Saturday, 25 September 2021

"Time poor" parents

are in the news again. This time it is for not giving their children enough time to develop the necessary skills for going to day-care and on to kindergarten and school.

How can a parent working full time spend the sort of time needed with their child? The answer has to be "they can't". 

When I was a mere kitten - a long time ago now - most mothers stayed at home. They worked at home. The supposed "labour saving" devices, if they even had them, were not as efficient. My mother washed clothes in a "copper" and used a mangle before hanging them on the line. She scrubbed the floor on her hands and knees. She cooked on a wood burning stove - for which the Senior Cat chopped the wood. Our meals were made from the raw ingredients even though we were fortunate enough to have a tiny refrigerator. There was no "labour saving" freezer. 

Now mothers are expected to go back to work. They are expected to fit in all the child care and all the domestic duties around the "need" to go back to work. If they don't go back to work then "their careers will suffer", they "don't get the stimulation of being with other adults", and "all that training is wasted".  And yes, there is some truth in these arguments. We don't want a doctor to cease work forever when the baby is born.

But there is a problem with all this, the problem of the effect all this has on the children. Day care is not a substitute for good parenting. It doesn't matter how good the day care centre is it is not the same as having good parenting over an extended period of the day. 

A long time ago now I was on a committee looking at "job-sharing". The idea was to try and find ways of allowing people with disabilities to share jobs with each other or with able bodied people so that both could effectively work part-time. It is an idea with some merit but there are many practical problems involved. In the end it went into the "too hard" basket and a change of government ended the whole idea. (The change of government was a sharp lean to the left and the union movement was strongly opposed to the idea. Added to the practical problems it was inevitable that the idea was not going anywhere.)

There have also been suggestions that (a) mothers should not go back to work until the youngest child is in school and (b) they should be able to work just during school hours. Neither idea works for everyone for a number of reasons. And there are still issues with the time involved.

I could read long before I went to school - really read. The Senior Cat read my bed time stories to me but if I wanted a word my mother would print it in her best "infant school print" and label the object or put it on a kitchen cupboard. It would stay there until I recognised it without hesitation if it was put in front of me out of context. I cannot ever remember labouring through dull pages of "this is Fluff" and "this is Nip" in the Schonell readers. I knew my nursery rhymes and my fairy stories and other books. I could add "double figures" and more. It was far more than most children but I know that other children knew their nursery rhymes, the stories and much more because their mothers, who were "stay-at-home" mothers instinctively taught them what they knew. They were almost certainly did this unconsciously. They sang to their children. They talked to them. They read to them at night  because there was no television, no screen of any sort to entertain them and because, as mothers, they made time in the simple belief that this is what mothers do. 

I know it has all changed. Apparently the very young children in this state are falling behind what is expected of them. That should come as no surprise. Some of it may have something to do with the amount of time their parents do not spend with them. 

 

Friday, 24 September 2021

War memorials should be

sacred places. 

It doesn't matter which "side" you were on in a way, whether you "won" or "lost" war memorials honouring those who lost their lives should remain places we respect. My own belief is that nobody wins a war, even those who claim victory. The cost of war is too high for that.

That is why I am still feeling upset and angry that the "rent-a-mob" crowd vandalised a war memorial in the neighbouring state. They were complaining about mandatory jabs of Covid19 vaccines for workers in the construction industry.  That industry has a high rate of infection, a very high rate. It is higher there than it is in the general population. Workers there need to travel to work. They go home to their families. It spreads - and then spreads some more.  The government in that state shut the industry down for a fortnight to give everyone a chance to get at least a first jab - and made it mandatory. 

The construction industry is well known for being "militant", for not wanting to obey the rules, for going out on strike over yet another perk that others could not hope to negotiate. They have been busy leaning on their spades and resting on their trowels for years. 

The rate of vaccination among them has been far too low for people who cannot always "socially distance" themselves. But make vaccinations mandatory and they are up in arms. They are protesting and they have plenty of willing helpers from "Rent-a-Crowd" or "Rent-a-Mob". These are the same irresponsible idiots who don't want to abide by any of the measures designed to prevent the rapid spread of the virus. 

They made for that state's War Memorial this week. They rubbished it, they urinated on it. They clashed with police at a site which should be a place of reflection.

My family lived in a "soldier settlement" for four years. The Senior Cat was the head of a big school there. We were acutely aware of the many problems, all too often problems arising out of the war service of the men who were trying to farm there. We attended the Dawn Service and saw grown men weeping, we went to funerals of men who had taken their own lives because they could not live with their memories of the war. It was one school where mental issues were not laughed at. Too many children knew it could be one of their parents who would be the next one transported in the tiny aircraft for emergency help in the city.

I looked at the protestors, almost every one of them was far too young to have any first hand knowledge of any war. They were protesting against a measure designed to keep people safe. Mandatory anything will always produce some who rebel but this was something different. These people were rebelling in a place they should have respected.  They were rebelling in a place they obviously did not understand the significance of at all. 

That was frightening.  

Thursday, 23 September 2021

There was an earthquake

yesterday. The epicentre was several hundred kilometres away in a neighbouring state but I was aware of it. I thought I was feeling a little light-headed for the duration but then realised that it was something else.

We do get quite frequent earthquakes here. They are rarely big but this one was 5.9 on the Richter scale and big enough to be noticed right across the south-eastern part of the country and into the more central southern area. There was apparently some structural damage - one building seems to have lost a good portion of the facade - but it was nothing  like the damage that can occur in some places. Still, it is not pleasant and it is a little alarming to be in the midst of such things.

This city is actually built on a fault line. If we had a major earthquake here there would be more damage. Very locally the soil is considered unstable. New houses have to be built with deeper footings. This house was built to "rest" on the foundations so as to "earthquake proof" it as far as possible. I am not sure how much that would help but then I know nothing about structural engineering. 

What I do know is that I can remember the quite serious earthquake which occurred when I was four. I remember lying in bed and watching my little blue painted wardrobe swaying to and fro until the Senior Cat rushed in and carried me out into the street. My brother was already there in the arms of a neighbour. My mother was holding a neighbour's baby - presumably because that person was caring for her other children. 

We stayed in the street for some time. I remember the local policeman coming slowly down the road and looking at each property in the tiny "town" we lived in - a place the size of a very small English village.  The policeman was riding his bike and carried a torch. Whether there was much damage in the town I don't know. 

Some time later we went to visit my godmother and her mother in the city. They had not been so lucky. I remember seeing the large crack in the wall of their living area. I could put my hand right into it and out the other side. My mother's brother took hold of my hand inside from outside. He had come with us to inspect the damage and decide whether it was safe for them to stay in the house. They did. It was repaired but there is probably still that slight "bump" in the wall where it was repaired.

I remember those things when there is news of yet another serious earthquake anywhere in the world. I don't find them "exciting". My reaction to yesterday's quake was more of a "how fortunate nobody was hurt". 

Perhaps we were "lucky".

  

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Covid inconsistencies

are beginning to concern everyone I think. I was trying to organise a meeting yesterday. It was a little more complicated than "just book the room" which is what has happened in the past.

We could not have it in either of the rooms we normally have it in because there is a limit on the number of people allowed in each space. The simple solution seemed to be a bigger space but there is no such space available in that building. 

Could we go somewhere else? Would that mean paying for a room? Was there even one available somewhere? There are certain requirements which would have to be met as well. 

I know the local district and the facilities pretty well. I know what would work and what would not. My "partner-in-crime" made a couple of phone calls to her contacts. No, not available at that time. No, the place is not accessible for wheelchairs. Sorry, the person who deals with those things is away right now. 

I thought of school halls - although far too large for our needs and there would be a fee which this group really cannot afford.

I went through the list provided by local government. No...no... and no... sigh. 

Just after I had put the phone down for the umpteenth time it rang.

"Cat, you're looking for a place for the group to meet?"

"Yes, if you can think of anything...."

"I have the perfect space if they don't mind meeting in a church hall."

"A church hall will be just fine, anything!"

So, an incredibly varied group will meet in a church hall. I had to explain this to the two Muslims but they had no objections at all.

"It is so kind," one of them told me when I told her where we would be meeting. 

The other knew the building. "I go there. They have good used clothes for children."

And the person who offered the space told me,

"If you need it again and we aren't using it..."

But there are inconsistencies in all of this. The church meets in there for coffee after their Sunday service. "Social distancing" would not be possible and masks would be removed to drink their coffee. When our meeting starts we have to have everyone agree to remove their masks so that those with a hearing loss can understand what others are saying. The congregation is not allowed to sing hymns at present but they can go outside and watch the young ones playing games - young ones who are without masks and are shouting and chasing one another. 

Inconsistencies are adding to the stress. I am grateful to P... for being aware we needed space to meet.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Downunder is not popular with France

right now - or is it?

I know absolutely nothing about the "contract" with the French  "Naval Group". I know absolutely nothing about submarines. 

The closest I have ever come to a submarine is from some distance away at the port which services our city.  It looked a bit like a misshapen whale. I think I prefer whales.

I spent five years of my childhood living in a suburb adjacent to the port. The Senior Cat grew up in yet another suburb adjacent to the port. My paternal grandfather grew up in the port itself. 

From the time I was very young I was taught about ships, boats, ketches, tugs, vessels, ropes, anchors, fore and aft, bows and sterns and much more. Grandpa thought all children should know about such things. Which tug was in port today? Tusker! We loved seeing Tusker tied up to the wharf.  

We went with Grandpa to get the fish for lunch - if he had not had time to go fishing - and the present my brother and I still remember as "the best" was the tour our grandfather arranged of "that big boat".  (We went all the way from the hull to the bridge and had all our many questions answered.)

But we didn't know about submarines, not in the same way. We just never saw them. It is hardly surprising. They are generally naval vessels. They travel beneath the surface. They don't dock in civilian harbours.  And, looking back, I think Grandpa was not quite comfortable with them. He may have made his living as a tailor but he was also a seaman. He swam all year round. He could row a dinghy, sail any of the small fishing boats in the harbour. He understood the tides. He could read those strange maritime maps as easily as he read the daily paper. He could tie all those strange knots. When it came to submarines though he would grunt and say something like "I know nothing of them". That was it.

I don't have his wisdom to guide me on submarines. The Senior Cat has always said he does not want to even set foot on a submarine. The idea of being submerged in something like that frightens me. Years ago there was a curate at the church my parents attended. He had been a submariner - a "submariner turned sky pilot" as the priest put it - and we talked about this. Being a submariner is clearly not for everyone. 

I'd like to ask him now whether we really need any submarines. Do they actually make a difference to our ability to defend ourselves? Can we really sneak up on others by using them? 

The idea does not appeal. The French may be feeling rather angry about the loss of the $90billion contract - I know I would be - but I wonder how many millions of sensible French citizens also feel just a little uncomfortable about submarines. The French have a fine maritime tradition.  Could someone pay them to develop something like an environmentally friendly and speedy substitute for planes?

Monday, 20 September 2021

A small accident in the car

on Saturday grounded someone I know. He was waiting at the lights when someone ran into the back of his car.  

Nobody was hurt but he was badly shaken by the incident. The policeman who attended the incident has told him he is in no way to blame. He was stationary at the time and had been for some moments. The other man was simply not paying attention. He was using his phone at the time. 

S... is fuming of course. I don't blame him. He has to be without his car while it gets repaired. There is all the paper work and the inconvenience and the way it prevented him from giving a friend some help. Even with insurance this is going to cost him something. The other driver has presumably been reported and will no doubt face court at some point. 

I will likely never know what the final outcome is but, when he was telling us what had happened, S... said, "Couldn't that call have waited? He was just chatting to his girlfriend!"

If I was the girlfriend I'd ditch him immediately. Why? He's grossly irresponsible. Perhaps she is too - if she knew he was driving and talking to her.  

It reminded me of something else. A former neighbour has recently published a piece of research in which he argues that using cannabis does not impair your ability to drive.  It is serious, academic research. He is now doing some more work on the same issue. I have looked at it and I can understand why he has come to those conclusions. Perhaps I should then agree with him but I don't.

I don't because I would like to take his argument a step further and say, "But if you are the sort of person who is prepared to break a law which says using cannabis is illegal and driving with the effects of cannabis in your system is illegal then are you a responsible driver?"

Possible physical impairment is still an issue but combine it with the mental attitude and the answer to that question surely has to be "no".

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Dressing babies

is a fiddly business. I don't pretend to be good at it. 

Thankfully it isn't something I often get called on to do. I leave that to their parents and doting grandparents.

I don't really remember clothes much before the  hated red pixie hood I was made to wear at around two years of age. It buttoned under my chin. The wool was scratchy and it irritated me. I did not want to be "Little Red Riding Hood" - which is what my mother insisted I was in an effort to make me wear it. The only reason to wear it was because I was then allowed to ride on the cross bar of the Senior Cat's bicycle when we went to get the milk from the dairy. The dairy was some distance away and, in winter, it was often so cold my mother would have broken the ice on the cat's bowl of drinking water. 

I also wore mittens made from blue "blanket" wool, woollen overalls, a "viyella" shirt, and a woollen pullover on these trips. The overalls and shirts were "hand me downs" from a family at the other end of the little town. The pullovers were knitted by my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother erred on the side of pink and lacy "for little girls". My paternal grandmother made robust striped affairs from left over yarn in blues and grays. She would throw in a little red to liven things up. She made blue ganseys which I wish my mother had kept because, from memory, they were the proper thing. I know I remember being told I was "clever" because I found diamond shapes in the patterns and under the arms.

But now it seems that babies and small children are dressed first in "onesies" and then in miniature jeans, track pants, and cotton fleece tops over "skivvies". Little girls wear their "princess" costumes over the top and little boys wear their "Spiderman" outfits.

I have seen beautifully smocked "party dresses" displayed at the Showground and in the shop run by an embroidery magazine. I have yet to see a little girl wearing one of these. I have yet to see a little boy wearing the trains or sailing ships which appeared on my brother's little shirts.

Someone called in yesterday to ask if I had any very small buttons. I pulled out the box my mother left. It mostly contains things like used shirt buttons but there are other small buttons in there as well. What was she making? She took a deep breath and told me that her daughter's neighbour had just given birth to a very tiny baby. The smallest baby clothes don't fit yet.

"I know it may only get used once, if at all, but I want the mother to have something special."

The tiny garment is beautiful. It is finished with the sort of exquisitely small stitches that so many convent school girls were taught. I had no difficulty in admiring it but I asked why she had not knitted something because her knitting is also wonderful. She didn't like the patterns.

"They are all made from double knit or eight ply. People make them and mean well but they look totally wrong on such a tiny bub. For goodness' sake Cat can't you use your pattern writing skills and produce a few small patterns that are not written in thumping thick yarn?"  

I might give it a try. 

 

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Nuclear powered submarines

and defence alliances and multi-billion dollar contracts have all been in the news this week.

I don't know enough to comment on whether we should "go nuclear" with respect to the submarines. Breaking a contract is something that should not be done without good reason. Contracts law tells us that. Is there good reason? I don't know. 

What I do know is that we have never had a real debate about nuclear power in this country. Decisions were made about not having nuclear power many years ago. It was considered too dangerous, too potentially harmful to the environment and much more. 

That has not stopped us selling uranium to other countries. I am told we still have plenty of the stuff left in the ground too.

Those who oppose nuclear energy always seem to get plenty of publicity as well. Opposition to nuclear energy still seems to make headlines. Chernobyl is held up as an example of how dangerous it is to have nuclear power plants. At the same time those opposing nuclear power like to conveniently forget that there is actually a small nuclear reactor in the centre of the biggest city in the country. What they also don't like to mention is that this is used for medical purposes - and that they would almost certainly use the work done there if it meant saving their life or the life of someone they love. 

We are said to be lagging behind other countries with respect to climate targets. Yes, in one sense we are and of course we could do better. What those criticising us fail to recognise however are some of the issues which make it so difficult to even recognise those targets. There is going to have to be a huge improvement in the production and distribution of other sources of power before we can hope to reach the targets being set for us. How do you transport people and goods around an enormous country where the population lives mostly around the coastline? To give you an idea of size - one of the mining magnates has recently announced plans to explore a piece of land the size of Portugal. That's just one small mining project in this country. 

We have not yet developed an efficient or cost effective network of transport that does not rely on fossil fuels. We need effective cooling systems in summer and, in the south, people need effective heating systems in winter.  At the same time we are saying "no" to nuclear. There is no attempt to look at modern nuclear technology, smaller, cleaner, and more efficient technology that could perhaps help us make the great leap forward towards saving the environment from what looks like an inevitable catastrophe. No, to do that would open us up to nuclear accidents and terrorist actions.

And where do we store the waste? That's been another argument of late and the "NIMBY" (not in my back yard) crew have been shouting again. Others are saying that if we sell the stuff overseas then we should also take back their dangerous waste and store it. (We don't usually take responsibility for the waste our neighbours put out in this street each week.)

All things considered though I think we should have a debate about nuclear energy, a proper debate. Our scientists need to be talking about this, about the challenges involved, about the science, and the costs of doing it or not doing it. It may be that there will still be a decision not to do anything about it but at least we will have had a proper debate rather than just emotional statements in the media. 

After all, even New Zealand - so proudly non-nuclear - relies on Downunder to provide medical isotopes from that facility in the centre of the city. 


Friday, 17 September 2021

Going home for the holidays

should be a right rather than a privilege for young people at boarding school. 

This country has relied on "state border closures" to try and prevent the spread of the Covid19 virus.  This state is currently almost free of the virus as a result of "tough" border closures. Is that a good thing or not?

I doubt it is going to prevent a major outbreak here. It will take just one undetected case to be out in the community for a short while and this could happen. 

Despite this people are getting complacent. I was speaking to an otherwise intelligent person a couple of days ago. His reaction was, "There isn't anything here. I'm not going to bother to get vaccinated unless we get a bad outbreak."  It is too late then. He needs to be vaccinated now - along with the rest of the community.

In the mean time there are students who can't cross the border to go home for the upcoming school holidays. These are students who have two options for their secondary schooling. They can continue to do it all remotely or they can go to boarding school. 

Remote learning is not as lonely as it used to be but it is not the same as being in a classroom. It isn't the same as the "home-schooling" deliberately chosen by some parents. There is more support for families who need to use remote learning for their young children. There are still "governesses" on some remote stations. They supervise the work and the best of them will also do some teaching. There are video link ups now, not the crackling microphones of the old "School of the Air". 

All that is fine but it is not the same as making friendships, learning to live and work with your peer group, playing team games and much more. When you reach the first year of secondary school it is something most families recognise and, although it often causes financial hardship, these families traditionally send their children off to boarding school.

And then they want them home for the holidays. It is where the students generally want to be. Even the university students from remote areas wanted to head home - often to help out with shearing, crutching, seeding or something else. They wanted to see their families, ride their horses, play with their dogs and much more. Some of them wanted respite from urban life.

Right now, even though some of these students live in isolated areas, there is no way they can go home. The health authorities simply won't allow it. It matters not that there is no evidence of the virus anywhere and that measures can be put in place to ensure ongoing isolation. All that matters to the health authorities is that they continue to keep the virus out of the state and that they do that by the simple process of keeping everyone else out. 

Except of course we are not keeping everyone out. Goods are constantly being transported into and through the state. That means long distance lorry drivers are coming in - and yes, some of them have tested positive. How they haven't caused a major outbreak is something of a mystery. We have people coming in from overseas. My cousin and his partner have arrived from London. They had to go into quarantine for a fortnight but other people have done the same and then tested positive a few days after leaving quarantine. And of course if you are a league level footballer you are still flying all over the country - supposedly with "precautions" in place. 

The reality however is that some, probably most, of the boarders who want to go home for the holidays could go home and return more safely than the lorry drivers. All of them could go home and return more safely than the footballers who don't wear masks while playing a contact sport.

We need to get more people vaccinated - so kids can go home for the holidays.  

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Businesses going under because

of the pandemic has been another constant theme in the media over the past eighteen months.

Some of those businesses would have failed anyway. Others were doing well until the tourists no longer came and people no longer went to work but worked from home. Our "CBD" is much quieter than it once was. 

The city I live has a very central focus in that it has grown out from an original "square mile surrounded by park lands" as envisaged by the man who designed it, Colonel Light.  The good colonel would probably be horrified by the way the city now sprawls north and south along the coast. 

He would be even more horrified by some of the buildings now in his carefully planned square mile and the similar square mile to the north. He would also wonder why, when so much similar space is empty, people are still building office blocks.

I wonder at this too. There are plans to build yet another office block in the central area, a block we do not need.

"Well okay Cat, what should they put there instead? How are you going to get people to move back into the city to work? Small businesses depend on that," I was told.

Yes, a lot of small businesses like cafes and restaurants and associated services have gone in the past twelve months. They could not survive. People have been working from home where possible and some people will go on doing that.

My answer to that (and I may be wrong) was that we need to build housing. We need to build a different sort of "high rise" housing. I am not advocating the worst sort of cramped and overcrowded social housing. What we need is something quite different. 

Lifestyles have changed for many people, particularly the DINKS - double income an no kids. There are couples who don't want the responsibility of a house in the suburbs. They would welcome the opportunity to live in a good sized apartment in the city, an apartment with a balcony for fresh air and a car parking space in the basement. A place where there was access to the facilities they need and the services they want and the lifestyle they enjoy. 

Try and imagine places with the space in which to do all the usual things while working from home and yet being within walking distance of all the things many such people find desirable. Yes, this has already happened in some places. It is happening in others. So why don't we do it here? Are we that attached to a single unit dwelling on a "quarter acre block"?

On my way to visit the Senior Cat yesterday I pedalled past the house at the end of the street. It has been vacant since the old man died about seven years ago. Yesterday there was a small removal van there. The rear doors had just closed. Someone was locking the front door of the house. I assume that person was the daughter I have never met. 

Naturally I wondered about all this. The house will almost certainly be demolished and some sort of multi-unit housing put there instead. It will be a pretence at the sort of housing which was once considered "normal". It is too far out of the CBD for what might work there. The council would not allow a multi storey development. Eventually  someone will almost certainly cram three single storey dwellings into the space now occupied by one house.

If DINKS buy what will be built there I wonder if they will do it because that is the lifestyle they want -  or would they prefer to live in the CBD? Would they be willing to give life to our city's centre again?

 

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Finding the right person to do

something can obviously mean the difference between success and failure.

Some years ago I was "head hunted" for a small task. I was not flattered as it was a rather nasty task. The person running the project asked me as she thought I was the person who would know how to do all that was required. As it was I didn't but I knew where to get help and I was willing to pass the skills I had on. We ended up with something of mutual value.

I have been thinking about this over the last few days. I am not a medical doctor and a doctor has been needed. The doctor in question is a very busy woman but she is making time to support a father who has lost his only child. In turn I have been able to give one of her colleagues some help. That means he can give one of the families he works with the help they need. That's been good for me too. It's helped me feel as if there  is something positive in life after all.

And when the complete stranger arrived with seven packs of yarn I suspect he felt he had found the right person or place or project to give something back to others who had helped him. In turn I had to go looking for help. I needed the right person.

In trying to do that I asked someone I know. She runs a genuinely amazing group of knitters and other people who constantly make things for charity. It's a big task. She coordinates it right across the state. The work they do has restored some of my faith in humanity. So, could P... help? Well, she would try - and she has - but did I know about....?  No, I didn't.

P... put me in touch with T..... and this morning I woke to more people saying they were willing to help knit up the yarn which has been donated. It's what these people do as a group. I didn't know they existed. It seems they have just been quietly getting on with the job of making warm blankets for people in need. Yes, they tell me, of course they are interested in helping.

I was worried because a group I thought would be very interested has not been willing to help. This has been so even though it would have been to their advantage as well. It's a sad reflection on the leadership of that group but there is nothing I can do about that. Fortunately asking for help somewhere else has changed everything.

It would seem I have found the right people, the right people to do the job. It makes all the difference. 

 

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Dividing families through

"lock downs" is becoming increasingly stressful. This has always been obvious to me because it has affected me personally. My brother has not been able to come and see the Senior Cat as and when they both need it the most. Yes, my brother was here for a few days earlier in the year but they had to go back before the borders closed and they could not travel to see his partner's mother. (She is about the same age as the Senior Cat and also in aged care.) They managed one visit before the authorities decided such things should be banned.

The mental stress of not being able to freely see family and friends is becoming increasingly obvious everywhere. The argument is that by drastically reducing the amount of contact we are producing the spread of the Covid19 virus. 

Yes, that is probably true. We have had some of the toughest and longest "lock downs"  in the world. Undoubtedly they have helped to reduce the number of people who have been hospitalised, the number of people with "long-covid", and the number of people who have died. The same lock downs have also caused serious mental issues.

I was acutely aware of all this even before last week. I have been trying to keep in touch with local people I know are on their own. Even though we have been able to move out and about in this state I know that they are afraid to leave home. They are elderly and not well. Like the Senior Cat their families are often interstate or overseas and they haven't seen them for months. Many of them do not have access to computers or, if they do, the skills that would let them use something like Zoom to chat to family. Even doing that is not the same as having someone in the same room.

Last week when we lost Ciaranne her father, who has no family here, really needed his only relative but she lives in the nation's capital. There was no way she was going to be allowed to come. She still can't come and may not be able to come for weeks. Indeed it is more likely that he will be sent there for work and see her then. Right now of course he is not at work. He has rather a lot of leave owing to him and could take it but he will go back to work. His senior's wife, a doctor, has been watching him. They have given him a great deal of support. I am immensely grateful to them both for that because it has supported me and her closest friend as well. We have been extraordinarily fortunate. 

"I don't know how they could do that," someone else told me. 

I think I do though. They both came here as migrants. They don't have any family here. Their friends and colleagues are their family. They know about divided families and, in their lives, the horrors of war. 

I hope the borders are open by Christmas at least. It depends on people doing the right thing, on obeying "the rules", on getting vaccinated. It also depends on people giving one another the support some of them desperately need right now.

Monday, 13 September 2021

My computer got hacked

and the  road to full recovery has been long and tortuous. 

I have been able to use it right along but, once I was made aware of what had happened and the purpose for which it had been used, I have been even more cautious than usual.

I don't do things like internet banking. I do use PayPal but the card I use for that has a very limited amount of money on it. I use the internet for email, contact with friends overseas on "social media", and searching for information. I don't play games or go into "chat rooms" on dubious sites. 

No, it wasn't any of that. The person who arranged to have me hacked is someone who, for some reason best known to themselves, has decided they dislike me intensely. Her grandson did the hacking. With the story she spun him  he didn't even understand exactly what it was she was going to do. He was a mere ten years old when he managed to do it. How he did it is still a mystery. It was as much of a mystery to him as it was to everyone else. He was "just playing around" and "I didn't think I'd actually done it". He couldn't work out how he had done it and, for six years, it remained like that. His grandmother didn't use this to her advantage very often but use  it she did. She used it maliciously and she has caused immense damage - not just to me but to a lot of other people as well.

Fortunately, if there is anything fortunate about the whole affair, she did not interfere with my work files. It is unlikely that she could actually have accessed those. She did have access to my personal files. For the most part I think they would have made pretty dull reading but it still felt as if I had been burgled. She used it to send emails that were made to look as if they had come from me. She intercepted mail and much more. I won't go into details.

This woman is not a criminal. She is clever. She knows what she has done but she is not a criminal. She is mentally ill. Not only has she harmed me but she has harmed her family as well. One marriage is in danger of breaking down completely. Her grandson, the boy she used to do this, won't talk to her now he realises what she really wanted. 

It has taken several months of work by the boy, his father, one of his father's work colleagues and another man to sort the problem out. The process was complicated by actions which were taken with the best of intentions. 

I don't understand how it was done or how it was fixed but I hope it really has been fixed now...and I changed all my passwords again yesterday! 

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Yesterday was hard

for a lot of people. Selfishly I didn't want to think about the trauma so many other people were living through yet again. 

Of course it hit me in the face on the media. The media wasn't going to allow that sort of anniversary to go unmarked. It wasn't just the news service either. There were the "documentary" programs, the discussion, and more that I could have read, listened to, and watched. 

I did listen to some of the news while I was doing some ironing but I left the rest to other people. Where was I twenty years ago? What was I doing? Who was I with? How did we react?

I was here of course. I was working late at night when then the news came in. The Senior Cat had, thankfully, gone to bed and I managed to grab the phone before it woke him. A friend in the US came in a tinny-muffled way down the line to tell me what had just happened. He was safe and would finish the job he was doing for me but it might need to go via another route. Then he asked, "Who do you want me to check on Cat?"

I tried to think, then thought I would know soon enough anyway.  In an emergency you don't clog the lines of communication asking for information you don't need - however much you may want it.  I told him this. There was that moment of silence and then he said, "Yes, you're right of course."

Over the next few days people checked in to let others know they were safe or that people were missing. It was hard for us but much, much harder for so many others. R..., mother of my then six year old goddaughter, tried to shield her from the worst of it but they then lived close enough that it could not all be hidden from S....

Yesterday though I held on to the thought that S... and her parents lived through that. They moved back to London and then on to Singapore. S... is now a doctor. She is getting married in December. One of the motivations for her career choice was an awareness of the need for people who know what to do in an emergency. 

I am holding on to the thought that perhaps some tiny little bit of good has come out of "9/11".   

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Teaching adults

is not the same as teaching children. Teaching teenagers is not the same as teaching small children or adults. Teaching people who want to learn something is not the same as teaching people who do not want to learn.

I went off to teach something yesterday. It had been planned for some time and I did not want to let them down even though I wasn't feeling in the least bit like teaching anything to anyone.

I am glad I went. I have worked with this group before. It's a very small group of women who belong to a "community" church. There are usually no more than six or eight of them. The primary function of the group is to provide companionship while they repair garments and make garments that can be passed on to others in need. Some of them knit and crochet but they normally do that elsewhere.

At the same craft fair I attended earlier this year one of the women had bought a book of Japanese knitting stitch patterns. I also happen to own a copy of the same book. It has a wonderful collection of seemingly complex patterns. (The friend in the US who sent it me described it as "real eye candy".) Using the book, even in the English language edition, needs a bit of knitting knowledge.

The Japanese seem to have the ability to do things in a very orderly manner. The book is like that. Each stitch pattern has a graph and a picture of the pattern knitted up in yarn. The graphs use symbols and the use of those symbols is consistent. If you are used to graphs and symbols then using the book is not difficult but it does require some thought, some design skills, some calculations. Many less confident knitters are not comfortable with those things. My task was to give people a little guidance so that they could make something simple. I suggested small bags. If they want to try something more complex later then yes, I will help.

So, I went along. They had a visitor, the visitor is profoundly deaf. The group's leader, realising this woman is very lonely, thought she might like to come along and observe. She comes from Canada and has had the courage to come out here for two years with her husband. Communicating with her is very difficult but it is not impossible.

"I hope you don't mind Cat?" I was asked.

I understood why I was being asked but it didn't bother me at all. We had actually met before - at the craft fair. Her face lit up when she saw me. She signed a greeting to me and I signed one back. Canadian sign language is different, even the way they spell words out is different. Both of us know that. It is very hard for her to lip read any of us - and yes, we have to remove masks in order to do that. Mask wearing has added to her difficulties in communicating with others. We make allowances for such things - sometimes.

But yesterday I hope this woman felt she really was participating in what I was trying to teach. I tried to be aware that every so often I had to stop and hope, with a few common signs and gestures and some finger spelling, she was following what I was telling everyone else. When I had set the others to work I gave her a little extra help and, being a very intelligent woman, she was soon working on her own project. She smiled at me as she worked - you can't sign and knit at the same time - nor can you listen to the conversation in the same way. 

I know the other women in the group felt awkward about this. Just one of them tried to spell something to her but it was easier to write the question down.  At the end of the afternoon though I suggested to this lovely woman that the two of us might teach the rest of the group a few very basic signs in what we call "Auslan" here - the sign language of the deaf - so we did just five signs. They are just polite every day social signs so she won't be ignored or always have to rely on her husband. I hope it makes a difference.

 

Friday, 10 September 2021

Sticks and stones can break my bones

but names can never hurt me? I know that is not true. Names can hurt.

Ms W's actual name was "Ciaranne". It was a combination of her father's name and her mother's name. She was proud of it but it did cause some problems. People sometimes assumed she was a boy, Ciaran. They did not know how to spell her name.

I called her all sorts of things and so did her father. For me she was sometimes "Ciaranne" but more often "Ms W" or "Whirlwind" or "Whirlybird" or many other things. If I did call her "Ciaranne" she would look at me and even ask, "What have I done wrong now?"

As she never gave away a book I know there will be one in her room which is a picture book about the terms of endearment for children in other languages. One of the terms is the French one,"Mon petit chou" - or "my little cabbage". I remember her giggling about that and telling me, "I am not a shoe!"

At school, perhaps because her own name is unusual, she took name calling very seriously. I never heard her call another girl a derogatory name. One of her teachers told me the same thing. One of the girls in her form is quite deaf and Ciaranne made it very clear that calling her friend names or teasing her about her hearing loss was not acceptable.  Oh, she could tease people - but it was never done with malice when I was around. I doubt she ever did it.  

She used "nicknames" sparingly. One of the other girls is known by her nickname even by the staff, "And that's all right because she likes it better than her name and that is a bit yucky" she told me seriously at the age of about seven or eight. (I am inclined to agree. I am not sure what the parents were thinking of in that instance.) 

She called the Senior Cat "Uncle J..." and used my full name until I told her she was old enough to shorten it if she wanted to do so. Her father was "Dad" most of the time but she almost always referred to him as "my Dad" because the relationship was so important to her. Her best friend was always referred to by her full name even though she used the diminutive when speaking to her.

And yesterday her best friend told me, "She always used names properly, so they didn't hurt people." How many of us could have that said about us? 

Thursday, 9 September 2021

It is my very sad responsibility

to let all of you who are regular readers of this blog know that the wonderful child I called "Ms W" or "the Whirlwind" left us yesterday. It was totally unexpected. It was very sudden. 

I am not thinking too clearly at the moment. She was absolutely fine over the weekend. She came rushing in on Sunday morning asking me how to do something before going to cook her father a special "Father's Day" lunch - and complaining cheerfully about the amount of homework she had been given.

On Tuesday morning she went to "Matron" at school and, according to A..., told her she "felt a bit funny" before collapsing in front of her. She was rushed to hospital but died yesterday afternoon with her father at her side. I was not allowed to go in as I am not considered to be legally "family".  Despite that a member of the staff phoned me and actually arranged for her husband to come and pick me up. I will always be grateful for that because it meant I could be there for her father as he left ICU and make the call to his senior. His senior is taking matters from there, another thing I am grateful for because it isn't something I could handle well. C.... wants me there later today but I am trying to give him space this morning.

Ms W - I can think of her no other way - was a wonderful, funny and caring child. In so many ways she was wise beyond her years. She tried so hard to take her mother's place, even when she was very young. It was so important to her that she learned to cook - "so that my Dad will eat proper meals" - and to look after  the house - "because my Dad forgets things like doing the washing". She was at the top of her class at school and worked hard to stay there. She was popular at school and much of that had to do with the fact that she never minded helping someone else and could be relied on to do it well. 

Her dreams and plans included studying languages "because you have to be able to talk to people who don't speak English" and travelling "when my Dad and I can go away again". She desperately wanted to go to England and actually meet a friend who has written a number of books for teenagers. N...included something she had written in one of them and she was so proud of that, and proud of the fact that N..., "a real writer", had always answered her emails. She wanted to meet R..., the retired professor of Spanish, who supported her desire to study languages and sent her so many silly jokes that she loved to share at school and elsewhere. 

I wrote books for her, more than one. She shared them among her peer group at school. They wanted more and I loved her for that as for so many other things. There is a half-made cardigan here for her that she will never wear. I can hear her saying, "Give it to someone who needs it" but it is going to be difficult to finish it. I will, although perhaps not just yet. I will because she was generous and displayed the sort of unconditional love of so many that few  of us can aspire to.

I don't want to go into her room at home. I want to shut the door and leave it just as it is. I want her to be here, for herself, for her father and for everyone who knew her.

No, she wasn't perfect - nobody is - but she tried very hard "not to be a horrible teenager".  Ms W was anything but that.  I'll miss you my Whirlwind. 

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

What's wrong with a vaccine passport?

And no, this is not an idle question. I really would like to know what the objections are.

We don't have "identity cards" in Downunder. They were seriously considered at one time but the idea proved unpopular. I doubt they are really necessary now. The digital age has changed that. We do have "Medicare" cards and they serve much the same purpose.

Most people also have credit cards or debit cards. We have library cards, driving licences, travel passes, membership cards, loyalty cards, and more. If we want to travel overseas (when we can) we need a passport. 

I have a "proof of age" card with a photograph - the alternative to a driving licence. I need it for certain transactions.

For many years I had to use my passport to provide "photo ID" - or a form of proof that I was who I said I was. I still need it occasionally because the "proof of age" card is not accepted by certain institutions. (The wholly ridiculous thing being that, in order to get the proof of age card, I had to provide 100 points of ID and the passport provided the bulk of these!)

Proving my identity has been necessary to sign legal documents, open a bank account for charitable purposes, meet senior officials and gain entrance to a number of places. 

In order to visit the Senior Cat I need to sign in to the building. I was required to have a 'flu vaccination - which I would have had anyway. Next year we will almost certainly be required to show we have had Covid19 vaccinations as well.

I have never questioned  this. It has all been part of the security routine. It isn't just about keeping other people safe either, it is about keeping me safe too. 

So, what is the problem with showing that we have been vaccinated?  Most people will get vaccinated. It will be the only way we can reach a "new normal" - a situation where we can do so much more than we can do now. Unless there is some sort of medical breakthrough with respect to the virus then there are going to be problems with it for years to come. Why should we live with increased restrictions for all because a few who could get vaccinated refuse to do so? Surely, if they think of nothing else at all, they should consider those who are unfortunate enough not to be able to be vaccinated? Surely they know this is not a "privacy" issue? It is no more intrusive than showing their licence to drive. It's a licence to live!  

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Working from home or

"bludgeing"?

 I suppose it is a good question, certainly one posed today by one of the senior editorial staff on the state's newspaper. It is one which has even occurred to me at times when so many people were working from home and are still working from home.

Of course I have worked from home for many years. There has never been any other way to do my job. Until the advent of the internet and the vast amount of material now available on it I did spend at least one day a week in the university library. I would be in and out several times a week tutoring students. I even gave the occasional lecture but I was not a full time member of staff with a desk. It was easier to work from home surrounded by dictionaries, reference books, access to a phone (before the days of mobile phones!) and much more.

People sometimes asked how I managed to do it. The answer was "with difficulty". This was not because I did not want to do the work  but because other people did not see me as "going to work". I was home. If they wanted to knock on the door for any reason I should make myself available. Even if I went to the door with a book in my hand, a sheaf of papers or talking on the phone they did not seem to understand. They would "wait" or "come back later" or "just chat to your father..." and so on. 

It was actually just as frustrating for the Senior Cat at times. When he was still able he was always doing something for someone, often something urgent. He sometimes had a commission to make a piece of apparatus for one of his fellow conjurers or a piece of furniture to repair for the women's shelter or something else to do for a local group.  

We wanted to get on and get things done. It was at times like this that I often felt relieved that I was doing something for someone in a different time zone. It would be the middle of the night in the UK or in North America, early morning in Africa perhaps. I still had to get things done. 

How did I do it? I was sometimes up very early in the morning - at four in the morning there was little chance of people knocking on the door. Once the internet was there, I could - by prior arrangement - "talk" to someone elsewhere in the world, in a place where the time was reasonable for them. I can still do that if absolutely necessary but I have been cutting back. I am past the normal retirement age. It is absolutely essential that other people take over and I have been working to make that happen.

The other thing is that I had to discipline myself. This was not just about saying that there were things which needed to be done. This was about making sure that I had a working life and another life. The other life was all too often limited by the demands of my working life but I would always try to take some time out. There were major incidents when, like everyone else, I went without sleep and without any time out for some days on end but then I would go back to as much of a routine as a job like mine has ever allowed.

Across the street is a man who works for the "tax office". He has been working from home for months now. We discussed this the other day and he told me, "I like it. I can actually get more done. I am more focussed. It suits me but it doesn't suit everyone."  

Yes, it does suit him. At about the time he would break for lunch in the office he takes their dog for a brisk "walk around the block". He picks the two children up from school and starts to prepare the evening meal because his wife works at one of the hospitals. His senior is more than happy with this because the work is being done. His family life has actually improved. They are all seeing more of one another.  

But the downside to all of this is the lack of outside adult companionship and the way he no longer goes at lunch time to buy a "good coffee" in the cafe near the office. We agreed that he is saving money on all this but other people are losing. Some people are out of work and others have lost the businesses they worked so hard to build. 

I know I didn't "buy coffee" or anything else.I didn't have the money to do that but I did travel on the train into the city. I knew some regular commuters. Most of them have retired now but there would perhaps be others.  

In one way any "lockdown" was perhaps easier for me because I am used to working alone but I am aware that working from home is all too often working in isolation. No, we are not islands. We need each other. 

Monday, 6 September 2021

The law surrounding inheritance

is long and complex. Making a will is deceptively simple...write down what you want to happen to what you own and sign it in the presence of two people who do not benefit and have them sign it too. Mmm...

No, it isn't quite that simple.  

There is a piece in this morning's paper about changing the law because people challenge wills. Challenges can be tied up in the courts for years. They can be very, very costly. The costs are supposed to come out of the estate - and that means that everyone who is named as a beneficiary will lose. Some of those claims are valid, some of those will change the way we apply the law, and some of them are "frivolous".

There was a case here recently where the question was one of "domicile" - where the person actually lived - and what set of laws should apply.  That was of sufficient interest to be reported in the media.  There has been another case where two daughters received uneven portions - a ninety-ten split. That gained no media attention. In the last few weeks I have been talking to someone who is a beneficiary and whose right to benefit is being challenged by the children of the deceased. Those children have had nothing to do with the deceased for many years. The will was drafted by an experienced lawyer. The children are acknowledged in the will and the reasons for the bulk of the estate going elsewhere are stated in it. They are still attempting to challenge it because it is a relatively large estate - some millions of dollars. Their claim may or may not be "frivolous" but it is certainly causing problems.

Arguments about wills seem to bring out the worst in people. Perhaps it will be a good thing if the law can bring about a little more certainty?


 

Sunday, 5 September 2021

How many email addresses

have you got?

Most of us have only one address for mail, that of the dwelling in which we live. Some of us have a work address which is also used for personal mail. Here in Downunder and in the UK there are also personal as well as business post office boxes available. I imagine they are also available elsewhere. But most people use only one of these ways to get their personal mail.

Email seems to be different. I was asked yesterday how many email addresses did I have. My reply was, "Only one."

Then I thought about it. Yes, there is my personal email address - the address I use for communicating with family, with friends, for messages about medical appointments, queries of a personal nature and so on. I had to "move house" on it some years ago and it was just about as bad as getting physical mail redirected. Much of that had to do with the fact that other people did not change their address books when I sent the information on.

There is the email I use for work purposes. It's a group email in the sense that we all know the password and we can all read what is written there. I suppose it is a bit like all living in the same house and sharing the mail. Outsiders would be rather bewildered by the fact that we don't always speak the same language there and that we use a lot of symbols mixed in with the words and even just the symbols. It doesn't matter we understand each other - most of the time!

And a little while back my nephew showed me how to set up another account, one for a special project. I had told him I didn't want to use my personal email address because it would mean people I knew nothing about would know where I "live".  It took him less than two minutes to do this. Not being particularly technically minded I had no idea such a thing could be so easily done but it was a sensible move.

I look on all this a bit as if it was a filing cabinet. There is the drawer which says "me". There is another drawer which says "work". The third drawer says, "knitting project".  If something appears in "me" I can transfer it to one of the other drawers. The idea would not work unless I could do that. 

When I get to the end of the knitting project as it now stands I might rename that file and use it for another knitting project. I could keep the old folders at the back (this year and last) and work on the new folders at the front (the rest of this year and the next).

It seems to work. I just need to make sure I look in all the mail boxes and keep them tidy enough to find things. It can't be that hard can it?

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Should we reward the vaccinated

or prevent those who refuse to get vaccinated from accessing some venues or services?

I grew up at a time when smoking was still seen as acceptable. The Senior Cat smoked. He wasn't a heavy smoker but he had perhaps three or four a day. His friends smoked. My mother had tried it and so had some of her friends. 

Everywhere we went people smoked. On the very rare occasions I went to see a film with an adult the theatre would be hazy with smoke by the end of the film. People smoked in aircraft. The staff room at every school was where the teachers lit a cigarette as soon as they entered the room. Men stood around chatting after church with their cigarettes in their hands.  The Senior Cat's uncle by marriage smoked a disgusting pipe but only outside. His wife refused to let him do it in the house. There were other pipe smokers at the university. As a child I knew who smoked and, if possible, I avoided them.

My brother tried once, as did Middle Cat and the Black Cat. They did it under pressure from their peer group. I have never tried. I suppose I never came under the same sort of peer pressure because I was never free to go out with a gang of friends in the same way as my siblings - and even they didn't get too much freedom to do that.  None of us has ever tried "pot".

I have of course ingested far too much second-hand smoke for my liking. I had to attend staff meetings at school and at university - and most people seemed to smoke in them. That sort of smoke is every bit as dangerous, if not more so, than actually smoking yourself. 

Things have changed now. We have a polite no-smoking sign in our home. It has been there ever since my parents moved here. Putting one there is now seen as acceptable. I have not been to an indoor venue where smoking is allowed for so many years that I cannot even think of one which does allow it.

At the local shopping centre those who want to smoke can be seen huddled outside. If they get too near the entrances they are moved on by other shoppers. If they are staff then they are expected to move even further away.  There  is no attempt to provide a space for them, or shelter them in any way. That is quite deliberate. People accept that.

So, why do we argue about preventing people who choose not to get vaccinated from accessing some places, activities, or services? Isn't this just the same as telling someone, "Please don't smoke here"? Isn't it the same as asking someone who has a contagious disease to stay away, to isolate? Isn't this how we should be rewarding those who are vaccinated?  

Friday, 3 September 2021

Growing up in the fifties

in the city I live in is the subject matter of a book the Senior Cat is currently reading. It consists of a series of personal stories by people who were children at a time when the world was a very different place. 

These are simple stories told by people who played in the street, walked to school, went to the Saturday afternoon matinee at the local picture theatre, and to Sunday School on Sundays. It is my generation and the generation of my siblings and many people I know. 

The world had changed even ten years later but not nearly as much as it has now. For the Senior Cat even the fifties was another world. While the writing is not fine prose he is finding the book fascinating. 

He was a new, very new, teacher in the early fifties of the last century. His first appointment was to a tiny settlement on the railway line that crosses the continent from south to north, north to south. As a "city boy" he was lost in the wild culture of such settlements. He, a teetotaler, had to live at "the pub" because there was nowhere else for the only teacher to live. From there he was sent to another small settlement which was almost as remote, then to the small country town where three of the four of us were born. At the end of nineteen fifty four he was posted back to the city so that he could continue working towards getting his degree. My siblings and I spent the next five years there.

At the Senior Cat's request I borrowed the book from the library and have now read part of it. Much of what is in there is familiar to me and, looking back, I think my brother and I were fortunate. We were not that old but we had a freedom that most children now would find completely bewildering. I doubt they would know how to use it. Even I was allowed to wander the streets around our home. We lived on a fairly busy road which included buses so we didn't play in the street at the front of the house. Instead we went around to the back lane. I would pedal on my tricycle, my brother would use his scooter. The boys played "cricket" and "football". The girls played "skippy" and "hopscotch". Everyone played "knuckle bones" - saved from the Sunday joint - and even the girls were sometimes allowed to join in a game of "marbles" . 

There was no adult to supervise us. If we disagreed we had to sort it out ourselves. There was the occasional physical confrontation but it was mostly words. Negotiation was an important part of setting up any game. 

In fine weather we stayed until our mothers, who were mostly "stay at home", called us in to meals by looking over the fences. Nobody had a watch. We rarely asked an adult for the time. If we needed to know we judged it by the shadows on the ground.  

I thought of all this again last night while watching two of the children in this street race up and down the footpath on their bikes. Their mother had come out to watch, to make sure they were safe. She had walked the short length of the street in both directions to make sure the neighbours were not likely to be leaving their driveways or would be watching for the children. She wanted them inside again after ten minutes but I was doing some essential watering in the front garden and told her I would watch them instead. That gave them another twenty or so minutes of glorious fun. They were even more startled when I became a "traffic policeman" and "directed the traffic" in and out of our little driveway. 

Their faces said it all. It was fun. It was much better than simply being allowed to ride up and down the footpath for ten minutes under the watchful eye of their mother. 

"I know they like it but I don't have time to watch and you can't let them do it on their own," their mother told me.

No, you can't do that any more. It means children now are missing out on so many learning opportunities, so much imaginative play - and so much fun. 

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Getting out of bed in the morning

is not something everyone likes. I know that even though I am a "morning" sort of person myself. 

My siblings and I simply were not allowed to "sleep in". We had to be up and on the move no later than seven in the morning. It was what my mother expected. It is what she did herself. The Senior Cat followed her example. 

The reason for this was simple. My mother worked as a full time teacher and then school principal. She simply did not have the time to lie in bed dozing. Even at weekends she did not have the time to do this or allow us to do this. Things had to be done.

My brother and I are still early risers. I sometimes need to be up very early for the purposes of work. At other times I know there are things I need to do. If I do them at that time then the rest of the day can be devoted to other things without the anxiety of feeling I need to get that letter written, read something for a student, compile a word list or anything else. I can also put a load of washing on and perhaps do some other household task.

No, I am not a particularly well organised sort of cat. The house is clean but it is untidy.  Nevertheless I do get things done. 

Middle Cat gets up later these days but she also tends to go bed much later. Her husband has a job which can involve making phone calls to other parts of the world late at night. She will almost always wait for him to finish those first. For years though she was like our mother. She had to see her husband and two children off to work before going to work herself. 

I don't know what the Black Cat does but she is still working so I assume she has to be out of bed fairly early. 

There must be many other people who are the same on their working days. When I was at university I had a Chinese student. She was a mature age student who had arrived speaking almost no English. I was asked to work with her. Like my mother she had to see her husband off to work and her two daughters to school. Somehow she also managed to cycle to the hall of residence I was living in by seven in the morning. I would give her half an hour of tuition and then she would cycle home again - in all sorts of weather.  The only morning she was late was the morning she had a puncture a short distance from me. We used the time that morning to make sure she could ask for a new tube at the local bike shop. 

I thought of all this yesterday when I was talking to a mother who lives in the next street.  She picked up the two spare garden pots I had promised her and said with a sigh, "I might as well do this now. Nobody else is out of bed yet."

It made me wonder yet again if mothers do get up earlier than everyone else. I think they must. Has anyone ever done any research? 

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Name tags and name tapes

and the joy - not - of sewing the latter on.

You remember name tapes don't you? I remember actually seeing them made at a state show. I must have been about eight or nine at the time. I know my mother ordered more while we were there.

Oh yes, we had name tapes. They were skinny little pieces of material with our names woven into them. You could get blue on white, red on white or green on white. They were printed in block letters or written in "cursive". Ours were always printed in block letters and blue on white. 

My mother made us sew our own name tapes on too - as soon as she considered we were old enough to do the job ourselves. It was our responsibility to make sure they were sewn on so well they didn't come  off.  It was "Grandma", my paternal grandmother, who saved the day for me. She would thread the needle for me and get me to put a few stitches in and then finish the job. She did much the same for my brother and Middle Cat. I don't think the Black Cat had too many problems because one benefit of the hand me down clothing was that the name tapes were still there! 

I suppose my mother was aware of the help we were getting. It was one less job for her.

Most children seemed to have those sort of name tags at the time. I know that not having something properly labelled was considered to be a major sin at school. Our teachers made sure we knew if something was not labelled. "How can you expect to get it back if you haven't got your name inside it?"

Our clothes were not the cheap, mass produced chain store type clothing children wear now. School uniform was something you were expected to take great care of. Our "Brownie" and "Cub" uniforms were the same. Even our socks were labelled.

I have gone on labelling things with my name throughout my life. At a meeting a couple of years ago there were three raincoats all the same and much the same size. Mine was one and the person handing them out said, "No, that is Cat's. She has her name in it." Oh, it is very useful.

We have labelled all the Senior Cat's clothing. It doesn't stop things going missing in the residence but it does make it easier to track things down. I like to think it has stopped him losing more than he has. 

And what have we used to label many things? Yes, you can still get those exact same labels all these years later. People must find them useful.  

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Mental Health in lockdown

has to be discussed. People are saying that. I agree.

But mental health needs to be discussed anyway. I am struggling right now. There have been multiple issues, some of which I am not free to talk about, that have been causing me a lot of concern. 

I know too many other people who are saying that they are not connecting with family or friends because the restrictions on doing so are more than they can handle.  They say the "little things" are not happening. 

Someone phoned me yesterday and when I asked if there was something she needed she said, "I just wanted to talk to someone. I haven't spoken to anyone for four days."  Her neighbours are not at home during the day and over this last weekend they were apparently too busy to check on her.

I know someone else who has struggled with "anorexia nervosa" for years. She used to go out each morning and sit in one of the coffee areas in the shopping centre. The staff knew her and her problem and they would see to it that they chatted to her as they went about their work. Other people would come in and chat to her. She was putting on some much needed weight. The present situation has put a stop to that.

I have four young friends who have been through multiple medical issues together. They have known each other since they were learning to knit as seven and eight year old patients at the children's hospital. My late friend M.... taught them first and I have been involved with them since her death. They are wonderful young people but,because of their medical issues, they have been in what amounts to isolation for months now.  One of them has had major cardiac surgery. They are trying to retain their sanity and some sort of positive outlook on life by knitting for other people. It's been very difficult for them and they are finding it very hard to cope. They naturally envy the other young people they know who are getting on with their lives at least to some extent.

There is no support for people like this or so many others like them. We have handled the pandemic here so differently. I know it has all been done with the best of intentions but the reality is that there are going to be more cases, many more cases. At present we are hiding away and hoping that, if we keep quiet and still, the virus will go away. It's a ridiculous idea. We are cancelling some events but allowing others and doing it in ways that seem to have no rhyme or reason. People are simply giving up. The economy is taking a major hit because work is suffering and businesses are going to the wall. The "keep everyone safe" strategy is not really keeping us safe at all. This morning's paper was sounding the alarm because a Covid positive "truckie" (lorry driver) briefly visited two sites in the state. Contact tracing might or might not be working but how many people have been told to isolate because they might or might not have come into contact with that one person? What are their employers saying?

I don't know how much longer this can go on. The other night I found myself answering back at the spokesman for the US President as she spoke on the news service. She is probably a very nice person but I was so fed up and upset I wanted to shout - and that is not like me.

So last night I took out some of my yarn "stash" and looked at it. The only answer to all this is to make something for someone who needs it, someone far worse off than I am. I've got enough there for a small blanket for someone to snuggle under. Does this sound like a good idea? 

Monday, 30 August 2021

The Vietnam born Governor of this state,

 Hieu Van Le, came here as a refugee. He is another outstanding example of someone who came here with what amounted to  nothing and worked his way up to the highest position in the state. What is more he has used his time in that position well. 

I have not met him but I have met his wife, Mrs Lan Le. It was an unexpected meeting but a very pleasant one. Like her husband she has been taking a keen interest in the affairs of the state and they both attended the state's annual "Show" - the one which was cancelled again this year.  Two years ago though we could still have such events and Mrs Le came to look at the Handicrafts area while her husband was being shown other things. 

I was introduced to her so I could answer some questions she had about a particularly fine piece of work. She appeared to be genuinely interested, asking more than one question. When she had satisfied her apparent curiosity she thanked me and went back to a formal luncheon.

At the time I know I thought of how much a role she also had to play.  I have often thought of this in fact. Growing up I was perhaps made more aware of the role partners often have to play in a marriage. My parents both worked full time after the Black Cat turned three. It was a much more unusual thing back then. Mothers often stayed at home at least until their children were at school. 

Even though teachers were not well paid at the time both my parents were being paid. The same however could not be said of the Senior Cat's cousin. He was in the Foreign Affairs department and his wife, like many other wives at the time, was expected to be available to entertain visitors - often at very short notice. 

Eventually B... was posted overseas, first to Africa, then to Asia and elsewhere. They were not easy postings. He was the senior person in some places. His wife was expected to participate fully in each posting. Her role was not just to entertain visitors but to accept invitations, to be involved and interested.

By the time I went to university in the nation's capital they were living there again. B... was head of the Foreign Affairs department. They were still expected to do a great deal of entertaining. I was called on more than once to "even up" the numbers around their dining table. B...'s wife, P..., often entertained twelve people around their long dining table. I met people from all over the world. Some of them were much more interesting than others - yes there were a few who were so full of themselves they were simply of little interest to me or others. I always found people who were prepared to talk about their home countries more interesting than the people who just talked about themselves.  

But P....had perfected the art of appearing interested in everyone. She was an excellent example of "the diplomat's wife". P... bothered to learn enough of a local language to be polite - no easy task when one of them involved five tones. She made it her business to know about local cuisine - and use it where appropriate. She listened to advice about the local cultural niceties.  

There were times when, talking to me, she would throw her hands up in frustration at things which happened. As the guests arrived however she was always the pleasant, welcoming hostess. Like the Governor's wife she knew what was needed and made the role her own. She knew her "place" and it was not as that of B...'s wife but as a person in her own right with her own role to play.

Yes, there are still expectations of some partners in some positions. There always will be because of the nature of the work involved. Surely then what we need to do is acknowledge the work that such supportive partners do?


Sunday, 29 August 2021

How to eat porridge

was something my paternal grandfather taught me. He made the porridge in their house.

He would put the oats in a saucepan the night before and leave them to soak. In the morning the contents would be stirred and then put on the stove to cook. The porridge bowls would be lined up and, eventually, we would sit down to eat it.

We ate right around the edge of the bowl first, turning the bowl slowly around so that there was an oatmeal coloured island of porridge surrounded by a milky sea. We were allowed to have milk to "cool it down a bit" but we were not given sugar or honey. 

Scots, good Scots, our grandfather informed us did not have sugar or honey on their porridge. I am not sure that is true of all good Scots but we accepted it. The porridge tasted just fine anyway. 

Now it seems you can get something called "porridge" flavoured with such things as "blueberries" or "apple and cinnamon" or "creamy vanilla", "brown sugar" and "creamy honey". You can apparently have "banana and strawberry" and "chocolate", "caramel" and "golden syrup" too. 

There is no need to soak the oats overnight. Porridge like this gets "cooked" in the microwave oven. Some of it even comes in pots - never having seen those I assume the milk is already mixed in and the whole thing hermetically sealed? 

And this is porridge? All those flavoured varieties must surely be full of sugar too. Do they taste as good as my grandfather's porridge.

I don't know. I confess I cook my porridge in the microwave. There are "quick cooking" oats available now - really just oats that have been ground up a little finer than regular oats. I put them in the bowl. I add milk. I stir. I give it a minute on high and stir again.I give it another minute, another stir and then watch to see the porridge rise like lava in the bowl before switching the power off and removing the bowl. It's simple. There is no need to wash up anything except a bowl and a spoon.

I leave the porridge to cool - with a little cold milk around the edges. It's proper porridge that way. I can't imagine eating the flavoured varieties.

My paternal grandmother just had black tea and toast for breakfast. It was my grandfather who knew about porridge.

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Is the President of the United States of America

 really fit to lead the country?

It's a question being asked by some people I know. These are people who had no time at all for President Trump. They do not want to see him back in office - ever. 

But they are Americans who are genuinely concerned as to whether President Biden is well enough. They are worried about his state of health, especially about the fact that at times he appears confused, forgetful and unable to articulate his thoughts on a topic. He is apparently even more dependent than most people in his position on off camera screens.

I don't know the man. I have never met him. It would be a very strange thing if I ever did but I have noticed the same sort of thing and I share their concern. 

Mr Biden is 78. He is well past the age when most people have retired. There are now calls for him to resign and they may not be as foolish as they sound. The problem of course is that it would mean a very inexperienced person would take over immediately. Whether she could handle the role or not is something that is simply unknown. My own thoughts are that she would have to be prepared to listen to people much more experienced than she is in matters such as foreign policy, trade and defence. Would she do it?

It all raises the question in my mind about when people should retire. The Senior Cat's father worked well into his eighties. His business was winding down. He knew that. He would not take on any new customers but he still did work for some he had known for more than fifty years. Neither of his sons went into the business so he did not have to hand it on. He did pass some of his highly specialised skills on to other people but that was all. 

The Senior Cat retired far earlier - and then went on to a second but much more relaxed career making apparatus for his fellow magicians. It was something he wanted to do but he only took on the projects he was genuinely interested in.

I am still working but over the past two years I have tried to cut back on the amount I do. I no longer want to do eighty hour weeks or "crack an all nighter" as my colleagues would tell me. I have been training other people to take over. Where I was working largely alone there are now a growing number of people who can be called on to help. Now that they have some experience we actually get things done more rapidly - and some of them are going to be better, much better, than I ever was  because they have other skills as well. 

I have other things I want to do with my life so this does not make me unhappy about retirement. I have hobbies I want to pursue and I would still like to make another trip back to my other "home" - the United Kingdom even if I have to be realistic about how difficult it will be and if I have to acknowledge that I probably won't see much of the rest of the world. (Get vaccinated please - so I can at least do this much!) 

But does Mr Biden have hobbies? Why would someone his age want to be President if they had other interests? I suppose "power" means so much more to some people than it does to others. It worries me.

Friday, 27 August 2021

The suicide bombings at Kabul

airport were expected but that makes them no less horrifying or incomprehensible.

Why do this? How can people do this to other people? You can be sure that those responsible for planning the attacks were nowhere near when the suicide bombers acted. The suicide bombers themselves were people who were brainwashed into believing that they were doing something which would not be condemned but commended, highly commended. 

The cries of "ground attack", "ground attack" over and over again will stay with the survivors for the rest of their lives. You do not recover from something like that. You just learn to live with it after a fashion.

When I was about four years old my paternal grandfather brought two Dutch migrants to visit us in our home in a small country community. It was a very quiet place - usually. These Dutch migrants spoke very little English at the time and I know I was puzzled by the way they were finding it so hard to put their thoughts into words. We were all in the kitchen when the local country fire service alarm went off - calling the men to assemble and help somewhere. The Dutch woman dived under the kitchen table at the sound of that siren.

At the time I did not understand but I did later. All those years after the war her natural unthinking reaction was to find the nearest "shelter" available. She had never really recovered from her experiences. 

I knew her for years after that experience. She never mentioned it again. As a teenager I spent a weekend with them. They spoke Dutch at home, Dutch to their children, Dutch to me. Their children and I answered them in English but I was acutely conscious of a certain tension there. She was still struggling. Although she went on to do a great deal to help others she never really recovered from her war time experiences. 

It will  be like that for so many people in Afghanistan and other places, places like Iraq and Syria and many more. They will always be looking around for a "safe" place even when they are in as safe a place as any of us can ever be. 

Those suicide bombings are not only about the number of people killed or physically wounded or the damage done to internal or international relations. Those bombings are about the psychological damage being perpetrated on people who simply want to get on with their lives, who want to bring up their children and see them succeed at school, at work and - most of all - at life itself. Why does anyone want to deny another that?

My stomach is churning. I want to hug someone. It won't change the situation but, selfishly, I want to tell someone - anyone - I care.