame them.
There are people who go into parliament with good intentions, very good intentions. They really believe they can make a difference - and perhaps they do. There are many more who go in for other reasons. I once knew a child whose stated intention was "to be Prime Minister and then I can tell people what to do". (He's a union boss these days.) 
I know a number of politicians and former politicians from across the political spectrum. I count two (from opposing sides) as good friends. Those two in particular have talked to me at length about their work in politics. They knew there would be limits on what they could do before they entered politics. Even so I think they hoped to achieve more than they did. I think they also expected to be disappointed. 
And I know that we will all be disappointed by the election results on Saturday. Even if "our side" forms government there will be limits on what they can do. 
Perhaps it is time to sit down and watch "Yes Minister" again?

Wednesday 29 June 2016

The new voting system for the Senate

is still causing seemingly endless confusion. 
At one level it sounds simple. You now put the numbers from one to at least six "above the line" (a vote for parties) or from one to at least  twelve "below the line" (a vote for individuals). 
The problem is that I have spent multiple elections telling people with some intellectual and learning disabilities to "just put a one next to the group of people you want to win". Right.
So, I  head out to yet another "group" house - a residence for a group of people with disabilities, supposedly an ordinary looking suburban house where they supposedly mix with the rest of the community in an ordinary way. This doesn't happen of course but bear with me...they live there, after a fashion.
There is the usual pile of dirty dishes in the sink and piles of dirty laundry in the living area. At least they are all out of bed this morning. That may be because they know I am coming. 
We sit at the kitchen table and I explain to all of them and then each of them in turn. I help them individually to fill out their practice sheets - the sheets they will take with them so that they can vote the way they choose by copying what we have put there. Their reasons for voting are interesting. One young woman tells me she is voting for a certain candidate "because he looks nice" and another tells me of another candidate "he's too old". They have no idea what the party policies are but they have a vote. We have to respect that.
And then there is the boy who, having slowly and carefully told me what he wants and who is the only one in this group who has any idea why he is voting and what the policies are, says to me in a very worried way, "What if I forget how to write the numbers."
"You can copy them from this page," I tell him. He frowns. He picks up the pencil and attempts to do it. He gets one number - the six - back to front. I tell him it won't matter - and it won't. His  intention is clear.  
I tell him that, at the polling booth, he is allowed to take his time. He sighs. "Should have done it like my Nana". His grandmother had a postal vote. 
I can only agree. Someone else, not me, decided that going to the polling booth would be "an experience" for this particular group. They would have found postal votes easier and less stressful and, managed in a certain way, we might have been able to ensure that their votes did not get used by other people.
I leave their choices on the sheets we have filled out in sealed envelopes on their refrigerator door. Now I have to hope that at least one of their carers will do the right thing on Saturday and give them the envelopes so that they can fill out their own ballot papers or that someone else will follow their instructions. I am far from certain about this but at least I will have tried.
I don't care which way around the last boy - he's only 22 - has written that six though. Those counting will know what he intends and he has actually thought about what he is doing. That counts. 

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Free Trade Agreements

are part of the modern world - whether we like it or not.
I remember the title of a doctoral thesis I once co-supervised. It was "Post World War 2 trade relations between Australia, Japan and the United States with special reference to the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade". It was being written by a student from Japan. My role in the supervision was to try and make his tortuous English readable. In doing so I kept on challenging his ideas as well. I had to or what he put on to paper simply would not have made sense in English. I can only assume that it made sense when he wrote it in Japanese - which he then translated into English. 
In doing what I did I managed to learn rather a lot about a topic I knew absolutely nothing about when I started. It was quite different from my usual areas of supervision. I don't want to repeat the experience but I am now glad I did it because Free Trade Agreements are now under discussion again.
The leader of one particular political party wants to see Downunder's Free Trade Agreements with China, Japan and South Korea dismantled. It has taken years to negotiate these. What is in them is not all advantageous to Downunder. No FTA works like that. The reality however is that if we don't have some sort of FTA agreement in place it is going to be much more difficult to do business with these countries. Other areas of the world will simply move in instead. 
Downunder is already at a disadvantage in terms of doing business with the rest of the world. Only our Kiwi friends across the pond are in a similar position. We don't have large populations and lack the buying power which makes it worth doing business with us. We are, relatively speaking, geographically isolated which makes it more expensive to get goods moving. And yes, we are expensive in the sense that our standard of living has been very high and the wages we pay are very high. Our manufacturing base has diminished largely because similar goods can be produced much more cheaply in other parts of the world. If, on top of all this, we don't have FTAs we won't do business with the rest of the world.
It is unlikely that Nick Xenophon would achieve his goal of dismantling the FTAs.  He must know that. Nevertheless he also knows that it will be an attractive idea for people who yearn for the protectionist policies of the past. His party might also gain just enough seats to be able to make waves with respect to FTAs. They might only be small waves but they could do considerable harm.
FTAs aren't perfect. They aren't some sort of panacea which makes business easy. Good business is never easy. It's hard work, especially if you want to do it with those whose language, culture and work ethic is very different from your own. It is worth noting though that both the major parties have worked on these FTAs. They know that they are an essential part of how international business is done. What we now have to do is work within them to our advantage. 

Monday 27 June 2016

Travelling with children

is not something for which I have ever taken direct responsibility. I don't think it is something I would wish to do. I have heard some horror stories.
There have been some occasions in my life when I have been involved with other people's children. That is enough. On one occasion I was left quite literally nursing the baby while a mother dealt with a screaming two year old in a plane. Fortunately it was a short trip. I only had to hold the baby for a couple of hours. The poor mother, travelling alone, had to hold the child. (His ears were worrying him.)
Yesterday however there was a phone call. "It's C.... we were wondering if the Senior Cat was up to a short visit?"
Of course. We haven't seen C and her family since they came back from Europe some weeks ago. C is Spanish and they decided to get the three children to Spain to see relatives before the eldest turned twelve and they had to pay adult fares and fees for everything. I had wondered how they would go. The children don't speak Spanish. Their father does not speak Spanish. As the younger two children are only eight (twins) I suspected it would be an interesting experience for all. 
Their parents spent a lot of time planning the trip. Spain was not the only destination. They went to France, Italy, Norway, England and, on the way home, Thailand. The children were out of school for seven weeks - but they were learning all the time. Their parents saw to that. They did maths and language as well as history and geography. They discovered new cultures, new food and new people. They learned about the need to watch out for each other in strange places where they did not speak the language or know anyone else. They learned about the need to take great care not to lose their possessions.
And they have, quite suddenly, "grown up" rather a lot. The twins went away as "small" children. They came back with confidence, bursting with enthusiasm. They want to go back-to see their new found relatives and to see more history, experience more new foods and find new places to explore. They had "so much to tell" us. The words tumbled out rolling over one another almost at the speed of sound.
Their father admitted that it had been a lot of work. It had, in a way, been exhausting but it had also been worth every bit of work and every cent it had cost. Their children are different now, different in the best possible way. They are excited about the world and want to know more. I hope it stays that way.


Sunday 26 June 2016

The Brexit referendum is not

binding on Westminster. Let's take a look?
In the UK there is no compulsion to attend the ballot box. That means only 71% of the population voted. (It's still a lot higher than the US attendance at the ballot box.) In Downunder the percentage is much higher because there is compulsory attendance at the ballot box. (It is NOT compulsory voting because nobody can compel you to mark the ballot paper.)
I am now trying to find some official statistics on who voted in the referendum because I think they may be interesting. There is evidence to suggest that, of the young people who voted, three out of four voted to Remain. But how many young people voted? Older people are being blamed for Brexit but is that the entire story? Perhaps it is time to turn some attention to those who didn't vote, wouldn't vote, or couldn't vote?
And, as I pointed out, the referendum result is not binding on Westminster. It might seem too late now but is it really? There are some interesting things going on. The rest of the EU seems to be anxious to be rid of the UK but is it really? As someone pointed out to me in a tweet this might be more about saving the EU from further disintegration. A certain Dutch politician is already calling for "Nexit" and a French politician wouldn't mind testing "Frexit". 
Remember how close they came to "Grexit" in Greece too. 
I think it suggests two things. The first is that Germany's Angela Merkel is worried about her own job. Having "lost" the UK she desperately needs to keep the rest of the EU together. I suspect France's Hollande (and Valls) feel the same way - and that Le Pen sees it as green light to try again. Similar situations exist in other countries but these two are the most powerful.
The second thing however is even more serious, much more serious. The vote has told the EU that there is something wrong with the EU itself. It isn't working as it was intended to work. Too much control has been ceded to a central authority but it isn't achieving anything. The EU is bogged down in a mass of rules and regulations. Many colleagues in Europe have complained to me about these. I have complained too. Far from streamlining procedures I have found myself filling out forms for a local authority, the country, the EU, another country and another local authority. I sometimes need to do that even though I am not being paid and won't have anything to do with the project beyond providing some communication assistance. If the EU worked as it should then surely I should only be filling out one set of forms at that end? Of course it won't work like that. Countries don't want to give up their powers. They want the advantages while still retaining control. It's that word "sovereignty" which counts for most people.
Referenda are not binding on Westminster. The results are there for parliament to consider. They could be used as a tool but it seems that, faced with a knife, politicians of all persuasions are simply giving in. I know one of my friends in Scotland has said that to ignore the results would not be democratic but there are questions of responsibility here.  
What I would really like to know  though is an answer to these questions. What percentage of people aged 24 and under voted? What percentage of people aged 31 and under  voted? If they had all voted could they have made a difference? It was their future they were, and could have been, voting on. 

Saturday 25 June 2016

So why did Brexit

win over Remain?
I have been pondering this. I had thought the result would be close but I thought and hoped it might be the other way around. Were there just too many people who thought, "It won't happen. I needn't bother to vote" - or what?
Seriously, I think there might be a number of reasons. One of them perhaps is that Britain was not a member of the European Union from the beginning. It didn't get invited. They were told "you aren't really European". Later, when Europe saw some economic advantages, they were permitted to join. It's a bit like the footballer who is not on the team to begin with but who gets brought on when an advantage is seen in having that player there but who is still not given due credit for the contribution they make. "You're not really part of the team. We only want you for the skills you have." Is that the view some people hold? Do (too many) people resent that?
Did a lot of people believe that Britain was putting more into the EU than it was getting out of it? It seemed to be one of the points Brexiters were making.
And then there is the issue of  the sort of country Britain is perceived to have come. Like this one it is perceived to be full of migrants - and yes, a lot of people are migrants. Britain has always been full of migrants. My far distant ancestors were Norse. They ended up in the far north of Scotland too far back for the records to go but evidenced by my family and clan name.
The problem is that many people see more recent migrants as having changed the country in ways they are not comfortable with. At least some of these people are perfectly ordinary, sensible people. They aren't racists or bigots. What bothers many of them is the perception that they have invited these migrants to enter their "home" and now find that, having accepted the invitation, the guests expect to be entertained on their own terms rather than those of their hosts. They are seen as wanting their own room rather than mixing with the members of the household. They are seen as wanting to do things their way be it in dress, food, culture, religion, education, values, beliefs or even the law.
For all we claim to be a "multi cultural" society the same problem exists here. I suspect it exists wherever there are migrants, especially large numbers of migrants. I know large numbers of migrants. They take widely differing views on whether things like their language, culture and traditions should be preserved. Perhaps the question being asked however is the wrong one. It isn't "should" but "why" and then "how" these things should be preserved. If the end result is separation and isolation or it is done from a desire to dominate or control then there will be suspicion and resentment.
Is that what caused Brexit?
I know the blame is being laid at the feet of the likes of David Cameron. Some are saying he shouldn't have held a referendum at all. Some are saying he  should have ignored the disquiet. Others are saying he is too "privileged" to know what ordinary people are thinking. It is probably easy to blame Cameron if you don't vote Tory - just as we would blame our Prime Minister for a similar outcome.
The reality however is that British Labour supported Remain too. So did many other high profile people. They worked together on this but it still didn't succeed. The "ordinary" voters sent their leaders a powerful message. It was a message that needs to be heeded.
But the Brexit vote isn't the end of the road by any means. Yes there was a major financial reaction yesterday because investors panicked. There was actually no need to panic because, for now, very little changes. Very little may change in the future. It is even possible that Brexit might not occur - although some would say that is unlikely.
What the Brexit vote has done is challenge the status quo. It may well presage the break up of the European Union. Those who have the capacity to do something about this now need to ask "why" people voted the way they did. The answers may be uncomfortable but they need to be addressed - here as well as there.

Friday 24 June 2016

Scientific research cannot be done

without access to the proper facilities.
My doctor nephew is doing some research at present. Like any intelligent young doctor he knows that he needs to know more. If the young doctor plans to "specialise" then research is essential.
The same is true in other areas. There was a time when it was considered that simply going to university and getting a first degree was enough to get a good job - sometimes a very good job. People rose to the very top with just that.
Now that is just the first step on the ladder. You go from a "Bachelor" degree to a "Master" degree to a "Doctor". And even that is not enough in the world of academia because there are always "post-doctoral studies". 
I have not done "post-doctoral studies" - well, not formally at university. I have done plenty of study. It's been essential. 
But I don't work in science. I work in psychology, linguistics and communication. It's simple stuff compared with the sort of thing my nephew is doing. He spends his days in a darkened lab staring down a microscope and counting cells. He has to do the same thing over and over again with just the smallest of variations. It is not "exciting". 
I remember one of my fellow students in London complaining to one of our lecturers that they had thought research would be "exciting". No, it isn't. Most of the time it is, quite frankly, boring. It just has to be done. The outcome might be exciting or lead to something exciting but the process is not exciting. 
And it gets worse when you don't have the proper facilities to do it. My nephew is working in difficult conditions now. They are about to get worse. The new facilities they are supposed to move into are actually smaller than those they now work in. His supervising professor has tried to explain that there isn't sufficient space to do what they are now doing let alone expand their work. He has been saying this since the design of the new building was first made known. The planners and architects didn't listen. Why?
There's no money either. When he is not at the lab my nephew works in hospitals - in order to be able to eat. Soon though he also has to do an extended stint to replace a Registrar going on leave and, due to the peculiarities of the system, he won't get paid for doing it - you see at the beginning of the year he was supposed to get a research grant to cover his expenses but it hasn't "come through" yet. 
I wonder about all this. He isn't the only young doctor in this position. I know that. He knows that.
I also know that when I need to go and see a doctor I expect them to be well trained and very competent. Isn't it time we at least paid them so they can do their job?

Thursday 23 June 2016

We go to the polls

on July 2nd - to elect a new federal parliament. The polls are mixed  but, for the most part, indicate a "tight" race. Neither side has yet delivered a decisive blow - and perhaps they won't. There is talk of a "hung parliament" and about excessive power resting with smaller parties who are able to promise the earth (and beyond) knowing that they will never have to deliver it.
Both the major parties are lying in the lead up to the election. They are saying things they know are not true. They are also making promises they can't keep and don't intend to even try and keep. They are promising to spend money that don't have.
Yes, it is standard political game playing. I know that. Most people know. We will make our decisions based on any number of factors. I've done my homework. I'll try and make an informed decision and implement it on polling day. The Senior Cat will do the same. He is, even at 93, still taking an intelligent interest in what people are saying, doing, and demanding.
But, I still have a problem with all this. As I mentioned a short time ago it is my responsibility to ensure that some people with disabilities know how to fill in their ballot papers. Ballot papers for the Senate must now be filled in differently from before. This has confused many people. The advertising by the Australian Electoral Commission has confused them too - or is simply not reaching them. It isn't what they have been told to do for years.
We have given these people a vote. They have the right to a vote. And it has to be their vote. It can't be the vote of the people who care for them.
"What are they promising Cat?" one person asked me. He's smart enough in his own way. His reading skills are limited but he knows about differences and choice and party promises. 
I have explained. I know which way he voted last time because he asked me to go with him. It was, as far as it could be, an informed decision for him. He probably put more thought into it than many people who always vote for a particular political party without giving it any thought at all. 
"I don't understand Cat," someone else told me, "Can't I just put it there like always?" 
I explain again...and again. 
I have now printed off a list which shows the order the candidates appear on the ballot paper. It seems to me that this will be the easiest way to help those who can fill in their own ballot papers but still need some help. We can sit there with the list. They can decide and write the numbers next to their choice of candidates. They can take that list with them when they vote and simply copy the numbers into the relevant squares on the ballot paper. 
I mentioned this to the Senior Cat. 
       "I was going to do the same thing," he told me. 
Perhaps the AEC should have been suggesting this to everyone.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Election posters

or,  in Upover, referendum posters are all over the place. 
Someone mentioned that their referendum poster had been torn down. Presumably the vandal disagreed with the sentiment on it. 
The election date here had not even been officially announced when the first "corflutes" started to appear. 
They are called corflutes because of the material they are made from. They aren't indestructible but they are weatherproof. If they don't get vandalised then they are generally good for at least two election cycles. They are, as intended, eye-catching.
In my state in Downunder most of them get attached to "Stobie" poles. (The concrete and metal poles which carry the power lines across most suburbs.) Occasionally they appear on fences or other prominent places. Two or three can appear together - from different political parties.
Do they do any good? I don't know. I know my old federal MP quite well. I knew him before he entered politics. I have, quite by chance, met the candidate for his party. I have seen the "independent" candidate. I have  not seen or met the other candidates. I doubt I will.
But I won't go around defacing their election posters. I don't agree with the policies all parties are espousing but they have the right to state them. They have a right to be seen and to be heard. I have the right to be informed. I have the right to make up my own mind.  
Defacing an election poster is an act of violence. It may be seen as a "minor" thing but it is still an act of violence - against everyone else. 
In a democracy we have the right to know who the people asking to be allowed to represent us are - and what they stand for. If you deface an election poster then I will think less of you than the face on the poster.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Please do your paper work

because I need to do mine!
A friend in the UK wrote yesterday and asked if I could find some information for him. His aunt died recently. He is the executor of her will and he needs information from a bank here. 
He sent all the necessary paper work and has since contacted the bank on two more occasions. There has been no response.  
I sent the information he asked for as soon as I could get it.
I hate paperwork. I loathe filling out forms. I detest dealing with finances. I would make a totally lousy treasurer for anyone else. 
Recently though I have had to do the banking for the Senior Cat. He hasn't been able to get to the bank because he has not, until recently, been allowed to ride his gopher - the only way he can get to the bank unless someone takes him in a car.  
I have an Enduring Power of Attorney and also a bank Authority to Act. The Senior Cat has issued purrs of instruction and I have duly obliged. I have made sure that all the usual receipts and information are available. As I usually see one of two people in the bank he uses this is not difficult. They know him - and me. The paperwork is up to date.
But I wonder what would happen if I was on the other side of the world and there was no relative left here? Would the bank be so careful, so compliant?
I  suspect not. I suspect the answer would be a shrug and a "we'll get around to that later". They would take the attitude that the face-to-face customers matter more. They would let the rest pile up.
I say this because it is true of all sorts of things. In my job I do a lot of paperwork. Some of it is repetitious - so much so that I have several forms stored in the computer and already filled out apart  from some details as to whom I am doing the particular task for this time. There are (too many) times when I come across something new and (far too many) times when people ask me for information they do not need.
I was helping to design a form recently. Another person on the team said something to the effect of "I suppose we have to start with all the usual things..."  and two more of us said, "Hold it right there. This needs to be as simple as possible."
So we haven't asked for age or sex or a street address or a number of other things. They don't matter in the context of this form. We know that information is already held by the organisation. We have a contact for them - and an alternative contact. We know which languages they are able to work in and the level of assistance they need in others. There are one or two other pieces of information vital for the work they will be doing. That is all we asked for. It is all we needed.  
Most people returned their paperwork on time. Someone else still had to chase a few people. There were comments though - comments that the form was "nice and short" and "that only took a couple of minutes". 
It made me think yet again that we often ask for information we don't need, don't and won't use. We ask for it because we have always asked for it. It's assumed that we need it.
I wonder what information is asked for  by the bank my friend is dealing with. Are they suffocating under an overload of unnecessary information? Is that why they haven't responded? 
Or has someone just thought, "I'll get around to that sometime..."?

Monday 20 June 2016

Brexit, exit, polls, politics

and more. Yes, I am watching.
My cousin in London tells me he thinks Remain will win - but that the result will be close. A friend in the UK has just posed the interesting question of "what would happen if the result came out exactly 50-50?" I am assuming he means an exactly even number of  votes for and against. Hmmm....
It would be better for everyone if there was a decisive vote - one way or the other. 
Of course even that doesn't ensure that those on the losing side won't try again. Remember that vote we had about Downunder becoming a republic? A majority of people in every state and territory voted against the proposal. Those who want a republic are still pushing the issue. Their argument was that it was the way the question was asked, the proposal which was put, that people really did want a republic it was just that.... They are simply unwilling to accept the result.
In this state we have a government that was formed on a minority of the votes. It was just that they managed to get a majority of the seats - and then shore up their support with the help of people who perhaps should have shown more respect for democracy over personal power.
I have my doubts about the EU as an effective body. Those doubts are perhaps similar to my doubts about the UN - a body I know perhaps too much about.  Both need reform - major reform.
Both started out with good intentions perhaps but they are simply too diverse. Some countries are simply more powerful than others. It means that, inevitably, they will dictate - at least to some degree. They will not want to give up the power they have in favour of a reformed organisation that may actually achieve more of the goals and objectives in the original plan. Whichever way the Brexit vote goes things will not be the same again.
And here Downunder we are perhaps moving in a similar direction. We could have a hung parliament. The current Prime Minister holds views more in keeping with the Opposition - and is much less likely to listen to the views of his party than previous Prime Ministers of either persuasion. He may win the election but it may not be a win for democracy if he is able to impose his views against those of his party. 
That question of "what happens if..." is interesting because it doesn't need to be an even vote for the minority to succeed in imposing their point of view.

Sunday 19 June 2016

Lost and abandoned blogs

are strewn across the internet. Some of them are barely there. Their owners were perhaps never terribly interested in them. Others started out well but their owners feel they no longer have anything to say. They have stopped abruptly. Some  have just faded away gradually. The posts have become less and less frequent.
I was reminded of all this yesterday when someone asked me about a blog post I had written some time ago. What, he wanted to know, had I done about the issue I had talked about?
I went back and re-read what I had written at the time and sent him a brief answer. I had an answer back "Thanks. I am still catching up on your blog posts."
Oh. Right.
I went to the list at the side of my blog's "dashboard" and looked at the list there. Had I been reading the blogs? Yes I had - or, at very least, glancing at them. 
It hasn't been difficult because so many of the people I was once interested in have not written anything for a long time. I know some won't. They have moved on to other things. They have changed the way they blog or gone from one blogging site to another. I have left some of them where they are because there are things I might want to refer to again some time. 
But there are others who will probably never revive their blogs. They seemed so enthusiastic once. They even threw "blog parties" - and I am grateful for that because I found some very interesting people - which I "attended"with some difficulty because of the difference in time zones.  It was fun at the time but nobody throws blog parties any more. 
Perhaps it is just as well. All this writing of blogs and reading them takes time. 
I suspect those who have ceased to write their own blogs have also ceased to read this one and many others besides.
I wonder what those abandoned blogs do. Do they sit there gathering dust? Do they sneeze occasionally?

Saturday 18 June 2016

Conspiracy theories, religious extremism, excuses

and more excuses, wild theories, bigotry, hatred, political extremism, mental illness....and more. I think I have heard it all this week.
There have been all sorts of statements flying around in the news media, on social media, and in the community. Our politicians have been making "careful" statements about "the situation". Anyone "speaking out" is liable to be criticised.
I met a Muslim friend in the post office yesterday. We gave one another a hug - and it felt good. Other people stared at us - perhaps because she wears long grey garments and the hijab. She is a very traditional Muslim in many respects but I know there are things that worry her. I also know that she has been poorly treated because of the way she dresses. It's her choice. It wouldn't be mine but it is hers. 
Ramadan was tough this year. Her children are teenagers now. They are questioning all sorts of things. Her daughter won't wear the hijab to school. "And I can't make her do this. It has to be her choice."
Her son refuses to fast during Ramadan. He says it is not a healthy choice for an active teenage boy.
I wonder what, if anything, her children believe - and whether they will grow back into their religion as they get older. I also wonder what her husband thinks. I have only met him a few times - and briefly at that. He's quiet when I am there. I have no idea what he is like at home.
I wonder too what I would think if my friend's son was suddenly arrested for plotting some sort of terrorist act or, worse still, participating in one. I suspect the immediate reaction of some people would be "oh, he's Muslim. It was bound to happen at some time."
I think I'd wonder if he had become influenced by other people. Is his love of soccer what causes him to listen to the coach when he talks to the team about eating properly - and thus not fasting during Ramadan?
We can't always know what influences other people. Wild conspiracy theories don't help. They are rarely accurate. But I also know that trying to remain silent on some issues is not helping. Those "careful" statements about "the situation" can make matters worse. 
When the police suggest that, yes they are investigating "X" or "Y" theory rather than "Z" too many people will take it as fact.  It doesn't matter to them that it is only a line of investigation. If it fits with their own beliefs so much the better.
This morning I had an email from a friend in England. He told me that certain theories were being pursued in respect of the death of Jo Cox. He doesn't know if any of them are true. He just wants them to make a thorough investigation. He is more worried about the mental health of some of his clients and the way the media reporting is affecting them. I would be worried too.
I know I need to view media reports through a different sort of lens. I need to ask,
          "Where is the evidence for that statement?"
Finding the evidence can be hard but I have to do it. It's the only responsible thing to do.

Friday 17 June 2016

RIP Jo Cox

I am stunned and appalled.
I had very brief contact with Jo Cox several years ago - in the aid context. I cannot honestly say I "knew" her  but the brief contact was friendly, polite, efficient, and very definitely interested in the needs of other people. I liked her "Yes, we can do that" attitude. An aid worker was able to go out and do great good because she gave a little help.
The world needs people like that.
Jo is not the first person I have had contact with to die in violent circumstances. I have lost several colleagues that way. It's one of the things about aid work, especially aid work in war zones. Sometimes the people who go out to help die. 
It isn't always something you hear about.  They go to dangerous places, into war zones and places where disease, hunger and poverty is so great that anyone who has anything of value is at risk. Their help, however necessary, isn't always welcome. How often do rebels want to prevent aid getting through? How often do proud people resent the need for external assistance when they  are used to do everything for themselves? 
Aid work isn't romantic. It isn't fun. It's a deadly serious and often very dangerous business. Even when it is relatively safe it is about work - working long hours, often in uncomfortable conditions. I will forever remember the e-mail I had from a doctor who has given up part of his  holiday each year to work in Africa, "They've built a tiny room for me to sleep in. It has a bed - luxury." Until then he had slept on the hospital floor. There had always been something more important to build.
Jo should not have died like that. England is supposed to be "safe".  It is supposed to be a place of open hands reaching out to grasp other open hands. It isn't supposed to be a place of clenched fists. Downunder is supposed to be a place of open hands too. We can't work with fists clenched around knives and guns.
I am not sure what "safe" is any more but I know it involves open hands and reaching out.

Thursday 16 June 2016

"I want some antibiotics"

a neighbour told me yesterday. She was on her way to the doctor. She has a heavy cold - but no worse than the one I have been nursing for the past ten days. 
Apparently antibiotics will work for her. They won't work for me. You see I have a cold, a proper cold. I am still snuffling and occasionally sneezing. I am coughing and I feel fuzzy headed - which probably shows in the way I am writing this. 
I also know that, given time, lots of fluids and the occasional pill for headache and general aches and pains relief, I will recover. It's annoying, especially when I have a lot to do but...I will recover. Antibiotics are not going to help me. 
I have had just one lot of antibiotics in the last sixteen years - and I cannot remember when I had any before that. On the occasion I had them I was really ill.  I actually needed antibiotics unless I wanted to end up in hospital and put the Senior Cat there out of worry as well.  Fortunately for me the antibiotics worked on that occasion and I was back to prowling quietly around within a few days. A couple of weeks later I was my usual self. 
I can remember the doctor saying to me, "I don't really want to prescribe these but I think you are sick enough to need them."
It's an attitude I like.
I get annoyed when people demand antibiotics simply in the hope they will feel better faster, simply because they don't like feeling sick.  It's not fair on the rest of us.
We need antibiotics. We need them for the people who really need them. We need them to ensure that people who are already in a poor state of health have the capacity to fight infections. We need them for cancer patients and people with chronic diseases or suppressed immune systems. 
We don't need them for otherwise healthy people who simply don't like being sick for a short time. The excuse that they can't miss work or that there is nobody else to care for family might sound good but it isn't really doing anyone any favours. 
But my neighbour went off to the doctor and, no doubt, got her antibiotics. I put the rubbish into the recycle bin and prowled back into the house wishing I had some antibiotics, some magic pills that  would make me feel instantly better.
It's not going to happen. It would be selfish to take antibiotics. I also hope that if I don't take them now and I ever do get ill enough to need them then my own ability to fight infection will be a little better for not having taken them earlier.
Well I am telling myself that anyway.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

I could not live with

any of my siblings. They would drive me crazy very quickly. I am not in the least bit like any of them. 
Brother Cat (next in line) and I are the closest but his taste in music and his love of motorbikes and the like are not my "cup of tea". His reading tastes are different too - but at least he does read when he gets time.  I suspect, if he lived close enough, he would hand over the grandfatherly baby sitting duties. He loves his grandchildren but day long, night long duties are more than he cares for when there are other things to be done - such as household maintenance (not his own - but theirs.) 
Youngest Cat also lives in another state. This is a fortunate state of affairs. I like dogs but I have no desire to live with three. Her interests and mine are so far apart that I don't feel we communicate at all. She doesn't read...the only one of us who doesn't. I suspect that's the problem.
And Middle Cat? Well Middle Cat lives not far from here. She reads but not as much as Brother Cat or me. Her tastes in reading are also entirely different. She occasionally, very occasionally, tries to recommend a book to me. I have tried - and discarded. Life is too short to read things I do not need to read or wish to read. 
The Senior Cat reads  prodigiously. Even when he was in  hospital with that bang on the head he wanted something to read. He has a pile by his chair. Another pile by his bead. There is a third pile on the dressing table. Some of it is  serious non-fiction - philosophy, theology, psychology. There's an autobiography there and a gardening book. 
I am not particularly interested in what the Senior Cat reads. Some of it - yes, we discuss it. I rarely read it all but I will glance at it, read a chapter here and there. I don't have the time to read it all. I am reading other things. He glances at them. He loves language but not linguistics. He never studied a modern language and now remembers little of his Latin - although he probably remembers more than most people have forgotten.
I showed him something I was working on the other day. There was Arabic and Turkish in there - languages I know almost nothing about. He shook his head.
But we could still talk about it. Where was it going? Who was going to  use it? Why? How had the vocabulary been chosen?
I can't do that with any of my siblings. I can't do it with anyone else I know. There are people I might do it with but the one here who might take an intelligent interest would not have time and the others live too far away. 
Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I had a sibling I could talk to!

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Basic arithmetic

tells me that  I need to knit a little everyday to reduce the amount left to knit. This will of course only happen if I do not add to the current amount of yarn to be knitted. (Okay, I did order a small cone - a mere 150gms - yesterday but it is a mixture of merino and  yak and my friend C is currently in Mongolia doing something with  yaks. She has also done rather a lot for me in recent months so she needs to be rewarded  and finding something labelled "yak" seemed fortuitous. It will be knitted for her.
But, no more yarn. I will not buy any more yarn. I have enough yarn. 
I gave away a good deal of yarn earlier this year. It was yarn which had been given to me. Knitters will know the sort of thing I mean. It comes with the "I thought you might like this. I found it in the charity shop." and "I've been clearing out Mum's/Aunty's/sister's/cousin's "stuff" and there's a heap of knitting wool and...." All too often the "wool" turns out to be acrylic and better used for pet blankets. That's all right. I know people who knit and crochet pet blankets.
I am currently knitting a shawl out of merino-mohair mix. It is nice yarn but very fine. I need to watch each stitch. It isn't exactly fun. There are a thousand metres of the stuff to be knitted up. It's a sample for my friend who runs the stalls at fairs around the country.
I have made the cotton hat she asked me for and I am, I hope, about a quarter of the way through this. A little each day will do it. I know that, at the other end, I should be able to do something I want to do.
It is something I thought about as I read a slew of letters in the paper this morning. One of the regular correspondents had written a letter supporting the financial record of her side of politics. The problem was that she had not checked the actual figures  or, if she had, she thought other people would not. I read through other letters - one from someone who had obtained the official Treasury figures. 
They didn't make happy reading. We have accumulated too much debt. We are not paying it off. I know we won't pay it off  under either  side - and the minor parties would have us spending even more. 
It makes me feel guilty about  that cone of yak/merino. I didn't really need to get it. I know I could have used something else. C....wouldn't have minded. Telling myself that it was special because it is "yak" was just an excuse.
All I can think of now is that at least it was not quiviut (the incredibly expensive under hair of the musk ox) and I can turn it into something of value.
But can we do the same with the budget - or will that new "150gms" or billion or two be wasted? 

Monday 13 June 2016

A letter to my American friends

- and you are many. This morning I would like to hug each one of you and say, "I am so sorry this has happened again". 
I know that public figures are going to get up and say things like "it has to stop" and "never again" and "ban all Muslims from entering" and much, much more.
It won't stop. It will happen again. You can't ban Muslims from entering a country. The entire situation is just going to get worse.
The problem is going to spread to other parts of the world.
It will happen.
It will happen unless, as a nation, you give up that "right" to bear arms. I'm sorry. It's the only way. 
No, it won't stop all gun deaths. Of course it won't. That's ridiculous. 
We had a mass shooting here in this country. In a place already steeped in blood. It was in a place called Port Arthur. I don't ever want to go there although what happened before that massacre was part of the history of the state, of the nation.  It happened because a mentally ill man got hold of the wrong sort of weapons and used them. 
Without that sort of weapon he might still have killed someone but his fantasies of "getting the record" might never have come to pass. 
No, you can't stop people killing people. You can help to stop people killing people with the sort of weapons that allow them to shoot so many people at the same time. It's a start surely?
Our Prime Minister of the day, John Howard, saw it as a start. He saw the need to ban those sort of weapons, to make it much more difficult to own a gun.
Most people don't need guns. I know most farmers, at least farmers with livestock, in this country have guns. They use them to put injured animals to death quickly and humanely. I haven't yet met a good farmer who enjoyed doing that. They know they don't need high powered assault weapons to do it.
Of course some people go hunting. They know they don't need high powered assault weapons to do it.  
And most people who own guns here know that they have to keep them locked away  unless they intend to use them. They know they have to keep the ammunition separate. They know they shouldn't carry them unsecured and loaded until they are ready to use them for hunting or target practice.
Of course we have gun deaths here. A mother and two small children were shot in this state just a few days ago. It appears to have been a domestic dispute. It is a tragedy, particularly when you look at the impish grins on the faces of the children in their photographs. But it wasn't a mass shooting of unrelated people like the Port Arthur Massacre.
John Howard was right to do what he did. This nation is a better place for it. We could go still further and I hope we will one day.
We don't have a  "gun culture" or "the right to bear arms". We don't need it. 
And yes, I know we could still have a mass shooting. All our laws won't make us immune from such a tragedy. But - we can make it more difficult, much more difficult.
I want it to be that way. Violence just breeds more violence. 

Sunday 12 June 2016

Fraser is dead

and I feel surprisingly sad about this fact.
Fraser was a dog. Yes, I know - a dog. It didn't stop me being fond of him.
I met Fraser long before I met his owner. I met him the day he was strolling, alone, along the street. He was, as is a dog's duty, investigating every smell, every plant, every patch of dirt.
We looked at each other. I asked him what he was doing. He gave me the sort of look which says, "You stupid animal."
Nevertheless I managed to capture him by the collar and return him to his rightful place before someone reported him to the council and his owner was fined.
Despite that we became friends. He would give a welcoming bark if he saw me. His paws would go up the wire gate and cling there so that I could give him a scratch between his floppy ears. He would put his head to one side and "talk" to me.
He was an English Cocker Spaniel. He was a gentle dog. I never heard him growl. His stump of a tail (docked by the previous owner, not the present one) would go into over-drive when he was happy in only the way a dog can be happy. 
He loved slow walks. A walk for Fraser meant investigating everything on the way. His owner would try and take him somewhere new on a regular basis. They would get in the car and find a new suburb, a new street, a new patch of sand or dirt or grass.
Perhaps that was one reason why it took me so long to meet his owner. Inevitably of course there came a day when Fraser and I were having our usual brief chat and his owner came out of the house. We introduced ourselves and I went from calling Fraser "dog" to calling him by his given name.
His owner and I discovered his aunt had worked for my maternal grandfather...and so it went on. His owner and I became "friendly" rather than "friends". With Fraser it was different. We were definitely friends. If he was lying by the front door, a favourite spot, and he saw me then he would come bounding to greet me as I passed. I had to stop or there would be a disappointed bark. How dare I go past without speaking to him? 
The bounding grew to a walk, to an amble, to a bare stroll, to real effort. I knew he wasn't going to last much longer. I wondered about the winter.
And then, yesterday, on the first day I had not sneezed my head off all week, there was his owner in the garden...and no Fraser. I knew. His owner didn't have to tell me. We talked for a bit. He was having trouble controlling his voice. He keeps looking around for Fraser. I know I will look for him as I pass.
If I hadn't still been snuffling and sneezing occasionally I think I might have wanted to hug this man. Fraser was his family.

Saturday 11 June 2016

Next Saturday is KIPPER day

and no, I am not talking about fish.
Knitters will know what I mean - or they should. It is the acronym for Knit In Public Day. 
Knitters are supposed to get out their yarn and their needles and head off into the community and - knit. It is supposed to be a day for showing off their skills. Hmmm....
Last year I completely forgot about it - and the year before too I suspect. My computer calendar has just reminded me of the event - a week in advance. I am unlikely to do anything about it. 
On several occasions we (fellow knitters and I) have tried to organise an event in the local shopping centre. There are several problems with this. 
Not the least of them is that the centre management is not happy about it. They barely tolerate our presence. This is despite the fact that the knitters tend to buy copious amounts of coffee. They denude the bookshop of knitting books. They do their weekly shop at the same time. No, that's still not good enough for the centre management. Apparently we are not high class enough for them.
Then getting people together on a Saturday also means working around a football match and school sports and all the other things which get done. 
And this time the space we would normally take up will be occupied by people earnestly asking us to "vote for A or B or C". 
I think the shopping centre venue is out. I explained this to someone yesterday.
"Think about it Cat. Please! Where else could we go?"
The library?  It's a fairly public place but other things will be going on there. I think not. 
Public transport? It's a Saturday though and public transport is not frequent. Not that many people use it so how "public" would the knitting be? 
But there is a tram to a beach side suburb and there of the only two yarn shops in the city in that suburb. I won't do  the trip myself but I suggested it. There was a slow Cheshire cat like grin that appeared on the face of my questioner. She started to purr.
"I'll suggest that to the others."
I don't doubt they will go - and that there will be a side journey into the yarn shop.

Friday 10 June 2016

Apparently it takes three people

to deliver a piece of paper. Yes, seriously.
The door bell rang yesterday afternoon. It was a long ring, much longer than was needed to summon the resident cats to the door. I thought it must be something urgent or serious. Perhaps one of the neighbours needed some help? 
When I opened the door there was a man dressed in orange safety overalls. There were no identifying marks on them. My hackles rose. What did he want?
He was holding a pad of paper. I eyed that cautiously too. Were these the fruit fly people back to tell us they were going to uproot all the fruit trees in the district? No. They had identified themselves and they didn't seem to think there was going to be a problem. They had told us they were just being very, very cautious. 
But there was the man in the orange jump suit and, lurking (there is no other word for it) behind him were two more.
They were, they told me, from the "NBN" - the National Broadband Network. Really? What did they want? So far we haven't signed up for the supposedly "super-fast" service. I don't download movies to watch on the computer. I get word type documents sent to me for the most part. They amount to a few megabytes at the most. 
But it seems we will lose our landline if we don't allow the NBN team on to the property to do something. Yes, I had heard about that. 
I still eyed the one doing the talking with suspicion. He finally got the message and hauled out some ID.
"Here - my ID if you don't believe me."
It is what he should have shown me in the first place of course. 
"We were supposed to have the job done by the 6th of June," Mr Jumpsuit tells me.
Oh really? They are running a little late then. He tells me they can't actually tell me when they will be doing the job. I tell him I work from home and I need to know. He shrugs as if it is of no importance at all. 
He hands me the form to give them permission to enter the property and do the work. I start to read it. Like any well trained cat I don't sign something without reading it first. 
Mr Jumpsuit gets impatient then. He gets impatient? I look at him. I'll sign it when I am good and ready thank you. I don't like his attitude. 
He suggests I take the paper and sign it later. There are two carbon copies underneath - one for us, one for them, one for someone else.
I suppose I really am being unkind. I suppose it means they are really delivering one piece of paper each. Are they taking it in turns?

Thursday 9 June 2016

So Hillary Clinton

reckons she has the nomination all tied up? It does seem likely.
But it has made me think about women in politics yet again.
I have a very good friend, R..., who was once a Senator in the Downunder federal parliament. I know more than one other female Senator. I also know some current and former female politicians in the lower house and in state parliament. 
We have had quite a few one way and another. They are all rather remarkable women. I like some more than others but that is only to be expected.  There are still demands for more to join their ranks but, compared with some parts of the world, we aren't doing too badly. Things are improving too. Two of the current candidates running in our local seat are female. I had a chat to one of them the other day. (My reputation had gone ahead of me - ouch!)
Downunder had a female Prime Minister for a short time. She wasn't made of quite the same stuff as the female Prime Minister who once led our Kiwi mates across the pond in New Zealand but yes, she was a female Prime Minister. And we have (and have had) female Premiers - for Upoverites in the US, I think the equivalent is a state governor. 
Other countries have had female leaders too of course. It would be difficult to forget the UK's Margaret Thatcher and Israel's Golda Meir or India's Indira Gandhi.  Germany's Angela Merkel looms large in present day Europe. Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines, South Korea have all managed to have female leaders. 
So, will the United States do it now? It's an interesting thought - and the alternative worries me. 

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Nick Xenophon worries me

- I shall have to explain to Upoverites that Mr X, as he is often known, was an "independent" member of the state parliament at one time. He got in on an anti-gambling platform and with some slick media work. He is outstandingly good at that.
Whether he is a good politician is another matter. He certainly has ideas. He has been known to support "popular" causes. He is outspoken. And yes, he can get that all important publicity by playing the media with all sorts of stunts.  
He has now gone from being a single independent to running a political party in his own name the "Nick Xenophon Team" or "NXT". 
As soon as he did that alarm bells rang in my mind. We have just had the debacle that was the "Palmer United Party" and, lurking in the background, is "One Nation" which is often called "Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party". 
I simply don't trust anyone who names a political party after themselves. It reeks of arrogance. It also says, "I don't have ideas. I don't need ideas. All you need to know is that I am me."
I know people will disagree with me but too many people, people who should know better, have told me recently, "Oh yes, I'll vote for Nick. He's a top bloke."  I have asked them what he stands for and they shrug, look confused, even say it doesn't matter. 
But it does matter. This man, and possibly several more under his name, could hold the balance of power in the Senate. 
He is already talking about how he will see to it that a free trade agreement is dismantled. I have issues with the free trade agreement but talk of dismantling it is simply irresponsible. Nobody seems to be taking much notice though - after all this is Mr X talking. So far he hasn't had much criticism in the media - not even for that directorship he "forgot" and failed to declare. That would be a hanging offence for the leader of one of the major parties.
So what is it with Mr X? Why is it so necessary to give him so much publicity and so little criticism? Does the media understand how much damage he could do if he gained the balance of power? He's no Senator Harradine. People knew where they were with that man. I didn't always agree with him but he was that rare thing, an independent politician who stood up for his state and stuck by his principles. 
Perhaps it is time for the media to do the right thing and inform people that Mr X is not a Mr Harradine? 

Tuesday 7 June 2016

"It's about the letter you wrote..."

J.... from the state newspaper has just rung. I haven't come across her before. I know a few of the others. We have what might be called an "interesting" relationship. 
I wonder which letter. I have written two in the past fortnight. The first one has already been used - although not as a letter to the editor. The second...I tried to remember what it was about while trying to say "yes" intelligently. 
She lets me in. It's the one I wrote about toys, cakes and people who volunteer to make such things being increasingly hemmed in. Yes, I wittered on about that here a short time ago. 
She wants to know more. I tell her. We agree that the situation is ridiculous. They would like to make a small feature about it. I suggest that the person she should be talking to is the Senior Cat. After all he is the person who made the puzzles the Toy Library would like to have had but wasn't allowed to accept. He is the one who knows the ins and outs of the safety regulations to which he so rigidly adhered. 
Of course he was out with Grandson - over from another state for yet another funeral on the other side of his family. Never mind J... tells me - and they need to get hold of one of the puzzles too. I suggest the Toy Library might still have one - if not there is the book the Senior Cat quite legitimately took them from. Right. She will get back to me tomorrow.
I wonder if she will. I know what newspapers are like. Someone can spend an entire day following up a story only to have it cut at the last moment because a public figure dies or something more spectacular happens. I wrote that letter ten days ago and it is only now that they have decided to do something about it. The election campaign could turn anything else at all upside down and out the door. 
But it would be good if they could give a little publicity to an issue which is costing an underfunded area far more than it should. You see I was telling one of the men who works in the local "men's shed" - an area where men now in smaller homes and units can do woodwork - and he sighed and said, "It would be good to feel useful by doing something like that."
Occupational health and safety and public liability are important. Mental health is too. 

Monday 6 June 2016

The new voting rules for the Senate

are causing some confusion. 
I knew this would happen. For some elections now it has been my unfortunate task to try and ensure a group of people with disabilities  understand how to vote. This is not as easy as it sounds.
It also has nothing to do with who to vote for. 
The same problems occur every time. It is even more difficult this time.
Let me explain from the beginning. Downunder has a system of "compulsory attendance at the ballot box". It doesn't mean you must vote because nobody can ensure you actually mark the ballot paper. In practice of course it means that most people do mark the ballot papers.  
The problem is getting people to mark the ballot papers in such a way that their vote actually counts. It is a particular problem when people have problems with understanding the instructions. That might be because they don't speak English as a first language. Material gets translated into the "community languages" but it would be interesting to know how people who aren't able to follow an election campaign at all choose to vote.
And then there is the group of people I help. They have disabilities. Some of them are unable to read the ballot paper. They barely understand the entire process. Someone has chosen to ensure that they are registered to vote. Someone has claimed that they are sufficiently aware of the process to be able to make an informed decision of their own. I wonder sometimes who has signed their forms because I doubt they have.
But, they have a vote. They want to know "who" - something I can't and mustn't tell them. They want to know "who" I am going to vote for too - again, something I can't and mustn't tell them. It frustrates them - and me. They ask "why" they have to vote. I explain. "Your name is on the list." I go back to what they did at school when they chose someone to do something. Even that is difficult because some of them never participated in the process at school.
I know why some of these people are on the electoral roll. Other people planned to use their votes. It is often done with the best of intentions. "He ought to have a say too" and "Well I know how she would vote if she could" and "I've asked him and that's what he wants" and so on. Sometimes it is family members who do it, sometimes it is friends. There are "carers" - especially in group housing - who do it with the intention of getting the best for those they care for and, a few, who simply use the vote for themselves. 
It is all possible because of the "compulsory" nature of the voting system and the fact that there is no need to show ID at the polling booth. 
I have said elsewhere that voting is a right - but it is also a responsibility. This election has seen this household targetted by automated voting messages, a call from the ABC programme "Q & A" (declined to comment) and more than one call from a polling company (also declined to comment). There has been material in the letter box both via the post and via hand delivery. There is "information" out there but it actually tells you very little. How do you make a choice?
The people I have to try and help appear to make a choice on whether they "like" the people involved. One of them met a local candidate in the shopping centre and told me "he's nice". He will probably vote for him on that basis. 
Those who support compulsory attendance at the ballot box will probably say that's enough, that the right to vote - something people have died for - is so important that people should be compelled to attend the ballot box.  Perhaps they are right but as I struggle to explain what people need to do to have their vote count I wonder if this isn't the lazy way of doing things.
Wouldn't it be better to educate people about who and what they are voting for? 

Sunday 5 June 2016

People with clip boards

don't  usually bother me. 
It is rare for me to get stopped by someone wielding a clip board out in the big wide world. I know why I don't get stopped and that annoys me enough to want to pounce on people and say, "Doesn't my opinion count too?"
But, I don't do it. I just prowl past  because, to be honest, most of the time I am not in the least interested in answering questions about which brand I buy or what I think of such and such a policy.
I do get asked to sign petitions - that seems to be different - and of course I get asked to donate to whichever charity is collecting that day. 
And people will stop me if they want to sell me something - well, sometimes. I avoid eye-contact - especially with those two still trying to sell a meal plan where they decide what you will eat and do the shopping but leave you to do the cooking. No, no, and no.
But yesterday I was at a meeting. The president was wandering around with a clip board. This spells "danger". What does she want? I kept my head down and my paws firmly on my knitting. I was genuinely counting stitches when she pounced.  Oh I was counting stitches? She would come back later. (Of course I had to start counting all over again.) I hoped she would forget.
She didn't of course. I agreed, reluctantly, to do what she wanted. I know it is important to volunteer, to participate, to be active in a group. If I have time I don't mind because I know that is the way any group functions. I was reluctant this time because there are other people who could do the job. It would be good for them if they did. Still, I didn't want to argue. She was wielding a clip board.
In the hands of a determined president they can be lethal weapons.
I just wish other people were sufficiently alarmed by them to do as the wielder wishes.

Saturday 4 June 2016

Credit cards

puzzle me. I don't own one. 
I know I may need to own one eventually but, right now, the Senior Cat and I share the bills. We pay them as they come in because we are fortunate enough to be able to do do that. 
The Senior Cat has a credit card but he almost never uses it. He doesn't like doing that. He likes to know he is not in debt to anyone - even the bank.  
I know his means of paying bills is old fashioned but it is the way  he feels comfortable about it. I also know that, when the time comes, I'll probably go direct debit for as many things as possible - something he steadfastly refuses to do.
At present I use a debit card - and put a limited amount of money on that at regular intervals. 
It all works - sort of. At least we pay the bills on time.
So yesterday I watched - or rather, tried not to watch - as the woman ahead of me in the supermarket tried first one credit card and then another...and then another...before she found one with which she could buy her groceries. I found it quite terrifying the way she seemed to be not in the least bit concerned about the fact that, "Oh that one's maxed out" and "I haven't enough left in that one". 
I couldn't help wondering what the limit on them was and, of even more concern, how she intended to pay off what was on them. Perhaps she did have a large income and it really didn't bother her? I have no idea. It was none of my business anyway.
But it did make me think about paying my own bills and paying them on time. I've never had a big income. I have managed on what, for most people, would be below the poverty line for years. I can do it because I don't run a car. I buy most of my clothes in the charity shop and we almost never go out for meals or entertainment. It really doesn't bother me but it will if it reaches the point where I can't pay the bills. 
It makes me wonder whether I will ever be in what, for me, would be an excruciatingly embarrassing position - of not being able to pay for essential groceries. That would bother me. 
I wonder what that woman was thinking. She didn't appear to be concerned or embarrassed but perhaps she was underneath.
I pretended not to notice. 

Friday 3 June 2016

Making a cake

is under fire this morning. The council which covers our northern suburbs has decided it needs to inspect the kitchens of ten or so elderly ladies who have been making and selling cakes for charity. Now let it be said that I think cleanliness in kitchens is important.
Let it also be said that these women have been doing their baking for years. 
It is only recently the council has decided to "enforce the law". 
I suspect it means that someone at the council saw an opportunity and decided to make an issue of it. They have done this knowing full well that it will simply stop the women concerned from baking cakes.
Remember my recent post about the puzzles and the toy library not being able to accept them? This is a similar sort of situation.
I know something about the business of baking at home and selling it on a commercial basis. I know because our former neighbours  had their new home built to comply with the regulations for using the kitchen to bake and supply to commercial outlets. It's a small business for the wife and mother of two. It doesn't bring in a lot. It could bring in more if it ever became necessary. At present though it provides them with just enough extra.
They investigated (and costed) the whole business very thoroughly. The kitchen is inspected on a regular basis by the council inspector because B..... supplies biscuits and cakes to several local outlets. She has a small range of items they know will sell well. Her presentation is excellent. One of the selling points is that these goods are "homemade" but they look highly professional.
It is hard work and she is very, very fussy about hygiene. She knows she needs to be.
I wonder about the elderly women  who have been baking cakes "for donkey's years" too. What is their hygiene like? The report says that one of them commented nobody has yet become ill eating their cake.  If they do follow the basic rules of hygiene then it is  unlikely that anyone will.
I can remember living in one particular rural area where the women would provide meals for large numbers of people under the most difficult conditions. In the days before all the occupational health and safety issues and the hygiene inspectors and refrigeration they would feed everyone from toddlers to teenagers to hefty farmers. I don't remember anyone getting ill, let alone a case of mass poisoning. I suspect there was a lot of hand washing but there were no commercial dishwashers.
Of course health and safety are important but I wonder if it is going just a little too far. The women likely know their fellow bakers' kitchens. They would quietly ensure that anyone who did not meet high standards of cleanliness was prevented from selling to the public. That's been the way of it for years. 
I'd rather preserve the tradition of cake making than have commercial preservation in cake. 

Thursday 2 June 2016

"Are you thinking in English?"

someone asked me yesterday.
I had gone to the local library because I needed to enlarge a sheet of work to A3 size - something I can't do at home. It is a communication board which uses Turkish, Arabic and Blissymbols.  And yes, I am struggling with it. I am quite at home with Blissymbols and Turkish is fine because it uses the Roman alphabet but Arabic is...well, I am finding it difficult. I always find Arabic difficult. The alphabet is different. It gets written "the wrong way around" and I find it (almost) impossible to use a dictionary. 
A friend of the Senior Cat remarked, "It must be almost as hard as Chinese." 
I actually find Chinese easier. I had to learn some Chinese characters once. I didn't actually learn them as Chinese. I looked at them and read them according to their English meaning. I have forgotten most of them know. You do forget things like that if you don't need to use them.  
It is Arabic that gets me - and some of the other languages which I have come across that don't use the Roman alphabet. I hate it. I don't hate the languages themselves. I hate my inability to use them as easily those alphabets as easily as I use my own.
The person who asked me the question was a complete stranger. He was waiting to use the photocopier in the library and I had put one sheet, right side up, on the table next to the copier. He could see it without being unduly inquisitive.
I explained briefly what it was and he looked some more while I did something else. Then he looked at me and asked,
      "I'd really like to know though. When you look at that what are you thinking in. Is it English or is it something else? How do you see it?"
I had to think about that. There was no English to be seen. That often happens. I knew what was there on the board though. I knew what it meant. Blissymbols are a bridge between languages but what if you know the symbols and not the languages?
Did I know it as English or as something else? I don't know. I suppose I know it as English. English is my first language - the only one I actually speak. 
But if I was in the destination this board is intended for  could I communicate? Yes, I should be able to communicate at least  at the basic level this is intended for. What does that say about the way I am thinking? What does it say about the way we communicate?

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Registration discs on cars

were ditched by the state government several years ago. This morning there is a piece in the paper about the way in which $2m a week is being collected in fines from people who fail to remember to register their vehicles - or perhaps hope they will get away with it.
There is also the reminder that this means they don't have third party insurance either - that insurance which covers them for the harm they might do to someone else.
The Senior Cat will have something to say about all this when he prowls out and reads the item over his muesli. He forgot once. There was some excuse for this but it frightened him.
The usual renewal notice failed to arrive in the mail. That in itself was not an excuse but it was also about the time his wife was dying and he could think of little else. Then, after her death, there was another major upheaval and then another. He was overwhelmed by far more paperwork than is usual even after a death and there were other issues as well. The car (he was still driving at the time) was not registered. He simply didn't notice.
Then one morning I went out to put something in the car for him to take to someone else and I noticed that the registration disc said "10" (for October)  and here it was "11". I went back inside and queried if he had forgotten to put the new disc on. 
It was probably just as well he was sitting down because he went pale.
      "I don't think I've paid the registration. I can't remember doing it."
He left his breakfast and frantically searched the paper work. No, he hadn't paid it. As soon as he could he walked (because sixteen years ago he could still do this) to the local registration office. He was so upset he asked to speak to the manager and confessed what he had done. He waited for wrath to fall on him, a hefty fine perhaps. 
The manager sat him down in his office and fetched the necessary paperwork himself. He didn't utter one cross word. He merely told the Senior Cat, "I did the same thing myself in much the same circumstances. Just pay it now."
I have no doubt that the Senior Cat's agitation was so obviously genuine that the manager was not going to add to it. All the same the Senior Cat knows he was fortunate, very fortunate. If there had been an accident he wouldn't have been covered and the financial consequences could have been very, very serious. 
The Senior Cat tells other people what happened but, as he points out, it was because I noticed the registration disc said one month and not another we discovered that the problem existed. 
Those registration discs are pesky little things to stick on and remove each year but they are an excellent reminder.