Monday 30 November 2020


matter in this house - some would say "clutter" it. I think that would be unfair. 

When my parents moved in thirty-six years ago my mother tried to limit the number of bookshelves we could have.

   "I don't want books in the lounge, the sitting room, whatever you want to call it," she told us.

We looked at her puzzled. Isn't that the very place they should be? No, not according to her. She wanted it to look "tidy". Oh. 

The Senior Cat and I looked at one another in alarm. We looked at my brother - and he was looking as worried as we were. Middle Cat sighed and said she had the same problem - in reverse. Her partner grew up in a house with no books apart from the books the children had for school.  The Black Cat just shrugged. She is still the only one of us who does not read much.

We had box after box of books that needed to be put somewhere. Mum was adamant. They were not going to be put where she did not want them. 

The Senior Cat put up a "garden shed". It was supposed to store things like garden tools and the wheelbarrow. It stored books. Mum agreed to bookshelves in other places. We triple stacked the shelves - one collapsed under the weight and the Senior Cat had to repair it. Mum was not amused.

Yes, she had books herself. They were stored in what she called "the sewing room". It was the room where the ironing was done and where she did her sewing on the fancy sewing machine we all dubbed "the747".  That was one bedroom taken care of.

The Senior Cat had some of his in his "office" - the room where he did the household paperwork and taught individual students study skills and conjuring tricks and held committee meetings for various groups.  That was another bedroom taken care of.  

Both of those rooms were barely big enough for a bed in the first place. Surely the best thing to fill them with was books?

The room I slept in, now my bedroom, had a bookshelf. I triple stacked that and then piled more books on top in increasingly precarious piles.  Mum was not amused. What if they had someone come to stay? I knew they never would. Family stayed with Middle Cat. Her house is designed for things like that.

I had come home some little time before to help with a, by then almost disastrous, situation.  There had been a few changes by then.  A bookshelf had appeared in several places. The Senior Cat asked the cabinet maker who lived opposite to put a wall of shelving into the room I now sleep in. I don't know whether I sleep in a library, a room with books, or a bedroom. The shelves are only double stacked. There was a floor to ceiling bookshelf in the "family" room. Mum had agreed to that as somewhere to store the toys and books belonging to her grandsons. The Senior Cat had made that one. There were still boxes of books stored in the shed.

After my mother died books kept appearing in the house. They littered the floor in untidy piles. The shed was  untidy. The Senior Cat kept searching for books. 

"You need some more bookshelves," his mate N.... told him. The Senior Cat thought about making more. N.... took him to a certain store of  Scandinavian origin. The Senior Cat bought bookshelves. They put them together and put them where the electronic organ had been - the one my mother had liked to play but nobody else could play.  It took almost two years for the Senior Cat to feel he could do that. 

Once done though he went around the house and made notes. One lunch time he sat at the table with a list.

"We could put a bookshelf here...and here... and here," he told me, "Then I can bring those books in from the shed."

We bought more bookshelves. He filled them - with the books that had been piled on the floor. A few books came in from the shed.  We rearranged the shelves. There was room for a few more books. 

One Sunday morning I quietly removed almost two hundred cookery books from "the sewing room". (The Senior Cat was at church. Middle Cat came and took them away to give to the local charity shop.) I managed to put some books in the space that left. There were still books in the shed.

And there are still books in the shed. The shelves inside are crammed. There is no wall space left that can reasonably by used for shelving.  I am slowly going through the shelves. I know we need to be rid of some but how....? 

Mum gave away more than two dozen boxes of books belonging to me. She never mentioned this to me. I did not discover this  until long after she had done it. The books were part of my collection of children's literature. Some of them were valuable then and would be even more valuable now.  If I had known about this in her life time the rift between us would have been wider than the ocean it already was.

My mother died twenty years ago - in this month, when the jacarandas were in full flower. They are beautiful in their own way. I will always associate her with those and not with the books. But when the Senior Cat leaves us my siblings and I will look at libraries and bookshops and stacked book shelves in other places and think of him.

Sunday 29 November 2020

Letters to the Editor

feature in many newspapers - but not all. They are  undoubtedly more common in a "democracy". 

And now of course some newspapers allow readers to comment on line - perhaps not for every story but for some.

It is not unusual for a local person to introduce me as "the person who writes the letters to the paper". It is not unusual for people I don't know to accost me about something I have written. I can only assume that someone else has pointed me out - an ancient, tricycle riding cat has to be easily recognised!

I have had letters in newspapers all over the world - but most of those occurred when I was working on getting International Literacy Year accepted as an idea. Editors seemed to like the idea - but not my attempts to translate my ideas into the local language. 

And two Saturdays in a row I have had the lead letter in our state newspaper.  Yesterday someone out for his daily walk (despite the heat) spoke to me as I was coiling up the hose. He asked,

    "Why do you write those letters Cat?"

    "I try to make people think. I try to give them an alternative point of view."

    "Well, I don't always agree with you."

    "That's all right. I don't always agree with myself. That's not the point of writing the letter."

He frowned and then asked, "But you did agree with what you were saying today?"

Yes, I did. I wrote much the same thing about asking questions here. It seems to me that asking questions and presenting alternative points of view are an important part of writing letters to any newspaper. Once in a while I have had newspaper staff contact me and say things like, "It was a good letter. We can't  publish it because...." That has usually infuriated me. All too often the reason amounts to, "We don't want the public to start thinking about another point of view."

I explained all this to the walker who had stopped to chat. He has never written a "letter to the editor" himself. He could not remember when he had last written an actual letter. He thought it might have been when he went to work for his current place of employment some thirty plus years ago. 

"And I know I got some help with that. I don't know how you do it," he told me, "You'll have to try and get a letter in that London one - you know "The Times" one. My sister's got a book about those."

Yes, I know the book - and many years ago I had three lines in that paper.  It was probably one or two lines too many. The very best letters to the editor are brief, witty and to the point.

Saturday 28 November 2020

Chinese moves to put tariffs

on yet more goods from Downunder is of more than serious concern. It is alarming.

Yes, it is an indication that the Chinese are worried too - and so they should be. What worries them is that something might happen which would cause the presently all powerful "party" machine might get a crack in it. Modern technology is making it increasingly difficult to withhold all information - particularly information they do not want their own people to see or which might lead to other demands. It also worries them that they might be held accountable for any number of other actions.  

Yes China is big and powerful and being able to trade with China is undoubtedly beneficial to the economy of many countries. There is a growing "middle class" there. They have money to spend. The Chinese can now travel abroad on holiday too. It's all good - up to a point.

 Downunder has a long history of kowtowing to China. The excuse has always been something like, "If we want to do business with China..." Yes, if we want to do business with China then we have to do it in the way that China wants. 

China is like a gang leader in the school yard. Everyone wants to be a member of the gang because treats (in this case business opportunities) are handed out. However belonging to the gang comes at a high price. The gang leader tells you, "You can't be friends with X.... and still be a member of the gang" and "You have to let me have some of your toys (land)" and "You have to say you believe I am the leader" (not any other belief system).

If you want to be part of the gang then you have to accept the control of the leader. It might not be fair or reasonable  but it is the price you have to pay.

There are other people in the school yard you would like to be friendly with but, unless they are also members of the gang, then it is not wise.  If you leave the gang then every effort will be made to isolate and ostracise you. Other gang members may feel some sympathy but they will look after their own interests first.

I know one man who spent $28m about twenty years ago. He built a factory in China. The Chinese were delighted. It was going to employ a lot of people. It was going to produce something they could use to produce yet more. Everyone thought this was going to be a "good thing". An enormous amount of work went into it - and then things soured. The man who had built the factory wanted a fair share of the return, what was originally agreed to in the contract. The contract had been agreed. Everyone had signed it. What was wrong? The Chinese simply shrugged. The contract? The contract meant nothing to them. It was simply a way of getting the factory built in the first place. A fair share? They shrugged again. It was fair as far as they were concerned.  And he hadn't been paying the bribes they had demanded so how could he expect to get anything.

He has been warned by authorities here not to go back to China. If he does he will be arrested. It isn't because he has done anything illegal. He has simply done the wrong thing because he expected to business in the way that business would be done here. He did not accept that the gang leader was so powerful he could simply seize the toys and play with them. 

We have let China become like that. We have not sought out other markets and made close, strong friendships in other places. Until the gang leader falls from grace in the schoolyard we are in serious trouble.  We will need to be careful not to start drinking the wine they now say we are dumping. It might lead to alcoholic poisoning.


Friday 27 November 2020

The right to ask questions

comes with certain responsibilities. 

There is a piece by a senior journalist in the state newspaper this morning. He is attempting to justify the questions asked by one his younger colleagues, questions about the handling of the quarantine of returning travellers.

Now yes, two people do appear to have caught the Covid19 virus in quarantine rather than before they returned. That is indeed a cause for extreme concern. Nobody would be more aware of that than our chief medical officer, the Premier of the state, and the head of our police force. They are all responsible for keeping people safe in quarantine and in the community. 

Asking questions about that was also the responsible thing to do. It is a journalist's job to ask questions. 

What is not responsible is to use a situation like that to ask questions for a purpose other than gaining information. There is no right to ask questions simply to criticise someone. There is no right to ask questions simply in an attempt to embarrass anyone or undermine their authority.  Such questions have nothing to do with the "right to know" which journalists like to use to defend all their awkward questions. 

If we genuinely want to ask a question and we genuinely need to know the answer there is often a way of doing it without causing embarrassment. It might take a little more thought on our part but it is often possible. 

As a teacher of profoundly physically and often severely intellectually disabled children I had to learn to ask questions, a lot of questions. I had to learn to ask questions that could be answered by children who often could not speak at all. They were taught to look "up" for  "yes" and "down" for "no". )I also came across children who had been taught to "smile" for "yes". That always worried me. It seemed so inappropriate.)

 Of course there are limitations on how much information you can get from a child in those circumstances. I know with one child I would say, "Sorry P.... I'll have to ask you those twenty questions." We both knew that it might be five or fifteen questions and that we both hoped there would be time to get there. 

Journalists don't have time for those sort of "games". If they repeat a question you can be sure they have not got the answer they want, if they have an answer at all. Sometimes they would get more information if they framed the question in another way or went on to another question. There are also times when they don't ask questions they should ask. Asking them might spoil a story.

Asking questions is an art. I have no doubt most journalists believe they are good at it. They aren't. The vast majority of teachers of such profoundly disabled children as P.... could run rings around them. Teachers in those settings know they have to ask all the questions. It is the only way to get to the answer.

A journalist once told me, "If you don't already know the answer then you probably shouldn't be asking the question." He sounded like a barrister in court. The rule there is much them same, "If you don't know the answer then don't ask the question."  Such things can make or break a case.

The difference between a journalist and teacher or barrister would seem to be that journalists don't feel the same need to listen to answers.  Teachers and barristers must listen in order to build knowledge or build their case. 

If we ask questions then we have a responsibility to listen to the answers too. We don't need to agree but we need to give the person who is attempting to answer us a fair hearing.


Thursday 26 November 2020

Christmas baking

has yet to be done.

I am not making Christmas cake this year. I could still do it but it has been made for visitors and there will be very few of those  this year. People are still being discouraged from visiting one another - and rightly so. There are still cases of the Covid virus appearing. It could easily get out of hand if we start visiting each other.

I will make shortbread. It is relatively easy to do - just time consuming. There are people who will expect that and who won't have anything at all for Christmas unless I give them something...well maybe their nursing homes will give them something but that's not quite the same thing as a "little something" from someone they know out in the community.

And I have the Christmas cards to send out. I bought the stamps two days ago with the intention of doing them yesterday - but I ended up worrying about tomato plants instead. The stamps look vaguely like a Greek or Russian Orthodox icon - Mary, Joseph and infant.

I found some spare stamps the other day. They dated back to 2006 - just Mary and the baby that year. We could send a local Christmas card for 45c that year.  It is now 65c for a local card - but a local letter costs $1.10. MsW has left me a message asking me if she can use the subscription service over the weekend to send some e-cards to people overseas. As her pocket money helped to pay for it this seems only fair.

But I will send proper cards to people who are old enough to appreciate them. There are friends who need the annual letter - "because how else do we know we are still here" someone told me.  I know I am here but it seems they need to know they are still there as well. 

That comment made me aware that I really need to write a new address book. Reading the old one is sad. There are too many names crossed out, people who are no longer with us. Not all of them were very old. My friend M.... in Wales who was only 43  when she died suddenly and unexpectedly at her place of work one morning. My friend B.... in Canada who, like her mother, had early onset dementia. She was smart and caring until she started to "forget" things. There is the address of my friend C.... who went through law school with me. He and his partner helped me move and had me over for meals. We spent hours in the canteen - notes in front of us working on past examination papers.  He died all too soon of cancer. And my friend E... in England who always wrote "Dear Antipodes..." It was her daughter who wrote to me saying, "Cat... Mum asked me to let you has been forty-three years..."

I look at the other addresses on the Christmas card list and wish some of them were close enough to be given shortbread. It's why I make shortbread and yet another reason to write. 

Christmas cards are more important than cake.

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Saving the tomato plants

is one of my tasks for today - if I can find a way to do it. Middle Cat has taken all the mulch! Grrrrrrrrr.

I am not sure how this happened. There were several garden bales of hay there and they have disappeared. I now remember her asking if she could take "some". It seems she has taken all of it. All the shade cloth, rolled up and put away for the winter, has gone too.

At the end of the week the temperature is forecast to be 40'C for two consecutive days.  The next two are forecast to be a mere 33'C.  They will be hard enough on plants.

I am not much of a gardener. The garden was the Senior Cat's hobby - one of them. He liked to grow things. He was once on the committee and then the president of an organic gardening group. He knew a man who ran an organic gardening business  and even did a magic show for his son's birthday. He has taught other people about gardening...but not me. 

I stick things in earth and I give them water and I expect them to grow. I "know" things like tying up tomato plants but only because it is obvious that it is kinder to the plant. I admit I talk to plants.  It is  highly unlikely that this means anything to them but.... it can't do any harm can it? Of course it might mean that someone will hear me and think I am even stranger than they already think I am.

One of the few things I do know though is that plants need to be sheltered from extreme heat. I know that they need to be kept damp in this heat. 

Middle Cat had better do something about this....because I can't get to the garden centre and bring those things home by myself. Grrrrrrr.  

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Christmas cards

need to be written. A Christmas letter needs to be written.

I have not yet given any real thought to Christmas. It might happen or it might not happen - happen in the sense that we will be able to get together.

We do not fuss a lot over Christmas, even less now that there are no small kittens around.  The Senior Cat has never been one to put up Christmas lights and trees. As kittens we never had a tree at home. Our maternal grandmother had an artificial tree. It was brought out every year. She decorated it with baubles and balloons and strands of silver tinsel. There was even a fairy for the top.

We were never there to help her decorate the tree. It just appeared. We thought it was "pretty" I suppose but we didn't find it exciting. Perhaps if we had been allowed to help decorate it then we might have been more interested? I don't know.

The Senior Cat's parents did not have a tree. It might have been a Presbyterian thing although I doubt that. I think it was simply that there were other things to do. Grandma would help us make chains  from crepe paper and cut out stars from old Christmas cards, silvery paper she had saved during the year. Grandpa blew up balloons as we watched - with slight trepidation, would the balloon burst? We made new chains and had new balloons each year. It was part of Christmas. 

We didn't get a lot of presents and we were expected to give presents we had made ourselves. They were simple things. Decorated pots with a plant we had grown from seed featured frequently on the present list. We made "books" with stories we had written ourselves and pictures we had drawn to illustrate them. 

Christmas Day we rushed to see if "Baby Jesus" had arrived in the manger of the nativity set. It was the day we had "fizzy lemonade" to drink. We ate chicken (a  huge treat when I was a kitten) and roast vegetables and then Christmas pudding with sixpences hidden in it. Later there was dark Christmas fruitcake and shortbread, cherries and apricots. We kittens played with new toys or read our Christmas books.  

And we looked at the Christmas cards with the angels looking down on snowy fields and the sleighs "dashing" through more snow. We knew what snow was but I was thirteen before I saw a tiny dirty brown slush of left over snow.  There should be snow at Christmas. It snowed the year I was fourteen and we thought of it as our first "proper" Christmas. Our parents were less impressed by the unusual cold front that went through the state that year!

And now I have cards to write to people we don't see. We no longer send cards to people we do see. They don't send cards to us either. It is by mutual agreement. Too many of them are old. The Senior Cat hates writing cards, indeed I doubt he could this year. It doesn't matter.  I think there might be a Christmas tree in the residence. We might, if things go well, be able to take him out for the day. That's all that really matters.  I don't want any presents apart from that.


Monday 23 November 2020

The national anthem

of Downunder sounds like a dirge. Among some truly awful national anthems it has to be one of the worst.

Okay, yes I know it is our national anthem but I loathe it. I know there will be people who will read this and strongly disagree with me. I know a national anthem should not be a dance in the streets thing. It should be sober. It should give a chance for reflection. This one doesn't. It is just supremely depressing.

Naturally it was played at Remembrance Day ceremonies recently. I happened to be visiting the Senior Cat while their small service was going on. Not one elderly person in the room knew the words or could sing it. That was not unexpected. They grew up, as did I, on "God save the Queen".  

Since then I have done a little research of my own. I first asked MsW if she knew the words to the national anthem. Her response was, "The first bit - but only because we had to learn it for choir." 

I asked her form teacher to do something for me. Could the girls write the words? Like MsW the rest of the form knew "the first bit". They knew the first verse  - enough to get them through most occasions. Did they like it?  Nobody admitted to liking it although one of the girls told me, "I don't suppose we are actually supposed to like it."

 I ploughed on out into the community and I asked more people. In ten days I asked another forty-seven people in places like the supermarket, the library, the bank, the post office. I asked friends and neighbours. 

Only one person knew more than the first couple of lines - and some didn't even know that.  

As a piece of research goes this is just too flawed to reach any conclusions. I would need to ask a lot more people over a much wider area to come to any real conclusion. That said I did try to ask people from across the age groups. Nobody declined to answer. 

And nobody told me they liked it or that it had a positive effect on them. Of course I was not asking them that I was simply asking, "Do you know the words to our national anthem?"

There are calls to change the words to the national anthem. They are said to be offensive to some. Perhaps there should be no words at all. The late Judith Wright, poet and activist,  once said that it was not possible to write the words to a national anthem in the 20thC. We are now in the 21st and it seems even less possible now.

Waltzing Matilda with no words might be better?

Sunday 22 November 2020

Dame Margaret Guilfoyle's

political obituaries will be written elsewhere. I want to say something here about her as a person.

I met her at Law School. By then she was contemplating her life after politics and had come to the conclusion she needed to study the law she had been applying in her work a little more closely.

Trying to find time to study even part time is almost impossible for anyone in politics. The then Dean of the Law School hauled me in and said, "Cat, we have a new student who is going to need some help. I'd like you to give her some."

I blinked and wondered just how much help I would be expected to give but ten minutes later we had come to an arrangement which suited us both. If  DM could not attend a lecture for any reason then she would borrow the lecture from me as I always taped them. I would also go through the Legal Writing and Research material with her because she would not be able to attend those classes. I taught her how to write an examination summary so that it saved her hours of time. She took far more notice of that than the much younger students who should have been using the skills involved.

She asked for no more than we could both see she needed. When she appeared for a lecture she made it very clear that she intended to be treated like any other student. When she had time she queued in the Law School canteen for a cup of coffee like any other student.

Occasionally she would use her authority. I remember a younger and very radical female student who wore bib and brace overalls who had complained a male student opening a door for her. She came into the canteen one day and complained that her daughter "still wanted to wear a dress to school". DM gently told her that she was making life very difficult for her daughter by making her different from her classmates. It was not so much the message but the delivery that caused the mother to stop her complaint.

DM was often accosted by unhappy students, students who supported the other side of politics and staff who objected to decisions being made. It must often have been very difficult for her but she always remained calm. She would listen and, more than once, a student found a problem had been solved. 

There were times when the lecturer would find him or herself talking about a decision that DM had been involved in. She never seemed to notice and the lecturer would never allude to the fact that she was present except for once. The lecturer was having a problem trying to explain why a decision had been made. It was an "unusual" one as he tried to explain "the Minister's decision". Then, quietly, she said, "The Minister is present...and the Minister made the decision on the basis that - as a wife and a mother - that is the decision I would have wanted the Minister to make." It was a good decision too. It solved a problem that needed to be solved.

I was in my final year when a major scholarship became open for applications. The Dean of the Law School and one of the professors were keen for me to apply. I didn't mention it DM and had no intention of applying. My Law School record, while creditable enough,  was not a run of High Distinctions like a couple of the best students.  I had also, I hoped, finished with any more studying. But, we were sitting in the quad going through notes of a lecture DM had missed when she said to me,

   "Cat, you are putting in for that scholarship and J...., D... and I are going to act as your referees."

It was the way she wanted to repay me for help I had been happy to freely give because she was always punctilious about saying, "Thank you." She was one of the most thoughtful politicians I have ever met.  It is little wonder she was respected on both sides of politics.

And yes, I got the scholarship.



Saturday 21 November 2020

The "lockdown liar"

is going to find life very difficult from now on. 

For those of you who don't know...we went into a stringent lock down because someone lied to the officials doing the contact tracing. The Chief Medical Officer and those from whom she takes advice decided that this was the safest course of action for the entire community. 

I have no argument with that at all. If the information they were acting on was correct it would have been the only responsible thing to do. 

But any lock down, any restriction on what we consider to be normal activities, has consequences. Those consequences have to be weighed against the safety of everyone. It's a difficult and delicate balancing act and I am glad I am not the CMO or the Premier or the officer in charge of the police force. 

They are being criticised for doing the right thing. They would have been criticised either way. It was a no-win situation for them. They erred on the side of caution - the only sensible thing to do when lives are at risk. 

Blame has to be placed elsewhere - with people who were careless, people who are working a second job without informing the tax man, with families who thought it was fine to get together even though one of them was working in a very high risk situation.

The lock down has now been slightly eased but the financial consequences for some has been catastrophic. People have lost pay because someone lied. Worse, there are businesses which might not survive. 

I know of one business which won't survive. They got through the worst of the situation earlier in the year. They did it without getting any government hand outs. The family worked excessively long hours alone. Now they can't cope. A government hand out is not going to help. They need hands on help. 

Yes, food is involved. They have crops that need picking. It is work nobody is ever really willing to do and now there are limits on travel, on living and working together.  The family has a reputation as a good employer but that hasn't saved them now. 

And this sort of thing is going on all over the country, indeed the world. Farmers haven't even sown some crops. They couldn't do that because of the pandemic. If they did then caring for them, harvesting them and getting them to their markets has been another series of problems which has been too much for so many of them.

We are in fact at risk of a different sort of problem which is just as big and is so far unrecognised.  People are going to be hungry. There could be a widespread famine. That could be as dangerous as the Covid19 virus itself. 

So when one person lies and shuts down an entire state others need to be aware of the wider consequences. We need to help our neighbours and friends.

And the person who lied needs to face the consequences of his actions. 

Friday 20 November 2020

Almost no traffic

on the roads made an enormous difference to my pedal to the supermarket this morning.

I needed milk. I went early. The supermarket I prefer to use opens at 7am. I knew there wouldn't be that many people around - and there were very few. 

   "Hi Cat, coping all right?" one of the staff asked me, "Let me know if I can do anything to help."

It is that sort of thing which makes me shop there rather than at the big chain one two hundred metres away. The prices are much the same, the variety is actually better and they have the excellent policy of sourcing locally where they can. They also employ students who need jobs. I approve of all of that. If I shop there on Thursdays I can also get a small discount - always useful. 

But I just needed milk so I was in and out. With luck I won't need to go back until next Wednesday. 

There were no new cases yesterday and people are complaining about this lockdown. They are saying it isn't really necessary. It is necessary if we are going to keep this thing under control. There are still areas of great concern in areas to the north and west of the city. I live on the east but I am not feeling complacent or smug. I know there have been people in and out both ways from the places of concern. Someone in the next street teaches at a school which is in the centre of the secondary cluster. 

I am one of the fortunate ones I suppose. My day-to-day social life is pretty limited. I have worked from home for many years. Of course I am disappointed that a couple of things I was expecting to go to have been cancelled but I can live with it. It doesn't bother me in the least that I can't go and stand in a crowded bar with an alcoholic drink in my paw. I have never done that and never will.  I know it bothers other people and I am sorry they apparently don't have other ways of entertaining themselves. 

It is time to teach children other ways of entertaining themselves. MsW is delighted to have been sent home from school. She won't go back now until next year. There will be work to do. ("Loads of it" according to her.) Her father won't be going anywhere. They should be able to get away for Christmas. They have a cabin booked in a fairly remote coastal spot. MsW's only concern is that they won't have enough to read but, apart from that, they have things to do. None of those things rely on a screen. When I asked if she would miss communicating with her friends this year she just shrugged,

"No, not really. I like them a lot but they can wait until I get back."

They will accept this. She is popular, the more so because the others know they can rely on her when she is there. There is no need for her to be constantly texting or doing whatever else it is they do. She will catch up on their news when she returns. 

And the big thing is that she is completely confident about all this. The quiet doesn't seem to worry her at all. She has things to do and she is delighting in being home with just her father for company. 

Mind you, she did call me yesterday asking me how to do something. Apparently I still have my uses!

Thursday 19 November 2020

An almost total lock down

has been declared for the state for the next six days. I can leave the house once a day to get essential food or medicine. If the Senior Cat was critically ill I might get an "end of life" visit. (How I hope that is not necessary and that anyone in that position does get a visit to someone they love.) I cannot even go out on a pedal for exercise. 

The Chief Medical Officer of the state looks exhausted. She must also be very worried. They know what happened. It took one cleaner at one of the "medi-hotels" to touch something in a room where an infectious person was staying. She passed it on to her husband, her parents, her extended family and out into the community. Yes, just one person.

Now I am fortunate. Before the announcement was made I had prowled off to the library and picked up a book I needed. I also picked up several to read because the weather was going to be warm and lying on my sleeping mat with my paws on a book is nice on a hot summer night. I have plenty to read but this is reading purely for the pleasure of it. I also have plenty of work to do here - trying to keep the garden alive in the heat takes up time along with all the usual things. I have crafty interests and ideas and plans too.

And late yesterday afternoon the first of the neighbours called in before the complete lock down began and made sure I was all right and said to let them know if I needed anything. Later a second neighbour also came over to check. I also know of other people who, in an emergency, I could call on. Of course I hope it isn't necessary but it is good to know they are there.

Provided the power doesn't fail I also have my friends in other places I can email, tweet and post to in other ways. It isn't the middle of winter with dark days and no heating. 

I can cope with all this even though I am very anxious about the Senior Cat. Next week I may be able to go and reassure him through the window of his room. We will see.

It is other people I now worry about. I have rung two of them to check and I will ring them again. One of them sounded very anxious. Did she have essentials? Yes. There had been a delivery that day from one of my favourite supermarket workers. While he was there he did a very small job for her.  "I didn't ask him. He just saw it was a problem and asked me if I would like him to fix it." I'll let his boss know later.  

It is that tiny thing which might be the difference between extreme anxiety and the more normal, natural sort of anxiety that comes with this sort of thing. We can get through this thing can't we?

But can I cope with doing some more tidying up and clearing out?  

Wednesday 18 November 2020

Covid19 testing has

begun to take on a much more serious turn. I have not been for a test - yet. I will if there is the slightest hint of a problem or any suggestion that the outbreak has spread to this side of the city.  

So far, we are not able to visit the Senior Cat. The residence has gone into lock down. The Senior Cat, a worrier at the best of times, is going to be worrying even more than usual. I left his washing yesterday and added a letter telling him anything he needs to know...things like Middle Cat and I going to the garden centre. I told him I love him and that M..., who manages the place, was trying to find a way of us visiting.

M... will tell him that too but the Senior Cat needs to be reassured that we are all aware and working on it. When I was talking to M... he indicated that, for the other residents, it wasn't quite the same issue. One or two get a visitor once a week if they are lucky. Some might get one once a month, others get none. They have simply been "dumped" as one of the staff told me. I like her a lot. She is in her job for the right reasons - she wants to be there. 

"Your father doesn't know how lucky he is getting so many visitors," she told me. I think he does. He sees that so many people don't get visitors at all.  I wonder what happens at normal Christmas? Do they get an annual visit then? 

Christmas is on hold. Nephew in the next state has not been home since before last Christmas. He was planning on being here but it might not happen.  It might if they can sit on this outbreak and not let it escape further but I am not holding my breath. The Senior Cat and more than one elderly friend are trying to be philosophical about this but we all know that Christmas is precious at that age. How many more Christmas celebrations are you going to have in extreme old age?

We still haven't reached the levels of the neighbouring state or places like Europe or the USA. My cousin in London is back to working entirely from home. I worry about my friends there too. At least here we can go outside and have a socially distanced conversation with a neighbour without freezing. (Mind you, we might get a bad case of sunburn instead.)

Meetings have been cancelled, gatherings put off and more. There have been "urgent" conversations about football. I don't think football matters. A friend who was coming to lunch today is not coming. That matters more because she is lonely and needs company sometimes. 

And old people really do need visitors. It doesn't have to be for hours at a time. That can tire them. They just need to know we care about them. 

I think I might try and find a cartoon for the Senior Cat today. A good laugh might help all of us.


Tuesday 17 November 2020

We have a cluster

of Covid19 cases. As of last night there were seventeen new cases - all but two of them related to the same family.

Now this might not seem many cases over when compared with the thousands of cases elsewhere. This state has yet to hit a thousand cases but it well might if we don't get on top of this thing promptly.

The fact that they are all within the same extended family should show people how easily this thing can spread. It's a close knit family. They apparently get together at regular intervals. One of them works as a cleaner and she was cleaning at one of the hotels used for isolation purposes. It is said she did not come into contact with any of those isolating but that she "probably" caught it from some object. 

That should scare the rest of us. We need to be even more vigilant about things like washing hands, sanitising surfaces and much more. Recently I have been aware of people not sanitising supermarket trolleys despite wipes being provided. I still carry alcohol wipes with me. They irritate my hands but I use them. Everyone should use them. 

And, despite the fact that the outbreak is on the other side of the city and still confined, it has again affected our lives. Visiting the Senior Cat has suddenly become much more difficult. They may go into lock down and we would not be able to visit at all. There are no individual phones for the residents so we would not even be able to speak to him that way. 

A friend was coming for lunch on Wednesday. It is a monthly event for her. She comes after a  meeting - but not this time. The outbreak is on her side of the city.  Although she could still legally come she has sensibly decided that she won't. The meeting has been cancelled. A class she teaches has been cancelled. 

I should be going to a meeting on Saturday. That meeting should be cancelled - although I have not yet heard it has been. They need to abide by the reimposed restriction of one person per four square metres.  

The following Saturday we have our last meeting for another group. We were planning to meet outside in the park for lunch first. We might meet if next week shows that the cases on the other side of the city are under control. I think we might stay outside in order to maintain that "social distance"- if we meet at all.

And will Christmas be cancelled? Big family gatherings are on hold. I don't know whether the cleaner who has spread the virus to her family was careless or unfortunate or both. She must be very worried right now. Her elderly parents are both in hospital. If it was me I know I would be distraught.  

Monday 16 November 2020

Free advertising

is not something I want to be expected to give.

I avoid all clothing with labels that can be read by others as they walk past me. I have done that for as long as I can remember. It was easy when I was a mere kitten. Our clothes were made at home. The clothes of most kittens were made at home. There were no big chains with cheap imports from Asia. 

Some labelled items of clothing appeared when I was in my early teens. There was no way Mum was going to buy any of us something like that. It always cost more. The same quality could be had for less without the label.

Now of course it is more difficult to buy some things without a label. Ms W, who buys clothes in the local charity shop, has grumbled "even those have labels". I have told her to learn to make her own if she doesn't want to be labelled.

But it is the other aspect of free advertising which really irritates me. If you buy something on line - and this is now inevitable from time to time - you get a "please give five stars" or "how did we do?" or (even worse) "we value your feedback"and "would you recommend" within that.  Sometimes you get your name tacked to the end in their vain attempt to make it sound personal. You can sometimes give feedback as "anonymous" of course but they like your name up there on their page to tell all the world how wonderful they are.

Well, I don't like it. This is a form of free advertising. If a company is doing a good job then word is going to get around anyway. People will tell people, "I bought X from.... The service was very good."

If I buy something then I expect to get what I have asked for. I expect to pay for it promptly and for the business concerned to deal with my request as promptly as possible. If there is a problem then I expect to be informed as soon as the business is aware of it.  It is only right and proper that I treat people with respect, even when dealing with them at a distance. Typing "please" and "thank you" only takes a moment extra. In short I need to do what I would do if I was in a bricks and mortar store.

But  - I do not go out and advertise the bricks and mortar store. I am not expected to go out and talk to people about it.  Why should I be expected to do this for an on-line store. This is simply asking for a form of free advertising. 

Yes, it is said that this is a way of people checking on a business they may not be able to visit. But is it really? The owners of such businesses can easily remove negative comments. Few people will write what they actually think. It isn't an accurate guide at all.

I bought something for the Senior Cat recently. I went on line to do it. There were three places I could have bought the item from. It wasn't expensive but I checked all three. The first place had a glittering website full of  glowing "testimonials", another was a little quieter with some fairly standard testimonials. The third place simply advertised the item, the street address of their warehouse and gave a phone number for inquiries. They used Paypal for payments. It had a quiet, clean and efficient feel about it. 

I used the third place. I ordered via email. I had a response an hour later. It would be in the post that afternoon but please be aware that the Covid19 restrictions meant I might not get it until the following Monday.  It actually arrived on the Friday. They must have got it in the mail before noon. It was packed properly and exactly what I had ordered. 

There was a business card in there, nothing else apart from the sales docket.  I sent them an email saying it had arrived and saying thank you. I had a swift response, "Thanks for letting us know. "

I have put the business card with the other business cards the Senior Cat has kept. If we ever need anything else like that I will do business with them again - I might even pass their name on to someone else. 


Sunday 15 November 2020

The scammers are at it again

and I would so like to actually grab them all and dump them on an island in the middle of the ocean. They could scam one another then and leave the rest of us alone.

No, I haven't been scammed but an elderly neighbour was and it has rocked his self confidence. I spent some hours helping him sort the situation out yesterday. It has involved the police, another authority, a bank and more. In the end he has lost money sorting the situation out but, fortunately for him, someone at his bank queried a transaction that "didn't seem right". No, it was not right.

I do worry I will get scammed one day. Scammers are getting ever more convincing. Their websites are getting ever more sophisticated. There are people out there who, it seems, can do anything. I know more than one teenager who can break into a computer system. It's there. It's a challenge. They don't see it as breaking the law. 

In the early stages of the pandemic though I was made aware of a much  younger child who had been scammed. She had saved her pocket money to buy a present for a friend who was (and still is) seriously ill. She went on line to find what she wanted. She read everything very carefully so, with parental permission, she went ahead and bought the two desired items. Now the website looked completely legitimate. There was a street address for returns (which appeared to check out), an email address, a phone number and payment was through Paypal. It all seemed safe. The price was about what she was expecting she would need to pay too.

Her mother, proud of her daughter's willingness to save her pocket money and spend it on a seriously ill friend told me about this a couple of days later. She went to show me the goods on line - only to find that the website was not there. She tried all sorts of things. We were both suspicious by then. I suggested "try typing in.... and add scam." Alarmed she did so - and discovered it was a scam. She alerted Paypal to put a stop to the payment which, for some fortunate reason, had not gone through. 

It didn't stop there though. The scammers sent messages that the goods were on the way. And yes, something did come. They were not what was advertised. I wouldn't have given them to a charity shop they were so shoddy.  Other people, who also complained about the scam, said the same thing. The scammers tried to tell us that their "suppliers" must have made a mistake, that they dealt with thousands of orders and of course they would follow it up. They were very sorry and perhaps ten percent off the next order might help? 

No, it wouldn't help. I dictated a letter and it was sent. The shoddy goods have gone in the bin and Paypal has, for once, refunded the money - perhaps because someone at that end has a young child too? The problem is that the same scammers are still at it. They are still advertising the same goods for the same prices. They are just doing it under other names and street addresses but, apart from that, the website is in exactly the same format.  It's a very clever scam because people do get something - but what they get is not what was advertised. 

I wish the teens I know would put their talents to stopping the scammers but I suspect that the scammers have sophisticated security. And am I worried? Yes.

Saturday 14 November 2020


and how to make them have been much on my mind for the last few days.

There is the annual "100gm challenge" coming up in a group I belong to. The idea is that everyone should knit or crochet something with 100gms or less of yarn.  In the past I have made hats, a Celtic knot neck piece, a shawl and a scarf. 

You can put in as many entries as you like. I need, for reasons of diplomacy, to put in at least one. For that purpose I have knitted a shopping bag - one of the "string" sort that expands as you fill it.  It isn't very exciting or different in my view but it will serve the purpose if I don't get anything else made. 

And then there are the slippers. I have been thinking about these for quite a while now, even more so in the past few days. It may be that they will not be exactly slippers - more like espadrilles perhaps? I have searched the internet. Yes, there are patterns there. It seems quite a lot of people make that sort of thing. You can even buy the soles for espadrilles. They look sturdy. There are instructions for making your own soles and instructions for using "flip-flops" (or "jandals" or "thongs" - depending on where you come from) as the soles.

I am not too bothered about the soles as I will use flip-flops as the base. I bought a very cheap pair in the local "cheap" shop - one of those untidy places which sell all manner of odd things. It's the amount of yarn you use which counts so it is the upper portion I am concerned with.

I don't own any "slippers" as such. I have an ancient pair of Ugg boots which once belonged to my youngest nephew. When he grew out of them I inherited them. I don't need slippers but can I make something like that? Someone else could use them.

Most of the patterns I have seen are for a crocheted version. I can crochet but I don't use other people's patterns. Part of the challenge for me is always to do my own designing. There are not many patterns for knitted versions. Some of those are felted. I don't want to play around with felting because, for me, these things should be for summer wear. Others are constructed in ways I don't like. It seems to me they need a bit more substance if they are going on a flip-flop base.

The flip-flop bases needs to be covered so that I can attach the tops without having to dig into the rubbery sole. I prowled off to the local fabric shop - the one which sells patchwork, dance and theatre costume fabrics. The woman in there has been helpful before and she was helpful again. I was in and out in five minutes with a small piece of what I needed. It cost very little. 

Now all I need to do - "all"? - is, glue the fabric to the base, knit the tops and glue them to the fabric on the base. I know it will be one of those times when I wish I could sew but the glue I plan to use will (hopefully) glue anything to anything. 

Maybe I can do it - but I think I will stick with the old Ugg boots. They are very comfortable. 

Friday 13 November 2020

The nuclear waste storage facility

which was supposed to be built in this state may now not go ahead. Someone in the Senate has decided her party should not support the proposal. That is two votes against when the proposal is already facing opposition from the Opposition.

The Opposition is being opportunist. One of their current MPs has told me, "We know we have to deal with the problem sooner rather than later."

Of course they do. At the moment we have tiny amounts of nuclear waste stored in over one hundred locations around the country. "Tiny amount" might not sound as if it is anything to worry about but it is. It is a worry because it is often housed in insecure locations and in ways that are potentially dangerous. This has nothing to do with people being careless - although that might be a worry - and everything to do with the fact that advances in medicine have outstripped the facilities to house them.

The nuclear waste storage facility has support from a majority in the electorate it was intended to house it. Not everyone supported it but some of them will have opposed it simply because it was not a proposal from the side of government they support. Some will have opposed it on "environmental grounds" while completely ignoring that this is the far safer option. After all we have a nuclear facility in the middle of one Downunder's major cities. It has been there for a very long time.  It is almost entirely for medical purposes.

And that of course is the problem. I have said it elsewhere and I will say it again - if we want the benefits of nuclear medicine then we have to deal with the problems it poses as well. Those who oppose the storage facility would, I am sure, want to use the benefits of nuclear medicine if it was going to save their life or the life of someone they loved.  

I know one or two rabid "greenies" here who say they are "totally opposed" to the facility. I have tried saying this to them. Their response is, "It's not going to happen (to me) and there has to be some other way (or place) to deal with this." 

Well, find me the way or the place but do it quickly. I don't believe it exists yet. We can go on searching but, until then, we need a place so that all of us are as safe as we can be. Is that reasonable? 

Thursday 12 November 2020

The Armistice Day service

at the residence was attended by about half of those living there. I tried to get over in time to offer some support.

I arrived feeling hot and bothered and annoyed with the person who had called me just as I was about to leave. I had said, "I'm sorry I can't talk now, can I call you back" only to be told, "Cat, this won't take a moment..." It was a moment I really did not have. 

But, I arrived in time to hear the Senior Cat reading, "In Flanders fields the poppies grow...." The familiar words caused his voice to break at one point.  He is not a returned serviceman. He volunteered for the navy, as have so many members of our clan before him. He was turned down on medical grounds. Nevertheless he has always wanted to acknowledge the day, and especially those members of the clan who did serve. 

He also likes to acknowledge my godfather, who did serve in the navy. L.... is still with us although getting increasingly frail. It may be many years since the end of WWII but people like L.... still need support, more support than ever before. 

The residence has a returned serviceman living there. There was no external service for him to attend. He is still mentally alert and the Activities Officer was determined to make sure he was also involved. With extreme difficulty he managed to stand and recite "the Ode".  There was one of those moments when the world seems to stand to attention. 

Our national anthem is a disaster. It sounds like a dirge at the best of times. It is worse still at such occasions. Nobody in the room knew the words. All the residents grew up with "God Save the Queen" but the staff are young enough that they should know it. People my age come between the two. There were some ragged attempts to sing that before the little service was brought to a close and the residents were left to watch the televised service.

And it was that which caused something unexpected to happen. There is a resident there who does not respond to anything, or seems not to respond to anything. Then a piper began to play "Highland Cathedral". He sat up straight and he saluted. I could see the staff staring in disbelief. What was going on in his mind?  

The piping stopped. He looked a little bewildered so I said quietly, "Tell him "at ease" perhaps?" The Activities Officer did. He put his arm down. She smiled at him and, after a moment, he smiled back.  

The Senior Cat and I went back to his room to look at the book I had brought over for him. We chatted for a bit and I left. As I left I saw the man who had saluted. I saluted him in return.  

Wednesday 11 November 2020

There was a massive thunderstorm

early this morning. My bedroom was lit more brightly than it is now. We lost power for a brief moment. I had to reset the clocks but there does not seem to be any damage anywhere on our property. 

Other people may not have been so lucky. The Country Fire Service time line has a very long list of incidents like "tree down" and "grass fire". The "bushfire" season is upon us and things could get serious very quickly, especially if people do not remain vigilant. We didn't get much rain with that lot of thunder and lightning.

I was reminded though of the storms we experienced when I was a mere kitten.  We were living in a very remote location - not quite as remote as possible but still very remote. 

The country around us was dry. I remember our first sight of the tiny "township" - barely a hamlet in British terms. My mother's comment was, "Well, there are trees here."

What she meant was that there were a couple of gums in the school yard - bigger trees than the low, sparse, scrubby bushland that stretched for miles on either side of the dirt road that had led to our destination. The place was at the border between the dry wheat belt and the even drier sheep country. The land around us was almost flat apart from occasional rocky outcrops. There the "paddocks"  (fields) can be big enough to build a village on. Some of the farmers grew some wheat but the country was dry. 

For the three years before we went there the drought had been severe. Despite that there were thunderstorms. They were known as "dry thunderstorms". There would be no rain with them. The sky would darken. There would be thunder cracks so loud we kittens would put our paws over our ears and cower in our beds at night. During the day we would sit in the classroom at school and the Senior Cat would endeavour to go on teaching us knowing full well that the senior most boys might need to go rushing off at any time to help fight a fire. 

The fires were caused by lightning strikes of course. There was no fire alarm as such but word would go out over the rural party-line telephone network. If the boys were needed the school phone (in our classroom) would ring. The three most senior boys would go - and the rest of us would wait, hoping that there was enough water wherever they were going. Those boys were only thirteen. They were repeating the last year of the primary school, waiting to be old enough to leave school for good.

It wouldn't happen now. The school leaving has risen  twice since them. Even without that they would not be allowed to help. Back then it was the only way to do something. There was no aerial fire fighting equipment available and the "fire trucks" were ordinary farm vehicles. The men and boys would simply go out and do the best they could.

We were much more aware of the dangers of lightning there than people tend to be in the city.  Resetting the clocks this morning was irritating but of no importance.


Tuesday 10 November 2020

Christmas shopping?

Am I really expected to think about this? We aren't halfway through November yet. The panic need not start until - well at least halfway through December.

And things may be different this year. We are not supposed to share food with other people - a Covid19 rule - and that poses a problem. I usually make shortbread in Christmas sort of shapes. I pack it up in Christmas sort of packages and I give it to people - some of whom give me something similar in return.  I don't eat much of this sort of thing but it is extremely welcome as something to offer people who "pop in" or "drop in" or simply "come in". 

My "thinking time" as I pedal about has been partly taken up with the problem of what I might be able to give people. I need something to acknowledge friendship and I would prefer it to be something I have made myself. It is all too easy to think, "I could go and buy that." I don't have that sort of disposable income even if that was the way I wanted to do something. 

A good many of my friends have gardens or, at very least, pots. It is possible I could do something about that...a little decorated pot with a seedling in it perhaps? I'll think about it.

The immediate family may be able to have Christmas together - Covid19 cases permitting. We will spring the Senior Cat out of the residence for the day - something the staff will also appreciate - and have lunch together. It should be safe enough. There are no community transmissions here at present. The only cases we have are in hotel quarantine. 

If we do manage that though I will be thinking of people who cannot get together - and there are far too many of them. My cousin and his partner will be stuck in a tiny flat in London. They love their flat and the location - most of the time. Right now it is not so good. Their minute rooftop garden - room for some pots and two chairs - is not much fun if the weather is bad. Most people in London don't even have that. 

Christmas should be a religious celebration of course. I often wonder how many people even think about that. For far too many people it is more about parties and presents and too much to eat and drink but,  if not a religious celebration, it should surely be about coming together in some way. It won't be Christmas without that so I hope I can find a way of telling my family and my friends that I appreciate them. 

Monday 9 November 2020

I think I will ignore the US election

and think about other things - like work that needs to be done and knitting.

Someone asked me yesterday why I hadn't retired yet. Well, I'd like to and I am trying. I do manage to sneak work off to other people occasionally.  Then something special will come in. It will be a challenge. Do I want to try it? Another language to get my head around? Who is going off to try and help? Is it someone I have worked with before? Is it someone new and anxious? Actually most of the aid workers I know are anxious in their own way - even if other people don't realise it.

I wonder about these people, I really do. How can they head off to a foreign place, often a very dangerous foreign place, to do a job which may be even more dangerous? Someone I know was climbing around inside an extremely unstable heritage building recently. It could have collapsed around him at any time. He didn't speak the same language as the men who were supposed to be putting things in place to save the building and the "interpreter" provided had none of the necessary vocabulary. In semi-darkness he was relying on a communication board and a torch shining on it to tell them what needed to be done. He wants some extra words and symbols. I'll do it for him simply because he has risked his life to save something which is not just beautiful but means a lot to the people who live around the building. 

Last week my friend Z... was called to deal with yet another dam, a vital water supply, which had been sabotaged. It did not collapse but it was in danger of collapsing. There were urgent messages backwards and forwards asking me for symbols and words he and his team have not used before. The local language, one I have worked with, does not have some of the words that we would use. The concepts are there but they are there in different ways. Their ideas about the future are only expressed in the present. What might happen if action is not taken is something which is understood of course but it is understood in a different way.

I sat and knitted while I was watching the evening news. I have written a pattern of sorts for what I am doing. A friend who called in to pick up something saw this and said, "That's not a pattern Cat!" It is a pattern - for me. I understand it. It makes sense to me. It is all I need.  We argued for a bit over whether a pattern is a pattern if other people who also knit in our language (English) don't understand it. I thought of all the badly written patterns I have come across - and decided I had a pattern!

Later someone else dropped off yet more yarn. It is a donation for the group of which I am a member. He doesn't knit but he knows about yarn. He can talk in "N/M counts" - the way that yarn is weighed and measured.  I know about this but not in the intimate way he does. 

There is so much I don't know about language and languages. I can't retire yet! 

Sunday 8 November 2020

Using someone else's vote

is a criminal act. It also happens more often than anyone cares to admit.

I am not suggesting that there is wide scale "fraud" in the US election or that there is similar fraud here. What we do need to recognise is that there are people with profound intellectual disabilities who are on the electoral roll. They do not understand, even in the simplest terms, what "choice" is and they are not able to mark a ballot paper or instruct someone else how to do it.  Instead other people use their vote for their own purposes.

It is very easy to do here in Downunder. Nobody asks for any form of identity at a polling station. I have often thought I could be anybody at all when I go to vote - apart from the fact that someone will almost certainly have already said, "Hello Cat." That happens simply because party hacks are handing out "How to Vote" cards and I will usually know more than one of them - from widely differing parties. Once inside though it would be a relatively simple matter to dishonestly pretend to be someone else.

This actually happened to someone I know. He "voted" seven times one  year. Someone bent on causing trouble for him visited seven different polling stations and got his name marked off. He already had a postal vote and, fortunately for him, could show that he was at his brother's wedding on the other side of the country on polling day. It was more than a little awkward for him for a few hours. They never caught the perpetrator although he is certain he knows who did this to him. 

That sort of behaviour is rare and people usually get caught. What is far more serious and possibly more widespread than people are aware of is the way in which the vote of vulnerable people is used  by those who believe they know better than that person. Having your name on the electoral roll is compulsory in Downunder. Attending the ballot box, accepting the papers, marking them and placing them in the boxes provided are all required by law. There is no actual compulsion to vote - nobody can force you to mark the ballot paper with your preferences.  Nevertheless there is a widespread belief, encouraged by the state and federal electoral commissions that it is compulsory to vote. 

There are rare cases where people are not required to vote. If you don't have the intellectual capacity to understand the process then there is no requirement to vote. Your name should not be on the register. This will require medical/psychological assessment and a certificate presented to the appropriate authorities. It is not difficult but there are "carers" who choose not to see this is done - and they can then use the vote of that person. There are also carers who tell people things like, "Look, it's a real hassle getting you to the polling station. Tell me who you want to vote for and I'll go and do it for you." NO! Apart from anything else I am aware that any carer who says this will also likely go ahead and vote the way they themselves want to vote. There are also people who cannot read who rely on others to fill out the ballot paper for them. They may well know what they planned to do but ensuring the other person does as requested is another story.  People are bullied into voting in certain ways. Anyone not able to independently attend a polling station and who requires help filling out a ballot paper is at risk. 

I have actually done a small but serious piece of research about this and it is one of the many reasons I oppose our current system of voting. I believe voting is a right. Lose it if you are incarcerated never to be released. Have it in abeyance if you are the head of one of the electoral commissions. If you are not in the country, are not likely to be before the next election after the one in question and feel you are not well informed then ask to be excused if you wish. All that seems reasonable enough but nobody has the right to use another person's vote simply because that person finds it difficult to vote or does not understand the process. 

I don't know how much of that goes on in other places. I don't know whether it has really been an issue in the US election - although friends have mentioned individual concerns to me those things happen everywhere. What I do know is that any attempt to use someone else's vote is wrong. It has to be met with the full force of the law if it can be shown to have happened.  

Saturday 7 November 2020

"Knitting is the saving of life"

Virginia Woolf reportedly told her about to be husband Leonard Woolf. That must have been in around 1912. She used knitting as a form of therapy until even that did not help and she took her own life in 1941. There is a picture, painted by her sister Vanessa, of her knitting in that same year. You can't really see Virginia clearly. She had an intense dislike of being drawn or having her photograph taken and her sister seems to acknowledge this. 



Here's the picture painted by Vanessa. She shows Virginia from something more than a profile but not a direct portrait. She is slumped back in the chair as if relaxed. Perhaps she was - although very little of her internal life appears to have been that way.

I had to go looking for the picture. Our local federal MP had sent out a questionnaire/survey asking for feedback about a range of issues. There was space for any additional issues we were concerned about. If my MP, whom I actually happen to like, is silly enough to give me such an opportunity then she is going to get an answer. I attached a sheet with a single paragraph making a case for more emphasis on the mental health benefits of such crafts and the need to support them. 

Will my MP take any notice? She might. Will she be able to do anything about it? Perhaps. I am not hopeful because there are so many other demands made of our MPs but I only have myself to blame if I don't try. It is surely better to spend say a tenth of the money for mental health on activities which involve people meeting and working together in groups. It is surely better to have people in a gardening group, a chess or board games group, a knitting or crochet group, a woodwork or metalwork group, a spinning and weaving group, a lace making group, an origami and other paper craft group than in a therapy group. I have no doubt that such groups can provide intellectual stimulation and social support - those things often lacking in the lives of people who feel isolated.

Of course it won't work for everyone but I do believe that such groups can provide support. There was someone who came  to a knitting group I  belonged to before Covid caused it to cease. She admitted to me, "This group literally saved my life." Yes, she had been seriously contemplating suicide before she came. She no longer lives here but I heard recently that she has set up a craft group in the small rural community to which she has moved. 

Knitting is not "just knitting". It brings people together too - knits them together if you like. Others crafts and activities also bring people together. Unlike sport these are often activities that can be pursued at other times and in other places, sometimes alone and sometimes together and for years after active involvement in sport has ceased. 

I went to see the Senior Cat yesterday. I will go again tomorrow. If he is not involved in some other activity he will be puzzling over a paper puzzle or origami of some sort. On the way home I called in to another residential care unit to help someone with a knitting pattern. She is a "young" 94 and she is trying something new - a pattern written in the Japanese style.

    "It's a challenge dear but I am so enjoying it."

The staff there love her enthusiasm - and she is teaching two of them to knit. They are delightful but homesick young Asian girls. Learning to knit is helping them cope with Covid19 and is saving more than one life.


Friday 6 November 2020

On line shopping

is a temptation. I do not care for actual shopping - unless books or yarn are involved. I get cross and scratchy when the supermarket changes the layout of anything. My idea there is to be able to go straight to the shelves for the things I need without the need to backtrack.

    "You are so organised Cat!" someone told me recently. I am not. I am lazy. The idea of having to backtrack in the supermarket fills me with anxiety. 

I loathe shopping for clothes. I am currently wearing jeans bought on line (and on sale), a shirt (ditto) and a cardigan  (ditto). My footwear was bought (on sale) from the late local (and much lamented) shoe shop. The girls in there knew me from the occasions on which I had picked up shoes for much older acquaintances. (That does not count as shopping but as helping other people.) One of them stopped me outside the shop and told me they had put these aside for me. I was in and out in three minutes. 

I avoid Amazon. My brief foray into that informed me it is expensive. I do use E-bay of necessity. There are things we have needed from time to time which are simply not available in bricks and mortar stores here. (And, before you ask, the stores here actually suggest it from time to time.)

Yesterday I prowled into the Chinese equivalent of Amazon. Mmm... interesting. You could buy just about anything from it - if you dare. I know my friend P.... who  imports a lot of yarn from other places  is  very cautious about such websites.

It's huge - and I use the word advisedly. Yes, it is in English - Chinese English in many cases but it is possible to navigate it. There are things there which are very cheap and there are things which are very expensive. There are a bewildering number of choices. 

The local shop manager who told me about the site did not mention just how big the site was - perhaps she knew it would put me off? I typed in the search terms she suggested and came up with what she had told me I would come up with. 

"But hunt Cat because some shops on it are cheaper than others. You can tick "free shipping" to tell you the exact price or work out what it will cost."

I did all this. I now know how much I need to put on my post office debit card. I can buy a book  in Chinese - translated from the English. I know it will be the right book because the front cover is identical to the copy I own. A group of us are giving it to a Chinese friend for her birthday. It's a knitting book. Our friend's English is reasonably good but it doesn't extend to understanding the finer points of patterns. This is a technical book that she has seen on my shelves and told me she wished it was in Chinese. I thought it might be.

On line shopping has its uses when it comes to such things. I just have to trust that the twenty-three dollars is returned to me in the form of a book. 

Thursday 5 November 2020

My American friends

have not been in touch overnight. I suspect that they are waiting for an actual result. 

If the news reports here are to be believed then it would seem that Mr Biden has won the election - but not by the landslide that our media was suggesting. They may be wrong. Whatever happens it would seem that there will be questions asked.

I wonder about the polling processes. Are they real? I have met Mr Gary Morgan of Roy Morgan Research, our chief political polling company. He and I once had a long talk about an unrelated matter but he struck me as highly intelligent. He clearly believed in what he was doing. 

But, it was rather a long time ago now. Things have changed. There was no "social media" back then. There were not so many opportunities for the media to influence the outcome of an election. Things are different now.

During the US election campaign I was getting news from a wide variety of sources. Perhaps I am too cynical but I did not fully trust any of them. Is that wrong of me? I don't think so.

There were issues that were issues which were made much of by some sources. The same issues were mentioned by others and not at all by still more. Is this something to worry about? I think it is.

Our news media here has made it quite clear that they are in one camp and not the other. There are things which have not been mentioned at all by the two sources of television news most people take seriously - the ABC and SBS. I don't expect too much serious coverage on the commercial television news stations. For the most part it isn't what viewers there want to know about. They want local news and the sports reports. That's fine but anyone else who needs more also needs a balanced coverage. If there are issues then that is where they are most likely to find out. Avoiding those issues can (and perhaps should) be seen as a blatant attempt to influence outcomes. 

Pollsters now have that to contend with. They also have the likes of me to contend with. I suspect there are a growing number of people like me who refuse to answer poll questions. More than once I have answered the phone to a pollster. I tell them politely that I don't answer such questions. Do I go down as an "undecided"? Perhaps I do but I may not be an "undecided". It would be more honest if they added a column to the results - one which says, "declined to answer". 

I might have answered once but I won't answer now because I know that results can be manipulated. How a question is framed and the options for a response can be used to try and influence public opinion rather than obtain information.  It can be used to try and force change. Media coverage is the same. Reporters and columnists seem to have no qualms about using their power to try and influence public opinion. Some of them even seem to believe it is their duty to do just that.

If polls fail to correctly predict outcomes though is it because people are becoming more aware - or is it because the media is successfully influencing the outcome? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

US Election Day

is getting almost as much coverage here as one of our own might. Yes, it does have implications for Downunder. 

I may just need to prowl off and talk to the Senior Cat about something else altogether....origami perhaps? He has been "fiddling" with yet another pattern. I need to take more plain paper to him. It is easier to see what you are doing with plain paper.

It has made me think of plain other things as well. Our federal system has been muddied by party politics. There was a comment on yesterday's post which makes me think I should try and explain something.

Downunder is a federation of states. We have state governments and a federal government. They have separate powers and shared powers. There are state constitutions and a federal constitution. The system of government within each state and how they are elected are all slightly different. One state has only one house, others have two. Although they can (and do) prevent things from being done it is my personal opinion that two houses are better than one. They are the safety valve on the pressure cooker which is parliament.

The situation at the federal level is slightly different. Yes, there are two houses but the original intention of those houses was different. The House of Representatives is where our local representatives sit - our "local MP" as we usually refer to them. It is their job to represent our interests. This is what they are meant to do even if they do not actually do it. Party politics can get in the way. Like everyone else they want to keep their jobs and the idea that they may not get re-selected as a candidate by their own party usually keeps trouble makers in line. 

It is the Senate which is another story. The founding fathers of Downunder did not see this as a party political house. They saw it as a place where those chosen were there to represent the state they came from. Party politics was not supposed to enter into this. It was an idealistic point of view which has not worked over time. The Senate is now divided along party lines. Senators will vote against the interests of their own state if party policy requires it. They will go back to their own states and say, "I needed to do that so that we can win the next election. That is in the best interests of the country." It might not be, in some instances certainly has not been, but it is the way the system works."

The Senate can also block supply - money without which the country cannot run. Governments wanting to get potentially unpopular or even illegal legislation through have sometimes tried to tie it to a money bill. The most notable attempt was the one which caused the downfall of the the Whitlam government and the ensuing constitutional crisis. It is a powerful tool.

Many Downunderites are completely unaware that the Senate is supposed to the states' house and that Senators are supposed to be there to represent their state. It has become something else altogether. 

The system still works after a fashion. The bushfires last summer and the pandemic during the year have raised questions about the division of powers between state and federal governments. Our current Prime Minister was heavily criticised in the media and elsewhere for not doing certain things - things he has no power to do because they are state responsibilities and the federal constitution gives him no power to intervene even in a crisis.

We need a number of referenda to provide federal parliament with the more power to intervene in what can be national emergencies. It would be useful to educate politicians and the rest of us about the responsibilities of the Senate at the same time. Neither is likely to happen.

Tuesday 3 November 2020

Let's bring back motor racing

and solve all our economic woes with it? The Leader of the Opposition in this state went racing off to the capital of Downunder's largest state to tell the motor racing people that, if elected, of course he will reinstate the motor race which is held on a CBD circuit. 

It was an act of nothing more than populist political opportunism. He carefully did not talk about the problems associated with this - and they are many. 

It is one of those election promises made to get people to vote for a particular party. It is not one which is made for the benefit of the state - although it is wrapped up in "this will be good for the economy" tissue paper.  

A lot of other election promises seem to be the same. I remember a former Treasurer of this state telling me "I went into politics thinking I could make a difference. Being Treasurer has taught me that isn't possible." 

I don't know what is being promised by the candidates in the US election. It is unlikely that big changes are ahead. Who will control their lower house - the House of Representatives? Who will control their Senate? Imagine a government in which, as like the one just gone by, where there are opposing parties in control. And what would happen if both houses were of one mind but the President was of an opposing mind? 

Our federal parliament was designed on an idealistic idea that there would be a House of Representatives to serve the people and a Senate which would serve the states. The Senate is not supposed to be a party political chamber - but that is what it has become. The notion that Senators represent the interests of their state has long since been lost. "Independent" and minor party Senators can wield power far in excess of their electoral support. A hostile Senate can make it impossible to govern. Democratic? Of course not but we put up with it because, for the most part, it suits the major parties not to change things.

It will be interesting, very interesting, to see what happens in the US. This time tomorrow we may know a little more. I will be thinking of my US friends and readers. Will they have to wait until Inauguration Day to be sure of who they are getting? I hope not. 

Monday 2 November 2020

Banana bread

is not "bread" at all. Why do they label it as such? It should not even be called "cake". 

If I had my way it would not exist. I feel the same way about "carrot cake" and "zucchini (courgette) cake". 

Bananas are not my favourite fruit.  I prefer to eat them plain when they are only just ripe. I do not like them at all when they are very ripe and soft . Yes, I know they are good food. I try very hard not to waste good food. It doesn't mean I need to eat banana bread.

In retirement my mother would make banana bread if there were bananas which had not been eaten by us. She would take it along to whatever meeting she was attending which required cake. If there were no bananas for banana bread she would make cheese scones.   At her funeral her cheese scones were mentioned. The banana bread was not.

My mother was not fond of baking and did very little of it. Her repertoire of recipes was small. This was probably the fault of her family. We are not cake eaters. It may have something to do with the fact that my maternal grandmother made mountains of stodgy sort of cake and puddings and expected us to eat them. "Nana" never understood that, as country kittens from places where fresh fruit was always scarce, we preferred the real treat of an apple from her tree. The Senior Cat's mother, "Grandma", did understand. She would wear cherry "earrings" with us - and then make sure we washed them before we ate them. Apricots fresh from her tree are something I still miss from my childhood.   

Nana made banana bread.  Grandma never did. Grandma would bake but not that often. She could turn out light pastry and sponges along with the best of them but our grandfather preferred a "Granny Smith" apple sprinkled with salt and a slice of  sharp, crumbling cheddar cheese on the side.  Scones came not with jam and cream but butter and cheese or marmalade. Rich, dark, fruit laden Christmas cake was also eaten with cheese. Our grandfather loved cheese as much as he disliked bananas.

Banana bread came up on Twitter yesterday. There was also a "retro" salad recipe with banana in it. This was not, as one would have expected, a fruit salad but a savoury salad. The idea that bananas and mayonnaise would go together - along with assorted salad vegetables - is something I could do without. (I am allergic to mayonnaise so I would not have been able to eat it anyway.) 

I have just mentioned all this to someone else as I put the bin out for tomorrow's collection. They cheerfully reminded me of "the cake made with Allbran" and the "zucchini" and "carrot" cakes and the chocolate cake made with mayonnaise. I once ate a small piece of the latter having been told it was simply chocolate cake. It was an uncomfortable experience and not one I wish to repeat. 

I might make bread again this week - real bread. I can add nuts and seeds to that. Those things do belong in bread. Bananas do not belong.

I'll need to take a sandwich to a meeting on Saturday - but it won't be made with banana bread.