Wednesday 31 August 2016

There were wonderful sounds coming

from the Senior Cat's shed yesterday. 
It is a place he sometimes rather wickedly calls "the chapel" or "the holey-of-holeys" (not to be confused with "holy").  
It has been a bit quiet out there lately. First he wasn't feeling up to being out there and then it has been too cold to be there.  He still hasn't used some of the  equipment himself. I am not sure he will use the circular saw again - rather hope he doesn't in fact. 
But, the day before, our neighbour came across and asked if his daughter's housemate/partner could come and use the tools. Yes, the likely visitor was trained in the use of the machinery and tools he would find there. (The Senior Cat understandably worries about safety.) 
So, yesterday a man looking a little like a hippie from the sixties of last century turned up. We had met him before - both he and the Senior Cat had forgotten this but I remembered because he  had been fascinated and frustrated by a wooden puzzle the Senior Cat had made. 
And off they went to the shed. A little later I could hear the sound of the circular saw being used. It isn't a sound I like in the least. It sets my teeth on edge. But, this time, it was good to hear. Then, a little later, I heard sanding and banging. Something was being made.
And then, going past my window, to put something in the rubbish I saw the Senior Cat.  His hair needs cutting. His shirt was hanging out. His trousers are too big for him because he has lost weight over the last year - despite my best efforts. He was covered in saw dust.
And, he was "purring" was almost as if I could hear him actually purr. He looked more content than he has done for weeks.
I made them both a cup of tea - and left them to drink it at the kitchen table while I got on with some work. I could hear them talking about carpentry - and cows. 
Just before lunch the "hippie" went off. He had done the job he needed to do. He'll pick it up today when the glue has dried. There's something else he'd like to do.
I hope he comes back to do it. The Senior Cat needed him.

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Writing reports

is not my favourite occupation. I had to write four yesterday. Two were related to my work but the other two were related to knitting.
It was the last two which proved difficult.
I write a "steward's report" as feedback for the knitting guild and the same group also needed a report on the library. Trying to find ways to say what needed to be said and not sound too negative or upset anyone was difficult.
The judge makes some of the same comments every year. This year they rarely applied to the guild but this was not because people had done the right thing. They had simply not bothered to enter any items. It is going to be difficult to find out why without sounding critical. 
I don't want to criticise because I know there can be good reasons not to do something. One person who has been entering beautiful work for years has had a stroke. She didn't finish her entries and we both know she won't be putting anything in again.  I know another person has never put anything in. She has never considered her work to be good enough. (It is more than good enough.) Other people simply don't want to risk the entry fee.
But the real problem is that most people simply can't be bothered to make the effort. There is an awareness that some people have less time for craft work and that some people are reluctant to spend large sums of money. Some of the classes recognise that. Socks, hats, amigurumi, and the "100gm challenge" classes are all there for people with little time but a desire to create. 
But, I wrote things. I hope I sounded polite and positive even if I was not enthusiastic. Writing it gave me ideas for workshops, for things people like to know or try, for information people need if they are to increase their knitting and crochet skills. I couldn't put any of that into the report. I can't even suggest these things to anyone. It's frustrating.
And the other report, the one on the library, relates to this as well. I know the book stock. I have made it my business to know what is inside the books, where a pattern might be find, and how to find out how to do something. Someone may ask one day.
But, I wonder why reports are written. They apparently need to be written. I wonder though whether anyone reads them.
Will I just have to once again write the same things in yet another way next year?

Monday 29 August 2016

The "same sex marriage" plebiscite

we were promised at the election may not go ahead after all. It is being opposed - opposed by the very people who claim to support the idea of same sex couples being able to marry.
They claim it is a waste of money, that the outcome is not binding. that the result is already known, and that parliament already has the power to make it possible. They also claim that the "well funded" argument in favour of the status quo will cause people to vote for that same status quo. They also say the debate beforehand will increase negative feeling towards those whose preference is for the same sex. 
I can think of better things to spend the money on. No, the outcome is not binding - but it would be a very foolish government which ignored the result. Yes, parliament has the power to make it possible. The result is not a certainty but all the opinion polls suggest it will pass and pass by a wide margin. The "well funded" claim is nonsense because both sides received equal funding in a government debate and those in favour of the idea have had a more than usual amount of support in parliament, in the media, and elsewhere. I suggest they have been very well funded indeed - much of it from the public purse. As for the "debate beforehand" causing negative feelings...well it has been going on for a very long time now. Most people are tired of it. Those with no strong feelings one way or another will vote for it simply to try and end the debate. They are tired of it. They really don't care one way or another.
My cousin is in a recognised relationship with his partner. His partner is a great guy and has just been accepted as part of the clan. It was never an issue for any of us. I have friends in other same sex relationships. Marriage has never been an issue for them . Some would simply like the law to recognise a relationship between them so that issues of property and inheritance and the name on a death certificate could be solved without question. 
So, what's going on? If those opposing this plebiscite, something people voted for,  really do vote against funding it then the issue won't go away. There will be new attempts to introduce a private bill. It will take up more of parliament's time whatever happens.
And, if the plebiscite  did go ahead and people did vote the proposal down, the issue still wouldn't go away. Like another issue - the republic - the claim will be that the question was not worded in a way that ensured it passed. 
I am just wondering though whether the problem might not be with something else altogether. One of parliament's strongest proponents of seeing this proposal into law is a senator in a same sex relationship. One of her colleagues told me recently that when her party was in power - and  could almost certainly have pushed the proposal through - the Senator went on record in Hansard saying that marriage was "between a man and a woman". 
I haven't found the reference myself and it may not be true but, if it is, then is that the real reason they wish to avoid a debate?
I'd just like the debate to be over - and I am giving N.... and D.... a "wedding" present anyway. 

Sunday 28 August 2016

"She is a delight to teach"

I told her parents - and I meant it.
The youngest member of the knitting group that meets monthly in the library is only ten. She lives in the hills and normally comes with a neighbour, as does her much older sister. When the neighbour was not able to come her parents brought her.
We had heard a good deal about them. They are  an unusual family and it was interesting to finally meet her parents who proved to be just as friendly as I thought they would be.  G....didn't want to miss out on knitting though so her parents went off to borrow books and left her to it.
She has mastered the knit stitch. Her knitting action is smooth. Her tension is even. She is knitting herself a scarf "but it will take a long time and it will be boring even with the stripes so it is for getting better and better at it. I want to learn other things in between."
And she is. Yesterday she felt ready for the purl stitch. I showed her how to do one. She took the needles back - and did it instantly. She had, at my suggestion, just cast on ten stitches for the practice piece - and, apart from the first stitch I showed her, did the row without trouble. We talked about the sort of fabric it produces when combined with the knit stitch - smooth but inclined to curl at the
edges. She wasn't satisfied with her first effort so she undid it and tried again.
Her concentration is intense and sustained. Her questions are relevant and thoughtful. 
"Anyone for a cup of tea?" someone else asked. G....had brought a packet of "Girl Guide" biscuits. She opened them and offered them around after she had taken her father a cup of tea and got her own. 
Someone else brought me a cup of tea.
Some time later when people had drunk their tea up and quietly collected several empty cups, including mine, and washed up without any fuss. Nobody asked her to do it. Her mother admitted that, at home, G...does some of the cooking.
She is simply one of those highly intelligent, competent, and thoughtful all round children who are a joy to have in the classroom.  
It was worth the effort involved in getting there yesterday just to spend time with her.

Saturday 27 August 2016

What you remember and

what actually happened may be two very different things.
Even two people at the same event and from almost exactly the same vantage point will see that event differently. It's the way we are programmed. We can all look at the same picture, or read the same book, observe the same person and more and we will see it differently. We see it through the lens of our own life experiences. The Senior Cat, who still likes to think about such things, was trying to remember a sequence from Ulysses yesterday. How, he wanted to know, does a writer write that? 
He remembers studying Ulysses as part of his degree in English literature. I remember him reading part of it to us when I was at school and he was teaching us. I was still only a kitten in the primary school when he did that. I reminded him that he had done this and he claims to have forgotten...but it had an enormous impact on me. 
"But I couldn't have done that," he told me yesterday, "You wouldn't have understood it."
Actually I think I did. I went inside the thoughts of another person for a moment. It was a very strange experience. I haven't forgotten it. 
Why my father read it to us I don't know. It must have had an impact on him at the time. There was only one other child in that little school who would have had any understanding at all of what the passage was intended to convey. He and I would have seen it in an entirely different ways. If I met him again I wonder if he would remember it? It's unlikely. 
But yes, it happened.
Perhaps it was good to be reminded of that because this week I had to face a rather difficult situation. I have been told that something happened. I have the paper work but I wasn't present at the event. I know what the paper work says. Three people have given me three slightly different but closely corresponding accounts of what happened. A fourth person has given me an entirely different account.  There will be a meeting next week to try and resolve the problem. Everyone - except me - will try and remember what happened. I am inclined, for more reasons than one, to accept what three people have said rather than just one.
It does make me wonder though what happens when we "remember" something? How does a writer "know" this? Even if they are writing in the present tense do they "know" what has happened or are they "remembering"? If they are writing in the past tense is it "knowing" or is it "remembering" - and what effect does that have on the writing?
I'll put the idea to the Senior Cat this morning - and let him think about it while he weeds his flower pots.

Friday 26 August 2016

"Look at this!"

Someone holds up yet another item being delivered for judging.
"Really lovely!"
"How do they do that?"
"What's this?"
And then, inevitably, "Cat will know. Ask her."
I don't actually know the answer to all things knitting but I do know the answer to some things so I explain where I can because this  time of the year is a craft learning experience for all of us.
Yesterday was one of those days. I was doing my turn as a steward at the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society pre-show preparations. I know I have explained elsewhere in this blog that I go along and collect the entries, put them out on trestle tables, help the judge who does the knitting and crochet, and then help to put them in the display cabinets.
They are fortunate to have an excellent judge. She is very thorough and scrupulously fair. She will tell us why she is giving a prize to one thing and not another. She will show us what she has noticed.
And she takes delight in not just excellent workmanship but she enthuses over things like the delightful "tiger" soft toy. He was straight out of "The tiger who came to tea" and any small child who knew the story would recognise him. More than one person cuddled him and the bears who won the first prize. They all had character.
This year there were a couple of new classes. While I had told the knitting guild about them I had not said a lot. But, they attracted quite a bit of attention. The items in the 100g challenge were not particularly imaginative but we will keep the class and I think there will be more entries next year. It's a difficult one for the judge because of the potential diversity but the sort of thing she feels will encourage more people to enter items.
And then there was the "amigurumi". This was the suggestion of a judge from a neighbouring state. We all wondered what sort of entries it would attract and, this year, the decision was to be fairly flexible with respect to whether or not it could be classed as "amigurumi". What won  first prize was genuine "amigurumi". A tiny suitcase full of even tinier clothes in the most exquisite detail. It also won  "best in show" for the crochet. I know who made them and I hope she will show them to everyone in the guild she belongs to because they are an absolute delight. 
I had very tired rear paws by the end of the day and was absolutely surprised and very grateful when one of the convenors told me her husband was coming to pick  up me and the trusty three wheeler so that I didn't need to catch the train and then pedal home. 
Next item on the to-do list is a thank you note to him!

Thursday 25 August 2016

I had a lovely letter

from someone in the bookshop knitting group, the woman who is going through the physical, mental, and emotional trauma of chemotherapy.
I wanted to tell her I cared in a practical sort of way so I made her a "chemo-cap" from some soft cotton. I made it in a cheerful sort of colour that I thought she would like. It's not a colour I would wear but, for her usual colouring, it will be good and it won't drain any colour she might have in her complexion. 
I really didn't care whether I got an answer or not because, in a selfish sort of way, doing it was for me as well as her. It made me feel better. 
I probably have an over-active imagination but I thought of her being frightened, angry, and confused about why it had to be her. 
What she was knitting the last time I saw her had been a chemo-cap for herself. The colours she had chosen were angry - and she had, perfectly understandably, broken down when she had told us what was going to happen. I felt as guilty as  all out. She could tell us but she could only share the fact. We couldn't take  on any of her pain. Pain is incredibly personal. 
And then I got her letter. She thanked me. Then she told me how fortunate she was - fortunate because was so much older than some of the people she has now met.  I had never thought of cancer in that way. It is still frightening and I don't doubt she is still angry and frightened but she has channeled that into a much more positive way of thinking. 
I wonder if I could think that way? 
Today I am off to be a "steward" for the knitting and crochet at the showgrounds for the annual RAHS show. I'll listen to the judge as she makes decisions and help to put things on display ready for the opening at the beginning of September. It will be an interesting day but I will think of my fellow knitter. I might even suggest she aims to put something in next year. Her work is excellent - and surely she will be here. 

Wednesday 24 August 2016

"I never tell them what I really think"

my acquaintance told me.
We were standing in the shopping centre. She had just been bailed up by someone with a clipboard - someone who was doing a survey. Apparently it was some sort of "environmental" survey this time. Of course I had not been stopped. I am never stopped. 
It is a curious thing. Charity collectors never seem to mind asking me for money but people doing surveys never want my opinion. 
I wonder if I would give them an honest answer if they did ask me?
During the election campaign we were phoned more than once, mostly with automated messages from politicians. I just put the phone down on these - something I suspect most people did. But there was one phone call from the national broadcaster wanting me to answer some questions for Q & A. Before the young man  at the other end had a chance to ask me any I had to regretfully tell him I couldn't answer them. I was regretful because I would like to have known precisely how he would have phrased the questions.  I already knew what sort of answers he would be looking for. I know what sort of material they can use in a program like that. They don't want the sort of answers I would give and they couldn't use them. Unlike the person who had stopped me to ask something else I am not prepared to give them the answers they want - to lie. 
But people do lie, especially when they are face to face with the interviewer. They may simply believe they should answer in a certain way or they may not want to share their opinions or they feel they will be criticised for holding a different opinion from the socially or politically acceptable one.
And of course the questions can be designed to elicit answers that the surveyors want. I once had a long conversation with someone who was responsible for the Morgan-Gallup polls in Downunder. He admitted that questions could be crafted in this way - and used in an effort to change public opinion. I asked him how many people he thought lied when they answered. He had no idea but said he thought most people told the truth and that had to be good enough.
I was left wondering just how valuable surveys and opinion polls are. Presumably they are sufficiently valuable to keep on doing them.
I remember asking once at a disability advocacy meeting how many people in the room had been stopped and asked for their opinion by a person with a clipboard in the street. There would have been well over a hundred people at the meeting - a day long conference. The only people who put their hands up were people who were not disabled or did not have a visible disability. We agreed that, in general, people with disabilities won't be asked. Perhaps people with disabilities are not supposed to have opinions?
I wondered whether I should chase up the young man with the clipboard and demand to give him my opinion. If he had stopped me would I have told him what I really think? I don't know because I don't know what the questions were. I would probably just have said "I can't answer that" if it was a question I didn't want to answer.
But out there in the street they will probably never get my opinion about anything because I will almost certainly never be asked.  I make up for it here instead.

Tuesday 23 August 2016


and more SABLE...
Anyone who knits, crochets, quilts, embroiderers, sews, carves, scrapbooks, or does wood work - or any other craft will know what I mean. 
Yes, that Stash Advancement Beyond Life Expectancy.
I was left yet more wool over the weekend. I came home to discover several bags of it sitting at the front door and a note, "Clearing out. I am sure you can use this Cat."
Well actually no, I can't. I contacted the person who had left it and there was an exasperated sigh at the other end of the line, "Well, look at it and see if there is any you want to keep and then just give it to someone else who can use it. I don't want it!"
The last four words were a positive wail. Right. She doesn't want it. I contacted the person in the guild who looks after such things. No, she didn't want me to  bring it to her. (She lives fairly nearby and it would have been convenient - just something which would have involved several trips on the trike.) I could, she said, get someone to pick it up and take it to the guild.
No, actually I couldn't. It would mean someone going out of their way to do it and I know she will take some of it home anyway. I told her by email I would bring it as much as I could carry each time over the next few months.  It just meant it wouldn't get sold on the trading table to raise some funds. If people there don't want it then it will go to the knit-for-charity group but someone will be at the guild to take it and won't mind doing it.  I copied the email to the secretary of the guild - who lives some distance away. Yesterday there was an e-mail from the secretary offering to pick it up when she is next over  in this direction. Thank you. 
I hope it doesn't clutter up her place too much until the first Saturday in September but it is nice of her to offer to help and I do appreciate it. 
Now if we could just do the same thing with all that timber the Senior Cat has stashed in his shed....
And no, books are NOT stash!

Monday 22 August 2016

There has apparently been another "racist attack"

at the "footy". 
This puzzles me. I would have thought the uproar last  time was so great that nobody would even consider it.  I suppose, in the heat of the game, someone let loose with language and an  act they might normally keep under control - whatever they might think.
In our family  the Senior Cat can remember his paternal grandmother, my great-grandmother, and her relationship with the indigenous community along the banks of the River Murray. My great-grandparents moved to a community there after my great-grandfather retired from his maritime role. They set up a dairy farm and, not long after, my great-grandfather suddenly dropped dead at the farm gate. 
My great-grandmother, being a "tough old Scot, a crofter's daughter", continued to run the farm with some help from one of her daughters and a son-in-law - and some of the local indigenous community. The Senior Cat and his many cousins spent time on the farm and mixed with the children from the nearby "camp". He can't remember race being mentioned among the children. Perhaps things were said among the adults. I have no doubt that my great-grandmother's wisdom in employing the men was  questioned by some but the children all knew where to look for slices of "bread and dripping".  They were handed out in her abrupt way and with a strong Caithness accent all the local children almost certainly didn't understand - but they knew to say "thankyou Mrs.... ".
My paternal grandfather took his mother's attitude. He didn't employ any of them as he didn't take on apprentices in his tailoring business but he knew  many of the indigenous people in the area around the port where he had his shop and workshop. He was often seen chatting to them - and no doubt, in his Victorian era style, telling them what to do. The Senior Cat and his brother just accepted this as normal.
And then there was R.... with whom my grandfather worked closely. She was married to a man who had become the station master at one of the nearby railway stations. (This in the days when we had station masters at such places.) They were both members of the Kaurna clan.
They lived in a railway house not far from the station closest to my grandparents' home.
R...was,  until her death, one of my closest and best friends.  I suppose I was conscious of the colour of her skin but not, I hope, in a racist sort of way. R....was just R... as far as I was concerned. She was simply the person I went to when I couldn't go to my paternal grandmother about a problem. R.... was an untrained social worker. Everyone  in the local indigenous community knew her. They went to her for robust advice, and for help. You took your shoes off when you went into R....'s house - and you minded your manners.
Her son is the one who gave me a bear hug in the middle of a busy city footpath. Yes, people stared. Neither of us cared but we were aware of it. I saw his daughter on the way home from a meeting a couple of months ago. She was outside her local library after "Story Time". I had the pleasure of  holding her toddler on my trike seat and giving him a "ride" - just as I had given her more than one "ride" at about the same age. 
After I had done that and waved them on their way someone else asked me, "Do you know them?"
I nodded and held my breath but then the other young mother said to me, "She seems awfully nice. Do you think she'd mind if I talked to her?"
So I explained about R... and the way she  had brought her family  up to include everyone and went on my way. But it saddens me because the question displayed a different sort of racism.

Sunday 21 August 2016

"I know you think you understood

what I said but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant."
I know I have quoted  that in my witterings before now - and I may well quote it again one day. I may even, as today, have to change the wording slightly and say, "I know you think you understood what I wrote but I am not sure  you realise that what you read is not what I meant."
Perhaps I wasn't clear. Maybe you really didn't understand. Did I  use the wrong words? Was there a better way of putting them?
I know writers worry about these things. So do people in professions like the law - where even a misplaced comma can be a disaster.
I had to explain something to someone this week. It related to a long and complex piece of legislation that I understand only in a general sense and that, in all likelihood, they had not heard of until I had to mention it. I hope she did understand. She is apparently doing as I suggested needed to be done so perhaps she has. I have done the best I could.
But another piece of legislation also came under discussion this week and I, foolish cat that I am, joined in the discussion. I should know better but I don't seem to be able to help myself. It would be wiser of me not to read that particular paper on-line - or perhaps at all. There is always the temptation to comment on an article that can be commented on, especially when others are making ridiculous comments - and often getting away with things the moderators most definitely should be pulling down. Yes, I know that particular paper is known for its left-wing, anti-government readership. Perhaps I should try just reading the articles? Some of those are heavily biased too of course. It's the nature of the site. All the same it is useful to know what is being said there.
The real problem however is the often wilful misunderstanding of what has been written there. It won't matter how carefully crafted a comment is if someone else disagrees with what  you have said or - and this is the more important thing - what they think you have said or - and this is the even more important thing - what they want you to have said, then you are in trouble.
And, for the record. I am not opposed to the existence of something like sec 18C of our Racial Discrimination Act. I am opposed to the way it exists as present but I do believe there has to be some workable legislation that allows people to be prosecuted for deliberate incitement to hatred. 
"Free speech" does have limits but deliberately misunderstanding other people in an attempt to shut down debate is censorship and not to be condoned. 

Saturday 20 August 2016

"It's just because of who his dad is"

I heard those words with an inwards wince.
One of the local lads has got himself into a very minor piece of trouble. He made a minor traffic error that a lot of other people have made. It is not a safety issue and it is something that many locals agree needs to be rectified. But now the entire district seems to know about the boy's "reckless behaviour". The interesting thing is that the only way other people could know is not because the kid told anyone but because someone in authority must have spoken out of turn. 
If any other kid had done the same thing then it is unlikely that anyone would even know. His parents might not even have been told. It was that minor. 
But this has  been blown out of all proportion. You see, it's really a way of getting at his father.
As kids my siblings and I all suffered from being "the head's kids", "X's daughter/son", "Y's children" and "Ben's granddaughter/grandson". Even now I am sometimes introduced as being the Senior Cat's daughter and, not too long back, I was even introduced as "this is Ben's granddaughter". 
It means of course that I am not considered as a person in my own right. I am seen as belonging in some way to some one else. My paternal grandfather was very well known in his local community - and even beyond that. The Senior Cat was well known in the field of education and of course three of his children trained as teachers. (We all went on to do other things as well.) 
But it really isn't fair to mark us, or any other child, out as someone's child. It is absolutely wrong to use us as a means of getting at our parents. Reporting something in the media, as sometimes occurs, simply because someone is the son or daughter of a politician,  judge or other well known individual is simply wrong.
I feel very sorry for the lad in question. He's actually a very well behaved, polite, hardworking boy who often helps others out. He's absolutely devastated. It's knocked his self confidence and caused a rift with his very demanding father.
The person who told me all of this actually observed the incident in question. He was close enough to hear the way the policeman who pulled the boy over spoke to him - and the way in which the boy responded. I don't doubt his version of the event. He's a trained observer and will have read the situation more accurately than most people. He most definitely would not have spoken out of turn.
As he said, "It's just because of who his dad is."

Friday 19 August 2016

The law is behind technology

with respect to any number of things. This is causing problems in any number of areas - most notably medicine.
It wasn't medicine which concerned me yesterday but the relatively simple affairs of a group I belong to. The committee which runs the group thought it would be a good idea to change the means by which they do their banking. 
"Let's do it on-line," someone must have said.
"Good idea," must have been the response. "We'll put it to everyone at the next meeting."
Yes, on the surface it may sound like a good idea. Somehow though I spent a good deal of time yesterday before I came to the conclusion that it could not be done quite as simply as the committee thought. It requires a change to the constitution of the organisation because an act of parliament overrides the constitution of the organisation. It also requires the setting up of the means to do it with such things as PINs and a  "business number" - not needed at present. 
It also requires the agreement of the membership to a certain invasion of privacy. It was this that alerted me to  what was going on. The secretary believed I needed to be reimbursed for something. (I didn't. It was a misunderstanding.) She sent me a letter asking for the receipt and for details of my bank account so she could put the money in. The implication in the letter was that the change had already been agreed to and I would meekly hand over my personal details. 
No, I won't. I know it would be difficult for someone to actually access my account and remove money from it but it could be done. Home computers are notoriously unsafe and, while I don't doubt the honesty of those directly involved, the fewer people who have such details the safer it is for me.
It will be interesting to see what happens now. I wonder whether the membership will just meekly agree to the change or whether there will be a vigorous discussion? 

Thursday 18 August 2016

The battle of Long Tan

was 50  years ago in a war which, like all wars, was something which should never have happened. There was supposed to be a service at the site in Vietnam today but the Vietnamese government has cancelled it at the last minute. It is causing a diplomatic rift between the two countries. The "local sensitivities" may well exist but I know that many people have returned over the years and given assistance to the local people who had no more wish to be engaged in war than the young conscripts had.
I was at school when that battle was fought. One of the former students at the school I was then attending was one of those killed in the battle.
I remember the  head, not my father at that school, coming into the assembly hall. He looked ashen and, barely in control, he told us what had happened. I know the younger students barely understood but the older students understood all too well. 
We knew that, if the war continued, then some of the boys would be called up and that they could face the same fate. I remember the boy standing next to me in assembly grabbing my hand and holding it so tightly it hurt.  There were tears, a lot of tears.
The war was still going on when I left school. It went on right through my time at teacher training college. It affected me and my family in ways that other people can only guess about. It still has an impact on us  today.
My brother registered as a "conscientious objector". He refused to be drafted. As a family we backed him. I won't describe what happens to conscientious objectors or their families. It is probably sufficient to say it is not pleasant. 
Several years later the boy I planned to marry was killed in Vietnam. We had met in London and my parents knew nothing about him. He was a young diplomat-in-training and not a combatant. The trip to Vietnam was supposed to be to a "safe" area but we had both decided to say nothing to our families until after the trip was over. Neither of us believed that anywhere in Vietnam was "safe".
It's a long time ago now. Unlike the combatants who wanted to go back and lay the ghosts to rest I have no desire to even visit Vietnam. I don't want to stand in the place where he was killed. Even if the insane man who killed him was alive I would not want to meet him.
But, I can understand the combatants desire to go. The decision of the Vietnamese government shows a lack of insight. They are building a wall instead of a bridge.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

"Print media is going to

cease to exist before long. By the end of next year you won't get a paper like that," my youngest Nephew Cat informed his grandfather.
The Senior Cat is appalled by this idea. No paper to read at the breakfast table? How will he get any news? 
It has to be explained here that the Senior Cat has ceased to listen to the news on radio and he no longer watches it on television either.  He slides over the most distressing pieces in the paper telling me,
      "I'm too old to fill my mind with that sort of thing anymore." Well, he has lived through WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and plenty of natural disasters as well. 
But where will he get even a limited amount of news from? The same goes for a great many other people I know, even some of those who do know how to turn a computer on. 
Our state newspaper is really pretty awful - think the old News of the World or the Sun perhaps. It's full of gossip. Recently there have been far too many not very clever puns in the head-lines that simply confuse people who are not from English speaking backgrounds or are a bit slow on the uptake. I can read the paper  in about five least as much of it as I need to read. I scan the major headlines. I ignore those concerned with an analysis of the last or next football match. I find the letters, the editorial (to see how much they have lifted from something I have written), a couple of columnists who do have something worth saying and then I hunt for the paper's take on international news - hidden far into the depths of the paper. It almost always amounts to nothing - and it is often seriously inaccurate.
After that there is just one thing left to read - the summary of the "dispatched" notices. I read this solely because I know far too many older people and so does the Senior Cat. It is, I think, this which bothers him most. If there isn't a daily paper how will he be able to keep up  with the death notices? It isn't something he wants to know but, as he puts it, "I don't want to upset anyone by saying the wrong thing and asking after someone who has died."
Will, as Nephew Cat suggests, such information just be available weekly? Or, will it be available "on-line" and, if so, how will the elderly who are not really that computer literate - if they are computer literate at all - manage?
There is an increasing assumption that everyone can use a computer and that they have ready access to one but that is far from correct. I know too that, as another elderly and long gone friend said of the death notices, "I need to read them each morning to see whether I am still here - or not."

Tuesday 16 August 2016

I have just followed up

a link I was alerted to about "gluten free" diets and supposed gluten intolerance. I am interested because I know a number of people who have gone "gluten free". None of them have done this on the advice of a doctor or dietician. They have done it alone. They "know it was the right thing to do". All of the claim to feel much better.
I know people with serious health issues. I know a woman who has celiac disease. She has it in an extreme form and has been rushed to hospital on a number of occasions. She has to wear a medic-alert bracelet and is unable to accept invitations to eat in the homes of other people unless she takes her own food. Restaurants are an absolute no-no-no. I wouldn't wish her lifestyle on anyone else. Her friends are very understanding. People going "gluten free" of their own volition drive her quietly mad. She doesn't say anything to them but she has expressed her frustration when talking to me. 
"I'd love nothing more than to be able to sit down and eat a normal meal with everyone else."
People are genuinely and life threateningly allergic to things like peanuts and garlic. I know someone severely allergic to even the presence of eggs. She came into our kitchen once and, without knowing an egg had just been broken open and put in the pan. Within seconds her eyes were watering and she was short of breath. We hastened her out of the kitchen and, after a short while, she was fine - and full of apologies.  Such allergies need to be absolutely and utterly respected - and we should all know how to deal with them.
I am allergic to alcohol and vinegar. Imbibing those things won't kill me but they do make me feel ill and they produce the most unpleasant sensation. I itch all over. I have been given sound medical advice to avoid them. As I don't like the taste either this is no hardship. I don't make an issue of it.  I just say "no thank you" to alcohol and avoid certain condiments. 
But the self-diagnosed "gluten-free" people I know don't need to consult a doctor. They just "know". From the latest respectable research there would seem to be no medical basis for this - although there might be a psychological one. It's interesting.
I am an overweight cat but I don't intend to go gluten-free or on any other fad diet. I just need to eat less and exercise more....SIGH!

Monday 15 August 2016

"I can't find my beeper,"

the Senior Cat told me. 
He was standing in the doorway looking like a small boy confessing to a major crime. 
I groaned inwardly. No wonder he had been so quiet before I went out. No wonder he had been  obviously looking for something in his room!
His "beeper"  is his safety pendant. It alerts the ambulance service if he needs help. They respond to the touch of the button on the device by trying to talk to the person who has touched the button. If the matter is a relatively simple, "I am not injured but I have fallen over and can't get up" they will alert Middle Cat or, if she is not available, then one of two other people. All this assumes that I have  left the house and cannot deal with the issue myself. 
The system works and works well.When the Senior Cat had the bad fall earlier in the year I pressed the button myself.  They responded within seconds.
Of course the Senior Cat hates the thing. I can understand that. I sympathise. It says, "You are old. Your are at risk. You are dependent on others." 
People  who have them are supposed to wear them all the time. (They are waterproof.) He will only wear it when I am out. He takes it off if he goes out. Nothing will shift him on this. I have given up. I am grateful that he wears it when I am out...although I sometimes wonder if he would press the button or simply wait for me to come home and deal with the situation.
"It can't be far away," I said. I had made him put it on earlier when I had gone to do some shopping.
"I've looked everywhere and I can't find it."
I looked "everywhere" and I couldn't find it either. I spent almost two hours looking. Then I realised that he had left it hanging on the handle of his walker to put back on the door knob when he went out with Middle Cat. The obvious answer was that he had not put it on the door knob and neither he nor Middle Cat had noticed it fall off the handle of the walker. 
He rang Middle Cat. No, she was sure she hadn't seen it. No, of course it couldn't have fallen off the handle of the walker. She would have noticed. She was absolutely certain it wasn't in the car.
I decided that yes, it had fallen off. Nobody had passed it in anywhere. I couldn't see it out in the street where Middle Cat would have put his walker into her car.  
I did some research. The cost of a new pendant is high. It was going to be an expensive loss. The office which deals with these things is closed over the weekend and it was now after five on Friday. We would deal with it on Monday I said. In the meantime I would not be going anywhere and leaving him without a means of contacting someone.
Yesterday Middle Cat phoned me while the Senior Cat was at  church...a friend had taken him. Would I, she wanted to know, like to have a pendant? 
She was quite casual about it. Yes, her eldest kitten had found it in the car. He  had gone out to put some things into the back and there it was - in plain sight. 
"Didn't you look?" he asked his mother.
"No. I knew it wasn't there." (The response still puzzles me.)
I did not lose my temper with Middle Cat. It is however just as well for both of them that the meeting I need to go to was not that Saturday afternoon but next Saturday afternoon. That would have been a different story.

Sunday 14 August 2016

Do you remember the International Year

of Disabled People? Most of my readers probably won't. It was a long time ago and, unless you have a disability, it probably passed you  by - like most other international years. I wonder how much good it really did? 
There is currently a bit of an uproar over the "banning" from a bank of a man who just happens to have severe cerebral palsy. He isn't able to walk and his capacity to communicate is limited. Like everyone though he needs money from time to time but he can't use the teller machine. 
Oh, it would be so good if he could use the teller machine. It would save the bank staff from the obvious embarrassment of dealing with him. They wouldn't need to be confronted by his problems. They have accused him of being "violent" and "abusive".
I haven't met him but I know someone who knows him and she confirmed my suspicions  that he has almost no control over his movements. If he gets in the least bit excited he is likely to quite accidentally and unintentionally kick his legs out. If you are in the way you will get kicked but....he does not intend to kick and he most certainly is not being violent. As for the "abusive" bit may I also explain that he cannot control his limited speech? If he can say anything intelligible at all then it isn't going to sound normal. He is almost certainly making a huge effort to communicate. The effort might cause him to shout. It isn't meant to be abusive.
Yes, I do know about these things. I have mild cerebral palsy myself. I have fine motor control problems. I sometimes spill drinks. The stitches come off my the knitting needles because I will give a "jerk" I can't control. My writing is barely legible. I don't move quickly. (Try to hurry me and I am more likely to fall over or seize up.) The other day someone shouted at me and told me I shouldn't "be out on (my) own" because I was slower than they liked.   
I still consider myself pretty fortunate because I have taught children like the young man trying to use the bank. I know how damn hard they try to make themselves understood.  
When I was teaching I was told I was "too patient". I would wait for the child to give me an answer. I still remember vividly the day that I saw one of the children in my class being given a drink of "orange juice". It wasn't juice at all but a very sweet concoction that had other things in it. He was coughing and spluttering as the aide feeding him tried to force it down. 
"You have to have a drink," she told him. 
I stopped her and I asked, "P... do you like that orange drink?" His eyes went to the floor - his way of saying "no". 
      "Would you rather have some water?" His eyes went to the ceiling "Yes". 
The water went down without any trouble at all. He smiled his thanks.  He must really have disliked the other drink because, at the time, the city's water tasted particularly nasty.
The aide wasn't pleased though - because it meant bothering to ask, to wait for a reply. It was simpler if all the children had the same thing. She thought he was being "difficult". Her attitude was that if you need someone else to do things for you then you abide by what they want, not what you want.
To my way of thinking though P.... did exactly the right thing. He was a very "polite" child on the whole. 
I'm sorry but I am not in the least bit sorry that it takes some of us a bit longer or that we are a bit more awkward. We aren't being deliberately difficult. We almost certainly aren't being violent or abusive. It's just the way we are and the rest of you will just have to learn to live with it. 

Saturday 13 August 2016

I wonder how much university

research is being done under pressure?
One of my nephews is currently attempting to do his doctorate in the area of ophthalmology and support himself at the same time. There was supposed to be some research funding. He was promised this at the beginning of the academic year (February-March here in Downunder) but it has not materialised. So, he works long hours in the lab and then does stints in "A & E" to be able to eat. 
Recently he decided that, being human, he needs some sleep and that doing the "graveyard shift" was getting to be too much. This is not laziness on his part. It is simply a matter of survival and, even more importantly, not being so tired that he makes mistakes in the lab.
The work  he and his co-researchers are doing has enormous potential good - and I do not exaggerate when I use the word "enormous". It caused a great stir of interest at a recent international conference.
So, why no funding? Why no funding for some of the other research which is being done in medicine that has shown itself to have the genuine potential for good?
The answers to such questions are complex. I am co-supervising two doctoral students at present. A third has just submitted his thesis for examination. Two of the three have some government funding from their home countries. It is very plain to me that politics are involved in their funding. Yes, their projects have some potential - but limited - value. The third is funding herself by working part-time. It's a hard slog for her but her research is already showing it may have real benefits.
And I do understand how difficult it is for her because I worked part-time too. I did it all through all my tertiary education. I wouldn't have had a tertiary education without working to support myself.  When I did my doctorate I was only prepared to do it if I could see some real value in the research. I didn't want to be one of those people who do research for the sake of getting a doctorate. I wanted it to be research where the end result could be used for the benefit of others. (It was - although I turned some research by others upside down in the process.) Like the third student though I didn't have the contacts that might have resulted in some funding. 
And contacts do matter. I got a scholarship some years later. One of the people who gave me a reference was a Senator in our federal parliament. I doubt I would have got it without that. (Nobody was more stunned than I was when I got the scholarship.) She simply thought the research sounded "useful". 
There is research I would like to have done but there has, however interested or enthusiastic I might be, not been the opportunity to do it. Instead, I have done other research. It has, I hope, always been useful in that others have been able to use it to make informed decisions or develop new ways of doing something. I know it is not useful in the way my nephew's research will be useful.
Perhaps the best research is done under stress and without funding? I don't really believe that.

Friday 12 August 2016

I nearly lost my

temper yesterday. 
Now it takes a lot for me to lose my temper. I am generally a fairly calm sort of cat. I don't bite or scratch. I rarely growl or lash out.
But  yesterday I came close to having a serious altercation with the Senior Cat's bank. It was only by reminding myself that the "policy" had not been set up by the teller that I managed to keep my cool.
I am however still very angry.
       "I could take that card away from you but I won't," the teller told me.
I looked at her absolutely startled. It is the Senior Cat's card. I have the authority to use it. There is  both a Power of Attorney and an "Authority to Act" at the bank. I have been using the card to transact his business for a long time.
       "You have to have your own card," the teller told me.
       "I don't have a card. I don't bank here," I told her.
       "You have to have your own card. You could be anyone. You are obviously not "Mr...."."
I explained as patiently as I could about the PoA and the AtoA. It made no difference. 
       "We can't accept those things any more."
I tried another patient explanation, a PoA is a legal document. It allows the person who has been granted the power to do anything that the person who has granted the power can legally do unless a restriction (such as the sale of real estate) has been put on it.
The teller shook her head.
      "No, he shouldn't have given you the card. I should take it away. I won't because you have been in here before."
Now I don't want a card with this bank. I don't actually like dealing with this bank. The Senior Cat has stayed there simply because it is in a convenient geographical location for him. I bank elsewhere and I do it for a very good reason.
I offered photographic ID. No, that won't do either because I might be stealing the identity of someone else. 
At that point I suggested I could bring my passport in. No. That won't do either. It was at that moment I really wanted to lose my temper. A passport is difficult to get. It costs a lot of money. I haven't been out of the country for years but I use my passport quite often. It is a form of ID related to my work. I sometimes have to be a co-signatory to documents which involve other people spending a great deal of money - and I mean a great deal of money.  When I sign one of those documents I have to present my passport as proof of who I am. There's a photograph of me and my paw print  in it. 
But no, they expect me to have a card instead. A moment's thought would tell them that this is actually much less safe. It is another card I need to keep and another PIN I need to memorise. The banking I did yesterday could have gone into anyone's account and it would have been untraceable. (No, I won't explain why.) 
I know there are other things that will now happen. There will be pressure on me to  use the teller machine outside the bank. It is not in a very safe location - something there have been complaints about. They have tried to get the Senior Cat to do the same. He has difficulty in standing and the slope means that, even with the brake on, his walker could roll away. He won't use it. The bank will also try to put pressure on me to transfer my banking to them...the teller admitted as much, indeed asked me whether I wanted to. I know she had to do it but my BP rose a little higher. 
The teller next to the one dealing with me was telling a very elderly woman that no, she could not have a new passbook. She had to have a card now. They don't have passbooks any more. I could see the woman was confused - and frightened. She has almost certainly had a passbook all her life but the teller was telling her that "someone will give you a PIN and show you how to use the machine outside".  I very much doubt that she will be able to learn to use the teller machine.
This is the bank that made a "record profit" last year. Obviously they cannot afford to have tellers for elderly customers. Obviously they cannot be bound by the laws that the rest of us need to accept. I came home and I wrote a letter. I have slept on it. I read  it through a moment ago. I have been polite but I  have growled. I am now going to print it off and sign it. I will deliver it to the bank this morning. It is a gentle reminder that "security" is not just the customer's responsibility and that "safety" is also important.

Thursday 11 August 2016

I have a letter in the

state newspaper this morning - and it has already elicited the first phone call. 
I managed to grab the phone on the first ring so it may not have woken the Senior Cat. The callers was not pleased with me and said they hoped they had woken me. (Not a chance. I was up over an hour before that call was made.)
The caller wanted to rant on that I was not a parent. I had no idea how parents feel. I had never been a mother so I couldn't possibly understand.
I let the caller talk on because, if I put the phone down, they would simply have rung back. They needed to rant. I just left the phone "off the hook" and left them to it. 
But, do I understand? I think I do. It isn't just that I have a certain amount of imagination. I have had certain experiences over the course of my life which have taught me things about "parenting" and caring for children. 
The caller didn't like it because in my letter I had said the rights of the child had to come first. No civilised society has a choice about this. Adults can make all sorts of decisions  on a daily basis, decisions that children are generally denied. The decisions adults make may not be the best decisions for themselves or for others but they can still make them. Children, especially very young children, are generally required to get out of bed at a time an adult decides and, from then on, they are told what to wear, what to eat, what they will be doing with their day and when they will do it. Of course the child makes some decisions but an adult will be - or should be - responsible for seeing that a child is appropriately dressed for the weather and the activities they will be participating in. An adult is equally responsible for seeing that a child is fed on appropriate food. An adult is responsible for seeing that a child is educated in many ways, not simply sent off to school to be child minded by teachers.
If adults don't do those things - at least to an acceptable standard - then other adults need to step in. They have to do that in the best interests of the child. This isn't about "spoiling" children. It is the exact opposite.
So, to my early morning caller, I am sorry you disagree with me but until a child reaches an age where they can make all decisions for themselves  then adults are responsible. If you don't want to be responsible for a child's welfare then seek help or allow someone else to take on those responsibilities. Children need to come first.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

So there was a "Census Fail"

was there? The website crashed? Or was it taken out of operation? Or was it hacked? Or....what?
There were almost bound to be problems if around 15m people were trying to access one government website on one night. I don't know whether government claims that there were external problems (said to emanate from China) or whether the system just couldn't cope are correct. It could be a bit of both. There could have been other technical problems.
Being a good little cat  I had organised myself before hand. I filled out the Census form some days ago. Had a lot more people done that and then, providing it was still accurate, just logged in and pressed "send" there wouldn't have been nearly so many problems. You could in fact send the form earlier than that if you knew you wouldn't be away that night. I don't suppose anyone can possibly know where they will be but if you acted in the honest belief that you would be where you said you were then there would not have been a problem.
I find it extraordinary that the ABS did not tell people this. I also find it extraordinary that they said almost nothing about the census being compulsory. It was also rather extraordinary how difficult they made it for people to get a paper form. 
And then..all those people worrying about whether their "data" was secure if they fill out the form on line. Of course it isn't secure. Any computer can be hacked...but that means that the data the banks keep, the data the tax office keeps, the data the medical profession keep, and much more are not secure either. Nothing is 100% secure. It never has been. It never will be. But of course we need to worry about it.
We need to worry about it in just the same way that people worry about the even more personal information that many of them share on social media.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Child protection laws

and procedures have to change according to yet another expensive report into the many problems of child abuse in this state. Once again it is claimed that this report is "different" - different because the focus is on the needs of the child. 
What????? Isn't that what ALL the reports should have focussed on? If child protection isn't about children and their needs then who in the heck is it about?  
I think I can answer that question. It is about adults. It is about parents. It is about parents and their so-called "rights". It has never really been about the children. 
Even when claims have been made about "we're protecting the child's right to be brought up by their natural mother" and "children need to be able to maintain a relationship with their natural families" it has been about the adults. "Don't take the child away..." has been the number one rule. 
"Adoption" is now a very bad word. Children should not be "given up/away". They should remain with their birth mothers - even if the mother is not old enough to leave school. Immature girls are encouraged to keep their babies even if they have no means of supporting them - and sometimes don't even know who the father is or have become pregnant as the result of non-consensual sex. This is still considered the best thing for mother and child. Is that really always the case? 
Of course there are mothers who want to keep their children and who may well be able to care for them but shouldn't the interests of the child come first if their mothers aren't able to do the job? When I say that I am told I don't understand because I'm not a mother. Perhaps I don't but nobody has been able to satisfactorily explain how current policies are in the best interests of the child.
The state is also short of foster carers - little wonder given the problems surrounding fostering. We end up with vulnerable children living in cheap motel rooms with a series of "carers" until the family situation is "sorted out" and they return. Then the cycle begins all over again.
I know someone who has been a short term emergency foster carer for many years. She is good at her job. If a social worker phones her at eight o'clock in the evening and says, "Can you take a couple of children for the weekend?" she will drop everything - even social engagements. The beds will be ready. There will be food on the table. 
She gets paid to do it of course - but it costs her far more than she is paid. Other foster carers I know say that, if they do the job properly, it costs them far more than they are paid. Not everyone can afford to do it even if they want to. Nor do many people want their lives disrupted by children who are almost always distressed and often seriously disturbed.
And social workers sometimes interfere in odd ways. They don't know the children but they will presume to tell foster carers how they must be handled. They will remove children from a foster situation if they think the child is becoming too "attached" as "the child will have to go back to their natural parent sometime". Not so long ago a child in "long term foster care" who had been with the same family for eight years was removed simply because a social worker deemed she was "attached" and "too much part of the family". She was simply passed to another foster family. Is that really caring for the child?
This isn't about the children at all. It is about the state trying to deal with the child as cheaply as possible. Is that going to change? 
I doubt it. The money spent on the inquiry would have been better spent on caring for the children. 
Yes, I am angry.

Monday 8 August 2016

"They will try anything,

anything at all," an elderly friend told me yesterday. 
He was walking past with his dog and had stopped to look at the three daffodils that appeared on Saturday. We got around to talking about the Census.
He'd had a phone call on Friday, from someone claiming to be from the ABS. They were offering him help with filling out his Census form.
"Sounded very, very convincing too. He told me all the right things, even gave me a number I could call back if I was concerned he might not be genuine. It was the right number too. Even the name was right."
The two of us talked on a bit. We talked about the "roofing" men who had been around last year - or was it the year before? There were at least four of them in the gang. They claimed they would do an "inspection" for free and offered "cheap" roof cleaning and repair services. I remember them well as the one who accosted me got quite angry when I told him to get off our property. 
And we had another one from the "Microsoft Technical Department" the other day...telling us there was a problem with the computer. There have been problems with the computer - but not the sort any non-existent Microsoft Technical Department can fix.
The man I was talking to has encountered both these - and others - as well. 
He has never been taken in by any of them. He also goes along with, "if it sounds too good to be true then it is too good to be true". 
But the Census one was never going to get him. Yes, the number was right and the name was right. Anyone else could perhaps have put the phone down and made a call thinking they were checking - and apparently there is technology which can, unfortunately, re-route such calls.
No, the problem was entirely different this time. The caller had rung someone who used to work for the ABS. He knows the ABS never phones people in that way and that the name he had been given belongs to a former colleague, recently retired. 

Sunday 7 August 2016

Could someone please wake me up

when the Olympics are over? Is it wrong of me to not care in the least if Downunder wins no medals? (Don't misunderstand me - I feel sorry for all the participants who don't win medals. When they are on the world stage like that coming last must be particularly embarrassing.) I am just not interested in this giant sports day,
I know one of the problems is that it reminds me too much of school sports days. 
I don't really remember too much about the very first school sports day. I know we had one but apart from vague memories of teachers trying to organise small children into a line to run to a tape and mothers making sure we all had drinks on a hot day that is about it.
When I moved school the following year the school sports day was held on a nearby oval. Everyone had to walk over there and back. The Senior Cat was teaching in "the big people's school" upstairs from "the little people" so he carried me on his shoulders. I spent the rest of the day sitting on the grass getting more and more bored by the proceedings - almost all of which I couldn't see. The same thing happened the following year. 
The Senior Cat moved on to another school. I stayed where I was - but promoted to the  "big people". Someone else took me over. It probably didn't take that long but it felt as if it took me all the morning to get there. That year I had the good sense to take a book in my lunch bag. My teacher tried to confiscate it but someone intervened and I was left to read in relative peace. 
I was not so lucky the following two years. I was expected to "sit there and watch". Nobody realised that I couldn't actually see what was going on if I sat in that particular place. 
We moved again after a tiny country school. They had an area sports day. We were taken to a school in a somewhat larger place which had an oval of sorts. (It amounted to a sort of dusty paddock marked out for the occasion.) That year was the first year I participated. I was told to "throw the ball to.... and then get out of the way". Fine with me. I also started to do important things like  hold the tape at the finish line. Well, it was something to do.
I remember that, in that far off place, there was one school with just eight pupils. They were given quite a few points to start with. I don't suppose anyone took it too seriously. I was just a nice day out of the classroom for most of the children.
Then we moved again. This school was bigger. I was one of the first in the new "secondary" section. "Sports Day" meant being in our house divisions and everyone had to participate. I had to be in there to "make up the team" for things like "corner spry" and "tunnel ball".  I was totally hopeless at these things of course. It meant that my house team would always lose. It wasn't in the least bit fair on them or me. Is it any wonder that any sort of sports day was an event I dreaded?
But, these events were also fundraisers for the school. The house I was in was fortunate enough to be  given the sweets stall. Oh yes, the sweets stall. We saved our pocket money for that - and so did all the other  children. We didn't see sweets very often. There was no school canteen and a very limited supply at the only shop in the little township. 
Even my mother somehow found time to make "peanut brittle". There were all sorts of other things too. Caramels in soft, chewy squares, pale pink squishy marshmallow in square ice cream cones, toffee  in "patty pan"  (cupcake) cases sprinkled with hundreds and thousands, "Russian toffee", little meringues made to look like snails, slabs of peanut brittle, almond clusters, and more. And, of course, there were toffee apples. The apples would come from someone's tree and would be coated in a thick layer of toffee dyed with cochineal so that it appeared a bright, luscious, shiny red. We all wanted one of those. 
I did get one of those toffee apples once. Once I had  done my bit and helped my house lose the team games I had to participate in I went off and stood behind the trestle table and sold the sweets. There was always an adult to help of course. We would do brisk business throughout the day. (The goods for sale would be put out gradually.) At the end of that first sports day though the mother I was helping handed me a toffee apple she had "saved" for me. I dutifully paid her for it...and ate it slowly the following Saturday afternoon while I learned my Latin vocabulary and wrote my English homework. 
I have never wanted another toffee apple but that one was good.

Saturday 6 August 2016

"Please don't smoke

in this house."
We have a polite reminder on the door. It has been there for years. The Senior Cat stopped smoking when I was a kitten. I stopped feeling car sick on every journey, no matter how short, at the same time. 
I have never as much as tried to smoke a cigarette. My brother tried one  - or pretended to try one - just once. He declared it "vile" and left it to others. Middle Cat is so fiercely anti smoking she once told one of her uncles-in-law that she would wait to take him somewhere . Doing that to a Cypriot male earned her the applause of her Cypriot female in-laws (none of whom smoke) and the approbation of the males. 
I know the  youngest of us will have tried - probably more than once. She had a much stronger rebellious streak but she doesn't smoke either.
Of course I, like most of my generation, have had to endure other people's cigarette smoke. Staff rooms used to be a fog of smoke. After a late afternoon staff meeting I would go home and wash everything I had on - as well as myself. I avoided social occasions where people would be smoking in an enclosed space simply because I would always leave feeling physically ill. 
And almost everyone we know doesn't smoke. I still leave the note on the door because you never know who might come. Most people would ask these days but I don't want to risk having someone smoke in the house. These days the Senior Cat has wood dust induced asthma and cigarette smoke would just make the situation worse.
Yesterday though I had to go to the Post Office to pay a bill for the Senior Cat. Outside I met someone I know. He is still quite a heavy smoker. It used to be 60 a day and now it is down to 20. He had just taken out his cigarettes. He was about to shake one out of the packet. He saw me, sighed, and put them away.
"B....hell Cat, did you have to turn up just now?"
I looked at him.
"I thought I'd get one in before M...(his wife) gets out of there," he told me looking towards the Post Office.
"Bad luck," I said. He knows better than to light up in front of me. I once told him, quite politely, that I cannot tolerate cigarette smoke.
And I, naughtily perhaps, stood there and talked to him until his wife came out. She knew exactly what I had done too  because she gave me a discreet "thumbs up" as they left. 
I don't suppose it has done much good though. His breathing is ragged these days. He has that "smokers' cough". It just makes me wonder why anyone would actually want to smoke...but they say it is one of the most addictive drugs around. 
I guess I am lucky never to have even wanted to try. 

Friday 5 August 2016

"And the biscuit tin was always

One after another her three children and then her eldest grandchild said that.
Yes, we went to another funeral yesterday, the funeral of a remarkable woman. She was the sort of person most people don't really know about until it is too late. 
B.... was part of my life for almost all my life. I can hear her voice now - quiet, calm, and reassuring. 
She was born on a farm on the "west coast" of this state. Her parents did not have a great deal. She had to repeat the last year of primary school twice because she wasn't old enough to leave school. She left at 13 - the minimum age back then - and went to work on her parents' farm.  It meant she could turn her hand to almost anything on the farm by the time she met her husband five years later. 
One of the photos in the montage being shown before the service began showed her milking a cow. I heard someone behind me say softly to someone else, "I didn't know B....could milk."
Oh yes, she could milk. She once showed me how it was done - on a cow belonging to a neighbouring farmer. The cow was startled - but cooperative.
We met her and her family when we moved from one school to another. She was the second person to arrive at our door - the first was the chairman of the school committee but he happened to be across the road when our car pulled up.
"No, I am most definitely not stopping. I just thought you might find it useful to have some food today."
She handed my mother a complete meal - and left. She knew when to interfere, how to do it, and how long to stay. We met the rest of the family at church on Sunday.
It went from there. B....and her husband ran a "colony" for alcoholic and homeless men. It was several miles down the road from us. There is a newspaper clipping somewhere. In it she is described as the "other-mother" of these men. Each Christmas she made each of them a small fruit cake -  using tuna tins which had been scrubbed to within an inch of their usefulness.
There were always other people at their table..."ministers and teachers" one of her children said yesterday. Yes, we were part of the teacher contingent - but we were more than that. Her children were much the same age. We grew up together at the important times in our lives. There were always other people who needed help. I remember one occasion when she was looking after two more children, not her own. There was never a lot of money either but she could, as her children also said, "make something out of nothing".
They eventually moved to the city. It made no real difference to B... there were still people who needed to be cared for. They went to a new church - and found new people in need. There were the boat people from Vietnam and, later, Sudanese refugees. There were English lessons, lessons in how to shop in our shops - and where to find the best produce at  the cheapest prices - lessons in gardening, sewing, and cooking.  B...and her husband did three stints in Canada as "not quite missionaries" working among the poor  in Vancouver. They worked at the hospital in Darwin, in Katherine, and in Ernabella - the last meant "camping out". They were used to all that. They travelled Australia towing a small van behind a sturdy car. They went to places where people only now venture with a 4WD and GPS. Her husband knew he could fix pretty well anything on the car - and she  would take her preserving pan in case there was a glut of fruit somewhere. Her "quandong" jam was legendary.
She won prizes in the Royal Show for her cooking - but only after  her children insisted she enter.  For her show time was about volunteering to organise the canteen which feeds the farmers early in the morning and late at night.
After my mother died B...she arrived with a large container of biscuits. "I know you will have to put the kettle on more than once."
She had the Senior Cat and me there for meals far more often than they came to us. I tried but it was "No, we'd like you to come here." She made bread especially for the Senior Cat. There would be a roast or one of her famous pasty slices - crammed with meat and vegetables. She always gave me biscuits to bring home. 
Once sitting in a chair she would pick up her knitting - pullovers and cardigans for her husband or children or grandchildren, blankets for charity. She made me a wonderful beret before I left for London - and mended it twice because I wore it so much. I made her a shawl, a lace one with a pattern of sheep on it. It was one of the few things I really did for her. 
And yesterday, yesterday I did the last thing I could do for her - the last thing but one. I went to her funeral. She was 92.
But yes, there is one last thing I can do for her. I can follow her example and try my best to help others when they need it.  I might not keep the biscuit tin full in the way she did but I'll try to keep it full of help for those in need.

Thursday 4 August 2016

Census 2016

Oh yes, the Census. 
Now I do happen to think the Census is important. It is essential for future planning. The government does need to know if thousands upon thousands of kittens have arrived and will need schooling. They do need to know whether cats in the ninth lives are likely to need care. There is much more they need to know too. 
Last year I was part of a research project which required some people to fill out "mini" census forms on line. The Bureau of Statistics must have decided this would work because they have gone ahead with this and people are being asked to fill out the form on-line. 
I do have concerns about this because you are now required to put your name on the form. (I can see no good reason for this. It seems to fly in the face of privacy claims.) You also need to add your date of birth of course - and details about such things as income, employment and religion. I am very definitely "employed" but the income I get does not reflect the hours I work each week.
There are several questions that it is impossible to answer satisfactorily. The  question about languages always puzzles me. It is a much more complex issue than they make it out to be and the answers people give don't necessarily reflect the potential need for services. 
But at least I know I can fill the form out - provided that the website doesn't crash.
This may be where the problems start. Census night is next week. Some people still don't have the letter giving them the number they need to access the website. If they don't want to fill it out online  then they need that number to phone the ABS to send them a paper form.  If you want to put "other" for gender then you need a paper form too. If you do have the letter and the number and you are trying to phone the ABS then you can find yourself in more strife - because, all too often, they don't answer the phone. 
People have simply been giving up - even with the threat of a hefty fine. Someone asked me the other day whether she should tell the ABS that her daughter (who lives at another address) was away overseas. I told her not to bother. If the ABS want to follow up the lack of a response her daughter only needs to show them her passport which will tell them she is out of the country. Nevertheless such things  should be made clear in the information people receive. 
I wonder at this chaos. The ABS has four years to prepare for each census. They now say they intend to keep the data for four years - because it will take them that long to analyse it. Really? They claim about 65% of households will answer it online - and that means that the data  will already be keyed in. It shouldn't take them that long to work on it.If it does then the data will be out of date by the time it is made public.
Perhaps it is time to have a sense-us on the census?

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Being a first time mother at 63

is irresponsible.  It is also selfish.
The woman who made the front page news in today's paper is not considering the child at all. That child, a girl, is going to be looking after a mother older than many grandmothers by the time she is in her teens. Her father, currently aged 76, may not even be alive. If he is he will be older than the Senior Cat before the girl reaches legal adulthood. 
What on earth were her parents thinking of? 
 I know someone who had her first child in her forties. She and her husband had tried for years to have a child. They had reached the point of believing it was no longer possible when the baby came along. I like their daughter, now an adult,  very much. At the present time she is finishing a  university course with honours. All that is good but she also has multiple health problems and they are constant worry for  her and her parents. 
I remember their concern when a Romanian woman became pregnant and gave birth at 66. When a German woman gave birth to quadruplets at 65 they were even more concerned.
"Mum was old enough," my friend's daughter told me, "What if the kids have problems like mine?"
I know someone with triplets - and it has been incredibly hard work. She admits she would not have coped if  she had not had help from her mother and even the then four year old daughter. Eleven years on she admits, "I couldn't do it now."
But I also look on it from the point of view of the child. I remember my father's cousin in Canberra. He was in his fifties when he first became a father. He and his wife adopted and then had two children naturally. His daughter once said to me, "The problem with the boys is they have a grandfather for a father." I knew what she meant. He didn't have the energy to father  the boys in the way a younger man might. He couldn't kick a football or keep up with their other activities. 
And yes, you will - all things being equal - lose your parents sooner. I know how hard it has been for Ms Whirlwind growing up without a mother. However much "mothering" she gets from other people it is not the same - and she knows it. 
Is having a child at 66, however much you may want one, really fair on the child?

Tuesday 2 August 2016

The rules of engagement on

social media are different. I know that. I don't expect all the people I have "friended" or "followed" there  to be actual friends in real life - even when they have followed me back. 
I can remember an occasion on which someone else I know proudly announced that he was "friends" with someone quite well known on Facebook. Some months later he actually met them at an event and, of course, they had no idea who he was. He was devastated. Their "friend" list run to thousands.  
I cannot find the article - although I printed off a copy for the Senior Cat to read - but I recently read something about how many friends people need and how many they can handle on a face to face basis.
From memory it said everyone needs at least one friend and, as a minimum, it is preferable to have three or four. About the most  people can cope with is, again from memory, about 120. It is possible to know more people than that. I do. I suspect many people do but, for me, these people are acquaintances - not friends. My definition of friendship is something like "do I do more than just pass the time of day?" with them. Would I feel comfortable about phoning them? In other words, would they know who I was if I phoned them? Would I "have a cuppa", have an extended conversation, loan them something, go somewhere with them, give them more than a little casual help? Even then I know that there are degrees of friendship.
I was surprised recently when someone else suggested that the people in a group I belong to were "friends". Some of the people in the group are friends but I would consider most people "acquaintances" - people I am on social greeting terms with.
I know many social media "friendships" are really just such acquaintances. If the other person recognises your name they will be polite - and that's all you can expect. There will be a few, a treasured few, who have become more than that. When you eventually meet them they will be as pleased as you are at the physical meeting. Your perception of each other will have been pretty accurate and you will get along well together.   You might well "have a cuppa" - and you will both take it from there.
I have met several people I have come to know through social media. One has actually stayed with Middle Cat. Middle Cat's boys have stayed with her. I have met another for that "cuppa" more than once - and if she moves back to the city we may see one another more often. There's another one I felt instantly comfortable with - we sat in the shade on a very hot day and talked and talked! I have yet to meet some of the people who will read this - but I hope I will. They have expressed a desire to meet. That's good. We all know that the Senior Cat won't be here when it happens and I know they understand that. I hope I'll have the confidence to make the journey.
But there are still rules of engagement for other relationships. Even on social media it is not polite to walk out on the many people who have given you a great deal of support without, at very least, saying something like, "Social media has become too much for me to handle. It's too time consuming. Please don't take it personally but I am  'unfriending' a lot of you."
Now you will never what support they might have given you - because they aren't going to know what you might need.