Saturday 31 July 2021

One die,

two dice is the way it used to be.

A little while ago Nicola Morgan (author of the excellent  "Teenage Guide to.." series) was asking what people now use. Do they still use "die" for the singular? 

I remember the Senior Cat teaching me about "die" and "dice" when I was a mere kitten. I had barely started school but I was all too ready to argue with my teacher if I wanted to write something. My paternal grandfather had helped me make a game with a chess board, some counters and a die.  The Senior Cat told me about "die" and "dice".  I went off to school all ready to show the class for my "morning talk" and tell them about "die" and "dice". My teacher was not impressed. She told me "nobody is dying" and that the word was "dice". 

Who was I to believe? The Senior Cat was teaching in the same school at the time and I know he informed the teacher. He probably did so in as diplomatic a fashion as he could but it did not make him or me very popular. My teacher did not apologise. She left a class of children believing that both the singular and the plural just happened to be the same.  

Perhaps she could see into the future because the trend is now definitely in the direction of that one word for both the singular and the plural - dice. My niece and nephews all say "dice". Their children say "dice". Other children I know say "dice". When being a "magician" at birthday parties the Senior Cat would tell the children about this. I don't know how he did it but I know the idea stayed in the minds of at least some children. 

And that die/dice pairing is just one irregular plural in English. I won't get started on "foot" and "feet", "mouse" and "mice", and "goose" and "geese". But "fish" and "sheep" and then "man" and "men", "woman" and "women", "child" and "children? Please!

I am not sure that collective nouns are any better. It might be better not to mention them at all  - apart from "a luck of dice" and a "comfort/destruction/glaring/kindle/litter/pounce" of cats. 

Would it just be easier to "herd cats"? 

Friday 30 July 2021

Cataract surgery

went well for the Senior Cat. He may now be able to see well enough to read again. 

It has been a matter of extreme frustration for him that he could not see enough to read with any degree of comfort. He still loves to read - and some of what he reads surprises other people. 

While I was in the shopping centre yesterday someone we both now inquired after him. I mentioned the cataract surgery and he looked genuinely surprised. 

"Why on earth would he bother at his age?"

Well, why wouldn't he? The Senior Cat may be closer to 99 than 98 now but he still has "all his marbles". He is still capable of taking a lot of interest in what goes on around him. He needs to be able to read if it is at all possible. 

More than one of the staff in the residence has mentioned how they like to chat to him. The person who organises the activities has him involved and teaching other people there - simple conjuring tricks and origami for the most part. 

A couple of weeks ago, before the last lock down, one of the all too rare visitors there stopped me and asked, "It's your father who does the magic isn't it?"  It turned out that her children, always reluctant to visit their grandparent, had come across the Senior Cat showing another resident a simple trick. He had promptly taught them as well. They were thrilled. Now they want to know more. 

"If he's awake I am sure he will - just don't come while he is having his afternoon nap," I told her.  

Now that he can see more it will be easier for him to do that. I know his time with us is growing shorter all the time but if the last part of his life can still be spent reading, teaching, and being mentally active then surely cataract surgery was worth it? He is not the only beneficiary.  

Thursday 29 July 2021

Taxi vouchers for the disabled

are a thing of the past. The Senior Cat now has a card instead...when it can be used.

I was interested to see a piece in this morning's paper about the way in which some taxi drivers are apparently trying not to use the card. They claim they "don't have the app" or they "don't know how to use it" - and they can apparently dream up some other excuses as well. Taxi drivers should have the facilities and the ability to use it. No taxi on the road should be without either, especially an access cab. 

The card replaces the old voucher system - a voucher had to be filled in for each trip taken. I suspect there were plenty of opportunities for fraud under the old system - and that it is harder to do the same thing under the new system. 

Yes, let's take advantage of the disabled - especially someone who cannot see what is going on. I remember being in a shop once. I was waiting to be served and the person ahead of me was there with her guide dog. The girl at the till tried to charge too much so the person immediately to my side who could see what was going on interfered.  All she said was, "Excuse me, I think you've made a mistake." It did not go down well.  It made me wonder how often people who are unable to see are overcharged.  From what my late friend H... had to say it certainly was and probably is a problem.

The Senior Cat had to use an access cab yesterday. He had cataract surgery. Middle Cat arranged for a driver she knows to pick him up. He is supposed to pick the Senior Cat up again today. Knowing L... as I do he will be there. He doesn't do the school run. But not everyone knows one of the drivers well enough to be able to rely on them in this way. L...drives an access cab by choice. He likes to work with people who actually need his services. He's careful. He will take someone right into the place they need to go - even if he thinks they can do it themselves. He would earn a little extra and would never take it. 

There are more drivers like L... of course there are. That's good. It makes up a little for the drivers who don't want guide dogs in their cabs or don't want to take someone whose speech is so impaired as to be almost unintelligible or whose behaviour is out of the ordinary. Perhaps though it is time taxi drivers were given more training. They need to learn to use more than "the app".



Wednesday 28 July 2021

Lock down is not over

in the state my brother lives in. His children and their families are under even more restrictions. My SIL has not seen her mother (98) for some weeks now. She tries to talk to her on the phone but her mother gets agitated and upset. 

My brother is trying to get things done around the house and is working on a commission for a cupboard. (Like the Senior Cat he loves working with wood and has taken it up quite seriously of late because a neighbour saw something he had made and asked him if he could make something else. Now he has had several requests. It is keeping him occupied. My SIL has plenty to do too. I am expecting a new DVD from her at any time. Her work is nothing like the usual home made DVDs. These are highly professional and she too has been asked to make more for other people.

But all of this only helps so far. Their lock down has been extended by another four weeks. Here, if we can contain the virus to those already in quarantine then we might, just might, be setting up for the annual Show in four weeks. I have work to do before then but it will be good to go and see the other stewards and judges and get a display ready. 

It will be smaller this time. People seem to have lost the momentum because of last year's failure to hold the Show. That could not be helped. Nobody was vaccinated. Some of us will still only be partially vaccinated - but even that is better than nothing. I'll make sure I am wearing a mask and that I take the hand sanitiser and the cotton gloves. I know other measures will be in place to prevent infection. A lot of thought has gone into this.

And I am getting more than a little tired of people criticising the way all this has been handled. Have they any idea of how difficult it all is? Do they really believe the government tells us to go into lock down if the health officials are just saying, "Well, maybe we should?" No. We go into lock down because it is seen as absolutely essential. They know what the economic and social consequences are far better than we do. They do not do it simply because it is "easy". It isn't easy. 

I haven't minded lock down too much because I have plenty to do but this morning I am going over to see the Senior Cat because he has eye surgery this afternoon. We are hoping it will mean he can see well enough to read again. This was considered urgent enough for his mental health that it was high on the "elective" surgery list. He was prepared to have it put off because of the lock down and the needs of other people but yesterday they confirmed the arrangements - and then brought the time forward so that other arrangements had to be made.

I think people do care. If the government snaps us back into lock down tomorrow then I will simply have to put up with it....but I would love the Show to go ahead. If we wrap the Senior Cat up warmly and put a double layer of mask on him then perhaps we can take him there for an hour. He'd love to go.  

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Delaying school examinations

by a week is not going to help some students in lock down very much. Even here, where there has only been a week of lock down, there are problems for those in their final year.

I know a number of those students. I have had them emailing me with all sorts of anxious queries. Yes, their teachers have tried to be available but some of them need more than that. 

And the younger students need it too. They want to be back at school. They want to be with their friends. They want some sort of structure to their days. 

A few are coping well. They seem to have no problems getting on with the work that has been set. They seem to be able to sit down at their study desks at home and work through until they are finished. 

But even these students have problems. The mother of one phoned me about something else yesterday and said, "She was in tears this morning - over something that normally wouldn't bother her at all." I can well believe that.

For some weeks now I have been seeing S....  He has been coming to me for an hour a week to do some "catch up". By his own admission he got in with the wrong crowd last year and "mucked up". It was his first year at high school. He skived off occasionally. He was in with a gang who scrawled graffiti and more. One or two of them were involved in more serious offences and he could easily have gone along that path. He caused some damage to property belonging to me. When he got caught I think he was actually relieved. 

He's changed schools. It took him away from the boys he was associating with and he has found a couple of friends who are a much better influence. He's turning into a nice kid. If he can go on the way he has been going for the past few months there is some hope for him. Next term he will once again be trusted to go to and from school without supervision. He has admitted to me that this actually frightens him - which is probably a good thing.

I couldn't see him as I usually do this week. I wondered if that would mean the end of the sessions as well. Would he decide that all this was too much? Would he want to revert to old ways? 

It seems not. At the time I would usually have seen him the phone rang. It was S.... Was is it all right to call me? He had work to do and he needed help and his parents "are okay at maths and stuff but they don't know about English" and "anyway I just want to talk to someone".  We talked about the English - which he struggles with - and we talked about something else he wants to do for school. I've promised to look at the plans for that as well. 

I don't know if he wanted to talk about anything else. He didn't mention anything. All he said was, "Is it okay if I come next week if we are out of lock down?"

Yes, of course it will be. As long as we don't have an extended lock down like those in a neighbouring state he won't need me much longer. He will go back to his mates. He's back on track with his schooling.

But if we do have an extended lock down again he is going to need support. There are also a lot more like him. There are also a lot of other students who need more support than they are getting. The final year of school is hard enough without adding lock downs to it. Yes, it might be teaching some of them how to work alone - a good thing if they are going on to university - but that doesn't mean they don't need support. They do. 

I hope the local library will be able to be open for them next term. I hope they can supply those who go to work there with the healthy snack packs and the coffee and - most important of all - a listening ear when they need it.  I'll call in on a regular basis so they can nab me if they need me. 

Monday 26 July 2021

Mental health and good neighbours

must surely go together? 

Yesterday I had a phone call - from across our street. It was a neighbour saying his family had not seen me out and about during the lock down. He then said he was going shopping and wondered if I needed anything.

Now we are permitted to do essential shopping so I had actually been out very early the previous morning and replenished the supply of milk and bought some eggs and fresh fruit and vegetables. I think they were essential? I wore a mask. I used  hand sanitiser and I didn't talk to anyone other than the girl at the check-out. She was, I think, genuinely concerned for my welfare as well. (I sometimes suggest books her older child can read for himself.)

So, I had been shopping. I didn't need anything and I didn't want to complicate the lives of my neighbours any further so I thanked him profusely and genuinely gratefully but said I could think of nothing.

What I could think of though was the importance of that call.  I really did appreciate getting it. It was not merely a casual thought, it was genuine thoughtfulness. The weather was foul - we'd had hail and it was raining when he spoke to me - and I don't have a car. The neighbours had not seen me "out and about" in even the limited way which is allowed. 

During the last lock down the weather was better and I was out each day. I did a circular trip on the trike. It was designed to check on people I know, people who mostly live alone. I could have phoned most of them - and did - but it also seemed even more important to actually see their blinds were up or that they had not fallen in their driveways. 

Now that is just me. I feel guilty if I don't do that. I don't expect other people to do that sort of thing. There is no reason why they should but I do think it is important to be aware of what is going on either side of me. That doesn't mean I should interfere but if I know my neighbours and they need help then they can ask...just as I was asked.

There are people I know who do not know their neighbours. Their neighbours don't want to know them. Some people are just like that. We have to accept such things. Knowing neighbours doesn't mean intruding on them but it does mean being aware just in the way the neighbour yesterday was aware.

That call made me feel good. The Senior Cat phoned me a little while ago. I told him what he needed to know and he chatted for a moment. I told him how the neighbour had been in touch and I could hear the relief in his voice. I know he worries about me being here alone even though there is nothing either of us can do about it at present. That call from a neighbour has made all the difference. It has given us both that little mental boost that - someone else cares enough to ask. 

I am very fortunate in my neighbours.

Sunday 25 July 2021

Breaching isolation and quarantine

orders seems to be the latest idiocy encouraged by the "anti-vax" mob. There were big protests in two of Downunder's largest cities yesterday. I saw some of the footage on the evening news service and was left bewildered by the behaviour of these fools.

I have one nephew living in one city and another nephew living in the other city. I have a niece living in one of those cities too. One nephew and my niece are finding it very difficult to home school their children and work from home. They have no time at all for the protestors. Some of those protestors will have caught the virus and they will go on to spread it to yet more people. The protest was the sort of event which is almost certain to be a "super-spreader" event. Why on earth would you want to be part of that?

I thought about this again last night. Is it like smoking, drinking to excess, taking drugs, speeding and taking other risks? 

Many years ago now I was sitting in a staff meeting at university when something happened I have never forgotten. Back then people did smoke in staff meetings and I would come out of the meetings reeking of other people's cigarette smoke. I have never even tried to smoke a cigarette and I hated it. It had just been announced that the Director of the Research Unit had cancer and a very short time to live. It left most of the staff shocked.

I knew he was ill, very ill. He had, in a rare moment of confidence, confided in me when I had stopped to ask if he was "all right".  No, he wasn't. He told me this and then asked me to keep the matter to myself. He had not told me he was dying although I did wonder. I just knew he was a very sick man. I liked him. He had been very good to me and it shocked me for more than one reason.

Now the staff meeting was left shocked and bewildered by the news. All those highly intelligent academic people had not really noticed how ill one of their own was. And then one of the senior staff asked a question of one of the professors, "How can you sit there and go on smoking when you have just told us about J....?"

His response was, "You never think it is going to happen to you."

That has to be it. We never want to believe that anything like that is going to happen to us. We see all the bad news. We hear all the bad news. We talk about all the bad news. But, bad news happens to other people. It doesn't happen to us. Our families are not the families who are supposed to have children die young or young children left without a parent. They are not supposed get ill or lose their jobs or get into trouble with the law or any of the thousand and one things that happen to other people.

All I can think of those idiots yesterday is that they are thinking like this. They don't believe anything is going to happen to them. I hope it doesn't - apart from a hefty fine for their stupid, selfish behaviour. 

Saturday 24 July 2021

The 2032 Olympics

are already upon us - or so it would seem. I had a properly socially distanced conversation with one of the regular dog walkers yesterday and he informed me that he had already booked his annual leave for that he could go to the Olympics. 

Yes, he was quite serious about this. He is frustrated beyond despair that he cannot be in Tokyo right now. He had been saving his annual leave to go last year and it didn't happen. He wanted to go this year and it didn't happen. He has the next two Olympics booked, "And they had better happen!"

I know his wife despairs of all this. She is mildly interested in sport but he is passionate about it. The football, the rugby, the soccer, the cricket, the Tour de France, the this and the that are all of the utmost important to him. A day without any sport is an absolute tragedy from his point of view.  

I like his wife. She is a very patient woman. She makes the most amazing quilts - all by hand. "If I didn't do something like that while he watches his endless football I'd go spare," she told me once. So she makes quilts with the tiniest and neatest stitches and she passes them on to her church to raise funds for the homeless and for victims of domestic violence and more. She designed an Olympic quilt for last year and I know she has plans for more.

His dog, of whom I am rather fond, ignored all this and was looking over the fence at me. Normally I would give it a pat but that wasn't possible under the current rules. The dog was giving me a knowing look though. It was as if she was saying, "Look, we know he's barmy but the good thing is that there will be another quilt out of all this."

Yes, that's a good thing. I might start to think about some Olympic knitting - and the books I want to read.  

Friday 23 July 2021

Telephone books

need to be updated!

There was a suggestion yesterday that those in one of the Covid19 "hot spots" should inform everyone in their phone books if they have been to a venue which requires them to instantly quarantine and get tested. 

It's an interesting thought but not one which is particularly useful or practical. It assumes the people you are likely to call are people who live in nearby locations.

We still have one of those old fashioned phone books supplied by the telecommunications industry. You know the sort of thing I mean I am sure. It is printed on very thin newsprint in the smallest possible print. Unless you get a magnifying glass out it is impossible to read. 

I tried to use it the other day but was not surprised to discover that the person I was trying to contact was not to be found in it.  The telephone directory no longer keeps up to date. Mobile numbers are not included in it. 

Once it used to be possible to look up a phone number and even an address that way. You could have a vague idea of where someone lived and then find the initials you thought were likely to be theirs and call the number. That's not possible any more.More and more people are using mobile phones. 

We also have a "personal" telephone directory. It was last updated by the Senior Cat during cold, wintry days when he could not be in the shed or in the garden. We both knew it needed to be done. I said I would type up an x-cell sheet but he said he wanted to do it himself. 

It was a miserable business in a way. He kept saying to me, "We don't need that one any more" and "Who is....?" and "That's another one no longer with us" or "Do you remember...?"

The task was eventually finished but I looked at it yesterday and realised that it is out of date yet again. If I really needed to contact everyone in the personal book I would need access to a mobile phone directory for some and a hot line to heaven for others. 

My current address book is the same. It is time I updated that. There are untidy scribbles where I have crossed out an old address and replaced it with a new one. There are people who have moved away and we have lost contact with each other. And there are people who have died and their numbers are no longer needed ever again.

I am not sure I like this. I wonder what would happen if I called the old numbers. Who would answer? What would they say to me?


Thursday 22 July 2021

Mental health in lockdown

is an issue which has not been taken seriously enough. It was therefore interesting to note that the local rules have been changed in order to allow people who live alone visit or be visited by a friend. 

I am one of those fortunate, indeed very fortunate, people who is generally content with my own company. I always have more than enough to do. Since the advent of the internet and social media I can have virtual contact with people all over the world. That has been a mixed blessing. It has made work much more demanding - and means that I am working past the age when most people have comfortably settled into retirement. At the same time it means that I can "chat" to friends abroad. 

I try not to use any social media with local friends. We might email each other but if I want to chat with them then it is better to pick up the phone, have them call in for a "cuppa", and so on. Social media is not the same as actually seeing someone. It is not the same as waiting your turn to speak, as making eye contact, as hearing the emotion in someone's voice when something has made them sad, happy, regretful, or amused. 

But I know there are a lot of people who are not like me. They need human company more than I do. They may not need it all the time but they do need it. Our mental health services are stretched so thin that those working in the area, like Nephew Cat, are struggling as much as the patients they see. It is as big a problem as the pandemic itself but it is a largely hidden one. People are not aware of it.

When the Senior Cat was living at home we would often go our separate ways apart from meal times. He would be in the garden, in his shed or in his "office/study". I would be in the kitchen or at a household task or at work at my desk . We didn't interrupt one another often. We did not need to do that - but we were there if we needed each other. I suppose that made it easier for me. I miss him not being here but I can still get on and do things. I am not sitting in front of the television set staring at mindless day time "chat" programs. I don't turn the radio on either. I prefer to work in silence.

But if you are a naturally gregarious sort of person then it must be difficult, very difficult. There is a lovely woman who lives not far from here. She always seems to be out and about. She phoned me yesterday and asked if she could borrow something from me. I am not sure she really needed to borrow it. I suspect she just needed to hear another voice. Lockdown is very difficult for her. 

I know mental health services have been over loaded. It isn't just adults who are not coping. There are children right around me who are anxious and fractious. One of them has been hitting out and his parents are seriously alarmed by this. After a lot of discussion, some of it with me and some of it with a paediatrician of their acquaintance, they are getting a dog. It will be the boy's responsibility to care for it...and they will ensure he does. He needs something like this but not every family can do a similar thing. It is not a solution which would work for everyone. 

During the last lockdown a lot of people discovered or rediscovered the satisfaction of a craft, of creating something. I hope that they will continue to grow their skills at such things over the coming week. It won't be enough in itself but it might help. I hope more people might be able to lose themselves in the companionship of a book too. 

Middle Cat and I will talk to the Senior Cat on the phone. I will make a couple of calls today to check on elderly people I know - and who I know will be alone. The weather isn't conducive to going out today so I am doubly content to stay here but I know it isn't easy for people who yearn for company at the best of times.

We all need some human contact, really need it. There are only a very few people in this world who are entirely successful hermits. I am not one of them. I also have a duty to consider my fellow non-hermits.

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Woolly thoughts can be wonderful

- and I can now hear some of you saying "Don't be ridiculous Cat!"

No, I am not being ridiculous. There are good "woolly thoughts" and I want to share a few with you. If you are not a member of the knitting world - and even if you are - you may not have heard of Pat Ashforth. Pat died a couple of days ago and the world of mathematics and knitting will be the poorer for it, much poorer.

I met her through a mutual friend in the knitting world. We exchanged emails spasmodically over the years.  Requests for information and advice flowed in both directions but her mathematical creativity reached heights I have no chance of achieving. For her it was a passion, for me it was more simply something of interest. I told her (more than once) I am not a mathematician...and she told me that everyone can learn to be a mathematician.

Pat was an amazing individual who, along with her husband Steve Plummer, introduced thousands upon thousands of children and teachers to an amazing world of knitted mathematical ideas. Their "Woolly Thoughts" site is overflowing with the most amazing ideas.


These are three from the Woolly Thoughts website. (Pat once gave me permission to use the illustrations to tell others about  their work.)

The first of them is called "Curve of Pursuit", the second "Equal Parts"and the third "Pythagoras Tree".  They are just three of the quite extraordinary afghans or "mathghans" as they have sometimes been called. (Yes, there are patterns on the website and on Ravelry.") 

There are also patterns for games (dominoes, a draughts/checkboard, and ludo). Then there are patterns for manipulative games - a hexaflexagon and a Soma cube and more.   

The Senior Cat doesn't take a great deal of interest in knitting. (My lace knitting is referred to as "that stuff you make with holes in it"!) He was however interested in Pat's work. In his woodworking days he made timber versions of some of the items Pat knitted. He was making one of the puzzles one day when he came into me and asked, "Would it be possible to knit this?" I looked at it and said, "Yes." I sent the idea off to Pat and, some time later, an answer came, "Yes, of course. I'm actually working on that one."  So yes, there are pentacubes for pentominoes. Her version was much tidier and neater than mine. 

 One of the truly lovely things about Pat's designs is that many of them require quite small units of knitting. Our knitting group won't be able to meet this coming weekend but I hope our youngest members will be there next time because I was planning on showing them Pat's work and suggesting they make one of the simplest designs - the Borromean cubes based on Borromean rings. That way they can discover what can be done with three simple strips and they can learn about the need to knit evenly and measure accurately. Yes, they might learn a little maths in the process - and that won't hurt either.

Tuesday 20 July 2021

Not quite back in "lockdown"

but almost. 

I can hear the howls of rage because the state government has imposed some restrictions on our activities again. Grrrr....I wanted to pick up a book from the library this morning.

No, it can wait. A few other things can wait as well. I consider myself fortunate that I was invited to have coffee with a friend. We met yesterday. It was a pleasant, friendly interlude. We sorted out a few practical issues and she can get on with a project, as can I. It would not have been possible today.

An elderly man has tested positive with what is likely to be the Delta variant - and so have two of his close contacts. A hospital emergency department has been closed, thousands of people have been told to isolate. Non-essential retail has to shut. People have been told to work from home.  

I can hear some people saying, "But..." Well this is the way it has to be done here. It is so screamingly inconvenient not being able to go to the hairdresser, the gym, and the footy. I am sorry about the training for your kid's footy game and probably the game itself. It is even worse if a birthday party is being cancelled and the wedding on Saturday can now only have ten people present - all at a suitable distance. 

But getting ill with Covid19 is surely worse? There could be long term effects - perhaps for the rest of my life? I think of those things and I am content to put up with the restrictions.


Monday 19 July 2021

The 2032 Olympics

seem to be a long way off. The Premier of a different state has gone on a trip to Tokyo to try and persuade the IOC that Downunder should host them - again. (There is a row about her going. I just think it is plain silly to go given the level of Covid19 infections in Japan.)

But it all rather reminded me of school sports days. I hated, loathed and detested them. There were two sorts of sports days. There were the sports days which were just your own school and then there were the area sports days in which you competed against other schools. 

I suspect most of my fellow students quite liked sports days because it meant a day out of the classroom. Of course I much preferred to be in the classroom - and reading surreptitiously under the desk.

There were times when I simply had to be on a team because there were not enough people otherwise for the school to even have a team. I never could work out why they couldn't just have seven people on the "bob down" team and have one person play twice to make it up to eight. We all knew that our team would not come first because I wasn't going to throw and catch the basketball or run down the line to the end. (There were other, similar, games and I was equally hopeless at them.) It was, to put it mildly, embarrassing for all of us.

I am trying to remember now how they organised things for the schools which had eight, fourteen and sixteen students respectively. The school with only eight students did get extra points at the beginning. I do remember that. I suppose the others did too - but they could never have won the day against the biggest school. That had more than two hundred students.

Our schools were divided into houses of course. I went to four different schools divided up that way. The one thing to be said for that is that family members were in the same house. Middle Cat made up for my lack of athletic prowess and Brother Cat's lack of athletic prowess too. Mind you he was pretty good at the sack race and the egg and spoon.  

But there was one thing I could do and I could do it as well as any parent. Somehow my siblings and I were always in the house that came out on top. This had absolutely nothing to do with physical or intellectual capabilities and everything to do with the fund raising stalls that accompanied the events. There was a cake stall, a produce stall, a garden stall - and a sweets stall. 

We always had the sweets stall. There was hard toffee in little "patty pans" (paper cake containers), there were toffee apples, marshmallow cones, fudge, Russian toffee, butterscotch, peanut brittle and other jaw breaking but toothsome delights. It sold too. There was never anything left.

I would stand behind the counter and take in the pennies, the "thrupney" and "sixpence" pieces - along with the occasional shilling or two shilling pieces. I could add up and take away money and give change without making a mistake. The adult in the background was only there to help the youngest children decide how to spend the penny or two an adult had given them. 

The rule was that I was not allowed to buy any for myself but we got around that by my brother doing it for me. That meant we had a nice stash of very long lasting sticky toffee for some days. No, our mother was not impressed but there was little she could do about it at the time.  And yes, even our mother contributed to the stall. I don't know how she found the time but her contribution of creamy caramel coloured butterscotch always looked good.

I think that was the best part of sports day for most of us. We didn't get many sweets back then. That was something the children in the city knew about. Out in the bush we had to wait for Show day and Sports day. All that was fine of course. We were all active enough to use up the calorie intake in a day - including me.

I feel rather sorry for all those Olympic athletes and their specialist diets. I think we had more fun.  

Sunday 18 July 2021

Hand knitted socks,

well knitted socks...oh my feet love them!

I am the fortunate owner of more than one pair. The Senior Cat is the fortunate owner of more than one pair. We have a wonderful friend who knits them. 

I... is much better at knitting socks than I am. She keeps notes too. Our socks fit perfectly. The socks she makes for other people fit perfectly too.  I thought this as I put aside some sock wool I was given to give to her.

I also thought of the other sock knitters I have known, two in particular. The first was my paternal grandmother. One of my childhood memories is of sitting on the front steps of my grandparents' home reading to her as she knitted a grey sock. I think the sock was probably for my grandfather. He wore grey socks during the week and much finer black socks on Sundays. He had no other socks. Summer and winter alike he wore hand knitted socks when he wore shoes. Other than that he wore brown leather sandals without socks. 

I suppose I must have been about three at the time. I know I was still struggling with the reading process. My grandmother, ever the patient teacher, would help me with the words - but only when I had first tried myself. This extraordinary woman with only three formal years of schooling was a natural teacher.  She was also a superb knitter. The sock process was especially fascinating. It took me almost fifteen years to knit my first pair of socks. I still cannot do it as well as she could. 

Pattern? Of course not! My grandfather's socks were always completely plain. Socks for children were different. My brother had long school socks with stripes at the top. He had long Sunday socks with small cables at the top. I had short socks with the same cables in the ribbing section. I also had plain socks embroidered with tiny grub roses. Grandma was a grub rose expert.  And had school socks too of course. I remember my mother washing them - by hand. 

And then there was my friend M...  M...spent a very long time living in a hospital. There was nowhere else for her to go. It didn't stop her being useful, very useful. The staff would help her into her electric wheelchair each morning and, oxygen bottle on behind, she would speed all over the hospital and "hold hands" with anxious parents or deliver documents to other places. She took her knitting with her. I don't know how many pairs of socks she made but it would not be an exaggeration to say "hundreds". The surgeons used to put in orders - apparently they were invaluable on feet in the operating theatres.  Her socks were not plain either. She made socks with trains running around the tops, with dragons on them, with smiley faces and much more. 

When M.... died people were asked to wear a pair of her socks at her funeral - and leave their shoes at the door. There were a lot of shoes there. I saw one of the surgeons recently. He retired some years ago but he stuck out a foot and showed me he is still wearing them. His darning skills have been put to use on some but they have lasted.

There is something about hand knitted socks. They are more than "just a pair of socks". Real skill has gone into the making of a good pair. 

Not everyone who knits will knit socks. Some knitters will never knit a pair. Others will knit just one pair but there are others my grandmother, like I.... and M... who will knit many pairs. They understand what feet need and have taught me how important it is to have hand knitted socks on a cold winter morning.   

Saturday 17 July 2021

Border rules have been

tightened for everyone - and that includes heavy goods vehicle drivers. Lorry drivers or "truckies" as they are often known in Downunder are a rather unique breed. They are often rough, tough and - dare I say this? - bits of daredevils. They take risks on the road.

I know they are often under pressure. They are often expected to adhere to unrealistic timetables. It is one reason why they will break speed limits if they think they can get away with it.

Some years ago the Senior Cat employed a man to repaint some guttering. He did a very good job too. We also discovered that, prior to setting up his own business as a painter, he was a "truckie". He did many trips through the centre of the country. Unlike some of his fellow truckies he did not have a companion he took music or audio books and a very large container of (water) ice cubes with him. He did not depend on drugs to keep him awake.  In this he was probably unusual. He also said that, because of a promise to his wife, he did not try to avoid the mandatory rest stops - but he knew many who did.  

Going even further back I knew a young man who left school unable to read much. He could write even less. His other disabilities left him unable to find any meaningful employment so he offered himself to a long distance delivery firm as a companion for drivers crossing the country. His job was to be just that, a companion. When I asked him what he did he told me that he was "in charge of meals and keeping the driver awake".  I can guess the sort of thing he would do. He did the job for years. He learned to read a map before GPS became available and, if the location was new, he could guide the driver to a destination in a busy city without a hitch. He was, rightly, proud of the fact that the only time they missed the destination first time around was because there were roadworks which had only been set up the day before.  

But truckies are largely a law unto themselves. They want to get on the move. It's a problem right now. They have to stop at the border and get a Covid19 test. They are threatening to blockade the border unless they are simply allowed through. Apparently the fact that three removal men have been traced as the source of the most recent outbreak means little or nothing to them. They claim they are being forced to wait five hours at the border - wait for testing.

Yes, I'd like things to be moving around the country too - if they are needed. At the same time if you have come from a high risk location then is there really anything wrong with getting tested? It's not going to stop the virus spreading but it will slow the spread. We might be able to contain it at least to the point where we can manage it. I'd rather go without a few things for a short time than see people become ill or businesses close their doors because of a new lock down. 

Isn't it worth waiting a few hours at the border? 

Friday 16 July 2021

What does it take to win an election?

This state is due to go to an election next March and we are already getting "election" material in the letter box. 

This sort of thing is rarely really useful. It tends to make grand promises while criticising the efforts of others. Yes, I know. It is all part of the political process. 

People get swayed by the most odd things - a Grand Prix (which most people did not attend or even want to attend), a new road not going where people want it to go, a new hospital (smaller than the old one), a tram line to nowhere and much more.

I know the Senior Cat once asked a friend of his how the British could have dumped Churchill after he had seen them through the war. "You needed to understand the mood in Britain after the war," was the response.  All I can assume is that Attlee was offering something people wanted or felt they needed.  

A very senior politician once told me, "It isn't what you do that matters. It is what you say you will do. That's how it is done."

There are a few politicians who seem to feel differently. There was one in another state who resigned the day before he would have got a parliamentary pension for life - so he wouldn't get the pension. It was what he had promised to do and he did it. People tell me he was a "pretty good sort of bloke". Perhaps he was. It was certainly an unusual thing to do. 

We had an independent politician here. He really was an independent too. Both sides tried to woo him - without success. A lot of his success seemed to be the result of actually listening to the people of his electorate. If a controversial vote was coming up he would actively seek their views. I don't know what he would have been like had he stayed in politics. Sadly he died before anyone could really find out how great his influence was.

When we had the convention for the referendum over whether the country should "become a republic" I, at the request of a group, put my paw up. It was not something I ever planned to do and I would not want to do it again. I came within three votes of actually getting a place at the convention. Why? We think it was because the group backing me and I tried to get a place by not promising anything. We told people we would get back to them and showed them how we planned to do it. Thankfully my brush with politics was quickly over.

I suppose there must be more politicians who go into it  because of their convictions and beliefs. They must really believe in the policies of their party and they must believe they can actually make a difference. It must take at least that much to win an election.

But I looked at the election material that arrived yesterday and thought about something else as well. You also have to be prepared to lie.


Thursday 15 July 2021

Please get vaccinated!

I will repeat that, please get vaccinated! Please use the QR codes or sign in manually. Please "socially distance". Please don't go to mass gatherings.

I could add a lot more. Brother Cat called me last night. He chats at length to the Senior Cat once or twice a week. His calls to me tend to be shorter but last night's was a long one. He wanted to check on us and I wanted to check on him and his family. He has a son and a daughter and their families living in the midst of a very serious outbreak of Covid19. 

His grandchildren can't go to school. Their mothers are trying to cope with "home school" and work from home at the same time. His daughter, having the slightly bigger and younger family, is finding it particularly hard to cope. My brother and his partner cannot see them and help because they are not permitted to travel in and out of the area. My brother's partner cannot visit her mother - a woman the same age as the Senior Cat.  

It is all fairly ordinary in one sense. It is what a lot of people are going through. That doesn't make it any less of a worry and I know that there are a lot of other people who feel the same way. 

What worries me though is the number of people who are still saying that they don't want to get vaccinated. This is not just the "anti-vax" cohort but otherwise ordinarily sensible people. They are worried about blood clots. Yes, I am too but do I want to become seriously ill with Covid19 and pass it on to others? They don't believe the disease is "that serious". Apparently all those deaths and hospitalisations are not serious. They think it is "just like the 'flu and will go away". Really? It has been with us for over a year now. This is not any sort of seasonal 'flu however serious that may be for some. 

Perhaps I am selfish but I want my life back to as "normal" as possible as soon as possible. I know a lot of other people who feel the same way.  

Wednesday 14 July 2021

Transport for people with disabilities

is a constant concern. Here we have something called an "access cab" service - a taxi service for people who use wheelchairs. There are about one hundred such vehicles across the metropolitan areas. They are small vans with a lifting platform. Their use is under discussion in today's paper.

We have used one of these more than once to get the Senior Cat to the dentist or a medical appointment when it is not possible for Middle Cat to get him in and out of the car. It is fast getting to the point where it will not be possible to get him in and out of the car at all - even though Middle Cat knows far more than most people about how that can be achieved.  

Relying on access vehicles though is fraught with difficulties. There are not enough of them and they also get used for other purposes. 

I have friends who must use them. They can go nowhere without using one. All too often it means they go nowhere at all. Even with the government subsidy they are much more expensive to use than public transport. My friends don't have the sort of disposable income that allows them to use cabs on a regular basis. When they do go out it tends to be medical appointments or some of other essential appointment.  

All too often although the cab has been booked in advance it will arrive late, often very late. Recently one friend had to wait almost two hours in a very cold location. Where other people might find an alternative it wasn't possible for him. He couldn't even go and get himself a hot drink from the cafe across the street. 

The cabs do "school runs" - taking children with disabilities to and from school. It might be regular but it isn't popular with some drivers. Other drivers like to do it but it means that they need to turn down other jobs because the school run gets priority.

Middle Cat knows one driver well. She knew him long before we needed an access cab for the Senior Cat.  He works long hours. He is also a kindly and concerned man who actually chose to drive an access cab rather than a regular cab. If Middle Cat lets him know no later than the day before she can be almost certain he will be there. If he is running late he will let her know and, because they both know things can happen, they are aware that she has included the likelihood of a short delay in her calculations. All that though depends on a personal relationship - something most people don't have. It depends on Middle Cat being flexible about getting the Senior Cat to his destination. That's not always possible for some people.

The whole system needs a rethink. People with disabilities should have the right to the same level of transport services that other people have but it doesn't work that way. The way the system works just further isolates too many people who are already more isolated than most. I can quite understand why some access cab drivers are only too happy to accept a call to drive multiple people and their luggage to the airport instead of taking one person to the hospital for a medical appointment.  It's a matter of what we are prepared to pay for the service - and how much we value the most vulnerable people in the community.  


Tuesday 13 July 2021

Richard Branson's flight

into space at the age of 70 is an achievement. It is an achievement in many ways. 

Once, and not that long ago, it was considered to be an achievement to reach "three score years and ten". My maternal grandfather did not achieve that and there were others of his era who did not but might be alive now if they had been able to have the most recent medical treatment.

But Branson has achieved it and a great many other things as well. Most of all perhaps he has achieved his childhood dream of going into space. I have no idea what sort of person he is but he looked to be a happy man on the news clip I saw. Will it be short lived euphoria? It might be. I rather hope not because I suppose there will be some positive outcomes for all of us from the success of his project - rather in the way that WWI produced things like zippers and the early hearing aids. 

I have no desire to fly into space like that. Quite apart from the cost I am not a good traveller. Even looking at the rides at a fairground makes me feel queasy. News clips of the cyclists coming down hills during the Tour de France have the same sort of effect. I close my eyes on those.  I don't like flying - take off and landing make me feel really ill. Yes, I've tried closing my eyes, sucking a sweet, and much more. None of those things stop the vertigo. Once up in the air there is always that slight movement that I can never quite accommodate - and don't talk to me about things like "air pockets" or storms. I prefer terra firma.    

But "space" is "the last frontier". It is out there and human curiosity demands it be explored. People want to know. I would quite like to know myself. I find it hard to believe that this little planet is the only one with any form of life on it. There must be something somewhere. 

I think I will leave it to others to find out. I will leave it to the rich to spend millions on taking their partners on anniversary flights into space.  

Monday 12 July 2021

Defamation law

is today's topic in a regular piece in our state newspaper. There are some changes being made and, while they have some merit, they are also of concern.

Defamation was once defined as "bringing someone into hatred, ridicule or contempt" and only truth was considered to be a defence. That sounds reasonable and it is still what defamation is about. What has changed is how easy it is to defame someone and how much harm it can do.

Social media has made it easy to "publish" defamatory comments about anyone. If you are tech savvy enough you can do so with little chance of getting caught if you choose to be anonymous. It can do immense harm. People who are victimised in this way have ended up committing suicide even when they have done no wrong. Others have suffered immense harm to their personal reputations even though they are innocent of any wrong doing. Even if people know the perpetrators taking action against them is far too costly to contemplate.

The son of someone I have known for many years was accused of sexual assault. He lost his employment. The media made a fuss about it. They did it in such a way that it was possible to identify him without naming him. Then, quite suddenly, the police dropped all charges. There was no sexual assault at all. It was a vindictive act by someone else - a person who has never been prosecuted because of the false claims he made.

Under the proposed changes it would be possible to name the accused person "in the public interest".   It brings up the question of just what is really in the public interest. In this case the media knew that the allegation was, at best, dubious but they went ahead anyway. What they have done is left a man bankrupt and without employment in the effort to clear his name. There will always be a question mark hanging over him. 

I believe our courts should be open and that, apart from children, proceedings should rarely be closed to the public. At the same time I don't believe that this gives us the right to comment on what has gone on in them unless we have heard the evidence given and the case has been brought to a conclusion. That applies to the main stream media just as much as it applies to the rest of us. 

And the other change is that the information published has to do "serious harm" to the reputation of the person defamed and the person being defamed has to show that this is the case. That is lifting the bar far too high for most people. "Serious harm" is not something that can be easily measured. It is about much more than the loss of employment or other financial harm. How do you measure the loss of family or friendship or health or mental well being or any of many other things? It is surely difficult enough to lose those things without being put in the position of having to show that these things have happened.

The ease with which mainstream media and social media can send out a story has made it far too easy to make false claims about other people and not have to take responsibility for them. The onus needs to be on them to prove they have not done harm - not the other way around.



Sunday 11 July 2021

Ash Barty winning the tennis

might seem like a "dream come true" to the young Ash Barty but I wonder how she will feel in a week or a month or next year. Yes, she has "achieved her childhood dream" - but what next?

I often wonder this about sportspeople who achieve something like an Olympic medal when they are still very young. I have even suggested that there should be a minimum age of something like eighteen before they can even compete in the Olympics.

Why? Because of the thousands of hours that go into training. Someone like young Ash does not need a normal life style. It's the same for all tennis players, for all swimmers or golfers. Anyone who plays a sport where the individual is the focus rather than the team is in this position. It would be bad enough if you were in the footy team or the cricket or baseball team or any other team. But, if you are the individual and you are playing as an individual it must be even worse. It must be lonely...even if  your coach and your "mindset" person and the other people who are there to focus on you and your performance are constantly with you. 

I remember a boy at university. He was a swimmer. He might have reached Olympic standard but he abandoned it all. In a rare confidence he told me that it was all too much. In his childhood and early teens his parents had been getting him to the pool at five in the morning all year round. The sacrifice of doing this, of paying for the fees and the coaching was too much in the end. Even paying the extra for the food he was consuming was becoming a consideration. But it wasn't that which killed his ambition in the end.

He told me something like, "All of that was part of it but it was the hours and hours spent staring at the bottom of the pool. I just wondered where I was going with it all. I thought there was more to life than that." 

He stopped training and concentrated on his studies instead. I asked him if he had ever had second thoughts or regrets? No, not at all. 

"I didn't have that something extra. I feel sorry for the ones that do."

I feel sorry for them too.  

Saturday 10 July 2021

"A man without a past"

sounds sinister doesn't it? 

I met a young man without a past yesterday - without a past he can remember.  Another person I know introduced him yesterday. He is trying to help this unfortunate man. 

It's both a long story and a short story. I can't share the details but the man I was introduced to has no memory. He is desperate for something, anything, anyone to tell  him who he is.  Yes, he can remember the past few years when he has been safely here in this country but his life before that is gone. He seems to have wiped it from his memory. 

Somewhere in the past he was tortured. He could not have been very old. At best he is now only about twenty or twenty-one. The family who tried to help in the refugee camp knew nothing about him. Nobody else seemed to know either.

He was brought here in urgent need of medical treatment. All sorts of questions have been asked and tests undertaken but he genuinely seems unable to remember.  He cries because he cannot remember. I spent time with him yesterday because, in one of the efforts to kick-start his memory,  I had been asked to see if a different way of communicating might help.  

I thought that was unlikely - and that proved to be so - but it did give me an idea. "Has anyone shown you some books?" I asked him, "Books for children that you might have liked when you were very young?"

He looked at me in silence and then said, "I know I was at school. I can read."

It is something he does know even if he cannot remember it. I have asked the person responsible for his welfare to find some of the most common school books from his home country. They may not help but I could think of nothing else.

"It must be like having Alzheimer's," someone else told me later. No, it  is nothing like that. It is something far worse.  

Friday 9 July 2021

There is a certain German supermarket

that still seems to be trying to increase its influence on the shoppers of this state - but I am wondering how successful they really are. 

Yes, this district got an "Aldi" store just a few short years ago. It was built on a space which usefully contained a bank and a medical centre. Both of these were used by local people. The bank branch relocated a few kilometres away but the medical centre was broken up because no suitable premises could be found. 

Now you might not think that moving the bank branch a few kilometres was much of a problem but it has proved problematic for many people. There is still an ATM in the shopping centre - the only external one available. It is out of order or out of service far too often. There are many elderly people who depend on it. Not everyone in this district still drives a car. They should not be driving. At 85 or 90 or more they don't want to drive - but they still need to be able to do some banking. Many of them don't have the capacity to do "internet banking".  I am wary of internet banking. The Senior Cat refused to even contemplate it and I know others around his age who are genuinely afraid of the idea.

But the buildings which contained these useful things were demolished and an "Aldi" was put there instead. I am wondering how well it is really doing. Thursday is pension day for many people in the district. If Aldi's prices are really that much cheaper I would expect the supermarket would be busy. I can see right into it as I pass. There were people in there but it did not appear to be that busy. Their car park had empty spaces. There were no "granny trolleys" lined up at the door. 

I spoke to someone I know outside the shop. It was cold out there.

"My daughter's getting something," she told me, "I said I'd wait out here. I don't like the place myself."

I thought that was interesting as she confesses to being "a bit of a shopaholic".  I went into the supermarket I prefer. It is locally owned and tries to source locally. They stock things that are not available in other places and, on Thursdays, they offer a small discount for Seniors and pensioners which reduces the cost to about the same as the other big name on the other side of the shopping centre. When I go into this locally owned supermarket I know I am going to be greeted in a friendly way by the staff, many of them know me and will greet me outside the shop as well. I know quite a number of them by name - and I make a point of using their names. I also know that if I can't reach something on a top shelf then they will cheerfully get it down for me. There are other little things they have done from time to time...such as save me a small pack of toilet paper last year. Some of the older staff who know the Senior Cat will ask, "How's your father?" - and they want to know the answer.

It's the sort of service which makes you want to go back. I've been into Aldi but I don't want to go back. I am told "the staff seem to change all the time" and "they don't talk to you in there". No, there is apparently some sort of staff policy about talking to customers that precludes any "chat".

I thought of this as C...put my groceries in my bags and told me, "If I leave the milk out you'll be okay". I knew what he meant.He knows how I pack the trike basket.  It's that bit extra that I really appreciate.

And how many times have I heard something similar from other people who shop there? Things like, "You know J.... was going off to lunch so he took the trolley down to the car for me and then put it in the bay". 

I suppose Aldi will survive but there is a lot more to shopping than the sort of experience they offer.  

Thursday 8 July 2021

They have cancelled the Grand Prix

and I could not be happier. I would be even happier if they cancelled all Grand Prix races anywhere in the world.

We once had the GP here - until our neighbours "stole" it. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth. I kept my thoughts largely to myself but my feeling was one of relief. We were rid of one "motor sport" event.

Middle Cat and I disagree strongly on the topic of "motor sport". My nephews are involved in the business of racing go-karts - the big, serious sort. It also provides Middle Cat's husband with a hobby - building the wretched things. My nephews, one of them in particular, has done extremely well at this so called "sport". 

I look at it all and simply think that it is (a) dangerous and (b) environmentally unsound.  

Yes, I know. It's "sport". Most Downunderites worship the great god of Sport. I don't. (The Senior Cat doesn't either.)  The only game that has ever been of the slightest interest to me is cricket. It is the only game I have ever actively "participated" in too - but cricket doesn't rate in the Olympics. (I think it was played once in 1900.) It was a much better game in the middle of last century than it is now. 

It seems to me that all "sport" and all related physical pursuits have become too concerned with breaking records and pursuing some sort of impossible physical excellence with the "help" of science and drugs and diets an vast sums of money. It isn't the fun it might once have been.

So, if they have cancelled the Grand Prix and they are not going to be spending vast sums of money then I am more than happy. And... think of how quiet it is going to be! 

Wednesday 7 July 2021

The levels of illiteracy in prisons

are high, very high... and this morning our Chief Justice has finally delivered a very public dressing down to those in Correctional Services who fail to acknowledge this. There is not much point in sending a letter to someone who can neither read nor write - and who may even have a family in  much the same position.

The Chief Justice was commenting on the situation of a man with a history of mild offending who is apparently sufficiently cognitively impaired that he simply does not understand what is expected of him. That makes the situation even more serious.

I have no doubts at all that there are plenty of inmates who would be prepared to take advantage of their limited literacy levels. I also have no doubt that they have little, if any, interest in learning to read and write. I am sure many of them have used the lack of those skills to their advantage in court. It's the way the system works.

But  if someone does have a known brain injury, a known cognitive impairment, and a lack of ability to read then that should be in their file and it is an issue which should be addressed. There should, at very least, be a designated person in the community responsible for seeing they are told the contents of any official correspondence.

I do occasionally get asked to help people who have "forgotten their glasses" and I know the world can be a very confusing and dangerous place for them. They are highly vulnerable. They will do things because they are told to do things by people they trust but whom they should not trust. They will do things because, like most people, they crave friendship. They want to feel wanted - and even important. They often genuinely don't understand the implications or the possible consequences of what they are doing. These are people who can end up in debt, homeless, without a job - and more. I knew one man who, unable to read or write, was shown what looked like an official form. He was told he had to open the gates of his work place at a certain time "for a delivery". Goods were stolen. He was  held to be accountable. It was only when a fellow employee testified that this man could not read that he did not serve a prison sentence - but he had still lost his job. 

All too often we think of not being able to read or write as something shameful. But is it really? I can't read or write  Korean or Thai or many other languages. I only know a few Chinese characters - and I read them in their English meaning. I have no idea how they sound in Chinese.  For the most part anything written in those languages is no more than meaningless squiggles on a page. But, I am one of the lucky ones because I have tools at my disposal that could help me with almost anything. 

The other day I used one of the few Swahili words I know  - to thank someone - but I can't hold a conversation in that language. I can't hold a verbal conversation in anything other than English. I was never taught. All I know about other languages I have found out for myself after leaving school. None of that makes me illiterate but it tells me how little I know. 

I try to remind myself of this when faced with the person who has "lost their glasses". They may well know the difference between right and wrong but it really isn't as simple as that. I can understand too if they want to lash out at the world sometimes - even if I don't condone it.  

I was in the embarrassing position of having to get someone to fill out a form for me the other day -because the spaces on the form required fine motor skills I do not possess. I am sure the girl who was assigned to help me at first thought I could not read. It was an issue I sorted out very quickly but I was acutely aware for a moment that this must be the sort of situation an illiterate person faces over and over again.

If someone has a "glasses" issue please be patient. Give them some help. It might save someone from making a serious error of judgment.    

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Fantasy for children

and the books which provide it were under discussion on FB yesterday. I have been thinking about it ever since. 

One of the people with whom I associate on FB had put up two lists - ten in each - of books she believes are top of the list. Each author could only appear once. They came in approximately chronological order.

At the top of the list was "The Wind in the Willows". I have fond memories of the Senior Cat reading this to me when I was still a little too young to read it to myself. I have read it since then. I read it to a class of ten and eleven year old children. They were interested but a little bewildered by it. I wouldn't have called it fantasy but never mind. 

After that came things like "The Sword in the Stone" and "The Hobbit". The person writing the list chose Lewis's "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" from the Narnia series. I am not sure I would have chosen that one but I would have included something from the series. 

"The Borrowers" get a look in too. Yes, highly imaginative but I am not sure they are in the top ten. 

Joan Aiken's "Blackhearts in Battersea" was chosen over "The Wolves in Willoughby Chase" and "The Owl Service" was chosen rather than something like "The Moon of Gomrath" but both Aiken and Garner should be on the  list. Their contribution to children's literature of the 20thC is extraordinary.

I would not have included "Watership Down". First I am not sure it is fantasy as such and second I do not like the book. I never could see what others see is so good about it. Cooper's "The Dark is Rising" would certainly come ahead of that for me. 

The author of the list chose Diana Wynne Jones book "Fire and Hemlock" over any in the Chrestomanci series but I think I would have chosen "Charmed Life" or perhaps "Howl's Moving Castle"

In the second list the author chose Puck of Pook's Hill - yes a classic. I would have chosen "Five Children and It" over "The Enchanted Castle" but perhaps because I know it rather better. I am glad that "Winnie the Pooh" and "The Box of Delights" make it and one of Boston's books should definitely be there so perhaps "The River at Green Knowe" is as good as any.

Tom's Midnight Garden is magnificent and should be in the first rather than the second list. "Marianne Dreams" and "The House in Norham Gardens" are both worthy inclusions.

But would I have included "Northern Lights" or "The Prisoner of Azkaban"? No, probably not because there are things missing from the list, Goudge's "The Little White Horse"  is the first and King's "Stig of the Dump" are two I would want on the list. I might even think about including Macdonald's "The Princess and Curdie" but would that be because my paternal grandfather gave it to me because of his Scots heritage?

There are others too but I looked at those lists and realised I have read all those books - and some I have read more than once. I haven't checked to see if they are all still in print and I wonder whether today's children would read all of them. What would you put into a list of 20th/21stC British children's fantasy? (North America you can have your turn later.)

Monday 5 July 2021

The Replanting Australia project

needs more blanket squares. Please help us!

Some regular readers of this blog will already know about this project but others won't. It began as "one of those" ideas in October 2019. We were having the usual post-Show meeting of the judges and stewards at  the state's Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society. The RA&HS is the body responsible for running the state's annual Show. It is the place where the farmers, market gardeners, vignerons, cattle and sheep folk get together. It also hosts a wide range of other activities and events over a ten day period. Handicrafts are an important part of the way in which everyone in the state - and beyond - can be involved.

Last year we did not have a Show - Covid19 prevented it. But there was one project we were determined to continue with if at all possible. We had started thinking about it in October 2019 and it became much more important over the summer of 2019-2020 when so many big fires devastated so much of the country. 

One of the places which was particularly hard hit was Kangaroo Island. Kangaroo Island lies at the bottom of the leg that looks a little like Italy on the south coast of the map of Downunder. It has some  unique wildlife which alone would be worth saving but it also has a very, very important role to play in saving the world's bee population.  The bee population also has an absolutely vital role in saving the planet. All the discussion of climate change and how to deal with it pale into insignificance if we lose the world's bee population. Kangaroo Island's Ligurian bees need to not merely thrive but survive if we are to survive. They are sent all over the world to help restore local bee populations.

At the RA&HS meeting we tried to think of something that Handicrafts could do to help when the island was so hard hit by the fires. So much was lost and any little thing we could do might be useful. We came up with the old idea of making and raffling off a blanket and then making more blankets - if people would knit the squares. We thought we could make a competition of it to encourage people to design and make a square.

It has been my job to design and make some blanket squares because not everyone is comfortable designing their own squares. The patterns for the squares I designed (and another great square of a map of the island designed by someone else) are all to be found in the files of the Replanting Australia group on Facebook.  I've tried to get the message out there. I wrote about it here on another occasion. Bendigo Woollen Mills put it up on their FB page and it has been mentioned in other places.

But, we aren't getting much of a response. For some reason it has not captured the attention of as many people as we would like. We want a lot more squares. We want them absolutely no later than 19 August and we would ideally like them sooner than that. All the details and where to send the squares are on the Facebook page. You don't have to design a square or use any of the patterns I designed. If you can knit just a plain 30cm garter stitch square we would be more than pleased to have it. 

Please think about making one. I am happy to answer questions about the project and the patterns - and the bees will be happy too.

Sunday 4 July 2021

So what did you learn from your law degree?

This question was put to me yesterday after one of the regular readers of my blog had emailed me. Then there was a post from someone this morning about students not being able to get their dream jobs in the legal profession. 

I did my degree in law a long time ago now. I am old enough to be the grandmother of present university students - and even then I was almost old enough to be the mother of most of the students. They were doing law with the idea of working in or around the legal profession. I was doing law because my job demanded an understanding of a wide variety of law and the knowledge about where to find it - on an international scale.  

My interview to be admitted to law school took place when I was lying in a hospital bed having just had knee surgery. I still don't know whether the good Professor P... took pity on me or whether my explanation of why I wanted to do law impressed him. I hope it was the latter. 

I went through law school as a post-graduate student. There were several of us and we took a very different view from the younger students. We didn't have thoughts about being top flight barristers working our way up to a place on the High Court. Nobody in my year - or in any subsequent year while I was there - has achieved those giddy heights. I think the most anybody has achieved was a place in the Senate and then as an ambassador to a country of some importance. 

The other question which was aimed at me yesterday was, "Well, did you actually use any of it?" I know what they were aiming at. Wasn't all this a waste of time? Why did you bother?

Well yes, I did use it. I still use it. It most certainly was not a waste of time. I bothered then because I thought I needed to have the knowledge - and I was right. My work on language planning and the law could not have been done without it. No, I haven't written fancy research papers. That wasn't what it was all about. It was about designing forms and instructions and information sheets. It was about helping people do what was best for their communities. I just wanted to do something that might be useful for at least a small number of people. 

There are very few young students who are going to get the positions of "judge's associate" for a year or get mentored by a top flight criminal barrister or find a job in a firm because that is where an influential relative works.  The judge's associate is going to have worked incredibly hard to get that position. The student who is mentored by the barrister will also have worked incredibly hard and be prepared to put in very long hours of meticulous research. The student who gets a job in a law firm through the influence of a relative may or may not succeed but they will find that working in the legal profession isn't a nine-til-five job with a day off to play a round of golf.

If I played golf then I still wouldn't have time to take a regular day off. I am still working - although I try not to do eighty hour weeks now. Doing law and doing it well means you go on doing least I hope I am doing my little bit well.  

Saturday 3 July 2021

Writing a will

is no easy task but dying intestate is irresponsible.

We all know what is in the Senior Cat's will. At his request I was there when he last updated it - but I left the room before he signed it. He wants us to know so that there will be no misunderstandings later. His will is simple and straightforward and absolutely fair. I don't think anyone could argue otherwise.

My will is very similar to his. I have tried to make it simple, straightforward and absolutely fair to all concerned. I am fortunate enough to have the capacity to write my own but I did ask a legal colleague to check it.  Brother Cat and Middle Cat have similar wills. We all know what they contain. It's the responsible thing to do.

But there has been an interesting case in our courts recently. It concerns the estate of someone who did not write a will. He was a very wealthy man. His mother wanted to claim his estate under Chinese law. His wife wanted to claim his estate under our law. The judge was required to decide where he was actually domiciled - and thus whether Chinese law or our law of succession applied. The process was further complicated by the fact he was on a business trip to Japan when he died.

His mother does not sound as if she is a very pleasant person. She was clearly prepared to see her daughter-in-law destitute if possible. Her other son seems to have supported her in all this. Yes, the thought of $50m does do strange things to people.

This morning there is a piece saying the judge has decided in favour of the wife. He considered the man was domiciled here and that even under Chinese law the wife should inherit. I imagine there will be lawyers combing the judgment and trying to find grounds for an appeal. So far it has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this far.

It all reminds me of some of the cases we studied in Succession law. I found that one of the more interesting subjects. It was a compulsory subject - and rightly so. There were some strange things we learned - a legal will written on a banana skin, an unsigned will leaving everything to "mother", someone who did not inherit because he was simply out of the country for a short while when the testator died, and much more. The state of mind of testators was often the subject of appeal. And yes, people really do everything to their pets or to a home for dogs or cats. There was one will where someone left everything to someone he had never met. He simply liked the sound of the person in question.

Middle Cat has a friend who was caring for a man who was dying of cancer. This friend had cared for the man for some years. She was not paid to do this but she took him to medical appointments, cooked, cleaned and cared for him as if she was his partner. They did not marry but he moved into her home for the last two years of his life. She paid the bills and much more. His house remained empty but it contained things she bought for their joint use - a new refrigerator and a television set among them. His family made almost no contact. They were apparently only too happy to have her do all this.

And the moment he died? The family went into his property and changed the locks. They are challenging the will, a will in which they still inherit a considerable portion of his estate. They don't want her to have anything. She cannot even access her own goods. Any lawyer worth their fee should be telling them, "Don't fight this. You aren't going to win." 

Death is distressing enough without arguing over what is left. Writing a will may not solve all the issues - but not writing one at all is far worse.