Thursday 31 December 2020

Going into lock down

again is not something any of us wants to do. I know my friends in other places are already in that position. It's hard, very hard. People want to see family and friends. It's New Year's Eve. People want to party.

I have never been much of a party person. It doesn't bother me if I am not at a party tonight but I know so many people for whom "seeing the New Year in" is a not-to-be-missed ritual. It worries me. 

My brother has just rung from another state. He lives in a small country town. He and his partner were considering visiting friends who live on a rural property some distance away. They have their caravan parked permanently on the property and would spend the night in it. It would be just the four of them but my brother has just said, "We are reconsidering even that." I rather hope they do. 

They were planning on being here at the end of January and staying until the Senior Cat's 98th birthday in early February. Now it looks as if there will be no travel allowed.

In Downunder much of this could have been avoided - avoided if people had not decided that partying at Christmastime was not more important than staying safe. There were "backpackers" partying on the beach with no regard to social distancing rules or anything else.

Even on Christmas Day with family we were cautious but we know that, even with every precaution possible, we could still have another outbreak here...and not everyone is as cautious as we are.  Students I know are planning on partying tonight and, as one of them put it, they are planning to do so "big time". I hope they stay safe because alcohol, drugs, sex and the virus could so easily wreak havoc. 

Tomorrow a friend is coming to visit - briefly. We discussed it and decided it was safe. The only known cases here are in quarantine. They are "returned travellers" from overseas. It is the unknowns I am concerned about - the people who have travelled in other states and returned.

This is why I continue to sign in everywhere I go. It is why I use the trolley wipes in the supermarket. It is why I carry the hand sanitiser wipes everywhere I go. 

And it is why I love another very thoughtful present sent to me by the mother of my godchildren - another mask. It has cats on it!

And 2021 will be better - if we all do the right thing. 

Wednesday 30 December 2020

Ten weeks holiday a year?


There are some media reports suggesting that some judges in Downunder get ten weeks holiday a year. Naturally there have been squeals of complaint about this, especially about those judges who work in the area of Family Law.

Well, let me tell you that those judges do not get ten weeks holiday a year. They might be "on leave" but I can assure you that, for the most part, they will be working. 

They will be working on things that most of us know nothing about. It is a common misconception that judges "just sit there and listen". They don't. There is a lot more to it than that.  It isn't a job I would want. 

Judges need to know the law. They need to know it intimately. It isn't simply a matter of "listening to the evidence" or "hearing a barrister argue a case".  They need to know the legislation and the way it has been applied to previous cases - and they need to know how both those things fit into the overall context and principles of the law.  Reading legislation is not straightforward. (Writing it is even more difficult.) 

When I went to Law School we had what were known as "case books" for each subject. They were fat books filled with references to cases we needed to know about, the cases which form the basis of our current legal system - such as Donoghue v Stevenson which is concerned with negligence but whose origins go much further back.

One of the exercises we were set in a subject called "Legal Writing and Research" was to trace back a case as far as we could. It meant reading a judgement we were given at random and, using the cases quoted in it, go backwards and read those judgements and then the judgments on which those judgments were based and so on. We did it in pairs and my late friend C.... and I eventually found ourselves back in the late 14thC.  Yes, I suspect that we persisted a little longer than the younger students - and also that the tutor knew we would find the material. 

It took time to find those early cases but C... and I were able to learn a great deal from it.

Judges won't do that sort of thing of course. They know the law far better than we did then or I do now. They often have "associates" who will do a lot of the research for them.  Knowing how to do the research though is important. It is also vital to know the recent case law. What has happened? How was that word or phrase interpreted? Has there been an appeal? What was said in this case or that case?

Judges need to know all of this. Their associates may have done some of the work but judges have to do more.  At the law school I attended we sometimes saw judges at work on a constitutional case with members of staff.  There is a lot more material available on line now but I remember one occasion when the staff room was littered with piles of books and papers as two members of the judiciary, their associates, members of the staff and others were wrangling over a piece of maritime law. In the end it wasn't even used but it later formed a background to their understanding of one of the most important cases ever to go before the High Court - Mabo v Qld.

 Judges work very long hours when they are "at work" but they also work when they are not there. Any judge worthy of his or her pay packet will spend a great deal of his or her "ten weeks holiday" reading and researching. They need to be up to date. They need to know how the law has been applied by others in the most recent cases. 

If they make a mistake or a barrister thinks they have then there can be lengthy and very expensive appeals. Nobody wants that. 

It is why judges don't really have ten weeks holiday a year. 

Tuesday 29 December 2020

Looking in the filing cabinet

yesterday I came across an old photograph. 

I remember seeing it once before but I would not have looked that closely at it.  It was tucked in behind what the Senior Cat had asked me to find and I have taken it out to show him.

It is a photograph of a number of people sitting and standing on the front verandah and steps of a house. It is a big house, the home of a quite wealthy farmer and his family.  The family is my paternal grandmother's family.

The house itself still exists. It has a wide verandah around all sides. Back then it had eight "main" rooms without counting the kitchen, bathroom or laundry areas. Steps lead up to the front door because, beneath the house, there are cellars. They were used for storage, particularly in the summer. You can just see the chimneys. The house would have had open fires in winter using wood supplied by the  surrounding farmland.

 The Senior Cat would once have known the house quite well. He and his brother were taken there and later sent on a number of holidays.  When he was young it was possible to go there by train. It was a big adventure for small boys. 

Looking at it I wondered what my grandmother made of her return trips there. It must have been uncomfortable for her.  My great-grandfather was apparently a "difficult" man. He had nine children, seven boys and two girls.  He seems to have kept tight control over his family. My grandmother was permitted to go to school for just three years before he decided it was time she worked on the farm. Her sister, several years younger, was allowed to have five  years of schooling. I wonder how he would have reacted to the later law requiring children to stay at school until they were twelve? The girls worked as hard as the boys.

My grandfather met my grandmother through one of her brothers. He had done something to help the brother and was invited to the farm. They apparently had to keep their feelings about each other to themselves from the start. My great-grandfather did not want his girls to marry. He wanted them to stay at home and work, unpaid. 

Great-grandpa was so opposed to his daughters being married he refused to even go to the wedding. My grandmother was walked down the aisle by one of her brothers. At twenty-eight she was considered "old" to be getting married in 1915. It was seven and a half years and four miscarriages later before the Senior Cat was born. His brother came three years and three miscarriages later. My grandparents dream of a large family never eventuated. 

I wonder what my great-grandparents thought of all that. My grandmother almost never mentioned them although I think she was in regular touch with her mother. Certainly she helped her sister care for their parents when, old and frail, they came to live in the city. Going back to the farm though, to her father's extreme disapproval of the marriage, must have been hard. It made no difference to my great-grandfather that my grandfather had a good business, one which employed more than thirty people. 

My grandparents were married for almost sixty years. Their love for one another grew even stronger in that time. My grandfather once told me his only regret was that he had not met my grandmother ten years earlier. 

My grandmother and I were making the beds one Saturday morning and having a rare discussion about such things. She mentioned the day of her marriage and how much she loved my grandfather. And of her wedding day and the way her father was not the one to walk her down the aisle she said, "You know, it still hurts."

I am not sure I would have liked that stiff looking mid-Victorian man in the photograph.


Monday 28 December 2020

If a tree is dangerous

then something must be done about it.

There is yet another story in this morning's paper about a tree which needs to be removed. It is a "sugar gum". It is the sort of tree which should never be planted on a  suburban block.

I know it is very likely that the person who chose it and planted it all those years had no idea of the problems it would cause in the future. Even now some people will say that a tree dropping fifty kilo limbs is not a problem, that the tree should be left where it is and that we should learn to live with it. This will be so even though someone lost his life just before Christmas - because of a similar tree.

Nor is it good enough to suggest that those who live on the property should simply be required to pay an extortionate sum each year to keep the tree trimmed. That is not the answer.

There are people I know who say that "only natives" should be planted. They often have dry, untidy looking "gardens" which they claim "save water" and "encourage wildlife, particularly the birds". (They also tend to hate cats.) In this they are mistaken. Their gardens are not like natural bushland. Their gardens feed off other gardens around them. 

Our garden has no big gum trees or indeed anything other than a small native tree on one side. It was there before the house was built and we knew it was not going to get any bigger.  It is reaching the end of its natural life but we will keep it as long as we can even though it is far from beautiful to look at. There is a fucshia which curls around it. That is good to look at - and the birds like it.

The rest of our garden has apples, lemons, a cumquat, peach, plum, nectarine, apricot, avocado. Some of them don't produce much fruit for us but we also have an abundance of happy wildlife. "There's food at that house!" they tell one another.  The wandering cats don't seem to bother them. I have yet to see any healthy bird killed by a cat - although I have seen Pluto tearing down the street with a rat in his mouth. That happened after they cleared the rubbish from the back garden of a property further down the street.

But the idea that "only natives" should get planted and that we should "learn to live with" giant gum trees is surely wrong. Giant gum trees and houses are simply a dangerous combination. Gums, and there are many varieties, have their own special needs. The urban environment does not suit them. I know those great red river gums look magnificent but I would never plant one. Even if it survived it would be a constant danger to the surrounding properties. 

Being required to keep a gum tree simply because it is a native tree is ridiculous. Local councils have often been badly advised in this respect. I once knew someone, now deceased, who taught landscaping at the university. He was a "natives" man. His own "garden" not far from here was filled with native plants. To me, and many others, it looked a mess but he was very proud of it. 

The people who have taken over the house are very pleasant. It has taken them some years to get the front garden into some sort of shape. 

"We thought it just looked untidy at first," M.... told me not so long ago, "We might have kept it if it had been low maintenance and the birds came in but they didn't."

It was not low maintenance at all. Her husband R... was out there all the time as things needed to be done. It was hard to water - and  yes, native gardens do need watering in urban environments. The birds were not coming in as they expected. 

They are still working on it. There is their back garden still to go although M... can now put washing on the line. They want to be able to use the rainwater tank for more than the garden but they need to be rid of a tree overhanging it before that can happen. 

Yesterday though, as I was pedalling over to see the Senior Cat, I saw R... standing quite still watching the birds in their garden. He's a quiet and rather shy man but I have noticed more than once that the birds seem to go close to him. It is almost as if they know that he has changed the garden so that there is food there for them. 

Some people in their street were horrified when they took out a gum. It was still just small enough to be removed without permission. The attitude has changed though. Their neighbours now realise that the birds are back and there are other advantages.

Gums are lovely but they aren't right for every location. If they start to drop limbs that is a warning that the tree is struggling in that environment. Put something else in instead. The birds will appreciate it.


Sunday 27 December 2020

Boxing Day sales

are something I avoid. I have always avoided them - bar the one occasion on which my mother decided she needed something and sent me to get it. (I succeeded but not before my rear paws were trodden on more than once.) 

I do not understand this urge to spend money on a "bargain" immediately after Christmas. There were "sales" before Christmas too. 

We kept present giving to a minimum this year. We don't really need anything. There were two books for the Senior Cat - both light reading. I broke with the book-giving tradition enough to buy a silly board game for Middle Cat and her family. It was very warm yesterday so, by evening, they were ready to sit around and play it - in a very non-serious way. It was what the situation demanded. Youngest-Nephew could not get home for Christmas Day. That's the second year in a row and he wasn't happy about it either. But the wonders of modern technology meant he could see everyone and talk to them and that the Senior Cat also saw his great-grandchildren in another state. They take such events in their stride for the Senior Cat it is still a thrill.

And I was off to the sales? No way. If anyone I know went to the sales they have not been in touch with me or admitted their foolishness. I did not even head to the shops to see which ones had opened their doors. There was no requirement for them to open.

Really what people working in retail need after the Christmas rush is at least Christmas Day and Boxing Day off. Boxing Day was originally the day when servants were given a present from their employers (hence "boxing") and the day off. We can surely cope with two days of no shopping? I have actually. It's really been rather peaceful.

But I do wonder about all those people who went shopping. Did they enjoy it? What did they buy? Do they regret any purchases? And.... where is all this money to spend coming from?


Saturday 26 December 2020

Greek Christmas food

in Downunder is, I suspect, generally good. It certainly is in Middle Cat's adopted family.

When Middle Cat married her in-laws informed her that, from then on, any member of her family who was "home" for Christmas would be part of their Christmas too. Unlike Orthodox Easter Christmas is celebrated on the same day.  Everyone was welcome.

Middle Cat was, understandably, a little wary of this. The first year though Middle Cat's late father-in-law phoned our mother and informed her that we would all be going to join them. It was not an invitation as such. It was an order. You do not spend Christmas Day alone. The Senior Cat's brother was invited - but he had already accepted an invitation to spend the day with friends who would otherwise be alone. What? They could come too!

They didn't because travel plans had already been made but the rest of us went along not feeling at all certain about it all. Were we doing the right thing? Did they really want us? Wasn't this a family gathering and weren't we too distant to be thought of as "family".

No. There was Middle Cat's father-in-law presiding over the ancient barbecue. He waved the long fork at us and called out Christmas greetings in Greek. Oh, would people be speaking Greek right around us? 

In the end though the day was a mixture of Greek and English and far too much food. It continued like that. The only year we have not been since was the year my mother died. That year we went off to my uncle's place and had a very quiet lunch with each other. It was not exactly Christmas-like but it was all people wanted. 

Every other year I have taken food and helped with the preparations.  I can't make some of the things Middle Cat's MIL, P... used to make. I didn't get enough lessons from her. I have never mastered the art of "dolmades" and will probably never try to make them again. It doesn't matter because even her own children cannot make them. 

This year there were no dolmades and no baklava or kataifi but Middle Cat's SIL, F..., had made galaktoboureko. We had it with fresh cherries and grapes and the "honey crackles" I am asked to make each year.  

"I had to look at a recipe," F... admitted to me, "I couldn't remember how Mum did it."

That was interesting. Things are changing slowly. I had made a cheese and sesame loaf to take rather than the traditional Greek bread - "because we had some last time we were at your sister's place and..."  Once it would have been a great wheel of bread shaped by one of the aunts. There was no barbecue this year. We simply had cold meats and cheeses. There was no haloumi in among the cheese either - once unheard of.

And, for the first time, the conversation around us was in English. The occasional Greek word was flung in to describe food but only because it means using one word rather than several, because there is no word in English for something like dolmades. Middle Cat's generation "sort of" speaks Greek as one of them said but the next generation knows only a little.  

English right around makes it much easier for the Senior Cat. It means I don't have to guess from the context and the occasional word I understand.  It will only be because the local fishmonger insists on greeting me in Greek that I will remember anything at all.

Perhaps it won't matter if I can still say "parakalo' " and "efharisto' " - "please" and "thank you"?  

Friday 25 December 2020

A carol for the Cathedral Cats

 (For those of you who have not met them the Cathedral Cats live in and around a Church of England Cathedral. I "met" them some years ago. They are working cats. Bach, the eldest, is responsible for them. Aside from Bach there are Matins and Vespers, Cantori and Decani, Cadenza and others. Apart from "Mouse" they live with the other residents of the Close. Mouse is not exactly a Cathedral Cat. He lives with Tom-the-Organist and Tom's sister Lizzie. There are also some Cathedral Mice. They live quite peaceably with the Cats. )

The Cathedral Cats loved music - but they could not sing. They had tried. They had tried more than once. Each time they tried Tom-the- Organist and David-the-Choirmaster would tell them to be quiet. 

"But we can sing!" Matins complained to Bach.

"They don't understand how we sing," Bach told Matins. Bach was not actually certain that his young charges could sing but it seemed to be the best answer.

"Well they should," Vespers told him crossly, "Look at all the work we have to do so they can have music too."

This was true. The Cathedral Cats had two big responsibilities relating to music. 

First they had to keep the organ clean. They had help with this from the Cathedral Mice. The Cathedral Mice cleaned the inside of the organ pipes where the cats could not reach. The Cathedral Cats did the rest. They kept all the stops in working order, the keys on the four keyboards shining and the pedals and pipes polished. It was a very big job and it never finished because when they finished one part they would start again on another. By the time they finished the last part it would be time to start on the first part again.

And then they had to clean the notes coming off the pages as Tom-the-Organist played them. That was an even bigger job. It meant picking up all the notes which had been played, and there were thousands upon thousands of those.  They had to clean them carefully and put them back in the right spaces on the page. It was a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. The cats were very good at it. Bach could do every hymn in the book in not much more than the flick of his upper right whisker. It was very useful when Tom-the-Organist was learning something new. Cantori liked to do what he called "the loud bits" of Handel. Decani, always a thinker, liked contemplative pieces of Bach and could help David-the-choirmaster with Pergolesi, Vivaldi and Poulenc.  Matins and Vespers were surprisingly good at Parry and Rutter. All the other Cathedral Cats and Mouse, who was Tom-the-Organist's cat, helped too. 

They were paid to do all this of course. The Bishop's Secretary kept their Post Office books in the bottom drawer of his desk.  Tom-the-Organist and David-the-Choirmaster always thanked them as well. 

But none of this really satisfied them. They wanted to sing too. Sometimes at night they would try. They would gather together in the cloisters and try but even the Bishop, who was the most tolerant and gentle of men, would stop them.  

It was no good. They could not sing in a way the humans appreciated. 

Bach worried that the younger cats might want to give up working altogether when the Verger told them to "stop that noise" and threatened them with no kipper heads for breakfast. Of course the Verger did not understand they had been singing as they worked.

Bach explained this yet again to the younger cats. They looked at one another. It wasn't fair. They wanted to join in the singing! Their tails drooped and work seemed to take even longer than usual.

"Extra tuna for anyone who can think of a way of joining in," Bach finally told them. It would mean giving up his own Sunday tuna but he was too worried about morale. Nobody seemed to have any ideas but it gave them something to think about.

Then, at the end of the evening service some weeks later, something strange happened. Mouse and Decani spent an hour padding slowly up and down the cloisters. Their whiskers twitched. Their tails were erect with the importance of what they were saying to one another. They spent some time just sitting in conversation. 

The following day Tom-the-Organist, coming in to try a new carol he had written, found Mouse and Decani sitting side by side in the organ loft. 

"What do you two want?" he asked settling himself on the long organ seat. They jumped up next to him.

"Well don't get in the way and you can stay there," he told them. 

He played the melody for the new carol he had written. As he did so he heard a sound. He stopped. That could not be right! He tried again. He heard the sound again.

Tom looked at the two cats. They were staring intently ahead. Tom played the entire melody through again. No, he was not mistaken.

"You're purring it!" he said amazed.  The two cats swished their tails impatiently. He played it again, this time with twiddly and curly notes. The two cats purred in tune. 

Tom was astounded. Because Tom had been composing the carol at home he thought Mouse might recognise it but he had never before heard a cat purr in that way.

 "Can the others do this too?" 

Decani jumped down and came back with Bach and Cantori. They joined in. Tom thought it was a very restful sort of sound, really rather pleasant. 

"Will you do it for our Choirmaster?" he wondered."Dave - come and listen to this!"

The Choirmaster had just brought the youngest choristers in for a rehearsal.  The cats looked at each other. Now was their chance! Matins and Vespers had followed the boys inside. They came running up too. They all sat there in a row with their tails curled neatly to the right. Tom played the carol once more. The cats purred the melody again. The two men could not believe it. They called in the Dean and then the Bishop to listen. 

     "I think we should have them join in on Christmas Day," Tom-the-Organist and David-the-Choirmaster told the Dean and Bishop.

Join in? They might be able to be part of the choir on Christmas Day? The cats sat quite still and waited. Would they be allowed to do this?

     "Why not?" the Bishop said, "People will understand they are part of the community too, a very important part."

And that is how on Christmas morning all the Cathedral cats filed in to the choir pews with their tails erect and their whiskers out at just the right angle. The Bishop's wife had brushed their coats and Bach had inspected every paw for cleanliness.  They sat quietly at the feet of the choir boys - keeping them nice and warm and not in the least bit fidgety for once. And when the new carol was sung they joined in with their purring. At last they could join in. They could purr even if they could not sing!

Thursday 24 December 2020

"I didn't want to upset people

so close to Christmas. It's been such a bad year for everyone."

Those are the words of an old man who lost his wife of sixty-one years eight days ago.  He had not told anyone, even their own son, of his wife's death because he wanted other people to have happy Christmas.

I don't know him well. I knew his wife a little better - enough that I went to see them yesterday just to wish them a merry Christmas and the hope that they would be going somewhere on the day.  For several years I have just taken in a few pieces of shortbread before Christmas. Once in a while I have returned library books for them and once I took a prescription to the chemist. Really I did not know them well but I knew enough to know their son would not be over from Sydney because he is in quarantine.  I knew they felt too old to travel to him.

So  yesterday I went to see them along with several other people who were likely to need a bit of Christmas cheer.  I went around to the back of the house because both of them had a hearing loss and G... had always said to me, "Come round the back dear. We mostly live in the kitchen these days."

And J.... was there. He was sitting outside the back door on the old chair just staring into space. I knew something was wrong. It was all too obvious something was seriously wrong. He looked so bewildered and so distressed. He tried very hard to pretend but I just said as firmly as I could, "J...there's something wrong isn't there? Can I do anything to help?"

He shook his head and then muttered, "G...'s gone. They couldn't do anything to help."

After he had said that he started to weep. In the normal way I would not even have touched him but I stood there and held him until he had control of himself again and he told me that his wife had woken the morning of her death and told him she was feeling "very peculiar". He had taken her to the Emergency Department and, given her age and her symptoms, they took her in almost immediately. An hour or so later, with him holding her hand, she slipped into sleep and then "simply stopped breathing". 

"They wanted to call someone for me. I told them later. It's Christmas I can't do it to people."

"Does M... know?" I asked. M... is their son. He shook his head. He hadn't even told his son. He had told nobody at all. He had not even put a notice in the paper. Only a couple of people had called and he had just told them G.... was not there. 

Although there was evidence of tea making in the kitchen J... had not been eating, or at least not properly. I made another cup of tea and told him I was going to get him some fish and chips from the excellent shop not far from their home. He looked at me with that same bewildered and confused look.

And then, whether he wanted me to or not, I went into the neighbour who was home and told her what had happened. She was not someone I know at all although I had nodded to her as I went in.

"I thought there was something wrong. I've been meaning to go in - too damned wrapped up in my own life. Yes, you go and get him some lunch if you said you would. I'll go in now."

When I returned with his lunch, his first proper meal in all that time the neighbour was in there talking to his son on the phone. She was being pleasantly concerned and sensible.

"We won't leave him alone on Christmas Day. He might not feel much like it but...."

I found a plate, knife and fork and put the food in front of him. He stared at it and then, slowly, picked up the fork and began to eat. I could see it was an effort. He was doing it to try and please me...but he ate the lot while the neighbour and I did a few essentials. When I left he did something I am sure is out of character for him. He hugged me and said, "Social distancing be damned. You were right lass. I should have told them."

His son phoned me last night. Yes of course he was upset. "It was Dad not telling me...that really gets to me. I'll be there as soon as I can."

That's all that really matters now.  

Wednesday 23 December 2020

Telehealth appointments

were something I had never heard of this time last year. I have now had two. 

For the uninitiated a "telehealth appointment" is an occasion on which your doctor phones you at a pre-arranged time so that you can  "see" him or her.  Our local medical clinic has been insisting on them as a matter of safety.  Unless you actually need to be physically there you will talk to your doctor over the phone and only actually visit once a year.

Now for someone like me that probably works reasonably well. I have a nephew who is a doctor - Middle Cat's son. If I thought I needed to see someone or Middle Cat thought I did (Middle Cat trained as a physiotherapist)  then I would have access to someone.  

Middle Cat took my blood pressure readings on Monday - close enough to an 8:10am appointment to make no difference. I could give those to my GP.

And yes C.... phoned at the right time (I was first on the list) and we were all over and done with in less than five minutes. I was prepared. I knew what to tell her, what to ask for and how to answer the questions I knew she would ask. This morning I go for the six monthly fasting blood test after having my GP leave the necessary paper work at the reception desk in the clinic.

Now I can do all of this and I am pleased I can avoid one visit to the clinic. I will go and see my GP shortly - as the law requires. It works for me because I have family back up and I am reasonably knowledgeable about my health. I can answer questions and I can describe symptoms - often in medical terms. 

Many people can't do that. Some have put off going to the doctor at all during the last twelve months because they are fearful of the Covid19 virus. I understand how they are feeling but I also feel for all the GPs who are now getting patients presenting with problems that should and could have been dealt with months ago.

The virus has a lot to answer for and I hate to think what the situation is like elsewhere. The NHS in the UK is undoubtedly overloaded.  

Nevertheless it was a relief to find that my NHS number is still in my file. I'm told that, should I ever visit the UK again and need a doctor then I will need it.  

Tuesday 22 December 2020

Complacency will be the

end of everything if we aren't careful.

Middle Cat and I went to see the Senior Cat yesterday. (It was raining so she said she would pick me up because we had other things to do.) Now the staff in the residence are all supposed to wear masks all the time. That is a government regulation. 

They were not doing it. 

Middle Cat and I wore masks because you agree to wear them on the form you sign when you go in.

After we left the Senior Cat we went to the supermarket to do some essential shopping for Christmas Day. We wore masks. Most people were not. We wiped down the trolley with the wipes provided. Most people going in with us did not. We signed in as required. At least four people went in ahead of us without signing in.

We went to another shop. Nobody was wearing a mask. We were not even asked to sign in. The current regulations require us to do that. Middle Cat inquired. The boy working in there just shrugged.

I went to the Post Office while Middle Cat went to the chemist. Only two elderly people were wearing masks. Someone told me, "I don't bother. It wouldn't make any difference."

And that started up the inevitable conversation about vaccines. No, they wouldn't be getting it. It has been rushed. They don't believe it would help. No, they weren't "anti-vaccination" altogether- just anti this one. This state has not been offered any yet anyway. 

I have already had the anti-vax people have a go at me (and others) in the shopping centre and the library. I am ignoring them. I don't know as much as I would like about vaccination but I am very much in favour of the prevention of disease and disaster.

There were people hugging and kissing their Christmas greetings. Social distancing might not have existed for far too many. Middle Cat and I looked at each other.

"Anything else?" she asked. 

"The bookshop..."

We prowled to the entrance. Hand sanitiser was obvious and a firm, "Please do NOT enter the shop  without using this." Inside the staff were wearing masks and passing masks to people who came without them. It was quiet and orderly and the crosses on the floor left people in no doubt where and how they were expected to queue to make their purchases. 

We picked up the book I had ordered for our aunt and prowled out avoiding those not wearing masks and not using sanitiser or trolley wipes. 

Middle Cat backed the car out and set off up the ramp muttering,

"Complacency will kill us."

It might if we aren't careful. 


Monday 21 December 2020

Christmas chaos but also

kindness is upon us.

I phoned a friend yesterday. I do this about once a week so as to check on her. She lives some distance from me and is not accessible by public transport. She also has a disability and, since the death of her husband, lives alone. Her brother-in-law, a life-long bachelor, is very good to her but he "doesn't do Christmas" and she will be alone for the day. She tells me that, after five years of widowhood she is getting used to it.

I cannot invite her here because I won't be here - unless something goes catastrophically wrong. The Senior Cat and I have, as always, been included with "the Greeks" - Middle Cat's in-laws. We have done this ever since Middle Cat married her partner. Every one of that side of the family has a house designed to entertain family.

We are going to P...'s place this year. He has a magnificent garden, his pride and joy. He is looking forward to showing the Senior Cat what he has done in the past year. If the weather is as good as forecast then we will eat on the back "patio" - really a covered verandah and look out on the garden. There will be space to do a degree of social distancing and it easier to spread out food and clean up afterwards. I always take food - part of the second course and bread baked that morning. The Senior Cat is not expected to take anything of course and he is also treated as the respected elder. The youngest generation will all sit and chat to him. 

All this of course depends on there being no new community transmission here. My brother is stuck in his home in the eastern state he lives in and won't be travelling at all. He's not in the "hot spot" but is still worried by it. As he says he has his partner.

It is the people who don't have partners who concern me. In the coming week I'll leave home made shortbread for those on my regular pedalling route but it won't make up for being alone on Christmas Day when they were looking forward to travelling to family or having family travel to them. I know one very elderly woman who won't be here next year. She is terminally ill with a very aggressive form of cancer.  Her daughter lives in the current "hot spot" and cannot travel. When I phoned her to get an issue sorted out she was trying to be cheerful but she told me, "All I wanted was for Mum to have one last Christmas with us and now we can't get there." It's devastating for her and for so many other people in similar positions. All of us know that - and we need to be aware of it.

So today I am making a list of people who might need an extra virtual hug or a little bit of extra help because, despite the chaos, I am very fortunate really.  

If you need one here is a hug...and more to come.   

Sunday 20 December 2020

Lockdown in the UK

sounds really distressing now. My cousin has been working from home for months now. His partner is retired. They are mostly stuck in a tiny London flat but they have a "roof garden" the size of a pocket handkerchief. If it is fine they "escape" to that despite the cold. They have been putting on layers of clothes and masking up and going out for brisk walks without touching anything and trying to keep their distance from other people.

I know other people in much the same circumstances. I have an elderly friend in Edinburgh who will spend Christmas Day alone. I have friends in Liverpool who, like so many others, won't see family or friends.

I have not seen most of my family in over twelve months but consider myself to be extremely fortunate because I have my sister Middle Cat here. We still have the Senior Cat - something we really did not expect six months ago. For us each day he can still use a mobile phone to call us and we can go in to see him in the aged care residence he decided to move into is something we see as a gift. 

Recently I saw the retired priest from the church my parents  attended. He is now in his late eighties. He and his wife live locally in a small unit and this remarkable man walks down to the shopping centre every day. He checks on staff and chats to people he knows. In late November he spoke to me and said, "I must remember the anniversary of your mother's passing tomorrow."  Is there anything remarkable in that? I think there is. It  was twenty years since her death. Quite possibly he keeps lists and looks at them each day but it is still remarkable that he takes the trouble to do such things. 

And no, he isn't interfering with the work of the current priest. The current priest welcomes his presence in the community. He sees this man as someone who has the time to listen, who will alert him to possible issues which need to be dealt with and much more. Like the Senior Cat this is a man who is making the most of his retirement. He is still helping others. He and his wife consider themselves fortunate that their son and family do not live too far away but they have not seen their daughters since 2019. 

I have friends who were about to fly out to family for Christmas when another "cluster" developed in their proposed destination. They will be here for Christmas now. It's a very big disappointment but they would not dream of risking their health or the health of others and going.

And I think that is what bothers me most. There are so many people who are aware and who are trying to do the right thing. We all know that doing the right thing is not an absolute guarantee but we know it helps. It helps a lot.  And we know that it is people who are getting careless or complacent or who choose to believe it "won't happen to me" who are making it difficult for everyone.

I am still hoping that our family will be together again and that families everywhere, particularly those I know, will be together again. It's something worth waiting for isn't it? 

Saturday 19 December 2020

Sending money overseas

should be fairly simple should it not? I mean sending it for lawful purposes should be fairly simple should it not?

The day before yesterday someone left me a message saying, "Cat, I've transferred $X to your bank account for the scholarship fund." It was a lovely surprise and not one I would ever turn down. He had come into a small inheritance and was passing some of it on to the scholarship fund we set up in memory of my late friend E.... (The scholarship supports girls in special circumstances in an African country who want to study some form of science.)

It turns out that D.... had put the money into my personal bank account. That is where the problems started.  I let Z... my friend and colleague in Belgium know. "I'll transfer it tomorrow," I cheerfully told him.

Yesterday, after returning the Senior Cat's washing, I prowled off to the bank. The first problem I met was that the Manager, who has been dealing with the banking issues for the scholarship fund, had retired the day before. There was no Manager and of course nobody else knew anything about it because the staff have all changed over the years. C.... and A... and E.... who have all dealt with the associated issues have all gone to other branches. 

I told a "nice young man" what I needed to do - take the money from my account, put it into the account which holds the local money for the scholarship, and then transfer it to the bank account in my and Z...'s name in London so that Z... can access it. 

"Yes, but why don't you just send it straight from your account to London?" he wanted to know. I explained. (There are complex reasons for this but, trust me, it needs to be done that way.) He was puzzled but a more senior member of  staff had heard me explaining and looked in.

"She's right. It has to be done that way." I got the money put into the other account after showing "photo ID" and two other forms of ID and answering the security code question.

Then he said I could transfer the money and asked, "Have you done this before?"

I have sent money before but not in the last three years. Z... was out here just before Covid19 restrictions hit and he dealt with it all. Of course things have changed.

The "nice young man" took me into a little room. He dialled a number and helped me get through to one of those lines where you are put on hold. I waited twenty-nine minutes and forty-three seconds (the time was there on the screen) and finally someone answered the phone. I explained what I wanted. Oh no, she couldn't do that because she didn't have my ID.

"I am phoning from the bank. They have seen my ID." She needed to speak to someone from the bank staff. The "nice young man" came back. He spoke to her. He has seen my ID. Can I answer the security code question? Yes. He passes the phone back to me and waits. The voice at the other end wants to know how long I have been banking with that bank. I tell her and I know I am right. No, that's not good enough. I pass the receiver back. The "nice young man" hands over his security details and number. Someone else comes in and hands over theirs. No, none of that is good enough. The three of us give up and look at each other.

"Who's got the authority?" the older person asks in the way you know she has to answer the question herself. I wait. The "nice young man" needs to go to lunch for medical reasons. I thank him for trying to help. The woman finds someone else and says "I think we can do this if...." 

Two phone calls are made. Explanations are made. We are put on hold again - only twenty-two minutes and eleven seconds this time.

More explanations were made. The ID issue was revisited. I was asked what the purpose of the transfer was. I explained. "That sounds interesting." Interesting? It's important! I am ready to growl at the people in the head office and I feel very sorry for the "nice young female bank clerk". 

Oooh....she looks at me and holds a thumb up. I cross my paws back at her. She grins. We wait. Oh yes, they think they can do that. They are a bit confused as to why it is a Downunder address on the London account. I have to explain. There should be previous transactions there...oh yes. I explain who Z.... is. She can see his name on the website of his company in Belgium. I give her the details.

Right...yes, they can do that. It was finally done. I thanked the local staff, indeed congratulated them on their patience and determination. 

"Next time we will know. We aren't getting a new Manager until March but it might be wise to make an appointment and meet him."

I will do that too.

I prowled off, unlocked the trike and pedalled off to the Post Office before going home via the closest supermarket where I did something I almost never do - I bought myself a cold drink. 

And I was halfway home before I realised that the whole transaction at the bank, which had taken well over an hour in the end, had been conducted without me signing my name once. Now how did they manage that? 

Friday 18 December 2020

Copyright is a complex issue

and it has been the cause of bitter arguments on some internet groups. It is also an area of the law most people know little or nothing about. It often makes little sense, especially in the area of craft. 

"But  I paid for  the pattern why can't I make things from it and sell them?"

"No, you paid for the pattern so that you could personally use it. You can make something and give it to someone but you can't make a profit from it unless the owner of the pattern says so."

"But I'm the owner of the pattern."

At which point everything descends into confusion as those who do understand at least a little about the law try to explain.

Now I sometimes write knitting patterns. This year I wrote twelve. I hold the copyright for them but I have given an organisation the right to use them for a specific purpose. They have put them up on their website for that purpose. Other people can knit them from those instructions for that purpose. 

They are blanket squares. If someone knitted all twelve and put them together and sold the finished article for their personal gain they would have broken the rules around copyright. If they knit all twelve and give them to the organisation for which I wrote them and for the purpose I wrote them then they will not have broken the rules.

In that sense copyright  laws are actually fairly simple. You cannot use another person's  ideas or instructions for any financial gain unless you have the express permission of that person. Don't rely on verbal permission either. Get it in writing. You may be asked to pay something to use it - pay it. Don't assume you can just take someone else's work and use it to your advantage.

And why am I raising this now? Because another group I belong to wants to do something. Done in the way they are currently planning will break the rules. There are ways around it though and I am hoping they will listen - even though it will cause some work for me. 

Thursday 17 December 2020

Mugs of all shapes and sizes

and more than we need? 

I was given another mug yesterday. It was an early Christmas present from a friend who came for lunch. 

W...comes for lunch about once a month. I don't expect anything from her in the way of presents. It is simply that she is now a widow and, living alone, she gets lonely. Being between me and the Senior Cat in age she always enjoyed his company too. While she can still drive, and she  is the sort of person who will know when it is time to stop, she will come for lunch. 

By now she knows me pretty well. She knows where to find things in the kitchen.  And she knows where I keep the mugs.

Now I don't need any more mugs. I have mugs. Middle Cat gave me my extra large breakfast mug. It has a cat on it - holding a computer mouse in his mouth. It is  called "the Mouser" of course.

I have other mugs with cats on them. I have literary mugs - Tolkien, Austen, CS Lewis. I have a mug with a "fairy" on it - courtesy of my nephews when they were much younger. There is a mug with the local church on it that I was given when I went to talk to the women's group. I have a mug with knitting on it - given to me by my friend I... There is the Senior Cat's mug from the national Motor Museum. It has a picture of his father's first car on it. There are other mugs - striped, plain, pictures, words.... 

We have more mugs than we need. I suspect this is true of most people. Two years ago I quietly removed eight or nine that we never used and took them around to the local charity shop. "Thanks Cat. We can never get enough of those." Really? Well, people do seem to buy them. I once bought a mug in there - with a cat on it.

Yesterday I was given another mug by W.... "I know you don't need another mug but...." 

But I do need it - at least just for now. It has a cat on it. The cat, really not much more than a kitten, is sitting there with his head slightly one side.  He has a "please like me" expression and he is wearing a red Santa hat.  

So of course I have christened him with milk.  

Wednesday 16 December 2020

Do some adults actually think at all?

It is being reported that parcels going into quarantine hotels are being checked. They are being unwrapped apparently - and thoroughly investigated.

Now (a) I can understand if a parcel was coming out of a quarantine hotel that you would want to check it. That is just commonsense.

         (b) I can - just - understand that there may be some concerns about what is going into quarantine. If you have some anxious people who want to drown their worries in alcohol or illicit drugs then there could be a problem. We don't want people sending weapons or bomb making equipment or anything else which might be used to threaten not just those securing the building and working in it but the entire community. 

So, you unwrap every parcel - and you leave it unwrapped. Or do you? Some of the parcels being unwrapped apparently contain Christmas presents for children. Do you really leave those unwrapped?

We are incarcerating people for a fortnight in hotel rooms because of a virus they may or may not have. Many of those people have already been through a lot to get this far. They are, on the whole, uncomplainingly accepting the need to quarantine. They are trying to keep children entertained and happy and as little stressed as possible.

All this suggests Christmas Day in quarantine should have at least something special attached to it.  Most of us, even when we can't see family or friends, will be able to move out of what amounts to a bedroom to a kitchen area. If we are really lucky, as I am, then we will be able to go into a garden and visit family in small numbers. Restrictions have been eased here although we have to take more precautions than most because of the Senior Cat. None of us mind that in the least. We are not in lock down or in quarantine.

But there are children in quarantine. Their numbers are fortunately small but it will be an odd sort of Christmas for them. Aside from the religious significance of Christmas  it is a time which should be for children, not adults. We often forget that. Christmas is about the birth of a child. It should focus on that and on children. It is about family. It should focus on that.

Too many people forget all that. They wonder what presents they will get and if they get what they have asked for.  Children do that too of course but children tend to be much more self-centred than adults. I know there will be people, perhaps some of you who read this, who will say, "Well, it won't hurt them to think of other people for once."

I would like them to think of other people too. It would be good if we all did that.  But children are still children. Christmas should be magical. You don't have to believe in Santa Claus, Father Christmas, or St Nicholas but you do need to believe in the magic. You need to be able to believe in the magic of anticipation. The parcel you get, even if it just one parcel, needs to be wrapped. 

I remember my paternal grandfather sitting at the dining room table on Christmas Eve muttering as he endeavoured to deal with sellotape, string and paper. He didn't like wrapping parcels but he knew it was important. One year my brother got a present it was not possible to wrap. Grandpa hid it in the shed. My brother got a box in a box in a box and then a big envelope and a smaller envelope. The message inside the small envelope told him to look in the shed. He ran out and I can still remember his, "Grandpa, it's fantastic!" (Grandpa had made it himself.) 

And so I would say to those who have unwrapped Christmas parcels which actually belong to children it is your responsibility to wrap them again. You need to wrap them in fresh paper and give those children the gift of anticipation.


Tuesday 15 December 2020

The flooding in two of the

eastern states has been put down to "climate change". It seems to me that every natural disaster is now caused by climate change. 

Now yes, climate changes. It is constantly changing. Most of the time humans have not noticed this because it changes so slowly they don't live long enough to see it. Weather records of one sort or another go back centuries in some places...but for a much shorter period here.

Downunder is now being castigated for "doing nothing about climate change" and "not committing to a zero target by 2050" and more. We are the climate change pariahs of the world.

Or are we? For a start the world will be a very different place by 2050. There is only a faint chance I will be around to see it but I know that the generation below me is likely to be here - and the generations below that. There will be advances in technology - although perhaps not quite as rapid as the advances of the last century. Life will have changed anyway. Setting targets that far ahead is scarcely realistic. It is far outside the reach of any present government.  Goals, if they are to be set, need to be much closer in time...perhaps five years ahead at the most. Any government setting a 2050 target is one avoiding the issue rather than confronting it.

Downunder emits about 1.3% of the world's greenhouse gases but, as a "developed" country we are being asked to do more than many other countries.  The argument is that we generate more per head of population and that has to be reduced. 

It's a reasonable argument in some ways - but not in others. It is reasonable that we should be asked to try and find ways to reduce our individual dependence on energy. It is reasonable that we should be looking at sources of energy other than fossil fuels. 

It is not reasonable to fail to take into consideration that we have a population about the same size as that of California and that it is spread across a land mass about the same size as the whole of  the US. We need to transport people and goods across the country if the country is to function as an economic unit. That is a major contributing factor to the amount of energy we use.  We also don't have the manufacturing capability needed to provide everything ourselves so we import - and we export. Those things use fossil fuels for now.

If anyone doubts this is a problem they need to talk to those of us who have worked in areas where international conferences have almost always been out of reach. International conferences are the places where people make personal connections, the sort of personal connections which are invaluable in research and development. That we did so well in R and D up until the advent of the internet is extraordinary. When the Senior Cat was given funding to do some research in the UK and Western Europe in 1972 it was a major event, reported in the papers. Very few people travelled that far. Now we can use computers to do some of that work - although we still miss out on a lot of the more intimate contacts made at international conferences. 

So yes, we could reduce our per capita emissions if we stop importing and exporting and stop developing in other ways. We can regress to being one of the world's "less developed" countries. We can halt our population growth - something we seem to be currently economically dependent on. We can do all that even while we "support" our Pacific neighbours. 

Even if we do succeed in reaching the goal which has been currently set for us it will not be enough. It won't be enough because emissions targets are not simply about the environment they are about politics.  The big polluters know they don't need to meet those targets. All they need to do is appear to be doing something about the problem at the present time. It will keep those with the power in power - and give them more power over us.

We still need to care for the environment. There are ways to do it and we must - but we need to be aware that, while criticising us so heavily, some of the world's worst polluters are (and will) do far less.


Monday 14 December 2020

The perfect sandwich

does not exist. I know that. What seems perfect one day may not seem perfect on another. Yes, I know that too.

There are certain things however that apply to all sandwiches in my world.

First, and perhaps most importantly, the bread. Now bread is not "just bread". Bread varies.  I don't know a lot about bread but I do make it. There are things I have managed to learn a little about bread over the years I have made it. Bread is temperamental. It needs attention. That strange square white sliced stuff in a plastic packet you can buy at the supermarket is NOT bread. It may be a cheap form of carbohydrate but it is in no way related to bread. I know there is "white" bread which is supposed to be good. I am sure there is. I have, cautiously, eaten such stuff and some of it hasn't tasted too bad at all - rather good in fact. It tends to be labelled with words like "artisan" and might be "sourdough". It is not the plastic variety. 

Sandwich bread should be fresh. It should have some substance in itself - even though I like mine thinly sliced.  I like bread with things like seeds in it that I can see -  sunflower, pepitas, poppy seeds and more. I am interested in bread made from different sorts of flour - barley, rye, spelt and more. The loaves might not come as those convenient square "sandwich" shaped loaves but the bread tastes good. 

And why does a sandwich have to be square? Is this because someone has dictated that a sandwich has to look tidy? Is it essential that it be able to be cut conveniently into four equal size pieces. If you aren't sharing the sandwich with your best mate does it matter?

And then there is the issue of butter or margarine or something else isn't there? For a long time my nephews went off to school with sandwiches that had no butter. Their teacher (they both had the same one) had told them that "butter is bad for you". They were supposed to take sandwiches with no butter to school. It nearly drove Middle Cat insane. They now eat butter. Bread for a sandwich really requires butter - left out for long enough that it is actually soft enough to spread without tearing the bread. (In these health conscious days not everyone will use butter but, whatever you use, spread it to the edge please!) If you don't want either thing then you need to find something that will hold the filling inside the pieces of bread. Honey or Vegemite (the Downunder version of Marmite) or something else.

Oh yes, the filling. Some people will tell you this is the main reason for the sandwich, that the purpose of the bread and the butter is to keep the filling together. They may be right. Right or wrong though there does need to be plenty of filling please. There is no point in having so little filling or a filling spread so thinly that it is barely there. 

I have been given "sandwiches" where it would have been difficult to find the filling - the sort where you get one thin slice of plastic cheese and nothing else.  Such things are not sandwiches. They may look tidy and they may be tidy to eat but they are not sandwiches. A sandwich has the filling peeking out from between the bread so that you know it is cheese or tuna or egg or something else. There might a waterfall of finely shredded lettuce, some grated carrot licking at the edges or slices of tomato poking their tongues out - and you know they are there because you can see them.

Sandwiches need to be thought about. Leftover bread will make toast - but that is another story.


Sunday 13 December 2020

Watering the garden

involves much bouncing up and down and shifting of the hoses and filling of watering cans and.... 

The garden is not my garden. It is the Senior Cat's garden. He may not be able to care for it any longer but it was his pride and joy - his untidy, messy pride and joy.  

The Senior Cat is a believer in "organic" gardening. He liked to grow vegetables and fruit - things he considers "useful". He left the flowers to our mother. We kittens knew to keep well out of the way of her orchids and her African violets. Mum was the one who was given great sheaths of gladioli by the old man who lived over the back fence. The Senior Cat thought they were "nice" but could not understand why the old man wanted to have the entire back garden filled with gladioli - "a bit like a Monet painting". 

Now I am simply trying to keep the garden alive - and I have flung in some tomato plants, some parsley and coriander. The mint and rosemary don't need any help from me - apart from some water now and then.

There are the fruit trees - requiring varying amounts of water according to whether they are apple, stone or citrus. I guess I'll sort that out. There is the front lawn...that helps to keep the house cool in summer and, because of the structure of the soil all houses around here are built on, that is essential to keep the foundations from shifting or cracking. When we can't use tap water in a drought it is a matter of carting buckets of water - and I already use the rinse water from the washing.

I am no gardener. I just don't have the time. There is too much I don't know. The Senior Cat on the other hand was President of the Soil Association for some years. He also worked with a man who wrote "the book" about organic gardening. That man is long since deceased but the Senior Cat has not stopped teaching other people about how to do it - except that he didn't teach me. It was his garden, his hobby - I did not want to interfere in that.

The residence he has now "retired" to has some raised garden beds at the back.  They were full of dead plants. Nobody had done anything about them for a long time. The "maintenance man" does not believe it has anything to do with him. The Senior Cat shook his head. His paws have been itching to garden. 

And so he has put a proposal to them. He will do something about those beds. He will? Please!They would be absolutely delighted! So Middle Cat, who gardens more than I do, is getting the necessary and will help get the initial heavier work done and then the Senior Cat will grow, at the request of the person who cooks their meals, parsley and chives, rosemary and mint.

He gave me a contented purr and added, "I might even put in some lavender - will that be a flower enough for you?"

This is what makes for contented cats. 

Saturday 12 December 2020

Pregnant at thirteen

and not only being permitted to keep the baby but encouraged to do so?

In the last year of my initial teacher training we "special education" students were required to visit the then "girls' reformatory". There were about 70 girls there at the time. Some of them were pregnant. The reason for them being there was because they were pregnant. Some of them had been raped and otherwise abused but they were still being treated as if they were young criminals. It is something I have never forgotten, that I will never forget. It was wrong.

Their babies almost invariably went up for adoption. Occasionally their own family would take the baby.

Twenty years after that visit I met a young woman who was struggling with her first year at university. One of the reasons she was struggling was the trauma in her own life. She had just discovered that her "big sister" was actually her mother, that her "mother" was actually her grandmother. Her family was still in contact with social workers. Members of it were still in trouble with the law.

Somehow this girl had managed to scrape into university despite her dysfunctional family and their lack of support. Her tutor and I arranged for her to move in with a family and she did get her degree but it took a lot of work. She went teaching and then did Social Work part time.  She now works with young unmarried mothers and mothers to be.

She contacted me yesterday because one of her "clients" will soon be going to court and I will be her support person as she has special communication needs.  In the course of the conversation she was telling me that she had just been passed another case where a thirteen year old has been raped. The girl is pregnant. The girl is not sure who the father is because her mother's boyfriend had more than one male there at the time and "things got a bit wild". 

Her mother was an unmarried mother at sixteen. Since then she has lived with a succession of "boyfriends" and has had four more children, two of whom are already in trouble with the law. 

"And I am being pressured to encourage this child to keep in contact with the baby," she told me, "Pressured to do it even though she doesn't want the baby and has no ability to care for it. She has no understanding of what it means to have a child. The pendulum has swung too far the other way."

Adoption is now seen as the option of "last resort". The baby will go "into care" but the young mother will be encouraged to maintain contact.  It is an almighty mess.

But adoption can happen. I am only too happy to be involved in the other case. This young girl with special needs is going to be adopted by the couple who have cared for her since birth. When we were making sure she understood what was going to happen she told me,

"Best Christmas."  It will be. 

Friday 11 December 2020

Chinese imposed tariffs

on our lamb,beef, timber, iron ore, barley and now wine have the alarm bells ringing.

The last - the wine - will have a massive impact on the economy of this state.  I am concerned for the vignerons involved and for our economy overall. 

"But why should it bother you Cat?" someone asked me yesterday, "You're a b.....wowser."  By that he was kindly referring to the fact that I am allergic to alcohol. (In case you are wondering it won't kill me but if I accidentally ingest some it feels a bit like having touched a stinging nettle.)

Now if other people want to have a glass or even two of wine that's entirely their affair and the same goes for any other alcohol. I am not going to stop other people enjoying it - if they do. All I would ask is that they don't drink to excess and that they don't drive afterwards. 

What bothers me is not that people drink alcohol but the apparently widespread belief that it is an essential part of a social occasion. The Senior Cat (another teetotal cat) has commented more than once on a photograph  in the paper, "Wine glasses  in  hand again." 

Wine gets written about. It gets written into the description of meals out in a way that water or juice or tea and coffee do not get written about - if they even rate a mention. People go on "wine tours" and to "tastings". We don't do that with orange juice.

Wine making is the subject of a degree  (in viticulture oenology) at one of our universities. It involves the study of things like chemistry and soil science and much more. It's a very serious business and a very big one. There are more than two hundred "cellar doors" within an hour's drive of the city in this state alone.

And now China has effectively wiped out the market by imposing tariffs  of 212%. They say it is because the wine made here is being "dumped" on them. The man I was talking to yesterday in the Post Office queue has been involved in teaching in the course for years and told me, "That's a b..... joke that is. They can't get enough of the stuff."

People are starting to look for other markets. They may find some but there will be vineyards and wineries which close. We need to find more than other markets. We need to find other things to grow - in more ways than one.  

Thursday 10 December 2020

"Cashless welfare cards"

are back in the news. They were introduced in an effort to stop some people spending the taxpayer funded money they get on alcohol, cigarettes and gambling. 

Now the purpose of the money is to provide those who do not have jobs with money for housing, food and other necessities. It is not a lot of money and there are always calls, louder of late, for it to be increased. The cashless welfare card scheme will soon cease unless there is common sense in the nation's capital - something I rather doubt.

I know someone who works in a remote area. She and her husband have responsibility for a community which, until the introduction of the card, was violent and crime ridden. There was a high incidence of domestic violence. Children were not getting fed, let alone fed properly. School attendance was down. Alcohol consumption was up. 

There are still plenty of problems in the community but the cashless welfare card has helped. It is what the women want. They feel safer. Women and children are better off. School attendance, while still not as good as it could be, has improved.

It is mostly the men in that community who do not want the card to continue. The money for alcohol, cigarettes and gambling has dried up. That is not to their liking. They say the card is "demeaning" - and yes it is. It seems that if something is "demeaning" then it has to be removed. It seems it has to be removed even if it is at the expense of other rights - the rights to safety, shelter and food.

I wonder about this. B.... has told me, "The mothers are feeling desperate. They know what is going to happen. We know too. Why does Senator P.... want to risk undoing the good?"

Senator P... holds the deciding vote. Why he is holding out is a puzzle. He has claimed that the cashless welfare card's efficacy has not been "proven". What sort of proof does he want? Has he talked to all the mothers? I doubt it. Given his background in business he has more likely been listening to those who sell alcohol and cigarettes. They will have been telling him their income is down, that they have been dealing with the theft of such items and more.

This is not a decision about welfare. It is a decision about greed. It should be possible to put a system in place which is not demeaning but until that happens those in greater need should have the first priority. Senator P.... needs to listen to the women and what they are asking for. 

Wednesday 9 December 2020

The hospital emergency department

is not a place I want to spend the day and then half the evening at. 

I was attempting to get other things done early yesterday morning when Middle Cat phoned me and said, "Can you go to Emergency with the Senior Cat? I don't think there's anything wrong - the doctor is just being ultra cautious."

This is the doctor for the residence, not our GP. I haven't actually met either one for the residence. They don't really know the Senior Cat. And Middle Cat actually knows the Senior Cat's various ailments better than they do - and his mobility issues better than  they or his GP does. Having a physiotherapist in the family helps. 

Middle Cat could not go with the Senior Cat as she had two important appointments, one of them relating to the Senior Cat. That one was very important as it related to his ongoing stay in residence.

I could go - if I made a couple of calls, rearranged something, didn't do the Senior Cat's ironing and a bit more besides. As Middle Cat was talking to me I was looking at this screen and sending out messages to tell people they might need to wait until the evening..."go to bed and sleep" I told those on the other side of the world. 

Middle Cat's parting word's were, "Pack some knitting. You might be some time."

Someone, who comes in once a fortnight to help me keep the place under control, was here and took me over to Middle Cat who took me around to the residence. The ambulance to transfer the Senior Cat had not arrived because it was classed as "not urgent" but it did arrive about twenty minutes later. 

The Senior Cat was growling softly that he was all right and they were fussing about nothing.

"Not sure if they will let you in as well - because of the Covid thing," one of the ambulance men said. I told him I'd find my own way home if necessary but I didn't think it would be.

It wasn't. One of the problems with mask wearing, and I have mentioned this before, is not being able to read lips. Like many other older people, the Senior Cat does a little of this unconsciously. He is used to listening to me without always seeing my face but strange voices are much harder. Some accents are very hard to understand.  The Emergency Department was actually only too happy to have me there. "Cat! Why are you here? Oh, your father? He's okay?"

I told the ED nurse, one I have come across before, that I thought he was. She was about to go off duty but introduced me to those taking over with the words, "If you have communication issues get Cat to help." Thank you - not. I was there for the Senior Cat.

We waited as I expected we would wait. At least the Senior Cat was able to lie in a relatively comfortable bed. The ED was only half full and there was none of the buzz of urgency there often is. All the beeping monitors sounded normal. That was good. 

All the usual checks were made. The Senior Cat, worn out by the effort of getting there, dozed off. One of the staff asked me all the usual questions as a very young trainee nurse stood there listening. The Senior Cat had not understood her - hardly surprising as her first language was not English. "He wasn't being rude. He simply didn't understand. He'd actually love to talk to you in the normal way." I explained what is a communication issue for many people his age - an unfamiliarity with an accent which makes it very difficult for older people with a hearing loss to understand what someone is saying. 

   "That is useful," she told me with a smile, "Thank you." Her supervisor backed me up and they went off. The Senior Cat dozed on until a doctor turned up. She had a good educated Scots accent - the sort the Senior Cat can usually understand from around Edinburgh. She asked questions, ordered the usual blood tests and a CT scan and said as she hurried off to a real emergency, "I'll be back."

And so it went on. The Senior Cat could not have anything to eat or drink, "Just in case...." He dozed off -  but mostly because there was nothing to do. I knitted. Anxious people prowled backwards by our bay. One of them asked, "How can you sit there and just knit like that." She looked deathly worried so I kept her chatting for a bit. I knitted some more. 

Middle Cat phoned to find out what was going on. I told her. Mobile phones do have their uses.

Another very elderly man arrived. He didn't understand what was going on. One of the staff jerked her head towards me and I went over to the bay trying not to show reluctance. 

"Can you make him understand we need to take blood?" 

"What's his name?" I asked. She told me and I asked him, in his own language, whether he spoke any English. The answer amounted to very little. They went to find a staff member to interpret as he tried to tell me what was wrong. All I could do was reassure him  Really "language spoken" is a question that all members of staff need to have written down in a wide variety of languages so help can be obtained as quickly as possible. Hand holding might be out right now but I decided I could thoroughly sanitise mine after I had left him. 

"What was that about?" the Senior Cat asked me. I explained. He grimaced in sympathy and said, "That must be frightening."

In the early afternoon they took the Senior Cat off for a CT scan. 

"Do you need a cup of tea?" someone asked me, "I'll show you where the kitchen actually stay there. I'll get you a cup of tea - and would you like a sandwich if there are any left?"

I do get rewarded for helping out! The sandwich was made with the sort of soft white bread that has no substance to it but it was fresh and the filling was quite tasty. The tea was nectar.  I ate and drank and went back to the other old man who was still very anxious. His son arrived from his workplace a little later and took over. I don't know what passed between father and son but I was thanked and we discovered we knew people in common! I left them as staff came in to talk about inserting a pacemaker. 

The Senior Cat was returned and we had an interesting time transferring him back to the bed. He promptly fell asleep again. Time crawled by then. I knitted on. Staff went past and checked. A few more bays filled. Others emptied. An alarm sounded in one bay but the situation was resolved.

At just before 5pm they decided the Senior Cat could have something to eat - and actually found a small serve of a hot meal for him. Fish, mashed potato, carrot and beans. I insisted he eat it. It actually looked very nice - and he said it was. 

And yes, he could go "home" - in a transfer ambulance when they could get one. That might be a while. They told me to go home and thanked me for my help as they did. 

I left wondering about Emergency Departments again.  I heard questions being asked and wondered what doctors actually think of people who "refuse to eat fruit and vegetables" or who have "climbed a ladder without making sure it was stable" or "I was just fooling around with a mate and..." I know. Emergency departments are full of these things.

And they are full of people like the Senior Cat who might have had a blood clot - but didn't.  One doctor going off duty as I was going out said, "Thanks Cat.  In the nicest way I hope we don't see you in here again." Me too!

Tuesday 8 December 2020

The price of fruit and vegetables

is apparently set to rise even further. This time, so we are being told, it is because growers cannot get workers to pick the crops.

Like many other "developed" countries Downunder brings in seasonal workers to do the work that local people apparently do not want to do. There are good reasons for this. The work is hard and the pay is low, the accommodation and amenities are "basic".  It can also be lonely if you don't know your fellow employees. 

Middle Cat once spent a summer strawberry picking in the hills behind us. It was back breaking work. She needed the money so she signed on and she stayed for the entire eight weeks they wanted her there. It was a job designed for students before they brought in cheap labour from overseas. The job wasn't fun and some people didn't last but it was also something she could add to her "cv" (curriculum vitae) .  Now it seems that even that does not encourage students to head for the hills and help.

Of course there are demands that people should be paid more to do this sort of work. There are cries of "they don't even get the basic wage". No, they usually get paid on the amount they pick. The faster they work the more they will get. There is a good reason for this. The grower or farmer is getting paid by the bin or box too. 

And growers and farmers are not getting much either. They have all the expenses and they are taking all the risks but they don't set the price they will get. The market sets that. Supermarkets, particularly the big chains, have buying power. "You want X dollars for your bin of apricots? Well I can get them from your neighbour for Y dollars and that is going to save me Z dollars. That means I can sell the apricots to shoppers and still make a (hefty) profit." Then we come to the point of "how much are shoppers prepared to pay?" How many people will go for the cheapest and still complain about the price they have to pay?

How many of us think of all this when we pick out fruit and vegetables? I try to - just as I try to remember what hard work dairying is rather than simply take a container of milk from the shelf in the refrigerated area. 

I think we could do more, much more, to encourage local people to work in such areas. It would take a bit of flexibility though - and I am not sure we have realised that yet.  

Monday 7 December 2020

Reading a contract

is not something most people do every day, if they do it at all. How many of us have been guilty of signing a contract without reading it or, at best, just glancing through it?

I did read a contract yesterday. At a meeting on the previous day someone I know approached me rather nervously and asked if I would help. I knew why she was asking and how anxious she was and I agreed - partly to try and allay her fears and partly because she is the sort of person who helps others when she can.

The firm she works for has new contracts for the staff. I don't know why they are doing this or who wrote the contracts. She was concerned by the contract. Would she be better off under the Award which covers her work? 

I told her I would read it and see what it said. I wasn't giving her advice about it as such. I'd just read it and explain it. She agreed and it came as an email attachment yesterday.

Someone has tried to write a contract in what is often called "plain English", language which is easy to understand. That's good. What was not so good is that most people who have no experience or understanding of these things would not understand how the Award they work under relates to such a contract. 

I am no expert in Industrial Relations Law. It was an elective subject at Law school and I was more interested in torts, social security/welfare, international law and the like. Nevertheless I know enough to know that the contract I was looking at made it clear that they firm was intending to abide by all the provisions in the Award. The contract might be better described as a sort of statement of loyalty to the workplace and fellow employees. It's no bad thing. I looked the firm up on line. It's classed as a "small" business and it has a good reputation.

If I owned the business I might not set about it the way they set about - if I knew what I know now. A lot of people wouldn't know that. There is no reason they should know anything about such things. This firm is clearly trying to do the best it can in a time when employing anyone is becoming increasingly difficult.

I read the document through though. I read it carefully. I read it right through to the end. As I did so I made a couple of notes about things I thought my acquaintance might be concerned about.

Then I phoned her as I had said I would. I explained that her major concern was not a concern at all. She is still covered by her Award. The contract actually states that. I explained it just seemed as if she was not covered because of the way it had to be written. I told her, "Yes, it is confusing if you aren't used to reading things like that." There was a sigh of relief at the other end. 

I mentioned a couple of other things and said, "You've been working there a long time. They obviously value you or they would not be doing this."

She had not thought of it in that way. 

"Do you think I should sign the contract then?" she asked. Thankfully I was prepared for that. I told her,

"If it was me I would sign the contract."

I hope doing so will reassure her. She is a nice person - and I am sure they think of her in that way. 

Nothing will change for her if she does.  

Sunday 6 December 2020

Mental health issues

came under discussion yesterday. 

It is not a good time of the year if you are feeling depressed and anxious - and there are many people who feel like that, especially this year.  Feeling depressed and anxious of course does not mean that someone is so desperate they will commit suicide.But it can mean they still need help.

There was a message in my general Twitter feed this morning. It wasn't from anyone I know. It was from someone whose mother died from Covid19 in November.  The hospital had just called her to say that her father, in the same ward, was now palliative care only. Of course she can't go in and see him. She is a nurse. She would know almost exactly what was going on and she is continuing to work because other people need her.

I don't know her but I feel for her. Right now she might be "coping" but she is going to need her family, her friends, her colleagues. They are all going to need to listen when she finally has time to talk, to cry and even scream at the unfairness of it all. 

Recently a number of people have asked me if I am "coping" - by which they have meant am I managing without the Senior Cat in the house. They are asking about this in practical terms. They ask if there is anything they can do to help. And yes, a neighbour fixed the hose fitting a couple of days ago. Someone else put the "green" bin out when it was stuffed to capacity and rather heavy. Those are little things I appreciate. I know I am lucky.

But, the big things - big things for me - have not happened. I was going to "have coffee" with a friend recently. This for me is something very rare and unusual, so much so that it was a real treat to look forward to. Instead of that happening we went back into lock down for a couple of days. I haven't heard from her since. She will be busy with all sorts of  before Christmas activities. Even if we had met I doubt I would have used the occasion to tell her how I was feeling. I know that, for her, Christmas will be hard because she has lost a child. 

As in so many other things though the fact that I don't have a licence to drive or, even if I had one, a car means that I don't often go to see other people. The only reason I have used public transport this year is to visit the dentist. It is better not to take the risk with unnecessary travel.

So, ask me if I am "coping" and yes, so far, in the physical sense I am. I am used to working alone. I can also entertain myself most of the time. And when someone phones me at 7:50am just because she needs to talk - as she did yesterday - then I need to listen. Sometimes though it would be nice to just have some actual human company.