Monday 31 October 2016

I loathe Halloween

and all the commercial hype that goes with it.
I'm sorry. I know I sound like a "party-pooper" but Halloween is not "fun".
Ask the local children what it is all about and they will tell you it is about having some sort of party, with costumes and all sorts of junk food. The real meaning was lost long ago.
We never had Halloween when I was a kitten. I doubt my parents even knew about it as kittens. The Senior Cat says he is pretty sure he didn't. His Presbyterian household would not have celebrated it anyway. 
I found out about Halloween, as I found out about so many things, by reading books. Halloween got mentioned more than once. I thought it was just some sort of weird American tradition. It was only about twenty or twenty-five years ago that Halloween began to be "celebrated" in Downunder. 
At first it was just small. There would be a few Halloween masks available around the relevant time. Then, suddenly, it exploded into a full blown commercial event. There are not just Halloween masks but costumes and sweets of all sorts - supposedly "on special".  Parents are harassed. Children are pleading and demanding - "everyone else is!" - and the rest of us are getting more and more caught up in the "demand".
My personal view is that it is wrong for anyone - for whatever reason - to go banging on a door and demanding something for nothing and threatening to do harm if you don't respond. If an adult did that then it would be a criminal offence. If a child does that - for whatever reason - then it should be equally wrong. It's not "fun".  To allow it and even encourage it is sending the wrong message altogether.
If you want to have Halloween then perhaps it is time to teach children what the old Halloween was really about. Teach them how it applies to the northern hemisphere. If you want some fun then let them "bob for apples" and find a story that won't frighten the youngest members of the family. Don't let them go out knocking on doors and demanding something for nothing. 
If they still want to go out knocking on doors then get them to offer something positive in exchange.
There is still a lot of debris lying around the local district. I know a group of children who are going out dressed as witches tonight. They are going to use their brooms to sweep up some rubbish lying in the gardens of several elderly neighbours. They will do it  under the distant supervision of adults. When they have finished they will get "cauldron cakes" (pizza) and chocolate frogs. 
I think that's a better way to do it. Yes, I am a party-pooper.

Sunday 30 October 2016

Clinton under attack

and Comey under fire?
The latest twist in the US election saga bemuses me. The idea that you should keep information which would potentially see a President removed from office from the public until after the election seems wrong. 
I know there are arguments to the contrary, some of them good arguments - including that of "innocent until proven guilty" but surely we are talking about more than that here? We are talking abut whether someone is fit to be President of the United States of of the most powerful jobs in the world - if not the most powerful. Yes, you have to be above reproach.
It's a job I'd hate. It's just as well someone is prepared to take it on  - but that does not mean the contenders for the office are above the law. If the contender was running for any other position then the information would have been much more closely scrutinised and the stuff of even more headlines. Other people running for other positions find information like this made public long before innocence or guilt is decided. They have to live with "where there's smoke there's fire" and "s/he probably was guilty but they've swept it all under the carpet" and more.
The FBI has clearly made mistakes, one of the biggest being to close the original investigation. Yes, it might still have been hanging over Clinton's head but the media could have ignored the new information until after the election.  This way it just wasn't possible.
And in this case it might even have the opposite effect. People might actually go out and vote for her because of it. They might say they are fed up with the way she is being treated.
It is said only about 50% of Americans will bother to vote. What if this causes 51% to vote - and that extra 1% is for her? It could happen.
But if Clinton were to win by just a small margin without people knowing what was going on there would have been even more questions later. This way, if she wins - still more likely than not - and takes over from Obama, then the argument can be, "Yes, we knew but we still voted her in. We wanted her more than we wanted Trump."
The only reason to be concerned would be if the private polling by the Clinton campaign suggests that the voting is much tighter than the pollsters and the media are prepared to admit.
Now that is something to worry about.

Saturday 29 October 2016

The phone rang a moment ago

I didn't get there in time to answer it because I was outside hanging clothes on the line. The Senior Cat was in the bathroom and didn't hear it until it was too late.
I suppose if it is urgent the caller will try again shortly. I could use the "call back" function I suppose but...if it is more bad news I don't want to know.
We have an answering machine but only turn it on when we leave the house and think someone might call. The Senior Cat does not like answering machines. He is never prepared for one. His messages to other people tend to be long and rambling because he is caught unawares. Mine tend to be along the lines, "This is Cat. I need to speak to you about.... please call me on...." or "This is Cat. I'll try and talk to you at about...." and I leave it at that.
The Senior Cat also claims to find it hard to hear the answering machine...well yes, some people are harder to understand than others and not everyone has the good sense to give their names. I don't think they are necessarily being rude. They are possibly just a bit like the Senior Cat. They don't like using answering machines.
There are answering machines I don't like using either - the automated sort that tell you to press this button and then that one and then another one before, if you are fortunate, you might be allowed to speak to a real human. 
Of course this is "customer service" at its best. My brother-in-law claims to have the answer to all this. He simply pushes buttons at random until someone actually answers the phone. 
I just wish that worked.

Friday 28 October 2016

Another close friend died yesterday

and that makes two this week.  I am not sure which was is "up" at present. I had the phone call while I was out. For once I had the mobile on in case the Senior Cat needed me while I was doing some essential shopping. As soon as I heard Z....'s voice I knew it had to be bad news. He would have e-mailed me with anything else.  It was the middle of the night in Belgium.
It was bad news, the worst sort of news. Our friend Sister Claire was dead. Two of the older girls had found her on the floor in the room they use as a kitchen at Pana Mtoto Mlangoni, the refuge for unaccompanied children she ran for so many years. The girls tried to revive her but couldn't. She was 72.
I was stunned. I am still stunned. I came home and upset the Senior Cat who also knew Claire. We sat there holding each other and asking that unanswerable question, "Why?"
I knew Claire from my first days in London. She was African. She was a nun. She was a devout Catholic. All those things were rather foreign to me. She knocked on my door in the university hall of residence and asked me if I knew when mealtimes were. She wasn't being greedy. She was wondering if she had time to go to church. We smiled at one another and I took to her immediately.
She had a wicked sense of humour. She was practical, sensible, and determined. She made the most of life in London even without any money to spend. I was poor. Claire was poorer still. 
"Let's go and look at this," she would say and I'd find myself padding after her to see a free exhibition or a garden or a building or something else she had "found". She was always prepared to slow down for me, to wait, to hold my paw.
Gradually the rest of us discovered other things about Claire, about things she had never experience. Claire had never celebrated her birthday. It wasn't something that happened in the orphanage she was brought up in. My late friend Eleanor attempted to make her a birthday cake, her first ever. It didn't work so we all took Claire out for afternoon tea at the local bakery instead and then scattered the crumbs of the cake that didn't work for the ducks and sparrows in the rose garden in Regents' Park. I think she found it strange but she said, "If that's a birthday I think I like them very much."
When she went back to Africa she was asked to take on the setting up and running of a "small" place for unaccompanied children. "Small" ended up being more than 600 children at one time...everything from babies to young teens. She dealt with everything from AIDS to epilepsy, intellectual disabilities to severe physical disfigurement brought about by machete attacks - and much, much more. There was never enough food and clothing for the children in her care but she fought for them. Over the years, organised by Z... we have sent things in whatever spare space there has been in containers... everything from repainted baby cots to powdered milk, truckloads of disinfectant and other cleaning supplies, tins of food, soap, and clothing for the children, mosquito netting, material for hammocks - because there were no beds for the "house of the angels" - the little transportable hut she used as a hospice for the dying.
One year we asked her what she would like for Christmas for herself. Eventually she responded with a "A nice smelling bar of soap." Z....went out and bought her a box of soap. I suspect almost all of it went on the children. 
One year Z....brought her out here to speak at a conference. She did as was asked of her but she was also anxious to get back to her children. Would all the boys be going to school if she wasn't there? Was A.... coping?  I think she was homesick. We sent her back with extra luggage - things for the children - and the airline didn't charge a cent.
Things changed over the years. They moved the youngest children on to another place three years ago and left her with just the 5 to 14yr old children - and the boys were going at 12 unless they were too ill to move. In the past year there really have been only about 60 children. She managed them almost single handedly- by training them to take more responsibility for the little ones as they grew older.
She worried about their education and their future. She kept a firm hand on them but they obviously loved her. We corresponded frequently. Her letters would always begin, "Jambo Cat" and end "Tukutendereza". When she finally had access to a computer and e-mail life was easier. She could ask my advice about schooling and how to help those with learning difficulties or behaviour issues. She could tell me things she could not talk to her superiors about. We could discuss whether the available money went on repairing the roof or buying another goat to provide milk for the youngest and sickest children.
I had an e-mail from M.... last night, the winner of the scholarship we set up. In her immense distress, especially as one of those who found Claire, she had found time to send me an e-mail. She knew Z...had told me by then but she wanted me to know exactly what had happened and how they were coping.
      "We did Morning Circle by ourselves while we waited for Father A... to bring Sister A... to us. Everyone was quiet except for the crying. Nobody did anything wrong but we couldn't sing."
Sixty children had come together for the usual way they start the day, a sort of assembly where they sit around in a circle and have their "thinking time". Claire had to cope with children from a variety of religious backgrounds and chose to keep that time free of religion but still, in a sense, spiritual.
Then M.... went on to say, 
 Father A... says I am to tell you that G... and J... are coming to help for a short while. Sister A... says to tell you that she will write very soon."
(G... and J... are former residents of PMM. They are the only two boys to have gone on to university and both now teach maths. G... has done it all without hands - he lost his in a machete attack when young. J has been disabled from birth and was abandoned by his family as a baby. Claire took them in, recognised high levels of intelligence and fought for their right to be educated. Now they are contributing members of society.)
Their response was immediate and since then both of them have left messages for me saying that they were on their way and will let me know how Sister A... is managing.  Claire trained them well.
And Z... will be there soon. He has been Claire's strongest supporter for many years - and thereby supported my attempts to support her too. I know he has donated thousands of Euros over the years - just to keep the children fed.
And again this morning I am sitting here crying as I write this. 
RIP my friend. You gave your entire life to the service of others. You should have had, if not retirement, a slowing down. It was not to be. You are another one I will miss more than I can say.

Thursday 27 October 2016

Carole Blake was said to be

the "agent's agent" in the world of publishing. It's not something I knew anything about. I knew Carole as a friend.
For those of you other regular readers of this blog Carole was the person I have referred to in the past few blog posts. 
Carole was a massively important person in the world of publishing. Her importance could not and should not be underestimated. She had a list of big names and some bright new talent as well. She knew the publishing industry inside out. Carole knew how to negotiate, how to get the best for the authors she represented. Her job often sounded as if it was a constant round of lunches, dinners and parties. It was also damned hard work and long hours. She loved it and had no intention of retiring.
But, for me, Carole was a friend. She read my blog for years. At first I didn't know about it. I don't know how or when she started to read it  but it can't have been too long after I started writing it but gradually she came to send me little comments - and sometimes longer ones. On a couple of occasions when I questioned whether anyone was even bothering to read it there were sharp remarks. "Well, I'm reading it. Keep writing it," was the first one. Later she told me, "I never miss it." 
It seems she didn't either. Almost every day there would be a little tick on the Facebook page to let me know she had read it. Almost as often there would be a public comment there or a private one to me.
How in the hell did she find the time to read it - and not just read it, but comment? There were huge demands on her reading time. I felt, and still feel, immensely honoured that she not only read it but apparently wanted to read it. She encouraged me to keep writing, not just the blog but my other writing. 
I don't write the sort of thing Carole represented. We both knew that. I would never have asked her to look at anything for me. We both knew that too. It didn't stop her keeping on at me. What was I writing? Had I sent anything off recently?  I think she had more faith in me than I have in myself.
It would have been the middle of the night in London when she sent me a message saying she couldn't sleep so she was sitting up in bed reading a manuscript with the little shawl  I had made for her draped around her shoulders. Recently she mentioned it again for much the same reason.  She didn't sleep well.
Not that long ago Carole was diagnosed with bowel cancer. She had just one lot of treatment for that before she was hospitalised with another condition. Throughout it she sent messages to me. Some of them were public and others were private. She was determined to get over the diagnoses of both conditions. We agreed that, if she needed it, I'd knit her a purple chemo cap. 
Yesterday there was an uncharacteristic silence. I knew she had gone home and "kissed the carpet" at being away from the hospital but then there were five and then six hours of silence. I told myself, "She's sleeping" but when another two hours passed I knew something had happened. I went to bed without any news, stopped myself getting up to check. What could I have done? But I "knew" in the way one does know these things.
I'll keep writing Carole. I'll honour your memory by doing that. I just wish I could knit you that damn chemo cap. 


Wednesday 26 October 2016

So the instructions say

you need to do this and that and avoid those and...
I won't even bother to go and find some instructions and quote them because anybody who can read this can also read instructions. Right?
My friend C...posted a picture of the instructions she has been given with respect to some injections she must give herself daily for the next six months. I cannot actually read the instructions because the print is too small on the screen but I can guess the sort of thing they say and the sort of English they are written in.
I see these sort of instructions from time to time. I know what happens. The doctor orders certain medication for the patient. The doctor tells the patient how it must be taken. Patient nods and looks as if they have understood. Later a nurse may even repeat those instructions. Patient is sent home with medication.
And then it's something like, "Cat, I didn't really understand what they said" or "Cat, what's 10ml?" or "When do I have to take this one?" or....well, a variety of questions.
So, we sit there together and I rewrite the instructions. I have even been reduced to things like. "Before breakfast. Take the tablet. Put the timer on for an hour. When the timer rings you can eat breakfast" and "Fill to the blue mark on the cup."(I have made the blue mark.) 
Chemists do "pill packs". They are marvellous things. They sort the multiple medications some people must take and place them in little units. That's fine if people are simply expected to swallow them - and they can remember to do that. The problems start when things must be taken at certain times or a certain time before meals or they need to be measured out or they need to be taken in a certain way. 
Sometimes the instructions given are unnecessarily complex or written in a way that people don't understand. I remember standing there in the chemist one day listening to the chemist try to explain to an elderly person I knew slightly how something must be taken. The elderly person looked at me in despair and, knowing the young chemist well enough to tease him occasionally, I asked, " I know how someone else remembers how to take that. May I suggest something?" Given a, "Yes, please!" I went ahead and explained in a step by step form. The chemist scribbled it down, printed out a proper copy and handed it over. He was happy, the customer was happy and I was happy because it meant the chemist could give me some attention. No doubt they would have coped without my interference but the chemist admitted that the instructions given to people sometimes drive him to despair. 
There's really no need for it. Instructions for that sort of thing can usually be written very simply. If it offends those of us who can read to be talked down to then we must put up with it because other people need to know in Plain English. 

Tuesday 25 October 2016

There was a "silent" afternoon tea

at our place - only I think we may have to redefine "silent".
Let it be said that it started with our friend P.... phoning me and asking me how many people I expected to come because she was making apple slice. P is a nun and was once a teacher of the deaf so we did a little plotting about how to manage the rest of them.
Then V....our neighbour, whom I had also invited, wandered over in the middle of the morning and asked about "tomorrow". No, "today" I told her. Oh. I was making a pot of tea for the Senior Cat but she stayed and chatted for a bit before saying she would be back in the afternoon. I went to find the Senior Cat because he had not come in for his cup of tea. 
I found him sitting on the ground, unable to get up. He had slid off the seat he was sitting on. Fortunately he had not hurt himself but I had to go and ask V's husband M.... to come and help him up again. I was still trying to do the things I had not been able to do the day before - especially those involved with having visitors.
But P turned up on time with slice in hand. (It is lovely slice being not too sweet.) And then V came over - and the two of them promptly started talking! I growled (nicely) but it didn't make a lot of difference although V was totally startled when she asked P if she could tell her about going to the ballet on Saturday in sign language. V had not asked with any expectation at all that P could actually do it but P went ahead as calmly as she does everything else.
The other guests arrived - and they all started talking. I threw up my paws in despair and handed out communication boards instead. I had made special communication boards - just for afternoon tea. There would, I told them sternly, be no afternoon tea unless they asked for it silently.
There was instant silence. They searched. They looked at one another. They pointed to the words and symbols. They puzzled over the "combine" and "opposite meaning" symbols.
I took orders - and signed them to P... who always helps me with the carrying of things like tea pots. She acted as "mother" and poured tea and passed over coffee. It was all done in silence.
Then someone said, "Thank you" without thinking - and we all collapsed into laughter. They gave up.
"That was so hard Cat!"
"How do people do it?"
"I wanted to say weak tea. How was I supposed to say that?" 
"How do you say....?"
I showed them how to say what they needed to say and I think they were surprised by just how much you could say with so few symbols. They had not realised how many meanings they could make by combining symbols to or using "opposite meaning". 
But all of that didn't really matter. Even with that small experience they had all come to realise that communicating is not a simple matter. 
We all take the capacity to communicate for granted - even I do that most of the time. I say something. I expect to be understood. I listen and I expect to understand. In my job it doesn't always happen of course but, most of the time, I am looking at a screen. I can translate the squiggles on the screen into something I can understand. 
Not that long ago I had to go into the local library and find a reference. I used one of the library computers to send the information off. One of the staff came to find out if it had gone through and I showed them what I was sending. To them it must have looked like nothing more than tiny paw marks across the screen because they asked, "Can you actually read that?" 
Well yes, it's my job. I'm not sure the librarian was convinced.
But I came away from that encounter and yesterday's gathering once again in awe of people who have to always rely on using an augmentative or alternative communication aid.  It can be so incredibly difficult for them.
Learning to communicate is the single most important thing a person learns to do.

Monday 24 October 2016

Imagine, if you can, what it is like not

to be able to communicate. Just at present someone I only know virtually but nevertheless very much like and respect is in hospital. She has been keeping the rest of us up to date through social media. The two of us have exchanged a few, short remarks. There have been many other messages left for her. Some have been serious, others concerned, yet more have been amusing. I don't know how she keeps it up. She has even found time to read my blog posts - a distraction perhaps from the lack of sleep and the woman in the next bed - who is noisy and demented. 
But I thought of all this and then thought of an experience I had going into Italy on an overnight train. Being a student with almost nothing to my name I had gone for the cheapest possible seat from Lyon to Pisa. Opposite me in the carriage were an Italian grandmother and her grandson, a boy of about 12. They spoke no English.
At around 5am the grandson had a grand mal seizure. His grandmother couldn't cope so I went ahead with the necessary first aid.
I asked for help in English but apparently nobody in the carriage spoke English - or perhaps they just didn't want to get involved. After a moment comment sense asserted itself and I asked for help in Italian. Someone left the carriage and then came back with someone who spoke a limited amount of English. I explained what I wanted them to do, trying to keep it simple.
He was a businessman who lived in Pisa and fortunately remained calm and willing to follow my instructions. The boy came out of the seizure a little later and I asked his grandmother for his medication  - which she was holding out to me. I read the instructions on the label, confirmed my understanding with the businessman and got the boy to take another dose. He was, by then, sufficiently recovered to agree that this was what he needed.
We were in Pisa soon after that and I had to change trains. The businessman took me off and bought me breakfast - but not before I was hugged by grandma and the boy shook my hand. He was still a bit sleepy and dopey but I knew he would be fine.
But, it was an incident which terrified me at the time - and still concerns me. I couldn't communicate in a medical emergency.What if it had been me having the seizure or if I had fallen ill and been unable to communicate? 
I have been told of other incidents since then. A friend fell critically ill in Germany and not all the hospital staff spoke English. She speaks no German. Last year someone else I know was rushed from a ship's hospital to a  hospital in Spain and not expected to survive. She couldn't have communicated anyway but her husband was there alone with her and most of the staff had no English. 
It is my job to provide communication assistance for people in emergency and disaster situations - although not quite in these circumstances. But they were people I know and I would have helped if I had known about it at the time. I have too much imagination I suppose but the idea of being that ill and not being able to communicate is terrifying. The idea of not being able to speak, of having the sort of communication aid someone like Stephen Hawking depends on break down, is terrifying.
It's Augmentative and Alternative Communication Month. This afternoon I am hosting a "silent afternoon tea" for several people. I am going to try and help them  understand, just a little, what it is like. I'll try and tell you about it tomorrow.

Sunday 23 October 2016

I was supposed to meet

someone yesterday. Let it be said that I wasn't very keen to do so and, in that sense, I was not sorry when she did not appear.
I am however annoyed that she did not bother to send a message to say she was not coming as she was the one who asked to meet. Yes, it was rude. Did she just forget, or did she have a good excuse.
I don't think I have ever "just forgotten" and failed to turn up somewhere when someone was expecting me. I don't think I have failed to tell someone if I couldn't be somewhere I was expected to be. If I have been late then it has been unavoidable and outside my control. 
I know people who are chronically late. In my teens, in order to earn enough "pocket money" for my fares to and from teacher training college I used to baby sit one night a week for a family with four children. (The other six nights were spent working as a "junior housemistress" in a boarding school.) The father of this family had a lecture to attend at university. The mother of the family went to orchestra practice. We knew them well. If you wanted the mother to be somewhere on time then you had to try telling her that an event that started at 8pm was starting at 7:30pm. Her husband would do this. Sometimes that would work, more often than not they would still be late.
"What did she do to be so late?" the Senior Cat has asked me more than once. I couldn't work it out then and I still can't work that out. She was always busy but I would arrive at just after 4pm and, for the next three hours, there would be a frantic rush for her to be ready to leave. I'd have the children bathed, fed and ready for bed by then. Her husband would have the washing up from the evening meal done and several other things as well...and he would have been home for about an hour.
She was, and still is, a lovely person. I am very fond of her but I know she won't be early.
Back then, when the car went off down the road, the eldest two would look at me and give huge sighs and there would be a plaintive demand for "Please can we have a story now?"
They came with their eldest daughter to an event recently - and yes, they were late.
But their daughter reminded me of those nights and said, "You know the thing I remember most about that time is you reading to us. It was always so good to snuggle in and just be quiet and listen."
I am glad I never forgot to go and read a story to them.

Saturday 22 October 2016

There is a wall calendar

in our house. I make one every year. I buy a very large sheet of thin card, cut a strip off so that it will fit into the designated space on the side of the cupboard next to the 'fridge, rule the lines and paste on the months and days of the weeks. The numbers get, sort of, written in with my atrocious paw marks.
My mother used to make one of these calendars - but of course hers was all done with beautiful "infant school" printing. We have a collection of them from the last few years of her life. The Senior Cat has kept all the calendars for about the last 20 years - on the grounds that "we may need to look at them some time". Perhaps. 
I admit that keeping one is useful because it provides the ruler marks for the calendar I am drawing up. Occasionally we have referred back to the previous year.
At the beginning of each year the calendar looks fairly empty. All I have put in are the regular events such as birthdays and "last Tuesday of the month" type meetings. Over the year the calendar gradually fills up. If an appointment needs to be made or someone needs to know if we are going to be home then a glance at the calendar will tell us if the time doesn't clash or we will be home.
"Hold on a moment, I'll have a look at the calendar," I can tell someone.
I have a calendar associated with the email too of course. I also keep a small diary for the purpose of meetings and appointments and essential reminders.
     "You don't need all those things!" I have been told - and told by multiple people many times. "Why don't you just put it all in your phone?"
I have no idea how to "put it into (my) phone". I am not even sure my phone - which my youngest nephew kindly described as "pre-dinosaur" can do anything like that. I still can't send a text message - but that also has something to do with the size of the  buttons on the thing and my clumsy paws.
I may learn to do these things but there is something to be said for not doing them. The old technology doesn't require batteries. I also have the information in more than one place. If I lost the diary the information would be in the computer calendar or on the wall calendar. 
It also means that I still tend to remember things.  I am not relying on the computer or my phone to remind me. As I find it difficult to write the very act of writing it onto the wall calendar or into my diary helps me remember.
I think I'll go on remembering in this way as long as I can.

Friday 21 October 2016

I have been arguing with someone

I would like to say it has been a discussion but it has really been an argument. 
It began with me offering a group I belong to the opportunity to give some feedback.  In another role I could take that feedback off to a meeting and, hopefully, any alterations would meet the approval of the first group. Let it also be said that I was not opposed to returning with some information. I actually offered to give some feedback.
I offered to meet two members of the group. I even suggested that I'd buy the coffee. The offer was turned down. If I was going to give feedback I was told I should present myself to the committee. 
(In this context the word "suggestion" sounded more like an order.) Sorry, no.  I can't get there at the time the committee meets - and even if I could it is not an appropriate way to handle the situation.
E-mails went backwards and forwards for two days. In the end I gave in and agreed I would give some feedback to the group as a whole. I am not happy about doing that for a number of reasons. It's a group where people tend not to listen. Most people in the group are not in the least bit interested in participating in the other activity. I am laying myself open to very public criticism about things over which I have no control.
Nevertheless I am going to do it. I am going to do something I would normally never do. I am going to write something and I am going to read it out.  That way when someone says, as they are bound to do, "but you said..." or "Cat told us..." I will be able to point to exactly what I said.
I know it won't be popular and I know, unless I am very careful, it could backfire on me too. But, I have been following the progress of a couple of political spats and it seems to me that exact written records can be a good thing...and not just in Hansard. 
It seems to me that it is quite likely the previous Prime Minister didn't know something. There was no reason for him to be told. If he was told then would it have been anything more than a passing remark? It's made no difference of course. Assumptions have been made and there is the suggestion that he should have known anyway.
But the senior most member of a certain Commission most certainly would have known and would not have forgotten what she said. It is her business to remember such things and it is not the first time she has been caught out. Unfortunately for her there was a written record this time. She can be heard saying what she claims not to have said because there is an actual recording.
There won't be an aural record of what I say but there will be a written one. I'll try and keep it short - and to the point. I'll try to make it as clear as possible.
And I am going to - politely - say just a little more than the person making the demand has bargained on. I won't scratch but I will growl - just a little.

Thursday 20 October 2016

There was an appalling accident

not far from here. It occurred some days ago now but this morning's paper has a front page feature about the impact it has on the family of an innocent victim. 
She had just dropped her daughter off at a friend's home when a 15yr old boy speeding in a stolen car crashed into hers and killed her.  
It is the sort of senseless tragedy that should never occur but does occur too often in this country. Learning to drive a car, owning a car, getting caught for speeding at least once in your life is all considered to be a "rite of passage".  Any suggestion of raising the age at which people are legally allowed to drive brings about howls of rage. How dare anyone even suggest it? Think of all those poor young things who won't be able to get to work and sport and, perhaps, school.
We need to stop thinking like that.
I went past one of the local high schools yesterday. There was the staff car park. There was the student car park. I don't know a lot about cars but there didn't seem to be a lot of difference. There were some "old bangers" in the student car park but there were also what looked to be like some good cards.
The school has a fairly ordinary middle class catchment area. There are about 800 students in the school. At least 600 of those students are too young to have a licence. There were at least 55 cars in the student car park.  That's 55 cars for 200 students...say around one in four of them has a car.
I don't own a car. I have never owned a car. I do know a car is expensive to run...and that an "old banger" can be even more expensive to run. How do the students afford it - even if they have a part-time job? They don't of course. Their parents have to be helping. Why do they do that? The excuses are things like "going to work" and "going to sport" and "lack of public transport" and "it's safer".
My brother got a low powered motorbike when he was in his third year at university. He was on his own financially. Our parents didn't contribute a cent towards it. They didn't approve of his purchase either.  By then most of his mates had similar vehicles. A few of them had cars but most of them had bikes. They were considered to be cheaper to run and yes, they used to go to and from late lectures  at university or when they left the library at closing time - 10pm. My brother never gave anyone a ride. He never had a spare helmet and neither did they. He got caught "speeding" once. The police pulled him over one Saturday night and booked him for, they claimed, doing two and a half miles an hour above the speed limit. The magistrate threw it out because, he said, it wasn't possible to be that accurate from the speedometer of the police car. He told my brother to "be careful". Were the cops just trying to teach a young man a lesson? Probably. If my brother has been caught speeding again then we have never heard about it. Somehow I doubt he has been. 
And we were all slightly bemused when my father's cousin was caught speeding. The speed camera took the photograph and, in due course, the fine arrived. Puzzled and very annoyed his cousin challenged the fine. He produced his passport and showed them he was on the other side of the world at the time...and no, the "old banger" was not his - that was a "3" and not an "8" on the licence plate. We often wonder whether the driver of the old banger paid a speeding fine or not. Did it teach the driver a lesson?
But nobody has ever taught the 15yr old. He wasn't considered to be old enough to drive. It's too late now. The damage is done. He has to spend the rest of his life knowing he has killed someone. I wonder how he will react. Will he lose sleep over it? How long will it be before he is released from detention? He's a minor so it won't be too long. How long before he will be back behind the wheel? It won't be too long - even if he isn't doing it legally. It means the rest of us have to be extra vigilant.
We need to stop thinking there is a "right" to drive though. There is no such thing. It's a privilege and a responsibility. Nothing more.
I don't think the young daughter of the woman who was killed will be caught speeding.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Our gun control laws

are some of the strictest in the world. They were brought in by the then Prime Minister, John Howard, after one of the world's worst mass shootings - known as the Port Arthur Massacre. If anyone reading this wants to know more about that incident they can search on line. I don't want to revisit the horror of it.
Yesterday the extension on a "temporary" ban on the import of the "high capacity Adler shotgun" (brought in by our previous Prime Minister, Tony Abbott) was under threat.  It was under threat because of the numbers game in politics. The government needs the support of cross bench senators to get legislation through parliament. Even one Senator deciding not to support a piece of legislation can threaten the success of legislation.
In this case the legislation was not about gun control itself but about the  legislation to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission.  The legislation is widely supported in the community but opposed by Labor - who see it as "anti-union".  
One Senator is also using or - perhaps more accurately - abusing his power in an attempt to weaken gun laws. His support for the legislation is said to depend on the ban on the Adler being lifted. 
Nobody in this country needs to own a high powered shotgun like that. It is an appalling thing, capable of killing many living things in one burst of gunfire. The only people who need to own guns outside the police or the armed services are farmers who have livestock or those responsible for the welfare of wildlife in the environment. 
I know there are people who go "duck hunting" and "roo-ing" (hunting kangaroos). I know there are people who shoot at targets. If they want to do these things  (and why they want to puzzles me) then, at very least, their guns should be locked away in some central and very secure storage area. They should have to sign them out and then in again - and they should need to maintain a completely clean record.
Guns are not toys Senator Leyonhjelm. They are not something people need. If you don't understand what damage private gun ownership in a modern society can do then look at America. Many of my American friends would be very happy if the "right to bear arms" was struck out.
That Senator Leyonhjelm is prepared to put workers on building sites at risk from unionists who believe they are above the law in order to also put the community at risk by allowing the importation of those guns is unbelievable.
Will he sleep at night if someone is killed by his actions?

Tuesday 18 October 2016

"Oooh one of those long lunch meetings?"

my neighbour asked as I told her I was just back from a meeting which had included lunch.
Um...not exactly. First of all I was expecting it to be just "coffee". Second, we actually did a lot of work.
I was collected by one of the two people I was meeting with and we went to a nearby cafe for the "coffee". Knowing that I would at least be late back I had left the Senior Cat with very careful instructions about how to heat his own lunch.  I also told him, "I might be back in time to do it but it is more likely to be later than that."
It was just as well because the person who had collected me said, "Let's make this lunch." The other person agreed so I made the proper noises and we pulled out notes and pens and set to work.
It is said that "two's company and three's a crowd" but the three of us do work well together. We went through each item and made a decision. We ate and made more decisions.
P...asked about including something new. We agreed it was a good idea.  There was another new idea too.
"I'll type them up and let you have the changes," A.... told me as she dropped me off at my gate again, "Can you read it through and get back to me?"
Of course. I prowled in. The Senior Cat was finishing his lunch - and reading of course.
     "I thought it would take you longer than that," he told me.
No. We got on with the job.
This was the knitting and crochet schedule for the state's main agricultural show next year. For years it never changed. People knew exactly what to expect. The items looked as if they had not moved from one year to the next. Nobody was very interested - or so it seemed. 
And then involved. Her husband was already heavily involved in other areas. He knew something needed to be changed. The event needs variety. New ideas have to come in. It has taken a lot of work to change this area - and there is still a lot of work to be done.
I know what is going to happen when I mention the changes to other people who need to know and need to be involved. They will grumble. They will ask why anything needs to change. I will be told that their "favourite" class, the one they intended to enter this year, has been removed from the schedule. It will be, as always, an excuse for them not to enter anything. 
It doesn't really bother me. There will be other people who will enter - and hopefully some of them will be people who have never entered anything before. They will do it because there is something new there, something which has caught their attention and imagination. 
Sometimes "long lunch meetings" can reach a long way.

Monday 17 October 2016

There are "mini board games"

being promoted by our state newspaper. I am sure you know the sort of "deal". You buy the paper and you get the item for a reduced cost.
For once I may succumb. It is not that I am a great fan of board games. I'm not. The Senior Cat does not play them and, even if someone else lived here, it is unlikely I would have the time. 
I have played Monopoly and Scrabble and things like Snakes and Ladders. I once knitted a chess set. I know the basic moves for chess and it won't be long before the grandchild of our neighbour will be better at the game than I ever was.
I used to keep board games in the library at school. It was frowned on by some people. They thought the library was "just for reading" but in wet weather the library would be crowded with children - so much so that some of them would be sitting on the floor. 
It probably went against all the modern rules about occupational health and safety.  They read. They played board games. They talked and drew things. They groaned when the bell signalled the end of the lunch period. 
I watched them go back to class - and relished a few minutes to myself before the first afternoon class appeared. The room was always tidy. The monitors saw to that. There was a table in the corner near my tiny "office" where the serious chess players could leave their games set up. There was room for three games but usually only one or two were left there.
When we had the state wide loss of power a couple of weeks back several people mentioned that they had brought out "old games" and used them to entertain grandchildren. Some commented their grandchildren had "never played anything like that". Their own children had not played too many games like that either.  Instead, they had the "Game Boy" device and similar "toys".
      "It was a mistake," one grandmother told me, "They didn't learn to take turns in quite the same way."
      "And they didn't learn the same sort of strategic skills," her husband told me.
I don't remember having to teach the children in the library those things. They taught each other to play the games I had there. Of course they could come and ask me if an explanation was needed. Disputes were something they had to resolve themselves - and disputes were rare. They knew the rules.
But, in a few short weeks, Brother Cat is bringing his family over to see the Senior Cat - six adults and five children will be descending for a weekend of mayhem.  I have eyed those mini board games they are promoting. How would the three eldest react to some of the simpler games - like "Chutes and Ladders"? It doesn't have quite the same ring to it as "Snakes and Ladders" but...
There is just one major problem that I can see - these games come without batteries.


Sunday 16 October 2016

"Just send it to the Secretary..."

the President said.
No, wait a moment! You will already have the information. I want to know what you are going to do with it. We need to back track.
There was a small - and mercifully short - meeting yesterday. I am, as I have mentioned elsewhere, a Steward for the state's major agricultural and horticultural the knitting and crochet area. (Yes, that IS included.)
One of my jobs is to liaise with the hand knitting guild I belong to so yesterday we had a meeting - before another meeting. It is one of those "I am trying to be cooperative and keep you informed and get some feedback" sort of affairs.
And it all made me wonder about this "keeping you informed" thing. Last week I had reminders from Australia Post to "activate (my) digital mail box". What do I need a "digital mail box" for? I have e-mail. All the Australia Post one would do is send me advertising - presumably via text messages on a mobile 'phone. 
We were both out yesterday morning so someone from the company which provides our internet connection left a message on the answering machine to remind me that "the NBN is now available in your area and we need to talk to you about this". Why? Unless the old system is going to be abandoned then can't we just leave things the way they are? Oh yes, I know you have to try and sell me something I don't need or want. It just so happens though that this household does not download films or music from the internet so we don't need that supposedly super fast service. Oh - just by the way - given the mess that Telstra made of connecting the people across the road I don't think I want to play around with this. They have been without a fully functioning service for almost four months now.    
So yesterday when the President said "just send it to the Secretary" we suddenly came to a halt. How is this flow of information going to work? What is the Secretary going to do with the information? It has to be made available to everyone. It's why you are being given the information. There's the website. That will need to be updated. There's the FB page. It was turned into a "closed" group recently but it can't be closed if information is to be freely available to everyone. There was no reason to turn it into a closed group except that one person thought it was a good idea. There's the guild newsletter - which also goes up on the website. There are meetings. People can get back to me with questions at meetings or on the phone or via e-mail.
Oh yes, all that can be done. There are plenty of ways to communicate.
And there will still be people who don't read, don't listen, don't ask and more. Does it mean I haven't communicated? 

Saturday 15 October 2016

There was the inevitable clip of Bob Dylan

playing guitar on the news last night.
Earlier in the day I had told the Senior Cat about the Nobel Prize. He had looked at me in a puzzled sort of way and said, "Who's Bob Dylan?" 
I explained and, in my best yowl, gave him a the first couple of lines of "Blowin' in the wind."
"That doesn't make sense," he told me
I realised I had sung it with the German words and tried again in English. Oh. Right. Yes. He thought he had heard it before.
But why had I sung it in German?
"That's the way I first heard it I suppose - really heard it," I told him. He still looked puzzled.
"I was at camp."
He nodded. It was explanation enough.
And I remembered the occasion with extraordinary, painful clarity. I could feel the grass I was sitting on, smell the campfire smoke, feel the slight chill in the air. I remember the boy who has been snuggled in to me earlier in the evening.
It was a Guide camp, but not the ordinary sort. We had takensixty children with disabilities to camp...and most of them were very severely disabled. The little boy who had been snuggling into me had muscular dystrophy. He could still, just, walk. 
My friend O had her guitar out and we had been singing camp favourites the children liked, songs like "Old Macdonald had a farm" and "The wheels on the bus". 
We put the children to bed and regathered and O started to play some old folk songs. Being Guides we knew these. There were a few more recent songs from groups like "The Seekers" but they were more like the old folk songs. And then, one of the local farmers came over. He had given the children rides on a tractor earlier in the day. He was a kindly but rather taciturn man of German origin. 
He sat and listened for a bit and then said something to O. She nodded and he sang Blowing in the Wind for German. A version by Marlene Dietrich had just been released.   
I was fortunate. The first time I heard that song it was sung by a man with a magnificent voice. I And, that night, he taught us to sing the song in German rather than English. 
The next year the little boy with muscular dystrophy was in a wheelchair. The following year he didn't come. We knew what had happened. The progress of the condition had been very rapid for him.
The farmer gave children rides on his tractor again and, as he passed one child back to me, he asked me if I could still sing the song he had taught us.
I could remember the first lines...and I have never forgotten the refrain, "Die Antwort Mein Freund Weiss ganz allein der Wind"
I looked up a list of Dylan's song titles to see how many I recognised. There were more than I thought there might be. Worthy of a Nobel Prize? I'm not sure. Perhaps it is time to recognise a more popular culture.
That one song though made a great impact on a group of girls. O still sings it today - and I can still remember the words, words from another language and another culture. 
And I can still see the blue numbers tattooed into the wrist of the farmer. 

Friday 14 October 2016

Making bread is an

art as well as a craft. I have yet to master the art - and probably never will. I use a bread machine.
All this started years ago when a good friend passed on her bread machine. She no longer needed it - or so she said.
The Senior Cat pounced gleefully on it. He has a strong, very strong, aversion to "square, white and sliced" and any other form of supermarket available bread.  He will tolerate, just, some of the bread available in the local bakery. 
What  he much prefers  is what he calls "real bread". In winter this means the heavy "German grain" mix with added pepitas and sunflower seeds. In summer he will go for the slightly lighter but still dense wholemeal version. There is also rye bread - if I have the six hours needed (or should that be "kneaded"?). 
Occasionally, very occasionally, I experiment. Yesterday was one such occasion. A few days previously a complete stranger approached me in the library as I was putting a cookbook back on the shelf. (I had found it among the 400s instead of the 641s and was merely returning it to the rightful place.) It happened to be a book about bread-making. Now the stranger wanted to know if I had ever made bread. Well yes, I had. Did she want to know something.
She showed me the recipe. "I want to try this."
I read it, a recipe for "wholemeal hazelnut and apricot". Mmm...and, having every intention of trying it, I asked her to wait while I legally copied the page. She went off with the book. I went off with the recipe.
It was yesterday before I bought the ingredients. The bread flour I used was new to me - from a supplier within the state. The hazelnut meal I knew I could use in some biscuits for an afternoon tea I need to have - one of those ultra rare occasions on which I will (reluctantly) "bake". The dried apricots get used anyway. I had just run out of those.  I did have to indulge in some actual hazelnuts  but I only bought a tiny quantity.
After weighing and measuring carefully I flung the ingredients into the bread machine in the proper order. I set the proper cycle working and went about my other tasks. If it didn't work we would be reduced to the commercial emergency loaf in the freezer.
The Senior Cat  thinks it worked. He liked it. I would make several changes to the recipe. I'd leave out the 50gms of hazelnut meal - and perhaps add a few more chopped nuts instead. I'd also toast the hazelnuts first. If I  used that bread flour again I would also add a tiny, tiny pinch of salt. It had no salt at all and, whatever might be said about salt, there are some things that need just a little for other flavours to bloom.
The recipe was not sweet. There was no sugar in it at all so it went perfectly with cheese.
It occurs to me that I can vary this...what about fig and walnut or cherry and almond? Or, can you suggest something else? 

Thursday 13 October 2016

"I've had this brilliant idea...

if it works," the Senior Cat told me.
He was making a list of things he needed to do while he was out. 
"Yes dear?" I am  used to his "brilliant ideas". Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don't. 
This was to do with gardening. The Senior Cat's gardening is done in "self-watering" pots at waist height these days. At  93 and a bit unsteady on his rear paws he's also a bit old to be digging. Our friend S.... does that when he comes in for a couple of hours once a fortnight.
The pots were a "brilliant idea". The Senior Cat spends a lot of time looking after the contents.  We get useful things like parsley, tomatoes, strawberries, carrots and lettuce - and more. I can't say it keeps us in vegetables now but it certainly gives him a lot of satisfaction and I find it extremely useful when there is enough of  whatever it is I want. 
But the pots need to have their watering wells filled frequently in the summer - at least twice a day in hot weather. The plants also need to be "fed". The Senior Cat's latest idea involves small "bags" of his patent plant food to be released slowly through the water in the wells. 
What to use for the bags? He has been using some small gauze like bags for another purpose. He bought them in the "cheap shop" in the shopping centre. Oh yes, he would get some of those. 
I pointed out that, for this purpose, they were not exactly cheap. He said he would just get one pack of 5 and see if the idea worked.
And, he purred off on his little gopher to go to the bank, pay a bill and go to the cheap shop.
He arrived home just before lunch. He was, as I knew he would be, tired. He  had not been to the cheap shop. It had been too late to go and well...yes,  he admitted, he was too tired. I know he doesn't think of  himself as being 93 but I know he is.
I said nothing apart from my intention to return some books to the library and pick up something they had put aside for me. But, I had been thinking. 
I went to the library. Then I prowled into the charity shop and looked in the little space where they keep things like curtains and haberdashery. I was thinking that an old light curtain might be useful. I found something that might be even better - two metres of what is, I think, called "butter muslin". It's the sort of thing they used to wrap around cheese. The tag said, "$1.00". I bought it...and two small glasses to replace those the Senior Cat has broken recently...another dollar. 
I came home and I explained my "brilliant idea" to the Senior Cat. All he needs to do is cut this  into squares, put two together, and then put his "food" in the middle and tie it up to make a little old-fashioned "poke". 
He thinks that idea might work. 
I don't know whether his will work but he can try. If it doesn't then all we will have wasted is a dollar. We won't even have wasted any time because both of will have managed to learn something from his "brilliant idea".

Wednesday 12 October 2016


Someone I know has just been given a gift of $115,000.  It was one of those gifts known as "compensation".
There is compensation which is deserved - and is often not nearly enough to cover the expenses which have been incurred. There is other compensation which people manage to get despite not deserving a cent. 
In this case the individual concerned did not deserve a cent. She was not, despite her claims, injured at work. She simply didn't like the work she was required to do. She wanted to go on being a perpetual student - of things like embroidery and knitting and art. I have known her for about twenty years. In that time I have never seen a finished piece of work - and neither has anyone else. 
She also gets a "mobility allowance". This  puzzles me - and other people. She is much more mobile than I am or any number of other people I know. A friend with severe arthritis, unable to walk without a walker, not able to drive, and certainly not able to walk 50m was having trouble getting that same allowance. This woman can use public transport and walk to and from it without difficulty.
She also runs a car. 
I don't get a mobility allowance yet - and I don't want it. At the moment I can ride my tricycle and I can, with some difficulty, get it on and off the train. If I can't go somewhere like that then I don't go.  If it gets to a point where I can't do those things then I will think again and so will my GP. At the moment she would say I don't need a mobility allowance and she would be right. It should be reserved for people who really need it. 
Of course the $115,000 was supposed to be used to cover the  expenses incurred by the work related "injury" - except there was no injury. We have seen a sling and claims to shoulder surgery but a fellow member of the group who works in the hospital she claims to have spent a week in could never find her there. Then there were the crutches - and the same inability to find her in the same hospital. At that time someone else saw her at a craft fair in another state - getting around with no apparent difficulty at all. 
The situation was reported and investigated but nothing happened. Compensation was awarded a couple of weeks back. She complained at how little it was but she is "feeling a bit better now" and is "thinking about going back to X... " where she is a "textile student". 
She has about another ten years to go before she is eligible for the age pension. My guess is that she won't be able to go to work for the next ten years and that she will, somehow, retain that mobility allowance. It's wrong - but I suspect that the professionals just find it easier to give in to her and her stories. 
So,  I am sorry for the person, an actual friend of mine, who struggles with severe arthritis and genuinely cannot walk 50m who cannot get a mobility allowance yet. They are waiting until after her surgery (on a waiting list) to see how mobile she is then. 

Tuesday 11 October 2016

I watched some of the second debate

- with the sound turned off. It was the only way I could handle it.
I know I shouldn't comment on the politics of other countries but I am puzzled. 
There must be millions of people in the United States who are eligible to be President - i.e. they were born there and hold US citizenship - and at least a hundred or more of those should be able to get the financial backing and power to run for President.  So,  how did Americans end up with the current two candidates?
One is completely and totally and utterly unsuited to the job. The other may not be much better. Seriously. One appears good simply because the other is so appalling. 
      "It wouldn't have happened if voting was compulsory" someone told me. I disagree. We have some pretty appalling politicians in Downunder and we have compulsory attendance at the ballot box. It doesn't stop dangerous people running for office, indeed it may encourage them. 
      "It's all about money," someone else at the same conversation told me.
I agree - up to a point. You need money to run an effective campaign.  It costs millions to run an effective campaign.
      "And you need the media on your side," the Whirlwind's father said. I agree with that.
Yesterday there were mixed comments about the debate, especially in the media. Some people are saying one candidate should simply get out of the race - not likely to happen - and others are saying the candidate did well enough to still be in the running. Who said what in the media was entirely predictable here. 
It is why I watched some of the second debate. That failure to shake hands? Interesting - and rude on both sides.  Both candidates lost me there but I persisted a bit longer. Camera angles, close ups, body language and facial expressions caught - and lost - were all interesting. 
Yes, I did learn more about both candidates, much more. No, I did not like what I was learning.
That tip from the PR expert to watch without sound was a good one, a very good one. If you are not distracted by the sound then you can learn a great deal about what someone is saying.
It told me both candidates were lying. 

Monday 10 October 2016

So maths can be fun?

Yesterday, someone I know, at least "virtually", put up a picture of "The curve of pursuit" afghan/blanket. It's one of those mathematical curiosities which has become even more of a curiosity since it has been knitted as well.
There is a rather remarkable couple - Pat Ashforth and Steve Plummer - who have done a great deal to promote the teaching of maths and knitting. As a knitter I can only approve. Their "Woolly Thoughts" website is worth some exploration. There are maths games and puzzles there - all knitted or crocheted. 
The Senior Cat has made timber versions of some of them - such as the "Soma cube", pentominoes, and the tangram. The ideas are not new, indeed some of them are very old. What was new was to try and make knitted or crocheted versions of them. Such things are soft and cuddly and surely must make maths seem more friendly?
But it seems to me that there is more than that to teaching a child to knit. Learning to knit is also about learning to manipulate, about learning how things (in this case stitches) relate and much more. The Senior Cat keeps telling me he is amazed how much maths goes into designing a piece of knitting. It's not all just basic addition or multiplication either. There is algebra and geometry involved too.
I have a good friend whose son is a professor of "algebraic topology" - something that has been described to her as "making a teacup shape out of a doughnut shape". She claims not to be sure what the use of the subject is but we once both agreed it would be interesting to see if we could knit the doughnut and turn it into a teacup. (Yes, the topic is very serious mathematics. I don't claim to understand it at all but it does have scientific applications.) When we were discussing this though my other thought was, "What if we taught a child to knit a  mathematical form and, because of that, they went on to be a mathematician?"
Good knitters are also mathematicians - and perhaps mathematicians also need to be knitters?

Sunday 9 October 2016

"Remember this? I've kept it - as a reminder

of her," he told me.
I was out and about yesterday when I came to a sudden halt. Just around the corner of the street I was turning into were vans and men and holes and cables and those complex pieces of equipment that keep the phone lines working.  The entire street seemed to be blocked off.
My first thought was irritation at having to go another way around. My second was, "how fortunate". 
One of the men had looked up and said, "Hold on a moment..."
He was about to move something for me to go through when another one shouted, "Hello!"
I looked across to him and then he signed "hello" as well. He jumped the safety gate around his hole and ran over.
     "You're Cat! You have to be Cat!"
It was years ago now. I had a request from someone "up north", hundreds of kilometres north. There was a little indigenous girl who had been born with multiple internal problems. One result was that she was unable to speak. The person who approached to me said that the child was "smart, funny, intelligent and in need of help". Would I talk to her parents? They were prepared to make the journey to meet me.
I met them one September day. They travelled down and stayed the night with a family from their church network. I travelled out as far as the suburban train would take me to the north and they met me there.
When I got off the train they were standing in a little huddle at the far end of the platform looking distinctly nervous. I was feeling nervous too. What if I couldn't help? They had come a very long way to see me. 
Then L... , on a nod from her father, ran towards me. I hope I never forget the look in her eyes. 
      "Hello," I told her and then I signed, "hello" as well and told her, "You can say "hello" too. You can do it like this."
I showed her again. She looked at me. I showed her again. Slowly and cautiously she tried the hand movements and then she smiled and flung her arms around me. 
She was four. I had been told she liked to colour in so I had taken a new colouring book for her and for her older brother and a new set of pencils for each of them.  They played in a nearby playground while I talked to their parents and then her father asked shyly if I would have lunch with them. Of course. The children sat and coloured in while her parents told me more and I made suggestions.  L... was not the usual four year old when it came to colouring in. Her work was entirely inside the lines. Every part was coloured in carefully. I asked her to draw me her family. That was done in more detail than is usual for a four year old. Yes, she did sometimes try to draw something to in order to "say" something. 
Sign language was not really an option for her. It meant that everyone around her would need to learn it too. 
Over the next few years I corresponded with them and with the teacher at her small school. She progressed from photographs and pictures to symbols and words. She showed she could read despite often missing school through illness. When she reached the point where she could write what she wanted to say,  sign to her family and use an alphabet board I lost contact. I often wondered how long she had lived because her life expectancy was short.  Her brother told me she lived longer than anyone expected, well into her teens. 
"She never stopped talking her way," he told me, "And she loved to read. We used to get books all the way from here at school and they sent extra just for her."
It was a remarkable story because many of the children in the area they lived in don't do well at school. They don't always attend. She did. Her brother did. They knew the importance of being able to read. It was what allowed L... to communicate.
He had come down from his work in the north to learn how to do something and I knew he had to get back to work - although the supervisor had told him to take his time and talk to me. But, before I left, he pulled out a chain around his neck. I thought it would be his work ID but it wasn't. It was a laminated card. "Remember this?" he asked me, "I've kept it - as a reminder of her."
And there was a photograph of the first communication "board" we had made for her on one side and, on the other, L's photo and her eyes full of hope.

Saturday 8 October 2016

According to the Energy Minister it was

"a software glitch" that caused the major power blackout. 
That is not what other people have been saying but perhaps we should believe him? After all government ministers always tell the truth don't they?
According to someone I know - not well but well enough to know where he once worked - the power outage was a good deal more complicated than that. I am inclined to believe him, after all he once worked in a power station as an engineer. 
The technicalities are beyond me but he seems to think it was a combination of factors - most of them avoidable - and that the power should not have been out for very long at all. Yes, power does go out from time to time but it should, according to him, normally be restored in a  very short time.  According to him there is nothing, apart from gross incompetence and lack of planning, that should cause an entire state to be blacked out for so long.
This state relies heavily on wind and solar power. There are problems with both - the wind has to blow and the sun has to shine and there has to be storage and backup. If the wind blows too much then the turbines have to be closed down. 
Sunshine isn't usually a problem. Our hot water system uses solar panels to heat the water and it is, on the whole, very efficient. But - and this  is the big "but" - it has a backup. On very overcast days the electrical backup kicks in and keeps us in hot water.
There was no backup for the state. The power plants that should have been able to kick in and keep the state moving had been "mothballed". Yes, they run on coal and gas and are considered environmentally unfriendly but they could have kept the state moving. 
Instead we lost an estimated billion dollars in lost production. There is also the increased power costs to individual households, the higher insurance premiums and the money which will need to be diverted from other services to pay for the overall mess. We already pay the highest power prices in the country - and they are likely to go even higher. 
This winter the Senior Cat has needed more heating. The fall he had at the beginning of the year made him less active. He is growing older. Even with a double layer of wool he felt the cold.  In summer he will need cooling. Our house has good roof insulation but it can still get too warm for him to be comfortable. We will find the money for the power to keep him comfortable even if we have to go without other things. But, many other people won't be able to afford that.
I can see one upside to all this. Some people will gravitate to the cool of the library or the shopping centre. They might mix more, socialise more, and feel a little less isolated. 
All the same it would be good if the government acknowledged a mistake and made sure that there was backup for the power supply.
Perhaps one of these days the batteries will be small enough and cheap enough for people to have their own personal power supply. It could work if the wind kept blowing and the sun kept shining.

Friday 7 October 2016

My paternal grandfather had an FJ Holden

- one of those cars which appears in a song about kangaroos and meat pies. It is, I understand, considered to  be a very Downunder sort of thing. 
I am sure my grandfather didn't look at it in that way. When he bought it the car would have been made about six or seven miles away at a car plant on the main road between the port and the city centre.
It is the first car I can clearly remember my grandfather having. It was cream and it had red leather seats - real leather. 
Oh I remember those red leather seats very well indeed. There were major bush fires that summer and Grandpa came to get me and Brother Cat and take us back to their home in the city. The day he came to do it was incredibly hot. Cars had no air conditioning in those days so he had the windows open to let the (hot) air blow through. I was sitting in the back seat - no seat belts back then. My brother was in the front.
As we went through one of the tiny communities that led to the city Grandpa had to stop for more petrol. He got out of the car and I saw his white shirt. The back of it was covered in red. I thought he was bleeding.
Of course it was quickly discovered that the dye from the leather was coming out on his shirt. My top was the same. So was my brother's shirt.  Grandma was not impressed by the way the leather had been dyed! 
But that cream Holden served my grandfather well for years. When he eventually parted with it he bought another Holden. I didn't think of the old car very often. Then, one morning, in the local shopping centre, someone pulled in with a carefully restored cream FJ  Holden. He gave it a loving pat as he locked it.
Unable to resist I remarked that it looked lovely and that my grandfather had had just such a car in that colour.
"I bought this from a tailor in the Port," the owner told me, "Had a bit of trouble with the handbrake - there was actually a card on the dash saying "Don't forget the handbrake" - but the rest was still good."
It was my grandfather's car.  He was the only tailor in the Port. He kept the little card with the handbrake notice in front of him - and still forgot to release it sometimes. All those years later the car was a classic, not an every day item. The owner was taking it to show some school children.
I wonder now what my grandfather would make of that. There is good reason to wonder. The last of one make of Holden will roll off the assembly line to day. It will leave just one model - and that will soon go as well. The company no longer employs thousands of men. The process became  increasingly automated. Wages grew too high. Nobody believed the car industry could fail. 
Politics meant that millions upon millions was wasted trying to save something which could not be saved. It is money which should have been spent diversifying and finding other things to do.
But, I remember the car. I remember those seats.

Thursday 6 October 2016

There have been more than 100 children

killed in Aleppo in the past ten days and many more injured - many, many more.
Getting information in and out of Aleppo is difficult, getting accurate information is even more difficult. It is getting more and more difficult. Every morning when I open up my e-mail for the day I wonder if there will be news I dread and requests for help that I hate getting.
All children, on all sides, are victims of war. The children of Aleppo are being treated with unbelievable brutality. They are being used by both targets and as shields. 
Some of them are still trying to go to school, or perhaps I should say they are still trying to learn something. They huddle together in  underground bunkers never knowing whether they will get out at the end of the session - and not knowing what they will find if they do get out.
One of their teachers is writing on the wall will bits of chalky, broken masonry and then wiping it off again. "We have a blackboard!"  He's an old man, barely able to move as the result of his own injuries in another war. He couldn't face attempting to leave. The journey was simply beyond his physical capabilities. 
Not one child puts a foot out of line for him. They are too grateful for the distraction he provides.
There are no computers, almost no books, almost nothing to write on or with. The children are learning largely by rote. They will know their "numbers" and their "letters". He tells them stories of the past and encourages them to talk. He knows that all of them could die at any moment. The bombs being dropped now are designed to seek them out as well.
He has children who no longer speak, who cling silently to other children. He has boys who think they are old enough to fight and girls who only want to mother the children who have lost a parent or even both parents. 
All of them are constantly hungry. Food is a forbidden topic. Nobody has ever said this but it has been forbidden by silent agreement. They try not to talk about the war going on around them. 
I have heard all this from someone who recently risked his life going into Aleppo. He took some of the very limited aid allowed in. 
He took two blank notebooks, several pencils and a sharpener. He wasn't supposed to do this.  The authorities would not have been happy if they had caught him with these things but he passed them on to the old man, a friend of his grandfather.
He reportedly accepted with a quiet word of thanks, nothing more. The children are going to write their own stories. 

Wednesday 5 October 2016

I need to go through the recipe books

cull some more.
My mother collected recipe books - and never  used most of them. I took a great pile of them to the local charity shop some years ago but there are more there. I didn't even bother to look at them at the time - because I didn't have time. 
They have just been sitting there. They  gather dust. 
I am not that sort of cook. I know what I plan to cook for today's main meal...and tomorrow's main meal. I do plan ahead so that I don't need to go shopping everyday.  I buy, as far as I can, according to the season. 
The Senior Cat is not difficult to feed. He's a very accommodating individual. I can try new things and he will  happily try them too. He will tell me, with a smile, "You can do that again." 
But the notion of getting out a recipe book and trying to follow a recipe with fancy, one off ingredients is not something I do. I suppose I am what you would call "a plain cook". I rarely bake. The Senior Cat no longer uses the amount of energy that requires stoking  with cake and biscuits at morning or afternoon tea.
So, I will go through the recipe books and cull some more and take them around to the charity shop. People seem to buy them. I wonder if they will use them.
There is a problem though. In a little over two weeks I am planning a rare occasion. There will be afternoon tea here. I need to make something. It needs to be slightly special and I need to cater for everyone likely to come.  
There are recipe books there that deal with such events. My dilemma is - do I prowl through them or do I go for something I know I can make? 
What would you like for afternoon tea? Suggestions please!

Tuesday 4 October 2016

The yellow footed rock wallaby

has been saved from the brink of extinction. 
I rarely know much about these things. I just look at the animal and think how sad it would be to lose it. I never expect to play a practical part in their survival.
There is however a piece in this morning's paper about the animals and how they have been saved. It does not mention one of the chief people responsible for their survival - the woman who was once our local vet. She is still missed by many of us.
Peg, as we called her, lived a couple of streets away. She had a large property, something she needed because she kept many native animals on it. They were animals that were, for one reason or another, unable to be returned to their natural place in the wild. She cared for them as if they were her children. She also educated children (and many adults) about their care.
Middle Cat and I knew her well. Our cats went to visit on occasion but we also wandered in and out with greens we had grown for the animals and fruit for both Peg and the animals. We would help with the feeding and the cleaning. We took overseas visitors to meet her because we knew she would give time to answer their questions. When my Chinese goddaughter came to visit, aged 8, Peg stood there and patiently answered every question. She let her hold the animals that were able to be held and encouraged her to feed almonds to the kangaroos and fruit to the possum. It was the highlight of my goddaughter's visit. Something she still talks about now she is training to be a doctor.
But it was the little yellow footed rock wallabies that I still remember. They arrived one day in a little group. I went up with a load of spinach for the animals and Peg said, "Come and have a look at these." 
There they were in a special enclosure Peg had made for them with help from the couple who came in each day. It was as natural as she could make it.
"The zoo has sent them over to me."
She didn't need to say any more. The zoo would only have asked her to look after them if they thought she had more chance than they did of saving them.
If animals have those sort of emotions they did not look happy. They looked - frightened? 
It took Peg months of careful observing, of cautious feeding, of making sure visitors did not get at all close. She monitored their health and kept meticulous records. On several occasions she told me, "Come with me and don't talk - just move slowly. Hold this..."
Then, one afternoon, she said with hope in her voice, "I think we might have a mother in there."
There were more weeks of anxious waiting. Peg wasn't excited, just hopeful. 
I took up more greens one day and Peg looked me up and down and said, "Come. I need some help - quietly."
We went into the enclosure and, very carefully, she caught the mother-to-be. She passed her over to me and then proceeded to examine it swiftly but gently.
I held the quivering bundle of warm fur while I sat on the tree stump in the enclosure. The little thing looked at me and then seemed to snuggle in for a moment. It was an extraordinary feeling. It almost seemed as if this little endangered animal was saying, "I trust her so I will trust you."
Then, on an abrupt nod from Peg, I put the little animal down and it hopped off slowly - leaving me quivering.
And yes, there were young and they survived. There have been more young since. They are back from the brink of extinction even if they have a way to go yet.
And I had the extraordinary good fortune, for a brief moment in time, to hold an animal we nearly lost forever.  I hope they acknowledge the part Peg played in saving them.