Thursday 31 January 2019

My Health Record?

Today is the last day to opt out of the My Health Record. For those of you in Upover and elsewhere this is an electronic health record which is supposed to be instantly available to any hospital or doctor in the country if needed.
It sounds like a good idea. I opted out.
I have nothing to hide. I have never had an abortion, never sought help for a STD, or spent time in a psychiatric ward or institution, or been in a sword fight requiring surgery and a subsequent spell in prison for harming someone else.
On those grounds I was even thinking of staying in - until I was made aware that even the medical clinic I attend does not have an accurate record of my health.
The last occasion but one on which I attended the clinic something came up and our GP looked at me and said, "I didn't know you had even had knee surgery."
Now admittedly she took over from someone else (now retired) and you might have to see whichever doctor is free if your own is busy but....
It means that she has never read - probably because she has never had time - the health records of her patients. 
     "It should be there in the records I told her."
     "When did you have it?"
 I told her and she sighed, "That would be on the old paper records."
No, she certainly hasn't read the old paper records. Goodness' only knows what those responsible for transferring the old data to the computer put on the new records. 
So I wonder how accurate the records of those who have opted to stay in are going to be anyway.
Instead my GP suggested we set up a "GPMP" (GP management plan). She will have a copy. I will have a copy. There should be an up to date record of any medication and any problems. I carry an ambulance service folder with me and that has an up to date record of my medication should I be unconscious. I can add to that if I need to do so.
It means my doctor can go on freely adding such comments as "this cat is stubborn" to my health record.
That might be a good thing. 

Wednesday 30 January 2019

We are losing craft skills

at an alarming rate.
A friend sent me a link to an article about Burano lace yesterday. (It is long. I won't bother you with it.) Now I don't make lace. Even if my paws were able to do so it is not something I would want to do. I like my crafts to be a little more practical than that - which probably says something about my Scots-Presbyterian upbringing.
But I can appreciate the work that goes into making lace. I can appreciate the skill involved - and, believe me, it is very skilled work. I do not want to see those skills lost.
I can appreciate the skill that goes into a great many other crafts too. Skills we are losing.
The Senior Cat was a hobby woodworker. He made furniture. He made toys and boxes. He made conjuring apparatus for magicians. He used his skills to repair things around home, for other people and for the women's shelter. 
The Senior Cat also belonged to a woodworking group. Over the years he has collected tools and timber - and more timber. 
I understand all of that. I know a little about woodwork through watching him, listening to him talk about it and more. 
He developed all sorts of skills through his woodworking. He also developed friendships.
My mother sewed more out of necessity than pleasure until she retired and then she went off to machine embroidery classes. Again, not my "thing" but there were skills involved and she became friendly with people in the group. She also knitted - again more out of necessity than pleasure. I never knew her to knit anything other than plain stocking stitch garments. It gave her a certain degree of satisfaction. She was clothing the family.  
My brother does woodwork - and now, like the Senior Cat, he does more in his retirement.
My sisters paint and draw and the Black Cat also does some origami. 
And yes, I knit. I crochet too. I write patterns. I teach knitting. In doing so I have met many people. They have also taught me a great deal. I have more ideas than I can ever hope to carry out. My craft hobby has allowed me to come into contact with people from all over the world.  (I have other hobbies like reading - and writing.) I know knitting is not like lace making - even fine Shetland lace knitting is not like the finest Burano lace.  All the same there are skills involved, skills that can be developed to a high level.
But all these things are important. We need to pass these skills on. People need to find the time to do them.
There are all the manual dexterity skills we can develop through doing them.  And there is all of this too....
Image may contain: 1 person I have "borrowed" that from a public post but I believe it was originally from either Jamieson's or Jamieson and Smith - both Shetland wool companies. 
The lace makers offered to teach lace making in Venetian schools - only to be told that needles and scissors were not safe. Recently there was a call for people to teach knitting in Shetland schools. I hope they found enough competent people - and that they don't get told knitting needles are not safe. 
Serious art and craft has almost gone from schools here. They are too busy teaching other things - like computer coding and politically correct social skills.
And there was yet more in the paper this morning about the dangers of children spending too much time looking at screens - in preference to making friends and interacting with them. Something was also said about the way too much screen time delays language development and social development.
Ms W is saving pocket money for "a set of those special water colour pencils". Hooray for that.

Tuesday 29 January 2019

The subject of "ghosts"

has come up again - this time in the media. Workers on a renovation project at the courts have claimed there is some sort of supernatural presence there.
Now these are tough union workers with a reputation for being anything but imaginative or fanciful. Nevertheless more than one of them has apparently experienced something.
Even more curiously it was followed up by an article that has once again left me wondering. The article was written by  a columnist for whom I have a great deal of respect - even if I don't always agree with him. 
He claims to have once lived in a house where there was a "presence" of some sort. He claims a book was thrown off a shelf, not just once but twice  - and that it was done in the presence of other people. He also claims that his young children asked him who the man was that they saw in the passageway.
It would be unnerving to say the least.
After the article appeared in the press I saw the couple involved in the incident I mentioned last year - where the husband, an anything but suggestive man, had felt - indeed seen - someone in their house although he had been out and the place had been very securely locked when he returned. We again discussed his experience that day.
    "I don't want to believe in that sort of thing but how can I explain what happened?" he asked.  
Someone else joined in the conversation and reminded us of the occasion when, in New Guinea, he had been unable to leave a house. There was one of those flimsy bead curtains hanging in the doorway of a village house. When he went to leave the house he "felt" a door there. The door was locked. The owner of the house did not laugh at him, simply told him that it had happened before. They used the other door instead.
That sort of thing appears not to make sense at all. I don't disbelieve these people. I was there the day the first man experienced the "break in". He was clearly agitated. Even now the incident is one which clearly disturbs him. 
I like the way one of my friends has suggested that such events do occur and we simply don't have explanations for them -  yet. 

Monday 28 January 2019

Do old people change shape?

I bought the Senior Cat a new pair of "best" trousers on Saturday. This involved a trip into the city to the only shop likely to have something that would suit him. I hate the sort of shopping which involves trips into the city. This did not prove any different.
It is so long since I have been into that particular department store that I had no idea where to find "menswear" but a sympathetic staff member explained and I prowled up to the second floor and, finally, found the right area. 
Yes, nice wool-polyester machine washable, ultra conservative grey trousers. A helpful staff member who seemed to know what he was talking about took the old pair that needed replacing and found the right size. They were as close as we could get to the old pair  - also wool-polyester machine  washable,  ultra conservative grey trousers.
I bought them.
I then rewarded myself by spending the birthday/Christmas voucher my brother and SIL had given me - on a much needed new summer dressing gown. (The old one was falling to pieces. This is how much I detest clothes shopping.)
I went home.
No, the trousers did not fit. The Senior Cat said, "Well, the others are a bit tight."
How can they be tight? He has lost weight since we  bought them about eighteen years ago. I can remember the day we bought them. It was not long after my mother died. I can remember him standing there in the shop trying them on and the assistant putting in a pin where they would need to be taken up. 
But they were tight. So  yesterday I took them back. I meant to have a quick trip in and out in the morning. It shouldn't have taken too long but the train wasn't running. After waiting and waiting I discovered that one of the drivers had gone through a red light at a station down the track - and gone over a set of points at the same time. I don't imagine he will be at all popular.  The railway man trying to get to his shift told me all this and told me to come back later. 
I went in after lunch instead...annoying. I had other things to do. But I took them back. I held my breath. Did they have the next size? Yes!
I exchanged the trousers and prowled back home. I made the Senior Cat try them on. They fit. 
They fit except of course they are far too long. This morning I will ask one of our neighbours, a professional dressmaker, if we can call on her professional services.
And  these so called "machine washable" trousers will not be going into the washing machine ever. The others didn't. I just wish they had lasted another eighteen years. 

Change the date, change the flag,

change the national anthem and become a republic?
One of Downunder's unfortunately more influential columnists has apparently said that and then added "but just to be clear I love my country".
Hold it right there - unless you want to change the name and return everyone to the country their ancestors, no matter how far back, came from. You can't do it.
You can't wipe out the past.
I said a couple of days ago that I am not a flag waving Downunderite. I never will be. Even as a very young child I felt faintly ridiculous at being told to hold a flag and wave it. (I can - just - remember a visit by Queen Elizabeth II. Busloads of flag waving children were taken to various points. I felt sorry for the Queen because of it.)
But, if we are going to have a flag at all then I am strongly opposed to changing the present one. Why? Because it is a representation of the past. There is no point in denying it was once a British colony. That takes up a quarter of the flag. The rest is made up of the stars of the Southern Cross - and they have meaning for those who inhabited the country before the First Settlers turned up. What is more having something from the night sky is much more inclusive in a so-called "multi-cultural" country than anything else could hope to be. 
Our national anthem sounds like a dirge. It has to be one of the worst in the world. The words are appalling - and most people don't know them anyway. The late Judith Wright was completely correct when she said that it was not possible to write the words to a national anthem in the modern world. As a poet she understood words and the power of words better than most.  
We are effectively a republic now and the "need" to change to one does not exist except in the minds of those who refuse to recognise that fact. The Governor-General does not need the Queen's approval to do anything. It would cost billions to make the change and it might, depending on how it was handled, destabilise the economy every time a new President was appointed. 
And the day itself? Okay, I'll say it. It's ridiculous. There are many boasts about this country being the "most successful multi-cultural country in the world". If that's the case and so many people are being encouraged to retain their many and varied heritages then why have one day which is supposed to be about being something else? 
Let's stop having a "national holiday". Let's leave the flag as it is, at least wipe the words from the national anthem and acknowledge that we are already a fully independent country.  Then we might just start to feel a little more grown up. 
Yes, I am fed up!

Sunday 27 January 2019

The Honours List

is out and I am sure there are some very worthy people on it. I am a little surprised at the inclusion of someone I know. I don't know him well. I know his wife rather better and think she would have been more deserving of an award. 
One of the more high profile politicians has been saying that her side of politics wants to see more women, at least 40% of women, in the list.  My response was "why just 40% of women when females make up 51% of the population and do more voluntary work than men".  (Yes, they do.) 
There is the usual range of sports people of course. I have said it elsewhere - they have already been awarded and given accolades for winning so they don't need another accolade.  
I just hope that there really are some quiet achievers who have worked hard in the list.
But there was another award handed out on Friday. It was the "Australian of the Year" award and it was shared by two men who do deserve it. They were the Downunderites who risked their lives going into the Thai cave to rescue the football team last year. I am sure anyone reading this will know the incident I am talking about.
One of the two men is a resident of this state and I liked what he had to say. He wants children to go out and graze their knees and stub their toes and for parents to stand back and let them. In other words he wants children to be active - and be free to be active. He wants them to explore the world. He has acknowledged the need to take risks. 
It is a topic which came up recently. A mother of two primary school aged children said that she would like her children to be able to do that sort of thing. "But if I do then I risk being reported for neglect."
And she does. The district she lives in is full of earnest middle-class parents who would see as much as crossing a quiet suburban street alone a risk. Any child walking to school alone would be considered "neglected" and "at risk". Riding your bike up and down the street, on and off the gutters, in circles and at speed is not done. Climbing a tree is right out. The idea of exploring a cave is something not to be contemplated. 
Well, perhaps we should be contemplating some of those things. Perhaps we should have the first aid kits ready. Perhaps we should be prepared for the trips to the emergency department of the local hospitals.  It probably won't happen. We will go on neglecting children's imaginations in order to keep them "safe". 

Saturday 26 January 2019

"Invasion day" rallies

are again being planned by activist groups.
For those of you outside Downunder these activist groups consist of people who claim that we are celebrating the invasion of Downunder through acknowledging the country as a nation on the 26th January. They want the date changed.
I will quote my late friend R.... on the topic, "They don't want to recognise reality."
Personally I couldn't care less about the day itself. I am not a flag waving Dowunderite who wants to boast about being one. When I was living in London I actively avoided mixing with other Downunderites. It was not why I was there. If I returned there to live I still would not mix with Downunderites. My cousin, who does live there, also avoids them. It isn't that we don't like Downunderites. It is just that the world is a bigger place than Downunder. 
I do care if people want to protest against celebrating the day though.  I care because I think it sends the wrong message to other people. I care because I believe the vast majority of those who are protesting are doing so for the wrong reasons.
There was no "invasion". An invasion suggests something violent. One small fleet of ships filled with people who had no intention of fighting does not, in my book, constitute an invasion. Of course we can look on it as morally wrong. It could be considered "theft" - there was that "intention to permanently deprive" the previous owners of the land of that land. There was some violence but the First Settlers did not go in as an army or navy with guns blazing and shoot everyone they came across. What is more they did not, contrary to the belief of some, deliberately hand out "measles infested blankets". (It is simply a very sad and unfortunate fact that the indigenous population had no resistance to the diseases of the newcomers. Also people still had very little understanding of how such diseases spread.)
Many of those protesting now also have another problem. They are of mixed heritage. Some of their own ancestors would have been First Settlers. Others have come from all over the world. Many of them have Irish, Afghan or Chinese heritage as well. It is often the few who have no mixed heritage who wonder why these people are protesting.
And protesting like that simply encourages racial disharmony. It encourages division. It doesn't help to bring about any sort of reconciliation between the "opposing" sides.
Lastly the day is used for "citizenship" ceremonies for those who want to become a permanent and fully participating member of the country - with the right to vote in elections. For them to be told, "No, it's wrong. This is not what the country you have chosen to become a citizen of is about" is surely wrong? 
My friend R.... was angered by the attitudes of these activists. She knew that,although in a minority, they do more harm than good. She knew they had media connections which they could and still do use. R...was a very proud indigenous woman but she took the view that, without white settlement, life for the indigenous community would be very different today. For her these people are failing to face reality.  She knew that there are problems, that white settlement has brought problems but she saw it as an issue which had two sides.
"We've had many opportunities and we have wasted them, " was her view.
It won't be a popular view and I know at least one person reading this is going to strongly disagree with what has just been said. I would actually prefer we didn't have any sort of "national" day at all...especially when other people keep boasting about what a successful "multi-cultural" country we live in.
Do we really need a national day?
(This has been written with the permission and approval of R...'s son.)

Friday 25 January 2019

The hottest city on earth

is not somewhere that I want to live - but that was the case yesterday.
I had planned ahead so that there was no need to go shopping or to any appointments. That was a wise move.
It didn't stop the need for going outside on a number of occasions. If we are to keep any plants at all they have to be watered in that sort of heat. I did as much as I could first thing in the morning - when the temperature was still only in the mid-to-high 30's.  Later in the morning I heard our postman come in and refill his water bottle at the rainwater tank. The water would have been lukewarm by my reckoning but at least he took advantage of my request that he help himself in this heat. 
We don't keep our air conditioning system going through the note - tempting though it is. There are good reasons for this. One of them of course is the cost of doing so. Although we try to be careful with electricity the bill is going to be horrendous. I am already saving to pay for it.
But, the Senior Cat must be kept cool. Yes, of course I like to be cool too. I do not tolerate heat well. I never have.  That however is not the issue at all. The Senior Cat is very nearly 96. The elderly do not tolerate the heat well. Our air conditioning system ran for twelve hours yesterday.  We were fortunate that our power did not go off. It might easily have done so. 
Our library has been shut since the end of last year. Most summers it has been a haven of air-conditioned comfort for the elderly and those who have nowhere to go on a hot day.  It was being renovated and is due to open again on Tuesday. I know it will be crowded. 
And we can all have a cooked breakfast if the heat keeps up. All we need to do is put a frying pan on the road surface and crack the eggs in to it...yes, seriously. It was that hot  yesterday. 

Thursday 24 January 2019

The cashless welfare card

could be on the way out if, as expected, we have a change of government in May.
This will be a mistake.
Yes, I know the arguments about it being "demeaning" and the like. I don't like it either but is there a better solution? I doubt it.
All sorts of things have been tried in the past and none of them have worked.
The cashless welfare card, on trial in a number of communities, has worked. It has meant that children are better off. That is what matters.
I was talking to someone recently. He has a job in one of the communities where the cashless welfare card is being tried and he says it works. It isn't perfect. There are still problems. Overall though it has been welcomed, particularly by the women in the community. 
   "Women are telling me they can actually buy food now."
I know people will say, "But they were getting the same amount of money before. There was nothing to stop them spending that on food."
Oh yes there was. 
All the things that have been tried before, usually some sort of "education" programs have not worked. We all know that eating the right foods, eating in moderation and exercising sensibly will help us to maintain a healthy weight. How many of us actually do it? If we only had access to the right foods in a limited quantity and were forced to exercise each day we might lose weight and then maintain a healthy weight. It is even more likely that our children, if we had any, would do it too.
And that is apparently on the minds of women in communities where the cashless welfare card has been being used. They want it to remain not for their own benefit but for the benefit of their children. 
Is there something wrong with that? In a perfect world an education program would work. In a really perfect world there would be no need for welfare programs of this sort. People who could work would be working.
An indigenous friend M... is a strong supporter of the cashless welfare card. He has been a youth worker most of his adult life. He knows that, given money, the boys he works with will usually spend it unwisely. They can't save. They will buy a pack of cigarettes now even though they know it means they won't eat tomorrow. 
    "If they had worked to earn the money and they did that we couldn't stop them but if they are being given taxpayer money then we do have the right to dictate what the money can be used to buy." 
Is he right? I think he may be. At least let's give the children a chance.

Wednesday 23 January 2019

No, you don't have the right to preselection

simply because your father once held a seat in parliament and you have always voted for the same party.
Nobody has the right to a seat in the House of Representatives. If you "win" the seat in our very dubious electoral system you do not have the right to remain in it either. What is more you are there to serve the interests of your electorate - not the interests of yourself.
Head Office - wherever that happens to be and whomever it is run by shouldn't interfere either. They have to work with the person who is chosen - once he or she is chosen. The person who is chosen has to work with them too. That's there them rules. 
Almost anyone can run for parliament in Downunder. You do have to be a citizen of Downunder - as some parliamentarians discovered not so long ago. You can't be incarcerated or bankrupt either. Unlike the United States our Prime Minister does not need to have been born here - but he does need to have sought and gained citizenship. 
You can go it alone of course but most candidates will belong to a  political party and will be "preselected". They will mostly have been a member of the party for some years and active within it. They might have a background that is considered likely to be useful to the party as a whole. They will be seen as articulate and likely to appeal to the electorate.
There are some political "dynasties" in this country. There are seats which have gone from parent to child. I think it would however be fair to say that the child has not simply taken over the seat. It has been seen as possible - but not a right. They know other candidates will be considered.
Which is what makes the current fuss by someone whose father held a seat so unusual. He was, according to him, preselected. In fact it seems he was told, "Someone else is being considered. If he decides not to stand then yes, you will be selected. " There are claims of "interference" by Head Office but the reality is that the branch was asked to consider a candidate - and that candidate ticks a number of boxes.
All of this may not seem fair, especially if someone has worked hard within the party but this is politics and politics is about winning.
And now the other would-be candidate has resigned from the party in a huff and says he will run as an independent.
That tells me he was not fit to be considered as a candidate.

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Telling the world about your friends

is apparently the new danger on social media.
There is some research reported in this morning's paper. It has been done by someone at one of the local universities and another in the United States. They are claiming that they can tell a lot not just about people but about their friends by what people write on sites like Facebook. 
The study has been made for the purpose of looking at "predictive behaviour", especially in relation to artificial intelligence. The idea that it is possible to look at more than that came about while doing the research. 
Of course you can tell something about what someone is like by the company they keep. I keep company with writers and craftspeople because I write and I knit and crochet. I also read and I take an interest in embroidery and all sorts of other "crafty" things. screen I am friends with people who read and others who don't read. I am friends with people who have a wide range of hobbies.  I know nothing about motorbike maintenance or philately, beekeeping or sailing. I know very little about folk dancing or choral singing, cake decorating or orchids.  I have friends who are very keen on all these things. I also have friends from the left and right of the political spectrum, friends who are atheists and others who are devoutly religious. 
I don't always agree with my friends about everything. They wouldn't be terribly interesting people to know if I did. Someone once said that I don't have many friends on social media. I think I know what she meant. There are people who have hundreds of "friends". These are people they scarcely know, or don't know at all. They have connected with them for all sorts of reasons  but it is unlikely they will ever meet.
I don't want that. I am friends with people I have met and like. I am also friends with a few I have not yet met but hope to meet some day. We have interests in common. We have friends in common. It doesn't mean I always agree with their tastes or their politics or their other interests.
I'd like to read that research. Is it making unjustified assumptions about behaviour based on our friendships?

Monday 21 January 2019

A working holiday

in Downunder is a rite of passage for many young people. 
It isn't always fun. It isn't always easy. There are far too many instances of young people doing the back breaking work of fruit picking and other like jobs and not being paid a fair wage.
Many of them are doing the jobs that others don't want to do. Some are prepared to do anything in order to see something of the world. I have met any number of them. They are generally wonderful young people who find that the experience of a break between school and university is a good thing. Doing hard manual labour is an experience they may not be really enjoying but the opportunity to travel is more important.
The positives usually far outweigh the negatives. They do so not just for the young "backpackers" but the rest of us as well. Fruit gets picked, cleaned, sorted, packed and more. Many primary producers depend on the efforts of these people. The best of these primary producers treat young people reasonably well. The issue of pay is a big one but often the producers are paying their workers what they can afford. The producers themselves are often being paid too little. It is those who buy and sell on who make the money - the "middle men" who do none of the hard physical labour.
This sort of thing goes on in many countries. It is the sort of thing that, given the physical capacity and the confidence, I would have liked to do. I am just a little jealous of these young people who are learning so much about not just the world but themselves.
So, it is with alarm that I read that the union movement has put in a submission to a Senate inquiry. If accepted it would severely reduce the ability of young people to work here for a couple of years before moving on. We will be denying them the opportunity to live and work in another country for a short time - with all the learning experiences that can come with it.
I imagine alarm bells are also ringing at the homes of primary producers who need that labour in order to survive.
The argument is that the jobs should go to the unemployed here. The problem is that many people are simply not willing to do the work.  The jobs are often in regional areas and people are often not prepared to go there for just a short period. The likely pay and conditions are not what they are willing to put up with either. 
Yes, of course it would be good to employ local residents first but they need to be available and willing and to work as hard as the young people currently doing the work.
Our young people go abroad to do the same sort of thing too. It's a way of building international understanding and tolerance and maturity.
It's something we need to encourage, not discourage.

Sunday 20 January 2019

Changing people's minds

about anything is difficult, very difficult. Changing public opinion is even more difficult.
If the UK went to a second referendum over Brexit with the option of staying in the EU  the "remain" option might win. My guess is however that it would only win because more people would vote and they would vote to remain. People would not have changed their minds about remain or leave there would simply be more people who realise that they actually need to say they want to say. Last time they simply assumed that "everyone" thought the same way they do.
One of our neighbours was clearly shocked yesterday when I told her that I didn't agree with a point of view she holds. She simply assumed that I would of course agree with her. I am aware her political views are much more extreme than mine and I am usually very cautious about saying anything to her.
Nothing I say to this woman is going to change her mind. It is unlikely that anything could change her mind. She could be met by a group of highly educated people who have studied in depth the issue she raised. It would make no difference. Her mind is made up.
The strange thing is that she is a well educated woman. She has been to university herself. 
Even stranger is the fact that she is not the only person like this. We all tend to be the same. Catch us at a vulnerable moment and, if we have not formed an opinion about something or some new (to us) idea comes our way then we are vulnerable to taking on board the idea. We also tend to take on such ideas without analysing them carefully. We will listen to people we know and like and follow their views on a topic. We will listen to "experts" - even when those so-called experts are speaking of matters completely outside their areas of expertise.   If a politician's viewpoint doesn't agree with ours then the politician is wrong, particularly if s/he belongs to a party for which we don't or won't vote.
I have been thinking a lot about all this recently. My cousin's partner and I had a long talk about Brexit recently. He lives and, until recently, worked in London. He was a very senior legal officer in a very large financial institution.  I had assumed he would be opposed to Brexit. He had views about the financial implications which surprised me.
I have no reason to disbelieve him when he says those views are widely held in financial circles. If those views are proved correct then I wonder what people will believe ten years from now? My guess is that they will still believe much the same as before.

Saturday 19 January 2019

Prince Philip's accident

makes me grateful, yet again, that the Senior Cat gave up driving when he did.
The Senior Cat did not like driving. He clung to the wheel as if it was going to get away from him. 
He was of the generation when no practical test was involved. Right up until he ceased driving he had the legal right to drive heavy goods vehicles - something he had never done.
It was the same for my mother and indeed most people of their generation.  All of them had simply walked into their local police station, passed a simple written road rules test and then been handed a licence to drive.
Yes, it makes us shudder now but of course there were very few cars on the road eighty or so years ago. Cars did not go nearly as fast either.
The Senior Cat has of course driven thousands upon thousands of kilometres in his lifetime. When he taught in remote places the only way to get there was to drive or, at least at first, ride a motorbike. My parents had a motorbike and sidecar when they first married. My arrival was the cause of them buying a "baby Austin".  When my brother appeared on the scene they upgraded to a "Morris Minor".  These cars were second hand of course. There were no seat belts and no baby capsules, no airbags or roll bars.
Over the years there were more cars. Only one of them was ever new.  Most of them were station wagons or estate cars so that they could transport a family of six and as much equipment was needed. We went camping to the east coast and back in one of those with a roof rack holding the tent. 
In all those years the Senior Cat was only ever involved in one accident. He was stationary at a stop light  when a taxi ran into the back of the car. It was one of those rare instances when the other driver was entirely at fault. Very little damage was done.
But, when the time came the Senior Cat bought a gopher or scooter - call it what you will. He still had the car but rarely used it. By then the government was asking people to get an annual medical check up after 80. I remember the day the Senior Cat had an appointment. He was 84 about to turn 85. He loved riding his gopher and set sail on that. He was rather later than I expected coming home and I will admit feeling a little anxious but he arrived safely. 
He sat down at the table with a sigh and said, "The doctor said I could go on driving but I'm not happy about it. I went and handed my licence in." 
Of course he regretted it at times. He could no longer pack the car and go off to give a talk on late Victorian and early Edwardian entertainment. He had to stop attending meetings of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and other groups that met at night. 
In daylight hours he went long distances on his gopher/scooter. On one occasion he had a flat tyre but an access cab intended for wheelchair  users got him home. He wore one gopher into the ground and bought a second. I noticed though that he didn't travel quite so far. 
Eventually several people along a regular route for both of us stopped me and said, "We think you should know...."
I, very cautiously, mentioned something to him. He didn't want to give the gopher up. I could understand that.  Giving it up would make him completely dependent on others. He persisted for a bit. Our doctor arranged for half price taxi vouchers as he could no longer use public transport safely.
At about this time last year he was told he must not use the gopher again. He sighed and was very quiet for some days. I felt for him even as I felt relieved.
He's still frustrated at not having his own means of transport but he knows that he should have given up just a little sooner than he did, that he was lucky not to have had an accident - or caused one to happen.
I hope I know that too. I hope I'll know when it is no longer safe to pedal off independently on my trike. We all expect to be able to get out and about.

Friday 18 January 2019

Teaching adults

is a challenge.
Oh yes, I discovered this again over the past two days. It was fun I suppose - when I finally had time to stop and think about it. 
Of course I have taught adults before. I have tutored and even given the occasional lecture at university but that isn't quite all day and every day.
   "Please ask questions," I told them, "Don't be afraid to ask questions. You are here to learn."
And they were paying to learn too. Knitting might be a hobby but they were paying to learn about it.
Someone had arranged to pick me up.  She is one of the world's reliable people so I made sure I was ready on time. That was particularly important as we had to load the car with two very big bags of yarn, a box of books, a bag of the rest of the kits, and my backpack. 
And she didn't come. About fifteen minutes late someone else arrived, " stuck on the freeway. There was an accident. She asked me if I could come and get you."
Thankfully M... was not involved in the accident and, later, we learned that nobody had been badly hurt. 
And so they got me there in time - even if we did have to rush to set up the room.
I had eight students - about the right number for a hands on class with a lot of material to cover.
They were lovely people and, yes, they asked a lot of questions. They worked hard. They did homework. Now they have gone off with the skills to make their first Fair Isle beanies. All of them have mastered the traditional "corrugated ribbing". That alone, so they told me, made coming worth while.
It seemed strange to be in a school again. Everyone was glad the air conditioning system was very efficient. Working with wool in that heat would not have been fun without air conditioning.
And, as always, I managed to learn a lot too.  I did not explain something well at one point because someone asked a question. That question caused me to think about something from an entirely different perspective.  Next time, if there is a next time, I should be able to give anyone wanting to know a much better explanation.
I have discovered yet again that students have multiple reasons for wanting to come to the class. 
The organisers would like me to do some more teaching. I have said yes. I have said yes although it will be a massive amount of preparation.
I know I still have a lot to learn. I said yes because I know I can learn something too. 

Thursday 17 January 2019

The telephone book

is falling to pieces.
No, not the one they reluctantly supply with the print which is too small to read but our personal book.
The Senior Cat needs this book. It contains the names and phone numbers of people we might need to contact, the names he needs if I happen to be out and cannot look up a number for him.
There have been a number of these books over the years. They have all been ordinary index books. 
My mother wrote them and updated them religiously. After her death it was not done nearly as often. The Senior Cat sees it as being his job - but one he will put off as long as possible. He hates writing anything down.
This time I offered, "I can type a list..."
    "No, I have to do it myself."
Well, I thought, it will give him something to do when it is too cold/ too hot or too something to be outside. He still avoided the task right through the winter. Our winters are mild, very mild compared with those in Upover. He did feel the cold but it was not enough to suggest that it would be better to fill a new phone book with numbers.
I thought about this, left the problem for a bit and then, when the back cover as well as the front cover fell off I mentioned it again.
     "Good idea. I'll start today."
He went as far as finding the new index book we had bought about eighteen months ago. The old one sat there.
I know what the problem is. He, absolutely rightly, is finding it hard to face that many of the names in the book are no longer relevant. People have left us. People who were once his friends have died. 
The Senior Cat won't be able to go outside for some days. The temperatures here are rising over 40'C. I am doing my best to keep some of the garden alive.
But inside I did something else. I said,
    "Why don't you bring the old phone book out here while I get lunch? You can read the names out and we can decide which ones we need to keep."
And that is what we did. We did a little reminiscing as we did it. It was a positive cooperative exercise instead of a sad, solitary one. 
But it made me wonder how much we all procrastinate because of we have lost not just family but the other people who make our lives relevant?

Wednesday 16 January 2019

A magnificent piece of lace work


This magnificent piece of lace knitting is on the Shetland Museum site.…/lace-project  
More about the project can be seen there. I have been thinking about the project for some time now. It is the sort of thing I would love to be involved in but unfortunately is not likely to happen. 
Yesterday another blogger put the same link up on her site. I will be interested to see what sort of comments she gets from those who read her blog. They are mostly, if not all, knitters. 
I suspect their response will be positive but I had a much less positive response from someone here.
      "Why would anyone bother? Nobody makes that sort of thing any more. They don't have time and nobody uses it. It's a waste of money."
Well there are people who are bothered. I am bothered. I am bothered that there are so few people doing that fine work, that many people believe they no longer have the skills to do it.  I am bothered that many people don't find the time to learn a craft and excel at it.  I am bothered that people prefer "easy care" clothing that can be just flung into a washing machine. 
But, there are people who still use such things. They may use them only rarely but, when they do, they get great pleasure from them. The above piece might easily have been used as a wedding stole or a wrap for a grand lady to wear at a ball. There are wonderful square pieces used by a bride and then as a shawl to wrap each child in on their christening day. 
Pieces like this can take many months, perhaps a year or more to knit. The women (and they were mostly women) who knitted them were highly skilled. It was a skill which was recognised too. They were not able to do the rough manual labour on the croft because of the wool they used. They needed smooth hands to handle the very fine thread, some of it no heavier than sewing thread - cobweb weight  yarn. They needed manual dexterity, good eyesight and intelligence. It was not easy work.
Preserving what these women have made and making it available to another generation of knitters is not a waste of money. Some of the skills involved are useful for other things. (I know many surgeons have been encouraged to learn to knit to increase their manual dexterity.) Knitted fabric can lead to technical solutions in other areas. Lace knitting has special applications.
Knitting can be a solitary and soothing occupation or a social one. It can be intensely challenging or simply repetitive. Whatever the process it isn't a waste of time.
And simply making something beautiful can do so much for our mental health.  We need more projects like this.

Tuesday 15 January 2019

So a paedophile register

is a good idea or not a good idea?
The "experts" appear to think not. The victims do. 
My own feeling is that it could harm the innocent. If it was to be a sort of open register that anyone could look up line - and that is one of the suggestions being touted - then what of those living in close proximity?
Let me explain. My brother was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war. He had the strong support of the rest of his family. There was a picture of him in the press, along with two other men, riding motorbikes at the start of a protest march. For weeks and months after that we were subjected to vile abuse. We had a rock thrown through the front window of the house. I was jeered at by people sitting in cars outside the house. I had my tricycle tyres slashed. Other members of the family had similar experiences. We were advised not to have visitors until things calmed down a bit. Yes, things did calm down after a bit but it was unpleasant while it lasted. Even though so many people objected to the country's involvement in the Vietnam war my brother's actions were seen as nothing more than attempt to avoid conscription.
Our loyalty to this country is still under question. It will always be under question. At one point, in order to do my job, I needed a security clearance and nearly didn't get it because of what had happened all those years ago.
Now imagine what it would be like if you lived with someone who had committed a serious criminal offence, a violent offence or a criminal offence. What if you were simply the neighbours or lived further down the street? What if the person who had committed an offence was a work colleague and your workplace was being picketed? Imagine walking the gauntlet each day - judged guilty not because you are guilty but because you are associated, however tenuously,  with the person who is guilty of such an offence. 
I see that as a real problem.  While our present neighbours were away in Germany for three years they rented the house. The young people in it seemed pleasant enough but they had callers at rather late hours. I was suspicious. They had a dog which didn't like people to visit unless the young people were home. They had fixed heavy locks on the gates "to keep the dog in". I was even more suspicious but I had no proof. 
When they eventually left it was quite clear that they had been growing a quite extensive crop of marijuana in the garage-workshop at the back. Our neighbours were appalled. The real estate agency which should have been inspecting the property on their behalf had not once been to check - despite being paid to do so.
We were fortunate that there was no violence, that word never got out while they were here. After they had gone though I did wonder what I would have done if I suspected a different sort of crime. 
I know that if Ms W were to come to me with doubts about someone I would act. I have told her this. Her father has told her this. There is a mentally unstable man living in their street. He has been the subject of police action more than once when he has threatened violence.  The neighbours all know him and when new people were moving in they were quietly informed. He's not on any public register but the police know his whereabouts. 
Is that the way it should be?

Monday 14 January 2019

A mandate is only a mandate

if it is what you voted for and what you believe in.  This is the way politics works. Yes? I put that to a certain professor of politics yesterday.  And no, of course I am not being completely serious about it.
But there is an element of truth in it. 
I haven't read the article the professor wrote on Trump's "Border Wall" but he has apparently written a piece in which he states that, for Donald Trump his border wall was mandated by the voters.
And yes, perhaps it was. People went out and voted for him. He became President - something I don't believe he really expected to happen - and then he had an election promise to keep. He had said he would build a wall - and that Mexico would pay for it.Now he is saying America will pay for it. The government has had to shut down because he refuses to  back down. Voting is not compulsory there and a minority of those eligible to vote bothered to vote.
Does he have a mandate or not?
In the UK the Brexit deal has been limping along and, at present, it looks as if there will be no deal. The Prime Minister there has said she has obtained the best possible deal and that MPs should just accept  that nothing better is going to happen. She claims she is acting on what the people voted for.  Voting is not compulsory there and not everyone voted.
Does she have a mandate or not?
In this country it is compulsory to "attend the ballot box" and most people vote as a consequence. (It is not actually compulsory to vote.) The present parliament has not been able to get any number of pieces of legislation through parliament because the legislation has been blocked in the Senate where the Opposition and the cross bench/independents have the numbers. 
Does the government here have a mandate or not?
I once had the rather odd task of clearing out the filing cabinets of a former politician. There were thousands of documents there. Many of them dealt with legislation the politician had worked on both in government and in opposition. The opposition pieces were often marked, "pass with reservations". It meant that, in opposition, the party would argue it in parliament but still allow the legislation to go through. 
That was a long time ago now and things seem to have changed. There seems to be a determination to deny democracy. I don't think walls are the answer (but I do know there can't be an unrestricted flow of migrants). I don't think Brexit is the answer (but I do think the EU needs to undergo some drastic changes). I have seen good legislation fail to pass here simply because the Opposition has seen the opportunity to ensure the government fails - and fails again. I know there are plans to introduce almost identical legislation into parliament when the new government comes in. It is not about what is best for the country but about attaining and retaining power.
There seems to be a determination to deny democracy. That "mandate" only applies to those things we believe in and support. It has nothing to do with what the majority wanted.

Sunday 13 January 2019

I think we have a problem here

and the name of that problem is Neil Prakash and those like him.
Perhaps I should start a little earlier than Neil Prakash though and say something else.
I have never felt any sympathy for David Hicks. He was not a "misguided young man" as some have sought to portray him. He didn't make one or even two decisions that led to his stay in Guantanamo Bay's detention centre. He made many decisions. He made many wrong decisions. He went to Kosovo as well as Afghanistan. He didn't need to do any of the things he did. 
Mercenaries are not "soldiers" in my book. They are people who are seeking "excitement" of the worst possible sort. 
Hicks could have stayed home and found his adrenalin rush doing something like sky-diving. He doesn't need sympathy and, in the end, he got off leniently.
He got off leniently because he didn't lose his citizenship. If there had been a way of doing it then many people may have believed it would be a desirable outcome.
Having said all that I would also like to say that I don't believe that places like Guantanamo Bay are the answer either. I have no idea what you do with such people, the worst of whom are so incredibly dangerous that locking them up for life seems to be the only solution people have come up with to date - at least, the only one which does not involve some sort of medical intervention.
And that brings me to Neil Prakash who went to fight with ISIS and tried to encourage others to commit terrorist acts here. He is currently languishing in a Turkish gaol and there is an extradition warrant out for him when he finishes his time in that one. 
There has been an attempt to strip him of his citizenship. It is not likely to succeed. The law here says you must be a citizen of another country. Stripping of citizenship can only occur if you are not going to be rendered stateless. It might not have solved the problem even if it did succeed because it would cause a rift in relations with one of our neighbours.
Prakash, and those like him, who join organisations like ISIS and other terror related groups represent a major issue for countries like this one. Yes, if they have dual citizenship we can legally send them to their other country. But, and this is a real problem, in all likelihood, the other country won't want them either. Who can blame them? Sending someone to a country they left when they were perhaps just a toddler and where they don't speak the language or have any support networks also means that they are either going to continue their life of crime or become welfare dependent.  It can rouse sympathy for their cause too.
Lock them up here and there will  be those who support them  who waste days, weeks, months and even years of the court's time trying to have them freed. They will claim they are political or religious or some other sort of "victims". If they are released at any point they won't be able to get jobs and , unless kept in isolation, will encourage others to carry on  their "work". 
I was discussing all this with Ms W yesterday. She has just come back from holiday on the island to the south of our state. For some reason the topic is one she had given some thought to. Eventually she said,
      "You know it really would be sensible if they found an island which was too far for them to escape. You could put them all there together with food and stuff to build things to live in. Once a month a plane could go past and drop more stuff to eat. You wouldn't let them have the internet or anything like that but they could maybe have some books to read and board games. They'd have to work together if they wanted to stay alive. "
The conversation got interrupted at that point but, as she went out the door, I thought, "Something like Pitcairn Island perhaps? Even St Kilda might do."

Saturday 12 January 2019

Research funding

or the lack thereof is in the news again with the universities saying they don't get enough funding.
I recently finished doing some university work. It wasn't something I intended to do but the opportunity presented itself and I thought, "Why not?"
I was co-supervising a doctoral student in another area and the university in question had said, "We can't afford to pay you but is there any way you could...."  You know the sort of thing I mean. I had not been planning on doing any more supervision. It is far more difficult to do supervision at a long distance - not impossible but still difficult. The problem was that the staff member who had been going to do it was ill, very ill...and the student had some research funding. The staff member had another close-to-completion student in limbo and was I interested in seeing they completed as well?
Although sympathetic I nearly said "No" outright but I had actually been looking at textile courses. What I had been looking for were their reading lists in the hope that I could learn something from those.
The university in question actually runs a serious post graduate degree in creative textiles. I thought about it for a few days and then sent a response which ran along the lines of, "If you let me take part in the course in creative textiles then I'll do the bulk of the supervision - and I'll see if I can help the other student complete as well."
There were some more emails backwards and forwards and it was agreed that if I didn't mind not actually getting the qualification then they would agree. I suspect they were thinking I wouldn't actually bother to do the work. I did the work. I have managed to learn a lot I needed to know.
But all this set me thinking again about research, about supervision, about funding - and more. University staff I know here tell me that, in order to get funding of any sort, research needs to be seen as "useful" - i.e. that it will bring in more research funding from places like pharmaceutical companies. There is a little money for doing what can only be described as "currently fashionable politically correct studies". Getting research funding in the arts is almost impossible. Any research in that area is done with minimal funding, if any at all. Research needs to have likely positive economic consequences so interest in literature,  history, philosophy, Latin or even linguistics is not nearly as likely to attract funding. 
The students I inherited with the research grants were the recipients of research grants funded by a charity the members of which are well aware of the economic consequences of not being literate.
So, I've done the work. One student completed some time ago and now has her PhD. The other student handed in his thesis a week ago and I expect it will pass. I can't put another MA after my name - but I don't want to or need to. I now know what I need to know.
The interesting thing though is that the department in question asked me,
      "We don't suppose you'd like to think about actually doing another doctorate? There isn't any funding but...."
Thank you but no, I am not interested. I don't need to do it. I want to follow my own interests. I am too old.
And it would cost too much. 
University research funding has to be about more than things which have positive economic consequences.

Friday 11 January 2019

Rahaf al -Qunun

- or however you care to spell her name - is a brave but foolhardy young woman. I hope her actions help other young Saudi women but I rather doubt it. 
She is also going to have to watch her back for the rest of her  life. Her family, indeed her nation, will see her as having brought shame on them. 
At one time I went to university with a Saudi Arabian princess. You would not have known it. She covered her head but she also wore jeans. Most of the students were completely unaware of who she was.
I knew because I also met her father. He was one of the more enlightened, much more enlightened, members of the royal family. All his children went to university. I don't know what the boys did but one of the girls did engineering, another did medicine, and the one I knew was doing education. She wasn't actually going to be allowed to teach. Her sisters would not have ended up as engineers or doctors either. What was the point of them doing all that study and not using it?
Her father told me something along the lines of things would change one day. He wanted his daughters as well as his sons to understand major areas of importance. He saw them as being responsible for helping to guide the country out of what he saw as an unsustainable anti-female culture.
It hasn't happened yet. I know he died some time ago. He would have died a disappointed man. His daughters have had to fight to get their own children - from their own arranged marriages - an education. But - they are getting a very good education. 
I suspect the girl I once knew is now a very frustrated woman. Her father was a curious mix of new and old. He expected absolute obedience from all his children. He did not display affection in public, indeed seemed almost cold. Nevertheless he commanded both respect and great affection from his daughters. 
I wonder what this man would have done if the girl I knew had tried to seek asylum? My guess is that, for all his apparently enlightened ways, he would have found a way of forcing her to return home. Once there she would have had no chance of leaving again. He would have been not merely angry but furious and he would have remained so. They probably would not even have spoken again. Yes, he loved her. I don't doubt that. There was pride in his voice when he spoke about her, about how hard she was working, and how well she was doing but he still saw her as belonging to him and under his control.
It is going to take much more than one young girl trying to leave such a stifling and restrictive lifestyle behind to bring about any real change in Saudi Arabia. All we can hope for is that young Rahaf al-Qunun remains safe.

Thursday 10 January 2019

Always a reader

is how I remember her.
We went to the funeral of the Senior Cat's cousin's wife yesterday. That may sound simply a rather distant relative to most people but the Senior Cat had known her for at least 85 years. I had known her all my life.I suspect that, for much of the world, she was simply a "nice" person. For us she was so much more.
She lost her father, a soldier, to WWII and didn't get the education she always wanted but she made up for it by reading. She read the classics - the Greek classics, she read other philosophy. She read science and theology, history and modern literature. She loved to discuss these things  and find yet more to read. And that is partly how I want to remember her - as, always a reader.
I knew her better than I might have known her because we often travelled together on the same train. If we did we would sit together and we would often, perhaps almost always, "talk books".  Yes, she was much older than I am - but younger than the Senior Cat.  It didn't make a lot of difference.  When I was at school F.... would say things like, "I think you should try this book"or "There's a book I've been reading I think would interest you." Like my last English teacher she nurtured my own love of reading. On hearing of her death  my brother sent me an email saying, "I came across a book she gave me yesterday." Yes, she gave books as presents. She gave carefully chosen books - books people wanted to read.
Our tastes weren't always the same but they coincided often enough that we could talk about  books we had enjoyed - and do it frequently.
I went off to study in London and we wrote to one another - about books.  That first time in London was a year of minimal reading for pleasure for me. I had to struggle with academic texts instead and a standard far higher than the one that had been expected of students at my teachers' college in Downunder. But F.... was there and telling me about books she had read.
When I came back after that first time away F... was there again telling me about this book and that book and some other book and a review here and a review there.  We went to some sessions at Writers' Week - so she could hear people I knew talk about not just books but the writing process and much more.  It fascinated her. She questioned it.
When she retired from her job as a secretary to a  university department she went to lectures in history, philosophy and logic instead. While she didn't get the degree she might have got had things been different she was invited to attend group tutorials and seminars because of her intense interest in the topics she was hearing about. The staff told her, "You have so much to offer the younger students." She spent hours helping them.
I went away again and then came back - twice. It wasn't my choice to come back and she understood that. She read the autobiography I wrote and told me, "Write the next chapter please...and write more Cat. " From her it was the ultimate compliment.
Her life was not an altogether happy one. She had lost her father in the war, when she was just thirteen, and then her mother and two sisters to cancer. Her mother-in-law treated her very  badly, seeing her as not being her son's social equal. Despite that she cared for that difficult old woman as if she had been her own mother. Then she lost her  husband - to cancer. Several years later she lost her daughter - again to cancer.  That hit hard and she never quite regained her equilibrium but her grandchildren helped.
Yesterday her surviving child mentioned her love of books and learning and many other things but he left it, rightly, to her grandchildren to try to tell people what "Grandma" was like. Did they succeed? Perhaps. In a way. I knew what they were saying about warmth and love and that special quality of "people-perception" that she had. She was one of those people who helped me through the rough adolescent years - and mine were rougher than most. Her youngest grandchild, now a young woman managed to retain her composure - just. Another didn't.
And then her former boss, the retired professor, got up to speak. He is a man who has seen much and travelled far. He has worked in PNG and Africa. He broke down at the end of what he had to say and managed, "I could not have had a better secretary." He and his wife had gone on visiting her regularly until she died.
I thought of all of this and, like too many other relationships, I felt she had given me far more than I had given her.
In the past two years she hasn't known me. It hasn't been possible to have a conversation with her. I resented that. She was still a friend though - and remained one. Yesterday I saw her again as she was for all of those years, wife, mother, grandmother, employee, cousin's wife, friend of the Senior Cat and, above all - a friend to me. 

Wednesday 9 January 2019

An unexpected outing

can be awful or excellent.
I went out to lunch yesterday. The lunch bit was "unexpected". I was aware that I might be going out during the afternoon. I had made a time for that in  the day but when I arrived back from yet another trip to the chemist for the Senior Cat and myself he said,
    "J....rang. Can you ring her back? She wants to know if you want to go out for lunch."
Now I rarely, almost never, do this sort of thing. I was expecting to meet J... and G.... for "coffee" in the afternoon. We wanted to talk about our plans for a Christmas tree. (Yes, we are thinking about it already.) The two of them had put their  heads together and decided that lunch might be nice.
One of them was on holiday, lives alone, and doesn't need to worry about other people's meals. The other is married but he was out and about and doing things. They were free.
I thought it through before I called J... back. P... who does two hours of heavy cleaning once a fortnight was coming  but she would be here well before I left. What's more she knows what to do. I had no qualms about that. I also knew that, if I prepared something for the Senior Cat, she would make sure he heated it up and ate it. So, I wiggled things a bit and yes P.... just about pushed me out the door with, "Go on. I'll look after him. You deserve a break. And don't feel guilty."
And she did look after him. She even did his little bit of washing up.
I did feel a little guilty because the care of the Senior Cat is my responsibility.  P....has her own elderly parents to worry about. 
But I was able to give her a small box of tomatoes as well as what we pay her.
I hope I can give her some more next time too because we are so extraordinarily fortunate to have someone like her. She does the things I cannot do, cannot reach or am not strong enough to do or am not agile enough to do safely. We don't pay her enough but she refuses to accept any more. She screwed something in yesterday. The Senior Cat had not got as far as his shed to get the screwdriver but P... asked me for one and did it - because she saw it needed to be done. I was grateful because it was two hands job really and the Senior Cat doesn't like standing up without holding on to something.
When you find someone like that - appreciate them. Tell them you appreciate them. They are worth far more than the anonymous masses who barely do their jobs and do them reluctantly.
Thank you P... for helping me have that unexpected outing. 

Tuesday 8 January 2019

So John Burningham has died

and the world of children's picture books has lost another great from one of the greatest periods of children's literature.
I was introduced to "Borka: the adventures of a goose with no feathers"  when I was doing my first unit in school librarianship. It won the Kate Greenaway Medal in1963 so it was hardly surprising it was on the list of required reading.I went on to use it, and many of his other books, in my teacher/ librarianship days. 
I have given his books to children - most recently one to T.... across the road when his mother was expecting young H.... "There's going to be a baby..." is illustrated by his wife,  Helen Oxenbury ("We're going on a bear hunt"). It was a book T's mother had not come across. As a paediatrician  she now recommends it to parents.
There were other wonderful picture books that appeared around that time too such as "The tiger who came to tea" (Judith Kerr) and Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present (Charlotte Zolotow). Ezra Jack Keats wonderful "The Snowy Day" (a Caldecott Medal winner) and "Charley, Charlotte and the Golden Canary" another Greenaway Medal book by Charles Keeping.
I loved those books. I still do. At one time I knew some of them so well I could recite them. I taught a profoundly physically disabled child called Peter who was delighted to find a character called Peter in Keats' books. I had a child who loved anything about rabbits. And of course there are still outstandingly good picture books being produced for children with wonderful illustrators like Shirley Hughes and Chris Riddell. I have fallen in love with Jen Campbell's "Franklin's Flying Bookshop" and Katie Harnett's illustrations. Julia Donaldson's "The Detective Dog" is another delight.
But, I still go back to Borka and some of the other books of that era. They are old friends. Children still want at least some of them.  I can go still further back to "The story about Ping"(Marjorie Flack) , a book I treasured as a child. There are many more and Burningham was just one of many - although one of the few, like Keeping, to grab the changes in colour technology and turn them to his advantage.
It says something about really good picture books. They go on and on - just look at Peter Rabbit. 


Monday 7 January 2019

Writing instructions

is not my favourite pastime.
It sounds so simple. Do this, then do this, then do this. It should be easy. It isn't.
Anyone who has ever read the attempts by some non-English speakers to write instructions has probably dismissed any errors as, "Well, it's probably because they don't speak English as a first language."  But, is it just that?
If you know how to do something yourself and you cannot remember learning how to do it then writing the instructions for someone else can be very difficult. You make assumptions that you don't realise you are making. It might seem obvious that putting a cold egg from the refrigerator straight into boiling  hot water is courting disaster but it won't be.  ( I had to explain how to boil an egg recently.)
I thought of this yesterday as I was trying to write a pattern for something. I thought of it because something had come up on the news. The Opposition was saying that standards for people who want to enter the teaching profession have to be higher. They want only students who have reached a certain level to enter training for teaching. 
It may sound fine in theory but would it actually work? The brightest people are not always the best teachers. I remember one of the staff at university asking me if I could help another student who was having difficulty understanding a concept.
    "I've tried explaining more than once but  she just doesn't seem to get it. I don't know why."
I found the student. She looked at me in despair and said, "Mrs C.... says it is simple but I don't get it."
We went through the problem. Oh, that's what she meant? And then came the words, "Every time she said it she just said the same words."
No, I wasn't any smarter than the lecturer in question. I had just explained it in a different way. A friend and I did the same thing some months later with another lecturer, one of the professors. He was a brilliant man but he was not a good teacher. He had difficulty understanding that others might find it hard to understand. I still cringe as I remember how I sat there in the lecture theatre and, after he had tried to explain a very important concept three times in almost precisely the same words, I asked twenty-three questions in a row a couple of times prompted by my friend.  The professor knew what I was doing, indeed asked me to go on each time I stopped. He was testing me at the same time as he was trying to get the concept across. The dear man, a man I grew to be very fond of, came and apologised to me later and thanked me but I felt as if I was showing him up. But, he couldn't teach.  He knew he couldn't teach. I don't think training would have helped him much.
The best teachers are those who have had to make some effort to learn, who have been faced with a variety of explanations themselves and can pass those on to students. They are people who are aware that you need to know what "two" means before you can add another "two" and make "four". They know that even after that you need to understand "four". 
I have watched a Down Syndrome girl show another how to make a pom-pom. Most people would think it was impossible but she did it. Her explanation was in the simplest possible words but she still needed to be able to understand the process herself.  She did a better job than most adults could have done but it required patience. At one point she was prompted by an adult that she might need to show her student again. There was a frown and then she did but she added something - as if she instinctively understood what her student needed.
No, it's not easy. Teaching is not easy. You don't need to be highly intelligent but you do need to understand.
Of course teachers need to be intelligent but they also need to understand. They need the understanding which comes from the personal experience of learning. Intelligence and psychology can only teach you part of that.

Sunday 6 January 2019

Helping the elderly shower

is a challenge.
I am hoping the Senior Cat's lovely "shower person" is back on duty tomorrow. (She is currently on holiday.) Her note with the dates is under a magnet on our 'fridge.
Middle Cat and I have been doing the task in between. Middle Cat may have more idea than me although the Senior Cat has muttered (very softly) to me that she is "bossy". I suspect she is. Most physiotherapists of my acquaintance, and I know more than a few, are inclined to be bossy. It means that most of the time the task has fallen to me.
The Senior Cat needs help now because he is unsteady on his rear paws, very unsteady. He needs to sit in the shower. He needs help to wash his back. 
I know he prefers S....., the "shower person", to help. He thinks of her as a sort of nurse. I suspect she does have some nursing training but she comes from China and her qualifications, whatever they may be, would not be accepted here.  She's good. She's fussy and she will alert me to anything she is concerned about.
Over the summer she has had her holiday break. Last year we had a succession of other "shower people" in her absence. The Senior Cat was perfectly happy with the young girls from Kenya, the middle aged women and so on. He was not happy having a male. I have to confess the male who came made me feel very uncomfortable too. I had to ask them not to send him again. 
When they phoned to ask if they could send a male - if they could fine one - I said we would cope in S....'s absence.
Well yes, we have coped but it has not been easy. The Senior Cat is not difficult, far from it. He is cooperative but he is anxious. He has a fear of falling. I don't blame him in the least. He fell and broke his leg once and of course he fell backwards and ended with that 4cm crack in his skull. His lack of dance skills was well known - much as he loved to try his beloved Scottish folk dances.
It worries me trying to help him but I am not uncomfortable about actually doing it - if you can understand the difference.
I have done it for the last time for now. Middle Cat should take over if there are public holidays on which S.... does not work.
But - I am wondering why it is that the male of the species seems incapable of washing the back of their necks as thoroughly as females?


Saturday 5 January 2019

Dear Bank

if I wanted to do something at the automatic teller machine I would go to the automatic teller machine and talk to it.
I have come into the bank and I expect to go to a human and talk to the human. I also expect to be served politely and efficiently - and yes, I will be polite in return.
I do not wish to be bullied, patronised, or treated with contempt simply because I refuse to use the fancy new ATM.  The ATM can be seen by all and sundry. It has been placed in a location where others can read the screen as they pass because they have no choice but to pass too closely. There have been complaints. You say you can do nothing.
You, dear bank, have the Senior Cat's money in your possession. You make money from that money. You loan it to people who pay more in interest, much more in interest, than you give to the Senior Cat. Shares in the bank are doing extremely well.It also means people can build houses and businesses and buy cars and do all the other things that keep the country running, including paying your senior executives their highly inflated salaries.
But it is still the Senior Cat's money and that of everyone else who has a savings account with you that allows you to do all this. The Senior Cat has a right to be served by you. I, as his nominee, have a right to be served by you. 
I do not expect to be told off in front of other customers. I do not expect to be told that it is "my fault" if delays are caused. Nor do I expect to be told that I do not know how to transact the business I wish to transact. I know I don't know how to do it.  What I do know is that it is going to take a human, not a teller machine, to do it.
Yes, I have come across this particular employee before. We have clashed before. It isn't just me. I have seen her clash with other people. There was a major argument one day. I could hear it while I was waiting in the chemist shop opposite. Other people could hear it too. One of the two remaining tellers apologised later. There used to be four tellers in that branch of the bank. Now there is only one on duty. She has to deal with the elderly and the frail, the intellectually much less able and those who need to do out of the ordinary transactions. 
And no, dear bank, you cannot expect my friend R... who is unable to read or write to work the teller machine. It has taken a long time to teach her how to go to the bank and get the money she needs to live a week at a time. Telling her she had to use the teller machine reduced her to tears. She needs the understanding of a teller who will give her the money in a form she understands.  The girls in the local supermarket help her do her weekly shop. It is little things like that which mean she can live almost independently in the community. The manager there has more respect for his customers than you.
Yes, dear bank, I am angry. You are not serving your customers.

Friday 4 January 2019

The detention centre on

Manus Island was not a "concentration camp". 
There has been a rather nasty argument going on via Twitter between several people about the nature of the facility on Manus Island. In case anyone outside this country has been following that argument I have been asked to say something here.
The government sent unauthorised maritime arrivals to Manus Island instead of allowing them to come here. Whether that was right or wrong is a matter of hot debate.  The UNHCR condemned the centre but that is easy to do when you do not have to personally take responsibility. Others condemned it too. Again, it is easy to do that when you are not personally responsible for those there. 
It is also easy to say that the centre was a "concentration camp" but those who do that are being irresponsible. 
 The Manus Island facilities were never intended to be "nice". They were not intended to be some sort of "holiday camp". 
Despite that there can be no parallels drawn between the facilities there and the facilities in and purpose of places like Dachau and Buchenwald or a North Korean gulag.  
The detention there is now closed but, before it closed, some of the men there had to be forcibly removed. They claimed they were "safe" there and did not want to leave unless they were transferred here. 
Part of the problem is that people do not understand what the meaning of "refugee" is. People who, with good cause, flee their home countries  are considered to be refugees once they reach the first safe haven, normally a neighbouring country. They may not be welcome there but, unless they are in actual danger from the same matters which caused them to flee, they remain refugees in that country.
It is when people move on from there "in search of a better life" that they actually cease to be refugees and become what is best described as "economic migrants". We may still call them refugees and give asylum to those who claim to have a genuine fear of returning home but their status as a "refugee" is not longer clear. 
That has probably muddied the waters but is the best I can do in a limited space.
I would like to add something else, from my own extensive experience of those working with refugees. The first is that most people in the world's refugee camps simply want things to change in their own countries so that they can go home. The second is that, if they have documentation such as birth or marriage certificates or other ID, they do all that they can to keep it safe. The third is that, if they are offered a chance to go somewhere  which will be safer, they will usually take it. In other words they are often homesick, they don't destroy their documentation and they will accept a safe haven if it is offered to them.


Thursday 3 January 2019

Public transport

needs to be just that - public transport. It has to be accessible by everyone.
So why on earth is the man most likely to be the nation's next transport minister spruiking the need for more trams. Why is he spruiking the need for more trams on roads which are already crowded? Why is he hinting at the closure of at least one rail line in favour of tram?
We need more trains and we need them to go further. Those in the know tell me that a train line east would not be used because it would simply take too long to do the journey. They are of course thinking of the old route...and yes, it would cost billions to send the train along a new route. It means that those areas may well never have a train service but it would be wise to plan for one.
We need trains to go much further south. The rail extension there barely made a mark. The utter stupidity of removing what had once been there has now been recognised but the cost of putting it back in place is so great that again it may never be done.
We need trains to go much further north and north east...and yes there was some there too. 
Those who originally planned our public transport had much more sense than those who are now responsible for it. 
And trams? The roads are already clogged. Perhaps if you want to ban the use of cars it makes sense? 
I don't see that happening. 
Trains make sense. They don't share the road. They have priority. Properly designed rail routes mean that trains can move efficiently. 
They can move high numbers of people and goods at the same time. 
As kittens we liked to go on the only tram. It went from the centre of the city down to a popular beach. That route is a dedicated line. When we used it the tram only shared the road  for a mere half a mile at either end. The old trams used to rattle and sway along and we could see the driver pulling at levers. Modern trams are not like that. 
Oh yes, they are supposed to be "accessible" but, like buses, they are only partially accessible. They carry fewer people than trains too.
I suppose there are reasons for trams but trains make more sense to me.