Sunday 31 July 2016

Do not try to "volunteer" me

for anything. I hate, hate, hate being "organised"  by other people. By that I mean I hate anyone telling me that they have told someone else I will do something - without asking me first.
I hate being "dobbed in" as Downunderites say. It really irritate me. Even in work situations this annoyed me. When I was in the unfortunate position of trying to run a small school (because the headmaster was away more often than not) I would say to the other staff, "Would you mind..." or "Do you think you..." and I would always tell someone who was asking, "I'll ask...." or "I'll have to check..."
Perhaps I am just not dictatorial, autocratic, or confident enough to simply issue orders in most situations. The classroom was fine. I was boss. The children knew I was boss. We knew there were times when negotiation was not going to happen. They behaved accordingly. I did not have discipline issues. But, for me, it is just basic good manners to ask someone if they are willing to do something - particularly something they are not going to be paid to do and will require some preparation.
I sometimes have issues with this in my working life but they have been remarkably few. Almost every volunteer I have come across has recognised that, like them, I am also a volunteer. Most have been patient. If they haven't been it is because the situation really is urgent. They need help NOW. More often than not other people's lives will depend on it.  I can understand that. I can understand being "volunteered" to help in such a situation.
In every day life though? The situation is not urgent. It's not important. It is simply that someone thinks something "might be nice" or just that "Cat could do that" and goes ahead and arranges it - and then informs me.
Middle Cat, whom I love dearly, is inclined to do this. She did it to me yesterday. I put my paw down firmly and said "No". 
She wailed, "But I promised!"
It made no difference. I have said "No" because it is not something I would ever want to do anyway. She knows that of course. It's why she tried to organise me first. She dislikes my "independence" streak and my lack of interest in things she believes I should be interested in. I am a typical "cat". I like to go my own way and choose my own occupations - especially in my limited free time.
I really don't do organising like that. 

Saturday 30 July 2016

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wants

to be Secretary-General of the United Nations but the present government will not nominate him. 
He was backed by former diplomat Richard Woolcott and a former government minister, Brendan Nelson. His  own party backed him. The present Foreign Secretary backed him.
Or did they? They said the right things perhaps. You don't upset Mr Rudd if you can avoid it. He has been known to lose his temper.
He would be a disaster as Secretary-General. It is perhaps one of the worst jobs in the world, presiding over a highly dysfunctional international organisation.
Of course some people would say that this is why Mr Rudd is suited to the position. He presided over a dysfunctional and chaotic government. It should not have been dysfunctional and chaotic but it was.  It was so bad and his personal popularity was so low he got tapped on the shoulder by Julia Gillard and, for a short while, we had a more competent leader. But, politics is politics, and Mr Rudd undermined her - eventually achieving his aim of getting the job back again. He lost the election.
The position requires a cool head, a calm demeanour, the ability to speak fluently while thinking on your feet, and diplomatic skills of the highest order.  
Mr Rudd is known as a diplomat - but for none of those reasons. He is a highly intelligent man. He speaks Chinese - although not as well as he believes he does if our Chinese neighbours are correct in their assessment of his ability.  He has a temper, he can show emotion at the wrong time, he isn't a fluent speaker - just a long winded one. Above all, he is not a diplomat. 
I know people who worked for him. They said he was often abrasive and impatient. He could be downright rude. He didn't listen. 
Mr Rudd has a high opinion of his own abilities. That may or may not be a good thing. His own party tore him to shreds and only reinstated him when they thought they were going to lose the election without him as leader. Now of course they have been talking him up and saying how suitable he would be for the role. They will criticise the government for not nominating him. 
I suspect many of them will privately be breathing a sigh of relief the government has refused to do so.

Friday 29 July 2016

Child abuse allegations

have reached epidemic proportions in this state. The relevant authorities are also drowning under the siege of people attempting to report alleged incidents. Try phoning and you will be kept waiting.
Schools must report, so must doctors - and rightly so. And yes, there are times when other people should too. 
When I was teaching in special education I remember one of the children coming to school looking happy and telling everyone he had a chicken sandwich for lunch. His mother had told him that. All morning we all heard about the chicken sandwich. As the lunch his mother gave him was always a Vegemite (Marmite like) sandwich on dry bread the teacher aide was surprised but she did not question it. She was too pleased for him. 
Lunchtime came and she took out his lunchbox, opened up the sandwich ready to help him eat it - and discovered two slices of stale bread with a limp lettuce leaf in between. The child was devastated. I can still hear his wail of, "I don't want it. She promised!"
It isn't what people  usually think of as child abuse but of course his mother was abusing him. The social worker of the centre the school was housed in talked to her again after the sandwich incident but she denied having said and said it was "all the little b.... deserved" and that she didn't want him. 
I left to return to university soon after that and it was some time before I caught up with the news that his mother had sent him to school with a bag of clothing and simply walked out on him. When I caught up with him some years later he had not forgiven her. He admitted though that he was better off in state care. "I just wish they had done it sooner."
So I wondered when someone asked me if they could talk about a "problem" yesterday. I called in to the charity shop where she works and, out in the back room, she showed me several photographs she had taken on her phone of the children who live several doors away. There's a new "uncle" with the mother and this woman is concerned. The mother rents the property and appears to pay for it by offering certain services to men. The children are often outside in all weathers and don't appear to be very clean. They are always hungry and, against the rules, the eldest boy (who is around seven or eight) takes his little sister to school.  Lately the little girl has become very withdrawn and her brother more aggressive and protective of her. They have some unexplained bruising.
She wondered why the school has apparently not noticed this. "Should I talk to the school?"  their neighbour asked me, "I don't want to get anyone into trouble if everything is - well, all right."
I  told her I thought speaking to the school was a good idea. I have met the head of the junior school and I know she will listen. 
I wonder though what will be done. Will the relevant authorities do anything? They are so overloaded that "a few bruises", "a bit of dirt", and "always hungry" may not seem much to an over worked social worker. 
The problem is that , putting it all together, it is a problem. These children may get the equivalent of a chicken sandwich occasionally but it doesn't mean they are being adequately cared for. Perhaps their mother does love them and is caring for them in the only way she knows how but their welfare still has to come first.
This is why the system is over loaded with calls and demands. The woman who asked me if she would be doing the right thing looked relieved. She was intending to call in at the school that afternoon. I hope someone is listening. I think the head of the junior school will.

Thursday 28 July 2016

I got yelled at

yesterday. I got yelled at for riding my tricycle across a pedestrian crossing. 
The little green man was in my favour and I was not breaking the law. I am allowed to ride my tricycle across a pedestrian crossing. There is a good reason for me to do this. I couldn't walk my tricycle over in the time given. I would hold the traffic up. 
The police know this. I have, at various times, had the cops move their mobile radar devices out of the way for me, let me through the traffic, stop traffic for me and more. 
There were no police around yesterday. There was just an irate motorist. I had dared to use the pedestrian crossing. It meant he had to stop and wait for me. He was furious.
Heads turned. The bus driver waiting at the nearby layover stop looked out and jumped down and came towards me. 
"You okay mate?" he asked in heavily accented English.
A parcel delivery man looked up from the back of his van and looked at me.
"What was that about?"
 I was feeling a little shaken. The language of the irate driver had been rather "strong" to put it mildly. We agreed though that I was "okay" and I pedalled on - on the footpath.
There are two more sets of lights in the next few hundred metres. I used the next set of lights along with a couple of pedestrians and came to the second set of lights. 
There was the car. There was the driver who had yelled at me. There was a  police car. There was a policeman. 
I don't know what the driver had done this time. I don't want to know. I pedalled on as quickly as I dared. He was probably blaming me.

Wednesday 27 July 2016

"That's why I came

I knew that's what you'd say."
I didn't want to go to the knitting group at the bookshop  yesterday. It's held on the last Tuesday afternoon of the month and I am supposed to "lead" it. Why I was chosen to do this is a mystery I haven't solved yet but it means I feel bound to attend. I feel I should go even when the weather is lousy. 
Yesterday there was another good reason to go. I needed to get a nice card and have anyone who turned up sign it for the friend who has just lost her husband. She has not been at the group all year but people have been concerned for her.
I wondered whether anyone else would even turn up but, as I was pulling off my damp cycling trousers someone else arrived and then another and another. 
There were five of us and then someone else arrived. She had not been at the last meeting. I thought she looked a little pale but it is winter here Downunder. She pulled out her knitting and the woman next to her asked what she was making. A hat...for herself.
Then she took a deep breath and said, "I'm starting chemo next week.  She started to cry and apologise for crying. The woman sitting next to her put a hand on her arm and looked at me. I looked at our fellow knitter and said, "That's what we're here for."
It was then she said, "That's why I came. I knew that's what you'd say."
And we will be there for her. It is what we are there for. It's not "just a knitting group". There have been other people come and go in the group. One of the women who comes is in the very early stages of Alzheimer's. She gets confused over her knitting at times. Several women who come and go live alone. They just want some company. 
We mostly talk books, news, a bit of politics, gardening, and knitting. They ask after the Senior Cat - most of them have met him - and they ask after others. They are worried that someone else hasn't been for a while. This time I could tell them she's okay but under a bit of stress right now.  
I came home and told the Senior Cat what had happened  this time. I showed him the card. I'll get another member of the group to sign it today. He was silent for a moment and then he nodded and said, "Yes, that's what the group is there for."

Tuesday 26 July 2016

So we are back to "drugs in sport"

again are we? Apparently the IOC didn't quite dare to ban the entire Russian team.
That doesn't surprise me in the slightest. I would have been surprised if they had done that. All sport is riddled with drug cheats. There wouldn't be a sport on earth where "performance enhancing" drugs have not been tried. Any athlete who has reached "Olympic level"  will have been subjected, knowingly or unknowingly, to some sort of supposedly performance enhancing substance or procedure. 
Russia is simply doing what all countries do and hope to get away with. Their attempts may have been a little more blatant than most but others are also guilty. That is probably why the IOC decided not to place a blanket ban on all Russian athletes. There will have been frantic scurrying around behind the scenes. There will have been urgent, worried meetings. "Do they know about us?" "Are you sure X  and Y and Z can keep their mouths shut?" and then, "How far do we go with the Russians?" and "Why couldn't that idiot do what he was told to do about the tests?"
It seems to me that sport is about two things, the first is "winning" and the last is about "winning and preferably about breaking a record while you win". 
I suppose aiming to win is fine. I suppose that is what "sport" is about. It's what the ancient Greeks and Spartans and Egyptians and Romans and Aztecs and Incas and more all did. They all performed physical feats for the supposed honour and glory of being "the best" or "first/fastest/highest/longest" and so on. If you didn't succeed too bad. Failure to win could even lead to death. In places like North Korea it can still lead to internment in a work camp or similar place.  But yes, aim to "win".
It is the constant pressure to break another record that seems to be the problem. If athletes didn't need to do this things might be different. We could simply line them up and see who  really is the fastest  or highest or strongest. 
But that would lack excitement wouldn't it? We wouldn't be sitting on the edge of our seats choking on potato crisps or peanuts and shouting at the telly in the hope that one of "our" athletes was not only going to win a medal but "break a record".
And, logically, there is a limit to this business of breaking records  isn't there? There is a limit even with the so-called performance enhancing drugs. Is it possible that we have reached the limits of what the human body can do without drugs, that we might even have reached that some time ago?
Perhaps this problem with drugs in sport is as much about our ridiculous expectations of athletes as it is about their abilities.  

Monday 25 July 2016

I have yet to use the "self-service"

check-out in the supermarkets I shop in. 
I can remember when the first self-service one went in to the bigger of the two supermarkets in the local shopping centre.  It was, as you would expect, rather chaotic. It wasn't something people knew much about. The only people who did were those lucky souls who had travelled overseas to places where, apparently, such things are common. 
I didn't like the idea then - and I don't like the idea now. It is not just that I am worried I might get something wrong or accidentally fail to scan something or set an alarm off or...well, you know the sort of thing I mean. 
It's the human side which bothers me. I have taken the trouble to learn the names of the check out operators in the supermarket I  usually shop in. Most of them are students. It is store policy to employ students who need jobs - and some of them really do need jobs.  It was years ago I met the first of these students. She was doing psychology. I read an essay for her. Word got around and another student...and then another... they don't always want help they sometimes just want to talk to someone about their workload or about how good it feels to have finished an assignment. It has led to me doing some formal co-supervising and the occasional informal tutoring.
I saw one of the students in another shop the other day. She stopped and chatted for a brief moment. I occasionally see them out and about in the local area. I usually get a cheerful smile or a wave or, if they are behind me, a "Hi Cat!"
As they move on to other things they seem to tell the new student taking over who I am. "You're the one who...." Yes.
When my very close friend died - almost two years ago now  - one of the girls who works in the greengrocer heard about it. She came out from behind the cash register and gave me a hug. The man who owns the business was going past as I paid for my things. He put a hand on my shoulder as he passed. In the supermarket one of the regular staff, a girl with many problems and one many people avoid, said to me, "I heard about your friend. I'm so sorry." She meant it too. 
Yes, it's a normal, busy suburban shopping centre of moderate size. Yes, it's supposed to be one of those anonymous places where nobody knows you. And yes, I know that I stand out in the crowd because I don't bother to take my cycling helmet off and I need a walking stick. I know too that I get pointed out as "the person who writes to the paper".  Even with those things though I could choose to be anonymous. I could ignore people but, even though I would sometimes like to do just that, I won't. It's rude.
I don't suppose everyone else has the same sort of experience when they go shopping, even some of those who have been shopping there longer than I have. 
The odd thing though is that it hasn't taken a lot of effort on my part. It has just been what I consider to be "normal" conversation with the person who has served me.
A machine can never do that.

Sunday 24 July 2016

"I taught myself

by watching videos on the internet," she tells us.
My guess is that the newcomer is probably about thirteen or fourteen. She has the most wonderful ebony skin and her hair must have taken hours and hours to plait. Her dark eyes are a little bit anxious and that somehow makes her even more beautiful. She has just asked seven strange adults, "Is this the knitting club? Can I join?" 
I wish our eleven year old member was not in Russia right now. That would surely have made it easier but the newcomer has asked anyway.  
Oh yes. We are happy to have her. Her name is? She gives us a name which, for me, instantly identifies her as Sudanese. Her little sister looks in shyly and her name is also definitely Sudanese. They are a most attractive pair of girls to look at. Her sister shakes her head and backs out to find some library books instead.
Someone gets another chair. The newcomer produces needles and yarn and wants to know what to knit. We explain that everyone is working on their own projects. She seems a little startled by that but sits down next to me. We talk her through what she might do with what she has with her.  A little overwhelmed she agrees to everything but someone gives her a spare ball of yarn and, with an idea, she casts on a few stitches carefully. I watch but don't interfere even though she looks a little awkward. My guess, confirmed a moment later, is that she has taught herself to knit "continental" style. That's fine. There is one other person there who knits that way. She knits a few rows. We ask her a few questions - not too many. I don't want to frighten her away. After those few rows I ask her how she is getting on. She shows me. Her knitting is a little loose but it is even and I suspect she will, if she persists, be a good knitter.  She tells me her friends don't knit  - but they like the end results. 
I want to encourage this girl, just as I want to encourage our other little friend and the other girls before that. I know there will be school and other activities which will get in the way but I want them to say of something they are wearing or using, "I made it myself." 
I admire her persistence at teaching herself to knit by watching videos on the internet too. 
But, most of all, I want her to feel welcome in a group of like minded people. I hope, hope, hope that our other young one will be back next meeting. 

Saturday 23 July 2016

So you want a longer school day?

Really?  And, presumably, a fifty-two week school year to go with it. The grandparents can care for your little darlings while you go away on holiday of course.
Excuse my sarcasm. I was talking to my aunt yesterday. My aunt is not that much older than me. She married a man twenty  years older than herself. Because of the age difference they made a conscious decision not to have children. It isn't something she regrets.
She was telling me her sister, a little older still, was exhausted because she  had been caring for her grandchildren during the school holidays.  I have also noted the exhaustion on the faces of local grandparents who have had the responsibility of their grandchildren over the past two weeks. 
It happens every holiday. During term time, unless a child is sick, grandparents get at least part of the day free of school age children. Some are unfortunate enough to have preschool age children to care for on a regular basis but "at least the others are at school" - as has been put to me more than once.
Grandparents may appreciate a longer school day if it means less dropping children off at school, less picking them up, less taking them to this class or that sport, or less supervision of homework. I don't doubt though that they would still be expected to be "available".
The real beneficiaries of a longer school day would be parents. This was obvious from the responses to some sort of survey which was done and reported in the state newspaper this morning. Most parents surveyed would apparently like at least an eight hour school day. What they would like to see the school doing in that time - provide supervision of homework, languages, music, art, drama, sport, and other supervised activities -  suggests they want to abrogate their parental responsibilities. There was mention of how it would be less of a financial burden too.
I have never been a fan of "homework" - especially the hours that some senior students need, or feel the need, to do. By no means all adults take work home with them. Those that do are usually in the professions or positions of much higher responsibility.  Languages, music, art, drama, and sport should all be part of the normal school day. There are claims of course that these can no longer be fitted in because there is too much else to teach.  It seems children now need to know about a range of other technical and social issues - such as "coding" and the "rights" of minority groups. Yes, computer programming is undoubtedly important - for some. My guess though is that, like the more advanced forms of maths, most students will forget it the moment they leave school unless their jobs demand it. As for the rights of minority groups I suspect that instead of making an issue of particular groups in society we would do well to start out by teaching the very real need to respect others and respect differences in others.  Do that and other issues become far less of a "problem" than they are now. Unfortunately that's unlikely to happen.
So perhaps we are moving inevitably in the direction of a longer school day, a day when children will see less of their parents. We are also moving in the direction of a day where almost every waking moment will be supervised by an adult, where children make no decisions about how they use their time.
When the next generation is unable to work unsupervised and is unable to use their initiative what will happen? Will we then realise that all this is as much about adult convenience as child learning and safety?

Friday 22 July 2016

"What is Pokeman?"

the Senior Cat asked. He was reading the paper and there was a report of someone breaking an arm playing the "game".
"It's a computer game," I told him.
He looked even more puzzled so I added, "Only this time you are supposed to go  out and "catch" things."
That is also about the limit of my knowledge. I am not terribly interested. I have never played a computer game. I have watched my nephews - when young - play some. I have watched the Whirlwind - but she gave up on them after a couple of years. I have seen other children with them.
When I was at law school I lived in a student hall of residence where I also tutored other students. There were several "game" machines - the forerunner to the present computer games I suppose. From memory you put money in a slot and then proceeded to try and race around a track passing other racing cars or "killed" aliens or something of a similar nature. 
These machines were available twenty-four hours a day and they had sound effects. The newMaster of the college tried, without success, to get the students to leave them alone between midnight and six am. There were still students who wanted to play with them at two and three in the morning.  
I suppose it was all part of growing up. Most of the students were living away from home for the first time in their lives. I was one of the go-to people for advice about everything from how to cite a reference to how to wash socks. Once in a while I would try and gently suggest that someone who had not finished an essay on time might actually write the essay instead of playing one of the games. These students were always males. Very few females played these games on a regular basis.  I don't know if they ever played them night after night. I doubt it.
The prevalence of these games seems to have exploded with the 
 advent of personal screen based devices. It seems as the devices get smaller and more powerful then more people, of both sexes, are playing them. It is an attraction I simply don't understand. 
I asked the Whirlwind what she thought of them the other day. She was silent for a bit and then said,
      "I suppose if you have to do it with other people it could be okay for a little while but I'd rather really DO something."
I don't imagine she will be trying to get into a police station to catch something, walking off the edge of a cliff while watching the screen, or falling out of a tree because there is "something" there.
The Senior Cat didn't follow my explanation at all. He just shrugged and went on to read something else. He would rather "do" something too. 
But I had to smile because last night I asked him, "Do you want toast or cheesies with your soup?" His answer was, "Okay." He was looking at a (woodworking) video on his I-pad.

Thursday 21 July 2016

"It's not all right to say that,"

they are telling someone called Sonia Kruger. She is apparently some sort of media personality and she spoke out against accepting more Muslim migrants into Downunder.
I don't watch that sort of "chat" television so I didn't see it. (I am not terribly interested in watching anything. I watch the first half hour of an international news service in English and sometimes catch up with the news in other languages on our SBS service - by "reading the visuals - if I think it is necessary.) Perhaps I should watch more.
It seems that Ms Kruger expressed a concern that more Muslim migration was something that could mean more violence, more terrorist attacks, more demands that the rest of us change our way of life to suit Muslims. The media, the Race Discrimination Commissioner, politicians and more did not like this. They did not like it at all. She was daring to express a concern which should not be expressed at all. 
There have been loud calls to criticise her, even condemn her, for violence against her, for her to be sacked from her job and more. In short many influential people have reacted in just such a way to suggest that yes, there is something to be concerned about. It is something we should all be concerned about.
It doesn't matter whether Ms Kruger is right or wrong. She was expressing an opinion - and from all accounts it was not expressed in an angry, violent or unreasonable way. Rather, it was expressed as a genuine concern for the welfare of her own children and the sort of country they will grow up in. It's a point of view. It's a point of view which is considered by some people to be "politically incorrect"  but it is still a point of view. I know too that it is a point of view that is held by a great many other people. It is one reason why Pauline Hanson's "One Nation" party obtained so many votes at the last election. People are concerned. 
People are looking at Europe and asking, "Is this going to happen here too?"
It's a reasonable question. It's a reasonable question but it seems it is wrong to debate it.
That is wrong. It is wrong because if we don't debate such issues openly and honestly then people are going to remain ill informed. There will be more people who believe that "all Muslims are terrorists" and thus avoid all Muslims and allow the myths surrounding them to fester and grow.
I know what it's like. I sometimes get odd looks when I talk to hijab wearing friends. I was once told of my friend J.... "you shouldn't talk to her". The comment came from an otherwise perfectly ordinary, sensible person who happens to go to church. He simply doesn't understand and he doesn't want to understand. It's not something you debate in his book. 
That scares me more than someone saying we should restrict the number of Muslims coming into the country.  Could we talk about the issue please - talk about it without condemning people?  

Wednesday 20 July 2016

"A.... died this morning...

a friend said. She had phoned me yesterday afternoon to say her husband had died that morning.
His death was expected - but not so quickly. He had Motor Neuron Disease and it was progressing rapidly. He didn't want to live.
Our friend has been calling in each Wednesday afternoon for a cup of tea after teaching a knitting class. She has been concerned for the Senior Cat and we have been concerned for her and for her husband. We have have been following the progress of his illness, letting her talk when she needed to talk and trying to be there when she needed to talk. 
I didn't mind the time it took in the least. I'd do it all over again. She needed someone because,  however calm she sounded, living with something like this is an enormous strain on everyone concerned. Perhaps I have too much imagination but I was anxious for both of them. He was spending a good deal of his day staring into space. He was depressed - and who would not be depressed? He knew what the prognosis was and that nothing could change it. Waiting to die like that, knowing you are simply going to get worse and worse must be terrifying.
Last week he told the doctor he did not want to go on taking the only drug available. All it does is slow the progress of the disease - and prolong the agony if you don't want to go on living. He didn't want to go on living. 
He could still move around. He could still speak, although only in a whisper. He could read, play chess and do a few more simple things. In the normal way of things he might have lived longer but perhaps he had made up his mind to go. He kept telling his wife, "Don't bother..." to do this and that and something else. He didn't want to bother his son or his brother. He didn't want them to visit. He didn't want to do anything. 
They had just started palliative care for him at home and perhaps that was it. Perhaps the growing indignity of dependency was too great to bear.
Several years ago a friend of mine who uses a wheelchair fell out of it and broke both arms. It meant weeks in hospital and rehabilitation simply because she could not do anything for herself - when she is used to doing many things for herself. It was hard but she knew there would be an end to it. She bore it with suppressed fury at herself and a resigned smile for her visitors. On one occasion though she actually said to me, "This terrifies me. How did J.... cope with everyone doing everything for him all the time?" J... was a friend who was physically dependent on others for everything - and
he had a brilliant mind.
For my friend's husband though there would not be an end to it - except in death.  I wonder therefore when she found him lying across the bed rather than along it he had not chosen to go. 
When she spoke to me she sounded upset but also calm. It was, she said, the way he wanted to go - now, and quietly in his sleep. 
I am glad for him - and sad for her.  

Tuesday 19 July 2016

"Organised chaos"?

Over on the "Awfully Big Blog Adventure" Linda Strachan has a post about being organised when you are busy - I'll describe it that way for simplicity's sake.
It reminded me of something and someone I hadn't thought of for a while. It reminded me of my main doctoral supervisor. He would sometimes run in from his home in North London, a distance of several miles. When he arrived he would sit down at his desk, grab the pad that always sat there and a pen and he would write a list of the things he wanted to do that day. It always started with the same two words. When he had finished writing the list he would cross the first item off. It was of course "make list".  He used to laugh at himself for doing it and tell people "at least I know I have achieved one thing today". 
I don't often write lists but I do make a lot of them - in my head. I plan the way I am going to do things when I am out and about - so that I don't need to backtrack. I do put things in a diary.
And we have a wall calendar. Every year in around about November I start to draw up another wall calendar. I do them on what I think is called "A2" size light cardboard. I stick the days of the week across the top and the months down the side after I have ruled all the necessary lines in. Then I fill in all the dates. I put in various birthdays and anything which is done on a regular basis. If there are any appointments already there for next year I add those.
All this is largely for the benefit of the Senior Cat. My mother made these calendars before I did. Hers looked infinitely more professional with her beautiful "infant school" printing that we could all read with ease. I typed the days and months up and they are in a computer file. I just print of a copy, cut it up and stick it on. The dates I do write in. They are just legible. The Senior Cat offered to do them once - and once only. I ended up finishing the job for him. He hates writing anything. 
At the beginning of the year the calendar looks a little bare. By the end of the year it is full of all sorts of things. We can look backwards and forwards. We can see the entire year at once. Are we free on that date? When does the Senior Cat see the doctor? Who is coming on the 8th or the 22nd or whatever other date. When is that bill due? 
I wonder whether I will make a calendar like that when it is just me? Will I sit down and write "make calendar" and then cross it off? Will it allow me to live in organised chaos?

Monday 18 July 2016

There is just a little bit of hope for the next generation

if yesterday was any example. 
There was yet another craft fair. We have rather too many at present. It would be better for all stall holders if these were consolidated. This time though there were more people attending because it was combined with a "Home" show as well - bathrooms and kitchens and curtains and so on.  
Middle Cat had taken the Senior Cat out to a gardening meeting so I didn't need to worry about him. I had work to do but I knew I could take a few hours out of the day so I prowled off. I also had a voucher so I didn't need to pay to enter - another bonus.
I wasn't involved. My services were not required. The friend I help did not have a stall there. My knitting guild did not ask me for help. I went along yesterday - the final day - as a mere visitor. That in itself was a rare and unusual experience. 
And all this meant I could people watch. Children under 12, if accompanied by an adult, were also free. It meant there were more children around than is  usual. 
They all appeared to be remarkably well behaved. I may be wrong about this and I may be wrong about the reason for it  - but I think not. I  suspect most of them were fascinated. People were doing things. 
People were doing things most of them had probably never seen before. This particular craft fair had multiple workshop areas. People were using machines and tools. They were making things. Most of the things might be what I call "dust collectors" but they were designed to be quick projects to experience a product or technique or both.  I wonder how many children have seen adults doing that sort of thing? It was obvious it was a new experience for many of them. 
I went around slowly and came upon the lace makers...two doing bobbin lace and another needle lace. One of the bobbin lace women had something to show me - a piece of knitted lace she wanted to know about. I did my best and then watched her as, very carefully, she helped a young boy manipulate her bobbins several times. His concentration was intense.
I went on to the embroiderers. Again they were showing not just adults but children their craft and I heard one of them saying that yes, they do run classes for children.
But it was at the hand spinners and weavers that I found the little group of children watching awestruck as someone turned fleece into yarn. It was as if the spinner was turning straw into gold. 
"I want to do it too" and "I wish I could do that" and "that is just so cool to be able to do that".  The spinner showed them just how she was doing it and she answered all their questions. I think some of them would have happily spent much more time watching but they were eventually dragged away by parents on to the hand knitters and crocheters - my colleagues. 
The spinner and I looked at each other though and agreed. There is just a little bit of hope for the next generation - hope that they will learn the manual dexterity necessary to make something for themselves and for others and hope that these crafts will not be lost.
And hope that they will want to create rather than destroy.

Sunday 17 July 2016

Power, greed and superstition

are all part of the problem.
The Senior Cat was wondering what has caused Middle Cat's family, who don't go to church themselves, to do all the traditional Greek Orthodox death, burial and "mind" rituals. We came to the conclusion that they are doing it mostly for the older generation who still firmly believe it is right to do those things  - but there might be a little niggling belief among themselves.
The Greek Orthodox priests I have met here (just four in all) still seem to wield a fair amount of power over their congregations. Perhaps it is different elsewhere but my BIL seems to think that most of the priests still enjoy a position of at least some authority. They get paid extra for all the rituals of death, the six week, six month and year long "mind" ceremonies. They remind the families of the need for these things - and the families do it out  of not just a desire to be seen to do the "right" thing but  because of a certain superstitious  belief that it needs to be done - even though they probably couldn't say what they believe would happen if they don't do it.
I may be wrong but I think that the same sort of thing happened in Turkey yesterday. It is the reason the coup attempt failed. It should not have failed. The "democratically elected" government was in fact not democratically elected at all. The election was riddled with voting irregularities. The previous election had produced unexpected results which simply could not be allowed to stand. The previous results gave too much power - however little it was - to a group which threatens the authority of the President and the power and authority of the Islamic clerics who are beginning to control the country through him.
Turkey still has a secular constitution but there can be no doubt that the clerics want to see this changed. It is why they called people out on to the streets during the uprising. And people obeyed because they were simply too afraid not to obey. This is what they had been told to do and those telling them to do it are people they believe they respect but many of them actually fear.  
Those attempting the coup have probably done more harm than good. They have given Erdogan greater power than before. He can now come down even harder on dissenters. He will be backed by the clerics. Turkey is in even greater danger of losing its secular constitution - something which is already being eroded. 
Power is power for Erdogan and, through him, the clerics. They are greedy for power and the undoubted wealth which comes with it. There are too many in the population who still lack the education to be anything other than superstitious about not obeying their instructions.
It's all a dangerous combination of force and ideas. 
When the Senior Cat asked one of Nephew Cat's cousins  why he didn't go to church  the cousin thought about it for a while and then said, "I think it is because our generation is too well educated."
Nephew Cat agreed. It's not a matter of what they believe or don't believe in a spiritual sense. It's a matter of  not believing in the superstitious practices that  surround their spiritual beliefs - if they have any.  It is those practices and the control they exert which are so very, very dangerous.

Saturday 16 July 2016

Je ne comprends pas,

je ne comprends pas...I don't understand, I don't understand. Why?
I have to confess here that the appalling incident in Nice is something that I have imagined before now. I have had nightmares about just such an attack, of a huge vehicle ploughing through a crowd of people. 
I don't know whether this is too much imagination on my part or what. I am not "psychic". Traffic terrifies me. I don't cross major roads on foot. I know I don't move fast enough for that. It doesn't stop me from having nightmares about gigantic lorries bearing down on me - and me not being able to get out of the way. I am surrounded by other people in the same position and I can't even call out to them. 
My nightmare has nothing to do with foreseeing something. I know that. A psychiatrist would probably make something quite different out of my nightmare. It does however make me wonder about whether such things might occur. And this was such a bloody, awful, hateful, terrifying, and obvious thing to have happen. I just wonder that it has not happened before - and when it will happen again.
I know people will say, "We can't let it happen again" but it will happen. The results this time were too effective. All it took was a lorry, a gun and men who were prepared to die in the belief they will go to heaven and be provided with virgins for having done a  service to their "god". What sort of "god" is that? What sort of "god" condones the killing of innocent people enjoying a night out - a night which young children should be able to enjoy safely?
And now, on my news feed, there are reports of an attempted coup in Turkey. The situation sounds chaotic. It must be terrifying to be caught up in that too. 
I just don't understand what the people who do all these things hope to gain. What are they trying to do? 
Je ne comprends pas.

Friday 15 July 2016

I tried to do something to

help someone yesterday. It didn't work.
I didn't rush in. I thought about it. I made the necessary preparations. Then I offered quietly. 
I really wish I had not bothered. "I DON'T NEED ANY F..... HELP!" It could hardly have been clearer. 
I prowled off trying to tell myself that it didn't matter. At least I had tried.
I tried with someone else the other day. This was someone I was much less sure about and I made it very plain that I would understand if my offer was not accepted. I had a stiff but polite response. She would manage without any help from anyone. I suspect she has but it would have been better for her if she had talked her problem through with someone and accepted some help.
But yesterday's problem was different because the problem was one she could not cope with alone. Two more people offered help and got an even more violent reaction. We've all had to leave her to it even though we know it is going to end up costing her money she can't afford.
I know I am much too independent. Someone offered to carry my bag upstairs the other day. I didn't accept. I probably should have. It was something I could do myself but perhaps they needed to be allowed to help?
This morning I read a small piece where someone I know eventually bought a rail ticket for a distressed teen and sent him on his way. He had been asking for help and not getting it. It reminded me of the occasion on which a younger boy I knew was mugged and left with no way to get  home. He went into the only shop around for some distance and asked if the person behind the counter would make a phone call to his mother and tell her what had happened. The person behind the counter refused and the boy did the only thing he could think of doing in his distress. He started to walk home even though it was cold, raining heavily, and going to be dark long before he got there.
The police picked him up almost two hours later. He was about half way home by then. When they had delivered him they apparently went back and spoke to the person who had refused to make that simple phone call for an obviously distressed child.
It's left me wondering about this offering to help business. Should I have just said "thanks" and passed my bag over even though I could do it myself? Is doing something like that more likely to ensure that people offer help when it really is needed? I was polite but I wonder whether the person who offered feel rebuffed? I hope not.
I know I won't want to offer the person who swore any help again. It was an effort the first time. Would I help if they asked me? I suppose I would but I am not sure how I would feel about it.
This business of offering and accepting help is complicated. It's still better to offer and be rebuffed. I am going to tell myself that anyway.

Thursday 14 July 2016

Is Boris Johnson really

the new Foreign Minister for Upover? You do mean that little boy with the untidy hair who says the most outrageous things is their new Foreign Minister?
It's almost as bad as the sort of thing that happens here. I thought Upover was better than that. 
We do have a new government of a sort but the Opposition is behaving as if they were the winners - perhaps they are. The government only just scraped enough seats for a majority. 
And the Opposition is making dangerous rumblings about what should be done in the South China Sea. That is a situation of the utmost delicacy. 
The Chinese have been laying claim to more and more of it. They have been building islands there - with military style runways and more. I have no idea what it has cost - presumably billions of dollars. You don't do that sort of thing cheaply.
If, despite the ruling of the International Court of Justice, they manage to retain control over the area they claim they will also have control over one of the busiest shipping routes in the world.
The power it would give them is not to be underestimated.  
It is also good reason for the Chinese not to be permitted to have such control. Nobody should have that much power. There are multiple other countries which lay claim to the area the Chinese claim. They may all have a legitimate interest in it. 
Realistic and cooler heads in China are of course aware that the concocted claim to the area was always going to be disputed. They will be looking for a way for the Chinese government to extricate itself within the rule of law - and without losing face. 
That is all going to take careful words and delicate diplomacy. They won't want any outspoken foreign ministers or shadow foreign ministers barging in and making inflammatory statements. 
Diplomacy is best not left to the politicians.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

I did one of those silly "tests"

yesterday. You know the sort of thing I mean? They appear on your time line to try and entice you to waste a little time doing something absolutely meaningless. They are designed to tell you which Hogwarts house you belong to, which author or artist or musician you might be, guess how old you are or where you would like most to go on holiday.
I almost always ignore them. I like to think I am immune. Of course I am not immune. I did one yesterday.
My only excuse is that I was waiting for someone to send a reply to an e-mail I had just sent. We had been sending messages backwards and forwards for over an hour. I knew my last one to him would take a little while to get a response.
....and there was the "vocabulary" test. I did it. I wasted a few minutes. Even as I was doing it I knew I was wasting my time. It irritated me because, as a measure of vocabulary, it was anything but good. 
I think my vocabulary is reasonable. I can  usually express what  I need to say in every day life. I know how to use dictionaries. I suppose I should be satisfied with that because I know a great many people who can't.
What I can't always express by any means is what I want to say, especially when I am writing. The cat hairs simply don't line up the way I would like on the page. That frustrates me.
Vocabulary is about so much more than the words we know. It's about being able to actually use them - in the right places.

Tuesday 12 July 2016

"What went wrong

with the election?" someone asked me yesterday.
I had ventured out cautiously. The weather was wild and windy - although not quite as bad as this morning's weather is proving to be so far. 
The question was almost enough for me to want to turn tail and pound the pedals back to the house. My views on the topic would not be the sort of thing my questioner would want to hear. He wouldn't agree. 
The current Prime Minister - yes Upover, as of yesterday we have a government again - always wanted the top job. He was removed by the previous Prime Minister in Opposition. The previous Prime Minister did the right thing when he tapped him on the shoulder. It got them into power with a large majority. It should have stayed that way for at least two terms. It hasn't. The present Prime Minister is to blame.
The present Prime Minister is probably on the wrong side of politics. He simply isn't conservative enough. He's never been conservative enough. His entry into politics was opportunistic rather than idealistic or committed. Some of his views have encouraged the rise of the far right - simply because some people with views to the right of centre believe they are not being represented.  
The present Prime Minister supports a number of policies which are not supported by his party - emissions trading, same sex marriage, more flexible border protection and refugee policies, and a republic are among them. This is not to say that his side of politics is vehemently opposed to these things. They are not - but they do see other ways of going about achieving similar results or that these are not issues of importance compared with the major issues of the economy, health, education and employment. 
If we did have a plebiscite on the issue of same sex marriage (now less likely than before) and people voted against allowing it would that be an end to the matter? No, of course not. Those supporting it would simply continue to agitate in the way the Republican movement continues to agitate for something a majority of people have little or no interest in. If we opened our borders to all comers would that satisfy the refugee advocates? Of course not. They would still find ways to protest our treatment of those who came in. 
One of the things that went wrong with the election is that some people need to protest. Some people get an adrenalin fix out of protesting. There are a few who manage to get media attention, others who avidly follow what they have to say and agree without thinking. "So and so says so it must be true...."
So we now have a rather odd collection of minor parties and "independents" who will, despite only capturing a minority of the vote, have an excessive amount of power. The new government has the slimmest of majorities - and really does need to work with the "independents". They will have power in excess of the number of votes they received because the new government won't want to upset them - they might need those votes at some time.
I wonder if those who believe their protest vote was a good thing realise what the consequences are likely to be?

Monday 11 July 2016

Tree down...tree down...tree down...

I get a news feed from the Country Fire Service (the Country Fire Authority in some places). In summer it alerts me to news about fires.  There is sometimes other news as well - vehicle accidents, flooding, salvage, rescue etc. for which they have all been called out appear. This morning there is a long string of "tree down" notices.
I am not surprised there are some. These will be trees that have fallen across roads in country areas. People will have reported them. The CFS volunteers will be out there in the wind and rain clearing the tree away. They will be using very dangerous equipment in very dangerous conditions.
Almost all the trees will be gums of one sort or another. These trees are notorious for dropping limbs, especially after a long hot summer. Entire trees can go too. I watched one fall once. Fortunately for me and everything else it was on the far side of a large and otherwise open space. Nothing around it was damaged. 
It is not, as many people seem to think, simple work. You cannot just send a couple of people up with a chainsaw, cut the tree into neat little bits and dump those bits back on the side of the road. It doesn't work like that. Sometimes there are overhead power lines involved. The power needs to be turned off somewhere else. The road may be damaged. A car may have been under the tree or hit the tree as it came around a bend in the road too quickly to stop. It will need to be removed. Some of the tree may need to be removed from the site. If the entire tree has not fallen it has to be inspected. Is the rest of it safe? Is there anything else which might fall? What about the area surrounding the tree? Has anything else been damaged? If the limb has fallen on a house is the structure safe an can a tarpaulin of some sort be put over the damage until someone else can get to it? 
The Premier of a neighbouring state has tried to put volunteer firefighters under the authority of the professional urban firefighters. The situation is still not resolved. It's a political dispute and one the Premier would do well to back down on because the volunteers who do this sort of work are vital. They don't volunteer for the fun of it. They volunteer because the safety of their community depends on their skills. Their skills are much wider and more varied than those of their urban counterparts. They, along with their other emergency service volunteers, save the country hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
We shelter under these volunteers - more than the Premier seems to realise.

Sunday 10 July 2016

We were discussing slavery

yesterday. One of the Senior Cat's current non-fiction books is "Sapiens" by Yuval Harari. Our friend H.... suggested it - a good pick on her part. 
Like most things these days he is taking his time with it - along with Ian Rankin's "Rebus's Scotland" and a book by Minette Walters that he somehow missed out on when it was first published. I am not sure how he missed the Rankin either because he has devoured everything else Rankin has written.
But, we were discussing the slave trade. It had come up in Sapiens and the Senior Cat was, as always, interested (and disturbed) by the motivations behind it. 
I was reminded yet again of my last history teacher at school - the one who told us to close our books and listen to what was going to happen in what is now Zimbabwe - telling me to read an account of the slave trade he had found. (Like my English teacher that year he tended to give me things to read. The rest of the class was apparently not interested.) He must have had great faith in me to provide me with the account he gave me. "I gave this man (and the writer goes on to describe the individuals) and he gave me...."
I was shocked - and it still appalls me - to discover that the slave trade was not just a "white man's trade". The idea that tribal chiefs had sold people they knew stunned me. As a very naive teenager this idea was almost incomprehensible. 
And, of course, I thought the slave trade had been abolished. It hasn't of course. There are "slaves" here. We may not have many but we do have some - and even one is too many.  They are hidden of course but they do exist. Some of them would not even be recognised as such but they are slaves - people who are not properly paid, who are not free to move to other employment, who are forever "in debt" to their employers, who are required to live in a particular place and in a particular way, and who are not permitted to mix with the rest of the community. Their "employers" have this new form of slavery down to a fine art.
I also reminded the Senior Cat of one of the establishments in our local shopping centre. It provides a sort of manicure/pedicure type service. The girls who work there are young Chinese. They don't smile. They don't engage in conversation with the customers. They "don't speak English".  An acquaintance of mine went in there recently - her children had given her a gift voucher and she felt compelled to use it. The staff there were not aware of it but she speaks their particular Chinese dialect - and speaks it fluently. She listened for a short time to them talking among themselves. Their speech is subdued and constrained even among themselves.
Then she spoke to the girl who indicated she was ready to do her nails - in her own language. There was a startled look, almost fearful. As my acquaintance (and I) had expected she was informed that they had been told not to engage the customers in conversation - it would be "impolite". 
She told the young manicurist it would be "impolite" not to engage in conversation with someone who spoke the same language. They talked - quietly.  It's a start.


Saturday 9 July 2016

I think I would like Cantori and Decani

to be the next Prime Ministers - jointly. 
If you haven't met Cantori and Decani they are the Cathedral Cats. They rearrange the hymn books to play "castles and dragons". (They leave the prayer books well alone.) They use the hassocks as sleeping mats - leaving hairs to transfer to human clothing. 
Cantori plays the keyboard of the organ and Decani plays the pedals. Neither of them can sing in tune.
They also play soccer in the aisles - with the miniature soccer ball the choirboys gave them the Christmas before last. This often leaves muddy paw prints along the strip of red carpet - also used for turning somersaults and cartwheels. It infuriates the verger and the cleaners. Very occasionally they rearrange the flowers - and they frequently snuff out unattended candles.
They remove mice gently and deposit them in the Dean's house.
They do manage to sit quietly under the first pew during services  - apart from the occasional flick of the tips of their tails. When necessary they put a paw out to waken any canon or dean who has fallen asleep during the sermon. 
Of course they fight over who gets the most tuna and whose turn it is to lick the lid of the yoghurt container.
It is all strictly forbidden of course - but they do it anyway. The two of them know every hiding place in the cathedral. They know the coolest places in summer and the warmest places in winter. They love the pageantry of the church festivals but avoid weddings and funerals. 
The cathedral staff don't quite know what to make of them. They are perhaps irritated and amused in equal measure. 
Unfortunately the Archbishop is genuinely fond of them. He won't release them from their duties to take over the running of the country.

Friday 8 July 2016

There is still no election result

and people are, rightly, beginning to wonder why it is taking so long. Yes, our electoral system needs to be reviewed.
It probably won't be. 
I'll make a submission to the Senate Standing Committee about my experiences. I'll make a suggestion for change. It will almost certainly be ignored but I know I need to do it. If I don't do it then nothing can change.
There are complaints that some polling booths ran out of ballot papers, that some had the wrong ballot papers. In most seats these things, while very serious, probably won't make any difference to the outcome. If the same complaints surface in seats where numbers are tight then what happens? 
There will be an investigation but the allegations would have to be very, very serious for people to be required to go back and vote again. 
I was at a meeting yesterday and someone asked me if I had, after the Brexit vote, changed my mind about  our system of compulsory attendance at the ballot box. The answer is "no". I still think that is wrong. 
I passionately believe people have a right to a vote. People have fought and died over that issue. At the same time if people don't want to be involved, feel they don't know enough to be involved, or are in anyway uncomfortable about being involved then they should not be compelled to attend the ballot box.  
Our  system of compulsory attendance at the ballot box simply makes for lazy politicians. They know they don't have to work to get people to vote - they only need to get a small number of "swinging voters" to vote for them. That requires a great deal less work.
During this last election campaign one candidate from a major party didn't put in an appearance in our immediate area. Nobody I spoke to - or  who spoke to me -  had seen him, let alone met him. He still collected a good proportion of the votes. I suspect they came from people who went in and voted for his party because that's the way they always vote regardless of the policies. 
Someone else told me he hadn't bothered to vote. There was nobody he wanted to vote for. I suppose he had at least thought about this.
But there were a slew of young people who admitted to me that they didn't know what they were doing. They had relied on advice from parents or from the political advertising. They had no idea what the party policies were. Some had voted for minority party candidates simply because they thought it would be "fun to stir things up a bit".
I am not sure that this version of "democracy" works.

Thursday 7 July 2016

"Tinned tomato soup or a boiled egg?"

I asked the Senior Cat.
A friend called in yesterday afternoon. I was expecting to see her as she calls in on Wednesday afternoons during term time. I am glad she does because she needs "a cuppa and a chat". I also know that this won't go on forever. Her husband is ill and when he is no longer there she will move to the other side of the city to be closer to her children. I'll miss her visits.
I usually do the things I need to do before she arrives - and go on working after she leaves. Yesterday other work intervened and I did not get around to making the soup I planned to make for tea.
I give the Senior Cat his main meal in the middle of the day - on medical advice. I like to think I am fussy about our diet so for me to say "Tinned tomato soup or a boiled egg?" is a rarity. I keep the tomato soup (which the Senior Cat likes) for emergencies.
I had made bread yesterday morning - good, solid rye and grain bread which is a favourite with the Senior Cat. He chose soup to go with it.
I like to cook for the Senior Cat. He is appreciative.  He thanks me. He will still try new things. There are very few things he doesn't like or can't tolerate. Neither of us eat shellfish or offal so I don't cook those things. He eats his greens - just as well as I like my greens. He loves cheese. He likes dessert - fruit with ice cream mostly. (I haven't cooked a pudding  sort of pudding since my mother died as she was the only one who liked them.)
But last night we had tinned soup - and I felt guilty. I must make real soup today. 

Wednesday 6 July 2016

Oh right, "social media"

came under scrutiny yesterday. It seems I have the etiquette wrong - or have I?
I don't "do" a lot of social media. Yes, I know I have the blog. I am on Twitter and yes, I have a small presence on Facebook. I don't post masses of photographs. I keep my circle of friends there small. I think of them as genuine friends. They are, I hope, the sort of people I might actually have "a cuppa" with rather than bare acquaintances or people I might not even recognise in the street. Fair enough?
I also belong to a group where there is a President and a Secretary and a Committee. It is their role to run the group, not mine.
Intending to be a polite sort of cat I wrote to the Secretary of the group when an opportunity for the group came up. I "cc'd" it to the President. The message about the opportunity was passed on to other people by them. All that seemed right and proper to me and, I assume, to them.
One person responded by saying I could have put an announcement on the FB page for the group, that this was the purpose of social media - that the intention was "many voices".  This person runs the FB page. She would have been aware I don't - for very good reasons - belong to it. I could not have posted a message there  but -  until yesterday - I could have read the messages there. It was an "open" group. It attracted people who did not belong to the group but were interested in the activities of the members. Not all of them can belong to the group. Some of them live in other places or are unable to get to the meetings for other reasons. It sometimes attracted people and they joined the group. 
Surely that is the point of social media? The person who claimed the intention of social media to be "many voices" seems to have suddenly cut off the sound. 
I don't know whether that is what she intended from the beginning or whether she is trying to "encourage" me to join the page. I see no point in making it a closed group. The activities were in no way confidential or secret. To the contrary, it would have been useful to advertise them to anyone who cared to search for them.
I am wondering whether I have done something wrong? Have I entirely misread the intention of social media? Am I supposed to open up my life to a group just so that other people I don't know can view it? Have I caused a problem for other people?
I hope not. I don't really think I have but I find it a curious reaction. It is at odds with the statements which were made about the purpose of social media and does not take into account the caution  with which many people wisely approach it. 
I am sorry if I am the cause of the door shutting on other people but can someone please tell me if I have the idea of "social media" wrong?

Tuesday 5 July 2016

"We have a scholarship girl..."

I knew it was coming but it still made my heart beat a little faster, my "purr" a little louder. We have a scholarship girl!
It's been worth the tremendously hard work to get it all into place. It really has. 
A very, very close friend of mine died almost two years ago. She left money in her will for me to use for our mutual friend in Africa and the refuge she runs for unaccompanied children. We could have used the money for the day-to-day running of the refuge or - we all thought long and hard about this - should we use it for something else?
As is all too often the case in Africa the boys have had more chances than the girls. Where possible they have had schooling beyond the primary years. So far only one boy from the refuge has been to university. What about the girls? They hadn't even been able to think about finishing school although several have had two more years at the high school. It's hard work if they make it that far because they also have to help at the refuge far more than others do at home. So, only the most determined make it.
A scholarship for one of the brightest and best and most determined who wanted to do something in the areas my friend was interested in  like science, health, and education, seemed a possibility. We "talked" via the internet. A friend in Belgium looked at what it cost. Was there enough money? Probably not. We would need to raise some more. I wrote passionate pieces about where the girls come from, how they were being cared for, what their education was like, what some of them might be able to do given the chance. The friend in Belgium added all the financial figures and showed how it would pay to do this. Our friend in Africa wrote more. 
We didn't need a lot more money - not the sort of money which other people try and raise. We wanted enough to invest so that there would be money for one scholarship for one girl to go on and be something like a nurse or a teacher or something similar. 
Perhaps it was that modest goal which made other people donate. Our friend in Belgium talked to people. They wrote to me and I wrote yet more passionate letters. I kept my mental paws crossed. We had to write very strict conditions about the way the fund was to be used - to satisfy the laws in more than one country. We had to be sure that the money could not be used for anything else. It's a trust we hope nobody can break. If the refuge goes - and we hope it will one day not be necessary - then the scholarship will remain.
We wanted it in place as soon as possible. These things can sometimes take years to set in place but education cannot wait for  years. We knew late last year that this year we could offer one scholarship . Who?
We left that to our friend in Africa. She worked with the teacher, the head of the high school, the priest (because, although for all faiths and creeds, it is a Catholic establishment) and the inspector of schools.  It was a hard decision even though there was a stand out candidate. It meant that just one girl would go on.
Yesterday there was a letter to me from the girl who has won the scholarship. Like other children at the refuge she has written to me from time to time. The children tell me things. They love getting answers. Having a "friend" in a far distant country is something they love to have. But her letter was something different. She described her emotions as up and down, as happiness for herself and sadness for her friends who won't go as far.
But our friend in Belgium is working on that. It will happen. And, in the meantime, we have our first scholarship girl. She's going to be a leader.

Monday 4 July 2016

RIP Elie Wiesel

- you deserve it. 
I met him once - very briefly. It was long before he won the Nobel Prize, even perhaps before he had achieved any of his wider reputation.
I was introduced to him by one of my lecturers at university - the same man who introduced me to so many other interesting people. This was the lecturer who would often tell people, "This is Cat. She has an idea. I'd like her to tell you about it."
Most people listened. A few were merely polite, others more interested, and some enthusiastic. Elie Wiesel was one of the last.
He was standing there in his shirt sleeves - it was a warm summer evening - and had nothing to write on or with.
I thought he was going to be merely polite but someone else he knew acknowledged me as we stood there in the garden and told him,
"Ask her about her idea for an international year."
He asked. I told him briefly. His expression changed from polite to interested, very interested.
"Paper, pen!" he called to our mutual friend. 
"In my study!"
"Stay still," he told me.
He was back a moment later. He asked some searching questions. He wrote notes and thanked me. That was pretty much the end of the conversation. I heard no more from him.
Many years later though the same lecturer wrote to me and said, "Remember my friend Elie Wiesel? He's been gathering support for your idea too."
Wiesel had been awarded his Nobel Prize by then. He didn't respond to my brief letter of thanks. 
Later I came across a quote from him, 
        "Without memory there is no culture. Without memory there would be no civilisation, no society, no future."
Memory depends on language. We had talked about that.

Sunday 3 July 2016

A hung parliament

is still a possibility.
I went and curled up on my sleeping mat last night. I did it early. I did not bother to sit up and watch the results trickle in. 
It was fairly obvious early on that the results were not going to be a landslide one way or the other.  It was also fairly obvious that the results might not even be known until sometime this week - probably Tuesday.
The Prime Minister has not done well. This does not particularly surprise. He's arrogant - a trait he shares with the present leader of the Opposition. 
So, we will wait. It won't be good for the economy but we will wait. 
Yesterday was interesting. I pedalled all over the place. I queued a number of times. No, I wasn't voting multiple times. I was making sure other people cast their ballots in the way they chose.  At one polling station one of the "carers" - who had brought several group house residents to vote - tried to tear strips off me for "interfering". I was told the residents didn't need any help and that she, the carer, could have done it for them. I am sure she could have decided which way they were going to vote - but they decided for themselves thank you very much.  The other carer with her just said quietly and rather wearily, "Thanks for helping Cat."
My charges all managed to vote - as they chose.  We had told them about "how to vote" cards and every one of them just said, "no thank you I have mine". It was a tactic which worked well.
I am glad that part of it is over - at least, hopefully, for another three years. If we have the proposed plebiscite on same sex marriage that will be interesting but it won't be as complicated. Eleven people with learning disabilities have participated in democracy. Their choices would not have been my choices. They made their choices based on things that didn't even rate consideration with me but that is beside the point. 
And, looking at the unholy mess out there this morning, I am wondering whether their method of voting might not be just as effective.

Saturday 2 July 2016

We go to the polls today

and this time tomorrow we may know the results. If the result is as close as expected we may not. I'll leave it at that.
I can vote at one of several polling stations but I will avoid the one at the school, not because of the sausage sizzle or the cake stall - I would happily support the latter - but because there will be an even greater number of people there trying to tell me how to vote. I know who will be on duty at the polling place I will attend. They know me. They also know me better than to try and convince me - at the last moment - to try and change the way I intend to vote. 
I am prowling in there with my own "how to vote" card...or paper. I know what I want to do. I looked at it again this morning. It is still what I want to do. Nothing has happened overnight to change my mind.
I would like to see "how to vote" cards banished from within at least 50m of a polling station. I would actually like to see them banished on the day of the election.  How people vote should not depend on a piece of paper thrust at them as they walk into a polling booth.
There is a statistic somewhere to suggest that at least 19% of the electorate has not made up their mind when they arrive at the polling booth. It may be even higher than that. Other people will vote for "A" or "B" because they vote that way whatever the policies. It is the party they have always voted for. They don't think about it. They follow the how to vote card too.
I didn't get a vote until I turned 26. I was among the last who had to wait until they were 21 to vote. I left Downunder before I was on the electoral roll and, after I returned, I had to wait until I was 26 before there was an election. It was an odd experience voting that first time.  I felt uneasy as I passed by all the people trying to thrust pieces of paper into my hand. Had I been a mere 21 would I have felt even more intimidated?
Now I can prowl past all of them with a "no thanks" and "I know how I'm voting thanks". I know one person will give me a smile because he believes I will be voting the way he wants  me to vote. Maybe I will. Maybe I won't. 
How I vote is my business and completely private while I can fill out the ballot papers myself. I know how some people are voting and that is between them and me. Nobody else will know. I don't need a how to vote card and neither do they. We have, each in our own way, thought about it.
We don't need "how to vote" cards.

Friday 1 July 2016

"Your letter in the paper..."

"He didn't like it."
"I can't imagine he did," I said.
I had been accosted by someone in the university grounds - the sort of person who  is determined to tell me what he or she thinks. This time though he was keen to tell me what a certain politician thought. 
He happens to live close to the certain politician. They don't get on together. The person talking to me is a Labor man through and through. His Dad and his Grandad were Labor men. He married a woman whose father was a Labor man. He toyed with the idea of running for parliament himself at one time. His wife stopped him. She might vote Labor (I don't know but assume this to be the case) but she didn't want to be married to a politician.
The certain politician is left of Labor. He's the sort of politician who will form a coalition with the Labor party if it means them getting into power but  he will demand a great deal in return. I hope it doesn't happen. I would prefer one side or the other to win enough seats to govern in their own right.
But, the pollie doesn't like me. One of his staffers phoned me once to try and tell me that I was wrong and that I "shouldn't be writing letters like that". (Just over a week later what I had "predicted" in the letter came to pass...but I admit I had a little inside information.) I am not going to be put off by people telling me I shouldn't be doing something like that. 
Letters are still powerful things. An e-mail is still not the same as a letter on paper. Of course my "letters to the editor" are e-mails these days. I also e-mail many other people. It usually works  because the person at the other end will know me, know of me, or will have requested a reply from me. All that is different but, if I want to make an impact, I will write a letter on paper. I will post it.  There are certain rules to be followed. The letter needs to be short - no more than a page if at all possible. It needs to be polite and to the point. Opinion needs to be backed with verifiable facts. All those things work towards people reading it and taking notice of it.
I am not sure what the psychology is but I know that the paper letter written like this will still make a bigger impact - and that letters e-mailed to the editor which appear in the paper work too.
Is it something to do with....paper?