Monday 30 September 2019

So teachers don't need to be numerate?

There is a piece in this morning's paper about student teachers threatening to take legal action because they won't get their teaching qualification if they can't pass the literacy and numeracy tests.
I don't know what the literacy and numeracy tests involve. I do think all teachers should be able to read, write and do basic arithmetic. After that it should surely be a matter of what it is they are going to teach?  Does a teacher of children who do not yet go to school really need to have advanced algebra and trigonometry? 
I was taught basic research skills twice at university. The first set of  research skills was in the area of psychology. I had to learn "statistics" along with how to obtain samples and much more. In my last year at that university I was given the task, along with another person, of writing a questionnaire that went out to more than a thousand schools. In order to do these things I needed to be both numerate and literate. I was also given the role of writing the questionnaire because my doctoral supervisor struggled to do such things. He was a literate man but he struggled with something like that. 
    "Ask Cat," he would tell his secretary. (It was in the days when senior staff had secretaries.) His secretary would sigh and say, "He needs a letter written about...."
But he would sigh when it came to trying to help me understand statistics. It didn't help that I doubted, and still doubt, their value in what I was doing.
When, some years later, I was doing law we had to do a subject called, "Legal writing and research." It was compulsory. It taught students how to find information and how to cite it. I instantly saw the value in that. It presented no problems to me. When the other first year students were complaining about it I told the English as a second language students I was helping, "It's the most important subject you will ever do."  Law students need to be literate.
But I can also remember having to draw and explain a bell curve to a member of the law school staff. Statistics were completely outside their area of expertise. There had never been any need for them to know about a bell curve until then. I understood and simply accepted that. They knew a great deal more about their area of law than I would ever know. They had the intelligence to get the information they needed when they needed it. 
And I think it may be the same for teachers. They need to be able to read and write and do arithmetic and they need to be able to do those things well enough to get more information if they need it. I don't think a pre-school teacher needs advanced mathematics but they need to be competent at basic arithmetic. They need to be able to read, write and spell.
I suppose the question now is whether they need to be able to do basic coding as well as play the coding games they are supposed to teach. I am not sure it will make them better teachers. It might -
but we might also lose some of the best potential teachers because they are required to know things they don't really need to know.
We would have lost an important piece of research if my doctoral supervisor hadn't helped me with statistics. He would not have written a book if I had not helped to write a questionnaire. 
Surely it is more important to work together on the things that really matter?

Sunday 29 September 2019

Reading instructions

and then...well, reading instructions.
There were three new people at the knitting group yesterday. One of them didn't need any help. It was probably just as well because I am not sure she would have listened to anything we had to say anyway. 
The other two did. They came together. They were from another country. Their first language is Spanish. They were trying to read a knitting pattern in English. 
Oh. I groaned inwardly. I felt for them. The pattern was for a little baby jumper (sweater to you North Americans). It wasn't a difficult pattern in itself but it has - abbreviations. It is written to fit into the smallest space available. 
Oh yes, the abbreviations are "standard" but they are still abbreviations. They are confusing. A lot of people who read English as their first language have problems understanding a knitting pattern. When you are not a native reader of the language and you are a beginning knitter then....
The two of them were very nice. They were intelligent. They were genuinely interested in understanding. Their English was much better than my Spanish will ever be but....this is specialist vocabulary here. We have "knit" and "purl" and they have "punto derecho" and "punto reves". The pattern had a mock "cable" or "torsado".  They were about to start the decreasing for the raglan armhole. They were calling it the "reduction" but in Spanish it is the "disminuciones" or "menguados".
Oh  yes, we got past all of that but there is a point in the pattern where you decrease on the fourth row and then on the alternate rows. You also need to decrease in two different ways - and the pattern assumed that the knitter knows about those things. 
And of course, to add to the complication of actually telling them all this, they knit in a different way. I knit as I was taught by my paternal grandmother - who was taught by her Scots grandmother. They knit what in a way we here in Downunder describe as "continental". The results are the same but the process is different. Of course I didn't need to translate it all. I could not have done that. I just needed to be aware of what they were going through. 
I admire them madly for trying. They could have found a pattern in Spanish. There are plenty around. I have some myself.  But - the little jumper was nice. It is likely to be practical - unlike so many lacy baby garments.
At the end of the afternoon though I looked across at our lone male of the group. He is Japanese. He had been watching us. I knew what he was thinking. The Japanese write all their patterns with the sort of diagrams that even I can follow.  
There should be more of that sort of thing.
I think we got there in the end though because I got a hug and a "muchas gracias"....which is more than I have sometimes got from those who do read English as their first language.

Saturday 28 September 2019

"It's blue again

I  suppose?" 
    "Um...yes - but it goes with everything else."
    "I know you like blue Cat but really! This pink one...."
    "I am not going to wear pink!"
I need (as opposed to want) a new shirt. My favourite charity shop didn't have anything that could pass for "best" so I had to go hunting elsewhere. 
Now let it be said here that I have a strong aversion to clothes shopping. I will tolerate food shopping - we need to eat - and I am happy to prowl through book stores and (if I can find them) yarn shops. Clothes? No. 
I suppose part of the problem is that I resent paying extortionate prices for "fashion". I expect my clothes to last more than "a season". (I have clothes that are far more than twenty years old.) As I don't need to "dress up" to go to the office I can get around in jeans and t-shirts most of the time.
And I happen to like the colour blue - and a lot of other colours as well. At the same time I don't care for pink or orange. As a kitten I was forced to wear pink  by my maternal grandmother because "little girls wear pink".  Thankfully my paternal grandmother didn't believe that and, to the best of my knowledge, never gave me anything pink. Her views may have been coloured by having two boys because she tended to make me sturdy overalls for around home and green or blue dresses for "best". 
Attempts were made by my maternal grandmother to get Middle Cat and the Black Cat to wear frilly, fancy pink things too. They objected as well. Middle Cat was going through the stage of wanting to be a boy. (She is now glad she is not.) Her idea of being dressed was a football guernsey and football boots. She now owns a dress. (It was for the wedding of her eldest.) I don't own a dress at all - just a couple of skirts for "must not wear trousers" emergencies. 
Middle Cat will wear pink now. It suits her colouring much better than mine. She can wear that peachy sort of orange and lime too - and they are not my thing at all.   
And the woman in the shop knows all this...she has had cause to use the professional services of Middle Cat and thus knows us both. It is of course also her business to know what her customers might want.
She gave me a look and said, "I knew this was going to happen. Stay there."
She went out to the tiny back store room and, a few moments later, she returned - with a plain, pale blue my size
    "Here you are. Go and try it on."
Being an obedient cat I did as I was told. It was fine. It will last me a few years. It was marked down to half the original price. I bought it.
Now why can't clothes shopping always be like that?

Friday 27 September 2019

Birthday cards

are not really something I care for - but regular readers will know I don't much care for birthdays either.
It always irritates me to pay a lot of money for a piece of light card and an envelope. There can be no justification for the prices that Hallmark and others charge.
I have been known to make birthday cards - for the years ending in "0". They always have the relevant number of quotes on them. The smallest of those was "10" for Ms W and the largest was "100" for a friend who was still alert and able to read at that age. When she died her son took the card back to the US with him because, "Mum said there were things on it I need to take on board".  Yes, there were 100 quotations on that card. 
But ordinary birthdays present a problem. Middle Cat is good at finding cards. So is my aunt. They both seem to find cards that exactly suit the person and the occasion. Middle Cat's tend to reflect her sense of humour. A..., my aunt, will often find cards that have unexpected little things on them or in them. 
I need a card today. It is someone's birthday. I want to acknowledge the occasion. Funny and quirky are not right for her. Sentimental is not appropriate. Actually saying "Happy Birthday" isn't really appropriate either. She isn't well and I know she is depressed - although she refuses to acknowledge that. I've suggested we go out for coffee/tea/chocolate/just a chat more than once but she shrugs and says, "Maybe...sometime." 
She says the same thing to everyone else too so I know it isn't me, rather it is her - and her depression speaking. Her doctor has gone as far as to give me an anxious look as she went into his room. Indiscreet? Perhaps - but I know him and I know his concern is genuine. He knows I would help if I could.
I have stopped inviting her to lunch...she would never come. There was always some excuse. 
So a birthday card as such seems inappropriate. I am even wondering if I should acknowledge her birthday at all. I think I should let her know that we are thinking of her.  
I'd just like to find the perfect card for her - one that would make her smile. 

Thursday 26 September 2019

"So what do you think of Greta Thunberg?"

I was asked yesterday. (This was after someone had read my blog post.)
    "Why?" I asked.
    "Well don't you think she is amazing? She's mobilising a whole generation of young people." 
There was more in this vein. I won't bore you with it. My response was,
     "She isn't a patch on Malala Yousafzai."
And I meant it.
Greta Thunberg may well feel passionate about climate change and the environment but she is also acting a part - and not doing it particularly well. (She is a child actor in Sweden.)  She is being manipulated and used by adults in the background. Her speeches are not written by her. At least one person is making a great deal of money out of using her as a puppet to get across a message they know is popular.
Yes it may well be doing some good if it is alerting people to the need to care for the planet but that is all. She isn't the answer to the problems that need to be addressed.
The difference between her and Malala Yousafzai could not be more stark. Reportedly Malala was called out of class by the deputy head of her high school in Birmingham to be told she had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Her response was apparently along the lines of, "Thank you very much. It's a bit hard to take in. That's very kind of them but I don't really deserve it." She then went back to her disrupted lesson.
She went on working - working hard enough to win a place on merit at Oxford University. (And yes, I am told by someone else there that it was on merit.) She is working there now. Later she may well use the acknowledgement in order to go on helping others.  That is her intention. She knows the value of education, has spoken passionately about it, and - most importantly - encourages others to pursue it.
And, for me, that makes her likely end contribution far greater than that of someone like Greta Thunberg. If Thunberg  had used her UN speech to tell other young people, "Don't strike. Go back to school and learn all you can. Give up some of your spare time to the environment. Try to live in ways that will help the environment" then it could have done much more.
I know what I have just said will upset some people. They will think I am wrong, that Thunberg is amazing and that I should admire her "courage". But - I want young people to be well informed and able to deal with future problems. They can still do things now - although it won't cause the short term adrenaline rush felt by missing school to protest.

Wednesday 25 September 2019

The world is a mess

and I think I want to curl up into a little ball, close my eyes and put my paws over my ears. I just want it all to go away please!
Teenagers like Greta Thunberg should be in school learning so they can cope with the future. So-called adults like Trump, Johnson, Corbyn, Morrison, Albanese, Shorten, Wong, Turnbull, Macron, Merkel, Tusk, Juncker and many more should not be getting the news coverage they are getting. We shouldn't need to worry about climate change, homelessness, starvation, or terrorism - and much more than that.
I rang an elderly friend yesterday. She is currently struggling with diabetes related problems. I would much prefer that research money was being spent on finding ways to overcome her problems. All the money being spent on yet another "climate change conference" isn't actually doing anything - except perhaps scaring the likes of young T.... and his classmates. All this talk of "meeting emissions targets" isn't actually meeting them. Getting out there and actually doing things is much harder. And is it really that difficult or is  that people really don't want to make the decisions that need to be made and act on them? Oh yes, "we do our bit"  but it means everyone has to do their bit. It would mean drastic changes of lifestyle for many people...changes they are not really prepared to make. It means major changes of policy - changes people don't want to make for fear of losing power.  
It means not increasing the number of petty rules and regulations but decreasing them so that the world becomes a simpler place.
It means not presuming we can buy strawberries all year round and not thinking that a holiday in Bali every year is essential. 
There are more important things in life. This morning someone emailed to say that a friend is in hospital. The prognosis is not good. This afternoon the Senior Cat's much younger second cousin will bury his wife - someone who was younger than I am. His cousin has early onset dementia and it is going to be hard on his children to handle all that will be involved.  
Those things matter. We need to be seeking solutions to those problems not pandering to the financial interests and desire for power of those who benefit from frightening us but don't take the necessary steps themselves. 
I won't curl up on my sleeping mat and put my paw over my ears -  even though I want to do it. Right now I am prowling restlessly and worried about it all.

Tuesday 24 September 2019

"You want to put those on a clothes hanger"

the Senior Cat's friend told me. He was right.
I have just finished making two very small garments for a very small doll for a not quite so small child. 
    "I have to keep her wrapped up or she will be cold," I was told, "And Grandy can't make her clothes any more but she said you might if I ask you. Please?"
Of course. I made a little dress and a cardigan that matches. They were simple - but they needed a clothes hanger because Miss Four Year Old has a wardrobe for her doll clothes. It is nothing more than a simple wooden box but there is a rail and she hangs their clothes in there. Miss Four is a very neat child - unnaturally so.
Her grandfather went to his shed, found the necessary wire, cut off a length and - moments later - we had a coat hanger he had twisted out of the wire. It is like all the other coat hangers in the little wardrobe. 
I put the dress on and then arranged the cardigan carefully on top. It made a great difference. 
Miss Four came back from preschool. The doll was dressed and the result was met with approval. I was hugged and thanked - without Miss Four being prompted by anyone. 
     "These hangers are the best. Granddad makes them."
We left her rearranging clothes in the wardrobe, dressing and undressing her three dolls, doing all the things that small girls do.
Miss Four is living with her grandparents for the moment. Due to illness the family situation isn't good and money is tight.  
I made the dress and cardigan out of left over yarn. The hanger came from what was once fencing wire. The "wardrobe" was once an old fruit box. 
As I was leaving though Miss Four came out to say goodbye. I got hugged again and told, "I'm happy and happy and happy."
I'm happy too - happy that she doesn't apparently feel the need for a bright pink plastic wardrobe full of "designer" clothes designed for a doll of improbably proportions.

Monday 23 September 2019

"But we can't pay you."

One of our state's indigenous artists has been causing headlines because the Flying Kangaroo airline (Qantas) asked her to do some design work - and then told her that, instead of paying her as such, they would "give her tickets and...." She refused to do the work and demanded an apology.
She was totally within her rights to do that. It certainly isn't going to do her career any harm.
Unfortunately if she had not been an indigenous artist there would have been no story and the artist would have found it difficult to get another commission anywhere. It's the way the system works.
    "Being an artist isn't work," I was told once, "You just have fun painting all day."
And we all know that being an author isn't work. You just sit down and write. Musicians don't need to practice. They just go and play their instrument. What is more we don't need to pay such people for talking about doing these things. It really isn't important. They like what they do so much that there isn't any need to give them any sort of financial recompense.
Yes, we have all heard that one before - often. We have heard it too many times.
And then there is something else that happens....and should not happen. The artists, writers, musicians and other craftspeople get asked to "teach" these skills to other people...often under the same terms. "We can't pay you but..."
I have been thinking about this recently. Someone I know was letting me know they were not pleased by a decision I had made - a decision not to teach until a situation has changed.
    "But you have to Cat. You are the one who knows more than anyone else..."  Flattery? Hardly. She has never said it before and will almost certainly never say it again. Her only concern was that the group has lost the services of someone they didn't need to pay.
As I said recently and elsewhere in this blog I do think that being part of a group means that you need to actively participate - but it doesn't mean you need to do it for nothing. Payment inside a group can take many forms but one thing is essential - and that is to be treated with common courtesy. 
I might well know more than anyone else in the group about some things. There are other people who will know more than me about other things. If still others want us to impart that knowledge then they need to pay us with, at very least, everyday courtesies. 
Sadly I know that we, and not those failing to show common courtesies, will be treated as being the ones at fault. It is rare that real value is placed on the services of those who are perceived as  doing something which is considered by others as "simply having fun". 
If someone makes it appear easy then you can be sure they have had to spend many hours learning how to do it. Pay them.

Sunday 22 September 2019

"But it means you won't get a cake!"

And I said,
    "I don't want one."
I can't remember the last birthday cake I had. It was a very, very long time ago. Birthdays were on my mind yesterday because of the party I mentioned but also because of something else.
Yesterday I had to fill out a form. It  was for a group I belong to. I suppose it was simple enough but I didn't see the relevance of my DOB - date of birth.
Yes, they have cake for "significant" birthdays - and I suppose I have one coming up - and  they sing the "happy birthday" song. I don't like the overly sweet cake  they buy. (It looks much nicer than it tastes  to me but other people like it.) I hate people singing the birthday song to me. I really don't like having a birthday. On the actual day everyone  is too busy celebrating something else to care much. It was never made a fuss of when I was a kitten and I now find the whole thing embarrassing.
So, I didn't put my DOB on the form. I see no point. I don't want cake. I don't want people singing to me - especially when most of them don't really know me and couldn't care less one except for the cake. 
But the form had other things - like address and phone number and email and whether you wanted to get the newsletter by email (yes - let's save the tree it gets printed on). I was happy enough to supply those.
At some point I will be able to help with things like "door duty" - something I can't do now because the Senior Cat needs me far more than they do. Whether I do any more teaching is up to them. If - when - things change in the group then I will. 
There wasn't room to say this or answer the other question on the form that might have been important.
And an important question was left off - or at least a question I think is important. A lot of people in the group are older. Emergencies do occur. There was nowhere on the form to put contact details of someone to contact in an emergency. I can  hear someone there saying, "Well someone would contact the Senior Cat."  That's not what I would want. I would want them to contact Middle Cat or my nephew.  
I have now been a thoroughly irritating and scratchy cat and sent the committee a message making the suggestion it needs to be included. They might already have thought of it and decided against it for some reason but I felt I had to suggest the need for a contact.
If they take the idea up I might make them biscuits. That would be better than birthday cake for me. I don't need that.

Saturday 21 September 2019

"Are you going to make cake?"

the girl in the supermarket asked me.
I had just placed some small bottles of food dye on the counter ready for her to scan.
    "No," I told her and added that sort of overly-sweet roll out icing beloved of children. I then added the biscuits and the "sprinkles". Then I told her what was intended.
A small friend is having a birthday party today. I won't be there. I am not fond of birthday parties. His mother and I decided Ms W would be far more use keeping him occupied for a couple of hours while she gets ready.
   "I'd rather not be doing this at all Cat but he has been to so many parties. I've only invited the children he has been invited to..."
Yes, I knew what she meant.
Ms W doesn't mind. As long as I did the shopping she was happy to do the minding. They could decorate biscuits for the party. She does a very good job of those.  Her philosophy of "they look better with less" is one I approve of.   
    "Do you want a party?" is a question we asked Ms W each year until she turned twelve. The answer was always a very firm, "No." She couldn't tell us why just, "I don't want one." Her father would shrug and say, "Saves me a lot of bother" but I know it worried him. The year she turned twelve he told her, "If you want a party let me know."
Later she told me, "It's awfully sweet of him but he wouldn't have any idea and he couldn't do it by himself anyway. You need a mum for that sort of thing...and yes I know you would but you shouldn't have to and I really don't like parties when I have to go anyway."
I don't think she could have put that into words when she was younger but she must have sensed it somehow. 
Now she is a teenager and there is still no hint she wants a party. She gets on well with her classmates at school but I sense a reserve about her. At weekends she likes to be with her father.
   "I see the others all week. I like to see my Dad at weekends."
I handed over the biscuit decorating materials yesterday. She seemed pleased but I know she will, again, be thinking of what it might have been like if her mother was still there.

Friday 20 September 2019

"What are you making?"

I was waiting for a meeting to start yesterday when a restless small boy stopped and looked at me. 
    "It's a wigwam for a goose's bridle," I told him.
He looked at me and then said,
    "You're being silly!"
    "Yes, I am. Do you want to have a look?"
He hesitated and then nodded. I showed him what I was knitting. 
    "It is only part of something else, "  I told him, "I'm making it so that other people can find out how to do it."
    "Can I do it?"
    "You can try a stitch if you want to."
We went through that complicated procedure with no more than four stitches lost. 
    "R...! Stop bothering the lady and come  here! I told you to stand still and wait for me."
His mother  had finally ceased staring out the window and  having a conversation on her phone. 
He gave me a long suffering look and said,
     "It is better fun helping you. I hate it when she talks all the time."
I can only sympathise.
Mobile phones are marvellous for emergencies. They are a curse for small children who would prefer their parents paid attention. I didn't mind showing him what I was doing. It showed a healthy curiosity in a relatively safe environment. In all possibility he had never seen anyone knitting before. 
I also wonder when his mother last paid him any real attention because, having finished one phone call, she began another. He was expected to simply stand there and wait. 
     "Sorry to keep you waiting Cat,"someone said, "And it's my fault. I didn't put my keys away and the dog took them off. He likes playing with them."
I couldn't help glancing over at little R.... now jigging up and down with impatience.
We went up in the lift to the meeting and I told my colleague what had happened.
     "I don't think I'm exaggerating but every time I have seen her she is on the phone," he said, "That poor kid spends half his life waiting for her to get off the phone - and if she isn't talking to someone else she doesn't listen to him any way."
I didn't say any more because we were at the meeting room and other people were coming in. I did think of my knitting and the need to sort out the mess made by R.... 
It was worth the mess though. An adult had paid him attention for a couple of minutes.
The conversations his mother was having were not urgent or important. I could hear what she was saying. She was arranging to have "time out" away from her children. She was  arranging for her parents to do the  necessary babysitting.
I am wondering how long it will take for R... to lose his natural curiosity and gain a greater resentment of the lack of interest his parent shows.  
The meeting concerned two children who are struggling to communicate for physical reasons. Thankfully their parents are doing their best to help and progress is being made. 
    "N.... is making real progress," someone else told his mother.
    "I hope so. I talk to him a lot."
Her phone rang towards the end of the meeting. She glanced at it and said, "They can wait."

Thursday 19 September 2019

I am worried about the Senior Cat

and there is nothing I can do to help.
In the past few weeks, ever since we had the break-in, he has seemed increasingly frail. He is less steady on his feet and he seems more depressed.
Today he has to go to the dentist. This is a major undertaking involving an "access cab" and a wheelchair. Middle Cat is handling that and I am genuinely grateful she does handle most of his medical issues. It is one less thing I have to do. It isn't that I mind doing things for him. I don't. I'd do anything he asked - simply because I know he will never ask the unreasonable of me.
What bothers me is that he is not really happy any more. He tries to hide it but I know he hates being so dependent on other people - dependent on them for the things he once found easy. He wants to do things and he can't. He is worried about falling (and I worry about him falling) but he still tries to do things he shouldn't do . He hates asking me to do something, indeed anything. 
A friend came to lunch recently. She had not seen him for almost six weeks and she agreed that he had deteriorated in that time.
Yesterday, wanting some paper to write something down, he found an old notebook. I saw him staring at it.
    "Is this your mother's writing?" he asked.
I told him no - and it wasn't. It was the writing of someone of her generation but I pointed out the "Ms" and "Vs" were not the same. The notes in it might well have referred to my mother and her last illness. He was quiet though and clearly upset. As he was finishing his light evening meal he said to me,
   "I often feel guilty that I wasn't there when she went."
He meant my mother of course. I pointed out as gently as I could that he had been there until the hospital sent him home and told him to get some sleep. Middle Cat and I had taken turns to be with her. Her brother had been there most of the afternoon. My godmother, a former nurse, had been in and actually relieved the staff at one point. The hospital staff had been marvellous. And, although I didn't say it, I knew my mother would not have wanted him to be there. Still, he feels guilty even after almost nineteen years. Yes, I understand that - and I can't do a damn thing about it.
Right now he is looking forward to late November. My brother will be bringing the family over from afar. We have arranged for the Black Cat to be here for two nights as well. She hasn't seen him for six  years. He needs to see her. 
It will be good for him even if I can't turn the clock back.

Wednesday 18 September 2019

"I won't be renewing my membership"

the speaker told me.
The annual subscription for a group I belong to is due at the beginning of next month. I will renew my membership because I have given an  undertaking to do so to someone who needs a lot of support right now. 
It isn't the best of reasons for doing so. I know that once I would have been thinking, "It feels as if I have only just paid this. Where has the year gone?" What is more I would have been willing to pay and perhaps pay even more because I enjoyed being part of the group.
    "There are so many petty rules now. People aren't mixing the way they used to mix.  I don't know why you bother to do anything to help."
I agree that there are a lot of petty rules. Once things just happened. People knew what was expected of them. There were no lists of how things had to be done. No, things were not perfect but they happened. People mixed.  
Over the last few years people have left the group and not returned. Others are coming much less regularly than they once did. Yes, some of them are getting older but there is much more to it than that. New people come. A few stay but others have not returned. There are many reasons for such things.
Lines of communication have become tightly controlled. I agree that personal information and contact details should not be freely given out. That is sensible but it becomes impossible to do some things if everything is rigidly controlled.  What happens is that less  rather than more gets done - and fewer people are doing things.
I didn't say anything to the person who was talking to me. While I don't dislike her  I don't like her enough that I would choose to have a cup of tea with her either. What is more I wasn't going to gossip about the leadership either - and I know she was itching to do that.
I didn't tell her that I have told the leadership I won't be helping unless the situation changes. I need to be able to communicate with people in order to work with them.
The person speaking to me walked off to do whatever important things she had to do.  I went into the pharmacy for the Senior Cat and, waiting for the assistant to get his prescription I thought about all this and wondered why we allow ourselves to get into these situations. Why do we allow people to take control of our lives when it is not essential? Why do we allow rules to take over? Why do we let some people have power it would be better they did not have? Do we really like to be told what to do? 
Am I still just a rebellious teenager at heart? 

Tuesday 17 September 2019

Rolling pins have not

usually rolled into my life -  until now.
I don't do a lot of "baking". The Senior Cat and I are not fond of cake. I rarely make biscuits apart from those I make for Christmas and Easter or scones.
I  belong to a group where "significant" birthdays are celebrated with cake for everyone...well, everyone except me. The cakes they get do look nice I suppose. They are mostly decorated sponge cakes with lots and lots of cream.  The cakes are, I believe, very sweet. I don't know. I have never tried them. (And no, I haven't told them when my birthday is because I don't like birthdays much. Having to eat cake I don't like would make matters worse.) I have not eaten cake since we finished the Christmas cake made by our friend P...
But we do have a rolling pin in this house. In fact we now have more than one. 
The first rolling pin is made of Huon pine. It was made for my mother but got very little use. It is a lovely rolling pin of  incredible smoothness. It is just the right size and weight for my paws. I have used it to make biscuits and, once or twice, for pastry. 
And then there are the other rolling pins, the rolling pins which arrived recently.
I did some work for someone in a far off place - Lithuania to be exact.  She  runs a small school for profoundly disabled children and we spent some months emailing backwards and forwards. Her English is reasonable but far from perfect. Helping her to provide basic communication for some of her students was a challenge as that had to be provided in Lithuanian and English and I had not met or assessed the children. But, we have worked on it and now she is getting some help from someone much more local.
The other day though there was a parcel in the post  - from Lithuania. Inside there were four rolling pins. Four? 
Oh yes, these were something special. They were not your usual smooth rolling pin. They were "embossing" rolling pins. You roll the dough out in the usual way with your usual rolling pin and then, ever so carefully, you roll the embossing pin over the top. As if by magic a pattern appears in the dough. You can then cut the shapes out and bake them. 
Wow! Suddenly I want to bake biscuits. 
It so happens my correspondent's husband makes them to bring in a little extra money. They come in all sorts of patterns. They knew me well enough to send me one that has sheep, another that has alpacas. They are perfect for the knitter in me.
And that is how I came to go hunting for a rolling pin that had moose for my friend. 
Yesterday I ordered two more for other  people. They will make perfect presents for people I know who have "significant" events coming up in their lives - and who like to bake.
I may even eat a biscuit or two as a result. 

Monday 16 September 2019

The last real journalist

on our state newspaper is about to retire. He is seventy-five. For some time now he has simply been writing a regular weekly column rather than reporting news.
I didn't always agree with him. He didn't always agree with me. That's the way it should be for a newspaper person I suppose. 
However there was one thing about him I consistently liked. It was his ability to write good English.
He should have had that ability. He was trained, like many of the journalists of his day, by my old English teacher - the last one I had.
Mrs S.... taught English, shorthand and typing. She was part-time at school and part-time at a "business college" which taught office skills and English.
I did neither shorthand nor typing. I did do English. Mrs S.... taught the set texts to everyone and she taught me much more. 
It was the year I was at "boarding school" and I hated it. I was, yet again, "the new girl" and there were some major problems...not the least of which was that the boarding house for the girls was a considerable distance from the main school - about a half hour walk for me. The boarders had to go back to the boarding house for lunch. As that would have taken up the entire lunch break and then some more I was given a sandwich and, occasionally, a piece of fruit. The other girls had a hot lunch. The sandwich was always made from stale white bread - usually with a filling of cold baked beans.  I was popular with the boy boarders. They took it in turns to eat it.  
Aware of what was going on Mrs S... tried to get permission for me to eat in the dining room with the boys at lunch time. Permission was denied. There was not much to be done about that but she had her own kettle and, when she was there, she would make me a cup of tea and talk to me about the books she thought I should be reading.
I read and read....and then read some more. While the others struggled through one set text for each area of the English curriculum she made me read all of them. 
     "At the end of the year you will be able to answer any question which is set," she told me. 
She set me extra assignments - and pulled them to pieces ruthlessly.

And Mrs S.... taught the journalists. Rupert Murdoch may come in for a lot of criticism but, back then, he still had an office in the city. He knew his journalists. He expected them to be literate. They were sent to be trained by Mrs S... - trained in shorthand, typing, grammar and general English literacy. 
It showed. Over the years I could pick out the journalists who had been trained by her.  Some of them moved on. R.... moved around. He was sent off to the nation's capital for a bit. He was sent overseas on occasion. In later years he mentored younger journalists. On his semi-retirement he wrote less but still well.
And through it all I could see the influence of Mrs S...  I know she would have pulled him up from time to time but generally she would have approved his style although I doubt she would always have approved what he had to say.
In recent years the style  has changed. It often seems clumsy. Grammatical errors abound. Spelling errors (rather than typographical errors) have crept in. The journalism seems hurried and, all too often, sloppy.  R.... stood out. 
I'll miss his regular column. He mentions he may write the occasional piece.
I look forward to that...and I thank Mrs S.... for teaching both of us. 

Sunday 15 September 2019

I thought the "untidy shop"

would be busy. It wasn't.
There is a "sale" on at present and I tend to avoid such places when there is any sort of so-called sale on. But, I needed something. I went.
The "untidy shop" - as we call it - is a huge place. I have written about it before. You need to prowl through manchester and cookware and, just now, Halloween nonsense to get to things like buttons and thread and elastic.
There was a woman standing where I needed to be. She was frowning over the cards of buttons. 
    "Wouldn't you think I could find something which matched?" she asked me, "All these buttons and nothing matches!" 
I could see her point. You ought to be able to buy shirt buttons which match. Is pale blue such an odd colour for a man's shirt?
Perhaps it is. When I was a kitten men's shirts "for best" came in only one colour - white. They only had one sort of button - white. My paternal grandfather still wore shirts with detachable collars. The Senior Cat's best Sunday shirt had a detachable collar - because his mother thought that was "proper". His weekday school teacher shirts were all white. They were white cotton. They had to be ironed.
Grandma taught me how to iron a shirt as well as starch the detachable collar around a pudding basin. She was appalled by the "nylon" shirts my maternal grandmother bought for my maternal grandfather.  I don't blame her. They were horrible things. They might not have needed ironing but they were hot. They didn't breathe at all. They went from "white" to "yellowish" fairly quickly. The collars didn't sit properly. 
The Senior Cat was given one of these by my maternal grandmother. I can remember her telling my mother that it would "save work".  It didn't. The Senior Cat wore it once and, not a fussy dresser in the least, declared "never again". My mother actually agreed. Fortunately we had moved far enough away that my maternal grandmother never found out about the shirt not being worn.
My paternal grandmother washed my grandfather's shirts by hand. She scrubbed the collars and the cuffs to a gleaming white. They shone silkily with starch. They were made of pure cotton and lasted for years. The idea of "drip-dry" and "non-iron" were things she would not entertain. 
And so I had to learn how to deal with those things too. I am glad I did. 
But where would it get me now if I was looking for the right sort of pale blue button for the Senior Cat's shirt?  I made a suggestion to the woman who was standing there,
     "Try the local opportunity shop perhaps? Our local one seems to have a decent selection of shirt buttons."
She smiled at me in relief.
      "I should have thought of that."
I hope she finds what she wants there.

Saturday 14 September 2019

The fish and chip shop

near us must be used by some people on a regular basis.
I had cause to go in there yesterday. The Senior Cat had a podiatry appointment and Middle Cat had taken him off. They were going to have "lunch out" afterwards. 
That meant I was free to help when an elderly friend phoned me and said, "Cat,you aren't by any chance going to do some shopping?"
I can lie beautifully about that sort of thing if I think someone needs help. I told him,
    "Actually you just caught me. I was about to leave. What do you want?"
It turned out he had, unbeknown to me, his neighbours, or his children spent the previous night in hospital having gashed his leg rather badly. He had not done his usual shopping trip the day before. There was no milk in the house. He wanted a cup of tea...and he wanted some lunch.
    "Can you get me a pie or something?"
I happen to know that he is a "once a week at the fish and chip shop" customer so I said,
    "What about fish and chips? It's your day for it isn't it?"
Would I really? Of course I would. I went into the fish and chip shop and gave them his order, then to the nearby chemist and on to the supermarket which is a little further away. 
Back in the fish and chip shop the girl behind the counter said to me,
      "You said this was for .....?"
I told her what had happened. Her boss, working a little further away told her, "Throw in a salad for him...and he occasionally likes to have an iced coffee with it - on the house."
Then he said to me, "Tell him we'll see him next week or, if he still can't make it, can drop it round to him."
I managed to get in a "thank you" before he looked at someone else who had just come in and asked, "The usual?" 
The other man just said, "Yeah, ta."
I took the food around to my elderly friend. While he was making a quick phone call of thanks I made him a large pot of tea and then left him to it. His son was coming in on his way home from work and he said he'd be fine. 
It's an ordinary suburban fish and chip shop but it is also extra-ordinary. It is the cleanest fish and chip I know, light and bright. The prices are reasonable. The food is good. I know Middle Cat uses it. Her husband knows about fish and chip shops. His father ran one for years and the children were expected to help. He approves of the place. They know the owner.
And the people who work there know their regular customers. They make the extra effort for them. Is it any wonder it was getting busy when I left?

Friday 13 September 2019

Remember those giant knitting needles?

Yes, the knitting needles we had at the Show which belong to one of the Convenors in the Handicrafts area?
A... is a friend as well and we were chatting about them and I said,
    "I'd like the Senior Cat to make me a pair but I am not sure he could now. I might ask my brother. They'd be good to have on display, for people to try at other crafty events."
And I asked A... to ask her husband to get the dowelling from which they are made. I need to explain here that their family business is timber of all sorts. They have one of those magical warehouses filled with magnificent timber. (I love timber almost as much as I love wool and other yarns - almost, not quite.) 
I also made it very plain that I was going to pay for it. I knew it would not be hugely expensive but it is  important to pay for such things.
Yes, she could do it. She would even deliver it. (I was planning on getting Middle Cat to pick it up when she was out and about.) 
    "I just want two short bits - enough to make a pair," I told her.
Yesterday A... turned up with three long pieces - and wouldn't let me pay for them. Wail! I was more than happy to pay for them! The Senior Cat eyed them off. We agreed he couldn't possibly do the job himself but my brother will be able to do it when he arrives in November...if I do the necessary preparation. I'll source some ends for the dowels and get Middle Cat to make the pattern for the copy lathe. 
And late yesterday, after I had helped someone with information to write the eulogy for P...'s funeral on Saturday, I did something happy instead. I went on line and found something I know A... will love to have. I have ordered it. When I return her knitting needle I can give that to her as a "thank you".
It's important to thank people and I really do feel grateful and privileged to have friends who do things like that so I want to thank them too.

Thursday 12 September 2019

I want to say something about mental illness

and that is this - "IT IS NOT CATCHING".
You cannot catch severe depression or any other sort of mental illness. There isn't any sort of fancy vaccine for it either.  If there was a vaccine then the world might be a much happier place. 
I have been thinking a lot about this recently because a friend of mine has been having another depressive episode.
Her husband has been amazing. He has supported her through these episodes not once but many times. He has kept me up to date too. I really appreciate that.
In return I have tried to be there for her. Instead of phoning and trying to talk to her when she was in hospital I wrote her letters. That way I thought she could read them when she was ready - and reread them if she wanted to do so. I tried to keep the letters positive without saying "you poor dear". She didn't need that. 
On her release from hospital she phoned me and we had a chat. We both tried to keep to the positive. I know it was an effort for her and, when I stopped talking to her,  the Senior Cat was looking at me and I had to admit "I feel a bit flat". Yes, talking to her like that was something that I felt required caution. I didn't want to say the "wrong" thing. It was a "keep things positive and encouraging" sort of conversation because she is still fragile although doing her best to be positive and look forward. 
And then she phoned me again two days ago but I didn't feel ready to write about it until now. I was intending to phone her yesterday but she got in first and I feel bad about that. I should have done something sooner.
I knew she would want to know something. She belongs to the same group I belong to and she would want to know what had happened at the meeting I had just attended. I had thought that other people who have known her even longer than I have might have contacted her and told her what had happened. Nobody has been in touch. She was on the committee and, for years, held a position of great importance. She is the person who always put her hand up and out to help.
Oh yes, we got a card and people signed it but just two of us instigated that. Nobody else had been in touch. 
There's something seriously wrong with this. No, she doesn't want a lot of phone calls. She couldn't handle that but surely one person who holds some position of authority could have made the effort to contact her and say, "We thought you'd like to know...."?
Perhaps I am expecting too much and yes, I should have done it myself - done it sooner so that I was the one contacting her. I
I want her to feel we are supporting her - so that it will be easier for her to come back into the group. 
Why didn't anyone else do it? Do they really think mental illness is catching - even down the phone line? Are they just feeling embarrassed and awkward? Perhaps they really feel they can't handle the situation and don't know what to say.
I don't know. What I do know is that we need to be there for her.

Wednesday 11 September 2019

"He got a prize?!!"

The look of disbelief on the woman's face was wonderful. 
We were passing back the Show's competition items yesterday. This particular woman had come in to pick up the "Special Needs" classes - for the intellectually disabled and the vision impaired. There had been a very big box of items from an organisation for the intellectually disabled - she runs an art group there. Most of the work was the sort of thing I have grown to expect - artistic in a childish and often garish sort of way. It often isn't well executed but you can almost feel the pleasure people had in creating it.
And there were a couple of pieces of "weaving" in among it. One piece had gone into the special needs category and the other had gone into the Open category. I had talked to the judge after she had finished. She was hanging the piece  in the display cabinet.
    "I don't know. There's something about this I like. The technique isn't wonderful and the materials aren't that good but it has life to it. I gave it a third."
As the judging was finished and I knew where it had come from I told her. She stood still for a moment looking at it again and then nodded.
    "Yes, that's it."
The group from the institution was there during the Show. They went looking for their pieces. Prizes didn't mean much to them. They simply wanted to see their pieces displayed in the cabinets. 
    "We couldn't find his piece anywhere."
I showed her where it had been prominently displayed, along with all the other Open pieces. It was clear she was shocked.
    "He will be thrilled," she told those of us standing there.
I hope he is. I don't know him but there was a definitely some sunshine in that piece.
There were people who were upset that their work had not won something. There were people who wanted to argue. There were people who wanted to ask for feedback - given where we can. And as I packed up the last of the knitting and crochet toys I glanced again at the next cabinet where the handspinning and weaving had been displayed and I thought of the man I don't know and will almost certainly never meet. I imagined him working slowly and carefully to get it "right" in the way he sees the world.
And yes... there was something about that piece of work. It had that indefinable quality that made it "art" as well as craft.
    "I just put it in there because he had two pieces I thought were really good and I couldn't choose," she told me.

Tuesday 10 September 2019

There are some books which should not

be allowed to go out of print.
I was not merely disappointed but alarmed to discover that "Sun on the Stubble" is no longer in print. The title may not mean much to all of you in Upover and elsewhere but it is a Downunder classic worthy of keeping in print. It was a set text in schools for years and it gives an important insight into life in our Barossa Valley in the earlier part of last century.
The book is an episodic novel I suppose. A book of not quite short stories but short incidents in the life of one young Bruno Untermeyer Gunther - inevitably "Bugsie". He is in the last year of primary school, a year of growing up. It is a year of knowing that the following year he will have to leave home and go away to high school in the city.  His family is, like many actual residents of the Barossa, German in origin. 
That year Bruno helps to trap a possum in the kitchen, his father butchers a pig and none of it gets wasted, and he discovers the middle name of his teacher. It is all part of growing up and learning about himself in relation to the world around him.
And it is told in a quietly humorous fashion. 
The Senior Cat knew the author, Colin Thiele, well. (Yes,  he wrote "Storm Boy" as well.) They did their teacher training together and, for a while, followed similar paths. Colin knew me too and was one of the people who arranged for the poet Judith Wright to nurture me - and no, "mentor" is not the right word there. 
I went teaching and, one glorious day, I took my special reading group to meet him at the teacher training college of which he was then principal. What a morning that was! The children came from largely poor backgrounds with few books. Yes, they liked to read. They had read Sun on the Stubble, Storm Boy and other books. They knew some of his poetry. 
Colin, an incredibly busy man who was in constant pain because of arthritis, gave up a morning for those children. He supplied tea and biscuits and he answered every question they had - and, once they were over their initial shyness, they had a lot. 
And, yet again, at the showgrounds this last week one of my former students reminded me of that day - and was upset that she could not buy a copy to give to a child.
Some books should never be out print.

Monday 9 September 2019

"Prime real estate"

and therefore someone thinks it should  possibly be  built on?
Let me explain.
Our "Showgrounds", where the state's annual Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society" show is held are on a large tract of land just outside the square mile laid out by Colonel Light  for the Central Business District.  The train runs along the edge and, a little further away, there is a tram and there are buses.
Oooh yes! Let's build houses on it. People would love to live so close to the CBD! We can move the Show somewhere else.
It would be the worst possible thing they could do for a number of reasons. 
The cost of finding another venue and then building similar facilities on it would be prohibitive. Even if they did it wouldn't work.
The grounds are used throughout the year. This year "Show" was a little early - so as to accommodate another major event. I was there not long ago to work at another major event. It is used by schools and other education facilities. It attracts world class events. All that matters.
A great deal of what goes on there happens because people can volunteer at a readily accessible venue and because  the people who attend the events can get there.
There is a building on the grounds which was finished just a few years ago. It has been designed to be entirely self-sufficient for heating, lighting and water. It attracts visitors from all over the world to look at the design. There are solar panels on almost every available roof surface. Rain water is collected and used to keep the grounds clean and green. 
Millions of dollars have been invested in all this  - and yes,  they do expect a return on the investment eventually. It has also required thousands of hours of volunteer time by the RAHS Council - people who do not get paid (unless you count the free parking permit). 
Do we really give up a piece of "prime real estate" to property developers who would want to build the maximum possible number of residences for the maximum profit? The reality is that people go to events at the Showgrounds as much because of the location as their desire to attend the event. Country people come in because, for some, it is their only trip into the city. They combine a week in the city with not just attendance at the annual event but also shopping, visits to specialists and other things they could not otherwise readily do.
It will be interesting to see what sort of outcry there is in tomorrow's paper over the suggestion made in today's  paper. I suspect that the writer was stirring the pot a little. It would however not be a good thing to give some people the wrong idea.

Sunday 8 September 2019

There was silence in the meeting

yesterday. I was at an AGM and things were not going quite the way some people expected. 
There was no voting. The positions were simply filled by single candidates. Nobody spoke up even though it was clear that some people were not happy about the results.
I had said my piece earlier, in a letter to the previous committee. I had simply said I was no longer available to help and outlined my reasons why. That my letter had been read was obvious. I didn't need to say any more.
But other people? If they weren't happy then they should have spoken up.  They should have offered to take on positions. I know one person thought seriously about doing one set of duties even though her physical capacity to do it is seriously limited. Nobody else seemed willing.
Had the situation been different I would have offered to take on a role. I informed the previous position holder of this but I knew she really wanted to keep the position and, as I could not be there at the relevant time, there was no choice.
So we have a small group of people who have effectively shifted positions around or taken on additional duties.
It can happen in all organisations. I was hoping  that some of the newer members would be willing to do more to help. Unfortunately some of them were reluctant  because of the increasing number of rules that seem to be made to govern every aspect of the group. Why should they be necessary? I know of no other group that has so many rules - and rules which are so stringently applied. 
Of course we need rules - but we also need commonsense.

Saturday 7 September 2019

"Have you got something he can touch?"

asks the man standing next to another who is using a walker. 
    "Of course," I say and hold out one of the small patches I have been knitting.
Hands touch the patch and then hands move between the two men.
    "Can you tell him I am making a top?" I ask
Hands move again.
    " And I am making pieces for a quilt," A.... says. Yet again, hands move after he has touched it gently.
And then I say, "May I....?"
I hold out my hand with the thumb slightly lowered and then up in that widely known gesture for "good". I am asking it as a question this time.
Hands move. I can understand just enough to understand that this man is being told "the lady has a question she wants to ask you and she can do it herself".
He reaches out and I repeat the movement so he can feel it. He smiles and his own thumb goes up on one hand as, with the other, he tightly grasps my mine in thanks.
I know almost nothing about communicating with someone who is both deaf and blind.  I wish I knew more, that I could have told this man that I was more than happy to let him touch. 
There were other people at the show yesterday. I failed to recognise a newsreader on a commercial television station who wanted to know about a small pullover. I did recognise a newspaper columnist and he gave me a despairing look as he trailed around after his wife and grandchildren. "No letters about this one Cat!"
No, I won't.
We had school children coming through. One group was an English language group. That particular group was composed of children whose parents will only be here for two or three years before moving on. They were fascinated by the giant knitting needles and several of them tried. It was interesting to see that the Swiss girl, the Korean girl and the Japanese girl all knew how to knit.  The Swiss girl told me carefully, "At school at home we all learn."
We sold raffle tickets for the Cancer Council quilt raffle. I  talked to people about the display of Victorian era items in the central cabinet.  I answered other questions.
Middle Cat and P.... arrived with the Senior Cat. He had a wonderful day - although he was exhausted by the end of it. We both hit the sleeping mats very early last night.
But the thing that has stayed with me is the smile on the face of the deaf-blind man as he did, however briefly, communicate with someone he didn't know at all. That made my day. I hope it made his too. 

Friday 6 September 2019

Going to hospital

is apparently at least, if not more, stressful than moving to a different country. It is apparently far more stressful than buying a house or changing your job.
 There was research reported in the paper recently talking about this

I am occasionally asked to help people with severe communication disabilities in medical situations. I don't have permission of any particular person to talk about a specific situation but imagine being rushed to hospital and not being able to talk to anyone. Imagine there not being anyone who spoke your language. Or, and this is surely worse in some ways, understanding the language but not having the physical capacity to respond.

I was conscious of the need to be able to communicate and the inability to do so at around age 14. I belonged to the Girl Guides and I went off to a camp for physically disabled children. It was a ten day camp, under canvas. There were some very severely disabled children there, including several who had no way of communicating using speech and several more with very severe speech defects.  Something like that would probably not be allowed to happen now but people were prepared to take risks back then and it is something that some of those children, now adults, still talk about. We Guides had the responsibility for one child each but we took an interest in other children as well. It was essential if we were to give them the help they needed.
And somehow I found myself talking to children who could not talk and finding out how, at very least, they indicated "yes" and "no". I am not sure how or why but I found people coming to me and saying, "We can't work out what's wrong with X... can you come and see if you can."
It was an enormous challenge for a fourteen year old who was, quite suddenly, discovering and enormous amount about herself as well. I didn't say anything about it at home. My mother had been strongly opposed to me even going to the camp. It was the Senior Cat who had said, "Of course she's going to go. It will be a learning experience." Learning experience? It was like climbing K9 up the hardest possible route. 
The hardest face I climbed on the mountain was that of learning to ask questions for which just "yes" or "no" could be the answer. I don't know how well I did - perhaps just a little better than most of the other Guides but that is all. I learned how extremely frustrating it is if you can't get across the simplest request, if you can't tell someone you don't want the blue t-shirt because there are prickles in it from rolling in the grass. (Yes, that happened - I worked it out eventually but it took more questions than it should.) It must be terrifying not to be able to tell people not just what you want to tell them but what you need to tell them.
I went to camp for some years. I managed to learn more each year. Sometimes I would be woken in the  middle of the night to go and try and sort a problem out. I acquired the capacity to finger spell the alphabet and to use some signs (and used them later in another setting). 
And I went on to work with children who had profound communication disabilities. Some of them are now adults. They still need help. One of them was in hospital recently and I went in to see her. She has a new communication device but there were problems with it. She was feeling lonely and frightened. Her sister had asked if I could take in an "old" communication board - literally a board with words and symbols that she is, fortunately, able to point to. I told one of the busy staff what I had done. I was worried, as always, that they would say they had no time to use it.
This time though the reaction was different.
    "That might save us time."
Yes, it did.
   Would I also ask the staff not to give her the "orange juice"? She had to drink a lot but that reminded her of school! Plain water was just fine.  They were happy with that.
Most importantly of all she could mourn the death of our mutual friend and tell me that she was. She went home this afternoon. Her sister left me a message saying she is much happier. 
Hospital is stressful for everyone but add a lack of ability to communicate easily and it is like moving to a strange country where you don't know the customs and can't speak the language...and that is simply terrifying.

Thursday 5 September 2019

I give you Walter Bagehot

a British journalist (1826 - 1877).  Bagehot is the man who famously laid out the "rights" of the monarchy. 
He said these were three
          (1) the right to be consulted
          (2) the right to encourage (advise)
and    (3) the right to warn.
There is an article in this morning's newspaper which attributes none of those rights to a monarch. It is, naturally enough, written by a republican who claims that the monarchy wields no power and the UK, along with the rest of us, should simply be rid of it.
My response is that those three rights, if they exist, actually give the monarchy considerable power.
Let me explain. The late Leslie Zines, my Constitutional Law lecturer, was no lover of the monarchy but he did respect it. He also respected the present monarch and told me, more than once, that she is an astute constitutional lawyer. Over many years she has acquired, and been required to use, a great deal of constitutional law.
And yes, at present, it would seem that the UK is in a state of constitutional crisis. Their PM had the right to advise the Queen that parliament should be prorogued but it can be argued that he has done it for "political gain" - i.e. to stop the debate about Brexit. It is also being said he has done it simply because, after three years of getting nowhere (or almost nowhere), he wants to force MPs to make a decision - deal or no deal. If they don't want to do that then he has said they must go back to the people. Both those things have failed and MPs are asking for yet another extension of time. 
My response has been, what would happen if the EU says something like,  "No more time. You are out"? 
Johnson is correct when he says that the actions of the UK parliament have irrevocably weakened their bargaining position. It would have been better to go along with his wishes and see what could be done and then, if necessary, try negotiating for an extension later rather than sooner.
There seem to be mixed feelings about Brexit on both sides of the House and that isn't helping matters either.  Johnson has, in the words of TS Eliot given in to
         "the last temptation  (which) 
          is the greatest treason
          to do the right deed
          for the wrong reason".
That is yes, he should have prorogued parliament but done so with the words, "I am giving you all time to talk about this away from the house, to cool down, to know we have to make a decision. I want you back here on this date ready to tell me what you and your constituents want. Now get out there and do it." It wouldn't have been easy but it would have been better than the current mess. As it is his actions look like an act of avoidance. 
In all of that the Queen has no apparent power but a huge responsibility. We will never know her true feelings about what is going on but a lot is being asked of her. The monarchy does have a role to play in all this - and it is not an easy one.
(My own view? Brexit should never have been the subject of a referendum in the first place.)

Wednesday 4 September 2019

There was a giant size pair of knitting needles

on the table yesterday - in Handicrafts. 
Yes, I was back at the showgrounds and on duty as a steward again.
S..., our visiting Canadian judge, had left them there. They were a gift to A..., one of the convenors. 
S...had started a scarf using "only nine strands this time" of yarn. She simply put nine different yarns together and began knitting with the giant needles. 
And people were fascinated. Long after she had left to catch her plane people were coming along and looking... and trying.
Yes, you might think it is easy to knit with those big needles. It isn't. It isn't as fast as you might think either. Yes. There were smiles and laughter and comments like, "How do you hold these things?" (The answer to that is to hold one firmly under your arm.)
People looked at how the disparate colours came together and discovered that you do need to slip the first stitch on the row or it disintegrates into a mess. 
I had to undo it several times so that the mess made by the failure to slip the first stitch could be undone. I had to undo it so that the loose threads, left by people who found holding all the strands too much of a challenge. A... sorted out the untidiness more than once too. 
     "You can't!" someone told me. I showed him the two scarves left by S.... He shook his head and waited for his partner to finish a nine stitch row.
There was the Chinese woman. She spoke no English. Her husband only had a word or two. I offered the needles with a gesture. Her husband gave me a thumbs up. The woman picked the needles up and knitted a perfect row. Her movements were elegant, like those of a dancer. When she had finished she passed the knitting back to me with a slight bow. I gave her a thumbs up. She smiled and did the same.
We will pull the "knitting" apart at the end of the show because it  just happens to be my yarn. I was intending to use it for another purpose and I will need some of the strands in it for that purpose.
But, I can keep the memory of  the way people tried, of how they were fascinated by something so simple and yet so challenging.

Tuesday 3 September 2019

Brexit is not my business

and I should not be commenting but I am concerned for my friends.
I don't think there is anyone I know who voted for Brexit to occur.
At the same time it does not surprise me that people did vote for it. It wasn't just all the slick advertising by some telling people how much better off they would be out of the EU - it was something more than that. 
I think there was always a feeling by some that the UK was never really welcome in the EU. When the UK didn't join the Euro currency that just heightened the feeling. There were always going to be issues with trying to restrict the number of people wanting to enter the UK. It was (and still is) seen as a desirable location by so many people.  
Of course the UK is geographically tiny. There are limits to the number of people it can physically contain and the actions it can take. What applies in a geographically much larger country like France or Germany will not always be able to be applied to the UK. But "the rules are the rules" Brussels kept saying. 
As I understand it the UK was putting more money into the EU than they were getting out of it...again, hardly surprising.  People were asking, "What are we really getting out of this?" The people doing the questioning were not the scientists, the academics, the financiers and the economists, the teachers and the nurses, and the people who keep the country running. They know what they are going to lose. The Brexiteers were the other people who simply didn't understand what Europe and belonging to Europe meant.
For that, Europe has to take some blame. Brussels has to take some blame. The fault, like most divorces, is not just on one side. It is on both sides. The EU is hedged around with a vast number of rules and regulations and the rules and regulations seem to keep growing. While they may not state how far a banana can bend some of them seem unnecessarily petty but they have been made at the demand of member states who, while they want the union, still want to retain certain rights over issues like the naming of cheese and wine. And not all EU countries are equal. Malta has a tiny population compared with Germany. Luxembourg is not much bigger, only saved perhaps by close proximity to important European neighbours. Greece is still in dire financial straits and Italy isn't far behind. Former Communist countries are still struggling with democracy and their finances. Some countries have joined the common currency and others haven't. Countries which will be a financial drain want to join the union. Others are threatening to leave. The Irish, understandably, don't want a customs border between the north and the republic. (Turn the north into a special customs region?)
And, for all the pronouncements of the likes of Donald Tusk and others, it is not all sweetness and light among those who are so fiercely defending the EU. There are problems. Perhaps if they had been addressed then Britain would want to stay.
Perhaps too we need to ask why the savvy Swiss have not joined the EU?

Monday 2 September 2019

Breaking the law

and then expecting to be treated differently when you have to face the consequences is apparently "right" for some people.
And then there are different ways of breaking the law and expecting to be treated differently.
I have been thinking a lot about this recently. Middle Cat and I do not agree over the issue of a family who are fighting deportation. It is an issue which has been much in the news recently. The family have garnered a lot of support in the community and in the media. The parents came out here - separately - by boat. They met and married here and they now have two small children who were born here. They have been fighting deportation for some time. Last week they were put on a plane. At the last minute there was a court injunction preventing the youngest child from being removed. She is being used  in an attempt to have the entire family stay. 
The family is now back in detention on an off-shore processing facility. Their claims to refugee status have been extensively examined by the various authorities - and found to be wanting. 
"Let them stay" and "Free the refugees" has been the cry. The Minister is under pressure and the Prime Minister is under pressure. The media, sensing a story, is putting the pressure on. Refugee advocates obviously feel they have found the perfect family for their cause.
I don't doubt that the people in the small rural community they were living in are genuine in their desire to have  them stay. Small rural communities can be very caring about those they see as their own.
But...and yes there is a but... the parents broke the law in coming here. They are alleged to have broken the law in the country they once called home. That is why they left. They were never given more than temporary protection visas while their cases were examined. 
And their cases have been found wanting, unsubstantiated. It isn't simply a matter of  "the situation is better there now".  Living there may not be as good as living here but, unlike asylum seekers from the same region, they are not refugees fleeing from persecution  or in fear of their lives. Other asylum seekers have been granted the right to live here - but they haven't.
I don't know what the outcome will be. I don't envy those involved. There was a similar case some years ago. The family was returned. For a little while there was news of them but sources inform me that they have now simply resumed their old way of live. Indeed, they are doing rather well as the father is now notorious. His business is thriving as a result. 
I actually sympathise with the family. Of course they would like to stay. In many ways I would like to see them stay. They are the sort of  people small rural communities need - people willing to work and extra children to save small rural schools from closure.
But allowing them to stay raises questions about allowing others to stay. It raises issues about the entire process of deciding who can stay and who must go. If we can't accept the umpires' decision - and in this case the umpires are those administering the law of the land - then we are going to face many more problems. There are too many stories of how the system is being abused, often out of  the misplaced belief that  simply claiming to be a refugee is sufficient to give someone the right to stay. The laws are there for a good reason. They have been put in place after a lot of debate and, generally speaking, with bipartisan support. 
There are so many refugees who have nowhere to go. I have heard of too many in the course of my work. It's a difficult issue all round.
All I can say is that if the family is sent to the home country of the parents then there will have been an extensive review. We need to accept that - even if we don't like the decision.

Sunday 1 September 2019

There were crowds of people

at the showgrounds yesterday.
I don't much like crowds. We cats tend to get our paws trodden on or, in my case, I simply get in the way because I don't move fast enough. 
But, "the Show" is still interesting.  I will be there two days this week as I am on duty in the Handicrafts area. Yesterday was different. I was there at a "thank you" morning tea. 
It was held in a room on the upper floor of the newest building. We could look down on part of the crowd. The Senior Cat would love this experience. He loves "people watching". 
I always feel a little "weak around the knees" if I am up any distance so I didn't do too much looking but I could tell it was busy. People were going backwards and forwards of course but there were many others who were simply standing and looking at things while talking to stall holders and other show goers. The noise was nicely muted from on high too. There were no problems hearing the guest speaker.
I had already met her and she gave me a cheeky smile as she went to stand in front of the guests. I had just given her a large bag of wool to play with for the last part of her stay. The giant knitting needles she brought with her will make short work of that.
When it was over we prowled down to the ground floor level again and I went past the cookery noting that a young friend has won three prizes. That's good. She has many problems but she gets out and does things.  
Back in Handicrafts we sorted out a problem - that proved not to be a problem at all. It was simply a matter of a label not being displayed properly. I am sure the Show Gremlins have fun after we all go home!
I wasn't staying too long yesterday. The Senior Cat needed lunch and I had not arranged for Middle Cat to check on him. Still, it was time enough to talk to a number of people who had questions and to explain some of the items in the special "Queen Victoria Challenge" cabinet.
All this was good practice for the two days I will be there this week.
     "Worth the effort of putting it altogether Cat? "someone asked me.  She had helped to do it too.
I watched a very elderly man move slowly off. He had been looking closely at the woodwork and then stopped at the Queen Victoria items.
      "I had something almost exactly like that as a child," he had just told me as he indicated a toy, "I'd forgotten about it until now. Thank you." 
Yes, worth the effort of putting it together,