Friday 30 April 2021

Playing with the school curriculum

or really doing something about what children learn?

I think they are playing around trying to make it look as if they are "getting back to basics". Yes, there was a piece in the paper talking about the curriculum again, about changes to the curriculum. 

They are now saying they aren't going to teach fractions and telling them time on an analogue clock until most children are nine. I looked at that a little puzzled. I was taught to do simple fractions in my first year at school. (I was four, most children would have been five.) I was taught to tell the hours and half hours before I went to school and by age nine I knew about "railway time". 

No, I don't think there was anything particularly extraordinary about this. Most children of my generation did this. It was expected we would know. 

I had my annual 'flu vaccination last week. In the waiting area a mother was trying to get a young girl to do some "reading practice". Of course the "book" was on a screen but the mother was telling the child to "sound it out" when she came to a word she did not know. We discussed it. The mother told me that her child knew nothing of phonics and had not been taught any "word attack" skills. The mother did not use those terms but she had instinctively tried to show her child how to approach a word. "It just makes sense that way but she wasn't told that at school."

Children are being taught a lot at school. The concern seems to be that the curriculum has become too crowded. The revisions to the curriculum are supposed to be about "basics" but there are still things there that are getting in the way of learning those basics. There is still an emphasis on social skills that parents should be teaching. There is still an emphasis on social issues and "awareness" rather than actually learning. A neighbour who is a paediatrician was criticised for teaching her older child that "some things about boys and girls are different". It left her, to say the least, bemused. 

If parents taught children to respect other people, to be polite, and simply accept differences - and schools simply reinforced that - then surely all this "social education" could be largely replaced with learning other skills? I have a sneaking suspicion that the emphasis on social education is making children more aware of differences and less tolerant of them.

Thursday 29 April 2021

The Craft Fair

starts tomorrow. This is the first time I have been responsible for a stand at such an event from the start.

I have worked on stands for other people, for a knitting guild, for my friend P... and in an emergency capacity for an acquaintance. I have occasionally "minded" a stand for people working on their own - so that they can rush to the loo or get themselves a coffee. 

I know something about setting up and taking down. There is usually a buzz. There are forklifts moving around as pallets and crates get unloaded. There are tripping hazards of paper, plastic, boxes and bags in the aisles.

This time will be different. The stands need to further apart. The aisles need to be further apart. We need to have hand "sanitiser" to hand. Everyone has had to complete a workplace safety course rather than simply wear safety vests.

Oh yes, those safety vests. I have one of my own. Mine has had a good deal of use, more than I ever intended. It cost me $3 at the time - from the "cheap" shop adjacent to the main building of our local shopping centre. There is a second one here too. It belonged to the Senior Cat. I've put it in the bag in case H..., who is coming to help at set up, does not have one. 

And today we will head down to the Showground and I know I will still be wondering if I have packed everything we will need. Will there be enough pins? I've put over two hundred in but I know I will still worry about that in a mild sort of way. Has A....done all she promised she will do or have her other responsibilities got in the way? A... is a busy person and we might be asking too much of her.  Has she found time to print off the fliers? No, don't worry about that P... will go over to the printing place if necessary.

It's a good feeling though, a "good to be involved" feeling. Tomorrow there will be people coming. It will be the first such event most of them will have been to in more than two years. There will be a lot for them to look at. I know some of them will stop and talk to me and the good friends who have volunteered to help. I could not do it without them.


Wednesday 28 April 2021

Closing the borders

is causing some problems?

Our state government asked for all international flights to be cancelled for three days at the beginning of this week. There was a good reason for this. The number of Covid cases in hotel quarantine has gone up again. The last thing the government wants is for these to extend into the community.

I will admit to some concerns about shortly spending three days at a craft fair. I have had my 'flu vaccination but I have not yet had my Covid vaccination. I have tried but it has not been possible. I will be careful but being careful is not the answer to everything. Like everyone else I know we would like life to get back to "normal" - or something like it was once before - pre-pandemic.

And yes, I know there are people  who are stranded overseas who would like to be here. They believe things are very different here. In a way they are. We are out and about now. People are off to the footy! 

I have a cousin who lives in London. He and his partner had planned to be back here over the summer. They haven't been able to come. Given the opportunity they would but they aren't agitating to come. They are simply being careful where they are. It isn't that they would not like to be here enjoying the "freedom" we currently have but that they know their home for the last thirty years has been in London. They own a flat in central London. It's tiny but it is theirs. They have worked there. Most of their friends live there. They may yet retire here but they live there. 

There are other people in similar situations. They have been away from Downunder for more than "a couple of years" and had no plans to return pre-pandemic. Now they want to "come home" because of the pandemic, because of the restrictions, because they are no longer employed, and much more. 

There are also people who went off on holiday - despite being warned against it - or stayed away on "working holidays". They didn't heed the warnings about "come home before it is too late". There is a mother saying she has not seen her three year old because she allowed the child to go on holiday with grandparents to India. That was twelve months ago - just before the borders closed. The warnings were there but they weren't heeded. There is someone who told me recently of a cousin-by-marriage stuck in a south-east Asian country. Getting him home is going to be interesting and the police might be interested in his return too. Worried about Covid? Yes.

But I think we also need to think about people here. Do we bring in a thousand or more people a week and place them in quarantine - quarantine which is not totally secure  - and risk bringing in the highly contagious mutant strains of the virus? Or do we say to people who could have come home much earlier but made a deliberate choice not to do it ,"Sorry mate but not just at the moment"? 

My own view is that we should keep the borders as tightly closed as possible. There should be no "repatriation" flights for now. The economic cost would be horrendous but letting loose the virus into the community would be far costlier. I am told that this is "selfish" but my thoughts go a little further than that. If we can keep the virus away from here then we can do more to help in places where the virus is rampant. We can produce millions of doses of the vaccine and work through Covax to get it to where it is needed most.

I really am rather tired of people whining about wanting to "come home" when they have been living somewhere else for many years and had no intention of returning until it seemed more convenient to live here.  

Tuesday 27 April 2021

Cutting funds to libraries

is NOT a good idea. Whatever are they thinking of to even suggest it might happen?

Libraries have been an absolutely vital resource over the past eighteen months, more so than ever before. Why is it they could even think that the resources and the opening hours could be reduced? There is something very wrong with a country that can spend more on sport than on libraries and like resources.  

I know Downunder is not the only country facing this issue but I am also more aware than most people of the value of libraries. I have worked in school libraries and I volunteer in the local library. I use the library several times a week.  

I may not be in the library for long during  the week. It might be nothing more than a quick trip in and out to return books, to pick up books, to meet a student who needs help or for some other purpose.  

I also take care of the library's "knitting and crochet group" - a group which provides a social service of sorts.  People come and go from that group. There is a small core of regulars but there are people who come and go as well. They come for help. They leave when they have found out how to do something or  move from the district.  Covid19 meant we had to stop altogether but the core group was back together last Saturday and we had a new person who wants to learn to crochet.  As a southpaw I passed teaching her to G... - and G... is a very good teacher. Her explanations are clear and concise. She is patient too.

There is someone who has started to come recently. Her daughter-in-law drops her off and picks her up. She is shy and still a bit nervous but her smile was more ready on Saturday. She reminds me of the person who told me that the group had, quite literally, saved her life. We made her welcome at a point when she was seriously considering "ending it all". She has moved on since then to live in another state but her neighbour tells me that this person has actually started a group in her new local library.

Yes, libraries are more than "just books".  Ours has computers, free wi-fi,  quiet areas for study within the library and rooms at the side where students can get together to help each other. There are dvd's, cd's, audio books, toys to borrow and many activities in which to participate - chess, scrabble, programming classes,  French, story telling and craft activities are all available.  

There are people who spend hours in the library. For many year 12 students it has been "the only place I can get some peace and quiet".  

I know, I have said all this before but please think about it. Downunder spends  vast sums of money supporting sport which is fine in its own way but libraries have so much more to offer for so much longer.


Monday 26 April 2021

The domestic violence watchlist

has apparently expanded rapidly in the last eighteen months. 

It's disturbing but not surprising. I suspect it has always been under-estimated. The Covid19 restrictions, the lock down, working from home, having children not going to school, uncertainty about employment, loss of employment and... the list could go on. 

Our street is very short. I know everyone in it by sight and most people by name. I know what they do in the way of work. I know what their living arrangements are like. They have all coped reasonably well. I would be concerned about two families. The mother in one has had to take the young twin girls out for extended periods most days so that their father can work. I sense tension there. At the other end of the street there are more school age children and the mother has admitted to me that, after a week of keeping her three at home, it was "much easier to risk it and send them to school". Yes, they are lively. There are more school age children in the street and they went to school throughout. Their parents are essential workers of one sort or another.

The library was closed of course so I made mine available. We sorted out times and who might need to borrow what. I made piles of books I thought the children might be able to read for themselves and other piles of books I thought the parents might read to them. We sorted out socially distanced borrowing for all of them and for children I know in several surrounding streets. The shelves had gaps for a while. Now the library is open again and the gaps have closed again.

I have had children admit to tension at home. There have been comments like, "Dad gets mad if we make too much noise" and "Mum and Dad had an argument about going out of the house". The differences must have been resolved. Families are, thankfully, still together for the most part. There was some graffiti splashed around at one point but the culprits were soon hauled into line. (All this was nothing on the young teen who was harassing me at one point. Covid19 had more than a little to do with that as well.) It has not been easy here. In other parts of the world it has been even harder. People here could get out for a walk or bike ride or do their morning run. For the most part they live in houses separated by gardens, not in flats/apartments.

I think we have been pretty lucky here. All but one couple seem to be getting used to the restrictions we now need to live with. It is that couple which concern me - and others - the most. They have made me even more aware that domestic violence can take many forms. It may not always be obvious to everyone else but observation tells me it is present in that house. Other people think the same. 

There are cultural and language barriers there. I hope the person being abused really does believe that there is a safe place here or in several other houses in the street.  It's hard to know. 

Saturday 24 April 2021


and I am wondering about "unknown" soldiers.

There was a news piece recently about the way in which non-European soldiers who served in European armies have been treated in the past. It is the sort of history which troubles me deeply.

The Senior Cat never served in the armed services. He tried to join the navy - it being clan tradition to join the navy rather than the army. They turned him down because of his eyesight and his very flat feet. In the end he wasn't sorry. He volunteered out of a sense of duty rather than desire. WWII was on and I suspect many young men did the same. My godfather was one who did go to sea. 

But the Senior Cat was sent to work in a munitions factory, something he loathed and detested. He was not given a choice but he was not happy at the thought he was helping to produce anything which could be used to kill other people. One of his motivations for going teaching was because he wanted children to know there are alternatives to violence.

And in his first teaching appointment, to a tiny one teacher school in a remote settlement on the rail line that runs north-south through the centre of Downunder, he came across one of those unknown soldiers. There was an old man had served in WWI and was legally blind. He  had returned from the war and gone to work on a cattle station. He lived in a tin hut he had made himself and an indigenous woman cared for him. 

Nobody knew her name. She had nothing to do with the local indigenous community. All the Senior Cat ever found out was that this woman cared for the old man because her husband had also gone to war - and not come back. The old man had cared for him when he was dying and then seen to it that he was buried in one of those far distant foreign fields without any marker. He had brought back the few personal belongings and searched for the woman. Now all the years later she was watching out for him. She lived away from him in another tin hut. The Senior Cat said she never spoke about herself, indeed rarely spoke at all even to the old man she cared for. 

I often wonder what she was really like. Who was she? How did she really cope with losing a husband who must have been young? How did she feel about his remains being buried in an unmarked grave? Were the war conditions really so bad and those men thought so little of that they could not even be acknowledged by name? 

The Senior Cat used to go and read the papers to the old man. They talked in the way that men can sometimes talk about the things that really matter.  The old man and his carer have stayed in the Senior Cat's memory as people who really mattered but were largely ignored by everyone else.

The old man and his carer will have gone long ago. It's too late for them but I hope something may come of a new push to recognise those men who gave their lives. They don't deserve to be "unknown".

Paving the footpath

has begun. Yes, the WITS have been busy.

Big pallets of pavers appeared two days ago. I eyed them suspiciously. We cats do not fully trust the workmen to actually get on with this. Would they sit there for some weeks? Another company doing another street left them there for almost three weeks. How they did not simply mysteriously disappear still surprises me.

But here they began to use them yesterday. The pavers fit into each other like a regular jigsaw puzzle and they actually managed to do quite a long stretch. 

My favourite workman, the workman who has been very good about lifting me and the tricycle over the rubble and then over the muddy mess left behind, asked if I needed to go out. No. Brother Cat had managed to manouvre the loaded trailer out. I had waved him and his partner goodbye an hour or so earlier. I told the workman I would be going out today. He has left the big steel plate in place so I can pedal off when I need to.

My only question now is when are they going to lay the bitumen in front of our driveway? I do need to go out next week, particularly on Thursday. If they decide to do the bitumen that day I hope my favourite workman and his mates will help me over the low brick wall which serves as our fence. I suspect they will.  

And perhaps by this time next week I will be able to pedal down the footpath again. That will be nice - as long as I watch out for cars coming out of driveways.  

China's "Belt and Road Initiative"

alarms me. I wonder how the Premier of a neighbouring state could ever have thought it might be a good idea to have his state participate in it - even in the smallest of ways.

I know what it is doing in other countries. I know that thinking people I work with are thoroughly alarmed by the projects they see being developed with Chinese money. 

"Cat, it's money laundering," I was told a long while back. The person who told me this would be well aware of it. He's a forensic accountant. He was called in to look at some other dodgy dealings and would not be made welcome in China.

I don't know enough about accountancy to be able to work out the how but I certainly understand the "why". Not so long ago the Chinese bought a small island off the east coast of Downunder and now they are telling tourists they aren't welcome. The locals are feeling under pressure too. Is it their imagination? I doubt it. The Chinese would be happy to have the island to themselves - as a "tourist resort". It will be the sort of "tourist resort" which has added facilities.

As I understand it there are some people of influence in China with enormous sums of drugs and other money they need to launder. There are also people there who need to know what is going on in the rest of the world. They are in no hurry to see the army lose control in Myanmar or the corrupt government in Zimbabwe be removed from office either. They expect "favours" to be returned too. 

The Premier of the neighbouring state was either naive or he owes someone somewhere a favour or two. I suspect the latter. Middle Cat's son lives in that state. He tells me that the Premier is still popular - despite the bungles with Covid19 quarantine issues and an extended lock down. Apparently the funds that were supposed to be obtained through the BRI were going to provide thousands upon thousands of jobs. At least some of the electors thought there was going to be full employment, that people would be well paid and much more. 

It has made me understand how easy it must be to do this in other parts of the world where people are desperate for work at whatever the cost. They need to feed their families. It all sounds too good to be true - and it is.  


Friday 23 April 2021

Clearing the shed

is a slow process. 

My brother has been here for the last two days. He came from another state with a big trailer so he could transport some more of the Senior Cat's precious woodworking materials back to his home. 

Like the Senior Cat he now has a "workshop" and, again like the Senior Cat, he will be able to spend his "retirement" making things for other people. He has cleared most of the machinery. The last two days have been spent getting a big work bench ready.

The Senior Cat made this workbench when I was a very small kitten. Brother Cat was even smaller. Middle Cat and the Black Cat had been no more than thoughts about possible future children. 

I remember the Senior Cat working on it. He actually made the workbench for my maternal grandfather. My maternal grandfather worked making and repairing precision instruments. He could work in the smallest of measurements but he could not work with timber. The Senior Cat had to do that. 

The bench is about three metres long. It has twelve drawers - six on either side. It has been in constant use since it was made. It was used by my grandfather, my uncle, my brother, my father and many of their friends. It needs some attention now but it is still a solid piece of workmanship. My brother will go on using it. When my brother no longer needs it then it will likely go to his son-in-law - and yes, on one occasion here he used the top while he was repairing something for one of his children. My nephew on that side of the family does not woodwork. He is, much to his father's disappointment, not interested in practical pursuits - my great niece (age 11) has more idea how to mow the lawn.

Yesterday afternoon my brother and his partner managed to shift the bench and, somehow, get it on to the big trailer. They are now stacking the trailer with timber as well - Huon Pine, Blackheart Sassafras, Myrtle, Jarrah and other timber.  The Senior Cat used  lot of timber over the years but there is still some special timber there. He tried to buy naturally fallen timber where he could. Why cut down a tree if something had already fallen? My brother feels the same way. 

There is still much more in the shed. Brother Cat brought down the blue trunk I had at university. It still has the picture of Snoopy on the lid - Middle Cat painted that on. My mother had taken over the trunk when I returned home. I had no idea what was in it but my SIL and I opened it and found - yes, more yarn. It still looks as if it is in good condition. It isn't the sort of thing I am likely to use so I spent an hour yesterday sorting it and will deliver it to groups I know will use it well. 

The trunk was easy. It is the half finished toys, the timber cut ready to make  something - but what? It is the nails and screws and the bolts and the other little things in the endless drawers. In a way it is neater than it first appeared but Brother Cat will not be able to use it all. It needs to go somewhere but it needs to be sorted first. 

"I'll try and stay longer next time," Brother Cat told me, "But we need to get the trailer back this time." 

They will be off again today. It's hard to see it go. It's hard to know the Senior Cat won't ever use it again. It is also good to know that Brother Cat will be using some of it.

And sometime, in the future, other people will use it too. The Senior Cat says he is happy about that - and that has to be what counts. 

Thursday 22 April 2021

If you had been raped

would you be telling the world at public gatherings, demanding to meet the Prime Minister, and signing a book deal - before the courts had dealt with the matter?

I know I wouldn't want to do any of those things before or after the courts had dealt with the matter. I know someone else who ended up in a mental health unit after a serious attempt at suicide because she had been raped by a complete stranger in a place where she should have been safe. She was simply doing her job when it happened too.

But there is currently a case here in Downunder where a young woman was allegedly raped one night in the office of a Government Minister. She did not immediately report the matter to the police. There is nothing uncommon about that but she did report the matter to the Minister. The Minister apparently saw her in the same room as the one in which the alleged rape took place. That has, rightly, been branded highly insensitive.

Allegations of rape have to be taken seriously. It is very, very important that they are. In my mind rape is as serious as murder - except that the victim survives after a fashion.

So far the alleged perpetrator in this case has not been charged. Apparently the investigations are still "ongoing". And yes, the investigations do need to be thorough and the verdict needs to be "beyond reasonable doubt". Someone is going to go to gaol. A career is going to be terminated, an entire family is going to have to live with the consequences of the actions of the perpetrator - just as they are now living with the alleged actions. 

There have been complaints and criticisms that the Prime Minister is not seeing the alleged victim soon enough. I disagree with that. The alleged victim has no particular right to an audience with the Prime Minister. It is likely he has sought advice about the wisdom of meeting her before the court case is complete. 

And it is perhaps these things that bother me. The proper place to hear all this first is surely the courts? To me the demands of the person alleging rape are coming close to contempt of court. There should be no audiences with the Prime Minister until the matter is over - and that should not hinge on whether she wins or loses but simply on the matter being decided by the courts. There should be no book deal signed until the matter is decided by the courts either. It could be negotiated beforehand - but negotiated without publicity and not signed until the legal process is complete.  There should be no appearances at public gatherings either. This potentially puts pressure on future jurors. 

It is not a matter of whether the alleged victim was drunk or gave her consent - those are issues for the court to decide. Her conduct since then though is an issue even if she is acting with the best of intentions. If she is being advised to do these things then she is being poorly advised and she may well be doing other rape victims a serious disservice.  

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Railway journeys

are surely the better way to travel? 

I find it hard to understand why commuters would choose the bus if the train was (a) as close to their departure and destination points, (b) would get them to their destination at the same time but take less time to do it, and (c) cost the same fare.

Now I know that this is far from always being true but it is true of some journeys, especially here in this city.  

I was talking to someone about this a couple of days ago and I have been thinking about since then. 

"But I've always caught the bus Cat," I was told in a puzzled sort of way. 

I tried pointing out that he could leave the house ten minutes later and arrive at work five minutes earlier if he caught the train. Being a suburban train the fare would be exactly the same. I also pointed out that he would simply need to cross one road, using an underpass and walk perhaps a further ten metres at most. 

He shook his head. I gave up. There were other things we needed to discuss more urgently. It still left me bewildered.

I like trains. I can take my tricycle on the train. It means I can actually go somewhere if a train goes there too. Buses are not the same. I have caught a bus twice in the last twenty years - an urgent trip to the hospital to see my father. Now the rail line has been extended to the hospital I would pedal to the closest station and catch the train to the hospital. It would be the safest thing for me to do. Even allowing for pedalling time if I looked carefully at the timetable and planned my journey it would be faster than catching a bus. Buses are slow, especially in peak hour traffic.

And so it is that I wonder why there is so much opposition to extending the railway lines here. Railways are a much more environmentally sound option too. We have one electrified line and another (hopefully) to be completed by the end of the year. The trains on the electrified line are busy. In peak hour they can carry several hundred passengers and they do. Yes, people do use the service.

Governments over the years were short sighted when it came to the railways. They abandoned them. Some of the tracks were taken up and would now have to replaced at a great cost. There is still a mish-mash of gauges here too. The founding fathers should have put their heads together on that one in 1901. 

And I suspect there is another problem. Buses require drivers and once required conductors as well. The union voice about employment was strong. It takes more drivers (and an equal number of conductors in the past) to keep buses on the roads.

But when these people talk about the need to be environmentally aware and perhaps moving to environmentally friendly buses I wonder whether their opposition to trains is based on common sense. 

There was an accident on one of the "freeways" a couple of days ago. It was taking some people more than three hours to travel a distance it normally takes no more than thirty minutes to travel. Complaints were loud and many. My thought was that trains might have reduced the problem to more manageable proportions.

But I know that habits die hard. The man I was talking to will still be catching the bus. 

Tuesday 20 April 2021

Rubbish collection days

are interesting in our street. It is a very short street. Leading off it is a "court". This is actually classed as a separate street but the compactus which picks up the bins cannot access it. People who live in the court bring their bins out into our street for collection.

As you can imagine this means that on Monday evenings the street is lined with bins waiting for collection early on Tuesday mornings. And this has now been complicated by the WITS. The WITS did pour concrete yesterday...for quite a distance down the street. 

The boss of the WITS banged on our door very early yesterday wanting to know if I needed to leave the house. Thinking this might be a problem I had tried to organise my life around staying firmly at home...and I did. I think they were happy about that even though I was cheerfully promised that they would carry me and the trike over the work if I needed to go out. I told them it would have to be an emergency and there were no emergencies.

But of course last night they had gone and there was no way for me to get the bins moved. One of the neighbours and I surveyed the situation and decided it could not be done. There was still concrete that was not sufficiently hardened in  his opinion, to say nothing of fluttering orange safety tape everywhere. 

I put the bins next to the two safety cones at the start of our driveway and hoped it might alert the WITS to the issue. The first compactus went past before the WITS arrived. Grrrrrrrr I thought to myself. There were two dead mice in the bin and I really didn't want them there all week. 

I went out to see if I could quietly move them to the green bin but the first of the workmen was already there about to move a large load of soil which had just been delivered as well.

"Sorry mate, I forgot to do it for you last night." We agreed that the green bin should go on the other side of the road for collection and that he would move it. I resigned myself to smelly dead mice for a week. (Thank you Pluto-the-cat!) I knew I could ask the council to come by again but I was not at all sure they would listen. I put the bin back where it usually goes along the side fence.

A few minutes ago, just as I was settling down to check the day's email, there was a bang on the door. There was the head of the WITS. 

"Called them to come and get your blue bin as well. They're both empty and I put them back for you. Sorry about that."

I thanked him. He could probably hear me purring all the way back to the street. 


Monday 19 April 2021

There is a mental health pandemic

as well as the Covid19 pandemic. This is becoming increasingly obvious.

Nephew Cat, a doctor, works in mental health. He knows there are increasing problems. We have talked about this. He isn't old enough to really understand how some things have contributed to the increase and I find it hard to explain.

It puzzles him that people are so "connected" and yet so disconnected. People have mobile phones. They are addicted to the little screens but they feel lonelier than ever.  There is television to entertain us but no conversation. We can work from home via computer but asking someone a question involves an email.

Are we losing the art of holding a conversation? Do we actually listen to what our friends say any more?

Yesterday there were five children, all still of primary school age, racing up and down our street - currently almost free of traffic. They were on bikes and scooters. They don't live in our street so I was aware of them. It is very rare for children that young to be allowed out on their own. I wondered if their parents were even aware of where they were - and then sure they were not because the children were not sure which street they were actually in. 

How did I know this? Because they were talking to each other - on their mobile phones. These are children who are not yet perhaps twelve years of age. They were playing some game or other in the same street and they were talking on their phones.

We would have been shouting to one another. Our mothers might not have known precisely where we were but someone would have known us. When we were not shouting to one another we would have been huddled in groups negotiating, deciding who did what, where we were going and why. All that seems to have gone from weekend play. Of course during the week children are now at school, in after-school activities, or in out-of-school hours/holiday care. We didn't have that. We had to entertain ourselves. 

Of course there were mental health problems in my generation. There is a mother around the corner who, at the age of 87, is still caring for her severely psychotic son. I see him occasionally. He will be talking to the power pole outside their house or pretending to drive the rusting cars in their front garden. His mother longs to be rid of the cars but doesn't dare for fear of upsetting him. There are other people I know who have had episodes of severe depression or who simply wander the streets here their capacity to think and communicate dulled to almost nothing by strong drugs. It's not good. I try to say hello but, more often than not, there is no response.

But this is not the same as the really hidden problems. It isn't the same as the people whose "conversations" are held almost entirely by phone. It isn't the same as people who will tell you they have a hundred "friends" on Facebook but have really just accepted every invitation to "friend" someone and will never meet them. I don't see that as real friendship. Friendship is more a "let's sit down and have tea or coffee or (if you are that way inclined) a glass of wine together and have an actual face-to-face conversation" sort of thing isn't it?

We are putting more than "social distancing" between us. We are putting screens between us. Getting a text message from a "friend" is no substitute for seeing them and saying "Hello".  

Sunday 18 April 2021

Lessons in pouring concrete

are, so I am told, due to begin tomorrow. Does this mean that the ditch across our driveway will soon be filled in?

The "man in charge of operations" informed me that they "should be doing the concrete on Monday". Maybe, maybe not. I am not holding my breath.

Brother Cat had obtained the Micoo's number from head office to inquire about getting the trailer in and out. "Should be fine by Wednesday" he was told. Maybe, maybe not. I am not holding my breath about that either.

In the meantime I am struggling to get in and out. Yes, there is a small steel plate there but there is also a little ramp of sand and I have problems getting the trike over this. Everyone else in the street has a nice big steel plate in their driveways because they have cars. There is also a load of sand and a load of gravel next to our driveway - just where I might otherwise prowl. Someone is out in the street right now surveying this. I hope that, even on a Sunday, they might move some of it.

It is supposed to rain this coming week. We need the rain - but can  you pour concrete in the rain? Can you pour concrete even if the rain is "just showers"? I don't know.

I remember my maternal grandfather building the big workshop at the rear of their house. How he got permission to put it there is something we will never know. Money or services must have changed hands, probably the latter because my grandfather never seemed to have any money. The building involved rather a lot of concrete. We were not allowed to watch the process. Later though there was a little concreting to be done. My grandfather brought in one of those small concrete mixers and, with my mother's brother, did the rest of the job himself. We children watched this being done. It seemed like a messy business. There was certainly a fuss about keeping the concrete moving in the mixer and then washing the mixer out very thoroughly. 

I suppose we managed to learn something in the process. What still sticks in my mind is my maternal grandmother getting so angry about concrete dirt and dust coming in on the kitchen floor she had just washed - even when we had all removed our shoes at the back door. My brother has done more than one lot of concrete work since then. I haven't asked but I have no doubt he researched the process and then did it. He's good at finding out how to do things like that. I would have to do the same thing.

The concrete work must have been well done. The structure is still there after all these years. It now houses an enormous model railway lay out. The people who bought the house bought it so that the husband could use the building for precisely that purpose. They showed me the lay out once. We talked about how the building had come into being.

     "Yes, I know precisely where the concrete mixer stood," H.... told me with a laugh, "I still can't get rid of it all." He showed me, a lesson in how not to do it as well as do it I suppose.  

Saturday 17 April 2021

The magician's "cups and balls"

trick or routine is one of the oldest there is. It is thought it might date from as far back as 2,500 BC. There is at least a little evidence for that in the form of a picture on a tomb in Egypt.  

It was certainly mentioned by Seneca

"ic ista sine noxa decipiunt quomodo praestigiatorum acetbula et calculi, in quibus me fallacia  ipsa delectat. Effice ut quomodo fiat intellegam perdidi lusum"

The very rough translation is something like, "These arguments are deceptive but harmless like the juggler's cup and dice, in which the trickery delights me. But when I know how the trick is  done I lose interest."

I understand Seneca's feelings. I have lived long enough with the Senior Cat's interest in fooling and tricking others with "magic tricks" to know how a good many of them are done. I cannot do any of them myself but I understand how they are done - and once I know I tend to shrug and say, "Yes darling."

This week a friend of his who is still a professional magician - a man who made a living out of it until Covid19 meant there was no live theatre and no birthday parties and other events - was visiting when I prowled in. actually a regular visitor. He still values the advice the Senior Cat can give him. He will show the Senior Cat a new routine and ask for criticism that he actually wants to hear. This time however he had brought a trick for the Senior Cat - one of the oldest in the world. This was the "cups and balls" routine. The Senior Cat knew it of course. He has performed it many times but always with a much larger version of the required cups and balls. This version was smaller. The Senior Cat was delighted. 

The two of them were playing with it. P... said, "Look at this Cat!"

He did the trick. I clapped and he laughed, "Of course, you know how it is done."

And I do. I am not sure the Senior Cat has the manual dexterity to do it any more. I hope he has. He is going to be very disappointed if he cannot do it. Of course he can still produce a coin from behind the ear of the unsuspecting person who is close enough. He can still do another trick with three lengths of rope which is perhaps almost as old as the cups and balls trick. He can still shuffle cards for card tricks and more. The Senior Cat still works on these things. The activities person would like him to do a few more tricks for the other residents. 

But me? I have lived with these things for as long as I can remember. I have helped the Senior Cat write his "patter" - that endless stream of words magicians use to help misdirection. I have told him when something works and when it doesn't. 

Three years ago, at the age of 95, the Senior Cat retired from the International Brotherhood of Magicians. It wasn't until yesterday, when looking for something he had asked me to find, I came across his "Order of Merlin" award - given for more than just membership in his case. It was given for teaching young magicians.

"Magic" is not as fashionable as it used to be. Perhaps it is because there are too many other bits of electronic wizardry in our lives. We walk through doors which open automatically without thinking about it unless they cause a problem.

But perhaps we do need to think about things like the cups and balls routine more often. We need to think about how we entertain people. Isn't the harmless fun of that routine better than "shooting" people on a screen?

Friday 16 April 2021

Funding for mental health

has suddenly become a major issue again.

My doctor nephew works in the area of mental health. He was on contract last year. He is on contract again this year. Younger doctors are not getting permanent hours or permanent employment now, especially in the area of mental health. All too often he was told that, even though he was contracted to work a certain number of hours, there was no money to employ him at a shift even when though he had already arrived.  When on a shift he would often have to work far more hours than those for which he was contracted - often without pay. I don't know what his present position is but I am not sure it is any better. Yes, it puts the doctor under pressure. They can have mental health issues too.

But it also made me think of other things which have increased pressure on mental health for everyone.

Many more women have gone back to work in the last sixty years. This has generally been considered to be a good thing. It is a good thing in many ways. Despite all the problems involved some women have been able to use their training and their skills. Some have been able to pursue their careers and even reach the top rungs of ladders. Women are contributing more to all areas and they do so in ways which are different from men. 

All that has come at a cost - to men as well as women. I know there are still many men out there who feel threatened by this. They don't like working for a "female boss". Women feel under pressure to not simply do the job but to do it better than their male counterparts. At home they are still expected to do most of the housework and the bringing up of the children. We still don't value the mothering an caring roles the way we should, indeed we don't value good parenting and caring the way we should.

I wonder how many mental health issues have been exacerbated by these things?

There is also the issue of changes to the school curriculum. Children are now being expected to learn about "issues" we had not even heard of when I was at school. We knew about the importance of planting trees on "Arbour Day" but we knew nothing about "global warming" (global cooling was more of an issue if we knew about it at all). We knew it was wrong to tease anyone who was different or taunt them because of their skin colour but we didn't have lessons about "Islam" or "racism".  We were taught to be polite and that boys had a responsibility to look after girls and not do harm. We weren't given sex-education lessons or lessons about domestic violence and rape. Yes, those things existed but we were largely ignorant of them. Simply knowing about these things puts pressure on children, especially when they really don't understand all the implications. 

And now it is so much easier to make negative comments about other people and get away with it. "Social media" really isn't social at all. It puts some people under pressure to the point where they take their own lives. 

We don't address those issues. We don't address the issue of people who go to work but sit at a computer screen for most of the day or work on a production line where talking to the person next to them is not possible or not allowed. We ignore the fact that many people simply turn on a television set at night, that meals are not eaten together and much more. 

Is it any wonder those who work in mental health want more staff and more funding? Perhaps it is time to look at the sort of issues which are causing what is now considered to be a crisis? 

Thursday 15 April 2021

"Bonus" - definition please!

I thought a "bonus" was a sum of money paid to an employee in recognition of a good performance - a performance over and above of what is expected of them.

Some years ago my BIL was given a bonus at his last place of employment. It was awarded by his first boss there, before the company changed hands. 

My BIL had put a lot of extra hours into getting a major project off the ground after someone unexpectedly left the business. His boss was asking a lot more of my BIL than was in his job description and the bonus recognised that. It was presented to my BIL at the Christmas event, just after the successful completion of the project. 

He was a good boss. This is why a bonus should be awarded. It should be awarded for doing something extra.

There have been ructions here in Downunder because the former head of the postal service bought several Cartier watches as a "bonus" to senior executives. Now she may not have actually broken the law but her judgment has been questioned - and rightly so. The senior executives were well paid. They were doing the job that they were expected to do. What is more they were paid to do it and do it well. I would much prefer to see the young postal delivery person who was doing our round just before Christmas in 2019 get a "thank you". On several occasions when the Senior Cat was tottering around the front garden trying to do some watering this young person didn't put the letters into our box he came right in and handed them over to the Senior Cat. He didn't need to do that but it was that little extra service, the sort that should be rewarded. (Letter boxes in Downunder are on the street, not at the front door.) We tried to thank him with cold bottles of water on very hot days.

I don't believe our Prime Minister was being "sexist" when he questioned the judgment of the former head of the postal service. It is a judgment which should have been questioned. It is too easy to say the criticism is sex-related. And why were these particular people given an added bonus?

More than once I have wondered why people in some positions are given a bonus or some extra recognition. If you win a race and you get a medal then isn't that the appropriate thing? Why do  others then go ahead and give the medal winner extra recognition? Is that fair when there are other people who might have put just as much effort in but didn't quite make it? 

I am not suggesting we should give everyone a medal. That is just as silly. What I am suggesting is that we need to consider more carefully whether we should really be giving "winners" more than the medal or whatever initial reward was decided on.

Wednesday 14 April 2021

Why don't they build houses like mushrooms?

When Ms W was about nine her class at school was set the task of designing and making a miniature house. It was one of  those topics that spread across many school subjects.

Most of her class came up with perfectly reasonable everyday sort of designs based on their own homes. Ms W and another child came up with things which were quite different. The other child designed a house for living on Mars. (Her father is a physicist.) It was good. There were features for temperature control, growing food indoors and much more.

And Ms W designed "a house like a mushroom but without the stalk". I remember her coming to me and saying what she wanted to do. She was quite anxious about it. "I have to do it like that but I don't know how to make it all round and it has to be the right sort of round," she told me. She drew me a picture of what she wanted. She showed it to her father as well. He suggested using a ball, an idea she wasn't that happy with but was prepared to go along with if she couldn't think of anything else. 

At that point the Senior Cat stepped in and suggested a balloon and papier mache. Yes! She was off and away for the outside of the house and thinking about the inside of the house as she did it. There were problems of course. Ms W discovered that designing for circular was not as simple as designing for square or rectangular but she persisted. It helped that she had made a house out of a shoe box and knew something about "little things". The Senior Cat showed her a book of doll house designs he had. It had miniature furniture and so on. For the next three weeks Ms W worked on it in all her spare time. The end result was very, very good. Her work, along with that of the Martian house, was displayed with pride on the school's Open Day. 

I was disappointed when Ms W admitted she eventually put it into the rubbish. She has made more houses since then as well as other structures - there is a miniature library filled with tiny books, a bakery with tiny loaves, a florist with tiny origami flowers. They have been given to her friends as birthday presents.  All of them have been more conventional shapes.

I asked her over the weekend whether she had considered making another dome shaped structure. She shook her head but then said, "I still think it is a good idea. I'd have to find out a lot but if it's because of the cyclone then I thought about that and a house that shape would be better in a cyclone. Maybe you could have a square sort of shape inside the round part."

I wonder about this too. Would dome shaped houses be a better protection in areas prone to cyclones and hurricanes? If so, why don't people build them? Is it really that difficult to do? I can understand that it is much more difficult to build curved kitchen units but a "square sort of shape inside the round part" is surely possible - or is it much too expensive?

Ms W's father phoned me about something else yesterday and said she had gone on thinking about it. "I suggested she might think about architecture as a career and got told there was too much maths and engineering involved." 

And yes, Ms W has other career ideas now. It's a pity. I would rather like her to design me a cosy little house like a mushroom without the stalk.  

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Tracking mail

could become an obsession now that the Downunder postal service has been reduced to such an extent that it seems to be barely there. 

I sent a small parcel off to someone in another state at the beginning of the month. It still has not reached them. The tracking information suggests that it has finally reached a sorting office somewhere. I asked about this in the Post Office yesterday and was met with a sigh and shrug,

   "You know what it's like Cat. It could be a few days yet."

Not good enough. We only get mail delivered on alternate days anyway. There is another "long weekend" (for ANZAC Day) coming up. That will make yet another week when we only have two deliveries.

"But people don't get much mail any more. It's all done on-line," I was told. 

This is apparently what the postal service wants. Letter delivery does not pay. They don't want people to write letters. They want people to use e-mail or their fancy phones. 

I posted a letter yesterday. I sent it registered post because I need proof it has been posted. It was ridiculously expensive to do this because it was actually being posted to a letter box in the same post office as it was posted in. This is a matter of a few metres.  The postal service assistant at the counter was not impressed at the cost - and neither was I.

And now the parcel delivery service - which is quite separate from the regular delivery service - seems to come when the contractor feels like it. A packet came for the Senior Cat last Sunday. It is still classed as "mail" but it was delivered on a Sunday? I queried this.

"It's my second job. I just do it when I can," I was told. Really? This is the way they run things now?

When my parents first moved in here there was a regular mail service and an equally regular parcel service. We knew the parcel delivery person. She was great fun. She lived on a boat in the docks area and we heard about their plans to eventually travel further than the best fishing spots. More than once we filled her water bottle on a hot day. We were sorry when she eventually retired and they did sail off. She sent us a post card from thousands of kilometres away. They were enjoying life.  We just wished that the parcel delivery people who took over were as good and as efficient. None of them have lasted long. 

Now I have "tracking numbers" to tell me where parcels are supposed to be and when registered letters have been delivered. Those don't seem to work either. 

Today is supposed to be a delivery day. I am expecting mail but I doubt it will be delivered. The postal delivery person will decide, perhaps rightly, that it is too difficult to get down the street while the WITS are here. 

Perhaps I should just curl up on my sleeping mat and put my paw over my ears and sleep until the usual services resume? 

Monday 12 April 2021

The Prime Minister is not responsible

for everything that goes wrong. Our Prime Minister is not responsible here, the United Kingdom Prime Minister is not responsible there, the Canadian Prime Minister is not responsible there. I could go on listing other countries but I hope I have made the point.

Our Prime Minister is currently being heavily criticised over the delays people are experiencing in trying to get Covid19 vaccinations. I haven't even been able to find out when I might get the first of the two jabs.

Yes, I would like to get the jabs but the Senior Cat has not had his yet. He is a tier above me in the queue. The staff who work to care for him are ahead of me in the queue too. There have been problems for which no Prime Minister can be held responsible.

Our government first ordered vaccine doses from abroad. It was done before anyone realised just how serious the situation was going to become, how far the virus was going to spread and what the consequences were going to be on a global scale. Yes there were contracts in place. If the contracts had been fulfilled there would have been enough doses for everyone who needed it and wanted it. That hasn't happened because of a situation outside the control of the Prime Minister, the government, and the health services.

When it became clear that the necessary doses were not likely to be available the government did move. They moved rapidly. We are now producing doses of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine in this country. To do that so quickly is extraordinary. Producing doses of a vaccine is not like making pies in a commercial bakery. It is a much more complex process than that. It has to be rigorously controlled too. 

And then there have been problems with the Astra-Zenaca vaccine. The people who developed cannot be held responsible for not knowing about the blood-clotting problem. That a vaccine was developed at all in such a short space of time is nothing short of remarkable. The instances of blood clotting issues are very rare and I am sure those responsible for developing the vaccine are distressed at the harm that it has caused some. It seems that there may be some problems with other vaccines too. Is our Prime Minister really responsible for these?

The anti-vaccination crowd is using the problems too, using them to try and stir up vaccine hesitancy. That's not helping either.

Quite frankly I am fed up. I'd like to get the jabs. I'd like life to get back to as "normal" as possible - better than that if we can. I think life will always be different from now on but it doesn't mean that life cannot be enjoyed in many ways. I will carry a vaccine passport along with my regular passport if I need to. That doesn't bother me. I am not going to go anywhere I shouldn't go or that isn't said to be as safe as possible. I am not going to blame the Prime Minister for a virus that came from somewhere else and which others have spread. I am not going to blame the Prime Minister for not being able to be absolutely precise about a very complex situation. 

Could we please just get some cooperation on the issue so that those who need the vaccination most get it first? 

Sunday 11 April 2021

A "mass shooting" is not a legal term

but it is generally considered to involve the shooting and death or injury of three or more persons.

According to an article in this morning's paper there have been fifteen such mass shootings in this country since 1971. Those shootings resulted in 113 deaths.

The worst of these was in 1996 at Port Arthur. Thirty-five people lost their lives. 

It was the Port Arthur event which prompted the then Prime Minister, John Howard, to bring the states together and demand a change to gun laws across the country. There was a "National Firearms Agreement" and many of us believed we were on the verge of something good - a national registry of gun ownership with some very necessary restrictions being put in place.

There is no "right to bear arms" in this country. It is not necessary. The vast majority of people have never held any sort of gun apart from a toy - if they have held that. The only people who need guns are those whose occupations demand it - farmers, the armed services, security, police and similar occupations. For many years even our police were not armed.

There are now concerns that the National Firearms Agreement has not been fully implemented, indeed that gun laws could be watered down. The agreed registry has never been established. People can still buy large amounts of ammunition - and do so quite legally. The lower age limit for gun use varies. There are other issues too, especially around licences for people who are subject to apprehended or domestic violence orders. That alarms me.

 We don't want to go the way of the United States where there have been more mass shootings this year than we have had in the last fifty.

Gun ownership laws are a state responsibility under our Constitution. States need to come together so that we have uniform gun laws, laws which are tight and do not allow guns to be used by anyone other than those who need them. Shooting anything should not be seen as a "sport".  


Saturday 10 April 2021

Prince Philip had an amazing memory

and I would like to share with all of you something about that. I believe it says a great deal about a man who was always there for the Queen. It was not an easy role to play. 

I met him twice - both times by accident. On the first occasion he was opening a new centre for the profoundly intellectually retarded. Weeks of work had gone into preparing for his visit. It had been decided that the children should be lined up to listen to his speech. This was always going to be awkward and particularly awkward for me. 

I had a child in my class who was a "runner". We had to keep the classroom door on a latch he could not reach so he could not leave the room. I was worried about having him at the ceremony. I offered to stay with him in the classroom. The headmaster decided otherwise. M... and I would attend the ceremony. One of the teacher aides was supposed to have firm hold of him while Prince Philip was speaking.

The inevitable happened. M... managed to slip out of the aide's grasp and  ran right across in front of the Duke. I tried to grab him of course but he was off - and I was on the ground. The Duke stopped speaking and laughed. He cut short what he had to say and came to ask if I was all right. Someone else had gone chasing M....

Fast forward almost fourteen years. I was back at university doing some research. The Duke was coming to open a conference that had nothing to do with me. There was the usual fuss about preparation and someone had said,

"Cat, can you park your bike inside please so it won't be in the way when the Duke comes."

I did that. The weather was atrocious, not even the best of umbrellas was going to stop the Duke getting wet on the proposed route. What did they do? They changed the route to another entrance - and had to go past my bike. I was in the library.

"Cat, can you please come downstairs. The Duke wants to talk to you about your bike," came the message.

"Don't be stupid."

"I am not being stupid. The Duke wants to talk to you. This is..."

And there was one of the retinue looking a bit anxious. I went down disbelievingly with both these people. I did not mention my previous encounter. After all the Duke was not going to remember that was he? And yes, the Duke was there. He had my bike/trike on one side and was looking at it with more than a passing interest. 

He rose to meet me. The aide started to speak but the Duke got in first and said, "Gave up trying to chase the little devil did you?"

He explained to those standing around that he had seen me before and where it was. The name of the place eluded him but he knew the purpose of it and what had happened. 

How many of us would remember a chance encounter from all those years before? We had a short but friendly chat. He asked what I was doing there, shook my hand and wished me well before going to open yet another conference. He was a few minutes late for that - but I hope they were minutes well spent.  

Friday 9 April 2021

Safety induction procedures

are on the menu today. It is yet more paperwork to be completed before we can, I hope, sit there and peacefully knit or crochet and chat to people about our project.

I have been working as a show steward for some years now and this is the first time I have been required to do a "safety induction" course. It is an on-line course that someone or, more likely, a committee of someones has managed to dream up. No doubt they have done it in response to some new requirement from those who rule the "Occupational Health and Safety" universe.

Don't misunderstand me please. I think occupational health and safety are very important. I have worked in places that would have current OHS people tearing their hair out. I have seen things that would give them sleepless nights. I know people who have been injured out of the carelessness of others as well as themselves.

But how much good is the current "induction" process? The problem seems to be that it has tried to be a "one-size fits all" approach when it is more suited to people using things which are actually dangerous - such as power tools. It would be more useful to know exactly where to find the First Aid station and the precise title of the person in charge of the current event - and where to find them if necessary. 

There is a lot to read. I skimmed through it yesterday. Like many such documents it tries to be clear but fails. It fails because it is simply too long.  Some of the questions could be better written too. In order to pass the test - and pass it you must before you can "work" there even as a volunteer - you need to get nine out of ten questions right. That's not easy when the questions are written in language which lacks clarity.

It has made me wonder whether some OHS efforts fail because people simply don't understand what is expected of them. Of course this does not excuse the current WITS not using ear muffs at certain times. It does not excuse them doing other things that make me shudder for their safety. Of course it is all "just a matter of common sense" - and that seems to be lacking far too often.

Thursday 8 April 2021

Access to premises

is proving difficult. 

I managed to get "out" yesterday but, when I arrived back from visiting the Senior Cat and doing a couple of errands, I could not get back in. One of the WITS stopped his great big digging machine and said,

"Didn't know you had gone out. You snuck out on me. Hold on." He, rightly, would not allow me to try and get the trike over the mess. I could not have done it. I could not get myself over the mess. 

I kept all piteous mewling to myself. He lifted the trike over the mess and then - yes, lifted me! It was all done quite cheerfully but I felt a bit - unsettled.

"Anyone else going in or out?" he asked.

"Yes, the man who mows the lawns and someone for a meeting just after lunch."

"Ah, be done before then. I can bang in some and they can drive in if they need to."

S..., who mows lawns, walked down from the next street instead. He did it last time as well.  P..., who was coming for a meeting, and had things to carry drove cautiously down the other side of the street. The workman who had lifted me across the mess had not finished but he told her, "Got warned you were coming. Park there. It will be quite safe." P.... parked. He gave her a hand across the mess. She is a much bigger person. 

After we had met and decisions had been made she left with the same helping hand. 

I looked at the very large chocolate rabbit which was given to the Senior Cat. His friend is quite unaware that the Senior Cat doesn't much care for chocolate - and neither do I. The Senior Cat had given it to me with instructions to "give it to someone". I took it out to the WITS, "Any of you have children....?" I explained how I had come by it.

They laughed and took it from me. Later they had cleared the mess and tamped in some gravel and sand. I can get in and out this morning. I hope the parcel that is waiting at the post office is still there.

But perhaps there are some advantages to being a smaller cat. It means I can be picked up and put across the mess - not that it is very comfortable!

Wednesday 7 April 2021

Why would you build a smaller hospital

to replace one which is already too small?

That's a serious question. This has already been done once - and now they are planning to do it again. 

The main hospital in the CBD was replaced by another several years ago. It was one of those "budget blow-out" affairs that paid homage to a  political party but does not do the job it is supposed to do. The main entrance is the size of a cathedral - if not bigger - and serves no purpose except confusion. There is no place for the staff meet, no place for them to store personal belongings, no place for them to eat and limited places for the lucky few to park. There are no wards. Each room is individual and has its own en-suite facilities which might sound good but actually means less monitoring of all but the sickest patients. The meals are delivered by robot.

The Senior Cat spent several nights in there almost three years ago. I've been told that the food has improved by then but a friend who was in there for five nights not so long back has said that, had it not been for her family, she would not have eaten because she couldn't reach her food. 

"Individual rooms are lovely if you are ill Cat but they need to be combined with the level of care that actually allows you to get better."

I have to agree. 

It is therefore with alarm that I read about the plans for the new women's and children's hospital in the CBD. I most certainly support the old one being replaced. It is a rabbit warren. A late friend of mine actually lived in the hospital for a number of years. There was nowhere else for her to go. Every morning the staff would help her into her electric wheelchair and she would spend her days going all over the hospital and sitting with anxious parents and frightened children, taking messages to other places as she went. She knew the building inside out and there were few places she had not managed to find a way to access. All the same she knew it could be improved. More than one simple ramp was put in at her insistence.

A new hospital was not on the horizon in her time but I think she would have a thing or two to say about the plans. I can hear her now, "It's smaller? Why? It needs to be bigger!"

M... would not have been interested in individual rooms with en-suite facilities for anyone other than those children who were critically ill. She would have found the downsizing of that area unbelievable. 

M... would have been looking for a school within the building, more than one play area, rooms for meetings, staff facilities, parent facilities, therapy areas and much more. Her thoughts would have been on well lit spaces with access to "outside" and "fresh air". 

Children have very different needs from adults when it comes to hospital facilities. M... knew that. Most parents would know that too even if they cannot always put it into words. 

I once went on a visit to one of the best known children's hospitals, Great Ormond Street in London. The buildings were old even then but it was still catering for patients in a way which would have met the approval of M....  There were many very sick children there, often with life threatening conditions. Despite that many of them were out of bed. The older children were doing school work - the activity the group I was with had gone to see. The younger children were, as far as possible, actively engaged in other activities. We saw children who were too ill to be involved in any group activity. There were volunteers reading to some of them or playing simple games. Yes, there was tragedy there but it was not a place of despair, rather of hope. I doubt the staff at that time would have been interested in the provision of individual rooms except for the most critically ill. 

It is much more likely that they would have laughed, as we did, at the young doctor who crawled out from underneath one of the beds and, giving us a wry smile, told us, "First catch your patient."


Tuesday 6 April 2021

The WITS are back!

The WITS (workmen in the street) returned this morning. There was some speculation among the residents as to whether they would appear again. 

Nobody expected them to be there over the Easter break. For the WITS that began at lunchtime last Thursday. I wondered if they would extend it - perhaps until tomorrow. No. They arrived just before seven this morning.

Just before that I heard the council rubbish vehicle going slowly down the street and emptying our bins. I am not sure who put the green bin out for me. It was filled to capacity with the lighter parts of the apple tree we have lost. One of the male neighbours would have done that for me without even asking. 

We have excellent neighbours. I have needed a little help recently. There have been tiny things - like raising the seat on my new trike - but things I cannot do myself. I try to repay them. T....and H... across the road have been munching their way through the apples that came from the fallen tree. Still, they don't have to do these things. I might have managed the bin myself - albeit with some difficulty.

I was about to go out and bring the empty bin in again - out of the way of the WITS when I heard it being returned. One of the WITS was doing it.

I am now hoping they won't find something rather more important not to be a problem either. Brother Cat phoned to let me know he and his partner will be over here for a few days next week. They plan to bring the trailer again. This time they will stack it with the best of the timber in the shed. They also want to spend some precious time with the Senior Cat. The big question is going to be whether or not they can get in and out of the driveway while the WITS are here. I gave my brother the relevant phone number - the one we were given - so he can make inquiries today. 

I looked in the shed yesterday. There is still a lot there. I know some of it is valuable - Huon Pine, Blackwood, Black heart Sassafras, Tasmanian Oak and more. There are tiny pieces known as "pen blanks" for turning wooden pens or making buttons. There are larger pieces which my brother will turn into boxes and still larger pieces which will become cupboards and display units. He has some commissions now that the machinery he took last time is in place. 

He sent photographs for the Senior Cat to see it all.  I showed the Senior Cat yesterday. He sighed but in a more contented sort of way than usual. 

"It gives me so much pleasure to know that your brother is taking over where I left off."

I look at it and I see the Senior Cat there in my brother. 

And, shortly, I will go out and thank the WITS for bringing the bin in for me instead of leaving it in street.  

Monday 5 April 2021

Dementia patients

vary as widely in their behaviour as anyone else. 

"Oh, it's what they would really be like if there wasn't that social veneer," I was told yesterday.

That's nonsense. I have known too many people with dementia to believe that. 

There was O... a lovely, gentle, kind man who became so confused and angry that he had to be given medication to calm him. He had no idea who he was or where he was. That he would have been like that apart from "good manners" was nonsense.

There was C... whose dementia was brought on by a brain injury. He had a doctorate in one of the physical sciences. One of his pleasures had been bush walking. Prior to his brain injury he would help to find people lost in the bush. When dementia set in he would wander the streets and become lost himself. Knowing who he was local people would guide him home but have to be careful how they did it because he would lash out at the merest provocation. More than once I had to pretend that he was taking me home rather than the opposite way around.

There is K..., the Senior Cat's oldest friend. K... is now so confused that he asks his wife things like, "Who am I sleeping with tonight?" He has been married to her for over sixty years and never slept away from her apart from trips to hospital. Before dementia set in he would not even asked the question as a joke. He's still a gentleman even if he can't remember something he was asked to do from one side of the room to the other.

There is M... who lives in the same residence as the Senior Cat. She spends her days wandering the building. People have to be constantly on the watch that she doesn't escape. It is not really the right place for her to be but there has been no success in getting her into a unit intended for dementia patients. Two days ago she tried to tell me to get into bed. Perhaps it was a left over from her days as a hospital matron. She was very insistent and becoming quite agitated. I lay down on the Senior Cat's bed for a moment. It seemed to satisfy her and she wandered off. When I left one of the staff was trying to get her to have something to drink. She was behaving like a toddler at that point and she looked at me as if she had never seen me before.  The staff tell me that "bossy" is her more normal way of behaving.

I am not convinced by the "social veneer" idea. Yes, people change. It is likely that all sorts of things can cause us to be less patient or less polite when we grow old and frail and downright frustrated. 

The Senior Cat can be forgetful and, if he mishears something, he can get confused but he is still very polite and thoughtful of others. He doesn't bother the staff unnecessarily. He watches people like M... and tries to be tolerant of them. He can still enjoy a one-on-one conversation about many things. I know we are lucky. I sometimes wonder, especially when he is so concerned about K..., how he would be if he had dementia. 

It seems to me we know very little about dementia...and people with dementia can't tell us what it is like.

Sunday 4 April 2021

Please write a will!

I am going to be more serious than usual on a Sunday morning and say, "Please write a will!"

If you haven't already done so then this is one of the most important things you can do. I know none of us want to think about this but the consequences of not doing it can be horrendous for the people you love and for whom you want to care. 

The subject came up twice yesterday, once while I was talking to a neighbour. He came over, apparently casually, to ask my advice about changing his will. One of his children has made a disastrous marriage and he wanted to be sure that the partner could not benefit. It's much more complicated than I am competent to handle but I explained why he needed to see his solicitor. (He's the sort of man who actually has a solicitor so that helps.) He asked some questions and I know he will actually make an appointment to get the situation sorted out.

And then, late yesterday, someone phoned me about something else entirely. Somehow we got onto the topic of her right to live in the house she is currently living in. That situation is complicated too. It is further complicated by the fact that she knows nothing whatsoever about the law. If she had known something about the law she might never have agreed to do what she did. It was certainly to her disadvantage. Now, unless she writes a new will, the one person she does not want to benefit will end up getting everything. 

Writing a will is not a complicated business. It is what you want to say in it that can be complicated. My will is a one page affair. I wrote it myself because I am competent to do that.  It makes two bequests and then a division of my assets - whatever they happen to be at the time of my death.  A solicitor friend who read it over for me was kind enough to say, "Well that's perfectly plain. Nobody can argue with that." 

Why did I get someone to read it over when I know I am competent to write it? Because it is a very important document and I needed to be certain that I had said what I intended to say.

But, when I move from here, I know I am going to have to update my will because my circumstances will have changed. It is something people don't always recognise.

That is the problem for the person who needs to write a new will. Her circumstances changed. She should have written a new will when her husband died because there are complications but she was unaware of those.  She also needs an "enduring power of attorney" and an "advance care plan" to be put in place. Her particular circumstances make these things essential. There are forms available for the latter two things. They aren't difficult to sort out. We will meet and I'll help her get to the point where she can get the forms signed with a minimum of fuss. 

I don't mind doing this because, without it, she will soon be even more vulnerable than she is now. She has been taken advantage of and it is going to be hard enough to face that. Writing a new will should help. 

We all need a will, even if we think we haven't much to leave. When we do have something to leave it is even more important. I once saw the will of a farmer. It was written on the back of a docket from the local town's "stock and feed store". He had written it standing at the counter and got the manager and an assistant to witness it. They had been talking about wills because the farmer said he was "feeling a bit rough".  The farmer took it another couple of hundred metres to the bank to deposit - and then collapsed on the floor. He died three months later.  The difference the will made was the difference of a lifetime for his family. More than once they have said,"We are so glad Dad made that will when he did."

Make a will? Yes, I have. I am glad I have.


Saturday 3 April 2021

Lance Armstrong was paid $4m

to participate in the "Tour Down Under" - the bike race held in this state as a "tourist attraction". 

That was ten years ago. It was a lot of money then and it would be even more now if inflation is taken into consideration. 

Lance Armstrong is also a cheat. There was no "morals" clause in the payment so he has kept the money.

All this came to light yesterday when the "confidentiality" clause came to an end after ten years. Predictably there are people who still claim that what he was paid was worthwhile because of the "benefits" it brought into the state.

Yes, people came to see the race. There were a relatively small number of people but they did spend money on accommodation, meals and so on.  Yes, some local people went out to watch and they also spent some money.

But was it really worth it? Yes we have a "bikeway" named after the man who organised the races at the time. I use part of it occasionally. Perhaps it would not be there without those races. I don't know.

There is perhaps also a little more interest in that sort of cycling, or even in cycling in general. It has not stopped people complaining about a proposed bicycle track in the CBD. I understand their concerns but part of the answer is an increased awareness of the interaction between cyclists and pedestrians, cyclists and cars and the need to encourage safe passage.

But the revelations about the payment also made me wonder whether we don't have a problem in sport simply because people do get paid far too much for things like the ability to hit a ball, kick a ball, pedal, run, jump, swim, dive and so on. It is perhaps "nice" to be able to do those things and it is important to be active in order to help maintain good health - but is it right to pay a very small number of people such ridiculous amounts of money because they can do these things? What does it really contribute? 

I have said elsewhere that we don't pay the people who work in laboratories and hospitals anything like these amounts. We pay teachers a tiny fraction of what Armstrong was paid. There are endless numbers of people who are in caring professions or who, like rubbish collectors, contribute to our overall welfare and well being who get paid a pittance compared with Armstrong. Many artists, musicians and writers get paid too little to live on and so have second jobs while Armstrong and others like him are cheating their way to the top.

The Tokyo Olympics are coming up. There will be cheats there - cheats who hope they can get away with it or who might not even know that they are being used to "win glory" for their countries. I have no doubt at all that a few scientists have been trying to work on performance enhancing drugs that cannot be detected.

Why is this so important? Aren't there more important things we need to think about - for the good of everyone perhaps?

Friday 2 April 2021

Proof of identity

is needed to get a passport, open a bank account, get a licence to drive and many other things. Now there are suggestions that proof of identity should be required to open or maintain any sort of social media account.

This would stop cyber-bullying - or so those suggesting it claim. It wouldn't. There will always be determined people who would find their way around such a move.

Several years ago two students at a local primary school hacked into the school's computer system. They had access to all the data in the system, including some very sensitive information about their peers, about the staff, about the school's accounts and much more. They did it not out of mischief so much as to show how easy it was to do it. These two boys were not even twelve at the time. Security was upgraded but  I do not doubt that there are other able students in the school now who could find their way in to the system.

I know another boy, one who has caused a considerable amount of trouble, who hacked into a computer at the behest of his grandmother. He admitted to me later that it was "dead easy". That frightens me.

My day job involves working with people all over the world. The system we have set up involves some fairly serious security. This is not because anyone intends anyone else some harm, just the opposite. There are people however who would prefer others not to know that they are spending two weeks of their four weeks annual leave doing a stint in a hospital in a far off place or that they are helping to repair a mosque when their normal place of worship is a synagogue. That's commonsense. I don't know how many of them have social media accounts for the sole purpose of discussing the issues they come up against. I have never met most of them and I never will. Could they all provide the "100 points" of ID proposed by the people making the suggestion that proof of identity is needed to have a social media account? I doubt it. One of the people I work with on a regular basis doesn't even have a birth certificate.

Proof of identity is not the answer to cyber bullying. It is not going to stop it. Devices will still get hacked, indeed it will encourage hacking. People who have been in abusive relationships might actually be more at risk.

I don't know what the answer is but it might help if the police had greater powers to "search" when bullying is reported.  

Thursday 1 April 2021

"He's on the autism spectrum"

a mother told me yesterday.

I was at the library and her child was running around. He had almost knocked me over a moment before but she did nothing to stop him. I raised my eyebrows but she just shrugged and said,

"If I try to stop him he will probably scream the place down."

Oh, that makes it acceptable behaviour? I didn't know her so I was not about to argue with her. Perhaps he is on the autism spectrum but the knowing look he gave me a moment later suggested that he was well aware of what he is doing. He was also well aware that he was not going to be reprimanded for  it. 

I waited until his mother went off to look at the DVD collection and then I stepped in front of the child as he came running back down the shelves I was looking at.

"Are you having a holiday from school?"

He grinned at me and said, "I do all the time. If I don't like it then I don't have to go."  

My response was, "That's a pity. You miss out on all the fun." 

He looked at me as if I was completely mad and ran off - but he did not run anywhere near me again. 

This child must be about six.  He already has the system worked out. If he misbehaves in certain ways then he is going to be suspended. It may well be that he is having problems at school but is really on the autism spectrum.

I know children who have serious issues with school. I know a child with very high intelligence who simply cannot get things down on paper or on a screen. She is extremely frustrated by this. She will throw a tantrum because of it. She wants to do it and, hard as she tries, she cannot do it. Last week she came home from school with a long story she had written. Her new teacher had told her something like, "Wait until I have everyone else started and then I will help you."

Her family have praised her. Her parents emailed it on to me to see. I have praised her. We have all told her, "If you don't throw a tantrum then someone is going to help. You can do it but you have to learn to do it your way."

The school tried to say she was on the autism spectrum. Her parents took her to be assessed.  The assessment said much the same thing but her parents refused to accept this. When their neighbour introduced me several months ago the father told me, "I thought autistic kids weren't able to relate properly to other people. You watch her. She loves to cuddle. She looks us right in the eye. If she isn't frustrated she's a loving and pretty well behaved kid."

I could only agree. They went for another assessment armed with observations her mother had made during the home-school period during lock down. S..... can read - and read above her age level. She can do all her maths in her head but she cannot put it on paper. A second assessment came up with a different diagnosis. She has a specific learning disorder but yes, she can learn. Her new teacher is aware of that and she is trying to accommodate that. much happier at school now. I just hope it continues. At least her parents are aware of the problem now - and they have made it obvious what their expectations are in respect of her behaviour.

But the child in the library isn't getting that sort of help. I don't know whether he is "autistic", whether he has a similar learning disorder, or whether he is simply a very poorly disciplined child.  His mother may need help more than he does. 

Perhaps it is just too easy to say "autism spectrum disorder" or ADHD or some other label and leave it at that? All I can think is that it is not helping the child.