Sunday 31 January 2021

Wash your hands please!

Our Chief Medical Officer is expressing concern that some, perhaps most, people seem to think that "hand sanitiser" is a substitute for washing your hands.

It isn't.

It isn't.

It isn't.

I hope I won't need to repeat that. I have been in and out of hospitals (visiting) too many times to not know the difference. I use hand sanitiser there - more often than I like. It is automatic by now. 

I do it even though the alcohol in the sanitiser makes me want to scratch my paws - and using the sort with ingredients designed to keep your skin moist is not the answer to my problem. But, using it is not going to kill me - not using it might. I use it.

It is not a substitute for giving my paws a thorough wash with soap and water. Sanitiser does not get rid of the dirt - think about it. How could it? But it still works.

Our local supermarkets provide sanitiser - and wipes for the trolleys. Supermarket trolleys and the press buttons on pedestrian traffic lights, stop-call bells on buses, handles on doors (that don't open automatically), coins and more. They all need to be sanitised because they can't realistically be washed. We need to use sanitiser when we can't wash our hands and, if available, after we have washed our hands in a public facility. I have taken a small number of wipes with me (in a sealed sandwich bag) when I go to places like a craft fair.  Let's face it - how many other people have used the door handles and more? 

But people are getting careless again. I have observed people going in and out of the supermarket.They aren't using the QR code or signing in. They just go in. They don't use the hand sanitiser. 

I am just as bad in a sense. I need to upgrade the phone I am using so that it can scan a QR code but I am signing in - despite the problems it presents me. I am using the sanitiser and the trolley wipes. I use the sanitiser provided elsewhere too.

And I am still washing my paws. I am not obsessive about this. I am simply being careful. I don't want to become ill - and I don't want anyone else to become ill because of me. Of course we need to build up a certain resistance as well - but there are times and  places for that.

I really don't envy the Chief Medical Officer. She has an almost impossible task trying to convince people that there really is an army of germs just waiting to invade us all. 

Saturday 30 January 2021

Providing accurate news coverage

may be a thing of the past. I really don't know. I acknowledge that I may be mistaken but I thought that "news" was supposed to inform people. I also thought that it was, at least in our society, supposed to do so as accurately as possible.

I know that some of the news on television is pre-recorded, that people are on stand by only if something really important comes up.  How important does it have to be?

I really would have thought that giving people accurate information about vaccination against the Covid19 virus fell into the category of "important", important enough to get your facts right and deliver them to your audience. Instead of that one of our news services provided some information that has been discredited many hours earlier. It was as good as saying to older people, "Don't bother to get vaccinated. It isn't going to help you."

And it all started out because an otherwise quite reputable German newspaper printed a piece claiming that one of the vaccines was only 8% effective in older patients. The journalist writing the piece claimed to have the information from "unnamed sources". Alarm bells were ringing so loudly in my ears I was having difficulty in thinking  how to counter what was obviously nonsense. How on earth did that story slip through the editorial net?  Have people not managed to learn anything from the harm done by Andrew Wakefield's claims about a relationship between vaccination and autism? 

That lead story last night should have been pulled. It should not have been aired. Retracting it later is too late. People tend to believe what they first hear, not what they subsequently hear. 

We are already going to have problems enough around delivering a vaccine nationwide, let alone beyond that to the people who need it most. The production and acquisition problems are just a start. There are also the logistics of administration and delivery. And of course there will be those who want to disrupt all this, those who oppose all forms of vaccination. Add to them the morally bankrupt criminals who see it as a means of control and making money.

By the time I had found the relevant contact the story had come and gone. It is unlikely they would have listened anyway. I just have to hope that the harm done will be reduced by subsequent and more responsible reporting.  

Friday 29 January 2021

Not for the "over 65's"?

It seems that the European Union is not happy with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. They can't get enough of it. They don't think it is suitable for people over 65. They think the UK is being "selfish" keeping so many doses for itself.  Apparently they also need to inspect the factories at which the vaccine is being made because of "production issues" and "supply problems".

At one point last year the researchers were actually working together.

They were sharing ideas, ongoing data, and the results. Other people thought finding a vaccine was going to be the answer to the problems the virus was causing. It isn't of course. My aunt worked at a university for many years. She lectured in the school of pharmacy. Vaccines are not her specialist field but she does know something about them, more than most people. She never looked on a vaccine as a magic bullet.

We will have to learn to live with the virus. When I am offered the opportunity I will, like my aunt, take advantage of the vaccine - as part protection. My hope is that, should I be unfortunate enough to become ill with the virus, vaccination will mean I won't die from the virus. 

I am also aware that enough other people need to be vaccinated for me to be protected in another way. A good take up of the vaccine will make it much more difficult for the virus to spread rapidly and severely.

So yes, I want that jab. A lot of people want that jab. If there aren't enough doses of that jab then who should get it first and who should pay for it?

And that of course is the problem. Ideally we should all be close to the top of the queue for the jab. Paying for it is another issue. My income is not very high but if someone told me I had to pay for the jab I would willingly do so. It would be the responsible thing to do.

Why? Because it would also help to pay for someone else to have the jab, hopefully for it to go to someone who has no hope of affording it for themselves.  We might not eradicate the virus but if we can vaccinate enough people we can perhaps learn to live with it. Vaccinating enough people means vaccinating billions, not millions. It means reaching everyone we possibly can - even in the parts of the world which are the most difficult to reach and where people are so poor they have no chance of paying for it themselves.

And this is what makes me so angry about the EU's stance right now. Yes, they have a problem. We all have a problem. The UK has a bigger problem than the EU. It is a tiny, overcrowded country that has taken in more than its fair share of migrants and refugees. The UK's scientists have researched and developed a vaccine. Now they are trying to produce it. That's not good enough for some in the EU though. They are now saying "don't give it to the over-65's" but they still want the number of doses they were promised. 

I might be wrong but I can't help wondering whether this is just a ploy to get more doses for use in the EU.   

Thursday 28 January 2021

"Coon cheese"

did actually exist - until recently.

Let me explain. It was a brand of cheese in Downunder. It has been a brand of cheese for many, many years - almost a hundred. Edward William Coon developed a particular method of making cheese in 1926 and named it after himself.

"Coon" is quite a common surname in and around Ayrshire in Scotland. (It is related to surnames like Cunningham.) There are people here in Downunder who also have that surname. I don't doubt that there are also people in other parts of the world with that surname.

I also know that, in the United States, "coon" is considered a highly offensive term when used in relation to a person of a particular background. It is apparently also used as a shortened version of "raccoon".  Neither the offensive term or the animal is heard or seen in this country. 

Despite that someone decided that there needed to be a change of name. The cheese could no longer be "Coon". I have no idea who that was but they soon had others agitating for a change as well. Maybe it was the right thing to do. Maybe it was not the right thing to do. I am simply aware that it has happened. 

I am also aware that a good many other people are not happy about the name change. The cheese has now been given the name "Cheery" instead. It has left many people scratching their heads. Youngest Nephew, who knows a good deal about advertising and how it is sold, is not at all certain the name will work.  My guess is that it will last a few years and then there will, if the company survives, be another name change. 

All this will be expensive. It is something people give very little thought to in the general way of things. We are told, "Oh, it's just a simple change" or "It will be easy/quick/simple to change that." All too often that is far from the truth. 

The company behind this name change will have to spend a considerable amount on advertising the name change. That's just one thing however. They also need to repackage their brand. They need to change any future reference to it in their system. At the same time they have to make sure they can still find all past references to it  - under the old name - and then locate them there and in the future. Stationery may need to change. Staff need to trained to use the new term. It's an expensive business.

When governments "change brands" there is always expense involved. Letterhead is the least of the expense involved. It is the price we pay for "democracy" and most people are prepared to accept this - especially when "their" side comes into power again. 

There are other times when we change brands or have brand changes foisted upon us. The cost of these can sometimes - but not always - be justified. Sometimes there are other ways of doing things. Downunder became a completely independent nation with two simultaneous Acts of Parliament. It cost far less than the "republic" others still demand because they refuse to acknowledge reality. There are other occasions on which no change is necessary even if the internal structure has changed. Someone once suggested that, at the time of a group moving to "charitable" status the name should be changed. I remember a member getting up and asking why would this be considered. People knew "the brand". Moving to "charitable status" meant that donations to it would become tax deductible. Donations were needed and were more likely to be given if the group retained the name. There are still people who agitate for a name change but, for once, sense prevailed and things were left as they were. A name change would have been very costly.

We pay for name changes in the end - through higher prices and lower services. It isn't always for the best. 


Wednesday 27 January 2021

The first day of school

is upon us. The shopping centre will now be full of grandparents who, having now dropped their grandchildren at school, are doing the essential shopping for "after-school" snacks. Some of them might be lucky enough to be able to enjoy a little bit of quiet "down time" over a cup of coffee with friends - even if they have to keep watch on toddlers at the same time. 

I was talking to some grandparents yesterday. They were watching their grandchildren tearing up and down our short and, thankfully, quiet street. The Christmas bicycles and scooters were getting a work out. The parents of two of the children had gone off to a "work" barbecue. 

"They didn't want to take the kids because of the alcohol," the grandfather told me resignedly. I could see he thought it was just another excuse to leave the children with their grandparents. The grandparents have had to care for them right through the long summer holiday from school. They had to care for them and their home-schooling through the worst of the pandemic situation last year too. "Granny" was once a teacher. It was assumed she could cope even though she has not been well. 

I wonder how many other parents left their children with grandparents and went off to a holiday barbecue event? I suspect there were quite a few. There were far too many children who were simply handed over to their grandparents for the entire summer. "Out of school hours" care ("OSH") was available but grandparents come free. They will be used if available. 

It is difficult not to make yourself available. Our mother made herself available for Middle Cat because Middle Cat's MIL, like the good Cypriot-Greek woman she was, saw it as her duty to care for the grandchildren.  Our mother had just two small boys to be concerned about. P.... would sometimes have all her nine grandchildren in the house - and then their parents would come in at the end of the working day for a meal. Middle Cat was never happy about this. It didn't seem right to her even though P.... insisted it was. But our mother looking after the two boys? Well, "Mum used to be a school  principal. She knows how to.... " 

The Senior Cat did help. He would still teach small children how to bang in a nail out in the shed if he could. Still he admitted to me quite recently that "all that child minding meant your mother and I didn't do the things we had planned and we didn't spend enough time together". 

And that is true of so many grandparents now. The "retirement" they looked forward to no longer exists. They take on a new role as "carers" - carers of not just their grandchildren but their children (do the washing, the ironing, cook an evening meal, shop for basics, buy new schools, take the car in for a service and more). On top of that some of them also have parents to care for or, at very least, be concerned for as they reach extreme old age. 

The paediatrician and her husband who live across the road come from another part of the world. They have no close relatives here. They cannot rely on anyone else to care for their children. They know they can call on me in an emergency. I don't doubt that the grandparents who care for the two children next door would help as well. 

Both these people work. M.... works from home when he can. If he can't and S.... is working they pay for child-minding. They have a regular person they can call on. The boys like her and she will come to them until the younger of the two starts school next year. She is young and active and will finish her own training at the end of the year too. Yes, it has worked out well but it has been work too - work finding the right person and work being involved in what activities she will do with the boys. They don't get spoiled by her - "She's just like Mummy and never lets us...." 

It's harder for grandparents, especially when their children have different ideas about how children should be brought up. The grandfather in question went off to help a wobbling new rider and the grandmother turned to me,

"I'll be so glad to see them back at school tomorrow. I love them but it gets a bit much at times."

She held up the extra paper and cardboard I had just given her. There  were instructions in there for a couple of paper and cardboard toys as well.

"Thanks for this. I'd better go and get a meal started. With any luck they will be ready to settle down to this for a little while and I can get their things ready for tomorrow."

I couldn't help thinking their mother should have been doing that. It is their grandparents who will be taking them to school today. 

Tuesday 26 January 2021

National holidays

are acknowledged for all sorts of reasons. It is Downunder's "national" day today. Most people take the opportunity to have the day away from work. They often take the opportunity to relax with friends. Christmas has been for family. New Year is a mix between the two. Others use it as a day of "protest". 

Those protesting it as "invasion" day will get a great deal of media coverage but they are far from being in the majority. According to the research done by organisations like Morgan-Gallup or Ipsos they would lose a referendum on the issue. (We have lost far more referenda than we have approved over the years.) Divisions on this issue run deep.  Ipsos found that only 28% of people would support a change of date. It is possibly even lower than that as it is the sort of issue where people will say they support something when asked. They do this because it is the "politically correct" answer, not because it is what they really believe or support. 

My own feeling is that it would perhaps be wise to not have any sort of national holiday. Whenever we "celebrate" such a thing some people are going to object. It will be used in an attempt to stir up "nationalist" feelings. I have never felt very strongly about being a Downunderite - and the feeling has only lessened over the years. As a kitten at school I never felt comfortable about "saluting the flag" and saying "I love my country". I'd squirm if I was expected to do that now. Yes, I know this is not "normal".

Out of curiosity I looked to see if there were any other countries celebrating their "national days" today. I thought it was unlikely. If there was one I  was unaware of it. And no, it seems there isn't. There isn't one tomorrow either but it is International Holocaust Remembrance Day (the 27th). That seems worthy of some quiet reflection on my part. 

Today I will just get on with things that need to be done instead.


Monday 25 January 2021

Moderating the news

is becoming censorship of our views.

There is a piece in this morning's state newspaper. It has been written by the President of the Law Society and, in it, she expresses her views about the removal of the right to comment on social media.

She, rightly, points out that there is no "right" to "free speech" in Downunder. Such a right really doesn't exist anywhere. It would allow an incitement to violence and that is simply unacceptable.

But that is not the way in which moderation of the news and our views is being done. We are increasingly finding that it is "wrong" and "unacceptable" to hold certain views. These are views that were once acceptable, indeed in some cases, those were the legislated views. 

When I was very young same sex relationships were held to be "wrong". There were penalties imposed for the crime of living together. People went to prison.That is no longer the case.  Now it is held to be "wrong" to oppose same sex marriages. To even state your opposition can lead to penalties. 

There are plenty of similar issues that can cause the same sort of difficulties - sex, gender, religion, race, vaccination, refugees, climate change and more all lead to heated "debate". The problem is that there is no real debate about these issues. We need debate, real debate. There are strongly held views but all too often only one side is considered to be "correct". Balanced information is not being disseminated because one side has control of the issue. "We are right. You are wrong." 

If you want to change people's opinions it is important to withhold information. It is still very difficult to do but "Moderation" by the media can help. Sites which allow "comment" are usually moderated. People believe that this allows fair and reasonable comments to be made in a civilised way. The reality however is very different. It really allows control of a debate. It prevents "unacceptable" views gaining any sort of following. Anyone who holds an unacceptable view will find their comments either not being "approved" or, if approved, then they are subjected to a flood of disapproving comments.

We are being told that all this is for our own good, that it does not allow the worst of human nature to be freely displayed on social media pages or in the media itself.  Perhaps that is true but it is also reducing our capacity to think for ourselves.


Sunday 24 January 2021

Oh dear, the "Honours" list

is causing controversy again. 

Who gets a gong on the list is not supposed to be known until the actual day - which will be Tuesday. That has not stopped someone "leaking" information. 

Presumably they did it because they disagree with a decision. It has certainly been controversial - and probably will continue to be. A former tennis star has been awarded the highest possible honour under the system. This is despite her "views" on things like "same sex marriage" and "LGBTQIA"community.

It matters not that this woman has done an enormous amount for the tennis world. She is being ridiculed for being a pastor in a "fundamentalist" church, running an outreach program from it for people in need and holding views with which others do not agree. 

And, of course, we get these same people saying "the Prime Minister supports this because he belongs to a fundamentalist church" and "the Prime Minister should not have allowed this to happen". The fact that the PM has nothing whatsoever to do with these awards is ignored by those who wish to make their point. (They are made by a committee which reviews nominations from anyone who cares to make one. The committee is responsible to the Governor-General.)

My own view is that we should stop awarding honours of this nature to people for their sporting prowess. If they do something remarkable outside that field then they can be considered in the same way as anyone else. We should also stop awarding honours to the rich and powerful for simply being rich and powerful. Again, if they do something remarkable outside that field then they should be able to be considered in the same way as anyone else.

I know people who deserve recognition who will never get it. They simply get on with the job. There's a man who has given up between fifteen and twenty hours a week for the last thirty or so years to work with former prisoners. He tutors them in literacy skills in the belief that, if they have those skills, they are less likely to return to a life of crime. Yes, it does work up to a point. He's had many disappointments along the way but he keeps at it. He's never going to get a "gong" for what he does. He doesn't belong to a formal organisation. 

There's a woman I know who has, through her church, taken in many refugees over the years. They stay long enough for her to help them sort out accommodation and other basics. The cost to her has been enormous and, at 84, she is growing tired. How nice it would be to reward her efforts but it isn't going to happen. Her church won't support her nomination for an award because "it isn't our policy to do that sort of thing".  

We should not be giving additional rewards to people for simply doing their jobs but for people like this who are doing something extra.  I am sure the Committee which makes the awards would like more nominations like that but making a nomination is a lot of work. There will be someone on the list on Tuesday. I was peripherally involved in making the nomination and I know how much work went into finding referees, talking to them and getting them to agree to being part of the process. It must be much easier when someone is already a public figure and their achievements are obvious to all.

We could just abolish the system altogether but that's unlikely. People do need recognition sometimes, something a little more than a brief, "thanks".

Changing the way the honours are awarded might be a good start.  

Saturday 23 January 2021

Should Google pay for news?

I won't actually try and answer that question. It's a complex one. In theory you should pay for what you use. It is also true that most people will always attempt to search for something which is "free" or, at very least, the least expensive. 

This is particularly true of "news" which comes and goes at such speed. That makes me much more concerned about what might happen if Google decides to reduce the amount of news Downunderites can access. 

Google has reportedly already agreed to pay authorities in France for news content. It would be interesting to know if the French are now getting the same news services they were before this happened. My guess is that they are not. It will have been subtle. People will not have noticed a difference but if Google is paying then they will choose and they may choose less. Their influence may become greater rather than less.  

Not paying? Put up anything that comes your way. Paying? Then pick and choose what you pay for. 

A lot of news is already behind a pay wall. The mainstream media has been an enormous beneficiary of the internet. They depend on search engines to send readers their way. The "fake news media" has also been an enormous beneficiary. They also depend on search engines to send readers their way.  

Media giants, like Newscorp and Time-Warner, have already chosen what we will see and how we will see it. In Downunder the government funds the "ABC" and "SBS".  The first is supposed to provide a "balanced" news service about both local and international affairs. The second, the "SBS", is short for "Special Broadcasting Service". It is supposed to concentrate on multi-cultural and international content and also to do it in a "balanced" way. Debate rages about whether that "balance" actually exists in either organisation.  

I get news from many sources. Some of it comes from people in the middle of the situation being reported. What they say is often very different from what is said in the media. That's understandable for many reasons - not least of them time, resources, local understanding, other available information, personal bias and much more.  These people don't have a big media boss to please, nor do they have to be concerned about international diplomacy. They are attempting to deal in what they believe to be the facts.  Despite that bias still exists.

My personal view is that "balance" does not exist anywhere.We are short-changed where news is concerned. Asking the media giants to pay is unlikely to change that.

Friday 22 January 2021

The "cancel culture"

is at it again - this time in the world of cricket. They have decided "in consultation with indigenous leaders" the January 26th should no longer be acknowledged by them as our national holiday. I wonder what Americans would do if their football or baseball organisations said the same of the 4th of July?

There can be few actions designed to be more divisive than this sort of thing.  It does exactly the reverse of what it purports to do. There is nothing "healing" about it. Such actions encourage people to feel that there is still good cause to feel bitter and angry about past events over which we had no control.

We need a serious debate in this country about the word "indigenous" - it actually means that something occurs naturally in a particular place. Should it then apply to everyone according to where they are born? It doesn't of course. I was born here but I am not considered to be "indigenous". My ancestors came from Scotland. Conveniently for the authorities I am not considered to be Scottish either. Apparently I am not anything at all. 

Curiously though someone with a single "indigenous" great-great grandparent is considered to be "indigenous". Such a person could have fifteen great-great grandparents born outside the country and yet still be considered "indigenous". People will search for any evidence they might be "indigenous".

My friend M.... is quite definitely considered to be "indigenous". He would immediately be marked out as such by his appearance. Unlike those "activists" wanting to mark "Invasion Day" though he is celebrating our national day by visiting his sister and her family. "We'll be throwing a few snags on the new barbecue," he told me when he asked me to "write something for the blog Cat". Like me he sees the "cancel culture" activism as being divisive and harmful.

In recent years there have been moves at meetings and other gatherings to "acknowledge" that "we are meeting on....(name the tribe) land". It will be done even when there are no "indigenous" people present. Their leaders "past and present" are also "acknowledged" in this way.

There are differing views about this. Those who support the making of such statements are often passionate about it. They find it puzzling that anyone should feel uncomfortable about it. Others find it very uncomfortable indeed.  And some of those who find it uncomfortable are the very people others believe they are acknowledging. 

I was at a meeting recently where an acknowledgment took place at the beginning of the meeting. As the meeting was called to order two people left the room. When the acknowledgment had been spoken they returned. It was done quietly and I suspect most people in the room did not know why they had left the room. Both of them had told me of their intentions. They are obviously "indigenous" and they find such acknowledgments embarrassing and demeaning.

"It makes us feel different. It's as if they are saying we don't belong. It isn't what we want but what they want," one of them told me. 

The other told me, "It's more of that politically correct nonsense Cat and I don't want any part of it."

I have no idea what the answer is to these issues. Such an acknowledgment is always made at meetings of one group I belong to. It was begun without discussion of whether it should take place. Had a discussion taken place it would have been rejected, not because of any "racist" views but because of the location in which the meeting is held. If you must do it then at least acknowledge the correct tribe. Saying something has made no difference. An "executive" decision was made and that has been it.

It is the inability to do this sort of thing in correct and sensitive way at the appropriate time which has done more harm than good. It has become formulaic, something which just has to be gabbled through each time. Resentment is replacing reason. Any meaning has been lost.

Thursday 21 January 2021

Making a medical appointment

is not something I do lightly. Doctors are busy people. I only bother them if I feel the need to do just that or if they tell me  I need to make another appointment. 

Yes, at my age I have a few issues - nothing too serious. I have a nephew who is a doctor and Middle Cat was a physiotherapist. Where I currently live there is a paediatrician who lives directly opposite who has said, "Cat, if you need some help,  call me." 

Unlike many such offers I know she actually means it because the reverse is also true. I am their on-call emergency child minder. 

But last night Middle Cat phoned me and said, "Are you aware you have an appointment with the clinic nurse tomorrow?" 

What?????? No. The "reminder" message had gone through to her after the clinic was closed for the day. Apparently I am supposed to see the clinic nurse for a "routine check up" today. 

It is too late to cancel the appointment. I will be charged if I don't attend even though I have not made the appointment. The further information given Middle Cat was that this was happening for everyone my age and older. It is news to me, news to Middle Cat and will undoubtedly be news to many other people.  Middle Cat will need to take me there as pedalling for half an hour in 40'C heat is not wise - and then pedalling home again for another half hour!

I went through a similar experience several years ago - before I had reached the age where such things are considered necessary. I know people in their 80's and 90's who are required to attend such things but I am not in that age group yet.  The first time I told them that I did not want to do it again. The nurse I saw was abrupt and told me I was overweight - although my GP makes me look severely anorexic - and that I was not getting enough exercise. She wanted me to attend an exercise class and go to a dietician.

I refused to do either. I know people who attend the exercise class. It is one of those "sit on a chair and lift your arms above your head classes". Middle Cat knows it too and is not impressed. I really do get more exercise than most people my age. It's not imagination on my part. Almost every day I get at least a half an hour of exercise alone by riding the tricycle. My diet may be a little light on red meat - I prefer not to eat it - but it includes a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit and healthy forms of protein. I eat whole grain bread by choice and my other choices are, for the most part, healthy. I did talk to a dietician once. I was not aware of her  occupation when I was talking to her. We were in a group and we were discussing eating habits. I remember her turning to me and saying, "I wish more of my clients ate that way."

I will have to keep the appointment and I know that the same things are likely to happen again. Why? Because both the nurse and my GP are looking to provide referrals to people like the exercise physiologist, the dietician and a range of other people seeking new clients. It is particularly so right now when people working in allied health have been impacted by the pandemic. 

But, if they want people to cooperate, dictating when and how we do it is not the best way to do it. Middle Cat and my nephew and the paediatrician across the road are all watching out for me. 

Wednesday 20 January 2021

Three tiers of government

is too much. Downunder is one of the most over-governed and inefficiently governed countries in the world. 

We have three tiers of government. There is the federal government, there are state governments and there are local councils. My state has 68 local councils for a population of just under 1.8 million people.

Slightly ridiculous? Yes.  The Lord Mayor has a piece in the paper this morning saying this - and I have to agree with her. 

Some years ago we had even more local councils but some of them managed to amalgamate - not without argument but it did happen. There have been some changes as a result.

It needs to happen again. This is the least that needs to happen. Our council area is one that has two distinct areas. There is the "plains" area where I live and the "hills" area. The plains area could easily amalgamate with a neighbouring council here. The hills area could easily amalgamate with another up there. We would be rid of at least one council - and rid of many arguments as well. Our current mayor belongs to the hills faction and, naturally, supports that. The previous mayor was a plains man who did try to be even-handed but he was fighting a losing battle.

There are other places with similar problems. The councils, our "local government", are not efficient. There are a great many concerns about corruption. (Want to build "that"? Want to build it "there"? It will cost you...) My uncle, my mother's brother, fought them long and hard over a corruption issue related to building.  He died leaving the issue unresolved. It still isn't resolved years later. 

We really need to be rid of one level of government. We need a federal government. The powers it has under the constitution are not powers that state or local governments have - or are ever likely to have. 

And we do need some sort of control over more local issues. What the pandemic has shown however is that the current situation needs to change. We should do away with both state and local government and move to what I would call regional government. These could be smaller than the states but bigger than the councils. They could have powers similar to the councils but answer to both the federal government and the people who elect them. It would be far more efficient. 

I hear screams of course. We can't do away with state governments! We need the councils! Those who love to be "involved" in politics would fight the suggestion tooth and nail.

Perhaps it is time for a letter to the editor? At least we could debate it.  

Tuesday 19 January 2021

Cancel the tennis


Those of you who know me well will also know that I take no interest in "sport". I get my physical exercise pushing the pedals on my tricycle. It is also my means of getting from A to B. I have never played any sport apart from "cricket" at a camp for children with disabilities. (It was my role to "bowl" the ball for the children who could not even do that. This was considered "fair" because I had similar problems to some of the other children who could throw a ball.)

Having now declared my interest, or lack of interest, in sport I will continue by saying that I find the amount some of the "top" players "earn" obscene. The way some are "bought" and "sold" in the sports marketplace is no better than the buying and selling of slaves in the Roman marketplace...or elsewhere. And being paid to "endorse" the goods of a company? Don't get me started on that one.

In the summer these people play tennis. Yes, I appreciate there is considerable physical skill involved. I would not want to "perform" in front of crowds of adoring and not so adoring fans. It must be dreadful to lose - and yes, we have seen some temper tantrums because of it. 

But this year should surely be different shouldn't it? Why are we bringing in people from overseas, people who do not need to be here, in the middle of a pandemic? Why are we allowing something like 1200 players and officials and support people to enter the country from places where the Covid19 virus is out of control? What is so urgent about a game of tennis that these people are willing to risk not only their own safety but the safety of an entire country by travelling here? 

Currently all the cases in this state are in quarantine. They are travellers returning from overseas. Quarantine is far from perfect and the virus has "escaped" into the community with devastating results.   Those using the virus as a political football and saying all residents of this country who are currently stuck overseas should be allowed home as soon as possible neatly avoid talking about that. Middle Cat's BIL nearly got stuck in Russia and did a fortnight's quarantine when he came back. He is lucky to be here. People who left it a few days before making inquiries are still stuck overseas and it may be months before they get here. It's hard on them, very hard. The problem however is that it is even harder on people here who have not been able to travel at all, not even to other parts of the country. Some have lost family and friends to the virus and might also be suffering the long term effects of the virus. 

I went to pick up a book from someone yesterday. She has serious long term health issues. Apart from hospital visits she has been nowhere for the past year. A tiny number of people have visited her but it has been done with great caution. She isn't very old. The young people of her generation are out and about and, all too often, ignoring the advice about social distancing and the rules about checking in. It has been really hard on her. It has been hard on four young people I know in a similar situation. All of them have been told they can't go back to university this year. It simply isn't safe. They may all have to rethink career plans if vaccination doesn't control the spread of the virus.  While they are very supportive of one another they are still missing out on the normal social activities that other young people enjoy. 

While they are in this position and getting almost no support the "tennis stars" are getting support - even those in strict quarantine are getting more support than these young people. Despite that they are making many complaints about the situation. Yes of course it is frustrating for them but is it  "unfair"? No. Other people need to be kept safe. They were advised about the potential risks of travel. I don't think they can really complain.

They really should have cancelled the tennis. If Downunder lost the right to host the "Grand Slam" too bad - and would that really have happened?  

Monday 18 January 2021

Going to school

was different back then.

Most of my Twitter feed is about work but there are a few friends and useful or interesting people who pop up with tweets from time to time. One of those is Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and other books. I like Joanne's occasional "Story time" tweets when she will tell a simple story in a series of tweets.

This morning there was a tweet from her, three small pictures and the words "indisputable proof that you went to school in England in the 70's". The pictures are of one of those wooden "vaulting horses", a piece of embroidery on square woven fabric - the name of which I cannot remember right now (it will come to me in the middle of the night) - and a "Wide Range Reader".

I looked at them and realised I saw these things when I was at school too - and I am somewhat older than Joanne Harris. 

I never used a vaulting horse of course. It is unlikely I could even have climbed on one. The only way I would have sat on one was if someone had picked me up and put me there. There was one in the city primary school I attended for several years. It was reserved for use by the boys. (Girls wore dresses and did not change for "gym"  which we called "PE" - "physical exercise".) The embroidery we did do - well I was made to try. I can remember the teacher threading the needle for me and the struggle I had getting bright red thread through the holes in the fabric - and the tears and the frustration. We won't go there. 

And then there was the "Reader". Every year we had a new "Reader". We started off with "Primer One" and Primer Two". I suspect there are still copies of those somewhere around this house. It is likely they are there somewhere with the Schonell readers (Dick and Dora, Nip and Fluff), the Janet and John books and the "Gay Way" series. (I hasten to add that the last were merely a series with rainbow coloured covers.) 

We went on to the Wide Range readers when we left the Infant school and went to Primary school. I remember the tedious lessons when we went around the room with each child reading a sentence each "out aloud". 

Of course I had read each book from cover to cover long before. The Senior Cat brought them home. He prepared lessons from them. He let me read them. I read most of them even before I began school. Once read I did not want to read them again. I considered them dull and boring. When we were reading them in class I usually had another book under the desk. I would read that until it was almost my turn. Then I would hastily find the place the rest of the class had reached, read my sentence and then return to my book. 

Now I realise it is likely that my teachers were well aware that I was not paying attention in these lessons. They probably let me get away with it in order not to have me causing trouble. 

They don't teach reading like that any more. It went out of fashion here many years ago. Both my parents were involved in what was called "The Reading Centre" - a resource for teachers which should have been kept as it contained a great deal of material on the teaching of reading and the tools to do it. My mother wrote some of the little books that took the place of the old readers - but she still taught my nephews to read using the old primers and the Schonell readers.  

T... across the road has been mastering the art of reading in the last two years. He has come home with many small books to read. They are quite different from those my generation and the next generation used. The subject matter is more up to date - they now have the environment, space, racial differences and vaccinations among the topics.  But T... still cannot spell (and the theory is that it doesn't matter because he will learn to do it over the next few years) and he has not been taught to write. I told him the other day when he was going to do a "b" for a "d" - "remember it is the drum before the drumstick". He looked blankly at me and I had to explain. He's smart and he likely won't forget again. J...,who lives next door, is going to need a bit more help. His parents are hoping I will show him again.

I wonder about all this. There are still arguments about the need or otherwise for "phonics" - I am in favour - and many other aspects of learning to read.  It's not easy for many children. I was one of the lucky ones. It just happened for me but I really need to spend a day at school finding out what they do teach now. 

Sunday 17 January 2021

Basic mathematics

must still be taught in schools but I wondered about this yesterday. On my way to the first knitting meeting of the year I stopped to pass on several things to a regular on my bike route. 

Her grandson was there. He's about fourteen and he was doing various things for her. He's one of those "good kids" who appears at her place on Saturday mornings "in case you need something done Gran".  

"You'll need twenty-seven of those at five metres each," his grandmother was saying as I went in.

The kid pulls out his phone and I know he is going to do the calculation on it so I say, "What she means is that you will need one hundred and thirty five metres."

He looked at me - and did the calculation on his phone.

"How did you know that?" he asked in disbelief.

"There's nothing smart about it - just a trick. Multiply by ten and divide by two. It works all the time."

He thought about it and then grinned at me, "Yeah, they should teach us stuff like that."

I know why they don't but then perhaps they should when students have reached an understanding of what "five" is? 

One of my statistics lecturers at university had the ability to do what people thought of as a sort of "party trick". She could multiply four figures by four figures "in her head". There was no trick involved. D.... simply used a system she had been taught by a man called Jakow Trachtenberg. He had been a prisoner of war and used his time in incarceration to develop a new way of working with numbers. D...had met him many years before she tried to teach me anything. She explained the method to the class one day but didn't actually teach us how it was done. What she did do was "remind" us of all sorts of ways doing basic mathematics.  

I don't do many mathematical calculations outside knitting and other craft and, of course, the shopping. There are still a few basic statistical tests I can apply but I have forgotten most of it. I have never needed it but, on the rare occasions that something like the need to multiply a larger number by five comes up, I can still do some things "in my head".  Perhaps we should teach those things?


Saturday 16 January 2021

Criticising other people

 is something we all do - even if we try not to do it. I don't mean the sort of criticism which we face when we write an essay or a book or create a work of art. That's part of everyday life. We can learn from it - if we have any sense - even if we don't like being criticised.  (Who does like being criticised?)

No, I am talking about something different. There is a culture of criticism. We have taken to criticising people and actions that have nothing to do with us. We can do it at a distance. We can do it in ways which does not allow the person being criticised to defend themselves. Social media makes it easy to do. 

The Downunder Prime Minister has come in for criticism for things like being on holiday during the most serious bush fire situation we have seen. He has also been ridiculed for being a "born again Christian" and much more. Yes, it is part of being a politician. We like to "forget" that he was always being updated on the situation, that his religious beliefs are surely his own affair, and that there are issues in which even a Prime Minister cannot interfere. 

He is now being criticised for not criticising the current President of the United States.  That he cannot do that is beside the point as far as the media is concerned. What they want is a full blown condemnation. The demands are coming even from senior journalists who know full well that it is not something a Prime Minister can do. These same journalists are criticising him for not condemning the way in which China has placed tariffs on so many goods from here. At the same time they have criticised him for suggesting that an investigation be made into the origins of Covid19. Apparently he is now to blame for the tariffs because he suggested an investigation be made. China took offence and saw it as criticism.

Now surely that should tell those demanding he criticise the current US President's actions that what they are asking for is dangerous? The PM was not suggesting that the Chinese leadership was responsible for the Covid19 outbreak. He did actually suggest that they were doing their best to contain it. What he was asking for was an investigation so that we can learn from it and reduce harm in the future. It was not criticism as such but politics has demanded it be taken that way. 

We have criticised previous Prime Ministers for "arrogance", their inability to speak Chinese properly, for divorcing their partners, for living in an unmarried state, for having an affair outside marriage, for volunteering, for being "opposed to same sex marriage", for remaining loyal to friends in trouble, for spending too much and for spending too little. Their actions "go viral" because they are conveniently seen as allegedly misogynist or racist. The list is endless. Taking action will get them criticised. Not taking action will also get them criticised.

But there are things I have no doubt Prime Ministers would very much like to say or do. There must be times when they want to lash out at those criticising them and say, "No, look at the facts. Look at what action I can actually take."

Politics is of course about power, getting it and retaining it and making sure that your enemies fail to wrest it from you. In a democracy it is also about diplomacy. There are things politicians, particularly those at the very top, cannot say or do however much they might want to do it. Outright condemnation of the leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world, one with whom we have very close defence and trading ties, is just not possible. It is our criticism which might be doing more harm than good.   

Friday 15 January 2021

Books are expensive

in Downunder. They attract what is known as "GST" - the Goods and Services Tax. 

Like everyone else I have been known to moan about "tax". I do see the necessity for it. We have to pay for things we can't provide on an individual basis and tax is how we get roads, transport, health services and much more. 

But a mistake was made when books were included. It was made because, although the publishing industry in this country is already extremely well protected by other means, someone thought taxing knowledge was a good idea.

At least we can now order books from overseas suppliers. That was almost impossible before the internet and the advent of online shopping. I once waited almost two years to buy a book I actually needed for a class I was teaching. It was a standard text book in linguistics. I remember someone else on the staff saying it was easier to get pornography!

An email popped up for me  yesterday telling me that a book I had ordered has arrived. It will come via a small supplier of knitting materials. It is not a knitting book but it is a text book. When I first heard about it I looked at the reviews. It is one of those rare books where there have not, to date, been any negative reviews posted by people I trust. I don't think there will be. I considered buying it at that point but it is a book published in the United States and even there it is expensive. Add the GST and the postage - very expensive - and the cost was prohibitive. I knew if I waited it would likely reach us. I alerted the likely supplier. Yes, a few copies had been ordered and the likely price was still high but I could save myself the most expensive postage if I was prepared to wait.  I was prepared to wait. 

It has been worth the wait too because I can now pick the book up from a private home just around the corner from me. I'll hand the money over to M...&R... and they will give me the book. We did this once before when I needed a packet of dye from the same supplier.

"Will M... and R... mind?" I asked. They are both retired. Their daughter lives in a separate dwelling on the same property and she is a craftswoman who sometimes works with the supplier. 

"Not at all," came the response. And I am sure they don't. The supplier helps to keep their daughter in business and they are helping their daughter by making the service available. It helps me too because I will use the book to teach a class later in the year. 

What is more important though is that M...and R...'s daughter has a range of medical issues which prevent her from working in outside employment. Working alone she can rest when she needs to rest, even sleep if she needs to sleep. She doesn't earn a lot but it gives her a sense of self-worth she would not otherwise have. 

It has worked out right around this time.

Thursday 14 January 2021

Vaccines and

 how to vaccinate seem to be the latest topic over which people are arguing.

First of all though may I say something? As I understand vaccines they are  designed to protect us from getting ill or, at very least, reducing the severity of illness. They may not work on everyone and some people are unfortunate enough not to have access to them because of other medical conditions. Vaccines are not drugs designed to cure us of illness. 

Now, assuming I have that right, I am also assuming that some vaccines may be more effective than others. Certainly this would seem so from some of my reading and what is being said in the media. Logic also suggests that this might be the case. From there it would seem simple to suggest that you use the most effective vaccine and all will be well. All we need to do now is vaccinate everyone with the most effective Covid19 vaccine and all will be well?

No. First of all there are ongoing discussions around which vaccine is actually the most effective. You just look at the results don't you? No. It really is not as simple as that. No vaccine will be 100% effective but even one that rates highly may not be the most useful.

Two of the main contenders for the Covid19 vaccine require storage at very low temperatures, far lower than the normal refrigeration required for most vaccines. Even in a country like Germany, where one of these vaccines was developed, this poses problems of storage and distribution. So if you have another vaccine which is "almost" as effective but can be stored in the way most vaccines are stored then you might be better off using that?'s possible. Is it available? How much does it cost? 

Getting it to people is also an issue. It might be that there is the need to vaccinate a very large population in a small geographical area or small population in a very large geographical area. Do all the vaccines need two doses days apart or is there a single dose vaccine? The first suggests we need double the manpower to administer it and that more people will need to be drafted in to help - and, to date, I don't think an effective single dose vaccine has been produced. The second suggests that there are going to be issues actually reaching remote areas.

All these things and more need to be taken into account when decisions are being made. It's a balancing act. In the end we have to try and go with the most effective vaccine for the lowest cost.

And that is why I get so frustrated with "experts" - some of whom should definitely know better - telling us that we should be doing one thing or another. The most likely thing here is that one type of vaccine will be more valuable than another in some settings and another will be of greater value in another setting. Political commentators who criticise the government for "lack of action" are often aware of the problems associated with such things. They simply ignore it in an attempt to gain political advantage. That sort of behaviour is not helping anyone.

When the time comes I will put my paw out and accept the jab those who know more than I do have decided is best for me. 

Wednesday 13 January 2021

"Black Lives Matter"

I am, very cautiously, going to say something here. Black Lives DO Matter. Everyone's life matters and to single people out because of the colour of their skin and subject them to violence for that reason is abhorrent. Do it around me and you can forget any chance of friendship. I'll be prowling off with my paw in the hand of the person you singled out.

I am strongly opposed to the use of violence. Although I do not like it I can understand that there is sometimes a need to use force commensurate with a situation. There is however a vast difference between that and using violence. Violence is unnecessary action. It should never be used.

There are people who face discrimination on a daily basis because they look "different".  It has been this way for my friend M.... for all his life. He will shortly be retiring from his role as a senior social welfare officer working with indigenous youth in trouble. He's been very good at his job, so very good that they wanted him to stay on as a consultant. He has refused. I know why and he's right. Part of his success has been the way he looks. He's "one of us" to at least some of the boys with whom he has worked. 

In the normal way if I see M... out and about he will give me a bear hug - and I will hug him back. He's like another brother to me. His mother was like another mother to me. I have met many indigenous people through them and through M...'s sister. I have occasionally met with suspicion but, for the most part, it has been, "That's M....'s friend. She's okay." 

The response from the other side, the so-called "white side", has not always been so positive. I have been abused for hugging M... in public. There have been disapproving looks even if I am just standing there with him and talking. I know it is quite likely that some of those who give us those disapproving looks are people who have done far less good in their working lives than M... has. All either of us can do is ignore it as much as we can.

We also know that there are other groups in the community who face discrimination - on a daily basis. A friend of mine has rather severe  ataxic cerebral palsy. He moves like a person who has had too much to drink. When he speaks he sounds like a person who has had too much too.  More than once he has been manhandled by the police who have mistakenly believed he is drunk. Too often, when the situation becomes obvious, he has been simply abandoned without as much as an apology.  On one occasion he found himself outside the city police station at two in the morning - and no, he had not "sobered up" in the six hours since his "arrest". There was no public transport home at that hour.  Attempting to take the arresting officer to court would have been a waste of time. He's told to "carry something" explaining his condition. Last week a member of the police force told him, "You shouldn't be out on your own like that."  He's been hospitalised more than once for severe depression.

I have female friends who wear the hijab and they are subjected to racial and sexual comments on a daily basis. They try to ignore it but they find it distressing, of course they do. You don't "get used to it". Any suggestion they should report it is met with the hopeless expression of those who know that nothing will be done because "all they need to do is stop wearing it".

 Several years ago a Jewish friend of mine was badly beaten. He was in hospital for some time as a result.  The incident was caught on camera but nothing came of it. He was interviewed and told by two members of the police force that he was to blame - that he should "not wear that silly little hat".  My Jewish friend committed suicide on leaving hospital.

It might not be physical violence but it is just as harmful and can even be deadly.  The lack of support from those in authority is a different sort of violence. People can lose their sense of self-worth and that is just as harmful.

So I want to say here Black Lives DO  Matter. When you hear or read those words think about where they came from, think about  young Trayvon Martin walking down a street and then think about everyone else who faces negative discrimination. It takes many forms and it is wrong. 

Tuesday 12 January 2021

"Should they have "blocked" him?"

Inevitably I was asked that question yesterday. Should the social media giants have "blocked" the President of the United States?

My answer to that was, "They are private companies. They can if they want to."

"But what about free speech?"

Free speech? It isn't an issue for private companies. I don't think the person who accosted me wanted to hear that. 

There is an issue here however. Not so long ago one, and perhaps more, of those same companies refused to take down an image they knew was false, one which did immense harm to the relationship between Downunder and China. It continues to do harm. China has acknowledged it is not true but it has not been removed or blocked. The financial fall continues. Despite complaints all that has been said is "we don't censor things like that". No? Really? 

Recently I alerted another social media site to a scam. They took me seriously enough, or so they said, to look at  the advertised site. No, it isn't a scam I was told. They have left it there. That doesn't stop it being a scam. A little research on their part would have found I am right. I did the research. I went as far as checking the registration of the company - except that it isn't registered at all and there have been numerous complaints about it.  The more likely problem is that the advertising revenue and not upsetting the CCP is more important to the social media site. Was I surprised? Not really. I continue to put "SCAM" in their comments whenever I saw a new advertisement by the same group of scammers - and others are doing the same.

The harm done by not blocking and removing such advertising is also harmful. is not politics. 

. Someone I know had a well known Rubens picture removed for "nudity". She was issued with a warning. We were all somewhat bemused by this... and decided there is no rhyme or reason to the censorship on the internet.  

And then there are the occasions on which "violent", "racist", and "hate" speech is removed. Good? Yes, perhaps it would be if social media was consistent about this. Unfortunately it isn't. It can't be consistent.

The reality is that social media is out of control. Those who own social media sites - and I suppose this has to be called one - can have armies of people working to try and control what is sent out but it is an impossible task. 

And the really determined will always find another way to harass the rest of us.  

Monday 11 January 2021

Social media can be

anything but "social". It has long been obvious that it can also be misused and abused in much the same ways as other media outlets can be used. 

This has happened as long as people have been able to convey messages. More than one archaeologist has found evidence of ancient graffiti abusing someone. It will undoubtedly go on happening too. 

The bigger problem now of course is that so many more people can convey messages and so many more others can read them. It has put power into the pens of people who deliberately and wilfully use it to spread messages that incite violence, hatred, ridicule, contempt and much more. Dare to disagree and find yourself "counselled",  made to attend "training" classes, ostracised, out of a job, despised and even taken to court.  There is also room to spread deliberately misleading news about incidents, events, research, trends and much more. 

Issues like "vaccination", "refugees", "global warming", and the language surrounding "gender" bring on heated and sometimes violent debate. It can be dangerous to even dare to express an opinion - or not express an opinion.

Being told what to think or that I am "wrong" about something doesn't suit me at all. I need to find out things for myself. I know I won't always get something right. I know there are times when I don't have the time to research something for myself, when I have to rely on other people. But there are also times when I have what I suppose might be called a "gut feeling" that something needs to be investigated more closely. I need a variety of ideas thrown at me. I need to do some research for myself...even if it is just to read more than one article across a variety of media outlets, knowing that differing opinions will be expressed.

I don't want people to state opinions as facts but it is sometimes hard to work out the difference. I don't want people to incite violence but there are times when that incitement can be subtle and every bit as dangerous as outspoken demands.

And there are times when an issue is given so much publicity it can be harmful in other ways. I was talking to a mother yesterday. She was telling me how concerned the extended family had been about her four year old son. He wanted a doll for Christmas. A doll? Was he gay? Was he transgender? Was there something else wrong with him?

He's an only child and there is almost no opportunity for him to play with other children.  His parents would love to have another child but he is adopted and they have no hope of having any of their own. 

"And the reason he wanted a doll was so damn simple I just cried," his mother told me, "He told me it was just so he could have someone to play with."

He got the doll for Christmas. It's a "boy" doll because he thought a brother would be more fun than a sister.  The two of them have been playing happily together. 

"If I hadn't listened to why he wanted it I would have been worrying that he needed help," his mother said, "I would have worried even though I think you don't really know enough to know if you are only four."

Of course things aren't always what they seem to be or what we are told they are.

Sunday 10 January 2021

Home schooling

is not for everyone. 

I really feel for those parents in the UK who are once again trying to get their children to do some schoolwork during the lock down there. If you have not chosen to teach your children at home and you don't have a dedicated space in which to do it or the materials with which to do it, let alone the internet connection to connect with the school and the teachers..... yes, we all know the problems.

I know people who have been home schooled. Some of them have fared better than others. My second-cousin-once-removed home schooled her six children. The last of them still has two years to go but the others have all ended up at university. Two of these have their degrees and one of those two is doing post-graduate research. Yes, they have done well - with some help from their grandfather, a former teacher and school deputy-head, and people like the Senior Cat.

I know other people who have likely done about as well as they would in school. They also come from devout families for whom attending school did not seem to be an option.

I also know people who have not been able to attend school or who have been in and out of school due to illness or disability. There are four young people I know well who have serious medical conditions for whom the past year has been really hard. They have been in almost permanent isolation. They know one another well and are a tight little group. They met in hospital and, all being just a few months apart in age, they worked together there and then elsewhere. Now they meet over the knitting needles and other  issues, two boys and two girls.  

One of them recently had major surgery and it will be a while before he is well enough for them to physically meet but they are in touch with one another through other means. Their friendship will survive not meeting for several months because they are now really young adults and they have been through so much together that people outside the  quartet do not understand them in the same way. Yes, they have other friends - mostly from church youth groups - but their life experiences are different.

One of my closest friends is someone who did not go to school until she was thirteen.  She is a brilliant scholar and linguist - and she is also disabled. School was not a happy experience for her. "I still remember how much time they wasted there." 

But all these experiences are quite different from those of children who are used to going to school each day, used to sitting in a classroom and learning in school-based ways. Their teachers are finding it different too. Distance teaching, even with all the modern technology available, is different. Learning is different too. A good classroom teacher will be getting the students to stimulate each other. If you are at home alone and your parents have no time or no ability - or both - to help then it is not the same. 

Someone asked me how they could best help their own two children through the current UK lock down. She is trying to work from home at the same time. Her husband is too. "We are fortunate. We all have our own space but the schooling issue has been largely left to me. What else can I do?"

One of the things I suggested was reading to the children at night. something they had stopped doing when two children learned to read for themselves. Her husband has taken on that responsibility. 

I had an email yesterday telling me, "It's made a difference." 

I suspect that the current need to home school also needs to include the need to read each night.  

Saturday 9 January 2021

Retirement "villages" vary

in quality, in facilities, in residents and in just about every other possible way. 

Most of my "aged care" experiences are quite different. I go in and out to see people like the Senior Cat in places which are intended for those who can no longer cope with caring for themselves. They are not happy places. As one of the local priests once said to me, "They are God's waiting rooms". Perhaps they are. 

It seems to me they are pretty grim places. Even with the best and most caring of staff and the best of facilities they would still be places where people go, to put it bluntly, to die. I don't like going in and out of them but I do because what I like even less is to think that people don't get visitors.

But yesterday I was taken out to lunch to a "retirement village". It has been built on the grounds of what was once known as "The Home for Incurables".  I once knew that appallingly named facility far too well. I went in and out at least once a week for years. At times it was run on hospital like terms - and many of the people living there needed that amount of care and attention. It improved a little to a more home-like status later. One of my acquaintances could go in and out using her electric wheelchair and would meet me in the street. We would head off to a shop on the nearby main road and she would replenish her tapestry supplies.  Like A.... the shop is long gone but the owner was very good. I'd go in and say A... was outside - and unable to get up the steps of course. If not serving someone else the owner would come out with something new for A... to try. If she was busy she would get me to take it out. A...was outstandingly good at tapestry. The owner of the shop would sometimes ask her to do small jobs for her, repairing, finishing and once an entire chair seat. It gave A... some purpose in life, something to concentrate on other than constant pain.

I thought of A... as we went into the new facility yesterday. It was all so different. I don't know how many "apartments" there are in the place now - all of them still very new looking - but there is also a dedicated restaurant/coffee shop. There are the usual tables and chairs at which you can eat the food you buy but there are also comfortable sofas and chairs. People were sitting there reading papers, chatting, looking out at the garden. Other people were moving backwards and forwards. Yes, being for older people, there was the occasional seat-walking aid. Some people moved more slowly than others but they were on the move. It was busy but in a quiet, relaxed sort of way. There was a television set on but the sound was off and the subtitles were up instead. 

People were well dressed, indeed very well dressed. The people who live in this "village" would have had the money to enter it - and the money to continue to stay there. No doubt there are problems but they were not evident in the same way as they often are elsewhere.

The facility is big enough that there is a map next to where we sat. I looked at it. Yes, a library and a craft room both appeared on the map. 

And in a way all this unsettled me. I looked at it all and at the lovely garden outside the big picture windows and thought that this is what everyone should have as they grow older. How much would it help a dementia patient to have a secure garden like that? Wouldn't the quiet surroundings help them? And why wouldn't other very elderly people I know appreciate the surroundings? 

Being taken out to lunch was nice and I greatly appreciated the outing but I did wonder and still do wonder about these things. And I thought of how much A.... would have delighted in it all instead of having to keep her possessions in a hospital like locker.

Friday 8 January 2021

How we live under the Covid virus

should have an effect on how successfully we can handle it. 

I am not a scientist and I could be completely wrong about this but a sort of logic tells me that if you don't live very close to other people then the virus might be easier to contain - if certain measures are taken and rules adhered to.

I raised this with someone on Facebook yesterday. (We do talk about more than what people have for breakfast over there.)

My thoughts run along these lines. The population of Downunder is spread out around the coastline. Most people own a car and might travel a considerable distance to work. Many people live in single dwellings surrounded by a "garden" or in duplexes with at least pocket sized front and back gardens. It is not true of everyone but, for now, it is true of the majority. We have some "high rise" residential buildings but not nearly as many as there are in some parts of the world.

The UK is, for the most part, crowded, too crowded. A lot of people live in cities. They live in flats and terrace housing and other places, often high rise places, where they are very close together. They can't "get out" easily. They use more public transport than people here. By no means everyone has a garden. "Allotments" are still very sought after. A space to do some gardening is very important to many people but it isn't there outside the back door.

The USA is a mix of the two. There are many places where housing is very similar to Downunder. Then there are the cities where some people live in "apartments" of varying sizes and under varying conditions. So some people live closer together than others. The number of green spaces varies greatly. I don't know whether any state has the equivalent of allotments or our community gardens. I imagine there must be a few somewhere.  Americans have a long standing love affair with the car but there are still people in cities who don't have one and have to rely on public transport.

Health care in Downunder is the responsibility of each state, albeit with some federal funding. The states do work together up to a point and they have to work with the federal government over funding. A similar situation exists in the UK. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own health responsibilities. I still have my NHS number (and the card) and it would be activated if I went to the UK and needed medical attention because there are certain reciprocal arrangements between the UK and Downunder.  In the USA health care is, as I understand it, largely the responsibility of the states too but any similarities probably end there.

Now why am I saying all this. I am saying it because I think it is impossible to really compare what is happening with respect to the virus. Having said that I also believe that the USA is not doing nearly as well as the UK or Downunder in containing it.  I know there have been some serious (and sometimes justified) criticisms of the way the situation has been handled here as well as in the UK and Western Europe.  We need to remember that governments have never faced anything like this before. It can't be compared with "the Spanish 'flu" or "the SARS virus".  As well as the health issues there are economic issues. Trying to contain the pandemic and keep the economy going is an enormous challenge for all governments.

I shouldn't criticise any other country's government but I have to wonder at the USA. I am surprised there wasn't at least a brief lock down and orders issued about mask wearing - with the provision of masks for those unable to afford them.  Those two things alone might have helped. The first would have had an economic impact of course and the second would have cost something but by not doing those things the cost has been far higher. The UK has been distracted by Brexit or the virus has been distracting Brexit but, whatever my friends there might think of their leaders (and their opinions vary greatly) there have been much greater attempts to contain the spread there than in the USA.

There are things we should have done here. Yes, we had a lock down and that certainly helped in this state.  Our "hotel quarantine" program for returned overseas travellers was not well handled. It led to deaths because people who worked in it did not obey the rules. They weren't sufficiently well trained. That a state government has managed to survive this and still might win the next election puzzles me. But it seems to me the biggest problem here is now going to be complacency.  I had to go to the doctor yesterday. I've had telehealth appointments until now but, after twelve months, the law states my doctor needs to actually see me. Middle Cat had told me what to expect but... the situation had changed again. The waiting room is back - albeit with a fraction of the usual seating. And nobody, apart from me, walked in wearing a mask. The staff weren't wearing masks. The doctor actually told me to take mine off.

I am not sure about all this. It's confusing. I don't like being a confused cat. Isn't how we live day-to-day a weapon against the virus? 

Thursday 7 January 2021

Having an opinion

is dangerous. Ssshhh.... don't say anything. You might upset someone. 

I see Rowan Atkinson was expressing an opinion in this morning's paper. He was saying how difficult it is to be a comedian, more difficult than it once was - and it would have been hard enough once upon a time. The problem now though is that a minority of people have decided that there are some things you cannot joke about. There are other things you cannot say. There are ways you cannot say things.

Someone was complaining about the word "mandate" yesterday. Why?  Apparently because it has the word "man" in it - and this is unacceptable. 

Now I always thought that "mandate" came from the Latin "mandamus" which means "we order".  I have believed this ever since the Senior Cat taught me a little Latin. Apparently though we are both wrong. What is more the word is not to be used because it contains "man". 

I wonder if the legal profession will take this up? There is still quite a lot of Latin used by the legal profession. 

Now I tried explaining to the person who informed me that I could no longer use the word but I was told I was wrong.  I was told we had to be rid of all "gendered" language. We are no longer allowed to use words like "he", "she", "his", or "her". I was shown an edict from the United States Congress. "They have finally seen it is wrong. It should help if they start to use the correct language."

The "correct language"? I am confused. 

"What," I asked, "about all the gendered words in so many languages?"

"We are talking about English. English can set an example. They will all change if we do the right thing now. You have to take some responsibility here."

I do? I thought about the long row of "joke" books above the Senior Cat's old bed. He studied those long and hard.He used many of them when he did a "magic show". They are full of jokes which this person and others find "unacceptable". They are "sexist" or "racist" or something else. 

An Irish man I know was threatened with legal action recently - because he told an Irish joke against himself. Apparently this is no longer allowed. 

I looked at the perSON who was telling me this and asked, "So you aren't huMAN then?" 

The answer to that was, "Don't be ridiculous."

I have it all wrong.



Wednesday 6 January 2021

Rolling out a vaccine

can't come soon enough for many people. If the present situation continues I will be putting my paw up to get a jab when it becomes available.  Why? I am officially "older" and I am in contact with many people who would be classed as "very old". 

The Senior Cat may be the oldest person in the residence but there are others close to his age. They need protecting and me getting vaccinated helps to protect them.

I don't know if the Senior Cat will enjoy the benefits of a vaccine. He is getting very frail. Yesterday he told me again, "I don't know. I'm so tired all the time."  I know he might just fall asleep and not wake up. I am dreading that moment too. But, should he still be with us, I don't want him fighting for every breath in a highly distressed state without any of us able to be with him. There are people who have been through that and it is not something that should happen to anyone. I would not wish it on my worst enemy. 

There are however complaints about the vaccine. 

Some people of course oppose all vaccinations. They are often loud in their opposition. They get a lot of media attention. I am aware of the so-called "research" their objections are based on - and I am aware of the harm it has done. People who could get vaccinated don't get vaccinated. They don't vaccinate their children. Worse still they don't want the rest of us to get vaccinated. 

They also harm people who cannot get vaccinated. In our previous street there was a woman who lived opposite  us. She was violently allergic to eggs. Her allergy was so bad that I remember seeing her hastily back out of our kitchen one day. My mother had, unthinkingly, started to cook some scrambled eggs in her presence. Even that exposure had brought on a reaction. Her eyes were watering, her nose was running and she was gasping for breath. So, no vaccinations for her because they contain egg. All her life she had been faced with the problem of being careful not to be exposed. People like her need to be protected too. 

And then there is the politics of all this. The Opposition here is complaining that vaccinations are not being rolled out fast enough. They say we are "behind" other countries and that the government has not acted quickly enough to ensure we are all vaccinated. 

There are a number of things wrong with this. One is that there are approval processes for any vaccine. Those who are in charge of such things have a responsibility for making sure that a vaccine does what it claims to do and does it without doing harm. There can never be a one hundred percent guarantee but they get as close as they can. It still takes a little time. Rush it through? No. 

The logistics of getting a vaccine out are also huge. We live on the largest island/smallest continent on the planet. For the most part  our population is spread around the coastline. Even around it there are places where the population is sparse. Using a vaccine which has to be stored at -70'C has major challenges. In some places it might simply not be possible. More than one vaccine has to be looked at. The way in which vaccines are distributed might vary greatly. 

There are questions about who will administer the jabs and how. Arguments that "all this should have been decided long ago" are ridiculous. There are things that may need to change at any time. What, for instance, if we found that vaccinating those under the age of two was the most effective means of stopping the virus spread? It's unlikely but anything is possible. A vaccination program this extensive needs to be flexible. 

And how much of the vaccine will we be able to get? The Opposition is complaining that not enough has been ordered - even though there are orders to multiple suppliers. No, there probably isn't enough - yet. What we need to think of here is the huge number of people who won't get vaccinated at all - people in other countries. There is talk of a "vaccine apartheid" - people who won't get vaccinated because of poverty and so much more. I know how hard it has been to provide other vaccinations in some locations and the opposition aid workers have faced.  This time it is not going to be any easier.

If  my group in the population is offered the jab in the coming months I will put my paw up. It isn't because I like needles being stuck in my arm but because it will be the responsible thing to do. I will do it and be thankful I live in a country where such things are possible.  I will do it as a way of saying "thank you" to those who have spent the long, long hours working on such things too.  

Tuesday 5 January 2021

So Assange has avoided extradition

- for now.

I don't know whether this is going to work or not. The US will still be trying very hard to get him extradited. The authorities there are doubtless even more anxious now. They must have been hoping that the judge would not only come down on their side but that Assange's mental health would not be seen as an issue.

It is an issue. The one remaining American "supermax" prison is no place for anyone. This is almost certainly where Assange would be sent. As I understand it confinement in one amounts to solitary confinement with the added stress of almost no human contact. Assange is not violent but he would be treated as if he was an extremely dangerous individual. 

There are opposing views about Assange. Those who don't like him or what he did see him as a traitor and someone who put the lives of others at risk. He is seen as a thief, a liar, a rapist, vain, proud and egotistical. They don't have a good word to say about him. 

Those who do like him see as someone who has risked his own life to show the world how governments were, and still are, behaving badly. They have welcomed his exposure of information - even if it has placed lives at risk.  According to them he is courageous and he is being abominably treated.

Like another very high profile case there can be little doubt that others will go to great lengths to see him convicted. They want him locked up and the key thrown away. If he "commits suicide" then so much the better. That is their view. 

There is probably a middle road here. Assange is a whistleblower. The question is whether he was justified in what he did and how he did it, whether he is a "journalist" or something else. Claims are being made about "press freedom", "freedom of speech" and the "right to know".

If a democratically elected government is doing wrong then there is a need to know - so that those who represent us won't be elected again and those like them won't be elected in their place. Of course that is not what happens. Information is kept from us. Other information is fed to us. We are given "facts" which can be interpreted in other ways. Charisma or lack of it influences us. 

Sometimes it might be better not to pursue an issue. The high profile case here went to the High Court - and all seven judges came down on the side of the appellant. Despite that some still haven't given up. They are trying to get a "civil" case up where a "criminal" case didn't work. 

That won't happen where Assange is concerned. He is accused of criminal acts in more than one country. There must be many who are worried by what an actual trial might uncover. They will do their best to see it doesn't happen. 

If I was Assange I would still be desperately worried. I say that without commenting on his guilt or innocence.