Saturday 30 June 2018

Nicola Morgan's book

"Positively Teenage" kept the Senior Cat happy yesterday. He re-read parts of it and made notes ready to talk about it to someone he knows who is going to go into a pastoral/caring role.
I also handed over a copy of her new book, "The Teenage Guide to Life On-Line." 
     "What's this "like" thing?" he asked me as he started it. I explained about social media posts and "ticking" the "like" icon. He still looked puzzled. 
Social media is not the Senior Cat's "thing" at all. He uses his i-pad when he has a woodwork or gardening problem or he wants information about something else. The idea of using it to communicate with other people is not something he can get his head around - or so he claims. 
It was much too cold for him to be out in his beloved shed yesterday so he spent a good deal of it reading. His choice of reading matter puzzles some people but he is still intensely interested in how children learn and interact with the world. He has said more than once that he wishes Nicola's books had been around when he was teaching.
     "Would you give them to teenagers to read?" someone asked him.
     "I'd make them group books for discussion in school," he replied, "And I'd make sure the staff read them and I would be recommending them to parents. Really, it's parents who need to read them."
He is planning on this. The extra copies of both books mentioned above arrived yesterday. My niece and nephew in another state - with children growing up much too rapidly - are going to be given copies. I know my brother will read them as well. 
When I ordered the extra copies I ordered two more for Ms W's father. He has read both now and nearly caused a major incident by almost loaning Ms W's copies to someone in his office. 
My advice was,
     "Buy your own copies C.... and make sure you are going to get them back."
Getting them back might be easier said than done. They're good.

Friday 29 June 2018

Names came up yesterday

as I had to explain how to spell my name, an acquaintance asked me how I liked the name the New Zealand PM has given her baby daughter, and the fact that "Peta" is not "Peter". 
The New Zealand PM has spelt "Niamh" the way it is pronounced "Neve". My view? It is something I wouldn't do.  If I wanted to call a child of mine "Niamh" then I would spell it that way and then spend the time telling people how to pronounce it.
There is someone I know whose name is "Aine" (Awnya) but people who don't recognise the name call her "Ane" or "Ayn". It's understandable but it is a source of frustration for her.
There is a child I know called "Sadhbh". It's another Irish name. Her grandmother was startled when I knew the name and how to pronounce it. ("Sarv" would be a close approximation - I am not into the business of trying to write things phonetically.) I notice that recently the child has been spelling her name "Sivey" which is what she is often called. 
And there is one of the male staff in the post office. His name is "Jorge" and it is pronounced "Hor-gay" but people called him "George" because that is what it looks like to them.
The odd thing with all of this is that we have an increasing number of "foreign" names in our increasingly "multi-cultural-go-back-to-your-roots" society.  People are being encouraged to find something "interesting" or "different" or "culturally appropriate". I know children who hate their names and insist on being called something else entirely. There are others whose parents called them something which was popular at the time and now they find that they share their name with more than one other person in the classroom. As one boy told me recently, "The teacher yells "Harrison" and it could be me or two of the others." He now refers to himself as "Harry". I can hardly blame him.
Even apparently simple names have their problems. I have a friend called "Ann" and another called "Anne". One has to say "Ann without an "e" " and the other has to say "Anne with an "e" ".
Ms W has an unusual name in that it is a combination of her father's name and her late mother's name. She tells me she rather likes it but it does cause problems. Her father says it seemed like a good idea but "it probably wasn't very sensible". New babies can do that to people.  
And I know two children called "Meg" and "Mog" simply because their mother "liked the books".
Is it any wonder that some people call themselves something entirely different?

Thursday 28 June 2018

I bought new shoes

How did that happen?
Oh yes, I needed them.  The nice shoe repair man told me he thought it was time I thought about getting some new rear paw coverings.  He wasn't prepared to try and mend the pair I handed over with a timid, "Miaou? Mend?"
He shook his head and pointed to the shoe shop - conveniently about three metres away from his stand in the shopping centre. 
I sighed and prowled in to the shop which was announcing "SALE" and looked at the girl in there. She looked at me. 
She was having a conversation on the phone - about a missing shoe. She gave me the sort of look which says, "I'll be there as fast as I can."
I looked at shoes. Well more correctly I looked at ankle boots - my preferred form of rear paw covering.  There were some. I looked at the soles - no, they looked as if they would be slippery. I looked at the heels -  no, they need to be flat. I looked at the way they did up - no, just zippers can get broken and you cannot lace them firmly.
I sighed again. 
I HATE BUYING SHOES! I wanted to scream it out.
The girl got off the phone. She smiled. She looked at my rear paws and said,
      "I remember you."
I looked at her. She smiled again and said,
      "Something like you have on?"
I nodded and made a hopeful sort of miaou. 
      "What size are those?"
I told her.
      "Right. Sit down. I'll just go and get...."
And she was off out into the store room.
She came back with a box. The same brand as I was wearing. The same brand as the shoe repair man had said could not be repaired again. She pulled them out. 
The very same design! Wheeeeeeeeee! 
Suddenly I was purring loudly.
       "We did a bit of tidying up in there the other day. I was going to send these back to the supplier. They are old stock."
       "Purrrrrrfect," I told her.
       "You must have had those five or six years," she said when she saw the pair that could not be mended."That's when they started making that design in that colour."
She took them gently from me and said,
       "I don't think you need those any more."
No. I will now be able to wear the better pair I had as my "old" pair and I have a "good" pair as well.
She charged me the old sale price - from at least two years back. 
I thanked her....and I went off purring. I think it was meant to be.

Wednesday 27 June 2018

Not finishing school

or not finishing year 12 or something else?
This morning there is a piece in the state newspaper claiming that only 60% of school students "complete" their secondary school education - or get the piece of paper saying that.
I am not sure what they mean by "complete" but I do know that there are students who are not happy at secondary level - too many students.
I am waiting for the Senior Cat to read the article and I know what he will say. He will say it from long experience and a still passionate interest in every form of education. 
He will say "they should never have done away with the technical high schools".  
The technical high schools in this state were not quite like the old "secondary modern" schools in England. They did attract the less academically able students but they also attracted the students who wanted to be more "hands on". They taught domestic science, dressmaking, other needlework, woodwork, metalwork, technical drawing and other subjects which no longer seem to even exist in schools. (You can do some sort of "tech studies" without picking up a tool apparently. It's computer based.) They also taught shorthand, typing, bookkeeping andoffice skills and other such subjects along with the more usual subjects. 
I know a lot of people who went on to get very good jobs from attending such schools. They have had rich and satisfying careers. One graduate of a technical high school became Governor of this state.  Another, well known to the Senior Cat through a common interest in conjuring, is a multi-millionaire through his own efforts. Three women I know have set up businesses and done well from them.
There must be many others. Going to a technical high school did not "hold them back". Those I know don't regret the choice they and their parents made.
Yes, there will be others who do regret that they didn't go to a more academic school and go on to university. I wonder though whether they would have succeeded then? 
Perhaps part of the problem now is that students are not being given the chance to choose for themselves - and the chance to take responsibility for their own choices. They are told "this is the path you must follow".  I have met too many teenagers who feel they don't know how to make a choice even when they are offered the opportunity - because choices have been made for them all their lives. It's a growing problem and the failure to "complete" school may be one of the consequences of not being able to choose and complete tasks and take responsibility for actions.
The Senior Cat has been reading Nicola Morgan's book "Positively teenage". He has pronounced it "excellent" and "something all parents and teachers should read". There is a lot in that book that makes me wonder about the choices we need to make - even as adults.  
We can choose unwisely of course. We can also learn from our mistakes. 

Tuesday 26 June 2018

A good cleaning lady

is worth her own weight in more than mere gold. 
When the Senior Cat was in hospital last year and I was flat on my back on the bed with the other strain of the 'flu  - you know the one I mean, the one NOT covered by the annual 'flu jab - Middle Cat interfered in our lives and sent her cleaning lady across to deal with the disaster.
I don't suppose it was that bad really but it isn't the way I like things to be. I do have certain standards of cleanliness even if both the Senior Cat and I are untidy. (Middle Cat says we have too many books and our hobbies don't include sitting in front of television so we tend to collect books - both of us - and wool and associated crafty things - me - and pieces of timber and stacks of origami paper and glue and...the Senior Cat is messier than I am!
So, we have P... an absolute treasure. She comes for two hours once a fortnight and charges us a ridiculously small amount. She scrubs the places that need to be scrubbed. She vacuums and washes the floors, dusts the books and the window sills and anything else she thinks she has time for and needs doing.  She has also been known to help me clean the fridge. 
I had to be out one Tuesday. Middle Cat happened to mention it to P.  P's response was,
     "What's she doing about his (the Senior Cat's) lunch?"
Middle Cat said I would leave something for him.
     "I'll see he gets it then," P said.
I left something ready to heat and later found out that yes, she had seen to it. She had not just seen to it she had set him a place at the table and washed up afterwards. He could have managed - just - to do that himself but I would have been happier leaving him a mug of soup to heat in the microwave. Instead, he had a proper meal.
Perhaps it helps that P... has very elderly parents too but she is also a very thoughtful person. It was hardly surprising to learn that she reads widely.
P....will be here today. I still feel mildly guilty at not doing all the things she does - but only mildly.
And I will tell her all over again how nice it is that she does do them.

Monday 25 June 2018

Dressing older people is a

I had to dress the Senior Cat yesterday. He can do it himself but it takes time and time was not available yesterday morning. He had to be ready to go when his friend came to pick him up.
It is things like his fiddly little shirt buttons that are the problem. No, before you ask, he has to wear a shirt - preferably a white shirt. White shirts are what you wear on Sundays. He has always, always, always worn a white shirt on Sundays. These days he does dispense with a tie - except for weddings and funerals. (He has two ties. One is for summer with the clan crest and the other is for winter in the clan tartan. I dispensed with the rest at his request.) 
The Senior Cat no longer wears a suit - except for weddings and funerals - but he still insists on a white shirt on Sundays. Given the state of some of his other shirts I am happy to give on this matter.
But getting him dressed is an issue.
     "Put your left paw in first," I tell him. His left shoulder is an issue of major concern and I have tried to explain that it is much easier and safer to put things on that side first.  The problem is that he is, like most of us, a creature of habit. He dresses right side first. 
Somehow though I managed to get him into good grey trousers, white shirt, and heavy blue cardigan. He actually looked - reasonable...and his shoes were clean.
Once home again he has to change into his "old clothes". These are ancient, disgraceful and, according to him, "comfortable". I dare not argue. 
He has been wearing one of the striped "left over" pullovers my mother made. They looked "interesting" when my mother made them. She would take a ball of yarn and knit until she reached the end of it. Then she would take another ball of yarn left over from something else and knit until she reached the end of that - and then another, and another. She might add a stripe here and there with the "little bits". The stripes didn't match but the yarn would match - sort of - and she would end up with something "good enough for the shed and the garden". He has gone on wearing them. They are now all more than thirty years old and they look appalling. I thought he was wearing them because my mother had made them. There may be something in that but yesterday he actually said,
    "I  suppose I should give this one up. It's just that I don't like to waste things."
Waste? I have re-knitted the cuffs three times and the bands twice. I knitted a patch to cover the hole he made tearing it on the circular saw about fourteen years. (No, the saw was not working at the time or he would not be here.) There are patches where he managed to spill paint and glue and furniture wax on it. It is wearing thin in other places - and yes, I darned the elbows.
I think it is time to convert it into a pet blanket of sorts. I know one small animal which might, in a way, "appreciate" such a thing.
    "You should make him another one," Middle Cat told me.
No. He has others. They were made in the same way by our mother and he will use those. 
Anything I made would not be the same.

Sunday 24 June 2018

Getting out of bed in the morning

when it is dark, cold, damp and much too early is not a happy thought.
I am used to odd working hours - mostly early morning hours. I am not a late to bed sort of person. This has something to do with the global nature of my work. Early morning here will be a reasonable time in quite a number of places with which I am likely to need to be in contact.
My brother is much the same. He leaves the house by six in the morning to get to work early enough to get administrative matters out of the way. He works on the train as well. At that hour in the morning he can almost always get a seat. 
Middle Cat, now "retired", doesn't need to be up so early. Unless she needs to be somewhere she can sleep through until mid-morning. 
I have never been able to do that. 
Even as a teenager I did not "sleep in". I doubt any of us would have been permitted to do that. We didn't lead wild social lives. We were not permitted to do that either. On the rare occasions we were allowed to go somewhere we were still expected to be up at the same time in the morning. Middle Cat always found that difficult. The Black Cat would snarl too. My brother and I just accepted that we needed to be out of bed and in the kitchen eating breakfast no later than seven in the morning - usually much earlier than that. We might have lived next door to the school (headmaster's residence) but it made no difference. My parents would be in school by eight and we were expected to be there too. Finished your homework? Right. Here's some more work. Haven't finished your homework? What have you been doing? No, that's not good enough. My mother had no time for "slackers". She was the one who saw to it that we did the extra work. (No, I am not sure it did us much good. It just made us resentful.)
When they retired my parents still didn't stay in bed in the mornings. There was always too much to do. My mother was, until her last illness, still out in the kitchen by six.  I used to long for some quiet time to myself. I wanted to prowl through the paper for just five minutes while eating my own choice of breakfast cereal thank you very much.
Now the Senior Cat and I breakfast at different times. I spend five minutes reading the state newspaper - about all the time worth devoting to it - and he reads it later in a much more leisurely fashion.  I let him sleep unless he has to be somewhere and has asked me to wake him up.
This morning there is an Open Forum he needs to attend at church. It is held between 8 am and 10am services.  (A good idea as it limits the time!) But it means he needs to be there earlier than usual.
So Sunday, the day of "rest", I roust him out of bed. He's eating his cereal right now. He thanked me for waking him  up. 
I don't think we ever did that as children.

Saturday 23 June 2018

Using you mobile phone

at the family meal table is something the Senior Cat could not quite believe.
There was a piece in yesterday's paper about this and about the problems it causes. When parents are looking at a screen rather than at their children then there will be problems. Children will not be as well behaved. Parents are more likely to be annoyed with their children.
      "Can't you wait?" and "Don't interrupt me!" and "For goodness' sake be quiet!" are things I have heard parents say to children while looking at the screen on their phones. If those same things are being said at the meal table is it any wonder if a child doesn't behave well?
I went out with a friend on Thursday. It is the first time we have seen one another in over four years. I forgot to take my phone with me. (It sits, unloved, in the bottom of the backpack I take on the trike.)  She pulled out hers just once. The purpose? To show me how much her grandchildren had grown since I last heard about them. 
And no, she didn't sit there and go through the photographs herself and tell me in great detail. She found the relevant spot, passed the phone over and let me scroll through about eight. That was it. As she said,
       "I wanted to see you and talk to you."
I agreed. I wanted to see her and talk to her. We talked - a lot. Yes, we caught up on family but we also talked about knitting and her sewing and the behaviour of other people on their mobile phones. 
If I am invited out then I consider I have been invited out because the person wants my company, not the company of their mobile phone.
Yesterday someone did interrupt their conversation with me to take a phone call. It was a call they were expecting from a doctor. When she first spoke to me she said,
     "Cat, I need to ask you something but I am waiting on a call from the doctor about...."
That was fine. She excused herself. She took the call and kept it brief.  She apologised again...not really necessary.  I didn't mind in the least. It was a necessary interruption. Doctors are busy people.
     "If it had been a friend I would have rung her back," this person told me.
The Senior Cat has been having an ongoing discussion with the assistant priest at his church. He gave her a book to read called, "Why people don't go to church." It came back with some notes inside it. One of those those read, "How can we be good Christians if we don't have face-to-face contact with people?" 
I would ask, "How can we be good people if we don't  have face-to-face contact with people?" 
How can people be good parents, friends and colleagues if they remove themselves from others?

Friday 22 June 2018

Breaking the seal of the confessional

is under debate here. There has been an attempt to legislate to force priests to go to the relevant authorities if they hear a confession from someone who states they have committed sexual abuse of a child.
Three of the local priests bailed me up yesterday. They were having coffee in the local shopping centre and I passed them on the way to the bank.
     "What's your view Cat?" one of them asked me. It is the sort of question they don't seem to hesitate in putting to me.
This time though I think I had a response.
     "Have any of you ever  heard such a confession?"
No, they had not. They all thought it was extremely likely that they would ever hear such a confession - so unlikely that they were not aware of anyone who had heard anything like it.
We all agreed it is something a paedophile is unlikely to confess to having committed. If by some unlikely chance such a person did confess to a priest it would not be to one they knew. Does the priest go to the police and say,
    "A paedophile came to me and confessed but I don't know who he is." ? 
Paedophiles get caught. They don't confess. That's the widely held view among psychologists, psychiatrists, and many others involved in dealing with the vile problem.
The three priests I saw yesterday come from different branches of the church. They are good friends and they are, I believe, good men.  It is not unusual for them to get together and discuss common problems. It is not unusual for any of them to stop me and say something like, "Cat, do you know X or Y or Z?" and then tell me that they might need a little more than a friendly hello as I pass. I have a good relationship with all of them. 
More importantly I note that they seem to have a good relationship with their parishioners. People seem pleased to see them. Even more importantly I have noticed children running towards two of them excited to tell them something. I have no reason to believe it does  not happen to the third. 
That has nothing to do with belief or lack of belief. It is about them as individuals, about the way they carry out their duty of caring for others. They have extraordinarily difficult jobs and they are constantly on call. On their day off - usually Monday - the only way to get away from everything is to turn the mobile off and leave the house. People still expect them to be available. They still go to visit the dying on Mondays. They still go to meetings and still hold funerals on Mondays. They attempt to make their own medical and dental appointments for Mondays.
      "You know what it's like Cat," they have told me more than once. They are referring to the fact that, although I am slowly passing on some responsibilities to other people, I can still be called on to drop everything and work on something so that someone else can go and do their job. 
But I don't really know. I am once removed from the situation of saving a life and the danger and the utter physical exhaustion, poor food and appalling conditions under which some of the people I try to help are working. I doubt that two of the priests know either. One does. He's been there and done that in the past.  
It doesn't matter though. They have all seen some of the worst of human nature as well as a great deal of the best.
They were waiting for my answer though and I finally said,
     "I think the answer for me would be to say, "You must go to the police but I will go with you."
I left them talking.

Thursday 21 June 2018

"Do you want bags?"

the girl at the checkout asked me. 
Bags. I take my own bags to the supermarket. I have done for many years, before the idea of taking your own was considered environmentally responsible.
But yesterday we looked at each other and considered the idea.
    "It would mean I don't need to label the boxes," she told me, "And the bags are potato."
    "And I can recycle the bags to Vinnie's," I said.
The problem was that I had gone into the supermarket to get something for the Senior Cat. I found that and I found that a certain brand of breakfast cereal was on display for less than half price. 
The Senior Cat still goes to church on Sundays. There  is a box kept in the narthex which the congregation fills with tins and packets to go to a food bank. Each Sunday I provide the Senior Cat with something to put in the box. 
This particular brand of breakfast cereal is, as commercial breakfast cereals go, a good one. It comes in the form of compact wheat flake biscuits. They have a long shelf life. They don't require refrigeration or anything other than keep them in a dry place. It is the sort of breakfast cereal the food bank likes to get. At less than half price I promptly bought a half a dozen packets. It meant changing my mind about what we would be eating this week but I knew the Senior Cat would agree with the decision. I also bought a larger than usual bag of potatoes because I thought I was going to have to pay to have it all delivered. It was far more than I could manage to put in the basket of my trike.
I had explained where the breakfast cereal would be going to the girl at the checkout. She is someone I know slightly - one of the students for whom I occasionally read an essay.
       "Would you mind getting a bigger trolley?" she asked me.
I went to get one of the larger trolleys.
As I was coming back I noticed her speaking to the manager, someone who also knows me. He gave me a wave and walked off.
I thought nothing more of it. 
Now of course you pay to have things delivered. I didn't expect to get the delivery for nothing. I paid for the groceries and rushed off to the library to pick up a book I needed. The rest of the morning was a rush too. 
Just after lunch yet another supermarket employee I know turned up with all the bags - the weekly shop and the extras. He left them all with a cheerful,
      "You're welcome Cat."
I checked against the docket after he had gone and then I checked again. They hadn't charged me for the delivery.  I pedalled back to the supermarket in the afternoon. The manager was just leaving for his very late lunch.
     "If that's about the delivery charge don't worry. I.... told me where the cereal was going and D.... just delivered it on his way home," he told me before I could say anything.
The delivery charge will make all the difference to my budget for the week. Is it any wonder that I like the staff in my local supermarket? 

Wednesday 20 June 2018

Are there three universities

in this state?
There is a renewed debate about the number of universities in this state but it is possible that one of the institutions called a "university" is not a university anyway.
We started out with one of course. It is the oldest of the three. It is the university the Senior Cat attended. I remember going there as a child.  
Perhaps it  was the times when we visited it but I remember times when it was busy with students going to and from lectures. They carried books and talked earnestly to one another. At the refectory you had to show your student identification. At the library - a hushed establishment with students and staff bent over books - you had to show your student identification. I was told to be "very quiet" and was probably the only child ever allowed to enter the library.  (My reputation as a "reader" had gone ahead of me.) 
In my teens I used the same library - illegally. I knew the staff. They would sneak me in and out and ask, "What do you want to know this time?"
In my late teens they were building a second university in what seemed like an improbably remote location on the edge of the city. It was up on a hill. It was bare and unattractive. Unlike the older university it quickly became known as a "very left-wing" institution filled with younger staff. Yes, some of them had very radical views. It was "that sort of place" as a staff member at the old university told me. What was taught there was different.
But yes, it was still a university. It is still a university. Those staff who have not yet retired have aged. The younger staff no longer have tenure and tend to moderate their views because of it.
And then there is the third "university". It was actually an amalgamation of a disparate group of other tertiary institutions, including the teacher training college I attended. It started out with campuses all over the city and suburbs. It still has a variety of campuses. It doesn't have the feel of a university about it. There have been questions asked more than once about the quality of some of the courses offered, courses which were never intended to be university level courses.  The problem was to find somewhere to put some of those things. People took the easy way out and turned certificate courses into diploma courses and diploma courses into degree courses. 
Simply calling something a "Bachelor of...." doesn't make it degree worthy or the institution from which it is obtain a university. The girl next door went to the third university and has a "degree in fine art".  Yes, she produced some interesting art work but she herself admits the course required little in the way of reading or writing.  
My nephews went to the other places, indeed one went to both. I have taught in both the older establishments but not the new one. I have visited the new one, attended some public lectures there and given a couple but I don't know it. All I know is that it doesn't feel like a university to me. 
Now they want to amalgamate the newest one with the oldest one. For administrative reasons it may be a good idea but for practical purposes it may not work.
And they will need to start thinking about what a university actually is.

Tuesday 19 June 2018

And yet more yarn

was given to me yesterday. It was not intended that I should keep it but I still had to deal with it. 
I was stopped in the local shopping centre by a very pleasant woman who said,
     "I have some wool...."
I always wonder whether it will really be "wool" or whether it will be something else. Not so long ago a really experienced knitter showed me some "mohair" she had been given. It was not mohair at all. It was quite good quality but it was acrylic.
     "I didn't like to tell her but wouldn't you think she would read the label?" the other knitter told me. seems not. Some people just go by, "it feels nice" and who can blame them?
      "I'll drop it off sometime for you to pass on," my acquaintance told me yesterday.
It actually arrived late morning. Her husband delivered it on his way to his brother's place of work.
      "L......wanted to get it out of the house."
I thanked him and, after he had gone, took a look. If it was acrylic it would go to one place. If it was wool it would go to another. If L... said it was wool though it would be likely to be wool. 
It was wool. It was old, very old. Some of it was partially knitted. L... is of the "waste not, want not" generation so it didn't surprise me.
But I am not sure how useful it will really be. I have emailed the person who often collects such donations from me and told her that I could deliver it to someone else. It isn't worth her making the trip to collect it but some of it at least should be able to be used as beanies for the homeless. 
Yes, someone will make use of it somewhere - and that's all that matters.

Monday 18 June 2018

Should place names be changed?

I saw video clip yesterday from BBC Cymru Wales in which someone called Tudur Owen talks about the way in which Welsh place names are being slowly replaced with "easier to pronounce" English names. He also talks about the way in which, by replacing these names, history and stories are being lost.'
It seems to me that an entire culture is in danger of being lost - not just there but in other places and in other ways as well.
     "Move with the times!" Did I just hear you shout that?
Well, sorry but I am going to remain stuck fast.
There was a point where we nearly lost Scots Gaelic, the language of my ancestors. My paternal great-grandparents spoke Gaelic. My paternal grandfather knew only a little. His son, the Senior Cat, knows none at all. I know only a little. I am entirely self taught. I have almost no idea how to pronounce what little I can read. There is nowhere here for me to even begin to learn the language. 
      "It's a dying language!"  Yes, I heard you shout that too. You are wrong of course. It is making a slow, painful recovery from being beaten almost to death by people who believed (and still believe) that they know better. They will tell you that English is easier to pronounce, easier to learn, easier to this and that and something else. They will tell you that English is the world language and that there isn't any need for anything else.
Sorry, you are wrong. English is a very important language but it is by no means the only language on the planet. Those apparently dying languages are still important, very important. They carry with them an entire culture and all the thought processes which go with that culture. Every time we lose a language we lose a way of thinking. Losing a way of thinking matters. It matters not just to literature, music, art and theatre but to humanity as a whole. It matters because each language brings with it a set of moral values and ways of understanding the world that further human development. 
I don't know a lot about Welsh but I do know enough about the "mutations" to use a dictionary. "Mutations" are changes at the beginning of a word rather than the end of it.  They occur in other languages - such as Swahili - too.
In the same way I know something about prefixes in Bahasa Indonesian  and some of our local indigenous languages. It's the way those languages have developed and the way they still work.
Yes, I have an interest in languages. My working life still revolves around the need to know not the languages themselves but about them and the way they work. I have had to learn more than most people and I don't expect others to be able to do that any more than a  surgeon would expect me to be able to perform an appendectomy. 
But that doesn't mean that you should expect people to give up their language and their culture and their way of thinking simply because you believe their minority language is "difficult". It is no more difficult than some sounds in French, Portuguese, Arabic or Chinese. Nobody is suggesting that those languages should cease to exist because English speakers find them "difficult".
Let's keep Scots Gaelic and Welsh and other such languages alive. They have magnificent literary and cultural traditions from which we can learn a lot. We will be better humans because of it.

Sunday 17 June 2018

"Rain. We need more rain,"

has been on everyone's lips.
And it has rained...and rained some more. Our tanks are full. This is an excellent thing. It means that, unless a totally unforeseen disaster occurs we should have enough water to see us through next summer and keep the garden alive. That helps to keep the house cool too.
I pedalled out yesterday. I had something that needed to be delivered no later than yesterday. It was one of those "eye-the-sky" days and "dash out in between showers" sort of days.
The Senior Cat said,
      "I hope you don't get wet."
My answer was,
      "If I do  I'll dry off when I get home."
That seems to me to be the only sensible way to think about these things.  I take the view that I might be fortunate and get to my destination dry. If I get wet on my way home then I can change my clothes once I am inside again. I have "wet-weather-gear" for pedalling - a pair of yellow rain proof over-trousers and an ancient navy blue raincoat. Both need replacing but still keep me dry.
Like all cats I do not particularly care for getting soaking wet but we need the rain. I am not going to complain about it. 
The Senior Cat didn't complain either. He spent a short time looking out at the rain yesterday with a rather dreamy expression on his face. Rain is just what the garden needed in his view. A  bit soggy underfoot? So what? It might mean that there has been enough rain to soak in more than the first two or three centimetres.
But now of course there are people complaining about the rain. Yes, of course I am sorry if it ruined your wedding plans or you got soaked through watching your child play football or your plans for a barbecue with friends got ruined but this is rain. It's water. It's precious stuff.  I don't want to see floods but I do want to see the rivers flowing freely instead of being sludgy brown puddles.
Wars have been fought over water. Wars are likely to be fought over water in the future. 
Someone I know in South Africa was saying that some people in Cape Town are  complaining because it is raining. I find that unbelievable. The entire area was so heavily drought stricken an entire city was on what amounted to rations of nothing more than drinking water. They need far more rain than they are likely to get. Rain is nothing to complain about there. 
On my way home yesterday I stopped at the supermarket to get more milk. As I was waiting for a particularly heavy shower to clear before continuing my way home someone I know by sight stood next to me. We listened to some complaints about the rain from two men a little further on. The rain had apparently ruined their afternoon of golf. 
      "A couple of old Hanrahans there," the person next to me muttered. I smiled. He was right.
If you don't know the poem then I suggest you search for 
"Said Hanrahan" by John O'Brien (PJ Hartigan). It should make you smile too.

Saturday 16 June 2018

Going to the bank

is to be avoided if at all possible.
I had to go yesterday. There was a mistake in my account. I would have liked that extra $5000. To be honest I could really use that extra $5000 but it wasn't mine.
Last time I went to the bank it was at another branch. I would not have needed to go in again for a while but I found a mistake when I got the receipt from the teller machine.
I explained this to the teller - someone new to me. She looked startled. She checked. She couldn't find the error in her records. I explained again. She turned the screen around so we could both see it. 
   "There," I told her pointing to the right line.
   "Oh, you're right. Someone mucked that up. If you hadn't pointed it out..."
    "They would have caught up eventually," I told her.
She smiled at me and agreed  it was better to deal with it now.
    "Someone is missing $5000," I said.
    "Mmm.... I'll have to pass it on...funny someone didn't notice but some people do have a lot in their accounts."
I wondered what she meant by "a lot". I know I picked up a receipt one day after someone left the teller machine. Putting it in the bin later on I carefully tore it into small pieces because someone had more than $50,000 in that account. That's surely a very large sum of money in anyone's book? 
Unless someone else buys me the winning lottery ticket I won't need to go to the bank again for quite some time. I know to within a couple of dollars how much money I have to spend. 
I would most certainly know if I had an extra $5000 to spend!


Friday 15 June 2018

The comfort of old friends

should never be underestimated.
I took yesterday afternoon away from the computer screen because a friend came to visit. She was, briefly, here from New Zealand. When she returned to New Zealand several years ago we promised to "keep in touch" and we have - sporadically. 
Both of us lead busy lives and the messages have sometimes been brief but yes, we are still in touch. She called me Monday morning to say she had arrived. Did I want to see her for a short time that day or a longer time on Thursday? If it was Thursday she could bring another old friend with her as well.
Thursday! I suggested inviting another friend I knew she would like to catch up with as well. 
    "Oh, it will be good to see her again," the Senior Cat told me. 
Yesterday's weather was cold, wet and windy. I stayed in and did something I haven't done for a very long time. I made cake for afternoon tea. We don't usually have such things but I thought we should celebrate her visit.
All three visitors appeared just after two o'clock. It has been almost four years since I saw my Kiwi friend but we simply "picked up where we left off". Out came the knitting...and, aside from catching up on news about some people we know in common, we talked about knitting and patterns, what I had been teaching, who she was teaching and more. 
Was it time to put the kettle on? I made tea. My Kiwi friend, a coffee person, made "proper" coffee just as she always has. 
The Senior Cat prowled out from his afternoon nap and was hugged and kissed. He sat there letting the conversation flow over him, and talked to her about the problems of gardening in a different climate.
Her daughter arrived to collect her and the friend she had brought with her. I offered her some of the afternoon tea because more cake had been brought and there were still a few scones left. It's been a while since I saw her as well but she fitted in happily.
After they had eventually departed into the dark, wet and windy late afternoon (it was well after five) I washed up the last of the afternoon tea things. Yes, the last of the things because of course they did as they have always done and cleared things away and done at least some of the washing up.
The depth of our friendship shows in that sort of thing. They don't expect to be waited on here. It isn't "home" of course. There are things they would not do here they would do in their own homes but they are sufficiently "at home" to make their visits welcome.
I miss my Kiwi friend. She is an intelligent woman with a responsible job. She gets things done and makes the most of the time available to her. It was typical of her to say, "Thursday because we will have more time together."
More time together is a good thing with friends like that.

Thursday 14 June 2018

So the (library) cuts are coming

are they? Even the newly elected government has not reversed the cuts to our state library. 
That state library was my lifeline as a child. It was my safe space.
There was something called the "Children's Country Lending Service".  You registered with the library and then the librarians would choose four books for you to read and send them out. They came in brown paper parcels. They were packed in such a way that the paper could be reused to return the books with the label which was provided. 
This amazing service was provided free to any rural child who wanted to be part of it.  ME!  My brother was part of it too.
The same service provided a box of books for small rural schools to enjoy each term as well. There would be about thirty books in the box, half of them picture books and all a mixture of fiction and non-fiction.
I have no idea how many people used this service for their children. To be honest most of the rural children I knew when we were using the service wouldn't have thought to read a book unless they were made to do so in school. It just wasn't part of their life style.
But I did use that service. I would include notes to the librarians with requests for things like "any more books by Cynthia Harnett?" or "has this person written any more?" or "are there any more like this?"
The librarians knew more. They would sometimes send little notes back, "Tell me if you like this one" and "I think you might enjoy this" or "This is a new book. Tell me what you think of it."
You were not supposed to change your books as often as I did. You were supposed to wait until you returned one lot before you got the next but somehow they bent the rules for me so that I had two lots doing the rounds. 
I would pedal my tricycle down to the railway siding to pick up the precious parcels too. It was only years later that I realised they probably should have gone to the post-office-general store. I don't suppose old Mr E.... who ran the place cared much if I picked the books up myself. My brother and the boy from the bank would get theirs too. We would read each other's books too of course. They didn't read quite as much as I did but they did read a lot and it meant we  had a reasonable supply...not that it felt like that when we had read them all and were waiting for the weekly train to come through.
We went to visit the library when we were in the city. Oh the joy of it! We could choose our own books. Our parents would leave us there while they went off to do shopping and business. We never put a foot out of line in the library. If we were asked where we wanted to go it was the library. Yes, we went to the museum, the art gallery, the zoo and other places but it was the library we wanted to go and visit. I resented the time spent shopping or visiting people we didn't know.
At my paternal grandparents home there were books my grandparents would borrow for us from the local "circulating" library run by the local council in the port area not far from where they lived.  We grew to know that library too. Miss R.... will be forever carved into my memory because I would be sent alone on the bus. Grandma would phone and say I was coming. Miss R... would come and meet me at the stop just outside the door when she saw the bus arrive from her desk just inside the door.  I would choose my own books from the small children's section and wait for her to write on the cards and stamp the books.
Then Miss R.... would leave her station long enough to find someone she knew - and there was always someone - to carry me safely across the road to the bus stop to go back. The stop was not far from my grandparent's home. When Miss R saw I was on the bus she would phone my grandmother to say I was on my way.
The system never failed. I was about six years of age when I started doing that. I was never once carried beyond the stop I needed in either direction because there were conductors there to help at that time. The conductors were often regulars on the route and they knew me too.
You couldn't do that now, indeed parents and grandparents would probably be severely reprimanded for doing such a thing. But, for me, it was the difference between surviving what would otherwise have been a very lonely childhood and having a whole world of friends in the pages of books.  It was much the same for my brother.  
More people use libraries each week now than go to football matches in this sports mad country. Our local library is, at long last, being extended because it is used so much. Through all the turmoil of demolition of parts of it and the rebuilding the library has remained open. People still keep going in and out. The chess, Scrabble, bridge, board games, knitting, French and other sessions are still running even if they are a hundred metres away in the community centre for now. There are still people who shelter there on a daily basis. It's the hub of our community.
Cutting funds to libraries is something we can't afford.

Wednesday 13 June 2018

Uncomfortable meetings

must occur on a regular basis in the world of politics and diplomacy. Looking at the body language between Mr Kim and Mr Trump yesterday I doubt either of them was feeling relaxed about the occasion. Mr Kim certainly wasn't. "The eyes of "my people" on me? Fine. That's where they should be. The eyes of the rest of the world? No, I don't really care for that."
Mr Trump was also looking uneasy. I suspect he has been given a sharp behind the scenes reminder of the fact that he is Mr President and not Mr Head-of-the-company. 
The Senior Cat had cousins, now deceased, in the diplomatic service of this country. One of them rose high in the ranks. He was still alive when I was at law school in the nation's capital. We didn't share the same surname which was probably fortunate for me as connections count for a lot in law, diplomacy, and politics.  The nation's capital thrives on all three. 
Of course one of the staff in the law school inevitably found out - and told the rest of them. Yes, I was "X..'s cousin - first cousin once removed."  Fortunately for me he was very highly regarded, in fact regarded with some awe even though he was officially retired. 
Certainly his retirement had not stopped them calling him in on occasion. Sometimes he and his wife still hosted dinners for visiting dignitaries. I went to the occasional one if there was a need for a female to even  up the numbers. Of course there were other people they could have asked but his wife would phone me and say, "We need to do a dinner for.... and we thought it might be interesting for you to meet...."
And yes, it would be interesting to meet people from X or  Y country and listen to them talk.
And sometimes it would be, "We need to do a dinner for....and it might be a bit awkward so could you come along and help...."
There would be perhaps just two people they knew didn't get along particularly well. Relationships between their different countries might be a little tense right then. 
So I would prowl off decently dressed for the occasion and make polite conversation over an excellent meal and, once in a while, talk to people about my ideas for what became International Literacy Year and why I was doing a law degree as a "mature age" student and how I was tutoring English as a Foreign Language students at the same time. 
I never expected to meet any of them again and, for the most part, I didn't. They were not the sort of people for whom the Governor-General or the Prime Minister of the day held dinner parties but they were often people who would be attempting to work their way up to that level. 
There was often tension in the air and the Senior Cat's cousin would deftly smooth things over, change the subject and generally ensure that the uncomfortable meetings became something everyone could handle. 
Ms W's father was in the nation's capital yesterday. He left me a message this morning saying that the Senior Cat's cousin has not been entirely forgotten even now a decade or more after his death. Apparently someone said they could have done with him at the meeting between Mr Kim and Mr Trump. 
I couldn't help wondering what a dinner party for both men would have been like say twenty years ago. It might have been an interesting occasion.

Tuesday 12 June 2018

Unwanted phone calls

have ceased to be simply annoying. They are now getting dangerous.
For the past few weeks we have been getting two strings of unwanted calls.  One string comes from a call centre somewhere.
A voice asks,
    "Is that Mrs...."
    "There is no Mrs...."
    "Is that the owner of the number?"
No, it isn't. If you knew anything about the household then you would know that no longer alive. She died almost eighteen years ago.  You would also know that I am not the owner of the number you called.
I have tried simply hanging up. They keep ringing back. I have tried telling them to stop calling. They keep ringing back. On one occasion when I hung up after telling them to please leave us alone they rang back immediately insisting that I had to listen to them. I told them we were on the "DNC" (Do Not Call) register. Did it make any difference? No, I "had" to listen to them. I hung up again. The Senior Cat has hung up on such calls as well. 
The number comes up as "unavailable" so we have no way of reporting these people. They call at weekends and there was a call yesterday afternoon. Yesterday was a public holiday which shows they are not a government department or a medical appointment reminder.
But that is where it is starting get dangerous. One day it might be one of those things and the Senior Cat will hang up. People will think he was being rude. It won't be that at all. It will be sheer frustration on his part. He doesn't understand the often heavy Chinese or Indian accents from the call centres in Asia. It isn't prejudice against those races. He simply doesn't want phone calls which bypass the law by moving businesses overseas.
 I have tried asking to speak to the supervisor but that has achieved nothing. No, I am told, you must listen to us. I have said, "If you want to tell me something then write a letter." A genuine caller would do that if it was important.  I hang up again.
And then there is the other string of phone calls. They started out as silent hang ups. Wrong number? It was possible but there were too many of them. They don't come from a call centre. Someone checking to see if we were home? Possible but again there were too many of them. A would be thief would not be that persistent...and what do we have worth stealing anyway? Nothing. No, it was none of those things. I took some action to check if I was right in my suspicions and I will be dealing with those calls shortly. 
But all this is a serious invasion of our privacy. As the Senior Cat finds it hard to get to the phone quickly and tries to hurry - even though I say, "Don't hurry.Let it ring. If it is important they will call back." - then it is also physically dangerous for him.  
And the other thing is the increasing likelihood that one day the call will be important and we will not get it because, out of sheer fury and frustration, I will hang up again...and again. 
It worries me. 

Monday 11 June 2018

Queen's Birthday weekend

means today is a public holiday. It won't make any difference in this house - unless I suddenly discover that I haven't done some desperately needed shopping. I can't think of anything. 
Ms W informed me that the holiday was "nice but a bit silly because it isn't her real birthday". 
No, she isn't a republican - far from it.  She isn't misty eyed about royalty either.  She thinks it would be "a horrible job having to listen to stacks of boring stuff like speeches". 
I will no doubt be  informed of her views on the Honours List at some point. One of her father's colleagues appears on it and I think she will be pleased about that.
And I wonder what the "republicans"  in the population will think. How many of those on today's list who accepted an award  consider themselves to be "republicans"?
Ms W's father mentioned this to me yesterday.  He is of the view that most "devout republicans" wouldn't hesitate to accept an award if it was offered to them. I suspect he's right.
How many of them will also go to work today? I doubt any of them will even while they claim we should be rid of the holiday. 
     "They would want it replaced quick smart with another holiday," Ms W's father said, "But if I take the day off then the next four are going to mean working until midnight each night."
That might have been a bit of an exaggeration but I know he sometimes needs to work until at least 10pm. He's never likely to be recognised with an honour. He doesn't have that sort of job. 
But would those "republicans" want another holiday to replace the one they have "lost"?
Yes, it's something I wonder about too. Offer people something for themselves and most are all too ready to accept it even if they don't believe in what lies behind the offer. 

Sunday 10 June 2018

So the President of the United States

believes his relationship with other world leaders is a "10"?
I rather think that no world leader has ever had that sort of relationship with other world leaders. 
They may seem to get along well together and they may work together to get things done but do they choose to go on holiday together? Yes, people get invited to Camp David or Chequers or Admiralty House or whatever the German, Russian, Chinese and so on equivalents are but that is all part of the political game.
The Senior Cat and I had one of those lunch time discussions yesterday. He is currently reading an Ian Rankin novel he somehow missed out on. (The Senior Cat is an avid Rankin fan.) 
    "Do you think there really is tension in the police force?" he asked me.
My answer to that was,"Absolutely."
"Why?" he wanted to know.
I thought about it. It is something I have often observed here. It has something to do with the training they receive. I once had a conversation with a police officer on the train. He had helped me put the trike on the train and started to talk to me. From his accent it was obvious that  he had not been born here. I asked him,
     "Did you train in the UK?"
     "Yes. Shows does it?" 
I admitted that it did and he admitted that he was going back to the UK because he wasn't happy with the way he was expected to relate to the public here. We agreed that "friendly" was not a  word you would readily use in relation to our police force. Somehow we haven't managed to reach a balance between "care" and "control".
I vividly remember the young policewoman charged with the task of telling the Senior Cat his cousin had died. Yes, she did it kindly enough but of course there was a natural reservation there. She didn't want to get involved. It was not her job to get involved. Her partner did not even sit down when invited to do so. I suspect he had actually been trained not to do that. 
My limited relationship with the London police force suggested that yes, there is tension there between the senior and junior officers. It is about maintaining control, about ensuring that your subordinates obey commands without question in an emergency.  I once had to give a police officer my resident's key to one of the locked London square gardens. It was a young constable who asked me if I had one. When I offered it to him he asked me to give it to the sergeant, the person who would take responsibility for returning it. 
I suspect Rankin - and others - are correct when they write tension into the relationships. It isn't just about good story telling but about what actually happens in real life. It's about maintaining control.
Are world leaders like that too? Have they just borrowed the key so they can get into the garden for a time? Eventually they need to leave and give the key back. Inviting others to join them in the garden means taking responsibility for them doing no damage. It's a risky business. 


Saturday 9 June 2018

"Academics denounce....

academics demand.... students must....students must not...."
I tutor some university students but I have little to do with their teachers - the lecturers and professors responsible for imparting their own knowledge and entrusted with the responsibility of helping students discover other knowledge.
What I do know is starting to concern me. Not all academic staff agree with what I am about to say of course but there would appear to be enough of them for there to  be cause for concern.
A student came to me recently for help with an essay. He's a good student from another culture. He's working hard, holding down a part time job to help his parents who are struggling to send enough funds for him to study here. When he finishes he will go back to his country and make a useful contribution to society. 
But, he's under pressure here - and sometimes for the wrong reasons.  The essay had been handed in and marked. He has received a pass for it. He wanted to know what was wrong with it.
How could he improve?
It was a reasonable question. I read the essay. It was well constructed although his English is more formal than that of the local students. The ideas seemed well thought through. They were backed with examples from the reading he had been told to do and some extra that he had found "because (he) was interested". He had put forward a convincing argument for his point of view.
Now, I might have been missing something but I don't think I was. I made a couple of very discreet inquiries of someone I know. What was this particular lecturer like? Did she have any particular views about the topic in question?
No. It wasn't that. The person I made inquiries of hesitated and then said, "Cat, it's probably the language he's using. She's hot on that. Students who use that sort of language are going to get marked down however good their ideas."
Marked down for using sexist language? I reread the essay. I thought about the student. He comes from a culture where women have a different role but he shows impressive courtesy towards women. More than one person has mentioned how polite he is and how much respect he shows women.But yes, someone with strong views, might choose to see it as "sexist" even though I doubt such a thing entered the student's mind.
So a lecturer can mark down a student not for the work they have done or the ideas that they have used but because they have a "politically correct" view about language? 
Of course the way language is used influences ideas but this was not really about the language being used.  There was no lack of respect in that essay. The real lack of respect was shown by someone for whom an idea about language is apparently more important than anything else.

Friday 8 June 2018

Shelf life

is something I understand...and don't understand.
You know what I mean...all those "use by" dates on things you buy in the supermarket? 
I can see they are necessary. You don't want people or other animals eating food which is not fit for consumption. That's perfectly fair and reasonable. I always look at the "use by" date on items I know have a limited shelf life and, most of the time, I look at other use by dates as well. It is particularly true of things I know don't have a rapid turnover of sales or that we only use a little of and may use over some months.
Most people I know do the same.
But something else appeared in this morning's paper which made me consider, yet again, shelf life from the producers point of view. There was talk about "iced coffee" as a "milk drink"...the sort of iced coffee that is bought in packs in the refrigerated section of the supermarket - along with, in lesser quantities, "chocolate" and "strawberry" flavoured milk drinks.
There was also a perfectly reasonable discussion about the amount of sugar which is put into these things.
I don't drink these things. I do not particularly like coffee. I will drink it if it is not too strong - about a quarter the strength of the coffees made in our local shopping centre. On the rare occasions I do drink it then I do not want sugar in it thank you very much. I don't want an "artificial" sweetener either. The drink which passes for "iced coffee" in the sealed cardboard container from the supermarket is something that is, to my taste buds, like drinking sugar syrup.  I admit it has been years since I have tasted it but I am told "it hasn't changed much, if at all". The chocolate version is apparently just as sweet and the strawberry version is not just sweet but "artificial". 
No, I am not interested. Milk has natural sugars in it. Milk drinks like that should not need added sugar. Why can't they do one with "no added sugar"? It has to be the shelf life thing doesn't it?

Thursday 7 June 2018

How to eat porridge

You think you know don't you? 
I was prowling down the "breakfast cereal" part of one of the aisles in the other supermarket yesterday morning. This supermarket is not the one I normally shop in but they have a much bigger range of stationery and I needed something.  The only other thing I wanted was some plain ordinary porridge oats.
They didn't have any. 
I asked. No, they didn't have any. They might have some at the end of the week but "they aren't very popular".  
No? I looked at the shelves. Porridge would seem to be popular - well something they call porridge. There were no less than twelve different varieties of one brand.
I would not have touched any of them. No self respecting cat of Scots ancestry could be expected to eat something out of a "sachet",  something "instant", something loaded with sugar.  No self respecting cat of Scots ancestry could be expected to eat oats artificially flavoured with "berries" or "apple" or "creamy honey". (Does such a thing as "creamy honey" even exist?)
My paternal grandfather knew about porridge. He taught me. He soaked the oats overnight...real oats, none of this "quick oats" or oats in sachets or oats flavoured with something else. He cooked it in the morning.  It was his job to do it. My grandmother did not eat porridge - she was allergic to milk and milk products. My paternal grandfather did allow porridge to be cooked with milk. His mother, a Scot from Caithness, allowed it that way. She was of the view that if milk was readily available (and it was) then it would be used because milk was good for you.
But that was as far as it went. You did not have sugar on porridge. Porridge is oats soaked in milk overnight. Porridge is nothing but milk and oats,  best cooked slowly in a porridge saucepan on a wood burning stove.  Porridge is to be eaten from a porridge bowl, a flat bowl that allows the boiling mixture to cool enough to be eaten with pleasure. Porridge will be exactly the right consistency. It is not liquid. It is not solid. It comes somewhere in between.
That is porridge.
Nowadays I do cook it in the microwave. I worry sometimes about what my grandfather would think but we no longer have a wood burning stove. I see no point in  using a saucepan when I do not need to either. Would he call me "efficient" or "lazy"?
I eat my porridge slowly while prowling through the paper. It is winter comfort food.  It tastes like porridge. Porridge is not flavoured with cinnamon or berries or apple or anything except - oats. 
And you do not have sugar on porridge...ever. 


Wednesday 6 June 2018

There are limits to the law

or there should be. There is a point at which commonsense has to prevail.
There is a piece in the paper this morning about the prosecution of a 91yr old man. Apparently he had, sensibly, given up his driving licence some months beforehand but his wife asked him for some help backing down the driveway of their new home. In doing so he hit her and killed her.  
Now he is facing court on death by dangerous driving and driving without a licence charges - and the prospect of being sent to prison. I am not suggesting nothing should be done. A death has occurred. It needs to be fully investigated but if the facts as reported are correct then there is something very wrong with all this.
No, he should not have been behind the wheel of a car without a licence but he was not out on the road and apparently had no intention of going there. 
He was not intending to do harm. His wife had apparently asked for help. The natural thing to do was give that help. In all likelihood it did not even occur to him that simply getting behind the wheel on their own property was an offence.
At 91 he has apparently had two heart attacks and is still distraught at what he has done. Unless it can be shown he intended to do harm then there should be no suggestion of sending him to prison at all. He almost certainly won't go there of course but it should not even have been suggested. The consequences of his act are punishment enough - and a fine and court costs will be part of that.
But, commonsense please. The law doesn't need a death in custody as well.

Tuesday 5 June 2018

"I have to get there before the shop closes"

Middle Cat told me and rushed off. 
She had just brought the Senior Cat  back from their outing and, as usual, had not thought about what she and my BIL might be eating that evening.
Middle Cat leads life in a rushing muddle. She always has and she always will. Organisation of any sort is not her "thing". She seems happy working that way.
I can't do it like that.
I had a meeting with someone yesterday so that we could sort out some more details about something which will be happening next year.
Next  year? Yes, about fifteen months from now. 
I know. It sounds ridiculous but, if we don't do some planning and organisation now, it is not going to happen. We want it to happen. It's been advertised in a preliminary sort of way. In a few months we want to be able to give people more details so that they can think about year.
We need a meeting with likely interested people. That's likely to happen soon. I hope it will mean there will be some real interest then. Before then though I need to do some more work. If I don't then the meeting will be a waste of people's time  - or we might need an extra meeting.
I wonder about how many extra meetings there are because people simply haven't done the preliminary work. How much time gets wasted?
I know some people actually like meetings and committees and discussing things. They actually like wasting time.
My mother was an ultra organised person - perhaps too organised at times. There were rosters stuck up in every kitchen I can remember - even the one in the house we lived in until I started school. We all had our jobs to do. It is how my mother coped with bringing up four children, teaching full time and supporting the Senior Cat through studying for his degree - something he had to do later rather than sooner because of the war.  My mother went on being organised.
I am not that organised. I don't think I would want to be because there was a certain inflexibility about it. There is a need for flexibility too.
But yesterday I met someone. We discussed things. I promised to do things...and I came home and did them and emailed various people with information I needed to give them and had, in some cases, promised to give them. I had done all of that, answered the regular batch of email and cooked a meal by the time Middle Cat delivered the Senior Cat and no, I wasn't being organised. I just knew it had to be done and I hate having things hanging over me if they can be done there and then. 
After Middle Cat had rushed off I said to the Senior Cat,
     "What were you doing all that time?"
He thought about it and then shook his head,
     "I don't know. I saw the doctor and I went to the chemist and then I just had to wait. I don't know what she was doing. I thought she had gone to do her shopping."
I'll never find out but that is Middle Cat and at least she brought the Senior Cat home safely. That's all that really matters.

Monday 4 June 2018

Throwing rocks from bridges over roads

and trying to hit cars is apparently the new "sport" among the young and, presumably, bored. There is a piece in this morning's paper about this but of course the perpetrators won't read it.
I was dumping yet another load of street tree leaves in the bin when someone pulled up  yesterday. He got out, locked the car and then stood there leaning against his car. He looked very pale and distressed.
I waited for a short while but, as he was only three or so metres from where I was standing  I asked,
    "Are you okay? Do you need some help?"
I know, strange male. It isn't the sort of thing you should do perhaps but if someone does need help or he was about to fall over I thought it better to ask. 
   "I'll be okay but it was damn close," he said, "Take a look at the front." 
I looked. There was a fresh dent in it. It was a small dent with a bit of paint gone.
   "Little sods throwing rocks."
I understood what he meant. The rock was probably not that big  but  it could still have done a lot more damage.
There is a problem on unsealed Downunder roads - of which there are still many. The loose stones on those have been the cause of many a smashed windscreen. It is a hazard of rural driving in this country. Accidents have been caused this way and will probably go on being caused this way.
But, it should not be happening on urban "freeways" or "highways".
Designing bridges to stop it from happening is expensive. How long before there is another serious accident here? How long before someone is killed?
The stranger said all these things to me. We agreed that the thrill seekers doing that sort of thing were almost certainly bored, lacking in supervision, and unable to entertain themselves in any useful way. We agreed that, while criminal behaviour, writing graffiti was relatively harmless compared with the potential dangers and damage done by rock throwers. 
What can be done about it? I don't know. Of course you can try and design bridges to make that sort of behaviour impossible. You could set such severe punishments that at least a tiny fraction of would be perpetrators thought twice. You could hold parents responsible in some cases but what good would that do? 
All the suggestions about providing the perpetrators with "more to do" don't seem to help. The problem there is all too often that the "more to do" activities are adult directed and sport oriented. Youth workers are not generally available early on Sunday mornings and sport isn't normally played at those times, nor is it played late at night. 
     "It's going to cost a bit to fix," the stranger told me gloomily. He was starting to look a little better.
I agreed. I don't know much about car repairs but I do know they can be very expensive. There is also the time and the inconvenience involved.
He sighed and then said,
     "Thanks for the sympathy."
I watched him go off into the little "court" opposite us where there are a number of units at the far end. He was using crutches. I doubt anyone would have grumbled if he had used one of the spare parking spots in the court but he wasn't going to break the rules by parking there. 
The "little sods" could learn a thing or two from him.


Sunday 3 June 2018

There is more than one way of learning

to do anything. 
I taught some knitters to do something called "corrugated ribbing" least, I hope I did. There were six of them in the class and that is about right for something that has to be hands on.
It wasn't what I would have started them on for learning how to do Fair Isle but it is what I was told to do so I did.
I have shown some people who were there how to do other things but this was new to them - or so they claimed. 
I had devised a simple project but it didn't work out  quite the way I intended - which taught me something.
Part of the problem was that someone else came in at the beginning of the class and had quite a long chat to someone who was supposed to be part of the class. I couldn't get annoyed. The intruder is old. She is not well. She didn't intend to be in the way. But it meant not explaining the process to the group in the way I intended.
And that meant about half of them didn't quite get the idea to start with.
I still don't know how I could have handled the interruption so it didn't interfere with the class. There was only a very limited amount of time for teaching. Oh well, I tried.
And I think  that, by the end of it, people did  understand the idea and what lies behind it. Fair Isle is a tiny speck in the North Sea. It is only about 8km long and just 55 people live there. Nowadays it survives on bird watching, farming the hardy little Shetland sheep, and Fair Isle knitwear. The island belongs to the National Trust and it is an important part of Scottish heritage. It is an even more important part of knitting heritage. One tiny island has had a massive impact on knitting. 
     "Why do corrugated ribbing?" someone asked me. It's a reasonable question. Why bother with using two colours and making a double fabric for the borders as well as the rest of the garment. It's fiddly and,  unlike normal ribbing, it has no elasticity.
Normal ribbing at cuffs, waists, and necklines is often intended to draw the rest of the garment in and make it fit snugly. Corrugated ribbing doesn't do that. Instead it is designed to be a hard wearing border for the rest of the garment made from a double layer of  yarn. It is all part of the incredibly practical but fascinating colour patterns of Fair Isle knitting. And yes, it worth learning to do if you want to put the work into making a garment like that.
So, I hope I taught them something. I'd like to teach the little class a lot more about the way my ancestors devised means of keeping their families warm and comfortable in a largely inhospitable climate.  It  won't be happening.
But, at least I have shown them something.

Saturday 2 June 2018

"How old do you have to be to leave home?"

The question set alarm bells ringing.
Ms W had come in with one of her friends. They were looking very serious, indeed upset.
I gave them the answer. (I won't put it up here because the age you can legally leave home varies.) Then I asked,
     "Is there something wrong?"
They looked at one another. It was one of those, "Can we trust an adult with this?" look on the part of Ms W's friend. Ms W gave her the nod.
     "M... has run away. He didn't come home last night or the night before and...."
She burst into tears.
Fortunately the Senior Cat was out in his shed or she might have been even more embarrassed and upset. We calmed her down enough for her to tell me what had been going on.
     "Dad gets at him all the time. It's not like usual getting at you. It's everything."
      "Can you tell me - without exaggerating?"
Even allowing for some exaggeration there really would seem to be a problem there. It doesn't surprise me. There are two busy professional parents who work long hours in that family. The three children have been under enormous pressure to perform not just well but extremely well. I have heard their parents say things like, "We are working so that you can go to that school and you are going to work as well."
It might sound reasonable to some but this is apparently a constant barrage of comments. 
Her brother is apparently failing under pressure.
"The more Dad gets at him the worse it gets. He tries to do things and he makes a mess of them." 
I say this because Ms W does not like to visit her friend at weekends or have anything to do with her friend's parents. Her friend is a nice, well behaved and definitely suppressed child. She isn't one of Ms W's best friends by any means, more someone she feels needs a bit of support.
I listened. I told her friend what the police would do to help find her brother and I suggested she talk to the counsellor at school because that person could also talk to her parents. That idea was met with extreme reluctance at first but I said,
"It's worrying you too. If you start to fail as well then...."
No, she didn't want that.  Would she like me to tell the counsellor that she wanted to talk?
Again hesitation and Ms W, who had been remarkably silent through all this, said, "It would be easier for you if she did that."
She nodded and said "thank you" and then rushed off home leaving Ms W with me.
I phoned the school and, thankfully, the school counsellor was still there. Yes, she would deal with the situation first thing on Monday morning - even if the boy had been found in the meantime. She had actually been alerted to the problem by someone else but was very pleased that I had backed up the information.
Ms W stood there and looked at me and then asked,
     "When do I have to leave home?"
     "Ask your father," I told her as  she gave me a hug, "Are you doing anything special this weekend?"
     "We're going to the Barossa on Sunday...some work thing but there will be loads of people I like there."
The "loads of people" are likely to be her father's friends and perhaps a few of their children.  Ms W will make sure she has done her school work today. Even if she didn't do it then her father would simply say, "It's your responsibility now. You're old enough."
But not old enough to leave home - or want to do it.