Wednesday 31 January 2018

Automated telephone call

number six.
Oh, they are trying hard. I am wondering whether they will keep trying until I give in and "answer" their "survey".
I tried a little experiment on automated telephone call number five. I listened to the first "question". It gave five options - press one of buttons one to five. I pressed button six. 
    "That is not a valid response." 
And the whole thing started over again. I put the phone down. It might have been interesting to hear how whichever political party it was had worded their questions but I wasn't going to give them the satisfaction of any replies.
I wonder how effective this sort of push-polling is? The political parties must consider it is worth setting it up. I assume it is relatively cheap - certainly cheaper than sending something out in the post if you don't have an army of people to put things in letter boxes. 
The son of a neighbour is standing for one of the smaller political parties. We were invited to the fundraising dinner on Friday night. Fortunately he isn't standing for our electorate. I could not in all conscience vote for the party concerned. Equally fortunately there was no real belief we would attend.
       "Why on earth is he doing it?" the Senior Cat asked me, "He's a nice man but nobody knows him."
He is a nice man. I like him. I can only assume he feels passionately about the causes the party stands for. I am not going to raise the topic of automated telephone calls with him or with his parents.  If his party is doing it too bad. I am not going to answer those calls.
Someone said to me yesterday that she regards those calls as an intrusion. The phone is there for her convenience not theirs.
Our phone is here for our convenience too. We don't actually use it a lot. If people have a legitimate reason to get in touch that's fine. I don't regard "vote for me" as a legitimate reason to contact me directly in that underhand way.  If you want to advertise yourself then say, "I'm from ABYZ party and I'd like to talk to you." 
I might listen - but only to a live person who is prepared to answer my questions.

Tuesday 30 January 2018

The video clip which showed Jack Ma

in Davos talking about the need for children to be taught more than facts and digital technology is something all educators need to see.
He was talking about the way in which machines have and will take over so many things humans now do - but they can't take over the creation of art, music, literature and more.
It was timely. School went back yesterday. I was talking to someone last week who mentioned that her young neighbour is about to start high school. The young neighbour is a lovely girl and highly creative. She is already a skilled crafts person. Rather than watch television she will be busy creating something. The person I was talking to said that this young girl had spent time covering books, labelling them, and making sure that everything was ready. She is excited to be starting high school.
I hope she's not disappointed. She's intelligent - and that produces a problem of its own. I know what's going to happen. It is what has happened to MsW. There will be pressure on her to do only "academic" subjects. Music is an "extra". Drama is "extra-curricular". Art is something to be done in your "spare time". Sport is allowed - as long as you are playing for the school team - but the other activities are considered "important" but not so important that they are part of the school curriculum.  This is the unspoken attitude even in MsW's school where these things do have a greater prominence than in most schools.  
The teachers don't like it. MsW's principal is opposed to it but has told me, "One of the problems is that we are expected to get results. We are expected to get as many girls into university as possible."
The pressure on her and her teachers is enormous.
There's "Art Club" after school now. It is so popular they have had to run two groups - and yes, the two teachers have to stay to run it. The head of the boarding house also runs a craft group. MsW has been helping her fellow boarders do some origami on Sunday evenings. There were only a couple of others interested at the beginning, now most of them want to try. Of course it helps when television and other screen time is restricted and access to phones is limited. 
And it seems that everywhere is it is much the same. School is about "the subjects which will get you a job". Post-secondary education is the same. It is all work and career oriented. If you can find time to do a bit of creative writing, sketching, drama, music, or anything else "creative" then that's your good luck.
I am wondering how long it is going to take for the wheel to turn and for people to realise that Jack Ma,  who has founded an immense  business empire, is right. 
Our students will do better if they are encouraged to be creative.

Monday 29 January 2018

Would anyone care for a sauna?

It rained in the thanks to those of you in Upover who pushed a little rain in our direction. We needed it. We need more.
What we don't need is the heat that has remained with it.
It puzzles me how people can enjoy living in the tropics. "Hot" isn't something I enjoy. "Hot and wet" is worse, much worse. I am not a happy cat.
I was born on a hot day and my late mother said I complained about the heat then. Apparently I succumbed to one heat rash after another and that probably made me feel uncomfortable and miserable.
The Senior Cat isn't much better. He was reminiscing yesterday about the way his mother managed on nothing more than a tiny "personal" fan. I remember it as being black and very small.
But we both agreed "the house was different". It was.
The house my paternal grandparents lived in was a solid stone structure. There were verandahs to the front,back and one side. The other side was close to, and thus protected by, a neighbour's house.
It took a long time for my grandparent's home to "warm up" in the summer. Only a prolonged heat wave would make it unbearable. Of course they also had the advantage of trees and the "buffalo grass" lawn and the sea not too far away. All those things made a significant difference. We spent hours playing on the lawn - when we weren't down on the beach.
Our house does not have the wide verandahs that the first settlers favoured. Houses simply don't get built like that any more.  Still, our house is old enough to have small eaves and every year the glory vine grows enough to help keep the sun off the northern side of the house. People comment on the difference that makes. 
And, we have air-conditioning now. The Senior Cat needs it and, I have to confess, I like it. Still, the Senior Cat was wondering if he would need it in the house his parents owned. Are summers really warmer? He wondered about that. We came to the conclusion they might be.
But the other thing is those verandahs and those eaves. The duplexes which have been built opposite have no eaves at all. They get the full afternoon sun. The new owners, with the young family, on one side have planted their tiny front garden with things designed to eventually grow and block out some of that sun - but it will take a while. 
     "We were lucky to get this place but why they couldn't at least do something..." M... told me the other day. He isn't impressed with modern house design although he knows why places are built the way they are. It's all to do with the amount of internal space that can be made available for the same cost - and how much people will be asked to pay in rates and taxes as a consequence. People are living in bigger houses on smaller pieces of land. There is no room to plant that lawn which helps to keep the place cool and those verandahs have long since gone.
Of course that means that people also use more electricity and that costs more too. 
Perhaps it is time to change the way we think about building houses. Those wide verandahs were environmentally responsible weren't they? And those lawns were great places to play on.

Sunday 28 January 2018

It is with the greatest reluctance

that I am asking the Guardian to removed a post I made. I am not doing this by choice but because the comments that followed it were, to say the least, vile. 
I suppose I should have learned by now. I should simply stop posting anything there - although it has been a good while since I put anything up - and perhaps I should simply stop looking at their website. (The problem is that it can, at times, be useful to know what they are saying about a situation.) 
I don't know what happened to the so-called "moderation".  They should simply not have been letting that sort of thing through.  It was not what the so-called "respondents" had to say about me but the way they ridiculed the idea of an indigenous friend that was so appalling. 
These are the same people who are, if their other comments on other issues are anything to go by, all too ready to criticise anyone who doesn't fully agree with them. The government naturally gets a bashing. That's to be expected. But a lot of other people get a bashing too. Meanings are deliberately misinterpreted, words are twisted... and much more. 
It is clear they see this as some sort of sport. Their "contributions" are prolific. They must spend hours each day at the website finding snide remarks to make. 
They don't contribute to debate in any meaningful way. That apparently isn't their intention. Their intention appears to be the opposite. They are there to put people down, to stifle any opposing point of view. 
It is the sort of behaviour which will eventually cause such sites to close for comments. That may take time to occur but it will eventually occur. I am not sure they recognise this. They are almost certainly having too much "fun". They are cowards and bullies - of the worst sort.  It is the sort of on-line behaviour that encourages much younger people to bully and make the lives of their peers a misery - so much so that some of them end up taking their own lives because they feel so bad about themselves. 
I have asked that the post be taken down because the responses were disrespectful to the memory of an indigenous woman. They upset her family (who approved of my original post). I am upset because I don't believe I should have had to ask the original post to be removed. It simply presented an alternative way and rather wonderful way of viewing something which should bind us all together - our flag.
It is time the respondents were told their behaviour is unacceptable.

Saturday 27 January 2018

Change or accept?

There have been more demands to "change the flag". Someone left me a twitter message to say that the "butcher's apron" in the corner needed to be removed.
I have almost reached screaming pitch over all this nonsense. Our flag represents our past, our present and - I hope - our future.
The flag has the "Union Jack" in the upper left hand corner and the rest of it is composed of the stars of the Southern Cross. 
"Think about it," I told the man who wants to change it. Yes, the  Union Jack represents the first settlers but to call the Union Jack a "butcher's apron" is nonsense. Claims of "genocide" are nonsense. That isn't to say awful things didn't happen but that story of deliberately giving "measles infested blankets" to the indigenous is simply not true. There is no evidence for it. The idea that Captain Philip set about deliberately wiping out the local indigenous population is absolute nonsense. But, there are still people who believe these things. They talk about "our shameful past" and demand we make "reparations", return land, acknowledge ownership and much more. 
Even if everything which is said was true I am not responsible for what people did 230 years ago. If that was true - where would you stop? Why not make me responsible for something that happened one or ten or a hundred or a thousand years ago  even though I am in no way related to, or had any control over the events which occurred or the decisions which were made? My own ancestors were living in the north of Scotland. They had their own problems. The decision to transport convicts to Botany Bay  had nothing to do with them. But, I am told, I somehow have to be held accountable for the decision?
But, if we go back to the flag, I told this man to take a careful look at it. If he did he might see something that most people seem to be unaware is even there. Yes, those stars. 
Those stars take up the major part of the flag. My late friend R... once explained them to me this way, "Those stars represent the Dreaming Cat. The Dreaming belongs to all of us, you and me and everyone else." R... saw the Union Jack as the notion that nations come together and wanted it to remain there too. It may not be the official version but it is the best explanation I have ever heard of
R...., an indigenous woman through and through, did not want the flag changed. Her family did not want to see it changed. My indigenous friends don't want to see it changed. They tend to view the flag much as R.... viewed it - many of them no doubt influenced by her strong view of it and handing it on to their children.
Changing the flag won't change history. It won't make us something different, something we aren't. Accepting R...'s interpretation of the flag may actually bring us all closer together.

Friday 26 January 2018

The "Australian of the Year"

is a quantum physicist - and female.
I am pleased that a female scientist has been recognised in this way but it also makes me aware that this "award" is highly political.
Yes Professor Michelle Simmons is working on a "super computer" - something that can solve thousands upon thousands upon thousands of possibilities at once.  She is working on the sort of computer that will be able to solve the sort of problems that could take humans thousands of years to solve. 
I only have a vague idea of the sort of thing she is doing. I can imagine there are all sorts of applications in science - and that many of them will be of benefit to humanity.
But what of the good professor herself? Is she going to be able to carry on with both roles this coming year? From today she will be expected to not just do her research, teach and supervise but give time to being a role model, encourage, lecture across the country, pronounce on all manner of things - and not all of them related to her work - and generally give up more time than most people recognise.
Oh yes, being the "Bod of the Year" as someone described it to me has a definite downside for someone in her position. It's going to be a tough year. 
Three years ago a friend of mine got an AO. It wasn't entirely unexpected and it was deserved. It hasn't made a great deal of difference to her life. She was asked to give a few more speeches, went on working on what she had been working on and gave me a rueful shrug at the fuss made by family and friends. As she pointed out it was nothing like being "Bod of the Year" and she was glad nobody had ever come close to suggesting she might be.
      "It's a lot of work."
I wonder how many people will even recognise that?

Thursday 25 January 2018

I can only do one thing

at a time.
Do you remember that "exercise" where you had to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time? Or wast it vice-versa? Or were you supposed to be able to do it two ways? 
I don't think Sister S.... who taught us all music all those years ago actually gave my brother and sisters that as an exercise. She certainly didn't try with me as I wasn't learning to actually play an instrument.
The Senior Cat tells me he always sits in a certain place in church where he can watch the organist. Her ability fascinates him. "I don't know how she can move both hands and both feet all in different places - the right places."
I don't know either but I don't know it in an entirely different sort of way. It is one of those things I have never experienced.  I am quite able to accept that L...(the organist) can do these things. I have seen other people do it. What is more I am quite ready to accept that she can read a musical score and hear the music - as she interprets it. For some years I caught the same morning train as Middle Cat's music lecturer in teacher training college. He would, more often than not, be reading a score. We once talked about his capacity to hear what was on the page. Unlike him I have to know a piece of music well to be able to read it at all. Unless I know it I have only the vaguest idea of what it might sound like. The Senior Cat admits he has no idea at all. He used to be able to read a simple treble line but he claims to have forgotten altogether. 
Reading and doing  - playing the instrument - is magical. 
I remember learning to read braille as well. It was something I needed to know so I prowled off and was taught by a man who was skilled in the art of writing not just braille but music in braille. 
    "Cat, it isn't enough to learn what  this looks like. You need to know what it feels like." 
Now I learned to read braille in my early teens. braille was written from right to left with a stylus making the little dots in the cardboard and then flipped over and read from left to right. Being a left handed cat I can write right to left just as badly as I can write from left to right. That wasn't too bad but trying to "read" the little dots with my finger tips? That was another story altogether. Trying to read it with two hands the way a good braille reader does was beyond me. I never did master the music side of braille but I did manage to learn enough to help the other teen who needed help...and, if I could remember it, I would probably still read braille back to front with one paw following the dots under the page from right to left. I tell myself that it was a little like reading music and playing the instrument. 
Braille is relatively simple and nobody ever asked me to read it while I was walking. Sign language is something else. I have forgotten almost all I ever knew. I rarely use it these days. Most of my conversations are short, social and simply polite greetings. Signing is a two handed activity and, even standing still, it is something I find incredibly difficult. But I watched a couple in the shopping centre recently. They were walking along signing to each other - a furious argument if I read any of it correctly. What is more they managed to do that and not bump into anyone else - which is more than those sending a text message to someone can do. How do they do it?
If you have never experienced something you need to be able to imagine it at some level to have any concept of it. Someone said to me of something recently, "I'm surprised you know that Cat. You've never been able to do it."  The answer was I think that I had used my "imagination".  It made me wonder what "imagination" really is.
I wonder too whether this isn't part of learning to do things. You need, even if unconsciously, to "imagine" what is going to happen. It isn't just a matter of reacting to what happens but knowing in a certain way what might happen.
I need to think about this because I need to imagine something so I can write about it.

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Missing children

must be one of the worst nightmares for parents. I can't even begin to comprehend how bad it must be to have your child go missing, thought - or known - to be abducted by a stranger and almost certainly sexually abused and then murdered. If you don't know for certain then there must always be that tiny hope that, one day, there will be a knock at the door and your child will appear.
It must be bad enough when a child leaves home and you know they have gone but you know that they did so of their own volition.
I know someone whose child was murdered and another whose son committed suicide. They won't ever fully "get over" those events.  They have perhaps learned to live with them in their own way but their children and what happened to them are part of each day of their lives. 
     "Sometimes I just stop for no reason and say S.... and it hurts! What must it be like for them?" one of them told me in a quiet but anguished voice yesterday. We were both in the library and she had just heard that there was going to be a new search for the three Beaumont children, children who went missing fifty  years. Nobody knows - yet. How did someone manage to abduct three children from a trip to the beach without someone noticing something? How did someone manage to, presumably, murder three children and hide their bodies and not get caught? It seems incomprehensible.
Two more young girls went missing later and their whereabouts has not been discovered either. It doesn't make sense. The sister of one is still hoping to find out. No doubt other family members are too. Those involved in the searches will always wonder. Did I miss something? Could I have done this instead of that? Is there a question I should have asked of one of the people I interviewed? If...if...if...  It must go on forever.
I know other people whose children have simply disappeared from view. They know their children are alive but they have had no contact with them for years. One of them once told me, of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann,  "It doesn't feel like it but I suppose we're the lucky ones compared with the parents of children who disappear like that." 
The parents of the Beaumont children are frail and elderly now. They must know they won't see their children again, must hope that the new site being explored will reveal something - but, if it does, then a tiny little hope will also be extinguished forever.

Tuesday 23 January 2018

The date of Australia Day

is under "debate" again. It's Australia Day on the 26th January and this year the demands to "change the date" appear to be more strident - at least in the media.
I have my doubts as to whether the vast majority of the population is interested or cares in the least. It's a holiday, an excuse not to go to work, an excuse to have a BBQ and a beer. Ask people what the day is supposed to commemorate and many of them would have only a vague idea. 
I am not too sure what it is supposed to commemorate myself. I am not sure that you can have a "national" day in a country which is so determinedly "multi-cultural". It seems slightly ridiculous.
I suppose we should really be celebrating "Federation Day" - the day on which the states came together under the Australian Constitution in 1901. That might make more sense.
But both the major political parties say there are no plans to change the date.
One of the reasons put forward for changing it is that some indigenous Australians claim it is "Invasion Day".  They are in the minority but they are likely to be heard. Such claims make good media copy. 
Was it an invasion? I suppose it depends on how you interpret the word. Yes, a small fleet landed and a small number of people settled permanently. Yes, they took over a very small part of a vast land, a small part that belonged to someone else. We now see that as wrong but, at the time, it was thought that the land did not "belong" to anyone.  It wasn't until the "Mabo" (Mabo v Queensland (No 2) case in 1992 that land ownership by the indigenous people of Australia and the Torres Strait was recognised. It was a complex case and the decision is a complex one. It wasn't simply, "Yes, you own that and we took it away." The decision in the case actually took more than twelve months to be handed down. There had been years of work prior to that.
But what would have happened if the First Fleet had not landed. A former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, recently suggested that the colonisation of the country was a good thing for the indigenous people. He was promptly howled down. Statements were made about the theft of the country, "massacres", "genocide" and more.
Such statements show little understanding or knowledge of the history of the country. I know people who still believe that "measles infested blankets" were deliberately handed out to the local tribes. Historians have been able to find no evidence of that. There has been argument over whether small pox or chicken pox caused many of the deaths but the idea that it was a deliberate act has never been proven. What is much more likely is that the local tribes were simply not immune to the diseases brought by the First Fleet and that it was the highly contagious chicken pox virus which was responsible. It would have taken just one infectious person from the First Fleet in close contact to be responsible.
If it had not happened when it did then colonisation would have happened soon after. It might have been the Dutch or the French or perhaps people from Indonesia or China who landed and laid claim to what was a sparsely populated land mass. There were perhaps thousands of small tribes, some of whom had connections to others but whose languages and cultures differed. It wasn't a unified country with a common language and culture. 
A lot of that has been lost and humanity is the poorer for it but, for the most part, it wasn't deliberate. 
It certainly changed the way of life of the indigenous peoples but trying to hold present day people responsible for the acts of others more than 200 years ago  isn't helpful.
Teaching that view of the past and demanding a change in the date for those reasons isn't helping anyone.   

Monday 22 January 2018

The proposed testing of young children

in England was under discussion on Facebook yesterday. It followed an article in the Guardian which suggested the testing of very young children was verging on "immoral".
I certainly think it is wrong. I know one reader of this blog will be tempted to point out to me that there are places where children as young as five are already at work. That doesn't make it right. A five year old should not be at work. They may do some work but working full time at the age of five, particularly in the conditions they work on, is wrong.
But testing children at five - and long before that - isn't helping either. I know there are nursery schools in Japan which families fight to get their children into because of the rigid regime designed to ensure that the children attending it will get into the "best" schools and then into the "best" high schools and then into the universities. The son of the Japanese ambassador of the day told me all this and more - and how glad he was that he had been schooled in Downunder and was at university here. No, he wasn't lazy. He was just well aware that the pressure to succeed was not as great.
Thirty plus years later it has become a different story. 
Pre-school and kindergarten are now supposed to be a constant, supervised learning experience. Children are constantly being told what to do and how to do it. "Imagination" is actually guided by an adult. Books are about "facts" and "experiences". Politically incorrect nursery rhymes and fairy stories are being abandoned in favour of rhymes about climate change, animal care, racial differences and customs. If you learn to use a pair of scissors it is only as a one-on-one experience with an adult and you also colour that part of the picture red because the teacher tells you to do that - even if you want to colour it blue. 
Teachers now teach to the test. If the children in their class fail then they fail too. They must be doing something wrong.
When I was teaching I remember one of the boys coming in one morning looking white and obviously close to tears. 
      "Want to talk J....," I asked him quietly. 
He shook his head and sat down in his seat. After a moment though he got up and came up to me and muttered, "My gran died."
Then he burst into tears.
I stood there and hugged him briefly - yes, I know but it was in full view of those members of the class who had already arrived.
     "May I tell them?"
He shrugged and then nodded. So, when we were all ready to start the morning's work I told them what had happened. We spent the rest of the time up until the morning break talking about it. The work I had planned went undone. I wondered what their parents would have to say, whether I had done the right thing. 
It seemed though that I had. Not one parent objected. I actually had a couple of notes the following morning thanking me for confronting a "difficult" issue. 
I still have no idea how much good it did in the end but I don't think that time was wasted. It could have been spent on arithmetic and spelling but we spent it on life and death instead. We did the work later and missed a couple of "weekly tests" instead. 
I could not do that now for any number of reasons  - but I am glad I could do it then.

Sunday 21 January 2018

School uniform

sizes have apparently increased - to accommodate the expanding waistlines of students.
Ms W informed me of this in an email yesterday. She is currently in Italy with her father and enjoying every moment of it if her messages to me are to be believed. But yesterday's email was also a reminder that she will be back at school at the beginning of February.
       "I need new school shoes and new sports shorts only the size that is long enough is probably too wide."
Ms W is of average height. Ms W is not fat. If anything she is on the "skinny" side. Her father is not fat either. Both of them have problems finding clothes that fit. 
Fifty years ago they would both have been considered "average". Commercially made clothes would have fitted without too much trouble.   
My mother and my grandmothers made most of their own clothes, my clothes and the clothes of my siblings and my cousins. I also inherited clothes from other children. The winter coats I wore were passed on to my mother for me from a woman who had three girls. Her first two girls, older than I was, wore them first. Then I wore it for a winter before it was passed back to her for her third girl. Then it was passed back to my mother for Middle Cat and then the Black Cat. My brother's winter coats were made from cloth that my grandfather had available in his tailoring business and did a similar amount of duty with another family of boys.
My box pleated school tunics - for those of you old enough to remember those  horrendous garments - lasted for years. I never seemed to grow fatter or much taller. They were passed on to another child and then back to my mother for Middle Cat and then the Black Cat before another child wore them.
The thing about all this was not just the quality of the cloth and the care taken of the garment but the curious fact that none of us were fat. The garments might be "taken up" or "let down" but they fitted us at least after a fashion. 
I don't think it would be as easy to do that now. There are many more children who are considered to be "obese". Others who are now "average" would have been considered to be verging on "fat" when I was a child. 
Before I started school I remember standing in the local haberdashery store not far from my paternal grandmother's home while she and my mother looked at patterns to see what was being made. (My mother drafted any patterns herself after that using the "Enid Gilchrist" books and adapting them.) There were patterns for "chubby" children. I wanted to know what the word meant and my mother saying, "Fat. You aren't fat. You're thin which is how you should be."
I wish the same was true now. I'd still fit into an "average" uniform.

Saturday 20 January 2018

Migration has been

an essential part of Downunder's present makeup. 
My great-grandparents were migrants. My great-grandfather was a ship's pilot and marine cartographer. He discovered the city I live in on a trip in which his best friend was washed overboard in a terrifying storm. The experience reportedly left him shattered and seeking quieter waters than the Bay of Biscay. 
He  married his best friend's sister and they made a home for themselves in the port area of the city. He went on working as a ship's pilot and he mapped the waters right along the gulf and a number of other places. Until computers and sophisticated equipment took over his maps were the initial reference point on which all future maps were based. 
Looked at like that his contribution to the economy of the state was enormous. His work helped immensely in getting goods in and out of the state. 
From all accounts I imagine he never saw it that way. He was simply doing his job. His wife did her job - bringing up eleven children and acting as an untrained, unpaid social worker to the maritime community. There was plenty for her to do too.  The Senior Cat remembers people being constantly in and out of her house and his aunts, her daughters, being told to put extra potatoes in the pot because someone who needed a meal would be joining them. They may both have been rather "dour" Scots but they were
apparently extraordinarily accepting of people from different races, religions, and cultural backgrounds. I suspect that, at least on the part of my great-grandfather, it had something to do with the travelling he had done as a sailor.
But I am wondering now how migration and migration patterns have changed since then. My great-grandparents were not well off. They came from fishing and crofting communities in the far north of Scotland. Yes, they probably wanted more than they had and the climate probably seemed far superior to that of the far north. They came prepared to work hard because they had worked hard all their lives and everyone around them worked hard. If you didn't work you didn't eat.There was pretty well full employment there and here at the time.  There were no social services as such. The church or the laird provided help there and the church provided help here.  Now there are government funded social welfare services. All too often they are difficult to access and impersonal. Work is harder to obtain. Jobs that once required little or no training have largely ceased to exist. Those who migrate often come from troubled backgrounds and are seeking to escape conflict.
I thought of all this yesterday when someone phoned me and asked for some advice with respect to a migrant whose papers had landed on his desk. 
     "I don't think he really wants to be here," I was told. 
I wonder if my great-grandparents ever felt like that? They must have felt homesick at times but did they ever regret coming? I'll never know. I wonder how they would feel now. I'll never know that either. 

Friday 19 January 2018

It is too hot to play sport

or be outside unless it is absolutely essential.
Yesterday hit 44'C at this tiny spot on the planet. I kept a close eye on the Senior Cat. He put his nose outside for no more than a minute and came back in with his tail drooping. He likes to be OUT and DOING and neither was possible.
Today will be no better. Tomorrow might drop to the mid-thirties if we are lucky. I have just looked at the forecast for the rest of the week and it is going to go on being too hot to be out. I will need to do some essential shopping but I will do it as early as possible.
Middle Cat has strong views about people being out and about in the heat. 
      "Heat stroke can lead to an ordinary stroke," she has told the Senior Cat more than once. Doctor-Nephew Cat has backed her up warning his grandfather, "Don't go out in the heat."
He sighs and is sensible and stays inside but he also has a severe case of "cabin fever". He's read things and watched video clips about things he is thinking about on his i-pad. He has folded origami and had naps in the afternoon. He would prefer to be doing "gardening" (very slow and little of it but still OUT) and doing "things" in his shed (which is OUT - at least, out of the house).
His shed can reach 60'C+ in the heat. It is just an unlined tin shed.
Nobody could work out there for long. 
So why are people playing tennis - at the Australian Open no less - and tearing around on bicycles - at the Tour Downunder? It's plain outright stupid. Oh yes, they cut short part of the bicycle race and cancelled something else but part of the race went on and the tennis didn't stop.
Is it going to take the death or permanent disability of someone due to a stroke brought on by the heat before they cancel these events? I know, it's money. People have paid to come and see these things. It costs a lot of money to run them.  You can't "disappoint" the public - who are equally foolish to be out watching these things in the heat.
I will shortly pedal up to the supermarket and get milk and be thankful for the "cooler bag" and visit the green grocer for some more lettuce and tomatoes and other "salad" ingredients. After that it will be good to get home and, cabin fever or not, we will stay IN.

Thursday 18 January 2018

Bullying in schools is,

if the media is to be believed, worse than ever. The media also places a lot of the blame on social media. Whether that is true or not I don't know.  
There has also been a government initiated "Safe Schools" program which was supposed to stop the bullying of children who  have different sexual preferences and another program to stop the bullying of children who are intellectually, psychologically or physically different.
I doubt they work. In some instances they may even exacerbate the problems.
With an election coming up the current opposition has announced plans to scrap the Safe Schools program. It's been controversial from the start. There have been claims that there is a hidden agenda in the program. Certainly some of the exercises which students have been required to participate in are not what I would want my children to be part of.
I wonder what the Senior Cat would have done as the head of a school. He would have been required to have the program in his school. He would not have liked the tone of it. I can't think of a single teacher who taught me who would have been comfortable teaching it.  I also know many other current teachers who are not comfortable about it.
It's gone too far. Asking children or adolescents to "role play" something as intimate and personal as "different sexuality" is not like asking them to imagine the loss of sight or hearing or giving them a book written in a different alphabet and asking them to try and understand what it is like when the letters on the page are meaningless.  Issues of sexual intimacy have no place in the school classroom. 
     "It's their business," MsW informed me when we talked about it last year. Her friend and her friend's mother were there as well and they agreed. It was her friend's mother who had asked the question about whether we thought it was appropriate. The school had asked for feedback about whether it should be taught and, if it was to be taught, how it should be taught.  Parents voted against it. The school's deputy, who was responsible for asking, later told me that only five parents felt it should be taught. There were several hundred parents involved.
There are anti-bullying measures in place in Ms W's school. Ms W and her friends tell me that there is very little bullying at school. There is some of course - no school is entirely free of it - but the girls tend to deal with it themselves - mostly  by publicly shaming the perpetrator. 
It has probably come about because most of them have been at the same school all their school lives and the school has a reputation for  insisting on good manners, very good manners. Parents are not just encouraged but expected to back the school in this. When their child is enrolled they sign an agreement about these things.
The Senior Cat would have liked the same sort of agreement from parents in the schools for which he was responsible. I know his view is that parents are primarily responsible for the way in which children are taught to behave. The school's job is to reinforce acceptable social behaviour rather than teach it from the start.
I know not everyone will agree but I still feel that if good manners and respect for others is taught at home and reinforced at school then "differences" of any sort will be much less of an issue.  
I was bullied at school and there was nothing I could do about it because my parents worked in the same place. Simple good manners would have prevented most of it. It had a profound impact on me and it still makes me wary. I tend not to trust people but Middle Cat also told me the other day, "You never stick up for yourself."  More than once Ms W has looked at me and said severely of someone who has upset me, "You should tell them" .
Does that work?
I'd like to see the "Safe Schools" program replaced by a program which emphasised respect for others.

Wednesday 17 January 2018

I want some publicity!

I want lots of air time to get the message out.
Or do I?
Personally I don't want any publicity. I like to lead a quiet life out of the spotlight.  Some people feel differently. 
One of the regular columnists in the state newspaper is complaining about a neo-Nazi group being given air time.  She is saying that, like the anti-vaccination lobby, they should never be given space to air their views.
I don't like neo-Nazi ideas or the ideas of the anti-vaccination lobby. I think they are dangerous. But, I am not sure that the idea of not giving them any air time works.  It is now possible for them to get their message out there any way and get it out there in an uncontrolled way.
There are plenty of other dangerous ideas circulating out there too. There are ideas about diet, climate, abuse, religion, politics, people, places, and more. Some of them make people do very foolish things.
I can't remember all the details now but I do remember something the late Mel Marshak, told us about in a psychology lecture. She was talking about  how people will follow a charismatic leader whatever they believe. She gave us the example of a Mrs Keech who, if I remember correctly, had her followers convinced that the world was going to be engulfed by a tidal wave. Only by moving to the highest peaks in America and setting up a new community would people be saved. 
It was a long time ago now but Mrs Keech got publicity. Some followed her. Her version of the story would be laughed at now but it caused some people great distress at the time.
Was Mrs Keech's story really so different from some of the stories about climate change? We can believe climate change is real but do we also need to believe the worst we are told about it? Yes, we live on a tiny and overcrowded planet - but didn't Al Gore get it wrong? Isn't there some hope for humanity?  I wonder what Dr Marshak would make of Al Gore?
I don't think I agree with the columnist who said the neo-Nazi group shouldn't have been given any publicity. Someone, somewhere will give them publicity because it makes a "news" story. Groups like that are not going to criticise themselves, nor are their sympathisers. Others need to be given a genuine opportunity to do it.
It's the sort of publicity they are given which matters. It needs to be considered and thoughtful, critical and questioning.


Tuesday 16 January 2018

"What are you going to wear?"

Oh yes, that question.
Middle Cat apparently asked the Senior Cat this question a couple of days ago. There's a wedding coming up in April. My nephew is getting married to his lovely girl. (Yes, she really is lovely - stunning to look at but, even better, kind and caring.)
The Senior Cat warned me the question has been asked. Middle Cat will take matters into her own hands if I don't do something about it.
The Senior Cat still has a suit but he hasn't worn it for years. The last time he wore it was to my mother's funeral in 2000. I doubt it fits him. 
And I don't really think anyone will expect him to wear a suit to his grandson's wedding. It's not going to be a  very formal wedding. While the main participants might wear suits I am sure not all the other men will.
But it made me think about the question of "dress" again. There has been a recent move to have the legal profession cease wearing wigs and gowns in one of the courts. I saw a male doctor the other day and he was wearing a short sleeved shirt and no tie. One of his colleagues was wearing jeans.
I know there is an increasing tendency for people not to "dress" in the sense that their clothes have become casual rather than formal. When I trained as a teacher the female students were not permitted to wear trousers to college or out teaching. Teachers were the same. Male teachers were expected to wear a collar and tie. Now, at least in the state system, they often wear jeans and t-shirts.
I wonder about the effect this has on others though. My paternal grandfather was a tailor. He didn't just "make suits". He was a specialist who made uniforms for high ranking officers, governors of the state and senior military and naval personnel. He made the suits worn by many members of the legal profession too. I grew up knowing that the way people dressed was a part of their job. We still talk about "blue collar" workers - the people who didn't wear suits to work.
Fewer people wear suits to work now and perhaps it doesn't matter as much as it once did. There was a discussion about the change in the legal profession. Most people said, without perhaps giving it too much thought, that this was a good thing. Maybe it is. 
I wonder though, would we have the same view of police officers if they didn't wear uniform? Would we feel the same way about a judge if he wore jeans and a t-shirt?
The Senior Cat's suit probably won't fit him. That doesn't matter. He will still wear a white shirt and his good clan tie, his best trousers and his well polished shoes. It will look as if he cares.
And me? I don't know - yet. 

Monday 15 January 2018

There was an accident

in the next street  yesterday....except that it wasn't an accident at all.
It's a long street on a bit of a slope. I know about the slope as I have had to pedal up it more than once. At weekends in particular there are liable to be cars parked on either side.  It doesn't leave a lot of room. There are also cross streets where drivers need to be aware of other vehicles crossing or entering.
People need to travel along it with caution.
And some people like to travel along it at well over the speed limit. They particularly like to do it at night. We can hear them increasing speed at the top of the little hill and - sometimes - the squeal of brakes. We hear laughter and loud music emanating from the cars of these drivers too.
Yesterday, just after the Senior Cat had been picked up by a friend, I heard a car coming down the street at great speed. I heard a horn blare - and then a bang.
I didn't go to investigate. The speeding car had gone on without stopping. If anything it had gone on at increased speed. 
This morning, as I was picking up the paper from the front lawn, someone I know slightly was walking his dog past. He stopped and said, "Time you wrote another letter to the paper."
   "What about?" I asked.
He told me he'd had an accident.
   "Except it wasn't an accident at all. It could have been avoided.  It could have been much worse but I hit the neighbour's car because I had to swerve suddenly to avoid a head on collision with an idiot coming down the hill at somewhere near twice the speed limit."
Fortunately for him the neighbour saw the incident and was more concerned for him than either of the cars. Neither of them managed to get the number of the speeding car. The perpetrator won't be held to account at all.
Two men now have to get their cars repaired. It's going to be costly. It's going to be time consuming and an all round nuisance. It could have been avoided.
There is a piece in this morning's paper asking what can be done with people who drive in ways which cause others to have "accidents". There was an horrific accident in another state recently. Three members of the same family died and another has had her life support turned off but still clings to life. The driver of the other car also died. He had such a lengthy list of driving offences against his name he should have been banned for life - and measures should have been taken to ensure he couldn't access a vehicle illegally. 
Recently I said somewhere else that a licence to drive a car is a privilege, not a right. I said it comes with responsibilities. There were people present who didn't like that at all. They see driving as a right. "If I pay my taxes I have the right to drive."
Really? No. It's a privilege.
And yesterday I was very aware that, a minute or two earlier, the Senior Cat's friend was driving along that street to come and get him. If his friend had been involved in the "accident" the Senior Cat would have felt dreadful that someone doing something for him had been involved in such an event. 
Perhaps we need a new word to describe the "accidents" which are not accidents at all but the result of a deliberate, illegal act on the part of someone lacking any sense of responsibility. 

Sunday 14 January 2018

Chasing the dog

is not something I do.
Yesterday I was minding my own business and pedalling quietly back from the library thinking about writing. (I do a lot of thinking about my writing when I am out pedalling.) 
I crossed the road next to the play ground on the corner of one of the streets I use after waiting for (1) a man with a stroller, (2) a small boy on a bike with trainer wheels, and (3) a dog on a leash.
And then, as the man opened the gate to the playground, the dog somehow managed to break free of the leash.
He was off!
I stopped. There was no point in me trying to chase the dog. 
     "Go on!" I told the man, "The children know me. I'll wait with them."
He gave me a panicked look and ran.
The child in the stroller was too young to understand so it didn't bother him too much. The small boy however was almost  hysterical. 
       "That's our dog. He's new....and he's really, really naughty but I don't want him to be hurt!"
He looked at me.
      "I don't know you!"
      "Yes you do," I told him, "You come here sometimes with your mummy in the red car.  I threw your special ball back the other day."
This was perfectly true. His mother had made him thank me. It was stretching the issue but, for the purpose, it would do. 
He looked at me through his tears.
     "What if my grandpa can't catch Spot?" (Spot by the way is brown all over without a spot in sight.)
     "He will tell the dog catcher. The dog catcher is a person who knows how to do it."
      "But what if a car comes first! He's too little to be by himself."
      "We just have to hope that doesn't happen. Look, there he is. He's stopped by that fence. There must be something interesting there."
I felt a small hand reach for mine. Small boy was trembling with fright. The tears were still rolling down his face. 
The dog, no more than a pup, was caught a moment later.  I held it firmly by the collar as the leash was examined, adjusted and reattached. 
      "I told my daughter this was not a good idea," the man told me breathing heavily, "Thank the heavens you were here. Thank you so much."
We calmed the small boy. For another calming treat he "rode" my tricycle up and down the path at the playground and I left him climbing the "monkey" bar while his grandfather strapped his brother into the smallest swing.
The dog sat mournfully firmly attached to the post intended for such things. 
      "It serves you right," I told him as I left. 
I think he knew it did.

Saturday 13 January 2018

Alzheimer's disease

is such a strange thing.
Our friends K and B came for lunch yesterday. K is one of the Senior Cat's oldest friends. Once K was a highly articulate man, quick to make a pun and recognise one. He had a prodigious memory and never needed prompting on stage in the theatrical productions he loved.
All that changed some years ago. He seemed to occasionally forget things or get distracted. Then he couldn't remember his lines in a production and stopped participating in plays. Other little things happened. 
At first they put it down to "old age" but it gradually became obvious that the problem was more than that. Tasks would not be completed. K would go to do something at the other end of the house and "forget" on the way there what it was he intended to do. He went to check the water pump which supplies the power to the small dam on their property - vital water for fire protection - and just stood there not sure what to do.
Eventually he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. That was some time ago now. 
He had to stop driving. B now does the driving. They need a car because there is no public transport where they live. 
Although the Senior Cat has talked with both K and B on the phone they had not seen one another in over twelve months. The transport issues mean they have to come us  rather than we go to them. It had been months since the Senior Cat had talked to K... without B listening in and talking as well. 
     "K... doesn't seem too bad," the Senior Cat told me.
I wondered. I had talked to B.... and I knew she was worried.
Yesterday I could see why she was worried. On the surface K... still appears almost normal. The casual observer might not think anything was wrong.
But there is. His constructions are sometimes awkward. It is clear he can no longer remember a word and searches for something else.  He couldn't remember the word "dam" - "that water thing at the bottom of the hill". The dam is something he constructed and has carefully maintained for years. He has always seen it as being of vital importance. Other little things came  up. None of them were of any great importance in themselves. It was the cumulative effect on his ability to communicate that was obvious to me. 
     "What do you think?" B... asked me anxiously as we were returning  used plates to the kitchen.
     "I can see it," I told her, "But a lot of people won't yet."
     "Yes, that's what worries me. They don't think there is anything wrong."
I can understand that. 
When they had gone the Senior Cat said to me, "K...doesn't seem too bad but he missed some words."
I agreed and then I said the other thing that I had noticed,
      "And he didn't initiate any of the conversation."
The Senior Cat thought about that for a moment and then said,
      "You're right. I hadn't noticed it but now you mention it... it's as if he has stopped asking questions."
That makes it very serious indeed.

Friday 12 January 2018

Catherine Deneuve has made

headlines for appearing to support the right of men to "hit" on women.
I have been thinking about this and about something else. It is simple and yet not simple.
When I started law school the first lecture we attended had nothing to do with the law - and yet everything to do with it. The lecture dealt with things like the standard of behaviour and dress expected of students. 
Many years down the track that may seem outrageous to some people. What right did the Dean of Students have to tell us how to behave and dress? 
Once law students, like medical students, were expected to dress much more formally than other students - the men wore a collar and tie and the women wore skirts. Suits were worn in court by both sexes. They were sober suits too. I remember going into the magistrate's court to provide communication assistance and hearing the magistrate inform a young radical female lawyer that he could not see her because she was inappropriately dressed for court. (As she was dressed in a way that was more appropriate for the beach this was hardly surprising.) He told her, "You are doing your client no favours."
So what the Dean had to say to us was sensible. He pointed out that certain standards of behaviour are expected in the courts. These are, he told us, essential if the legal process is to function properly and the law be upheld. Of dress he said no more than he hoped that students would, when they had to visit the courts, "dress appropriately" as "future careers may depend on such things". 
Manners however were something else. He well knew that there were a group of women who called themselves "rad-fems"  - radical feminists. They were there to do a degree in law but they were also there to stir up a little trouble. A man opening a door for them was considered to be insulting.
      "No," he told them, "It isn't insulting. It's a basic courtesy. You will do the same for a man if he is going into the library with a bag in one hand and an armload of books in the other."
They didn't like it. I remember there were many furious comments in the canteen.  They went right through law school feeling angry about it and avoided the situation whenever they could - something that was often just as insulting.
I went through law school, walking stick in one hand and bag in the other, and men opened doors for me. The most senior male members of staff opened doors for me. I always thanked them. Occasionally I managed to do it in reverse for them. It made life easy and pleasant.  At the end of my first year when I had done far, far better than I had expected to do one of the male staff came in to the library the day before I left for a few weeks break. He put his hand briefly on my shoulder and said quietly, "Congratulations. See you in the new year."  I hadn't been one of his students but I would be the coming year.
No, I didn't regard that hand on my shoulder as sexual harassment. It was nothing more than a friendly gesture from a confirmed bachelor who wanted to express his genuine feeling that I deserved his congratulations.   
I wonder what he would do now if he was still alive? He probably wouldn't reach out like that. He might not even dare to offer his congratulations to a student. Is that the right way to do things now?
Rape is always wrong. It is vile. It is the most demeaning of acts. It should never ever be tolerated. Unwanted advances have no place in relationships. 
People have to learn to say "no" and others have to learn to listen and respect that. Learning to say "no" is hard, especially if someone feels intimidated by the position or power of the other person. 
But I wonder if Catherine Deneuve, even though I may not agree with her, hasn't given me something to think about. 
How should I show respect?

Thursday 11 January 2018

Hospital food is under

is under scrutiny again. This time it is a lead letter in this morning's paper. 
It's timely. An elderly friend has just come out of hospital. She spent five nights there. Nobody informed me she was there or I would have been in to visit - with food. 
The Senior Cat spent three nights in the same hospital last year. We both had "the 'flu" at the time or I might have been more alert to the appalling state of the food service.  He isn't one to complain. He thought the staff were lovely, caring and very kind to him. He thought the food was appalling.
This is the grand-new-state-of-the-art-very-expensive  hospital that is supposed to be so good. Yes, the one I talked about without anywhere for the staff to sit down for two minutes with a cup of tea.
My elderly friend, definitely not one to complain at any time, told me,  "I lost a bit of weight dear. I suppose they know what they are doing but the food wasn't very nice. I couldn't eat it."
Coming from her it had be one of the understatements of the year so far.  
As my friend is also a little under weight at the best of times losing weight was hardly helpful. 
     "Is it that difficult for them to provide just a sandwich?" she asked me in a genuinely puzzled way, "I would have thought it was easier to do that than give you two hot meals a day."
I don't really know much about mass catering but I suspect that sandwiches may be more labour intensive. Machines can peel and chop vegetables, dump them in massive pots, stew any nutrition our of them, drain them and then place precise amounts on a plate. 
     "I think I might get some of that nice grain bread from the bakery," my friend said, "If they have any of those small loaves today. Then I can make a proper sandwich."
I hope it was a day on which the bakery makes the small loaves. The bread is, as commercial breads go, very good. It would never see the inside of a hospital. 
I wonder how much food gets wasted in hospitals that have outside catering?  Maybe it would be cheaper to provide sandwiches. Or is all this a ploy to get people to go home as fast as possible?

Wednesday 10 January 2018

A meeting at the coffee shop

in the shopping centre?
Yes, why not? It's a good central place for the three of us to meet and discuss a project in pleasant surroundings.
I pedalled up to the shopping centre yesterday afternoon for just such a meeting. It was an informal meeting, a preliminary to talking to a much bigger group about a proposed 2019 project. Yes, we do need to think that far ahead.
I had suggested we needed to talk because of the time line another group will be working to and the person who is in overall charge had suggested the coffee area in the middle of the shopping centre. They have tables there and the staff who run it are tolerant of small meetings being held there. 
Papers out, pens out, an i-pad open...and we were away. And then.... "Hello..."
We stopped for several minutes. Oh yes, they could see we were working. Thankfully it wasn't for too long.
And then, "That's Middle Cat...."
"Don't," I said, "You know how she likes to talk."
"It's all right. She's with someone else. Has she broken her arm?"
"No, she had a shoulder replacement."
We had an interruption from Middle Cat. Fortunately the person she was with wanted her (very late) lunch. They went and sat elsewhere.
Someone came up  behind the person I was sitting next to...her husband. They greeted one another warmly - after all they hadn't seen one another for at least a couple of hours. He was off to the gym.
       "I'll be back a bit later,"  he told her.
Her daughter and granddaughter passed by and said hello as well. Several people I knew passed by and might well have come and said hello too but they just smiled and waved. Perhaps they did see those papers spread out and decided not to interrupt? Despite all that we actually achieved a lot. Decisions were made. Tasks were divided up between us. 
It made me remember yet again that, although I live in a city, our little part of it is more like the village it once was. Many people have lived here for generations. Their children and grandchildren go to the same schools they did. They have met in the library, the churches, in the clubs, and on the oval. And they meet in the shopping centre over coffee.

Tuesday 9 January 2018

"We are going to win the next election...

with an increased number of seats." 
Oh...."and we'll do a deal with... if we have to."
Such is the confidence of politicians. 
We are ten weeks out from the state election but the Premier has already informed us of the result. Why bother to have an election?
Come to that, couldn't the public servants run the place?
I suspect it is public servants running Germany right now. Ms Merkel still hasn't managed to form a government. The Germans, if I remember correctly, went to the ballot box in September last year didn't they? 
I know Belgium spent months and months without a government at one point. The country seemed to survive. I know someone who lives there and he told me that "things just kept going along".  I think Spain was a bit the same while the politicians fussed around - although lack of central government there probably encouraged the Catalan separatists.  And Italy? Is Italy really governed? How many Prime Ministers have they had since the end of WWII?
Somalia was, and still is, a total mess. They had no government for years and the one they now have is not very effectual...hardly surprising when the country had descended into complete and utter chaos. I wouldn't want to live there.
There are other places with ineffectual governments - or governments in name only. I don't think I would want to live in any of them.
Here I know who is supposed to "represent" me in parliament. I am even told I have the opportunity to choose him or her.  It's actually a good deal more complex than that and the notion of "choice" isn't quite what it seems to be. I could even try to get others to "choose" me if I so wished. No, let's not go there. I am much too old a cat to contemplate putting a paw up for parliament.  I can do more good elsewhere. I can attempt to influence policies by listening to others, raising concerns, and writing "letters to the editor" (these days an email).
So living here sounds like a good option. I am still puzzled though. Why are we having an election if the Premier already knows the outcome?

Monday 8 January 2018

The stress of being ill

is bad enough without the added stress of loss of services or the relocation of services to places without other essential facilities. I really do wonder whether those who designed the monstrosity which claims to be a "world class" hospital consulted the medical profession at all.
Did they even bother to make a list of all the facilities available at - or adjacent to - the old hospital? It would seem not. 
I think I have complained elsewhere that there are actually no facilities for the staff?
Hospitals are of course there for the patients. The patients are - or should be - the first priority. It is a curious thing however that patients actually need people to care for them. You know who I mean, doctors, nurses, technicians, cleaners, orderlies and more.  There are no facilities for those people, some of whom work long hours in very stressful jobs. 
Want the doctor to remain good-tempered? Then provide somewhere safe for him/her to leave personal belongings, sit down for two minutes and gulp down a cup of tea or coffee they don't have to buy from the over-priced "cafe" on the ground floor - about as far away from where they are working as possible. Oh and that assumes they want that cup of tea or coffee during the hours the cafe is actually open. 
Yes I was on the receiving end of snappy remarks but it wasn't the doctor's fault and he apologised profusely a minute later. He'd had enough. I don't blame him. He had been working eleven hours without a break. He had a patient who couldn't communicate and nobody knew who the patient was or what his medical history was. The man had been brought in off the streets. He wasn't drunk and he hadn't overdosed but there was something seriously wrong. Deaf? No. He could hear but he didn't seem to understand and he didn't speak. I tried a greeting in a variety of languages but none of them helped. Other staff tried in other languages but that didn't help either.  He seemed not to be able to read or write. Mentally ill? No, I don't think so - or only in so far as any street person is. He met my eyes and those of the doctor with a pleading that was hard to take. I mimed things - but I am not a good actor. I tried to draw something. He took the pen from my hand and drew a stick figure and pointed to himself and then to various parts of his body. It didn't get us much further. He seemed to have some sort of severe receptive dysphasia. The doctor tried to touch him but got pushed away. He pointed at me and I tried under the doctor's instructions...I felt a lump in first one place and then another where lumps should not be. I didn't need to be a doctor to guess what that meant.
      "Let's see what we can do to make him comfortable then - if he'll stay. There might be a bed at the hospice."
      "He won't go in an ambulance," I said without thinking...which is when the doctor blew up at me. But then he apologised. 
No, this man wasn't going in an ambulance. He needed to be there, where he was. There should be facilities there for the city's "down and outs" - a place where they can go for help, to feel safe. There should be a place where overworked doctors can "pop in" to such people and then go and take a few minutes break.
I'll never know what happened to the man who was brought in. I may never see that doctor again but if ever he needed a place to sit  down for just a few minutes with a cup of tea or coffee it was then. Instead, he had to give what instructions he could and go on to the next patient...and no doubt the next and the next.
I waited until someone arrived from one of the city shelters and left. There was nowhere for him to get a drink either.
There's something seriously wrong with the design of that new facility.

Sunday 7 January 2018

A politician quits

for any number of reasons. Some retire honorably having served their electorates to the best of their ability. Some are forced to leave due to one sort of scandal or another. Others get dumped come election time. 
Up until a recent change in the electoral boundaries we lived in the electorate of a man who is quitting. He isn't running again. The reason for that is pretty obvious. Polling shows that, were he to run again, he might get 5% of the vote. At the last election he got 54% of the first preferences. 
A few weeks after having been elected he left the party he had stood for and went "independent" - accepting a ministry in a government which had managed to retain power on a minority of the votes. He was the second "independent" to do it. 
It left a sour taste.
Now, only weeks ago saying he would "definitely" be running again and having sent out a long newsletter about his "achievements", he has said he won't be standing again. I happen to know that a second lot of private polling indicated that he would be lucky to get that 5%. It would be humiliating. He has taken a "strategic" decision to leave. 
I don't like him. I didn't like him when he first got elected some twenty-one years ago and my view has never changed. I knew the electorate secretary at the time - knew her well. She had taken on the position from the previous electorate secretary who was also someone I knew well. They were JPs and, knowing what my job is, they would drop what they were doing and sign documents or witness my signature. I tried not to take advantage of it and I made sure they knew I appreciated it too. In return they knew they could ask for some non-political help from me as well. 
Not so this man. JP hours were drastically reduced for everyone. Even at the designated times you were made to feel you weren't welcome. People went elsewhere. I eventually found a local retired man who was still a JP and went to him instead. He's delighted to help and I have been able to help him in return.
There will be many disappointed people in the electorate. So many people have said, "I'm looking forward to voting him out."
But, he still has a tiny level of support. Now he is asking people to vote not for the party he once belonged to but a fledgling party with a leader who is good at getting publicity for himself. They are, apart from their leader, completely inexperienced but the peculiarities of the electoral system mean they may get in on a very small proportion of the votes and, at very least, have the balance of power if people vote for them. There will be people who do just that.
It seems my former MP hasn't finished wrecking the joint yet.  

Saturday 6 January 2018

A "catastrophic fire danger" alert

has been issued for today...and I have already heard the fire engine leave from the station less than a kilometre from here. I hope that was a false alarm or, at very worst, minor and easily dealt with. We already have high temperatures, high winds, and a fuel load that doesn't bear thinking about. 
It is why, earlier this week, I was relieved to hear an elderly friend say, "P....came over and cleared the gutters again. He checked the pump and all the sprinklers too. " P... is her son-in-law and lives not too far away but both houses are on a narrow road in the hills behind us. The bushland around them may be beautiful but it certainly isn't safe.
Yesterday I was talking to one of the local teachers. He also volunteers with the State Emergency Service. His two children are also involved, just as his late wife was involved. They will all be on high alert today. It is summer school holidays here so the teacher will not be at work. 
His children will be at work but their employers are ready for them - and other employees - to leave everything and go. Not all employers are like that of course but if you work in the timber industry  or care for animals then it is much more likely that your employer will be willing to let you go. I hope they can stay at work.
My teacher friend was not on call yesterday. He has been from midnight today.
I am also in a sense "on call" today. Everyone in our small communications group will be. We all need to monitor any person with the sort of disability that does not allow them to leave their home without assistance in a fire emergency.  For me it means no more than being available. Nobody else has checked in to say that someone will be at home alone. That's the good thing about summer holidays. Some people will be away. Others will have family on leave and at home. 
And I hope the idiot with the box of matches who is contemplating setting a fire somewhere is thinking twice. Yes, there will be someone out there who is, at very least, contemplating such a thing. There will be someone who thinks "fire is fun". It isn't. People lose everything in fires, including their lives. Deliberately setting a fire which causes someone else to lose their life is tantamount to murder.
So please, no phone calls like that today please. Stay safe everyone.


Friday 5 January 2018

There was a big fire

at the abattoir in a country town on the other side of the ranges. I first heard about it from someone who was passing through the town at the time and then it came through various sources of "official" news. 
One of the "burning" questions seemed to be "will the price of meat rise?"
Sorry, my immediate thought was, "How many people won't have a job to go to tomorrow?"
There are about 1400 people directly employed  by the abattoir. Other people in the town indirectly depend on those people being employed, on using services there, spending money there, putting their children into day car or school...and much more. 
The fire is going to have a major impact on the town. The owners are going to go through months and months - perhaps several years - of worry and stress too. 
And all some people could think about was whether the price of meat will rise. The answer to that apparently is that it probably won't - or not significantly.
I admit it wouldn't have made much difference to me. The Senior Cat and I eat very little red meat. We mostly eat chicken and fish. I would happily give it up altogether but the Senior Cat likes a very little "now and then". His eating habits have changed over the years. 
Yes, that has partly been my influence. Once or twice after my mother died I put a meatless meal on the table for him. What would he say?
         "Make them again?" he asked of the mushroom/nut patties.
Yes, willingly.
         "What's this made of? It tastes good."
The Senior Cat is, even now, a pleasure to feed. Even though he has admitted he "never feels hungry" now he appreciates what is put in front of him. He thanks me every time. 
He wouldn't thank me for a piece of steak - however tender. He wouldn't thank me for a half dozen slices of roast lamb either. But offer him salmon patties and salad on a hot day and he is happy - and I know there are plenty of people his age who still think the only meal worth eating is something that contains meat and three vegetables. 
So we have never done much to support the people who work in the abattoir in the little country town. It doesn't bother me much in that sense but I do feel concerned that so many people are, at least for  now, out of work. It's going to have a major impact on their lives - and that is far more disturbing than a possible rise in the price of something most people have far too much of anyway.

Thursday 4 January 2018

The man in the pink polo shirt

was clutching a pile of picture books.
      "Waiting for him to choose another one," he told me looking at the small boy searching through the "returns" trolley.
      "There are heaps and heaps of good  books on this one," the small  boy  told him.
      "Yes, I know. Please just one more and then we can come back on Saturday and borrow some more."
      "These might not be there then."
      "No - but there will be more good books." 
A girl about two years older finished checking out her books and told him, "Hurry up! I'm all finished."
It all sounded very normal but I know them slightly and I know they are not a normal family. Their father is bringing them up alone now. Their mother was in the local hospice and she died just before Christmas. The shirt her husband was wearing had the  breast cancer ribbon on it. 
Over the past year I watched these parents try to prepare their children for the end. They did as much as they could together as a family. They endeavoured to give the children good times to remember.  They visited the library every week and read together every night. One of their mother's last requests was that the children continue to go to the library each week.
Their father is on leave over the summer. He will go back to work when the children go back to school. He told me, "My boss has been marvellous - but then her sister..."
Yes, her sister died that way too. It's never good but at least her children were in their twenties. These children are only in the very early years of school.
The small boy heaved a sigh, took another book and then checked out his books as well. By then I had returned mine and picked up the books I  had borrowed on inter-library loan. We went out of the library together.
       "Can we go and stand on the bridge?" 
       "Yes, no further."
The two children ran off to where the small footbridge crosses the creek which runs through the little park adjacent to the library. Their father heaved a sigh.
       "The last time they did that we were all there,"  he told me.
       "Playing Pooh sticks?" I asked.
He nodded and then managed a smile.
        "We can do that again when there is enough water in the creek."
He walked off to join them.
It won't ever be "again" in the same way but they will be all right in the end. I know what their mother was thinking. She talked to me. She never mentioned how ill she was.  We never talked about it. What we did talk about was the importance of books, of reading, of the imagination we can develop through reading - and of the way in which it can help us understand the world. 
They are going to need that.

Wednesday 3 January 2018

"I wasn't learning anything there"

someone told me yesterday.
She had caught me in the chemist. 
Picking up prescriptions for the Senior Cat is fraught with such dangers. There is, all too frequently, someone I know there. Most of them are older people who know the Senior Cat. They are often alone and they want to talk to someone.
This time however it was someone I knew. She "wanted to tell me something" and it was clear she had been waiting for just such an opportunity.
     "I didn't pay my subs again," she told me and then, for the second time, "I wasn't learning anything there."
Rather than say anything I gave her an inquiring look. She went on to explain in some detail. I listened.
I didn't like what she was saying but the awkward part was that she did have a point. She is an older person and there was an expectation that she "already knew these things", that she didn't need any help. 
      "They kept saying things like, "Don't you know how to do that?" and making me feel stupid," she told me.
There was apparently also an expectation that, if someone did explain something, then she would immediately understand without further explanation.
      "She just said, "I've already told you how to do that" and then went on at me about listening to what I was told."
Even allowing for a certain amount of exaggeration on her part I did feel concerned. I still do. Her expectations were not being met. They were not being met to the point where, rather than try again, she had simply left. 
I know she was also hinting that I might give her some private help. I hedged on that one and suggested another group. I could give her some help there and so could at least two other people. 
     "Thanks. I'll think about it."
At least she went as far as to scribble down the times they met.
I don't know whether I will see her there or not. 
I thought about her problem on the way home. It seems to me that the group isn't as good as it could be about teaching people but there are a number of reasons for that. 
Sometimes people don't ask for help. They don't like to admit they don't know. Sometimes they ask for help in an indirect way and other people don't recognise that. 
Like children adults have different learning styles and rates of learning, particularly where a craft is involved. They won't necessarily "pick up" something immediately. It might need to be explained again - and explained in a different way. Adjusting the way you communicate can be difficult.
While you can often teach a small thing without preparation the big things need to be planned and prepared for and that takes time.
Not all adults can teach.  You need to know not just about your subject but about people as well.
I'll never stop learning about teaching.