Saturday 31 October 2020

Halloween has

descended - as a snowstorm of ghosts and ghouls and far too much sugar.

It is an American import in this country. Yes, I know it has its origins elsewhere and back in the mists of time. I also know that when I was a mere kitten we knew nothing about Halloween. It wasn't mentioned - and my family is of Scots descent. Not only do we have strong clan bonds  there was membership of the local Caledonian society and much more. Halloween simply was not "celebrated" in the way it is now. 

Halloween this way is a commercial event. There  are "wisps" strung across  gates, a sign on one which says "Enter if you dare". There are pumpkins, skeletons, effigies and more now strung in trees and along fences or around front doors. The shops are full of Halloween related "decorations", chocolates and other sweets "on special".

Tonight the children will go "trick and treating" - or that is what they believe they are doing. We have not yet reached the point where every house gets that treatment. If you don't indicate children are welcome they are supposed to keep away. Most do. 

This year the pandemic rules are going to make a difference too. Last year, after inquiring of parents in the street, I put out tiny "treats" for them to share. All the children got one each. It was enough. No, they were not sugar laden. Our paediatrician neighbour and I saw to that. Her two boys have "skeleton hands" up. I have just been informed by T... that they are to "grab you if you don't stop". He knows and accepts that there won't be too many sweets coming his way. His parents have the good sense not to forbid them but to limit the quantity. 

He is also old enough to accept the idea that you don't get something  simply because you demand it. He would like it but he knows that this is not how the world works even when Halloween, as celebrated, seems to suggest otherwise. 

And tomorrow, if you attend church, it will be "All Saints Day". I wonder whether any of the priests, pastors and ministers I know - and I know a few - will be talking about the commercial Halloween. Very few children will be there to listen. If they are  it is unlikely they will relate the two things. For them Halloween is about decorations and "scary" stories. It is also about "trick and treating" and chocolate and biscuits iced with spiderwebs.

Ms W was asked if she wanted to dress up as a ghost and go on a hunt with some of her friends. She thought about it and then told her father, "Why bother? I might have made biscuits to take back to school but we can't share that sort of food right now. I think I might make frogs with J.... and H.... We can have a jumping  contest. It will be more fun."

Ah  yes, little origami jumping frogs made with green paper.  It does sound a lot more fun. Her youngest neighbours will  enjoy that - and their parents are going to appreciate it.


Friday 30 October 2020

Motorsport, more motorsport

and now, thankfully, less motorsport.

This is something Middle Cat and I strongly disagree on. She loves motorsport, so much so that she was one of those to volunteer her time at the racetrack for the Clipsal 500. 

For those of you in Upover and elsewhere this was a street race around a city circuit. It replaced the Grand Prix here. Every year it caused a major disruption to the lives of many people who lived nearby or needed to get around the circuit to get somewhere else. It was noisy - we could hear them from six kilometres away. 

Middle Cat would be there in the thick of the physiotherapist. Yes, they do need such people at these events. There are strains and stresses on the human body when driving at high speed for hours at a time. Getting sense out of Middle Cat during that time was impossible. They are possibly the only times she has willingly risen early in the past few years.

I loathe motorsport. I freely admit that sport does not interest me - apart from a passing interest in cricket - but motorsport is something I cannot support. The amount of money spent on it is obscene and it is possibly the most environmentally unfriendly activity on the planet. 

The amount of fossil fuel consumed by this activity is frightening.  What is more many of those involved and who spectate are people who would claim to be concerned about the environment and about global warming.

So the news  that next year's race has been cancelled because of falling numbers and Covid concerns could only bring a silent cheer from me. I know not everyone will agree. I know I will be told "other people like it" - as if that somehow justifies it. I will be told I need to be more "tolerant". Do I?

People can take a walk in the park lands next year and the birds can have the trees back. We don't need this sort of "sport".

Thursday 29 October 2020

Club rooms are a part of the

sports world. They are considered essential places for people to change from muddy sports gear to other clothes after a football match.  They range from simple sheds with nothing more than a bench to sit on while you pull off your boots to buildings which have toilet facilities and showers to even bigger buildings which have bars, gaming machines, a food service and a meeting area. 

There may be even more facilities. I don't know. I don't belong to any clubs like that but I have been thinking about them all recently. 

I belong to another club. It has, like many other similar groups, been meeting in a hall which belongs to another group. Recently we were informed that we had to move. The building is required for other purposes at the time we meet. An alternative has been offered in a nearby location. I imagine it will all work itself out.

What occurred to me though was the number of non-sporting clubs that do not have their own facilities. It is a rare thing to find a gardening club, board games group, or craft group with their own facilities.

There are exceptions but they are few and they struggle to maintain their premises. They do not get government support in the way that sports clubs get funding. 

For many years the Senior Cat belonged to a "magician's circle". It meets in an old air raid shelter next to a bowling club. The last time I looked the bowling club had wonderfully manicured lawns and well maintained buildings.  The Senior Cat has not been able to go to a meeting of the magicians for some years now. The steep stairs into the basic underground facilities have been too much for him. The group is getting smaller, the members older. It won't be long before it ceases to exist. Their attempts to get younger people in have failed for a number of reasons but one of them is the location and nature of the place in which they meet. The bowling club is probably doing well and getting government funding as well.

There is an embroidery "guild" which has its own premises. This is sheer good fortune. The house was left to them in a will. I don't imagine for a moment that it is easy for them to maintain it despite their large membership and many activities. They have had a small grant for a specific purpose but there is no large scale government funding the way there is for some sports groups. A lace "guild" has much smaller premises but I know they struggle to maintain it. The premises do not belong to them as such but they do have sole use of it. 

I know of no other gardening, games or craft group which have premises solely for their own use. They all seem to pay rent to other groups. Our library knitting group can only meet if nobody else requires the room. We can't meet in November for this reason. As we don't meet in December because the library is closed for the Christmas and New Year break and January is usually far too warm we won't see one another until February next year...if nobody else requires the room. At present I am trying to organise we do meet in November - out of doors. It is however difficult.

And I wonder about all of this. Sport has always been revered but do other activities really deserve such second rate treatment? Surely we should be doing more to encourage people to create things, grow things, think things? There should be more places where people can meet on a regular basis and they need government funding just as much as any sports group. It would almost certainly encourage others to join such groups - and that has physical and mental health benefits for everyone.


Wednesday 28 October 2020

Origami boxes,

little boxes made of paper, little boxes on the table, little boxes all the same....with apologies to Malvina Reynolds (and Pete Seeger).

I doubt the Senior Cat knows the song (our family was more likely to be listening to Gilbert and Sullivan or Mozart). It is one of the few I was familiar with during my teenage years but it comes back to haunt me at times.

The Senior Cat and the Activities Officer (AO) have been making little boxes. This is part of the long, slow lead up to Christmas with Covid19. They cannot have the normal Christmas party and activities so the AO  has been trying to think of other things, including a tiny present for everyone - even those who won't remember anything about it.

The Senior Cat has fiddled around with origami for a long time. He is not particularly good at it but the idea fascinates him. He was the one who introduced MsW to a couple of simple designs years ago.  It is now one of her hobbies. She can make what seem to be incredibly complex designs - often surprisingly useful things too. 

The Senior Cat  has not attempted such things but he tried a new box.  I found him and the AO working on it when I went in to see him.  They had his i-pad propped up between them and were talking about "mountain folds" and "valley folds" and  other such mysteries as they tried to follow a little video. 

    "Join us," the AO suggested. Did she know I had left last time with instructions to work it out? I am not in the least skilled at origami. My paws are much too clumsy for the sort of precise folding and tucking required. 

Despite that I do find it fascinating to watch how a piece of origami comes together. You can have what looks like a complete mess. Then one piece will go into another and, with a little gentle pulling or pushing perhaps, you suddenly have the box, the bird, the animal, or the object you have been working on.

There is something to be learned from all this. I must keep trying to do it.


Tuesday 27 October 2020

Cutting down trees

is never something I am happy about.

Years ago a former neighbour cut down a tree in his front garden. His only reason to do it was, "I didn't like it."

He ignored the fact that it was the home of a wide variety of birds. When that was pointed out to him he simply shrugged and said, "They'll find someone else to go and annoy."

The people who moved in after he left quickly planted something else. It's still growing but it has reached about the height  it will be when it has fully matured. The birds are back. 

We have multiple trees on our average suburban block. We might have more than most people. Last summer we lost the apricot tree. It was there before the house was built. My mother asked the builders to save it if they could. They were Italians and understood the importance of fruit trees. They shared the crop that year. There were buckets of apricots. Last year there were none. The tree was simply too old. It died quietly. 

Do I put another one in? Will the next people to move in here feel the same way about trees? Possibly not.

The local councils have banded together to tell the state government that not enough attention is being paid to trees. I agree but they could do more to preserve trees. They need to plant the right sort of trees too. 

There are people who believe that "only natives should be planted" but this is in fact one of the worst things we could do. Someone I knew proudly showed me the gum she had planted in her back garden years before.

   "It's more than two metres around now. The next owners won't be able to remove it."

No, they can't. The law does not allow it. What she did not consider is that there is no space for anything else. The clothesline is covered in bird poop. The lawn does not grow and the new owners have had to do an expensive renovation because of cracking caused by the tree. Yesterday I went past and there was a "tree doctor" parked outside. I could see someone high up the tree. Almost certainly there are limbs which need to come off because gums do lose limbs. Close to other things they can cause immense damage. 

It was the wrong sort of tree to plant in that space. It doesn't do the job it is intended to do. We shouldn't be planting gums in urban areas. They are trees for the bushland, the banks of waterways and the like. 

I have long maintained we should be planting more trees. We should be planting trees which provide food for humans and other animals. This can be done in ways which still provide for a diverse but balanced landscape. They don't need to be giant redgums or other trees unsuited to the urban landscape.  The trees we plant should be of value to the landscape and everything which lives in it. They need to be trees children and animals can climb, which feed all living things, which provide shelter and more.

This morning our neighbour at the back has just looked over the fence between us and asked me,

       "I'm trimming the bottlebrush. Would you like me to take that dead branch out of the fig tree? It should help it."

My answer was a ready, "Yes please." 

It will help to preserve a precious part of my immediate environment. 

Monday 26 October 2020

Books are essential to mental health

and I was appalled to see that the Covid lockdown in Wales had apparently caused bookshops to be closed, libraries to be closed and the shelves selling books in the supermarkets to be taped off.

The library here was closed for some months but some ingenuity allowed a service of sorts. You could go to the online catalogue and, if the book was in your own library rather than simply in the system, you could ask for it. You went to the library door and, with a complicated dance of social distancing measures, you could borrow it. Books were returned in much the same way  if the returns chute was not open. 

Were there health risks attached? Probably but the mental health risks of not having a library service at all were far greater. 

The local indie bookshop was closed for about the same amount of time. It then reopened  in a similar fashion to the library. A..., the shop's manager, told me that they had been busy throughout even though the regular deliveries from the suppliers had to stop. 

I have lost count of how many people who told me they read more, especially more books, throughout the worst of our "isolation" times. There were thoughtful people who left boxes of books on their fences. The tiny "street" library did a rapid turnover as people borrowed and added to it. People passed on books they had read. They borrowed (and hopefully returned) more books. Fiction and non-fiction were borrowed.

"There are audio books if you want that sort of stuff," a non-reader told me of fiction.

I looked sadly at him. He doesn't understand the reading process at all. Yes of course there is a place for audio-books but reading a book is not about listening to a book. It is something entirely different. I find it hard to listen to an audio book. The voice gets between me and the words.  I like to fill the silence with my understanding of what has been written.

As for non-fiction? My books tend to look like a hedgehog of post-it notes and slips of paper when I am working on something. No audio book can describe a diagram  in the same way as the picture. 

So many other people have told me the same thing. Not all of them are aware of it but physical books were and are an essential part of their mental health and well being. People need books for good mental health.    

Sunday 25 October 2020

Lock down or let down?

 The Premier of our neighbouring state is coming under fire because of the restrictions he is still imposing on the people within it. He is also coming under fire because of the economic damage this is doing to the rest of the country.

It is the state which has had the highest rate of Covid19 infections and the most deaths. Much of the blame for that has been laid at the door of those responsible to have arrivals properly quarantined. That certainly is part of the problem. The untrained "security" guards went home and mixed with family and friends. Soon the virus was spreading through the community. 

There are also ethnic groups in the state who were not properly informed about the dangers. Our much lauded "multi-cultural" society has actually proved to be a problem. Families within these groups often mix constantly. Children are cared for by extended family. Gatherings are frequent, especially at weekends. The adolescents in them travel as groups across the suburbs. Younger students go to school "if you aren't sick" even when other members of the family have the virus. They live in close contact with other people, often in social housing. Unlike the UK we may not have 66m people crammed into a too small island but the problems are similar in some areas.

This state did things differently. We cannot afford to be complacent but quarantining seems to be working. The only cases we have are in medi-hotel quarantine. 

And that's the problem. People want to get back to their old life-style. They are asking why they can't have a drink standing at the bar. Why are night club activities still restricted? When will this or that open? Why can't the school leavers have their usual "schoolies celebrations"? 

All this seems to be about entertainment. I am much more concerned about jobs. My youngest nephew was supposed to start a new job back in March. Lock down in the neighbouring state has prevented that.  It is still preventing that. He has been doing little bits of work here and there - from home. It is just enough to keep him from starving but it is frustrating and not at all satisfying. If the situation goes on much longer he will not have a job to go to when the restrictions are lifted. 

There are thousands upon thousands of other people in the same situation. The Premier of the state keeps insisting that the measures are necessary to "keep the virus under control". The reality however may be different. 

Until we get a vaccine - if we get one - then we need to learn to live with the virus. Yes, I know. This has been said before. What the Premier in the neighbouring state is not saying is that people need to be educated so that things can change. He seems to be afraid of saying, "There are groups in the community who need to be educated about this. Let's do it." 

He has also tasted power the likes of which have never been available in this country. People are calling him a "dictator". He still has many convinced that the measures he insists on are necessary but they are far fewer than they were. If he does not ease up on some restrictions today he will lose more support. 

Will it make a real difference? Probably not. The economic damage has been done. He can deflect most of the blame for that on to his federal colleagues. He will say he is but he won't be listening to the thousands upon thousands of responsible citizens who simply want a chance to get back to work. Power is much too addictive for that. 

Saturday 24 October 2020

Wearing a mask

creates a problem many people do not understand. 

Now there are good reasons for wearing a mask. Even in this state we are required to wear a mask when going in to visit the Senior Cat.  There are a range of other people who wear masks.

Middle Cat and I wear masks to and from the Senior Cat's room. We take them off in there.  And no, we are not being irresponsible. There is a good reason for this. If we are wearing masks the Senior Cat cannot hear what we are saying. 

The Senior Cat has been unconsciously learning to lip read a little as he grows increasingly deaf. Many other older people are in the same position.

I have a much younger friend who also relies on lip reading. She was here a couple of days ago and we discussed the issue. She had been for a blood test and the nurse was, rightly, wearing a mask. My friend had to explain that unless she could see the nurse's lips she would not be able to understand what she was saying.  

I know someone else who has been using hearing aids for a long time now. She also relies on lip reading but many people are unaware of that. They believe that the hearing aids are all that is needed in order for her to hear like everyone else. That simply isn't true. It is much easier for her if she can see the person's face.

These people have not had formal lessons in lip reading. It is something they have picked up unconsciously. Their past ability to hear has been normal or close enough to normal that they have learned both speech and language in the way that other hearing people do. It is a very different situation from those who are deaf from birth.

And it has only been the Covid19 situation and the increased use of masks which has made some people aware that they have some degree of hearing loss. They have been unaware that they rely on a certain amount of lip reading, especially in crowded situations. 

I have lost count of the number of times I have tried to explain this. Yesterday I had to explain this again. I was at a meeting. People came in wearing masks, required in the building the meeting was held in. The person who runs the meeting called us all to order - something everyone picked up on because of the activity around them. 

When he started on the agenda though I stopped him.

    "D... you have three people here who can't hear you. They need to see your lips."

He stopped, looked at me and then at the three who were facing him. Then he pulled off his mask and said,

    "Masks off everyone so R...,O.... and J.... can hear."

The meeting went the way it usually does but he stopped me on the way out and said,

    "I never gave it a thought... and of course that is why they always sit facing me and sometimes seem not to pick something up."

I think D.... will remember in future but you can't see deafness. It is an immensely isolating thing. 

If you are wearing a mask and someone is having difficulty consider they might have a hearing loss. Remove the mask  in order to speak to them or write something down for them.  

Friday 23 October 2020

Neonatal cardiac surgery

is under the spotlight here. There have been four deaths attributed to the lack of availability of such surgery due to problems arising out of the Covid19 travel restrictions.

Why? This state sends tiny newborns who need such surgery to a neighbouring state. There are no facilities here for them. There are said to be "too few" cases here. This is not just about the cost but about other associated things - such as experience.

When the story of the four deaths came up yesterday someone I was working with asked, "Why don't they just fly a surgeon in?" 

Good question I guess from someone who knows nothing about the world of surgery. I don't know much either but I do know enough to know that this is not about "a surgeon". There are teams of people involved in surgery. When the surgery is complex and perhaps requires many hours in theatre there is an incredible amount of planning which goes into it. People need to know one another. They need to know what is expected of them and how they are going to work together. 

I have written more than one communication board for surgeons and their teams working under the even greater difficulties of not speaking the same language. I have been snapped at for not understanding medical terms and how to get them across. The people involved are under stress, trying to save lives.  Invariably I have later been apologised to by those involved. I have tried to understand the enormous responsibility involved. I am aware that a mistake on my part, if not picked up by the team, could be fatal but I am still working one step removed from them.  I have the easy job.

I went to school with someone who went on to be a leading neonatal cardiac surgeon. He is older than I am and has retired from surgery as such but still advises. I know of his work. He developed a different technique to repair a congenital cardiac problem known as "atrioventricular septal defect". I don't understand the surgery in the least but I do understand that his work using something called a "modified single patch technique" (as opposed to the older "single or double patch technique") has meant less time in theatre and better surgical outcomes. It is not the sort of technique that comes about overnight. It required years of study and planning and working with teams of people in order to save tiny lives.

I thought of all this again yesterday as people around me were discussing the pros and cons of having a neonatal cardiac surgery unit here. Mostly I kept my mouth shut and my thoughts to myself but I mentioned the team work involved and the work of this man, a man I admire. It was at that point that someone else looked at me and said,

   "I had no idea that there was so much to all this surgery business."

I doubt any of us have any idea at all. Only those involved can know. Those holding the purse strings need to listen to the surgeons and their teams - not the accountants or the politicians.

Thursday 22 October 2020

Bread making

is definitely an art as well as a craft. I have not made much progress in it. 

I long ago gave up believing I could knead bread by hand. My fore paws are not strong enough to do this successfully. The Senior Cat had no idea when I once tried to show him what to do. 

It was after that we were given a bread machine. It was a second hand find by a friend. She found it in what would amount to a pawn shop I suppose.  It was in the window and looked almost new. Knowing my friend I also knew it had been thoroughly inspected before she bought it and gave it to us. 

She had the same brand and model herself. I was given strict instructions about the need for accuracy in the ratios of yeast to flour to water. For the first few months I stuck strictly to the suggested ratios and I added nothing else to the mix.

After that I cautiously added things. The "raisin" cycle meant I could fill the little cavity provided with pepitas or sunflower seeds without much trouble at all. The Senior Cat and I decided that such additions were a distinct improvement. 

Since then I have added other things as well - sesame seeds, poppy seeds, fruit and more. I have varied the flour. I have taken out a cup of one sort of flour and added another. For the most part I have used mixtures of wheat, rye and barley. The flour for those is more readily available. I have added chopped nuts. I have added cheese.

Getting through a loaf of bread on my own can only be done by cutting it in half - and then freezing one half. I don't eat a lot of it. On a couple of occasions I have succumbed to buying bread.

Yesterday a friend came for lunch. She comes about once a month - after a meeting. I made bread. She took half the loaf home with her. It is about the right amount for each of  us. 

But it wasn't that so much as something else. I went outside to wave her goodbye and then back inside again. Even a couple of hours later there was faint aroma of freshly baked bread. It smelt good. It was a reminder of one more good reason to make my own bread.   

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Jill Paton Walsh

 was an "accidental" writer.  She started writing when she was home with her first child - and missing her young students.  I remember her saying something like, "I was missing the classroom and the interaction with young minds."

I met her at a children's literature conference. The late Jane Langton, a friend of mine, had told me, "Cat, you need to go to one such event. I am taking you to this one. It will be fun. You will meet people."

It was fun. I did meet people JPW was one of them. I was sitting next to her the night that ghost stories were being told - and we all kept looking backwards when we eventually scuttled off to bed. The following day a different sort of drama was being discussed. JPW talked about her reasons for writing "The Dolphin Crossing". 

It was a very different sort of book back then. Although Ian Serrailier's "The Silver Sword" had been published in 1956 and Margot Benary's book "The Ark" had been translated and published in 1953 actually putting young boys into the middle of the action was not to everyone's liking. I had bought the book for the school library - only to be told it had to be kept "in the desk" and children would need to get their parents permission to read it. 

I had to send a message home to the parents explaining what the book was about. The school was in a rough area next to the docks but I was still concerned that some parents might not want their children to read the book. In the end only one parent objected but I suspect her son found a way around that as another child was a day late returning the book. 

Ms W and her friends have borrowed JPW's books from me. They have grown out of books like The Dolphin Crossing, Fireweed and A Parcel of Patterns and into books like Goldengrove and Unleaving. The subject matter of books has expanded. Directly involving young protagonists in war and other violence and the aftermath of these things is no longer considered revolutionary. I doubt the Dolphin Crossing has the same impact now. I know Fireweed doesn't have the same impact among some young students. "They had it easy compared with the camps" - the "camps" being the refugee camps. 

But I still think those books are worthy of being read by Ms W's generation. My great nieces will soon be old enough to read these books. Unfortunately they don't live here but other children their age do and I have grown my personal library so that they will be able to read such things - if they want to. I will encourage them to do that, just as I encouraged their parents at that age. I will talk to them about meeting people like JPW and try to make them see that writers really are people, people who feel the need to say something.

Yes, there is a vast quantity of excellent literature for children now but there is also literature from the past which is worth preserving. It is worth preserving because it was special in its day - and it can still be special if introduced in a way that will make it appeal. Children still need special books. 


Tuesday 20 October 2020

Year 12 exams

start today. 

I usually know more than one student who will be sitting for them. I will have been giving one or two a bit of extra help or talking to anxious parents. I see them in the local library with their heads down. I hear the sighs and the looks which say, "I wish this was all over."

And of course this year has probably been the most stressful of all for  any year twelve student. For some there have been months away from school.  Even with all the plans schools put in place it has been more difficult for most students. They have been used to the discipline of going to school, of a timetable decided by others, of having their friends around them in the classroom and at breaks.

Suddenly having to work on their own, perhaps with younger siblings also at home,  has been extremely stressful. Not all of them have coped as well as they thought they might but others have found it gave them a sense of achievement and even freedom.

Ms W has a way to go before year twelve. She is perhaps a natural student. She likes to learn. Spending time on school work is not an issue for her. "Maybe if I discover boys," she told me mischievously when we were talking about it. She knows boys of course. She also knows that a good number of the girls in the years above her are permitted to go out in groups with male friends and that one or two may even go out in pairs. (Her school does not encourage that during the school terms but it does encourage learning and socialising together in other ways.)

For her working from home was not an issue. She did not want to go back to school as she felt she was achieving more at home - and her teachers agreed. Yes, she missed her friends - although they were communicating in other ways - but she could "just get on with it". 

Her father told her that it was a good indication of whether she would do well at university. There she will, if she chooses to go, be responsible for her own learning.

And perhaps this is something good which will come out of the Covid19 situation for other students. They will have discovered whether they can be responsible for their own learning, whether they can discipline themselves to work rather than have external discipline imposed on them.  Is it possible some of those year twelve students have matured more than they otherwise might and that next year's university students will be more capable? It would be really good to think that might happen.  

Monday 19 October 2020

Google and Facebook

are still threatening to withdraw news from their pages for Downunderites. Now they are also claiming that such a move will allow for even more "disinformation" to spread. This might be right.

I get my information from more than one source. The Senior Cat taught me this by example. 

When I was a mere kitten we lived in remote places. The news my parents relied on came from two sources. One was the news as delivered by crackling radio that tended to fade out as the sun went down. We kittens knew to be silent while the "six o'clock news" was delivered.  The "seven o'clock news" in the morning was important too but not quite as important as that delivered in the early evening. There were undoubtedly commercial stations which also delivered news but we never  listened to those. Apart from the news the only radio we heard was "the Argonauts". My brother and I were Argonauts and listening to the program in the afternoons was important. It informed us about many things.

But the Senior Cat was also getting a newspaper. The entire week's editions would arrive on the same day. He would work his way rapidly through them and then pass them on to the local bank manager who then passed them on to the local policeman. (I suspect the Senior Cat was the fastest reader and the bank manager next.) Nobody else bothered with them. Yes, the news in them was often stale by then. It had often been superseded by other events but it kept the three men in the community who needed to know informed.  

Other people in the community read, if they read anything at all, a paper which came out weekly. It was intended for rural people. It contained farming news and reports of meetings of organisations like the Country Women's Association. The local football results  and number of runs in cricket also featured prominently. 

People were not well informed. They saw no need to be. What happened in the city was of no interest to them. They took their shoe boxes of receipts and bills into the bank to do their tax. They sent their children to school but many of them were happy to have their children leave school too - the moment they were legally able to do just that.

I don't know how different it is now but it would be different. News is much more readily available. People have satellite dishes and access to a wide variety of entertainment. Access to the internet is much more widespread.

But people in rural areas still do not buy newspapers. They rely on other means of getting information. There is television. There is the internet. Newspapers might be behind a paywall but there are other sources of information and most country folk are not going to pay to read a newspaper on line. If Google and Facebook cease allowing news to be disseminated through them then people will either cease to get information or they will get information from even less reliable sources.  

Print media and on-line news services can put everything behind a paywall if they wish to do so. Their advertising revenue will drop of course but perhaps people will "pay" for the news. On the other hand they might just rely on the other stories which spring up and spread out from other unreliable sources. 


Sunday 18 October 2020

Taking responsibility

for your own actions is not popular any more. The court reports tell us that. 

People blame others for their own actions or inaction. They claim abuse, misfortune, the actions of others and more - anything but themselves. There is a piece in this morning's papers about the fines people have collected because they have not paid the registration for their cars. The excuse for many of them seems to be that they no longer get given a registration disc.

In this case, if I were in government and responsible, I would be giving them registration discs. I would very definitely be giving them registration discs. Why? Because if they have an accident and they are unregistered they are also not covered by insurance. If they have an accident the potential problems just escalate even further.  

The biggest problem of all is that other innocent people could suffer. The unregistered and uninsured driver might well have not much in the way of worldly goods and no capacity to pay for any damages - even if their assets were seized. That could (and does) leave innocent people out of pocket. 

I know of one such incident. The teen driver of the "old banger" had no capacity to pay but the damage to the other two cars ran to many thousands of dollars. It made no difference that he was held liable, and that his car was not roadworthy or registered or insured. He couldn't pay anything and he had no assets worth speaking of.  

It might still have happened even if reminder notices had been sent out and registration discs had been provided but it seems even more people forget now. It worries me.

Vehicles are lethal weapons in the wrong hands. People speed. People use their phones or are otherwise inattentive. People are impatient.  

And other people are injured, perhaps disabled for life. People die. 

It is for that reason we should have registration discs. It isn't going to stop that sort of behaviour. It doesn't mean that everyone is going to be registered and insured. What it does mean is that more people will be registered and insured and that those who need help are more likely to be able to get it. 

I thought of all this as I read the article. I thought of the boy who has caused me and others so much trouble recently. In a few years from now he might well have thought it would be good to save a bit by not registering and insuring a vehicle. I am not holding my breath but I hope he now thinks differently.  

But we need to bring back those tax registration discs. This time it is not about taking responsibility but about the potential damage to other people. 

Saturday 17 October 2020

Our postal service

continues to be erratic. Yesterday a parcel arrived with a speed that continues to astound me. I will deliver it on this morning to the intended recipient. 

She is not home during the week. The post office is not open on Saturdays for her to collect a parcel that cannot simply be left at the door. I am the solution. If I am not home I can go to the post office and pick it up for her - subject to all sorts of identification and permission issues.

On the same day we got one of our three mail deliveries. There was a letter for me. It had been posted on the 2nd October - from the other side of the city. The person who sent it had already phoned me twice and then come over to see me in order to sort her Japanese knitting pattern out. It would have been faster to do that in the first place - but it should not be necessary. She paid $1.10 to post me a photocopy of the chart symbols she did not understand. Why does a single page, correctly addressed in very legible printing take two weeks to arrive from the other side of the city? 

It makes no sense. The three deliveries a week makes no sense. The earlier posting time makes no sense.  All this is from a company where the services continue to be cut back while those in charge get higher and higher salaries. The person at the top has a salary almost four times higher than the Prime Minister - and that does not include the additional "perks". 

There is something wrong here. I know people no longer write as many letters as they once did, that businesses would prefer bills were "paperless" and that many other things are done electronically. That should make it easier for the post office to deliver on time. It should be possible for people to go to a post office on a Saturday morning - at a time when many of them are doing their other shopping. Our local post office offers a very limited banking service as well. The staff are not happy about that because those who need it are generally the very elderly. Their needs take more time. It holds other customers up as they wait in a socially distanced queue. There are less post office staff than their once were to deal with all this.

"Use a credit card or a debit card," the very elderly are told, "And remember your pin number...and...." 

It frightens many of them, particularly those who have only a small aged pension to survive on. How do they keep track? What if a shop can't or even won't give them a receipt?

"No," I tell them, "You must not give me your pin number." We can go to the sole teller machine and I will try again to teach you the process but you have to remember your pin number and put it in yourself.  

They tell me it was "so simple" when the bank was there and when all their bills arrived by post - and arrived on time. It was so simple when the postman would even take letters from them if they were shuffling slowly up to a letter box. Post people are not supposed to do that now. Perhaps I should not be doing it either? I just take whatever they need to have posted from their letter box and tuck the little flag back inside. It shouldn't take more than a couple of days to have something delivered but now I have to warn them it could take two weeks. Adding a "priority" stamp is not going to make much difference - if any difference at all. 

Downunder Post simply is not delivering.  

Friday 16 October 2020

Going to the dentist

is one of the least favourite occupations of most people I know. I can remember a professor of psychology, a man of intelligence, who had not been to a dentist for many years. He was terrified by the thought. There are other people I know who "put it off" or "only go if something needs to be done" or "only go if something hurts". 

I dislike going to the dentist myself. My dentist knows that. She is actually a very nice person. I like her. I just don't like what she does. I think I may actually have said this before.

I went to see her yesterday. It was time for the regular "check up". She gave me that smile which says, "It's nice to see you. I know you don't want to be here but I'll do the best I can to make it as painless as possible."  Thank you.

It was the first time I had been into the city since the last time I saw her. That was in February of this year. There was a longer gap than the usual six months because of Covid19. The dental service, attached to our health fund, is playing "catch up". I was one of the first whose regular appointments had been delayed by the need to fit in people with much more urgent needs.

Going into the city was strange. There were people on the train. It was after 9am and the commuters to work had already gone. I wore disposable gloves on the train - the only person to do so. I kept my distance from everyone else too. Not everyone was doing that. 

In the city itself it was much the same. There were some attempts being made to "socially distance" and I certainly stayed as far away as I could but other people didn't seem too bothered. At the building in which the dental and optical services are housed there was someone checking people as they went in. She approved my disposable gloves. I went up in the lift with nobody else in it. (Two people are allowed to enter under the guidelines.) I disposed of my gloves into the bin provided and, almost immediately, saw my dentist. 

On leaving I pulled on the other pair of disposable gloves and did the return journey. 

    "I wouldn't waste my time with those," someone told me of the gloves, "In fact you shouldn't be wearing them. They just help to spread the germs."

No, not correct. If they are not properly used they will spread the germs. In this case I was still being careful about what I touched and I was also using the disposable hand wipes with them. It was an added layer of protection. I disposed of them all into the household landfill bin when I got home.

I think it was all safe enough. I did the best I could. We might not have had any local transmitted Covid19 cases in this state for a while but I am still going to be careful. Is there something wrong with that?

I probably won't go into the city again for another six months - as long as I do not need to go to the dentist. 

Thursday 15 October 2020

Christmas lights

will soon start appearing. Some already have. Our neighbours have theirs on all year round. (They are on their back verandah and appear for an hour each evening.)

And there are bigger displays of course. There is usually a big one in the hills behind us. It is used as a tourist attraction. They have cancelled it this year because of Covid19 concerns. No doubt there are other displays in other places which have also been cancelled.

There is also one which may or may not go ahead. It is one we saw as children. Perhaps I should say we were forcibly taken to see it by our maternal grandparents. Our grandmother liked it so everyone else was expected to like it too. 

We children thought it was "okay" I suppose. It didn't excite us. It was a static display back then and going to see it was just something we were supposed to do each year. Children now would consider the display "boring". They are used to lights that "move".

The display was on the grounds of the brewery in the west end of the city, just outside the square mile designed by Colonel Light. I haven't been past it for years. 

This year will, if it is held at all, be the last. The brewery is closing. The soft drink factory next door closed some time ago. (We went to that once to see the process. It did not encourage me to like the product.) 

The brewery has been there for 160 years. It was taken over by a Japanese firm a few years back - with promises it would be kept going. That isn't going to happen.

From a personal point of view this doesn't matter in the slightest. I don't drink beer. (I don't drink alcohol at all as I am allergic to it. My skin feels as if it has been covered in "itching" powder. Even the hand sanitisers have been problematic although I use them.)

But, from the point of view of other people it will  matter. There will be people out of work. Some people won't find it as easy to get their preferred beer. The land is likely to be sold - almost certainly for housing. That will put an increased demand on services in the surrounding area.

And the lights won't appear again. I wonder how many thousands of people go past them each night without thinking about them - and how many more deliberately drive past so they and their children and grandchildren can enjoy them?

It will be another little thing gone from the past. People will say it doesn't matter, that - Covid19 restrictions permitting - there are other displays of Christmas lights.

And yes there will be but it won't be the same. One of the reasons the brewery display was "special" was because there were so few other places that were decorated that way. 

Now we have more we actually have less.   

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Yarn stash ....

you know what I mean? You are a knitter? Someone who crochets? You weave?  You dream?

      "Cat, do you happen to have any black sock wool?" came the cry yesterday, "I need about two metres to mend something."

I found black sock wool - the last precious few metres  - and handed it over. 

   "It's not the same colour," came the bemused response. 

   "No, black has dyelots too," I told him even as he borrowed a wool needle and proceeded to mend his sleeveless pullover. His mother made it for him years ago. She has long since gone and he keeps it as a reminder of her even though it is not fit for anything other than the garden.

I thought about this and my stash. It is a reminder too. My mother used to make what she called "gardening jumpers" (sweaters/pullovers/jerseys) for the Senior Cat - and the nephews when they were small. They were "Joseph jumpers" according to someone else. My mother made them and so did several other women I knew. They would be made out of the left overs from the other garments. They would be randomly striped. Most of the time no effort was made to see that stripes matched or coordinated. My mother would simply start with a left over ball. When that ran out she would go on to the next one. There are still garments in the Senior Cat's drawers that she made this way. I need to be rid of them. I have reknitted the cuffs on some. I have patched and darned others. They have glue and paint and other stains. Yes, they were worn. My nephews wore theirs until they grew out of  the need for heavier woollens in this climate. 

I could make similar garments I suppose but, unlike my mother - and some other women, I like to try and make something in a way that looks intended. I don't want a large patch of blue and then a few centimetres of yellow  before some pink and then brown and a band of red at the neck. (I threw that one into the bin last week. The Senior Cat does not need it. It was not worthy of unravelling an reknitting. I doubt I could have pulled it apart as it was glued together.)

I looked at the small bag of left overs from socks that have been knitted. Would it make a garment? 

I know someone who would weigh this. She would weigh each colour separately and work out just how to plan it so it looks  intended.  Her work is beautiful. She uses endless left overs she is given or picks up from other places. Nothing is wasted. A lot of work goes into this. Charities benefit from her work although I doubt the recipients have any idea how much work is involved. I suspect it is a matter of pride for her.

I would set about the problem in other ways but this time I did not get a chance. The friend who needed black has taken the bag of left overs to turn them into a pair of socks for his partner.

   "Socks are good summer knitting - not too big," he told me. 

His partner, another male, makes patchwork quilts and gives them away to those in need. They often sit in the evening listening to music, knitting and sewing.

And their stashes continue to grow.  

Tuesday 13 October 2020

"Bored" teens are

a problem.

I had a visit from one yesterday, along with his father. The kid is in trouble. He has caused me and people I know a lot of trouble. He has hacked into multiple computers, sprayed graffiti at the railway station, chalked graffiti here and elsewhere, bought cigarettes underage, helped someone else send vile messages to  people and more. He's been skipping school and skiving off to "do stuff on my board" too. 

Inevitably he has been caught. His father hauled him along to visit me  yesterday. I would have been happy not to see him. Although I had never met him before I knew instantly who he was and what he had been doing. 

I did the only thing I could think of. I asked his father to leave, to go and wait in the car. This was between the kid and myself. I didn't want his father there while we talked about it.

I think that shocked both of them. 

I could see the father wanted to argue with me but I just looked at him and mouthed "Please go away."

The kid stayed. I looked at him. He squirmed. I asked him, "Do you want to come in?"

He shook his head. 

"Do you want to say anything?"

"Me dad says I have to say I'm sorry."

"That is not the point," I told him, "Do you want to say you're sorry?"

"I guess so."

"Okay, you don't really want to say it. Nobody likes to apologise for being an idiot. Let's talk about something else. You've been doing it for your grandmother haven't you?"

"Me nan? Yeah - she doesn't like people like you."

"And is that okay?"

He shrugged, squirmed, shook his head and then said, "Me mum keeps crying and my dad is furious. He says if he was allowed he'd beat the hell out of me."

"I'm glad he isn't allowed to do that. What else has he said?"


"About skiving...and the graffiti? The cops talked to you about that didn't they?"

"Yeah...and the hacking...."

"You know I actually think you are pretty smart and I really do mean that. I would have absolutely no idea how to hack into someone else's computer. Is it difficult to do?"

"Nah, not those."

There was more squirming and foot shuffling. 

"So, what are you going to do about it?"

"Me dad's taken me phone and I can't use the computer except for school until school starts next year. And I'm not allowed out with me mates until then either. He's taking me to school  in the mornings and me mum is going to be there in the afternoons and...they're treating me like a little kid!"

"Sounds tough to me. I guess that's how they think of you. But I asked you what you are going to do about it?"

He looked at me and I added, "Look it isn't the way your parents are punishing you that counts. It is what you do about it that counts. You must be feeling pretty fed up right now. I'm fed up too. You've hurt me and some people I know and it is going to take a while for us to trust each other again - if we ever do.  It's not just about doing the wrong thing and apologising and taking your punishment. It's about thinking about what you've really done to other people. Go and tell your dad that I'll meet both of you at the railway station. I've got something I want to show both of you but I'll ride up there because I've got to do something else afterwards."

He looked at me warily. There was more squirming.

"Go on. I think you are a basically decent sort. I'm not mad at you - just disappointed."

I suspect that hurt more than anything. About fifteen minutes later we were all looking at the small memorial to the man who spent years of his life cleaning graffiti and repairing the damage vandals do to the railway station. We talked about it.

"I guess he sort of wasted a lot of time, had to waste a lot of time because of us."

"Well, you wasted your time too,"  I told him, "Can you find something else to do instead?"

Another shrug and some foot shuffling. His father was, thankfully, silent.

"I guess so." 

"Contract between us?"

He hesitated and I offered him a contact free high five. His expression was extraordinary but his hand came up as he mumbled,  

"Thanks, you're okay you are."

I'm not. I'm mad at him and the damage he has done but telling him that won't help. I hope he finds something more positive to do. I'm not betting on it but he probably won't bother me again. 


Monday 12 October 2020

Mental health came under discussion

again yesterday - and no, it was nothing to do with my blog post. I had a phone call mid-morning and someone asked,

   "Cat, have you got a moment - may I come round and see you? There's a bit of a problem and you know about them."

The caller would not say anything else on the phone but arrived a few minutes later. I put the kettle on as she had not even had breakfast and let her talk. 

    "It's the ..... " she told me and named a religious sect with which I am familiar.

That was enough to set of alarm bells. I am all too well aware of what they can be like. My contact with members of the sect has always been limited. Most people have no social contact at all. It isn't encouraged. The men do most of the business. The women are not supposed to talk to anyone except for absolutely essential purposes. The children are isolated from other children. 

Problems arise with neighbours because they try to keep an extraordinary degree of separation between themselves and everyone else.  Fences, trees, animals, music all cause issues. 

And there is the issue of domestic violence. More than once this year I have wondered about domestic violence in relation to this group. Domestic violence is common, more common than it is  in the rest of the community. It isn't recognised as such. It is accepted as part of their beliefs. The male members of the community have control over everything. They control the purse strings - women do not go back to work after marrying. (Before that they may only work for other members of the group.) The women have no money of their own. Some of the men go as far as to scrutinise every cent spent. They handle things in ways that most people would see as mental cruelty. For them it is the way they see their "God" as telling them to behave. Trying to get them to see otherwise is not something I have ever attempted. I wouldn't. 

But if someone wants to leave the group then I will support them. They will need support. It means leaving everything. It means no more contact with family and friends in the group. You are "dead". You are not spoken about again. 

And yes, someone this woman's daughter knows wants to leave the group. This woman is concerned about her daughter getting involved and helping in any way. 

"A.... says it will be all right but what if they come after her for helping?"

We talked about it. I told her what I knew. I told her of my own experiences with the group and the two teens I knew who had left. 

"I'll email J.... and ask him to talk to you as well," I told her, "He knows ex-members of the group here. They will help."

I tried to explain how big a decision it is, how traumatic it is, how much help someone needs in order to find a place in the world. How successful I was I am not sure. It  is so hard to comprehend.

But this morning there was, as I knew there would be, an email from J... It might have been Sunday yesterday but he was on the phone. He had called members of the group. A young woman is leaving the group. She says there are two young men leaving as well. They all need help - help from neighbours. 

And they need more than practical help. They need psychological help. They need help with their mental health and well being. Even the simple act of accepting a cup of coffee in the home of a non-group member is going to be an issue for them. 

I've tried explaining this but it takes imagination. Caring for the mental health of ourselves and others means trying to be empathetic. That's hard and I don't always get it right by any means but I hope those trying to help the young woman and the two young men can do it. They are going to need a lot of help.   

Sunday 11 October 2020

Mental health - that thing we don't talk about

is being talked about a little more. There is a spread about it in this morning's paper. I was acutely aware of it again yesterday.

My doctor nephew has been working in mental health. He is on a contract. Despite the contract he has several times been told there are "no shifts available". The money simply isn't there. It is infuriating. As a family we are perhaps more aware of mental health needs than some. I was the one who, at fourteen, answered the phone to the terrified young voice saying, "..... my father is trying to kill my mother!"  He was too. This was a farmer, a war veteran, who was chasing his wife across the paddocks with a red hot poker in his hand. He thought she was the enemy. They flew him by air ambulance to the city. The community, made up of more "soldier settlers" (war veterans) rallied around to help but many of them had issues too.

The Senior Cat's brother had a form of dementia brought on by small "strokes" to his frontal lobes.  He had been severely depressed before that and his behaviour was sometimes erratic. Watching out for him was hard and we will be forever grateful to the three friends who stuck by him even when he became almost impossible to handle. 

Over the past few weeks I have been made aware of a woman who has been writing some particularly nasty anonymous letters. I don't know who she is - although I have a fair idea. I have been told she sees nothing really wrong with her behaviour. To her it is apparently simply a matter of apologising - anonymously. She needs help but does not recognise it. 

I have a very good friend who is currently going through another episode of severe depression. When I have written this I will email her husband and ask how she is. I won't phone because, should she answer the phone, she will try to make an effort to have a conversation. It isn't what she wants right now.

Yesterday I went to see the Senior Cat. I had been going to go the day before but his friend P.... was there when I phoned to say I wanted to come.  This friend is a fellow magician. They always have plenty to talk about. The Senior Cat was keen to tell me about P's visit when I got there yesterday. 

We spent the rest of the time working out how to make another sort of origami box. It's tricky. He had been working on it. I spent some hours working on it too. I think I have it cracked. I am not sure the Senior Cat has but he told me, "I'm not going to let it beat me." I left him considering folds and valleys and points and other mysteries. I had also left him another psychology book. He's doing more reading about "superstition". It is a topic which interests him - and his friend P... too. 

I know the Senior Cat has moments of depression. He would prefer to be home and at work in the garden and in the shed. He would prefer to be able to go out independently and just get on with life in the way he wants. But, he has found things which still challenge him.  It is what we all need. 

This year has been has been strange. I think I have got through it because I have found things to challenge me. I have succeeded in some. I have failed in some and some of those I will try again. Yes, I have been "down" at times - more often than I would like. It has been that sort of year - but I still have an "I want to do" list. It is people without one of those I really worry about.  

Saturday 10 October 2020

"Gel blasters" now require a "gun licence"

in this state. There is outrage over this. There are threats of legal action. 

   "Why do you want to spoil our harmless fun?" users are asking.

Except of course it is not harmless. People get hurt. Gel blasters are weapons. They may not be as lethal as a gun which fires bullets but they can still do harm. If you don't know the difference then they can still be used for criminal purposes is what the police are saying.

I don't know anything about the operation of gel blasters or paint ball guns and I don't want to know. I have seen pictures but I have never seen the real thing and I don't want to see the real thing. Why would I? Those in favour of such things say they do things like "develop competitiveness" and "foster team spirit".  Surely there are other ways to do these things?  

I had reason to look on line at some "games" in this past week. I haven't played a board game in a while. My memories of them are of things like Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, draughts, and chess. I have stopped playing chess with Ms W. She surpassed me years ago even though she isn't terribly keen on the game. It is something she does at school "because you have to do something like that and you get to use your brain a bit".

But there were so many other games out there - and so many of them involved capturing and killing. I asked the boys who live opposite Ms W and her father about video games. The older of the two thought about it for a moment and then said,

   "Yeah, you're right. Most of ours are like that. It's why our mum doesn't like us playing them."

I wonder why they like that sort of thing. They weren't around when my brother was that age. I doubt he would have been interested. He was too busy making things. The toy soldiers he was given one year were still in their box when we moved twelve months later. Our mother probably gave them away. We were never encouraged to play with guns or shoot people. We didn't need to anyway because we had too many other things to do. 

It seems to be different now. There are people who don't allow their children to play with toy guns. The local toy shop has a policy which does not allow it to stock guns. (It has a wonderful selection of toys with real play value.) Despite all that there are the violent video games and the actual "games" with the gel blasters and paint ball guns. I am told it is "exciting".

I suppose there must be girls and women who do that sort of thing but I have never met any. All the people I know who are involved or know people who are involved are boys and men. They seem to get something out of it, out of the mock violence.

If the decision to require a gun licence is upheld - and I hope it is - then there will be people who lose their livelihoods, people who have to find something else to do with their weekends and more. I genuinely feel for them. It is going to be tough but it would be so much better if they were sawing timber or welding metal and making something. 

Could someone please invent a hobby where it gives people as big a thrill to create something as it does to "kill" someone?  

Friday 9 October 2020

Vocational guidance tests

are apparently "in" at the moment - or being commented on by people I know.

Ms W has yet to come across one of those. She will soon. Her father asked me to explain them to her some weeks ago and I did. I got her to do an on-line one so that she would understand more about them.

I remember doing them. We did not do one at school. I don't remember being given any careers advice at all. Our teachers casually discussed options with those who were not "going back on the farm". The girls chose between things like "getting married", "working in a shop" - or "the bank" or "going nursing" or "teaching". The boys might have had more options but my brother chose teaching so he could get a degree at the same time.  I know other boys who did the same thing. 

We did "aptitude" tests to enter teacher training college. My brother and I were well aware of how we should answer the questions. The Senior Cat had explained all this to us!  

We knew far more about teachers than most children. Teachers were always in and out of our house. They stayed for cups of tea and even meals. One year I was given chalk, instructions and a classroom blackboard by the deputy head and told to do the timetable for the senior school in various coloured chalks. (I have to explain that the senior school had about forty-eight students and four teachers who had to teach everything so it was not as difficult as it sounds.) I baby sat their children and was privy to any number of their problems.  Answering questions designed to see if we were suited to the profession of teaching was a doddle for us. 

I did more complex tests when I applied to enter the "public service" and other jobs.  By then I knew about Myers-Briggs and other tests. I knew how to answer them to manipulate the results if I chose. I had even participated in designing such things for research purposes.

And naturally Ms W wants to know "how do they work?"  I have explained the theory. (She was cynical. "On Monday you might want to be a teacher because you had a good lesson at school and on Wednesday you might want to be a vet because you have to take your dog to the vet. Then on Saturday you might want to be a gardener because you pick all the tomatoes you grew.")

And there might not be much employment in the areas which most interest you.  There may be new work roles coming up, things we have not yet thought about. Not so long ago a very young friend told me, "I'm going to go to Mars and work out how to make  the air and food there so we can go and live on it."  It may not be as ridiculous as it sounds. I was careful not to laugh at him.

Vocational guidance is no laughing matter. 

Thursday 8 October 2020

The last female cousin

of the Senior Cat's generation died on Sunday morning. Her son, unable to find a phone number in the confusion surrounding her death, left me an email.

He isn't someone I really know. He never came to the clan  reunions. His brother never came either. They were not part of my childhood. For many years we had no direct contact at all. Perhaps this is not so surprising for second cousins?

Their mother however was in contact and not just at Christmas. Letters would arrive several times a year from the farm in a neighbouring state. Her mother, my great aunt, always insisted that her daughter had married a "grazier". She had pretensions. Her son-in-law  used to call himself a "sheep farmer" even though he ran a highly successful breeding program and his animals were much sought after. "They are only for carpet wool" he would tell people.

Dad's cousin was mostly a city girl. She had not spent the same amount of time on the dairy farm my great-grandmother owned. It was the boys who spent their time there - little wonder when they could get out and do things. A girl would probably have been more closely confined to the house and required to help more with household duties than general farm duties. 

But still M.... married a farmer. She met him in the church office - where she was a deaconess. It must have been strange for her to find herself almost isolated on a farm but it seems to have been a happy marriage. She admitted once that it was a steep learning curve. The one thing she could never really handle was J..., her husband, killing a sheep. She became vegetarian even while she cooked the meat for him and her two boys. Apart from that though she did all that was expected of her as a housewife and, like her grandmother before her, she became the local unpaid social worker, supporter of the church and the community. 

When J....had to go into residential aged care and she was alone in the house she began to make phone calls to other people, often cousins in distant places.  She must have spent hours and hours on the phone. Even when the list began to dwindle through dementia and death she continued to call people.  Almost every afternoon we would get a call from her.  Almost every afternoon I would spend ten minutes reassuring her that we were okay and asking what she had done with her day. 

I didn't worry too much when there were two days without a call. It was a bit unusual but it had happened before. She had sounded fine when I last spoke to her. I knew there were people in and out of her home everyday. I tried calling her on the third day but there was no answer. Had she gone into a week's respite without letting me know? She did that once before. 

And then came the email from her son. Middle Cat and I went to see the Senior Cat together. He took the news quietly but he said, "She was younger than I am." Yes, 95 to his 97.  

It leaves the Senior Cat, his cousin P and his cousin B... all in different states. None of them will see one another again. P.... and the Senior Cat talk occasionally on the phone but it is a generation almost gone. 

My second cousin M... phoned me yesterday morning and said, "Do you realise I'm the oldest of the next generation?"'

"And head of the clan here," I reminded him. 

He sighed but then he said, "Tell young P... I want something for the website when he's ready. We need to keep it up for the young ones, so they don't forget we are all family."

Brother Cat will add that something to the clan website so that M... is there - for all the family.

Wednesday 7 October 2020

Letters to the Editor

will no doubt be full of budget comment for the next few days.

I managed to get my piece in before that but it will no doubt be swallowed up by comments from people concerned about the price of their next cup of takeaway coffee.

Here's my bit:

Scientists use language in order to think, to learn, and to teach. Without it they would not be able to function. They use the arts in order to develop their creativity. They do this even while they are unaware of doing it.
The best and most effective researchers are those that can ask questions like, "What if....?" and "How can I...?"
One reason Australia is falling behind is because educators have failed to acknowledge the importance of language, creativity and the arts in general.
Mathematicians need a high level of language just in order to understand a problem, let alone solve it or apply it to a situation. The same is true of physicists, chemists, engineers and all other scientists.
We therefore need people who understand something about our use of language and people who can use more than one language for more than commercial purposes. We need people who know where our present ideas have come from and how they are developing.
We need culturally literate people in order to have a scientifically literate workforce.
The role of a university is to teach these things and encourage the development of ideas. Universities should not be seen as job factories. They should not be seen as places to indoctrinate students in "politically correct" thinking or "desired outcomes". They need to be places where creative thought and a diversity of ideas is encouraged in all areas.
That will not happen under the current proposals.
The current proposals - which will almost certainly now be put  in place are that people should pay more for doing a degree  in  arts, languages and the like. They will pay much less to do a degree in the sciences, engineering, technology and the like. The idea is that this will prepare students for the world of work, that they will be trained and ready for employment. 
This is truly muddled thinking. It is not the role of a university to train people for employment. Universities are surely there to encourage people to think, to develop ideas. Yes, those ideas might be the life-saving drugs of the future but the people who develop them are going to be people who can imagine, dream, think and create. To do that you need to know more than the chemical formula for something. You need more than the capacity to read a sequence of DNA.
Ms W is currently being pressured at school. She has to make decisions shortly about the subjects she will do next year, decisions which will now be final. She is good at maths and science because she is a good all round student but she loves language and languages. Those are the things that set her alight with enthusiasm, "Do you know that there is a word for.... but we don't have it..." and "Doesn't this sound delicious....I can't say it like that in English." Still the school is saying she should think about maths and science, that she would learn to love it as she matures and recognises the value of it. No, I don't think so. There would never be that same spark of enthusiasm there.
I am trying not to influence her. Her father is trying not to influence her. Her late mother had spent time in Vanuatu and spoke quite fluent French. We have not raised that with her because she needs to make up her own mind. 
A friend in the UK, someone who  taught Spanish at university, has told her there is employment to be found if you know more than one language. 
I hope she will choose the thing she is so obviously enthusiastic about, that she will choose the sort of career she wants. Yes, she would no doubt do well in science but it won't be her choice. 
There will be other young people facing the same problem, many of them not particularly enthusiastic about anything. They will "choose" maths and science under pressure - but will they make the best scientists?

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Budget Day

and we are going to learn just how far the country has sunk into debt. We should be "in the black" or we would have been "in the black" if it had not been for the Covid19 event - or so we are told.

I have often wondered about this. It is usually seen as a "good thing" if a domestic household is not in debt. In saying this people usually ignore the fact that households are usually paying off a mortgage or paying rent - rent being a regularly recurring debt of sorts.

But is it the same if you are endeavouring to run a country? Probably not.

Today's "Budget" has been delayed because of Covid19 - a cause for some criticism in some circles. I suspect however that this is criticism for the sake of criticism rather than any real belief that it was not the appropriate thing to do. At the time the Budget should have been delivered nobody could have had any idea what the economic impact of the virus would be. It is something they still don't know but now they can work on what they have managed to learn. I don't envy those involved. The Treasurer looks worried - as well he might be. The Opposition is saying that the figures are more about financial mismanagement than the virus - but that's political speak. Word has it that they are "not saying too much".

And there was an interesting piece in this morning's paper about another set of financial figures - those of the Vatican. Mismanagement would be nothing new there. Corruption there too? Oh yes, entirely possible.  

I am also aware of investigations into various charitable organisations and the way in which corruption, mismanagement, fraud, theft and more have been concealed and revealed - mostly concealed.  The money wasted frightens me.

When we set up the scholarship fund in memory of a friend we talked about this. How could we set it up so that all the money went into the purpose and none of it into the process? It took some planning and it still takes some work but it has been done. We have given a fifth scholarship this year - to an orphan girl who already shows real aptitude for meticulous laboratory work. 

When we announced it Z...., who leads the group, was asked how we had managed it given the tight restrictions this year. He replied,

"We budgeted for this. Next year will be really hard but, if we are careful, we might be able to do it. It is something the girls work towards. We don't want to disappoint them. We all need to work towards it."

MsW has discovered the need to budget. She has had some ups and downs. Her father started her off slowly. She has made mistakes but she can now do the basic housekeeping. If she needs advice she will ask for it - sometimes me or her friend's mother but more often her father.  

And that is one of the things about budgets. They require work. I wonder how many people will think about that when the Treasurer addresses the nation today? 

Monday 5 October 2020

"Is Mr Trump really sick?"

was the question Ms W asked me yesterday. She gave me the sort of look which tells me she is stirring the waters - but only slightly.

What she really wanted to know was what was going on in the media and who was saying what - and why they were saying it. Her father's job, in which she takes an interest, is very much involved in these things from time to time.

We agreed that he probably is not well and that he is high risk - age and obesity do not help. 

"Stupid not to wear a mask," Ms W told me. I can only agree. I suspect he has been bullying the First Lady into not wearing one as well. 

"And what happens if he can't be President any more?" she asked.

"Well what happens here if the Prime Minister can't do the job or goes on holiday?"

"The Deputy Prime Minister does it. Oh, so the Deputy President, the Vice President does it?"


Ms W thought about that and told me that she thought they were both "pretty hopeless". (She has no regard for the other side of US politics either.)

So we went back to the question of whether "Mr Trump is really sick" and she decided that "He probably is. I mean the media would have to be all in it together with all his staff if he wasn't and that seems like it wouldn't happen."

We went on to the more interesting question of what happens when people in powerful positions become ill and the importance of being able to delegate and trust those to whom you delegate. Ms W's cynicism about the capacity of those in authority to do just that is interesting. 

I think she has been spending too much time with the politicians (of all persuasions) her father has to work with and try to make see reason at times.    

Sunday 4 October 2020

Good neighbours

can make all the difference.

I was in a meeting yesterday when I got an urgent text message from someone I barely know. Could I possibly come and mind their two children for an hour?

It would have sounded odd if I had not known the circumstances. I met the mother and the two children recently. They were looking for the library. I pedalled over there with them telling them something about it on the way. In return I found they had just moved in to the district and knew nobody. It seems that everyone around them goes to work - or keeps to themselves. In these Covid19 times the latter is as likely as the former. They had moved to be closer to the husband's work and to care for her mother.  A little further investigation and I realised that I know her mother on a "hello" and "nice day" sort of basis. I had sometimes wondered whether she should be living alone but she does not live on my usual route to the library or the shopping centre. She is not that old but she seemed a little odd. Her daughter admitted that her mother has a form of dementia related to a traumatic brain injury and they felt that she was no longer safe alone.

Perhaps it was all of that which made the young mother send me the urgent message. Her mother had injured herself in an at home accident caused by her dementia. She had been rushed to hospital and her daughter had been asked to attend urgently. 

I think it is a good marriage. Her husband did not want her to have to go alone. Who could they ask to look after the two children until his sister could get there? They didn't know the neighbours. 

I had given them my phone number because the husband needed a piece of timber to do a repair. He had come and picked it up during the week. They know me although hardly well. Yes, call Cat and ask. 

I told them where I was that I didn't mind not attending the meeting. Whatever happened there someone would tell me later and I would be with them as soon as I could be there. 

The children greeted me anxiously. Yes, they knew who I was. I was the person who had shown them where the library was and was I going to stay until Aunty L... came?  I most definitely was going to stay. That was all right then. Their parents left in a rush. 

And so I spent time "directing traffic" as the two children raced around the back garden on their bikes and then other things. I could see the older child was feeling anxious but he was trying to be sensible for his younger brother. 

It was a relief to hear a car pull slowly into the driveway.

"Aunty here," the older child told me looking relieved. Then he gave me a sort of lopsided smile as if to say, "I don't mind you being here but we know Aunty L...." 

Aunty L.... was very pleasant. The children are obviously fond of her. She has children about the same age and, thankfully, car seats. The car seats were important. It meant she could take the children with her so she spoke to her brother and said she would take the children off to see their cousins for the night. 

I left them to it and went home. I made myself a cup of tea and watered some plants that don't get rain. Our neighbours across the way arrived home from a week away. They waved. I know I'll catch up with them sometime today.

But Aunty L...and I agreed. You need to know your neighbours. In an emergency you might need them or be needed by them. It was just sheer good fortune that they had been looking for the library and needed a piece of timber and I could help. 

I hope they get to know their neighbours soon.