Sunday 28 February 2021

Very early morning phone calls

frighten me these days. The phone rang a few minutes ago, just on 7:30am, and I did not want to answer it. When I did it turned out to be a young man saying, "Oh, sorry - wrong number."

He would have no idea how much such a call could frighten me. Is it wrong to think that there must be something wrong? Is it wrong to think, "This has to be about the Senior Cat"? At that time in the morning it is all too likely now.

I put the phone down feeling slightly shaken. This was how we learned of my mother's death. The hospital had sent us home on a Saturday evening. The Senior Cat was exhausted. I doubt he had slept because he answered the phone extension by his bed before I could get to the other one. I don't know who gave him the message or how they put it but I knew before he said anything. That had to be it. 

He went off to see Middle Cat and I was left to make some calls. It was about 7:40am by then. I knew I could catch Fr A... in his study before the 8:00am service. In his usual calm fashion all he said was, "Thank you Cat. I'll come round as soon as the service is over." I suppose people in his position have that sort of thing happen often enough. Do they get used to it? No, probably not - and not if they care. Fr A.... is still around. He's almost 90.  We catch up occasionally in the shopping centre. He always asks after the Senior Cat. 

Some time after my mother died I remember telling him about a phone call I took one day. We had just moved. The school the Senior Cat had been sent to was in the middle of a "soldier settlement". These were set up by the government post war. They idea was that men who had no other means of supporting themselves would be able to go farming. This particular location was a disaster. It was an island with no quick means of access to the mainland - and the mental health services needed. Most of the men had no knowledge of farming. They were given the wrong advice about what to plant and much more.  There were also problems at the school. The Senior Cat was sent to sort that situation out.

We had been there only a few weeks when I answered the house extension one Saturday afternoon. Before I could actually say more than "School house" a terrified voice said, "Mr..... my father is trying to kill my mother..." One of the settlers was chasing his wife across a paddock (large field) with a red hot poker in his hand. He thought his wife was the enemy. Men had to go out, find him, subdue him and then he was flown off the island for help. It must have been a shattering experience for the child who phoned. He was only about ten or eleven. 

There have been other distressing phone calls in our lives. Most people have experienced them. Is it easier to give bad news that way? I think it is. Speaking at a distance like that can be easier. We don't have to come face to face with the same reality. 

But I could have done without that wrong number this morning. I still feel shaken. I hope that young man was not handing on bad news. 

Saturday 27 February 2021

Allegations of rape

and other "sexual misconduct" are currently swirling around parliament in the most vile way. Our politicians should be of the best character, not the worst. I know..."good character" and "politician" do not go together.  Still, we can hope.

Making any complaint about sexual misconduct is incredibly difficult. I know that.  My maternal grandfather was a vile man. These days he might just be incarcerated for a lengthy period. He should have been. But even though he had, on more than one occasion, shared a bed with my mother she refused to believe me or my sister when he assaulted us. 

We would probably know enough now to make a complaint to the police. But would we have dared? Probably not. I can still feel the sting from the stiff bristles of the hair brush my mother used to beat us for "daring to say anything like that". 

At the same time I am also aware that it can be very easy to make that sort of complaint in some circumstances. The Senior Cat and I know a former music teacher who was charged with sexual misconduct. He taught groups in schools, singing, piano and flute for the most part. You have to teach students to breathe in the correct way for both singing and flute. You have to touch them to get them to understand what they need to be doing, to position them. 

Music isn't the most popular of subjects with some children. Too many of them are learning to play a musical instrument because their parents think they should - even when they themselves did not enjoy the experience. 

So it was with two girls aged about twelve and thirteen. They had lessons in pairs - for obvious reasons - and they both accused him of assault. It was done for no other reason than to stop learning. There was no truth in the allegations. It wasn't until they realised that there was going to be a court case with very, very serious consequences for the teacher that they admitted they were lying. Unfortunately it still did immense harm to the teacher and his career. 

It has always made me aware of how difficult it is for some victims to make a complaint, how easy it is for others and then how hard it can be to defend yourself if you have done nothing wrong. Rape and sexual assault are almost always crimes without witnesses. Even physical evidence will be countered with arguments about the act being "consensual" where "adults" are involved - although there is nothing "adult" about any form of sexual misconduct. 

And perpetrators do get protected. A senior politician has been protected for years by his party, by the police and by others. Claims about the assault were made at the time of the offence. The victim has stuck to her story and never changed it in all that time. She has never succeeded in getting anyone to take it any further. The media won't take it up although she has been interviewed. A senior media figure told me he believed her story but it was a "no go" area for them.

How many other victims are there out there who are not being believed? How many perpetrators are there being protected? How many lives are being destroyed by false allegations? Isn't it time to start really thinking about the harm being done?


Friday 26 February 2021

Going through bookshelves

in an attempt to remove books is proving even more difficult than I thought it might be. I do not like to part with books.

"There are far too many books in this house," Brother Cat informed me last time he was here. That of course is the pot calling the kettle black. There might not be quite as many in his house but there are rather a lot of books. 

Middle Cat has bookshelves up the passageway and into the other bedroom of her house. Mmmm... the Senior Cat and I did consider bookshelves up the passageway here - after my mother died.

Mum always said we had "far too many books". She was not happy when the Senior Cat and I went off to the book sales run by our favourite second-hand book sellers. Going shopping in the city with us was, according to her, a nightmare. "There are far too many bookshops in the city!" Sadly, most of them have gone.

But now I know I need to start removing some books. I really don't need over three hundred dictionaries - no, not all in English. Well actually I have given a good many of those away already.  I don't like using on-line dictionaries from a physical viewpoint but they do tend to be more up to date. I have kept things like a medical dictionary that comes in five different languages - it's a first reference point. But do I really need German-Swahili or Russian-Chinese? No. I gave those away along with many more. Many of these were used just once to write a communication board for someone - and, let's face it, my knowledge of German is "read it with a dictionary to hand". My knowledge of Swahili is rather less although I can actually say a few polite phrases. I know perhaps six words of Russian and I have forgotten all those Chinese characters I learned to " read  in English" while I was writing my thesis. There are still English and French, German, Italian, Greek, Spanish etc and other dictionaries there. I look words up from time to time. I like words. 

The dictionaries needed to go. Then there are the other books about  linguistics, syntax, semantics, language planning, thesauri, and lexicons of this and that. I am gradually parting with them - more than a thousand of them have already gone. There is a core library left.

Don't get me started on the children's literature (and books about that) or the knitting and other craft. I recently gave away a waist high pile of serious knitting books and there are now more waiting to go. I have culled some poetry and some adult novels. My mother's collection of cookery books were given away years ago.

There is a small community library near the church. They were asking for contributions for that recently. There are more than fifty paperbacks waiting to be collected by the local priest. He will take them the next time he comes hunting for timber in the shed.  There are books belonging to the Senior Cat that he will not read again. The print is too small in some. I must go through those - and that is even harder. He has discussed this with me. I don't like doing it.

An online book store left me a message this morning to say the book I had ordered is now in. They are sending it today. I ordered it with a voucher I was given for Christmas and birthday. Perhaps that sort of thing is part of the problem?

I don't know. I still have too many books. 

Thursday 25 February 2021

Aged care standards are

are in the spotlight again - and not doing well. 

As regular readers of this blog know my father, fondly known as the Senior Cat, made his own decision to go into residential care last year. He'd had yet another fall and that meant yet another ambulance call and another trip to hospital.

The Senior Cat is 98 and still intellectually alert. He forgets things occasionally but we all do that. He can still have theological and philosophical conversations with people. He was giving one of the young staff members some help with study skills too.

Note though I said "was". The young staff member has moved on. We are sorry about that. She was absolutely delightful. Her departure though is indicative of the problems in aged care. Anyone who is any good tends to move on fairly quickly. 

The reasons for this are multiple of course but one is definitely the very poor rate of pay. Aged care facilities are expensive to run. The owners of them want to make a profit. One way of doing that is to keep staff wages as low as possible. Even then fees for residents are high.

The Senior Cat's income comes from what is known as the "old state Superannuation scheme". When he was a teacher he was required to put a certain amount of his salary into the scheme and the government met that amount. It was a sort of forced saving for his retirement. He will never get an aged pension.  From that the residence he is now in takes the maximum amount they are permitted to take. They add extras where they can too. It irritates them that I do his washing. I do it not simply because it is cheaper for me to do it but because we hope fewer of his clothes will go missing. If his clothes don't go through an industrial laundry they might also last a bit longer and, most importantly, look rather better. 

There are 38 beds in the residence - yes, it is small - and one woman, working part time, has to do the laundry for 36 of those people. The clothing standards suffer because of it. Recently, when I was handing back a singlet which did not belong to the Senior Cat, she told me, "How can I do a good job when they don't give me enough time? I'd like time just to sew a button occasionally."  

I think she does care. There are one or two other older members of staff who also care. They have been in the job for a long time - because they want to be there. I think the young one who is moving on could have been like that but the money she was getting is barely enough to live on. 

We really do have an aged care crisis in this country. We have an increasing number of people with dementia - something that can happen with a rise in the number of aged in the population. Often there is no choice to have them anywhere other than in aged care. The Senior Cat stayed at home as long as possible. I would still have him here if I could lift him if he fell and had not injured himself. I would prefer that. He would. So would the rest of the family. It was just physically impossible. I still feel guilty. He is not in a good place but it is better than many others. I know it is better than many but it still isn't good. The standard of care has slipped again.  It is why Middle Cat and I go in and out frequently.

If the Senior Cat did not have us he would likely not get his electric razor repaired. His mobile phone (because there are no phone extensions in the rooms) would not get recharged. He would be wearing clothing belonging to other people more often than he is. His hair might not get cut on a regular basis (Middle Cat does that) and much more. He calls himself "lucky". All I can say is that this is what everyone needs.

Where do we go from here? I am officially "old" but I look at the residents and think I do not want to grow "old" like that.    

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Lawrence Ferlinghetti came to Writers' Week

at our Festival of Arts the year I left for London. I was working as a school librarian at the time. That made it much easier for Judith Wright to convince the Education Department that she needed me at Writers' Week more than the school needed me for five days.  I am not sure what the other staff thought of all this. They certainly had no idea how hard I was going to be working.

It was the fourth time I had gone to Writers' Week with Judith. On the first occasion she had turned up at the school I was then attending and informed the headmistress that I would be attending Writers' Week. Judith did not ask. She informed. "I need Cat. Cat is going to be working very hard. She will be my interpreter for the week." Yes, by then Judith was so deaf that following what was going on was becoming very difficult. She saw an opportunity to get some help - and an opportunity to give me the experience of writers from all over the world. And yes again, I managed to learn more in that first week with Judith than I would ever have managed to learn in school.

The fourth time around when I was a little (but only a little) less in awe of her and all the names I recognised around me I met two more poets, one was Allen Ginsberg and the other was Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I did not care for Mr Ginsberg. He was loud and often rude. He was not in the least bit interested in me - not that I expected him to be but he had been impatient when introduced. There had been an abrupt nod of acknowledgment before he turned the conversation on himself. Judith neatly refused to understand what he was saying. He gave up and wandered off much to her relief - and mine.

But Mr Ferlinghetti was different. Who was I? What was I doing there? Did I know Judith's poem about the magpies? He was so pleased to have met her at last. He took the trouble to look directly at her as he spoke. His speech slowed just a little as he talked. I only needed to repeat a couple of words. 

Later in the week Judith was meeting a fellow poet-friend for a one-on-one. "Go and talk to some people Cat. I'll come and get you if I need you."

It wasn't something I would have dared to do so I sat down on the steps of the State Library Reading Room to wait. Ferlinghetti came out with someone I didn't recognise. They parted company. Ferlinghetti looked around and, seeing me, came over and asked, "Are you waiting? May I join you?"

And for the next hour or so we talked. He was full of questions about the city, about how I had come to know Judith, my writing, about schools here and much more. He wasn't asking out of any sense of duty to keep a young cat entertained but of a deep curiosity about the world and people he met in it. 

We had two more long conversations that week, one including Judith and another poet.  At the end of the week he was surrounded by people wanting to say goodbye and get his autograph on their new copies of books they would probably never read. I was trying to help Judith understand what people were saying to her in the noisy surroundings. Then there was a light tap on my shoulder. 

"Cat, you didn't sign this."

He handed over the short poem I had typed out for him at Judith's request. I signed it and passed it back. He gave me a smile and disappeared into the crowd.  

I would like to have met him one more time but now he has gone for good.

Tuesday 23 February 2021

One of the more outspoken journalists

I have the misfortune to have to follow on Twitter complained that our PM was not being respectful of an alleged rape victim because he called her by her given name. He was of the opinion that the PM should be calling her "Ms". 

I responded to that tweet (foolish of me but ...) and suggested that if the said journalist wished to complain about that then he should complain about the "first name culture" in this country.  He has not responded. He probably won't.

As it is I am intensely irritated by some people who use my first name or call me "Ms".  This includes government departments and organisations like banks, insurance agents, and more. That is, people who don't know me and have never met me and probably never will meet me. (Humans who have met me, if I like them, generally know better.)  I don't like a clerk in a government department addressing me as "dear C.... " if they have never met me. Put simply, it is rude. It is not "friendly". It can be intimidating. If you don't know what my preferred title is (and that can depend on the circumstances) then write M/s. That's the correct form. It indicates you don't know whether someone is married or not married or in a relationship or something else - and it respects their right to keep that information to themselves. "Ms" is ugly. It sounds ugly. I am not anyone's "mistress".

I realise all this may be different elsewhere but here that is the way things should work - or rather, did work. I know a lot of people reading this will not agree with me. You are entitled to your opinions but allow me to retain mine please.

When I was a kitten I would never have thought of calling an adult by their given name.  Even the young man with Downs Syndrome was spoken to as "Mr P...." It was a mark of adulthood that you might start to call some people by their given names - at their request. And some people never feel comfortable about given names.  The Senior Cat has students in their 70's who still call him "Mr.... ". They always have and always will because that is what feels right for them.

I call my doctor and my dentist by their given names. We sorted that out between us. At university I called some staff by their given names and others by their titles. It depended on what they asked me to do. At the same time I might refer to them differently when talking to a student who was not on the same name-length.  It took some juggling at times but it was also a matter of respect. We had one high ranking and well respected Professor who called all students by the titles on their application forms. You might be Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms, Dr or Fr. (We had all of those in one of his classes. If there had been a nun then no doubt she would have been Sr.) In private, at his request, I called him by his given name but I would never have done that in public.

His way of doing things was a way of teaching us about what to expect in court. In a court room there are very definite rules about who is called what, who speaks when and so on. There are good reasons for this.

And there are good reasons for children in school not to refer to their teachers by their given names. As a teenager I did call some of my teachers by their given names outside school. They were in and out of our house all the time. They had meals with us.  I knew far more about them than any child should and there were times when they talked to me if my parents were not available to listen. I hope I never broke a confidence. I tried not to. It was a matter of mutual respect. It isn't the same when a teacher cheerfully tells the students, "I'm Jo/e and we are here to have a good time together." 

I don't know whether the Prime Minister was right or wrong in calling the alleged victim by her given name. That's for them to sort out but please don't make assumptions about other people. 

Monday 22 February 2021

Learn a trade while still at school?

It sounds like a great idea doesn't it? 

Our "youth unemployment rate" is in the double digits - officially it was around 13% before Covid19. Now it is even higher. A figure of around 20% is more accurate - and even that might be too low.

Let me state the obvious. Having that many young people out of work is not a good thing.  

This morning there was one of those lovely announcements in the state newspaper. They are starting a "new" scheme to give students the skills they need for a range of jobs which are seen as being in high demand in the future. 

I had to read that twice. 

I will take this information over to the Senior Cat this morning. He will be interested - and probably scathing about it.

You see in this state we once had something called "technical high schools". I suppose they were a bit like the old "secondary modern" schools in England. The "high schools" were a bit more like the "grammar schools". The difference was that you could go to either. There was no entrance exam. The other difference was that the "technical" high schools taught more practical subjects - woodwork, metalwork, shorthand, typing and the like. Students from these would often go on to apprenticeships. Some of them went to university but most of them who wanted any extra qualifications would go on to TAFE - "Technical And Further Education". All these things were quite possible. High schools concentrated on more academic subjects like physics and chemistry, biology and history. There were also Area Schools in rural areas which were a sort of compromise between the two. (Area Schools were the sort of schools we attended at secondary level - the sort the Senior Cat was in charge of for some years.) 

Then came the "everyone is equal and everyone should aim to go to university" era. Technical high schools ceased to teach the practical subjects. They were renamed so they became just high schools. It was all designed to make sure nobody felt inferior. (Let's forget that a Governor of this state actually attended a technical high school and someone the Senior Cat knows well attended the same school and ended up a multi-millionaire in charge of his own company.) TAFE education was wound back too. After all why would you want to learn a trade when the jobs are all in "high tech" industries? The present high schools are a bit like non-streamed "Comprehensive" schools.

Well, it seems we still need plumbers, electricians, child care workers, workers in aged care, cooks/chefs and much more. Somebody has apparently done some "research" which tells us all this. They think it would be a good idea if we actually start teaching some of this in schools.

I hope they can work out how to do it and not upset the "everyone is equal and must not be treated differently" brigade or there could be problems.  

Sunday 21 February 2021

The anti-vaccination mob

were out in the city yesterday. I wasn't in there but they managed to get pretty wide news coverage.

They were demanding "no mandatory vaccinations" and saying "my body, my choice".  Those who claim not to be opposed to other vaccines are saying that these vaccines are not safe because they have been rushed.

The Chief Medical Officer must be tearing her hair out. She has said that she will, when her turn comes, get vaccinated. She wants her family to be vaccinated. She has pointed out that there has been an enormous amount of not just money but international cooperation spent on the effort to develop vaccines. Instead of competing against one another researchers have worked cooperatively. Safety has not been compromised. It has almost certainly been enhanced in more ways than one.

I am going to put my paw out for vaccination when the time comes. The rest of my family say the same thing. I said this to the GP recently and her response was, "I wish everyone thought the same way."

The Senior Cat is now 98. He has health  issues. He would not survive Covid. In the residence he now lives in very few people would. They are mostly very frail and very elderly people. Although they may not have years of life in front of them I don't want any of them to die alone in hospital. 

If this means that people who work in hospitals, aged care, medical clinics and other places are told "no jab, no work" then too bad. Only those who cannot have the jab for medical reasons should be exempt. If an airline says you can't fly unless you have had the jab or are medically exempt then too bad. No, it isn't discrimination. There is no cost involved apart from a small amount of your time. I am much more worried about people like K... who lives in a group house. Her physical disabilities are so great she can do nothing for herself. She cannot eat and is fed through a "PEG" - a feeding tube inserted into her stomach through the abdominal wall. I know people who say "she would be better off dead" but K... is alive. Although she cannot speak she has a wicked sense of humour. She is popular with the staff because of it. I don't want her to die alone, fighting for each and every breath. It might happen of course but I don't want it to be because of something which could be avoided.

If you don't want the vaccine that's your choice but don't inflict your choices on other people. Don't complain if restrictions are placed on your activities. You are not other people. You may not be a doctor but "first do no harm" applies to all of us. 

Saturday 20 February 2021

Please don't shoot the messenger!

I don't suppose anyone likes to be told they are wrong about something. I know I don't. 

But, I do try to listen. I may still go on believing whatever it is I believe  but, put hard evidence in front of me, and I have been known to give in and say, "Yes, I suppose you are right. Stupid, idiotic Cat!" I have done this more than once in my life too.

My next-to-youngest nephew once asked me - in the days when I was a "grown up" and he was a very small kitten - "Do you know everything Aunty Cat?"  The answer then, as now, was a resounding "No." I don't know nearly enough. I wish I had another hundred years of life in front of me so I could learn just a tiny fraction of what I need to know - need, not want.

But, there are things I do know. As a teacher I tried to share some of those things. I have also tried to share other information. It hasn't always been what people wanted to hear but it has sometimes been what they needed to know. They have asked and I have attempted to answer. 

It is rare for me to give what might be called "unsolicited advice". I have to be very concerned to do that. Not so long ago someone asked me if I knew of a school not far from here. I had heard of it but knew nothing much about it. She was obviously seeking my opinion for her own purposes and I thought I knew why she was doing it. She was not looking for advice. She simply wanted someone to confirm her own belief in it. Instead of answering her outright I told her, "I must look at their web page."

I did that and I read the other material available. When we saw one another again I mentioned I had read the web page and the other material I could find. I told her, "Interesting, isn't it?"

"Yes, but what did you think of it?" she asked. I knew she wanted to be reassured that this was going to be the place that solved all their problems. I couldn't do that. It isn't going to do what she so desperately wants. I told her I'd thought I'd need to actually go and look at the place before I formed an opinion.

It was the best I could do but she was still upset. I hadn't backed her  belief that this would be "the place" for her child. She was ready to shoot the messenger. Fortunately for me her husband, rather more realistic in his views, said, "Cat's right. You can't really tell what the place is like unless you visit it." It didn't leave her happy but she did back off. We are back to Covid length emotions. It isn't comfortable but I guess I'll learn to live with it. 

Friday 19 February 2021

So Facebook shut some things down?

I am actually very worried about this. 

No, it isn't because  I won't be able to communicate with friends - and hopefully that will still happen. It will happen unless Mr Zuckerberg  stops Downunder accessing Facebook at all.

No, there are other reasons to be concerned. Back in the dim, dark ages before the internet and email I relied on the postal service, photocopiers and fax machines to do my job. It wasn't entirely satisfactory but all of those involved did our best. 

When the internet came along I had email. Not everyone had email but there were enough people that it was definitely a big improvement. My workload increased of course but I didn't need to do quite the same amount of travelling into the university library. I didn't need to wait around for my turn to use the photocopier or the fax machine quite as often. 

And the internet has grown since then. It is now a massive thing. In many ways it controls our lives. Someone has to pay for it. We do. We pay for access to the internet through our Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and because people pay to advertise on the internet. My BIL works for a company that sells the space where the advertising will appear. It is not simply based on the price someone is prepared to pay but all sorts of fancy mathematical research as well. I don't pretend to understand it.

All sorts of groups, organisations and individuals advertise themselves on the 'net as well. Some have web pages they pay for and others don't. One group I belonged to has a web page they have just updated. They also have a FB page. I don't know whether they have paid for the web page or not. I know they won't have paid for the FB page but it has several hundred members.

I know this because I set up another FB page recently. It has a specific purpose and, at the end of the project, I will see if there is a way of removing it. There is no point in cluttering up the internet with things that no longer serve a purpose. But it didn't cost me anything to set the page up. Nobody checked on what I was doing before I put it up for everyone to see. 

Earlier this week I was contacted by a person who runs the "digital media" for a company which supplies the sort of materials used in the project. She asked if I would like some information about the project to go on to their FB page. Yes thank you. We've had some additional interest in the project as a result.

That company hasn't paid to put their page on FB. There are all sorts of other organisations out there, some of them government organisations. None of them have paid a fee to be there. Media companies have pages on FB too - without paying a fee. They are advertising themselves. It might not be the same as the "in your face" advertising on your home page but it is advertising.

I belong to several groups. I try to keep it to a minimum. I have two accounts, a personal account and an account that is used by a group of us. I don't mix the two. The group account is very definitely a work related account. Ideas go up, queries are made, solutions are suggested. I opened it first thing this morning and I will continue to work on what is there during the day...and more work will come in. We are not paying to use this space. Perhaps there is an argument that we should not need to because we are not being paid for what we do. If we had to pay we would but FB provides a vital platform for us to help some aid workers do what is often a difficult and very dangerous job. We use Twitter in much the same way.

Take those things away and we cannot do our job. Unlike government departments and the media we don't have the capacity to set up web pages and keep them running totally at our expense. When they complain that FB is taking news from them and not paying for it they ignore the way they are using FB. 

I am no fan of Mr Zuckerberg. I have no desire to meet him but, if I did, I hope I'd be polite enough to say, "Thank you for making my job possible and allowing me to help the people who risk their own lives working for others in complex humanitarian emergencies." 

Thursday 18 February 2021

Facebook has just announced a ban

on certain news content - in response to the legislation the government is putting in place forcing them to pay for this.

Pay for something you use? It sounds fair doesn't it - except that this is not quite what is happening. 

What is really happening is something quite different. The big media companies in Downunder have demanded, and then succeeded in getting, more.  For  years they have been able to advertise themselves on the internet at almost no cost to themselves. It has been paid for by advertising, subscriptions, the work of  Google and Facebook and popular sites like Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and more. It has not been paid for by the media companies.

The media companies have simply made their material available - up to a point. In reality a lot of what goes up is just a teaser, a tiny fraction of the "story". Click on the link and you get a page about a subscription. The media has put all this up at almost no cost to themselves. 

The media in fact are rather like squatters. They have moved into houses owned by Google and others. They don't pay rent and now they are demanding that the landlord pays the taxes and the utility bills. These squatters are also damaging the property and then demanding the landlord does the repairs at no cost to the squatters.

I never thought I would agree with someone like Zuckerberg. I most certainly don't think I would like him if I met him. Thankfully it is extremely unlikely that I ever will. Here though he has a point.  This is not the way the internet works - or should work.

What will now happen is that more people will depend on the appallingly low quality of  the "free" news services in this country - if they bother at all. 

But - it is easier to control the ignorant. 

Wednesday 17 February 2021

Teaching a computer to write knitting patterns

 is the subject of a very funny article on the Interweave Knits website. It is actually called "Operation Hilarious Knitting Disaster. Here's the link if you want to read it:

Recently I have had to think a lot about knitting patterns and how they are written. I have also had to write a few knitting patterns in my time. Yesterday I was introduced to someone as, "You know my brown beanie? Well this is Cat, she gave me the pattern and she is helping with the pullover."

What's so unusual about that? Well the knitter is a man who spun the wool himself but then wasn't quite sure where to go next. He stopped me in the supermarket one day and, on the back of an envelope, he scribbled the instructions I gave him. They seemed to work. He wears the beanie in winter and has done for several years now.

Was it a pattern? Perhaps it was. It was a set of guidelines. Since then he has spun himself enough yarn to make himself a pullover. We took the pattern writing for that a little more seriously. A pullover's worth of hand spun yarn is a lot of work. Neither of us wanted to see that effort wasted. He wasn't going to find a pattern to fit him very easily. He is tall and so thin he looks anorexic despite his efforts to put on weight. He has other medical and mental health issues. They are partly why I have given him the help he needs.

He is a highly intelligent man who has been through some severe traumas in his life. I tried to get him to join the knitting group I belonged to or to come to the group at the library. He just shakes his head and goes on talking about the yarn he is spinning. 

"The next lot is going to be BFL," he tells me. "BFL" is a type of sheep, a Blue Faced Leicester. He tells me it is "lovely" to spin. When I ask him what he is going to do with it he tells me he is going to make a small lap rug to raffle off for a charitable group he belongs to. 

"I think I'll do it in strips. That should give it a bit of stability." 

We went our separate ways. He has grown so much in crafting confidence over the few years I have known him. He could only knit and purl when I stood there in the aisle and dictated those beanie instructions to him.  He knows far more about spinning than I do.  

I sent him the link to the article. His response was, " Fantastic. I might write some code into the rug , a sort of secret message. A computer will never do that."

Oh yes, he's learning a lot. I wonder whether a computer will ever be able to take hand spun yarn and write a pattern and then knit it? I really don't think they will ever do that.

Tuesday 16 February 2021

Gestational parent?

Non-birthing parent? Chest feeding?

These are apparently the latest "gender-equality" terms to come out of a university I attended. 

What on earth has gone wrong? There is no "gender-equality" about these terms. They are ridiculous. I am sorry but they really are ridiculous. 

I know some of you reading this will not agree with me but these terms are not right. May I explain why?

I had a cousin, sadly no longer with us. She had a female partner. They wanted a child. J... , being the younger of the two, was the one who went through the pregnancy. They chose the father themselves.  I will be quite blunt here and say he and J... went through the sexual act for that very purpose and succeeded. 

The child, P..., grew up with two "mothers" and one "father". That's it. There was no nonsense about gender-equality here. There was simply a recognition that this was the way they chose to handle the situation and get what they wanted. P... has been "mothered" and "fathered". She is as close to her father as she is to her mothers.

Is there something so wrong with that? 

A university colleague was reprimanded recently for introducing her husband as "my husband". Her husband was not impressed by the reprimand. I heard him say, "It might seem old-fashioned to you but I am her husband and I am proud to be her husband. It is a term that has nothing to do with your so-called "gender-equality". It simply describes a legal relationship." Ouch!

There are plenty of other examples of attempts to use language to "change attitudes". Of course the language we hear and use influences us but don't we need to be careful that we are not allowing ourselves to be told how we "must" behave and thus think?




Monday 15 February 2021

A pandemic "baby boom"?

Who would have guessed such a thing was possible? 

A friend's daughter has just given birth to her first child. Unfortunately it is not the joyous occasion that it should be. This is a "pandemic" baby. 

The baby was not planned. The two young people involved are not married. The boy has fled the scene and they have no idea where to find him. 

Right now the girl could do with his support. The baby may or may not survive. Her mother was in tears yesterday and I tried my best to be the "listening ear". I don't know if I was much help really. The situation is awful. I can try to empathise as well as sympathise but I am not a mother and I probably failed miserably.

It was a timely encounter because there is a piece in this morning's paper about the pandemic "baby boom". I wondered whether it might happen about nine months ago. The Senior Cat and I discussed the possibility. Middle Cat and I also discussed it. Friends mentioned the possibility. Nobody should be surprised at the sudden and quite dramatic rise in the birth rate. People could not go out. They were not going to the doctor to "take precautions". 

The figures apparently show about a forty percent increase in the births registered last December. Yes, that is about nine months from that lock down last March! Not all these children have been planned but I hope they will be loved.

And there is the not so small matter of other planning. There will be a "bump" of children needing all the things children need. Not the least of those will be things like day-care, preschool and then school facilities and teachers.

I am worried for my friend's daughter. If her baby survives he is going to need long term care. She will need support and he will need services that might not be there. 

"Is there anything I can do to help?" I wanted to know. It was not an idle question. 

She shook her head but then said, "Actually yes - could you make her one of those little lavender bags you gave Mum - to help her sleep?"

I knitted it last night. It's tiny. There is just enough lavender left from our garden from last year.  I knew it was there for a reason. 

Sunday 14 February 2021

Copyright - another explanation for the still bewildered

I wrote this for B.... who has suggested that I should  put it up as well - because she likes the way I have tried to explain "how it works". I don't know whether it does or not but here  you are. 

You want to build a house. You look at house plans. You find one you think you like and you buy the plan. Then you employ a builder to build it so you can live in the house. Two things are important here. First, employing the builder is fine. Building a house is a very complex task and you are paying someone to do something you cannot do yourself. Second, you intend to live in the house you are building. 

When the house is built you throw a party. It's your "housewarming".  A couple of your friends come along to the party and say they like the house so much they want to build the same house. They tell you there are a couple of things they think they would like to change but they ask you if they could have the plan. That is all they tell you. You give it to them and they build a house. In doing so they hinge all the doors on the other side, use different bricks from those in the plan and put more solar panels on the roof. Then they sell the house at a profit. 

It all sounds pretty good doesn't it - but they have cheated you and, more importantly, they have cheated the architect who designed the house. They have cheated you because they have "borrowed" something out of which they intend to make a financial advantage - the plans. They have not told you this. That is bad enough but it is worse for the architect. 

He or she has not been paid for the use of his plans. The plans actually belong to the architect. The plans do not belong to you. What you bought was the right to use those plans for your own personal use. Yes, you have a roll of architectural plans in your possession but you do not own the design. The architect owns the design. It is his or her work, not yours. 

Your friends are even worse. It makes no difference that the doors are hinged on the other side, that the bricks are different, or that there are more solar panels on the roof.  All these things make no difference because the basic structure of the house remains essentially the same. There is no feature which makes the house so unique they can claim it as their own design. They did not start from initial sketches. You bought a fully realised plan (even if the architect consulted you about it) and they borrowed it. They have stolen the plans from the architect and made a profit from his or her work. Yes, most people will still think of it as "borrowing" but it is actually theft and the law recognises it as such.

Now I will turn that into the pattern scenario and see if you can understand it. You "buy the pattern" and what you have bought is the right to make the pattern for yourself or to give to someone or to get someone to make for you. 

When you have finished making the item you show it to your friends. They say they like it and want to make it so you let them "borrow" the pattern or show them where they can find it on the internet. It is labelled "copyright". The law applies unless the designer specifically states otherwise. One of your friends makes the garment. They decide to follow the pattern but make some changes. They don't like the rib (the "doors") so they change that. They use a different stitch pattern ( the different "bricks") and, because the buttons are smaller than the buttons the pattern suggests, they add more buttons (the "solar panels"). They then go ahead and sell the garment...and they have broken the law.

Why? Because they have followed the pattern which is the same idea as the architect's pattern.  There is nothing in what they are doing which is sufficiently unique for them to be able to claim it is their own pattern. You have let them use the pattern for nothing. The designer who owns the pattern, and who has spent many hours working on it, gets nothing at all.

That is "theft" - "(1) A person steals if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it. (2) A person who steals is guilty of theft; and "thief" shall be construed accordingly." That's the definition in the Crimes Act 1958, sec. 72.

It is theft because the person making the item has "dishonestly appropriated" a pattern belonging to someone else with the intention of permanently depriving them of the income they have the right to derive from it. If you have loaned them the pattern then you are complicit in their wrong doing.  Don't do it.

Now there is at least one other issue I need to cover here and that is "stitch patterns". Knitters and crocheters will know what I mean. Many of us have books full of them, "dictionaries" and "compendiums" of them. They are there to be used to make items. That is their intention. They are not copyright as such - although the entire books are. I know. It's confusing. What it amounts to is this. You can use stitch patterns from these books. The patterns themselves are not copyright. They are intended to be used and this is often explicitly stated in the book. "Knit one, purl one" ribbing, "feather and fan", or "flag and bar" cannot be copyrighted but the instructions on how to do it can be. A designer can use the ideas just as you can use them to alter something to suit yourself. It is the instructions (including charts, pictures and photographs) which are subject to the laws of copyright.

I hope that makes it a bit clearer - or have I muddied the waters still further?

Saturday 13 February 2021

Border closures

sound like a good idea. They can seem like the only way of stopping something like the Covid19 virus spreading still further into the community.  They are supported by people who know far more than I do about the transmission of highly contagious diseases. I have to assume they are right and I would do as they directed.

Something like a border closure may help to halt the spread of the virus and we have to learn to accept that. The problem is that it also stops so many other things as well. They may not seem big things compared with saving lives but they can be big events in the lives of many people. 

A friend of mine was due to go to his daughter's wedding today. Instead he is stuck here in this state and the wedding plans are in chaos. I don't know what is happening. All I know is that when he spoke to me about what should have been tidying up some work before he left he said he couldn't go. To say he is upset is putting it mildly. His daughter is devastated. 

She is right to be devastated. The wedding was delayed from last year. They were keeping it small - twenty-two guests is very small for a Downunder wedding. They are getting married where her husband-to-be's parents are living because her father-in-law to be is too ill to travel. They don't want to delay the wedding again because he may not have much longer to live. The priest who should be conducting the ceremony can't travel. 

It's all a disaster. They know there are other people in similar positions but it doesn't make it any easier..

This current cluster centres around the "medi-hotel" in which people have been "isolated" after coming in from overseas. Many of the people in that facility are people who have come here for a tennis tournament. Others are people who have been trying to come "home" for months - citizens of Downunder who were abroad when the virus started to take hold.

I know people who are saying that we should have allowed the tennis players to come - because we might lose the tournament permanently if we cancelled it. I know other people who have been complaining that their children cannot get on a flight to return here when their children were on gap years and working holidays overseas. I also know people who could not leave what they were doing overseas who would like to come back here to relative safety.

The tennis tournament should have been cancelled. The Olympics in Tokyo should be cancelled too. I know there are financial consequences but they are not the long term financial consequences that the spread of the virus is having. The financial consequences would be disastrous for some people but the financial consequences of the virus spread are far worse.  

I have little sympathy for those who were on "working holidays" abroad and decided to delay their return home when there were still plenty of flights available and there wasn't even a need to quarantine. I know that, in the same position at that age, I would have resented giving up the dream of a lifetime to travel. One of the things I have always regretted not being able to do is that long overland trip from Kathmandu to London. It would have been a growing experience for me but I had to acknowledge I didn't have the physical capacity to keep up with a group of other healthy, adventurous young people. Still, it does mean I know what the disappointment is and it is better to be here now. 

I do have sympathy for several people I know who have academic positions they could not leave, especially where it would have meant leaving vital research half done.  They are those complaining the least. They know they have simply had to accept the inevitable.

The international conference for a group I belong to has been cancelled for the second time. It is too dangerous for people, many of whom have severe physical disabilities, to travel. It will happen some time but not right now. The organisers are being realistic and responsible.

I had a short email from the girl who will get married - somehow, somewhere.  In it she thanked me for the gift I had sent months ago - the shawl to be worn on her wedding day. 

"I'll just have to wait to use it but I will use it and it is going to mean even more then." 

Perhaps though the organisers of the tennis tournament should have waited as well? 

Friday 12 February 2021

Recycling clothes

is something with which I am very familiar. However, it seems this is not the case for everybody.

There have been concerns raised in the media in the last couple of days about the amount of clothing which is going to "landfill". Indeed alarm was expressed about the amount of clothing going that way, particularly old school uniforms and "cheap imports".

If I go back to very early kittenhood I have a memory. I must be about fifteen or sixteen months old. It is evening. I am standing on a table in the high school and my mother is marking the hemline on the winter coat she is making for me. I have to "turn around" - which of course I cannot do without falling over - so the teacher picks me up at the waist and turns me around.  My mother was doing a "Certificate III " in dressmaking, the "tailoring" section and making a child's winter coat was one of the requirements. 

My mother would have drafted the pattern as well but it is the material which is of interest. It was cut down from a winter coat belonging to my maternal grandmother. It was brown tweed and  the finished garment had a brown velveteen collar.  The velveteen probably was new but the tweed certainly was not.  

It is likely every other mother in the class had found similar material with which to work. They would have been anxious not to waste money on new material when "old will do just as well". 

My brother wore the coat after me. I graduated to a garment which had first belonged to the eldest girl in the family of local insurance salesman. When I outgrew it the coat went back to the same family to be worn by the other two girls in that family and was then returned to us so Middle Cat could wear it. Yes, it was worn by five little girls. We probably didn't wear it as often as little girls in colder climates but it was still well cared for so that it would last. I had other clothes from the same family and from other families as well. My mother would have passed on items I could no longer wear too. I wore overalls intended for boys and shirts that buttoned "on the boy side".  We did not have much money for clothes and neither did anyone else in that small rural community. 

My school uniforms were made out of "left overs" or remnants from my paternal grandfather's tailoring business. He would have been happy to make me proper tunics and blazers but my mother insisted on doing it herself. The only exceptions she made to accepting things from her father-in-law were my brother's Sunday suits and one skirt for herself so that she could use it to wear when relief teaching.

I also had garments knitted from recycled yarn. I can remember watching as other garments were unravelled, wound into skeins and steamed to get the kinks. They would then be wound into balls and knitted again. 

A lot of that sort of thing went on. I was by no means the only child dressed that way. We thought of it as normal. It was everyone did. Looking back I realise we did know people who were well off but even they did this sort of thing.

Now people seem to simply discard things in the bin and go and buy something new.  Questions are being asked about this - and so they should be asked. I know even our local charity shops throw out bin loads of clothing that nobody wants.  Quite a number of my clothes come from the closest charity shop. I have bought items in there which still have the shop tags on them. The Manager of the once told me when I was passing, "There's a new denim jacket in there Cat. You said you were looking for one. It's about your size I think."  

I bought the jacket and I am still wearing it six years later - almost every time I go out on the bike in summer. The old jacket, the one I bought for $3, was recycled - my BIL used it for rags to soak up oil while working on something.  The old jacket had been in use by me for almost twelve years. 

"Why don't more people recycle Cat?" I was asked by our neighbour across the way. Her boys get "hand-me-downs" from friends.

We both thought about it and came to the conclusion that it is too easy to go and just buy something new. If people had to put more work into actually making something they might be more willing to try and make it last even if they had to do it by passing it on to someone else.   

Thursday 11 February 2021

The WHO investigation

into the origins of the Covid19 virus has come up with the conclusions most of us expected. 

It was always going to be the case that there would be no definitive answer as to where the virus originated.  At the same time we could be certain that China would not be held responsible.

China did not want an investigation. They delayed it as long as possible. In that time evidence, if there was any, could be "lost" and other evidence would be degraded. There might be enough around to raise some doubts but there would be nothing definitive. After that you "invite" selected people in and control their movements. That was always the way it was intended to be. 

I know almost nothing about viruses and how they develop, mutate, or get transmitted. I do know something about research in the social sciences and, from talking to scientists, I understand something about the way they conduct research. It seems unlikely that the "investigation" conducted by the World Health Organisation was carried out in accordance with the best research practices. Doubt about that has been widely expressed in scientific circles.  

"It's a nice little whitewash job Cat,"a colleague told me last night. He had phoned me to check a reference in a paper he is writing. He tends to be thorough about such things.

When I was doing the research for my doctorate I kept hitting what seemed like a brick wall. Try as I could I could not get the "right" results - the results my supervisors told me I "should" be getting, the results everyone was expecting. I kept being told there was something wrong with what I was doing. I remember my senior supervisor saying something like, "Look Cat there is a vast body of research out there which tells us that .....  Now, your job is to find out how... "

The problem ended up being quite different. The previous research was not telling us that at all. My "job" was actually something quite different. It was to find out why the children I was working with were responding in the way they were responding. What I discovered was not what was suggested I would discover but something entirely different. I had to provide the evidence for that, not for the previous "research out there which tells us that...."  For a short while Galileo was more popular with the astronomers of his day than I was with the small team of psychologists with whom I was supposed to be working.

And that is what we need with investigations into origins of the virus. I didn't set out to become unpopular. I was just going where the evidence was leading me. If I had been more experienced at doing research I might not have actually done what I did at all. It is entirely likely that I would have continued to build on a body of research which, while it still applies to some situations, does not apply to another. 

I am trying to be open minded about the results of the WHO research but it would be good to have more evidence. 


Wednesday 10 February 2021

Copyright - yes it is


On the 18th December last year I wrote a blog post here about copyright. I have been asked to try and explain the concept a little more.

It is difficult to know how to do this but I will try to do it in relation to the situation the inquirer wanted to know about. She wanted to know about knitting patterns.

When you go into a shop that sells knitting patterns and you buy a pattern then what you buy is the instructions to make something. You have what is known as an "implied" right to make the item. 

You can make the item for yourself. You can also make the item as a gift. If you can't knit then you also have the right to say to someone else, "Please make this for me. I will pay you to do that."

Making the pattern for yourself or as a gift are obvious purposes of the pattern. If you have bought the pattern and the yarn with which to make it and you ask someone else to do it then there is a contract between you and the other person. You are asking them to do the work for you and you are paying them (or should be) to do the work for you. 

There are also other ways in which the pattern can be legitimately used or at least talked about. It might get reviewed in, say, a knitting magazine and criticised. (I spent some years reviewing knitting books for a major knitting magazine and most designers are very happy to have their work reviewed - especially if you have something very positive to say about their work.) 

If it is really outrageous then it might actually get into the news or it might, like Bernie Sanders mittens, be of momentary interest. Something outrageous might also become the subject of a cartoon, of satire or criticism.

It is also possible to use patterns for personal research or study. They can be mentioned in essays or if you are teaching a class but you cannot put the pattern into the essay or hand it out to your students unless you have written it yourself.

If you are using the pattern for personal research or study then you have the right to copy it from a library book for that purpose but you can't hand it on to other people. 

There are also special rules covering the needs of people with disabilities such as copying something in order to enlarge the print  so that a partially sighted person can read it. Sometimes copies can also be made for special purposes - such as arguing a case in a court of law. 

All those things are ways in which a pattern can be legitimately used. There are also times when a designer will give permission for you to use a pattern without paying for it. They may even go so far as to say those items can be made for sale, usually for charitable purposes. They may ask to be acknowledged but not expect any other payment. A commercial company may produce a pamphlet of items and actually say they are intended for use to make items as a fundraiser. By doing this they are granting permission to do it - although there may still be limits on the use - e.g. "for charitable purposes only".

All of these things are lawful.

What you cannot do is buy a pattern which does not state these things, knit the item and put it up for sale hoping that someone will come along and buy it for your financial gain. "Changing" something about the pattern, perhaps the number of buttons or the length of the rib, is not sufficient to prevent the owner of the pattern asserting their rights to the pattern. It does not matter if it is "just a plain old stocking stitch cardigan" if the instructions belong to someone else then you cannot use them. 

Now there are also books of "stitch patterns".  These are intended to be resources for designers and also as a means of other knitters individualising what they are making. Some of these resources, such as Barbara Walker's "treasuries", have been available for many years. Others, like Hitomi Shida's "Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible" are more recent.  The stitch patterns in them can be used by a designer in order to write a pattern because that is the purpose of the book. A professional designer will of course also acknowledge the source of the pattern. 

What is not permitted is for someone to knit a garment for sale according to instructions which have been written by someone else and say they have "substantially altered" it by changing the stitch pattern. That is not the case. You are still using the work of another person. Building a house and changing the side on which the doors are hinged does not mean you have designed the house. 

There is a lot more to copyright than this of course. It is a complex area of the law. Intellectual property law is a minefield. The simple solution to all this seems to me to be as follows.

If you want to knit (or crochet) items for sale for any commercial purpose or your financial advantage then either

(a) design it yourself or 

(b) get written permission from the holder of the copyright to use their work.

B... I hope that helps


Tuesday 9 February 2021

"Inclusion" is an

"in" thing right now. You know what I mean don't you? We can't leave anyone out - or can we?

Some years ago there was a major upset in a small rural community because the tin shed the footballers used to change in was not "accessible". The football club was told it had to be "upgraded" so that it was accessible. It would cost something to "meet the required standards" - money they did not have.

It was a very basic building. It was the sort of building which has been put up in many rural areas over the years. It didn't meet any sort of "occupational health and safety" standards. Nobody had even thought of such things when the shed was put up. It was just a place for the players to change out of muddy gear before going home. They couldn't all fit in the shed at the same time but it worked. The shelter did what it was intended to do.

And then somebody, who didn't belong to the club and was new to the district, decided that this was not good enough. Things had to change. The building had to meet the standards. The cost didn't matter. The money would be found.  It made no difference that nobody in a wheelchair was likely to want to use the building. If someone in a wheelchair had wanted to get in then his or her mates would simply have helped them over the little step if they couldn't manage it themselves. It was that sort of community. 

 At about that time one of the local lads crashed his car - speeding under the influence. He survived but he ended up in a wheelchair. The agitator became even more determined. The community wanted to raise money to help their local mate but by now the authorities were involved. Any money raised had to be spent on upgrading the "footy shed".  Access to the shed was more important than the young man's access to his home. 

In the end the footy shed got substandard access - only to be destroyed by fire the following summer. The local men got together to build ramps and make other alterations so the young man could return home. The agitator views this as a "win for commonsense". He boasts about it even now.

But is it really a win for commonsense? I am all too aware of the many, many buildings which are not accessible and which actually need to be accessible. A friend of mine always has to phone for help to enter a building in the city. Someone on the staff will always come out to help. They have been waiting years for a ramp but the building is heritage listed and working out how to do it has been problematic. It is by no means the only problem of which I am aware. A friend of mine got stuck at the end of a railway line once. There was no accessible exit. The railway staff were unaware of her plight and, at that time, the trains only ran once every two hours. There was nothing she could do but wait for two hours in the heat. (This was before mobile phones were common and she had no other means of making contact with anyone.) 

Compared with these sorts of problems something like access to the footy shed seems less important. Yes, it is nice to think that anyone could get in unaided if they needed to do so but what is more important? 

There has been a lot in the media recently about all sorts of inclusion and how some groups are not being included. There are demands for inclusion, for "equality" and more but I wonder what people really mean. Shouldn't we be demanding "dignity" first? 

Monday 8 February 2021

On not using the QR code

and why people won't.

For those of you who do not know about these things allow me to explain. In a response to "that virus" our state has set up a system whereby they track the good citizens of the state by asking them to "sign in" to venues using "smart phones" and "QR" codes. The system is designed to almost instantly get a message out to people if they need to isolate due to potential community transmission of the virus.

It's a good idea but.... people did it for a while and now they are, more often than not, ignoring the requirements. Other people cannot do it. The idea is that they will "sign in" manually.

The rate of compliance has dropped dramatically recently. This is not surprising. There are a number of reasons for it. First, not everyone has  the type of phone which allows you to scan a QR code. I don't. It would mean buying a new phone and a much more expensive plan than the current very basic one I use. (It just allows "unlimited" local and nationwide calls. I use it for contacting family. I do not want to be available, even to my friends, 24/7. They can use our old "land line".)

There are many people in the same position as myself. I do sign in manually but I have sometimes had to ask for help because the amount of space provided is too small. My manual dexterity limits do not allow legible writing in small spaces. It means giving my name and contact details to people I don't know sometimes. I don't like that even though I am sure the sort of person I would ask forgets as soon as they are done with me. 

And both these things take time - not everyone is expert at just holding up their phones and using the camera function. Writing details down takes time too. So, people are not doing it. Some places are not asking people to do it when they should. 

I paid a bill at the Post Office last Friday and was not asked to give my details. This should have happened but it did not concern me when it didn't. Why? Because I paid a bill. I paid it with my debit card. The Post Office has a record of me being there on their system and the phone company has a record of me paying the bill on that day. The bank has a record.

If I go into any other place of business and use my debit card then my details are stored there and by the bank. If I use public transport I have to swipe my card. There is a record there. If I go into the library and borrow or return books they have a record too. It is only on the occasions where there is no other record of my having been there that should be of concern. How do we overcome that?

My aunt, who is still young enough to be "with it" in many ways  has a "smart phone" but she signs in manually. She finds it faster but she also said to me, "We should be able to sign in just once when we enter the shopping centre." It makes a certain sense. There are situations where she would not buy anything and may not even enter a shop but she could still be exposed to the virus because someone else who walked by her has passed it on. 

Suggestions anyone?


Sunday 7 February 2021

I am late this morning

and the lead words mean that there will be very few readers apart from the regulars. I apologise to you all in advance because this is also likely to be short. Things have happened - no, nobody has died but a relationship has and I am feeling very upset and lonely. I am also trying to be positive because, despite the consequences, I know I have done the right thing.

All this was made worse by my brother and his partner leaving to return to their home in the eastern states this morning. They have spent the past few days moving some of the heavy machinery from the Senior Cat's woodwork shed. They loaded it on to two trailers to take it back to my brother's "shed". He will now take over the making of things in the way our father did. My brother already does some of that. He brought with him a beautiful wooden box for me - something he had made himself. It is another thing to be treasured.

But yesterday I went to a meeting of a group I have belonged to for twenty years. I have many friends in that group. We have a mutual interest in knitting and I have, for the most part, been able to enjoy it and contribute something to it. That has changed recently. A new committee has its own way of doing things. Yes, I know things change. We have to change and adapt in order to grow. I know that too.

There are also laws in this country which must be observed and abided by for the good of all. There is legislation which must be respected. This is particularly so in the case of incorporated community organisations which are there to help educate others.

I have been concerned for some time about "copyright" issues in this particular group. There have been some breaches of copyright and others are planned.  I have put on my legal hat more than once to explain what can and cannot be done. Yesterday a member of the committee announced in a meeting that she had made some inquiries of someone outside the legal profession and, as a result, the Committee had decided there were no potential breaches of copyright in what they are planning to do. I know this is not correct from both my own knowledge of the law and from consulting people whose job it is to administer that law. Sadly the Committee has not been willing to listen. I am sure they genuinely believe what they want to believe but that does not make it right. As a group I am sure they are honest and trustworthy but they simply do not see a problem.

This morning in what should have been blog writing time I wrote yet another very careful explanation of what the actual situation is. It is unlikely I will even get a response but, for the sake of the organisation I no longer belong to and my friends within it, I felt I had to try. I am now feeling lost and lonely and very, very unhappy. I know I have done the right thing but it really hurts. 

Saturday 6 February 2021

A letter from my great-grandmother

came to light yesterday. 

Brother Cat has been clearing the Senior Cat's woodworking shed. This time around he has been putting the heavy machinery on two trailers and tomorrow, with a good friend, he will transport it back to his home in another state. 

It was behind this he found a box that has most likely not been opened for at least half a century and probably longer. In the box there were some small tools - and an old fashioned tin "cash box".

Brother Cat thought there was nothing inside this but opened it to be sure. He found something that, for us, is treasure. There were several legal documents, two house deeds, a notice of death duties payable and my paternal grandfather's birth certificate. And one personal item, a letter from my paternal great-grandmother to my paternal grandfather.  It is dated 17th August 1932.

In historical terms I realise that this is not so very old but, for the clan, this letter is of huge significance. Great-grandma had immense influence on the family, so much so that there are still vestiges of it today.  

She was a "crofter's" daughter from Caithness. She married her brother's best friend after our great-grandfather travelled back to Caithness to tell the family that their son and brother had been lost at sea. The Navy had already sent a message of course but our great-grandfather used his leave to go and see the family. He fell in love with our great-grandmother - and the rest is not so much history as all of us. 

By 1932 Great-grandma had been a widow for almost a decade. They had, after my great grandfather retired from being a ship's pilot and maritime cartographer, moved to a small place on the banks of the Murray River and started another life as dairy farmers. When my great-grandfather died suddenly my great-grandmother simply went on with the farm. She knew what to do. She had been brought up to do that work.

And the letter is about several of the cows not producing well. She has decided to sell them and invest in more. There are two cheques attached to the letter. Neither of them has been cashed although she asks my grandfather to do this. Why he didn't do this we will never know. There would have been good reason not to do it although it would not have been for lack of funds. The passbook she held jointly with him has more than adequate funds in it. She was actually very comfortably off.

Her writing is very legible - and would have been dip pen and ink. Her language is clear and concise. For someone who  was only able to have the  bare minimum of schooling it is remarkable. She was apparently a constant letter writer - at least once a week to all of her children who lived too far away to speak to face to face. They were expected to write back too. Sadly those letters have been lost but this one remains.

Curiously it begins with the salutation, "My darling son B..... " and ends with her, "With love from your loving mother..." and then she signs it with her initial and surname. It's a little oddity, perhaps of the times but perhaps also of her strict Presbyterian outlook on life.

I will take it when I next go to see the Senior Cat. He is going to be fascinated.  

Friday 5 February 2021

Clearing out a shed

is proving to be a long, slow process.

Brother Cat is here from his home in an eastern state. He is slowly dismantling the woodworking machinery in the shed. 

I do not use the shed. That was the Senior Cat's territory. I know very little about woodwork. (Hopefully though I know more than some people as the Senior Cat and his friends have tried to educate me over the years.)

As I do not use the shed I did not notice that the small metal lathe the Senior Cat used for turning things like pens and buttons and other small objects was not there.  Of course my brother did notice that.  It was bolted to the bench and the shed has always been securely locked so the disappearance was both mysterious and alarming. There are other valuable things in the shed. Had anything else gone missing? 

I spent most of yesterday trying to track where the lathe might have gone. I sent emails. I made phone calls and more.

Eventually I got a message that someone thought someone else had it. Yes he had "borrowed" it. He had no business to "borrow" it at all. Had he asked and been vouched for by someone else we know I have no doubt the Senior Cat would have said, "Yes, of course you can use it at our place." But, he came with someone we know who has been in and out of the shed a number of times. This person had sought permission to get some timber for a specific job and his friend had come with him. He saw the lathe, asked friend if he could use it. 

After that it all becomes a little unclear but we had tracked it down. Brother Cat phoned him and was startled when this man was very obviously reluctant to return it.  Brother Cat pointed out politely but very firmly that he was taking it back to his own home and he was expecting it to be returned immediately. The "borrower" hedged. He couldn't possibly do it today. He "might" be able to do it tomorrow. By then Brother Cat was determined to get it back immediately. He would come and get it. No, that wasn't convenient either although the "borrower" was unable to say why.

At that point the man who felt responsible for all this happening phoned me to inquire if the "borrower" had been in touch - as promised. I told him, "No - and Brother Cat has the impression he would like to keep it a little longer." (I am nothing if not a polite and very diplomatic sort of cat - perhaps. I was actually feeling very upset by then.) 

"Leave it to me Cat. Tell your brother I will go and get it and I will do it now."

The lathe has been returned. It has been well cared for but all this should not have happened. We were very fortunate that the "borrower" was not smart enough to say he did not have it. We would have had no idea where else to look. Needless to say the person who accidentally gave away the location of the key (in a very unlikely place)  is very embarrassed.

The "borrower" has not apologised. I have never met him and I hope I never do because I know I would find it very difficult to be polite.

Meanwhile two other heavy pieces of machinery have been loaded on to a heavy duty trailer belonging to a neighbour of Brother Cat. He offered to loan it because he thought Brother Cat's trailer was not strong enough to take both pieces safely. 

We sat there for a quick lunch yesterday and Brother Cat mentioned he was planning on giving the neighbour a piece of equipment from the shed.  "I don't need it and I know he can use it. It will help to pay him back for the use of the trailer."

It's the way we have been brought up and I am glad we have been brought up that way. I just wish the "borrower" had been brought up the same way. Who "borrows" a small lathe worth over a thousand dollars without saying anything? "Borrows"? I think not.  

Thursday 4 February 2021

"Borrowing" items

and not returning them amounts to theft - even if it does not quite fit the legal definition. 

The legal definition of theft involves "intention to permanently deprive". All too often there is no such intention. People simply "borrow" something. At the time they do so they have every intention of returning the object but, somehow, over time this does not happen. Perhaps the most common objects are books. 

I found a book recently on the Senior Cat's bookshelf. It once belonged to someone else. I actually phoned the person concerned and asked if they wanted it back. Thankfully the response was, "No, I actually gave that to your father. I couldn't find it and bought another one. When it turned up I gave that one to him."

Right. I haven't been able to find anything else on his shelves that rightfully belongs to anyone else. 

I have books on my shelves which once belonged to other people and libraries - but I have not "borrowed" them. I have bought them at legitimate book sales or they have been passed on to me. The only books currently in my possession which do not belong to me are library books which I have properly and legally borrowed from the local library and a book which I intend to return to the owner this coming weekend.  It always worries me until I return things belonging to other people. I do not like the responsibility of caring for their things.

When the Senior Cat went into the residence he now lives in he wanted people to go on using his shed, the tools and machines in it. He told various people he knows that they were welcome to use it. The retired carpenter has been in and out to borrow clamps to fix some antique chairs for his wife. He let me know he was coming, what he was borrowing and then that he had returned them. Good. The priest from the Senior Cat's church has been in and out a number of times. A former occupational therapist he has taken small pieces of timber to do little things for the parish. He has used the clamps too and things like the drill press. That's fine. He always lets me know if he is around and he has been showing the Senior Cat what he is doing. 

A member of the church congregation has been doing some work for the cathedral. He has come and taken some of the timber that the Senior Cat has put aside for that purpose. I haven't been around when he has come but he has left messages to let me know he has been in.

There are two other people who know where the key is - one a long time friend of the Senior Cat who knows the shed almost as well as he does. The other is another friend of many years who has been a woodworker in the past but is gradually ceasing to do it.

Why am I saying all of this? Because Brother Cat is here to start clearing the shed and taking some of the things off to his own home. He and the Senior Cat have discussed this over the past few years - how and when it should be done and where my brother will store things.  And when my brother looked in the shed to start the job he found the small lathe had gone, the one the Senior Cat used to be able to sit at and turn pens and buttons and other small objects. Someone has unbolted it and removed it from the bench.

Yesterday I made discreet inquiries from people who might have "borrowed" it. I made sure they knew how upset the Senior Cat would be when my brother told him it was missing. We know it has to be someone who knew how to get into a very securely locked shed. I left phone messages and emails. 

Only one person has not been in touch. I hope very much he can tell us where the lathe is....

Wednesday 3 February 2021

Sir Tom Moore

was one of those extraordinary individuals - an "ordinary" man who did something ordinary and turned it into something extraordinary. Raising $97m for charity in the last year of your life, the year you had your 100th birthday by walking around your garden has to be seen as extraordinary. I wish I had met him, been able to shake his hand and simply say, "Well done ye." (In our clan that is the highest form of praise.)

I thought about what he had done as I went out to fill the bird bath this morning. That's a little thing. It needs to be done most days in summer. The birds use it of course but we have it at ground level and other animals use it as well. The local cats, dogs, lizards and more all know where to find it in our front garden. There was that wonderful morning I saw the young koala there early on that hot summer morning - drinking steadily.  (Koalas get most of the moisture they need from eating gum leaves.)

And I also thought of something else. Sir Tom died from Covid19 as much as he died from pneumonia and old age. Would he have survived had he been vaccinated? We will never know.

The Senior Cat will be one of the first to be offered vaccination when they finally start rolling it out here. I know there will be people who say, "What's the point of vaccinating very old people? They are going to die soon anyway." Yes, perhaps they are but, if they become ill with Covid19, our society will also believe that everything possible has to be done to save their lives. We don't "give up" on people. 

The World Health Organisation is apparently now telling the United Kingdom that, instead of vaccinating people in the UK, they should pass the vaccine on to countries "more in need".  This has been said before in other ways. In Downunder we are being told that there is no need for a vaccine here. We are, according to them, only getting a few cases. The Federal and state governments here are also under pressure to allow more people into the country, to allow recent arrivals to "self-isolate" at home and more.

I have been thinking a lot about all this. There are no easy answers to these questions. All governments seem to be struggling with this. The UK government has a country in lock down, an economy which is in tatters. Those who opposed "Brexit" will blame Brexit but it is likely that Covid19 has done more damage. The EU wants access to the UK's supply of vaccine too. 

We had scientists working together on this - and now politics is pulling it all apart far more rapidly than professional jealousy will.

Here in Downunder we do need to vaccinate. We are close to countries where the virus is still spreading. Little is said about it but it is spreading. The Federal government's overall strategy of vaccinating the population to try and keep the severity of any outbreak to a minimum makes sense. It makes sense because then, and only then, can we concentrate on getting the close Pacific region vaccinated as well. As I understand it doing one thing without the other makes no sense. Whether we could be doing more to produce greater quantities of a vaccine here is something I cannot comment on. I know nothing about vaccine production.

But WHO is castigating "rich" countries - and we are considered one - for not doing more to help. So far however they do not seem to have made any serious criticism of China. If China really is containing the spread of Covid19 as well as they claim then China has far more room to help - to help the region rather than those whose regimes of which they approve. We have almost no idea what is going on in North Korea. Are they getting help from China? What about Mongolia and places like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the west? We hear almost nothing about these countries. Covid19 is there and is likely a major issue. I suspect China is doing no more than applying small band aid strips. 

I don't know the answer but I hope the Downunder government will fulfill their commitment to the Pacific region - and go beyond that.