Monday 31 December 2018

Wearing a hat

was essential in the past.
I have just seen a picture of a "Christian Women's Temperance Meeting" in 1906 and they are all wearing hats. They are quite large hats too.
It looks odd now - but I still remember hats.
My paternal grandfather had two. He had a felt one in winter and a straw one in summer. When he was home the hats lived on the hat and umbrella stand next to the old black bakelite telephone in the passage from the side door of the house. When he went out it seemed it was an automatic response. He would pick up the appropriate hat and leave the house.
My paternal grandmother had three - a summer hat and a winter hat for church and a sun hat which she wore on very hot days if she needed to walk to the shops or be out in the garden. All of them were rather plain affairs although she might add a small bunch of flowers for a wedding or Easter. 
My maternal grandfather had a winter cap and a summer straw. My maternal grandmother seemed to have many hats.I remember the one with the feathers and the maroon wool with the strange fold in it and the squishy hat of dark purple velvet. 
My mother had hats too. She made some of them herself. I remember her knitting one which looked rather like a turban and there was mouse brown hat she wore to church.
The Senior Cat has a disgraceful "garden" hat made from heavy cotton fabric and another sun hat that rarely gets worn. He does not like hats.
Hats. Yes, I am old enough that a certain type of hat was a compulsory part of the school uniform. I went through a succession of felt berets in winter and straw hats in summer. The straw hats always had elastic that cut under your chin.  We had to wear them to and from school - with gloves and 60 denier stockings or long socks. 
Schools have hat policies now too - but for sun protection.
I remember one of my teachers had a purple hat with red cherries on the side. The cherries bobbled around frantically as she walked along. We all thought they would fall off some day. She wore it summer and winter.  
But hats aren't fashionable in quite the same way any more. My mother stopped wearing one to church. She stopped wearing gloves too, especially in the summer. I went past a church congregation yesterday and none of the women were wearing hats when once not covering their heads would have been unthinkable.
I have hats - summer hats to keep the sun off and a "hat" which covers my bicycle helmet. It has a peak and a flap and it is not in the least bit beautiful but it keeps the sun off my nose and my neck. I have beanies, one particularly nice one made by a friend of mine. I don't really need them in this climate but I treasure that one in particular.
I have knitted hats, real hats not just beanies. I have made lace hats from cotton - hats with wide brims which have been stiffened to within an inch of their lives. Sometimes I wish I had kept one of the dozen or so I made.
Not so long ago someone I know came to pick up some things from me before she went on to a meeting. I can still remember the slight  shock I had when I saw her wearing - a hat.  It was the sort of hat my mother might have worn forty or even fifty years ago. In all likelihood the hat was that old. It looked strange but I could see that it would once have been considered very smart.  
I thought of this person when I saw the photograph of the group of women at that "Meeting". 
Perhaps there is something about hats.

Sunday 30 December 2018

Teach them to swim

Please, teach them to swim.
Most people live around the coastline of this country. Where they don't there are often rivers and waterholes and people go into the water.
People drown.
We had another death here this last week. A young carer of a disabled boy drowned. The boy raised the alarm by knocking on someone's door but, because he can't speak, he can't tell people what happened.  All we now is that the young man caring for him has died. He came from a country where swimming is uncommon. I doubt Tibet has many swimming pools and who wants to learn to swim in icy rivers and lakes - even if it was safe to do so?
We have had too many other migrants and refugees lose their lives in the water. 
My paternal grandfather taught me to swim. It was a challenge for both of us but he knew I needed to learn. He taught my brother too. For several years we lived no more than a couple of kilometres from my paternal grandparents. Each morning in the summer holidays my grandfather would come and get me and my brother at around six in the morning. He would take us down to the beach which was about four city blocks from our house.  Although we enjoyed it we were not going for the fun of it - we were going to learn to swim. 
It was one of the things my brother and I missed when we moved to a remote location on the edge of the desert. That is why that early morning swim I described a couple of posts back was so important to us. 
We went on to "Learn to Swim" classes held in the school holidays.
I managed to get my Beginners, Progress and Intermediate Certificates. I was taught to swim in the sea and then in the river. I have swum in farm dams and in an Olympic size pool.  It is a long time since I have done any of those things but I believe I could still swim the length of a pool if I had to. It might be enough to save my life. 
But what it has really taught me is something even more important. Water can be dangerous, very dangerous. Yes, you can have fun but you need to have some skills. 
My niece and her husband have taught their three girls to swim. The youngest is only four but she can swim at least fifty metres. She can dive into the water head first and fall in backwards and much more.  She is confident in the water - and because of that confidence her parents know she also needs to be watched all the time. Water, even swimming pool water, can be dangerous. 
Beaches, water holes, rivers and other bodies of water are far more dangerous.  If you come from a country or culture which does not encourage swimming those things are even more dangerous.
We need to teach people to swim - or otherwise stay right away from the water.
It would be better to teach them to swim. 

Saturday 29 December 2018

"You're complaining?"

"You're complaining because you don't have your work car to travel to and from work any more?"
Hang on. You used the car provided for work to travel to and from work?
This morning's newspaper report is that some "public servants" were upset because they were told they could no longer use their work cars to travel to and from work.  These pampered darlings  work for "Work Safe". They have apparently been given the privilege of taking their work cars home  - and unlimited use thereof as well.
I can remember about ten years ago I had a ride in one such car. It was used by someone who was working for the previous incarnation of "Work Safe". His wife was  using it that day. 
    "Oh, are you allowed to do that?" I asked. I was genuinely puzzled because it seemed so unlike both of them.
She laughed and said,
     "Yes. He could do it all the time. He's only doing it today because he used our car to do a long work trip and it needs a service. Don't worry. We're paying for the petrol."
As I thought, it was one of those "perks" he wasn't happy with at the time. It was one of the reasons he retired early. He didn't like the culture of entitlement.
I'd like to go and talk to those pampered pets throwing a tantrum about their toys being taken away from them. Most other public servants don't have the use of cars like that. 
Ms W's father uses the train. Several MPs I have known have, at least some of the time, used the train. So what makes these pampered individuals believe they are entitled to use their work cars? 
It isn't the nature of their work. 
I would like to tell them how, the last time the trains were out, I had an urgent call asking me if I could provide communication assistance for someone at the courts. I reminded the caller that the trains weren't running and said it might take me a little while to get there. Not to worry X would pick me up in his car. 
And, although he is a member of the judiciary, it was his car.  What is more I pedalled over to his home and left my trike there because the bus which would take me back leaves outside the courts in question and is no more than a 50 or 60m from his home. Would he normally have used his car? No. He catches the bus. That day he was going on to a court in the north when he had picked up some papers.
      "Sorry Cat. You could have had taxi vouchers," someone else told me. No, they weren't necessary. 
So, why do these other people need cars? Isn't it time to stop the culture of entitlement? 

Friday 28 December 2018

"He has a disability so give it some thought."

Someone in Upover sent me a video clip once. It was filmed by a guide dog. 
No, I am not being funny. His owner had attached a small camera to the dog's collar and has apparently been making video clips to show people how dog and human work together. It also captures other things.
One of the things it caught was someone trying to pass them on an escalator going into the London underground rail system. 
Now, those escalators scared me a little when I lived in London. I used them of course - but I hung on for dear life and hoped that I wouldn't fall off at either end because people would try to push past me.  A blind man and a guide dog using them will be in much the same position. However well trained the dog you still need to hang on with one hand - and the dog needs to be in a certain position.
People cannot pass. 
Those dogs are highly skilled but they cannot predict the behaviour of idiots.
Yesterday I was at our medical clinic. There was a man there with a guide dog. He was going in - or was about to. There was a man there holding the door open. No, not to let the man with the guide dog in. He was holding it open because he was about to walk out but was finishing his conversation with someone else. The door slammed shut in front of the dog and his owner. It was only a "look out" from me that stopped them hitting the door.
    "Thank you. What happened?"
I explained and offered to open the door. The offer was accepted and they went in. I followed. 
"Look out" you ask?  In the circumstances it was appropriate. We both had to wait and, as you sometimes do in those circumstances, we had a short chat. I told him about the video clip I had seen and how I detest people going ahead of me on an escalator and not leaving me sufficient space to get off safely. 
We talked about the current heatwave and how he had come in a taxi because it was too hot for his dog's feet on the footpath.
As I was leaving again he had reached the reception desk and one of the girls there was saying,
    "I'm due my lunch break shortly. I'll take you both home. It will give you time to go to the chemist." 
I waited a moment and then as they turned to come to the door I said,
     "And I am about to leave. Would you like me to hold the door for you?"
     "Yes please."
And out we went.
It is particularly hard for a guide dog to use an escalator and they don't like doors being shut in front of them either
It was a nice dog too and I am sorry I had to do the right thing and ignore it.

Thursday 27 December 2018

Music is not taught

in schools any more. At least, it is not taught the way it was when I was a kitten or when I first went teaching.
I remember having rather dull music lessons in which we were taught "tonic sol fa" - that 19thC invention of one Sarah Jane Glover which most people would associate more with "The Sound of Music" than anything else. (Yes, "do re mi fa sol la ti do".) We were supposed to follow the hand signs of the teacher and sing the appropriate notes. 
The sound was generally horrific. It could not even have been described as "flat singing". It was simply a noise. The only person I ever met who was skilled in the art was the music inspector. Mr G.... must have despaired.
We had to do a unit of music in college and, among other things make a simple musical instrument. Most people made bamboo pipes or drums from tin cans. I made a simple fife or flute like oddity from a length of brass pipe left in my maternal grandfather's workshop.  My uncle showed me how to file the necessary holes.
By complete chance it played an almost perfect pentatonic scale. (And  yes, it was a sheer fluke.) I took it off to college and passed it in as my assignment. Of course I couldn't actually play the thing but the lecturer could. 
    "Cat, it needs a little bit of work."
Ugh. I've failed I thought. No. He came out to the workshop the following weekend and he did the "little bit of work". I believe he used it as an example until he retired.  Perhaps it was better than all those bamboo pipes and tin drums.
I didn't need to teach music at all - well, not that sort. The only primary school I taught in had a deputy headmaster who was very musical and he took each class in the school. 
I went on to special education and music was very important. The children I taught mostly could not speak let alone sing but they generally loved music. We all had cassette recorders of one sort or another. (Supplied by us as well.) Most of the time the staff would put on nursery rhymes or simple children's songs. Occasionally it would be a more modern popular song. I added to that in my classroom by bringing cassettes of classical music from home and playing things like Handel's Water Music and Bach cantatas, Beethoven and Mozart, Telemann and Vivaldi. I would simply slot the tape in and leave it playing softly. 
Did the children listen? Yes, in a way they did. They were much quieter when classical music was playing.  I remember the first occasion I played Mozart's variations on "Twinkle, twinkle little star". I hadn't said anything to the children. I simply put it on one morning and set about doing the usual morning routine. One profoundly physically disabled child was instantly alert to the tune but I had expected that. He was bright and should not have been in the school at all. (He went on to another school  a little later.)
    "I'll tell you about it in a moment P...." I told him.  Then I saw his eyes go to another child. From the expression on his face I could tell he was trying to tell me "Look!". I turned and there was D... doing her best to make the hand signs we had tried to teach the children. She was trying to tell another child what the tune was! I was stunned and so was my teacher aide.  
I thought of all that this morning when there was a very short article in the paper about Prince Charles recording something about his "Private Passions". One of them is music. Yes, I have been well aware he is interested in music, that he somehow found the time to learn cello and trumpet. How well does he play them? I have no idea. That doesn't matter.He plays. He thinks more music should be taught in schools.
And yes, it should. Children should be exposed to all sorts of music and they should be taught by experts. They should be taught by people who know about music, who can bring it to life and who can get children to participate in meaningful ways. 
That morning in the classroom I knew that, if the cassette player ever stopped working I would need to instantly get another one. I knew that I had to keep the supply of tapes up. It cost me something but it taught me even more.
D...'s expression as she showed her friend L... that this was another version of one of the songs they knew taught me something new about the power of music.

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Little things

are what count the most....the look on the Senior Cat's face as he unwrapped the books I gave him was lovely.
He was expecting one because it was  what  he had told me he thought he would like. I had found another and then our friend N... in Upover had mentioned another which I knew he simply must have the opportunity to read.
We exchanged presents at breakfast time - in peace and quiet. It took the Senior Cat even longer to eat breakfast than is usual. If there had been a newspaper as well he would have been torn between reading the paper and reading a book. 
My BIL turned up in the late morning to take us over to his and Middle Cat's house. He brought with him their present to us - a new bin. 
A bin? Yes, a kitchen bin. Middle Cat had decided we needed one. It is a very fancy bin. The lid opens electronically - if you wave a paw in front of it.
Of course BIL and the Senior Cat had to unpack this, put batteries in, and play with it.  Batteries in a bin?! I ask you! (The batteries power the mechanism which opens the lid.) We can't use it yet because you must use bin liners and they must be a certain size....and there I was being environmentally friendly and recycling bags in the old bin. But, the Senior Cat is still purring over it this morning. 
And then we had T.... and H.... and their father come and give us a bag of goodies. In return we gave them the activity packs I had put together. Their mother and I had discussed the contents and T..., who has just turned five, had things like a colouring book and envelopes, a dozen new coloured pencils and some  other little things. He thanked me properly for the bag and then looked inside. There was a squeal. 
    "I've got sticky tape!"
He grinned and said, "Thank you!" yet again. 
Who would think a roll of sticky tape would be so welcome?
I remember the first Christmas we kittens were back in the city after living in a tiny desert community a  long way from the nearest beach. We hadn't yet had a "swim" that summer. My brother and I were staying with our paternal grandparents and, very early in the  morning - before we even opened presents, our grandfather quietly took  us out of the house and we went down to the beach very close to their home. That short time in the water was magical  It was clear, calm, cool and the very best part of the day. I can't remember what we were given. It would have been something we needed because that was the way things worked in our home. That didn't matter. My brother and I still remember going for the early morning swim after being away from our beloved beach for so long.
It was a little thing but it gave us a great deal of pleasure.
And this year, for me, it might just be the two plates of "left overs".
I won't need to cook today.
I like little things.

Tuesday 25 December 2018

No cats in the cathedral!

      "There will be no more cats in the cathedral. I have ordered cages. The cats will be removed. If you have cats in the Close then they must be removed too. I will not have cats in the cathedral precinct at all. Is that understood?"
The new Dean looked around. He had called a meeting of the Chapter and a number of others who worked in the cathedral.
      "But Dean I don't think you understand. The cathedral has always had cats. The cathedral is known for them." Canon Anselm protested, "They bring in a lot of money. There are all the books and postcards, t-shirts, caps and tea towels, the recipe book and the cat-themed knitting book...and the last lot of cathedral kittens were sent to cathedrals around the world."
       "Nonsense. Cathedrals are known for their music, their art, their architecture...and worship of course." Somehow the Dean managed to make the last sound of little importance.  
       "Ours is known for all that and the cats," Canon Stephen muttered. He was old and the two Cloister cats, Matins and Vespers, slept with him at night. They were like two hot water bottles that did not go cold. He had felt the cold ever since his beloved wife had died the previous winter.
       "And the Bishop has agreed to this?" asked the organist. He thought it unlikely. Cadenza, mother of the latest litter, lived with the Bishop and his wife. They would not give her up without a fight.
       "I have not yet spoken to him but the Bishop will agree because it is the only sensible move. The cats cost the cathedral far too much. They are dirty. It puts visitors off if they get cat hair all over their clothes and it is quite unseemly to have cats wandering through a place of worship. What is more I cannot even be in the same room as one without suffering severe consequences. Cats are not mentioned in the Bible. The cats must go. That's all I have to say. Now I have a very important meeting to attend with the Mayor..."
The Dean picked up his phone and slid out before anyone could say any more.  
      "We can't have cats? Of course they are mentioned. They are one of the living things our Lord created.  Just because they are not mentioned by name does not mean they are not mentioned," muttered old Canon Stephen again, "And, bless them, they keep me warm,"
The librarian, Canon Mark, sighed.  Matins and Vespers were naughty but they were devoted to the old man. 
      "Come on. I'll make a cup of tea and we'll think about this. It's not right," Canon Mark told him. He was worried too. He relied on Decani to help dust the books. Decani's whiskers were just the right width for cleaning between the most delicate bindings. How would the library fare without Decani to help with caring for the books? 
The organist was pale with shock. His own cat, Purrgolesi, and young Cantori helped the mice clean the organ pipes. It would be very expensive to bring in outside cleaners, far more than it cost to keep the cats and the mice. Who would chase the leaves from the cloisters and clear the grounds of rubbish if Matins and Vespers weren't there? What if there were muddy paw prints on the carpet occasionally? The cats had more than paid for their keep last year!
Bach, the Senior Cathedral Cat, heard the news and wondered how the Cathedral would cope without cats to help for cleaning the stained glass, scrubbing the vases and the baptismal font, dusting the hymn books and straightening the kneelers, keeping the mice in order and posing for photographs for merchandise to sell to help pay for the upkeep of the ancient building. What would be the point of training each litter of kittens to do the same thing in cathedrals all over the world? Cathedral cats worked hard!
Bach was so concerned he called a meeting of the other cats. This was his family. What were they going to do? There was uproar when he told them what was planned but Bach held up his paw and silenced them.
       "Stop your caterwauling. We need to think."
The cats looked at each other in dismay. The Cathedral was their home! They couldn't leave!
       "We need to show the Dean how much work we do," Bach told them.
     "I think we should go on strike," Cantori said. He could sometimes be very lazy.
     "No, not strike. If the Dean saw us just lying around that would only encourage him," Bach said, "but we could all take a short holiday together - just for the weekend. If we aren't here and things don't get done he might reconsider."
The cats looked at each other again. A holiday for everyone sounded good. The cats usually only went away in pairs. Where could they go?
     "We can't go too far but Mouse says Tom and Lizzie would have us there for the weekend. The Leaf Music Oak needs a Christmas Clean. We can do that for them in return for having us. "
Mouse was Tom-the -harpist's cat. His sister Lizzie was the cathedral's music librarian. They wouldn't want the cats to leave.
And the weekend? That meant tomorrow and Sunday. They were the two busiest days of the week for the cathedral cats. Tom and Lizzie's place was not far away at all. Giving the Leaf Music Oak a Christmas Clean didn't sound like much of a holiday but if it meant they could still live in the cathedral the cats thought they would do it.
       "Now, it is too far for the kittens. Cadenza and I can only carry one each..."Bach looked around. Kitten carrying duties were not lightly given.  No, not Matins and Vespers. They had to keep Canon Stephen warm tonight. He looked around, Purcell? Praetorius? Grimani? Cantori? That was a bit of a risk but he did like the new kittens. Decani? Yes, no problem there.
While Cadenza was supervising the move Bach went to find Monteverdi,  the mouse in charge of the organ mice, so they knew they would get no help cleaning the organ pipes. 
     "We can't do it by ourselves," Monteverdi squeaked in horror. We won't clean the pipes at all!" 
Bach was rather sorry about that. The organ would sound dreadful but perhaps....
The spiders sighed and said, "I suppose you expect us to spin more webs than usual."
     "Don't overdo it," Bach told them. He was not on particularly good terms with the spiders. Their old webs stuck to his fur. All the same it would be worth it if it added to the chaos.
A little later anyone who looked would have been surprised to see a procession of cats going out of the close, almost all of them carrying a kitten.
That night nobody, apart from Canon Stephen, could find a cat anywhere. The Dean didn't notice. He simply assumed everyone had kept their cats indoors. 
Next morning, just as Matins and Vespers were running down the street, a van drew up. The driver left a large pile of cat cages at the front door of the cathedral.  
The Dean hurried over. Excellent! He called in all the cathedral staff and set them to finding the cats. Not one could be found.
      "They must be somewhere!"
      "No, not even Cadenza and the kittens. Someone must have moved them," Canon Anselm said. He was worried. Where had the cats gone? How did they know?
At Tom and Lizzie's place the cats had been very busy giving the Leaf Music Oak a Christmas Clean. It had actually been great fun. The weather had been cold but fine and sunny and Tom had been able to take his harp outside. He played Leaf Music and the cats found themselves dancing up and down the tree collecting all the old leaves, sorting them into piles for the Oak Leaf Society, and polishing all the new leaves. They had cleaned the bark with their claws and tuned the branches under Tom's supervision. Now it was singing happily. The cats were feeling quite pleased. Lizzie had given them all tuna for lunch too! 
It was a little while before Bach realised that Decani and Cantori were missing. Had they been caught? No, it was not possible. They had both carried kittens all the way. Bach and Cadenza had counted all eight kittens on one paw each. And yes, they had been here earlier because of course Cantori had been the one to climb right to the top of the Leaf Music Oak. Had the little scamps gone off to play instead of working? Cantori might get distracted but Decani would sometimes have to be reminded it was mealtime. So where were they? 
Nobody could find them. Bach had a sleepless night prowling and calling.
In the meantime the spiders had been busy and there were cobwebs every where. They had done a particularly good job of clogging up the organ pipes. The mice had not cleared away anything at all. The organ sounded dreadful.
The organist refused to play. That meant the choir boys couldn't sing in tune. They wriggled and squirmed in their seats because they didn't have Cantori and Decani watching them from their usual places under the pews.  Part of the problem was the cold. People were shivering and shuffling their feet. They didn't want to take their hands out of their pockets to hold the hymn books. Purrgolesi had turned the heating off before leaving. 
All  this disrupted the Dean's very long  sermon about the importance of people over pets. He mentioned his extreme allergy to cats not once but many times. 
     "If there was a cat anywhere in the cathedral right now I would scarcely be able to breathe. I would not be able to speak to you."
The congregation had heard enough of that and started muttering among themselves. 
The Dean was delighted. He thought the congregation was agreeing with him.
After twice the usual time he finished with a flourish and then turned to leave the pulpit. As he did so a cat appeared from directly under the pulpit, from within no more than a cat's whisker of the Dean. It had clearly been there right through the Dean's sermon. The Dean dived at it and missed. Another cat appeared from behind the altar
        "Catch them!" the Dean implored.
The congregation made a half-hearted attempt to do so. There was chaos. The choir boys kept on getting in the way. Someone almost caught one but somehow didn't quite manage to do it. The cats ran along the pews, up one aisle, down another, around the baptismal font, through the side chapels and over the tombs of not one but three Lords Harpcottle and their wives. (Someone claimed that the first Lord Harpcottle gave them his sword to slide down when the Dean tried to catch one by the tail.) 
Eventually the cats shot up into the organ loft.  The organist hastily hid them under his cassock.
Old Canon Stephen just sat there. When things had calmed down and the little grey cats seemed to be safe the old Canon rose and went to complete his part of the service.
As he did so he passed the Dean. 
       "The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy," he quoted from Proverbs (12.22).
The Dean glared at him but the old Canon just shook his head sadly and then went about his duties.
The Bishop was back the following day. 
       "Get rid of the cats?" he asked, "Our cathedral is known for cats. We won't be getting rid of them. Which one was in the pulpit?"
       "Decani," his wife told him
The  Bishop nodded. That didn't surprise him.
       "And the other one was Cantori of course?"
       "Of course."
       "I wonder how they knew?"
       "How did you know?" Bach asked Decani, "You took a great risk. I should be very angry with you and I wish you had told me. It would have saved a lot of trouble."
       "No. The oak needed some help so I thought you could have some fun and I knew Lizzie would give everyone tuna. I was under the table at the meeting. The Dean didn't sneeze or get itchy which is what happens if you can't be near one of us.. I think that's what the word allergic means."
       "It means he was lying,"Bach said and went to lie in a sunny patch.
Decani went off to visit the Bishop's wife before Cantori ate all the tuna. 

Monday 24 December 2018

"How many books

are you taking?"
    "Only ten - to read. I might not like one or something so I need a lot," Ms W informed me.
They are off on holiday - to a rather remote spot. Her father likes to "get away". He tries to take at least a fortnight over the Christmas and New Year period. If he doesn't get that then he might not get more than a day here and a day there - and they will be used for other essential things.
Most young teens would object to the sort of holiday that Ms W is looking forward to having. They would think there was "nothing to do" and complain about not being with their friends. Ms W has taken the attitude that she gets her father "all to me" and that she will see her friends later.  She also told me, "I get to read and I can do heaps of drawing." 
She also knows that "my dad will spend half of it asleep and he won't catch any fish".
As they can take the car and will be staying in a two bedroom cabin with most of the essentials already there they can take plenty to entertain them. I saw that their Scrabble and chess sets have been packed. They have books and Ms W has no less than four sketch pads, pencils ("and three sharpeners") and some other art items. She has a carefully wrapped present for her father and I know that he has something for her. She has their Christmas lunch organised after her usual consultation with me. They also have Christmas cake and mince pies that Ms W has made herself. 
There is a small shop about five minutes walk around the bay so they can get fresh milk and anything they may have forgotten. Ms W did a slightly simpler version of this a couple of years ago. She has had lists for weeks. 
It has been a lot of work. Her father would have done more - at the very last minute - "but it is his holiday too". 
And it will be a holiday now. Her father is exhausted after a very heavy year at work. He will switch his work phone off.
Ms W informs me that she will see it remains off  "at least  until next  year". 
I know what she is getting for Christmas. It isn't lavish but it is something she will really like - and she deserves it.

Sunday 23 December 2018

Christmas baking

and Christmas cooking and Christmas food...
I'm over it. I want to be a grinch - at least momentarily.
Today I need to make something we call "honey crackles" and some people call "honey joys". Middle Cat insists I must make them. Christmas will not be Christmas without them. They are even more essential (in her mind) than the mince pies the Senior Cat loves.
For those of you who don't know these little delicacies are made from cornflakes, honey, sugar and butter. Yes, cornflakes.  Cornflakes are closely related to wood chips in my view.
You put the cornflakes in a large bowl. You put the honey, the sugar and the butter into a saucepan an heat them up until it has all melted into a sweet liquid. Wait. I am coming to it.
You pour the sweet liquid over the cornflakes and you mix it together. Right? With me so far?
I can cope with all that.
Then... you have to put this mixture into little paper cake containers or patty pans or whatever you care to call them. You are supposed to do this on a basis of one table spoon into each little container.
And this is where I fail miserably. This stuff is sticky! It sticks to my paws. How does it get there? I have a tablespoon in one paw and a teaspoon (to scrape the wretched stuff off) in the other. It should all be so easy. I swear those cornflakes can dance!
I try getting my own back by putting them in the oven. That is supposed to make them stick together.
I spend hours clearing up the mess, washing the saucepan and the bowl and the implements I  used. Wiping down the bench and the sink and washing the floor takes half a day. I still find stickiness a week later.
I do this every year...just once a  year. Does Middle Cat realise how much I love her?

Saturday 22 December 2018

Dick Francis made racing

popular again I suppose. I think there was a bit of decline before the number of race-goers picked up again after his books received some attention. (You may correct me if I am wrong.)
Perhaps that is what is needed here, someone to write about racing in the same way.
The racing "industry" is apparently in shock because the new state government is, it is said, not going to pour in millions like so many governments before them. 
Industry? Isn't racing supposed to be a "sport"? Either way shouldn't it be paying for itself?
I know racing employs a lot of people but is this reason to subsidise it? Why should those wealthy enough to own (or even just part-own) a  race horse or two be given money for what should rightly be seen as their entertainment?
Now I admit I have never been to "a day at the races". I suspect I would be bored silly. I don't like the idea of horse racing so I have no doubt I will be accused of a considerable degree of bias against the whole business.
In my teens I used to go to a camp each summer. It was run by the Girl Guides Association. It was held on the grounds of a race course in the hills behind the city I live in. There were sixty children with disabilities, sixty Guides and assorted adult leaders camped around the outskirts of the race track. The children who could get themselves out of bed were often to  be found (still in their pyjamas) watching the horses go round and round the track very early in the morning.  
We never let the children get too near those horses. They were skittish, nervy over bred creatures. They were quite different from the big police "greys" who would come to visit at some point. All the children were given an opportunity to ride on one of  those. They were docile creatures who seemed to sense the needs of the children for whom we were responsible.  I was grateful for that because one child would not get on unless I sat behind him and held him - my first and last experience on the back of a horse.
You would not have got me on the back of a race horse. Those poor creatures frightened me. They still do. People say some horses like to race. I doubt it. They may like to run but I doubt they want to race. It is humans who want to race. 
The Senior Cat has been to the races just once. It was in his first year of teaching in a very tiny and remote outback community. The school inspector was due on race day and the Senior Cat told the "race committee" he couldn't attend (a) because it was a school day and (b) the inspector would  be there. This was met with smiles and nods and nothing was said. No child appeared at school and, after he had inspected the work the Senior Cat had laid out, the inspector said calmly, "Isn't it time we headed for the race track?"
Apparently the inspector, who could legitimately give a "half-holiday", always timed his visit so he could go to the outback race meeting. The Senior Cat closed the door on the one room classroom and they went to the race track where the Senior Cat spent the rest of the day being a steward of some sort. ("I was hopeless. They had to keep telling me what to do.")  There were apparently races of another sort for the children at the same event.
The horses of course were local horses, horses which were used to muster the local livestock. It was all just a bit of local fun. There was, according to the Senior Cat, some sort of obstacle race. Nobody took it seriously.  A few bets of a "case of beer" or "meal at the pub" type were laid, a few had too much to drink - and that was it.
It wasn't a huge multi-billion dollar industry (and yes, billion not million). People didn't invest millions. People didn't gamble more than they could afford on the outcome because the bets were limited.  Women didn't dress in silly hats and outrageous clothes and shoes.
Racing doesn't seem to me to be a productive industry. It only benefits a very few people and perhaps entertains a few more. It  should pay for itself, not expect a government handout. 

Friday 21 December 2018

I did part of the Christmas biscuit run

I am sure you know the sort of thing I mean. This is one of the rare occasions I bake - as opposed to cook.
I am not really interested in baking. The Senior Cat and I eat very little of that sort of thing - with an exception I will mention shortly. 
But it is a sort of tradition that several people I know get shortbread or gingerbread biscuits for Christmas.  It's just a few biscuits and a card.
I do it because they live alone and, however they might feel about Christmas, they need to know that other people care about them. And no, this is not "good" of me. I do it because I feel guilty if I don't do it. I have a family Christmas. It wouldn't matter if I didn't get a single present - although we will almost certainly exchange books - I simply have somewhere to go. 
Years ago when I was in London I had nowhere to go one Christmas and I was invited to the home of someone who is now a priest in the Church of England. I intended to go but I never made it because, in the interim, a young and very homesick African student fell off a bus. It was one of those old style buses and his hand slipped from the pole as he was about to step up. The bus jerked off. He fell. Fortunately he was not too badly hurt but he was badly bruised and grazed.  He wanted someone to be with him. Most people had left the student residence we were living in. Other people had somewhere to go - and they went. 
Of course most people were not even aware that anything had happened.  I did know because one of his fellow Zambians was supposed to take some fresh clothes over to him. That young man simply handed them over to me and left to catch a train. He "didn't like hospitals."
So I went. I didn't go to Christmas with my friend's family. I know they were prepared to put themselves out so that I could still join them but I didn't feel comfortable about leaving him alone and in pain. I hope S.... understood that back then. I am not sure I made myself very clear. I was upset and disappointed but I thought then - and now - that I had no choice.
Fast forward to the present day and that young student is now the head of a big school in Zambia. Each year I get a card reminding me of our Christmas together. 
And each year it reminds me that I was the lucky one because, even though I didn't do as I planned, I had somewhere to go. 
So yesterday I pedalled off. I did the first half of the biscuit run. Today I will attempt to do the second half. I will also call in at the local convent and leave some flowers for our friend P.... and her housemate B... because two days ago they lost the other member of their household J...  When P... rang to give me the news she said,
    "M... (who lives in another cottage on the premises) came over and suggested we cancel Christmas celebrations. I told her "No" because J.... would not want that. What if people had nowhere to go?"
And that's it. It's having somewhere to go - or be - with others.

Thursday 20 December 2018

Exam results are out

and there has been the usual "human interest" piece in the paper about the students who did exceptionally well.
I suppose it is a good thing. Perhaps it gives other students something to aim for - or perhaps not.
Ms W came "equal top" in her  year this year. She told me, "I'm glad it wasn't just me. I'd rather be friends with L(the other girl)."
She has had a few "lucky you" type comments too. Why?
She worked for her results, worked very hard.  Maybe it is a little easier to be a boarder and have that regular timetable and somebody else preparing meals? No, she still had to do the work. 
I looked at the other students, those mentioned in the paper, those some years ahead of her who have just done those final exams.
The Senior Cat read the article too.He is always interested in such things.
Their schools were mentioned.
   "Aren't there any state schools in this list?" he asked, "Oh yes, here's one."
   "There are several," I said.
   "Mmm..." The Senior Cat was not impressed. I know why.
I can remember the mornings the results came out when he was the headmaster. They results were printed in the state newspaper back then. (Nowadays you go online to get your results.) The Senior Cat would lie there until he heard the paper go thump in the front garden. He would rush out to get it. We would hear the inevitable, "Where are my glasses?" and then silence as he began to search the numbers. He would groan as a student had not done as well as the teachers had hoped and be delighted when they did do well.
The phone would start to ring as the parents and the teachers called him. I can hear him saying to parents, "X....  did do well. He worked hard" and "I'm very pleased with Y's results. She put a lot of effort in."
They wouldn't be "top" but the Senior Cat knew each one of them. He knew whether their results reflected the work they had put in and the work the teachers had put in. In a smaller rural school where everyone knew everyone this sort of knowledge was (and probably still is) commonplace. 
There were immense problems in some of the schools the Senior Cat was sent to. He was known as a "troubleshooter" - sent to difficult schools to sort problems out before being moved on to yet another.  He had teachers who barely knew the subjects they were teaching. One of my teachers at such a school admitted to me, "Cat, I am one chapter ahead of you in the textbook. Please don't ask questions because I can't answer them."
It was one of the many things about which I kept my mouth shut. It also didn't stop students earning what we called "credits" in any subjects.Why? We worked. We were expected to work.
Yes, the students whose names appeared in the paper  yesterday are undoubtedly "bright" - and they had teachers who know their subjects.  I am sure they also worked for their results. 
And there are many other students out there who have come "top" in an entirely different way. They did the very best they could.
Ms W knows that. One of her class mates is a girl who really struggles at times. She has a hearing loss.
    "You know M..... did really well. She passed everything," Ms W told me, "But boy did she work for it."
    "Did you congratulate her?" I asked
    "Of course and her mum and dad are really pleased too."
That's the way it ought to be. 
I just hope that all those students who worked to the very best of their ability get congratulated too.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Gambling really does pay

someone. I don't know who but the advertisement takes up nine full pages in this morning's paper. That's right...nine...full...pages.
I find it absolutely abhorrent that the company (or companies) in question could be allowed to announce their merger in this way - especially so close to Christmas.
Many people find themselves in debt around Christmas. They haven't spent wisely. They have spent more than they can afford. That's bad enough. Now there is a reminder of gambling, a reminder in a big way. 
Will some of those people think, "I can win. I can pay my debts when I win"? Will they then spend even more they cannot afford and dig deeper into debt? What will the consequences be?
It may not be very many people but even just one or two or three is too many. 
I have no idea how to place a racing bet and I have no desire to learn. I have never been to the races or played the poker machines. I have joined in the "Melbourne Cup Sweep" in my workplace - joined in simply because it was, in those circumstances, best to do it for work relations. (I won the packet of chocolate biscuits one year and we all shared them for morning tea the next day.) I occasionally buy raffle tickets if I know something about the way the raffle is being conducted and the cause. But, apart from that, I simply dream of someone else buying me a winning lottery ticket. I'd like the money - who wouldn't? I also know what the odds are.
So I find this morning's advertisement disturbing. On more than one occasion one of the local charity shops has asked me to help filling out forms for people who have "lost everything". They are homeless and looking for emergency housing. One woman wept as  she told me that, unless she got help, her children would not be eating that evening because the bailiffs had turned up and she could not even get back into the place that had been her home. The children were at school that day and she was frantically trying to find some help. Her husband? 
     "Probably down at the pub. If they give him a few dollars for shifting a keg or two he will just lose it again."
I think most of us dream "big" and wonder what we would do if we were very rich indeed. I know several people who are, by my standards, very wealthy indeed.
They don't gamble. 

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Airing dirty linen in public

helps nobody. I don't want to know about the latest "scandal" which has appeared on the front page of today's paper.
If it is true then it is wrong and the MP in question needs to be dealt with  quickly and firmly. Then the matter should be left alone. We don't need the salacious details. 
My guess is that it will be brought up again...and again. The media will make much of it. They will have no interest in the damage that it might do his family. What they will say is "well he brought it on himself, on his family, on his party, on the government, on his country". 
Up to a point that is true but it doesn't take into account that all humans have weaknesses, that there may be other things which have contributed to the problem - including the nature of the job.
The media will report what is convenient for them to report and they will embroider the story as much as they dare. How much can they get away with will be the question they will be asking themselves. They know it will sell if they can make it sound "interesting" enough. Accuracy in a story like this won't matter. It's what people are told first that matters. That is what sticks.
Years ago I went out for an evening with a married man. I know that sounds dreadful and some people were shocked. What happened was quite different from the way it sounds. I was close friends with the couple, both now deceased. The wife had gone to PNG to stay with her son while her daughter-in-law was in hospital with the second child. 
One morning I had a phone call from PNG.
     "Cat this is P....  B.... wants to go to the premiere of..... and he needs a partner. He would like to take you with him  but he doesn't feel he can ask you.  I am giving him permission to ask and you permission to accept. Please do it."
Now a long distance call, especially from a place like PNG was almost unheard of back then. Certainly it wasn't normal for something like that. P... was serious. Her son came on the line too and said, "Mum wants you to do it."
B... was an absolute gentleman. I accepted the invitation. We had a lovely evening together and the "arty" crowd thought nothing of it. Several  people I knew were shocked and claimed I should not have accepted the invitation even though P... had asked me to do it. One person refused to speak to me again - which says more about them than me I hope. I can imagine the media now though, "B.... seen with..." and so on. Even P.... telling them would make no difference.  That part probably would not get reported. It would spoil the story.
That may not be true of the present case but we still don't need to know the alleged details. They are none of our business. 
What is more the media is not being even handed in all this. They could but won't report another alleged matter with much more serious implications for the opposing side.
Airing dirty linen is fine it seems - as long as it is not your own.

Monday 17 December 2018

So what if the next Governor-General is

military and male? Shock! Horror! 
And Labor was complaining that it wasn't consulted? Nonsense. It is just convenient for their current leader to complain so that he can push his very strong republican leanings.
The choice is a good one - and Labor knows it. The current unsettled state of our part of the world, trade tensions, territorial tensions, social tensions and more mean that it is not simply the government which will need to be a tactical leader. Asian countries will, whether we like it or not, respect a military man more than they would a civilian. 
And Labor was consulted. They were asked to put forward suggestions. They are always asked to do this. To suggest that they were not is nonsense and they know it. Names had been going around the nation's capital - and elsewhere - for some time. I am personally aware that a Labor senator from this state had discussed the appointment with one of the Coalition senators.
And the timing of the announcement had nothing to do with trying to steal the limelight from the Labor Party conference. It had much more to do with the agreement between the current government and the opposition on who might be approached and getting their agreement to fill the role. That was quickly followed by an approach to the Queen saying, "We want this person."
Unless there is some very, very good reason indeed the Queen accepts such nominations and protocol demands that the announcement be made as soon as possible after that.
But of course it suits Labor to complain they were not consulted - that is, they didn't have the chance to make the appointment themselves. It suits them to complain a woman was not appointed. (The last woman was the MIL of the current leader of the Opposition.) 
It also suits them to put it in terms of "running to the palace and asking for permission" which is not an accurate representation of the process but one with which they can get away. 
The Leader of the Opposition is actually delighted with the timing of the announcement. It allowed him to complain about a number of things - all designed to push the "republican" agenda. At the same time it allowed him to avoid greater scrutiny of some big ticket items that have been "unanimously" passed at the national conference.  Nobody seems able to tell  those of  us who want to know where the money is coming from for these items or where the labour is coming from to fulfill these promises or whether the amounts they say they will be spending are correct. That really doesn't matter does it? Promises are only made to win government. 
The national conference of the Labor Party reminds me of those meetings they have in Beijing every so often - those meetings where grand plans are announced and everyone agrees.
My problem is that I like a lot of what they have to say but I see no way of them ever doing it. They are good ideas in theory but they simply don't work in practice. They simply aren't going to be able to raise enough money to do what they say they will do. 
Of course that is also true of the present government but their spending does seem a little more restrained.
Yes, I know. I am much too cynical.
 Or perhaps we need a new political party - "The Possible Party" perhaps?

Sunday 16 December 2018

Jerusalem as the capital

of Israel or Palestine or both is a contentious issue, very contentious.
I heard the Downunder Prime Minister described as "the biggest idiot out"  yesterday when it was announced that the government would recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Saeb Erekat, one of the chief negotiators/diplomats on the Palestinian side is reportedly furious. 
    "And it won't help relationships in Asia," the person who was speaking spluttered, "It's done nothing but harm and it will lose more votes at the next election than it gains...not that they will win anyway and serve them right."
I said nothing. I was not going to enter an argument.
But there are two things that need to be recognised about the announcement. The first is that the announcement said "West Jerusalem". It doesn't say all of Jerusalem. Further along in the announcement it said that East Jerusalem would be recognised as the capital of Palestine when the issue is resolved and Palestine achieves the status it is seeking.  The second is that it was also said that the Downunder embassy would not be shifted  until the issues were resolved.
Now if it the announcement had simply said "Jerusalem" and that the embassy would be shifted I would be opposed to it. As it is I have some reservations but perhaps it is the right thing to do. It tells both sides "this is what we believe the outcome should be and will be but we aren't going to fully acknowledge it by shifting the embassy".  (Of course it also helps to have the embassy in Tel Aviv when most other countries do as well.) 
It is a "carrot" rather than a "stick" announcement. It acknowledges reality - the reality that the Knesset meets in Jerusalem.
Our near neighbours are unhappy of course. They would like to be able to dictate our foreign policies with respect to such things. They see it as, at best, "unhelpful" and, at worst, provocative.
All the same it would be good to consider what wasn't said - and hope that this means something positive.

Saturday 15 December 2018

Advent calendars

have not been a feature of my life. 
As a family we did not celebrate Christmas like that. My mother was not one for decorating the house. She would put up the Christmas cards my parents received and that was about it. 
Now that was not entirely her fault. We spent a good many Christmases in the homes of our grandparents. This was because we were living in remote areas and the big treat for us was to come to the city for the holidays. Even though the holidays meant things like trips to the dentist we considered being in the city interesting. 
My maternal grandmother had an artificial tree that could be  put together and then taken apart. We were permitted to decorate that under strict supervision. (We were told exactly where to put each decoration.) 
My paternal grandparents had a real tree. It came in a pot and my grandfather, perhaps before his time, would take it off to be planted at the end of the festive season. Of course this meant it wasn't a particularly big tree but we all liked the fact that it was alive and, hopefully, that it survived.
But I didn't see an advent calendar until I was in my teens. Then I saw one which had been made by Dutch friends for their children. It was made from timber and looked like a house. The many windows and doors opened on to different things each year. Even at the age of thirteen I found this fascinating. I think I would still find it fascinating. It was a work of art.
I didn't see another advent calendar until I started teaching. One of the children brought a calendar to school for all of us to share. We hung it on the classroom wall. There were not enough doors for everyone to open one so we agreed the boy who had brought it in should be the one to open the doors.  
Of course there was no internet then and the school library had nothing about advent calendars in it. We simply enjoyed it and I helped the children make their own to take home.  
But  yesterday Ms W was sent an electronic advent calendar from our friend N.... in England. It is an extraordinary thing. It has music, games, puzzles and more. Ms W is not one to play computer games but she was impatient for her father to get home from work so she could challenge him.
I have just had a short email from her. "It's heaps fun and even better because I can do it with him" (her father). 
It makes me wish I had made an advent calendar with her when she was young, something she could have shared with her father then. But I am truly grateful to N... for thinking Ms W might like it.

Friday 14 December 2018

We have been bullied

long enough.
The state I live in is small in population. It isn't the smallest but it comes close to it. 
There is a vast amount of desert. In that desert there is a "prohibited area" where objects are launched into space. It is the best area in the world for doing it - and one of the busiest.
My maternal uncle went to and from the area hundreds of times in his working life. He never spoke about what he was doing there. He must have had a top level security clearance but, as children, we were told nothing. What little we knew about his work sounded dull to us. It probably was dull. Research is much less exciting than most people believe. 
My uncle has been gone for some years now but I wonder what he would make of a decision by the current federal government to base a space agency in this state instead of the nation's capital. It makes sense - unless perhaps you plan direct flights from the nation's capital to the prohibited area.
It makes sense because this state will still have the prohibited area within its borders. There are other facilities in place and two of the universities already have related courses which they can now expand on.
Or, they might be able to do all of this. Yesterday there were hints that the hoped for jobs boost might after all be denied us. Today there are more hints. There is no ringing endorsement from the Opposition.
The Opposition is expecting to walk in at the next election. They have been ahead in the opinion polls for many, many months. Their leader, the likely next Prime Minister, is unpopular but people are still willing to vote for the party. He is said to be "union bred, union fed and union led". It is a fair description. His position does depend on what the unions want.
And therein lies the problem. The choice of location is not popular with the other states.  At very least they want a slice of the space pie. They would prefer to have the lot.
When asked to endorse this particular space pie remaining in this state the Leader of the Opposition did not give any firm commitments, nor did his colleagues. Yesterday I asked one of them what the situation was and received a very evasive reply. It didn't surprise me.
I wonder what my uncle would make of this. I think he would be disappointed. This state has produced some world class scientists, including William Lawrence Bragg and his son William Henry Bragg who jointly won the 1915 Nobel Prize for physics. That might have been 103 years ago but their university has had three more Nobel Prize winners on the staff since then. They also had the Antarctic explorer Mawson and many other scientists who have made an impact on science including astronaut Andy Thomas and psychologist Michael White whose discovery of "White's illusion" changed thinking about the way we perceive the world.
We can go on nurturing those sort of people if the resources are there but we will need to fight back and fight back hard to keep our space pie

Thursday 13 December 2018

Someone has been convicted

of a dreadful crime but we can't tell you about it? There was the news on the front page this morning. Apparently this has been reported "all over the world" but not here. Really?
And yes of course the paper is appealing the decision because we have the "right to know". Do we? 
Perhaps we do in this case. I know who it is and what s/he has been convicted of - and I also assume there will be an appeal.
Now please don't misunderstand me. I have always believed that the courts should be open. People should be able to go in and out and observe what is going on.  Evidence should only be given behind closed doors in a very narrow range of circumstances.
That way we can seek out information if we need to know or, perhaps, want to know.
But do we have a right to know? 
There are murders we never hear about. They are almost always domestic. Unless there is something unusual about them or it is a "slow" news day many crimes of domestic violence which result in death never reach the media. 
There is fraud, often major tax fraud, which doesn't reach the media either. Taxation officials don't want it out there - and for good reasons. 
There are endless other things which don't get reported - because there is no "right" to know. If there was the media would be clogged with such reports. There would be no space for anything else. If someone really wants information then there are, for the most part, other ways of getting it.
And, I have said this before, if someone is convicted of an offence then all too often his or her family is convicted along with them - even friends can suffer.  Is that right? Is it right that young children should be subjected to the humiliation and hurt that can flow from the conviction of a family member? 
Over twenty years ago I was involved in helping two "street kids". They should have been at school but they came from very poor backgrounds where their parents were drug addicts, alcoholics and prisoners. They couldn't handle the treatment they were getting at school and they were at huge risk of heading the same way themselves. 
But there was something about those two boys. They found each other and they stuck together and they wanted to move on. I have to be honest and say that, at the time, I didn't think they would make it. They did but they had to move to another part of the country and they had to do things the hard way.  I saw one of them a few years back. He is married - to someone who knows his background. He doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. He and his mate own their own thriving business. They have built a good reputation for hard work and honesty. 
    "I couldn't have done it Cat if they knew what my dad did. Everyone would think I was going to be the same."
He's right. 
It's something we need to think about.

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Severe diabetes

can shorten a life. Even if it is managed as carefully as possible it presents problems every day.
I had a friend in the UK who had such problems. She was a lovely, intelligent person who supported me at a critical point. She ran a complex operation involving students and staff which often put her under a great deal of pressure. Somehow she always managed to retain her sense of humour and laugh at something once the crisis was over. She found solutions to problems when other people were throwing their hands up and saying nothing could be done. We worked in the same place and saw each other almost daily. About once a month she would finish work and come for the evening meal. 
   "H...," I would say, "If we make...."
I know other people rarely invited her out. They thought it was too difficult to provide for her but several of the students saw it differently. We enjoyed her company and her wicked sense of humour.
We kept in touch after I left the UK.  We would each write several times a year. She liked "real letters" so I wrote actual letters. 
It was some years before she admitted that her eyesight was failing.
And yes, it was the diabetes which was causing her eyesight to fail. Although she had been careful, perhaps more careful than most, diabetes was causing a range of serious issues. She just didn't want to talk about it. 
Eventually she admitted that her health was failing but even then she did not tell me just how serious it was. There was just one letter this last year. She had typed it but it was clear that she could not see what she had written because there were errors in it that she would once have corrected. Someone else had addressed the envelope. I suppose I knew then that the situation was deteriorating more than she would admit to me.
But, I sent the usual Christmas card with the annual letter. I prefaced it with a thanks to the person who read it to her. Nobody read it to her. She died a week before I sent the letter and I had a reply from her niece telling me "it was the diabetes" and that she had been in danger of losing both feet.
Diabetes is a complex and serious disease. It isn't simply a matter of taking insulin and eating what you want to eat. It is a daily issue, several times a day. It is constant monitoring. 
H...handled it well but it still caused those major issues. Perhaps it is just as well she did not have to endure further major issues  - but I, and many others, will miss her.

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Netting the trees

is not something I can do so our friend S... did it yesterday. 
I am torn two ways about this process. 
We do it to prevent the birds and the possums and the fruit rats getting the entire crop of apples, apricots and peaches. It is not possible to net the avocado tree. It is simply too big and too high. The animals get the avocados which are only ever tiny anyway. The tree is a seedling that came up by itself. 
Our peach tree is a seedling that came up by itself too. Years ago my mother said, "That's a tree. Let's leave it and see what sort it is." A few  years later it was, "I think it might be a peach tree." It was. We watered it. We watered the avocado. We planted an apricot tree and watered that. My aunt gave my mother a cumquat tree in a pot and said, "I don't think it's very happy but perhaps you can do something with it." We planted it. The Senior Cat was still able to dig holes back then.
About six years ago a friend brought two apple trees around and said, "I think they might be happier down the side of your house. There's too much shade in our yard."
He dug holes and planted them. I watered them and told them there were no large gum trees to be afraid of any more. (The friend's house is overlooked by a rather ferocious gum tree of gigantic proportions.)
The street tree did not come up by itself. It was planted by the council. It looked miserable when it arrived. The man overseeing the planting told me, "If it doesn't survive you'll get another one."
I asked him how often I needed to water it. He shrugged and said, "Someone will be along to do that."
I ignored that and watered the tree and talked to it. It's a very nice tree now - and I tell it that by watering it. 
And I know that the street tree and the other trees are home to birds and possums. It makes me feel guilty about netting them. I am wondering how the trees feel about being netted. Do they like it? Does it hurt when we pick the fruit or the possums and birds nibble and peck at it?  
Do they know when I talk to them? 

Monday 10 December 2018

So murder, rape and torture

of others are not enough to deny someone refugee status?
We have a problem here. Let me start by telling you something.
Some years ago now I was asked to help a refugee family. They knew someone I knew. I was asked to make contact and help them through the first few months of their life in a new country. 
Their English was  limited. They had little more than the clothes they stood up in and the husband bore visible scars of horrendous torture. 
He was a doctor. The regime he lived under disapproved strongly of the way he treated everyone who came to see him - regardless of their faith or other beliefs.  I won't go into further details except to say that it led to a series of well documented and horrific events. When things spiralled completely out of control they fled from where they were living and claimed refugee status in one country. It was granted but the regime located them and they had to flee again. On the second occasion they were put on a plane here and granted asylum on arrival. 
It was all done in the proper, accepted way. I was happy to help and they have repaid the help they were given by many people over and over again.
But I remember the first time I went to the place they were living in. The husband was watching the news and called out to his wife.
She went gray.  I followed her into the next room at a glance from her.
All I could see was a story about someone who was calling himself a "refugee"  being interviewed. He was telling a story about how he had been tortured and had to flee.
The husband zapped the set off and sat there looking as distressed as his wife. After a moment though they tried to explain with their limited English. The man being interviewed was one of the people who had tortured the husband. He was also a known murderer and had also brutally raped a number of women. He wasn't a member of the armed services because he had a medical issue but it hadn't stopped him from participating. Nothing had happened to him while he was in favour with the regime. It seemed likely that he was now out of favour and had fled in fear of his own life. He was claiming refugee status. 
And he would almost certainly have been granted it because, in his own country, he would have been put to death. This man had travelled across more than one country to evade justice. The other family had to flee twice simply because the husband, a doctor, had treated "the enemy" and saved lives.
There is legislation that will go before parliament again next year which might make it even easier for people like the torturer to gain asylum. Unless someone is a member of a terrorist organisation it is going to be difficult to deny them the right to seek asylum. We, rightly, don't have the death penalty in this country. 
So what do we do with those who have committed crimes and would face it in their own country?


Sunday 9 December 2018

Not open

on Saturday afternoons?
I suppose it is because it is December and friends decide it is time to "catch up" for coffee and say things like, "Come on Cat, we are taking you out."
That's nice. I appreciate it. So yesterday I was collected by two friends and we went off to try and find - somewhere to sit and chat for an hour over coffee or tea or whatever else we felt like drinking which was not alcoholic and where it would be quiet enough to chat. 
We avoided the local shopping centre - because there would be people going past saying things like "Hello J...." and "Hello G...." and then, worse, "Hello Cat..." and stopping to talk to us when we wanted to talk to each other.
      "There's one down the road," I said when J... asked where we should go.
We go down there.'s dark. They are closing up. 
      "Right, I know another one," says J... and we are off again in her car.
No, that's closed.  It doesn't open at all on Saturdays. We go on.
There's a likely looking spot. Someone is sitting at a table reading the paper. 
We go in.
    "Sorry, we're just closing."
    "Right," says J...., "We are going to..... I know that's open."
And it is. 
We order. We are served. We sit and chat. It's fairly quiet. 
A while later I notice that one of the staff is gradually closing things up. I catch her eye . Yes, they are closing too.
She comes over to the table to collect our things and apologises.
    "I left you as long as I could."
And I know she has because everything else is clean and tidy. It's a slightly out of the way place but popular - and is it any wonder if that's their attitude towards customers?
But why were so many places not open on a Saturday afternoon? I know it is not always possible but two of the places we tried are in busy locations. They would surely do well then. Are Sunday mornings really busier than Saturday afternoons?
I don't suppose it matters. We found a nice place. We enjoyed ourselves... and I brought home a mince pie for the Senior Cat.

Saturday 8 December 2018

Moving house -

no, not us but our neighbours across the way.
They have been good neighbours, the very best we could hope for. Several years back they even insisted we come to Christmas dinner. (It was very hot and Middle Cat's Greek family was meeting a very long distance away. The Senior Cat and I were going to have a quiet day at home.)
Over the years V.... has shortened the Senior Cat's work trousers, invited us to both their 70th  birthday parties, to afternoon tea on several occasions. I have tried to return the hospitality - largely unsuccessfully. V.... likes to entertain. She knows I find it difficult. They have both checked on the Senior Cat if I have needed to be out for more than a few hours.
Yes. Those sort of neighbours. 
I have taken their bins in and collected their mail when they have been away on holiday. We have a key for their place - never used except by M.... when he locked himself out. They know how to access a key to our place. They are the third people on the emergency call list for the Senior Cat's security pendant.
We won't replace them easily. The young couple who live next to them are people we would trust as much but they aren't at home in the way V... and M... are home. 
But these things happen. They want to go "somewhere smaller". The duplex they live in is already small but V... wants something smaller still. 
What they have found would suit me nicely. It has two bedrooms. I could use one as my workroom. It is centrally located and within easy reach of the train station, the shopping centre (also a doctor and dentist) and the library.  Yes, I am a little envious - but only because I know I will need to move when the Senior Cat is no longer with us. It's something I don't want to happen.
I don't envy them having to pack and move even that short distance - and they don't have a shed full of tools and timber to pack or anything like the same number of books. 
I don't want them to move. It reminds me of the enormity of the task ahead of me when I need to move.
I started to clear some things out this year. I don't do New Year's resolutions -  but I might try to clear some more things out. 

Friday 7 December 2018

Parliament was a mess

yesterday. It was the last sitting day of the year. Instead of getting things done and tidied up before going "home" for the holidays they were abusing one another again. 
There was legislation that needed to be passed and didn't get passed. There is legislation that will probably never be passed by this government but it will reappear in a slightly different form under the next government. They oppose it now but they know that they will need to do very much the same thing. 
I am going to endeavour to cease worrying about such things for now because it is time to start drawing up the calendar for next year.  Remember? I do one for the entire year on a large sheet of light cardboard.
Middle Cat said to me, "I've put some appointments on the 'fridge". (Our 'fridge is old enough that it is metal and you can still use magnets.) 
I know what she was really saying, "You lazy cat. You still haven't  made a new calendar and there are things that need to go on it."
Yes.  I know that. 
I looked at this year's calendar. There are actually blank days on that. When my mother was alive there were almost never blank days. She filled them with meetings, groups, visiting, visitors and baby sitting/child minding. Her "retirement" was as busy as her working life. 
The Senior Cat was busy too - although he spent more time in the garden and in the shed. He made things. He still does when he can.
Not that long ago he admitted to me that, even if he could, he would not want to do those things again. He's had enough of meetings and being the President of this and the Secretary of that or having to get things finished or having to entertain people my mother liked but who did not really interest him. I think he would have liked a slightly quieter retirement and more time in his beloved shed.
And I thought of all those politicians. Will some of them regret the time they spent in parliament? Do any of them feel they have "had enough" and move on? Has the job ceased to really interest them?
Could we possibly be rid of some of those who have been there for years but are really contributing very little?
Many groups have limits on the number of years people can hold positions within them. Perhaps it is time we limited the number of years people can sit in parliament? Would they then get on with the job?

Thursday 6 December 2018

Christmas shopping

and how many "sleeps"? I don't dare count.
I went shopping with Middle Cat yesterday. We went off to one of those large shopping centres...and actually managed to find a park. I suppose that was something.
We went because we knew there would be one of those "pop-up" type shops in the centre of one of the aisles and that it would be selling calendars. These are not just any calendars but a particular type - the sort where you tear off a page each day and, hopefully, laugh at the next caption or cartoon or joke. 
We prowled in from the car park, found a small shopping trolley abandoned by someone (in the wrong place) and took it with us. We went up two lots of "travelator" and nearly caused the elderly woman in front of us to fall over. No, it was not my fault. The elderly woman had simply stopped at the bottom and was digging into her purse. She was in the way. It meant the people behind us bumped into us as well. 
This is the sort of thing that puts me off completely but we continued on. We found the pop-up place. We bought the calendars for the people to whom the Senior Cat gives small gifts. Then Middle Cat said,
      "I need trousers for S...." 
My BIL hates shopping as much as I do but I trailed after Middle Cat. I stood there. I stared at the passing parade. I saw three people I know. 
No, nothing in that place...or that one...or that one. I suggest another place. We go in the wrong direction. Middle Cat asks at "information." We trail back. We stop for a drink on the way because Middle Cat has not had lunch. We find the other shop. I find a shirt for the Senior Cat - much needed and a very reasonable price.  Middle Cat finds trousers and a shirt for S... We buy them and I am thinking we might be able to go home. No. Middle Cat finds another present she needs and then sees something that "might be useful". I wait. I wait. I wait. I see two more people I know. This city really is a very small place.
       "I think we should go," Middle Cat tells me. I cheer silently and follow her. Stop. She is looking in a window. I wait again.
       "They are cheaper at..." someone tells her. 
We backtrack. I wait. Middle Cat comes back shaking her head and saying, "Similar but not quite the same and not such good quality."
We go back to the previous shop. I wait..
Middle Cat buys something. I must admit it is nice and it will suit the recipient. 
We get to the car and put things in the back. Middle Cat returns the trolley to the right place. We head home and into the house. It's hot and the Senior Cat hasn't been sure how to turn the cooling system on. I do it and wave Middle Cat off after she has consumed two glasses of water. All I want to do is flop on the mat and sleep.
I am going to finish my Christmas shopping by going to the local bookshop. It is so much simpler.