Friday 31 January 2020

Godfathers

come in all shapes and sizes and sorts.
Mine come to visit us yesterday. It is almost certainly the last time he will do it. He will turn 95 on the 6th of March and his children say it is time he gave up driving. I suspect it is too.
My godfather is still intellectually sharp. He is getting increasingly deaf. That problem started early - on a naval ship in the Pacific during WWII.  He is a very tall, very thin man with a "bad back" - another war time injury where some vertebrae were crushed. It didn't stop him working although there must have been times when the pain felt unbearable.
And cars have always been an important part of his life. He has driven since he was fifteen. No, it wasn't legal even then but there were no computers to do an age check and  he  was so tall he got away with it. He has an absolutely clean driving record too.
But when he gives up driving? He sighed.
   "Yes, it's time...on my birthday. I had to come to see you and I am going to see my brother."
He lives too far from us for me to help. His children will help when they can  but... His wife is in the early stages of a form of dementia. She gets very anxious if he leaves her even just to walk down the driveway to their letter box. Their daughter was "mum-sitting" yesterday - so he could come to see us.
I put the kettle on. I listened. I heard all the words and I also heard the despair and depression underneath. 
My godfather and I barely saw one another for years. It was just one of those things. My mother wanted someone else to be my godfather. I am always grateful that the Senior Cat said "no".  A very close friend of my mother was my godmother and that was a good choice. We were close. I needed her at times. But it has only  been since the death of my mother that my godfather and I have grown closer. 
I watch him now. He is old, very old - although not as old as the Senior Cat.  There should be an easy way for him to get to us or the Senior Cat to get to him with a bit of help from me if necessary. It shouldn't be a matter of taxi fares. 
The old need company too. They need company just as much as the young. It is hard enough for them that members of their own generation are no longer with us. We ought to make it much easier for them to see those who remain whenever they want to do so.
 

Thursday 30 January 2020

"Not more blanket squares!"

someone wailed yesterday.
We were talking about the Replanting Australia project and one of the women in the group was not happy at the thought of making any more squares. 
Nobody was saying she had to make a square but there was a sudden quiet in the room. I knew why and so did one or two others. I looked at someone else.
    "I have something to show you," she told everyone, "It's only a photograph because well...."
She brought out a photograph.
    "I came here as a refugee in 1960. Before that my parents and I had been living in a chicken house on a farm. The farmer let us live there and my parents worked on the farm in return for food. It was very cold in winter.  My brother had died because of the cold. My mother could not keep him warm. We had nothing else  unless someone gave it to us. My father had been a doctor but the war came and he was sent away for a long time. He had a friend here who thought we could come. It took a long time. When it all happened I was afraid because I did not believe people here would be any different. 
We landed in Melbourne on a very cold and wet day. I was wearing a blue cotton dress. It was too small for me but it was all I had. My father's friend met us and his wife took us to their church. There were women there who found another dress for me, one which fitted. It wasn't new but I liked it because it was warm. They found other things too. Nothing was new except one thing.
   "We made this for you," they told me.
It was a blanket. It was knitted in squares which seemed to be all the colours of the rainbow. The squares didn't quite match in places but I didn't notice that then because they told me it was for me. I looked at my mother and she was trying not to cry. This time it was not  because she was sad but because she was happy.
I couldn't say "thank you" because my throat felt as if it had closed up altogether. I did something I had never done before. I hugged someone I didn't know to say "thank you". She hugged me back.
I kept the blanket on my bed. When my daughter was old enough to know the story it went on her bed. Last year she gave it to her son and told him the story. It's still good because we take care of it. It isn't perfectly made but it is perfect because it was made with love and I loved it, still love it, because people made it for me. It made me believe I was loved and wanted. That is why we should make the squares."
There was silence and then the woman who had said, "Not more blanket squares!" asked me, 
    "Will you show me how to start?"
 

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Do we really need sports funding?

There is currently one of those political rows going on about funding and who gets it. 
I am sure you know the sort of thing I mean. It is one of those "it's not fair" sort of rows where the other side of politics claims and complains that the government of the day has been "pork barrelling" their own electorates. Of course the other side of politics has either never done anything like this or, if they are caught, then they have dealt with the issue immediately - and sacked the relevant Minister.
Both sides of politics do all of this - and more. It is how the game is played. You cheat. If you can get away with it that is even better.
What bothers me though is something rather different. It isn't a matter of who is getting the sports funding but whether they should be getting any at all. If they are getting funding then it is a matter of how much they should be getting.
Sport is expensive. Anyone who plays sport knows that there is a cost involved. It is said that people should play sport for any number of reasons to do with well being so we, the taxpayers, help to provide the facilities. Sounds fair doesn't it? We want people to be active, healthy and social don't we? There is plenty of research (of greatly varying quality) and anecdotal evidence to suggest that "sport is good for you".  I don't doubt that it is - if you actively play it and don't get involved in a "win at all costs" sort of way.
But how much of that activity should be funded?
I have said elsewhere in this blog that more people use libraries each week than attend a sports game of some sort or another as spectators. Even fewer people actually play sport.
Despite that libraries get less funding. Very few people could name a "famous" librarian. Librarians do not get well paid - and the job involves a lot more than putting books back on the shelves! Modern libraries also provide many services apart from books. Our local library runs different Storytelling groups for babies and preschoolers, games groups (Scrabble, Chess, Catan and more), French classes at three different levels, craft classes for kids and teenagers - just to name some of what goes on. I run the knitting and crochet group - which is well attended and about a great deal more than "little old ladies knitting garter stitch squares".  
And other things don't get funding at all. We don't put taxpayer funds into other hobbies. There are hobbies which might well be as beneficial as active involvement in sport and certainly more beneficial than simply watching it - especially just watching it on television at home. Yes, I know that can be "fun" but....
Why aren't we putting more funds into things like "walking groups" or getting "dog walking groups" together? Why don't we fund more "men's sheds" and the equipment to put in there? Why don't we fund buildings which are especially designed to house art and craft groups, amateur music groups, gardening clubs and more? All these things are important too. They can give people a life-long interest and help them build strong friendships. 
All that is even more important now. The nature of family relationships has changed. Social media has reduced the amount of face-to-face contact we have with each other. 
Spending so much money on sport to the exclusion of other things - and that is what is happening - is not helping to solve the issues of mental illness and obesity. It may actually be encouraging those things and contributing to the very serious problem of isolation in old age.
Sport is important. It is a very important part of the lives of some people. It isn't the only thing that is important though and it is time to recognise that.

Tuesday 28 January 2020

The Country Fire Service

still has forty-one units out fighting the fire on Kangaroo Island but it is now being "contained" - in other words it is not spreading beyond the perimeter.  That must be more than welcome relief to the men and women working on it. 
A former islander told me that her husband, now in his early eighties, had gone back to help their son. He is doing what farm work he can manage while his son is out helping others. She has been looking after their grandchildren and was taking them back to the island over the weekend.
They start back at school today. The school the Senior Cat was once the principal of is much smaller now. There will only be around 180 students there this year. It may be even less than that. When the Senior Cat was there the school had around 660. 
We were reminiscing about what it was like then. There were twelve school buses, eleven of them on the road at any time and the spare. The roads were not sealed. One school bus run started at just after seven in the morning and ended close to half-past five - and that was if nothing went wrong. The youngest children would often fall asleep, especially on the way home. 
It was the teachers who drove the buses. They were required to do it. They were paid a little extra for it but it was not nearly enough. The geography of the island is such that they would do most of the journey driving in to the sun in the mornings and in to the sun at night. 
They had to live at the end of their bus run. They lived in tiny caravans next to a house in which a school family lived. A caravan? Yes, because the houses were almost all small fibro-asbestos dwellings that the government had provided for the "soldier-settlers". There was no heating or cooling provided and, unless they used their own vehicles to return to the school at night, they worked under dim light from a 32v power supply.  If they did return to the school, as they sometimes did just for the company, then the big diesel generator had to be turned on so that there was power for lighting.
That was a long time ago now. The Senior Cat and his deputy worked very long hours. I remember the Senior Cat being in his office at the school by seven in the morning. He was not only responsible for the entire school, he was teaching at least three classes each day. He would appear just before we ate at six in the evening and then, more often than not, would need to go back to his office. (We lived next door to the school.) We children saw a little more of our mother but not a lot. She was what was then called "the Senior Mistress" and was responsible for the first three year classes.
This morning there was the usual "human interest" story in the paper about children returning to school today. It mentioned the children returning to the school I am talking about. The teachers there have not had a break over the summer - believe me teachers need that break! Today they will have to deal with children who are traumatised and anxious and who will act in all sorts of ways. Some will be aggressive and others will be withdrawn. Some will appear to be fine but may not concentrate well.  
The Senior Cat told me he was relieved it was not going to be his responsibility. I asked him if he would still go back in an emergency if asked to do so. He thought about it for just a moment and then said, "Yes, if I thought I could do it. I wouldn't want to but I'd do it for the children."
I think being a teacher, a good teacher, is a bit like being a parent. You always feel responsible.  

Monday 27 January 2020

Australia Day has been

and gone for 2020. 
There has been the usual fuss about barbecues, beer, citizenship ceremonies, whether it is "invasion" day and much more. It was a quiet day in this house. It was a quiet day in our street. 
Our neighbours across the road are New Zealanders. Next door there is someone who is South Korean. Her neighbour is of Italian extraction. The man who lives further on is of German extraction. On one side of us the mother is Hungarian. On the other side the couple comes from Taiwan.
You get the idea? Downunder, they proudly tell us, is the "most successful multi-cultural country in the world".  I don't agree. It is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world but it is not a multi-cultural country. 
There is plenty of cultural diversity but there is only one legal system - for now.  Many different languages are spoken but there is only one official language - English. In order to be multi-cultural we would need the big things like more than one legal system and more than one language (and education system) to be in place.
I know that might sound as if I am "splitting hairs" (or cat's whiskers perhaps) but I really felt as if there was nothing to celebrate yesterday. It really didn't help that the news gave as much time, if not more, to people protesting that the day was "invasion day".  Changing the date won't help there. 
Brother Cat taught the politician who was suggesting children should be taught to swear allegiance to Downunder.  She isn't old enough to remember the old Friday "School Assembly" sessions in which we chanted, "I am an Australian. I love my country. I salute her flag. I honour her Queen. I promise to obey her laws." Then we would sing "God Save the Queen" and "the Song of Australia". I never felt comfortable doing it. That was long before Downunder became so culturally diverse. I went all the way through my infant and junior school years doing that and even now I cringe at what we were asked to do.  I don't think getting children to swear allegiance now is going to work any sort of miracle of acceptance. Do we really need a day like this?

Sunday 26 January 2020

The Honours List

is out this morning.
I know two people on it - neither of them well. One is a former politician who has continued to be involved in a wide range of community activities.  She is one of those rare politicians who probably does deserve to be acknowledged for her work in other fields. I know she leads a rather busy life - and gets things done. 
Perhaps the other politicians who are, inevitably, on the list also get things done that I know nothing about.
The other person is an embroiderer, quilter, artist and the like. She knows an enormous amount about Gujarat and Moroccan textiles. Her work is heavily influenced by those traditions. It is not just simply "colourful" but almost fiery with colours from the deserts. She leads tours to Morocco and India. (I'd love to do them but know I never will.) She teaches. Not being an embroiderer I have never done one of her classes but people tell me her classes are usually "one of the best I have ever done". I have heard her telling people how to do something and there is a quiet authority there - the sort which will give a student confidence.
I thought of all that this morning when I saw her name in the list because yesterday there were some knitters here. One of them had brought a project she had finally finished from the first class I taught at the Embroiderers' Guild Summer School some years ago. Yes, a couple of mistakes but does that matter? It was her first attempt at lace work and everyone makes mistakes. I know I do.
It still looks good.  The same person also brought her second project from another class I taught. I know she will finish it. I reminded her how to do a simple two stitch cable without a cable needle. I'd forgotten the pattern I gave the class. (If I had known she was going to bring her work I would have looked up the file and refreshed my memory.)
What interested me though was the idea that, if you are open to ideas, you can go on learning. You can go on learning about the subject, the form and the idea you are teaching. There is never an end to it. You can go on learning from the people who are supposedly your students.  The honours day artist once told me in conversation that there was "still so much to learn".  
I know. I keep wanting forty-eight hours in each day - not a mere twenty-four.
When I was talking to another group on Friday I discovered they pursued a wide range of crafts. One of them asked if I had ever taken up  card making. The answer was "no". It is too fiddly for me. I would not be good at it. There is also an enormous amount to learn in any new craft.
I need to stick to knitting and crochet. I really have only just scratched the surface in those areas - and I can go on honouring the experts.
 

Saturday 25 January 2020

I have set up a FB page

and yes, I know there are too many FB pages already. We really don't need any more do we?
The problem is that I didn't feel I could put what I needed to say on other people's pages. There are definitely limits and it is not good manners to post long pieces on someone else's pages even if invited to post something.
But how else to get the message about replanting Downunder out? (And  yes of course it is called Replanting Australia there.) I am just hoping that the page will prove useful. It doesn't even have a header photograph yet. I am no technical whizz cat.
Yesterday I went and talked to a small group of elderly women - most of them well over eighty, some over ninety. They meet once a week to do "craft" which they then sell at their local church to raise money for Anglicare. (Anglicare is the biggest social welfare organisation in Downunder outside the government.) 
Their skills are many and varied. They are the generation who can "make something from (almost) nothing".
I told them what we were planning and why. Yes of course they were interested. Yes of course they thought they could help.  
That's good. It's a start.
I'll talk to some more people today. I know some of them will help too. But it will take a lot more than that. It will involve a lot of work.
There is a tiny group of young people I work with who have plans to work on some squares. Their reaction was not just "of course we will help" but "it will help us too...we can learn some new things and try some new ideas".  They are full time students. All of them have serious disabilities. They can't work at part time jobs but it isn't stopping them from helping other people.
But there must be a lot more people out there. They might be willing to help too - if they know. 
I have to find a way of getting the message out.

Friday 24 January 2020

Replanting Australia

If you want to help to help Downunder recover from the bush/wildfires and you can knit or crochet then I have a challenge for you.
No, it isn't to make pouches for joeys or mittens for koalas.  They aren't needed. What we need is something much simpler.
Last year our state's annual show had a Queen Victoria Challenge - for the 200th year of Queen Victoria's birth. It went well. We had more entries than we expected - although we would have liked more still.
This year we are asking for entries which relate somehow to the International Year of Plant Health.
And we want something else. We want blanket squares. We want lots and lots of blanket squares. We want people to design and knit or crochet blanket squares which somehow relate to Australia or Downunder as I refer to it here.
It's a challenge. There is no entry fee. You donate the square. You can donate more than one square if you wish to do so.  We will choose the best of the squares and put them into a special blanket to be raffled off for the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park. (This will benefit the entire island community and help to save the internationally important Ligurian bee population.) 
All the other squares will be made up for bushfire victims (both human and animal) in need after the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society Show is over in September. 
We will award a blue ribbon to what is judged to be the best square in knitting and another to the best square in crochet. If we get enough squares we will display all of them as a map of Australia at the 2020 RAHS Show at Wayville.
The details:
     (1) Squares must be 30cm (12") square.
     (2) They must be made from wool, wool blend, cotton or good quality acrylic
     (3) They can be knitted in fingering (4ply), sport (5ply), DK (8ply) or worsted and aran weight. 
     (4) They can be any colour you associate with Australia, the "outback" or desert, the rainforest, gum trees, wattle, Sturt Peas or anything else you can think of.
     (5) They can be any pattern you like, plain, fancy, ribbed, cabled, Fair Isle type, intarsia, single/double, treble, tapestry and more. 
It is up to you to design it. Work out your tension/gauge for your chosen pattern and go from there. 
     (6) Block your squares please
If you want to enter the challenge and have your name acknowledged then please firmly attach
                    (i) your name
                   (ii) an email or other address where you can be contacted
                  (iii) if you want to do so add something about why you have made the square you have made, how you associate it with Australia.
By entering you agree to have your square, if chosen, included in the final prize winning blankets for raffle and all squares sewn into a blanket for use for those in need.  The judges' decisions are final.
Send your squares to:
 
Secretary's Office
Adelaide Showground
Goodwood Road
Wayville SA 5034
 

(PO Box 108, Goodwood SA 5034)

or if you live outside Australia to 
   
    Community Project Group
    PO Box 401
    MSC
    Torrens Park  SA 5062
    AUSTRALIA 

All entries need to be there absolutely NO LATER than 20th August 2020 but earlier than that would be greatly appreciated if possible.

I have set up a Facebook page so that people can see what is happening - no pictures yet.  I have called it "Replanting Australia". Please join it and put  up pictures of your squares to encourage others to join in.

Thursday 23 January 2020

Is the bushfire relief money being spent?

My nephew has just sent me something which is apparently doing the rounds in social media.