Wednesday 28 February 2018

Slippers for men

are a vexed subject in our house.
The Senior Cat and slippers are a topic of frustration and despair.
For years he slopped and slipped around in the felt-with-rubber soles variety. His feet are about as flat as you can get - more like a duck than a human (or even a cat). If his eyesight had not precluded him from army service in WWII then the state of his feet would have had sent smartly out the door of the recruitment office.
Middle Cat has tried. She arranged for "orthotics" to be made - those inserts into shoes which are supposed to help. 
But, you don't wear those in slippers do you? So the Senior Cat has been going through slippers - which he likes to wear inside - at a considerable rate. They simply get worn out of shape so quickly that they won't stay on his rear paws. That's dangerous. 
      "Shoes!" I growl as nicely but firmly as I can.
      "But I like..."
      "No. It's dangerous."
The problem is that he finds putting on his shoes more difficult these days. He hates asking me for help. (I thoroughly understand that as I am equally determined not to ask for help if I can avoid it.)
We did find some "slip on" shoes with velcro straps that didn't seem to be too bad but they proved  not to have the necessary support = and yes, he still wanted to wear his slippers inside.
      "I don't mind sweeping up the sawdust you bring in," I tell him - or the dirt from the garden. 
      "I don't want to make extra work for you," he tells me as he changes into his slippers at the back door.
His father was no better. I remember the absolutely disgraceful pair of brown leather slippers he had. They had been mended countless times - so many times I am not sure how much of the original was left. 
I have suggested "ugg" boots - at least they might not fall off.  No!
Middle Cat bought some plain looking slippers intended for the females of the human race. They had velcro fastening.
   "You can do those up nice and tight," she told him. He dutifully wore them. 
They lasted no time at  all. There was no support in them and those flat feet had them out of shape in no time.
     "I need a new pair of slippers," he told me yesterday, "I don't know what I do with them."
I am wondering if I can find a pair of canvas house shoes such as our Chinese neighbours wear. They won't give him any support but they would probably stay on as they have elastic right around the uppers.
Or maybe I can simply knit and felt a pair to fit his flat rear paws?

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Get your novel published!

There was another of those "contests" - advertised on FB this time - and someone was even answering questions. Oooh! Exciting!
Read the fine print. Think about what it actually says.
No, I haven't given up on the idea of publication but I would go the self-publishing route and all the learning and extra work involved before I succumbed to one of those supposed "competitions". 
I know there are an awful lot of people out there who have written the great, best-selling novel and they can't get published. There are even people who have simply written good books that others would enjoy reading and they can't get published either.  
I look along the shelves in the library and often wonder how people got things published. What about the book I read recently? It was by someone I know slightly so I finished it. He's bound to ask at some point what I thought of it. (I've been studiously avoiding him while I try and think of a diplomatic answer.) It was published by a reputable enough publishing house but the plot doesn't hang together. There are great gaps in it. And the name of the hero's dog changes half way through. Someone didn't pick that up at the editing stage - or was it even edited? 
What about that knitting book I was asked to review? It looked nice but someone should have asked a knitter to look at the patterns  before they accepted it for publication. The yarn estimates were way out and the knitters I know (and I know many) would have had great difficulty in understanding the instructions. There had obviously been no "test knitting" done. Even worse there had obviously been no proof reading. There is just a little difference between casting on 28 sts or 82sts - yes?
And yet these things get published. 
Last year I was looking at picture books in the bookshop. I needed a present for a young friend.
     "Take a look at the new...." one of the staff told me. Something told me that she had a reason for asking. 
The author is well known. She made her name on one book in particular, a book I don't actually like although it would be considered almost heresy to say that. Since then she has gone on to write other picture books. They sell well. Her name and the first book still sells these.
I read the new book - after all reading a picture book to oneself only takes a moment or two. Then I put the book back on the spinner stand and went on to find a book I wanted to give.
    "What did you think?" I was asked as I went to pay for the book I had chosen.
    "Well I wouldn't choose it but I suppose people will. Is it selling well?"
    "Yes. Her books always do."
We looked at each other. We didn't need to say it. One book has become a "classic" through a series of fortunate events. She knew the right people at the right time too. That first book isn't bad by any means but it isn't as good as many other picture books. Anything else by the same author is unthinkingly and uncritically labelled "good".
I thought of all this yesterday after reading about the "novel contest".  Somewhere in all the entries there might be a novel or two or even three that are worthy of publication. The problem is they are never likely to reach the bookshop and library shelves. They might already have been passed by or they may never have been submitted because their authors have been told the traditional route won't happen to them - and they believe it. So the "novel contest" and the "poetry contest" people pounce.
No, I don't want my work "published" as an e-book or two or more on Amazon for 99p or 99c.  At very least I will get it professionally edited and try a new round of agents.


Monday 26 February 2018

Workspace, workspace,

I actually work from a desk situated in the corner of my bedroom. It is far from an ideal situation and I have firm rules about switching off the computer and ignoring the screen so that I get enough catnap time.
There is nowhere else to work  unless I move into the living area of the house. That would add to the clutter there.  It would also lack any privacy. 
I therefore sympathise with the university staff who are saying they would rather work at home than in the "open plan" office space which has been designed for them. 
Who designs these things? My youngest nephew has just been head-hunted and gone to a new job. At his old work place he didn't even have a desk. He just took whichever desk was available when he arrived at work. If he arrived very early he might get a good position. If he had appointments on the way - very likely - then he would get whatever was left. 
My cousin has been "working from home" for the past six weeks. What it actually means is that he has been avoiding winter in London and working from the corner of his bedroom here. It hasn't been a problem. He adjusted the times at which he worked so he could, if necessary, consult his colleagues. He has a designated desk at his place of work in London - but only because severe back issues mean that his work place has been individually designed for the benefit of his back. Other people take what they can get there too.
These open plan work places are described as being "integrated". I am told you are supposed to be able to "consult and coordinate" with your colleagues so that the workplace becomes more cooperative". 
I am told by those who work in them that they are no more integrated than any other work areas, indeed that they might be less so. I am told that consultation and coordination don't increase but that bullying and harassment can cause lower levels of cooperation. Lack of privacy is an issue where confidential material is involved, especially if not everyone has the necessary clearance to work with certain documents or materials. In a laboratory the lack of a designated work area can be downright dangerous. 
I have been co-supervising two doctoral students. One has just submitted. They are both on the other side of the world at a university far from here. We have had long "conversations" over the internet. They have seen their other supervisors in person but rarely. The work environments have not been conducive to seeing students because they are now "open plan".  If the weather was fine supervisor and student would head outside to the relative quiet.
I am told by those who work in these open plan spaces that they are noisy. My rare phone conversations with colleagues who work in these places convince that they can be very noisy. 
I like quiet. I need quiet. It is the only way I can work. There is no chance I can work against the noise of the radio. I don't want to hear other people's conversations and especially not their arguments.
I suspect that "open plan" is another term for "save money". Was all the research designed to do just that?

Sunday 25 February 2018

The importance of libraries

cannot be underestimated.
I visited two libraries yesterday. Both of them are community libraries. 
At the first of the two I had to talk to one of the librarians about a project she wants to run later in the year. I had some relevant material and was dropping it off to her.
As we were talking near the self-serve checkout she suddenly said quietly to me, 
     "Watch this one."
 A small boy arrived with an armload of books. He put them down very carefully  by the checkout scanner, pushing them right underneath. Then he went back to the children's area and picked up a small plastic stool, one of a number the children sit on. He returned to the checkout.
By then an adult was using it and he stood there with a very grim look on his face. The adult was taking his time scanning books and DVDs. He seemed totally unaware that anyone else might actually want to use the machine. All the others were also in use. 
Eventually he moved off. With a large sigh the small boy put the stool in place and then,with some difficulty managed to put each of his books on the shelf. 
He took his library card from a pocket and slowly and carefully scanned it and then each book.  Then he had to reverse the procedure of getting his books off the shelf and onto the floor and the stool back to where it belonged. 
Clutching his pile of books he went down to the adult section of the library and presumably found the adult with him. 
   "He's been doing that since late last year. His father showed him how to do it and now he never makes a mistake. He's only three," the librarian told me, "And okay I know he's highly intelligent but the effort involved in doing it. He loves coming here."
And then a mother turned up with three more children who were so impatient to get to the shelves she had to firmly remind them that first they had to return those they had borrowed. The youngest of those could barely reach to scan their books too. 
I had to leave before I found out whether that child could scan books to borrow them as well as return them. 
In the afternoon I went off to our local library for knitting group. We were in the main area because the Scrabble group needed the tables in the meeting room. That's fine. Other people never seem to mind and often come to look. 
We are cancelling the next meeting at the library but we will be making our presence felt at another event on that day. When I tentatively mentioned it to the librarian I got an enthusiastic response,  "I'll print the fliers off for you."
Oh good. 
Other members of the group were keen to be involved too. 
Late in the afternoon, just as we were about to leave, J.... turned up. J... is a member of the group. She has a "closed brain injury" and she lives in sheltered accommodation. She is untidy. She shouts when she is talking, partly because her hearing is poor and she doesn't realise how loud it sounds. Her "knitting" is an absolute mess and one of us usually gets asked to untangle something. None of that matters.
     "I forgot."
     "It's a bit late J.... We are about to go."
     "I forgot my knitting too."
     "That's all right."
     "Where's M... I never see her."
M... has stopped coming to the group. Trying to explain to J... why this might be the case is not something I want to try and explain. We just agreed we haven't seen her for a while.
      "I hope M... is all right."
And so it went on.
I went and picked up some books before the library closes for two weeks . The closure will allow for the massive amount of work to be done to accommodate the relocation of books during the  renovation and building activities.
On the way out another member of the group asked if I had seen another member who had major surgery before Christmas. One of the library staff was patiently talking to J.... 
There are other members of the group who come and go as they can. They know they will be welcome when they can be there. Some only turn up when they need help. That's fine. It is what we are there for and all some people want. There are others who need the group for other reasons.
Members of the group borrow books while they are there but it is more than that. It's part of the "community" which makes the library a genuine social service. The Scrabble, chess, language, reading groups and more are all part of this. No amount of e-books and internet access can substitute for these things.
I pedalled home wondering about M...   It's a pity she stopped coming. She needed it too.  It's one of the many important reasons for libraries to exist.

Saturday 24 February 2018

Free public transport

for everyone over 60 is the latest in a string of rather odd electoral policies being offered in the attempt to get votes in the upcoming state election.
It won't happen.  
If you happen to have a "Seniors Card" you can already travel free between 9.01am and 3pm on weekdays and at any time on weekends. Yes, some of us use the "privilege". Many more still rely on their cars because public transport takes time. It doesn't always take you where you want to go.  It is often infrequent.
At weekends our train service only runs once an hour. I have to be somewhere before 10am on the 24th March, a Saturday. It is about a twenty minute train journey into the hills behind me. The train I will need to catch leaves here at about 8:40am or 9:40am. If I catch the 9:40am train - likely to be running late - I will be late. I will get the 8:40am and arrive early instead because I will need a few minutes to set up a simple information stand before the doors open on the event.  
A train each half hour would have been much more convenient.
I can understand why no such train exists. Not many people use the train at that time.
If the weather is good there will be a great many boys and bikes on the next few trains. They catch the train into the hills and then race down a long winding road at great speed. Some of them do it every weekend. It's not safe but it isn't so dangerous that it isn't tolerated. Middle Cat, being more than something of a tomboy, did it in her bike riding days too. I would not attempt it on the tricycle.
But, back to the "old" and public transport. Yes, they should be using it where  possible. "Free" transport like that gets some people out and about. I know one man who rides the buses each day. He just enjoys sitting there watching. He knows some of the drivers. They know him. He might stop somewhere and have a cup of coffee and catch the next bus going in the great circle around the city. He will catch another bus into the city and wander into the Art Gallery for a bit. He told me once, "It doesn't cost much - just the occasional coffee - and I like to watch people." 
There was someone else who used the buses and trains to visit all the charity shops she could find. She would buy things, repair them, and then sell them on e-bay at a profit. The money went towards supporting her "children" - children she had "adopted" through a charity. She would sometimes come into the library and show me photographs of the children as they grew up. 
But free public transport for the elderly isn't just about getting out because you are lonely, or because you have a purpose in mind. It is making it possible to do those things and still live within your means.  A car is an expensive thing to run. There are elderly people who simply should not be driving any more. They are not as physically fit or mentally as sharp as they feel they need to be. They don't want the responsibility of driving any more. Yes, free transport is a good thing if it helps such people.
But, I wondered about "free" public transport for everyone. What if our madly car dependent economy could find a way of  reducing the need for so much car ownership? 
    "Think of all the people it would put out of work Cat!" I was told in absolute horror by someone who once worked in the car industry.
Well yes, it is a problem. We would need to find other industries and other means of employing such people.
But free public transport might also mean that buses, trams, and trains ran more frequently. In reduced traffic they would take less time. There would almost certainly be fewer accidents and the cost of those would be reduced to a point where we could once again have conductors on trains and buses - people who could help the very old and those with the very young. People might walk a little more at each of their journey.
And, rather than driving the car, you could read or do any number of other things. For some years I caught two trains in the morning and two in the afternoon. There was a wait between each one. I knitted all through those journeys and waiting times. I also read. I wrote three plays for the school I was working in - so that every child had a part no matter how disabled they happened to be. I thought about other writing.
Yes, some people just want to sit there and do nothing. That's up to them. But, think of how much more productive and perhaps active we might be if public transport was free for everyone all the time. 
I think the "problem" of finding employment for those in the car industry might soon start to sort itself. We would need other things.  

Friday 23 February 2018

Reviewing books

is a serious business.
I have a number of books which are "review copies". I also passed on a good many more review copies of knitting books to the "guild"  of which I am a member. 
I was reluctant to pass on many of those. Damn it all I had worked hard to get those books. I might not have liked everything about them but reviewing a book means work and it would have been nice to be rewarded. But, I passed them on because then everyone could benefit.
Reviewing books is an intensely personal thing but it also needs to be a public service. There is a need for honesty but there is also a need for courtesy.
I can remember one book of particularly avant-garde designs. I don't knit other people's patterns so I would not have made any of them anyway but I had to think, "Would people make these? Would people wear them?"
My honest answer had to be that very few people would make them and, if they did, they might not be worn often as they simply were not practical - nor would they wear well.  But the book was well designed. The photography was excellent. 
And I could say these things. The person who had written the book contacted me after reading my review and said, "You are right. It was self-indulgence that brought the book about. Thank you for the nice things you did say about it."
Would she have said that if I had simply said I "hated" the book? Of course not. 
And then there was the book that everyone - or so it seemed - was talking about. The lead up to publication was huge. Hundreds of people were following the author's occasional blog posts. There were more comments on Facebook and on Twitter. The publicity organised by the publishers was huge. For a debut book it was quite extraordinary.
I had been in contact with her long before the book was written - or rather, she had been in contact with me. There had been a knitting question she wanted answered and someone else had put her in touch. I answered it. We corresponded briefly and spasmodically on FB and Twitter. I supported her through the debut book nerves - as did many others.
And yes, the author of that book can write. She writes the most exquisite short pieces. They are sensitive and caring to an almost heart-wrenching degree.
When the book came out there were rave reviews and a great deal more publicity. It was a "best seller" - and yes, it did appear in the lists.
I read it. And, I didn't like it. I wanted to like it.  There were passages in it where I could see the blog posts and the short pieces that had gone before.
But, for me, the book needed editing. It needed to be a good deal shorter than it was. It felt self-indulgent. For me the message - an important one - was lost. People kept asking me what I thought. I was asked to review it.
I wrote one in which I tried to be honest but supportive. I didn't just slam the book as worthless or give it a one star rating.  When I had written the review I left it for a day. I went back and read it again the next morning and put it up with a three star rating.
The following day there were no Twitter messages from the author. I didn't think anything of it. But the silence continued. Puzzled I looked to see if something had happened...and discovered I had been "blocked".  I could no longer see her "tweets".  I wondered if she had accidentally blocked me so I made a positive and completely genuine comment on one of her new blog posts only to have it removed by her.
Obviously she didn't like my review.  I am sorry about that. It was a relief when the late Carole Blake left me a message, "Excellent review."
Other people have since told me they felt the same way about the book. They put up five star ratings on Goodreads because they felt that was expected of them. I couldn't do that. 
I have written this because another author of my acquaintance has just been given one star for a book someone hasn't yet read. That's not just ridiculous but dishonest and  hurtful. When the book becomes available I'll read it. I'll make up my own mind then. I won't say I "loved" it or "hated" it. I have liked her other books. I expect I'll like this one too but I'll  be honest.
Isn't that the purpose of reviews?

Thursday 22 February 2018

Children in danger

should be removed from that danger if it is at all possible.
I know someone who provides "emergency accommodation" for children at severe risk of harm. The social welfare services can ring her at any time and ask if she can take in a child or children - she has room for two if they are from the same family.
She has been doing this for years. When her husband was alive they long-term fostered two children with severe disabilities and a limited life expectancy. 
It isn't the sort of thing many people want to do and even fewer can actually do it. Most of their family and friends thought they were "mad" or "crazy" or "stupid". 
They were none of those things. They just cared. And she still cares. She says she is getting too old now, too old to take in severely traumatised children who need the care and attention she knows they need. 
I have seen the bedroom a child will sleep in. There is a small wardrobe and a chest of drawers. There are two beds. The beds are made up with waterproof covers on the mattresses. She expects the children to wet the bed. There isn't much else in the room because some children will be destructive.
But she has made up for that with quilt covers that feature cartoon characters the children are likely to be familiar with. She keeps a supply of the "trauma teddies" she has made and, where appropriate she will leave one on the pillow and tell the child, "That's yours to keep."
Yesterday I saw her. She sounded depressed. She had done an emergency over-night care for two children. "Dad's in prison. Mum took an overdose of something.  Their gran came to get them but she smelt of drink and I don't trust that husband of hers."
"Gran" had come with the social worker of course. Gran is family so she is the one who will now look after the children. When their mother has recovered the children will go back to her. An overworked social worker will  be assigned to the family - if there isn't already one. Nobody will do anything because there aren't the resources to do anything and the policy is to keep children with family at whatever the cost.
We briefly discussed the far more distressing case of the two year old in the Northern Territory who was so badly sexually assaulted she had to be rushed to a hospital far from home. 
     "All this bit about keeping the kids at home whatever. It's wrong," she told me, "Taking kids out of danger isn't stealing. It's the parents and the others around them that's doing the stealing. They're stealing our kids lives. It'd be better for the kids if they were moved right out and put somewhere  where they actually got fed and made to go to school and the like."
Yes, this woman is indigenous. She has no time for the "Stolen Generation" arguments. For her the first priority is the welfare of the child. With her vast knowledge of the indigenous community she tells me she doesn't know anyone who was "stolen". She knows much older people who were removed from their family situations in the past because they were not being cared for and even one or two who were sent away to school by their parents. But, she knows of nobody who was removed simply because they were indigenous. One of the current social workers once told me,
    "Present policies make it almost impossible to remove a child from harm's way. We have to keep families together. I have a great-grandmother caring for three school age children. She's not coping but she is the only available relative and I was told that family comes first."
She was looking for help from me. One of the severely traumatised children in that family had not uttered a word at school. He was simply too afraid to say anything. He didn't need a communication board. He needed a loving, stable environment.
What angers me is that all this is happening in a country where we should have the resources and more to deal with these situations. We should be loving and caring for children. We shouldn't be prevented from giving them the help because of a politically correct notion about "family". Yes, family is important - but not so important that children are harmed because the family does not function. 
Children have the right to be cared for.


Wednesday 21 February 2018

Stick to your knitting?

Politics as knitting?
There was a small headline on the letters page this morning which said "stick to your knitting". It irritated me. In this context the words are intended to be derogatory. Stay with what you are familiar with and don't stray outside that.
It isn't good advice. There's a lot to learn in both knitting and politics.
Politicians are not good "knitters". There is a problem right from the start in that other people cast on for them - and they don't do it particularly well. That is particularly so when attendance at the ballot box is compulsory. Voters cast on the stitches that get the politician elected. Some voters will cast on their stitch carefully. They will make sure it is not too loose and not too tight. They will have read the policies and considered the other stitches being made.
Some will cast on tightly. They cling to the party whatever might happen and never change their vote. 
Some will cast on so loosely they are in danger of falling off. They don't consider their vote at all. It just had to go somewhere. They mark the ballot paper from "one to ten" straight down the line. It's why would be politicians like being at the top of the ballot paper.
It also seems that most politicians never master the basic knit stitch. Their attempts at simple garter stitch scarves are hopeless. They lose stitches along the way. The stitches they do gain are the result of split stitches, accidental yarn overs or the fraud of knitting into the same stitch twice when they should not be doing it. They never learn the art of knitting into the back of the stitch at the end of the row so their edges are ragged and uneven. 
Some candidates run out of yarn before they have finished casting on. They never get elected. Others get elected and run out of yarn before they finish or, disillusioned, give up and cast their knitting aside. 
Very few politicians end with a wearable scarf.
It's time we taught politicians to knit.

Tuesday 20 February 2018


you do know what a corflute is?
I think it is actually a trade name which has come into more common use. A corflute is a poster made of plastic but constructed in the same way as corrugated cardboard. They are, at least here, commonly used to advertise the election candidates and their parties.
A measles like rash of them has suddenly appeared. Someone I know quite well is standing for election and his smiling face looked down on me as I passed yesterday. He is standing in the neighbouring electorate and "will almost certainly not" (his own words) win. He's there because that party needs to be seen to field candidates if they are to have any hope of retaining their seat in the "upper" house. 
Corflutes are not cheap. They are designed to last more than one election of course.  
And therein lies one of the problems. The candidates age - but the posters don't.
Do they actually have an impact on voters? There is some evidence to suggest that they have no impact at all - or, if they do have an impact, they have a negative impact.
There is one political party which has almost no money behind it. At the moment it too has one representative in the upper house. She has done an outstandingly good job, especially when you consider she was catapulted into the position in the most unexpected way. At the time she agreed to be second on the ticket nobody even thought the first candidate had much hope. The death of the first candidate, the machinations of the preference system, and the publicity got her over the line. 
So, she's standing/sitting again. The team behind her has added people to run in lower house seats.  And  they aren't putting up any corflutes. Even if they could afford it they have decided that it isn't worth the money. They are realistic enough to know that they might only get used once. Four years in parliament can change a person's appearance. 
I remember looking at a corflute for a former politician. The last time he stood for election (and won) he was still using corflutes that were over a decade old. They showed his hair as dark when it was now gray. He looked a lot older in real life. In a way that might be seen as dishonest.
But there is another problem with all that advertising material, not just the corflutes but the material being stuffed into our letter boxes and inserted into the paper or handed out as "how to vote" cards on election day. It's environmentally unsound.
I wonder what would happen if we stopped all that?

Monday 19 February 2018

Revenge is a dish best served

cold - or perhaps not at all?
Last week I attended a very serious meeting. It was, I hope, the first and last time I will ever have to attend such a meeting.
The meeting was to decide how someone would make what reparation she could for the damage she had caused. She has harmed me and my reputation, a group and its relationships. 
To say the meeting was tense would be a gross understatement. It grew from a misunderstanding that could easily have been repaired by someone else. I didn't get any support then and I have still had none. I know I am unlikely to get any.
But, last week there was a meeting. It was informal but it was agreed at the outset that the perpetrator of the acts would abide by the decision the person who was mediating would make. 
He explained the nature of her offences and how I could, if I chose, take the whole thing to a formal court of law. That this would almost certainly result in a criminal conviction clearly shocked her. She had no idea. He pointed out the harm she had done the group and again that seemed to shock her. 
He asked her why she had done what she had done.  Revenge. It was for something she believed I had done. Did she have any proof? No. It was just what she thought. Did she still think that? No. So why had she gone on with her actions? She couldn't answer that.
Her behaviour has been more like that of a confused child than a reasonable adult. It seemed to have given her a sense of power over me.
And what did I want in return? I had thought long and hard about this. If I had wanted to do it I could have taken the matter up with the police. It had even been suggested I should do that. 
Yes, I was tempted - tempted to get my own back - but at what cost? It might well have irreparably harmed a group of people whom, for the most part, I like very much. I could have taken revenge for all the hurt, the harm, the time it has cost me. 
Perhaps I startled those present when I said, "I don't want anything. (She) has admitted what she has done. I think she should make some sort of reparation to (our group) and the fact that she won't be able to apologise to them without doing more harm is punishment enough."
The mediator accepted this. He suggested reparation in line with what would have happened if it had gone to court but there will be no criminal conviction involved, no public humiliation. She agreed. 
I've now signed an undertaking that this is an end to the matter.
It's enough. I prowled home slowly thinking that I could have taken revenge. But, revenge is a bitter dish and I don't care for the taste of it.

Sunday 18 February 2018

The date of the election

was set long ago. It was set when the politicians decided to give themselves a fixed term.
Fixed terms, so they tell us, give certainty. Perhaps they do. 
It is something the voters in this state may yet have further cause to regret if there is a really messy outcome on March 17th. Imagine finding ourselves with an unwilling coalition of politicians. They will be people who have been able to retain or obtain power only by going into coalition with a group who will effectively be able to call the shots without any of the responsibility. It's not a happy thought.
There is also a long-standing coalition at federal level. The Prime Minister from the major party and the Deputy Prime Minister from the smaller party have been having a very public spat. Can they go on working together? It would have been better for the country if they had both maintained silence and not allowed themselves to be goaded into comment.
I have been thinking about this as there are a couple of organisations I belong to where the leadership is well past the use-by date. People should go. Other people have simply allowed them to stay. At election time they simply announced they would be going on with their roles. It wasn't put quite like that of course but it was done in such a way that some people were unaware that the positions were actually vacant. Some believed there was still another twelve months to run and that they had to wait until then for the chance to appoint someone else.  Others were simply too cowed to speak up. Fortunately there are time limits on how long positions can be held in these organisations. Things will change, hopefully in time for the groups to be revitalised.
Perhaps it is time to consider the same sort of thing for politicians? No, you can't be Premier or Prime Minister or President forever. Somebody else needs to take their turn.
Yes, I am feeling a little anxious about the outcome on March 17. 

Saturday 17 February 2018

"You can't make me!"

It is the second time I have heard a child say this to a teacher in the past week.
On the first occasion the child was one of a group of those in their first year at school.  They were on their introductory visit to the local library. 
He was clearly familiar with the library. He had raced off to find books to read. The teacher was trying to haul him back to be told about something he already thought he knew all about. There was a discussion between the two and he sat down in the group. A bit later he was "helping" the other children. The teacher had probably handled the situation well.
There was a second group of much older students going somewhere yesterday. One of the boys was deliberately walking out into the road when he should have been walking along the footpath. The teacher told him to get back onto the footpath. He refused.
    "You can't make me."
The teacher stopped the rest of the group. There was apparently a train to catch somewhere because I heard something about "miss the train" as I waited to pass the group.  
He stood in the gutter and refused to move. I could see the other children getting anxious. 
      "You can't make me!"
      "If you don't get back on the footpath this minute nobody will be going anywhere."
There were mutterings among his classmates by now. 
      "All right everyone, turn around. We are going back to school."
There was, rightly, an outcry.
At that the boy in question turned around and walked slowly to the end of the line and up on to the footpath. He was smirking as he did it.  The class went on to the railway station. I hope they caught the train.
I wonder how the teacher followed the incident up. Would he have followed the threat up if the child had refused to move? What if the child had still refused to move from the gutter? 
Someone else waiting to pass said to me,
     "He deserves a thrashing but you can't even touch them now."
The boy obviously knew what he was doing. He seemed to know exactly how far he could go. He was handling the teacher rather than the teacher handling him.  
I wonder what I would have done. 
When the Senior Cat was a headmaster it was still legal to "cane" a child. He reserved it for two offences. One was throwing stones and the other was gross insubordination to a teacher. He hated doing it, so much so he would come home with a violent headache. The occasions on which he did it were very rare. I can't remember him doing it when we lived in rural areas. It happened perhaps three or four times when he had his city appointments. 
I never had to send a child to the head. On the one occasion one of them was extremely rude to me his classmates let him know what they thought immediately.
     "You should apologise right now!" he was told. 
There was a mumbled apology and I let it go. The next morning he turned up at school with a single flower he had bought from his own pocket money. I never said a word to his parents or the head of the school.
That was a long time ago. The male teachers wore a collar and tie to school and only took their jackets off if it became too hot. The female teachers, including yours truly, wore skirts and dresses. It is unlikely the children even knew our given names. The parents addressed us by our surnames as well.
It isn't the same now. I keep wondering how I would have handled that boy yesterday.

Friday 16 February 2018

""Good food is expensive"

or so I have been told more than once. 
The issue has come up in the state newspaper very recently and is being debated.
We also have a small glut of peaches right now. We have more than the Senior Cat and I can possibly eat so we are sharing them with other people.
"Who's going to use them?" was the question the Senior Cat asked as I brought in yet more.
And that's the question. It shouldn't be a question but it is a question. There are people I know I could give them to but they simply wouldn't be used. One person I know doesn't eat fruit at all apart from the occasional apple. It seems that even peeling a banana is too much work for him.
It seems that this is the problem. Preparing food has become too much work for some people. They simply don't want to do it. They see it as faster and easier to buy food which has already been prepared or at least partially prepared. 
I know that what I can buy in the supermarket has changed over the years. It is one reason why I favour one local supermarket over another. The one I favour has less space devoted to frozen "meals" and other such items. 
I don't doubt that there is some good food among those boxes and packets but it isn't what I want to use every day of the week - or even once a week. And yes, of course I will buy items from the frozen food section. If you want to eat peas at any time then it is almost essential - and a lot cheaper - to buy them frozen. I don't make ice cream or yoghurt because I don't have the equipment to do it. Instead I choose the brands I buy with some care.
Someone asked me about our food expenses recently. I told her the approximate amount I spend on food for the two of us. She shook her head and said, "You can't be eating that well." I told her what the menu had been for the week and she thought that was impossible. It wasn't. I had prepared almost all of it from "scratch". 
As for who is going to use the peaches? I took some to three different people yesterday. One was not home but I left them by the door. I know she will find them and use them. The others were very pleased to get them.
Last evening I was picking up yet more peaches which had fallen when I saw one of the neighbours. There are two small boys in that house. Their mother is a paediatrician and knows the value of good food. I offered some more to them and had an enthusiastic response. I know she will find time to remove the rather furry skins and the boys will be happy to eat the rest.
Good food doesn't have to be expensive but you need to invest time and thought in the preparation of it.

Thursday 15 February 2018

Politicians fighting one another?

I don't think there have been any news stories lately showing pictures of politicians physically assaulting each other. I have seen them doing it on the floor of the parliamentary chamber in other places.  To the best of my knowledge it hasn't happened here - yet. 
It could. 
The state election campaign took a nasty turn yesterday. The man who wants to be the kingmaker took the first step towards suing the present leader of the opposition.  
He is alleging that the claim he has already done a deal with the present government is libellous. The leader of the opposition has 28 days to respond. 
It's a smart tactical move. It puts pressure on the leader of the opposition. There is a deadline to respond just before election day.
It has cost almost nothing but has given the would-be kingmaker plenty of free publicity. He also knows that he will almost certainly never have to go to court over it. 
The would-be kingmaker's previous voting record in the Senate is all over the place - or so it would seem. He voted with the present federal government over some issues and against it on others. He voted both for and against the government on some issues. 
He also avoided voting on some of the really controversial issues like refugee policy and the cashless welfare card. His "absences" make interesting reading. They are something I find disturbing.
I most certainly would not condone a physical battle on the floor of parliament. I do not condone physical violence at any time.
But, is what this man is doing any better? He appears to want power without responsibility.
That is very dangerous indeed.

Wednesday 14 February 2018

I had a very abrupt email

sent to me yesterday, abrupt to the point of being rude. I had, somewhat reluctantly, offered to do something. The offer was made in the belief that I was expected to make it. As it has been turned down it will mean less work for me but it does mean that a group of people will miss out on potentially valuable information. That can't be helped.
The person who sent it is usually very polite though and I can't help wondering what would happen if she went back and read her email again. Would she phrase it differently? Perhaps she was simply in a hurry and is unaware of how it would sound to the recipient.
It made me aware yet again of the dangers of email and social media. Blogs may not be quite as much of a worry. You can go back to a blog and made alterations. I removed something once because, although there was nothing offensive about it - indeed the opposite, someone told me she had decided she would rather it was not there. It didn't take much effort and I was willing to do it if it had  made her feel uncomfortable at it being there.
But emails are different, once sent they are sent. They are easy to dash off without too much thought...and they can just as easily be misunderstood. You don't get all the clues you get when you are communicating face to face or even just hearing someone on the phone. 
Some people will also endeavour to keep their emails short too. If the Senior Cat wrote emails (he doesn't)) then they would be very short. He is a "Columbus-method" typist - i.e. "discover and land". On the other hand I do so much keyboard work that I am a lot faster than he is and tend to write more. I am, I hope, less likely to sound abrupt.
But the email of yesterday came from someone who is definitely not a Columbus-method typist. I can only assume it was sent in haste and without thought as to how it might sound - or what the consequences might be.
Emails are not like letters. Once you hit "send" that is it. There is no chance of reconsidering your words as you prowl off to the letterbox.  

Tuesday 13 February 2018

Knitting at the starting line

to keep your nerves in check?
A friend sent me a photo yesterday - taken from somewhere off the internet - of the coach of the Finnish snowboarding team at the winter Olympics. Yes, he's knitting. 
Apparently the team is making a blanket for the newborn son of their president. They made a scarf in Sochi four years ago.
Obviously most of them - if not all - can knit. I think it is still a skill taught in Finnish schools.
About ten years ago I took over teaching a small group of young kittens to knit. A good friend of mine who lived permanently in hospital had started them off. 
M.... had a range of medical conditions. There was nowhere she could live apart from hospital but she made the most of her all too short life. Each morning the staff would settle her into her specially designed electric wheelchair and she would "speed" around the hospital. At the request of various members of staff she would sit with nervous patients, visit those who had no visitors. "Find M...." and "Is M... available?" were common. 
And she took her knitting wherever she went. She made socks for the surgeons and things for the hospital shop. She taught people to knit and crochet - and she taught them about life. 
There were varying numbers in her "kitten" group. It started with one child who wanted to learn to knit. He had seen M... knitting and didn't know what it was. She showed him. He was fascinated. While she was showing him another child was watching and wanted to try too. It went on. The fact that knitting is a slow activity didn't bother them. Their lives tended to be slow.
When M... died there were seven children who wanted to continue. They were all going in and out of the hospital on a regular basis. They all knew each other. Their parents knew each other and had the good sense to realise the children might benefit from seeing one another occasionally. The friendships grew - and so did the knitting. M... had started something. She had long since made me promise that "when I'm not here you will go on helping". 
It's been an easy promise to keep. There are five of them now. One of them is sadly no longer with us and another moved away. It has left three boys and two girls. They have knitted their way through primary school and secondary school. They have met on a regular basis. I've taught them not just to knit (and started them on crochet) but helped with schoolwork when they missed school. One of the fathers has helped with maths and science. Other parents have fed and transported them. People in the UK and the USA have become their friends and sent them yarn to use that they would otherwise never see. The mother of one still scours the local charity shops for the yarn they use to make things for charity. 
They are all at university now. This year they won't be meeting regularly. Their varied schedules make it too difficult. They will be meeting when they can though because they tell me that knitting has got them through some tough times. It's always there, tucked into the bags S.... in South Dakota made for them before she died.
Yes, there have been some tough times. Yes, there have been some moments when they have had the usual teenage fits and moods. But, those moments have been rare. They have grown into thoughtful and caring young adults who have already contributed a lot to the community.
I sent them the photograph of the man at the starting line and another of one team member helping another. They all responded with enthusiasm and one of them said,
       "Knitting at the start and all the way to the end!"
This year they are all teaching someone else to knit too. Each of them is teaching someone who is at the starting line of something, someone who needs to keep their nerves in check.
M...knew what they needed at the starting line.

Monday 12 February 2018

So, what is Vegemite?

I have just read a question asking what "Vegemite" is? 
As I have also been asked this question perhaps it is time to explain.
You know what bread is of course - and butter? 
Well, Vegemite is the third essential sandwich ingredient in a Downunder school lunchbox. 
It is actually a by product of beer manufacture - the left over brewer's yeast. Things get added to that and it ends up as a very thick, almost black (actually very, very dark brown in sunlight) and salty paste. 
It is spread - sparingly please! - on bread and toast and (at least when I was a child) on breakfast biscuits (Weetabix in Upover). It is a very common sandwich filling. It can be dissolved in hot water and used as a drink or for soup stock. Almost fat and carbohydrate free it is also a good source of Vitamin B.  The only thing against it perhaps is that it is too salty to be consumed as often as most Downunderites would wish.
Almost certainly though you need to have grown up with it to fully appreciate the glories of Vegemite.
I went to school most days with a Vegemite sandwich. Vegemite was cheap. It is still cheap because you only need the smallest quantity. Sometimes my mother might add tomato if there were any to spare from the garden. I never got cheese and Vegemite although I know some children did. 
If we were hungry after school - and what child isn't? - we were often given a "weetbix" with Vegemite on it. It was a fast, cheap snack. Some children probably had butter as well on their weetbix but my mother couldn't afford that so we just had a smidgeon of Vegemite.
The other common sandwich filling was "peanut paste". Of course it is now called "peanut  butter". That only came in the "smooth" form. Now it comes in "crunchy" and even "extra crunchy". (And no, nobody worried about the possibility that another child might be allergic to peanuts.)  Some children had something called "fritz" on occasions. It was a pale pinkish "German sausage". My mother refused to buy it and, on the one occasion I tasted it, I was glad she probably couldn't afford it. You never put Vegemite with that.
I suppose there must have been other things. I have vague memories of being given a sandwich with left over lamb from a Sunday roast  a couple of times. Sometimes we went home to lunch or, in my case, I went to my paternal grandmother's home and had lunch in the peace and quiet of her kitchen. I loved doing that.
When we moved back to the bush the school house was next door to the school. We went home and made our own lunch but it was often bread and Vegemite. 
There is still Vegemite in the house. The Senior Cat has it on toast. I have it on toast. We spread it even more sparingly now because we are more conscious of the salt content. If I take a sandwich somewhere it won't be Vegemite but I have, in emergencies, been known to take that other staple of a Downunder childhood the savoury biscuit and Vegemite. For me it wasn't the "Sao" or the "Salada" but "Ryvita" or "Vitawheat". 
A dietician once told me that Vegemite should be banned - even though the salt content is less than it once was.  She just didn't understand the importance of Vegemite in the diet of young kittens in Downunder. We thrived on it - and I suspect that most of them still do.  

Sunday 11 February 2018

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is

not working. 
It was never going to work. It was designed not to work. 
The previous government set it up with a great deal of fanfare. It was going to be the answer to so many problems. People would be able to get the funding they needed and spend it on the things they needed. Or were they?
The first hint that there were going to be problems came long before anything was decided. There were things that were going to be "excluded".  The roll out would be "gradual". Some age groups would not... it went on.
There is an elderly couple living not far from me who have a profoundly disabled daughter. She is unable to do anything for herself and is severely intellectually impaired as well. 
Her father is 87, almost 88. Her mother is a little younger, but not much. They have been caring for K.... all her life. What is more they have cared for her extremely well. She is always attractively dressed and beautifully groomed. They take her out, often taking her over to the shopping centre so she can just watch what is going on. K... is mostly a happy person. She will smile if you talk to her. I can ask simple questions and get "yes" and "no" responses from her eye movements. 
Her parents are waiting for a place for K... in one of the "group houses" in the community. It isn't what they want for K... but they have reached the point where caring for her is beyond their physical capabilities. At present people come in to help morning and evening but that has only occurred over the past few years...after her father had surgery. Middle Cat, a physiotherapist, treated him for repetitive strain injuries caused by helping K... now fed through a "peg" but that was done only recently - in preparation for her going into the group house. Before that feeding her was a long and slow process.  There was always the danger of her choking.
Getting "respite" help was difficult...and not always successful. Her parents would try going right away so that K... would not be sent home because caring for her is so demanding. 
One attempt to put K...into a group house did not work. Another resident was violent and completely unable to defend herself. They chose to keep the violent resident rather than K.... They then offered her a "flat" - a room with a bathroom. Someone would come in twice a day. The rest of the time she would be on her own. It was so obviously unsuitable that the offer was not really an offer at all but it allowed the authorities to say it had been made.
There is a new house being built. It has been delayed almost two years now. It might be another six months before it is ready. 
And now there is another problem. K's father told me this yesterday. 
When K... moves in there the "access cab" will no longer be available at the current rate. K... will have to pay full price for any trip.
Why? "There's a bus outside the door. She can catch that."
What they mean of course is that a carer would have to manouvre K...'s specially designed wheelchair onto an "accessible" bus and then off again. That would be not only difficult but dangerous. It is most unlikely the bus will go where they need to go so it would almost certainly need to be done more than once. It would be a major undertaking and no carer would contemplate doing it. What it means is that K... won't go anywhere apart from essential medical appointments - for which she will pay an excessive amount in transport fees. Oh there might be a "walk" to the local shops - if someone is prepared to push her.
K...'s pleasure in life is watching the people around her. It's going out and watching people in the local shopping centre or going to the local park and watching the birds or watching children play there. She's not intrusive. Most people don't notice her. Those who do rarely speak to her. They speak to her parents as if she isn't there.
It is difficult to know how much she understands but she does understands more than most people realise. 
I know she will understand if she gets left behind. I know she will soon associate going in an access cab with some unpleasant medical appointment.  I also know that, in financial terms, she has been considered to always have been a "drain" on society. Some would say she has never "contributed" anything.
Well, I'm sorry but that's not good enough. K... is a person. For all her limitations she has a sense of humour.  She has made her parents laugh. She has made me laugh and made other people laugh.
That is a real contribution to society and it needs to be appreciated as such.
It won't be. The NDIS money is being spent on other things. K... is going to get even less now.

Saturday 10 February 2018

"They think I spend all day playing golf"

or "people don't think we exist unless they come to church and see us there". 
The first of those came from a local Roman Catholic priest and the second came from a Church of England priest in rural England. As they were comments made to me or read by me only two days apart may I introduce you to the life of a priest?
It will have to be the first one as I haven't had an opportunity to talk to the second one, although her comment is pertinent to this.
I asked T.... to tell me - for the purpose of this blog - about his previous day.
T's day began at "just before six". He had a phone call from a doctor at one of the local hospitals. Could he come over now? One of his parishioners was asking for him and the doctor judged there  was not a lot of time left.He went...and sat with her until she died about twenty minutes after he arrived. He went on from there to see two more patients in the nearby hospice because he knew they would be awake and have no family there at that time.
He followed that with a visit to a refugee family the parish is looking after and walked them all around to the school the children will be attending and saw they were enrolled.  Following that he "grabbed a coffee and a roll" and consumed them as he was driving to a meeting.  That was his breakfast. 
Following the meeting he went to the juvenile court for a meeting with a magistrate and two social workers about a teen in trouble and the family that might take the boy on. 
He came back to make a regular visit to an aged care complex and then his assistant, a nun, phoned him to say that the son of the woman who had died had arrived at the airport and was making his way up to see him. That meant organising someone else to take cricket practice for the teens-at-risk he is keeping an eye on. 
Someone had left a couple of fish in the fridge for him so he filleted those and then met with the son and had a preliminary discussion about possible funeral arrangements.
He made it to the last of the cricket practice. Following that he cooked the fish and, while he was eating, read the article he wanted to discuss with me. 
Then he wrote a piece for their church newsletter.
Throughout all this he also answered phone calls and made some. 
     "So, when are you going to play that game of golf T...?" I asked him when we sat down for fifteen minutes to talk about the article.
We both knew the answer to that. He doesn't play golf but he might, if he is very fortunate, get some time to go for a short walk along the "priest's beach" (a local beach some of them occasionally gather at) on Monday.
And I remembered the cartoon I once found and gave to another priest I know. It was a picture of a young clergyman standing in the Bishop's study and the Bishop saying to him, "But you knew when you took this job on you couldn't have Sundays off."
T and I both know what Mondays can be like if he isn't careful - but they aren't spent playing golf.

Friday 9 February 2018

"What tabs are open on your browser?"

I don't normally bother to answer such questions. I answer very few questions on FB - okay, I limit my relationships on FB. I like to think I have an actual relationship with the people there. I may not have physically met all of them but they are people I have other and genuine connections with rather than the casual "friends" relationship that so many people seem to believe is actual friendship. They are people I like to think I could, if they were close enough, perhaps at least have "coffee" with one day.
And one of those people asked a question yesterday that caught my interest because there were already a couple of responses and they caught my interest. 
The question was simply the one in the heading, "What tabs are open on your browser?" It gave me an interesting insight into other people's screen habits.
One of them was pretty much what I expected - but it was interesting to see it confirmed. Yes, she is a true academic.  The rest were a mix of social and research tabs - again about what I would expect from fellow writers. 
Mine reflected my work. FB had been there in the background. I had checked in to see if there were any further contributions to a discussion about what a "wine rubber" was. 
At that point I had just checked the site of our state-wide library network to see if I book I had asked them to get was on the way. Yes, that was "work".  
I had three dictionary sites open as I had been trying to sort out a problem with a communication board - yes that was definitely "work". 
There were two newspaper sites there because I had been catching up on reports of a story which had involved me in some work - the reports were not quite what my colleagues on the ground had suggested was going on. 
I had Blogger open at my reading list because I had promised myself to catch up on the things I want to read as opposed to the things I have to read. 
I had my email open. That is always open. Work comes in on one line but I also keep my personal email open as well. There are news feeds on that. 
And I had Twitter open. Twitter is always open too. I use Twitter for work. I had just been talking to three people in a remote and rather dangerous location - and they had been talking with each other as well. Using Twitter like that is valuable. We use "direct messages" rather than clutter up the main feeds.   The messages are still short. 
Yes, I was trying to be "good" and focus on "work". 
But there was a problem with reading about what other people were looking at. It all sounded interesting. 
There was that curious question, "Can you catch Lyme disease from hamsters?"
Can you? I like to know things.

Thursday 8 February 2018

The private lives of politicians

are none of our business? Or are they?
There was a heated debate  yesterday over whether the private life of the Deputy Prime Minister was open to the public. Much was made of the fact that his marriage had failed and he was having an affair - complete with baby to come.
My own view? It is none of my business. It's not nice for any of those involved but it is none of my business. 
Most politicians approached by the media seemed to feel the same way. Only one of them hedged a bit. He would clearly have liked to be able to condemn the man for political purposes but didn't quite dare.
There was condemnation for the now Senator who had previously posted a couple of videos showing violent confrontations between minority groups and others. He has been accused of being "racist" and even a war criminal. The videos have been slammed as "fake".  Those making the claims know full well that the Senator is not a racist or a war criminal and that the videos are not fake. They know that even if they need to apologise down the track the damage will have been done. They will tell you "it's politics". No, it isn't. It is just nasty, indeed vile, behaviour.
Then there was the third thing that came up yesterday. One of the Opposition politicians has been caught up in the sec.44 problems, the section of the Constitution which does not allow you to be a dual citizen. She made her private life very public indeed, so public that it will go on the parliamentary record for posterity. 
I doubt that there is any decent person who wouldn't feel some sympathy for her. As a child, she was abandoned by her mother. They are still estranged. That's an appalling thing to happen to a child and still a very sad thing as an adult. 
But, whatever her personal circumstances, sec. 44 of the Constitution has to override them. She needs to refer herself to the High Court - or be referred. The Constitution is the ultimate law of the land and must take precedence over her personal circumstances.
The Deputy Prime Minister has done no more or less than many another person. He is not the first politician to do this and he probably won't be the last. It is almost certainly why his fellow politicians refused to condemn him.
The Senator was highlighting his personal hatred of violence and his concern about the way some groups don't integrate well with other groups. It might not have been the best way to do it but he wanted to say something that was clearly important to him - and he was doing it from a background which has given him first hand experience of some of the problems. The Senator on the opposite side won't repeat his statements outside parliament - and that will tell people all they need to know.
That leaves us with the parliamentarian in potential breach of sec.44. It would have been better for her if she had simply referred herself quietly to the High Court. Her personal life is not the issue here. 

Wednesday 7 February 2018

"This time I expect you to WIN!"

Yes, it was said with a certain emphasis.
It was another hot day yesterday. I had to go and post the phone bill back to the telecom company. It doesn't even begin to make sense - but we won't go there. Perhaps it is the heat. 
But, on the way to the letter box, I have to pass an entrance to some local tennis courts.  I often see children there doing "after school" tennis lessons. 
It's a serious business. They aren't there for the fun of it. Parents and grandparents bring them. They stay to watch. These are the budding McEnroes and Murrays and whomever of the future.
It was  very hot again yesterday. It was 36'C when I set out and it would have been hotter than that on the courts. 
As I was passing a mother had just got three children out of the car and I heard her say,  "I don't care if it is hot. This time I expect you to win."
I wanted to interfere. I wanted to go over to the courts and order every child off the courts. It was too hot for children to be playing tennis. It was utter madness. Telling your children you expect them to win on top of that just made it far worse. 
Telling your children you expect them to win at any time is wrong. I have no problem with, "I know you will do the best you can" on appropriate occasions but "expect you to win" and in that heat is so far from unacceptable that I went as far as slowing and staring at her. She didn't even notice. Perhaps it is just as well. I was just someone passing on the street.  But, her children did not look happy.
I wonder whether she will read the report of an inquest in this morning's paper. A young boy died at football practice. He shouldn't have been playing football at all. He had a heart condition. He needed surgery. He should have been taking things quietly. There's a desire to blame the doctors he saw. That's understandable but there would also have been pressure on him to play sport. His parents might well have been sensible and tried to prevent it if they had realised what the consequences would be but there would still have been pressure on him in other ways. He could easily have been out there and collapsed in the heat. 
I remember one of the boys I once taught. He was keen on sports of all sorts but one day he came to me complaining of a pain in his side. The teacher in charge of the football team had the sense to realise that if this boy didn't feel up to playing then he wasn't up to playing - whatever the team might feel.  It was just as well too. The boy's mother took him to the doctor and he had his appendix out the following day. If he had remained on the football field and tried to play and received a hit he might well have been in serious trouble. 
I can remember the other teacher saying to me, "I'm so glad I sent him back in to see you."
And I thought of the mother as well while I was reading the report. What would she feel like if one of her children collapsed in the heat on the courts?

Tuesday 6 February 2018

A home made birthday card

....and another...and another.
It was the Senior Cat's 95th birthday yesterday. I lost count of how many times the phone rang. He enjoyed the phone calls from family - and heard from every one of his immediate family - and from friends.
He also got some cards. Some were the usual commercial cards - all of them nice.  And there were three home made cards. 
One came from our friends M...and P... who are keen photographers. M... makes simple cards - just a folded piece of card with a photograph on the outside. The photographs are always lovely and thoughtfully chosen.
Another came from our friend P... who makes the most beautiful cards. They are professional and exquisitely well made. The Senior Cat has kept all the cards she has ever made for him. He's not really inclined to keep things like cards so these really do mean a lot to him. The verses are always thoughtfully chosen. The designs are simple but elegant. He gets great pleasure from them.
And then there was T...'s card. T... is four and lives across the road. He found out it was the Senior Cat's birthday early in the morning before he went off to "kindy" and, once there, he made a "card". 
It's a simple thing too. It consists of nothing more than stripes of brightly coloured paint down a large sheet of paper.
But, those stripes are carefully done, very carefully done indeed. I can see T... standing there at the easel. He would have been concentrating very hard indeed. The decision as to which colour had to go first and where it would go had to be made...and then more decisions made for each stripe after that. He was also very, very careful to make sure that the stripes did not run into each other.
The result is neat and skillful. 
When he first brought it over in the middle of the afternoon the Senior Cat was out for a short while with Middle Cat. T... was very disappointed. I had to give him a hug and negotiate an agreement that he could come back later.
And back he came. The Senior Cat said all the right things and we  have stuck the "card" to the sliding door - for now. T...helped me with the sticking of it as well. 
As we were doing it he gave me a little smile and that look which says everything about being properly thanked by the recipient. It's so important to be thanked, especially when you are small.

Monday 5 February 2018

A new phone

can be a joy to some - and a despair to others.
The Senior Cat has a new phone. He hopes it will be simpler to operate than the last "mobile" phone.
My siblings expect him to have it on him at all times. They expect him to be instantly available.
He refuses to cooperate. His views about phones are "old-fashioned". They are there for when they are actually needed. You only phone someone if there is a genuine reason to do so. The "just checking" idea does not impress him.
It is different of course he phones one of his friends. As he points out he only does that "once in a while". It isn't every day. Middle Cat is inclined to check every day. She doesn't trust me to look after him and let her know if something needs attention - unless of course, as recently, she can't get in her vehicle and rush over here. 
    "Dad should have it on him at all times," Brother Cat informed me again the other day.
    "I can't do anything about that," I told him, "It's up to him."
    "You should make him have it with him," Black Cat informed me when I answered his phone yesterday. I told her he wouldn't answer it in church and the person he had gone with is much more adept at using his phone than the Senior Cat will ever be. What is more he would be surrounded by people with phones. He won't take it into church because, on the one occasion he did take the old one, it rang in the middle of the sermon. He still curls up in embarrassment at the memory. (It was a wrong number.) He didn't know how to put it on the vibration mode. 
I know a lot of older people like him. They see no need to be constantly "available". They don't want to be "checked up on" constantly. 
I sympathise.
It is different for the young. They feel naked and vulnerable without their "smart phones". There seems to be an urgent need to be always available. They might miss out on that vital piece of information, that invitation, that piece of gossip.
But there are the young who manage without them. At Ms W's school the boarders are not permitted to have phones with them at all times. There are set times for them to phone their parents and their parents and designated people to phone them. At other times you speak to someone in the office. It is only for the most  urgent of reasons that a student and parent can communicate at other times.
Day girls have to hand their phones in. Anyone caught with a phone has the phone confiscated and loses the right to bring a phone to school at all. Parents are told. The rule is rarely broken. The girls largely approve of it. They might grumble but Ms W's friend told me yesterday, "It's better than the school she (a neighbour) goes to. She reckons they just sit there with their phones at lunch time and don't event talk to each other." 
That is likely an exaggeration but I have been past the local high school and seen the girls sitting on the low wall and staring at their phones. It isn't friendly.
The idea of banning phones in school time has been raised again in this morning's paper. Ms W and her friends could tell you that it would be a good idea. Leave your phone, if you have one, at a designated point when you arrive and pick it up when you leave. Yes, another thing the administration has to worry about, something that had not even been thought of even when I was at university. 
But we managed without them. We didn't think we needed them for "safety". 
I don't know whether the world was really any safer then but perhaps it was. After all, we actually talked to other people instead of sending text messages.

Sunday 4 February 2018

A "dinosaur" birthday party

took place across the road yesterday. We were invited. I couldn't go because I had promised to deliver a book to a friend. 
The book was important, the friendship even more so. I was willing to head out in the heat to do that. It meant I could also hand over two more books to another person and some yarn to someone else.
So, I missed the party.
The Senior Cat went for about an hour. He likes small children, probably more than I do. They fascinate him. He likes to talk to them although his hearing means it is very difficult to hear them now. He likes to watch what they do and how they do it. He's still a teacher at heart.
He came home bemused. Yes, there had been a dinosaur at the party. It was apparently a very large model. There had been a smaller dinosaur too...a smaller model. There was also a ball pond or pit or whatever you call those containers of brightly coloured balls that children seem to delight in. 
Someone had arrived and assembled the dinosaurs and the ball pond and the same person was on hand to organise a couple of games and keep the fifteen or so children entertained.  The Senior Cat said she did a very good job. He knows about these things. He used to do the occasional birthday party for younger kittens. He knows that keeping a group of excited young ones under control is not easy. 
But he came bemused all the same. "It must have been very expensive."
I agreed.
We both remember a previous neighbour. She worked part time but she was also a wife and a mother and she took those things very seriously. She still does. We still see her occasionally. 
Her birthday parties for her children were magnificent - and cheap. 
The Senior Cat provided entertainment for each of her children on one occasion each. That was certainly more than they would have had if they had been required to pay for it. As a neighbour the Senior Cat was happy to help because the father had helped him on more than one occasion.  
But, on the other occasions, the entertainment - often talked about for weeks afterward - was not expensive commercially provided entertainment. It took time and preparation - in which the birthday child was expected to be involved.  
It seems there is no time for that sort of thing now.
All but one birthday in our family falls over the long summer holiday from school. We were often away from any friends we might have because we  would be visiting family in the city. It was convenient for my mother. She did not want to have to provide birthday parties on top of having taught all week - and I am not sure other children would have wanted to come to "the teachers' house" for a party anyway. We didn't have parties. As my birthday falls on a day when other people are celebrating anyway I didn't even get cake and anything I was given tended to  be "for Christmas and birthday".  Is it any wonder I hate any sort of fuss now?
Still, even other children didn't get the sort of parties children have now. Most of them seemed to be about inviting a very small number of children to what amounted to some party games organised by the child's father and afternoon tea with tiny sausage rolls, jelly and ice cream, and the birthday cake. On the very rare occasions my siblings were invited to such events this is what they described. I imagine it was all most parents could afford and that, like most parents now, they were glad when the occasion was over.
The Senior Cat and I reminisced about this. We both came to the conclusion that the amount of money spent on a couple of hours of entertainment was not something we would want to do. Even with the professionally organised entertainment it must have been a lot of work.
I suppose it has become a matter of at least trying to "keep up with the Jones's" as they say.  

Saturday 3 February 2018

When do you get "old"?

This is a question which has been occupying my thoughts on and off for the last few days.
The Senior Cat will be 95 on Monday. I've noticed a real difference in his physical capacities over the last twelve months. It has reached a point where, if he is home alone, I try not to be away from the house too long. I do the shopping and other necessary chores while someone helps him have a shower. I go to the library while he is having his afternoon "rest" - and now he sleeps in that time.  He goes to bed earlier - and gets up later.
None of that matters of course. What does matter is that he can no longer get down to tie up his tomato plants or use the circular saw in the shed or, more serious still, ride his gopher to get to his church or the hardware shop. I do the banking.
In that sense I suppose he is "old". On the other hand the Senior Cat is still reading psychology, philosophy, religion, and more . He reads about social issues - and discusses them with me. He taught the two little kittens across the road a conjuring trick recently - and may well teach them some more. He was discussing 3D printing with a young adult recently. Those things still fascinate him.
In other words he still has all his mental faculties - even if I have to repeat things because he didn't hear something the first time.
But, he laughed at himself yesterday. 
He had been trying to work out how to provide his grandson with the wedding gift he has been planning and when it would need to happen.
"I'll have to get you to put some money in the cheque account," he had told me.
I looked at him and shook my head. His grandson has never used a cheque in his life. He has probably never even seen one. 
"No," I told him, "You just put it straight into their joint bank account."
He stood there thinking about it and then said, "I'm really out of date aren't I?"
He isn't really. For someone of almost 95 he is still "young" in many ways. He can use an i-pad and his new mobile phone is a thing of joy to him. It is just that things like 21st century ways of doing banking are a mystery to him.