Wednesday 31 October 2018

"And guess what? It's Halloween

tomorrow and I'm going to make a really scary monster."
Yes T.... 
I looked at his mother, a paediatrician. She looked back at me in resignation.
    "We are trying to keep this to a minimum," she told me, "He picked it  up at pre-school."
She was not impressed.
I didn't know what Halloween was when I was T...'s age. It most certainly was not "celebrated".  We didn't dress up as ghosts and monsters or pumpkins or anything else.   We most certainly didn't bother the neighbours for chocolate and sweets we had not managed to earn. 
I can remember being given a single wrapped, boiled sweet by a neighbour for doing some small thing when I was probably not quite four. My mother took it away "for later". I never saw it again. She "forgot" where she had put it. Possibly my mother believed I would not like it. I don't know. Whatever the situation I don't think any child I knew at the time would have asked anyone other than a parent for a sweet.
T....won't be allowed to bother the neighbours and his parents have indicated "no sweets". He's too young to be out alone so it really won't be an issue.
And he has something new to play with. The Senior Cat gave it to him. It's not new in itself. It is a "fire engine" the Senior Cat once used as part of a "magic trick". It hasn't been used for years. The Senior Cat made it himself. Originally it had working parts that a "naughty monkey" could turn on an off. There are doors that open, ladders that go up and down and more. T...'s father is taking the old electronic parts out and T... will have to imagine the rest. 
They came to get it yesterday - and we were told about Halloween at the time. T....stopped talking about Halloween when he saw the engine. He started talking about the engine instead. He eventually went home making "fire engine noises". His mother looked at me again. We smiled at each other.
The "fire engine noises" sound infinitely better than "scary noises".

Tuesday 30 October 2018

"I must go down to the sea again...."

and as the words came out I was back in the place where I spent part of my childhood. Dad's cousin was showing me how he could, like all good sailors, splice a rope.
I had forgotten that until then.
Funerals are for the living, not the dead. Middle Cat was going to take us but she was sick and didn't want to pass on her germs. We didn't want them either so it was a taxi journey both ways - with the same driver each way. He and the Senior Cat got on well together - reminiscing about the past. It put the Senior Cat in the right frame of mind for the afternoon.
The church was full - standing room only at the back. I'm glad about that because R...'s wife is a lovely person and, although calm, needed some support after 61 years of marriage. 
      "The Senior Cat is the eldest of that generation," she told me and we worked out who was left  - R...'s brother, two cousins in different states. The cousins weren't able to travel but they had been in touch. Typical. 
There were other cousins of varying degrees present - mostly my generation. Some of the younger cousins would have found it difficult to get time off work but they had been in touch too. Typical.
I saw someone I didn't know was connected to the family. Her daughter is married to one of R...'s sons.  She seemed bemused by the number of cousins there.
     "Clan," I told her.
It didn't really mean anything. A..., standing next to me, tried to explain.  I don't think everyone quite understands the concept of "clan" - or how important it is to some families. 
And  yes, funerals are for the living...a good one will bring back good memories. This one did. I had forgotten that incident until one of R...'s son started to read Masefield's "Sea Fever".  Suddenly I could smell the wharf, the tar used to caulk the boat timbers, and the rope. I could see R....working on the rope. He taught me two of the knots I needed for my "Brownie badge" that day. Some years later he showed me how to make my own lanyard - and then made me teach the rest of my patrol so that I would not forget. He would go fishing with my paternal grandfather occasionally - and neither of them would teach me how to gut a fish. 
For the past three years he had been in a nursing home. He hated it but tried not to show it. He had lost a leg to severe diabetes and several toes on the other foot.  My cousin M... - or  his brother R - would come and pick up the Senior Cat and they would go to visit. I always knew that lunch needed to be something that could be readily reheated because they would invariably be late back. One of the nursing home staff told me yesterday,
     "We always knew when R.... and your father and the cousins were there....they had so much to talk about!"
And after the service yesterday there was so much to talk about.  Yes, funerals are for the living - and the memories they bring back.

Monday 29 October 2018

"Why do they hate us so much?"

I was asked this question by a friend.  She was not crying but she was close to it. She looked pale.
The Senior Cat was not around and would not have known what had happened anyway. He would sympathise but it is the sort of thing which worries him too much these days. He wouldn't be back for a while so I said firmly,
     "You need a cup of tea."
I made one.
She's Jewish. The latest shooting atrocity in America had completely shattered her. She knows people there - not well but she had visited the synagogue some years ago when on a business trip with her husband.  He's away right now and she needed to talk to someone. Her neighbours are "lovely but they don't understand". 
No, they probably don't.  
She didn't want to talk to people in her congregation either. I could understand that too.
All she wanted then was a bit of company. We talked. We talked about other things...her garden, her son - currently at a conference in Israel, her mother in South Africa. 
Her husband is a doctor. They came here many years ago. They had to leave South Africa in a hurry because her husband broke the law with respect to apartheid - and saved someone's life in the process. As a nurse she helped. It isn't something they regret having done and they have both said they would do it again despite the consequences. 
They live quietly for no other reason than that is the way they prefer life. She volunteers in a charity shop run by a Christian organisation. Her husband plays in an amateur orchestra that often performs in churches.
But they still get excluded from things.
      "I don't know how to cook their sort of food,"someone in the orchestra told someone else I know. It meant they were not invited to a barbecue along with the rest of the orchestra. Was it just an excuse? I have no idea.
For years her husband was not invited by colleagues to do anything on Fridays. They assumed he would be going to synagogue.
Their short street has organised a Christmas party for everyone for many years. They have never been invited. 
I know the people responsible for organising this year's party. H... was in the "cheap" shop buying supplies for it the other day - while they were half price. She said she felt badly that this couple always had to miss out. I managed to keep calm and suggest that they be issued an invitation.
    "It might surprise you," I told her, "They don't have to accept but remember you are celebrating the birth of a Jew."

Sunday 28 October 2018


Yes, all right, calm down! 
It was the library's knitting group yesterday. The number of people who come varies greatly. Once there were just three of us - something to do with a football grand final and two weddings - and once there were nineteen.
There are usually around eight or nine - which has been about right for the size of the room we were meeting in. Recently we have been meeting in a much larger space but one which is not terribly well lit. It is all to do with the temporary location of the library while the extension is being built.  The knitting group has in fact been sent into a mini-hall.
But, people still find us. Yesterday we had an eight year old turn up. She can knit "but I want to know how to do the other one". 
   "You know how to do the knit stitch but you want to learn to do the purl stitch?"
She nodded.
    G.... said she would help. I left them to it. G.... is a very good teacher of  such things.
Someone else needed a pattern. I could have created one from the tiny garment she had brought. It was an odd shape but then those Cabbage Patch dolls are an odd shape. Her granddaughters are getting a doll each for Christmas and she wanted to knit something for them.  
    "There's a site on the internet," I told her.
    "I'm not much good at that sort of thing..."
I whisked her out to the main area of the library, asked one of the staff to log me in on a computer and showed the would be knitter what was available. 
     "KNITTING! Oh, look at it all! I had no idea there was all of this." 
What I was showing her was a miniscule portion of what is available. I showed her how to find a pattern. We chose what looked to be a simple one and I got it printed off for her.  
When we returned to the room with the rest of knitters someone else said,
      "Cat, can you show me how to do the neck?"
Then someone else reminded me I had promised to show them how to crochet around the edge of something.
The Japanese member of the group arrived. He has mastered both the knit stitch and the purl stitch now. He tells us he won't be there in January because he is going to the UK for a visit. We tell him there is a lot of wool for sale there. 
Someone arrives late. J...'s quiet today. I ask quietly if she's okay. She nods and asks, as she always does, where M.... is. I tell her again that M... doesn't come any more. J...has a closed  brain injury and life is confusing for her.
And then someone asks where someone else is. She wasn't going to come we are told. She thinks she talked too much last time. I look at the person who is telling us this.
   "Have you got her  phone number?"
She has and proceeds to give her a call. She issues an order to "get yourself over here now" and then says with some satisfaction, "She'll be here in ten minutes."
She creeps in twelve minutes later looking rather anxious.
 "We've been waiting for you. How did the move go?"
She had to help get her mother into a nursing home three weeks ago. It's been a difficult and stressful time for her.
The afternoon continues. I manage to do one row of what I am working on before it is time to pack up. The youngest knitter knows how to do the purl stitch now. Her work is not perfect but it will be good if she persists. The Cabbage Patch knitter leaves telling me that she will have to restrain herself from finding more patterns now she knows about "that site". Stitches have been picked up for a neckband. Someone else knows how to crochet around the edge of her "hen jumpers".
I tell the person who was not going to come, "I'm glad you came." She hugs me tightly and says, "Thankyou. I needed to come."
G... and I look at one another. 
I think we needed to be there too. 

Saturday 27 October 2018

"I need to know how to cook something"

the Whirlwind tells me.
   "Yes? What do you want to make?"
And out it comes. She has grown something, seen something, eaten something somewhere, read something.
Ms W is interested in food in a healthy sort of way. I am not suggesting she doesn't like the "wrong" or "just occasional"  things just as much as any of us. One of her favourite outings as a small child was to go to "the icecream shop" and spend a long time choosing which flavour she wanted. She still likes the shop but spends less time choosing. ("I've tried everything except the bubble gum one. That looks revolting.")
She likes hot chips too. Pizza? It depends on where it comes from. She went to a birthday party at a certain hamburger chain once and told me afterwards, "I didn't  say anything but it was horrible."
And she cooks.
Ms W has had to learn I suppose. When you don't have a mother you need to learn, especially if your father is "not a great cook". He works very long hours and, as soon as she was old enough to be trusted, Ms W started to take over. 
At first it was merely heating things in the microwave oven. But one day, of her own accord, she made toast and put a piece of cheese on top and put it under the griller. I remember her telling me, "And I stood there and I watched until it was all just melted and I used the hot mitts just like my Dad told me."
Riding on that success she made some for her father as well. He consulted me and we decided that she could be trusted to try other things. I suggested  buying a much smaller sharp knife but, apart from that, we both taught her to use adult size utensils. 
There have been a few failures and some tears but now, like any other cook, she learns from her experiments. If she doesn't know how to do something she will search the internet, ask me or ask the mother of her best friend. Her best friend can do some things in the kitchen too - although not, I suspect, nearly as much.
I will therefore be interested to find out what the two of them think of an article in this morning's paper talking about the lack of kitchen skills among children and teens. It is said that half of them don't even know how to boil an egg. 
Is it any wonder we have an obesity problem?


Friday 26 October 2018

The bus was going into the city

but it was also empty.
I noted this yesterday as I was waiting for it to pass. The driver in the vehicle behind it let me across the stream of traffic (for which I was most grateful) and I caught up with the bus a few moments later. (No, I am not that fast. I can do a detour the bus couldn't do.)
It stopped and picked up one passenger on the main road into the city.
This was 9:15am. 
Yes, most people who catch a bus to work would be at work by then...but the bus was still empty when it first passed me.Those buses are huge great things, especially the articulated sort. They must take a lot of fuel. There is also the driver to pay and all the usual costs of putting anything like that on the road.
In this morning's paper there was an article about the lack of public transport in the outer suburbs and I thought about the bus again. We live about 5km from the CBD. Even here public transport is not that frequent. 
People don't use it. The love affair with the car is so strong that some people don't even think about using public transport. I was talking to someone recently and he admitted that he had not been on a bus since he left school. He hasn't been on a train either. He left school at least forty years ago. He has no idea how the ticketing system works, where the buses and trains go or when they go. It is his belief that he doesn't need to know these things because he has a car.  If he can't drive then he expects that someone else will take him. The thought of having to use public transport appalls him. He looked shocked when I suggested it. In his view public transport is only there for students who haven't got their own cars, the aged and infirm - and perhaps for some people trying to get to the "footy" because "parking is damn difficult in the city". 
I suspect there are a good many other people who hold the same attitude - even if they have occasionally used public transport. It is little wonder that our public transport system is underused.
Perhaps it is time to start trying to change that attitude?

Thursday 25 October 2018

Someone left a book

at our front door yesterday.
I don't know who did it and, in a way, I hope I never find out.
You see, it was a library book - one of the books that  has gone missing. I know there are other books as well. 
That library is not my responsibility any more. When it was there were three people from whom I never managed to recover library books. One was in the middle stages of dementia and her husband was unable to find the book. Possibly it had been returned to another library. I told him not to worry. He had other things to worry about. Another joined the group, borrowed the book and never returned it - or herself. I tried to phone her but nobody answered. I wrote to her and the then President tried to call on her. It was all without success. We had to accept the book was lost.
And then there was the member who somehow had multiple books. She had borrowed them in my absence. I changed the borrowing system - something I had wanted to do for a very long time. Someone else went through the previous "borrowing book" and made a list. Oh no, she had returned them. She just hadn't crossed them off.  No, she didn't have that. She hadn't borrowed that one. And no she didn't know where that one was. And so it went on. 
I told her she couldn't borrow any more books. When I had to leave early one day she made a big show of returning a book. After I had gone she borrowed two more. I pounced and told her that she was banned from the library and that I had the support of the then committee. When she moved house we tried to get her to return the books as she packed. They never came back. We haven't seen this year and I left chasing her to the new librarian anyway.
The book which was "returned" to me was not borrowed by her. It was one of the books I passed on to the group when I had written the review.  It is about an interesting style of knitting but not one I would ever do. It's slow and fiddly and I don't much care for the end result.
All that though is not the point. It's a book that now belongs to the group. It should have been borrowed in the normal way and returned in the normal way.
There seems to be something about books that makes some people not treat them in the same way as other things. They wouldn't dream of keeping anything else belonging to another person but a book seems to be different. I am still upset by the loss of books I have loaned - or, more likely, the Senior Cat has loaned - to other people. One of the more recent losses is a book signed by the author.
     "You'll get it back," the Senior Cat told me. It hasn't been returned. The borrower passed it on to someone else - and can't even remember to whom they gave it. 
Right now I have my own library books which I can account for and know when are due and the book left on my doorstep. Barring unforeseen circumstances I will return the former by the due date. I will also return the latter at the first opportunity. 
Yes, somewhere in the past I have forgotten to return books but, like most people, it has never been deliberate. I don't knowingly have anything belonging to someone else - although the mass of ex-library books (bought and paid for) on my shelves might suggest otherwise.
I suppose too that it is better that the book was left on my doorstep rather than not returned at all. I just wish people would return things they borrowed, especially books. 

Wednesday 24 October 2018

The Little Free Library

has been vandalised again.
Last time it was thrown in the river. This time they tried to burn it. 
    "We went down there to return a book and borrow another one and they've wrecked it again. E.... won't stop crying about it," one of the mothers phoned me.
I could hear E... in the background crying, "I  hate them! I hate them! They are....and when I get them...."
The Little Free Library is just what it sounds as if it is. It is a tiny, tiny structure in a play area in a park. It has books for children to borrow and return on an honesty basis and, apart from the vandalism, it has been a huge success. 
I know the person who set it up is now trying to repair the damage. Apparently she has cleaned it out and a few books have been placed in there but it isn't the same.
The trauma the vandalism has caused the children who use the library has undoubtedly been immense. For E... it is a treat to go to the little park, play for a bit and borrow a book. Her father has been in the hospice for several weeks now. E...'s mother is struggling and the time they were spending in the park was as much relaxation for her as her two small children. It is something they could do which cost nothing. 
Her mother had  told me all this while we were waiting to each see a dentist. She told me her husband liked to read too but she didn't like to borrow books in case she didn't manage to return them. He has read those on offer in the hospice or they aren't to his taste.  I offered to get several to her through someone I know. They were simply sitting there waiting for me to have time to take them to the charity shop. I knew the person who had given them to me would be more than happy for them to go to him instead.
With all that she has to worry about she had rung me to thank me for the books to take to her husband. I know and he knows he is unlikely to get to the end of three books but at least I could give him a choice. 
It is a choice E... did not have and that makes me furious.

Tuesday 23 October 2018

The family history

written by the eldest son of the eldest son and yours truly has proved to be a valuable resource in unexpected ways.
One of the Senior Cats cousins died late on Sunday. It was not an unexpected death. His health was not good and he was not comfortable. 
His wife phoned to let us have the news. As soon as she said, "It's M... here" she didn't actually need to say more. I knew why she had rung. She was calm, perhaps even grateful that he was no longer suffering the extreme discomfort and indignity of the past few years.
We chatted for a moment. I passed her on to the Senior Cat. They chatted some more. When the conversation was over I phoned Middle Cat and we discussed how best to get the Senior Cat to the funeral which is on the other side of the city. He has to be somewhere else in the morning - or do we cancel that appointment? You know the sort of thing that happens when someone is 95 and has a limited amount of energy - but we will work something out.
It wasn't all that which made me think as much as another cousin ringing later in the day. 
She lives in another state and is 94. Coming to the funeral is not an option for her.
    "I got the book out," she told me and she didn't need to say which book. I knew. It was the family history.
Then she went on,
    "I could look at him there and...."
She went on to reminisce. No, it wasn't all sad by any means. She remembered her irritation at how her cousin used to follow her around when she went to the dairy farm my great-grandparents started in their retirement. She remembered how Great-grandma was not sympathetic when she was teased by her cousin. We laughed over some incidents that have become part of family lore.
And the family history must have been open in front of her because she went through R....'s immediate family. Did I know what this one and that one was doing now? 
     "I wouldn't have remembered so much if it hadn't been for the book," she told me. 
I passed her on to the Senior Cat and they chatted some more. I could hear him reminiscing about the good times.
We will never be able to repay my paternal great-grandmother for her fierce sense of Scottish clan and the way she kept each of her children informed through her letters. 
I am just glad we wrote the history in her honour - because it means that people like the Senior Cat and his cousins have something there to help them remember.

Monday 22 October 2018

There was a list going around

at a meeting I attended on Saturday.
It was designed to be one of those sort of lists that allows people to prepare for next year. That's a good idea. 
This one was a list of things people might want to learn in the coming year.
I have already been asked to do something for the group next year. 
When the list arrived at the table I was sitting at I looked at it and passed it on. 
     "Don't you want to do any of those Cat?" someone asked me.
     "I'll wait and find out what they want me to teach," I said.
     "I suppose you know how to do all that anyway?"
It was said in a way that meant I kept my mouth shut apart from saying,
I could teach anything on the list - although I would have much more difficulty with some things than others. Knitting is fine but I am a left pawed crocheter and that does present issues when teaching right handed humans.  
It doesn't mean that I couldn't learn something, perhaps quite a lot, about those things on the list. There is always something I can learn. On Saturday afternoon someone I know taught someone else how to do something. It is a simple skill but it has many possibilities. The delight on the learner's face had made the effort of getting there more than worthwhile for the teacher. That's the sort of thing that teaching is about.
The other thing that teaching is about is preparation. It is one thing to teach the simple skill - although you still need other skills to do it - and another to teach a group a set of skills. It is possible to teach a simple skill without conscious preparation. It is not possible to teach a group a set of skills without preparation - or at least I don't believe it is possible. 
I am teaching a class at a summer school this year and I began preparing for it weeks ago. I am still not ready. There are notes to be written up to hand out and still more samples to be knit - small but they need to be done with great care. 
It isn't just because people are paying to do the summer school class it is because they are coming because they want to learn something.
So, if I get asked to teach anything else in the coming year that will come first, the preparation for that will take precedence over any desire I might have to see if I can learn something new taught by someone else.
    "I didn't know how to do that." I like to be able to think that and then realise that now I do. 
I can learn by teaching too.

Sunday 21 October 2018

"If I had to choose between betraying my country or

betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."
EM Forster
And what if your friend is also your country?
It doesn't matter where you sit on the political fence deliberately harming your country is not acceptable.
I have to say here that I am not a passionate nationalist. When I went to live in the UK for some years I didn't wear the flag of my home country on my sleeve. I avoided the areas where it was said a great many young people from my home country were said to gather.  It made far more sense to me get to know the locals - and I did - and get to know my fellow students from all over the world. I did that too.  I would have been more than happy to remain in the UK for the rest of my life because of the intellectual and other resources there. It is difficult to work in isolation - which I do in the sense that I work from home and can't even chat casually to a colleague in the tea room. 
But there is a vast difference between moving countries for any number of reasons and staying in one country, moving up the political ladder to lead the country - and then betraying it. This country gave the former Prime Minister everything. In turn he treated it as his personal plaything. He bullied his way into the job and he lost the job because he wasn't sharing, wasn't listening, and wanted to dictate. He has now effectively brought down a government and it is going to do the country immense harm. Unlike many other politicians removed from their positions he didn't even have the guts to remain in parliament until the next election. 
It would seem we are well rid of this man. It is an immense pity that, in his going, he has pulled down a country with him. He has betrayed both his country and his friend.
Forster made the choice sound simple but it isn't. 

Saturday 20 October 2018

"But Mummy I have to go NOW!"

Yes, one of those a mother ignores at her peril.
This one came in the library just as  "mummy" was about to get a pile of picture books checked out. 
She looked at me. I nodded. She rushed her not quite four year old off and left me with the not quite two year old in his stroller. 
He was jigging around and trying to get out so I played a sort of "peek-a-boo" with him. He grinned, wriggled some more and made it obvious he wanted me to do it some more. When his mother returned a couple of minutes later he was laughing.
She thanked me.
The older child, now quite calm, borrowed his books and they left. I collected the book I had on inter-library loan and went out as well. They were still getting into their car. 
The mother stopped what she was doing as I passed them and I said,
       "He's growing up fast."
       "He's not talking yet," she told me. She looked worried and I know she is worried about all sorts of things.
       "He's doing well," I told her and meant it, "Just keep on talking to him and reading books to him."
       "Oh, he loves books. He can point to a lot of pictures now."
We chatted for a moment longer and then, feeling some more spots of rain I pedalled off.
Her younger child, the one I was playing with for a moment, will be a worry in many ways. He has Down Syndrome and he will learn more slowly. There will almost certainly be health issues and other concerns. 
But he is a cheerful, outgoing little boy and he is incredibly fortunate because he has been fostered into a family which loves books. They are teaching him to love books too. He's going to be all right in the end.

Friday 19 October 2018

What happened to the books?

It's a question I would like answered.
In  our household the Senior Cat would answer a question like that with, 
     "They've gone to look for the sheets."
That refers to the mystery of what happened to the two sets of sheets my mother bought many years ago. She had them delivered along with some other household items she bought at the same time. I actually took the delivery. I saw the sheets. (They remain firmly fixed in my memory because they were patterned - brown peacocks on one set and blue swans on the other. I would not have bought either.)
We still have the other household items. We do not have the sheets. We never used the sheets. I never saw them again. What happened to the sheets is a mystery.
I am also missing almost 300 books but I suspect that my mother gave those to the charity shop when they moved here and simply refused to admit.
But, much more seriously, I am wondering what has happened to some other books.
I was the librarian for a small but specialised library belonging to a group of which I am still a member. As I was also reviewing books in the same subject area I was putting those review copies (which was of course how I was paid to review) in the library. When I ceased being the librarian but continued to review the books I went on passing the books on. I also passed on other books given to me, some of which were new. They were always books I knew the library did not have and which I felt others could benefit from their being made available.
For several reasons I have not used that library myself since I ceased being librarian. I am no longer as familiar as I perhaps should be with what is in there. At one time I knew the location and contents of each book - easy enough when there are only hundreds rather than thousands. 
It was therefore of concern to me when a friend came to lunch on Wednesday and mentioned that she was asking the group to buy a certain book for the library. She said it wasn't there and had been told it was not part of the library. I know it should be there because, according to my records, it is a book I gave to the library. It isn't one I would have used myself but it was of sufficient quality that I felt it should be on the library shelves. I think the current librarian would have felt the same way if she had seen the book.
I am wondering what has happened to it. Inevitably I am also wondering what has happened to the other books I passed on to the library. If they have not, as intended, been placed in the library then I rather wish I had kept them for myself. I would have been quite entitled to do so and I could have ensured that others had access to them if they asked - after all my own library contains many books on the same topic and they are frequently used by others.
And, if the book in question is not there where it should be, then I will always wonder...has it gone to look for the sheets?

Thursday 18 October 2018

If anyone happens to read this

I would ask them to consider the following.
If you are a resident of Wentworth and voting on Saturday then it is even more important.
Your local member of parliament is elected to represent you. He or she is not elected to be a Minister or Prime Minister. There is a contract between that person and you. It is not a contract which should be broken lightly. Please do not reward a dummy spit by failing to replace that person with a member from another party. It will simply encourage such behaviour in future.
I also say this to the member of parliament. If the people of your electorate are not happy with your performance they can oust you at the next election. You can offer to resign earlier but the cost of doing so should be borne by you and it is up to you to strongly support any new candidate for the sake of stability in government.
Apart from that the only reasons for a by election should be for an illness so severe you cannot carry on, death, or some misconduct  which would disqualify all members of parliament.
Losing the job of Prime Minister is no reason to not see your term in parliament to the end of that parliament. You do not need to stand for re-election but you should remain there. It is what more than one ousted Prime Minister has done in recent years. No, it isn't comfortable to go and sit on the back benches but, while there, consider what you have done to find yourself there.
Being Prime Minister is not simply about "leading" it is also about "listening".  It is not simply about bringing in your policies but the policies of the party you lead. Those policies are made by the party you lead, not by you. If you don't like something work to get it changed. Don't undermine the government of the day.
To everyone else....
can you tell I am fed up? There is a totally unnecessary by-election coming up on Saturday.  It will almost certainly cause a seismic shift in politics, one that will do the country harm as the elected government will not be able to govern effectively. It has been caused by the selfishness of one man who is sulking because what he once did to someone else has now been done to him. 
The contract between politicians and the rest of us needs to be taken much more seriously than it is. There need to be consequences for breaking it.

Wednesday 17 October 2018

The register of MPs interests

is again under scrutiny. This tends to happen when there is a change of government but it can happen at other times as well. 
There is also a tendency to more closely scrutinise the interests of those to the right than the left. Perhaps this is in the belief that those on the "right" side of politics are more likely to own property and have other pecuniary interests than those on the "left".
The reality of course is that it helps to have such interests to fall back on in the event of losing your seat at the next election.
It also means I have known people who might have entered politics if they had had the means to do so. Some of those people - and they come from all corners of political thinking - might have made excellent members of parliament. 
Some years ago I was invited to lunch by a politician. Parliament was on at the time. He didn't have a lot of time but he wanted information from me so we ate in the dining room at parliament house. He knew I didn't feel comfortable about it.
     "Cat, it's work for me...and for you."
I suppose it was. I know I met more than one of his colleagues there, two of whom (from opposite sides  but supportive of the matter) asked to join us when they discovered the purpose of the meeting. Yes, I suppose I worked for my lunch. 
Was it a legitimate expense on his part? I suppose it was
I don't doubt politicians expenses should be scrutinised. You are spending public money, money provided by the taxpayer.  You should be able to account for and justify every cent. That doesn't really happen right now. It should.
But is it any business of ours what else a politician owns unless it is likely to influence the way s/he votes? I think not. Yes, there should be a register of their interests but it should be confidential and held by an independent body with the power to advise the Governor or Governor-General if it believes that a government has voted to benefit the financial interests of its members. Only if that has then proved to be the case should someone's affairs become that public.
If that happened I believe politicians would actually be more accountable, not less. 

Tuesday 16 October 2018

There are apparently 80,000 plus children

on drugs for ADHD in this country....and I suspect that is 80,000 too many.
Of course the piece in yesterday's paper was designed to sensationalise the issue but, if the figures were close to correct, then there is a problem out there.
Are there really that many children who need to be drugged up in order to cope with the world - or is the world not coping with them?
I am trying to remember what happened when I was a kitten. 
I can't remember any children who were so disruptive that they needed to be given something like valium to calm them down.  They were disciplined, kept in at play time or after school, told to apologise - and boys were sometimes given the cane.  Children were told to write the same sentence ten or twenty times or made to repeat work they simply had not bothered to finish. 
Even when we grumbled that it wasn't "fair" we did it. I remember being out of the classroom getting yet another set of scraped knees dealt with by someone - not the teacher. The class had played up for some reason in my absence and everyone was kept in at morning play time - and that everyone included me even though I had not been there at the time. No teacher would dare to do that now.
And perhaps that is part of the problem. There is a child I know who is "having trouble coping with school". She is said to have "mild Asperger's". This child is very bright and has no learning issues but she refuses to write anything down. She simply says, "I don't like it" and "I don't want to".  She has temper tantrums of massive  proportions. Instead of going to school some days she spends the day with her grandparents. She gets a lot of attention there. 
Her home life is chaotic. There is no regular timetable. Meals are irregular. Her diet is not balanced or varied. She is an extremely "fussy" eater.  It is one of those many households where there is "no time".
And yes, she is on a drug to make her sleep at night and another to try and make her conform during the day.
At the beginning of the recent term break another mother said to me that her child want this one to spend a day there.
   "But I'm not sure I can cope with her," she told me.
   "I don't think you will have a problem," I told her, "Tell her what the program is for the day. Tell her when things are going to happen and what you expect from her at the start. Don't "reason" or "discuss" things with her, just expect her to do it. "
    "Well, that's what I do with mine," she said.
    "Yes, I know."
And yes, the child spent a day there and told me she had a "really, really good" time. A good deal of it was apparently spent playing an imaginative game of some sort in the back garden without more than a watchful eye from the host mother.
I know it is only one example but I couldn't help wondering how many other supposedly "ADHD" and "Asperger's" children would benefit from a regular timetable, boundaries for behaviour, a proper diet and opportunities to play with only a distant watchful eye on them. Add some definite expectations in the classroom and perhaps we would have only 80 and not 80,000 plus children on drugs. It might be easier for everyone. 


Monday 15 October 2018

If you have been born deaf

you just don't join in the conversation.
I went to a morning tea yesterday for "Loud Shirt Day". It was a fund raiser for a centre for hearing impaired children.
I was invited by someone whose now adult son was born with a profound hearing loss. She still raises funds for the centre which educated him.  
It's an oral/aural focussed centre. I was once offered a job there - and declined. I knew I needed to be trained before I could even contemplate taking on the role of teaching in such a school.  I also believed, and still believe, that all profoundly dead children have the right to learn sign language.
In my early teaching days the thought was that children should not be taught to sign. If they did it was thought they would never learn to lip read or make the effort to speak. And yes all that is an effort - a huge effort.
I worked at weekends  in a residential nursery school for profoundly deaf children. Signing was supposedly forbidden but it was impossible to eradicate it.  I sometimes see those children, now grown and with children of their own. We sign to each other. The conversation is limited, not by their abilities but by mine. I know very little sign language - more than most people perhaps but not enough to hold a conversation. Despite that I still get hugged and introduced to their families. 
But yesterday was different. M... was the only person there who had been born with a hearing loss.  He can speak but it is very difficult to understand. There were about thirty people present and M...simply couldn't communicate with any of them except on a very limited social level. He wandered around trying not to look out of place.
He was wearing a brilliantly coloured shirt of flourescent colours in keeping with his mother's request to wear a bright coloured shirt. So I looked directly at him and said, "M..." and when I had his attention I said as carefully and clearly as I could, "That shirt is almost neon bright."
He got the message. His demeanour changed for a moment. He held his arms out, twirled around and then told me,
     "I could stop traffic in this."
We laughed. It was  a good moment. Then he had to greet other people -  but not really communicate with them.
I wish we could stop the traffic more often.

Sunday 14 October 2018

Poppy wreaths are

made from many things and by many people. 
But you need red. 
I had a 500gm ball of red wool. Yes, it was a very large ball of yarn. I had intended to use it for another purpose. Then I had one of those "middle of the night" ideas that had to be acted upon.
I belong to a knitting guild. It meets in a hall belonging to the Returned and Services League or what is commonly called "the RSL". Some guild members have made poppies and they have gone off to the War Memorial in the nation's capital and to other places. I made some for that. I made more for the local library because they put up an acknowledgment each year and needed new poppies. Last year I made each member of the guild a bookmark with a poppy to mark another anniversary.
Make more poppies? I've made more than I care to think about. I really didn't want to make any more. I wanted to get on with other things.
But, the idea niggled. It kept me awake. In the morning I mentioned it to the Senior Cat. He wasn't a lot of help but agreed that it "might be a nice gesture".  I went off to visit the local greengrocer's floristry people. If they had what I knew we would need and were prepared to sell me one then I would do something about it.
I stood there and explained what we wanted to do. It meant not buying any flowers but the base I knew they must use to make a wreath.
Wreaths are not common now and I knew they might not even have one but  yes, they had one. I bought it thinking to myself, "If the others aren't interested then I'll do it myself because I think we should."
I took the wreath base home thinking about strategies - and phoned one of the oldest and most able members of the guild. She was once the President. She used to run a school and she has not lost the capacity for "getting things done". I told her what I thought we should do and what I had already done. Yes, she thought it was a good idea and she would get up and talk about it. 
I added the wreath base and the yarn and some floristry wire to the things I was taking and hoped that some people might be interested.
E...stood up and said things. Some hands went up. Yarn was handed out.  W...., a trained florist, said she would put it together if people made the poppies.
So, I've made another 21 poppies. I ran out of yarn at that point and mentioned the project to someone I know who knits. Did she happen to have any red yarn she didn't need? This morning there was some in the letter box so I can do some more. I will because I don't know how many people will actually make poppies. W...left a message to say she has made 12 and will make some more now that she is back from a short trip away. J.... told me she had made some. I think we can do it because some people will think it is something they can do and want to do.
And I would like to  be able to see it finished and then just left quietly at the appropriate place by the railing in the little chapel area. That way those who use the hall for its primary purpose can know we are aware not just of their service but those who served before them. 
We wouldn't be here now if it wasn't for them.

Saturday 13 October 2018

There were broken beer bottles

scattered over a nearby street again yesterday. It was done in such a way that it was obviously deliberate...broken bottles do not lie in patterns or with all their jagged edges uppermost.
It is the second time this week that this has happened. Last week I saw someone smash a bottle on the side of the street. He was with more than one other person and they looked - undesirable. 
I knew B....who lives in the house outside which that incident occurred was home and he would be out to clear up the mess when they moved on.
He was out there when I returned and he was angry. He used to be in the army until a serious medical condition forced him out. the sort of neighbour most people would like to have. He's not intrusive but he sees to things like that and other little jobs that need doing. 
     "Pity the cops can't catch them at it," he told me.
I thought the same thing yesterday. They had moved further down the same street and made it even more deliberate. 
     "Bored school kids I suppose," someone else said.
     "No, not that lot," B... told them, "Cat and I have both seen them. In their early 20's...trouble with a capital "T" too."
My guess is though that had once been bored school kids. In all likelihood nothing ever appealed to them at school. Nobody ever managed to get them excited about learning anything perhaps? They are probably unemployed. They may never have had a job and may never have one.
I thought about this as I was waiting at the pedestrian crossing. Next to me was someone I know slightly. He has Down syndrome but he has a job. His boss says he is absolutely reliable, so reliable he is permanent in a largely casual industry. He will see things that need to be done and doesn't wait to be told to do them. Yes, it is largely menial work that others wouldn't want to do but he takes pride in doing it.  His workmates like him - like him enough that he told me they "made a big cake for my birthday for thirty". 
He would no more deliberately break beer bottles an leave them on the road than he would do anything else he recognised as antisocial.  He would almost certainly get out there and clean the mess up.
I dropped the prescriptions for the elderly couple on the corner into the chemist, did some essential shopping, picked up the prescriptions and went back the way I had come. If nobody had started on clearing the glass I would ask one of the people I know if I could at least borrow a broom.
It wasn't necessary. There was a young lad sweeping the glass to the side of the road where an open bin and some heavy duty garbage bags told me what he intended to do with it. 
    "Thanks," I told him
He  looked at me and then said, "Stupid bastards aren't they?"
I could only agree.

Friday 12 October 2018

The Antique Pattern Library

is one of those under recognised, under utilised, and under  appreciated resources available on the internet. The same might be said of the Gutenburg Project and resources like the Internet Archive Open Library - to name just a few.
I went to a meeting yesterday where a project to recognise the bicentenary of Queen Victoria's birth was being discussed. It has been talked about by the group before - largely in terms of how the project will be handled. Yesterday we talked about it slightly more specific terms and I spoke to the group about resources. 
    "What's it called Cat?" someone asked starting to scribble something down. I repeated myself.
    "Where did you get all that from Cat?" someone asked. I explained about internet resources.
I also explained that, while everyone in the room has access to the internet, not everyone has equal access. Some people still have no idea how to use the internet - at least for that sort of thing.
I hope I am more conscious of that than most people because I have watched the Senior Cat learn to search on line. He still looks to me for search terms. It's not the way he was brought up to research something. He still thinks in terms of book titles and subject headings rather than key words - and yes, there is a difference. All the same he does pretty well - better than many people I know. 
But, what are these sites?
The Antique Pattern Library is just what it says it is. There are  out-of-copyright resources there on all sorts of craft subjects. The earliest goes back to one item in the 17th C and then  another in  the 18thC before many in 19thC.  It is being maintained by volunteers but it is the sort of project which should really be getting a grant from UNESCO - even if it just to cover the sort of expenses involved in maintaining it. The Internet Archive has more very early material.
Anyone with an interest in history will find these materials fascinating. The way the materials are presented is so very different from the way such things are presented now. The language sounds "quaint" and is often moralistic in tone. What matters most though is that there is a great deal of information there, information which is still relevant. 
And, as the Senior Cat has said more than once, we can learn a great deal from what is there. We can learn not just about the past but about the present as well. We can learn to do things.
I think that matters. If you like to make things or you are simply interested in  history then these sites should come with a warning,
    "These sites require time to be fully appreciated."
Please look. They really are fascinating. 

Thursday 11 October 2018

Shirts, men's s shirts

and more men's shirts.
I went shirt hunting yesterday. 
I had to go to the dentist yesterday - for myself. I had to go to the bank - for the Senior Cat.  I did two loads of washing - for both of  us.
And I went shirt hunting - for the Senior Cat.
Oh yes, he has shirts. He has more than one shirt. He has more than one shirt even though I forcibly removed the one with the major tear in it from his paws.
    "No darling. It is not 'all right' and nobody can mend it either. It is going to be a rag for the shed. I am tearing it up right now." (I did. The poor darling looked rather startled.)
And then he actually said to me, "I think I need a new shirt."
Well yes, he did need a new shirt. I told him I would have a look in one of those large multi-department chain stores.
    "Don't make a special trip," he told me.
    "I need to go to the bank and ......  is just at the other end of the shopping centre."
Of course I get to the store in question and find that, since I last visited, they have changed everything around. I stood there with my tail flicking and my whiskers twitching in annoyance. How is a cat supposed to find things when humans change things around for no good reason?  Grrrrrowl. 
I went hunting. Oh yes,, those are t-shirts. The Senior Cat never wears such things. According to him all shirts have buttons right up the front thank you very much. 
Those? No, he doesn't wear loud checks and most certainly does not wear floral shirts. 
Where were the "business" shirts? There had to be some somewhere. 
I prowled past more t-shirts. I tried to imagine the Senior Cat in one with a Darth Vader logo on the front or another with a cartoon character I didn't recognise. 
There was nobody around to ask of course. It isn't that sort of place. I found another frustrated shopper, a really harassed looking human.
    "All I want is a plain white shirt," she told me, "My husband won't wear anything else."
 I sympathised. The Senior Cat will wear other things if forced to do so  but he is of the "all 'good' shirts should be white" brigade as well.
Finally we found some...nothing in the Senior Cat's size and, while nice, more than I wanted to pay for one. 
My fellow shopper agreed.
    "This is ridiculous," she told me, "And do people actually wear this sort of thing to work?"
I must admit that I wasn't taken with the shirt in broad red and white stripes.
     "Perhaps if  you support whatever football team it is?" I suggested. 
At least that made her smile.
And then, at last, hidden away we found  white shirts.  White shirts with long sleeves and white shirts with short sleeves. They were exactly the same sort of shirt I had just torn into pieces.
I looked at the sizes. I found the right size. I took it from the rack and took it to the checkout.
The girl at the checkout looked at it and then looked at me.
   "Where did you find those? My partner won't wear anything else."
Isn't it time these shirts were in a highly visible position?

Wednesday 10 October 2018

A session on "dementia"

was part of yesterday's agenda.
It had been arranged by our local state MP. She was keeping an election promise to try and provide information sessions on just such things. She was elected to parliament in March and, while campaigning, she had been told about the need for such things. That was her claim anyway.
And yes, perhaps she was responding to a need for such things because the venue could not have held any more people. There were people standing at the back.
I went along largely to give the MP support. The Senior Cat and I have done a considerable amount of reading about dementia. So far it isn't something that either of us have been unfortunate enough to be told we have. The Senior Cat's brother had a form of dementia brought on by a series of "mini-strokes" as we lay people call them. His closest friend has the Alzheimer's form of dementia however and we are aware of the stress this is causing the family. We have felt the need to inform ourselves.
I didn't learn anything more about dementia at the session but I would still rate it excellent. The speaker was very, very good.  If I had not known anything about dementia before I attended the session I would have left knowing a lot. I would have left knowing it in a simple, reassuring form. That's invaluable.
What was really useful for me was knowing what information a professional dementia counsellor would give and how she gave it. 
I know people in the very early stages of dementia. In some it is obvious but in others it isn't. It isn't my role to interfere - but it is my responsibility to support if necessary.
I hope it was a message that other people went away with as well.
And today I'll leave a brief note for my MP to let her know that it was well worth her while to go to the work of organising that session because, right around me, there were positive comments.
It wasn't just that either. One person said,
     "And it's such a blimin' relief to know I am not the only person who forgets what I went into the next room for - and that that's just normal."

Tuesday 9 October 2018

The "code of conduct"

which was recently passed out to the members of a group I belong to has missed something important. It does not acknowledge the need to thank people.
Now perhaps they thought it was already covered in the part which says "show courtesy". I don't know and I am not likely to find out.  I don't even know where they got the code of conduct from but I suspect that the committee did not write it.
There is an item in the code which says "encourage all members to participate in meetings and activities". Perhaps the thought is that the need to thank people is included there without actually saying it.
My own feeling is that it needs to be there in a much more direct way. We should be saying something about "acknowledging participation" perhaps? 
The current President handed out "certificates of appreciation" to people who had done certain things during the past year. I was given one of those and felt acutely embarrassed by it for a number of reasons, not least because I was never thanked for other things I did which involved a great deal more time and effort. It was the same for some others.
When I joined the group many  years ago there was an elderly man who used to come along to meetings. He was there only briefly. He would give the Treasurer's report and then leave again. Yes, he was the treasurer although he had no other association with the group. His wife had been a member. He went on doing the job after she ceased coming. He went on doing the job for quite a number of years. The husband of another member was the auditor. Both of them did a great deal for the group. 
The thanks to both men was, at best, perfunctory. Their work should have been formally acknowledged at a meeting and some sort of presentation given to them. They should perhaps have been invited to attend the Christmas lunch. It never happened.
After he had ceased to do the job I sometimes saw the former Treasurer and his wife in our local shopping centre. On a couple of occasions I went as far as to buy coffee for them and sit there and chat for a bit. I did it because I felt so guilty about the way he had been treated. He opened up just once and said he was "disappointed" he had not been thanked. I could see it hurt.
I knew how he felt. I had done a job for the group for fourteen years and never been thanked.  I was doing something else and been simply told abruptly to cease doing it. Such things do not encourage people to volunteer or participate. 
Saying "thank you" is about more than casually saying the words. True appreciation of something someone else has done for you or for a group is what encourages further participation.

Monday 8 October 2018

"I'm running for council,"

"Q" told me, "You should too."
We have met on a city street. We are actually taking up quite a bit of space. Q is in his wheelchair and I am on my tricycle. It doesn't bother him that people have to walk around us. He has that smile on his face. This is a man who knows where he is going and how he is going to get there.
I wouldn't be a rival in this proposal. We live in different local council areas. The elections are coming up and I have just told Q about the rumours regarding our local library service. He is appalled at the idea the library could be run by volunteers. That is when he tells me he is running for council.
I tell him I won't be doing it. I cite the reasons. For once he doesn't laugh. He considers it and then says,
     "Not one for the bucket list then."
Q has a bucket list - more than one. He's done a lot on the one I know about. He has his election strategy mapped out. He'd like my ideas on one or two things but not right now.
     "Got to go," he tells me and we hastily arrange to meet on the day I go to the dentist as I'll be in the city then.
I nearly miss the train. Meeting Q tends to be a bit like that.
Except that I won't be meeting Q the day I go to the dentist. He left us suddenly - an asthma attack. It was more than his fragile body could handle. He won't be running for council.
He was born with osteogenesis imperfecta - the "brittle bone" disease that causes bones to break so very easily. I met Q when he was about eight. We continued to meet over the years. We went from the barely knowing each other child-adult relationship to the more intimate adult-adult relationship. 
It wasn't actually a friendship. We didn't know one another well enough to visit each other or socialise together but we each had a sort of  mutual respect for the activities of the other. 
Q knew people, a lot of people. He was highly recognisable and highly visible. He had a television show, a one man show at our Fringe, he appeared in more than one film. He was a fierce and unrelenting advocate for the disability sector. We agreed over many communication issues.
He's going to be missed by many. They'll miss that cheeky smile and the determination to get something done. They might even miss the extra work he caused because of his endless ideas.
I am going to miss his,
    "We can do it Cat. I know we can do it."
Of course we can. 

Sunday 7 October 2018

The Supreme Court

in America is not the same as the Supreme Court here. The Downunder equivalent would be the High Court.
I have been to our High Court. I have been there more than once. It is a rather intimidating building, especially for a law student. I have even managed to actually squeak out my arguments in the High Court - and yes, I probably did sound like a frightened cat. You are standing there in a huge room facing people who have immense power, whose decisions will  not only determine your future but influence the entire nation. It doesn't matter if you are merely a student. You have to support your case - and it had better be well supported or they can tear you to shreds. Fortunately for me the judges were sympathetic. 
It is little wonder that those appearing in front of the judges are normally very senior members of the legal profession. 
Because of the location of the law school I attended - it is in the nation's capital - we sometimes saw High Court judges in the law school. They generally tended to be courteous - but not terribly interested in the students.
But, I was introduced to more than one. The Senior Cat's cousin, despite being retired from foreign affairs, still wielded a great deal of influence. When I was the subject of an editorial in the capital's newspaper - thankfully for all the right reasons - I was asked to speak briefly to three of the judges. They heard what I had to say in the court itself. I was told "You have three minutes Cat - get it right and you'll have immense backing."
I am immensely thankful that the Senior Cat's cousin was there to hold my paw. I might not have been arguing the law but what I wanted was every bit as important and the weight of the responsibility I felt was far greater than anything I had ever felt before. It's still there in a sense.
They made me realise the immense responsibility held by those who sit in the highest courts of any country - and the responsibilities of those who appear before them. It is something which has stayed with me.
Judges are not perfect people. They are human like the rest of us. They can get things wrong. Their upbringing and education can influence them. They have emotions like the rest of us. They have beliefs. It is their job to try and put those aside and apply the law. I remember my constitutional law professor admitting that a decision by one judge had surprised him. 
    "I didn't think he would write a dissenting judgement. He's usually more conservative."
Perhaps someone will one day be able to say the same thing of the newly appointed judge to the US Supreme Court. I hope so anyway.

Saturday 6 October 2018

Yesterday was "launch day" for the

5000 poppies project.
There were actually more than 62,000 poppies made and that many alone were "planted" at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra this past week. 
I have no idea how many people were involved in the project - hundreds made poppies, more put them together on their stems and still more planted them.
Friends made poppies. I made poppies. We sent them off - and I thought about the way my family had sent both men and women off to war, more than one war. 
There is a traditional of naval service, perhaps not surprising given that my ancestors were fishermen, crofters, nurses, doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers - all good Scots professions.
One of my paternal great-aunts spent almost five years bringing up two boys alone. Her husband was the chief engineer on a mine sweeper. He came home - but he was a different man. Another distant cousin never spoke a word about his experiences, not even to his wife. It was only when he died that his son found a medal and someone outside the family told how this cousin had risked his life at Scapa Flow
I don't know how many served in WWI . I know two did not come back. There were more of what I consider to be my more immediate family - nothing less than a first cousin once removed - in WWII, all of them in the navy.
The Senior Cat was turned down for both the navy and the army on medical grounds. "The British wouldn't take you mate so we certainly won't" was the response he got when they realised what his eyesight was like. His brother was simply too young. Perhaps they were fortunate.
My godfather did his service at sea in the Pacific - and was lucky to return. He doesn't talk much about it - but he has talked about the appalling food, the lack of fresh water, and the cramped conditions.
We lived in a "soldier settlement" for four years and the reality of war hit home when, as a teen, I saw grown men cry at the dawn services. There was that desperate 'phone call to the Senior Cat, the one I answered where the terrified young voice at the other end said, "My father is trying to kill Mum". His father was chasing his mother across the paddock with a red hot poker believing she was an enemy soldier. 
And there was the man I was going to marry who died needlessly because, although the Vietnam war was over by then, someone still thought of him as "the enemy". 
War is hell. Every poppy I made was a memory - and a hope that someone, somewhere will restrain themselves and not add to conflict.

Friday 5 October 2018


is  on the verge of becoming compulsory. 
No, nobody has yet announced it as a "policy" but it is clearly heading in that direction. The Opposition Leader has announced that there will be 15 hours a week for all children  under their proposed multi-billion dollar scheme.
Someone being interviewed about this said that,  unless children attended pre-school for those hours each week,  "they might never catch up". The strong impression was given that you now need to learn so much before you even start school that without pre-school you are going to be seriously disadvantaged.
I remember going to what was then called "kindergarten". I hated it. It wasn't just because of the very active nature of some of the games - a lot of them seemed to involved running and I couldn't join in -  but because it was noisy and you were told not just what to do but how to do it and when to do it. Even at the age of three I preferred to organise myself and do what I wanted to do in my own way and in my own time. I went off to school at age four. It was an improvement. There were more books to read at school.
I vaguely remember playing counting games, singing songs, listening to a story and splashing paint on sheets of "butcher" paper. I can remember the smell of that paint. It was mixed from powder. We had to wear our "painting aprons". 
Unless we did ourselves our faces didn't get painted. We were told to be "nice" to one another but we weren't taught anything special about the dark skinned aboriginal child who came or the boy who called the police "the garda". Both of them were just one of us. We had a Christmas party for all the children in the community - the churches banded together for that with the woman who ran the kindergarten.  Even the two Jewish kids turned up to that. I remember because it was fancy dress and I was dressed as a rabbit and they came dressed as a shepherd and shepherdess and wanted me to be a sheep instead. I refused. My paternal grandmother had made the rabbit costume - so that I could "hop" around the floor. 
We didn't need to know about computers, computer "games", "programming", multi-cultural days, discrimination, or any number of other things. Being country children we knew about sex, birth and death.  We sang songs now considered to be sexist and racist and listened to stories also considered to be sexist and racist. When we went to school we had more of the same. At school we mixed with children who had not been to kindergarten at all. 
I could read. Nobody else in the class could read. I read to myself and sometimes I would listen to other children stumble slowly over 
"This is Dick. This is Dora. Here is Nip. Here is Fluff" in the new Schonell readers. The teacher taught "phonics" and "nature study" - the latter didn't mention the words "environment" or "climate change".  We wrote our "daily diary" - a sentence in an exercise book with the "new word" at the back of the book. In my case that would, if the teacher had time to write it for me, often be more than one sentence with words I had to convince her I knew and even had some idea how to spell. I had to learn how to spell those words. I had to learn how to construct a sentence. Now, I am told, you just write things down and the spelling and construction doesn't matter. You can do it on the computer too. 
We had "Friday tests"and "marks". The Little Drummer Boy next door looked amazed when I tried to explain these things to him. "Everyone comes first now," he told me but with a look that told me he knew what that actually meant. 
At home we played outside, in the dirt and mud. We often made our own toys and "pretended" that leaves were "plates" and the box  outside the back door was the "oven" or, the  next day, a castle or tractor. 
We didn't need to be told what to do or how to do it all the time. We grew up anyway.
Yes, there's more to learn now. It's just that I wonder whether they are learning what they really need to know - and if they are growing up while they are doing it.

Thursday 4 October 2018

Women in science

is a news topic again. A woman has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. I hope that the fact she is sharing it with two men will in no way detract from her achievements.
I don't know much about physics. What little I did learn was so badly taught that I was glad to put the subject to one side. I was taught by someone who admitted, like the chemistry teacher, he was "one chapter ahead" of the class. (This was a rural school where teachers had to teach everything and anything whether they were qualified to teach the subject or not. They did not have tertiary qualifications in the subjects they taught.)
My late friend, E..., had a doctorate in physics. Her thesis was full of words I didn't know. She taught physics. I suspect she was rather good at it. I know she was more interested in getting girls interested in science than going on to do more research in physics herself. She veered off into the philosophy of science and education. Given the state of physics research at the time she would have had to have been outstandingly good to get research money. She wasn't. Her thesis was apparently sound but not exciting. As a woman it would have needed to have been both - and then some. 
It made me wonder then, as it makes me wonder now, what we are missing out on. 
I had reason to do a quick look for someone this morning. Finding a contact for him wasn't difficult and I hope he will respond later today. I hope he can come up with a name for someone else. I also dredged up a couple of names from the past for the same purpose. Yes, they are women. They did well in their fields at a time when women academics were rare.
I remember meeting one of these women when I was about nine or ten. The Senior Cat knew her from around the university. (There was only one university then. It was also much smaller - arts and science people met more often.) She was a paleontologist and more than a little alarming. Perhaps she needed to be to get anywhere. It seems likely when another woman before her, on taking over a position from her male predecessor, was paid half his salary and given a much smaller office - for doing the same work.
Women in science have not been treated well. many male scientists would not be here today if it wasn't for Marie Curie?

Wednesday 3 October 2018

The "Do Not Call" register

is not working as intended.
We have been inundated with calls in the past week. I have answered eleven calls since last Friday. The Senior Cat has answered three. 
I know some of them have come from the same source. I recognise the voice. I have told the voice they are breaking the law with respect to such calls. That person has tried to insist they have the "right" to speak to me or, preferably, the Senior Cat. I have told them that, if they wish to get in touch with us, then the company in question can write a letter.
I have actually reported them.
The problem is that the calls are coming from a "call centre" in another country. The company is owned in another country as well. They believe the law should not apply to them. If they do business here then it should apply to them.
We have never done business with them. We will never do business with them. They keep on trying. 
    "Just listen to what I have to say," the voice tells me, "I can save you thousands of dollars."
No, you can't. 
And then there is the other one - from everyone's favourite telecommunications company. It is "about your computer". I have told them - more than once - that "there is no computer here". It isn't a lie. There is no computer in that room. They tried with, "But we have your records here." They give my old email address and I can honestly say, "That has nothing to do with me."
I hang up - and they ring back again. They say they know I am upset with these sort of calls and that I don't want to admit I have a computer but this really is urgent and if I don't do something immediately I will lose access today. I just put the phone down.  
The "tax office" hasn't tried again. I did have a letter from the actual tax office the other day - telling me they couldn't process something. I happen to know that one is legitimate and I don't actually need to handle it. I passed it on to the person who deals with such things.
The "solar panels" people have been on to us. We have solar panels. I explain this and the fact they are  breaking the law. It makes no difference. They want to come and "inspect" them. I hang up again.
Four different charities have phoned. They are exempt from the register requirements. I simply tell them, "We don't do that sort of thing over the phone". No, I am not stupid enough to give someone a credit card number that way. It could be anyone. The person at the other end, if legitimate, is being paid anyway. I'll use my very limited financial ability towards things I know directly about and where everyone volunteers.
I just can't help wondering how many hundreds of thousands of calls are made each week and how much time and money is wasted in this way. I wonder how much people don't donate to sometimes worthy causes and what they might have bought but don't because they have been harassed by such calls. 
If you are looking for money don't bother to call me. If I have any to spare it will go where I choose.

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Home hairdressing is

fraught with dangers.
Middle Cat came and cut the Senior Cat's hair yesterday. It is not the first time she has done it. She cuts her DH's hair too. 
Until now Middle Cat has cut the Senior Cat's hair in a way that needs to be done again in 6-8 weeks. This time she decided it needed to be "nice and short for the summer". 
He doesn't have that much hair these days and now he looks almost bald. Oh yes, she cut it - to about 2cms in length.
   "You won't have to do it," she told him.
No, he won't. 
He would have liked it left a little longer. 
I have said nothing. I dare not say anything. There was that one occasion when I allowed Middle Cat to "cut off a couple of split ends". At the time I thought it was a reasonable offer. I had intended to do it myself but had not done it.
Now, understand this please, I have long hair - half way down my back. It would be even longer but I keep it trimmed. I have straight hair. Most of the time I simply tie it back. I do not go to a hairdresser.
Middle Cat has curls. Her hair is short. She heads for the hairdresser at regular intervals. 
And she likes to play hairdresser. On that one occasion she cut fifteen or more centimetres from my hair. I looked ridiculous - not one thing or the other. There was only just enough to "put up neatly".  I told her "never again". Oh she has tried to persuade me more than once. No. NO! 
I reminded her of the time that she and the  Black Cat had cut one another's hair. Our mother had a hard time repairing the damage. Their hair didn't look right for weeks. 
My maternal grandmother tried giving herself a "home perm". Her hair ended up as a frizzy mess. After that she went to a  hairdresser. 
Our mother had naturally curly hair that always seemed to sit in the right place. She would head to the hairdresser about once every eight weeks and simply get it cut. She didn't need to get anything else done. Her friends envied her.
But I have taken the example of my paternal grandmother. She had long hair all her life. She simply washed it and, occasionally, trimmed the ends. Each morning she would expertly twist it around and pin it up. She looked - absolutely right. 
My paternal grandfather approved of it. It wasn't that he believed women should have long hair as such. It was because he believed she looked good that way - and she did.
One day when I was in my teens he stood in front of me and looked carefully. Then he said,
    "Promise me you will keep your hair long. Short would not suit  you either."
I promised...and I have kept that promise. I have no desire to break it. Had Middle Cat cut my hair back any further I would have been even more distressed than I was. It's not that I particularly care about how I look. I don't. But - I made a promise.
And think of what I save on hairdresser's bills.

Monday 1 October 2018

"Me too" and "I'm a victim"

and "I want compensation" and "feel sorry for me".
I am going, briefly, to talk to five young adults this morning. I won't be there for long. They don't need me hanging around - although they tell me I am more than welcome. They don't need other adults hanging around either. There will be two adults at home with them  but they won't interfere.
These five young adults get together when they can. Through school they used to get together on a regular basis. Now that they are all at university it is much less regular but a long weekend is usually seen as a perfect opportunity to "hang out" together. They tell me they need to do this because they can relax completely in one another's company.
There are three boys in the group and two girls. There have been others come and go but, over the past few years, it has been just the five of them. They are a very close knit group - and yes, they can knit too.
My late friend M.... taught them all to knit - and they have been knitting ever since. She taught a great many children to knit. She taught them to distract them from long stays in hospital or painful procedures or because they simply couldn't get out and do what other children were doing.
These five young adults all have disabilities, two of them are in wheelchairs and the others all have mobility problems. They have had a range of serious health issues, some of which are ongoing. 
On occasions they missed school...and they have missed a lot of other things as well.
All five of them have made it to university - and all five of them are doing extremely well there. 
No, it hasn't been easy. They work hard. They've had help of course. Other people, two of the fathers, an aunt, and yours truly have all given them a bit of extra tuition here and there. One of the mothers is an almost daily taxi service -  but get that rail line extended and he will get himself there thank you very much. An aunt has had the two girls - cousins - living with her during term time. 
All five young adults know all this and,  in return, they are trying to do something for others. My friend M.... first taught them the need for  this. "It's not me first but me second," she kept telling them.
They knit...and knit...and knit. C....'s mother and I scour the charity shops for yarn for them. A late friend in the US worked for a knitting magazine and she sent yarn from time to time. Now two more friends in the US are sending beautiful yarn - some of which I will take to them today. 
They are old enough and expert enough to thoroughly appreciate really good yarn now. What has come in the past week will be turned into hats, shawlettes, mittens, small socks and more - for others in need. Everything they make is for other people. It's a rule they decided on some years ago and they have never deviated from it. 
And they are confident enough now to try new ideas. If they don't know how to do something they'll look it up on the 'net - or ask me. I can suggest things - and they will try them.
There is no "me too" or "I'm a victim" about this group. They're much too busy for that. Oh yes, there's the occasional grumble but they are back on the job quickly.
The yarn I take them today will be received with genuine gratitude. They will discuss it and share it out. Next time they meet - which will now be in the summer because of exams and assignments - they will have made a variety of things. Those things will go to others in need or raise money for others in need.
There is no "feel sorry for me" here. They actually consider themselves to be lucky.
Perhaps they are.