Tuesday 31 October 2017

"Oh right, Halloween

I suppose?"
I had to buy a second packet of chocolate frogs. No, we didn't eat them.
Our Over-the-Street neighbours unexpectedly invited us in on Sunday for "birthday cake" for their elder granddaughter's birthday.  Having nothing to give the 8yr old in the way of a present I  took the first packet of chocolate frogs, the frogs intended for the activity and sugar-hit packs for the Senior Cat's great-grandchildren. 
I know. They don't NEED chocolate but it is twelve months since they were last here and the middle of November is coming up fast - if they come.
Yes, it was all planned. We hope it might still happen. The Senior Cat will be very disappointed if it doesn't but he was the first to suggest that it might not happen. 
My brother and sister-in-law are currently looking after two of the grandchildren - whose parents have gone on holiday for almost ten days. My sister-in-law also had to deal with a crisis concerning her mother - now in hospital for an extended period. When my brother phoned yesterday he sounded exhausted and said my sister-in-law was "ragged round the edges". 
I can imagine. Those two are extremely demanding children, used to almost constant adult attention. My sister-in-law spends a lot of time caring for them before and after school. She also has an elderly and very frail mother. 
When I was a kitten my parents once spent a weekend away. There was a good reason for it. It wasn't a holiday. A great-aunt and her family were living with us at the time and they looked after us with some help from my paternal grandmother. My parents left on the Saturday morning and came back on the Sunday evening.
On other occasions over the years one or the other of my parents would occasionally be away at an education conference but there was always one of them home. They didn't expect other people to look after their children.
But it seems things are different now. If you want to go on holiday you leave the care of your children to their grandparents. 
The Senior Cat is not impressed. I know he is trying not to think  that this extra load might be too much for my sister-in-law and that she might not be able to make it. He loves her dearly - and she is a very easy to love - but he knows that everyone has limits. 
Will the rest of the family still come if she decides her mother - who will still be in hospital - can't be left? Either way it won't be a break for her. If she is here with the children there will be demands placed on her.  It was one reason for organising the activity packs - so that they would have things to do with minimal supervision. I know one mother will help. She trained as a teacher and her three are much less demanding.
And I thought that the inclusion of small packs of dried fruit, teddy bear biscuits, and those chocolate frogs would help keep the demand for snacks down. Halloween had nothing to do with it. The only two neighbourhood children who might have done Halloween have grown out of it. The others are too young, would not be allowed, or won't be interested.
If someone does happen to turn up then I suppose they can have a chocolate frog.
But now I am wondering whether I should have bought my sister-in-law an entire packet of chocolate frogs.
On the other hand I might just buy her something small and scented and put it in a post bag and send it with a note saying, "You need pampering too."

Monday 30 October 2017

Sir Ninian Stephen was

was the Governor-General when I was living in Downunder's national capital. 
I never expected to meet him although he always took an interest in what was going on at the university and, in particular, what was going on a the Law School. He was away over there in Yarralumla and I was a mere "stewed ant" who also tutored students in order to eat and wrote communication boards for aid workers because people needed them. (Yes, I was busy. It is good for cats to be busy. We don't have time to be bored - ever.)
I didn't expect to have anything to do with the university's Vice-Chancellor either. He was one of those remote figures you occasionally saw rushing across the grounds to yet another meeting.We met because of a mutual acquaintance who was visiting from my previous  university. Our mutual acquaintance had seen me and apparently said, "That's Cat. I must say hello to her."
I don't know what else he said but Professor Karmel must have remembered me because one morning there was a message to one of the secretarial staff, "If that Cat isn't in a lecture could she please come over to the V-C's office immediately."
Almost petrified with fear I prowled reluctantly over. What on earth had I done?
It turned out there was nothing wrong of course. I was formally introduced to Sir Ninian who was then the Governor-General of the day. He apparently wanted to meet me because he had been told, from more than one source, about my efforts to get International Literacy Year off the ground. We talked for about ten minutes and it was only when his aide told him he had another appointment and really must leave that he apologised and broke the conversation off. His questions had been searching, so much so it reminded me of my doctoral viva. 
We met twice after that. It was the conversations I  had with other people who told me things like, "I was at a meeting and the idea (of International Literacy Year) came up and...." that mattered most as the idea suddenly took off after all the years of letter writing.
On the second occasion I met him, just after the year had been officially announced by the United Nations,  he just told me quietly, "Well done Cat."
That was enough. It allowed me to say, "Thank you for your support."
He was a gentleman. 
The statement below is the official one from the office of the present Governor-General. Reading it I consider myself even more fortunate for the support he gave me.

Sunday 29 October 2017

Making a Christmas tree

is not something I expected to be involved in  but one of the members of the knitting group obviously had a skilled and creative craftswoman for a mother. As a result she still has the tree her mother made for her - made her out of an umbrella.
Her mother removed the waterproof fabric and covered the spokes in greenery - and there is a tree.  It is a simple but very effective idea. 
Another member of the group took this idea up with an enthusiasm. We would, she declared, have an entry in the Christmas tree parade in the neighbouring suburb - still in the same council area but a little further up the hill. 
Oh yes, we would have a tree. I thought hard about this. I wanted to contribute but I am not much into making "mini" size things. I don't mind the knitting but trying to put them together is another story altogether. 
No to worry I was told. They would do the putting together if I did the knitting. So, I made a tiny jacket - and did manage to knit that together. Then I made two small "presents" - knitting shaped into boxes and tied with gold "ribbon"  (a strand of gold yarn). Someone sent me a tiny pullover so I copied that idea.
And other people made other things. There is a tiny bag with knitting in it  that I particularly like. It was one of the first things to appear. 
Yesterday a friend came to lunch and contributed two sparkling pieces of crochet - something she is expert at doing.
And the tree came so it could be admired. It now has a "star" on top. It isn't any ordinary star either. It's a ball stuck through with knitting needles and crochet hooks and it fits perfectly into place on top of the tree. 
One member of the group has offered to come and fetch the Senior Cat so that he can see all the Christmas trees - but ours in particular of course! I hope that Friday in December is not too hot because he purred briefly and said it would be interesting to see what groups of people had done.
And that of course is the important thing. These aren't individual efforts. They are group efforts. We got together. Others are getting together. It required cooperation and the willingness to each do a bit.
All the trees need labels so that people who go to see them will know which group contributed them and a statement about them.
On ours we are planning to put, 
      "This umbrella spoke to us and asked to become a tree."
Perhaps it is smiling at us too. 

Saturday 28 October 2017

Rejoicing over someone else's misfortune

is something that puzzles me. 
Yesterday my news feed was crowded with people saying how pleased they were that someone had lost his job - because he was unwittingly in breach of sec 44 of the Downunder Constitution which bars "dual citizens" from being members of the Federal Parliament.
He may well get his job back at the by-election. I hope he does. I don't know the man or have any particular feelings about him one way or another but knocking a man when he is down is one of those things you just don't do  in my book.
Before the electoral boundaries changed my local MP was a man who betrayed the electorate. Many people are still very, very angry about that - and rightly so. I would certainly not have voted for him at the next election and, if he stands again, he is likely to be  humiliated by the low number voting for him. However I might feel about that I won't go out into the streets crowing about his demise.
When I said this to someone recently they asked me, "Well, how would you feel if someone like Mugabe or Kim Jong Un was assassinated? Wouldn't they have it coming to them?"
My answer was, "I still won't go dancing in the streets."
When those two men die, and when others like them die, then I simply hope for a change for the better. I am also realistic enough to know that there might be a great deal of unrest that will endanger the lives of many people. The transfer of that sort of power rarely comes easily.
But it is still no excuse to rejoice in the misfortune of someone else. It is no excuse to rejoice because someone else's child has been caught up in the laws of, to them, a foreign country. 
The gleeful response by so many, including some media commentators, suggests there is something very wrong with our society. Our ability to "post" something on social media has made it too easy to mock someone else. 
I am fairly certain someone I know will read this and say "But you did that the other day."
No, I didn't. I was not rejoicing over anyone's demise. I was simply wondering at the demands and reaction of people who choose not to participate but still criticise. That is what is happening here. 
To all those rejoicing in the fact that someone else has lost his job I ask, "How would you feel if this was you and people were saying such things?"
Isn't it time for a little empathy?

Friday 27 October 2017

"I don't believe I misunderstood your intentions"

came the angry response.
I had answered an email from someone and, because I genuinely wanted more information, I wrote back and asked for it. I was stunned by the response. The writer was clearly furious with me and refuses to believe that a genuine request for information was just that. 
     "What you gave was a diatribe...
I have been puzzling and worrying about the response ever since. It was so far removed from my intentions that I went back  into my files and found a copy of what I had actually said. On this occasion I had, for once, actually written something and read it out."
No, it wasn't a diatribe. What I said at the time was factual. It was as accurate a report as I could give followed by two statements and then a light hearted remark which, at the time, produced a laugh. Apparently it is now seen very differently.
All this and the reporting of another incident,  that of the police raids on the AWU offices interstate, has once again left me believing that some people don't want to know the facts. The Leader of the Opposition claimed "at least 25" police were involved in the operation and one of his colleagues claimed "30". They also claimed the raid was carried out at the request of the government.
Now it has been reported that they have put a Freedom of Information request into a Minister's office.
The matter was so serious that the AFP - the federal police force - had to issue a statement saying that there were just 13 officers involved - eight in one state and five in another - which is a small number given the likely size of the operation. The AFP also had to state they were acting on a search warrant issued by a magistrate. The magistrate was acting on a request by an independent body the Opposition helped to set up. The AFP is independent of the government. It has to be.
As far as I know nobody has directly questioned the Leader of the Opposition about his claim of "at least 25" being involved. Being a politician he would probably wriggle around it as being what he had been told. This would of course be fine for him - but not for the Minister he is accusing of "lying" because she did not know one of her staff had acted. (The question as to whether you can lie if you don't actually know something is an interesting one.) And failing to report that the Leader of the Opposition was making a false claim is, at best, selective reporting. (I was told that it wasn't considered newsworthy.)
Politicians, especially politicians that senior, can handle themselves. They have media advisers and can issue press statements.
I don't have a media adviser and I cannot issue a press statement. I have little doubt that I will come in for yet more criticism.  All I can say is this - and I have forgotten where it came from - 
"I  know you think you understood what I said but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant."  
I rest my case. 

Thursday 26 October 2017

So 40% of aged care residents don't

don't get any visitors for 365 days of the year - don't get any visitors.
I don't suppose I should be surprised. Aged care complexes are depressing places to visit. I have spent a good deal of my time going in and out of them. 
I know a lot of elderly people. Some of them are friends of the Senior Cat. Some of them are my friends. Some of them are people I have come to know as I have pedalled to and from the shopping centre or the library.  I have met some of them at the library when they were younger - often because they were looking for something and I was asked to help or they asked me.
I have helped them clear their houses and move into nursing homes when they could no longer cope.
And I have damn well gone to see them once they are there. It doesn't take much. I might only be able to stay a few minutes but it makes all the difference. It makes all difference for no more reason than that if the staff know someone, anyone at all, is coming to visit then they are going to take more care. 
When I do go to visit I make a point of talking to other residents on the way. It is usually nothing more than "hello" and perhaps a comment about the weather or something they are doing but it has never been rebuffed. Occasionally it will be a few minutes chat and they will show me pictures of children or grandchildren or the dog they once had or they will tell me something about their past life.
I go away feeling both happy they had someone to talk to for a few minutes - even me - and depressed at how narrow and dull their lives have become. 
It is why one elderly woman I know refused to move into a nursing home unless she could take her computer with her - complete with the capacity to Skype her family around the world...and she did. I visited her on a regular basis simply because she was still very good company. She didn't let her new home get her down but she also knew she was one of the lucky ones, still intellectually very alert and able to entertain herself.
One afternoon I went to another facility and found the woman I had gone to visit had been taken to "community singing". I followed the noise and found a dozen or so residents sitting staring at words on a screen and listening to rather than singing with an ancient cassette tape recorder. They looked bored, so did the member of staff watching them.
   "Ah, turn that thing off," one of the old men said. "It's Cat. We'd rather talk to her."
Not very polite of him perhaps but, if my company was preferable, they were fed up with such "entertainment". 
But even that sort of "entertainment" is apparently preferable to just sitting staring at the wall when your eyesight and concentration are no longer sufficient to read a book, when your hearing does not allow you to listen as well as watch television (and the programmes bore you anyway).
But it also makes me wonder what happens to those older people who do remain in their own homes without family or friends. It makes me wonder what will happen to my generation when the children have scattered interstate and overseas and the next generation when family ties have, for all too many, weakened.  
It is why we want, if at all possible, to help the Senior Cat stay in his own home with family coming in an out.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

"Get Up" is

a Downunder activist organisation which claims to be "driven by values, not politics". 
Yesterday one of Downunder's main union offices were raided by the police who were searching for, among other things, evidence that "Get Up" is actually a political organisation.
To suggest that "Get Up" is not political is nonsense of course. All activism is political in nature. We may not recognise it as such. When we protest that we want to "save the whales" or against a library closure or anything else we are being political. There are other completing interests there. (Might it be said here that I am all for saving the whales and utterly opposed to libraries being closed.)  If we save the whales then the Japanese whaling industry goes under and jobs with it. If we save the library the money spent on it won't go on another service others see as just as essential. 
During International Literacy Year I was involved with many projects designed to do two things. One was teach people to read and the other was to provide material for them to read.
You would think that such projects would be popular and welcomed. 
Not so. They often faced great opposition. They faced opposition not just from repressive governments but from groups similar to "Get Up". These groups saw education and the ability to find information for yourself as a threat to their  power. It was a similar reaction to the historical reaction to universal education in Europe. It wasn't seen as necessary -  until the Protestant/Calvinist movement decided people needed to be able to read the Bible. 
The internet and access (or lack of access) to it has changed the way we think about many things, including the need to read. Organisations like "Get Up" are very adept at  using it to their own advantage. (Mis)information is out there in ever increasing volume.
To suggest that "Get Up" or any other activist group is not driven by politics is ridiculous - and should be acknowledged as such. 

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Victorian era arts and crafts

were, by present day standards, wildly fancy and over-decorated. It seems if they could "make something for something" then they would.
I have been looking at their work lately and feel almost overwhelmed by their need to decorate every possible surface. It is in stark contrast to the brief glimpse I caught of a modern "house-home" program where everything was white and there was almost nothing in the way of "decoration". 
Queen Victoria was born almost 200 years ago, at a time when people were facing great changes in the way things were manufactured.  Those changes also meant that access to the materials for arts and crafts also increased, particularly in the areas which interest me - knitting and crochet.
People started to publish instructions about the way to do things. The earliest knitting and crochet patterns are not written in a way that modern patterns are written. Far more assumptions are made about what the knitter or crocheter knows. There are no graphs or diagrams to follow. It is all written out and often in ways that are quite foreign to the modern worker, indeed the instructions may be impossible for a modern day knitter to follow when they say something like, "Put on sufficient stitches..."
I am thinking of all this because there is a proposal for a project in the air. If it happens I am going to have to translate several of those patterns into "modern" instructions - write them so that modern knitters can follow them but produce the same sort of garment. It will also mean finding equivalent yarn - something of a problem in itself.
Will people try if I do it? I don't know but some every day activities in the Victorian era, like the making of Dorset buttons, have now been turned into art forms so they might.  Whatever happens I know I am  going to learn something.

Monday 23 October 2017

The wildfires in California

have been given considerable coverage in the local news media - and with good cause.
Downunder is prone to what we call "bushfires". We have had some serious fires in the past and we will have more in the future. 
Our house is just below the foothills of the range that divides the settled coastal area from the eastern part of the state. I can look out the front window and see some of the hillside. Pedalling back from the local shopping centre or library I can see some of the many houses nestled in among the many thousands of trees on the hills. 
As a child I travelled on the train to a station almost as high as the summit of the southern part of the range. The train does not go that far now but it still goes through areas of heavy vegetation, some of which are inaccessible by road and others which are difficult to access. Some of the areas which are difficult to access have been built on by people who want to live in what they believe to be "native bush". 
It is often these people who leave the areas around their homes "natural". They don't clear away excess vegetation. They fail to clear an area around their home and refuse to acknowledge the high fuel load. The fire danger is extreme for many people. There is no fire fighting equipment in the world that could save some of these houses in extreme conditions. Aerial assistance can only occur when the conditions are right. Strong winds down gullies - and fires create their own wind - can prevent just such aerial assistance and many houses are built in such gullies.  Ground crews cannot get to them and water to fight fires is in such short supply that the lives of crews are in added danger. 
Many of those crews are volunteers. They give up their time and risk their lives to fight such fires.
I am saying all this now because the "environmentally correct" movement still isn't listening.  The extremists who want things to remain "natural" and for things to be left as they are and those who want to live "in the bush" are putting the lives of many others at risk. Successive governments which have refused to recognise the huge risks associated with excessively long goods trains running through built up areas in the hills - potentially blocking vital level crossings in the event of a breakdown - have only added to the problem. 
It is time we started to think about what we have done and are continuing to do or we will face the same sort of disaster as California has had to face.

Sunday 22 October 2017

So Robert Mugabe has been appointed

as a "goodwill" Ambassador by the World Health Organisation?
I can imagine few people less suitable. 
Some  years ago now people I had worked with had to flee Zimbabwe  because they were  in breach of the "association" laws. They were attempting to run a school for children with disabilities and because there were more than a certain number of staff it was held that they were "meeting to plot the overthrow"....I will leave you to imagine the rest.
I have met many "refugees" from Zimbabwe - and none of them were the "rich white farmers" that Mugabe had removed. There have been some white farmers and their families but they were far from "rich" and they had done a lot to improve the economy of the country through sheer hard work. There have been many more black residents who simply don't belong to Mugabe's tribal grouping.
The horror stories they have told me can't be written here. They would have been too graphic for the media to portray. The hospitals in Zimbabwe are in an appalling state. They lack the most basic things. In one place even the beds were removed - so they could be used by the poorest people loyal to Mugabe. When some of them were eventually returned they had to be repaired. I only know about this because someone else risked his life showing a local man how to do it.  
     "Hospitals are places you go to die" I was told by a six year old black Zimbabwean refugee. He couldn't understand that, in our country, the purpose of a hospital is to try and prevent just that. Medication for things like high blood pressure and diabetes are in short supply - if they are available at all. Most people can't afford them. They can't afford to see a doctor - even if they can find one. Mugabe's much lauded health care system simply doesn't exist for most people - if it exists at all. 
Mugabe is a despot who has betrayed his people and his country. He is not fit to have power over anyone - let alone an entire country.
So what is the WHO doing? The United Nations has a way of appointing completely unsuitable people to positions  like this. It isn't the warm, friendly, peace-loving organisation it is still all too often portrayed as being.  It is a highly political organisation which is riddled with corruption. One very senior member of the UN staff in New York once told me, "It's better to be in than out but if you are in then you have to watch your back all the time."
If he was still alive I suspect he would tell me that Mugabe still has some equally not to be trusted "friends" in high places and that his mate  Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu is merely returning a favour.
And if my long dead history teacher, the one who told us to close our books that day so that he could tell us what was going to happen in what was then Rhodesia, was still alive he would look at me and say, "I told you Zimbabwe would descend into chaos and that man was not fit to lead his country."
How can Mugabe be an Ambassador for anything?

Saturday 21 October 2017

Ethnic diversity at university level

is something which is apparently hotly debated in the UK as well as in Downunder. The recent outrage over the apparent "racism" in Oxbridge colleges over their lack of "black" students is something that disturbs me. 
We have a similar situation here in Downunder. Much is made of any "indigenous" student who succeeds in getting to university - and more is made of those who complete their course. The rest of us are told how hard it is for them.
And yes, it is hard. I wouldn't for one moment want to suggest that such students have had an easy path to success. I have tutored students who identified themselves as being indigenous. They were sent to me because they were failing. They were sent to me for help with study skills, English language skills  - and much more. They were often under other pressures in their personal lives.
I can remember eleven of those students for one reason or another - although there were more. Two of them succeeded in getting through the courses for which they were originally accepted. Four more switched to lower level courses and managed to get through those. All of them needed high levels of support and encouragement from the staff and from other students. Both staff and students often went out of their way to give them some extra help. 
The other five students dropped out but one of those came back to me recently and said she was thinking about "doing something". I encouraged her because it is well within her capacities and aged care is an ever growing area of need. She will find employment if she completes the course.  I have no idea where the others are or what they are doing. I do know the six who completed their courses are employed. Like everyone else in their generation in their fields they tend to  be under-employed. The work is casual or not officially full-time but they are earning more than they would on unemployment benefit.
For me this raises all sorts of questions. It raises questions about the students being accepted - and why they were  being accepted. I know that all these students did not get the necessary results but they were accepted under schemes that give them the opportunity to enter post-secondary education. I know that they needed extra help in order to have any chance at succeeding. I know their results were not outstanding and that staff felt pressured to "pass them or risk being labelled racist". There was the male member of staff who was close to tears saying, "I've been told I have to pass him but his work really isn't good enough. It just means that he will fail next year and that's not fair on him."
Far from being racist that staff member had given the student extra time every week in the first term and then asked a retired Reader in the subject area to do some more tutoring while I helped with study skills.
One student, who barely succeeded, told me, "Everyone has been great but I really didn't want to come. My marks weren't good enough. I didn't work that hard you know."
Should the latter student have been given a chance or should her place have been given to someone else? There aren't any easy answers to that question and it will only become harder as the nature of work changes even more.
But what I don't believe is the argument that universities, at least in Downunder, are "racist". We need to ask questions about whether "black" students are applying, what they are applying for, and whether they have the qualifications.  My experience - in three universities - is that staff have gone out of their way to help students from different ethnic backgrounds succeed. I suspect they will go on doing it too.

Friday 20 October 2017

The love affair with the Holden car

is over.
I had to make a trip to the bank on Wednesday - after the trip to the dentist and the problem with the brake cable being locked to the other bike. It was definitely not a good day in that respect.
In the bank an elderly man dressed in a way which shouted, "Urban Aristocracy" was doing a complex transaction to assist his son. His son was buying one of the last Holden cars to roll off the assembly line - and yes, son was apparently paying for it. As I was a mere metre away I could hear all this quiet conversation with the teller. The elderly man actually turned and gave me a smile and shrug at one point. 
Had we not both been supposed to be concentrating on our own affairs I might have told him about my paternal grandfather and Holden cars.
I don't know much about cars so I don't know what sort of car my paternal grandfather had when I was born - apart from the fact that it was also a Holden. It was made in this state and he believed in supporting local industry.
I do remember the next car he bought. It was an "FJ" model Holden. It was cream and had red leather seats - yes, actual leather in those days. 
That car is seared into my memory for more than one reason. The first is a very early memory of my grandfather travelling to the place we were living in, a small town north of the city, to take me and my brother to safety. There were very serious fires in the area at the time. The heat was also extreme. 
I remember the journey to the city as being silent. My brother and I were frightened but compliant. We trusted "Grandpa" to get us to "Grandma" safely. (Our parents were following in our own car with Middle Cat in a crib and anything of importance packed. The Senior Cat told me once, "We didn't know if there would be a house to go back to." There was. We were fortunate, very fortunate. 
And that FJ  Holden got us there. Grandpa used it for another twelve years and then bought another Holden. It was maroon and white and probably an EK model - although I can't be sure of that. It was the last car he bought
The heat on the day he came to get us was so intense that the dye from the red leather seats came out and stained his white shirt.  (Men like Grandpa never wore coloured shirts at that time.) I remember thinking there was blood on his back. My grandmother was not impressed - not that she blamed Grandpa.
Many years later I was at the local shopping centre and someone pulled up near where I had parked my trike. The car was a beautifully restored cream FJ Holden. The driver commented on my trike. I told him, "My grandfather had an FJ that colour."
He told me "I bought it from someone in ...... "  He went on to say that the only real problem with it had been the hand brake. There had been a little card on the dashboard saying "Don't forget the handbrake". It was Grandpa's old car! The new owner was, if anything, more excited by this than I was. We chatted a little more and then I pedalled off thinking of all the trips we children had made in that car.
Grandpa was not a good driver. He did not enjoy driving. He did it out of necessity. His absent mindedness over the handbrake was an indication that he preferred to concentrate on other things - but I think he missed the old FJ.

Thursday 19 October 2017

There are still gentlemen in this world

as I had cause to discover yesterday.
I had to go to the dentist. To get there I put my trike on the train and, once in the city, pedal to my destination. There is a bike parking hoop outside the building.
I parked and locked my trike to the hoop. I went to the dentist.
When I came out I had a problem. I couldn't move the trike. 
No, not a dreaded flat tyre. There was a bike parked next to mine. When the owner had locked his (no, I am not being sexist here) on the other side of the hoop he had caught my front brake cable as well. I was stuck.
I stood there for a minute trying not to panic. What was I going to do? I had no idea - unless the brake cable could be detached in some way.
There were no police around - although there often are there as a building across the road is used by them. Had there been I might have sought some help from them.
What else was there? There's a coffee shop next to the building which houses the dentist. 
Outside that, just sitting and chatting with empty coffee containers were two men.
I took a deep breath and went up to them.
    "Excuse me gentlemen do either of you know anything about bikes? I have a bit of a problem."
They looked at me and one said, "Not much but..." and then the other one said, "I know a bit...what's the problem."
I explained and he came to have a look. He frowned. Tugged gently and said, "I see. I don't know quite what to do but perhaps..."
He started to fiddle. No, that didn't work. He tried something else and then said, "Ah."
He unscrewed one part and loosened it. That meant he could undo a clip and take another part out. My trike was no longer attached.
I was prepared to take it at the point and go, very carefully  with just the back brake to the nearest bike shop but no he said,
     "Now let me see if I can get it back together."
And he did.
I thanked him profusely and all he said was, "I'm very sorry it happened to you. I'm glad I could help."
I was too. He won't ever really know how much he helped and how much his kindness meant but I hope my thanks sounded as genuine as I gratitude was.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

The Telecommunications Ombudsman

is clearly in need of more staff to help her. She is overwhelmed with complaints about the state of our phone and internet services.  There are reports that these are up 41% nationally and 51% in this state in the past year.
Yes, I know people are now quite unable to go about their daily lives without being constantly in touch. 
And yes, I am one. I work from home. The internet is my work life-line. 
Yesterday I added to that growing list of complaints the Ombudsman has received. I tried not to do it. I really did try not to do it. 
The problem is that my internet service provider is not even meeting the basic contractual obligation - to provide me with a service. It keeps dropping out - not just occasionally, not just once a day but many times a day. On Monday it dropped out eleven times altogether. Yesterday it was only seven...yes, only seven. 
Each time I have to go through the process of trying to get it up and running again. It has dropped out as I am typing this which means that, before I can post anything, I have to go through the process again. 
I have been told I can get a "better" service if I pay more but why should I? This service is advertised as the one which meets my needs. If it worked as advertised it would more than meet my needs. I don't play games on the internet. I don't watch movies. I download documents. I upload documents. I do a little searching and (horror of horrors) I write a blog. That's about it. So why should I need to pay for a premium service with features I won't use - and which, from all accounts, is not much better than the service I am now supposed to be getting? 
I was also told I could go with another service provider if I wasn't satisfied. Hold on a moment that's not meeting your contractual obligation to provide a service - not just to me but to everyone else who has complained. 
I know the NBN is a problem but it is not the only problem. Internet service providers are using the problems with that to make an additional profit by simply cutting back on their own costs and not providing as much service.
Sorry but it simply won't do. I have complained. If they had bothered to answer my registered letters and apologised in any way I might not have done it...but I have had enough. Now to see if I can get the "service" up and running again so I can post this.

Tuesday 17 October 2017

"The judges decision is final

and no correspondence will be entered into" is usually how it is worded but people still want to know why their  undoubted masterpiece didn't win first prize.
I had an email from someone yesterday. I had asked for "feedback" about the knitting and crochet section in the state's major show. When I asked the Secretary of the organisation I belong to I said, rather bluntly perhaps, that I didn't think the group deserved to be allowed to give any feedback. They had barely participated. But, if they wanted to say something then I would listen.
It took a while and the response on their behalf came from the Treasurer rather than the Secretary or the President. Still, it was a response.
There was a complaint that the website is not user friendly. Fair enough. I didn't try it myself as I don't enter things - being a steward makes that impossible.  Still, if it is a problem then it is likely to be a problem right across the event. They can do something about that.
Then there was a complaint that the judging "lacked transparency". I can guess what that means. "We don't know who the judges are. How can we complain about the judging if we don't know who they are?"
More than once I have been asked who the judges are. My answer has always been that I have been asked not to divulge that information. It isn't a popular answer. I get criticised for not telling people but it isn't something I can do. If people disagree with the decision of the judges they can do one of several things. They can complain in writing - but please give some valid reasons for your complaint. They can offer to do the judging. Yes, that will involve some work.  Or they can improve the standard of their work.
But, hang on - the complaint about the lack of transparency was coming from people who didn't even enter anything. Why are they concerned about the very professional standard of judging?
There was also a complaint about the size which was allowed for something. If the class allowed for a little larger would more people actually enter? I doubt it but, give a good reason, and those responsible for the schedule might come at it.
And there was also a complaint because the schedule had not kept up with modern trends in knitting and crochet. I did some homework on that one. I looked at other, similar shows in other parts of the country. I couldn't see anything that was different that should be considered - in fact the local event seems to be much more flexible and allow a much wider variety of items to be entered. I came to the conclusion it wasn't the schedule but those who enter who are not keeping up with current trends. The judge would have been delighted to see some really up to date and interesting work. 
I have responded to the person who emailed me asking for more detail. I will be very interested in the response - if I get one. 
THIS IS A POSTSCRIPT written on 18/10/2017
I have been severely criticised for writing the above post and for a general failure to help. Perhaps I could have been a little kinder but I did think I was being fair. It is sometimes easy to be misunderstood when writing something like this. I genuinely believed I had helped when asked and I don't believe I should be criticised because I refuse to divulge information I was asked to keep confidential. Cat

Monday 16 October 2017

Activity packs for children

are essential. 
We are being "invaded" in mid-November - or that is the plan. My brother is bringing his family over from another state to see  the Senior Cat.
They were here last year. The Senior Cat was delighted to see them but the experience was exhausting. He is noticeable frailer this year so it will be even more difficult. He is looking forward to seeing them but also feeling a little anxious about how he will cope.
Last year I provided "activity packs". They were large brown paper  bags with handles and, inside, a variety of things to do. The Senior Cat's five great-grandchildren swooped and the contents kept them occupied for some time.
I have planned the same this year. I have bought new paper bags from the "cheap" shop. (They won't last but that doesn't matter.) There are mini coloured pencils and a colouring book. Those are essentials. There is a clock face they can colour in and, with some help, attach hands that will move. (Might as well provide something mildly educational was my thought.) Then there are some foam stickers - because they were bright and shiny and glittery and feature dinosaurs! There are sheets of stickers. There are some cardboard stars for making their own Christmas mobiles. And there are some hats they can decorate. These are smallish boater hat forms. I understand the material they are made from is called "sinamay" and that the forms themselves are actually supposed to be used to make "fascinators" but I found a pack of five on the internet. Five? How could I possibly resist? It was just the right number.  Middle Cat and I went to a rather odd shop that I thought  might have something to decorate them with - and found just the right thing. They can glue the decorations on and we will add some elastic to keep them on their heads if they want to wear them - and they might.
And then of course there is food. There are chocolate frogs, jelly garden bugs, and Smarties - and there are bear shaped biscuits which I have yet to pack into individuals packets. 
I am also making the girls fancy snap hair-clips. They are just a token gesture in the "make" department.
Now, dear readers, I need to know what I can make the six year old male. Any suggestions. It has to  be small - or do I go sexist and give him a miniature car instead?

Sunday 15 October 2017

Gardening is not my

my favourite occupation.
Middle Cat brought some peas around on Friday. The Senior Cat swooped on them.  He didn't particularly want to eat them but he was enthusiastic. 
      "Next year I must grow some more too."
Middle Cat and I went off to the hardware-garden centre when he prowled off to have his afternoon nap. We bought enough plants to fill the gaps in the front garden - where we had the winter things. The Senior Cat likes petunias so I bought, among other things, two more punnets of petunia seedlings. 
      "You know you'll have to plant them don't you," Middle Cat told me.
Yes, I know. The Senior Cat's gardening is limited to pots and planter boxes at waist height these days. He loves to fiddle with them. He has been passionate about gardening for, at very least, all his married life. I remember the garden in the house where I was only a toddler. I can remember being severely scolded by my mother for accidentally running my tricycle  into a garden bed.  She had no idea how hard it was to learn to both pedal and steer at the same time. The Senior Cat righted the stake holding up the tomato bush and I headed on my way.
The Senior Cat is an "organic" gardener. He "companion" plants and uses a lot of mulch to keep things moist - or that is the theory.
It doesn't always work of course.
Last  year I did a lot of the watering in summer. I know I will do even more this year.
And I planted all the things in the patch by the front water tanks. There are hollyhocks to - hopefully - hide the lower part of the tanks and the impatiens at ground level. The petunias have gone out into the full sun. 
Our garden is definitely not "landscaped". It just happens. The Senior Cat decides he wants to try and grow something. There is a space. He has always put something into the space. We have eaten the produce or enjoyed the flowers. (I tend to leave them outside so they last longer.)
But, it is the Senior Cat's garden. I hate having to interfere in the sense that I am doing the planting and most of the watering and some of the weeding and feeding. It just seems wrong to be doing it.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Hospital food

is currently a news item. There is an article in this morning's paper and it was apparently discussed at length on a "talk" show yesterday. (The person who came to help the Senior Cat shower was telling him about it.) Another local resident who had been  in hospital was telling me about her experience - not good.
Now I know it is difficult to supply food to a lot of people at a very low price. When I was in my teens I spent some of each summer "holiday" going to a camp for disabled children. I was a Guide and we would take 60 disabled children to camp. The Army provided and (thankfully) pitched  the tents but the rest was up to us. Each child would be paired with a Guide and there were some senior staff as well. There would be about 140 people to cater for altogether - at the lowest possible cost. We didn't pay for the workers of course - that was part of our job. Some food was donated. There were children on special diets. There were some who had feeding problems. 
I don't quite know how we did it  - but we did. The first couple of years I went I didn't know too much about it. I scrubbed potatoes, set out plates and cutlery, washed up - and helped to feed children who couldn't do things for themselves. 
Yes, there was a lot of help and we worked hard but I am also aware that we did not have what would now almost certainly be available. We actually had to slice the bread. Sliced bread was available in the city but, in the little rural community we were camping in, it was not available. (It actually took them some years because the local baker and the community were of largely German descent and did not see it as a way of treating bread.) Still, we managed to make toast! We had limited refrigeration. 
And somehow we managed to produce breakfast, a main meal and a light meal for everyone and supper for some of the older children and the Guides. From memory we ate pretty well too. The children were enthusiastic about the food - and usually ravenous as we had them doing all sorts of activities. (I still hold my breath at the day a boy without arms decided to climb a tree...he managed to get about eight feet up - and down again safely.) But even hungry children can't eat the inedible so the food must have been edible. There was even roast lamb on the Sunday in the middle of the ten day camp.
Now, if we could do it under the most difficult and basic of conditions why can't a modern catering service provide the same?
The woman I was talking to told me that she was given breakfast one morning but there was nothing to drink apart from the milk with a little packet of cornflakes. (There was nothing else on her meal tray.) She smiled as she said it and told me, "At least that was better than the chap who just got cornflakes, no milk and no spoon." 
There is no excuse for that sort of thing. I suspect the company with the contract has discovered that it is not going to make a profit and is trying to cut corners.
But, if you are in hospital, it is quite possible you don't want to eat because you aren't feeling hungry or it is just too much of an effort or even - just maybe - you feel ill. (Oh and what if you can't actually reach the tray delivered by robot or undo the containers the food is prepackaged in?)
It is a pity  our late friend B.... is no longer with  us. She was the person who could "make something out of nothing". A little advice from her might go a long way. 
And people might get better more quickly.

Friday 13 October 2017

The ambulance bill

arrived yesterday - $999 please. 
The Senior Cat has health cover so it won't be that much but it is still an alarming bill to get. 
The bill tells those who have a health care card they only need pay half that. That's still $499 - and most of those with a health care card would be struggling to pay $49.
The ambulance staff who have come here have all been excellent. They have been kind and caring. Many years ago they had to rush the Senior Cat to hospital when he had an internal bleed after an operation. (The hospital had sent him home too soon after major surgery - lack of beds.) They could not have been faster or more efficient as well as kind.
Last  year I called them when the Senior Cat cracked his skull when he fainted in the bathroom. This past month I had to call them again. On both occasions when I said I didn't drive they said "Of course you can come with us." I was extremely grateful - and told them so.
Some years ago the hospital phoned me and said they needed me urgently to act as an "interpreter" for a non-speaking patient. (I am on his "call" list.) I said I'd be there as soon as I could but the trains were out and it was pouring with rain so a taxi might be delayed. They diverted an ambulance doing a non-urgent transport job to pick me  up. (The old man who was the patient thought it was funny and told me, "I didn't think I was catching the bus.")  The crew on that one were great too - dropping me off at the closest possible point to where I needed to go.
But the cost of the service bothers me. The ambulance crews are not paid enough for the job they do. It's an incredibly responsible job. The last time I called I had said, "He needs oxygen."
They didn't question it. They came in with it. "In case you were right." Good. They gave him oxygen. 
They had to make other decisions too. I thought the Senior Cat needed to be in hospital because I am not big enough or strong enough to handle him - but would they think he was ill enough for that? Yes. Another decision they had to make.
There were three crew...one was a "newbie" learning the job. There was the dispatcher. There were people at the other end telling us which hospital we could go to. It's all terribly complex.  It all demands equipment, trained crew, highly skilled drivers, ambulances that won't break down and more.  
So $999 doesn't really seem a lot in that context. 
And perhaps it will help to pay back just a little of the many thousands of dollars it took to air lift the Black Cat to the city when she was involved in an accident many years ago. She wasn't working at the time and didn't have to pay anything - because she had no money at all. 
I just hope I never take the service for granted.

Thursday 12 October 2017

So the "My Aged Care"

person arrives - late and apologetic.
She is much too young to be doing the job. Yes, she was very pleasant but someone in her early twenties can have absolutely no idea about what it means to be "old". 
That quickly displays itself. She has a list of questions - given to her of course. The answers to these are supposed to decide what help, if any, the Senior Cat needs.
The Senior Cat looks at me and tells me to stay firmly in place. Apart from anything else he is having difficulty hearing her pleasant but rather high and quiet voice.
I want him to answer the questions, not me. Middle Cat has not yet arrived and I know she will take over and answer for him when she gets here.  I will wait until he asks me to add something to his answers.
The questions were much too vague and open ended to elicit any real information. Yes, up to a point they need to be to do a "one size fits all" interview but I wonder who wrote them? Who trained this nice girl who is doing her best but not getting very far. 
"Tell me about your health" is very broad.  It might be better to ask "Are you on any medication?" and then "Do you manage your own medication?"
"Is anyone worrying you?"  Does that mean are you worrying about them for some reason or are they making demands of you or....
 It went on.
She described the sort of help that might be on offer. Most of it was irrelevant to the Senior Cat. 
I could see this poor lass getting more confused. I could see her thinking, "Why am I here? They don't need any help."
Well yes, we do. Middle Cat had arrived. We looked at each other and then I said,
    "We are hoping two things will come out of this."
The nice lass looks at me.
    "The Senior Cat and I would both like some continuing help with showering. He's not safe on his own any more."
She nods.
    "And I don't drive. If my sister isn't available we have to rely on taxis and I need to go with our father because it isn't safe for him to go alone. If there is occasional transport help available then we would appreciate being able to access it."
She nods again.
We have the cleaning issue sorted. Someone we like and trust comes in two hours once a fortnight and does the really heavy work better than I can do it. After all she is taller and much stronger than I am. Middle Cat thinks that she has got her two hours a fortnight gardening man to agree to help us as well. If that works out we'll be fine in that department. I do the shopping on the trusty tricycle and then cook our meals so the Senior Cat doesn't need "Meals on Wheels". He has a social support network, our wonderful neighbours, his friends at church, extended family and more. 
I am sure this nice lass was very puzzled by all this. She must meet so many older people who do need extensive help and who are lonely and without help.
Nice lass phoned me later in the day to say that our provider of choice - the present people who have been helping on a temporary basis - cannot go on helping because they are only a "temporary" service. We go through list of potential help and discover only two of them have any funds. 
Now we start all over again because the potential provider will send someone out - to "assess" the Senior Cat.
I am still hoping we will get the essential help with showering. I think I can cope with the rest.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

A "My Aged Care"

person is supposed to come this morning - to see what help the Senior Cat (and thus Yours Truly) needs and whether he will be eligible for any.
My brother asked me on Monday what I hoped might be the outcome of the visit. I told him I was not expecting too much. They don't give help if they think there are family members who can do it. It doesn't matter that the Senior Cat worked and paid tax all his life. He still won't be eligible for much assistance - even if he pays for it.
But there are two things I would like. The first is someone else to help him shower. This has been worrying me for quite a while now. I discreetly "hovered" while he did this himself. I worried that he would fall and break a hip - or worse.  He could easily do that anyway but bathrooms are the worst rooms in any house for that to happen. 
The hospital put something in place "on a temporary basis" when he came home after being hospitalised with the 'flu bug which laid us both so low. They were sufficiently concerned to keep it going longer than they said they would. I am very grateful for that. Secretly I think the Senior Cat is too - certainly he has purred rather than growled at the people who have come. (We have yet another new person coming today - the variety seems endless!)
The second thing I would like is some  help with transport. The Senior Cat has "50%" taxi vouchers. It means he pays half the normal fair. He was given those when he broke his leg some years ago. Once he had recovered they were continued because his doctor at the time realised that public transport without some help was not an option. 
Since then public transport is not an option at all. The Senior Cat would not be able to get his gopher on and off the train or an accessible bus. He simply would not be safe and he couldn't walk the required distances. 
Even using a taxi is something he should no longer do alone. Taxi drivers, understandably, vary in their ability to help and understand the need for help. It means someone needs to go with him. Middle Cat has been very, very good about being the "taxi" service but when she was recently too ill to help it meant I was going with him - in a taxi. I can take work with me while I wait but it can still take some hours. If necessary Middle Cat can take him to his destination and go and do something else and then return and pick him up again. I can't drive so I just have to wait. Neighbours have done it twice but it is wrong to ask it of them except in an absolute emergency. The MAC system may be able to help here. 
So, if we get nothing more out of the visit - and we have put in place things like grab rails, a shower chair,  help with gardening and so on - please can we have a little bit of help with showering and transport? 
After all, keeping  him here at home is where he wants to be - and it would be much cheaper for the government too. 

Tuesday 10 October 2017

"Kangaroo Island" sounds

romantic and exciting doesn't it? Or does it?
There's a piece in the paper this morning about a new ferry service to the island - a catamaran this time. It will apparently carry 95 people. The company setting up the service sees the island as "having a lot of potential".  
The Senior Cat was in charge of the then very big school in the middle of the island for four years.  At that time it was the biggest "area" school in the state. An "area" school is one in which children travel from outlying rural areas, mostly by bus. 
In this case the school bus runs were, for the most part, very long indeed - and teachers were also bus drivers. They began as early as 7am and finished at around 5pm -  if the bus didn't break down or have a puncture or get delayed by something else. 
The roads were not sealed. In summer they were dusty and in winter, if there was rain, they were muddy and slippery. 
Teachers lived in caravans at the end of the bus run. The caravans would be parked next to the house of one the families who "boarded" the teacher - i.e. provided meals and laundry facilities.
It was a very, very hard life for a teacher. 
The Senior Cat did not drive a bus. He merely had the ultimate responsibility for eleven bus runs, twelve buses (there was a spare) and the bus routes. His deputy did have a bus licence and, if a teacher was really too ill to drive, had to take over. That didn't happen very often.
We lived next to the school - in the same sort of fibro-asbestos housing as the rest of the community. The small township (not much than a hamlet by UK standards) was on a windy plateau.
To get to the island you did an overnight trip on a "roll-on, roll-off" vessel or (if the airport was not under water or closed because of the cross winds) you flew on a rickety Fokker. 
And this is the place that now has "potential". It has beautiful beaches, some wild coastline, some interesting history, light houses, wonderful nature reserves, some interesting small farming ventures that encourage visitors, and more. The airport has improved and there are more regular ferry services.
It has changed dramatically since we were there but it still has a long way to go. There is also a possibly insurmountable hurdle to any more major developments. 
This place is an island and it does not have a big supply of water.
When the state was first settled the intention was to settle on the island. Water was a problem then. It is a problem now. 
Large numbers of tourists require a large water supply. It needs to be a secure and stable water supply too. 
I don't know how they are going to do that. 

Monday 9 October 2017

"Your feedback is important

to us" comes in yet another email.
I am tired of being asked to "rate" the service I received and "give positive feedback". It isn't just on-line companies either. I have been asked by the post office, two local shopping centre stores, a  bank, and an "independent" business. 
When I am paying for something I expect to be served promptly, efficiently and pleasantly. I expect the goods to be as described and as  durable as they are intended to be. If they are posted I expect them to be packed in such a way that they don't break in transit. If they are given to me in a shop I will, under some circumstances, expect them to be packed properly. I take my own bags where possible - but to save the environment from plastic rubbish not because I expect to have to pack my own things at the supermarket. (No, I'll help the check out person. It's faster for both of us that way.) 
But this business of having to "rate" service and "not leave negative feedback"? I am being asked to do your advertising? You are already spending money on advertising. I have paid you for the goods or the service and I am expected to pay you with yet more time?
I spend my days (and often nights) filling out forms. I don't want to fill out yet more forms - even those with just tick the boxes, lines of numbers or fancy stars.  
In my job people's "service" does not get rated like that. People just get on with the job. Nobody has time to create little surveys. We know soon enough whether you have been successful - whether a life has been saved or a bridge secured or a building made safe or whether the dam isn't going to collapse. Success might actually mean being invited back - into another dangerous situation. 
This morning there are no less than three "rate us" emails, including one to "remind" me that I have not yet left feedback. The service on that one was nothing out of the ordinary, indeed rather poor, and being reminded like that makes me even less inclined to help advertise a business.
I know it's a cut-throat dog-eat-dog business world out there but perhaps if you concentrated on getting on with the job....
I'm going back to mine. 

Sunday 8 October 2017

Saying "thank you"

seems to be going out of fashion.
It doesn't take much does it?
At a meeting yesterday I did not get the opportunity to say anything very much. I had asked for an item to be put on the agenda and it wasn't - although I had been told it would be there. I don't think this was an oversight. It is much more likely that someone else didn't want it there. She prefers to do things herself.
Unfortunately that meant I didn't get the opportunity to properly thank the people I wanted to thank - in the public way they deserved to be acknowledged. So, once the formal part of the meeting was over, I prowled around and thanked them individually instead. 
Several of them seemed surprised. Yes, they had of course expected some public recognition and they had got it in a different form. But, individual thanks for making an effort to do something which took time and effort? I thought they deserved it. 
"Certificates of Appreciation" are a relatively new innovation in the group. They aren't a bad idea at all but they do need to be carefully used. There is always the risk that someone who has made a very significant contribution will be overlooked or "politics" will mean that a decision is made to award one someone who has made a much lesser contribution. 
So yesterday I made the effort and thanked all those involved except one. I had already spoken to her as I knew she would be away. 
It wasn't the only thing that needed to be said or done yesterday and I didn't get it all done - but I did get the most important thing done.
It was only polite.

Saturday 7 October 2017

Today I am going to speak up

- or I  hope I am. I have asked to be given the opportunity to say something - more than one thing - at a meeting.
If I am given that opportunity I will have the responsibility of saying what needs to be said in as positive and succinct a way as possible. I am not looking forward to it. I'll admit I have even lost some sleep trying to work out how to say what needs to be said in the minimum amount of words without ruffling some sensitive feathers. I am not a politician.
There is a Senator for this state who seems to feel quite differently about those things. He started out running for our state parliament. He got in on what amounted to a single issue at the time - an opposition to "pokies" or gambling machines. He made much of it and ran all sorts of odd stunts to get publicity. People thought it was a "good" thing and voted him in. We now have even more pokies than we had then. It doesn't seem to be an issue now - although, given the harm they have done, it should be. 
He stayed for a while in state politics and then declared that the real power to get things done was in our federal parliament. Although he hadn't seen his term out he announced he was resigning to run for federal parliament. He managed to get a seat in the senate. At the last election he even managed to get a couple of mates in on his team. Now, with a cloud hanging over his eligibility to be there at all, he has announced he is resigning - long before his elected term is up - resigning so he can run for state parliament. This time he is angling for a seat in the lower house - and he wants twenty of his mates to join him there. 
The media has said a lot about this. The media seems to think this man is fun and funny and that he gets things done. I see the situation quite differently. I see this man as someone who likes media attention - and will do anything to get it. He has breached his contract with the people more than once. You are, barring death or disability, supposed to see your term out as a politician. 
Yes, he can negotiate - up to a point. Some of his policies sound good - but they are probably unrealistic. He didn't succeed with the pokies that originally made his name - and a little thought would have shown everyone that he wouldn't. The government gets too much revenue from those.
I thought of all this last night as I printed off what I want to say if I am given the chance. I've tried to be positive, put the blame on myself rather than other people because perhaps I could have done something differently, and I have about six hundred words there covering several different but related and important issues. I'd actually rather not be saying anything at all. 
I was once asked to run for parliament. I said a very firm "no" (and it is as well I did because the first candidate died before he could actually be elected and the second got in - that would have been me). 
I am not a politician...and I don't care for the sort of publicity that the soon to be ex-Senator seems to thrive on.

Friday 6 October 2017

I am pondering loyalty

this morning. It is a timely thing to do.
Yesterday I was talking to someone who has decided to return "home" after living in Downunder for  sixteen years.  I had always had a suspicion that he wasn't really happy here. He went back "home" every year. 
He came out here as a teenager. His parents migrated - and brought the family with them.  This man and his siblings didn't want to come. They were all in their teens. It meant leaving behind everything they were familiar with, leaving their friends, their hopes and dreams of life in what they considered to be "their" country. 
This man's brother went "home" about ten years ago. He has set up his own business and is, apparently, doing well. Their sister has married and lives in another country altogether. This man has an academic job to go to and is looking forward to being able to communicate more easily with his colleagues. They will now be in a similar time zone. He will also have much easier access to the resources he needs. No, not everything is available via the internet.
His parents are still living here. They are appalled and, it seems, angry that their children "for whom we gave up so much" are not staying.  They say they are going to be "lonely" and that their children will not be there for them in their old age".
I've met his parents, indeed met them before I met this man.  It worries him that they feel this way. He has talked to me about this before. He was offered another position almost three years ago and turned it down under pressure from his parents.
This time he has decided to go. He doesn't have a partner or children to consider. 
"My parents say I am just being selfish - that I lack loyalty," he told me. 
I am wondering who is being selfish - and what "loyalty" actually means in this case.

Thursday 5 October 2017

Photocopying - or the

art of following instructions.
Now, it should have been a simple thing. I transferred the files I wanted copied onto a nice  bright yellow USB thingy.  I put the nice bright yellow USB  thingy into the little pocket on the front of my jeans. I put my bag with my other things on the  back of the trike and I headed off to the photocopy place. 
This involves a train  journey and the crossing of a major highway - twice. I do not like this journey.
The problem is that there are around 500 pages that need to be printed off. My home printer is not up to that sort of thing when most of the pages are densely packed and will take a lot of ink. 
Yes, I know - I should keep all this information on line. The problem is that I can't work that way this time. I need to have pages and pages laid out in front of me. I can't go "splitting" the screen into up to twenty pages.  I also need to be able to mark things in more than one colour - and more.  Yes, yes, I know I am wasting paper and polluting the environment and....
At the photocopy place I hand over the bright yellow USB thingy and explain that I want a copy of each file. There are five of them. I want them in black and white. There are about 500 pages altogether. The instructions are simple and clear.
The girl tells me that  they can do it. It will take about ten minutes. Good. I go prowling off to the stationery area of the shop to buy some paper for another task.
I come back. Someone else is just putting my printing on the bench. I pay for it.
On the train on  the way home I look for one page in particular. It isn't there. Then I realise an entire file is not there. I have paid for it  but it isn't there. Another file isn't there either - although I don't seem to have paid for that.
It's too late to go back - and too late to phone them.
So, this morning it will be back to the same place..with the bright  yellow USB thingy. I will ask what happened to the file I paid for as it is almost 100 pages long and I don't want to pay for it twice. I will get them to copy the other file. (And, before you wonder, the paper they use is slightly thicker than the paper I put in my printer so I was fooled into thinking the stack of paper was about the right size.)
I will stand there and check before I leave.
I am also a very cross cat!
Yes, it is partly my fault. I should have checked before I left the shop. 
But why would I when I thought I had actually paid for it? 

Wednesday 4 October 2017

There is no "right" to own a gun

although I know many people would disagree with me. There are people here in Downunder who would like to see the same sort of gun ownership as there is in the United States. They would give you the same sort of reasons too - "safety", "self-defence", "terrorism" and more.
Guns don't make people safe.
I can still remember how shocked we children were when we went on a trip interstate with our parents. In a small country town we stopped to get that day's supply of food and a police officer came into the shop - wearing a gun. 
Police officers in our state didn't wear guns then. We knew farmers had guns - mostly used for putting injured animals out of distress and for the purpose of "spotlighting" or "rooing" (hunting kangaroos at night because they were/are seen as vermin). My brother had reluctantly held an air-rifle - and refused to shoot it - but the rest of us had kept even further away from guns. The Senior Cat is, as I have said elsewhere, almost a pacifist. He loathes weapons. He has brought us up the same way.
Seeing the police officer wearing a gun was an eye-opener for us.
I didn't feel comfortable.
Since then of course our police officers have started to carry a fire arm as part of their uniform "gear". I hope I never see one being used. I haven't felt comfortable when they have come into the house wearing their weapons - as one frequently did when he was getting the Senior Cat to make him some conjuring apparatus. 
I don't know what the situation is now in England but, when I was there, the London "bobbies" were armed with no more than a  baton. I imagine it is different now - and much more dangerous because of it.
John Howard, a former Prime Minister here in Downunder, did the country an enormous favour when he tightened gun control laws after the infamous "Port Arthur Massacre" - the only event on our soil to even begin to equate with what is becoming far too common in America. 
Of course the laws he helped to bring in won't stop someone determined on mayhem and the destruction of as many lives as possible but they have reduced the potential harm with respect to gun violence. That can only be good. 
I want the next generation to grow up feeling as "safe" as they can in the world they live in. I don't want them to be like so many young American children who are fearful of the possibility of a gun attack - and who believe that they need a gun in order to protect themselves. 

Tuesday 3 October 2017

The five principles of sentencing

are to (1) punish the offender, (2) reduce crime, (3) reform and rehabilitate the offender, (4) protect the public and (5) make reparations.
A judge needs to take all these things into account when handing down a sentence - and many other things as well.
Someone posted a query on social media about the sentence handed down to a university student in the UK for stabbing her boyfriend. It was suggested in more than one article that the sentence was too light and that she had "got away with it" because she was white, pretty, intelligent and rich - and that someone who was black, not good looking, of lower intelligence and poor would not have received the same consideration.
Now, up to a point that is true - but it is also false. On the surface it looks like a clear miscarriage of justice. The media made much of this saying the perpetrator should be behind bars and much more.
Look a little more closely though and a different and much more complex story emerges. Perhaps the person who should really be behind bars is a drug dealer - and, in all likelihood, he is still plying his filthy trade. 
 The other thing that has not been recognised by the media is that the person who committed this crime is going to pay for it for the rest of her life. She was a medical student but she will never be a doctor. Isn't that punishment in itself?
The consequences of being sent to prison can vary greatly between individuals. Punishing someone by sending them to prison isn't an end to the matter. For a person of low academic achievement and no job it could mean a real chance of rehabilitation if we would only put into place the sort of help they need. The problem is that we don't spend the enormous amount of time and money they often need. There are many good reasons why the "recidivists" are back in prison and they often relate to intelligence, literacy levels, employment, and support networks.
For a person of greater academic achievement who has had a job and made some poor - even downright stupid - choices the chances are that they have also lost their job and may have difficulty finding another. Or, as is the case with the girl who stabbed her boyfriend, they won't finish their training and will spend the rest of their life effectively being punished for that one act.
Now, don't misunderstand me please. She did the wrong thing. She needed to face up to the consequences of what she did and do something about it - which apparently she has. But, how much further do you want the courts to go? Do you want the courts to judge her more harshly and punish her even more severely simply because she  is  who she is? Or do you want to hope that she can turn her life around and, although she may never be a doctor, still do something useful with her life?
It's a fine balancing act. 
When judges are criticised for the sentences they hand down it is often the case that the media - and thus the public - don't know the full story. They won't be in full possession of the facts or understand the things the judge must take into account.
And, in this case, it is also possible that an important sentencing precedent has been set. That could do much to help many young people.

Monday 2 October 2017

The former Prime Minister was headbutted

recently. I mentioned this elsewhere.
This morning there is an article in our state newspaper "celebrating" the fact. What it is celebrating though is interesting. It celebrates the fact that our previous Prime Ministers don't, generally speaking, go out with a security detail in tow. 
I know that's not the case with previous Presidents of the United States or some previous Prime Ministers, Presidents, Chancellors and the like in Europe. 
We apparently take a different view Downunder. I say "apparently" because, despite what the writer of the article had to say, it isn't quite as simple as it appears to be on the surface.
But it does happen here - and in the UK - more often than people realise.  I have chatted to a former Governor of this state in the bank. She was actually the Governor at the time - but she had the  habit of standing in the queue with everyone else. It allowed her "to talk to people". I have met other VIPs in other (almost) unexpected places - like the law library and in lifts. My encounters have usually been brief and involved  nothing more than social pleasantries. 
And there was that elderly gentleman who walked through some university grounds in London every morning at about the same time as I would arrive. I mended the cuff on a cardigan for him once - and had no idea that he was actually a member of the  High Court. He didn't tell me. I didn't need to know. When I did find out we still just went on talking about the weather - as the British do. 
I have told people the story since then - not to name drop but to point out that the apparent security detail isn't always there and, even if it is, it isn't always apparent - unless perhaps you know where to look. 
For some years a former Chief Justice of this state (a very very distant relative)  lived alone in a tiny house in the city. It didn't appear to be anything special. If you looked very closely though there were a few discreet security details that were not on other properties and, oddly, there was often a police car parked somewhere in the street. In it there would usually be a couple of officers on an apparent break. I was invited to go there once and the police car was in evidence. They nodded me in after I had pressed the buzzer on the gate and announced myself. They knew full well who I was and what I was doing there.  To anyone who didn't know though it would just have been "a couple of cops having a break" and "someone ringing an entry bell" - and that's the way it should have been. 
Most of the time the same Chief Justice walked the city (he never learned to drive) apparently alone. He liked to do it that way - despite the security risks. It meant he could talk to people if he wanted to do so - and he liked to talk to people. I have seen other high profile public figures do the same.
And that's the way it should be. Yes, the former Prime Minister got headbutted by an idiot but it is better he gets headbutted by an idiot than all former Prime Ministers travel in armour proof vehicles with armed motorcycle outriders. 
And, if it hadn't been that way, an elderly man who was grieving for his late wife would never have had the cuff of the cardigan she knitted for him mended. I'm glad that a "lack of security detail" meant that could happen.

Sunday 1 October 2017

The "wrong" team won

- according to the local crowd.
Yesterday it was incredibly, unbelievably quiet around here. 
I had to go and pick up a book at the local library. That lovely place is open on Saturday afternoons and normally it is busy. There was almost nobody in there. It was a "football free zone". 
It was a warm and sunny spring afternoon but nobody was out gardening or mowing their lawns. They were all, it seems, inside and watching the "big" match.
And the wrong team won - according to the local crowd.
Now I really genuinely do feel sorry for all those people who were disappointed. I've never felt like that about a sports match or athletic competition in my life. 
Even at school I didn't feel enthused about my "house". Oh yes, I participated in a limited sort of way. I won "house points" for academic work and other things. I never won them for sport of course but I was made to study for (and pass) the umpire's examination for soft ball. I can't remember even how to play the game now. It was just a game - and one I was not at all interested in. 
The Senior Cat is equally disinterested and unaware. I had to stop him from phoning someone during the match because, as I pointed out, it would be rather like interrupting a church service. Sport is that important here in Downunder. 
Middle Cat is sports mad. If the game has a ball attached she has played it. She knows the rules for everything. She can discuss tactics and passes and techniques. She was the "trainer" for a major football team for years. Even with all that behind her she did not watch the big match. She went off with my BIL and cleared out a shed instead - and yes, it was her choice to do that. 
The whole business had reached a point where even Middle Cat no longer cared. There was, even for her, just too much hype surrounding the whole thing - pages and pages in the paper and hours on television. No doubt there  are multiple postmortems taking place now and more to take place later. 
But, as I said, I do feel genuinely sorry for those people who had invested so much time, money, and emotional energy into the match - only to have "their" team lose. It must have been devastating  because they didn't just lose, they lost by a wide margin...even I can work out the difference between 108 and 60 "points" (whatever "points" are). It's a lot.
I also feel sorry for the players...perhaps even sorrier for them. They were, before the match, made out to be some sort of heroes and full of courage. I don't doubt they tried their best - and they failed. It must be humiliating. They are going to be subjected to great scrutiny and no doubt there will be some "changes" and loss of jobs. They will be reminded of the financial loss they have incurred too. Their supporters will also have things to say - and they won't always be kind.
And all this bothers me because - isn't it really just a game?