Monday 30 April 2018

So we are "behind" in education

and we need to be "more like Singapore"?
Hold it right there. 
My godchildren are Chinese. One is now at university in Singapore and the other is in high school in Singapore.
They are both highly intelligent and yes, they have done well in the Singapore school system. They can read and write and do their maths. They know their science.
But  is the system really that good? 
In their case their mother has seen to  it that they have also had music lessons and that they gained physical skills in self-defence and they have been  skiing in Switzerland and Japan. With encouragement from me they have done some art and craft.
They are both great people and I am proud of them.
I also know that they are not typical products of Singaporean education. Their parents are both professional people who earn good incomes. They have tried to give their children extra experiences.
Singapore is a tightly controlled society. It is so tightly controlled that the sort of underwear a child wears to school can, if not of the approved kind, result in a letter to a parent.  (No, I am not trying to be funny. It happened to their mother.)
The school system is also tightly controlled. Discipline is strict. Learning tends to be very formal. Creativity is only encouraged within the guidelines laid down.
You can go to an English medium or a Chinese medium school. You can learn Chinese in one or English in the other. You might also learn a second foreign language. 
It all works for a tiny, over-crowded island. Anything less than this would almost certainly mean that so many people could not live in such a small space.
It doesn't necessarily mean that it is good.
Finland also also ranks well in education. They don't do things the same way at all. Classes tend to be small in Finland. Education is seen as very important. But, they don't have "prep" or "homework". They encourage a lot more physical activity in Finland. Children are not kept inside except in the most extreme weather. They encourage a lot more creativity and interaction.  Most children know some English before they start school. They get BBC Playschool on television - in English. It is just accepted that you learn English - and most of them learn another language as well such as Russian or German or Swedish. They rank highly on other areas too - science, maths, happiness (if such a thing as "happiness" can really be measured.)
It would be impossible to bring either education system into our schools but there is the report in this morning's paper saying we need to be more like Singapore. 
I wonder how much the report's author knows about Finland?

Sunday 29 April 2018

I think he was lonely

rather than really interested.
We had a newcomer to the knitting group at the library. It was a smaller group yesterday. The change of location probably had some people confused. Half of the library is currently housed in the community centre and it will be for some time to come. The building work doesn't seem to be progressing at any great pace.
But a male turned up. Having a male as part of the group would be interesting.
This male though was young. He had come on his bike. He didn't have yarn or needles - but he said he wanted to learn to knit. Fine. If he really wants to learn we are happy to teach him. 
But I wondered if he really wanted to learn or whether he was just lonely. Did he just see the little group and think, "Maybe...?" 
Nobody had any spare needles but I passed over a crochet hook and gave G a ball of wool she could take a length from and she proceeded to show him how to crochet.
He did extremely well. He pulled it undone several times and did it again...and again. At one point he stopped and went and got himself a cup of black tea. I wondered what he thought of the library tea. It's hot and wet and well...library tea. 
We talked to him and to each other. 
I hope we made him feel welcome.
You see, he's Japanese. His English is good enough for him to make himself understood but it is a long way from perfect. He is living with a family from South America. They speak Spanish at home. He works here but in an area where he would have very little need to communicate with people during the working day.
And he said he didn't have any friends. 

Saturday 28 April 2018

You want some milk?

So you have run out of milk? You live in the UK and there is (unbelievably) still a corner shop but it is 6am and that doesn't open until 8am. There is no milk for your coffee? And no, you don't drink tea?
Oh. This is disastrous. I can sympathise. I know there are people who are never able to function properly without the early morning coffee-fix but there is not much I can do to help.
I consider myself fortunate that I am not such a person. I will drink coffee but I don't particularly like it. 
But it made me think about milk. Milk has been an important part of my life. My mother breast fed all of us and then saw to it that we drank more milk.
This was not a problem in the little place where I was born. Other people kept cows. One of my early memories is of sitting on the cross bar of the Senior Cat's bike, aged about 18 months and going to get the milk from the dairy on the other side of the railway line. It was cold and still quite dark. 
I have no idea why I was allowed to go as well or how he managed to keep me and the milk in the can on the bike.
The milk of course came straight from the cow. There was no nonsense about it being pasteurised or low fat or having something extra added to it.
We moved to the city. Milk came in bottles. The milkman delivered it. In our area it was still delivered by horse and cart. We were probably the last area in the city to get milk delivered that way. (Bread came that way too.) 
We moved to a very remote area of the state. My mother bought catering size tins of powdered milk. Every morning she would beat the powder into water with a manual rotary beater. This tasted just marginally better than the tap water. The tap water was salty but the small rainwater supply was only for drinking as water - or the Senior Cat's tea. On Middle Cat's birthday (the only one not in the long summer holidays) my mother would make "ice-cream" from a mixture of powdered milk, condensed milk and other ingredients I no longer remember. It was a process that required several beatings of the half-frozen mixture. 
The big treat for us as kittens was a scoop of "real" vanilla icecream on the rare occasions we went to a much larger place nearby.
We moved again. This time it was a dairying district and we were back to real milk, straight from the cow. It was my brother's job to get it first thing in the morning - whatever the weather - from the dairy a short distance down the road. The milk was thick with cream and we drank gallons of it at an unbelievably low price. We ate a lot of cream too. Nobody knew about cholesterol readings.
And so it went on. We went back to powdered milk in one place before my mother discovered UHT milk and decided that was preferable. 
Now I buy milk in the supermarket. The milkman no longer calls at all. The last milkman stopped delivering about thirty years ago. One of my nephews was here recently. I'd made tea for him and the Senior Cat. He went to get the milk from the fridge.
     "You have a  lot of milk in here Aunty Cat", he told me. There was a part empty container and a full two litre one. 
     "Not really," I told him, "It will be gone by Monday."
     "Well, I guess you don't want to run out of milk."

Friday 27 April 2018

The Banking Royal Commission

is throwing up some interesting information. 
I suspected it might. I have no doubt that other people also suspected it would.
My father's late cousin once told me that he didn't think banks were making too much profit - but he had bank shares and was doing very nicely from them.  
It's a different story if you owe a bank money. You want a mortgage? Oh  yes, we will let you have the money - at a price.
You can't repay the loan?  No, we aren't interested in renegotiating the terms. 
And so it goes on.
My own banking is fairly simple. I try to avoid going to the bank. I am still "old-fashioned" in that I use cash when I can. The good reason for that is that I find it difficult to manipulate the tiny keys on some machines - and the card doesn't always work the way it is intended to work.  Still, I can use the "hole in the wall" or the ATM. I like receipts too.
I paid one of my irregular trips to the bank last week. The person who served me was pleasant enough. I didn't do what I normally do, check to see that my old-fashioned passbook had been correctly brought up to date. Yes, I know. I can hear you saying it, "You need to come into the 21stC Cat!" 
But, last week, I went to the dentist and I fitted a quick trip to the bank before that. I then went to the dentist and forgot to look at the passbook. 
Yesterday something nudged me to look at it. There's an error there. I checked with the "hole in the wall". Yes the money had been put in so I don't need to go back to the bank. I know that it can be rectified in my pass book next time I go to the bank.
But, it was a simple transaction and the teller made a mistake in that he did not record all of it in my passbook. If someone can make a mistake there how many other mistakes are being made? I wasn't distracting him with conversation. I wanted him to get the job done because I had to be somewhere else but I was not in so much of a hurry that I was being impatient. What happens if he is under pressure? What happens when those responsible for major  transactions are under pressure?
I have to do the Senior Cat's banking too these days. It is something I detest doing. I loathe being responsible for other people's money. If I owe someone change when I do their shopping I want to get it back to them as quickly as possible.
Obviously the people who work in finance and banking don't think the way I think. Being a financial planner would be a nightmare job for me. I would be terrified I would give someone the wrong advice and end up losing money for them. Being the Treasurer of an organisation is the one officer position I never ever want to hold. 
There was a subject I did not need to do in Law School. It was a compulsory subject for the Accounting-Law students. The rest of us could do things like Social Welfare Law but they had to do something called, "Banking, Finance and Insolvency Law". It was however renamed right from the start and called,
"Banking, Finance and Insanity Law".
That's about right. 

Thursday 26 April 2018

Someone I know is having twins

- at least, that is the way she has described the situation.
Nicola Morgan, author of some thoroughly sensible books for teenagers like "Blame my brain", "The teenage guide to friends" and "The teenage guide to stress" has two more books coming out.
One "baby" is called, 
      "Positively teenage: A positively brilliant guide to teenage well-being"
Ms W knows about this and said "the sub-sub title should be 'or how not to be a horrible teenager' because you have to work at it".
Ms W has, so far, succeeded in being a lovely teenager but, yes, she has to work at it and, as she puts it, "Not get really mad at my Dad when he leaves a tissue in the wash."
I have yet to read the book but I like the idea of a book which sets out to be positive rather than negative. Why? Because I know some really great teenagers who are very positive but aware people. 
Nicola's other "baby" is called, 
      "The teenage guide to life online"
and if ever a book was needed it is this one. 
Ms W knows about this one too. She isn't keen about life on line. She doesn't have a Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter account - or anything else that so many teens do have. She still uses her father's personal email account.
    "I haven't got anything to hide from my Dad," she told someone recently.
I know that will change eventually. It won't be because she wants to hide things from her father  but it will be because she feels confident she can cope with the responsibility. Right now she simply doesn't like a lot of what she sees happening among her friends. She doesn't like it even though I think her good friends are all supportive of one another.
     "Maybe Nicola will change my mind about all that stuff. I'll read it and find out."
I hope a lot of other teenagers will read both books and find out.
But I am also ordering copies for my niece and nephew who have children of their own. Their children are growing up fast, too fast. B... is already concerned about his eldest child, a girl. She is only eight but she is already aware of social media. Some of her friends already use social media.I can only hope they don't use it without parental supervision. He and his wife  will not be letting their children have access to social media any time soon but they do want to know how to approach the problems they can foresee. So, having no doubt that the two books will be as good as Nicola's previous books, I am providing them with copies.
I know they will be useful, very useful. 

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Villers-Bretonneux, the war

that made it a name so many became familiar with and the people involved are on my mind this morning.
An acquaintance of mine is there this morning. He has taken over the annual pilgrimage from his father, now too old and frail to travel. His wife has gone with him this time.
This remarkable family has sent someone back every year. It isn't something the rest of the world knows about. For them it is a personal, private matter. 
They actually go and stay in a smaller place not far from there - "the village where my great-grandfather's friend came from". They have maintained a contact for the last one hundred years.
I found out about this journey  because J....took some rosemary from our garden several years ago. His wife told me why they wanted it when she asked for it.
There is nothing heroic about the story. It is simply a story of two men who met in the midst of a war that neither of them wished to be involved in - and who remained friends for the rest of their lives. Their families carried on the contact. The English speakers made the effort to learn French and the French speakers made the effort to learn English. Perhaps that came about because both men were teachers and there have been more generations of teachers in their families. J....says his accent is appalling but a native French speaker I know tells me, "It is not good but much better than most I know."
And J... and his brother L... and sister S..... saw to it that their children have French second names and those children have carried on that tradition because they wished to do so. All of them have made it their business to learn French.
The generation growing up now was perhaps a little less interested until recently. There is a renewed interest in learning French. One of the girls, the granddaughter of J's cousin, did an exchange year in that far off place. She came back here - and then went back again. After university here she went back for a third time.
Next week she will marry there, marry the great-grandson (or great-great grandson?) of her great grandfather's friend.  I am not quite sure what the relationships are.
It will have taken a little more than a hundred years to happen but J.... told me,
     "I think my great-grandfather and his friend would be very happy to be one family at last." 

Tuesday 24 April 2018

"The world is over populated anyway,"

one of the more distant neighbours told me this morning. He was out walking his dog and stopped to speak to me as I was picking up the Senior Cat's paper from the lawn.
He had just told me that the front page picture of a smiling Duchess of Cambridge was a "disgusting fuss about nothing".
This man would make Malcolm Turnbull or Jeremy Corbyn look like avid monarchists. I avoid him whenever possible. 
Before he retired he was a high ranking union official. His views on workers' rights, what workers should and should not be able to do and more make me shudder. He admires the Chinese leadership, and thinks people like Putin and organisations like Hamas all have "something going for them". 
I strongly believe that workers should be treated fairly and well and be treated that way in a safe working environment. I also believe that if it is possible for them to participate in some decision making then that's likely to be a good thing. I don't think they should be running the company unless they take on all the financial risks and responsibilities involved. 
My neighbour disagrees. He would also "send all members of the so-called royal family to Siberia and make them work for their living". 
The new baby was of course too much for him at all. He was seething.
      "Perhaps," I told him as I edged backwards, "We should just be happy that another baby has arrived safely and that his mother is alive to care for him."
      "She shouldn't have had any more children. She shouldn't have had any at all. The world is over populated anyway."
      "So your daughter shouldn't have had the twins?" I asked, "That's six children for them isn't it?"
He strode off without answering. 
I know. I shouldn't have said that. 

Monday 23 April 2018

"If you are going to the library

will you get me another couple of books to read? I've run out."
Thus came the wail from the Senior Cat.
Run out? No, of course he had not run out of reading matter. The pile in his bedroom is threatening to topple over - again. He has books by his chair, books piled in other places, books in the shed.
But, I knew what he meant. 
What he wanted was what he refers to as "a couple of crime yarns".  I always get at least two at a time - just in case he decides one is not something for him. 
He will be reading something else too. Recently he reread JB Priestley's "The Good Companions" because someone his age was reading it for the first time - at the Senior Cat's suggestion - and they were going to discuss it. I hunted down a copy of "Angel Pavement" - something he had somehow missed out on - and he read that too. He has finished that now and I am not sure what is next on the "serious" list.
At the same time he was reading a Margaret Murphy he had found in a pile somewhere.  
So yesterday I returned some books. Then I prowled along the shelves and found a Gary Disher he had not read and, even better, an Aline Templeton he had not read. I need to look at the print these days. He doesn't need large print but he does want good clear print. (I am with him there. There is no excuse for tiny fuzzy print. Reading should be a pleasure not a squint-squint process.)
     "I thought you would have read those long ago" someone told me as I was checking them out.
     "Getting them for my father," I explained.
     "Does he still read then?" they asked.
I explained that he still reads - a lot. We don't have time to watch television. We are too busy reading when other people are watching television. I would like to be able to do both things at once but....
I think the person who spoke to me had difficulty understanding that a 95yr old with an inquiring mind still needs to read if it is physically possible for them to do so. 
      "I gave him theology, psychology and philosophy for his birthday and he is halfway through the third one now," I said.
There was a shaking of the head. My questioner went off with some DVDs, a couple of magazines and one book. I have no doubt they are happy with what they chose and they will enjoy their choices. 
It's just that the Senior Cat is different. He wishes Ian Rankin would write another Rebus novel.

Sunday 22 April 2018

Never too old to learn?

The Senior Cat bought a new woodworking device yesterday. I am not quite sure what it is supposed to do but he seems to know what he wants it to do.
He's only 95 - and he is still learning. He uses his i-pad. He uses his head and his hands. He still likes to have conversations with people.

I like all those things too. If I live to 95 I want to be like the Senior Cat - still wanting to learn things and having the mental capacity to do it.
I taught a craft class to adults yesterday. They wanted to be there and there were just seven of them - which is about the right number for a hands on class.  I think I tried to teach a bit too much. It's difficult to judge, especially if you don't know all the students beforehand. But, I did know some of the students and that helped. It helped that I must have done a reasonable job last time because they wanted to be there again.  
It took me a long time to prepare for the class. Someone else I know saw some of the preparation I was doing.
    "What are you bothering with all that for? I'd just go ahead and teach it. They won't appreciate it," I was asked.
Um....I want to bother.  I can't "just go ahead and teach it". I need to know exactly what I am doing and why I am doing it. There is a lot more to the subject than you appreciate. The students will never know how much work I put in but they will know if I haven't prepared as well as I could. 
I didn't actually say those things of course. The person who asked me the question used to be a teacher though. She should know better than that. (It's all right. She doesn't read this as she has no idea how to use the internet.) 
I like seeing people learn things. One of the great pleasures of teaching is seeing a student have a "light bulb" moment - seeing that moment when they suddenly understand.  The good thing is being able to be pleased for them. 
The other thing that worried me yesterday was whether I would be able to show people how to do something they needed to do. There are two ways of doing the thing in question. I can do it one way but not the other. I worried about this until I found something on the internet. Thank you to the internet and the people who post sensible little videos on there that really do explain I felt much more confident. I could give people the link and tell them. "I can't do it this way but you might want to try."
And yes, they went at varying speeds and with varying degrees of skill but I think they all managed to learn something.
Now, what can I teach them next?  It will be a lot of work but yes, it's worth it. I learn as much as they do - perhaps even more.

Saturday 21 April 2018

I am teaching today

and, as always, I have doubts. Have I done enough preparation?
Teaching adults is so very different from teaching children. 
The language I would use for children is entirely different from the language I will use for today's adults. The exercises I give adults are entirely different from the exercises I give children. I will make certain assumptions about adults that I would not make about children, especially very young children.
Today I will assume that the adults I want to teach want to learn, that they want to be there. I will assume they know the difference between "left" and "right", "over and under", "first" and "second".  I will assume adults have the physical skills to manipulate materials and that if I suggest someone turns something "upside down" or "sideways" then they will do just that without me having to show them. 
I also know that they may know more than I do about certain things and that this should give them their own ideas. It is entirely possible I may need to encourage them to try those ideas - but that is what I am there for. I am not there to dictate the way I might dictate to a child - although, if I am a good teacher, I should not need to dictate to the child either. 
But, I have not taught this material before. I wonder how much I will have to try and demonstrate as well as explain. There is a technique that the students may be able to master today. If they can their work will flow. If they can't then the alternative, the one I had to master, will also let them do the job at hand.
And, above all, I want today to be both a learning experience and enjoyable. This is about a craft that is also an art form.
The Book of Kells is more than a thousand years old. There is Celtic art work far older than that. It is still an inspiration today.
Celtic Knotwork fascinates me in a way I never expected geometry to fascinate me.
I want it to fascinate the students too.

Friday 20 April 2018

"An unknown man..."

is perhaps how he would have been described. 
If there had been an accident while he was out walking then perhaps his neighbours would have been able to call the police and say,
     "Yes, he lived next to us...but we don't know his name."
You see there was a death notice of sorts in the paper yesterday. It was put there by the person handling the estate of a man who had nobody he could call "family" and whom I doubt believed he had friends.
I met him some time ago - via a little flag hanging out of his letter box.  He had apparently observed that some of the many elderly people who live in the street have developed the habit of leaving a little flag hanging out of the letter box if they need me to do something for them. If there is a flag there I open the letter box and take out the prescription of their small shopping list or put a cheque in the bank for them or....well you know the sort of thing an older person who isn't feeling that well might need.
It was fortunate I noticed the flag out of that letter box. I didn't know the occupant. I had, to the best of my knowledge, never laid eyes on him. I looked in the letter box  - who wouldn't? 
There was an envelope and there was an envelope with "the chemist" on it. The envelope was sealed. There was nothing "please" or "thank you" or any form of note at all.  I took it to the chemist. I was going to the chemist for other people anyway so it  wasn't out of my way.  
At the chemist I passed everything over and went off to do the usual things before returning to pick up the prescriptions. They were all there in various paper bags - with the name of the patient on the outside.
And the chemist stopped me on the way out. Did I know this man?
I said no and explained. I looked at the name of the prescription and asked if I was right. Yes. It wasn't cancer but it was a condition that would kill him - slowly and painfully. 
      "Well, try to keep an eye on him if you can," the chemist told me, "And I shouldn't tell you this but I will - just keep it to yourself. His doctor is....."
Oh, like that. I didn't doubt the chemist had spoken to the doctor.
This man didn't own a car.  He had ceased to go to work. 
Over the last few months of his life I went to the chemist for him on a regular basis. Occasionally I would do shopping or post letters for him. Everything would be left in the letter box. All his letters were business related. Any mail left in his box - and I sometimes had to move it aside to put something in so inevitably saw - was business related too.
One morning a neighbour stopped me and said,
    "The police were there last night and then an ambulance. They took a body away."
It didn't surprise me. The neighbour thought he might have committed suicide. I just said, "No. He was very ill."
     "Why didn't he tell us? We could have helped."
Yes, they might have done - but it seems he didn't want that.
By then I had spoken to him. Our conversations tended to be brief. I did learn he was the only child of only children. He had come here from Europe. His English was good but heavily accented. He was a well educated man who had been involved in research work. I deduced that from the mail "Dr....." and the name of the place he had been employed at. 
I could speak a few words of his language and, if I left him a note, I would always greet him that way. It was one of the few things that would put a faint smile on his face if we spoke to each other.  He asked how I knew. I explained what my work was and he nodded as if he needed to know but was not particularly interested.
For as long as he could he took solitary walks and I would get a nod if I passed him. He didn't want to stop and talk.
Yesterday there was a notice in the paper. There will be no funeral service.
I knew him - but he was an unknown man.

Thursday 19 April 2018

Barbara Bush was an

excellent mother. She understood the importance of reading to your children.
I do not say that lightly. Mrs Bush was a woman who used her position as First Lady in order to do good.  If she had encouraged just one other mother or father to read to their child she would have done good. She encouraged thousands upon thousands to do that - and not just in the United States.
I know that from my experience of her. Mrs Bush was a strong supporter of International Literacy Year before she became First Lady.
As I was writing all those old-fashioned snail mail letters asking people to talk to their UN representatives I sometimes got unexpected responses from  unexpected places. People were talking about the idea. It was what I had hoped for.
Someone mentioned the idea to Mrs Bush and then wrote back to me. I can't remember exactly what he said now but it was along the lines of "you have a strong advocate in Mrs Bush. I suggest you write to her directly in the manner you wrote to me".  So I wrote to Mrs Bush at the address he gave me. 
I was not at all certain that the wife of the then Vice President of the United States was going to be interested but the man who was suggesting it was someone who was being very supportive. 
But, I had a response. What is more the letter was not simply a pro-forma response. It came from someone who seemed to be a secretary and it asked some questions. I answered those questions. Mrs Bush used the information I gave her. 
When the year was announced Mrs Bush gave her support to many of the initiatives that grew out of the year. She was an enthusiastic supporter of the "Llama Libraries" - the small "libraries" that are still carried by llamas to remote places in Peru and Bolivia.  She gave her support to the Book Bus initiative which still supplies a mobile library service in countries like Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania. When someone suggested a  book exchange system in Nepal and north-east India she mobilised some support in the United States to get it started.  The far reaching effect of that was shown recently when two young doctors graduated. Their parents, peasants in a remote village in Nepal, had been among the first to benefit from the book exchange.
There were many other projects, big and small, both inside and outside the United States that she supported  by using her position to get people interested in them. She understood the wider value of literacy, that it is not simply about teaching people to read and write. Library closures worried her. She wanted children to read. She wanted them to read fiction as well as non-fiction. 
Mrs Bush may have been a First Lady but she was first of all a mother who read to her children. Encouraging other parents to do the same was a powerful influence for good which is still having a positive impact today.

Wednesday 18 April 2018

A visit to the doctor

is never something to be enjoyed, merely tolerated.
I had to go yesterday to see mine about the results of a routine blood test.
I try to schedule appointments to see her fairly early in the morning. There are good reasons for this and the reception staff used to be as accommodating as they could be. Now I can book an appointment on line and make sure that it is fairly early in the morning. I still leave the first few for people who need to see her before they go to work but then she likes to see me as soon as possible.
Of course yesterday she was running late. She was running twenty two minutes late by the time she saw me and the morning was not even half over. 
I know we have ten minutes to discuss the results of my blood test, take my blood pressure (BP) and for me to get out of there. If we could do it even faster than that it would help her. Right.
The blood test is fine. My vitamin D levels - the cause of concern - are back to normal. 
The BP test is a different story. I do not like having my BP taken. When I was very young a doctor took it without explaining anything and I suppose that I have never managed to accept the sensation. My adult self says, "Don't be silly. This is essential." 
It doesn't help.
It doesn't help because there is another problem. I find it impossible to keep my arm absolutely still on command. That is a result of my cerebral palsy and it is something I have no control over. My current doctor recognises that. 
Yesterday, after failing twice, she tried something new. She put another little device on my other wrist and said, "Imagine a moped going up a hill."
The little device whirred. We had no success. 
     "C....that's the last thing I need to imagine. The idea of riding one of those things terrifies me," I told her. 
We both laughed and then she said,
"I'll give it one more go. Can you think of something else?"
The little device whirred again.
"What were you thinking of this time?" she asked.
"A contented cat purring," I told her.
 More laughter.
But I am glad she doesn't want to see me for another six months.

Tuesday 17 April 2018

"Ten things your child should do

before your age of ten - or something like that," he told me. Then he went on, "I'm getting sick of being told what my kid should do."
I waited.
"There was something in the paper and then we got this from his teacher. It's like we don't know he needs experiences but we haven't got time to do it. G (his mother) and I  work full time. We have to get him to football and gym and music and the b....birthday parties at weekends. He's got no time either. He already gets a heap of homework..."
I can't remember the rest but the father ranted on for several minutes. I also have no doubt that there would be many other parents who would agree with him.
Yes, there was a piece in the paper the other day about things children should be able to experience - things like climbing trees, building cubby houses, catching tadpoles, riding a bike - and falling off. Too many children don't experience those things any more. 
It isn't just about time. There is the same amount of time in a week that there was when I was a child. People just use it differently. 
It does have something to do with the fear parents now have of their children being injured or molested, bullied or otherwise subjected to harm. You don't simply tell them to "go outside and play" any more. You apparently need to be there to supervise them. They need to be constantly watched. It is safer to have them inside so that you know where they are. 
Or do you? There's still the screen time - the television, the computer, the phone with the internet connection and more. 
The subject has been under discussion in this house too. Someone the Senior Cat knows has, with the best of intentions, had an idea she wants to use as a fundraiser for charity. She has talked to the Senior Cat about this as it would involve some woodworking skills - something she doesn't have and would need to acquire. There would be some major issues to overcome before it could happen but, as the Senior Cat was telling me, I was thinking of another issue. When he had finished telling me about his conversation and his concerns I said, "And it is something children should be making for themselves."
He nodded and said, "Yes, I thought that too - but can you see it happening?"
No, it isn't likely. 
Of course there are children who "do" things like that. There's a human interest piece in the paper this morning about a young boy who has made a detailed Lego model of one the city's theatres. It is so well done it is on display in another theatre right now. On Saturday I will be teaching a class and, elsewhere on the same premises, there will be a group of very young embroiderers learning skills that will otherwise be lost. They are constantly being encouraged to be creative. On that same day Ms W will probably begin work on a plan she has for a very tiny village. G..., who is about the same age, will almost certainly spend some time creating earrings or making more of the pom-pom cushion she has designed herself. Next week I have promised to teach a teenage boy how to read a Japanese crochet pattern. He makes the most amazing puppets. He can knit, sew, cook and use all manner of woodworking tools. "I plan on being a husband one day - one who can do things," he once told me. Good for him,
But there will be far too many children who will never find out what it is like to really do things, who will never find out what it is like to learn through failure and try again.
I could only agree with the person who apparently wrote the list of ten things - indeed more than that - of things all children should experience.
Remember getting filthy dirty, cold, wet - and happy because you finally climbed into your tree house?

Monday 16 April 2018

Teacher feedback

is  not something I have often been required to give. There were several occasions at university when we were asked to evaluate someone. Those occasions were rare and I suspect that there was some specific reason for it.
I was always cautious about what I said.  Perhaps it  had something to do with having grown up in a family where both my parents were teachers and then school principals. There were a number of other relatives who were also teachers. Listening to them I managed to  learn something about the difficulties of teaching and  the amount of preparation that can be involved. 
I also knew that the people who were teaching me at university were not trained teachers. They might know their subject matter very well indeed. Imparting it  could be a very different story. Some highly intelligent people have great difficulty in understanding how someone new to the subject might see it.
And of course my comments were never anonymous - my writing is very obviously mine and nobody else's. I know students who resorted to printing or trying to disguise theirs simply so they could criticise without fear of retaliation.
I was thinking about this as I was getting up this morning. Next weekend I am running a one day course for a small group of adults. I suspect the organisation I am doing it for will ask them to provide feedback. They did it last time I taught for them. I imagine they do it for all classes they run, particularly when outsiders like myself come in. It's important for them to know. They also have a reputation to defend.
I'd like feedback too. I may also provide feedback sheets as I did last time I did a class for this organisation. One of those students has already informed me she will be attending this class. Something she said last time has helped me prepare for this class.
I have been asked to do something else in June for another group. I  belong to that group. It's the group where I am experiencing some other serious problems and it would not surprise me if I was told that someone else will take over. I hope I am not told that as I have put a lot of thought and preparation into what I intend to do. I have tried to come up with a simple project that can be completed very quickly -not easy when knitting is involved. 
When I prowled out to get the paper this morning I was a little startled to see that the very thing I was thinking about was also the subject of a front page article. Apparently some students at university are using teacher feedback as an excuse to make  very nasty comments about their lecturers. One of the reasons given for this is the nature of social media. 
That doesn't make their behaviour acceptable. It doesn't actually help someone improve their performance. 
When I was asked to give feedback I was aware that it wasn't just what was being taught  but how it was being taught that was important. I knew that methods of explanation need to vary and much more. I said very little. 
At  university, post teacher training college, I and other mature age students who had trained as teachers would sometimes be asked to help.  I remember one member of staff at law school coming to me and saying quietly, "Cat, you understand this point. I can't get it across to Y..... (a student) could you try explaining it?" 
It was an important concept and I was worried about doing it but I tried and the student understood. It is unlikely my explanation was better, it probably wasn't even as good, but as Y said when I had finished, "You used different words."
I said this to the lecturer in question. He looked startled and then said, "That's it, isn't it? I need to find different ways of saying the same thing."
And I know I might need to do the same thing on Saturday or in June. I need to listen to what the students have to say. 
That's just as important as the student listening to me.

Sunday 15 April 2018

The air strike in Syria

is an alarming new development in an already tense and complex situation.
I need to be cautious about what I say here because I know this will be read. That's not being dramatic. It is simply a fact of life.
The Senior Cat  has just been perusing the pages of the Sunday paper. Neither of us normally bother to read this. It is simply part of the subscription which allows him to have access to the paper on the other six days a week. There is some news in those. The Sunday paper is, for the most part, sport and things like "human interest" stories. As the Senior Cat refuses to watch a news service or listen to one he relies on six days a week and yours truly for his information. We pass the paper over to a neighbour instead.
This morning the Senior Cat was sufficiently worried to look at the paper. The Senior Cat has lived through several wars. WWII, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq have all occurred in his lifetime. He is a pacifist at heart and has always said he would only use violence to restrain someone attacking his family - and then he would prefer to negotiate than use physical violence. He asked me to try and explain what I thought was gong on.
I told him that, for President Assad, there is only one option - and that is  to win. He needs a resounding victory. President Putin needs a resounding victory too. He has been supporting Assad. 
President Trump needs a victory too - even if it is just to boost his popularity at home. President Erdogan of Turkey also needs a victory to quell the unrest in his own country and take out the separatists. Hamas would like to use the conflict for their own purposes and Iran might well be willing to assist them destroy Israel. Israel would also look to America for help. Lebanon does not have a stable government and could be used for the military purposes of its neighbours. Cyprus is strategically so important it would be drawn into the conflict.
And, as if all that is not enough, Britain needs to support America more than ever because of Brexit. Europe is not coping with the influx of refugees from the conflict zones, particularly refugees who are so culturally different and who are making loud demands for their culture, values and religion to be accepted as the norm.
A mess? Yes, a mess of massive proportions.
I would like to put all the leaders on a desert island somewhere.
There is no appetite for war among the rest of us.

Saturday 14 April 2018

I am wondering when compassion,

care, concern, empathy - call it what you will - or even simply thoughtfulness for other people has become something which is objectionable to other people?
I had the most extraordinary and disturbing email this week in which I was berated for showing concern for someone. Apparently it is not the right thing to do. I was accused of "maligning" them instead. 
It was so far removed from my intentions that it has caused me distress too. 
And then, this morning, the Senior Cat said, "I've been thinking about how friendships change."
As regular blog readers know the Senior Cat is 95. Many of his friends from childhood and adolescence are simply no longer alive. His closest friend has Alzheimer's and the other, my godfather, is also becoming increasingly less mobile - to be expected perhaps at 93.  
My godfather rang yesterday while the Senior Cat was out. Like the Senior Cat  his hearing is not good and a phone conversation is something of a trial to him. He hasn't been able to get over to see us recently because his wife cannot be left alone now. He prefers to come to us. 
Earlier in the week a much younger first cousin-once-removed came and picked the Senior Cat up and they went to visit a cousin now in a nursing home. That's clan and, thankfully, there is still some of that available - especially in that generation.
But friends? Yes, the Senior Cat has friends but I understood what he meant. They are good friends but they are not friends from his much younger days. They are not the "remember when..." friends like his two closest friends.
As we discussed his comment I pointed out to the Senior Cat that the nature of friendship has perhaps changed. It is much easier to "stay in touch" by phone, text, and email but is it friendship? Are friendships becoming much more superficial? How many "friends" do people really need on Facebook or Snapchat? How many people need to "follow" us on our blogs or Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter? Someone told me, "You haven't got many friends on Facebook." My answer was, "I don't want a lot. I only want people with whom I would want to have a cup of tea."  
In my daily life I don't have many friends here. It's not because I am unsociable. Part of the problem has been that I have lived in other places. There are people here I am friendly with but they have their own friends, people they have grown up with or people they worked with or perhaps with whom they have played sport. Almost all of them have more disposable money than I have. They are more mobile than I am as they have cars. All those things cause me to value the friendships I do have.
And it is for that reason that I am so distressed by the idea that genuine concern for someone else and reaching out to them is seen as "maligning" them. How can that be? Since when were small gestures of friendship and concern seen as a matter of offence by others?
Perhaps it is time we reevaluated the nature of friendship and our need for it. 
If there is a knock on the door I'll put the kettle on. 


Friday 13 April 2018

The cat has left

and, much as I like him, I have breathed a sigh of relief.
The Senior Cat did not trip over him.
H... did not escape - although he tried hard.
I was sufficiently concerned about the little escape artist's capacities to put a notice on our front door which read, "Please do not let our visiting cat escape."
The postman was most amused  by it. Another visitor understood perfectly. She occasionally cat sits three cats.
We thought we would have H...until this morning but Middle Cat rang just after I had fed him last night and said, "They have moved everything. K.... will come and pick him up in about half an hour."
I cheered silently  because, despite my best efforts, he was not a happy cat. He had actually been perfectly behaved but he did not want to play. He had not splashed his water everywhere and I was not sure he had actually had much to drink at all. He had eaten almost nothing. All these things are signs of distress in an otherwise healthy young cat who likes to play.
But, late yesterday afternoon when he was back on the chair he clearly considered to be his for the duration I approached him cautiously. I held my paw out for him to sniff again. He sniffed and then gave me a little head butt. I sat next to him. He wriggled a little closer and then, for the first time, I heard a faint purr.
Perhaps if he had stayed longer he would have been interested in playing today but I didn't bother with his toys then. I just sat there for a few minutes letting him feel as close as he wanted to feel.
Real cats are strange creatures,  independent but sometimes in need of company. They do miss familiar people and familiar surroundings.
Did H.... know K...when she arrived to collect him? He greeted her with a miaou and it would be easy to read displeasure into it. His tail flicked backwards and forwards. He was extremely annoyed at having to enter his cat carrier. K...put two of his toys in with him to try and calm him. As he left I noticed he was worrying the head of a bright yellow and green "mouse".
He did not say thank you or goodbye.

Thursday 12 April 2018

The cat has arrived

and our responsibilities have begun.
He appeared, very unhappily and cautiously out of his cat carrier, and eyed me with some caution. Mmm....a new human. Do I trust her?
    "I'm all cat," I told him.
He was not impressed.
Nephew also arrived with H...'s bed, his litter tray, a blanket, a range of bowls, tins of food, pellets of food, toys, a tray to put under his water  bowl and....was there anything else? Probably. It was like bringing a two year old to stay.
We decided on the best places to put everything....easy for H... to find and hard for the Senior Cat to trip over. H... watched all this with great suspicion.
     "You really are leaving me here?" came the unhappy miaou. 
We assured him that it is only for two nights. He was not a happy cat. 
    "He's an escape artist," Nephew warned, "He can open sliding doors and he will claw his way out of any screen. Keep the windows shut."
Right. We went through the house.
H...went through the house too. He explored every corner, every window, every door. He jumped on to every chair he could find. He found his way  up two bookcases and the shelves that have yarn and other craft supplies. He was not interested in the yarn. 
I removed some more things out of reach of his inquisitive paws. That made him sit under a chair and look at me with even greater suspicion. 
    "He'll be fine," I told his humans. They departed reluctantly.
H....spent the rest of the day exploring restlessly and alternating it with sitting on a chair he has obviously has decided is his. I left him to it.
Eventually he had something to eat. He used his litter tray. He told me in no uncertain terms that he was not happy about being IN when there was whole new world OUT to explore. I offered to play. He turned tail. 
I wondered what he would do overnight. His bed is normally at the foot of their bed. They have trained him to sleep there. K....(Nephew's partner) had brought an old shirt that she had deliberately worn and left unwashed so he would have her "smell" there.
We went off to bed eventually. He was still staring out the window. He didn't bother me overnight.
But there he was this morning. He let me know that I should have been up earlier than this. It was already 6am! He needed to know I was there. 
He followed me to the bathroom and then to the kitchen. I changed his water, washed out one food bowl and gave him, as per instructions, more to eat. Oh yes, he might deign to do that. 
But first he sat there looking at me. I held out my paw. He sniffed and then gave it a tiny lick.
He has taken over my life - until tomorrow. 

Wednesday 11 April 2018

We are going to "cat-sit"

and it is an alarming thought. 
Nephew and partner are moving house today - instead of going on a honeymoon. They have a cat. Said cat will be in the way or - more likely - run off and not be able to be found. 
They are very fond of the cat - and  yes, the cat is thoroughly likeable.
Middle Cat, Nephew's mother, has two cats. They strongly disapprove of any other cat. There is no chance that young H.... can stay with them.
We have not had a cat in the house for twenty years. It was a conscious decision. Our last cat lived to almost twenty-one. The Senior Cat would love to have an animal around the house but we both know it isn't practical or safe. He will be acutely conscious of an animal who is only staying for a couple of days but even so I am feeling rather anxious. The Senior Cat is not steady on his rear paws and he is likely to trip over four small paws unless he is very careful. 
The Senior Cat would like a golden retriever dog or a Burmese cat. We certainly couldn't manage a dog - neither of us could walk a dog and we both believe that dogs need walking at least once a day. Training and grooming a dog takes time and energy too. I don't have the time and the Senior Cat wouldn't have the energy.  At least there are mobile dog washing facilities these days.
And yes, I know cats are very independent creatures but they need to be entertained too. We never had a problem with our cats catching birds. They had too much exercise and entertainment for that but could we do it again? I don't think so. A well cared for cat also needs to visit the vet and we don't have any means of getting a cat even to the closest vet. 
So, we don't have an animal of our own any more. We won't have another one.
But can we manage to cat sit for a couple of days? I hope so. The forecast is for extremely warm weather (36'C) so the Senior Cat will not venture outside - or should not need to. It means I will be less concerned about young H....escaping. I may need to put a notice on the front door warning potential visitors of the presence of young puss and ask them not to let him out.
And I have taped the cat flap shut!

Tuesday 10 April 2018

Not a "proper" invitation?

The Black Cat (my youngest sibling) complained to the Senior Cat that she had not received a "proper" wedding invitation. By that she meant a fancy, printed card inscribed with her name.
We pointed out that nobody got one of those. Nephew and Nephew's Now Wife did things the modern way. They sent the invitations by email...because everyone on their guest list has email. Most people on their guest list are as environmentally conscious as they are. What is more they were paying for their own wedding. They didn't expect parental help. 
In the old tradition of course the girl's family paid for the wedding but her parents, while well enough off by the standards of their own country, are not rich. No, they would do it themselves. 
And so the invitations went out by email. They looked just like a printed one might. If you had printed one off in colour on a nice piece of paper or card then it would have been very nice indeed.
    "Good idea," someone at the wedding told me. Others agreed. 
I thought of it again yesterday as I was reading a blog post on Awfully Big Blog Adventure.  Other things change too. Anne Rooney wrote a post about how "The Tiger Who Came To Tea" now seems "old-fashioned". 
Things have changed. What people have to eat, when they eat it, where they eat it, and how they eat it has all changed. Mothers are now shown as going to work, kitchens have microwave ovens and far fewer pots and pans - and much more. 
And social expectations and relationships have changed too. I found the blog post rather sad. It made me aware, yet again, of how much modern children miss out on. I thought of Anne Barrett's description of  the working class "tea" of the Singer family in "Songberd's Grove". They sit down to the meal together without the distraction of radio or television, phones or any other screen.  They talk. In Margaret Storey's "Pauline" the mothers don't work and one of  Pauline's aunts makes buns for tea but the other - single and working - comes home with cake. Now there is talk of "take-away", pizza, Chinese and so on - accessed through a phone call. My memories are of standing in the fish and chip shop and having the order wrapped first in "butcher" paper and then in newspaper. You tore the top open and dug your hand into the hot, greasy, salt-stickiness of the batter and the chips. No, fish and chips in a polystyrene box or cardboard container is not the same.
But the wedding invitations? Yes of course it would be nice for some people to have the invitations as a keepsake. But, is it really necessary? It was the wedding itself which was the important thing. It was watching my nephew break down trying to sing his bride down the aisle - break down because he genuinely does love her and care for her.  It was hearing them exchange the vows they had written themselves - because to do so was important to them.
That's what really mattered. It was what we were there for - not because of a piece of card.

Monday 9 April 2018

It's the "day after" feeling -

the "flat" feeling, the "it's all over" feeling. 
Yes, I know. 
The Senior Cat prowled out earlier than I expected yesterday morning - although a little later than is normal for him. He admitted he still felt tired after the festivities. 
    "I think we all will," I told him. He reminisced for a few minutes and then went to eat some breakfast before my brother and his partner arrived to say goodbye before they flew back to their home in another state. They were reluctant to go and he was even more reluctant to see them go. 
The Senior Cat prowled restlessly around, got underfoot and couldn't settle to anything. I gave him some lunch and told him, "Go and have a catnap."
Good idea. He went off...and of course the 'phone rang. It was Middle Cat, younger nephew was at home. Could he "swing by" and see the Senior Cat before he left to go back interstate as well?
Of course. 
I roused the Senior Cat and said, "You can go back to your catnap afterwards."
Nephew arrived with his girlfriend in tow. She's been around for a while now. Serious? I don't know - but she did call him "Papa" this time. Another wedding some time? I don't know. Middle Cat says she hopes not - they need to recover from this one. 
When Nephew and Girlfriend departed and the Senior Cat had gone back to his catnap I went to the local library, dropped some books off, delivered a parcel to someone's back door. (They were out. It was just as well. I was too tired to socialise nicely.) And I pedalled home thinking that adrenalin rushes are tiring in the end. Is this why people need those caffeine shots of coffee and those sugar hits in the mornings? 
It's a serious question. I know younger people - much younger - for whom Friday and Saturday nights in particular are the highlights of the week. That's when they get the adrenalin rush of "entertainment" - music, alcohol, drugs and what they believe is friendship. It all happens in a largely artificial and temporary environment. They "recover" on Sundays - or do they? On Mondays they "need" coffee and doughnuts...and it goes on until Friday and Saturday...
I am trying to work out what my generation did instead. We must have done something. We weren't perfect by any means. I know I would have been working because I was supporting myself through teacher training but what did my friends do? They went to "the pictures" occasionally but what else did they do?
We must have done something! 

Sunday 8 April 2018

The wedding at the zoo

was different. 
My nephew and his now wife planned and wrote the ceremony themselves. He was baptised Greek Orthodox and she was baptised Roman Catholic. That presented a problem from the start. Aside from that they don't attend church except on rare occasions. Why have a church ceremony?
Someone they know and like is a marriage celebrant and she did an excellent job. The Senior Cat could hear everything she said - something of an achievement as he gets increasingly hard of hearing.
And yes, they would have the wedding at the zoo. They are both very fond of animals. (I almost expected to see their cat there!) It's a popular venue. The only real difficulty is that you need good weather - and they had perfect weather. It was a magnificent, almost summer like, day. 
And the ceremony was different. My nephew sang his bride down the "aisle" - a path on the lawn with rose leaves either side. Of course he didn't make it to the end without breaking down! But  he has had singing lessons and really can sing so everyone forgave him the tiny lapse towards the end.
His bride looked magnificent - and I don't use the word lightly. She is a beautiful girl - from the inside out. Her parents led her down the aisle. Vows - vows they had written themselves - were exchanged. Rings were exchanged. There was the tiny formal legal bit and two minutes of speech by the celebrant and then that part was over. There were family photographs. Guests mingled.
I looked around at the guests. My nephew and his bride, mindful of costs, had tried to keep the guest list to manageable proportions but there were the Scots, the Greeks, the Filipinos, the Indians, the Chinese, the Africans - all family and friends. It is was a wonderful reflection of the values Middle Cat and her husband  have tried to instill in their boys and that the Senior Cat instilled in us. The food reflected this as well - and it was good.
The Senior Cat gave his speech later - all two minutes of it. He might be 95 but you could hear every word - and he can still make people laugh.  The other speeches were short too. 
My two nephews revived their "duo" - the one they have had to cease being since one of them moved interstate to work - and performed another love song for the bride. The bride and groom performed a traditional Filipino dance - although the  bride tells me it is so long since she lived at "home" that she had almost forgotten how to do it and the two of them had to spend some precious time during the week rehearsing. And then, at about the point where the Senior Cat was looking very tired, there was a Scots dance for our side of the clan. As everyone else was getting ready to teach those guests who didn't know how to do the traditional Greek dance I took the Senior Cat home. He'd thoroughly enjoyed it but I wondered if he was going to make it through the front door. (Thankyou to the taxi driver who got him as close as possible and waited until the Senior Cat was inside!)
It's over. I am a very "flat" feeling cat today. The Senior Cat has just prowled out - but I suspect he will have another long catnap this afternoon.


Saturday 7 April 2018

The answer to the Facebook privacy scandal

is surely not to put up anything you don't want to share with the entire world?
I have been thinking about this rather a lot recently. One person I know removed herself from Facebook last month. I am not at all sure that solves the problem as she sees it. Her information is still there - and I am quite certain that the internet spies still have ways of accessing anything she does on line.  I have no doubt at all that, as I write this, internet spies are following every key stroke.
Paranoid? Perhaps - but with good cause.
I tried a little experiment the other day to show Ms W what happens. I accessed a site I was not interested in but I thought might throw up some particularly vigorous results. I was as certain as I could be that the site itself was harmless but I was also certain that it would be looking for business.
I accessed the site from advertising on the Guardian website and the advertising magically appeared on Facebook.  Ms W eyed it off and said, "That's why I will keep on doing my email stuff on my Dad's address."
She writes to a friend in England, another in Scotland and one in Italy this way. The emails she sends are rare.
I pointed out that when she researches things for school she is still  giving away information. We agreed there isn't much she can do about that. It doesn't really matter anyway because I am sure she isn't accessing anything illegal or undesirable. 
Her father was one of those, as she puts it, "fancy phones" that are really a mini-computer. I suspect he is cautious about what he sends and receives. He has a second such phone for work purposes and he is probably even more cautious about the information he sends and receives on that. 
I have an old, very old "pre-dinosaur" phone and anyone accessing that would be deeply disappointed. I've made about three calls in five years. 
Internet banking? I have a post office related debit card. The rule is you can't have more than a thousand dollars in it - and I have never had that amount anyway. If the internet spies are interested in the second hand books, the yarn, the craft supplies, the Senior Cat's new phone and a few other oddities I have bought over the years that's fine.  I don't pay utility bills that way. I haven't booked tickets of any sort.
I do a little bit of Facebook socialising and I post a link to the blog there and on Twitter. I try to be very careful about what I say in both places. 
The only time I have pulled something down was when I asked the Guardian to remove a post I had written. There was nothing wrong with the post itself but there were some vicious, racist comments in response to someone else's comment on my post. The Guardian's guardians should have removed those comments but failed to do so. It is something they need to work on - and a lesson to me. Don't comment there.
It would probably be wiser not to comment anywhere or at any time. It would probably be wiser not to use the internet at all but there is an increasing demand for us all to do so. Go "paper-free" and get your bank statements on line - and much more.
I am not going to stop using the internet or remove myself from Facebook or... I am just going to have to go on reminding myself to be careful and not post anything I might regret. 
Will I regret writing this?

Friday 6 April 2018

The current "ice" epidemic

has apparently made the city I live in the "ice" capital of the country. The paper is full of it this morning. 
There is someone who will spend the rest of his life in jail for killing two people while high on ice. There is someone else on trial for killing his mate while high on ice. Not so long ago someone I know was telling me of her neighbour's son. They are doing everything they can to keep this young man out of the criminal justice system, trying to contain his ice addiction by watching him all the time. The strain is showing on the family - and is almost certainly doomed to failure.
I don't personally know anyone who is addicted to ice - crystal methamphetamine - but I do know people who are addicted to other things. I know people who are addicted to alcohol - and the appalling consequences that over-consumption of that can cause. I know people who are addicted to tobacco - and how hard it is to simply stop smoking even when they know the likely consequences. 
Addictions are hard to treat. As one person said to me recently, "The  hardest thing for a recently diagnosed diabetic with a chocolate addiction is to walk past that aisle in the supermarket."  I looked at her grossly overweight body - and genuinely felt sorry for her. I asked her what she was planning to do instead. 
That produced an odd response. She hadn't thought of doing something instead. Nobody had suggested it either. She was simply assuming that there was something she couldn't do, not something that could take the place of her chocolate addiction. (She was eating a "family" size block of chocolate each day.) 
Oh yes, she has been told to exercise. At the present time I suspect getting to the end of her street has her "puffed out". I don't know whether she will exercise or not. Perhaps. 
Exercise alone though is not the answer. At the beginning it will seem more like punishment than pleasure anyway. 
I was wary of suggesting anything at all. She was not a happy person right then. What I wanted to say though was, "What about getting back to knitting or embroidery or learning a new craft? What about going and thumping out some of your frustration on some clay?"
That's exercise of a different sort - and just as essential. It might help to stop some people from starting at all and help others to reduce and eventually overcome an education. It won't solve all the problems but I think it is time doctors started to prescribe that sort of thing. I'd rather taxpayer funds went on art or music lessons than hospital stays.

Thursday 5 April 2018

There is a wedding

coming up in the clan on Saturday. Middle Cat's eldest is getting married. 
He's a doctor and his partner is a nurse. We all think he's a lucky boy because we think she is a lovely girl. 
But, I'll be glad when the day is over. Middle Cat will be glad when the day is over.
It will be a big day for the Senior Cat. His two grandchildren in another state were married without him being there. They married after the death of  his wife and he simply didn't feel able to travel at the times they were married. So, this is the first and probably only wedding of a grandchild. If Middle Cat's youngest gets married then it will be in another state and the Senior Cat says he is too old to travel away from home for a night now. 
I can understand that. He feels safer at home now. 
But on Saturday he will go to a wedding. We hauled his one and only suit out of the hanging bag in his wardrobe. He hadn't worn it since he attended a funeral about eight or nine years ago. It needed to be altered. He has lost weight and changed shape since then. He needed a new belt. Middle Cat dealt with those things. I have dealt with things like making sure his best white shirt is pressed and that his clan crest tie is clean and that those fine black woollen socks are the new pair, not the old pair I darned. 
The wedding is at the zoo. Yes, I know it is a strange place to get married but Nephew and Nephew's Partner are animal lovers and it solved the problem of Greek-Orthodox or Catholic ceremony. The Senior Cat, usually a traditionalist in such matters, thinks the idea is rather nice. It's not that we like zoos particularly but we see them as essential for such things as breeding programs in efforts to help save the wildlife diversity of the planet. 
There will be a reception in the evening. I have warned the Senior Cat - fresh batteries in your hearing aids! 
He will be the oldest person there by far. Even if Middle Cat's father-in-law was still alive the Senior Cat would be a decade older. Over the past couple of days he has made mention of his own wedding. It was a tiny affair. He says he was "very young and very naive". Perhaps he was although he was 26. It was just after the war. There were "about 18 or 20 guests" he thinks - including his parents, hers and the wedding party. The wedding breakfast was afternoon tea of the simplest sort. Money was tight. There was petrol rationing. My parents had a "honeymoon weekend" at a beach about 20km from here. It was all they could afford.   
Nephew Cat and his partner are paying for most of the wedding themselves. It's the way they wanted to do things. I have no doubt it will be nice but it won't be as outrageously lavish as many weddings. It won't be like Middle Cat's wedding - which was held in a Greek-Orthodox church for the sake of her mother-in-law and at which there were about 400 guests because the Cypriot side of the family insisted that "everyone" had to be invited. Nephew Cat refused to contemplate that - although some of his cousins may think differently when their time comes. 
The Senior Cat's wedding was one extreme perhaps and Middle Cat's wedding was another. (Although, to be fair, her father-in-law did the catering along with his brothers and it cost them a quarter or less of what it might have cost as a result...and they did it for the other children of that generation too.)
But I still look at all this and think that, if I had to get married, prowling quietly into a registry office might be the way to do it. That way I wouldn't need to "dress up". 

Wednesday 4 April 2018

I have just finished making a pence

jug. It has taken me the past two days to make it and it wasn't easy.
"What," I hear you asking, "on earth is that?"
A pence jug is a small knitted or crocheted object shaped like a jug. It has a handle and it closes with a ring. They were popular in Victorian times. Small amounts of money were kept in them - presumably pennies and halfpennies and farthings for the most part. There would have been quite a substantial amount in one if you filled one of the size I made. It is about 15cm( 6") high overall. The bowl (container) part is about 11cm high (just over 4"). 
I made it out of silk. This was deliberate as the original pence jugs were often made from silk. This one is pale grey and a brighter pink. This was deliberate too - at least, using two colours was deliberate. They were often made in two - or more - colours.  Some of them were lacy, although not too lacy as  that would cause the coins to fall out. Other pence jugs were beaded. The rings used as closures were sometimes quite elaborate, even engraved. (Mine is simply a small, old fashioned curtain ring covered in blanket stitch.)
I suspect that these little "jugs" were considered to be a work of the knitters' or crocheters' art by some - and a challenge by others.
Yes, it was a challenge. Silk, of the type I used, tends to be slippery stuff. (I eventually solved the issue of the stitches sliding off the needles by using bamboo needles - definitely not traditional!) The number of stitches used was relatively small - and that makes for "fiddly" too. 
And the pattern? I tried following a supposedly modern version of a pattern and found it hopelessly badly written. I looked at another version and realised that it wasn't made in the traditional manner. Then I did what I should have done in the first place I searched and found some early instructions for one and translated it as I went. Looking closely at some pictures helped. 
I don't have a camera and, even if I knew how to take a photograph on my ancient phone, I couldn't upload it here. If I can find someone with the technical know-how I will ask them to help later.
I have another pattern I may try now - and there will be more Victorian era things to try later. 
But, for now, I have succeeded in recreating a small part of the past. The Senior Cat said, "They weren't very practical were they?" 

Tuesday 3 April 2018

Aggravated assault and

"serious criminal trespass" charges have been laid against a ten year old, a thirteen year old and a sixteen year old.  The police are apparently not ruling out more charges against them and other miscreants.
What, the Senior Cat wanted to know, was a ten year old doing out at that hour unsupervised? It's a good question. 
I had an even better question, did these three really have nothing better to do? They were apparently "bored". 
I don't remember being bored as a child. If we dared to suggest it Mum would find us work to do very smartly. As we already did a fair bit of that our free time was precious. 
My two younger sisters were more fortunate than me or my brother. They would disappear for hours into the surrounding country side and come home when they were hungry. If Mum wanted to be rid of all of us all day we were given a sandwich and - if there was any available - fruit and biscuits and told to come back when it was dark. There were other children whose mothers did the same thing. You could do that in the sort of places we lived in. 
We got filthy dirty and we did some things which would now be considered to be far too dangerous - like climb trees. (Remember that "flying fox" R... the first one that collapsed the first time your brother tried to use it?) 
I read a lot of books outside too - trying to find place where there were no bull ants and the ground was clear of undergrowth and snakes. 
We would all sneak into the schoolyard to drink the water from the rainwater tank - and everyone knew the importance of making sure the tap was not so much as dripping. 
There were the occasional scuffles among children, particularly the boys. Those scuffles were over pretty quickly though. In a small "town" (village or even hamlet to those of you in Upover) it is important not to have major arguments with the other kids. 
I don't remember anything being vandalised apart from once - and that was a minor thing. The punishment was major. It was not because the Senior Cat handed out a massive punishment to the boy in question but because everyone in the district knew what he had done - written something on the seat of the small bus that took him to and from school. His parents felt the disgrace as much as he did. They were not happy with him.There was no escaping it. It is what happens when "everyone knows everyone".
Years later, at university, another mature age student had her kitchen vandalised by a boy in her son's class. She went along to the court proceedings at the request of the magistrate hearing the case. (This was in order to try and make the boy aware of how serious the offence was as he had tried to set a fire as well.) The magistrate asked the boy, "And what did your Dad have to say about all this?"
The answer was, "He belted me - for getting caught."
He was transferred to another school and given ten hours of "community service".  I have often wondered what happened to him. In a big city he was anonymous.
Perhaps that is part of the problem too. But, the bigger problem seems to be that some of these young offenders are "bored". They don't know what to do with the free time we found so precious. They expect to be entertained - and for that entertainment to be "exciting", an adrenalin rush. 
Ms W wandered in yesterday afternoon. She was not bored, just tired from having spent a vigorous day in the afternoon. I showed her the article and asked her what she thought.
   "They don't read enough books," she told me, "If they read more books they would have more ideas and then they would want to do things. Can you show me....?"
And she was asking what she had come to find out. 
I am not worried about Ms W. She reads a lot. 

Monday 2 April 2018

There is an empty house

at the end of our street. It sits on the corner, facing into the street which runs at a right angle to ours but the address makes it the last number in our street.
The house has been empty for more than two years now. It's a big  house of pale marmalade coloured bricks and a red tiled roof. It's not in good shape. I know. I went into it a number of times before the old man who lived there died.
He was a short wave radio fan - one of the extreme variety. The block the house sits on is big, very big. A good portion of the back yard is taken up with a shed that still holds his equipment. The antennae are still there. 
After his wife died I suspect any spare money T.... had went on his hobby. He would spend hours during the day tinkering with the antennae. At night, if it was a still and quiet night, I could actually hear him using Morse code. 
I have no idea what he found to say to other people or what they found to say to him. I know he spent hours at it while the house slowly decayed around him. 
Eventually he got Meals on Wheels and someone came in to do the essential cleaning. All this simply allowed him to spend more time talking to people. He would capture them as they went past or talk to them via his elaborate set up in the shed.
His computer was in the house. That was my reason for being there. He had bought one but had little idea how to use it. His son had set it up for him but was rarely there. His daughter wasn't interested in "that sort of thing" - or so he told me. I never met his children. So he approached me. I was reluctant because I knew he would, if I wasn't very careful, consume far too much of my time.  Still, I went. I went because I thought that internet access might give him something else to do and he would spend less time trying to talk to his neighbours and getting rebuffed because he simply didn't know when to end a conversation.  
And the house remains empty. Someone turns up occasionally and cuts the grass. The equipment seems to be checked. I assume the house is opened - and then closed again. 
The block is big enough to be subdivided for two houses - or even three units. 
I pass it and wonder whether, like the house at the end of the next street, it will remain empty for twenty or more years.  The grass there needs cutting again too. 
Nobody knows why these houses are empty. My guess is that the estates have not been concluded or there are disputes over ownership. 
      "There's someone at that house," Ms W informed me yesterday, "I wanted to tell him that someone should be allowed to live in it."
She is now too grown up to actually say it but I have to agree with her...that, or knock it down and build more than one. 
There are people without homes to live in. 

Sunday 1 April 2018

April Fool's Day

is, I suspect, going to be filled with fake news, silly pranks, dangerous pranks, and few genuinely funny pranks. 
Is it really funny to tease people? Yes, it can be if it does in a genuinely well meant way but that is rarely the case.  There is almost always an edge to teasing someone - and that edge can be very sharp.
There was someone in the supermarket last week. She was buying Easter eggs and boasting to a friend, "I've promised the kids a dozen eggs each. I just didn't tell them what size. This is all they are getting too." 
And of course what she has done is buy a single packet of the smallest eggs she could find. They are about the size of an almond or a grape. 
The friend she was talking to thought this was hilarious - and so did she. 
Is it funny? 
I tried to put myself in the place of her children. From looking at her I would have to guess that her children will be very young. They certainly wouldn't be in late primary school or in their teens. Children of that age might find it funny - particularly if a parent handed over eleven tiny eggs and a large one. A small child faced with twelve tiny bits of chocolate may think very differently - especially if they are then told they have to "share" as well.
My parents did not buy us eggs. I never remember going on an Easter egg hunt either. I do remember the "Easter Bunny" visiting us in the "Infants" - or at least the teacher pretending she had looked out the window and seen him. ("Him" note, not "her".) We made Easter baskets and put an egg in them to take home to our mothers. I remember the egg was wrapped in red foil. 
We did get eggs from our grandparents. My paternal grandparents would give us little sugar eggs. You could break those into bits and suck them. They lasted a very long time as my mother would put them on the shelf in the kitchen - out of our reach - and hand them out a piece at a time. Some bits were bigger than others. I always had the smallest pieces first.  
My maternal grandmother would give us chocolate eggs, two each. They were about the size of a real egg. My brother and I thought our grandmother had been cheated because they were hollow inside  - but we never said anything to her. 
My nephews here would get real, hard boiled eggs which had been dyed red in true Greek Orthodox tradition. They ate those. Their Greek-Cypriot grandmother would give them to us too. The whites would be tinged to a faint, delicate shade of pink. They were also given chocolate eggs and sugar eggs. Middle Cat would put them on a shelf in the pantry where my nephews could get at them if they wanted to. More often than not they would reach the point of their  "use-by" date and Middle Cat would inquire if they wanted to eat them. No? She would pass them on before they became too stale to eat.  
I stood there and looked at the eggs after the woman had moved on and remembered these things. I had been going to buy the Senior Cat an egg - nothing special, just a little "I love you" sort of egg - but somehow I didn't want to buy him an egg after hearing that woman. 
There were some cheeky, smiling Easter rabbits sitting on a shelf near the eggs. They were not much bigger than a real egg and about the amount of chocolate the Senior Cat is likely to consume in a month. I put one in the basket - and then I put another one in the basket for a friend who has been ill.
And today I might make some egg-shaped biscuits and perhaps some rabbit shaped biscuits - and I'll share them out.
That's likely to be  better fun than teasing.