Friday 31 December 2021

Burning down (old) Parliament House

- or at least setting fire to the front doors - is apparently the way you now "protest" against "colonial rule".

Yesterday the old Parliament House in the nation's capital was, for the second time, the site of an extraordinary piece of vandalism when "protestors" deliberately set the front doors alight. These "protestors" are gathering in number ready to stage an even bigger event on this country's "national" day. 

Now I am well aware that there are some people who object to our national day holiday. I am well aware of what they believe.  I know the Aboriginal Tent Embassy is 50yrs old. I happened to be in the nation's capital when it was first set up.  I am also well aware that someone is going to say, "Well if Prime Minister McMahon had done the right thing back then you wouldn't have this problem now."

What happened then and what has happened since then are matters for constitutional lawyers and land rights advocates. The "Mabo" case - which recognised aboriginal land rights over the Murray Islands - has dramatically changed the way land rights are viewed.

While it was not until 1962 that all Aboriginal people were included on the electoral roll (thus requiring them to vote) it was possible for Aboriginal males in this state to vote almost from 1836. Women had the right to vote from 1894 and that included Aboriginal women. While the situation varied in other states many Aboriginal people had the right to vote before the referendum which specifically included them. 

This though is not enough for some people. It will never be enough. One of the Greens Senators, who identifies as "aboriginal", tweeted, "Seems like the colonial system is burning down. Happy New Year everyone."  The tweet was deleted about an hour later but the damage was done. 

Someone tried to tell me that this is  "like pulling down a statue". I don't agree. I don't agree with pulling down statues either. If you want to be rid of one then negotiate its removal. It might not be as much "fun" to do it that way, indeed it might be hard work. What it will be though is legal and, while some people will disagree, you will get more support. 


Thursday 30 December 2021

Restrictions on visiting in aged care

are apparently back.

Middle Cat and I went to see the Senior Cat yesterday - or we tried to. We were greeted with the information that the rules have changed again. 

"Only one person," we were told. Okay, if they are worried in the current situation fair enough  I suppose.

But then we were told "And then it has to be the same person all the time. It can't be different people."

As far as practicable Middle Cat and I have been taking it in turns to visit the Senior Cat. It spreads the visiting load for us but, more importantly, it gives the Senior Cat someone different with whom to have a conversation.  

Yesterday was very hot so Middle Cat had picked me up instead. When given the news we looked at one another. What?  

If they want to limit the number of visitors fair enough. The current Covid situation is not good. We have been very careful but it doesn't mean we won't succumb.  

If it has to be the same person all the time then it has to be Middle Cat. The reason for this is that I don't drive. Middle Cat is the person they call on for all things medical - because she knows a lot more than I do about such things. If they want the "nominated" person after dark - as they did recently - then it is Middle Cat who would normally go. Middle Cat deals with the Senior Cat's prescriptions and liaises with the doctor too. I do his washing and deal with his other mail.  It has all worked out quite well. 

But this is a ruling that makes little sense to us. Middle Cat is out and about more than I am. I work from home and, while I have not been isolating as such, it has been close to that. We know that one residence I visit is in complete lockdown because a staff member has tested positive. They will open up again when everyone else has been tested and cleared. I have not rung them because they don't need queries right now. But I have just rung another residence and suggested I leave a parcel at the front desk. The response I got was, "That's okay if you want to but you can still go in and see M... We don't have a nominated visitors policy.  "

So why does the Senior Cat's residence have one? I think we need to find out. 

Wednesday 29 December 2021

Punishing the innocent

or at least naming them as associates of someone who has done something criminal or stupid or.... well, you get the picture.

There is currently a case in the media here that concerns me. An idiotic young man went off and partied while he was waiting for the results of a Covid test. The test came back positive. He was alerted to the results - and still went on partying. He claims he didn't get the results until the next day - or, rather, didn't look at them. 

That is actually quite likely. If he was feeling okay he probably would not have bothered to look, especially with some alcohol in his system. He was an idiot and showed no sense of responsibility - and yes he should be appropriately punished.

What bothers me is that much is also being made of the fact that he went to a fee paying school and that he is a member of  X family. Now he no longer goes to school and his surname is not the surname of X family. Why is the fact that he went to a fee paying school being mentioned at all? And what has the fact that some of his relatives happen to have the surname X got to do with what he is alleged to have done?

Obviously all this is considered newsworthy by the media. 

I can remember two incidents when I was at school. The first was an occasion in primary school. I was eight at the time. My fingers had been jammed in the classroom door one afternoon through no fault of my own. The skin had broken and I was sent off to get some first aid. My hand was still throbbing when I returned to class. There I found a very subdued class. Nobody said anything at the time. I don't suppose they dared to even speak. At the end of the afternoon everyone was "kept in" and made to write out twenty lines relating to some misbehaviour which had occurred while I was not there.  The teacher included me in the punishment even though I had not been there. It took me far longer than everyone else to write the lines, indeed so much longer that I missed "play time" for the next three days.

Years later I was told by another teacher who had been on the staff at the time that Mrs H.... had been queried about this by other members of the staff. Her reaction was apparently that I was a member of the class and that the whole class had to be punished. I still wonder what she would have done if a child had been away ill that day.

Some years later I can remember being late for a chemistry lesson because I was doing something for another teacher. When I arrived the chemistry teacher was clearly furious with the class. One of the boys had done something very stupid and very dangerous. Nobody had attempted to stop him, indeed had apparently encouraged him. The teacher chose to punish everyone. He included me in the punishment even though I had been absent. There were some looks in my direction. I said nothing. I knew what was happening this time. And yes that time I got an apology, "Sorry Cat. It wasn't fair but I couldn't be seen to treat you differently." No, he couldn't. The Senior Cat was the head of the school. I might have been a stroppy teenager but he had acknowledged it "wasn't fair" and apologised. I accepted it.

I thought of those things again when I read the reports about the young idiot. In the first instance what occurred was wrong because the "punishment" I received was actually far more severe. It took me far longer to write those lines. Mrs H... should simply have accepted what I had done on the first day if she wanted to include me even when I was not there.  In the second instance the teacher was in a difficult position. He chose a course of action that might have seemed unreasonable - and acknowledged it. In both cases my peers recognised what had happened. Mrs H... could never get anyone to volunteer to help after that but the chemistry teacher had actually done me a favour.

We don't need to know the young idiot attended a fee paying school because there are plenty of young idiots who have attended both sorts of school. We don't need to know who is relatives are, particularly those who don't share his surname. They weren't there and there is no need to include them. It is not who people are that matters but what they are that matters. 



Tuesday 28 December 2021

The "personal effects of a deceased person"

is one of those phrases  I would be happy never to hear again. 

I spent part of yesterday with the mother of MsW's best friend and we went through her room. Her father is away right now and he wanted us to do it when he wasn't there.

"I can't face that. I'm a coward. I just can't face it," he told me. So A....'s mother stepped in to help. 

Just unlocking the back door to the house, something I have done so many times, was hard. The house was tidy enough, clean enough. It was not quite as clean and tidy as it has been but it was okay. There was a pile of ironing in the laundry, an upturned mug on the draining board in the kitchen, some milk that needed to be thrown out.

J... looked at me and said, "I'll get some more milk later."

Up the passage and to the door on the left. It was shut. I felt as if I should knock on the door.  Ciaranne was not the sort of child to shut her bedroom door. "It's just me and my Dad mostly. He never invades my space."

I opened the door. J... and I stood there for a moment. 

"Her father must have done some tidying up," J... said.

"No. She was tidy... well tidier than most teenagers."

The room was not obsessively tidy but there were no clothes lying around.  The study desk was tidy and the books in her bookshelf were stacked in a fairly orderly manner. The dressing table had some of cardboard seed pots and some seeds on it. That did not really surprise me.

"No make up?" J... asked me.

"Not interested," I told her, "Probably my fault. I never use it."

"I should have.... oh just let's get this done!" 

We folded and packed clothes in the bags J...had brought with her. It didn't take long. There were no surprises until J... reached for some bags at the top of the wardrobe. She unzipped a bag and a cedar ball rolled out. She looked in and said, "Oh my god...she saved them all."

And out came the woollens I had made her and the "best dresses" J... had made for her. She had saved every item which had been especially made for her. There was her "koala" cardigan and the blue dress with the smocking across the front. There was her "rabbit" outfit and the skirt she had made with J...'s help. There was an envelope with buttons inside it - wooden buttons the Senior Cat had made for her to use "one day".

There were three such bags. Both J... and I were in tears again by then. We packed them again carefully. 

The other things will go to her favourite charity shop, the place where she bought most of her "round the house" clothes.

These things need to be kept. J... has taken them with her. She is going to put them carefully to one side with the other things she has saved from A...'s childhood. When/if A... has a child of her own then they will be used again.  It is what Ciaranne would have wanted.   

Ciaranne always told me she "loved" what was made for her. It is the sort of thing we often say without really meaning it but to keep things like that and keep them so carefully.... that is practical love.

Monday 27 December 2021

"Do not lose hope"

were the handwritten words on the bottom of a letter I once received. It came from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

He was responding to one of the many letters I wrote in an effort to get what became International Literacy Year off the ground.  It was one of the responses which gave me hope.

I need to explain here that I was not actually asking people to write back to me. I was asking them to support the idea by talking to other people in one way or another, especially talking to their United Nations representatives. I actually said in the letters I wrote that I was not asking for a personal response, even as I tried to make each letter I wrote a personal letter.  It still astounds me how many people responded. 

I did not keep the letters I received. It was a temptation but I still believe it would not have been right. It would have been too easy to give in and perhaps try to publish something - and that would have been wrong. 

What is right is to hold on to the memories of some of the very personal responses I received. The Archbishop wrote one of those. I certainly had no expectation of that extraordinary and extraordinarily busy man. He was Bishop of Lesotho and Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches when I wrote to him.  I was hoping he might get the message out to the churches in South Africa, a country where I was certain many people would support the idea.

The Archbishop not only did so on that first occasion but he continued to do so. By 1990 he was actively supporting a number of literacy projects. Although I never heard from him again it did not surprise me that he was still interested.  His letter to me was clearly a personal one, a letter to which he had given real thought. Yes, it had undoubtedly been typed by someone else. It was probably put in front of him with a pile of other correspondence to sign but there were the four handwritten words  underneath the typewritten words, "Do not lose hope".

Whatever our religious beliefs or lack of them, whatever we may think of archbishops or rabbis or imams or politicians or "influencers" anyone else, it seems to me that those four words are even more important now. 

I am still involved in some literacy projects, others have run their course. There will be more projects in the future. All of them will help people to understand our current world situation. All of those who have worked on them will have helped people understand the need for vaccinations, for basic hygiene measures, and so much more. 

I am trying to remember that right now. It isn't easy but Archbishop Tutu's words are there, "Do not lose hope."


Sunday 26 December 2021

They made it!

Any of you who live in Downunder will know that travel between the states has been severely restricted because of the pandemic. It has been restricted even within states in some instances.

Like so many other families this has been a worry for ours. It has been a particular concern because we wanted to give the Senior Cat the sort of Christmas present money can't buy - family.

My brother managed to get here earlier in the month. It took a lot of paperwork, vaccination certificates and tests and queries about how visits could be arranged. Somehow he and his partner managed to do it and they spent some precious time with the Senior Cat. He was thrilled to see them.

Could we pull it off again for at least one more member of the family and his partner? Middle Cat talked to Younger Son. He lives in a neighbouring state. Time off work was not a problem. He works from home at present and his partner's boss was sympathetic to the idea of S... having an additional day as she worked over another holiday. If they isolated as far as possible and did yet more paperwork and more testing....? 

We were not holding our collective breath over this because the necessary tests have to be held within a 72 hour period. The results have to be available at the border. (They came by road because the car allowed them to go on isolating as far as possible.) Well, they would try.

They got to the border. The border crossing was not open when they arrived. They sat and waited. The results were not there. They were still not there when the border opened. Younger Son explained the situation. He produced all the documentation. Inquiries were made. Checks were made. They were told they could enter but if the necessary results did not come through they would have to isolate at Middle Cat's house. Isolate? Well it did mean that, suitably socially distanced we could get the Senior Cat to them. 

Let's try it! And, an hour or so out of the city, their results were sent through to them. They were free to visit the Senior Cat! 

By then Middle Cat, her husband, and I were all with the Senior Cat. We said nothing. Middle Cat's husband had to take food off to the Greek family meal. Middle Cat pretended she had forgotten something and went off. I helped the Senior Cat eat a bowl of custard for lunch - all he wanted. 

And then...Middle Cat prowled back in with the two young cats behind her. The Senior Cat's expression was worth all the effort they had made to get there. "Best Christmas present," he told us.

Modern technology allowed a video call to the rest of the closest family interstate. For a moment we were all there together - and that was what counted most of all.

Saturday 25 December 2021

If you have not yet met the Cathedral Cats

then I will need to explain. They are a small group of cats who live in an unnamed Church of England cathedral somewhere in the United Kingdom. They are working cats who, along with the church mice, keep the cathedral and surrounding areas in pristine condition. Bach is the eldest cat. He is responsible for seeing that the work gets done. His partner is Cadenza who always seems to be busy caring for a new litter of kittens. Matins and Vespers are always up to mischief. Purrgolesi lives with the organist. The two cats who tell me the most are Cantori and Decani. It is Decani who is probably the most important of the cats. He should be very sure of his abilities and his importance in the scheme of things because he is the only cat who can read but he is rather unsure of everything. This is what happened to him just recently.

Decani was reading the pew bulletin again. He was doing it rather slowly. There was something there which was worrying him.  The slowness annoyed Cantori.
"Come on!" he gave a little yowl of frustration.
"Why? I have to think. It says they want an assistant for Father Mark."

"Matins and Vespers are going on a Prowl. They asked us to come. Why don't you think about that instead? You wouldn't have to work - or you could help me instead."

Cantori  was inclined to be lazy sometimes. He couldn't understand why Decani seemed to like working so hard.

Decani was the Cathedral's Library Cat. He was very proud of being the Library Cat. He loved to be in among all the very old and very valuable books. He liked the smell of their leather bindings. He liked the soft creaking sound of the vellum they had been written on. He liked the smooth feel of the new paper books and the smell of their printing ink. He loved working for Father Mark the Librarian. Father Mark actually made him work very hard but Decani was quite happy about that because Father Mark taught him about all sorts of very useful things and he often gave Decani a thank you pat or a gentle rub between the ears.   He had made a special little box for Decani to keep his collection of whiskers in. (Any cat who dropped a whisker knew to give Decani the whisker. He had a large collection of whiskers for cleaning all the smallest places where dust might gather on the old leather bindings. For the newest books he used dental picks and dental floss. The librarian bought those for Decani to use too.)

Every working day the librarian would put out the books which needed to be dusted or cleaned. Decani would work at them very, very carefully. If there were loose pages or other repairs were needed Decani would alert Father Mark by giving him a paw pat and then showing him the problem. Even though he never made much noise about it Decani knew it was a very important job.

But what if Father Mark no longer needed him? An assistant librarian might do all his work! Decani was worried, very worried. He did not feel in the least bit like going off on a Prowl, especially with Matins and Vespers. They were always getting into strife. Decani didn't mind a bit of harmless mischief but that was all he wanted.
"No. It's cold out there.  I want to read this again. I want to think, " he told Cantori.
Cantori did not want to listen. He tried to pull it away and tore it with a claw.
"Stop it!"
A moment later they were fighting each other. 
Bach came down the aisle like a meteor hurling through space at greater than the speed of light. He pulled the two young cats apart.
"Out!" he growled.
"He started it," Decani said crossly.
"I don't care who started it," Bach's look told him, "You're litter brothers. Behave!"
The two young cats went off, one out the west cat flap and one out the east cat flap. It was snowing outside. Decani shivered. Bother Cantori! He went around to the side door of the cathedral to see if he could sneak back in. He sat there shivering in the cold until a human appeared.
       "Hello little one."
It was the cathedral organist.
Decani gave him the most pitiful miaou he could muster. The organist picked him up. Decani snuggled in. That was better!

"Come and curl up."

Ooh yes, that was even better. Decani curled up next to Purrgolesi on the little stool in the organ loft and let what he thought of as "sleepy" music  give him a comforting pat. 

But he was still worried. What were these "applications" they were talking about? How would Father Mark decide about an assistant? Decani could not sleep even when he curled up tightly with his paw over his nose and put the tip of his tail between his whiskers.

"Don't worry," Bach told him later although he was feeling rather anxious as well. He knew just how much Decani liked working for Father Mark.

"Don't worry," Cadenza told him as he helped her with the new kittens. She thought Decani was very useful.

"Don't worry, there's plenty of other work to do," Cantori told him.

"You mean he might actually have to do some work," said Matins and Vespers with the sort of smirking purrs that really upset Decani. They made Cantori feel unhappy too. He was feeling just a little bit ashamed of himself.  Decani worked much harder than he did.

But Decani went into the library on Thursday morning and found there were no books on the table where he worked. Father Mark always put the books there! He sat there staring at the table. Did this mean he was no use any more? Did it mean he was no longer than Library Cat? Did it mean he would not be able to learn more about all the amazing things in the books? 

Father Mark came in just as Decani flopped down miserably. Now he would be told he wasn't wanted. He just knew he would be told he wasn't wanted!

"We need the table this morning for the interviews," Father Mark told him. "You can have the morning off." It didn't even occur to him that Decani might be worried.

"Miaou," Decani told him miserably although he didn't think Father Mark would understand why he was so worried. Father Mark rubbed Decani's left ear in an absent minded sort of way. He might have said something then but the Bishop came in with Father Andrew.

"All three short-listed candidates are here," Father Andrew told Father Mark. "I've asked them to wait in the Map room."

And that was when Decani knew what he had to do. He could find out who these candidates were if he went to look in the other room. It was the room where they kept the maps and the drawings and all the music. There were three people there. He looked at them. Two of them were sitting down. One of them was standing up.

One of the people sitting down was very round. Decani thought about this.  No, he would not do at all. His stomach would get in the way of a lot of things. Decani could smell the bacon and eggs and sausage this round person had eaten for breakfast. A human might not smell it but a cat could. The round person  was talking to one who was about the same size as a lot of other people Decani knew. They were being very polite to each other but they were not really being very friendly with each other. It was probably because they both wanted the job.  They had not noticed Decani.

 The third person was very tall and very, very thin. The other two people were not even looking at him. Decani thought they did not like this person but he was looking at the carvings on the doorway.

The carvings were old of course. Decani had often cleaned them, cleaned them oh so carefully. He wondered if the cats and the rabbits and the mice had once been real. He didn't think there had been dragons but he knew about those that were there as well. He watched the tall thin man.

None of them seemed to have noticed Decani. He sat there watching them. Then Father Andrew looked out and the short round person went in to talk to them. He went past without even looking at Decani. Decani gave a tiny purr to himself. Father Mark would not choose anyone who did not notice a cat would he? The ordinary size person went on ignoring the very thin person but he saw Decani and tried to shoo him away. Decani sat just far enough under the table to watch him and not get caught. Father Mark would not choose someone who did not like cats would he? The Cathedral was famous for its cats!

"I didn't think they would let those blasted cats near the library," the ordinary size person told the tall thin person.

Decani flicked his tail just a little at  that comment. The tall thin person stopped looking at the carvings on the doorway. He looked around and smiled at Decani. 

"There's a cat which looks just like you here. I think they must have had cats in the library for a very long time."

The ordinary person made a funny sort of noise but Decani purred to himself. The ordinary person went to talk to Father Mark next. Decani came out from under the table and looked at the tall thin person. The tall thin person looked back at him and said, "Hello." Decani padded over to him with his tail held high and his whiskers out at just the right and polite angle. The tall thin person did not try to shoo him away.  They just looked at one another. Decani knew exactly what he needed to do.

And when the tall thin person was called in to the library Decani went in too. When the tall thin person sat down Decani jumped up into his lap. He just knew this was going to be the right human for the job. The lap might be thin and bony but the tall thin person put his own  strong, comforting sort of paw around Decani to hold him there.

"If you will have me then I hope this is the Library Cat," he told the Bishop and Father Mark and Father Andrew...and all of them knew what Decani was purring about.   

Friday 24 December 2021

Please wear a mask and

keep your distance from people you don't know...perhaps even some you do know.

We are having the expected surge in case numbers here. I know it is nothing like the surge in other places but it is summer here and people don't want to wear masks. They're hot. 

I'd rather be hot.  I am also keeping my distance from most people. 

The reason for all this is simple. The Senior Cat is far from well. I don't know how much longer we will have him. He had a small CVA (stroke) recently. He is eating very little. Middle Cat and I, his two children here, want to be able to spend time with him. The last thing we need right now is to get Covid and not be able to visit him. 

We are going to spend tomorrow with him and not join the usual gathering of the Greek side of the family - Middle Cat's in-laws. We would - with a degree of caution - go if the Senior Cat had wanted to go. 

Why? Because there was a wedding in the family recently. If people wished to attend it they had to show they were vaccinated. There are other elderly people on that side of the family too.

Brother Cat was here recently and Nephew Cat should arrive tonight. He is driving over 700km to get here. A plane journey would take far less time but it isn't Covid-safe.  Others are also planning to visit the Senior Cat. All of them are, at very least, doubly vaccinated. Those that can have had their "booster" shot. 

We are trying to do all the "right" things but we know that even that might not keep us safe and well. We also know we have a responsibility towards others, particularly the very elderly and very frail people in the same residence as the Senior Cat. Do others feel the same way? 

But are things really as bad as all that? This time last year we were hoping the worst of the pandemic was over. That has not happened but now there really does seem to be some hope that it might be this time next year. The most recent variant may be more transmissible but is it really as severe? Data suggests that it may not be. That's a positive. We just need to keep to the rules about masks and hand sanitiser and keeping our distance. Stay safe and well everyone - you are all important to someone, including me.

Thursday 23 December 2021

The pictures of other people's mince pies

makes me acutely conscious that, apart from one batch of shortbread, I have done no Christmas cooking - yet.

That should change today. I need to go to the supermarket first - something I was trying to avoid - but they had no cream cheese when I went in. Obviously other people are also making the sort of cheesecake which requires no baking. Sigh... I will mask up, keep my head down and be in and out as quickly as I can.

I also have to make what are locally known as "honey crackles". These are essential apparently - for all children, even those who claim to be "adults".  (If you are not aware of these they are a mixture of cornflakes and a sort of butterscotch syrup which you place in those little paper cake cases. The result is supposed to be a sort of sticky mess - to be eaten one cornflake at a time.)

These things do not take a long time to make and must be done today. I can leave it no longer.

The Senior Cat has decided he does not feel he has the stamina to go out on Christmas Day. We thought that might be so. We told him it was to be his decision. We would fit in either way.  There was an "access cab" ordered on the off-chance but the cab drivers won't mind a cancellation in the least. They have too much to do as it is. Middle Cat and I will spend time with the Senior Cat and other members of the family will go in and see him. What the Senior Cat does not yet know is that Nephew and Partner from the neighbouring state have entirely rearranged their plans so that they can travel over by road and see him.  Nephew phoned his mother and informed her of all this yesterday. It was completely unexpected - and left Middle Cat in tears and me sniffling into a tissue too. Nephew's Partner has elderly parents of her own who are not in the best state of health. They were consulted before the decision was made and apparently said, "We can have New Year with you you go."

To me these decisions are a true reflection of what Christmas, apart from the religious significance of it all, should be about. It is the best possible Christmas present. 

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Activity packs for the school holidays

are becoming something of a "must" for the children in the street.

Two of the children are already away visiting family in  another state. Their parents decided to take the risk of travelling because they have not seen family members for three years.  The maternal side of the family, the side they are going to see, is Korean. It is particularly important to them this year.  

"Wait until we get back Cat. Believe me we are going to need those packs to get the kids through isolation." Yes, they will almost certainly be in isolation when they return. I doubt that will have changed. I just hope they stay well.

"Now please Cat," the mother of the two boys immediately opposite told me, "We aren't isolating but I am trying to explain that we can't do certain things. I have them booked in for shots but that can't happen until the New Year."

As we were all outside and suitably socially distanced I told the boys to look inside the front door. Their two bags were on the floor. They rushed off and, a moment later, came tearing outside. 

"Thank you Cat!" 

Their mother and I watched as they investigated. As it was close to the time of their evening meal they reluctantly handed over the (relatively healthy) corn chips, the chocolate frog (there were some left over from Halloween) and the little packet of Smarties (bought when they were cut price at the supermarket last month). The colouring in books (Roald Dahl and Moomin variety) were investigated, crayons, glue, tape, envelopes, paper, card, glitter, stickers.  

It sounds like a lot but all the packs cost less than $20 and I estimate there are far more than twenty hours of activities in them. It is cheap at the price.

It is also a way of thanking their parents for their help during the year. I have been extraordinarily fortunate in my neighbours again this year. As they set out across the street I didn't need to hear young T... say, "Cat has the bestest things in here." I think I have "the bestest" neighbours. 

Tuesday 21 December 2021

The selfishness of some people

can still leave me stunned.

Much is being made of a young man who went out and partied while awaiting the results of a test for Covid. He should have been home and in isolation until he got the results. And then, yes he would have been in isolation because he has Covid. 

Apparently he only has mild symptoms but he is now languishing in "medi-hotel" accommodation. My view is that he should be languishing somewhere a good deal less comfortable. Why? Because so many other people are now in quarantine and some may become very ill as a result of his stupidity. Some will miss Christmas with family and almost all of them will be financially disadvantaged because of his actions.

A friend called in on Sunday afternoon to deliver something. She is fully vaccinated and so is her husband but they are cancelling Christmas celebrations because her son is refusing to get vaccinated. "I can't risk it," she told me. She was close to tears.

Apparently he doesn't "trust" the vaccines because they were so quickly produced.  My response to that would be that they have been working on these corona viruses for almost a hundred years. The present vaccines are closely related to other vaccines which have been in widespread use for many years. No, I don't know what is in them. I have absolutely no idea. It is one of those issues over which I need to trust other people - in the same way that I have to trust people to not murder each other. 

Right now my family is acutely aware that our beloved Senior Cat will not be with us for that much longer. If anything happens to prevent us from spending precious time with him then I am going to be incandescent with rage. I will feel the same for anyone else in the same position. One of the hardest things over the last two years has been watching people not be able to be with the people they care about the most...and when they most need it. It is why I am going to go on staying away from crowded places, doing only essential shopping as quickly as possible, and wearing a mask when out and about. It is the only responsible thing to do.

This is not about us but about everyone else, especially the people we care about the most.


Monday 20 December 2021

When should the elderly give up driving?

A friend who is about to turn 90 and who is still driving phoned me yesterday.

"Cat! I got a speeding ticket!"

I was shocked - and so was she. It is the first speeding ticket she has had - ever.

"Perhaps I should give up driving," she told me. 

We talked through what she had been doing when she received the fine. It turned out that she was doing 65kmh in a 60kmh zone because she was late for church. She still plays the organ there for the early service. 

There was no other traffic around in the semi-rural area she lives in and we are both well aware that many other drivers break the speed limit along that stretch of winding road with so many exit and entrance points. 

Her children think she should give up driving. They have been telling her this for some years now. In doing so of course they conveniently ignore the fact that she would not be able to go anywhere or do any of the things she loves to do. There is no public transport where she lives. None of them live close by and - I hate saying this - I doubt they would help even if they did. It isn't that sort of family. M... is closer to her neighbours in relationship terms than she is to her family.

"It would mean moving. I have been thinking about it. I know I should do it before it is too late -but I really don't want to do it unless I need to do it."

I feel for her. She has a lovely little house and a garden she designed herself - designed in such a way that she can manage it easily. Everything she has done over the last few years has been designed with continuing independence in mind. 

But it all depends on her continued ability to go on driving a car. I thought of this because there is a new road safety campaign aimed at older drivers. M... is still fit to drive. She has been driving since her feet were able to reach the pedals and she could see over the steering wheel - and I am not exaggerating here. M... grew up on a farm and her family needed all the help they could get. M...'s eyesight and hearing are still excellent. Her reaction times are better than those of many younger people. Like the Senior Cat she went off to get her driving skills tested by the police. They had no doubts about her ability. 

I suspect the policeman who pulled her over was having a bad day because many of them would have just warned her - and that would have been enough. 

But I see too many older people who are driving when they should not be driving. They are as much a danger on the roads as the young drivers who think they can do anything.  I have long advocated that older people should have regular medical assessments by a qualified person who is not their GP. I also believe they should undergo regular road tests to ensure they are still able to drive safely and well. Most of all I believe that once people reach a certain age - perhaps around 80 - they should be eligible for vouchers to use taxis at a greatly reduced rate. 

We should not be asking older people to go on driving simply so that they can go on doing their own shopping or get to appointments or see family and friends - or even play the organ at church. We should be making sure they can do those things without the need for a car of their own if they can no longer drive - or simply decide to give it up.  

Sunday 19 December 2021

Damned if you do and damned if you don't

is what it seems to be for some of our politicians.

Yes,  I know that politicians are there to serve us, to make decisions for the benefit of everyone etc. etc. etc. They get paid to do it. Yes.

But there are limits to what they can do and should do. They need to listen to advice. Not everything is their responsibility.

Our Prime Minister is getting criticised at the moment - because he went to offer his condolences to the families who lost a child in the appalling "jumping castle" disaster.  He is being criticised for using it as a "photo op" and an "election platform". 

Apparently the fact that he was if not actually in tears so close to it that he was having difficulty speaking apparently makes no difference. He was criticised. Of course had he stayed away he would also be criticised.  That's the way it works.

He was criticised for being on holiday when we had the very serious bushfires (wildfires) in several states. Nothing was said about him being available at the other end of a phone at all times. The fact that such incidents are a state responsibility and he could not have interfered was beside the point according to those criticising him. He was accused of "lacking leadership". Much was made of the footage of a woman refusing to shake his hand and claiming he was at fault.  That there was nothing he could do was beside the point. If he had returned and tried to take over he would have been accused of interfering.  That's the way it works.

In this state the Premier has, perhaps rightly, taken a back seat for much of the pandemic. He has left it up to the Chief Medical Officer and the state's senior most police officer to decide on how things should be done. The CMO did not act alone and neither did the police. They were getting advice all the time.  They were passing advice on to the Premier. In turn he was relating it to the Federal Cabinet...meeting for the purposes of trying to control the pandemic. 

Our Premier has been heavily criticised for allowing the experts to decide what should happen. It doesn't matter that, in a neighbouring state, the Premier is being criticised for the reverse situation.  It's politics. You can't win.

I don't often "tweet" back to people on a controversial issue. If I do I usually confine it to a statement of fact that is easily verifiable. But yesterday I had had enough. I snarled at someone.  The Prime Minister is a husband and a father. He went with his wife - which meant leaving their own children without either parent for a short while and it was obvious from the way he spoke and form the way he reached for her hand at one point in the footage that he cares about what happened - and cares deeply. 

Others using that for political means is simply wrong. It doesn't matter what you think of the man at that point. What matters is that the man who is the nation's leader was setting an example to everyone else. He was telling them that it is okay to show some emotion, that it is okay to care about people you don't know, that it is okay to offer help when people need it most. 

That's a pretty powerful message. I suggest it is a more important one than using his actions for their own political benefit.  

Saturday 18 December 2021

Is the NDIS really broken?

The NDIS is Downunder's "National Disability Insurance Scheme". It is there to provide assistance for people with a permanent or significant disability.  Where possible that assistance is also supposed to focus on helping someone become as independent as possible.

It is a very expensive scheme - last financial year it cost around $22bn. I also believe it is a very important scheme...when it does the job it is supposed to do.

Someone I know has finally managed to get a new wheelchair through the scheme. He is sitting comfortably for the first time in some years. It has made all the difference to the number of hours he can work. Now he is gradually building up his business with the aim of paying tax at some time in the future. It is not something many people actually aim to do.

A young man I helped to tutor this last year was provided with an expanded keyboard and can now type his own assignments. 

A mother with a disability has had some adaptations made to her home which now allow her to do a number of household tasks that she previously relied on her children to do. It has made an enormous difference to the household dynamics.

Someone else uses it to get help with basic activities of daily living and that means they can go on living in their own small unit and going to work each day.

 There are many other ways that help can be provided if you have the patience to go through the complex application process. That's the good sort of support.

But there are other people being given help because they know how to work the system. They are getting services and equipment they don't genuinely need.  Sometimes this has happened because someone else has suggested it and it sounded like a good idea. Often the person who has suggested it is well meaning. On other occasions someone has seen an opportunity to get something or some service without having to pay for it. 

I don't know how to answer the mother who says to me, "My child has grown out of his wheelchair and we have been told it will be at least a year before he gets another one." Not only is it wrong for a child who needs a highly specialised wheelchair to have to wait so long but the mother says this as she watches a child who has the mildest of disabilities playing games on a new i-pad - an i-pad which is kept for just that purpose but has been provided by the NDIS. What is more the first family would be more than happy to contribute towards the cost of a new wheelchair and, despite the need to do everything for their child, have not asked for any other assistance.

We need the NDIS. It is not right that some individuals and their families are always financially struggling because of disabilities that are no fault of their own. 

It is equally wrong that some people who don't really need help are getting it but when there is talk about "cuts" then it is worth looking at what is being cut. The Opposition spokesman's claims of cuts apparently relate largely to support for child recipients with "autism". That is surely an umbrella word for a very wide range of behaviours. There are children with mild behaviour issues who are said to be "on the autism spectrum" and there are children with extremely challenging behaviours who need constant care and attention. 

There is a child who lives close by. He definitely has some serious issues with social interaction. He is eleven, almost twelve. He barely speaks. He doesn't make eye-contact.  He is starting high school next year and he is going there with a range of other behaviours which are going to make him a target. He has not been officially diagnosed as "austistic" but my observations lead me to believe he is. His parents know he has some serious issues. His mother never went back to work because of his issues. They have not sought NDIS funding for as much as an assessment. His father told me recently, "If we can't handle the situation next year then we will ask the doctor for a referral to some sort of psychologist I suppose." When I suggested that they might get some help from the NDIS his response was, "No, that's for people who can't afford to get help - or should be."

I don't know whether to hope they can handle the situation or whether they get some help they would obviously appreciate.


Friday 17 December 2021

There has been a tragedy of unimaginable

 proportions in another state. Five children have died at an end of school year event - an event which should have been fun.

I first heard the news through the news feed I get. At that stage it was two children, then four, and now five. There are still three children in a critical condition and others who have been injured. They fell ten metres when a "bouncy castle" somehow came loose from its moorings and rose in a wind gust - only to fall rapidly.

I feel deeply for the families concerned, for those around them, for the other students, their teachers and the school principal and those who have had to respond to the incident.  I won't say any more about it. It is too distressing. Please hug your family - even if it has to be a long distance virtual sort of hug - and tell them you love them.

A friend came to visit yesterday. She is a nun. I had a small Christmas gift for her - something she can share with her housemate at the convent - and she had one for me. There are other buildings dotted around the convent grounds where then nuns now live. Some live alone, others live together. They are growling less in number.

P... was reminiscing about her time as a teacher and the sizes of the classes she taught until she went to train as a teacher of the deaf.

Her first class consisted of fifty-three children who were just starting school. I was in classes close to that size in the city. I taught a class which had over forty eleven year old children. Later I had a class of nineteen - all of whom (bar one) were profoundly intellectually and physically disabled. Young H..., who lives across the road, starts at the local school in the new year, is going into a class of eighteen. 

I found a school photograph a short while ago.  It shows a friend of ours who was teaching in the school I attended before we moved back to the bush. B... is shown sitting in the middle of the front row with just the boys in her class at that time. There are twenty-six boys in the photograph. I passed it on to B... who phoned me and said, "I remember that  - and there would have been twenty eight girls in other photograph if they were all there that day." That's fifty-four children.

However did they teach that many - and how did we ever manage to learn so much?

Thursday 16 December 2021

So taxpayer money is not for buying votes?

You could have fooled me. I have always believed that, in countries where there is some sort of "democracy", taxpayer funds are used by governments in an attempt to gain (and retain) political power.

Downunder has a federal election coming up next year. The Opposition is desperate to win. If they do win they may end up controlling not just the states but government at the federal level as well. Unlikely promises are already being made about  what will happen "when we win government".  Money is being promised for this project and that project. Promises are being made about massive changes to climate policy, infrastructure projects, skills training and more. 

Realistically there is no way the Opposition can reach the targets they are supposedly setting. They know that. A careful analysis of the language they are using would tell the rest of us that - if we were prepared to listen.  

We almost certainly won't listen. But the Opposition is going a step further this time. They are offering to set up a federal Independent Commission Against Corruption. It sounds like a good thing. It sounds like a good thing until you hear that the first thing they want to do is "investigate" the apparent imbalance of taxpayer funds spent in government held and opposition held seats. On the surface that sounds like an excellent idea but ICACs can also be kangaroo courts - and that is what any ICAC set up by the Opposition will be. Their purpose in setting one up will have nothing to do with corruption and everything to do with power. 

Am I being too cynical? I don't think so. I don't think so because I am aware that there are too many issues the present Opposition would not want to see investigated too closely.  Many people hold the view that the present federal government does as "big business" wants and the current opposition does as "the unions" want.

When that sort of thing is taken into consideration is it any surprise that taxpayer money seems to buy votes?   It is easy to convince the electorate of this and that money is being spent in some places at the expense of others. If money was previously spent elsewhere to the advantage of another group it will make no difference. What matters is what political advantage a group can gain by suggesting supposed inequities exist. Facts won't matter.

When I was in my teens our local member would occasionally call in to chat to the Senior Cat. This man liked to keep up with what was going on at the schools in his electorate and his children attended the school the Senior Cat ran. I can remember the MP and the Senior Cat sitting over cups of tea in the kitchen discussing this very issue. There was a badly needed drainage project for which the MP was trying to get money.  It was not a great deal of money and it would have proved very cost effective. Although the party usually seen as sympathetic to the farmers was in power money was not being made available.  It was not made available until after the election the next year - when the new government could claim they had made it available. It was simply blocked by public servants with a different political allegiance. 

It may be that the money pie is fairly reasonably divided up in the end - but the timing of the division can be of the utmost importance in respect of who controls the portions.  

Wednesday 15 December 2021

No, we do not need a Grand Prix

in this state. We don't actually need a Grand Prix at all. The world does not need a Grand Prix.

I am sorry all you "motor heads" but if you are at all concerned about the state of the planet then stop supporting "motor sport". It is not sport. It encourages people to burn fossil fuel.

Yes, there is an article in this morning's paper saying that the Grand Prix we lost to another state (and which has not taken place for the past two years) should be returned to this state.  I think not. We do not need it. 

Even if it was to our financial advantage I would be saying we do not need it. I know there are those who claim "it brings millions into the state" but there are other things which could do the same thing. They might also engage people in a more positive way. 

One of the problems with so-called motor sport is the expense. Very few people can actually afford to participate - even at the very bottom of the ladder. It is largely a spectator "sport" and the spectator side tends to involve, as someone put it to me, "alcohol, ear muffs, and idiots" .

I suppose I am guilty of bias. I am allergic to alcohol (it is like touching and drinking stinging nettles), I hate loud noises (I have never been to a rock concert), and encouraging others to speed is something I consider to be highly irresponsible. There, I have said it.

The long summer break from school has started here. I had to head out for a fasting blood test early yesterday morning. There was less traffic than usual because no school runs were being done.  A policeman was leaning against his patrol car having a chat to someone I know. 

"Discussing the race track again Cat," the person I know said to me. He means his local street. It runs parallel to the railway line and I am well aware that speed is a problem there. 

"Don't you mean the revenue raiser?" I asked with a smile at the policeman to show that I supported his efforts to keep the traffic under control.

"Bloody idiots seem to think they're doing the Grand Prix," the policeman said.   

We don't need to get the Grand Prix back. We already have it most of the time. 

Tuesday 14 December 2021

"No Christmas decorations?"

I was told off yesterday for not putting up any Christmas decorations. Mmm....actually I didn't put up any last year either.

I mean, what's the point? I am not expecting the sort of visitors who expect to see decorations. Covid19 has seen to that. 

I am not a "climb on ladders" sort of cat. There is no way I can drag a tree into the house and decorate it. I would rather real trees stayed in the ground and I do not like the artificial variety. My local friends and I have come to an agreement that, if we see each other on a fairly regular basis, there is no need for a physical card. 

Several years ago a neighbour who has now moved on decorated the street trees with red bows. Nobody has done it since then. Number 11 has some lights up - solar powered. There is a discreet wreath on one door.  Around the corner Santa is on his motorbike at the house where the multiple motorbikes live. Nothing else has appeared - yet.

I am not too concerned. The decorations will go up. School only finished on Friday. There was that huge sigh over the weekend. Yesterday there were things which needed to be bought. You know what I mean don't you? There was a need for more baubles, for crepe paper and glue, for tape and tinsel, and more. I was told all about this. There will be some even smaller visitors asking me if I have any more cardboard and how did they make the angels last year. 

I am missing someone and Christmas doesn't feel like Christmas without the Senior Cat here in the house. They have decorated the residence he lives in but that isn't the same thing.

But yesterday one of the mothers in the street quietly told me that the kittens have been busy and they have something for me. "It might appear on your door while you are out. Pretend you think Santa has brought it," she told me.

Yes, I'll do that. Christmas is for kittens.

Monday 13 December 2021

Exam results come out today

and I am expecting to get some news. It will come from both students I have worked with this year and their parents.

It's been a tough year. Last year was a tough year too. These students have gone through the last two years of their school life without what we all considered to be the normal support networks and social interactions. 

I have been thinking about this and wondering what school is really about for most teenagers. I rather doubt it is actually about learning. It seems more likely that it is about social interaction with others. 

Of course learning is an important part of all this. The subject choices they made in year ten will almost certainly influence what they do for the rest of their lives. Some of them will have discussed career choices with their friends. Others will have said very little, if anything at all. 

Only one of the students I have given some extra help to has gone off to "schoolies" - the end of year event for year twelves. It is a much lower key affair this year. Some of the others have had part-time jobs which are now full time in the lead up to Christmas. Others have short term Christmas jobs. 

I am thinking of all of them this morning. I am very glad I am not the one who has to look up my results on line. At least they don't have to search the state's newspaper for their results the way we did. Nor do they have to endure the rugby like scrum that we endured when our results were posted on the wall at university.  

But, it still matters. It is all very well for the rest of us to tell them it isn't the end of the world if they have not done as well as they wished it still matters to them. 

That is why my phone is fully charged this morning. It is why I will stop pedalling if I am on my way to see the Senior Cat. It is why I won't have my phone on "silent" in today's meeting. I want to be ready to congratulate or commiserate. 

And I want them to know that school's out - and their lives are still ahead of them.


Sunday 12 December 2021

Every child winning a prize

at the end of the school year is not my idea of winning a prize. It does not reward the child who has natural ability and worked hard or the child who has struggled but also achieved something through hard work.  To me this attitude simply says, "It doesn't matter if you work or not you will be rewarded."

The long summer break from school started here yesterday. One of the local children showed me his certificate "congratulating" him on finishing the year. 

"It doesn't mean anything. We all got one. It's the sort of stuff you give to the really little kids."

"So what would you have done?" I asked him, "I'd really like to know because I think I agree with you."

He thought about it for a bit and then said, "I think I'd ask everyone in the class to think about it and tell the teacher what they think someone needs to get. You know like you know your friend tried really hard at something. Kids know that sort of stuff."

I am not sure that would work - and we discussed why it might not work - but if awards are to be given for trying rather than coming first then there is most certainly no harm in listening.

There is a group I know where the adults who have formally taught something to the others during the year get given "certificates" at the end of year event. The certificates "thank" them for "doing such a great job teaching..." Many members find these certificates offensive. Like the boy I was talking to they feel it is the sort of thing you might give a small child. 

A certificate like that given months later is a meaningless gesture when someone has voluntarily put in many hours of preparation for the class - often for just a few people. A simple seeking out and thanking the person responsible for doing the work on the day will mean much more. 

I know I tried to do this when I was teaching and working in a school library. I also know I probably failed to thank children sometimes but I never had any shortage of willing helpers and volunteer "library monitors".  At the end of one year when I was asked to nominate a child for helping in the library. I looked over the many helpers and I chose a child who could barely read. The school principal queried this but I stuck by my decision. "He deserves it."

Every afternoon after school he had come in and tidied up the library for me. He had emptied the waste paper bin, returned all the games and puzzles to the shelves, and generally made himself useful. I had thanked him of course during the year but it was often a casual, "Thanks T... " and nothing more.  On the school "Speech Night" he was as surprised as anyone else on being called on. His look of bewildered pleasure was something I can still remember. 

The following day, the last at school for the year, he gave me a shy smile and said, "Thanks" before racing off.  One of the other library monitors who was there at the time turned to me and said, "He deserved it. We all know that.... "

Giving the same thing to every monitor would not have had the same impact. Are we really doing children any favours when we award everyone a prize? 

Saturday 11 December 2021

Renewing a passport

is a simpler matter than applying for one.

One of the neighbours came to see me yesterday. He told me he wanted to renew his passport.  One of the things you need to do is have someone certify you know them. That person needs to either be on the electoral roll or have a passport of their own. I am on the electoral roll and I have a passport so it was not a problem. 

I have also known R... ever since he moved in next door twenty-one years ago. That was not a problem either.

But the passport R... showed me is out of date. It is more than two years out of date and that will be a problem. 

I have not been out of this country for many years. Circumstances have conspired against that. I still hope to make at least one last trip abroad. I want to see friends in other places. Some of them are getting very elderly and, sadly, some of them have already gone. 

I cannot go anywhere, not even interstate, while the Senior Cat is still with us. We all know that might not be for too much longer and I want him to know we are here for him until we lose him. That's going to be tough on all of us and I don't want to leave Middle Cat with all the responsibilities. I certainly could not risk the border closing and not be able to get back in because of the pandemic. 

But, I keep my passport up to date. There's always the chance I might actually need it. It was there when I thought I might need to make a trip to Kunming and bring back my seriously ill friend E... I was in the process of trying to find out the most direct route to get there when a member of the university staff told me they were actually going there. They made the necessary arrangements instead. 

I also need to use a passport for the purposes of "photo" ID sometimes. I have a "proof of age" card but I don't have a licence to drive - both have the same sort of photo issued by the same authority and require the same identity check but only the latter is acceptable for some purposes. Passports have other uses as well as for the purpose of travel.

Getting one involves forms and documents and photos and more. The process is more complex than renewing a passport - and that is hard enough. 

R... also has his wife to think about. R... has a Downunder passport and a Taiwanese passport. He needs to travel on the Downunder passport in order to return to the country. His wife only has a Taiwanese passport and a residency permit for this country. 

And therein lies a problem. The residency permit is also out of date. They didn't think to renew it because of the pandemic. They have only thought of it now when they are considering a trip "back home" next year. It should have been renewed before the five years were up - even if she couldn't travel. 

Given the restrictions on travel because of Covid19 there will no doubt be arrangements within the relevant department. Even so there are likely to be additional hurdles when obtaining the necessary documents. 

I know there will be more knocks on the door as R... tries to work his way through the bureaucratic maze for both of them. Of course I will help as well. It's the neighbourly thing to do.

But I checked my passport. It's fine. It still has another five years to run.


Friday 10 December 2021

Christmas knitting

does not have the same urgency about it in Downunder. It is summer here. It is unlikely that hats and mittens, cowls and scarves, socks or thick woolen garments are going to be needed for some months - if at all. (One of my other worries about climate change is that we might not need those lovely, snuggle woolly things any more...but then, I am a knitter.)

Over the years I have made "soap bags" and "lavender sachets" and little "sleep pillows" - the latter filled with a variety of nice smelling things which (supposedly) help one sleep. They are small projects. They are portable too.

I have occasionally fiddled with things like stars and trees and angels and more  in order to decorate trees. That sort of knitting does not really appeal to me.  I like to make things people can actually use rather than just look at for a few weeks of the year. 

This made things rather awkward when an acquaintance phoned. She sounded desperate. "Cat, the woman running our Christmas workshop has let us down. Have you got anything I could use to teach the ladies something?"

I understood what she meant. She needed a copyright free pattern that could be distributed. It had to be something that could be made in the space of a couple of hours. It had to be something simple enough for a wide range of abilities. It also had to be cheap and attractive. If the women in the group could also learn something that would be a bonus.

"How many?" I asked trying to sound interested but looking at the growing list of things I need to do.

"Five - oh and maybe M... if she wants to come."

Ah...that changed everything. M... is someone living here for only a couple of years while her husband is on contract. She is a lovely person but she is profoundly deaf and communicating is a huge challenge for her.  On the few occasions I have met her face-to-face we have got by with gestures, some common or easily guessed signs, and finger spelling. I have been delighted to find that the little "community" church group her husband found to attend has also tried to include her despite the communication issues. Several days ago she gave me another blanket square and,while she was here, she saw something I had made. It's tiny and there is actually very little knitting involved but there is plenty of scope for embroidery or other embellishments which would suit that group. I showed M... how I had made it.

"Actually M... could show you all how to make something. It's something I showed her," I said and explained. 

I knew there would be some hesitation at this - on both sides - so I said, "I'll show you as well of course...if you can come around before the class."

We settled on a time and, late yesterday, I actually showed B.... how to make two simple things. I also emailed the patterns to her so she can print them off. 

She had sent a message to M... to ask her to come. I sent M... another email telling her what the class was about and asking her to help. The response came back - a row of anxious looking emojis and then a smile face with, "I will try."

The class will learn a lot from M....


Thursday 9 December 2021

So has the birthrate gone up?

That was certainly the expectation right around me when we went into lockdown last year.

"Better get started knitting Cat!" I was told by more than one person as they discussed the "inevitable" rise in the birthrate. A good many of them believed that the lockdown would lead to a more relaxed time at home. They believed that people would consider it would give them time to plan to have another child.

The opposite has turned out to be true. Our birthrate has dropped. It has apparently been dropping for some years now.

My parents had four children. It was considered to be a pretty average sort of family when I was a kitten. We knew more than one family who had six, seven or eight children - and they were by no means all Roman Catholics. I remember a family of eleven and another of nine. They all seemed, to my young self, to be fed and clothed. My brother and I envied them because they were allowed to go to "the pictures" on Saturday afternoons. That was something which cost more than we could afford - even if our mother had been willing to countenance spending a Saturday afternoon that way. The fathers of these lucky individuals were "wharfies" of course - dock workers - who were paid very good wages indeed.  

My brother and Middle Cat have each had two children. My brother and his late wife made the deliberate decision to stop at two. The world was getting over-populated. China had the infamous "one-child policy". R... , my brother's second partner, also has two and like my brother and her own late partner made the conscious decision to stop at two. They both consider themselves extremely fortunate to be able to enjoy each other's children - and all the children get on extremely well with one another. (Perhaps it helped that no marriages were broken up by either of them and their children wanted them to find a new partner.) 

Middle Cat was under pressure to have more children - but not from her partner. They were happy with two but Middle Cat's father-in-law wanted them to have more. Middle Cat and her husband looked at J.... and said "We are just happy to have replaced ourselves with two healthy boys."  When J... had another try Middle Cat, who was sick every day of both pregnancies, told him, "Well, you have them." Her MIL backed her. I remember her telling me, "Men do not understand." No, apparently they don't. 

I have not added to the world's population. I am fortunate in that I have not needed to have children but have still had many opportunities to enjoy children. (There is nothing like having all the fun and not having to put up with all the "but I don't want to go to bed" talk.)  

And I am wondering whether some other people feel the same way. Have they realised that children can still be fun - much more fun than adults in many ways -  even if you have none of your own?

Children, all children, are still my responsibility - even those I do not know at all. As long as I remember that then I plan to go on having fun with those I do know. 

Wednesday 8 December 2021

Covid vaccination certificates

are now being required in some places.

I went to see the Senior Cat yesterday - and will go again today. It is usually Middle Cat who goes on Tuesdays but there was mail he needed to know about. Along with more mail I took from the letter box there was a reminder from a group house (for people with disabilities) that  vaccination certificates would be required before people could enter. 

I was at the meeting where this was discussed. Two of the residents in the group house cannot get vaccinations of any sort. They are vulnerable in all sorts of ways. The other residents have been vaccinated. Their care staff are all supposed to be vaccinated. It isn't something I can check on and it is not my responsibility to do it either. But the residents wanted to know how they could help to keep each other safe and that was one of the measures they decided they wanted to put in place.

One of the care staff tried to argue against it. He claimed it could lead to staffing issues. I suspect he has not been vaccinated yet - and might not want to be vaccinated at all. Fortunately he was the only person to vote against the measure.

I was thinking about this as I pedalled over to see the Senior Cat. The residence has had to put new measures in place recently. There are two reasons for this, the first being we have had some more Covid19 cases. The second is that the residence has been taken over by a group which runs a number of hospitals as well. 

Middle Cat had already warned me that the front door is no longer "open to go in".  We have always had to put a code into a key pad to go out but, during the week, it has simply been a matter of opening the door. Now we have to wait for a phone to be answered and someone to push a button somewhere inside in order to get in. 

As soon as I heard that I thought, "And the next thing they will want are our vaccination certificates." I went through the hoops and downloaded mine. I took it with me. 

"C... do you want our vaccination certificates yet?" I asked the secretary-receptionist. 

"Oooh if you already have it that would be great." 

I passed it over and a few minutes later she gave me a small card to replace it. I prowled off down the long passage to see the Senior Cat and told him. He approved. We sorted out some action on the mail. His mind went back to the small card.

"I wonder if one card will do or whether you might need more than one?"

"I don't know but I'll have the certificate and my proof of age card," I told him. (A proof of age card has a photo on it. I have one because I don't have a licence to drive.) 

It was a thought though. I went around to the group house and one of the care staff let me in. I showed A... the card I had been given.

"They should do right across the system," she told me."The rest of us need something like that."

And then, late yesterday afternoon, I went to drop off a pullover I had mended to someone in another nursing home. There was nobody in reception although I could hear voices in the office. I signed in and delivered the pullover before extracting myself - with some difficulty - from those who wanted me to stay and chat. 

V... was back at her desk. "Hi Cat. I knew you were here. We are going to need vaccination certificates from next Monday."

I produced mine and the card. She took a copy of both and said, "I was just talking to the boss. That card will do here."

Thank goodness for that - but I was beginning to wonder whether I would need to carry a forest load of cards around. 

Tuesday 7 December 2021

Harry the Dirty Dog is on the nose

or so it would seem. 

If you are not a reader of children's picture books (I happen to like reading them) or you have never come across young children you probably don't know "Harry the Dirty Dog" by Gene Zion. 

It was published back in 1956. My brother was given the book as a Christmas present that year. It is still available over sixty years later. I gave a copy of it to the Whirlwind when she was small. She wanted me to read it to her over and over again. 

It is a simple story of a dog who decides he does not want a bath. He hides the scrubbing brush and runs off. He gets dirtier and dirtier but has fun while he is doing it. Eventually though he decides to go home because he thinks his family might be missing him. He is so dirty they don't recognise him even though he does all his usual tricks for them. He has to go and dig the scrubbing brush out of the hole he has hidden it in and go to the bathroom and demand a bath before he is accepted as Harry again. There is a lot which can be said about the story. A lot can also be said about why it is so popular with children.

But apparently it has a "gendered pronoun" throughout the book - the dreaded "he"  - and that, along with men in "traditional roles", no longer makes it an acceptable book to read to children. The reason? It and too many books like it "lower the self esteem of girls". These books apparently have a long term effect on their "gender development". 

I am all for diversity in children's literature and some of the recent children's literature is certainly more inclusive. I see that as a positive but does that trend mean that we also deny children their glee at Harry realising he needs a bath? 

One of the books I was given as a small child was "The story about Ping" by Marjorie Flack. There is corporal punishment in that story - the last duck onto the boat gets a whack. I always felt that was wrong. What was wrong to me was not the corporal punishment itself but the reason for it - for being last. 

Ping's story did not make me grow up approving of corporal punishment. I am (strongly) opposed to it. I grew up believing it was simply not fair to be punished for being last. Someone has to be last. I am more opposed to the idea that "every child should get a prize". It is a philosophy that does nothing to encourage anyone. I remember telling a young girl that she had done something well. Her response was that it "wasn't good". I explained it was "good" for her - and why. Without the explanation my praise would have been meaningless.   Children know whether they have done well or not.

Children don't look on books like "Harry the Dirty Dog" as sexist or "The story about Ping" as being about corporal punishment. For them they are about getting dirty and needing a bath whether you want one or nor and about getting lost and then finding your family again.

Do we really want children to grow up in a colourless "gender neutral" society? Is removing "gendered pronouns" from books for young children or demanding that only certain types of books be made available really going to serve any purpose? Wouldn't it be better to use "Harry" as a story about having fun getting dirty and then having more fun in the bath? There is the chance of an important health and hygiene lesson there.

Of course we could remove these books and a hundred others like them from the library shelves but is that really doing children a service?


Monday 6 December 2021

There is to be an inquiry into the ambulance service

and there is a call for submissions from the public.

I am tempted to write one - in support of ambulance officers. It is a lousy, rotten sort of job. It is not something I would ever have contemplated doing even if I had thought I could do it.

Think about it. You are almost constantly dealing with a negative, the injured, the sick, and the dying. You get abused by drunks and drug addicts. Angry, frightened people lash out at you. Your clothes get covered in blood, vomit, and worse.

We have called on the ambulance service more than once in this family. Middle Cat's life was almost certainly saved by the ambulance officers who broke all speed limits to get her from one hospital to another. 

In the bathroom one morning the Senior Cat fainted and fell backwards leaving a 4cm crack in his skull. What seemed like litres of blood came pouring out. There weren't of course but head injuries can seem like that.  I had pressed his emergency alarm and the ambulance arrived within minutes. We were fortunate that an empty ambulance heading back to base so that the officers could go off duty was available. They stayed on duty and we did the hair raising trip  - sometimes on the wrong side of the road - in peak hour traffic with the siren blaring. Throughout the two female officers were outwardly calm towards the Senior Cat even when they had conveyed their concern to me.  How did they do it?

They were very apologetic when, once inside the hospital, they had to leave me. "Just keep asking the same questions. Keep him awake. He will be all right."

Days later one of those ambulance officers saw me in the car park of our local shopping centre. She had been picking up some lunch but called out to me, "Hello, how's your dad doing?" - and she wanted to know. I was glad I could give her good news, good for us but also good for her. How many people had she seen in between? She could still recognise not just the patient but the anxious family member who had travelled with them. 

We called the ambulance service again in the middle of the night when he was on the floor. I couldn't lift him of course. He didn't think he had hurt himself but I was not sure. They were not sure either so it was off to hospital again. "Go and put something warm on. We'll get him into the ambulance. Don't forget your keys and your purse, " one of them told me. That time the officer in the back talked to him about the far off place that had been the location of the Senior Cat's first school - and where the officer had just taken his children camping. All this was designed to make us feel more comfortable and the Senior Cat less anxious and embarrassed. 

When I was teaching I watched more than one of the children I was working with be taken off to hospital with a serious epileptic seizure. In one school we handled many seizures ourselves in one school but it wasn't always possible. The ambulance based at the fire station down the road would be there within minutes - always outwardly calm. It was only some years later that they admitted to me they found it as distressing as we did.

The hours are lousy and the pay is too. These people really are saving lives. Sometimes it can be good of the day they were transporting an elderly man from one hospital to another and were diverted to pick me up. I was called in to do an emergency communication support task. (The elderly man was lovely, joking about having a "pretty escort". ) Once at the hospital they made sure I knew where to go  - another little bit extra.

Our ambulance service is very expensive to access. The Senior Cat has ambulance cover. I have two trips available on my health cover. If I use them then I will get ambulance cover too. In the meantime I will be writing a submission to the inquiry telling them that more staff are needed because so many of these people are doing more than their job demands - much more. 

Sunday 5 December 2021

Flower seedlings or flower seeds?

I am no gardener. Our garden was one of the Senior Cat's pleasures. He was an enthusiastic "organic" gardener. The garden was untidy in the sort of way that also says "productive". We ate tomatoes, carrots, beans, peas, spinach, pumpkin, lettuce, and other things he had grown. As he grew older and less able to dig he got help in the form of the man who did the gardening at the church and at the cathedral. S.... still comes in. He keeps the place in some sort of order. Between us we try to do the things that need to be done.

The soil out there was dreadful when we first came. Now S... tells me it is some of the best soil he has worked with. It is a shame  but I just don't have the time to spend out there. Middle Cat would come and use the space but she doesn't have the time (or the energy) either.

I have put in a single tomato plant this year. It seems to be quite happy. Perhaps this is because I remember to water it and I "talk" nicely to it. The lavender bush by the clothesline got a severe haircut this year and now the bees are busy grooming it. We have lemons and far too many cumquats that nobody wants. (No, I do NOT do brandied cumquats and my friend R... who did has gone to live in another state.) 

There are planter boxes along the front of the house. The Senior Cat would put things in them that he liked. It didn't matter to him that there was no sort of order in all this. He put in pansies, petunias, lobelia, and other things. I did suggest that the sweet peas might need a trellis but, apart from that, I left him to it.  This year I put in purple petunias, white petunias after the pansies were finished.  I bought seedlings because nothing would have happened without that.

But earlier in the year I found a packet of mixed flower seeds. They were not the sort of mixed seeds you get from the garden shelf in the supermarket. They came from a reputable company interstate. I remember them coming as a "gift" with an order the Senior Cat had made. He had never used the seeds. The label suggested they needed to be used this year. 

I flung them across the side patch and thought, "If any of them grow that will be nice but I am not expecting it."

Perhaps because I did not expect it some strange things have happened.  There have been flowers there...poppies first and then other things - some I don't recognise. I found some hearts ease sneaking up on me a couple of weeks ago. There was a viola watching me too. And now there are some wonderful blue cornflowers playing there. They all seem to be getting on very well with one another. 

I think I will leave them to it for now. They don't need any help from me apart from a little water now and then. It says a lot about the soil the Senior Cat nurtured - and how seeds grow. I am not sure I really need seedlings. 

Saturday 4 December 2021

"Connection to country"

is something held to be important by members of the indigenous community. We hear a lot about it in the media and in other places. I have absolutely no doubt that, for some, it is a matter of vital importance. 

I have no doubt that their relationship with the land on which they live is as vital a part of their life as breathing. It is there around them as something which is alive, which is part of them. And there are others who take advantage of that.  

I was talking to M... yesterday. M... is an indigenous friend. I have mentioned him here before. His mother, R..., was like a second mother to me. I mentioned her just a few days ago. 

M... was telling me what he thought his mother's reaction would be to a family's claim for compensation for the death in custody of a family member. He committed suicide.

"Mum would have told them they need to ask themselves why he was there in the first place," M... told me.

M... has never been in trouble with the law. He was, inevitably perhaps, stopped by the police a couple of times when he was in teens. He gave them his name and address, told them where he was going (or where he had been) and that was it. There was no reason to do more because he was not doing anything he should not have been doing.  In his thirties he was given a ride home in a police car one night - after they had asked him to come in and he had spent hours with them trying to sort out a messy situation. He has never had a speeding ticket but he has had more parking tickets than he would like. M... is not perfect but his relationship with the law is excellent.

He has lost count of the number of times he has been to court because one of the "young idiots" has been doing the wrong thing. "That's it Cat. They don't get to go to court if they are behaving. So, what are they doing to get there?"

He is well aware of the higher rate - the far too high rate - of indigenous incarceration in this country. I am too. There are actually many reasons for it but what lies behind it is the fact that people are breaking the law. They do so out of anger, resentment, boredom, a lack of belief in themselves and more. R....fought this sort of thing for years. M.... has gone on doing it and I admire him for not giving up.

His reaction to a $4.5m claim for compensation by a family for a loss of connection to country through the death of an "elder" was perhaps predictable. It could have been avoided if that person - some would call him a "victim" - had not broken the law.

Although much has been made of it the actual rate of deaths in custody among those who claim indigenous heritage is statistically no higher than it is in the rest of the population. It is actually slightly lower, 35% indigenous to 39.7% of the rest in custody in 2020. Despite this these deaths have been the subject of more than one inquiry. It was right to hold those inquiries but the answers lie elsewhere. 

After M... had talked to me about the other reasons for his call I thought about his response. I think he was right about what his mother would say. It is something that can however be said about so many situations. We need to take responsibility for ourselves but it is so much easier to blame someone else when things go wrong.