Thursday 31 October 2019


hit the supermarket shelves more than a month ago. Yes, it is all about the marketing. 
Sweets, chocolates, masks, tricks and other treats have all been prominently displayed.
    "What am I going to do about it?" one mother of two young children asked me. They are school going age. Their friends are already over excited about potential "celebrations". We both agreed that the whole business of "trick and treating" is something that has come from North America for the purpose of making money and that it is potentially dangerous.
But, children hate to miss out. Their mother felt she had to do something.
   "What if I get the cauldron out?" I said. We have a bowl that they used once before as a cauldron for a school play. "You can bring them around here around about six - before everyone gets started."
   "And do what?"
   "Well, you can pick up the book you wanted and I'll put a note on the cauldron and some frogs in the cauldron. We can say something like "The Witch's cat has a really bad headache. She left you two frogs in the cauldron. Your mother says you can have them if you are very quiet."
    "Oh, good idea!"
I expect to see two small children coming in later today. The older of the two will be able to read the note to the younger one. It will be something to talk about at school tomorrow. They will know it is just a bit of fun. They won't have too much sugar to deal with but they will have a small, sweet treat. 
The approved frogs come in packets of fifteen. I'll put the other thirteen in a box "cauldron" on the fence and hope the "trick and treaters" ignore us.

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Hospital emergency departments

are for emergencies. How many times does that need to be said? The Senior Cat and I were both concerned about using the ambulance service on Saturday.
I knew there was no choice and that the ambulance service would say the same - which the two officers who came made very clear to the Senior Cat.
This morning however there is a letter in the state's newspaper claiming that the only reason for crowded emergency departments and the ramping of ambulances was that the federal government has made it impossible for people to go to the doctor. "It's too expensive," the writer said, "People can't get in. They can't afford to visit a GP."
I disagree. People take our health system for granted. They head off to their GP expecting antibiotics for a common cold - and to feel instantly better as a result.
Nobody wants to be ill. We would all like to feel instantly better but it doesn't work like that. People call ambulances for things which should be dealt with by a GP.  
Someone I know fell in his yard recently and drove a spike through his hand in the process. His wife is an eminently sensible woman. She knew it needed medical attention. She wrapped his hand firmly in a clean cloth and then a clean towel and took him to the Emergency Department. He was seen quickly but they were asked,
     "Why didn't you call an ambulance?"
Her response was that she had been able to deal with the situation and knew that, because serious bleeding was involved, he would be seen as soon as they could.  
     "You know while we were there someone came in off the street with a grazed knee and demanded immediate attention," she told me.
People go into emergency with a common cold and other minor ailments. They expect the staff to rush to their assistance. Some of them genuinely won't know whether it is urgent or not but others simply believe it is their right to walk in and demand attention "because our taxes pay for it".
There is no such right. Emergency departments are for emergencies and for those who by reason of age or infirmity are not able to deal with the situation themselves and who are or genuinely may be seriously ill. They are for the parents of the small child who is alarmingly silent after having fallen some distance and for the teenager who has clearly broken his leg on the football field and the man with severe chest pain. They aren't there for someone who has grazed his knee because, having failed to do up the laces on his trainers, he fell while racing across the road five metres from the pedestrian crossing.  
It is people like Mr Grazed Knee and those with the common cold who really clog up Emergency Departments - and the local GP clinic.

Tuesday 29 October 2019

I am wondering if it is time to suggest

a group should be closed.
I would regret doing it but it has become smaller and, much as it has been enjoyable, I think it may be coming to its useful end.
We have been meeting once a month in the local bookshop for a very long time now. I was first asked to get the group going by the previous owner. She set up other groups as well, reading groups, writing groups, discussion groups, an embroidery group and the knitting group.
People have come and gone. That is the nature of such groups. One friend came on a regular basis until she moved back to the US. Another has moved interstate. Two more have moved to other locations in the city. 
We have not seen one member for some months. I know she has not been well but there was no response to an earlier message inquiring how she was faring.
People have come once and decided it was not what they wanted or they simply got the help they needed and didn't feel the need to return. That's okay. It is part of what the group is about.
Yesterday another member of the group phoned me and said she won't be back for the moment. She is elderly and has medical issues which now prevent her from getting there. Another only comes if someone picks her up. 
Someone else, who does an amazing job of getting there at all, has meetings today. 
People who tell me they want to be there forget that it is the last Tuesday - not the fourth but the last. 
I'll see how many people are there today and next time - which will be the last time we meet in the year anyway  - and then discuss it with them if the numbers are still right down. It's not fair on the bookshop to have so few.
I'd be sorry to see it go because I know the few who come on a regular basis do enjoy it. It has been a group almost completely without friction. The only potential source of friction removed herself from the group some years ago and won't be back. 
It has served a purpose, just as the group at the library serves a purpose.  
You can carry things on for too long.

Monday 28 October 2019

A "culture of convenient belief"

is how my late friend R... described some of the indigenous issues which were raised in her lifetime. As an indigenous woman with the strongest possible indigenous heritage R....had some robust views about her indigenous brothers and sisters.
R... was alive when Ayer's Rock was returned to the Anangu people and became "Uluru". She was alive when they started agitating to stop people climbing it. She did not live to see climbing it halted. R... would have approved of that - but not because of any "spiritual significance". 
   "It's a bloody great lump of rock," she told me. She believed people should not climb it for environmental and safety reasons. She felt the same way about people climbing Mt Everest - or any other mountain. 
I thought of her and what she so clearly believed as the reports  surrounding the final days of climbing Uluru and the subsequent activities were aired on the media. She would not have approved the "traditional" celebrations by the local people.
    "Wait until the money runs out," she told me when we were discussing the fact that some people were agitating to close the climb.
Will visitor numbers drop at Uluru now that the rock is closed for climbing? I suspect they will. Whether they drop below the point where the financial benefit of allowing people to climb outweighs the other concerns is something that only future numbers will tell. 
I have never been to Uluru.I am never likely to go.I have no particular desire to go. R.... is right in the sense that it is a triangular lump of rock out in the desert. It's a geological oddity I suppose.
People climb such geological oddities - because they are there and because, when you reach the top, you can see such a long way. I am sure the local people were climbing it long before the Europeans descended on the area.
R.... would be right in saying that closing it for environmental and safety reasons made sense. Closing it for cultural reasons does not make sense.  I mean absolutely no disrespect when I say that. It simply doesn't make sense.  If you believe it is a sacred place it's like closing a church or a mosque or a temple or any other place of worship.
R... did not believe Uluru was a sacred place as such. There were, according to her, places around the base that had stories attached to them and they were important to some of the local people. Those places had some cultural significance.
But the rock itself? No.
    "It's a culture of convenience Cat," she told me more than once, "It's like that so called secret women's business. There wasn't any. I should know. It was a few women on the old band wagon. Got them plenty of publicity for a while. Made them feel powerful too but that doesn't say they are right."
Was R... right or wrong? She was certainly in a position to know and she was certainly held in the highest regard by indigenous people from all over the state. 
A couple of days ago someone asked whether closing Uluru to climbers would also cause the closure of other places - Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) or Purnululu (the Bungle-Bungle Range) perhaps? Those places are also claimed to have spiritual significance to the local people. Should they be closed to tourists? 
Surely the answer is that these places need to be treated with respect, with care for their environment, and with the safety of all (including the wildlife) in mind? If we simply try to prevent people from visiting then people will attempt to do so illegally - and do harm in the process.

Sunday 27 October 2019

The ambulance service

continues to astound me.
Yesterday morning there was a call from the Senior Cat's bedroom.
 I found him sitting on the floor.
    "I haven't hurt myself. Could you get one of the neighbours...."
    "No. Middle Cat said we must press your beeper." 
His "beeper" is the alarm which calls the ambulance service. The Senior Cat did not want to bother them. He was all right. All he needed was someone to help him stand up.
I helped one of the neigbours do it some weeks ago. It was not an easy task. The Senior Cat has had two knee replacements and two shoulder replacements. He cannot kneel and his shoulders cannot be pulled on. Middle Cat is absolutely right. I didn't want to try again. I didn't want to do it the previous time but I had just heard two ambulances leave the station about a kilometre from here and knew that it might be a long time before help came.
Yesterday morning though I pressed the button. About fifteen seconds later I was talking to someone.
    "I'm sorry to bother you," I told her, "But...." I explained the situation. "It's not urgent. He can sit there. He's lucid. I've done a neurological check and he says nothing hurts."
    "No bleeding?"
    "No, only his dignity."
I could hear her smile as she said, "We'll send someone over as soon as we can. Just get his medication together."
I knew why and I knew the Senior Cat was going to be even more embarrassed but I also knew why it needed to be done.
     "Right," I told him, "They'll be here as soon as they can and they'll take you in to check you out."
     "I don't need to go to hospital!"
     "Yes, you do," I told him. He grumbled. I got him a blanket to stay warm.
They came about forty minutes later, a man and a woman.  They agreed with me that there was likely nothing wrong but, because of the medication he is on, yes they would take him in.
     "You're 96," the male officer told him, "We don't take risks. There's no ramping at ......    You'll be home in a couple of hours."
I went with him. As it wasn't an emergency rush this time the female officer drove and I sat in the front and we talked about communicating with patients. 
We were at the hospital and into a bay almost immediately. It was fairly quiet. The Senior Cat kept apologising to everyone.
    "That's what we are here for."
The ambulance officers both looked in to check and say goodbye.
I wondered what the rest of their day would bring.
In the Emergency Department there was a real emergency while we were there. I was very glad that the Senior Cat's attention was distracted and that he couldn't hear what was going on. I could hear the hurrying, not-quite-running, footsteps and the frantic beepers going off and I could hear the voices and the words. There were tears and phone calls being made.
A little later the same staff came to speak to the Senior Cat. They had just lost a patient but they were still kind and caring and willing to smile at him.
My nephew, the doctor one, came to pick us up because he had borrowed the car to tow something that morning. He knows some of the ED staff.
    "Your grandfather is lovely," I heard one of them say.
We bundled the still apologising Senior Cat into the car after he had thanked everyone yet again.
I thanked them too.
On the way home I totalled it up. There were eight people outside family who helped the Senior Cat yesterday morning. Every one of them was competent, caring and kind -  and four of them did not speak English as their first language.
We have an extraordinary service here - and I am very grateful for it.


Saturday 26 October 2019

French knitting or

i-cord or "tomboy stitch"or spool knitting? Call it what you will. You do remember it? It was once done with a wooden cotton reel, four nails, a "bobby" or hair pin, and bits of wool. 
You had to wait (impatiently) for your mother or grandmother to finish ALL the cotton on the reel before you were given it, Your father grumbled as he tried to get the nails in easy task on such a small thing as a cotton reel. You were told not to use the little pin and the wool you were given was most definitely a left over scrap from your winter pullover or cardigan.
And yes, it was totally wonderful.  You wound the wool around the four nails, looping it around each one.  And slow stitch at a time, you started to do the knitting.
It took forever before the first tiny but of knitting appeared through the hole in the cotton reel. You kept tugging at the initial piece of yarn hoping that would make it happen faster. Eventually though it appeared. You ran out of yarn of course and then you had to beg for more.
And what did you do with it all? I know I made a pot holder. I think most children I knew made a pot holder at some point. It was a doable sort of project - and useful too.
Some children were given a "knitting Nancy", a doll like object which served the same purpose as a cotton reel.  I never had one and was rather glad I did not have one. There was something slightly sinister about them.  Years later, when the Senior Cat was making things for a craft fair, I told him this and he agreed. He simply made rather nice cotton reels which were easier to hold than the small sort.
And then I discovered you could make the same thing on two double pointed needles. It was still slow - but faster than the cotton reel method. I also discovered that you can attach it to  your knitting as you go and that this makes a nice edging in some circumstances.
Some time ago I found a little machine which does all this for you. I have one. It's purple. You feed the yarn in and turn a handle and out comes the knitting. I have used it. I have made metres of i-cord  - most recently to make some "barefoot sandals" for a fete. They are  simple and silly and only last a short while but children seem to like them. 
I used it again yesterday for something else but there is a problem with all this. Yes, it produces metres of knitting very quickly but somehow it lacks the fun of that long slow process of childhood - and, while I know what I am doing with this lot, what in the heck do you do with more of it?

Friday 25 October 2019

Technical high schools

were once a feature of the education system in this state. The UK equivalent would have been the "secondary modern" type of school.  We also had simply "high" schools - but they would not have equated with grammar schools. There were also the "area" schools in rural communities - the sort that Yours Truly attended. They had two "streams" which equated (sort of) with the high and the technical high streams.
No exams were required to enter high schools but the less able students were encouraged to attend the technical high schools. You could learn "useful" things there - like shorthand, typing, bookkeeping, metalwork, woodwork and much more.
Out in the area schools the PEB stream students could do one of those "useful" subjects as well. 
I started out, at my mother's insistence, in the "dressmaking" class. I did not want to do dressmaking. I wanted to do "art". There was a  unit called "history of art" and anything labelled "history" had me well and truly captured.
But no, "dressmaking" would be useful - never mind that I could not thread a needle. I hated it. 
I was not the only one who loathed the subject. Every girl I knew detested the subject. It was appallingly badly taught. Most of us, even me, knew the basics before we started because  it had been taught in primary school. We were not learning anything new and we already knew how to tack a seam.
My paternal grandmother had, along with a great many other things, taught me more than the basics. She would thread the needle and I would do the actual sewing. I could use her old treadle Singer. I knew about more than one sort of seam and what they were used for. I understood how to read a pattern and I could, with a little help from her, actually draft a pattern from the old "Enid Gilchrist" books.  What is more she had taught me how to alter such patterns to fit. In school we were back to making pillowcases, aprons and gathered skirts.  Grandma had taught me to sew a button on (and Grandpa - a tailor - approved the method). At school I was told that this was "wrong". 
The teacher gave up on me pretty quickly and I and another student spent peaceful Tuesday afternoons in the science lab of all places. There we used a clear space and did our "art". I devoured history of art while she drew complicated "technical drawing" designs. We both did something called "creative drawing" and "design". Looking back I am amazed that two twelve year old students were allowed   to be there unsupervised. I suppose it was safe enough and that the Senior Cat (who happened to be the headmaster) knew we would not play with the test tubes. I doubt he would have let boys do the same thing.
The other girls went on doing the hated sewing. I suppose their mothers insisted. I can't help wondering whether any of them actually sew now.
I was reminded of all this yesterday when there was a plaintive wail from Ms W.  Her boarding house supervisor has always insisted that Ms W and all others do their own mending.
    "I can't find the button! It came off somewhere else."
    "Bring it home this weekend and use a button from the old top," I told her.
     "Matron says we have to do it at school."
     "Matron will let you do it at home. She knows very well I won't do it for you."
And she does too. If it passes my inspection Matron will be happy.

Thursday 24 October 2019

The financial adviser

came to see us yesterday.
It is a once a year visit. He's a very nice person and it was his suggestion that he come to us rather than we go to him. He actually made this suggestion about five years ago. 
It's a bit of a tradition now. The secretary in his company sends out reminders that the annual review is due. I send him a message saying it has arrived. He suggests a time and I send a message back promising to make him coffee.  He arrives early or on time. He has never been late.
Our affairs are simple. The only reason we have an adviser is because of the complexities of superannuation. He deals with those. Apart from that he and the Senior Cat will have a little chat about other things. 
A waste of his time? No, not according to him.
    "I don't mind in the least," he told me again, "You rarely call on me. If you do I know it is for something I will need to handle."
It is immensely civilised and made me think of the way that "house visits" have almost entirely stopped. I don't know of a single doctor who now does house visits. There was one but he has retired. 
When the Senior Cat needed to update his will after our mother died he went to the solicitor. When the solicitor retired and we were advised that the business would be taken over by a large, impersonal firm the Senior Cat asked someone else he knew to take on his affairs. She did come to visit but she happens to be a member of the same congregation and he had helped her children with study skills. It was not quite the same thing - and certainly something she would normally not even consider.
My paternal grandfather, a tailor, went to his customers. That even involved visits to Government House - in order to make uniforms for the Governors of the state - and on to the ships in the nearby port to make uniforms for the naval officers. 
My maternal grandfather, an engineer who specialised in making, repairing and even occasionally designing precision tools, went to his clients and brought back their tools to work on. They did not come to him.
It all seems reversed now. A friend of mine needed her sewing machine repaired recently. Once someone would have come to her. She is much too frail to even lift her machine. Fortunately her favourite taxi driver, a man she knows well, took the machine to the repair company without a murmur. He carried it into the business in question and then stood there and waited while she spoke to them about the problem.
    "He told me he wasn't going to let them cheat me," she told me later, "But how rare is that?
Rare indeed.
I know it is all too rare. It is why I sent our visitor back to the office with home made shortbread for everyone.

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Pocket knives

- you know what I mean  don't you? Those items beloved particularly by the male of the species. 
And yes, some are actually kept in their pockets. I  have reservations about this.
The Senior Cat has no less than three pocket knives. There is the tiny one that I am sure was originally intended for a woman as it has a white handle printed with pink flowers. This one appears in odd places around the house if  the Senior Cat has needed to cut something like string - but only if he cannot undo the knot or the string is too long.
There is the middle size one. It is rarely used but it can appear both inside and outside the house. I found it on top of the general rubbish bin some days ago and returned it to where I knew the Senior Cat would find it again.
And then there is your standard Swiss Army one. That is kept in the pocket of your trousers of course - where else? It is a thing of great use - if the Senior Cat is to be believed. It is red. It has the capacity to cut things. (There are two blades on his.) There are two screwdrivers as well. I think there is a bottle opener and there may be some sort of tweezers. All potentially useful I suppose.
I don't know what else is packed compactly into the space available. I doubt they have ever been used. I have never used the knife myself.
The Senior Cat worries if he cannot find it. It would be like much younger humans not being able to find their mobile phones. 
Now I was doing some washing this morning. Among the items I was doing was a filthy dirty pair of trousers the Senior Cat had been wearing while pottering in the garden.
And yes, the pocket knife was in the trouser pocket. I removed it. When the Senior Cat appeared for breakfast I told him,
    "I nearly washed your pocket knife."
    "What? Where is it? Is it all right?"
    "It's fine. I'll put it on your desk."  

    "No, give it to me now please."
    "No, you can't put it in your pyjama pocket."
He conceded that point reluctantly. I put it on his desk instead.
    "You know there is something missing from your pocket knife don't you?" I told him.
     "What? It hasn't been damaged has it?"
     "No, you just don't have that implement which is supposed to remove stones from the hooves of horses," I said.
Now why did he nearly throw the muesli container at me?

Tuesday 22 October 2019

The "right to know"

campaign is still being spruiked in this morning's paper. There is a single letter to the editor - in support of it. The letter isn't even particularly original.
I wonder whether there will be any more letters? It would not surprise me if there were none. Despite protestations to the contrary the campaign is, ultimately, about media self-interest.
One of my cousins, now deceased, worked for a television company. Two of my nephews also work in the same area. My cousin used to say that media was changing. The internet was just taking off when he died but he could see the impact it was going to have.
    "It will make your job much easier Cat. In a few years you'll have almost instant access to people all over the world but it will change the face of news gathering too."
Yes, it has. One of my nephews is developing a new interface between journalists and media organisations. It's been tough and he is putting in incredibly long days - and nights. The other nephew is in a position which requires him to constantly monitor the changes occurring. He  thinks it is likely that print media (newspapers in print rather than electronic form) will almost entirely disappear within a few years. People will be connected to the internet. They will get their news that way or via television.
If that's the case then many people will be less well informed. There is too much else on the internet for them to be interested in much of the news. I haven't seen a commercial news service for years - my nephew tells me not to bother. What little I hear about it suggests that there is no in-depth reporting there. Even the more serious services such as our ABC  or SBS  only skim the surface of a story and, all too often, they do it in a biased manner.  What is more there are things they won't say and stories they won't touch for fear of upsetting people who have the ear of other sections of the media or who have an economic and/or political influence.
So yes, we need press freedom. It can only come with the responsibilities I mentioned  yesterday. It also has to be about more than self-interest. Right now I am not convinced though. Self interest would seem to have a lot to do with the current campaign.

Monday 21 October 2019

Press freedom and the right to know

has taken up the entire front page today.
I will be writing a letter? Possibly. I suspect that, if I do, it will be read - and discarded.
I believe press freedom is important but it comes with responsibilities. Those responsibilities are immense.
It comes with the responsibility first of all to accurately inform. It comes with the responsibility to be fair, to  be honest, to do nothing to harm, to protect, and to assist.
Those of you who know me and know my job will know that I sometimes get information from other sources. I know far more than I want to know about some situations. I also know I have to keep my mouth shut. People's lives could be endangered if I didn't. It is as simple as that.  At the same time it isn't simple at all and that worries me.  
I watch almost no television. I limit it to the first half hour of our international-multicultural news service. The reason I watch that much is to find out what other people are being told - what they are being told as opposed to what I am being told or have heard or is being reported elsewhere. 
I "rough read" or skim a lot of newspapers only reading in full those articles I know I am likely to need to know about. I also get information from people in the middle of situations and others who have direct information from them. 
What I am told in this way is often very different from what is being reported.
Before the internet, before the 24/7 news cycle, before outside broadcasting and the like people were differently informed. I won't say "better" informed but the way people were informed was different.  A President, Pope, Prime Minister or other politician  could probably have passed many people in the street and not been recognised. The horrors of war, natural disasters, sex offences and more were reported in quite different ways. There was still "sensationalist" type reporting of course - from papers like the gone and not-lamented "News of the World" or the local (grossly misnamed) "Truth". 
Now we know sensationalism sells. "Click bait" is rife. 
I don't think any of this is doing any good. It is making it impossible for people to sort out facts from fiction an even sheer fantasy. It doesn't give the media the right to inform us when national security is involved simply because they don't like what might potentially happen. It doesn't give the media the right to run a parallel trial by media especially when they are not in full possession of the facts. Perhaps we simply have too much "news" available to us now.
Press freedom does not mean free from responsibility. Unless that responsibility is taken seriously our right to know will be impeded. 

Sunday 20 October 2019

"Do you want (bag)pipes or not?"

I overheard this question yesterday as I was waiting to cross the road. 
The person next to me was having a conversation on his phone. 
    "No, not in the church, outside."
Wedding or funeral?
I never found out - although I will admit I was curious.
The last funeral but one  I went to  had a piper - outside the church. I  have been to more than one wedding with a piper - outside the church.
Bagpipes are outdoor instruments. They are not intended to be played indoors.
Middle Cat, known for collecting a variety of  instruments, came home from the country of our ancestors with a chanter for a set of bagpipes. Our mother refused to let her go any further. (Middle Cat plays keyboard, flute and classical guitar.) My brother has attempted to play them. (He plays keyboard and sax rather well.) The Black Cat has not tried. (She plays keyboard.) 
My nephews have never tried to play the pipes - although there is a similar instrument in their father's heritage.
If you are a Sassenach then you may consider the sound of the pipes rather dreich but, to those north of the border and their descendants in the rest of the world, they are a different matter. We have a love-hate relationship with them I suppose - love them outside and hate them inside.  
Last summer we took the youngest kittens to a Christmas parade. There were all sorts of things passing by from fairy tale characters to clowns juggling, an African group with drums, a decorated fire vehicle, there was a police band...and there was a pipe band at the end of it all.  
The very youngest kitten looked up at me as it past, clutched my hand tightly and said, "That was the very bit of all." Her grandfather, my brother, gave me a smile and said, "Spoken like a true Scot."
Yes, I know, some people loathe the pipes. They regard them as nothing more than an appalling noise - something akin to an animal in great distress.
But others? I cast my mind back to something that happened one afternoon some years before. I had remained friendly with my late art lecturer. He and his wife welcomed me into their home on many occasions.We were sitting on their front porch when a neighbour further down the street came out and began to play the pipes.
    "Ah, Don's gone," B.... told me.
The piper's father had died a short while before. His son had agreed to let everyone in the street know by playing on the pipes. It was a Saturday and, for once, there was no football match or other activity to keep people away. As I watched almost everyone in the short street came out for a moment and silently paid their respects to a man they had all admired. They were later played by an entire band at his funeral.
And now I wonder whether the conversation yesterday related to a wedding or a funeral or something else....?

Saturday 19 October 2019

The death penalty

came up for discussion again yesterday. 
I am opposed to the death penalty. Apart from my belief that it is wrong to take the life of another  there is always the possibility that an innocent person could be put to death. 
I wonder how many times that has happened?
People were discussing the case of a man who spent many years in prison for a murder it has now been held he did not commit. He was, naturally, looking for financial compensation.
That might help - a little. I doubt it would make up for years of incarceration.
And I was puzzled by the reaction of several other people. They seemed to feel that the financial compensation this man has been offered was "too much". 
   "The court didn't get it wrong Cat. They went on the evidence available."
Really? Courts have been known to make mistakes before - serious mistakes. They may get it right most of the time but the system is not perfect.
And politics can get in the way. There were politics involved in this case. There was immense pressure to find someone guilty. That they got the wrong man should be causing alarm - because it means the actual killer is likely still out there somewhere.
Recently there have been attempts to prevent an appeal in another case. These attempts are politically motivated - and a sure indication that the prosecution believes there are grounds for an appeal and that the appeal might be successful. 
After the meeting I was at had concluded I went out with someone who had remained silent throughout it. I know why she was silent.
Her stepbrother was recently released from prison. He was in there for a violent crime resulting in a death - a crime there is no doubt he committed as it was caught on CCTV. 
    "I'll always wonder Cat," she told me as we left.
Her stepbrother was out with his younger brother one day. They were apparently doing something they were not supposed to do - running along the upper edge of a cliff where there were warning signs. The younger brother is supposed to have fallen - fallen to his death.
It was ruled an accident but there was a past history that did raise some doubts. There was nobody else around. The older boy was intensely jealous of the younger one. He had been violent towards him before. All it would have taken was one push.
Since that time he has been imprisoned more than once for violence related crimes.  His father and stepmother have moved house twice in order to get away from him. There is an order restraining him from having any contact with them - an order he has broken more than once.
     "I know you will. It's why I tried to stop that discussion," I said.
She gave me a small, sad smile.
I watched her leave as I unlocked the trike. She was a lonely figure in the crowd, someone who  has never married and who avoids close relationships.
Her stepbrother is on parole under strict conditions. We both know he will be back in prison before long. His father wishes they would "lock him up and throw away the key".
I don't believe in the death penalty but I do wonder whether there are people who should simply be locked away forever.

Friday 18 October 2019

So $3m worth of car

has just gone up in smoke? And another one, probably "worth" just as much "flipped" in the wind?
Thankfully nobody was hurt - apart from their pride.
The current "solar challenge" - where people attempt to race their solar powered cars from the top to the bottom of the middle of Downunder -  has produced some drama this year.
I wonder about this "solar power" business when it comes to cars. It  does seem a little unlikely to me - but then I am a cat of very little automotive brain. I know nothing at all about that aspect of cars.  I know very little about cars at all.
Solar panels on the other hand are something I know a little about. We have solar panels on our roof - for the hot water and to feed electricity back into the grid. 
In Downunder  the use of solar panels for heating water would appear to make sense. We do get rather a lot of the "fuel" - sunshine - for them.  It is of course backed up by the electricity supply. 
The other solar panels do feed some electricity back into the grid. We have used more electricity in the last couple of years.  It is simply because the Senior Cat has reached an age where he finds it more difficult to keep cool in summer and warm in winter. Even with that I know our bills are nothing like the bills of some people. But, the solar panels are supposed to help to reduce the bills we get. I  suppose they do.
But there is something in all this that bothers me. We need to manufacture those solar panels. Are they really as environmentally friendly as people claim?
I suppose when they first tried to put wheels on a cart and the wheels fell off others said it would not work. Perhaps those solar powered cars are in the same category and, like wheels, solar panels will end up being environmentally friendly. 
Right now though I think I will stick with pedal power.

Thursday 17 October 2019

Morning coffee and afternoon tea

and seeing friends are not common  in my life right now. Well, they have never been that common.
I don't like the idea that I have always been "too busy" and that  going out to do it has often been financially beyond me. I could probably drink tea at home all week for the cost of one pot of tea in the local shopping centre. There's always another book I need to buy.
So, when did all this start? "Going out for coffee" was unheard of when I was a mere kitten. People didn't do it. There weren't places like that, just the occasional "milk bar" - and milk shakes were more common than coffee in such places. 
Even when I was at teachers' college tea was more commonly drunk than coffee - even though Nescafe was common enough. The students would crowd into the canteen at morning break and lunch time - those of them who could afford to buy such things bought tea and sticky "finger buns". Some of us simply took our lunch and a thermos flask. Most of us were too busy to simply "sit around and talk".  I had a job as a "junior housemistress" in a boarding school and, one day of each weekend, in a residential nursery school for the deaf. 
At university I had to be careful of my finances too, very careful. I was tutoring in order to eat. It did not leave much time for fun although I would try and take an afternoon off each weekend to go and see something - even if it was just the ducks in the park. There were plenty of other students in the same position. We had some good times - but we didn't sit in cafes drinking coffee.
The Senior Cat and I were talking about this yesterday. My aunt had called in. She had been to "have coffee" with an elderly friend and she talked about it too. 
We were all puzzled. When did this "have coffee" thing start? It has to have crept up on us gradually. None of us do it often.
I am doing it this morning - but for a specific purpose. There is work involved - and yes it really is work and we really do need to do it. It just happens that one of the coffee shops in the local shopping centre actually encourages people to have small meetings in there if people need it. There is free wi-fi for those who need it. (We won't.) There are tables which aren't crowded with other things so you can put papers out on them. (We will need to do that.) The place is busy - which is usually a good sign.
It will be useful today but I still don't feel as if I am part of the "have coffee" crowd,  those people who simply sit for an hour or more over coffee and chat or simply stare into space. There are always things I want to do.
I remember having lunch with a (now former) judge once. It was a working lunch. He would undoubtedly have taken me somewhere  pleasant had I wanted to go but we ended up with sandwiches and orange juice in a quiet courtyard. We did the work we needed to do and were both back at our own desks within an hour.  Some weeks later he introduced me to someone else saying, "Cat and I had a very simple lunch together the other  day. I enjoyed it." Compliment?  Yes, perhaps. It made me wonder though whether he was relieved to simply be able to get on with the job.
But, "having coffee" is obviously enjoyable for a lot of people. If we get our work done today - and we should - then it can serve a useful purpose.

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Erdogan needs to be

locked into a padded cell with no chance whatsoever of communicating with the outside world.
I had a brief email from one of the two aid workers forced to leave Syria. They had arrived in Ankara and were waiting to fly out from there. All they had with them was what they could carry. What little medical equipment they had available had to be left behind.
Would they have stayed? They have been in dangerous situations before and stayed. The situation there was dangerous and they stayed.
But this time it is extreme. Unless cooler heads prevail this could lead to a major conflict. Everyone knows that.
The President of the United States is saying he is doing it to save the lives of US soldiers.
The President of Turkey is saying he is doing it to stop terrorists and build a safe zone for refugees.
Neither of them are addressing the immensely complex problems that exist and will go on existing. Neither of them has considered that, because of their actions, more people are going to get killed.
Erdogan's actions are popular in Turkey. He is appealing to nationalism. Trump's actions are much less popular but still popular enough - especially when he takes the simplistic route of slapping sanctions on Turkey.
A mess? Yes.
And then there are yet more calls to bring home the women and children caught in the camps. I have said elsewhere that this is not as simple as it sounds. Despite the appalling conditions there - and this seems unbelievable - some of the women still support their claimed "jihad".  Bring them out? Bring them back here? Bring them back to what? Leave them free in the community to spread their message of hate? Imprison them and turn them into "martyrs"?
What do you do with their children?
There were three small children, all from the same family, who had lost their parents and some siblings in the fighting. The girl they interviewed was struggling with her emotions, her thoughts and the English language itself. She wanted nothing more than to go "home" to where her grandmother was in England, to visit her and play in the park. It was journalism designed to tug at the heart strings. She couldn't remember her grandmother's name.
They have actually managed to remove those children. They will, sooner or later be in England and will, if their grandmother is still alive, presumably be reunited with her. 
Those three may not represent any danger to England but what of those who have been taught to hate, to believe that only the jihadis right? Can that really be changed?
That's the question - the question we don't know how to answer.

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Reduce, reuse, recycle

and yes "rescue, reuse, recycle" too.
I went to a meeting yesterday. It was for the stewards who had worked in the Handicrafts area of this year's state's show. There is always a review of what has happened and an opportunity to raise queries, hear complaints, and think year.
There were a few queries and not too many complaints - and fortunately none of those was serious. The main office had dealt with one issue in a timely and pleasant way as it had nothing to do with the way the stewards had done their job. 
And then we talked about next year. Should there be a focus on something? This year we had done the Queen Victoria Challenge - something that had garnered more than one hundred entries.  Was it a success? Yes, we thought it was. It would have been nice to have a little more media attention but, even without it, people came looking for the displays.
So, next year? I had put up a suggestion to the two Convenors.  I have mentioned it here - doing something for the International Year of Plant Health. 
Were there any other suggestions? Should we go with "the Roaring Twenties" - a century back? That might be fun.
No, we went back to the IYPH. Someone produced some pictures of things that had been made out of recycled objects. Was that how we should approach it - say "by recycling we are helping improve plant health"? 
No. It was a good idea but not quite enough. We need a bit more than that to allow everyone to participate in fully creative ways. The "basketry" people looked smug. They manage to recycle in very creative and environmentally friendly ways. 
    "It's Cat's idea. What have you got to say about it Cat?"
I told people what I had been thinking and explained how wide the concept could be. It need not limit people at all. We could have two extra classes in each section - one to replace the Queen Victoria class from this year and another which made use of "recycling". There were nods of agreement.
 And then it came, "Write something up Cat."
Oh yes, write something up...I'll need to do it today. The Convenors and I need to meet then and get some details out to everyone else so that they can add feedback as soon as possible. 
J...- in-the-office, who deals with such things, will smile in her good natured way and shake her head at yet another idea. I know it is more work for her as well. 
We could leave everything just as it is but surely if we go we with this environmentally responsible theme we will get more people keen to enter?

Monday 14 October 2019

Clothes shopping

It had to be done - not for me but for the Senior Cat.
Now I love the Senior Cat. It is only because I love him that I can even contemplate the problem of going shopping for his clothes. I hate, loathe and detest clothes shopping for myself and it is every bit as bad going clothes shopping for him.
There is no realistic chance of getting  him to do it for himself. Even if he could get to a shop by himself - and he can no longer do that - then he would have no idea what to get. My mother bought most of his clothes. When we grew old enough we stopped my mother buying things we knew (not merely thought but knew) he would not wear.
Now I know that anything new I buy may not get "worn out". The Senior Cat tends to keep clothes long past their "use by even in the garden" date. 
He was going out with Middle Cat yesterday. It wasn't a very "dress up" sort of occasion but he did need to look tidy. 
    "I need some new cotton trousers," he told me.
    "I know," I said and also knew I had been putting off the evil moment when I would need to go shopping.
But then I thought to myself, "The Senior Cat is going out with Middle Cat. I don't have to think about lunch. I have done the maintenance housekeeping. I can knit on the train there and back and get the day's quota done so..."
    "I'll see if I can get you something today," I told him.  I measured him to be certain of the size.
They left. I went and caught a train. I went to the most likely shop in the city. I hunted through the menswear section. An older woman in a wheelchair was doing the same. I reached up for a couple of items for her. We commiserated about male clothes shopping. Another woman was shopping with a blind man. They were feeling fabrics and discarding them.
   "I want cotton if you can find it. It's cooler."
   "There's cotton here," I said, "But I want something that shape."
We huddled together and examined more clothes.
   "And what about this one."
   "This one is the colour of beach sand."
I bought a pair of trousers. I also went into the bookshop and spent the book voucher the Senior Cat was given by the Black Cat last Christmas. It hadn't occurred to her that he had no way of getting into that particular shop. Fortunately they had the book he thought he wanted. I might have lingered there but I really wanted to be out of the city. 
I missed one train. I caught the next train. It was raining by the time I started to pedal home from the station. Ugh. I managed less knitting than I hoped.
But, the trousers fit. I am thankful for that. They are too long but I expected that. But, they fit. I don't need to go and exchange them.
I'd love to think that one day I might need to go and buy yet another pair because the Senior Cat has worn this pair to shreds. 

Sunday 13 October 2019

Bullying at school

is  apparently growing worse, not better.
There is a report in this morning's paper about the research being done by two of the staff at one of the state's universities. If accurate then there is an alarming rise in the way in which adolescents wish harm on one another - and think it is funny.
I already know that Ms W does not find such things funny. There was a short spate of severe bullying at her school several years ago. She was still in the junior school but one of the senior school students made a serious suicide attempt because of the bullying of another.  The girl doing the bullying was removed from the school and the other girl will now finish this year. She should do well because the other girls in her year rallied around her. It wasn't done because they were asked to do it by adults. It was done because they genuinely like the other girl and were upset, angry and confused that it could happen. It took a near tragedy for the girls to really understand how harmful bullying really can be.
I won't say there is no bullying in the school. That would be ridiculous. What I do think is that it is not common. It gets called out pretty quickly if it does occur. There is an anti-bullying awareness program and it seems to work.
There is a girl in Ms W's class who is moderately deaf. She has occasionally been the subject of some teasing. Ms W tends to be fierce about such things.
     "It's not nice!" and "I hate it when you do that!" were common cries when she was younger. She knows that everyone gets teased occasionally and, although she doesn't like it, she will tolerate it if she considers it not likely to harm someone. She has been teased herself. I've dealt with tears over someone "not being nice" on more than one occasion but it hasn't been the sly bullying that does so much harm. And yes, she has probably teased others in return.
Ms W will see the report in this morning's paper.  I have no doubt at all that she will raise the subject with me before she goes back to school tonight.  Her form teacher may well use it as a topic for their weekly discussion.
Even if she doesn't I know that there is no girl in the class who would find it "funny" to tell one of  the others "I hope you get murdered" or "I hope you die in a crash". The school knows it doesn't have to be that way. It's hard work and they have had to devote time to "mutual respect and caring for each other". 
But, as Ms W's distressed form teacher told me when the attempted suicide occurred, "Teaching them to care for each other is more important than maths."

Saturday 12 October 2019

Leaving a Syrian refugee camp

is not easy. It is also something you would think most people would be only too glad to do when given the chance.
Yesterday though I had a short email from someone.
   "Don't start work on it Cat. We had to leave last night. God only knows what will happen now."
It was news I expected. I know the two aid workers in question are now somewhere relatively safe. Tomorrow they will probably be  somewhere which is considered even safer. 
This husband and wife team have been working in a Syrian refugee camp for almost two years. They have volunteered in other places too. They are doctors. They know what they are going into and they have faced the most horrific situations apparently with a sort of quiet calm. 
I can't imagine that.
This time the organisation they work for is pulling them out. The situation on the ground is far worse than what is being shown on the televised news services. Seeing the news last night I know that the rest of the world is getting a sanitised version. It is yet another case of what TS Eliot put as "Humankind cannot bear very much reality".  The world at large certainly could not bear this.
The government here has been criticised for not going into such places and bringing back people who are still citizens of this country. The media makes it sound simple. Just go in, find them and bring them home.
It doesn't work like that. It is actually an immensely complex process involving the governments of more than one country and a lot of detailed research and planning. 
    "Can't you just kidnap the children and bring them back?" I have been asked.
No, you can't. 
That refugee camp was already one of the most dangerous places in the world. It is now far worse.
I shouldn't criticise the leaders of other countries but I have to say here that the President of the United States has absolutely no idea  how bad it was...or surely he would not have deliberately made it far worse?

Friday 11 October 2019

Soap, soap and

more soap.
   "Expect an arrival of soap," I was told.
    "For soap bags."
Oh, right. Remember? I am making soap bags. I haven't managed to get around to any fancy knitting stitch bags yet. I am simply making plain bags with flowers. Mm... I hope they will sell.  If they do then the proceeds will go into the scholarship fund. 
But soap itself?
My first acquaintance with soap was almost certainly Johnson's Baby Soap. It was probably the only thing available to the mothers of babies back in ancient times. I think it is still around. It was supposed to be "gentle on the skin".  What do they use now? I haven't bathed a baby for a long while now.
I moved on to Velvet I think. It was what my mother used for clothes and kids.  Our necks were scrubbed as firmly as the collars of the  Senior Cat's shirts.
Occasionally there was Lux or, much more rarely, Lifebuoy.  Lux is still available.  I have been known to buy it in moments of desperation. Lifebuoy seems to have disappeared completely. Perhaps we should have bought more of it?
There was Solyptol too. It was green and smelt vaguely of eucalyptus and other such things. It was regarded as the sort of soap you used if  you had been gardening or - perhaps -  cutting up onions.  I think that is still around.
And then there was Solvol. Ah yes, Solvol. It was used by the Senior Cat and both my grandfathers to remove grease from their hands. It was like washing with sand. You can still buy it. 
I think I was in high school before I actually saw an amber cake of Pear's soap.  Oh I had seen it advertised but English friends had a cake in their bathroom when we went to visit. They gave me a cake later. The Senior Cat likes it now.
I can remember my maternal grandmother having a round pink cake of soap. It came with a small spray bottle of perfume that was supposed to be like apple blossom. We were not permitted to use it although we were allowed inhale the scent.
And I remember my paternal grandmother having similar round cakes of soap. Hers were usually scented lavender. When we were small she would help use wash our hands with that soap. It was something special.
    "Give it a little rub. It will clean your hands and it will smell nice too."
It did smell nice. It felt good too. It was smooth and soothing. Washing your hands felt good with that soap.
On occasions I have had soap given to me. Fancy soaps given to me in fancy boxes. It always seems a shame to use it when it often smells so nice...especially the lavender or the rose scented soaps.
Now we use Pears or environmentally responsible vegetable based soap that comes in a variety of scents. I bought a dozen of the latter at half price and it will take a while to work our way through it. They are 100gm bars.
And, in my underwear drawer I have a round cake of lavender soap which smells just as it did when my grandmother helped us to wash our hands.

Thursday 10 October 2019

Extinction Rebellion

held a protest here yesterday. It was, from all accounts, a bit of a damp  squib. There were apparently only about one hundred people at it.
But, it did annoy other people. 
There may be more people annoyed today as they are moving on to other parts of the city. Their aim is what they call "peaceful disruption". 
In other parts of the country people are actually aiming at getting themselves arrested. 
And then we had the media with a "graph" showing that Downunder is almost at the top of the list for per capita emissions. It doesn't look good. Downunder is doing a terrible job at reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
The rest of the world, apart from Saudi Arabia, should be castigating us.
Or should they be castigating us? Should Extinction Rebellion be doing what it is doing here? 
     "I don't know Cat. It seems to me there is something wrong with all of this," an Elderly Man told me as he parked his bicycle next to my tricycle, "They aren't taking into account that we are the largest island or the smallest continent. We have this tiny population and these huge distances. You know what I mean? If that Extinction mob would go out and actually do something for the environment instead of making pests of themselves we might get somewhere."
The  Elderly Man has a point. Downunder has a population about the same size as New York state in the US.  It is spread across a vast area of land - and about 90% of the population live around the coastline. Cities have been built out and out. One of them covers more square kilometres than any other city on the planet. (It once had the largest Greek speaking population outside Athens too.) People do travel long distances too and they use cars to do it. 
Now I don't think that is a good thing. One of the problems has been that, for many years, people wanted their own quarter acre block of land and their own house sitting in the middle of it - isolated from everyone else. It is perhaps a peculiarly Downunder  thing.
That's changing. Urban "infill" is growing rapidly. People are complaining that houses are now being built with an "upstairs" - once almost unheard of. There are complaints about "overhang" and loss of privacy and much more. Even with all that though there are plenty of opportunities for people who still want to have a free standing house on their own little block...and they are prepared to travel to and from work to live in such a house. 
That may have to change, almost certainly will have to change. People will have to get used to using public transport too. We do need to reduce our dependency on the car - but public transport has to be cheap, reliable and available to everyone before that happens.
I wondered about "the Extinction Rebellion mob" that Elderly Man was so concerned about. How many of them used a car to travel that day? How many of them would give up a day of their time each week to go out and clean the environment up and plant the trees the planet needs in order to survive? How many of them have environmentally irresponsible hobbies that use up fossil fuels or create plastic waste?
Apparently Downunder produces 1.3% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. It's not good and yes we can do better but we also need to take into account many other things.  If Extinction Rebellion really want to get the message across they need to be demanding more be done about mass transit options and terrace housing perhaps?

Wednesday 9 October 2019

The International Year of Plant Health

is coming up next year. Gardens? Yes. Wild plants? Yes. The environment? Yes. The list could go on.
I will add something else to that list. Mental health? Yes. I have no doubt at all that gardening is good for mental health. 
The Senior Cat gets depressed. He tries not to show it but he does. He is simply not able to do the things he wants to do. Lately though he has been able to do small things out in his beloved garden. They are only small things but he is doing something. He has the satisfaction of seeing things grow. (Oh yes, the weeds grow too but....)
And yesterday I was talking to someone about a possible project for next year - a plant project. This time they won't be actual plants. They might take a little while to make too but I think there might be mental health benefits if we do it.
I am not very keen about what is usually called "yarn bombing". I like knitting and crochet to have a purpose apart from covering trees and benches and bicycles and even bridges. S..., someone I know who lives in Canada, was absolutely right when she said that the knitting they used to cover the bridge had to eventually be "repurposed" into blankets and more for those in need.
But there may be a time and a place for some yarn bombing. It may be beneficial to mental health if done properly. So I have put a suggestion to a group of people that we do yarn bomb a small area - and that we get children to help make flowers or vegetables or some other plant.  In doing so we can tell them that, if they make a plant like that, they will be teaching adults about the importance of caring for the environment. It may help to allay some of their fears about climate change if they can do something positive.
Will it work? I don't know. I have simply put the idea up as one for discussion at a meeting next week.
If you have thoughts on the subject, ideas about how we might go about it...I'd like to know.

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Rubbish collection

is an issue everywhere. In our street it is a particular issue. Our street is short. There are two sets of duplexes on it. We don't own a car but everyone else in the street does - and some own two. That means there are always some parked in the street.
Add to that there is "the court" - a group of units you reach by going up a short roadway. There are eight of these. They all have cars. Several of them have more than one car - although there is only parking space for one car per unit.  You can guess where they park. And then we have....rubbish collection.
Each household has three bins, green waste, recycling and general waste. General waste can go out each week. Recycling and green waste get collected alternately. It's a complex system and it is made more complex by the fact that the vehicles which empty the bins cannot go up the roadway into the court. The people who live there have to bring their bins down into our street.
Last week we had a letter from the council. The company which collects the general waste had complained there were more bins than there were households in the street.  This is incorrect. Indeed there were a number of errors in the letter.  There were demands that the extra bins not be put out unless a surcharge was paid and a threat to fine those who did.
I sent a letter to the council pointing out that in fact there were fewer bins put out than there are households. We share our general waste bin with a resident of the court. I happen to know that someone else does as well. Recycling bins also get shared. The lawn leading to the units gets mowed by a company that takes the cuttings away and there isn't enough garden to warrant people putting out their green bins too often - and when they do they often share. 
I had a response to my letter. It was, as I suspected it would be, scarcely helpful. It does not take into account where the residents of the units need to place their bins.
And I suspect there is another problem and that is the parked cars.  There are simply too many cars. It is difficult to negotiate around them.
The drivers of those collection vehicles have a mind numbing sort of repetitive job. It demands just enough concentration not to be able to think about anything else. The noise level is too high to even be able to listen to anything else. I don't doubt the drivers are frustrated when they come upon the problems the cars represent. But...there really are fewer bins for them to empty in this street!

Monday 7 October 2019

The Hong Kong protests

are causing problems here.
One of the international students from Hong Kong came to see me yesterday. Fortunately the Senior Cat had gone to church so I could make her a cup of tea and calm her down without added distractions.
She was, rightly, upset. I can say no more for fear of identifying her and her family but it is a serious situation.
And this girl is in the middle of preparing for her final exams. When she came here three years ago she told me, "I am here to work, to do my best."
And she has worked. She has not been home in all that time. She has held down a part time job - arranged before she left Hong Kong - and she has worked at university. Once a week she has taken a few hours off to do something with her small group of friends. Like her they are girls who are taking their studies seriously. 
I have watched them progress. I have read their work and occasionally helped them with negotiating local issues and the regional oddities of the English language. 
All of them are finding it hard right now. They don't want to be in Hong Kong themselves but they also wish they were there to support their families. They are worried about the growing control Beijing appears to have over Hong Kong's affairs.
And they should be worried. If Beijing decides to move then it is almost certain that the rest of the world will do nothing. China is no longer a "developing" nation. Parts of it remain undeveloped but it is a powerful nation and set to become more powerful still. 
The trade war between China and the US will almost certainly end in tears. China is already warning  Downunder to stay out of the way and not pick sides - by which they actually mean, "Don't side with the US if you want to do business with us."
 In choosing to concentrate on trying to be "part of the Asian region" Downunder has made itself extremely vulnerable. I have no idea what will happen to the Hong Kong students here if Beijing decides Hong Kong will lose its alternative system status. At the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre the Prime Minister of the day arranged for those who wanted to stay to remain and many of them did.
Would the girl who came to see me yesterday want to stay? She's  homesick as it is and the thought of never going home distresses her. The last three years have been hard, harder than most people realise. The university she attends would have no idea what she has been through or what she is going through now. If anything was said the staff would simply shrug even if privately sympathetic. It isn't the sort of thing they can help with.
All I could do was provide a cup of tea and "listening ear" for a short while. I felt  totally inadequate. The situation in Hong Kong is about real people, not simply about moving images on a screen.

Sunday 6 October 2019

Daylight saving is upon us

once again and that also means that I need to start thinking about summer knitting and Christmas presents - and, sometimes, a combination of both.
I often think it would be much easier to live in the other hemisphere and have the capacity to knit nice warm woolly hats, scarves, socks and whatever as Christmas presents. Downunderites don't want winter woollies as presents in the middle of summer! Of course in the immediate family this is not an issue. We give each other books or vouchers to buy books.  Christmas is fairly low key, especially now there are no small children in the immediate family - at least not with whom we will spend the actual day
But I have a number of elderly people to whom I give little things. I know it is sometimes the only present they will get so it is important to do it properly. They would be embarrassed if I gave them something expensive - even if I could afford it. 
So, what do I give them? It is something I give thought to - or endeavour to give thought to - in time to make something. If they are gardeners - and some of them are - it has often been a small plant I have grown. I have given them little things for the kitchen - such as a 3D biscuit (cookie) cutter to a woman who still bakes biscuits for her church.  There have been knitted bookmarks given to the readers and perfumed sachets to those who like to have such things in their drawers.
And this year I think there will be soap bags. My excuse - a legitimate one - is that there are some patterns I want to try. Instead of knitting up practice squares I will turn the knitting into soap bags.
I have ordered some environmentally friendly soap which will appeal to those worried about such things. I will use cotton - of which I have plenty. I will knit. I will explore patterns and I will make something useful at the same time.
At least, I hope I will.

Saturday 5 October 2019

Building a moot

full of snakes and alligators might be rather difficult. 
I am of course referring to the allegation made by some of the rather more irresponsible sections of the media. This was that the President of the United States wanted to build a moat along the Mexican border filled with snakes and alligators - and the President's response where he used "moot" rather than "moat".
Moots are actually something you do in law school - they are legal debates.
Moots were compulsory when I was in law school and I assume they still are. They are vital for anyone who wants to be a barrister. You have to be able to think on your feet. You need to know the case law, how it is applied, how you can apply it and how it might not apply - and much more.
I did Moots I as required. It was fairly simple. We had to get up in front of one of the local magistrates and plead a case we had been given.  We were not permitted to refer to specific cases - but it didn't stop the magistrates from asking if we were aware of them!
Moots II was a little more complex. People worked together in pairs.  There was a written and a spoken component.
And then, in my third year, one of the staff said to me,
    "Cat, we're putting up a team for the Jessup. Would you like to be involved?"
Jessup? It turned out to be an international competition debating international law. Would I like to be involved? It meant being around all summer.  I had never done any serious debating - just the occasional debate at school. 
There was no way I was going to debate at that level. But it turned out there were other skills needed - research skills and writing skills. Remember what I said recently about the subject "Legal Writing and Research"?  The team needed those skills.
The students involved are given a problem involving international law across more than one country. They have to prepare arguments as Applicants and Respondents and as if they were appearing before the International Court of Justice. They have to prepare two sets of written pleadings (known as "memorials") and two forty-five minute oral presentations - one each for either side of the case. It is, rightly, challenging.  
No, they didn't expect me to do the actual debating. After a quick trip home for Christmas I was set to work on the research. I researched and researched - and I managed to learn a lot that summer.
The Jessup ends up being about a lot more than the legal arguments involved. It means working with other people, listening to them, responding to their ideas, raising your own. All the time you need to keep the problem in mind. When writing the memorial for the Applicant you need to be convinced you are going to win. When writing the memorial for the Respondent you need to be equally convinced you are going to win. You can learn a lot about other people that way.
We won the national event that year - but not, like a previous team, the international event. It is the only time in my life that I am likely to attend the High Court - where the finals are held. Every time I enter a court here I remember that experience and the way I imagined the immense responsibility of arguing an actual case.
And now will I also think of a moot surrounded by snakes and alligators? There are so many traps in doing that sort of thing I might.

Friday 4 October 2019

Grief is an immensely complex thing

and should be the subject of more research - although it would surely be one of the hardest things to research.
We were talking about it yesterday. The Senior Cat's first cousin-one-removed M... was here with his wife. They are the couple who lost their daughter-in-law so suddenly four months ago. 
M.... is now the head of this branch of the clan. He is the one who somehow ends up at the funerals. He went to another one last week - for the much too young wife of another first-cousin-once-removed. That cousin has early onset dementia and wasn't really aware of what was going on. His twin girls are trying to cope with the death of their mother and his extensive needs.
M...and his wife have been trying to help their son A... who hasn't been coping well.  His three daughters haven't been doing well either. 
We know it is grief and pain and we can feel for them but we can't feel what they are feeling. Pain and grief are so intensely personal things. All the sympathy and caring in the world really doesn't do it somehow. Perhaps that is one reason why we simply want people to "get over it" and get on with life.
Only you don't get over some things. You learn to live with them but that is not the same thing.
M....and J..., his wife, needed to talk yesterday. They have been through a double set of grief. There is grief for the loss of their son's wife and their is grief for A... himself and the three girls and what they are going through.
Getting to see us is an effort so we have been talking on the phone but it isn't the same as seeing them and giving them the quiet hugs they need now when those outside the family are "getting on with life".  All those first events without T... are still coming up - the first birthdays, an annual family event and (all too soon) Christmas and New Year.  They talked and talked.
There were some positive signs though. M... can still tease the Senior Cat about his failure to watch the football and "remind" him to watch the cricket. They can still talk about the progress of their various grandchildren - every one of them good people who are making a positive contribution.
And perhaps that is what matters in the end. We will go on experiencing grief. I dread the thought of losing the Senior Cat although I know that now it will happen sooner rather than later. Nothing can prepare me for that but I hope I can find something positive in it.

Thursday 3 October 2019

The "self-serve" checkouts at the supermarket

were all occupied yesterday - and there were three people waiting to use the "cash-only" one anyway.
The single main checkout which was open also had a queue.
    "Go to the 15 items or less one," I was told.
So I did - only to be told off in no uncertain terms by the person working there. 
     "I am well aware of what the problem is," I told her, "If there were sufficient staff on your job as well as mine would be much easier."
She clearly didn't believe me.
I was also told - yet again - that I "need to get a loyalty card". And no, I don't want the cheap plastic "free" toys they were trying to "give away". It was no use trying to explain either. I was the one who was at fault - no, the customer is not always right it seems.
I really am fed up with all of this. Prices are going up and service is going down. Surely it should be possible to actually buy something in a supermarket without all this.
I object strongly to using a credit/debit card to pay for my purchases.  Their "rewards" cards make me want to scream. I know how the data they collect from such transactions is used and I do not wish to be. The company in question does not need to know precisely how I, as an individual, spend my money. I do not need their "targetted" advertising, "special offers" and much more. It infuriates me that there are now places which won't take cash - even though it is still legal tender. 
    "Get used to it Cat. It will all be cards in the future."
Yes, it probably will but it isn't right now. I really hate all this data collection, this intrusion into our lives. It isn't designed for our convenience but the convenience and profit of others.
I came home and paid the man who mows our little patch of front lawn. I paid him in cash. I know he does declare it because I have seen the books he keeps. (His wife does the paper work and there was a question she once needed answered.) Mr Lawn-Mower-Man also came in and had two glasses of lemon cordial. He doesn't declare that but I am sure there are some who would say he should. I don't think we pay him enough but he says it is nice that, if I'm around, he can come in.
    Is it any wonder the cashless economy is thriving?

Wednesday 2 October 2019

If the President has broken the law

then is the President subject to the same consequences as any other person?
If you know the President has broken the law - or even may have broken the law - should you tell someone who can do something about it?
There are some more questions to of course. Who did what? Who told who what? Where? When? Why? How? 
The question of whether Downunder's former Foreign Minister and High Commissioner in the United Kingdom should or should not have said anything about what he was allegedly told with respect to the President of the United States will no doubt rage on. Downunder's Prime Minister has now been drawn into the debate. What exactly did he or did he not "promise" the President? 
Although it is being blown out of all proportion in the media I suspect that the former FM/HC was simply sufficiently disturbed by the allegations being made (and the source from which they came) to realise that he had a duty to pass the information on. He would almost certainly have done so with the proviso, "This is what I have been told. This is the source of the information. I cannot comment on the credibility or otherwise of  that information."
And it would be the right thing to do.
And is a simple undertaking to provide available information to a formal inquiry  - if asked - a hanging offence?
 The media frenzy is designed to stir up more trouble of course.
But there was an interesting little piece in the paper this morning - reminding people that there are times when it is legal to break the law. I observed this some days ago. Not far from where I live there was an ambulance going through a series of traffic lights - there are four sets of lights in a very short stretch.  I was waiting at the pedestrian set and the pedestrian light was in my favour. I did not cross though because I could see and hear the ambulance. The car ahead of it slowed - and then went through the red light before pulling over to let the ambulance pass. It was a sensible, safe and legal manouevre. 
Despite that the man waiting next to me was all for getting his phone out, taking a photograph of the car and reporting driver. He wasn't happy when I said the driver had done the right thing. The ambulance went on through more red lights. They take risks every day. It's frightening to be in one when they are taking risks - not because of what they are doing but because of what other people are not doing.
And I thought of this when I read the reports in the paper this morning. Our leaders are not above the law. If there is potentially wrong doing then it must be investigated. People must cooperate. But if there are issues raised then they have to be issues of genuine concern with credible witnesses. Such people should not be used as the play things of the media or to the advantage of their political opponents. That will simply stop people from raising such issues - just as making it illegal for the driver to go safely through the red light would also prevent the ambulance from going through.

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Changing teaching strategies

mid stream is not easy.
I am supposed to be teaching a class on Saturday. At one point there was just one person who had signed up for it and I was sincerely hoping that I would not have to do it at all. Now there are twelve people signed up for it. That is too many for a hands on craft class where you have a limited amount of time in which to teach something.
I am not kidding myself that it has anything to do with my popularity or lack of popularity as a teacher. It hasn't. Just let me say it won't solve the problem the group has created for itself.
But the class itself still needs to be taught. I have had to rethink how it might be done. If people are going to spend an hour with me then I am determined they will, if at all possible, learn something.
Had I known there would be so many I would have changed the preparation I have asked them to do - but it was too late for that. I am stuck with it.
So, this week, I have been doing some extra preparation. It has reminded me of being back at school - as a teacher, not a student. We didn't do a lot of "art" as such in the regular class I taught. I taught them to knit instead - something that proved to be a good thing. I know more than one of them still knits - and that includes one of the boys.
But,when we did do "art" I often had to prepare multiple things before hand. It wasn't that they could not have done these things themselves but, knowing that they could, I decided they should get on with the creative part. The so-called art lessons were supposed to be enjoyable - measuring and cutting could occur in maths lessons instead.
What I do on Saturday won't be "fun" but I hope it will be interesting. I want people to learn something. I know most of them will never use what they learn but it may help them understand other things they already know or might want to learn in the future. 
I suppose that is what really matters.
But, twelve students and one hour? If I divided my time equally between them then they would get just five minutes each. Of course it won't work like that anyway because there will need to be information given out to everyone and some students will need more help than others.
I hope those who don't get the attention they probably deserve will understand it is because they are the more able ones.