Tuesday 31 March 2020

The "wet markets" are places

where things like meat and fish are sold. In some places they also have the live animals and fish which are then killed on the spot in order for them to be as fresh as possible. The mix of live and dead and the often low (perhaps non-existent) standards of hygiene means disease will flourish. 
It may or may not have been the cause of Covid19 but it certainly helped to spread it. I have no doubts about that. A friend who is still in China has no doubts either. He stays well away from such places and has eaten no meat or fish since he went there. His family has been sending him "care" packages since he arrived there. He is due home at the end of this year but wishes he was home now. He is telling us things which suggest the situation in China is really very different from the one we are being told through the news services. Yes, he is being very cautious about what he is saying and how he is saying it but that in itself is telling.
I am reminded of the time my late friend E... spent in Kunming. She was teaching at the medical school there - one of the biggest in China. Almost immediately she succumbed to illness - but was still expected to carry on teaching. Not wanting to eat the meat she was eating the carp, the only other available source of protein, from the lake. Yes, the locals were eating it too. Then she discovered that raw sewage flowed into the lake. Perhaps the locals were immune to all the problems that caused. E... was not. She became so ill she was hospitalised - but not in the teaching hospital. As a Westerner she was sent to the military hospital because the care there was better.  That hospital had wooden floors - and the intermittent electricity was supplied through live wires going across the floors. The workers there "just avoided them". She was sent back to her room at the university with the drip in her arm and told to take it out herself when it was finished. I was  about to fly over and get her when another member of staff from her university here had to go and brought her back instead. I have always been thankful it worked out that way.
Things may be a little better now but not by much. China's claim that they have the virus under control is nonsense. They are simply no longer reporting the situation. Their media and their communication sources are so tightly controlled they are not letting information out. People within China do not know what is going on. Even when there is no such emergency the Chinese are ill informed. Those in authority believe it is the only way to control such a big population. Now they want the rest of the world to believe the same.
There are calls for the rest of the world to rethink the relationship with China. I saw a video of Chinese medical staff apparently arriving in London to "help". It disturbed me deeply.  This isn't about any sort of "conspiracy" theory. It is simply about appalling standards of hygiene in a country which struggles to feed the population. It is also about the leaders of that same country using the situation to try and gain economic influence. We need to be aware of that...and change it. 

Monday 30 March 2020

Knitting is supposed to be relaxing,

calming, soothing...
I may need it in the coming months. Our Prime Minister informed us yesterday that humans over a certain age should "stay at home". It wasn't quite a lock down but close to it. 
Other people are being asked to stay at home if they possibly can. Take the dog for a walk? Yes. Get some exercise yourself? Yes, if you take a walk with one other person or ride your bike or - presumably - use your skateboard or whatever. 
The "one other person" provision is there to protect women in particular, women who might only be able to go out with someone else. I know the Muslim woman who lives in the group of units across the way and down the lane from us would not go out alone at any time - although I have seen her scuttle alone to the rubbish bin with a last load of rubbish. 
Will people go for walks? I hope so. 
And will they do other things? The state newspaper now has a section called "Hibernation" - full of things to do while forced to stay at home. So far I have not had time to look at it. I don't need any more to do. 
I want to finish the book I started writing almost two years ago. The "of course you can find time to write if you really want to" noise does not take into account a number of things that really do prevent you from doing just that. 
And I hope I can knit...and knit more than I usually do. Yes, it is supposed to be relaxing, soothing, calming and more. 
Interestingly I did very little knitting when my mother was dying. Looking back I realise I had very little time...and I needed more sleep than I was getting. Knitting was low on the list of priorities. 
It is higher right now. The Senior Cat is supportive, encouraging and interested. (That he fails to understand the process at all just adds to the fun for both of us.) I still don't have a lot of time but I have more ideas than ever. 
But, more important than ever, I need to make sure I keep in touch with people I know live alone or will simply need support. I spoke to one yesterday. I will try and talk to another today and another tomorrow...and so it will go on. They need to know someone is interested.  Most of them knit and all of them read or indulge in craft of one sort or another. We should be able to find things to talk about.
We could grow further apart - or we could grow closer together.

Sunday 29 March 2020

There are almost no cars on the roads

as I do my lone pedal. 
Normally there would, even at this time on a Saturday, be plenty. People would be going to and from the shops and sport or the hardware store or simply be "out".  
I have never quite understood what it means to just go "out". I go out for a purpose but I know people who shrug and say, "We just went "out" - might have a coffee or something but really we just went out."
Right now they must need to say "in" unless they go for a walk or pedal - both things still allowed. I wonder what they are doing. The paper is full of ideas for "hibernation" - mostly things I would not want to do. 
Ms W and I had a conversation. She phoned me and said she was coming around and could I please meet her "over the fence". That phrase might become more common place. I met her "over the fence". It means me standing on the lawn and Ms W standing on the foot path. We are about three metres apart. We don't need to shout and can have a perfectly normal conversation. All I miss is her hug - and I do miss that. Ms W gives excellent hugs. 
She has had an entire week at home now. How was she getting on? So far she seems to be coping extremely well. They have eaten "properly". She has done all her set schoolwork and some more besides. According to her, "You can get heaps more done if you can just get on with it. I don't have to wait while people ask things I already know the answer to but you don't get ideas in the same way." 
Her father is not walking to the railway station and back - the way he usually goes to work - so they go for a walk or take their bikes out for twenty minutes in the middle of the day. That was her idea. I doubt her father would have thought of it. She is determined he should exercise. 
    "He's had heaps of on-line meetings and stuff like that. It's just like usual for him except he's not going anywhere."
They seem to have settled into a sort of routine for all that. I know her father does do a lot of work from home. What he does often requires intense concentration. He would be interrupted in the office.
    "And I'm lucky it is just the two of us because nobody else can wander in and interrupt either."
Her friends and class mates are finding it harder. A lot of them have siblings who will interrupt. They too often have parents working from home, parents who are not used to doing that. Their parents are certainly not used to working from home and supervising schoolwork at the same time. She also knows there are people who will be unemployed. That worries her.
But then she reminded me that I had bought tomato paste for her as well as us.
    "What are you making?" I ask
    "Pizza faces," she tells me, "We could do with a smile."
I showed her how to make those years ago. I thought she had grown out of them. It's nice to know she hasn't.
It's nice to know that some things are still the same.

Saturday 28 March 2020

Our immediate neightbours are Chinese

from Taiwan.
H....speaks almost no English even after around eight years here. For this I blame her husband R.... I offered to help H.... with English lessons. He declined. 
If the Senior Cat and I have ever tried to speak to her over the fence then R... will join in and take over the conversation. It has left her isolated apart from her children and some of the acquaintances R... made before he arrived here. Her grandchildren do not speak Chinese. They are growing up here but H... rarely sees them.  It seems that this is the way R... wants things.
Now she is even more isolated than before.
Yesterday I saw her coming back with her shopping. She looked as if she had been crying. I can't go to her and ask, "What's wrong?" and I can't go to her and hug her. I did hug her once. It was about a year or so after she arrived. Her husband's car was damaged in the car park of the hospital and someone phoned. Her limited understanding of English caused her to believe that R... had been injured. She was frantic. I took the phone from her and took the message and then told her carefully that R... was not hurt. I gave her a hug and she held on tight. It was what she needed right then.
A hug might not have helped yesterday. I can of course imagine all sorts of things that might be wrong. I did call out and ask if she needed help. All I got was a look of despair and misery and a shake of the head. 
I wonder how many other people are in this position? We tend to think of everyone as being able to communicate...even me whose working life involves helping others do just that. It isn't true of course. Right now there are people who don't have access to computers, who can't afford the sort of phone plan that allows them unlimited talk time and much more. There are many people here who speak almost no English. They are isolated at the best of times and it might be that they had one outing each week - perhaps to church or mosque or temple or a language class - and that has stopped.
If those of us who have multiple ways of communicating find it hard then how much harder are they finding it?
I am going to send my Federal MP a suggestion this morning - a temporary measure to reduce isolation. If anything comes of it then people will hear about it.

Friday 27 March 2020

"Can I come and visit?"

was asked of me twice yesterday.
The answer was "no". One person thought it would be "fine" if she sat on the lawn and the Senior Cat was "six feet" away. No.  The other person was "just going to drop something in". No.
There are people who need to come into this house. The first are the people who help the Senior Cat shower. That means someone three times a week. I would rather this was not necessary but, realistically, it is much safer if they do it. We are taking all the precautions we can with that because it is very close contact. We just have to hope that they don't  bring an infection with them. We are balancing that against what would happen if I was helping and the Senior Cat fell.
The person who comes to help me two hours a fortnight with the heavy cleaning (floors, vacuuming, reaching the places I cannot reach) will come as long as she is permitted to do so. She is very, very conscious of the need for hygiene. She cleans a dental surgery and she has very elderly parents herself. When she is here she will, as far as possible, maintain a distance between  us - but she has been known to help the Senior Cat with things like shoe laces and shirt buttons in the past and that will undoubtedly stop. 
The person who does the really heavy garden maintenance will be here on Monday. He also comes once a fortnight. He has no need to come into the house and the Senior Cat will remain inside while he is here. S....and I can maintain that "social distance" too. Without him there will be other problems I cannot cope with.
The person who mows the lawn will simply pick up his pay from the front door and go. 
We need those people because they do things I cannot do, things that allow us to remain isolated.
Middle Cat will come if the Senior Cat needs help but will otherwise keep her distance. The neighbours will do the same.
We do not need "friends" calling in - even with the best of intentions.
It is hard on the Senior Cat. He doesn't have my Facebook contacts and having a conversation with L..., my godfather, is difficult because they are both so hard of hearing.  His other very close friend, K..., is now so advanced in his Alzheimer's that he cannot hold a conversation.
I am reminded of my paternal grandfather saying he had lived "too long" because all his friends had died before him.  I am reminded too of an elderly woman who said that she only chose people younger than herself as friends "so they won't die before me". 
The church the Senior Cat attends is setting up a voluntary register of names, phone numbers and emails - nothing more and only if you want to, for people to contact one another while in isolation. We need more of that.
And I am thankful for the friends who do phone and who talk to the Senior Cat and for the friends on FB who ask how we are coping. I like to know they are coping too. Keep it up please!

Thursday 26 March 2020

The world is suddenly

much quieter. 
There have been no vehicles down our street this morning. People are not going to work. They are staying home and their cars are in carports and garages.
I saw someone out walking their dog and the elderly couple who walk each morning were striding along at their usual pace. Yes, you can still go out for those purposes - if you keep your distance. I wonder how long that will last?
The amount of work I have to do has dropped dramatically. Yesterday was the first day in more years than I care to think about that there was no new work come in. The reasons for that are not good.
I have been trying to "retire" for some time. Now, for the worst possible reasons, it looks as if it might be possible. Be careful what you wish for! 
People cannot travel. The sort of aid workers I try to help simply aren't going anywhere. They can't. People here cannot leave the country. Others cannot enter it.
It does not mean things don't need to be done. It means they can't be done.
We still have refugee camps. There are still wars being fought. People still need help for other reasons. 
Catherine Hamlin died recently. If you don't know her then Google her to see what a remarkable woman she was. I did a tiny amount of work for her once - many years ago. She was highly intelligent, courteous and compassionate. Her work has made a difference to thousands upon thousands and it needs to go on. 
There are other people like her working quietly and wondering how they will cope if C19 hits. One of the "micro-aid" workers I worked with recently managed to get to his home country just before the borders closed. His only thought was whether the people he had left behind would be able to safely insert a massive water tank into place and connect the necessary plumbing. That way a hospital which might well care for C19 patients will have water on tap instead of bringing it in a bucket at a time. Those things matter.
Let's not forget them any more than we must not forget our families, friends and neighbours.

Wednesday 25 March 2020

The supermarket was very quiet

I prowled in with the intention of doing more shopping than usual - if possible enough to last a fortnight apart from fresh fruit and vegetables. 
Not everything I needed was available but there was enough and I will find ways around the other things if and when I can. The nice student at the check out arranged a home-delivery for me. 
There were people around but the place was not bustling the way it usually is. That gives me some hope for the future.
And it was quiet, unusually quiet. Even allowing for the fact that there were less people around than usual it was unusually quiet.
It took me a moment to realise what was different. There was no "music" in the background. I had, quite by chance, come in during the one hour a week set aside as "quiet" for those who have mental health issues. 
I had forgotten that they had started to do this several months ago. It was lovely!
The Senior Cat and I both prefer to work to "quiet".  I cannot work against the distractions of the radio,conversation or even music. At university I never could understand the students who would have their Walkman devices clamped to their ears. (Yes, I am "that" old.) I shuddered at the way they would flip the switch on their portable radios even before they flipped the switch on the light.
As a child the only time the radio was turned on was for my father to listen to the news service. We children were permitted to listen to "the Argonauts" - but only because our parents regarded it as an educational program. (It was and it was one of those things which encouraged me to write. I would sometimes have the thrill of my contributions being read on air. It is a program long gone but, for many children, it was the very best of  children's radio.)
We did not listen to "the top 40" or equivalents. Out in the rural and remote areas we lived in the reception was sometimes so poor we could scarcely hear the voices anyway. Even now Brother Cat, Middle Cat and I prefer silence. The Black Cat listens to more - but she does not read.
I pedalled home thinking of one of my favourite poems by Pablo Neruda - "A callarse" or "Keeping quiet" in English. If you are curious then there are translations on the internet - some better than others. I like the Alastair Reid one but there are others. It is a poem to think about right now and I had a small moment of time in which to do it.
A "quiet" supermarket was lovely. It would be nice if I could organise life to go at that time each week.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

My neighbours continue to astound me

in the nicest possible way.
Yesterday I was catching up briefly (and from the requisite distance) with M.... from across the road. His wife arrived back from NZ yesterday.
We are all glad S... is back although she has to be in self-isolation for two weeks and it will be hard, very hard, for her and her family. It is also hard because she had to leave before her mother dies but knows she won't see her mother again. Nobody in the family will as NZ has gone into what amounts to lock down. I am trying to sympathise but not think too hard about what S....is going through right now...on her own, not able to hug her husband and boys and grieving as well. It must be immensely hard. (It reminds me of a man I knew, now deceased, who was conscripted and sent to Vietnam. They did not allow him to return home for his mother's funeral. It was something from which he never recovered.)
But, back to the neighbours.With all that M... was still concerned that we were coping. Yes, thank you.  I intend to do a supermarket visit today and, hopefully, get enough that I need not go again for at least a week - and then only for milk and bread.
If I can get bread flour (not possible of late) then I won't need to be too concerned about that.
And milk? Well if I can't get fresh milk then L... from two doors down on the opposite side of the street came out as I was talking to M... She was carrying a disposable bag with a note taped to the side. She passed it over and said, "You mentioned powdered milk as a back up. I got  this for you. It was the last one on the shelf."
Yes, a packet of powdered milk. 
The note gave me her house and mobile numbers and the offer of help if we need it. I know she would mean it too. Until she retired she had a high level job in the public transport sector. She is efficient and reliable.
As kittens we had to do with powdered milk in one location. It was rare for people to own a cow. There was a school milk service back then but not for such remote places. Mum would measure the milk powder into a bowl, measure out water to go with it and then beat the two together with a rotary hand beater. The water quality was appalling and the milk tasted strange but it was all we had. (Our next move was to a dairying area and did we make the most of fresh milk. It was not pasteurised but Mum had ways around that.)
Thankfully powdered milk has improved since then. It mixes easily with cold water. I can use it as a substitute in cooking if need be. It doesn't taste like fresh milk but, apart from cereal, we can handle that. We will use it that way if we need to.
I hope though I don't need to try and find or eat reconstituted dried egg powder. I still remember that vividly from my time in hospital as a very young kitten. The Senior Cat was given "scrambled egg" in hospital last year and it is one of the few things he won't eat if can possibly avoid it. (He's easy to feed so he really detests it.) I hope it doesn't come to that and - with our good neighbours - I doubt it will.

Monday 23 March 2020

Committing suicide is often

seen as the "ultimately selfish" act.
So, what is a serious attempt that does not succeed? Is it "just a cry for help"? Is there any such thing as "just"? Surely it is far too serious for that?
I won't bother to try and answer the questions or discuss the issue but I do have something to say. I am saying it with the permission of the people involved.
Someone I know, although I do not know her well, made a serious attempt to take her own life yesterday.  I have only met this woman a few times but it distresses me.
We first met in 2018. She was looking for some help in reading a very complex pattern. She was making it for a family occasion. I helped her through reading the pattern because, although she had knitted lace before, she was used to making much smaller things in fine cotton. This was cobweb weight wool and Shetland style motifs - knitting that is an art form in itself.  
She finished the item and I helped her block it - something that took both of us the better part of a day to do. It was a job you really couldn't do alone and I was happy to help. Her daughter wore it on the occasion and then, as is the way of such things, went off to live in another country - the one they all came from originally.
And, naturally, this woman misses her daughter. She lives in a very isolated area of this state. There isn't a lot of female adult company and nobody else crafts quite the way she does. She is lonely and rather - perhaps very - shy.
So, I suggested she join a Facebook page. I thought it might be a way of having some virtual company. It wouldn't be face-to-face and she might find that easier. She was very hesitant but her husband and I both thought it was a good idea. So, she joined Facebook and she joined a group. But it may not have been the right group for her. It is not one of those relaxed, friendly and chatty groups she probably needs. Unfortunately I do not belong to the group so I couldn't be there to help her through the way things are done there. 
I am sure the people in the group are pleasant. I know some of them and I know they would never do anything to deliberately harm anyone. The problem with social media however is that it doesn't take much for people to make a mistake, misread something, misunderstand something or act without thinking.
The woman I am speaking of has apparently made some cautious contributions to the page. She has really tried to make it work for her - until a couple of days ago. Then she was told by the moderator of the group to take down a comment she had added to a perfectly innocuous post she had made. It meant taking down the entire post  because, to leave it there without the comment, gave an entirely false impression about who had written something. The comment made it clear who had written the words and given the permission to share. Without that it gave an entirely different impression about who had written it.
Other people might have tried to explain but, such is the nature of the group, this woman took it down. Due to the circumstances in which this occurred she contacted me by phone in tears. She had, so she told me, violated the rules of the group.
Now, as I said, I don't belong to the group. It's a "private" group but I can see the rules and I could see what she thought she had done. In fact she had not done anything to violate the rules of the group.
Because of the distress involved I contacted the moderator, someone I happen to know. Her response was that she was acting on the information available to her in the post. What she was actually doing was acting on what she believed was there. I have no doubt it was done quickly but in good faith. No malice was intended. It was a misunderstanding but one which has had very serious consequences.
It was simply the last small thing which was too much for this woman. Anyone else could perhaps have shrugged it off as "one of those annoying things which happens on social media". This woman made a serious attempt to take her own life. It may well be if it had not been this  thing it would have been the next thing because she has been under a lot of stress, far more than other people would be aware of or understand. 
What matters though is that one apparently small misunderstanding on the part of someone else has caused a major incident. It was in no way intentional, nor is that person in any way responsible. It  is just extremely unfortunate that it was apparently the trigger.
 However it has reminded me of how very careful we all need to be when we "post" a comment or "tweet" something. It is especially important right now when we are all  under some stress.
So, please be careful, be kind, be understanding. If you think you need to say something negative please make sure you have understood what the writer intended....and please remind me quietly if I don't do the same.

Sunday 22 March 2020

Getting your hair cut

when you cannot "head" to the barber is an issue unless...you have Middle Cat.
The Senior Cat still has a reasonable head of hair at 97. It needed cutting. It had started to grow over his ears. He hates it like that - although I am aware that he had not noticed it the way  he usually does.
Middle Cat arrived yesterday afternoon. She was armed with the red cape and the various combs and clippers and whatever. 
    "Time to get shorn,"she announced and made sure he was firmly seated in his walker in the middle of the family room floor. That floor is the one where it is easy to simply sweep up the mess. 
I left them to it and went to do some essential watering. Middle Cat could answer the phone if the call we were expecting came through.
Middle Cat cuts her husband's hair. She has done this for years. Until her two boys were old enough to pay for their own hair cuts and wanted something "better than Mum"  she cut theirs too. I noted with interest that when the younger of the two boys was home last she had given him a "trim". She used to do her late father-in-law and has been known to do other males in an emergency.
She seems to be competent enough and she is careful about hygiene. No doubt a professional barber would raise an eyebrow but her sheep look presentable.
     "I'll do you too," she told me.
I prowled off quickly. I have no desire for a haircut. I can think of a few things worse than having to visit a hairdresser on a regular basis but not many. It rates along with things like a visit to the doctor or the dentist for me. I keep my head fur clean and the ends trimmed by me. I keep it tied back because I  hate it hanging around my face. 
I still remember going to school with a "fringe". My mother thought it would be nice because "all the other little girls have one". So I had my two plaits and I had the fringe. I went home in the afternoon with two extra hair clips. A teacher had taken pity on me and clipped it out of the way because I was developing a rash underneath it. (My mother tried again later - with the same result.)
But it has made me think of all the older people who don't have a Middle Cat to give them a hair cut. 
Perhaps long hair will become fashionable again?

Saturday 21 March 2020

School is closed until

the 28th April for Ms W.
She arrived home from the boarding house...and promptly went out again. She headed into the local supermarkets - all three - to get as many things as she could on the shopping list she had made,
    "Honestly Cat, my Dad is hopeless! We wouldn't eat if I left it to him."
Then she headed into the "cheap" shop and bought some more craft materials,  "Because I don't want to end up watching television."
I had already left a box of things for her.
The mother of her best friend picked her and the shopping up and Ms W is now as prepared as she feels she can be for a lengthy stay at home.
The school is providing work to be done.
   "It's assignments and stuff like that. We don't get to have our teachers talking to us like they usually do. That's okay."
I have no doubt that, for her, it will be. She works well alone. I think it helps that she knows something about what her father's job entails. He will often work from home. The isolation from the office allows him to concentrate heavily on the job in hand. The only problem with him is that he sometimes forgets things like eating.
Ms W might be the same so I have suggested setting the kitchen timer if she needs to get something done.
Her workspace is all set up. It always has been. She has a desk her father gave her when she turned ten - adult size because he told her learning on her own was a "grown up" activity. She has two bookshelves and her school lap top as well as access to a second keyboard and screen. "I'm lucky my Dad needs decent access at home."
I also showed her Nicola Morgan's post about writing a diary. She has sent the idea back to her form teacher. Her form teacher sent an email to me saying, "Good idea - then they can share if they want to."
That seems like a good idea.
The mother of her best friend is more concerned about her own children. They are not as disciplined as Ms W. Ms W has had to learn to be that way - and it has not been easy for all I might have made it sound that way at times. She had to grow up too quickly in lots of ways. 
But I know that she is also looking forward to being away from the crowd at school for a while. Is this normal for a teenager? She is a very self-sufficient one. It will be interesting to see how she gets on in the next few weeks. I think she will be fine because there is "the messy room" where she does the ironing and all her craft. 
When I looked there was plenty to do in there and, as she said, "The garden needs stuff done too."
I won't see much of her. The Senior Cat and I are not in isolation - yet - but we are staying away from other people as far as possible. We have a messy room too - and don't start me on what there needs to be done in the garden!

Friday 20 March 2020

I am off on my last "social" outing

for a while this morning.
I am headed off to the little craft group at the church on the hill.  Middle Cat and I discussed this and she asked our GP when she had an appointment earlier in the week. We decided it was safe for me to go.
The group is tiny compared with most church based craft groups around the city. This is probably because the church itself is rather out of the way. There is no public transport close to hand and the church is not on a main road.
It is one of the oldest churches in the city and located on a quiet corner amid trees. Naturally it is heritage listed. The stained glass windows alone would make it worthy of heritage listing but there is also a particularly fine organ. We have a CD of music played on that organ and, if you listen carefully, there is a bird joining in for a brief moment at one point.
Most of those who attend the church are "elderly". I think the Senior Cat may be the most elderly of all but there are others in their nineties, at least two of whom go to the craft group and drive themselves there. Most of the others would be in their eighties. 
The curate is less than half their age. 
It is the second time I have been to the group. I went in February to talk to them about making squares for "Replanting Australia". At that time the convenor of the group thought I might come back in early August but things have changed rapidly since then. Today is the last time the group will meet for now.
I was thinking about this yesterday. There will be groups that do not survive because of the present pandemic situation. If they cannot meet for six months those who are less keen will also be less likely to return. Where there are many elderly people in the group there may be some who will, sadly, no longer be with us - and more of them than might otherwise have been. Others will simply feel that it is not worth the effort of attending. They will have learned to cope without the group or groups they once enjoyed. Those who who have elected roles may not be able to continue - or not wish to do so. Life is going to change.
But those groups will still be important, perhaps even more important than before. There are often related Facebook groups. Those groups may become even more important than before but they will need to be managed well. People will need to feel welcome there, particularly older people and people who are not used to the ways in which such groups function.
I know those groups vary greatly in the degree of control the administrators choose to have over them. Some groups are tightly controlled, others are more relaxed and friendly. Social media can be a force for good and, at present, it might also be a substitute for face-to-face interactions. It is important that people feel welcome. I hope the fledgling group I set up for the Replanting Australia project will always make people feel welcome.

Thursday 19 March 2020

A visit to the dentist

is never a pleasant thing in my book. It has been made even more difficult in the past year. I had one appointment which needed to be cancelled because I didn't want to pass on the snuffles and sneezes the Senior Cat and I both had. The day I was going to reschedule was the day the Senior Cat ended up in hospital. Other things happened.
I knew I needed to go so I finally managed to prowl off  yesterday - with extreme caution. It means a trip on the train. At least it was mid morning and the train was almost empty. I wore a pair of disposable gloves.
When I arrived at the dental practice I was greeted with "hello, we are asking everyone to use the hand sanitiser". I held up my fore paws in the disposable gloves and the receptionist gave me a Chesire cat like grin and said, "Brilliant idea." I must remember that!
My dentist greeted me with a smile. She did not tell me off for not coming earlier. Instead she inquired after the Senior Cat in a way that suggested she was actually interested in the answer. She found a broken filling - something I had suspected. It wasn't serious but I groaned inwardly. Would it mean another trip? She also said she would need to do the routine removal of calculus and cleaning. I told her to do what was most urgent because I genuinely did not know when I would be able to get back to see her.
S.... looked at the clock. She looked at her list of patients. I could go away and come back in an hour...? I agreed. I could even go and have some lunch. No - not a good idea. I never eat within an hour or two of going to the dentist. But then she looked at the clock again and said, "I think we can do this now."
And she set to work. I was a good little cat. I managed to keep my mouth open and, for me, relaxed. Forty minutes later I had been x-rayed, my teeth were cleaned dentist style and a filling had been repaired. 
S.... smiled at me. "I won't need to see you for six months."
I thanked her. I also looked at the clock. I know she was running a little late for her next appointment. I know it means she had cut into her own lunch hour.
I wanted to hug her - but, virus aside, you do not hug your dentist.
Instead I will send her a little note today, a note to say I really do appreciate what she did.

Wednesday 18 March 2020

Good neighbours

are worth more than their weight in gold.
I was wondering how to get the watering done and pedal off to get some milk before it got too hot. I also didn't really want to leave the Senior Cat as he was looking even less sure on his rear paws than usual.
I was rushing through the watering and waiting for the Senior Cat to have his breakfast when M... from across the road came over and said, 
      "Is there anything you need? I am taking Mum to the supermarket ." 
M.... is the one whose partner is currently in NZ and his mother is looking after  the two small boys.
So M.... got the milk I needed. His mother, who is every bit as nice as he is, brought it over a bit later. I put it in the fridge, thanked her and breathed a sigh of relief.  She didn't know what it cost but I will pay M.... some time today.
It was not a huge thing in itself but it was a good thing. It made my life just that little bit easier yesterday.
I admit I am worried about the Senior Cat. He has slowed down noticeably in the past few weeks. We cancelled his dental appointment. Even without Covid19 getting him there is a major undertaking for Middle Cat. It involves Access Cabs and wheelchairs these days and it was only a "check up". 
I am keeping my dental appointment today but, unless it is very urgent, I may need to tell the dentist that it isn't wise for me to be travelling into the city on the train. 
Admittedly the appointment time means I can catch a train that won't be crowded but it is still something I would prefer not to do. Looking after the Senior Cat now means all such things need to be considered and weighed up. He will be on his own for a little over three hours and that is more than long enough for him to be on the floor if he falls and cannot use his emergency pendant - worse still if he injures himself. 
Middle Cat is out of quarantine tomorrow - not for Covid19 but for a different infection. She will be able to call in on him on Friday - and give him a hair cut. 
Middle Cat phoned us yesterday and told me some appalling news. Her nephew-in-law J..., who is a really lovely and caring young man, went to pick his girlfriend up - a girl we all liked - and found she had hung herself.  There were absolutely no warning signs. He is, rightly, distraught. The police and the ambulance service were apparently outstanding but it really doesn't help much. J... is wondering why he didn't recognise something was wrong. I feel so much for him. We needed to know. I want to give J.... a wordless hug but we won't even see him right now.
So, little things like M... asking if I wanted anything mean a lot. And I saw a former neighbour on Monday. They only moved a very short distance away. She told me, and it was sincere, "If you need something let me know. I can do it while I am out and drop it over."
I thought of the almost bare supermarket shelves and wondered if there was anything left to buy that I actually need.
What matters though in all of this is that we have and have had some wonderful neighbours who will help if we need help. I hope I can do the same in return.
It matters more than ever right now.

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Cancelling meetings

and events took up most of yesterday.
I spent the morning trying to make sure all my students have the correct email and that, should they email me, the message gets through. (I am still trying to work out why my email address allows some messages through and not others - even when the individual is in my contacts list.)  As it turns out some of them can't so I have to get some help and resurrect an old email address in Outlook to see if they can do that. 
Most of these students are undergraduates who just need help with the English language. I am not sure I am the best person to do this but they seem to like me to do it. Some of them are struggling to do assignments on line. I don't always have access to the materials they are using and that can cause delays and confusion. When we meet face to face I can look at their screen and see exactly what they are using and talking about.
I cancelled meetings. Too many of the people I work with in other ways have compromised health. It is better if we don't meet. 
And that doesn't even take into account the need to keep the Senior Cat out of harm's way if at all possible. Middle Cat has cancelled his dental appointment. (It means going into the city by access cab.) It's a check up rather than for anything urgent. I have, reluctantly, decided I had best keep mine for tomorrow. Other medical appointments for him will be decided on a case by case degree of urgency.
I was about to send a message saying I would not be attending meetings of a knitting group for the foreseeable future when a message came through saying they had cancelled meetings. That was on medical advice. As I had been hoping my message would cause them to consider doing that it was a relief to know that they had already done something about it.
I went into the library and said I thought we should cancel knitting there. They had already cancelled "Storytime" for the babies and toddlers. I went to the bookshop and spoke to A.... who said it was up to us but she agreed it was probably not wise for now. I came home and sent more messages out.
I was planning on doing a hand out for Saturday's meeting. I will now rewrite it and send it on to two people who can disseminate the information more easily than I can.
I am due to go to a very small group on Friday morning. They are mostly elderly and very unlikely to have been in contact with anyone who is infected. Take the risk? I can let the organiser know the night before not to pick me up. I am not actually talking to the group. They just want to let me see what they have been doing. It could wait.
I have to sort out some more distance teaching today and reorganise what I expected students to do as they cannot go into their places of learning. It is all difficult and frustrating and time consuming.
The authorities in China have a lot to answer for right now.

Monday 16 March 2020

Self isolation

is causing complex problems that nobody could have foreseen.
Let me explain.
Our neighbours across the road are lovely people. We like them a lot. The father (M....) is a civil engineer, the mother (S....) a paediatrician, and then there is T....(6) and H....(on the way to 4). We get on really well with them. 
Right now though S.... is back in NZ. She went because her mother is dying. She went before the "self isolation" edict was put in place. 
M....'s mother came over from NZ to help look after the boys, again before the "self isolation" edict was put in place. 
Now when S.... comes back and M.....'s mother goes home they are both required to self-isolate for fourteen days. That is going to be very difficult, especially for S... .  They will do it because they are sensible, law abiding citizens who will do what they can.
M...'s mother has to go back to NZ at the end of the month. She should be going back to work then. S....doesn't want to leave until after her mother has gone...but she also wants to come home. She is desperately missing her husband and her two boys. 
It's really hard on her and on them.
M...came over yesterday while the Senior Cat was doing some gentle watering of the planter boxes at the front. We discussed the situation. As long as school and day care remain open the boys are cared for during the day. While his mother is here other things get done. 
And after that? I can do the obvious and cook some meals but he needs more help than that because he works long hours. He is fortunate in that he and S... have taught the boys to entertain themselves to some extent. Their living area is always scattered with toys.
But T.... is worried. Naturally he doesn't like his mother being away because all sorts of things don't happen. He is hoping that his grandmother will stay for a while longer. That way his father,
   "still reads to me and H.... at bedtime. Everything is much better if you can do that."
Need I say anything about that at all?

Sunday 15 March 2020

Visiting friends

is still on my "things I can do" list - at least for now.
To be honest I don't often go visiting. We did very little of it when I was a mere kitten. I suppose people would say we "kept ourselves to ourselves". We saw my grandparents and that was about it. We didn't even visit my uncles. (My mother had only one brother and he was not married when we were growing up. My father  also had only one brother. He had two boys we almost didn't recognise.)
Going to visit friends was not something we did. As kittens we did not have "play dates" with other kittens. We played with the children in the surrounding  houses in the small country town I was born in and, later, in the city but we played with them outside or in the street. We didn't go into each others houses. We did that so rarely that even now I never feel very comfortable in somebody else's home.  
Still yesterday I knew I needed to go and visit a friend at home. I did not see her while she was in hospital. I had not been to see her in the early stages of recovery from surgery. Getting to the hospital would have been a major undertaking and she knew that. I also knew that, once home, her house mate would be caring for her. Her house mate is close to 90.  I knew they were getting support from the people around them so I didn't need to go rushing in to help.
They are nuns. 
As a kitten the idea of going into a nun's bedroom would have shocked me. I would have imagined (and probably been correct) that the room would be completely bare of anything but the absolute essentials. We were "Prods" too....proper little Presbyterians - at least on Sundays. 
But things are, rightly, different now. I call the nuns I know by their given/Christian names. We can tease one another. P.... visits us on a fairly regular basis. When she does we have wonderful wide ranging conversations. I know her surviving sister well - as I knew the one who is now deceasd.  P.... wore trousers and a floral top at the mass for her Diamond Jubilee....a top given to her by B....her housemate.  
And when I rang the back door bell and B... saw me there she hugged me. No nonsense about not hugging yet. We both know we haven't got anything to be alarmed about yet - and that I would not have been there if I was in the least bit concerned.
    "P...'s having a rest...she didn't sleep well last night."
    "Don't disturb her then," I said
    "No, she'll kill me if I don't...come on, giver her a surprise. She'll love it."
So we went down the long central passage of the old house  the two of them rattle around in and B... knocked on the closed door
P... called out and B...told her she had a visitor.
     "Oh bring her in!"
In all the years I have known her I had never been in there of course - as she has never been in my bedroom. 
And it was as I expected, a perfectly ordinary bedroom. It might belong to any woman on her own...apart from the crucifix above the bed.
We chatted for a bit but I knew she was tired so I didn't stay too long. 
And, as I left, B...hugged me again...a good, strong "bear" hug.
    "It was so good to see you Cat."
It is one house in which I feel wanted.

Saturday 14 March 2020

Entertaining yourself at home

is something that many more people are going to have to do. There won't be any football matches to go to and there might not be any to watch on the telly either.
Now this won't bother me because I don't go to football matches and I don't watch them on television either. It will  bother people like the Senior Cat's cousin who is devoted to the Downunder version of the game.
I thought about this yesterday when I couldn't get out because the mobile bicycle repair man came and gave my tricycle a thorough clean and shine and adjust. I had prepared for a day at home. Today I will need to buy bread and milk and a couple of other items but even if I could not do this we could cope. 
As for entertaining ourselves...I had work to do of course but when that was over?
The Senior Cat was engrossed in searching for something on the internet. I did not interrupt. He was muttering incantations over a page of diagrams. His "magic mate", a fellow conjurer, was here earlier in the week. They were plotting something - not bad for a 97yr old.  When that was over the Senior Cat was fiddling with paper, pens, scissors and more. He watched no television. He never does. His "screen time" is spent searching the internet but some days he doesn't do that. He reads a lot and, at his age, sleeps a little as well. If the weather is good he will prowl slowly out into the garden and pull weeds from the pots we have put at waist height or do some watering when I put the hose in the right place.
He is not bored, simply frustrated when he wants to do things and no longer can.
And me? There is the writing I need to do...only other writers will understand that. I have an enormous pile of books that still need to be read. I have more knitting and other craft to do than I can hope to do in my lifetime. (I suffer severely from SABLE - Stash Advancement Beyond Life Expectancy.) There are things I want to design and things I want to make.
Did you mention television? I might get around to it one day. There are things I am sorry I have missed - like Michael Palin's trip to North Korea and some other travelogues and some assorted documentaries. Still, I don't need television to keep me amused.
There is something I would miss though - contact with the outside world if the internet failed. No, I don't mean the doom and gloom news but the little snippets from friends overseas and the immense pleasure of seeing what other people have created. That is more important than ever.
So, if you are reading this, please leave me a note and tell me how you plan to entertain yourself in isolation.

Friday 13 March 2020

The mobile bicycle man

is due to come today. I hope he does. My tricycle needs attention. It has needed attention for some time now.
No, it hasn't been unsafe. I would not pedal it in an unsafe condition. The brakes work well - my chief concern.
But there are things about bikes and trikes I know nothing about. I have some idea of what needs to be oiled occasionally but that is about it. 
The thing that bothers me most is that I cannot deal with a puncture. I know what to do but my paws are not strong enough to get the tyre off.  The Senior Cat used to be able to do it but he had to stop doing it some  years ago. My BIL will do it - but it has to wait until he has time. He works very long hours.
The last time I had a puncture - a couple of weeks back - M.... from across the road had the whole thing done in ten minutes. I paid him in pasties. (His wife is currently away visiting her dying mother and he is looking after the two small boys. It meant they had a meal he did not need to cook.)
In other words I manage to get punctures repaired. My little vehicle generally stays on the road and I have a means of getting to and from the shopping centre and the library. We eat and we read. 
But, I have been searching for another means of getting help for the bigger issues. This has been essential since the shop I relied on ceased business. 
The local bike shop simply isn't interested in anything other than fancy racing bikes or mountain bikes. A tricycle? Go away. We don't want to know. I pedalled off with my tail drooping. 
I searched the internet...
And that was where I found a mobile bicycle service that actually mentioned tricycles and wheelchairs!!! I emailed. Would they come this far? I didn't exactly hold my breath but I did let out a huge sigh of relief when the man at the other end said he would and would Friday the 13th suit? That was ten days away. He's busy. I sent a prompt "yes please!". 
He says he will be here about lunch time. I hope he will be as efficient as he sounds. I will feel safer knowing that my tricycle has been checked over and oiled and tightened and whatever else in all the right places.
Yes, it will cost something but it will be nothing like the cost of a single service for a car.
Hopefully Mr Mobile Bicycle Service will be able to keep me pedalling to and from the library and the shopping centre a bit longer. We need to read and we need to eat. 

Thursday 12 March 2020

There is still no toilet paper

on the supermarket shelves. Strictly that means that by the time I prowled in it had all gone again.
One of the women who works in our local supermarket told me, 
"You wouldn't believe it Cat but someone came in first thing this morning and wanted to buy two packs of forty-eight. What are they going to do with ninety-six rolls of loo paper?"
What indeed?
I have been watching people in the supermarket recently. There was the woman ahead of me the other day. She had her husband with her. They were both pushing trolleys. She had a list. They were buying tinned goods, pasta, rice and more. They were buying enough to feed a platoon. They were buying it "just in case" they needed to go into self-isolation. There are just the two of them in the house.
Now I have bought rice in the past ten days. We happened to have run out. Most people don't bother with the type the Senior Cat and I like. I could have bought two packets. I had the money but I thought someone else might need the second pack that was on the shelf.
I wonder where people are storing all these things? 
Yes, like everyone else I know I have a small stockpile of tinned goods. I use them chiefly to provide something for the Senior Cat to put into the basket at church on Sundays. I don't need two dozen tins of baked beans or a dozen packets of pasta. I have nowhere to put them.
We could, if necessary, survive in this house for two weeks. We would not eat in the way we usually do but we would eat. 
All this bothers me because I know there are places where people wonder whether there will be a next meal at all, let alone what might be for the next meal.
I am planning ahead - because I always do. It is always possible that I might need to be able to just reach into the freezer and pull out a meal for the two of us. It will  be because something else has happened and I have not had the time to prepare something. To me that is just common sense. It isn't planning for a disaster. 
We need to be sensible, not panic stricken. I am not intending to go to a football match or a rock concert and I will avoid other crowds where I can.
It seems to me we are making problems where there should be none.

Wednesday 11 March 2020

Cardinal Pell's appeal

is due for argument in the High Court today. "For argument" means it could go either way. 
I am not going to comment on which way I believe it should or could go but I was interested to see that the Twitterati were out in force - all of them apparently trying to make sure the High Court judges would see it their way.
Whichever way it goes the decision will  be analysed and criticised. I do not envy the judges. This is one they will not be able to get "right" in the minds of some people.
What has surprised me throughout this saga however is how many people have believed that "it must be true because the victim said so". In the minds of many there is absolutely no doubt at all.
We want to believe victims. We also want to believe alleged victims. We rarely want to believe defendants accused of some heinous act.
It is also all too easy to plant an erroneous belief in the mind of another person. There has been more than one psychological experiment showing just that. I have used techniques like that in teaching.  I did it once to a group of law students. I hope it made them see criminal law and what goes on in a law court in an entirely different way.
I also tried to make the same students see that an alleged victim can genuinely believe that something occurred and that, as a result, they are telling the truth as they see it. They are not lying to the court. Lying is a deliberate act designed to deceive. 
And that is where it all gets murky and difficult. Our legal system is not perfect. Some guilty people get off and some innocent people get convicted. 
There are those saying that there should have been no right of appeal in this case and that, should the appeal go in the appellant's favour, then that is the end of the jury system as we know it. That is wrong. Juries are made up of ordinary human beings. They can get things right or wrong. The rest of us need to wait and see what happens.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

Sponsoring a child

sounds like a lovely idea doesn't it? You know the sort of thing I mean don't you? A charity like World Vision or the Smith Family or someone else sends out a glossy brochure with "a child in poverty" on the front. They ask you to "sponsor" that child and make a regular donation each month so that the child can go to school after having dressed and eaten breakfast.
It sounds good doesn't it?
The problem is that it doesn't work that way. You aren't sponsoring an individual child at all. It might seem like that. You might even get "thank you" letters from the child. You might get photographs. I can hear you telling me now that this is proof that you are doing it. You aren't. Children don't get sponsored like that.
Think about it. How could you possibly pick and choose out of all the hundreds of thousands of children who need help? How could you choose one child out of one family? Even more importantly  how would that sort of sponsorship affect a child's relationship with the rest of his family and his community? The child would be the object of so much jealousy that his life would be unbearable.
On the rare occasions that people have insisted on meeting the children they are "sponsoring" charities have their means of handling the situation. 
There was a piece of "investigative journalism" in one of the papers yesterday. It was concerned about the alleged misuse of funds at World Vision's central office in Downunder. People were able to comment on the story and there were plenty of comments. A lot of those comments came from people who claimed they were going to withdraw from their "sponsorship" of individual children. Such comments were not helpful and I suspect that the majority of people will rethink and continue to donate. That is just as well.
But I do think there needs to be an intense review into how such charities operate. The idea of sponsoring an individual child needs to go. It sounds too good to be true because it isn't true. The salaries of the people at the top of such organisations need to be reviewed. Their "expenses" need to be reviewed too. Are those glossy brochures really necessary? Who has the printing contract? What are the mailing costs? How much are they paying in rent and wages for office staff? 
I had to point out to someone recently that the cause they were donating to was getting 18c in the dollar of the funds raised, not 80c. 
I am involved with a small fund which does give scholarships to individual girls in Africa. The girls must be "unaccompanied" - i.e. have no adult who can or is willing to be responsible for them. The girls need to earn those scholarships in a number of ways. They provide the bare essentials for a girl to go to high school and focus on science and mathematics. In return they are expected to put in some hours in the community in which they live. We have grown from one girl to five and then, next year, six at any one time. A conscious decision has been made not to exceed that number. All the money we raise is spent on the girls. The administration of the fund is done entirely by volunteers. It hasn't been easy, indeed it has been very challenging. It is the way we would like all aid to work but that can't be done. 
Don't stop donating please but do think about where and how you are donating. Question where the funds are really going too.

Monday 9 March 2020

So what do you do in isolation?

We were discussing this yesterday. 
I was talking to a neighbour while the Senior Cat was introducing a much younger one to the delights of a small torch which is also a magnifying glass. (He had actually sent me off to buy the relevant AAA batteries earlier in the day so they could play with this.)
For M...., with whom I was discussing it, this is not so much of a problem. He could work from home. It would be awkward but not impossible. Providing the power stays on and he has access to the internet  he can get on with it.
His wife could not see her patients but there would be plenty for her to catch up on. They would have to keep their two young boys entertained but that would not be the problem it might be in some families.
The Senior Cat and I would be able to cope too. If we were not actually ill we would go about our lives much as usual. I wouldn't be able to get to the library or do the shopping but we have no problems entertaining ourselves. We can exercise here. I could do whatever work came in because I do work from home. We could even cope without a shopping delivery for a short while - although the Senior Cat would not be impressed at having to put made up powdered milk in his tea.
If we were ill it would be more of an issue. It is a public holiday here in this state today. That means that S.... , who helps the Senior Cat shower, won't be here. I have to help him instead. It's something that worries me because he is so unsteady on his feet. If either or both of us felt ill then it would be a real worry. Staying clean is even more important when you are not well.
But it seems other people are simply worried about potentially being in isolation. They say they don't know how they would cope or what they would do to entertain themselves. In a tiny living space it would be much more difficult but most people here live in houses surrounded by at least a small amount of garden. They can get outside and still remain isolated. I have said this to people over the last couple of weeks and they still say they couldn't cope. It seems they believe they don't have the inner resources.
That bothers me. If nothing else good comes out of the need for some people to "self-isolate" then I hope it might be the realisation that everyone needs interests that don't involve being entertained by other people. 

Sunday 8 March 2020

Hand knitted socks

exquisitely well made with love and care....I can scarcely believe I am the recipient of these.
Now, I can knit socks. I have knitted socks. I could probably knit a pair of plain socks without a pattern but I cannot knit socks like these.
They are a belated birthday present from a friend, a friend who is not at all well and who struggled to make them because of arthritis and a shoulder injury.  She wanted to make me those socks and, although it took her time she did.
Her knitting is still very, very good. I will never be able to graft the toes the way she does. Her cast on edge is smooth and elastic. The heels of her socks are reinforced.  
These socks last.
The Senior Cat has several pairs knitted by the same person. He worries they will "wear out". It isn't likely that he will outlast the socks because he does not move far these days but I know they remind him of the comfort of his mother's socks. 
His mother's socks were only ever plain grey or black for men. I don't think any other colours were available. Now you can get sock wool in every colour under the sun...and sock  yarn in things other than wool. The socks he worries about wearing out are still sober shades of grey and blue but they are variegated as well. The Senior Cat wriggles his toes into them and says, "Comfort."
Yes, comfort. I remember the socks my paternal grandmother knitted for us as children. I had white socks for Sundays and pale brown socks for school. My brother had long grey socks because small boys wore shorts back then. My sisters had pink socks for Sundays. (Grandma knew I didn't like pink. Unlike my maternal grandmother she never made me anything in the colour  pink.)  
When commercial school socks became readily available we no longer had  hand knitted socks. I almost forgot the comfort of them as I moved through my teen years and struggled with stockings and "suspender belts". (These were never highly successful. I fell over too often - something which does increase the likelihood of holes and ladders. My mother would get angry and dock my already limited pocket money.)
And then I knitted myself a pair of socks. I used the first pair as bed socks because I had no idea how to "graft" the toes...and there was no You Tube to help. We were living too far from Grandma for her to show me too.
The second pair of socks might have been the same but I was at boarding school in the city by then and spending precious weekends with my grandparents who needed help. I loved doing that and Grandma rewarded me with lessons on how to turn the heel properly and how to graft the toe. She would shake her head slightly over the latter and say, "Do the best you can child. It needs to be smooth or it will worry your feet."
I wore the socks at weekends.
And so it went on. I have never made myself enough socks. I should make more - and not just for me. The friend who made these socks knows that I still find knitting socks more awkward than knitting other things. She has made socks for me before.
My friend keeps notes. She knows exactly how many rounds to do for me after the heels and before the toes.
I slid my feet in last night - just for a moment. They will be warm and oh so comfortable. I mentally purred over them. I was reminded of Pablo Neruda's poem "Ode to my socks".  Yes, they are something special.
But it isn't just the socks. It is that every stitch in them was a present to me. They are made with care -and, above all else, love.

Saturday 7 March 2020

"Should you be going to a meeting?"

someone asked me yesterday. 
    "Why not?" I asked
    "Well this coronavirus thing and you looking after your father..."
As we were standing in the post office at the time and someone further along in the queue was sniffling and snuffling I wondered just what the person in question was thinking.
     "Do you think I should just stop going out altogether?" I asked
     "No but you don't need to take unnecessary risks."
     "So going to a meeting is an unnecessary risk?"
     "Well you don't need to go do you?"
Actually I don't need to go and I do need to go. I am not even sure I want to go but that has nothing to do with the coronavirus. Indeed if I told people I wasn't going for that reason some of them would just accept it.
I know the Senior Cat is at risk if he goes anywhere. It isn't just the coronavirus. He's 97. He has a range of health issues, some more serious than others. 
Middle Cat has been staying away from him this week because she has a mild cold and didn't want to risk giving it to him. I've had one too and have been very, very careful about hand washing. I am careful about that anyway.
My first teaching appointment was in a school for profoundly intellectually disabled children. We washed our hands constantly there. It didn't stop the bugs entirely but it did keep them to a manageable level. 
I have to think about the coronavirus in the same way. I need to take the sensible precautions like being even fussier than usual about hand washing.
But should it stop me from doing other things? The meeting isn't essential but someone there is doing something for me and she will be, at very least, disappointed if I don't go. She is a good friend who has not had it easy of late and I want to support her. I have some DVDs she can borrow. One of her pleasures in life now is to sit and knit and watch a DVD. Perhaps it is selfish of me but I like the idea of being able to give her some pleasure.
We could all stop doing things because of the coronavirus. We should stop if we even suspect we might have it. That does not mean we should cease to do things. 
I am not one to prowl off to crowded places. I don't like crowds. I have never liked crowds. If you are short you can't see things...and I am at risk of being knocked over as well.  Avoiding crowds at things like football matches is not a problem. I don't go to those things.
But I still need to go to the post office, the supermarket, the library, and more. I don't need to go to the meeting but the risk there is very low.  It will be a much greater risk just getting there.
We need to take some risks in life.

Friday 6 March 2020

There was a pair of shoes in the letterbox

of the house belonging to one of the people on my regular pedalling route.
I thought this was a bit odd. They were sticking up leaving the flip lid open. The laces had been undone and they had been placed there neatly, side by side.
If someone had simply dumped the shoes there I doubted they would have been places there so neatly. I rather thought the laces would not have been undone.
The shoes were the usual sort of casual sports shoes that so many people wear. His? I thought so.
I thought about this as I pedalled on. The  curtains were open  but...
The man who lives in the house is someone I have mentioned before. He is an isolate. He doesn't mix. Why were his shoes in the letter box? 
I had never actually entered his property and I didn't feel comfortable about doing it then. It was too early to call on the neighbour. She would not be out of  bed  until I was on my way back.
No, I wasn't being curious. I was genuinely concerned.
I did the essential shopping and intended to call in on her on the way home but didn't need to  because the neighbour on the other corner saw me at the greengrocer and stopped me.
    "He's had a stroke. His brother-in-law came over and told us. Apparently he got quite violent."
The stroke does not surprise me but the "brother-in-law" did. We had no idea that he had any family at all. I said this to P.... 
    "Yes, really odd. I had the impression that they had not had contact for many years. The brother-in-law is a widower though. That might explain it. Oh well, it's none of our business."
No, perhaps not.
But, on the way home, I stopped. The shoes were still there in the letter box. My guess is that the ambulance men had put them there. To me it seemed like an advertisement - "nobody is home here".
I took the shoes out of the letter box and put the lid down. Then I took a deep breath and entered the property. I was trespassing and it didn't feel good but it did feel right. I put the shoes neatly by the front door and left.
I wonder what will happen to them...and to their owner.

Thursday 5 March 2020

If the coronavirus is "not serious"

then could someone please explain to me why the loo paper is going so quickly from the supermarket shelves?
Actually there was still plenty of paper in our local supermarket yesterday. It also had plenty of disinfectant and the like.
I had gone in to buy another box of those disposable gloves people use for food preparation. Anyone helping the Senior Cat have a shower uses a pair. It is one of those small things we need to be aware of these days....safer for him and safer for the person helping. The girl who served me knows what the situation is and suggested I get two boxes.
    "Most people who will buy them when the panic sets in won't need them. They just need to learn to wash their hands properly," she told me, "The real problem is going to be sourcing a supply."
I agreed. 
Perhaps the coronavirus situation will have one positive effect. It might make people aware that China has too much of the world's economic power for everyone, including them, to be safe. We get a lot of goods from China, many of them things we could live without if we had to do so. They get a lot of food from us and other places. If China had to feed people only on what they could grow themselves then people would starve - and those who did not starve would have a very limited diet. That wouldn't happen of course. The Chinese government would find ways of obtaining food from elsewhere - ways the rest of us would not want to contemplate. 
There are reports of people stockpiling other things too - pasta, rice, baby formula, tinned goods. I actually need more rice today...but most people don't buy the sort we like. Pasta? I have the usual quantity available. We don't use baby formula. We don't use much in the way of tinned goods. We will be okay.
I am sensibly concerned about the Senior Cat. If he caught  the virus he would not survive. I might but his immune system is already compromised by age if nothing else. All we can do is be sensible, take the sort of precautions we now take and hope nothing happens. I doubt we will run out of food or essential items like loo paper.
Goods are not leaving China. Their factories are not back operating at full capacity. There will be shortages of some things - but it won't be loo paper. We make that here in this state. 

Wednesday 4 March 2020

Reading to children

is not merely good for them. It is essential.
T... and H... across the road are read to each night. Their mother will be away for a short while to be with her own mother who is facing the last few days of her life. It's a sad time. 
T.... is at the age where he "sort of" understands what is happening. He told me quietly that he didn't like his mother being away but knew she had to go and he wondered if his father would still have time to read to them. 
I told him that his father would try to make time and that I would help. No, I won't go over at bedtime but I will help in other ways. Bedtime and the bedtime story are a special time for T... and H... and it is even more important when things are a little up and down.
T... also wanted to know if I had read to my children. 
I explained that I did not have children. He considered this carefully and then asked,
    "Well did you read to somebody else's?"
The answer to that T... is "yes". I have done often and I will do it again.
When Ms W was young and still not boarding at school and her father was struggling to care for her and grieving the loss of his wife I read to Ms W when he could not. He tried to do it as often as he could but it wasn't always possible. So Ms W would cuddle into me instead and we would read together. She loved books then as she loves them now. Ms W is the only teen I know who genuinely prefers books to screens of any sort. Her idea of a holiday in this country is a remote place, a pile of books and her drawing materials. 
    "My friends think that is weird," she says.
No, it's good. She is self-sufficient. 
Long before that I also read to the only primary school class I ever taught. (I went into the school library after that where being read to was expected.) The only time we had was the last period on Friday afternoons but it was almost sacred. Nothing got in the way of that. I taught the entire class, boys as well as girls, to knit. They would get their knitting out and I would read to them. They were children who, for the most part, had not been read to at home. It was a foreign idea but one they took to instantly. They loved it. The worst collective punishment I could have given them was to say we would not have that time together. It was never necessary to even suggest that might happen. 
Whichever book we were reading would get discussed and argued about without any input from me. It helped that I actually knew some of the authors we read. Perhaps it made them feel as if the books really were written by real people. I didn't set any sort of tasks in relation to the books. I wanted them to feel that these were books which were simply to be enjoyed.
I don't know how many of them went on reading. The following year I took over the school library. Most of them came in to borrow books at lunch time so I have to assume they were reading.
I thought of all this when I was sent a death notice for someone I knew. He was a man with a severe disability, something which would have prevented most people from even having any sort of employment. His parents had read to him from the time he could look at a picture. People said they were "wasting" their time. Not at all. He went on to be a highly thought of solicitor, a partner in a well respected firm and much more. 
But there was something much more important in that tiny notice. There were three simple words.
     "He loved books."

Tuesday 3 March 2020

Translating books into English

is something I would have no idea  how to do. To my shame I do not speak a second language although I can, with difficulty and a dictionary, read several others. I am self taught. Languages other than English were not taught in the rural schools I attended.  I did some Latin under the watchful eye of the Senior Cat. I did it as an extra subject and did not enjoy it. (The textbook was full of soldiers and war and spears and the like.)
I don't know how many books get translated into English every year. It is unlikely that we translate nearly as many as we should or even could. 
Yes, I know translation is expensive. I needed two words in Russian several years ago and the minimum charge was going to be $90 with a three week wait. (As it was a communication board needed immediately I put out a request to the small Russian speaking community here and a native speaker and former teacher translated both words and checked the entire board for the price of a coffee and conversation. I was grateful but it doesn't happen often.)
Good translation is also difficult. There are subtle differences that are almost impossible to convey.
But readers of English are lucky. There are more books published in English each month than anyone could hope to read in a lifetime.
I was talking to someone recently about education in a country like Syria. Quite apart from the war there and the lack of libraries there are very few books published in Arabic - and the various versions thereof.
I did a little research. There were only about 350 books published in Arabic last year. Compare that with Greece which published closer to 2000 in Greek. There are far more people who read Arabic than read Greek.  Since the 9thC there have apparently been only around 100,000 books translated into Arabic. Last year Spain translated about the same number of books alone into Spanish.  Children in Scandinavia are exposed to English language television from the earliest of ages.  When I was in Norway and Sweden many years ago every child, even those with disabilities and the profoundly deaf, were able to understand enough English for me to communicate with them. They also have access to books in English as well as Norwegian and Swedish. 
There is a vast amount of on-line material if you can read English but much, much less in Arabic. It is a major issue for universities in Arabian speaking countries.  Part of the problem is cultural and religious but it is also social and economic and environmental.
Yes, easy to say "everyone should learn English"  but each language on the planet has a different way of thinking too. We need that. The answer to a problem like that of climate change or the corona virus might come from someone who speaks Arabic as well as English - or something else.

Monday 2 March 2020

School ties

come in many forms.
Someone I know recently posted a picture of herself wearing a tie. It was interesting because it brought back memories of actual school ties I had to wear.
In primary school in the city we had navy school ties. Mine did not match the brown tunic my mother had made for me. I hated the brown tunic. The tie was simply a nuisance. I would stand there with my back facing my mother as she whisked it around my neck, around and through itself and pulled it up into a knot with a little jerk.
We moved to a remote part of the state. There were no ties. There was not even a uniform. Most of the children could not have afforded a uniform of any sort. They came to school dressed in clothes that were, like ours, hand me downs. I went on wearing the brown tunic in winter and nylon "drip-dry" dresses in summer. The nylon dresses might not needed ironing but they were very hot and uncomfortable. The tunic was tight under the arms by then. Even I had managed to grow a bit.
And then I started my secondary school years. We had moved again. I now had a new uniform. The brown tunic was too small. The tunic was grey now. It was not new. My mother would not have thought that necessary but the tie was new. It was maroon this time. I went from maroon, to navy with white stripes, to blue, to brown striped with blue...and I have not worn a tie since then. I could still tie one, indeed I tied the Senior Cat's the last time he wore a suit - to his grandson's wedding. I did it the way my mother did it to me - from behind. The Senior Cat has two ties. One is his winter tie - his clan tartan. The other is his summer tie - which has his clan crest on it. There might even be another tie in the wardrobe - his university one. We gave the other ties away long ago. He does not like ties.
But there are other sorts of school ties too. I have none of those. I do not belong to any "Old Scholar's Associations". I do not have any friends from my school days. Brother Cat and Middle Cat are the same. The Black Cat has one friend from her school days. We simply went to too many schools to make lasting friendships in the days before social media made it easier to keep up contact with other people.
I wonder sometimes what it is like to have those sort of friendships. Are they real and lasting friendships? I know two women, now both ninety-something. They met on the first day of school and  they have been friends ever since...and I mean friends. They travelled to and from school together. They kept up contact as they married and had children. They and their husbands went on holiday together. Yes, they do know one another well. 
School ties like that are rare.  They need to be cared for too.

Sunday 1 March 2020

Deporting criminals

to their home countries seems to make sense doesn't it?
Downunder deports criminals after they have served their time in prison. Other countries do it too.
It's a "double whammy" for some people...perhaps more than that.
You commit the crime. You do time. At the end of it if you are a full citizen of the country you committed the crime in then you go back into the community. Some people offend again. They end up inside again. Others don't and move on with their lives.
If you were born in another country though it is a different story. You commit the crime. You do time. At the end of it you are deported back to the country you were born in....even if you have been here since you were a baby.
They don't want you there of course. Why would they? You don't want to go there either. Your family is here. Your friends are here too. It might be that you don't even speak the language.
The government says "tough". 
Now I do have concerns that this means that some people are being punished more than others.  At the same time I know that it is a way of removing some highly undesirable people from the community.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand is not happy that we do this - although they also do it. She was complaining that we have sent "our people" and "our problems" to them. There were a couple of problems with this. First of all they are not "our people". The government here was (and is) removing people who are not citizens and have never made any effort to become citizens. You can have dual nationality between here and there so there is no reason for people not to become citizens. You can be stripped of acquired citizenship of course but if you have never become a citizen in the first place then you need to realise that you still belong to the other place - even if you came here as a baby. 
And yes, in a way, these criminals are "our problems" but they also brought those problems on themselves. These are people who have convictions for offences like drug dealing, sexual assault, robbery with violence and more. This is the individual's problem.

And then we have another interesting twist to all this. The High Court recently ruled that two criminals who were born overseas could not be deported because, as "indigenous" people, they are not subject to the same laws about immigration. The legal convolutions that led to this ruling will be the subject of much debate. It would make an interesting subject for the Jessup - the international mooting competition for law students.    
I know there are arguments for and against the deportation of criminals but  it is done by almost all the countries in the world - and those who don't deport you are more likely to execute you.
It is safer not to break the law.