Tuesday 31 January 2017

It seems that someone not standing for the national anthem

is more worthy of headlines than people being left stranded or people facing the horrors of terror and war, or people dying.
There are apparently a couple of idiots who are facing each other in a "boxing match". It is apparently a big "sporting event" of some sort. 
The national anthem will be played beforehand - and one of them is saying he will refuse to stand for it. He says it is "racist".
Now it so happens that I do not like Downunder's national anthem. I think the words are ridiculous and the tune sounds like a dirge. That said I will stand for it. 
If I was the guest in another country and the national anthem played and people stood for it then I would do the same. I would not be doing so out of any allegiance to their country but out of respect for my hosts. It is just one of those things you do, that you should do simply to be polite.
I have no doubt that the boxer in question is using the occasion to make publicity for himself...and it is working. People are criticising him for his stance and that is getting him headlines in the media. The story has got more coverage than news which affects hundreds of thousands of people. It is an interesting reflection on what is considered important. It is an even more interesting reflection on what those in  charge of the media believe people should know or not know,  what they believe people want to know, and what they believe people can handle. 
This man who says he won't stand for the national anthem is apparently going to legally try and knock another man senseless. If he fought the other man in the street then he would be arrested for assault. People don't seem to see anything odd about that. This "fight" is supposedly a "sporting event". It is violence and it will surely breed violence as young boys "fight" one another in the belief they are emulating him and his opponent.
There's something wrong with all of this, not just the failure to stand for the national anthem.

Monday 30 January 2017

Unaccompanied children and child refugees

are the most vulnerable human beings in the world.
Apart from that statement I am not sure where to start this. I don't often talk about my work here. Some of the time I can't. Some of the time it would be simply dull.
Yesterday though was one of those days which makes me wonder why I bother, why other people bother and what the point is. 
One Iranian surgeon ended up not going to the United States. He was due to go for three days to learn a technique new to him. I won't go into details. It is sufficient to say it is surgery designed to save the lives of young cardiac patients. He does a lot of charity work so that not just the privileged few get help. 
Instead of going after I had helped to set up the communication system that would allow him to feel confident about using English - his fourth language - he ended up stuck at an airport. He's now gone home again because he can't get more leave. We will have to try again later. 
A Dutch engineer ended up not being able to go into Yemen to try and save a water supply. We couldn't work out why. It is vital to the community concerned. It had taken weeks of negotiation - not by me. I had been peripherally involved on the communication side.
Eventually I got a message, "We've just been told there's a live operation about to take place in the area."  That was more work which won't be used.  
There were three more messages about people being held up, people being halted in transit, people being unable to go where they were expecting to go. I had provided communication assistance for all of them. 
These things happen. We know that. It is part of the aid process. Things rarely run smoothly but yesterday was not good - and this morning things don't look much better.
And then there was the halt to a busload of children from one place to a place of greater safety. I can't say more than that but it was this last one which had me almost weeping with frustration and anger.
Cardiac surgery matters. Water supply is essential for life. This is life itself. These were unaccompanied children. These are children who have no family, no friends to care for them. They don't speak the same language as the people who were trying to get them to a safer place. Some of them are too young to be able to read. Some of the others have forgotten how to read because they haven't been to school for several years. They are severely undernourished, frightened, and have no idea what the future will bring. Several of them don't speak, another speaks only nonsense, and another speaks what sounds like sense but she is no longer in touch with reality. Two of the older children have been trying to care for them - in the way that adults should. It has taken people weeks to gain the trust of these children, enough trust for them to try and communicate with strangers and agree to go with them - on a bus, to another place. There was supposed to be space there because the lucky ones were supposed to be going to America and that would leave some space for them. 
All that has been put at risk. We don't know what is going to happen.
Now I admit this sort of thing has happened under other administrations in America. It has been done quietly, so quietly people have been largely unaware of it. 
It has also happened in other places. The government here is no better. Germany, for all their much lauded open door policy, has done it. It will happen again. 
When it does happen though it usually happens quietly. Negotiations will take place. I might find out because I will get asked to provide communication assistance. I provide it and I keep my mouth shut. Then I hope for the best possible outcome.
The difference yesterday was not what was happening because it has all happened before but because the person who ordered it to happen made no secret of the fact. He actually boasted about it. 
He told us it was working the way he intended. 
I just hope your intentions are frustrated Mr President.

Sunday 29 January 2017

Burglar alarms

are fine - as long as they don't go off in the middle of the night. 
No, I don't mean that they should not do their job. That would be ridiculous. It is when they decide to have a little fun by playing their raucous noise and there is no cause for it that I get thoroughly irritated.
There is a main road about a kilometre from us. On it is a business which apparently has a faulty burglar alarm. It has a distinctive sound and, if it starts to sound an alarm, the whole district must be able to hear it - apart from people like the Senior Cat. What it must be like living closer to it I cannot imagine. If it wakes me then it must surely wake other people? I know the business has had many complaints about it. 
Our former neighbours across the street had a burglar alarm. It was a very sensitive creature. The slightest hint of intrusion would set it off. The owner, an IT expert, did some rapid research and adjusted it so it was a little less so but it would still give out a false alarm now and then during the day. It was irritating, especially as I was the one who had to go over and check and then reset it. But, it never went off at night because  it was only turned on when they were out and they never went away for the night without someone else being in the house. 
We have a security system but it doesn't include that sort of noise.
Several more neighbours have a similar arrangement. There are people further afield who do have raucous alarm systems but they seem to manage to keep them under control. 
But, last night, the alarm at the business went off again - not once, but three times. Will it be enough for the owner to jump up and down and do something about it? 
Somehow I doubt it.

Saturday 28 January 2017

There was one of those amusing

posts by Lucy Coats about "comfort food" on my timeline this morning. She had just made a rather large fish pie. People were virtually queuing up to share in it.
I often wonder about what other people actually eat. I silently and, I hope, discreetly observe what is placed in other people's shopping trolleys. It can tell you a lot about the person, about their family, and more. As a would-be author I am interested in such things.
I know that eating habits vary from one area of the city to the other too. 
When Middle Cat first married she and her husband lived in an area which had Greek, Italian and Asian groceries - the small sort, still run as family affairs. Nearly forty years later most of them have gone but she used them. It wasn't just convenience. It was the way  they ate. Middle Cat was taught to cook by her mother-in-law - an excellent cook, Greek Cypriot style. 
My paternal grandmother taught me to cook. It was what would probably be called "good plain cooking". She was brought up on a farm. Nothing was wasted. There was nothing fancy about it. What we have eaten has changed over the years. My grandmother never used broccoli. I am certain she would have done if it had been there. It simply wasn't available. There are other things too - yoghurt for instance. I've added other things to the menu - some of them courtesy of Middle Cat's mother-in-law. 
We eat a lot of salad in summer. We eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. Fortunately the Senior Cat likes those things and, if I buy seasonal produce, we can afford them without thinking too hard about it. I don't buy things like out of season cherries imported at great expense from the other side of the world. (I don't even buy the local sort at $25.99 a kilo...yesterday's price in the supermarket.) 
I look at trolleys piled with white sliced bread - and it isn't always cheap - and meat and packets of pasta and sugary cereal.  I wonder how many children are being fed in the house of trolley pusher. 
I buy wholegrain bread - or, more usually, make our own. No, it isn't  a lot of work. I just put the ingredients in the bread machine and leave it be.
I think we eat well - fish, chicken, cheese and eggs in preference to red meat. Plenty of fruit and vegetables.
There is still half the fruit cake given to us at Christmas. There is ice-cream in the freezer...
Oh yes, we have our little food vices too. 

Friday 27 January 2017

Domestic abuse is a

subject I take very, very seriously. I also know that it can take many forms - not all of them visible.
Yesterday I was sent a link to an article which appeared in a media format which many people read. It accused the wife of the new President of the United States of being a victim of domestic violence. What, the person who sent it to me, did I think?
I have not Mr Trump or Mrs Trump. I do not like what I have seen of Mr Trump and I haven't seen enough of Mrs Trump to form an opinion.  My reaction still was, "The article was not helpful."
I can understand why it was written. There is a lot of anti-Trump material in the media. Politicians are prone to being very publicly criticised and it seems there is plenty to criticise here. My guess is Mr Trump won't see a full term. He will be impeached or assassinated or something else will happen. Be careful what you wish for though because his replacement may be more dangerous. 
But, back to the "domestic violence" article. It was all conjecture. It was based on things like "not walking together" and "she was turning away from him" and the fact that their youngest son didn't want to hold hands in public. None of that is proof of domestic abuse. If thoughtlessness is domestic abuse then we are all guilty of it. I may be wrong but my guess is that Mr Trump is more aware of himself than other people. It doesn't make him an abuser but it does make him guilty of being thoughtless, boorish, rude, difficult to live with and a few other things. None of them are traits I admire and they are not good in anyone, least of all someone who should be setting an example. 
The youngest son in the Trump family is what, eleven or twelve years old? He's at a vulnerable age any way. I  have seen a previous article, sent to me by the same informant, accusing   him of being "autistic". I wonder if it has occurred to anyone that here is a boy whose Dad has just become President. It's about the worst thing that could happen to a boy of that age. How does he keep the friends he has? How does he make new friends? There is around the clock security. His friends get vetted. He doesn't get to do birthday parties, sports, hanging out, sleepovers or anything else without every detail being checked....how many people are going to be willing to invite him under those circumstances? Do other kids still want to be friends? 
As children my siblings and I were "the head's kids" because the Senior Cat was the headmaster. We were also the grandchildren of someone else. Even recently someone said to me, "Of course you're B's granddaughter" - and my paternal grandfather has been dead for forty years. I am proud of him. I am proud of my father. It is still a little odd though to be referred to in this way.
But, imagine young Barron Trump. He would be finding it tough even if his father was the most popular president in history. His father isn't popular and that makes it even harder.
Conjectural articles like the two I have seen are designed to undermine the President. Yes, I do understand why they are being written but unless Mrs Trump wants to come out and say, "I am being abused" or "Yes, our son is autistic" then such things should not be published. They don't help the very serious issues around domestic violence or autism. They may actually hinder those things. They are also making it even harder for kids like Barron Trump. 
We don't choose our parents - but it makes me appreciate the Senior Cat all over again. He's been a marvellous father. 

Thursday 26 January 2017

"Australia Day"?

It's no good. I can't get excited about "Australia Day". I don't feel "patriotic" or "proud to be Australian". I never have.
I have a friend, a former politician, who sees herself as a big gum tree firmly rooted into Australian soil. She is passionately Australian. I wonder how that would feel.
It surprises me that people like her feel that way. They have travelled widely, met many other people, and done many things. I wonder what makes them feel "Australian"...and why they are so proud of it.
Every "Australia Day" there is another round of media publicity about how the date should be changed because some people see it as "Invasion Day" - simply because Captain Arthur Philip raised a flag on a piece of land, something which had been done before and has been done since by many nations. I wonder what people from other countries make of that? The United States of America isn't going to move the 4th July is it? What about Waitangi Day in New Zealand? And there are all those other "independence" days which claim to celebrate independence from a colonial power but must surely also celebrate an invasion?
Yes of course, that's the other issue isn't it? Some people say Australia isn't an "independent" country because it isn't a "republic". What utter rubbish. Australia is a republic in everything but name - and not all republics are called a republic. The passing of the Australia Act in 1986 formalised that. We could pass an act of parliament changing the title of "Governor-General" to "President" and things could go on the same as before.  What most "republicans" want is something quite different. They want to change the way we are governed. Some of them see themselves as becoming "President". They would like to see the people directly elect someone or a different way of doing things. The reality is of course that there are discussions between all major parties, between Canberra and the states, and with other agencies to make sure that the person who is chosen has some ability to do the job. There have been one or two blunders (Kerr would be one) and one or two who have proved less malleable than an incumbent government had hoped (Hayden would be one) but, on the whole, the system has worked. What is more it has worked well.
I suppose I am just not patriotic. I don't wave flags. I refuse to learn the words to a "national anthem" which sounds like a dirge.
Given a choice I would have no holiday at all - and leave the rest of the system as it is. Shouldn't we all just be citizens of the world?

Wednesday 25 January 2017

That "head full of ideas" has not

gone away. My young hero "P" bounced up and glared at me when I was trying to get to sleep last night. 
"Where," he demanded to know, "have you been?"
Oops...he took a bit of calming down.
It had been one of those days...starting with a long pedal to the bank. I had to sort out a transfer of name. Fortunately the deputy manager at the bank knows the situation involves ensuring a group of African children get fed and he did the paperwork himself - "so there won't be any mix ups". I signed things and prowled off to buy permanent markers to put "H" for "home" on the back of the collar of the Senior Cat's house shirts. We did this once before but they seem to have washed out over many washings. He wore a house shirt out the other day - "but it's a perfectly good shirt!" - and I squirmed with the embarrassment of people thinking I don't look after him properly. (But he was out with another couple of men so perhaps they didn't notice.)
Then I headed for the library. I had two books to pick up...one for the Senior Cat called "The invention of nature" by Andrea Wulf and the other a book on Korean for me.  
The first book is a biography of Humboldt - yes of the current and the river and, it seems, of all sorts of other things. A friend told the Senior Cat about the book and it is another one he is determined to read...it's only about 460 pages long so I suppose he will get through it. And no, I am not going to learn Korean.
While I was checking the books out someone came quietly up to me. I haven't seen her since before Christmas last year and now know why. She looked drawn and her smile was not as bright as it usually is.
       "Cat, have you got a few minutes?"
It is one of those times when you sense you had better have a few minutes because someone else needs them. 
       "I lost my partner on Boxing Day and I need to fill this out and..."
I hugged her. We sat down together at one of the library tables and I went through the form with her. The JP was on duty so she could get it witnessed there and then. It needed two witnesses so I waited with her while the JP saw someone else. We went in to the little meeting room where the JP service is on Tuesday mornings. The JP saw me and said, "Oh hello Cat." Yes, we have met before - more than once. I introduced my elderly friend and he said, "Of course, we met once..."
He reminded her. He knew her husband from some years before in another place and another time. He said positive things and, her eyes brimming with tears, she smiled at him and gave a little laugh.
"Yes, he was just like that!"
It all took more time than I thought it would so I stopped at the bakery and bought two pies for lunch. The Senior Cat likes pies. I don't but that didn't matter. I still have the Senior Cat.

Tuesday 24 January 2017

"In a crisis, fend for yourselves"

I don't know what happened to the local "Neighbourhood Watch" group but it doesn't exist any more.
When they were first set up in this state a senior policeman, who knew the Senior Cat through their shared interest in conjuring, asked him if he would help with setting up a local group. The Senior Cat duly went ahead. They worked on it. He was involved for about fourteen or fifteen years. We have a rather nice plaque which was presented to the Senior Cat for his years of service.
When it reached a point where the Senior Cat felt he should pass the reins over to someone else another man took over. Unfortunately he was not well...and it was unfortunate because he was a lovely human being and did an excellent job. I helped in a vague sort of way with the newsletter and with delivering the newsletter. 
The Senior Cat stopped going to night meetings. I can't drive a car so I don't do night meetings either. I was also doing my own form of "neighbourhood watch" when I pedalled out. It's nothing fancy or onerous. I just observe. I know most people on my regular route to and from the local shopping centre and the library. With some of the older people I have a system where they can leave a tiny "flag" sticking out of their letter box and I know to look inside and pick up a prescription for the chemist or, once in a while, a plea for some milk or a box of tea bags if they have been ill. 
Not one person has ever abused the fact that, if I am going past, they can ask for that small amount of help. People say it is "good" of me but it isn't "good" at all. It is almost no extra effort. I know it might mean the difference between being able to stay safely at home or go out when you aren't feeling well.
There is someone around the corner who volunteers for the State Emergency Service. He can be called out any hour of the day or night when he's on duty. He's also a teacher and he's done a lot of it over the school holidays because we had some wild weather. He gave me a tired smile the other day and said he thought he was "welded to the chain saw". We both agreed there are people who ask for help who could do it themselves  but they never seem to be the older people. So many of them will wait. They "don't want to be a nuisance".
Both of us had nice little notes the other day. He had one in a shaky hand thanking him for what he had done to help and saying it meant they could afford to get a repair done and thus stay in their own home a while longer. I had one from someone who lives in another country. His father was alone here for some years. He had Meals on Wheels and someone came in once a fortnight to clean his little unit. I know the Home Library service went in and out. I dropped his multiple prescriptions into the chemist on many  occasions. His son said that the combined help he received let him go on living in his own little space. He wasn't a man to seek company and would have hated "aged care". His son actually said, "Dad would write and say how content he was and how the help he got let him be that way."
So this morning when I looked at the little headline in our state newspaper I thought,  "Yes, in a crisis, fend for yourselves - and damn well look out for your neighbours as well."

Monday 23 January 2017

A head full of ideas

is not conducive to a good night's sleep. 
I came home from the second day of the craft class with "ideas"... other people's ideas as well as my own. 
It wasn't so much my knitting class. They were all so nice - and so kind to me. They probably weren't aware of it but they taught me a lot.
No, it was one of them saying she wanted classes on other things and then my friend S.... wandering in to look at the books I had  brought along and saying, "We could do this...and...or we could do that...and yes, this!" 
I almost never get the chance to bounce those sort of balls of ideas around with someone else. I don't belong to the embroidery group because I can't embroider and, realistically, I'll never be able to embroider. My paws just don't do that sort of thing. I can knit and I can crochet and I am going to have to be satisfied with that - and work within my physical limitations.
But, I can still have ideas and I don't mind the idea of working with someone else to achieve some of them. What is more I would like to be able to share those ideas with a group and see what they make of them. 
There was only one of my students yesterday who didn't get far. She was older than the rest and said she had "never tried anything like that before" but she thought she would be fine when she sat down quietly at home and worked through it again. I hope she is. Everyone else achieved something. I admit I was anxious about two of them but they went off and did their "homework" and, because of that, they came back and achieved something. All but one student turned up early on the second day - so early we could, apart from the missing students, have started a half an hour earlier!
Keen? I suppose they were.
I asked them to fill out assessment sheets - for the people who asked me to run the class and another one for me...both were simple. I wanted to know where they thought my weaknesses in presentation were. And yes, the one of you who reads this on a regular basis - if you ever do another class with me I will give you more to do next time  because you were way ahead of everyone else. 
I have thought of things I could do slightly differently, ways I could add clarity to my explanations - and more.
No, it wasn't that which kept me awake. It was the new ideas. It was wanting to  get on with them "now", indeed "right now". I know I can't do them "right now" for a number of reasons but ...
I am going to take an hour today and put some of the ideas on paper so I can bounce those balls of ideas around with other people later. It might be a lot of fun.

Sunday 22 January 2017

Craft workshop

day one is over.
I have eight lovely students - quite enough thank you very much.
They were very kind to me. 
Teaching adults is not the same as teaching children. You can make certain assumptions when teaching adults who choose to do a class. Yes, they will be able to count to 15. Yes, they will all know this basic term or that because a prerequisite of the class was "confidence with the knit stitch" and the term "yarn over the needle" will mean something - even if there is a need to do it in a certain way.
I had made up kits - some yarn in a bag, a folder with some notes - and more notes to be added as the weekend continues. I noted with curiosity that they all looked inside the bag. Not one of them did what my great-nephew did recently and tipped the bag upside down!
I noted which students wandered around the room and looked at the other teaching materials I had put out - and I noted how they looked at them. You can learn a lot from that. 
I am glad I took the pencil rubbers. We all make mistakes when drawing charts. 
And I have  learned a lot. It looks simple but that little "cat's paw" motif involves a lot of teaching. Was I pushing them too hard? Did they want more information or less? 
With adults you can ask these things.- and they can tell you. It is possible to go  back and explain something again to just one person  in a small group. 
And yes, I will go home and write that particular chart again. I thought I was doing the sensible thing but it turns out to be the confusing thing.
It took me almost a year - on and off - to prepare to teach this two day class. I spent time reading and knitting and then writing and drawing up charts. I wrote the instructions for two patterns. I made decisions about what I might include. I contacted two authors of books - one of whom was particularly helpful and extraordinarily willing to go that little bit further than I expected. I can repay her by making people aware of her very good book on the topic.
If I needed to teach the class again it would be much less work. The basic preparation would be done. I can make some adjustments and I might make more when I get some feedback - and feedback is important.
I don't know who is learning the most here - but I am very grateful to my students for being patient and willing to listen!

Saturday 21 January 2017

Mental illness

is difficult to understand. It is something we can't hear or see or feel - although we might hear or see or feel the results. We might hear someone saying "strange" things or see them doing "strange" actions. We might feel the physical or psychological effect of someone lashing out - or even both.
We all tend to be frightened by the idea of mental illness both because it is something we don't understand and because of the fear of "it could be me" and "I might lose control of my mind too". 
Yes, it is scary stuff.
It is the only explanation I can find for the way in which our government is, through Centrelink, treating some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
There are many people who have had a sudden drop in the amount they are getting because of the new pension rules. They were often only just coping financially any way because illness of any sort involves extra expense. If you have a physical disability it is extra equipment - and some of that can be very, very expensive - and the extra medicines. It is the not being able to afford the initial layout to shop in the cheapest possible way and much, much more.
If you have a mental illness you may simply not be able to plan from one day to the next. The relatively simple idea of going to the supermarket for milk and bread becomes a major planning exercise and the stress of making decisions can leave someone exhausted.  I know because yesterday as I was pedalling up the street someone I know - but not well - stopped me and asked if I would do that simple bit of shopping for him. He was close to tears. He's not coping at all right now but he was until recently. He had a letter on Monday telling him he owed money. He's supposed to sort it out but he can't make a decision.
I asked if he had told his brother - someone I do know rather better than I know him - and he said no. I asked if I could contact his brother and he shrugged and said, "I don't know."
I decided he had asked me to get the milk and the bread and that, perhaps, it was a wider request for help. I sent his brother an email and got back a reply which thanked me, expressed extreme frustration and a promise to "drop in casually and see if he wants to go fishing" and see if that will get him to say something. 
We both agreed though that nobody in government should be sending people with a serious mental illness - one that has been documented - a "debt" notice. They have to find another way of handling it.

Friday 20 January 2017

A major road closure

has caused traffic chaos.
The day before yesterday a cyclist noticed something seriously amiss with a bridge that is used as an overpass by the tram line. The bridge crosses one of the busiest roads in the city. The road carries a lot of heavy goods vehicles.
The cyclist did the right thing and immediately reported it. He or she must have managed to convey concern in a fairly urgent way. There were emergency services on the scene very quickly. The traffic was stopped.
Chaos ensued.  
This is a road which bypasses the city centre but goes a long way in both directions.  A good many buses travel along it. Some of them are "express" buses from outlying suburbs. If they change the last part of the route into the city or the first part out it won't matter too much because the buses don't stop for some distance along that road. But, other buses do. The heavy goods vehicles need to find alternate routes - and that adds to the traffic on those roads. Some of those are already too crowded.
But it was none of that which really concerned me. All of that is just inconvenience. It just slows things down. It is infuriating but it should not be dangerous.
What bothered me was something rather different. There is a train line through the hills behind us. It carries goods trains, goods trains of great length. As the train passes through the suburbs the traffic will build up at the level crossings. It can build up for very long distances. On occasions when something has gone wrong and the train has stopped over one or more boom gates then the boom gates further along are also likely to be down. Even with the police called in to direct traffic it can be dangerous - dangerous because, for some people  up in the hills, there is no way out.
If there had been a fire yesterday and a train had stopped or, worse, derailed, and the crossings blocked there could have been a major catastrophe if the traffic had not been able to move freely in other places. It's the sort of nightmare scenario that, yes you could write a book or make a film. 
I thought of all this because I usually time my journey to coincide with a suburban train. I do this because it means that the traffic has stopped and I can get across the road safely and wait for the boom gates to go up.  Where I wait there is a slight rise. I can look back and see the line of traffic grow.  
I did this yesterday as I waited for one of the extra long goods trains to go through. Another cyclist joined me. We had a "shouted" sort of conversation above the noise of the train. He told me how far he had come and how far the traffic had built up from where he started. There would have been much more by the time the train went through. People were getting impatient.
I changed my plans. I did one thing before another. I wasn't going to get in the way of all those people who wanted to get to work first. 

This morning they are saying the situation could last for months. 
Traffic is lighter than usual at present because school does not start again for another week.
I don't think those at the top have thought about this yet.

Thursday 19 January 2017

"I hate reading!"

Ouch! I was in the local library yesterday - to pick up a book on inter-library-loan. It is a book I need to read. 
One of the staff greeted me with a wry smile and jerked her head in the direction of a sulky looking ten or eleven year old boy. He was pulling books off the shelves, glancing at them and then shoving them roughly back into place. His mother was looking both angry and anxious.
      "You've had all the holidays to do this!" she told him - probably again - as  he had to pick up a book that had fallen off the shelf.
      "I don't care! I tell you I hate reading! It's a waste of time! I've got better stuff to do!"
      "And I am telling you it has to be done. Mr.... (presumably his teacher) expects it to  be done. If you spent a bit less time mucking around playing games on that damn computer...."
And so it went on. 
Apparently she had already told him he couldn't take anything that "looks like a comic" and that it had to be "for someone your age unless you want everyone to think you are a baby".  I got that information - very quietly - from the staff member.
There was a rather smaller girl at the self-serve checkout. She was checking out six or seven good sized books she looked only just old enough to read.  She glanced in the direction of the boy and his mother, sighed and sat down on the carpet. She opened a book and started to read.
The boy finally found something that met with his mother's approval. She had to remind him how to use the self-serve check out and then she said to the girl,
      "Come on, hurry up. You waste far too much time with your nose in a book."
She picked up her books and followed them out of the library and gave me a sad little shrug and faint smile. 
I think there are mixed messages in that household. My sympathy is with the girl. 

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Copyright? Did someone mention

I have been writing a list of resources for the workshop. That's fine but I also thought I should include a local contact in a slightly different sort of way. It's not a business organisation but a craft group. 
The craft group has a website. The information on it belongs to the craft group. 
I did the right thing and asked for permission to use it. The response was to give me some information I  already had. It did not expressly give me permission. Now, in law, it might be considered that,  by giving me the information, the person I contacted had given me "implied" permission to use it. 
Given my rather awkward relationship with the group I felt that was not good enough. I really need their express permission. It is for their benefit, not mine, that I am doing this. I had a message back saying what I rather feared. It amounted to "you don't need our permission because the information is on our website". Sorry, I do need your permission.
If the person I contacted doesn't give me express permission I won't include the information. Right now though I am hoping that I will get express permission.
This group has been given information about copyright  by me and by another knowledgeable member of the group. I have written about it for their newsletter and there is information in their library about it.
Some time ago I genuinely misunderstood somebody's intention when she posted something on line. I thought she wanted it passed on so I did. She didn't like it. I made genuine and sincere apologies but she refused to accept them - to the extent of blocking me from all contact without a word of explanation. I only found out from someone else. It's something I will always regret. I did acknowledge her ownership. I didn't intend to hurt her but she was, and apparently still is, upset and angry. It has made me even more cautious than before.
Things I have written have been passed on to other people without my consent. It has happened frequently in the past and I don't doubt it will happen in the future. It annoys me because, if asked, I would probably say "yes, you may" most of the time. If I didn't want it passed on then there would be a good reason for it. 
Late last year I gave a report to the group I need permission from. I wrote it very carefully and, unusually for me, I read it out exactly as I had written. I was asked to give them an actual copy. I have done so on the understanding that it is not and that it is used in its entirety. Why? Because I know there would be a temptation to edit out parts of it. They are not critical of the group but, if not left in, they would change the understanding of what had taken place and why - and I own the copyright.
All this seems to make no difference to the person I approached. She clearly didn't see the problem as a problem... but I know it would have been if I hadn't asked permission. 
Is copyright really that hard to understand? I suppose it is.

Tuesday 17 January 2017

A visit to India

is not likely for me. I'd like to go and visit friends there but the reality is that I won't go. I took one look at the little video clip of the uncontrolled traffic my nephew could see from his hotel window and I know that, realistically, I would never be able to leave the hotel. You have to be able to do more than a four minute mile to cross the road safely.  He didn't like the traffic.
Brother Cat is also in India at the moment...a different part. He's up in the north but says the traffic isn't much better.  Oh yes, the history and the culture are interesting...but the traffic, the noise. Brother Cat lives in a sprawling Downunder capital city where there is plenty of traffic and noise but it is even getting to him.
If I listen I can hear the traffic on one of the main roads here. Most of the time it is a noise which fades into the background but, in the early morning quiet, it comes to the fore again. I try not to hear it. I don't like traffic. School holidays are lovely things. The amount of traffic on the roads decreases dramatically - and yes, I do mean dramatically. I doubt it makes that sort of difference in India.
Many years ago the Senior Cat went to China. When he came home one of his impressions was that "the place never stopped moving" and "it was never absolutely quiet". 
Neither of us listen to radio. The Senior Cat has ceased to watch television and I watch almost none at all. 
We talk at the meal table - some of the topics of conversation would probably surprise other people...theology and cardiac surgery were mentioned yesterday. We can also be silent.
But, this morning, I can hear the resident possum talking to itself in the avocado tree and I can hear the blackbird walking across our neighbours' roof. I can hear the sparrows playing in the bird bath and the sprinkler swishing across the lawn across the road. 
You can hear a lot when it is quiet.

Monday 16 January 2017

How (not) to use Twitter 101

should be a compulsory subject before anyone is allowed to have a Twitter account - and yes, I include myself. 
It would have been useful to know any number of things before I started to use Twitter. Twitter has of course proved extremely useful. I have "met" any number of people through Twitter. That's a good thing.
I hope I don't leave a trail of annoying cat hairs on Twitter. We cats can never be too sure about that sort of thing. I try to follow along quietly and not get in the way of humans I don't know. You can never be too sure whether they like cats or not. On occasion I have prowled a little too close - and then been kicked out of the way.
Then there was yesterday. 
I made a remark to someone else yesterday. We exchange remarks occasionally. He is a newspaper columnist. I am merely a cat who occasionally writes to the papers and happens to write a blog. He knows that. 
I know I should have kept my remarks to myself but I was so thoroughly fed up with another columnist and author by then that I sent the tweet off without thinking. Oh.  
I just said I could write a better column than this person...and yes, I still think I can. She makes a name for herself by being deliberately controversial, by adjusting information to suit herself, and generally being an outrageous "feminist". 
It is a way of approaching life, the world, and your job - but it isn't one I care for.  I don't care for it because it relies on something other than trying to master the demanding art and craft of writing well.  There are clearly other people who believe the same thing - if the reviews of her book are anything to go by.  Of course the publicity machine worked for her. She knows how to use every social media platform to her advantage - and does it. Her book has had a lot of "exposure" on Twitter.
I wonder how many people will actually read the book. They may borrow it or buy it. They may start it  - but they won't necessarily read it to the end. 
Her views are not my views - and that's fine. I don't agree with everyone. I don't expect them to agree with me. What got me though was other people telling me that I shouldn't hold my views. My views are, it seems, wrong - and unacceptable. It seems that, simply because someone has had an actual book published and I haven't, this person is a "better writer" than I am. Perhaps she is - or perhaps we are just different. 
It didn't make any difference to my critics - even though they had never read anything by me apart from one tweet. Apparently that is how to use Twitter.
I really must do Twitter 101. 

Sunday 15 January 2017

Preparations for a workshop can be

time consuming. 
I have never taught an intensive craft class to adults before, particularly adults who will expect a lot. They are coming because they want to be there. They want to learn something.
I have to try and judge how much they can learn - not too little but not too much. It's a knitting class and I have to judge how much they can achieve - and how much they might want to do. 
How much information do I give them? How much help do I give them? Do I ask them to do this exercise or that?
It is going to be a steep learning curve for me.  I want them to learn something valuable, to feel that the two days they spend have not been wasted.
I have taught adults to do things of course - but we have taken our time over it. If someone doesn't "get it" the first time then there has always been the next time...and the next...and even the next if necessary.  This time it will be different because there won't be as much time to explain again.
I don't mind explaining again and again if someone is trying. I'll try and find new words and new ways of saying something so they do end up understanding. It is not going to help them learn if you just repeat yourself. 
I still squirm when I think of what I once did to one of my lecturers in law school.  He was a nice man and I got on well with him but he was not a very good teacher.  One morning he was trying to explain an important concept to us. That week some of us had already had a group tutorial on the same topic. It had been early because the person responsible for it had gone to a conference. Several of us therefore had some understanding of the topic. 
The mature age student sitting next to me muttered, "Are you going to ask the question or am I?"
I knew what he meant. The lecturer had been using the same words over and over again to try and explain. The class didn't understand.
     "I'll do it," I said. 
Now it has to be said here that I am used to asking long series of questions - asking them of profoundly physically disabled children whose only capacity to answer is by looking up at the ceiling for "yes" and down at the floor for "no".  I think I know how to frame a question so that, even within that, I can give someone options.
But this was a much more complex concept and I was not certain that I fully understood it. All the same I tried.
I asked the lecturer twenty-three questions in a row. He answered every one calmly although I was getting redder and redder.  Then he said to the class, "Got it?" and went on.
An hour or so later he came into the law library where I was back on the books and actually said,
     "I wasn't getting that across was I? Thanks for doing that."
It was very, very decent of him - especially when he made no secret of it to the rest of the staff in the nicest possible way. One of the other staff asked me, "Wasn't he prepared or something?"
I replied that he was prepared. He was always prepared but sometimes it is difficult to find another way of saying something.
I try to remember that when I am teaching something. If the student doesn't understand then I need to find a new way to tell them the same information. 
You can't do that if you are not prepared. 

Saturday 14 January 2017

Access to a computer

is considered "normal" now. It is expected you will have one. It is also expected you will be able to use it.
If, for some incomprehensible reason, you don't have a computer at home then you will be told something like, "Well use the computers at the library" or "Don't you know someone who will let them use theirs?"
But there are still people in the community who do not have access to a computer. They don't know someone who will let them have access to one either.
There are also people in the community who do not know how to use a computer. Some of these people are very elderly and not likely to learn. They see no need to do it.
The Senior Cat can use one - in a limited sort of way. He can search the internet for information. It is perhaps more than most 93yr old people can comfortably do but he knows his limitations. He has given up on e-mail. He's a "Columbus method" sort of typist - "discover and land" - and that slows the process down too much for him.  He won't do his banking or bill paying via computer either. I don't blame him.
But the Senior Cat can read. He's literate - highly literate in fact. What of people who aren't literate?
A leaked internal memo from Centrelink management to front desk staff has told them to refer people to the computers, to make sure people do things "on line". They don't want people lining up and looking for help.
A very high proportion of people with significant disabilities also have communication issues. They may well be able to hear and speak and see but they may not understand what is being said to them. They may not be able to articulate in a meaningful way. Many of them have very limited reading skills, some of them only have "survival language". They may be able to use a mobile phone - with family or close friends who understand their problems and who can perhaps interpret their likely meaning in a garbled text message. Working their way through the Centrelink site to the page which is relevant to their problem is beyond them. They have to rely on someone else.
It isn't my job to do that. It isn't the job of their family and their friends and it isn't their fault if they haven't the skills to do it because of a disability. Their lives should not be made more stressful. 
It is Centrelink's role to help them. That's what Centrelink staff get paid for. The  system needs to be simplified and streamlined so that those who need help the most can get the help they need.
The "automated" system is not working.

Friday 13 January 2017

Star Trek? I have never

seen Star Trek. I know, I know... there is a lot of other television I have never seen either.  It was mentioned yesterday and,although I know the phrase "Beam me up Scotty" and I have a vague idea about one or two of the characters - a Dr Spock? -  I really don't know anything more than that.
As for other well known programs,I have caught glimpses of some things. I have heard about others.
Yes, we do have a television set. Yes, I do watch television most days.
I watch the first half hour of our international news service - and then I turn the television set off. I prowl off and do other things instead.
There are things I think I would like to watch sometimes - mostly documentary programs - but I really don't have time time. I don't have time to watch television and read too.
I have (almost) mastered the art of knitting and watching television at the same time. I have not mastered the art of reading a book and watching television at the same time. Can it be done? If someone can explain then I will endeavour to do it. 
I know I have missed out on a lot. I am acutely aware of it when other people start talking about something they have watched. I also know that I won't be able to talk to them about a book I have read - because they won't have read it. Even my reading time was reduced last year - and as for writing.... 
Let it be said here that I most definitely do not resent the extra time it now takes to look after the Senior Cat. He is the most important human in my life and he deserves the very best care and attention. But, it does mean there is less time for other things.
He doesn't watch television either. He doesn't even bother with the news any more. Occasionally he will watch a DVD - if it is likely to prove funny and make him laugh. He doesn't want what he refers to as "doom and gloom" in his life.
No, we don't listen to radio either. We have a small, battery operated radio for emergency purposes. If our power is out and there is a fire in the hills behind us then we might need to know what is going on and evacuate. It's unlikely but it is wise to be prepared.
I like silence. I can't work with noise around me - well, I might but I would not be as efficient. Noise, especially the incessant chatter of commercial radio, irritates me.
All this does of course mean that I am not a terribly well educated cat. It is just as well I have kind human friends who are prepared to explain all those complicated bits of physics in things like Star Trek. 

Thursday 12 January 2017

"False news" is starting

to be something more than "a bit of a problem". It is dangerous.
I know politicians are considered to be fair game for all sorts of criticism and that remarks are made about them that, in the normal way, would not be made about other people. 
Any news site which allows readers to comment will have messages on it which would be considered offensive, even highly offensive, if they were made anywhere else. If they happen to be made about "the other side" of politics of course we all tend to read them with amusement and a "serves them right" sort of attitude. If they are about "our side" of politics it is a different story. If they express a view we share that's fine. If we don't share that view then we are all tempted to send off a sarcastic or angry response.
But how many of us also read the article and also believe everything which is being said in it? How many of us believe in the most ridiculous of statements.
I was given something to read recently and I have been thinking about it since then. It was an article on a news site I happen to treat with caution anyway but this was ridiculous. I thought it was a joke but some people were taking it seriously. There were a few comments on the site but the first remarks I heard were being made at a meeting on the other side of the world. 
Put simply people believed it when a Tory MP in the UK said that the then Prime Minister David Cameron got someone else to cut the crusts off his toast.  
I took the article - it was given to me - and read it. At the end of it I thought I understood what had happened. There was a residential conference of some sort. The Prime Minister was present and so was someone else. The other person arrived late for breakfast and sat in the only other unoccupied seat - opposite one which was briefly unoccupied. He helped himself to some toast already on the table. The Prime Minister returned, saw the toast had gone, and decided to have a joke against himself with the eater of the toast. "You've eaten my toast." "I didn't know it was your toast." "You should have known it was my toast because someone had cut the crusts off for me." 
It would have been silly, "after-the-night-before", breakfast time humour  between people who don't normally eat breakfast with each other and are trying to make sure everyone feels comfortable.
But, some people believe it. It is now a "fact". 
There are plenty of other "facts" floating around in the media soup. There are outrageous claims about interference and non-interference in elections, sexual preferences, what people eat or drink or wear, who has done (or not done) what, their behaviour (or lack thereof), what they should or should not do and why, climate change (or lack thereof), the number of deaths in an incident, and much more.
I told the person who had passed me the article what I thought had happened. He disagreed. Everyone in the room, apart from myself and one other person, disagreed. It was in the paper. It had to be true. 
I might be wrong. Mr Cameron might get someone to cut the crusts off his toast...but I don't believe it.

Wednesday 11 January 2017

"It's a sample,"

I explained. 
I had just been asked what a small piece of knitting was...and yes, it was a sample. I was "blocking" it - damping it and stretching it out carefully to show the stitch. It is rather like ironing out the creases in fabric but it does so without flattening and ruining the texture.
The person who had asked me what I was making knows nothing about knitting and, I sensed, was being polite rather than genuinely interested so I didn't bother to explain too much further.
It did make me think, yet again, about the importance of samples, especially in the field of craft. They weren't just about showing potential customers what you had to offer. They were there as a reminder, as a means of showing others how to do something, and as a means of preserving ideas. 
I thought about all this because the person who asked me what I was doing asked another question, "Why don't you just write it all down? There must be a way of doing that."
Yes, there is. I could "write it down" in a number of ways. I could write something which said something like, "Cast on forty-five  stitches. Knit the first row. On the next row knit three stitches, put the  yarn over the needle and knit two stitches together..." and so it would go on. I could do it in a sort of shorthand that many knitters  understand "CO 45sts. 1st row k, 2nd row, k3 yo k2tog".  It's shorter. It's actually easier to read if you know the shorthand. 
And I can do other things too. I can turn the instructions into a graph with symbols to tell the knitter what to do...and I can knit the sample. 
The first two methods of offering the instructions have their place. There are times when you might well want to use them, especially if there is something different or unusual about the way something is being approached. It can be good to do that. There are people who prefer to have their instructions written in that way. That's fine. But there are also advantages with the last two ways I have described. The chart will give you a big picture. It might not be the whole picture but it will help you understand where the row you are working on fits into the  rest of the design. It will help you to read the row. The sample will, if you learn to read it, teach you the same thing.  
No, it isn't easy. It takes practice. I make mistakes. The nice thing about knitting though is that you can undo the mistake and do it again. 
I just wish life was like that. 

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Sally Faulkner wants $50,000

to be "donated" to her for a "really good lawyer".
For those of you who don't know who Sally Faulkner is  I need to explain. Ms Faulkner is the mother of two children who were taken to Lebanon by their father and have not returned. In a thoroughly misguided attempt to get them back Ms Faulkner and some of the personnel from a television program called "Sixty Minutes" tried to kidnap them in Lebanon - and film themselves doing it. They failed and ended up in a Lebanese prison. Two members of the kidnap team are, as far as I am aware, still there.  It is unlikely their cases have even been heard by the Lebanese court system.
In order to get out of the country Ms Faulkner signed a document handing custody to her husband. Now she wants the children back.
It is one of those incredibly messy situations in which there can be no happy outcome for everyone - if anyone.
Marrying someone from another country and another culture always requires an added level of understanding and maturity.  It can work. I once knew a very young nun. She left her order and married a Muslim. They are, many years later, still together. It's an extraordinary story but they had to work very hard to make it work. I have an American friend who married a Frenchman. It works for them although she has admitted that it is easier now they live in America. She speaks French but she didn't find her husband's family or friends particularly welcoming. Yes, it's a cultural thing.
Middle Cat married into the Greek-Cypriot community but she knew they would be living here. Her husband has no desire to live anywhere else. Nevertheless she had to accept some of the customs.
It can even be difficult when your partner is from the same culture and background as yourself and their job posts them to somewhere foreign. The Senior Cat had cousins in the diplomatic service. One of them saw service in places as diverse as Nigeria, Thailand, China, and Peru. His wife went along too, as did the children until they were old enough to go to boarding school. That sort of thing can be very hard on children - perhaps even harder when their parents are missionaries rather than better paid diplomats or company workers. 
It's something I have been thinking about lately because there are people I know who will soon be facing a "stay or go" sort of decision. When the decision is made however it won't be a Faulkner sort of decision. It will be made after the implications have been discussed and certain things have been made clear and agreed upon.  The decision will be made in the way major decisions should be made. 
It's a pity someone didn't help Sally Faulkner make some decisions that way.

Monday 9 January 2017

Naughty, naughty Sussan Ley

spent taxpayer money when she should not have done it. Sussan Ley must resign.
Or so the media would have us believe. She wants us to believe it is "an error of judgment". The Opposition of course is making much more of it. They want to see her forced to resign.
The problem is that she isn't the first politician to make such "an error of judgment" - and she won't be the last. There are other politicians who have committed worse sins and have somehow managed to retain their positions.
I spent a good deal of last week working for the government. I did not get paid for this. I won't be paid for it. 
There will be other people who did similar work. They won't be paid for it either.
Why did we do it? We did it because people we know needed help. We did it because people we don't know needed help too. We weren't "volunteering". We were simply performing an essential service without which other people might be in dire financial straits. The government knows full well it can rely on it happening and it will take full advantage of it. Why spend taxpayer dollars on something you know people will do for nothing? 
The government knows full well that the media will write any story up in such a way that it will seem the community is at fault. The media will suggest that neighbours simply didn't care enough to be bothered to help. Yes we pay taxes in the belief that they are used to provide the services we need but if someone needs something then family, friends, neighbours and those strange people who "volunteer" are responsible. Seeking help from those we elected to govern us should be a last resort.
Mmmm....I think I understand that. It means that it is fine for a politician - of any persuasion - to spend a few extra taxpayer dollars. If they don't get caught out that's even better. But if the illiterate Jo Bloggs wants enough to pay the power bill and eat in the coming week then he or she had  better be able to account for every cent and have someone else fill out the form for them. That "someone" will not be a paid government employee. There are thousands of them - but they are all busy doing other things.
When I was seeking a job with the public service I was told there was a place for me. They would be happy to "employ" me - as long as I did not expect to be paid. Indeed, rather oddly, they couldn't understand why I wanted to be paid. Didn't I want "experience"? No, they had someone to work the photocopier - someone with Downs' Syndrome on "work experience". This would be something else. There was no guarantee of paid employment at the end of it but they were sure I would understand that. They told other people the same thing. Some people did go to work unpaid but I don't know anyone who got a job that way.  
In any other area it is considered wrong to pay to do an internship but apparently it is fine in a government department. It is still fine for the government to demand people "volunteer" their time too. I am however wondering what would happen if I put in a formal bill for the time I spent last week.
I suspect they would just put it in the pile to be shredded - by someone with Downs' Syndrome on "work experience".

Sunday 8 January 2017

Reading the Guardian

comments on articles irritates me. I should not do it but sometimes I cannot stop myself. Worse, I sometimes find myself commenting. I actually find the Guardian rather irritating. 
There was an article in it recently about "false" news. It suggested - rather strongly - that everything written by Guardian journalists was correct and unbiased. 
Hold - it  - right - there. Guardian journalists are human. They can make mistakes. They can be as biased as the next person.
I can make mistakes. I undoubtedly hold prejudices and biases. Everyone I know is the same. It's the way we are. 
"False news" of course is a different story. There has been plenty of it around of late. The US election was full of it. Reputable news sites fell victim to it.
And the Guardian didn't? Everything journalists wrote for it was absolutely factual? The opinion pieces showed no bias at all? 
The Guardian has been asking for donations for months now. It has been doing so with this claim of accurate and unbiased journalism. They have allowed comments on some stories but not on others so it isn't even possible for readers to put the record straight. Even where comments are possible it isn't always possible to get past the "moderators".
I wonder sometimes who those "moderators" are and why they allow the extreme negativity of some commentators to get through. There are people who make an art form of abusing others on-line. It is clearly a hobby for them. They must spend hours glued to the screen each day. They must wait to pounce on a comment and, in an instant, work out how they can misinterpret it, and put the commentator down.
It's a social media phenomenon of course. Before social media few people had such a wide audience. A few might have been regular writers of Letters to the Editor. Most would not have bothered.
I just wish most of them would not bother now - and that others would not allow them to get away with their jeering and bullying. 

Saturday 7 January 2017

James Hird has taken an overdose

of some sort. Now let it be said here that I am not too sure who James Hird actually is - apart from being a footballer, turned coach for some scandal ridden "Aussie Rules" football team. I have never met the man. I only know what I have seen in the papers and on the news services. And yes, it has been "headline" news.
I really don't need to know more. What I do know is that, if he had reached that level, he would have been under enormous pressure. He would have been under pressure to win.
If your team is not the winning team then you haven't done well enough. You haven't done what was expected of you. All that "sponsorship"? It's advertising and we expect it to reap results. We want to be able to say the individual, the team, the club we sponsored was top. Yes, yes we will pay you well - as long as you come top.
If you don't come top then it is a different story. There will be an inquiry into your performance. Have you done the best you could? No, of course you haven't. You didn't come top. You didn't win. Winning is all that matters.
Hird was involved in some sort of "supplements scandal" - giving players something to make them perform better, faster, stronger, and higher on the field. He wouldn't have been the only one. I don't doubt all clubs at that level look at such things and wonder how much they can get away with. The pressure must be enormous - just as much as any big company director trying to produce ever increasing profits for hungry shareholders.
It isn't about "sport" anymore. It isn't about the "game" being played. It is big business and you must perform. If you fail, you are out. If you get caught "cheating" then you are the one sent off the field - for good. It isn't the people right at the top. They blame you.
I don't doubt Hird had enormous demands made of him. When he failed he was kicked out. Has he had a job since? I doubt it. Was he bullied? Almost certainly. Has he been blamed for the penalties placed on the club? Yes. Have some people avoided him and others told him to stay away. Yes. 
Maybe he tried to comply with all the demands made of him. He would never have dared to say, "The team isn't good enough. The talent isn't there. They won't win however hard I try and they try."
They had to believe they could win in any way possible.
Hird didn't manage to kill himself but, if the reports are correct, it was a serious attempt. At very least it was a  howl for help that cannot be ignored.
I wonder what those at the top think. They are mouthing words of support but is the support really there - or are they thinking, "This man has embarrassed again"?
There's something wrong with so-called "sport". It certainly isn't about having fun. 

Friday 6 January 2017

Centrelink has no

centre or links. 
For those of you in Upover Centrelink is Downunder's social security network. It oversees the payment of pensions, sickness benefit, unemployment allowances and more.
It is currently more in the news than usual because the government is trying to recover what they claim is $4bn in "over payments".  There is a new "automated" system in place which is supposed to match up Tax Office records with money paid to individuals. Where there is a discrepancy then a letter is sent to the individual asking them to explain the discrepancy and telling them that an over payment must be refunded. 
I have no problem with the "over payment" needing to be returned. I do have a problem with the way this is being done - and, more importantly, the accuracy with which this is being done. I have a problem because I have now seen too many of these letters sent out to vulnerable people.   
Yesterday I was called to the local hospital. This happens occasionally. I get called on for "communication assistance" - usually between medical staff and a patient. This time though they asked if I could sort out a "Centrelink problem". I groaned inwardly. Yes, someone who was ill had been sent a letter by Centrelink claiming they owed money. This time the person was someone with a physical and intellectual disability. He can't read. He has  held down a job for years. It hasn't paid much but he has never owed money to anyone. He's been in hospital for eleven weeks. Centrelink was advised. A medical certificate was sent. He is supposed to be getting something from them in order to survive. Instead they are asking him for money. It was completely confused and it was no fault of his. The one thing he has always been meticulous about is saving official looking pieces of paper. I've known him for years and I've seen the way he does it. I've always sorted out the things he needs to take to the accountant to do his tax. 
He was nearly hysterical -  unlike him. Illness and stress have taken their toll. The staff were worried. They like him. He isn't demanding and he doesn't complain. 
I met him and the social worker who is trying to help. We sorted out what we could. He will have to pay a visit to Centrelink when he is well enough. The social worker is organising that.
But, Centrelink should come to him. They should apologise. He owes nothing. He owes society nothing. He's worked all his life. He's just turned 65 and he should be able to retire but they now expect him to work until he is 68. He's not going to get another job and his old one doesn't exist any more. He's supposed to put in applications and... well, don't get me started.
I am tired of all this. There are people out there who don't try. There are people who have never worked and don't want to work. They get more support and assistance than he does. They don't get the same sort of threatening letters. 
I doubt anyone even read the medical certificate. To them T.... is just a number on a piece of paper. The computer says he should be working and that's enough for them.
Well, it isn't enough for me. T....deserves better than that....and he's going to get it. 

Thursday 5 January 2017

"Would you like me to read that to you?"

I asked quietly. 
There are a number of people who visit our local shopping centre who wear "VIP" badges. In this case "VIP" denotes a "visually impaired person". 
Most of the shopping centre staff are good about helping them when necessary but they don't always have time to stop and ask if someone needs help. Other people tend to just pass by. I doubt some of them notice the badge. There will be others who feel hesitant about offering to help.
I know several of the VIP badge holders by sight but I don't know any of them well. We tend to shop at different times. I go early they go later - when someone can get them there.
Yesterday though I was there at the same time as one of them, someone I hadn't seen before. He'd obviously been to do a fasting blood test early and was now trying to read the menu stuck to the window of one the small eating areas.
He turned to me with a relieved smile and said
    "I'm new around her and I didn't want to bother them unnecessarily. Is this the best place to have something?"
     "Not really. There's a better place for breakfast just up the ramp. I'm going that way," I told him, "I'll introduce you to the girl in charge up there."
I took him up and we waited for a moment. Then I opened my mouth to introduce him but, before I could, she said, "Mr R........! Remember me? I was in your class at...."
I left them talking animatedly. I dropped a prescription in at the chemist for the Senior Cat and, on my way  back, I saw her. She gave me a thumbs up. 
Mr R.... was reading a menu - a large print menu. I hadn't noticed before but she told me later,
      "I had them all done like that because of the VIPs. I did it because I remembered Mr R...from school. He couldn't see too well then and it's worse now. I don't mind telling people what's there but it's much nicer if those who can still read can do it for themselves."
It's a nice little place - always busy. You can see why.

Wednesday 4 January 2017

The Federal Trade Commission sent me a "complaint"

this morning...or did they?
It looked very convincing. It told me my "company" was being investigated under an act that does actually exist. I don't own a company. I don't work for one either. It was a scam but yes, quite a convincing one. The e-mail address even ended in "gov.uk" - except that there is no Federal Trade Commission in the UK and, if there was a complaint, they would write me a letter. What is more they would address me by my full name, not my email address.
But, I think scams are getting more sophisticated. Apparently it is now possible to reroute email addresses of all sorts into places where you would least expect them to go.  The email address you get given is a legitimate one but if you simply click "reply" then you will get rerouted. I have no idea how they do such things.
I had a scam email from "Barclay's Bank" in the UK  recently...except that I don't have an account with Barclay's. I do have a UK bank account but the amount in it would not be worth hacking and I have never activated an internet account with them. "Don't do it unless you absolutely need to" was the advice I was given.
I don't do internet banking. The Senior Cat doesn't like the idea. I know I'll come to it at some point. I'll get bills paid by direct debit and so on. If something goes wrong with that then it will be the bank's computer or the company's computer which has been hacked - not mine. 
I do sometimes buy something over the internet but I don't possess a credit card and the debit card I use has only a very small amount of money in it - just a little more than whatever it is I want to buy. If someone tried to hack it then they would not get much - and certainly not the thousands upon thousands they want. Every time security is increased the hackers will look for a new way around it of course. It is a challenge for them. I suspect they almost look forward to each new challenge.
Even if they had sent me a letter and I was a company I would be double and triple checking the information it gave. Is the street address correct, does someone with that name work there, and is the phone number and the mailbox number the same? It probably doesn't take much to get the same letter head changed to include a different mailbox. 
And yes, this morning's email was very convincing - except that there is no "federal" in "gov.uk". 

Tuesday 3 January 2017

"Won't you regret it?"

the Senior Cat asked me.  He was looking at a pile of books.  I had told him I planned to pass them on to the local charity shop.
"No. They're cookbooks and coffee table type books."
"Oh. How did we get those?"
Good question. My mother collected them. She liked cook books. She rarely made anything from them. The only times I remember her reading a recipe and then following it exactly was when she made cake. She didn't make cake very often. 
It was different with other recipes. She would look at them and, if she had the ingredients to hand, "more or less" do it. If she didn't then she would substitute something she thought would work.  
Most of the time we ate the standard "meat and three veg" or "stew" type meals that everyone else around us ate. It wasn't interesting but, in remote country areas, it was what was available.
Once back in the city where there were "interesting" and new to her vegetables like capsicum/bell peppers and courgettes/zucchini she would occasionally try them. Middle Cat had met her future husband by then and his mother cooked traditional Cypriot food and she would encourage my mother to try the simpler dishes.
My mother's downfall was the local newsagent. It stocked - still stocks - the "Women's Weekly Cookbooks". (This is the Downunder version - not the English version.)  Waiting for the Senior Cat to get a newspaper or look at a woodwork magazine my mother would pick up a cook book. She would read. That recipe sounded good. Yes, she probably had the ingredients. She would, having for the first time in her life a little disposable income, buy the book and bring it home. Sometimes she would actually try the recipe. Middle Cat and I would look at the recipe too - and suggest that no, you can't substitute "x" for "y". It would turn the dish into something entirely different. It would be done anyway and we would duly eat the result. Somehow it never mattered. The food could always be eaten. Sometimes the "experiment" would be as good as - or even better - than the original recipe.
But I don't need the recipe books. I realised I hadn't opened most of them since she died sixteen years ago. There is no point in keeping them. I don't read them the way she read them.  I most certainly don't use them. Other people will buy them and read them. They may even try a recipe from them.
If I want a recipe I will look on the internet.

Monday 2 January 2017

There has been some "spring cleaning"

here in Downunder. I am not sure whether this is taking place "late" or "early". Perhaps it isn't spring cleaning at all.
The Senior Cat has been tidying his desks. Yes, he has two. One is in his "office" and the other is in a corner of his bedroom. He has two because the one in the bedroom was once used by my mother. He took it over some years ago and allowed other things to pile up in his office.
At the time he was playing with things electronic. Now it has to be understood that the Senior Cat is not particularly technically minded. His real interest in electronics was whether or not he could develop something for a particular "magic trick" - those little conjuring tricks with which he and other magicians like to try and fool people.  
He did whatever it was he first wanted to do and made something for a fellow magician - who uses it to fool more people. He went on to find out more. As a result he had piles of magazines about electronics, he had boxes full of "resistors" and other things. He had circuit boards and bits of Lego and more...and more. It was all stored in the desk, on the desk, along the shelves... and on the floor. I have to confess it was reasonably tidy but it was gathering dust. 
We needed - and still need - more bookshelf space. Could he bear to part with all this "stuff"? 
My BIL pointed out that things have changed since the Senior Cat first started playing with his "electronic" gadgets. The Senior Cat nodded and agreed - and started clearing the desk in the office. There are now piles in the carport. They sit forlornly next to the Senior Cat's gopher and look accusingly at my tricycle. Yes, I do plan to send them off to a new home. The people at the local charity shop know someone who can use them.
It means we have space, just a little space. I have suggested we might rearrange the bookshelves, remove some more books collected by my mother and which we are unlikely to ever use. They really have reached the stage where "they might be useful one day" is not going to be true. 
But there is the other desk as well. It has a space with two doors underneath it. It is crammed with "spare paper" - collected over the years, half used writing pads, old notebooks with some spare pages, a packet of "pop" sticks that will never be used for ice cream, pencils, half tubes of poster colours, old stamps, a collection of letters from people my mother knew...and more. The "little girls across the road" - our neighbours' grandchildren - can use some of this. 
All it will take is some time - and the willingness to give it up. After all, I have a nice little pile to take to the local charity shop too. 

Sunday 1 January 2017

I am not making any New Year's

resolutions. I have never really made very public resolutions at any time but this year I am not making any at all.
Last year taught me something - or reminded me of something. You can't foretell the future.
During my time at teacher training college I had to support myself. To do this I worked as a "junior housemistress" in a boarding school for girls. I probably wasn't very well suited to the job. The girls were fine and I had no discipline problems but Sunday lunch was an embarrassment - unless I was on duty. 
If I was not on duty I was expected to eat in the staff dining room. After the meal was over the staff were expected to "have coffee" in the staff sitting room. The Sunday newspaper would be opened and the headmistress would solemnly read out everyone's "stars" for the week. Now in all fairness to the headmistress she was following a long standing school tradition. She didn't believe in what she was reading - and she knew I didn't. I remember the first Sunday I attended this gathering - and I still squirm. Nobody told me what to expect. I didn't know what "star sign" I was and I had to publicly admit this - to a gasp of horror from at least two elderly boarding house staff. They had been at the school for at least forty years and the tradition had been going on all that time. For them the Sunday "reading" was important. I don't know what the other staff thought - apart from the headmistress. She took me to one side and, quite kindly, explained what it was all about and why I would need to endure it. 
As I was also volunteering my services at the local residential nursery school for the deaf at weekends I managed to get away from Sunday lunch every second or third week. I endured the rest but, on the rare occasions I had to listen I still squirmed inwardly.
None of the "predictions" ever came true.
At the beginning of last year I made plans for the year. I knew other things might get in the way but I thought they might be achievable.
Forget it. I achieved none of it.
I achieved things, of course I did. The problem was - and is - that I did not achieve the things I wanted to achieve. I was forced to "resign" from a position I loved, leaving a job half done - simply because someone with less experience in a position of greater authority thought they knew better than I did. It's a situation still causing problems.
The Senior Cat had that fall and, although he has apparently recovered, I know that there have been subtle changes. He's even more afraid of falling and he tires more easily. Well, he will be 94 in February. I know we are lucky to still have him - and that we might not at any time.
I lost some good friends - two were completely unexpected deaths. Another friend was injured in a terrorist incident - and when it happens to someone you know such incidents become sharp and very, very close. 
There was more work than I expected. I had to come to grips with a new - to me - language. The resources were limited and it took time.
I kept up the blog  but I didn't do a lot of other writing...and don't tell me "you could have done more writing if you had tried" because there are limits - limits to the hours in a day, limits to emotional strength, and limits to the actual physical capacity to write. I didn't knit much either - although I did help others with theirs. I made myself take time off for that because I am supposed to look after the group. 
So this  year I am saying, "I would like to do some serious writing. I would like to do some serious knitting. I would like to maintain my local and electronic friendships." If I can do that, look after the Senior Cat, do my work, and read some books then it will be enough for now. Anything else will be a bonus.
I am, as someone put it recently, "vertical and ventilating" - and it is really much much better than the alternative. 
Happy New Year everyone!